Friday, September 29, 2006

Halper and Marshall; A Controversial Op-ed

As promised, the stories on yesterday's event are up:

Marisa Morrison covers Stefan Halper's critique of current policy: "bumper sticker slogans” provided by “jingoistic infotainers.”

Robert VerBruggen gives us Will Marshall's War Plan for the Democrats.

I certainly will win no new friends now that the op-ed coauthored with Ray Takeyh is out in today's Boston Globe.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Bakoyannis, Kosovo, The Future of American Foreign Policy

This is a bit of a placeholder entry, I admit.

TWR (aka editor of The National Interest Nikolas Gvosdev) was privileged to be part of a small group that lunched on Tuesday with Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis after her main presentation for CSIS. The lunch itself was off the record (versus her on-the-record remarks) but two impressions I took away were 1) Greece's understanding of its role as a pivotal state for security in southeastern Europe and as an "energy broker" for the West and 2) a continuing U.S. inability to understand the importance of history and symbolism in popular consciousness in the Balkans and the Greater Middle East.

One thing Bakoyannis and others have been trying to say to policymakers here in Washington is the importance of having open and honest debates on issues like Kosovo. This was a point I tried to make today at the "Reconsidering Kosovo" conference.

Bakoyannis said this about Kosovo: "In Kosovo today, the general mood on the street is that independence is the solution to all
problems. Independence is seen as a magic wand, which, once waved, will provide employment, running water, stable electricity, education, health and prosperity. Yet we all know that independence is no panacea."

On another note, we had Stefan Halper and Will Marshall speaking at the magazine today about U.S. foreign policy. When the reports on the events are ready, I'll post them.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Thoughts on the NIE--Nothing New

Cross posted from National Interest online.

Pundits are treating the partial disclosure of the National Intelligence Estimate on terrorism as if it contains surprising new and unexpected revelations.

In December 2005, my colleague Alexis Debat, speaking at a forum organized by The National Interest, made the following set of observations about the situation in Iraq:

“You have created a base, a new base for Al-Qaeda where -- and in many ways a much more dangerous base for al Qaeda because the kind of skills that operatives -- and there are not many, but you don't need many operatives to conduct a terrorist operation. Those operatives acquire skills that are far deadlier, far more complex than the skills that they acquired in Afghanistan and Pakistan in the 1990s. I mean, if you look at the videos and you look at the training manuals -- bin Laden's training camps in the '90s were kind of a joke. I mean, they received training in small arms and tossing grenades, just small guerrilla tactics. The kind of skills that they're acquiring in Abu Musaab al-Zarqawi's organization are skills of urban terrorism -- multiple car bombs, very complex counterintelligence operations, very complex construction of clandestine networks. This is far deadlier than anything that we could have -- that we had to deal with in the past. And we have seen hundreds of volunteers go to Iraq; the problem is that we are seeing a lot of them coming back from Iraq. …

“So very clearly, the ambition goes beyond Iraq. The ambition is to create a second Al-Qaeda. At the heart of the name Al-Qaeda is “the base”—the concept of volunteers being drawn to this base, being trained, forging the bonds between themselves of combat and then going back to their countries with those bonds intact and forming the core of multinational, international, global terrorist networks.”

This was the type of conversation we were having “in the open”—and apparently was occurring behind closed doors, leading up to the National Intelligence Estimate.

One cannot help but go back to the points that former National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft made in his oft-reviled Wall Street Journal op-ed back in August 2002!

Remember this?

“Given Saddam's aggressive regional ambitions, as well as his ruthlessness and unpredictability, it may at some point be wise to remove him from power. Whether and when that point should come ought to depend on overall U.S. national security priorities. Our pre-eminent security priority--underscored repeatedly by the president--is the war on terrorism. An attack on Iraq at this time would seriously jeopardize, if not destroy, the global counterterrorist campaign we have undertaken.”

And these warnings, that a focus on Iraq without a “comprehensive perspective” could lead to an “explosion of outrage against us” in the Arab and Muslim world. The result? “At a minimum, it would stifle any cooperation on terrorism, and could even swell the ranks of the terrorists.”

The NIE is yet another wake-up call that we cannot have a faith-based foreign policy that says the world must conform to the tenets of the believer. At the same time, we need a real conversation and debate about what to do next. We are in Iraq now; we cannot turn the clock back to 2002. The spat between Bill Clinton and Chris Wallace on Sunday was great political theater; now the accusations are flying thick and furious. But criticisms—even correct ones—do not a coherent policy make.

So what now? Paul Saunders gave his advice at the December 2005 meeting, which now, even more, would seem to point the way forward:

“Operationally, we urged the administration to focus much less on the vagaries of Iraqi politics and really to zero in on fighting the international terrorists in Iraq”—rather than lumping together into one broad category the rejectionists, the Saddam loyalists, the Sunni militias, and the Al-Qaeda presence.

“Only the international terrorists are really a threat to the United States outside of Iraq. … But that is something that can be addressed, in my view, through much a smaller military presence. And it may actually be more productive in the long run because a smaller presence would be less of a target for the rejectionists and the Saddamists. It would be less of a provocation. It would make it easier for the Iraqi government to reach out to those people if the United States had a smaller footprint.”

