Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Bush Legacy: National Security

In looking back at national security policies during the Bush Years, the Council for a Livable World provides “the Good, the Bad and the Ugly.”

The Good

* For eight years, Congress stopped Bush proposals for a new generation of nuclear weapons, including small nuclear weapons, the Nuclear Bunker Buster (Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator) and the Reliable Replacement Warhead.

*The Bush Administration did not resume nuclear testing and did not withdraw the U.S. signature from the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. The U.S. has not conducted a nuclear explosive test since 1992.

* Congress made some reductions in missile defense money and placed severe restrictions on the third missile defense site in Europe.

* After six years of refusing to talk with North Koreans and that country testing a nuclear device, the Administration has negotiated for the past two years and achieved some progress.

* In 2008, in one of the few instances in which we were able to cooperate with the Bush Administration, our community worked with the Administration to ensure funding was included in a Supplemental Appropriations Bill to help North Korea proceed with its end of the bargain. Congress approved $53 million for energy assistance to the Pyongyang regime and authorized another $10 million for dismantlement work.

* The four horsemen, Kissinger, Schultz, Perry and Nunn, have created the space for moving towards a world free of nuclear weapons that both Obama and McCain endorsed during the 2008 campaign.

* There was no war with Iran.

* Congress refused to fund the administration's plan to build a new facility to produce annually 125 to 200 plutonium "triggers" or pits for nuclear weapons; at one time, the Administration planned to produce 450 plutonium pits per year. Congress drastically cut funding for reprocessing U.S. and foreign nuclear waste as part of a Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP) program.

* Congress rejected a Pentagon request to put conventional warheads on Trident nuclear-powered submarines.

The Bad

* The Bush Administration refused to request Congress approve ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

* The U.S.-India nuclear deal was approved and undermined anti-proliferation efforts.

* The Administration abrogated the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and began deployment of National Missile Defense in Alaska and California despite insufficient testing and no evidence that the system would work in realistic situations.

* The Administration undermined the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty by walking back from key promises the United States made in 1995 and 2000.

* The war in Iraq has continued for six years, and Congress was unable to end it.

* There were virtually no negotiations with Iran.

* There were eight years of unilateralism.

* The military budget has skyrocketed by 86% since 2001.

* Arms sales have dramatically increased. The United States’ share of the world arms trade has risen from 40 percent of arms deliveries in 2000 to nearly 52 percent in 2006. U.S. weapons exports rose about 45 percent to $33.7 billion in FY08, the highest total since 1993.

* The U.S. has failed to pay all its dues to the United Nations. In March 2008, the U.S. was $1.6 billion behind in its treaty obligations to the United Nations. The U.S.’s failure to pay its bills on time and in full could have a negative impact on key UN operations, including jeopardizing the 19 peacekeeping missions around the world.

* Congress continues to fund Cold War-era weapons systems, such as the F-22 Raptor, Virginia-class submarine and the V-22 Osprey, that have little purpose in the current security environment.

* The Administration’s Nuclear Posture Review expanded the possible use of nuclear weapons to counter terrorists and chemical and biological weapons attacks, and walked back from promises not to threaten to attack non-nuclear weapon states with nuclear weapons.

The Ugly

* The Treaty of Moscow (SORT) produced inadequate reductions in Russian and American nuclear weapons with no verification and excess weapons on storage.

* The was some progress made helping the former Soviet states dismantle nuclear weapons and nuclear delivery systems and safeguard their nuclear materials, but the Administration tried to cut funding for the program more than once. Congress added funding during several years and removed some bureaucratic restrictions that had hampered the program.

* Congress launched two reevaluations of U.S. nuclear weapons policy, but the Perry-Schlesinger commission may be too divided to produce any productive conclusions.

* The Bush administration has used the supplemental funding process to an alarming degree to fund ongoing military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan that sets a dangerous precedent for the future and threatens to further weaken the already-flawed federal budgeting process.

* The weak Proliferation Security Initiative only established a framework, which can be built upon, to stop the spread of sensitive nuclear technologies and fissile material, specifically when these items are being transported.

The Bush Legacy: Lessons

In the Post, Bob Woodward, author of four books on President Bush -- "Bush at War," "Plan of Attack," "State of Denial" and "The War Within," provides 10 lessons that Obama and his team should take away from the Bush experience.

1. Presidents set the tone. Don't be passive or tolerate virulent divisions.

Instead of a team of rivals, Bush wound up with a team of back-stabbers with long-running, poisonous disagreements about foreign policy fundamentals.

2. The president must insist that everyone speak out loud in front of the others, even -- or especially -- when there are vehement disagreements.

Powell was right that to conclude that Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden did not work together. But Cheney and Powell did not have this crucial debate in front of the president -- even though such a discussion might have undermined one key reason for war. Cheney provided private advice to the president, but he was rarely asked to argue with others and test his case… This sort of derision undermined the administration's unity of purpose -- and suggests the nasty tone that can emerge when open debate is stifled by long-running feuds and personal hostility.

3. A president must do the homework to master the fundamental ideas and concepts behind his policies.

The president should not micromanage, but understanding the ramifications of his positions cannot be outsourced to anyone.

4. Presidents need to draw people out and make sure bad news makes it to the Oval Office.

Bush sometimes assumed he knew his aides' private views without asking them one-on-one. He made probably the most important decision of his presidency -- whether to invade Iraq -- without directly asking Powell, Rumsfeld or CIA Director George J. Tenet for their bottom-line recommendation. (Instead of consulting his own father, former president George H.W. Bush, who had gone to war in 1991 to kick the Iraqi army out of Kuwait, the younger Bush told me that he had appealed to a "higher father" for strength.)

5. Presidents need to foster a culture of skepticism and doubt.

Presidents and generals don't have to live on doubt. But they should learn to love it. "You should not be the parrot on the secretary's shoulder," said Marine Gen. James Jones, Obama's incoming national security adviser, to his old friend Gen. Peter Pace, who was then the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff -- a group Jones thought had been "systematically emasculated by Rumsfeld." Doubt is not the enemy of good policy; it can help leaders evaluate alternatives, handle big decisions and later make course corrections if necessary.

6. Presidents get contradictory data, and they need a rigorous way to sort it out.

In 2004-06, the CIA was reporting that Iraq was getting more violent and less stable. By mid-2006, Bush's own NSC deputy for Iraq, Meghan O'Sullivan, had a blunt assessment of conditions in Baghdad: "It's hell, Mr. President." But the Pentagon remained optimistic and reported that a strategy of drawing down U.S. troops and turning security over to the Iraqis would end in "self-reliance" in 2009. As best I could discover, the president never insisted that the contradiction between "hell" and "self-reliance" be resolved.

7. Presidents must tell the hard truth to the public, even if that means delivering very bad news.

For years after the Iraq invasion, Bush consistently offered upbeat public assessments. That went well beyond the infamous "Mission Accomplished" banner that he admitted last Monday had been a mistake. "Absolutely, we're winning," the president said during an October 2006 news conference. "We're winning." His confident remarks came during one of the lowest points of the war, at a time when anyone with a TV screen knew that the war was going badly. On Feb. 5, 2005, as he was moving up from his first-term role as Rice's deputy to become national security adviser, Stephen J. Hadley had offered a private, confidential assessment of the problems of Bush's Iraq-dominated first term. "I give us a B-minus for policy development," he said, "and a D-minus for policy execution." The president later told me that he knew that the Iraq "strategy wasn't working." So how could the United States be winning a war with a failing strategy?

