Thursday, November 30, 2006

Maliki Says Iraqis Can Take Over Security By June 2007

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki said that Iraqis could take over Iraqi security by June 2007.
"I can say that Iraqi forces will be ready, fully ready, to receive this command and to command its own forces, and I can tell you that by next June our forces will be ready," Maliki said in an interview with ABC News after his meeting with Bush. Asked whether he would disarm militias such as the Mahdi Army of Moqtada al-Sadr, an anti-American Shiite Muslim cleric, Maliki, himself a Shiite, said, "Definitely. And the government is doing that with all militias, with no exception. There will be only the arms for government troops."
Will anyone remember this promise in June 2007?

Some Experts Critique Stephen Hadley's 'Leaked' Memo

In an interesting article by reporters for McClatchy Newspapers some experts were asked for their views on the feasibility of policy suggestions made by NSC advisor Stephen Hadley which was 'leaked' just before Bush met with al Maliki. Here are some of their views:
Trying to push anti-U.S. Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada al-Sadr out of the ruling coalition led by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, as the memo suggests, would be throwing gasoline on a fire, they said. Sadr's party is the largest in parliament, with 32 seats, and Maliki became prime minister only with his support. Sadr's Mahdi Army militia controls large parts of Baghdad and southern Iraq, and many Iraqi Shiites hail him as their only protection from attacks by rival Sunni Muslims, which American and Iraqi forces have failed to stop. 'Sadr is aware of the considerable extent to which his forces ... constitute a significant part of the power in the streets, and there is no reason why he would simply want to surrender that leverage,' said Paul Pillar, the former top U.S. intelligence analyst on the Middle East.
And again:
Trying to force Sadr out of the government - in which his followers control some of the key ministries - and crack down on his militia almost certainly would lead to the government's collapse. It also would ignite a wave of violence by his militia and supporters in Baghdad and the Shiite-dominated south, much of it probably aimed at the U.S.-led multinational force. 'Sadr is not going to rein in the Mahdi Army,' said Vali Nasr of the Naval Postgraduate School, in Monterey, Calif., and the author of a new book on modern political Shiism.
On a second Hadley suggestion:
Hadley suggested that Maliki overhaul his Cabinet by replacing key members of Shiite and Sunni religious parties with "nonsectarian, capable technocrats." But the Iraqi Constitution requires that new ministers be approved by two-thirds of parliament, a vote that Sadr could block. A Cabinet shakeup also would unravel the power-sharing deal on controlling the ministries that took the religious parties months to negotiate. "The ministries are run like fiefdoms," Nasr said. "Most ministers don't even come to Cabinet meetings."
On a third Hadley suggestion:
Experts also were skeptical of a Hadley proposal that the United States provide "monetary support" for forming a new coalition of moderate Shiite, Sunni and ethnic Kurdish parliamentarians to keep Maliki in power if he's unable to cut loose from Sadr. Several experts wondered what moderates Hadley was referring to. Moreover, such an alliance would require Maliki to forge stronger bonds with Sadr's chief rival, Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim. He's the head of another Shiite party that belongs to the ruling coalition and whose militia maintains even closer ties to the Islamic regime of neighboring Iran than the Mahdi Army does. Finding Sunnis to join such a grouping would be impossible, because Hakim has been a leading proponent of purging members of deposed dictator Saddam Hussein's Baath Party from the bureaucracy and the military, Nasr said.
Maliki already has tried unsuccessfully to implement some of Hadley's ideas, several experts noted. These include attempts to purge the police and Interior Ministry of sectarian death squads and to disarm militias. Phebe Marr, a leading U.S. expert on Iraq, said that some of the more modest ideas that Hadley proposed in the memo - such as appointing technocrats to the government and cleaning up the Interior Ministry - were achievable. "I think these small steps can be done. I think Maliki is doing them. But we have very different perceptions of time and timetable," Marr said, referring to growing political pressure in the United States to withdraw troops. As for a "spectacular breakthrough" from the Iraqi government in the near future, "forget it," she said.
Stephen Hadley's 'leaked' memo can be seen here.

Juan Cole on What Maliki Wants from Bush

Today Juan Cole helps us understand some of the details often left out of criticism of al Maliki's performance: "Al-Maliki has been pressing Washington for some time to give him the authority to order much bigger battle units into action without securing permission first from the US military. The PM has been frustrated that he isn't allowed to set security policy but then is blamed for not achieving security." Hmmmm. That's typical of nearly all our performance in Iraq: we jealously guard the power but criticize them if things go wrong; and scapegoating the Iraqis has recently become the US power elite's favorite tune.

What Will Bush Do About Iraq?

Thomas Powers writes on intelligence and has an interesting Op-Ed in today's New York Times. It points to the past stubborness of presidents faced with bad war options like Johnson in Vietnam. It points to Robert Gates' role in facilitating the secret war against the Contras even after Congress had passed the Boland amendment trying to stop it and how Gates proved a loyal CIA soldier for two presidents. Powers concludes:
Today the choice facing Washington is not quite as stark as the one that confronted Lyndon Johnson in 1965, but it is close. Mr. Gates has spent the last nine months working as a member of the Iraq Study Group, whose much awaited recommendations will be revealed next Wednesday. Getting out is the simplest remedy, but no one wants to shoulder the blame for what follows. Staying the course has already been rejected by the president. That leaves only some kind of altered or renewed effort to postpone the day of reckoning. Defeating the insurgents is only half of the challenge; harder will be finding some way to restrain or disband the Shiite militias without bringing them into the war against us. Down that road would lie a spiraling conflict as protracted and unwinnable as the war in Vietnam. The Republicans may have lost the midterm elections, but to my ear, on the subject of Iraq, the president has never sounded ready to accept anything that might be called defeat. Iraq is not Vietnam, but we are the same. We find ourselves, at a parallel moment, militarily committed to a policy on the verge of conspicuous failure. The American people, now as then, are unsettled by the phrase “cut and run” and reluctant to put their judgment ahead of the president’s. Above all, American presidents are the same. Bad news from Baghdad and opposition at home may point to a lowering of expectations, at the very least, but I wouldn’t bet on it. Presidents take failure personally, can lift their voices above the din of opponents, and can use the immense power of their office to force events in the directions they choose. The verdict of the elections was clear. The public wants to let Iraqis handle their own troubles from here on out, while we start bringing our soldiers home. But that’s not what President Bush has said he wants, so there will very likely be a series of fights over Iraq that will extend to the president’s last day in office. Robert Gates is smart, quiet, dogged and loyal: a well-considered choice for defense secretary by a president determined to bring home that “coonskin on the wall,” to borrow a phrase made memorable by an earlier president in a similar fix, Lyndon Johnson.
I agree with Mr. Powers that this is indeed the most likely outcome. The one possibility I hadn't thought of is that our actions might bring the Shia into the war against us; oh my, and I thought I was pessimistic.

Perhaps Iraq Study Group Might Make a Difference

This is an important article from the New York Times. It sounds like although the Baker-Hamiliton Iraq Study Group did come up with a compromise at least it recommends "a gradual pullback of the 15 American combat brigades now in Iraq but stop[s] short of setting a firm timetable for their withdrawal."

The compromise includes a recommendation for "pullback" which means redeployment and would presumably take a substantial number of our troops out of daily combat and thus limit casualties: "The report leaves unstated whether the 15 combat brigades that are the bulk of American fighting forces in Iraq would be brought home, or simply pulled back to bases in Iraq or in neighboring countries. (A brigade typically consists of 3,000 to 5,000 troops.)" By not insisting on a timetable and not telling the administration how to achieve this pullback it allows maximum flexibility to the administration and increases the likelihood the administration can more comfortably adopt the recomendation; very cagily diplomatic that Baker. (But I will NEVER forgive James Baker for being responsible for bullying George W Bush into the presidency in Florida in 2000; he foisted this ignorant, stubborn incompetent on us.)

The recommendations also agree with what I have previously argued is perhaps the key to getting out: "Committee members struggled with ways, short of a deadline, to signal to the Iraqis that Washington would not prop up the government with military forces endlessly." We have to put real pressure on the Iraqis to take over themselves and, I would add, offer to help the Iraqis when requested. Then we get out of the 'occupier' position and become an invited helper.

Finally, "the bulk of the report by the Baker-Hamilton group focused on a recommendation that the United States devise a far more aggressive diplomatic initiative in the Middle East than Mr. Bush has been willing to try so far, including direct engagement with Iran and Syria. Initially, those contacts might be part of a regional conference on Iraq or broader Middle East peace issues, like the Israeli-Palestinian situation, but they would ultimately involve direct, high-level talks with Tehran and Damascus."

This is to the good and perhaps it will help the administration get over its allergy to negotiation. What is not so clear to me is precisely how Damascus and Tehran can actually affect the situation in Iraq. However, if there is an increased and serious effort to make progress upon the Israeli-Palestinian conflict I suspect this would have manifold benefits.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

It's Looking Like Laura Rozen Was Right

Laura Rozen reported on a possible tilt toward the Shia and against the Sunnis within the Bush administration. I'm coming to the conclusion she was right about this at least as a backup plan or a threat. Plan A seems to be to lean on the Iraqi Sunnis to give more support to the al Maliki government while also leaning on al Maliki to disarm Muqtada al Sadr's Mahdi militia. I think there are a number of reasons this isn't likely to succeed (see my What Next post).

