The Belgravia Dispatch by GREGORY DJEREJIAN


Fog of War

I just saw this excellent Errol Morris documentary yesterday. Fog of War is an exploration of the moral ambiguities surrounding armed conflict undertaken through the prism of a series of interviews with former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. The film proceeds roughly in chronological order chronicling McNamara's life in the context of eleven lessons.

They are:

1) Empathize with your enemy.
2) Rationality will not save us.
3) There's something beyond one's self.
4) Maximize efficiency.
5) Proportionality should be a guideline in war.
6) Get the data.
7) Belief and seeing are both often wrong.
8) Be prepared to reexamine your reasoning.
9) In order to do good, you may have to engage in evil.
10) Never say never.
11) You can't change human nature.

As you might imagine, this isn't your typical Hollywood fare. For what it's worth, I highly recommend it, particularly because (somewhat surprisingly, at least to me) not too many cheap anti-McNamara points were being scored. I found it, by the standards of this documentary genre, a pretty nuanced and judicious examination of a complex man navigating hugely complicated national security issues.

As I saw it at the Angelika, there were occasional guffaws emiting from the audience at the predictable junctures where Rummy-McNamara (read: exagerrated Iraq as Vietnam) analogies were (if unfairly) easy to draw.

Still, all but the most partisan individuals will have left the theater appreciating the complex moral issues at play. Issues and ethical questions that still clearly haunt McNamara to this day.

A final thought. Regular readers know that I have often tried to put the lie to Iraq as Vietnam analogies that often appear (thinly veiled) in places like the New York Times.

But one point related to this in the movie is worth keeping in mind. In the mid-90's, McNamara goes back to Vietnam to talk to senior leaders of the Viet Cong who had been his counterparts on the other side of the conflict.

The gulf between what the Americans thought they were doing (defending freedom, containing totalitarianism, protecting the Vietnamese from the Soviet yoke and so on) and the Vietnamese perspective (Americans as the latest colonialist occupiers, willingness to fight the invader to the bitter end) bears remembering as we proceed in Iraq.

Not because the situations are directly analogous--they aren't. But because it serves as a cautionary tale re: the limits of human reason and how that impacts a judicious appraisal by each belligerent of the other party's goals.

We know, of course, that we didn't go into Iraq for the oil or to stay for twenty years in some neo-colonialist land grab.
And most Iraqis, I think, know that too.

But we have to remain very sensitive to the potential for large gulfs (in terms of misunderstandings of the other side's intentions) to emerge. Such gulfs can obviously rear their heads in such complex interventions--particularly when they drag on for longer than expected.

Such after all, is the 'fog of war.'

Note: A quick note to let readers know I'm off traveling to Brazil through the week of January 5th. Minimal blogging until then. Apologies.

posted by Gregory| 12/27/2003 04:41:00 PM


NGO Watch

I really dislike this meme--that the big, bad NGOs often harbor nefarious political agendas and need to be reined in and policed soonest. And the often related argument that the corruption in said charitable entities is worse than the Enrons, Parmalats and Worldcoms of the world is laughable.

Don't believe me? Click on the links and, employing that old adage that money talks and B.S. walks, take a look at the aggregate dollar amounts at play (in terms of the specific fradulent activity rather than the total bankruptcy figures) for some of the recent private sector scandals.

I challenge anyone to point me to systemic corruption on that scale in the NGO world. (I mean, the dollar amounts associated with Enron's legal fees alone are likely higher than much of the alleged naughty shenanigans afoot in NGO-land).

I may be biased on this point. I worked for two years in the Balkans for the International Rescue Committee (founded, at Albert Einstein's urging, to assist Jewish refugees fleeing 30's Europe).

When I worked at the IRC, it was headed up by the very able and compassionate Robert DeVecchi. I know, from conversations with DeVecchi, that the IRC prided itself on how little of its total donor funding went to administrative costs, related overhead, or fundraising. This metric is known as "charitable committment" in the trade.

Put simply, the major lion's share of the income coming in went directly to humanitarian relief programs and the like. And it's not just the IRC.

Check out this compilation (from that NGO-friendly, socialist ragsheet Forbes) for a long list of worthy charities/foundations whose "charitable committment" rankings give the lie to the thesis that this sector is worse than our friends (almost literally) pissing away cash for grotesquely crass Sardinian soirees (Tyco), looting the company store (Adelphia), and taking aggressive accounting to new and riveting vistas (Enron, Worldcom etc--see above).

But permit me to briefly return to my specific old neck of the woods out of old institutional loyalty. Note that Forbes has granted the IRC top honors in terms of this charitable committment metric.

More important than all this, of course, is the actual work performed on the ground by groups like the IRC. Very literally, the IRC saved many lives in places like the besieged "safe" havens in Bosnia (for instance, Fred Cuny, who tragically disappeared later in Chechyna, just about single-handedly restored the water supply to Sarajevo in cooperation with the IRC).

Sure Glenn is right to say, like any sector, that NGO's need to be more closely monitored (ed. note: maybe after we're done with hedge funds and derivatives? To be sure, these are complex issues too and I would err on the side of keeping the regulatory burdens as de minimis as is responsible).

But it would be gracious of him to make mention of the amazing work they perform day in, day out--from some of the most miserable corners on Earth.


Glenn has more and writes:

"Greg Djerejian, who works in NGOs, says I'm wrong to compare NGO corruption to Enron and Parmalat. (Though his suggestion that we should compare dollar amounts seems to miss the point.)"

I was merely reacting to Glenn writing this: "The kind of financial shenanigans that go on in this world make the for-profit business scandals look minor." [emphasis added]

Reading that, I thought it was pretty fair to use a dollar metric to compare and contrast without missing the point.

That said, the old TNR article Glenn quotes at length is certainly of interest, particularly this part:

"Foundations enjoy their present tax-free moorings because they claim to operate as a nonpartisan force dedicated to the pursuit of innovative solutions to our pressing social ills, sheltered from the shifting partisan winds. The preponderance of foundation grants to advocacy groups, however, suggests that foundations are less devoted to the reasoned pursuit of the public good than to the multiculturalist dogmas propounded by their staff...."

But you can certainly still argue that, in terms of necessary regulatory attention now and going forward, the Enrons are more critical to the general American national interest than, say, the Ford Foundation issue Glenn blogs about (unlike Paul Krugman, however, I would never make the absurd claim that Enron will have a greater longer range impact on the U.S. than 9/11, or related claptrap).

Anyway, I agree this is an issue of some concern. And that more monitoring is a good idea.

Glenn's take on the TNR piece author's concerns:

"Samuels isn't so much concerned with bags-of-cash corruption, exactly, as with the pumping of huge amounts of money into politics instead of actual effort to help people, and he notes the way in which many foundations have abandoned, or shifted, metrics for "success" so as to make real accountability difficult. Though that's a form of corruption in itself, and it tends to lead to more traditional kinds of corruption, as well."

What make me somewhat concerned is the pumping of cash, surreptitiously, into politics. At this point, I guess, I'm more sanguine than Reynolds on the perils of the metrics of "success" shifting and that then leading to more 'traditional' corruption.

posted by Gregory| 12/26/2003 05:46:00 PM

More on Air France/LAX

Le Monde continues to provide information on the whole Air France/LAX situation that I haven't seen reported in the U.S. press yet. Today they have a piece up that reports that about ten individuals scheduled to be on the L.A. bound flights in question were considered suspicious by Washington.

French authorities searched them and all their luggage, checked into their backgrounds, and interrogated each individual about the purpose and duration of their prospective stay in the U.S.

Le Monde says this effort was in "vain" with nothing suspicious turned up.

There was also mention of a Tunisian national scheduled for the 13:35 flight to L.A. He was traveling to L.A., via Paris, having originated in Tunis. His frequent trips to the U.S. and especially his pilot's license had "attracted suspicion," aoccording to Le Monde.

But this individual never checked in at the gate in Tunis. Paris went ahead and checked with Tunisian authorities and "no compromising" information was found re: the individual in question, ie. he was unknown to anti-terrorist agencies and not on any lists of Islamic activists.

Le Monde concludes:

"S'il fallait une preuve supplémentaire du peu de crédit accordé par les autorités françaises aux craintes américaines, en l'absence d'éléments matériels probants, la section antiterroriste du parquet de Paris n'a pas jugé nécessaire d'ouvrir une enquête préliminaire. L'annulation a été décidée selon d'autres critères. "Nous avons tenu compte de la qualité de leurs services de renseignement et de la mobilisation à Washington autour de cette question, explique-t-on au ministère de l'intérieur. Les Etats-Unis vivent toujours dans le traumatisme du 11 septembre, c'est un élément qu'on oublie souvent de prendre en considération, en France." Une nouvelle réunion devait se tenir à Matignon, vendredi 26 décembre, dans la matinée, sur les mesures de sécurité aérienne."

I've copied the text from the original article for the benefit of French readers.

