Archive for the ‘Iraq’ Category

The Pasty Little Putz, Dowd and Bruni

August 18, 2013

The Moustache of Wisdom and Mr. Kristof are off today.  In “Let Our Client Go” The Pasty Little Putz has a question:  If we don’t cut off our aid to Egypt now, when would we?  MoDo is whaling away on one of her little tin drums.  Obama gets a week off, since it’s the Clintons this week.  In “Money, Money, Money, Money, MONEY!” she also hisses a question:  Why don’t the Clintons ever have enough cash?  Mr. Bruni has decided to take a look at “The Past’s Future Republican.”  He says, FSM help us all, that Chris Christie, Ted Cruz and Rand Paul may be grabbing headlines, but Jeb Bush shouldn’t be forgotten, least of all by Republicans concerned about the party’s health.  Frank, honey, we barely survived the first two.  We need another Bush like a fish needs a bicycle.  Here’s The Putz:

In a simpler, more reasonable world, the government of the United States would have enough leverage in Cairo to put an end to the Egyptian military’s brutal crackdown on its Muslim Brotherhood opponents. We are, after all, the longstanding patron of Egypt’s generals; they are among our best-financed clients. We are the world’s sole superpower; their country is a needy basket case. We’re supplying them with $1.5 billion in aid this year; they can certainly use the money.

Instead, our impotence as Egypt burns is the latest case study in a reality that American statesmen should always keep in mind: Client governments are never as tractable as their patrons in far-off capitals expect, and a great power that thinks it’s buying influence is often buying its way into trouble instead.

This trouble can take a variety of forms. The most destructive is the longstanding tendency of client states to pull their patrons into needless wars. Sometimes the patron’s promise of support persuades the client to act recklessly, and then the patron ends up backing the recklessness because its own credibility is at stake. Sometimes the patron-client relationship just creates a closed circle of bellicose misjudgment. And sometimes the relationship inspires the patron to overestimate its client’s strategic importance and engage in an unwise or futile intervention.

Many of the 20th century’s crises were touched off or worsened by these kinds of great-power/client-state dynamics — between Russia and Serbia in 1914; between Stalin and Kim Il Sung in 1950 and Khrushchev and Castro in 1962; and between the U.S. and various South Vietnamese governments across our long Indochina debacle.

The problem is still with us today. The brush-fire war between Russia and Georgia in 2008, for instance, probably wouldn’t have happened if America’s patronage hadn’t made our Georgian allies overestimate their ability to engage in brinkmanship with Vladimir Putin. (Happily, John McCain’s half-cocked declaration that “we are all Georgians” was the closest we came to starting World War III on Tbilisi’s behalf.) And the 2003 Iraq invasion was shaped, in part, by perverse patron-client dynamics as well: it was both a continuation of Gulf War I, which was fought on behalf of our gulf-state clients, and an attempt to effectively replace those (highly problematic) allies with what various Bush-administration optimists hoped would be a new and very grateful client in the heart of the Middle East.

In Egypt today, the stakes are lower for the U.S., since we are unlikely to be dragged into a shooting war on the Egyptian military’s behalf. But that’s partially because we’ve given them enough weapons to do all the shooting for themselves. Which means our patronage has created a different kind of problem: Even absent an actual military footprint, we’ve been dragged permanently into Egypt’s domestic politics, where we’re seen — for understandable reasons as well as conspiratorial ones — as the real power behind whatever the state decides to do.

In the 1980s and 1990s, that seemed a price worth paying, since a bought-and-paid-for (and Israel-friendly) Egypt was preferable to either a hostile secular dictatorship in the style of Nasser’s regime or a hostile religious dictatorship in the style of postrevolutionary Iran. (Prerevolutionary Iran being another case, of course, where an American patron-client relationship ended badly for all concerned.)

The events of Sept. 11 made the price seem considerably steeper, since the terrorist attacks were, in part, a case of client-state blowback. Al Qaeda’s mission and worldview were forged in Egypt’s prisons, and the 9/11 plot itself was spearheaded by a young Egyptian, Mohamed Atta, who made no distinction between his country’s rulers and their American patrons.

Still, given the post-9/11 situation, it was understandable that our aid kept flowing and our close relationship endured. And it was understandable, too, that the Obama White House would hesitate to upset the relationship in the last few years, with Egypt in the throes of what seemed as if it might be a democratic revolution.

Now, though, the calculus has to change. Egypt is rolling back into authoritarianism along a track that’s soaked in blood. The cycle of crackdown-radicalization, crackdown-radicalization is likely to get worse, the cost of being intimately tied to the military regime is getting higher, and the window for demonstrating that America’s favor really is conditional is closing fast.

