Category: Global Issues

Global Issues, US Politics

Long Term Peacekeeping or violence reduction plus Int’s Effort?

This morning, Bush defined success in Iraq as an ‘acceptable level of violence’. This argument ties withdrawal of American forces to the level of violence. In many ways, this logic is as problematic as a benchmarked timetable. If some insurgents want the US to leave, wouldn’t they just stop fighting until they do, and if others want them to stay then there is no incentive to stop fighting. The US is of course fighting multiple wars. They are the antagonist against anti-occupation elements, some of which are Al-Qaeda linked. They are also a mitigating buffer against wider sectarian violence. These are very different wars. It seems to me that both macro policy options currently on the table (Bush’s and the Dem’s) insufficiently capture the multiple sources, motives, and objectives of the violence.

One possible way of looking at it is as a choice between: 1. very long term commitment to large scale reconstruction and peacekeeping the sectarian violence, while accepting the level of anti-occupation attacks that will come with this; and, 2. withdrawal to halt at least the anti-occupation/al-qaeda violence, while seeking other means of halting the sectarian violence.

The former appears politically unfeasible, and the latter presents significant humanitarian risks.

In option 2, the question then becomes, if the US leaving will halt the anti-occupation attacks, then what, aside from the presence of US troops can be done to stop the sectarian violence? Here, I am afraid we have to get into a challenging discussion of regional/international efforts.

I just don’t think that the US can win both of these wars. A choice is going to required.

Global Issues

Well it’s about time

These ICC arrest warrants in Darfur have been a long time coming. Several months ago I saw William Shabas speak, one of the principle lawyer/academics behind the ICC, and he was furious that Ocampo hadn’t moved on Sudan yet. It will also be interesting to see where they go with the N. Uganda indictments. Can/should they drop those while issuing new ones in neighboring country?

Global Issues, US Politics

Great Wall of China, or the “Gated Community” Dream?

I’d be curious what others think about this. Seems to me like a temporary measure. But maybe that is what is needed, a ‘temporary’ wall until the tempers subside. The problem with walls though is that once they are up, they usually end up sticking around for a while…

Here are some detail from the LA Times piece.

A U.S. military brigade is constructing a 3-mile-long concrete wall to cut off one of the capital’s most restive Sunni Arab districts from the Shiite Muslim neighborhoods that surround it, raising concern about the further Balkanization of Iraq’s most populous and violent city…

The ambitious project is a sign of how far the U.S. military will go to end the bloodshed in Iraq. But U.S. officials denied that it was a central tactic of the U.S.-Iraqi security crackdown launched Feb. 13.

It’s good to know that this is not considered part of the counterinsurgency ‘surge’. I am no expert, but I would put some money on ‘dividing communities with walls’ not being in Patraeus’, Counterinsurgency Doctrine. But if this isn’t part of the surge, then what is it?

On the extent of it:

“We defer to commanders on the ground, but dividing up the entire city with barriers is not part of the plan,” U.S. military spokesman Army Lt. Col. Christopher Garver said Thursday.

Some reaction:

“Are they trying to divide us into different sectarian cantons?” said a Sunni drugstore owner in Adhamiya, who would identify himself only as Abu Ahmed, 44. “This will deepen the sectarian strife and only serve to abort efforts aimed at reconciliation.”

“Are we in the West Bank?” asked Abu Qusay, 48, a pharmacist who said that he wouldn’t be able to get to his favorite kebab restaurant in Adhamiya….

Some predicted the new wall would become a target of militants on both sides. Last week, construction crews came under small-arms fire, military officials said.

“I feel this is the beginning of a pattern of what the whole of Iraq is going to look like, divided by sectarian and racial criteria,” Abu Marwan, 50, a Shiite pharmacist, said.

While It may indeed have a positive impact, who the hell knows?, my sense is that this might be a tad too much spin:

The wall is “on a fault line of Sunni and Shia, and the idea is to curb some of the self-sustaining violence by controlling who has access to the neighborhoods,” Army Capt. Marc Sanborn, brigade engineer for the project, said in the release. He said the concept was closer to an exclusive gated community in the United States than to China’s Great Wall.