But the down and dirty translation is that the French authorities have given so little credence to the American fears that they see no need, at least at this juncture, to even pursue a preliminary inquiry about the whole episode.

Thus the cancellation of the flights was merely justified on grounds put thus by one French Ministry of Interior official:

"We took stock of the general quality of their [the U.S.'] intelligence services and the mobilization in Washington around this issue... The U.S. is still living under the trauma of 9/11, it's an element we often forget to take into consideration in France." [emphasis added]

Well, it would be nicer if the French official quoted above was more in outright agreement with his American counterparts about the needed for utmost scrutiny of flight passenger manifests and such, as well as the need for the occasional cancellation of flights.

This would point to a better understanding of the general post 9/11 terror environment. It would provide more convincing proof that the Europeans had moved, along with the U.S., into a post 9/11 posture (some have, particularly Aznar and Blair who are well acquainted with the brutish means terrorists employ and better understand how the added variable of WMD use could fell tens of thousands or more).

But, that said, it's better than nothing to see that the French official at least shows an understanding and cognizance of the American psyche post 9/11. It's pretty clear that we are still a nation traumatized by the mass carnage of 9/11.

And that's certainly nothing to be embarrassed about as long as we don't become wildly irrational in our fears. So far, I've seen no evidence of that.

A digression.

Michael Moore, in his pretty imbecilic (and utterly classless, think of his crude stalking of Charlton Heston in his own house) documentary "Bowling for Columbine," sought to paint America as a nation that is risibly easy to scare.

Like many such gross stereotypes, there's a grain of truth to it. You know how the thinking goes. We've been protected by a large continental land mass and flanked by two oceans so have been (mostly) spared the visitations of world war, plague, ethnic purges.

So, Moore's hyperbolic treatment goes, we get all in a tizzy about "African" killer bees, "Asian" flu strains, and so on. He paints us a land of fearful, boorish xenophobes--guns at the ready to fight off foreign (very broadly defined to mean someone from beyond the environs of one's immediate homestead) interlopers.

No wonder the movie is so wildly popular in Europe. Add it to the shockingly widespread view (see Germany) that the American government orchestrated 9/11 (so as to justify neo-imperialist land graps hither dither and to pass the Gestapo-like Patriot Acts I and II to cow the now panicky and scared American masses into submission and con them into erecting a Yankee version of the Third Reich) and, voila, you've got a roadmap for world dominion as methodically planned by the fearsome triumvirate of Wolfowitz-Rove-Georgie.

Said junta, of course, representing a clear and present danger to the future of these Americas as a democratic polity (thereby keeping self-appointed stewards of the vessel of state like Gore Vidal tossing and turning late into the night).

But back to the French official at least being cognizant of the emotional impact of 9/11. To me this is a positive. Sure there will be some snickering, a la Moore thesis, in the backhalls of various ministries in Paris of our 'panicky' overreaction to the whole LAX situation.

But broadly speaking, I think we are getting pretty sincere (if a tad halting) cooperation on intelligence and varied risk mitigation actions with the main counterparts in Paris.

All this reminds me of an event a group I work with in London had scheduled for September 12, 2003. I mentioned to a partner at a major City law firm that we had moved it forward a day so as not to coincide with the 9/11 anniversary. With nonchalance and some befuddlement the partner muttered something along the lines that "he had forgotten all about that."

Well, we certainly haven't forgotten all about "that" in the proverbial 'over here'. And at least, if not in full-blown cooperative mode, some French officials ostensibly haven't either.

As long we we remain sober in our analyses of the threat environment (put differently, don't 'cry wolf' too often)--we should have the right to expect continued cooperation and understanding of our security concerns going forward--at least from all intelligence services not actively opposed to American interests.

posted by Gregory| 12/26/2003 04:50:00 PM


Holiday Greetings

Merry Christmas to all from New York. The weather here has taken a turn for the better (yesterday was rainy and particularly nasty, ie. quite London-like).

So surely the legions of Brits visiting New York (per the linked article, the top U.K. traveller destination this Christmas) will be cheered up to see the sun poking about a bit today.

Again, best holiday wishes wherever you are reading from.

posted by Gregory| 12/25/2003 06:24:00 PM

Devaluation of WMD?

An interesting piece up in Haaretz.

"The Libyan transformation is the first case of a comprehensive change in stance with regard to WMDs that was not accompanied by a move toward democracy. Without reference to the motivation behind Gadhafi's turnaround - whether the victory of Bush's unilateral doctrine or multilateral sanctions - his move has potentially far-reaching normative significance for both the region and the world.

Perhaps the greatest significance is that status of WMDs may be undergoing a process of devaluation. The first signs of this devaluation may have even preceded Gadhafi's move. Iraq seems to have given up its WMD projects after its defeat in the Gulf War, but Saddam was afraid to declare it publicly."

posted by Gregory| 12/25/2003 04:49:00 PM

The World According to Powell

A little while back here there was a discussion about whether a preemptive posture (though one with built in caveats and limitations) might simply represent a common sensical, prudential policy stance post 9/11.

We will have more on all this as time allows. But in the meantime, it appears Colin Powell (no messianic neo-con he) would agree:

"It is somewhat odd, therefore, to discover that our foreign policy strategy is so often misunderstood by both domestic and foreign observers. U.S. strategy is widely accused of being unilateralist by design. It isn't. It is often accused of being imbalanced in favor of military methods. It isn't. It is frequently described as being obsessed with terrorism and hence biased toward preemptive war on a global scale. It most certainly is not.

These distortions are partly explained by context. The NSS made the concept of preemption explicit in the heady aftermath of September 11, and it did so for obvious reasons. One reason was to reassure the American people that the government possessed common sense. As President Bush has said -- and as any sensible person understands -- if you recognize a clear and present threat that is undeterrable by the means you have at hand, then you must deal with it. You do not wait for it to strike; you do not allow future attacks to happen before you take action
." [emphasis added]

posted by Gregory| 12/25/2003 04:15:00 PM

Musharraf Watch

Someone is way too well acquainted with the Pakistani President's movements.

Meanwhile, the WaPo has an article up that points to some significant shortcomings in Musharraf's implementation of democratic norms.

posted by Gregory| 12/25/2003 04:06:00 PM


Josh Marshall worries that "choppy political waters" may be impeding Franco-American cooperation on anti-terrorist initiatives. Indeed, as Josh writes, there is a muddied 'fog of war' aspect to the intensive (and often contradictory) media coverage surrounding the cancelled Air France flights that were destined for L.A.

Per this Beeb story, American officials are reportedly unhappy that the information about the cancelled flights became so public.

Josh also links this story suggesting that the French weren't immediately convinced of the need to cancel the flights so that the Americans had to threaten to refuse the flights landing rights.

There is also a very interesting article in Le Monde today. The French currently appear most intent on dispelling the news, reported in some outlets, that al-Qaeda may have actually infiltrated Air France's staff. Such theories are even getting aired in the august pages of the FT.

Here's what Le Monde reports:

"A l'ambassade de France, à Washington, comme à la direction des services de police, à Los Angeles, cette hypothèse a été démentie. Il a été précisé que les préoccupations américaines concernaient les listes de passagers des vols en question et non les pilotes ou les personnels de cabine. Interrogé sur CNN, Jean-Claude Mallet, secrétaire général de la défense nationale, a déclaré qu'il n'avait "rien de ce genre dans -ses- dossiers".

Translation: "At the French Embassy in Washington, as with the head of police services in L.A., this hypothesis [that Air France staff has been infiltrated by al-Qaeda] has been denied. It was specified that American concerns are about the passenger lists of the flights in question rather than pilots or cabin crew. Interviewed on CNN, Jean-Claude Mallet, secretary-general of national defense, declared that there wasn't "anything of that type in his files."

This comprehensive MSNBC roundup appears to support the French contention that the U.S. was more concerned about al-Qaeda terrorists boarding the flights as passengers rather than as pilots and/or flight crew.

That aspect of the story aside, here's some interesting information that sheds lights on the extent of cooperation as between the French and American authorities:

"Les autorités américaines ont demandé à Paris de prévoir la présence d'agents armés à bord de plusieurs vols considérés comme d'éventuelles cibles des terroristes. Les procédures françaises ne comportent pas ce type de mesure, mais la requête de Washington a été prise en considération par les services concernés, et une réunion interministérielle a été organisée, mardi, sur ce sujet. A la suite de cette réunion, l'ambassadeur français, Jean-David Levitte, a informé Condoleezza Rice, conseillère du président George Bush pour la sécurité nationale, que des fonctionnaires armés prendraient place dans ces avions.

Mercredi matin, l'ambassadeur américain à Paris, Howard Leach, a indiqué aux responsables français que son gouvernement préférait l'annulation pure et simple des vols menacés. Après avoir retardé un premier vol, Air France l'a annulé


"The American authorities asked Paris to allow armed agents on board several flights considered eventual terrorist targets. French procedures don't conform to this type of measure, and an inter-ministerial meeting was organized, Tuesday, on this subject. After this meeting, the French Ambassador, Jean-David Levitte, informed Condoleeza Rice...that armed agents could board the planes.

