Thursday, September 27, 2007

A Battle of Wills in Burma

Things are coming to a head in Myanmar (formerly known as Burma). The military government that seized power in 1989 has responded to massive political protests with force. So far, at least 9 people have been killed as security forces fired into pro-democracy crowds, and government forces have raided monasteries in an attempt to break the monk-led protests. The protests, involving tens of thousands of people, are the largest pro-democracy rallies since the 1989.

How will this end? Governments hold power through a combination of two elements: legitimacy and force. Few governments rely solely on force; North Korea is truly the only one I can think of. Even for governments as oppressive and reliant on force as Iraq under Hussein, the USSR, China, or Zimbabwe require the acquiescence of the people, and even democratic governments are ultimately underpinned by the monopoly of force. But it is the balance of force and legitimacy that is critical.

When a government is faced with massive systemic and existential protest, as is Myanmar now or as China was in 1989, it must decide how to deal with that protest. Sometimes, the government cannot bring itself to use the amount of force that would be required to maintain control of society; this is ultimately what happened in Eastern Europe during the Velvet Revolution. The governments had lost so much legitimacy that maintaining control would have required such a massive use of force that the government was unwilling to do so. Sometimes, as in Tiananmen Square, the government is willing to use sufficient force to crush the dissent. In these case, the government hopes that the will of the people is insufficiently strong to withstand a strong display of force and that the protest will collapse. Once force is used, there will be enough legitimacy left that people will prefer to continue with the government rather than maintain their protest.

We are at that phase in Myanmar. Have the monks and the other pro-democracy protesters lost enough of their sense of legitimacy in the government that they will be willing to stand in the face of brutality and violence? Will the government be willing to use enough force? Will the soldiers be willing to carry out their orders? The answers to these questions will determine whether the government or the protesters fold.

But the outcome is not entirely in the hands of the domestic protagonists. International pressure on the regime can affect its willingness to trade legitimacy for force and how it perceives the benefits of maintaining control over the country. Sadly, China has blocked the UN Security Council from taking action, claiming that "these problems now at this stage (do) not constitute a threat to international and regional peace and stability."

But I wouldn't have trusted the UN to do much anyway. Instead, the US, the EU, Japan, and the other liberal democracies should immediately impose massive and near-total sanctions on Myanmar and begin putting diplomatic pressure on the leaders. In particular, offers of safe havens and amnesty in exchange for stepping down would be especially useful.

It is always particularly inspiring to see people willing to take such massive risks for democracy. I hope that the will of the Burmese people is stronger than that of their repressive government.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Ahmadinejad At Columbia

As Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad arrives in the US, there is much ado about whether he should be allowed to visit "Ground Zero" (Julian Ku over at Opinio Juris has an excellent post about whether Ahmadinejad can be legally barred from visiting) and whether he should be invited to speak at Columbia University. It's the latter question that I want to address.

I'm not a fan of banning political discourse, no matter how distasteful it may be. I was, for example, opposed to the political outcry that emerged over Iran's Holocaust-denying cartoon contest and I disagree with European bans on Holocaust denial. There is no better antidote to conspiracy-theories and close-mindedness than the light of debate, and preventing such debate merely feeds the belief that the claims are being suppressed by the political establishment. So, I don't really have any problem with Ahmadinejad speaking in public, even in the US.

But I do have a problem with him speaking at Columbia. Well, not Columbia in particular, but at a university. It is true that universities are bastions of free speech and intellectual openness is essential to the existence of universities and to the project of education in general. But universities are also devoted to intellectual honesty and truth. Yes, truth.

Truth is not determined by the content of an argument, but rather by the structure and form of an argument. As I blogged about a few days ago, methodology is critical. The reason Holocaust denial, 9/11 conspiracy theorists, and their ilk are so dangerous is not that they spout idiocy, but rather that they lack any scientific method, so rebutting the argument becomes proof of their point. This is not scientific, it is not academic, it is not intellectual. It is opinion and nothing more.

