Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Obama Ba-Rocks Austin!

And squelches Cheney!

The Friday turnout was expected to be around 17,000 supporters. Obama's campaign staff estimated that about 20,000 people gathered to hear him speak.

The event was originally slated to be held at Gregory Gym on the University of Texas campus, but the overwhelming request for tickets required organizers to move the venue to a place where concerts, rather than political rallies, are held. So, the massive outdoor rally gathered in the rain.

Barack Obama chided Vice President Dick Cheney for saying Britain’s decision to pull troops from Iraq is a good sign that fits with the strategy for stabilizing the country. Actually, Senator Obama said, British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s decision this week to withdraw 1,600 troops is a recognition that Iraq’s problems can’t be solved militarily.
Now if Tony Blair can understand that, than why can’t George Bush and Dick Cheney understand that?

In fact, Dick Cheney said this is all part of the plan (and) it was a good thing that Tony Blair was withdrawing, even as the administration is preparing to put 20,000 more of our young men and women in.

Now, keep in mind, this is the same guy that said we’d be greeted as liberators, the same guy that said that we’re in the last throes. I’m sure he forecast sun today.

When Dick Cheney says it’s a good thing, you know that you’ve probably got some big problems.
You can listen to his speech:

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Aberrant Alibis on Osama bin Laden

It turns out that the self-confessed killer of 3,000 innocent American civilians could run and hide.

Today's theocons and neocons thrive on describing Osama bin Laden as a sort of modern day Hitler or Mussolini and the war against terror as a war against the global threat of 'Islamofacism', comparable to the challenge met by our Greatest Generation which triumphed in World War II.

But, within this context, the evolution of George Bush's policy seems grotesquely incomprehensible . Initially, after the 911 attacks, on 13-September 2001, Bush pledged,
The most important thing is for us to find Osama bin Laden. It is our number one priority and we will not rest until we find him.
But, less than a year later, on 13-March 2002, Bush had all but forgotten about him:
I don’t know where bin Laden is. I have no idea and really don’t care. It’s not that important. It’s not our priority. . . I am truly not that concerned about him.
Now, Bush's Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Schoomaker says in a speech to the Rotary Club of Fort Worth:
He's not the only source of the problem, obviously. . . . If you killed him tomorrow, you'd still have a problem with al-Qaeda . . . . I don't know whether we'll find him.I don't know that it's all that important, frankly.

So we get him, and then what? There's a temporary feeling of goodness, but in the long run, we may make him bigger than he is today. He's hiding, and he knows we're looking for him. We know he's not particularly effective. I'm not sure there's that great of a return . . . .
So, the only 'justice' that mass-murderer Osama bin Laden faces is the dismal prospect most of us contend with: dying a natural death in his ripe old age.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Will Tony Blair Lead Us Out of Iraq-Nam?

Is the British Prime Minister morphing from
Bush's poodle into 'International' Velvet, the rescue dog?

Blair is expected to clarify details of the U.K.'s progressive withdrawal from Iraquagmire today, after his announcement in the House of Commons.

The BBC reports that Blair says hundreds of troops will return from Basra in the next few weeks. Out of the 7,200 British troops still serving in Iraq, It is expected Blair will say 1,500 troops are expected to return home in months, with 3,000 withdrawn by Christmas. Blair said earlier this week,
The problems remain formidable. What all of this means is not that Basra is how we want it to be but the next chapter in Basra's history can be written by the Iraqis.
If true, this would mark a significant change from comments made just last month, when he called plans for withdrawing troops by October "irresponsible." Speaking in the House of Commons on Jan. 24, Blair said such a plan
would send the most disastrous signal to the people that we are fighting in Iraq. It's a policy that, whatever its superficial attractions may be, is actually deeply irresponsible.
What's changed? A recent poll published in The Guardian suggests the Labour Party is losing its support. When voters were asked who they would vote for, 42 per cent said Conservative, as opposed to 29 per cent for Labour under the leadership of Blair's likely successor, Gordon Brown.

Our own Bush administration is either mired in the river de-Nile or in the land of the great pretenders. National Security Council spokesperson Gordon Johndroe told the AP that Bush views any British withdrawal as a sign troops have promoted security in the region.
The president is grateful for the support of the British Forces in the past and into the future.

