The Belgravia Dispatch by GREGORY DJEREJIAN


On the Road

Limited to no blogging through Monday.

UPDATE: At an airport lounge in Heathrow (with a delayed flight) so a few quick thoughts on the Damascus attacks that I hadn't previously had time to blog before I get on a flight.

Here's today's NYT story on the attacks in Syria:

"Western and Arab analysts said they were puzzled over what could have been a motive for a terrorist attack on Syria, which fiercely opposed the American-led war in Iraq and has praised the violent insurgency there as legitimate resistance to an occupying force.

The Syrian Muslim Brotherhood clashed violently with the government in the past, but it has been quiescent since the early 1980's. The shooting appeared ill prepared, the analysts said, compared to recent attacks in Saudi Arabia and Iraq

Quiescent since the early 1980's?

That's a good one.

Might the Times, in passing, have mentioned that wee bit little event back in 1982 when the Muslim Brotherhood was ruthlessly quashed in Syria with around 20,000 fatalities in Hama? (Indeed a phrase, "Hama Rules"--courtesy of Tom Friedman--entered the Middle East watchers' lexicon as a result of the crackdown--code for, basically, taking a, er, harsh line vis-a-vis domestic troublemakers).

Hafez Asad had then made the strategic decision to, once and for all, ensure secularism reigned in Syria rather than Sunni-led Islamism a la Muslim Brotherhood (Asad is from a minority religious sect, the Alawites, who aren't held in particularly high regard by many Sunnis in Syria--religious ones because they view Alawites as belonging to a somewhat unorthodox sect; more prosperous and/or secular Sunnis simply resentful Alawites run the country rather than Sunni elites).

So what happened in Damascus will be very worrisome to Bashar Asad.

Nothing ever happened in Syria, since 1982, without the secret police (the much feared mukhabarat) knowing about it.

Until a couple days ago, that is.

Now it could be an al-Qaeda operation, of course (good to know they might target former U.N. and Canadian installations these days too, huh? Guess said entities weren't part of the European peace proffer or such...)

But I think smart money is on restless Muslim Brotherhood types, smelling weakness in the Bashar fils regime, having mounted the operation.

He's got 135,000 U.S. soldiers to his east (with Rummy periodically making noises about Syrian troublemaking in Iraq). He's got Arik Sharon probably near assassinating Hamas figures in downtown Damascus. Needless to say, the Turkish-Syrian bilateral relationship isn't all roses.

Put differently, and with all the U.S. congressional Syrian sanctions bluster and such, it's not an easy time for boxed-in young Bashar.

And, when domestic malcontents (angered too by U.S. forces next door and probably wanting Asad to take a harder pro-Iraqi insurgent stance) smell weakness--they tend to start causing trouble.

Which makes it likely the final description in this time line of Muslim Brotherhood activity in Syria is now no longer accurate.

This is not the time either, btw, to hope for violent Kurdish rebellion in the north of Syria.

It's not currently in the U.S. national interest for Syria to start teetering out of control.

For avoidance of doubt--let's be more clear.

An emboldened Muslim Brotherhood in Syria is, very obviously, not in America's national interest.

Nor is Kurdish irredentism with Iraqi and Syrian Kurds moving towards a united Kurdistan across that border.

That will make the (already) edgy Turks--much, much edgier.

And the last thing we want right now is trouble in the third Iraq sector, right?

All this to say--perhaps it's time to tone down some of the Bashar-bashing a bit here and there.

Condoleeza Rice should make sure the Secretary of Defense is, er, on board.

posted by Gregory| 4/29/2004 09:32:00 AM


A Decline in Courage

What do Pat Tillman and Alexsandr Solzhenitsyn have in common?

More than you might think.

Read this USA Today piece on Tillman first.

Some key grafs (my emphases throughout post):

"We didn't know him. Before he enlisted, even football fans would have been hard-pressed to identify the Cardinals' safety. But when a man walks away from a millionaire's life and puts himself in harm's way under our country's flag, we rise and cheer. For he is a better man than most, a man who could be true to himself only by laying himself on the line at its greatest point of peril.

Even as a New York Giants quarterback toyed with blondes on the television show The Bachelor, Tillman shipped out to Afghanistan.

"All deaths are tragic," said John Lock, a military historian and retired Army lieutenant colonel, a Ranger himself. "But some seem more tragic than others: 'An American Warrior, Ranger Pat Tillman, Killed in Action on the Field of Battle, 22 April 2004.' When one dies so tragically young, there is no finer epitaph. And my heart swells with pride knowing that this nation still produces such fine young men

And later:

"John McCain also noticed that. The U.S. senator from Arizona, five years a prisoner of war in Vietnam, called himself "heartbroken" by the Ranger's death. He said he saw in Tillman's choice of duty "an inspiration to all of us to reclaim the essential public-spiritedness of Americans that many of us ... had worried was no longer our common distinguishing trait."


Compare some of these Tillman-related thoughts with Solzhenitsyn's famous (and still very topical) Harvard commencement address in 1978.

A key graf:

"A decline in courage may be the most striking feature which an outside observer notices in the West in our days. The Western world has lost its civil courage, both as a whole and separately, in each country, each government, each political party and of course in the United Nations. Such a decline in courage is particularly noticeable among the ruling groups and the intellectual elite, causing an impression of loss of courage by the entire society. Of course there are many courageous individuals but they have no determining influence on public life. Political and intellectual bureaucrats show depression, passivity and perplexity in their actions and in their statements and even more so in theoretical reflections to explain how realistic, reasonable as well as intellectually and even morally warranted it is to base state policies on weakness and cowardice. And decline in courage is ironically emphasized by occasional explosions of anger and inflexibility on the part of the same bureaucrats when dealing with weak governments and weak countries, not supported by anyone, or with currents which cannot offer any resistance. But they get tongue-tied and paralyzed when they deal with powerful governments and threatening forces, with aggressors and international terrorists.

Should one point out that from ancient times decline in courage has been considered the beginning of the end

Yes, there has been something of a courage deficit among too many of our intellectual elites over the past decades (think of the moronic excesses of political correctness, of Clintonian pinprick attacks on pharmaceutical plants in Kharthoum, of the fanciful notion of zero-casualty wars...)

This is linked to a real dearth in public spiritedness in today's America (indeed, in the West generally).

Think of how Western society has become overly emasculated by legalisms, by bouts of boredom (often borne of material wealth) helping lead to a buffoonish culture--as evidenced by reality television (look 'ma--danger afoot!), legions of clueless commentators (on both sides of the political spectrum) flooding the airwaves and spouting off imbecilities with breathless abandon, flourishing cottage industries supplying botox injections and chin tucks, and so much more deeply underwhelming fare we are (all but) forced to imbibe daily.

It is, for instance, truly staggering that millions will tune in to spectate as some risible character looks to find his gold-digging bride on shows like The Bachelor.

Much of this, of course, derives from an obsession with self (often under the guise of misguided notions of 'self-improvement').

As Solzhenitsyn put it:

"When the modern Western States were created, the following principle was proclaimed: governments are meant to serve man, and man lives to be free to pursue happiness. (See, for example, the American Declaration). Now at last during past decades technical and social progress has permitted the realization of such aspirations: the welfare state. Every citizen has been granted the desired freedom and material goods in such quantity and of such quality as to guarantee in theory the achievement of happiness, in the morally inferior sense which has come into being during those same decades. In the process, however, one psychological detail has been overlooked: the constant desire to have still more things and a still better life and the struggle to obtain them imprints many Western faces with worry and even depression, though it is customary to conceal such feelings. Active and tense competition permeates all human thoughts without opening a way to free spiritual development. The individual's independence from many types of state pressure has been guaranteed; the majority of people have been granted well-being to an extent their fathers and grandfathers could not even dream about; it has become possible to raise young people according to these ideals, leading them to physical splendor, happiness, possession of material goods, money and leisure, to an almost unlimited freedom of enjoyment. So who should now renounce all this, why and for what should one risk one's precious life in defense of common values, and particularly in such nebulous cases when the security of one's nation must be defended in a distant country?"

Why indeed?

But Pat Tillman did, and he deserves to be honored for it.

Listen, I'm no shill for Solzhenistsyn.

He can get carried away at times (see some of his autocratic and overly religious reveille tendencies)--he might even be, all told, considered a flawed thinker (btw, he is widely mocked and viewed as irrelevant in today's Russia--albeit often unfairly, in my view).

But there is a lot to digest with respect and attention in his thought and literature.

