Democracy Arsenal

June 14, 2010

Middle East

Real Security for Israel
Posted by Moran Banai

Moran Banai is the Policy Director for Middle East Progress.

The Israeli raid of the ship the Mavi Marmara, which ended with the deaths of nine protestors, is a potent symbol of why Israel’s current policy toward the Gaza Strip is unsustainable. Right now Iranian ships are on their way to attempt to break the blockade, forcing what could be an ugly confrontation on the high seas between the two adversaries. Whether it will be governments or activists who try to force the situation, the Israeli government will have to decide over and over whether to stop the ships, which could result in similarly violent situations, or let them through, which would effectively break the naval blockade and undermine Israel’s ability to ensure that no weapons are brought into Gaza by sea.

What is now becoming more clear is that Israel’s Gaza policy also does not achieve its stated purposes. Isolating the people of Gaza has not made them less amenable to Hamas. Nor has it weakened Hamas. Nor will it make Israelis secure in the long term. As many people who care about Israel’s security, including President Obama, have begun to argue, the lesson learned from the Mavi Marmara incident is that Israel must rethink its strategy; it must develop a policy that lifts the closure on Gaza without harming Israeli security or accruing too much to the benefit of Hamas. Israel has begun to ameliorate the situation over the last few months in cooperation with the United States and others and it has sped that up further in the past few weeks. Now is the time for the world to build on this progress and work with Israel to change its policy.

Continue reading "Real Security for Israel" »

October 17, 2007

Middle East

Who's to Blame?
Posted by Michael Cohen

Shadi Hamid has a post yesterday that looks once again at the question of America's inherent goodness. As I think I've written more than I've ever wanted on this point, I instead want to focus on something else Shadi said - the notion that Abu Ghraib reflects "what hundreds of millions of other people think America is really about, and, presumably, this matters."

I certainly agree that it matters, but then Shadi takes this argument a step further by noting, "there is no good reason for the average Arab or Muslim to think that we are 'inherently good' or, for that matter, even just 'good' . . . Much of the misery they encounter on a daily basis is at least partly attributable to our policies."

It pains me to call out one of my fellow DA bloggers, but I'm sorry, this is not only inaccurate, its quite dangerous.

The notion that the United States is even partly responsible for "much of the misery" in the Middle East is indicative of a much larger phenomenon in the Arab world - a disturbing lack of accountability by some in the region to accept responsibility for the challenges in their midst. This type of buck-passing contributes significantly to the anti-Americanism that festers so dramatically in the Arab World and does nothing to solve the region's underlying problems.

I am not going to quibble with the notion that we support countries in the Middle East that are hardly paragons of democratic virtue. There is no question about this. Unfortunately, foreign policy is never as simple as supporting only good guys - there are plenty of shades of gray and unfortunately there are time when the US has supported regimes that undermine our values, but bolster our interests. I would like to believe that more often than not we have been on the right, or at least better side, but of course that has not always been the case, particularly in the Middle East.

Nonetheless, if we want to focus on the negative examples, we must also highlight the many places where American foreign policy has had a good impact. Are we willing to give any credit to the US for moderating the behavior of Middle East regimes and for attempting to influence them in a positive manner? Shadi cites nations such as Jordan, Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria all of which continue to have dubious human rights records, but have certainly shown improvements in respect for human rights and political liberalization. Certainly, these nations have a ways to got, but they are far better than the ones we are not supportive of, such as Syria and Iran.

Moreover, are we willing to give the US any credit for actively supporting the growth of democracy in Afghanistan, working to broker peace between Israel and its neighbors and supporting democratic movements in the Gulf and Lebanon etc? It seems to me that in the years pre-dating the war in Iraq, we did as much as any great power to try to bring peace to the region.

Finally, this type of attack on US policy begs the obvious rejoinder: what is the alternative US foreign policy for the Middle East?

Continue reading "Who's to Blame?" »

March 30, 2007

Middle East

OPERATION BITE: More Than We Can Chew?
Posted by Jeremy Broussard

A recent article on the Israeli-based DebkaFile reports that a third carrier group, the USS Nimitz, is steaming out of San Diego for the Persian Gulf next week to join the John C. Stennis and Eisenhower carrier groups already in the Gulf.  The possibility of a third carrier deployment was first reported in Newsweek over a month ago.  If the Eisenhower does not rotate back to the States--and many have speculated that it won't--this will represent the largest U.S. naval air presence in the Gulf since the 1991 Gulf War I. 

Many have speculated that the current captive/hostage standoff between Iran and the U.K. might be the spark that ignites a conflict between the U.S./U.K. and Iran.  While a limited air campaign might ostensibly be over freeing hostages (how this accomplishes that is anyone's guess), more than likely it would be used to 1) degrade Iran's uranium enrichment production; 2) destroy its ballistic missile sites; and 3) and destroy or disrupt Iran's command and control over its Qods Force and other paramilitaries operating in Iraq.  According to several media sources quoting a Russian military intelligence source, this air campaign is code-named Operation Bite and is scheduled to begin sometime around April 6 (Good Friday . . . **sigh**, what a way to bring in Easter Season).

