The Belgravia Dispatch by GREGORY DJEREJIAN


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posted by Gregory| 6/16/2004 12:04:00 PM


Rudy Guiliani

Two interesting Rudy quotes from a recent talk:

"So, to many people, the world is a lot more dangerous than it was before September 11, 2001. I have exactly the opposite opinion. I believe the world is safer than it was before September 11th, 2001, and I believe it's safer in very realistic ways-in ways that it wasn't before that...."

"...On September 20th, 2001, and that's the date that I usually set for the change in policy, President Bush changed the policy of this government, and changed the approach, at least of those in the world who will follow us, will take to terrorism. He said very clearly in his address to the joint session of Congress, we are going to confront world terrorism, we are going to confront global terrorism, and we are going to try to destroy it before it destroys us. Instead of playing defense, we're going to play offense as well as defense, and we're going to do everything that we can to destroy it."

All told, this is still Bush's strongest card to play (along with an improving economy) in the impending elections.

This part of Giuliani's comments, however, rings more hollow given recent DOJ memos:

"I think, I think the way in which we're approaching it is the only way that we can, which is to investigate it, investigate it openly. If charges are going to be brought-and I don't want to assume they will or they won't because I'm not investigating it-but if charges are going to be brought, then figure out who's accountable for it, who's responsible for it, and punish them for it.

On the other hand, this is-this should not be seen as the general method or the general reaction of the American military. It's just the opposite. The American military is very humane, very decent, very well trained. This is not the desire, obviously, it's not the desire of the [Bush] administration. But even going beyond the administration, it's not the desire of the United States military. Whatever this turns out to be-and it's unfair to prejudge it-but whatever it turns out to be, this is going to be the actions of people who were acting improperly, against the rules, against the regulations, against. I was just at [the United States Military Academy at] West Point, giving a speech to their law class, and it was very, very inspiring. I try to do that as often as possible. It's very inspiring to talk to the cadets. But the colonel who runs the law program pointed something out to me that I knew, but he reminded me of it.He said that every cadet at West Point is required to take [a course on] constitutional law. And they have about a hundred [students] that are actually law majors, but everyone is required to take constitutional law. And they prefer that they take it in the last year. And they prefer that they do that because very soon now, a number of them are going to put up their hands and swear to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States, and it's a good idea, he says, that they learn it before they swear to uphold it
." [my emphasis]

Such legal analysis goes some way towards tarnishing Rudy's (good) thoughts about West Point ConLaw classes, doesn't it?

Put differently, was what was going on in Abu Ghraib really against the (new and improved) rules?

The rules Guiliani assumes were merely broken by some bad 'apples'?

posted by Gregory| 6/15/2004 09:04:00 AM

Another October Surprise?

No, not UBL. But an Iran with nuclear weapons?

Well, all told, likely not on such an expedited time frame. But issues surrounding Iran's nuclear ambitions are shaping up to likely be the next major foreign policy challenge Bush (or Kerry) will have to face.

In some quarters, I suspect, there are already whispers that a nuclear Iran might be becoming something of a fait accompli...

posted by Gregory| 6/15/2004 08:46:00 AM

One Reason Joe Biden Should Not Get Secretary of State

John Kerry could field top-notch folks like former U.N. Ambassador and Bosnia peace shuttler Richard Holbrooke to the 7th Floor at State should he win the election.

But putting in Senator Joe Biden, as has been rumored in some quarters, would likely be a major mistake. For one, the guy (with all due respect)--is just too much of a blowhard.

Check out these utterances from a CFR Campaign 2004 debate (Chatham House rules do not apply--as this meeting was on the record!):

"And we squandered an opportunity for legitimacy by deciding that [Iraqi National Congress leader]Ahmad Chalabi should be airlifted into Basra and that the Shi'a would march into Baghdad like Christ went into Jerusalem before he was crucified. The crucifixion took place early."

A couple problems with this--aside from the absurd evocation of crucifixion imagery.

Chalabi was airlifted into Nasiriyah--not Basra (details matter when you are Secretary of State).

And we didn't march Shi'a into Baghdad! Hundreds of thousands already lived there in teeming slums like Saddam City (now called Sadr City, as we are all painfully aware).

Shouldn't Biden know all this? And, if he doesn't, shouldn't he be a little more, er, quiet?

posted by Gregory| 6/15/2004 08:25:00 AM


Defining Torture Down

DOJ's Office of Legal Counsel wrote a highly depressing memo for White House Counsel Alberto Gonzalez which, in turn, led to this memo to POTUS.

In two PDF attachments, here and here, the WaPo has made public the memo.

A few general points.

Whoever marked up the document that the WaPo got their hands on is not a friend of the Administration. The highlighted areas are, typically, those most damning to the White House (UPDATE: Tom Maguire informs me the WaPo's Dana Priest marked up the memo; according to a Washington Post chatroom discussion).

Second, I was surprised to see a blatant typo in a legal memorandum addressed to the White House counsel. Sloppy!

Third, and much more important than one or two, the memo is repugnant and showcases why so many authoritarian brutes have law-related educational backgrounds (think Milosevic, for instance).

The analysis is chillingly clinical--with nary a thought for the moral ramifications of what is being recommended. No wonder intellectuals like Solzhenistsyn pity a society that is overly emasculated by the rule of law--with little by way of spiritual moorings.

One can rationalize so much wanton cruelty under the cover of expansive and/or creative interpretations of statutory and/or common law (you'll see how below)...

I don't say this as a naif. I'm a corporate lawyer--I do this type of thing for a living (no, not writing how-to-legally-torture memos--but scrutinzing finance documents with utmost scrutiny day in, day out).

And, as regular readers of my blog know, I support pretty robust prosecution of anti-terrorist actions worldwide.

Neverthless, I find this memo disturbing on a variety of levels.

It's not particularly convincing, for one thing, simply on a legal analysis level.

It's, as mentioned above, devoid of any moral compass. And it has worrisome connotations regarding the breadth of the Abu Ghraib scandal.

And, of course, it represents yet another stain on the U.S.' reputation as avatar of human rights, I fear.

Can Abu Ghraib Democrats (the flip side of 9/11 Republicans) be far behind?

There are five main parts to the memo.

Part I deals with defining (down) standards of conduct as set out under the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, and Degrading Treatment or Punishment as implemented by Section 2340 of the US Code.

Part II focuses more on the Convention itself (rather than the implementing statute in the USC).

Part III is a chilling (that word again!) analysis of the Torture Victims Protection Act, 28 USC Section 1350.

Part IV looks to best practices re: sensory deprivation tactics in places like 'time of troubles' era Ireland, 'intifada' Israel and so on.

Part V--USC 2340(A) is deemed (surprise!) likely unconstitutional as an infringement on the President's GWOT-era duties.

And, oh yeah, there's a Part VI--how necessity or self-defense can be used as a defense against a violation of 2340(A) (a particularly gross little section of which more later).

Part I: Through some pretty shoddy analysis, the DOJ lawyers conclude that for torture to rise to a threshold proscribed by Section 2340 of the USC--it must "be equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, even death." [my emphasis]

From where is such comfort drawn? The drafters of the memo pluck out statutory law dealing with "severe pain" in the context of emergency medical conditions necessitating provision of health benefits!

And, hot damn, "severe pain" in this context, for a "prudent lay person," would involve, shall we say, near death experiences. This is not only morally defunct analysis when exported into parsing acceptable thresholds for savage tortures--but it's also just plain crappy legal analysis.

Imagine what David Boies would make, for example, of the use of a 'severe pain' definition used in the context of statutory laws dealing with health benefits for emergency medical conditions being shoehorned into the context of interpreting torture law!

There is also a long (and sadly underwhelming) discussion on intent. You see, per Section 2340, "specific intent" to cause "severe pain" needs to be shown. But, please note, the "infliction of such pain must be the defendant's precise objective." [emphasis added]

If the defendant was merely reasonably likely to know severe pain was in the offing, this scummy memorandum goes on, this is but general intent.

See 'ma, no violation of 2340 (I wasn't quite sure these blows to the head would kill the guy)!

Look, I went to law school. I know that mens rea is a big deal.

But these are pretty tortured (pun intended) arguments. And, even if you want to argue that the legal analysis is at least arguably sound (if aggressive, but hey these are special times!)--they are nevertheless shameful and repulsive, imho.

Oh, despite all the difficulties in establishing specific intent, what if (God forbid!) it's proven anyway?

Well, helpfully, the crack-team at DOJ spells out the defense. If the defendant had a good faith belief that the acts perpetrated wouldn't be violative of the statute--then, hell, he lacks the mental state required for his actions to constitute torture and, voila, no prob! (Translation: Sh*t, man; I didn't know the dog would, like, bite! And so on.)

How about use of drugs (one of four 'predicate act' examples in the memo)? Not suprisingly, a wide berth (in terms of acceptable usage) here too.

Such use of drugs, to constitute torture, must rise to the level of "disrupting profoundly the senses or personality" (yeah, that means more than a particularly good joint washed down by a Napa red on the veranda in the 'burbs).

Not only must such profound sensory distortions be in the offing--the defendant must consciously have "designed the acts of administering the drug to induce such an effect" (whatever that means).

And what example is used to showcase what might constitute such a grave, sensory impact?

