Category: Global Issues

Global Issues, US Politics

Ike v. Nixon: Is Buckley the first to choose?

Kevin Drum, relaying a WaPo op-ed by Harold Meyerson, asks whether post-Iraq conservatives will turn towards Eisenhower or Nixon. A good question I think, and one that may provide a glimpse of a forthcoming foreign policy alliance.

Meyerson uses the analogy to compare conservative options for Iraq. He puts Eisenhower’s non-politicised ending of the Korean war against Nixon’s fierce and highly political stance on Vietnam long after he knew the war was lost. Fine, makes sense. Can we take this a bit further though?

Eisenhower conservatives would likely find allies in liberal internationalists looking for greater UN/Int Org collaboration. Particularly on Iraq, the two could possibly work towards a real shift to UN control of peacekeeping and reconstruction. This would start with the admission that Iraq cannot be ‘won’ by the US military, but that the stakes are too high for the international community to sit on the sidelines and smirk. The language could then be shifted away from GWAT, surges and counterinsurgency, to that of civil war, peacebuilding, and post conflict reconstruction – the language and expertise of the UN. In lieu of military expenditures, the US could start a Marshall plan-esk reconstruction fund. While Nixonian conservatives would see transfers of power as heretical, it is possible that such a mixed internationalist alliance could form a foreign policy majority. It also provides a nice alternative to the neocon/isolationist split that some have argued may emerge on the right.

In any case, it might be that the first conservative has played their hand on this divide (ht-Paul Wells). Maybe I’m misreading something, but Buckley Jr., writing at the NRO none the less, is nodding to the new Secretary General to take a lead in the future of Iraq.

A geographical division of Iraq is inevitable. The major players are obvious. It isn’t plain how America, as an outside party, could play an effective role, let alone one that was decisive, in that national redefinition. And America would do well to encourage non-American agents to act as brokers — people with names like Ban Ki-moon.

Now, it may be that he believes that Ban Ki-moon’s positions will be notably different than Annan’s. (I doubt it though, as for all his flaws, Annan’s arguments on Iraq were quite moderate and largely representative of the institution, its mandate and its responsibilities. His successor would very likely have taken similar stances.) On the other hand, Buckley could believe that the US, for better or worse, is not an honest broker in Iraq. Too many civilians have died, and too many mistakes been made. Intention is irrelevant. The dye has been cast. I agree with Buckley, it’s time for the UN.

Global Issues, US Politics

Essential pre-speech reading

Kaplan does the surge math and isn’t convinced. Whole thing is worth a read. Money quote:

Then there are the more political considerations. Nothing will work, even under otherwise ideal circumstances, unless the Iraqi government supports the effort, orders Iraqi battalions to take part, and agrees to let the counterinsurgents go after all militias, including the Mahdi Army controlled by Muqtada Sadr, a key faction of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s power base. The Iraqi government would also have to devise some power-sharing arrangement—for instance, a formula to share oil revenues with Sunni regions—to deal with the causes of insurgency (or at least the causes of the insurgents’ popular support or tolerance). While an area is being secured, the U.S. and other governments would also have to pour in massive funding for reconstruction projects, well beyond the $1 billion that President Bush is expected to request for urban job creation. In other words, a surge—even if it proves successful on its own terms—will mean nothing, in the medium to long term, unless it is part of a broader political and economic strategy. Does Bush have such a strategy in mind? We’ll see on Wednesday. If he does, will the Iraqi government be willing or able to go along? We’ll see in the next few months.

But security is the prerequisite, and to achieve enduring security, the hard arithmetic indicates that Bush needs to send in a lot more troops than 20,000. The problem is, he doesn’t have them, and he won’t be able to get them for many years, under the best of circumstances.

ht- JM, who concludes:

One of the ironies of the current situation is that in the early months of the occupation, Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, who’s slated to take over in Iraq, was the general on the ground who all the sharpest people on military affairs thought was the one guy in charge over there who really understood what kind of a battle he was engaged in. In short, counter-insurgency, or rather, heading off an insurgency by prioritizing real reconstruction and hearts-and-minds work rather than kicking people’s doors down.

