The Belgravia Dispatch by GREGORY DJEREJIAN


11/25/2003  

A Very, Very Bad Idea

With all due respect to Les Gelb, former President of the Council on Foreign Relations and an all around great guy-- this proposal would be a disaster. Commentary soon.

UPDATE:

Rarely have I been as shocked to read an opinion piece as this morning when I first saw Les Gelb's NYT op-ed (and particularly given how Gelb's moving op-eds about the Balkans in the early '90's had helped contribute to my decision to work in the former Yugoslavia).

Back then, Gelb was loudly condemning the West's cowardice in refusing to confront the genocidal actions of (mostly) Serbian and Bosnian Serb leaders (though Bosnian Croats [ed. note: particularly Hercegovinians, and the Mostar batch likely the worst of the lot], and to a lesser extent, Bosnian Muslims, had blood on their hands too).

Doubtless, I trust, Gelb continues to believe in American foreign policy objectives in Bosnia--hoping to foster, even if it takes a very good while, a sustainable, unitary and multi-ethnic state. Thus my shock that Gelb would call for the cantonization of Iraq into three independent statelets:

"The only viable strategy, then, may be to correct the historical defect and move in stages toward a three-state solution: Kurds in the north, Sunnis in the center and Shiites in the south....

This three-state solution has been unthinkable in Washington for decades. After the Iranian revolution in 1979, a united Iraq was thought necessary to counter an anti-American Iran. Since the gulf war in 1991, a whole Iraq was deemed essential to preventing neighbors like Turkey, Syria and Iran from picking at the pieces and igniting wider wars.

But times have changed. The Kurds have largely been autonomous for years, and Ankara has lived with that. So long as the Kurds don't move precipitously toward statehood or incite insurgencies in Turkey or Iran, these neighbors will accept their autonomy. It is true that a Shiite self-governing region could become a theocratic state or fall into an Iranian embrace. But for now, neither possibility seems likely
."

First off, I'm a bit confused. Gelb starts by a call for moving in stages towards a "three-state solution." He then fence-sits by stating that so long as the Kurds aren't too precipitous in moving towards statehood--Turkey will accept its "autonomy." So which is it, states or autonomous entities?

Well, I think Gelb is trying to camouflage via extraneous verbiage his seeming belief and recommendation that Kurdistan would ultimately be an independent state. Why? He likely realizes that this is a major weakness in his argument so skirts the issue a bit by making a passing reference to autonomy arrangements. But, make no mistake, he's calling for a Kurdish (and Shi'a and Sunni) state(s).

But let's be perfectly clear. The moment that an independent Kurdistan were declared (if not well sooner) would be the moment there would be thousands of Turkish troops pouring over the border to fight the peshmerga. In short, a Turkish-Kurdish conflagration, and a large one, would be all but unavoidable.

On the Sunni front--Gelb basically says let's pull out our troops ("freeing American forces from fighting a costly war they might not win") and send the U.N. in after the Sunnis have cooled down a bit. The thinking is they will collect their senses when they see how isolated they are, how they have no access to oil revenues, are denied access to borders by which to trade, and so on.

But let's be clear about one thing. If the U.S. were to suspend its counter-insurgency operations in the Sunni Triangle and pull out--this would pretty much look like an unadulaterated victory for Ba'athist die-hards and Saddam Fedayeen. They would have beaten away the Americans (Gelb has them in control of Baghdad)! Imagine the propaganda coup!

The resultant artifically hyped and misguided pan-Arab sentiment, stemming from the supposed glories of staving off the Americans, would reverberate through the region. America would be seen as a paper tiger. Make them bleed to the tune of approximately half a thousand men--and they cut and run.

Gelb: "...at the same time, draw down American troops in the Sunni Triangle and ask the United Nations to oversee the transition to self-government there. This might take six to nine months; without power and money, the Sunnis may cause trouble." [emphasis added]

You think? A marginalized, disaffected populace in the center of the country teeming with resentment (though paradoxically believing itself victorious) as all the reconstruction aid (per Gelb) goes to the Shi'a and Kurdish portions of the country. They might, you know, cause trouble?

And the Iraq gun-shy U.N. would want to go into this morass of ill will and hatred? But surely the residents of Falujah would greet the German peacekeepers with a flurry of danke sheins once the hated Americans had exited the scene, no? Wouldn't that reassure the Turtle Bay crowd? Er, think again.

Instead, we'd be creating a rump Sunni parastate that would become incredibly radicalized and mount destabalizing forays into the Kurdish and Shia's portions of the country at every opportunity.

No, engagement is the answer--not withdrawal--when it comes to the Sunni Triangle. First the insurgency needs to be quashed. Then earnest reconstruction efforts aimed at winning back hearts and minds would need to be pursued with alacrity.

On the Shi'a front Gelb writes: "It is true that a Shiite self-governing region could become a theocratic state or fall into an Iranian embrace. But for now, neither possibility seems likely".

Regarding the latter possibility, a residual sense of Iraqi nationalism, even among the Shi'a, might mean Gelb is right to be a tad sanguine about major Iranian encroachments. But I'd be very concerned about the prospects of a theocratic state emerging from a homogenous Shi'a state. After all, unmoored from the need to find common ground with their co-national Kurdish and Sunni brethren--the Shi'a would be free to rush headlong into the embrace of their common religious sect affiliation. The emergence of a theocratic state would be a very real possiblity.

But all this gets worse. What of the Sunni living in predominately Shi'a area? Or vice versa? Or Kurds in Sunni areas? Or big cities? For that matter, what would be Baghdad's status, predominately Sunni but with teeming Shi'a slums in Sadr City? Would we be withdrawing from Baghdad (as indicated above, it appears so, per Gelb!)? It seems he views the capital as part of the "Sunni" zone. We'd have lost the Battle of Baghdad, not by a dramatic force of arms, but via a voluntary retreat!

More from Gelb (on, shall we say, 'inconveniently' located minorities per his three state solution [ed. note: and what of the Turkomen, Assyrian, etc?])

"For example, they might punish the substantial minorities left in the center, particularly the large Kurdish and Shiite populations in Baghdad. These minorities must have the time and the wherewithal to organize and make their deals, or go either north or south. This would be a messy and dangerous enterprise, but the United States would and should pay for the population movements and protect the process with force."

This is all a bit too hyper-macho realpolitik (read: Mearsheimeresque) and I'm shocked to hear an internationalist with neo-Wilsonian stripes like Gelb advocating this.

I mean, this is how we export democracy to the Middle East? By organizing population transfers and providing security for said relocations? This is the spirit of Tito's Yugoslavia that Gelb (so strangely) evokes? The lessons of the bloody dissolution of Yugoslavia is that it is futile to keep multiethnic polities together by force of arms? Than why is Kosovo not independent? Republika Srpska? The Croat portion of the Federation?

No, Gelb's policy proposals represent a crude reversion to primitive tribalism. Kin with kin; tribe with tribe, co-ethnicist with co-ethnicist. Shi'as to flee cosmopolitan, teeming Baghdad. Whither Kirkuk, Mosul? And who would pick the borders between the new "states"? Who would be the map drawers?

No, this scenario is truly a dismal one. In short, what Gelb advocates is just shy of madness. Please, let the serried ranks of official Washington continue to, per Gelb, "worship at the altar of a unified yet unnatural Iraqi state."

There's a reason for the worship. It avoids a Turkish-Kurdish war. A theocratic Shi'a entity. A bitter Sunni parastate with a civil war era Beirut-like city (but even worse) called Baghdad at its center fostering disarray far and wide. Not to mention bloody, brutal and probably needless population transfers.

In short, conditions of anarchy. And the end of a serious American role in the vital Middle East region for many decades to come so massive a disaster we would have wrought.

It's all unthinkable really. Except that an eminent, respected foreign policy thinker like Les Gelb just advocated it in the pages of the New York Times.










posted by Gregory| 11/25/2003 09:38:00 AM


11/23/2003  

An Osirak Redux?

Sharon is ramping up his government's anti-Iranian nuclear proliferation efforts.

posted by Gregory| 11/23/2003 02:23:00 PM
 

Inverse Brain Drain

Josef Joffe is wondering whether the post 9/11 security climate in the U.S. is leading to a worrisome reduction in smart students/immigrants willing (or able) to come to the U.S. His fears are likely somewhat overwrought (the decline in issuance of student visas as between 2001 and 2003 is not quite as dramatic as he portrays) but the issue probably merits wider attention.

Sample grafs:

"That resource is neither coal nor oil but brains. Alas, brains come with bodies attached, and it is those millions of bodies (previously known as "tired, huddled masses") that have catapulted the United States to the top of the Nobel Prize roster and turned Harvard et al. into the world's greatest universities. Or take Silicon Valley. At the height of the bubble, executives of Chinese and Indian descent were running one-quarter of the Valley's high-tech firms; these accounted for $17 billion in sales and almost 60,000 jobs.