A related anecdote. A couple of months ago in Oxford I saw a talk by a US counterinsurgency expert who had spent the better part of the past few years working with the military in Anbar. A point that stuck with me was that even if Patraeus wanted to fully implement his idea of a counterinsurgency, it is incredibly difficult to get commanders on the ground to follow suit. Particularly when many aspects of the strategy would put their soldiers at greater risk. You therefore often get a disconnect between the best strategic policy to defeat an insurgency, and what commanders feel is required to minimize casualties. This person felt that Patraeus’ biggest challenge was going to be to overcome this. I wonder where the wall fits in with this challenge?

Cdn Politics, Global Issues

G&M Oped: Conservatives misunderstand Canada’s Foreign Policy History

David Eaves and I have an op-ed, here and below, in today’s Globe and Mail.

Beyond Vimy Ridge: Canada’s other foreign-policy pillar

This is a hallmark year for Canadian foreign policy. 2007 marks the anniversaries of two events through which Canada contributed significantly on the international stage: the Battle of Vimy Ridge and Lester Pearson’s Nobel Peace Prize. This is a wonderful coincidence. These two moments, and the values they imbue, are defining pillars that have guided our foreign policy.

Sadly, these events and the principles they represent are frequently held up as opposing ideological doctrines between which an absolute policy choice must be made. In reality, the very opposite is true. Not only are Vimy Ridge and the Nobel Prize both real and important achievements, but the policies and values they embody function far better in collaboration than in isolation.

The first pillar, Vimy Ridge, is a defining moment in Canadian foreign policy. It compels us to remember, and give thanks to, Canadians whose sense of duty and sacrifice contributed to a greater cause.

Equally important, Vimy personifies a Canada that stood by its allies and contributed more than its share. It created a lasting legacy of values that continue to serve us well: courage, allegiance to allies, steadfastness, valour, bravery.

However, we must also remember that the First World War reflects an enormous breakdown in political leadership. It is an example of what happens when great powers allow their rivalries to run unchecked.

Wonderfully, Canadian foreign policy responded to this deficiency, and evolved to include a second foundational principle: Pearsonian diplomacy.

By providing an innovative solution to the Suez Crisis and preventing its allies from stumbling into a global conflict, Mr. Pearson’s prize reflected a different set of values than those of the First World War: honesty, integrity, leadership, principle and a willingness to question and check our allies. The Peace Prize honours a tradition of diplomacy that prevents us from having to commemorate another Vimy.

While both pillars are critical to an effective Canadian foreign policy, many on both the left and right would prefer to celebrate only one of these great events. Each claims that either Vimy or the Peace Prize imbue “true Canadian values.” Both are mistaken. It is the interplay between them that makes Canada a credible and recognized actor in global politics. Notably, this is accomplished by being neither militaristic hawk, nor unwavering peacenik.

There is no doubt that diplomacy was ultimately what prevailed in the Suez crisis, yet it shouldn’t be forgotten that it was backed up by a credible military presence. An idealistic dependency on diplomacy has limits, as Roméo Dallaire is quick to point out. Sometimes, it is the threat of force that is required to keep or build the peace.

Likewise, the use of military force also has its limits. Washington’s predisposition to rely on force often taints the legitimacy of U.S. military interventions. In contrast, countries respect Canadian interventions because they know our diplomatic history and leadership in avoiding unnecessary conflicts. Recent achievements continue to demonstrate the value of carefully weaving together these two pillars. For example, Canada did not participate in Iraq because we rightfully believed diplomacy had not run its course.

Ambassador Paul Heinbecker’s Pearsonian resolution at the United Nations, proposed on the eve of war, assuaged legitimate international concerns by balancing credible weapons inspections with the threat of force. Had it been adopted, and no weapons found, a disastrous war might have been avoided. Countless lives might have been saved and Canada might have been in the running for another peace prize.

Contrast this to the first Persian Gulf war, where diplomacy was allowed to take its course. An important norm of the international system — the unsanctioned use of force — was defended. Canadians fought valiantly alongside our Anglo-U.S. allies and with the legitimacy of a broad 30-member coalition.

In both of these cases, the Vimy and Pearson pillars worked in tandem and resulted in principled international action.

Sadly, we may be drifting toward an overemphasis on the Vimy pillar of Canadian foreign policy. Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government appears overly romanced by our military tradition and negligent of our diplomatic history. The UN Peace University in Toronto has recently been closed down and funding for the Canadian International Model UN has been cut. More telling — and in sharp contrast to the months of time, energy and money that were appropriately dedicated to the Vimy celebrations — the government’s plan for the Pearson anniversary are unclear.

