Monday, March 31, 2008

Lame-Duck Intensifies Confrontation with Islam

On March 16, I argued that “Bush seems to have decided to maintain his aggressive, militant course of frontal confrontation with Islamic political actors who do not submit to U.S. leadership.” The decision to provoke a confrontation with nationalist Iraqi leader Moqtada al Sadr, constitutes the latest piece of evidence supporting my contention. Leader of the poor Shi’a in Baghdad, Al Sadr has one foot inside the Iraqi regime but is in fierce competition with the pro-Iranian and U.S.-supported Shi’ite party that controls the Baghdad state apparatus.

Power in Moslem States & Societies

The process of creating a state is long and uncertain. A society that has learned to cope well with its environment may have a state that has been so well developed that it appears to be in equilibrium. A society under stress, in contrast, may have a newly emerging state structure/political process. For the latter case, the traditional state-centric approach of political science will not suffice to understand political processes. In the latter case, the state is in flux, its structure is emerging, and its power may well be significantly less than that of other entities in the society (e.g., militias, clans, tribes, corporations, political parties). When foreign leaders interact with the emerging state under the assumption that a state is a state and states are the organizations with a) power, b) legitimacy, c) decision-making authority, they do so at their own peril.

For the purpose of argument, I will make the following assertion: Iraq is not a state.

This assertion is of course more or less true depending on the exact date. The Iraqi state is in the process of being created. At present it no doubt has more of the attributes of what we normally think of as statehood than it did two or three years ago, but if one simplifies the issue to a “yes or no” question, then at present, it seems still to be more accurate to think of Iraq as a society and nation that lacks a state. Iraq is obviously a society because the population exists and interacts; it is also arguably a nation because most of the population appears to self-identify first of all as Iraqi, though the post-invasion pressures have probably weakened such self-identification. It does not, however, yet appear to have what Westerners usually think of when they refer to a “state.” The ability of al Sadr not only to resist successfully in Basra this week but to persuade soldiers and police to join his forces is the most recent piece of evidence.

To the degree this is true, it raises some serious implications:
  • What is the significance of making an agreement with the official Iraqi government?
  • Would it be more effective for a country wishing to influence the Iraqi people to make an agreement with the official Iraqi government or with some other entity?
  • Is there any single entity in Iraqi that can plausibly claim to represent the population?
    If not, how many entities must be consulted to “make an agreement with Iraq?”

If Iraq has a state, then other actors will assume that it makes sense to support efforts by that government to impose itself by force. If, in contrast, Iraq is viewed as a society struggling to create a state but one that currently does not have a state, then logic suggests a totally different approach – working for consensus among all the major power centers. This is of course a vastly more difficult approach and one that cedes power to Iraqi society. An outside power may well be able to exert significant influence over a single institution, particularly if that institution is modeled after Western states. It is far less likely to be able to do so vis-à-vis half a dozen highly heterogeneous groups.

This situation is one of the common patterns seen throughout Moslem societies contributing to the rise of an Islamic political fault line:

  • In the case of Iraq, the lack of a modern state structure might mean negotiating with a Sunni party with its own militia and organs of local government, a Shi’ite party that controls the official government, a separate and competing Shi’ite party with its own militia and organs of local government, and a Kurdish autonomous government.
  • In the case of Lebanon, it might mean negotiating with multiple Christian and Sunni groups, as well as with Hezbollah.
  • In Palestine, it might mean negotiating with Fatah, Hamas, and perhaps even other groups.
  • In Somalia, it might mean negotiating with both the recognized but weak “government” and with the Islamic Courts Union.

But a short time later, it might also mean including some new group because to say that the state remains immature and ill-formed is another way of saying that power centers in society are in an unusually rapid state of flux. Moreover, to the degree that other states focus on interacting only with an immature and unrepresentative state to the exclusion of significant non-state power centers in society, they may well provoke still more instability.

For any who wish to deal effectively with such societies, it is critical to make the correct assumption—either that, in practical terms, those societies do or do not have an institution that effectively constitutes a “state.” To classify all non-state actors in a society that lacks a modern state structure as illegitimate and define them as enemies is simply illogical.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Foreign Policy Behavior & Consequences

"Blowback" may be a very real danger in international relations, but don't hold your breath waiting for opponents to take revenge or think you can rest easy if nothing happens the next day. Consider the lesson Alexander taught the Persians. When Xerxes invaded Greece in the 5th century BC, he occupied Athens and burned the Parthenon. When Alexander overthrew the Persian empire 150 years later, he burned the capital, Parsa (known in the West as Persepolis), to the ground. The Greeks waited a long time to get revenge.

The Persians in Greece conducted themselves according to a certain standard of behavior; when the Greeks got their turn, they saw no reason to adopt a higher standard. In the event, their behavior was worse - destroying not just a symbolic building but the whole capital city. Such is the way with standards of international behavior - decline is much easier than progress. International standards that take centuries to ga in acceptance can be tossed aside in a moment, after which they are very hard to restore. Once a standard is lost, everyone suffers the consequences. Over the long run, the loss of a standard of international behavior can be far more important than the specific actions that provoked some agrieved party to "violate international law."

Revenge is a simple form of blowback. It has serious implications for national security but at least, if one stops to think about one's behavior, it is easy to predict that when an opponent is eggregiously mistreated, the opponent will contemplate revenge.

Another form of blowback is much more difficult to anticipate: taking an action that sets in motion a fundamentally new dynamic. The more complex (connected, interdependent, co-evolving) human society becomes, the more opportunities there will be for provoking the emergence of an unanticipated political process. This explains why even though human society appears to be getting better and better organized, we nevertheless repeatedly get caught by surprise. We have better communications, trade, transportation, economic links; our cities look increasingly impressive; the world appears ever more solidly under human control; we become increasingly convinced that scientific socialism or capitalism or a "thousand points of light" or democracy will inevitably become the way of the future. Then, the 1000-year-Reich or the Iron Curtain suddenly collapses; the "end of history" comes and goes; empires crash; superpowers discover their feet of clay; rational man bows to fundamentalism. The world is knocked off on a tangent by a shock that comes "out of the blue."

Our behavior will have consequences. The more complex our society, the more surprising these consequences may be. The consequences may come quickly or very slowly, in a form recognizably connected to the original behavior or in what appears to be an utterly unrelated form. We have the power to buy vastly more "foreign policy products" than ever before, but the rising complexity of human society means that we have far less ability to determine the price of those products. Go ahead! Go on a shopping spree! Buy a regime change, buy a scarce resource, buy a country, buy an empire! But you won't know the price until later, and you can't change your mind: buy whatever you want, but you must pay the price, no matter how high it may be.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Roosting of U.S. Foreign Policy Chickens

In a thoughtful commentary on March 24, the author of books on contemporary world affairs Rajul Mahajan made the following effort to put in their proper context the remark by Jeremiah Wright, Barack Obama’s pastor, about “chickens coming home to roost:”

Most important, the United States’ heartless and cynical manipulations in Afghanistan , in which 1.5 million Afghans died as a casual byblow of an attempt to “kill Russians” and bleed the Soviet Union for free, of course lead to 9/11. That anyone can think otherwise about an enterprise that caused the creation of al-Qaeda (which originated as a database set up to organize information about the huge stream of Islamic extremists sent with the aid of the Saudi government
to fight in Afghanistan) is just ridiculous. Now, people’s revulsion toward this analysis is not based on factual claims, but rather on the emotive content of the words. Call it “blowback” and nobody with any sense will disagree or be offended; call it “chickens coming home to roost,” which means exactly the same thing, and everyone will be up in arms. The real thing that bothers people about these arguments is a perception that someone is claiming that the horror of 9/11 was deserved….

9/11 was not some transcendent evil to which normal rules of analysis and logic or normal rules of reasonable response don’t apply; after all, we have done worse to others

As Gary Kamiya put it in a refreshingly open-minded Salon piece,
Maybe we really are doomed to elect John McCain, remain in Iraq
forever and nuke Iran. Nations that forget history may not be doomed to repeat it, but those that never even recognize reality in the first place definitely are. Last week's ridiculous uproar over Rev. Jeremiah Wright's sermons proves yet again that America has still not come to terms with the most rudimentary facts about race, 9/11 -- or itself.

The roosting chickens remark should have provoked a serious public debate about the morality, effectiveness, and logic of American foreign policy rather than the superficial and emotional attacks on Wright and Obama that have been so common over the last few days. Whether one’s taste is satire or theoretical analysis , this topic is far too important to be trivialized.

