Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Gaza & the Future of the Mideast: Editorial Views

New York Times, 2005: Gaza Never a Legitimate Israeli Possession

Gaza, a 25-mile-long, 6-mile-wide strip of land, was part of Mandatory
Palestine, which was ruled by the British after the fall of the Ottoman
It was never part of the Zionist state intended by the United Nations partition plan that led to the establishment of Israel in 1948. At that point, five Arab nations immediately attacked the new nation, but Gaza wasn't even part of the territory Israel got in signing truces in 1949. It became the home of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fleeing Israel, and Israel's armistice with Egypt in 1949 put it under Egyptian rule....

In the 1967 Israeli-Arab war, Israel captured Gaza and the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt, along with the West Bank (from Jordan) and the Golan Heights (from Syria). Israel returned the Sinai to Egypt after making peace, but kept control of Gaza.
A second agreement called for negotiating eventual Palestinian autonomy there....

Gaza represents the worst side of Israel's settlement movement. The densely populated strip is home to 1.3 million Palestinians - most of them refugees, or offspring of refugees. Each square mile of Palestinian land holds, on average, about 14,000 people.

Los Angeles Times: Impact on Egyptian Politics

It is political theater punctuated with dangerous rhetoric. Mubarak's vast
intelligence and security forces are attempting to prevent pro-Palestinian
protests from erupting into sustained nationwide anti-government rallies. But
the Muslim Brotherhood and Kifaya, Arabic for "Enough," an umbrella opposition
group of leftists and nationalists, are determined to make just that happen. The
Muslim Brotherhood has sponsored 80 demonstrations since Wednesday, when
hundreds of thousands of Gazans began pouring into Egypt through a breached
border wall.The Muslim Brotherhood, which favors a government guided by Islamic law, known as Sharia, has a platform of nonviolence but has been accused over the years of bombings and other militant acts.. Despite the arrests of hundreds of its members, the group enjoys extensive support among the poor and middle class and poses the nation's most significant political threat to Mubarak's
ruling National Democratic Party.
The Palestinian cause is the crystallizing passion in the Arab world, but the Gaza border crisis has brought new urgency to a public relations battle between Islamists and secular governments, especially in Egypt. It has also demonstrated that Hamas, the militant Islamist party that controls Gaza and is ideologically linked to the Muslim Brotherhood, remains a major factor in the future Palestinian equation, contrary to the wishes of the U.S., Egypt, Israel and the Palestinian Authority….

"The regime dealt brutally with demonstrators because it is concerned about domestic stability," said Abdel Moneim Abul Fotouh, a Muslim Brotherhood leader.
"The regime knows that there is public outrage for other reasons including inflation, unemployment and other accumulated problems. It fears that things will explode…."Mohammed Sayed Said, deputy head of the Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo, said support for the Palestinians is giving the Muslim Brotherhood "a great deal of legitimacy."

Boston Globe: Collective Punishment Empowers Hamas

Imposing collective punishment on the people of Gaza is not only inhumane; it is also incapable of producing results that benefit Israel or the two main rivals of Hamas: Fatah and Mubarak's Egypt. By knocking down the Rafah barrier and forcing Mubarak to tell Egyptian police to let Gazans enter Egypt, Hamas placed itself in the position of defending Palestinians under its rule from the two states, Egypt and Israel, that have turned Gaza into a shutdown prison.

Arab News: Callousness of Israel

An Israeli government official’s statement summed up so well the callousness
of Israeli policy toward the besieged people in Gaza. Responding to the flood of
people across the broken border wall into Egypt, he said, “We expect the Egyptians to solve the problem.”

Haaretz: Opportunity

The crisis in Rafah was apparently not foreseen by the best of Israel's policy makers. Now, after it has happened, it is worth using the crisis to set policies that are more creative than assassinations and starvation and to try to avoid becoming fixated on the usual, predictable responses and on laying blame in all directions. The Egyptians could now become the unwitting leaders in finding an agreed-on solution. This could be the time to assert joint responsibility for the border crossings, with the participation of the Palestinian government and international organizations. Hamas used the closure to create sympathy for the people of Gaza. The destruction of the border barrier is also perceived as a legitimate prison break. A statesmanlike response is now needed to turn the crisis into an opportunity.

Gaza Bargaining

Here are the public bargaining positions as Hamas-Egyptian and Fatah-Egyptian negotiations begin over Gaza:

Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Zahar

Talking about a partial role contradicts reality. The reality is that there
is a legitimate government. We will not give up our legitimacy to anybody

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas

We do not accept any new agreements. We are committed to the international
agreements as they are....Hamas has to end its coup in Gaza, accept all international obligations and accept holding early elections. After that, our hearts are open for any dialogue.

Other reports:

The UN Special Coordinator's Office for the Peace Process in the Middle East reported that Israel continues to block access. Only 32 trucks with supplies have entered Gaza from Israel since January 18, compared with 250 per day before June.

The Israeli Supreme Court upheld the right of the Israeli government to continue its economic warfare policy of collective punishment of the Gaza population by rejecting a suit by Israeli & Palestinian human rights organizations.

Egyptian diplomats said one of Cairo's proposals that could be accepted by both factions would suggest handing over the border's supervision to "neutral" Palestinian forces that belong to neither Hamas nor Fatah.

The United Nations Security Council gave up trying to adopt a non-binding statement on the humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip caused by an Israel's blockade after the US alone of the 15 council members refused to support it. The statement would have both criticized Hamas rocket attacks and called on Israel to reopen the border. Alejandro Wolff, the US deputy ambassador, called the “illegal coup” by Hamas (which won a democratic election and formed the legal Palestinian government in 2006) the core issue.

Meanwhile, both sides continue? resume? shooting even as talks occur.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Israeli Historian on the Politics of Gaza

For a concise review of the political context and recent history of the Gaza issue, see this article by an Israeli historian.

This short video also summarizes the recent history of Gaza, citing U.N. data.


If it were to be accepted as legitimate for a country to punish the whole population of an opponent because of the behavior of extremist politicians, then it would be hard to find a population on the planet that would not be vulnerable. Israel, long a rogue state violating international law and defying the U.N., has received a warning message over the past week. If it has the maturity to put up with the embarrassment and learn the right lesson, Israel's future could as a result become much more secure.

When a whole population rises up and demands freedom, it is an historic event. When they do this peacefully—smashing down walls, perhaps, but not killing, then we tend to greet the results with glee and admiration. Glee because it demonstrates the eternal truth of our own democratic ideals; admiration because such revolutions somehow seem so much more honest and unhypocritical than our own everyday version of democracy.

Now that the population of Gaza has broken down its prison walls and demanded that most basic and inalienable human right—the right to buy food, are we applauding their restraint in doing it peacefully even though they are under constant military attack by their Israeli prison guards? Are we applauding their courage in walking into Egypt, with no way of knowing whether or not they would be shot on their way to the local grocery store? (For details, this article and this one.)

No, we punish Egypt for not forcing the Palestinian people back into their jail.

In contrast, 1000 Israelis brought contributions of food and medicine to Gaza and demonstrated against their government’s economic war against the Palestinian people.

Americans should contemplate the decency of these Israeli defenders of human rights and think deeply about the shameful rush to pass judgment by Washington politicians desperate to shove the Palestinians back into their jail.

