Skypecast: Foreign Policy into 2009 (Audio Content)

Scott and I discuss economics, the global political frame, and the future into 2009.  We begin by discussing a recent fairly grim post of mine (Happy New Year!!!) and then discuss potential creative ways out of the morass.

[Click the links below, pts1 & 2 for the audio.]

foreign-policy
foreign-policy2

Links:

Thomas Barnett post
My apocalyptic post
James Poulos’ Uncrackables
John Robbforeign-policy1

Scott’s post/embedding of the audio (if you have trouble on mine)

Some Apocalyptic Thoughts for Monday Afternoon

Warning:  This is some very disturbing analysis.  I hope I’m 100% wrong on this one.  I’ve also thought the scenario I outline below was possible for 2009 but through the end of October/early November, I thought it still somewhat remote.  I’m less confident and increasingly pesimisstic about the potential for this scenario to be very real, very much in play (more and more likely by the day it seems as of now with no wise leadership or counter-movements to help block the momentum).  So be warned.  I’m not in the business of fear-peddling or fear-hyping, but these are dark thoughts.  There are not the only ones within my brain, but I have been appalled (even fairly cynical me) by the responses across the board to this crisis and the sense that there is no Wizard behind the curtain.

I’m increasingly growing very disturbed by the way global events are proceeding.  A chain of potential explosions across the grid of the globe looks frighteningly more plausible by the day.  Meanwhile the US media is caught in wonderful tales of some pathetic Illinois Governor and a dude launching his foot wear. Here in Canada it’s about the potential of a coalition government.

All of which still assume a top-down model of power, a kind of view of the stability of large scale social organization that may all be swept away.  Reading the newspapers and frankly much of the blogosphere is becoming an increasingly useless exercise for me.  Particularly when it comes to political discussion:  left, right, libertarian, progressive, blah blah.  All of those discussions are assuming the continued existence in some form or other or our social-technological cultural foundations.

To me its increasingly as if reading the news in the ancient ziggurat/city-state culture a few months before Alexander the Great came conquering across Eurasian and installed the Hellenistic world and swept away the decaying, crumbling previous world era.  Like I said some apocalyptic thoughts.

The economic story would go like this:  the American consumer is dead and has been flogged to the breaking point of exhaustion.  Who then is going to buy all those Asian products?  Who can they sell their wares to?  The Asian economies contract leading them to stop buying the commodities across the Global South (esp. Latin America and Africa) that have led to that bubble (see the mass decrease in the price of oil recently).  Huge deflationary movements across the global simultaneously.  Much more rapidly and the fragility (i.e. non-redundancy) of the global platform system bleeds out.

As Niall Ferguson in his epic The War of the World, the great catacylsm and spasm of violence across the globe emanating from Europe during the 20th century (First War, Second War, Cold War) consisted of the inter-locking reality of the three “E”s:  empire, economics, and ethnicity.  Empire being the death of imperial systems.  See the decline of the US.  Also with all the talk of the coming Asian Century (rise of India/China), this could all be swept away by the economic meltdown.  The Asian Century that wasn’t in other words.  Still-born Asian Century.  The vacuum created by the implosion of economic and imperial systems, is filled by ethnic hatreds that flare up to the consternation and shock of many who assume a cosmopolitan order of peace and security (all fine when the economy and governance is roughly holding up).

The most likely early hot spots of ethnic hatred is the band of the Middle East (Lebanon, Iraq, Kurdistan, Iran, Syria???, through obviously Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India).  Other increased zones of violence would be Gap-status countires in the Western Hempishere (on smaller scale but still bloody).  Revived narco-fueled wars across Colombia, Venezuela, Peru, Ecuador, El Salvador, southern Mexico.  Other ranges of violence: The Horn of Africa (another Somalia implosion on the horizon) as well as violence across the middle band (Chad, Sudan, Nigeria, and potential flare ups again in Congo).

The massive de-leveraging must continue and the question is only whether the end of the fall (which has at least 9 months, probably 12 to 24 to maybe even 36-40 to go. who the hell knows at this point) will end us worse than the build up.  Exposed, exhausted, and de-legitimized.  The space of de-legitimization to be filled by ethno-nationalistic movements across the board.

