Democracy Arsenal

September 11, 2005

Weekly Top Ten Lists

10 features of today's landscape that we would not have imagined on 9/11
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

It's hard to put oneself back in the mindset of that brilliantly sunny but paralyzingly dark September day four years ago, nor the surreal weeks and months right after.  But I've tried to do so today, and to consider what aspects of today's American situation could have been predicted, and what would have seemed unfathomable.  I don't think the war in Iraq would have been inconceivable, nor that it was impossible to imagine the US dead in a military conflict in the Middle East creeping up toward the number of 9/11 casualties.  It may be a little strong to say that none of the items on this list were imaginable:  truthfully we may have imagined we might see them, though fervently hoped we wouldn't. 

Osama on the Loose - Remember "dead or alive?"  First we thought Osama would be caught during the war on Afghanistan.  Then we thought that the Administration would surely find him before the 2004 elections (see this TNR article entitled "July Surprise").  It was hard to judge which imperative was more powerful:  punishing the man who orchestrated the 9/11 attacks, or decapitating al Qaeda.   I would not have guessed that neither would be accomplished by now.

Homeland security seemingly in disarray - There are two surprises here:  1) that we're so woefully ill-prepared for another major disaster on the homefront; and 2) that few realized this until the Katrina debacle two weeks ago.   In retrospect, as tragic and horrifying as it was for New York City in particular, 9/11 was nowhere near the challenge in terms of emergency response that a major hurricane or a dirty bomb would pose.

Public diplomacy effort has gone nowhere - There was an enormous amount of talk about outreach and diplomacy in the weeks and months after 9/11.  While a stack of thorough reports have been written on the topic and dozens of solid recommendations issued, progress has stalled almost completely.  This GAO report details the manifold reasons why this effort has yet to get off the ground.  Karen Hughes was sworn in the day before yesterday to the post of Under-Secretary for Public Diplomacy, a post that had been vacant for 16 months.   We'll see where we are a year from now under her stewardship.

Afghanistan having become an afterthought - In the weeks and months after 9/11, it was expected that rooting out the Taliban and transforming Afghanistan into a stable country would consume American foreign policy for years to come.  Four years later, Afghanistan rarely makes the front page.  The country has made significant progress but according to this UNDP report, remains in danger of devolving back into a failed state.  Militarily, large swaths of territory remain under hostile control.    Its no surprise that Afghanistan still needs US attention; what's amazing is that it no longer gets it.

Nowhere on non-proliferation - When President Bush famously referenced an axis of evil based comprised of known nuclear proliferators, the expectation was that his Administration would launch a focused crackdown on those weapons.  In the intervening years, apart from launching preemptive war on the only one of the three regimes in question that turned out not to have WMD, the Administration has been "stumbling and reactive" in response to the very real threats posed by North Korea and Iran.

That US policy would have resulted in the recruitment of hundreds if not thousands of potential Middle East terrorists - Here's how CIA Director Porter Goss put it in February:  "The Iraq conflict, while not a cause of extremism, has become a cause for extremists," Goss told the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.   "Those jihadists who survive will leave Iraq experienced in and focused on acts of urban terrorism. They represent a potential pool of contacts to build transnational terrorist cells, groups and networks in Saudi Arabia, Jordan and other countries."

No Sputnik relative to Arab world - One of the biggest obstacles to effectively fighting terror identified in the months after 9/11 was the scarcity of Americans with deep knowledge of Arab languages and cultures.  According to this report, four years later we know neither how many Arab linguists and translators the Defense Department has, nor how many it needs.  We are still busy convening task forces to look at the problem and figure out what needs to be done.

Still having detainees at Guantanamo without trial - When the military first started using Guantanamo to house detainees from the Afghanistan war in early 2002, the notion was that it would be temporary.  Nearly four years later, the facility is still being used to house more than 500 detainees who have not been tried.

Energy independence nowhere - When it was revealed that 15 of the 19 9/11 hijackers were Saudi nationals, an outcry rose about the need to free the U.S.  from dependency on foreign oil and the unholy alliances that reliance creates.  While the White House pays lip service to this idea, the reality of his corporate-friendly proposals doesn't come close to matching the rhetoric.

