The Belgravia Dispatch by GREGORY DJEREJIAN


2/27/2004  

Iraqi Elections Timetable

Ayatollah Sistani wants the elections by the end of '04. But even Kofi Annan agrees that they may have to go into '05:

"The United Nations secretary general, Kofi Annan, said last week that the earliest date for elections would be the end of this year, provided planning begins immediately. But he also implied that it would be difficult to stay on that timetable and suggested that elections could be held later in 2005."

Sistani, of course, doesn't want the caretaker government that comes into power on June 30th (the date of the sovereignty handover) to last too long. The longer such an unelected government is in power--that longer it takes the Shi'a majority to fully flex its electoral muscle.

Meanwhile, U.S. Iraq military commander Sanchez has some interesting comments:

"[Sanchez] said at a news conference in Baghdad today that he expected the pullback of United States units to camps outside the cities, or on the cities' outskirts, to take place by "mid- to late April," two months ahead of the date for the sovereignty transfer. But he said any Iraqi resistance groups planning to exploit the pullback "will be making a deadly error," because American troops will remain poised with "quick-reaction forces" to strike against any attackers inside the cities.

"Let me emphasize that this does not mean that we are not going to be in the cities," General Sanchez said, outlining plans for American troops to mount joint patrols with Iraqi security forces and to conduct any other military operations inside the cities that are judged necessary.

He gave a cautiously optimistic assessment of American progress in the war, saying he was confident that the new Iraqi political structures could be successfully defended by American and Iraqi forces and their allied partners. He refused to be drawn out on the question of whether American troop commanders considered the June 30 date for the sovereignty transfer to be too hasty — a view common among other American officers in Iraq — saying that the date was fixed.

But when he was pressed on the challenges American troops may face after June 30, he offered a mixed view. "The security situation is manageable whatever governance situation there may be
."

Later, he was more cautious. "Is it possible the country could move to civil war, and U.S. forces could end up having to separate ethnic groups?" he said. "I think it's possible, but I don't think it's likely."

[emphasis added]

A few quick points.

I continue to be uncomfortable with the rapid Iraqification process and I remain wary that Iraqi police are adequately trained.

And doubtless some Iraqi resistance forces, whether rightly or not, will judge a U.S. pull back from the cities as a victory (like, for instance, a Hamas spin on a prospective pull-out from Gaza).

But I am heartened to see Sanchez strongly signal to our enemies that we will be positioned to re-enter the cities for counter-insurgency operations at will. We will need to prove that capability in the early days after such a pull-back.

Otherwise we will look too obsessed by force protection and our actions will take on the air of a quasi-retreat.

I'm also happy to see Sanchez admit a civil war is possible. Better to have commanders on the ground who understand the down-side scenarios well and aren't Panglossian.

More important, note that Sanchez stated that, should a civil war break out, U.S. forces would be employed to separate the internecine belligerents. In other words, we wouldn't cut and run.

The Iraq project would have become a full-blown crisis, and our success at preserving a unitary state all but doomed, but Sanchez is at least signalling we would work to stem the bloodsheed and help, at least, preside over the emergence of three independent or confederated statelets.

Call it the Les Gelb solution. I've previously discussed why I think it's a terrible idea.

But it's better than a faux-Iraqification and hasty retreat--leaving the Iraqis purely to their own devices--with the resultant carnage that likely implies. So I'm happy to see that we remain committed (despite the many errors made), come thick or thin, to making the best of a very difficult situation in Iraq.

Finally, note this part of the article:

"Mr. Annan said last week that one of the first necessary steps would be to have an election commission establish the rules and structure for a national vote. After that, he said, it would take at least eight months to set up polling places and other election hardware."

We better make damn sure those "polling places" are protected better than the, er, typical Iraqi police station these days.

You can be sure that polling stations will be the major terror and resistance targets in the advent to elections. We should be picking the location of polling stations, not only in terms of centrality and convenience for the locals, but with an eye towards ensuring each spot can be fully secured before, during and after the elections.











posted by Gregory| 2/27/2004 12:13:00 PM


2/26/2004  

Autocrat Watch

He's worse than Guliani...worse than Bloomberg even!

He's just crazy.

posted by Gregory| 2/26/2004 03:51:00 PM
 

Euro-American Tactics Watch

Jim Hoagland:

"While America is at war abroad, Europe is on alert at home. These differing priorities and responses to Sept. 11 and its aftermath have led to two years of misunderstandings and controversy across the Atlantic. But both Americans and Europeans need to draw from each other's approach and resources to reduce their mutual vulnerabilities to religiously inspired fanatics bent on destroying modern society.

As a global military power, the United States relies more on sending soldiers and spies abroad to fight far from American shores. The Pentagon and CIA have identified a global insurgency that they are countering with military and espionage strategies that still reflect the all-or-nothing stakes of the Cold War. George W. Bush proclaims himself a war president.

Europeans depend more on national police forces with sophisticated internal intelligence operations, which Americans are reluctant to accept. It is no accident that the most popular politician in France today is Nicolas Sarkozy, the ambitious interior minister who has made his name synonymous with a pervasive and tough police presence. Similarly, Britain's David Blunkett and Germany's Otto Schily, Sarkozy's counterparts, overshadow most of their cabinet colleagues at home.

In one sense, both continents follow the hammer-and-nail theory of international politics. Governments, like individuals, often define a problem by the tools that are available to deal with it. But Americans need to understand the extent to which European responses are also driven by the perception that their security problems are internal, rather than in distant lands
."

I think each side needs to adopt the other's "best practices" more often going forward.

Put differently, the Europeans have to be able to leave the peaceful 'perpetual peace' Kantian precincts of Euro-land more often when preventive action is necessary (while playing down tendencies and temptations to be consumed by a short-sighted desire to constrain U.S. power) in their 'near abroad.'

Meanwhile we need to improve our Homeland Security operations by better employing diverse human capital available in academia, business and media--all the while learning some lessons from the Europeans where applicable.

And we need, together, to think about intelligent ways to win proverbial hearts and minds through the Middle East. (Oh, fast-paced, 'hip' MTV style T.V. programs aren't gonna cut it).

Worth noting too, the latest al-Qaeda threat included France too (re: headscarves). The lesson? Appeasement-style policies won't work (re: al Q and affiliates).

This is a common struggle, involving the entire Atlantic community, against theocratic barbarians who aim to scuttle the post-Rennaissance Western liberal project. The stakes are high and real.

It's time to move forward, with solidarity, to address these perilous forces that are vying to obtain WMD to attack Western polities, writ large, so as to exercise maximum damage.

Bush's stock, rightly, is running a bit lower these days. But we need to ensure that Kerry and Edwards get this before thinking of voting for them. National security, in my view, remains the paramount issue facing the American voter in 2004.


posted by Gregory| 2/26/2004 03:06:00 PM
 

Iran Watch

If you were an ascendant hardliner in Iran, and had recently bamboozled a troika of Euro foreign ministers to buy more time, and the Americans were rushing about hoping against hope to garner the support of an Iranian born Ayatollah in Iraq, might you deem this an opportune time to keep pushing a secret nukes program forward?

Especially as Iran would likely use robust American action in Iran as an excuse to stoke trouble, to the extent they could given residual Iraqi nationalism among Shi'a there, for coalition efforts in the majority Shi'a area of Iraq.

posted by Gregory| 2/26/2004 09:44:00 AM
 

Crunchtime for Fatah

Details surrounding Sharon's proposed Gaza pull-out continue to be hammered out:

"Among the issues that the United States hopes to see settled are the extent of involvement by Jordan and Egypt in any security arrangements in Gaza, and whether Mr. Sharon can ensure that violence against Israelis will not increase if Israeli forces pull out of densely populated areas.

The American fear, shared by Israelis, is that Hamas and other militant groups that have claimed responsibility for attacks on Israelis might assume greater political power in Gaza after an Israeli withdrawal. Involvement by Jordanian and Egyptian security forces could forestall that, the official said.

The administration official said that while the United States approved Israel's disengagement plan in concept, it hoped the military withdrawals would "re-energize" political and other reforms on the Palestinian side.

The failure of the Palestinian authorities to stop attacks emanating from the West Bank contributed to past breakdowns in talks with Israel
." [my emphasis]

If Sharon pulls out, expect the predictable chest-beating from Jihad Islami and Hamas types about the "victory" in Gaza (similar to Hizbollah in south Lebanon).

The U.S. must expect the Palestinian Authority to mute such celebratory instincts and, indeed, expect Sharon's move to lead to a re-energization (diplo-speak for real action rather than fuzzy verbiage) of Palestinian efforts on political and security reform. Through intermediaries, this message has to be communicated to Arafat loud and clear.

One also wonders if Mohammed Dahlan's stock will rise if Sharon pulls out of Gaza.

