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November 30, 2010

National security conservatives coming home?
Posted by Kelsey Hartigan

Throughout the day, key Republican figures have signaled that they will likely join Sen. Lugar (R-IN) in supporting New START, which has the full backing of our military leadership. Countless military and national security leaders have urged the Senate to ratify New START before the end of the year. GOP luminaries like Henry Kissinger, Colin Powell, Brent Scowcroft, George Shultz, Jim Baker and Jim Schlesinger have all fully endorsed the treaty and urged their fellow Republicans to do the same. Numerous conservative commentators have also called upon Republican Senators to ratify New START.  Sen. Lugar lambasted members of his own party, urging them to put aside politics and do what is clearly needed to protect America’s national security interests.  "Every senator has an obligation in the national security interest to take a stand, to do his or her duty. Maybe people would prefer not to do his or her duty right now," he said. "Sometimes when you prefer not to vote, you attempt to find reasons not to vote," Lugar told The Cable. "I'm advising that the treaty should come on the floor so people will have to vote aye or nay," he said. "I think when it finally comes down to it, we have sufficient number or senators who do have a sense of our national security. This is the time, this is the priority. Do it."

Faced with the choice between respecting the advice of our most respected military and national security leaders and playing politics—it seems a few Republican Senators are starting to come around. 

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) told George Stephanopoulos this morning on GMA that there is still time to ratify New START before the end of the year. “I believe we can move forward with the START treaty and satisfy Sen. Kyl’s concerns and mine about missile defense and others,” McCain said, adding that Democrats are addressing Kyl’s concerns in active negotiations.

Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), one of the Foreign Relations Committee members who voted in favor of the treaty in September, said Tuesday that administration officials responded late Monday night to several matters raised by Kyl and himself about modernization of the remaining nuclear arsenal and sufficient funds for safeguarding the stockpile.  "I thought they did a good job. I think it's continuing to evolve in a good way as it relates to modernization," Corker said in an interview. He later added, "Could we finish? I think it's possible that we could."

Sen. George Voinovich (R-OH) is now “leaning toward its ratification – and wants a vote this year,” the Wall Street Journal reported today.  “There seems to be a lot of coming together there and a lot more comfort [with the treaty] among our friends and allies in Europe,” Sen. Voinovich said. “I think I’d be supportive.” Earlier this morning, Sen. Voinovich also noted, "I'd like to get it done, but in my conscience I want to feel it's the right thing to do."

Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL), the newly seated senator from Illinois, was asked about Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's warning that a new arms race will erupt if Russian can't agree with the West about a joint European missile defense program.  "I'm open-minded and this is one of the issues I'll raise with the State Department briefing teams coming up to talk to me," he said.

November 29, 2010

The Wikileak That Didn't Bark
Posted by David Shorr

This Wikileaks mess is a disaster, a huge setback for and distraction from serious national security challenges, and Bradley Manning has a lot to answer for. Meanwhile, anyone else noticed the difference between this week's focus on the steady diplomatic grind involved in foreign policy versus the spitball-throwing that passes for FP debate most of the time? The structure of the situation doesn't give much room to bash the current administration. It's pretty to hard to slam Obama when its his policy that's been undermined by the leaks.

This may only be a brief interlude, but it makes for a really interesting moment in which the spotlight is on real foreign policy instead of caricature. In a nutshell, accomplishing the United States' national security aims is not easy. The point of all this private diplomatic deal-making -- and the discomfort for many of those with whom the US is dealing -- is that supporting America often involves a political price. This is what I've always found inane about arch-conservative fantasies that all it takes for America to get our way are resolve and tough-talk. And then along with that delusion goes the far-right's denial that the US ever needs to make conciliatory gestures to enhance our moral authority and credibility -- or that it even matters for American influence. Yet just a scan of the Times piece about efforts to pressure Iran shows that the United States was able to obtain a lot more international support (and stronger sanctions) with honey than with vinegar.

I won't get my hopes too high about a reality-based foreign policy debate, but it's nice to have a break from the usual nonsense.

About Wikileaks . . .
Posted by Michael Cohen

I had vowed not to write too much on the Wikileaks yesterday, but in rather predictable fashion Glenn Greenwald has roused me into action. He writes:

Beyond specific disclosures, WikiLeaks' true crime here is to strike a major blow against the U.S. Government's authority generally and secrecy powers in particular; how one views the American Government's behavior in the world is likely to determine one's reaction to WikiLeaks (i.e., is it a good thing or a bad thing when America's attempted power projection in the world is subverted and its ability to act in the dark undermined?).  

In an odd way I agree with this sentiment. After all, one can only make this argument if they view the US role in the world in a uniformly negative light (which appears to be the case with Greenwald)! Of course, the very notion that one can sum up US actions in the world in such a binary manner as being either good or bad is a tad simplistic. For example, I am generally pretty skeptical of US military intervention around the world and yet I think Wikileaks has done terrible damage to US national security. I wonder how that fits in Greenwald's black and white narrative of the world.