While the United Kingdom is maintaining a robust force in southern Iraq, we're pleased that conditions in Basra have improved sufficiently that they are able to transition more control to the Iraqis.
Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell, whose party opposed the war in Iraq, has it right:
The unpalatable truth, Mr Speaker, is this, that we will leave behind a country on the brink on civil war, where reconstruction has stalled, where corruption is endemic and a region that is a lot less stable than it was in 2003.

This is a long way short of the beacon of democracy for the Middle East which was promised some four years ago.
The real story here is that this is a slower withdrawal than many in the British army had hoped for. Head of the British Army, Chief of the General Staff Sir Richard Dannatt was speaking for the army last October when he said:
I think history will show that the planning for what happened after the initial successful war-fighting phase was poor, probably based more on optimism than sound planning.

History will show that a vacuum was created and into the vacuum malign elements moved. The hope that we might have been able to get out of Iraq in 12, 18, 24 months after the initial start in 2003 has proved fallacious. Now hostile elements have got a hold it has made our life much more difficult in Baghdad and in Basra.

. . . . The original intention was that we put in place a liberal democracy that was an exemplar for the region, was pro-West and might have a beneficial effect on the balance within the Middle East.

That was the hope. Whether that was a sensible or naïve hope, history will judge. I don't think we are going to do that. I think we should aim for a lower ambition. . . . get ourselves out sometime soon because our presence exacerbates the security problems. We are in a Muslim country and Muslims' views of foreigners in their country are quite clear. . . As a foreigner, you can be welcomed by being invited into a country, but we weren't invited, certainly by those in Iraq at the time. Let's face it, the military campaign we fought in 2003 effectively kicked the door in.

. . . That is a fact. I don't say that the difficulties we are experiencing around the world are caused by our presence in Iraq, but undoubtedly our presence in Iraq exacerbates them. . . .

In the Army we place a lot of store by the values we espouse. What I would hate is for the Army to be maintaining a set of values that were not reflected in our society at large — courage, loyalty, integrity, respect for others; these are critical things.
The ranks of the coalition of the unwilling are increasing. Denmark will also be withdrawing its troops from Iraq by August, Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen has announced. The troops, numbering about 460, will be replaced by a unit of nine soldiers manning four observational helicopters.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Inconvenient Details. . .

Of his intriguing monograph, The Footnote: A Curious History, Anthony Grafton writes,
The Footnote brings what is so often relegated to afterthought and marginalia to its rightful place in the center of the literary life of the mind.
Messenger and Wizard were commenting the other day about the original terms of the Iraq War Authorization vote. I don't think it is a trivial point.

Known as H.J.Res. 114, it passed the House on October 10, 2002 by a vote of 296-133, and passed the Senate on October 11 by a vote of 77-23. It was signed into law by President Bush on October 16.

Let the record show:
  • No one was on record voting the use of U.S. Military to occupy Iraq for four years.
  • No one was on record voting the use of U.S. Military to referee in the predicted sectarian civil war that would ensue in the wake of invasion.
  • No one was on record voting to sacrifice any U.S. Military resources and assets needed in the retaliation against Afghanistan and the apprehension of Osama bin Laden in order to invade Iraq.
I submit it's germane to review what was 'authorized':

"Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002".
[[Page 116 STAT. 1501]]


The Congress of the United States supports the efforts by the President to--
  1. strictly enforce through the United Nations Security Council all relevant Security Council resolutions regarding Iraq and encourages him in those efforts; and
  2. obtain prompt and decisive action by the Security Council to ensure that Iraq abandons its strategy of delay, evasion and noncompliance and promptly and strictly complies with all relevant Security Council resolutions regarding Iraq.
    The record shows:
    1. In the end, the U.N. Security Council never authorized the Anglo-American invasion to enforce its resolutions.
    2. Iraq no longer has any capacity to delay, evade and otherwise be noncompliant with any relevant Security Council resolutions.

    (a) Authorization.--The President is authorized to use the ArmedForces of the United States as he determines to be necessary and appropriate in order to--
    1. defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq; and
    2. enforce all relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions regarding Iraq.
    The record shows:
    1. There never was any continuing threat against the national security of the United States posed by Iraq.
    2. The U.N. Security Council never passed any resolutions authorizing or mandating an Anglo-American occupation or Iraq.
    (b) Presidential Determination.--[etc., etc.]

