Friday, August 31, 2007
# Posted 6:41 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
A ferocious campaign of repression therefore began against members of the [Shi'ite group] al-Da'wa and other similar organizations.This violent outbreak took place less than a month before Saddam Hussein formally became president of Iraq (although he was already in firm control of the regime). The next spring, after an assassination attempt against Deputy Prime Minister Tariq 'Aziz, Baqir al-Sadr was imprisoned, tortured and killed along with his sister. Moqtada would've been too young to remember this directly, yet one imagines that it was an experience that loomed over his childhood in the Sadr family. And then his own father and brothers were murdered by Saddam almost twenty years later.
If we are fortunate, the recently declared ceasefire with Moqtada Sadr's Jaish al-Mahdi (JAM) will result in signficantly fewer attacks on US forces, even if it doesn't end the violence among Shi'ite militias. If we aren't so fortunate, it would be wise to remember the brutal experiences that shaped our adversary. (21) opinions -- Add your opinion
Thursday, August 30, 2007
# Posted 11:09 AM by Taylor Owen
IRAQ AS HUMANITARIAN CRISIS: Yesterday, David Eaves and I had the following oped in the Toronto Star. While the message is Canada specific, there is a wider theme regarding what the UN should do about the humanitarian crisis that currently exists in Iraq. Further, the challenge is for those who opposed the war to engage with the crisis as it currently exists, instead of how it was before the US invasion. As US forces pull out, peace between sectarian fighters will have to be built or kept, millions of people will have to be moved from refugee and IDP camps, a massive development operation will have to help the country out of extreme poverty, and a nation's infrastructure will have to be reconstructed. The question is who is going to do it?
Iraq suddenly appears on Canada’s radar screen
For the past five years, Canadian leaders have had little to say about the Iraq war. Content not to be in but careful not to be too critical, most have adopted a laissez-faire position on the conflict. This position is unsustainable.
In just over a year’s time, Americans will elect a new president. Regardless of whether the victor is a Democrat or a Republican, the last ardent defender of the Iraq war will have left the international stage and the world will look at Iraq through a new lens. The Iraq war, “Bush’s War,” will be over. Iraq the humanitarian crisis will be in the ascendant.
In anticipation of this emerging shift, the Security Council last week voted unanimously to increase the UN’s role in Iraq. The international body will endeavour to do what it – and notably not what the U.S. military – does best: engage in essential diplomatic, negotiation and humanitarian activities.
And this is only the beginning. While the departure of U.S. and British troops will undoubtedly remove one aggravating factor, sectarian strife, a humanitarian crisis and a failing state will remain.
Within a year, Iraq will have shifted from a precipitous and ill-executed American invasion and occupation, into an internationalized humanitarian crisis.
And a crisis it is.
According to a recent UN report, there are 1.8 million internally displaced persons and 2 million refugees in neighbouring countries, with an additional 40,000 to 50,000 leaving per month; 54 per cent of the population lives below the extreme poverty line of $1 a day; 43 per cent of children under the age of 5 suffer from malnutrition; inflation is 70 per cent, and in 2006 there were 34,452 recorded civilian deaths and 36,685 recorded civilian injuries.
Compare these numbers to Kosovo and East Timor, and add the regional consequences of a prolonged Iraqi civil war, and surely there is a case for active international engagement.
As the recent Security Council resolution indicates, a global strategy is starting to take shape. There will be calls for still greater UN intervention, possibly even a peacekeeping force. Over the next 12 to18 months, an international plan for dealing with Iraq will likely emerge.
Will Canada help shape it?
We could opt not to. That would be politically expedient, although it would confirm our declining status on the international stage.
Or we could see this as a diplomatic opportunity where we are uniquely positioned to lead. Canada is an ally of the United States and Britain but had the integrity and self-confidence to not participate in the flawed invasion. Canada is not burdened with a colonial or imperialist past in the region. Unlike Germany and France, Canada has had limited financial interests in Iraq. And, in contrast to Russia and China, Canada possesses a relatively well-respected record on human rights.
By helping to develop a solution that could bring stability to Iraq, the region and the international community, Canada could shine. Indeed, the parallels to the event that launched Canada’s much vaunted but greatly diminished status as an international peace broker are noteworthy.
During the 1956 Suez crisis, the world’s powers were equally hamstrung. What made us so useful then is what could make us so useful today.
This potential is, of course, complicated by our role in Afghanistan. It could reasonably be argued that Afghanistan is our primary international commitment and that we simply do not have the resources to contribute to two major peace-building efforts. But military constraints need not curtail our diplomatic role in a new UN-led effort in Iraq.
Any future mission in Iraq will require a legitimacy that the U.S. invasion lacked. Our position within the UN, coupled with our unique standing in the international community, could make sure this is achieved.
As a country, we need to remember that, regardless of the causes, Iraq today is a humanitarian crisis and a geopolitical time bomb, a country whose collapse or breakup could destabilize the immediate region, and potentially much more.
Here’s hoping Canadian humanitarianism helps shape the way forward.