A full-blown "drug-induced dementia," for one. Helpfully, we are allowed that the onset of "brief psychotic disorder" would torture make too (the writers probably debated the "brief" part, one suspects, only relunctantly inserting it after fevered debate...)

I'll spare you more of this (though I could go on).

But Part I of the memo is drawing to a close, and I can't sum it up better than the memo writers themselves conclude in said document:

"...Each component of the definition emphasizes that torture is not the mere infliction of pain or suffering on another, but is instead a step well removed. The victim must experience intense pain or suffering of the kind that is equivalent to the pain that would be associated with serious physical injury so severe that death, organ failure, or permanent damage resulting in the loss of significant bodily function will likely result."

As I said, disgusting.

We will have more on Parts II-VI in the coming days. Some of it, in my view, is worse than what I've summarized per Part I.

Deep down, I know this President can stand up, loud and clear, and scream from the bully pulpit that this was all FUBAR.

Sure, we can entertain Alan Derschowitz like suggestions to have torture warrants issued under exceptional circumstances when we might have a guy who knows where and when the next 9/11 is going to happen and won't talk.

And he's just gotta speak.

Let's, by all means, have a way to help make that happen.

But to write memos like these (meant for general application and going forward scope rather than specific exceptions when the Republic is seriously imperiled); memos that define torture down so amorally, is (I like to think) un-American. Even in the context of particularly perilous GWOT-times.

Don't you agree?

posted by Gregory| 6/14/2004 10:14:00 PM

Le Business

Who knew?

"France and Israel are expected to announce the signing of the biggest weapons deal between the two countries since the French embargo on weapons sales to Israel prior to the Six-Day War...

And this is amusing:

"...Israeli security sources emphasize that in contrast to relations with the French Foreign Ministry, relations between the defense establishments of the two countries have been on the upswing since the mid-1990s."

posted by Gregory| 6/14/2004 12:27:00 PM


Blair and Berlusconi fared poorly at the polls.

It must be the Iraq "shadow", of course!

Except, of course, that Schroder and Chirac's parties fared just as poorly (if not worse, it's a close call).

In the U.K, it bears mentioning, the nefarious specter of Brussels appeared, by far, a bigger factor than that of Baghdad.

And don't miss this gem:

"Despite the reverse, President Jacques Chirac and Jean-Pierre Raffarin, his prime minister, are expected to exploit the historically low turnout to play down the extent of the UMP's poor performance. Before the vote Mr Raffarin observed the vote could not be construed as aimed against the government: "It is Europe which is in question: the response will be one of mistrust or trust towards Europe...."

"As an indication of popular priorities, TF1, the main TV channel, cut its usual practice of devoting an entire evening to election results.

Instead it mixed election results with its main news for half an hour and then went on to transmit the France-England game in the group stage of the Euro 2004 football championships

Leaders rubbish sentiment towards Brussels to explain away their poor electoral showings while, meanwhile, the masses are more keen to take in the soccer games unfolding in Portugal.

You think, perhaps, that the long-term success of the supra-national EU project might appear in some doubt (that's a rhetorical question)?

Note, of course, that EU unification was always more of a top-down, elite-driven project.

So the fact that Raffarin is so quick to poo-pooh sentiment towards Euro-land--to explain away his own parties' electoral shortcomings--well, it speaks volumes.

Note too, of course, that structural unemployment and reforms contributed to the Euro-wide protest vote.

posted by Gregory| 6/14/2004 11:23:00 AM


Rainesian Encroachements

Tucked into a Jeffrey Gettleman New York Times article today, the U.S. Embassy is described thusly: "a large United States Embassy is being built on the grounds of the occupation authority in central Baghdad, essentially to serve as a shadow government."

Remember, this isn't a news "analysis" piece--just straight reporting from Iraq. Per this description, John Negroponte would appear to simply be a Jerry Bremer-lite--operating in the shadows, murky, Tegucigalpa-style.

Of course, it would be disingenuous to claim that with billions of dollars being distributed, 140,000 men on the ground, and a massive Embassy with thousands of employees--that the U.S. won't be retaining a massive influence in Iraq post-sovereignty handover.

But to simply describe the future U.S. Embassy in Baghdad as a "shadow government" ignores tangible and verifiable handing over of real powers to the new Iraqi government.

Such casual turns of phrase help reinforce a skeptical Arab/Euro-narrative that the Iraq war was all about a neo-colonialist land grab for a piece of strategic real estate and oil.

After all, and as even Gettleman's piece mentions, when key Iraqi Ministries like oil, foreign affairs, and transport have been turned over to Iraqi management-well, that's pretty significant.

Or when, even before the sovereignty handover, Bremer's top choice for the Iraqi presidency (Adnan Pachachi) is spurned in favor of Ghazi Ajil al-Yawar--well, that's a pretty big decision that the Iraqis took in direct opposition to a clearly enunciated U.S. preference.

Hardly the stuff of a domineering, 'shadow' government, no?

posted by Gregory| 6/13/2004 11:00:00 AM


Hersh Watch

Brad DeLong has been getting E-mail.

Some of Hersh's alleged statements, it needs to be said, are risible: "NATO's falling apart in Afghanistan now." Or: "We're basically in the disappearing business."

But this is worrisome:

"He said that after he broke Abu Ghraib people are coming out of the woodwork to tell him this stuff. He said he had seen all the Abu Ghraib pictures. He said, "You haven't begun to see evil..." then trailed off. He said, "horrible things done to children of women prisoners, as the cameras run."

DeLong's correspondent relayed that Hersh, uttering this last, appeared "frightened."

There is probably a good deal of Hershian hyperbole in quotes like these, of course.

Still, I'm sure the videotapes display some odious scenes well beyond what we've seen to date.

It's all likely to get worse before it gets better (on top of all the crack-lawyering time spent casting about for various penumbras in torture-land).

Sadly, none of my Abu Ghraib recommendations (from back on May 12th) have yet been followed.

I still think each one would prove a net positive for Bush.

For instance, take one of my recommendations: that POTUS utter an unfettered, unambiguous, full-blown apology.

Think of it in conjuction with this WaPo masthead. Money graf:

"There is no justification, legal or moral, for the judgments made by Mr. Bush's political appointees at the Justice and Defense departments. Theirs is the logic of criminal regimes, of dictatorships around the world that sanction torture on grounds of "national security." For decades the U.S. government has waged diplomatic campaigns against such outlaw governments -- from the military juntas in Argentina and Chile to the current autocracies in Islamic countries such as Algeria and Uzbekistan -- that claim torture is justified when used to combat terrorism. The news that serving U.S. officials have officially endorsed principles once advanced by Augusto Pinochet brings shame on American democracy -- even if it is true, as the administration maintains, that its theories have not been put into practice. Even on paper, the administration's reasoning will provide a ready excuse for dictators, especially those allied with the Bush administration, to go on torturing and killing detainees."

Bush will gain status and more traction in the polls if he apologizes in the context of the above stakes--loudly and proudly reminding the world of our primary role as a beacon of liberty through the post-war years.

Strong leaders have to admit mistakes and move on. Bush hasn't, really, done so vis-a-vis Abu Ghraib. He needs to (think Ronald Reagan's Iran-Contra mea culpa).

You know, I used to gain comfort that Kerry wasn't talking about Abu Ghraib much. Meek, I thought. He has an opening and won't use it. He's worried about appearing a Kucinich like wimp on matters national security.

But I'm starting to think Kerry is betting Bush is simply self-destructing on Abu Ghraib. And when that happens to a candidate on some issue--you usually just shut up, step aside, and let the melt down continue.

I could be wrong, of course. Polls have indicated that the scandal left many relatively undisturbed thinking it the actions of simply a few young "bad apple" grunts (devilishly smart ones; when it comes to 'humiliating' Muslim male detainees!)

Still, why do 58% of the American people think the U.S. is on the wrong track?

Because employment numbers are up? Because the economy is picking up steam?

Or, rather, because of a reticence to say, loudly and clearly, that we occasionally screwed up big time at Abu Ghraib (and likely Bagram, Gitmo, other Iraqi jails) and need to take dramatic steps (raze jail, have senior people held accountable, release all pics/videotape--rather than let Hersh types go on about how heinous the videos are--thus fueling the scandal and lending all this an air of the cover up).

There is, instead, a perception of a rather chaotic series of investigations and panels operating hither dither. And a good deal of ass-covering. And no one taking responsibility up the chain.

In short, it's the big issue that's not going away (well, there's, er, the economy and Iraq too).

Unless Bush steps up to the plate and makes it go away.

Even if he has to risk people very near him getting caught up in the tail-winds. It's that important.

posted by Gregory| 6/10/2004 11:50:00 PM

Reagan's Heir... in Sacremento not Washington, says Joel Kotkin.

posted by Gregory| 6/10/2004 11:28:00 PM


Reagan at the Rotunda

I watched the moving state funeral last night in London. Most European news networks (the Beeb, Euronews, ITN, etc) covered the entire event live.

These Euro-news outlets understood, and frequently commented upon, how this state funeral was the most important Presidential memorial in America since JFK's.

In part, we can thank Nancy Reagan for this (reports indicate she was heavily involved in the planning--such as the riderless horse with the boots mounted in the stirrups).