Abstract diagrams of the cycle of hostility may seem to some far removed from saying that 9/11 amounted to chickens coming home to roost. They are not. The subtle slide down the slippery slope of increasingly hostile, emotional, and barbaric actions (each, at the time, seemingly justified by the hostile, emotional, barbaric action just taken by the opponent) is precisely the point of belaboring the cyclical nature of the dynamic – the difference between one step and the next may be minor, but the end point is very, very far from the start.

The links between--on the one hand--U.S. behavior in Afghanistan at the time of the Soviet invasion, U.S. support for Israeli oppression of Palestinians, the decade-long U.S. war against Iraq, U.S. support for Arab dictators in return for cheap Arab oil, and--on the other hand--9/11 have been laid out in detail by book after book—many of them short and easy to read. (See, for example, the books in the "Global Affairs Readings" section in the righthand column of this blog by Everest, Johnson, and Prestowitz.) There is no longer any excuse whatsoever for anyone failing to get this message.

  • Could we have, at the time, made better choices?
  • Can we make up for past mistakes?
  • Can we learn from past mistakes and reverse this cycle before something much worse than 9/11 happens?
Those are some of the questions that Reverend Wright’s remark should be provoking Americans to think about.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Cycle of Hostility

Three points are critical to understanding what is happening in the cycle of hostility:

  • First, regardless of whether or not each side recognizes that it would benefit from talks, the momentum of this complex dynamic will propel both toward rising hostility. Evil intent on one side will make things worse, but evil intent is not needed to propell the two sides toward disaster.
  • Second, the interlocking nature of the feedback loops, each augmenting the impact of the others, means that the force propelling the two sides into a cycle of intensifying hostility snowballs: the intensity of the force rises exponentially, so the longer it last the faster it intensifies and the harder it gets to control.
  • Third, the cycle exists for several distinct reasons (the impacts of cycles A, B, and C). Any increase in any one of these cycles will intensify the overall effect because all are linked, so making things worse is easy. On the other hand, even if you solve the problems posed by one or two of the cycles (e.g., by persuading both sides to talk), it will NOT eliminate the overall tendency toward increasing hostility, because it only takes the operation of one cycle to keep the momentum going. Resolving the situation requires simultaneously addressing all the cycles! Moderating policy without starting talks or vice versa will (theoretically) not suffice to end the intensification of mutual hostility.
Anyone with a two-year-old in the house knows what I am talking about. Foreign affairs is no different.
The above diagram models what can happen when two two-year-olds interact without supervision. A leader, e.g., a mother, will address all the reinforcing feedback loops simultaneously in order to achieve a tipping point away from rising intensity toward declining intensity of the hostility. Authorities who are not leaders of course have the tempting option of just going with the very dangerous flow.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Black Sheep

You buy houses you cannot afford for prices you know are inflated, signing mortgages that you know will leave you exposed as they float up, calculating that you can sell to some dumber or more risk-accepting fool before being held to account. You create banks--supposedly places to ensure the safety of money--on the same principle of turning a quick buck, ensured by the tradition of government subsidies for those banks caught in the act and golden parachutes for the individuals...ahem..."responsible."

You manipulate foreigners to grab their precious oil so you can waste it on silly toys and evil wars, leaving the foreigners to starve, and then feign outraged innocence when those foreigners get angry and fight back. You overload your clients with weapons of mass destruction to make war against the poor and oppressed, who seek the freedom you always talk about.

Don't give me that outraged look, Uncle! You have become the world's greatest drug addict - addicted to oil, to power, to silly toys. You have ruined your coastline with houses standing empty except during vacation time while pushing the helpless onto the street, refusing even to provide food for the soup kitchens. You have the greatest park system in the world but trash it with the filth of snowmobiles and ATVs and jet skis.

Chickens coming home to roost? You bet. Far more than you ever dreamed. Remember the skies darkened by migrating geese in the old days when you were young, before the land and air and water were despoiled by your greed? Such is the number of chickens that are coming home to roost.

Uncle Sam, you have shamed the family--not just by your actions but by your hypocritical pretense of innocence and superiority. Only by recognizing one's faults can one rise to greatness.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

U.S. vs Iran: Is It Oil?

Key remarks by Aijaz Ahmad from the below Real News video on “Why the US sees Iran as a Threat” follow:

Admiral Fallon, commander of the US forces in the Middle East, has
, and his resignation has been accepted with great alacrity. Were there to be a military strike against Iran, he would be the man leading it, and yet among all the serving high officials in the US military establishment, he is the man best known for opposing the policy of a military option against Iran. The force with which his resignation was sought and accepted reopens the question: is a military strike against Iran in the offing? One should have thought not. The US is mired in Iraq. There is at best a strategic stalemate in Afghanistan, with advantage going to the Taliban. There are major crises in Pakistan, Lebanon, and the occupied territories of Palestine. The International Atomic Energy Agency has said that Iran neither has nor has had in the near past a nuclear weapons program. The National Intelligence Estimate inside the United States has said more or less the same thing. And yet there may still be a possibility of a war against Iran. A military strike against Iran before the elections of November this year may help elect a Republican candidate by
releasing all kinds of patriotic altruistic nationalist sentiments in a war hysteria. Even if a Democratic president comes in, whether Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama, they would be bound by the policies already set by a military strike of that nature. But the main reason appears to be in the geopolitics of the region and of the global economy....

above all it is Iran's emerging role in the world economy of oil and dollar which is creating the greatest problem. Chavez and Ahmadinejad proposed in the last summit meeting of OPEC that
OPEC countries should be trading not in dollars, but in a basket of currencies. Iran itself does not trade its oil in dollars but sells it for other currencies, in the yen for Japan, in Euros to China, and so on. Now, in February this year, Iran has opened a bourse in Tehran to challenge the two major bourses, both controlled by US corporations, where the prices are set and trading is done. For now, payments would be received only in Irani currency, but it is projected that this bourse, unlike the ones controlled by the United States, would accept
payments in Russian ruble, in the Chinese yuan, in Japanese yen, in various currencies of the world, bypassing the dollar. This proposal of Iran, which would have fallen on deaf ears some years ago, is being received with the greatest seriousness in the Arab world. And given the precipitate decline of the dollar, they also wish to diversify their reserves, and they're listening to the Irani, the Russian, and the Chinese proposals about diversifying not only the reserves, but also the medium of oil trade, which at the moment is the dollar. This is the beginning of a process in which Iran is playing a major role, which
can spell the beginning of the decline of the US economic power in the world.
And the real hatred of Iran in fact resides not in any nuclear issue, but in this rising power of Iran in relation to Iraq, in relation to the region, and in relation, indeed, to the geopolitics of oil and the dollar. We may yet see, towards the end of this administration, a great bonfire of vanities in the form of an attack on Iran, even though all indications are that a war on Iran, if and when it comes, will spell, probably, the beginning of the end of US dominance on a global scale.

The two concluding statements that I highlighted, asserted without being defended in this short video, address issues that clearly deserve careful thought - preferably by political scientists (or, if thoughtful ones can be found, by politicians) while there is still time rather than by historians after the fact.

Soundbites on Foreign Policy & Flat Distortions

Continuing yesterday's remarks on the distinction between flashy little battlefield "victories" made for each night's TV news and real progress in protecting national security, this discussion of some highly deceptive remarks by John McCain on Iraq and al Qua'ida is must reading.

Is Government Responsible for Recessions?

People are starting to ask if government should be held responsible for recessions (or if they are simply an inevitable part of the nature of capitalism).

Well, "capitalism" is a very vague and inclusive term, so even if the people insist on preserving capitalism, that still gives any particular set of politicians a lot of room for initiative.

But let's leave that and ask a counter-question:

What might an administration that wanted to avoid recession

A recession is the technical term for "The Party's Over!" You had a great time, but now you need to pay the piper. Now that you understand, you can explain to your local government representative.

So, here are a few steps that a government concerned about avoiding recession might take:

1. Call on the people to cut back on frivolous expenses.
2. Tell the people to accept the reality that they can't live quite so high on the hog as before.
3. Structure taxes to support #1 & #2 by, e.g., eliminating deductions to buy SUVs and vacation homes.
4. Since oil mostly comes from overseas, institute a carbon tax to persuade folks to stop wasting plus a flat rebate financed by part of the carbon tax to ensure that everyone has a fair minimum amount of gas and heating fuel at a lower price. One way to do the carbon tax would be to penalize heavy consumption (e.g., by penalties for inefficient cars or large houses).
5. Reform the banking system & tax systems to encourage high rates of savings. When industry is the backbone of the nation's strength and industry requires investment funds derived from everyone's personal bank savings, why on earth would the government want to tax interest on savings accounts? Interest on savings should be as high as possible to encourage saving.

I'm just guessing, of course, but I bet other points could be added to this list. Have any ideas?

