Permissible Arms

And then they’ll make more news.

Posted in afghanistan, africa, american media, japan, united nations by Karaka on 6 May 2010

As a follow up to yesterday, Okinawans respond to PM Hatoyama’s walkback:

Mr Hatoyama made a fundamental mistake by promising something he knew he couldn’t do. He did that just so that he could win the election. He misled the people of Okinawa, he raised their expectations, he gave them an empty hope.

Relocation might be an option, but the problem is that no-one will accept a US base relocating to their backyard. For instance, the government proposed relocating part of the base to Tokunoshima island and there was an outcry from the local population who refused to accept it. A relocation is not going to achieve anything, it will only antagonise a different group of people.

I do think Hatoyama has lost a good chunk of political credibility. It’s a shame, considering he’s viewed as the ascendancy of the DPJ. They’re off to a rocky start.

Things I’ve been reading:

And I’ve been finishing up my March/April Foreign Affairs; it’s remained readable despite its unfortunate whiskey incident:

But I’ve been engrossed in other things and hadn’t gotten around to it. Next up, the whiskey free May/June FA. (Stupid Foreign Policy still hasn’t shown up. That is the single most delayed paper mail subscription I’ve ever had.)

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All I know is that I don’t know nothin’

Posted in afghanistan, united states, us military by Karaka on 27 April 2010

I haven’t posted about Afghanistan in awhile, due in large part to how much I was reading about it, and due in small part to, you know, not really posting much over the last several months. Afghanistan is in many ways an exercise in continued education for me. No matter how much I read, contemporary or historical, I doubt I will ever be fully versed in the subject. I just find it so damned fascinating.

For example, I had no idea until recently that bodybuilding was such a beloved sport (is it a sport? I’ve never really grasped that either, you don’t really do anything except stand and flex) in Afghanistan. I could sort of work out the attraction of hypermasculinity in such a resoundingly patriarchal culture transitioning from traditional shows of physical force into less violent ones. (That’s my armchair anthology for the day.) But it doesn’t really matter if I get it–the competition for “Mr Afghanistan” is entirely serious.


FP has several more images available here.

Say what you want about Michael Yon, but the man sure can take a bloody picture. Whatever ridiculous controversy is being stoked around him and his Facebook page–seriously?–his most recent report from Afghanistan out of Kandahar was compelling and visually stunning as always.

Speaking of Kandahar, I saw this headline from S&S and wondered if Michael Cohen was laughing darkly into his coffee this morning. Battle for Kandahar may be tougher than expected :

The drive this summer to secure Kandahar was supposed to build on the success of the much smaller Marjah operations.

But so far the U.S. and NATO haven’t achieved their goals in Marjah, military and civilian officials said, as the government has been slow to provide services and villagers have not rallied in large numbers to the Kabul-based government.

“We’re still moving forward more slowly than the people would like,” Mark Sedwill, NATO’s senior civilian representative, said on a trip to Marjah this month.

And then this morning came news of yet another in a too-long series of attacks on Western personnel in Kandahar City (good overview in this morning’s AfPak Channel brief). Ahmed Wali Karzai has declared his support for the effort, which I suppose means something coming from Don Corelone, the Afghan Variation.

This, to me, puts Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s WP article on the U.S. training Afghan villagers to fight the Taliban into some curious perspective. Bearing in mind that the Arghandab District is located just outside Kandahar City, Chandrasekaran writes:

The goal was to win support for a program that was hatched at a Pentagon City sports bar last year by Special Forces Lt. Col. David S. Mann and Seth Jones, a Rand Corp. political scientist who focuses on Afghanistan. They questioned whether the United States and NATO were missing an opportunity by concentrating so many resources on building up the national police, the army and other formal institutions, arguing that the Afghans should try to re-create the informal village-level defense forces that existed in parts of the country when it was a monarchy.

Mann and Jones’s plan, which senior U.S. commanders endorsed, seeks to allay fears that the effort will breed militias: The forces are not paid or given weapons, and to minimize the risk of warlordism, they are supposed to be under the authority of a group of tribal elders — not just one person.

-and-

It has taken three months of intense effort by one detachment to turn around — for the moment — just one village. Although there are several dozen detachments in Afghanistan, not all of them could be reassigned to this task. And even if a few dozen villages were flipped, it might not have the hoped-for strategic impact.