Why didn't these Asian whiz kids go to Munich or Madrid? Because only in America does "where do you come from?" matter less than "where did your get your degree in electrical engineering?" If it was the top school in Bombay or Shanghai, you're in, and the sky is the limit. Before Sept. 11, nobody hauled you in for questioning ("Why did you fly to China six times in the last eight months? What about these 86 telephone calls across the Pacific?")
"

posted by Gregory| 11/23/2003 02:02:00 PM


11/22/2003  

On the Road

I'm blogging from an airport terminal in Geneva which means I'm about to get on a flight. Expect very light posting through Tuesday. Apologies.

posted by Gregory| 11/22/2003 06:08:00 PM
 

The Routinization of Social Protest (and the Perils of Fanatical Pacifism)

Check out this piece from the Nation. Pretty predictable, unremarkable fare.

Except this nugget:

"As the movement has grown, the Stop the War marches have come to feel like reunions: the same crisp placards in black, white and red, the same feeling of moral necessity, the same sense of a surprising variety of people. This one was led by Vietnam veteran Ron Kovic, who had been guest of honor the previous day at a peace party hosted by Mayor Ken Livingstone. Vanessa Redgrave, unfussed about security, threaded her way through the crowd handing out leaflets for a symposium about what the war on terrorism is doing to human rights. Someone had poured red ink into the Trafalgar Square fountains so that the water looked like blood; a giant papier-mâché statue of George Bush with a tiny Blair in his pocket was raised and then pulled down at the foot of Nelson's Column. There were costumes and painted faces and plenty of Americans; a young man in a suit carried a placard that read "Business Against Bush"; someone had written "Bush Go Home" in pretzels. The carnival feeling contrasted comfortingly with the stiffness of the state visit, as if we were reclaiming London for ourselves." (emphasis added)

Reunions. Peace parties. Carnivals.

Call it the routinization of social protest--alongside the fusion of protest and entertainment. Like any product--the great masses need to be enticed to play ball, ie. pick the product.

Hey, the water will run red in the fountain! There will be (groovy) music! We'll even be burning/toppling Dubya effigies. You just gotta come on down!

Frankly, I suspect, a good chunk go out of boredom, a sense of artificial bonhomie, the party/carnival vibe. (ed. note: Who knows? Maybe there is a bit of a pick up vibe at these protest venues. Hey babe, really cool placard! How 'bout a drink later?)

Sure, and to be more serious, there are doubtless many protestors who have intelligently thought out concerns about Dubya's policies who attend these rallies out of fervently held conviction. But a good dollop are there just for cheap kicks and have barely a clue what they're protesting against.

Two days after 9-11, I was in Union Square in Manhattan. People would pour into the square grieving, shocked, basically in need of some human contact outside of their (too small) apartments. The basic mood written on people's faces, ultimately, was what just happened here?

As the days went by, the Square turned into something of NY's village green or town square. Grief was changing into racuous (though always peaceful) political debate.

You would have a working-class African-American guy, maybe in his 40s, in a hard hat, fresh up from Ground Zero who scolded some upper middle class looking white NYU students holding up peace signs ("You come down to Ground Zero! You come see what I saw! You'll see if you're still holding up those signs...!" he repeatedly bellowed in anger--or was it anguish?)

A French guy, who worked at the U.N., who was (double surprise!) in favor of retaliatory action should UBL not be coughed up by Mullah Omar and gang. ("America can be pretty peaceful, but when she gets hit like this, she will hit back very, very, very hard" he noted, pounding his fist into his hand for effect and speaking approvingly).

But I'm digressing. Two more snippets more relevant to my post.

A tourist from Spain. The kind of guy who had come to NY to go clubbing at big venues like the Tunnel, Twilo, Limelight and to kick around the main drags of mallified Soho. Probably 25. Against retaliation.

Why? Because war is "creepy".

Believe me, there are a lot of that breed at the London shindigs.

There was also an intense looking American graduate student who was holding up an anti-war sign (something like "Choose Humanism, Not Nationalism", I seem to recall).

I told him that, in my view, his full-blown pacificism constituted its own form of fanaticism.

A huge, gaping 16 acre hole had just been blasted into Manhattan. At that time, we all thought upwards of 10,000 might have been incinerated in what was, finally, a de facto giant crematorium. The smell of death quite literally hung in the air all around us.

Were we to dispatch process servers to the backwaters of Kandahar province to deliver UBL a summons and hope he made it to his court date over in the Hague?

I mean, come on. Radovan Karadzic is still at large over a decade since the beginning of the wars of Yugloslav succession (a mega-embarrassment, btw, we should finally apprehend this genocidal scum). It's just not serious.

He had no convincing answers then and I doubt he would today. Yes war is horrible. We must do our utmost to prevent it. But, of course, military action is sometimes an imperative. And sure, let's debate Iraq. But when doing so, let's remember that many in the anti-war crowd had no stomach to go into Afghanistan even.

Yep, it's fanatical pacifism all right. And I'm not buying.

Yeah, even if it's a really, really cool protest. And even if someone would have really dug my anti-Bush placard.



posted by Gregory| 11/22/2003 05:05:00 PM
 

Krugman Watch

Gerard Baker has something of a quasi-fisking of Krugman's book over at the FT's weekend magazine. It ain't pretty.

And it's so much less breathless than this earlier NYRB review of the book.

Who knows? Maybe the jacket cover of the U.K. edition scared Baker a bit? (Hat tip: Andrew)

Baker:

"At this point Krugman, the expert economist, leaves Rubin in the dust and drives his case on into emotive and rather solitary territory. The Bush team's manipulation of economic policy is not just cynical populism, but is of a piece, he says, with its cynical manipulation of national security policy. A hard-right cabal has taken over the reins of the US government, committed to diminishing radically the power of the federal government through endless tax cuts and fiscal crises at home and endless wars and military crises overseas.

Most reasonable observers might think this goes too far. Surely Democrats have supported the administration's foreign policies in Afghanistan and Iraq? Surely independent observers can draw a contrast between Bush's economics and his national security strategy
?"

Indeed.

posted by Gregory| 11/22/2003 03:11:00 PM


11/21/2003  

Meanwhile

...in the Caucasus.

UPDATE: The Parliament seized.

posted by Gregory| 11/21/2003 07:36:00 PM
 

Reader Feedback

David Adesnik, responding to this post, E-mails in:

"Btw, let me take issue with something in your post on the Jiang/Putin/Mugabe/Assad visits to London. The real issue isn't hyperpuissance. This isn't about the balance of power or realpolitik. It is about a misguided leftist ideology that considers a controversial pre-emptive war far worse than massive human rights violations. Or at least pretends that it does because it knows that it will get much more of a rise out of American democrats than Russian or Chinese or Zimbabwean or Syrian thugs."

He makes a good point. Regardless, the reason for all the anti-Bush vitriole isn't monocausal (I certainly didn't mean to suggest that it was). There are many variables involved. But I still think a mixture of fear, envy, fascination, and generalized resentment of the U.S. hegemon fans the anti-Bush fires more than any specific policy quibbles [ed. note: Than why wasn't Clinton as detested when U.S. power was, pretty much, just as strong with the Soviet Union already no longer?]

First off, it's worth noting that the transatlantic storms were already brewing then. Also important? There was much abdication of an American leadership role through the Clinton years (with notable, if belated, exceptions like Dick Holbrooke and Bosnia), so we appeared less threatening.

Sure, we've occasionally been a bit arrogant in our diplomacy recently (see handling of Mexico, Turks). It reminds me of a flight I was on where an American couple described Mexico as being a little "uppity" too (France was the other country mentioned) regarding not voting alongside the U.S. at the UNSC.

We have to persuade other countries on the merits--not, like Chirac's treatment of Eastern Europe, treat recalcitrant allies like unruly schoolchildren to be scolded and upbraided for being "uppity."

And, to be sure, 9/11 forced the need for a more muscular foreign policy that spooked some--in terms of creating overwrought fears that the war in Iraq would scuttle the entire gamut of the post-war international security architecture. And that, per Adesnik's note, helps contribute to the fact that a preemptive war fought against a genocidal thug is registering so much more protest than the gross human rights violations of the likes of Putin, Jiang Zemin, Mugabe etc.



posted by Gregory| 11/21/2003 12:25:00 PM
 

Now I Get It

Ah, this explains it all.

posted by Gregory| 11/21/2003 11:39:00 AM
 

Keller Watch

Hey folks, don't miss this "news analysis" (where speculative musings masquerade as hard news)--a New York Times specialty!

Money quote:

"The religion-inspired wars of the 1990's drew some young Turks north into Bosnia or across Iran to Chechnya and Afghanistan. In those places, terrorism experts say, the young men were vulnerable to the ideological zeal and global designs then coalescing into Al Qaeda.

The war in Iraq may have tipped the balance toward actual terrorism. "Before, the threat was more or less theoretical," said Rifat Bali, a writer in Istanbul
." [emphasis added]

Translation? Well, pretty much, Dubya helped cause the Istanbul carnage because of his "unilateral" folly in Iraq.

Speaking of unilateralism, when will the NYT stop trotting out the misrepresentation that the Bush administration is hell-bent on pursuing a brutish new form of unilateralism? Today's masthead is typical.

Key sentence:

"Mr. Bush, however, has embraced unilateralism not as an extraordinary policy option, but as his dominant international theme." [emphasis added]

Really? Even with the two charter "axis of evil" countries that haven't been actively engaged in battle, Iran and NoKo, we are actively employing multilateral strategies. And these are the very countries where we'd be most likely to employ unilateral action--as we've repeatedly said they present a grave danger to international stability.

