Archive for the ‘Iraq’ Category

Egypt: Reason for Optimism

Sunday, February 13th, 2011

Given the recent chaos in the Egypt, the short term outcome has been about as positive as one could hope to expect. Authoritarian strong man Hosni Mubarak was forced to leave office with little violence. The military has taken control providing stability and vowing to honor peace agreements with Israel, accompanied with the realistic hope of early elections. However, the final outcome of revolutions is difficult to predict with certainty. The American and French Revolutions occurred in the same era and employed much the same language. The American Revolution brought us George Washington, while the French Revolution resulted in Napoleon Bonaparte.

Fortunately, we have experience over the last hundred years or so that points to optimism in the case of Egypt. This case for optimism must overcome some serious concerns. Although the peaceful revolution came from the streets, that the radical Muslim Brotherhood did not seem to lead, they are perhaps the most organized and passionate party. One could easily imagine that they use the current instability to move Egypt to a theocracy rather than a liberal democracy. Moreover, if Zogby is to be believed, Egyptians cling to some disturbing ideas. About 90% believe that Israel is a threat to them, and a strong majority believe åçthat clerics should play a larger role in government. However, consider the reason for optimism.

The number of democratic countries has exploded. Polity IV, of the Center for Systemic Peace and Colorado State University, scores countries on a scale of -10 to 10, where -10 is an hereditary monarchy and +10 is a stable democracy. The plot below shows the number of countries scoring higher than eight from 1800 to 2003. Clearly, while not always successful and with setbacks, the move to governments underpinned by the consent of the governed is Zeitgeist of the last century or so.

Studies of this growth in democracies suggest that economic development and the presence of a middle class are the determining factors on longevity. A 1997 study by Adam Przeworski and Fernando Limongi of the world from 1950 to 1990 concluded that if the per capita income of a fledgling democracy was less than $1500, the democracy had a life expectancy of less than 10 years. Above $6000 in per capita income, a democracy essentially lives indefinitely. Indeed, they found that the “relation between levels of development and the incidence of democratic regimes’’ could explain 77% of the observations. Some of the deviations from the relation have to do if the wealth is associated with a middle class. In cases where a country’s wealth comes primarily from natural resource extraction as opposed to more diversified commerce, per capita income did not necessary translate into a middle class.

Egypt currently has a per capita income of $6200. Even with inflation, this gives Egypt a reasonable chance of achieving a long-term democracy. Despite wide-spread poverty, if the middle class is large enough the tendency to authoritarian rule can be mitigated. The depressing part of this sort of analysis is not related to Egypt. Iraq and Afghanistan have a per capita incomes of $3600 and $1000, respectively. The prospect of long-live democratically-based regimes in these countries would appear to be dependent upon rapid economic growth.

Does Dowd Miss Bush Now?

Sunday, August 22nd, 2010

It is hard to remember the euphoria, particularly on the part of the Left and the Left’s spokes people when President Barack Obama was inaugurated into office in 2009. There was weariness and apprehension after President George Bush’s eight years and the new president came into office amid hope and approval percentages approaching 70%. With a struggling economy, an unpopular health care program, and a number of missteps, Obama’s approval has quickly submerged below 50%.

When Obama was inaugurated there was every reason for the Left to walk with a cheerful step in their gait, and little reason to be snarky. Some could not resist. Appearing on a news program, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, could not help but nod in knowing agreement with the interviewer that the “nightmare” was over. She compared Bush’s leaving office to the feeling of lightness and relief when an exorcist manages to cast away evil spirits. According to Dowd, Bush was the president who let New Orleans drown and trumped up the Iraq War.

Post-presidency, Bush has exhibited more class than his critics, remaining largely silent, letting the current president govern without the second-guessing of a previous president. Bush showed this admirably restraint even as Obama has been quick to blame current economic woes on his predecessor, after more than eighteen months and a trillion dollar stimulus package that hasn’t seemed to jump start the economy as promised.

Now that Obama has grossly mismanaged the controversy about the potential construction near ground zero, with a muddled message, Dowd wants Bush to pull Obama’s bacon out the political flames. Dowd writes:

“The war against the terrorists is not a war against Islam. In fact, you can’t have an effective war against the terrorists if it is a war on Islam. George W. Bush understood this. And it is odd to see Barack Obama less clear about this matter than his predecessor. It’s time for W. to weigh in. This — along with immigration reform and AIDS in Africa — was one of his points of light. As the man who twice went to war in the Muslim world, he has something of an obligation to add his anti-Islamophobia to this mosque madness. W. needs to get his bullhorn back out.’’

