Thursday, March 30, 2006

Asking the Right Questions About Democracy Promotion

I've long been an advocate of erecting a "Chinese wall" between civil society efforts to help spread knowledge about democracy (including training, etc.) and government initiatives in foreign policy. Guy Dinmore's insightful piece in the Financial Times raises all of the right questions about current plans vis-a-vis Iran:


Some academics, activists and those involved in the growing US business of spreading freedom and democracy are alarmed that such semi-covert activities risk damaging the public and transparent work of other organisations, and will backfire inside Iran.

“The danger is that this is a move towards covert political warfare that will completely stymie the whole idea of democracy building. This kind of activity endangers nearly 20 years of democracy promotion,” commented Michael Pinto-Duschinsky, a UK founding governor of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy.

“Getting crowds on the streets to overthrow regimes can backfire badly,” he said. He and other academics reject the notion that the east European experience can be applied to Iran.

There is concern in Europe too. Diplomats say the Bush administration’s request this year for $85m in pro-democracy funding – and its refusal to hold talks with Iran – will be seen as tantamount to a policy of “regime change”. They say this risks undermining efforts – continuing with a Berlin meeting of foreign ministers on Thursday – to resolve the crisis over Iran’s nuclear programme.


Mehrangiz Kar, a prominent Iranian lawyer and human rights activist, has issued an impassioned plea to Condoleezza Rice, secretary of state, to drop her funding plans.

The money would tarnish Iranian human rights organisations, turn them into businesses, stoke corruption and play into the hands of the security forces, she said, suggesting the US channel funds through international organisations like the United Nations and the World Bank.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Faltering Revolutions

Even if the pieces of Ukraine’s fragmented “Orange Coalition” are able, by
some miracle, to form a coalition government, the first place finish by ex-
Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych’s “Party of the Regions” in Sunday’s
parliamentary elections highlight the dramatic reversal of fortune in
Ukrainian politics. President Viktor Yushchenko, hailed a year ago in
Washington as a new Lech Walesa, seems to be following the Polish leader’s
trajectory—a hero in opposition, a failure in governing—in large part because
many in Ukraine feel that he was unable to deliver on his promises of closer
meaningful relations with the West. Meanwhile, in one of the quickest
political recoveries in modern times, Yanukovych, all but discredited after
his attempts to use fraud to secure the presidency in 2004, has emerged as
Ukraine’s leading political figure—by an election that the United States
considers to have been the freest and fairest in Ukraine’s post-Soviet

It’s not just the Orange Revolution that is losing steam. Further east,
Georgia has been shaken up by a violent attempt to break out up to 4000
criminals from Tbilisi’s prison number 5 and another sabotage attempt against
its power grid. Meanwhile, the U.S. ambassador to the OSCE, Julie Finley,
warned that “Georgia’s friends and allies” need to do more to help strengthen
democracy in the Caucasian republic, noting American concerns about "the
independence of the judiciary, the status of minority communities and freedom
of the media.” Is Mikheil Saakashvili’s political train traveling along the
same track as his predecessor Eduard Shevardnadze—who was also initially
lionized as a pro-Western democratic reformer and strategic ally of the United

Meanwhile, visiting the country that was the “grandmother” of the color
revolutions—Serbia—Senator George Voinovich (R-OH) renewed his call for the
West to create conditions for the rapid integration of all of former
Yugoslavia into the Euro-Atlantic community so that “you don't create an
environment in Serbia-Montenegro that the radicals, the nationalists exploit
and take over the government" by showing that a democratic administration has
been unable to meet the expectations of the people.

The lesson is quite clear: democratic breakthroughs—and the geopolitical
alterations they create—need active U.S. and EU engagement and support if they
are to be consolidated. An American strategy of democracy promotion in the
Eurasian space, for example, that was predicated largely upon the continued
Russian provision of subsidized energy and other economic benefits is bound to
fail—as the “gas crisis” of earlier this year so dramatically proved.

Too often, however, policymakers in Washington continue to reflect an attitude
crystallized in a comment attributed by the journalist Howard French to
Ambassador George Moose, when asked what the United States was doing to reward
Mali for its efforts to develop democracy: “Virtue is its own reward.”

That line may draw applause in a Washington that wants to cut foreign policy
costs but it ignores the cold reality that if the United States wants to
encourage the emergence of democratic governments in Eurasia and other parts
of the world that are pro-Western, holding out an abstract promise of eventual
inclusion in a “community of democracies” is no substitute for providing
tangible benefits.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Mearsheimer and Walt and the Lobbies

It is a sign of how behind I have gotten on my reading that I am now only getting to the (in)famous John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt essay in TLS on the Israel Lobby.

