Wednesday, November 30, 2005

The Power of Groupthink, Iraq and the 2006 elections

Norman Podhoretz's editorial in the December 2005 issue of Commentary needs to be read even by those who vehemently disagree with him and his perspective, because it highlights the serious and troubling phenomenon of bandwaggoning and groupthink. I realize that this was probably not Podhoretz's intention in penning his essay, of course!

But President Bush's assertions and those of other key members of his administration did not occur in a vacuum. Constant repetition of the same phrases, over time, creates inertia for politicians, columnists and pundits. It was taken for granted, even, as Podhoretz quotes, by Al Gore and Ted Kennedy, that Saddam Hussein was seeking and developing WMD.

Here's where we run into problems. To seek to develop does not constitute successful possession. This is where intelligence and analysis come in. How serious of a program? How likely to succeed? Given other threats--where did the Iraqi threat fall on the spectrum? What were the best tools to assess, deal, contain and eliminate the threat?

Intelligence agencies fudged. No one wanted to definitively say "yea" or "nay" because of the possibility of being wrong. Michael Eisenstadt raised the issue in the fall 2005 issue of The National Interest that Iraq may have retained very small amounts of chemical or biological weapons that were dramatically over-estimate and engaged in deliberate deception. He recommends:

" ... intelligence analysts and policymakers need to understand better how proliferators think about and plan to use WMD and to re-evaluate their own fundamental assumptions on the subject. In both 1991 and 2003, it was widely assumed that Iraq would assign to WMD a central role in deterrence and warfighting. In both cases, however, Iraq sought to deter or thwart the designs of the United States by a combination of political and conventional military means, and perhaps, in the latter case, by deceiving its enemies regarding its WMD capabilities. Furthermore, how does one factor the possibility of deception into intelligence assessments and policy discussions, without succumbing to the type of systematic overestimation of an adversary’s WMD capabilities that led to the intelligence failures that preceded Operation Iraqi Freedom (where lack of evidence regarding WMD was seen as proof of the effectiveness of Iraqi denial and deception measures)?"

These weren't the questions that were popular to ask, however.

As I noted earlier, the Democrats are in a pickle. No prominent Democrat took a Scowcroftian position prior to the war--that Iraq, even if it was trying to reconstitute WMD programs, was too weak and disorganized to be a threat and that Iraq was containable. In other words, Scowcroft didn't dispute that Hussein might be trying to "seek and acquire" WMD but concluded that his efforts would not be successful.

The Podhoretz article is an opening salvo in the 2006 campaign--Democrats (and Podhoretz makes sure he has "evidence" on every major Democrat) are going to be challenged with their own statements. (Moderate Republicans will also have the same problem to deal with).

I can only see the following responses:

--something "changed" between January 2001 when President Clinton left office and President Bush was sworn in, that the Iraqi threat of 1998 had mellowed;

--Bush "mishandled" things

--a Fulbright-style mea culpa: serious mistakes were made. Of course, the problem with doing this is then it is hard to run on a platform of greater competence.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Developments in Canada

Dan Dunsky, producer of the Canadian foreign affairs program Diplomatic Immunity, had this to say about the fall of the Liberal government in Canada (at

Canada's Christmas Campaign

Dan Dunsky

On Monday, Canada’s opposition parties made good on their recent threats and defeated the Liberal government of Paul Martin, triggering an election for January 26, 2006.

Now, as Canadians head to the polls for the second time in 18 months, the question is whether voters will return the Liberals to office—as they have in every election since 1993 and for 70 of the past 100 years—or whether they’ll choose change.

Lumbering in the background is a scandal in which millions of tax dollars intended to promote national unity in the province of Quebec were instead funneled back to Liberal Party coffers.

The Conservative Party, whose leader Stephen Harper has already likened the Liberal government to an organized-crime family, is betting on the public’s mood for change. But voters are still wary of the Conservatives, whose policies many see as too far right of the mainstream.

The Liberals hope voters will forget the scandal and focus instead on Paul Martin’s reputation for sound fiscal management. But that reputation took a beating during his high-spending 17-month tenure in the top job, including some $7 billion in promises in the last few weeks alone.