If so, this would be a good thing. U.S. diplomats need to focus on helping a younger generation of Palestinian leaders like Dahlan get rid of corrupt, ineffective and recalcitrant Fatah veterans like Arafat and Co.

Put differently, if Arafat attempts to scuttle forward momentum post a Gaza withdrawal he needs to be further isolated. Conversely, if he proves cooperative, perhaps a slight carrot might be dangled to him (the prospects of travelling, on a case by case basis, to Gaza). Such travel should be allowed only if it is manifestly clear he is in Gaza to bolster the PA's security apparatus so as to help limit Hamas and Islamic Jihad's popularity there.

That said, I think Arafat is pretty widely scorned in Gaza, however. So it is imperative that the U.S., without picking favorites, helps create conditions for the organic development of a new generation of PA leaders like Dahlan to emerge. Credible alternatives to Hamas and Arafat need to gain political heft soonest so that a viable partner exists to negotiate with the Israelis after the prospective Gaza withdrawal.

Has the U.S. begun a systematic effort to identify 'next generation' leaders and better understand their local constituencies and motivations? I don't know, but in an election year when Bush and other senior staff will be pretty distracted, this might be the type of below the radar effort that the CIA might pursue to better inform U.S. efforts to push the peace process forward in '05.



posted by Gregory| 2/26/2004 09:13:00 AM
 

Mel Gibson, Meta-Cynic?

Gregg Easterbrook is talking about the glorification of violence in movies again.

"Beneath all the God-talk by Gibson is a commercial enterprise. Gibson's film career has been anchored in glorification of violence (the Mad Max movies) and in preposterous overstatement of the actual occurrence of violence (the Lethal Weapon movies). Gibson knows the sad Hollywood lesson--for which audiences are ultimately to blame--that glorifying or exaggerating violence is a path to ticket sales. So Gibson decides to make a movie about Jesus, and what one thing differentiates his movie from the many previous films of the same story? Exaggerated glorification of violence."

And later:

"Whether you believe these events actually happened--I do--does not matter to understanding the theological meaning of Jesus's fate, that all people are equally to blame for the death of Christ and all people are redeemed by his resurrection. The Gospels and the letters of the apostles support this conclusion; the majority of Christian commentary supports this conclusion; that all people were to blame for the death of Christ and all people are redeemed has even been the formal position of the Catholic Church since the Council of Trent almost 500 years ago. The Passion of the Christ seems to urge its audience to turn away from the universal spiritual message of Jesus and toward base political anger; that is quite an accomplishment, and a deeply cynical one."

Easterbrook has more here. Read both posts in full.

Update: Sullivan has more:

The "porn needed yet another money shot."

Is this movie even worth 10 quid?

Likely not.






posted by Gregory| 2/26/2004 08:53:00 AM
 

Pat Tyler Watch

Remember this old story that appeared trumped up then and still now?

Pat Tyler (piggy-backing on the Guardian) dutifully gives it some more airtime today:

"But early last year, when she saw the top secret request from the Americans to spy on United Nations diplomats to glean information that might sway the debate on the war, she was "horrified."

The e-mail message was from Frank Koza, identified as the chief of staff for the regional targets division at the National Security Agency. He was seeking a "surge" in surveillance operations on the six nations — Angola, Cameroon, Chile, Bulgaria, Guinea and Pakistan — that were crucial to winning a majority of the 15 votes on the Security Council for a resolution authorizing war in Iraq
."

Note Tyler (and the NYT editors) merely accept the old story as a fait accompli.

But there has been no conclusive evidence that the U.S. did lead a spying campaign over at Turtle Bay during the advent to the Iraq war.

If anything, significant doubts about the verisimilitude of the original Guardian story have been raised (the Koza 'directive' appeared, to say the least, highly fishy).

So why does Bill Keller allow this copy to run? Especially without the merest of caveats inserted in the copy of Tyler's report?

posted by Gregory| 2/26/2004 08:35:00 AM
 

Arab Genetic Defect Watch

I know that everyone is talking about a certain Mel Gibson movie.

But does anyone else espy the painful historical ironies involved when a senior Israeli government official muses thus:

"The Likud's Deputy Defense Minister MK Ze'ev Boim apologized Wednesday night for saying that perhaps Arabs have a "genetic defect" that makes them tend to participate in acts of terrorism.

On Tuesday, Boim created a firestorm of outrage by rhetorically asking: "What is it about Islam as a whole and the Palestinians in particular? Is it some form of cultural deprivation? Is it some genetic defect? There is something that defies explanation in this continued murderousness
."

Boim has apologized.

Still, the sentiment speaks volumes about the Israeli national psyche at the moment.

Put simply, Israelis are feeling something of a Carter-like 'national malaise'.

They are deeply, deeply frustrated.

Deadlocked with the Palestinians--the outlook appears profoundly gloomy.

In addition, of course, there is real rage at the tactic of suicide bombings that fell hundreds upon hundreds of innocent Israelis.

But no nation has a monopoly on suffering. And no race is marred by overarching genetic defects.

An aside. Back in September of 2002, when I moved out of my New York City apartment on Elizabeth and Spring, it turned out that all my movers were of Jewish origin.

They did an amazing job in a narrow, tenement-style, fifth-floor walk-up Nolita building--fast, efficient, no attitude (don't get me started on the hugely inefficient and lugubrious London movers on this side of the pond).

We talked politics, of course. Two of the guys wanted to transfer the Arabs out of the Occupied Territories.

The other guy said, nah, that's not good enough. Arabs only understand the language of force. We need to kill a good number of them.

No, no, the other two movers mumbled (somewhat embarassed). Transfer, don't kill!

The guy who wanted to kill the Palestinians was the smartest and most charismatic of the bunch. He explained to me that he used to be left of Labor. He had been a Meretz supporter!

But the suicide bombing epidemic had changed him. Fed up, his basic message appeared to be they hate us and want to kill every last one of us, so f*ck 'em.

So we talked for awhile. I understood his frustration and deep anger.

But I tried to explain that, in my opinion at least, either of their policy prescriptions (population transfers, massacres/genocide) constituted brutish folly.

None of us persuaded the other of the merits of each other's arguments. But at least we listened to each other.

If only the Palestinians and Israelis could be pushed to at least get back to listening to each other under heavy prodding by a senior special American envoy (no, that's not John Wolf).

It would be better than the current increasingly tragic impasse that is brutalizing the tactics (suicide bombing, collective punishment) and rhetoric (push the Jews into the sea, an Arab genetic defect) of both sides to fresh post-Madrid lows.

Note: Before you hit the "send" button, I'm not equating suicide bombing with collective punishment such as general curfews or house demolitions.

I'm merely speaking of a general degradation of the moral fiber in both societies born of a grinding and frustrating conflict.

My point isn't to equate each parties specific conduct qualitatively. My point is to stress the urgency of renewed diplomatic efforts to move the Israeli-Palestinian conundrum forward. And how, despite all the Powell-bashing in the likely quarters, that it's in the long-term interest of both parties.

It's pretty much International Relations 101 that outside intervention in a conflict by a third party (U.S.) is favored by the weaker party (Palestinians) to the dispute and opposed by the stronger (Israelis). See Pakistan/India too.

But I believe that's a short-sighted view--even if you are viewing this from the Knesset rather than Ramallah. For one, Israel's democratic moorings become imperiled the longer this conflict drags on, given demographic trends in the region.

And an Israeli-Palestinian peace, by the way, is more important to vital long-term American national security interests than even Iraq. I'd bet Paul Wolfowitz would agree with me on that too.

More soon.





posted by Gregory| 2/26/2004 12:16:00 AM


2/25/2004  

NYT Columnist Watch

David Corn is writing about sloppy columnists and, incidentally, posing some pretty good questions:

"If a newspaper columnist writes articles that defy the reality reported by the paper's own correspondents, how should the paper's editors and publisher respond? Should they question the columnist's judgment and powers of evaluation? Should they print corrections? Columnists are certainly entitled to their views. They are free to speculate and suppose. They can draw--or suggest--connections that go beyond just-the-facts reporting. But [insert NYT columnist here] recent work--unburdened by factchecking, unchallenged by editors--shows he is more intent on manipulating than interpreting the available information."

Who is Corn talking about?

Dowd?

Krugman?

No, Safire!

Corn, playing gotcha with Safire, writes:

"But the last laugh (of derision) was on Safire. According to whom? The New York Times. Ten days after Safire's "smoking-gun" column, a page-one story by Douglas Jehl (the same Jehl whom Safire had hailed), reported that Ansar al-Islam "appears to be operating mostly apart from Al Qaeda, senior American officials say." Whoops.

Jehl's report continued: "Most significantly, the officials said, American intelligence had picked up signs that Qaeda members outside Iraq had refused a request from the group, Ansar al-Islam, for help in attacking Shi'ite Muslims in Iraq." Double whoops.