It’s time to set real priorities, define our national security needs, commit the resources necessary, and to end Iraq as a social science laboratory for democratization and regional transformation.

Clinton's Omissions

Two contributions to National Interest online this week point out some of former President Clinton's omissions in his now infamous interview with Fox News Sunday.

Watching much of the reaction (pro and con both) on the president's performance, I am reminded of a point that Alexandra Pelosi makes in her "Sneaking Inside the Flying Circus", when she noted the reaction of foreign journalists to U.S. pundits commentating on the second Gore-Bush debate in 2000--the level of ignorance on their part in not calling the participants out on their mistakes and omissions. Both of these pieces clarify some of those: the Clinton relationship with Richard Clarke, and how keeping the Russians contained was a higher priority than fighting Al-Qaeda--since the Russians were offering help for joint efforts in Central Asia in 2000.

Larry Johnson's Playing the Terrorism Blame Game

Dimitri Simes' Protecting Kosovo at the Expense of New York

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Starobin: FDR, Realist

Paul Starobin has an in-depth piece on the return of realism in American foreign policy in the latest issue of National Journal, which I would commend to readers of TWR.

While there has been a good deal of talk about the Truman-Eisenhower legacy, Starobin, in a section called "Waiting for FDR", makes the following observation:

"If it is true that unadorned realism does not sell as a foreign-policy approach, history, as realists like to say, provides a textbook example of how core realist principles can be pursued by America's stewards in the guise of traditional, freedom-spreading rhetoric. The trick, it might be said, is a generous dollop of deviousness.

"The example is offered by the most cunning (and most successful) realist ever to occupy the White House: Franklin Delano Roosevelt."

He then describes Roosevelt's approach to Stalin's USSR, and concludes as follows:

""The question is not why Roosevelt acted as though he believed in Stalin," editor Susan Butler notes in her introduction to My Dear Mr. Stalin. "It is, rather, what other tactic would have worked as well. Roosevelt wanted to win the war; he wanted to win the peace that followed," Butler writes. And thus did the U.S. "save the world for democracy" through close collaboration with one of history's all-time fiends."

He then returns to the present day and the Iraq war, the freedom doctrine, and so on. "Early in his presidency, George W. Bush, in his courting of Vladimir Putin and Pervez Musharraf, the autocrats of Russia and Pakistan, respectively, showed that he was not altogether impervious to the realist mind-set. But his dominant approach, as a willing breaker of order -- in the belief that wars of choice to implant liberty can establish, in the long run, an international environment friendlier to the U.S. -- was put to the test in Iraq, where the experiment has so far been found wanting."

He points out that the sentiments expressed by the current president Bush are often echoed by his likely replacements on both ends. He concludes:

"Of course, FDR used such optimistic rhetoric. All U.S. presidents do, as do all ambitious senators. The big question is whether a new president, FDR-like, will find a way to cloak a policy of realism in a suit of ideals."

An article well worth reading.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Can We Cut Out the "Sole Superpower" B.S.?

This speaks for itself.

The Army has a stated goal of giving active-duty soldiers two years at home between overseas combat tours, but it is unable to achieve that "dwell time," as the Army calls, because it does not have enough brigades to meet the demands of simultaneous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It would not be a problem now if the situation in Iraq had improved enough to allow the Army to reduce its presence as originally planned.

We are facing insurgencies in two Third World states; we aren't fighting land wars with major powers. And the closing line is critical. Yes, the situation in Iraq has worsened. It is not because another great power has intervened a la the PRC in Korea.

I know, I know, I am a broken record on this. But let's decide, people. A citizen's army--which means more citizens have to join and the missions we undertake affect vital interests; or we do what the Portuguese, the British, and others did--an overseas army recruited largely from non-citizens and leavened with some regular forces, if you want to police the world.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Greenberg, Ahmadinejad and the Iran Debate

Maurice R. "Hank" Greenberg gave an interview to The National Interest following his encounter with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

I recommend the entire interview, but wanted to call attention to this point. After noting that it was important to assess and get the measure of the man, he concluded: "We can't deal with him. You can't deal with this guy. I do not believe that we should let him come into possession of the capabilities to manufacture a nuclear device, or achieve it by an indirect means, such as buying it from somebody else."

This is important because while we have had a good deal of discussion about the costs of action against Iran, many of the proponents of diplomacy assume that simply by negotiating we can achieve a solution. I think this was the de facto position of a number of the speakers at the New America conference last week; concentrate efforts on some sort of "grand bargain." But Greenberg, no fan of unilateral action, if you read the rest of the interview, is also not convinced that the United States can deal with Ahmadinejad. A bargain implies two partners capable of reaching and implementing an agreement.

So we may have the worst of all possible worlds--no desire to carry out military action, and no partner with whom to negotiate seriously. So not a "binary choice" as Steve Clemons put it, but no choice at all.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Taking Aim at "Exemplarism"

In the second issue of Democracy (one of the spate of new journals that have emerged on the Washington scene in the last year), Anatol Lieven takes aim at the newest entrant to replace "neo-conservatism", what has been termed "exemplarism" by Michael Singer.