Wednesday morning, the American Ambassador to Paris, Howard Leach, indicated to the responsible French officials that his government would prefer the cancellation, pure and simple, of the threatened flights. After delaying the first flight, Air France eventually cancelled it

What surprises me about all this is that there appears to have been significant French resistance to the notion of having armed agents board the flights. It's not as if the U.S. has asked to do this routinely. And, particularly given the episode with shoe-bomber Richard Reid (who boarded his Boston-bound flight in Paris), as well as what appears to be very specific intelligence about particular carriers and flights, it's somewhat unfortunate that the French would have dragged their feet on all this.

Especially if there was a sense among some in the French government that the Americans were being too panicky and overreacting to raw intelligence reports. This would seem to evoke the pre-9/11 mentality I've written about previously, among some in Europe, in terms of underestimating the mayhem terror strikes can cause. In turn, this can lead to intelligence services being too sanguine about potential threats.

Regardless, the flights were cancelled pursuant to U.S. Administration request. Overall, ths episode points to continued cooperation on intelligence sharing and security measures as between France and the U.S.

Still, however, some friction appears to be acting as an irritant thus slowing somewhat the decision-making process on what specific anti-terror measures might be required. That needs to be remedied soonest given the current threat environment.

posted by Gregory| 12/25/2003 03:30:00 PM


Saudi Schisms

Reader MD kindly forwards an article that will be appearing in the next issue of Foreign Affairs.

Doran well sketches out the split between reformist oriented Crown Prince Abdullah and Interior Minister Nayef (who controls the secret police). Doran indicates the key flashpoint dividing the two camps revolves around "a single question: whether the state should reduce the power of the religious establishment."

On that score, note this interesting part of Doran's article (that policymakers need to grapple with more):

"According to al-Ayyiri, the United States and Israel are the leaders of a global anti-Islamic movement -- "Zio-Crusaderism" -- that seeks the destruction of true Islam and dominion over the Middle East. Zio-Crusaderism's most effective weapon is democracy, because popular sovereignty separates religion from the state and thereby disembowels Islam, a holistic religion that has a strong political dimension. In its plot to denature Islam, al-Ayyiri claims, Zio-Crusaderism embraces three local allies: secularists, Shi`ites, and lax Sunnis (that is, those who sympathize with the idea of separating religion from state). Al Qaeda's "near enemy," in other words, is the cluster of forces supporting Taqarub." [emphasis added]

This schism is worth keeping in mind too:

"This is particularly true of the Shi`ite question in Saudi politics. Radical Sunni Islamists hate Shi`ites more than any other group, including Jews and Christians. Al-Qaeda's basic credo minces no words on the subject: "We believe that the Shi`ite heretics are a sect of idolatry and apostasy, and that they are the most evil creatures under the heavens." For its part, the Saudi Wahhabi religious establishment expresses similar views. The fatwas, sermons, and statements of established Saudi clerics uniformly denounce Shi`ite belief and practice. A recent fatwa by Abd al-Rahman al-Barrak, a respected professor at the Imam Muhammad bin Saud Islamic University (which trains official clerics), is a case in point. Asked whether it was permissible for Sunnis to launch a jihad against Shi`ites, al-Barrak answered that if the Shi`ites in a Sunni-dominated country insisted on practicing their religion openly, then yes, the Sunni state had no choice but to wage war on them. Al-Barrak's answer, it is worth noting, assumes that the Shi`ites are not Muslims at all." [emphasis added]

Look for potential troublemaking, by some in Saudi, should a crude Shi'a majoritarianism emerge in Iraq (particularly one with major religious stripes). This would then in turn, of course, precipitate heightened Iranian-Saudi Arabian frictions/rivalries in the region.

Anyway, be sure to read all of MD's piece.

UPDATE: More from Saudi here:

"Saudi Arabia's crackdown on terrorism will be tested as militant Islamic groups apparently shift focus from foreign to domestic targets, officials and diplomats in the kingdom say.

The shift was underscored on December 4 when a group called the Two Holy Mosques Brigade claimed to have shot Brigadier General Abdulaziz al-Huwairini, a senior interior ministry official involved in the counter-terrorism campaign, while he was driving his car. The attack has not been officially confirmed.

The group has since declared in a statement that "since our brothers in al-Qaeda are busy fighting the crusaders, we took it upon ourselves to cleanse the land of the two holy mosques of the crusaders' agents" - a reference to the Saudi government.

Experts conclude from this that parallel groups may be active in Saudi Arabia, with varying ties to al-Qaeda. "Earlier al-Qaeda statements had referred to purifying the kingdom of crusaders. This statement suggested that they had shifted their campaign to targeting the 'tyrants'," a diplomat said

posted by Gregory| 12/23/2003 03:28:00 PM


Bush Doctrine

Dana Milbank writing in the WaPo:

"It has been a week of sweet vindication for those who promulgated what they call the Bush Doctrine.

Beginning with the capture of Saddam Hussein a week ago and ending Friday with an agreement by Libya's Moammar Gaddafi to surrender his unconventional weapons, one after another international problem has eased.

On Tuesday, the leaders of France and Germany set aside their long-standing opposition to the war in Iraq and agreed to forgive an unspecified amount of that country's debt. On Thursday, Iran signed an agreement allowing surprise inspections of its nuclear facilities after European governments applied intense pressure on the U.S. foe. On Friday, Libya agreed to disarm under the watch of international inspectors, just as administration officials were learning that Syria had seized $23.5 million believed to be for al Qaeda

Later in the article (well worth reading in full) Milbank writes:

"Those who developed the Bush Doctrine -- a policy of taking preemptive, unprovoked action against emerging threats -- predicted that an impressive U.S. victory in Iraq would intimidate allies and foes alike, making them yield to U.S. interests in other areas." [emphasis added]

This is how the Bush Doctrine is oft-described by people like Paul Krugman, George Soros, and Maureen Dowd. But the reality is more complex, as the National Security Strategy document that outlines the new doctrine makes clear:

"The United States has long maintained the option of preemptive actions to counter a sufficient threat to our national security. The greater the threat, the greater is the risk of inaction— and the more compelling the case for taking anticipatory action to defend ourselves, even if uncertainty remains as to the time and place of the enemy’s attack. To forestall or prevent such hostile acts by our adversaries, the United States will, if necessary, act preemptively.

The United States will not use force in all cases to preempt emerging threats, nor should nations use preemption as a pretext for aggression. Yet in an age where the enemies of civilization openly and actively seek the world’s most destructive technologies, the United States cannot remain idle while dangers gather. We will always proceed deliberately, weighing the consequences of our actions. To support preemptive options, we will: build better, more integrated intelligence capabilities to provide timely, accurate information on threats, wherever they may emerge; coordinate closely with allies to form a common assessment of the most dangerous threats; and continue to transform our military forces to ensure our ability to conduct rapid and precise operations to achieve decisive results.

The purpose of our actions will always be to eliminate a specific threat to the United States or our allies and friends. The reasons for our actions will be clear, the force measured, and the cause just
." [emphasis added]

Note the references to a "specific threat," "common assessment of the most dangerous threats," (to be sure, such a consensus didn't occur on Iraq) "anticipatory action to defend ourselves," acting "deliberately" (for instance, getting a unanimous Resolution 1441 at the U.N. holding Iraq to task for its 12 year long violations of post Gulf War I undestandings and such).

Note too, the strategy document enunciates key, common attributes of rogue states:

--brutalize their own people and squander their national resources for the personal gain of the rulers;
--display no regard for international law, threaten their neighbors, and callously violate international treaties to which they are party;
--are determined to acquire weapons of mass destruction, along with other advanced military technology, to be used as threats or offensively to achieve the aggressive designs of these regimes;
--sponsor terrorism around the globe; and
--reject basic human values and hate the United States and everything for which it stands

In other words, the new national security posture is not one of "unprovoked" preemption. The neo-cons (whose influence is overstated, as is the fashion these days, in Milbank's article) haven't hoisted a foreign policy on us that allows for myriad interventions pursued will-nilly, for the hell of it, or just for kicks.

There is actually some pretty sober thinking that's gone into what kinds of threats, post 9/11, are constitutive of a danger that might, under certain parameters and analyzed deliberately, occasion the need for some form of preemptive action.

Remember too that we are talking of very few states about which some form of premptive action has even been discussed--and this only in limited locales like the hallways of AEI.

Put differently, even if the post-major combat in Iraq had been as easy as the main combat stage, we weren't rushing on to erect new imperial garrisons in Tripoli, Teheran, Damascus and Pyongyang.

Tripoli shows the U.S. can still can pull off good cop/bad cop diplomatic initiatives with allies like the Brits to bring pressure to bear on dictators. We are giving China a big hand in multilateral negotiations on North Korea. A Euro foreign ministerial troika was dispatched to Teheran. Cooperation, despite rough patches, continues with Damascus.