8. Righteous motives are not enough for effective policy.

"I believe we have a duty to free people," Bush told me in late 2003. I believe he truly wanted to bring democracy to Afghanistan and Iraq. In preparing his second inaugural address in 2005, for example, Bush told his chief speechwriter, Michael Gerson, "The future of America and the security of America depends on the spread of liberty." That got the idealistic Gerson so pumped that he set out to produce the foreign policy equivalent to Albert Einstein's unified field theory of the universe -- a 17-minute inaugural address in which the president said his goal was nothing less than "the ending of tyranny in our world."

But this high purpose often blinded Bush and his aides to the consequences of this mad dash to democracy. In 2005, for example, Bush and his war cabinet spent much of their time promoting free elections in Iraq -- which wound up highlighting the isolation of the minority Sunnis and setting the stage for the raging sectarian violence of 2006.

9. Presidents must insist on strategic thinking.

Only the president (and perhaps the national security adviser) can prod a reactive bureaucracy to think about where the administration should be in one, two or four years. Then detailed, step-by-step tactical plans must be devised to try to get there. It's easy for an administration to become consumed with putting out brush fires, which often requires presidential involvement. (Ask Obama how much time he's been spending on the Gaza war.) But a president will probably be judged by the success of his long-range plans, not his daily crisis management.

10. The president should embrace transparency. Some version of the behind-the-scenes story of what happened in his White House will always make it out to the public -- and everyone will be better off if that version is as accurate as possible.

On March 8, 2008, Hadley made an extraordinary remark about how difficult it has proven to understand the real way Bush made decisions. "He will talk with great authority and assertiveness," Hadley said. " 'This is what we're going to do.' And he won't mean it. Because he will not have gone through the considered process where he finally is prepared to say, 'I've decided.' And if you write all those things down and historians get them, [they] say, 'Well, he decided on this day to do such and such.' It's not true. It's not history. It's a fact, but it's a misleading fact."

Presidents should beware of such "misleading facts." They should run an internal, candid process of debate and discussion with key advisers that will make sense when it surfaces later. This sort of inside account will be told, at least in part, during the presidency. But the best obtainable version will emerge more slowly, over time, and become history.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Clarke on the Bush Record

In a New York Daily News editorial, former counterterrorism adviser Richard Clarke unloads on President Bush for claiming he has saved American lives over the past eight years.
There wasn't a second 9/11? That's obviously true, but it misses the point. First, we must remember that Al Qaeda terrorists are patient, deliberate planners who often wait years between strikes. Second, there was the first 9/11 - and it happened on Bush's watch. Without rehashing the entire 9/11 Commission Report, the historical record is pretty clear by now that Bush did virtually nothing about the repeated warnings to him that those cataclysmic attacks were coming. Unfortunately, I can personally attest to that as well.

...Bush saved American lives? Tell that to the families of the 4,200 U.S. military personnel who have perished in the needless war in Iraq. While they served heroically and deserve the great thanks of the American people, the tragic truth is that they were engaged in a war we should not have been fighting and which was sold to the Congress, the media and American people with exaggerated and even false claims.

...Let George Bush keep pushing the buttons on the spin machine. That cannot change the facts. His administration's actions on terrorism, including Iraq, killed many more Americans than U.S. intelligence agencies saved in the past eight years

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

The Mood on the Street

Outside of Gaza, no one is monitoring the Israeli incursion more closely than the Palestinians of the West Bank and Hezbollah. While elements of both populations have expressed outrage, it has been a measured outrage complicated by political, security and economic realities. The Times reports on the mood in Gaza:

Over the past week, Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, has been delivering furious speeches here almost every day against the Israeli assault on Gaza, and blaming Egypt and other Arab countries for their passivity. But Mr. Nasrallah has not ordered his own powerful militia into action. No missiles have been fired at Israel from southern Lebanon. And for all the anxious talk in recent days about the possible opening of a second front on the Lebanese border, it is unlikely that Hezbollah will attack unless Hamas’s situation becomes desperate, analysts say.

There are at least two reasons for this. First, Hezbollah still believes that its ally Hamas will triumph. Second, it cannot risk drawing Lebanon into another devastating conflict like the one in 2006. Hezbollah is still politically vulnerable at home. “They don’t want to bring down the wrath of the Israeli Air Force,” said Paul Salem, the director of the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut. “The community and the country are not up for another war just two years after the last one.”

After the 2006 war, Mr. Nasrallah claimed victory over Israel but also delivered a kind of apology to the Lebanese, saying he would not have ordered the cross-border raid that precipitated the 2006 conflict if he had known that Israel would respond with a 34-day juggernaut, leaving more than 1,000 people dead and parts of the country in ruins. Since then, Hezbollah has gained important new powers in Lebanese government, and its alliance is widely expected to win a majority in parliamentary elections this year, a major step. Starting a conflict could risk all that, angering the Lebanese people and “reviving the whole debate about Hezbollah’s weapons,” said Amal Saad-Ghorayeb, a policy analyst and author who has written about Hezbollah.

...Hezbollah’s leaders, who are famously secretive, appear to be sanguine about the outcome in Gaza. “We are not pessimistic about the future of the fighting,” said Ali Fayyad, a former Hezbollah official and the director of a research institute here affiliated with Hezbollah. “We consider that the resistance is strong enough, and we think Israelis are making the same mistake they made in the July 2006 war.” Hezbollah is well aware of Hamas’s abilities, having worked with Iran to train and prepare the Gaza-based movement for this conflict, Mr. Salem and other analysts say. The idea was to arm Hamas so that it could survive in battle long enough to force Israel and Arab states to negotiate terms with it, a process that would ultimately bolster its power and credibility — along with those of its allies Syria, Iran and Hezbollah. No second front is needed to fulfill those goals.

So far, Hezbollah’s role has been purely rhetorical. Mr. Nasrallah has deplored Israel’s military assault and, in an unprecedented step, lashed out at Egypt for not opening its border with Gaza to allow military and humanitarian supplies through. Analysts say he hopes to create a popular movement in Egypt and elsewhere that would force the Egyptian government to capitulate, easing pressure on Hamas.

Meanwhile, the mood in the West Bank is strikingly similar but for different reasons:

Fewer than 100 people showed up on Monday in the busy center of Nablus for a demonstration in solidarity with the suffering Palestinians of Gaza. There were a few Palestinian flags, and some posters that featured bombs with Jewish stars and dripping blood and demanded, “Where is the conscience of the world?” But when an organizer asked passers-by to join the rally, only a handful responded. The lack of interest was not, for certain, lack of support for Hamas. Fury is rising here over the war in Gaza, as are support for Hamas and anger with the Palestinian Authority in this city, which has long been the beating heart of opposition to Israeli occupation of the West Bank. Many want the authority and the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas of the Fatah party, to do more to criticize Israel.