With the breakdown of nation-state systems (orange and blue in Spiral colors), comes a mass re-reddifying both in memetic coloring and potentially in real blood, merged with increased technological capacity (global platform) plus increased cognitive flexibility and complexity however merged to earlier moral/social systems. Roving bands of pirates (e.g. Somalia), terrorists (e.g. Mumbai), criminal networks (coming here already to Vancouver in preparation for the 2010 Olympics, particularly the global sex slavery/human chattel trade) counteracted by potentially increased technocratic elites holding onto whatever power they can, as civil libertiese erode due to the inability to come up with a worldwide republican security theory, class lines harden in the post-industrial societies, the social contract of the 20th century continues to break down (ask Ford, GM, Chrysler) as the Nation-State gives way to the (increainsgly predatory?) Market State.

Ferguson forget a fourth E:  Environment.  As in environmental degradation/destruction as a potential accelerant to the fire of the other three.  Something along the lines of Diamond’s Collapse scenario.

The idea that an infrastructure stimulus will jump start the US economy out of this bog seems increasingly detached from reality for me.  At the pace things are moving, if the wave swells become large enough, it isn’t going to matter, as it could all be swept away by the mega-forces aligning at the moment.

Like I said, God how I hope I’m  completely wrong on this one.

Taliban(ds)

This excellent piece by Anand Gopal in the Asian Times on the Taliban is getting some play (rightly) in the b-sphere.

Gopal asks who are they (The Taliban):

The movement is a melange of nationalists, Islamists, and bandits that fall uneasily into three or four main factions. The factions themselves are made up of competing commanders with differing ideologies and strategies, who nonetheless agree on one essential goal: kicking out the foreigners.

Gopal tells us the harrowing reality that took over Afghanistan after the initial ejection of the 90s Taliban (Afghan Taliban 1.0):

Meanwhile, the country was being carved up by warlords and criminals. On the brand-new highway connecting Kabul to Kandahar and Herat, built with millions of Washington’s dollars, well-organized groups of bandits would regularly terrorize travelers. “[Once], 30, maybe 50 criminals, some in police uniforms, stopped our bus and shot [out] our windows,” Muhammadullah, the owner of a bus company that regularly uses the route, told me. “They searched our vehicle and stole everything from everyone.” Criminal syndicates, often with government connections, organized kidnapping sprees in urban centers like the former Taliban stronghold of Kandahar city. Often, those few who were caught would simply be released after the right palms were greased.

In Spiral Dynamics terms, this was the regression of the country from blue–imperial mythic, 90s Taliban system–to red warlordism, gangs, and criminality.

As a result, blue has to come back to keep the peace:

Onto this landscape of violence and criminality rode the Taliban again, promising law and order. The exiled leadership, based in Quetta, Pakistan, began reactivating its networks of fighters who had blended into the country’s villages. They resurrected relationships with Pashtun tribes. (The insurgents, historically a predominantly Pashtun movement, still have very little influence among other Afghan minority ethnic groups like the Tajiks and Hezaras.) With funds from wealthy Arab donors and training from the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the Pakistani intelligence apparatus, they were able to bring weapons and expertise into Pashtun villages.

In one village after another, they drove out the remaining minority of government sympathizers through intimidation and assassination. Then they won over the majority with promises of security and efficiency. The guerrillas implemented a harsh version of sharia law, cutting off the hands of thieves and shooting adulterers. They were brutal, but they were also incorruptible. Justice no longer went to the highest bidder. “There’s no crime any more, unlike before,” said Abdul Halim, who lives in a district under Taliban control.

Gopal goes on to indicate that the increasingly Pashtun nationalist Taliban are largely out of the al-Qaeda connection as they were in the 90s. There were always Taliban factions even back then, who had no time for AQ, but Mullah Omar (their leader) was close with bin Laden. That relationship may be breaking down and some elements of the Taliban, which is increasingly de-centralized and networked, are getting on with girls in schools and realize they can not go back to the 90s version of themselves.

That’s group #1. Group two is Hekmatyar Gulbuddin and his Hiz-i-Islami group. They are insurgents against the NATO occupation, but again not necessarily tied to AQ and really only interested in power back in Afghanistan. So 2 out of 4 at this point seem open to negotiations on a future Afghanistan that will involve them along side other parties. Though Gulbuddin is implicated in an attempt on President Karzai’s life. The Afghanistan situation, as always, is murky.