He notes: Signer declares that "exemplarism would value both strength and international prestige equally, seeing them not as mutually exclusive but rather as mutually reinforcing" and that "America’s economic, political, and military strength, when deployed wisely, enhances our prestige around the world." Who could possibly disagree? But, once again, what does "deploying American strength wisely" actually mean in practice? And who gets to decide what is "wise"? Is it America alone, or do American allies get a real say when it comes to designing and changing American policies? Without a real willingness to change American policies, it may be possible to bring about the kind of sullen acquiescence to the United States that one sees at present in Western Europe, for example, but it will be quite impossible to get nations outside that sphere to make real sacrifices for the sake of those policies and thereby lighten the present unsustainable burden on American resources. It is easy to talk of a need for more diplomatic approaches by the United States, and it is true that leading members of the Bush Administration have been notoriously and dangerously contemptuous of the very idea of diplomacy. But the liberal hawks who praise diplomacy in principle also appear to misunderstand its true nature. When they speak of engaging other countries diplomatically, what they usually mean is talking at them more loudly and sweetly, but with the same ends in mind. True, this has always been a key feature of diplomacy. But real diplomacy also means a recognition of other states’ vital interests and a willingness to reach compromises accordingly. This, by contrast, is too often called–by Democrats as well as Republicans–"accommodation" or even "appeasement."

I've been skeptical of attempts to come up with new labels and supposed "new schools". I wrote earlier this year

"If a new school of foreign policy thought is emerging, then its progenitors need to move beyond changing labels or finding fault with tactical decisions. And this new school should be able to make the case it would have emerged even if the Iraq war had gone according to plan."

Does "exemplarism" pass this test? Lieven would seem to argue, no it does not.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Musharraf vs. Thaksin

UPDATE: Zachary Abuza's thoughts on the coup in Thailand are now available.

Something else from Monday's meeting ... President Musharraf said that if Pakistan were so dominated by extremists, then why would he have any confidence that he could leave the country? I guess Thai Prime Minister Thaksin should have asked that question instead ...

Democracy's Shallow Roots

The Christian Science Monitor had this to say in its analysis of the coup in Thailand:

In many Asian nations, democracy's roots remain shallow because poor, rural peasants are vulnerable to manipulation and intimidation by urban power brokers, whether they be rich politicians, army factions, powerful businessmen, or royalty. Personal loyalties can matter more than the merits of issues. Votes can be bought with T-shirts, and guns go a long way to keep farmers in line.

It parallels a point Anatol Lieven made in the Spring 2006 issue in arguing for the importance of development as a component of realism, as opposed to superficial democratization. In discussing Pakistan, he notes: "The parties routinely described in the Western media as “democratic” are in fact congeries of landlords, clan chieftains and urban bosses vowing more-or-less temporary allegiance to some national leader like Benazir Bhutto."

The fate of Thaksin is interesting because it falls into a discussion that the next issue of TNI will have, from Parag Khanna and Lawrence Groo, on the problems in moving ahead with democratization when power is strongly concentrated or personalized around a single figure in the executive branch.

Is George W. Bush a Republican?

I ask the question beyond the point about party labels (e.g. if you call yourself a Republican you are one). I contend that if Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson were to attend a meeting of the Democratic National Committee today, they would not embrace the Democrats as their modern-day successors (if for no other reason that the presence of non-whites, given their pronounced attitudes on race). It was an Alexander Hamilton, in contrast, who bluntly stated that there was no basis for asserting any sort of innate superiority or inferiority to any racial or ethnic group. But I diverge from the main point.

Dimitri Simes has this to say on the matter:

In his relentless restatement of the virtues of freedom and America’s right and duty to promote them worldwide, Mr. Bush is dramatically different from other post-war Republican presidents. Presidents Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush all believed that America stood for something bigger than its narrowly-defined security and economic interests, but they never demonstrated the current President’s missionary zeal to remake the world. They never took the position that America could not be safe unless others basically adopt Western-style democracy.

President Reagan was in a special category. He delivered visionary speeches about freedom and denounced the Soviet evil empire. But, even while bitterly criticizing the Soviet leadership, Reagan began writing personal letters to Brezhnev to begin a meaningful dialogue. Jack Matlock, Reagan’s advisor on Soviet affairs and later Ambassador to Moscow, wrote in his book, Reagan and Gorbachev: How the Cold War Ended, that the former President did this literally from his hospital bed, days after the assassination attempt on him, and well before Mikhail Gorbachev came to power and began his perestroika reforms.

For Reagan, devastating criticism of the Soviets’ evil ways was not just a reflection of his personal beliefs, but was also a tool to change the dynamics in the U.S.-Soviet rivalry, which he believed was against the United States. Reagan intended to demonstrate to Moscow by words and deeds that America could not be bullied, but he also wanted to convey to the Soviet leaders that should they address U.S. concerns, he would be prepared to do business with them. Mr. Bush, in contrast, delivers declaratory instructions with little regard for the perspectives and sensitivities of those he is ostensibly trying to persuade. The trouble is that they are likely to have little regard for his guidance either.

Does the Bush Administration mark a definitive break in Republican foreign policy continuity with previous administrations? Or will the nominee in 2008 argue for a "return" to the past?

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Taking the Measure of Musharraf

I've posted on National Interest online a report on yesterday's meeting with Pakistan's president Pervez Musharraf. Let me add a few additional points.