In Quebec, the separatist Bloc Quebecois will clean up, depriving any party of a majority in the House of Commons, while the quasi-socialist New Democrats hope to pick up a few seats by insisting that Canada remain the only country other than Cuba and North Korea to ban the purchase of private health insurance.

Predictions? The status quo will prevail and the Liberals will return to office with another minority government. That outcome, however, will do little to mend the deep and growing fissures in Canadian society.


Dan is also going to be writing on the U.S.-Canada relationship for the forthcoming issue of TNI.

Armchair Quarterbacking the Hussein Trial

The Seattle Times has a good summary culled from a variety of sources. (It also again mentions the point that Battlepanda made in reference to our discussion on Bosnia, about Shi'ite infiltration of the security services to carry out attacks on Sunnis.)

My two cents on how I thought we should go about this is already a matter of public record, so I'm not going to revisit that here. But I think we should be concerned about several things:

1) Right now, Hussein is only charged with the 1982 massacre in Dujail. It's clear that of the entire possible bill of crimes, this was seen as the "safest". It is purely a domestic affair--it doesn't involve Iran and doesn't involve the gassing of the Kurds, both of which might have provided Hussein's defense team with the opportunity of calling a whole host of foreign witnesses to testify about overt and covert support for Hussein during the 1980s. But the "drib and drab" approach--if we don't convict Saddam for this, we'll come back with other charges, and eventually something will stick--means that there is unlikely to be the full accounting of the former regime's crimes in a reasonably expeditious manner. Imagine if, at Nuremburg, the top Nazi leaders had only been charged with the Lidice massacre or the slaughter at Malmedy, nothing else--I think that the impact of that tribunal would have been far less.

2) CBS News this morning had an interesting comment, that for most Iraqis, the trial is less important than questions of security, safety, jobs, whether the power is on. People may be watching the trial but my unscientific guess from my perch here in Washington is that it is not having a cathartic effect on Iraqi society. Shi'ites know Saddam is guilty and want him dispatched without wasting time on a judicial farce; Sunnis are never likely as a group to admit the legitimacy of the trial (always easier to simply say this is victor's justice) and for most Kurds what matters most is not the trial but whether Kurdistan's autonomy and possible independence is enhanced. Like the Kosovar Albanians, the Iraqi Kurds were better off in terms of their aspirations when the leader of the country from which they wanted to separate was an implacable foe of the United States. One of the great ironies may be that if the containment option had continued, keeping Saddam in his box, in a few year's time Kurdistan would have become a "fact on the ground."

3) What happens if the trial only ends with a decision about the Dujail massacre--in other words, if Hussein is condemned to death ONLY for those killings, without at least some judicial notice taken (and evidence presented) of his complicity in the deaths of thousands more--whether the gassed Kurds, the purged members of the Ba'ath party, etc. One of the most powerful tools for Holocaust/genocide deniers (in general or for those who deny the complicity of specific people) is to point to whatever discrepancies they can find. Although he later apologized for his claims, Croatian President Franjo Tudjman, for example, had previously claimed that no more than 900,000 Jews perished in Europe during World War II. Do we want current and future Hussein revisionists to say, "He was accused of killing tens of thousands--but all they could prove was this one case." It reminds me of the close of Michael Milken's trial when Judge Kimba Wood says that although claims were made that Milken had defrauded investors of millions, all she could document were losses in the hundreds of thousands of dollars only.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Avian flu ... more cases reported

In announcing two new reported cases of H5N1 avian influenza, the Bloomberg wire report concludes: "The virus so far has infected about 132 people in Cambodia, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam and China and killed 68 of them, the World Health Organization said on Nov. 25. Bird flu outbreaks in poultry increase the risk of the virus mutating into a strain that's more easily transmissible between humans, leading to a pandemic that may kill millions."

The magazine recently held a joint event with the Eurasia Group on November 15. Dr. Libbie Prescott noted that even if the high mortality rates we've seen so far drop significantly (noting that in some villages or regions a combination of factors, including lowered resistance, malnutrition, and isolation have worked to enhance the lethality of the virus), that the potential for panic and short term economic and social dislocations could be highly disruptive.