When and if this fails, Plan B could be to forget about reconciliation between Sunnis and Shia, forget about 'national unity government, and side with the majority Shia against the Sunnis. The Shia could probably drive the Sunnis out of Baghdad and perhaps isolate them in the Sunni Triangle. (There was a report today that our troops are admitting defeat in Al Anbar province, which, if I'm not mistaken is much of the Sunni triangle. What if all troops from Al Anbar went to Baghdad?) Of course if the administration sided with the Iraqi Shia, Sunni governments in Saudi Arabia, Syria, Egypt, and Jordan would be very upset. At least the Saudis would worry about political mobilization of their Shia minority. The Shia Iranians and Shia Hizballah would of course be very much strengthened.

That such a Plan B is being considered, at least as a threat to pressure Iraqi Sunnis to compromise and cooperate with an Iraqi Shia-dominated government, comes from Laura Rozen's piece, from this video of an MSNBC interview with Thomas Ricks of the Washington Post who has superb Pentagon sources, as well as other hints. The other hints include: 1) this line from a New York Times article, "'There’s been some discussion about whether you just try to deal first with the Sunni insurgency, but that would mean being seen to be taking just one side of the fight, which would not be acceptable,' the administration official said, speaking on condition of anonymity under normal diplomatic practice." Obviously "taking one side" against the Sunni insurgency is being considered. 2) this other snippet from Laura Rozen re Cheney, "The fault lines going into that meeting included Cheney's office and some in the NSC arguing for more aggressively backing the Shias, and in particular, Hakim. Note the Hadley memo's recommendation to press Hakim/SCIRI to support Maliki, and the overall concern about whether Maliki is up to the task."

Since there are such significant downsides to Plan B I wonder if it isn't more in play as a threat with which to pressure moderate Sunnis to support al Maliki's government. My overall reading leads me to the hunch that the administration will send some more troops to Baghdad as a last ditch attempt to stop sectarian violence and disarm the Mahdi militia and that as usual there will be no benchmarks to judge whether this plan is succeeding and this will simply extend Bush's 'stay the course' stance in Iraq indefinitely. Bush and Cheney absolutely hate to compromise or admit they have been wrong so they'll do something that they package as a 'new' approach and keep on keepin' on. Never forget that 'packaging' is their longest suit and they'll say anything to 'sell' their latest gambit.

What Next for Bush in Iraq?

In the jockeying for power preparatory to any change in Bush administration policy in Iraq there has been a flurry of reports. As I noted in prior posts Laura Rozen is hearing that the administration may be tilting toward the Shia against the Sunnis. Tom Hayden reported a scenario that suggested a tilt toward the Sunnis against the Shia. The New York Times reported this yesterday:
When Mr. Bush and Ms. Rice arrive in Amman on Wednesday, they will try to enlist help from Sunni Arab leaders to try to rein in the violence in Iraq by putting pressure on Sunni insurgents…. Specifically, the United States wants Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt to work to drive a wedge between the Iraqi prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, and the anti-American Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr, whose Mahdi Army has been behind many of the Shiite reprisal attacks in Iraq, a senior administration official said. That would require getting the predominantly Sunni Arab nations to work to get moderate Sunni Iraqis to support Mr. Maliki, a Shiite. That would theoretically give Mr. Maliki the political strength necessary to take on Mr. Sadr’s Shiite militias. “There’s been some discussion about whether you just try to deal first with the Sunni insurgency, but that would mean being seen to be taking just one side of the fight, which would not be acceptable,” the administration official said, speaking on condition of anonymity under normal diplomatic practice.
This report suggests a two-prong strategy of putting pressure on Iraqi Sunni insurgents, using the Saudis, Jordan and Egypt to help with this while at the same time pressuring al Maliki to break with Moktada al-Sadr and disarm the Mahdi militia associated with al-Sadr. In an earlier post I mentioned Barbara Walter’s book on civil wars, Committing to Peace. One of the most difficult steps in negotiating the end of a civil war is getting each side to lay down its arms and trust that promises made in negotiations will be honored. To me it seems like this would be nearly impossible in Iraq because there are not yet even open negotiations between the al Maliki government and the insurgency much less any promises made. However, the Sadrist walkout of the parliament today and suspension of support for al Maliki’s government does show new stress on the relationship between al Maliki and the Sadrists.

This leaked memo of Stephen Hadley’s does seem to suggest that an important prong of the administration’s policy is to attempt to split al Maliki from al Sadr and to somehow get the Mahdi militia disarmed. This will be extremely difficult to do. My reading of the New York Times article on this leak suggests that it was planned by the administration. Why? Perhaps to place pressure on al Maliki just prior to Bush’s meeting with him tomorrow. Bush’s history suggests he likes to put pressure on people to get them to lean more his way.

One part of this program is to demonize Moktada al Sadr and it is remarkable what an unseemly rush the main stream media is to jump on this bandwagon. The news in the last few days has suddenly seemed to be filled with dramatic stories about this “most dangerous man in Iraq” (next Monday’s cover story in Newsweek!). I don’t have enough knowledge of al Sadr to make a strong judgment about him one way or the other but the way the press supinely presses the administration line of the moment is deplorable. They are so anxious to jump on the bandwagon and scapegoat someone. In their knee-jerk demonization of our opponents they fail in their duty to clarify and inform our public about reality and instead they encourage a soap opera version of the news.

The weakness in the administration’s blame al Maliki and demonize al Sadr move are pointed out in another article in the New York Times:
[It appears] American military and political leverage in Iraq has fallen sharply…. American fortunes here are ever more dependent on feuding Iraqis who seem, at times, almost heedless to American appeals, American and Iraqi officials in Baghdad say. They say they see few policy options that can turn the situation around, other than for Iraqi leaders to come to a realization that time is running out. It is not clear that the United States can gain new traction in Iraq with some of the proposals outlined in a classified [leaked] White House memorandum…. Many of the proposals appear to be based on an assumption that the White House memo itself calls into question: that Prime Minister Maliki can be persuaded to break with 30 years of commitment to Shiite religious identity and set a new course, or abandon the ruling Shiite religious alliance to lead a radically different kind of government, a moderate coalition of Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish politicians…. Against these judgments, some key passages in the Hadley memo seem at odds with the reality on the ground, as if the steady worsening of America’s prospects here has driven the White House to reach for solutions that defy the gloomy conclusions of America’s diplomats and field commanders, not to mention some of Mr. Maliki’s closest political associates…. Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq’s most powerful Shiite cleric, has been clear… that the Shiites must subordinate their differences to the cause of consolidating Shiite power. So it is hard to imagine Mr. Maliki approaching Ayatollah Sistani to win approval “for actions that could split the Shia politically,” as the Hadley memo suggests. Shiite leaders, who are tiring of Mr. Maliki, appear to be thinking of replacing him with another Shiite religious leader, and not of sundering the alliance and surrendering the power the Shiites have awaited for centuries. But if recent interviews in Baghdad with senior American and Iraqi officials are a guide, a bigger problem for the administration in effecting change here may be that the United States, in toppling Saddam Hussein and sponsoring elections that brought the Shiites to power, began a process that left Washington with ever-diminishing influence.
One reason for the declining American influence lies in policies that, for various reasons, alienated the political class, most of them former exiles like Mr. Maliki who rode back to Baghdad on the strength of American military power. Many Shiite leaders resent the Americans for compelling them to share power in the new government with the minority Sunni Arabs — a policy, the Shiites say, that guaranteed paralysis for the government. Sunni leaders still resent the American invasion, and the imposition of an electoral process that ended centuries of Sunni dominance. Just as much, they fume over the pervasive influence of neighboring Iran, which backs the Shiite parties. And secular politicians, marginalized by the Shiite and Sunni Islamist politicians who dominate the government, say they, too, have lost faith in the Americans, for failing to protect Iraq’s secular traditions. “Politically, their position is weaker in all aspects,” Mahmoud Othman, a Kurdish leader, said of the Americans. “They just got weaker and weaker, and many more people who were supporting them are supporting them less.”

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Tilting in Iraq, Part 2

Laura Rozen pointed out this from the Washington Post as evidence for her view that the Bush administration may tilt toward the Sunnis:
But in a sign of the discord in Washington, the senior U.S. intelligence official said the situation requires that the administration abandon its long-held goal of national reconciliation and instead "pick a winner" in Iraq. He said he understands that means the Sunnis are likely to bolt from the fragile government. "That's the price you're going to have to pay," he said.
This "senior U.S. intelligence official" was not identified in the article and note that the article says his comments were "a sign of the discord in Washington". Thus we still don't know what the administration is going to do and who, if anyone, they are going to tilt toward.

But here's a scenario stressing accomodating the Sunnis, under the title "Will Bush Rehabilitate the Baathists?" Juan Cole reports from Arabic newspaper Al-Zaman but doesn't say whether Al-Zaman tends to be biased toward Sunnis or not.