The Prime Minister’s treatment of the peace prize milestone will be telling. If he believes that the second pillar of Canadian foreign policy is indeed symbiotic with the first, the same priority will surely be placed on celebrating its 50th anniversary this fall.

Global Issues, US Politics

Geneva and Iran

Andy McCarthy cites Geneva, Sullivan rebuts:

Unlike prisoners detained by the U.S. in Iraq – some of whom were tortured so badly they died? Memo to Andy: your beloved administration has derided the Geneva Conventions as “quaint”. They have sanctioned not gentle questioning, but waterboarding, sleep deprivation and stress positions for prisoners captured in a war, Iraq, where Geneva was allegedly never in doubt. Where were you then? And now Iran is in the dock for giving British prisoners treatment that those in Gitmo and Abu Ghraib can only dream of?

Don’t people realize that this is what this episode is partly about? Iran, that disgusting regime, is showing much of the world that it treats prisoners more humanely than the U.S. That’s the propaganda coup they are achieving. And you know who set them up to score this huge victory in the propaganda war? Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld, who authorized all the abuse at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere throughout the war. And McCarthy, who defended and enabled them. Tehran never had a better friend than George W. Bush. He has given Islamist thugs the moral highground.

John Cole takes it another step:

Sure, the hypocrisy about the Geneva conventions is breathtaking and worth noticing, but what is truly frightening is how quickly McCarthy and others are ramping up the rhetoric. This is little more than the widely ridiculed “We have been at war with Iran since 1979” nonsense that was peddled just a few weeks back, and now this meme is so widespread that McCarthy doesn’t even break rhetorical stride when mentioning it.

This is the difference between the US and UK debates on this. There is a strong voice in the US advocating for war with Iran. The UK thinks it’s nuts.

Porter, while I agree with you that past immoral action should not discredit current moral, or less immoral, acts, surely this then applies to everyone?

As I said in a comment stream below, the real cost of neglecting, mocking, and in many ways disregarding the convention is that the administration has weakened the norm. It doesn’t matter whether the Iranian government would abide by it or not, but it sure matters in the wider struggle for the hearts and minds of the middle east. A war which Iran is winning.

Global Issues, US Politics

The Looming Tower

I just saw a wonderful talk by Lawrence Wright who was in Toronto accepting the Gelber Prize for his book The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and The Road to 9/11. It is refreshing to see such a soft spoken yet tremendously authoritative treatment of this topic. An exemplar of the type of analysis fundamentally required if we are going to defeat the scourge of Al-Qaeda.

The lecture can be watched here, it will be an hour well spent.

Some interesting comments made by Wright:

According to internal Al-Qaeda documents, 80% of the organization in Afghanistan were killed or captured in the first major phase of Operation Enduring Freedom. At this point, the War on Terror was won, and it should have continued as a police/intelligence operation. Between December 2001 and 2003, the organization existed in a “zombie state”. Since the invasion of Iraq, they have experienced an astonishing rebirth, now having a base of operation and a recruitment tool.

Al-Qaeda has a 6 stage 20 year plan, written before 9/11:

1. 2001-2003 – Hit the US and create a chaotic reaction.
2. 2003-2006 – Recruit and build support based on the US reaction
3. 2006-2013 – Move conflict into Syria, Turkey and Isreal
4. 2013-2015 – Bring down governments in Arab countries
5. 2015-2016 – Isreal collapses
6. 2017-2020 – Apocalyptic battle between Islamic Armies and the West
7. 2020 – Victory. “falsehood” ends and Islamic governments rule the world.

Delusion, certainly. But at which stage does it move from the possible to the fantastical? 3, 4, 5?

He argued that there are three critical things that can be done immediately:

1. The most important thing that can be done to defeat Al-Qaeda is to develop real intelligence capacity, something that hasn’t yet been done. Only 25 people in the FBI speak Arabic, and most of them not well enough to interrogate. CIA made up of Irish and Italians, good for fighting the mafia and he mob, useless for Al-Qaeda. “We need skilled people on the ground. Until this happens, we are blindfolded.”