Given my perch to observe Washington life, one of the interesting footnotes to this discussion is the extent to which other governments and causes have a strong and enduring belief in the power, reach and depth of the Israel lobby, that is to say, that if you can convince the lobby that support of a particular country or initiative benefits Israel, you can get this "behemoth" on your side. It has been interesting to see how Armenians, Azeris, Greeks, Turks, Albanians, Russian oligarchs, the Russian government on Chechnya, the Indians (see an interesting article in TNI a few issues back by Raj Menon and Swati Pandey on the belief in New Delhi that the road to improved relations with Washington ran through Tel Aviv/Jerusalem) -- to name a few -- adopted a strategy of trying to cultivate the Israel lobby. The Serbs feel that they took the Israeli lobby for granted in the early 1990s--that World War II memories about pro-Nazi/pro-Axis forces in Croatia and Bosnia, plus the relatively positive relations between Serbs and Jews, would be sufficient; needless to say, they were unpleasantly surprised by the lack of support from Washington, even though the Israeli press tended to be more pro-Serb, and even though a segment of Likud opinion sympathized with the Jerusalem/Kosovo parallels.

I've heard it rumored that a number of countries are receiving pitches from lobby groups in DC promising them that they can get their country's agenda folded into the U.S.-Israel relationship. I think most are quite overrated, but it is testimony to the power of belief in the "Israel Lobby" as a nearly omnipotent force that this perception is so widespread.

Tired of the adjectives

I remarked a few weeks ago at the Cato Institute that I always become worried and cynical when I see people appending adjectives to the description of their policy orientations. In the last few months, there have been a flurry--people want to be idealistic realists, or realistic Wilsonians, or pragmatic humanitarians.

[Over at The Washington NoteSteve Clemons discussed former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright's views on Iran, and whether she is becoming a realistic idealist. Having been on panels with the former Secretary of State, I find she has a strong pragmatic streak--but whether she is moving in a realist direction, I don't know.]

I freely concede that adjectival descriptions are useful in helping to break down a large school of thought into discrete camps. Hence, constitutional monarchists (because you can have monarchists who don't advocate constitutional limits on a monarch's power), or democratic socialists (because you can advocate imposition of socialism by forceful means). Even adjectival descriptions such as liberal interventionist or ethical realist I think are useful.

But in Washington policy-speak, when the adjectives come out to try and square the circles, it is little more, in my opinion, than public-relations exercises in CYA, hair-splitting or for justifying action or inaction. E.G. I am a realistic interventionist can mean I want to get off the hook about intervening in Darfur or Congo. Sometimes it reminds me of some of the absurd political movements that developed among Russian emigres during the 1920s--those who advocated "the Tsar and the Soviets"--trying to endorse a "mixed" political system that would put the tsar back on the throne to preside over the creation of a socialist society!

Sometimes, these mishmash labels are created so someone can move closer to agreement with the positions of people they previously denounced--without having to admit they were wrong or have changed their minds. Readers of TWR know that I have been following the fate of Gen. Scowcroft and how many who denounced him now have accepted his analysis--but don't want to rehabilitate one of the leaders of the "realist" camp.

The value of labels--such as realist, neoconservative, etc.--is not to group people into monolithic blocs but to give us a sense of what first principles animate their thinking and their overall vision of the world. Realists may disagree profoundly among themselves over policies such as democracy promotion, the war in Iraq, etc. but they do so from different interpretations of shared principles. The same with neoconservatives, liberal interventionists, etc.

We have real challenges facing the United States and whether we will maintain our position in the international system. Playing word games is about as useful as re-arranging chairs on the Titanic.

UPI Commentary on Iran event

From Katherine Gypson's report in UPI: "U.S. limited in Iran war options: experts":

Some excerpts:

Ray Takeyh, a senior fellow at the Council for Foreign Relations and author of the upcoming book 'Hidden Iran; Paradox and Power in the Islamic Republic,' told a Nixon Center panel Thursday that Iran viewed relations with the United States just as it would approach 'any other pernicious, intrusive imperial country.' He attributed this attitude to the rise to power of the war generation, those who grew up during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War and who now view the United States with a mixture of distrust and passivity.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad`s 'curious' approach to diplomacy must be viewed in the context of the United States` central position in Iranian political narratives and the national imagination, Takeyh said.

The 1953 CIA coup which overthrew Iranian Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadeq was the starting point for a system of beliefs that continued until the 1980s, when the stalemate of the Iraq-Iran war led many Iranians to believe that 'outside superpowers were propping up Saddam (Hussein)`s regime.'

Col. Patrick Lang, former director of Middle East Intelligence at the Defense Intelligence Agency, agreed. 'Unless there a lot of bargaining carrots, Iran will feel as though they are abandoning an essential part of themselves,' he said.

Such an attitude has left the United States bereft of bargaining options for use with Iranians. The Bush administration has bet millions of dollars on overseas broadcasting, hoping to foment a regime change from within Iran.

'There is opposition sentiment within Iran but no viable opposition force,' Takeyh said. 'There is this assumption that the Iranian public is apathetic because it is information starved. It`s not -- it`s just apathetic.' Takeyh mentioned a variety of factors for Iranian public sentiment, among them economic factors and lack of political freedoms. 'More broadcasting pumped into the country may give them more information but it will not lead to revolution,' he said.

