Tuesday, May 22, 2007
The Talebanisation of Pakistan
We have discussed how the lack of democracy in Pakistan and the dearth in economic assistance to the NW provinces have led to a rise in support for Taliban oriented groups. This article
sheds a bit more light on the issue and again shows why issues such as representation and development are a part of NEASFram.
I'm not sure if we can say that definitively right now but the violence in recent days between the Lebanese army and the Fatah al-Islam group in and around Palestinian refugee camps is really worrying. The BBC has followed the story closely
and has sought to provide some useful background information
. What seems certain is that without outside assistance Lebanon may be heading towards another summer of violence.
Sadly this is not a major surprise as Lebanon is an integral part of the region that falls under NEASFram - precisely because things there are complicated, it is a key pivot in the plan.
Thursday, May 17, 2007
Important Chatham House Report
has written a very important report
for Chatham House
on the current realities on the ground in Iraq. Of particular interest to me are these two findings:
"Each of Iraq’s three major neighbouring states, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, has different reasons for seeing the instability there continue, and each uses different methods to influence developments."
"These current harsh realities need to be accepted if new strategies are to have any chance of preventing the failure and collapse of Iraq. A political solution will require engagement with organizations possessing popular legitimacy and needs to be an Iraqi accommodation, rather than a regional or US-imposed approach."
Together they provide additional support for the need for a comprehensive political agreement in Iraq and the broader region - a key finding of the NEASFram
Sullivan on Paul's Debate Comments and Blowback
considers the question of blowback - i.e. does preemption and the use of torture etc. increase the danger to both U.S. and other states in the NEASFram region?
Most Republican Presidential Candidates Fail to Grasp the Harm Caused by Torture
he backlash against the comments supporting torture made by most of the Republican candidates at the Tuesday Presidential debate continues. In a powerful OP-ED in the Washington Post
today Charles C. Krulak a former commandant of the Marine Corps and Joseph P. Hoar a former commander in chief of U.S. Central Command respond to the debate claims and note that torture is both a betrayal of U.S. values and breeds more enemies. They note that:
"....it is the duty of the commander in chief to lead the country away from the grip of fear, not into its grasp. Regrettably, at Tuesday night's presidential debate
in South Carolina, several Republican candidates revealed a stunning failure to understand this most basic obligation. Indeed, among the candidates, only John McCain
demonstrated that he understands the close connection between our security and our values as a nation."Andrew Sullivan
, who has been a strong voice on the issue of torture generally, also swings hard at the torture supporters on stage in S.C.:
"Some issues really are paramount moral ones. Two candidates opposed it clearly and honorably: McCain and Paul. All the others gleefully supported it - including Brownback. He's a born-again Christian for torture. Giuliani revealed himself as someone we already know. He would have no qualms in exercising executive power brutally, no scruples or restraints. Romney would double the size and scope of Gitmo, to ensure that none of the detainees have lawyers, regardless of their innocence or guilt. That is in itself a disqualification for the presidency of the United States. A man who has open contempt for the most basic rules of Western justice has no business being president."
We really are seeing a battle for the moral core of the Republican party and judging by the comments on stage and the applause from the audience those morally opposed to torture are losing.
Tuesday, May 15, 2007
Bombing in Pakistan
Breaking news out of Pakistan suggests 30 or so people have been killed by a bomb in Peshawar....conflicting reports as to whether Afghan intel or some other group is responsible. This could be yet another example of the dangerous and complex Afghanistan-Pakistan relationship.
Monday, May 14, 2007
King Abdullah II of Jordan Understands Interconnections
II just met with Vice President Cheney and used the meeting to make several important individual points and by implication a broader point. The King noted that
"Jordan stands in support of a peaceful resolution to the issue of Iran's nuclear capabilities that would spare the region further tensions." Making this comment to the VP was very important because anything less than a clear statement in favor of a peaceful resolution may have encouraged the hawkish Cheney to push a military option....he may well do so but at least he received some push back from Abdullah
The King also stated that
the Arab Plan "still represented an opportunity to advance peace and end the Arab-Israeli conflict" and strongly encouraged the U.S. Administration to push this forward. He also went on the record and reaffirmed that
"reinforcing security and establishing stability in Iraq is in the interest of the country as well as a key Jordanian interest."
Each of these points individually is very important and collectively they show that while the Middle East - or from this blog's
perspective the NEASFram
region - has many problems, there are real and often interconnected solutions out there. We just need the political will to carry them out.
The U.K. as a Critical Friend - Implications for U.S. Gitmo Policy?
The U.K. as a Critical Friend
That is the relationship the U.K. should have with the U.S. according to the results of a Guardian survey of the Labor Party's would be deputy leadership candidates. The candidates took shots at U.S. foreign policy on a range of issues from Climate Change to the ICC to Gitmo. Beyond the specifics, the candidates indicated a desire to move away from the Blair foreign policy.
