Thursday, June 28, 2007
Steve Clemons Wrote the following at The Washington Note:
"My view matches Zbigniew Brzezinski's that the combined storm of America's engagement in Iraq and Afghanistan, brewing problems with Iran, lack of meaningful success in Israel-Palestine peace, and regional disdain among Arab Muslims for the United States is the defining challenge for America. We need to turn that around and given the collapse in legitimacy America has experienced because of failure in Iraq, much more priority should be given to establishing a stable Israel-Palestine deal that produces two states and includes other regional deal-making including normalization of relations with Syria and a new set of economic and collective security arrangements with Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, and other regional players."
Steve is a smart foreign policy thinker and this strikes me as an endorsement of a NEASFram type approach to the region - perhaps our framework is a little broader (includes Somalia for instance) but the broader points are the same.
Wednesday, June 27, 2007
The Washington Post Editorial Board today urged President Bush to close the U.S. prison at Gitmo
and seek another way to hold suspected terrorists. The overall message is a welcome one as the Post recognizes that the prison camp at Gitmo has been a public image disaster for the U.S. However, I am not 100% convinced that the second suggestion from the editorial, that the President should seek to create an administrative system to hold suspects, is as wise.
While the WP is correct when it suggests that the methodology for trying suspects in Israel and the U.K. is a step above current U.S. practice and would be an improvement if enacted in the U.S., the lack of confidence in the overall U.S. governmental approach to terror cases makes adoption of an administrative system look like a risky proposition.
In recent years too many high ranking Bush Administration figures have made questionable choices regarding the detention of suspected terrorists. Additionally there is still evidence that the administration is allowing the use of illegal tactics in the interrogation arena. These two issues make it hard to defend an administrative system to try suspected terrorists.
I will concede that if the next U.S. administration agrees to be more judicious in its approach to the arrest of suspected terrorists and is willing to end the use of torture and other illegal interrogation approaches, Congress should look at innovative approaches to trying terrorists that could be based systems like the one used until recently in the U.K.
Tuesday, June 26, 2007
Blair Success Will Depend on Interlinked Issues
As the Middle East Quartet considers
naming outgoing British PM Tony Blair as its new envoy, it is important to note that he will only be able to succeed if his work on the Israeli-Palestinian issue is tackled along with the broad range of interconnected crises of the broad NEASFram
Additionally it is critically important that Mr. Blair recognizes the different obligations of this role - he must not be seen as narrowly pro-American or Israeli or European. He needs to bridge 5-7 important audiences - and this will not be easy. Nevertheless, Mr Blair can be a key piece of a NEASFram
type approach to the region where multi-track diplomacy is given a chance. Let us hope that this is the first of many positive steps.
Monday, June 25, 2007
Interesting Exchange on This Week re: Hamas and Votes
At a recent round table on This Week there was an interesting exchange on the botched nature of U.S. Israeli-Palestinian policy. David Corn
was one of the guests and took his chance to point out that things could continue to spiral downwards in the West Bank and Gaza:
"Well, no, it can't, which is why the situation could get worse there. You could have a humanitarian crisis with 1.4 million people there cut off from water, electricity and food supplies which come in through Israel. I mean, let me agree with what George just said, said that in addition to the administration, you know, getting the tonic wrong, I think they really believe that speechifying was more important than the hard work of diplomacy. I mean in the Clinton years, they had the Oslo agreement and there was a lot of diplomacy back and forth. The Bush people came in and they that - they actually threw it aside with a lot of disregard and believed that they could sort of elevate the issue by giving these grand eloquent speeches about democracy, and that would do the trick, and they let the hard work of diplomacy, I think, go to the side. And now we're paying the dividends."
The comment I found most interesting however was from Martha Raddatz, a classic inside the beltway commentator. She was discussing possible next steps from the Administration:
"But I don't think they really have any idea how to build up Abbas. I mean, it hasn't worked so far. There's corruption. They seem to be in denial about Hamas, and they've been in denial about Hamas all along. I remember the president very early on said look, they didn't vote for Hamas because of terror. That's not the reason they voted. Well, he should take that lesson now because people want jobs, people want money, people want a way of life that they may find in Hamas that they didn't find in Fatah. So this is far from solved. It's far from solved in the West Bank whether they'll have any power. And I think right now you probably see the White House scrambling to come up with some sort of opportunity or even what to say.
There is a crisis in the region but there is still an opportunity for change because right now no one is winning.
The Need to Tackle U.S. Exceptionalism
The WP blog carries an important piece from Gellman and Becker titled “Pushing the Envelope on Presidential Power.” It highlights how the VP has been at the center of the Administrations interrogation policy development since January 11th 2002, the day CIA officials raised the challenges facing Guantanamo interrogators. The blogger's go on to note that:
“Cheney and his allies, according to more than two dozen current and former officials, pioneered a novel distinction between forbidden "torture" and permitted use of "cruel, inhuman or degrading" methods of questioning.”
The whole piece is worth reading and it underscores the need for an Independent Bipartisan Commission on Interrogation/Torture.
Thursday, June 21, 2007
Rule of Law v the dictator and the United States?
General/President Musharraf has, at least since 9/11, been viewed as an American stooge by Pakistanis of all political persuasions and at today’s rally in support of Pakistan’s suspended chief justice the demonstrators visually represented this sentiment.
They did so by burning an American flag at the rally.