To this day, she continues to assist her husband vis-a-vis the restorative role he played in buttressing the Presidency of the United States. It had been buffeted by many blows--through JFK's assassination, Nixon's impeachment, Carter's 'malaise.'

As Cheney put it well in his moving remarks at the Rotunda:

"We think back with appreciation for the decency of our 40th president and respect for all that he achieved. After so much turmoil in the '60s and '70s, our nation had begun to lose confidence. And some were heard to say that the presidency might even be too big for one man. That phrase did not survive the 1980s."

Indeed, it didn't.

The Challenger Disaster

All this brought back another memory for me too. My father, a retired career diplomat, had been seconded to the White House's press office during the Reagan years. He happened to be with President Reagan and his top staff when the Challenger shuttle blew up.

A White House phographer had captured the moment when they all first heard of the tragedy. As is often the case, all those photographed would later get the picture as a memento of their service to the President.

My father had the picture blown up and it had found its way into our Bethesda basement. On breaks from school, I would often go downstairs and linger over that picture.

And on the facial expressions worn by men like Don Regan, Larry Speakes, Bud Macfarlane. And, of course, the President's--as they all stared at the breaking news reports on television.

All individuals were moved, of course. But Don Regan, say, still looked more imperious than saddened. And you could see other senior aides (a Bud Macfarlane or Larry Speakes, for instance) distraught, to be sure, but also thinking through the political implications of the disaster.

Only the President (and, of course, I like to think my father too) appeared just flat out devastated. But it was really Reagan's face that stood out all on its own.

Why does his visage in that photograph remain so firmly etched in my memory now a decade and a half later?

Because his sadness was so genuine, so simple, so real.

This was such a decent man; such a modest, self-effacing, gentle man.

Would that more of us were like him.

The Importance of Conviction

He was too, of course, a man of bed-rock firmly held conviction. He realized two main things: 1) that too many encroachments of emasculating statism were suffocating the creative and economic power of the American polity; and 2) that the Soviet Union was a bona fide evil empire that needed to be confronted square on.

In large part because of his foreign and economic policies, the Soviet Union met its end and a huge bull market was unleashed.

He was President during my boarding school days up at Andover. We used to pass around the dorm, like hot cakes, books that defined the era like Barbarians at the Gate and Liar's Poker (my initial Trotskyite affectations, beleguered Leon slaying Stalinist distortions of noble Marxist dogma and such, were in remission by senior year).

Whatever you make of the capitalist excesses described in the books, entire industries like private equity and complex mergers and acquisitions work wouldn't even have existed, in their present form, were it not for Reagan.

He ushered in an era of efficiency, daring, and ingenuity into our financial system.

We had been unshackled, to a fashion.

See the Bull soar!

And, of course, Reagan is a hero to the tens of millions who dwelled in the gray, decaying zones of Bucharest, Warsaw, Sofia.

These populations are now in the process of being integrated into a whole and free Europe. Reagan's actions (and Bush 41's gingerly handling of German reunification) are the main reasons for this unprecedented peace and prosperity.

A storied Continent, torn asunder, had been reunited.

A Mixed Legacy

Some say he was just an empty-headed, index-card reading Teflon President.

One whose economic policies led to large deficits, who didn't care about the poorest among us.

The deficits were indeed staggering (Clinton's Rubinesque economic policies the Thermidor vis-a-vis some of the Reagan revolution's excesses on this score).

The apocryphal "ketchup" classified as vegetable tale pointed to the real disquiet of many regarding his alleged disinterest in the inner-city poor.

And, yes, there is some truth to all this.

But still, by the end of his term, more Americans had more money in their pockets and more jobs to go to (and not just the Sherman McCoys of the world).

To be sure, his legacy will likely also prove more complex than is commonly perceived.

Huge military spending made him somewhat of a de facto Keynesian rather than an unadulterated supply-sider.

Beirut was a painful fiasco. Iran-Contra a blow to our foreign policy credibility.

No, this was not a perfect man. Not some deity.

A Debt of Gratitude

But he was a uniquely American phenomenon with two great insights: 1) robustly beat back Communism, a defunct ideology; and 2) roll-back stagnating statism.

He was on the right side of these two big, critical issues; and his gutsy purposefulness secured victory on both of these key fronts.

He is responsible for the great, largely peaceful years (carnage in Rwanda and the Balkans aside) we were privileged to live in from the fall of the Berlin Wall through to September 11th.

We are in a new era now, of course, faced with unprecedented perils presented by the specter of mass casualty terror.

But we still inhabit a planet that remains, largely, shaped by Ronald Reagan.

Europe and Asia continue to move towards liberalization of their economies (Russia and China included).

Communism is widely percieved as a dead ideology.

Robust foreign policies brought to bear against forces of evil (those who would indiscriminately and purposefully kills millions) remain of utmost import.

Yes, we owe this man a deep debt of gratitude indeed.

posted by Gregory| 6/09/2004 11:39:00 PM

Abu Ghraib

The drip drip continues. Surely no one at the White House actually thinks this scandal is just going to peter out, do they (not when the Wall Street Journal is giving it new life...)?

They need to get out in front of this scandal rather than have more revelations hit the airwaves in late September/October.

It is a Washington axiom that it is always the cover up that gets you (spare me E-mails about myriad investigations underway and how transparently Abu Ghraib is being handled).

Neither morally (nor, if you care more, tactically) have the Bushies gotten in front of this scandal effectively. They need to, and soon.

posted by Gregory| 6/09/2004 11:34:00 PM

Linkage Revisited

Remember linkage?

Saddam would try to link (disingenuously) his 1990 invasion of Kuwait to Palestinian rights.

Or UBL would, in various taped messages, try to link his theocratic fanaticism to the status of long exiled Arab residents of Haifa or such.

Well, there appears to be a new variant in the air--progress on the Arab-Israeli front is being explicitly linked to President Bush's Middle East democratization initiative.

From today's joint G-8 statement:

"Our support for reform in the region will go hand-in-hand with our support for a just, comprehensive and lasting settlement to the Arab-Israeli-conflict" based on U.N. resolutions, said a statement issued by the G8 major industrial nations at their summit in Sea Island, Georgia."

So, skeptics will say: just words. Will the peace processing really become more intense in disciplined (read: non-episodic) fashion?

Well, perhaps not.

But note that the Bush Administration is recently putting more pressure on Israel to start making tangible concessions.

Typical CW is no pressure on Israel during an election year. I wouldn't be so sure.

Bush is serious, to a fashion at least, about pursuing a region-wide democratization effort. And it appears that the Joshka Fischers and King Abdullahs of the world have persuaded him that forward movement on the Arab-Israeli peace process front is critical in this regard.

So, wondering how the Broader Middle East and North Africa ("BMEI") initiative is going? [ed. note: You mean the Greater Middle East Initiative? No, I don't, see below for more]

This ICG report gives you a good flavor. It also describes and reminds us about how the U.S.-led democratization initiative initially got such a chilly reception in most Arab and Euro quarters.

And so there has been a lot of effort exerted of late, mostly by Foggy Bottom, to get the reform initiative back on track.

Several such compromises (smart ones, in my view) confirm my "linkage" analysis above:

"U.S. diplomats have been active in the nearly four months since the leak of their initial working paper, and some of the early damage has been repaired. In particular, extensive consultations have been conducted with both Europeans and regional states. Suspicions remain on all sides but it appears likely that enough common interest -- or at least common words and procedure -- have been identified to allow the BMEI to play out reasonably smoothly during the busy diplomatic month of June 2004.

With Europe, the effort was primarily to demonstrate sensitivity to the EU conviction that a democratisation initiative required linkage to the Arab-Israeli crisis. A number of EU member states, including Germany, whose foreign minister, Joschka Fischer, has repeatedly declared himself interested in reform issues, were insistent on this to the point of proposing draft language for the projected G-8 declaration. It was relatively easy for Washington to repair this omission in the working paper by accepting a reference to the problem, though not one that implied any change in either the substance or the intensity of the U.S. policy.

A second repair exercise required the Americans to address a deep-seated EU suspicion that, in a phrase heard frequently around Brussels, “they want us to write the cheques and leave the policy direction to them”. The U.S. has appeared to want both parties to place their ideas and programs on the table to be examined for complementarity or duplication, after which they would be moved under a single, BMEI umbrella and focussed more explicitly on core reform issues in a manner that would make the total greater than the sum of its parts. There are, however, disparities in the resources the U.S. and the EU have devoted to these purposes. While U.S. spending under the MEPI since 2002 and projected spending at least in the initial phase of the BMEI is at most in the low hundreds of millions of dollars, the EU has pursued its Barcelona Process, or Euro-Mediterranean Partnership, with the littoral states since 1995. During that period it has spent more than the U.S. on technical and financial measures -- and with a single, integrated concept -- to promote economic, social and political reform, though, as discussed below, often with disappointing results.