In the words of the peace activist and journalist Uri Avnery, “For a moment, the Rafah crossing was the Brandenburg Gate.
He continued: "The brutal blockade was a war crime. And worse: it was a stupid blunder. "

This “stupid blunder” has now forced the Egyptian dictatorship to offer—horror of horrors—to negotiate with the Gaza government. Some would evidently have preferred that the Egyptians massacre the Palestinians as they went about their shopping. But there is now no returning to the past; the Mideast will never be the same. The Israeli government should listen to its own people before its recklessness sets in motion an unstoppable train of events.

So far, Israel has created a situation which:

  • Has put Egypt in the position of having in effect recognized the Hamas government of Gaza;

  • Has made Hamas, which has accepted the offer to negotiate and has called for a truce with Israel, appear the reasonable, rational, moderate actor while Israel appears the terrorist;

  • Has given Hamas nationalist credentials that seem likely to ensure its ability to win any democratic election in the near future.

Great events in a complex political context can emerge from small beginnings. It may be that as many as half the 1.5 million residents of Gaza crossed the border into Egypt this past week to do their shopping and vote with their feet for freedom. Can there be any doubt that Hamas will reap the reward of long-term popularity? That Hamas’ greatest political victory should have come through a rather peaceful effort may have interesting implications, though how Hamas leaders will see it remains uncertain. In any case, the implications of this week’s events for the hold of Hamas over Gaza are likely to be significant.

In addition, the bankruptcy—not just moral but practical—of Israel’s policy of victory through strength is now pretty clear: first the lesson of Lebanon 2006 and second the lesson of Gaza 2008. Once again, as in Lebanon in 2006, Arabs with bulldozers manage to look good in comparison to Israelis with tanks. Only in the U.S. will this be hard to see. The rightwing violence-prone regime running Israel should think carefully about the long-term implications of what it is doing before it permanently weakens Israeli security by strengthening both the moral authority and nationalist credentials of its most extreme opponents.

The current Israeli regime similarly seem likely to be discredited. The Israeli nation, in contrast, could well benefit. First, this may just possibly shock the Israeli political system into serious self-reflection and lead to a more viable long-term policy. Second, if Hamas derives the lesson that ingenuity rather than brute force is the most effective way of defending the rights of the Palestinian people, and if Israel also takes away a lesson in good neighborliness, then a route to solving the Palestinian-Israeli dispute may be found as a result. Third, by virtue of the Israeli Supreme Court consideration of the petition by human rights organizations to end the Israeli blockade, the continued health of the Israeli democracy has been demonstrated: the Israeli government will bow at least momentarily before the concept of human decency. An independent judiciary with the ability and courage to stand up for human rights in the face of administration policy is a rare achievement in today’s world. Because of that, if nothing else, Israel has already gained from this week’s momentous, albeit embarrassing, events.

Many questions remain:

  • Is the Israeli government taking this move only because it sees little choice for the moment or is this a sincere effort to move beyond the mindless brutality of the war on Gaza? (Israeli military attacks on the West Bank over the last two days hint at the answer.

  • Will Hamas learn anything positive from this week’s events and cooperate with the efforts of the human rights organizations and the Israeli Supreme Court and the suddenly cautious Egyptian government to return the situation to a position of reason?

  • Will Egypt, fearful of its own harshly suppressed democratic movement, take this opportunity to establish normal border processes with Gaza rather than going back to serving as assistant jailers to the Israeli regime?

  • Will both regional and other involved actors ultimately respond with professionalism and thoughtfulness, benefiting from this experience to move away from the viciousness of the last year by offering Hamas a real alternative to renewed fighting?

  • Will the illegal coup by Abbas, but engineered by Washington and Tel Aviv, against the democratically elected Hamas government of all Palestine be replaced by either new elections or a Palestine government of national consensus?

One way to get some clues about the answers is to graph the trend lines in behavior of each actor. To the degree that the lines go in the same direction, we may get some sense of the prospects. Two questions worth asking:

1) are the various actors flexible or rigid?

2) are they ready to compromise or ready for confrontation?

The main public acts this week of three key actors – Israel, Hamas, and Egypt – are portrayed in the graphic. Quadrant D is the worst, containing actions both confrontational and rigid. Quadrant A shows actions both flexible and prone to compromise. Quadrant B contains actions that are flexible, though still confrontational. Ingenious ways of being confrontational may lead to a breakthrough via some unexpected route but are still essentially hostile. Quadrant C contains actions that remain rigid, unoriginal despite actors’ willingness to compromise (if only they could figure out how).

So far, for a few short days, the graph clearly suggests a surprising degree of movement by all three actors away from the rigidity and confrontation of the past year toward something offering new possibilities.

Hamas' Negotiating Position on Rafah Border Crossing

Fawozi Barhum, Hamas spokesman Hamas in Gaza, said:

we in the Hamas movement have stated clearly, will not allow the Rafah
borders to be operated by the past agreements between the Palestinian Authority
and Israel, because it was unjust towards our people, thousands couldn't leave
the Gaza strip for health care, travel and studying and scores were kidnapped by
the Israeli occupation at the Rafah borders because of this

Would anyone care to address these points?

Well, no, probably not, judging from this report:

Israeli sources reported on Monday that Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, and the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, agreed on Sunday to demand Egypt to seal the breached border with the Gaza Strip. Olmert also said that he objects to any talks between Fatah and Hamas.

You see, talking to people is really a very bad thing. Just won't do at all.

Monday, January 28, 2008

The Human Costs of Power Politics: Somalia

This video shows some of the human costs when powerful countries play politics in others' neighborhoods.

Hamas vs Egypt on the Gaza Border

This video seems to do a fairly balanced job of reporting the historic events of the day on the Gaza-Egypt border as Hamas directs traffic rather smoothly, the Egyptians start herding Palestinian shoppers back home, and...well, the video's the conclusion.

Voting Responsibly

It's not too hard to get a fair idea of what the candidates for election stand for. Extended video interviews are readily available on the Internet. Groupthink (sometimes called "watching TV evening news) is not necessary. Spend a couple minutes and you will see that options exist in the U.S. presidential elections - but they won't exist much longer if people pick candidates based on how many votes they got the day before.

Just for one example, here's Ron Paul in his own words.

A Pakistani View of the Key Problem in Pakistan

Commenting on the implications of Musharraf’s self-engineered “election” of himself as president of Pakistan for the next five years on October 7, 2007, Dr. Farooq Hassan, Senior Advocate Supreme Court of Pakistan and Professor Harvard University, warns of the dangers to Pakistan of the current political disunity:

The 1971 creation of Bangladesh because of a spate of follies by the military strongman general Yahya are a vivid reminder of what yet could happen
in this country.

Dr. Hassan concludes:

Pakistan politically and economically is in a mess, its own army, for the first time, is seeing its credibility, power, its pre-eminent position in Pakistan's society and power structure questioned and losing fast its respect in public estimation.

Westhawk's post on a possible expansion of U.S. military ties to Pakistan should be read in this context.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Iraq, Somalia, Pakistan, and...Mexico???