Labels: Iraq(7) opinions -- Add your opinion
Tuesday, August 28, 2007
# Posted 7:49 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
We don't have the troops to stay there, so we're going to withdraw...Shields is hacking away at strawmen. Insurgencies don't end with an official surrender on the deck of a battleship. They end with a whimper, when the government wins the allegiance of the population and the insurgents gradually fade into the background. Victory looks like what is happening right now in Al Anbar. The question is whether it can be extended to the rest of Iraq. Responding to Shields, Rich Lowry explained that:
...the surge has achieved military success on the ground, and I would also argue an important element of political success, because we haven't seen this turnaround in Anbar province that even Hillary Clinton and others are acknowledging because we killed all our enemies. A significant element of the insurgency came our way. That is a political development.In contrast to Shields, Lowry is actually talking about facts on the ground. And Lowry's reference to Hillary Clinton suggests that Democratic candidates may not have Shield's luxury of hacking at strawmen. Strangely, one important test of the surge is whether its results are so obvious that even Democratic pols have to acknowledge them. But will they acknowledge that this success is political, or will they attempt to brand it as "just military"?
For the reasons that Lowry elaborated so well, I think that our progress is clearly political as well as military. To dissent slightly from Lowry's formulation, I would suggest that we can only bypass national reconciliation in the short run. But the short-run might last several years. If we discover local political solutions that provide security and stability, we can establish the foundation on which to build a national settlement.
No question, a lot of this is still a long shot. Just as we've turned things around in the past six months, so can Al Qaeda or the Shi'ite militias. But my blood pressure rises when I see Democrats working so hard to insist that we aren't making meaningful progress. (23) opinions -- Add your opinion
Thursday, August 23, 2007
# Posted 11:30 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
"We are finally getting somewhere" ("at least in military terms"), the troops' "morale is high," "civilian fatality rates are down roughly a third since the surge began" and there is "the potential to produce not necessarily 'victory' but a sustainable stability."But then Will cites the bad news from the same op-ed:
"The situation in Iraq remains grave," fatalities "remain very high," "the dependability of Iraqi security forces over the long term remains a major question mark," "the Iraqi National Police . . . remain mostly a disaster," "Iraqi politicians of all stripes continue to dawdle and maneuver for position," it is unclear how much longer we can "wear down our forces in this mission" or how much longer Americans should "keep fighting and dying to build a new Iraq while Iraqi leaders fail to do their part," and "once we begin to downsize, important communities may not feel committed to the status quo, and Iraqi security forces may splinter along ethnic and religious lines."According to Will, the ability of certain hawks to cite Pollack & O'Hanlon as evidence of success in Iraq demonstrates that said hawks have fallen prey to "a powerful will to believe, or disbelieve, as their serenity requires." In other words, they are no longer part of the reality-based community.
Yet it is Will himself who may have fallen prey to his own "powerful will to believe". Read the NYT op-ed for yourself and see how carefully Will had to select his quotations to make Pollack & O'Hanlon's good news seem less significant.
Even better, read the full report -- unacknowledged by Will -- that Pollack & O'Hanlon put together after their trip to Iraq. (PDF here) They write:
We found a significant improvement in the morale of American forces in Iraq compared to previous trips to Iraq. In the past, we had often found American military personnel angry and frustrated—many sensed they had the wrong strategy, were using the wrong tactics, and were risking their lives and losing their friends in pursuit of an approach that could not work.That is just a sample, so I encourage you again to read the full report -- including the bad news. Get the full picture. As the report says,
There is a great deal going well in Iraq but, unfortunately, also a great deal going badly. Points of view often heard in Washington, that the war is already lost on the one hand, or bound to be won if we are adequately patient on the other, seem at odds with conditions on the battlefield and throughout the country.The battle in Washington will begin again come September. An important benchmark for honesty will be how each side represents the contents of this report. (13) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 10:55 AM by Patrick Porter
But the analogy is hard to ignore, as Vietnam became a kind of shorthand for a damaging misadventure.
Opponents of the war invoked Vietnam as a warning against walking into a prolonged, demoralising and futile conflict that would only embolden one's enemies, weaken one's claims to the moral high ground, drain the domestic consensus in favour of the wider struggle, and result in thousands of American military casualties not to mention millions of dead foreigners.
But now that the political class debates withdrawal, timetables for exits and 'iraqification' of the war effort, it is supporters of Bush and the surge who invoke Vietnam every ten seconds. Bush himself warns that retreat now, like then, will lead to far greater catastrophe (the killing fields, the 're-education camps', a refugee exodus, etc).
The Vietnam analogy may be accurate in some ways, although the Vietnam prism of a top-down homogenous guerrilla war was in many ways not a helpful parallel to the more complex and fragmented insurgency that broke out in Iraq.
But it seems that buying into the analogy means one cannot be too selective. If you conclude that withdrawal now will trigger a greater humanitarian disaster on a par with abandoning Vietnam, that entails that the original decision to go to war in Iraq, or at least the way it was managed, was a mistake.
If, however, you have spent the past four years presenting the war in Iraq as Vietnam redux (and there are serious problems with this analysis too), then it is surely strange now to dismiss comparisons with what happened when the US withdrew from Vietnam. Even if the post-Vietnam catatrophes were made possible by the Vietnam war.
Its a tough call. Withdrawal may well trigger a devastating wave of even worse intensifying violence and genocide. And even successful counterinsurgencies have taken much longer than four years and involved continual errors.