Against this background, the Europeans were naturally cautious that they not compromise such political standing in the Middle East as their major efforts over a decade have brought them. EU officials insist that they have resisted and will continue to resist anything that implies loss of independence for their policy instruments. The final results will not be known at least until the various summits are concluded, but it appears the Americans have had to pull back from any idea they may have once entertained of merging programs and sharing management or even strategic decisions to the softer ground of pledges for more regular information exchange

A third topic requiring diplomatic finesse has been the geographic extent of the BMEI. All appear to agree that it should be more extensive than the boundaries of the EU's Barcelona Process, which does not (yet) include Libya, much less other obvious members of the classical Middle East such as Iraq and Iran. The EU is sceptical of the utility of adding Afghanistan and Pakistan, as the U.S. desires, pointing out that those two countries have political dynamics that are distinctive from the more traditional Middle East and only one fundamental characteristic in common -- religion. They argue sensibly that joining them to the initiative on this narrow basis would strengthen suspicion in the region that the BMEI is directed against Islam. The likeliest solution will be that the area of coverage will be left undefined, purposely blurred at the edges.

U.S. diplomats made up for lost time by taking extensive soundings within the region. The operational purpose was to elicit a statement of interest in reform that could then be used to explain subsequent policy announcements at the G-8 and elsewhere as, in effect, a response to a home-grown endeavour, if not a specific request. The kind of essentially empty rhetorical flourish about the peace process that was offered to the Europeans was obviously of no more than minimal value with the Arab states. The suspicion must be that the primary assurance on offer was to the effect that the U.S. would move cautiously in promoting reform and would not put at risk its relationship with non-democratic but cooperative governments

Hmmm. Who says Bush isn't capable of "gray" policy (his hair is sure turning grayer)?

A second Bush Administration, in my view, will prove more nuanced in much of its diplomacy (but still robust and conviction-driven in neo-Reaganite fashion).

That's a strong combo. And, deep down, I suspect Rand Beers knows that.

Still, of course, the G-8 statement is merely that, a non-binding declaration. Real linkage between democratization in the Middle East, proceeding concomittantly with progress on the Arab-Israeli peace process, requires follow-through on both fronts. And it won't be easy!

Mubarak and such will doubtless ask Bush why he is so cozy with Musharraf and Karimov if he is on a democratization kick. Sharon will complain of not appeasing the Arabs on the backs of Israelis. The Saudis will likely be given a pass arguing that loosening of governmental controls at this stage might push the Kingdom towards more anarchic conditions. And so on.

All told, this will be tougher than European unification and healing Cold War divides in Europe. The Enlightenment never touched the BME (or Broader Middle East). There is an American history of propping up (rather than fighting) dictators in the region (unlike in Europe and until Saddam). Abu Ghraib doesn't help. And many Muslims fear the U.S. is hostile towards Islam. Yep, it's a generational challenge all right.

posted by Gregory| 6/09/2004 10:47:00 PM


Saudi Arabia: Four Scenarios

What's next for Saudi Arabia (in descending order from worst case to best case)?

A) Is revolution nigh, ie. will members of the House of Saud be forced to flee the Kingdom like the Shah fled Iran?

"For some experienced Middle East analysts, there are significant parallels between the current situation in Saudi Arabia and the final months of the Shah of Iran before his flight into exile, followed by the Islamic revolution which swept the ayatollahs into power (and cost the USA one of its key regional allies). As one foreign policy veteran told JID: "The collapse of authority tends to be the end result of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Once there is the perception that the old regime is doomed, it is usually a matter of time before it actually collapses. We saw precisely this sequence of events in Iran in 1979."

B) Or will an Algerian-style Islamist movement continue to take the battle to the Royal Family for years hence?

"The insistent claim of traditionally secretive Saudi authorities that a series of violent incidents across the Kingdom in recent months was the work of criminal gangs is becoming extremely threadbare.

With the assassination of a district police chief in the northern province of al-Jawf, a hotbed of Islamic opposition to the monarchy, on 20 April it seems to be increasingly clear that the violence is politically motivated, in all likelihood by supporters of Osama bin Laden.

Diplomats in Riyadh link the violence to mounting anti-Western hostility in the kingdom, the birthplace of Islam. This has been intensified by the US-led invasion of Iraq and the Arab world's inability to prevent it. Saudi leaders are being forced to admit that they face a growing challenge to their authority, one they have sought desperately to deny since a car bombing in Riyadh in which seven foreigners, five of them US citizens training the National Guard, were killed in 1995. The London-based Saudi opposition group, the Movement for Islamic Reform in Arabia, has reported that Islamic militants have opted for armed confrontation with the monarchy, following "at least nine armed clashes in the last six or seven months" authorised by fatwas (religious decrees) issued by Muslim clerics

C) Will, roughly, the status quo prevail (ie, some uptick in expatriate flight but no mass exodus, key oil production facilities not successfully attacked, occasional fire fights between al-Qaeda affiliates and Saudi security forces)?

"While details of the Saudi security budget are classified, it is estimated to have been around US$5.5bn in 2003, increasing by 50 per cent for 2004. Over the past two years, the Saudi government has also allocated an extra $750m to enhance security at all of its oil facilities. At any one time, there are up to 30,000 guards protecting the Kingdom's oil infrastructure, while high technology surveillance and aircraft patrols are common at the most important facilities. Anti-aircraft installations defend key locations."

D) Or are the Saudi Royals robustly and smartly getting a firm handle on al-Qaeda & Co. and, indeed, quashing them?

"Only one Al-Qaeda cell remains operational in Saudi Arabia, Prince Turki al-Faisal, the former head of Saudi intelligence and current ambassador to the UK, told JIR in May.

He said that there had been five active Al-Qaeda cells in Saudi Arabia in recent years but four have now been broken up: "There remains only one cell - even now it is in the process of being dismantled
." [ed. note: De Nile ain't just a river in Egypt...]

Well, who knows, right? (Jane's certainly doesn't have a consistent narrative to share with its defense-wonk readers!)

But smart money, at this point, might put the odds thusly (say over a two year time horizon):

Scenario A: 15%
Scenario B: 25%
Scenario C: 45%
Scenario D: 15%

So I guess I'm still tilting a little optimistic/status quoish (60%); but have a strong 40% espying potential Algeria or Iran 79ish scenarios. [Note: The odds of the negative narratives prevailing likely go up looking further out beyond two years--especially if the Iraq project worsens]

Just to be clear, this post isn't meant to, er, reassure or cause Saudi-watchers to be sanguine. Forty percent is high, way too high.

Readers are invited to write in and tell me I'm being too pessimistic (or, for that matter, optimistic). And, of course, to provide ideas on how to boost the odds of Scenario D (or even C) from prevailing rather than A or B.

UPDATE: One reader, who wishes to remain anonymous, sends in a fifth scenario:

"Regarding your outlook for Saudi Arabia, you mentioned 4 scenarios which could be summarized as follows:

1. House of Saud overthrown in a revolution
2. Algerian-style civil war with Islamists
3. A sporadic but low level of violence that ultimately doesn't threaten the Saudi leadership or oil supplies.
4. Islamic militants crushed in Saudi crackdown.

I think there is another possibility as well: Al Qaeda sympathizers within the royal family gain the upper hand in the ongoing power struggle and make more backroom deals with the Islamists. Spectator columnist Mark Steyn made a similar observation in a recent article:

"It’s a mistake to think Saudi Arabia can only be lost when President bin Jihad takes over in a revolution. There are all kinds of intermediate stages at which you can lose the country, and the House of Saud is still nominally in charge. Indeed, you can make the case that we’ve already crossed most of them."

The violence may die down in the medium term, making it appear that scenario 4 has prevailed, but something more like scenario 1 may in fact have taken place. Of course, more Saudi double-dealing with Al Qaeda would risk angering the U.S., but desperate times could call for desperate measures. One should keep in mind that things may not be as they appear

posted by Gregory| 6/08/2004 09:36:00 PM

Unilateralism Watch

More rigid, militaristic preemption.

You know, another (likely to be unanimously passed) U.N. resolution on Iraq.

Clauses 8-12 are the key ones (security, security, security). Otherwise all the other rosy prognostications/plan re: elections and such will flounder.

And 8 (relatedly 16 too) likely the hardest to achieve.

Note Clause 13 should be called the Sergio Viera de Mello clause.

posted by Gregory| 6/08/2004 08:32:00 PM


New York Times Endorses Kerry Early!

Well, not quite.

But the Times all but shoehorns a Kerry endorsement into their obit masthead on Reagan (see last couple of lines).

Classy, huh?

posted by Gregory| 6/07/2004 08:25:00 PM

A Farewell to the Gipper

George Will has some thoughts on America's greatest post-WWII President:

"In the uninterrupted flatness of the Midwest, where Reagan matured, the horizon beckons to those who would be travelers. He traveled far, had a grand time all the way, and his cheerfulness was contagious. It was said of Dwight Eisenhower -- another much-loved son of the prairie -- that his smile was his philosophy. That was true of Reagan, in this sense: He understood that when Americans have a happy stance toward life, confidence flows and good things happen. They raise families, crops, living standards and cultural values; they settle the land, make deserts bloom, destroy tyrannies.

Reagan was the last president for whom the Depression -- the years when America stopped working -- was a formative experience. Remarkably, the 1930s formed in him a talent for happiness. It was urgently needed in the 1980s, when the pessimism of the intelligentsia was infecting people with the idea that America had passed its apogee and was ungovernable


Here's the text to one of his more memorable speeches.