Don't believe me? Here's just one story that gives the lie to the contention that the Bush Administration has embraced unilateralism as its "dominant international theme."

But the realities of, say, significant Chinese involvement with the diplomatic process vis-a-vis NoKo or mention of the troika of Euro foreign ministers liasing with Iran on nuclear compliance--if all this were mentioned--the Times couldn't score cheap anti-Bush shots on its masthead with such ease, right?

So why bother with the muddy realities? Bush is simply a bufoonish unilateralist. The world is running scared from a new imperial hegemon that does as she pleases--all the subject peoples be damned! And we reap what we sow when we so vigorously take the wrecking ball to the Achesonian world order (see Casablanca, Bali, Riyadh, Istanbul, etc)

It's all very similar to the worldview of some of the London protestors I saw interviewed on the Beeb last night. Asked about the carnage in Istanbul, they (with dulled eyes peering at the camera) muttered on about how Iraq was the cause of the slaughter.

Easy, no Iraq--no terror! I'd expect such breathtaking naivete amidst hardened Tony Benn and Harold Pinter types who are bored, pretty clueless, and want to march about Trafalgar after a few pints.

But I'd expect a more nuanced, sophisticated story line from Bill Keller's shop over at W. 43rd.









posted by Gregory| 11/21/2003 10:29:00 AM
 

HSBC

Bravo to the British bank for standing firm in the Turkey market. More gumption displayed than, say, the U.N. perhaps?

posted by Gregory| 11/21/2003 10:03:00 AM
 

Department of Poor Timing

Guess when "Stop the War", the group that organized today's London protests, was founded?

September 21, 2001.

What war were they trying to stop? The one al-Q declared in lower Manhattan 10 days before? Or the one that hadn't even started in Afghanistan yet?

posted by Gregory| 11/21/2003 01:10:00 AM
 

Patriot Act

Joe Klein mediated a Patriot Act debate between two of my former law school profs (Cole just subbed in for my ConLaw guy once).

I'm with Dinh, perhaps not surprisingly, and not just because he taught me a full course!

posted by Gregory| 11/21/2003 12:24:00 AM
 

Refugee Repatriation

When I used to do refugee resettlement work in the Balkans--repatriation back into Bosnia was pretty much unthinkable even (for a good while) post Dayton Accords.

True, these refugees mostly left Iraq in 1991 during Saddam's brutal crackdown after the Shi'a uprising. They've been waiting a long time.

But the fact that refugees are coming back into Iraq at all is a reminder that the insurgency is pretty localized and that large swaths of the country are quite peaceful.

Meanwhile, check out this good news too.

posted by Gregory| 11/21/2003 12:19:00 AM
 

Istanbul Update

A "kind and generous man."

posted by Gregory| 11/21/2003 12:07:00 AM


11/20/2003  

Keller Watch

It's real sloppy over at the NYT today.

First MaDo, of course.

"Wearing a blue sash and a tiara with enough diamonds to pay for a year of the Iraqi occupation, the British queen gave the American president a bit of a poke, a light sideswipe with her handbag, as it were.

In her remarks honoring Mr. Bush at the state dinner last night, Queen Elizabeth unleashed a barrage of favorable references to the most dreaded words in the Bush-Cheney lexicon: "multilateral order," "trans-Atlantic partnership," "other allies" and "effective international institutions."

"At the very core of the new international and multilateral order, which emerged after the shared sacrifices of that last terrible world war, was a vital dynamic trans-Atlantic partnership working with other allies to create effective international institutions," she said. This, to a president who has never met an international institution he did not try to wreck and who's darting around like a fugitive in the land of the "special relationship," using Buck House as a safe house
." [emphasis added]

Note the loaded language that intimates Dubya is a criminal (Perhaps Dowd wants to give Harold Pinter a run for his money?).

But more important, take another gander at the bolded statement. It's factually untrue (see below) and, of course, an absurdity.

Does Bill Keller care?

Nor was the Queen needling Bush in her toast as Dowd says.

She was rather echoing Bush's speech of yesterday.

I mean, even the Beeb's excerpts of the speech make that very clear.

Here's the key graf:

"Like 11 Presidents before me, I believe in the international institutions and alliances that America helped to form and helps to lead. The United States and Great Britain have labored hard to help make the United Nations what it is supposed to be - an effective instrument of our collective security. In recent months, we've sought and gained three additional resolutions on Iraq - Resolutions 1441, 1483 and 1511 - precisely because the global danger of terror demands a global response. The United Nations has no more compelling advocate than your Prime Minister, who at every turn has championed its ideals and appealed to its authority. He understands, as well, that the credibility of the U.N. depends on a willingness to keep its word and to act when action is required."
[emphasis added]

Maureen Dowd must have read that speech. After all, it was given just yesterday and constitutes a key part of Bush's visit. (You know, if she's writing about Bush's trip--it would be a good idea to read the speech, no?)

So how does that square with her anti-Bush screed that contends that Dubya "never met an international institution he did not try to wreck"?

Oh, and take a look at this document to see what the U.S.' real policy vis-a-vis multilateral diplomacy is.

Listen, she could say the speech is merely disingenuous fodder for the Euro masses and go on with shrill polemics. But on the day after a major speech by Bush on the importance of bolstering international institutions--the very fora Dowd says Dubya is so intent on wrecking--you would think she might write about this with more caution.

Perhaps she might even be chastened into employing a modicum of sober, intelligent analysis, no?

Nah. Methinks she's purposefully lying again--or, at best, being sophomorically hyperbolic. Sadly routine and expected during the Raines era--but, and I really believe this, increasingly a true embarassment for Keller.

Someone should compile all these factually incorrect whoppers by Dowd--maybe packaging all the distortions into some gory aggregate might help get someone's attention at the Times.

Oh, and don't miss Tom Friedman today either:

"Then I pick up The Independent to read in the taxi and I see that London's left-wing mayor, Ken Livingstone, has denounced President Bush as "the greatest threat to life on this planet that we've most probably ever seen." Then I check out The Guardian, which carried open letters to the president, one of which is from the famous playwright Harold Pinter, who says: "Dear President Bush, I'm sure you'll be having a nice little tea party with your fellow war criminal, Tony Blair. Please wash the cucumber sandwiches down with a glass of blood."

No, Dorothy, we're definitely not in Kansas anymore.

We're in the U.K., our closest ally in the Iraq war — a country where Mr. Bush still has many supporters, but also a legion of detractors. But if this is how some of our best friends are talking, imagine how difficult it is going to be to win over America's more ambivalent allies — to widen support for the rebuilding of Iraq
."
[emphasis added]

Some of our "best friends"! Ken Livingstone, Harold Pinter, the Independent? That's a laugh, isn't it?








posted by Gregory| 11/20/2003 01:35:00 PM
 

Istanbul Attacks

The bombings in Istanbul against British targets were very likely timed to coincide with Dubya's visit to the U.K. They will doubtless overshadow both the tail end of his visit to the UK and the anti-Bush demonstrations planned for today in London.

Britain will be in mourning today.

The attacks were also likely designed to suggest linkage between the Israeli-Palestinian dispute and Anglo-American policy in the Middle East given the synagogue attacks of a few days back in the same city.

Yes, not that we needed any reminding, al-Qaeda and/or affiliates are still very much operational. And it will likely get even uglier.

Now tell me again that Bush is overreacting to the terror threat post 9/11?

UPDATE: There won't be much to overshadow demonstrations-wise. During a quick lunchtime stroll, I just popped around through Mayfair down to the Mall and back via Trafalgar Sq. and Piccadilly Circus.

A gaggle or two of what appeared to be junior high school age students waving anti-Dubya placards and looking, er, very clueless. Piles of as yet unclaimed placards conveniently lying about too--just in case an office worker on lunch might want to strut about with one, for a brief while, with a tuna sandwich in the other hand.

A big videomontage with an animated Dubya dancing and text saying something like 'Dance with me or I'll bomb 'ya'. Lame music in the air and a woman walking around with a picture of Jesus announcing the coming of the Prophet.

Some rasta-haired curiosities with dollar bills interwoven into their hair so as to make some "statement" about Halliburton or such.

Oh, and two big signs about taking down "Israel's Apartheid Wall." Listen, regular readers of this blog know I don't support the erection of the security fence. And, of course, Dubya spoke out against it yesterday (whether there will be any effective follow through is quite another matter in terms of applying real pressure on Sharon).

But to call the security fence an "Apartheid Wall" is absurd. Might the protestors pause and think of the myriad suicide attacks that have hit Israel? And thus the reason the security fence is, if unwisely, being built?

While they are at it, might they stop and remember the British and Turkish nationals killed today in Istanbul by the very bombing tactics they castigate Bush about?

ANOTHER UPDATE: The death toll is rising and al-Qaeda has reputedly claimed the attack.

MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING: Underwhelming in the extreme. (Hat tip: Glenn)

posted by Gregory| 11/20/2003 10:41:00 AM


11/19/2003  

The Occupation

Go read Jim Hoagland today. Particularly the part suggesting Jerry Bremer is moving from a MacArthur style Japan occupation to a model based on McCloy's stewardship of Germany.