While most of us Americans who pay any attention to what is happening anywhere outside our own borders in the first place are focused on Islamic countries, Latin America is still here, as shown by this extremely disconcerting note from Adam Isaacson, one of the most reliable Latin American bloggers:

" Mexico, a top defense official made an absolutely stunning admission: more than 100,000 soldiers have deserted Mexico’s army in the last seven years - and
many of them are now in the service of narcotraffickers. Yet Mexico’s police are
at least as troubled: in three important border towns this week, the Mexican
forced municipal police to cede control, citing widespread allegations that local law-enforcement was deeply infiltrated by drug cartels. Meanwhile Congress is still considering a Bush administration proposal to give hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to Mexico’s security forces."

According to a Mexican official quoted in the Mexican press,

Más de 100 mil militares han desertado del Ejército mexicano en los
últimos siete años, algunos de los cuales han engrosado las filas de los grupos
criminales, en particular del narcotráfico
, afirmó hoy el subsecretario de la
Defensa Nacional, Tomás Ángeles Dahuajare.

One might say that the important point is what is meant by the word "algunos" (some), which is just as vague in Spanish as in English, but the existence of such a career path at all is really the troubling part. Indeed, the official noted that the trend is growing. This hints at an underlying social dynamic that might theoretically be dangerously nonlinear.

Anyone have anything to add on this issue?

An invitation:

From my vantage point as an observer of politics in the Islamic world, this Mexican story sounds way too familiar. If it were Afghanistan or Pakistan, the knee-jerk American reaction would be to blame it on al Qua'ida or Sunnis or the Islamic faith; if it were Iraq, the knee-jerk reaction would be to blame it on Iran. To get away from such simplistic mental models and force ourselves to examine real social dynamics, I would propose an analysis of social collapse that compares Latin American cases with cases in the Islamic world.

I know, this crosses institutional boundaries. How would we ever get Latin American and Islamic specialists in the same room??? All I can say is, "This is important, folks. South Waziristan on the Texas border is not something we really need to live through."

Anyone interested in organizing a little workshop?

Ahmadinejad Confident, Moderate on Mideast Affairs

Ahmadinejad gave an interview to al-Jazeera on January 17. The interview was summarized by al-Jazeera (in English) and is discussed by al-Jazeera commentators in this video (in English).
Judging from these two sources, he apparently avoided threats and spoke confidently about Iranian security vis-à-vis Israel. He also apparently condemned Israelis as terrorists, called for stability in Iraq, harmony in the Mideast, and resistance in Lebanon.

The interview already seems to have been twisted in the West, a common situation with his remarks. Does anyone know where to get a full transcript?

Campaigning for Pakistan

The MajaGama blog reports that Imran Khan, Chairman of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Party (Movement for Justice), "put forth a forceful argument that the true battle in Pakistan is not between conservatives and liberals, but between the status quo and change, positioning himself as an agent for this much-needed change. Khan’s overarching theme was the importance of good governance in paving the way for a democratic future in Pakistan. Specifically, he stressed the need for rule of law, checks and balances, and a functioning judiciary as prerequisites from which all other challenges (such as poverty and fundamentalism) can then be tackled." [Emphasis added.]

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Economic Stimulus for an Overheated Economy

For the last couple years, Americans have been having a party buying overvalued houses at prices they knew they could not afford, taking advantage of the lowest interest rates in our lifetimes, on the assumption that those rates will last forever. Those who already owned homes have been partying even harder, spending in a flash the home equity they spent their lives accumulating.

At the same time, our government has been having its own party, invading Iraq; invading Afghanistan; threatening Iran (threats that include naval battle groups sailing foreign seas are not cheap); funding proxy adventures (e.g., Ethiopia in Somalia); and generally building a military force fancier, bigger, and more expensive than that of the whole rest of the world put together.

Whether or not these parties are justified is not the issue here: my point is simply that they have been expensive. The Government paid for its debts by borrowing from the very considerate leaders of the People’s Republic of China; the American middle class would like to pay by getting a deal from the Government, which will pay for the deal by getting another deal from those very considerate Chinese Communist gentlemen.

Now that some chickens are coming home to roost, the Bush Administration is offering some incentives for us to…save? reduce both personal indebtedness and the national debt? enhance productivity? plan our lives in a more mature fashion? trim the incredibly, grossly overweight national offense budget? Well, no…the incentives are designed to spike our drinks and keep the party going for, presumably, at least one more year.

I have summarized all this in somewhat casual terms without any erudite discourse. But I am just a political scientist, not an economist, so what do I know, anyway? Maybe someone else can explain the logic of all this to me, but please, no sarcasm. There’s enough of that around here already.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Further Comparisons between Iran & Pakistan

Recently, I suggested that Iran and Pakistan should be viewed in comparative perspective and asked if the approach of the world community or any major player in it toward these two countries should be based on a single set of principles. Others are also comparing Iran and Pakistan in essays worth careful consideration in this election year.

Karim Sajadpour compares the current Pakistani electoral situation to that of Iran in 1978:

"In 1978, Iran’s liberals were bent on removing the Shah by any means. Instead of creating an atmosphere conducive to an Iranian Gandhi, they unwittingly helped usher into power Ayatollah Khomeini and a theocratic regime less tolerant than the one they helped unseat."

Paul Rogers compares current U.S. policy toward the two, warning that:

"in the United States the primary election campaign is approaching full
flow with virtually no mention of these issues. In regard to both Iran and
Pakistan, however, the potential for sudden crises and even overt conflict
involving US forces, may now be higher than just a month ago."

Other comparisons would be welcome.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

US. Election and Foreign Policy

“If we continue with imperialism, we’re done as a nation.”

-- Mike Gravel
"strength through peace...we are certainly not more secure...
with the occupation of Iraq"
--Dennis Kucinich

Let no voter complain after the election that we did not have a choice.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Pakistan & Iran Challenge the World

Iran and Pakistan--albeit dramatically different in terms of history, culture, ties to the U.S., religion, and government structure—nevertheless each pose a fundamental and strikingly similar challenge to the current world political system: each threatens to upset the international applecart by refusing to play by the rules of the current system. Pakistan’s longstanding policy of passing nuclear weapons technology around the Islamic world; Iran’s refusal (in principle, at least) to accept the permanence of Israel’s current military preeminence in the Mideast; Iran’s military and political support for subnational actors on Israel’s border struggling to escape from Israel’s shadow; and Pakistan’s military and political support for subnational actors fighting for control of Afghanistan and Kashmir are all enduring examples of the challenge these two states pose to the global political system as currently structured. Both states also pose a distinct implicit threat to the global system: the extreme danger that would be likely if the organs of state power controlling either state were to collapse. Whatever one may think of the governments in power in Iran and Pakistan, “the devil you know” is not an argument to be dismissed lightly, something of which the Pakistani Army, for one, is clearly well aware.

These remarks are not intended to imply any value judgments about the desirability of the current international political system; that is another issue entirely. It is simply a fact that Pakistan--a U.S. “ally” that may turn out to be on the edge of collapse or on the road to greater international power--and Iran—a U.S. “enemy” that has clearly been rising on the international scene during the years of the Bush Administration despite its severe domestic constraints—each pose a challenge sufficiently similar so as to raise the question:

Should the approach of the world community or any major player in it
toward these two countries be based on a single set of principles?