Of course, there is a place for opinion, even on a university's campus. Student groups, lecture series, and other such fora exist to allow people to speak their minds. But a university should not recognize, invite, and honor people who deny the truth, be they Holocaust-deniers, 9/11 conspiracy theorists, anti-Copernicans, or anyone else who simply spouts opinion that flies in the face of fact. A university must be willing to defend moder Galileos, who rely on science and method in the face of dogmatic opinion. And the university must be willing to denounce that very same dogmatic opinion.

Ahmadinejad should not be allowed to speak at Columbia. Not because his regime might be involved in the deaths of US soldiers in Iraq and not because he rejects the right of Israel to exist. Rather, he should not be invited to speak at Columbia because he stands in defiance of the very principle of academic openness and honesty.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

For Whom Hell Is Too Good

UN security forces from the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia for the Prosecution of Crimes Committed During the Period of Democratic Kampuchea have arrested Nuon Chea, otherwise known as "Brother No. 2." Nuon Chea, who has been charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity, is the highest ranking surviving member of the Khmer Rouge, was Prime Minister of the Central Committee, and served as Pol Pot's second-in-command.

The Khmer Rouge began its insurgency against the Cambodian government in 1968, and seized control of the government in 1975. It then attempted to remake Cambodia into an classless, agrarian workers' paradise, by relocating the entire urban population into the agricultural communes in the countryside, abolishing money, religion, and property, and executing any groups seen as dangerous to the new regime, including the intelligentsia (identifiable in some cases by those who wore glasses or anyone with a formal education). By the time the Khmer Rouge was ejected from Cambodia by Vietnamese troops in 1979, an estimated one-quarter of Cambodia's population -- 2 million out of 8 million -- had died from torture, execution, overwork, disease, and starvation.

While Pol Pot died before being brought to justice, in 1997 Cambodia established, in cooperation with the UN, a tribunal to try any surviving members of Khmer Rouge. Due to financial difficulties, the court has had a difficult time in making progress, but in May 2006, 30 judges were approved to hear cases. Trials are expected to begin in August 2008.

Normally, I'm not a fan of international tribunals. They waste too much money, take too long, and have too difficult a time proving their cases. But, in this case, there don't seem to be too many alternatives.

Let's hope Nuon Chea lives long enough to stand trial and to be condemned for his actions. A lifetime of eternal torment in hell is far too good for this man.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Dallaire On Darfur

Romeo Dallaire, now a senator in the Canadian parliament, was the commander of the UN peacekeeping force on the ground at the onset of the Rwandan genocide. He has been haunted by his inability to do anything about the slaughter, and has written extensively about his failure, the failure of the UN, and of the international community.

Yesterday, Dallaire published an open letter to General Martin Agwai, the commander-designate of the UN force that will, someday, be deployed into Darfur. The letter is worth reading in its entirety:
An open letter from the former force commander of the ill-fated Unamir mission to Rwanda, to General Martin Agwai, the newly appointed force commander designate for the UN mission in Darfur.

Dear General Agwai

Congratulations on your recent appointment as Joint United Nations/African Union force commander for the hybrid UN/AU Mission in Darfur, formalised by resolution 1769 as Unamid. After over four years of massive killing and displacement in Darfur, a conflict that has not only destabilised Sudan but the entire Eastern Sahel region, Unamid under the leadership of Mr Adada, joint special representative for Darfur, and the force under your command will have the historic opportunity to end slaughter, bring peace, [and] allow humanitarian aid. In the longer term, Unamid has the potential to facilitate the return of Darfur's people to their homes, enhance Sudan's sovereignty and territorial integrity and stabilise the region.

This is a daunting mandate, and you enter into this mission facing long odds. The intentions of the regime in Khartoum toward an effective, impartial implementation of the Unamid mandate are deeply uncertain. The Sudanese government has blocked and whittled international efforts, through the AU and UN, to end the killing and facilitate a durable peace through fair and transparent internal negotiations. Even since the enactment of Resolution 1769, we have seen ample indications that the Sudanese government will at every turn seek to impose a minimalist reading of the Unamid mandate. The government has already signalled that it will try to restrict the non-African role in the mission as much as it can and prolong the internal divisions and growing chaos which undermine efforts to end the fighting and provide humanitarian aid to all in need.