No further attack on US soil - Living in Manhattan on 9/11 and ever since, I've been waiting for another attack since that day.  As of today, its impossible to know whether al Qaeda and kin are today incapable of carrying out something on the scale of the attack four years ago, or whether they are planning something even worse for, say, tomorrow.  Which brings me to my final point . . .

No clear sense of whether we're gaining ground against terror or not - I'm not sure whether anyone's to blame for this, but four years ago I sure would have thought that this long into the future, we'd have a better sense of whether our efforts to combat terror were paying off.  We know which American policies aren't working, but it seems almost impossible to answer whether we are - in sum - more or less vulnerable than we were on that horrible day.

August 21, 2005

Iraq, Weekly Top Ten Lists

Top 10 List: Consequences of Iraq Becoming A Failed State
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

There is genuine uncertainty over whether, at this point, there’s anything the U.S can do to turn things around in Iraq. Kevin Drum suggests that the only reason to hesitate in calling for a pull out is the fear of looking weak.   As we debate what’s next, though, its worth considering what the consequences of a failed Iraq will be. 

I define failure as a situation in which the result of the U.S.’s invasion and subsequent occupation are not the stability (never mind the democracy) that we all hoped for, but instead continued chaos, factionalism, violence, and uncontrollable outside influence by the likes of Iran and Syria. It’s a scenario in which Iraq’s domestic security forces never gain the upper hand against insurgents, the economy does not recover, the fractious politics never coalesces into a functioning government, and the violence goes on unabated. In short, current conditions persist.

Noone, neither hawk nor peacenik, wants this to happen. But as we contemplate options that we long dismissed, its worth remembering why we’ve said for so long that the prospect of Iraq as a failed state was unacceptable. Even if we come to the conclusion that – though it may leave the country in ruins - U.S. withdrawal from Iraq is the best of an array of terrible options, if Iraq becomes a failed state that choice will not be without devastating consequences.

This post is intended not to suggest a particular course of action, but rather to point out that the result of recent years’ policies in Iraq is a painfully short list of options, all bad. Those guiding the war effort bear responsibility for backing us into this corner. At every stage, proposals have been made (to internationalize, involve the UN, improve planning, increase the number of troops when it still could have made a difference etc.) that could have helped us avoid this conundrum.

Some of the casualties if Iraq becomes a failed state:

1.   The fate of the Iraqi people – The Iraqi people will be left with a state that’s vulnerable to rampant violence, possible civil war and economic ruin. Those that believe that virtually anything is better than life under Saddam may face a Baathist resurgence.

2.   Stability in the Middle East – Chaos in Iraq will bleed over to the wider region.  Iraq’s neighbors can be expected to react opportunistically to the void, meddling in Iraqi affairs to serve their own interests, and very likely entering into violent conflict with one another.

3. Attitudes toward the U.S. in the Middle East – The U.S.’s image in the Middle East has gone from bad to worse in much of the Middle East as a result of the Iraq war. If the result of our efforts leaves the Iraqi people worse off, all the resentment over the perceived unilateralism of the Iraq invasion and the distortions of fact over WMD will harden into even deeper bitterness.

4. The fight against terrorism – Everyone from President Bush to al Qaeda #2 Ayman al Zawahri has declared the Iraqi insurgency the primary front of the fight against terrorism. If Iraq winds up a failed state, it will represent a territory terrorists have conquered and can claim. In addition to offering terrorists safe harbor to operate, the resources of the Iraqi state – oil, military, communications infrastructure, and funds – may fuel terrorist purposes.

5. Fight Against WMD, especially in Iran - Iranian influence is already on the rise in a chaotic Iraq; if Iraq fails, the role of the mullahs will only grow.  As illustrated by Ahmadinejad's election, the Iraq war has already undercut the support we used to enjoy among moderate Iranians sick of their repressive regime.  If Iraq becomes a failed state and U.S. influence in the Middle East correspondingly diminishes, the pressure on Iran to accede to American demands in relation to its nuclear program will further weaken.  Chinese and Russian economic ties to Iran will pose increasingly powerful buffers against counter-proliferation efforts.  Its hard to imagine Kim Jong Il won't find some way of scoring points off this as well; he's already benefitted from the consensus that a military response to N. Korea's nuclear program is off the table.