Money quote:

"MacArthur commanded occupied Japan as if it were an army and had his staff write that country's postwar constitution. McCloy emphasized consensus politics and helped clear the way for Konrad Adenauer and others to assume power. Catapulted into the chaotic conditions of Baghdad in June to replace the more relaxed Jay Garner, Bremer felt he had to play MacArthur for a time. But McCloy is closer to the mark now."

Put differently, a benign MacArthur type (go to Slate link at bottom of archived post).

Also critical, re: keeping the Shi'a side of the equation as quiet as possible:

"These and other steps toward genuine self-government will help break what U.S. officials call the "Sistani logjam." By saying he would not accept any Iraqi constitution written before a return of sovereignty and political control to Iraqis, the influential Shiite Ayatollah Ali Sistani had in effect doomed Bremer's seven-point plan months ago. Sistani has reportedly signaled U.S. officials that the new plan has his blessing, although he has made no public statement."

As Hoagland notes, this doesn't solve our problems with the Ba'athist counterinsurgency. But it does make our life easier vis-a-vis the Shi'a--at least for the time being.

At the same time, the U.S. definitely remains involved enough to continue to help foster conditions that would allow for eventual full-blown (and de facto) sovereignty to emerge--with significantly scaled down U.S. involvement.

The consensus politics, the battening out of differences among the governing council and the like, all will help bring about conditions for a viable, democratic Iraqi polity to emerge.

Bremer will continue to have to navigate a very fine line between occasionally issuing backroom quasi-diktats versus allowing an Iraqi leadership to take root that pretty much calls the shots on all major issues sans proconsul veto.

Meanwhile, the prospects of internecine conflict will remain real. And the risks of a constitution being drafted that is anathema to U.S. hopes for that document will have to be closely monitored too.

But simply handing over full-blown sovereignty immediately, per the French, would doubtless have backfired into the specter of revanchist ethnic killings or other similarly anarchic conditions in wider swaths of the country--helping scuttle the reconstruction effort early on.





posted by Gregory| 11/19/2003 06:05:00 PM
 

Flypaper RIP

More Flypaper debunking by people who would actually be in a position to really know what's going on on the ground. Flypaper, as B.D. argued a while back, was always more Begala-like spin than serious Administration policy or an accurate reflection of the reality on the ground.

Commanders on the ground are flexing their muscles by speaking up so as to inject realism into policy debates in Washington and debunk some myths that may imperil the conduct of their counter-insurgency operations.

Over the past weeks, the key theme was that we were fighting an increasingly sophisticated insurgency and were thus, pretty much, still at war.

Now they are making clear that there aren't myriad Ho Chi Minh trails leading from Damascus, Riyadh and Teheran etc. to Falujah, Baghdad and Tikrit.

Better to know who your real enemies are than create bogeymans for domestic consumption anyway, isn't it?

The real enemies are Ba'athist remnants, Saddam Fedayeen, Iraqi criminals/mercenaries, perhaps some radicalized Sunnis that were not fully in bed with Saddam's regime before the war, terror groups and foreign jihadis.

And likely in that order from most numerically significant to least.

posted by Gregory| 11/19/2003 08:01:00 AM


11/18/2003  

A Veritable Orgy of Anti-Bush Sentiment at the Guardian!

The Guardian has asked some estimable folks to write in to George Bush. So, with some trepidation, I checked out the sixty odd letters to Dubya.

Note: Bolded language below is my emphasis.

Here are some of the more memorable ones:

Dear George,

Under your friend Tony Blair, the British government has implemented harsh immigration laws. The pretext has always been that the arrival of certain immigrants would not be conducive to the public good because it would create social disorder, and that the majority of British people would not stand for it.

I am opposed to these laws on principle. But, given the number of deaths you are responsible for, the social disorder your arrival will create and the fact that most British people would rather that you did not come, your case is an exception.

If you feel this is unfair, I am sure the Home Office would be happy to incarcerate you in a hostel while it considers an appeal.

Gary Younge
New York correspondent, the Guardian
PS When you go, can you take Tony with you?


And you wonder why the Guardian is so often blatantly anti-American and has been known to have problems with fact-based reporting and such journalistic niceties?

After all, Younge (remember, their very own NY correspondent, a plum posting, it should be said) wrote that "most British people would rather that you [Bush] did not come..."

But his very own paper is running a poll to the contrary!

I mean, a majority of Guardianish Labour voters support Dubya's visit.

Say it ain't so Gary!

It's not just Guardian journalists who are all in a tizzy. Some scientists are too--as this hateful screed reveals.

Dear Mr Bush (I'd say President Bush if you had actually been elected),

"I've been asked to give advice to you on touching down in Britain. It is this. Go home. You aren't wanted here. You aren't wanted anywhere else either, but you may have been misunderinformed that Britain was the one place where you would be welcomified. Wrong. Well, presumably your best pal Tony welcomes you. But that's about it. Your motorcades, your helicopters, your triggerhappy guards will try to protect you from the people of Britain, who would otherwise spoil the photo-ops for the folks back home. But be in no doubt. We despise you here too. After you and Jeb stole the election (by a margin smaller than the number of folks you executed in Texas) you were rightly written off as a one-term president: a fair advertisement for Drunks For Jesus but otherwise an idle nonentity; inarticulate, unintelligent, an ignorant hick. September 11 changed all that. Not that you covered yourself with glory that day. You are said to admire Churchill. Can you imagine Churchill, at such a moment, panicking all around the country from airbase to airbase? Even nasty old Rummy bunkered down where he belonged.

Never mind, your puppeteers from the Project for the New American Century recognised the opportunity they had been waiting for. September 11 was your golden Pearl Harbor. This was how you'd get elected in 2004 (not re-elected, elected). You would announce a War on Terror. American troops would win. And you would be the victorious warlord, swaggering in a flight suit before a Mission Accomplished banner.

It worked in Afghanistan. But then those puppeteers moved on to their long-term project: Iraq. Never mind that you had to lie about weapons of mass destruction. Never mind that Iraq had not the smallest connection with 9/11. The good folks back home would never know the difference between Saddam and Osama. You would ride the paranoid patriotism aroused by 9/11 all the way into Iraq, and hand out oil and reconstruction contracts to Dick Cheney's boys. That escapade is now backfiring horribly, as many of us said it would. No wonder young American travellers are sewing Canadian flags to their rucksacks. What we in Britain won't forgive is that you have dragged us down too. Go home
."
Richard Dawkins
Scientist

Oh the hatred!

Wait though, want the invective even worse (at least in its succinctness)?

Well, there's Harold Pinter, of course:

Dear President Bush,

I'm sure you'll be having a nice little tea party with your fellow war criminal, Tony Blair. Please wash the cucumber sandwiches down with a glass of blood, with my compliments.
Harold Pinter
Playwright

Remember, this is the eminent intellectual who has written such (what to call it?) doggerel in the past:

"There are no hard distinctions between what is real and what is unreal, nor between what is true and what is false. A thing is not necessarily either true or false; it can be both true and false." [ed. note: He wrote that in 1958]

"I believe that these assertions still make sense and do still apply to the exploration of reality through art. So as a writer I stand by them but as a citizen I cannot. As a citizen I must ask: What is true? What is false
?"

Deep, huh? Talk about a mega-poseur and a charlatan.

Oh, check out this missive from a Princeton prof that fairly drips with contempt.

Dear George,

First, do no harm. Your state visit to the UK is risky, unpopular and awkward enough. Many Americans will be nervously peeking at the TV news from between our tightly crossed fingers and praying that you don't utterly disgrace us. Don't go all folksy and Texan, thanking Tony Blair for his friendship. He has enough to deal with already in the Labour party without receiving any more public kisses of political death from you. Don't interrupt when someone is asking you a question. Try not to puke on the Queen.

Second, despite all the security arrangements, physical barriers and traditions that make a state visit - as you have said yourself - like travelling in a bubble, you can make an effort to learn from this trip. You've said that you admire the longstanding British tradition of free speech. This week, free speech will be blasting in Trafalgar Square and in the streets. Pay attention. To British ears, your claim not to read polls sounds like stolid indifference to public opinion, not moral strength and political courage. Even if you are sheltered from the demonstrations, read the British newspapers - the whole raucous range of them. Watch television; listen to the radio. Competition as well as tradition makes the British media the feistiest in the world. If you argue your position from awareness of what they are saying, rather than ignorance, you may win some respect.

Ride in a London taxi. Why don't we have those superb vehicles here in Washington? Please get us some. And meditate upon the traits of intelligence, humour and dignity that will always make Britain great, whatever her status as a military power.
Best wishes for a safe journey,


Elaine Showalter
Writer and professor of literature, Princeton University

While she's at it, Ms. Showalter might dig into her previously published tracts to enhance her self-understanding.

Shall we go back a bit more towards the hateful screed motif rather than contemptuous dribblings from points Princeton?

Here's a "human rights" lawyer:

Dear George Bush,

I address you, George, in your capacity as the world's leading terrorist fundamentalist. Secure in your multimillions of dollars and your helpfully reinforcing pieties, I doubt you will see any reason to be interested in what the rest of the world makes of you. Thankfully, an increasing number of Americans are beginning to see you through the eyes of the rest of the world, so your reign could be shortlived.

