November 10, 2006

Gates Crasher (REUEL MARC GERECHT, November 10, 2006, Wall Street Journal)

If Mr. Gates is to be a success as secretary of defense, he will have to show senior military officers, particularly within the Pentagon’s Central Command (Centcom), which is responsible for Iraq, the attitude he once displayed toward operatives. Although Donald Rumsfeld has received the lion’s share of the criticism for what’s gone wrong in Iraq, senior U.S. military officers, most importantly Gen. John Abizaid, the lord of Centcom, are nearly as responsible for the mess.

The press has preferred to dwell on Mr. Rumsfeld — as a force of nature, he is a compelling character. Also, former generals who loathe Mr. Rumsfeld have, intentionally or not, pre-empted criticism of active-duty generals by being so public in their denouncements of the secretary. And Gen. Abizaid, who has been since the summer of 2003 the grand military architect of America’s counterinsurgency, is a highly intelligent, Harvard-educated, Arabic-speaking Arab-American — in theory, just the person you would want to command U.S. forces in the Middle East.

Yet Gen. Abizaid’s “light footprint” strategy — the idea that a forceful American presence provokes more violence than it brings security — was not foisted on him by Mr. Rumsfeld. The successful and it seems almost accidental battle at Tal Afar, where the U.S. deployed classical counterinsurgency techniques, and Gen. Abizaid’s efforts to reduce the street presence of U.S. forces have clearly shown that security for Iraqis is directly proportional to the number of U.S. soldiers you put on contested ground.

The primary problem in Iraq since May 2003 has not been that Mr. Rumsfeld has been at war with his generals, whose advice he’s supposedly refused to listen to. It’s been that he and his generals, for sometimes differing reasons, have been in accord. Will Mr. Gates be inclined to reverse the strategy and tactics of Messrs. Rumsfeld and Abizaid? In other words, can he be a general-defying anti-establishmentarian? Mr. Gates’s past — his meteoric rise in the CIA and the National Security Council, his profound loyalty to his bosses, his presidency of the National Eagle Scout Association — suggests that he doesn’t like making waves.

Mr. Rumsfeld has rightly been criticized for his lack of interest in postwar planning. He brought to this war and to the conflict in Afghanistan, which also isn’t going well, a mania for transformational warfare that at its core says you can do more with less.

Mr. Rumsfeld was undoubtedly right, and his Cold War-educated generals were wrong, about the forces necessary to vanquish Saddam’s armed forces. But occupying foreign countries and counterinsurgencies, which both demand large numbers of not particularly sophisticated foot soldiers, are cruel to the secretary’s transformational creed — which seems perfectly sensible if America only aspires to blow things up overseas. Mr. Rumsfeld also brought to our post-9/11 battlefields a particularly conservative notion that nanny-state welfare-ism is bad for people, and that America’s occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, if it were to be protracted or profound, would keep both countries from growing up. When applied to Iraq, however, with its enormous potential for sectarian rage, where U.S. military power was essential to keeping order and the thickly intertwined but stressed bonds between the Shiite and Sunni Arab communities intact, this attitude helped produce the conflagration now destroying the country.

Mr. Gerecht still has this exactly backwards–the problem is that Rummy didn’t win the argument so we’ve had too many troops there for too long. You don’t occupy people you’ve liberated. You occupy an enemy.


November 10, 2006

Palestinian PM offers to resign for aid (IBRAHIM BARZAK, 11/10/06, Associated Press)

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said Friday he would step down as Palestinian prime minister if that would persuade the West to lift debilitating economic sanctions.

His offer appeared to be another indication that the Islamic militant group and the rival Fatah Party of President Mahmoud Abbas were inching closer to a national unity government made up of independent experts — a coalition that presumably would present a more moderate face to the world.

…we’ll buy their democracy from them.