Among members of the village defense force here, however, questions of growth are less important than what happens once the flow of U.S. cash ends. Will the group demobilize? Or will it, like so many other armed outfits in Afghanistan’s history, morph into something larger and more troublesome?

Nasarullah, the local elder, insists that he does not have the money, or the desire, to sustain the effort himself. Even the members do not regard their current roles as a permanent occupation. Some said they would like to join the police. Others said they will go back to their farms.

“I am only doing this for my village,” said Zahir Jan, who owns a small shop in Kandahar that he has entrusted to his brother while he serves in the defense force. “I am looking forward to the day I can put my gun down. But that day has not arrived.”

I finally bought a copy of Burgoyne and Marckwardt’s Defense of Jisr Al Doreaa, and read The Fifth Dream this morning on my way to work. The last lesson of the chapter is succint and to the point:

16. Transition is primary! To achieve lasting success, the security and government functions of your area of operations must be transferred to local security forces and local government officials.

Now, most any response would note that those local security forces are probably supposed to be a nation’s police force rather than armed neighbourhood watch programmes. But does the Special Forces outfit have the right idea in this particular situation? Still contemplating that one.

Meanwhile in Kandahar City, COIN and humanitarian aid do their slightly awkward dance while trying to keep the lights on for the city’s residents.

USAID officials have asked military commanders to deploy more troops to the Kajaki area so construction can resume. But the question of whether the dam should be a focus for military forces centers on different interpretations of what it means to protect the population, the buzz phrase of counterinsurgency strategy. To the military, it means concentrating troops where the people are — in and around Kandahar. But to some civilians, it makes sense to put forces in less-populous areas if they can secure an important public resource.

Military and civilian officials also remain divided over whether increasing electricity in Kandahar will have a substantial effect on the security situation there. Military officers in southern Afghanistan maintain that if residents’ power supply increases, they will have a better opinion of their government and employment will increase, which will help to marginalize the Taliban.

The top NATO commander in southern Afghanistan, British Maj. Gen. Nick Carter, said increasing power in the city will produce a “head-turning moment” among residents and will lead them to rally behind the Afghan government.

I did some reading up on the Kajaki Dam last year (there are some fascinating pictures out there of the dam’s original development by the British in the 1950’s) and NPR has a decent rundown of the power (bad pun, sorry) struggles behind getting it refurbished and keeping it running, from about three years ago. Seems like this would be a COIN project clearly in line with the ideals of the doctrine, but there are a lot of different entities pulling the strings there.

All this, and then last Friday NATO and the US agreed to start handing various authority mechanisms back to the Afghan government:

“Increasingly this year the momentum will be ours,” said NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen. He said the transition to Afghan control is important to demonstrate not only to Afghans but also to the Western countries fighting there that an end to the war is in sight.

“Our aims in 2010 are clear: to take the initiative against the insurgents, to help the Afghan government exercise its sovereignty, and to start handing over responsibility for Afghanistan to the Afghans this year,” Fogh Rasmussen said. He added, however, that even if the transition unfolds as expected it will takes decades of additional assistance for Afghanistan to stand on its own.

Sedwill said the first provinces to be transferred to government control would likely be in the north and west, where the Taliban is less active. And he said the idea is to hand over a cluster of contiguous provinces at the same time to increase the odds of their withstanding the insurgents.

Clinton warned of a hard road ahead, but said she was not discouraged by the obstacles.

Honestly, doesn’t this seem rather premature? I know, I know, 2011 deadline, et cetera. But there’s withdrawing troops and there’s banking a lot on an armed national force that suffers from a lack of military resources–both in [highly-trained] personnel and adequate supplies. It makes the local neighborhood watch look a little more appealing, honestly, if a bit less rule-of-law.

From the other side of the country, Greg Jaffe filed a report on the withdrawal of US forces from the Korengal Valley that I wish had gotten a bit more attention, because it’s a window into reticence and failure in Afghanistan, and maybe a hard lesson or two about the operation of COIN from the outset of a campain.

U.S. troops arrived here in 2005 to flush out al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters. They stayed on the theory that their presence drew insurgents away from areas where the U.S. role is more tolerated and there is a greater desire for development. The troops were, in essence, bullet magnets.

In 2010, a new set of commanders concluded that the United States had blundered into a blood feud with fierce and clannish villagers who wanted, above all, to be left alone. By this logic, subduing the Korengal wasn’t worth the cost in American blood.