To be sure the anger about the erosion of our privacy rights is not an insignificant consideration and I have no doubt that it is driving Wikileaks behavior - and underpins the arguments of its supporters. And in defense of Greenwald he has been an important and often vital voice in raising attention to these issues. But his privacy concerns, writ large, are simply misapplied to this leak.

Anyone who has worked in international affairs would understand (and this goes for Americans and non-Americans) secrecy is an essential element of diplomatic relations. Henry Farrell makes the smart point here that effective diplomacy actually relies on a healthy level of hypocrisy. The simple reality is that effective diplomacy and effective counter-terrorism often must work in the dark. To suggest otherwise demonstrates a shocking lack of understanding about how diplomats actually operate.

Continue reading "About Wikileaks . . ." »

November 28, 2010

Why Would Someone Vote in A Rigged Election?
Posted by Shadi Hamid

I find it somewhat remarkable that Arabs, in large numbers, vote in elections that are dubious at best and perhaps even "meaningless" (yet another piece of evidence that should put to rest the notion that Arabs are predisposed to authoritarianism). I wrote about the odd but rather intriguing phenomenon of "free, sort of fair, and meaningless elections" in this recent piece for Foreign Policy. However, the phenomenon of Arabs voting en masse (examples include Bahrain and Jordan) does not include Egypt. 

Today, some Egyptians went to the polls to vote for a parliament with limited powers. People are saying that actual turnout may have been in the single digits. Even official turnout figures are likely to be quite low by the region's standards.

So, yes, there was an election today, but there was something surreal about it. I spent time in one of the "hottest" districts  (shubra al kheima) where a popular Brotherhood candidate is pitted against a ruling party figure. There were campaign posters and colorful signs everywhere. There were candidates. There were political parties. And there were polling stations. There were also a lot of journalists (and at least one American think tank analyst) covering the proceedings. 

So much seemed at stake but very little, it seemed, actually was. 

Continue reading "Why Would Someone Vote in A Rigged Election?" »

Today's Elections in Egypt: What if, anything, did they mean?
Posted by Shadi Hamid

I’m in Cairo covering today’s elections (you can follow me on Twitter here for live updates). I spent the day going from one polling station to another talking mostly to Muslim Brotherhood (MB) supporters and campaign workers. I’m not sure what to say. I apologize if I gave some people the impression that these elections were elections, in any real sense of the word. They were not. And I think it’s worth underlining that point up front. As I wrote here yesterday, these elections are less important for what actually transpired, and more important for what they tell us about the critical players: the ruling National Democratic Party, the Muslim Brotherhood, and the United States.

Just two hours ago I talked to the MB representative responsible for a polling station in Medinat Nasr, where the country’s largest opposition group is running a female candidate. He ran me through all the violations, one by one. It’s the same story I heard over and over again all day today. In numerous districts, opposition representatives were not allowed in the voting room (only those with the NDP were). Which means that the ruling party could pretty much do as it willed. The world is watching, apparently, but not in the places that matter most. When the Ministry of Interior transports the ballot boxes in a couple hours, the world – let us be clear – will not be watching.

The Brotherhood, though, didn’t seem angry, even though hundreds of their members have been arrested the past couple months. Their representation in parliament will go down from a significant 20 percent to something considerably less. They were not angry; just resigned to the reality of rigged elections, something that they have to come to know rather intimately. At the same time, they came across as calm and composed. As Brotherhood leaders often say, “we are patient.” They lost this battle, and they will lose many, many more, but they seem to believe that history is on their side. So they’re okay with waiting. The real question, though, is whether Egypt can afford to wait, and wait. 

The Brotherhood is interested, more than anything else, in survival. Today, they survived. And so it goes. No one winning; but no one really losing either.

November 27, 2010

The Arab World's Ideological Stalemate? (as experienced on my flight to Cairo)
Posted by Shadi Hamid

On my Egypt Air flight yesterday to Cairo, I witnessed one of the more intriguing in-flight exchanges that I can remember. A bearded, well-dressed man sitting a few seats behind me began shouting at the flight attendant. He was complaining that the in-flight movie was inappropriate. What are these “offensive images?” he asked. These included a 15-minute stretch of the movie where at least one woman at any given time was wearing a bikini. In a couple of scenes at a club, members of opposite sexes were dancing in close proximity while, it appeared, consuming alcoholic beverages. “Are we really all Westernized now?” the man behind me asked, as if posing a question to those of us in the back of the plane.