While such an act increases the odds of the demonstration being covered on CNN and provokes a negative reaction in the U.S., it is unfortunately not an unusual or surprising occurrence. What was unusual and surprising about this particular flag burning was the identity of the demonstrators and the message they were seeking to convey.
The 5,000 strong rally was made up of lawyers (Pakistan’s legal system is an English influenced common law tradition), human rights activists (who tend to be western trained with a profound belief in international human rights law) and the opposition (they are focused on securing democratic elections and adherence to the rule of law).
A group of lawyers burned the U.S. flag to protest what they believe is U.S. support for a military dictator at the expense of democracy, human rights and the rule of law.
Think about that for a minute….it should give each of us pause and reason to reflect on the U.S. image in the world.
Frankly, it is past time that those who influence U.S. foreign policy take a hard look at our approach to Pakistan and recognize that we have ended up on the wrong side of the political conflict in that country.
The U.S. must demand that the Musharraf regime stop undermining the courts, press and civil society. It must also seek a timetable for free and fair elections that are open to all parties and their leaders.
When the U.S. is, with justification, perceived to be supportive of a military dictator by the bastions of liberal society - lawyers, human rights activists, democracy promoters, the press and judges - something has gone horribly wrong with our foreign policy. It is time for a change.
Tuesday, June 19, 2007
The Crisis Across the Region Continues
As global and regional powers seek to address the plethora of crises across the NEASFram region in an incremental fashion, security continues to break down and in each situation the prospect of a secure political settlement grows dimmer.
From the fracturing of Palestine into separately controlled Gaza and the West Bank to the spiralling violence in Iraq to the rise of the Taliban in southern Afghanistan, the prospects of human security across the region seem to dim by the day.
It is critical that the UNSG and other global leaders start to consider an integrated approach to addressing these interlocked crises before we are faced with a cluster of failed states throughout the NEASFram region.
Monday, June 18, 2007
Must Read Editorial in The Australian on Outsourcing of Torture
I believe that this editorial
in The Australian should be required reading for policy makers across the globe. The key quote:
"The American practice of outsourcing torture through the process of extraordinary rendition, as has occurred since September 11 cannot be justified. It is hard to see how sending Habib to Cairo on a CIA-chartered flight protected the US or its allies from imminent attack. His captors may have had reason to suspect Habib for his presence in Pakistan at the time of the 9-11 attacks but this does not justify incarceration without trial in an Egyptian dungeon."
Thursday, June 14, 2007
Powerful Words from the former UN Envoy to the Middle East
Mr De Soto wrote a confidential memo to the UNSG - it was leaked to the press. Here are some key quotes:
"The steps taken by the international community with the presumed purpose of bringing about a Palestinian entity that will live in peace with its neighbour Israel have had precisely the opposite effect..."
"The Quartet took all pressure off Israel. With all the focus on the failings of Hamas, the Israeli settlement enterprise and barrier construction has continued unabated."
RE: Hamas's commitment to the destruction of Israel he described it as: "abominable".
RE: Palestinian efforts to stop militant attacks: "patchy at best, reprehensible at worst".
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
Bombing of al-Askari shrine could spark uptick in violence in Iraq
Another devastating day in Iraq has seen the destruction of the two minarets of the al-Askari shrine in Iraq. The shrine is one of the holiest sites in Shia Islam. The Iraqi and U.S. authorities are trying to prepare for any increased violence but it is hard to be hopeful that they will be able to significantly limit killings and increased sectarian violence.....
Tuesday, June 12, 2007
The Great Game Continues....
Afghanistan has been a proxy battle ground for regional and international conflicts for more than 150 years. This article highlights that little has changed as we move into the 21st Century. The comments re: Iran by Rory Stewart, a former diplomat currently living in Afghanistan, are worth reflecting on for a moment - Stewart believes that:
"They play very, very long strategic games, and do a lot of very traditional interference in neighbouring countries in order to try to defend their own national interests."
While Stewart is correct, it is important to note that many countries have used and are using Afghanistan for their own ends. This is why Afghanistan is such a pivotal component of NEASFram.
Musharraf Orders Withdrawal of Media Restrictions....for now
Despite suffering from a range of restrictions on core rights since the Musharraf military coup, Pakistan has maintained its tradition of having a free and critical media. The Pakistani people have rightly been proud of their free press - a good friend of J21 who is from the region commented a year or so ago that despite the tensions in the country the press was still more open and critical than in many Western countries.
Unfortunately, in recent weeks this freedom, which is a foundation stone of contemporary Pakistani society, has been put under pressure from the authorities. The pivotal incident was, perhaps, the storming of the GEO TV studios by the police during which its employees were tear-gassed. This was in response to the refusal of its editors to stop broadcasting pictures of protests against the Pakistani chief justice’s suspension. After the GEO attacks the authorities became increasingly brazen in their assault on the free media and recently we saw President Musharraf decree that he would be giving the Pakistani electronic media regulatory authority new powers to close television stations. Thankfully there was a huge outcry both in Pakistan and abroad. The authorities clearly miscalculated and after much pressure from home and abroad, President Musharraf has withdrawn that order.
Nevertheless it is imperative that he is put on notice by his allies in the West, particularly the U.S. that such interventions are not acceptable. Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Richard Boucher must continue to remain vigilant and ensure that Pakistani society continues to benefit from a free press.