Monday, March 17, 2008

TV Victories & Real Victories

In a world where things can go wrong very quickly, those living in modern industrial societies--whose power is highly dependent on inputs from the whole globe--need to think carefully about what kind of future they want. In a word, what constitutes “success?”

For those of you in such a society, ask yourselves simply what you want. Does “defeating” someone get you what you want? What if defeating an opponent entails provoking a wave of terrorist attacks that would never have occurred if the opponent had been allowed to survive? What if defeating an opponent entails the collapse of the economy that makes your lives so comfortable even though sufficient resources were available for both you and your opponent? Will you be satisfied with your victory in the midst of terrorist attacks and depression?

Politicians would have you focus on military victories because an industrial society can achieve a short-term military victory any time it so desires. A building can be destroyed at will and the results effectively displayed on TV as needed to support a politician’s claim to power. Look your child in the eye over dinner tonight and ask yourself (or your child, if over the age of five) exactly what you have gained by the day’s bombing that would have been lost if a compromise had been achieved.

There is no need to ask what you have lost by the day’s victory: you have lost money and security: money because the little dramatic daily victories shown on TV are expensive and security because every bombing angers far more people than it kills. Every one of those bombings means that you have more enemies than before. Now, once more, what have you gained?

Of course, it may be the case that a particular victory or string of victories does in fact gain you some measure of security that makes the cost worthwhile. There will always be someone willing to assert that such is the case. Legion are those who profit from such small victories. Distinguishing the victories that truly help from those that make matters worse is difficult. Those little flashy military victories may help get you what you want or may impede your getting what you want. (I am assuming you want such dull middle class things as security, steady economic growth, a peaceful place to raise a family; if, in contrast, you are looking for high returns on your military-industrial stock options, your calculations will differ.) I am not arguing that all military victories are counterproductive—just that such victories, no matter how impressive on TV, cannot be assumed to bring you any closer to your goals.

You can be sure of only one thing: every flashy military victory is expensive and produces blowback. Can you, in the privacy of your own living room, figure out which victories were worth the price and which were disagreements that could much more beneficially (for you) been handled in a different way? Probably not, but you can apply some common sense.
  • Real victories lead to victory. If the victories seem endless but success never comes, then there was probably a more effective way.
  • Wars end. If the war never ends and this year’s progress report starts sounding all too familiar, then maybe there hasn’t been any progress.
  • Money is spent to buy something. If the cost keeps rising, then maybe the point of the war is just what it appears to be: an excuse to spend all that money just for the sake of spending it—without buying anything.

Logic is very useful. Most folks, if they stop to think about it, can tell when they are being conned. So…stop and think about it.

Washington Empowering Hamas

I asserted only yesterday that Bush's approach to the Islamic world was "not working." Today brings new evidence to support that contention:

Israel Defense Forces attacks in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip have boosted the popularity of the Islamist group's leader Ismail Haniyeh among Palestinians in that territory and in the West Bank, according to a poll released Monday.

This seems to present two choices: support democracy in Palestine with the rising probability of a second Hamas electoral victory or continue trying to destroy Hamas, which will presumably continue to enhance Hamas' prestige.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Washington Intensifying Its Confrontation with Islam

Bush seems to have decided to maintain his aggressive, militant
course of frontal confrontation with Islamic political actors who do not submit to U.S. leadership.

To understand the dynamics underlying contemporary global political strife, it is essential to comprehend that choices exist. Bush could try to leave office on high note by leading the world away from the law of the jungle toward mutual understanding. Annapolis was the wave of a hand in this direction, though it was clear from the start, given Bush’s refusal to invite two of the key players – Hamas and Iran, that it did not constitute a sincere effort at a new direction.

Alternatively, Bush could pull back and allow others freedom to maneuver. Since the neo-con policy of force is not working, perhaps others have better ideas. Intentionally or not, the effect of the NIE was to put Europe in the driver’s seat in terms of leading the charge against Iranian nuclear program. Beyond this, for every Islamic problem facing Bush, local initiatives to resolve the situation peacefully exist but are being blocked by U.S. policy.

A detailed strategy for resolving the Hamas-Israeli dispute was just published…by an Israeli. This prescription calls for a sustained series of small, incremental steps:

  • taking Hamas up on its offer of a ceasefire

  • bringing Egypt formally into the picture and opening the Gaza-Egypt border

  • working toward an armistice

  • working through Abbas for a formal peace agreement to be ratified by plebiscite.

Assuming the process were to work, somewhere along the line, Hamas would presumably have to be offered once again the option of working within a democratic system.

Tehran and Baghdad are at this very moment in the process of working out a modus vivendi that could theoretically bring stability to Iraq and leave al Qua’ida very much out in the cold, recognized by all Iraqi political parties as the spoiler.

All three of the winning parties in Pakistan are calling for talks and compromise with Pakistani militants; in the immediate aftermath of the election, the militants were singing the same tune.

Talk of compromise has also been in the air in tragic, abused Somalia in recent weeks, with Prime Minister Nur Adde offering talks with all sides without preconditions at the end of February.

In Lebanon, the problem is not at all about how to deal with a tiny group of militants trying to force their perspective upon a reluctant population. Rather, in Lebanon, the fundamental issue is whether or not to grant the poor their share of political power. The solution is inherently obvious: the needs and aspirations of Lebanon’s poor need to be recognized. So far, it seems that Hezbollah is the only political organization in Lebanon willing to do that, though such of course need not always be the case. Regardless, a host of Arab initiatives to achieve a compromise have been tried and might, if insulated from broader global interference, yet achieve a settlement that would end the current stalemate while avoiding civil war.

There is little indication, however, that Bush will consider these alternatives. Rather, if various disparate pieces of recent evidence are put together, the resulting pattern suggests that in the waning months of his administration, Bush means to intensify American pressure on the Islamic world, further promoting the emergence of an Islamic political fault line that will split Moslem societies even as it leads to more severe confrontation with the West. If the policy of force has not worked after six and a half years, then apply more force!

Evidence for a Washington policy of intensified confrontation exists in recent events related to Lebanon, Pakistan, and Somalia.

After a year-long but almost totally peaceful deadlock in national politics in Lebanon, Saudi Arabia has suddenly advised its nationals to leave the country immediately—just as Washington announces that the U.S.S. Cole is being sent to the region and as Israel and Hamas move away from the peaceful confrontation over the Rafah opening into Egypt into the unusually intense violence of early March. Hezbollah naturally saw that as attempted intimidation; the Saudi foreign ministry had advised its citizens not to travel to Lebanon two weeks earlier.

Gunboat diplomacy has a long history in Lebanon. As noted by the Washington Post, in 1983 U.S. battleships “opened fire on Muslim militias. Retaliation included the suicide bombing of the Marine compound in Beirut and the death of 241 U.S. military personnel, which eventually led to the Marines' withdrawal. ” Despite the fact that the Lebanese suicide bombers were retaliating, Washington has held a grudge against Hezbollah ever since.

Specific threats against Saudi nationals may have been the specific motivation. The broader context includes not only the worsening of the Gaza situation but also apparent rising Saudi-Syrian tension over how to solve Lebanon’s political crisis and, in particular, a U.S.-Saudi plan to pressure Syria.

Hinting at the approach of a crisis, Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa noted on Jan 27 that "Foreign influence has become a source of pressure in the Lebanese issue to an unprecedented extent."

Whether any of the above parties are actively planning to launch a war or just engaging in the type of risky behavior that tends to lead to war, the Mideast situation is beginning to resemble the situation in the spring of 2006. At that time minor tit-for-tat moves between Hezbollah and Israel were going on against the background of quiet Israeli planning for a military attack on Lebanon and a rapidly disintegrating Palestinian stand-off between Fatah and Hamas.

Two differences this time:
  • Both Lebanon and Iran face upcoming elections, which introduce further potential for instability.
  • The Bush Administration is in its last year and may be tempted to “go for broke” to escape from the Mideast quagmire created by its reliance on force rather than diplomacy.

The specific evidence for this over the past few days alone includes the U.S. military strike in Somalia which came even as the Somali prime minister was calling for unconditional negotiations with the government’s opponents; the U.S. military strike in Pakistan – timed to aggravate tensions between the incoming secular administration and Islamic militants; and news that U.S. military trainers would be sent to Pakistan.

New Situation
It is difficult to see changes in the global confrontation between proponents of a Washington-centric world and those who determined to offer Moslem societies an alternative path: the confrontation is too broad and too varied to reveal its course in snapshots. Therefore, if you view it one event at a time, perceiving its reality is essentially impossible. One must step back to gain perspective. Stepping back from the rush of daily events to compare the situation today with that of 9/11 gives a picture that suggests we are in a very different and much more serious situation.

