Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Pakistan: Democracy Strikes Again!

Here, apparently, is the answer to my Musharraf question. Pervez Musharraf, "President" of Pakistan, who took power in a coup and has never faced a real election will be up for a vote in 2007. Musharraf is broadly unpopular, and appears to be throwing in his lot with Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam, a major Islamic party, in a bid to have a realistic shot at reelection. This is why he essentially signed a peace treaty with the Taliban (who JUI helped create). Likely it is also why he brought out the stone age story, to explain that his cooperation with the Americans was coerced. He doesn't have to worry about undercutting support for anti-Taliban action, because he has already bailed on it himself.

The truly surreal part of this story is the lack of reaction from the US. Pakistan announces a truce with the Taliban and says they won't bother Osama Bin Laden if he doesn't bother them (and according to the Telegraph one of the key negotiators for the truce was none other than the infamous Mullah Omar). What does the White House say? That Musharraf and Bush are "on the hunt together". Only slightly less surreal was having a meeting between two heads of state where one, when asked about a high profile diplomatic tiff between the two nations, responded to the questions by stating that his book deal prohibited him from answering. That has to be a first. On the topic of the truce Bush says that he looked into Musharraf's eyes (I am serious!) when Musharraf told him he didn't cave to the Taliban and was convinced. No comment on Mullah Omar or the general who said they weren't going after Bin Laden anymore.

This is all very interesting in the geopolitical sense (i.e. Musharraf has gotten away with murder these past five years, and nothing seems to touch him), but I think really comes back to another of the major contradictions of the Bush administration: they have put an immense focus on global democratization while at the same time disdaining efforts to win over foreign voters. Their approach to foreign policy is entirely limited to trying to browbeat foreign leaders (many of them unelected) into cooperation while steadfastly refusing to engage the concerns and complaints of common people throughout the Middle East and South Asia. That can work, to some extent, for a while. But if you succeed in democratization you will learn that those opinions matter a great deal. We saw Hamas elected in Palestine, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Muqtada al-Sadr's party in Iraq, Amadinejad in Iran, and now we're seeing Musharraf cater to Islamists in Pakistan. If there were elections in Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and elsewhere in the Middle East, I expect we'd see exactly the same results. We are pushing for democracy at the same time that we advance policies that could not be better designed to inflame opinion against us. I begin to wonder if these guys understand what democracy means...

I tend to support the idea of democratization simply because it will have the impact of forcing our hand in dealing with these issues. For now we can find pliant leaders and ignore the issues of the Islamic street. But I doubt there will be any serious progress in the war on terror until those issues are dealt with, and by having governments elected that will advance these issues more forcefully the US will have little choice but to address them. Funny, but I doubt that was what the neocons had in mind...

Saturday, September 23, 2006

What Is Musharraf Up To?

So Pervez Musharraf claims that Dick Armitage told a Pakistani general that the US would bomb Pakistan back to the stone age if they didn't cooperate in the war on terror. Armitage now denies it, George Bush say if it happened it was Colin Powell's fault. My question is: why on earth is Musharraf disclosing this? As the story linked above notes, it hurts him badly on the domestic front. It is impossible for him to claim to be helping the US on a principled basis now. And while capitulating to US threats might have been a wise policy choice it is politically indefensible. The Islamic extremists in Pakistan have already tried to assassinate Musharraf (more than once). It is hard to imagine him wanting to pour more fuel on that fire.

I can only come up with two possible explanations: a) he is selling his book or b) looking for an excuse to resist cooperating with the US. Certainly he has succeeded at moving copies of his book with this claim, but I don't buy that as a real explanation. I look at this in conjunction with the news clip I posted a couple weeks ago about Pakistan bailing on the hunt for Al Qaeda as possibly representing a major repositioning for Musharraf and Pakistan. When the US comes and starts leaning on Musharraf to buck up and kill some terrorists he will now respond, "well hey guys, I'd love to cooperate, but I'm so unpopular now (and so by the way are you Americans) because of this 'stone age' thing I really can't afford to help. But have fun storming the castle!" Maybe that's not it, but there's something going on here. Musharraf is not so stupid as to not realize political price he would pay for going public on this. Somewhere there's a payoff for him...

