.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Tuesday, July 31

Try on this image of defeat, Mr Fishman

Last Friday Bill Moyers invited one Mr Fishman on his PBS show to discuss the situation in Iraq. Moyers said, "Brian Fishman is part of a team at the U.S. Military Academy whose mission is to train young officers who may find themselves up against those Muslim militants. The Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, where Brian Fishman is a senior associate, does just what its name implies. It was established to make sure cadets get the best possible education in global terrorism. [...] Assume I'm one of those cadets at West Point who may well be in Iraq a few months from now. What do you want me to know about al Qaeda in Iraq?"

Well, one thing Fishman wanted Bill to know is that the US has already been defeated:
BRIAN FISHMAN: With the cadets in class, we walk through some of the jihadi chat rooms that are used to spread propaganda against their fellow soldiers. And they need to understand -- there's a photo out there, a very famous photo that's on all of these chat rooms. It's a picture of a bunch of American soldiers taking a rest in a mosque with their boots on. And it's everywhere. And because it's just a symbol of sort of insult to Islam. And the cadets need to understand that even if they are doing something that they think is completely benign, that they don't mean any sort of insult, it can be used against them. And it's that kind of awareness that they need to get to the point where they understand that they could accidentally do something extraordinarily insulting. That photograph is more of the strategic defeat than any sort of tactical engagement on the battlefield. And we need to understand it and the cadets need to understand that.
If images create strategic defeat, I wonder what Mr Fishman would say about the image shown today of the US Secretary of State in the Middle East, in a meeting with Arab diplomats wearing traditional robes: Condi wearing a pantsuit, her African features framed by uncovered hair.

That image is also going all over the Muslim world, thanks to al Jazeera and several other satellite TV stations. And many millions of Muslim women are seeing it -- many more than will ever visit a terrorist chat room.

Here is Pundita's advice to Bill Moyers: Courage.

Best wishes, Prime Minister Brown

Pundita refuses to gush over a foreign dignitary but Gordon Brown's first State visit to the United States bowled me over. Of course there will be policy differences down the line, and Pundita is having conniptions about his giving Mark Malloch Brown a job, but nothing will dim the good impression the prime minister has made during his visit.

Al Qaeda death cult grosses out Afghan elders

Once the local insurgents in Iraq got to see Qaeda's tactics up close and personal, they balked at the level of brutality and turned against the cult. Now Qaeda's sadism is wearing out its welcome among Afghan tribes. How tragically odd and twisted that Afghanistan's remote regions are being introduced to globalization in horrific fashion. But then I recall the quaint local custom of Taliban stoning women to death in stadiums --

Taliban leaves tribal roots for Al Qaeda tactics
By Mark Sappenfield, staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor, August 1 edition
The Taliban has adopted more aggressive tactics – such as kidnappings and suicide bombings – imported directly from the Al Qaeda-led global jihad.:

[...] experts say that the Taliban's original reason for being – an intensely tribal brand of religious fundamentalism – has all but evaporated, as Muslims of all sects participate in a movement based less and less on traditional tribal values and increasingly on anti-Americanism and terrorism.

As a result, Pashtun tribal elders, long the best hope to negotiate the release of foreign hostages, including the Koreans, are increasingly being marginalized as the Taliban moves beyond its Afghan roots.

"This is a new strategy," says Ahmed Rashid, author of "Taliban." "There has been a progressive Al Qaeda-ization of tactics."

[...] During the [Korean hostage] crisis, Afghan leaders have repeatedly taken issue with the Taliban's shift in tactics. On Sunday, President Hamid Karzai denounced the kidnapping of women and "foreign guests" as unIslamic, and added: "This will have a shameful effect on the dignity of the Afghan people."

For Hajji Spandagul, a tribal elder from eastern Afghanistan, it is abhorrent. "This is not the culture of Afghanistan – to take women hostage, especially in the tribal culture," he says, waving his large, weathered hands forcefully. [...]

The goal [of the kidnappings of foreigners] is to spread fear among Afghanistan's international coalition, and the Taliban – like Al Qaeda in Iraq – has recognized the effectiveness of hostage-taking.

"NATO has said there has been no spring offensive," says Pakistani author Mr. Ahmed. "This is the offensive."

As with Al Qaeda's Madrid bombings, "the goal is to create opposition at home for some of these very fragile foreign governments that are facing opposition to their presence in Afghanistan," says Ahmed.

But it could also create problems for the Taliban in Afghanistan, where tribal leaders are still deeply respected.

"It was surprising to me that the Taliban did not accept the reasoning of the elders and important people of Ghazni," says Abdul Salam Raketi, a former member of the Taliban who is now a lawmaker, and was part of one of the government’s negotiating teams.

"It is really dangerous for the future of the Taliban," he says. "If people are supporting the Taliban a little, they won’t support them at all anymore because the Taliban did not listen to their elders in negotiations."

Elder Spandagul calls this the work of Chechens and Pakistanis who have come here to wage global jihad – and Afghan elders are powerless to stop them. In times past, tribes had their own militia, but these were disbanded with the establishment of the Western-backed government, and nothing has risen in their place. Many police patrols are unable to venture a mile from their posts.

Mr. Alizai of Kandahar recalls the day that a group of French soldiers came and asked why the Taliban were attacking from his district. "Because I have empty hands," he says. "If we don't have weapons how can we defend ourselves? They come and cut our necks."

It is the waning of a tribal culture that has governed the remotest corners of Afghanistan for generations, say elders. In areas so unconnected to the broader world, tribes still have a role to play in keeping order. But they are increasingly ground between a government seeking the trappings of a modern, centralized power structure and an insurgency seeking to further its own global ends. [...]


Democrats rethinking on Iraq?

I'm leading off this post with a discussion of a CNN interview yesterday about a Times op-ed piece because the implications of the interview are almost more important than the op-ed. If CNN -- known for their strong anti-Bush views -- chose not to ignore a positive report on the Iraq war, that is news in itself. It's a sign that the antiwar Democrats realize they can no longer ignore the changing situation on the ground in Iraq. I waited until this morning to mention the interview in hopes that CNN would publish the transcript but it didn't make the cut.

Last night Wolf Blitzer grilled Kenneth Pollack about the positive report he and Michael O'Hanlon filed for yesterday's New York Times about their latest trip in Iraq. I think the CNN Situation Room host can be forgiven for his extreme caution because Pollack has made several trips to Iraq and, by his own account, returned ever more depressed about the situation there. But this time Pollack found real cause for hope.

Blitzer pounced on the title of the Times op-ed, A War We Just Might Win , and asked Pollack whether he really believed the war was winnable. Pollack explained that the Times supplied the title for the op-ed, and that while he wouldn't commit to saying the war in Iraq could be won, he did find real progress there.

Blitzer also asked whether Pollack and O'Hanlon had traveled in Iraq on their own. Pollack replied that they were with the military most of the time but that was where they needed to be, because that's where all the action was happening.

Under Blitzer's questioning, Pollack made an observation that didn't show up in the Times piece. He said that the US government was putting too attention on the gridlocked political situation in Baghdad. He said that it was the outlying regions where political progress was happening. He recommended that the US take more advantage of the situation instead of waiting on Baghdad.

Blitzer finished the interview by asking Pollack what advice he would give the Democrats about their stance on the Iraq situation; Pollack replied, in essence, that he would urge them to be more cautious about seeing the war in Iraq as a failure.

For all my support of the Coalition effort I found the Pollack-O'Hanlon report terribly upsetting in one respect:
In previous trips to Iraq we often found American troops angry and frustrated — many sensed they had the wrong strategy, were using the wrong tactics and were risking their lives in pursuit of an approach that could not work.
The report goes on to give good news about present troop morale but if only we'd had the present war strategy in place three years ago. Well, war is not the time for recriminations and anyhow we can't put Donald Rumsfeld on trial; yet still, a very upsetting observation. Here's the report:
July 30, 2007, Washington
New York Times Op-Ed Contributor
A War We Just Might Win
By MICHAEL E. O’HANLON and KENNETH M. POLLACK

Viewed from Iraq, where we just spent eight days meeting with American and Iraqi military and civilian personnel, the political debate in Washington is surreal. The Bush administration has over four years lost essentially all credibility. Yet now the administration’s critics, in part as a result, seem unaware of the significant changes taking place.