And don't miss his farewell address delivered after serving out his two terms:

"I've spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don't know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind it was a tall proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind-swept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace, a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity, and if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That's how I saw it and see it still.

And how stands the city on this winter night? More prosperous, more secure, and happier than it was eight years ago. But more than that; after 200 years, two centuries, she still stands strong and true on the granite ridge, and her glow has held steady no matter what storm. And she's still a beacon, still a magnet for all who must have freedom, for all the pilgrims from all the lost places who are hurtling through the darkness, toward home.

We've done our part. And as I walk off into the city streets, a final word to the men and women of the Reagan revolution, the men and women across America who for eight years did the work that brought America back. My friends: We did it. We weren't just marking time. We made a difference. We made the city stronger. We made the city freer, and we left her in good hands. All in all, not bad, not bad at all

No, not bad at all.

My thoughts are also with Nancy Reagan--his only real friend and life partner.

She will doubtless be consoled in knowing that, just as her husband smiled down on us; History will smile down on him.

posted by Gregory| 6/07/2004 03:36:00 PM


California Dreaming

Just touched down in San Francisco in transit to Monterrey to assume groomsman duties at a wedding.

Back in London Monday. Little to no blogging until Monday night (energy levels permitting!)

posted by Gregory| 6/04/2004 08:28:00 PM


Tenet's Resignation

I can't get excited by the Glenn Reynolds and Andrew Sullivan Tenet-resignation cheerleading.

Contra Sully, 9/11, in my estimation, can't be laid at his doorstep. Yeah, to be sure, it's a complex question with myriad variables at play. But putting 9/11 on Tenet's back is bunk.

Just as bad a canard, pretty much, as Richard Clarke pinning 9/11 on Bush. It smells, frankly, of cheap scapegoating tactics.

Ditto, if we are going to beat up Tenet on Iraq WMD--why aren't Glenn and Andrew taking, say, Dick Cheney to task?

If anything, people over at Cheney's shop reportedly wanted Tenet's guys to look at the intel a bit more aggressively--even though Tenet had already proclaimed Saddam's possession of WMD a "slam dunk."

Want to mock Tenet for his slam drunk pronouncement?

Well, pretty much every other intelligence service under the sun was caught flat-footed too, no?

And, of course, Saddam did have WMD-related programs, in various states of development, that were violative of the letter and spirit of 1441.

"Personal reasons"?

Wow, that's a tough one to swallow.

Like the President, I guess, I'm "sorry he's leaving."

Clarification: I wish I could buy that this was simply about Tenet wanting to spend more time with his high school aged kid (per his choking up at the Langley farewell address).

But, I suspect, this is more about Colin Powell getting in front of the U.N. (with Tenet behind him in the Security Council chamber) and talking up alleged bioweapon labs and such that ended up proving false.

What angers me, I guess, isn't that Tenet has to fall on his sword because his agency f*&%cked up. That's one of the reasons, in my view, that Rummy should have stepped down after Abu Ghraib.

What does get to me, however, is that people hyping intel more than Tenet are still, you know, on the November ticket and such. But hey, it's not the Veeps's beat. So Tenet takes the fall.

Still, we're all adults here. These are, roughly, the rules of the game.

You wanna friend in DC? Get a dog....

UPDATE: Capt'n Ed, while more generous than Glenn and Andrew, still depicts Tenet as some kind of moribund uber-bureaucrat who didn't have the requisite mojo.

That he wasn't a "wartime consigliere."

I'm a bit puzzled as to why Tenet is portrayed as lacking the requisite daring and moxie to have fulfilled his job at DCI.

What am I missing over here in London?


Capt'n Ed writes in:

"I guess what we feel over here is that Tenet is great at apologizing, but he gets too much practice at it. It's actually difficult to put my finger on the specific problem. I'm not one of the people who called for someone's head to roll after 9/11, mostly because I think that 9/11 was more of a political than intelligence failure. I think the "slam-dunk" WMD case, though, was an intelligence failure, and even though I believe they existed (and still do), it sounds like Tenet was cheerleading more than analyzing. The impression I get is a decent guy who spends a lot of time trying to maintain bipartisan fellowship.

I don't think that Tenet was a bad DCI, but I think that it's time to look for someone less interested in politics and more interested in mission. Again -- I'm presenting a voter's opinion, not an intelligence expert. I could well be wrong, but at least I've got company if I am

Fair enough, though I think Tenet did much more analyzing than cheerleading. And if cheerleading Iraq related WMD intel is cause for applauding a resignation (whether volitional or requested); well, there are a lot of other people who were cheerleading the intel with more alacrity than the DCI.

And Brett Eagen writes in:

"I have a couple of thoughts on the next DCI. From the president's
statement, I gather that we will be waiting until after then election
for confirmation hearings, with DDCI McLaughlin at the helm. Fox News
has already touted Porter Goss as an excellent choice, and I believe he
is, but what do you think of Dick Armitage taking over? He has certainly
done a lot of heavy lifting over the past few years, knows how to stand
up to the neocon crowd (a valuable trait when the inevitable Intel
Community restructuring comes), and has a fairly deep background in
intel given some of his activities in SE Asia during the Vietnam wind
down. He breezed through confirmation for his current post, but that may
have been a Powell coat tail thing. Granted, there are a few skeletons
in his closet, but I think he would be an interesting choice. I would
love to hear your thoughts on this

I'm a big Armitage fan--and am not aware of any skeletons!

For the record, I think Porter Goss would be good too.

posted by Gregory| 6/03/2004 03:34:00 PM

Stand by Your Man

Tammy Wynette is back in vogue.

WaPo version:

"Richard N. Perle, the former chairman of the Defense Policy Board and a longtime supporter of Chalabi's, said yesterday he found it "impossible to believe" that Chalabi is accused of informing the Iranians about U.S. code-breaking and the station chief "would use a compromised code to report to Baghdad when he could convey it in 2 1/2 hours by car." Perle added: "It would be a tragedy if we jettisoned an Iraqi leader on such a hairy story."

NYT Version:

"Richard N. Perle, the former chairman of the Defense Policy Board and an influential Chalabi supporter, said Wednesday that the notion that Mr. Chalabi would compromise the American code-breaking operation "doesn't pass the laugh test." Mr. Perle said it was more plausible that the Iranians, knowing already that the United States was reading its communications, planted the damning information about Mr. Chalabi to persuade Washington to distance itself from Mr. Chalabi.

"The whole thing hinges on the idea that the Baghdad station chief of the MOIS commits one of the most amazing trade craft errors I've ever heard of," Mr. Perle said, referring to Iran's Ministry of Intelligence and Security. He said it defied belief that a seasoned intelligence operative would disclose a conversation with Mr. Chalabi using the same communications channel that he had just been warned was compromised.

"You have to believe that the station chief blew a gift from the gods because of rank incompetence," Mr. Perle said. "I don't believe it, and I don't think any other serious intelligence professional would either
." [emphasis added]

Perle is really going out on a limb here. If the specific charges against Chalabi are true--Perle's reputation will take a major blow.

Listen, Perle is a very smart Beltway operative of long-standing. For him to pitch his tent so directly to Chalabi's (in the face of the gravest accusations) indicates to me that Chalabi has personally denied the allegations to Perle in the strongest terms.

So, you ask: could Perle really be getting so ingloriously bamboozled by Chalabi?

Perle haters (and there are many, of course) will say, well yeah, duh.

After all, Chalabi (aka the Iraqi George Washington) was simply swiftly to, post-Pentagon Nasariyah fly-in/drop-off, lead legions of gratitude-infused Iraqi liberated to engage in en masse flower tossing rituals at the feet of coalition GIs moving northwards to the sounds of hearty encouragement (Democracy! Whiskey! Sexy! Oh, and 'Jerusalem is the undivided capital of Israel forevermore!' 'What's up with those crazy Mullah's next door!' 'Bashar sucks, can't he close up that dastardly porous border! And so on.).

Talk about getting bamboozled!

But lots of smart people thought the going in Iraq might be a bit easier than its proven to be. And it wasn't just Chalabi and Perle (or other assorted nefarious neo-cons or Rumsfeldian troop-lite, 'shock and awe' proponents) who thought so.

But this unfolding Chalabi situation is different.

A guy heavily hyped by leading architects of the Iraq war is being accused of betraying U.S. intelligence services in favor of an Axis of Evil government--one, it bears repeating, that is pretty hell-bent on going nuclear asap.

Talk about having to wipe lots of egg off one's face if you thought the individual in question should have been leading Iraq!

So yeah, given this, of course, the question on everyone's mind is--did Chalabi actually hand over the goods (the codes) to the Iranians?

If so, it appears he is either a) baldly lying to Richard Perle or b) Perle is deluding himself and entering Leeden or Mylroie terrain (which I don't believe is the case).

But if not--if the charges against Chalabi prove a CIA-concocted canard or such (which I strongly doubt too, btw)--the story certainly doesn't end there.

Chalabi As Pawn Amidst Titanic Bureaucratic Battles Underway?

Part of all this, of course, is that State and CIA (feeling newly ascendant given the Pentagon's piss-poor handling of post-war Iraq) are hitting back at the civies at Defense.

Those aren't pen-knives flying around Washington these days.

Those are Crocodile Dundee-size cutlasses being hurled around town.