I hope to have more on him soon.

posted by Gregory| 4/28/2004 09:41:00 AM

Self-Awareness Watch

"In art the mass of people no longer seek consolation and exaltation, but those who are refined, rich, unoccupied, who are distillers of quintessences, seek what is new, strange, original, extravagant, scandalous. I myself, since Cubism and before, have satisfied these masters and critics with all the changing oddities which have passed through my head, and the less they understand me, the more they admired me. By amusing myself with all these games, with all these absurdities, puzzles, rebuses, arabesques, I became famous and that very quickly. And fame for a painter means sales, gains, fortune, riches. And today, as you know, I am celebrated, I am rich. But when I am alone with myself, I have not the courage to think of myself as an artist in the great and ancient sense of the term. Giotto, Titian, Rembrandt, were great painters. I am only a public entertainer who has understood his times and exploited them as best he could the imbecility, the vanity, the cupidity of his contemporaries. Mine is a bitter confession, more painful than it may appear, but it has the merit of being sincere."

--Pablo Picasso, Jardin des Arts (March 1964), trans.

I wonder what Picasso would make of faux contemporary "artists" like John Currin?

Not much, I'd wager. Likely he'd put such work in the prima facie fraudster category rapidly indeed.

And, unlike many contemporary artists today hustling about 10th Avenue like midtown dealmakers--at least Picasso had the integrity to engage in some severely honest navel gazing.

I doubt many so-called artists today have either the integrity or range to rustle up the emotional and intellectual resources necessary to pursue such a rigorous self-appraisal.

But why spoil the fun when you can instead be noshing down at the canteen catching a glimpse of Anna Wintour and such?

posted by Gregory| 4/28/2004 08:48:00 AM


A Whitehall Rebellion!

Has Britain's foreign policy establishment turned on Tony Blair (via a signed letter delivered to the PM)?

That's how the FT is reporting the story.

Here is the text of the letter.

I excerpt it here (with my emphasis) for reader convenience:

"Dear Prime Minister: We the undersigned, former British ambassadors, high commissioners, governors and senior international officials, including some who have long experience of the Middle East and others whose experience is elsewhere, have watched with deepening concern the policies which you have followed on the Arab-Israel problem and Iraq, in close co-operation with the United States. Following the press conference in Washington at which you and President Bush restated these policies, we feel the time has come to make our anxieties public, in the hope that they will be addressed in Parliament and will lead to a fundamental reassessment.

The decision by the US, the EU, Russia and the UN to launch a "road-map" for the settlement of the Israel/Palestine conflict raised hopes that the major powers would at last make a determined and collective effort to resolve a problem which, more than any other, has for decades poisoned relations between the West and the Islamic and Arab worlds. The legal and political principles on which such a settlement would be based were well-established: President Clinton had grappled with the problem during his presidency; the ingredients needed for a settlement were well-understood and informal agreements on several of them had already been achieved. But the hopes were ill-founded. Nothing effective has been done either to move the negotiations forward or to curb the violence. Britain and the other sponsors of the "road-map" merely waited on American leadership, but waited in vain.

Worse was to come. After all those wasted months, the international community has now been confronted with the announcement by Ariel Sharon and President Bush of new policies which are one-sided and illegal and which will cost yet more Israeli and Palestinian blood. Our dismay at this backward step is heightened by the fact that you yourself seem to have endorsed it, abandoning the principles which for nearly four decades have guided international efforts to restore peace in the Holy Land and which have been the basis for such successes as those efforts have produced.

This abandonment of principle comes at a time when, rightly or wrongly, we are portrayed throughout the Arab and Muslim world as partners in an illegal and brutal occupation in Iraq.

The conduct of the war in Iraq has made it clear that there was no effective plan for the post-Saddam settlement. All those with experience of the area predicted that the occupation of Iraq by the coalition forces would meet serious and stubborn resistance, as has proved to be the case. To describe the resistance as led by terrorists, fanatics and foreigners is neither convincing nor helpful. Policy must take account of the nature and history of Iraq, the most complex country in the region. However much Iraqis may yearn for a democratic society, the belief that one could now be created by the coalition is naive. This is the view of virtually all independent specialists on the region, both in Britain and in America. We are glad to note that you and the President have welcomed the proposals outlined by Lakhdar Brahimi. We must be ready to provide what support he requests, and to give authority to the United Nations to work with the Iraqis themselves, including those who are now actively resisting the occupation, to clear up the mess.

The military actions of the coalition forces must be guided by political objectives and by the requirements of the Iraq theatre itself, not by criteria remote from them. It is not good enough to say that the use of force is a matter for local commanders. Heavy weapons unsuited to the task in hand, inflammatory language, the current confrontations in Najaf and Fallujah, all these have built up rather than isolated the opposition. The Iraqis killed by coalition forces probably total between ten and fifteen thousand (it is a disgrace that the coalition forces themselves appear to have no estimate), and the number killed in the last month in Fallujah alone is apparently several hundred including many civilian men, women and children. Phrases such as "We mourn each loss of life. We salute them, and their families for their bravery and their sacrifice", apparently referring only to those who have died on the coalition side, are not well judged to moderate the passions these killings arouse.

We share your view that the British Government has an interest in working as closely as possible with the US on both these related issues, and in exerting real influence as a loyal ally. We believe that the need for such influence is now a matter of the highest urgency. If that is unacceptable or unwelcome there is no case for supporting policies which are doomed to failure

Yours faithfully, Sir Brian Barder, former high commissioner, Australia; Paul Bergne, former diplomat; Sir John Birch, former ambassador, Hungary; Sir David Blatherwick, former ambassador, Ireland; Graham Hugh Boyce, former ambassador, Egypt; Sir Julian Bullard, former ambassador, Bonn; Juliet Campbell, former ambassador, Luxemburg; Sir Bryan Cartledge, former ambassador, Soviet Union; Terence Clark, former ambassador, Iraq; David Hugh Colvin, former ambassador, Belgium; Francis Cornish, former ambassador, Israel; Sir James Craig, former ambassador, Saudi Arabia; Sir Brian Crowe: former director-general, external and defence affairs, Council of the European Union; Basil Eastwood, former ambassador, Syria; Sir Stephen Egerton, diplomatic service, Kuwait; William Fullerton, former ambassador, Morocco; Dick Fyjis-Walker, ex-chairman, Commonwealth Institute; Marrack Goulding, former head of United Nations Peacekeeping; John Graham, former Nato ambassador, Iraq; Andrew Green, former ambassador, Syria; Victor Henderson, former ambassador, Yemen; Peter Hinchcliffe, former ambassador, Jordan; Brian Hitch, former High Commissioner, Malta; Sir Archie Lamb, former ambassador, Norway; Sir David Logan, former ambassador, Turkey; Christopher Long, former ambassador, Switzerland; Ivor Lucas, former assistant secretary-general, Arab-British Chamber of Commerce; Ian McCluney, former ambassador, Somalia; Maureen MacGlashan, foreign service in Israel; Philip McLean, former ambassador, Cuba; Sir Christopher MacRae, former ambassador, Chad; Oliver Miles, diplomatic service in Middle East; Martin Morland, former ambassador, Burma; Sir Keith Morris, former ambassador, Colombia; Sir Richard Muir, former ambassador, Kuwait; Sir Alan Munro, former ambassador, Saudi Arabia; Stephen Nash, ambassador, Latvia; Robin O'Neill, former ambassador, Austria; Andrew Palmer, former ambassador, Vatican; Bill Quantrill, former ambassador, Cameroon; David Ratford, former ambassador, Norway; Tom Richardson, former UK deputy ambassador, UN; Andrew Stuart, former ambassador, Finland; Michael Weir, former ambassador, Cairo; Alan White, former ambassador, Chile; Hugh Tunnell, former ambassador, Bahrain; Charles Treadwell, former ambassador, UAE; Sir Crispin Tickell, former UN Ambassador; Derek Tonkin, former ambassador, Thailand; David Tatham, former governor, Falkland Islands; Harold "Hooky" Walker, former ambassador, Iraq; Jeremy Varcoe, former ambassador, Somalia.

Leave aside that one of the signatories goes by the moniker "Hooky"--conjuring up the images (and sounds) of Jerry Garcia's voice emiting the dulcet tunes of Scarlet Begonias to happy revelers arrayed about Haight-Ashbury.

This is serious stuff--as other Blair critics are pointing out.

What appears to have raised the collective ire (and served as the main catalyst for writing the letter) of the former senior officials was Blair's acquiescence to the Bush-Sharon understandings.

On the whole, as my previous analysis might indicate, I don't disagree with the British diplomats analysis here.

I would caution them, however, to not make too much of Clintonian peace processing diplomacy.

The letter-writers put it thusly: "[Clinton] had grappled with the problem during his presidency; the ingredients needed for a settlement were well-understood and informal agreements on several of them had already been achieved."

Would that it were so easy!

To be sure, Clinton did grapple with Middle East peacemaking efforts.

But he grappled in vain.

There is a lot of blame to go around for that--but much of it must be placed on the Clinton team.