Libby was a contributor to the fall issue of the magazine (the Asian Issue Supplement), and I recommend her article in full --but let me close this post with one of her more disturbing observations about some of the choices leaders may face:

In the face of a growing epidemic and a shortage of the supplies needed to protect against transmission, political officials will need to decide how to allocate valuable resources. There is little doubt that, in a crisis situation with closed borders, governments would hold products made within their borders for their own citizens. Presently, there is a concentration of production capacity for critical interventions in developed countries, leaving most of the developing world without the capacity to create products that might be the front line of defense against an epidemic. There are only nine countries--Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the United States--that have existing infrastructure to make an influenza vaccine, and the much touted antiviral treatment Tamiflu is manufactured at a single plant in Switzerland. In a situation where the United States has enough antiviral therapy to treat only 1 percent of its citizens, would it be willing to donate doses to treat the citizens of other countries, even, minimally, foreign heads of state? What would be the political ramifications of denying such a request? Sharing coveted resources with countries experiencing the first wave of infections might be politically difficult to sell domestically, forcing leaders to decide between the appearance of protecting their coveted stocks or assisting neighbors in a crisis.

Biden, New Found Realist?

Senator Joe Biden last year warned about the return of the realists. Now, he sounds a lot like Brent Scowcroft, that he preferred containment unless the intelligence showed conclusively that there was an imminent threat. From yesterday's Meet the Press:

MR. RUSSERT: You saw that information and you still voted for the war.

SEN. BIDEN: But remember--no, remember what I voted for was for the president to be able to go to war, if, if--I've got the resolution here--if, in fact, it was to enforce the existing breaches that existed in the U.N. resolution and if he could show there were weapons of mass destruction.

MR. RUSSERT: Do you believe the Democrats and you were diligent enough in reading that National Intelligence Estimate and all the caveats and calling the president to task as to whether or not he was being candid about the intelligence and his interpretation?

SEN. BIDEN: Yes. And if I--I'll leave with you because there's no time here all the statements I made at the time laying out my doubts about their assertions. But remember what the resolution said, Tim, it didn't say "go to war." It said, "Mr. President, if you can show these things, then you can use force."

The reason we gave the president the authority was to unite the world in keeping Saddam in a box, not freeing him up from the sanctions, which was the alternative, as you remember at the time. We have selective memories. That was the alternative. It wasn't the status quo, anti, or war, it was whether or not we were going to keep him in a box.

(For his part, Senator Warner gave a much more straightforward answer to Russert's question: "It was a clear authority that the Congress would support the president if he made certain findings. And I'm confident the president proceeded to make those findings on the best intelligence available.")

I think that Hagel's speech at the Council on Foreign Relations on November 15 was more honest; Hagel, in the q and a that followed, made the point that Congress has dropped the ball and not undertaken its constitutional responsibilities of oversight and gave the executive branch a blank check.

In contrast, here you have the standard CYA approach--if the war in Iraq had gone well, Biden could point to his support; now he calls attention to his numerous statements about his doubts and concerns.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

International Affairs March On ...

A holiday it may be in the United States today, and official Washington deserted, but the rest of the world doesn't stop ...

Interesting developments to observe:

1) The EU is trying to get its negotiations with Iran back on track. After months of guarded optimism in Washington that the apparent failure of the EU-3 process would bring the Europeans into closer alignment with Washington on Iran policy, is this a reversal? Or are the EU-3 going to make clear to Ahmadnejad that this is Iran's "last chance" to deal with the Europeans?

2) Meanwhile, Frank Walter Steinmeier, Gerhard Schroeder's former chief of staff and now the foreign minister in the new Merkel coalition government, will visit Washington this coming week. Clearly an olive branch to try and mend strained relations between the United States and Berlin.

3) Highlighting the environmental dimension to national security, the pollution slick in the Songhua river in Manchuria which caused Harbin to suspend water service for 3 million residents is making its way into Russia. That as China is also asking the World Health Organization to help investigate the first human deaths from avian flu.