The challenges you will face in dealing with the rebel movements will also be substantial. In the absence of a viable political settlement process, and exacerbated by the Abuja settlement which many saw as imposed and unbalanced, the groups have fragmented and many elements have degenerated into criminal activity and focus on fighting each other. The same holds true of many "Arab" elements, some of which previously fought alongside government troops. The recent efforts of special envoys Salim and Eliasson have given some hope that this deterioration can be reversed with support from rebel movement leaders and field commanders themselves. But as you know, not all leaders are cooperating and conflict has certainly not diminished on the ground since the recent Arusha meeting. The threat to sustaining humanitarian operations as well as to nurturing the AU/UN-sponsored political talks is obvious and severe.

Finally, assembling, sustaining and directing such a large force in this most remote and inhospitable area will tax you, as it will test the will and capacity of both sponsoring organisations. The Unamid hybrid is conceptually novel, with many practical and legal issues that will impact your work yet to be discovered, let alone resolved. Funding, command and control, reporting and provisioning are all areas where both the location and force size will be taxing, and where the novel character of Unamid will add a difficult layer of challenge for you and the SRSG.

In wishing you well, as a fellow force commander, in your important mission, I would like to take the opportunity to offer a few broad thoughts that I hope may assist you in your preparation and implementation of the mission in the field.

First: I urge you to insist both to New York and to Addis Ababa that they clarify, in the most practical terms and as fast as possible, the chain of command and reporting for the mission. Resolution 1769 is vague on command and control. It did not precisely resolve the well-known disagreement between Khartoum, which insists on essentially AU command, and many other member states, that demand UN command and control as the only guarantor of effectiveness.

For my part, I would press hard for New York to be the headquarters you look to for ongoing guidance and authority to implement the mandate. In practical terms, DPKO has the mechanisms to give you guidance and respond to your urgent requirements at any time, whereas the AU headquarters does not, and DPKO also has long and hard-won experience in supporting missions in the field. At the same time, you will want to ensure that Unamid and DPKO itself integrate the AU secretariat into that process, so that its views and interests are dynamically engaged in your support. Above all, you and SRSG Adada will need to demand from both the UN and AU that they reject undue Sudanese government interference in the implementation of Resolution 1769 regarding command and control, and indeed in your operations.

Second: To succeed in the task given you, it is evident that you must exercise, and insist on, the broadest reading of the mandate given in resolution 1769 (especially operative paragraph 15) concerning your chapter VII authority. We are already seeing efforts by the Sudanese government and its friends to argue that the chapter VII authority extends only to force protection situations and support for the execution of the Darfur peace agreement. But the plain text of the resolution and the intent of the security council clearly are that Unamid should play an active role not only in maintaining peace, but also in protecting the vulnerable civilian population.

The security council's intent flows from those aspects of the Darfur conflict which have set it apart as an international concern of special priority - notably, the massive, purposeful death and displacement at the hands of government forces and their janjaweed militia creation. Those attacks burdened the African Union Mission (Amis) and cast in stark relief its lack of mandate and practical inability to intervene against even the most egregious and predictable attacks on civilians. The Sudanese government has indicated that it does not want Unamid to exercise its chapter VII authority to protect civilians. That cannot be accepted. It would render Unamid a nullity regarding the most fundamental reason for its creation.

Third: All are agreed that Unamid will benefit from having "a predominantly African character," but you must insist that member states with sophisticated capacities provide quickly, and with no political obstruction from Khartoum, what you need to make your force mobile and capable of extending its reach throughout Darfur. So far, a number of African countries have made significant and encouraging commitments. It is beyond dispute, however, that African states themselves simply cannot provide nearly 20,000 qualified troops (nor enough police). Unamid needs attack helicopters, engineers, big cargo lorries, communications and other capabilities that African states also cannot provide.

So far, the UN member states that can provide such capabilities have been slow to do so. I therefore encourage you to reject assertions that the AU has already committed, or could provide, all the needed military forces. Equally, you should bring great pressure, working with the senior UN and AU leadership, to pressure more resource-rich member states to provide the specialised capacities you need. And if Khartoum seeks to discourage meaningful non-African contributions, I urge you to take active exception in the interest of succeeding in your difficult task.