He spent last year co-authoring the Army’s new counterinsurgency field manual. But look at what the manual says. Counter-insurgency operations require at least 20 combat troops per 1000 people in a given area. And look closely. That’s not just military personnel, but combat troops.

Kaplan runs through the numbers. But the key points are that you’d need 120,000 combat troops to mount real counter-insurgency operations just in Baghdad. We currently have 70,000 combat troops in the whole country. So concentrate all US combat personnel in Iraq into Baghdad. Then add 20,000 more ‘surge’ combat troops. That leaves you 30,000 short of the number the Army thinks you’d need just in Baghdad.

Needless to say, Iraq isn’t just Baghdad. And if you know anything about how insurgencies work you know that if we actually had enough troops in Baghdad (remember, to even get in shooting distance of that you need to evacuate the rest of the country) the insurgents would just fan out and start literal or figurative fires where we’re not.

What this all amounts to is that 20,000 or even 50,000 new combat troops don’t even get you close to what the Army says you need to do what President Bush says he’s now going to try to do. To get that many troops into the country you’d need to put this country on a serious war-footing and begin drawing troops down from deployments around the globe. All of which, just isn’t going to happen, setting aside for the moment of what should happen. And that tells you this whole thing is just a joke at the expense of the American public and our troops on the ground in Iraq.

Global Issues

Who to trust?

Fallows in someone who, as Andrew points out, got it right on Iraq, and early. In fact, he has been consistently prescient, and in my view wise, over the past 5 years (see here here here here here and here for a start). Does this mean we should listen to him now over the voices of those who were spectacularly wrong? I dunno, but here’s what he thinks of the surge.
I guess we will see whether he was right, again, in a few months…

Global Issues

Indian Barometer Rising?

Usually not a huge fan of Siddiqui’s perspective, but if representative (particularly the quotes), this is a chilling take on the response to the execution from the world’s largest democracy.

I am taken aback by the reaction in India to Saddam Hussein’s hanging. The anger cuts across religious and political divides.

This secular nation of 1.2 billion – the world’s largest democracy and emerging economic powerhouse – has as many Muslims as Muslim Pakistan, at about 145 million. But its majority is Hindu and it has significant pockets of Christians, Sikhs, Zoroastrians and others. Yet the condemnation has been near universal.

More tellingly, there has been little or no echo here of the Iraqi sectarian divide, with the Shiites there celebrating Sunni Saddam’s death.

There is even criticism, from both the right and the left, of the Indian government’s muted response to the execution, New Delhi’s stance dictated by the increasingly close relations with the U.S., exemplified by the controversial nuclear co-operation agreement.

If India is a key barometer of the non-Western world, and it often is, Saddam’s hanging will come to haunt George W. Bush.

(ed. – don’t forget the reaction from the Middle East!): from the NYT, via TPM:

In the week since Saddam Hussein was hanged in an execution steeped in sectarian overtones, his public image in the Arab world, formerly that of a convicted dictator, has undergone a resurgence of admiration and awe.

On the streets, in newspapers and over the Internet, Mr. Hussein has emerged as a Sunni Arab hero who stood calm and composed as his Shiite executioners tormented and abused him.

“No one will ever forget the way in which Saddam was executed,” President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt remarked in an interview with the Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot published Friday and distributed by the official Egyptian news agency. “They turned him into a martyr.”

Global Issues

Counting Death

A couple of months ago David asked for comments on the latest Lancet Iraqi excess death study. I had drafted something but then forgot to finish and post it. Anyways, better late than never I suppose.

I do have a bit of a thing for counting bad things, and have been involved with several projects using modelling techniques at least tangentially similar to those in this project, however, only as a statistically-less-inclined co-author. In lieu of my own assessment then, let me provide the following two links that may be useful for those wanting to move beyond knee-jerk dismissals of these quantitative techniques.