On the other hand, the US is waging an important wider struggle that needs to retain domestic political support. Public opinion is not just a fickle thing to criticise, but a force in its own right that needs to be accommodated in an overall strategy. (17) opinions -- Add your opinion
Monday, August 20, 2007
# Posted 11:46 AM by Patrick Porter
Before even getting into that argument, though, commentators disagree on whether its a good or bad thing to be one. 'Empire' for many is obviously tinged with associations of exploitation, aggression and chauvinism.
In the US, this is heightened by the country's ideological heritage as a nation founded explicitly on a set of ideas - revolution, independence and rejection of Europe's corrupt old order of colonial powers.
This heritage shapes American anxieties about the problem. For nativists, isolationists and others suspicious of adventures abroad, such as Pat Buchanan, Americans should forever be warned against the dangers of moving from a republic into an empire. To this argument they bring a battery of historical precedents, from the ancient cycle of nations that expand, overreach and decline, to the warnings of John Quincy Adams not to seek out monsters to destroy. Arguably, this has been updated recently by the work of those such as Robert Pape, who argue that suicide bombing, seeming to be the weapon and symbol of fanaticism, is in fact created by (and a strategically rational response to) foreign occupation.
For those supporters of American military interventions, foreign bases, or other projections of power and influence, such as Victor Davis Hanson, America's global presence is to be distinguished from the coercive imperialism of Spain, Belgium or France, not to mention Imperial Japan or communist China. Though America is present and prints itself on the world, this is based more on consent and appeal than on coercion. The US pays for its bases, its military spending for a global superpower is relatively restrained compared to empires past, it has an intelligensia that is critical (even hyper-critical) of its behaviour, its youth and talent prefer commerce to colonial administration, and alongside moments of unilaterism, often where the US does act, this is at the request of other states. Europe needed America as a military deterrent to counterbalance the Soviet Union and its divisions after world war 2, and actively lobbied for it to stay. After the Cold War, when one European statesmen had declared that Europe's hour at last had arrived, massacre and genocide took place within hours of Berlin and Rome, and the Europeans appealed to the US to intervene in the Balkans. If anything, it was not America's overreaching zeal, but its America's eagerness to draw down and disengage from its larger commitments after the Cold War, that is striking. Even when Saddam invaded Kuwait, there were many voices of reluctance and hesitation in the White House.
Most of all, they would argue, American hegemony is subject to a constraint that few other empires have had to manage to the same extent: a reluctant electorate. In the long term, America's potential for becoming a predator in the world is tempered not so much by multilateral institutions or law, but by the broad unease of the US public with the taint of open-ended expansionism and expensive wars. In that sense, while the American revolution embodied the idealism that could easily translate into crusades against monsters abroad, consecrated by the collective memory of World War Two, it also contained the seeds of anti-imperialism and a fear of being tainted as conquerors. Even where the US does act like an empire of old, it is usually reined in faster than history's other powers.
Anyway, that seems to be how the debate runs. For my money, America is an empire, given that it projects power beyond its borders through a range of instruments and channels, both hard and soft, formal and informal. But, at the risk of me looking like a very weak imitation of Niall Ferguson, this comes with dangerous drawbacks and temptations but is not necessarily a bad thing on the whole. A world without an overdog may mutate into something much worse. But I'll put some thoughts up on this in the next few days. (13) opinions -- Add your opinion
Sunday, August 19, 2007
# Posted 5:06 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
I continue to find it how fascinating how, until relatively recently, Iraq's Sunni and Shi'ite communities shared a common Islamic identity, defined in opposition to the secularism of the Ba'athist state.
FYI, "Shi'ite" is an Anglicization of the Arabic noun and adjective "Shi'i". An individual is a Shi'i. Many Shi'i are Shi'a. (7) opinions -- Add your opinion
Saturday, August 18, 2007
# Posted 2:01 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
...requests to form two distinct Islamic parties. Initially refused licences because of their sectarian nature, a single religious party was eventually permitted -- al-Hizb al-Islami (the Islamic Party). The party's leader was the Sunni layman Nu'man 'Abd al-Razzaq al-Sammarai, but its sponsor was the Shi'i Grand Ayatollah Muhsin al-Hakim. Although it was dedicated to the ultimate goal of forming an Islamic order, its hostility to atheism, materialism and communism was very much to the fore, helping to explain its appeal for Qasim at the time.You may have noticed that this is my third consecutive post based on a quotation from Tripp's book. This is the first time I have really engaged with Iraq's modern history and am learning quite a bit. I finished Tripp's book this morning and would recommend it to others. It struck me as very comprehensive and quite even-handed, although it may be more detailed and less user-friendly than most beginners would want.
For a second perspective, I have begun reading Phebe Marr's The Modern History of Iraq. I am 30 pages in, and it strikes me as a better option for beginners, since it focuses more on broad trends and ideas without providing as much of the detail that an expert would want.
Labels: Iraq(5) opinions -- Add your opinion
Wednesday, August 15, 2007
# Posted 10:33 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
Beginning in May 1920, a series of mass meetings took place in Baghdad to denounce the [British] Mandate. Gathering by turn at Sunni and Shi'i mosques, increasing numbers of Baghdadis attended, providing vivid symbolic proof of co-operation between members of the two sects in the cause of Iraqi independence. (From Charles Tripp, A History of Iraq, p. 41)If only the American occupation had generated such ecumenical opposition!