Chalabi, obviously, is one pawn (or, hell, bishop or rook) in all of this.

But I just can't see George Tenet allowing his Agency to go out and falsely frame Chalabi.

Still, in the heated atmosphere of Washington with recriminations flying about, one could see how the charges against Chalabi are getting fanned beyond his actual culpability in the affair.

Chalabi Willfully Framed By Iranian Intelligence?

Another theory has been making the rounds--courtesy of Perle and like-minded souls.

It's being suggested that it may have been in the Iranian interest to scuttle Chalabi because the Iranians (at least the hardline clerics) view Chalabi's secularist Shi'a orientation as a threat to their more theocratic agenda.

Josh Marshall, in an interesting post, doesn't buy that line of argument.

He writes:

"This new line of reasoning is either disingenuous or truly sad, and perhaps both.

I'm not at all convinced that Chalabi was a spy per se. From all we know about the guy I think it far more likely that he was just playing both sides and only truly working for himself. As our star waned in Iraq and Iran's waxed, he probably did more and more to curry their favor. And that may have led to sharing some of our prized information with them. I also don't completely discount the possibility that much of Chalabi's current problems are the result of a bureaucratic war being fought against his supporters in the administration. People can, after all, be both framed and guilty. Finally, perhaps the Iranians sent this some disinformation back to us simply to sow confusion in our ranks, notwithstanding who it might hurt in Iraq.

But the idea that they see Chalabi as a threat because he's likely to light the region afire with democracy is a sad misreading of which way the wind has been blowing of late. Set aside whether Chalabi compromised this piece of highly classified information. He has quite openly been courting Islamist groups in the country, setting up his Sharia caucus, hobnobbing with Iraqi Hezbollah, strengthening his ties to the Iranians and pro-Iranian groups...

By "Sharia caucus," I presume Josh means the Shiite Caucus (I've also seen it referred to as the "Shite Political Council").

Either way, Marshall's point is clear.

Chalabi has been getting mightly cuddly with lots of Shi'a actors in Iraq whose interests, er, aren't necessarily in alignment with Washington's.

Put differently, Chalabi might not be prima facie lying that he didn't actually hand over the codes. But he's been getting in bed (or at least flirting heavily) with lots of constituencies that aren't friendly to the United States.

Still, regarding the codes, there's a helluva lot of smoke in the air, isn't there?

But part of the smoke, as indicated above, likely results from the sheer chaos of the madcap, furious political machinations underway in Baghdad.

You Tilt Too Far Towards Teheran; We'll Drop You Hard

Anyway, back to the larger picture.

Check out this analysis from Stratfor.

I think, while quite aggressively anti-Chalabi, it's a pretty persuasive take on what Chalabi has been up to over the past few weeks/months (and why lots of people in Washington want his head on a pike):

"Iraq’s al-Dustour newspaper reported on May 17 that a new Shiite political entity had been launched in the country. This umbrella body, called the Shiite Political Council, consists of four members of the Iraqi Governing Council and 18 other unnamed political groups.

The four named members included former U.S. Department of Defense favorite Ahmed Chalabi (representing the Iraqi National Congress) and Abdel-Karim Mahoud al-Mohammedawi, representing Hezbollah. Also named as members were Ahmed al-Barak (an attorney from Babylon) and Salama al-Khafaji (professor of dentistry at Baghdad University). Al-Khafaji is a newcomer to the IGC, replacing Aquila al-Hashmi, who was shot dead in Baghdad in September 2003.

To cut to the chase, Chalabi is in a political coalition with a representative of the Iraqi Hezbollah. Given where we were a year ago, that is a pretty startling evolution....Chalabi’s game with the United States is up. If he is to be a political power in Iraq, he will have to do it on his own.

He has significant challenges in achieving this. The biggest one is that Shiite political power is centered in the Islamist parties: the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq and Hizb al-Dawah. There are also the Hawza, led by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, and Iraq’s clerical establishment based in An Najaf. Chalabi’s group is an attempt to promote a Shiite political party that does not have the support of the clerics, yet has an Islamist element, given the presence of the Iraqi Hezbollah group.

Chalabi will be a footnote to history. What is important to note is the degree to which currying favor with the Americans is declining as a major political consideration in Iraq [ed. note: My immediately prior post make this point less persuasive]. As the United States presses for some sort of transfer of power on June 30 — and as political and military turmoil in Iraq buffet the United States — the Americans are loosening their grip on the political process....

From Chalabi’s point of view, an alliance with the United States is a liability. In Iraq, he is content to be seen as the man who led the United States by the nose to destroy Saddam Hussein, and having achieved that goal, is not only independent of Washington, but also is actually critical of and opposed to the Americans.

Chalabi, of course, has little trust in Iraq. Whatever his secret relations might be with the Shiite establishment and the Iranians, Chalabi is used goods. Nevertheless, as a seismograph of Iraqi politics, it is interesting to watch him chart his course far away from his American moorings

Chalabi, I sense, is a wily opportunist and intriguer--one of the key reasons I never really trusted him.

In the end, I suspect, the most charitable Chalabi analysis is that his too ambitious navigating of the immensely complicated currents buffeting the Iraqi political process did him in.

Basically because he became too associated with a pro-Iranian agenda.

Even if he didn't actually hand over the codes to the Iranians.

All this begs a much larger question, of course.

How much influence is Teheran going to wield in Iraq, say, a year hence--once all the various Shi'a groupings have consolidated their power and begin flexing their muscles with fewer Bremerian restrains in their midst?

In other words, to what extent are all the assorted furies, reprisals and allegations surrounding one dubious character (Chalabi) foreshadowing much bigger questions coming down the pike?

posted by Gregory| 6/03/2004 11:13:00 AM


More colorful utterances from Lakhdar Brahimi--from "poison" to "dictator":

"He suggested that the occupation authority, particularly U.S. civilian administrator L. Paul Bremer, wielded significant influence over the process. "I sometimes say -- I'm sure he doesn't mind me saying that --that Bremer is the dictator of Iraq," Brahimi said. "He has the money. He has the signature. Nothing happens without his agreement in this country."

Read the whole article in conjunction with this post (click through links) from Glenn.

Question: Would a prospective John Kerry team have handled, this adeptly, strongly influencing the Iraqi government selection process whilst giving the appearance of a U.N. leadership role in the process?

Answer: I highly doubt it. Bremer (or a successor) would likely have been reined in (so as to better "internationalize") with Brahimi running circles around him--rather than vice versa.

posted by Gregory| 6/03/2004 11:02:00 AM


Enlightened Authoritarianism Watch

Pervez Musharraf argues that the Muslim world must move towards what he calls "Enlightened Moderation":

"The stark challenge that faces anyone with compassion for the common heritage of mankind is determining what legacy we will leave for future generations. The special challenge that confronts Muslims is to drag ourselves out of the pit we find ourselves in, to raise ourselves up by individual achievement and collective socioeconomic emancipation. Something has to be done quickly to stop the carnage in the world and to stem the downward slide of Muslims.

My idea for untangling this knot is Enlightened Moderation, which I think is a win for all -- for both the Muslim and non-Muslim worlds. It is a two-pronged strategy. The first part is for the Muslim world to shun militancy and extremism and adopt the path of socioeconomic uplift. The second is for the West, and the United States in particular, to seek to resolve all political disputes with justice and to aid in the socioeconomic betterment of the deprived Muslim world...

...I say to my brother Muslims: The time for renaissance has come. The way forward is through enlightenment. We must concentrate on human resource development through the alleviation of poverty and through education, health care and social justice. If this is our direction, it cannot be achieved through confrontation

Good thoughts, doubtless.

But I can't help thinking what the General is really doing is trying on for size appearing something akin to the Pakistani version of a very famous Prussian. (Hat Tip: An underwhelmed David Adesnik).

Still, Musharraf is right that we need to "seek to resolve all political disputes with justice" (read: move Kashmir and Palestine towards fair settlements) and concentrate on "poverty alleviation" and such.

Policy Needs to be Reinvigorated

I've asked before, but do again today: who in Washington is giving serious thought to pursuing a grand project of economic liberalization through the Arab world--in concert with the European Barcelona process (the better to have a common project by which to patch up the strained trans-atlantic relationship)?

Jeffersonian democracies (or, for that matter, Hamiltonian or Jacksonian ones), as Iraq makes pretty clear, are not necessarily going to sprout out hither dither amidst the less than fecund soil of the Levantine, Mesopotamian and Arabian land masses.

But a focus on economic liberalization (with carrots dangled as ossified and atrophying economies liberalize--and biggers carrots proferred as and when roughly concommitant political liberalization follows), undertaken in tandem with conflict resolution initiatives, offers a pretty decent way forward.

After all, despite all the chest-beating about all the bad guys in Amman, Riyadh and Cairo--if Mubarak and Abdullah (whether the plucky King or the Crown Prince) dissapeared tomorrow--methinks their prospective successors likely wouldn't be rushing to empower newly formed bicameral legislatures.

Why not, in the spirit of impending D-Day remembrances and such, call for a major international conference to discuss how the U.S. and Europe can spearhead real movement on the economic liberalization front in the region--as a way to mitigate the crisis of radical Islam's toxic potency?