Here is the most important thing Americans need to understand: We are finally getting somewhere in Iraq, at least in military terms. As two analysts who have harshly criticized the Bush administration’s miserable handling of Iraq, we were surprised by the gains we saw and the potential to produce not necessarily “victory” but a sustainable stability that both we and the Iraqis could live with.

After the furnace-like heat, the first thing you notice when you land in Baghdad is the morale of our troops. In previous trips to Iraq we often found American troops angry and frustrated — many sensed they had the wrong strategy, were using the wrong tactics and were risking their lives in pursuit of an approach that could not work.

Today, morale is high. The soldiers and marines told us they feel that they now have a superb commander in Gen. David Petraeus; they are confident in his strategy, they see real results, and they feel now they have the numbers needed to make a real difference.

Everywhere, Army and Marine units were focused on securing the Iraqi population, working with Iraqi security units, creating new political and economic arrangements at the local level and providing basic services — electricity, fuel, clean water and sanitation — to the people. Yet in each place, operations had been appropriately tailored to the specific needs of the community. As a result, civilian fatality rates are down roughly a third since the surge began — though they remain very high, underscoring how much more still needs to be done.

In Ramadi, for example, we talked with an outstanding Marine captain whose company was living in harmony in a complex with a (largely Sunni) Iraqi police company and a (largely Shiite) Iraqi Army unit. He and his men had built an Arab-style living room, where he met with the local Sunni sheiks — all formerly allies of Al Qaeda and other jihadist groups — who were now competing to secure his friendship.

In Baghdad’s Ghazaliya neighborhood, which has seen some of the worst sectarian combat, we walked a street slowly coming back to life with stores and shoppers. The Sunni residents were unhappy with the nearby police checkpoint, where Shiite officers reportedly abused them, but they seemed genuinely happy with the American soldiers and a mostly Kurdish Iraqi Army company patrolling the street. The local Sunni militia even had agreed to confine itself to its compound once the Americans and Iraqi units arrived.

We traveled to the northern cities of Tal Afar and Mosul. This is an ethnically rich area, with large numbers of Sunni Arabs, Kurds and Turkmens. American troop levels in both cities now number only in the hundreds because the Iraqis have stepped up to the plate. Reliable police officers man the checkpoints in the cities, while Iraqi Army troops cover the countryside. A local mayor told us his greatest fear was an overly rapid American departure from Iraq. All across the country, the dependability of Iraqi security forces over the long term remains a major question mark.

But for now, things look much better than before. American advisers told us that many of the corrupt and sectarian Iraqi commanders who once infested the force have been removed. The American high command assesses that more than three-quarters of the Iraqi Army battalion commanders in Baghdad are now reliable partners (at least for as long as American forces remain in Iraq).

In addition, far more Iraqi units are well integrated in terms of ethnicity and religion. The Iraqi Army’s highly effective Third Infantry Division started out as overwhelmingly Kurdish in 2005. Today, it is 45 percent Shiite, 28 percent Kurdish, and 27 percent Sunni Arab.

In the past, few Iraqi units could do more than provide a few “jundis” (soldiers) to put a thin Iraqi face on largely American operations. Today, in only a few sectors did we find American commanders complaining that their Iraqi formations were useless — something that was the rule, not the exception, on a previous trip to Iraq in late 2005.

The additional American military formations brought in as part of the surge, General Petraeus’s determination to hold areas until they are truly secure before redeploying units, and the increasing competence of the Iraqis has had another critical effect: no more whack-a-mole, with insurgents popping back up after the Americans leave.

In war, sometimes it’s important to pick the right adversary, and in Iraq we seem to have done so. A major factor in the sudden change in American fortunes has been the outpouring of popular animus against Al Qaeda and other Salafist groups, as well as (to a lesser extent) against Moktada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army.

These groups have tried to impose Shariah law, brutalized average Iraqis to keep them in line, killed important local leaders and seized young women to marry off to their loyalists. The result has been that in the last six months Iraqis have begun to turn on the extremists and turn to the Americans for security and help. The most important and best-known example of this is in Anbar Province, which in less than six months has gone from the worst part of Iraq to the best (outside the Kurdish areas). Today the Sunni sheiks there are close to crippling Al Qaeda and its Salafist allies. Just a few months ago, American marines were fighting for every yard of Ramadi; last week we strolled down its streets without body armor.

Another surprise was how well the coalition’s new Embedded Provincial Reconstruction Teams are working. Wherever we found a fully staffed team, we also found local Iraqi leaders and businessmen cooperating with it to revive the local economy and build new political structures. Although much more needs to be done to create jobs, a new emphasis on microloans and small-scale projects was having some success where the previous aid programs often built white elephants.

In some places where we have failed to provide the civilian manpower to fill out the reconstruction teams, the surge has still allowed the military to fashion its own advisory groups from battalion, brigade and division staffs. We talked to dozens of military officers who before the war had known little about governance or business but were now ably immersing themselves in projects to provide the average Iraqi with a decent life.

Outside Baghdad, one of the biggest factors in the progress so far has been the efforts to decentralize power to the provinces and local governments. But more must be done. For example, the Iraqi National Police, which are controlled by the Interior Ministry, remain mostly a disaster. In response, many towns and neighborhoods are standing up local police forces, which generally prove more effective, less corrupt and less sectarian. The coalition has to force the warlords in Baghdad to allow the creation of neutral security forces beyond their control.

In the end, the situation in Iraq remains grave. In particular, we still face huge hurdles on the political front. Iraqi politicians of all stripes continue to dawdle and maneuver for position against one another when major steps towards reconciliation — or at least accommodation — are needed. This cannot continue indefinitely. Otherwise, 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.

How much longer should American troops keep fighting and dying to build a new Iraq while Iraqi leaders fail to do their part? And how much longer can we wear down our forces in this mission? These haunting questions underscore the reality that the surge cannot go on forever. But there is enough good happening on the battlefields of Iraq today that Congress should plan on sustaining the effort at least into 2008.

Michael E. O’Hanlon is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. Kenneth M. Pollack is the director of research at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at Brookings.
11:15 Update
I just visited Riehl World View and saw there's more good news about Democrat perceptions of the new Coalition strategy in Iraq. One correction to the report that Dan Riehl highlights: Rep. Ellison is quoted by USA Today as saying there are "150,000" American soldiers in Iraq. There are about 160,000 US troops in Iraq.
2:30 PM Update
July 30 seems to have been the day of a sea change in the mainstream media coverage of the Surge and the Democrat position on the Iraq war: Dave Schuler at The Glittering Eye reported on a conversation among David Ignatius of The Washington Post; Time Magazine’s Michael Duffy; NBC’s Kelly O’Donnell; and US News and World Report’s Gloria Borger on Chris Matthews’s show on NBC.

Dave writes, "All four spoke against withdrawing our forces from Iraq, largely on the same grounds that I’ve argued ..." Read On. The panelists lean toward the Democrat view and they're all very influential in both the US and international press. So, if they are urging the Democrats to rethink, their opinion carries clout.

Monday, July 30

How much does piracy threaten democracy in the globalized era?

"In Kosovo [George Soros] has invested $50m in an attempt to gain control of the Trepca mine complex, where there are vast reserves of gold, silver, lead and other minerals estimated to be worth in the region of $5bn. He thus copied a pattern he has deployed to great effect over the whole of eastern Europe: of advocating "shock therapy" and "economic reform", then swooping in with his associates to buy valuable state assets at knock-down prices."(1)(2)

"Most Serbian politicians are [...] still beholden to a US private citizen, financier George Soros, who, in a deal struck in the Budapest Hilton Hotel in 1999, paid some $250-million to the leaders of what became the Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) to help in the overthrow of the Serbian Milosevic Government. These parties — unlike the Serbian Radical Party, which did not receive Soros funding — sold their soul (and subsequently gave commercial concessions in Serbia proper and Kosovo) — to Soros who now, through various front groups such as his International Crisis Group (ICG), demands the independence of Kosovo from Serbia." (3)

" ... for all his liberal quoting of Popper, Soros deems a society "open" not if it respects human rights and basic freedoms, but if it is "open" for him and his associates to make money."(1)

"Hi Miss P:
I would not have paid much attention to the Swedish Meatballs Confidential blog except it came recommended by [two knowledgeable friends]. Plus the topic here is the authenticity of the color revolutions; you were far ahead of your time so you should enjoy the transcripts:

Nato Stooges Unplugged: Georgian President Praises Financial Times’s Role In Propaganda War

Mark Safranski
ZenPundit "

Dear Mark:
Thank you for passing along the Meatballs post; no surprises there and some of the analysis is skewed but it's a hoot. Yes, by now many Americans who follow such events have caught up; i.e., they are aware that the Color Revolutions were not revolutions at all, and were staged by the US State Department and West European governments, notably the British Foreign Office, and with help from George Soros.