The retreat carries risks. Insurgents could use the Korengal as a haven to plan attacks in other parts of Afghanistan. The withdrawal could offer proof to other Afghans that U.S. troops can be forced out.

The American hope is that pulling out of the Korengal rectifies a mistake and that Moretti’s troops can be put to better use stabilizing larger, less violent areas.

“You can’t force the local populace to accept you in their valley,” Moretti said. “You can’t make them want to work with us.”

Perhaps this is a case of cutting losses to focus on more troublesome spots that could turn into significant gains. Does returning Korengalis to their own authority count towards giving power back to Afghanistan? Because Korengalis sure don’t seem to have much contact with their own government. (The Big Picture published a gallery of photos taken in the Korengal Valley from 2008, which is very much from the soldier’s point of view, but is still relevant today.)

Finally, speaking of Seth Jones above (regarding the Special Forces training neighbourhood watch programmes), he has an article out in Foreign Policy this month analyzing the content of some recently published books on Afghanistan. I’m waiting for my paper copy to come into the mail, but my initial scan shows it to be interesting.

And if all this journalism on Afghanistan hasn’t stirred up something in you, well, maybe this guest post from Kabul Expat over at Registan will at least make you snort derisively in the direction of the Kabul news desks.

Don’t get bogged down with precise descriptions. Afghanistan is big: thirty-four provinces, 30-somehting million people who are too busy embezzling and warring and plotting your death to read your article. The country is full of booming cities, small market towns, lush farmlands, fishing villages and many other things, but your reader doesn’t care about all that, so keep your descriptions stark and sinister and imprecise. Never, under any circumstances, mention peaceful areas like Bamiyan, except on those rare occasions you need a line or two about Buddha statues.

See, this is why I should post more about Afghanistan. I have too much to say. And read.

Radio Free Everything

Posted in counterinsurgency, intelligence, isaf, united states, us defense, us military by Karaka on 15 March 2010

Good grief. Let’s try this again.

I’m sure everyone who (maybe, still) reads this blog has gotten their hands on some or all of Foreign Policy’s War Issue, but in case you haven’t here’s a pdf copy of the magazine.

There’s a lot of interesting stuff in there (as well as a dreadfully long multipage advertisement for Brazil that I really could have lived without paying for), written by names that will be familiar to anyone who reads in the field regularly; but the article that caught my attention was John Arquilla’s argument for a new mode of warfare for the American military structure. Delightfully, the article is available in full here. It’s worth your time to read.

However, there are two points I think Arquilla misses; or rather, the focus of his article prevents him from touching on these two points, and I think they’re worth bringing up. First:

A networked U.S. military that knows how to swarm would have much smaller active manpower — easily two-thirds less than the more than 2 million serving today — but would be organized in hundreds more little units of mixed forces. The model for military intervention would be the 200 Special Forces “horse soldiers” who beat the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan late in 2001. Such teams would deploy quickly and lethally, with ample reserves for relieving “first waves” and dealing with other crises. At sea, instead of concentrating firepower in a handful of large, increasingly vulnerable supercarriers, the U.S. Navy would distribute its capabilities across many hundreds of small craft armed with very smart weapons. Given their stealth and multiple uses, submarines would stay while carriers would go. And in the air, the “wings” would reduce in size but increase in overall number, with mere handfuls of aircraft in each. Needless to say, networking means that these small pieces would still be able to join together to swarm enemies, large or small.

I agree with Arquilla on this point, particularly that nothing offers a better model for networked warfare in contemporary history than special ops engagements in Afghanistan (and, rather to some extent, Iraq). But by virtue of using this conflict and the force applied to it, Arquilla doesn’t seem to embrace the secondary component that has proven necessary in Afghanistan where ISAF spec ops forces have intervened: stability.

“[W]ith ample reserves for relieving ‘first waves’ and dealing with other crises,” Arquilla says, but the very times special ops has worked in greatest favor in our modern wars as been when the original intervenors could be a continuous presence in the lives of the combatants they defeated and the civilians they end up protecting. I’m thinking specifically of The Mayor of Ar Rutbah and One Tribe at a Time, though there are many examples to draw from; while there are valid critiques of these strategies for dealing with insurgency specifically, and the larger field of warcraft Arquilla is describing in his article, there is a clear application to ongoing conflict that can act as a lens for future conflicts. It’s very clearly not enough just to embrace the effectiveness of swarming a conflict with a small, agile, networked band of soldiers. Those same soldiers either have to establish a kind of semi-permanency of themselves and the security they have created by defeating an enemy; or some authoritative organization, either native or foreign, has to establish itself in the wake of that success immediately, or that security is lost overnight.