Before discussing further the implications of this question, it may be worthwhile to review the ways in which Pakistan and Iran constitute either a) two cases of the same class or b) two distinct classes.


  • Have fervently adhered for a generation to a policy of enhancing the Islamic World’s position vis-à-vis the West;

  • Both offered help to the U.S. when it invaded Afghanistan;

  • Have made the development of a domestic nuclear industry a core state policy for many years;

  • Have military establishments that greatly influence if not control their nuclear industry;

  • Have military establishments in which there is great sympathy for radical Islamic politics;

  • Have military establishments that operate to a significant degree outside of the control of the civilian government;

  • Have strictly constrained democratic space and are ruled by institutions that exist outside that democratic space and have frequently imposed their control over democratic institutions with extreme harshness;

  • Fund Islamic militant groups to manipulate domestic politics and as a foreign policy tool;

  • Are ruled harshly, with a storm of demands for better government seething just beneath the surface and repeatedly exploding into the open;

  • Have relatively good ties to China;

  • Constitute major foreign policy challenges for the U.S.;

  • Have powerful Islamic militant political forces whose domestic popularity is being enhanced by the U.S. policy of high-visibility pressure on them.


But the two countries differ in that:

  • Pakistan has developed nuclear bombs and proliferated the technology; Iran has done neither.

  • In Iran, the key power center is religious, albeit closely tied to the military; in Pakistan, the key power center is military, albeit closely tied to religion.

  • Pakistan created the Taliban; Iran was an enemy of the Taliban.

  • The US has been extremely hostile to Iran but calls Pakistan an ally and accuses Iran of dreaming of doing what Pakistan actually has long been doing.

  • Sunni Pakistani is very close to Saudi Arabia
    in terms both of state-to-state ties, educational systems, and ties between Pakistani political figures and the Saudi regime; Shi’ite Iran has a very delicate relationship with Saudi Arabia resulting from competition over control of the Persian Gulf, competition for influence in Iraq, and differing attitudes toward both Lebanon and Israel, all of which raises the specter of a proxy war between the two in Iraq.

  • Iran is emerging as a regional power, a process accelerated by the U.S. invasion of Iraq; Pakistan is overshadowed by India.

  • U.S. pressure on Iran is strengthening the regime against domestic proponents of democracy; U.S. support for the Pakistani military dictatorship is weakening domestic proponents of democracy.

  • Iran challenges Israel’s military domination of the Mideast; Pakistan does not, though there is little reason to assume that attitude is etched in stone.

  • Pakistan has been proliferating nuclear technology for years; Iran is on the receiving end.

  • Iran’s government effectively controls its territory, so Iran represents an island of stability in the Islamic world; insurgents control increasing stretches of Pakistan, in part because of sympathy from within the government for Islamic militants, in part because U.S. pressure enables the militants to appear (rightly or wrongly) as defenders of Pakistan, in part because the government has failed to address the grievances of ethnic minorities (e.g., Baluchistan).
In sum, then, are these two countries sufficiently similar so that it would be more effective to view them as two examples of the same class from which one might anticipate obtaining the same behavior in response to the same treatment? Following from this are two obvious further questions: 1) how should that “class” be defined? And 2) what behavior should be desired?

The class of which Iran and Pakistan are members would be something like the following: large Islamic states that “deserve” (as a function of their size and achievements) higher international status than they have, whose people deserve greater freedom and a better economic deal than they have, whose level of technological achievement makes them a serious long-term actor, and whose domestic conditions threaten to generate any number of disasters over the short-term (collapse and chaos, nuclear proliferation, nuclear war, or international terrorism).

As for the behavior to be desired, logically one would think that any foreign country that wanted to maintain the current global political system would want to minimize any terrorist threat, nuclear proliferation, domestic repression, ideological extremism, nuclear brinkmanship from each of these states.

History shows that case-by-case efforts to achieve any one of the above goals by means of short-term deals involving trade-offs that offer a pass on one (e.g., proliferation) in return for focusing on another (e.g., the Soviet presence in Afghanistan) just serve to make the situation more difficult and more dangerous over the not-very-long-term. One could be cynical and conclude that the leaders of the rest of the world really don’t care about the long-term survival of us all, or one could give them the benefit of the doubt and conclude that dealing with every problem that comes up regarding Pakistan and Iran on a case-by-case basis is simply too complicated. At a minimum, it seems fair to conclude that decision-makers need a theoretical framework to organize how they interpret the behavior of Iran and Pakistan. If this framework turns out to constitute a broader class of behavior that usefully informs our understanding of, say, the whole Islamic world, then so much the better.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Bloom on the "Fall of America"

Harold Bloom: "What We Are Seeing Is the Fall of America"
By Eva Sohlman, The Wip. Posted January 15, 2008.

Yale professor Harold Bloom asserted that:

"I am 77 years old and I have never seen this country in such a bad state. It is madness. What we are seeing is the fall of the Roman Empire, only now it is the fall of America, the glory of our Empire. This war is what Parthia was to Rome.

"The horror of what is taking place in Iraq exceeds my worst fears five or six years ago (after Bush came to power). I am horrified at the disastrous mistake involved. Imagine the complete madness in trying to occupy a large Arab country in the middle of the Arab world, a culture we know precious little about, and who speaks a language only a handful of our specialists can speak, with armed forces which we have limited control of and with a large army of private soldiers .... The whole thing is a scandal ... a series of lies. I don't understand the motivation for the war, but suspect the real reason for the war, which one would suspect of a country which is a third oligarchy, a third plutocracy and a third theocracy, is that it simply is a profitable machine."

Explaining Political Motivation: Respect, Security, & Power

The endless and usually fruitless debate about the real nature of Islamic politics suggests that a new and more basic approach is needed to shed light on what is happening in the Moslem world and how to deal with it. Rather than starting with detailed questions about specific people or groups or religions that conceal piles of unstated assumptions, consider the following basic model of human political behavior: political behavior is a function of security, respect, and power.

To simplify even further, begin without the "power" variable; it is not unreasonable to assume that most people will be quite satisfied to have security and be treated with respect. This model is parsimonious but goes a long way toward explaining behavior that public figures agonize over as "inexplicable."

The Political Motivation model shows two basic motivations for political behavior:
  • the perceived unmet need for security;
  • the perceived unmet need for respect.

Note that "security" is defined to incorporate physical, economic, and psychological security. Note also that the values "sufficient" and "lacking" are defined from the actor's perspective.

To facilitate discussion, the model can be represented as a set of alternative scenarios, based on making each variable bivariate and considering the resulting possibilities. Considering only the perceived unfilled need for respect and security, this generates four ideal extreme alternative responses: Outrage, where the actor is truly motivated; Satisfaction, where the actor is not motivated at all; and two intermediate alternatives.

Since many people clearly want a degree of power beyond all rational justification, including an unmet desire for power as a third variable probably buys significant additional explanatory value without making the model of motivations too complicated. Adding Power generates a total of eight extreme alternatives. The blue or gray octants represent exactly the same choices as in the 2-D version; the red/brown/yellow/green octants represent the newly added alternatives in which a desire for more power adds motivation.

