Thursday, July 27, 2006

From Marc Lynch over at Abu Aardvark:

"What we're seeing here, in a sense, is the growing -- the birth pangs of a new Middle East." - Condoleeza Rice, press briefing, July 21, 2006

discussing the current situation in Lebanon.

He concludes:
Rice made this gaffe, and then nobody in American public diplomacy evidently even tried to correct it - makes me once again repeat what I said a few days ago: Karen Hughes should quit immediately.

Read the whole post, Abu Aardvark has some of the best analysis of what's going on in the Arab Media of any blog you're going to find. And he's spot on with his analysis.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Abandoning a Sinking Ship

You know you're in trouble when your friends start trashing your signature policy.

From Wednesday's Post:
At a moment when his conservative coalition is already under strain over domestic policy, President Bush is facing a new and swiftly building backlash on the right over his handling of foreign affairs.

Conservative intellectuals and commentators who once lauded Bush for what they saw as a willingness to aggressively confront threats and advance U.S. interests said in interviews that they perceive timidity and confusion about long-standing problems including Iran and North Korea, as well as urgent new ones such as the latest crisis between Israel and Hezbollah.

"It is Topic A of every single conversation," said Danielle Pletka, vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, a think tank that has had strong influence in staffing the administration and shaping its ideas. "I don't have a friend in the administration, on Capitol Hill or any part of the conservative foreign policy establishment who is not beside themselves with fury at the administration."

(my emphasis)

From Thursday's Post:
Faced with almost daily reports of sectarian carnage in Iraq, congressional Republicans are shifting their message on the war from speaking optimistically of progress to acknowledging the difficulty of the mission and pointing up mistakes in planning and execution.

...And freshman Sen. John Thune (S.D.) told reporters at the National Press Club that if he were running for reelection this year, "you obviously don't embrace the president and his agenda."

...The shift is subtle, but Republican lawmakers acknowledge that it is no longer tenable to say the news media are ignoring the good news in Iraq and painting an unfair picture of the war. In the first half of this year, 4,338 Iraqi civilians died violent deaths, according to a new report by the U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq. Last month alone, 3,149 civilians were killed -- an average of more than 100 a day.

"It's like after Katrina, when the secretary of homeland security was saying all those people weren't really stranded when we were all watching it on TV," said Rep. Patrick T. McHenry (R-N.C.). "I still hear about that. We can't look like we won't face reality."

(again, emphasis added)
Not good for the Bush Administration at all.

(and how about some love for the original content to the blog-- not everything is cross-posted!)

The Clash over Iraq

I have been revisiting US policy in Iraq of late-- to the extent that you can revisit an ongoing issue. Mostly, this comes in the form of reading Cobra II, Squandered Victory, the Foreign Affairs articles and on-line debates, and of course the fine work posted here on the Duck. After all this, I'm not sure I have an opinion or even a learned analysis on the issue (even given my previous postings on the topic). Quite frankly, I'm not sure what to think anymore in strictly analytic / "expert analyst" sense. My mood, however, is certainly one of pessimism and skepticism-- not just of the Bush Administration anymore, but of the whole enterprise. Given how badly its been bungled to date (and you can't read these books without cringing at missteps and poor choices every other page), I don't think any US plan or leader could do any better.

So, it comes down to a Clash over Iraq:
Should we stay or should we go now?
if we go there will be trouble
and if we stay it will be double
so come on and let me know

The indecisions bugging me
if you don't want me set me free
Exactly who'm I'm supposed to be?

I really don't know a better way to say it. Two themes really stand out across the discussion of Iraq: 1) the blind ideoligical faith the various layers of the Administration had in their plan and 2) the nearly incompetent way that plan was implemented, again at all levels--most notably a failure to adjust and adapt to the "reality based community" encountered in Iraq. Its not just that there were "thousands of tatical errors" (of course there were), but there were massive strategic, policy, and "decider" errors as well.