    (c) War Powers Resolution Requirements.--[etc., etc.]
    Conclusion: the current use of the United States Military by the Bush-Cheney administration exceeds that authorized by Congress.

    Celebrating 17 Men Who Put Country Above Party

    Yesterday, in the United States House of Representatives, 17 Republicans crossed the aisle.

    By joining with the Democratic majority, they forged a bipartisan rejection of Bush's 'doubling down' on his illegal occupation of Iraq.

    Tom Davis, Tim Johnson, Thomas Petri, Steven LaTourette, Ron Paul, Ric Keller, Philip English, Michael Castle, Mark Kirk, John 'Jimmy' Duncan, Jim Ramstad, James Walsh, Howard Coble, Fred Upton, Bob Inglis, Walter Jones, and Wayne Gilchrest

    The inevitable peeling back of the Republican rubberstamp on militarism has begun. That's progress. And it's time to recognize it.

    Still along way to go, however, to placing George W. Bush in his reserved & deserved place in history.

    Saturday, February 10, 2007

    AL FRANKEN-- The Real Deal

    I just checked off every volunteer activity from envelope stuffing to door knocking for Al Franken, who I hope will defeat one of the country's most consummate politicians (and also one of the country's most vulnerable Republicans), Norm Coleman, to become Minnesota's next U.S. Senator.

    That means no matter how risqué or avant garde a comedy skit featuring Mr. Franken may surface in the next 20 or so months, he's going to keep my support. (That ethics-preaching, prudish FBI agent side of me who never much cared for "Saturday Night Live" will just have to look the other way.)

    Now, you might suspect this early pledge of loyalty was won because Mr. Franken helped my own campaign for congress last year. But that isn't the reason. I do have a couple funny stories about his help last year, one involving a lesson in Yiddish pronunciation, which maybe I'll tell you about later. But Mr. Franken certainly did not have to move back to Minnesota and begin working as hard as he did, crisscrossing the state in the year prior to the 2006 election, on behalf of a whole bunch of us Democratic candidates for state and federal offices.

    And it's not because Mr. Franken is one of the smartest Harvard graduates there is having availed himself of discussion these last few years on his daily Air America radio show of the most important issues facing the country with national leaders and policy experts.

    It's not because he was often able to write and say things through clever use of humor that so many others couldn't or wouldn't say. I'll never forget stopping in my tracks in the doorway at Mystic Lake Casino (in Shakopee, Minnesota) the first time I heard Mr. Franken at the podium after a conference lunch in fall of 2005. I had not planned to stay for his talk and was trying to sneak out but stopped when I heard him start to sarcastically but accurately dissect the tangled e-mail trail of the Abramoff-Scanlon-Reed influence peddling that had defrauded certain Indian tribes. He was nailing the culture of corruption almost before anyone knew it was out there.

    It's not because he has a good stump speech. Ya know the first thing they teach you in these political training exercises is you have to come up with some heartfelt personal story that ties in with why you are running. In the last couple years, I think I've heard them all and I've heard many (including Franken's) repeatedly. Politicos swear by these stump speeches but it's hard for them not to come off rehearsed and fakey-sounding. Mr. Franken's personal story is from the heart and rings as true as Paul Wellstone’s (whose seat is the one Franken happens to be seeking).

    Finally, my support for Al Franken is certainly not because he's got the makings of a good politician. It's funny but the bulk of the press coverage these first few days of his candidacy have focused almost solely on how inexperienced a politician he is. Here's what I say. If you want political experience, just vote for Norm Coleman. Coleman has been running for one political office or another since his college days. He's even run in both parties, as both a Democrat and a Republican. Coleman's served as everything from mayor to senator with a try for governor in between. So if you want a politician with experience (as well as real bright white teeth), Norm would be your guy. My bet is Mr. Franken is not going to try to compete with Norm Coleman as a political animal. And no one wants him to.

    Nope. It's not for any of these sophisticated reasons that I support Mr. Franken. I don't make snap judgments about anyone, much less anyone running for a political office. In fact, after all I was exposed to these last couple years, my cynicism antenna goes up even higher with those running for political office. But Al Franken has impressed me for all and none of the above reasons as the real deal. It's that simple. And with genuineness and authenticity in such short supply, I think it might be the only criteria that matters anymore. So any future ax murders notwithstanding, Al Franken will get not only my vote but all my envelope stuffing and door knocking too.