Is this the "rigid doctrine of military preemption" that people like John Kerry speak of?

"Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), a presidential aspirant, portrayed the success with Libya as an exception to the Bush Doctrine. "Ironically, this significant advance represents a complete U-turn in the Bush administration's overall foreign policy," he said in a statement Saturday. "An administration that scorns multilateralism and boasts about a rigid doctrine of military preemption has almost in spite of itself demonstrated the enormous potential for improving our national security through diplomacy."

Memo to Kerry: Such tortured reasoning and almost absurdly hyperbolic campaign rhetoric is part of the reason your campaign can't get any traction.

posted by Gregory| 12/21/2003 03:22:00 PM

A Slight Omission Over at Talk of the Town

Philip Gourevitch, writing in the New Yorker.

"When an American adviser in Iraq speaks of a new strategy of “terrorism versus terrorism,” as Seymour M. Hersh reported in these pages last week, and an American lieutenant colonel tells the Times, “With a heavy dose of fear and violence, and a lot of money for projects, I think we can convince these people that we are here to help them,” one may be forgiven for concluding that the enemy is defining the terms of the fight to his advantage."

B.D. had already touched on the above (quite incendiary) quote from Sy Hersh's article.

Which helped spur recollections that Gourevitch's piece does omit this part of Hersh's article:

"Told of such comments, the Pentagon adviser, who is an expert on unconventional war, expressed dismay. “There are people saying all sorts of wild things about Manhunts,” he said. “But they aren’t at the policy level. It’s not a no-holds policy, and it shouldn’t be. I’m as tough as anybody, but we’re also a democratic society, and we don’t fight terror with terror. There will be a lot of close controls—do’s and don’ts and rules of engagement.” . [emphasis added throughout]

(Via Marshall)

posted by Gregory| 12/21/2003 01:47:00 AM

Poor Prognostication Department

Thanks to reader AM for sending this in in response to my earlier post on Fisk.

Keep it in mind when thinking of his contention that "all hopes" that the Iraq resistance might collapse are, without a doubt, doomed.

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


Chalabi Profile in the FT

Chalabi discourses on the "shit hole that has become famous" (in case you're curious, that's Fallujah...guess he's not going for the Sunni vote!), his contention that Jerry Bremer viewed him and other exiles as "nincompoops", and more.

posted by Gregory| 12/20/2003 11:32:00 PM

Sweatshop Watch

Any lawyers out there feeling underappreciated and worked too hard during this cold, Ebeneezer-like bonus season? The Nation has got your ticket.

posted by Gregory| 12/20/2003 07:41:00 PM

Of Causation (Libya)

Gadhafi's son says that the Iraq conflict was irrelevant to the Libyan offer on WMD disarmament. Sure, and the Reagan administration's "robust" (to use a word that's been making the rounds lately) anti-Soviet stance had nothing to do with the defeat of the U.S.S.R. and end of the Cold War either.

UPDATE: Andrew quips that Howard Dean would have sent Warren Christopher instead.

Remember back when Clinton dispatched Christopher to get the Euros on board to lift the arms embargo on the Bosniaks and use NATO to strike Bosnian Serb gunners terrorizing U.N. "safe" areas like Sarajevo?

He didn't quite pull it off and reported back that there had been an "exchange" of views.

Someone (I can't recall who though it may have been "acerbic" Richard Perle) quipped to the press that, yeah, an exchange of views had occurred all right. Christopher went to Europe with a U.S. view and returned with a European one.

Look for more such "exchanges of views" if Dean (or Clark or Gephardt) make it to 1600 Pennsylvania.

UPDATE II: Tagorda has more.

UPDATE III: Of course, the Iraq factor wasn't the definitive one at play. But it, doubtless, helped focus minds in Tripoli. Still, like most historical events, this one was multi-causal:

"What forced Gaddafi to act was a combination of things -- U.N. sanctions after the Lockerbie bombing, his international isolation after the Soviet Union's collapse . . . and internal economic problems that led to domestic unrest by Islamists and forces within the military," said Ray Takeyh, a Libya expert at the National Defense University."

But note too:

"Whether by coincidence or fear that Libya might be targeted, Gaddafi's envoys approached Britain on the eve of the Iraq war to discuss a deal, U.S. officials said.

"The invasion of Iraq sent a strong message to governments around the world that if the United States feels threatened by weapons of mass destruction, we are prepared to act against regimes not prepared to change their behavior," said a senior State Department official who requested anonymity

posted by Gregory| 12/20/2003 06:14:00 PM

Euro Gravitas Summitry Watch

"ON DECEMBER 12th European leaders sat down to lunch expecting to thrash out final details of a constitution for the European Union. But the Italian prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, who was in the chair, had other ideas. “Let's talk about football and women instead. I know a lot about women, I've even featured in the pages of Playboy, but I know there are other people around this table who know even more,” he said. Turning jovially to the German chancellor, Mr Berlusconi remarked: “Gerhard, you have had four wives—what can you tell us about women?” Neither Mr Schröder nor any of the women at the table was amused. It was an inauspicious opening. A day later Mr Berlusconi reported to a reconvened group that the talks had failed."

From the Economist.

Not exactly the Philadelphia Convention, huh?

posted by Gregory| 12/20/2003 03:49:00 AM


Freedom Tower Update

The plans are coming together.

"At a news conference to unveil the design, Childs said the tower must be "simple and pure in its form, a memorable form that will reclaim the resilience and the spirit of our democracy."

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the tower -- to be the world's tallest -- would "dramatically reclaim a part of the New York City skyline that was lost on 9-11

You know, I was in a taxi a few weeks back in Geneva speaking in French to a cabbie. The guy asked me what the plans were for Ground Zero when he heard I was from New York.

I basically told him that, the concept was being finalized, but that the building, when complete, would be the tallest in the world. This wasn't said in triumphalist tone. I said it in matter of fact fashion.

His reaction was quite telling. And quite revelatory of pretty common European attitudes about the American hyperpuissance.

Basically, I got the rolled eyes and "they'll never learn" vibe. The primitives have to, arrogantly, erect another big tower downtown.

You could tell, if those were ever to go down too, he'd be saying "I told you so." And that he wouldn't be too unhappy about it either.

These types of sentiments don't exist because we didn't have UNSC unanimity during the last go-arounds over Iraq at the United Nations. Or because of Kyoto or the ICC.

There are much deeper emotions at play. Mixtures of fear, resentment and envy in the face of the American behemoth.

To be sure, we should communicate our aims better in the New Year (particularly that we haven't embarked upon a revolutionary usurpation of the Achesonian post-war order, ie, the Krugman meme).

We need to reassure the world, in effect, that we remain multilateralist precisely because of 9/11. That, post 9/11, we are all multilateralists.

We need the cooperation of other countries to do the financial detective work, to share the intelligence on al-Qaeda, to ensure cohesive security risk mitigation measures are taking place across borders in coordinated fashion.

But what this European cab driver, and the many like him, don't get is simple: 9/11 was an epoch-making event. It heralded a new form of apocalyptic terror. It's not about ETA car bombs or the IRA blowing up hotels. It's a whole new degree of terror--particularly when one considers the prospects of WMD-use in future terror attacks.

So the Europeans need to meet us halfway on this too--if we are to move forward together in multilateral fashion and patch up the Iraq fracas and assorted ill feelings.

They have to emerge, pace Kagan, from their Kantian dreamscape of perpetual peace and honestly engage in a real tour d'horizon of the post 9/11 state of the world.

And if that doesn't happen--it should be made clear too that the U.S. won't succumb to meekness and cowardice because of ill-founded antipathy or irrational fears re: our objectives abroad. We will continue to protect our vital national security interests as we rationally perceive them (and, on that score, we should be careful to, going forward, not risk charges of hyping intelligence again).

And yes, we're going to build those towers even higher this time. And, especially for someone getting on a flight heading home to NYC tonight, that feels good. Real good.

posted by Gregory| 12/19/2003 04:07:00 PM

Documentary Department

Samantha Power is donning her film critic hat. Needless to say, her NYT piece on documentary maker Errol Morris' "The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons From the Life of Robert S. McNamara" is hugely more interesting than your typical movie review (though, unfortunately, Power engages in too much Iraq as Vietnam analogizing).

A snippet:

"By now, Mr. McNamara has learned how to speak about the trauma in his past in much the same way one learns to speak of the death of a loved one: by rote. In our conversation, he often repeated verbatim what he had said on camera. If a question probed tender territory, he pivoted, transitioning skillfully to one of his policy causes, like nuclear nonproliferation or the International Criminal Court. But despite all his best efforts, Mr. McNamara still broke down several times during the filming of "The Fog of War" — "a sign of weakness," he told me, embarrassed. On camera, he remains stoic as he says that his wife and son got ulcers when he was secretary of defense, and that his wife, who died in 1981, "may even ultimately have died from the stress." Mr. McNamara's emotions get the better of him when he goes on to say something he must know to be untrue. "But," he insists, waving his pen for emphasis, "they were some of the best years of our lives and" — here the tears start — "all members of my family benefited from it." He quickly masters the lump in his throat, and proclaims, unconvincingly: "It was terrific." In our interview, Mr. McNamara's eyes filled with tears at precisely the same moment. Though some politicians are known to muster tears as a ploy for sympathy, in the case of Mr. McNamara, who is famously controlling, they seemed anything but calculated; rather, they offered evidence that his public poise is outmatched by his personal demons."

