Friday, December 30, 2005

2005 is the year, no, make that 2006 ...

Howard La Franchi wonders in today's Christian Science Monitor whether the Bush Administration is going to be hampered in its efforts to gain support from other allies and partners on key matters. Full disclosure: I am one of the people quoted in the article giving my own two cents.

"Stopping Iran's nuclear program. Limiting the growing influence of an increasingly authoritarian Russia over the former Soviet empire. Making more friends than enemies in the Arab world. Those are just some of the major foreign policy challenges the Bush administration will confront next year. But to do that, experts say, it must shake off the legacy of 2005 - a year aimed at rebuilding America's bridges to the world that instead kept the US in the diplomatic doghouse," he observes.

The administration did not get its preferred scenario: a revived Anglo-German entente at the "heart of Europe" that would reorient the trans-Atlantic relationship. Merkel did not win a convincing victory in Germany; Blair's tenure as the effective "head" of the EU was dominated by the budget squabble. Secretary of State Rice spent her last visit in Europe dealing with the rendition issue instead of being able to focus attention on the future.

2005 was heralded by Rice as the year of rebuilding relationships. Looks like this course of study will have to be repeated in 2006.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Gas, Geopolitics and Ukraine

I don't know why the surprise over the Russo-Ukrainian dispute over gas prices. In 2004, a very senior Russian government official told a Western delegation meeting with him in Moscow point blank that if the West wanted Ukraine in "its" sphere of influence, the West would have to be prepared to pay the bills.

With share liberalization, GAZPROM is set to receive a huge influx of foreign capital--and demand for natural gas from customers prepared to pay world market prices is skyrocketing. Why sell gas to Ukraine at $50 per 1000 cm if you can get $220 for it?

The gauntlet laid down to Ukraine, I think, is set to work on several levels.

First, the Russians hope to discredit Yushchenko and his "Orange Revolution" once and for all. Ukrainian economic growth spluttered in 2005 and the economy is set to stagnate in 2006. Add higher energy prices--and the seeds of discontent are well-watered. Demonstrate no "white horse" riding in from the West--and trap Yushchenko between the frying pan of Yanukovych (I could have done a better job) and Tymoshenko who will stoke up nationalist resentment at any sign the president is about to sell out to the Moskals. All adds up for serious political instability in the wake of next year's parliamentary elections. Discredited Orange Revolution in Ukraine in advance of elections in Belarus and ultimately the 2007-08 set of elections in Russia itself, alongside the example of the Kazakh elections.

Second, discredit Ukraine in the eyes of Germany--still the banker and linchpin of the EU. THe last thing the Germans want to h hear from Kyiv is how Ukraine will help itself to a percentage of gas shipped in its pipeline network heading for German markets. This crisis is "redeeming" Schroeder's Baltic Pipeline project; in addition, the EU budget debacle and the CIA secret prison story has again raised doubts in the Eurozone core about Poland--and may help to discredit Poland's advocacy for Ukraine in European capitals.

Third, the Turkish gambit. Moscow is wooing Ankara--why not suggest that over time more gas can be sent across the Black Sea to Turkey and turn Turkey into an energy hub for Europe.

Energy covers a multitude of sins--this is the lesson Moscow has learned from Saudi Arabia.

Consider this comment from Deutsche Welle:

"Rainer Seele, head of Wingas told the Rheinische Post that the gas dispute underlined the importance of an additional route such as the planned North European Gas Pipeline that will link the massive Russian gas fields with Germany under the Baltic Sea. With it, Germany and Europe would achieve "independence from political instability," Seele said."

Russia may compromise at the last minute--offering a lower rate. Or look for pro-Russian Ukrainian politicians to negotiate with Russia and gain the credit.

Iran/Challenge in 2006

My colleague Ray Takeyh, keeping active in the holiday season, has published this comment in today's Baltimore Sun.

The gist of it is that the Europeans cannot resolve the Iranian nuclear standoff because the Europeans cannot deliver the guarantees Iran requires: only the United States can. (This theme--that the United States cannot continue to outsource its diplomatic efforts to other states--was a point raised earlier this year by Congressman Ney at a joint Eurasia Group-The National Interest event.)

Takeyh advises:

"Washington should take a leaf from its North Korea playbook instead of relying on Russian offers to Iran, European diplomacy and cumbersome International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) procedures. A new framework of negotiations featuring the United States, the European Union's Britain, France and Germany, plus Russia and China, combined with a generous offer of security and economic incentives, may be the only way to reverse Iran's nuclear trajectory at this late date."

This echoes a proposal made earlier this fall by Senator Chuck Hagel, speaking at the Washington office of the Council on Foreign Relations--a Middle East security conference bringing all major powers and actors together.

What is clear is that the U.S. needs an Iran strategy that is prepared to deal with the eventual and likely failure of the EU-3 process and doesn't rely on vague threats that Israel will "do something" about Iran's nuclear program. I'm sure that Takeyh's critics will dislike his approach and recommendation of the North Korea process--but it's up to them to provide an alternative--a realistic one, not one predicated on unverified assumptions.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

The Freedom Crusade, Yet Again Revisited

As I have noted before, Paul Saunders and I received a great deal of criticism for our Spring 2005 essay "On Liberty" because we raised doubts about the feasibility of a strategy to promote democracy that relied on rapid revolutionary change. (We did not, for the record, argue against the desirability of democracy--but instead argued that the best way to promote it is via evolutionary change.) Of real concern to us was the question of U.S. credibility--that having enunciated a policy of democratization in this way, that when the first challenges arose, we would be accused of hypocrisy.

Tom Carothers, in his recent op-ed in the New York Times and the IHT, launches the first end-of-year salvo accusing the Bush Administration of falling short on its own stated rhetoric. Citing the examples of Egypt, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, he says:

"American presidents of the last several decades embraced democracy promotion in principle but usually deferred it in practice when it came to friendly tyrants who supplied America with oil, sites for military bases and other economic and security benefits. President Bush's agenda implies a fundamental change in that pattern. Such relationships will have to change, not for the sake of mushy ideals, but in pursuit of a deeper, post-Sept. 11 security interest.

"So, is the Bush administration serious about this? ... So far it, too, has followed the familiar script, accenting the underwhelming positives and playing down the overwhelming negatives.


"The big question now is this: Will these leaders pay any real price in their relationships with the Bush administration for having defied it on democracy? The administration has a rich selection of tools for expressing serious displeasure: delaying new trade agreements or interrupting existing ones, refusing White House visits and other diplomatic rewards, reducing economic aid, modifying military cooperation and, perhaps of greatest potential weight, issuing frank, critical words from the presidential bully pulpit.

"The administration has not yet made clear which way it will go, but as each day passes the sense of business as usual solidifies. Iraq may be the most visible battleground of the President Bush's pro-democracy ambitions. But it is an exceptional case. The many autocratic allies used to getting free passes on democracy are the real proving ground for a policy that must show consistency, seriousness and results. "


No doubt, the response will be that those evil realists who infiltrate all sectors of the American foreign policy establishment subverted the president's idealistic vision (perhaps those State Department obstructionists). Seriously, however ...

The paradox of democracy promotion is what to do when governments you want to democratize are also governments you do depend on for a variety of other goods and services and who view your democracy promotion activities not as benign assistance but as an indirect form of regime change and removal.

So far, the bargain that apparently has been offered to Mubarak, Nazarbayev and Aliev is the one that God offered King Hezekiah in the Old Testament--peace and stability in your lifetime, the deluge for your successors.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

A First Test of "Compartmentalizaton"?

Two Indian and six Chinese firms are being placed under sanctions by the Bush Administration for "selling Iran hardware or ingredients for weapons of mass destruction", in keeping with the provisions of the Iran Nonproliferation Act.

On December 15, we had an event at the Center (covered in this post of TWR), where the point was raised that both Beijing and New Delhi are seeking to "compartmentalize" their relations with the United States and with Iran. The test is going to be whether the United States will then sanction other companies that do business with these firms--and what about the future of the U.S.-India nuclear deal--something that Robert Einhorn raises in his essay in the Winter 2005/06 issue of The National Interest? My guess is that certain firms in both India and China will take on the "Iran account" and others will liaise with the U.S.--and, of course, the "Iran account" firms will continue to do business with other firms that are not servicing the "Iran account"--and both India and China will put the onus on Washington to try and sanction adidtional firms.

Illarionov and Chalabi

Two news items ...

The first: Putin aide Andrei Illarionov has handed in his resignation to his boss, citing profound disagreements with the direction of policy.