More to update after the holidays.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Bosnia, Revisited ... And Getting Facts Straight

With the anniversary of the Dayton Accords and with the newest rage being to compare Bosnia and Iraq [full disclosure: not that I object to that, I did so myself several months back for a piece in the Examiner], the historian in me rises up at how easily people play hard and loose with the facts (or just accept someone else's spin).

A random example: one blogger referred to Bosnia as a "primarily Muslim state." That's flat out wrong. Bosnia is primarily nominally Christian in the sense that Catholic Croats and Orthodox Serbs together form an absolute majority (and using religion as an identifier can be tricky given that most are good secular Europeans regardless of their ancestral faith). Bosnia is "Muslim" in the sense that the Bosnian Muslims form a plurality in the population, traditionally were the majority in the major cities, and because Bosnia was the only South Slav region where indigenous Slavs converted to Islam en masse yet retained their Slavic language and culture (as opposed to being Turkified). Bosnia certainly cannot be classed as a Muslim country in the way that Iraq or Indonesia or Egypt is. And so to try and draw analogies (Bosnia is a Muslim country so its experience MUST be applicable to other countries of the Muslim world) is perilous.

Jackson Diehl's Washington Post column is another good example of trying to fit square pegs into round holes. The overall point I agree with--the need for patience, the need to build institutions, etc. But in his eagerness to make comparisons he goes a bit overboard. He equates Bosnia's Serbs with Iraq's Sunnis--perhaps in his desire to paint both with the brush of genocidal villainy--but the more logical comparison from the point of view of actual politics would be the Sunnis of Iraq with Bosnia's Muslims--both the "statist" nationality trying to rule over two other groups that did not accept their legitimacy to speak for the country as a whole. The Bosnian Serbs wanted not to dominate Bosnia but to take control of what they deemed Serbian land, expel non-Serbs to create facts on the ground, and leave the rest to be independent or be absorbed or dominated by Croatia (essentially the American plan in creating the Bosniak-Croat Federation in Washington in 1994)--they have had the least interest in Bosnia as Bosnia--much in the same way that many Kurds aren't really interested in Iraq south of Kirkuk or what happens in Baghdad. And of course the democracy crowd wants to forget that the nationalists who plunged Bosnia into civil war, including, I'm afraid, war criminal Radovan Karadzic--were ELECTED in elections in 1990 deemed to be "free and fair." It may be cute to call Karadzic and Mladic "insurgents" but again, if we fail to ignore how premature democratization in Bosnia helped to unleash civil strife, we learn the wrong lesson.

The "Freedom Doctrine" -- Ten Months Later

In January of this year, President Bush, in his Second Inaugural, seemed to indicate that democracy promotion would now become the central organizing principle of American foreign policy. As the year comes to a close, four commentators offer their perspectives (which will form part of a symposium for the Winter 2005/06 issue of The National Interest):

Les Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations:

"The real policy-makers in the Bush Administration come down to six people, and while President Bush might well believe his new doctrine, he has no track record on the subject before entering the White House. Nor did he say much on this subject broadly during his first term. Vice President Cheney, on the other hand, is a hard-headed conservative pragmatist whose whole history would suggest great skepticism about policies designed to transform the world. Secretary of State Rice spent most of the Clinton years calling that administration dangerously naïve for fomenting notions like human rights and democracy. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld delights in debating doctrines, not advancing them. Stephen Hadley, the national security adviser and consummate policy lawyer, never met a generalization, let alone a high-falutin’ idea, he liked. Karl Rove, the key White House political strategist, probably doesn’t object to promoting democracy abroad as long as it helps Mr. Bush and hurts the Democrats at home. (And who could be surprised to find such noble motives in American politics?) One other, now departed, was present in the Pentagon at the creation of the democracy doctrine—Paul Wolfowitz, who almost certainly believed it then. ...

"So, we can say with confidence that at least one senior member of the administration is devoted to the doctrine, namely, Mr. Bush himself. His adherence to his own doctrine is no trivial matter. It means that he will insist on repeating it and that the Secretary of State will loyally join in, regularly. The doctrine will not be discarded as was the anti-nation-building doctrine.