First, the president was comfortable speaking quite frankly about where he thinks U.S. policy is going wrong, not only with regards to Pakistan but to the larger Islamic world. He noted that recent developments in Iraq, the Palestinian territories and Lebanon have had a tremendous negative impact on the perception of the U.S. among Pakistanis. He also felt that not distinguishing between Taliban and conservative religious elements in the population in both Afghanistan (and by extension, the tribal areas in Pakistan) and not having a much more nuanced and focused strategy was going to boomerang.

Second, a number of his comments reminded me of positions that president Vladimir Putin took during a meeting I had with him in 2004 (and that have been reiterated to the 3rd Valdai discussion group, as noted recently by Paul Saunders--including speaking very directly about national interests and about the importance of building long-term institutions (rather than focusing on short term markers) to ensure the success of democracy--as well as a definition of democracy that focuses less on whether the West is happy with the attainment of benchmarks and more whether a government effectively defends popular interests. I was also struck, at several points, by a phenomenon that Dov Zakheim described in the Fall 2005 issue of The National Interest--that Musharraf views his position, and to some extent his insulation from popular pressures, as giving him the opportunity to "till the soil" to promote a moderate version of Islam compatible with democracy and the market. Certainly the delegation that accompanied him--including the minister for women's issues--reinforced that impression with me, as well as the sense that there is a concerted effort to bring new cadres into government, to displace some of the old political guard.

[For a view on some of the problems Pakistan faces, I direct you to what my colleague Alexis Debat has reported on from his recent trip.]

Monday, September 18, 2006

Monday notes

TWR is in New York today, and will be attending an event this afternoon in honor of Pakistan's president Pervez Musharraf.

Two points from last week's conference on Iran hosted by the New America Foundation.

First, enjoyed Chris Preble's use of the name "Chalabi" as a verb, that is, to be "Chalabied" (misled by an opposition leader hoping to use American power to achieve his own ends).

Second, some reports have stated that participants opposed the use of force as an option. I actually took no position; my point was that all courses of action have costs (there are no 'no-cost' solutions) and have to be carefully assessed.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Why Does the World Bank Think Iraq Is Succeeding?

The World Bank's list of "low income countries under stress" that are characterized "by weak policies, institutions, and governance" seems to be missing an obvious candidate: Iraq.

The Bank's methodology makes the point that countries are included on the list whose "per capita income [falls] within the threshold of International Development Association (IDA) eligibility."

Iraq has oil, so that's why it is off the list, right? But two other major oil producers are on the list--Sudan and Nigeria.

Sudan has a GDP estimate of $2,100; Iraq, which is not, has a GDP estimate of $3,400. Perhaps the Bank decided that this was sufficient to take Iraq out of the "low-income" category. But the CIA Factbook on Iraq notes: "Per capita output and living standards were still well below the pre-1991 level, but any estimates have a wide range of error. "

One assumes that World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz must be pleased that Iraq doesn't make the Bank's list; that under his watch Iraq is not classed as a "fragile" state.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Subjective Evaluation on Torture

Nixon Center president and TNI publisher Dimitri Simes has launched his own blog, Subjective Evaluation. He offered this comment, which I reproduce in full below:

I have a little certificate on my office wall confirming that I spent fifteen days in the fall of 1973 in a Moscow prison—by the way, the same prison later visited for much longer by defiant Russian tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky. The certificate claims that I was sentenced for hooliganism. According to the prosecution, I had participated in a hunger strike by Jewish activists at the Moscow State Telegraph Office. Never mind that all the hunger strikers were doing, other than not eating, was sitting in a public area designated for writing telegrams and producing messages to the United Nations, President Richard Nixon and other international leaders asking for help in getting permission to emigrate. The Soviet authorities claimed that I and other defendants stayed at the Telegraph for many hours, depriving other people of the opportunity to write telegrams and disregarding repeated police orders to leave the building. The participants disputed this, saying that no such orders were issued.

My situation was a little different, however. Not only was I not on a hunger strike, I had come to the Telegraph straight from a restaurant in the company of a friend who was the daughter of a senior official. After checking her ID, the police allowed her to leave; they arrested me with the others and I spent a night in the police station and was taken to court with them. I explained to the judge that I was not a part of the protest, that I had been at the Telegraph for fifteen minutes at most, and that no one had asked me to leave. Other defendants confirmed my story, clearly puzzling the judge. As a result, she left the court room in the company of the KGB officer responsible for our case. They returned five minutes later and the judge said that on the basis of the evidence she just received, it was established I was clearly guilty as charged. I never learned what the evidence the KGB provided, but nobody was surprised. Those were the Soviet rules.

So, here we are now in the United States, after a victory in the Cold War, where the President of the United States—and not just any President, but one who has made moralism his trademark—is asking Congress to approve legislation that would allow finding people guilty of serious crimes without revealing key evidence against them. Joseph Stalin used to say that “the [security] organs don’t make mistakes.” Do we really want to have a legal system making the same assumption about the CIA?