At the end of June 1920 armed revolt broke out...The revolt gained momentum, deriving its strength from the weakness of the British garrisons in the area, as well as from the strong links between the spiritual centers of Shi'ism in Najaf and Karbala and the powerful armed tribes deployed against the British...Seizing their opportunity, Kurdish chiefs in southern Kurdistan rose up and captured a number of towns near the Persian border...Based on Tripp's account, it would seem that the British took the exact opposite approach to our own, which has been (until recently) to side with the Kurds and the Shi'ite majority against the Sunni elite.
Labels: Iraq(12) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 10:27 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
The term al-'Iraq (meaning the shore of a great river along its length, as well as the grazing land surrounding it) had been used since at least the eighth century by Arab geographers to refer to the great alluvial plain of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, a region known in Europe as Mesopotamia.From A History of Iraq (New Edition) by Charles Tripp, lecturer at the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies, page 8.
Labels: Iraq(2) opinions -- Add your opinion
Monday, August 13, 2007
# Posted 11:23 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
Looks pretty well-done to me. Don't expect to have your opinion changed if you're a Republican -- but you're not the target audience anyhow. (Hat tip: Daily Dish)
Labels: Hillary(6) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 10:48 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
Huckabee bought around 1800 tickets and received almost 2600 votes. Clearly, Romney and Brownback dropped a lot of cash on people who ended up voting for someone else, and that someone else was probably Huckabee.Reporting from Iowa, Byron York told Meet the Press that:
As far as Huckabee is concerned, you know, it was a really, really big win for him. He was worried that he’s raised so little money that if he finished way down in the pack he might not be able to stay in the race. And his, his oratorical skills, he’s a former preacher, very strong. He’s the kind of guy that you listen to him speak on a few occasions and you wonder why he isn’t higher up in the race. So he—he’s made a huge step forward.Scheiber agrees that Huckabee has charisma. He writes that Huckabee is:
a genuinely endearing guy who can banter with the best of them--watching him with reporters brings to mind the old black and white footage of Babe Ruth jawboning with sportswriters. When you add that to the political media's general affinity for underdogs, you can see how Huckabee's about to enjoy some serious media afterglow, which will only further boost his profile.And if any of you saw Huckabee on the Daily Show back in January, you know he's one of the few Republicans who can get Jon Stewart to fawn all over him. In short, Huckabee has a surprising ability to charm both the center and the Republican base.
One of Huckabee few detractors is, well, me. When it comes to democracy promotion, Huckabee wants to run away fast from the current President's commitment to a generational struggle against tyranny. Here's what Huckabee told George Stephanopoulos at the GOP debate in Iowa on August 5:
I really can't stand it when opponents of democracy promotion bring out the old line about not exporting "our" way of life. Go ask the Brazilians, the Indians, and the Japanese if they think that democracy is inherently American. The funny thing is, our "way of life" is actually pretty popular abroad. Millions of Arabs love McDonalds and Starbucks and Star Wars and Baywatch -- while hating American foreign policy or even America itself.
There are more than enough valid criticisms out there of this administration's attempt to promote democracy in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere (and reluctance to do in Pakistan, etc.) Instead, Huckabee chose one that is short-sighted and wrong. However, it may serve him well as candidate, both in the primary and the general election.
Labels: Mike Huckabee(6) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 10:37 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
[George] STEPHANOPOULOS: Congressman Tancredo, your answer on [my show] was...That's from the Republican debate in Iowa on August 5. For a while now, I've been trying to think of an analogy that really expresses just how idiotic Tancredo's position is. It's like saying that if Catholic terrorists attacked us, we'd retaliate by bombing the Vatican, even if the Pope had nothing to do with the attack.
A colleague of mine observed that if you leave aside the threat to kill millions of innocent Muslims, a threat to nuke Mecca and Medina would constitute an interesting test of Al Qaeda's rationality. Presumably, even Al Qaeda would balk at the prospect of Mecca and Medina being incinerated.
I said I wasn't so sure. I think enough Al Qaeda types are inclined toward apocalyptic thinking that they would welcome a nuclear strike as some sort of collective martyrdom. Because frankly, they're even crazier than Tancredo.
Labels: Tom Tancredo(6) opinions -- Add your opinion
Sunday, August 12, 2007
# Posted 1:00 PM by Taylor Owen
DEFENDING IGNATIEFF'S 'MEA CULPA': Whatever else we can say about Michael Ignatieff, he piques emotions, spurs debates and creates headlines with a fervor that is unrivaled in Canada.(8) opinions -- Add your opinion
True to form, his essay in last week’s NYT magazine has received the column inches usually reserved for the Health Act and the Stanley Cup. So just what did he say that caused such a stir?
I will get to what I think about his essay in a moment, but first, what of the commentary? There actually aren’t that many serious criticisms. Most fall into the category of hit job critiques. People who have never, and likely will never think very highly of the man. These should not discount what are some real concerns though. There are two in particular.