It seems that Zarqawi had asked for help, and bin Laden had said no. Is this how inseparable comrades-in-terrorism operate? Jehl's sources noted that al Qaeda's rebuff was "an indication of a significant divide between the groups." Now, as Jehl's sources said, it would be a mistake to consider al Qaeda's refusal to provide assistance as definitive evidence that the two outfits were at odds and unable to hook up in the future. "But, officials said, there are growing indications," Jehl wrote, "that the two groups are distinct and independent, and are embracing different tactics and agendas
."

Corn's main beef? That Safire's op-ed runs afoul of his own paper's reporting, ie. Jehl's report showcases that there is no compelling evidence of an al Qaeda and Ansar al-Islam link.

Say it ain't so!

But, as this NYT article makes clear, it's Corn (not Safire) that appears to be ignoring some NYT reporting:

"Ansar al-Islam, whose name means Supporters of Islam, started in northern Iraq in 2001 as a merger of several militant Kurdish groups dissatisfied with the mainly secular policies of the two leading Kurdish political parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.

After the Taliban fell in Afghanistan, in December 2001, many members of Al Qaeda working with the Taliban fled across Iran and eventually linked up with Ansar fighters in northeastern Iraq
." [emphasis added]













posted by Gregory| 2/25/2004 11:37:00 PM


2/21/2004  

George Kennan

One of our greatest diplomats turns 100.

Kennan, of course, was the author of the famed Long Telegram that analyzed the Soviet worldview:

"The Long Telegram provided, in the clipped style of a cable, a persuasive synthesis of elements in the psychology of the Soviet leaders. "At the bottom of Kremlin's neurotic view of world affairs," Mr. Kennan wrote, "is traditional and instinctive Russian sense of insecurity" caused primarily by countless foreign invasions across the defenseless plains separating Russia from Europe.

This insecurity had since 1917 been married to Marxist dogma, giving rise to a state of mind that was now beyond change by any agreement or arrangement with outside powers, Kennan wrote. The Kremlin leaders — Stalin in particular — were now compelled by a combination of their fears and dreams to work "in patient but deadly struggle for total destruction of rival power." Coexistence, in the sense of live and let live, was impossible, Mr. Kennan warned. By 1952 his string of perceptive white papers had led him to an appointment as ambassador to Moscow
."


Some later felt Kennan had somewhat overreached in his description of the Soviets as hell-bent exporters of revolution:

"Over half a century later the Long Telegram remains perceptive. But it is not wholly prophetic. Mr. Kennan's presentation of Stalin as a fanatical revolutionary rather than a shrewd calculator of power is overdrawn, and his emphasis on Marxist ideology as a motivating force, as opposed to considerations of security and national purpose, is at odds with his later positions." [ed. note: We'll take a look at Kennan's views on al-Qaeda when time permits].

Former Ambassador Richard Gardner is quoted in the article:

"All of us who aspired to careers in the Foreign Service still look to Kennan as a role model," said Richard Gardner, a former United States ambassador to Italy and Spain. "Just look at the Long Telegram. How many ambassadors today could write such a document?"

Not many indeed, one suspects.

Note: Still on the road with little to no time to blog. Apologies.






posted by Gregory| 2/21/2004 12:03:00 AM


2/17/2004  

Travel Schedule

Business travel through the middle of next week. Limited to no blogging until then.

posted by Gregory| 2/17/2004 11:35:00 AM


2/14/2004  

Gaddis Interview

Go read this excellent interview with John Lewis Gaddis.

Despite the headline blurb ("Bush Pre-emption Doctrine The Most Dramatic Policy Shift Since Cold War") Gaddis' points don't support the Krugmanian thesis (if that's what we should call it ) that Bush foreign policy represents a "revolutionary" departure from American foreign policy norms.

For instance:

"The terms are confusing because there was a fairly clear and sharp distinction during the Cold War between pre-emptive and preventive war. In the Cold War, pre-emption meant imminent danger. Preventive was understood to be a more long-term question. I have always felt that these terms were not easily separated, that there was a kind of blur between them. And I think that is all the more relevant as you move out of the Cold War and as we get away from the context of nuclear war in which these terms were being used. The idea of pre-emption or prevention is not new in American foreign policy.

It's deeply rooted in American foreign policy, going all the way back to the aftermath of the War of 1812. It was a dominant feature of our foreign policy for 100 years, coming all the way up through the early 20 th century Roosevelt corollary to the Monroe Doctrine [that made the Western Hemisphere off-limits to European colonization]. There were no clear distinctions made between pre-emption and prevention in the thinking of that period.

I think we are actually back to a kind of situation which 19 th-century strategists had to deal with: the danger of non-state actors who, with state support or taking advantage of the failure of states, might gain locations from which they could threaten American interests. There was a sense that these dangers had to be pre-empted or prevented by taking over Florida, for example, from Spain, or taking over Texas from Mexico, or, according to many historians, provoking a war with Mexico so [the United States] could take California to prevent the French or British from taking it later.

[Another example is] our interventions in Central America at the beginning of the 20th century, which were intended to prevent so-called failed states from providing excuses that might lead European powers like imperial Germany, for instance, to intervene. There is a long tradition behind this, and I think it obscures more than it illuminates to try to provide this pre-emption/prevention distinction from the nuclear debates in the 1950s and 1960s and try to make them work in this new situation
."

Read the whole thing. And I'll have more comments soon.

posted by Gregory| 2/14/2004 12:45:00 PM


2/13/2004  

Balkanization Afoot in Iraq?

Balkanization?

From a FT piece (headlined above the cover in paper edition):

"A confidential report prepared by the US-led administration in Iraq says that the attacks by insurgents in the country have escalated sharply, prompting fears of what it terms Iraq's "Balkanisation". The findings emerged after a rocket-propelled grenade attack on the top US general in Iraq, John Abizaid, on Thursday.

"January has the highest rate of violence since September 2003," the report said. "The violence continues despite the expansion of the Iraqi security services and increased arrests by coalition forces in December and January."

The report, which is based on military data and circulated to foreign organisations by the US aid agency USAid, diverges with public statements by US officials who claim that security in the country is improving.

"The security risks are not as bad as they appear on TV," Tom Foley, the coalition official overseeing Iraq's private-sector development, said at the US Commerce Department headquarters in Washington on Wednesday. "Western civilians are not the targets themselves. These are acceptable risks."

According to the report, "January national review of Iraq", strikes against international and non-governmental organisations increased from 19 to 26 in January. It said that high-intensity attacks involving mortars and explosives grew by 103 per cent from 316 in December to 642 in January; non-life threatening attacks, including drive-by shootings and rock-throwing, soared by 186 per cent from 182 in December. It also recorded an average of eight attacks a day in Baghdad alone, up from four a day in September, and a total of 11 attacks on coalition aircraft
."

O.K. but why the language about Balkanization?

This bit:

"The report makes clear how dependent Iraq's stability is on investment in the country's economy. "A fear of some is the 'Balkanisation' of Iraq if security, economic and infrastructure situations do not improve," it says.

It attributed much of the civilian violence to rising ethnic tensions between Kurds, Shias and Sunnis, noting that several bodies were found in the south "with hands bound and bullet wounds to the head
."

Others like Martin Indyk, as I've blogged before, find Iraq-as-Yugoslavia arguments overwrought.

Speaking of overwrought, is this story about a leaked USAID memo: a) for real and, if so b) too pessimistic regardless?

Even the NYT sees qualified progress.

"Since peaking in mid-November, attacks against American soldiers have dropped by more than half, and the gun battles between American soldiers and Iraqi insurgents that used to mark daily life in many cities and towns seem in many places to be on the wane.

At the same time, attacks have increasingly focused on Iraqi civilians, particularly those who are seen to be collaborating with the American-led occupation.

And the attacks are less likely to involve rocket-propelled grenades and homemade bombs from Baathist arsenals.

Instead, suicide bombings have aimed to inflict maximum damage on Iraqi institutions like the police and military that are central to the American effort to turn over the reins of government by June 30
."

Hard to say which story better captures the state of play. Guess that's part of the proverbial "fog of war."

But I would say that I think the FT is the most credible paper in the U.K.

Put differently, if this article had appeared in the Guardian or, even worse, the Independent--I would dismiss it with nary a thought.

But if it's in the relatively august pages of the FT--I take it pretty seriously, ie. the chances that there is a real USAID report that really is this gloomy and that really was leaked is pretty high.

More soon on Iraq's future--particularly the specter of inter-communal strife.

UPDATE: Any readers who have more information on the merits of the FT story, or any links to additional press coverage re: the alleged USAID report generally, are invited to E-mail such information in.

Thanks in advance.







posted by Gregory| 2/13/2004 03:25:00 PM
 

Troop Contribution Watch

More roughshod unilateralism in Iraq.