Shocking as it may have been to Americans, the death of 3,000 people on 9/11 pales by comparison to recent global events in terms of casualties: the Khmer Rouge holocaust of Cambodians, the mass slaughter of Rwandans, Sudan’s slaughter of the people of Darfur, the imprisoning of 1.5 million residents of Gaza, the killing of some 100,000 Iraqis as a result of the U.S. invasion.

It also pales in terms of its strategic significant in comparison to the global Western-Islamic situation today. On 9/11 the West was being challenged by a single non-state actor under the protection of one of the world’s weakest countries, Afghanistan. Of course, there were at the time lots of other challenges to the West coming from Moslem regions, but they were fragmented—each focused on local issues.

Al Qua’ida’s goal seems to have been to do something so shocking that it would both inspire Moslems worldwide to join a campaign of resistance against the West and trick the West into committing such atrocities that compromise between moderate Westerners and moderate Moslems would be precluded. If that was al Qua’ida’s goal, over the last six years, it has made significant though partial progress on the former and enormous progress on the latter, leaving the al Qua’ida vision in a far stronger position despite the damage done to al Qua’ida’s infrastructure.

While Moslems may be looking with horror on the endless terror they have encountered (for the impact of al Qua’ida on Moslems has been far worse than on Westerners), they are also looking with horror upon Washington’s strident rhetoric, repeated rejection of compromise, insistence on preconditions before negotiations, and most of all its consistent policy of resolving problems through military force. Grozny (about which Washington did nothing), Fallujah, Jenin, Gaza may be names that bore most Americans; they don’t bore and will not soon be forgotten by Moslems. Even less easy to forgive are the destruction of Iraqi, Afghan, Palestinian, and Somali society.

The degree to which Moslems worldwide have been unified by the events since 9/11 is one of the major questions that will be facing the next U.S. president. But there seems little reason to conclude that al Qua’ida would be dissatisfied with its global position today in comparison with its position on 9/11/2001. Al Qua’ida has succeeded in getting so many Moslems to buy into its premise that the world needs a clash of civilizations that the continued existence of al Qua’ida itself is almost irrelevant. The fight has shifted from being a competition between the West and one non-state actor into the West against insurgencies in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Palestine, and Somalia plus a host of entanglements with Iran, Lebanon, Syria, Algeria, and other countries. The broad goodwill of Moslems toward the U.S. on 9/11 has been washed away by the extreme nature of the U.S. reaction. The conflict threatens to become institutionalized. Intensification of American military confrontation is only likely to further al Qua’ida’s long-term goal.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Corruption in the Military-Industrial Complex

Corruption in the military-industrial complex harming U.S. troops in Iraq war is discussed in the following Real News video:

Hypocrisy will rot the foundations of an organization like nothing else. Hierarchies are efficient decision-making structures, but to function effectively they need a shared vision that goes beyond glorification of the leader.

When a politician makes his name as a crusader by mercilessly imprisoning prostitutes and then uses the privileges of office himself to consort with prostitutes or a politician who campaigns for global democracy makes war on those very same civilian populations he claims to be saving, the integrity of the institution is at risk.

The pattern is all too familiar. A low-level manager, too ignorant to make intelligent technical decisions, instead focuses on bullying employees, framing them as “not team players” in order to claim credit for “saving the organization.” A high-level executive stage-manages an expensive, high-visibility “workshop” but punishes anyone who takes the performance seriously as the basis for thoughtful reform. Claiming to be on a crusade in order to cover up one’s ulterior motives, setting fires in order to play fireman, calling for creativity to look good without any willingness actually to change are all-too-familiar indications of hypocrisy.

Morally, all are equivalent; all undermine the integrity of the institutions involved because of the highly contagious nature of such behavior. Practically speaking, the higher the level the more serious the crime not only because the harm is greater but because the rate of contagion to less corrupt members of the institution is higher.

Maybe we humans have not yet evolved far enough for individual leadership. Maybe abuse of authority by an individual is simply unavoidable when a human is granted the individual authority to exercise both institutional (i.e., the power to make the institution do something) and personal (i.e., the power to punish or reward an individual) power. Maybe managerial posts should, at all levels, be groups. In a small unit—say a dozen scientists in a research team—all could be members of the management group with decisions by consensus; for a slightly larger unit, the management group could be a subset composed of members with short terms of office, set up so that all members of the group have equal opportunity to participate. For leadership of a country, instead of one man being given enormous and effectively arbitrary power as virtual dictator for the term of office, perhaps a team of three leaders for a three-year period with the terms of office staggered would provide a sufficient check on the arbitrary exercise of authority. At all levels, those with the power to order the institution to take action should be carefully and explicitly prohibited from having any input into management of individuals (e.g., hiring, firing, promotions).

Unfortunately, as a society we are far from reaching the point where such issues can even effectively be discussed. Before such a conversation can be productive, we will have to come to a common recognition that power is a privilege the use of which is morally prohibited except where explicitly permitted. That would turn many families and nearly all corporations, bureaucracies, and governments on their heads…hmmm…kind of defines the word “revolution,” doesn’t it?

If anyone sees the relevance of these musings to anything in the real world, feel free to point it out...

Monday, March 10, 2008

Provoking the Clash of Civilizations

Yesterday, I quoted the short history of U.S.-Palestinian relations from 2006 until today so pointedly written by Uri Avnery. It portrays Washington as provoking precisely the outcome it presumably least wanted: the empowerment and further radicalization of its most feared opponent (in the case of Palestine, Hamas).

This raises some very important questions for those concerned about U.S. national security and the possible emergence of a clash of civilizations between Islam and the West:

1. Is this a pattern seen more broadly in relations between the West and Islam? (The rise of al Qua'ida in Iraq following the U.S. invasion, the strengthening of Ahmadinejad's circle in Iran, the exacerbation of militancy in North Waziristan, the strengthening of Hezbollah in Lebanon as a result of Israel's 2006 invasion, and the war in Somalia come to mind as examples with considerable face validity.]
2. To the extent that it is indeed a pattern characterizing post-9/11 Western interaction with Moslem societies, is the West moving toward acknowledging it and learning how to overcome it, or are we fated to live with such a pattern for the foreseeable future?
3. Can the world "muddle through" in the face of continuation of such a pattern or is it likely, if it continues, to spread and intensify, provoking the emergence of an Islamic political fault line (which might be seen as a fault line between Islamic and Western societies and/or a fault line within Islamic societies)?
4. To the degree that such a fault line is emerging within Islamic societies, is it likely to push committed reformers into the arms of violence-prone extremists, making hopes of compromise with the West increasingly remote?

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Pattern of Failure

Review of the pattern of failure of Washington and Tel Aviv in dealing with Moslem societies by Uri Avnery...
Kill A Hundred Turks And Rest…
MWC News - A Site Without Borders - - Monday, 10 March 2008
Describing the history of foot-in-mouth and endless bungling of ties to Moslem societies by Israeli and American politicians:
Wise men like these direct the state, the government and the army. Wise men like these control public opinion through the media. What is
common to all of them: blunted sensibilities to the feelings of anybody who is not Jewish/Israeli. From this springs their inability to understand the psychology of the other side, and hence the consequences of their own words and actions.
The history of U.S.-Palestinian relations, 2006 - 2008:
(a) The Americans ordered Mahmoud Abbas to hold parliamentary elections, in order to present Bush as bringing democracy to the Middle East.
(b) Hamas won a surprise victory.
(c) The Americans imposed a boycott on the Palestinians, in order to nullify the election results.
(d) Abbas diverted for a moment from the policy dictated to him and, under Saudi auspices (and pressure), made an agreement with Hamas,
(e) The Americans put an end to this and compelled Abbas to turn over all security services to Muhammad Dahlan, whom they had chosen for the role of strongman in Palestine,
(f) The Americans provided plenty of money and arms to Dahlan,
trained his men and ordered him to carry out a military coup against Hamas in the Gaza Strip,
(g) The elected Hamas government forestalled the move and itself carried out an armed counter-coup.
Bottom line on Gaza:
Hamas is there. It cannot be ignored. We have to reach a cease-fire with it. Not a sham offer of "if they stop shooting first, then we will stop shooting". A cease-fire, like a tango, needs two participants. It must come out of a detailed agreement that will include the cessation of all
hostilities, armed and otherwise, in all the territories.

Noteworthy Trend: Iraqi Deaths Rising

Noteworthy Trend: Iraqi civilian deaths rose 30% from January to February 2008.