But a complicated internal struggle is also playing out here in the West Bank, separate geographically and governed by the Palestinian Authority, not, like Gaza, by Hamas. Fatah leaders are growing deeply worried over popular reaction and support for its rival, Hamas, to the point of crushing recent demonstrations. There is also, after so many years of struggle, of Palestinian against Israeli and of Palestinian against Palestinian, no small degree of weariness with yet another deadly round. Even with the war in Gaza, there is no sign of a third intifada, or uprising, despite Hamas’s call for one. “The people are tired,” said Jamal Fayez, who runs a modest restaurant in the city center. “They’re tired, and they’re poor. They’re tired of the conflict between Hamas and Fatah, and they’re tired from trying to earn bread to eat.”

…The impact of the Fatah-Hamas struggle is strong, Mr. Shikaki [one of the most highly regarded Palestinian pollsters, director of the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in Ramallah, and a sometime adviser to Mr. Abbas] said, with Fatah having lost legislative elections to Hamas in January 2006 and having lost control of Gaza to Hamas in a short but fierce civil war in June 2007. “There is anger with the Israelis over Gaza, but also anger with Hamas, and for the first time, Israel is waging war with a faction of the Palestinian people that has been in a bloody conflict with another Palestinian faction,” Mr. Shikaki said. “There is a sense of frustration with both Hamas and Abu Mazen,” as Mr. Abbas is known.

Palestinians have conflicting sentiments, Mr. Shikaki said. There is sympathy for those under attack, respect for those who fight and the need to show support for the victims of Israel. “All this is affecting Abu Mazen and Fatah,” he said, “and if Hamas can declare some kind of victory in Gaza, this support for Hamas will remain, and Hamas will be able to regain the initiative in the West Bank that they lost after the civil war in Gaza.”

On the West Bank, he said, people do not blame Hamas now, as Mr. Abbas did. “This is not the moment for blame,” Mr. Shikaki said, “which is why Abu Mazen saying that Hamas is responsible for the Israeli attacks did not go down well.” But he said that much would depend, in both Israeli and Palestinian politics, on the outcome of the conflict and on whether Hamas or Israel was perceived to have won.

The Party of Tomorrow

One of the trends becoming increasingly evident in modern political times -- perpetuated by Karl Rove and President Bush and embraced recently by John McCain and Sarah Palin -- is the Republican Party’s odd reliance on an electoral strategy that cedes the middle ground and focusing squarely and solely on its base. In that desperate attempt to appeal to those on the far right of the political spectrum, it has used fear tactics and the politics of personal destruction to cast Democratic opponents as nothing more than untrustworthy, soft, and unpatriotic – true threats to everything that a church-going, white, heterosexual living in a pro-America town would hold dear.

Shockingly (or not so much), all Republicans have to show for their efforts is more division, more resentment, more hostility, more ignorance and fewer Republicans. You reap what you sow. Indeed, it’s surprising that the Republicans failed to adopt the Obama strategy of playing down partisanship, building bridges and appealing to the best in us, and it’s humorous how they grew increasingly cynical about its ultimate effectiveness. You would think they’d learn from the lessons of recent history -- electoral landslides, a diminishing base, ceding ground to younger voters, no true standard-bearer, etc -- but no, the race for the next Chairman of the Republican National Committee has exposed nothing but more of the same. E.J. Dionne elaborates:

The message sent over the weekend may have been unintentional, but it was nonetheless powerful. While the candidates to chair the Republican National Committee prepared for a debate held yesterday by the Reagan-era group Americans for Tax Reform, the Democrats leaked word that their next national chairman would be Gov. Tim Kaine of Virginia. The message: While Republicans are looking inward and focusing on appeals to the party's activist base, President-elect Barack Obama wants Democrats to concentrate their energies on recently acquired political terrain and the new converts who were central to his party's sweep last year.

…A top Obama adviser, using trademark Obama language, described Kaine as "a pragmatic progressive, less concerned about orthodoxies than about getting things done." In fact, Obama is already following the path blazed in Virginia by Kaine and his predecessor, incoming Sen. Mark Warner. Their approach was to pursue broadly progressive policies in a non-ideological way and to speak of playing down partisanship -- even as doing so was their way of building the Democratic Party's brand and broadening its base of support.

…By contrast, Republicans seem less focused on how to expand their party's appeal than on hunkering down to preserve ideological purity. For now, the underdogs in the chairmanship fight seem to be the two candidates outside the party's regional and ideological comfort zones, former Maryland lieutenant governor Michael Steele and Michigan state Chairman Saul Anuzis. They confront two Southerners, Chip Saltsman of Tennessee, now most noted for distributing the CD that included the song "Barack the Magic Negro," and Katon Dawson, the South Carolina party chairman. The incumbent, Mike Duncan of Kentucky, is seeking reelection, while former Ohio secretary of state Kenneth Blackwell has emerged as the candidate of the conservative stalwarts.

Structurally, it turns out to be much easier for Democrats than Republicans to reach out to moderates because Democrats are the more ideologically diverse party… Thus, when Democrats try to broaden their appeal, they are also addressing middle-of-the-road voters in their own party. Republicans who want to reach out have to fight their party, which is overwhelmingly inclined to stick with the true conservative faith.

Republicans would do well to pay attention to another trend: The young are leaning left. Voters under 30, according to the exit poll, are the only age group in which liberals outnumber conservatives, by 32 percent to 26 percent. And the last four years of the Bush presidency clearly turned this generation off to the GOP. In 2004, 18- to 29-year-olds tilted only narrowly Democratic, 37 percent to 35 percent. In 2008, 45 percent of the under-30s called themselves Democrat; only 26 percent called themselves Republican.

Right-wing loyalists can talk all they want about how President Bush's problem was that he wasn't "conservative enough," but the numbers show they are misunderstanding their party's problem. Obama and Kaine are appealing to a moderate country moving gradually in a progressive direction and have a party behind them prepared to grapple with the realities of politics now. Whoever takes the helm of the GOP will have to persuade a very conservative following that we are not living in Ronald Reagan's America anymore.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Brzezinski on the Gaza Conflict

Former U.S. National Security Adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, recently appeared on Morning Joe to offer his expertise on the conflict in Gaza. While providing some insightful analysis, he also had a few choice words for Joe Scarborough.

The Age of Micro-Wars

In a must-read on Informed Comment, Juan Cole describes the evolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict and contends that we have entered into an age of micro-wars.

The first wars that Israel fought with its Arab neighbors were conventional struggles in which infantry, artillery, armor and air forces played central roles. Israel's enemies had few effective tools in the 1950s and 1960s. Abdel Nasser encouraged Palestinian resistance from Gaza in 1955, but it was more harassment than a serious military operation. The Egyptian, Jordanian and Syrian conventional armies were what Israel's leaders worried about. Jordan was no match for the Israelis and it had a history of secret agreements with the Zionist leaders, so its military was only a threat when, as in 1967, other Arab leaders convinced the Jordanian leadership to join in a collective effort.

