Thursday, March 5, 2009

Movin' my blog to Word Press!

Not lovin' Blogger so I switched my archive over to Word Press. Thank you so much for reading my two-cents, but keep it up. So now my blog is and here is the RSS so you can just throw it right into your Reader. Any comments will be helpful, in fact, comment on the layout, or just to let me know you made the switch. Thanks!

Monday, March 2, 2009

Too Much of a Bad Thing

I am still certainly optimistic about US-Iran relations under Obama, but these comments coming out of a private meeting from Sec. Clinton are more of the same thing. Commenting to the UAE Foreign Minister on whether Iran and US rapprochement is possible, Sec. Clinton reportedly made current US Admin speculation clear by saying, "It’s doubtful that Iran would respond."

We all know that it is doubtful that Iran will respond to the current situation. But respond to what? The US has only said "carrots and sticks", repeatedly, and that the US is willing to 'talk'. It's been the same tired 'clinched fist' analogy that sounds clever, but really makes no sense because if Iran wanted stopped its nuclear enrichment for appeasement the US would certainly look the other way at human rights abuses, just like in regards to China.

But what should Iran be responding to?! Has there been a strategic shift with the change in admins? Yes, but there have been no shifts in substance. Do I sound like Islamic Republic officials? Yes, I probably do, except contrary to Iranian talking heads I am more optimistic. I understand that the US can make better overtures assuring Iran that it is serious about engagement over the failed policies of containment.

Unfortunately the US is at the disadvantage here. We do not want a nuclear weapon in Iran's arsenal. It is in their security interest to have one. They can keep the status quo without sacrificing regime stability. It is the US which needs to do something to halt the status quo or the Islamic Republic will happily go right along.

The US needs to change policies just enough to make Iran stumble back. Not through force, but through shock. Prove the regime wrong in front of its people and truly reach out in some way. Make the first concession in a way that it makes both parties come out as winners. In offering Iran something that makes the regime feel successful, we win too if we can halt weapons enrichment and research, which the intelligence community apparently believes is in process. Too much of the same 'bad' thing from the US will only sustain the Islamic Republic's already very keenly crafted policy of anti-US isolationism.

The world community will not unite against Iran, as Europe, Russia, and others have their own interests at stake. The US is the only player in this game that can make a difference, and only through solid overtures. Just waiting for Iran to make the first actual move will not work. Iran will either be talking to the US, working out an agreement to enrich its own uranium for civilian purposes on its own soil, or will have a nuclear weapon within this admins tenure. Neither are the best options for US interests, but if I had to pick, I think I'd go with the former, and right now is the crucial time to think about thinking about it.


The Islamic Republic seems to be escalating their liberty repression these days with the presidential election season kicking in:

1) The Iranian cabinet is currently reviewing a draft that would make journalism in Iran completely beholden to the government if implemented as the official professional "journalism guidelines". This is a legislative act that may be argued against as the executive stepping outside of its constitutional powers.

According to the Rooz report, "All powers ‎relating to the selection of journalism permit committee are transferred to the Ministry of ‎Culture and Islamic Guidance, meaning that the committee’s nine members will be ‎selected by the ministry’s deputy in press and media affairs. In addition, the committee ‎will be headed by the ministry’s deputy."‎ This in essence means that the committee will be fully in charge of ‎determining the criteria for issuance and cancellation of journalist identification cards, and rights to being a professional journalist.

2) In an effort to silence foreign journalists, Iran has jailed freelance journalist Roxana Saberi, for operating without a license to practice journalism. She had her press credentials revoked a couple of years ago, but decided to stay in Iran to do research for a book and finish a master's degree.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Qashqavi explained during a press conference that the case was now in the hands of the justice ministry, expressing that "Since 2006 when her press accreditation was revoked, she should not have illegally sought to gather information and news in Iran."

This is an interesting excuse considering she has been reporting on short pieces in Iran for NPR since 2006 with government knowledge and acquiescence.

3) Reformist, and even possible principle-ist, candidate's websites are being heavily filtered inside of Iran. Khatami's websites and have been filtered heavily recently. They are operated by young independent, activist journalists and are seen by regime hardliners as tools to spread "lies" about the regime. Additionally, mayor of Tehran Qalibaf (a possible principle-ist oppostition to Ahmadinejead) has already had his Tehran municipality site blocked once for insulting Ahmadinejad's economic policies, but this time his election supporter site is getting some blockage.

In addition, Khatami is getting no coverage in the official, or semi-official, IRI news sites such as IRNA, Mehd News, or Fars news. These are a major source of news for the populace, but with official control the news is very regime-heavy, with no oppositional voice or any 'bad' news regarding regime actions, policy, or standard current events.

With the election coming up it will be important to note the massive crackdowns, such as the one last week at Amir Kabir University in Tehran. Here is some inside knowledge on it. This was a classic representation of what the thug elements of the Basij will be escalating for the next few months I imagine, after their tasking by Khamenei, as I've mentioned before. The principal-ists, whether it be Ahmadinejad, or whoever have the institutions of the regime at their disposal in order to assist in repression of the opposition. This regime does not mess around.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

And it begins... Khatami vs. Ahmadinejad?

Nobody really has been blogging about this article in the LA Times today, but I thought it was good. The Iranian presidential election, officially in June, has begun to pick up. The candidates are starting to campaign, and the rhetoric is picking up from the "principal-ists" against Khatami, and from Khatami against Ahmadinejad's legacy. Besides the political pop-shots that are typical, several developments have played out quickly over the last few weeks:

1) Ahmadinejad took his campaign to Yazd, the home of Khatami, to give a speech, and show he is willing to take it directly at Khatami, who he sees as his biggest rival at this point.

2) Keyhan, and its editor Shari'atmadari, have not just compared Khatami to Benazir Bhutto, but actually predicted that Khatami will be assassinated like she was as a reformer. Not by the principal-ists of course, but by US decree (like in Pakistan of course).