But I also think the majority who comment on the fact are still unwilling to acknowledge that Vladimir Putin's clamp on freedoms and re-nationalizing of key Russian industries has been the only way to prevent Soros, and the non-Russian government actors and industrialists he represents, from taking over Russia and picking it clean.

So we have reached a conundrum. Do you have to sacrifice democracy to protect your nation against pirates? Pirates who have developed a huge arsenal of financial tools in the globalized era, and who work hand-in-glove with governments trying to take over your nation? I don't have the answer, Mark, but the question costs me sleep.

By the way, the Financial Times also played a big role in ejecting Paul Wolfowitz from the World Bank. To be more precise, the Times made a lot of hay from Wolfowitz's mistakes at the Bank.

He might have been getting close to opening the Bank's Pandora's Box on Eastern Europe and Russia. Vladimir Putin learned the hard way that if you want to take on Mordor, you need to pick your battles and have a ruthless gang behind you. It's a lesson that Wolfowitz seems incapable of absorbing.

Wolfy wasn't even working with support from State or the White House. But if you start asking questions about what happened to all the Bank money poured into former Soviet countries, that leads to great embarrassment for the US and our oldest NATO allies.

1) George Soros profile, Neil Clark, New Statesman, June 2003

2) Not all the mines and factories in the Trepca conglomerate are located in Kosovo but most are, including one of the richest mines in Europe and the richest in the Balkans. For eye-popping background on the Soros/Nato machinations, read Diana Johnstone's 2000 How it is Done: Taking over the Trepca Mines.

3) The Road to Peace in the Balkans is Paved With Bad Intentions by Gregory R. Copley.

Friday, July 27

China hawks, pick your fights with Russia wisely.

China hawks spend oceans of time discussing the need to offset China's rising influence. The consensus emerging from the discussion is that the US needs to make stronger alliances in China's region.

Sounds good on paper but if you want to go with this plan, you need to make up your mind about Russia. That's because you are dreaming if you think India will risk isolation in the region.

Pundita assures you there will be no Ganges Alliance with the United States of America. But if New Delhi sees Washington maintaining good relations with Moscow, this will go a long way toward help India stick out their neck when it comes to dealing with China.

So you have a choice: You can continue being the European Union's lackey when it comes to all European issues involving Russia. Or you can push the boundaries of the NATO alliance by making case-by-case decisions on when the US should sit back and let the EU fight their own battles with Moscow.

Your choice would be easier if you keep in mind that individual European governments don't hesitate to cut deals with Moscow when it suits them. When it doesn't suit them, they run to Washington and complain that Moscow is kicking sand in their face.

You might also want to consider that we wouldn't be having this discussion, if Russia did as much trade with the US as China. If that were the case, you would be willing to overlook many Russian failings. But you can't fashion a defense strategy for the United States out of balance of trade figures. You have to think first in terms of geography.

I note that Russia's President Vladimir Putin is enjoying a good month. First there was the success of the Lobster Summit; you wouldn't know it from the mainstream media's analyses, but the casualness of the setting tended to mask the crucial and historic US-Russia summit on nuclear issues.(1)

Then, last week, Putin got the Kosovo issue removed from the U.N. Security Council table after Russia threatened to veto any solution Serbia opposes. As Bloomberg News noted today:
Romania, Slovakia, Spain and Cyprus are among European countries leery of turning Kosovo into a nation without UN approval, out of concern that this would lead to agitation by minorities inside their own borders.
By using the veto threat, Putin has maneuvered the situation away from the United Nations venue.

Yesterday was the cherry on top of Putin's sundae:
George Bush's plans to establish a European missile defence system suffered a big setback yesterday when a Congressional committee slashed the funding. The House appropriations committee cut $139m (£69.5m) from the $310m the Bush administration wants for preparatory work on the missile project in Europe. It approved funds for a radar system in the Czech Republic but cut the $139m Mr Bush requested to establish a missile interception system in Poland, the most controversial part of the defence system.
That doesn't mean the project is dead but the setback encourages Putin to keep drumming up opposition to the system and gives him more time to push his own plan for a joint Russia-NATO missile interceptor system.

Even if Putin's plan of basing the interceptors in Russia doesn't work to stop missiles from Iran, the United States should agree to the system as an adjunct to the one now on the table. If Washington had done this at the beginning -- strongly encouraged Russia to participate in the interceptor plan instead of only informing Russia of what we had already decided -- we would have avoided an unnecessary confrontation.

And by considering that partition could be the only workable plan to solve the Kosovo problem, the US would have avoided another unnecessary confrontation with Russia at the United Nations.

Think. Don't let Brussels and the Wall Street Journal crowd run US defense policy, if you want better US policy on dealing with China's rising military influence.

1) This is the only informative analysis of the Lobster Summit I was able to find:
July 3, 2007 (Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty) -- There were smiles and sunshine and seacoast, but what exactly did the Bush-Putin summit succeed at, and fail at? RFE/RL correspondent Heather Maher asks James Collins -- the U.S. ambassador to Russia from 1997-2001, and now the director of the Russian and Eurasian program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington -- to tally the wins and losses.

RFE/RL: Many of the post-summit press reports said that Presidents George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin basically had a great time, and enjoyed good talks, but no major agreements were announced. Is that your impression?

James Collins: Well, I don't think that's quite correct. First of all, they completed negotiations and completed, or signed, depending on how you put it, a "Section 1-2-3 Agreement" on Friday [June 29]. Now, this is a big deal.

RFE/RL: How important is it?

Collins: The 1-2-3 Agreement is a framework agreement under which any U.S. cooperation on civilian nuclear matters takes place with another country. And to have this agreement means that we now have open the opportunity for our whole civilian nuclear communities in both countries to work together. And that has not been the case up till now.

There have been all kinds of restrictions and caveats and problems on information sharing, how information is handled, what can be disclosed, etc., etc., etc. And so what this means, it looks like we are really taking a major step ahead in the area of civilian nuclear cooperation.

RFE/RL: Can you put the significance of that "major step" into some kind of historical context?

Collins: My view of this is that it is the nuclear equivalent of what we did in space at the beginning of the '90s, when we broke down the barriers and got our two space communities into the same tent, and were able to produce the space station and a whole host of other things in civilian space cooperation.

It was very, very significant. And here's the context: there is going to come a large expansion of nuclear power generation, globally. If we don't have a new international framework for that, we're all going to have problems with proliferation, how do we manage the spent nuclear fuel, etc.

This is going to make it possible to get serious people to sit down and talk about how to deal with this. And that's going to be essential if you're going to have an international framework for the next generation of nuclear power.


Read more of the interview.

Thursday, July 26

Houston, we have liftoff: Iraq privatizes their oil-refining sector.

July 20, 2007: [In Iraq] The black-market cost of fuel held its price at 27,000 Iraqi dinars (US $22) for 20 litres, three times the forecourt price. And day-long queues were again reported at some petrol stations.(1)

July 25, 2007: Last week Iraq again increased its prices for gasoline as part of its obligations to the International Monetary Fund and Paris Club agreements on debt relief and new loans, which are nudging Iraq toward capitalism.

June 2005
The problem, says Iraq's former electricity minister, Aiham al-Sammarae, is not so much the infrastructure as it was earlier. At least two new power plants have been finished, another is under construction and three more are being rehabilitated for a total of 3,500 new megawatts of power. But even those that are finished are not running. The problem: No fuel.

AIHAM AL-SAMMARAE: We have the 1,850 megawatt run by fuel, diesel fuel, and we said during the summer we needed $300 million to buy that fuel. The government failed to give us that money and American, they don't like to spend the money from the donations which they promise us, so we're stuck. [...](2)
Now why would Iraq's government -- or the US, for that matter, have to purchase the fuel, given Iraq's oil production capacity in 2005? The full answer is a typical tale of Iraq's problems since Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, which led to the US bombings of the Iraq's infrastructures, which led to years of economic sanctions on Iraq, which led to, which led to, which led -- and finally wheeling all the way back to the creation of the Iraq nation.

