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January 30, 2009

Green Gold
Posted by Adam Blickstein

Who doesn't love Guacamole on Super Bowl Sunday (almost as delicious as the Bacon Explosion)? Especially when, due to a regulation lifted in 2007 allowing all states to important the delicious fruit year round, avocados are cheaper today then they've ever been:

The avocado is a rare bright spot in the free-trade saga between the two countries. Most Mexican farmers view the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) as a pact that undercuts them with low-cost US-grown corn, for example. But for NAFTA, the avocado is a success story here.

In the central state of Michoacán, Mexico's avocado belt, exports generated $400 million last year, and it's now the second source of income for the state – after remittances sent from Mexicans living in the US.

Changing of the "Guard"
Posted by Michael Cohen

Today the AP confirms the inevitable - Blackwater is out

The State Department will not renew Blackwater Worldwide's contract to protect American diplomats in Iraq when it expires in May, a senior U.S. official said Friday.

Before all the anti-Blackwater folks pop champagne corks it's important to keep in mind that the problems we've seen in Iraq with PSCs are not restricted to Blackwater. They are symptomatic of a culture, both at the Pentagon and at the State Department, that has failed to adjust to the reality of its increased reliance on private contractors. Today, there are more contractors in Iraq than uniformed US military (and the vast majority don't carry guns). Yet, this heightened dependence has not been matched by a commensurate effort to hold these actors accountable and more important, integrate contractors into discussions about force structure and the fulfillment of mission requirements.

While there have been significant improvements in oversight since Nisour Square, there is still much work to be done. We are still awaiting long overdue MEJA expansion legislation in the Congress as well as a clearer sense from the military and State Department that they understand the challenges of integrating contractors. As the most recent State IG report makes clear, the problems in overseeing PSCs in Iraq remain significant.

Kicking out Blackwater will not make these challenges go away. Indeed, Blackwater will simply be replaced by DynCorp and Triple Canopy in Iraq. The problem's with PSCs in Iraq were never about BW; they were about the US Government's abdication of responsibility in overseeing the private companies in their charge.

It's a point that I hope is understood at Foggy Bottom and the Pentagon.

NSN Daily Update 1/30/09
Posted by The National Security Network

Today we released our Memo to the Community: The Way Forward in Iraq, which you can find here.

What We’re Reading

Three Sunni candidates in Iraq’s provincial elections were assassinated today.  The elections face a particular test in MosulSecurity tightens for the vote.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan walked out of a debate on Gaza with Israeli President Shimon Peres at Davos.

4.8 million Americans are on unemployment, a record high.  U.S. GDP fell 3.8% in the last quarter, however economists had predicted worseExxon Mobile posted record-high profits, for the year despite the decline of oil prices in the fall.

In France, hundreds of thousands of people protest President Nicolas Sarkozy’s economic policies.  British energy workers walk out.

North Korea canceled a nonaggression pact and all other peace agreements with South Korea.

The U.S. military reported a record-high number of suicides this year, for the second year in a row.  The military is also investigating two West Point suicides.  Electric shocks still occurred through 2008 at bases in Iraq.  The Army ordered a recall of defective body armor.

President Obama selected Lt. General Karl W. Eikenberry to be the ambassador to Afghanistan.

The U.S. removed Kashmir from envoy Richard C. Holbrooke’s portfolio, a victory for India.

A Guantanamo judge denied President Obama’s request for a trial delay.

The opposition party in Zimbabwe agreed to a power-sharing plan.

Commentary of the Day

Philip Stephens examines the tasks of President Obama’s special envoys.

P.W. Singer looks at emerging battlefield technology.

Iqbal Z. Quadir proposes that the U.S. should dedicate foreign aid to entrepreneurs instead of to bad governments.

A panel gone awry
Posted by Max Bergmann

For those of us who have had to organize panel discussions - my sympathies go out to the staffers at Davos who must have been flipping out as the panel on Gaza got heated and Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan stormed off the stage (see video there). Erdogan and Israeli President Simon Peres were arguing about Gaza when the moderator - the Washington Post's David Ignatius - tried to move the discussion on - but Erdogan was not finished and stormed off the stage in protest. Later Erdogen said he did not leave because of the heated exchange with Peres but because of the moderator not alloting him time to respond. As he returned home however Erdogan was greeted as a hero for his defiance and clearly played to the crowd saying: "I only know that I have to protect the honour of Turkey and Turkish people."

The incident is potentially serious. Israel has had close diplomatic relations with Turkey, which have been particularly important in mediating talks or conflicts between Israel and its neighbors - especially with Syria. A further souring of these relations would only put in place another obstacle to rekindling the peace process.