First, the Human Security Centre, responsible for the Human Security Report released last year, has a very useful list of links to responses to the Lancet study. The Human Security Report was instrumental in bringing together considerable new data on conflict mortality rates and has substantial research connections to those on the frontier of this emerging field.

The Royal Holloway economics department provides another good resource on the methods used in the study.

What both these sites make clear is that this is an ever evolving field with its own internal debates. This is disputed by no one. That being said, there is a big difference between this recognition and the types of quasi critiques that have been abound on this issue.

I wrote a friend who has intimate knowledge of the methods used in the Lancet Iraq study, asking the following question:

What is your professional opinion of the new Lancet study of Iraqi casualties? Is the real story not the 650,000 but the 392,000 at 95% certainty? Would be very interested in your assessment.

I received the following reply:

No, message is 650,000 excess deaths is most probable estimate (probability
density highest here). 392,000, as the lower bound of the confidence interval, is a much less likely estimate. Same for upper bound.

The bigger question is why this should surprise us, given the political and
military situation.

This person has worked in just about every major conflict zone of the past two decades, and developed statistical surveys that are at the forefront of the field. He is intimately knowledgeable on the indirect human costs of war. His point is a clear one. The principal question is why are we so surprised that this level of conflict would result in such levels of excess mortality?

I would argue it is a direct result of our sanitised view of war. We consider the costs of war to be limited to direct conflict casualties. Bombs killing our soldiers, bullets killing insurgents, end of story. This of course is only the beginning, excess death levels tell the other side. The failure to provide humanitarian protection has real human costs, far beyond those directly killed by munitions.

And here in lies the rub. Indirect costs of war are both incredibly difficult to measure and generally not considered part of the overall war calculus. Iraqi Body Count, for example, only measures specific killings, not excess mortality – a substantial difference. Particularly since it was their figures which most news accounts (as well as the President) compared to the Lancet totals. Yet they are measuring different things.

But are excess deaths the responsibility of the intervening country? I would emphatically argue yes. Particularly if there is even an iota of humanitarian rational for the occupation. More importantly, it is these very excess deaths that are both symbolic of the failures of the humanitarian component on the occupation, as well as a causal factor of the high levels of anti-occupation sentiment and outright insurgency support. The fact that the numbers would be dismissed wholesale, is in my view symbolic of the disconnect between many war proponents and the humanitarian realities of the mission.

UPDATE: I must add one more very useful set of links provided by the Human Security Center. In their words:

The recent Lancet article attempting to quantify the death toll since the 2003 invasion of Iraq has been the subject of much controversy. What is clear is that there is a dearth of accurate data and huge practical and methodological challenges inherent in calculating conflict death tolls. This special issue of Human Security Research features a series of recently-published reports and articles on conflict-related mortality and is designed to shed some light on what we know, what we don’t know and the challenges facing those who try to measure the human costs of conflict.

For those interested in the state of the art (or maybe I should say science, but that is a whole other debate), check it out.

Global Issues, US Politics

Wider implications of Saddam’s death sentence

That Saddam has been tried for past atrocities is in most respects a positive development for Iraq. The use of capital punishment, however, might be symbolic of a systemic flaw in the US approach to the occupation since the fall of Baghdad.

With self-serving mea culpas abound, and more and more people taking a stern realist tack from desired to possible outcomes, core principles that have led to the current humanitarian disaster deserve to be challenged.

Simply blaming the disbanding of the Army, or the incompetence of pre-pubescent CPA advisors is not sufficient, nor particularly productive save for those distancing themselves from a policy they staked their worldview on.

The singular moment in which the peace was lost must be seen to be linked to the gross failure of legitimacy following the fall of Baghdad. Much like a similar moment in Afghanistan, most Iraqis were likely willing to give the occupying regime a chance. However, legitimacy was crucial, and here is where Blair (in a very Beinartian manner) got it right, and Bush went disastrously wrong.