Note the Camp David II negotiations were classically Clintonian--18 hour marathon negotiating sessions, doubtless Domino's pizza boxes liberally strewn about, yardsticks getting pulled out to measure side-alleys in Hebron.

While, so often, the devil is indeed in the details--the lack of effective backstopping by the Clinton team (particularly with regard to potential Jerusalem concessions) with Crown Prince Abdullah and Hosni Mubarak, for instance, limited Arafat's room to maneuver.

Put differently, Arafat realized that any concessions he made on Jerusalem impacted not only his Palestinian constituency, not only the Arab region, but the entire Islamic world.

So it would have helped if the Clinton team had been more organized in marshalling support in Riyadh and Cairo, to name a couple key capitals, to help push Arafat along.

Old news and sour grapes?

Maybe, but it bears mentioning that all was not necessarily rosy with the Middle East peace process back when the Nasdaq was at 5000.

That said, things are pretty unequivocally dismal now.

Bush did go too far on concessions with Sharon.

And it is (very, very) hard to reconcile the roadmap with the Bush-Sharon understandings (though it's not impossible, in my view, a nuance the British diplomats ignore--particularly if robust pressure on final status issues is applied on the Israelis going forward).

Also worth noting--I'm not so sure this part of the letter is strictly accurate: "(h)owever much Iraqis may yearn for a democratic society, the belief that one could now be created by the coalition is naive. This is the view of virtually all independent specialists on the region, both in Britain and in America."

Really? I'm not so sure.

Yes, democracy imposed under the barrel of a gun with scores (if not hundreds) killed in Fallujah is a naive hope indeed. But Fallujah isn't all of Iraq (nor are military targets in and around Najaf all of Iraq either).

And it's not strictly and exclusively the coalition that is striving to create a democracy in Iraq.

The interim authority is involved. Other Iraqi actors are too.

So, of course, is the U.N.

Put differently, the gig isn't up just yet. Iraq hasn't been relegated to a failed state, a Taliban-like state, a state consumed by civil war, or a state disintegrating into ethnically and/or religiously homogenous para-states.

Patience, fortitude, and a smidgen of optimism friends!

Things are never quite as bad (or good) as they may appear...

All this said, Blair will need to defend himself forthrightly shortly. Developing, as they say...

Note: Don't miss the use of the word "poisoned" in the letter above. Appears Brahimi's descriptive language is spreading beyond French radio....

posted by Gregory| 4/27/2004 07:59:00 PM

Times Watch

"Whenever I read anything in a newspaper about which I know something, I find they get it wrong. So why should I believe them on subjects about which I know very little?"

An eloquently-put query, I'd say.

Patrick Belton has more.

posted by Gregory| 4/27/2004 01:54:00 PM

Plan of Attack

I've pretty much finished the book but haven't had time to blog it yet.

Frankly, I didn't find it nearly as interesting as Clarke's Against All Enemies.

The book, especially the first half or so, became a bit mind-numbing after a while.

At times, it appeared to be solely comprised of Don Rumsfeld asking Tommy Franks to improve the Iraq war plan.

Again. And again. And once more!

I got tired after a while...[ed. note: was it just me?]

Speaking of Tommy Franks, it's not just State and Pentagon that were tussling over Iraq policy.

Here's a little snippet that hasn't gotten too much coverage in the main media:

"I have to deal with the fucking stupidest guy on the face of the earth almost every day."

That's reportedly Tommy Franks describing Doug Feith in, er, pretty blunt terms.

Somewhat surpisingly perhaps, the most acrimonious relationship appears to be (with the ostensible exception of Franks-Feith!) that between Dick Cheney and Colin Powell (rather than Rumsfeld-Powell).

I'll have more on the book (I'm not quite as sure as Sully that Bush comes off so swimmingly in it) in the coming days.

Also look for negative analysis (surprise!) of Chirac and de Villepin's roles during the advent to war--as well as some interesting (isn't it always?) Bandar related material.

More soon.


This classic Richard Armitage dressing-down shouldn't be missed either:

"A newly appointed assistant secretary of state who had worked for one of the conservative think tanks in Washington had come to see Armitage his first day of the job. 'I think with my contacts I'll really be able to fix the relationship and act as a bridge between Defense and State,' the new man said.

'You're on our team,' Armitage told him, realizing that he was ripping the poor man's head off. 'You don't bridge shit. I've known all those fuckers for 30 years. You ain't bridging shit

Lucidly put, no?

Consider it a little cautionary tale for any of you out there desirous of someday doing a stint in the Beltway--particularly if you have, er, a tendency to overestimate your importance now and again...

posted by Gregory| 4/27/2004 11:26:00 AM

Taxi Rate Hikes


In my view, the long beleaguered NY cabbie very much merited this too belated raise (much more than his grossly overpaid London counterparts).

True, in London you have more leg room and the cab often, er, smells better--but the shortest hop and a skip often runs you what you'd pay to go to, say, La Guardia.

And am I alone in being somewhat annoyed that septuagenarians often appear to be behind the wheel of London's black cabs?

It slows one down a bit, doesn't it?

Give me a daredevil-like emigre from points Rawalpindi flying perilously down 7th Avenue any day.

[ed. note: Off-topic? Sure. But allow me a little mini-rant here and there, O.K.? Its been that kind of week so far...].

posted by Gregory| 4/27/2004 11:13:00 AM


Galbraith in the NYRB

Peter Galbraith has a must-read in the NYRB.

Money grafs:

"Last November, Les Gelb, the president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations, created a stir by proposing, in a New York Times Op-Ed piece, a three-state solution for Iraq, modeled on the constitution of post-Tito Yugoslavia. The Yugoslav model would give each of Iraq's constituent peoples their own republic.[*] These republics would be self-governing, financially self-sustaining, and with their own territorial military and police forces. The central government would have a weak presidency rotating among the republics, with responsibilities limited to foreign affairs, monetary policy, and some coordination of defense policy. While resources would be owned by the republics, some sharing of oil revenues would be essential, since an impoverished Sunni region is in no one's interest.

This model would solve many of the contradictions of modern Iraq. The Shiites could have their Islamic republic, while the Kurds could continue their secular traditions. Alcohol would continue to be a staple of Kurdish picnics while it would be strictly banned in Basra...

Because of what happened to Yugoslavia in the 1990s, many react with horror to the idea of applying its model to Iraq. Yet Yugoslavia's breakup was not inevitable. In the 1980s, Slovenia asked for greater control over its own affairs and Milosevic refused. Had Milosevic accepted a looser federation, there is every reason to think that Yugoslavia?and not just Slovenia? would be joining the European Union this May.

Still, a loose federation will have many drawbacks, especially for those who dreamed of a democratic Iraq that would transform the Middle East. The country would remain whole more in name than in reality. Western- style human rights are likely to take hold only in the Kurdish north (and even there not completely). Women's rights could be set back in the south, and perhaps also in Baghdad

Given Galbraith's extensive experience in Kurdistan and his spirited tour as U.S. Ambassador to Croatia--his views merit serious attention.

That said, I'm still very uncomfortable with talk of having the U.S. preside over a three-way partitioning of Iraq.

A while back, I described a similar proposal as a "very, very bad idea."

I'm not sure my views have changed much--despite the continuing difficulties in Iraq.

Still, Galbraith's piece appears to emphasize a confederation--rather than three outright independent states--as Leslie Gelb's proposal appeared to lean towards more forcefully.

But one fears this would merely become an issue of semantics--with the confederated entities, for all extensive purposes, constituting independent entities.

An quasi de jure independent Kurdistan would make Ankara very nervous--so U.S. troops would have to stay in Kurdistan to assuage Turkish concerns about pan-Kurdism (Galbraith thinks that's where U.S. troops are best based anyway, as they get the friendliest reception there, but not if they stay for years and are viewed by more hot-headed peshmerga as hampering irrendentist Kurdish aspirations!)

And, with regard to the prospective Shi'a entity in the south, one wonders whether it might risk becoming overly influenced by Iran. There is some residual Iraqi nationalism, of course, among Iraqi Shi'a.

But a relatively small Shi'a para-state, sharing a long border with Iran, might be viewed by many Sunnis (in places like Saudi Arabia), as something of an Iranian proxy.

Meanwhile, Sunni territory would appear too much the land-locked, rump-state--aggrieved and too bent on going-forward trouble-making, I fear. It's not hard to see Sunni rabble-rousing in mixed and disputed Sunni-Shia or Sunni-Kurdish regions, for instance.

Given the temptation, among many Shi'a, to engage in some score-settling against Sunnis--one fears that the prospects for a civil war might be heightened by Galbraith's confederation scheme.

Why, you ask?

Why not better to separate prospective belligerents?