Friday, September 22, 2006

'Decline and Fall of the American Empire' Watch

I'm sure Henry will appreciate this excerpt from a CSM story on US troop commitments in Iraq:
About 500,000 soldiers are currently in the Army. Plans call for it to increase to about 512,000 in the foreseeable future. But even reaching that level may take time. Growing beyond that, if authorized, would take even longer. And the need is pressing now, note experts.

Short of obligatory national service, moves such as opening the US military to foreigners with no US ties, but who wish to move toward US residence or citizenship, might be necessary for the Army to grow in a reasonable amount of time.
Bring on the barbarian mercenaries!

A Healthy Immigration Dialogue?

I find immigration to be an exceedingly difficult topic to discuss. It's an important topic in America, and even more so in Europe, and one that critically needs to be addressed. Yet it tends to morph economic and cultural insecurity into ethnic and racial prejudice such that it can become difficult to sort real policy concerns out from the age-old appeal of virulent immigrant-bashing. America has a singular record with respect to immigration, having been built on the back of waves of European immigration, yet even here hatred and discrimination against immigrants has a long and deep history.

We all need to be concerned with the problem of integration, as discussed in this CSM column today. As my Fallows post noted below this relates, among other things, to security issues. In Europe, awash in Muslim immigrants while the white population declines, it also calls national identities and the basic social fabric into question. So here's the challenge: we need to start to identify what constitutes healthy integration, and what factors influence it, and how to promote it, without descending into irrational discrimination, and hopefully without creating an overly adversarial relationship with our immigrant populations. And America needs to lead the way and create an example for Europe. As hot a topic as immigration is here, it is far worse in Europe, and that difference will only be exacerbated as time goes on.

Right now I have little faith in the people driving the dialogue in the US. The people with passion on immigration today (think Sensenbrenner) tend to walk a fine line with respect to anti-immigrant prejudice, generally not displaying it openly, but pandering to it in their supporters. I would very much like to see a counterpoint, acknowledging the seriousness of the issue, willing to act on it, even if some of the steps are difficult, but promoting an inclusive dialogue that respects the interests of immigrants and the unique cultures and viewpoints they can contribute to society.

Monday, September 18, 2006

A Government That Doesn't Believe In Government

One of the defining contradictions of the Bush administration and the current Republican Congress is that they have tried to accomplish so much through government while simultaneously not believing in the efficacy of government (a rhetorical holdover from the party's former libertarian streak). How else can the immense patronage system that they've assembled over the past 8 years be explained? Michael Brown, the K Street Project, and now this remarkable story of the Iraq reconstruction team. I don't know that the reconstruction could have worked under any circumstances, but it certainly doesn't help to staff key positions with young party apparatchiks with no experience or education in the subject areas they are managing. Instead of creating stability and law and order and a functional constitutional structure they were busy instituting a flat tax, privatizing government assets, running an anti-smoking campaign, and modernizing Iraq's stock exchange. They turned the Green Zone into a luxury resort while the country went to hell around them. This whole mess is going to go down as a disaster of epic proportions...

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

A 9/11 Post

I'm reposting this from a forum where I wrote it in response to a posting of this NPR essay by Frank Miller:

Sadly I think Miller had the right of it before the attacks. It is about the ideas. Strip the United States of the ideas of Madison, Jefferson, Franklin, and Adams, and I will have no attachment to the flag. To the extent I currently have some attachment to it, it is because I believe that it still represents those ideas. I don't believe that lines on a map convey some magic value, or that there is some genetic reason why Americans are more valuable than anyone else. What binds us together and gives us value is our shared belief in concepts about justice, liberty, and equality, government and social institutions; the Enlightenment ideals of Locke, Jefferson, and Madison. When those concepts take a back seat to the flag and patriotism, we have lost something important, and become less than we were.