Blair advocated strongly for a shift to UN control immediately following the successful invasion. He realised, like many in the international community, that it would be crucial to internationalize the post-war reconstruction and peacebuilding and that the UN, despite its many flaws, was the best instrument for such a project. This was rebuked by the US, who wanted to retain complete control over the transition, to disastrous effect.

So what does this have to do with the Saddam death sentence? International legitimacy. Most of the world, as well as virtually every international rights organization, is against capital punishment. Whether or not this position is correct is beside the point. What is crucial is this is seen as another reason why the international community is reluctant to get engaged in what is overwhelming considered an ‘American problem’. These small things add up.

If the US had cared about international legitimacy, Saddam would have been tried for war crimes in the Hague or through an ad hoc tribunal established in Baghdad. There is of course the problem that one cannot be tried for crimes committed before the establishment of the ICC, a term ironically included to placate US opposition to the court, so the trial of Saddam would have been more difficult, but the results certainly more legitimate.

Perhaps it is too late to undo this mistake, so one can only hope that they will not be broadcasting his death on television. This would simply be a further affront to the decency one would hope will emerge is the war stricken country.

More generally and following from this, in my opinion, the entire Iraq project desperately needs to be internationalised. I do not believe that the US alone has either the tools, nor the political will to implement and see out the multi-decade peacekeeping, peacebuilding, and reconstruction project that the Iraqi mission has become.

This should have been done three years ago. It is still, however, essential, particularly with the growing call for US withdrawal. Recognizing the international implications of putting Saddam to death, would be a good place to start in beginning to shift the control of the Iraq mission to those best suited for the task.

UPDATE: Plus ca change…

UPDATE 2: Hitch concludes:

It would have been no offense to justice if Hussein had been sentenced to spend the rest of his days in prison without the possibility of parole, but it would represent a break with that sanguinary tradition. And it might be no bad thing if Americans, especially those who supported the breaking of his death grip on Iraqi society, found ways of conveying their distaste for this rushed and vindictive — and partial — version of a process of reckoning that ought to have been sober, meticulous and untainted.

Global Issues, US Politics

The Incompetence Dodge 2.0

One would be hard pressed to find a more venerable beltway foreign policy panel: Hass, the CFR realist. Cohen, the SAIS pragmatist. Adelman, the unapologetic neocon. Ricks, the war-battered (and Pulitzer forthcoming) journalist. No bleeding heart? Nope, this was to be a ‘serious’ hard-nosed assessment. Needless to say, I watched Meet the Press with considerable interest Sunday morning. Surely these grand-hommes would shed light on what is increasingly becoming a markedly solution-deficient foreign policy discussion?

First on Haas. Every once and a while, the interests of differing foreign policy philosophies overlap. Such was the case in the lead up to the Iraq war. I remember being at a workshop nodding approvingly to Stephen Walt’s quintessentially realist assessment of why invading Iraq was a really bad idea. Surely we were on the same ‘team’ I thought? Deep down of course I knew I was dancing with the devil (in an ideological sense), but why question bedfellows when they sound so reasonable, not to mention sure footed and influential?

I don’t know what Walt is currently prescribing for Iraq, but if Hass is representative of the realist view, then count me sceptical. To paraphrase Haas: The Iraq war is all but lost. There is a very limited chance of success. This has to be admitted. The purpose of American foreign policy over the next year must therefore be to shift the perception that the problem lies not with US staying power or bad foreign policy decisions, but rather with the Iraqi’s. This shifting of blame is essential, says Haas, in order to ensure the perception of American military superiority; the worst case scenario being chaos in the Middle East, and America being blamed and deemed incompetent.

Well, there you have it. This is the realist version of the neocon’s incompetence dodge – foreign policy free from moral constraints. This is the Incompetence Dodge 2.0.