Lang analyzed the United States` military options by laying out several scenarios. The insertion of a major ground force invasion of Iran, he said, was made 'unthinkable,' due to domestic American political considerations and the strain on an overburdened U.S. military. It was also ruled out because the geographic reality of Iran would make it a logistical nightmare. 'No real army can be sustained on air transportation,' Lang said.

The idea of a large commando operation has been floated as a military option but Lang dismissed 'the idea that a bunch of guys with machine guns and a bunch of planes' could affect the desired degree of damage on the Iranian nuclear program as 'just silly.'

Lang said that the Israelis lacked the military equipment needed to undertake the best of the options -- an air campaign against possible uranium enrichment sites. 'The United States is the only country in the world that has capability of carrying out the estimated thousand strike sorties needed to destroy the Iran`s nuclear program,' he said.

'The objective has to be not to destroy the program, but to set it back a desired number of years,' Lang said.

Redundancy programs and decoys were cost-prohibitive and the United States must assume that Iran was assuming that there would be an air strike and is taking these precautions, he said.

Lang said that even if the air strikes were successful, the attacks would become a galvanizing force for both Shia and Sunni terrorist groups. 'Iran is the world`s largest state sponsor of terror,' he said. 'There is no reason to think that they would not respond.'

Friday, March 24, 2006

Eisenhower's Farewell Address

In our speed-driven media culture of today, soundbytes and tag lines replace actual analysis and oratory. This is especially true when we deal with historical materials.

President Eisenhower's farewell address is often reduced to the tag line, "warning about the military industrial complex." While that component is true, what is even more striking is Eisenhower's enunciation of American realist (what John Hulsman and Anatol Lieven would call "ethical realist") principles. Allow me to reproduce his thoughts here:


Throughout America's adventure in free government, our basic purposes have been to keep the peace; to foster progress in human achievement, and to enhance liberty, dignity and integrity among people and among nations. To strive for less would be unworthy of a free and religious people. Any failure traceable to arrogance, or our lack of comprehension or readiness to sacrifice would inflict upon us grievous hurt both at home and abroad.

Progress toward these noble goals is persistently threatened by the conflict now engulfing the world. It commands our whole attention, absorbs our very beings. We face a hostile ideology -- global in scope, atheistic in character, ruthless in purpose, and insidious in method. Unhappily the danger is poses promises to be of indefinite duration. To meet it successfully, there is called for, not so much the emotional and transitory sacrifices of crisis, but rather those which enable us to carry forward steadily, surely, and without complaint the burdens of a prolonged and complex struggle -- with liberty the stake. Only thus shall we remain, despite every provocation, on our charted course toward permanent peace and human betterment.

Crises there will continue to be. In meeting them, whether foreign or domestic, great or small, there is a recurring temptation to feel that some spectacular and costly action could become the miraculous solution to all current difficulties. A huge increase in newer elements of our defense; development of unrealistic programs to cure every ill in agriculture; a dramatic expansion in basic and applied research -- these and many other possibilities, each possibly promising in itself, may be suggested as the only way to the road we wish to travel.

But each proposal must be weighed in the light of a broader consideration: the need to maintain balance in and among national programs -- balance between the private and the public economy, balance between cost and hoped for advantage -- balance between the clearly necessary and the comfortably desirable; balance between our essential requirements as a nation and the duties imposed by the nation upon the individual; balance between actions of the moment and the national welfare of the future. Good judgment seeks balance and progress; lack of it eventually finds imbalance and frustration.


I also found the following point later in the address which point out the question of time--and a point I have often made in my own debates about the difference being promoting democracy to color countries in on a map versus sustainable development:


Another factor in maintaining balance involves the element of time. As we peer into society's future, we -- you and I, and our government -- must avoid the impulse to live only for today, plundering, for our own ease and convenience, the precious resources of tomorrow. We cannot mortgage the material assets of our grandchildren without risking the loss also of their political and spiritual heritage. We want democracy to survive for all generations to come, not to become the insolvent phantom of tomorrow.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Great Discussion on Iran

The magazine hosted a discussion on Iran with Col. Pat Lang (ret.) and Ray Takeyh of the Council, presided over by Ambassador Bob Blackwill. I'll try to post greater details later on, but the gist of the discussion revolves around assessing the costs of having Iran as a power in possession of a deliverable nuclear capability, and understanding the costs of different types of action, and prioritizing the trade-offs. A sobering but more productive way to look at a complex issue rather than spouting bumper-sticker cliches.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Security Council deliberations on Iran

Those who argued that the U.S. could cajole Russia and China into taking our view on Iran (the "we can walk and chew gum at the same time" crew)--your response?

From Reuters:

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The U.N. Security Council failed to reach an accord on Tuesday on how to respond to Iran's nuclear programs even as President George W. Bush warned Tehran could blackmail the world if it had the bomb.

Russia, backed by China, wants to delete large sections of a Franco-British draft statement the Security Council has been studying for nearly two weeks as a first reaction to Iran's nuclear research, which the West believes is a cover for bomb making.

Russia is concerned about how deeply the 15-member Council, which has the power to impose sanctions, should get involved in the Iranian crisis.


In Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang emphasised that "China and Russia have common views on how to resolve the Iranian nuclear issue."

"Our objectives are to solve the issue in a peaceful way through negotiations," he said, as Chinese President Hu Jintao and Russian President Vladimir Putin held talks in Beijing.

Moscow has offered to process uranium for Iran in an attempt to break a stalemate but Tehran has so far refused.

Russia's objections to the draft statement are many. It wants a provision deleted that mentions "peace and security," fearing it could lead to a resolution that requires mandatory action and could lead to sanctions, China reported.

And it wants individual points, mentioned in IAEA board resolutions, only referred to by document numbers.

"I believe that the Russian concern has its logic," said China's U.N. ambassador Wang Guangya when asked if he agreed.

Russia has also proposed North Korea-type talks with Iran among the five permanent council members, Germany and the IAEA's director general Mohamed ElBaradei. This would take the issue out of the Security Council.

"They argued for two tracks," said Wang. "On one hand you put pressure, on the other hand show a way out of this."


My colleague Ray Takeyh has been a lone voice saying that if you want to keep unity among the P-5 members as well as other key players like India, you may have to adopt the North Korea model of multi-power talks where the U.S. is directly involved. It will be interesting to see if China and Russia can convince the Europeans to move in this direction.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Aftermath of Belarus' Elections

Once again, the United States and Russia are on opposite sides of the line; Russia congratulating Aleksandr Lukashenka since "the people have spoken", the United States calling for a new election.

It was not an open election process, and Lukashenka's regime had no intention of holding a free and fair election. At the same time, my reading of polling data indicates that even if a free election were to be held, he would probably win with a slight majority, simply because, having been burned in the early 1990s with a prime minister who promised democracy and prosperity, most voters are going to stick with economic stability (especially given the trajectory of Ukraine since 2004).

This raises the question--what happens if an open election was held that returned the same result? The assumption here seems to be that if an election was not free and fair, then only the opposite result could be the legitimate one.

Reading some of the overseas commentary, it is very clear that the tepid reaction to election violations in Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan is discounting some of the U.S. criticism of Belarus'.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Exemplars of Democracy

I was supposed to go onto the BBC this weekend to talk about the NSS but at the last minute the producers decided to devote the entire program to the emerging scandal of "cash for peerages" (that businessmen who have helped the Labour Party with large loans and other financial matters were awarded knighthoods or elevated to the House of Lords).

Several things:

1) I liked the response of a Tory backbencher who said the matter gave off a stench that even an American congressman would find offensive. Interesting that the legislature of the world's leading democracy is held in such high regard!

2) This will go into Putin's file to be trotted out the next time a Western observer decries corruption in Russia or unseemly links between business and politics are protested. More of his, you have the same problems that we do.

Friday, March 17, 2006

More on The NSS--Extending the LA Times Remarks

I've gotten some feedback on my comments on the NSS that appeared in today's Los Angeles Times, where I said:

Nikolas K. Gvosdev, editor of the foreign policy journal the National Interest, said the strategy document was a "bit of a hodgepodge."

"If I'm an Iranian analyst trying to figure out the intentions of the Bush administration, the message I'm getting is awfully muddled," said Gvosdev, who is also a senior fellow at the Nixon Center, a nonpartisan foreign policy think tank. "This raises a question of mixed signals."


The feedback is that the NSS is quite clear about the threat posed by Iran and that there should be no doubt about the seriousness of U.S. intentions to deal with the Iranian nuclear program.

My extended responses:

1) Unfortunately the NSS increasingly is a political rather than strategic document. Perhaps I long for golden days that never really existed, that such documents were meant to guide strategic planning rather than appeal to different political constituencies, but I think that there is a difference between naming threats and providing a framework for action.

2) I don't see how this document assigns priorities for action and policy. It seems to set out a list of preferences without explaining much how we choose if we can't achieve them all.

3) Why would an Iranian be confused? Whether you agreed with or disliked the 2002 NSS, it had a clear and unambigious message about pre-emption. No Iraqi adviser to Saddam Hussein should have had any doubt that war was coming. With the 2006 statement, pre-emption remains in the text, but also a great deal of discusison about how ""Our strong preference and common practice is to address proliferation concerns through international diplomacy, in concert with key allies and regional partners."

So which takes precedence? Should Tehran assume the U.S. will adopt a North Korea strategy or an Iraq strategy? Add to that mixed signals being sent over the U.S.-Iran talks over Iraq--and a sense among U.S. allies and other partners that they don't have a clear sense of what the U.S. wants vis-a-vis Iraq, and the confusion grows.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Thoughts on the National Security Strategy

The National Security Strategy of the United States, in its 2006 incarnation, less of a practical guide to policy than its 2002 predecessor. I had a real sense in reading it that its purpose was less to provide a clear blueprint for policy and more to reconcile competing factions within the adminstration and within the Republican party, to produce a compromise document with different sections appealing to different factions.

My objections ...

No surprise, I find the opening segments to repeat the articles of democratic faith with little appreciation for the realities. Democracies don't fight each other, democracies align with each other on security interests, etc.