Right now, the Obama administration is trapped by its client state the way that great-power patrons often are. Because our aid to Egypt is our most obvious leverage over its military, and because we can really only pull that lever once, Washington is afraid to follow through and do it.

But leverage can be lost through inaction as well. If we can’t cut the Egyptian military off amid this blood bath, we’re basically proving that we never, ever will.

Far better to act like the superpower we are, and make an end. It’s time, and past time, to let this client go.

And now here’s MoDo’s latest rant (and she does love her little alliterations and plays on words, doesn’t she…):

Clinton nostalgia is being replaced by Clinton neuralgia.

Why is it that America’s roil family always seems better in abstract than in concrete? The closer it gets to running the world once more, the more you are reminded of all the things that bugged you the last time around.

The Clintons’ neediness, their sense of what they are owed in material terms for their public service, their assumption that they’re entitled to everyone’s money.

Are we about to put the “For Rent” sign back on the Lincoln Bedroom?

If Americans are worried about money in politics, there is no larger concern than the Clintons, who are cosseted in a world where rich people endlessly scratch the backs of rich people.

They have a Wile E. Coyote problem; something is always blowing up. Just when the Clintons are supposed to be floating above it all, on a dignified cloud of do-gooding leading into 2016, pop-pop-pop, little explosions go off everywhere, reminding us of the troubling connections and values they drag around.

There’s the continuing grotesque spectacle of Anthony Weiner and Huma Abedin. And there’s the sketchy involvement of the Clintons’ most prolific fund-raiser, Terry McAuliffe, and Hillary’s brother Tony Rodham in a venture, GreenTech Automotive; it’s under federal investigation and causing fireworks in Virginia, where McAuliffe is running for governor.

Many Israelis were disgusted to learn that Bill Clinton was originally scheduled to scarf up $500,000 to speak at the Israeli president Shimon Peres’s 90th birthday festivities in June. I guess being good friends with Peres and brokering the accord that won Peres the Nobel Peace Prize were not reasons enough for Bill to celebrate. The Israeli branch of the Jewish National Fund had agreed to donate half a mil to the Clinton foundation. Isn’t the J.N.F. “supposed to plant trees with donor cash?” Haaretz chided before the fund pulled back. “I guess money does grow on trees.”

I never thought I’d have to read the words Ira Magaziner again. But the man who helped Hillary torpedo her own health care plan is back.

In a Times article last week headlined “Unease at Clinton Foundation Over Finances and Ambitions,” Nicholas Confessore and Amy Chozick offered a compelling chronicle about an internal review of the rechristened Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation that illuminated the fungible finances and tensions between Clinton loyalists and the foundation architects Magaziner and Doug Band, former bag carrier for President Clinton.

You never hear about problems with Jimmy Carter’s foundation; he just quietly goes around the world eradicating Guinea worm disease. But Magaziner continues to be a Gyro Gearloose, the inept inventor of Donald Duck’s Duckburg.

“On one occasion, Mr. Magaziner dispatched a team of employees to fly around the world for months gathering ideas for a climate change proposal that never got off the ground,” Confessore and Chozick said.

We are supposed to believe that every dollar given to a Clinton is a dollar that improves the world. But is it? Clintonworld is a galaxy where personal enrichment and political advancement blend seamlessly, and where a cast of jarringly familiar characters pad their pockets every which way to Sunday.

“Efforts to insulate the foundation from potential conflicts have highlighted just how difficult it can be to disentangle the Clintons’ charity work from Mr. Clinton’s moneymaking ventures and Mrs. Clinton’s political future,” Confessore and Chozick wrote.

The most egregious nest of conflicts was a firm founded by Doug Band called Teneo, a scammy blend of corporate consulting, public relations and merchant banking. Band, a surrogate son to Bill, put Huma, a surrogate daughter to Hillary, on the payroll. Even Big Daddy Bill was a paid adviser.

As The Times reported, Teneo worked on retainer, charging monthly fees up to $250,000 and recruiting clients from among Clinton Foundation donors, while encouraging others to become foundation donors. The Clintons distanced themselves from Teneo when they got scorched with bad publicity after the collapse of its client MF Global, the international brokerage firm led by the former New Jersey governor Jon Corzine.

And Chelsea is now shaping the foundation’s future, and her political future. So there may not be as much oxygen for her troublesome surrogate siblings.

As George Packer wrote in The New Yorker, Bill Clinton earned $17 million last year giving speeches, including one to a Lagos company for $700,000. Hillary gets $200,000 a speech.

