Middle East Roundup
posted by Gregory|
6/28/2003 09:26:00 PM
Pretty positive news coming from the Middle East on the Israeli-Palestinian track this weekend. First, key groups including Jihad Islami and Hamas have signed on to the ceasefire. Palestinian representatives like Saeb Erekat are trying to get smaller factions like the PFLP to make statements that they will also abide by the ceasefire. Meanwhile, Hamas is being described as being at somewhat of a crossroads in this WaPo piece.
Elsewhere, Glenn Kessler helps explain why the Israeli pullout from portions of Gaza is a significant gamble that could lead to more positive developments on roadmap implementation or, alternately, leave the peace process in tatters if the Palestinian Authority can't clamp down on terror operatives if some individuals/factions attempt to violate the ceasefire. On that note, there are some reports that al-Aqsa, PFLP and DFLP are refusing to accept the "hudna". That said, I think these factions will come around in the coming days/hours.
And then there is this Steve Weismann piece from the NYT that, frankly, I greeted with some skepticism. It spoke of an "unusual degree of harmony" across the Administration regarding the direction of Middle East policy. This had always been one of my major concerns about Dubya's approach to Middle East peacemaking.
Let me explain. As much as I have tremendous respect for this President--it is fair to say he is not deeply acquainted with many of the details and subtleties surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian issue. So he needs to rely, to a good degree, on his advisors to provide him with sage policy counsel.
The problem was (is?), however, that he would get Foggy Bottom style (emphasis on retention of U.S. role as "honest broker") advice from Powell one day and go with it. Then, the next day, he would talk to Rummy or Cheney who would likely hammer Arafat as little better (if at all) than UBL and then, the President, perhaps symphatizing more with the Israelis regarding their 'homeland security' issue--would take a more staunchly pro-Israeli position.
Some observers said Powell played to Dubya's "head" and Cheney/Rummy to his "heart", ie. Powell explained how our Israel policy impacted our regional position writ large while a Cheney or Rummy would speak strictly in security terms outlining terror operations and appealing to Dubya's post 9/11 sensitivity to the wanton killing of innocent civilians.
Recall, for instance, when Sharon was making large-scale incursions into West Bank cities like Nablus, Ramallah or Bethlehem. One day Dubya would publically tell him to withdraw without delay in an angry tone. Seemingly the next day Sharon was, famously, a "man of peace." Now, at the end of the day, I don't really have an issue with Dubya's approach as long as he picks a reasonable one and sticks to it.
But, too often, Dubya was careening from one policy posture to another seemingly based on whether he had last gotten off the phone with Dick Cheney or Colin Powell. This confused the key protagonists, other regional players, and our allies. It was not a smart way to organize a coherent approach to Middle East peacemaking. In short, it probably hobbled U.S. peacemaking efforts somewhat at certain junctures.
So I was skeptical when I read Weismann's piece about a newfound harmony pervading Middle East policymaking circles around the President. But, after talking to someone in Washington who follows these issues closely, I became less skeptical. It appears, as Dubya has now put his personal prestige squarely on roadmap implementation coming off successfully, that a message has gone out that the backsniping, carping, leaks, and bureaucratic backstabs need to come to an end (or at least go into abeyance). All the better to maximize efficient policy implementation with a motivated Administration speaking with one coherent voice to the key parties.
This "harmony", of course, could breakdown at any stage. But, for now, we have Condi Rice as Dubya's personal emissary. And she, ostensibly, carries the same messages Powell would if he were out there the week before or after her. This despite the fact that Condi's NSC advisor on the Middle East, Elliot Abrams, is up there with the John Boltons, Scooter Libbys and Doug Feiths on the uber-hawk side of the aisle.
So far, so good. Now let's see if it lasts. But, for now, I think judicious observers have to give Dubya strong marks for his nascent Middle East peacemaking foray since Aqaba.
UPDATE: A ceasefire declaration may be delayed as hudna wording gets battened out.
Alistair versus the Beeb
posted by Gregory|
6/28/2003 09:08:00 AM
The Beeb's coming under heavy pressure from Blair's communications chief Alistair Campbell.
Campbell: "BBC standards are now debased beyond belief. It means the BBC can broadcast anything and take responsibility for nothing."
Here's the NYT's take. And here's the Beeb's.
UPDATE: The Sunday Times (UK) weighs in. Campbell's not getting much support in the UK media.
Constabulatory Duties and the Warrior Ethos
posted by Gregory|
6/27/2003 10:39:00 PM
Back in 2000, I had the opportunity to visit the United States Military Academy at West Point as part of a trip with the Council on Foreign Relations. The visit occurred shortly before the Presidential election. As you might expect, most of the West Pointers were rooting for Bush-Cheney to win. Clinton was widely disliked in the army and few wanted his Veep to win the election. Cadets and professors felt that Gore didn't "get" the issues facing the military but that a Bush-Cheney ticket would.
There were a variety of reasons for this. For one, Republicans have traditionally been viewed as playing a stronger hand on national security matters which renders the military more important in the grand scheme of things. In addition, Clinton had aroused passions and mistrust when, way back in '93, he came charging into Washington pushing the "gays in the military" issue with quite a bit of alacrity. And, let's face it, lots of his young staffers and crowd at the White House didn't pay much heed or deference to army folk in their midst. Further, disheveled, rumpled, professorial types like Defense Secretary Les Aspin didn't generate much trust or respect from the top military brass either. In short, the Clinton-Gore administration was not viewed as a net positive (speaking charitably) for the U.S. military by many serving in the various branches.
There were deeper reasons for this poor cohabitation between the top civilian leadership and the military as well. In times of peace and prosperity--the importance of the military is reduced significantly within the overall society. Fewer resources, time and attention are devoted to it. The rollicky, inward-looking casino-like '90s were such a time. The military got pretty short shrift. It didn't feel loved. Or respected.
But there was another reason for this too. And that brings me to Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo (and back to my West Point trip). When the military did have a job to do in a place like Kosovo or Bosnia--it tended to be gendarmarie, constabulatory-style peacekeeping duties (aside from airforce pilots dropping ordnance).
I can tell you that most enlisted men (and women) don't like this kind of work. It's dreary, repetitive stuff. Protect a Serbian family or two in this village in Kosovo. Make sure this bridge stays open in a certain town. Do some crowd control. Keep polling stations open. Make sure the power generator for this town is up and running and not being sabotaged. And so on.
Not only isn't it much fun, but people I spoke to at West Point, from cadets to commanders, had other concerns about using combat-trained troops for such peacekeeping duties. The undergrad cadets I had lunch with in the huge main mess hall at the university had pretty basic concerns. I was trained to fight, to do combat, to win wars. What's up with this peacekeeping gig?
For more senior folk, there was fear that having combat divisions rotate through a place like Bosnia for more than a year "doing kindergartens" and the like would negatively impact something we might call the warrior ethos. Run-of-the-mill peacekeeping duties, the thinking went, if performed regularly over a long stretch of time, prevent troops from being in tip-top combat-ready condition. Put less euphemistically, they don't kill as well, or so the thinking goes.
No one out and out said this (some expressly denied it)--but you could just tell this was yet another reason that Clinton and gang were resented. Our boys were being sent around doing the kind of work blue helmets should be doing. And because of that, on top of all the other indignities, our army was suffering. Dubya, take 1600 Penn back and save us!
Fast forward a few years. Irony of ironies, the Rummy/Cheney/ crowd who poo-pooed nation-building in the run-up to the election are now finding themselves with, not one, but two mammoth nation-building tasks in Iraq and Afghanistan. And unlike Bosnia or Kosovo--no one can argue these exercises are not in the vital national interest. If we screw this up and leave either country in tatters (especially Iraq)--U.S. credibility will plummet and our stock on the global stage will be low indeed.
Which brings me to this Pete Beinart article in this week's TNR. The main theme? Our combat troops aren't used to the peacekeeping duties they are being asked to perform in Iraq. They weren't trained for them. And it's hot as hell. And they're getting shot at. And they don't understand why the locals aren't always that happy to see them. In a word, they're getting pissed.
Now, I'm not trying to compare, in any way, Dubya's actions to Clinton's vis-a-vis usage of American forces. Dubya has done wonders for reconstituting and reinvigorating the military's morale. Victories in Afghanistan and Iraq have put the Vietnam syndrome definitively to bed. Beyond that, every guy on the ground remembers those towers tumbling with thousands of innocents turning into dust in some huge, horrific crematorium that was lower Manhattan for many months. They know what they are fighting for. They are combatting groups or regimes that have used terror, the pre-planned, purposeful killing of civilians for political ends, as a significant or integral part of their strategic toolkit.
But they deserve better than the role they are being asked to do. The United States must, in my opinion, train several divisions of specialized personnel that would be specifically trained to handle constabulatory duties like guarding various sensitive sites, crowd control, maintaining infrastructure, liasing with local leaders.
Note too, our heavily armored combat personnel with their helmets and various heavy gear must appear like quasi-Martians to Iraqi villagers. Such gulfs between the parties feed fear, mistrust, recriminations, resistance, attacks on our forces. A force better trained to handle peacekeeping duties, even in matters as basic as how they appear, might be better able to defuse much of the difficulties on the ground now stemming from such realities.
And so here's the $64,000 question. If we don't have such constabulatory forces ready, and I don't think we do, might we not ask U.N. forces to assist with some of the peacekeeping duties? Because the other countries we've asked to come on board are pretty much anteing up de minimus contributions that probably, at the end of the day, aren't going to cut it.
Folks, I'm not saying bring in large batches of French and German blue helmets. But I'm wondering, just wondering, if we might need a bit of help here? We are too strong to be worried about displays of humility--about maybe actually needing a spot of help.