Continue reading "Top 10 List: Consequences of Iraq Becoming A Failed State" »

July 31, 2005

Terrorism, Weekly Top Ten Lists

10 things that matter more to the fight against terror than a new acronym
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

Anne-Marie Slaughter at America Abroad, Fred Kaplan on Slate, Sid Blumenthal on Salon and the mainstream media have been buzzing this week about President Bush's pivot away from the language of Global War on Terror (GWOT) and toward the so-called Global Struggle Against Violent Extremism, aka GSAVE. 

For the record, led by Derek Chollet, we here at DA were writing about this months ago, opining here and here about what was - until Madison Avenue had its way - known as the Global War on Extremism (I personally think we all ought to stick with the Elmer Fuddish but factual GWOE rather than buying into the boosterist GSAVE).

Most commentators judge the rebranding of the fight against terror to be more politics than substance.  So, in a month of dastardly attacks from London to Sharm el Sheikh to Baghdad,  let's not let this bit of spin doctoring obscure all that needs to be done to shore up an anti-terror fight that is targetting an ever more complex, and constantly changing enemy.  Here are 10 priorities:

1. Wage the War of Ideas in Earnest - The Administration has until now resisted calling the war on terror is a fight over values and purposes.  That ideas play a role is, after all, potentially in tension with the view of Islamic terrorists as nihilistic and devoid of reason.  But while the core of extremist terrorist groups may be a fanaticism too deep and immutable to be tackled with reason, beliefs and viewpoints certainly do matter in the outer spokes of terrorist support networks, to the ordinary people who either grant or deny terrorists the funds, political support and safe harbor they need to operate.  These are the people we need to appeal to and pry away from their terrorist sympathies.

2. Recognize that U.S. Soldiers and Prison Guards are the Frontlines of Public Diplomacy - In waging a battle over ideas and perceptions among ordinary populations, what we do matters more than what we say.  Like it or not, our military, our prison guards, and our private contractors are on the frontlines of public diplomacy.  They do us proud much of the time, but the lapses that have occurred - some more than accidental - have hurt us badly by playing right into the worst fears and misperceptions about the United States.  But the Administration remains in denial on this score.

3. Get Politics Out of Homeland Security - The shameless pork-barrelling of this month's Homeland Security budget dealt a blow to the anti-terror efforts.  Whereas the 9/11 Commission and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff made a compelling case that funds be strictly apportioned on the basis of threats, the Senate decided on its own formula that shortchanges New York, California, and our ports and nuclear facilities for the benefit of unlikely terrorist targets like Wyoming, Idaho and Maine.

4. Put Forward A Clear Strategy For Iraq - Without a strategy to achieve U.S. goals in Iraq, no matter what we call the fight against terrorism, many Americans will fear that we are losing on the most important front.  This is not because we are fighting terrorists in Iraq to avoid fighting them here.  Rather, inadequate planning, a shaky justification for war, and inadequate global support have enabled America's enemies to use the struggling Iraq effort as a rallying cry for terrorist recruitment.   Bush claims to be committed to seeing Iraq through to stability, yet this week's talk is of a pullout.    More on what needs to be done here and here.

5.            Refocus on Counter-Proliferation - Everyone agrees that the gravest terrorist danger is that posed by a nuclear weapon in terrorist hands.  Yet as Peter Scoblic writes in the latest New Republic (tip to Matthew Yglesias) the Bush Administration is doing a dismal job responding to this threat.  To encapsulate, the Administration's focus on countries' intentions (good or evil) has eclipsed efforts to hold in check their capabilities, with the result that while we've deliberated over the potential for regime change in places like North Korea and Iran, they've continued to build their nuclear capabilities unfettered by the flawed non-pro regimes that Bush has done little to try to improve.

Continue reading "10 things that matter more to the fight against terror than a new acronym" »

July 24, 2005

Middle East, Weekly Top Ten Lists

10 Open Questions On the Gaza Pullout
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

If we're lucky, this summer will be remembered not as the moment the U.S. Supreme Court took a swerve to the right or for the quickening of Iraq's spiral out of control.  It could be known instead as the watershed moment in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, the time when Israel proved it was serious about dismantling settlements and allowing a 2-state solution to take hold, and the Palestinians showed they were capable of  controlling, governing and developing truly independent territory.