Until Harry Truman wrote his memoirs, the ex-president struggled on an Army pension of $112.56 a month. “I could never lend myself to any transaction, however respectable,” he said, “that would commercialize on the prestige and dignity of the office of the presidency.”

So quaint, Packer wrote, observing, “The top of American life has become a very cozy and lucrative place, where the social capital of who you are and who you know brings unimaginable returns.”

The Clintons want to do big worthy things, but they also want to squeeze money from rich people wherever they live on planet Earth, insatiably gobbling up cash for politics and charity and themselves from the same incestuous swirl.

And now here’s Mr. Bruni’s thinking on yet another Bush:

Let Rand Paul have his epic filibuster and Ted Cruz his scowling threats to shut down the government. Let Chris Christie thunder to a second term as the governor of New Jersey, his hubris flowering as his ultimate designs on the White House take shape.

Jeb Bush, lying low in the subtropics of Florida, has something they don’t: the unalloyed affection of many of the Republican Party’s most influential moneymen, who are waiting for word on what he’ll do, hoping that he’ll seek the 2016 presidential nomination and noting with amusement how far he has drifted off fickle pundits’ radar, at least for the moment.

Politics today has a shorter memory than ever. It also has a more furious metabolism, which Bush hasn’t fed much since March, when he was promoting a new book on immigration and created enormous confusion about whether he does or doesn’t support a pathway to citizenship for immigrants who came here illegally. (He later clarified that he does, with caveats, and even later praised immigrants for being “more fertile.”) That awkwardness gave some of his supporters pause, as they wondered whether he’d been too long out of the fray and was too clumsy for the split-second hyperscrutiny of the Twitter era. He hasn’t run for anything since 2002, when he was re-elected as the governor of Florida, an office he left in early 2007. A whole lot has changed since.

But with the exception of that immigration mess, Bush has been a more articulate advocate of a new tone and direction for the Republican Party than have Paul, Cruz, Christie or others currently in the foreground of the 2016 race, which has already begun, on both sides of the aisle. (Hillary Clinton gave a big policy speech last week and has another already announced.)

He has signaled more willingness for fiscal compromise with Democrats than Paul Ryan and Marco Rubio, for example, have. He has rightly emphasized the importance of social mobility to America’s fortunes and has rightly sounded an alarm that such mobility is on the wane.

At 60, he’s older than any of the five potential Republican presidential candidates I’ve already mentioned or than Scott Walker (don’t forget him), Bobby Jindal or Rick Santorum. His face is less fresh, thanks largely to a surname shared with the party’s last two presidents.

But here’s the first great irony, oddity, oxymoron or whatever you want to call it of the 2016 race: if Republicans care about safeguarding their future, their wisest and best bet may be to reach back into their past. In a pack not exactly brimming with moderate, sensitive voices, Bush’s stands out as less strident, more reasonable and more forward-looking than his potential rivals’.

Lately the news media’s attention has focused on Paul, Cruz and especially Christie, who was just on the cover of New York magazine and has drawn headlines with veiled and unveiled swipes at fellow Republicans. He’s serving notice, as he did with his embrace of President Obama during Hurricane Sandy, that he puts less stock in party etiquette or ideological purity than in the practicalities of governing and the necessities of winning.

But he’s also scaring some Republican power brokers, and not solely or even mainly because he’s iconoclastic. It’s because he’s so very loud, so very proud, a ticking time bomb of self-congratulatory bellicosity and gratuitous insult. Would he really be the best nominee?

In a meeting with Republicans in Boston last week, he prematurely lashed out at several possible competitors, including Jindal, whom he no doubt had in mind when he reportedly said, “I’m not going to be one of these people who’s going to come and call our party stupid.” No, Christie’s much, much too tactful for that.

Bush has registered concern with the way the party can come across as “anti-science.” He has also referred to it as “the party of no,” correctly noting that Republicans right now are defined negatively, by all they’re against.

So what is he for? He talks extensively about educational opportunity, grounded in school choice. He has called for a “patriotic energy security strategy” that diminishes our reliance on foreign oil by more thoroughly tapping domestic sources of oil and natural gas. He’ll need a broader agenda than that, a longer list of affirmatives in order to turn Republicans into the Party of Yes. But he’s seemingly aware of the challenge and hasn’t sprinted away from the autopsy that the party performed on itself after Mitt Romney’s defeat in the 2012 presidential election.

Bush may lack Christie’s verve, but he’s shown some of Christie’s nerve. Last year he said that both his father and Ronald Reagan would have a difficult time fitting into the intensely partisan Republican Party of today and “an orthodoxy that doesn’t allow for disagreement.”