November 9, 2006

Worm in the Sunni apple: a review of The Shi’a Revival by Vali Nasr (Sreeram Chaulia, Asia Times)

Typical Western reference points for the Muslim world harp on such themes as authoritarianism, fundamentalism and women’s rights but miss the basic fault line of sectarianism. Iranian scholar Vali Nasr’s new book shatters this myopia through a masterly analysis of Shi’ite-Sunni rivalries that go back to the founding days of Islam and are currently playing out in the blood-stained streets of Pakistan and Iraq. Its central thesis is that the Shi’ite challenge to Sunni dominance will reorder the future of the Middle East and South Asia. […]

Shi’ites are not content with Sunni-style dutiful observance of laws. They emphasize rituals associated with charismatic imams and saints who are intermediaries for healing, blessing and forgiveness. They love visual imagery and accord a higher status to women in piety, characteristics that anger puritanical Sunnis.

The fear of revolts that Shi’ite imams instilled in the Sunni caliphs was met with persecution, imprisonment and killings of members of Islam’s minority sect. Condemned as “the enemy within” and as “rejecters of the Truth” (rafidis), Shi’ites were branded as “a bigger threat to ‘true’ Islam than Christianity and Judaism” (p 54). Blaming Shi’ites for the decline of Sunni worldly power was the norm. For survival, ordinary Shi’ites had to hide their affiliations (taqqiya), and their imams escaped to Iran and India to seek refuge. The sufferings of the imams lie at the heart of the Shi’ite version of martyrdom (shahadat). Unless Sufism intervened in Sunni societies, tolerance for Shi’ites was weak. […]

The Iran-Iraq War (1980-88) was “a Sunni-Shi’a sectarian war cast in national terms” (p 141). The Saudi-Pakistani strategic relationship that underwrote the Taliban and jihadis in Kashmir was formed to “eliminate Iran’s ideological influence” (p 157). Pakistan’s state-financed “green fundamentalism” eulogized Sunni caliphs who killed Husayn and damned the Shi’ite festival of Ashoura as a heathen spectacle. Since 1989, Sunni-Shi’ite violence in Pakistan has claimed more than 4,000 lives as the “lines between jihad within (against Shi’as) and jihad outside (in Afghanistan and Kashmir) blurred” (p 167).

Sunni anxiety deepened in the face of recent gains by Shi’ites in Iraq that changed the sectarian balance of power. Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani’s moderate style set the tone for Shi’ite ascendancy based on shared identity of millions of Iraqis, Iranians, Lebanese, Pakistanis and Afghans. Nasr argues that a transnational Shi’ite consensus is forming around the need to defend their power and identity. This is being enhanced under the onslaught of Sunni terror in Iraq. Today, Shi’ites demand more and get it through the democratic ballot box.

And guess who’s bringing them democracy?


November 8, 2006

Taliban fighters talk tactics – while safe in Pakistan (Suzanna Koster, 11/09/06, The Christian Science Monitor)

Mustafa, in the black turban, says that the Talibs cross the border alone or in twos. Depending on the crossing point, he says – listing Pakistan border cities of Chaman, Badini, and Torkham – it takes one or two nights to join up with other Taliban fighters, he says. “The majority have Pakistani identity cards, so crossing the border is no problem,” he says.

The Taliban fighters return to a different house in Pakistan every month, but say that they must be very careful in Afghanistan, says Noman, a gaunt-faced young man who says he wants to learn English. But Mustafa adds that they are no longer in hiding in Afghanistan. “We are now 200 to 300 at a time and can roam around freely,” he says.


October 23, 2006

Former Syrian VP: ‘Assad regime is on brink of collapse’ (Associated Press, THE JERUSALEM POST, 10/22/06)

Abdul-Halim Khaddam, who is wanted in Syria on treason charges, said in an address to the Syrian people that Assad’s “oppressive” regime will soon be replaced with a democratic civil government, but he did not elaborate.

His address was on the occasion of Eid al-Fitr, the Islamic feast marking the end of the fasting month of Ramadan, and was broadcast on Lebanon’s Future TV, an anti-Syrian station owned by the family of slain former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

“Ask yourselves, my brothers, after six years of his taking over the administration of the country, what has Bashar Assad done except spread corruption, increase suffering and (take) wrong decisions that have led to weakening national unity and subjecting Syria to Arab and international isolation,” Khaddam said.