But the devil is in the details and, 24 days before the actual pullout (which may be expedited to forestall further protests) , lots of unanswered questions remain, questions that may determine whether Israeli withdrawal from Gaza turns out to be a major step forward or a backward stumble for the peace process.  Here are some of the most important unanswered questions:

1.  Will the actual withdrawal date proceed smoothly? - No one expected the Gaza pullout to be clean.   Die-hard protests by furious settlers, violent outbreaks and mutual frustration were inevitable.  With the killing of two innocent motorists and an attempted suicide bomb, the situation is becoming explosive.  Rumor is that Israel will expedite the pullout to avoid further escalation (as was done with the end of the US occupation in Iraq - - it seemed to help, but only very, very briefly).  If violence boils over and Israel cracks down (in an operation already planned and labeled "Iron Fist"), the pullout has the potential to become a fiasco before it is even completed.   Sinai in 1982 offers the benchmark for a painful, but largely peaceful, withdrawal.

2. Will the Palestinians be able to maintain security in Gaza post-withdrawal? This is the linchpin.  If Gaza is relatively stable and turns out to be a decent neighbor to Israel, the political weight in the Jewish state will shift inexorably toward favoring a final settlement and substantial disengagement from the West Bank.  If not, not.  Mohammed Dahlan, this is your hour.  If you can keep Gaza quiet (without trampling rights in a way that undercuts the Palestinian State's long-term stability), you will deserve a Nobel.

3.  Will Egypt do its part to keep arms from flowing into Gaza - Just last night Israel struck a preliminary agreement, long in the making, with the Egyptian government over the control of the Philadelphi Corridor between Egypt and Gaza.  Some 750 Egyptian border policemen will patrol the area, necessitating an amendment to the Camp David agreement.  Egypt will also be responsible for intelligence-gathering in Sinai.  After this weekend's carnage at Sharm el Sheikh, one hopes Egypt views tight border control, good intelligence, and a stringent arms crackdown as matters of straightforward self-interest.

4.  Will Hamas take over Gaza?  Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah-controlled Palestinian Authority has only a tenuous hold over Gaza.  Just days ago PA Civil Affairs Minister Mohammed Dahlan accused the group of plotting a coup.  Hamas, through its social-service minded style of politics, has been making strides at the polls in Gaza.  If Hamas, with its active military wing, takes over, the U.S. will be confronted with whether to continue to boycott a terrorist organization.   In terms of the Israeli-Palestinian relationships, all bets are off in this scenario.

5.  Will the Palestinians be able to keep Gaza economically viable? - This World Bank report details why disengagement in itself may mean precious little to the moribund Palestinian economy.  While Israeli farmers were prosperous in Gaza, for Palestinians to simply pick up where they have left off will pose challenges.  For one thing, the renowned Gush Katif greenhouses, employer to 600 Israelis and 1200 Palestinians, are being dismantled and relocated near Ashkelon.  To be healthy, a Gaza economy will depend on careful husbanding of the territory's agricultural resources, open access to markets, and generous foreign aid, none of which is guaranteed.

6.  How will goods flow from Gaza into Israel? - To thrive, Palestinian farmers in Gaza there will need ways of swiftly transiting produce into Israel for sale and shipment overseas.  If every car and truck were to be stopped and searched for weapons, the citrus and vegetables would rot in the heat.  But the parties have yet to hammer out a formula for this common customs envelope to encase the two territories.  Maybe the answer lies in an airport-style "Fastlane" - regularly pre-checking and validating certain producers and drivers who become eligible for swifter passage at the border.  One of the big debates is whether Israel will trust a reputable 3d party to do this sensitive job.

7.  Will true freedom of movement for people be possible - A ready flow of labor from Gaza into Israel will be essential for the territory to avoid isolation and economic ruin.  Thousands of Gaza residents commute daily into Israel for jobs.   With Israel in control of Gaza, border closures were routine.  Unless the security situation improves dramatically, this is likely to continue.