"Nor, it seems, will the democracy and freedom doctrine be implemented. The administration did publicly twist President Mubarak’s arm to hold free elections for Egypt’s presidency. Much to everyone’s surprise, he emerged victorious. Now, Egypt is freer and more democratic, and we can turn our gaze elsewhere. But the administration doesn’t appear to be cashing in its chips to democratize Saudi Arabia. ...

"About the only place where the administration seems to be applying the doctrine is Iraq and there, only barely. We plow ahead, as we should, promoting the constitution and elections. But the realistic aim is now much more to avoid a civil war than to transform the country into a free-market democratic paradise."

Dan Pipes, Director of the Middle East Forum:

"Personally, I am somewhere between idealism and realism, sometimes encouraging the United States in its unique career of exporting social and political institutions (think Japan) and at other times fearful that such efforts will overextend the American reach and end badly (what I expect in Iraq). I encourage the vision of spreading American-style democracy even as I worry that the circumstances are not propitious (whereas the Japanese had been defeated in war, war liberated the Iraqis).
Turning to George W. Bush’s policies ... I should begin with two observations: The Middle East will define his presidency, and with regard to each of the region’s major issues (terrorism, radical Islam, Iraq, the Arab-Israeli conflict and perhaps yet Iran) he has proven himself to be a radical innovator prone to reject decades-old, bipartisan policies, tossing them aside with élan and even disdain.

"I admire the spirit but worry about the practicalities. The vision of a free and prosperous Middle East is incontrovertible, but a characteristic American impatience wants it all done yesterday. Experience shows that full democracy requires decades of preparation, rehearsals and mistakes (look at the troubled careers of Russia and Mexico).
In all recent Middle Eastern moves toward democracy—such as elections in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, the Palestinian Authority and Egypt—a too-quick removal of tyranny threatens to create conditions for Islamist ideologues to take power and enduringly install their totalitarian ideology. Islamists have what it takes to win elections: the talent to develop a compelling ideology, the energy to found parties, the devotion to win supporters, the money to spend on electoral campaigns, the honesty to appeal to voters and the will to intimidate rivals.

"The Middle East currently suffers from a severe case of totalitarian temptation, so democracy could well bring even worse regimes than the unelected tyrants of old. Enthusiasm for the “Cedar Revolution” has already quickly tempered in Washington after Hizballah did well at the polls and joined a new government in Lebanon. A pro-Iranian Islamist became prime minister of Iraq, leading to the ironic situation noted by Saudi foreign minister Saud al-Faisal, that, after fighting hard to keep Iran out of Iraq, “we are handing the whole country over to Iran without reason.”

"As for the “pothole theory of democracy“—the idea that the imperatives of governance will absorb the attention of extremists and reduce them to moderation—it has never worked. Mussolini made the trains run on time, the Soviets cleared the snow efficiently and the Islamists can likewise do well practically, even as they nurse their ambitions."

Robert Merry, publisher of Congressional Quarterly:

"Anyone is free to imagine a world in which all regimes are free and democratic, and conflict among peoples ceases to generate violence. ...

"Where, we might ask, did Bush get this utopian vision? After all, he is a president who embraces the conservative label. And, as Samuel Huntington of Harvard wrote a half century ago, “No political philosopher has ever described a conservative utopia.” Bush of course is no political philosopher. But neither is he a true conservative. He is simply a product of his time, a child of the zeitgeist that descended upon America at the end of the Cold War.

"Utopianism emerged out of that hoary Western idea of Progress, the notion that history is the story of mankind’s inexorable rise from blindness and folly to ever higher levels of civilization and enlightenment—and that, since this progress is part of the human condition, it will continue as long as mankind resides on earth. Along the way, many thinkers and intellectuals found that the idea of Progress as part of the human condition was leaving them cold. If progress would continue forever, they asked, how do we know where it is going? How do we even know it is going in a good direction? No, they concluded, it was going to a particular end point, a culmination of human development. And they could reveal what that was because it happened to be their own vision of nirvana on earth.