Flailing of the Bushies

Juan Cole observed that the Bush administration is panicked and hasn't much idea what to do in Iraq and thus is flailing around. Something like this does seem to be true.
This process sounds so muddled because Washington is flailing around without the slightest idea of what could be done, practically speaking, in Iraq, according to Time: "Several officials who are in touch with commission members said that with violence appearing to spiral out of control in Iraq, the group has been flummoxed about finding a solution. "There's complete bewilderment as to what to do," one official said. "They're very frustrated. They can't come up with anything. For the last couple months, they've been thrashing around, calling people, trying to find ideas."
I think this flailing around for a solution after the elections has also activated the various groups in Iraq to jockey more aggressively for power.

Thank You Jimmy Carter

Former President Jimmy Carter has just published a book entitled, Palestine Peace Not Apartheid. In it he tries to take a more even-handed view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and as a result we already hear the charges of anti-semitism. If anyone thinks it possible to criticize Israel in the U.S. without being charged with anti-semitism they must either be blindly pro-Israeli or not paying attention. Carter mentions the Israel lobby in the U.S. and its suppression of criticism of Israel, however, the fact of his waiting until he was 82 to publish this book is itself likely implicit evidence of the Israel lobby's power; if he had published as a younger man it would have tempted the lobby to brand him anti-semitic and discourage many from listening to him. Already the knee-jerk criticisms can be heard from otherwise liberal Democrats like Nancy Pelosi and John Conyers who fear the electoral power of the lobby. If you don't believe in this power read former-Congressman Paul Findley's book, They Dare to Speak Out: People and Institutions Confront Israel's Lobby.

Here is another recent article regarding the Israel lobby and its attacks upon academic freedom: Academic Freedom Declines Across the United States.

Here's another from Inside Higher Ed.

Here's another based upon Stalinist right-winger (no, this is not a contradiction in terms) David Horowitz who 40 years ago was on the left.

Nir Rosen on Iraq

Nir Rosen recently published a long and informative article on his reporting in Iraq. As a journalistic account it provides much information but in a somewhat difficult to assimilate fashion because of the way the subparts are strung together. But here is an important excerpt:
With the January 30, 2005, electoral success of the Shia parties, the balance of power between Shias and Sunnis shifted, initiating an apartheid process. In the ministry of health, pictures of Muqtada and his father were everywhere.... And in the ministry of transportation, walls were adorned with Shia posters, including some specifically supporting Muqtada. Sadrists instituted a program they called “cleansing the ministry of Saddamists,” with “Saddamist” defined so broadly that all Sunnis felt vulnerable. Ousted Sunnis were replaced by Shias with no apparent qualifications.... Efficiency dropped; the ministries of health and transportation barely functioned, and the ministry of the interior operated an anti-Sunni death squad. Its secret prisons were uncovered in November 2005.... Elections may have represented a victory for the Bush administration, but they also enshrined sectarianism more deeply in Iraq.
The bottomline, it seems to me, is that the very insistence upon Iraqi elections may have exacerbated sectarian splits between Shia and Sunni. This again underlines how devilishly complicated it is to intervene in a foreign culture, topple the existing government and then believe you will be able to easily and successfully take actions that will only have intended consequences. Apparently the U.S.'s actions in Iraq have frequently had the unintended consequence of fracturing the country into warring sectarian and tribal factions and encouraging civil war.

Monday, November 27, 2006

The Salience of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

I have been impressed how many times in my reading I have come across example after example of Middle Eastern governments placing primary emphasis upon resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict even in the context of other obviously important problems which might have taken precedence. I am collecting these examples for my book. Here is the latest one. In a New York Times article on the Middle East a portion was devoted to Cheney's visit to Saudi Arabia. The Saudis have a lot of worries at this time including the increasing influence of Iran, their fears of masses of Iraqi refugees flooding into their country, their worries that growing Shia power and confidence might inflame their Shia minority, etc. The Times reported:
During an interview on the ABC News program “This Week” on Sunday, [Saudi] King Abdullah said that his agenda with the president extended beyond Iraq, and that his top concern in the region was the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians — which he called the “core issue” in the Middle East — along with tensions in Lebanon.
I believe that the the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is certainly a core issue for the U.S. in that a satisfactory solution would likely do much to lessen the terrorist threat against the U.S., purportedly Bush's main goal. Yet the administration has carried out a policy that Bill Gallagher appropriately called "malign neglect".

Inanities of 'Tough' Foreign Policy Advocates

A perfect example of the absurd inanities uttered by 'tough' foreign policy advocates was offered by Bush National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley. In a New York Times article published today Mr. Hadley favored us with a gem of sage opinion that undoubtedly exemplifies the quality of advice he has been sharing with Bush for the last several years. In an article reporting that the Baker Iraq Study Group would recommend that the U.S. talk with Iran and Syria in an attempt to improve the situation in Iraq Mr. Hadley, in his wisdom, emitted this pearl: "'Talking isn’t a strategy,' he said...." My goodness, here is an insight so blindingly brilliant that it will surely be heard round the world: "Talking isn't a strategy." Many of us will be glad that Mr. Hadley has disabused us of the belief, certainly widely held, that 'talking' is a strategy.

I frankly have difficulty understanding how this nonsense is reported without some critical comment. Clearly, no one in their right mind thought 'talking' was a strategy, and yet the National Security Advisor of the United States of America is apparently allowed to erect this strawman and deftly knock it to the ground without comment by the New York Times. Apparently Mr. Hadley does believe that NOT talking to our opponents is a strategy because the Bush administration has pursued this 'strategy' all over the world: they haven't talked (much) to the North Koreans, they haven't talked to the Iranians, they currently aren't talking to the Syrians, they refuse to deal with the democratically elected Hamas government of the Palestinians, they have ignored the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for six years, etc. The Bush administration didn't even have a strategic vision for their war of choice in Iraq; and THEY are enlightening the rest of us benighted auditors on what is and what is not a strategy?

Such inane, knee-jerk opposition to talks and negotiations with our foreign opponents is a prime part of the explanation of Why Pseudo-Conservatives Can't Do Foreign Policy.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

More Signs of Change in Iraq

I don't believe in saying I understand something better than I do so at this point I can share that it seems as though there are increasing signs of jockeying for power and possible realignment of alliances going on in Iraq, however, I don't know how to accurately judge the significance of these signs or predict the outcome. If one looks at recent posts of Juan Cole and Laura Rozen you may see what I mean. Cole reports:

Harith al-Dhari, Secretary-General of the Association of Muslim Scholars said in Cairo that the Arab League and the United Nations should withdraw their support from the Shiite-dominated government of PM Nuri al-Maliki.

This sounds like non-Iraqi Sunnis trying to weaken support for the Shia-dominated al Maliki government. Cole also reports:
Iraqi Speaker Mahmud al-Mashhadani recommended entrusting peshmargas with guarding members of the Iraqi Council of Representatives. Al-Mashhadani made his recommendation during the council's in camera session that discussed the members' safety, today 23 November 06. Al-Mashhadani's proposal comes following an unsuccessful assassination attempt against him in which his convoy was targeted by explosive devises.
For a long time the Kurdish militia, the Peshmerga, has wanted to be allowed by the Americans to be more involved in defeating the insurgency and increasing the power of the Kurds. Presumably the Americans wanted to do it without calling on militias representing only sub-groups within Iraq. This report makes it sound like the Kurdish Peshmerga may be called upon now to become more involved.

Moreover, Laura Rozen noted a newspaper report:
Followers of the militant Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr took over state-run television Saturday to denounce the Iraqi government, label Sunnis 'terrorists' and issue what appeared to many viewers as a call to arms. [...] Al-Maliki's administration acknowledged it was powerless to interrupt the pro-Sadr program on the official Iraqiya channel, during which Sadr City residents shouted, 'There is no government! There is no state!' Several speakers described neighborhoods and well-known Sunni politicians as 'terrorists' and threatened them with reprisal.
This sounds like further disintegration of the Iraqi central government's power and Sadrists, who have until recently been within the al Maliki coalition now calling for al Maliki's fall. As I said, what I sense in this is increased jockeying for power, possible disintegration of the central government's support, and the possibility of new power alignments within Iraq and among the surrounding states. This seems to have been accelerated by the American elections which makes it look to all as though potential changes in American policy might be imminent; thus Iraqi and regional groups are trying to get themselves in the strongest possible position.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Chuck Hagel's Views on Iraq

Senator Chuck Hagel Republican of Nebraska has written an excellent article for the Washington Post outlining his latest assessment of the Iraq war. Here are a few of his comments:

The time for more U.S. troops in Iraq has passed. We do not have more troops to send and, even if we did, they would not bring a resolution to Iraq. Militaries are built to fight and win wars, not bind together failing nations. We are once again learning a very hard lesson in foreign affairs: America cannot impose a democracy on any nation -- regardless of our noble purpose. We have misunderstood, misread, misplanned and mismanaged our honorable intentions in Iraq with an arrogant self-delusion reminiscent of Vietnam. Honorable intentions are not policies and plans. Iraq belongs to the 25 million Iraqis who live there. They will decide their fate and form of government.