Truthfully, George, you are a disaster. You have managed, in a few short months and years, to identify the first part of the 21st century as the time when a voracious new American empire burst upon the world. In the world outside the US, nobody believes in your calls for democracy. You stole your own election. You try to strangle democracies, like Venezuela, which do not deliver pliant regimes. And everywhere the ordinary people of the earth, the overwhelming majority, will pay the price for your corrupt adventures.

Nearer your home, hundreds of men rot in Guantanamo Bay without access to justice. Thousands have "disappeared" on the US mainland. You preside over the worst witch hunt in public life since Senator McCarthy. Poverty, unemployment, racism are all on the rise. Like most "emperors", you poison your homeland while trying to devour the resources of the world.

We live in a world, George, where we have to live together, to find common solutions to the huge problems that afflict us. The horrific irony is that there are answers to poverty; to war, racism, disease and ignorance. You, in the name of your god and your country, are deliberately drowning out those answers in your patriotic and bellicose clamour, because as you know they imply a world without you or your kind.


Imran Khan [ed. note: No, no, this isn't Jemima's hubby]
Human rights lawyer

Tell me Imran, who are these "thousands [who] have disappeared"?

I mean, you're a lawyer. Might you essay the merest of evidencings of your wild and baseless contentions then?

Oh, but why bother? The chaps in Shoreditch, Islington and Hoxton will have just loved your letter.

Of course, you can't even begin to evidence your absurd claims, can you? Your credibility thus plummets.

Anyway, have you, dear B.D. reader, a pretty good taste by now? It's pretty much a veritable orgy of anti-Bush (read: anti-American?) sentiment.

Mostly mendacious claptrap, to boot, of course. But boy is it hateful mendacious claptrap!

NB: But click through the link at the top of the post for more. I didn't just "cherry-pick" the worst of the lot. There's more!

Don't miss a 12 year old Bush-hater trotted out (an opinionated little chap, he starts his letter thus: "I would just like to say how much I hate you"!), the obligatory note from a sibling of a Gitmo detainee, a pretty lame missive from Salam Pax, some offensively poor poetry (about, you guessed it, Pinteresque 'bomb' themes), and more.

The Guardian, of course, had to print a few pro-Bush missives too.

I mean, you know, they aren't the Independent or some such ultra-left outfit...

Here are the better ones:

Dear Mr President,

Today you arrive in my country for the first state visit by an American president for many decades, and I bid you welcome.

You will find yourself assailed on every hand by some pretty pretentious characters collectively known as the British left. They traditionally believe they have a monopoly on morality and that your recent actions preclude you from the club. You opposed and destroyed the world's most blood-encrusted dictator. This is quite unforgivable.

I beg you to take no notice. The British left intermittently erupts like a pustule upon the buttock of a rather good country. Seventy years ago it opposed mobilisation against Adolf Hitler and worshipped the other genocide, Josef Stalin.


It has marched for Mao, Ho Chi Minh, Khrushchev, Brezhnev and Andropov. It has slobbered over Ceausescu and Mugabe. It has demonstrated against everything and everyone American for a century. Broadly speaking, it hates your country first, mine second.

Eleven years ago something dreadful happened. Maggie was ousted, Ronald retired, the Berlin wall fell and Gorby abolished communism. All the left's idols fell and its demons retired. For a decade there was nothing really to hate. But thank the Lord for his limitless mercy. Now they can applaud Saddam, Bin Laden, Kim Jong-Il... and hate a God-fearing Texan. So hallelujah and have a good time
.
Frederick Forsyth
Novelist

Oh, and check out this wonderful note from Charles Powell that also echoes my previous post of yesterday on Mugabe etc:

Dear Mr President,

You will certainly have been briefed that various quaint rituals have their place in a state visit to Britain. One of them is a noisy and possibly violent demonstration. This is reserved only for the heads of state of Britain's closest allies. If you are merely President Mugabe or erstwhile President Ceausescu, you don't qualify for a demonstration, and poor old Saddam would never be paid the compliment were he to make it to Britain - certainly not by the people who will be demonstrating against you.

There are many of us in Britain who admire the way in which you have declared war on terrorism in what our own prime minister has described as "the battle of seminal importance for the first part of the 21st century". We respect you for ejecting the Taliban from Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein from Iraq, even though the situation in the latter country still presents serious challenges. We share, too, your belief that the proliferation of nuclear weapons into the hands of plainly evil and dangerous regimes is something which cannot be tolerated and must be stopped.

Sadly, there are so-called allies who do not have the stomach to face up to these threats but prefer to duck them or procrastinate. We in Britain don't hesitate to challenge your decisions when we think you are wrong. Such as your overambitious initial plans for postwar Iraq, your steel tariffs or your rejection of the Kyoto accord. We shall continue to push you in directions in which you are reluctant to move, like the road map for peace in the Middle East. But when the chips are really down, Britain is as always a firm ally, standing alongside the United States in the cause of making the world a safer place. That is what we have done for well over half a century and what we shall continue to do, whatever the chants of the demonstrators. It's called the special relationship.

So welcome to Britain, Mr President. The state visit is a compliment to your great country, to your high office and to you.

Yours sincerely,
Charles Powell
Member of the House of Lords; foreign affairs adviser to Margaret Thatcher and John Major

Well, Maggie's foreign affairs adviser would say that, wouldn't he? Bravo.













posted by Gregory| 11/18/2003 11:19:00 PM
 

The London Follies

Some recent visits to London that didn't create quite the ballyhoo that Dubya's appears certain to (juxtaposed with some interesting information regarding the relevant human rights records of said leaders).

1) Jiang Zemin.

The human rights record.

A sampler:

"In February a domestic publication reported that an engineer in Liaoning province, suspected of theft, suffered brain damage as a result of hours of beatings while in police custody. The police eventually determined that the engineer was innocent and released her. She later sued the local government. Chinese reporters who attended her trial said that there were efforts in court to intimidate them. Also in February, a government-owned television station in Sichuan broadcast film taken secretly of city police officers beating and spitting on suspects in an effort to coerce confessions and to extort bribes. In June a Hong Kong human rights group reported that labor activist Guo Xinmin was beaten repeatedly and hung by his tied hands by police interrogators trying to extract a confession. The same human rights organization also received a letter from a former vice mayor of Harbin, which had been smuggled out of prison, in which he claimed to have been beaten and given electric shocks while in custody. According to Amnesty International, some adherents of Falun Gong were tortured with electric shocks, as well as by having their hands and feet shackled and linked with crossed steel chains."

2) Vladimir Putin.

The human rights record.

A sampler:

"New rounds of Russian sweep operations affected central and eastern Chechnya in late 2001 and early 2002, with some villages targeted repeatedly over several months. During these operations, Russian troops detained numerous men, often arbitrarily, and looted civilian homes. Detainees routinely faced ill-treatment and torture, and many subsequently "disappeared."

More on the "disappeared" here.

3) Bashar Assad.

The record.

Key graf:

"Despite the presidential succession, Syrians continued to be denied civil and political rights. Freedom of expression, association, and assembly were strictly limited in law and practice; the local media and access to the Internet remained state-controlled; and the pervasive powers of the security forces under the country's long-standing emergency law, in force since 1963, were intact. There were no effective safeguards against arbitrary arrest and torture; civilian and military prisons, including the infamous Tadmor in the Palmyran desert, remained off-limits to independent observers; and the Kurdish minority continued to be denied basic rights, including the right to a nationality for tens of thousands. No one inside the country dared to advocate justice and accountability for current and former government officials responsible for gross human rights abuses, including the massacre of possibly as many as 1,100 unarmed prisoners at Tadmor in 1980, and the military assault on the city of Hama in 1982 in which thousands were killed."

4) Robert Mugabe.

The human rights track record.

Sample:

"The attacks by state security forces were very brutal. In addition to beating victims with blunt objects, police and army personnel burned victims with cigarettes, forced them to drink poison, urine or other toxic liquids, sexually assaulted them with blunt objects, and beat individuals on the soles of their feet. There was no distinction made between family members of suspects and the suspects themselves. In some cases, it seems that family members were brutalized either to punish suspects or in the hopes of extracting information. In other cases, family members were mistaken for suspects or were thought to be hiding them. When security forces arrived at the house of a MDC activist two days after the stayaway, for instance, they mistook the suspect’s mother for her. The attack on the mother did not stop once the activist identified herself: “I heard my mother screaming from inside my room, so I came out. Unfortunately, I had a poster of Morgan [Tsvangirai, MDC President] on my wall, and when they saw it they went crazy. They started beating me with a cord and broken hosepipes, and they were yelling and calling me names. I saw the piece of cloth my mother was wearing had fallen down, and they were beating her. And they made her part her legs, and they put the AK inside her.”

5) Jacques Chirac.

OK, I'm kidding! (I think?)

Seriously, though, no judicious observer can place George Bush's human rights record in the same camp as leaders like Putin, Assad, Zemin, or Mugabe.

And yet all those leaders' London pass-throughs were delightfully non-eventful as compared to what awaits Dubya.