The first is a line of critique that has been around for a while, and has been best outlined by Potter, Wells, and Ygelsias:
First, Andrew Potter:
Now he is claiming that, had he been a politician at the time, his decision might have been different. Why? Because as an intellectual, you are accountable only to yourself, while a politician is accountable to citizens, soldiers, allies, international institutions, and so on. So, the decision would have been different, because his constituency would have been different.I am not buying this.Paul Wells continues, with a little more vigor:
It's nutty-nutbar to perceive some culture of practical politics whose dictates would have led a Minister Ignatieff to conclude something different in 2003 from what Professor Ignatieff decided. In 2003, most practical politicians also thought the war was swell. It's hard to know where to stop counting them: Bill Clinton for sure, Hillary Clinton probably, Brian Mulroney, and never even mind Stephen Harper -- the pro-war camp also included rank-and-file Liberal MPs like Albina Guarnieri and David Pratt, Harperphobic Tories like Joe Clark, and those advisers around Paul Martin who voiced an opinion at the time. Along with quite literally every prominent English-language newspaper editorial board in Canada except the Toronto Star's.And Ygelsias brings it home:
But then someone pointed out to me that the whole thing is founded on the absurd premise that his errors in judgment have something to do with the mindset of academia versus the mindset of practical politics.So what of this critique? A couple of comments.
First, let's be clear about what Ignatieff has said about this. During the election campaign he said that had he been a Canadian politician at the time, the views of the Canadian electorate would have influenced his decision of whether to send Canadian troops into Iraq. This seems correct to me, and is something quite different to the argument that he would not have advocated US invasion, being in the US, and participating in the US policy debate.
In the latest piece, he does go a step further, and perhaps gets in some trouble, but this is not necessarily in relation to the specific Canadian position. Here he is more concerned with pointing out that there is a lot of academic and journalistic nonsense to which no accountability is held. Academics say a whole lot of stupid things that they are rarely held accountable for. He recognizes this, and is pointing it out. Academics can deal in the theoretical and play with ideas in a way that politicians simply can’t. Because they are held accountable to everything they say and do. This, at least in some fashion, changes the calculus of decision making.
Here though, he seems to underplay the extent to which certain academics, and they are admittedly rare, do influence policy. More importantly, in the case of the US position on Iraq, he was one of them. Therefore, I would say his position is correct with respect to the Canadian politics example, but does not hold in the American case.
In the end I think it is fair to say that his position as to whether to send Canadian troops into Iraq would have been based on a slightly different set of variables than his decision to advocate for US intervention. But, as Wells points out, let's not pretend that Chrétien’s position was either obvious, or without risk. There was a lot of debate in this country, as in others, about if, and how Iraq should be dealt with. Had there been a UN Security Council resolution, for example, then Chrétien would almost certainly have supported it. The debate was and remains nuanced, as I think Ignatieff struggles with in his public pronouncements. People want red meat, and he wants to remain introspective.
The second line of critique is summed up by Siddiqui:
Ignatieff invokes Bismarck's observation that political judgment is "the ability to hear, before anyone else, the distant hoofbeats of the horse of history," and adds: "Few of us hear the horses coming."Yes, but this retrospectively makes the debate seem black and white when it simply wasn't. People opposed and supported the war for a wide range of reasons. Siddiqui would not have supported it, for example, even had the Security Council been on board. All sides have to be honest about their positions in the lead-up. As Well’s has noted, pretty much everyone thought Chretien would support it. He wisely decided not to, but this was neither overwhelmingly obvious, nor without risks.
What’s more, not everyone who was against it was so for the same reasons. The French had been doing wide business with Saddam and had a serious grudge to pick with Bush. Much of the left is against the principle of humanitarian interventions writ large. Many American conservatives want an isolationist and protectionist US foreign policy. These varied positions are often in conflict with one another, and the attribution of virtue, particularly, humanitarianism, to all who opposed the war, misses much of the context of the debate, and blurs the policy challenges that are sure to arise when future interventions are considered.
As Potter says: “There were plenty of good arguments, both morally and under international law, for the invasion. There were good arguments against it as well, but reasonable people could and did disagree.”
So what to make of the article? For what it's worth, a few comments:
1. While saying that the Iraq war has condemned his judgment is certainly a mea culpa of sorts, this article is not really a reneging of his past positions, or how he came to them. Rather, it is more of a stream of consciousness accounting of his evolution from US public intellectual to Canadian politician. While I am not as pessimistic as Potter as to feasibility of this transition, there is no doubt that the two are very different.
2. I generally agree with his distinctions between academic and political judgment. Again though, he gets into the problem of being not just a typical academic during the Iraq lead-up. He aspired to, and attained, policy impact.
3. “I’ve learned that acquiring good judgment in politics starts with knowing when to admit your mistakes.” Refreshing. Wish more politicians would say this while wrestling publicly with their mistakes.
4. Way too many historical references. While I like to think that our leaders are well read, citing a dozen ‘great men’ in a 2500 word essay is a bit much. And there is no way to make the words “former denizen of Harvard” unpretentious.
5. “Having taught political science myself, I have to say the discipline promises more than it can deliver” = understatement of the year.