Perhaps there is a role for the U.N., beyond humanitarian relief and the like, on the ground in Iraq. A modest peacekeeping forces to supplement our forces in, say, portions of the "Sunni Triangle" might be worth a thought or two. I'm not saying we should be rushing into a greater U.N. role in Iraq. But I am saying such an idea might merit more sustained consideration if the situation on the ground isn't significantly better by, say, the early fall.
Kudos to Nick Kristof
posted by Gregory|
6/27/2003 09:45:00 AM
On his honest op-ed in today's NYT. This is the type of piece, I suspect, that a Paul Krugman couldn't write--he's just too shrill and partisan to follow a story wherever it takes him even if that means giving Bush (or quoting people who give Bush) some credit.
posted by Gregory|
6/27/2003 09:25:00 AM
Dennis Thatcher dead at 88:
"...as he once put it to his wife when she queried his request for a stiff drink on a morning flight to Scotland: "My dear, it is never too early for a gin and tonic."
"He had," said an appreciative lunch guest at Chequers, "a very sharp eye for a refill."
Note: This Guardian obit is not a particularly graceful or friendly one. But Hoggart is right when he writes: "Denis would have been there to the end; Nancy to her Ronald Reagan. It is almost impossible for us to realise how distraught and bereft she now will be."
Strom Thurmond dead at 100. Patrick Belton over at Oxblog has a short, but good, appreciation of Strom.
The New Iraq
posted by Gregory|
6/27/2003 08:29:00 AM
Two unrelated stories on happenings in Iraq give us a window into the astounding complexities at play several months into the U.S. led occupation.
First, Max Rodenbeck in the NYRB:
"Firdaus Square, the Baghdad traffic circle made famous by the telegenic toppling of a Saddam statue, has become a shambolic open-air parliament where pamphleteers and soap-box orators compete for attention. Today, the biggest crowd clusters around a stout, bearded fellow who is shouting that the Americans are infidels. They steal the country's oil while leaving Muslim Iraqis to suffer mile-long queues for gasoline. Someone starts a chant, "Sunni and Shiite are brothers, this country is not for sale!" The crowd takes it up with vigor and much punching of fists. Traffic has already slowed when into the jam plows a convoy of Humvees. The soldiers manning turret-mounted machine guns look increasingly nervous as the vehicles find themselves blocked behind a long line of cars. The protesters now have a focus for their anger, and the shouting redoubles. I am beginning to calculate the fastest way to get out of range.
But suddenly there is a sound at a different pitch, a shrill cry from the back of a Humvee. "C'mon guys, let's move it along here!" Heads swivel, and hundreds of eyes seek the source of this recognizably female voice. She is, by some freak of fate, the closest thing in the US Army to Marilyn Monroe, fresh-faced, with blond curls tumbling from an oversized Kevlar helmet. A hush passes through the crowd, followed by a spontaneous, deep-throated roar of approval worthy of the corniest of Italian movies. The soldier, unable to contain a huge and even prettier smile, gives an apologetic wave of her assault rifle, and then the traffic suddenly eases and the convoy speeds off."
And this WaPo article:
"The popular anger and frustration are being exacerbated by rumors sweeping the city that occupation authorities cut off services to punish Iraqis for the recent attacks on U.S. troops.
U.S. officials have repeatedly tried to explain the reasons behind their difficulties restarting power, including decaying facilities and sabotage, but most Iraqis are unaware of their pronouncements. Without electricity, they cannot watch television, and there is no widely circulated Arabic-language newspaper that reflects the U.S. point of view.
"Rumor has become a fifth column for the Americans," said Sabih Azzawi, who led protests against a U.S. decision, later reversed, to disband the Iraqi military. "Rumors are very dangerous when the situation is so unsettled." Azzawi said Hussein's supporters were behind the anti-American rumors."
Khamer Fakri Qaedhi, a truck driver who described himself as a vociferous critic of Hussein in the days after his fall, said a printed death threat was thrown into his home this week -- one of a number received by city residents.
"The Supreme Council of the Return Party legally will kill you," the note said. "We will chop off your rotten head and put it on the tanks of your American cousins and feed your body to the dogs." The note was signed by "The Supreme Council for the Black Flags Group."
C'est La Paix!
posted by Gregory|
6/27/2003 07:16:00 AM
Our man in Paris says all is now well. And here's the original piece in Le Figaro.
Richard Falk on Humanitarian Intervention Strategy
posted by Gregory|
6/26/2003 10:52:00 PM
Here's a dumb idea:
"As long as US foreign policy is run from a Bush White House, the best chance for humanitarian intervention to fulfill its potential is for the US government to get out of the way, as it has seemed to be doing in relation to the genocidal events in Congo, allowing France to take the major responsibility."
Baathists' Blundering "Guerrilla War"
posted by Gregory|
6/26/2003 05:08:00 PM
Read about it here. This piece is very heavy on the military analysis, ie. it doesn't ask at what price victory will occur in the so-called Sunni Triangle in terms of alienated locals if punitive actions are needed over a protracted period.
The WMD Debate
posted by Gregory|
6/26/2003 09:15:00 AM
Because of the huge importance of the WMD hunt, especially for people like me who supported going to war on those grounds, I'm going to write a bit more about this today. First, however, I'd like to give people a pretty comprehensive series of links regarding this issue (so there will be not be links in my analysis below, refer back up to these).
On the 'the administration either flat-out lied or greatly exaggerated/embellished the existence of WMD' side of the aisle you need to read this John Judis/Spence Ackerman article in TNR; Josh Marshall here, here and here; and this NYT piece.
On the, 'I'm concerned there may have been some moderate exaggerating/hyping going on in some quarters of the Administration but nothing I've heard to date proves wide-spread deception on the WMD issue' see David Adesnik, Andrew Sullivan and Belgravia Dispatch a few days back. Take a look also at this Weekly Standard piece that attempts to refute the Judis piece.
Also look at this breaking story on Iraq's nuclear program here and on alleged biolabs here. TPM has some reaction on the breaking nuclear program story too. And here is the latest state of play regarding how Dems are handling the issue on the Hill.
O.K., so that's a lot to read. But let's start with the Judis piece as it served to inaugurate the high-brow hunting season on top Administration officials and their handling of the WMD issue in the advent to war. First off, I'm not going to address the verisimilitude of the whole question of whether the Baathist regime had links to al-Qaeda simply because that wasn't why I supported the war. In fact, like others, I got frustrated when the Administration would trot out that argument because I thought that served to distract from the real threat, WMD, which might later be transferred to a terror group.
That leaves the nuclear issue and the chem/bio issue. On the former, the evidence that administration figures like the Veep may have trumped up the nuclear threat is pretty strong. For instance, given that the Iraqi nuclear program appears to have made no significant progress post-1991, Cheney's comment on August 26th 2002 that a Saddam "armed with an arsenal of these weapons of terror" who could "directly threaten America's friends throughout the region and subject the U.S. or any other nation to nuclear blackmail" appears a bit hyperbolic.
And yet. Today we hear that Saddam had not disclosed aspects of his nuclear program. Top scientist and former head of Iraq's uranium enrichment program Mahdi Obeidi turned over to U.S. officials several components of a gas centrifuge, a device used to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons, along with design plans for the machines. One of Saddam's sons had ordered him to bury this under his yard.
Sure, as Josh Marshall points out, this happened before 1991. And, as Marshall points out, the Iraqis didn't rush to restart the program when the UNSCOM inspectors pulled out in 1998. But Saddam certainly didn't mention it in his report to the U.N. that was supposed to be a full and complete "coming clean" per Resolution 1441.
That's "material breach" right there folks. Saddam was keeping his options open. I'll hold on to this stuff so I've got the option to restart my nuclear program down the road. And I won't tell the international community about it. That's deception pure and simple.
Now, this doesn't excuse hyping the aluminum tube intelligence from the spring of 2002. Here's how Judis sees it. Intelligence came out during that time that Iraq was trying to get its hands on a kind of "high-strength aluminum tube." Analysts, plausibly as even Judis concedes, thought that perhaps "those tubes were intended to enrich uranium for a nuclear weapons through the kind of gas centrifuge project Iraq had built before the first Gulf War."
But Judis then, from sources at State's INR and the Department of Energy, claims that the thickness and "particular diameter" of those specific tubes made them a "poor fit" for uranium enrichement. The story, as Judis sees it, is that the "people [who] really know the science and technology of enriching uranium" thought these tubes were "far better suited for artillery rockets."
But the CIA and Defense disagreed with this assessment. Judis has them, in irrational manner, clinging "tenaciously" to the view that the tubes were intended for reactivation of the nuclear program. And, apparently, no "competent, impartial technical" committee umpired the differing analyses as is supposedly standard operating procedure.
But the CIA's analysis was like that of the Pentagon's--not State's INR or DOE. And the CIA is the lead governmental agency tasked with interpreting such information. If you believe Judis, that doesn't carry any weight, because Tenet and Co. got cowed by Dick Cheney and the like peering over their shoulders at Langley. But systemic distortion of C.I.A. Iraq intelligence has not been proven--it remains conjecture despite Judis' article. The bottom line on all this is that we just don't know which version of the analysis of the intelligence was correct and which wasn't--to the extent this was (or is) even knowable in some definitive way.
Judis tries to bolster the State INR/DOE analysis with discussion of Jacques Baute's teams work. Baute headed up the IAEA's Iraq inspections unit and said team also conducted a comprehensive review of the aluminum tube issue. They concluded, according to an unnamed IAEA official, that "all evidence point to that this is for the rockets." Fine, another view. But still not determinative. And still contra Langley and DOD's analysis.
You might say that when senior administration officials went on T.V. and stated that they believed Iraq had "reconsituted nuclear weapons" they should be reprimanded to the extent they hadn't received intelligence that warranted such a comment. But, as the Weekly Standard article points out, this statement was likely an error. What was likely meant was "reconstituted nuclear program." This doesn't excuse the comment. But it's a plausible interpretation. And regardless, to say that any fear that the aluminum tubes might be used, in some way, towards helping along Iraq's nuclear program is not judicious.