Fourth: Press for progressive deployment of the force, as elements are recruited and prepared. Resolution 1769 sets ambitious target dates for establishing Unamid's operations headquarters, for taking command of the support packages and support for Amis, and for assumption of command authority from Amis. Ranged against those targets are the real challenges of rapid mobilisation and deployment of national troop contributions to Unamid.

The thrust of the resolution is correct in practical as well as policy terms, but the period from now until full Unamid deployment will be a testing one and in many ways the determining period for the mission's success or failure. Previous Amis commanders have made clear their assessment that getting more troops on the ground will shift the balance of authority toward the peacekeepers and away from the spoilers. With a progressive deployment, Unamid can foster a gradual shift in the balance of power in Darfur, which will enhance the longer-term prospects for its effectiveness. In this regard, you will want to maintain pressure on both the UN and AU headquarters to build your needed camp and other logistical facilities as fast as possible, and to monitor Sudanese government interaction with Unamid and the camp construction contractors to ensure that any delaying manoeuvres are quickly identified, reported to New York and Addis Ababa and made a priority for diplomatic intervention.

Fifth: Be vigorous and frank, both in your official reporting to New York and Addis Ababa, and in your public commentary, concerning your achievements and the challenges and obstacles you encounter. It is important that your official reporting, in describing progress on mandate implementation, should highlight obstacles you face that require action by the two headquarters, or by member states. You can anticipate being let down by everyone on whom you depend for support, be that troops, funding, logistics or political engagement. Only by shining a spotlight on those failures in every possible way can you mobilise the attention necessary to get the action you need. Bear in mind that whoever fails you will, in the end, be the most active in blaming you for whatever goes wrong.

Permit me to conclude, general, by wishing you every success in this most challenging and important assignment.


Senator/Lt General Roméo Dallaire
An excellent letter. Unfortunately, if I was a betting man, I would wager that Dallaire's advice will not be followed, and that the situation in Darfur is far from improving.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Why Methodology Is So Important

What is it that separates political science from political opinion? It's the science. Political opinion is about expressing one's thoughts and ideas; political science involves testing one's thoughts and ideas by developing hypotheses and collecting evidence to determine when those hypotheses hold up. Methodology is critical for identifying variables and predicting how those variables will change in response to certain inputs.

Which brings me to an op-ed from yesterday's New York Times. In a piece entitled "What They're Saying in Anbar Province," Gary Langer, the director of polling for ABC News, challenges the claims by President Bush and General Petraeus that the recent developments in Anbar province represent progress. Specifically, Bush and Petraeus pointed to Anbar, where Sunni chiefs have turned against al Qaeda and have begun cooperating with US and Iraqi troops against al Qaeda forces, as a hopeful predictor of the future. Langer challenges that claim, asking:

Do United States military alliances with Sunni tribal leaders truly reflect a turning of hearts and minds away from Anbar’s bitter anti-Americanism?

The data from our latest Iraq poll suggest not.

Al Qaeda, it should be said, is overwhelmingly — almost unanimously — unpopular in Anbar, as it is in the rest of Iraq. But our enemies’ enemies are not necessarily our friends. The United States, it turns out, is equally unpopular there.

In a survey conducted Aug. 17-24 for ABC News, the BBC and NHK, the Japanese broadcaster, among a random national sample of 2,212 Iraqis, 72 percent in Anbar expressed no confidence whatsoever in United States forces. Seventy-six percent said the United States should withdraw now — up from 49 percent when we polled there in March, and far above the national average.

Withdrawal timetable aside, every Anbar respondent in our survey opposed the presence of American forces in Iraq — 69 percent “strongly” so. Every Anbar respondent called attacks on coalition forces “acceptable,” far more than anywhere else in the country. All called the United States-led invasion wrong, including 68 percent who called it “absolutely wrong.” No wonder: Anbar, in western Iraq, is almost entirely populated by Sunni Arabs, long protected by Saddam Hussein and dispossessed by his overthrow.