Illarionov's resignation highlights the emergence of new business-political blocs in Russia, each grouped around a different state-controlled company or sector of the economy. It also signals his frustration that the Putin Administration did not use its consolidation of power to vigorously promote liberal reforms.

What it says to me is that the transition to 2008 is in full swing. If Putin was preparing to stay for a third term (in violation of the Russian Constitution), one would expect that he would continue to push his agenda through. Instead, a process of consolidation is now underway which suggests that the "regime" (and here I mean the principal actors and rules of the political game) is being stabilized, in preparation for a stable transfer of power to the next candidate. More and more, I think we should revisit what happened in Mexico in the 1920s and 1930s for how this is done.

The second: Ahmad Chalabi is reportedly short of the votes needed to enter the Iraqi Assembly--and if so, he would be ineligible for any ministerial position. Of interest:

"Chalabi's supporters had hoped he would do well among exile voters who were allowed to cast ballots overseas. But results released Monday showed he received 0.89 percent of the special vote."

Is this another manifestation of what I may start calling "Takeyh's rule": "If you're running a campaign to appeal to Westerners, you lose every time!

The Wonderful World of Punditry

Jack Shafer's "You, Too, Can Be a TV Pundit!" is humorous because of how accurate it is.

His closing paragraphs, in particular, help to explain why think-tanks don't think, why pundits don't provided learned commentary (after all, that is the original meaning of the term, a wise or learned scholar), and why serious issues of the day don't get discussed:

"The booker will test your skills at assembling a one-sentence, easily digested sound-bite in the pre-interview. Treat the pre-interview as an audition for a part in a continuing TV drama, because it is. "Clinton was worse on this than Bush" or its opposite is a perfectly acceptable answer to almost any question. Don't try expressing an original thought on TV or otherwise upstaging the host, or he'll never invite you back. Remember, it's his show and you're just the replaceable talent.

"And no matter what you do, don't answer pre-interview questions with the preface, "It's very complicated." TV isn't the place for complicated discussions of politics. Save your learned dissertation for that 500-word newspaper op-ed you're hoping to place in USA Today."

It's why politicians jumped on the Iraq bandwagon (yes, Iraq was a threat, but the test of a true political leader is to differentiate between threats and know how to prioritize).

It is depressing because when interesting ideas (especially in foreign policy) emerge, if the spokesperson can't be easily "boxed" into a pre-existing category, then it is much harder for those ideas to emerge. But in an environment when people don't read or watch to learn but to have their own views reaffirmed, how to bring about change?

Michael Kinsley opines:

"The premise is that op-ed columns and other opinion pieces are not exercises in persuasion but simple counters: If you have more of them, you win. There is no room for the notion that reading something you disagree with might change your mind, or simply be more enjoyable than repeated ratifying of what you already believe.

"So, opinions are merely counters, and those counters are for sale. That's what I mean by the commodification of opinion."

Hope everyone enjoyed the debate we hosted last week--I think you had genuine opinions and genuine disagreements, not manufactured Springer-esque shouting matches.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Iraq and the Future of the Middle East, continued

C-SPAN is set to rebroadcast yesterday's discussion at 5:30 today (Friday, December 23). See yesterday's post for a summary of the points made by the various speakers.

A sign of a good discussion is that it continues to provoke debate even after it has been concluded.

"C-SPAN Junkie" raised some questions yesterday (in the comments section) and David Rivkin has been kind enough to provide this reply:

"I fully accept the possibility that some of our democracy-building efforts would go awry and even, that we might fail, producing all sorts of bad consequences in the process. I do not believe that this outcome is likely, especially if we apply ourselves vigorously to the task at hand and do not lose patience, but it is certainly conceivable. At the same time, I think it is entirely appropriate not to exempt the status quo from the same probabilistic analysis; stated differently, we should consider and evaluate all of the possibilities/scenarios, in which the currently existing, authoritarian regimes in the Middle East can produce all sorts of calamitous policy outcomes for the U.S., or succumb to Khomeini-type revolutions. My concern with the critics is that they usually only exhibit alarm about the costs and risks involved in democracy promotion, and act as if the continuation of the status quo is guaranteed to benefit American national interests."

A key point--because foreign policy is rarely defined in terms of a good and bad choice but between choices with possible negative outcomes and decisions are made with imperfect knowledge (this is the function, then, of good judgment).


On the question about standards, much depends on how wide or narrow one wants to cast the net. Paul Saunders in his remarks yesterday noted that a difference between his perspective and that of the president is that the president still puts together the foreign jihadis and the Saddamists and the Sunni rejectionists as opponents the U.S. needs to combat, whereas he would put the greatest emphasis of U.S. efforts on the foreign jihadis and let Iraqis take the lead--especially using political means--to handle the latter two.


Another debate is over democracy and Islam and whether one can "reform" traditional Islamic concepts. Those of you who watched the debate may have observed the exchange between Larry Johnson and Alexis Debat on the question of innovation. Larry notes that the Arabic words "Bida’ or ibtida’ would be the operational words both derived from the verbal root (BD’) in which the ideas of innovation and heresy are inextricably linked. " It is an interesting point--during the Byzantine period the word "to innovate" was paired with a meaning of "to cause injury" (e.g. departure from tradition is harmful). This is why it is always important, as my colleague Nicolai N. Petro has noted in his study of Novgorod region and why reforms took root there, to, in cultures that place a high value on tradition, to be able to show how "change" is related to "a return" to past traditions.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Iraq and the Future of the Middle East

We had an interesting discussion at the magazine today (covered by C-SPAN as per the previous post).

In opening the panel, I posed the question, are we at a turning point in the war in Iraq, that the heavy lifting has been done and now we proceed forward to success, or has the administration been laying the foundations for a "withdrawal with honor" (and abandonment of some of the more utopian rhetoric about a dramatic transformation of the Middle East).

Here are some of the comments as I have summarized them:

Paul Saunders, Associate Publisher of The National Interest: Victory in Iraq cannot be "declared" but must be defined in such a way that it is understood by all to have been a victory--namely, the destruction of a hostile regime and the establishment of a reasonably friendly and non-tyrannical government. The primary threat now to Iraq's stability is political, not military, and needs to be resolved by Iraqis--it cannot be solved via American military power.

David Rivkin, Contributing Editor of The National Interest: In reducing forces in Iraq, the U.S. cannot give the perception of weakness or that its actions are being driven by politics. Changing "hearts and minds" in the Middle East will take a generation but changing assessment of U.S. staying power is something that can be accomplished now.

What is the realpolitik/Jacksonian case for democracy promotion? To reach the same strategic accomplishment that the Sino-Soviet split did during the Cold War--to give the United States maneuvering room against a hostile ideology by demonstrating that a fusion between Islam and democracy--however imperfect that democracy might be--is an option.

The U.S. presence in Iraq is sustainable for many years--as a smaller force providing Iraqis with the capabilities they need, just as we are doing in Afghanistan.

Geoffrey Kemp, The Nixon Center: Iraq is not an island but exists within a neighborhood--Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Iran all have their own agenda. Iran in particular is becoming more embedded in Iraq--not only via intelligence operatives but through religious connections and business deals. Iran and the United States have a common objective of not wanting to see chaos and civil war in Iraq, but Iran, while it may quietly want the United States to squash the insurgency, does not want a decisive U.S. victory to the point that the United States feels encouraged to repeat the regime change policy again elsewhere in the Middle East.

Alexis Debat, Contributing Editor, The National Interest: Iraq has indeed become the new "base" and unlike in Afghanistan in the 1990s, recruits coming to Iraq are being trained in effective urban terrorist techniques, including how to carry out multiple car bombings, deal with surveillance, and so on. Some of these recruits are returning to Europe; arrests in France last week point to efforts to create new European cells.

There should be no illusions; a choice has to be made. Terrorism can be fought at all costs and by all means necessary; or we have to accept, to preserve civil liberties, that there will always be a residual amount of terrorism carried out.

Robert S. Leiken, The Nixon Center: Saddam Hussein and his allies are trying to find common ground with the Islamists to combat the United States; can the United States help to forge a working alliance between Sunnis and Shi'ites in Iraq to reconstruct the country and isolate the remnants of the former regime and the international terrorists? We should be concerned about the election results; it proved that Iraq is nowhere near being able to transcend communalism in its political life, and this does not bode well for democracy.