“We’ve lost our way,” he said earlier this year.

The party needs to do better with Hispanic voters, and Bush isn’t just bilingual but also, in a sense, bicultural, with a Mexican-born wife. The state he governed and still lives in, Florida, has a large Hispanic population.

Swing voters looking for a Republican who supports abortion rights or gay marriage aren’t going to find one in him. But then they’re not going to find one in Christie or Ryan, either.

I’m told by people in the know that while Bush is definitely mulling a candidacy, there’s only a 20 to 30 percent chance that he’ll press the button. Many factors play into that decision: his family’s privacy; the reality that he and Rubio, his onetime political mentee, can’t both run; the nascent political career of his son George P. Bush, who might be better served by a longer Bush lull.

And then there’s the question that every presidential contender about to submit to a brutal and brutalizing process must ask: is a burning desire for the White House really present? The fabled fire in the belly? It certainly seems to rage inside Paul, Cruz, Christie. They’re infernos of untempered ambition.

Bush has a cooler temperature. But for the party’s prospects in 2016 and its image beyond then, that could be good. Just as Republicans can’t be the Party of Stupid or the Party of No, they can’t be the Party of Perpetual Ire, and Bush isn’t great at irate.

He’s better positioned for 2016 than he was for 2012, when the bitter disappointments of his older brother’s presidency were more keenly remembered and frequently invoked. Besides, if Hillary Clinton indeed rolls to the Democratic nomination, Republicans needn’t be so concerned about a nominee of their own with a dynastic aura. Clinton versus Bush would be political royalty versus political royalty.

Just imagine Barbara Bush’s muttered asides. That alone is almost reason to wish for the matchup, or cause for her second-born son to take a pass.

Dear God, spare us another Bush…

Required Reading

August 19, 2007

This was not behind a firewall in the NYT, but it should be required reading for everyone.  It’s by Buddhika Jayamaha, Wesley D. Smith, Jeremy Roebuck, Omar Mora, Edward Sandmeier, Yance T. Gray and Jeremy A. Murphy, all members of the 82nd Airborne Division currently in Iraq and about to come home.  Read it.  Tell your friends to read it.  Read it to them if you must…

Viewed from Iraq at the tail end of a 15-month deployment, the political debate in Washington is indeed surreal. Counterinsurgency is, by definition, a competition between insurgents and counterinsurgents for the control and support of a population. To believe that Americans, with an occupying force that long ago outlived its reluctant welcome, can win over a recalcitrant local population and win this counterinsurgency is far-fetched. As responsible infantrymen and noncommissioned officers with the 82nd Airborne Division soon heading back home, we are skeptical of recent press coverage portraying the conflict as increasingly manageable and feel it has neglected the mounting civil, political and social unrest we see every day. (Obviously, these are our personal views and should not be seen as official within our chain of command.)

The claim that we are increasingly in control of the battlefields in Iraq is an assessment arrived at through a flawed, American-centered framework. Yes, we are militarily superior, but our successes are offset by failures elsewhere. What soldiers call the “battle space” remains the same, with changes only at the margins. It is crowded with actors who do not fit neatly into boxes: Sunni extremists, Al Qaeda terrorists, Shiite militiamen, criminals and armed tribes. This situation is made more complex by the questionable loyalties and Janus-faced role of the Iraqi police and Iraqi Army, which have been trained and armed at United States taxpayers’ expense.

A few nights ago, for example, we witnessed the death of one American soldier and the critical wounding of two others when a lethal armor-piercing explosive was detonated between an Iraqi Army checkpoint and a police one. Local Iraqis readily testified to American investigators that Iraqi police and Army officers escorted the triggermen and helped plant the bomb. These civilians highlighted their own predicament: had they informed the Americans of the bomb before the incident, the Iraqi Army, the police or the local Shiite militia would have killed their families.

As many grunts will tell you, this is a near-routine event. Reports that a majority of Iraqi Army commanders are now reliable partners can be considered only misleading rhetoric. The truth is that battalion commanders, even if well meaning, have little to no influence over the thousands of obstinate men under them, in an incoherent chain of command, who are really loyal only to their militias.

Similarly, Sunnis, who have been underrepresented in the new Iraqi armed forces, now find themselves forming militias, sometimes with our tacit support. Sunnis recognize that the best guarantee they may have against Shiite militias and the Shiite-dominated government is to form their own armed bands. We arm them to aid in our fight against Al Qaeda.