Note this isn't some de minimis troop contribution. The South Koreans now have approximately 3,500 nationals in (or on their way) to Iraq.

That's not an insignificant number. And they will be stationed around Kirkuk--a key flashpoint.

This is real, not bogus, assistance.

But that won't stop Maureen Dowd from denigrating it, doubtless.

States like Poland and South Korea, with peoples who well understand what totalitarian regimes are capable of, have proved real allies in the war in Iraq.

Sure, they have other reasons to play ball with the Americans (South Korea's dependence on U.S. protection over the DMZ, Poland wishing to flex its muscles in the emerging Euro-land community).

But I suspect their proximity to totalitarian states, both currently (SoKo) and in the past (Poland), allowed for a better understanding of the nature (and dangers presented) by Saddam's regime.




posted by Gregory| 2/13/2004 10:17:00 AM
 

Risibility Meter

Running high, very high.

"To understand why questions about George Bush's time in the National Guard are legitimate, all you have to do is look at the federal budget published last week. No, not the lies, damned lies and statistics — the pictures."

Paul Krugman, in today's NYT, taking the concept of "linkage" to absurdist, um, lows.


posted by Gregory| 2/13/2004 10:02:00 AM
 

Iraq Watch

The New York Times is more optimistic on Iraq than B.D. (and Sully)!

Go figure.

Meanwhile, the haughtier than thou Times coyly covers a Kerry scandal involving a woman (well, sorta).

Just not the one that everyone is talking about.

posted by Gregory| 2/13/2004 09:57:00 AM
 

Hey, Let's Play "Huttonise History"

The Guardian continues its dreary descent into tabloid land.

They recently ran a contest where contestants were invited to divine how Lord Hutton might have "interpreted episodes from history."

One of the winners:

Hutton on the crucifixion of Jesus Christ:

"I am satisfied that the decision to crucify Jesus Christ was one that was made after an independent and rigorous trial by Pontius Pilate. I am further satisfied that Pilate's questioning of him was appropriate and that the Jewish and Roman authorities fully exercised their duty of care towards him.

From the evidence I have heard, I conclude that Pilate acted impartially throughout, although I cannot entirely rule out the possibility that he was subconsciously influenced by thousands of people - led by the Jewish elders - shouting: "Crucify him, crucify him."

The issues of whether the trial before the Jewish elders was fair, whether Jesus Christ is the son of God, and whether he deserved to die fall outside my remit, and I therefore wash my hands of them."
Peter Walsh
."

Hopefully Davies, Gilligan and Dyke will get a chuckle out of it...

posted by Gregory| 2/13/2004 02:19:00 AM
 

Axis Watch

Bush's "evil" rhetoric is often mocked by those who disdain the notion of moral certitude.

What would they make of this?

Or this?

No I'm not saying we march into Zimbabwe, Cuba and Burma next.

But I do undertand why smart people in Washington think seriously about regime change in NoKo now and again.

The regime is evil--and it's armed to the teeth. Not a good combo.

posted by Gregory| 2/13/2004 02:06:00 AM
 

Not All Scandals Are Created Equal

The bad news for Kerry: your scandal involves allegations about sex.

The good news for Bush: your scandal involves, er, dental records.

Which one might garner a tad more attention in the coming days I wonder....?

Smart money says this one picks up steam and this one peters out.

(Still, my two cents, Kerry survives barring 16 year old Moldovans emerging from the woodwork...)

UPDATE: Heh indeed.

MORE: National guard scandal?

Which one, the real one or the 30 yr old 'Bama/dental records one?


posted by Gregory| 2/13/2004 12:07:00 AM


2/12/2004  

Public Diplomacy Watch

Juan Cole has some good thoughts on our very significant shortcomings in this area.

(Full Disclosure: The article that Cole links quotes a former government official, Edward Djerejian, who is my father. Not surprisingly, they've mangled our last name!)

Click here for the full report of the "Advisory Group on Public Diplomacy for the Arab and Muslim World" mentioned in the article Cole links. Note the report has already been submitted to Congress.

Take some time to read it. Mostly drafted by James Glassman--it's a well structured, lucid read.

B.D. will be following the issue and noting Administration follow-up (or lack of follow-up) re: the findings of the advisory group (please note such views both now and going forward are purely my views).

For the time being, suffice it to say that I agree with these key take-away points:

"Under the proposed reorganization, a new White House Special Counselor with Cabinet rank, backed by an advisory board of experts, would provide strategic direction and coordination of public diplomacy government-wide. Also, a high-level dormant interagency policy coordinating group within the National Security Council would be reactivated and revitalized. Specific proposals to enhance the role of the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs in the State Department are contained in the report...

In addition, the report criticized the lack of testing and measuring of public diplomacy programs and called for a ?new culture of measurement? in the State Department and elsewhere....

The report asked for a "dramatic increase in funding." It found that funding for all public diplomacy programs amounted to $600 million last year and that funding left for outreach programs in the Arab and Muslim world was only $25 million. "To say that financial resources are inadequate," said the report, "is a gross understatement."

The report also raised serious concerns about the deficiency in personnel who can speak the languages of the region. For example, there is a small number of Arabic speakers in the State Department--only 54 with a reasonable level of fluency and only a handful of those able and willing to participate in media discussions on Arab television and radio. The report calls for 300 fluent Arabic speakers within two years and another 300 by 2008. "Often", said the report, "we are simply not present for the debate"
. [emphasis added]

It really is literally a handful of U.S. diplomats that can really get on al-Jazeera and talk the talk, with real fluency, about the U.S. perspective on unfolding events in the Middle East. That's simply unacceptable.

And yes, the general funding levels are woefully inadequate.

True too, we do need a new position created (yes with Cabinet rank, it's that important), providing strategic direction out of the White House on our public diplomacy efforts.

Winning hearts and minds in a region that wallows in conspiracy-think, didn't go through major rationalist Western historical processes like the Enlightenment, believes Bush and Sharon discuss their diplomatic initiatives over pillow talk (the better so as to act in tandem)--isn't going to be easy.

But the recommendations contained in this report, if carried out, might help us move the ball forward.

Remember, the war on terror isn't going to be won solely by decimating al-Qaeda's top leadership. That's critical, of course.

But many more recruits are available to replace the decapitated leadership of such groups if we don't start addressing, as well, conflict resolution in the region while better explicating our regional ambitions and agenda.

Dan Drezner wonders if such efforts should be made part of the Administration's proposed democratization initiative.

I don't know if that's contemplated, but it should be.

And I've blogged before on how winning the war on terror will require dealing with, yes, the much-maligned 'root' causes like outstanding regional conflicts, endemic poverty (thus enhancing the lure of radical Islam) and the like.

These are the kind of issues that even a Don Rusmfeld was pondering in his leaked memo about whether we were really winning the war on terror. In his blunt formulation, he speculated whether we were killing enough of the bad guys in relation to how quickly terrorist ranks were being replenished given the continued specter of radicalism in the region.

Listen, as regular readers know, I'm no dove. I supported both the war in Afghanistan (because the Taliban refused our ultimatum to hand over UBL and refused to stop proving sanctuary to al-Qaeda) and Iraq (because Iraq was in violation of Resolution 1441 and, post 9/11, the prudential action was, given Saddam's prior behavior, to single out his regime for action given what we genuinely believed his WMD capacity to be at the time and Iraq's potential terror links).

But the war on terror isn't just about military battles, intelligence sharing, and financial detective work.

It's also about conflict resolution and public diplomacy.

To deny this is to deny reality. And help enhance the prospects of another 9/11 style calamity.

More on all this soon.






posted by Gregory| 2/12/2004 12:22:00 PM
 

Talking Trash

We mostly talk about foreign policy over here at B.D. But permit me an aside.

Back in December, while passing through New York, I hit the Whitney to catch an Arshile Gorky exhibit (trust me, I'm not biased as someone with some Armenian heritage, but it was great!).

Taking the elevator back down, I stumbled upon wunder-boy John Currin's exhibit.

Forgive my French, but I thought his work was crap.

So it's gratifying to see that someone can express this much more eloquently and persuasively than I did to the friends I was traipsing through the Whitney with.

Do go read, if you have even a passing interest, Jed Perl in TNR on this (subscription required).

Some key grafs spelling out why, per Perl, Currin's work represents something of the apogee (so far at least) of "meta-trash" in the art world.