3) Just today, center-right reformist candidate, and former Majles Speaker, Karoubi hired ex long-term Tehrani mayor Karbaschi (the one who helped Khatami win in 1998) as his campaign manager. Additionally it should be noted they are both closely associated with Rafsanjani, former president, Revolutionary founding father, and current chief of the Expediency Council.

4) The IRGC, the military wing of the hierocracy, put out a bulletin in their media organ Sobhe Sadegh regarding all of, what they claim to be, Khatami's transgressions. This is a rigorous attack from the conservative group, showing how principal-ists play hardball, even so early on. Example: "with the announcement of Khatami’s ‎candidacy to run in the elections for the tenth president of the Islamic republic, his ‎supporters have entered the realm of foreign anti-Iranian media in an effort to create ‎support for him."

5) Basij ("volunteers", a group of officially sanctioned thugs) has been officially tasked by Khamenei, via the IRGC commander Ja'afari, to "stand against those who want to hurt the tight relations between the Leader and [Iranian] nation." This only gives a blank check to basij to rough up any large student demonstrators, for instance, who are pro-reform, and against the status quo.

6) Dark horse candidates wait in the wings. Maybe Ahmadinejad might not actually be the candidate the principal-ists decide to go with, especially if Khamenei decides Khatami's popularity is overtaking Ahmadinejad's chances. Tehran mayor Qalibaf for instance maybe will be better. Or a dark horse unnamed (I have my suspicions already). As far as the reformists go, if former prime minster Mousavi enters (which he still may), along with Karoubi, or maybe Rowhani (former chief nuclear negotiator), this could dilute Khatami's influence. Although it is worthy to note the true popularity Khatami enjoys.

But it's not like a game who's close examination will yield results one could prognosticate from. Even with all these happenings lately, who the hell actually knows what the regime is going to do? The Guardian Council can flag whoever it wants as not "Islamic" enough to compete in the competition, eliminating possibly their biggest threat, like Khatami (although this would be a huge decision that would be extremely unpopular and would destabilize the regime a tiny bit for the moment, also probably bringing boycott to the elections from the liberal-minded). Although I don't predict that will happen yet (I'll be watching the 'official' rhetoric though).

Although a few weeks before Khatami announced his candidacy he did meet with Khamenei, so it appears that he has been sanctioned by the Leader to actually compete. They have a history of family relations that goes way back, and Khatami is a strong supporter of the Revolutionary ideology. He is just much more, and pragmatically international.

Well, we'll see what the next few months have to offer. The election is really 'ON'. It will be important to watch the regime's crackdown on the citizenry, especially reformist media, student protests (already in progress), reform-minded blogsters, and reformist offices. Basij will operate in full force.

In my opinion the elections are actually designed within the Constitution to only reinforce and sustain the status quo. But maybe I'm cynical based on 30 Revolutionary regime years, and 30 elections that have held the hierocracy in place... To be fair, I'll reread the Constitution and reconsider...

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Khamenei as absolute arbiter

Not only is Khamenei a qualified arbiter of Shi'i shari'a, he will also be the complete arbiter on US-Iranian bilateral relations. Roger Cohen's piece in the NYTimes today hits the issue right on the head (although I may be a little more skeptic of what can turn Khamenei towards the US):

I’d say the central Iranian political phenomenon of recent years has been the reinforcement of Khamenei. How to engage with Iran begins and ends with him.

While rhetoric is flying from all talking heads of the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI), Ahmadinejad, Foreign Minister Mottaki, Majlis speaker Larijani, Rafsanjani, etc., etc., it is Khamenei and the hierocracy that will have the say. While the "elected" President and his cadre of cabinet ministers, along with the legislature, may have a more tempered tone vis-à-vis the US, the line from the hierocracy; its mouthpiece Kayhan News; and its military wing, The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp (IRGC), is clear: There will be no rapprochement from the IRI at this moment, and the government can talk all it wants about it, but the Supreme Leader has total control.

The “principalists” from the hierocracy take a harsh, and highly distrustful tone. Mullahs from Khamenei, to influential Guardian Council and Assembly of Experts members like Ayatollahs Jannati or Khatami (not the reformist ex-president hojjat-e Islam Khatami) have been using ‘Revolutionary’ rhetoric as of late, displaying the foreign distrust so crucial to the ideology of the IRI. But it can be noted that this rhetoric is not completely antagonistic, such as violent slogans or demands for US “death”, towards the US. This is particularly noticeable in the official Tehran Friday prayers conducted over the last few weeks by Rafsanjani, and Ayatollah's Khatami and Jannati.

But even with forthcoming overtures of diplomatic relations from the Obama Administration along with tempered mullah rhetoric, Khamenei has shown a very important characteristic of his worldview: his complete, intense, and full-scale mistrust of US interest. He characterizes the US as “feeling weak”, enlightening his belief that US overtures are only based on its now weakened regional position opposite Iran. As is laid out in Article 110 of the IRI Constitution, his power over policy is absolute with his ability to say 'yay' or 'nay' on any policy enacted by any body in the IRI government structure.

While some in the government have displayed a desire to engage in the possibility of bilateral relations resuming, the Supreme Leader expresses his deep-seated and personal mistrust of foreign approach (remember he was arrested and tortured by SAVAK, believed to be an arm of the CIA, six times before Khomeini's return). From his rhetoric there is no reason to believe he will reign in all discourse of possible engagement by his government, but Khamenei’s position will unlikely change in the current climate, especially as the stakes raise with uranium enrichment ongoing.

Am I completely cynical, desiring military force, or a drop in diplomatic tone by the Obama Administration? Do I think engagement can only actually happen after Khamenei dies (probably a long time from now)? No, definitely not. But I don't see elections in June actually bettering the possibility, whether Khatami (or Mousavi or Rowhani, if they run) wins against the "principle-ists" or not. The US must engage Khamenei (preferably through back channels to begin) and will have to accept nuclear technology existing on IRI soil. Khamenei has already issued a fatwa against nuclear weapons so he can easily prevent weaponization without issue, but nuclear technology in general carries the torch of cultural and scientific self-sufficiency, both major principals of the Revolution that Khamenei is vehemently loyal to.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Today's Israel/Gaza Discourse: Anti-Semitism or Effective Protest?