Zeyno Baran, The Nixon Center: After her recent travels in the region (as well as in Europe and China), the question she is constantly asked is: what is the American "end game" in Iraq? What will happen to the unity of the country; will it become an Islamic state? Other states are concerned that the United States is not concerned about stability and seems to be more focused on process rather than outcomes.

Dimitri K. Simes, President, The Nixon Center and publisher of The National Interest: Regime change as a policy for Iraq was first adopted by the Clinton Administration and a broad bi-partisan majority in Congress in 1998. Regime change does not equal a policy of containment, and by 2001 it was clear that the limited efforts to remove Saddam Hussein from power were not bearing fruit and that in a post 9/11 environment it was unwise to leave him in power. Was the way the United States proceeded the best way? A policy of regime change was then altered into one of regime transformation not only for Iraq but the entire region.

The United States needs victory "realistically defined" for Iraq, because the consequences of a perceived defeat is that others will be bolder in attacking American interests around the world.

Other comments:

Harlan Ullman noted in response to Dimitri Simes' point that "victory is the absence of catastrophe." He outlined four fault lines--the capabilities of the Iraqi security forces to keep order (and whether they will go back to old methods of terror and violence to do so), lack of governance in the Iraqi ministries, the "mutiny" in the Senate as a clear majority whether out of fury or embarrassment begin to take up their oversight responsibilities over the conduct of the executive branch, and the "breaking point" of the U.S. military as overstretch takes its toll. Morale may be high now, as it was in Viet Nam in 1965, but a collapse in moral in 1966-67 was a turning point.

The administration will begin to accelerate the one option open to it--its ability to control the speed of the U.S. withdrawal. He predicted that by December 2006 U.S. forces will be under 100,000.

A longer term problem is the lack of a Gulf security architecture which determines the roles of Iraq, Iran and the Gulf states (while Geoff Kemp raised the questio as to how long the U.S. taxpayer will continue to support the U.S. playing the dominant role to secure China's and India's energy supply--see our discussion on this last week on December 15).

Larry Johnson, using the Superman analogy, noted that putting on the cape doesn't mean you can fly. The U.S. cannot allow its policies in the region to be guided by myths. Two in particular that should be causes of concern: the myth of an "authentic Islam" (to view Islam as a single monolith), and the second, to tout the efficacy of the military in fighting terrorism.


An excellent discussion, and debates as well--I encourage you to view the entire program.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

C-SPAN and the magazine's roundtable on Iraq

C-SPAN is set to cover The National Interest's roundtable on what happens now, in Iraq and the larger Middle East, after the elections in Iraq and after the president's campaign to build up domestic support.

Thursday, December 22
National Interest Magazine Panel
on Iraq and Future of Mideast
On C-SPAN at 12:30pm ET

We'll post summaries of the discussions afterwards on this site.

What Happens When You Have No Influence?

My colleague Ray Takeyh, who last year was guardedly optimistic that a deal might be struck between the West and Iran's pragmatic conservatives, is becoming much more pessimistic.

He's quoted in the Guardian as saying that the new president of Iran is "largely indifferent" to global opinion. Today he published an op-ed in the Financial Times, saying in part:

"After nearly three decades of acrimony and tension, Iran’s reactionaries perceive that conflict with the US is inevitable and that the only manner of preserving the regime’s security and Iran’s territorial integrity is through possession of the “strategic weapon”. Although, today, the US may seem entangled in an Iraqi quagmire that tempers its ambitions, for Iran’s rulers, it is still an aggressive state whose power cannot be discounted and whose intentions must not be trusted.


"For the new masters of Tehran, the negotiations are valuable in terms of potentially fracturing western unity and preventing Iran’s nuclear portfolio from being referred to the UN Security Council. However, it is the process not the results of diplomacy that appeals to Mr Ahmadi-Nejad and his cohort.

In the coming months, diplomats will debate and international organisations will issue their periodic rebukes and contemplate their sanctions. And, all along, Iran will inexorably edge closer to the nuclear threshold."

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Bolivian Elections and the U.S. Response

Russell Crandall, who recently departed the National Security Council to return to teaching, has this advice about the U.S. course of action in Latin America in the just-released Winter 2005/06 issue of The National Interest:

Alarmist headlines notwithstanding, Latin America is not on the verge of violent, anti-American revolutions nor has the United States abandoned its backyard. To be sure, leftist leaders at times will keep a healthy distance from certain U.S. policies, but we should not interpret that as a wholesale rejection of market-led economic policies, democracy or general interaction with Washington.

For its part, the United States can help Latin America consolidate its democracy and promote socio-economic development by recognizing that we don’t have all the solutions nor are we able to determine outcomes in the region—for better or for worse. But the United States must play a significant supporting role as the region continues to consolidate different degrees of democratic and economic practices. Trade, technical assistance and military training are some of the critical areas where Washington should continue to act as a partner. It is in our national interest to see that democracy flourishes in Latin America under both right-wing and left-wing governments. A strong democratic foundation is necessary if equitable and lasting socio-economic development is finally to thrive.

Words of Wisdom

I have several times had occasion to say that it never pays for our government to give false impressions to the American public with the view to enlisting its support for short-term purposes, because this always revenges itself later when it becomes necessary to overcome th wrong impressions one has created.

George F. Kennan

George F. Kennan and John Lukasc, George F. Kennan and the Origins of Containment (1994)

Stating the Obvious

From a headline I spied while riding in the Metro today (from the Washington Express):

Shiites Take Early Lead ...

Well, you don't say? One would expect that a group that comprises more than 60 percent of the population would take the lead in polling? Doesn't that fit right up there with having a headline that says "Whites Expected to Dominate Congress after Vote"?

But this is the problem--the reinforcement of the idea that in Iraq the only meaningful political identity is one's ethno-religious community. Even if, over time, party and ideological divisions rise to the fore, my guess is that in Iraq you will be a Shi'ite socialist, a Shi'ite free-marketer, etc.--that people will still be expected to vote for "one of their own."

Monday, December 19, 2005

The President Has Spoken

Last night, President Bush addressed the nation to explain his policies on Iraq.

My two cents:

1) This is a speech that should have been given the day after the 2004 elections; acknowledging mistakes, pointing out difficulties, and making the case for continued involvement. As a reaction to the mounting criticisms of the last eight months, it is not particularly strong or effective. This is a case of too little, too late.

2) The president said he doesn't want to be bound by artificial deadlines or timelines. That is an important point. But his criteria still seems quite open-ended and doesn't really provide a standard for "defining victory"--what are the conditions that will allow the U.S. to leave and for other states not to see this as a defeat or setback.

3) If I had been the speechwriter, I would have added language that would say something along the following lines: Iraqis have cast their ballots, they will have a government that derives its legitimacy from the consent of the governed, this government will make its share of mistakes. The United States cannot and will not define victory in Iraq to mean that Iraq is a perfect Jeffersonian paradise. Many of us may disagree with the choices Iraqis will make as to how to govern their society. But the destiny of Iraq must now lie solely in Iraqi hands.

[A second paragraph]: And I say tonight to Iraqis--the fate of your country is in your hands. We will continue to provide assistance to you, but America cannot solve your fundamental problems for you. What you do with your freedom is your responsibilitiy. We hope you will make wise choices, but we will not intervene further.


The Weekly Standard's editorial for this week ("Happy Days") celebrates the elections last week as a turning point but notes that there will be a long learning period. That is fine, no argument here. The question is at what point responsibility for Iraqi stability will lie in Iraqi hands and not be a precondition for American withdrawal.

We are back to the John Paul Vann dilemma for the Republic of Viet Nam-when do you turn over responsibility and when do you let your allies fall flat on their face and fail. And at what point would failure in Iraq--if failure occurs--still be laid at the doorstep of the United States? Najibullah in Afghanistan lasted until 1992 after the USSR withdrew in 1989.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Iraqi Elections--and Challenging Orthodoxies Revisited

In the run-up to the Iraqi elections, Fred Kaplan had this to say at Slate:

Whichever way today's Iraqi elections go, the very fact of their existence is irresistibly inspiring. Watching these long-oppressed people exercising their franchise as citizens, hearing them express their hopes for a better, freer life—who could fail to be moved or to wish them well?

Yet as we await the results (a process that could take weeks, followed by the months it will likely take to form a government), it's an apt time to step back and consider the broader prospects for Iraqi democracy. Unfortunately, they don't look so good.

...working from an exhaustive historical database, [Ed] Mansfield and [Jack] Snyder outline the conditions for a successful democratization, among them: a literate populace; a fairly prosperous and diverse economy; and a set of democratic institutions, not least a state apparatus capable of mediating and administering disputes among competing social and political groups.