Our President’s insistence that it is acceptable to use “alternative interrogation techniques” is likely to be viewed as Orwellian by skeptical publics abroad, even in Western Europe. What kind of alternative techniques? Would investigators pray with the suspected terrorists to appeal to their better selves? Show them pictures of the innocent children they are trying to murder? Recite the Bible and Koran with them? Hardly anyone doubts that the President is talking about physical pressure, which he may not consider torture, but apparently thinks would be sufficient to break down a committed militant. And, to be clear, the individual who might be subjected to torture has not yet been convicted of anything and is denied the presumption of innocence applied in American courts. For all we know, a few may be victims of mistaken identity, something already documented as occurring in some recent CIA-conducted investigations.

It is true that any rule, including the rule against torture, should allow for exceptions under the most extraordinary circumstances. So, if there is credible evidence that a nuclear bomb is ticking in a major American city and the only way to disarm it is to force a suspected terrorist to confess, the Commander-in-Chief should be able to do whatever necessary—but the authorization should be provided personally by him. And, for God’s sake, it should be called what it is, not an “alternative technique.”

It’s troubling that Mr. Bush does not accept as self-evident truth that torture is wrong and un-American. The argument that it may save innocent lives misses the point. Through the history of combat, most torture was not inflicted by pathological sadists, but rather by interrogators who wanted to get information that could save the lives of their troops and civilians. If the United States makes it acceptable to use “alternative techniques” against enemy combatants, it is a no-brainer that American soldiers and even ordinary Americans living abroad would be in great peril.

More broadly, in taking the positions he does on torture, President Bush should forget about the ideological struggle he has proclaimed to win the hearts and minds of Muslims. Since as a practical matter that the vast majority of those subjected to “alternative techniques” are likely to be Muslims—and in the age of the internet, their stories are bound to be quickly known all throughout the Islamic world—all Mr. Bush’s claims about his noble desires to make the world safe for democracy would sound hollow. Senator John McCain, Senator John Warner, Senator Lindsey Graham, former Secretary of State Colin Powell and retired Army General John Vessey are exactly right to insist on modifying the President’s military tribunal plans on the grounds of both security and morality. No improved homeland security procedures, no tighter screening of airline passengers, or even better examination of containers at American ports, can compensate for turning millions of Muslims into America’s enemies. Yet President Bush is proposing is another new step in that direction.

Thanks, George Allen!

To regain his Senate campaign's momentum, George Allen has questioned Jim Webb's fitness to be Senator by raising an article Webb wrote for the Washingtonian magazine in 1979 opposing women in combat.

This is, of course, not a new story; it surfaced and was debated extensively during the Senate primary earlier this year.

I'm not interested in discussing the merits or defects in Webb's argument, but in the way this issue was raised and is being used, and the wonderful effect it has on the public debate (and the small patch over which I have the honor to preside).

People should be held accountable for what they write and the positions they take, certainly; but they should also enjoy the benefit of context. As I've said before, I know I can never survive a Senate confirmation hearing because too much of what I write can easily be taken out of context or spun.

Does an aspiring political figure want to be daring, provocative, though-provoking in essays? Why take the risk if twenty-five years later it comes back to haunt you?

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

George Soros, Realist?

Steve Clemons of the New America Foundation (but known to many via his blog The Washington Note) invited me to a salon-style dinner with George Soros this evening. It was quite an interesting discussion.

Soros, at times, brought up points that appear in The National Interest. He parallels Michael Vlahos' assessment of the problems caused by the "war on terror" characterization, echoed James Schlesinger's Winter 2005/06 essayon peak oil and the approaching fuel crunch, and even sounded a little like Dimitri Simes in noting that the U.S. may have several different and competiting values in play in any given foreign policy issues (say Iran) and needs to be able to prioritize (although, signficantly, he did not use that specific word).

But it was interesting that he still felt a need to draw a distinction; that his "realism" was not "geopolitical realism" (presumably referring to what many people identify with the Kissinger/Scowcroft approach). And I didn't leave with a clearer sense of how he would set priorities or what criteria you use; it seemed that on the one hand, you deal with the governments that you have (e.g. the current one in Iran) and seek solutions; on the other hand, you encourage greater openness and democratization and offer rewards and incentives for movement in this direction. But it did seem a bit like Bill Clinton's famous mantra of "doing it all"--we can be realists and idealists at the same time.

It was interesting that he strongly criticized the idea of democratization by military regime change and said that even in cases like Georgia and Ukraine the revolutions were a sign of failure of existing governments to evolve and open; that his preference is for building institutions from within rather than overthrowing from without.

The most heated set of exchanges during the evening (and Steve made sure to have a diverse group of former officials, journalists, commentators and analysts there)--between Soros and his interlocutors and among them--was over the "war on terror."

Soros' point, if I understand it right, is that 9/11 was an attack and a tragedy but that Al-Qaeda is a manageable threat; that the "war on terror" motif expanded the scope and destructiveness and that it is in turn breeding more resentment and anger against America while eroding its ability to set the global agenda. But his use of the term "imaginary enemies" and "illusionary threat" brought about a fierce debate; is there indeed a real set of enemies, and do they seem themselves at war with us or not? Is the threat a specific small group (Al-Qaeda and its affiliates), a larger trend (radical political Islam), how does Iraq, how does Iran, fit into this picture? Some of the attendees clearly felt Soros was minimizing the threat to Western societies posed by groups and ideologies like Al-Qaeda; one thing that also muddled the discussion was that those supporting Soros also brought up the lack of a link between Al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein which made it difficult to focus the question back onto the point of what were the most effective tools and conceptual framework for dealing with Al-Qaeda (war on terror, resistance, and so on)

I felt that at times Soros was putting too much faith in the U.S. ability to find quick, clean and neat solutions; I think he overestimated U.S. power prior to 9/11; it is also not always within our power to bring about our desired solutions. So saying we should withdraw from Iraq but also prevent civil war and leave some reasonably functioning government behind assumes that we have the power to do so on our timetable. Saying we could do more to nation-build in Afghanistan perhaps also overestimates our capabilities.