"Thus was born Western utopianism, father of Hegelianism, Marxism and any number of other gauzy visions of human culmination. And, with the end of the Cold War, this outlook clutched the American consciousness. It is reflected in Francis Fukuyama’s famous 1989 “End of History” essay in this magazine—which has had far more lingering influence than anything Fukuyama has written since, including subsequent musings that seem to question his own endist thesis. It is reflected in Thomas Friedman’s dreamy glorification of “globalization” as the final universal culture, which turns out to be essentially American culture. Both men saw a new era of relative world peace emanating from their particular visions.
And this utopianism is reflected in George Bush’s foreign policy ..."

Joseph Nye, Harvard University:

"The correct charge against the people who developed the Bush Doctrine is not “idealism.” As Henry Kissinger has pointed out, prudent realists do not ignore values. Rather, the neo-Wilsonians who promoted the Iraq War were guilty of “illusionism”, a cognitive failure to produce an adequate roadmap of means that would balance the risk and realism in their vision. If one doubts this description, look again at the neo-conservative proclamation that Iraq would be a “cakewalk” or Paul Wolfowitz’ claim that General Eric Shinseki was wildly wrong in his estimates of the number of troops that would be required to win the peace (not just the war) in Iraq.

"Bush is correct that America needs to create a narrative about a better future that undercuts the message of hate and violence promoted by the extremists. But we have to learn to do it with our soft or attractive power and not succumb to the illusionists’ belief that we can impose it by force. And it has to be credible to others. Grandiose rhetoric merely leads to charges of hypocrisy. In the long run, a democratic future may help to reduce some of the sources of rage. But if we continue to choose inappropriate means in the short run, we may never get to that long run."

Bosnia on My Mind

News outlets around the world are trumpeting the announcement that Bosnia will engage in a process of constitutional reform designed to move away from the cumbersome and unwieldly arrangements of the Dayton Accords (two entities in an uneasy federation with one entity itself subdivided into smaller cantons).

Just one problem--it is not the structure of Bosnia's government that is the problem, it is the fact that both the elites as well as the populations in general still have no "social contract" in place.

The problem with Bosnia is that it lacks a national "core." Bosnian Muslims form only a plurality of the population. Bosnian Serbs and Bosnian Croats move back and forth between seeing themselves as Bosnian in a regional/geographic sense, with "Bosnian" identifying a subset of a larger Serb or Croat nation, and seeing themselves as Bosnians by nationality.

Tito "solved" the problem during Communist Yugoslavia of elevating the Bosnian Muslims to be the virtual majority, a compromise that could work as long as Serbs and Croats in Bosnia felt that the borders were permeable. The gamble is that in the future, if Croatia, Bosnia and Serbia are all in the European Union, this balance could be restored.

I'm not sanguine. EU membership did not "solve" Cyprus because in the final analysis, for their own reasons, neither Greek Cypriots or Turkish Cypriots were prepared to "trust" Brussels.

The Bosnian crisis was brought about by democratization (pace the thesis advanced by Jack Snyder and Ed Mansfield, something they will elaborate on in the Winter 2005/06 issue of The National Interest). Bosnian Serbs concluded that Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats would always outvote them and that they would be relegated to permanent minority status. But Bosnian Muslims got a "taste" of being the outweighed minority in 1993, when Bosnian Serbs and Bosnian Croats tacitly cooperated against the Bosnian Muslims; I remember reading in the Independent (I was studying in the UK at the time) a quote of a Bosnian Croat commander that Croats and Serbs together "would never live under the rule of the "Big Mosque" in Bosnia."

What will happen, if these reforms move ahead, and if in a unified parliament Bosnian Croat and Bosnian Serb deputies combine to "reduce" the Muslim character of Bosnia?