Apply the list to Iraq. In the winter 2005/06 issue of the National Interest (due out next week), Mansfield and Snyder do just that, and the results come up all zeros. Present-day Iraq, they write, exhibits "all the risk factors": an inflammatory mass media, scant rule of law, corrupt bureaucracies, low income and literacy, an economy based almost entirely on oil, and an exceedingly weak administrative state.

Successful democratization, they write ... depends not just on some critical mass of conditions but also on the sequence in which these conditions develop. When popular elections occur before democratic institutions take hold, they find, the chances of an enduring democracy are especially dim. "Out-of-sequence, incomplete democratizations," they write in the journal piece, "often create an enduring template for illiberal, populist politics." This is especially true in countries sharply divided along ethnic or religious lines. In such countries, elections have been "an ethnic census, not a deliberation about public issues." They create a politics that hardens these divisions. It becomes difficult, if not impossible, for political actors to forge new ties across those divides; the necessary institutions (trade unions, secular parties, or other interest groups) either don't exist or lack sufficient power.

That pretty well sums up Iraqi politics. What we saw today was not simply Iraqis going to vote for a new parliament. We saw Shiites going to vote for Shiite supremacy, if not an outright Islamic state. We saw Sunni Arabs going to vote for some restoration of Sunni power. We saw Kurds going to vote for the enhancement of Kurdish autonomy.


When the new government takes office, all the "risk factors" that Mansfield and Snyder describe will come into play explicitly; they will define political disputes, and it will take great skill and determination for Iraqi's political leaders to fashion compromises.

Beyond Iraq, Mansfield and Snyder's analysis raises profound doubts—as if enough hadn't already been kicked up—over President George W. Bush's declared policy of spreading democracy across the Middle East. The premise of this idea, laid out in Bush's second inaugural address, comes down to this: Democracies are peaceful; thus, turning hostile regimes into democratic states serves not just our moral ideals but our national-security interests.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice elaborated the point in an op-ed piece for the Dec. 11 Washington Post. "The fundamental character of regimes matters more today than the international distribution of power," she wrote. This, she added, is why America's new statecraft centers on the promotion of democracy everywhere. "Democracy is the only guarantee of lasting peace and security between states because it is the only guarantee of freedom and growth within states."

She might be right about democracy and peace, but if Mansfield and Snyder are right, the equation doesn't always apply to democratization. If "the fundamental character of regimes" really does mean more than the balance of power (a doubtful point, but let's stipulate it for now), then she should be very watchful about the character of democratizing regimes as well. Booting out a dictator and holding an election do not a democracy make. Mansfield and Snyder's lesson is that, depending on the character of the regime and the society that it reflects, democratic elections without democratic institutions might worsen the prospects for real democracy—and, if Rice's equations are valid, they won't do much for American security, either.


All good points to keep in mind, as developments unfold in Iraq.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Dragon and Eagle in the Sands of Arabia ...

We had an interesting discussion at The Nixon Center today--"The United States in the Middle East: Dealing with the Challenges of China, India and Iran"--featuring Geoff Kemp and David M. Lampton of the center and Ashley Tellis of the Carnegie Endowment.

China and India are both rising powers, that is very true--and their progress has surged forward by leaps and bounds. It is also very true that the United States does not have the power to unilaterally set the agenda in the Middle East, to assume that it is "the only game in town" and that the rising clout of India and China gives Middle Eastern states other options--notably Iran.

But some of the points made in the talks that help us to avoid mindless panic--and thanks also to our managing editor Tom Rickers for his compliation here:

1) Despite their desire to play a greater role on the global stage, for both China and India their single most important bilateral relationship remains with the United States. Neither side is willing to sacrifice its relationship with the United States for any other country, including Iran.

2) Both China and India are trying to compartmentalize their relationship with Iran--to separate the energy relationship from other areas (in other words, to try and hedge--good economic ties with Iran but not to give the Iranians the ability to leverage those ties for other things, such as protecting their nuclear program).

3) The United States is not the sole actor in the Middle East, and China and India do have increasing influence, but for the long-term future, it is the United States which is the guarantor of the security of the Persian Gulf and, more broadly, of the world's shipping and communications lanes.

And China has a catch-22. It depends on the U.S. Navy to secure the sea-lanes that are absolutely vital to transport its energy needs from the Middle East and Africa back to the mainland. China's dependence on the United States for this is irksome; yet, for China to develop the blue-navy capability it would need to patrol the sea-lanes it would not only take a massive investment in resources, but also would scare China's neighbors whose relatively benign response to China is predicated on China's "peaceful rise", not its militarization to project power on a global scale.

But an interesting discussion, and very important since in Washington we tend to ignore China and India as possible players in the Middle East, in our efforts to relegate them to "South Asia" and "East Asia" geographic boxes.

Palestinian Developments

An interesting story emerging that puts into sharp relief the choices and trade-offs in advancing democracy.

Palestinian President Abbas is threatening to resign his post and call new elections if young Fatah activists bolt the party and run a separate slate of candidates for the legislature. The activists, in turn, claim that Abbas has stacked the Fatah list with two many of the corrupt oldtimers and that their slate can win popular suppoirt by putting candidates with real credibility forward. Meanwhile, Hamas is hoping to capitalize if there is a split in the ruling Fatah party (by dividing Fatah voters) and is also trying to cultivate a wider spectrum of the electorate by putting forward more moderate candidates.

As we saw in the Iranian elections earlier this year, voters chose the "clean extremist" in favor of the "pragmatic corrupt." It is also a fact that often in democracies voters make decisions based on local concerns (this may favor Hamas and the young Fatah activists) instead of wider issues (e.g. is Abbas the best person to move the peace process forward).

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

What does democracy mean in Iraq

In the run-up to elections, some interesting observations about the rise of party machines among the Kurds and the Shi'a (see, for example, the Seattle Times coverage). What I found striking (and what is probably a heretical view for some here in Washington) was the comparison of machine/patronage politics emerging in Iraq with what you already have in places like Egypt.

The stage is being set for Iraqi democracy to be not one person, one vote but political contestation and negotiation between entrenched elites who use the ballot box to gain leverage and jockeying room for how national spoils are to be distributed--rather than democracy being a way for competing local elites to gain or lose power.

Dishonorable Combat in the War of Ideas

In a democracy, a healthy debate is a sine qua non for effective policymakers. But for some in Washington, an absolutist belief in the rightness of one's cause has led to the old motto of the Roman Curia: "Error has no rights." (The corollary is that anything done in the service of Right is acceptable.)

I am well aware that given my past and current publication record, I may never be confirmed by the U.S. Senate for a government appointment. (On a side note: whether one agrees with John Bolton or not, he always spoke his mind--including in the pages of The National Interest. He deserved an up-or-down vote in the Senate. The depressing trend in Washington, not only for Supreme Court nominees but in many fields--is to find someone with no published views at all. I don't think you get decisive, insightful policy from a person who spent most of his or her career not engaging in the policy discourse. But I digress.)

In accepting that realization, I feel that I am liberated to speak my mind and present my views openly and honestly. Others may disagree with those views--they may challenge my facts, my analysis, my conclusions--and that is a legitimate part of debate.

But it annoys me to no end when, instead of taking my views and engaging them, people decide to play one of two games.

The first is the "last name game." You look at a person's last name and try to identify their ethnic background as a basis for disqualifying their opinions. Another version of that is the spouse game. This is a fun one especially among the ethnic lobbies, of trying to determine whether the Congressman or Senator with the WASP last name is married to a (fill in the blank: Turk, Greek, Armenian, Albanian, etc.) in order to explain away a policy position.

This has no place in the war of ideas. The good people over at Source Watch, a project of the Center for Media and Democracy--this is a group that monitors think-tanks, publications, etc. but seems at times to be a bit too much focused on the right-wing conspiracy theories, in my opinion--deleted a post in the discussion forum connected to TNI where a poster attempted to identify the ethno-religious backgrounds of board members in an effort to determine their positions on Middle East issues (with the implication that their ethnicity predisposed them to particular points of view).

Not only is this sort of ethnic stereotyping crude, it is also counterproductive. One of the strengths of the United States has been to draw upon the country's immigrant heritage in helping to form bridges to other parts of the world and to provide useful analysis. To argue that foreign policy discussion is really only the province of WASPs and of the descendants of the first African slaves brought to the New World (on the grounds that only these two groups are "real Americans" with no bias or agenda) is ludicrous. By this logic, Phil Habib should never have been a presidential mediator in the Middle East!