Israel's policies were not merely defensive, contrary to the propaganda one constantly hears from New York. Moshe Sharrett's diaries demonstrate conclusively the expansionist character of the regime. Israel's leaders badly wanted the Sinai Peninsula and therefore a commanding position over the trade of the Red Sea and the Suez Canal in the 1950s and 1960s. There was also some petroleum there. Israel used superiority in armor and air power in 1956 to take the Sinai, in conjunction with an orchestrated Anglo-French attack on Egypt's position in the Suez Canal (which Gamal Abdel Nasser had nationalized that summer). President Dwight D. Eisenhower, afraid that vestiges of Old World colonial thinking would push the Arabs into the arms of the Soviets, made Israel relinquish its prize. But hawks in Israel took the Sinai from Egypt again in the 1967 war, in which Israel again demonstrated that armor plus air superiority always defeats armor that lacks air cover (Israel managed to destroy the Egyptian air force early in the war).

Egypt could not accept loss of its sovereign territory. As the largest Arab state, with a third of the Arab population, and a developing economic, technological and military capability, Egypt could not be dismissed. Its leader from 1970, Anwar El Sadat, found a way of striking back. Egypt launched the 1973 war as a surprise attack, and used sophisticated underwater sand-moving equipment to get across the canal and penetrate into the Sinai. By this time Egypt had Soviet SA-6 surface-to-air missiles that served as anti-aircraft batteries and was careful to keep its tanks under their umbrella. Had Egypt had a better air force, Egyptian armor could have rolled right into Israel proper in October of 1973. The Israeli cabinet is said to have feared it was the fall of the Third Kingdom. But even in the absence of a proper air force, the Soviet SAMs were a game-changer. I would argue that they were the difference between the crushing defeat of Egypt in 1967 and the draw-to-slight victory Cairo won in 1973.

The writing was on the wall. Israel could not have the Sinai. Egypt was too big and too increasingly powerful an enemy to continue to provoke it. 1973 settled that. The Egyptian public was tired of war and its expense, and so both sides were willing to conclude the Camp David Peace Treaty of 1978. Egypt got the Sinai back permanently. Israel escaped the most serious military threat in the region. Israel's political tradition seeks expansion if possible; if not possible, it seeks a balance of power with its enemies. If that is not possible, it seeks to be held harmless from its avowed foes. If that is not possible, it is willing to wage total war to punish the enemy population until it accepts at least a cold peace. Where necessary, Israel is willing to give up territorial expansion to get the cold peace.

The 1982 Lebanon War was a hybrid. Israel deployed a conventional army against the Palestine Liberation Organization and Lebanon. The PLO fought an unconventional struggle in Beirut, and reached out diplomatically to the US, France and Italy to achieve a negotiated outcome rather than an outright defeat. The PLO had to leave Beirut. But Israel's victory was Pyrrhic. 1) The Lebanon War was highly unpopular at home and abroad because it seemed unprovoked. 2) The PLO was not destroyed. 3) Israel's old expansionist tendencies kicked in and it was unwilling to relinquish South Lebanon, such that it began occupying yet another Arab country. 4) Israel's occupation helped create the Shiite resistance we now call Hizbullah, which evolved into a highly effective unconventional military force.

Jordan's government was neutralized in the early 1990s with a peace treaty, just as Egypt's had earlier been with Camp David. The PLO also engaged in the peace process off and on, and with the death of Arafat the old guerrilla PLO seemed to end, as Fatah became a political party. That development left Israel with three main regional enemies: Syria, Hizbullah and Hamas. Hizbullah in turn gradually attracted Iranian patronage. In the case of the Levantine players, the main issue was Israeli occupation of their land-- south Lebanon and the Shebaa Farms for Hizbullah, the Golan Heights for Syria, and Gaza and the West Bank (the most vigorously colonized of the Occupied Territories) for Hamas. The Arab-Israeli wars of the opening years of the 21st century have not been conventional wars. They have been micro-wars. Israel had demonstrated in the earlier Arab-Israeli wars that it could generally win a conventional struggle.

The new repertoires of struggle against Israel had four dimensions.

First, they depended on fundamentalist religious party organization (Hizbullah, Hamas), wherein cadres gained popularity in their own base by providing aid and services (e.g. hospitals, soup kitchens, etc.) This development marked a distinctive move away from the leftist romantic guerrilla model of the late 1960s and the 1970s, which was secular and less organic. Because they are religious and political communities, they can lace their guerrilla organizations and materiel through the civilian sphere. Guerrilla operations might be planned out in a civilian apartment building. Rockets might be stored in a mosque.

Second, they deployed new tactics such as suicide bombing, sophisticated tank-piercing explosively formed projectiles, and the launching of small rockets on Israeli settlements and nearby towns. (Large rockets are vulnerable to the Israeli air force; small rocket launchers are mobile and hard to locate).

Third, the micro-warriors depended on regional-power backing (Syria, Iran) and technical help in the modification of rocket technology and in other areas, such as breaking Israeli codes and gaining the ability to monitor Israeli military communications.

Fourth, they targeted Israel's Achilles heel, its demographic vulnerability. Jewish communities are economically thriving and well integrated in the industrial democracies, and there are significant pull factors encouraging Israeli emigration. Some Israeli demographers think that if one counts the second generation, there are 900,000 Israelis outside of Israel. There are as many as 200,000 Jews now in Germany, mostly from the former Soviet Union, who preferred to go there rather than to Israel. During the Second Intifada or Palestinian uprising, in some years Israel's retention rate of new immigrants fell to unheard-of low levels. Some 50 percent of American immigrants to Israel have returned to the US,and Israel has lost nearly 10% of its one million Russian immigrants. All the violence is nervous-making. The micro-wars, the wars of the rockets, are intended to discourage in-migration to Israel by the Russians and other former East Bloc Jews, and to foster out-migration by Israeli Jews, which the Israeli leadership and Zionism generally view as a dire threat to the character of the Israeli state.

All four dimensions played a part in Hizbullah's success in forcing Israel to end its occupation of south Lebanon in 2000. That forced withdrawal was micro-war's first big success, and a more decisive victory than Egypt gained with conventional arms in 1973. Israel had to give up its claim on a slice of Arab territory without receiving any guarantees of peace or any advantage whatsoever.

All four dimensions were also at play in the summer, 2006 Israeli-Lebanese War. Hizbullah deployed its rockets so effectively that one fourth of Israelis were forced to flee their homes temporarily. Although the earlier Arab-Israeli wars did sometimes send Israelis to bomb shelters, I don't believe that as much of a fourth of the population was ever made to flee their own dwellings before. Hizbullah benefited from the loyalty to it of villagers and townspeople it had helped with clinics and other social services. Hizbullah was able to penetrate Merkava tanks and even hit an Israeli ship at sea. With Iranian and Syrian help, they had cracked Israeli codes and could listen in on their enemy's military communications. The Israelis had no idea where their caves and tunnels were. Israel lost the war with Hizbullah in the sense that the latter proved resilient. Only by ratcheting the struggle up to a total war, in which Israel hit Lebanese infrastructure in general and killed over 1000 Lebanese, many of them not Hizbullah or even Shiites, was it able to convince the other Lebanese and the UN/Europeans to intervene to restrain Hizbullah.