Musharraf (hell, Mahatir too) would attend. So too would key Arab leaders (and Sharon, or at least, Shimon Peres!).

Throw in Gerard, Jacques, Vladimir, Tony and Dubya.

A meeting just for meeting's sake, you skeptically query? Perhaps.

But why such a lack of imagination, verve--why so much timidity of realistic vision?

So little political will mustered towards achievable ends? So little creative Beltway-think in terms of the art of the possible (as compared to, say, Mike Leeden think)?

The Ideas Deficit

Partly because policymakers in Washington are hunkered down in operational crisis mode with little time to cogitate about the big picture.

And, despite good folks like Dan Drezner, too many social science academics are bogged down in petty debates about methodology and statistics.

Want tenure, you say?

Well, as I've heard someone quip recently, pick as obscure a topic as possible.

To be sure, there is an ideas deficit right now amidst policy and academic elites.

There is no Kennan-like X telegram. No Huntingtonian or Fukuyamaean take on the post 9/11 world.

There is, to be sure, lots of partisan rancor and hyperbolic rhetoric (Kerry simply as a noxious hybrid of hyper-liberal Kennedy and feckless Clinton; Bush as militaristic cowboy rueful that he couldn't march into Damascus and Teheran because the going in Iraq got a tad rough...)

Sadly, too, many think-tanks are split along pretty rigid party lines.

When is the last time someone at Heritage dared to suggest that John Kerry had a decent idea that might not imperil the Republic's future?

Or someone at Brookings talked up Bush's (quite multilateral) handling of counter-proliferation efforts?

With policymakers a tad busy; think-tanks politicized; academics squabbling over methodology and such--we do face somewhat of an ideas deficit.

And we need fresh thinking desparately, don't we?

Readers are invited to suggest who might pick up the slack.

I'm thinking some of us folks (at least ones smarter than me!) in the private sector--but, you know, we're a tad busy too...

UPDATE: We get mail from Heritage linking this "WebMemo". Seems said think tank has suggested Kerry had an idea that didn't necessarily imperil the Republic. I stand corrected!

And Drezner kindly links commenting:

"In the past three years, there have actually been a fair number of big-think books from very disparate points of view out there on grand strategy -- John Mearsheimer, Michael Mandelbaum, Charles Kupchan, Fareed Zakaria, Robert Kagan, Joseph Nye, John Lewis Gaddis, countless others. My readers are invited to suggest which article/book they think most closely approximates the Kennan mantle." [emphasis added]

Countless others? Really?

And the mere fact that there is such a bouillabaisse of attempted "grand strategy" iterations actually helps support my point that fundamental policy re-thinks are necessitated.

Bottom line: None of these guys "approximate the Kennan mantle." They all fall short.

If one did, Drezner wouldn't have to ask his readers whether Zakaria, Kagan, Nye, Gaddis, Mandelbaum, Mearsheimer, etc deserved the Kennan-mantle.

Rather, a clear victor would have emerged.

Put differently, none of the works Drezner mentions come close to providing an overarching foreign policy vision that would guide (as did Kennan's X telegram) US policy for many decades.

True, perhaps, the bipolar division of power Kennan grappled with was less complex than today's geostrategic environment. But I would still hope academics, think-tankers, policymakers etc could do better.

Huntington's "Clash of Civilizations" might come closest to assuming the Kennan mantle (and it is tempting to view as still relevant post 9/11)--but it doesn't do the trick in my view. I hope to have more on why soon.

posted by Gregory| 6/02/2004 10:49:00 AM

Optimism on Iraq?

Things have been looking a bit better over the past few weeks in Iraq, no?

Fallujah has quieted down, we are beating back Sadr's insurgency, a government that smells somewhat homegrown and legitimate (the new Sunni President even has the requisite mustache!) is in the process of assuming power.

Needless to say, manifold pitfalls loom. But developments have taken a turn for the better of late.

Smart people (and frequent Administration critics) like Fareed Zakaria are happier too.

Zakaria, writing in today's WaPo:

"The administration had stubbornly insisted that no more troops were needed in Iraq. But today, there are 20,000 additional soldiers in the country.

• From the start it refused to give the United Nations any political role in Iraq. Now the United Nations is a partner, both in the June 30 transition and in preparing for elections. U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi was the "quarterback," Bush said yesterday.

• Radical "de-Baathification," the pet project of the Pentagon and Ahmed Chalabi, has been overturned. The army that was disbanded is being slowly recreated.

• Heavy-handed military tactics have given way to a more careful political-military strategy in Fallujah, Karbala and Najaf that emphasizes a role for local leaders

Yeah, adult supervision is back at the helm. Rather than utopian hail mary passes--we are now smartly navigating the rocky shoals of post-war Iraq in realist vein.

Better late than never.

And it shows that Bush is not some bull-headed, clueless messianic figure.

There is some pragmatism in those genes (Poppy, surveying the scene from Kennebunkport, is doubtless happier of late too)!

posted by Gregory| 6/02/2004 08:33:00 AM

Chalabi's Fall

On one level, this story is as much about State and CIA flexing their muscles now that formerly ascendant neo-con hawks at the Pentagon are on the defensive. Chalabi, of course, was their baby and now appears to have proven something akin to a traitor of sorts.

I never much liked Chalabi. He had no grass roots support among the Shi'a and, I suspected, was more interested in intrigues and obtaining power than really fostering democracy in Iraq. The allegedly shady dealings in Jordan didn't help either.

But what the Times is reporting crosses all bounds of acceptable behavior:

"American officials said that about six weeks ago, Mr. Chalabi told the Baghdad station chief of Iran's Ministry of Intelligence and Security that the United States was reading the communications traffic of the Iranian spy service, one of the most sophisticated in the Middle East.

According to American officials, the Iranian official in Baghdad, possibly not believing Mr. Chalabi's account, sent a cable to Tehran detailing his conversation with Mr. Chalabi, using the broken code. That encrypted cable, intercepted and read by the United States, tipped off American officials to the fact that Mr. Chalabi had betrayed the code-breaking operation, the American officials said.

American officials reported that in the cable to Tehran, the Iranian official recounted how Mr. Chalabi had said that one of "them" — a reference to an American — had revealed the code-breaking operation, the officials said. The Iranian reported that Mr. Chalabi said the American was drunk

If this story proves true and is fully corroborated--it's not just Chalabi's reputation that will nose-dive. His more ardent Beltway supporters will have to explain their misjudgement in providing a potential quisling with funds, political support, and assorted accolades over many long months.

Needless to say, Chalabi is pretty radioactive now. Check out this beaut from Bush:

"In the past two weeks, the administration has moved to sever its close ties with Mr. Chalabi, whose group received more than $4 million a year from the Defense Intelligence Agency, and who sat behind Laura Bush, the first lady, at the State of the Union address earlier this year.

Nevertheless, at the White House on Tuesday, President Bush sought to play down the role of Mr. Chalabi and his group as a source of information in his administration's decision to go to war in Iraq. "My meetings with him were very brief," Mr. Bush said, saying that he might have met with Mr. Chalabi at the State of the Union address as part of a "rope line" greeting. "I haven't had any extensive conversations with him
." [emphasis added]


Just a rope-line thang....

posted by Gregory| 6/02/2004 08:07:00 AM


Kerry Suck Up Watch

Part 1--

"It isn’t every day that the Presidential nominee of the Democratic Party is a junior senator from Massachusetts who was educated at an élite boarding school and an Ivy League college and whose political career was founded on his war heroism as a young Naval officer in command of a small boat and who has family money and a thick shock of hair and a slightly stiff manner and beautifully tailored suits and an aristocratic mien and whose initials are J.F.K. So rare is this phenomenon that the last time it happened was fortyfour years ago, way back in 1960."

Hendrik Hertzberg, writing (where else!) in the New Yorker.

Part Deux--

"I knew Kerry a little bit at Yale. We all looked up to him. He was head of the political union, and he was almost presidential material then. He looked like Abraham Lincoln."

Oliver Stone, as quoted in a Time Magazine interview.

Perhaps Joe Biden will do them one better?

posted by Gregory| 6/01/2004 12:37:00 PM


Attack in Saudi

Given today's terror attack in Saudi Arabia this excellent Economist article which analyzes nightmare scenarios--vis-a-vis major terror attacks on oil production facilities in the Kingdom--is particularly timely.

This last attack will likely merely have a relatively slight impact on oil futures mostly born of psychological factors--as oil supplies themselves don't look to be disrupted (and further OPEC output increases look to be coming on tap).

But clearly, this was a pretty well coordinated (and bold) attack that showcases, just in case we needed a reminder, that Saudi Arabia is facing critical challenges on the security front that are likely to get worse before they get better.

posted by Gregory| 5/30/2004 12:51:00 PM


In-House Matters

I'm keenly aware my blogging has been, as lawyers are wont to say, de minimis of late.

I was going to put up a post about how this blog might have to move more towards an Innocents Abroad model (in terms of frequency of posting--that fine blog tends to post new material at a more stately pace than many, B.D. included).

But while I have a demanding day job (typically 10-12 hours a day as GC of a financial services company) I, like others around the blogosphere, appear to be a blogaholic of sorts.

So despite the long work hours (and very frequent travel) I will often try to fit in a blog post at least daily. And I'm reticent to stop doing so now.