You know, its become something of an American pastime to beat up government officials for sport. Passages like this remind us that, even for a character reviled by so many, high government office can cause intense sorrow and deal real emotive blows still many years later. And at least McNamara is willing to frankly confront the past.

In another interesting passage, Power writes:

"In the absence of full-fledged Congressional investigations, American policymakers rarely look back. They are bound by continuity and fealty across administrations and generations. With the proliferation of class-action suits and the advent of global courtrooms, American officials are now explicitly counseled to avoid public reckoning, for fear of creating legal liability (or constraining their ability to do it all over again, when it suits them). Whether regarding the Vietnam War, America's cold war assassinations or our misguided former alliance with Saddam Hussein, American officials keep their eyes fixed on the future. They rarely admit responsibility for failure, for costly meddling or for large-scale human suffering. They resist debate — internally or publicly — on how good intentions went astray. And they most certainly don't apologize to those harmed."


posted by Gregory| 12/19/2003 03:13:00 PM

Franco-American Squabble Watch

Support for Matt Yglesias' theory?

Check this out.

Squabble soundbite:

"A French official voiced dismay Thursday at Mr. Hanford's remarks.

"Very often there are debates on the pledge of allegiance or other religious issues in the schools," the official said. "Never have you heard a French diplomat comment on an internal debate in the United States

posted by Gregory| 12/19/2003 02:47:00 PM

The European Disunion

Via the FT:

"The European Union ought to change its name to the European Disunion. This week's missive from six net contributors to the EU budget telling the Commission that expenditure should be pegged at about 1 per cent of EU gross national income for the period from 2007 to 2013 has exposed yet another fault-line in an already fractured Union....

Although the letter of the six is said to have been drafted well before the collapse of the summit on the EU's constitutional treaty, its dispatch to the Commission president just two days later carried an unmistakable political message. Bad boys Spain and Poland, respectively today's biggest recipient of EU funds and one of tomorrow's large net gainers, have been told not to expect largesse from the negotiations ahead

posted by Gregory| 12/19/2003 02:33:00 PM

That Was Then, This Is Now

This WaPo story has to be seen in the context of major fears of Iranian fundamentalism spreading through the Gulf post '79.

But it's still embarrassing how we soft-pedaled and couched our denunciation of WMD use to Saddam.

And don't miss this encapsulation of a certain strain of Whitehall think (crusty Etonian tendencies also espied during the killing fields of Bosnia by so very sanguine Douglas Hurd and others; in this vein, recall too Bismark's remark that the Balkans were "not worth the bones of a single Pomeranian grenadier"):

"The declassified documents also show the hope of another senior diplomat, the British ambassador to Iraq, in working constructively with Hussein.

Shortly after Hussein became deputy to the president in 1969, then-British Ambassador H.G. Balfour Paul cabled back his impressions after a first meeting: "I should judge him, young as he is, to be a formidable, single-minded and hard-headed member of the Ba'athist hierarchy, but one with whom, if only one could see more of him, it would be possible to do business."

"A presentable young man" with "an engaging smile," Paul wrote. "Initially regarded as a [Baath] Party extremist, but responsibility may mellow him

Responsibility, alas, didn't "mellow" him. Though the spider-hole may have.

Oh, and apparently other British observers were intrigued by his smile too. Here's another example:

"I recall how, when he smiled--which he did far too much--his lips would slide back from his teeth too far, so that his warmth turned into a kind of animal leer. It didn't look like this on television. But when you were there, next to him, breathing the same bit of air, that is what you saw."

UPDATE: In terms of various countries' culpability vis-a-vis being in bed with Saddam pre-Gulf War I and such don't miss Dan Drezner's post on the matter.

posted by Gregory| 12/19/2003 12:03:00 PM

Readers Corner

From reader RE, writing in from the Upper West Side (no hotbed of Perle fandom), this exchange:


"You write: "Indeed, Perle described neo-conservatism as a "common sense" pragmatic approach to foreign policy repeatedly during his remarks. "

There is a difference between an assertion and a description. The latter requires examples.

What are Perle's specific examples of neo-conservatism's common sense and pragmatism? I have been unable to find any. despite looking long and hard

I responded, somewhat in haste, as follows:

"What about holding states that harbor terrorists as culpable as terror groups themselves? I think that's rather common sensical."

To which reader RE was kind enough to respond in detail:

"I don't think your answer speaks directly to my question because it is not a concrete example, which is what I was hoping for, but instead it's just a maxim, like "do unto others as you would have them do unto you." Superficially, it sounds nice, but the devil is in the details, and it's the details I'm looking for. I will respond to it nevertheless:

To consider a specific example of this maxim in practice, you are saying that neoconservatives believe it is common sense to assert that since Iraq harbored terrorists, Iraq should be considered "culpable" as a terror group itself.

As you know as well as I, there is a serious logical fallacy at the heart of such an assertion. But let us, for the sake of argument, not dispute that. Let us assume that the middle IS excludable, that states that harbor terrorists are equally culpable as terrorists for their misdeeds. (I'll even pass over the uncomfortable fact that confounds your maxim, namely that the US was funding Saddam when he gassed the Kurds, which would, by the standard you propose, make the US at least partly culpable in those attacks. Even though the neocon principle you state all but forces that conclusion, I don't believe the US was culpable, so let's leave that out, too.)

Even by this weakest of standards, the neoconservative position fails the test of common sense when applied to the practical example of Iraq. For there is still no evidence made public, including the recently leaked Feith memo, that has demonstrated any real working relationship between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. So it makes no sense to hold Iraq culpable for the 9/11 attacks if they were not harboring the 9/11 terrorists, as they apparently weren't.

Saddam's enthusiastic support of Palestinian suicide bombers in Israel and the Territories is well known, and deplorable. Certainly, Saddam is culpable for those specific incidents (and many others, no doubt). But Israel is *not* the United States. The Palestinians also had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks, even if they celebrated their success. Palestinian nationalism is very different than bin Laden's radical interpretation of Wahabbism, even if there are a few Islamist themes in

Now, one can attempt to concoct an elaborate chain of associations whereby Israel's security is considered basically equivalent to American security so therefore Saddam's support of Palestinian suicide bombers is really an attack on the US, but such a chain is to say the least debatable, and in any event, easily falls victim to Occam's Razor. Such a chain is definitely not what is usually meant by common sense.

And so, I fail to see any common sense at work in the maxim you propose when you look at a specific example.

So I ask again: where are the specific examples of common sense in neo-conservatism? Where is the pragmatism Perle asserts?

Now, "pragmatism" and "common sense" appear to be the province of a far different approach to international relations, namely that of Raymond Aron, if my preliminary reading of his work is indicative of his opinions. In Peace and War, he provides numerous, highly specific examples of what commonsense foreign policy looks like. Aron, for example, has numerous criticisms of supra-national organizations like the UN. But Aron realizes that groups such as the UN have a very useful purpose in international relations, in spite of their problems. He advocates using them, but carefully. He would never question their existence. That is pragmatism.

In contrast, Perle dismisses such internationalism as essentially worthless, if not actively harmful. Because the UN cannot do everything well, it can do nothing good at all. Whatever such a viewpoint is, that is not the view of a pragmatist.

But Perle and his associates don't stop there., Perle and Wolfowitz, for example have a distressing propensity to entertain the totally unsubstantiated conspiracy theories of Laurie Mylroie and a willingness to rely on the highly unreliable "intelligence" of Chalabi and his friends. That demonstrates to me a considerable deficit in the areas of judgment and common sense. And their inability to understand that in all but the most extreme circumstances* tough diplomacy and broad international consensus is far more effective than bombing is cause, frankly, for alarm.

Like so many other neoconservatives when challenged, Perle resorts to ad hominem assaults instead of reasoned, sourced argument. He rarely provides specific examples where his critics are mistaken except on trivial asides, where he focuses to the exclusion of all else. And so those criticisms stand unchallenged.

If you believe his critics are wrong, you need to come up with specific, non-trivial examples, to real-life situations, not philosophical declarations of purpose. You won't find many such examples, but you will find numerous putdowns, legal threats and insults by Perle and others directed at his opponents..

If serious critiques of neoconservatism, and Perle in particular, are unknown to you, I will gladly give you plenty of backup once I have from you some specific examples of Perle's pragmatic, commonsense, seeing-the-world-as-it-is approach, and where it has proven inarguably correct and inarguably helpful primarily to US interests."