By extension, you can expect frustration and, in some cases, protest—perhaps violent protest—to result when a political actor fails to obtain the desired degree of security, respect, or power. That gets us to the concept of political behavior - namely, what influences the type of behavior (e.g., peaceful or violent, rigid or compromising); preliminary to that, however, is the question of what motivates an actor to get involved in politics in the first place. Any number of other factors may in fact affect behavior, but to start analyzing behavior, forget individuals, forget religions, forget ideology, forget nationality. Just ask three questions:

  • Does the actor (person, group, government, country) have the desired degree of security?
  • Does the actor have the desired degree of respect?
  • Does the actor have the desired degree of power?

If the answer to any of the three questions is no, then you will probably already have identified the primary cause of that actor’s dissatisfaction. Rather than agonizing over whether or not the actor is “evil” or the religion a “religion of peace,” focus on these basic sources of dissatisfaction. It follows that such a focus also shows the way to resolving the issue: instead of dreaming that getting a new leader, changing a party’s platform, replacing a regime, modifying an educational system, or preventing some action from occurring will lead to the desired outcome, this focus on fundamentals leads one to think about changing the underlying conditions that actually gave rise to the problem. Give people the respect they feel they deserve and they will be less likely to support a flag-waving politician. Give people basic security and they will be less likely to support a war of aggression. Power is a different sort of thing, but the lust for power on the part of a few is not likely to cause others nearly as much difficulty as it otherwise might if the many perceive themselves to be secure and respected.

Try it. Apply this model to whatever international political problem you want. Do the answers to those three questions help to understand why “they” behave the way they do?

Monday, January 14, 2008

Democracy is not a box of cookies to be munched on when in the mood. Either we all have it and protect it all the time, or we all risk losing it. There are some Pakistani names Americans who care about their democratic liberties should know. We should know their names, what they have been doing, how they have been treated, and what they stand for…because they stand for ideals we share.

1) Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, who resisted Musharraf’s Nov 3, 2007 coup.

2) Muneer A. Malik , ex-President of the Supreme Court Bar of Pakistan, who wrote last summer:

"...what are the objectives of our movement? Firstly, it is about changing the
mindsets of our people. Throughout our history, the masses have viewed the
bureaucracy, the military and the judiciary as part of the same ruling elite,
cooperating with each other to subjugate the people. The minds of the
masses have been inoculated against the concept of true justice. We were
taught obedience at the cost of our liberty and independence.

This mindset
is a hangover from our colonial past. These institutions were created by the
British as a means of controlling the civilian populace. They were manned by
Englishmen from the same background taught to venerate the same ideal — the
preservation of the Raj.

Judges and ICS officers were not meant to empower
the masses and improve their lot, they were there to keep the peace so the
British could continue, unhindered, with their commercial exploitation and
empire building. Likewise, the army’s primary role was internal not external. Their job was to quell local rebellions that could threaten British dominance. Alas! This role remains the same.

Decentralisation and separation of powers were never on the

3) Ishtiaq Hussain Shah, the deputy superintendent of police who was alongside former prime minister Benazir Bhutto’s vehicle when she died and who, from his hospital, is reportedly being kept incommunicado.

4) Justice (retd) Rana Bhagwandas of the Supreme Court, who has reportedly just been put under house arrest, despite the official announcement that the emergency martial law period was terminated last month.

There are many more.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

U.S. Policy Options for Helping Pakistan

Assuming a desire to help Pakistan overcome the challenges facing it, a number of U.S. policy options exist to lay more solid foundations for democracy and stability. Judging from the model of political behavior I have been applying in recent posts on Pakistan, to be effective such policies should work toward three goals:

  • conflict resolution through compromise rather than force;

  • decision-making based on analysis rather than ideology;

  • and creation of a more benign political context.

The range of policy options by the West to support Pakistani democracy is enormous, though nothing done for obvious short-term Western advantage is likely to have any value. As with any relationship, consistency, sincerity, compassion, and clarity will have more long-term impact than agonizing over the precise policy mix. But given those attributes of a policy package as preconditions, a few of the possible specific options follow.

1) Advocating Pakistani-Indian compromise over Kashmir. Rather than rewarding India, which developed nuclear weapons, by giving it even more nuclear technology, advise New Delhi to take the interests of Kashmiris more seriously into consideration and simultaneously advise the Pakistani military that they must terminate military adventures, whether directly with troops or indirectly by supporting terrorists, in Kashmir. The point here is to be able to make the argument that progress toward a settlement of the Kashmir dispute is possible without violence; clearly, for such an argument to be believable, New Delhi must cooperate. To the degree that the Pakistani military may pursue violence in Kashmir in order to justify its control over Pakistan, this argument will be dismissed with scorn; to the degree that Pakistani militancy in Kashmir is motivated by genuine concern for the welfare of Kashmiris, it could be effective.

2) Advocating restoration of an independent judiciary. Make all economic and military aid given to the Pakistani central government, as opposed to economic aid sent directly to Pakistani civil society, dependent on the immediate release of the legal Pakistani judiciary and lawyers attacked and imprisoned last fall and thereafter. If there is to be any serious concept of legitimate democratic behavior, then a government that makes war on its own judiciary must be judged to have crossed the line.

3) Advocating removal of constraints on the media. Musharraf’s exploitation of the emergency declaration of martial law to muzzle the relatively free Pakistani media crossed another clear red line distinguishing legitimate from illegitimate government behavior.

4) Advocating civilian control of the nuclear establishment. Support not only the return of Pakistan to democracy but control over the Pakistani nuclear establishment by the civilian government, making clear that Pakistan and in particular the military will benefit from such a policy and pay a severe price both for continuing to control the nuclear establishment and for continuing its proliferation policy.

5) Supporting a free election. A credibly neutral caretaker government to oversee the election seems the essential minimum first step to minimize political instability.

In brief, Washington should stop looking the other way at rogue Pakistani military operations done behind the backs of the civilian administration; should support civilian control of government, in particular of military operations and the nuclear program; and should adopt a serious, long-term policy of supporting democracy as a principle, not just when a particular politician is willing to do what Washington wants.

These policies bring no guarantee of acceptance much less successful implementation, but they would set visible standards and perhaps reverse the erosion of respect for the U.S. and support for the democratic process. Thus, they may open more fruitful doors to resolving Pakistani instability than yet another round of military force.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

The Idea of a Principled U.S. Policy Toward Pakistan...for Pragmatic Reasons

In recent weeks, Pakistan has exhibited several trends meriting concern. This is the third in a series of posts applying a model of political violence to help interpret the implications of these trends.

First, the military regime has shown itself unwilling to compromise:

  • It arrested leading members of the judiciary, beat up and arrested peacefully demonstrating lawyers, and has to date done nothing to resolve this injustice.
  • It made normal electioneering impossible and scheduled a quick election.
  • It kicked Sharif out as he disembarked, then let him back in but prevented him from participating in the election.
  • It brutally attacked the Red Mosque and then responded to violent Islamic protests with extreme force lacking any obvious efforts at negotiation.
  • It failed to provide evidence that it was committed to protecting Benazir Bhutto’s life.
  • Circumstantial evidence, such as its refusal to allow official interviews of those pro-regime politicians accused in advance by Bhutto of plotting to kill her and the immediate cleaning of the crime scene raise serious questions about the regime’s complicity in her murder.