While I wish Sen. Hagel was correct that: "We are once again learning a very hard lesson in foreign affairs: America cannot impose a democracy on any nation--regardless of our noble purpose." I truly doubt this because it will only be true if a coherent criticism of the authoritarian pseudo-conservative 'tough' foreign policy position can be systematically countered by an organized articulate opposition. This takes numbers of people, an articulated position and, most of all, guts. The fear-mongers of the right have the easiest sell and too often there are 'liberals' who join them in advocating a combative, militaristic, crusading foreign policy. Reasonable critics of the 'bully' theory of foreign policy must have the courage to stand for what they believe even in the face of being called names like 'soft' and 'appeasers'.

If You Didn't Think Iraq Could Get Worse, Look Again

It's hard to imagine how anyone could read Juan Cole's posts on Iraq in the last couple of days and not think that a situation that was already horrible has suddenly worsened. I'm not sure why this is but the sectarian conflict between Shia and Sunnis appears to have escalated. I suppose that it's possible that the American elections have alerted everyone that U.S. participation in Iraq might soon change and motivated all groups to make desperate efforts to strengthen their power positions in case any important decisions are made soon. The Washington Post is also commenting upon this deterioration; however, if you read this WAPO article be sure to read further down below all the usual verbal nonsense uttered by the administration.

Friday, November 24, 2006

New Ideas for Health Care for All

Balanced Choice Health Care is a new set of ideas that Ivan Miller, PhD has developed to implement an American health insurance system which will cover everyone. He has been working on this for 12 years. I have added a link on my blog to Balanced Choice because I believe this proposal merits serious attention.

The Balanced Choice proposal has innovative ideas. It provides universal coverage, avoids rigid government price controls, allows full choice of provider, gives providers freedom to set fees, frees employers from providing health care coverage, and utilizes very little managed care. The system costs less than is currently being spent on health care. Because it is good for employers, providers and consumers, it has the potential to create a political alliance that can result in fixing health care financing.

Is Balanced Choice too good to be true? It is not that Balanced Choice is too good to be true, but that the current insurance-driven and managed care system is so bad that there is plenty of money for a sensible system. After all, the U.S. has the most expensive system in the world, 46 million uninsured, and only mediocre outcomes compared to other industrialized countries. Balanced Choice would merely provide the quality, accessibility, and efficiency that the U.S. deserves considering how much is already being spent on health care.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

New Peace Feelers in Iraq

Today The Times of London published a story consistent with the report Tom Hayden shared two days ago. The Times said that a new phase of negotiation between the Sunni+Baathist insurgency and the Shia-dominated al Maliki government would soon begin. This appears to conflict with Laura Rozen's reporting that the Bush administration was planning a tilt toward the Shia and against the Sunni+Baathist insurgency.

We are in a state of policy flux right now because of the pressure placed on politicians by the U.S. elections; there will be a number of attempts to find a way to at least appear to be trying to end the conflict. There was a report that British troops may leave Southern Iraq by next spring.

It is entirely possible that both the Shia tilt and the Sunni tilt plans and more are being considered simultaneously. Now is the time to take a look at Barbara F. Walter's book, Committing to Peace: The Successful Settlement of Civil Wars. Walter's book is an empirical study of the 72 civil wars fought between 1940 and 1992 and chronicles all the major difficulties encountered in trying to arrange a negotiated peace. After reviewing prior theories about civil war resolution her major conclusion is (p. 17): "Negotiations are unlikely to succeed unless an outside power is willing to guarantee the security of the combatants during demobilization, and unless specific political, military, or territorial guarantees are written into the terms of the treaty." In other words treaties fall apart because combatants don't trust one another to lay down their arms and adhere to agreements unless an outside power guarantees enforcement of treaty provisions. This emphasizes how important it will be in Iraq that some adequate and credible outside force supports and guarantees any agreements reached. There are obstacles to even reaching the stage of serious negotiaitions and Walter discusses those as well.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Tilting in Iraq: Toward Shia or Sunnis?

In a previous post I noted Laura Rozen's article suggesting the Bush administration was planning a tilt toward Iraq's Shia as a new strategy for more quickly extracting themselves from their self-inflicted quagmire. Now comes Tom Hayden with what sounds to me like his guess that there will be a Bush administration tilt, but toward the Sunni insurgents minus al Qaeda. Hayden speculates that such a tilt "could include a political coup against Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki." Of course al Maliki is a Shia. Someone has to be wrong here but I don't know whom. We'll just have to keep watching.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Guard Against Post-Election Over-Optimism About Iraq?

Here are some excerpts from Seymour Hersh's latest New Yorker piece, The Next Act:
“Iraq is the disaster we have to get rid of, and Iran is the disaster we have to avoid,” Joseph Cirincione, the vice-president for national security at the liberal Center for American Progress, said. “Gates will be in favor of talking to Iran and listening to the advice of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but the neoconservatives are still there”—in the White House—“and still believe that chaos would be a small price for getting rid of the threat. The danger is that Gates could be the new Colin Powell—the one who opposes the policy but ends up briefing the Congress and publicly supporting it".... [A] former senior intelligence official said[:] “Cheney knew this was coming. Dropping Rummy after the election looked like a conciliatory move—‘You’re right, Democrats. We got a new guy and we’re looking at all the options. Nothing is ruled out.’ ” But the conciliatory gesture would not be accompanied by a significant change in policy; instead, the White House saw Gates as someone who would have the credibility to help it stay the course on Iran and Iraq. Gates would also be an asset before Congress. If the Administration needed to make the case that Iran’s weapons program posed an imminent threat, Gates would be a better advocate than someone who had been associated with the flawed intelligence about Iraq. The former official said, “He’s not the guy who told us there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and he’ll be taken seriously by Congress.”
Hersh reminds us that it would be dangerously naive to assume that Gates' replacement of Rumsfeld and the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group will get us out of Iraq or devise a better solution to Iran's nuclear ambitions (whatever those are) than a U.S. military attack on Iran. Hersh also correctly notes that Israeli hawks are pushing hard to get us to either attack Iran or give them the go ahead to attack. Our Middle East policy continues to hurtle toward the abyss; instead of trying to minimize Muslim hatred toward the U.S. and Israel we are engaging in policies that will make our terrorism problem worse. This is one of the most remarkable ironies of the Bush administration: while trumpeting their concern to fight terrorism and protect the American people they are increasing terrorism and making us less safe.

Bush not only exacerbates our problems with Iraq, Iran and Syria, but his "malign neglect" worsens the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Pulitzer prize winner Bill Gallagher is correct: "More than any other measure, more than 10 million airport-security officers, more than walls and sealed borders, a resolution to the Palestine issue will do more to stem terrorism, help pacify the region and protect U.S. security than anything else."

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Have Americans Become More 'Conservative'?

Examining survey data carried out from 1972 to 2000 Karen Stenner (The Authoritarian Dynamic, pp. 189-92) suggested that over this 29 year period Americans have become more "intolerant." This racial, political and moral intolerance has not been primarily due to 'conservatism' but to 'authoritarianism.' Stenner wrote (p. 191): "Authoritarianism is the primary determinant of general intolerance of difference in the contemporary United States, and it becomes increasingly powerful over time.... Authoritarianism alone can explain a quarter of the variance in all intolerance of difference in [1972-82], and very nearly half the variance in [1990-2000].... Both the explanatory power and impact of conservatism are far more modest, and they generally diminish from the earlier to the later period, as the traditions conservatives are dedicated to conserving grow increasingly tolerant."

This suggests that what was growing in the United States over the 1972-2000 period was not the expression of 'conservatism'; rather it was the expression of racial, political and moral intolerance that was increasing, i.e., authoritarianism.

Although "punitiveness" plays a role in authoritarianism, as a sidelight it is interesting to note that it apparently played no significant role in accounting for intolerance during this period. Why? Stenner wrote (p. 191): "The United States is one of the most extraordinarily punitive nations, by every indicator, and by any comparison, not limited to liberal democracies or 'advanced' economies. This exceptional punitiveness includes, among other things, the proportion of the population imprisoned or otherwise in the 'care' of the criminal justice system; the severity of sentencing for minor crimes; and support for, imposition and execution of the death penalty [sources provided].... Since there is nothing the least bit abnormal about extreme punitiveness in the United States, then or now, we cannot expect authoritarianism to exercise much influence in regulating intolerant responses in that domain, then or now." In other words, if we're trying to explain variation in intolerant views over time, then a potential contributor that doesn't vary much (punitiveness) isn't likely to help.

Stenner (pp. 192-95) also examined the comparative influence of conservatism vs. authoritarianism upon the variation in racially intolerant views in both 1972 and 1996. She found that whereas conservatism explained some racial intolerance in 1972, given the generally increasing racial tolerance over 1972-96, conservatism accounted for very little racial intolerance in 1996. However, at both points in time authoritarianism accounted for a good deal of the variation in racial intolerance.

