It’s a bit odd that Pakistan’s security services are warning Musharraf about the spreading Taliban problem when, to the best of my understanding, Pakistan has gone back to its previous policy of seeking “strategic depth” in Afghanistan by backing Taliban forces. I should also add, though, that at least some people I’ve communicated with who are familiar with Afghanistan object to characterizing the forces in question — ethnically Pashto, strongly traditionalist — as “the Taliban,” arguing that Pashto nationalism is a larger and longer-lasting phenomenon than the specific institutions and individuals we came to know by that name.
Light blogging today (I’ll post some stuff here eating breakfast) as I’ll be driving with Sara from the Yglesias family compound in Brooklin, ME to Acadia National Park on the other side of the bay. I was a little upset to see yesterday that the Bangor Daily News‘s usual steady diet of small town-ey stories has been interrupted by George W. Bush’s decision to follow me to Maine and, even worse, bring Vladimir Putin with him.
National Park Service Photo
During a press conference last week, outgoing Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Peter Pace said that “the recent rise in U.S. troop deaths in Iraq is the ‘wrong metric‘ to use in assessing the effectiveness” of the U.S. military in Iraq. “So it’s not about levels of violence,” he explained. “It’s about progress … in the minds of the Iraqi people.”
Today, Pace made similar remarks. He called the measuring the level of violence in Iraq a “self-defeating approach to tracking results” and added, “What’s most important is do the Iraqi people feel better about today than they did about yesterday, and do they think tomorrow’s going to be better than today?” When asked if he actually knew how the Iraqi people currently feel about the U.S. occupation of Iraq he conceded, “I do not have that in my head.” Watch it:
If Pace did consult the Iraqis about whether they “feel better about today than they did about yesterday,” the answer would be a resounding “no.” As a recent ABC News/BBC News poll found, “The optimism that helped sustain Iraqis during the first few years of the war has dissolved into widespread fear, anger and distress amid unrelenting violence“:
- 39 percent of Iraqis said they feel their lives are “going well,” compared to 71 percent in November 2005.”
- 40 percent of Iraqis said the situation in Iraq will be “somewhat or much better” a year from now, compared to 69 percent in November 2005.
- 26 percent of Iraqis said they feel “very safe” in their neighborhoods, compared to 63 percent in November 2005.
- 82 percent of Iraqis said they “lack confidence” in coalition forces.
- 69 percent of Iraqis said coalition forces make “the security situation worse.”
Whether one measures results in Iraq based on “how the Iraqi people believe they are today,” or on the increasing levels of violence, it is clear the United States is not succeeding in the war.
Transcript: Read more
Via GFR, Scott MacLeod takes a look at the administration’s efforts to fund Iranian civil society groups backfiring exactly as the initiative was predicted to backfire. As Garance says, “The reverse-Midas touch of this administration is really a thing to behold.”
Early this morning, British police “discovered an explosive device in a car laden with gasoline, nails, and gas canisters” in central London. British authorities have not said who may be responsible for the attempted attack, but Jacqui Smith, Britian’s new homeland secretary, characterized the incident as attempted “international terrorism.” The BBC noted that the timing may be significant as the incident comes as “the second anniversary of the 7 July bombings approach[es].”
Despite counterterrorism officials having “no prior intelligence information indicating” this attack might be imminent, Britain’s increased risk of “international terrorism” has long been attributed to British involvement in the war in Iraq by numerous national security experts:
Foreign Affairs Committee of the British Parliament:
“Britons are more – not less – likely to be the target of terrorist attacks as a result of the war in Iraq.” [BBC News, 2/2/2004]
Britain’s Joint Terrorist Analysis Center:
“[E]vents in Iraq are continuing to act as motivation and a focus of a range of terrorist-related activity in the UK.” [Financial Times, 7/19/2005]
Former chief of the British intelligence service MI5, Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller:
“UK foreign policy … in Iraq and Afghanistan” has inspired a “violent threat” to the UK that will persist for “more than a generation.” [The Independent, 11/11/2006]
David Cameron, leader of Britain’s Conservative Party:
“It is clear that over the last few years decisions that have been taken, the difficulties there have been in Iraq, clearly have had a wider effect” and “the threat to Britain was now greater as a result of the war [in Iraq] was ‘a statement of fact.’” [ABC News, 12/18/2006]
Dr. Jonathan Eyal, the director of international security at the Royal United Services Institute:
The “terrorist threat facing Britain from home-grown al-Qaeda agents is higher than at any time since the September 11 attacks in 2001.” He faulted the “wars in Afghanistan and Iraq” and western government’s inability to kill or capture Osama bin Laden. [The Telegraph, 2/25/2007]
The U.S. intelligence community assessed that Iraq “has become the ‘cause celebre‘ for jihadists.” The State Department has acknowledged the war in Iraq “has been used by terrorists as a rallying cry for radicalization and extremist activity that has contributed to instability in neighboring countries.” The longer the occupation in Iraq continues, the more it serves as a recruiting and propaganda tool for terrorists. Ultimately — as British experts understand — the Iraq war leads to greater insecurity around the globe.