To be sure, the U.S. should be held to a higher standard as the self-proclaimed avatar of human rights on the world stage.

But these mega-protests aren't really about collateral damage, or Gitmo, or the Patriot Act. Nor are they about those nefarious neo-cons or the perils of the (supposedly extant) preemption doctrine.

This is really more all about the difficulties of being this epoch's Roman Empire. What do I mean? Simply that America's unrivaled power is the cause of so much of this hyperventilation and hand-wringing.

Put differently, a mixture of fascination, envy and fear bred of feverish hyperbole about the gunslinging cowboy George leading the biggest outlaw state of them all. And, the tired story goes, taking the world down a road to perma-war.

Yep, the fascination/resentment/obsession is deep. How else to explain such adolescently exuberant stories regarding the Emperor's movements?

Or that the most popular America bashers in Europe are themselves Americans. Such personages are the darlings of the chattering classes of the Euro-left--whose best 'domestic' competition appear to be pretty absurd characters like Red Ken.

It reminds me of the February 15th anti-war protest in Hyde Park. Jesse Jackson got the most reaction from the crowd--even with Livingstone (as well as the disgraced Galloway) strutting their stuff to the locals.

Bottom line: during this period of unrivaled hyperpuissance, the U.S.'s motivations will be subjected to the crudest conspiracy theories, stereotypes, and canards--mostly on the basis of the power the country wields on the world stage rather than any fundamental policy shifts Dubya has ushered in.

Yes there are intelligent critiques of U.S. policy to be heard. Sure, we could sometimes communicate better (Bush can obviously be tone deaf with audiences overseas sometimes). Yes we've made mistakes over the past couple of years in being overly aggressive in some of our diplomacy.

But, let's be honest with ourselves. It's simply not easy to speak rationally (about the very real security perils of a post 9/11 world) to the clownish coterie that will be burning Dubya in effigy at Trafalgar Sq. in a couple days.

Especially given that the very same individuals were doubtless silent when the leaders I blogged about above were passing through olde London town.

All leaders with far worse human rights records than Dubya, no?

So tell me again what exactly these protests are really about? Because I'm not sure I fully get it.

UPDATE: Adesnik's feedback.









posted by Gregory| 11/18/2003 12:09:00 AM


11/17/2003  

40 Terror Warnings

On Israeli or Jewish targets worldwide at this time. Israel's spymaster, in rare Knesset testimony for a Mossad chief, has the worrisome details.

Oh, and put his take on the Iranian nukes program in the proverbial "No Shit Department." Teheran is, of course, continuing to move ahead on acquiring a nuclear capability.

UPDATE: "I wouldn't have gone quite as far." Heh.

posted by Gregory| 11/17/2003 08:57:00 PM
 

The Guardian

Its blog has some links up on the impending Bush visit to the UK. Go there for the Frost interview (video via RealPlayer), the Sun interview, a Telegraph parody of a State Dept memo and other links. I'm in London right now--and will likely be in town through the visit. So I hope to have more on all this soon.

In the meantime, I might just mention that some of Sully's readers get the current mood in these parts about right.

Oh, and here's a fairly typical treatment of the visit (from the usually pretty pro-American Spectator).

posted by Gregory| 11/17/2003 08:23:00 PM
 

Keller Watch

Check out a pretty typical (if somewhat subtle) example of NYT spin in a story about the Saddam tape that emerged yesterday:

"If the new tape broadcast by the station Al Arabiya in Dubai proves genuine, it would be the first message from Mr. Hussein to be aired in two months, revealing a belligerent conviction on his part that Iraqis want him back seven months after he fled ahead of American forces.

Here in the northern city of Mosul, where Mr. Hussein's Baath Party, now banned, had deep roots and former army generals were elected to run the city after the war, American military officials said they were still investigating whether ground fire contributed to the crash of two Black Hawk helicopters here on Saturday
." [emphasis added]

It's almost like Saddam shot down the Black Hawk himself, isn't it?

posted by Gregory| 11/17/2003 09:25:00 AM


11/15/2003  

The State of France

Collin May looks to have an interesting series of posts on tap over at Innocents Abroad. In particular, I will look forward to his comments on Revel (who penned this excellent book) and literary gadfly Michel Houellebecq.

posted by Gregory| 11/15/2003 07:08:00 PM
 

Israeli Politics

More on the failed policies of Arik Sharon from domestic critics (and not Yossi Beilin or Shimon Peres "dreamer" types). The pressure on the embattled Israeli PM continues to ratchet up.

It's increasingly clear there won't be a "Nixon goes to China" under his watch. Sharon's PM-ship will be viewed mostly as a failure. In the end, he will be seen as never having been able to outgrow his military-centric world view (unlike Rabin or Barak).

Put differently, he was incapable of truly grasping that no morally viable military solution exists to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And that therefore peace feelers, during key moments of opportunity, need to be pursued with real alacrity--despite the attendant risks that are so often part of the perilous landscape there.

Yes, Arafat's refusal to give up (fully, irrevocably) terror as strategy is most to blame for the awful state of affairs in the Holy Land. But Sharon never made serious efforts to give the Palestinians enough by way of concessions (particularly during the short, and ill fated, Abu Mazen period) to ever persuasively signal he had a serious interest in a non-military strategy.

And the abdication of a serious peace processing role by Washington has been just shy of breathtaking.

"In unusually brazen criticism of the government's handling of the conflict with the Palestinians, four former heads of the Shin Bet security service warned Friday of a "catastrophe" if a peace deal is not reached with the Palestinians.

"We are heading downhill towards near-catastrophe. If nothing happens and we go on living by the sword, we will continue to wallow in the mud and destroy ourselves," ex-security chief Yaakov Perry told the mass-circulation daily Yedioth Ahronoth, reflecting a consensus among his three colleagues - Ami Ayalon, Avraham Shalom and Carmi Gillon
."


posted by Gregory| 11/15/2003 06:54:00 PM


11/14/2003  

"Guarded Optimism"

More fair play over at the NYT.

The obligatory reference to Vietnam, to be sure, but the chart (with accompanying text) that is given prominent play in today's op-ed pages strikes the right notes.

posted by Gregory| 11/14/2003 09:30:00 AM


11/13/2003  

We Told You So!

You're not surprised are you? The self-congratulatory chit chat is perking up over at Le Monde. Schadenfreude over the Seine is being combined with the self-satisfied snickers of the omniscient 'I told you so' Bordelaise schoolmarm--an offensive mixture, to say the least.

Le Monde's correspondent even eagerly relays that the French Congressional Club is becoming the ne plus ultra of select Beltway precincts.

Who would have thunk? The French is back in Freedom Fries. The chic is back in Chirac.

Why?

Because wasn't Dominique de Villepin telling all of us so many months ago to handover power to the Iraqis soonest?

And isn't that what hapless Georgy is so belatedly doing now?

Except that's not quite what the U.S. is doing. And that's not quite what the French had recommended we do. Otherwise why would the French still be complaining their position on Iraq is still too divergent with the U.S. one?

Because, for one, the Bush administration still realizes that a rapid fire full-blown handover of sovereignty to the Iraqis could well backfire in a very big way.

Here were de Villepin's key post war strategic musings (also, surprise, courtesy of Le Monde!)

Don't (lucky sap!) read French? I blogged about some key portions a while back here.

De Villepin was advising that U.S. troops be scaled down and authority be handed over to the Iraqis more quickly (mostly simply so that we defused that alarming Rive Gauche construct called the "logic of occupation").

But how, I mean, really how is that an efficacious policy option back when he was writing or, more importantly, now?

Without really ensuring adequate security, somewhat stabilized economic conditions, a burgeoning sense of ethnic cooperation--how does one just, willy-nilly, hand off power to a provisional government?

Such complexities were never really discussed by de Villepin.

He would have liked to U.N-ize the effort (think Srebrenica); scaled down U.S. forces (think greater Ba'athist resurgence), and had a provisional government up and running within a month or so (think mega-ethnic bickering without a proconsul mediating).

So how to combat an effective and determined counter-insurgency? And how to so expeditiously create a provisional government amidst all the secretarian and ethnic differences in Iraq?

De Villepin had written:

"Today, it is urgent to transfer sovereignty to the Iraqi people themselves so as to allow them to fully assume their responsibilities. Then the different communities, I hope, will find the strength to work together." [emphasis added]

But "hope", as is often said, doesn't a strategy make.

Even for de Villepin the notion of the Shi'a, Sunni, Turkomen, Kurds (not to mention internal rivalries amidst said groups) beginning to work together as a sovereign, effective government within a month was a long shot.

Sure the Governing Council often feels ineffective and unwieldy. Maybe we need a smaller body.

But who will get ejected from the present body? Who decides?

Do the French have suggestions on all this that are detailed, implementable, in a word, serieux?

Or is it all pretty much take-a-good-pull-on-the-Gauloise-and-exhale-derived-musings that aren't really, at the end of the day, practicable?

So What to Do?

Some people are proposing potentially implementable ideas that had seen some light in the not so distant past.