But here is why methodology is so important. The question Langer is asking -- Do you oppose the American presence in Iraq -- is not linked to the events he's trying to explain. Bush and Petraeus are claiming that, as a result of the surge making it more difficult for al Qaeda to attack US or Iraqi government targets, al Qaeda has turned to attacking softer targets, which has turned Sunni chiefs, who had been previously cooperating or at least tolerating al Qaeda's present, against the foreign insurgents. Petraeus' report to Congress claimed that monthly attacks in Anbar have dropped from 1,350 in October 2006 to 200 in August 2007, and that thousands of Sunnis have signed up for the Iraqi army and police force. This change in attitude from the Sunnis, if it could spread to other areas of Iraq, could help create both the breathing space necessary for political progress as well as develop some sense of national unity. So what does the attitude of the Sunnis towards the US have to do with these developments?

Nothing that Langer tell us. Langer notes that while 38% of respondents rated local security positively -- up from 0% in March -- and that Anbar Iraqis have demonstrated "remarkable advances in confidence in the Iraqi Army and police", "nobody surveyed in Anbar last month gave the United States any credit." But so what? Why does it matter what they think of the US? What matters according to Bush and Petraeus is how the Sunnis in Anbar relate to the Iraqi government. So why does Langer think these data matter? He doesn't really tell us; there's no methodology here. No connection between his data and his hypothesis. Sunnis in Anbar don't like the US; thus, the claims of progress in Iraq can't be true.

Langer's point seems to be that the Sunnis have suspect motives for their cooperation: "Anbar’s tribal leaders may have any number of motivations for their alliance with the United States. It’s been reported that the United States government has provided them arms, matériel and money, as well as undertaking more than $700 million in reconstruction projects in the province." Again, so what?

The only thing approaching a relevant point is when Langer notes that "Just 23 percent in Anbar expressed confidence in their “local leaders”; 77 percent had little or none. That’s better than it was in March — but still nearly the lowest level of confidence in local leaders we measured anywhere in Iraq." But that echoes the claims of Bush and Petraeus. Things had been dismal in the Sunni provinces, but now they're getting better. But Langer offers no way to judge the progress so we only know that it's improving.

It's hard to know what Langer's point is. It seems to be that he's simply trying to rebut the claims of Bush and Petraeus but his argument is not only totally unconvincing, it doesn't even support his own claim.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Attack on Petraeus

Yesterday, the day that Army General David Petraeus tesitifed before Congress on the results of the surge of US forces in Iraq, MoveOn ran a full-page ad in the New York Times. Today, Peter Feaver from Duke University (full disclosure: I took many classes from Feaver while at Duke, TAed for him once, and he served on my dissertation committee) has a blistering response to MoveOn in the Boston Globe. I'll let Feaver speak for himself:
The ad is vicious, and would garner comment even if it were merely one more primal scream in the coarse blogosphere debate over Iraq. But it is not an angry e-mail or blog entry. It is a deliberate attack on the senior Army commander, in a major daily newspaper, with the intention of destroying as much of his credibility as possible so that his military advice could be more easily rejected by antiwar members of Congress.

The attack was part of an elaborate effort to undermine public support for the Iraq war, and was foreshadowed by an unnamed Democratic senator who told a reporter, "No one wants to call [Petraeus] a liar on national TV . . . The expectation is that the outside groups will do this for us." The effort is funded by powerful special interests, and has all the trappings of a major political campaign.

Precisely because it is so vicious, so public, and so deliberate, the attack on Petraeus cannot be ignored by either side in the Iraq debate. Supporters of the war are duty-bound, like Joseph Welch, to rise and ask of war opponents, "Have you left no sense of decency?" Antiwar members of Congress, like Senator McCarthy's allies, are obliged to answer.

Let us be clear. It is legitimate to grill Petraeus on his testimony and to ask him tough questions about the strategy he has been pursuing. It is legitimate to disagree with him, or to conclude that an alternative course of action has a better chance of advancing US interests in the region. Healthy civil-military relations do not depend on accepting uncritically anything a senior military officer says. Quite the opposite, they depend on a full and frank exchange of views.

It is not legitimate, however, and it is exceedingly corrosive of healthy civil-military relations to question the general's patriotism when his views differ from yours and are inconvenient for one's political agenda.