It also means, if you follow this to its logical end, that people like Judis or Marshall appear comfortable writing articles that all but beg the conclusion that Administration figures like George Tenet and Colin Powell (as he discussed the aluminum tube claims before the UNSC) are liars or otherwise purposefully misled the international community. I'm not willing to go that far. It is well possible that smart, honest people could be engaged in real and legitimate debates regarding this intelligence and come off on different sides regarding whether it was likely to be used for rockets or to reconstitute a nuclear program.
For the record, that's not the case on the Niger/uranium story. That was crap "intelligence"--and didn't merit the light of day. As Dave Adesnik has written--someone should be potentially reprimanded on that. Such dubious information should not be peddled to the American people by any Adminstration.
On the chem/bio front--neither Judis nor any other intelligent Administration critics are arguing that intelligence was hyped as much as the nuclear angle by senior Administration figures. And as Ken Pollack writes:
"The fact that the sites we suspected of containing hidden weapons before the war turned out to have nothing in them is not very significant. American intelligence agencies never claimed to know exactly where or how the Iraqis were hiding what they had — not in 1995, not in 1999 and not six months ago. It is very possible that the "missing" facilities, weaponized agents, precursor materials and even stored munitions all could still be hidden in places we never would have thought to look."
So it's too early to tell what Saddam's capacities on the chem/bio front were. In my mind, this was the key reason to go to war. Saddam, inspired by the huge damage done to the U.S. on 9/11, might have helped contribute to such asymetrical warfare going forward. I was simply not willing to take the risk that he might transfer to some third party anthrax or nerve gas for a terror attack in a major U.S. city (or conduct one through his own intelligence operatives).
Andrew Sullivan makes the point, in defending the Administration on this whole WMD issue, that post 9/11 the preemptive doctrine means that the U.S. (and ostensibly other nation-states?) don't necessarily need air-tight evidence before attacking a prospective foe, ie. the burden is on the party denying they "pose a threat" to international stability. To which Josh Marshall responds, all well and fine, but then why didn't the Adminstration simply say, hey, I'm not sure what Saddam has, but we believe he's got this, and this is why we're going to war. Why all the hype, in other words?
But as I've discussed today, the nuclear issue with the aluminum tubes etc. cannot be definitively viewed as out and out Administration hyperbole with no foundation in legitimacy. And the jury is still out on Saddam's chemical and biological capability. In addition, as today's WaPo story on the buried nuclear technology makes clear, Saddam was still playing hide and seek with parts of his WMD program post-Resolution 1441.
Material breach is not in question. This war was fought on legitimate grounds.
That said, I say, let's have a full Congressional investigation rather than attempt to have a Republican-controlled Congress prevent one. Why make it look like we have something to hide? Clear the air. I think the Administration, by and large, will be vindicated.
But amidst all this controversy and the coming Presidential election; let's keep our eye on the ball on the post-war scene which, like Afghanistan, merits very real, sustained, intelligent attention. And for a long time.
This is where history's verdict will ultimately be delivered on the merits of the Iraq war. Did we, after rightly confronting a threat post by WMD programs in the hands of a reckless leader, keep our pledge to create a viable, democratic, Iraqi polity? Or did we give it a quick go in a half-assed way and then cut out before the job was done leaving behind a resentful region and battered American credibility? My bet is still on the former outcome.
The Apogee of Free-Riding
posted by Gregory|
6/25/2003 07:31:00 PM
Wonderful line from Dominique de Villepin's speech to the UNSC today:
"La présence militaire américaine et britannique dans la région appuie notre volonté collective. Chacun reconnaît l'efficacité de cette pression de la communauté internationale. Nous devons l'utiliser pour aller jusqu'au bout de notre objectif de désarmement par les inspections. L'Union européenne l'a rappelé : ces inspections n'ont pas vocation à se prolonger indéfiniment. Il faut accélérer le mouvement."
Translation for you non-Francophones: "The American and British military presence in the region reinforces our collective will [ed. note. pull out the Rousseau!]. Everyone recognizes the efficacy of this pressure from the international community. We need to use it to the end of our objective of disarmament through inspections. The European Union has reminded us: these inspections are not to last indefinitely. We must accelarate their movement."
How breathtakingly hypocritical! The U.S. and British forces, a good 250,000 of them, are in the region representing the collective will of the international community--including France and Germany, of course. But it is precisely the French that are reducing the efficacy of the troop deployment as a means to pressure Saddam since the French give the Iraqi leader hope that severe international dislocations (the tensions in NATO, at the UN, in trans-atlantic relations, etc) will stave off a conflict. It is the French that are the pivotal actor in preventing a "collective will" from materializng so that Saddam might, one could always hope against hope, feel so immensely pressured that he just might actually flee or crack.
But there's more. "We need to use it to the end of our objective of disarmament through inspections." [my emphasis] What is "it", I ask you? In de Villepin's purposefully opaque reasoning, it's the "pressure of the international community." But his previous sentence acknowledges that said pressure (the collective will again), essentially, results directly from the presence of U.S. and U.K. troops arrayed on the Arabian peninsula.
Ah, so the U.S. and U.K. will pay for their troops to languish in the desert through the summer, as Blix comes around for (another Villepin idea) status reports at the UNSC every three weeks. All bunched up in Kuwait too, just in case al-Qaeda or Saddam want to strike at them while they are based there waiting for Paris to be persuaded that inspections can't work?
And these troops, really, represent France's (as France, of course, is really undergirding the reasoned collective will of the international community) stolid will to bring Saddam to task.
Even for the Quai D'Orsay, methinks this was a rich performance. And can you say free-riding par excellence? Incroyable, mais vrai.
UPDATE: Elaine Sciolino has an update on Dom here. Like Jacques, of course, he "loves" America.
The Pakistan Angle
posted by Gregory|
6/25/2003 09:55:00 AM
Within 48 hours after 9/11 most foreign policy watchers immediately realized that denying al-Qaeda sanctuary in Afghanistan was either going to be a) pretty tough but doable within a short time-frame or b) very tough (though still ultimately doable) and take much longer. It all hinged on Pakistan (and so Musharraf). So when Powell had his "general to general" talk with Musharraf and explained to him, quite directly, that basically the American people wouldn't understand if Pakistan didn't assist the U.S. and ditch its erstwhile Taliban allies--I and many others breathed a big sigh of relief that we had a figure of considerable gravitas at Foggy Bottom relaying to Pakistan what the U.S., at a time of crisis, needed.
And, by and large, Musharraf delivered. He let us base troops in his country, made sure his intelligence services ("ISI") were depopulated of the worst Jihadi sympathizers, shared crucial intelligence with his American counterparts, bit his lip and watched as heretefore enemies like the Northern League swooped into Kabul.
All this to say, we owe Pervez Musharraf big. He was there for the U.S. at her time of greatest need. So I'm happy that the Camp David summit went well and that he received the honor of being the first South Asian leader invited there (though he didn't get the coveted ranch treatment!)
That said, this shouldn't win him a perma-honeymoon with the U.S. As Frank Wisner points out (see two posts below), there is a bit of Pakistani meddling going on in Afghanistan (along with Russian and Iranian encroachments) that is unhelpful to the stability of the Karzai government. Added to this, the quasi-anarchic Northwest Frontier Province appears to be becoming something of a post-Kandahar Talib zone.
Less talked about, I've seen additional rumors floating about on Pakistan as nuclear proliferator--and I'm not talking about NoKo but Iran. Moshe Arens has recently alluded to this possibility in Haaretz (link no longer available). And take a look at this Carnegie report that also alludes to possible cooperation between Islamabad and Teheran on matters nuclear (as a means of mutually reassuring each other of their strategic posture--ironically despite Persian feelings of superiority vis-a-vis Pakistan also acting as a contributing factor spurring Teheran's nuclear appetite).
I point all this out not because I think we are giving the Pakistanis a free pass. More than just about any other leader on the world stage since 9/11--Pervez Musharraf has been walking a perilous tightrope. Anyone who has been to the teeming quasi-anarchic cities of Peshawar or Karachi knows what the Pakistani leader is up against in terms of a chaotic society. And Kashmir continues to pull emotive heartstrings throughout broad socioeconomic swaths of Pakistani society.
A digression. In October of 2001 I was on business in Dubai. The wife of a Pakistani lawyer was hosting a b-que style dinner. I had just flown in from NYC and 9/11 was pretty fresh on everyone's minds. At a moment alone around the grill, she said: "I hope the American people realize that the attacks of September 11th were meant against the U.S. government and not the American people"? I responded, as diplomatically as I could: "I think the American people what have understood that better if, say, the terrorists had just attacked the Pentagon but not a civilian target like the WTC as well." She paused, looked at me and said, incredibly, "Maybe they should have attacked the WTC on a weekend when there would have been fewer people there." I almost dropped my drink, but basically moved the topic along to less contentious topics.
Why do I relay all this? Because this woman represented a part of Pakistani society that is about as elite as it comes. And this helps give us a sense, when Musharraf is mocked as "Busharraf" around Pakistan, that it's not just in the slums of Peshawar that he is viewed as being way too close to the U.S.
Deep down Musharraf is a Pakistani patriot, however, not a U.S. quisling. But he realizes that to have contravened the U.S. in her time of need would have been suicidal for Pakistan. Put differently, he ultimately acted in the interests of Pakistan--not the U.S.--as, of course, he well should. But let's not delude ourselves that he was doing the U.S. any favors. It was all realpolitik calculation.
So what's my point in all this? Let's give Musharraf his due, but let's be sure to remember that his agenda will ultimately remain separate from ours in places like India, Afghanistan and Iran. And, when we get too caught up in such "marriages of convenience" we need to remember that other countries are looking over our shoulder and taking notes.