Some Thoughts on Karl Eikenberry
Posted by Patrick Barry

The New York Times reported that the Obama administration plans to appoint Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry to the position of Ambassador to Afghanistan.  Appointing a career military officer to such a sensitive diplomatic position is a highly unconventional decision, but there are a few factors that bode well for his appointment.

First, as Spencer observed, Eikenberry, in addition to knowing the country extremely well from having served two tours there, has put a strong emphasis on enhancing Afghan governance, in particular the Afghan army.  This puts him on the same page as other key figures associated with formulating U.S. policy toward Afghanistan, all of whom have been outspoken about putting an Afghan face to any strategy. Secretary Gates indicated his reticence of expanding the U.S. footprint beyond the troops that are expected to deploy in 2009, which puts expanding the size of the Afghan army at a high priority.

Second, signs point to a multi-national dimension to Eikenberry's appointment, specifically related to NATO, where he served as Deputy Chairman.  Coordinating NATO forces, and fully integrating allied efforts into an overarching framework has long been a bugbear for the U.S. mission.  Caveats, which restrict the terms of engagement for most NATO forces, are the best illustration of this problem.  But beyond that there are challenges to reconstruction (example - 26 PRT's, from 13 different countries, with each country's teams structured different, and operating under different procedures) to institution building (example - Germany's well document problems training and building the ANP).  Addressing these interwoven obstacles will be even more difficult as European support for the war continues to waver.   It makes sense to have someone with deep knowledge of both the issues specific to Afghanistan, as well as broader political constraints facing the international coalition, to be in charge of hammering things out. Eikenberry fits that mold.

And finally, as a reassurance for those who may be concerned about a military officer taking over a diplomatic position, remember Richard Holbrooke.  As President Obama indicated last week, Holbrooke will have wide authority to implement U.S. policy in the region.  That doesn't mean that Holbrooke's relationship with Eikenberry will be devoid of the friction typically associated with Special Envoys and Foggy Bottom, but it's hard to imagine Eikenberry steering State department's policy in a more militarized direction when among Holbrooke's orders are instructions to elevate diplomacy above a purely military strategy.


Rove's Reasoning is a Crowded Mess
Posted by Adam Blickstein

A quick point on Karl Rove's largely half-baked and rambling Wall Street Journal piece yesterday. In it, he argues:

Aides say Mr. Obama believes the cabinet structure is "outdated." His appointment of czars to oversee technology, automotive and environmental policies underscores this belief because each new czar weakens cabinet and agency involvement in policy decisions. The White House has always had overlapping lines of authority, which creates a certain amount of conflict while everyone figures out who really has clout. But Mr. Obama has added to the confusion by making declarations that multiple people in his cabinet or on his staff have more authority and responsibility than their predecessors. In addition to creating a protracted power struggle within the West Wing, Mr. Obama's management decisions may lead to more intrusive, larger government policies gaining traction.

Well, yes, Obama has placed many political czars inside the White House to dictate certain policy programs and initiatives. But this makes much more sense than hiding and burrowing political moles within the departments themselves. Obama is viewing cabinet officials, their fiefdoms, and staff as the mechanism to implement policy rather than dictate political imperatives and serve as partisan outposts as was the case over the past eight years. What Rove and the Bush administration did was outsource the politics into the agencies, embedding partisan hacks everywhere in government, from the top levels down, and across the board from Justice to NASA to Energy to FEMA to Agriculture. At least what Obama is doing is being up front, admitting rightly so that there are political considerations in serious policy decisions, and is consolidating the political levers in the White House instead of going stealth in the various agencies. It's a massive improvement over the cloak and dagger approach that largely upended the normal functions of government during the last administration and was the impetus for a great deal of the institutional abuses that occurred.  In its essence, Obama is providing structural transparency.  What Rove and Bush pursued was institutional treachery. By attacking Obama, Rove is simply trying to justify their blatant attempts to re-imagine and politicize the system for partisan gain by going after what seems to be a sensible righting of the tiller of government.

January 29, 2009

Sayonara Blackwater
Posted by Michael Cohen

As regular readers of DA are likely aware, I am the blog's resident defender of private security contractors. But like many I find the lack of accountability for PSCs operating in Iraq utterly frustrating, which makes this quote from Iraqi interior minister, Jawad al-Bolani, explaining why Blackwater's license to operate in Iraq has been rejected, that much more bittersweet:

"Blackwater smeared the American people and gave them a black mark,” he said. “There are many security companies that have gotten licenses from us, but any mistake a company makes, they have to pay for it."

Um, yeah. That's what accountability is all about; and why the State Department and USG couldn't grasp this point earlier sort of makes my head spin. I am not a basher of Blackwater and having spent a day at their facilities earlier this month, I'm impressed with their training programs. They are not evil incarnate. But, individuals and companies have to be held accountable when they make mistakes. For all of BW's success in protecting its charges, killing more than a dozen Iraqi civilians is a major screw-up and one can hardly blame the Iraqi Interior Minister for insisting that, going forward, a different private security company protect US diplomats. 