That said, I don't want to "post just to post." While I am aware that "freshness" is important in this medium--I am wary of sacrificing quality content merely for the sake of putting something new up daily.

All this to say, for the time being, I plan to continue to post whenever I feel I have the requisite time to say something that I believe merits being read (read, that is, by more than just myself and a few assorted high school buddies!)--interspersed with the obligatory news updates that I typically accompany with short quips and such.

Finally, I should note I am moving off blogspot. While it has been working better of late (though I gather my site was down for a while recently), I neverthless want to try out MT, put in a search function, check out new font colors/sizes, maybe occasionally open up comments, organize my archives by topics, and so on.

So I've got someone working on a blog redesign. Go check it out.

Feedback from friends has been uneven. Some say the map logo is lame and that it looks boring. Some really like it. So, if you can spare a second, give me your feedback too.

I'm either going to simply export the current blog (with a few subtle font/color changes) to MT so that the basic look remains the same.

Or I will move to some variant of the blog redesign I've linked above. So please help me decide which way to go!

Back with substantive posts soon. And thanks in advance for any feedback.

posted by Gregory| 5/28/2004 07:48:00 PM


On the Road

I'm traveling on a deal--limited to no blogging until next week.

posted by Gregory| 5/25/2004 10:31:00 PM


Moore, Cannes and Tarantino

No documentary has won at Cannes since 1956.

That's, pretty much, half a century (48 years, to be exact).

Was Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 so amazingly compelling artistically that it just had to win this year (in what was a pretty strong field)?

Or were Tarantino and Co. simply letting the world know they really don't like the smell of Bush much?

You know, I've always considered Tarantino a major (if uneven) talent. Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs were both excellent (Kill Bill less so, especially in terms of the complexity of the plot).

But he hasn't done himself (or the Cannes Film Festival) any favors this past week with his naked grandstanding. And his denials that political factors weighed in the jury's decision-making ring pretty hollow.

UPDATE: Jury member and Scottish actress Tilda Swinton, defending the decision:

"I do think it's possible to see that this film is not about Bush, America, or Iraq, but about the system, in a very precise way. It's about the dialectic between film-makers, the media, and the audience."

When at something of a loss or just simply B.S-ing, prattle on about the "system" and "dialectics." The movie-going masses will be impressed by all the cool neo-Marxist jargon. And such uber-deep think also strikes just the right Cannes note-a handy antithesis to the moronic barbarians in Hollywood.

posted by Gregory| 5/24/2004 10:40:00 AM

The Crude Angle

Well, at least it's not 1973 all over again.

posted by Gregory| 5/24/2004 10:39:00 AM


Book Reviewer Selection Watch

Couldn't the NYT find someone better than John Dean to review Joe Wilson's book?

The laughably naked Wilson-cheerleading effort gets started right out of the gates with this opening sentence: "This is a riveting and all-engaging book."

Soon later:

"For those interested in the most vicious hatchet job inside the Beltway since my colleague in Richard Nixon's White House, the dirty trickster Charles W. Colson, copped a plea for defaming Daniel Ellsberg and his lawyer, that headline-grabbing story unfolds in the second half of the book."

Looks to be a judicious, even-keeled review, huh?

posted by Gregory| 5/22/2004 07:34:00 PM


Read It and Weep

I spent two years of my life with the International Rescue Committee in the former Yugoslavia.

My main responsibility was to interview refugees and act as their advocates to secure them refugee status in the United States.

During this time, I interviewed hundreds of people who had suffered immensely. Young women raped by Bosnian Serb paramilitaries in Sarajevo, a Bosnian Muslim man who had escaped Srebrenica, another man from the Prijedor area who had lost his mother, father and all of his seven siblings to a massacre.

I would, as best I could, write up these horrors and console myself thinking that these wonderfully resilient human beings would at least have a chance to start anew in the United States--which, of course, appeared a utopian beacon of liberty to these so brutalized individuals.

Which brings me to Abu Ghraib and this very disturbing story in today's Washingon Post.

Go read the article. Take a good look too at the new pictures that haven't yet been aired. Then begin to read over these sworn statements from former Abu Ghraib detainees.

The original documents (in PDF format) are hauntingly real with their grainy quality and ink blotches. The actual sworn statement forms starkly stare back at us in all their routineness and bureaucratic blandness--with information about who translated the document, who verified the translation, who made up the prisoner interrogation team.

For me, as I read over these gut-wrenching sworn statements, my mind flashes back to the reporting forms I used to fill out to chronicle horrors that had taken place in Bosnia. Not, of course, because Bosnian Serb genocidal rampages can be equated with what went on in Abu Ghraib. But simply given the astonishing fact that individuals in U.S. captivity would be filling out reports that, in form at least if not in substance, would so vividly remind me of the forms I used to prove political persecution of refugees back in the mid-90s.

Put differently, never in my wildest imaginings--while working in the Balkans in the mid-90s--did I think that, someday, I might see sworn statements detailing American abuses of the scope and nature of Abu Ghraib.

So perhaps I'm something of a sucker, but even after having followed this Abu Ghraib story for weeks now, I still feel like I was punched in the gut all over again.

To be sure, investigations are underway.

Yes, we are not perfect and never claimed to be.

Yes, we are showing that a democracy polices itself (too slowly, in my view, with worrisome whiffs of too much buck-passing, ass-covering, avoidance of taking real responsibility--as opposed to merely stating that one assumes responsibility-what, finally, does responsibility mean then?).

You know, we are all doubtless very busy. We lead rushed, hurried lives. We likely don't wish to stop and spend a couple hours poring through these gruesome accounts of abuse and torture.

But do go read just this one sworn statment.

Then ask yourself, how did we let this happen?

What, exactly, was the "systems" failure that allowed such grotesqueries to take place--even after ICRC reports had been issued to U.S. military authorities?

How was it that such conduct was not deemed to rise to the level that POTUS was not briefed contemporaneously?

To what extent were such policies, for instance, to blame?

No, dear readers, this is a failure of leadership--not merely the work of a few 'bad apples' on a frat-like hazing frolic that got a tad out of hand.

Not to mention that such abuses and/or tortures almost certainly occurred in locales beyond Abu Ghraib.

The Rummy Angle

Don Rumsfeld has had a fine run in both the public and private sectors for many long years.

I was happy we had such a strong Secretary of Defense in the aftermath of 9/11. Gosh, I remember feeling in downtown New York a few days after the attacks--thank God Gore lost the election! We have a strong national security team at the helm!

But Rumsfeld, like many strong talents, has come undone by his hubris. His aggressive insouciance regarding Geneva Conventions fostered a culture of treating detainees in a manner which was, to use his words, "un-American".

Further, even without seeing the photographs, the textual description of the acts that had taken place merited airing to POTUS immediately. That this didn't happen, to me, indicates that Rummy didn't take all this seriously enough.

Nor has he shown any genuine contrition, in my view, since this scandal has unfolded. No, I don't want to see him lying prostrate in front of varied Arab potentates (who have done much worse, of course, but, on the other hand, aren't telling us what form of government would work best for us in Washington) begging forgiveness. But I want to see more than a 'boost the morale of our troops' (subtext: I, Don Rumsfeld, ain't going anywhere, folks) lap around Abu Ghraib.

But It's Bigger Than Rummy

There are so many other factors at play in all this, of course, far beyond Rummy.

The utter bestiality and shock of the 9/11 attacks have led to a strong undertow of anti-Arab racism too, I suspect. The better to have un-muzzled and well-fed, well-groomed attack dogs glare terrifyingly at haggard, naked Arab males prostrate before the canines in detention centers.

Yes, de-humanization of the enemy occurs in all conflicts. This is the nature of war. But it is harder, I suspect, to imagine that we would have treated Bosnian Serb detainees, for instance, in such a manner (just like we likely treated the Japanese worse than some Germans during WWII).

We must remember, after all, that the 19 hijackers do not represent all Arabs--just like those U.S. soldiers smiling and flashing the thumbs-up over the corpses of Iraq detainees beaten to death don't represent all Americans.

So, should Rummy resign? Yes, he should.

Will he? Probably not.

Does it really matter at this point? I don't know.

Democracy! Whiskey! Sexy!

I guess I was something of a naif.

Many of us have been, I fear, over the past few months.

Remember all the empty cheerleading in the blogosphere of around a year back: "Democracy! Whiskey! Sexy!"?

Democracy has proven elusive.

Sexy has been more West Virginia amateur porn with tinges of snuff thrown in.

And the whiskey was some of us drunk on simplistic nostrums of democracy exportation and chest-thumping triumphalism.

Am I being too harsh?

Yes, likely, a little--I'm angry and disturbed.

And, to this day, I believe we were right to unseat Saddam.

And I still believe we can make the Iraq project work. After all, this effort must be measured in years, not week by week.

So yeah, it is and will remain a long, hard slog. We must soldier on, persevere.

But I think we will require some new policymakers at the helm.

Fresh, vigorous, serious policy re-thinks need to pursued by individuals whose reputations are not(rightly) greatly suffering.

This is critical towards remedying the grevious errors that have been committed in Iraq, both tactically and morally, since Saddam was unseated.

posted by Gregory| 5/21/2004 09:56:00 AM
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