Sunday, December 24, 2006

A Nice Little War For Christmas

So, as Christmas Eve begins here in the Pacific Northwest, a new war is erupting in Africa. Ethiopia has begun attacking Islamic rebels inside Somalia to prevent them from completely destroying the secular Somali government. The secular government had been pummeled by the Islamists lately, losing control of most of the country and has been pushed out of the former capital city of Mogadishu and into the isolated, inland city of Baidoa. However, Ethiopian armed forces are much better armed, trained, and equipped, and seem to be enjoying initial successes against the Islamic rebels. From the Times:

Witnesses in frontline areas have said that waves of young, poorly trained Islamist fighters have been mowed down by Ethiopian troops. Ethiopia’s military is trained by American advisers and is supplied with millions of dollars of American aid.

On Sunday, Abdulrahim Ali Modei, the Islamists’ information minister, conceded at a news conference that many of the Islamist troops had been killed, but he did not sound discouraged.

“These are victories,” he said. “Our soldiers are in paradise now.”

Of course, initial successes in a conventional-style war do not necessarily lead to long-term strategic successes in wars against radical Islamists. In a scenario similar to Afghanistan after the withdrawal of Soviet troops, Somalia has been torn by fighting between rival militias and warlords, but as with the Taliban, the Islamic rebels had recently been gaining the upper hand. Somalia has already begun attracting international al-Qaeda linked fighters:

According to United Nations officials, at least 2,000 soldiers from Eritrea, which recently waged war with Ethiopia, are fighting for the Islamists. They have been joined by a growing number of Muslim mercenaries from Yemen, Egypt, Syria and Libya who want to turn Somalia into the third front of holy war, after Iraq and Afghanistan.
Ethiopia seems to be poised to deliver the rebels a killing blow by driving to Mogadishu and crushing the ill-equipped rebel force. But, will Ethiopia maintain such willingness when the IEDs and suicide bombs begin sending its boys home in bags, or when those bombs begin exploding in Addis Ababa?

During the Rwandan genocide, President Clinton and Kofi Annan made the mistake of believing that Africa has no strategic importance to the world. The world is currently all but ignoring on-going atrocities in Sudan and Zimbabwe, among other places. But an Islamist victory in Somalia would allow groups like al Qaeda a new haven to replace the one they lost in Afghanistan. And that must not be allowed to happen. If only for that reason, the US and the West must support Ethiopia, the secular Somali government, and any willing parties in this fight against radical Islam. But in this case, the strategic imperatives are aligned with the moral ones. Only if Africa is able to resist the rule of tyrants, be they religious or nationalist, can its people begin to rise above the misery and poverty that has dominated the continent. The US must not allow Iraq, Afghanistan, domestic politics, or anything else to blind it to the importance of Ethiopia's war against radical Islam.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Positive News on Iraq

[First, let me apologize for the lack of posting recently. The semester here at UPS ended last week, and I've been buried administering finals and then grading those exams. Of course, with the holidays, posts are likely to be sparse for the next two weeks anyway.]

Three pieces of positive news about Iraq today (I hesitate to say "good"...but at least they indicate movement in the right direction) all of which may indicate an impeding and much-needed change of strategy. First, President Bush has announced that the size of the US military needs to be increased. While little details or specifics were discussed, as I wrote about several months ago, the military desperately needs to be increased, even if that increase comes at the expense of several big-ticket toys currently being developed. Furthermore, the US military should work to developing a branch (probably not an entirely new service arm, although given the entrenchment and inertia in the services that may be necessary) devoted to policing and nation building. The deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan are stretching this country's military to the point where the American capability to project power and protect its allies must be questioned. That cannot happen. US military hegemony is vital to the stability of the international system and the benefits reaped by the US far outweigh the costs of expanding the military.

More importantly are two stories that indicate that the US may be moving towards a strategy along the lines of that which I suggested a few weeks ago: focusing on domestic security and challenging the sectarian militias. In a news analysis, the New York Times indicates that the discussion of a short-term troop surge is more a strategic than a tactical move; one that indicates a intention to take on the militias, especially that of Moktada al-Sadr. Furthermore, the Times reports that, on the diplomatic front, Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani is moving towards accepting a coalition of Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds to govern Iraq. According to the article:

Ayatollah Sistani has grown increasingly distressed as the Shiite-led government has proved incapable of taming the violence and improving public services, Shiite officials say. He now appears to be backing away from his demand that the Shiite bloc play the dominant political role and that it hold together at all costs, Iraqi and Western officials say.