Start with Cobra II (a very solid and comprehensive narrative about the pre-invasion and invasion with excellent insider sourcing). Traditional Foreign Policy Analysis teaches us to look for and evaluate the process of Decision Making. Yet, its clear here that there was no real process of decision making on Iraq. CENTCOM was asked to plan the invasion very early on in the process and dutifully did so. Bush essentially lied about not having war plans on his desk and Franks certainly lied that he had not been asked to make them. Its a fait-acompli, launched on a whim and series of assumptions. Of course, when you assume as everyone knows, you make an ASS of U and ME, and the Bush Administration was no different. Consider the "we'll be greeted as liberators" part. Its not just that this was a poor assumption coupled with faulty intelligence-- it became part of the strategy and had serious costs to the troops encounering hostile fire from Iraqis less than happy to see them. Or consider Frank's warplan. He always focused on the center of gravity, the Republican Guard, figuring that the real war would be a showdown between the 3rd ID and the Special Republican Guard Divisions somewhere close to Baghdad. He never grasped (until it was far too late) that the real battle was in the rear areas, with an irregular enemy--the Fedeyeen. This was the begining of the ongoing insurgency, and its reasonable to surmise that had Franks ordered US forces to beef up the rear areas and spend a few days wiping out this small, insurgent-style resistance, that the current insurgency would certainly be less severe than it is now. Instead, he had his forces race to an undefended Baghdad. Or what of Rumsfeld's blind faith in military transformation? Too few troops, and no new reinforcements when they were needed most in the immediate post-conflict moments.

Move to Diamond's Squandered Victory-- again, you see a CPA unwilling to meet with Iraqis, take them and their demands seriously, and unable to fathom any compromises to their plan. Sistani seemed to want legitimacy through elections, something the CPA simply would not give, and it worked to undermine each and every action toward setting up a provisional government. Those from a democracy, sent to build a democracy, forgot the greatest lesson of democracy: its strength is its legitimacy. The cost of legitimacy is certainly a messy and unpredictable (or as far as the CPA was concerned, controllable) process, but the pay-off is a legitimate government capable of taking decisive action to, say, stop an insurgency.

The overall assumption evident throughout the political appointees of the Administration (and among Neo-con talking heads) was that inside each little Iraqi was an American just waiting to get out. The head of Iraq may have been poisoned by Saddam, but the body was healthy, and if we cut off the head, the body would simply grow a new one more to our liking. But, people are not born as rational economic actors with well-ordered preferences that naturally emerge in a free market--be it political or economic. The free market (both politically and economically) that the neocons (including Cheney and Bremmer) sought to create in Iraq may have been possible to creat, but it could not and would not exist prima-facie in a post-Saddam environment. Indeed, as my colleagues here are quite adept at explaining, the rules of markets are social constructs, and must continually be reinforced through a social process of legitimation.

Perhaps if Bush had a few Constructivists on his NSC, things might have gone a bit better.

(a momentary pause while you stop laughing at the insanity of that last statement)

All of which leads me to essentially agree with what Marc Lynch suggests:

Which brings me to the question of withdrawal. I've long been skeptical about the calls for it, for two main reasons: First, it seemed irresponsible to walk away from the mess the United States has made, repeating on a larger scale the elder Bush's abandonment of Iraqi Shiites and Kurds to Saddam's tender mercies. And second, announcing plans for withdrawal seemed likely to create dangerous incentives for all political actors to game the schedule. But those reasons now pale in comparison to the problems posed by not withdrawing. It seems the height of strategic irresponsibility to remain in a place where there is not only no realistic plan for victory, but also every indication that the American presence is making things worse.

At this point, focusing solely on coming up with a strategy for "victory" does not make sense, because no such strategy is out there. The United States does not need to defeat insurgents or jihadists in hand-to-hand combat to prove its mettle, and indeed, the more it tries to impose its will in Iraq now the worse the results are likely to be. Washington's credibility is so low, its presence so inflammatory, that virtually any initiative under an American brand name will generate resistance. For these reasons, therefore, I have regretfully come to the conclusion that—although much would depend on the terms, context, and execution of it—a gradual U.S. withdrawal seems like the least bad option still available.