First the ultimate reason--the total ascendancy of bricolage gaming about, irony, cynicism--what Nietzsche called the "death of a feeling":

"I really don't care if Currin has actually put a little sweat into his musty impersonations of old master techniques. You can give the canvas a workout and still be a stinko technician. The real problem here is that technique in art cannot be divorced from belief. And Currin believes in nothing. I expect that Currin's fans will roll their eyes at the very mention of belief. The idea that some artistic faith ought to have a hold on their hero-of-the-moment denies Currin the swaggering independence that is mistaken for creative freedom. Currin's supporters, and they are the same people who have pitched for Lichtenstein and Schnabel and Koons, have moved beyond belief. Of course this attitude has a long history, going back to Duchamp's frontal assault on the magical aura of the work of art. But there is a new quality to the skepticism that we are seeing today, for it is not so much a skepticism about the modernist orthodoxy--or about classical or romantic values--as it is an unwillingness to believe that anybody ever actually believed in anything."

Another reason: the detioration of art criticism:

"What is involved in the critical response to Philip Guston and Norman Rockwell and John Currin is not a healthy playfulness about values but a wholesale derangement of values. Art writing has been so perversely clever for so long that some of the people who are banging this stuff out on their laptops may no longer recognize their own jokes. When an earnest critic in Time announced, about the Currin retrospective, that "almost three decades after the death of Fairfield Porter, we could use a decent genre painter again," I felt assaulted from several sides at once, because Porter is so much more than decent and Currin is so much less, and because so many immensely interesting artists have been working with the figure for the past thirty years, year in and year out. Currin floats upward in an atmosphere of critical unreality."

The $$$ factor: people with lots of money sometimes, er, have little to no taste (not necessarily people with real money mind you, but the guys with 500K to burn in Tribeca lofts, or now likely sprinkled through the LES who, as faux-sophisticates and (pre)trendsters, are shopping around for "collectible" stuff to, er, impress the chicks and fill up the walls):

"These are perfectly good questions. And the closest thing to an answer that I can offer is based on empirical observation. While more and more out-and-out mediocrities, such as Richter and Currin, rise to the top of the heap, nearly all the best contemporary artists remain unknown in the wider world, including painters such as Bill Jensen and Joan Snyder, who have exhibited at blue-chip galleries and therefore at least in theory have access to big-time collectors. So I have been forced to conclude that money generally likes mediocrity. Perhaps the self-satisfied vacuity of artists such as Richter and Currin feels familiar to the Wall Street wizards and the Hollywood producers who buy half-a-million-dollar paintings in their spare time. I can find no other way of explaining why certain people find it perfectly logical that a John Currin is worth five hundred thousand dollars, while the very same art world smarties were sent into peals of laughter a few years ago when galleries in London and New York had a price tag of a few million dollars on Balthus's last masterpiece, A Midsummer Night's Dream, a painting that will come to be loved the way the nudes of Correggio and Titian are loved today."

Oh, let's not forget the Zombie-fication of museum-goers:

"Museumgoers have been treated like zombies for so long that by now many of them have given up and are inclined to check even their most cherished assumptions at the door along with their coats. This go-along-to-get-along attitude prepares the way for Currin. Since nobody is sure what he thinks or feels, he can seem to be as hopelessly uncertain as the people who have come to see his paintings at the Whitney. For some visitors, the Currin retrospective may create the illusion that the artist and his audience are getting together to assess our sick society, with its blow-dried matrons and giggly suburbanites, but of course the playing field at the Whitney is anything but level, because Currin is making a fortune by mocking the very people who have paid the price of admission. With Currin, the taste for trash is a kind of free-floating prurience that embraces fashion magazine photography, afternoon soap opera sentimentality, the va-va-voom proportions of Vargas girls pinups, the slick graphic tricks promoted by mail-order learn-to-draw programs, the sensuous tug of pictorial illusionism, the pretensions of the art audience, and the overloaded emotionalism of old master paintings. What the sophisticated audience knows about art--that it can be abstract or representational, that it can be sincere or ironic, that the old masters can be made modern, that the art market is itself a form of art--becomes a series of talking points that give Currin and his sour eclecticism a dizzying aura of significance. "Trash," Sabine Folie remarks, "hangs over our heads like a sword of Damocles." But the truth is far worse. The sword has fallen. And the mayhem is almost indescribable. John Currin, with his studiously inept mix of Cranach and the Cosmo girl, is "meta-trash" triumphant."

Indeed.

Read the whole thing. (And, if you aren't a subscriber to TNR, ante up the twenty odd bucks. It's worth it. Much more than plopping down 500K for Currin's "art", that's for sure!)

Oh, by the way, Alexis de Tocqueville predicted a lot of this a long time back.

Soundbite: In a liberal democracy, without trained aristocratic patronage of the arts, the quality of cultural production would likely inexorably decline.

Why? The artists has to make money, and so his or her product has to appeal to a wider segment. Thus, the mediocrization of artistic production.

Sure, the debate is more complicated. But that's another big reason (related to some that Perl enunciates above) why "meta-trash" is triumphant today.





posted by Gregory| 2/12/2004 10:14:00 AM
 

Another Whitewash?

Remember when everyone was up in arms that the appointment of the DOJ to investigate l'affaire Plame constituted a full-blown whitewash? (with the so hated John Ashcroft pilloried, ahead of the investigation, as an Administration stooge who wouldn't, you know, really dig into the whole affair).

Well, maybe not:

"But the investigation into who at the White House leaked the name of an undercover C.I.A. officer has become much more intense in the last few weeks. Some administration officials have been summoned for confrontational interviews. Current and former members of the White House's communications and foreign policy teams have hired lawyers. At least a handful of White House aides have had to appear before a federal grand jury.

At the White House, the topic is rarely discussed openly among those who have already been drawn into the investigation and those who think they may be, people who have been questioned in the case said. The result, they said, is an information vacuum that is being filled to some extent by fear of what current or former colleagues may be telling investigators.

Some officials now find themselves in a bind borne of the potentially huge political stakes of the case. Since the investigation began in September, President Bush has said repeatedly that he wants to get to the bottom of the matter and that he has directed everyone on his staff to cooperate fully. Some lawyers involved in the case said White House officials were now trapped between that direction from the president and legal advice that they aggressively assert their own rights
." [emphasis added]

Note the bolded language too. Recall that Bush was accused of trying to whitewash the Plame investigation too.

Instead, his aides are conflicted between his directive that staff cooperate fully and their counsel's advice. And you're reading that in the NYT--not Washington Times.

Methinks he isn't Dick Nixon.





posted by Gregory| 2/12/2004 09:56:00 AM
 

Intel Reform

"The CIA is making changes in how it handles intelligence after identifying specific problems in its disputed prewar assessment that Iraq's Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction, officials said yesterday.

CIA Director George J. Tenet, whose agency's performance is under intense scrutiny, has ordered an end to the long-standing practice of withholding from analysts details about the clandestine agents who provide the information that analysts must evaluate, officials said.

The changes were ordered after an internal CIA review revealed several occasions when CIA analysts mistakenly believed that Iraq weapons data had been confirmed by multiple sources, when in fact it had come from a single source, Jami A. Miscik, deputy director for intelligence, said in a speech yesterday to the agency's analysts. The misunderstanding arose because CIA operatives had given analysts ambiguous information
."

More here.

This doesn't strike me as the actions of an Administration dwelling pitiably in cocooned and clueless denial.

This strikes me as an administration intent on improving the quality of its intelligence product for key customers in the Beltway (and, to be sure, getting ahead of the vociferous--and so often blisteringly hypocritical-- Congressional criticisms of Langley).

Good on Tenet.

posted by Gregory| 2/12/2004 09:49:00 AM
 

Iraq Watch

Spence Ackerman has yet another take on the now famous Zarkawi memo.

BTW, the bounty on Zarkawi's head has been raised to USD10MM. People in Washington appear to be waking up to the fact that 50 Iraqi police dying every day can't go on for much longer.

As Ackerman blogs elsewhere:

"I want very badly to believe this CPA official was stonewalling Banerjee. If he really thinks our 100,000 troops can deter factional violence, he needs to get out of the Green Zone and walk through the carnage in Baghdad. We don't have enough troops to defeat the insurgency, and we don't have enough Iraqi security forces to make up for the shortfall. According to yesterday's CPA briefing, insurgents attack our troops 22 times every day. After the Pentagon's laborious force rotation is completed in the spring, we'll have 105,000 soldiers and Marines deployed in Iraq--a reduction of about 30,000 soldiers--who will face a steep learning curve. Now, you never hear about the attacks that our forces deter, for the obvious reason that they don't occur. I have no doubt that our forces have deterred or preempted an untold (and, to use a Rumsfeldian phrase, untellable) number of assaults through our raids and patrols. But 100 Iraqis died in the last 24 hours alone because deterrence failed. And that was in central Iraq, where the bulk of our forces are.