On first principles, as I once agreed with Walt, I also agree with Haas. The primary reason against unilateral invasion for both liberal internationalists and for realists alike, was that the concequences may be irreparable. Not just bad, but irreparable. Where I fundamentally divert from realist thinking, however, where to my mind the realist show their stripes, is in the amoral ‘solution’ they now prescribe.

There was not a moral argument against the war for the realists. There is likewise not a moral solution. A moral solution would require taking responsibility for the initial policy decision. Powel’s pottery barn trope, amongst others, for example. This is something Haas appears categorically unwilling to do. Instead choosing to shift blame to the Iraqi’s to ensure the credibility of future US foreign policy.

For their respective parts, Cohen, Adelman and Ricks said pretty much what you would expect.

Cohen pushed the ‘cross our fingers and hope it works out’ line. He argued for a drive to control Baghdad and suggested an ultimatum to the Iraqi ‘Government’: If you are not willing to do what we want, “we will leave you with chaos.” As if they believe that one, it isn’t chaos already, and two, that they have the power to significantly alter the current violence levels. Cohen did suggest that a better model for the ISG might have been to lay out the cost benefits of various plans for Iraq. Apparently Baker rejected this. Maybe it would have been a good model, although fissures within he group would have been brought to the surface.

Adelman was both remarkably recalcitrant and brutally honest in advocating the classic Incompetence Dodge 1.0. Ygelsias should really use him as a case study. Unabashed support for the war and complete blame on the Bush Administration’s incompetence, calling it shameful and mind-blowing. While this is well worn ground, he did point out one nugget from the ICG report: In the 1000 person US embassy in Iraq, 6 people speak Arabic. “How can anyone hear this and not be ashamed” he said. In a year from now, he wants a feeling that the government, rather than the sectarian groups are on the rise. Ok, but how? Package his arguments however you want. He is blaming the execution, not the first principle.

Finally Ricks is all but categorical on the degree of the failure, but certainly didn’t offer any solutions. On what the military will take from Iraq: “the worst decision in the history of American foreign policy.” On what’s driving the insurgency: A Hobbsian state – the war of all for all; Neighbourhoods are armed fortresses, a series of armed camps throughout Baghdad; Complete meltdown. On the future?: All of our allies have left, the middle class, the “glue of democracy” has fled. A dire assessment indeed.

So, to summarise. Haas wants to blame Iraqis, Adelman wants to blame the administration, Cohen wants to cross his fingers and hope things work out, and Ricks thinks we (Iraq, region and US foreign policy) are in an ever tightening downward spiral.

The Aldelman incompetence dodge we have heard before. The Haas dodge, however, is a new beast that I fear has legs. The isolationist left and right will soon grasp on, finding bedfellows in the realists, as anti-invasion advocates once did. As will politicians on both sides of the aisle who all want Iraq to ‘go away’ before 2008. To me this Incompetence Dodge 2.0 is the most perilous possible outcome of the Iraq problematic.

A voice conspicuously missing from this panel was the liberal internationalist. Where do they stand in this mess of blaming, dodging and praying? Tomorrow I’ll sketch out what I think they are, or should, be saying. Warning – It won’t be pretty, or particularly eloquent, but no options now are.

Global Issues, US Politics

Moving forward on Iraq debate

While I have admittedly been absent for a while, I have been reading the site regularly, and on the issue of support for the Iraq war, let me just say the following. I was decisively against the war. I wrote extensively on this position, spoke about it to anyone who would listen, and did both passionately and with real concern for the potential consequences of the course taken. That being said, I have worked for a politician who was initially for the war, and write for a blog that was generally in favour of it. Both, however, did so with a degree of analytic and intellectual honesty that is rare in both political and online discourse. I respect them both for it.

As David is the first to admit, the very purpose of public engagement on blogs is to challenge ones ideas and preconceptions as events unfold and debates evolve. He takes very public stands and is more self reflective than just about any blogger out there. He would be the first to welcome the critiques that have been present in the comment sections and indeed, has responded eloquently to them.