Peter Hain the current Northern Ireland secretary stated the desire of the Labor Party to shift gears:
"The challenge has been how we work with a very rightwing president ... We must pursue a progressive internationalist foreign policy [and] strengthen and reform international institutions."
And Harriet Harman the justice minister underscored the need for a change in the British strategy:
"We need to draw the US closer to our politics, rather than embracing theirs. Bush's failure to plan for recovery and reconstruction in Iraq was a huge mistake which has only increased the threat of international terrorism."
This unfolding story is worth monitoring closely....we should anticpate real shifts in the U.K.-U.S. relationship in the coming months.
Saturday, May 12, 2007
In a worrying development, the pressure from the legal community and the banned opposition seems to have provoked a violent response from the Musharraf government. The BBC
is reporting street battles in Karachi as the attempted appearance there by the ousted Supreme Court Justice has led to an aggressive response from Musharraf's allies. Pakistan is entering a dangerous phase at this time as the forces of democracy seek to make themselves heard.
A Very Important Letter from Gen. Petraeus
Andrew Sullivan draws attention to a very important letter
from the top U.S. commander in Iraq Gen. Petraeus. In the letter the General seeks to tackle the worrying signs of the recent Army survey showing that torture and other illegal actions are often condoned by soldiers in Iraq. The General clearly recognizes that the lack of adherence to core international legal standards is both harmful to the army and hurts its overall mission in Iraq.
Key quote here:
"Our values and the laws governing warfare teach us to respect human dignity, maintain our integrity, and do what is right. Adherence to our values distinguishes us from our enemy. This fight depends on securing the population, which must understand that we—not our enemies—occupy the moral high ground. "
This is a very important moment in the fight to return the U.S. to a posture of adhering and supporting international legal norms - a core component of NEASFram is for the U.S. to again adhere to core international legal standards and to move away from U.S. exceptionalism.
Friday, May 11, 2007
Blair at the World Bank
Rumors are starting to circulate that some in the foreign policy community would like to see British Prime Minister Blair take over from Paul Wolfowitz at the World Bank. This is a very interesting prospect and could really help to positively influence the development components of a NEASFram type plan.
Thursday, May 10, 2007
Blair Resignation and the Middle East
British Prime Minister Tony Blair announced the timetable for his summer departure from office today. While Mr. Blair has accomplished many important objectives during his time in office, including a deal to finally secure the peace in Northern Ireland, he will perhaps always be remembered for supporting the Bush Administration's fatally flawed Iraq policy.
Interestingly, there are some rumors circulating that suggest that Mr. Blair will follow the lead of his old friend President Clinton and set up a foundation to tackle the issues he cares about. If he does move in this direction it is likely that he will seek to play a role in the Middle East and in particular seek to solve the Israeli-Palestinian issue. We hope that Mr. Blair does seek to engage on Middle East issues and stand ready to discuss NEASFram with him and his staff.
Wednesday, May 09, 2007
About Cheney And the Saudis
David Ignatius is a smart guy who has a lot of intelligent things to say about the broad region covered by this blog. His most recent op-ed focuses on the Vice President's trip to Saudi Arabia to manage "the Abdullah account." Ignatius seems to suggest that the meeting will focus on the mutual desire of both parties to limit Iran's influence and that other issues such as disagreements over the Israeli-Palestinian dispute and Iraq can be put to one side. Respectfully, I am not sure if that analysis is correct because even if the Saudi moves were to be viewed through a lens of self-interested action to undercut Iran, by extension the disagreements between Saudi and the U.S. would need to be "on the table" in a Cheney/Abdullah meeting. Why? Well, it seems clear that these two disputes are tier one issues for Iran and are part of its regional strategy and therefore they must also be on the agenda for any country seeking to effectively hem Iran in. Another way to put it is that you sometimes have to meet your strategic opponent where he is. If the Saudis view Iran as their strategic opponent they must in turn consider Iranian policy towards the Israel-Palestine and Iraq....and consequently disagreements with the U.S. are a VERY big deal.
Finally let me be clear that SAI believes that there is a different approach that all parties in the region should consider - the interconnected agreements that comprise NEASFram. Such an approach will serve the U.S., Saudis and Iranians well if they give it a chance....but that will require moving away from "secret strategy councils with the hard-nosed Cheney."
Vice President Cheney in Iraq
As I scanned through the news briefings of the VP's
trip to Iraq this note from the BBC
struck me as particularly revealing:"Analysts say Mr Cheney will hope to build on ties forged in previous trips to the region, while in business and as vice-president to George W Bush and defence secretary to his father, President George Bush Snr.