Bottom line: It is absolutely critical for accurate understanding of the U.S. political landscape to carefully differentiate conservatism from pseudo-conservative authoritarianism.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Conservatives, Liberals and Authoritarians: Cleaning Up American Political Terminology

In her The Authoritarian Dynamic, political scientist Karen Stenner has been a great help in clarifying the landscape of American political ideology. On p. 138 Stenner wrote that "the way in which the notion of 'conservatism' is typically employed in American politics... hopelessly entangles... three dimensions we have so far striven to distinguish: authoritarianism, status quo conservatism and laissez faire conservatism.... In contemporary U.S. politics, 'conservative' does tend to mean, all at once, intolerance of difference, attached to the status quo, and opposed to government intervention in the economy."

Stenner correctly distinguishes these three ideological stances and argues that they can be largely independent of one another; one can endorse laissez faire and be quite critical of the status quo (say you were a bourgeois for laissez faire in Louis XVI's pre-revolutionary France), one can support the status quo and be opposed to laissez faire (say you were a loyal Communist under Brezhnev), and, most important of all for my purposes, being a 'conservative' who wishes to avoid radical or abrupt changes in the status quo does NOT make you an authoritarian (say you are a moderate Republican critical of the Bush-Cheney administration's super-patriotism, hyper-nationalism, moral intolerance, and subversion of political dissent).

Stenner, with characteristic conceptual care, differentiates 'status quo conservatism' from authoritarianism (p. 151): to status quo conservatives “a stable, institutionalized, and authoritatively supported respect for diversity should always be preferable to dismantling those well-established protections and moving toward an uncertain future holding out prospect of greater uniformity of people and beliefs, yet at the cost of intolerable social change and uncertainty.” In other words, if you want to preserve the status quo and you in fact exist in a society respecting diversity, then that’s the status quo you’d wish to preserve; however, if you’re an authoritarian existing in a diverse society you might wish for even abrupt radical changes in the status quo if they promised more uniformity of people and beliefs. A 'status quo conservative' presumably would support whatever status quo existed in his/her society; an authoritarian is predisposed to want uniformity of people and beliefs in whichever society he/she lives and may be willing to risk change to increase uniformity.

Let's parlay this into a clarification of American political ideology.

1) As both of the two patron saints of laissez faire doctrine, Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek believed, those supporting laissez faire should not be called ‘conservative’ at all, but ‘classical liberals’ (here I depart somewhat from Stenner in that I agree with Hayek and Friedman that 'laissez faire' and 'conservative' designate different views). If contemporaries won't take the word of Friedman and Hayek that 'conservative' is an inappropriate term it's because ideologues like William F. Buckley wished to 'fuse' disparate and often contradictory ideological traditions for their own intellectually inconsistent political purposes. Buckley and those around him in the 1950s put together a witch's brew of 'conservatism' that still confuses American political discourse today. A true conservative, like Edmund Burke, refers to someone who opposes abrupt and/or radical changes in contemporary social institutions but supports temperate evolutionary changes as needed. (Two qualifications: 1) in the U.S., with its longstanding and widely held commitment to less government and more 'free' market, a Burkean respecter of the status quo would also tend to support laissez faire, but this is a culturally and historically specific association; historically specific because there were times in American history when leaders who were in many ways staus quo conservatives advocated more government intervention in the economy: e.g., Alexander Hamilton, Henry Clay; 2) since capitalism is always a force for innovation, change, and "creative destruction", it is difficult to be consistently pro-capitalist, i.e., laissez faire, and be a Burkean respecter of the status quo. Go figure. I suspect laissez faire and status quo are too often contradictory.)

2) Classical liberals, like Friedman and Hayek, are opposed to undue interference in the economy, and in society more generally (they would oppose legislating morality), by the central government. The libertarian (see U.S. Libertarian Party) of today tends toward the beliefs of the classical liberal, but also strives for consistency in pursuing liberty by supporting strong civil liberties, opposing government legislation of morality (support for women's rights to abortion), and opposing a meddlesome, interventionist foreign policy requiring the central government to have a huge 'defense' and 'national security' establishment.

3) So what's a 'liberal'? The ‘modern liberal’ or ‘progressive’ believes that the rise and growth of modern corporations in the America of the 19th century has interfered massively and significantly in the 1825 (pre-industrial) world of the classical liberal; this growth has enabled corporations to interfere with the ‘free market’, enabled representatives of corporations to exercise excessive influence over government and elections, and enabled the ‘collectivism’ of the corporation to exercise undue influence over most social decisions (environment, health care, retirement, unionization of workers, development of law, popular tastes, favored entertainments, use of the broadcast airwaves, etc., etc., etc.). Thus the modern liberal believes that government--as the only institution within modern capitalist society having adequate power to regulate the corporation as well as being under some popular control through democratic elections--that this central government must be supported in its role of corporate regulation. Other than this, and with some notable backsliding (McCarthyism, the Cold War, the 'war on terror'), the modern liberal probably agrees with the libertarian on many issues. That the three examples of 'backsliding' that came to mind concern foreign policy is no coincidence; probably the biggest problem for modern liberalism is that 'liberals' support aggressive, 'idealistic' foreign policies in which the U.S. brings its 'superior' values to the poor and benighted of foreign lands. I believe such interference in the affairs of sovereign countries contradicts liberal principles of freedom, equality before the law, and self-determination for all peoples.

4) What is an "authoritarian" or pseudo-conservative? As Stenner argues, an authoritarian is someone who likely has an innate disposition to strongly favor uniformity of beliefs for all members of society, and sameness of characteristics of all members, and thus tends to be racially, politically and morally intolerant of diversity and dissent; the authoritarian when threatened or challenged by a perceived excess of diversity and/or dissent responds with an aggressive, coercive punitiveness aimed at suppressing unwanted difference and enforcing uniformity upon others. Thus, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, along with many of their most fervent supporters, are more accurately considered authoritarian pseudo-conservatives and should never have been labeled 'conservative' at all. Republicans like Dwight Eisenhower, Senator Robert Taft (1889-1953), and George H. W. Bush might more accurately be considered 'conservative'.

Clarification Regarding "The Authoritarian Dynamic"

In my Is There an Inborn Authoritarian Disposition? I wrote that Karen Stenner, author of The Authoritarian Dynamic, "doesn't really have much to say about the origins of authoritarianism, i.e., whether it is inborn temperament or not." Dr. Stenner has kindly corrected me on this stating:

I do in fact state explicitly and provide a good deal of empirical evidence (e.g., see Chapter 6!) that authoritarian predisposition is an "inborn temperament" (it is much like a personality disposition, and is in fact substantially related to lack of "openness to experience", one of the 'Big Five' personality factors). I argue and show that it is substantially genetically 'programmed', heritable, immutable. There are even studies of identical twins reared together or apart that provide pretty conclusive evidence on this point. So the predisposition sits there, latent, in a fair chunk of any country's population, and the key is that it can either remain quiescent and relatively innocuous, or else be activated and expressed openly in aggressive, racist and intolerant stances...

This is very interesting. Stenner presents data (see her pp. 91-2) supporting the interpretation that perhaps 59% of any national population could have an "authoritarian predisposition" while 39% could be predisposed to a libertarian stance. If I am reading this correctly it could give pseudo-conservative politicians an edge in working up the approximately 60% majority of authoritarians with their messages of fear and 'toughness'.

Friday, November 17, 2006

A Last Desperate Gambit to 'Save' Iraq War?

Yesterday Laura Rozen wrote in the LA Times that the Bush administration was considering a tilt toward the Iraqi Shiites. Today the same newspaper reports that the Shiite-dominated al Maliki government has issued a warrant for the arrest of a popular and prominent Sunni cleric, Shaikh Harith al-Dhari, the leader of the Association of Muslim Scholars. Juan Cole today wrote: “This arrest warrant, coming after the attack by Interior Ministry Special Police Commandos on the Sunni-led Ministry of Higher Education and recent kidnappings by the Sunni Arab guerrilla groups of Shiites-- all this activity points to a war among Iraq's major parties, many of whom have parts of the government under their control.”

Let us speculate by connecting some dots: 1) the election has placed great pressure on the administration to change its Iraqi policy; 2) Bush is very stubborn and may make a last stab at ‘saving’ his Iraq war policy; 3) Laura Rozen reported: “This past Veterans Day weekend, according to my sources, almost the entire Bush national security team gathered for an unpublicized two-day meeting. The topic: Iraq. The purpose of the meeting was to come up with a consensus position on a new path forward”; 4) today the al Maliki government issues an arrest warrant for a prominent Sunni opponent.

Virtually all of the Bush administration’s policies in the Middle East have been extremely risky and ill-advised. Laura Rozen wrote: “A U.S. tilt toward the Shiites is a risky strategy, one that could further alienate Iraq's Sunni neighbors and that could backfire by driving its Sunni population into common cause with foreign jihadists and Al Qaeda cells.” Recall that al Qaeda is a Sunni group. Although Bush’s favored ‘reason’ we can’t withdraw is that there would be “chaos” and “civil war” if we left, siding with the Shiites against the Sunnis would be likely to further enflame civil and sectarian war. We must never be surprised by such apparent contradictions. Most of the public pronouncements of the Bush administration are propaganda aimed to emotionally manipulate public opinion, not sincere revelations of their true motives. (Recall that Karl Rove's favorite book is Machiavelli's "The Prince".) What they say about their ‘reasons’ almost never accurately reflects their true thinking. That’s why Bush could say he was keeping Rumsfeld a couple of days before the election and fire him the day after. He blithely assumes that public statements can be false if he deems it necessary to influence the public.