The Israeli attempt to permanently ethnically cleanse the Shiites from Lebanon's deep south near the Israeli border by the use of cluster bombs failed. The ensuing de facto truce allowed Hizbullah to re-arm with rockets and to gain legitimacy as part of the Lebanese cabinet, but the European border patrols under the banner of UNIFIL (UN peacekeepers) have forestalled further micro-warfare against Israel for the moment. Even as the northern front quietened from fall of 2006, despite Israel having achieved few of its war goals, a new microwar broke out in Gaza.

In the 1980s, when the secular, left-leaning Palestine Liberation Organization predominated as the Palestinian political force, Israeli intelligence funneled some aid to Hamas (descended from the Gaza branch of the Muslim Brotherhood), a fundamentalist group, in hopes of dividing and ruling the Palestinians. That part of the plan worked, but Israeli intelligence created a monster, since as Hamas grew in strength and popularity, it grew increasing vocal about its rejection of Israel and its ambition to see the state dismantled, allowing the emergence of a fundamentalist Muslim Palestinian state where Israel now stands.

The current Israeli military effort to substantially weaken Hamas in Gaza follows on the contradictions in Kadima Party policy. In 2005 Kadima, led by then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon withdrew from the Gaza Strip, which Israel had occupied in 1967. But since Kadima refused to negotiate with Hamas, Israel was unable to shape the political structures of its former colony, leaving the outcome to chance. It was not a stable place By 2005 Gaza had a population of 1.5 million. Although it was a relatively nice little Mediterranean region before the rise of modern nation states, its traditional markets were Egypt and Jordan, and after 1967 its only outlet was Israel, which already produced much the same things as Gaza did. So Gaza had become trapped economically.

Hamas became popular in Gaza in part because of services and in part because of its rejectionism vis-a-vis Israel, and it won the January, 2006, elections for the Palestinian Authority. Because of its rejectionist ideology and its willing to deploy terrorism and micro-war against Israel, Israel and the United States boycotted the PA under Hamas and strove to undo the results of the election.

Here is Aljazeera's timeline for what happened next:

* June 25, 2006: Palestinian fighters conduct an operation in Israel, killing two Israeli soldiers capturing another, Corporal Gilad Shalit.

* June 28, 2006: Israel launches Operation Summer Rains in what it says is an attempt to recover the captured soldier. Israel launches air strikes against of bridges, roads, and the only power station in Gaza. Hundreds of Palestinians are killed during aerial and ground attacks over the following months.

* June 29, 2006: Israel captures 64 Hamas officials, including eight Palestinian Authority cabinet ministers and up to twenty members of the Palestinian Legislative Council.

* September 8:, 2006 UN officials say Gaza is at "breaking point" after months of economic sanctions and Israeli attacks.'

* By summer of 2007, the Israelis and the US had managed to sponsor a coup in which the secular Fatah, led by Mahmoud Abbas, took back over the West Bank, and Hamas was confined to Gaza. Hamas pursued the tactic of sending small home-made missiles against nearby Israeli towns, mainly Sderot, emulating what Hizbullah had been doing to the Israeli colony in the occupied Shebaa Farms in 2005-2006. Israel responded primarily by squeezing the Gaza public, denying it enough food, fuel, electricity and services to function healthily, in hopes that it could be made to turn against Hamas. This punishment of the civilian population (half of which consists of children and some large proportion of which does not anyway support Hamas) is illegal in international law, and failed in its purpose. Hamas became ever more entrenched.

Israel's current attack on Gaza is aimed at forestalling an ever more successful microwar waged by Hamas. Its rockets were inaccurate and most seem to have fallen uselessly in the desert. But they did do some property damage and killed 15 Israelis over 8 years, and they also inflicted psychological blows on the fragile Israeli psyche. The Israeli leadership saw a danger that Hamas would become ever better entrenched, organically, in Gaza society and gain all the advantages such a social penetration offers, and that monetary aid from Iran and explosives smuggling through tunnels from the Egyptian Sinai would allow them eventually to wage a truly effective micro-war.

The Israeli leadership knew that it could not reply to Hamas's microwar without engaging in total war on the Gaza population, and that this step would be unpopular with the world's publics. But the Israeli leadership has successfully thumbed its nose and world public opinion so often and so successfully that this sort of consideration does not even enter into their practical calculations (except to the extent that they are careful to do a lot of propaganda for their war effort). Their estimation that they will suffer no practical bad consequences of attacks on civilians is certainly correct in the short to medium term.

The Israel lobbies are wealthy and powerful, and the US congress depends heavily on them for campaign funding. If the US legislators voted on the Gaza operation, they would support Israel except for the same 10 who objected to the war on Lebanon (the 10 are mostly from congressional districts with a lot of Arab-Americans). Israel will suffer no practical sanctions from any government. Egypt and Jordan are afraid of Hamas and are more or less handmaidens of Israeli policy toward Gaza. Syria and Lebanon are weak. Iran, for all the hype it generates, is distant and relatively helpless to intervene. European governments have largely ceded the Palestinian-Israeli issue to the US and Israel.

The main immediate problem for the Israelis is that simply preventing Hamas from waging an ever more sophisticated microwar is an extremely short-term and technical objective. It may or may not be achievable by the methods of the current war, which appear so far to be conventional methods. Its outcome is not very material to a settlement of the larger issues. The big long-term problem Israel has is that its assiduous colonization of the West Bank has made a two-state solution almost impossible, turning it into an Apartheid state. And if you go on practicing Apartheid long enough, that begins to attract boycotts and sanctions. And forestalling a Palestinian state means that likely the Palestinians will all end up Israeli citizens.

I was on the radio recently with John Bolton, former US ambassador to the UN, and he expressed the hope that Egypt would take back Gaza and Jordan what is left of the West Bank. You may as well dream of pink unicorns on Venus. It isn't going to happen. The Palestinians are Israel's problem. War on them, circumscribe them, colonize them all you like. They aren't going anywhere, and you can't keep them stateless and virtually enslaved forever, occasionally exterminating some of them as though they were vermin when they make too much trouble. That, sooner or later, will lead to boycotts by rising economic powers and by Europe that could be extremely damaging to Israel's long-term prospects as a state.

It may still be 10 or 20 years in the future. But because of Israel's economic and demographic vulnerabilities, for it to lose the war of global public opinion may ultimately be more consequential than either macro-war or micro-war.

Crisis in Gaza

On The Daily Dish, Andrew Sullivan provides an interesting perspective on the ongoing crisis in Gaza.

From the perspective of intent, there does seem to me to be moral clarity between Israel and Hamas. Hamas refuses to recognize Israel's right to exist in peace; Israel refuses to recognize Hamas' right to exist as a legitimate polity in Gaza because Hamas does not recognize Israel's right to exist. Hamas also was the first to break a barely-held ceasefire recently. There seems to me to be no question that Israel has the higher moral ground from the perspective of recent events.