So the short answer is that several factors, not simply insurgent attacks on Iraq's oil facilities and pipelines, forced Iraq's government to cough up billions to import fuel and Washington was caught short by the astronomical unforeseen expense. The upshot, like a stone cast into a still pond, was rings of problems leading to other rings of problems.

By the end of 2003, CPA staff had learned to their horror that every attempted solution to any of Iraq's infrastructure problems generated a no-win situation that in turn generated more rings of problems. Nowhere was this phenomenon more evident than in CPA and subsequent Iraq government attempts to scale back Iraq's hopelessly bloated ministry staffs and bring in desperately needed privatization to some of Iraq's key government sectors.

But the great thing about objective reality is that it keeps flogging you to find an exit from a hellish maze. Objective reality, in this case, is 130 degree temperatures in the summer in Baghdad. That means Iraqis must have more electricity, which also means they need more fuel.

Pundita is overjoyed to report that the door out of hell has been pried open by a series of grand compromises. After years of wrangling, on Tuesday Iraq's Parliament approved a law privatizing the country's oil-refining sector. The law will lure investment and stem a fuel shortage. Here is the Earth Times analysis of the law and its ramifications:
The law [...] is a step toward relinquishing government involvement in the refining sector and, when poverty is alleviated, moving Iraqi consumers from state-subsidized to market prices for fuel.

Oil Minister Hussain al-Shahristani told UPI Wednesday from his mobile phone in Baghdad that the government will provide incentives to both domestic and foreign private oil companies whose refinery plans the ministry approves.

"This is a law that will privatize the refining sector in Iraq and allow the private sector, whether it's local or international investments, to be able to invest in refining activities in Iraq, including building refineries," Shahristani said.

The refinery law is not the same as the highly contested oil law, stuck in Parliament, which would govern access to and development of Iraq's vast oil reserves.

Despite its oil wealth, Iraq produces less than 2 million barrels per day -- compared with 2.6 million bpd before the war -- and exports more than three-quarters of it. That income covered more than 90 percent of the 2006 federal budget.

Demand for products such as gasoline, cooking and heating fuel is being met by the maxed-out domestic refineries -- which also suffer from sabotage, fuel smuggling and electrical shortages -- and regular fuel imports.

Earlier this month Iraq put out tenders for 1.3 million gallons of gasoline per day for the second half of this year, as well as tenders for kerosene, gas oil and other cooking and heating fuels. The security situation has caused import problems in the past.

In order to produce more fuel from Iraq's own oil supply, Shahristani said the law allows the ministry to offer private refineries "long-term supply of required crude oil at discount price from the market price on the day of supply." The price will be 1 percent below the price at which the State Oil Marketing Organization is selling the oil.

Shahristani said the deal gets sweeter because importers of Iraqi oil won't have to ship it to refineries outside the country, but make fuels in an established market.

"When you produce your fuel product in country you will not need to import it from outside," Shahristani said, though he also said the companies will be "totally free" to export the fuel if they can make more money doing it.

He said the law requires a certain percentage of Iraqi workers to be hired for a given project, leading to more jobs, more refining capacity and more fuel.

A company must submit a proposal to the Oil Ministry, "either on their own or in partnership with one of the Ministry of Oil companies," Shahristani said.

If approved, the ministry will also offer infrastructure support, sweet land deals and discounted utilities costs, he said, explaining such projects have "reasonable profit margins but not very large and investors have to be encouraged to come to areas like Iraq to start their work."

Shahristani said it is not only the stark security situation that's preventing investment, but Iraq is "an evolving economy from totally centralized to free market, and the economic system has not really developed to a point" that investors are confident in the safety of their investments.

The "new" Iraq as a free-market state isn't the goal of the entire country. It was a priority of the Bush administration, though. As head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, the first occupation administration of Iraq in 2003, Paul Bremer made it a guiding rule, shutting down 192 state-owned businesses where the World Bank estimated 500,000 people were working. The Washington Post reported in May that Deputy Undersecretary of Defense Paul Brinkley recently skirted the U.S. State Department's free-market-or-nothing mandate on Iraq's economy and began the process of reopening the factories.

The oil sector, however, at least upstream, was a harder sell. The debate over the oil law pits those who want strong central government control over oil planning and development against proponents of regional/local control, which would likely lead to more reliance on private companies. There is no overall agreement as to the type of contracts those companies would sign, sparking worries it will be too friendly to foreign companies.

Shahristani said Iraq's gradual move out of refining will let it put more into the upstream sector.

The refining law doesn't include any government sell-off of its state operations "because the country needs fuel products."

"Currently our policy is to keep our government-owned and operated refineries until we are sure the market can be supplied from the private sector," Shahristani said. "As the private sector takes over this activity, the government will be stepping down."

Last week Iraq again increased its prices for gasoline as part of its obligations to the International Monetary Fund and Paris Club agreements on debt relief and new loans, which are nudging Iraq toward capitalism.

Iraq has long subsidized fuel to its citizens. That, in part, is spurring smugglers to take advantage of the high demand, long fuel-station lines and cheap station prices. The government estimated late last year such a black market was routing $700 million a month. The Brookings Institution's Iraq Index estimates available fuel supplies are at about half the "stated goal."

The Planning Ministry estimated earlier this month unemployment averaged between 60 percent and 70 percent, but the government says it will continue decreasing subsidies.

Shahristani said the end decision to erase all fuel subsidies is part of the annual budget process but will likely not happen "until the standard of living of Iraqis is raised until they can afford the international prices
."
1) From BBC report

2) From PBS Newshour Report.

Tuesday, July 24

Crank up the committee

Hot off the press from the Guardian Unlimited:
The US ambassador, Ryan Crocker, came face-to-face with his Iranian counterpart, Hassan Kazemi-Qomi, in Baghdad for a second round of talks following discussions on May 28 [...]

Mr Crocker said: "We discussed ways forward and one of the issues we discussed was the formation of a security subcommittee that would address at an expert or technical level some issues relating to security, be that support for violent militias, al-Qaida or border security."

Iraqi foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari, said experts would meet as early as tomorrow to work out the structure and mechanism of the committee. "We hope that the next round of talks will be on a higher level if progress is made," he said.

The Reuters news agency reported that the talks were dominated by US accusations of Iranian interference in Iraq
.(1)
1) US confronts Iran as talks resume on Iraq

War clouds in Golan Heights and snowballing achievements of Plan B in Iraq.

John Batchelor's first guest during his Sunday stint on Drudge Radio was Aaron Klein, who reported on Israel's military reinforcements in the Golan in response to recent Syrian provocations.(1)

By interesting coincidence the Guardian -- that conduit for MI6 opinion -- today published a commentary that gossips about rumored backchannel talks between Syria and Israel that seem to be going nowhere. The author chides Assad for giving into pressure from Iran:
America has insisted that Israel shouldn't talk to Syria, while Syria has been unable to break away from its own bigger bullyboy, Iran. So it is disappointing, to say the least, to learn that just as Israel has managed to free itself from peer pressure and request direct talks with its northern neighbour, Syria seems to have buckled under Iranian pressure not to talk and has instead accepted $1bn of military aid from Iran along with assistance in nuclear research.

Now Assad might believe that Olmert has neither the power nor the inclination to engage in serious peace talks, but that does not excuse the Syrian leader from not bothering to find out.
I fear the author's lens is too narrow; he analyzes the Syria-Israel situation outside the context of the rapidly changing situation in Iraq. During the past year several commentators have correctly observed that Middle Eastern political and military events are now closely connected. So I don't think it's excessively dotty to note that Iran's poodle is escalating war threats regarding the Golan at just the time that Plan B, or what Charles Krauthammer terms The 20 Percent Solution, is making serious headway in Iraq. The success is bad news for Syria's Baathists and Tehran.

Krauthammer reports that after twiddling our thumbs waiting for Maliki's government to make real overtures to Iraq's Sunni insurgents, the US command and the new US ambassador to Iraq took executive action:
[...] Petraeus and Crocker have found a Plan B: pacify [Iraq] region by region, principally by getting Sunnis to join the fight against al-Qaeda.

This has begun to happen in Anbar and Diyala. [...] al-Qaeda's objectives are not the Sunnis'. [...] That's why so many Sunnis have accepted Petraeus's bargain -- they join our fight against al-Qaeda, and we give them weaponry and military support. With that, they can rid themselves of the al-Qaeda cancer now. And later, when the Americans inevitably leave, they'll be better positioned to defend themselves against the 80 percent Shiite-Kurd majority they are beginning to realize they may have unwisely taken on.