“I assure you that the corrupt and tyrannical regime is on the brink of collapse and in the near future, the ruler will see the opportunists and hypocrites that rallied around him fleeing. He and his corrupt family and entourage will find themselves in the hands of justice,” he added.

Khaddam’s address was aired several days after Arab newspapers reported that the former vice president met with Saudi officials, including King Abdullah and Crown Prince Sultan.

An Arab diplomat said the meetings took place in Saudi Arabia last week and were significant because they send a message to Syria that the kingdom is upset at Syria’s policies and may be exploring other options to deal with the Damascus regime.


October 18, 2006

Muslim scholars write the pope – and everyone else (Dan Murphy, 10/19/06, The Christian Science Monitor)

“What you see in the media are people like [Osama] bin Laden, or Zarqawi, the sorts of people who don’t represent Islam or the religion at large,” says Nakhooda, the Jordan-based editor in chief of Islamica Magazine, which has been helping to publicize the “unprecedented” open letter by Muslim scholars.

“These individuals are a law unto themselves and, sadly, they get the most publicity…. The intent [of the letter] is to start a dialogue rolling so the public would see there’s a positive initiative, an alternative to anger.”

…the most important dialogue must take place as such scholars explain to the Islamic world that its theology conforms to our standards.


October 18, 2006

Behold Indonesia’s democratic beacon (Shawn W Crispin, 10/19/06, Asia Times)

Eight years after launching a highly ambitious political reform program, Indonesia has surprised many analysts and academics by how quickly and smoothly the world’s fourth-largest country has consolidated meaningful democratic gains. Indonesia has since 1998 overhauled every fundamental aspect of its former authoritarian state, including an amended constitution, a more powerful parliament and a reformed election system.

The country’s first-ever direct presidential elections in 2004, in which former general Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was elected on a strong reform ticket, represented a democratic high-water mark. What’s gone less noticed over that same period have been 250 or so different local-level elections, which are now contested down to the grassroots regent level.

Breaking with former strongman Suharto’s top-down New Order regime, Indonesia’s peripheral populations are now less captive to the interests and abuses of local political heavies, who under Suharto often inserted themselves as gatekeepers to financial and natural resources through central government authority. While many attempted to co-opt new democratic institutions to perpetuate their power, nearly 40% of local level incumbents have in recent years been booted from office at the ballot box.

In certain conflict-plagued regions, local democracy is even having a healing effect. According to a recent report in the Jakarta-based Van Zorge Report, head and vice head candidates, often representing respectively localities’ Muslim majority and Christian minority populations, have frequently teamed up to beat competing candidates who ran on a one-religion ticket. That is, local-level democracy is rewarding politicians who form religiously inclusive, not exclusive, coalitions. […]

[I]ndonesia’s extraordinary democratic progress has put the lie to academic debates about whether Islam and democracy can peacefully co-exist. Predictions that dismantling Suharto’s highly secular state institutions would lead to a coincident rise in Islamic fundamentalism have notably not panned out. Political parties that have campaigned on strict Islamic platforms fared poorly against more secular candidates at the 2004 parliamentary polls.

Fundamentalists elected on anti-corruption tickets that have since attempted to push Islamic-tinged legislation in parliament, including a controversial anti-pornography bill, have seen their popularity fall dramatically in public opinion polls.

It’s actually not in their best long term interest to keep a country of that size and diversity in one piece, but it is to devolve it slowly.


September 27, 2006

How White House Warmongers Learned to Love Empire (Joshua Holland, September 27, 2006, AlterNet)

Long before President Bush articulated his Middle East doctrine, an earlier Republican administration argued that a different region was so corrupt, so in need of reform, and was saddled with such oppressive and backward rulers that bringing about stability and the potential for prosperity for its citizens was beyond the realm of politics or diplomacy.