Juan Cole, a passionate and smart observer of the Iraq scene (though unfortunately too myopically focused on solely the bad news from Iraq) writes:

"The US must go back to the Garner plan, of calling a national congress of about 250 delegates from all over the country, chosen by their townships or clans. They must elect an interim president, who could appoint a cabinet. Holding such a national congress is risky, since the outcome is unpredictable. But it is the only way to get a legitimate government...

That shouldn't be so hard. In fact, that's what I thought the Bush administration had been saying it was aiming for in removing Saddam. Any other way of proceeding will make the political and military situation worse, not better
."

But it is going to be hard.

Damn hard.

The Sunnis will be even more concerned about a crude Shi'a majoritarianism emerging if the township ballot counting occurs so soon--in times of such great uncertainty and historical flux--especially for the Sunnis who feel pretty embattled at the moment.

I agree with Cole that an attempted resurrection of the Hashemite throne would be folly and immensely dumb policy.

But between and among crowning a Hashemite (or an Ahmed Chalabi) Supreme Leader, slogging along with the unwieldy Governing Council or calling for a national congress--there might be some viable middle ground to be found.

Perhaps a less unwieldly pared-down interim authority. Perhaps with fewer exiles in it--and more leaders with real grass roots support in their communities (yeah, that means no to Chalabi).

But I'm just too worried that conditions in Iraq are not ripe for a national congress just yet. Imagine the elections in the environs of Tikrit, Falluja and the like.

Ballot-counters and poll attendants would be viewed as collaborators. They might be protected at the polling stations--but not in their beds at night. And there would be bombing attacks in predominately Shi'a and Kurdish regions too.

Anything to scuttle the balloting project. Remember, democratic processes spell the very death-knell of the Baathist or jihadi project.

My point? We need security re-established first. That's not to say that we can't pursue a more serious counter-insurgency efforts while simultaneously handing off more powers to Iraqis--perhaps via such elections. But conditions won't be ripe for such an exercise for a while, I fear.

The Road Ahead

Listen, no doubt, the U.S. has its hands full. A too rapid turnover, even with a sizable (or ideally increased) U.S. force presence could backfire. And a too slow handover increases the percentage of Iraqis who views us less as liberators and more as occupiers.

Somewhere amidst all these complexities lies a middle path that we need to navigate.

Meanwhile, security needs to be established so that conditions of normality enhance the prospects of an effective handover of sovereignty to the Iraqis, ie. one that doesn't lead to the potential dissolution of the state amidst secretarian and ethnic bitterness.

But we're simply not at the point yet. We still need the 'benign MacArthur' that is Jerry Bremer.

The trick is looking benign in the midst of an ongoing war. Remember, Japan and Germany had unconditionally surrendered. The Ba'athist guerrillas are still hard at it.

Defeating the Saddam loyalists must be the priority task. Even more than rushing towards the erection of a provisional government that is likely to totter easily given current conditions in Iraq.

That's what de Villepin and his ilk don't get. And what we must hope Bush does.

It's becoming a mantra over here at B.D.--but I'll say it yet again.

We need more troops. The quicker the insurgency is quashed--the quicker the handover of sovereingty to the Iraqi people themselves. We can be a bit more willing to hand over responsibilities and real authority to the Iraqis--but only, finally, in tandem with real progress vis-a-vis an improving security situation. Therefore, ensuring a better security environment must be the focus of our main efforts at the present time.

Put differently, we aren't nation-building and setting up polling stations just yet.

We're still at war.




posted by Gregory| 11/13/2003 08:40:00 PM
 

A Turning Point in Iraq

The significant uptick in violence of the past few weeks, the rapid-fire Jerry Bremer visit back in Washington--speculation is mounting that we are at a pivot point in Iraq.

Some are getting a bit carried away (speculation that Saddam planned all of this to happen just so; that U.S rule in Iraq is simply collapsing etc.) but we are clearly at a critical juncture.

Like often in the past, I think John Burns has got the best pulse on the situation when he reports:

"Aides to General Sanchez said the choice of the word "war" was part of a conscious effort by senior military officers to inject realism into debates in Washington. American officials disclosed Tuesday that the chief American administrator in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer III, had left abruptly for talks in Washington."

If true, and if the new realism is being appropriately digested by the key actors in Washington--than this is actually a good development--if we back all this newfound realism up with more troops.

As John McCain recently put it (and I quote at length for those who don't routinely click through to the links):

"It was clear during the summer that we didn't have sufficient forces to conduct counterinsurgency operations within the Sunni triangle, secure necessary facilities, guard the borders to prevent foreign jihadists from flooding across or responding to an upsurge in violence if it occurred. In early September, the U.S. commanding officer in Iraq, General Ricardo Sanchez, admitted that his forces could not handle any new eruption of conflict in Iraq. Quote: "If a militia or an internal conflict of some nature were to erupt," he said, "that would be a challenge out there that I do not have sufficient forces for."

Since then, attacks on American forces have doubled to over 30 a day, and their increasing sophistication has made them more lethal. American military commanders have acknowledged that the Iraqi resistance shows signs of being centrally planned and coordinated. Yet the number of American forces in Iraq has not increased. Given the large support tail required of such a force, it is estimated that the number of American troops on patrol in Iraq at any given time is under 30,000. This is an insufficient number of troops to even play defense, much less take the fight to our enemy and create the conditions for the lasting peace that will enable Iraqis to assume full political authority and Americans to go home.

Our overall troop level in Iraq does not reflect a careful assessment of what it takes to achieve victory. It reflects the number of American forces who were in Iraq when the war ended, minus the Marines who were sent home. Simply put, there does not appear to be a strategy behind our current force levels in Iraq, other than to preserve the illusion that we have sufficient forces in place to meet our objectives. It makes even less sense to defend a troop ceiling that has been in place since April as American forces and our Iraqi allies come under increasingly savage attack.

U.S. military forces have sealed off the town of Tikrit. This is a welcome step. It's a hotbed of resistance. It would make sense to pursue this same strategy in Ramadi, Fallujah, and other Ba'athist strongholds within the Sunni triangle. But we do not have the forces in place to do that.

To win in Iraq, we should increase the number of forces in- country, including Marines and Special Forces, to conduct offensive operations. I believe we must have in place another full division, giving us the necessary manpower to conduct a focused counterinsurgency campaign across the Sunni triangle that seals off enemy operating areas, conducts search and destroy operations and holds territory. Such a strategy would be the kind of new mission General Sanchez agreed would require additional forces. It's a mystery to me why they are not forthcoming. We cannot achieve our political goals as long as a strategic region of Iraq is in a state of fundamental insecurity. The transformation that matters is in Iraq and the Middle East, not in some abstract conception of military reform
."

Put differently, I'm not sure these types of invigorated tactics will get the job done adequately (though they might induce some chest-thumping among some of the dimmer Fox News anchors and commentators).

But even worse than merely relying mostly on air strikes that don't really lead to controlling territory and truly pursuing the long, hard slog of a sustained and serious counterinsurgency campaign--even worse would be a rush to Iraqify followed by a sizable reduction of U.S. forces.

Many Dems are likely hoping this happens, and are already spinning it as the Karl Rove 'get the boys home and the poll numbers up' option.

Note that those fledgling Iraqi forces, especially if they are too hastily trained, could well be bloodied up very badly by Ba'athist remnants, Saddam Fedayeen, criminals killing them for cash, and foreign jihadis--especially in the midst of a serious dimunition in the American force presence.

If that's our game plan (and I still believe it's not--but have Adesnikish gnaws of doubt)--Bush loses me and, I suspect, many others who are serious about the disciplined pursuit of the American national interest in the post 9/11 world.

UPDATE: Oh, and sending in the blue helmets ain't gonna cut it either.







posted by Gregory| 11/13/2003 01:06:00 PM


11/12/2003  

A Belated Veterans Day

I often criticize the NYT in this space. But they struck just the right tone and provided an immensely moving Veterans Day remembrance by printing excerpted text of letters home from now deceased servicemen and women.

The letters weren't somehow strategically selected to score cheap political points. They fairly represent that mixture of pride, fear, boredom, exhilaration, and homesickness of the soldiers serving in Iraq.

As someone who supported this war--these letters hit me hard. I read them more than once--remembering that the "each death is a tragedy" mantra (typically employed when taking stock of Iraq body counts as compared to previous conflicts to make the point that fatalities aren't high on a historical basis) must never be standard boiler plate that one merely inserts into text clinically.

It really means something--as these letters remind us so very vividly.

Take the unabashed pride and total lack of cynicism in the letter of this Captain, about my age, to his parents. He closes:

"I love you both with all of my heart! I'm working very hard here — adding honor to our country and to our family name!"

What a refreshing tonic to the cheap, irony-infused popular culture we mostly inhabit. To the feverish whines of those obsessed with diet fads, materialistic prestige, botox injections, and so on.

Or this female soldier, now dead too, describing the effects of hitting an improvised explosive device ("IED"):

"I'm doing fine, Mom. Yes, I did get into a sort of accident, if that's what you call it. We were hit by an IED (improvised explosive device) or RPG (rocket-propelled grenade), which set our truck on fire because it struck the battery and fuel line. My neck and shoulder were pretty banged up for about two weeks. My shoulder popped (dislocated) and I jammed my neck as well. I lost my hearing in my left ear for a few weeks. My hearing in general isn't good at all anymore. I've been through my share of explosives. I'm sending pictures home to be developed of my truck (or what's left of it). I took a few of me with the truck, so you could all see that I'm O.K."