Perhaps if the State Department had recognized this earlier, they could have avoided the provisions in the recently signed Status of Forces Agreement that puts other private contractors at the mercy of an immature Iraqi justice system. But that is another conversation.

PSCs will not be leaving Iraq any time soon; if anything their responsibilities may increase. It's good to see, however, that the Iraqi government is taking an important step toward ensuring that these companies will be held better accountable for their actions.

Some Good Rhetorical Advice for Obama
Posted by Michael Cohen

Over at the New York Times, Mike McFaul (who will serve in President Obama's NSC) has some good advice for the new President about how he should discuss democracy promotion.

Some of Mr. Obama’s aides are suggesting that he “talk less and do more,” in the words of Michael McFaul, who advises Mr. Obama on both Russia and democracy issues and is likely to be headed to the White House staff. But “rather than speeches or even grand goals,” Mr. McFaul said, “the next administration should seek to achieve small, concrete outcomes that advance political freedoms in very tangible ways and do so, without talking about doing so.”

Exactly. There were many bad elements to President Bush's "Freedom Agenda," but few were worse than the grandiose and overstated rhetoric that he used when talking about democratization. You can't one day deliver a speech in Cairo criticizing the Egyptian government’s lack of adherence to the rule of law and its intimidation of pro-democracy advocates and then later do nothing when an opposition presidential candidate is thrown in prison. Yet, this is precisely what the Bush Administration did.  

There is simply no better way to undermine US credibility and weaken the country's moral standing then fail to back up your words with actions:  even when it may be occasionally appropriate to weigh American interests over American values.  People around the world listen when US presidents speak and they can smell hypocrisy a mile away.

There are a lot of things about our democratization agenda that need to be changed. But let's start with the rhetoric. President Obama needs to speak about democracy in more manageable terms. He needs to offer a realistic and less dogmatic policy framework for discussing democracy promotion that takes into account both US interests and values. The audience is both domestic and international: Americans need to understand too  that the process of democratization is indeed the work of generations – and one that is filled with missteps and obstacles along the way. Now that's change we can believe in.

Violent Islamists vs. Non-Violent Islamists
Posted by Shadi Hamid

There was one part of Obama's Al-Arabiya interview which really struck me. For me, this realization - this willingness to make careful distinctions in the Middle East - is paramount, and perhaps even key to a general re-orientation of America's policy in the region:

[Our administration will be] very clear in distinguishing between organizations like Al Qaeda — that espouse violence, espouse terror and act on it — and people who may disagree with my administration and certain actions, or may have a particular viewpoint in terms of how their countries should develop. We can have legitimate disagreements but still be respectful.

Maybe it's because I specialize on Islamist parties, but when I think of "people who may disagree with [the Obama] administration and certain actions" or have a "particular viewpoint of how their countries should develop," I think of Islamist groups and parties, the vast majority of whom are both nonviolent and committed to the democratic process, organizations like the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, the Islamic Action Front in Jordan, Morocco's Justice and Development Party, Turkey's AKP, Kuwait's Islamic Constitutional Movement, Yemen's Islah Party, the Islamic Salvation Front in Algeria, and al-Nahda in Tunisia (sorry, it's a long list).

I obviously don't know what Obama had in mind here. However, the basic point is crucial and should really be one of the underlying principles animating our Mideast policy. There are violent groups which seek to attack and harm America, and nonviolent groups which may dislike or even hate American policies, but are legitimate political actors with large constituencies, massive grassroots support, and religious legitimacy.

There is an Islamist dilemma. It has paralyzed our policy toward the region for decades, and most acutely since the tragedy of 1991 Algeria. Perhaps we can move now toward resolving it and freeing our policy from the false choice between ideals and interests. It will take time, and it will be difficult, but we should begin.

NSN Daily Update 1/29/09
Posted by The National Security Network

See today's complete daily update, "A Stimulus Bill with Global Implications," here.

What We’re Reading

President Obama looks for agreement with the military on Iraq withdrawal plans.  Marc Lynch responds to the stories of disagreement.

A pro-democracy manifesto quietly spreads in China.

Mexican drug bosses may have set a truce.  Violence levels in Sinaloa have fallen by two-thirds since December.

Commentary of the Day

Brandon Friedman of presents the five myths about the Afghanistan escalation.

Richard Clarke looks at the history of legally using rendition to fight terrorism in the United States and why President Obama was right to continue allowing renditions.

John Yoo, author of the Bush administration “torture memos,” writes that “Obama made a rash decision on Gitmo.”

George Soros examines the roots of the financial crisis.

Jeff Immelt and Jonathan Lash propose criteria for a U.S. clean energy plan.

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