2. Develop allies, seriously. This fundamentally cannot be done with either a war mentality, or alone.

3. Real engagement with Isreal-Palestine, including immediate refutation of the settlements. While Bin Laden doesn’t care very much about the conflict, like Iraq, it is a significant recruitment tool.

These are just a few notes, check out the lecture.

Global Issues

Assessing the Surge

What metrics should we be using to measure the success of the surge? Some are beginning to note a decrease in bombings in Baghdad, but given that it was widely believed that the insurgents (of some stripes anyways) would simply lay low until the surge was over, is this really a viable indicator? The first battle of Fallujah being a good lesson in this regard. Should we instead be looking for signs of political progress? Should the relative calm created by the troop presence, even if somewhat artificial and temporary, be seen as a window of political opportunity? If so, what conciliatory signs are we looking for? Further, what are the concequences of not seeing them?

Cdn Politics, Global Issues

Afghanistan Op-ed

Apologies for the light posting of late, it has been a hectic work month. I have an op-ed in today’s Toronto Star (written with friend and colleague David Eaves), the slightly longer and unedited version of which is below:

Getting Back on Track in Afghanistan

Success in Afghanistan remains as vital today as when the government first sent troops, aid workers and diplomats to Kandahar in August 2005. Many Canadians, however, feel unsure about the mission and want to be assured that our government has a strategy. On February 6th, Prime Minister Harper promised as much, stating his government will table a report summarizing the progress and challenges to date, and will make a significant announcement about our next steps. This is an opportunity to clarify our strategy and to unite both Parliament and the country around the largest deployment of Canadian forces since the Korean war.

First, let us be clear. Canada has an unambiguous purpose in Afghanistan. Failure to secure and rebuild will leave the country as a failed state, a neo-Taliban led fundamentalist regime, or a training ground for terrorists. Any of these would fundamentally threaten Afghan human security, regional stability, and our Canadian national interests.

Prime Minister Harper must reaffirm our commitment and clearly articulate our way forward. We suggest that his report must address three critical areas that if left unchecked, will cause the mission to deteriorate and could cause it to fail.

1. Return to a strategy that complements counterinsurgency with reconstruction and the imposition of the rule of law. Over the past year Prime Minister Harper has increasingly relied on failed US policies and rhetoric, compounding existing problems and creating new ones. In a battle for the hearts and minds of southern Afghans, an aggressive approach will do more harm than good.

Militarily, the killing of even one civilian can do great strategic harm, turning entire villages against us. The Taliban use these casualties to great effect, so that some Afghans now fear international forces more than those who brutally ruled over them.

We need to rethink our counterinsurgency strategy, by relying less on military force, and more on innovative local interactions. As a start, we must curtail the use of air strikes, resume the policy of compensating civilian casualties and determine how our forces can best support reconstruction. The Liberal cabinet deliberately chose not to deploy Leopard tanks and CF-18’s, prioritizing interpersonal contact with Afghans over brute military might. The Prime Minister must explain why we deviated from this strategy.

Most importantly, we need to ensure effective governance. Support for the Taliban derived, in part, from their capacity to impose law and order. Many felt a draconian but predictable governance structure was preferable to chaos and anarchy. Afghan’s desperately want the stability and freedom that comes with the rule of law. If we want to win their hearts and minds we must enable them to establish a just and fair system as quickly as possible.

Diplomatically, the Taliban resurgence in the south remains unchecked. Our problem starts, not from lofty negotiations with Pakistan, but from our own polarised view of the Taliban. Like the failed de-Baathification of Iraq, categorising all who support the Taliban as “against us”, both radicalizes and creates enemies out of moderates whose political support could help stabilize the country.

2. Align Domestic and Foreign Policies. Support for US-backed counter-narcotics tactics endangers the Afghan mission. Poppy eradication destroys the livelihoods of many Afghans and fuels Taliban recruitment. Forcing farmers to shift from poppies, which generate $5,200 per acre, to wheat, which generates $121, is unrealistic. Farmers need a viable alternative. One that curtails the influence of warlords and reduces the global supply of heroin.

Internationally, the Canadian government should ally with the British to develop a regulatory regime that legalizes the purchase of Afghan poppy crops. These crops could be used in the legal production of codeine and morphine, which are scarce in the developing world.