But if the idea is to have small, mobile, highly effective units–essentially exponentially more special forces units–with the emphasis on mobile, how does one correlate that with the void left in the wake of success?

Second:

There’s real urgency to this debate. Not only has history not ended with the Cold War and the advent of commerce-driven globalization, but conflict and violence have persisted — even grown — into a new postmodern scourge.

Indeed, it is ironic that, in an era in which the attraction to persuasive “soft power” has grown dramatically, coercive “hard power” continues to dominate in world affairs. This is no surprise in the case of rogue nations hellbent on developing nuclear arsenals to ensure their security, nor when it comes to terrorist networks that think their essential nature is revealed in and sustained by violent acts. But this primary reliance on coercive capabilities is also on display across a range of countries great and small, most notably the United States, whose defense policy has over the past decade largely become its foreign policy.

Probably for good reason, Arquilla doesn’t discuss the other avenues the United States has for exploiting soft power. He’s talking specifically about the military, and intelligence services don’t cleanly align with the military. But it seems an odd exception to make when discussing the hard power inherent in most American military endeavors, because if there is one thing that has been made clear in the last seven years of America At War, it’s that intelligence is everything. Planes can’t drop bombs without a target. (Or, well, they can, but that road ain’t one I’m going down today.) If you act without intelligence, you go in blind, and in the last seven years and particularly the last eighteen months it’s clear that priority is placed on intelligence gathered by military personnel and the contacts they make in areas of engagement. And that intelligence is the difference between action and inaction. I don’t think the military is necessarily blind to this, and whatever problems there are in information sharing between departments, there has to be something getting through for anything to happen at all.

We may love our subs and our carriers and our fighter jets; but I don’t know that such love is necessarily at the expense of information.

Lists and POVs and Changes

Posted in afghanistan, american media, counterinsurgency, us military by Karaka on 30 November 2009

H/t to Starbuck for the link to Ricks’ Foreign Policy posting of what he considers to be the top ten minds behind COIN. A top ten anything is going to be contentious, and there’s a teeth-snapping discussion at SWJ which proves that rule.

The thing that stuck out to me, though, is that it’s an odd kind of meta-criticism of an argument already taking place, an argument Ricks is involved in. Sure, it starts a conversation, but…isn’t it the sort of sound-byte knowledge that is basic-level info for those who are into the discussion, and effectively useless for those who aren’t? Even if the point is to draw people who were less informed into the greater swath of discussion, Ricks hardly gives enough information about his list-picks for a good understanding of any one person’s position.

I don’t mean to pick nits, but even as a conversation starter, the post seems strangely third-person pov for such an immediate issue.

In the +1 to Ricks column, though, I did catch him on Weekend Edition on my drive back from taking Sister Pend and Bro-in-law Pend to the airport. He gave an interesting shading to Obama’s upcoming West Point speech that I hadn’t considered, points enumerated again in his blog. That was a nice surprise for a five AM drive.

I don’t really have anything to say about Exum taking a breather other than it’s a bit of a shame, but at least he’s not leaving a vacuum behind him. This is a truly wonderful community of thinkers and intelligencers and commentators, and Exum helped make that possible.

Things to read:

Veni, Vidi–then what?

Posted in afghanistan, isaf, united states, us defense, us military by Karaka on 4 November 2009

As we wait and wonder what number of troops will be allocated for the US engagement in Afghanistan, several pieces have come up all wondering the same thing: how will we staff this war?

In General Casey’s Doubts at FP, Robert Haddick touches on the real requirements of pulling 100k+ troops out of Iraq and upping tens of thousands in Afghanistan:

In May, prior to the Obama administration’s latest review of Afghan policy and McChrystal’s report, Casey declared the current deployment practice of “12 months deployed, 12 months home” unsustainable. The Army now considers a routine of 12 months deployed, 24 months home sustainable in the long run. The Army believes it can implement this routine if it limits its commitment to Afghanistan and Iraq to no more than 10 brigades.