The Gaza situation has been weighing on my mind and I have taken a step back before discussing it in order to gain better perspective within myself--in order to think beyond the headlines, the tit-for-tat, and the accusations which I find often terribly fruitless.

Initially I will refrain from giving my blatant judgment on the situation and injecting myself amongst the hundreds of bloggers, columnists, and pundits who have weighed in on the issue. Before I do that what I would like to address is the discourse. The public space is quite vast these days, especially with online communication, but do we actually have restrictions that harm the debate? I'm seeing these restrictions on discourse amongst some of the most popular blogs, right and left, and even from public officials. I speak of the charge of anti-Semitism on critics of Israeli policy in Gaza.

These sometimes blatent, sometimes inadvertent restrictions made me wonder: Is a critique of violent Israeli policy really anti-Semitic? If so, what are the implications? Immediately one should think about what anti-Semitism actually is. To most who think deeply about it, it should conjure up dark images of systematic Nazi death camps or other violent denouncers of the Jewish tradition and Jewish religio-ethnicity. One who is anti-Semitic harbors a perseverance to destroy the right to Jewish sanctity of life and self-determination.

So, currently, if anyone within the public sphere critiques Israel's campaign, his speech act is an action of hatred towards Jews. Therefore the initial statement protesting the violence is not taken at face value, but understood as implying a 'hidden' meaning, one that expresses hatred towards Jews, or a willingness to fuel the hatred of those who do. Essentially, intention is determined belatedly, not by the speaker, but by the listener.

If this is the case, then we are binding Israel with Jewish identity in total, which has extra innuendos I will discuss more below. But particularly this creates a public sphere where one must decide between speaking out against what he perceives as injustice (policies put forth by the Israeli state) and being branded anti-Semitic, or censoring oneself in order to avoid accusations of anti-Semitism, therefore discouraging any vigorous challenge to Israeli state policies. Shouldn't debate within the public sphere, a characteristic of democracy so necessary in the modern liberal state, be exuberant? Polities that shield criticism thrive as democracies with accountability. Shutting an argument against Israeli policy down with charges of anti-Semitism cannot be the trump card in a debate of such importance.

Moreover, when "so and so" makes a statement that a critic of Israeli policy is an anti-Semite because of his protests against Israel, then "so and so" is equating Israeli policy with Jewish religious tradition. Israeli state behavior becomes part of the narrative of the tradition begun by Abraham. Therefore all Jews must be lumped in with the administration of the Israeli state. Moreover, this elides the reality of criticism of Israel by Israelis, and by Jews around the world. It therefore makes Jewish criticism of Israel illegitimate. Somehow Jews then can become anti-Semities too, forcing horrible images of Jewish Nazi collaborators.

Could it not be that some, perhaps many diaspora Jews, Israeli Jews, as well general non-Jewish critics, only see another path for the state of Israel, and that their politics emerge from other sources of political vision, sometimes Jewish, than those that have been arranged as Zionist? Can critics only desire and demand more democratic principles from Israel and not be simultaneously supportive of Jewish (and even Israeli) sanctity of life? If one is cast as anti-Semitic through his criticism of the state, whether he is Jewish or not, he therefore must be Zionist in order to avoid this accusation?

In setting this norm for legitimate interpretation, one who defends Israel's behavior with the charge of anti-Semitism is actually diluting the real charge. This charge loses its power and becomes weak if put up against those who actually wish the destruction of Jewish sanctity of life and self-determination. This dilution will only kill the charge and the ability to use it as a legitimate tool against real, violent anti-Semitism.

I guess the state of the discourse baffles me. I don't like the idea that Israel should get a free pass for fear of charges of anti-Semitism, just as much as I don't believe Hamas should be off the hook for its terror attacks on Israeli citizens. I do not believe that Israel should be able to blame Hamas for not extending the cease fire agreement, therefore prompting this war, when Israel did not uphold their end of the original agreement to lift the blockade and their total control over Gaza and also produced an offensive in early November during the agreement. Additionally I believe that Hamas shares blame since as soon as the cease fire agreement collapsed they provoked Israeli response with deadly rocket fire. Israel has a legitimate right to respond, but does it have the right to respond however it wants to, with whatever level of force it deems necessary? Surely there is a line.

Unfortunately Israel is still stuck on this idea of deterrence through force, but it doesn't work anymore in this situation. The deadlier the Israeli reaction, the more deadly and determined Hamas and its supporters become and more and more recruits for Hamas are created. Every generation already has distinct memory of Israeli force, and here another generation will be made with a new shared memory of victimhood. I believe this will be a strategic defeat for Israel, with significant strategic gain for Hamas.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Islamist Political Participation

Carnegie Endowment has a new paper out on Arab Islamist political party participation that is worth reading. Will they be pragmatic, facilitating the democratic process or only debate the tenants of religious ideology? The authors examined movements in Morocco, Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Bahrain, and Yemen as well as the armed parties in Lebanon and Palestine. Key conclusions include:
* Islamist movements are reacting to their failure to influence policy and criticism from their base by either reverting to hard-line stances or engaging in extensive debates that create uncertainty and weaken support.
* Islamist movements operating without constant threat of repression by the state are more willing to compromise, focus on pragmatic policy issues, and remain committed to democratic processes, while Islamists whose participation is hampered by the state are more focused on ideological issues and marginalize reformers within the movement.
* The presence of Islamist movements with an armed wing affects the balance of power within a state and sometimes hinders the process of moderation, but excluding armed Islamists from the political process is unrealistic given their tremendous popular support.

I love the fact that the report shows that these movements are not homogeneous. Even throughout history Islamism as a movement is discursive. And engagement is a complicated issue. I tend to agree with the idea that engagement over alienation is important. It has been successful with the Sadrists in Iraq too, for instance, and they are heavily armed, certainly upsetting the balance of power in Iraq.