I left the evening, puzzled as I have been for the last several months, about why the formation of a broad-based, bipartisan realist-centered consensus still seems elusive. Certainly there seems to be a strong New York constituency, particularly within the business and financial communities, for a rational foreign policy that cherishes American values but focuses first and foremost on achieving results. It seemed to me that Soros came to the verge of the realist cliff but then backed away; it is an assessment that has been made of others too in recent months. Is "realist" such a radioactive term, or is it that realists, like Protestants, split and resplit into countless denominations? It may make the emergence of a new Truman-Eisenhower moment that more difficult.

More on Pakistanization of Al-Qaeda

Marisa Morrison reports on yesterday's event with Alexis Debat for National Interest Online. An excerpt:

Al-Qaeda's presence is well-established in Pakistan. The provinces of North and South Waziristan, in northwest Pakistan, are home to some of Al-Qaeda's training facilities. Powerful clerics in these rugged areas shelter Al-Qaeda's top leadership. Even before the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, Pakistan provided some of Al-Qaeda's most capable recruits. More disturbingly, Al-Qaeda has links to Jamiat i Islami, a large, well-established Pakistani Islamist political party. ... To complicate matters, President Pervez Musharraf is also attempting to gain the support of Islamist political parties in order to shore up support for his deteriorating regime.

Frustrated by what it perceives as Pakistan’s lack of progress on counterterrorism issues, the Bush Administration has courted India at the expense of Pakistan, India's regional rival. However, uprooting Al-Qaeda means that the Pakistani government would exacerbate existing regional, sectarian and tribal conflicts, thereby "weakening Pakistan as an entity." Westerners often ignore this crucial piece of information when assessing Pakistan's efforts to control the Islamic extremism within its borders. By holding the Musharraf government to impossibly high standards, the Bush Administration risks further alienating both the Pakistani public and political elite. Indeed, the current administration has thus far crafted faulty policies towards Pakistan.

Lebanon and the Middle East: What Now?

My colleague Geoffrey Kemp over at The Nixon Center assembled a panel today to discuss the future of Lebanon and the Middle East. He noted that several years ago, in the run-up to the Iraq War, those who argued that the key to making good progress on solving the problems of the Middle East was to improve Israel's relations with its neighbors lost out to those who said that the road to peace to Jerusalem would run through Baghdad. Today, of course, people are now revisiting this argument, and what happens to Lebanon may prove to be a key indicator.

Fouad Makhzoumi of Lebanon's "National Dialogue Party" started off by noting that even before the war started in July, Lebanon was already facing political stalemate and a lack of progress. Lebanon is not a united country, he said, but a series of mini-states each run by sectarian leaders. Lebanon is $40 billion in debt, 900,000 Lebanese have been affected by the fighting, thousands of units of housing destroyed, the infrastructure crippled.

Many promises of aid have been made but delivery must be conditioned on political and judicial reform; post civil war aid was often diverted into the hands of the existing leaderships who used it not for the benefit of Lebanon but to further their own agendas, including personal enrichment.

He said that Arab governments must see Lebanon as a single unit and to move away from what has happened in the past where Egypt or Saudi Arabia have generally tended to support the Sunnis of Lebanon (the Shi'a by Iran, and so on); this means Arab Sunni governments should directly engage with Lebanese Shi'a. The United States also needs to directly engage Syria and Iran, at present the two most influential countries in Lebanon; he also recommended the appointment once again of a U.S. Middle East envoy to keep up momentum on the peace process.

David Ignatius of the Washington Post noted that when the war began in Lebanon there was an "unstated hope" that Israel could take out Hezbollah and in effect disarm it; after 30 days of war, israel failed. The silver lining is that the Hezbollah card has now been played and we have taken the measure of the disruption they can cause.

Fuad Siniora, prime minister of Lebanon, did succeed in negotiating a deal without having to involve the Syrians or call for their assistance; he now has an international force to assist him in restoring Lebanese sovereignty over the entire country.

Nasrallah will continue to take part in the Lebanese political process rather than take Hezbollah completely out of the framework of Lebanese politics.

He added his agreement to the point that the U.S. does need to engage with Syria; perhaps the foiling of the terrorist attack in Damascus against the U.S. Embassy could serve as a starting point.

Ignatius had just returned from Iran and noted that while there are banners of Nasrallah flying all over Teheran, not to overestimate Iran's interest in Lebanon; Iraq is much more of concern. Nevertheless there is a sense in Iran that Israel showed weakness in Lebanon and that America is failing in Iraq, and that Iran is the rising power, and the linchpin for bringing stability to the Middle East. Can the U.S. open a dialogue with Iran? Right now the only substitute appears to be via Iraqi intermediaries, as Prime Minister Maliki is now in Teheran.