But according to this open-source estimate of the current U.S. order of battle in Afghanistan, one Marine and six Army brigades are currently serving in Afghanistan. These seven brigades are part of the 68,000 U.S. troops in the country. McChrystal’s 40,000-soldier increase would bring the U.S. brigade count in Afghanistan to at least 11 and probably more.

Assuming the U.S. really does evacuate all of its troops from Iraq by the end of 2011, the Army and the Marine Corps would find a way to sustain the larger effort in Afghanistan while also increasing home-station time — assuming that this would be McChrystal’s final escalation of the war.

Paula Broadwell at KOW picks up the thread as it pertains to officers as well:

Retaining officers from all sources is essential to the health of our military. “Unlike the corporate sector, which can expand or contract quickly in response to market needs, pulling talent from various sources such as the military or various industries,” there is no lateral entry in the Army because our developmental structure and “industry-specific” training limit the ability of even a successful corporate leader to assimilate quickly into the culture.

The good new is that the Army is no longer hemorrhaging junior officers, due in part to the state of the economy and incentives like the G.I. Bill. But the underlying bad news is that it is only holding steady at a rate that is 15-20% under required strength, and there is no comprehensive Army strategy to correct the market.

Good stuff in the comments there, too.

As Danger Room reports, the problem isn’t simply retaining existing personnel but recruiting new personnel:

More than three-quarters of the nation’s 17- to 24-year-olds couldn’t serve in the military, even if they wanted to. They’re too fat, too sickly, too dumb, have too many kids, or have copped to using illegal drugs.

The armed services are willing to grant waivers for some of those conditions – asthma, or a little bit of weed. But the military’s biggest concern is how big and how weak its potential recruits have become.

And it’s not only the military. The Department of State may be undergoing the beginnings of its QDDR, but there is a more immediate question, as Diplopundit notes: where will civilian staff come from?

2007 is still remembered by some as the year when a muddy “near-revolt” happened in Foggy Bottom and diplomats were publicly threatened with directed assignments to Iraq. Just about everyone enjoyed the target; this one was the only one I remembered who tried to understand the fuller picture.

In the waning days of Secretary Rice’s tenure at the State Department there was understandably a big do to separate facts from myths (it’s harder than you think). AFSA tried to help. In it’s AFSANet message it also says that “Congress, at AFSA’s urging and with this Administration’s support, did include some FY-08 and FY-09 “bridge” funding for additional positions in the Iraq/Afghanistan War supplemental that was passed last summer. To our knowledge, State has not said how many new Foreign Service positions that funding permitted.”

In the long life of a bureaucracy, a well resourced agency like the Defense Department has hundreds of proud parents and godparents who can claim responsibility for its successes; but who claims responsibility for an underfunded/understaffed agency that must constantly wrestle with — well, people and paperclips?

Without Congress authorizing an increase in foreign service personnel, without the Department of State restructuring to provide more and easier in-roads for potential FSOs and other civilian positions into their ranks, there simply will not be, nor does really exist now, a class of trained, able civilian personnel to implement the necessary development programs in Afghanistan, or for that matter, Iraq.

If General McChrystal’s assessment is generally integrated into US foreign policy in the US under the Obama administration, and the terms of his project are implemented, there will be a significant need for human personnel, both military and civilian. But I wonder if the realism needed in assessing the situation in Afghanistan is not so much what can and should be accomplished in-country, but what can in fact be resourced by the US Departments of State and Defense with current recruitment and retention numbers. Or, put more simply, this graph courtesy Schmedlap via zenpundit:

And the Y axis is still under 100,000. There’s a lot of shortfall to make up on all sides.

I could be reading Shakespeare right now.

Posted in us politics by Karaka on 27 September 2009

I had the dubious pleasure of reading Paul Wolfowitz’s analysis of current foreign policy in the current issue of, well, Foreign Policy. (Link.) I know it came out six weeks ago, but seriously, the gall and idiocy and revision of history that this man is intent on portraying is shocking and abhorrent to me. Some thoughts in response. Warning: long. Warning: Wolfowitz is as hawkish and frustrating now as he was eight years ago.