I don't get a sense of any real guidance of how policy is to be framed when the U.S. has to make choices between values and interests or even among different values and interests. Take Pakistan. Promote democracy or promote liberalism and the rule of law, since democracy doesn't necessarily leda to the latter two? Keep Musharraf in place and keep Pakistan aligned with us in the war on terror and in promoting detente on the Indian subcontinent?

So, I think what we are going to see is that the NSS itself is going to be further "clarified" and "defined".

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Kosovo commentary

For this week's Russia Profile Experts' Group:

Because every great power has its “favorites” among both the separatists and among the central governments, there is no possibility of settling any of these conflicts along “universal” lines. The United States insists that Kosovo must be an absolutely “unique” case because otherwise it is difficult to argue why Kosovo should be granted independence but this status denied to Abkhazia or Nagorno-Karabakh. Russia, for its part, wants to “swap” independence for Kosovo for recognition of the breakaway statelets in Trans-Dnistria, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, but it is difficult to see how Moscow would accept the universalization of the Kosovo precedent to encompass Chechnya or Taiwan. Javier Solana may wax eloquently about a European path for an independence Kosovo but I doubt he would endorse the break-up of Spain to permit separate Basque and Catalonian republics from emerging.

So let’s set aside any appeals to morality or justice and recognize that final settlements are going to be based on realpolitik assessments, just as the Congress of Vienna redrew boundaries after the Napoleonic wars. The best way forward is for diplomats to drop the rhetoric about self-determination and territorial integrity and start the bargaining for final settlements that are likely to endure and promote stability.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Thinking Outside the Box

The CATO forum was quite interesting and hopefully a transcript will be up soon.

Interventions always sound great when discussed in the abstract and when we conceive of the military as some sort of video-game force, where the computer provides an endlessly renewable supply of warriors.

We can't get a handle on the question, however, unless we are willing to address the manpower gap. This is not simply the fact that we have limited resources but also that in the U.S., we have competing and conflicting impulses: we want to do good, but we also want to do it at low or no cost. The trajectory of the Somalia mission in 1992-93 makes this clear--high support at the beginning for delivering food, decreasing support as the mission went on and as costs mounted, especially in terms of blood.

We also have to face front and center that for most humanitarian missions, trying to bait and switch the populace (if we don't fight the janjaweed in Darfur we'll have to fight them in Hoboken) may work in the short run but always produces a backlash. So we either need to create volunteer contingents in the military who sign up for such missions, go to the private sector or think about recreating the medieval hospitaller orders in some sort of 21st century fashion as knights-errant who go out to secure refugee camps.

The PMCs are the most controversial option, as the q and a session demonstrated. But as with Ukraine's supposed choice between the West and Russia, so to here: the choice is not between the U.S. military going to Darfur or the PMCs; it is between the PMCs or nobody (in terms of trained, skilled Western military forces).

Cato Forum today

I'll be speaking at this today and will post my comments afterwards:

With Good Intentions: U.S. Foreign Policy and Humanitarian Intervention

Tuesday, March 14, 2006
12:00 PM (Luncheon to Follow)

Featuring David Rieff, New York Institute for the Humanities at New York University, Contributing Writer, New York Times Magazine; Charles Kupchan, Senior Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations, Professor of International Relations, Georgetown University; Nikolas Gvosdev, Editor, The National Interest; and Christopher Preble, Director of Foreign Policy Studies, Cato Institute.

The Cato Institute
1000 Massachusetts Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20001

Watch the Event Live in RealVideo
Listen to the Event in RealAudio (Audio Only)

Many conservatives questioned the wisdom and efficacy of using the U.S. military for humanitarian missions in Somalia in 1993 and Haiti in 1994. More recently, however, voices on both the left and the right have called for U.S. military intervention in Darfur, Congo, and elsewhere.

What should trigger U.S. military intervention? Some observers advocate an expansive definition of the national interest to include consideration of America’s moral obligations. Those who favor a more constrained view of American interests worry that so-called moral missions carry high and frequently overlooked costs, and could therefore distract us from the business of defending America. Should policymakers focus their attention solely on U.S. security, or is the United States obligated to prevent genocide, ethnic cleansing, or wholesale violations of human rights?

The panelists will explore these and other questions in an attempt to frame the debate over the proper role of U.S. power in the world today.

Registration for events at the Cato Institute close 24 business hours prior to an event; however, seating is still available. If you would like to attend this event, please feel free to register on-site. Thank you.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Milosevic is Dead ...

Did Slobodan Milosevic "cheat" justice by dying before the Hague Tribunal could pronounce him guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity? That is the overall sentiment I am detecting in reading Western coverage, with ancillary comments about how the Serbs will never have to admit their "guilt" for the Yugoslav wars.

Death is cheating us of holding many of the perpetrators of the Yugoslav wars to account. Perhaps it is time to create a commission that will be prepared to go through the records and examine all leaders for the degree of culpability and responsibility. I am thinking here of Croatian president Franjo Tudjman, whose role (via his secret agreement with Milosevic to partition Bosnia) merits a much greater degree of scrutiny, as well as what others like Bosnian president Alija Izetbegovic said, did and ordered.