For instance, we make a big fuss about nuclear proliferation and are seemingly hell-bent on keeping Iran and NoKo from obtaining said weapons. At the same time, however, we are best of friends with Pakistan--a country that not only went nuclear in contravention of Washington's wishes but may actually be helping NoKo (despite the fervent denials) and maybe even Iran with their own nuclear programs.
If a country's foreign policy starts looking too ad hoc and hypocritical--other nations-states start to take notice. I hope Richard Haas' replacement at State's Policy Planning bureau will give such issues some thought.
CATO versus AEI
posted by Gregory|
6/25/2003 09:31:00 AM
Criticism of the neo-cons from the libertarian right.
"Pivotal Moment" in Afghanistan
posted by Gregory|
6/24/2003 10:13:00 PM
When a veteran diplomat of Frank Wisner's stature issues a warning like this we should all take notice.
"I want to be careful to say that, as I said in presenting the report in the first place, we're at a pivotal moment. We have to put the proper resources and attention behind this effort and sustain it. If we do not, we face a real setback. I hold to that conclusion. Maybe there are a few good auguries here or there: a road is making some progress. But there are also many very unpleasant signs: a slowdown in the political process to permit elections and discouraged non-governmental organizations, some of which, in carrying out vital relief missions, have [staffers who have] lost their lives in the pursuit of their missions.
I think of it in strategic terms: this is a pivotal point. The Karzai government has to make itself credible, the warlords have to take a step back, disarmament has to take place, the writ of the government has to be extended, [formation of] an Afghan National Army has to be accelerated, the international community, particularly the regional powers, has to come around and give real support to allow Karzai to succeed. And finally, the money's got to be available: $15 billion over five years."
Here's the text of the report he co-chaired.
I urge you to read it as it shows well the limitations of our efforts in Afghanistan to date. We need to devote more financial resources, train more military, keep outside interlopers at bay with more alacrity, and much more if we hope to leave a viable nation state in place that will not relapse into a (quasi-)failed state that allows terrorists, drug traders, and other sources of instability to take root. Put simply, we need to show the world we don't just talk the talk on nation-building in countries we occupy but walk the walk. Otherwise our "victories" in Afghanistan and Iraq will prove very Phyrric indeed.
Note: Other, shall we say, knowledgeable sources have concerns too.
Violence in Iraq
posted by Gregory|
6/24/2003 04:45:00 PM
Tragically, six Brits were killed in Iraq north of Basra. Obviously, as this article points out, it happened in an area outside the "Sunni Triangle." It would be even more unfortunate if the killers were Shi'a.
On another topic, note the second piece makes mention of Syria's total silence on the issue of its soldiers injured in exchanges with U.S. forces in "hot pursuit" of Iraqi regime targets. And no mention in any of the press, T.V. etc.
Put differently, the only people who will have heard of the incident in Syria are elites in cities like Aleppo and Damascus with satellite dishes, Western friends, and the like. It appears Bashar doesn't want one incident to get a life of its own.
Lelyveld Loosens the Leash
posted by Gregory|
6/24/2003 08:05:00 AM
Krugman is touting Judis' "magisterial" TNR piece breathlessly (the B.D. had discussed it earlier on 6/20; no link as many permalinks down, yes I plan to join the exodus to MT too, but not for a little while yet); meanwhile Nick Kristof gives Paul a run for his money on the hyperbole front.
Best line from Nick Kristof's piece: "Women did relatively well under Saddam Hussein (when they weren't being tortured or executed, penalties that the regime applied on an equal opportunity basis)." Good one.
But seriously, Kristof makes some points that are worth considering. One profound question he raises (which has been getting kicked around for years now) is what to do when a democratic polity votes in, say, an Islamist party intent on creating a theocratic government. In other words, one man, one vote, one time. Does that election become illegitimate? (This had been kicked around a bit in policy circles in relation to places like Algeria).
Also, just like we shouldn't be rushing across borders in the neighborhood we should be keeping raids of senior Shi'a clerics to a minimum too. Not the way to win hearts and minds.
But, as with the WMD, my real disappointment after reading columns like these comes down to: guys, can't you give everyone a bit more time?
For instance, take a look at this Kristof phrase: ..."I'm getting the impression that America fought Saddam, and the Islamic fundamentalists won."
Oh c'mon. What would Kristof have been writing about Berlin or Tokyo not even three months after WWII? The Commies are taking over Western Germany! Economic meltdown in the Rhineland! Losing the peace from the Baltics to the Balkans! And so on.
Hamas Ceasefire Watch
posted by Gregory|
6/24/2003 07:35:00 AM
Looks like the Hamas ceasefire might come off. Interestingly, Marwan Barghouti has been playing an important role in brokering it from jail.
Meanwhile, particularly as it appears Saddam and sons were not in this convoy, I hope we minimize "hot pursuits" onto Syrian territory especially when such operations result in Syrian Army casualties. I'll have more on any Syrian and/or Arab reaction soon.
Oh, and what might Account 98 funds, Saudi charity and Citigroup have in common? Read about it here.
More Claptrap at the Guardian
posted by Gregory|
6/23/2003 08:58:00 PM
This time an insufferably long op-ed delivered in 'deep-think' mode (but uber-poseur in style) with sprinklings of hurt, betrayal, fear--all buttressed by an almost oppressively pervasive solipsism. In a word, a bit West End, a bit playwright-y, a bit Guardian-ish, no?
A representative graf:
"It is difficult, therefore, for someone of my temperament to accept that my own feelings about politicians have become worse than irrelevant. They have become worthless. Why? Because local politicians are, definitively, no longer speaking to me. The important dialogue in Britain is no longer carried on between the governors and the governed, but is maintained in another direction entirely: neither up nor down, but east-west, between the colony and the imperial capital. The charge has been made - as though it were the most damning possible - that Britain and America decided to annexe Iraq and then afterwards search for any random justification, however implausible, which they could find to decorate their intentions. (Paul Wolfowitz's own words plainly bear that meaning, and Clare Short is telling us the same). But far more troubling, at least to those of us who imagine that some sort of national conversation still goes on, is the knowledge that it is now impossible to imagine any American foreign policy, however irrational, however dangerous, however illegal, with which our present prime minister would not declare himself publicly delighted and thrilled. These are, it is clear, frightening times. A revolutionary doctrine of the pre-emptive strike has been introduced into international relations, but its use is to be the privilege of one country alone, on no other grounds than that this particular country is so powerful as to be beyond sanction. The UN, which was established, in Samantha Power's words, "specifically to end the days of military intervention dressed up as humanitarianism", has been pushed brutally to the side."
Let's take a peek at some of the arguments contained in this piece:
1) Blair is Bush's poodle and the U.K. but a servile colony. Can't we expect more sophisticated arguments from the opinion pages of leading U.K. papers? Or do we have to hear the same uncorroborated idiocies trotted out day after dreary day? I'm so weary, aren't you?
And boy, there were lots of poodles then. They were galivanting about Lisbon, Rome, Madrid, Warsaw, Bucharest, Canberra, Tokyo, Seoul, Tashkent, Tblisi, Sophia and points beyond. What a bunch of spineless cowards--all of them. And how noble say, Gerard Schroder, a man well above acts of political convenience, he.
2) Wolfy again--we had no reason to go to war! WMD? Just a rationale cooked up for bureaucratic convenience, nothing more. But a judicious reading of the Sam Tanenhaus interview that I think Hare is referring to doesn't bear him out. Wolfowitz still specifically delineated three (really four) reasons why we went to war in Iraq. Hardly boots on the ground, tame the natives, grab the oil, annex, and we'll all figure out the rationale later at the U.S.-U.K. Officer's Club over a couple single malts and a back-slapping jolly good time.
3) Ah, "frightening times." The Toxic Texan brought the international system down. Top Gun swagger coming to Teheran, Damascus, NoKo, god knows where else. Run for cover, quick.
And anyway, better when war criminals stalk the planet and keep "order", right?
And Hare should be very careful quoting Samantha Power in this context (buy her excellent book by the way). Samantha Power's formative experience was the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina. What she witnessed there was the inefficacy of the international community, and especially the U.N., in staving off genocidal actions. Most dramatically, the fall of Srebrenica put the lie to the U.N.'s promise that it would remain a "safe area" for Bosniak Muslims. I'd wager, if, say, a Chinese or Russian veto were all that lay between sending NATO forces to stem carnage in a place like Bosnia or thousands of victims dying instead--Samantha Power would well support a military intervention without U.N. authorization--contra Hare's emotive musings.
All this brings to mind Power's quoting of a Bob Dole spoof in the Congressional Record, the game of "multilateral make-believe":
"In order to believe that the United States approach in Bosnia is working, one simply has to play a game I call "let's pretend." The rules are simple. It goes like this:
Pretend that the U.N. forces are delivering humanitarian aid to those in need; Pretend that the U.N. forces control Sarajevo airport; Pretend that the U.N. forces are protecting safe havens such as Sarajevo and Srebrenica and that no Bosnians are dying from artillery assaults and shelling; Pretend that there is a credible threat of serious NATO air strikes...."
This is Hare's world. A pretend world. He pretends Blair is Bush's poodle when he's really not. He pretends the world is scarier now even though it's safer. He pretends we had no valid reasons to go to war even though Saddam's regime was in violation, not only of 1441, but a gamut of post Gulf-War I armistice arrangements. And all this pretending in one paragraph of an adolescent whine in the Guardian.
posted by Gregory|
6/23/2003 01:27:00 PM
To one William A. Cook, Professor of English at the University of La Verne in southern California (no, I haven't heard of this "university" either):
"...we hear stories, even after three months in occupation, of Americans kidnapping and raping Iraqi women, the beginning perhaps of the occupier's attitude about the inferior status of the oppressed; we hear our beloved leaders decry the wily behavior of the oppressed who should be welcoming our presence, who proclaim our beneficence to those whom we have just bombed into submission; we watch in disbelief the Iraqi people, whose children are crippled because they picked up our cluster bombs thinking them toys, whose hospitals, museums, and libraries have been destroyed, whose natural resources have become the new found wealth of the western oil companies, yea, we watch them condemn us as invaders and despoilers, the newest nation to attempt to colonize their country. We have become the new Israel in the mid-east and we will suffer the same fate not only in Iraq, but also in all the haunts that we inhabit around the world, and here at home."