Ronald Reagan smilingly asserted that only U.S.-backed violence and American-style nation building could give the benighted people of Central America a chance to join the modern world.

He followed the claim with his infamous “dirty wars,” and his administration framed the bloodshed in the loftiest and most idealistic terms. The Reagan administration launched an intensive public relations campaign to convince Americans that the tens of thousands of civilian deaths that resulted were regrettable but necessary, not only because of the United States’ mission to promote human rights and democracy around the world but also in order to defeat terrorism.

Clearly, there are differences between Reagan’s wars in El Salvador and Nicaragua two decades ago and Bush’s debacle in Iraq today.

The only significant difference is that Democrats don’t hold either house of Congress, so they can’t try to criminalize the crusade this time.

(*) Remarks at a Joint German-American Military Ceremony at Bitburg Air Base in the Federal Republic of Germany (Ronald W. Reagan, May 5, 1985)

Four decades ago we waged a great war to lift the darkness of evil from the world, to let men and women in this country and in every country live in the sunshine of liberty. Our victory was great, and the Federal Republic, Italy, and Japan are now in the community of free nations. But the struggle for freedom is not complete, for today much of the world is still cast in totalitarian darkness.

Twenty-two years ago President John F. Kennedy went to the Berlin Wall and proclaimed that he, too, was a Berliner. Well, today freedom-loving people around the world must say: I am a Berliner. I am a Jew in a world still threatened by anti-Semitism. I am an Afghan, and I am a prisoner of the Gulag. I am a refugee in a crowded boat foundering off the coast of Vietnam. I am a Laotian, a Cambodian, a Cuban, and a Miskito Indian in Nicaragua. I, too, am a potential victim of totalitarianism.

The one lesson of World War II, the one lesson of nazism, is that freedom must always be stronger than totalitarianism and that good must always be stronger than evil. The moral measure of our two nations will be found in the resolve we show to preserve liberty, to protect life, and to honor and cherish all God’s children.

That is why the free, democratic Federal Republic of Germany is such a profound and hopeful testament to the human spirit. We cannot undo the crimes and wars of yesterday nor call back the millions back to life, but we can give meaning to the past by learning its lessons and making a better future. We can let our pain drive us to greater efforts to heal humanity’s suffering.


September 26, 2006

Musharraf ‘war-gamed’ U.S., concluded Pakistan would lose (PAUL KORING, 9/26/06, Globe and Mail)

Pakistan’s military ruler, Pervez Musharraf, says he contemplated war with the United States in 2001 but opted instead to forsake the Taliban and become President George W. Bush’s ally.

“I war-gamed the United States as an adversary,” the Pakistani leader wrote in his martially titled memoirs In the Line of Fire, published yesterday. It apparently didn’t take the general, then an international pariah for having staged a coup to toppled his country’s democratic government, very long to conclude that Pakistan would lose.

“The answer was a resounding no,” he wrote, having concluded that the world’s most powerful military would wipe out his forces, destroy his nuclear weapons, wreak havoc on Pakistan’s threadbare infrastructure, help India seize disputed Kashmir and then turn to his archrival in New Delhi for the support and bases it needed to topple Afghanistan’s Taliban regime.

The beauty of being the hyperpower is that we retain that option vis-a-vis every other nation on Earth.


September 11, 2006

Turning Islamists into democrats (The Monitor’s View, 9/12/06, CS Monitor)

What is unfolding is nothing less than democracy at work. An elected government accountable to the people, is indeed being held accountable. Granted, Fatah has encouraged the protesters, but that doesn’t change the fact that a government is still responsible, ultimately, to an electorate as a whole, and not just to a political party or faction.

The Lebanon war may also have had a positive effect on Hamas. Perhaps Israel’s strong use of force has sobered Hamas. If it continues with its rocket-lobbing and Israeli-soldier- kidnapping campaign (fortunately, no suicide bombers of late), can it expect a similar hammering?

This is so bitter a pill for those on the Left and the far Right to swallow that they’re forced to deny the historical inevitability unfolding before their eyes.