The bargain is certainly working for us. [...] The charge against our previous war strategy was that we were playing whack-a-mole: They escape from here, they reestablish there. Petraeus's plan is to eliminate all al-Qaeda sanctuaries.
Maliki is none too happy about the Coalition deals with Iraq's Sunnis. And I think that even some US military advisors are unhappy about a secondary component of Plan B, which releases vetted Sunni insurgents to the custody of their tribe's chiefs in return for a promise of good behavior and help with fingering al Qaeda in Iraq.

Yet Plan B is rapidly changing the military situation in favor of the Coalition and Iraq's army. See Bill Roggio's July 23 daily report on Iraq (Taji Tribes Turn on Mahdi Army and al Qaeda) for details on progress.

Even Mookie Sadr has complained that Iran is aiding and abetting al Qaeda in Iraq. So Tehran would love to change the subject; a way to do this is to prompt Iraq's Sunni insurgents to another excuse for fighting the Coalition. A reminder that the US supports Israel against Syria's Sunnis would be a long shot, but Iran must be approaching desperation about Plan B.

1) For an overview of Aaron Klein's Sunday discussion with John, see Aaron's Monday report for World Net Daily: Israel, Syria boost military presence along border: Escalating moves from both sides amid war warnings from Damascus' officials.

Sunday, July 22

Batchelor to host Matt Drudge show July 22

This weekend, on Sunday, July 22, 2007 John Batchelor will be guest host for Matt Drudge on Drudge Radio. If Drudge is not on your local radio you can listen via internet at WABC radio, and here are some other tips for picking up the show.

For readers in the Greater Washington, DC area Matt's show is on WMAL-AM from 10:00 PM EDT to 1:00 AM. You can also listen to the show via the internet on WMAL.

For updates on the John Batchelor Show, periodically check out the website.

Friday, July 20

HR 1400 and Iran's Good Cop Bad Cop routine

Today, Reuters reported that the call for more Iran sanctions has been shelved until September, on the hope that Iran will improve their cooperation with IAEA inspectors.

Translation: Washington needs time to horse trade with Moscow with the goal of Russia getting behind tougher sanctions on Iran.

Moscow, however, is bent out of shape about -- well, they're bent out of shape about many US actions -- but right now they're especially concerned about a bill wending its way through Congress that seeks to punish countries that do business with Iran. Russia does big business with Iran.
The Iran Counter Proliferation Act of 2007 (HR 1400), introduced by Democrat Tom Lantos in March, aims to increase economic pressure on Iran by eliminating President George W. Bush's ability to waive sanctions against foreign companies that invest in the country's energy industry. The bill would also restrict US nuclear cooperation with countries such as Russia that assist Iran's nuclear and weapons programs. [...]

The legislation would also reimpose import sanctions on certain Iranian exports to the United States, such as foodstuffs and Persian carpets, and call for the Bush administration to designate the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) a terrorist organization. [...]

HR 1400 is just one of several bills in Congress and [US] state legislatures to respond to a grassroots campaign calling for divestment in companies that do business with countries that the State Department considers state sponsors of terrorism.

In the past year, state lawmakers in California, Missouri, Florida and New Jersey have introduced bills that specifically seek to ban investment in Iran's oil and natural-gas infrastructure. The "terror-free" investment movement -- spearheaded by the neo-conservative think-tank Center for Security Policy -- aims to force mutual funds, pension funds and endowments to pull their investments from international companies that do business with Iran.

The divestment effort has also gained attention because of the involvement of pro-Israel interest groups. The "Divest Iran" campaign was one of the main messages delivered at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee convention in Washington in March
.(1)
The terror-free investment movement is an idea whose time has come but it's on a collision course with the State Department and White House:
... officials within the State Department appear resistant to any legislation that may undermine the executive branch's power and direction over US foreign policy.

"If the focus of the United States' effort is to sanction our allies and not sanction Iran, that may not be the best way to maintain this very broad international coalition that we have built up since March of 2005," Under Secretary Nicholas Burns told members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee in March, regarding HR 1400.

Similar sanctions against Iran were recently slipped into a 2008 defense appropriations bill in the Senate, and were met with similar resistance.

"While these proposals are certainly well intended, they could have significant counterproductive policy implications," said Deputy Secretary of the Treasury Robert Kimmitt, during a speech at the Institute for Near East Policy in May.

While the Bush administration appears confident it can persuade countries such as Russia to support stiffer sanctions against Iran, the critical question will be how much congressional legislation will complicate the Bush administration's relationship to key international players and what that will portend for US "diplomacy" toward Iran. (1)
The problem with the "very broad international coalition" organized by the US is that it's not been effective. Tehran has continued their Fight Fight, Talk Talk strategy while making token gestures of cooperation with the IAEA. And they've set up the IRGC and Iran's president as the bad cop, with a string of self-proclaimed Iranian moderates playing good cop. The latter run around the world assuring anyone who will listen that if the international coalition will just give Tehran breathing room, Iran is ready to give up their nuclear weapons program.

I'm not sure that tougher sanctions against Iran would be productive because I don't know whether Iran's supreme leader has all his marbles; there are some indications he doesn't.

I worry about the Supreme Leader's mental condition partly because he persists in overlooking the one screamingly obvious solution to Iran's problem with the international coalition.

If I ran Iran, I would see the US effort in Iraq as the means for Iran to control the pot in the nuclear poker game. I would throw troops and treasure at helping the Coalition stop the insurgency and al Qaeda in Iraq. I would do everything in my power to bring peace in Iraq. And I'd make official what Tehran has already done unofficially, which is recognize Israel:

Iran has launched a state-run international 24 hour news satellite TV station, Press TV, with the aim of countering the very distinct impression that wherever you find trouble in the world, Iran is also there. The point of interest is that Press TV refers to Israel as "Israel," instead of "the Zionist entity" as other Iran-run media outlets do.

So if I ran Iran and I were determined to keep on building a nuke, I would finesse the international coalition by putting teeth in the good cop. But all we've gotten so far from Iran's good cop is hot air.

With regard to sanctions, they operate on the assumption that the targeted leaders make defense decisions out of a rational self-interest. If the decisions are rational, the threat of great suffering and unrest in the target country brought about by sanctions can pressure the leaders into concessions.

But if we believe Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the goal of the Iranian regime is not to serve the people or even to survive but to facilitate the return of the Mahdi -- the prophesied redeemer of Islam. From his viewpoint chaos and war expedite the Mahdi's appearance. Maddy has been pretty specific in indicating that sowing chaos is his goal as Iran's president.

So one question is whether Ahmadinejad really believes what he says about helping along the Mahdi's return. The bigger question is what kind of supreme leader would tolerate a president whose foreign policy amounts to apocalypse.

It ranges from unproductive to extremely dangerous to play Chicken with a madman because his decisions are not shaped by rational self interest. Look at Saddam Hussein's response to UN sanctions: instead of changing his ways, he heaped more punishment on the majority of Iraqis, who did not overthrow him. More to the point, Saddam played Iraq's oil card; this prompted several governments to circumvent the sanctions.

So, despite the crippling sanctions, Saddam's regime managed to survive and continue work on building a nuclear weapon, even though the project was transferred to Libya for intended completion.

There is much to suggest that Tehran's leaders would also play the oil card, and simply transfer suffering arising from tougher sanctions to the general populace. And even if better relations arise between Russia and the US during the pause, I can't find indication that Moscow would support sanctions that actually isolate Iran.
In February, Russian officials confirmed that Russia had delivered more than US$700 million worth of air-defense systems to help protect Iran's nuclear sites from attack, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal.

"We don't think Iran should feel itself encircled by enemies," Russian President Vladimir Putin told the Arab satellite news station Al-Jazeera. "The Iranian people and the Iranian leadership should feel they have friends in the world." (1)
I think the most the US can glean during the pause is Russia agreeing to more token sanctions against Iran, which will leave us in September pretty much where we are now.

1) Double edge to US sanctions bid on Iran by Khody Akhavi, Inter-Press Service, via Asia Times.

Thursday, July 19

Heaven and earth

"Dear Pundita:
In your July 17 post you wrote: "You run into quicksand if you confuse a system of government with a metaphysical system."