As the effective arbiter of a Shiite role in the planned coalition, the ayatollah is considered critical to the Iraqi and American effort.

American officials have been told by intermediaries that Ayatollah Sistani “has blessed the idea of forming a moderate front,” according to a senior American official. “We wouldn’t have gotten this far without his support.”

These are, at a minimum, steps in the right direction. However, care must be taken. Any short-term surge in troops must be exactly that: short-term. While I am often hesitant to employ analogies, one aspect of Vietnam seems clearly relevant here is that the expectation of a long-term US troop presence removed any incentive for the South Vietnamese government to assume responsibility for security on its own (or to deal with its own corruption). Clear and unmistakable goals must be established that will result in the troops coming home in a reasonable (2 years or so, I would think) time frame.

Second, the US leadership must prepare itself and the American public for the inevitable results of this new strategy: increased violence. Splitting the Shiite ruling bloc and challenging the militias will lead to much higher and more intense levels of fighting, especially when the US troops take on al-Sadr's Mahdi Brigade directly. Openness and real leadership will be needed from President Bush and newly-installed SecDef Gates to explain the benchmarks for success and the need for this new strategy. Absent that, more aspects of the Vietnam Analogy will no doubt become relevant.

I am not completely pessimistic about the outcome in Iraq. But any lingering hope depends on the brave soldiers of the US armed forces being freed to do their jobs. Only if the rival militias can be tamed and only if all portions of the Iraqi people believe that their futures will be better protected through politics than violence can this project succeed.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Why Are Left-Wing Dictators More Popular Than Right-Wing Ones?

The recent death of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet has prompted a fascinating article by John O'Sullivan in the Chicago Sun-Times about the differences between the public reaction to and opinion of right-wing and left-wing dictators. As O'Sullivan notes:

General Augusto Pinochet, who died on Sunday, was the most successful dictator of the 20th century -- and also one of the most vilified. How do we explain the discrepancy?

Dictators are supposedly judged by two tests. How many people did they kill? And did they bring prosperity to their people? These two tests hang together because Marxists believed that their various ideological despotisms (in Cuba, in China, in the USSR) would eventually midwife a new utopia. Such a triumph would justify their mass murders retroactively.

So how did individual dictators fare? Stalin, Hitler and Mao each murdered tens of millions in labor camps, purges, forced famines and war. But they were less successful at improving their societies. The USSR could not feed itself, depended for survival upon external subsidies and eventually collapsed in economic ruins. Hitler committed suicide in the literal ruins of Berlin with the German people digging for scraps in the rubble of the Third Reich. And Mao killed as many millions unintentionally through his industrial "Great Leap Forward" as he did in his purges and "cultural revolution." With the understandable exception of Hitler, these mass murderers received respectful obituaries in the Western media.

Franco and Castro cannot quite match such achievements. Each of them murdered no more than tens of thousands of people after their victories in civil war and rebellion. On economic policy, moreover, their paths diverged. Castro squandered billions in Russian subsidies in the course of ruining the Cuban economy. Deprived of Soviet subsidies, Cuba is a tragedy: a naturally prosperous island reduced to beggary and prostitution by personal vanity and economic illiteracy. Franco transformed Spain into a dynamic market economy, built its middle class and created a stable society that was modern in every respect except its political system. Within five years of his death, Spain was a democracy.

Franco received contemptuously hostile obituaries; Castro's are currently being revised by editors in the hope that rumors of his death have not been greatly exaggerated.

That brings us to Pinochet. His victims are estimated at 3,200. One innocent murdered is one too many. But if we are talking comparisons, Pinochet's total of innocents murdered is about one-20th of Castro's.

As for Pinochet's economic legacy, it outstrips that of most advanced democracies, let alone the economic rubble of all the communist dictators. Within a decade of the 1973 coup, Chile was a stable growing economy transformed by monetary, supply-side, trade and labor market reforms introduced by Pinochet. When Chile returned to democracy in the late 1980s, the Christian Democrat government of Patricio Aylwin continued his free-market approach. The whole world noticed this.

If successful economic transformation could justify political mass murder -- the Marxist test, remember -- Pinochet would be celebrated without reserve as the savior of his country. Contra the Marxists, however, murder is not an economic policy, and the soundest economic policy cannot justify murder. If Pinochet authorized murders, he should have been tried for them -- provided that the same rule applies to Castro, other surviving dictators, and those supporters of President Salvador Allende who killed opponents in the Chilean civil war.