The last two groups however appear to have no such deals and have sanctuary-providing protections for al-Qaeda. This is the real conundrum as both are based in the Pakistani NWFP. Jaluludin Haqqani in North Waziristan and Beitullah Mehsud in the South.

With Haqqani:

Pakistan extends support to the Haqqanis on the understanding that the network will keep its holy war within Afghanistan’s borders. Such agreements are necessary because, in recent years, Pakistan’s longstanding policy of aiding Islamic militant groups has plunged the country into a devastating war within its own borders.

Even with Mehsud however the issue seems to be anger at the Pakistani government for attempting to take over the Frontier Provinces. In the recent Pakistani elections, the fundamentalist parties lost heavily in the NWFP regions. But it is unclear if those votes have any real influence as increasingly the Paksitani Taliban under Mehsud appear dedicated to re-installing a 90s like Afghanistan Taliban ghastly asylum state in Waziristan. Mehsud’s men publicly hang tribal chiefs of the old guard who do not accept their rule. There has been some talk of creating a Sons of Iraq like scenario with a tribal rebellion against the Pakistani Taliban, but so far that has gone to naught. The Pakistani Army is built for a war with India and not for counterinsurgency in the tribal regions. The two times they have gone up there in the last few years, they have lost and been sent packing. The blowback that has come out of those operations led to the murder of Bhutto, the recent bombing in Mumbai, the attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul, as well as the attack on the Marriott in Islamabad.

I have no idea how we deal with this issue. If the Pakistanis go in there, more blowback, they will likely break with the US completely go with China and Russia (which would love the delicious irony of profiting off Pashtun resistance to Americans in Afghanistan). If we continue the airstrikes, Pakistani sovereignty (whatever is left of it) gets further quashed, more blowback, and the civilian government which probably has about zero power currently has even less so and probably a full on military coup. If nothing is done then it festers and I can definitely see an al-Qaeda attack in the West getting launched from the new sanctuary.

For Afghanistan to recover it requires a deal with the Talban or at least the dominant factions. Gulbuddin may not go for that. Haqqani likely the same. Mehsud no dice. With the sanctuary open, insurgencies always win over time in Afghanistan (see Alexander the Great, The British, and The Soviets).

Afghanistan also requires a regional deal that ends the countries in the neighborhood to stop using it as a pawn to be carved up in their power play:  Iran, India, Pakistan, Russia.   Can’t see any evidence of that happening soon.

Which means we are back to where we started–how to prevent Al-Qaeda Central from launching another attack when they have sanctuary.  If the attempt to go into the sanctuary would cause regional collapse scenarios, hollowing out areas that al-Qaeda could then flee to if need be?

The most important reason to prevent such an attack (minus the obvious defense of innocent life) is that the US is still not ready to be resilient in the face of another attack (a la India recently or Great Britain before). The insane over-reaction that would occur, like after 9/11 but only that much worse, would be so destructive, particularly now.  Particularly when a Democrat is in the White House.  The worst attack in US history happens under a right-wing administration and they spend years blaming the left and kowtowing them into obedience.  I don’t even want to think how dastardly they would be if an attack happened when a Dem was president.  Goodbye free society and civil liberties.

Look Who Wants Some Preconditions Now

From WaPo:

In recent interviews, advisers to Ahmadinejad said the new U.S. administration would have to pull U.S. troops out of Iraq, show respect for Iran’s system of rule by a supreme religious leader, and withdraw its objections to Iran’s nuclear program before it can enter into negotiations with the Iranian government.

“The U.S. must prove that their policies have changed and are now based upon respecting the rights of the Iranian nation and mutual respect,” said Mojtaba Samareh Hashemi, the president’s closest adviser.

This quotation from the article is getting along a buzz:

“People who put on a mask of friendship, but with the objective of betrayal, and who enter from the angle of negotiations without preconditions, are more dangerous,” Hossein Taeb, deputy commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, said Wednesday, according to the semiofficial Mehr News Agency.

It’s important to remember that Ahmadinejad is really just the mouthpiece for the Revolutionary Guards, one of the three factions in Iranian politics (reformers, conservatives, revanchist revolutionaries).  Obviously the reformers are a go on talks.  The Revolutionary Guards want to axe the possibility because it could very likely cause them a mass decrease in power (if a deal is set their future goose is cooked).  The question really is the Conservative Faction and most especially the Supreme Leader.  They hold the balance of power and can tip it in either direction.