I think Marc is spot-on. There is no "good" outcome here, and our futile pursuit of such a "victory" may actually make matters worse. Leaving isn't much better, but consider this option: the fundamental problem with the nacent Iraqi government is its weakness and legitimacy. Consider this: what if we could strengthen that government by enhancing its legitimacy by allowing it to take back the country from our occupation.

Maybe that's who we're supposed to be.

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Monday, July 17, 2006

Thoughts on Israel and Lebanon

Like all other frustrated scholars out there, I wanted to publish an Op-Ed, thinking I have something interesting to say about what's going on between Israel and Lebanon. I thought that I might have something to contribute-- my dissertation had a looooong chapter on the Israel - Lebanon Monitoring Group, a small organizaton set up after Israel's 1996 Operation Grapes of Wrath in Lebanon. There's not a lot written about the ILMG, so I figured I might have some unique insights.

But, of course, no one picked up the piece, so dear readers, here it is for your consideration:

Ten years ago, Israel launched a military offensive against Hezbollah in southern Lebanon designed to secure Israel’s northern border by destroying Hezbollah’s operational capabilities. The 1996 “Operation Grapes of Wrath” proceeded with tacit US approval and escalated rapidly. Only after Israeli artillery fire hit a UN refugee camp did the US and international communities launch a flurry of shuttle diplomacy and negotiate an understanding that served as an effective cease-fire.

The situation today has many echoes of the past. This is Israel’s fifth major military incursion into Lebanon—1978, 1982, 1993, 1996, and now 2006—to stop a non-state terrorist organization resident in Lebanon from launching attacks against Israel. In each case, the Israeli army pushed northward into Lebanon while Israeli artillery and panes bombed key targets across the country. The broad Israeli strategy also remains the same—to use direct attacks to displace and destroy the PLO (in 1978 and 1982) or Hezbollah (in 1993, 1996, and now) while also using the indirect pressure of wider attacks to press the Lebanese government to reassert control of its territory. None of these operations were isolate incidents; they all had deep connections to wider regional issues and brought fears of regional escalation. Only US-led international intervention prevented that nightmare.

The 1996 April Understanding that ended Grapes of Wrath established a basic set of rules for the Israeli – Hezbollah conflict: Neither side should launch attacks from or target civilians or civilian areas. The agreement also established a little-known but effective monitoring group comprised of US, French, Syrian, Lebanese, and Israeli representatives. This Israel-Lebanon Monitoring Group (ILMG), monitored the cease-fire and discussed violations brought by either side. At its height, the ILMG was able to identify and even blame both sides for cease-fire violations. Through the ILMG’s work, civilian causalities on both sides fell significantly. The ILMG managed the Israeli – Hezbollah conflict, limiting it to military on military confrontations in southern Lebanon up until Israel’s withdrawal in 2000.

Four key differences, however, separate the current situation from the past.

First, the Palestinians occupy a fundamentally different position then they had in the past. The Palestinians played no role in the 1993 and 1996 operation against Hezbollah. Today, its no accident that the Hezbollah action sparking this inferno happened as Israel was in Gaza fighting Hamas. Some reports suggest that the PA is subtly working with Israel to undermine its rival Hamas, while Shi’ite Hezbollah and Sunni Hamas are now coordinating their actions against Israel. Even if this coordination is merely rhetorical, it puts Israel in the position of fighting a two front war.

Second, Iran has moved to center-stage in the contemporary Middle East drama. Iran is Hezbollah’s primary sponsor and it is not shy about using this influence to its advantage. Within the past year, Iran has markedly increased its anti-Israel rhetoric, its position as a leader of Shi’ites throughout the region, and its status as a regional power through its pursuit of a nuclear program. Iran’s influence does create a small opening for diplomacy as part of an overall nuclear deal, but the US and EU-3 seem unlikely to press these linkages. With oil topping $78 per barrel, Iran is in a strong position to act as Hezbollah’s enabler.