For those of us who were against the war, however, let us not get mired in righteous indignation. Almost no one predicted exactly what would happen, and indeed, there were real arguments in favour of intervention. Hindsight, hindsight, hindsight. Ignatieff, for example, took the position that the first principle of intervention was not paramount if the end goal was sufficiently similar – the removal of a dangerous dictator. There is a very real debate on motives in the humanitarian intervention discourse. His position can of course be challenged, and in this case proved to be wrong. But let’s not stray from the intellectual honesty that we demand of others as we move forward in what will surely remain the primary debate of our generation. The stakes are too high.

Which brings me to my final point. If the ICG report says anything, it is that there are serious and lasting consequences to continued failure and deterioration in Iraq. While it bothers me that those who were against the invasion due to the irreversibility of the potential concequences are now being asked for solutions, it is all of our responsibilities to provide innovative ideas for this truly massive problematic. In both Iraq and Afghanistan course change is needed. It’s time for critics to put their money where their mouths are.

Taking stock of new ideas for Iraq and specifically for Afghanistan will be a theme of my writing here for the next while. I hope that commenters will productively join in this discussion, and for the moment, let old battles rest.

Global Issues

Porter+Oxford+Sunday Lunch = Early afternoon hangover

It is safe to say that there are few better lunchers than oxblog’s Patrick Porter. It is also safe to say that despite our conflicting perspectives on the virtues of the United Nations, saving kittens from trees and helping grandmothers cross the street (PP is hardnosed on all three), we can agree on at least one thing – Gallaway is an ass. Money quotes from a confrontation with Oxford students last week:

Harriet Bradley, William Cudmore, Daniel Carall-Green and James Phillips had gone into the library to get a copy of Galloway’s book Fidel Castro Handbook signed for a friend. Bradley asked Galloway about a claim he had made in his speech to the Union that democracy in Cuba is more “free” than in the UK. When questioned in the chamber by a largely hostile audience, Galloway claimed that Oxford students are too privileged to understand what he was talking about.

Bradley said to the Respect MP, “Mr Galloway, I don’t agree with what you say, but I’m not posh. I’m not in the rugby club. I don’t go hunting, shooting and fishing. I went to a state school and so did Will.” She told Cherwell, “I just thought I would ask him about it in a polite way. We made the point that we didn’t have to be posh to disagree with him. His response was, ‘You are confusing me with someone who gives a f**k’.”

Cudmore added, “Dan said [to Galloway] that he was distressed at Galloway’s behaviour towards his friend Harriet. To this he replied, ‘I’m a little bit distressed that you think it’s any of your f**king business.’”

“He said, ‘You are both confusing me with someone who gives a f**k what you think. I don’t give a f**k what you think.’”

Carall-Green then asked Galloway if he felt that this was the right way to speak to members of his electorate. Galloway allegedly responded, “I don’t give a f**k what anyone else thinks.” Carall-Green proceeded to ask him whose views he was in Parliament to represent. To this question, Galloway allegedly replied, “I don’t represent anyone’s views. I represent me. I don’t give a f**k what anyone else thinks.”

Nothing but class, that Galloway. He does, however, bring Oxbloggers (and I suspect an increasing percentage of the civilized world) into common cause – so really, he is a uniter not a divider…

Global Issues

So crazy it might work

UK-based Egyptian mobile phone tycoon (and presumably rather wealthy) Mo Ibrahim has one of the better development ideas ever. He is going to give $5 million to African heads of state who leave office democratically and act that way while in power. Just to insure they don’t get any post-award-coup ideas, they will also get $200,000 a year for life.

The Mo Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership, as it will be called, will be judged by a team at Harvard, based on the democratic delivery of security, health, education and economic development to their constituents. It will now be the world’s biggest prize, well in front of the measly 1.3 million noble peace prizes are good for. Clinton, Mandela and Kofi have all indorsed it.

As Patrick B would say – ‘well done you!’