The standard American response is that, over time, people wil move away from ethnicity to interests as the basis for their political activity (e.g. small businessmen will unite to pursue their interests rather than vote ethnic politics). Over time, more of this may rise to the fore--but I think that ethnicity will remain a key marker for a long time to come.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Kazakhstan, Democracy Promotion and U.S. Interests

We held a luncheon discussion today at the magazine with Fiona Hill of the Brookings Institution (see her recent two-part article on Kazakhstan and the likely prospects for a "color revolution" at National Interest ), Martha Olcott of the Carnegie Endowment, author of "Kazakhstan: Unfulfilled Promise" and Paul Starobin of the Atlantic Monthly and author of a piece ("Sultan of the Steppes") that will appear in that magazine's December 2005 issue.

An excellent discussion from people who want to talk about substantive issues rather than engage in sloganeering.

Fiona opened with the critical point that Kazakhstan is "not just another 'stan" and that we should not consider the Central Asian and Caucasuan states and their leaders to be interchangeable. Kazakhstan is emerging as a major Eurasian state, and as Martha Olcott later noted, it has the potential to become a "middle power with a global reach."

She also noted that we need to face the reality that manipulation of elections is going to occur throughout the post-Soviet Eurasian space. It is a "sad fact of life." What should concern the West is the extent of that manipulation and how it might prevent reform from continuing.

There is a serious opposition in Kazakhstan, a point echoed by Martha--an opposition that was part of the governing elite and has the competency to govern. This is not, as Martha said, the dilemma that the United States faced in Azerbaijan--where it did not want the opposition to come to power, preferred the existing government to stay in place but hoped it could do so by means of a free, fair and transparent election. (This dilemma was one of the issues raised in discussing U.S. energy security needs versus its desire to promote democracy at a conference sponsored by the Caspian Project at Columbia University last month.)

Both Fiona and Martha raised the point that the issue is not a "colored revolution" per se but the question of succession: is there a mechansim in place that allows for a transfer of power from a Soviet-era ruler to a post-Soviet one? In Kazakhstan, the question is augmented by the challenges this country faces: 80 percent of its industrial output is still generated by the oil and gas industry. Without a more dynamic political system in the future, the country's prospects for continued economic growth are imperiled.

Fiona noted that Nursultan Nazarbayev remains committed to a "gradualist" vision, top-down reform promoted by a stable state and component governing elite, in contrast to a sudden revolutionary shock. The experience of Kazakhstan's neighbor Kyrgyzstan--where despite the "revolution" corruption remains a major problem and concerns about the ability of organized crime groups to manipulate the government are heightened--is something Kazakhs are analyzing closely.

Paul commented on what he has observed, notably, the emergence of a personality cult around the figure of President Nazarbayev as the "father" of his country, alongside the image of Nazarbayev as a technocratic modernizer. Nazarbayev is both concerned about how he is viewed in the West--he does not want to be classed as yet another Central Asian dictator--but also he wants to "game" the system so that he remains in charge and unopposed.

Paul noted that if any sort of revolution happens, it will be a "revolution of the elites"; that among ordinary Kazakhs, Nazarbayev is tolerated even if he is not beloved--especially those Kazakhs who are aware that they are better off than other Central Asians like the Uzbeks and that things could get much worse. Kazakhs, as he put it, are risk-averse in this regard.

The three panelists noted that U.S. influence is limited, and that Washington has sent mixed signals. The end result is that while the forthcoming December 4 elections are likely to be cleaner than previous ones, and while real progress has been made, the electoral process will still not be "clean enough" to satisfy European and OSCE norms.

Further complicating the picture is the fact that Kazakhstan's economy is booming, and given some of the economic problems that Georgia and Ukraine have faced following their "color revolutions", Kazakhstan's model may seem more appealing. Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Noghaideli recently visited Astana and made this interesting comment: "We became convinced yet again that Kazakhstan's most important resource is not oil and gas, but the unity of the people and the government, without which the economic miracle of this country would not have occurred."

In the end, the elections in December are not the critical point: it is what happens over the next three years or so. Will Nazarbayev appoint a government that will consciously undertake the changes needed to start the process of transition? As Martha pointed out, "color revolutions" that have happened in the Eurasian space happened because of the failure of the old regime to successfully manage the transition.