More engagement with Islamist parties creates a more cooperative political process. In a state that oppresses religious political movements the probability of massive reaction is strong, while a state the co opts these movements can help to lesson the more maximalist ideological policies.

There have been many forms of political spirituality throughout history. In fact, all of them found their ends very quickly. Even the Islamic Republic of Iran has subordinated many of its ideological and spiritually orientated policies to the earthly ones in order to be a player in the great struggle for power within the international system, and within its borders. When the state engages early, the subordination begins before revolutions (at its extreme) or heavy state opposition (at its minimum).

Read their full report here.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Chalk one up for agribusiness!!

I'm so angry, let me get this out: Am I unhappy about any of Obama's picks? Extremely. Fucking corporate shill Tom Vilsack, the former governor of Iowa who has longstanding ties to agribusiness interests, as agriculture secretary. i am so pissed off about it. Why is it that politicians seem to think universal health care means providing more access to doctors and care, but have no sense of prevention? Listen to Nick Kristol's words yesterday in NYT:

One new study estimates that 24 million Americans now have diabetes, more than four times the number in 1980. The total direct and indirect cost to Americans is $218 billion each year — an average of $1,900 per American household. Each year, [according to the CDC], diabetes contributes to the deaths of more than 200,000 Americans!

The Western diet is killing Americans, and it's in no small part to fucking corn subsidies. Can you believe the government actually subsidizes high fructose corn syrup?!! Every year there are massive surpluses in corn, and tons and tons get shipped to chemical factories to produce this strange cane sugar substitute (the recipe and processes are guarded secretly by the chemical corps that produce it). It's so GD cheap that if you walk into a convenient store anywhere you'd be hard pressed not to find it as an ingredient in everything from soda (obviously) to bread and snacks. Who buys the cheapest food? People in the low-income neighborhoods of course. If you've got nothing, but you can afford a bag of Doritos, why would you buy trail mix, fruit, or even a can of natural soup, or something similar?

These subsidies go beyond just "helping the American farmer make an honest living". The major farmers in the corn states own thousands of acres of corn, and every year they figure out how to squeeze more and more bushels out of each acre through science and twisted genetically engineered processes. Fine, it costs less than 15% of our income to feed ourselves, unlike in the early part of the 20th century when it was around 30%, but what are we paying for?! We're paying for fucking health care instead, and that's much more expensive. We're paying for the diabetes we get, or the colon cancer that 1 in 3 men, who generally eat worse than women, are getting genetically these days! Is that because men are genetically predisposed to getting colon cancer?! Of course not, it's the Western diet!

After we destroy our civilization one day, through unsustainable practices in relation to our diets, this environment, and human relations, whoever inherits this earth will excavate bodies that are made of more corn than even the early civilizations in the lower Americas, who survived on corn. Can you believe that? Let's see... Let's have a McDonald's meal: Every item on your value meal will be eating the junkiest corn ever produced in the history of modern man. The beef is corn-fed (which is a whole other issue); the soda is made of water and corn syrup, with some coloring and chemically made flavors; and the fries are cooked in vegetable oil (which is corn and soy)! Can you believe that?! If you sit down and enjoy a common steak, or maybe chicken, or pork, whatever, it's the same GD thing!

And what's even more F'd up?: beef cattle aren't even genetically able to eat the corn diet. They're very often fed everything from corn stalk, ground corn, the corn waste from ethanol production, and anything else the beef industry can cheaply feed them (mixed often with soy too). But in order to keep them from dying from the corn their digestive systems can't handle (since they're genetically supposed to eat GRASS!) they are given massive medication. MEDICATION to keep them alive!! There is something wrong about this people, is it not obvious?

So instead of detaching the US government from business interests, in regards to our health, by picking a man with such connections to agribusiness Obama keeps government health in the hands of Monsanto, who genetically engineers more productive corn; or the major soft drink companies, who pay next to nothing for the high fructose corn syrup. He keeps the hoax of ethanol, an environmental LOSER (it takes a gallon of oil to make a gallon of ethanol), within the discourse on biofuels. WTF? Vilsack was named the biotech industries' "Governor of the Year" once for sake!! Well, I guess we'll only throw more money at treating health because we will not be cutting it off from the start. Our kids will keep getting fatter, and our poorer will continue to decline in health, burdening American tax payers with unnecessary health care costs, an issue that isn't even their fault.

When will we get our heads out of our asses and understand that corporate interest, while important, is never more important than the health of the population. Hey I am inspired by, and love Obama, as much as the next moderate progressive, but I really hope I'm wrong about Obama in this regard... For our children's sake...

[Sorry for the raw language. And it can be noted that Vilsack has softened on some of his most public pushes in these areas since he was Iowa Governor, but he has never actually detached from these agribusiness concepts (including the unbelievable genetically engineered corn for pharmaceuticals idea). Fine, he won't be flying in Monsanto's jets anymore, but on his record, he's an doubt.]

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Obama's First Month Anniversery

In case you've been under a rock in November, Slate recaps the Obama-Drama in 2 minutes... Good stuff:

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Path to 'Victory'?

There's been a lot of buzz around the more progressive blogs today from Andrew Sullivan, Yglesias, and Matt Duss about more remarks made by Republican NY Times and Weekly Standard columnist William Kristol. Apparently during a panel discussion in NYC last night, where the topic was whether Bush is leaving a terrible presidential legacy or not, according to Matt Duss, Kristol is quoted to have said, "We've won the war", in reference to Iraq.

As is the intelligent thing to do, these guys are lambasting this concept with sharp criticisms. They are discussing the strategic disasters of the past and overall shakiness of the present reality. And while reading I was struck to think that we've sort of forgotten the timeline of mistakes and failures, and how they really played out. Rhetoric has hijacked our detailed memories, whether it is rhetoric from the Right or the Left on who had the moral high ground during the policy debates.