    One piece of advice I got a chance to blurt out ahead of time to him was "don't lose your sense of humor." For if Al Franken, of all people, suddenly becomes all serious and boring and political, it would be nothing but a fakey makeover. He'd lose his authenticity. Plus there's no doubt he's going to need that good sense of humor to get through the next 20 some months.

    Friday, February 9, 2007

    Assigning the Strongest Armed Forces of the World to Occupation Duty

    Is Committing Military Malpractice
    My third epistle from the fine mind of Edward Luttwak is drawn from the current edition of Harper's Magazine. Against our experience in Iraq, his piece is a biting critique of America's evolving military doctrine as put forth in a draft field manual, FM 3-24 on counterinsurgency written by James N. Mattis (USMC) and David H. Petraeus (US Army).

    Luttwak attacks as an underexamined proposition of the new doctrine that
    . . .a necessary if not sufficient condition of victory is to provide what insurgents cannot: basic public services, physical reconstruction, the hope of economic development and social amelioration . . . a politics in which popular support is important or even decisive, and that such support can be won by providing better govenment.
    Luttwak cites places such as North Korea, Lybia, Cuba and Syria where "government needs no popular support as long as it can secure obedience". He also cites Afghanistan and Iraq
    where many people prefer indigenous and religious oppression to the freedoms offered by foreign invaders.
    Such an altruistic offer is foreign to their experience:
    The vast majority of Afghans and Iraqis naturally believe their religious leaders. The alternative would be to believe what is for them entirely unbelievable: that foreignors are unselfishly expending blood and treasure in order to help them. They themselves would never invade a country except to plunder it, the way Iraq invaded Kuwait, thus having made Saddam Hussein genuinely popular for a time when troops brought back their loot.
    The second under-examined and facile assumption is that it is a simple matter of intelligence to distinguish 'insurgents' from the general population. A first-class, global power like ourselves tends to overrely on technology, entailing:
    the use of ultra-sophistocated and very expensive F-15s and F-18s with the most advanced sensors to detect and track the man, the boy, and the donkey who may or may not be transporting an "improvised explosive device" to its intended emplacement . . . . the targets are always unstable, elusive, and low-contrast - even if identifiable as they are.
    In the case of Iraq, insurgents are part-timers: part of the time they serve in our puppet government's army or police to earn some cash 'to put food on their family'; part of the time they sell their government-issued uniform and ordinance for the same reason; part of the time they place IED's, assumeably to earn security for their family. Whatever the market indicates, right?

    Finally, nothing much really needs to be said about the profound deficit in human intelligence under which our occupation forces struggle, "with the astonishing linguistic incapacity" interms of Arabic- and Persian-speaking personnel. Our occupation forces have had to make do with 'sectarian-neutral' Iraqi "translators"!

    So, the circumstances are piled high with these difficulties. Luttwak asks, why is the greatest fighting machine in the service of the world's greatest democracy frustrated in Mesopotamia? Especially since there is, he says, there an easy and reliable way of defeating all insurgencies everywhere:
    Perfectly ordinary regular armed forces, with no counterinsurgency doctrine or training whatever, have in the past regularly defeated insurgents, by using a number of well-proven methods. It is enough to consider these methods to see why the armed forces of the United States or of any other democratic country cannot possibly use them.

    The simple starting point is that insurgents are not the only ones who can intimidate or terrorize civilians . . . local notables can be compelled to surrender insurgents to the authorities under the threat of escalating punishments, all the way to mass executions.
    That’s how the Turks held on to the Ottoman empire and the Romans their empire. An occasional “massacre” kept people in line for decades; killing everyone who resisted; selling those captured on the battlefield into slavery. The ancients relied on deterrence, periodically reinforced by exemplary punishment. Terrible collective reprisals allowed the Germans armed forces to cow entire populations of occupied countries with economy of force during World War II.