This sort of crude racism isn't always acceptable in polite society anymore, but the second one remains alive and well: the threat of foreign (or even domestic) paymasters corrupting the purity of reporting and analysis. Yes, this canard goes back to the first days of the American Republic when Federalists and Democrat-Republicans hurled accusations back and forth about accepting foreign gold from the Court of St. James or the Jacobins. And Washington is an open city today where you can hire opinion-makers to spin for you--hired media guns are a booming business.

And it is true there is a growing cynicism in the air, that everyone is on the take. The ongoing revelations about intimate ties between media figures and government officials, government contracts to pay media figures to undertake projects, a culture of media "stardom" where the allure of prestige and TV contracts and speaking engagements may overshadow an allegiance to "journalistic principles, questions about what influence over scholarship donations bring--each additional revelation lowers everyone's credibility. This is why throwing this charge--that someone whose views you dislike must have been "bought off"--is extremely reckless (or, just as we saw in the 2004 primary races, "reporting the rumor"--when John Kerry was supposedly involved with a former intern and the media waited for Drudge to break the story so they could report on what Drudge was saying.

I don't assume or accuse a person whose views I disagree with of being blinded by ethnicity or bought off by paymasters. It would be nice and decent to have the same courtesy extended to me and to others too.

A point of pride for me as editor of TNI has been to have members of the advisory council tell me how much they've disagreed with pieces that have appeared in the magazine but how they appreciate the importance of fostering debate. And the only letter I can recall of someone cancelling a TNI subscription was because the particular reader disliked the article by Dennis Ross.

I believe in debate--and I have strong opinions. I don't think that I should have to sacrifice one in order to have the other.

The Perils of Outsourcing

In an article for the forthcoming issue of The National Interest. Maurice R. "Hank" "Greenberg makes the following point: "We cannot survive as a nation of only service industries, of plumbers and electricians and other day-to-day jobs that cannot be outsourced." Yesterday, Harry Harding, Eurasia Group's director of research and analysis, was talking about the 200-mile radius rule--that if a good or service is offered to you beyond your need to reasonably go out and get it--it can be outsourced--because it doesn't matter to you whether it comes from 201 miles away or 2,001 miles away. Take health care. The person who takes your x-ray needs to be someone who is reasonably geograpically proximate to you--but given advances in telecommunications the person who analyzes the x-ray can be anywhere around the world.

So your doctor, car mechanic, gardener, barrista--these are people who need to be "close" to you--but everyone else is vulnerable. Even me--in theory, an editor can be anywhere in the world as long as you have a good computer and internet connection.

There are, of course, consequences. The first, as Harry pointed out, is that in the United States unions are increasingly focusing their efforts on those jobs and sectors that cannot be outsourced--health care, the universities, government. Interesting to speculate on the future of the labor movement as a result.

The second is that the United States, as Greenberg noted, cannot indefinitely continue its trade imbalance. The United States needs to reconcentrate its entrepreneurial energies and human capital on developing "the next generation" of goods and services. A point also raised by former Energy Secretary James Schlesinger--that the country that can break energy dependence on petroleum will have an immense technological advantage over other states.

Perhaps it is time for the U.S. to reconsider its stand on industrial policy? (See also our previous discussion on Challenging Orthodoxies).

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Germany's national interest--and Schroeder's personal interests

The Washington Post is upset that former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has decided to work for GAZPROM, the Russian state owned gas firm, to oversee the new Baltic pipeline project.

I think that it is perfectly correct for the Post or any other news outlet to raise questions about the propriety of Germany's immediate past chancellor taking such a high profile business position weeks after stepping down from office. Germans also have aright to know whether Herr Schroeder used his official position improperly to move this project forward.

But the Post's vision for how Germany should conduct its relations with Russia seems divorced from a sober assessment of Germany's national interests, apart from any appearance of impropriety on the part of the former chancellor.

The Post's editors don't like the Baltic pipeline project because "The Baltic Sea pipeline could allow Russia, a country that has made political use of its energy resources, to cut off gas to Central Europe and the Baltic states while still delivering gas to Germany." Why is this Germany's problem? News flash. All energy producing countries use their energy resources for political purposes (e.g. Venezuela shipping low cost heating oil to the United States). Indeed, I remain amazed at the incomprehensibility of the proposition that Russia should have to sell energy (usually at below market rates) to countries who pursue policies it perceives as hostile to its interets.

And I've been told by some senior Germans that they have grown a bit concerned about having vital energy resources continue to arrive by land through countries willing to play chicken with Russia concerning the energy supply. President Yushchenko of Ukraine got an earful when he visited Berlin earlier this year. The Germans, simply put, no longer want to have other states to their east to have a hand on the taps that affect whether they get heat and power in the winter--whether Ukrainians, Belarussians, Poles or Balts. The pipeline is a higher cost but I've been told it is viewed as a premium for energy security.

Come to think of it, wasn't this the rationale behind the Baku-Ceyhan line, not wanting to have a vital pipeline carrying oil to Western markets cross Russia because of legitimate fears of Russia's ability to interfere with that supply?

We can fault Schroeder's decision (hints of Pat Choate and his Agents of Influence but let's separate Schroeder's personal interests from Germany's national ones.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Media Bias, the War in Iraq and Senator Clinton's Continuing Dilemma

Howard Kurtz's Media Notes revisits yet again the eternal debate over bias in the media and coverage of the war in iraq; is the media focusing on bad things, neglecting to cover the positive stories?

Michael O'Hanlon and Adriana Lins de Albuquerque have made the case that bad and good news CAN coexist side by side in Iraq, but more importantly, that one does not necessarily counter or cancel out the other. (See their "Gauging the Aftermath" that appeared in the Summer 2004 issue of The National Interest.) This was a point raised in the Kurtz column as well--that the car bombing of the police academy is not "balanced" by the opening of a new health clinic.

We should acknowledge that media bias always exists--it can be deliberate or unintentional, for reasons of party or class; as I once commented for a Russian audience, my view of Washington, DC would change dramatically if I walked 15 blocks from my office.

Accepting that media outlets prefer to cover death and gore and explosions over reconstruction and quiet, to what extent is the picture coming out of Iraq an inaccurate one?

To me, it seems to depend on what extent the capital is a bellweather for the rest of the country. When Washington DC and New York during the 1980s had high crime and murder rates, it did not necessarily mean that the rest of the country was on the verge of anarchy. Even in Washington--and to this present time--the crime is geographically contained and usually makes news now only when the forward spearheads of gentrification move into "bad" areas of the city (the paradox of paying $500,000 for a home so someone can urinate in your front garden). Is the same true for Iraq? Do what extent does the peace and prosperity and reconstruction of certain areas depend ultimately on stability in Baghdad and the Sunni Triangle?

Of course, this is not the kind of reporting we get--we get snippets of real time events but little framework for analysis.

Dan Balz picks up the theme of Hilary Clinton's attempts to balance initial support for the war with later criticisms in today's Washington Post. The article tracks many of the comments in our discussion of that question last week. My sense is, however, that the national party will work overtime to try to marginalize any anti-war protest candidate in the primary for the Senate nomination next year. I also found Balz's point about HRC using e-mail as a way to prevent any footage from being taped that could then be used later on quite interesting.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Dueling op-eds on Russia and Civil Society

On Wednesday, Jack Kemp and John Edwards published their condemnation of Russia's proposed law on NGOs in the New York Times. My take on the subject appeared in the International Herald Tribune.

Needless to say, we have different takes. Kemp and Edwards say the legislation will doom the Russian NGO sector; my point is that much of Russia's indigenous NGO sector will be little affected. Kemp and Edwards say that the very idea behind the legislation is wrong; my starting point is that all societies--even the United States and Western Europe--place some limits on NGO activities, especially as they relate to foreign financing and political activity.

There are some points of agreement, if you read both texts closely (and of course, most people don't). I think that the legislation has serious flaws and Kemp and Edwards agree that safeguarding the integrity of the electoral process is a legitimate concern.