Ignatius also added his own assessment of Iranian president Ahmadinejad, calling him a formidable, skillful politician who is working to increase his "footprint" in Iranian institutions.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Robert Danin also made some off-the-record comments.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Al-Qaeda in Pakistan

My colleague Alexis Debat has just given a fascinating presentation on Al-Qaeda in Pakistan.

In contrast to the opinions advanced by Marc Sageman and others, who argue that Al-Qaeda since 9/11 has been effectively disrupted as an organization and now exists largely as a label and ideological cover for a variety of disparate groups, Debat says that in Pakistan, Al-Qaeda is operating as a coherent organization, drawing on deep roots in Pakistani civil society to function. Yes, it has had to re-organize since 9/11, but it is still functioning, and that many of the terror plots in the West ultimately trace back to Al-Qaeda in Pakistan.

Al-Qaeda relies on protection and sanctuary from powerful clerics in the tribal areas; it helps that leaders like Al-Zawahiri have married into local tribes and so are considered "family" not foreingers. Al-Qaeda continues to get its muscle from various sectarian and Kashmiri organizations; he noted the existence of a large database of all those who have been trained by Al-Qaeda since the late 1980s which gives the opportunity to identify cadres and operatives. Al-Qaeda gets logistical assistance from a variety of sources--from political parties and retired intelligence officers to the Karachi underworld. The organization also continues to rely on a tight network of courier cells to deliver messages--often audio tapes--from figures like Bin Laden and Zawahiri.

Because Al-Qaeda is so entrenched, Debat concluded, the United States has no choice but to work with a Pakistani government--it cannot hope to invade and occupy key areas of Pakistan itself. At the same time, however, Washington cannot ask Pakistan to undertake the massive effort and dislocation that uprooting or at least containing Al-Qaeda would take without much more substantial support for Pakistan.

When the meeting report is ready I'll provide a link.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Tough Talk from Putin

My colleague Paul Saunders reports on his meeting this past weekend with Russia's president Vladimir Putin:

Putin said Russia would not work against U.S. interests, but Moscow would uphold its own interests. Relations will only be effective, he said, “if our interests are taken into account.” And while he values his ties with the United States and President Bush, and wants to enhance those ties, the relationship is bogged down with “many peripheral problems.” Specifically, Putin charged the State Department with discouraging U.S. legislators from having official contacts with Russian officials.

In short, while Putin is clearly eager to work with the United States, he is prepared to do so only on terms that do not damage what he views as Russian interests. Putin also has his eye on Russia’s other options—China—and even the capacity to play a central role in alternative institutions outside the West. Putin may well be miscalculating the utility of those “other options” and Russia’s ability to play this role—but any attempt to do so could nevertheless be a significant threat to U.S. interests.

Speaks for itself.

9/11 + 5

The full text of the National Interest symposium on 9/11 five years later is now available, featuring comments from Peter Bergen, Michael Scheuer, Anthony Sullivan and Alexis Debat, among others. [Excerpts from the symposium and an extended discussion about them took place on TWR on August 10th.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Khatami in the United States

Former Iranian president Khatami is in the United States. It seems like he is trying to get sort of back-channel, civil society dialogue opened and running, since the governments aren't talking.

You can see Khatami as a paler Persian copy of Gorbachev (I've made this comparison before), the ex-leader who banks on his popularity outside the country to remain a relevant voice within; you can be quite critical of his stewardship as president of Iran (was he decisive enough in pushing reform?), you can disagree with his positions.

But, as "Sleepless in Washington" has noted, in response to what appears to be political grandstanding by a Republican presidential hopeful for 2008, you need to get your story straight. Khatami is not Ahmadinejad. We have to be willing to see the shades of gray among the ayatollahs, even if they all wear black turbans.

Glain: A Failing Egypt Policy?

Stephen Glain of Newsweek International reports from Egypt that the U.S. strategy of apparently unconditionally backing president Mubarak may in fact hasten the regime's demise:

"The United States gets little in return for subsidizing Mubarak’s brutality. True, Egypt has provided tactical assistance—“rendering” suspected terrorists for interrogation, for example, or negotiating the release of journalists held hostage in Gaza. But Mubarak has studiously avoided playing a constructive role on the issues of overriding, strategic importance to the United States: ending Israeli-Palestinian violence and helping to pre-empt a conflagration over Iranian nuclear ambitions. As the leader of what is widely regarded as the most influential Arab state, Mubarak has chosen to insulate himself amid Arab-world equivocation. Are these the results that Bush, the most unilateral of U.S. leaders, hoped to achieve? Either way, the Middle East is poorer for it.

"And what happens at the end of Mubarak’s term? Though widely tipped as his successor, Gamal has earned no power base of his own and will most likely flee Egypt should his father die suddenly or become incapacitated. Odds are better that Mubarak will transfer power to a military man in exchange for his own and his family’s protection, to spare them the fate that Anwar Sadat meted out to Gamal Abdel Nasser’s inner circle after the latter’s death in 1970."