This is a defining moment for the antiwar faction. They can continue on the path on to which they have veered, repeating some of the worst mistakes in American history. Or they can make a clean break with the past, police their own ranks, and promote a healthy, critical, public debate about the best way forward in Iraq.

MoveOn's website now has an annotated version of the ad, in which documentation is provided for each of the claims. But MoveOn's response is far from convincing. MoveOn claims that "every independent report on the ground situation in Iraq shows that the surge strategy has failed," and links are provided to the recent reports from the GAO, NIE, and CSIS. But these reports do not conclude that the surge has failed. Rather, they detail how much progress has been made, and what areas are still lagging behind. But such detail does not in and of itself constitute failure. Failure is a political question, a conclusion arrived at by setting goals, judging progress towards those goals, and determining whether further and increased effort will help advance towards those goals.

For example, the GAO report concludes that the Iraqi government has met 3, partially met 4, and has not meet 11 of the 18 benchmarks established. It also concludes that the surge is partially responsible for those results. Does that constitute success or not? The GAO report does not, as it should not, tell us. That is for Congress to decide.

MoveOn continues by claiming "the General claims a reduction in violence. That’s because, according to the New York Times, the Pentagon has adopted a bizarre formula for keeping tabs on violence. For example, deaths by car bombs don’t count." But the New York Times didn't make that claim. Paul Krugman did. True, he did so in the pages of the Times. But that claim does not come from the reporting of the Times. We don't know where Krugman got his information. We don't know what confirmation he has for his claims. An op-ed writer making a claim in his column does represent the efforts of the newspaper as a whole.

Finally, the crux of MoveOn's argument: "Most importantly, General Petraeus will not admit what everyone knows; Iraq is mired in an unwinnable religious civil war. " Here MoveOn reveals itself as Feaver correctly understands. MoveOn believes that Iraq is lost; therefore anyone who disagrees with that opinion is not only wrong but willfully ignorant of the oh-so-obvious truth.

Disagreeing with Petraeus is, as Feaver notes, healthy and legitimate. But MoveOn is anything but. If Congress concludes that the surge is not working, it can act within its constitutional powers to bring the troops home. But slandering and insulting Petraeus is not the way to achieve that end.

Friday, September 07, 2007

A New Intifada?

The West-Bank based and western-backed leaders of Fatah have announced the beginning of a new intifada. However this time the target is not Israel, but rather Hamas. When members of Fatah assembled for open-air prayers in Gaza, an act banned by Hamas, security forces of Hamas attacked the praying men, beating them with clubs, hurling stun grenades, and firing into the air. According to the Fatah-affiliated Palestinian Information Minister Reyad al-Maliki, "What we saw in Gaza today was the beginning of a third Intifada, against the Hamas occupation."

Since the defeat of Fatah by Hamas back in June and Fatah's exile to the West Bank, things have been relatively quiet between the rival Palestinian groups, an quiet that I have previously argued is not beneficial to the Palestinian people. Perhaps this signals the beginning of a confrontation between Fatah and Hamas, one that if allowed to play itself out might result in a unified Palestinian leadership that is better able to improve the lives of its people.

TV: Bad For Your Kids, Good For Indian Women

A study by Emily Oster, an economist at the University of Chicago, reports that introducing cable television into the homes of rural women in India results in:

women [being] less likely to report that domestic violence towards women is acceptable. They also report increased autonomy (for example, the ability to go out without permission and to participate in household decision-making). Women are less likely to report son preference (the desire to give birth to a boy rather than a girl). Turning to behaviors, we find increases in school enrollment for girls (but not boys), and decreases in fertility (which is often linked to female autonomy).
The effect is also large relative to, for example, the effect of education on these attitudes and behaviors: introducing cable television is equivalent to roughly five years of female education in the cross section. These effects happen very quickly; the average village has cable for only 6-7 months before being surveyed again, which implies a rapid change in attitudes.
Oster surmises, although she admits it's difficult to identify the actual causal relationship, that it exposure to attitudes and experiences different from their own that makes the difference. At root, this is the basic logic behind globalization and more specifically the policy of engagement that the US has adopted towards China. By exposing people to the values and lifestyle of western modernity, they will, in turn, become more like us, especially in their attitudes towards liberal policies.