I believe this again underlines why we must end our occupation of Iraq and only do those things we are called upon to do by the Iraqi authorities. (See my How to Get Out of Iraq.) We must stop trying to influence their affairs and only function as a helpful resource. If we engage in risky strategies to influence Iraq then we put ourselves in position to be blamed for any bad outcome and put ourselves at further risk of blowback.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Is There an Inborn Authoritarian Disposition?

I've been reading a wonderful book by Karen Stenner, The Authoritarian Dynamic. (The book is serious academic social science rather than light reading, but it's probably the most clearly thought through social science I've read in years.) Though she doesn't say so the book at least suggests the possibility that there could be an inborn temperamental tendency toward authoritarianism at one extreme and libertarianism at the other. Thinking about this possibility I was reminded of a lyric from Gilbert and Sullivan's operatta Iolanthe:

I often think it's comical
How Nature always does contrive
That every boy and every gal
That’s born into the world alive
Is either a little Liberal
Or else a little Conservative!

Actually I'm doing Dr. Stenner a disservice in a couple of ways: she doesn't really have much to say about the origins of authoritarianism, i.e., whether it is inborn temperament or not, and she explicitly does argue that authoritarianism is NOT equivalent to conservatism. I may be able to use this point later on because, as I've been at pains to argue (see Why Pseudo-Conservatives are not "Conservative"), I believe today's pseudo-conservative is an authoritarian and not a genuine conservative.

Pseudo-Conservative Contradictions, Part 2

This is a continuation of my earlier Pseudo-Conservative Contradictions. One of the best ways to see that pseudo-conservatives are not advocates of ‘liberty’ and ‘freedom’ as they constantly claim is by noting how they handle debate with opponents. Most pseudo-conservatives I hear use authoritarian tactics in debate which show they don’t foster ‘freedom of expression’. Prime among debating tools for pseudo-conservatives is the personal attack, the ad hominem tactic: attack the person and not the substance of the disagreement. Thus, you’ll hear those on the right, who otherwise maintain they are the arch defenders of liberty and freedom, use dismissive attacks on opponents like “cut and run”, “hate America first”, “unpatriotic”, etc. The goal is to encourage audiences to emotionally dismiss the opponent and not even listen to what they have to say. In other words, these defenders of liberty aim to squelch debate and the free exchange of ideas.

In an excellent book, The Authoritarian Dynamic, political scientist Karen Stenner gave a brief description of the predisposition to be authoritarian; she wrote (p. 16) that the stances taken by the authoritarian “have the effect of glorifying, encouraging, and rewarding uniformity and of disparaging, suppressing, and punishing difference.” Ad hominem attacks are attempts to glorify uniformity and suppress difference. On the other end of the continuum from authoritarianism is libertarianism. The true and consistent libertarian can reasonably make a claim that they are defenders of liberty. The pseudo-conservative is a sham defender of liberty, an authoritarian masquerading as a true lover of freedom. How long are Americans going to allow the pseudo-conservative, authoritarian right to get away with this scam? They pump themselves up as guardians of liberty but consistently behave in ways that undermine it.

General Abizaid's Testimony

While scrounging around trying to find a transcript of Abizaid's testimony I find Juan Cole has already made the primary point I wanted to make:

Here's how I interpret the contretemps Wednesday between Gen. John Abizaid and Republican Senator John McCain.. McCain wants to send another division, about 20,000 US troops, to Iraq. Abizaid told him: 1) that would produce only a temporary improvement since the US doesn't have a spare division to send to Iraq for the long term and 2) Increased US troop levels are counterproductive because they remove the incentive for the Iraqi government and army to get their acts together and fight the guerrillas and militias effectively and 3) If Iraq is going to come back to better days, it will have to be primarily with Iraqi troops and 4) Iraqi troops are not now doing the job, so if more US troops are sent to Iraq it should be as trainers and units available for joint patrols, not as independent combat troops. I'd just like to point out that most of Abizaid's arguments could also be deployed for a phased withdrawal, which he opposed. My senator, Carl Levin supports the phased withdrawal idea, and so do I. What if it isn't just an increased US presence that would remove the incentive for Iraqi leaders to compromise and/or fight effectively? What if *present* troop levels do that? I say, let's take out a division ASAP (20,000 men) and make it clear that we're never putting a division back in to replace it. Then let the Iraqis try to fill the resulting vacuum themselves. Give them armored vehicles, tanks, helicopter gunships, and a nice wood-panelled room where they can negotiate with one another. And then after a couple of months I would pull out another US division. Such a phased withdrawal is not guaranteed to succeed. It has a better chance of succeeding than the current policy.

This is very important: the arguments Cole cites Abizaid as making support a phased withdrawal. 1) Abizaid says we haven't got the extra troops and they would only be a temporary aid. 2) Abizaid says more troops would remove Iraqi incentive to do it themselves. If this principle is accepted then why doesn't it increase Iraqi incentive to begin a phased withdrawal?? Obviously we must be concerned about maximizing Iraqi incentive to protect themselves, make compromises with one another, disarm militias, etc. Beginning a phased withdrawal or at least serious negotiations to begin such a withdrawal increases such incentive. 3) Ditto re Iraqi troops too. 4) If we can increase U.S. trainers without them being in combat then this may be a good idea.

My impression is that these "Hearings" are pretty sterile affairs because Congresspeople don't ask very tough questions or follow up on important issues. Abazaid said the next 4-6 months are crucial. Will anyone hold him to this or will he be back in six months again saying 'Trust me,success is just around the corner'? (This is 'deja vu all over again' if you're old enough to remember Vietnam.) Abizaid said a withdrawal timetable would limit the military leadership's flexibility (and this was the headline for a million news accounts so it got immense publicity). Did anyone ask "flexibility to do what?" "How would it limit your flexibility?" "What benchmarks of progress can we look at in six months to see if your 'flexibility' led to desired results?" Instead of just accepting these platitudes is anyone asking any tough questions?

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

How to Get Out of Iraq, Part 2

I'm not a military or civil affairs expert so I can't produce my own ideas about how to get out of Iraq, but I can collect and organize the ideas of others. I will continue to do this in my blog. My initial post was How to Get Out of Iraq.

One of the most serious problems facing a withdrawal of U.S. troops is the problem of Baghdad. As Peter Galbraith wrote in The End of Iraq (p. 203), Baghdad is "a city that is 60/40 percent Shiite-Sunni (a rough estimate that excludes significant Kurdish and Christian minorities) and is the front line of Iraq's civil war. Under the constitution, Baghdad may not join any other region, but can become a region on its own. It is hard to see how this resolves the sectarian divide in what is by far the world's most dangerous capital city." And on p. 222-3: "Theoretically, the United States has the power to provide some level of security in Baghdad. U.S. soldiers would have to become the city's police, manning checkpoints, confiscating weapons, arresting criminals as well as terrorists, and disarming powerful militias, including those within the police and army. It would mean a radically different mission, require many more troops, and result in many more casualties. And it may not work. U.S. troops, operating without necessary language skills and local knowledge, and rightly concerned with protecting themselves, are not a good substitute for reliable Iraqi policemen.... The alternative is to recognize that there is not much that the United States is able and willing to do to stop the bloodshed in Baghdad. Once they get started, modern civil wars develop a momentum of their own."

The U.S. invasion has unleashed a sectarian war. Baghdad is apparently the largest concentration of Sunnis and Shia living in close proximity. Baghdad has a population of approximately seven million people. Were American troops to withdraw one can only assume that the current rate of over 50 deaths per day would increase dramatically. Either a viable plan to mitigate this is developed or we leave and let the Iraqis evolve their own solution. While this is a terrible outcome to contemplate our continued occupation is not stopping the killing and it puts American troops in the crossfire. According to The Nation of November 27, one option being considered by the Iraq Study Group "calls for stabilizing Baghdad while the U.S. Embassy works for an accomodation with the insurgents."

I think the key to any of these plans is the U.S. encouraging Iraqi initiative by negotiating a phased withdrawal of troops which places the responsibility for solutions upon Iraqi leaders and hopefully encourages them to come to a compromise between Shia and Sunni representatives. The first step in any plan must begin with the setting of a date for phased troop withdrawal (or redeployment out of combat zones); this is essential to demonstrating that Iraqis must take responsibility for their own country and either make the necessary compromises or accept the consequences of a continuing sectarian war.

Monday, November 13, 2006

How to Get Out of Iraq

I have tried to select some key components from suggestions for how to get out of Iraq. I take these ideas primarily from Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Carter's National Security Advisor, and Juan Cole, Professor of Middle East History at University of Michigan and originator of the very popular blog, Informed Comment. (The primary source for Brzezinski's ideas are Iraq: Next Steps for U.S. Policy). With the recent election of Democratic majorities in Congress and the report of the Iraq Study Group next month, it is crucial that we begin to think carefully about how we get out of Iraq now. It is especially important because the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group may be so focused upon some kind of "compromise" position that they end up providing cover for continuation of the war. You know what they say: A camel is a horse designed by a committee. If you're my age you recall how many times we were told the Vietnam War was about to end. I begin with some "psychology" that I see as the prime underpinning for a disengagement strategy.