"Or, Mubarak could be succeeded in free and fair elections by Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, widely considered the most capable political organization in the Arab world today, with an unparalleled network of patronage and community services. Absent secular competition, the Brotherhood (which is banned as a party but fields candidates as independents) has enlarged its bloc in Parliament to 88 seats, making it the largest opposition group in Egypt. A Brotherhood victory in Egypt would shake an already tremulous Middle East. It would complete the transition of political Islam from the fringes of power to its epicenter, with unknown consequences. And absent some tough love from Cairo’s “friends” in the White House, it just might happen."

It seems like shades of the Philippines under Marcos--except we have no Corazon Aquino waiting in the wings to help minimize the fallout from when the regime comes down.

Our interests require us to work with authoritarian governments--but we should encourage "smart authoritarians" who understand the need for evolutionary reform and a stable succession. To date, this appears to be what is happening in places like Azerbaijan, where there is a chance that over time a kind of technocratic authoritarianism that leads to rule of law and economic growth along the East Asian model may emerge. This doesn't seem to be happening in Cairo.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Scheuer: Why Al-Qaeda Won the Lebanon War

Yesterday, in announcing the launch of National Interest online, I called attention to Michael Scheuer's piece and his thesis that Al-Qaeda is the ultimate beneficiary of the recent fighting in Lebanon.

Here's an excerpt:

"Al-Qaeda and its allies benefit most from Hizballah’s defeat of the IDF; Israel, after all, was the first to yell uncle and look for un help. Al-Qaeda itself, and its supporters and admirers, already believe they have won the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, where a diverse, often heterogeneous assortment of insurgent organizations have taken the American military’s best shot and have not only survived, but thrived. Those insurgents are now on the offensive against U.S. forces that they know are too small to prevail and will not be massively reinforced.

"Still, Sunni insurgents expected to beat the American military in Iraq and Afghanistan. Al-Qaeda and its allies rank the bravery of U.S. soldiers far below that of its Red Army adversaries, as well as what they regard as the savagery of the Israeli military. Thus, the IDF’s defeat, with the emerging insurgent Iraq and Afghan victories, delivers to the world of Islamic militancy—Sunni and Shi’a—a singularly important message: Islam’s Afghan-jihad victory in Afghanistan was not a fluke. Alongside the USSR notch carved into the militants’ AK-47 in 1989 are now notches for three U.S. defeats—9/11, Afghanistan, and Iraq—and three major Israeli defeats, Lebanon (2000), Gaza, and Lebanon (2006). The powerful, all-but-paralyzing myth of Israeli and U.S. military invincibility that once dominated Muslim minds now lies in smoking ruins."

The entire article is worth a read.

The interesting question is whether this does reinforce what I've discussed earlier, about the comparisons with the Crusaders--that the radical militant jihadis feel they can win a long-term war of attrition.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

National Interest Online is here

The revamped and updated TNI presence on the web has arrived!

National Interest online debuts today.

Contributing Editor and Ha'aretz diplomatic editor, dateline Tel Aviv, explains Lebanon's aftershocks and its impacts on Israel, the Palestinians, Lebanon and Iran. Former Secretary of Defense (among his other responsibilities) Frank Carlucci puts forward his perspective on a final status arrangement for Kosovo: independence for the province and accelerated steps toward regional integration and EU membership for all states in the western Balkans--something that will also require a continued U.S. presence.

Michael Scheuer, no stranger to provocative thinking, explains why Al-Qaeda is the victor in the recent Lebanon war.

Rounding out the starting line-up, Michael Vlahos' The Long War discusses how rhetoric wrongfully employed leads us to bad policies, while Newsweek's Stephen Glain, just returned from the Middle East, worries that "">The Bush Administration cannot neutralize its adversaries in the Middle East without first giving its friends there an incentive to assist it."

And from the print edition, Senator Joseph Biden explains his foreign policy approach to Iraq in greater detail while Graham Allison and Dimitri Simes hold President Bush up to the yardstick of Winston Churchill--and find room for improvement.

Thanks also to all those who have continued to comment on the C-SPAN forum last week by e-mailing the magazine.

Senatorial Posturing on Georgia

I've been reading the summary of the visit of various U.S. Senators to Georgia at Civil Georgia.

Neutral peacekeepers for Abkhazia and Ossetia. Great. We've heard that proposal for more than ten years. It's a great proposal on paper. Like Aesop's mice wanting to put the bell on the cat, just one small problem: someone has to want to do it. The Europeans have passed up the opportunity to send forces to the Caucasus for years. Senators Graham, McCain, Chambliss, Sununu and others: ready to argue for U.S. peacekeepers to go? Not holding my breath.

Georgia in NATO. Senator Graham says Georgia will be a great addition and that the alliance will be strengthened. For once, please move beyond the easy rhetoric and explain. Do we expect a Georgia in NATO to become part of our toolbox to use against Iran? (Have the Georgians thought this through--NATO as a hedge against Russia is one thing, getting involved in a conflict with Iran--when the Georgian government has energy deals with Tehran--may be another thing altogether). How is the alliance "strengthened" when we have Chirac's speech of last week which seems to indicate a different view for NATO?

On a related note, while the U.S. Embassy in Tbilisi stated no one shot at Senator McCain's helicopter, it is apparently too good of a story to pass up, as it continues to circulate. Perhaps it can be broadened so that Vladimir Putin is trying to assassinate the next President of the United States.

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