Unquestionably, what makes realism seem so plausible today is skepticism about the war in Iraq and the belief that it was part of a crusade to “impose” democracy by force. I believe, to the contrary, that the purpose of the war was to remove a threat to national and international security. Whether the Iraq war was right or wrong, it was not about imposing democracy, and the decision to establish a representative government afterward was the most realistic option, compared with the alternatives of installing another dictator or prolonging the U.S. occupation. In Afghanistan, the same choice was made for the same reasons after the Taliban fell, and many realists not only supported that decision, but argued for putting even more effort into “nation-building.” This is not the place to reargue the Iraq war. So let’s stipulate that the issue here is not whether to use military force to promote changes in the nature of states; it’s about whether — and how — to promote such changes peacefully.

First of all, way to be unclear about whether that threat was Saddam Hussein or his mythical arsenal. I should think it’s pretty clear that Wolfowitz has had a hard-on for ousting Hussein from power since the Gulf War, and that Wolfowitz genuinely believes removing him from power was a valid reason for invading the Iraqi nation. Second of all, “the most realistic option” was to propagate a democratic system so fragile that international forces remain on the ground seven years post-invasion to secure an election? Excuse me if I am not convinced by this reasoning. I agree with Wolfowitz that the reason for the invasion was not to promote a democracy; no one in the administration gave a flying expletive for what happened after the Republican Guard was taken down and Saddam Hussein was captured. No, Wolfowitz, nation-building was not the goal. The goal was far more thuggish than that, and to gloss over such reasoning by claiming “this is not the place to reargue the Iraq war” undermines your very thesis, for without the pretext of nation-building there is nothing but schoolyard power plays to explain your pretext for war and invasion seven years ago.

Third of effing all, CAN WE PLEASE STOP COMPARING AFGHANISTAN TO IRAQ. It is a FALSE COMPARISON and you, sir, should know better.

U.S. foreign policy does indeed have multiple goals that must be balanced, but promoting reform is often one of them. Brutal regimes will not behave better if the United States speaks nicely about them. In fact, the perception of U.S. weakness in supporting its friends is a great disadvantage when negotiating with regimes like those in North Korea and Iran that are quick to perceive vulnerability. These states will negotiate — if they do — when they see it in their interest, not because the United States soft-pedals its differences. And eliciting this cooperation requires leverage. For example, Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi gave up his nuclear weapons program not because the Bush administration spoke nicely to him, but because he feared American will. Sometimes, the pressure for change that comes from a country’s own people or elites might be the United States’ best source of leverage on such regimes.

You know, “American exceptionalism” is not an excuse for undermining the governments of other countries. The sanctity of “American interests” does not insulate this nation from behaving in accordance with the accepted civility of most of the world’s nations. The United States comes out looking far more like Iran and North Korea in terms of brutish regime when it chooses by will to enter other countries and topple their governments.

I do acknowledge that the lives of the citizens of those countries are often ones led in poverty, fear, and abuse by the regimes that rule them. But we did not enter Afghanistan to liberate its people. We did not invade Iraq to address human rights violations. To claim otherwise is blatantly lying, and to insinuate that a show of American power and strength is valid reasoning for martial foreign policy is foolish, short-sighted, and as brutal as the regimes Wolfowitz claims to abhor. Promoting reform does not mean capturing a nation’s leader on trumped-up crimes. Promoting reform does not mean making up an excuse to enter a nation against that nation’s wishes. And promoting reform sure as hell doesn’t mean assisting in the ousting of the leaders of a nation to institute a democracy from the outside.

I am not naive; the United States has done this and more by the will not only of its President but by the representatives of its people in Congress. But that does not make it right. And past history does not make the argument any more valid today; in truth, it makes the argument less valid. Should we not learn from our mistakes? Must we be doomed to repeat them again, and again?

It is not uncommon to hear realists today arguing that Muslims don’t really want U.S. support for democracy, especially after the Iraq war. And yet, when Obama announced, during his important speech at Cairo University, that he would address democracy, his audience applauded before he could say another word. His three short paragraphs on democracy were interrupted twice more by applause — and then by someone shouting, “Barack Obama, we love you!” to yet more applause. Although the president spoke of “controversy” surrounding the promotion of democracy, his Arab audience welcomed this allegedly controversial subject with enthusiasm.

That a large audience in the heart of the Arab world is so eager to hear the U.S. president champion democracy is an important fact that any realistic foreign policy must consider. The Obama administration’s temptation to distance itself from its predecessor’s policies is understandable, but this shouldn’t mean abandoning the promotion of democratic reform.