The man’s arguments were rather interesting. He pointed out that if you took a poll of the passengers, most would agree the film was morally offensive. He asked the attendant, “if we ask the passengers what they think and they agree with me, then what will you do?” The attendant responded, “we don’t take public opinion (ra’i al ‘am) on the airplane.” The man was right: most passengers, and most Egyptians – the vast majority of whom don’t drink, go to clubs, or wear bikinis – would object to the film’s content. But at what point do they have the right to restrict minority expressions of unfaithfulness?

It was an odd, amusing exchange that justified the otherwise unpleasant experience of flying on EgyptAir. But it was a reminder of the fundamental lack of consensus in the Arab world over the boundaries and limits of the state. There are two groups – Islamists and secular elites – with worldviews which couldn’t be more different. They live parallel lives in parallel worlds, with parallel institutions. They rarely intersect. One group believes it has both history and the Egyptian people on its side. The other side, considerably smaller in number, likely has neither. It does, however, have the power.

This stalemate has paralyzed the Arab world for decades now.

Sunday’s elections will be just another version of this. The main players are the Muslim Brotherhood – populist, religious, and righteous – and the regime coalition which, with its president soon to pass, finds itself in an uncertain place. Both sides are strong in different ways – and weak in others. Neither seems to have anything resembling a coherent strategy for dealing with the impending transition that is soon to come.  

Covering the Egyptian Elections from Cairo
Posted by Shadi Hamid

I arrived in Cairo two days ago to cover the lead-up to tomorrow's critical parliamentary elections. Over the next couple days, I will be blogging regularly here at Democracy Arsenal, trying to make sense of Egypt - one of our most important regional allies - during an uncertain phase of transition. Be sure to check in regularly. I will also be live-tweeting. You can follow my updates here.  


November 24, 2010

Jon Kyl's Greatest Hits
Posted by Kelsey Hartigan

The junior senator from Arizona, Jon Kyl, has refused to answer to the overwhelming military and bipartisan support for New START.  His fellow Republicans have called him out, but he has continued to hold our national security hostage, citing “unresolved issues.” Here is a look at how Jon Kyl has repeatedly shifted his position on New START and blatantly sought to delay the ratification process.

March 6, 2003:  Kyl dismisses START 1 and Reagan’s “Trust, but verify” anthem, praises 3-page SORT agreement—which has no verification provisions. 

Kyl declares on the Senate floor, “The old cold war approach to arms control treaties is clearly outmoded.  Can anyone truly believe that a 700- page behemoth like the START I treaty is relevant to today’s situation? Clearly, such an approach would not reflect today’s radically changed political and strategic environment. As such, it would not serve America’s real security needs.  This treaty does.”

This [SORT] treaty is a masterstroke. It represents, and, I am sure, will be sent as ushering in a wholly new approach to arms control for a wholly new era. The simplicity of this treaty is a marvel. It is extremely brief, indeed just three pages long. It is shorn of the tortured benchmarks, sublimits, arcane definitions and monitoring provisions that weighed down past arms control treaties.”
[Jon Kyl, 3/6/03]

Continue reading "Jon Kyl's Greatest Hits" »

Debating Middle East Democracy on
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Last week, I appeared on with Gregory Gause of the University of Vermont to discuss democracy in the Middle East (or, um, lack thereof). The link is here. Some of the issues we debated were whether Arab democracy is in America's interest, what Islamists would do in power, and whether Egypt today is anything like Iran in 1978. Here it is:

November 23, 2010

The Taliban "Impostor" and Political Reconciliation in Afghanistan
Posted by Michael Cohen

Today's revelation in the New York Times that one of the Taliban officials with whom the Afghan government was meeting in peace talks with was actually an impostor is the proverbial hanging curve ball of Afghan-related snark.

Sure I could write a post about how this goes to show that the US and NATO - even after 9 years of war - has little understanding of the enemy with whom it's fighting. Even more directly, I could write a post about how this goes to show that the Petraeus/ISAF supposition that kinetic action was bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table was bunk.

As Josh Foust sums up the situation well, "the leadership of ISAF doesn't seem to have any idea what it's doing, who it's talking to, and (probably) who it is really killing."

This story is yet one more reason to conclude that the time has come for the United States to trim its sails in Afghanistan, more toward military de-escalation and lay the groundwork for a long-term political settlement. Indeed, this excellent new report from the folks at CAP makes precisely this point - it's the best report I've seen to date about an alternative course for the war in Afghanistan. 

The problem, however, it that this conclusion may seem a bit counter-intuitive. After all, isn't the obvious response to the "impostor" story that it just shows the folly of trying to negotiate with the Taliban - or even identify moderate elements within the movement? 

Actually yes! But that doesn't mean political reconciliation is the wrong course. It means the way we are going about it is all wrong.

Continue reading "The Taliban "Impostor" and Political Reconciliation in Afghanistan" »

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