Who knew that crappy TV could be such a powerful force for good?

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Mario Cuomo's Straw Man

On Monday, Mario Cuomo, the former governor of New York from 1983 to 1995, had an op-ed entitled "What the Constitution Says About Iraq" in the Los Angeles Times that, to put it bluntly, was an embarrassment. If one didn't know better, reading his opinions on congressional-executive war powers would lead one to believe that Cuomo knows nothing about constitutional law or national security law. Since I'm willing to give Cuomo the benefit of the doubt, we can only assume that he's creating straw man arguments purposively to score cheap political points.

Cuomo's argument is that:

the [Iraq] war happened because when Bush first indicated his intention to go to war against Iraq, Congress refused to insist on enforcement of Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution. For more than 200 years, this article has spelled out that Congress -- not the president -- shall have "the power to declare war."
To Cuomo, this was a disastrous decision by Congress, and in the future:
We must do everything we can to end the war in Iraq and avoid a new tragedy abroad [in Iran] by recommitting to strict adherence to the rule of law and to the Constitution by the president, Congress and the courts -- especially with respect to war powers.
While it's true that the Constitution gives Congress the power to declare war, Congress has only done so five times in history: the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War, the Spanish-American War, World War I, and World War II. And yet the US has used force well over 200 times without a formal declaration of war.

For Cuomo, this precedent has no relevance:

Because the Constitution cannot be amended by persistent evasion, this constitutional mandate was not erased by the actions of timid Congresses since World War II that allowed eager presidents to start wars in Vietnam and elsewhere without a "declaration" by Congress.
This is the first of Cuomo's pathetic straw man arguments. It is of course true that the Constitution cannot be amended by patterns of behavior. But it is equally obvious that Constitutional interpretation does change according to the behavior of government. This is made evident in the famous "Steel Seizure" case (Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer), in which Justice Jackson and Justice Frankfurter argued that the interaction between the president and Congress can and should be used to interpret the Constitution. For Frankfurter:
a systematic, unbroken, executive practice, long pursued to the knowledge of Congress and never before questioned, engaged in by Presidents who have also sworn to uphold the Constitution, making as it were such exercise of power part of the structure of our government, may be treated as a gloss on "executive Power" vested in the President by Section 1 of Art. II.
Given that force has been used hundreds of times without Congressional approval or protest but with Congressional knowledge, such a gloss is quite clear. Furthermore, Jackson, in setting out his famous three categories for understanding the scope of presidential power, argued that:

When the President acts in absence of either a congressional grant or denial of authority, he can only rely on his own independent powers, but there is a zone of twilight in which he and Congress may have concurrent authority, on in which its distribution is uncertain. Therefore, congressional inertia, indifference, or quiescence may sometimes, at least as a practical matter, enable, if not invite, measures on independent presidential responsibility. In this area, any actual test of power is likely to depend on the imperatives of events and contemporary imponderables rather than on abstract theories of law.
Congress has not spoken (note, congressmen speaking do not equal Congress speaking. More on this below) against the war in Iraq, nor has Congress ever tried to restrain a presidential deployment of US troops. Such silence can only be read as creating a gloss or as Congress allowing the president to rely on his own independent powers.

But Cuomo is ready with another straw man argument to challenge this claim. It wouldn't matter, he says, if Congress did try to restrain the president:
Even if Congress were able to pass a veto-proof bill with respect to withdrawal, the president would resist enforcement of the bill, insisting that as commander in chief, he is immune from Congress' decision. That would raise a constitutional issue for the courts.