It would have demonstrated more charity than Dowd can apparently could muster to have made similar acknowledgments as Bush was leaving office. Now it just appears as uncharacteristically obsequious praise to urge Bush to do Dowd’s bidding. Perhaps she can increase the praise ante by also agreeing that the recent removal of combat troops from Iraq, on Bush’s negotiated schedule, was a consequence of the successful surge strategy. This was a strategy she previously mocked as a “girdle,’’ and once “Peaches Petraeus, as he was known growing up in Cornwall-on-Hudson, takes the girdle off, the center will not hold.’’

Dowd is tone-deaf if she believes that the opposition to the mosque is anti-Muslim. In this way, she mimics Obama’s style in always assuming the worst motives for those who disagree with her. Could there not be people legitimately concerned that the mosque was built as a trophy of the 9/11 attacks as people as reputable and knowledgeable and with as much moral authority as Ayaan Hirsi Ali suggest? Is it not legitimate to ask, if the purpose of the mosque and community center is to encourage healing and reconciliation, that mosque backers be sensitive to the feelings of people who they are ostensibly building a bridge to?

In the 2009 interview, Dowd made one accurate observation. The American people look to their leaders to represent their values and are displeased when the leaders do not. In the case of the mosque, most are not pleased with Obama. Dowd blames the two-thirds of Americans who wish that the mosque be built a littler further away from the place where radical Islamists killed more 2700 in the name of Islam.

Petraeus’s Sweet Revenge

Sunday, June 27th, 2010

We noted here several months ago that Vice President Joseph Biden was claiming Iraq as an Administration success. We argued then that we know that a policy has been a success when everyone claims credit for it. Before Democrats were in agreement that George Bush’s surge policy in Iraq would not work and would increase violence. When the exact opposite happened, the first response was to argue that Iraq would have improved under any circumstances in spite of anything that Bush did. The final end to the cycle is when the original opponents to the policy claim credit for its results.

We have additional evidence this week of the consensus that the surge worked. In light of the intemperate remarks of General Stanley McChrystal with regard to civilian leadership, President Barack Obama appointed General David Petraeus, the architect of the surge strategy in Iraq, to command US efforts in Afghanistan. Certainly, if Petraeus’s signature policy, the surge in Iraq, had been a failure or at best an accidental success, there would have been little reason to place such trust in Patraeus.

The success of Barack’s foreign policy will be in large measure dependent on success in Afghanistan which in turn is dependent on the military and political competence of Patraeus. The irony is that in 2007, when Patraeus appeared before Congress in defense of the surge policy,, ran an ad asking “General Petraeus or General Betray Us?” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, then Senator Clinton, refused to condemn the ad. Then Senator Obama also refused to condemn the ad unless other ads were condemned.

Patraeus proves that competence and success are the sweetest revenge. Given Patraeus’s stature, it seems that he could push Afghanistan policy in any direction he feels appropriate. If he chose to resign rather than implement an Obama policy he does not believe in, any failure in Afghanistan would resound on the Obama Administration.

Not Atticus Finch, Not Even John Yoo

Sunday, March 14th, 2010

There is a noble tradition in the legal community to provide legal aid pro bono for ill-disposed defendants unable to secure legal representation. The archetype attorney is this regard is  the fictional Atticus Finch in  Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mocking Bird. Atticus Finch engaged in a professional and vigorous defense of Thomas “Tom” Robinson, a black man wrongly accused of raping a young white woman. Finch defended Robinson despite the fact that the defense earned him the anger and disapprobation of his community. Why Did Finch defend Robinson? Most probably from a conviction that Tom’s was innocent. Perhaps  Finch believed that, innocent or not, criminal defendants are entitled to a defense. Perhaps Finch believed that the procedures used against Robinson violated his rights. Most readers of To Kill a Mockingbird would believe that all three factors were involved.

For an attorney to seek a case,  pro bono, when not directed by a court is a deliberate choice. It is a choice that involves a commitment of resources and time. Hence, the nature of the choice says something about the priorities, perspectives, and beliefs of the attorney. This issue has recently been raised with respect the attorneys selected by Attorney General Eric Holder. Apparently, seven of these attorneys defended detainees at Guantanamo Bay. Eric Holder has refused to disclose the names of these political appointees (not civil servants).

Now there are any number of reasons that these attorneys were involved in these cases. They may have been directed by the firms to do so. They could have believed in the innocence of those involved. They could have believed that the detainees ought to be tried in civilian rather than military courts. There are a host of possible reasons. Defending someone certainly does not imply any sympathy for the underlying crime or even a belief on the part of the attorney that the argument used for defense is ultimately valid.

If, however, these choices were made because the attorneys had a disagreement (perhaps a very reasonable ones) with US policy, this disposition is certainly a subject of reasonable inquiry. If these attorneys — now political appointees — are of the legal opinion that, for example,  people seized overseas by the military are criminals rather than prisoners of war that does not make them bad people sympathetic to the Taliban. But it does make their positions legitimate political issues and indicative the Administration’s policy with regard to detainees.