Third, the relationship between Syria and Lebanon has shifted dramatically. In 1996, Syria was the puppet-master in Lebanon and very influential with Hezbollah. The 1996 Understanding and subsequent monitoring group worked because Syria could keep Hezbollah in line with major components of the agreement. When Syrian troops quit Lebanon after the Cedar Revolution, Syria lost some of its influence over Hezbollah, and most likely can no longer “deliver” Hezbollah compliance with any cease-fire agreement. Lebanon, free from Syrian control, is now able to speak for itself, but with Hezbollah as one of the political parties within the Lebanese parliament, it has little ability to act, and no one to prop it up if it stumbles.

Finally, the US has a fundamentally different involvement in the region from a decade ago. Then, focus was on diplomacy in the context of a wider Middle East Peace Process. Secretary of State Christopher was a regular visitor to Damascus and the US was pushing a variety of peace agreements, including one between Syria and Israel. Today, focus is anti-terrorism and Iraq. Any wider escalation that involves Syria could easily spill over to involve US troops in Iraq near the Syrian border. Israel’s policy of eliminating state harbors for terrorists echo’s the Bush Administration’s approach in Afghanistan. As a result, the Bush Administration is more inclined to let the conflict play out as Hezbollah is weakened as opposed to press for a diplomatic solution.

Unlike 1996, the situation today does not bode well for quick and manageable cease-fire. As Iraq has demonstrated, large scale military operations against local insurgent terrorist organizations have a difficult time producing tangible results absent a wider political settlement. Hezbollah, like Hamas or the insurgents in Iraq, gains more popular support from fighting than from compromise, and the strong political actors that were able to force a Hezbollah – Israeli compromise in 1996 are less inclined to do so today. Unless the US and Israel exercise extreme caution, they risk inciting a region-wide conflict that will be exceedingly difficult to end.

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Monday, July 10, 2006

As the response to North Korea's missile launch last week heats up, its clear that Japan was really spooked by what happened.

The AP reports, via ABC news:

Japan said Monday it was considering whether a pre-emptive strike on the North's missile bases would violate its constitution, signaling a hardening stance ahead of a possible U.N. Security Council vote on Tokyo's proposal for sanctions against the regime.

Japan was badly rattled by North Korea's missile tests last week and several government officials openly discussed whether the country ought to take steps to better defend itself, including setting up the legal framework to allow Tokyo to launch a pre-emptive strike against Northern missile sites.

"If we accept that there is no other option to prevent an attack … there is the view that attacking the launch base of the guided missiles is within the constitutional right of self-defense. We need to deepen discussion," Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe said.

This is not the Bush administration, this is Japan, they of the pacifist constitution and no "army." The US has long maintained a "deep engagement" policy centered around 100,000 troops based in the East Asian theater . The strong US presence allows a degree of political stability so that Japan, South Korea, China, and Taiwan can focus on economic growth and not worry about an arms race--mostly focused on Japan. In Korea (North and South) there are many bitter memories of Japanese colonial occupation prior to and through WWII, and much of the harsh North Korean rhetoric of being a "guerillaa state" is directed at Japan, not just the USA.

If Japan is even half way-- no a quarter way-- serious about this preemptive strike notion, it would be quite the political / security earthquake in East Asia. Certainly makes for living in interesting times.

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Wednesday, July 05, 2006

As you've seen and heard, North Korea tested its missiles. They launched the Taepo-Dong 2 multi-stage missile as well as 6 short and medium range Nodong missiles and Scud variants.

What first strikes me as interesting about this is the sheer number of missiles launched--7 overall. The first volley included 5 short / medium range missiles along with the Taepodong 2. Then, a few hours later, they fired off a 7th missile, also of the short-range variety. All the missiles came down in the sea of Japan (click here for estimated landing zones). The Australians are reporting that more tests maybe coming in the next few days.