Some of those who argue against this seem to be opposed because a real investigation would take us away from the simple black and white narrative of good and bad guys. Others argue it would create some sort of moral equivalence. I think that the judgment of history fairly applied would still assign the major portion of blame for the death and suffering of the 1990s to Milosevic; what it might do, however, is indicate how the West played a far more realpolitik game than the current purveyors of moralpolitik would like us to believe (in terms of accepting ethnic cleansing in Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo when we felt it served our interests--especially the Croat cleansing of Muslims from Bosnia in 1993-94).

Friday, March 10, 2006

*Someone* in Iraq Understands PR

Reuters is reporting that Iraqi justice minister Abd al-Hussein Shandel has stated that, once Abu Ghraib is returned to Iraqi control, it will no longer be used as a prison.

Symbols matter. Why the U.S. continued to use Abu Ghraib as a prison for so longer after the invasion and occupation--especially when the prison was held up as a symbol of the tyranny of the old regime--I don't understand. I'm sure that there was some bean-counter reason about saving money involved. Did the Allies continue to use Nazi camps as detention centers after World War II? Did the Union use Andersonville as a prison for Confederates after the Civil War? No--in part because you don't want to lose the symbolic value of the name. Auschwitz will always be associated with Nazi tyranny. But Abu Ghraib now refers to the U.S., and the legacy of Saddam's brutality is lessened. (That and the way the trial is being handled.)

Great Discussions on the Previous Two Posts

Great discussion on the previous two posts (Russia policy and job security for pundits)--I am responding to queries directed to me in those threads.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Job Security for Pundits

Over at Global Paradigms, Leon Hadar updates his point about the "contrast between the way the losers who operate in the market (including financial analysts) are punished and the reality in which the losers in the political game (including foreign policy analysts) rarely get punished."

Hadar also calls attention to the Andrew Sullivan column in the March 13, 2006 issue of Time magazine.

In reading that piece, all the usual tricks of punditry are on display--admitting "errors", trying to claim successes as a validation of policy choices (Iraqi Kurdistan had freedoms and a nascent civil society even before the invasion of 2003 thanks to the no-fly zones), and so on.

Also on display is the tactic of saying that if you didn't agree with the invasion, you must have preferred Saddam still in power, etc. It always suprises me the extent to which U.S. pundits continue to treat things in isolation.

Why not turn the argument around. By focusing on Iraq, we decreased pressure on North Korea. Doe Sullivan prefer Kim in power and Saddam deposed? Might not the world be better off if Kim was removed and Saddam boxed in? People who argued against the invasion did not do so out of love of Saddam, but because of their concern about priorities.

We can debate what those priorities should be. That is a fair debate. But mea culpas that aren't really mea culpas don't contribute to moving policy forward.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

More on the U.S.-Russia relationship

I had the opportunity to attend a breakfast with Sergei Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister who is visiting Washington. A fascinating discussion, but unfortunately off the record.

I have been asked for my perspective on the U.S. - Russia relationship. Here is what I have sent off to the "experts' panel" of Russia Profile:

The "feeding frenzy" in Washington, and a similar rise in anti-American feeling in Russia, reflects the reality that the Russian-American relationship has shallow roots. While senior members of the executive branches of both countries are very aware of the importance of a good working relationship between Russia and the United States to ensuring the security of both states, the prevailing view in the bureaucracies and legislatures of both states has tended to minimize or discount altogether this reality. In turn, for most ordinary Americans and Russians, their sense of personal security and economic prosperity is almost completely divorced from their evaluation of the importance of the Russo-American relationship.

One only has to compare the German-Russian relationship. Angela Merkel certainly does not have the same personal rapport with Vladimir Putin that her predecessor did, but an extensive web of ties between the two countries--notably between the business communities--gives the German-Russian relationship ballast that the U.S.-Russia relationship lacks. The Germans have been quite critical of a number of Russian policy moves--including over the NGO law--but without throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

We are also paying the price for some of the overheated, euphoric rhetoric in the past about "strategic partnership." Americans and Russians still have very divergent narratives, not only about the end of the Cold War (something I discussed in an essay for the International Herald Tribune several weeks ago) but about Russia's "proper role" in the post-Soviet space, the relationship between democracy and stability, and the very nature of the global order. Russia's relative weakness in the 1990s covered up these disagreements. But Russia's growing economic and energy clout (along with some slippage in America's relative power) gives it greater confidence today to stake out an independent course of action. And to the extent that Russia has taken decisions in an opaque fashion and to the extent that the decision-making process remains untransparent allows some Americans to assume the worst about the motives of the Russian government.

We must also recognize that there is no such thing as a la carte partnership; that the United States and Russia could on the one hand be engaged in intense geopolitical competition in Eurasia, for example, and on the other develop the close working relationship (between the two militaries, intelligence communities, and so on) essential for combating terrorism and stemming proliferation. This does not mean that either side has to abandon the pursuit of its political and economic interests, but it does mean working to ensure that issues on which both sides do not agree do not become issues where we disagree on fundamentals.