We will be addressing much of this soon over at B.D.

Let me say straight away, however, that I'm no fan of Chalabi--and to the extent Perle carried water for him in the Beltway as presumptive heir apparent to Saddam--it does call Perle's wisdom, on that matter at least, into question.

Josh Marshall, whose blog has been particularly interesting of late (perhaps he should catch the flu more often, though I certainly wouldn't wish it on him having just recently gotten over a particularly nasty one over here!), has an interesting post up on Chalabi's newspaper, Al-Mutamar, running a front page maga-sized photo (ostensibly with Pachachi and other governing council bigwigs excised from the shot) of Chalabi, with barely concealed swagger, surveying a hapless looking Saddam.

I don't know if the Pentagon, as Josh suggests, gave Chalabi any assists on the photo front or such. What I do know, however, is that it reinforces Chalabi's image (to me at least) as somewhat of a charlatan and a pretty shameless self-promoter.

He knows that the Iraqi public is starved for additional photos of Saddam. He somehow manages to get in on the post-hobo (or should I say "bum" instead?), post-shave second round of the action knowing the shots will fly off the vendor stands.

It's a transparent bid to look the key Shi'a player serving up some humble pie to Saddam. It's about as risibly self-promoting as P. Diddy's antics.

So what, you might say? After all the years of pain and repression, can't he enjoy a little gloat peering down at Saddam?

Except that he was likely living not too far down the road from where I'm writing in London in pretty comfy exile throughout the "time of troubles."

I mean, if your paper is going to print a shot of said meeting, print a shot with the entire governing council delegation visiting Saddam rather than crop the pic for maximum self-aggrandizing effect.

Put differently, such stunts positively reek of self-promotion and won't win him additional friends among thoughtful folks in the Beltway.

So leave aside the potentially shady bank deals in Jordan. Leave aside the dearth of grass-roots support for Chalabi among the Shi'a. And, for Perle-haters (and there are many) leave aside that he's popular with that nefarious crowd.

Just focus on the (increasingly tiresome and frequent) self-promotion.

So I'll agree with reader RE on that point, at least. More soon.

posted by Gregory| 12/19/2003 08:40:00 AM


The Fisk Chronicles

Josh Marshall:

"In his opening remarks Perle noted that he had recently been on a radio program with Independent columnist Robert Fisk (he then made a throwaway line suggesting that Fisk and I were 'pals'). Fisk had said that he thought the capture of Saddam Hussein would strengthen the resistance movement by removing the taint of Saddam and thus allowing it to become a more broadly national or at least pan-Sunni enterprise.

Perle mocked what he took to be Fisk's desperate spin and said it was an example of trying to make the facts fit your ideology, rather than vice versa

Marshall goes on to link this Juan Cole post and a Philly Inquirer piece that indicates that some intelligence estimates forecast a spike in insurgent activity after a prospective Saddam apprehension.

All well and good. These are all very real possibilities. The point was made, more comprehensively than by Cole or the article Marshall links, here.

But that's not the point. Ask yourself, what makes a guy like Perle call Fisk "execrable"?

What makes the term "Fisking" enter the lexicon in such widespread fashion?

It's that, a very long time ago, Fisk basically persuaded himself that nothing good can come out of American involvement in the Middle East writ large. And so his stories (universally, at least to my eye) cannot overcome this knee-jerk and myopic anti-American outlook.

To be sure, one can intelligently argue that Saddam's apprehension will somehow lead to an uptick an anti-American violence in Iraq. But can't you at least entertain, even if just for a brief moment, the possibility that it might have a salutary effect from the perspective of Americans?

That, just maybe, it could lead to a dimunition in violence? I mean, who knows finally?

That's what Marshall misses. It's not just the supposed "desperate spin" of Fisk that's necessarily being mocked by Perle and myriad others. It's a long track record of visceral dislike of all American involvement in the Middle East.

I mean, take a look here, here or here.

Some snippets:

"It must have been cold in that hole. And no colder than when the hands of Washington-the-all-Powerful reached out across oceans and continents and came to rest on that odd-looking pot plant and hauled the would-be Caliph from his tiny cell."

Washington, Washington, Washington. He's obsessed, isn't he?

How about this one (from the Fisk article written the day after Saddam's capture that Marshall approvingly links)?

"Peace" and "reconciliation" were the patois of Downing Street and the White House yesterday. But all those hopes of a collapse of resistance are doomed."

How can Fisk be so very sure of this? So completely certain?

He presents the doom and gloom as a fait accompli. But no one is omniscient. Finally, it's this total lack of judiciousness that rankles.

Put differently, and in terms of providing a complex and nuanced picture of the reality on the ground in Iraq, is Fisk any better than the boorish arm-chair chest-beaters occasionally trawling about Fox green rooms and telling us how swimmingly it all goes?

UPDATE: Glenn has more on matters Fisk.

posted by Gregory| 12/18/2003 05:02:00 PM

Drezner On The Realist Position Re: War in Iraq and Related Matters

Thanks to Dan for his link to my synopsis and assorted thoughts on the panel discussion on neo-conservatism (the one that mostly pitted Josh Marshall against Richard Perle).

It's always gratifying to be engaged by Dan because of his obvious facility with matters foreign policy and because he's well appreciated by the voices I most respect on both the left and right of the blogosphere.

Unfortunately, on various topics (and just relying on memory here) I seem to recall we've disagreed on the best means to pursue de-Baathification, on the lameness (or not) of Salam Pax, on the impact of social class on political leadership capabilities, and perhaps some other matters besides. So we've often come to the table from different perspectives--though I think the differences have, finally, been pretty slight.

Regardless, let me first relay that I feel chastened to have called into question the mettle of academics when it comes to their abilities to engage in robust and racuous debate!

After all, Henry Kissinger emerged from academia and is probably unparalleled as a bureaucratic blackbelt. Recall that Kissinger, and I paraphrase, once famously observed that campus politics were so vicious because the stakes were so low (the last part of this famous Kissinger aphorism a gratuitous insult that is unfair--albeit still contains a grain of truth).

So, academics, as Dan indicates, are surely well attuned to their fair dose of rancorous clamor and intense debate.

But, more important than that sidebar, let me respond to Drezner's contentions that:

"I'm afraid I've got to disagree with Greg again. First of all, most realists opposed the war in Iraq.

Second, I'm not sure how much neoconservatives think or want Perle to be their exemplar. I've expressed my reservations about Perle in the past, so I might be biased here

Let's address each objection in turn. First, the contention that "most" realists were anti-war in Iraq.

Who does Drezner point to support this contention? The serried ranks of a pretty large gaggle of academics who signed one of those (pro or anti something) adverts in the NYT (unfortunately Dan's post doesn't allow for a closer investigation of the individual signatories).

UPDATE: Through some kind of Moveable Type magic--Dan appears to have another link that pops up here too. Sometimes it's the academics writing in to the Times, and other times it's this link to a Mearsheimer/Walt FP piece.

Anyway, note both links have Mearsheimer in common at least (end of update).

Somewhat, er, preemptively, Dan admonishes that any attempt to describe them (the signatories to the NYT letter) as "fringe academics" won't fly. As I trust Dan's instincts (and he relays that he's had a beer with a bunch of them at some point or the other!), let's agree he's right on this score.

To further buttress his contention, Dan points out that one of the signatories was uber-realist John Mearsheimer--and further, that "parts of Bush’s National Security Strategy look cribbed from John Mearsheimer’s latest book."

O.K, fair enough. Though I have to say that Mearsheimer is so aggressively hyper-realist he often finds himself in contrarian necks of the woods--even when compared to other academic practitioners of the realist school (see his enervating anti-interventionist stances in the Balkans--an intervention a good number of realists, worried about contagion effects in Europe, supported).

But, in my original post that Dan kindly responded to, I was thinking of a very different type of realist.

Namely, policy elites that are in the pragmatic realpolitik school. Think Henry Kissinger. James Baker. George Schultz.

All of these eminent practitioners of realist-style diplomacy were in favor of the Iraq war (see above links by name confirming their pro-war positions and scroll down this last link for more pro and con war in Iraq blasts from the past, you know, Sandy Berger, Ken Pollack etc).

Now some readers might object and paint Baker, for instance, in different colors. Here's a typical example of that line of reasoning:

"But the threats posed by Baker's presence to the hawks, especially the neo-conservatives both in and out of the administration, go far beyond personal score-settling in which Baker has historically shown little interest: they are strategic. By all accounts, Baker believes the neo-con domination of US foreign policy since September 11, 2001, especially the Iraq invasion, has been disastrous for the country and, perhaps more important, for Bush Jr's re-election chances.

Before the Iraq invasion, Baker made no secret of his opposition to the US waging unilateral war, although he was more discreet about his dismay than Bush I's national security adviser, Brent Scowcroft, to whom Baker remains close.