This might not be the first U.S.-Iranian head-to-head confrontation, as this week's Time reports on a still-classified skirmish between U.S. and Iranian forces on the border with Iraq six months ago.

But, as we used to say in the Army, the enemy gets a vote too.  So how would Iran respond?  We've already seen crude oil prices spike in the past few days over the hostage standoff.  What if Iran intentionally limited the supply of crude, either through reducing production or taking military action in the Strait of Hormuz?  What if it responded by ballistic missile attack against Israel or Baghdad?  What if it just amped up the paramilitary support in Iraq, or launched terrorism and sabotage missions in Europe, the U.S., and elsewhere? 

In other words, what is our desired goal in this proposed airstrike and does it outweigh the potential costs?

March 18, 2007

Middle East

Our VP's Limited Vocabulary
Posted by Lorelei Kelly

Last weekend, VP Cheney gave a speech at the annual conference of AIPAC, the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee. Routine, but no less appalling, he gave a speech that all but accused the Democratic party of plotting to commit treason and kill American soldiers. Jeffrey Feldman over at Frameshop analyzed the speech and found that it contained the following words:

war - 31
terror - 26
enemy - 12
attack - 7
battle - 7
kill - 6
destroy - 4
bomb - 3
weapons - 2
death - 2
murder - 2
violence - 2

No wonder it has been called the Murder-Death-Kill talk. Will someone explain to me how this is good for Israel?

February 11, 2007

Middle East

Why so secretive?
Posted by Rosa Brooks

The LAT reports that

U.S. defense and intelligence officials today rolled out what they said was solid evidence that Iran was providing bombs to target U.S. and Iraqi troops and accused Iran's supreme leader of orchestrating the smuggling of such devices over the Iran-Iraq border. At a briefing held under unusually secretive conditions here, the U.S. officials, who refused to be identified by name and did not allow cameras or recording devices inside a conference room, offered up tables laden with hardware and a slide show of documentation that they said bolstered the U.S. contentions of Iranian involvement in Iraqi unrest.

Why the secrecy?

Continue reading "Why so secretive?" »

February 06, 2007

Middle East

Your Morning Quiz
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

Slate has a quiz up, "Are You an Anti-Semite:  Take This Test and Find Out," which manages to be both knowing and funny about the various sore points Rosa raised last week, administering tweaks across the spectrum.  I was delighted to see that someone had found a way to shine light without adding heat... until I got to the end and saw that the author had felt it necessary to use a pseudonym.

February 05, 2007

Middle East

Could Congress stop a war with Iran?
Posted by Rosa Brooks

Writing in today's LA Times, Larry Diamond and Leonard Weiss argue that recent "administration moves could presage an air attack on Iran's nuclear facilities." That's not good, because such an attack "could leave us even more politically isolated and militarily overstretched.... inflame the region, intensify Shiite militia attacks on our soldiers in Iraq and stimulate terrorist attacks on Americans and U.S. interests worldwide."

So... can Congress-- which so far can't even manage to pass a non-binding resolution opposing further troop build-ups in Iraq-- stop such an attack? Weiss and Diamond argue that Congress should at least try:

Congress should not wait. It should hold hearings on Iran before the president orders a bombing attack on its nuclear facilities, or orders or supports a provocative act by the U.S. or an ally designed to get Iran to retaliate, and thus further raise war fever.
The law should be attached to an appropriations bill, making it difficult for the president to veto.

Of course, this President has a tendency to use what we might call secret pocket vetoes: that is, the use of executive signing statements to announce his intention of ignoring the law. But Weiss and Diamond thought of that already, and have a proposed response (which, unfortunately, would be post hoc in nature):

If [the President] simply claims that he is not bound by the restriction even if he signs it into law, and then orders an attack on Iran without congressional authorization for it, Congress should file a lawsuit and begin impeachment proceedings.

They said it, not me!

Middle East

Separating Ahmadinejad from Iran
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

I am not anything close to an expert on Iran, but like anyone else with an interest in how to rehabilitate US foreign policy, I've been reading and thinking more about this rising Persian power in recent months.  Its pretty obvious that a resolution that reintegrates Iran into the international system and normalizes relations with the US, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will have to be at the very least sidelined.   This is so whether such a rapprochement were to occur prior to the realization of Iran's nuclear ambitions, or afterward as part of an effort to get Iran to behave responsibly as a nuclear power bound by traditional rules of deterrence. 