Note his approving quotation of NYT man Chris Hedges! Seems to have gotten his blood racing a bit...
UPDATE: Forget/not know what the Vidal award is all about? By way of explanation click here and here.
ANOTHER UPDATE: Reader PP from, you guessed it, La Verne, California writes in:
"You will notice that my work email contains the name La Verne, which is the city I work for. The University used to be a college for the training of teachers, founded by the Brethren Church (An off shoot of the Amish). Actually, the formerly very conservative denomination is now rather "progressive." I have never heard of this Professor Cook. This is a small town so I'll ask around. Come to think of it, one of our Public Works people teaches management classes at the University. I'll ask her."
Lemme know what you hear!
posted by Gregory|
6/23/2003 10:04:00 AM
Paul Bremer sure has his hands full.
"Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the senior religious figure of Iraq's Shiite Muslim majority and the community's most influential voice, has expressed "great unease" about the 10-week-old U.S. occupation and demanded that the United States allow Iraqis to rule themselves."
Remember Sistani may be the key moderate Shi'a cleric in helping the U.S. achieve critical goals regarding the future of the Iraqi polity. Why? Because of his seniority and because he doesn't want to establish a theocracy:
"In a move welcomed by U.S. authorities, and in clear distinction with the Islamic government in neighboring Iran, he instructed Iraq's clergy to remain outside of government. That counsel was grounded in Sistani's theological view, a traditional line of thought that sees the clergy's calling as confined to spiritual affairs, not administrative. While other clerics in Iraq have spoken openly about political ambitions, Sistani has made clear that he seeks no role in a future government.
"Religious scholars should distance themselves from positions of administrative and executive responsibility," said Sistani, who wears a black turban that, among Shiites, denotes descent from the family of the prophet Muhammad."
For more on the crucial Shi'a angle go here.
The Three Remaining Aces
posted by Gregory|
6/23/2003 09:44:00 AM
No one knows if Saddam and his two sons were in this convoy. But this WaPo piece is worth reading regardless.
Some intriguing grafs:
"The Observer, a British newspaper, reported yesterday that the airstrike last week was carried out after U.S. officials intercepted a satellite telephone conversation in which either Hussein or his sons were overheard. The newspaper said the strike occurred near the border town of Qaim, site of earlier battles as some Iraqis fled toward Syria.
A Bush administration official said last night, however, that U.S. forces followed the convoy into Syrian territory and attacked it there. The Americans, the official said on condition of anonymity, were "in hot pursuit and wound up crossing the Syrian border."
Here's the Observer (ie, Guardian's) story.
The Forgotten Places
posted by Gregory|
6/23/2003 09:39:00 AM
The horrors of the Congo.
posted by Gregory|
6/22/2003 12:20:00 PM
The op-ed pages may have sobered up a bit under Lelyveld, but check out this ominously titled piece from Iraq.
Patrick Tyler managed to find a university professor who plans to move out of Iraq this coming fall because he "does not want to live in fear of Saddam"!
Later in the piece, Tyler turns up a fellow who tells him: "We need Saddam Hussein with his iron fist."
Then again, Tyler appears to be making a bit of a specialty of finding Iraqis who miss Saddam.
Roadmap Implementation Watch
posted by Gregory|
6/22/2003 09:50:00 AM
Was this Hamas leader a "ticking bomb"? Was there an attempt to apprehend him or was he shot immediately as Palestinian witnesses claim? How do these actions square with this reported deal? Will there be more such actions forthcoming (perhaps likely given a seemingly expansive definintion of ticking bombs)?
Is there somewhat of a schism developing within Hamas between (relatively speaking) pragmatists and maximalists? Is a ceasefire deal still possible?
Meanwhile, will Condi arrive in the region shortly to help push through this bridging proposal? And will she be able to announce this deal on behalf of Dubya?
We all know what might scuttle that. A suicide bombing with a significant number of civilian fatalities. Hamas would say it was only retaliating for the latest killing of one of their leaders. The Israelis would say that he was a ticking bomb and, regardless, was culpable for the blood of scores of Israelis. Further, they would argue, our targetted attacks (especially one like this one that didn't cause collateral damage) are totally unlike their indiscriminate killing of civilians.
But the end effect would be the same except that, rather than Powell (or Mitchell, or Zinni, or Burns or Ross) it would be Condi who would head back home empty handed. Let's hope against hope that there is a minimum of violence this week so as to keep this nascent roadmap implementation project alive. If an IDF withdrawal from Bethlehem and Gaza takes place, and Dahlan and Mazen have their act together enough to really control the area, then the long march towards rebuilding a modicum of Oslo-era like confidence between the parties would take a good nudge forward.
Make no mistake--the hatred, mistrust and disdain between the parties has rarely been this high. But majorities in both Israel and the Occupied Territories still want this process to succeed. And the U.S. is the only party with the power, institutional background born of decades of peacemaking efforts, and "honest broker" status to get a deal done. So far, Bush is playing his foray into Middle East peacemaking well. He, appropriately, headed out personally to Aqaba to inaugurate the process. But rather than cheapen the Presidential coin (as Clinton did during the near all-nighters at places like Sheperdstown and Camp David) he is instead holding it in reserve for moments of real crisis (believe it or not, no events since Aqaba have reached that threshold).
At the same time, however, he is sending out very heavy-hitters (Colin and Condi, the heaviest really, aside from the Veep and possibly Rummy) to keep the process moving. Note too that, rather than have a special envoy rotating through the region, the closest thing to such an envoy ( John Wolf) appears more or less ensconced in the region keeping a laser-like focus on the parties roadmap compliance and likely backing up U.S. Ambassador Dan Kurtzer who, after all, has other aspects of the bilateral relationship to deal with. The special envoys who come through (Colin and Condi) are known to both parties to be either (in the case of Condi) a direct channel to the President and as close to the Oval Office as one can be or (in the case of Colin) a man of global reputation who enjoys immense standing in his own country too and cannot be bullshited to easily.
All this to say, Bush has played this smart so far. But the process is fraught with perils daily and far from assured of success--even if this mini-deal on Gaza/Bethlehem comes off. Best to remain cautiously optimistic but keep expectations low. After all, it's nice to be surprised once in a while.
UPDATE: A NYRB piece about the "security fence."
The Jacques and Bernadette Show
posted by Gregory|
6/21/2003 09:45:00 PM
Who knew they had such positively gargantuan appetites?
"JACQUES CHIRAC, France's president, is clearly not a man who worries too much about the price of vegetables. This month an investigating magistrate in Paris announced an inquiry into how Mr Chirac and his wife managed to spend over euro2.1m on groceries from 1987-95, during his long spell as mayor of Paris before he became head of state. Newspapers calculate that he and his wife Bernadette munched up fruit and vegetables worth up to euro150 ($177) a day, despite having an entirely separate budget for entertainment. Auditors think something smells a bit off. They say that in several instances receipts have plainly been falsified. In one case, a bill of FFr5,000 (then worth $1,000) for foie gras is said to have been doctored by someone to FFr15,000, by adding the figure one at a later date."
Developing, as we say in the biz.
Democracy, Whiskey, Sexy
posted by Gregory|
6/21/2003 08:43:00 PM
Ode to New York
posted by Gregory|
6/21/2003 06:15:00 PM
I just re-read E.B. White's classic essay "Here is New York." Written in 1949, it is perhaps the best love letter to NYC ever penned. I hadn't read it since 9/11, and so on this read I noticed some amazingly prophetic passages that bear quoting here:
"The subtlest change in New York is something people don't speak much about but that is in everyone's mind. The city, for the first time in its long history, is destructible. A single flight of planes no bigger than a wedge of geese can quickly end this island fantasy, burn the towers, crumble the bridges, turn the underground passages into lethal chambers, cremate the millions. The intimation of mortality is part of New York now: in the sounds of jets overhead, in the black headlines of the latest edition."
"This race--this race between the destroying planes and the struggling Parliament of Man--it sticks in all our heads. The city at last perfectly illustrates both the universal dilemma and the general solution, this riddle in steel and stone is at once the perfect target and the perfect demonstration of nonviolence, of racial brotherhood, this lofty target scraping the skies and meeting the destroying planes halfway home of all people and all nations, capital of everything, housing the deliberations by which the planes are to be stayed and their errand forestalled."
Remarkable that E.B. White used planes as the metaphor for how easily Manhattan could be destroyed given its immense concentration of humanity bunched together vulnerably on a small island.
A few days after 9/11, a remarkable exhibit opened up in Soho on Prince St. entitled "Here is New York--A Democracy of Photographs." Photographers from throughout the city, from all racial and societal stations, submitted their "reflections" in the form of their pictures. Anyone could submit a picture to the exhibit as long as the picture related to 9/11 in some broad way. And the gallery would hang it up. Lines of people waited to get in. And left, I trust, feeling stronger and more composed.
Why? I know better now after reading again E.B. White's piece.
Because even though the planes hadn't been met halfway, this small demonstration of White's ultimate symbols of NYC, namely nonviolence and racial brotherhoood (despite the painful ups and downs) marched on. We were not to be rendered barbaric by barbarism.
Instead of vicious, revanchist race killings through Arab-American neighborhoods, for instance, there were peaceful (if emotional) debates or forums for collective reflection such as that presented by this exhibit.
The struggling "Parliament of Man" lived on.