6. I don’t agree with this para:
The decision facing the United States over Iraq is paradigmatic of political judgment at its most difficult. Staying and leaving each have huge costs. One thing is clear: The costs of staying will be borne by Americans, while the cost of leaving will be mostly borne by Iraqis. That in itself suggests how American leaders are likely to decide the question.A few problems here. First, it doesn’t account for the fact that US presence is the catalyst for a good percentage of the violence. Second, at present, more Iraqi’s are being killed than Americans. Third, the humanitarian costs of leaving versus staying, depending on how both are done, are a matter of serious debate.
7. I really enjoyed his reflections on public life. I have witnessed these costs in a range of capacities over the past few years, and he hits the nail on the head with a few, one in particular:
In public life, language is a weapon of war and is deployed in conditions of radical distrust. All that matters is what you said, not what you meant. The political realm is a world of lunatic literalism. The slightest crack in your armor — between what you meant and what you said — can be pried open and the knife driven home.In some ways this is obvious, and Ignatieff got himself in some real political trouble during the leadership race for thinking out loud a bit more than he probably should have, but it's certainly true that in an area where what people mean should be what we care most about, as these people will be running the country, we insist on hyper-critiques of every word uttered. "Lunatic Literalism," great line.
8. I liked the idea of fixed principles versus fixed ideas in politics. The former are the values with which one governs, the latter “of a dogmatic kind are usually the enemy of good judgment.”
9. “In private life, we pay the price of our own mistakes. In public life, a politician’s mistakes are first paid by others.” Again, this is true, but he was a public figure before he entered politics.
10. I don't fully agree with this para:
“My convictions had all the authority of personal experience, but for that very reason, I let emotion carry me past the hard questions, like: Can Kurds, Sunnis and Shiites hold together in peace what Saddam Hussein held together by terror?”I’m not sure that this is the right question. More important was whether the mechanisms used to intervene and nation-build, (or not, as the case may be), would create a situation on which radical elements of these communities could capitalize.
On balance, this essay is an honest public accounting from a public figure working his way through the biggest policy challenge of our time. But it is also filled with interesting reflections on politics that are rare from someone still active in public life.
And in the end, I would echo the conclusion of the Montreal Gazette:
“Ignatieff's self-criticism deserves to be remembered much longer than his volte-face on Iraq, because it is the sort of intelligent candour that is so painfully rare in public life. It's a refreshing and thought-provoking glimpse at how an intelligent person copes with the challenges of policy decision-making.”There are, and were before Iraq, no easy answers for what to do in the Middle East. Anyone who pretended or pretends otherwise, as many did and do on either side, are disingenuous, and frankly don’t deserve to be leading us through this challenge. We need more people who struggle with problems in public and that absolve themselves of the cocksure that has become the partisan norm. For this, Ignatieff’s honesty should be valued. Does this make him a great leader? Frankly, I don’t know yet. He is certainly daring, as he nudges us to conclude in his final paragraph. I do know that I am glad he is part of the political debate, as there is no doubt he does politics differently. Here’s hoping he keeps thinking, and struggling – in public.
Tuesday, August 07, 2007
# Posted 11:22 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
MR. RUSSERT: Before you go, if we had actionable intelligence about Osama bin Laden or high level targets in Pakistan, and General Musharraf—President Musharraf did not act, would we act unilaterally?A diplomatic answer from the Secretary, although not a very clear one. Thus, it seems Obama has found a way to position himself to the right of the Bush administration on one small aspect of national security.
On the one hand, I'm glad to see that Obama can think of at least one situation in which he would support the use of force unilaterally. But his position strikes me as opportunistic. He can afford to antagonize the Pakistanis precisely because he isn't President. If he were, both the State Department and the Pentagon would be knocking down his door to prevent him from risking the US government's entire relationship with Pakistan. I'm guessing that since Democrats are so big on exhausting all diplomatic options before resorting to the use of force, Obama would listen.
If it hadn't been just a week after Hillary attacked him for being naive, I doubt Obama would've tried to flank both her and Bush from the right. (6) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 11:06 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
A lot of those lobbyists, whether you like it or not...represent real Americans. They actually do. They represent nurses, they represent, you know, social workers. They represent—yes, they represent corporations that employ a lot of people. So you know, the idea that somehow a contribution is going to influence you, I just ask you to look at my record. I have been fighting for the same things. I—my core principles have not changed. But I do want to be the president for everybody, and I want to represent the entire country, and that is what I’m aiming to do in my campaign.Obama and Edwards saw their opening and ran with it:
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL): I disagree with the notion that lobbyists don’t have disproportionate influence. Look, the insurance and the drug companies—the insurance and the drug companies spent $1 billion in lobbying over the last 10 years. Now Hillary, you, you were talking earlier about the, you know, efforts you made back in ‘93. Well, you can’t tell me that that money did not have a difference. They are not spending that just because they are contributing to the public interest. They have an agenda.I'd say that's mostly cheap populism. Hillary's answer explained exactly why. What's curious is that she took a position that it is politically less comfortable. I'm guessing if she could afford to turn down donations from federal lobbyists, she would do so and offer exactly the same explanation that Obama did. Even so, I give her credit for giving a straight-up answer to a hostile audience instead of trying to dodge the question. (4) opinions -- Add your opinion
Sunday, August 05, 2007
# Posted 10:56 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
The decision facing the United States over Iraq is paradigmatic of political judgment at its most difficult. Staying and leaving each have huge costs. One thing is clear: The costs of staying will be borne by Americans, while the cost of leaving will be mostly borne by Iraqis. That in itself suggests how American leaders are likely to decide the question.Phil comments:
In the Iraq context, I think Ignatieff's point is somewhat oversimplified. Americans will pay many costs for leaving as well. But in broadbrush strokes, he is correct. The worst consequences will not weigh on the judgment of the American people and politicians who will inevitably make this decision. And because of that fact, I think the decision is pre-ordained. At some point, maybe in this political election cycle, or maybe in the next one, America will withdraw from Iraq.I basically agree. American voters will not resist a withdrawal from Iraq because of the mass slaughter that may follow. The more positive way to present that statement, if one is an advocate of withdrawal, is that Americans will not keep sending their soldiers to die in a war they believe is essentially lost.