David Frum describes the experience of witnessing Mitt Romney answer some tough foreign policy questions:
Mitt Romney has an amazingly orderly mind and an impressive grasp of detail. He also has a serious Garbage In/Garbage Out problem – that is, while his mind processes information in a lucid and logical way, his intake valves lack filters for screening out nonsense. The overwhelming impression that I took away from his presentation was that it was … silly.
I don’t actually understand this metaphor. If Romney’s mind is so sharp, so lucid and logical, then how come he can’t catch the nonsense? Meanwhile, Frum also tells us that Rudy Giuliani “skips lightly over crucial details” and has ideas that “are much less worked through than Romney’s” but on the plus side “the spirit behind them is exactly right.” At this point, Frum (with Giuliani in tow) departs planet reality. “As he said: the mullahs released the hostages in 1981 because they looked into Ronald Reagan’s eyes and saw something they did not see in Jimmy Carter’s. I saw that same something in Guiliani’s.” Okay, sure. Lessons learned: Romney is silly, whereas Giuliani will force terrorists to back down with his steely gaze and David Frum has no understanding of how international relations work or the history of US-Iranian relations.
Photo by Flickr user Editor B used under a Creative Commons license
It’s easy and, indeed, appropriate to mock Bush for the public diplomacy fiasco involved in saying that his plan is to make Iraq more like Israel but this shouldn’t completely obscure the fact that Bush is making a sound analytic point. What he’s saying about Iraq is, in essence, what John Kerry was saying about the US when he said he thought we should aim to reduce terrorism to a kind of nuisance. Naturally, Kerry got savagely attacked for saying this, but at some point somebody’s going to need to have the courage to make the argument that setting ourselves maximalist goals vis-a-vis terrorism doesn’t make sense.
Plenty of countries have long suffered some degree of terrorism — Spain, Britain, Israel — while being more-or-less pleasant, economically successful democracies whose citizens enjoy a high standard of living. These countries would, of course, like to completely eliminate their terrorism problems and rightly do make efforts in these regards. But during their better moments, at least, all of these countries recognize that the goal is to reduce the harm caused by terrorism to manageable levels, not to turn everything upside down in pursuit of a possibly chimerical “victory.” What we really, really, really need to focus on is making sure no terrorists get nuclear bombs while, beyond that, we keep the risks involved in conventional terrorism (even in Israel you’re more likely to die in a car wreck than a suicide bombing) in perspective.
In the stellar Washington Post expos© on Dick Cheney, the public learned that key presidential aides were often intentionally kept out of the loop on important decisions by the Vice President. For example, President Bush’s decision to try detainees in military commissions and strip them of their due process rights was not conveyed to Secretary of State Colin Powell:
“What the hell just happened?” Secretary of State Colin L. Powell demanded, a witness said, when CNN announced the order that evening, Nov. 13, 2001.
In addition, the Post reported that a Cheney-commissioned Justice Department memo that advocated the legal justification for torture was kept out of Powell’s sight:
On June 8, 2004, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of State Colin L. Powell learned of the two-year-old torture memo for the first time from an article in The Washington Post.
Last night in an interview with Larry King, Powell criticized Cheney, saying, “[He] sometimes went directly to the president and the rest of us weren’t aware of what advice he was giving.” He also chastised the White House’s manner of doing business. “It was not a system where we routinely exposed all points of view,” he said. Watch it:
In the interview, Powell reaffirmed his stated desire to close Guantanamo, arguing it is one of the reasons “we are losing around the world”:
The reason I am feeling so strongly about Guantanamo is that while we’re arguing these legal issues, we are getting killed in terms of our international reputation because of the place. And we are losing around the world. And what makes it even more difficult is some of the biggest thugs in the world and people that you want to press on moral issues and human rights issues hide behind Guantanamo and say don’t lecture us when you have Guantanamo.