The line about recognizing the Ayatollah leadership as a precondition most likely comes from that faction.  They are doing their bargaining in public beforehand.  Recall the line about how dealing with Iranian leaders is like dealing with Iranian carpet sellers.  Their first offer, whatever it is, you reject and threaten to walk out.

I think Obama might have rattled their collective Persian cages a bit with his line about them in his frist press conference.   Watching this one will be VERY interesting.  Mouse meet the new cat.  [Note to Feline-in-Chief: You have to wait until after the Iranian presidential elections next year for major negotiations].

Friedman on Iran

Mother and child Khouzestan Province Southern Iran.  Photo under Creative Commons License from Flick-er Mahi Teshneh (she’s got some beautiful work, check it out).

Really sharp op-ed this morning by Thomas Friedman, hooking up an option to negotiate from strength vis a vis Iran with his theory of petropolitics (that regimes are undermined during lower oil prices).

Here is why Iran was never the existential threat that McCain and Crew keep trying to make it out to be:

Under Ahmadinejad, Iran’s mullahs have gone on a domestic subsidy binge — using oil money to cushion the prices of food, gasoline, mortgages and to create jobs — to buy off the Iranian people. But the one thing Ahmadinejad couldn’t buy was real economic growth. Iran today has 30 percent inflation, 11 percent unemployment and huge underemployment with thousands of young college grads, engineers and architects selling pizzas and driving taxis. And now with oil prices falling, Iran — just like the Soviet Union — is going to have to pull back spending across the board. Fasten your seat belts.

Everything in foreign policy is not economic, but economics is part of everything.  The neocons have no sense of the global economy (see their response to Russia-Georgia).  Economics is part of every FP scenario.  They simply don’t get that fact.  And it leads them to hype powers who may be crumbling from within.

Published in: on October 29, 2008 at 9:04 am  Leave a Comment  
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Sullivan on Bipartisan Policy on Iran

Andrew Sullivan links to the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Recent Report on Iran-US relations.

Sullivan is against bombing and for engagement but his interpretation at the end I find wanting:

My core belief is that the Iranian people are on our side. The key is to somehow leverage them against their repulsive regime. It’s going to be very hard and very treacherous. But it’s the biggest national security challenge facing the next president.

It’s certainly true that the Iranian population (even post-Iraq) is the most pro-American population in the Middle East.  They are not Arabs, have a separate history and culture, have strong ties to the US via ex-pat families in the US (US pop culture is strong in Iran).

But Sulllivan goes astray when he states that the key is to “leverage” the population against the regime.  Granted the regime is repulsive and abhorrent.  But people do not exist for them to be used as leverage for our goals.  Especially in this case.  Nothing would more quickly hurt the chances of indigenous Iranian reformers than being seen as a fifth column for the US.

The issue is to deal with the regime, to see if the 30 years of bad blood (the hostages, the CIA murdering their president/overthrowing their government/backing the brutal Shah) can be buried.  The regime is given a clear choice between change of behavior and good to come from it (i.e. regime change off table, entrance into world banking system, recognition of their role as regional power, esp. in Iraq) OR war.

If you want sanctions, then target them at the big wigs, the elites with the military-industrial-clerical complex that is Iran.  Don’t target the population.  Putting the squeeze on them is not likely to start a revolution against the regime.  The regime is embedded very deeply.  They have to be dealt with and then a policy of containment, connectivity, and watch the system collapse.

And #2 contra Sullivan, the biggest national security threat facing the next president is Pakistan (not Iran) in terms of foreign policy and domestically possible catastrophic cascading failure in the economic sector leading to massive violence in the streets and/or the possibility of security breakdowns around non-linear climate events.

Reading Khamenei

New publication by Carnegie scholar Karim Sadjadpour.  Sadjadpour does what no one has done before–write a book based on Supreme Leader Khamenei’s writings and speeches.

Here is the link to video (and transcript) of a talk he gives on the book at the Carnegie Endowment.

Khamenei is the real power in Iran.  He uses Ahmadinejad to create some controversy/tough talk whenever the West threatens more action against the country.

Sadjadpour’s analysis is both in certain more fear-inducing and yet more hopeful (more realistically hopeful) than the media narrative.

He focuses on three issues with Khamenei:  relationship with US, Israel, and the nuclear issue.