The Shi'a of Iraq
posted by Gregory|
6/21/2003 01:09:00 PM
Here's a good piece on the Shi'a in Iraq. It helps explain why the Iranian model might not be tempting to Iraq's Shia community. It also suggests that the U.S. aplogize in public to the Shi'a for not having come to their defense in 1991.
While a bit light on the prescriptive side (we all know we want to work with the moderate clerics and isolate the radical ones) it's well worth a read.
And while all eyes are focused on continuing difficulties in the Sunni heartland of Saddam--things are going (almost suspiciously) well in the Kurdish areas.
Lex on the Straussian Conspiracy
posted by Gregory|
6/21/2003 11:27:00 AM
Did you know that about sixty Plato/Strauss lovers picnic together every July 4th in Washington D.C.?
posted by Gregory|
6/21/2003 11:23:00 AM
Ian Mayes has another piece out on the Wolfowitz/Guardian story. Mayes called me to briefly interview me regarding this piece. The one interesting aspect was that, if memory serves, he told me that my E-mail (and those spawned by Sullivan and Reynold's links to the Belgravia Dispatch's catch) didn't arrive until 3:30 or so in the afternoon. The story was pulled about 24 hours later. What is interesting is that Mayes basically said that given that E-mails with corrections didn't get in until 3:30 it was not particularly realistic (the work day drawing to a close, I guess) to expect a correction in fewer than 24 or so hours.
Bottom line: I don't think U.K. papers update their websites and have as much staff devoted to them around the clock than their U.S. counterparts--particularly for editorial level decision-making on corrections and the like. Readers please chime in if you think I'm wrong on this because I'm mostly speculating on this one.
UPDATE: Reader A.R. writes in:
"I emailed them as soon as they put up their correction questioning why it took 24 hours and stating that this slow response raised serious questions about the Guardian's credibility. I have had no response to my email. If the slow response was because they are understaffed on the web version, I believe that this still doesn't excuse them. Even if the company only had one person responsible for the web in each twenty-four hours, and if this person had put the article up at 3:30 and left for the rest of the day, one would think that by 8:00 or 9:00 the next morning someone would be checking the site and would be able to correct or pull the article. This was, after all, the hot topic. Sixteen or seventeen hours, at a stretch, might be understandable; twenty-four isn't."
Ultimately, I think we're both being a bit too generous, but I think A.R.'s got it just about right.
posted by Gregory|
6/20/2003 12:20:00 PM
A couple must-reads today. First, Ken Pollack writing in the NYT:
"The one potentially important discovery made so far by American troops — two tractor-trailers found in April and May that fit the descriptions of mobile germ-warfare labs given by Iraqi defectors over the years — might well point to a likely explanation for at least part of the mystery: Iraq may have decided to keep only a chemical and biological warfare production capability rather than large stockpiles of the munitions themselves. This would square with the fact that several dozen chemical warfare factories were rebuilt after the first gulf war to produce civilian pharmaceuticals, but were widely believed to be dual-use plants capable of quickly being converted back to chemical warfare production.
In truth, this was always the most likely scenario. Chemical and biological warfare munitions, especially the crude varieties that Iraq developed during the Iran-Iraq War, are dangerous to store and handle and they deteriorate quickly. But they can be manufactured and put in warheads relatively rapidly — meaning that there is little reason to have thousands of filled rounds sitting around where they might be found by international inspectors. It would have been logical for Iraq to retain only some means of production, which could be hidden with relative ease and then used to churn out the munitions whenever Saddam Hussein gave the word.
Still, no matter what the trailers turn out to be, the failure so far to find weapons of mass destruction in no way invalidates the prewar intelligence data indicating that Iraq had the clandestine capacity to build them. There has long been an extremely strong case — based on evidence that largely predates the Bush administration — that Iraq maintained programs in weapons of mass destruction. It was this evidence, along with reports showing the clear failure of United Nations efforts to impede Iraq's progress, that led the Clinton administration to declare a policy of "regime change" for Iraq in 1998."
But Pollack also has this to say:
"This latter prospect was not very likely. The Iraqis had been trying to buy fissile material since the 1970's and had never been able to do so. Nevertheless, some Bush administration officials chose to stress the one-to-two-year possibility rather than the more likely four-to-six year scenario. Needless to say, if the public felt Iraq was still several years away from acquiring a nuclear weapon rather than just a matter of months, there probably would have been much less support for war this spring.
Moreover, before the war I heard many complaints from friends still in government that some Bush officials were mounting a ruthless campaign over intelligence estimates. I was told that when government analysts wrote cautious assessments of Iraq's capabilities, they were grilled and forced to go to unusual lengths to defend their judgments, and some were chastized for failing to come to more alarming conclusions. None of this is illegal, but it was perceived as an attempt to browbeat analysts into either changing their estimates or shutting up and ceding the field to their more hawkish colleagues.
More damning than the claims of my former colleagues has been some of the investigative reporting done since the war. Particularly troubling are reports that the administration knew its contention that Iraq tried to purchase uranium from Niger was based on forged documents. If true, it would be a serious indictment of the administration's handling of the war."
On the Niger angle (and much more) taking the Administration to task on the WMD intelligence issue see John Judis over at TNR:
"Three months after the invasion, the United States may yet discover the chemical and biological weapons that various governments and the United Nations have long believed Iraq possessed. But it is unlikely to find, as the Bush administration had repeatedly predicted, a reconstituted nuclear weapons program or evidence of joint exercises with Al Qaeda--the two most compelling security arguments for war. Whatever is found, what matters as far as American democracy is concerned is whether the administration gave Americans an honest and accurate account of what it knew. The evidence to date is that it did not, and the cost to U.S. democracy could be felt for years to come."
Some thoughts on all this. Both Pollack and Judis concentrate on the trumped up nuclear capability aspect when criticizing the Bush Administration on its handling of Iraq related intelligence. Fair enough. But I was never one to be overly concerned by the nuclear argument in that I expected nuclear capability in Iraq to be a problem down the road with NoKo and Iran greater threats on that front (and on a more expedited) time schedule.
What I was concerned about was the chemical and biological weapons capability. Not because Saddam had an intercontinental way to deliver said WMD with missiles from Iraq to the U.S.--but because I was just too concerned that a strategic blunderer and anti-U.S. firebrand like him (worse than either of the Iranian clerics or, yes, Kim Jong II) might decide, at some juncture, to funnel anthrax, botulinum toxin, mustard gas etc. to a group willing and able to deliver said WMD in the U.S (whether or not he had links to al-Qaeda, there are other terror groups too).
Nothing that Pollack or Judis have written allows us to conclude this was not a real threat. Again, Pollack:
"But they [chem/bio agents] can be manufactured and put in warheads relatively rapidly — meaning that there is little reason to have thousands of filled rounds sitting around where they might be found by international inspectors. It would have been logical for Iraq to retain only some means of production, which could be hidden with relative ease and then used to churn out the munitions whenever Saddam Hussein gave the word."
To recap a bit. When John Judis writes something like this I am obviously unhappy:
"As a result of its failure to anticipate the September 11 attacks, the CIA, and Tenet in particular, were under almost continual attack in the fall of 2001. Congressional leaders, including Richard Shelby, the ranking Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, wanted Tenet to resign. But Bush kept Tenet in his job, and, within the administration, Tenet and the CIA came under an entirely different kind of pressure: Iraq hawks in the Pentagon and in the vice president's office, reinforced by members of the Pentagon's semiofficial Defense Policy Board, mounted a year-long attempt to pressure the CIA to take a harder line against Iraq--whether on its ties with Al Qaeda or on the status of its nuclear program."
I've blogged before on how I think the intelligence gathering should be left to Langley without political interference from other departments like the Pentagon. I think we can likely conclude that a weakened Tenet (resulting from the Agency's failure to alert the President to the 9/11 plot) was pressured somewhat from a very powerful Defense Secretary (with a very intelligent group of senior advisors that are also, by and large, bureaucratic blackbelts) to be "aggressive" on how the intelligence was portrayed.
But, again, I've seen nothing yet that persuades me that Saddam didn't possess WMD stockpiles or capability. Even Judis, in his (somewhat) "gotcha" style piece, writes:
"The most serious institutional casualty of the administration's campaign may have been the intelligence agencies, particularly the CIA. Some of the CIA's intelligence simply appears to have been defective, perhaps innocently so. Durbin says the CIA's classified reports contained extensive maps where chemical or biological weapons could be found."
Putting aside for the moment potential hyperbole on the Iraq nuclear capability front, it appears the President, relying on the C.I.A., would not have been misleading the American people given the intelligence that was getting to his desk like that described above. Fine, no WMD has turned up yet at the sites visited to date. That doesn't mean WMD won't be found later. Or that there aren't sites the CIA never knew existed that will be found in the future. And, again, nothing that Judis or Pollack have written forces a conclusion that, given the post 9/11 strategic framework, Iraq didn't present a clear and present danger to the U.S. in March of 2003 given the chem/bio threat.
Incorrigible Prognosticators Department
posted by Gregory|
6/19/2003 12:04:00 PM
Katrina vanden Heuvel's is blogging about how the U.S. is "bogged" down in Iraq.
"It's now two months since Baghdad fell, no WMD's have been found and US forces are bogged down in Iraq. American generals, happy to boast about the rapid defeat of Saddam's regime, now admit the war is far from over. The other night, General Barry McCaffrey predicted that US troops would be in Iraq for five years and warned that three divisions of the National Guard might be needed to reinforce Army divisions already deployed."
Note this is the same General McCaffrey who, back in March, was predicting 3,000 coalition casualties to take Baghdad.
More Cautionary Notes Re: Iran
posted by Gregory|
6/19/2003 11:33:00 AM
Check out this piece.