At the same time, Israel's actual resources of military and economic power far exceed Hamas's; and its pulverization of Gaza has led to a huge imbalance between the victims of Hamas's war on Israel and Israel's war on Hamas. The Palestinians are suffering something like ten times the trauma and deaths of Israelis. What they have endured in Gaza for the past couple of years must also be taken into account. It is not a function of appeasement or wimpiness or fondness for Jihadism that makes this conclusion inescapable. It is simply being human.

And so you have an excruciating confluence of the questions of proportionality in a just war and asymmetry in the war against terrorism. What renders the current awfulness particularly wrenching is that the immoral means Hamas uses are logical from the point of view of an entity that is committed to Israel's destruction but not powerful enough to achieve it. And the response of Israel is logical from the point of view of a Western country enduring constant terrorist bombardment. Hence the never-ending argument in which both extremes reinforce themselves. This is not, one remembers, a Likud government. This is what the center left needs to do in Israel to stay in power at this point. And it has the backing of Egypt.

The nature of the conflict therefore ensures that Israel will kill and injure and traumatize far more human beings than Hamas can, even though Israel's intentions may be more honorable (and the relative lack of civilian deaths, given the pounding that has been going on in Gaza, is striking evidence for Israel's relative scrupulousness). This means that Israel will continue to lose the war of ideas and that Hamas will benefit from the impasse. Meanwhile, Jewish Israelis face a demographic reckoning and the forces of Jihadism gain a new recruiting tool. Abbas is temporarily weakened; and Iran's ideological strength temporarily waxes. Democracy, pace the neocons, is not a panacea: Hamas has more democratic legitimacy, it seems to me, than Mubarak.

This is all horrible news for the Jewish people; and deeply disturbing for the rest of us. America's president and president-elect must ensure that the US is not drawn into this battle on one side or the other any more than is absolutely necessary. The West's interests in the Middle East are not exhausted by a defense of Israel's existence and security, especially when such a position comes allied with Arab autocracy and repression.

The one silver lining I can see is that Sunni Arab fear and loathing of Iran is still very real, and can be exploited. (If Arab powers are now reduced to acquiescing in the deaths of Palestinian children from Israeli bombs, you can see how vulnerable they feel toward the wave of religious extremism sweeping the region.) The best you can hope for in the Middle East is that one axis of hatred will temporarily eclipse another. Generally speaking, adherents of one religion hate each other more than they do adherents of another sect altogether, so the prospects for some advancement of Israeli and American self-interest in a broader Muslim civil war are real. With Muslim anti-Semitism, of course, we might have stumbled onto a rare exception.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

The Top Ten Good News Stories in the Muslim World in 2008

On Informed Comment, Juan Cole points out the “Top Ten Good News Stories in the Muslim World in 2008 (That Nobody Noticed).”

1. The Pakistani public, led by its attorneys, judges and civilian politicians, conducted a peaceful, constitutional overthrow of the military dictatorship of Pervez Musharraf in 2008. Last February, the Pakistani public gave the largest number of seats in parliament to the left of center, secular Pakistan People's Party. The fundamentalist religious parties took a bath at the polls. In August, the elected parliament initiated impeachment proceedings against Musharraf, who resigned. A civilian president, Asaf Ali Zardari, was elected.

George W. Bush is reported to have been the last man in Washington to relinquish support for Musharraf, who had rampaged around sacking supreme court justices, censoring the press, and imprisoning political enemies on a whim. Pakistan faces an insurgency in the northwestern tribal areas, and problems of terrorism rooted in past military training of guerrillas to fight India in Kashmir. But the civilian parties have a much better chance of curbing such military excesses than does a leader dependent solely on the military for support. True, the new political leadership is widely viewed as corrupt, but South Korean politics was corrupt and that country nevertheless made progress. Besides, after Madoff/Blagojevich, who are we to talk? The triumph of parliamentary democracy over military dictatorship in Pakistan during the past year is good news that Washington-centered US media seldom could appreciate because of Bush's narrative about military dictatorship equalling stability and a reliable ally in the war on terror. In reality? Not so much.

2. The Iraqi government succeeded in imposing on the Bush administration a military withdrawal from Iraq by 2011. The hard negotiations showed a new confidence on the part of the Iraqi political class that they can stand on their own feet militarily. The relative success of PM Nuri al-Maliki's Basra campaign last spring was part of the mix here. But so too was the absolute insistence by Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani that any Status of Forces Agreement not infringe on Iraqi sovereignty. The Sadr Movement resorted to street politics, aiming to thwart any agreement at all,
thus providing cover to al-Maliki as he pushed back against Bush's imperial demands. The Iraqi success in getting a withdrawal agreement has paved the way for President-elect Obama to fulfill his pledge to withdraw from Iraq on a short timetable.

3. Syria has secretly been conducting peace negotiations with Israel, using the Turkish Prime Minister Rejep Tayyip Erdogan as the intermediary. There are few more fraught relationships between countries in the world than the Israel-Syrian divide, but obviously Bashar al-Asad and Ehud Olmert felt that there were things they could fruitfully talk about. Ironically, the clueless George W. Bush went to Israel last spring and condemned talking to the enemy as a form of appeasement. While he got polite applause, the Israeli mainstream is far more realistic than the silly Neocons who write Bush's speeches, and Olmert went on talking to al-Asad. Unfortunately, the Israeli attack on Gaza has caused Syria to call off the talks for now. It should be a high priority of the Obama administration to start them back up.

4. There has been a "near strategic defeat for al-Qaeda in Saudi Arabia." "Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula" conducted numerous bombings and shootings in the period 2003-2006, during which the Saudi authorities got serious about taking it on. Saudi Arabia produces on the order of 11 percent of the world's petroleum, and instability there threatens the whole world. The dramatic subsiding of terrorism there in 2008 is good news for every one. Opinion polls show support for al-Qaeda in Saudi Arabia plummeting, and determination to fight terrorism is overwhelming. In polling, a solid majority of Saudis say they want better relations with the United States. Yes. The Wahhabis are saying that. And their number one prerequisite for better relations? A US withdrawal from Iraq. (See above).

5. The crisis of state in Lebanon was patched up late last spring by the Doha agreement. Qatar's King Hamad Al-Thani showed himself a canny negotiator. Hizbullah came into the government and received support as a national guard for the south as long as it pledged not to drag the country into any more wars unilaterally. Lebanese politics is always fragile, but this is the best things have been for years. Lebanese economic conservatism allowed its banks and real estate to avoid the global crash, and hotel occupancy rates are up 25% over 2007, with a 2008 economic growth rate of 6%. The new president, Michel Suleiman, has also pursued responsible diplomacy with Syria, and the two countries are normalizing relations after years of bitterness. For all the potential dangers ahead, 2008 was a success story of major proportions in Lebanon.

6. Indonesia's transition to democracy that began in 1998 has been 'consolidated' and it has regained its economic health, paying back $43 billion in loans to the International Monetary Fund. Indonesia is the world fourth most populous country and the world's largest Muslim country, comprising something like 16 percent or more of all Muslims. It faces many challenges, as do all young democracies, but when 245 million Muslims have kept democracy going for 10 years, the thesis that Islam is somehow incompatible with democracy is clearly fallacious.