In the latest of the National Security Network’s efforts to measure progress toward the various benchmarks in Iraq, we see that nothing of note has happened on constitution reform and that nothing is likely to happen given how difficult the process for amending the Iraqi constitution is.
This is the crux of the matter for evaluating America’s recent successes in collaborating with tribal leaders in Anbar province. The leaders in question were the insurgency — and were collaborating with Al-Qaeda in Iraq — just last year because they found both the US occupation and the Iraqi constitution intolerable. There’s no sign that they’ve begun to find these things any less intolerable today. Weapons and training we provide these tribal groups are all-but-certain to be turned against the Iraq government down the road — and against us if we’re still in Iraq, still supporting that government. Which isn’t to say that finding local people interested in fighting al-Qaeda is a bad idea. Instead, it’s to say that we ought to do our best to get out of the way.
Former Sen. Fred Thompson (R-TN) has dealt first-hand with nuclear weapons — on the Hollywood big screen. In 2005, he starred as President Charles Ross in Last Best Chance, a docudrama about terrorists trying to smuggle nuclear weapons into the United States.
One of Hollywood’s favorite plots is the threat of so-called suitcase nukes, like the one featured in the show “24.” But these nuclear bombs cleverly concealed in suitcases don’t exist in real life:
Nuclear bombs cleverly concealed in suitcases don’t exist in real life. Even so, they have long been a popular Hollywood plot point. [...]
Arms control expert Charles Thornton of the Center for International and Security Studies at the University of Maryland calls the scenario “so highly unlikely as to be approaching fantasy.”
It appears that Thompson is allowing his Hollywood experience to shape his budding presidential campaign. During an event in South Carolina yesterday, Thompson raised the made-for-Hollywood scenario of terrorist Cubans smuggling in “suitcase bombs”:
In his speech, Thompson assailed “unbearable tax burdens,” called for restrained spending, and argued for a smaller federal government. He expressed his opposition to the immigration bill in Congress and decried the flow of illegal immigrants from Cuba, saying: “I don’t imagine they’re coming here to bring greetings from Castro. We’re living in the era of the suitcase bomb.”
Thompson should focus on the real nuclear threats to the United States. A 2004 CRS report for Congress explained:
Scenarios for smuggling a nuclear weapon across unguarded coasts or borders are similar to those for smuggling bales of marijuana, many of which are reportedly flown in, brought by small boats, or carried across land borders; the difficulty of patrolling the borders makes such scenarios feasible.
You can take the man out of Hollywood, but you can’t take the Hollywood out of the man.
Martin Peretz, back from vacation, and ready to tell it like it is:
By the way, I think the conflict between the Arabs of Palestine and the Jewish state is of less import than the one between India and Pakistan, which like Palestine, is also not a country and the Pakistanis, also like the Palestinians, are not a nation. Oh, yes: why is this of such valence? Because Pakistan has the bomb.
The claim that Pakistan is not a country is simply bizarre, since it pretty clearly is. The idea that there is no “Pakistani nation” is perhaps comprehensible (though, I think, mistaken) as an argument about Pakistan’s large degree of ethnic diversity, with the plurality Punjabi group compromising only 44 percent of the population, with the remainder deeply fragmented.
The claim that there is not Palestinian nation, however, both puts yesterday’s TNR editorial on Hamas (why should Peretz’ views be any more reputable than Palestinian rejectionism) in perspective and also recapitulates the most tragic of Zionist self-deceptions. The idea of creating a Jewish state has a certain logic to it. And the idea of creating this Jewish state in Palestine has an obvious appeal. Under the circumstances, it became convenient to believe that Palestine was not only the location of the historical Jewish state but actually “a land without people for a people without a land.” The main problem with this theory was that it was, obviously, false — Palestine wasn’t very densely populated at the time, but there were certainly people there.
This deception eventually became untenable and transformed itself into the one Peretz is offering — sure, there are people on that land, but they aren’t a people, a nation. When I was young, I recall a Hebrew School teacher speaking of “15 Arab countries and only one Israel” (I think this is an underestimate of the number of Arab countries) the better to make the fate of the Palestinians a trivial matter. Again, this is a convenient thing for people with certain other commitments to believe, but it’s just not true.