    The success of insurgencies is based upon using this same viciousness against its host population. Thus, the Viet Cong had
    its enthusiasts, “fellow travelers,” and opportunistic followers, but Vietnamese who were none of the above, and not outright enemies, were compelled to collaborate actively or passively by the threat of violence so liberally used. That is exactly what the insurgents in Iraq are now doing, and this is no coincidence. All insurgencies follow the same pattern. Locals who are not sympathetic to begin with, who cannot be recruited to the cause, are compelled to collaborate by fear of violence, readily reinforced by the demonstrative killing of those who insist on refusing to help the resistance. Neutrality is not an option.
    After their Indochinese debacle at Dien Bien Phu, the French tried to match the NLF with terror, torture, and massacre in Algeria; the experience was so corrupting of their army and government that the 4th Republic fell amidst the stench of fascism. Luttwak writes,
    By contrast, the capacity of the American armed forces to inflict collective punishments does not extend much beyond curfews and other such restrictions, inconvenient to be sure and perhaps sufficient to impose real hardship, but obviously insufficient to out-terrorize insurgents. Needless to say, this is not a political limitation that Americans would ever want their armed forces to overcome, but it does leave the insurgents in control of the population, the real “terrain” of any insurgency.
    Luttwak concludes that the
    ambivalence of a United States . . . that is willing to fight wars, that is willing to start wars because of future threats, that is willing to conquer territory or even entire countries, and yet is unwilling to govern what it conquers, even for a few years. Consequently, for all of the real talent manifested in the writing of FM 3-24 DRAFT, its prescriptions are in the end of little or no use and amount to a kind of malpractice. All its best methods, all its clever tactics, all the treasure and the blood that the United States has been willing to expend, cannot overcome the crippling ambivalence of occupiers who refuse to govern, and their principled and inevitable refusal to out-terrorize the insurgents, the necessary and sufficient condition of a tranquil occupation.

    Thursday, February 8, 2007

    Light at the End of the Tunnel

    To Help Iraq, Let It Fend for Itself.

    Get used to it: proposals for realistic solutions to Iraquagmire are going to start emerging faster than you imagine. They will not be painless for those bitter-enders who have been clinging on to George Bush's coat tails long after his trousers are shredded by the dogs of war - his useless and unnecessary invasion and occupation of Iraq. This pertains especially to the Republican members in Congress, desperate cling-ons who voted against their own anti-war resolutions.

    Here's but today's example: Edward Luttwak, (whom I have posted before and will again), writes in the New York Times, To Help Iraq, Let It Fend for Itself. His is a specific proposal for immediate disengagement:
    By this, I don’t mean a phased withdrawal, let alone the leap in the dark of total abandonment. Rather, it would start with a tactical change: American soldiers would no longer patrol towns and villages, conduct cordon-and-search operations, or man outposts and checkpoints. An end to these tasks would allow the greatest part of the troops in Iraq to head home, starting with overburdened reservists and National Guard units.

    The remaining American forces, including ground units, would hole up within safe and mostly remote bases in Iraq — to support the elected government, deter foreign invasion, dissuade visible foreign intrusions, and strike at any large concentration of jihadis should it emerge. This would mean, contrary to most plans being considered now, that United States military personnel could not remain embedded in large numbers within the Iraqi Army and police forces. At most, the Americans would operate training programs within safe bases.
    Luttwak says that human
    intelligence is to counterinsurgency what firepower is to conventional warfare, and we just do not have it or the capacity to gather information on our own. Thus the sacrifices of our troops on the ground are mostly futile . . . .

    The total number of American troops in Iraq — even including any surge — is so small, and their linguistic skills so limited, that they have little effect on day-to-day security. Nor have they really protected Iraqis from one another. At most, the presence of American soldiers in any one place merely diverts attacks elsewhere (unless they themselves are attacked, which is a sad way indeed of reducing Iraqi casualties).
    Whenever we take offensive actions against one sectarian element or another, it is not understood by Iraqis as a peace-keeping measure; it is seen as taking sides. As I said before, there is no 'center' in Iraq to 'hold': Maliki is Bush's 'man in Baghdad', but he's not the man for Iraq. Luttwak says,
    . . . . the prime minister would have to be a veritable Stalin or at least a Saddam Hussein, able to terrorize Iraqi soldiers and policemen into obedience. Mr. Maliki, of course, has no such authority over Iraqi soldiers or police officers; indeed he has little authority over his own 39-person cabinet, whose members mostly represent sectarian parties with militias of their own.
    Iraq is fractured. Religious sects - Shi'ite and Sunni - are themselves fractured among different militias; the larger militias have their own schisms. With disengagement, Luttwak sees
    . . . both Arab Sunnis and Shiites would have to take responsibility for their own security (as the Kurds have doing been all along). Where these three groups are not naturally separated by geography, they would be forced to find ways to stabilize relations with each other. That would most likely involve violence as well as talks, and some forcing of civilians from their homes. But all this is happening already, and there is no saying which ethno-religious group would be most favored by a reduction of the United States footprint.