Because Galbraith's federation proposal fosters, perhaps more than currently exists, the creation of three distinct national identities. While the Kurds, of course, have always had one--the Shi'a and Sunni communities have not infrequently historically displayed a distinctly Iraqi national identity (we have recently seen Shi'a-Sunni expressions of fellow-feeling--forged via anti-Americanism born of the Fallujah situation, ironically).

So, and despite the fact that one variable bringing together Sunni and Shi'a today is anti-American sentiment (the scale of which is being somewhat hyped by some media)--it's still too early to declare American efforts to forge a unitary Iraqi state dead, at least in my view.

Not to mention how awful the specter of U.S. forces presiding over population transfers--in an effort to create ethnically/religiously homogenous entities--would look. Hardly the stuff of Jefferson enthusiasts!

And, of course, what to do with Arabs in Kirkuk, Shi'a in Baghdad, and so on?

UPDATE: Matt Yglesias is correct to point out that there is a good dollop of Galbraith the Kurdophile running through this piece too.

Oh, and I agree with him that the handling of the Iraqi flag issue has been risibly poor.

My reaction as I read such accounts was, pretty much--WTF?

posted by Gregory| 4/26/2004 11:50:00 AM

Troop Deployment Watch

Tony Blair might have British troops replace the departing Spanish ones.

Who will History remember more kindly: Blair or Zapatero?

posted by Gregory| 4/26/2004 11:20:00 AM

Bush's Gaza Problem

"These chickens will come home to roost in early May, when the president convenes a meeting of "the Quartet" (the United States, the EU, the United Nations and Russia) to seek their tangible support for the Gaza initiative. What he is likely to discover then is that his partners will demand their own letter of U.S. assurance as recompense for their involvement. King Abdullah of Jordan, who will be meeting with the president in early May, has already opened the bidding in this regard. And Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak can be counted on to add to these demands.

Since Bush has already opened the final status issues by assuring the Israelis about borders and refugees, backers of the Palestinians can now demand elaboration of the U.S. positions on other final status issues. They will ask questions such as: If the United States is ready to recognize border adjustments for Israeli "population centers" in the West Bank, will it also endorse "territorial compensation" for the Palestinians?

Then Bush will confront his ultimate political dilemma: In an election year, can he afford to water down his support for Israel for the sake of ensuring the international involvement that he needs in order to prevent a failed terrorist state from emerging?

Welcome to Gaza, Mr. President

Martin Indyk, asking some difficult questions in the WaPo.

Meanwhile, don't miss discussion here and here on Israel's assassination policy.

And Saeb Erekat asks: "(w)hy did Bush take my job"?

posted by Gregory| 4/26/2004 11:02:00 AM


Brahimi Watch

"The biggest poison in the region is the policy of Israeli power and the suffering of the Palestinians," Brahimi was quoted as telling a French radio station. The UN envoy, who is from Algeria, reportedly said many people both in the Mideast and outside it agree with the statement." [emphasis added]

Lakhdar Brahimi as quoted on French radio.

Does John Kerry agree?

For the record, as my regular readers know, I'm pretty concerned about Israeli policy vis-a-vis the Palestinians too.

But "biggest poison" is pretty strong language (particularly for a top diplomat, serving in such a sensitive post and at such a critical juncture), isn't it?

Then again--maybe he said it on purpose to enhance his street cred with Sistani and Co.

Which leads me to another point.

Iraq might yet (we intensely hope) become a viable, unitary democratic state.

But don't expect a democratic Iraq to have a lovie-dovie relationship with Israel (that said, it probably won't be hurling SCUD missiles at it either...)

posted by Gregory| 4/23/2004 11:45:00 AM

De-Baathification Watch

"Baathists in name only" can now rejoin the Iraqi government payroll.

Smart, (if belated) move.

posted by Gregory| 4/23/2004 11:39:00 AM

Yes to Jihad, Just Not in My Backyard

Fascinating Riyadh dispatch from Neil Macfarquhar over at the Times.

Read the whole (depressing) thing.

posted by Gregory| 4/23/2004 11:35:00 AM


Book Review Department

Oh no, I bought it!

Like Drezner, and particularly given the sad state of affairs with the dollar-pound exchange rate these days, let me also complain a bit about somewhat exorbitant book prices.

Plan of Attack (in the UK, btw, the cover pic is of Bush and Blair) ran me just shy of $40 at a bookstore near my office in Mayfair.

But hell, some of us need to roll up our sleeves and help roll-back such prattle. (Not that I'm prejudging my read, mind you!)

Analysis over the coming days.

posted by Gregory| 4/22/2004 07:29:00 PM

Proliferation Watch

"They are very clever cheaters."

--A senior French official, describing Iranian non-compliance with the IAEA process.

I have thought all along that the European Foreign Ministerial troika was, pretty much, getting bamboozled by the Iranians.

And, of course, an extremely punitive course spearheaded by Washington (above and beyond a condemnatory UNSC resolution) will lead the Iranians to cause us more trouble in Iraq.

In fact, Teheran is likely calculating now is an optimal time to try to achieve nuclear capability as Washington has its hands, er, full in Iraq (and, of course, it's an election year).

I'm afraid there are simply no good options here.

Continued diplomacy will, probably, allow the Iranians to go nuclear (unless the region became a WMD-free zone; good luck getting Israel to give up her nukes, Syria to give up her chemical capability; and so on ).

An Iranian Osirak spearheaded by Sharon would get the job done (at least for some time assuming Israelis are aware of all the key nuclear production locations).

But regional dynamics would take another massive blow and Iranian trouble-making (via Hezbollah in Israel and via other proxies in Iraq) would mount considerably.

And, of course, Iran could still eventually go nuclear.

Do any readers have better ideas? If so, please clue me in....

UPDATE: Porphy has more.

posted by Gregory| 4/22/2004 11:41:00 AM

Bush's Middle East Diplomacy

"Diplomatically inept", says Rachel Bronson--echoing some of my concerns developed in this (too!) lengthy post.

Meanwhile, here's more from Walter Russell Mead worth reading:

"The first piece of advice would be that the United States doesn't need to be less pro-Israel, but we do need to figure out a way to be more pro-Palestinian...My clear impression is that most people in the region now understand that Israel is here to stay. They understand also that Palestinians are not in large numbers going back to the lands which are now part of Israel. And most people are ready to move beyond that. But what they find unaccountable is that the peace process, both at Oslo [the peace accord that grew out of secret Israeli-Palestinian talks in 1993] and since then, has talked so little about the Palestinian people. That is to say, U.N. resolutions talk about compensation for the Palestinians [who lived on land now inhabited by Israelis]. Really no work has been done on how to set up the tribunal that will certify these claims. Where's the money going to come from to pay them? What are the legal precedents in all of this? That should be part of a comprehensive peace process, and there is no reason the United States can't take the lead on that." [emphasis added]


posted by Gregory| 4/22/2004 10:32:00 AM


Gilligan's Back!

No, not this one.

This one.

He's in Baghdad writing for the Spectator as their "defence and diplomatic" editor.

In a piece entitled "The Smell of Napalm in the Morning" (sorry, I meant the "Sound of Rockets in the Morning") Gilligan helps showcase why he got the Beeb in such trouble (subscription required):

1) Knee-jerk anti-Americanism:

"The Americans’ new Clerical Enemy No.1, Muqtada al-Sadr, might also come into the category of a manufactured difficulty...Stern pictures of al-Sadr holding up an admonishing index finger decorate many public buildings in Sadr City. You do wonder how anyone who can allow himself to be depicted in so cheesy a manner can become such a big deal. The answer, of course, is the Americans."

Of course, I mean, who else!

2) Dripping condescension:

"Later, in a different part of town, I have a chance to observe the truth of this maxim for myself. I am at the al-Mustansria University when it is raided by the Americans for the second time that day. Sausen al-Samir, the head of the English department, is showing me the damage they did on their first visit — smashed doors and windows, broken furniture, a trashed photocopier — when the campus is again surrounded and men in boots burst up the stairs. ‘F—ing get out of here,’ screams one of the soldiers, pointing his gun at us. ‘This is a Coalition operation.’

Al-Samir, furious, stands her ground, demanding to be taken to the commanding officer, Major Williams. ‘I want an apology for this morning,’ she says. ‘Ma’am, I’m not in the apology business given what we found here,’ he replies. Later the major takes me aside and shows me the haul: nine Kalashnikovs, a pistol, a rocket-propelled grenade and leaflets calling for violence against the Coalition. The raid is perfectly justified, but you can’t help thinking they could have done it more politely. Was it really necessary to break all the doors down? Don’t the university staff have keys? How do the soldiers know that the leaflets were produced on the photocopier they smashed — and anyway, don’t rather a lot of other people need the copier, too? ‘We will look into all that, sir,’ says the major. ‘But you do see what we’re up against.’ I do, which is why it makes sense not to manufacture even more difficulties for yourself

Don't you wish you were that Major and had, er, a different answer to relay to so pompous and self-righteous Gilligan?