Young Ezra Klein makes a good point:
What I want is not a foreign policy vision that builds from a foundation of values, but from one of consequences. Whether a policy is concordant with America’s view of itself is less important than its likely outcomes. The Paul Wolfowitzes of the world had thought plenty about values and were perfectly capable of discussing their vision of Iraq as a shining city on a Mesopotamian hill. What they hadn’t thought about were outcomes — constraints on our action and capabilities, the likely effects on others’ actions of our use of force, etc. Good thing they weren’t really pressed on the subject, lest they’d have had to conjure up a postwar plan for a reception that didn’t include candy and flowers — a plan they didn’t have. But they weren’t questioned, because they were effectively able to keep the conversation focused on values — do you care about liberty? hate tyranny? believe Arabs can be democratic? — rather than consequences.
I believe, however, that it is strictly forbidden to make this point without citing Max Weber’s “Politics as a Vocation”. What Ezra is complaining about is the need for US foreign policy to be guided by an ethic of responsibility focused on whether or not our actions will, say, lead to massive chaos and bloodshed rather than a focus on “moral clarity” or whether or not our policy proposals are, in some sense, grounded in high ideals.
In February, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Seymour Hersh wrote a piece in The New Yorker revealing that the Bush administration was setting its sights heavily on Iran, planning for a “possible bombing attack“:
Still, the Pentagon is continuing intensive planning for a possible bombing attack on Iran, a process that began last year, at the direction of the President. In recent months, the former intelligence official told me, a special planning group has been established in the offices of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, charged with creating a contingency bombing plan for Iran that can be implemented, upon orders from the President, within twenty-four hours.
On Tuesday, Hersh spoke more on the Bush administration’s focus on Iran at the Campus Progress National Conference. He said that President Bush and Vice President Cheney are ignoring the actual intelligence on Iran. The “intelligence community keeps on saying, ‘There’s no bomb there.’ And Cheney keeps on saying to the young briefing officers, ‘Thank you son, I don’t buy that.’” Hersh added, “George Bush’s and Dick Cheney’s wet dream is hitting Iran.” Watch it:
Hersh also stated that Bush likes to compare himself to Winston Churchill. Sources close to the President have heard him “say things like, ‘It’ll be 20 years before they appreciate me. … Yes, I may be at 30 percent in the polls, but in 20 or 30 years, they’ll appreciate what I’ve done.’”
UPDATE: The video has been added.
UPDATE II: Check out the Campus Progress Blog for more updates from the conference.
Transcript: Read more
I’d known for a long time that Iran, despite its large crude oil resources, was actually close to implementing a rationing scheme for gasoline. Well, now the rationing’s begun and with it the anti-rationing protests. What I hadn’t realized until today was the precise dynamics of the situation. The issue is that gas is preposterously cheap — “After a 25 percent hike in prices imposed May 21, gas sells at the equivalent of 38 cents a gallon.” To make a long story short, the Iranian government is earning money selling crude oil then spending a hefty chunk of that cash purchasing refined gasoline and then selling it back to Iran’s citizens at wildly sub-market prices.
If they were smart, they would just try to decontrol prices gently since rationing when gas is this cheap is just begging for a black market.
Three years ago today, the U.S. officially transfered sovereignty to Iraq in a “secretive ceremony” that was moved up two days “to thwart insurgents’ attempts at undermining the transfer.” The AP wrote at the time, “U.S. occupiers…wished them prosperity and handed them a staggering slate of problems — including a lethal insurgency the Americans admit they underestimated.”
Other notable moments from memory lane:
“The Iraqi people have their country back,” President Bush said at a NATO summit in Istanbul, Turkey. [...]
Bush, whose Iraq policy has drawn criticism abroad and, more recently, at home, was passed a note from National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice that put it this way: “Mr. President, Iraq is sovereign.”
Bush wrote “Let freedom reign!” on the note and passed it back, according to White House spokesman Scott McClellan.
A few hours later, U.S. viceroy Paul Bremer, who had ruled the country for 14 months, “snuck out of the country” with a goodbye wave. Bremer had reporters photograph him entering the Air Force C-130 pictured above for the ceremony, “but after the Iraqis leave, because of security concerns, [he] gets out of that plane and moves to, I think it was a Gulfstream IV that then flies him out.”