But judging by the courts' history concerning constitutional war powers, including decisions involving the Iraq war in the U.S. 1st Circuit Court of Appeals in Massachusetts, the judiciary would, in all probability, choose not to intervene, claiming that the disagreement between the president and Congress is a political question.
This is an absurd misrepresentation of the concept of a political question. A political question, in which the Supreme Court typically refuses to involve itself in a dispute between the legislative and executive branch, most often arises when Congress fails to speak with one voice to assert its Constitutional power. For example, in Goldwater v. Carter, Senator Barry Goldwater and several other members of Congress challenged the right of President Carter to nullify a treaty with Taiwan in order to establish relations with China, claiming that Senate's constitutional power of advice and consent meant that the Senate needed to vote on the nullification. The Court refused to hear the case, determining that it involved a political question. But what made the question political was not the challenge, but rather the fact that it was not the Senate as a body that was challenging the president, but rather a group of individual senators. Thus, the question of whether the president had the power to act unilaterally was not really being raised, as Congress was not asserting a different interpretation of the Constitution. Justice Powell's concurrence made it clear that if the Senate had, in fact, passed a resolution formally opposing the action by Carter, the Supreme Court very well might have heard the case, settling the question.

If Congress had ever tried to stop a presidential deployment of force by, for example, passing a joint resolution claiming its power to declare war governs all deployments of force (as Cuomo argues it does) or by cutting off funding for the troops, and if the president refused to obey such an action, the Supreme Court would almost certainly have to resolve the issue (although it's possible that the Court would try to defer action while the troops were in the field). Such an dispute would be a constitutional question of the highest order, and if there was a formal clash between the president and Congress, the question would have to be settled.

Cuomo goes on to say that "the sad truth is that the current conservative-dominated Supreme Court would probably support our current conservative president. As a practical matter, that means only the president can end this war or change our strategy in Iraq."

Another ridiculous claim, unless by "as a practical matter" Cuomo means without making the Democratically-controlled Congress take responsibility for ending the war. It is a clear, unambiguous, and well-established fact that Congress could cut off the funding for the troops if it truly wanted to end the war. No one, not even President Bush, disputes this. However, as was made clear during the last round of appropriations hearings, Congress refuses to do this. Of course it would be politically dangerous...but if the congressmen so fear being punished by their constituents, doesn't that give the lie to their claims in the first place?

It is ridiculous and absurd for Cuomo to try to blame the Court for this situation, when the fault truly lies with a Congress that refuses to act according to the principles it so vocally expresses. Cuomo's op-ed is little more than a political screed that ignores fact and constitutional law. It is an embarrassment, as is he.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Progress In Lebanon

Yesterday, the Lebanese Army took control of a refugee camp in northern Lebanon that had become a haven for Fatah al Islam, a radical Sunni group loosely affiliated with al Qaeda. The stand-off, which began in May, forced most of the camp's 30,000 residents to flee and cost the lives of 157 Lebanese soldiers and at least 42 civilians. Approximately 120 militants were killed as well.

The pacification of the camp is important in and of itself, as eliminating a locus of radical insurgents is always a move in the right direction. But the action by the Lebanese Army could serve as a stepping stone for greater political progress in Lebanon as well. As I wrote about last summer during the Israeli-Hezbollah war, the Lebanese Army and government were faced with a monumental challenge in trying to enforce the cease-fire and restrain Hezbollah. It was the inability of the Lebanese government to maintain a monopoly of violence in the first place that permitted Hezbollah to grow so strong and to initiate the war with Israel that proved so damaging to Lebanon.

Now, as a result of the operation against Fatah al Islam, the Lebanese Army is developing a sense of confidence and capability that it has not had in the past. As the New York Times notes:

“The army is emerging as the guardian of the state of Lebanon,” said Hilal Khashan, a political science professor at the American University of Beirut. “Politicians have failed, therefore the army is the only institution capable of shoring the country toward peace.”
Such a development is vital for Lebanon. The political process, important as it may be, cannot function when rival groups both possess significant military capabilities. Only if the Army is trusted and seen as the guarantor of peace and order can the political process develop as well.

But that won't be enough, in and of itself. So long as Hezbollah is quiet, it's easy to ignore it. But, if and when Hezbollah becomes active again, the Army must be willing and able to challenge the militia. Hezbollah cannot be allowed to drag Lebanon into another devastating war with Israel; nor can Hezbollah be allowed to undermine the government and civil society by threatening the political process.

Hopefully, the victory in the Nahr al Bared refugee camp will produce a confident and capable Lebanese Army; one that is up to the task of defending the people of Lebanon.