If the VP believes that these credentials will help secure more help for the U.S. in Iraq and the broader region he is going to be in for a big surprise. Surely it is clear by now that there are significant and substantive geopolitical issues in the broader region that need to be dealt with to bring real security to the area and the broader international community. Simply being chummy with a few leaders will on its own not get the VP very far.
Tuesday, May 08, 2007
Worrying Thinking From Sullivan
Although I disagree with Andrew Sullivan
on a regular basis, I find him to be an interesting and, at times, thought provoking writer. In the foreign policy arena he has slowly come around on the Iraq issue and has shifted from being pro-invasion to now recognizing the various failings associated with the Bush Administration's policy towards that country.
Yesterday Sullivan posted a long piece titled "Re-Thinking The War I"
that includes some thinking that I find quite worrying. Most troubling is the final passage of this post
where he considers the ramifications of a possible/probable/likely Sunni-Shia'a
conflict after a U.S. pullout:
"And: what benefits to the West could accrue from a brutal Sunni-Shi'a
war in the Middle East? Yes, I know a withdrawal from Iraq will lead to statements of victory from al Qaeda
. That would hurt. But ask yourself: what does bin Laden fear more in private? A continuing stalemate in Iraq that brings new recruits to his cause, exhausts the U.S. military, divides the American people, and keeps the narrative as one in which the "crusaders" are slaughtering Muslims in their own lands? Or a chaotic regional war in which the Muslim world is rent apart by sectarian warfare and in which the US and Israel are mere bystanders?"
There are two reasons, at least, to be deeply troubled by this type of thinking.
(1) From a ethical standpoint - the U.S. did break Iraq when it invaded....there is, at a minimum, an ethical/moral duty to reduce the prospects of more innocent deaths. Yes continued occupation will not work but that is not the only option - there are alternatives such as NEASFram
that could allow for withdrawal without civil war. Leaving Iraq in a manner that ensures it will blow up is immoral.
(2) From a self serving standpoint - U.S. foreign policy thinkers should not be naive and think that there would be no security costs to a brutal civil war in Iraq and the region....chaos and violence and instability can lead to a host of foreseen
problems. It is in the U.S. self-interest to avoid a civil war.
I hope Sullivan walks back from his thinking in this area - placing hundreds of thousands of people in a perilous situation because Bush broke Iraq is wrong any way you look at it.
Petraeus Understands U.S. Breaches of Int. Law Harms Nat. Sec.
Gen. David Petraeus
responded to the findings we discussed yesterday
that suggested an erosion of the moral foundation of U.S. troops in Iraq. To the General's
credit he noted that:
(a) He was really concerned by the results
(b) Recognizes a need to do more to educate troops as to the importance of the rule of law
(c) Understands the costs, including to the U.S., of breaching the laws of war
For me the key quotes from Petraeus
were the following:
“We can never sink to the level of the enemy....we have done that at times in theater, and it has cost us enormously.”
“So the first step is that we’ve
got to . . . make sure that folks remember that that’s a foundation for our moral compass . . . anything we do that violates that is done at considerable peril.”
Let's hope the Pres, VP and the AG were listening....
Monday, May 07, 2007
Rice and Muallem Talk at Sharm el-Sheikh
The relationship between the United States and Syria took a turn for the better at the recent Sharm el-Sheikh conference on Iraq. To be sure we are a long way from any type of strategic change in the U.S. approach to the region but the fact that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice actually had a first face-to-face talk with Syria's Foreign Minister Walid Muallem is a positive step in the right direction.
The BBC noted that the tone was not hostile, with Rice telling reporters that "I didn't lecture him and he didn't lecture me..."
Sharm el-Sheikh was the site of two parallel but independent meetings - one being the United Nations-sponsored International Compact for Iraq (a five-year national plan to help Iraq consolidate peace, sound governance and economic reconstruction) and the other a ministerial meeting of states neighboring Iraq.
Data on Attitudes to Torture Impacts U.S. Image
A recent survey of U.S. troops in Iraq paints a bleak picture
of an Army that is seeing the erosion of its moral moorings. One statistic in particular that caught my attention was the one that shows that roughly two-thirds of Marines and half the Army troops surveyed would not report a team mate for mistreating a civilian or for destroying civilian property unnecessarily. As the Army report notes:
"Less than half of soldiers and Marines believed that noncombatants should be treated with dignity and respect..."
As of 8.30am EST this survey has been picked up by about 500 outlets across the globe
once again raising in the minds of the public from Africa to the Middle East and Europe to Asia that the U.S. Armed Forces seems to have developed a culture that rejects international law and the Geneva Conventions. This type of report should set off flags from the Pentagon to the State Department and although we cannot hope for such a reaction from the Bush Administration, we need to encourage those running for President to build foreign policy platforms capable of tackling such sentiments.