If Attorney General Eric Holder believed that this politically-appointed attorneys had a popular legal approach with regard to detainees, he would not be shy about their names and positions. Holder’s reluctance to publicly name his staff is a concession Holder’s conviction that the positions of his appointees might be  politically difficult to defend. Atticus Finch had the courage to publicly stand behind his choices, not hide behind anonymity.

In To Kill a Mocking Bird, Atticus Finch stood up against his life-long friends and neighbors to defend Tom Robinson. Although some of the attorneys hiding in the Department of Justice may be politically embarrassed now, among their professional peers at large firms, their was a mad scramble to get “street creds” by challenging the Bush Department of Justice.

Bill Kristol and Liz Cheney are over the top in referring to the lawyers at the “Al Qaeda Seven,” perhaps implying a sympathy with Al Qaeda. However, this criticism is far milder than the  attacks experienced by John Yoo, the attorney who wrote legal analysis for the Bush Administration, on the what what is or is not torture. John Yoo is willing to not only to be public about his opinions, but for making his best efforts he was accused in the popular press of war crimes and awarded a DOJ Office of Professional Responsibility investigation run by Obama politically appointees in the DOJ. It took a career a DOJ attorney, David Margolis, to counterman the recommendation that Yoo be referred for disbarment.

It is very legitimate to criticize Yoo on his legal opinions, just as it is legitimate to critique the policy perspectives of the current DOJ political appointees after they emerge from behind the skirts of AG Eric Holder. But Yoo, who is willing to publicly argue for his positions, must do so in an environment that requires real intellectual courage.

Iraq Victory Has a Thousand Fathers

Sunday, February 14th, 2010

On January 10, 2007, then Senator Barack Obama expressed his opposition about a US troop surge in Iraq to create a security window within which the Iraqis could begin secure their own country, `’I am not persuaded that 20,000 additional troops in Iraq is going to solve the sectarian violence there. In fact, I think it will do the reverse.”  This was not an off-the-cuff analysis offered without serious consideration.. Four days later, Obama he explained:

“We cannot impose a military solution on what has effectively become a civil war. And until we acknowledge that reality — we can send 15,000 more troops, 20,000 more troops, 30,000 more troops, I don’t know any expert on the region or any military officer that I’ve spoken to privately that believes that that is going to make a substantial difference on the situation on the ground.”

That same month, 86 Americans and 1800 Iraqis were being killed in Iraq. The surge was not in place until the summer of a 2007, and by that time nearly 2,000 Iraqis and 100 Americans were loosing their lives each month. But Obama was certain “…that the surge has not worked and we will not see a different report eight weeks from now.”

By the time President George Bush left office, American service deaths were down to 16 per month, many of these were non-combat related. Perhaps more impressively, Iraqi civilian casualties were reduced by more than an order-of-magnitude. The situation had turned so dramatically, that the Bush Administration and the Iraqi government signed the Status of Forces Agreement, whereby American forces would leave Iraqi cities by June 30, 2009, and US forces would be completely out of Iraq by December 31, 2011.

Reluctant to give the Bush Administration credit for its judgment but required by events to concede the improvement in Iraq in late 2008, Barack grudgingly offered that, “I think that the surge has succeeded in ways that nobody anticipated — by the way, including President Bush and the other supporters. It has gone very well.” May all presidents be praised with the assessment that their policies were more successful than even they expected.

However, this last week came the final turn around when Vice-President Joe Biden claimed credit for the success in Iraq when he said,

“I’m very optimistic about — about Iraq, and this can be one of the great achievements of this administration. You’re going to see 90,000 American troops come marching home by the, uh, end of the summer. You’re going to see a stable government in Iraq that is actually moving toward a representative government.”

This was particularly amusing coming from Joe Biden’s mouth (an orifice through which many odd words have passed). Biden’s solution had been to divide Iraq into three. As President John Kennedy famously quipped,“Victory has a thousand fathers, but defeat is an orphan.” Biden’s proud assertion of achievment put Iraq in the category of victory, when everyone claims credit for it. When things go badly like the economy, it was Bush’s fault. When things go well its the Obama Administration that succeeded.

Even after the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet Union collapsed, the Left refused to acknowledge that President Ronald Reagan’s policies were part of the cause of that victory. Despite, what the Left was saying in the 1980s, we are now told that the Soviet Union was ready to collapse of its own weight and Reagan was just fortunate to be president at the time. Whatever Reagan’s  policies their effect was imposed over a decade so any  cause and effect are more difficult to link. In the case of Iraq, violence was growing so rapidly in 2007 and was quelled so quickly after the surge that therelationship between the surge and the improvement in Iraq is impossible to deny. While the surge may not have been a sufficient condition for the improvement in Iraq, it was certainly a necessary one.