As succinct a description of libertarianism as I've ever read (at least the anarcho-capitalist drivel that's passing for libertarianism these days).
Dave Schuler
The Glittering Eye "

Dear Dave:
I haven't paid much attention to the libertarians but from what I recall they struck me as skating close to the Nazi idea of using government to shape man into superman. Yet isn't that also what conservatives and liberals are trying nowadays, when they use legislation as a means to engineer profound transformations in human behavior?

In any case, the CPA was trying to engineer a New Iraqi Man, which was not the task; they were supposed to set up a new government.

I hate to say this but if we had outsourced the task to the Chinese, Iraq could have a stronger democratic government by now. The Chinese know there's heaven and there's earth and don't mix up the two. The CPA mixed up metaphysics and business and the result was, as I observed in the July 17 post, psychedelic; there's no other word for it.

The Chinese save their flights of fancy for foreign policy aims. "Peaceful rising" is officially out; the new nonsense term is "harmonious society." But the Chinese are beating the pants off the US government when it comes to foreign aid and development schemes. They keep the goal simple and concrete: what does the foreign government need to serve the baseline needs of the people?

Too simple, one could argue; Beijing skirts the issue of the type of government they're helping. But Washington can learn from Beijing's concrete approach when it comes to helping governments establish a democracy.

The tragedy is that by confusing heaven and earth, many in Washington are falling back on Jeane Kirkpatrick's concept of realism. (The concept was alluded to in the Tucker Carlson show conversation mentioned in the July 17 Pundita post; see the transcript in the post.)

Once the failures of the CPA became evident, many in Washington pronounced the democracy doctrine dead and argued for a return to a "realistic" foreign policy, along the lines of Kirkpatrick's ideas. The ideas boil down to the US supporting autocracies when it's expedient to do so.

But expediency during Kirkpatrick's era rested on the notion that only superpower governments could seriously upset the balance of power in a country run by an autocratic regime. Today, even a small government can destabilize a government in another country.

Kirkpatrick's concept of realism is outdated and very dangerous in today's world; indeed, the concept is unrealistic today. Yet it's as if, failing the test of realism in setting up a government in Iraq, many in Washington tried to redefine the concept of realism.

After living through the psychedelic experience in Iraq, John Agresto, who was the CPA's education advisor in Iraq, observed about Americans: "We, as a country, don't have a clue as to what has made our own country work."(1)

I think it's more precise to say that at the procedural level, Americans who want to build democracy in other countries have a hard time distinguishing between what's central and peripheral in setting up a government. Yet this is also the case for Agresto himself! After all the mess he went through at the CPA; after all his hand-wringing about gaga CPA decisions, look at what he deems necessary for a government:
But all the ingredients that make [government] good and free -- limited government, separation of powers, checks and balances, calendared elections, staggered elections, plurality selection, differing terms of office, federalism but with national supremacy, the development of a civic spirit and civic responsibility, and, above all, the breaking and moderation of factions -- all this we forget about. We act as if the aim is "democracy" simply and not a mild and moderate democracy. Therefore ... we seek out the loudest and most virulent factions and empower them ...
Agresto finally argues himself into the conclusion that until Iraqis "find their Madison," Iraq would be better off "with just a good ruler."

So there you have it: a defender of democracy arguing for autocracy. It doesn't get more mind-bending than that.

Note that Agresto mixes up the task of governing with procedural issues related to voting. It seems that Americans have now hung so many hopes for humankind on the mechanism of government that we can't prioritize the steps for building a government, let alone a democratic one.

That's how Paul Bremer ended up diverting his energy to things like lowering Iraq's tax rate. Iraq's tax rate was on paper, for crying out loud. Iraqis didn't pay their taxes.

He also put a lot of energy into reducing export duties and liberalizing foreign investment laws. Reducing tariffs meant that Iraq was flooded with imported cars, which created the massive traffic jams in Baghdad that made it hard for even the US military to navigate on the ground, and which infuriated Baghdadis.

And the huge influx of cars meant gasoline shortages, which resulted in mile-long lines at the gas pump -- and the need for the CPA to use a significant amount of Iraq's oil sales profits to import car-grade gasoline, and at astronomical prices! That's because Iraq didn't have enough oil refineries -- if any at all were operational after the invasion.

As for foreign investment, the foreign investor didn't want to set up shop in Iraq because of the security situation.

All that doesn't mean Bremer's ideas for liberalizing Iraq's economy didn't have a place down the line, but they had nothing to do with the task of setting up a government.

In Iraq, Paul Bremer couldn't distinguish between heaven and earth. Instead of casting stones, Americans need ask themselves just what government means to them. If we want heaven on earth, we need to re-think the meaning of government.

1) All Agresto quotes are from Rajiv Chandrasekaran's
Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone

Tuesday, July 17

Always and in everything, put horse before cart.

"Pundita, I've read your reply to my comments. I have to say that I don't understand how it's possible to explain democracy without mentioning the necessity of freedoms and protecting freedoms. Yet that seems to be what you're advocating.
Jan in Reston"

Dear Jan:
You run into quicksand if you confuse a system of government with a metaphysical system. Where is it demonstrated in Nature that the birthright of humans is freedom? When did Nature decree that humans have certain inalienable rights? Nature only decrees that humans have certain needs, such as the need for oxygen and water.

The argument for freedom rests on a chain of metaphysical assumptions. The argument for sound government rests on baseline survival issues. So when promoting democratic government, the discussion of freedoms properly relates to procedure; i.e., how you go about insuring that the articles of incorporation or constitution are protected from easy circumvention. That's when you can effectively argue for a plethora of rights, which represent various freedoms.

For example, humans do not have an inalienable right to a free press. However, if you want people to take on the responsibility of participating in government through the voting process, they do need to be well informed about the issues and candidates, which means a free press. Therefore, the constitution, or something akin to the Bill of Rights, can spell out the necessity for a free press.

So my arguments rest on putting the horse before the cart: first design the system government, then hash out basic procedures for making the system work.

But many Americans place arguments for freedom and inalienable rights before arguments for sound government when they argue for democracy. They turn the concept of freedom into a kind of theology. So then they're in for it when they meet someone who says, "I don't think people are entitled to freedoms, except the freedom to worship. Our only reason for existence is to serve God's will."

You can spend the rest of the century arguing metaphysics with that person. This will get you no closer to devising a system of government that works best to deal with the myriad problems created by managing a large human population that shares limited resources.

I repeat, the condition of being human does not entitle you to a free press. But if you need to execute your duty as a voter, a free press is a necessity for making informed voting decisions.

I emphasize that I have nothing against arguing for freedom and human rights; I limit my point to how one goes about making the most effective argument for democratic government to peoples living in nondemocratic countries. In short, I'm arguing that democracy should be promoted first in concrete terms.

No matter how different their abstractions -- their metaphysical assumptions and value systems -- most people are sensible when it comes to practical matters. By 'sensible' I mean able to think clearly in concrete terms, as versus highly abstract terms. So it's fairly easy to see a concrete, direct connection between a system of government and the need for procedures to protect the system. And so that's how you frame discussion about government.

Keep to the concrete when discussing concrete matters; when arguing for democracy as a system of government the issue of freedom should be framed as a procedural matter, not a metaphysical one. This way, you avoid numerous traps. The traps that eventually land you into the silly position of declaring that not all people are capable of democratic government.

I looked up the transcript to the Tucker Carlson show that prompted your earlier comments and I found the conversation you referred to.(1) Tucker's discussion included Eugene Robinson of The Washington Post, and Pat Buchanan. Of course nods of agreement, facial expressions, and crosstalk don't show up in the transcript, but from the transcript, I don't think Robinson believes that it's "preposterous" that Iraqis can do democracy or that they're somehow incapable of managing democracy. Here's precisely what he said and the interchange that led to his comment:
PAT BUCHANAN: The Arab world has got 22 countries, almost none of which has ever been democratic. And the idea that you‘re going to — 19-year-old Marines and Army Rangers are going to go in and build this kind of society is preposterous.

We tore down the state, the government, the army, everything [in Iraq]. And you would think a democracy is going to rise out of there? It is a preposterous idea. And the whole foreign policy of the Bush administration in terms of building democracy around the world and going and fighting for it is utopian and as un-conservative as it can be.

TUCKER CARLSON: Amen, I‘m glad you...

(CROSSTALK)

EUGENE ROBINSON: There were strong Iraqi institutions below the government. There‘s clan, there‘s ethnicity, there‘s sect. And those are—that‘s what has come to the fore—head. That‘s the problem.