Oh, fuck you, Wolfowitz. To claim that the reaction to Obama’s speech in Egypt, whose relationship to the West is at least as strong as its relationship to the Muslim world, is a purposeful obfuscation of the event. Egypt is one of a handful of representative governments in the Arab world, first of all, and while the Bush administration was very public about its dubious view of Egypt’s democracy it is in fact a republic. The fact that Obama received such a strong reaction to the subject of his speech spoke more to the Maṣreyyīn populace’s desire for more transparency and a refinement of their own democratic process than any high-minded pan-Arabic call for democracy across two dozen nations.

The best word for these two paragraphs is “appropriation,” an action which Mr Wolfowitz is very talented at doing.

“Promoting Democracy Is Dangerously Destabilizing.”

Not necessarily. Elections, even flawed ones, can be positive catalysts for change in autocratic states, as we saw in the Marcos case and during the recent events in Iran. It is true that elections are no panacea: The Bush administration was frustrated when terrorist groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah gained power through the ballot box. Elections alone don’t automatically produce the institutions needed to protect liberty and foster tolerance. But if there is risk in promoting democratic reform, there is also risk in doing nothing, which hurts America’s reputation as people see the United States acquiescing in their oppression.

RECENT EVENTS IN IRAN, AGAIN, DID NOT SERVE AS A CATALYST FOR CHANGE. And Iranians were not wroth at the re-election of Ahmadinejad per se; to borrow Hooman Majd’s argument, they were pissed off that their haq had been screwed around with. And furthermore, the election never addressed the true base of power in Iran, namely the Ayatollahs; so whatever the sweet hell he’s talking about with regards to Iran has no basis in reality.

And OF FLIPPING COURSE the Bush administration was pissed when political groups they considered terrorists ascended to power, but you know what we call that? DEMOCRACY, ASSHOLE. Jesus christ, can we get some definition of terms up in here? [Sorry for the allcaps. Sometimes there is no other way to convey one’s intense feeling on the inter-tubes.]

“As people see the United States acquiescing in their oppression.” Oh, please. See above as to why the United States should not simply saunter into a country and oust a government it doesn’t like; and any such action sure as hell has nothing to do with the United States Government’s concern about the human rights of the citizens of other nations. Not to be cynical, but when 13% of the United States own citizenry live in poverty, human rights is not a grave concern for this nation.

The goal should not be revolution, but rather evolutionary change. That’s the best chance for true long-term stability. Most of all, when opportunities for genuine reform open up, as is happening now not only in Iraq and Lebanon but also in Morocco and elsewhere, the United States should give reformers all the support that it can. Of course, the United States will depend on some Arab autocrats to help promote a peaceful settlement of Arab-Israeli issues — issues that constitute another, perhaps even greater, source of anti-Americanism. But the role those leaders play in any peace process will turn on hard calculations of their own self-interest, not the stance the United States takes toward reform.

Does support mean arming reformists or revolutionaries so they can send their country into civil war? Does it mean occupying a country until it pushes out a president despite massive election fraud and personal threats to its citizens? Does it mean using brute strength to depose a nation’s leader? Gee, I wonder what “opportunities for genuine reform” and “support” actually mean! Let’s dance around the words a little more.

And excuse me if I’m being willfully obtuse, but if the author chooses to criticize other nations’ self-interest yet privilege the self-interest of the United States, doesn’t that seem grossly hypocritical? Or are we just supposed to assume that American self-interest is, really and truly, the only self-interest that matters?

“Paul Wolfowitz Is a Utopian.”

No, I’m just being realistic. I’ve been called many things, and utopian is hardly the worst. Ironically, while “utopia” is Greek for “nowhere,” almost everywhere you look today you find people who share a belief in democracy.

Pardon my hysterical laughter. Utopian, noun: an idealistic (but usually impractical) social reformer. Oh, honey, it’s not the impracticalness that concerns me. It’s the blind zealotry, the absence of any understanding of the United States in relation to the rest of the world, the privileging of the United States over all other nations, and the “reform” that amounts to brutal, martial thuggishness in search of ill-defined, unpredictable, awful goals.

I don’t know what world Wolfowitz believes he in living in, but this glimpse at his worldview terrifies the crap out of me.

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