Up until now, the big issue had been the Taepodong 2. It represents a real upgrade in North Korea's capability, and is able to hit the US (Alaska, mainly, though maybe the West Coast if it has a good tail wind... click here for the launch site) as well as all of China and Japan. Originally, it seemed, most though that this would be a repeat of the 1998 test, where they fired a single Taepodong 2 over Japan and into the Pacific Ocean. Today, they shot off 7 missiles, and that changes the game a bit. To paraphrase the old communist saw: quantity has a quality all of its own. With the volume of tests, the DPRK has upped the ante quite a bit.

This certainly has changed the game between North Korea and its neighbors, and not in a way favorable to North Korea. Basically, they stumbled into a pretty tight spot.

Back when these launches were mere threats, North Korea could use the threat of a launch as a tool in the negotiations. Had they backed down, they could have retained the threat of future test launches for future negotiations.
Now, they've played that card and can't take it back. They are now in need of a second act.

For the US, the cards fell in its favor. By sitting still, the US got a firm demonstration of North Korea's hostile intentions that they can take to their negotiating partners. The Bush Administration has long wanted to take a harder line toward North Korea, but has found it difficult to do so over the objections of South Korea. Continuing the Sunshine policy of engagement toward the North, the South has been offering large amounts of unilateral economic and humanitarian aid, including the development of factories and tourism within the North. With this test, the Roh government is certain to scale back its cooperation with the DPRK and move closer to supporting a more confrontational policy championed by the Bush Administration.

It also put Japan squarely in the US camp. Japan has been at the forefront of the diplomatic response, issuing the strongest criticism of the launch as well as taking the most drastic actions. This is possible, of course, because Japan is one of the few countries with any significant leverage to use with North Korea--Japan is probably going to stop the ferry that goes between the two countries and ban the significant remittances that flow from the small Korean community in Japan to the DPRK. It also probably erases any doubts that Japan will be a big supporter of Missile Defense.

Even China seems rather unhappy with the turn of events, though not concerned enough to back UN sanctions.

So, North Korea faces a rather more unified front than it did before the test, none of which is good for the North's ability to eek out a better deal or cut a side-bargain with the members of the 6 party talks.

The US also avoided a major credibility test with the Taepodong 2 failure-- it never needed to make a decision about the use of the Missile Defense system. Because the DPRK missile crashed after about 40 seconds of flight, the US got a pass and avoided the tough choice of to fire or not to fire and the system's first trial by fire. Instead, the US can put the focus back on North Korea's hostile actions and the newfound resolve of the "international community" to punish North Korea for its actions. The Bush Administration's policy suddenly becomes (or at least appears) significantly more multi-lateral without having to change.

Now, as Bill noted, its time to "put up or shut up" for the US. Though the US may have threatened punishment for just such a missile launch, there's not a whole lot the US can do on its own. The US has already cut nearly all of its aid to the DPRK and has put on financial pressures to curb DPRK smuggling and counterfeiting, freezing activity at a bank in Macau back in February. Remaining US sticks are few.

However, there are a number of ways to tighten the screws on North Korea. Japan has several moves, and is making them, as is South Korea. The most significant action left is a UNSC resolution, which will require significant US diplomacy to get a text that China and Russia will support.

The most significant thing about this launch, however, is that it now changes the game between North Korea and the world. Back in 2002, the Bush Administration had few options with respect to North Korea-- it could negotiate under the broad terms of the Agreed Framework and 6-Party Talks and that was about it. While the Bush Administration may have chafed under these restrictions and fought them, it had little room to create a new game toward North Korea. In the this case, North Korea did the Bush Administration a significant favor by providing a window of opportunity to close the negotiations game and move to a set of more restrictive and punishment-oriented rules. Instead of restraining a harder-line approach, Japan is now out in front and South Korea is dropping its opposition. Even China is more willing to condemn rather than protect the DPRK.

So the move to a new game is afoot. Sensing the opportunity, the US has dispatched its top negotiators to lock in a new set of rules for dealing with North Korea. There is certainly no guarantee that this new game will be any more stable or provide any more security than the old game, but the rules have changed, North Korea instigated the change, and the shift in doesn't seem to help the DPRK.

cross posted
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