Key graf: "But easily the most outspoken and optimistic proponent of the theory is the American Enterprise Institute's Michael Ledeen. Writing from the United States, Ledeen has claimed that "something like half a million" Iranians attended an anti-government protest in Tehran in November. But claims like these have proven wildly overblown. More reliable sources--for example, Christopher de Bellaigue, an Economist correspondent who witnessed the protest--put the number at around five thousand. While observers like De Bellaigue don't deny that popular resentment toward the regime is strong and growing, they disagree that the regime is ready to crumble. Iranian-born journalist Amir Taheri, writing in National Review Online, has noted that the regime is capable of remarkable pragmatism when its survival is threatened--as when it cooperated with the United States in Afghanistan after September 11 to ensure that Iran itself did not become a target." [my emphasis]
I'm not trying to dampen the considerable excitment underway given potentially counter-revoluntionary going-ons in Iran. And dispatches such as this one from a student make us want to be more helpful. But this is an area that we are going to need to handle with extreme caution given potential nationalist resentment if we overplay our hand coupled with the fact that we can't really protect the students at this juncture (if there were a more violent crackdown) short of boots on the ground--an option not seriously on the table anywhere in the Beltway at this juncture.
Given that, like Greene, I'm a bit concerned that moving funds into the country to anti-government forces (per some Hill boosters like Sam Brownback) could help the mullahs make a case that the students are foreign agents thus facilitating the conditions for a large-scale crackdown. One that the U.S., in all likelihood, would be powerless to stop.
The Guardian's Baghdad
posted by Gregory|
6/19/2003 09:48:00 AM
Is this a news article or opinion piece? It's the former, but sure sounds like the latter. Even Howell chum Pat Tyler provides a bit more nuance in his NYT piece that covers the same demonstration. Make no mistake--the situation in post-war Iraq is immensely complex and difficult. But the Guardian needs to attempt to be more judicious in its handling of such stories.
Note this passage, for instance:
"Just a few miles away in the centre of the city, gunmen in a passing car shot dead one American soldier and wounded another as they guarded a propane gas station. It was another strike against the US military by an increasingly bold guerrilla resistance force intent on destabilising the reconstruction." [my emphasis]
Note the NYT's version of the story provides this quote from a U.S. military source:
"We're dealing with people who have everything to lose and nothing to gain," he said. He also said it was an overstatement to call the resistance guerrilla attacks. "It is not close to guerrilla warfare because it's not coordinated," he said. "It's not organized, and it's not led."
So is it "bold guerrilla resistance" or sporadic attacks by disgruntled remnants of the regime operating without senior direction? So far, indications appear that the persistent attacks are somewhere in between:
Q: Are you seeing in Iraq organized guerilla resistance that might be directed by Saddam Hussein or even inspired by (Inaudible.).
Rumsfeld: It’s hard to tell. You see, different people in the U.S. community have different views on that, and there’s no one who thinks that it’s a well organized, nationally-directed campaign. There are some who would say that in certain parts of the country it looks as though it has an element of organization to it as opposed to being random. My impression is that generally the looting and the criminal element is generally at a very low level -- it exists just like it does in cities all across Europe or the United States. There is some level of crime and misconduct.
The attacks on our forces, on coalition forces, are something other than that, and my impression is that what happened basically is, that there was a series of battles, from the south up to the Baghdad area, there were some battles in Baghdad, there were relatively few battles up north. And as a result a number of the Ba’ath Party people, and the Fedayeen Saddam and the Republican Guard types, and the people close in to the Saddam Hussein regime did not get into a battle and therefore a lot of them did not get killed as they did down south and so there are probably more of them per square mile in the northern portion of the country between Baghdad and Tikrit than there are in other portions of the country. What does that mean? Well that means our forces are going to have to take an assessment of how we are arranged, what kind of forces we need, see that we have all the forces we need and go about finding those folks and putting them out of business."
So, perhaps in the environs of, say, Tikrit--there is some organized resistance per the analysis of some U.S. policymakers. But does this a "bold guerrilla resistance" make?
UPDATE: Some GIs on the ground, however, believe the resistance may be more organized than Rummy portrays.
posted by Gregory|
6/18/2003 10:43:00 PM
The WaPo on Paul Bremer. Clearly the press and Bremer are still in their honeymoon period.
Bush on Iran
posted by Gregory|
6/18/2003 10:33:00 PM
Strong language from the President regarding not tolerating a nuclear Iran. But of greater interest to me (in the short term) was his statement that the U.S. "stands squarely by their [Iranian protestors] side."
What if, rather than petering out, the protests gained steam? And what if, Tiananmen style, certain hardline clerical factions muscled out Khatami and decided to crack down using major force?
What then does it mean to "stand squarely" with the protestors?
All this is improbable, perhaps, but the last thing we should be doing is artificially raising expectations that the cavarly is rushing in to Teheran if, at the end of the day, that likely won't happen (see the Iraqi Shi'a after Gulf War I or Bosnian Muslims for previous examples of leaving parties in the lurch).
UPDATE: Bill Safire thinks the President's "stands squarely" language hits just the right notes.
posted by Gregory|
6/18/2003 05:18:00 PM
Helps broker an Israeli concession. This appears to be smart all around. The IDF continues to go after "ticking bombs" (suicide bombers about to attack) but operations against Rantisi-like figures are paused to help foster a climate where roadmap implementation might better inch along. Now it's time for Hamas and Jihad Islami to accept the ceasefire.
Note: Some Israeli commentators are unhappy about the nature of the proposed ceasefire.
posted by Gregory|
6/17/2003 08:33:00 PM
What has emboldened the students in Iran to protest with such alacrity at this historical juncture?
Perhaps the key reason: the presence of significant U.S. troop deployments in two of the key nation-states flanking the Islamic Republic, one must conclude, after reading this manifesto.
And was Howell Raines still at the helm when this was penned?
UPDATE: Might the protests be petering out? More on this soon.
Desperately Seeking Europe
posted by Gregory|
6/17/2003 07:46:00 AM
Richard Perle speaking at a Deutsche Bank sponsored meeting in Berlin. Doesn't sound like Hobsbawm's Rambo-like caricature to me.
posted by Gregory|
6/17/2003 07:34:00 AM
Great news from a Bosnian town that many feared would be a focal point for renewed bloodshed given its strategic location in Bosnia (control of the town, and so the Brcko corridor, would in effect cut Republika Srpska in two).
Key grafs: "The lesson of Brkco, Mr. Wheeler said, is that would-be nation-builders should install a powerful interim administrator, who is unafraid of defying the local political bosses. With a whip and some cash in hand, this proconsul can override ethnic loyalties and turn local attention to establishing the rule of law and business-friendly policies.
Henry L. Clarke, an American diplomat who became Brcko's third supervisor in April 2001, turned the tide. He has imposed one law — on integrating the schools — over the objections of the city council. He has annulled two others, dismissed local officials and business chiefs, and rammed through reforms.
"The powers are broad, I won't deny that," Mr. Clarke said over dinner. "But the way you get reforms done is with the cooperation of the people. You don't get it by acting like a little Tito."
Of Lying and Truth-Telling
posted by Gregory|
6/16/2003 09:56:00 PM
Josh Marshall sees America thus at this juncture as the WMD hunt winds on in Iraq:
"Seldom, I think, has a country undergone such a subtle, textured, distinction-granting debate about lying and truth-telling."
He then, in a positively Krugmanian turn of phrase, writes: "But there is still, at the end of the day, an odd unwillingness to state the simple fact that in many cases the White House lied to the American public, repeatedly and unashamedly, to pave the way for war."
Any evidence to buttress this charge beyond a disgruntled military intelligence officer's grumblings in a Nick Kristof column?
O.K., so guys like Doug Feith may have been a little aggressive on some of the intelligence analysis. And likely, Chalabi and Co. fed a few gullible mouths some yarns here and there. And for the record, I say let the raw intelligence gathering be handled by the spooks at Langley with little to no interference from State or Defense except for pursuant to inter-agency reviews and discussion as the intelligence is processed up the chain to the POTUS.
But all this aside, let me provide Josh with a few examples of real, grave country-wide explorations about lying and truth-telling that well surmount whether some intelligence may have been politicized by an overly eager Pentagon. Just to put things in perspective.
Here's one. And another. And a couple more here and here.
Eric Hobsbawm, Still An Unrepentant Communist at the Grand Old Age of 85
posted by Gregory|
6/15/2003 09:31:00 PM
Eminent neo-Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm pens a veritable tome in Le Monde Diplomatique that is up, in full and in English, over at Counterpunch. If you can't handle the length of the piece--the Guardian has a truncated version here. [Come to think of it, my post is a bit long too, apologies!]
Below are some key parts of the piece penned by the man who once stated, when asked whether he thought the chance of bringing about a communist utopia was worth any sacrifice, "yes".
"Even the sacrifice of millions of lives?" he was asked. "That's what we felt when we fought the second world war," he replied.
Ah, the easy remove of the intellectual romanticizing Stalin and ilk!
But let's turn to his take on more recent events:
EH: "There are important differences in the structure of the domestic state and its ideology. The British empire had a British, but not a universal, purpose, although naturally its propagandists also found more altruistic motives. So the abolition of the slave trade was used to justify British naval power, as human rights today are often used to justify US military power. On the other hand the US, like revolutionary France and revolutionary Russia, is a great power based on a universalist revolution--and therefore based on the belief that the rest of the world should follow its example, or even that it should help liberate the rest of the world. Few things are more dangerous than empires pursuing their own interest in the belief that they are doing humanity a favour."
Hobsbawm may be referring to the opening grafs of the U.S. national security strategy unfurled last September:
"In the twenty-first century, only nations that share a commitment to protecting basic human rights and guaranteeing political and economic freedom will be able to unleash the potential of their people and assure their future prosperity. People everywhere want to be able to speak freely; choose who will govern them; worship as they please; educate their children—male and female; own property; and enjoy the benefits of their labor. These values of freedom are right and true for every person, in every society—and the duty of protecting these values against their enemies is the common calling of freedom-loving people across the globe and across the ages."