1)US=deep, abiding contempt.  Not surprising:  he is still as Sadjadpour points out caught in the fights of the 60s/70s (sound famiilars in US pol contexts).  Khamenei when he was the understudy of Khomenei was imprisoned and tortured multiple times by the Savak, the CIA-trained security services of the Shah.  So the feeling is personal.

The really important point is that Khamenei sees (correctly in my mind) the policy as regime change and no change of external behavior would matter–unless regime change is taken off the table.

2)Israel=Similar deep contempt which Sadjadpour finds in some ways inexplicable.  [This is not the same as Iran is just waiting to bomb Israel the second it gets its hand, if and when, on a nuclear weapon]. For a great book on the Israeli-Iranian relations, cf Trita Parshi’s Treacherous Alliance.  During the time of the Shah of course, Iran and Israel were deeply allied.  Even after The Islamic Revolution, during the Iran-Iraq War, Iran and Israel had a backrooom anti-Saddam alliance.

vis a vis Israel, Khamenei would like to see a one-state solution (and not via cleansing of the Israelis) but rather a referendum, which given the larger number of Palestinians, he thinks would come out as to undo the (in Khamenei’s eyes) Zionist regime.  Tehran is the only city in the world essentially where the synaoguges are not protected/bunkered in.  Even here in Vancouver, the Synagogues are all highly gated, securitized.

Sadjadpour sees Khamenei’s anti-Israeli state stance as the biggest roadbloack to US-Iranian relations.

3)Nuclear issue.  Sadjadpour here thinks (as opposed to the other two) that either Khamenei is flat out lying or totally misinformed (which seems impossible).  Khamenei focuses on the themes of self-sufficiency, economic and religious justice, and the nuclear issue hits upon all of those–including the famously easily piqued Iranian self-identity.

Lastly on what to do vis a vis Iran.  Sadjadpour is not naive about how hard negotiations will be.  Unless something were to happen Khamenei, he is the leader for the near future.  Sadjadpour argues that after his death, if the Islamic Republic still holds (which I think is well entrenched at this point), there will be No One single Supreme Leader but a Council.

Attacks on Iran would be a disaster.  Iran’s popluation is still the most pro-American population in the Middle East.  And an attack would be only one of two things that would save Ahmadinejad’s presidency according to Sadjadpour.  The other would be talks BEFORE the Presidential Elections in Iran in June 2009.  So for those who support the talks–as in a Presidential level (e.g. Obama)–only after the elections.

Khamenei does not believe Iran can show any weakneess (sound familiar?) by giving into pressure.  So the regime change has to be off the table.  Deal with Khamenei (forget Ahmadinejad).  And offer carrots and not just sticks and go big or go home (or to war?).  Bury the hatchets, everything on the table.

Khamenei made a speech recently in which he stated, “The day Americans relations prove beneficial to Iran, I will be the first to approve it.”

The deal is to be struck, but not until after Ahmadinejad loses the presidential election.  Which minus the bombing scenario (either US or Israel–the all about certain McCain outcome) and dumbly wading into quickly on diplomacy (the Obama trap), he will lose next year.  Then the iron will be hot as Conservatives and Reformers (as opposed to the Radicals in the Ahmadinejad camp) will align to make a deal and Khamenei has signaled publicly he will back it.  Under the right conditions.

Click the link below for the pdf of Sadjadpour’s thesis (really excellent):sadjadpour_iran_final2

Here is a list of his articles/op-eds on Iran.


debate live thread

[All times Pacific Standard]

8:05 McCain’s preening-hood was on display at the beginning, but he did manage to modulate it (slightly).  McCain had some moments where he looked relaxed and in command of his facts/talking points.  But the repeated shots at Obama was not pretty.  What is clear to me over the psychodrama that is his campaign especially in the last 48 hours or so, is that for all this “Obama is the Messiah” talk (he’s an image, a dream, gives a good speech), it’s all driven clearly by the fact that Obama gets under McCain’s skin.  McCain can’t handle not being the media darling.  Jilted lover with the media.  (Que sera, sera I say).  Obama just thinks McCain is a honorable old fool.  He has the decency and good sense not to get personal as McCain wants to do.  Not flattering.

McCain’s viewpoint is very limited to the 20th century.  His crieria of who is ready to lead is totally predicated on his insider-carpetbagger-aristocrat background.  Obama certainly isn’t that, so he doesn’t pass the test (whereas Hillary would by McCain’s standards).