3) Finally, Gilligan (who is only about 35 years old), inadvertently describes himself (via a description of Moktada Sadr!):

"Rather like a Western supermodel, though of course in reverse, it is impossible to obtain an accurate report of his age. His followers claim he is 32, but unkind critics say he is only 24. Like so many other kids these days, al-Sadr may be a little low on all that religion stuff, but he does understand the virtue of branding."

To be sure, like so many "kids" these days--Gilligan understands the power of branding too.

He's branded himself as something of a martyrized ex-Beeb hack who remains valiantly bull-headed in reporting the unvarnished truth--as long as said "truth" makes George Bush (or Tony Blair) look as bad as possible.

The martyr:

"Looking at things from a distinctively Iraqi perspective, they all seemed convinced that the British government had put me in prison. I had to reassure them that Lord Hutton did not have quite such impressive powers as Saddam Hussein."

And the almost irrational Bush-Blair animus:

"The insurgents, on the other hand, know exactly when the US and British elections are going to be. There are now 40 hostages, of 12 different nationalities, held in Iraq. But the real hostages are George Bush and Tony Blair."

Incorrigible, no?

posted by Gregory| 4/21/2004 04:38:00 PM

The Bush-Sharon Summit

I was traveling the day after the Bush-Sharon summit and for a while thereafter.

So apologies if I'm a little late to this party.

The morning after their meetings, at a train station on my way to catch a flight, I caught glimpses of the headlines from the Guardian and the Independent.

The Guardian had a banner about Bush and Sharon simply ripping up the roadmap.

The Independent had Bush and Sharon reaching their own, private "settlement" [ed. note: cute, isn't it?] on Israel.

Their big headline was accompanied by a huge picture of Sharon and Bush walking towards the podiums at the White House--with Sharon pacing purposefully ahead appearing to lead the neo-conned kid down some special (and so private) lane of the road(map).

With both men dressed in white shirt and blue tie (matching the colors of the Israeli flag!) and flag-pins dutifully affixed to their respective lapels--it was too good a picture to pass up...

And if the British press was having such a field-day--imagine how it was all going down in Riyadh, Cairo and Damascus!

Of course, as Oxblogger David Adesnik has pointed out cogently, the reality is much more complex.

But still, this time, there was more than just the merest grain of truth to how lefty anti-Israel British media outlets played the story (see below).

Unfettered right of return, as we've all known for years, means no more predominately Jewish Israeli state--so has always been a show-stopper from Tel Aviv and Washington's perspective.

Ditto the '67 borders were always going to be open to some territorial adjustments--including the likely fact key settlement blocs would remain under Israeli control.

And, as Colin Powell and Richard Armitage have stated, you can perhaps (if barely) reconcile Bush's blessing of Sharon's Gaza pull-out plan and statements on the right of return and settlements with the roadmap (more on that below too).

But there are two major issues with all of this that have barely been discussed in the blogosphere: 1) the role of the U.S. as "honest broker" and 2) the role of "creative ambiguity" in the Arab-Israeli peace process.

The Honest Broker Role

Let me put the first one this way to all you peace process junkies out there:

What do Madrid, Oslo, the '94 Agreement on Gaza and Jericho, Oslo II, the Hebron Agreement, the Wye River Memorandum, the Sharm-el-Sheikh Memorandum, Camp David II and Taba all have in common?

They were all multiparty talks with the U.S. (or other third parties) shuttling between the Palestinians and Israelis as something of an honest broker.

Now, flash back to the Bush-Sharon meetings of last week.

Forgive me if I've got this wrong--but I'm under the impression that the Palestinians were not even consulted about the outcome of the Bush-Sharon meetings.

Given how, as Walter Rusell Mead writes today in the NYT, it is widely perceived in the Middle East that we don't give two damns about the plight of the Palestinians (this is also the key reason theocratic barbarians like UBL, who themselves really don't give two damns about the Palestinians, are blessed with a larger recruitment pool), might not it make sense to at least inform the Palestinians about highly material changes to the roadmap?

Now you can tell me Arafat is a horrific terrorist kingpin not worth talking too.

And that you don't like the smell of Qurei much either (though Dennis Ross appears to like him!)

But folks, sooner or later, you have to make a good-faith serious effort to find Palestinian interlocuters and clue them into your plans rather than strike side-deals with the Israelis.

Otherwise, how can you be viewed as an impartial and effective middle-man for both parties?

Forget Arafat--who, as the old quip goes, "has never lost an opportunity to lose an opportunity."

Might Bush not have found a couple persons in the Palestinian Authority worth, at the very least, clueing in regarding his new understandings with Sharon?

Just, you know, to ensure all parties (even if they didn't agree), were at least being informed about material changes to the roadmap regarding highly sensitive so-called final status issues like settlements and right of return.

The Role of Creative Ambiguity

Dan Drezner, also reacting to David's excellent post, writes:

"Here's the question -- in matters of diplomacy and world politics, is it always the right thing to make explicit what had been implicit?

One can make the case that an end to hypocrisy is an intrinsically good thing in world politics. However, international relations is also an arena where -- in the short term -- perception matters just as much as reality. While consistency and clarity can bolster an actor's reputation in world politics, ambiguity and, dare I say, nuance also have their advantages in bargaining and power projection. There are clear tradeoffs at work here
." [emphasis Drezner's]

Well of course it's not always the right thing to make explicit what had been implicit.

Think "creative ambiguity" in the Kissingerian mold.

A paradigmatical example is the 1972 Shanghai Communique.

For instance, even some who view the "one China" formulation as an absurd fiction agree that it served its purposes during the Cold War:

"Beginning with the Shanghai Communique of 1972, the United States declared its understanding that both sides of the China-Taiwan dispute agreed that there was but one China. At the time of the Shanghai Communique, this was true in an odd sort of way. Both the Communist government of Beijing and the authoritarian government of Chiang Kaishek's Kuomintang agreed that there was one China, and they both insisted it was theirs. The United States used this cute "one-China" formulation as a way of avoiding the issue. Anyway, the Cold War was on, and U.S. officials believed they needed China's help in containing the Soviet Union. If the price was a certain ambiguity and even some deception on the subject of Taiwan, so be it."

As diplomats-in-training are often thought, "creative ambiguity" is often critical in breaking deadlocks.

In the case of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, the biggest example of "creative ambiguity" is, as is well known, simply the omission of the particle "the" in a key part of Resolution 242:

"Emphasizing further that all Member States in their acceptance of the Charter of the United Nations have undertaken a commitment to act in accordance with Article 2 of the Charter,

1. Affirms that the fulfilment of Charter principles requires the establishment of a just and lasting peace in the Middle East which should include the application of both the following principles:

(i) Withdrawal of Israel armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict

Note the reference is simply to "territories," not "the territories."

Palestinians and Israelis have, for decades now, both accepted 242 as the basic "land for peace" formulation that butresses both pre and post-Madrid negotiations.

The former read it to mean all the Territories occupied in 1967.

The latter, of course, only some of the Occupied Territories.

And such ambiguity has allowed, over the years (hard to imagine where we sit today), a good deal of forward movement on the peace processing front.

If we had been explicit, back when 242 was being debated, that major settlements would remain--well, does anyone believe 242 would have passed?

That the Soviets would have gone for it?

Or the Palestinians?

Another example of such ambiguity, of course, deals with the right of return.

A thoughtful reader once asked me what the difference was between Taba 2001 and Geneva 2003. I responded many months back--but here is the key part exerpted below that is relevant for today's discussion:

"There are two main differences. First, and unlike at Taba, the so called "right of return" issue was settled. At Taba, both sides read into the old UNGAR 194 per their respective biases with the Israelis stressing the Palestinians "wishing" to return (per the actual text) to Israel proper (1948 borders) with the Palestinians speaking (per subsequent resolutions) of an inalienable right of return. That critical issue had been left unresolved at Taba."

Now, of course, Drezner (or, more precisely, some of his commenters--Drezner doesn't give us his view) might say that it's good that there is no longer such ambiguity.

Now the Palestinians know that the right of return ain't happening.

And that some settlements will remain beyond the Green Line post any general settlement.

What refreshing honesty and lack of "hypocrisy"!

The Palestinian Reaction

Problem is, of course, that the Palestinians aren't going to suddenly, all jolly-like, roll up our sleeves and now get around a more pragmatic negotiating table.

The thinking won't be, great, Bush and Sharon have been good enough to clarify the parameters of a future deal! And they even let us know about it in a public press conference too--how sweet of them not to keep it under wraps!

Especially since there were more creative bridging proposals, that would not have threatened Israel's existence in its 1948 borders, on right of return that now appear dead or palpably ignored (see my earlier post on Yossi Beilin's Geneva proposal and/or a compensation fund for '48 refugees).