This is the stuff of a universalist revolution? It's pretty non-alarming fare, no? Regardless, however, a couple grafs later the strategy document turns to the real issues that keep U.S. policymakers up at night (and no, it's not revolutionary zeal even for supposed messianic characters like Wolfy):
"Defending our Nation against its enemies is the first and fundamental commitment of the Federal Government. Today, that task has changed dramatically. Enemies in the past needed great armies and great industrial capabilities to endanger America. Now, shadowy networks of individuals can bring great chaos and suffering to our shores for less than it costs to purchase a single tank. Terrorists are organized to penetrate open societies and to turn the power of modern technologies against us. "
Self-defense in the face of a post 9/11 world? Crazy Trotskyist perma-rev stuff? Or what you would expect responsible stewards of our national security policy to deal with during challenging times?
But let's also take a look at Hobsbawm's contention that we have been going to war on behalf (allegedly via propagandistic distortion, of course) of "human rights." Let's look at recent uses of U.S. military power.
Sure, "human rights" were used to justify US military power in Bosnia and Kosovo. Better to let the parties continue to massacre themselves? Surely Mr. Hobsbawm, a committed Communist, must have been saddened to see the Titoist project run so afoul with leaders like Slobodan Milosevic or Franjo Tudjman at the helm.
Hobsbawm himself has written: "History is the raw material for nationalist or ethnic or fundamentalist ideologies as poppies are the raw material for heroin addiction. If there is no suitable past, it can always be invented. The past legitimizes. The past gives a much more glorious background to a present that doesn't have that much to show for itself."
So perhaps he wouldn't object to the use of NATO airpower (even approved by Germany's Greens with respect to Kosovo) to help stem what would likely have been large scale massacres of Kosovars based on resurrected mythologies from the Serbian past?
Post 9/11, the U.S. fought two wars in each of Afghanistan and Iraq. The first was fought in direct reaction to the Taliban's refusal to hand over the perpetrator of the 9/11 attacks. So what's Hobsbawm's take on 9/11?
Hobsbawm has said this about 9/11: "9/11 did not threaten the United States, it merely was a terrible human tragedy which briefly humiliated the U.S..."
Odd take on 9/11 isn't it, particularly the use of the word humiliated? I don't think Americans felt humilated. As a resident of downtown Manhattan at the time, I think most fellow city dwellers felt an amorphous mixture of fear, anger, pride in the resilience of the city, deep sadness for the thousands of victims and their families, among other emotions. But humiliation? No.
A vignette and slight digression. Maybe four days after the attacks, I was in Union Square still trying to get a handle on what had just happened in lower Manhattan. From one corner of the park, a band from Massachusetts (I think?) wearing period Colonial uniforms and blaring pipes and drums began marching through the park. A motley crew comprised of construction workers, professionals, models, techies, homeless, NYPD, local shopkeepers and other curious lookers-on stood and listened to songs like the "Battle Hymn of the Republic."
A surreal scene that was hard to imagine taking place in non-heartland, sophisticated, postmodern, post-bubble Manhattan. Except that 9/11 had happened. But one thing is sure. This nevertheless still improbable conclave certainly wasn't evocative of feelings of humiliation but of rejuvenation and strength in the face of the tremendous tragedy and adversity that had befell the city (and, indeed, the nation).
But contra Hobsbawm, many of us did feel threatened. Even before the anthrax in October--people felt that all bets were off, that anything could happen. And we weren't panicked idiots to think so. It would be irresponsible in the extreme to not be planning for a WMD attack on a major city in the coming months and years. Anything can still happen.
Which brings me back to Hobsbawm. The U.S. didn't go into Afghanistan claiming it was necessarily going to fight the good fight for human rights. The U.S. went in to respond to a threat--a perilous transnational terror group mostly, at the time, headquartered in that country--and to deny them an important sanctuary and kill as many of their operatives and fellow-travellers as possible.
Iraq too, contra Hobsbawm's piece, was never portrayed as mostly a war to liberate the Iraqi people. It was about denying a brutal dictator access to what might still prove to have been more than a rudimentary WMD program.
The strategic paradigm and posture of the U.S. changed post 9/11 so that a leader traditionally hostile to U.S. interests, who had tried to kill a U.S. President, who had actually used WMD, who had started two regional wars, who was a neo-Stalinist thug--was deemed a threat to the U.S. that needed to be removed in the interests of American self-defense.
More from Hobsbawm's piece:
EH: "Effectively, the collapse of the Soviet Union left the US as the only superpower, which no other power could or wanted to challenge. The sudden emergence of an extraordinary, ruthless, antagonistic flaunting of US power is hard to understand, all the more so since it fits neither with long-tested imperial policies developed during the cold war, nor the interests of the US economy. The policies that have recently prevailed in Washington seem to all outsiders so mad that it is difficult to understand what is really intended. But patently a public assertion of global supremacy by military force is what is in the minds of the people who are at present dominating, or at least half-dominating, the policy-making in Washington. Its purpose remains unclear."
U.S. policy is "mad," "extraordinary," "ruthless." If we were marching into Damascus, Teheran and points beyond I might better understand Hobsbawm's hyperbole. Given the limited military action that has taken place since 9/11, I just don't get it (except that it bespeaks knee-jerk hard left anti-Yank diatribes heard myriad times from the likes of Tony Benn or George Galloway--less often from intelligent quarters like these as no one can fairly deny Hobsbawm's immense talents as a historian).
EH: "Of course the Americans theoretically do not aim to occupy the whole world. What they aim to do is to go to war, to leave friendly governments behind them and go home again. This will not work. In military terms, the Iraq war was very successful. But, because it was purely military, it neglected the necessities of what to do if you occupy a country--running it, maintaining it, as the British did in the classic colonial model of India. The model "democracy" that the Americans want to offer to the world in Iraq is a non- model and irrelevant for this purpose. The belief that the US does not need genuine allies among other states, or genuine popular support in the countries its military can now conquer (but not effectively administer) is fantasy."
Here he has a point. Paul Bremer has his hands full. We need experts who truly understand the region and don't adopt a fortress mentality. But as Andrew Sullivan points out today, the situation in post-war Iraq is not quite a dire as many like to portray. Give us a chance Mr. Hobsbawm!
And by the way, where has the U.S. said she doesn't "need genuine allies among other states"? Again turning to the national security document:
"There is little of lasting consequence that the United States can accomplish in the world without the sustained cooperation of its allies and friends in Canada and Europe. Europe is also the seat of two of the strongest and most able international institutions in the world: the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which has, since its inception, been the fulcrum of transatlantic and inter-European security, and the European Union (EU), our partner in opening world trade."
Hardly brutish Crawford unilateralism, no?
EH: "The emptiness of the policy is clear from the way the aims have been put forward in public relations terms. Phrases like "axis of evil", or "the road map" are not policy statements, but merely sound bites that accumulate their own policy potential. The overwhelming newspeak that has swamped the world in the past 18 months is an indication of the absence of real policy. Bush does not do policy, but a stage act. Officials such as Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz talk like Rambo in public, as in private. All that counts is the overwhelming power of the US. In real terms they mean that the US can invade anybody small enough and where they can win quickly enough. This is not a policy. Nor will it work. The consequences of this for the US are going to be very dangerous. Domestically, the real danger for a country that aims at world control, essentially by military means, is the danger of militarisation. The danger of this has been seriously underestimated. Internationally, the danger is the destabilising of the world. The Middle East is just one example of this destabilisation--far more unstable now than it was 10 years ago, or five years ago. US policy weakens all the alternative arrangements, formal and informal, for keeping order. In Europe it has wrecked the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation--not much of a loss; but trying to turn NATO into a world military police force for the US is a travesty. It has deliberately sabotaged the EU, and also systematically aims at ruining another of the great world achievements since 1945, prosperous democratic social welfare states."
Where to begin with all this? First off, the argument that NATO is either a) dead or, even more fictitious, that the U.S. killed if off, along with allegations that the U.S. sabotaged the EU, is total bunk.
And why is the road map "merely a sound bite"? It's a carefully developed and well thought out plan. It's not easy, as the past weeks indicate, having the roadmap proceed smoothly--but that hardly makes it merely a soundbite.
As to the contention that Perle and Wolfy's "Rambo" talk is leading to a militarization of U.S. society--it's hard to see where Hobsbawm is going with this one. AEI think-tankers rushing the ramparts at 1600 Pennsylvania, a coup spearheaded by the likes of Walter Berns perhaps? The U.S. a massive timarchic polity with jingoism and fascistic tendencies on the uptick? This is all just too fevered, I fear. Maybe history will prove me wrong, but I highly doubt it.
To wrap up, not suprisingly, Hobsbawm asks the question:
"How is the world to confront--contain--the US? Some people, believing that they have not the power to confront the US, prefer to join it."
Rather incredibly, he points to the Turks as a valiant example of standing up to the hegemon:
EH: "The most positive contribution so far has been made by the Turks, simply by saying there are things they are not prepared to do, even though they know it would pay. But at the moment the major preoccupation is that of--if not containing--at any rate educating or re-educating the US. There was a time when the US empire recognised limitations, or at least the desirability of behaving as though it had limitations. This was largely because the US was afraid of somebody else--the Soviet Union. In the absence of this kind of fear, enlightened self- interest and education have to take over."
Ankara might help tutor and re-educate the U.S. then--after having nobly spurned Washington's cheap bribes (surely because they were interested in limiting U.S. power--not because of their Kurdish problem)? But, Hobsbawm appears to be saying, a parliament that says no to the Yanks, thus helping the U.S. better recognize its "limitations," is a parliament I like!
Folks, Hobsbawm is a giant--I read him (with fascination) in university as a European History major. That said, however, his leftist orientation and distrust of a quasi-omnipotent hegemon based on his understanding of great power politics leads him to make too many gross exaggerations in his piece that run contra a judicious examination of how American power is being excercised today.