Second, the Islamists have seemed increasingly inclined to use violence against both the military and the democratic forces.

  • Islamic insurgents (not clearly defined) have in recent days allegedly attacked police, soldiers, and moderate tribal leaders; some links to security forces have been drawn.
  • Extremism among individuals is a danger, though it would be difficult to demonstrate that it has risen.
  • Violence is also being used to prevent the populace from participating in the schedule election.


Third, the two leading political parties, those of Bhutto and Sharif, were unable to reach agreement to work together even in a crisis requiring their cooperation to defend the fledgling democratic system.

In the last four months of 2007,
the Pakistani political situation evolved from a fairly broad range of types of behavior (depending on the actor) toward the single extreme of rigid commitment to ideology and a tendency to rely on force to achieve goals.
In the language of the model, Pakistan has moved from a combination of Realist, True Believer, Idealist, and Crusader toward Violence. In September, Pakistan could have had a military dictator agreeing to depart gracefully or to become a legitimate civilian politician in a conciliatory atmosphere of a well-planned civilian election with former prime ministers Sharif and Bhutto both participating. That would have faced Islamic radicals with two options – participating as well or risking the alienation of a united Pakistani consensus in favor of at least the outward forms of democracy. After the lesson of al Qua’ida’s alienation of Sunnis in Iraq and faced with agreement among the main secular parties and the military to have a free election that would include any Islamic parties willing to participate, Islamic extremists might have held back from violence. Three short months later, with the election a charade and in the aftermath of the Red Mosque and Swat fighting between the military and Islamic radicals, the Pakistani political situation has deteriorated dramatically.

Using the model as the basis for analysis facilitates reaching practical conclusions for ameliorating the situation. Rather than a fairytale view in which the military is seen as patriots holding the land together, Islamic activists are seen as evil terrorists, and beautiful secular female politicians are seen as pure and pro-American, the model facilitates analyzing at a more realistic level. Specifically, one can conclude even from briefly applying this model that violence in Pakistan can be lessened to the degree that:

  • Actors can be persuaded to try negotiation and compromise rather than force;

  • Actors can be persuaded to supplement ideological commitment with analysis;

  • The political context can be made less challenging.

Pakistan seems to be moving into the region of the political landscape represented in this model by the red octant (Violence). Reiterating that the model is based on the assumption that the red octant is where violence is most likely, the model suggests the world should be concerned about Pakistan’s stability in the near future for reasons far more fundamental than the murder of one opposition politician or the crackdown by the military on a nascent democratic movement or the scattered attacks by rural fundamentalists. Developments in the real world over the next few months will provide the opportunity to test this assumption and modify the model.

The next post in this series will address U.S. policy options...

Friday, January 11, 2008

Pakistan: Ominous Political Trends

Continuing the analysis of Pakistan's future
on the basis of a model of political violence

Taking an initial, fairly high-level look at the Pakistani political situation, if we group political actors into three broad groups – the military, Islamic activists, and democratic forces, out of the eight original scenarios in the model of political behavior discussed yesterday, only two (Violence and Cold Steel) currently seem relevant. All three of these groups are very broad and include institutional and individual actors representing a wide spectrum of attitudes and behavior, but it is at least possible to say that the military, Islamic activists, and even democratic foreces include significant components displaying behavior fitting into the Violence Scenario; that is, components exhibiting a preference for force rather than compromise to achieve their goals and that have a high degree of ideological commitment.

Methodological Note 1: The placements of all three groups in the graph represents their most extreme elements. A useful enhancement would be a graphic showing both the range of opinion within a group and the weight. A key question for the future of Pakistani politics, for example, is the degree of radical Islamic sympathy within the military.

In addition, this initial discussion has also already exposed a deficiency in the model: the absence of an Ideological Heterogeneity variable. To ask if a political system is highly ideological is only part of the story; I hypothesize that violence will be significantly more likely in a system in which several, mutually contradictory ideologies exist than in an ideological but united system.

In Pakistan:

  • The military is arguably divided between secular nationalists and Islamists (though one could also argue that the typical Pakistani military perspective does not see nationalism and Islamism as contradictory at all but a partnership in which the military defends Pakistani sovereignty with the Islamists both minding civil society and taking care of tactical issues on which the military prefers not to get its hands dirty). Moreover, devotion to both nationalist and Islamist feeling appears frequently to be intense.

  • The populace is divided between democrats and Islamists and, perhaps, those who will accept any government capable of improving the economy. Again, devotion to these ideologies appears frequently to be intense.


Even more ominous than the positions of key actors are the directions in which they are moving.
As violence continues and the confrontation between the dictatorship and popular demands for democracy as well as that between authority and Islamic militancy seem to be intensifying, the political environment appears to be getting increasingly challenging. U.S. pressure on the regime to attack Islamic radicals risks cloaking Islamists in nationalist garb and simultaneously making them both more extreme and more popular.

Conflict resolution strategy is also becoming more reliant on force:

  • The use of force by the Military has recently become extreme in all directions, including not only the attack on the Red Mosque and Swat Valley but Musharraf's "coup against himself" and his blatant arrest of judiciary;
  • Source

  • Islamic militants are not only crossing the border into Afghanistan and Kashmir but now fighting against the dictatorship that sponsored them;

  • Among the elite, quintessential middle class lawyers put their lives on the line in the street even in the face of extraordinary police brutality, while both Sharif and Bhutto risked their lives by essentially forcing their way back into Pakistan.

As for the level of ideological commitment, it is hard to see signs of decline; both adherents of democracy and adherents of Islamic rule appear to be moving toward greater ideological commitment. Although the intensity of popular feeling following the return of Bhutto may fade quickly, the resilience of the judiciary in the face of government oppression has been both impressive and steady now for at least half a year. Compromises between the Musharraf regime and Islamic militants have been breaking down over the last year, as well. Moreover, Musharraf's 1999 Kargil adventure and the sending of terrorists into Kashmir both suggest that the military’s supernationalism has been rising over the last decade.

Methodological Note 2: Tracking the trend line for each group shown in the above graphic would enhance its analytical value.

The above analysis raises a number of serious, long-term questions about the future of Pakistan that go well beyond the fate of individual politicians, instead focusing on institutional integrity and the dynamics that cause behavior.

  • To what degree will the military remain united?

  • Will the internal divisions in the military between nationalists and Islamists make the military more cautious and analytical or drive it toward internal crackdown and international adventure?

  • Will the key players be able to reverse the recent slide toward violence and find a way to minimize the increasingly dangerous and extreme ideological conflict or will the system continue what seems to be its evolution toward zero-sum conflict?

  • To what degree will the military be analytical vs ideological?

  • To what degree will the middle class become more ideologically committed to strident demands for democracy now, even at the cost of violence in the face of the regime’s lack of sympathy?

  • To what degree will Islamic feeling spread in the military and among the downtrodden poor?

  • To what degree will Islamic feeling become radicalized?

  • To what degree will all sides reach the conclusion that violence to achieve their political ends is justified?

And perhaps the most fateful question of all for Pakistan's future:

Given that the military, Islamic radicals, and the U.S. all currently lean
heavily toward solutions based on force, can the Pakistani population resist
following suit or be a significant political player if it remains committed
to peaceful methods?

