It seems that UN missions around the world are being hobbled by a shortage of helicopters. This really seems like something that should be a solvable problem and yet no member states seem willing to let the UN use any. This is classic penny wise, pound foolish behavior. Some UN helicopters to do peacekeeping and peace enforcement missions successfully will prevent situations from spiraling out of control and then requiring much more costly interventions.
Thank God. A new Kenneth Pollack article! About Iraq! In The New Republic! Yes! It seems that the surge is working. Or, more precisely:
The bottom line in Iraq remains complicated. We should be heartened by recent progress, but we should not assume we have won yet, either: Failure is still at least as likely as success. But all is far from lost in Iraq, and the outlines of a successful strategy are finally appearing. Nevertheless, if the Bush administration is going to engineer lasting achievements from the accomplishments of the surge so far, it still has a lot to do and little margin for error.
There are a few flies in the ointment. For example: “the country’s central government remains a highly counter-productive force.” That’s no problem, though. Rather than deal with the central government being a highly counter-productive force rather than a useful partner by leaving Iraq, we could just order up a new government: “by substituting one coalition for another within the current Council of Representatives (COR), but by advancing the date for elections (from late 2009 to late 2008 or early 2009) to get an entirely new COR.” We can also help out by speeding the dismembering of the Iraqi state: “it may be necessary for Iraq to move to something closer to a cantonal system along Swiss lines.”
At any rate, it’s important to keep the stakes in mind:
As both of these examples illustrate, such campaigns require lots of time. In Iraq, several important factors, including the fortuitous and well-exploited “Anbar awakening,” in which large numbers of Sunni tribes turned on their former allies in Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) and other Salafi extremist groups, has speeded progress. But there are three hurdles the United States must clear if it is to convert initial success into victory and leave Iraq as the next Northern Ireland, instead of the next Vietnam. This will still require considerable skill–and not a little luck.
To be honest, all you ought to need to say to make the case for withdrawal is “according to the proponents of staying, Northern Ireland is the best case scenario.” I mean, that’s crazy.
But to note a couple of analogistic points, they speak English in Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland is tiny, and the idea of just importing the Swiss political system to a foreign country with totally different traditions (and geography!) is silly.
The Center for American Progress’ Brian Katulis is one of our key actually serious experts rising on the scene, and conveniently enough he’s just been in Pakistan for three weeks talking to a wide variety of players. His commentary on the current situation is worth paying attention to:
All too often in recent years the United States has looked to elections in other countries as the primary indication for success or failure in a country’s progress toward political reform. The US has also become singularly focused on individual leaders like Bhutto. Her murder is a tragedy, and Musharraf has called for a three-day mourning period. As the world remembers her contributions, it should also keep her record in perspective. Under Bhutto, Pakistan provided support to the Taliban in the 1990s. Some observers note that Bhutto was not the saviour of democracy she claimed to be, including Bhutto’s niece in a recent, biting op-ed in the Los Angeles Times. And it was also in part on Bhutto’s watch that Pakistani nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan, the father Pakistan’s nuclear programme, built an international network that led to dangerous transfers of nuclear technology.
As Pakistan enters an even more complicated period, US policymakers should resist the temptation to see the situation in simplistic, black-and-white, freedom-versus-terror terms. Past experience in Pakistan and elsewhere demonstrates that putting our hopes on a single leader or a single election rarely makes Americans safer or advances stability and prosperity in other countries.
I think that’s well-said. You can find more Katulis here and also here: “Earlier this month in Lahore, an official in a leading opposition party complained to me about U.S. policy’s almost singular approach and obsession with individual leaders rather than institutions and the whole society: ‘Why does President Bush say, “Mr. Musharraf is my friend?” Why doesn’t he say, “Pakistan is our friend”?’” To put that question in a non-rhetorical context, I think it reflects the legacy of imperialism — it’s an effort to approximate the concept of “indirect rule” by cultivating mutually beneficial relationships between the US and individual foreign political leaders rather than mutually beneficial relationships between peoples.
Clearly, political assassinations are a bad thing. Equally clearly, political assassinations in a place like Pakistan seem to herald instability, and instability in Pakistan is frightening. That said, I think it’s worth being clear about something — from the perspective of someone who’s never spoken to Benazir Bhutto or any members of her inner circle, it seems like she was a really bad person and a terrible political leader. The main thing she did when in office was steal. A lot. Of money. From her extremely poor country. You have, basically, tens of millions of incredibly poor people in Pakistan. You have shitty infrastructure. You have a shitty school system. And you’re the Prime Minister. What do you do about it? You steal an incredible sum of money, while helping your associates likewise steal an incredible sum of money.
I’m not aware of anything changing for the better in Pakistan when she was running things. And as far as her credentials as a democratic opposition leader, it’s worth noting that she’s not the democratically elected leader who was deposed in Musharraf’s coup — her rival Nawaz Sharif was. Her plan was to use her strong base of support in the US to cajole Musharraf into some kind of power-sharing agreement with her. And if she’d gotten a bigger share of the power, she would have used it to steal more money.