But the overall divergence--and what makes the debate about Russia policy so acrimonious--is your assessment of Putin. Kemp and Edwards start from the premise that Putin is ipso facto a negative force, and that his policies are ill-intentioned even if they concede there might be some benefit to be gained from it. I have a different perspective. I never signed on as a number of U.S. commentators (and apparently the president as well) did to over-exaggerate Putin's commitment to democracy. I've always characterized what he wants as managed pluralism. I've always felt his interest in democracy is functional--if it works to make Russia a stronger state, he's for it, not out of any ideological conviction about abstract ideas about rights. And he is clearly in the Stolypin mode--retrench and consolidate the state first at the expense of freedom in order to promote stability. And my problem with some of the U.S. commentators is that they continue to refuse to recognize the enormous shock and damage that occurred to Russia in the 1990s. I think liberal parties did poorly in the Moscow elections--and Moscow is the richest, best-educated, most liberal city in Russia--not simply because of Kremlin machinations but because voters don't trust them to do a good job (and either didn't show up to vote or voted for other parties). I think there is such a thing as "reform fatigue" and that even in countries like Poland we've seen evidence of this--and countries like Poland had an enormous advantage because of their track for entry into the EU--an option Ukraine or Georgia doesn't have.

I think that there needs to be a real debate over these issues, not the tired Washington Putin-is-Stalin / Putin-is-Brezhnev choices that seem to be the only acceptable options for discussion about Russia.

(By the way, we also need a Russia debate that is honest and addresses issues. You don't have to agree with my analysis or assessment, and I accept that. I don't accept charges that because the way my last name is spelled means I can't be objective. I also reject the canard that has begun to circulate that somehow the Nixon Center, the publisher of TNI, is in dire financial straits (this a lie) and is going to be receiving funds from a pro-Kremlin Russian businessman. Debate my ideas, which are my own--don't make up stories that imply that one's views are for sale.)

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Challenging Orthodoxies, Part II

Continuing now to Barry Lynn's arguments.

Lynn notes that besides globalization, there has been a second major revolution: the restructuring of the global industrial system as the vertically-integrated firm has disintegrated in favor of outsourcing production and services and as firms eliminate large amounts of inventory in favor of "just in time" suppliers from a single source (the "Toyota System").

This has created an effective but extremely fragile global economic system susceptible to extreme disruptions.

In the case of the U.S.-China relationship, you have a situation unprecedented in human history where two potential competitors have, in effect, merged their industrial system into a single commons. Does this automatically mean, however, that this will lead to harmony, that both sides will make the positive compromises to avoid conflict?

What would happen if there was a Tiananmen Square II? What happens if certain segments of the Chinese leadership conclude that, over time, we are exporting industrial goods to the U.S. and we are importing "paper" (debt obligations)--and decide to test whether they have leverage over U.S. policy? What good will U.S. military alliances in East Asia be if U.S. supply lines are running deeper and deeper into China?

A utopian stance does not facilitate policy discussion. We need a sober industrial posture, Lynn says. This is not a call to protectionism, but to diversify supply chains so that there are multiplier suppliers in multiple locations for key goods and services, and to limit the percentage obtained from any single country. This way, risks can be spread out.

Challenging Orthodoxies

We had a stimulating discussion at the magazine today with Jack Snyder (Columbia University), Barry Lynn (New America Foundation) and Edward Mansfield (University of Pennsylvania), on the articles they are publishing in the forthcoming issue of The National Interest--"Prone to Violence" and "Trade, War and Utopia." In this post, let me summarize the Snyder/Mansfield arguments about premature democratization:

Snyder/Mansfield and Lynn are taking aim at two of the article of faith of the utopians--that promotion of democracy and closer economic ties between states guarantees international peace and harmony.

A strategy of forced-paced democratization, Snyder warned, is more likely to engender greater conflict and instability. A stalled transition to democracy in a country with weak political institutions greatly increases the likelihood of internal conflict or external war--between four to fifteen times more likely--than in states that remain authoritarian or are stable, mature democracies.

Mansfield notes that incomplete democratic transitions are the rule rather than the exception--that a state that starts to democratize is twice as likely not to complete the process. This calls into question the U.S. strategy that all one has to do is to "get the ball rolling" and the process will complete itself. Unless you are prepared to devote the resources and energy to manage the process all the way through--with all of the expense that entails--you are better off letting democracy occur under a gradual, evolutionary process.

Snyder and Mansfield note that successful democratic transitions are associated with states that are rich, have high rates of literacy and civic participation and a usable state framework (strong state institutions) and the legacy of previous attempts at democratization (a responsible press, political parties, etc.) In other cases, premature forced democratization usually leads to ethnic and sectarian polarization and inhibits the development of effective, neutral institutions capable of providing good governance.

In such cases, new elites seeking to gain legitimacy or old elites trying to hold on to power are more likely to stoke the fires of aggressive nationalism--significantly increasing the chances of civil war or external conflict.

A policy of nurtured evolution--building institutions, strengthening rational state administration, moving to develop the rule of law and a mass media culture predicated on responsibility--is the precondition to successfully opening the political system.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

World Affairs, Bill Buckley and populist authoritarianism

I just returned from speaking at the Ambassador's Roundtable of the World Affairs Forum in Stamford, CT. The World Affairs Councils (and the American Committees for Foreign Relations) are an unsung resource in ensuring that in a democratic republic like the United States, foreign policy questions are not limited to a high priesthood of Washington wonks but are discussed and analyzed all across the country. It is groups like these that help provide the glue of our civil society.

My hosts invited me to a gala last night for the Ferguson Library Foundation in Stamford, which was honoring one of Stamford's most prominent literary citizens--National Review founding editor William Buckley. In the conversation that followed, he was asked about Iraq. I found his answer to be quite interesting: that Iraq is not a "conservative" war in the sense that a "conservative" policy is based upon prudential assessments, especially the likelihood of achieving one's goal. If the goal is defined not as removing Saddam Hussein but constructing a working democracy in Iraq, then the war cannot be seen as a conservative undertaking, given the near-utopian nature of that project.

This morning's talk was on "Russia and the Crisis in Europe" and one of the themes that emerged is the rise of populist authoritarianism. Certainly the recent elections in Azerbaijan, Venezuela and Kazakhstan have demonstrated that people, if given a choice between destabilizing liberal reformers and authoritarians promising stability and prosperity, will either vote for the latter and/or not object to the regime's efforts to stay in power. I think that in Kazakhstan perhaps some of Nursultan Nazarbayev's team went a bit overboard--if he was likely to get 70-75 percent of the vote, why damage the country's reputation by over-managing the process to get 91 percent? Perhaps they were paranoid about voter apathy.

One can argue that populist authoritarians can depend on rising oil and gas prices to buy off populations--and that is certainly true to some extent. But what about a country like Belarus, with no oil and gas of its own, or the faltering revolutions in Serbia or Ukraine? I think that those of us insulated from major economic shocks don't have an appreciation for how dislocating reform can be and why, if reforms falter or go bad, democracy itself can be discredited.

And it is interesting that continental Europeans, at least the major German, Italian and French conglomerates, prefer dealing with Putin's state capitalism rather than with the old "free-market oligarchs" ...

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

War on Terror ... Welcome back to September 10, 2001

ETA claims it has planted a bomb at a Spanish airport ... victims from another suicide bombing in Israel are buried ... Al-Qaeda in Iraq claims responsibility for a strike on a police academy ... just a few items from the headlines.

What's happened with the war on terror? For all intensive purposes, the world has returned to September 10, 2001.

Terrorist attacks remain a fact of life in many parts of the world. Contrary to what the pundits said, the world did not change on 9/11, and the attempt to make the “war on terror” the new central organizing principle of international relations has fizzled out.

In the immediate aftermath of September 11, while the rubble still smoldered at the Pentagon and the World Trade Center, the United States reached out to other states around the globe with a series of propositions. The first, based on Thomas Jefferson’s principle that “governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes”, was that government—even ones that were corrupt, authoritarian, and dictatorial—trumped anarchy. No matter how noble the cause—even freedom and self-determination—nothing could justify acts that undermined the very nature of civilized society. The second was that a terrorist group that threatened one state threatened the entire global community; pre 9/11 distinctions—one man’s terrorist another man’s freedom fighter—were supposed to end.

Eliminating Osama bin Laden’s Afghan redoubt was a course of action everyone agreed upon. Since then, the “grand coalition” has been slowly unraveling.

For one, most governments were unwilling to sign a “blank check” on labeling groups as “terrorist.” Arab countries balked at categorizing Palestinian rejectionists carrying out “martyrdom operations” against Israel; members of the U.S. Congress were averse to including Chechen and Uighur separatists as part of the terrorist axis of evil; most countries declined to include Iraq as a “central front” in the war on terror despite Bush’s exhortations. Even when civilians are killed, terrorism is increasingly in the eye of the beholder.