Both of these interpretations have some merit. If American voters had to pay the same price as Iraqis for a withdrawal, those voters might be willing to keep paying for and fighting a war in which the prospect of victory is remote.
It is worth adding that the unstated premise of both Ignatieff's argument and Phil's commentary is that American voters don't believe that we will endanger ourselves here at home by pulling out of Iraq. That danger is what the Bush administration has been emphasizing for some time by reminding us that Al Qaeda sees the war in Iraq as the central front in its struggle with the United States. In response, Democrats have spoken of leaving a smaller force behind to deal with Al Qaeda.
What do most Americans think of Bush's argument and the Democratic response? You tell me. Personally, I think it would be very dangerous to give Al Qaeda a victory in Iraq, but it is several steps from there to another attack on the homeland.
Not because Americans are especially short-sighted or self-centered, but because democratic republics are set up in order to ensure that (7) opinions -- Add your opinion
Thursday, August 02, 2007
# Posted 11:34 AM by Patrick Porter
Two pundits whose writing I respect - conservative Andrew Sullivan and socialist Johann Hari - have changed their minds radically over the Iraq war.
But as well as changing their minds over an issue, an entirely legitimate thing to do, they have shifted their anger and their targets.
After 9/11, Andrew Sullivan described critics who blamed America as contemptible 'fifth-columnists' guilty of 'appeasement' etc, and scolded the Spanish electorate for voting out their government after the Madrid bombing. Now his blog site runs 'neo-con jokes', and accuses rightist supporters of General Petraeus, such as Hugh Hewitt or Bill Kristol, of being unhinged denialists peddling a Weimar stab-in-the-back myth.
For his part, Johann Hari was a passionate supporter of the war as a humanitarian cause removing a military tyrant. He once said the job of the left was
'to try to steer this colossus towards spreading the values of its own American revolution: the overthrow of tyranny and the birth of democracy.' Having signed up to this most idealistic project, he now attends the annual cruise of the National Review to laugh in print at the reptilian and reactionary neo-cons on board.
To be fair, both Sullivan and Hari have issued their mea culpas and admitted where they believe they were wrong about the war and about the government that executed it.
But its almost as though having cleaned the slate, they feel free to turn their fire and opprobrium on others who have not dramatically altered their position.
None of this is too surprising or unusual. War stands on the extremes of human experience, its disillusionments and disappointments are gutting, particularly when one has openly and noisly supported it. Hari for his part has put himself in the firing line in Gaza to examine the Arab-Israeli conflict and expose the dangers of radical Islam. And we've all made the error of being overzealous in the way we argue about these issues.
However, there is one danger. By going further than merely arguing, by seeking out an entirely new cast of monsters to mock, by treating a mea culpa as a licence to hurl aggressive accusations at anyone at all, Andrew and Johann may reach a point in the debate where there are few participants they haven't derided. (30) opinions -- Add your opinion
Wednesday, August 01, 2007
# Posted 10:03 AM by Taylor Owen
TOWARDS A PROGRESSIVE FP?: On a train from Rome to Venice, I just tucked into Samantha Power's review essay on the future of War on Terror in this Sunday's Times. Again, she shows why she a leading driver of an emerging liberal foreign policy position that deviates at once from the utopian militarism of neoconservationism, the isolationism of realism, and the dangerous reliance on Bush-bashing that dominates much of the left. Dare I say, she is working and thinking towards an emerging progressive foreign policy agenda.(15) opinions -- Add your opinion
The piece begins with a framing that is not always recognized. In the days following the 9/11 attacks, Bush defined the War on Terror in srikingly broad terms. He did not confine the war to defeating Al Qaeda, but that it would begin with Al Qaeda, and “not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated.”
The greater paradigmatic change, and the object of Power's ire, however, was not in this definition of the enemy, but rather in a redefinition of the mechanisms that should be used to defeat it. This redefinition, ostensibly designed to adapt to a new security environment, had four parts: the criminal justice approach to counterterrorism was being replaced by a military one; States were either with the US or against them; international institutions were seen as constraining factors that needed to be circumvented; and that the executive, in such a time of emergency, should be given the balance of power over the congressional and legislative branches of government.