I don’t know ultimately how Obama will turn out as president (if and when).  But I do know that I supported him from the get go (way back like 20 months ago now) because I’ve always sensed he had a different insight than all the others.  Even the ones I like (like Biden).  That intuition I find borne out again tonight.  I’m willing to take that chance, not because I know for sure Obama is the greatest being ever or something but because the way of operating that the Boomers have done has served its time and is now over.  They can help in the new order. Lend a hand if Bob Dylan were singing about it (or get outta the way).  But whatever, the same can not do.  While I still have some serious policy disagreements with Obama (check the thread), I didn’t see anything to dissuade me tonight.  I saw Obama give what I think was his strongest debate performance by far to date.

8:00 One correction. I said that McCain was only interested domestically in tax & spending cuts. Forgot Nuclear Power. (Yippee!!!–isn’t that what the Iranians say they are building their reactors for? Oh nevermind).

7:38 The ending was pretty flat from both of them as I said earlier. But overall I have to give it to Obama. Especially during that middle portion. McCain showed that the only domestic agenda he cares about is spending and the only foreign policy is Iraq and Russia/Georgia.

Obama looked sharp and in control. McCain settled in towards the end I think but at the beginning was really jittery.

7:37 McCain gets the last line and it’s actually a pretty decent one: He knows how to heal wounds of war, deal with enemies, work with friends.

7:36 McCain came back to Reform, Peace, Prosperity. Haven’t heard that slogan (only one of 15 or so he’s had so far this campaign) for awhile. I think that was given the McCain Campaign, four iterations ago.

7:35 McCain says that the veterans know he will take care of them. Except that he voted against the last bill (and the Webb GI Bill).

7:34 But little mini-comeback by referring to global vision versus the tunnel vision-“all chips in” on Iraq that is Bush-McCain.

7:33 I don’t like Fear the Chinese Dragon lines here from BO. Almost as dumb as McCain’s League of Democracies/Fear the Autocracies. The balloon is going on both of them.

7:31 BS on McCain Alert. If we lose in Iraq, al-Qaeda will have a base there. Not uh when the Sunni Tribesmen, Shia gov’t/Army, and/or Kurds kill them dude.

7:29 Neither of them are very strong on the “Are We Safer Question?”. Did Obama just support Star Wars (er Missile Defense)? Haven’t heard that before. Ugh.

7:27 McCain taking credit for Homeland Security? You can have it. If Biden were here, he would blow his top on McCain’s suggestion that they have done most of the recommendations.

7:22 Thumbs down to Obama for Georgia/Ukraine NATO entrance. Apparently it was all Russian aggression now in the CW (Larison is probably head in hands now). No Georgian aggression.

7:21 McCain’s story about Abkhazia where he saw a poster Putin for President just undermined his whole argument about how it was Georgian territory. Apparently they thought it wasn’t Georgian territory.

7:13 McCain’s attempt at a joke/dig at Obama for a seal just bombed out. McCain doesn’t get the difference between preparation and precondition. A precondition is say “Unless you stop all nuclear activity you will not get to talk with us.” Preparation is we put the issues we will discuss on the table. I was five seconds ahead of him as on a few others.

7:11 He is going back to Axis of Evil. Iraq had no WMDs. North Korea gets the message that if you don’t have a nuke you get overthrown (minus a security agreement) and BOOM–Builds one. And Iran…..same thing?

7:08 oh shit. he just flipped Kissinger wanting to talk with Iran on McCain after McCain just cited Kissinger & Nixon go to China. BAM!

7:06 zing. Obama hits McCain on how you need China and Russia (which my esteemed colleague would admit are not democracies).

7:05 League of Democracies. If I had liquor nearby, that would be a triple shot. On to Iran….

6:54. McCain just mispronounced the name of the new President of Pakistan. And now we are going to have THE SAME SURGE in Afghanistan as in Iraq. W-T-F? Who are the Awakening in this version? The Shia?

6:53. Obama’s strong on Afghanistan in his answer (though I still harbor question his policy). McCain is answering about the 80s. He just said we couldn’t leave Afghanistan like we did after the Soviet War. Except that is exactly what happened when we went into Iraq. McCain has got nothing on Afghanistan.

6:46: Obama’s got a very good answer on the troop funding. Obama is the only one to see strategy as a beyond one country tunnel vision. Strategy as Overall Strategy.