Beyond deterrence is the absolutely crucial question of when and how our forces will engage to forestall a widening conflict. Banerjee quotes an allied military official as saying, "Wherever we see a spark, we have to dampen it quickly." This means our troops will have to do to something they're largely not trained to do: preventative security operations, a large number of which will surely be police actions. True, we have Special Forces in Iraq and we're going to have Marines there shortly, and they're more familiar with these types of missions. And we're also bolstering our intelligence capabilities, a necessary component of success. But determining what's a "spark" and what's not is an inescapably difficult task--and our poorly trained Iraqi security forces aren't going to be able to do it by themselves. Preventing conflict escalation among factions is not something with much of a margin for error, especially when we've been unable to disarm militias and the parties that control them appear to consider politics in the new Iraq a zero-sum game. Here's someone else Banerjee quotes, a Sunni named Ahmed Taha al-Jibouri, whose father is a tribal leader: "Let the elections occur, and if they bring a government we don't like, we will have demonstrations to get rid of it. And if that's not enough, we'll take it with weapons
." [my emphasis]

Regular readers know that, pretty much since "major combat" ended, I've been discussing the need for highly trained constabulatory forces to go in theater (securing areas after combat forces), the need for more troops generally, the need to make sure we are not too focused on force protection to the detriment of robust counter-insurgency operations and deterrence capability, perhaps having an administrative corps to assist with infrastructure/water/power needs in war-ravaged areas.

And, above all, not to declare a sovereignty handover, pull out our troops (or have most of them tied up with force protection duties or engaged in routine patrols around our bases) and Iraqify too hastily.

Ackerman expresses some of this better that I have.

But the point is that huge stakes are riding on how we handle all this. A civil war isn't going to happen tomorrow. But some ruthless individuals are pretty focused on ratcheting up inter-communal strife and getting militias to face off against each other.

No, it's not just al-Qaeda that's causing the strife, of course. Much of it is due to natural, residual tensions as among federation-minded Kurds, crude majoritarianism-minded Shi'a, and aggrieved (formerly privileged) Sunnis worried about their new lot in a post-Saddam Iraq.

Put all this together, along with rumblings of Americans in lock-down behind Green Lines, and everyone is watching the clock and waiting to make their gambits.

This is not the optimal way to pursue our greatest foreign policy challenge of the moment. We must do better.

Where's Paul Wolfowitz on all this (he is one of the few really smart persons with influence serving in government today. As in most professions--there are sadly very few truly competent people at the top--so we need these rare guys to be on the right side of the policy debate)? He needs to move towards the Tom Donnelly's and Bill Kristol's on this issue and persuade Rummy to ratchet up our force posture in the coming months.

Not brute force that alienates legions more Iraqis. But more constabulatory forces, special forces, marines, intelligence operatives.

Who knows the exact time when new recruits are lining up at police stations--the better to blow up dozens at a time? How and why do they know this? Is it widely publicized in a town on placards? If so, don't (or protect the damn station from suicide cars on recruitment day...)

How are these hundreds of pounds of explosives getting to the bad guys? How to better interdict such movement of materiel?

Why aren't U.S. forces guarding these police stations? Or, at least, better trained Iraqi forces? And so on.

Or do we simply continue to let nascent Iraqi police forces provide security? That is, when they are not being slaughtered like lemmings to the tune of fifty a day?

Another month of this and we'll have to deem the routinization of such major casualty attacks (and the administration's handling of it) in the FUBAR category--f**ked up beyond all recognition.

UDPDATE: More here from the WaPo. Read the whole thing.







posted by Gregory| 2/12/2004 01:38:00 AM


2/11/2004  

Rigid-Militaristic-Unilateral-Revolutionary (Dangerously)-Preemption Myth Debunking Watch

Drezner blogs Gaddis.

Krugman, Soros, Dowd, Kerry--are you listening? Does, um, fact-based analysis matter?

posted by Gregory| 2/11/2004 10:40:00 AM
 

The C Word

Steve Weisman, writing in the NYT about the flawed WMD intel, sprinkles liberally, no fewer than eight times, the "credibility" word through his piece:

"American credibility has been reduced to tatters."

"...blow to American credibility."

"...some of the credibility is gone" (a qoute from our old friend Hans).

"blow to American credibility" (again!)

"whatever blow has been dealt to American credibility." (Wiesman, somewhat daringly, is branching out and mixing up the verbiage a bit here!)

"...credibility problem around the world."

Note: Here with this last Wiesman is quoting an Asian foreign minister who muses that, so long as we continue our "unilateral" actions, we will face a credibility issue (guess it's not the Japanese, South Korean, Thai or Philippino foreign minister Wiesman interviewed!)

You know, I don't buy that our credibility has been dealt a shattering blow.

Think I'm a Panglossian naif in denial or a bull-headed Administration apologist?

Listen, we still have the best intelligence services in the world and our friends in Asia and Europe know it.

In addition, a significant number of other countries' intelligence services were pretty certain that Saddam possessed at least some chemical and biological agent.

It's not as if, out of whole cloth, only a few people hunkered down in Doug Feith's Pentagon office espied possible WMD stockpiles in Iraq.

Put differently, there's a lot of blame, re: faulty intelligence, to go around both overseas and in prior U.S. administrations.

So all this is mostly yet another manifestation of hyperbolic Bush-bashing.

And seeking excuses to avoid the hard choices facing us, going forward, on the counter-proliferation front. You can almost see people positioning themselves to avoid, say, the prospects of military action in a NoKo if we are left with no other choice.

Call it pre-emptive posturing. The better to ready excuses for appeasement-style policies going forward in select precincts.

So expect much more such tortured recriminations and hand-wringing from all the likely quarters re: a sudden alarming dearth of American credibility on the world stage.

Don't get me wrong. Our flawed intel on Iraq was a mega-screw up.

We need to investigate thoroughly what went wrong. But much of the anguished talk about "credibility" is bogus.

Put differently, our allied intelligence services are still listening very closely, a John Bolton will tell you, as we talk about NoKo, Iran, and Pakistani proliferation issues.

I'm purposefully mentioning John Bolton here. Wiesman, in a risible bid to make the article appear Keller-compliant (ie., "impartial") trots out a quote or two from him.

This then facilitates the proper atmospherics to allow for guffaws of disbelief to emit from the Dominique de Villepin fan club over at W. 43rd St: "Oh, of course Bolton would say that. He's just "Hobbesian" Dick's crazed neo-con spying on Colin over at Foggy Bottom. Don't take him seriously. He's in bed with Perle, Feith, Chalabi and the rest of 'em. And so on.)

I'm not viewing all this through rosy-colored lens. I've blogged critically about Bolton in the past. But Bolton, day in and day out, is the guy liasing with security officials in other capitals.

And I believe him when he says are credibilty hasn't nose-dived dramatically the world over (here I'm not talking about the Middle East but Asia and Europe. In the Middle East, for many reasons, our credibility is at new lows. More on that another time).

And I believe Bolton too when he posits that this contention (blown U.S. cred) is more of a "chattering class" story than major bona fide problem impacting our national interest in a material way.

We're still the go to guys on all these issues. Major inhibitions about our intelligence data stems less, in my view, from a real doubt about its accuracy than from a reluctance to undertake actions that might be necessitated by the intelligence gathered.

Oh, and note this part of Wiesman's piece too:

"American officials acknowledge that the damage to the reputation of American intelligence has been significant, making it harder in the future to rally support for confrontations over banned weapons.

"The bar has been raised," the United Nations secretary general, Kofi Annan, said recently. "People are going to be very suspicious when one talks to them about intelligence. And they are going to be very suspicious when we try to use intelligence to justify certain actions
." [emphasis added]

Hey, is Kofi working for the Bushies now? Is he, er, the "American official[s]" that was Wiesman's source? (sloppy, huh?)

Also, in what basically amounts to a hastily scrawled hit piece, Weisman (who made up his mind, one surmises, before he penned the piece that our credibility had taken a big time body blow from Kuala Lumpur to Brussels) writes:

In a speech in Washington last month, the French defense minister, Michèle Alliot-Marie, assailed "certain radical neo-conservative ideas" that she said were "the very antithesis of European sensibilities."

Here's the real reason for her trip.

Again, don't believe all the hype.







posted by Gregory| 2/11/2004 08:46:00 AM
 

Miscellanea from the Big Apple

Now I know why my phone bills were so high when I still lived in the city. Anyway, best to limit, er, too much attachment to your phones as this (tragic) story suggests.

Oh, and in other news from the greatest city on earth, here's another reason to limit your forays to the environs of the Upper West Side (don't get me started on all the others...!)

posted by Gregory| 2/11/2004 08:30:00 AM
 

Foreign Affairs Gets Results!

Or, at least, Graham Allison writing in said periodical.

Check out this new nuclear counterproliferation initiative that focuses on limiting fuel production (mirroring some of Allison's commentary).

posted by Gregory| 2/11/2004 08:20:00 AM
 

Les Deux Magots Watch

I've finally figured out why Richard Perle vacations in France....