The major key to U.S. withdrawal is using some “psychology” to which the Bush 43 administration has seemed singularly closed. This administration thrives on being “tough”, and military and forcing opponents to “knuckle under”. This strategy of coercion has been a notable failure. As in Judo, one doesn’t try to force one’s opponent; one uses the opponent's forcefulness to defeat him. The U.S. needs to stop trying to force the Iraqis to do things our way and arrange to withdraw our troops thereby encouraging Iraqi initiative to develop. We say: “Call us slow, but we’ve come to the realization that we are seen as an occupying force and are thus adding to your problems. We have therefore decided to withdraw our combat troops. Let’s start talking about when and how we should leave and whether, at your request, we can be of any further help. We stand ready to help, but only in those ways that you Iraqis want us to help.” Note that in one fell swoop we have dropped our role as dreaded “occupier” and become simply an available resource if we are called upon for help.

Doesn’t this more fully accord with Republican Party belief that only those who pull themselves up by their own bootstraps are likely to succeed? Don’t local people know what is best for themselves? Don’t we want to get Big Brother and his $1.4 Billion a week dole out of there and stop sapping Iraqi initiative? We should ONLY be doing in Iraq those things that Iraqi’s representatives have asked us to do.

NEGOTIATE U.S. DEPARTURE. Brzezinski: I favor a decision by the United States to leave Iraq. And the way I would go about it would be that I would ask the Iraqi leaders to ask us to leave. I would not announce it arbitrarily, but I would talk to the Iraqi leaders about our decision, our inclination, and I would encourage them to ask us to leave. The assumption of responsibility by Iraqi leaders who know that they are now going to be responsible for the future of the country is more likely to produce leaders that are prepared to lead and have the capacity to lead. Some U.S. forces might garrison in Kurdish area and Kuwait and might return to help police if requested by Iraqi government.

Informed Comment 11/13/06: Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki… pressed his plan to have US troops withdraw to garrisons to be called on only in emergencies. He wants to deploy Iraqi troops more actively instead.”

Brzezinski: In addition, it is likely that both Kuwait and the Kurdish regions of Iraq would be amenable to some residual U.S. military presence as a guarantee against a sudden upheaval.

SET DEPARTURE DATE. Brzezinski: I think we should set a date for the termination of the occupation…. But I would think that within a year we should be able to complete an orderly disengagement and the process would be extremely useful in concentrating Iraqi minds on what will follow and encourage them to assume responsibility.

I do not believe for a minute the argument that setting a date somehow or other would help the insurgency, that somehow or other the insurgents would go into their hiding caves or wherever and wait until the moment we leave and then suddenly they will surface and pounce. It’s not the kind of an insurgency. It’s an insurgency that is much more dispersed, spontaneous, in the crevices of Iraqi society expressing itself, also sometimes on the basis of monetary opportunity.

EMPOWER IRAQI GROUPS TO CRAFT A COMPROMISE. Brzezinski: How certain are we in the judgment that if we were to desist, the Shiites and the Kurds would not be capable of compelling an arrangement with the Sunnis. The Shiites and the Kurds together account for about 75 percent of the population and they have an overwhelming advantage. The Shiites then would be faced with a difficult decision and the Sunnis then would be faced with a difficult decision: whether to accommodate or to resist, to challenge. And I think a reasonable judgment is they will probably be divided. Some will choose the path of accommodation and we know even some Sunni leaders who advocate that. And some will choose the path of resistance. But the outcome, I think, of such a confrontation is also predictable: namely, that the Kurds and the Shiites will prevail. Is that an outcome necessarily worse than staying on course if one makes the judgment that staying on course involves a more and more difficult war of attrition, not to speak of its international consequences, but focusing purely on the Iraqi context?

In an Iraq dominated by the Shiites and the Kurds -- who together account for close to 75 percent of the population -- the two peoples would share a common interest in Iraq's independence as a state. The Kurds, with their autonomy already amounting in effect to quasi-sovereignty, would otherwise be threatened by the Turks. And the Iraqi Shiites are first of all Arabs; they have no desire to be Iran's satellites. Some Sunnis, once they were aware that the U.S. occupation was drawing to a close and that soon they would be facing an overwhelming Shiite-Kurdish coalition, would be more inclined to accommodate the new political realities, especially when deprived of the rallying cry of resistance to a foreign occupier.

EMPOWER IRAQIS TO CALL A REGIONAL CONFERENCE. Brzezinski: I would also encourage the Iraqi government – not have the U.S. do it – to call for a regional conference. I would have the Iraqi government call for a regional conference of Muslim states, some immediately adjoining Iraq, others more distant. By way of example, one might mention Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, perhaps also Turkey (although that is sensitive because of Kurdistan), Algeria, Tunisia, and maybe even Iran. If the Iraqis wished it a post-US multinational force might be organized; onethat might hope to keep ethnic and religious militias from marching against one another in the thousands and killing milions. The UN might be involved if the Iraqi government wished.

Cole 04/05/06: “The six neighbors have the highest stakes in Iraq-- Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Jordan, Syria, Turkey and Iran. They should immediately be called to a 6 + 3 meeting with the United States, Britain and the Arab League to begin the work of constituting a post-US multinational force that might hope to keep ethnic and religious militias from marching against one another in the thousands and killing millions.”

From the San Jose Mercury News of 11/13/06 demonstrating the motivation of regional powers to help end violence in Iraq:

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia - Saudi Arabia's interior minister on Sunday called Iraq a major base for terrorism, a sign of growing alarm over the neighboring country where U.S. forces are struggling to prevent Sunni-Shiite violence from escalating into full-scale civil war. Saudi Interior Minister Prince Naif said the situation in Iraq is deteriorating daily and the country has become a threat to the whole region. "There is no doubt that Iraq now forms a main base for terrorism," he told the pan-Arab Al-Arabiya television station in the capital Riyadh. "The situation in Iraq is changing day after day, and this situation has numerous threats," he said before his departure to the United Arab Emirates to attend a meeting on security issues in the Gulf states. The minister also said Saudi youth were being lured to fight in Iraq. U.S. and Iraqi officials have long complained about Saudi extremists crossing into Iraq to join the battle against American and coalition forces. U.S. officials announced last April that Saudis were one of the top five nationalities among foreign fighters captured by coalition forces in Iraq. The oil-rich kingdom has been moving forward with plans to build a fence along its frontier with Iraq to prevent militants from crossing the border.

Cole 04/05/06:” We need a UN command in Iraq, and need a multinational force (probably in the main Arab League) that can go on helping the Iraqis maintain a minimum of social peace after the US is out.”

Brzezinski: Once the United States terminated its military occupation, some form of participation by Muslim states in peacekeeping in Iraq would be easier to contrive, and their involvement could also help to cool anti-American passions in the region.

Brzezinski: I noted in the news today the Iranian willingness to talk to us about more stability in Iraq, to deal with the issue of post-disengagement stabilization, something which is in their own interest, and so therefore it is not a plea, a desperate plea for help. It is not a plea to replace one occupier with another set of occupiers, but it is to ask them to be engaged with the Iraqis on an Iraqi initiative regarding stabilization after the United States has left.
I would be pleased to hear from others any criticisms of these ideas or any additional ideas to help us get out of Iraq.

"Pseudo-Conservative": Origins of the Term, Part 2

In my "Pseudo-Conservative": An Update on the Origins of the Term I wrote: "As far as my etymological researches are concerned 'pseudo-conservative' may have first been used in a rather famous book, The Authoritarian Personality, written by Theodore Adorno, Else Frenkel-Brunswik, Daniel J. Levinson and R. Nevitt Sanford in 1950." My learned correspondent, Bill Christensen, tells me his etymological researches show usages of "pseudo-conservative" going back at least to 1863. Mr. Christensen advises: "For example, in a 1936 Bulletin of the Menninger Clinic, we find this notation: 'We need to know more about the pseudo-conservative revolt against the very spirit of modernity which animates the members of these right-wing groups... ' In a 1914 issue of The New Republic, we read: 'The pseudo-conservative would object that such a program offers no relief from the taxation that now absorbs much of the funds needed to provide capital for industry. The true conservative would also be solicitous about capital for industry, but...' In a book on William Seward's foreign correspondence from the year 1862 (published in 1863), we find this gem: '...the leader, in conjunction with the kindred spirits who have always clustered round him, in a new Pseudo-Conservative party, who imagine they can restore to life the Union which they have stabbed, and the Constitution they have violated.'"

The 1936 Menninger Clinic reference is interesting for two reasons: 1) the Menninger Clinic was a psychoanalytic institution and the authors of The Authoritarian Personality were psychoanalytic in orientation; 2) the Menninger Clinic quote used the phrase "the pseudo-conservative revolt", and this was the title of historian Richard Hofstadter's very widely read 1955 article. Hofstadter cited The Authoritarian Personality and his thinking was influenced by psychoanalytic ideas at that time.