So how has this worked out? By Power's assessment, rather poorly. Using Rumsfeld's metric for sucess ("Are we capturing, killing or deterring and dissuading more terrorists every day than the madrassas and the radical clerics are recruiting, training and deploying against us?”), her conclusion is damning:
Leaked intelligence reports have shown that the answer is negative. The administration’s tactical and strategic blunders have crippled American military readiness; exposed vulnerabilities in training, equipment and force structure; and accelerated terrorist recruitment. In short, although the United States has not been directly hit since 9/11, we are less safe as a result of the Bush administration’s rhetoric, conduct and strategy.But in her words, "criticizing the calamities of the last six years of American foreign policy has become all too easy. And it does not itself improve our approach to combating terrorist threats that do in fact loom large — larger, in fact, because of Bush’s mistakes."
I couldn't agree more, and therefore welcome what lies at the core of this piece - a broad stroke review of three texts that each in their own way help us begin to define this new toolbox:
We must urgently set about reversing the harm done to the nation’s standing and security by simultaneously reasserting the moral difference between the United States and Islamic terrorists and by developing a 21st-century toolbox to minimize actual terrorist threats. Several new books take up thisThe first book is the US Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Manual, notably heavily influenced by David Patraeus. The manual is a response to the near complete lack of counterinsurgency capability in the US military following 9/11. What the manual suggests, is nothing short of revolutionary, and if implemented, I have no doubt would dramatically change the prospects for sucess certainly in Afghanistan, and possibly in Iraq. Powers aptly describes just why this manual is so dramatic:
The fundamental premise of the manual is that the key to successful counterinsurgency is protecting civilians. The manual notes: “An operation that kills five insurgents is counterproductive if collateral
The second book reviewed is Ian Shapiro's 'Containment: Rebuilding a Strategy Against Global Terror', which urges for for a return to legitimacy as a central tenant of US foreign policy. Where as Patreaus sees local legitimacy as critical to mission success in counterinsurgency warfare, Shapiro sees international legitimacy as a required tool of the War on Terror. Both argue that sucess is nearly impossible without it.
While Powers is sympathetic to his position on the diffuse, as opposed to unified nature of the threat, (which he sees as a good thing), she is quick to highlight the gulf between the ability to actualize a new containment doctrine, and the aggressive position of the Bush Administration:
For containment to work, Washington needs to be able to deliver credible threats. The irony of Bush’s flawed approach is that it has exposed the limits of American enforcement tools, stretching military and financial resources beyond recognition. This has a doubly negative effect: it emboldens those who need to be contained, and it deters those we once might have counted on for help in doing the containing.She also seems concerned that he is far too quick to dismiss, or at least minimise the threat of nuclear proliferation: "In fact, after six years of dishonesty and alarmism, it seems especially important — if challenging — to retain a capacity for grave, calibrated concern about the proliferation of nuclear aspirant states and their proud ties to terrorist networks."
If the new counterinsurgency doctrine strikes at the core of the identity, tactics and purpose of the US military, the third book reviewed, Talal Asad's 'On Suicide Bombing' challenges the core belief that there is a difference between the 'us' and 'them' cleanly delineated in Bush's post-9/11 world view.
Here Powers seems sympathetic to the call for greater cultural awareness, but falls short of endorsing Asad's moral equivalency. While she notes that "if you continue to believe (as I do) that there is a moral difference between setting out to destroy as many civilians as possible and killing civilians unintentionally and reluctantly in pursuit of a military objective, you will indeed find “On Suicide Bombing” disturbing, if not always in the way he intends." Here, however, I don't think that recognizing the moral distinction oneself, and seeing that others do not, are mutually exclusive. The very fact that people who's families are killed by cluster bombs see no difference between them and suicide attacks, is highly relevant to the discussion of our counterterrorism tactics, whether we agree with it or not.
Finally, Powers looks to the US disaster preparedness status post 9/11 through a review of Stephen Flynn's 'The Edge of Disaster: Rebuilding a Resilient Nation'. Here, she has little critique and seems as horrified as Flynn that so little has been done on this front:
By defining American security objectives in military terms, the Bush administration has failed to set achievable goals that could vastly decrease the human and financial damage from a large-scale attack atIn Powers' somewhat schizophrenic assessment of these three works lies an encapsulation of the challenge facing liberals. She endorses the radical new counterinsurgency doctrine, but worries that it is simply too difficult to implement on the fly as it requires a complete institutional overhaul (it is one thing for Patreas to tell his commanders to take far greater risks, it is quite another for them and their soldiers to do so given the decentralized command structure.) She is sympathetic to Shapiro's breakdown of the terrorist threat, but seems to worry that a containment strategy marks a return to an isolationism she is loath to endorse. While she sees the relevance, and indeed necessity, of better cultural understanding, she is concerned with the end result of cultural relativism. In short, she lies in the middle on most of these debates. Her position is nuanced.
In these reviews, she is clearly articulating, if not explicitly, a moderate, and I would argue, progressive stance on US foreign policy.
Where she is undoubtedly correct, is that liberals and progressives cannot sit on the sidelines of these debates. Out of the criticisms of the Bush administration's counterterrorism record, a relatively large bulls-eye, MUST come a new strategy - both for Iraq and for the war on terror. I for one, think she is right.