The Canadian Government should also support the Afghan mission by curbing demand for opiates the one place it can – at home. In our globalized world there is a direct link between the poppy fields of Afghanistan and overdose deaths in downtown Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal. Domestic policies that reduce demand for illegal opiates – such as renewing Vancouver’s Insite safe injection site – diminish the market for these illicit crops and make it easier to shift Afghan farmers to alternatives.

3. Provide clarity of mission. Canadians must be provided with the necesary information to judge our strategy and progress in Afghanistan. When Canada agreed to the Kandahar mission it sought to balance development, military and diplomatic components. Prime Minister Paul Martin outlined this strategy on February 22nd, 2005 when he described how Canadian Forces “…will be assisted by aid officers, who will identify key assistance projects to help to reduce tensions, and by diplomats, who will work with the provincial and local authorities in building confidence with the local population.” Are we still implementing a 3D strategy? If not, why not? If so, what are the benchmarks with which we can measure our success and evaluate the balance between our defence, development and diplomatic efforts?

Transparency is particularly important for effective humanitarian assistance. Critical questions remain unanswered. Where is our development money going? How much are we spending, and on what? Are these programs symbiotic with our military and diplomatic operations?

The Government would be well advised to establish a development measurement framework with clear milestones, based on the Afghanistan Compact, enabling projects to be evaluated and held accountable. Canada could also appoint a Director of Reconstruction to serve as a counterpart to our military commander and charged with achieving our development objectives. Combined, these initiatives would enhance security by ensuring those programs that most positively impact the lives of local Afghans are prioritized and monitored.

While we are but one partner of a large coalition, smart, targeted Canadian policies can make a substantial difference. Because the Afghanistan mission is difficult and, at times, dangerous it continues to test our leadership. Harper’s report is timely, but will only be valuable if he addresses head on the critical challenges we face. Canada needs a clear strategy for success – one that builds trust, engages in development and reconstruction, and ensures the rule of law, simultaneously. Without such a strategy we risk defaulting to a US-style military approach, neglecting development and diplomacy. This is Canada’s mission – let us ensure we tackle it Canada’s way.

Global Issues, US Politics


Bolton: This is in many respects simply a repetition of the agreed framework of 1994. You know, Secretary Powell in 2001 started off the administration by saying he was prepared to pick up where the Clinton administration left off. President Bush changed course and followed a different approach. This is the same thing that the State Department was prepared to do six years ago. If we going to cut this deal now, it’s amazing we didn’t cut it back then.

I wonder if Rice/the White House agree?

BBC: US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has welcomed a deal reached with North Korea over its nuclear programme during six-nation talks in Beijing…

US President George W Bush said he was “pleased” with the agreement.

White House spokesman Tony Snow called it “a very important first step” towards denuclearising the Korean peninsula.

As Drum adds, “and six years ago this deal would have come without an already built stockpile of nuclear weapons. Perhaps there’s a lesson there?”

Global Issues, US Politics

Could this be one of the ‘mistakes’ Bush was talking about?

So it turns out that in 2003, Iran offered the following to the US – ending support for Lebanese and Palestinian militant groups, helping to stabilize Iraq following the US-led invasion and making its nuclear programme more transparent. This in return for Washington to end its hostility, to end sanctions, and to disband the Iranian rebel group the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (operating in Iraq) and repatriate its members. Not ideal, but seeing as though they had been helping considerably in Afghanistan, this seems like a pretty good offer. Perhaps at the least a dialogue starter?

One of the then Secretary of State Colin Powell’s top aides told the BBC the state department was keen on the plan – but was over-ruled.

“We thought it was a very propitious moment to do that,” Lawrence Wilkerson told Newsnight.

“But as soon as it got to the White House, and as soon as it got to the Vice-President’s office, the old mantra of ‘We don’t talk to evil’… reasserted itself.”

Observers say the Iranian offer as outlined nearly four years ago corresponds pretty closely to what Washington is demanding from Tehran now. (emph mine)

So how has that rejection turned out?

Since that time, Lebanese guerrilla group Hezbollah inflicted significant military losses on the major US ally in the region, Israel, in the 2006 conflict and is now claiming increased political power in Lebanon.

Palestinian militant group Hamas won power in parliamentary elections a year ago, opening a new chapter of conflict in Gaza and the West Bank.

And Iraq?…

PS: Will the axis of evil line be seen as one of the single most damaging things ever said by (or written for) a president?