Somali Update: Continuing Chaos

Yesterday, I described the post-9/11 neo-con foreign policy as having failed across the Islamic world, citing, among other examples of failure, Somalia. Given the absence of news about this sad and victimized country in the U.S. media, perhaps some details would be in order.

The Guardian described the situation in Somalia in February as follows:

As many experts warned, US collusion with Ethiopia a year ago to
send Ethiopian troops into Mogadishu to topple the Islamic Courts regime has backfired as badly as the invasion of Iraq. According to reports from UN and other aid workers in Somalia, almost three-quarters of a million people have fled since the Ethiopians arrived. Far from eliminating the Islamic Courts, the invasion attracted waves of new recruits, motivated by resentment at the presence of foreign troops and not just by jihadi ideology. The Ethiopians installed one of the worst Somali warlords as mayor of Mogadishu, allowing him to turn his militia into the police. Most of the capital's people are from a
different clan.

Resistance has intensified in the past months as the occupation shows no sign of ending, and Islamist insurgents now operate well beyond Mogadishu. Indiscriminate mortaring and machine-gun fire by all sides is said by aid workers to be horrendous, though there are no TV cameras to raise international alarm. Adding to the chaos, insurgent groups are splitting - with the same erosion of discipline and clan rivalry that have divided rebel movements in Darfur. This reduces the chance of holding successful peace talks.

Banditry is on the rise with aid workers increasingly targets, as last month's killing of three staff for Médecins sans Frontières demonstrates. MSF has now withdrawn all its international doctors, leaving hospitals without surgeons.

Meanwhile, Somalia's Transitional Federal Government (TFG) still
sits in the town of Baidoa, with no presence in the capital except for a
fortified and symbolic mini-green zone. What little support the TFG had in Mogadishu has disappeared.

In the first few days of March alone, the U.S. launched a missile attack on Somali town; its residents held a protest against the attack; Islamists briefly captured two strategic towns-- Belet Weyne, astride the main supply route for Ethiopian forces, and Hudur, also on the road from Ethiopia; and 15 Ethiopian soldiers were killed in Mogadishu. The destruction of Somalia continues...

Saturday, March 8, 2008

The Logic & Peril of Bush's Foreign Policy

The logic of Bush administration foreign policy from 9/11 on has consistently been that we—the good guys, with God as our guide—face the Devil incarnate in a battle to the death that justifies putting “all options” on the table, including making war on cities (remember Fallujah?), incarcerating whole ethnic groups as punishment for their leaders’ policies (reminiscent of the logic of al Qua’ida that 9/11 was excusable because in a democracy Americans are all responsible for the behavior of their leaders), allowing countries we chose to invade to collapse into chaos because fighting is more important to us than rebuilding societies we have destroyed, or launching nuclear wars of choice against countries who pose no threat simply because we claim they might pose a threat in the future. If the Bush premise is correct—if the collapse of the world is at hand and we are in holy combat against the devil—well, then what’s the mere destruction of societies and death of thousands of bystanders?

Unfortunately for the Bush place in history and the neo-con hopes of remaining in power, things aren’t working out:

  • Al Qua’ida, which pretty much got a pass when the neo-cons in the Bush Administration moved their focus from Afghanistan to the unrelated issue of whether or not to do something about the Iraqi Frankenstein those very same neo-cons had created during the Reagan Administration, remains very much in existence. Moreover, the logic of al Qua’ida’s foreign policy—that they, the good guys, with God as their guide, face the devil incarnate in a battle to the death which justifies all options, including slaughtering innocent civilians in both the enemy camp and among Moslems, provoking civil war among Moslems, and laying traps to trick the “far enemy” (that’s us Westerners) into invading and getting bogged down in Moslem countries—remains intact and possibly more widely accepted across the globe than ever before.

  • Afghanistan, apart from its booming heroin export business, is a disaster. Despite rising NATO commitments, the Taliban resurgence continues.

  • Iraq went downhill from the invasion until 2007, when things appeared to improve slightly as a result of a decision by Moqtada al Sadr temporarily to avoid confrontations with Washington, rising disgust on the part of Sunni Iraqis with the obscene excesses of al Qua’ida, and a decision by Washington to buy off the very Baathist forces whom we invaded to defeat in the first place. But the fundamental problems of a broken polity, destroyed economy, and wrecked society resulting from the U.S. invasion have yet to be effectively addressed.

  • Iran has during this period made such progress in its efforts to become accepted as a regional force that it can successfully celebrate its new-found status in, of all places, the very U.S. colony we just bought and paid for with 3,000 dead Americans, 100,000 dead Iraqis, and 50,000 Americans whose battlefield injuries have permanently ruined their lives. (I did not mention the odd TRILLION dollars spent on the Iraqi invasion because that is not a cost – that is a “transfer” from the generous American people to the loyal American military-industrial complex.)

  • Palestine has become a war zone in which the power of Hamas grows daily. Was that part of the deal the U.S. neo-cons promised their pro-expansion Israeli neo-con buddies: “trust us, rely on our forward-leaning policy of strength through force, and we will deliver unto you a world class political power called Hamas!?!?”

  • Lebanon is on the verge of becoming another war zone (though if it does, it is not likely to remain separate from the Palestine war zone for long). After Israel’s retreat from Lebanon nearly a decade ago--19 years after its 1982 invasion, an apparently (at the time) overwhelming Israeli invasion in 2006 designed to destroy the Hezbollah organization that arose in reaction to the earlier invasion and a yearlong standoff between the government of Lebanon (energetically backed by Washington, Paris, and sundry Arab dictators) and the poor one-third of its population that has always been ignored by official Beirut, there is only one modern political party in Lebanon: Hezbollah. Are we to believe that the strengthening of Hezbollah constituted yet another promise of Washington’s neo-cons to their Likudnik friends?

  • Somalia…the fact that Somalia is even on the list of Bush failure spots tells it all. Somalia is the example par excellence of the rapid spread of American problems around the globe during the Bush years. Needless to say, with the apparent weakening resolve of Washington’s Ethiopian proxy, Somalia looks like another problem the next administration will have thrown in its lap.

  • And then there’s Pakistan, where the incoming elected administration is talking about talking to Islamic militants, while the outgoing dictator winks at U.S. strikes on Pakistani territory.

In sum, the Bush Administration has a problem: by the very logic of its own foreign policy, it has failed. It is very active everywhere but seems in control of almost nothing. If all these wars were designed to take over global oil supplies, they have in fact forced prices over $100 a barrel (for Americans – not for those who pay in Euros), providing nice profits to Venezuela and Iran. If the wars were designed to pacify regions we deem threatening, the threat has in fact greatly increased. And if the wars were after all designed to defeat the Devil, well, the Devil seems to be doing just fine…and the Devil is not a lame duck.

That raises the question of what Bush, in his last months, is going to do about his legacy and the political survival of the neo-cons. The answer is fraught with peril for us all.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Election Debate: Where Are the Ideas?

An election in a democracy should be an opportunity for fresh ideas to rise to the top. So where are the ideas in the current U.S. presidential election? The list of dangerous and highly unstable situations in the world that are likely to make life miserable for the next U.S. president is long, and the level of instability is rising. Lebanon, Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, Somalia, and Colombia-Ecuador-Venezuela are all on a knife's edge. Mexico's drug cartel issue is not far behind.

From the Republican side, Ron Paul has been shunted aside, and McCain is grinning, "Full speed ahead!" One wonders exactly where he thinks he is going.

From the Democratic side, Kucinich and Robertson and Gravel have been shunted aside. Obama says "Change!" and says it grandly, but whenever he makes the mistake of becoming specific, he sounds just like every other mainstream leader who has gotten us into this trouble. Clinton can't make up her mind whether she (A) is still part of Bill Clinton's old liberal group that offered such hope to the nation for a brief moment so long ago or (B) another angry Republican suffering from an overdose of testosterone.

Neither Clinton nor Obama looks like Bush, and neither is likely to win by trying. On domestic issues, there are real differences, but the rest of the world is not going to disappear. How to climb out of the hole we have dug ourselves into needs to be addressed.

Nader is not going to win, unless of course the unthinkable happens and we all start thinking for ourselves, but at the moment a protest vote for Nader does indeed, as suggested elsewhere, sound like the way to go.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Generous Hamas Stance Opens Door to Peace

Hamas statement:

Hamas' conditions are clear: We will halt our fire in exchange for a complete end to Israeli military operations in Gaza and in the West Bank, and a lifting of the blockade on Gaza.

This offer constitutes a moderate, reasonable, and feasible first step. It meets Tel Aviv’s minimum demand of an end to rocket attacks and opens the door to further progress without imposing unbearable costs on Israel. It does not, for example, require steps related to recognition, removal of illegal settlements, opening of Jewish-only roads in Palestine to all residents, partition of Jerusalem, right of return of Palestinians to their homes in what is now Israel, or any of the other thorny issues. It constitutes an offer designed to be a practical basis for slow, careful cooperation rather than designed to sabotage negotiations.