Ukraine, Reconsidered

Realists who raised any questions or concerns about the "Orange Revolution" in Ukraine last year were often castigated as enemies of freedom and/or crypto-Kremlin agents.

Paul Saunders and I drew a good deal of criticism for a piece we jointly wrote in the Spring 2005 issue of The National Interest (On Liberty) , especially when we wrote: "Some act as if the emergence of democracy in a country were solely a matter of protests in a capital city’s main square … and they downplay the very real challenges needed to make democracies functional. Others, anxious to prove that the number of ‘democracies’ in the world is growing, seem more eager to color in new countries on the map as ‘democratic’ than to establish sustainable democracies that genuinely provide freedom, justice and a better quality of life to their citizens.”

Back in September, when the political crisis in Ukraine erupted and the Orange Coalition fractured, I wrote in National Review :

"So where does Ukraine go from here? Can Yushchenko put the Orange Coalition back together? After all, the forces which backed ex-Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych last year are organizing for next year’s parliamentary elections. I can see the slogan now: “We were corrupt but we gave you 13 percent growth.” (So far, under the current regime, growth has slowed to 4 percent). And just as Iranians gave their votes to a hard-line candidate who promised to root out corruption and improve ordinary Iranians’ quality of life, might Ukrainian voters next year decide that the “democrats” can’t deliver and that that the “old regime” was the better option?"

My colleague Peter Lavelle has a preliminary answer he developed for UPI :

"Ukrainians will elect a new parliament in March and one-time prime minister and former presidential candidate Viktor Yanukovych heads the political party leading the polls. The "Orange Revolution" that delivered Viktor Yushchenko to the presidency is in disarray, and has given Yanukovych an election platform full of irony: Campaigning against the corruption and incompetence of the ruling elite.

"According to a recent public opinion poll conducted by the Razumkov Center, Yanukovych's Party of the Regions tops voter preference for the slated March 26 parliamentary election with 17.5 percent. The People's Union-Our Ukraine electoral bloc that includes Yushchenko as its honorary chairman is second with 13.5 percent and the Batkivshchina (Fatherland) Party of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko close behind at 12.4 percent. "

Realism ... Defining Terms

Foreign policy realism has a bad name in Washington. The "realists" are the ones blamed for the carnage of the Yugoslav wars and the sorry state of the Middle East--after all, doesn't Walter Lippman's famous maxim ("Without the controlling principle that the nation must maintain its objectives and its power in equilibrium, its purposes within its means and its means equal to its purposes, its commitments related to its resources and its resources adequate to its commitments, it is impossible to think at all about foreign affairs") caution against crusades and interventions, preventing the rapid deployment of American power to do good in the world?

We all know the drill--the realists idolize "stability" above all else, and really they must be "un-American" because they dislike freedom and democracy, preferring the company of autocrats and dictators. Every time the neo-Wilsonians want to castigate any realist concerns about policy, they trot out good old Prince Metternich as their straw man.

[For a slice of this ongoing debate, see the piece I co-authored with Dimitri Simes, "John F. Kennedy Equivocated" ]

This ignores the emergence of American streams of realism that do understand the importance of values and aspirations as a component in shaping foreign policy--a point even Henry Kissinger, the "uber-realist" lightning rod for both the left and the neo-conservative right in the United States--acknowledges. "Ethical Realism"--the viewpoint propounded by Hans Morgenthau and Rienhold Niebuhr--is well described by John Hulsman and Anatol Lieven in the Summer 2005 issue of The National Interest. [For a more in-depth discussion of all of this, visit a past discussion at Steve Clemon's "The Washington Note", at]

There is a great deal of diversity among those who call themselves realists, as I noted in a piece for the Winter/Spring 2005 issue of SAIS Review . But realists of all camps--liberal, ethical, democratic, hard, communitarian, etc--adhere to two "organizing principles": The first is a skepticism about utopian projects, no matter how noble in inspiration. The second is an appreciation for the limits as well as the uses of power; that lacking unlimited energy or resources, power must be used selectively. In keeping with this realization, a country's interests must be prioritized--with the greatest effort reserved for averting threats that first and foremost affect a country's very survival.

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