6:41. What is up with McCain bringing up the no-hearings on Afghanistan. Really he is so petulant. Obama just needs to keep it cool. McCain just said Obama doesn’t know the difference between a tactic and a strategy. Hello pot, kettle here.

6:39: Allright. Onto foreign policy. McCain’s answer on Iraq just made no sense. The lesson from Iraq was we can’t have a failed strategy that we will cause us almost to lose. Except that the STRATEGY is elections, the push for national reconciliation, creation of strong central government, NOT THE SURGE. Sorry Johnny. The Surge did not change the STRATEGY. The Surge is a tactic pinned to the Strategy which exists only to serve the goal (unified democratic Iraq).

6:35: Obama is getting to the issue of values. This is smart imo. McCain only has his value as less government/less spending. I don’t know it plays in this economy. Republican economic deregulation orthodoxy–like none of this fallout just happened.

6:30 [PST]: I wasn’t expecting it go about budget hawk wonkery. Kinda weird and has essentially nothing with the Bailout.

6:27 [PST]: Good question from Lehrer. What can they not do post-bailout? Obama is dodging a bit. He says he is still going forward with health care, energy, education, infrastructure. I think he actually is right–i.e. those things have to be done–but where is the cash? Do we just bust the budget because you know the Republicans get the levers of power again, they will f it up again. And the Democrats always have to come in (a la Clinton) and have their agenda screwed via Republican monetary malfeasance.

6:21 [PST]: McCain is giving the US has the 2nd highest corporate tax rate we need to be more like Ireland. Except that it’s on the books as the 2nd highest, there are so many loopholes, that the payout is much lower. Obama just makes the same point.

6:20 [PST]: WTF is with McCain’s monomania against earmarks? Seriously. Seriously dude. Now you wanna pick this fight?

6:19 [PST]: Obama is quick to make sure he doesn’t get the tax raiser/big spender librual.

6:17 [PST]: oooh. interesting. Obama has got his numbers and is calling McCain out on tax cuts for the rich. He’s doesn’t want McCain to grab populist ground. Pretty shrewd.

6:14 [PST]: McCain has got his talking points ready. Spending, responsibility, increased gov’t (nice Great Society shot there). I don’t know how this plays. God he just said earmarks are a gateway drug (like pot?)–DRUG WAR on EARMARKS? The Bears in Montana? WTF? How does this have anything to do with the financial crisis?

Response to Reihan Re: Iraq

Andrew Sullivan highlights this (concluding) graf from Reihan’s new Current piece on Iraq:

Advocates of a continued American presence have much to answer for as well. Why is it that Maliki hasn’t made the necessary concessions? What can the U.S. do to encourage reconciliation that hasn’t been done? Has the economic strategy of the Iraqi government been adequate to the task of rebuilding the country? It was fair and reasonable to neglect these considerations during the struggle to bring Iraq back from the brink. But that neglect has proved very costly indeed.

Let’s go one at a time on this:

1)Why hasn’t Maliki made the necessary concessions?

–Because in his world, there are no concessions to be made.  The notion that he has to make “necessary concessions” is predicated on a certain view dictated by the United States as to what Iraq should look like.  This is the central flaw of the entire war, surge or no surge.  Maliki spent years in hiding from Saddam’s assassination forces and by all accounts is a quasi-paranoid individual (as would be normal under those circumstances I imagine).  He is a member of the Dawa Party who sees it role as defending the Shia in Iraq.  That is his job.  And he is doing it.  In Maliki’s world, either the Shia will run Iraq or the Sunni will take back over and return the Shia to the position of the powerless.

2)What can the US do to encourage reconciliation?

–Nothing. Neither staying (Salam) nor half-drawing down (Colin Kahl).  Nothing in my opinion.  See #1.  There is no encouragement because there is no desire for a deal.  If the US abandons the Shia in Iraq, they know Iran will have their back and Iran isn’t supporting some mass integration of the Sunni militias into the Iraqi security forces.

3)Has the economic strategy been adequate to the task of rebuilding the country?

–Again this assumes our understanding of what the country should be.  The economic policy, such as it is, has been correctly predicated on lining the pockets of the Shia elites to buy leverage so they can control power.  Because the Tribesmen want to fight the Shia gov’t.  The Shia mass underclass tends more to support Sadr.  In other words, they aren’t thinking about rebuilding the country.  They are thinking about ruling what’s left of it.