Baker, like other realists, has also been deeply skeptical, not to say incredulous, of neo-conservative ambitions to "remake the face of the Middle East" by exporting democracy. Long associated with "big oil", Baker would find the kind of radical regional change promoted by the neo-cons to be unacceptably risky and destabilizing
." [emphasis added]

Sure, Baker is significantly less gung-ho about democracy exportation exercises than a Paul Wolfowitz. No one is arguing that. But the bolded portion of this piece is flat out wrong. Baker, the "realist," supported the war in Iraq.

Bottom line: I don't think Drezner gives enough due to the many realists who supported the war in Iraq. So I'm not sure he's right when he says "most" realists opposed it.

Perhaps most realists in political science departments did (frankly, I just don't know)--but, per my admitedly unscientific take, not a majority of policymakers (past and present) associated with what would roughly be seen as the realist camp.

Now to Dan's second objection. He says he's not sure how many neo-cons consider Perle their exemplar.

Fair point. But I wasn't trying to paint Richard Perle as the mega patron saint of neo-cons the world over.

Listen, it's pretty common knowledge in the Beltway that the Perle-Wolfowitz-Feith triumvirate is pretty tight. And these are the neo-cons that, I'm pretty sure, have had the most influence (but again, less than commonly perceived) on Bush 43's team.

Bill Kristol, for instance, probably has his differences with a Richard Perle. But Kristol and some at the Weekly Standard are likely viewed as a tad traitorous by some in the White House because of their McCainite affectations. In other words, they hold less sway in the highest policy counsels.

My point? If you are debating the role the neo-cons played post 9/11 and in terms of the build up to the Iraq war--the key players, and likely in this order, were Wolfowitz, Perle and then Feith (even though Perle didn't have a full-blown administration position).

So when Perle says, somewhat credibly in my view, that if he and his close colleagues Wolfowitz and Feith hadn't been around, post 9/11 policy wouldn't have been that different because they were simply engaging in prudential risk management given post 9/11 dynamics--well that's pretty interesting.

Now, you might think that's B.S and disingenuous--but stick with me a second.

Because this ties back to the previous point about whether or not realists were in favor of the war. If many were, as I believe, than it's harder to make the case that, were it not for crazy Straussians run amok in the Beltway, we'd still be pursuing "vigilant" containment (whether "dual" or other variants) in the Gulf.

I mean, here's (this administration's honorable peacenik per Maureen Dowd) Powell and Kissinger teaming up on a robust pro-war in Iraq stance.

And when you add other non-neo-cons like Cheney and Rumsfeld to the mix--I think there's a strong case to be made that, post 9/11, the Bush Administration would have found their way to a pretty similar strategy, with our without , say, Wolfowitz at the Pentagon.

The Bush Doctrine of holding states that harbor terrorists as culpable as the terrorists themselves may not have been proclaimed quite as loudly as a doctrine per se.

But our overall policy would have likely ended up in similar terrain. In other words, I don't think a hijacking of policy by a neo-con cabal occurred. That's more a convenient theory that's hustled about to score anti-Bush points in the predictable quarters.

And it's a gross oversimplification of the real state of play among wrangling policy elites in post 9/11 Washington. The bureaucratic politics underlying the whole decision to go to war were much more complex.

posted by Gregory| 12/18/2003 09:20:00 AM


Occupation Duration Watch

A gem from the Guardian.

"Which will end first ... the occupation of Iraq or the occupation of Palestine? It is a question that has been niggling me for a while, and last week I put it to an eminent professor of international relations. His reply was succinct but would have got him no marks in a university exam. "That's a very good question," he said. Full stop, end of answer.

In the absence of any further guidance from the professor, I am inclined to put my money on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict ending first - mainly because of a gut feeling that the Americans will be stuck in Iraq far longer than they imagine

posted by Gregory| 12/17/2003 07:33:00 PM

What If There Were No Neo-Cons in Washington on September 12, 2001?

Via Josh Marshall, a fascinating panel discussion entitled the "Future of Neoconservatism." Instead, if often touched on the query per the above subject line. Marshall sparred, rather often, with Richard Perle during the proceedings.

Josh writes:

"My main antagonist on the panel was none other than Richard Perle, who ended up in person being about as gentlemanly and fair-minded as his view of foreign affairs and America's posture on the world stage would lead you to expect."

With all due respect to Josh, I think this is unfair to Perle. True, Perle made some snide references to the views of "Mr. Marshall" and his "friends," but he's a long-time bureaucratic operative with sharp elbows. In other words, it's part of his makeup and style to debate in this fashion

Put differently, it's likely a different style of debate than, say, that found defending doctoral dissertations at Brown. I don't say that to poke fun at Josh Marshall--I mean it seriously. Perle and Marshall likely have very different debating styles with Perle more aggressive and Marshall more conventionally polite and, perhaps, a tad docile compared to Perle.

Regardless, and much more important than their different debating styles, Perle throughout, in my view, addressed substantively all of Josh's critiques quite persuasively.

Perle's View of Neo-Conservatism

More interesting to me, however, than all the to and fro of the debate, was Perle's general description of neo-conservatism.

Per his description, it felt very much like sober-headed foreign policy realism--rather than the oft-described messianic exportation of democracy doctrines (or some grossly deluded neo-Wilsonian style project).

Indeed, Perle described neo-conservatism as a "common sense" pragmatic approach to foreign policy repeatedly during his remarks. To be sure, he did say that "spreading democracy" is a "pretty good thing."

But Perle made it clear he doesn't know of anyone who is advocating that democracy be imposed by force willy-nilly around the globe. He intimated he finds such nostrums utopian and, depending on specific circumstances, likely somewhat silly and unrealistic.

Less convincingly, Perle said the end of the Cold War (where the zero sum gain vis-a-vis the Soviets often had us cozying up to unsavory, authoritarian leaders) had now allowed the U.S. to be much freer "to associate ourselves with democratic aspirations."

I'm not so sure about that. True, the world has become much more complex as compared to the previously neat bipolar delineations where Moscow and Washingon each knew who their guys were, ie. he's a bastard but he's our bastard. So you would think that might have a carry on effect allowing us to more easily assist democratization processes.

And yet. Need forward bases in Uzbekistan from which to mount operations in Afghanistan? Cozy up to (distinctly undemocratic) Karimov.

Need to ratchet up the pressure on the Taliban from points Quetta and Peshawar? Cozy up to Musharraf. (See also Putin, Zemin, etc).

The Neocons and 9/11

But back specifically to the nature, role and influence of the neo-cons in the Bush administration.

On this, Perle asked the key question: Had, when 9/11 came along, there been no murky, nefarious neo-con cabal milling about the halls of the Bush White House--how precisely would policy have looked so different?

Put differently, what what have been done differently if policy hadn't been "hijacked" by the Straussians-on-the-Potomac?

On this, Marshall talked about the whole "internationalization" meme (less cost in dollars and manpower in Iraq if we had been less "unilateral," domineering, swaggering, [insert other adjectives here] on the world stage).

Perle pressed Josh on all this. How many troops would we really have gotten from France and Germany if we had gone further down a so-called "multilateral" U.N. route and Saddam had ultimately remained non-compliant to the satisfaction of, oh, say Dominique de Villepin or Joshka Fischer?

Or how much more, by way of funds/troops/et al., would we have really received if the drums of war had, as intelligent observers like Rachel Bronson of CFR had suggested in the NYT, been delayed until the following autumn?

Marshall struggled a bit with all this. At one point, he retorted that Perle was concentrating too much on France and Germany. What of Turkish (though he agrees with me that they would have been a bad idea) or Indian troop contributions? What of money from non-Old Europa sources?

In my view, however, Perle prevailed in showcasing how, in the real nitty-gritty of all the Iraq politiking around Turtle Bay and varied word capitals, Marshall's calls for "internationalization" wouldn't have made a real material difference in terms of influencing the endgame leading up to the decision to go to war or our actual efforts on the ground over the past months or, indeed, today.

Terror States

Again, back to the query regarding what might have been different had, say, an influential Paul Wolfowitz not been whispering in Dubya and Rummy's ear on September 12, 2001.

A more cogent point than Josh's on this query was made by the Economist's Washington correspondent Adrian Woodridge (another panelist).

He stated that the basic policy precept linking terror to actual states might not have become part and parcel of the Bush Doctrine (ie., the policy doctrine that makes no distinction between terrorists that commit the actual acts and the states that harbor them.)

Fair enough. That's certainly a strong influence that the neo-cons (with big assists from American security hawk nationalists like Rumsfeld and Cheney who, obviously, are not neo-cons) had on the post 9/11 policymaking.

But there is nothing, pace Perle, so deeply philosophical or revolutionary about this. Rather, it's about one's approach to managing risk.

Post 9/11, why not act more robustly contra states that (yes, even if not necessarily directly implicated with al-Qaeda) have (or had) links to terror groups?

Perle asked: should one have rather left Saddam in place and, just like that, hoped for the best?

In other words, there is no systemic philosophical dispensation at play here, Perle stressed, aside from prudence and pragmatism.