Many thanks to Bill Christensen who is the developer of two excellent websites: The Site, for increasing your website's usability and, "Where Science Meets Fiction."

Sunday, November 12, 2006

One Principle for a Progressive Foreign Policy

Okay, call me psychotic, lock me up, put me away for the duration: I have a thoroughly unoriginal suggestion for a fundamental principle of progressive foreign policy. Of course, in this 'Christian nation' I fully expect to be scorned for this extremely peculiar suggestion; I guess I'm just a simple-minded, old-fashioned kind of guy who doesn't appreciate the immense moral complexities of modern international relations. And what, you might ask, is this thoroughly odd, unsophisticated principle?

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Okay, I told you I was crazy. I warned you didn't I? Clearly this is a thoroughly inappropriate suggestion given the exceedingly complex modern world of international relations, the moral nature of which I obviously don't appreciate. Didn't Henry Kissinger already carefully instruct us on this issue: "The average person thinks that morality can be applied as directly to the conduct of states to each other as it can to human relations. That is not always the case because sometimes statesmen have to choose between evils." Well, now I feel thoroughly straightened out on that issue: clearly individual persons in their dealing with one another never have to choose between the lesser of two evils, only our great 'statesmen' face this unique moral dilemma. And, confronting the 'statesmen's' dilemma, it is rather obvious that faced with a Salvador Allende, a SOCIALIST (shudder) who was democratically elected by the people of Chile, it becomes rather simple to decide that a CIA-supported military coup which brings General Augusto Pinochet to power is a morally superior choice given the 'statesmen's' moral calculus. Never mind that "on October 30, 2006, Pinochet was charged with 36 counts of kidnapping, 23 counts of torture, and one of murder for the torture and disappearance of opponents of his regime at Villa Grimaldi." These indiscretions are inappropriately judged by the morality of statesmanship; by the latter morality Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's judgment is more appropriate: "Former Prime Minister Thatcher... thanked the General for 'bringing democracy to Chile'. "

This "do unto others" principle perhaps lacks sufficiently broad endorsement by the world's religions; it seems only Judiasm, Christianity, Confucianism and Islam see it as a basic moral rule. Apparently the Zoroastrians have yet to be heard from on this issue. Here's what the Wikipedia article of November 12, 2006 had to say about this principle:

"The ethic of reciprocity or 'The Golden Rule' is a fundamental moral principle found in virtually all major religions, which simply means 'treat others as you would like to be treated.' It is arguably the most essential basis for the modern concept of Human Rights. Principal philosophers and religious figures have stated it in different ways:

'Love your neighbor as yourself.' (Moses (ca. 1525-1405 BCE), in the Torah; Leviticus 19:18)

'What you do not wish upon yourself, extend not to others.' (Confucius (ca. 551–479 BCE))

'What is hateful to you, do not to your fellow man.' (Hillel the Elder (ca. 50 BCE-10 CE))

'Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.' (Jesus (ca. 5 BCE—33 CE) in the Gospels, Luke 6:31, Luke 10:27 (affirming of Moses), Matthew 7:12)

'Hurt no one so that no one may hurt you." Muhammad' (c. 571 – 632 CE) in The Farewell Sermon)."

It is quite clear that this morality of individuals cannot be applied to the relations between nations, where only the morality of 'statesmen' is applicable. Well, back to the drawing board. I hope soon to be able to find some appropriate principle as the basis for a progressive foreign policy. (See my What is a Progressive Foreign Policy? and Why "Democracy Promotion" Should NOT Be the Basis of Progressive Foreign Policy.)

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Principles of a Conservative Foreign Policy?

Henry Nau, professor of political science at George Washington University, wrote an article in The National Interest for Winter 2004, No enemies on the right: conservative foreign policy factions beyond Iraq.

Professor Nau’s concern was the conflicts between various “conservative” foreign policy positions; he worried that because of these conflicts the right came close to losing the 2004 presidential election. Calling upon an older rallying cry for right-wing unity, “No enemies on the right”, he tried to articulate a set of principles that could unify all the conflicting positions of right-wing foreign policy.

Here are Professor Nau’s principles for a “conservative foreign policy”:

“A conservative strategy for American foreign policy is based on four general principles. These principles encompass all conservatives--neoconservatives, conservative realists and nationalists--and reflect the different choices that conservatives and liberals make when they face tradeoffs in real world situations. In these situations, conservatives generally take the following positions: Individual and national liberty (freedom) count more than collective and universal equality; competition is a better engine of change and protector of liberty than institutional cooperation; military power takes precedence over economic, diplomatic or soft power because without military power, other forms of power are impotent; and legitimacy derives more from commitments to democracy than from universal participation in international institutions many of whose members are not democratic.”

Let’s take these “principles” one at a time:

1) “Individual and national liberty (freedom) count more than collective and universal equality.” This is the tired cliché of the right maintaining that they are the true defenders of “freedom”. This from the people who brought us the Patriot Act, NSA spying on Americans, etc. Their defense of “freedom” is almost purely rhetorical because whenever Big Brother needs to abridge freedom for “National Security” they are the first to sign on. (See my Dawn of the Pseudo-Conservatives, Part 2 for more.) Moreover, one of their favored gambits is to set up the strawman of “collective and universal equality” and then knock it down. Whenever they can use the term “collectivism” as a scare word and link it with a notion of “universal equality” (which no sane person advocates), they do so for rhetorical flourish. They show no concern about the “collectivism” of giant modern corporations (see my Pseudo-Conservative Contradictions) and they gladly support government “collectivism” for “national security”. Only ideologues on the right must still swell with pride when this tired rhetoric is trotted out. They utterly fail to recognize that efforts to increase equality of opportunity and equality before the law are simply attempts to ensure that those whose freedom is abridged because they have unequal access to basic resources are provided the basic necessities without which “freedom” is an empty slogan.

2) “Competition is a better engine of change and protector of liberty than institutional cooperation.” The tired cliches of the right: first “freedom” over “collectivism” and now “competition” vs. “cooperation”. Competition can indeed be a very useful method for achieving social goals but, as with freedom, the right is uneven in its support for competition; they love it in the abstract but frequently hate it when it involves their own interests. Just like John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Corporation smashed its competition claiming that all it amounted to was “chaos” in the markets that God had chosen John D. to smooth out (see Titan by Ron Chernow), right-wing supporters of competition are not consistent in application of the principle. When the State of California wanted to reward hybrid auto buyers to limit vehicle emissions Ford Motor said this would be a "special-interest measure ... intended for almost exclusive use by Toyota Prius drivers." However, as the San Francisco Chronicle reported: "Executives at GM, Ford and Daimler-Chrysler [previously] derided the hybrids as money-losers and lagged in producing their own models. Toyota pressed ahead [investing more than $1 billion in the 1990s], and its resulting hybrids... now [2004] dominate the market, accounting for about 80 percent of U.S. hybrid sales." So our corporations love competition but when a competitor is encouraged because it produces something that serves a special public purpose, they scream. And please don't think the big American auto companies wouldn't accept government subsidies, they've asked for taxpayers dollars to research hydrogen-powered vehicles.

And though we have a North American “Free” Trade Agreement which supposedly fosters competition, it carefully avoids it when it comes to many agricultural products which would provide “undue” competition for American farmers; and yet, our NAFTA trading partners are agricultural societies, so this is precisely where they would benefit from competition. So the principle is really, competition when it's in our interests and protection elsewhere. Finally, cooperation certainly has a strong place as a social contributor as well and the opposition between competition and cooperation is mere rhetorical flourish.

3) “Military power takes precedence over economic, diplomatic or soft power because without military power, other forms of power are impotent.” This is either a cleverly worded platitude or a dangerous pseudo-condervative 'principle'. Of course, it helps to have military power to back up other sorts of endeavors but so-called conservatives reduce much of foreign policy to threats or actual use of military power; so when Nau argues it takes “precedence” he is wrong. Teddy Roosevelt said “speak softly and carry a big stick” not the reverse. Softer forms of negotiation and influence should virtually always take precedence over military power.

4) “Legitimacy derives more from commitments to democracy than from universal participation in international institutions many of whose members are not democratic.” This is the good guys vs. bad guys dichotomy of right-wing authoritarian thinking. There are many governments in the world whom we might wish to “improve” had we the opportunity. But it is the summit of arrogance for the U.S. to go about the world conferring “legitimacy” on some and denying it to others. What Nau is saying is that if the United States in its ultimate wisdom decides that so and so country satisfies our criteria of “democracy’ that is what should count and not their merely being members of the United Nations. But our commitment to “democracy” doesn’t include those democracies led by nationalistic governments that strongly oppose U.S. actions: the democratically elected Hamas government of the Palestinians, the Daniel Ortega government of Nicaragua, the Hugo Chavez government of Venezuela, the Evo Morales government of Bolivia—no somehow we find some rationalization for not supporting these governments. Their “democratic” procedures are somehow found faulty, unlike the unquestionably perfect nature of our own “democratic” procedures.