(Hat Tip: Pejman Yousefzadeh)

posted by Gregory| 2/11/2004 08:11:00 AM


2/10/2004  

Television Media Watch

Remember, what seems like many moons ago, when Saddam's two sons were killed in a firefight? I then wrote about the French media's treatment of the story (they buried the story 31 minutes into their main television broadcast) in critical fashion.

Fast forward a half year or so. I'm here in London on a Tuesday night watching Fox (the "Big Show" with John Gibson?). I believe it was at least a full 35 minutes before the anchor finally turned to the mega-suicide bombing in Iraq today.

Yeah, I know no Americans died in the attack. But it's still a huge story.

We are training Iraqi police forces who are being decimated in the hundreds by now by such attacks. Baathist dead-enders, along with al-Qaeda and affiliates, are shifting from attacks on coalition forces towards a strategy of stoking a civil war by attacking Kurds, Shi'a and, of course, "collaborators" like the dozens of Iraqi police felled today (btw, crowds afterwards seemed to believe an American missile was responsible for the carnage--not, er, helping community relations).

Are we getting too obsessed with force protection and pulling back too much into our bases? And thus letting the local security forces we are training (too quickly, it would appear) get mowed down in worrisomely large number?

What does this portend for provision of a secure environment in advance of general elections or sovereignty handovers? (answer: nothing good).

Are television journalists even digging into this story? It's a big one--and merits much more attention. More, say, than Janet Jackson's breast, grainy footage of Hilton sister romps, or Martha Stewart's secretary tearing up in court. Or am I out of touch 'over here'?

P.S. Forgive me a (tangential) mini-rant. Am I the only one who finds the Fox tag "We Report, You Decide" moronic and pitiably grasping in its faux 'democratic' bent?

It reminds me a bit of literary grad students at places like Brown going on about hyper-text and being able to choose 'alternate' endings. (Dostoevsky, this isn't. A sample. Opening line: "The gigolo I hired tried to trash the apartment." Wowser! Pray tell more?!?)

So why let the text/footage dictate? Pick your own ending--so as not to be dominated by the (white, male) author/anchor.

You are in power (not ye olde canon or Shepard Smith).

Yawn.



posted by Gregory| 2/10/2004 10:41:00 PM
 

Le Monde Watch

Wondering who Le Monde (or, at least, its daily cartoonist) is rooting for in the U.S. Presidential elections?

Wonder no more:



The medal on the far left, "Jeune Espoir", means "Young Hope."

Get it? That's John Edwards.

Then there is the "Vietnam hero." I guess you know who that is.

And, of course, Bush's "medal" is a bloodied Iraq.

That's the kind of elite opinion, in France's leading paper, that makes it harder for us to avoid the "trap of Kaganism", doesn't it?

Or reach common cause as between Europe and the U.S. per Dave Ignatius's smart op-ed.




posted by Gregory| 2/10/2004 10:26:00 PM
 

Euro-American Relations

If you're just going to read one opinion piece today, well, read this one by Dave Ignatius. He's got it just right.

Money grafs for those of you who won't click through the link:

"Despite all the happy talk of the past month about how U.S.-European relations are on the mend, the reality is that the Atlantic partnership today is more a matter of habit and history than of action. The leading member of the alliance, the United States, is in serious trouble in Iraq, yet key "allies" such as France and Germany are doing essentially nothing to help. That's unacceptable.

If this disarray continues, it could prove even more dangerous than it was a year ago. That's because aggressive European help is now essential in creating a stable, independent Iraqi nation. The American occupation is scheduled to end in July; unless it is bolstered by the United Nations politically and by NATO militarily, Iraq will descend into chaos and civil war
."

And later:

"Fischer opened the conference with a call for a new transatlantic initiative to engage the Arab world in openness, economic interdependence and anti-terrorism. Simultaneously, the Bush administration is reportedly drawing up its own plan to promote democracy in the "greater Middle East," which President Bush will announce at the G-8 summit in June.

These initiatives are precisely what the Middle East needs. Yet Americans and Europeans were grumbling here privately that each side was trying to steal a march. Sadly, that's a true snapshot of the Atlantic alliance at the moment: allies who are playing for the audience rather than really talking to each other and solving problems.

Iraq is slipping toward violent fragmentation, and a decisive European-American commitment is essential to fill the post-July political vacuum. This isn't a task for the fainthearted; the situation in Iraq will probably get worse before it gets better, and the risks for Europeans will be as deadly as for the Americans there now.

Is the alliance up to the task? No more we-told-you-so speeches, please, or empty evocations of partnership. If the Europeans mean it when they say failure is not an option in Iraq, then they need to get to work now. And the Americans need to graciously accept their help
." [links within quoted text added by B.D., emphasis added]

Indeed.


posted by Gregory| 2/10/2004 09:35:00 AM
 

Morph Watch: Dean/Gore Melding Into One

Call it the Deanification of Gore. Or the Goreification of Dean.

Either way, it ain't pretty.

It all started with the endorsement that turned requiem.

But intimations of mortality are not for ennobled would be William Jennings Bryan figures.

So now, of course, the final stand in Wisconsin becomes not so final.

The NYT headline:

"Dean Will Stay in the Race Even if He Fails to Win Wisconsin"

Hmmm.

Sounds kinda like:

"Gore Will Stay in the Race Even if He Fails to Win Florida..."

Come to think of it--that's pretty much what happened back in '00, isn't it?

And then there's the Gore scream--on the heels of the Dean scream.

Misery loves company, huh?

Note: Can someone morph these guys respective screams into a composite shot? It needs to be done...

posted by Gregory| 2/10/2004 02:57:00 AM
 

This is Good News? Then Bring on the Bad....

Gee, I've got to disagree with Drezner and Chafetz here and here that this NYT piece constitutes good news.

What it means to me is that Baathist dead-enders, jihadist fanatics and al-Qaeda types have smartened up. They calculate (hopefully correctly, by the way) that Bush is not going to cut and run from Iraq. Even with the talk of handing over sovereignty to the Iraqis by June 30th--we look set to have north of 100,000 GIs in theater through at least '06.

So the calculation that a GI a day gets the Yanks away hasn't borne fruit. And attacks on Japanese, British, Spanish, Italian, Polish and other international forces hasn't frayed the staying power of the coalition either. Yes, the U.N. and Red Cross reduced their presence after their respective HQs were attacked but this didn't imperil the nation-building effort like if the Americans had decided to cut and run.

Therefore, our enemies conclude, trying to create anarchic conditions by lashing out at any and all foreigners hasn't done the trick--mostly because the U.S. led coalition has stuck by its guns.

So now, the unholy alliance of Sunni radicals, Baathist dead-enders, jihadist infiltrators and al-Qaeda are shifting strategy.

They are looking to help stoke the worst conflagration of all--a brutal civil war.

I mean, who do you think was trying to kill Sistani last week?

Josh Marshall is right, we dodged a bullet along with Sistani. If the culprits were Sunni, how much do you want to bet that, particularly in mixed Sunni/Shi'a population areas (see Baghdad) the specter of large scale communal strife would have ratcheted up considerably?

Yes, Martin Indyk is on to something-- Iraq isn't Yugoslavia (here's a key snippet from a debate with Les Gelb):

"You, in your op-ed, make the argument that Iraq is, in fact, a Yugoslavian model, but it's not precisely, because you do not have this sectarian strife. I mean, Shiites have suffered horrendous terrorist attacks, suicide bombings, lost their leader and, I think, 60 other people. Kurds have suffered the same kind of thing. But these terrorist attacks are not being undertaken by Sunnis against the Kurds, or Sunnis against the Shiites. And you don't see a retaliation by any of them. This is not Pakistan and India, the Muslims and Hindus in India fighting each other. On the other hand, by coming in and dividing them by these sectarian lines, you're going to promote that kind of strife." [emphasis added]

Hmmmm. Maybe.

But what if al-Qaeda was hell-bent on publicizing the assassination of a Sistani as a Sunni operation? Given their newfangled strategy--that's probably the perception they would do their utmost to foster.

Would Indyk remain so sanguine about the de minimis prospects of sectarian strife in Iraq?

Note too, of course, that Kurdistan remains something of a tinderbox (one that's not really on anyone's radar as Bremer and Co. rush about attempting to appease Sistani's lastest musings about ballot modalities...)

And note that the new strategy isn't just to forment civil war. Like genocidal Serbian paramilitaries operating in places like the northern town of Prijedor in Bosnia--the Iraqi resistance is killing off intellectuals (doctors, lawyers etc). (Hat Tip: Spence Ackerman)

Kill off those that might provide a middle class, a technocratic brain trust, in a word, those modest elites that represent the hope for real, sustainable progress in the Iraqi polity.

Brutal and evil actions. But also, of course, brutishly effective and smart.

I ask, yet again, do we really have the requisite forces on the ground?