But I think it will require the presidents to put up real substantial political capital to make the case to skeptical publics in both countries about the value of the U.S.-Russia relationship, and with both Putin and Bush increasingly focused on issues of succession in 2008, I don't see that effort likely to happen.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Constructive Attitude on Russia

At a time when people in Washington seem eager to out-do each other in telling us how bad Russia has become, a constructive position from Steve Clemons over at The Washington Note.

We need to move away from the paradigm of the U.S.-Russia relationship requiring lockstep engagement or having to be hostile and confrontational; we also have to kick the habit of assuming we can have a la carte partnerships and relationships where we expect the other party to work closely with us on a few selected issues of importance to us but with no quid pro quos. The world doesn't work that way.

I think we can have a productive relationship with Russia, one that doesn't require us to whitewash Russia's faults and problems but at the same time doesn't have to be irritating--and one that prioritizes what U.S. interests are.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Bailing on Iraq ... and Revisiting Scowcroft

Seems like you can't pick up a paper or magazine these days without reading an essay by someone who either vigorously supported the Iraq war and/or the "freedom agenda" (back in the days when it appeared like Iraq would be a cakewalk and the Middle East would look like Eastern Europe in 1989) now explaining why the Bush Administration is wrong, how policies were mishandled or how we should concentrate on "realistic goals." Great, prescient analysis, three years AFTER the Iraq war started.

Charles Krauthammer, whether you agree with him or not in terms of foreign policy, got this trend of CYA-column-writing right when he wrote in TNI's Spring 2005 issue, "There are many ways to describe someone who joins the stampede of commentators bailing out on Iraq ... Courageous is not one of them." (I would amend to say, in the absence of thoughtful reflection or an honest admission of making a mistake.)

To be told in 2006 that nation-building in Iraq is hard and that perhaps establishing democracy shouldn't be our primary goal isn't news and isn't particularly breathtaking.

The problem is that most columnists like to comment looking backwards rather than predict (and perhaps be proven wrong).

In that spirit, knowing how much Washington and the blogosphere loves to "move on" and consign yesterday's news to the memory hole, let's take another look at that much-reviled WSJ editorial that General Brent Scowcroft penned on August 15, 2002--let's repeat that year, 2002, BEFORE the Iraq invasion.

Let's start with the predictions that didn't come true. Saddam didn't have any weapons-ready WMD, not even in the small amounts intelligence thought he might have, and so he wasn't able to unleash a last-ditch suicidal strike at Israel or U.S. forces--a point discussed, by the way, by Mike Eisenstadt in the Fall 2005 TNI.

He also didn't foresee that the removal of Hussein from power, when coupled with Yasir Arafat's death and Rafik Hariri's assassination in Lebanon, would create opportunities for political change.

Scowcroft also never denied that Saddam was a thug, a brutal dictator and even that he was a threat--but that the U.S. needed to "to analyze the relationship between Iraq and our other pressing priorities--notably the war on terrorism--as well as the best strategy and tactics available were we to move to change the regime in Baghdad."

Based on his analysis, he wrote, "The United States could certainly defeat the Iraqi military and destroy Saddam's regime. But it would not be a cakewalk. On the contrary, it undoubtedly would be very expensive--with serious consequences for the U.S. and global economy--and could as well be bloody."

Bloody is open to interpretation. Certainly combat casualties were not high. But it certainly has not been a cakewalk and the costs have been very expensive.

"Finally, if we are to achieve our strategic objectives in Iraq, a military campaign very likely would have to be followed by a large-scale, long-term military occupation."

This seems right on the money.

"But the central point is that any campaign against Iraq, whatever the strategy, cost and risks, is certain to divert us for some indefinite period from our war on terrorism. Worse, there is a virtual consensus in the world against an attack on Iraq at this time. So long as that sentiment persists, it would require the U.S. to pursue a virtual go-it-alone strategy against Iraq, making any military operations correspondingly more difficult and expensive. The most serious cost, however, would be to the war on terrorism. Ignoring that clear sentiment would result in a serious degradation in international cooperation with us against terrorism. And make no mistake, we simply cannot win that war without enthusiastic international cooperation, especially on intelligence."

The question is whether concern about the Iranian nuclear program will bring the United States, Europe, Russia and China back into some sort of consensus. Bruno Tertrais will address how long the EU-US consensus on Iran is likely to last in our forthcoming issue.

"... the results could well destabilize Arab regimes in the region, ironically facilitating one of Saddam's strategic objectives. At a minimum, it would stifle any cooperation on terrorism, and could even swell the ranks of the terrorists."

The debate that is ongoing now is the chicken-and-egg one, whether the invasion created conditions for terrorist recruitment or whether this is just opportunism (e.g. another cause or place would have sufficed)--but Scowcroft was bringing this point up in 2002, before most people were even considering that there might be an insurgency or before Zarqawi was a "household name."