8.  How will people and goods transit between Gaza and the West Bank? - One of the most awkward elements of any conceivable peace settlement is the fact that Gaza and the West Bank are not contiguous, and the only route between the two cuts through 40km of Israel.  For the Palestinians to build a viable polity and economy, passage needs to be made simple.  The World Bank has proposed a kind of desert chunnel - - an sunken road linking the two.   Rail link is another option. 

9.  How quickly can Gaza's airport and seaport be reopened? - No matter how optimistic one is about the post-withdrawal period, there's no getting around the fact that security considerations were a key driver behind Israel's desire to withdraw from the combustible Strip.  So leaving the Palestinian economy fully dependent on open borders is a recipe for ruin.  Israel has approved the reopening of sea and airports.  While the airport should be up and running more quickly, the seaport is projected to take years to get started.

10.  What happens next?  Assuming the pullout is less than disastrous, what's next?  Do Sharon and Abbas continue to lead their respective peoples forward, implementing the road map to a two-state solution (or something close to it)?  Is Sharon really - as some accuse - using Gaza simply as a way to tighten Israel's hold on the the West Bank?  Are the Palestinian terrorist factions kept sufficiently in check to enable progress?

July 17, 2005

Weekly Top Ten Lists

Top 10 Questions About the Long-Term Future of U.S. Foreign Policy
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

This is a pretty indulgent one - - but, hey, its mid-summer and apart from the London investigation, the smoldering of Iraq and Plamegate, things seem a tad slow.  The big event at our house is that this week my son Leo turns one.   I always thought it cheesy when politicians advocated various policies as being in the interests of "our children."   But motherhood has changed all that.  With Leo growing longer in years, my thoughts turn to the foreign policy issues that concern me most in terms of his future.  Here are 10 of the questions that most concern me in terms of the world we'll hand to Leo and his generation sometime in 2040 or s0:

1.    Will nuclear weapons still be a threat -  I grew up in the era of "The Day After" and the enduring threat of nuclear conflict between the U.S. and the USSR.  Though that threat has changed radically it hasn't disappeared and is in now in many ways harder to manage and control.  The real question, though almost to frightening to raise, is whether nukes will be used in my son's lifetime.   At the going rate, without only halting progress on non-proliferation and control of loose nukes, the answer could well be yes.

2.   Will the U.S. still be the only superpower - My hope is yes, my fear is no.  I suspect that 35 years from now the U.S. will share political, economic and military dominance with China.  If that comes true, can a polarized duality be avoided, and is there a scenario where the two countries collaborate to solve global problems?  I find it difficult to predict and will be fascinated to see how this plays out.

3.  Will terrorism be a major feature of U.S. life - There will undoubtedly still be terrorism 35 years from now, but will the terrorist threat against the U.S. be a permanent feature of life in the 21st century?  Will future attacks on U.S. soil lead us to become more like Israel - a security state where issues of life-and-death surface amid the most workaday activities like eating pizza or shopping in a mall?  My hope is that a combination of settling the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and slow but steady liberalization and economic development in the Middle East dampen Islamic terrorism to a point where its occasional flare-ups are out-of-the-ordinary enough not to impact daily life in the U.S.  This is very optimistic.

4.  Will we have faced environmental disaster - Environmental issues are not my area of expertise, and are questions we probably don't spend enough time on on this blog.   But I do worry that global warming may really catch up with us sometime in the next generation, and that we will have only ourselves (and President Bush) to blame for failing to act when we could have.

5.  Will the U.S. still be the center of economic opportunity - While I could do without some of his polemics, I do worry about Thomas Friedman's thesis in The World is Flat about eroding American competitiveness in education, innovation and technology.  Where I part ways with Friedman is his implicit notion that the competition from India and elsewhere is to be feared:  I think we ought to just be energized by the idea that the game is being played harder and faster than ever before, and work on positioning the U.S. to win.   I do worry that we're underinvesting right now in tools like broadband and wide-scale internet access and literacy that we will need to keep up.  I hope we soon have leadership that changes that.

Continue reading "Top 10 Questions About the Long-Term Future of U.S. Foreign Policy" »

June 19, 2005

Weekly Top Ten Lists

Top 10 Things To Do and Not To Do in Iraq
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

There's a lot of great discussion underway at theWashington Monthly, IntelDump and Matthew Yglesias on what to do next in  Iraq. It's too soon to talk of cutting and running and offering public timetables for withdrawal. The minute that's out, we may as well fold the tent since we've declared defeat and our opponents know its simply a matter of waiting it out.