So, I figured I'd revisit some of the issues in this timeline, because they are big and messy, and I hope it helps to remind people that while we have opportunity to succeed with our present policies, incredible strategic errors were brushed over by rhetoric from the key players. We have not yet "won", and it certainly was NOT a case of 'we', as Kristol is taken to mean the Bush Administration and the Republicans. I obviously won't hit all of them, and if you wanna' add more in the comment thread do so, but I'm gonna' hit the most major errors in my mind leading up to Summer '07 especially. Embedded throughout the post will be quotes from many of the policy experts, key players, and journalists who were closest to this throughout the mess.


Error #1) We invade a country of 30+ million people with no strategy and an assumption based on talk, not history or expert opinion. The plan was that we didn't have a plan:
"The idea was we'd go in, get rid of Saddam; the government could function with new direction coming from the top; the economy would be revitalized by oil revenue. There would not be major ethnic or sectarian struggles; there wouldn't be any resistance or resurgence of pro-Saddam movements. So our plan, essentially, was we didn't have a plan."
-Anthony Cordesman-Center for Strategic and International Studies
Error #2) When Gen. Franks (then CENTCOM commander) arrived just shortly after the regime fell, he announced that 30,000 of 110,000 troops would be coming home by Sept. '03 and he brought his top generals home leaving the inexperienced Lt. General Sanchez in command in June. The consideration of an insurgency was never seriously explored:
"[Emphasis of a quick and painless war was] driven, in part, by my own failures when I was there as a senior military leader contributing to Gen. Franks' plan -- we never even considered an insurgency as a reasonable option. We took down the regime and thought all we had to do was occupy the country, stabilize it, and in a matter of a few months, we could reduce the force. And then in a matter of a few years, we should be able to be out of there."
-General Jack Keane-Army vice chief of staff, 1999-'04
Error #3) L. Paul Bremmer, head of the occupation government, the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), declares a ban on Ba'ath Party members achieving senior-level positions in the new government, and orders the "dissolution" of the Iraqi Army:
"We've disbanded their armed forces. We've disbanded their police. We've taken a lot of the people who managed the government and said, "You can't be in the government." And of course, we've also drawn down our troop strength and stopped the flow of troops into Iraq. So there's this power vacuum that exists."
-Lt. Col. Andrew Krepinevich (Ret.)-DoD consultant
Error #4) Thus began the state of denial. The commanders on the ground were too inexperienced to handle these things successfully, Rumsfeld was pushing back against the media during his press conferences, and there was literally no strategy whatsoever for how to deal with the insurgency still:
"We were looking on these as sort of a small group of isolated die-hards that we could largely ignore. And we had the conventional war fighting machine with no real intelligence capability to gather data on what was happening. We had a whole group of people recruited into the CPA, none of whom had been in Iraq before."
-Anthony Cordesman-Center for Strategic and International Studies

"...[F]rom the time we took the regime down, we never made a commitment to secure the population and we never had enough resources to do it. "
-General Jack Keane (Ret.)-Army vice chief of staff, 1999-'04
Error #5) Finally the disastrous scenario was beginning to be recognized by the Administration at the end of the year, even by Rumsfeld, but there was still no clear strategy emerging from above:
"Rumsfeld, even back in the fall of '03.…begins to see there are going to be problems. Now, the question is, what's the strategy to deal with it?"
-Lt. Col. Andrew Krepinevich (Ret.)-DoD Consultant

"It's remarkable how much variation there is in the tactics and methods employed by U.S. combat units in Iraq in that period ['03 and '04]. You had these methods kind of bubbling up from below rather than being directed from above as the result of some strategy plan of how we are going to deal with this phase of the conflict. You had all sorts of variation locally in the absence of strong guidance from above."
-Stephen Biddle-Council on Foreign Relations

Error #6)
In Washington, with the election year beginning, the orders were given to take down the snake nest of Fallujah, then after a disastrous PR scenario, troops were ordered out just as quickly as they went in. After hours of fighting, and hundreds of casualties, the US forces were left with a 'black eye'. Meanwhile Muqtada al-Sadr gained strength in Baghdad:
"Fallujah becomes a kind of Iraqi Alamo, only in this case the defenders survive. The world's greatest military power would appear to be capable of taking Fallujah. For some reason they don't. Al Arabiya, Al Jazeera…show photos of wounded children and women. The impression is that the Americans are going in and wantonly killing civilians along with insurgents. So, in just about every respect, this is a black eye for the U.S."
-Lt. Col. Andrew Krepinevich (Ret.)-DoD Consultant

"I remember talking to a Marine colonel…he was absolutely furious. He said, 'We didn't want to go in there and then when we got halfway in…they told us to stop.' He said it was the 7,000-mile screwdriver--you know, it came from Washington."
-Dexter Filkins-The New York Times

"…He [Muqtada al-Sadr] learned quickly that the best way to deal with the United States was not to confront it directly, but simply create a political, security and economic structure that gave [his faction] more and more power while the U.S. essentially was fighting a Sunni insurgency."
-Anthony Cordesman-Center for Strategic and International Studies

Error #7) Rumsfeld ignores a request on the ground from Bremmer for more troops, and instead creates, with his new commander Gen. George Casey (who had never before been in Iraq), a new policy of maintaining a 'light footprint' while training Iraqi security forces quickly so they can take the responsibility over and the US can pull back:

"...[T]he objective is to get Iraq under control at a basic level, train up Iraqi security forces, turn over responsibility to the government and leave.…When [Gen. Casey] got there, he found himself in the midst of this incredibly chaotic situation."-Fred Kagan-Military Historian, American Enterprise Institute

Error #8) The Pentagon switches its emphasis from a military solution to a political solution. The discussion is now worded politically as the elections were coming up the following January, which may have been pushed too soon. Gen Casey recruits the best minds in military tactics, and his expert on counterinsurgency, Kalev Sepp, provides 12 of the best tactics, where the US was only engaged in 1:

"So the Bush administration redefined 'standing up'--[the US] standing down as they stand up--to standing up an Iraqi government. That had never been the original definition."
-Thomas Ricks-The Washington Post