However, while creating proxies is essential in winning a counterinsurgency, it requires that the proxies are loyal to the center that we claim to support. Armed Sunni tribes have indeed become effective surrogates, but the enduring question is where their loyalties would lie in our absence. The Iraqi government finds itself working at cross purposes with us on this issue because it is justifiably fearful that Sunni militias will turn on it should the Americans leave.

In short, we operate in a bewildering context of determined enemies and questionable allies, one where the balance of forces on the ground remains entirely unclear. (In the course of writing this article, this fact became all too clear: one of us, Staff Sergeant Murphy, an Army Ranger and reconnaissance team leader, was shot in the head during a “time-sensitive target acquisition mission” on Aug. 12; he is expected to survive and is being flown to a military hospital in the United States.) While we have the will and the resources to fight in this context, we are effectively hamstrung because realities on the ground require measures we will always refuse — namely, the widespread use of lethal and brutal force.

Given the situation, it is important not to assess security from an American-centered perspective. The ability of, say, American observers to safely walk down the streets of formerly violent towns is not a resounding indicator of security. What matters is the experience of the local citizenry and the future of our counterinsurgency. When we take this view, we see that a vast majority of Iraqis feel increasingly insecure and view us as an occupation force that has failed to produce normalcy after four years and is increasingly unlikely to do so as we continue to arm each warring side.

Coupling our military strategy to an insistence that the Iraqis meet political benchmarks for reconciliation is also unhelpful. The morass in the government has fueled impatience and confusion while providing no semblance of security to average Iraqis. Leaders are far from arriving at a lasting political settlement. This should not be surprising, since a lasting political solution will not be possible while the military situation remains in constant flux.

The Iraqi government is run by the main coalition partners of the Shiite-dominated United Iraqi Alliance, with Kurds as minority members. The Shiite clerical establishment formed the alliance to make sure its people did not succumb to the same mistake as in 1920: rebelling against the occupying Western force (then the British) and losing what they believed was their inherent right to rule Iraq as the majority. The qualified and reluctant welcome we received from the Shiites since the invasion has to be seen in that historical context. They saw in us something useful for the moment.

Now that moment is passing, as the Shiites have achieved what they believe is rightfully theirs. Their next task is to figure out how best to consolidate the gains, because reconciliation without consolidation risks losing it all. Washington’s insistence that the Iraqis correct the three gravest mistakes we made — de-Baathification, the dismantling of the Iraqi Army and the creation of a loose federalist system of government — places us at cross purposes with the government we have committed to support.

Political reconciliation in Iraq will occur, but not at our insistence or in ways that meet our benchmarks. It will happen on Iraqi terms when the reality on the battlefield is congruent with that in the political sphere. There will be no magnanimous solutions that please every party the way we expect, and there will be winners and losers. The choice we have left is to decide which side we will take. Trying to please every party in the conflict — as we do now — will only ensure we are hated by all in the long run.

At the same time, the most important front in the counterinsurgency, improving basic social and economic conditions, is the one on which we have failed most miserably. Two million Iraqis are in refugee camps in bordering countries. Close to two million more are internally displaced and now fill many urban slums. Cities lack regular electricity, telephone services and sanitation. “Lucky” Iraqis live in gated communities barricaded with concrete blast walls that provide them with a sense of communal claustrophobia rather than any sense of security we would consider normal.

In a lawless environment where men with guns rule the streets, engaging in the banalities of life has become a death-defying act. Four years into our occupation, we have failed on every promise, while we have substituted Baath Party tyranny with a tyranny of Islamist, militia and criminal violence. When the primary preoccupation of average Iraqis is when and how they are likely to be killed, we can hardly feel smug as we hand out care packages. As an Iraqi man told us a few days ago with deep resignation, “We need security, not free food.”

In the end, we need to recognize that our presence may have released Iraqis from the grip of a tyrant, but that it has also robbed them of their self-respect. They will soon realize that the best way to regain dignity is to call us what we are — an army of occupation — and force our withdrawal.

Until that happens, it would be prudent for us to increasingly let Iraqis take center stage in all matters, to come up with a nuanced policy in which we assist them from the margins but let them resolve their differences as they see fit. This suggestion is not meant to be defeatist, but rather to highlight our pursuit of incompatible policies to absurd ends without recognizing the incongruities.

We need not talk about our morale. As committed soldiers, we will see this mission through.

Buddhika Jayamaha is an Army specialist. Wesley D. Smith is a sergeant. Jeremy Roebuck is a sergeant. Omar Mora is a sergeant. Edward Sandmeier is a sergeant. Yance T. Gray is a staff sergeant. Jeremy A. Murphy is a staff sergeant.