    One reason for optimism on that score is that the violence itself has been separating previously mixed populations, reducing motives and opportunities for further attacks. That is how civil wars can burn themselves out.

    In any case, it is time for the Iraqis to make their own history.
    I have to say at this point that there are only one or two obstacles blocking the light from end of this tunnel: Bush and his ringmaster, Cheney. Their shadow over our country is already receding, but their control over our ineffectual occupation of Iraq has to be actively repudiated, rescinded, revoked, repealed, removed.

    Sunday, February 4, 2007

    Barak Obama

    It's a Matter of Record.

    As the 2002 national and congressional debate over Bush's un-provoked, unnecessary, largely unilateral invasion and unplanned occupation of Iraq (UULUIUOI) reached a crescendo, then Illinois State Senator Barak Obama delivered this speech on 26-Oct in Chicago:
    Let me begin by saying that although this has been billed as an anti-war rally, I stand before you as someone who is not opposed to war in all circumstances.

    The Civil War was one of the bloodiest in history, and yet it was only through the crucible of the sword, the sacrifice of multitudes, that we could begin to perfect this union, and drive the scourge of slavery from our soil.

    I don’t oppose all wars.
    Obama cites his grandfather's service in World War II and continues:
    I don’t oppose all wars.

    After September 11th, after witnessing the carnage and destruction, the dust and the tears, I supported this Administration’s pledge to hunt down and root out those who would slaughter innocents in the name of intolerance, and I would willingly take up arms myself to prevent such tragedy from happening again.

    I don’t oppose all wars. And I know that in this crowd today, there is no shortage of patriots, or of patriotism. What I am opposed to is a dumb war. What I am opposed to is a rash war. What I am opposed to is the cynical attempt by Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz and other arm-chair, weekend warriors in this Administration to shove their own ideological agendas down our throats, irrespective of the costs in lives lost and in hardships borne.

    What I am opposed to is the attempt by political hacks like Karl Rove to distract us from a rise in the uninsured, a rise in the poverty rate, a drop in the median income – to distract us from corporate scandals and a stock market that has just gone through the worst month since the Great Depression.

    That’s what I’m opposed to. A dumb war. A rash war. A war based not on reason but on passion, not on principle but on politics.

    Now let me be clear – I suffer no illusions about Saddam Hussein. He is a brutal man. A ruthless man. A man who butchers his own people to secure his own power. He has repeatedly defied UN resolutions, thwarted UN inspection teams, developed chemical and biological weapons, and coveted nuclear capacity.

    He’s a bad guy. The world, and the Iraqi people, would be better off without him.

    But I also know that Saddam poses no imminent and direct threat to the United States, or to his neighbors, that the Iraqi economy is in shambles, that the Iraqi military a fraction of its former strength, and that in concert with the international community he can be contained until, in the way of all petty dictators, he falls away into the dustbin of history.

    I know that even a successful war against Iraq will require a US occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences. I know that an invasion of Iraq without a clear rationale and without strong international support will only fan the flames of the middle east, and encourage the worst, rather than best, impulses of the Arab world, and strengthen the recruitment arm of al-Qaeda.

    I am not opposed to all wars. I’m opposed to dumb wars.

    So for those of us who seek a more just and secure world for our children, let us send a clear message to the president today. You want a fight, President Bush? Let’s finish the fight with Bin Laden and al-Qaeda, through effective, coordinated intelligence, and a shutting down of the financial networks that support terrorism, and a homeland security program that involves more than color-coded warnings.

    You want a fight, President Bush? Let’s fight to make sure that the UN inspectors can do their work, and that we vigorously enforce a non-proliferation treaty . . . .

    You want a fight, President Bush? Let’s fight to make sure our so-called allies . . . .

    You want a fight, President Bush? Let’s fight to wean ourselves off Middle East oil . . . .

    Those are the battles that we need to fight. Those are the battles that we willingly join. The battles against ignorance and intolerance. Corruption and greed. Poverty and despair.

    The consequences of war are dire, the sacrifices immeasurable. We may have occasion in our lifetime to once again rise up in defense of our freedom, and pay the wages of war. But we ought not – we will not – travel down that hellish path blindly. Nor should we allow those who would march off and pay the ultimate sacrifice, who would prove the full measure of devotion with their blood, to make such an awful sacrifice in vain.