"One of the central mistakes made was to believe that the way to success in the conflict lay in early democratization and early hand-off of sovereignty to a democratic country.... By giving political candidates a huge incentive to campaign by demonizing the sectarian and the ethnic other…what we tended to do with that early push towards democratization is to rapidly accelerate the descent of the country into what is now civil war."
-Stephen Biddle-Council on Foreign Relations

Error #9) Bush sees his reelection as the "accountability moment" yet doesn't hold himself accountable, only, at first, feels emboldened to continue in the same mode. Once the election is over he orders Falluja Part II to prepare a secure scenario for the elections to go smoothly, then leaves it for slow recovery:

"...[W]e had an accountability moment, and that's called the 2004 election. And the American people listened to different assessments made about what was taking place in Iraq, and they looked at the two candidates, and chose me, for which I'm grateful. Listen, in times of war, things don't go exactly as planned."-George W. Bush, President of the United States, 2000-present

"Fallujah was very positive in the short term.... [But] by not speeding the reconstruction of Fallujah--it took well over a year before that happened--and in the meantime you lose the psychological effect of a decisive victory over a group of insurgents."
Col. Kalev Sepp (Ret.)-Strategy Adviser to Gen. Casey


Error #10) Cheney rides the media circuit with overly optimistic tones and statements, practicing his tried and true method of Orwellian doublethink that convinced the nation to go into Iraq in the first place:
"And, of course, [Cheney's assessment] also proves to be overly optimistic. So, there is this sense that ... we're about to turn the corner. Unfortunately, when we turn the corner, we find that there's another corner that has to be turned, and the fighting goes on, and things begin to slide."-Lt. Col. Andrew Krepinevich (Ret.)-DoD consultant
Error #11) Philip Zelikow, Sec. Rice's deputy, returns from Iraq with the news of the successful Clear-Hold-Build strategy that was implemented independently by a junior commander, Col. H.R. McMasters, in Tal Afar (in contrast to the broken 'light footprint' strategy). Secretary of State Rice begins to speak publicly about this strategy, even testifying it to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, undermining Rumsfeld, and generally pissing him off, pushing him to angrily deny this possibility during a press conference. The mistake here is that instead of investigating the issue, the Pentagon just eliminates the option and sticks with a failing strategy, but the White House eventually listens:
"At the State Department we felt increasingly restless that the strategy wasn't being articulated at home or in the field as effectively as we thought it should be… And so the secretary of state really had to make the decision to step up and accept responsibility for helping to articulate a strategy for Iraq."
-Philip Zelikow-Counselor, State Department

Error #12) After Bush invites all of his principles and national security academics from the policy world to Camp David to debate a real change in strategy, but in the middle of it all he disappears out of the back door and flies to Iraq to get Prime Minister al-Maliki's assurance that things were coming together there. When he returns nothing changes. In fact, Gen. Casey comes back talking about a 'draw down' while violence continus to increase:
"I went there eager to have the opportunity to lay a plan before the president... I knew that Zarqawi had been killed; I thought it was an opportunity to have a major turning point if it was seized upon."
-Frederick Kagan-Military Historian, American Enterprise Institute

"The Camp David meetings did not end up realizing the hopes of some of those at the deputy level and below who'd been involved in the planning. That kind of thoroughgoing review didn't really materialize. Maybe our hopes had been unreasonable."
-Philip Zelikow-Counselor, State Department

Error #13) Based on probable political pressure Gen. Casey orders Operation Together Forward II, a joint security operation intended for US troops to work seamlessly alongside Iraqi forces, which fails terribly, proving the unpreparedness of Iraqi forces, and the continued confusion in the Pentagon. The 'stay the course' rhetoric starts dying down and things are falling apart right before the midterm elections. In December Bush finally admits what we all knew, "We're not winning..." while the Iraq Study Group submits its report and calls the situation "grave and deteriorating":

"As soon as I saw that we didn't have the resources, I knew that [Operation Together Forward II] would fail.… Our chances to succeed in Iraq were just slipping past, we needed to change the strategy or else this thing was going to go off the cliff"
-General Jack Keane-(Ret.) Army vice chief of staff, 1999-'04

"I think Gen. Casey was pressured to do something and so he did something. ... And it failed miserably. Things actually got worse."
-Col. Douglas MacGregor (Ret.)-Military Strategist

Finally the Administration wakes up. New leadership is seated after Bush cleans the Pentagon house, giving charge to Gen. Patraeus in Iraq. The decision for a 'surge' is made, implemented over the summer, and Patraeus reports to legislatures in September that things are shaky, but have potential. He is careful with his words even while being grilled by Senators.

Today are we seeing the affects of the 'surge', or other sociological factors, we don't know yet? Things are uncertain even still, and with the SOFA passing the Iraqi parliament last week, we'll see how it goes in referendum this coming summer. Violence has picked up some, as Sadr's faction is unnerved and, politically speaking, everything is held together with scotch tape, not concrete.

So...(deep breath), I know we all remember these things. But I think it's easy to forget the details and how delusional certain people really were. My point is only to bring these details up closely again to remember how bad it really was. To remember, so that when you have people like Kristol (or whoever) going around saying, "We've won the war", we can really understand what the hell we're talking about here, and how absurd that actually sounds.

Note: For a 'trip down memory lane', if you have an hour, watch Frontline's End Game from 2007. I pulled a lot of my quotes from this great episode.


Apparently it's going around Baghdad that Obama really is a Muslim, a Shi'i at that! Oh, and of course Israel was responsible for 9/11 and Saudi Arabia is going to bail out our economy in exchange for a US invasion of Iran...

Geneology of 'Elitism'

Andrew Sullivan brings up what I've been harping on since McCain picked his running mate, and with the release of these tape transcripts it's fun to bring up again. The Republican fear of the 'elite' is what has killed the party. And much of this way of thinking that became visceral in the Republican Party stems from Nixon's war against 'elitist' intellectuals and policy makers. Here's a sample of his views:

NIXON: "The Ivy League [university] presidents? Why, I'll never let those sons-of-b------ in the White House again. Never, never, never. They're finished. The Ivy League schools are finished ... Henry, I would never have had them in. Don't do that again ... They came out against us when it was tough ... Don't ever go to an Ivy League school again, ever. Never, never, never."