7. Turkey avoided a major constitutional crisis in 2008 when the constitutional court declined to find the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) guilty of undermining the official ideology of secularism. AKP is mildly Muslim in orientation, in contrast to the militantly secular military. The verdict gave Turks an opportunity to work on bridging the secular-religious divide. Turkey, a country of 70 million the size of Texas, is a linchpin of stability in the Middle East, and it survived a crisis here.

8. Major Arab pop singers jointly performed an anti-war opera that called for co-existence among the region's Christians, Muslims and Jews and an end to the senseless slaughter. It ran on 15 Arab satellite channels,and one satellite channel ran it nonstop for days. It was the Woodstock of this generation in the Arab world and it got no international press at all.

9. King Abdullah II of Jordan pledged an end to press censorship in Jordan. Tim Sebastian reports: 'The man at the center of this event was King Abdullah of Jordan, who last month gathered together the chief editors of Jordan's main newspapers and told them that from now on there would be big changes in the country's media environment. Specifically, no more jailing of reporters for writing the wrong thing and a new mechanism would be created to protect the rights of journalists, including their access to information. "Detention of journalists is prohibited," he said. "I do not see a reason for detaining a journalist because he/she wrote something or for expressing a view."'

It is legitimate to take all this with a grain of salt, to be skeptical, to wait and see. But Sebastian is right that if the king means it, it is big news for Jordan and the Middle East, and the court in Amman should be pressured to stand by the new procedures.

10. The United Arab Emirates is creating the first carbon-free city, "Masdar," as a demonstration project. That the Oil Gulf, a major source of the fossil fuels that, when burned, are causing climate change and rising sea levels, has become concerned about these problems, it is a very good sign.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Speaking to the Muslim World

With inauguration just a month away, Americans are increasingly eager for President-elect Obama to take the nation's reigns from President Bush. The change he will undoubtedly bring may not be render itself through a long list of early accomplishments, but through a much-needed change (subtle or dramatic) in tone, approach, vision and candor. One of his first defining actions appears to be a major Obama speech delivered in an Islamic capital within the first 100 days of his presidency. The President-elect believes such a speech would “redefine our struggle” and take advantage of “a unique opportunity to reboot America’s image around the world and also in the Muslim world in particular.” The speech will reportedly convey “a message of no-tolerance toward terrorism, while emphasizing the values America wants to share with the world.” The what has been largely determined, it's the where that has stirred international anticipation.

Obama’s plan, still in the formative stages, immediately set off speculation over where the new American president would choose to deliver his message and what he would say… Obama did not indicate where he might give the speech, but snap speculation by some experts centered on Cairo. Egypt is a US ally, and a traditional center of Muslim culture. At the same time, the country is governed by an authoritarian regime – a point that would make it a bold setting for Obama to make the case for democracy in the Muslim world.

[Other recommendations have included] either Istanbul, Turkey; or Casablanca, Morocco. Choosing Istanbul would symbolize a desire to bridge the economic, political, and perception gaps between the West and the Muslim world, he says. Casablanca would demonstrate an interest in going “deeper into the heart of the Muslim world,” while offering the added advantage of being in an Arab country – since, as Masmoudi says, the issue of resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict would also have to figure into the speech.

Helene Cooper weighs the various options and decides upon Cairo:

So where should he do it? The list of Islamic world capitals is long, and includes the obvious —Riyadh, Kuwait City, Islamabad — and the not-so-obvious — Male (the Maldives), Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso), Tashkent (Uzbekistan). Some wise-guys have even suggested Dearborn, Mich., as a possibility.

…The consensus, after an entire day of reporting, is Cairo. Why Cairo? It’s a matter of elimination. I called Ziad Asali, the president of the American Task Force on Palestine, to gauge his thoughts. “Damascus would be cool, except it would look as if he was rewarding the Syrians and it’s too soon for that,” Mr. Asali said. True. Maybe in a year, if Syrian President Bashar al-Assad gets around to a land-for-peace deal with Israel. But for right now, I’m not really seeing Damascus as the spot for the big speech.

…Jakarta’s too easy. Mr. Asali thought so too: “Jakarta? People would yawn about that.” Sure, Indonesia is the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country — some 177 million Muslims live there — but the very fact that Mr. Obama once lived and went to school there would make choosing it seem like cheating. Baghdad? Definitely out-of-the-box, but it could appear to validate the Iraq war, which Mr. Obama opposed. Beirut? Too many Hezbollah members — Secret Service would flip its collective lid — and anyway, the Lebanese president has always been a Christian.

Tehran? Too soon for that. Amman? Been there, done that. Islamabad? Too dangerous. Ankara? Too safe. Plus the Turks aren’t going to be too crazy about being used for outreach to the Muslim world when they’re trying to join the European Union. I asked a senior Turkish diplomat what he thought. He immediately started acting, well, diplomatic. “We don’t have a problem with our Islamic identity,” he said. “But our system is secular.” Riyadh? Mr. Obama’s national security aides say no. Kuwait City? Abu Dhabi? Doha? “I don’t think it will be in the Gulf,” one foreign policy adviser to Mr. Obama said.

See? It’s got to be Cairo. Egypt is perfect. It’s certainly Muslim enough, populous enough and relevant enough. It’s an American ally, but there are enough tensions in the relationship that the choice will feel bold. The country has plenty of democracy problems, so Mr. Obama can speak directly to the need for a better democratic model there. It has got the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist organization that has been embraced by a wide spectrum of the Islamic world, including the disenfranchised and the disaffected. The Secret Service won’t like it one bit, but Cairo is no Islamabad. I called the Egyptian Embassy in Washington to ask officials there what they thought. Someone from Mr. Obama’s team had already mentioned the possibility, although embassy officials said Egypt has not been approached about a possible presidential trip to Cairo.

Still, Sameh Shoukry, the Egyptian ambassador, e-mailed me a statement. “Needless to say, the President of the United States is always welcome in Egypt,” it said. “Delivering such a speech from Cairo would no doubt reinforce the intended message. Cairo has long been a center of Islamic learning and scholarship, in line with Egypt’s central role in the Middle East.”

Michael Fullilove provides a recommendation of his own -- Jakarta:

Egypt, Turkey and Qatar have been suggested as possible sites for such a speech. But the best candidate is the country in which Mr. Obama lived as a child: Indonesia. Choosing Indonesia would throw light on the diversity and richness of Islam, which is not, contrary to lingering perceptions, practiced solely by Arabs or only in the Middle East. The country, home to the world’s largest Muslim population, does a reasonable job of managing its considerable religious heterogeneity. Going there would help Mr. Obama to reframe the debate in the West about Islam and terrorism.

An Indonesian audience would also make sense. Indonesians have been both victims and perpetrators of terrorist attacks, including the deadly Bali bombings. The government in Jakarta is an important partner in the effort against terrorism. Selecting Indonesia would demonstrate that Mr. Obama takes democracy seriously, given that Indonesia is a rowdy democracy — the third-largest in the world. It would show that President Bush’s misshapen democratization agenda has not turned his successor into an icy realist.