Now, of course, the trouble is that I don’t know what I’m talking about. But the vast majority of people who do know what they’re talking about know what they’re talking about . . . based on talking to Bhutto and members of her political party. Bhutto was well-connected in the West. Her party is less Islam-inflected than its main rivals, which is appealing to westerners. She went to western schools as did a lot of her associates. They know people. But being “well-informed” about the situation through close ties with a partisan actor inside Pakistan is arguable no better than being totally uninformed. What you want is real expertise — in-depth knowledge of the Pakistani situation, ability to speak to players who don’t speak English and don’t attend Western universities, wide-ranging associations with Pakistanis and ability to follow the Pakistani press.
But almost nobody has that. Which is why most of all, I sympathize with this statement from Zbigniew Brzezinski:
I think the United States should not get involved in Pakistani politics. I deplore the absence of democracy in Pakistan, but I think admonitions from outside, injecting exile politicians into Pakistan, telling the Pakistan president what he should or should not wear, that he should take off his uniform, I don’t really think this is America’s business and I don’t think it helps to consolidate stability in Pakistan.
I don’t know whether or not it’s “our business” but the point is that we’re unlikely to be able to do this effectively. The US, being rich and strong, has a good deal of influence to throw around in Pakistan. But it’s much easier for Pakistani actors to manipulate US policy than the reverse. We don’t have the know-how, we don’t have the expertise, and we never will. What we need to do is focus on what we can know — what are our key interests in Pakistan — and articulate them clearly and consistently combined with the proviso that we’re willing to work with whatever kind of leadership Pakistan has on ways to advance our interests. Trying to pick the “best” faction and then shift things around so they wind up in power seems like a doomed mission. In general, the idea that the correct response to 9/11 was for the United States to start engaging more vigorously in efforts to micromanage political outcomes in Muslim countries seems badly mistaken. We need to make our policies more robust against internal political disagreements in the Islamic world, not do a better job of picking sides.
Some time ago, I wrote an op-ed which noted that “Lee Feinstein, a former deputy director of the policy planning staff at the State Department and now Clinton’s top national security staffer, wrote in the January/February 2004 issue of Foreign Affairs that ‘the biggest problem with the Bush preemption strategy may be that it does not go far enough.’” The article, which can be found here, was cowritten with Anne-Marie Slaughter who objected to the way I used that quotation and my general construal of her piece. Since the same clause from the Foreign Affairs article then wound up in a Frank Rich column I thought it’d be best to get in tough with Professor Slaughter and clarify her views rather than debate the quote and its context. She’s written back (speaking for herself):
I would not rule out unilateral action under any circumstances; a nation that had chosen to try unilaterally to stop the genocide in Rwanda in the face of both global and regional inaction would be hard to condemn. Similarly, it is imaginable that the United States or any other nation could conclude that it had absolutely no choice but to use force to defend its vital interests. But the entire point of our article was to minimize the likelihood of either of these situations ever occuring by embracing doctrines in the humanitarian and the non-proliferation area that would spur non-military collective action early in the game and would ensure global or at least regional authorization of force if it came to that. It is worth remembering that Kofi Annan himself told the General Assembly in September 2003, after the invasion of Iraq: ““It is not enough to denounce unilateralism, unless we also face up squarely to the concerns that make some States feel uniquely vulnerable, since it is those concerns that drive them to take unilateral action. We must show that those concerns can, and will, be addressed effectively through collective action.” Lee and I had been running a roundtable for the American Society of International Law and the Council on Foreign Relations called “Old Rules, New Threats” for several years before the invasion of Iraq; this article was the outgrowth of a lot of that thinking.
As far as the desirability of collective action, almost certainly short of force, to check nuclear proliferation I’m in complete agreement. I also should say that I definitely agree that “the United States or any other nation could conclude that it had absolutely no choice but to use force to defend its vital interests.” This, though, is one of those cases where I think the phrase “vital interests” obscures more than it reveals. Unilateral force to secure vital interests? Sure. But which interests are the vital ones? The UN Charter recognizes the inherent right of a state to act in self-defense. If Hungary starts launching air strikes on Ukraine tomorrow, no number of Security Council vetoes change the fact that it’s legitimate for Ukraine to fight back. Similarly, the Charter recognizes a right to collective self-defense. If a country is attacked somewhere, the United States is within our rights to come to that country’s assistance. And, indeed, we’re arguably obliged to come to their assistance.
Slaughter’s proposal is that we should try to develop new international legal norms that would strengthen collective commitments to non-proliferation rules (no disagreement from me) but also legitimate unilateral action in certain case to pursue non-proliferation goals. My strong guess is that if pursued in good faith this project is just going to prove unworkable. One doesn’t want to see a new interpretation of international law gain strength that would legitimize an Arab League preventive attack on Israel and its nuclear program. Nor would one want to see a unilateral Indian assault on Pakistan.
If you go back and read the original Foreign Affairs article, the authors seem to be aware of this problem and include language designed to make sure that those cases aren’t covered. Which is good. But it’s also, I suspect, too transparent. The international community isn’t going to accept a new principle of international law that’s very narrowly tailored to US policy priorities. But the US doesn’t actually want to unleash unilateral preventive war as a major force in the world in general, it’s only a tool we would want to have under narrowly tailored rules or else (as in the Bush doctrine) as a straightforward matter of double-standards.
That said, understood the way Slaughter lays it out in the blockquote above, I’m not sure there’d be any harm in trying to explore the possibilities in this direction and negotiation and dialogue on this general issue should, if pursued in good faith (an important proviso), generate something useful on the international scene.