Another major problem?

Well, per the very text of the "Road Map" itself, Bush and Sharon appear to have pre-empted (at the very least per the agreed stages of the roadmap if not the ultimate substantive arrangements reached) the previously agreed framework whereby, per the Phase III of the Roadmap and pursuant to a Second International Conference, the parties were to:

" endorse [an] agreement reached on an independent Palestinian state with provisional borders and formally to launch a process with the active, sustained, and operational support of the Quartet, leading to a final, permanent status resolution in 2005, including on borders, Jerusalem, refugees, settlements; and, to support progress toward a comprehensive Middle East settlement between Israel and Lebanon and Israel and Syria, to be achieved as soon as possible." [emphasis added]

Right now, of course, the "provisional borders" of a prospective Palestinian state are simply a little piece of real estate called Gaza.

And yet Sharon has gotten concessions (or at least U.S. blessing of them), seemingly in exchange for the Gaza pull-out, on settlements and right of return.

Now, you can say that the Palestinians inability to effectively reform their security institutions is to blame for stalling the roadmap (I would argue that Sharon's unhelpfulness in making more concessions during the Abu Mazen period played an important role too).

But still, if you are going to speed down the roadmap thus (skip forward to Phase III, at least to some degree, re: settlements and refugees without serious, commensurate movement on the provisional borders issue) don't you at least coordinate such a move with the other party to the dispute?

The Stakes

Of course you do--especially at a time when America's reputation in this critical region is at such a lowpoint.

Not because of Iraq (even post-Fallujah), as I've written before contra Josh Marshall.

But mostly, as Walter Russell Mead pointed out today, because of a widespread perception in the region that we don't care about the Palestinians (whether their national aspirations or their "plight," code for house demolitions, curfews, targetted assassinations that often fell innocents in dense urban areas like Gaza, and so on).

Bush and Sharon's summit last week won't help us much on this score, I fear.

Put differently, the road to Jerusalem (read: peace in the Holy Land) doesn't run through Baghdad.

And peace between Israelis and Palestinians is critical to the U.S. national interest--particularly post 9/11.

And, it bears mentioning, just like American and British interests aren't always exactly aligned--neither are U.S. and Israeli ones always in perfect alignment either.

That's not to say Bush gave Sharon everything he asked for.

But he sure gave him a lot of what he asked for.

And he gave it in a manner that further sidelined the Palestinians.

So, all told, I think the Bush-Sharon summit (unless followed by fervent post Gaza-withdrawal diplomacy to get the roadmap moving again) was not in the best interests of the United States--assuming our main goal is to achieve, as expeditiously as possible, a general peace settlement in the region between Israel and the Palestinians and Israel and Syria/Lebanon.

A settlement that guarantees Israel's security while providing Palestinians with a real national homeland that merits the appellation of a nation-state.

Otherwise, as conflicts like Israel-Palestine and Kashmir simmer on, the pool of potential recruits who might be lured by UBL's fanatical ideology remains too uncomfortably large (at least for my tastes).

I'm not talking about the theological radicals who want every nefarious infidel out of a region spanning Tangier to Jakarta in some kind of glorious pan-Islamic, Taliban-like Caliphate.

I'm talking about the Mohammed Attas of the world--relatively educated, middle class Cairenes and the like.

It's not just the Palestinian situation that makes their blood boil, of course. It's also limited economic opportunity, autocratic regimes, and so on.

But to think the Palestine situation doesn't have a material impact on al-Qaeda's recruitment pool is to deny reality.

And, therefore, to scuttle effective forward movement on the Arab-Israeli peace process is not in the national interests of the United States (or, by the way, Israel's either).

Let's hope that post-Gaza withdrawal Bush uses that momentum to a) ensure Palestinians don't use the Gaza Strip to launch attacks on Israel proper and b) assuming "a", gets the Israelis and Palestinians together to forge better understandings on settlements and right of return that are jointly agreed, in principle, by both parties.

Yes, even if some of the understandings are a bit, er, implicit. And ambiguous.

It will likely prove better all around.


Ze'ev Schiff provides further clarity:

"For Sharon, that is an accomplishment because he does not want to conduct direct negotiations with the Palestinians. In the current circumstances, he can claim that Arafat, and with him the entire Palestinian leadership, are not credible partners for negotiations. Sharon even rejects moderate proposals, like the one formulated by the British and Palestinians and meant to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure, albeit through contacts with Arafat. Even when there is a tempting security program, but one that requires some negotiations, it will be rejected by Sharon on the grounds it involves Arafat.

That has allowed Sharon to raise his proposals for unilateral steps, like the disengagement from Gaza and the northern part of the West Bank. After all, if Arafat is removed and an alternative Palestinian leadership emerges, there won't be any logic to unilateral steps. If a pragmatic, stable Palestinian leadership comes to power, Israel will not be able to argue it cannot negotiate with it. It's obvious to Sharon that with the rise of such a different leadership, pressure will form, including from Washington for negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. Such pressure will not come as long as Arafat is in control. Everyone will talk about the road map but its execution will take place in unilateral steps. Therefore, Sharon's insurance policy from pressure is Arafat's continued rule and his continued presence in the territories. So why expel him?

Negotiations would mean large and painful concessions for Israel, far more than the evacuation of four settlements in Samaria, as Sharon proposes in his disengagement plan. That will certainly be the situation after the completion of the separation fence. In such negotiations, Jerusalem, the large settlement blocs, and the dozens of other settlements will certainly come up for discussion. The Palestinians will win much more international support in such negotiations. Washington would also not be able to make do with what appears in the current disengagement plan. That is what Sharon wants to avoid or postpone for as long as possible. With his presence in the territories, Arafat is a pawn on Sharon's chessboard


posted by Gregory| 4/21/2004 08:05:00 AM

Bremer's Biggest Mistake

Yeah, yeah; this is C.W. now.

But this isn't just a case of hindsight being 20-20.

A joint CFR-Baker Insitute report was recommending that the Iraqi army not be disbanded before the war.

And, to a fashion, so was B.D.

posted by Gregory| 4/21/2004 07:53:00 AM

Syria Policy Watch

Juan Cole gets a bit carried away comparing American foreign policy-making to Iran's (Rummy like the hard-core Mullahs controlling the military; Powell like the reformist Khatami controlling much foreign-policy making).

But, despite some of his hyperbolic rhetoric (the "Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde American hyperpower that rages about an axis of evil and goes about preemptively invading countries on the one hand and then comes politely, hat in hand, to request selfless assistance on the other") Cole does have a point.

Consider this excellent NYT article from today co-written by ace reporter Desmond Butler (an old high school buddy):

"The security of Syria's border is already the source of considerable tension between Washington and Damascus. In recent days, Syrian and American officials have disagreed about whether Damascus is committed to tightening its borders with Jordan and Iraq.

Richard Boucher, the State Department spokesman, said Monday that President Bush had sent a letter urging the Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad, "to work closely with the rest of the international community to promote a stable Iraq." Another official said that the administration was also concerned about terrorist infiltration into Jordan.

But Syrian officials and a former American ambassador to Syria said that Damascus had gotten no response from recent overtures to work more closely with the United States on border security.

"I believe the Syrians have on at least two occasions indicated a desire to discuss cooperation across its borders in a serious way," said the former ambassador, Theodore Kattouf, who met with President Assad in Damasucs last month. "I'm unaware that the administration has accepted such an offer." He said Mr. Assad had told him that within the last year Syria had arrested 1300 people for trying or helping others try to cross the border into Iraq.

An American official acknowledged the Syrian overtures but said the administration was not convinced of their seriousness.

The Bush administration is preparing to impose new sanctions against Syria, which it says is a supporter of terrorism. Several officials said yesterday that the administration could announce the sanctions as soon as this week.

Two weeks ago, the administration sent another signal of its displeasure when the Pentagon transferred jurisdiction for Syria and Lebanon, in which Syrian forces have been stationed for years, from its European command to the Central Command, which coordinated the invasions of both Afghanistan and Iraq.

"It was a not very subtle signal," one defense department official said

[emphasis added]

I'd love to think all this (Bush playing pen pal with Bashar; the Pentagon transferring Syria jurisdiction to CentCom) was some coordinated policy move ingeniously combining the use of Powellian carrot with Rumsfeldian stick.

But, er, I think not.

posted by Gregory| 4/21/2004 07:37:00 AM


Middle East Peace Process Watch

Back in London.

Reaction to David Adesnik's analysis of the Bush-Sharon going-ons sometime tonight.

posted by Gregory| 4/20/2004 12:45:00 PM


On the Road

Travel through next Tuesday--limited to no blogging until evening of 20th.

Reaction to the Bush-Sharon meeting will have to wait until then.