Future posts will discuss Pakistani political trends and U.S. policy options...

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Pakistani Instability: Too Much Ideology, Too Little Compromise

Applying the behavioral model laid out earlier suggests that political instability in Pakistan is aggravated by high levels of ideological commitment and a propensity to resolve disagreement through force

The level of half-informed rhetoric on Pakistan suggests that we need to pull back from facile and frequently unstated assumptions to take a careful look without biasing the analysis by jumping to conclusions about what constitutes good or evil, dangerous or safe, beneficial or harmful. Using a model as the basis for such an evaluation is designed to facilitate reaching practical conclusions for ameliorating the situation, as free as possible from investigator bias. Consider Pakistan in light of the model of political behavior below.
The process will of course be subject to the biases built into the model, but at least the biases will be clearly defined up front. Moreover, the very essence of a model is to simplify reality, test the simplification, and then improve the model.

Can we usefully analyze Pakistan’s current political situation and future political evolution by viewing it in terms of the degree of challenge in the political environment, the degree to which major actors adopt a conflict resolution strategy based on force rather than compromise, and the degree of ideological commitment of major actors?

The model illustrates eight alternative modes of behavior, or scenarios, as shown in
more detail to the left. The only differences between this diagram and the preceeding one are that 1) the eight cubes representing the eight alternative scenarios have been separated and 2) each has been named. This discussion rests on the assumption that violence is most likely at the extremes: i.e., conflict resolution based on force, high commitment to ideology, and a challenging political environment (red octant).

Applying the model to Pakistan

Pakistan's political environment is extremely challenging:

  • Consensus on basic issues of how to set up government (elections or coups or terrorism or revolution) and type of government (military dictatorship, Islamist rule, or democracy) absent;
  • Secular parties cannot form a united front even on such basic issues as whether or not to participate in an election and to jointly insist that all leaders be allowed to participate.
[“Benazir Bhutto’s…popular appeal incurs the wrath of militant Islamic groups and the leadership of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League (PMLQ). Both view her as a threat to their respective agendas”-- Dr. Hasan-Askari Rizvi]

The conflict resolution strategy of key players puts considerable emphasis on force:
  • Islamists -
  • are fighting India in Kashmir,
  • are fighting the U.S. in Afghanistan,
  • and now are even fighting their own Pakistani military sponsors inside Pakistan;
  • The military -
  • Has played a game of brinkmanship against India,
  • In February 1999, Sharif had invited Indian prime minister Vajpayee to Lahore.…Simultaneously, thousands of Pakistani soldiers disguised as insurgents slipped across Kashmir’s line of control….By May 1999,
    Pakistan dominated the heights above Kargil….India threatened to cross the border, raising the doomsday scenario of two nuclear powers going head to
    .” – Levy & Scott-Clark, Deception, p. 287

    • Is using force versus peaceful, democratic opponents

    • Civil society -
    • Lawyers demonstrated a willingness to put not only their careers but their
      lives on the line to defend the democratic principle of an independent
    • In protests over Bhutto’s murder, the Pakistani masses have attacked not only symbols of the PLMQ party supporting Musharraf but also organizations that have in recent years been particularly exploitative of the poor (private bus lines, car companies, banks).

    The level of ideological commitment seems mixed but rising. Moreover, the ideologies themselves are multiple and mutually contradictory.

    • The military seems captivated by a highly dangerous form of supernationalism featuring terrorist attacks on the much stronger India combined with nuclear brinkmanship that has nearly resulted in nuclear war several times.
    • Sunni militants are increasingly uncompromising toward Pakistani Shia, the West, India, and recently even their Pakistani military sponsors.
    • Democratic elements, e.g., the judiciary and elements of the populace, have become committed to the point of risking their lives.

    Thus, even at this general level, the model offers an explanation of current Pakistani instability: Pakistani political instability results from the tendency of political actors to prefer force rather than reason to achieve their goals and the actors’ intense ideological commitment operating in a highly challenging environment that further aggravates the tensions resulting from the actors’ attributes.

    Future posts will continue exploring this model of Pakistani instability...

    Huge U.S. Bombing Raid Near Baghdad

    Usingt B-1 bombers and F-16 fighter/bombers, the U.S. dropped 18,000 kg (40,000 lbs) of bombs on the outskirts of Baghdad.

    Beirut Protests Israeli Provocation

    Lebanon plans a protest at the U.N. against Israel's capturing of a Lebanese shepherd on the eve of Bush's Mideast visit. Ben White discusses the pattern of Israeli violations of its neighbors' borders at Palestine Chronicle.

    Monday, January 7, 2008

    Military Control of Politics: Twin Dynamics

    Military analyst Ayesha Siddiqa’s pathbreaking 2007 study of the Pakistani military, Military Inc. was, needless to say, brilliantly timed. Among many other interesting points, she describes (pp. 43-44), though without using system dynamics language, a very interesting double dynamic that helps to explain the political prominence of the military in countries with poorly developed democratic institutions.

    First is the dynamic that builds up the military’s power. The military takes over, setting up a dictatorship. If this provokes resistance by the people, the military may either fight back or return to the barracks. The harder the military fights against the people to retain political power, the more likely it will be to commit civil rights abuses in the process of repressing dissent and strengthening its power. This happens because in a country where the populace is willing to stand up to the military, the military will be unlikely to be able to retain power without coercion: preventing free speech, breaking up demonstrations, attacking the media, etc.

    Second is the dynamic that undermines the military’s power. In addition to provoking a response from the military, popular resistance may create an elite consensus that military rule is illegitimate, which in turn generates external support for the resistance.

    As the first dynamic loops around, the military’s political power is enhanced; as the second dynamic loops around, the military’s political power is undermined. But both dynamics are caused by the same process and take place simultaneously (though of course not necessarily at the same rate). The existence of one begets the other: a neat example of why politics is unstable. Victory sows the seeds of defeat. It is incorrect, then, to ask which is occurring. Rather, one should assume that both are occurring; the question simply concerns the relative importance of the two dynamics which are constantly competing for dominance.

    Sunday, January 6, 2008

    Grading World Governance in December

    December Global Governance Score: -14, +6

    This is the second in a monthly series of reports designed to offer a simple metric for evaluating the quality of global governance. Suggestions on how to put the currently arbitrary and incomplete selection of events on a methodologically valid foundation are welcome.


    • Little substantive global agreement to move forward at Bali global warming conference
    • Bhutto murdered
    • Pakistani jurists remain imprisoned
    • Bhutto's PPP party remains in family hands
    • Turkey attacks Iraqi Kurds
    • U.S. air war in Iraq continues at high level
    • U.S. air war in Afghanistan continues at high level
    • Lebanon fails again to elect president
    • Israel expands settlements after Annapolis
    • Iraqi ethnic/religious separation continues
    • extension by UN Security Council of approval for the operation of foreign troops in Iraq despite the April condemnation of a majority of Iraq’s parliament
    • Somali war between ICU and Ethiopia continues
    • border tensions between Ethiopia and Eritrea
    • Ethiopians fail to meet U.N. deadline for implementing border agreement


    • Chavez accepted the results of the election he had called
    • Iraqi, US deaths down
    • Bali global warming conference held
    • US paying Sunnis not to attack it
    • US intelligence report on Iran lessens danger of U.S. attack
    • Iranian pragmatist-reformer coalition formed for March parliamentary election


    Pakistan: Building Democracy or Collapsing?