Given the importance of the Middle East to America's security and what we have put at stake in Iraq, there are at least a few more tacks to try before walking away.  Phil Carter and Richard Clarke talk about the permanent damage to our military if we stay in, but there's also harm in pulling out: the almighty American military bested by a ragtag insurgency in its most important ambitious and important mission in decades . . . again (see this post at Operation Truth about how vital it will be for the military of the future to be able to deal credibly with guerilla forces).

As preposterous as it was for Bush to declare that we're fighting terrorists in Iraq so they won't make it here, that message enlarges the meaning of defeat. That's not to say the time to seriously consider a swift pull-out won't come, but there are enough sound measures we haven't yet exhausted to make that call just yet.  Here are 10 things we should and shouldn't do in the next 3-6 months (dealing with military situation – not reconstruction, constitution-making etc. though there are plenty of to-do's on that front too). If we fail at them or they don't work, let's reconsider.

1. Launch a full-court press to get other countries involved in any capacity feasible. See full post here.  Ideally foreign troops would do things like policing towns where    U.S. forces have already cleared out the insurgents.

2. Re-start talks on expanded UN participation. A UN umbrella may be one of the only ways to attract foreign troops back into Iraq. If the U.S., for example, topped up the regular reimbursement rates for troop contributors, its not impossible to envision some developing countries with peacekeeping experience coming forward, particularly for tasks away from the front lines.

3. Make a long-term investment in the training of Iraqi military leadership. There has been so much pressure to quickly get Iraqi forces to a point where they can take over for us that the emphasis of the training effort has been on immediate, short-term results.  But keeping Iraq stable is a long-term proposition, and to achieve it Iraq's military leaders will need years of training.  We should make that investment starting now.

4. Rethink the risk-reward calculus for American soldiers. Our military personnel, reservists and National Guard members are getting much more by way of danger, disruption to their lives and long-term disabilities than they bargained for. We should ensure that every American service-member feels well taken-care of in terms of armor and equipment (still serious issues) and that military benefits aren't stingy (see this piece about homeless veterans of the Iraq and Afghan wars).  In addition to being the right thing to do, this will further motivate our forces in Iraq and help ensure that the damage Iraq has wrought to military recruitment efforts doesn't wind up being fatal.

5. Invest heavily in better understanding the insurgency.  Confusion about the nature of the insurgency is clouding military and political decision-making.   Has the insurgency gotten stronger or weaker in the last year?  What is its precise connection to the constitution-making process?   To what degree is the U.S. presence fueling the insurgents – what role do other factors play?   How are insurgents likely to react to, e.g., news of potential American withawal?  finalization of an Iraqi constitution?   partition?

See post continuation for 5 things the U.S. should not do in the next 3-6 months.

Continue reading "Top 10 Things To Do and Not To Do in Iraq" »

Weekly Top Ten Lists

The Long Arm of Halliburton
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

Apropos of last week's post on 10 reasons to close Guantanamo, it seems Halliburton has been extended a $30 million contract to build a new prison at the naval base.   The work won't be completed until July, 2006.

Reason #11.

June 12, 2005

Weekly Top Ten Lists

Weekly Top 10 - 10 Reasons to Close Guantanamo
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

Amnesty International's gulag remark was hyperbole and may have just made it tougher to get the Administration to own up to a prison gone wrong.  And – while the Administration pretends it is otherwise - no one is suggesting that the Guantanamo inmates simply be set free - - many and probably most may need to be detained for years to come, though this could be done in prisons in their home countries and the U.S.  People also aren't suggestion Gitmo be shut overnight.  While it will take some time to work out what to do with the 540 inmates, declaring a shut-down date that is months away would make that work go faster.   There are good reasons to close down the Guantanamo detention camp, and here are 10:                                                                                                                                                                        

1.         Because conditions there have given rise to torture – For reasons that will be debated for years to come, multiple incidents of torture have occurred at Guantanamo.  The revelations of abuse continue to spill out, including this latest from Time Magazine.  The U.S. rejects torture unequivocally (as does President Bush ), and cannot maintain a facility where we know torture occurs.