It also imposes a significant cost on Hamas because it means that Hamas would give up its primary lever – the rocket attacks that constitute its only effective means of making Israel pay attention. Israel, however, could reinstitute violence whenever it so chose – nothing in this agreement would prevent that, since it makes no mention of such reasonable peacekeeping steps as international peacekeepers, or a pullback of Israeli forces from the border, or even a withdrawal of Israeli forces from Palestine.

Thus, in truth, the Hamas offer amounts to a significant concession while asking very little of Israel; it grants Israel its minimal demand but gives Hamas nothing except such political prestige as would flow from a truce credited to Hamas. Israeli hardliners may find that distasteful, but it works both ways - the more credit Hamas gets for negotiating a truce, the greater the political cost to Hamas for subsequently breaking it.

Israelis who sincerely want peace should jump to accept this statement and build momentum to keep Hamas committed to it. Those who says that is too great a price to pay do not want peace; they want surrender.

Other Comment:
Israeli historian Ilan Pappe:

The point is not just about escalating intentional killings but the strategy…. Israeli policy makers are facing two very different realities in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. In the former, they are finishing construction of their eastern border. Their internal ideological debate is over, and their master plan for annexing half of the West Bank is gaining speed….

[In the latter…{WM}] Creating the prison and throwing the key to the sea, as South African law professor John Dugard has put it, was an option the Palestinians in the Strip reacted against with force in September 2005. Determined to show that they were still part of the West Bank and Palestine, they launched the first significant number of missiles into the Western Negev. The shelling was a response to an Israeli campaign of massive arrests of Hamas and Jihad people in
the Tul Karim area.

Israel responded with operation “First Rain.” Supersonic flights were flown over Gaza to terrorize the entire population, succeeded by
heavy bombardment of vast areas from the sea, sky and land. The logic, the Israeli army explained, was to weaken the community’s support for the rocket launchers. As was expected, by the Israelis as well, the operation only increased the support for the rocket launchers.

The real purpose was experimental. The Israeli generals wished to know how such operations would be received at home, in the region and in the world. And it seems the answer was “very well;” no one took interest in the scores of dead and hundreds of wounded Palestinians.

Le Monde:

Le plan "Cisjordanie d'abord" a donc abouti à ce qu'il devait permettre
précisément d'éviter : installer le Hamas au centre du jeu. A tel point que la pertinence du boycottage d'une organisation radicale, mais également capable de pragmatisme, par Israël, les Etats-Unis et les Européens, est plus que jamais sujette à interrogation.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Iraqi-Iranian Detente: Opportunity or Danger?

If Tehran and the Shi’ite regime in Baghdad are in the process of establishing a closely coordinated relationship, this creates both a long-term opportunity and a long-term danger for the Mideast. The opportunity is to be a middleman for regional compromise. The danger is that this may provoke Iraqi civil war.

An Iraq with close ties to Iran and a government that represents Iraqi Sunnis in a way that Sunnis find more-or-less to their satisfaction would constitute an historic bridge. If, after all the ethnic conflict and government–sponsored discrimination ever since British colonial days in the 1920’s, Iraqi Sunnis and Shi’a can learn how to work together, then why not Arabs and Iranians? The existence of a unified, peaceful, independent Iraq would be the ultimate proof that Shi’a and Sunni throughout the region can live together. That, of course, is a lot of “ifs:” it is not clear exactly how close Iraqi-Iranian ties really are or what it will take to build an Iraqi government dominated by Shi’a but acceptable to Sunni.

The long-term danger is that the closer the Shi’a-dominated regime in Baghdad gets to Iran, the less acceptable it may be to Iraqi Sunni, due to some combination of Sunni nervousness and lessening Shi’ite willingness to give consideration to Sunni desires. Were ethnic conflict in Iraq to intensify significantly, many regional actors would be tempted to intervene, al Qua’ida would be more than happy to pour whatever gasoline it could on the fire, and it would be hard to imagine an effective way of putting such a fire out.

It does not take much ingenuity to conclude that the regional political situation is far from equilibrium. Figuring out which way things will go is rather more difficult. One clue to watch for is balance between Iranian ties with Iraq and Iranian ties with the Sunni Gulf states. Another whole set of clues will be domestic: Baghdad’s treatment of Sunnis, Sunni attitudes toward the Iraqi regime, etc.

It would be more than worth the effort to conduct a detailed scenario analysis of these two alternative paths foreward to lay out exactly how Iraq might, in the near future, turn out to be either an opportunity or a danger for the Mideast.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Black Swans & a Lesson about Hubris from Pakistan

Pakistani lawyer Feisal Naqvi has written an elegant interpretation of the political events of the past year in Pakistan illustrating some interesting lessons for all of us who think we know what we are doing.

In cards, the types of probabilities we face are relatively well known
because all of them come from a universe of known possibilities. Taleb calls this world Mediocristan. But in real life, the biggest problems — and opportunities — we face come from what Donald Rumsfeld once referred to as the “unknown unknowns”. This is the world that Taleb calls Extremistan, a world defined and driven by highly improbable events.The point of discussing all of this is to note that the events which followed the sacking of the Chief Justice of Pakistan on March 9, 2007 were a “black swan” event. Leaving aside the morality or legality of trying to railroad a chief justice in patently unfair proceedings, it can safely be assumed that all those who advised General Musharraf to teach the Chief Justice a lesson did not foresee in all of their predictions the possibility that the deposed chief justice would become a popular hero; that he would be welcomed by the people of Pakistan in numbers not seen since the heyday of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto; that emboldened by public support, a 13-member bench of the Supreme Court would restore the Chief Justice; that his restoration would set off such a wave of defiance that the once-closed chapter of General Musharraf’s candidature would be opened to debate; that General Musharraf would be forced to impose martial law against himself to avoid the
danger of a contrary verdict, that General Kayani would direct the army to step out of politics; that relatively fair and free elections would be held; that the masses would vote overwhelmingly against General Musharraf; and, that throughout all of this, the lawyers of Pakistan would never give up on their struggle to establish an independent judiciary.

But now comes the million-dollar question: assuming you are the new political leadership of Pakistan, what do you do with this black swan now that it has shown up? Do you go back to living in Mediocristan? Do you assume that politics as usual is about to return? Or, do you try living in Extremistan in the belief that this is one of those moments when hope and history rhyme? After all, if Taleb is to be believed, the prime mover throughout history has been the improbable event.


Pakistan Update

Views of the turbulence of Pakistani socio-political affairs...

Police Brutality: This picture shows the brave Pakistani police (hidden behind the clouds of tear gas) defending their countryagainst the terrifying onslaught of civil society.

Tribes Caught in the Middle: In January in Darra Adam Khel, the army conducted a campaign against militants. On March 2, an explosion during a tribal peace jirga resulted in 42 deaths.

In the words of an editorial in The News:

The message as such was clear -- with the tribesmen evidently punished for making an effort to restore peace to the lives of people. The 'jirga' had been convened, with official support, in the wake of an operation launched against militants in the Darra Adam Khel area since January. In the months before then, the small, dusty town of Darra Adam Khel, best known for its arms bazaar, had been over-run by militants who closed down schools for girls and ordered men to grow beards.

Continued Abuse of Lawyers: Deposed chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, still under house arrest for standing up to Musharraf's November "coup against himself," terms the government's offer to release his family(!) from house arrest "a joke."

End of the Honeymoon: Khadim Hussain of the Pakistani newspaper Dawn gives us these insights into events in Swat, one turbulent corner of Pakistan:

AFTER living for two years in a land gripped with disaster, frustration, fear and death-like silence haunted with suicide attacks, bomb blasts and beheadings, the hard working, educated, and mature people of Swat Valley spoke loud and clear in the Feb 18 elections.They voted for the Awami National Party (ANP) and sent seven out of eight experienced, mostly young and energetic, persons to the national and provincial legislatures from the party’s platform — a secular, nationalist political party with liberal democratic credentials.The victory of ANP candidates with an overwhelming majority and the
positive response of the losing candidates brought about a harmonious political environment in the valley. As the spring season set in, a paradigm shift appeared imminent in the post-election socio-political and cultural environment of the valley.Then came the death blow on Feb 29 —a bomb blast that left almost 50 dead in a funeral ceremony in the congested part of Mingora. It recast the shadow of fear in the changing environs of Swat valley.