Whether you agree with Scowcroft's conclusions or not, he looked at facts, he undertook analysis, he made predictions. This is more of the type of writing and analysis that we need.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Hitchens' Three Questions

In today's Slate, Christopher Hitchens raises the following questions:

The three questions that anyone developing second thoughts about the Iraq conflict must answer are these: Was the George H.W. Bush administration right to confirm Saddam Hussein in power after his eviction from Kuwait in 1991? Is it right to say that we had acquired a responsibility for Iraq, given past mistaken interventions and given the great moral question raised by the imposition of sanctions? And is it the case that another confrontation with Saddam was inevitable; those answering "yes" thus being implicitly right in saying that we, not he, should choose the timing of it?


Right-thinking readers are supposed to answer No, Yes, Yes to these questions, especially given the way that they are phrased, but nonetheless, these three questions are useful. Did the first Bush team make the right strategic call? Was containment the most "moral" and responsible strategy to the threat posed by Iraq? Could our strategic and indeed our values-based objectives been realized short of a full-scale invasion and occupation?

One other problem is that Hitchens, like so many others, continues to drag up a straw man realist (even Kissinger no longer fits that caricature). After reading his article, I went back to re-read what Dimitri Simes had written in the Summer 2004 TNI about Iraq, from someone firmly in the Kissinger-Scowcroft "realist" camp. I'd be interested to get his and other reactions to these points.


In order to deal effectively with America's predicament in Iraq, it is essential to understand that we had begun to walk down the road to Baghdad long before September 11, indeed, quite before the Bush Administration came
to power. After the end of the Cold War, a new triumphalist mindset, shared by influential groups in both the Republican and Democratic parties, began to develop an unstoppable momentum. It was Madeleine Albright who started
bragging about the United States being an indispensable nation. It was a number of senior officials in the Clinton Administration-and eventually President Clinton himself-who, frequently taking a casual attitude to the facts, brought the United States into the Balkans in a desire to transform the former Yugoslavia-even if it required a military action without UN
blessing and in violation of international law, as in the case of Kosovo.

It was during the Clinton era that the export of democracy andnation-building became major drivers of American foreign policy. It was also during the Clinton Administration, back in 1998, that regime change in Iraq became official U.S. policy, having been enthusiastically supported by a bipartisan congressional majority.

Regime change, of course, goes far beyond containment. It is not based on the preservation of the status quo, and it left Saddam with few inducements to comply with U.S. preferences. Under Clinton, America was unprepared either to successfully intimidate Iraq or to offer a realistic prospect of accommodation. After 9/11, could the United States safely assume that we
could continue with the de facto annexation of the Kurdish north, our aggressive policing of the no-fly zones, our frequent air attacks on Iraqi military targets, and our plots to overthrow Saddam himself, and still believe that the Iraqi dictator would sit idly by and attempt no retaliation against the United States, directly or indirectly, using his terrorist connections? Intellectual honesty requires an acknowledgment that in the post-9/11 world, a change-of-regime policy in Iraq had to lead to an attack against the Saddam Hussein regime.

But if the Bush Administration could be excused for taking military action to remove Saddam, it has never been able to offer an adequate explanationof its other ambitions, most importantly, to use Iraq as a launching pad for a transformation of the so-called "Greater Middle East." How the invasion of an Arab country-in the absence of successful movement on the
Arab-Israeli dispute-could be perceived by the Arabs as a friendly action escapes logic. The administration clearly was tempted to use military victory in Iraq as a shortcut around the difficult, but from the Arab viewpoint, crucial U.S. role in resolving the Palestinian issue. Some in the Bush Administration went so far in their flights of analytic fancy that they were taken for a ride by a clear charlatan like Ahmed Chalabi, who promised not just to normalize relations with Israel, but indeed to build a pipeline to the Jewish State. Pipe dreams are not prescriptions for serious policymaking.

Interestingly, quite a few proponents of the transformation of the Middle East held two contradictory beliefs. On the one hand, they asserted that the Arab world was ready for democracy. On the other, they held the proposition that democracy, or anything else the United States wanted, could be imposed on the Arabs, who, it was claimed, were particularly subservient to force. The belief that it was possible for an outside hegemonic power to impose democracy by the armed fist so as to bring
freedom to the Middle East acquired considerable popularity among influential neoconservatives and liberal interventionist circles alike.

With fantasies like these, it is no wonder that the United States badly misjudged what to expect and how to proceed in Iraq. What we need now is a serious and realistic evaluation of U.S. objectives in Iraq. Two of them have been fulfilled already. We may now be satisfied that there are no WMD-at least in any considerable quantity-in Iraq. And, of course, the
Saddam regime is no more. So, is the United States obliged to engage in nation-building against the wishes of the vast majority of the Iraqi people? Is that a credible goal for American foreign policy? Is it a democratic goal in a situation in which at least 82 percent of the Iraqi people oppose American and other coalition forces?

It seems that it is most practical and moral to focus on those things that are doable and vital in terms of American interests. What we need is a stable, governable, non-tyrannical and, most importantly, non-hostile Iraq-an Iraq which will not become a sanctuary for international terrorists of all stripes.

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