This and many other pieces explain why Ahmadinejad won't be part of the solution.   He is a regional power-monger whose appeal is predicated on rejecting any concession to the West.  While experts seem to agree that among the most important offerings the US could make in the context of a diplomatic resolution to the Iran standoff is a blanket security guarantee, Ahmadinejad's fiery personae could never abide the idea of Iranian security being beholden to a pledge from Washington.  Ahmadinejad's hold on power rests in his revolutionary populism and his fearless willingness to stand up to the US and the world.  The minute a diplomatic compromise is reached, his raison d'etre as a leader is destroyed.  On the other side, the fear Ahmadinejad has sown in Israel and the West means that even if he were to transform himself in a moderate direction, the rest of the world would never trust it.

While Flynt Leverett and others have made a compelling case that the best resolution to the Iran standoff is a grand diplomatic bargain, Ahmadinejad will need to be jettisoned before such a breakthrough is possible.  This doesn't mean that without Ahmadinejad a deal is guaranteed or even likely.  Far from it.  Anti-Americanism, Islamic radicalism and nuclear aspirations do not stop with Ahmadinejad.   But there are longstanding signs that other leaders in Tehran leaven these beliefs with more pragmatic calculations of the country's political and economic interest.

In Iran's convoluted power structure, Ahmadinejad's status as President means less than it would in a Western democracy.  Just how much sway and staying power he has are matters of debate.  His obsession with bucking international pressure to stem Iran's nuclear program has come at the expense of delivering on promised economic reforms.  Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khameini has the power to oust Ahmadinejad, and there are rumors that relations between the two are increasingly strained.  Student protesters have decried Ahmadinejad's denunciation of the Holocaust, arguing that it is discrediting Iran.  Its hard to know how much to make of these seemingly promising signs, but given the alternative of a potential armed conflict, it sure seems worth trying to build on them.

All this speaks to the difference between rogue leaders and rogue states, a distinction that strikes me as warranting more attention and analysis than we've given it.

Continue reading "Separating Ahmadinejad from Iran" »

Defense, Intelligence, Iraq, Middle East, Potpourri, Terrorism

Counterinsurgency warfare as military malpractice
Posted by Rosa Brooks

Edward Luttwak of CSIS has a piece in this month's Harper's called "Counterinsurgency warfare as military malpractice." Luttwak begins with a critical analysis of the Army's new counterinsurgency field manual, FM 3-24 DRAFT, written by David Petraeus, among others, then moves on apply this to Iraq. He concludes that the new counterinsrgency manual's "prescriptions are in the end of little or no use and amount to a kind of malpractice. All its best methods, all its clever tactics, all the treasure and blood that the United States has been willing to expend, cannot overcome the crippling ambivalence of occupiers who refuse to govern, and their principles and inevitable refusal to out-terrorize the insurgents...."

Read it (it's not available online-- you'll have to buy the magazine! Sorry).

January 31, 2007

Middle East, Progressive Strategy

Is Criticism of Israel "anti-Semitic"?
Posted by Rosa Brooks

The American Jewish Committee is showcasing a new report called "'Progressive' Jewish Thought and the New Anti-Semitism." The report, by Alvin Rosenfeld, rightly draws attention to the dismaying resurgence of anti-Semitism in many parts of the world (including increasing media stereotypes-- especially in the Islamic world-- of Jews as "a treacherous, conniving, untrustworthy, sinister, all-powerful, and inplacably hostile people," and an upsurge in assualts and vandalism against Jews in Europe and elsewhere).  But then it goes a step further, claiming that "one of the most distressing features of the new anti-Semitism [is] the participation of Jews alongside it, especially in its anti-Zionist expression."  Singled out for criticism are a wide range of Jewish scholars, writers, and activists, from Adrienne Rich and Tony Judt to Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen.

The report stops short of calling Jews critical of Zionism anti-Semites, but only barely; in an interview with the New York Times, Rosenfeld, the author, was coy: "Jews thinking the way they’re thinking is feeding into a very nasty cause.” 

On some level, this is the Mearsheimer-Walt debate redux; we've also seen this played out to some extent in the very public attacks on Human Rights Watch and Tony Judt. But with this new report, the American Jewish Congress is upping the ante still more.  I have written elsewhere about baseless claims that Human Rights Watch's coverage of the Israeli-Lebanon conflict was "anti-semitic," but this latest controversy threatens to send my blood pressure through the roof. Here's what I think:

1) "Anti-Semitism" is dislike of, or prejudice against, Jewish people because of their supposed "essence." It's hatred of human beings for no reason except that they are, or appear to be, "Jewish," leaving aside for now the complex question of what it means to be "Jewish."

2) There is plenty of real anti-Semitism in the world. It's nasty, scary stuff, and it needs to be condemned, promptly and vociferously, by people of all faiths and traditions. 

3) Being critical of Israeli policies is not the same as being "anti-Semitic," any more than criticism of US policy should be construed as "anti-American."

Continue reading "Is Criticism of Israel "anti-Semitic"?" »

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