Fine, the liberal tendencies of some of the 'elite' schools then may have made him angry, for instance Harvard outlawed the ROTC back then (and still does actually) in protest to the War, but his opinion here only lends itself to his overall ideology against intellectualism (or whatever -ism regards academic or mind deduction as imperative). His speech writers lampooned the "pusillanimous pussyfooters", "hopeless hysterical hypochondriacs of history", "nattering nabobs of negativism", and "effete corps of impudent snobs", just a few of his favorite epithets for liberal opponents in the media and academia.

Fast forward to Dan Quayle and his appetite for the 'cultural elite', in reference to the vast conspiracy to undermine Middle America, what most recently Palin termed "real America" or the "very pro-America areas of this great nation" (as opposed to us anti-Americans). When a party has been fighting this war for so long it's no wonder that the media favored Obama so much during this campaign: Journalists tend to be smarter, more educated 'elitists'.

I'm just saying, when you alienate the smartest demographics by pushing the far-right agenda instead of a centrist agenda of intellectual deduction, the results are going to be bad these days, just as they were for McCain/Palin. It was a far cry from real Conservative (with a capital 'c') intellectualism styled by William F. Buckley and Russel Kirk, the true pioneers of a stable, intelligent movement from the right. This lower-case conservatism will not succeed until it can 'capitalize' on its centrist ('elitist') ideals as well.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore...

Neoconservative Interventionist columnist and policy adviser Robert Kagan is dreaming of a certain kind of international retaliation for the Mumbai attacks:

"Rather than simply begging the Indians to show restraint, a better option could be to internationalize the response. Have the international community declare that parts of Pakistan have become ungovernable and a menace to international security. Establish an international force to work with the Pakistanis to root out terrorist camps in Kashmir as well as in the tribal areas. This would have the advantage of preventing a direct military confrontation between India and Pakistan. It might also save face for the Pakistani government, since the international community would be helping the central government reestablish its authority in areas where it has lost it. But whether or not Islamabad is happy, don't the international community and the United States, at the end of the day, have some obligation to demonstrate to the Indian people that we take attacks on them as seriously as we take attacks on ourselves?

Would such an action violate Pakistan's sovereignty? Yes, but nations should not be able to claim sovereign rights when they cannot control territory from which terrorist attacks are launched. If there is such a thing as a "responsibility to protect," which justifies international intervention to prevent humanitarian catastrophe either caused or allowed by a nation's government, there must also be a responsibility to protect one's neighbors from attacks from one's own territory, even when the attacks are carried out by 'non-state actors.'"

My first reaction, well, abbreviated is WTF?. Is this real or was he just bored, blurting out the first angry reaction that came to his mind? While I tend not to agree with him, I do think he is intelligent, but seriously...? The possibility of this happening, or even it being proposed legitimately, within this international community we are stuck with now, is highly improbable; an international community that speaks through its international institutions like NATO or the UN.

Additionally, if his plan was serious, it would kill any legitimacy the new regime in Pakistan is trying to gain. If the international community had and interventionist strategy forcing itself into your democracy as if you're a failed state, the ability to make any moves to defeat extremism within your borders will be considerably retarded. No government will be able to govern. Essentially Kagan is talking about occupation, without actually saying it. Let's see how things play out here before we get into reactionism. Pakistan is not a failed state.

And aren't these huge interventionist maneuvers what the US seems to be paying for via "non-state actor" resistance these days? Western powers on the ground commanding Pakistan's maneuvers would instantly create insurrection, not only from the intelligentsia, but also violently from the extremists who this action would be targeting. Let's create another magnetic pull for frustrated jihadiyya around the world like we did in Iraq.

Bare bones, fundamentally Kagan is saying the international community should occupy Pakistan. He's not serious is he?

Islamic World Torn Over UN, an international project that "seeks to reveal the values and views of publics in specific nations around the world as well as global patterns of world public opinion" presented interesting poll results today:

A poll of seven majority Muslim nations finds people conflicted about the United Nations. On one hand there is widespread support for a more active UN with much broader powers than it has today. On the other hand, there is a perception that the UN is dominated by the US and there is dissatisfaction with UN performance on several fronts, particularly in dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

This is surprising because even though skepticism about UN interests being aligned with US interests exists, the majority desires a more robust engagement with the UN. These two graphics here seem to present a juxtaposition:

My take is that those polled possibly see independence in a UN expansion of power OR see a stronger role for the US in peacekeeping and human rights, through the UN. Here is their Questionnaire/Methodology.

Buying Low...

Robert D. Kaplan argues that the only direction from here for Obama and company is UP:
"But the real reason that Obama and Clinton might enjoy success is something that goes barely mentioned in the media. Obama and Clinton are buying into a bottomed-out market vis-à-vis America’s position in the world. It is as if they will be buying stock after the market has crashed, and just at the point when a number of factors are already set in motion for a recovery."

He's got a great point. But while Kaplan spells out all the issues in the global spectrum that Obama will have to face, it takes him several paragraphs to describe them. What does that mean? It means that while Obama may be "buying low", he may be hard pressed to really accomplish all, or even most, of these goals. Do I expect him to?, NO, but I think the world does. All you read these days is how Obama has to concentrate on Israel-Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Colombian trade, Venezuela, China's rise, Darfur's genocide, Zimbabwe's meltdown, etc., etc. Things are so bad in the world politically for the United States thanks to several factors, including a failed foreign policy over the last eight years every concerned American and international citizen has a lot of expectation. Where to start, and how to really distribute Obama's incoming political capital is the question to tack on to Kaplan's essay. What's the most important, and what will he not accomplish?

Extreme Palin

This video is too funny to not share:

(Hat tip: Andrew Sullivan)

Forced Marriage Victims Offered Legal Protection

The BBC has a great audio report on forced marriage victims in Pakistan:

Some are taken to Pakistan by their parents, ostensibly on holiday, and are then forced to marry a man they've never met.