A nation is the wrong scope in which to view Franklin's hang together/hang separately quote. Our world has gone global. There is no country that can close off the world or effectively protect itself from what happens outside it. It was not a nation state that attacked us, nor will a lone nation state protect us. Globalized business, fueled by multinational corporations, modern transportation, and electronic communications, has limited the role of the nation state in trade and economics, and terrorism has done the same for security and violence. For there is now no border and no army that can stop violence. Violence and instability can spread by interpersonal networks, and even by the simple conveyance of ideas and ideals.

For better or worse, Mankind is in this together, and together we will succeed or together we will fail. We can choose between global brotherhood and global chaos. The more borders we erect, the more boundaries we create, the more sides we choose and groups we vilify, the more separate we see ourselves from others in our minds and in reality, the less the secure our civilization will be. Because our civilization is those ideas of Madison, Jefferson, Adams, and Franklin, and we will not spread them by building walls, and they will not take hold at the point of a gun, nor can we even protect those ideals in our own nation when we put that nation before them.

Our ideals are our civilization and also its most powerful weapons. The shrinking of the world, its growing interdependence and interconnectedness grants us an overpowering advantage. When given a fair chance those ideals will triumph (and always have) because they represent the best products of Mankind's unique ability to rationally reflect upon his own place in the world. They are not the result of a particular culture or historical heritage, but of the essence of what divides Man from the beasts. And when they spread to another people or another corner of the globe, we have won the most decisive victory possible, because they are now us.

Patriotism to a nation state will not spread our ideals, but it can blind us to our kinship and our shared interests and shared fate with those outside our border. When we choose to cheer for our team rather than our ideals we not only fail to spread those ideals, but we make them unpalatable to anyone on another team. Even the most appealing ideals can be poisonous when packaged in arrogance, pride, and inequity.

There is yet a place for nations and for force of arms. There are threats to be countered, villains to be neutralized. But the state must be an instrument of our ideals, and not the reverse. The state serves our will, and, if our civilization is to endure, we must serve our shared ideals. There is indeed something precious in our civilization, and indeed something perishable. It is not vulnerable to bombs and missiles, but it is vulnerable to our own disloyalty. Terrorism is not a threat to us because it sheds our blood, but because it can cause us to forget who we are and what we hold dear.

Well No Fucking Shit

I have to admit that I thought there was good reason to believe that Iraq had WMD's in 2002 (although I was fairly certain the US had no good evidence to establish that fact). But as far as I was aware there was not a single respectable expert who believed that Saddam was in cahoots with Al Qaeda. That line of BS was constructed from whole cloth. But now we have a CIA report to tell us what we already should have known. Surprise, surprise, Saddam and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi were not bosom buddies. At what point does this entire house of cards simply collapse?

And in other news, a US military officer reports that Anbar province has been lost. Col. Pete Devlin came to the unremarkable conclusion that the conflict is fundamentally political, and on the political front we have been soundly outflanked. The same story also reports that Afghanistan is spinning out of control, and that a WaPo column notes that Islamic extremists are running strategic circles around the West. At this point our failure and our futility could hardly be made more complete. I can only wonder what, if anything, the United States had learned from all of this...

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Pakistan Waves the White Flag

I just wanted to put a link up here after discussing this topic with V over the weekend. Pakistan signs peace deal with pro-Taliban militants. Some choice excerpts:
In a move that some say appears 'a total capitulation' to pro-Taliban forces, Pakistan signed a peace deal with tribal leaders in the North Waziristan region of Pakistan Tuesday, and is withdrawing military forces in exchange for promises that militant tribal groups there will not engage in terrorist activities.

The New York Times reports that the deal "is widely viewed as a face-saving retreat for the Pakistani Army, which has taken a heavy battering at the hands of the mountain tribesmen and militants, who are allied with the Taliban and Al Qaeda."

Although Mr. bin Laden is thought to be in the area, Pakistani officials have given mixed signals as to whether he would still be considered a target by government forces. In his blog for ABC News, Brian Ross reports that Pakistani Major General Shaukat Sultan said in an interview that bin Laden "would not be taken into custody, as long as [he] is being like a peaceful citizen."
Unbelievable, isn't it?