    Thursday, February 1, 2007

    A Path out of Bush's 'Manichean' Abyss

    At last, a Plan.

    Wikipedia introduces Zbigniew Brzezinski as a Polish-American political scientist, geostrategist, and statesman. He served as United States National Security Advisor to President Jimmy Carter from 1977 to 1981. He was known for his hawkish foreign policy at a time when the Democratic Party was increasingly dovish. He is a foreign policy realist, he is currently a professor of American foreign policy at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies.

    I remember him as the co-author of my college textbook on totalitarianism. Today, he testified before the recently liberated Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

    Mr. Chairman:

    Your hearings come at a critical juncture in the U.S. war of choice in Iraq, and I commend you and Senator Lugar for scheduling them.

    It is time for the White House to come to terms with two central realities:

    1. The war in Iraq is a historic, strategic, and moral calamity. Undertaken under false assumptions, it is undermining America's global legitimacy. Its collateral civilian casualties as well as some abuses are tarnishing America's moral credentials. Driven by Manichean impulses and imperial hubris, it is intensifying regional instability.

    2. Only a political strategy that is historically relevant rather than reminiscent of colonial tutelage can provide the needed framework for a tolerable resolution of both the war in Iraq and the intensifying regional tensions.
    If the United States continues to be bogged down in a protracted bloody involvement in Iraq, the final destination on this downhill track is likely to be a head-on conflict with Iran and with much of the world of Islam at large. A plausible scenario for a military collision with Iran involves:
    • Iraqi failure to meet the benchmarks;

    • followed by accusations of Iranian responsibility for the failure;

    • then by some provocation in Iraq or a terrorist act in the U.S. blamed on Iran;

    • culminating in a "defensive" U.S. military action against Iran that plunges a lonely America into a spreading and deepening quagmire eventually ranging across Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.
    A mythical historical narrative to justify the case for such a protracted and potentially expanding war is already being articulated. Initially justified by false claims about WMD's in Iraq, the war is now being redefined as the "decisive ideological struggle" of our time, reminiscent of the earlier collisions with Nazism and Stalinism. In that context, Islamist extremism and al Qaeda are presented as the equivalents of the threat posed by Nazi Germany and then Soviet Russia, and 9/11 as the equivalent of the Pearl Harbor attack which precipitated America's involvement in World War II.

    This simplistic and demagogic narrative overlooks the fact that Nazism was based on the military power of the industrially most advanced European state; and that Stalinism was able to mobilize not only the resources of the victorious and militarily powerful Soviet Union but also had worldwide appeal through its Marxist doctrine. In contrast, most Muslims are not embracing Islamic fundamentalism; al Qaeda is an isolated fundamentalist Islamist aberration; most Iraqis are engaged in strife because the American occupation of Iraq destroyed the Iraqi state; while Iran -- though gaining in regional influence -- is itself politically divided, economically and militarily weak. To argue that America is already at war in the region with a wider Islamic threat, of which Iran is the epicenter, is to promote a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    Deplorably, the Administration's foreign policy in the Middle East region has lately relied almost entirely on such sloganeering. Vague and inflammatory talk about "a new strategic context" which is based on "clarity" and which prompts "the birth pangs of a new Middle East" is breeding intensifying anti-Americanism and is increasing the danger of a long-term collision between the United States and the Islamic world. Those in charge of U.S. diplomacy have also adopted a posture of moralistic self-ostracism toward Iran strongly reminiscent of John Foster Dulles's attitude of the early 1950's toward Chinese Communist leaders (resulting among other things in the well-known episode of the refused handshake). It took some two decades and a half before another Republican president was finally able to undo that legacy.

    One should note here also that practically no country in the world shares the Manichean delusions that the Administration so passionately articulates. The result is growing political isolation of, and pervasive popular antagonism toward the U.S. global posture.

    It is obvious by now that the American national interest calls for a significant change of direction. There is in fact a dominant consensus in favor of a change: American public opinion now holds that the war was a mistake; that it should not be escalated, that a regional political process should be explored; and that an Israeli-Palestinian accommodation is an essential element of the needed policy alteration and should be actively pursued. It is noteworthy that profound reservations regarding the Administration's policy have been voiced by a number of leading Republicans. One need only invoke here the expressed views of the much admired President Gerald Ford, former Secretary of State James Baker, former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft and several leading Republican senators, John Warner, Chuck Hagel, and Gordon Smith among others.