Reihan almost answers his own questions here, but I think backs away from the edge at the last second:

The trouble with Maliki’s vision is that it leaves no room for the Sunni Awakening. One increasingly gets the sense that Maliki sees the Sons of Iraq, one of many names for the various Sunni militias that have turned against the insurgency, as a threat. Which is entirely understandable — a proper state possesses a monopoly on legitimate force, and it makes perfect sense that he would eventually disband irregular militias. But the Sons of Iraq have no confidence that there will be adequate representation of Sunni interests in the new Iraqi state, and Maliki hasn’t exactly helped in this regard.

I don’t think it’s correct to say the Sons of Iraq turned against the insurgency.  They are the insurgency.  This has big implications.  Because what happened of course then was the US paid off these guys to stop fighting us and paid them to kill some jihadis, mostly foreign.  This necessary act undermined however the goal and strategy of the entire operation:  namely the creation of a centralized pan-ethnic government.  The fact that they were paid off by the US (against Maliki’s wishes) means that underneath they are still the insurgency against the Shia.  Against the government.  Just waiting for their moment.

Maliki knows this and that is why he is trying to preemptively neuter them.

While it’s true as Reihan states that Maliki distrusts the Sons of Iraq because any legitimate state in a Weberian sense wants a monopoly on force. But Reihan is missing a key point here.  The specific reason he distrusts this specific non-state militia is that leaders within the movement have professed that once they finish off al-Qaeda their next target is the Shia government.

In sum, the only (given the history, culture, ethno-religious makeup) way Iraq stays together with a strong central government is under a dictatorship–see Maliki’s recent heavy handedness not only with the Sunni but now with the Kurds.  The notion of a national reconciliation/strong central gov’t, constitutional democracy is not in the cards.  And still too many are thinking in terms of the US imposing its will–either through force or persuasion.  It ain’t happenin’.  It hasn’t happened in nigh on six years.  And it ain’t startin’ anytime soon.

Published in: on September 11, 2008 at 9:50 am  Leave a Comment  
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Meanwhile in Kurdistan

(H/t Juan Cole)

Remember Biden’s Three Scenarios for Iraq: 1)One side kills the other 2)Federalization/fragmentation 3)Return of a Tyrant.

Well the Kurdish government is now rethinking its backing of Maliki and is claiming he is the new Saddam.

The Iraqi Army and the Peshmerga (the Kurdish militia) are preparing to go to war with another. That would be two US allies btw. Remember that every time you hear the Fred Thompson’s of the world like last night proclaim at the Rep. Convention “we are winning” in Iraq. Who the F–k is We Dude? If the Iraqi Army and the Kurds fight each other who wins homes?

The Shia Arab v. Kurd fight involves where the Blue Line (the Kurdish Autonomous Regional Zone) exactly should be drawn vis a vis Khanaqin. [See the map under the green marked territory of Diyala north and slightly east of Baghdad].

Kirkuk is a powder keg ready to blow at a any second notice. That is a Sunni Arab v. Kurd fight but now is bringing in the Shia government because the Kurds backed Maliki on the premise that he would deal them Kirkuk for their support. The Kurds feel he is not moving quickly enough.

If there is a Scenario #4, it’s the Lebanonization of Iraq. The Kurd and Shia alliance has been the dominant force since the US invasion and if it breaks down, all hell will be loosed. There is no way the Iraqi Army can cross the Blue Line. That is the 54-40 or Fight Marker for the Kurds. They will war if the Iraqi Army crosses that border.

Maliki is balking at the Sunni tribesmen, the Mahdi Army, wants the US out, and now wants to start some stuff with the Kurds. This could break up along all kinds of lines. Weird temporary alliances. Arab vs. Kurds. Shia Group 1 with Sunni Group 2 versus Shia Group 2 & Sunni Group 1.

The Kurds would likely turn to the Sunni if they fought the Shia except that they want to cleanse Kirkuk of the Sunni. So there could be a pan-Arab (Shia and Sunni) versus Kurd battle. I don’t know, but it’s going to get very ugly very quickly I’m worried.

[Added snark: Think Sarah Palin can explain this fight and what to do about it?]

Published in: on September 3, 2008 at 9:10 am  Leave a Comment  
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