Usually he will be a relative, and by marrying a British citizen, he wins a visa and the prospects of a better life.

For the girls, though, forced marriage can be a misery. Now the British government is giving them legal protection.

This special legal protection amounts to the British High Command in Islamabad often traveling to very rural towns in Pakistan and sneaking a one-on-one, secret meeting with the women who are either asking for help, or who have come under the radar of the BHC via a family member's plea for assistance. They offer protection from family reprisal, attempting to convince her to sneak out with her belongings, often clandestinely out the back door, ducking into the British vehicles. This can happen quickly for the woman who is in dire situation and has been waiting for saving grace, or through different channels, sometimes bringing in the families, in almost an intervention-style setting, attempting to press on the young women that the choice is ultimately theirs to make, not their families'.

But what is most interesting to me is that a family's culture will sometimes override the culture of the young woman who has been forced into that marriage. Often these woman are British, through and through, with Western educations and very British lifestyles. One girl tries to compare the feeling of loneliness she had at that moment in her life with the happiness from her British lifestyle, surrounded by friends at school, and seems baffled at how she got to the current state of emptiness, alone, married to a young boy, expecting a child. Yet when push comes to shove, and the BHC offers these young, often educated girls, a life back in Britain, they cannot fathom going outside of their families' wishes. It isn't even the threat of their husbands that seem to hold the most sway, particularly as the BHC is offering protection from domestic violence, but their fathers and grandmothers. So I don't think they are sticking with 'their' culture by staying perhaps, but remaining under the authority of the generation before them.

Often I try to keep myself from objecting too strongly to such traditional practices that in the West we are not familiar with, nor can understand the grammar of. But this is not a Western imperial injection of our ethical code into a rural, Islamic ethical code that is untouched by our secularist traditions. While these young British citizens have grown up in British society, whether she shares an embodied sense of Pakistani marriage tradition or not, we must assume, even if she lives in the most conservative Pakistani home in Birmingham, England, through exposure outside of the home she also shares an embodied sense of Western tradition. Therefore options have been presented, which include educational and, perhaps, career success and independence, as British female citizens are afforded. The BHC is not going into small villages and breaking up forced marriages between two Pakistani citizens who may have no concept of an ethical code outside of their rural tradition.

It must be made clear that women in the West certainly still have their struggle for equality, and life is not perfect for the Western woman. Especially for immigrant citizens in Britain. And Pakistan is not overtly and completely patriarchal outside of family norms. After all, Pakistan itself has had a woman at the highest position in government like in Britain, and almost did again before she was assassinated almost one year ago. But these situations that the BHC intercedes in are situations that even the young girls, who again have also embodied a Western ethical structure (like Benazir Bhuto for instance), see as abusive and utterly senseless, serving only the interests of the elders in the family who made the arrangements.

I applaud this effort by the BHC, but we'll see how local shari'a courts handle the legality of this, especially when rural conservative judges not only see this as against their skewed versions of Islam, but also make the case for state (therefore even village) sovereignty in legal matters. I imagine the BHC has Pakistan's permission, but we'll see.

Monday, December 1, 2008

'He's With Us'

Reading an article in Farsi I was struck: In Farsi, phonetically Barack Obama's last name, O-Baa-Maa is spelled like so:
او + با + ما
ٌWhich in Fari would mean: 'He' (او, ow), plus 'with' (با, baa), plus 'us' (ما, maa), or 'He's With Us'. So I looked this up, and of course, native speakers had picked up on this WAY before I did. Not to mention his middle name is Hussein (as we are all too familiar with), the same name as Hussein ibn Ali, the grandson of the Prophet, second son of Ali ibn Abi Talib, the fourth of the rightly-guided caliphs (al-kulafa al-rashidun), and most significantly for Shi'i Islam, arguably the most important figure for the Shi'i identity narrative. Considering the possible direction Obama may go with his Iran policy it helps appeal to the younger generations. Cool...

Pointing the Finger

Matthew Yglesias blaming Bush for his inept ability to look forward:
"Bush was specifically and repeatedly warned about the need to take regulatory action to avoid a financial system meltdown, and chose to ignore those warnings because he’s a really bad president. Thanks to his indifference, incompetence, or perhaps malice, millions of people will wind up losing their jobs and suffering dire consequences."
But I don't see this crisis as all the Administration's fault, particularly since the 535 legislatures who should have been really intimately involved with their constituencies dropped the ball here as well, especially on regulation and on the housing bubble. I imagine Yglesias knows this too. But it's another failure on Bush's record, rack it up. The Political Animal has more.


It seems that Muslim community leaders in Mumbai are refusing to bury the militants killed by the security services in Muslim cemeteries. Showing that Islamic traditions do not allow for murder and unlawful fighting (qital). Ibrahim Tai, president of the Indian Muslim Council, which looks after the social and religious affairs of the Muslim community in India, said it best:
"If the government does not respect our demands we will take up extreme steps. We do not want the bodies of people who have committed an act of terrorism to be buried in our cemeteries.... These terrorists are a black spot on our religion, we will very sternly protest the burial of these terrorists in our cemetery."
There is no place in Islam for this type of violence. Technically this type of casting out of the Muslim men who perpetrated the attack has no precedence in Islamic Law either. Usually this quasi-excommunication (although there is no church in Islam so it may be slightly misleading) is demanded by maximalist Islamist groups upon fellow Muslims who don't fight against apostates, called takfir. This philosophy has its genealogy not in Islamic Law, but from ideologues such as Sayyid Qutb (d. 1966) and the violent preaching of Egyptian working-class Islamist 'Abd al-Salam Faraj (d. 1982), whose group al-Jihad orchestrated the assassination of Egyptian President Anwar al-Sadat in 1982. But I'm on the same page as Juan Cole here when he says that such "egregious departure" from legitimate Sunni jurisprudence almost demands such a response from community leaders. And remember, India has the second largest Muslim population in the world.