Linked to that is the growing trend to compartmentalize “the cause” from organizations which engage in terrorism on its behalf. Yasir Arafat and the late Chechen leader Aslan Maskhadov routinely condemned terrorist activity and disavowed all responsibility for attacks in Israel or Russia which killed civilians. Not surprisingly, concerning the latest Delhi bombings, the leader of Lashkar-e Taiba, Maulana Abdul Wahid, maintains his group is “fighting Indian occupation forces” in “occupied Kashmir” but claims they have no links to Islami Inqilabi Mahaz, the group which claimed responsibility for the attacks on the markets. Not surprisingly, some in Pakistan therefore have argued that a distinction can and should be drawn between Kashmiris engaged in a legitimate struggle of national liberation against India versus those who carried out the pre-Diwali bombings, in contrast to the Indian assertion that the two organizations represent the same group.

And while some terrorist groups continue to attack clearly civilian targets—buses, markets, theaters and resorts—urban guerilla warfare is making a comeback. Many of the attacks across Iraq or the raid in Nalchik in the North Caucasus this past month targeted police stations and other government buildings. Exploiting a “grey area” in the traditionally accepted definition of terrorism (defined as political violence which deliberately targets civilians), militants embracing this form of combat argue that they are attacking “occupation forces” or the “functionaries” of an unjust and repressive regime, and not engaged in terrorism per se—that civilian deaths are regrettable collateral damage.

Add the democracy quotient to the mix—with the overtone that non-democratic, authoritarian governments have less right to claim they are victims of terrorism, because their own misrule must surely have contributed to legitimate grievances—coupled with “strategic considerations” and the basis for common cause in combating terrorism among the world’s great powers erodes further.

Many hoped that the lasting result of the 9/11 attacks would be to seal the cracks in the international system that had allowed terrorists to slip through. Four years later, it is politics as usual.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Meanwhile, on the right ...

I may not be one of the best connected Washington listening posts, but interesting things do come across my desk from time to time ...

Last week WR paid a good deal of attention to questions facing the Democrats. But the Republicans also have their own baggage to deal with going into the 2006 and more importantly the 2008 elections.

For the first time in living U.S. political memory, the sitting vice-president is not the presumptive nominee of his party for the presidency. At the same time, the sitting president has eroding approval ratings and popular support.

The dilemma that Republicans face is what to do about the Bush legacy. Run on it, run against it, or "modify" it.

The president retains the allegiance of a hard core of supporters for whom the posturing and positioning of some of the Republican Senators skirts close to treasonous, backstabbing behavior. The first challenge is how to retain the core but be able to reach out, first to disaffected Republicans and then to centrist voters--to put together a majority that can first win the primaries and then the general election.

A number of social conservatives, for their part, are getting fed up with the perceived "bait and switch" tactics of the national Republicans--and the failed Harriet Miers nomination brought many of these resentments out into the open.

A major bellweather is going to be what Senator Brownback (R-KS) does. He has been described to me as the "Howard Dean" of the Republicans--someone capable of unleashing a great deal of enthusiasm and to bring a large number of grass-roots supporters into the process--in his case, tapping into the megachurches around the country. Brownback could run on the theme of "completing" what Bush started or argue that the president betrayed (or more likely, those around the president betrayed) the agenda.

Someone like Senator Hagel (R-NE) might run on a restorationist platform--a need for Republicans to return to the guiding principles of Eisenhower and Reagan (balance and moderation).

Senator McCain (R-AZ) is still poised to capture the "maverick" label, with his odd amalgamation of hard-core conservative views with his reputation for bipartisanship and independence creating for him the impression of someone who rises above narrow party lines to pursue the national interest--and it is interesting that some posit a "post-party" McCain/Lieberman ticket for 2008. (Others talk about a McCain/Condoleezza Rice pairing).

I was told by a Republican source that the outcome of the 2006 elections will set the tenor for 2008. If the Republicans face major losses, the question will be asked: are voters angry with the Bush platform, or with its execution (vision versus compentence)--and that prospective 2008 candidates will adjust accordingly.

Interestingly, the Republicans may turn to the same strategy that I think Democrats absolutely need to embrace if they are to be a viable force--the outside-the-Beltway governor, someone who doesn't have his fingerprints all over Iraq strategy. (But someone other than Jeb Bush, whose star in Florida has begun to flicker in recent years.) Romney of Massachussetts has already been profiled, but you have others--Owens in Colorado, Taft in Ohio--who can run as "compassionate conservatives."

Saturday, December 03, 2005

More comments on Andreasan, whether the Democrats have Iraq war baggage, etc.

I've been contacted by some people who say that there's a problem with posting comments to the site; I'll look into that.

"conservative realist" wanted to make this point:

It is really odd, this strange phenomenon where realist conservatives are embraced by antiwar leftists as comrades in arms.

And then to go from that to all sorts of diatribes about fascist

Let's get off of the 1960s fantasy train here that there is gong to be some groundswell antiwar movement that is going to usher in the age of Aquarius.

That train left the station after the 2004 elections. The debate in
America now revolves around what sort of conservatism will
prevail--fiscal/libertarian versus activist/evangelical.

In the end, the worldview of a Scowcroft is still much closer to that of a Cheney than the left wing of the Democratic party. As the troops withdraw and the war ceases to be much of an issue after 2006, the old allegiances will reassert themselves.

------ [This is the end of the first comment]

Another comment--this one going back to one of the first things posted on this site, the "Taking Exception" column I co-authored responding to Charles Krauthammer, but also responding to later points made here--has been to argue that the Bush approach is essentially the correct one, and is the forward-looking one, even if mistakes have been made in execution; that preserving the status quo in the Middle East is untenable and that only a radical break with the past can not only promote American values but U.S. national security.

------ [This is based on a note sent directly to me, not my own views]
If I might comment here--"conservative realist"'s comments track those that have been advocating, in TNI's pages and other outlets, by GW professor Henry Nau, who has argued that conservatives of all stripes--realists, necons, nationalists, isolationists, multilateralists--in the end will also agree more than disagree. In other words, in the final analysis a Sam Brownback, Chuck Hagel, John McCain, Colin Powell and Richard Haass will find a way to keep the Republican "big tent" together, and that some sort of "old Republican/centrist Democrat" alliance against neocons is not likely to happen.

The second comment I think exposes the very real divide in thinking about foreign policy--"morality of intention" versus "morality of results". Is the status quo in the Middle East untenable? Yes it is. Is radical intervention the best solution? I don't think so. I think we always need to resist the impulse to "do something" for the sake of "doing something" and to consider all consequences.

A number of people were surprised when Israel's Ambassador to the U.S., Daniel Ayalon, speaking at the Nixon Center a few weeks back, said that Israel did not automatically want to see "regime change" in Damascus, that what concerned Israel was what a regime did, not its nature. This is a point Aluf Benn made in the summer 2005 issue of TNI about why Sharon has not signed on to Bush's democracy promotion strategy for the Middle East.

If you have problems with comments, please let me know.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Clinton NSC director on what Bush should say

Steve Andreasan, who served as the NSC director for arms control and defense policy for the entire Clinton presidency, has an op-ed in today's Baltimore Sun on the speech President Bush should deliver on Iraq. Could this serve as the basis for a bipartisan consensus? For your consideration.

As the president, I am responsible for the conduct of our nation's foreign policy. I made the decision to go to war in Iraq based on my judgment of the threat to the American people posed by Saddam Hussein.

"We now know that the information I had regarding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq before the war was wrong. Moreover, in presenting the case for war to the American people, members of my administration - including me - did not adequately explain the uncertainties surrounding the intelligence. That was wrong, and I apologize.

"I still believe the decision to remove Saddam Hussein from power was right. There are those who disagree. History will be the ultimate judge. But before the historians have their say, we must come together to stabilize Iraq, bring our troops home and win the war against Islamic extremism. These are interests that transcend the debate over the war or party politics.

"We are at a crucial phase in our efforts to build an independent Iraq. A new Iraqi constitution has been adopted, and the elections will lead to a new Iraqi government. Once that new government is in place, the Iraqi people must move quickly to resolve their differences and build a new Iraq. America will do everything it can to ensure their success. But American troops will not stay in Iraq to be witness to a civil war.

"As a first step in building a new consensus in America for meeting the serious challenges that lie ahead, I am inviting the Republican and Democratic leaders in both the House and Senate to meet with me at Camp David. We will set aside any partisan politics and work on a common strategy for stabilizing Iraq so that our troops can come home.