BUCHANAN: They are not democratic groups.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: But isn‘t that the story of the world? That‘s how most civilizations organize themselves, along those lines. I don‘t think it‘s good. It‘s actually bad most of the time, but it‘s also true. It‘s the state of man in most of the world. And if you don‘t recognize that, you‘ve no business wading into other country‘s affairs, do you?

ROBINSON: Well, and it‘s not that—you know, a society that‘s organized along those lines is incapable of becoming a democracy. It has to decide to do so, however, and it has to come up with democratic institutions that are suited to that time and place and those people.
I've included the rest of the text at the end of this post. From the entire conversation I can see why the conclusions upset you. I might add that Buchanan's general observation is poorly informed.

The CPA took several actions out of expediency that worked against installing a liberal democracy in Iraq. You can learn this from reading Rajiv Chandrasekaran's history of the CPA, titled Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone.

One action was establishing a de facto quota system for the Governing Council that was built on ethnic and sectarian lines. This tended to exclude from the council certain Iraqis who were dedicated to secular democratic government.

Then, when it came to devising the procedure for voting in Iraq, once again the CPA acted out of expediency. This was a complex situation, which Chandrasekaran explains on pages 246-8 of the book. In brief, the problem was that there was not an up-to-date census:
Without a census, there was no accurate way of knowing how many people lived in each province and, as a consequence, how to apportion seats in the assembly.
To get around this problem in time for the January 2005 election, the UN team overseeing the election wanted to consider the entire country one electoral district.

The major flaw to the UN plan was that it gave large political parties, which had the money and network to campaign countrywide, a big advantage over the smaller regional parties. This in turn guaranteed that moderates and secularist candidates would be marginalized in the vote and thus, get fewer seats in the assembly. That's what happened, even though there were viable alternatives to the UN plan.

Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani suggested that Iraqis use their food ration cards, which were universally distributed in Iraq, as their voter registration card. Rajiv recounts that several CPA members didn't like the UN plan and agreed that Sistani's plan was workable.

The Pentagon, State Department, and Vice President Cheney's office were also against the UN plan, for sound reason: they argued that by treating Iraq as one electoral district, this would give the two largest Shiite religious parties a big advantage.

However, Bremer went with the UN plan, which guaranteed that the Islamist parties -- the ones that really wanted a Sharia government over democracy -- got the most political power in the new government. Then Buchanan says Iraqis can't do democracy.

The incidents I outlined from Chandrasekaran's book are not the only two where the CPA made decisions that stymied Iraq's most pro-democratic movements. However, the two incidents are stark illustration that the US government put an unfair handicap on Iraqis who were determined that Iraq's government should be secular and truly representative of all Iraqis.

So Pat Buchanan is overlooking the factor of American actions when he says that it's preposterous to assume that after toppling their government, Iraqis couldn't do democracy. Actually, Iraqi leaders wanted to insure that a dictatorship wouldn't rise again in their country, and they understood that democratic government was the way to prevent this. What they needed was procedural help with setting up the government, which left much to be desired from the American occupiers.

Another huge obstacle, which is recounted in riveting prose in many places in Rajiv's book, was that the Americans in charge of rebuilding Iraq were for the most part on the moon. They didn't prioritize the steps needed to create a democracy. The outcome was psychedelic.

Bremer told Rajiv that among his biggest accomplishments were "the lowering of Iraq's tax rate, the liberalization of foreign-investment laws, and the reduction of import duties."

What in the name of sanity do those acts have to do with establishing government -- any kind government? Yet that was the charge for the CPA: setting up a new government in Iraq.

In 2005 I wrote that what emerging democracies needed was a simple recipe book, along the lines of: "Democracy for Dummies: Setting up a government, the first 100 days." I was being sarcastic but if only we'd had such a book when we went into Iraq.

1) Tucker Carlson show interchange about democracy in Iraq:

"PAT BUCHANAN: Tucker, you‘ve hit on the basic problem of the Bush administration. He‘s on a democracy crusade which is utterly utopian.

TUCKER CARLSON: Liberal.

BUCHANAN: The Arab world has got 22 countries, almost none of which has ever been democratic. And the idea that you‘re going to— 19-year-old Marines and Army Rangers are going to go in and build this kind of society is preposterous.

We tore down the state, the government, the army, everything. And you would think a democracy is going to rise out of there? It is a preposterous idea. And the whole foreign policy of the Bush administration in terms of building democracy around the world and going and fighting for it is utopian and as un-conservative as it can be.

CARLSON: Amen, I‘m glad you...

(CROSSTALK)

EUGENE ROBINSON: There were strong Iraqi institutions below the government. There‘s clan, there‘s ethnicity, there‘s sect. And those are—that‘s what has come to the fore—head. That‘s the problem.

BUCHANAN: They are not democratic groups.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: But isn‘t that the story of the world? That‘s how most civilizations organize themselves, along those lines. I don‘t think it‘s good. It‘s actually bad most of the time, but it‘s also true. It‘s the state of man in most of the world. And if you don‘t recognize that, you‘ve no business wading into other country‘s affairs, do you?

ROBINSON: Well, and it‘s not that—you know, a society that‘s organized along those lines is incapable of becoming a democracy. It has to decide to do so, however, and it has to come up with democratic institutions that are suited to that time and place and those people.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: I want to hear the Democrats repudiate the worldview that led to this war. And none of them has.

BUCHANAN: They can‘t. They‘re Wilsonians themselves deep at heart.

CARLSON: Well, then we‘re going to do this again and again and again and again.

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN: Well, I don‘t know that they will. Bill Clinton did it more rhetorically than he did going aboard.

CARLSON: That‘s because he was a coward. He wouldn‘t act out his own stated beliefs. But if he had been brave enough to do what he said he believed.

BUCHANAN: If he‘d been Bush-like.

CARLSON: Exactly! So Bush‘s sin was acting out his stupid beliefs.

ROBINSON: There‘s something to be said for advocating democracy rhetorically and not trying to go in...

CARLSON: Well, you‘re—no, you‘re right. There a subtle middle ground, I agree.

ROBINSON: -- and create it where you can.

CARLSON: You probably shouldn‘t advocate strongmen. But in effect your policy ought to support them when they‘re pro-American.

BUCHANAN: Sure, that‘s Jeane Kirkpatrick, dictators and double standards. Great point.

(LAUGHTER)

CARLSON: (INAUDIBLE) I can get behind that, Pat. That‘s very dark, very dark, but true."

Friday, July 13

Are Iraqis genetically indisposed to democracy?

"Pundita, On Thursday Tucker Carlson and two of his guests on his MSNBC show sat around saying it was "preposterous" to think that Iraqis could ever accept democracy and that most of the world is clans, sects, and tribes and that can't be changed. They didn't come right out and say it, but they implied that Iraqis are genetically incapable of democracy.

I know I shouldn't be upset about the cawing of talking heads but I am upset because I think that many in Washington have come to believe the same idea about Iraqis.
Jan in Reston"

Dear Jan:
What's preposterous is to believe that one can easily argue people out of a value system, which it seems the neoconservatives assumed could be done in the Arab world through the creation of a model. They wanted to convert an Arab country to a successful modern democracy that would be a model for other Arab countries in the region.

The neocons got tripped up because they looked at democracy in terms of a value system. In their view democracy is grounded in a definition of human rights, which requires considerable freedom to uphold and defend. But the crying need for democratic government in this era is not grounded in a value system, unless one wants to say that survival is a human value.

The need for democracy is grounded in the fact that an autocratic system of government is inadequate to minister to the survival needs of human megapopulations. That's because an autocracy necessarily means that a few control decision-making about government administration.

The multitude and complexity of governing tasks in a large society demand that government involve large numbers of citizens -- if a government doesn't have the money to outsource government administration to foreign firms. In either situation, the need for oversight skyrockets.

The only form of government capable of managing oversight and making effective decisions for a large society is modern democracy, which at least in theory involves the entire adult populace in government decision making.

This is a lesson the Chinese are learning the hard way, I might add. The CCP ended up taking Singapore as their development model. But Singapore doesn't have a billion citizens.

To quickly grasp my argument, toss out for a moment the names for various forms of government; focus instead on the number involved in decision making in managing any large organization. Then it's fairly self-evident that the fewer the number of people in positions of power, the more they will screw up while trying to govern large numbers of people.

What happens next? A tremendous amount of manpower and money gets shifted to repressing dissent. The end of that road can be seen in Saddam Hussein's Iraq. Saddam and his coterie retreated inside the area that is today known as the Green Zone.