    If you are confused about what is happening in Pakistan, read the short essay on the military’s role in Pakistani politics by Dr. Hasan-Askari Rizvi, a leading Pakistani specialist on Pakistani politics and this short essay by political writer Tariq Ali on the role of feudal party politics.

    Writing in October, Dr. Rizvi states:

    Benazir Bhutto’s return to Pakistan has given a boost to civilian-political
    forces. However, her major strength i.e. her popular appeal, incurs the wrath of
    militant Islamic groups and the leadership of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League
    Both view her as a threat to their respective agendas and want to
    neutralise her popular appeal.As a result, Pakistan will witness increasing
    political hostility between the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and its political
    adversaries. This situation will get a fillip from militant Islamic groups that
    are likely to use violence to disrupt Pakistan’s transition to a more democratic
    system. In such a complex and polarised political situation, the attitude of the
    top commanders is important in shaping the direction of political change: will
    they help the government cope with these pressures and facilitate the transition
    to democracy or exploit these problems to further consolidate their hold on

    Candidates for the U.S. presidency who wish to make public comments on Pakistan would do well to consider Dr. Rizvi’s list of proposals for improving governance in his country, including:

    • Military officers should “review their attitude towards civilian politicians, whom they view with contempt;”
    • Civilian institutions should be “liberated from the domination of retired and serving officers;”
    • Commercial activities by the military should be made “more transparent” and “placed under parliamentary oversight;”
    • For a fair election, “neutral caretaker governments” should be installed “at the centre and in the provinces.”

    Maybe the world should have a bill of rights for democratic processes. Would Dr. Rizvi's above points be a good start? Other proposals? Anyone care to list the countries that would benefit from such a set of democratic principles?

    Tariq Ali, writing after Bhutto’s murder, states:

    Some of us had hoped that, with her death, the People’s Party might start a
    new chapter.
    After all, one of its main leaders, Aitzaz Ahsan, president of the
    Bar Association, played a heroic role in the popular movement against the
    dismissal of the chief justice. Mr Ahsan was arrested during the emergency and
    kept in solitary confinement. He is still under house arrest in Lahore. Had
    Benazir been capable of thinking beyond family and faction she should have
    appointed him chairperson pending elections within the party. No such luck….

    Meanwhile there is a country in crisis. Having succeeded in saving his own political skin by imposing a state of emergency, Mr Musharraf still lacks legitimacy….

    A solution to the crisis is available. This would require Mr. Musharraf’s replacement by a less contentious figure, an all-party government of unity to prepare the basis for genuine elections within six months, and the reinstatement of the sacked Supreme Court judges to investigate Benazir’s murder without fear or favour. It would be a start.

    Friday, January 4, 2008

    American Mainstream Media TV…News????

    No commentary tonight. “Just the facts, Ma’am.”

    Tonight, in a moment of weakness while visiting with relatives, I made the mistake of bothering to listen to a mainstream media TV evening news broadcast. Those of you who read this blog regularly will be well aware that I do spend a bit of time monitoring the news of the day, so why should I not watch a major U.S. TV evening news broadcast? Well, here are the “minor” stories of the day that they just could not manage to find 15 seconds to mention:
    • Israel launched multiple attacks on Palestine, including with airplanes, killing eleven, several civilians.
    • Hezbollah, the Lebanese political party that represents the country’s Shi’a (at least one-third of the Lebanese population), said it would block the election of a Lebanese president unless it is given one-third of the cabinet seats in the country’s confessional government and blamed the U.S. for obstructing a solution.
    • Bush ruled out talking with Syria.
    • In Kenya, 200,000 people have been displaced by violence resulting from the disputed election.
    • The president of the U.S.- and Ethiopian-supported Somali force that claims to be the legitimate government of Somalia collapsed and has gone to Ethiopia.
    • In the air wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, 34 close air support missions were flown in Afghanistan and 58 close air support missions were flown in Iraq.
    • Venezuelan President Chavez reshuffled his cabinet in preparation for a “new stage” in his revolution, evidently designed to moderate it, make it more practical, and attract middleclass support.
    • The U.S. Minerals Management Service announced that it will accept bids for oil concessions in the environmentally sensitive Chukchi Sea between Alaska and Siberia.
    • North Korea pledged to strengthen its “war deterrent.”
    • Pakistani police are rounding up members of Benazir Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party.
    • Unrest over food shortages and rising prices is increasing in Afghanistan.
    • ABC has blocked Presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich from its upcoming New Hampshire debate.
    • Musharraf announced that investigators would not be allowed to interview the Pakistani politicians—all allied with Musharraf--named by Benazir Bhutto just before her murder as prime suspects in a plot against her. Musharraf also made the judgment that Bhutto’s accusations were “baseless.”
    • There was an assassination attempt on a Sadrist member of parliament.
    • The head of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency has appealed for $238 million in relief aid, saying that the population of Gaza is living under conditions of “feudal siege.”
    • Turkish surveillance planes violated Iraq’s border.
    • Hamas announced readiness for an “unconditional” dialogue with Fatah.
    • Musharraf has agreed to allow U.S. Special Forces operate inside Pakistan.
    • Khamenei publicly opposed establishing relations with the U.S. and stated that Iran is the “main factor” behind American failures in the Mideast.

    My thanks to BBC, Middle East Times, al Jazeera, the New York Times, Air Force Link, Uskowi on Iran, Pakistan Politics, Truthdig, Emergency Times, Iraq Slogger, and Inter Press Service for providing the above items.

    I won’t explain any of the above—at least, not tonight. Those who pay attention to real news will be able to fit these news items into context. Those who don’t but would like to can find some good sources on the sidebar of this blog. As for whether or not anyone actually thinks any of the above news items were worth reporting to Americans…well, let’s hear your opinion!

    Thursday, January 3, 2008

    How Iran Is Ruled

    For good insights into how Iran is ruled, see Borzou Daragahi’s “Iran’s Inner and Outer Circles of Influence and Power,” in the Dec. 31, 2007 Los Angeles Times. The article notes that:

    “The power of Shiite Muslim clergy has eroded in favor of various competing
    groups within a unique religious, civil, social and bureaucratic framework.”

    Warming Ties Between Iraqi Sunnis and Kurds

    Abu Aardvark has reviewed yet another sign of factional flexibility in Iraqi affairs - a warming of ties between the Sunnis and the Kurds. Given all the obvious pressures on Iraq, we can expect a lot of political change there during 2008.

    Kathleen and Bill Christison provide background on the political context in which Iraq exists.

    Nafeez Ahmed offers another perspective.

    Wednesday, January 2, 2008

    On the Survival of Pakistan

    For a concise, balanced interpretation of the Pakistani and international political context surrounding Benazir Bhutto, an excellent starting place both for beginners and those Americans who fancy themselves Pakistani experts is Hakim Hazik's "Benazir Lives."

    For an interpretation of U.S. influence on Pakistan, see here.

    Another interpretation that focuses on steps to enable Pakistan to move forward is here.

    Notes on other quality pieces about Pakistan would be most appreciated.