Reminding the world of Mr. Obama’s origins could help counter anti-Americanism. Who would have thought the United States would elect a president with memories of wandering barefoot through rice paddies and “the muezzin’s call at night”? Finally, a trip to Indonesia would indicate that Mr. Obama was serious about rebalancing America’s foreign policy. It would show that he understands the shift of global power eastward, and telegraph that Washington was finally going to take the nation — the linchpin of Southeast Asia — seriously.

Mr. Obama was criticized in the campaign as offering speeches rather than solutions. Cynics will say this time that you can’t fight terrorism with cue cards. But there is no better way to make an argument than with a speech — and for this speech, there is no better place to make that argument than Indonesia.

Powell on the GOP

"Can we continue to listen to Rush Limbaugh? Is this really the kind of party that we want to be when these kinds of spokespersons seem to appeal to our lesser instincts rather than our better instincts?"

-- Colin Powell, on the problems of the Republican party.

Preventing Genocide

In a recent editorial, the NY Times comments on a report by the Genocide Prevention Task Force, co-chaired by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former Secretary of Defense William Cohen, which calls for the prevention of genocide to be a top priority for the incoming Obama Administration.

Darfur, Congo, Rwanda and, before that, Bosnia. It is hard to contemplate man’s capacity for inhumanity without feeling despair and paralysis. The world usually pays attention only after the killing has spun out of control, when ethnic, religious and political divides are rubbed so raw that the furies are infinitely harder to calm. By that point, the United States and others are faced with the agonizing choice of either intervening militarily or allowing the killing to go on.

A new report by a task force headed by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former Defense Secretary William Cohen offers some hope, arguing that it is possible to prevent genocide before it spins out of control. It offers practical policy suggestions — what Mrs. Albright calls a “mechanism for looking at genocide in a systematic way” — for the next administration. The report says that early warning and prevention are key and calls on the White House to create a senior-level interagency committee directed by the National Security Council to analyze threats of genocide and mass atrocities around the world and consider appropriate preventive action.

When initial signs of mass atrocities are detected, the task force would also require the intelligence community to do a full policy review and prepare a crisis response plan. The goal is to engage leaders, institutions and civil society in affected communities urgently, and at an early stage when talk and other help may defuse the situation. The task force urges the United States government to spend an additional $250 million annually on crisis prevention and response efforts, with a portion going to help international partners, including the United Nations and regional organizations, build their capacity.

It is hard to generate political will to fix a problem before it has crested. But if there is any doubt about the need for a new policy and structure, consider the Bush administration’s desperate failure in Darfur. Four years after President Bush declared the mass killings there genocide, the horrors continue. As many as 300,000 people have been killed and 2.7 million driven from their homes. With the region increasingly engulfed in interrebel warfare, a political settlement appears to be even further out of reach.

We hope President-elect Barack Obama and his top aides will seriously consider the report’s policy recommendations before they, too, find themselves grappling with such agonizing choices.

Inconvenient Truths

As reported in a recent must-read by Joshua Hammer in the Atlantic, “the investigation into the 2005 assassination of the Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri is nearing its end--and a trial in international court looms. Insiders say the trail of evidence leads, ultimately, to the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. But having spent three years fearing for their lives, the investigators are now grappling with a different fear: that Western concerns about regional stability will prevent the naming of the biggest names.” On Slate, Christopher Hitchens offers his thoughts on the Hammer article and “the investigation that could blow up the Middle East.”

Here are the known facts: If you are a Lebanese politician or journalist or public figure, and you criticize the role played by the government of Syria in your country's internal affairs, your car will explode when you turn the ignition key, or you will be ambushed and shot or blown up by a bomb or land mine as you drive through the streets of Beirut or along the roads that lead to the mountains. The explosives and weapons used, and the skilled tactics employed, will often be reminiscent of the sort of resources available only to the secret police and army of a state machine. But I think in fairness I must stress that this is all that is known for sure. You criticize the Assad dictatorship, and either your vehicle detonates or your head is blown off. Over time, this has happened to a large and varied number of people, ranging from Sunni statesman Rafik Hariri to Druze leader Kamal Jumblatt to Communist spokesman George Hawi. One would not wish to be a "conspiracy theorist" and allege that there was any necessary connection between the criticisms in the first place and the deplorably terminal experiences in the second.

Hammer's article is good for a laugh in that it shows just how much trouble the international community will go to precisely in order not to implicate the Assad family in this string of unfortunate events. After all, does Damascus not hold the keys to peace in the region? Might not young Bashar Assad, who managed to become president after the peaceful death by natural causes of his father, become annoyed and petulant and even uncooperative if he were found to have been commissioning assassinations? Could the fabled "process" suffer if a finger of indictment were pointed at him? At the offices of the long-established and by now almost historic United Nations inquiry into the Hariri murder, feet are evidently being dragged because of considerations like these, and Hammer describes the resulting atmosphere very well.

Controlling Arms

In 2008, the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation sought input from 60 scientists, academics, members of Congress, senior congressional staffers, and representatives from advocacy groups, think tanks, and foundations to assess the priorities for the next Administration on nuclear arms control and non-proliferation. The full report is available here. An excerpt:

Top Three Recommendations

1. Provide a new direction on nuclear weapons policy that emphasizes “minimum deterrence,” extend the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), and signal intent to pursue negotiations with Russia on further reductions.

* Issue a statement explaining a new vision for nuclear weapons policy and guidance for the 2009 Nuclear Posture Review. The statement should include the intent to pursue nuclear weapons reductions and a reiteration that the only role for nuclear weapons is “minimum deterrence” – deterring the use of nuclear weapons against the United States or U.S. allies.

* Extend START I and begin bilateral negotiations with Russia on further permanent, legally-binding, and verifiable reductions toward a goal of 1,000 deployed and non-deployed nuclear weapons per side or fewer. Send a special envoy to Russia or appoint a working group to signal U.S. intent to maintain verification provisions and move toward reductions.

2. Announce intent to secure all vulnerable fissile material in four years as the best way to reduce the risk of nuclear terrorism. Accelerate and prioritize these efforts accordingly and appoint a senior official to coordinate threat reduction efforts.

3. Announce intent to seek ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and begin working to build the bipartisan support in the Senate needed for approval.

Next Tier Recommendations:

* Announce intent to negotiate with Iran without preconditions.

* Recommit to promises (“13 Steps”) made at the 1995 extension of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), and re-affirmed in 2000, and announce intent to fulfill these promises in the first term.

* Condition further deployment of ground-based midcourse missile defense in Europe on further tests that can confirm the effectiveness of the system.

* Begin efforts to create a new independent agency, or reform the current State Department structure, to deal more effectively and at a higher level with arms control and non-proliferation.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

U.S. Immigration Patterns

Vimeo recently posted a fascinating video that shows immigration patterns to the U.S. from 1820 to 2007. Each dot represents 100 people.

Andrew Sullivan: "Maybe it's because I'm an immigrant myself, but I found this simple graphic deeply moving. Whatever America's faults, what other country draws so many for so long?"