They were cut off from the real situation in Iraq because their repressive measures guaranteed that no Iraqi with the responsibility of data analysis wanted to bring bad news or news that contradicted Saddam's decisions.

The upshot? Saddam's generals didn't torch the oil wells when the Coalition invaded, and much of the army faded away instead of fighting the invasion. The Sunni Baathists who wanted to launch an insurgency found they could do so only with outside help. Help came from Syria, Iran and al Qaeda -- but it had an unacceptably high price tag, as the insurgents are learning the hard way.

As soon as you think of the task of repression in a large society in terms of energy and resource expenditure, democracy wins the governing argument.

Ironically, an excellent illustration of my points is the failures of the CPA in Iraq. A tiny American coterie served an American viceroy who had absolute decision making authority. But the governing authority simply didn't have enough manpower to support the broad spectrum of expertise and decision-making needed to manage the number of tasks in rebuilding the Iraqi society.

No amount of funds would have corrected the problem because of disagreements between State and Pentagon, and between the Bush administration and their critics. The Beltway Wars guaranteed that the US governing authority in Iraq had to be small, to limit dissenting opinion about decision making.

Then Americans say Iraqis can't do democracy. But in the failures of the CPA in Iraq one finds the best argument for democratic government. So, in an unexpected way, Iraq did become the model to study.

Regarding inborn tendencies, the human animal is genetically disposed to hanging onto power -- and even to suicidal lengths. But once you can explain to several people in a society that diffusion of power is the flip side of effective decision-making in governing a large society, they can see democracy for what it is, at root: a system for managing a large number of complex social problems. Then they're ready to work hard to make democratic government work.

I've said all the above many times and in many ways. What I didn't realize when I started blogging was how much of my writing task involved repetition, so often I chafe because I am not a teacher by temperament or training.

Americans need to learn to frame democracy outside a value system, if we want to argue for democracy to peoples raised with different value systems. Not that the value system underpinning Western democracy is wrong but it's much more difficult to demonstrate and defend than the practical reasons I've outlined for democratic government.

Thursday, July 12

PMI: Bill Roggio launches his own news organization

Pundita depends on Bill Roggio's consistently objective and informative war reporting. So I was happy to learn from Bill's Fourth Rail blog that he is launching his own war reporting organization. If you've spent years fuming at crummy war reporting from mainstream news outlets, here is your chance to reduce your stress by helping Bill's organization get off the ground. The details:
After much work and effort (and a little stress), I can announce that the IRS has granted 501(c)(3) designation to Public Multimedia Inc. (PMI), the non-profit news organization born of my blogging efforts. This means that all donations made to PMI are 100% tax deductible.

PMI is at a critical stage of its development. I need your help. Please consider donating today to PMI and help move PMI from its nascent state to a full-fledged news organization.

In order to further our mission to provide reporting and analysis on The Long War, PMI will be supporting 3 embeds in the upcoming days. We are fully sponsoring 2 embeds: Wes Morgan, an ROTC cadet from Princeton University who writes for the Daily Princetonian, will be embedding in Iraq with General Petreaus and his staff in Baghdad; and Bradley Patty, a military contractor who has written on intelligence and counterinsurgency, who will be reporting from the Philippines with U.S. special operations forces and the Armed Forces of Philippines. In addition, PMI will be providing Michael Totten with insurance for his current embed in Iraq. I also anticipate traveling back to Iraq in September to report on the progress of the surge.
Click here for information on PMI's various programs, which include the Embedded Reporter Program, News and Analysis, Audio Webcasts, and the Multimedia Program.

You can donate to PMI in three ways, including by check sent to a snail mail address. Click here for links to donation platforms (scroll to the end of the announcement).

For new Pundita readers who aren't familiar with Bill's reporting, check out his site for daily reports on the Iraq campaign, and bring yourself up-to-date on the progress of the 'surge' with these two recent progress reports:

July 6 update on Operation Marne Torch

July 9 update on Operation Phantom Thunder

Re the second update, note the correction to The Washington Post's erroneous report. The more closely you follow the Iraq campaign, the more you appreciate Bill's careful reporting.

Tuesday, July 3

Tehran's Fight Fight Talk Talk strategy finally gets a proper response

December 2005
In the years right after World War II, when the United States was striving to negotiate a deal between the Nationalist government of China and the insurrection, the Communist leader Mao Zedong formulated the strategy known as "fight fight talk talk." It was a brilliant success.

The idea was that even as you seek opportunities to make gains on the battlefield, to expand your territory and gain in strength, you keep on negotiating even though you have no interest in a compromise solution and intend to win complete victory.

The talk-talk part of the strategy gives mediators the sense that they are doing something useful, while, by holding theoretically to the possibility of a negotiated solution, you deter great-power military intervention in support of your adversary. Iran seems to be following a similar strategy, and it has been working for the simple reason that the European/ American plan provides no way effectively to counter it.(1)
The only effective counter to Mao's strategy is to mirror it, which the US has been doing since Operation Phantom Thunder got underway in Iraq; the strong military actions shored Washington's newfound willingness to chat up Tehran.

Tehran's response to the US mirror strategy was alluded to in a Sunday Washington Post op-ed. General Mohsen Rezai, secretary of Iran's "powerful" Expediency Council and former commander of the Revolutionary Guards, invited Newsweek's Michael Hirsh to tea. After dispensing with small talk, the general laid Tehran's cards on the table:
[Rezai] pointed out that his is the only country that can help Washington control Shiite militias in Iraq, slow the Taliban resurgence in Afghanistan and tame Hezbollah's still-dangerous presence in Lebanon all at once. "If America pursues a different approach than confronting Iran, our dealings will change fundamentally," he said.
In other words Tehran as much admitted that they are orchestrating attacks against Coalition and NATO forces and against Lebanon's government, which the US and European allies back.

Mr Hirsh, being a senior Newsweek editor and all, chose to interpret the general's conversation in a Newsweeky sort of way; he thinks that Iran is offering an olive branch.
Rezai suggested that Iran is searching hard for a face-saving way to end the standoff over its ever-advancing uranium-enrichment program. He endorsed, in a more forthright way than I have heard from any other senior Iranian official, a "timeout" proposed by Mohamed ElBaradei, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

"What it means is for Iran to stay at the [enrichment] level it has reached, with no further progress. By the same token, the U.N. Security Council will not issue another resolution," said Rezai, who indicated that the idea is gaining support inside the Iranian regime.
Hirsh mentions that Rezai isn't the only Iranian in power to be making conciliatory noises. He clearly believes that the US should grasp at the straw and consider Baradei's timeout proposal. Hirsh's reasoning seems to rest on a flawed perception; he states, "The [Bush] administration doesn't seem to recognize that diplomatic coercion by itself can't work."

Ah, but the days of the US trying to deploy only diplomatic coercion are gone, on the well proven theory that there is no such thing as effective coercion with an militarily aggressive government unless there is significant force deployment backing up sanctions and chitchat.

The US response to Tehran's faux olive branch came yesterday:
The U.S. military accused Iran on Monday of a direct role in a sophisticated militant attack that killed five American troops in Iraq, portraying Tehran as waging a proxy war through Shiite extremists.

The claims over the January attack marked a sharp escalation in U.S. accusations that Iran has been arming and financing Iraqi militants, and for the first time linked the Iranian effort to its ally, Lebanon's Shiite Hezbollah militia. [...]

U.S. military spokesman Brig. Gen. Kevin J. Bergner said the Quds Force, part of Iran's elite Republican Guards, was seeking to build an Iraqi version of Hezbollah to fight U.S. and Iraqi forces -- and had brought in Hezbollah operatives to help train and organize militants.

"Our intelligence reveals that the senior leadership in Iran is aware of this activity,'' Bergner told a Baghdad news conference. He said it would be "hard to imagine'' that Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei did not know about the activity.[...]
Of course Tehran and Hezbollah hotly deny the charges, but Iran's orchestrations are leaving more and more tracks.

I hope this latest turn does not derail planned talks between Tehran and Washington. The US needs to keep up their end of jabber, although Pundita suggests the US diplomatic team haul along a woman who sits at the discussion table and does nothing but knit.

Eventually, an Iran official or member of the press who is steeped in English literature will figure out the significance of the knitter.

1) Mao's 'fight talk' strategy is a winning one for Iran by Richard Bernstein, The New York Times, December 1, 2005

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?