Israeli Security & Working with Opponents

The sad deterioration in the Gaza situation--from the perspective of Gaza residents once again imprisoned and under Israeli attack as well as from the perspective of Israeli citizens under Hamas attack--in comparison with a short month ago is too obvious to need belaboring. This video from Real News sums it up.
The essay from Haaretz that follows is important not just in its bottom line but for the detailed nature of its Israeli perspective - not the pro-regime perspective Americans are familiar with from the narrow range of images in our media, not the perspective of dominant Israeli politicians but the perspective of an Israeli who has thought deeply about Israeli national security.

Talk to Hamas
By Nehemia Shtrasler

In the winter of 1991, Saddam Hussein bombed Tel Aviv. For a month and a half, long-range missiles landed on the city. People panicked and many fled to Jerusalem, while the leaders issued pompous statements about the terrible blow the Iraqi dictator was about to receive. But nothing happened. We did nothing. In February-March 1996, buses exploded in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and dozens of people were killed in suicide bombings in the streets and restaurants. People who went to the grocery store did not know if they would return. Those who went to a restaurant or disco were seen as risking their lives.

Shimon Peres, who was then prime minister, realized that the suicide attacks would destroy him politically but could do nothing to prevent them. Sure enough, Benjamin Netanyahu won the elections.

In 2001-2003, terror struck in the heart of Israel again. The suicide bombings emptied the shopping centers, tourism halted, businesspeople went bankrupt and received no compensation. The economy plunged into a deep recession amid rising unemployment. Even then we did not enter an all-out war in the Gaza Strip and West Bank.

So it is wrong to argue that the state has abandoned Sderot and the western Negev. If this is abandonment, then Tel Aviv and Jerusalem were abandoned as well. The truth is more prosaic: Power has limitations. The Israel Defense Forces cannot solve everything. Netanyahu may say there is a simple solution - "to move from attrition to the offensive" - but the reality is more complicated. The IDF acted on the outskirts of Gaza's densely populated territory and two soldiers were killed. Had the army pushed deeper, the number of fatalities would have risen sharply. International pressure would have risen as well. The United Nations has already condemned us, Omar Suleiman, the Egyptian arbitrator, canceled his visit to Israel, and scenes from the beginning of the second intifada in October 2000 returned to the West Bank. The Qassam and Grad rockets continued falling even when the IDF was inside Gaza, and yesterday Hamas hastened to declare victory.

Another irritating lie in the Israeli discourse insists that it is appropriate to make Gazans' lives a living hell, so that they will put pressure on their leaders and end the firing of rockets. This thesis was behind the first Lebanon war, but that fallacy didn't work either, even when hundreds of thousands of Lebanese were forced to flee to the north. That was also the thesis behind the Second Lebanon War. But despite the Lebanese population's extreme suffering, it didn't work then either. It is certainly not working in Gaza. There things are horrifically bad. Poverty is awful, the number of fatalities is huge, the hospitals are collapsing from too many wounded, unemployment has reached the extraordinary level of 60 percent, and most of the population subsists on food provided by United Nations organizations.

People in such a difficult situation have nothing left but their self-respect. In these days "all of Gaza has become Hamas," a former Fatah security officer who is far from being a Hamas supporter, told Haaretz. Al Jazeera is broadcasting to every home the horror pictures of the deaths of dozens of children and women. In this situation, hatred triumphs and the only hope is the desire to take revenge. The rocket launchers are thus the heroes who gain the people's sympathy, and support for Hamas is not getting any smaller - it's growing.

So there is no escape but to talk to Hamas. We cannot choose our enemies. We embraced Yasser Arafat after saying for dozens of years (in the words of Yitzhak Rabin) that "we'll meet the PLO only on the battlefield." Indeed, signing an agreement with Hamas is risky. An agreement could weaken Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whom Israel sees as a fitting partner. But it also harbors hope. We could make a cease-fire arrangement consisting of stopping the rocket fire in exchange for stopping the assassinations. We could agree on a prisoner exchange and bring Gilad Shalit home. We could even alleviate the economic siege in an agreement that would prevent transferring weapons and explosives via the Rafah crossing. All this is attainable, and is many times preferable to continuing the bloodbath, which would only raise the walls of hatred and revenge higher.

Once we didn't want to talk to the PLO and Arafat. Then we humiliated Abbas and didn't want to give him any achievement during the disengagement. Now we don't want to talk to Hamas. So the struggle will continue - until a catastrophe occurs, on their side or ours. Only then will the leaders be forced to sit down and talk around the negotiating table.

No Options Are on the Table

It is one of the tragedies of the modern era that it has become popular in certain circles loudly to insist that "all options" are on the table precisely when the speaker is determined to avoid the whole range of positive, ameliorative, conciliatory options. Instead of implying an openness of mind, "all options" in fact has come to signify that all options except military ones are precluded.

Monday, March 3, 2008

The Post-9/11 Delusion

Uri Averny, among the best that Israeli society has to offer the world, in a discussion of Israel’s dilemma with Hama, put the plight of the contemporary world in a nutshell:

WE ISRAELIS live in a world of ghosts and monsters. We do not
conduct a war against living persons and real organizations, but against devils and demons which are out to destroy us. It is a war between the Sons of Light and the Sons of Darkness, between absolute good and absolute evil. That's how it looks to us, and that's how it looks to the other side, too.

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia made a similar point just a few days ago:

I pose these questions for your consideration….

Will my region plunge into more chaos and violence, where extremism rules?

Or will it be a peaceful, developing region?

Will it be a region focused on conflicting radical ideologies fueled by the manipulation of sectarian division?

Or will it be a region reaping the benefits of globalization and strong global partnerships?

Will it be a region that rejects Western alliances, perhaps violently, because they have become far too difficult to achieve?

Or will it be a region that is a global partner in progress and prosperity with the West?

The choice is ours. But we must act and time is running out....the wellspring of global division, the source of resentment and frustration within the region and far beyond, is the denial of justice and peace in Palestine.

Extremism begets extremism. Look at any prolonged social conflict (your neighbor’s divorce, the American Civil War, take your pick). The longer it lasts, the harder it becomes to differentiate the good from the bad. Evil behavior either genuinely forces opponents to behave the same in self-defense or simply overwhelms reason and deludes opponents into believing they have no choice. It also provides irresistible opportunities for mischief-makers. The politics of fear is very good business.

The tragedy of the post-9/11 world is that the opportunities offered to mankind by the end of the Cold War have been submerged by a flood of Manichean assertions: all claim to be the Sons of Light battling to the death, with God on their side, against the Sons of Darkness. There seems almost to be a fatal genetic flaw in humans compelling them to throw themselves lemming-like over the cliff of reason into the sea of insane hatred of “the other side.”

Such twilight zone battles cannot be won because they do not exist…except in the tortured minds of the self-deluded combatants. That is, they cannot be won unless you define victory as the creation of chaos. Those who combat “ghosts and monsters” either fight sick fantasies in their own minds or know exactly what they are doing and are consciously seeking chaos in the coldly rational calculation that they can benefit from it.

The two types of course get mixed together and feed on each other, or, more appropriately, feed together on the rest of us. The trick is to remember that almost always the numbers of the self-deluded fundamentalists and the coldly calculating exploiters are small. They win by trickery, by fanning emotion, by confusing thought. The vast majority of people in almost any group will be amenable to reason and most interested in pursuing their lives. The key is to get to them, and the trick is to remember—in the face of all the claims of how evil the other side is—that most of the individuals on “the other side” are just victims who never chose the game they are being forced to play.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Al Qua'ida's Strategic Calculus

This piece on al Qua'ida may see the world and make its strategic calculus is pure gold. If you care about national security, read with care. [See here for related materials from Paul Rogers.]

The SWISH Report (10)
Paul Rogers

The al-Qaida movement again solicits advice from the respected management consultancy. The SWISH experts hint that this could be their last such report.