As I'm heading to sunny climes far from London, this little Ezra Pound poem, entitled "Aux Belles de Londres" sprung to mind:

"I am aweary with the utter and beautiful weariness
And with the ultimate wisdom and with things terrene,
I am aweary with your smiles and your laughter,
And the sun and the winds again
Reclaim their booty and the heart o' me."

Or, er, something like that.

Back soon.

posted by Gregory| 4/15/2004 11:11:00 AM


Religion and Bush

Remember the part of the President's press brief last night when he said:

"Because I've seen freedom work right here in our own country. I also have this belief, strong belief that freedom is not this country's gift to the world. Freedom is the Almighty's gift to every man and woman in this world.

And as the greatest power on the face of the earth, we have an obligation to help the spread of freedom

I knew then, that the following day, certain press outlets would say this type of thing:

"Drawing later on a line he often slips into his campaign speeches, he reminded a global audience that "freedom is the Almighty's gift to every man and woman in this world. And as the greatest power on the face of the Earth, we have an obligation to help the spread of freedom."

With those words, Mr. Bush drove home the singlemindedness that has become the hallmark of his presidency, his greatest strength in the eyes of his admirers and a dangerous, never-change-course stubbornness in the eyes of his detractors. He could have simply talked Tuesday evening about the crimes of Saddam Hussein or the fear that chaos in Iraq would breed terror in one of the most volatile corners of the world.

But he did far more, reaching for the kind of language about America's moral mission in the world that seemed drawn from the era of Teddy Roosevelt, whose speeches he keeps on the coffee table of his ranch in Texas. He described an America chosen by God to spread freedom. He never used the word "crusade," which touched off a firestorm of criticism in the Muslim world when he uttered it soon after Sept. 11, 2001. But he described one
." [Emphasis mine]

This kind of analysis has disturbed me for a good while now.


Because intellectual elites, on both sides of the pond, often attempt to portray Bush (or, often, Wolfowitz) as messianic personages.

Bush, in particular, is often described as being consumed by some kind of religious fervor (any recent traveler to Europe will have seen myriad magazine covers fronting an image of Bush--mega-cross behind him in some church--with the photograph chosen at the very moment Bush's facial contortions best approximate the Spanish Inquisitioner look.

The intent of such portrayals is pretty clear. It's based on a gross relativism that attempts to portray George Bush as a theocratic barbarian on par with Osama bin Laden--ie., they're both zealots, they both need reining in, when will secularist, rational actors (read: John Kerry) please come onto the stage and save the world from apocalypse?

But parsing Bush's speeches and comments for religious themes and saying (like David Sanger did today in the NYT), that he called for a "crusade" ignores a rich tradition of American Presidents using religious imagery in their speeches.

And it's not just Jimmy Carter and/or Woodrow Wilson.

Check out, for instance, JFK's inaugural address:

"And yet the same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe -- the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state but from the hand of God."

Here's LBJ's "We Shall Overcome" speech:

"Above the pyramid on the great seal of the United States it says in Latin: "God has favored our undertaking." God will not favor everything that we do. It is rather our duty to divine His will.

But I cannot help believing that He truly understands and that He really favors the undertaking that we begin here tonight

Or FDR in the "Four Freedoms" speech:

"This nation has placed its destiny in the hands, heads and hearts of its millions of free men and women, and its faith in freedom under the guidance of God. Freedom means the supremacy of human rights everywhere. Our support goes to those who struggle to gain those rights and keep them. Our strength is our unity of purpose. To that high concept there can be no end save victory."

Were these speeches, by some of the titans and greatest leaders of the Democratic party ever to occupy the Presidency, constitutive of "crusades" too?

Or does hapless Georgie the evangelical have a monopoly on all the radical religiosity in the air?

Next thing we'll hear is that he's pursuing a Crawford caliphate--spanning from the Rio Grande to Northeast Harbor--where non-born-agains needn't apply for residency.

And if any infidels dare stalk the sacred Texan ranch-land--off to Mecca and Medina he'll go--guns-a-blazing.

posted by Gregory| 4/14/2004 11:35:00 AM

Terror Averted

He looks to become as plucky as his father--and appears to have dodged a helluva big bullet.

posted by Gregory| 4/14/2004 10:56:00 AM

Our Man in Baghdad

Yglesias takes a potshot at John Negroponte-- but his prospective appointment is actually a victory for key Administration moderates like Colin Powell:

"The likely choice of Mr. Negroponte is being seen as a victory for Mr. Powell, who argued that the job required a candidate with diplomatic experience, bureacratic skills and experience dealing with military commanders, as well as someone who could quickly be confirmed, administration officials said....

Mr. Negroponte is widely regarded as a cool-headed professional who has been involved in sensitive matters in the past. He is experienced in dealing with European and Arab diplomats and top officials at the United Nations, whose support is considered crucial for the stability of Iraq

Put simply, his appointment is a good call.

Don't buy into the recycled "death squad" hype.

Even his most vocal Congressional critics, like Chris Dodd (whom Matt quotes), opined thus during past confirmation hearings:

"Having said that Ambassador Negroponte has had a distinguished career and on balance has discharged his responsibilities ably and honorably. For that reason, I intend to give him the benefit of the doubt in light of how extremely polarized relations between the Congress and the Executive were over U.S. policy in Central America when he was serving as Ambassador in Honduras. I will therefore support his nomination to the position of the U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations."

posted by Gregory| 4/14/2004 10:43:00 AM

The Fruits of Appeasement

"The bombers were plotting new attacks because, it appears from evidence found in the apartment, they were unhappy with suggestions by the newly elected Socialist government that it would double the number of Spanish soldiers in Afghanistan to 250.

José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, who will be sworn in Friday as prime minister, has pledged repeatedly since his election victory that he will remove Spanish troops from Iraq unless they are placed under a United Nations mandate by June 30. But he told Secretary of State Colin L. Powell at a meeting here on March 24, for example, that Spain was prepared to play a bigger role in Afghanistan, and other leading Socialists have said that the plan is to double Spain's troop strength
[emphasis added]

-- Elaine Sciolino, writing in the NYT

As Churchill put it:

"An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last."


posted by Gregory| 4/14/2004 09:38:00 AM

What If...

...say, Maureen Dowd (or some like-minded soul), in full-quotes-be-damned; long-live-endless-ellipses glory--had the run of the August 6th PDB?

She might have come up with something like this:

"...Bin Ladin wanted to hijack...US aircraft to...attack...World Trade Center...with explosives..."

I mean, the recriminations would almost be "thermonuclear" or some such.

(Hat Tip: A commenter at The National Debate)

Come to think of it, having just returned from a weekend in France, I can report that that's pretty much how august outlets like Le Monde have been reporting the August PDB.

And, of course, it's not just in France.

Small wonder significant segments of the German public believe the U.S. government had a hand in orchestrating 9/11.

With all the hyperbolic claptrap about the August 6th PDB being fanned in the predictable quarters--expect such lugubrious conspiracy-think to flourish further amidst the fecund fields of the America-bashing gruppen.

A quick related note on this August 6th PDB business:

Remember this part of the PDB?:

"We have not been able to corroborate some of the more sensational threat reporting, such as that from a ... (redacted portion) ... service in 1998 saying that Bin Ladin wanted to hijack a US aircraft to gain the release of "Blind Shaykh" 'Umar 'Abd al-Rahman and other US-held extremists."

I ask you: how would a typical POTUS digest this information?

That the likelihood of a hijacking occurring (even of the straight-forward, plain vanilla variety, mind you) was, by itself, deemed to be uncorroborated and "sensational" in nature.

Put differently, a rational consumer of the intel would conclude that Langley didn't consider it likely to happen.

And recall, hijacking (not the suicidal missile kind but the take hostages and extract concessions kind) was at least a two decades old phenomenon in international terrorism.

So Bush, even if he decided the threat report wasn't "sensational" would then, reasonably, have thought UBL and Co. might simply try to hijack a flight and then use the passengers/aircraft as collateral to blackmail the U.S. authorities into releasing Sheik Rahman.

But how could his imagination be so greviously limited?!?

Surveillance was underway at "federal buildings in New York" (city, ostensibly)!

"Explosives" use might be contemplated!

Ergo, of course, two planes would be used as missiles to reduce the World Trade Center to the rubble that was Ground Zero (and, for good measure, one would bang into the Pentagon too!)

It was all so clear--had hapless Georgie not been so dim, so AWOL, so dismissive of the bureaucratic uber-mensch (turned consultant!) Richard Clarke.

Bottom line about the August 6th PDB: much ado about nothing folks.

That's why John Kerry doesn't talk about it.