858 U.S. soldiers had been killed in Iraq at that point. As of today, the number is 3,570.
UPDATE: A copy of Rice’s note:
You can see this photo and much more in our updated timeline of the Iraq war.
Siftung Leo Strauss has a question:
As a random thought experiment, which of you, Dear Readers, could offer a coherent paragraph summation about the foreign policy (note, not just Iraq) vision of the oh, top three candidates of either party? Without cheating and clipping and pasting some crap a 24 year old intern posted on the web page from a think tanker angling to be the new Dep.Asst.Sec. of something. We mean, in real time, an off the top of your head kind of thing.
Just as he suggests, one can’t really do it. “Just bits and pieces of AgitProp and gibberish. Maybe you, Dear Reader, might have more luck.” One thing it’s worth pointing out is that there’s nothing unusual about this. Presidential candidates tend to be vague and somewhat contradictory in describing their thinking about foreign policy. The true significance of what they were saying on the campaign trail is usually only clear in retrospect. Looking backwards, one can see Bush laying the groundwork for his post-9/11 nationalist binge back in the campaign talk of 2000 but very few people saw it at the time.
I really hate arguments of this form, but it seems to me that you need to give Tony Blair credit for at least having the courage of his convictions in taking on this thankless and doomed to fail task as special envoy to the Middle East. At the moment, his record is largely composed of good things, plus a giant Iraq-shaped stain. To basically double-down on the Mideast-related aspects of his legacy is gutsy.
Gutsy, but also kind of dumb. Not totally unlike risking his legacy on Iraq in the first place.
Three new investigations shed further light on how the Bush administration betrayed Gulf Coast residents during Hurricane Katrina, and how New Orleans and other affected areas are still suffering from federal waste and incompetence.
Some key highlights of the reports:
EPA allowed toxic chemicals to harm poor Katrina victims: A GAO report revealed that EPA publicly downplayed the risk of asbestos inhalation, which is often released during home demolition, to city residents and failed to deploy air monitors in predominantly African-American neighborhoods. Furthermore, EPA waited nearly eight months to inform residents that short-term visits could expose them to dangerous levels of asbestos and mold.
FEMA ignored its own hurricane plan: Prior to Katrina, FEMA created a “Southeast Louisiana Hurricane Backup Plan” which forecasted specific consequences and action-plans in the event of a hurricane. But “post-Katrina FEMA documents demonstrate that that the plan was never implemented.” The day before Katrina hit, FEMA Deputy Director Patrick Rhode sent an e-mail to Michael Brown’s assistant with the subject line, “copy of New Orleans cat plan,” stating, “I never got one — I think Brown got my copy — did you get one?”
FEMA guaranteed billions in profits for big companies: Following Katrina, federal agencies “doled out more than $2.4 billion in cost-plus contracts,” which “offer companies no incentive to save money or keep costs from ballooning.” FEMA was responsible for nearly 94 percent of all of the hurricane-related cost-plus contracts, with the remainder being issued primarily by the EPA and U.S. Air Force.
Fortunately, Congress has taken action to address some of these issues. In March, the House voted to limit the use of cost-plus contracts. That bill is currently stalled in the Senate, where it awaits action by Homeland Security Chairman Joe Lieberman (I-CT).
Earlier this week, Sen. Dick Lugar (R-IN) delivered a major speech on the Senate floor calling “victory” in Iraq, as defined by President Bush, “almost impossible.” Abandoning his unyielding public support for the war, he called on the President to downsize the U.S. military presence in Iraq in order to “strengthen our position in the Middle East, and reduce the prospect of terrorism, regional war, and other calamities.”
Unfortunately, Lugar has no intention of acting on his rhetoric. Speaking this morning with NBC’s Matt Lauer, Lugar said that Congressional measures aimed at curtailing U.S. military involvement in Iraq, including “so-called timetables, benchmarks,” have “no particular legal consequence,” are “very partisan,” and “will not work.”
While Lugar now decries legislative solutions to Iraq as “partisan” and of no “legal consequence,” Lugar himself voted in favor of cutting funds and setting a timetable for redeployment of U.S. forces out of Somalia in 1993.
Also, several prominent members of Lugar’s own party have already expressed support for a legislative solution in Iraq. Sen. George Voinovich (R-OH) said, “I think that many of us are going to look at legislation that will limit the number of troops” and Sen. John Warner (R-VA) called the administration’s September reporting date “too long to wait to revise U.S. war policy.”