2.         To eliminate what has become a liability in the war on terror – Reports of ill-treatment of Afghan detainees at Guantanamo have become a rallying cry for anti-U.S. insurgents across the Muslim world.  Getting rid of Guantanamo won't solve the problem, but – particularly if coupled with serious efforts to prevent all abuses in detention and interrogation - it will deprive them of what has become a highly evocative symbol around the world. (see Biden's comments - -  Rep. Mel Martinez (R-FL) agrees). 

3.         To recapture the U.S.'s position as a human rights standard-bearer – Despite the Administration's denunciations, Amnesty's fingering of the U.S. as a major human rights violator has been heard 'round the world.  The claim resonates because of the revelations concerning Guantanamo, Bagram and elsewhere.  To counter this, we need to make a dramatic gesture to show that the U.S. maintains its reputation on the forefront of promoting human rights. (see Jimmy Carter's comments).

4.        To expedite the determination of which inmates warrant continued detention – One of the most egregious aspects of the Guantanamo process is the fact that after being captive for three and a half years, many of the 540 detainees have still not had the benefit of a hearing to determine whether there is evidence to back their designation as enemy combatants.   Some still haven't even seen a lawyer.  With a fixed timeline to shut down Guantanamo, those hearings would need to happen more quickly. 

5.        Because legal advantages to offshore detention are dwindling – The original reason to use Gitmo for Afghan detainees was to stop them from asserting their rights in U.S. courts by asserting a loophole based on the fact that the prison isn't on American soil.   But the Supreme Court has held that the writ of habeas corpus does apply at Gitmo, and the Administration has been dealt a series of similar setbacks in lower courts.  So any legal advantage the Administration hoped to gain by offshoring detentions is dwindling. 

Continue reading "Weekly Top 10 - 10 Reasons to Close Guantanamo" »

June 05, 2005

Africa, Human Rights, Weekly Top Ten Lists

Top 10 Things To Do for Darfur Short of U.S. Military Intervention
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

Kevin asks whether we ought to be prepared to send in armed troops to stop genocide. My answer is yes, provided we think we can get the job done and there isn’t an equivalent or better alternative to get the killing stopped. Given the weaknesses of the Sudanese government and the Janjaweed, I assume the operation would ordinarily be eminently doable.

But one of the worst things about our single-handed Iraq invasion is that for the first time in recent memory a legitimate question can be raised about whether the U.S. is over-extended to the point where we cannot assume new military obligations. As a political matter, Iraq has also made it tough to contemplate mounting another challenging military intervention. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it, but it does suggest that we won’t.  Progressives need to look beyond the a false dichotomy of either proposing a military intervention that is a political non-starter, or keeping a low profile on the Darfur tragedy out of an abashed sense that we don't know how to fully solve it.

If we right away did everything possible short of sending combat troops, we’d save a lot of lives, and make an eventual U.S. military role more feasible (and maybe even less necessary). I am no expert on Darfur, but those that are suggest that these are some places to start:

1. Put the heat on NATO to buttress the AU – The US, UN, EU and NATO have been passing the hot potato when it comes to taking action in Sudan. NATO has its limitations, but its better positioned than any other organization to become the focal point for partnering with the AU to try to make that mission effective. The U.S. should take the lead in pushing the alliance to prove its relevance by getting involved. NATO should take the lead in negotiating terms with the AU, instead of waiting until broader help is asked for. This month’s G-8 meeting in Scotland would be a good opportunity to make the case (though other G-8 members may turn the tables wanting support for their anti-poverty plans in Africa).

2. Put NATO troops on the ground – It will be impossible to turn around Darfur without putting substantial numbers of competent and equipped troops on the ground quickly. That’s an impossibility for the AU, so partnering effectively with them means sending in a portion of the 17,000 troops NATO supposedly has at the ready. All else under discussion – airlift, training, advisers – are half-measures. But in doing this, we need to realize that a NATO "bridge" until the AU is ready to take over may wind up lasting a long while.