He's smarter than those on the Left rattling on about it.

posted by Gregory| 4/14/2004 12:18:00 AM


Poseur Alert

"We are a culture insulated from our own basis. It is a condition of metropolitan modernity, more so even of post-modernity. In a consumer society, where general-purpose money has eaten away every bond of community, where alienation -- and even narcissism -- is defined as normalcy, where nature is seen as something apart from and below us, the very personhood of each of us is deracinated and left to drift through the retail landscape like a grieving banshee. Planned obsolescence applies even to our identities.

We really have no idea who pays for this privilege of superficiality, but those billions who are doing the paying -- far out of our reified view -- are getting a clearer idea all the time.

Of course, this culture is pure charade. We can pretend we are as disembedded as we like, but we are invariably physical -- diaphragms heaving incessantly, articulating gases in our guts, dissipating heat, concentrating urine, sloughing off dead cells, yawing and eating and scratching and sleeping and fucking and finally, dying

--a Stan Goff, penning a piece that will doubtless get appreciative guffaws from the dimmer segments of the Frederic Jameson and Stanley Fish constellations.

Note: It gets more, er, embarrasing:

"I study Rosa Luxemburg, Alf Hornborg, Robert Connell, Joy James, Robin D. G. Kelley, Mao Zedong… and I study the academic research and the social theory and science and philosophy. Because simply understanding the final argument of the gun is not enough. We soldiers need to understand before and after the gun, and we need to understand -- as much as we can -- where our personhood is rooted in social constructions and where society is rooted in the biosphere and how there is no clear line of demarcation between biology and symbols. We need the context.

So as a leftist I build this bridge toward my brothers and sisters under arms. I don’t judge… I can’t

Don't, dear sir, don't!

posted by Gregory| 4/13/2004 11:47:00 PM

In-House Query

Can anyone recommend a top-notch web-design firm that is not Sekimori?

Thanks in advance.

posted by Gregory| 4/13/2004 02:46:00 PM

Kerry: Turn Iraq Over to the U.N.

This is the best Randy Beers can come up with?

Sadly, it barely merits a substantive response.

The money graf:

"In recent weeks the administration -- in effect acknowledging the failure of its own efforts -- has turned to U.N. representative Lakhdar Brahimi to develop a formula for an interim Iraqi government that each of the major Iraqi factions can accept. It is vital that Brahimi accomplish this mission, but the odds are long, because tensions have been allowed to build and distrust among the various Iraqi groups runs deep. The United States can bolster Brahimi's limited leverage by saying in advance that we will support any plan he proposes that gains the support of Iraqi leaders. Moving forward, the administration must make the United Nations a full partner responsible for developing Iraq's transition to a new constitution and government. We also need to renew our effort to attract international support in the form of boots on the ground to create a climate of security in Iraq. We need more troops and more people who can train Iraqi troops and assist Iraqi police."

Kerry isn't even gracious enough to praise Bush for letting U.N. representative Lakhdar Brahimi run the ball a bit on developing a "formula for an interim Iraqi government."

So there is the little verbal epingle about "acknowledging the failure of its own efforts"--rather than flatly stating the Adminstration is moving in the direction that Kerry desires.

But second, and quite damning, Kerry would have us state in advance that we will support any Brahimi plan.

What if, for instance, Brahimi's deal with Sistani and Co. calls for a draw-down of U.S. troops to levels inconsistent with ensuring Iraqi security during the nascent days post-sovereignty hand-over?

Or does too little to protect minority rights allowing for a crude Shia majoritarianism to emerge (to compensate, perhaps, for his perceived pro-Sunni leanings)?

No matter.

Kerry's policy prescription would leave us high and dry without recourse.

Turtle Bay (or the French and Germans) will decide for us how best to manage our exit and the key electoral modalities.

So basically, Kerry is calling for two handovers then.

First, handover sovereignty to the Iraqis (per Bush's plan) and, second--handover U.S. decision-making on Iraq to the decisive, resolute club over at United Nations Plaza.

But Kerry, who doesn't quite come out and say it in his WaPo piece, really aims to do one better.

He simply wants to replace Jerry Bremer with Lakhdar Brahimi!

Don't believe me?

How else to analyze his policy when you look at this news ticker item I pointed out yesterday (about Kerry wanting to replace Jerry Bremer to de-Americanize the occupation) with this NYT article.

Key graf:

"Asked what he would do in Mr. Bush's place, Mr. Kerry pointed to the presence in Iraq of Lakhdar Brahimi, a top adviser to Secretary General Kofi Annan.

"He's one of the most skilled and capable people with respect to Iraq and the Middle East," Mr. Kerry said. "He can talk to all the parties. He would be a perfect example of somebody to whom you could ask to really take over what Paul Bremer's doing, de-Americanize the effort and begin to put it under the United Nations umbrella

Kerry's Iraq policy then, cutting through all the chaff, is pretty simple: Bremer out, Brahimi in (read: U.S. out, U.N. in).

Put differently, let the U.N. have veto power over key issues that will determine the outcome of the most critical American foreign policy challenge facing the United States in recent memory.

As someone who kicked around Croatia and Bosnia through the 90's, observing the impotence of the United Nations at close hand as "safe" havens like Zepa and Srebrenica so ingloriously fell to Bosnian Serb genocidaires, I'd have to advise Randy Beers and John Kerry that this proposed "policy" is a non-starter among those who seriously care about stolidy pursuing the objective of a viable, unitary and democratic Iraqi state.

Put differently, if you care about the future of Iraq, a Bush vote is looking better than a Kerry vote right now--despite all the recent difficulties, despite the fact that Bush didn't put in enough troops early on, despite not having enough constabulatory forces on the ground (including better trainers for nascent Iraqi forces), despite early errors like disbanding the entire Iraqi army.

You know, I would have respected Kerry more, for instance, if he developed a serious argument as to why the sovereignty handover needs to be delayed, about some joint U.S.-U.N. transition period to allow for more time to get the security situation under control--whilst negotiating voting arrangements and the like with Sistani and other key Iraqi leaders with such increased U.N. cover in place.

But Kerry appears more amenable to peddling a chimerical 'solution' of simply handing over the mess to the U.N.--a recipe for disaster.

Kerry also writes:

"We should urge NATO to create a new out-of-area operation for Iraq under the lead of a U.S. commander. This would help us obtain more troops from major powers."

Of course it would.

Which is why Colin Powell has already been working this issue since at least the beginning of this year.

Ditto this:


"But to maximize our chances for success, and to minimize the risk of failure, we must make full use of the assets we have. If our military commanders request more troops, we should deploy them."

Again, of course. Don Rumsfeld has already been saying this ad naseum for at least a year.

Now maybe he didn't really mean it (I have know way of knowing).

But regardless the Bush team is now addressing this issue (if belatedly and in too few number).

So Kerry's Iraq policy (if you can call it that) boils down to this: 1) proposing policies that Bush's team already have in place while 2) proposing to handover our policymaking authority to the U.N.

Put differently, where's the beef?

Answer: There isn't any--except for expropriating currently existing Bush policy (and pretending it's a new Kerry idea) or suggesting we handover decision-making, re: the most critical foreign policy challenge on our plate, to the United Nations.

It's not pretty, is it?

A final note.

While Kerry has very little of note to say-- Dave Ignatius has a piece in the same WaPo space worth reading today on how a 'New Deal' for Iraq is urgently needed.


Reader DA writes in:

"The UN Food for Oil Scandal should make EVERYONE much more skeptical about ANY role for the UN ANYWHERE -ESPECIALLY IRAQ!"

Not a bad point.


Several readers have pointed out this passage from Kerry's op-ed to me:

"The United Nations, not the United States, should be the primary civilian partner in working with Iraqi leaders to hold elections, restore government services, rebuild the economy, and re-create a sense of hope and optimism among the Iraqi people. The primary responsibility for security must remain with the U.S. military, preferably helped by NATO until we have an Iraqi security force fully prepared to take responsibility." [emphasis added].

True, Kerry says the U.S. must retain the "primary responsibility for security."

But I remain fearful that his inclination to allow U.N. negotiators free rein in hammering out going forward nation-building arrangements will have collateral impact on our security posture in country that Washington won't necessarily fully control.


Reader ML writes in:

"I do wish that Kerry and others would not use words like "restore," "rebuild," and "re-create" rather than "develop," "build," and "create" in passages such as the following:

The United Nations, not the United States, should be the primary civilian partner in working with Iraqi leaders to hold elections, restore government services, rebuild the economy, and re-create a sense of hope and optimism among the Iraqi people.

Perhaps I'm being paranoid, but I think the sense such statements leave is that we have destroyed all these things. I especially take issue with "re-create a sense of hope and optimism."

Next there will be talk of beating back Iraqi national malaise or bringing myriad misery indicia to bear to better gauge the situation...

posted by Gregory| 4/13/2004 09:23:00 AM

B.D. Gets Results!

A few days back we noted this.

Today, Glenn reports this.

Good on Okrent and Dowd.

posted by Gregory| 4/13/2004 09:04:00 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