29 - 02 - 2008

A seventh report from the South Waziristan Institute of Strategic Hermeneutics to the al-Qaida Strategic Planning Cell (SPC) on the progress of the campaign and its ultimate realisation. Click here to read earlier reports.
Thank you for inviting us to deliver a further report on the progress of your movement. You will recall that our work for your planning cell commenced with an initial assessment in July 2004, a follow-up in January 2005 and further reports in February 2006 and September 2006. Because of your concerns over the outcome of the United States mid-sessional elections to Congress in November 2006 you asked us to present an additional report, which we did in December.
We appreciate that it is unusual for you to require a further analysis so soon after our last report in November 2007, but we understand that the pace of events in Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan - amid the wider context of the United States presidential election campaign, is such that a further assessment would be useful.
We further understand that you are particularly interested in the recent developments in the US and that you require an assessment as to whether your movement should take any action in the context of its forthcoming election in November 2008. We will therefore review briefly the developments in the other countries before focussing on that element.
Finally, you wish us to make an initial assessment of your ultimate aim of establishing a new caliphate. This we will do in the spirit of openness that you have sought in the past. Our conclusions may not be expected and it is possible that this will be the last report you will commission from us.
Pakistan and Afghanistan
The benefit we have of operating in western Pakistan is one denied to most analysts. It allows us to draw attention to one of the most important features of the 18 February elections in the country, which was missed by most foreign commentators: the exceptionally low turn-out - below 30% overall, and below 20% in some districts. This alone means that too much is being made of the outcome. Within that context, three features of the election and its aftermath are relevant. The first is that the decline in the size of the Islamist vote is less significant than it might appear, given the decision by some parties to boycott the elections. Some argue that such boycotts were solely aimed to avert the embarrassment of certain defeat; but the real point is that in many parts of western Pakistan, elections are simply not relevant since politics works in other ways.
The second point is that Pervez Musharraf has been much weakened by the election outcome; even if he survives, he will carry very little authority. This is a concern for the United States which had hoped for a link-up between Musharraf and the Bhutto family's Pakistan People's Party (PPP). If a PPP/Nawaz Sharif coalition emerges instead (as seems more likely), the result is both no guarantee of stability and greater government caution than would otherwise have been the case about supporting or endorsing US military actions in Pakistan.
The third and most important point is the revelation this week that the CIA has been operating Predator drones from a base within Pakistan. In one incident, an armed Predator from this base which fired two Hellfire missiles at a target (also within Pakistan) killed a senior paramilitary leader and many other people. Many observers had assumed that such deployments were indeed part of US policy; this, however, is direct confirmatory evidence that will in due course lead to major problems for the evolving coalition in Islamabad.
Across the border in Afghanistan, we are aware from our local contacts that your Taliban associates are in a position to undertake major actions in spring and summer 2008; we also know that the leadership has excellent intelligence on the build-up of US and British forces in the south and southeast of the country. We have good reason to doubt that a spring offensive will develop as widely predicted. If so, then Nato commanders will hail this as a victory. But they will be wrong.
The Taliban leadership operates with a markedly sophisticated level of military leadership that is recognised among some of the more intelligent senior officers within Nato - though not by the alliance as a whole and certainly not by the western media. This is important enough, but an additional and even more significant development in Afghanistan is the extent to which paramilitaries are now applying the tactics and deploying the munitions developed in Iraq. We strongly doubt that they are going to be in the business of frontal military assaults at any time in the next six months. Instead, they will almost certainly melt away in the face of the additional US marines and Britain's Parachute Regiment forces which will arrive in Helmand province in the coming weeks; and rely far more on urban guerrilla warfare, especially in Kabul, making much use of martyr attacks.
The scale of the revenues now accruing from the drugs trade, especially the move towards the highly profitable refining of raw opium paste into heroin and morphine within Afghanistan, suggests to us the direction of Taliban strategy. Its militia will opt for a slow but persistent campaign stretching over three to four years, designed to wear down the commitment of some Nato states (Canada is the initial focus here). The longer-term nature of this effort means that over the shorter term, Nato may be able to foster the impression of some success and progress. Again, this will be a highly misleading interpretation.
The United States military surge has had some effect, but (as we argued in November 2007) this should not cause you concern. As our report then said:
"The Bush administration, and especially its neo-conservative elements, has now focused on an overall Iraqi narrative of 'probability of victory'. We know this is a chimera but they do not. The consequence of this is that the administration will aim to downgrade the Iraq war in the public consciousness in the coming months, even as the surge is forced to come to an end because of military overstretch."
In the past three months that has proved an accurate prognosis. There has been a recent increase in violence in Iraq, but not enough to have an impact within the United States. Unless there are very major changes in the coming months, the US is not going to have its "Suez moment" - as Britain did when facing up to its declining imperial power and the need for decolonisation in the wake of the brief Suez war of 1956.
We also pointed out in our last report that the oil factor remains a foundation of US security policy in the region, and that this alone makes any full-scale withdrawal from Iraq unlikely for some decades. Although circumstances will not always be as favourable as 2006-07, rest assured that your paramilitary combat-training zone in Iraq will remain viable and of great use to you for the foreseeable future.
The US election campaign
What then of US politics? Three months ago we, like most analysts, saw Rudy Giuliani and Hillary Clinton as the frontrunners. We thought Clinton was the best of the Democratic candidates for you, given her relatively hardline stance on middle-east policy, and we regarded Giuliani as even better.
Times have certainly changed (as we did say was possible...) and John McCain now looks the overwhelmingly likely Republican candidate with Barack Obama emerging as the probable (though not yet certain) candidate on the Democratic side. From your point of view, McCain is reasonably good news. He is reliably hawkish on Iraq and Afghanistan, and although the political momentum of an incoming president gives a conservative president greater scope for policy reversals, we believe the power of the defence and energy lobbies may be too strong for any major changes to come in a McCain first term.
We cannot, however, be certain. It is possible for hawkish leaders (who have thus established their security credentials) to become unexpectedly flexible in office - witness Charles de Gaulle and Algeria, Richard Nixon and China, Yitzhak Rabin and the Palestinians. You should therefore entertain the possibility of McCain using his "honeymoon" period (if you will permit us an exotic idiom) to order a radical withdrawal from Iraq. If he does, then your immediate response must be a very strong message hailing victory for your movement. This could well lead to a reversal of his policy.
A new perspective is offered by Barack Obama's progress, and we assume that this is the matter that most concerns you. If Obama does succeed in winning the Democratic nomination, and if he then survives the very heavy pressure on him from the Republican machine, then he may be in a strong position as the election approaches. It is at this stage that you may wish to consider your options. These, however - we would stress - depend primarily on how you would expect Obama to perform as president in relation to how you would most like the United States to behave.
What is best for you is that the United States remains resolute in its support for Israel, Saudi Arabia and Egypt; fully addicted to oil and therefore determined to remain dominant in the Persian Gulf; and continuing to pursue its war against you with the utmost vigour. In other words, eight more years for George W Bush would have been ideal.
Sadly for your movement, that cannot be.
What, then, of Obama? The candid answer is that we cannot be sure. All the rhetoric notwithstanding, we actually expect little change should he be elected. Yet since we cannot be certain, we would recommend that any sign of his leading the polls close to the actual election date should be met by strong statements from your leader, welcoming the possibility of the election of a president with whom you can do business. That should do much to prevent his being elected.
The long term
Finally, you ask our opinion on your long-term prospects. We have always taken the view that this is a conflict likely to stretch over decades, and we anticipate that you will eventually take control of a country in the middle east or southwest Asia, as a prelude to establishing a new caliphate. The most propitious time for this to happen is when your "far enemy" has had enough of its burdensome military entanglements, an event that you will no doubt see and claim as a great victory.
Yet we are obliged (to use another exotic idiom) to speak truth to power. In the context of your success in winning control of an individual state, the principle enjoins us to express the conviction that only then will your problems really start. While our institute specialises in strategic hermeneutics, we also cover other disciplines, not least political sociology; and our belief is that your version of uncompromising Islamist rule is as unsustainable in the early 21st century as is the American notion that the US can indefinitely occupy countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan.
Your Taliban associates were initially welcomed by many Afghans in the mid-1990s as a stabilising force in the face of the horrors of warlord rule. Even by 2000, though, the doctrinaire rigidity of its regime was losing the movement support. One of the great unknowns of the decade is what would have happened to the Taliban regime if the 9/11 attacks had failed. We suspect that its regime would have been forced to moderate its style of governance, as indeed was already starting to happen in 2001.
You invoke and celebrate the Abbasids, a thousand years ago, as the greatest Islamic caliphate in history; and you seek to recreate that greatness. But for much of their 250-year history, the Abbasids oversaw a flowering of art, architecture, medicine, mathematics and the sciences; they were also notably tolerant of Christians and Jews. We do not see similar attitudes in the speeches and writings of your leaders. Instead there is a dogmatism of attitude that we think would not allow you to hold power even for a decade - let alone a century.
It is said that revolutions change merely the accents of the elites, and we fear that such would be the consequence of your movement coming to power. A lack of flexibility would lead to unbending pursuit of a false purity that would decay rapidly into a bitter autocracy, leading quite possibly to a counter-revolution.
If you really want to succeed then you have to engage in thinking that goes far beyond what appear to be the limits and flaws of your current analysis. We would be happy to assist, but we doubt that your leadership will be willing to allow us to do so. We therefore submit this as possibly our last report.
WanaSouth Waziristan28 February 2008