3. Enforce a no-fly zone – The need for a no-fly zone to stop air raids on civilians has been discussed for upwards of a year.It was contained in the Darfur Accountability Act, which the Administration opposed.

4. Making it clear that preventing genocide trumps intelligence cooperation – The Sudanese government must love the fact that the U.S. is being reported to have toned down its outcry on Darfur so as not to interfere with Khartoum’s help in the fight against terrorism.The Administration has never disavowed this, and needs to if its other efforts to end the genocide are to be taken seriously and attract support.

5. Impose sanctions and an arms embargo – These are also parts of the moribund Darfur Accountability Act. Particularly if they targeted core sectors like the oil industry, sanctions would demonstrate that the U.S. means business, and would raise the cost of the Sudanese government’s indifference. In addition to full implementation of bilateral sanctions, the U.S. should push the UN Security Council to press ahead with its stalled sanctions effort. (Sudan’s defeat in today’s World Cup qualifier made me think sports sanctions should be considered too – they worked in South Africa).

Continue reading "Top 10 Things To Do for Darfur Short of U.S. Military Intervention" »

May 22, 2005

Human Rights, Weekly Top Ten Lists

Weekly Top 10 List - Ten Reasons the Real Fallout from the Newsweek Story Is Just Beginning
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

A vast amount of time and energy has gone into analysis and recriminations over the botched Newsweek story reporting that interrogators at Guantanamo Bay flushed a Koran down a toilet.  Newsweek's recantation, its new policy limiting the use of unsubstantiated sources, and its finding that the reporters in question followed established procedures and relied on a trustworthy source ought to put that matter mostly to bed. But here's what should keep us up at night:

1.  That similar stories that have been corroborated by credible sources. There are a number of serious reports of abuse at Guantanamo that have come to light in recent months, before and after the Newsweek report.  60 Minutes reported on female interrogators using sexual manipulation and fake menstrual blood to intimidate and discomfort Muslim detainees.  The ICRC has brought numerous instances of Koran desecration at Guantanamo to the Pentagon's attention.  This page details the concerns the ICRC has about conditions and treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo.  Now that we are on notice about what such practices can trigger, we'd better find out what's really going on and fast. 

2.  The underlying level of anti-American sentiment that allowed a single news report to trigger deadly riots throughout the Muslim world. This point is gradually being acknowledged in quarters that might have preferred to blame it all on Newsweek. The comments in response to Dan Drezner's post on the subject are illustrative. These riots are the most vivid, though hardly the only, evidence of just how precarious the U.S.'s standing is in the Muslim world.  Though aimed to counter anti-Americanism, Laura Bush's visit to the region triggered more protests last weekend. The sources of these attitudes ought to be a primary matter of U.S. concern.

3.   The related revelations of detainee abuse in Afghanistan that came to light this week. The religious insults that the ICRC documented at Guantanamo pale alongside the allegations of actual torture -- brutal beatings, chaining people to cell ceilings for days -- and homicide at the Bagram detention camp in Afghanistan reported by the New York Times this week.  Yet this shocking report got far less play than the Newsweek story.

4.  The military culture and policies that have allowed these abuses to happen. This is the larger issue at stake, and one that has not yet been thoroughly aired.  It seems clear that at least some of the detainees who have been victimized were not particularly valuable from an intelligence perspective.  Israel has for years been grappling with questions such as this

Suppose a bomb has been placed in a crowded building, and the state has custody of one who knows where it is. The bomb is set to go off in two hours. It is impossible to get the people out. What do I do in such a case?

No one has suggested so far that the U.S. soldiers involved in these cases faced anything close to such a dilemma. So what factors did give rise to torture and other forms of mistreatment? We'd better find out.

5.  The Pentagon's unwillingness to come to grips with the larger implications of the story. From what I can tell, the Pentagon's response to the riots two weeks ago was to fix the blame exclusively on Newsweek.   I haven't yet seen any Pentagon response quoted to the horrific revelations last week on Bagram. The Pentagon still seems to maintain that the scandals at Abu Ghraib were isolated incidents by relatively junior personnel run amok.  None of these problems will be corrected as long as a culture of denial continues to prevail.

Continue reading "Weekly Top 10 List - Ten Reasons the Real Fallout from the Newsweek Story Is Just Beginning" »

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