I fear not. If we did, we would have crushed this insurgency by now. Of course, we haven't.

Oh, and note that Chafetz writes this:

"Coincidentally, it may also not be terribly good for recruitment for it to be publicized that al Qaeda is trying to stir up violence amongst Muslims."

Ah, but not just any violence between Muslims. Violence between Sunni and Shi'a.

If there is anything a died in the wool Wahabist hates more than a "Zionist-Crusader" type-- it's a Shi'a!

"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."

Folks, this was never going to be easy. We'll be looking at how to mitigate the prospects of success for al-Qaeda's new strategy (ie, how to minimize the prospects for a full-blown civil war occuring in Iraq) more in the coming days and weeks.

But when a guy like Les Gelb says something like this, well, you pay attention and start putting your thinking hat on:

"[Iraq] is on the verge of civil wars. I think if you don't see that, and if you think that everybody considers themselves a happy Iraqi and there's no ethnic strife, then you're missing what's really happening in that country, and you're missing the tidal wave that's about to hit us. That's what I'm worried about. I want to act, based on these ethnic realities, and they are the underlying realities, before that tidal wave hits us. As soon as we begin to get out, these folks will start killing each other, unless we prepare for it in the way I describe."

If that particular tsunami hits--Iraq will likely prove the worst foreign policy disaster for the U.S. since Vietnam.

So we damn well better be marshalling every intellectual, military, economic etc resource to make sure it doesn't happen.

Let's hope this national security team is up to it--and in the midst of an election year--when Washington gets a bit, er, distracted.

UPDATE: A directly relevant NYT story on this today.

"In the angry clamoring of Shiite and Sunni Muslims, and of Arabs, Turkmens and Kurds in the north, many Iraqis, foreign diplomats and allied military officers say they discern the first smoke of broad communal strife.

"Wherever we see a spark, we have to dampen it quickly," said a senior allied military official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Neither the allied official, nor the Iraqi clerics, tribal sheiks, politicians, foreign diplomats and ordinary people interviewed over two weeks said civil clashes were imminent. But they said the potential was there, as politicians and allied forces try to forge one country out of ethnic and religious groups with conflicting grievances
."

On the optimistic side of the ledger:

"But some gathered there understand that suffering blanketed the whole country, not just their families or towns. "We have nothing against the Sunnis," said Amina Hadi, a Shiite woman from Nasiriya in the south whose 16-year-old brother vanished into Mr. Hussein's prisons in 1991, never to be found. "It was the Baathists. They took Sunni, too, and there were Shiites who worked for Saddam."


















posted by Gregory| 2/10/2004 01:26:00 AM
 

Warren Zimmermann

The last American Ambassador to Yugoslavia is dead at 69. He was the highest-ranking official to resign in protest over the Clinton administration's long (pre-Holbrooke) inaction in the face of the horrors of Bosnia.

I remember first hearing about his resignation, thumbing through the IHT, in a small port city in southwestern France back in 1994. It made my day.

Someone, in the upper echelons of State, resigning over an issue of principle! May he rest in peace.

Note: His "Origins of a Catastrophe" is an excellent read. A couple thought-provoking inscriptions Zimmermann starts the book with:

"As you can see, bad leadership has caused
The present state of evil in the world,
Not Nature that has grown corrupt in you
."

--Dante Alighieri, Purgatory (trans.: Musa)

In pessimistic moments, I think that quote is false (and that we should blame human nature, not our leaders, for our many travails). But meeting a lot of great Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats through the mid-90s--I felt that the brutish nationalisms unleashed in the former Yugoslavia were mostly (though not entirely) a product of nationalism from the top down (rather than the bottom up) spawned by leaders like Milosevic, Tudjman, Karadzic.

In this vein, Zimmermann also quotes K. R. Popper, The Open Society and Its Enemies:

"The old question, "Who shall be the rulers?" must be superseded by the real one "How can we tame them?"

BTW, the answer isn't the U.N. or "international law."

Not yet, anyway.



posted by Gregory| 2/10/2004 01:14:00 AM


2/09/2004  

Civil War Watch

Michael Doran mediates a debate between Martin Indyk and Les Gelb on the future of Iraq. Indyk wants us to strive for a single, unitary state--Gelb is looking favorably at a confederation option (he seems to have walked back a bit from calling outright for three sovereign states to emerge in Iraq).

I side with Indyk on this one (although his haughtier than thou Clinton alum breezy put-downs of Bush Administration diplomacy sprinkled through the transcript are a bit annoying).

B.D. had a piece up reacting to Gelb's initial op-ed a while back. I called it then a "very, very bad idea." Nothing Gelb said in the debate makes me change my mind.

That said, like Gelb, I'm very concerned about the specter of an Iraqi civil war breaking out in the next months and years.

Gelb:

"[Iraq] is on the verge of civil wars. I think if you don't see that, and if you think that everybody considers themselves a happy Iraqi and there's no ethnic strife, then you're missing what's really happening in that country, and you're missing the tidal wave that's about to hit us. That's what I'm worried about. I want to act, based on these ethnic realities, and they are the underlying realities, before that tidal wave hits us. As soon as we begin to get out, these folks will start killing each other, unless we prepare for it in the way I describe."

I'll have more on this prospective "tidal wave" soon, ie. how likely it is, how to mitigate the chances of it coming about, and more. So stay tuned.

posted by Gregory| 2/09/2004 01:01:00 PM
 

A Multilateral Middle East Democratization Initiative

Robin Wright and Glenn Kessler have an article up in the Washington Post about an ambitious Bush administration democracy-building initiative in the Middle East.

Needless to say, you won't hear about this if you are relying on Maureen Dowd or Paul Krugman to keep you apprised of Bush foreign policy going-ons (since this can't be portrayed, even by them, as any of a 1) militaristic, 2) unilateral or 3) preemptive action undertaken by hapless-marionette-Georgie-controlled-by-Hobbesian-Cheney they, you know, just won't write about it...).

"The Bush administration has launched an ambitious bid to promote democracy in the "greater Middle East" that will adapt a model used to press for freedoms in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.

Senior White House and State Department officials have begun talks with key European allies about a master plan to be put forward this summer at summits of the Group of Eight nations, NATO allies and the European Union, U.S. officials say. With international backing, the United States then hopes to win commitments of action from Middle Eastern and South Asian countries.

"It's a sweeping change in the way we approach the Middle East," said a senior State Department official. "We hope to roll out some of the principles for reform in talks with the Europeans over the next few weeks, with specific ideas of how to support them
."

...As incentives for the targeted countries to cooperate, Western nations would offer to expand political engagement, increase aid, facilitate membership in the World Trade Organization and foster security arrangements, possibly some equivalent of the Partnership for Peace with former Eastern Bloc countries."

We talked about the need for such an initiative earlier at B.D. here and here.

And we will be keeping an eye on this story going forward to make sure there is real follow through by Bush on this.

Oh, by the way, what's Kerry's take on all this?

Or will "internationalization" (whatever that means) of the Iraq effort prove a panacea that rights all the region's ills?



posted by Gregory| 2/09/2004 12:41:00 PM
 

Report: Al-Qaeda Has Obtained Tactical Nuclear Explosives

Here's the report. Obviously, the verisimilitude is tough to nail down. I'm skeptical for a few reasons that I'll get to in a second.

"Al-Qaida has obtained tactical nuclear explosive devices that can fit inside a suitcase, Israel Radio reported Sunday night citing the Al-Hayat newspaper. According to the Arabic daily based in London, the devices are not intended for use, except in the event that the existence of the organization is threatened. The report said that members of Osama bin Laden's group purchased the devices from Ukrainian scientists who sell them to anyone willing to pay the price." [emphasis added]

Al-Qaeda is feeling pretty beaten down these days (yes folks, despite all those vast resources plowed into Iraq, the war against al-Qaeda continues to be prosecuted firmly by the Bush Administration) so might be leaking such fake stories to al-Hayat to pretend they have a mega-deterrent capability.

And, of course, does anyone really believe that if they did have their hands on a nuclear device--that they wouldn't be aiming to vaporize lower Manhattan tomorrow?

Even if the existence of the organization wasn't, er, threatened?

After all, rational decision-making based on Politburo-style caculations re: mutually assured destruction isn't quite how the Mohammed Atta's of this world think, n'est ce pas?

So this story is almost certainly bogus. But, of course, someday some such group might very well get their hands on a tactical nuclear device.

All the reason for policymakers to grapple with these issues ever more urgently.

UPDATE: A slightly more detailed Haaretz report here. And al-Jazeera has a story up too.

MORE: Given such stories, we shouldn't be letting wrangles over "liability rules" hold up such efforts, wouldn't you say?




posted by Gregory| 2/09/2004 02:10:00 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
Columnists
Blogs
Think-Tanks
Security
Books
B.D. In the Press
archives