So, to put it differently and paraphrase moderator Larry Kaplan of TNR, Perle pretty effectively made the point that there was no neoconservative "theology waiting in the winds post 9/11".

Rather, smart, realist (and necessary) policy adjustments were made in the aftermath of the biggest historical event in post-war American national security history.

Final Thoughts

A caveat. Doug Feith, Richard Perle, Eliot Abrams, Jeanne Kirkpatrick, Paul Wolfowitz, Lawrence Libby, John Bolton, Bill Kristol, etc. are not all cut out of identical cloth.

In my view, Perle's presentation made it clear that he veers towards realism as a foreign policy approach a bit more stolidly than, say, Wolfowitz (the latter likely a bit more idealistic in term of democracy exportation and the like).

And a last point. Marshall advocated that we might have slowed down the rush to war in Iraq once we discovered that Saddam didn't have a significant nuclear program (a difference, he suggested, that might have occurred had the neo-cons been less influential).

I strongly disagree. If some in the intelligence community still believed he might have had significant chemical and biological stockpiles, even with weak intelligence on the nuclear capability front, I think the prudent thing to do, balancing the risk and putting the burden of proof on the presumptive terror state, was to maintain the pressure at maximum levels and invade as we did.

This aside, I think Perle was most effective in debunking the myth that a sinister neo-con philosophy has bamboozled Simian Georgie into hapless democracy exportation exercises around the globe. Rather it is, finally, about pragmatic risk management.

And, as the election season intensifies, the most important question will be, even more than the economy in my view, who as between Howard Dean and George Bush is better equipped to navigate the rocky shoals of the post 9/11 risk environment?

Who would prove the better risk manager in the face of international terror in a post 9/11 world?

And (see post immediately below) I get the feeling the majority of the American public will, on election day, decide that that person is George Bush.

UPDATE: I respond to Dan, at some length, here .

posted by Gregory| 12/17/2003 10:54:00 AM

More Bad News For Dean

When Saddam was captured I told London acquaintances that I expected Dubya to get a five point boost in his approval ratings. It appears that I may have lowballed Dubya's boost in the polls a bit:

"In the most apparent demonstration of the shift, 47 percent of respondents said the war was going well for the United States in the poll that ended Saturday night. That number jumped to 64 percent in the second poll. Before the weekend, 47 percent of Americans disapproved of the way Mr. Bush was handling foreign policy, the worst rating of his presidency. After the weekend, that number had slid to 38 percent.

Mr. Bush's approval rating jumped to 58 percent after Mr. Hussein was captured, from 52 percent, and the number of Americans who disapproved of his performance fell to 33 percent, from 40 percent

Now if we could just get our hands on UBL...I think, in downtown Manhattan alone, that might be worth another 1 million votes for the President. Best of luck finding this scum in his hole.

Note: The NYT, of course, did its best to pour some cold water on the story. The journalist was suprised that, "even" with regard to the economy, Bush's approval ratings were on an upward tick (why so surprised at the polling data, as a variety of economic indicators have been on the mend of late?)

And the intrepid Times correspondent finds a Republican who is eager to use the "V" word:

"Michael Grimaldi, 34, a Republican who is an ambulance dispatcher from Fairfield, N.Y., predicted that the capture of Mr. Hussein would result in a decrease in the bombings in Iraq. But Mr. Grimaldi said he was concerned that the United States was now stuck there.

"It seems to me that another Vietnam is happening," he said. "I'm just hoping that since we've caught him, we can get our soldiers back home and let them deal with their problems on their own

And there is an odd focus on the whole "should Bush attend Iraq war dead funerals issue?"

Short answer: no. He can't attend all, and families so aggrieved should be able to mourn in private away from the press circus that accompanies the President's movements.

Why is this so hard for those pounding the lectern demanding that Dubya go to each and every funeral to understand?

Probably because it's another convenient visceral anti-Bush bromide to toss out.

Still, the Times ends the article with the key takeaway--that some independents (perhaps Sullivan's so-called 9/11 Republicans) are veering back towards Bush:

"Kim Baatz, 25, an independent voter from Sheldon, La., said in a follow-up interview that her opinion of Mr. Bush had shifted because of the success in Iraq this weekend.

"I was leaning away from approval until the capture because I felt like the progress in Iraq was going nowhere; there were so many of our military men getting killed," Ms. Baatz said, adding, "One of the goals has been achieved

Close presidential elections are always won in the center. So this is very, very good news for Bush. No wonder the Indymedia crowd is so worried (in an astonishing display of their twisted, noxious priorities) that we may capture UBL.

Barring a) a major terror attack in the homeland that Dubya manifestly could have prevented, b) a massive economic meltdown, c) a series of marine Beirut marine barracks style bombings moving Iraq casualties into the 1,500-2,000 zone, or d) some terrible Rumsfeldian "unknown unknown"--Dubya, especially with UBL in hand, would be very, very hard to beat in '04.

Election politics aside, of course, and while capturing these individuals is of huge import and provides a major psychological boost, neither Saddam or UBL's (prospective) capture mean, by a long shot, that the war on terror is close to being won. The public, of course, rightly rewards the symbolism of such apprehensions. And, for my part at least, I probably can't overstate the joy that UBL's arrest or death would cause for me (a good deal more than Saddam's, it must be said).

But I'm not in the school of thought that thinks that merely decapitating the snake will kill off al-Q or all resistance in Iraq. More soon.

posted by Gregory| 12/17/2003 08:50:00 AM


More Support for Geneva

From Shinui MK Eti Livni:

"I'm not entirely happy with the Geneva Accord. I believe, for example, that the subject of the right of return (for Palestinians) should be made clearer, and the arrangements in Jerusalem should be changed, and that they should not have been part of this show of appeasement. In addition, I have reservations about the nature of the Palestinian speeches heard at the ceremony in Geneva, whose content grates on Israeli ears.

But I must say that the Geneva Accord includes substantial achievements for Israel, such as the Palestinian relinquishment of the practical realization of the right of return - and proof of this can be found in the violent demonstrations in the territories against the Geneva participants. In any case, the Geneva Accord is a significant development, both in terms of its content and in terms of the declaration by significant groups among the Palestinians that they favor a permanent agreement with Israel, which will end the conflict and the demands

Shinui is not a far left party when it comes to matters peace process:

Foreign policy:

"Shinui supports the peace process. However, Arafat is not a partner for peace, and negotiations have to be conducted with moderate Palestinians. The cessation of terror is an indispensable condition for progress in the diplomatic negotiations. Illegal outposts must be evacuated immediately.

As part of the peace arrangements, Israel will also have to leave settlements scattered in the heart of Palestinian populations, but Israel will not evacuate settlement blocs, and these will be integrated within Israel's borders. There are also large settlements, which will be subject to negotiation. We are committed to setting up a separation fence as a partial defense against the frequency of terrorist infiltrations.

At the end of the peace process, we will have to find a modus vivendi for Jerusalem, to enable both sides to coexist in peace, with respect for the holy sites of all the three religions. A Palestinian state will be established only after the Palestinians renounce their right to return
." [emphasis added]

posted by Gregory| 12/16/2003 10:44:00 PM

Saddam Sympathy Watch

Tariq Ali, writing in (where else?) Counterpunch:

"My first reaction to the capture of Saddam Hussein was both anger and disgust. Anger with the old dictator who could not even die honourably. He preferred to be captured by his old friends than to go down fighting, the one decent thing he could have done for his country.

I felt no pity for Saddam. He had killed some dear comrades of mine and imprisoned too many others, but the US had no right to do this. It was the responsibility of the Iraqi people.

I also felt disgust with the way in which the TV networks were covering this event. CNN and BBC World had become total propaganda networks, to such an extent that it must have made Berlusconi smile. Parading a captured prisoner in this fashion is the new model of imperialism. The latter-day equivalent of how barbarian chieftains were paraded in ancient Rome, prior to their execution

The "responsibility of the Iraqi people."

A nation shuddering in a republic of fear under the brutish heavy hand of myriad security services in Saddam's service. Damn them for not having had the courage to act sooner.

And if they couldn't because they were powerless to do so in the face of genocidal rampages and chemical bombings, well, then simply leave their leader (one in violation of a dozen or so U.N. resolutions) in power until his people finally muster the courage and wherewithal to do it themselves.

And certainly don't dare to show footage of him undergoing a routine physical examination to ensure that Iraqis know he is in coalition captivity and will never be in power again. No, this is sheer barbarism and evocative of crude Goebbelsian (sorry, Berlusconi-like, seemingly a more damning charge these days) propaganda tactics.

Of course, Saddam didn't parade his prisoners too often. They were usually decimated in crude military operations or left to languish in cruel torture chambers in horrific anonymity. But latter day "barbarian chieftains" prefer to detain their captives in full public light while abiding by the Geneva Conventions. How utterly savage.

posted by Gregory| 12/16/2003 10:50:00 AM
"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
B.D. In the Press