"We must also develop a common strategy for defeating radical Islam, strengthening our defenses at home and redoubling our efforts to keep nuclear, biological and chemical weapons out of the hands of those who would use them against us.

"I am convinced this is an agenda that has broad support in Congress, in America and in the capitals of our allies abroad. Let us now work together to ensure the security of America and the success of freedom."

Senator Clinton, answer the question

I can foresee the following situation, perhaps on Meet the Press or a gathering of prospective Democratic candidates:

Senator Clinton, you voted to give President Bush the authority to go to war in Iraq; in October 2002 you said that "Saddam Hussein has wroked to rebuild his chemical and biological weapons stock, his missile delivery capability and his nuclear program" and you also said that he gave "aid, comfort and sanctuary" to members of Al-Qaeda. Do you still stand by these assessments and your decision?

HRC's e-mail earlier this week says:

"I take responsibility for my vote, and I, along with a majority of Americans, expect the president and his administration to take responsibility for the false assurances, faulty evidence and mismanagement of the war," the New York senator said in a lengthy letter to thousands of people who have written her about the war.

At the same time, she said the United States must "finish what it started" in Iraq.

But is this sufficient?

I want to thank the various commentators to the previous post dealing with the Podhoretz editorial, and first let me say I agree that in terms of POLICY, how we got into Iraq and the blame game associated with it does nothing to address the failures or how we get out successfully or the responsibility of the executive branch. But there is also a political dimension as well, and how leading Democrats deal with the above hypothetical question is also going to be important in determining the 2008 nominee. The Iraq issue will not have been "defused" by then and I think it will still be relevant.

HRC could take the Lieberman line, I thought the intelligence was valid, Saddam Hussein was a threat who needed to be dealt with, and I challenge the competence of the Bush Administration in carrying out what was essentially a correct policy.

She could say, I was misled, and I realize now that there are significant problems with U.S. intelligence capabilities as well as recognizing that we in the Congress failed to conduct proper oversight.

I wonder to what extent this may be the real reason--Democrats who opposed Gulf War I in 1990-91 talked about a long hard struggle, a quagmire, loss of life and largely voted against Bush I--and then it was a short quick victorious little war with little American loss of life, largely paid for by other states. How many calculated that a vote for giving Bush authority to go to war would burnish their national-security credentials and then after a second quick war Bush II would implode on domestic issues like his father paving the way for a Democrat to return to the White House in 2004?

I also think that it is significant that as Bush's ratings have fallen it has not been the mainstream Democrats who have benefited. Two Republican Senators--the maverick McCain and the moderate Hagel--have emerged as the key thinkers on the Iraq issue, and the two Democrats who have most benefited are, by Democratic standards, out of the mainstream--Senator Feingold [not the late Wellstone as initially posted] and Congressman Murtha. I haven't heard anyone saying, "If only Kerry had been elected" nor do I see a major bump for HRC, Kerry, Biden or Edwards.

If I were a DNC strategist, I'd be working very hard to get a pledge from any Democrat who served in the Senate from 2000 to 2004 to voluntarily NOT run for the presidential nomination in 2008, in favor of someone who did not have access to the intelligence reports or had a tortured voting record on the Iraq issue.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Seeing Red ...

Those poor benighted Russians! If only they would agree to accept the indispensable guidance of the West in running their affairs!

In an article in the forthcoming isuse of The Washington Quarterly, Sarah Mendelson and Theodore Gerber cite survey data that some 59 percent of YOUNG Russians (e.g. those who came to maturity in the waning days of the USSR or in the post-Soviet period altogether) believe that foreign donors try to use their assistance to Russian NGOs to interfere in Russia's domestic affairs, and a whopping 72 percent said foreigners should stop trying to impose their ideas on Russian society.

Their solution? Refocus democracy assistance away from institutions in favoring of cultural change.

On the surface, it seems like a good idea. But in practice, this simply seems like another way of saying "think like we do, like the things we like" or else. And the bias still comes seeping through. At one point in their article, for example, they state that a Russian apology for the occupation of the Baltic States (something only 9 percent supported) would "bring Russia's understanding of that period in line with that of the West"--because the West's perception and definition is obviously the normative one.

Don't misunderstand me. I was one of those who publicly said that the Russian government's refusal to make such an apology was stupid and counterproductive (see the "Realist" in the Summer 2005 issue of The National Interest). But I don't think that Americans, British or French are on strong moral grounds here. Remember Clinton's famous non-apology for African slavery? How about having the British and French apologize for Munich--after all, there is a very strong possibility that if the Munich sell-out had not occurred and the Western powers lived up to their commitments, the entire chain of events that led to the occupation of the Baltic States would never have occurred. And how about at least a belated recognition that the Western powers flirted with the idea of pitting Germany and the USSR against each other (pace Senator Truman's comments in 1941).

Which brings me to Cathy Young's op-ed in the Boston Globe (via the IHT). I absolutely love the dripping condescension of the opening paragraph: "If Russia had a Thanksgiving Day, those Russians who care about freedom would not have much to be thankful for this year." Because most Russians obviously don't care about freedom, or at least not in the ways we want them to--a key point also in the TWQ article. Otherwise why would they vote for Putin?

The NGO legislation is worrying--it follows Putin's vision of "managed pluralism" for Russian society. Are there objectionable points? Absolutely! But there are also legitimate concerns, too. I find it odd when Americans advocate policies for other countries that are illegal here--such as allowing foreign organizations to sponsor political movements.

I think a more constructive approach would be for the U.S., Britain, Germany and France to express their concerns about how the draft legislation could seriously restrict civil society and offer their expertise as to how each of them regulate NGOs and civil society groups to address some of Putin's concerns. If he then rejects the advice, fine, then unleash the criticism--but let's not dismiss Russian concerns out of hand.

But what also bothers me about the Young piece is how easily Americans play hard and fast with the truth. History is now being rewritten so that all semi-autocratic, dictatorial regimes in the region must now be "pro-Moscow." So Young writes, "Nongovernmental organizations were instrumental in bringing down authoritarian pro-Moscow regimes in Ukraine and Georgia." Kuchma and Shevardnadze were PRO-MOSCOW? That's news to me. Shevardnadze was a constant thorn in Russia's side, the one who brought U.S. forces into the country for the train and equip program, the one who constantly refused Russia's demands to allow Russian forces to enter Georgian territory and who pushed hard for the complete removal of all Russian bases, an instrumental figure in getting the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline under way. Kuchma--let's see, the one who helped to form GUUAM--the U.S. attempt to counterbalance Russian influence in the region, who sent troops to Iraq, who did his utmost to frustrate Russian attempts to create a Russian-dominated economic union. But no matter. It spoils the narrative, of pro-Russian autocrats and pro-American democrats.

The U.S. is running into what I call the "democracy paradox" in a number of countries--what happens when those who share your vision are a real minority and couldn't win at the ballot box? In the 1990s, we told our democratic reformers in Russia to ignore democracy and rule by decree. This is the conundrum we face in the Middle East, and increasingly will face in Latin America as well.

Iraqi Withdrawal?

My colleague Ray Takeyh had this to say in today's Newsday in response to the president's speech yesterday.

Two segments I wanted to share.

The first: "The president's curious logic ignores the fact that the determination of the insurgents is not predicated on the longevity of the U.S. presence. Indeed, in three years of occupation without a deadline, the insurgency has only grown - in geographic scope, in the potency of its tactics and in the sophistication of its operations."

The second: "Far from intensifying the insurgency, a responsible American withdrawal plan will compel pragmatic forces within Iraq society to step forward and renegotiate a new national compact for their country. A pledge to withdraw will alter the debate from U.S. occupation to the future of Iraq. In such a political arena the insurgency will be confined to the margins of the society."

The point for debate is this: is the U.S. presence inhibiting the "normal" political process from occurring? In other words, does the continued presence of large numbers of ground forces (rather than smaller, specialized units for training, delivering targeted airpower strikes, etc.) create a crutch for Iraqi politicians and more importantly, the local leaders and elites, not to have to deliver on security and more importantly, the political framework needed to sustain the country without significant outside involvement?

Takeyh's point would seem to be confirmed by the experience of Bosnia and then Kosovo: the "parental" theory of reconstruction--significant outside forces to allow time for new institutions to grow and take root--can easily turn into a long-term dependency that makes it more difficult, over time, for these new institutions to grow.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?