    The urgent need today is for a strategy that seeks to create a political framework for a resolution of the problems posed both by the US occupation of Iraq and by the ensuing civil and sectarian conflict. Ending the occupation and shaping a regional security dialogue should be the mutually reinforcing goals of such a strategy, but both goals will take time and require a genuinely serious U.S. commitment.

    The quest for a political solution for the growing chaos in Iraq should involve four steps:
    1. The United States should reaffirm explicitly and unambiguously its determination to leave Iraq in a reasonably short period of time.

      Ambiguity regarding the duration of the occupation in fact encourages unwillingness to compromise and intensifies the on-going civil strife. Moreover, such a public declaration is needed to allay fears in the Middle East of a new and enduring American imperial hegemony. Right or wrong, many view the establishment of such a hegemony as the primary reason for the American intervention in a region only recently free of colonial domination. That perception should be discredited from the highest U.S. level. Perhaps the U.S. Congress could do so by a joint resolution.

    2. The United States should announce that it is undertaking talks with the Iraqi leaders to jointly set with them a date by which U.S. military disengagement should be completed, and the resulting setting of such a date should be announced as a joint decision. In the meantime, the U.S. should avoid military escalation.

      It is necessary to engage all Iraqi leaders -- including those who do not reside within "the Green Zone" -- in a serious discussion regarding the proposed and jointly defined date for U.S. military disengagement because the very dialogue itself will help identify the authentic Iraqi leaders with the self-confidence and capacity to stand on their own legs without U.S. military protection. Only Iraqi leaders who can exercise real power beyond "the Green Zone" can eventually reach a genuine Iraqi accommodation. The painful reality is that much of the current Iraqi regime, characterized by the Bush administration as "representative of the Iraqi people," defines itself largely by its physical location: the 4 sq. miles-large U.S. fortress within Baghdad, protected by a wall in places 15 feet thick, manned by heavily armed U.S. military, popularly known as "the Green Zone."

    3. The United States should issue jointly with appropriate Iraqi leaders, or perhaps let the Iraqi leaders issue, an invitation to all neighbors of Iraq (and perhaps some other Muslim countries such as Egypt, Morocco, Algeria, and Pakistan) to engage in a dialogue regarding how best to enhance stability in Iraq in conjunction with U.S. military disengagement and to participate eventually in a conference regarding regional stability.

      The United States and the Iraqi leadership need to engage Iraq's neighbors in serious discussion regarding the region's security problems, but such discussions cannot be undertaken while the U.S. is perceived as an occupier for an indefinite duration. Iran and Syria have no reason to help the United States consolidate a permanent regional hegemony. It is ironic, however, that both Iran and Syria have lately called for a regional dialogue, exploiting thereby the self-defeating character of the largely passive -- and mainly sloganeering -- U.S. diplomacy.

      A serious regional dialogue, promoted directly or indirectly by the U.S., could be buttressed at some point by a wider circle of consultations involving other powers with a stake in the region's stability, such as the EU, China, Japan, India, and Russia. Members of this Committee might consider exploring informally with the states mentioned their potential interest in such a wider dialogue.

    4. Concurrently, the United States should activate a credible and energetic effort to finally reach an Israeli-Palestinian peace, making it clear in the process as to what the basic parameters of such a final accommodation ought to involve.

      The United States needs to convince the region that the U.S. is committed both to Israel's enduring security and to fairness for the Palestinians who have waited for more than forty years now for their own separate state. Only an external and activist intervention can promote the long-delayed settlement for the record shows that the Israelis and the Palestinians will never do so on their own. Without such a settlement, both nationalist and fundamentalist passions in the region will in the longer run doom any Arab regime which is perceived as supportive of U.S. regional hegemony.
    After World War II, the United States prevailed in the defense of democracy in Europe because it successfully pursued a long-term political strategy of uniting its friends and dividing its enemies, of soberly deterring aggression without initiating hostilities, all the while also exploring the possibility of negotiated arrangements. Today, America's global leadership is being tested in the Middle East. A similarly wise strategy of genuinely constructive political engagement is now urgently needed.

    It is also time for the Congress to assert itself.