She was 19.

There really aren't words for all this beyond reading the letters themselves.

I guess though, in the final analysis, Gregg Easterbrook gets it about right:

"And we must marvel at the nobility of people like Rachel Bosveld, Joshua Byers, Robert Frantz, Jesse Givens, and Kevin Moorhead, whose boots we are not fit to wash."

posted by Gregory| 11/12/2003 01:10:00 PM
 

Italian Military Police HQ Attack

The guerrillas in Iraq are showing a real degree of sophistication re: timing (in terms of maximizing political impact) with today's attack on the Italian MP HQ in Nasiriya.

President Ciampi's visit to Washington will now be totally overshadowed by this attack--particularly, of course, in the political discourse in Italy.

posted by Gregory| 11/12/2003 12:15:00 PM


11/09/2003  

Scheduling Issues

I'm on a deal that is ramping up and will be in meetings pretty much around the clock. Unfortunately, the hotel where I'm at doesn't have Internet access in the rooms and the business center closes at the (astonishingly early!) hour of 7 PM. So, while I do hope to pursue intermittent blogging by somehow getting through these various hurdles, don't expect the typical output from B.D. through the week. Apologies!

posted by Gregory| 11/09/2003 09:58:00 PM


11/07/2003  

Bush's Speech

Check out this somewhat critical WaPo analysis. I hope to have more on this soon.

UPDATE: I'm a little late to the party (wait, the party's bigger than I realized!), but wanted to put down a few comments on Bush's recent speech at the National Endowment for Democracy.

Like much of the blogosphere judging from the above links--I found the speech to be highly impressive and inspiring. You can't help but be inspired by the hugely bold and ambitious task that George Bush outlined in the speech.

Despite that, however, I'm going to focus on some of the problems I had with the speech that I haven't seen commented on in the blogosphere.

I've got three main beefs with the speech. One, per the WaPo article linked above, the noble rhetoric isn't always matched by our policy. Two, the Arab world is hugely skeptical of the President's message which will, in turn, hamper our efforts to pursue the democratization project in that region. And three, I've seen no thinking about what occurs if democratic elections, should they be held in certain countries in the region, lead to results that are contrary to the U.S. national interest.

For instance, what if extremist Islamist movements were to gain power through the ballot box? The so-called "one man, one vote, one time" issue.

Relatedly, this begs a deeper question that American commentators rarely confront--is democratization in the Middle East definitively in the U.S. national interest?

Why the "Democratic Exception"?

Let me start with the third problem I've got with the speech first. Richard Haass has spoken of a "democratic exception" that has characterized our Middle East policy over the past few decades. Put simply, while the democratization agenda typically was a major part of our diplomatic agenda in regions like Europe, Asia and Latin America--we tended to not pursue said agenda with as much alacrity in the Middle East.

Why, one wonders? Could it be that we have seen autocrats like the late Hafez Asad or Hosni Mubarak as bulwarks against the spread of Iranian style theocratic fervor in the region?

Or was the "democracy exception" partly in place because of the perennial (and often overstated) concerns about an Arab street coming to boil during major regional crises or periods of high tension with Israel?

Perhaps some U.S. policymakers prefer established leaders who can control, almost like a spigot, the anti-Israeli or anti-American vitriol that might emanate from the Arab masses?

What's my point? I'm saying we need to really question why this "democratic exception" has been a pretty pervasive part of our Middle East policymaking landscape for a good while now more thoroughly than we have to date. We have to be honest with ourselves about it and think about it comprehensively.

Relatedely, of course, we need to analyze what the neo-conservative vision of large scale attempted exportation of democracy would accomplish in terms of the specific furtherance of the American national interest in the region.

We need to be cautious to not be overly enraputured by the clarion call of democratization. Of course, it's a hugely important and noble goal. I mean, how can you disagree with sentiments that Bush enunciated like the following?

"There are, however, essential principles common to every successful society, in every culture. Successful societies limit the power of the state and the power of the military -- so that governments respond to the will of the people, and not the will of an elite. Successful societies protect freedom with the consistent and impartial rule of law, instead of selecting applying -- selectively applying the law to punish political opponents. Successful societies allow room for healthy civic institutions -- for political parties and labor unions and independent newspapers and broadcast media. Successful societies guarantee religious liberty -- the right to serve and honor God without fear of persecution. Successful societies privatize their economies, and secure the rights of property. They prohibit and punish official corruption, and invest in the health and education of their people. They recognize the rights of women. And instead of directing hatred and resentment against others, successful societies appeal to the hopes of their own people."

Cautionary Notes

Still, we have to be careful not to get too carried away by a neo-Wilsonian fervor that has observers (ultimately hyperbolically and incorrectly) like historian Eric Hobsbawm comparing today's America to societies marked by too much revolutionary fervor in the past.

I think such claims are typically wildly exagerrated, as I've blogged about before.

And yet. We need to ask some tough questions--focusing on American objectives.

Put differently, is fostering increased democracy in the Middle East always in our national interest?

If Turkey were fully run (rather than just highly influenced) by its military leaders we would have definitely had a northern front during the major combat phase in Iraq. No nettlesome parliamentary debates would have held up the deployment of U.S. troops from Turkey.

How would a fully democratic Egypt act vis-a-vis Israel? Would the Camp David accords survive the exercise of the free will of the Egyptian people? Would the chances of a military conflict with Israel be increased--particularly during periods of robust IDF activity in the Occupied Territories that lead to rage in the streets of Cairo?

Would some states perhaps vote in, per free and fair elections, Islamist movements that going forward would not allow future voting in the relevant polity? I happen to think such extremist Islamic movements are less pervasive than many commentators relay--but prior events in Algeria are worth or thought or two on that score.

Beyond all this, many countries in the Middle East don't want democracy forced down their throats by the U.S.--even the intellectual classes that hunger for increased democratization have deep misgivings on this score.

I'm not saying that the President's vision is fatally flawed because of any of the above. But I am wondering if enough people in the Administration have given such factors protracted and judicious thought.

Double Standards?

I'm not going to blog extensively about the first and second reasons I have some reservations about the speech here today given time constraints (the 'double standards' issue and the massive suspicion of our motivations in the Middle East).

But do go read the WaPo article linked above. Think about Dubya's relations with an authoritarian Musharraf or (post-Khodorkovsky) Putin.

Doesn't it appear, when a former leader is more firmly behind our goals re: the war on terror, that we will provide quite a bit of leeway regarding their democratic bona fides?

I'm not saying that such a bias is necessarily wrong. We need to be realists in terms of pursuing our national interests in what are, after all, extremely complex regions.

But such close bilateral relationships with leaders that possess strong authoritarian stripes do force us to question the extent of our devotion to the democratization project, don't they?

Put simply, we need to strive to be more consistent in our democracy exportation goals--while being careful to not appear overly messianic in our pursuit of democratization.

Let us at least proceed with a modicum of caution that, for instance, the rapid exportation of democracy might not always represent the panacea we seem to typically believe it to be.

Final Thoughts

In closing, however, let me say again that I found the President's speech moving and impressive.

Take this line:

"We've witnessed, in little over a generation, the swiftest advance of freedom in the 2,500 year story of democracy. Historians in the future will offer their own explanations for why this happened. Yet we already know some of the reasons they will cite. It is no accident that the rise of so many democracies took place in a time when the world's most influential nation was itself a democracy." [emphasis added]

Euro-sophisticates will scoff that such rhetoric represents a crude vein of American exceptionalism. But there is undeniably much truth to Bush's statement.

What the U.S. accomplished in fighting back Hitlerism and Stalinism was hugely important in creating conditions of greater freedom for literally billions of people. Who can seriously deny this intelligently and honestly today?

We might be able to pull off such a feat in the Middle East too. But it will be a highly complex, generational project.

And we need to not just make passing mention of countries like Zimbabwe, Cuba and Myanmar in a Presidential speech--even one centered on the Middle East-dealing with the theme of democratization.

It looks too much like a throw away line to make the Arab (and Persian) world feel that we are also serious about spreading democracy in countries where our interests might not be as vital.

Unless we back up such rhetoric with action--there will be an even higher degree of suspicion regarding our motives that will perhaps contribute to helping scuttle our goals of democratizing the Middle East.

Put differently, Arabs will skeptically look at the history of the American "democratic exception" in the region, while thinking about our vital interests regarding Persian Gulf security, access to oil, Israel, controlling/quashing terror movements, and wonder whose interests we are really pursuing.

And, of course, before we pursue Bush's grand vision in earnest--we need to get Iraq in order. Needless to say, that's no mean task right there. Let's maybe concentrate on that and see where we stand in a year or so before getting too excited about meta-democratization projects through entire regions.






posted by Gregory| 11/07/2003 03:24:00 PM
"Best 9/11 Commentary"--Andrew Sullivan
"Must-read list"--Washington Times
"Keeping a check on the media's excesses"--Sunday Times (UK)
English Language Media
Foreign Affairs Commentariat
Non-English Language Press
Columnists
Blogs
Think-Tanks
Security
Books
B.D. In the Press
archives