O'Sullivan never really answers his own question: What explains this difference? Students will walk around wearing t-shirts or sporting buttons bearing the likeness of Che or Mao; people will proudly display posters of Soviet or Chinese propaganda with pictures of Mao, Lenin, or even Stalin. And yet, as O'Sullivan notes, right-wing dictators like Franco or Pinochet do not get the same treatment, and are much more, and much more vehemently, vilified. Why?

The answer is, I suspect, because murder in the name of equality -- the left-wing project -- is some how more excusable than is murder in the name of economic reform -- the goal of right-wing dictators. I hear this all the time when I teach Marx in my Introduction to Political Philosophy course: communism is such a noble ideal; it just goes wrong in the application. The idea of equality is good, but it gets corrupted by evil people who lead the glorious revolution astray. However, the historical record is clear. The left-wing dictators -- Mao, Lenin, Stalin, Pol Pot, Castro -- in the name of equality, have killed hundreds of millions of people and only produced economic misery, political backwardness and oppression, and their societies are still struggling to emerge from under the wreckage. The right-wing dictators like Franco and Pinochet (true, Hitler was a right-winger, but he's the exception) killed far FAR fewer people and the societies they left behind are now vibrant successful liberal market democracies.

As O'Sullivan puts it, one murder for political change is too many. But let's call a spade a spade.

Monday, December 11, 2006

The Manama Dialogue: Security Challenges in the Persian Gulf

Addressing the issue of security challenges in the Gulf region, Mohammed Al Abdallah Al Sabah, the Director of Citizen Services and Government Bodies Assessment Agency of Kuwait, spoke to the Manama Dialogue. The full text of his remarks can be read here. Mr. Al Sabah identified two major challenges to regional security:
The situation in Iraq, as known by all, is getting worse. Violence and terrorists’ acts are increasing. They are turning to be of sectarian nature and that would lead to a civil war affecting the other countries in the region. On the other hand, the debate among the US political officials concerning reviewing the US policy in Iraq, and the attempts made to find solutions and alternatives to leave Iraq in the current circumstances before it is time for such leaving is against the interest of the Iraqi people; there will be more violence and instability. Furthermore, militias and terrorists groups will seek for filling the security vacancy when the allied forces depart from Iraq before security is established there.
Therefore, as the United States is reviewing their policy in Iraq and thinking of finding solutions, the choice of the withdrawal from Iraq should not be one of the suggested choices. We would rather prefer to see more support for the national interests and the Iraqi government to accelerate efforts of development and reform. Such efforts will, as we in the whole region hope, result in the stability of Iraq.


Under the recent attempts of imposing sanctions against the Islamic Republic of Iran if they continue in their incomplete and non-transparent cooperation with the international community, matters are likely to worsen. As we emphasize that Iran has all the right to use nuclear technology for civilian peaceful purposes, we also emphasize that Iran has to deal with the International Atomic Energy Agency with transparency in order that the regional and international countries trust the Iranian nuclear intentions.

Therefore, we ask the Iranians to take actual steps for building confidence with the regional and the international countries through dealing transparently with the international community concerning their nuclear file.
Al Sabah also mentioned the Israel-Palestinian crisis and the situation in Lebanon, but the most attention was paid to the questions of Iraq and Iran.

It should certainly be unsurprising that Kuwait does not wish to see the US leave Iraq. Having suffered invasion at the hands of Saddam Hussein, Kuwait is very likely to be greatly affected by instability in Iraq, especially as sectarian violence poses the possibility of spilling out over Iraq's borders. The US shouldn't base its future plans of action in Iraq on the opinions of Iraq's neighbors, but at the same time, the US cannot implement a solution that ignores the larger regional dynamic and security situation. Troop withdrawal may be best for the US, but if it undermines the stability of the Gulf, it may not be possible. Countries such as Kuwait must be considered and consulted as the US develops a credible and functional exit strategy from Iraq.

However, most interesting is the plea for Iran to cooperate with international institutions to make its nuclear program more transparent. Again, being relatively weak, it is not surprising that Kuwait would balance regional powers such as Iran by siding with external actors. But again, the willingness of Persian Gulf countries to side with the international community can be sed to build credibility for the IAEA, the UN, and the possibility of sanctions. The EU and US should work with the other states in the Gulf to open a serious dialogue with Iran. Gulf states like Kuwait should, hopefully, have a better sense of what carrots and sticks might be capable of altering Iranian behavior.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

The Manama Dialogue: The Situation in Iraq

Continuing Security Dilemma's coverage of the Manama Dialogue Persian Gulf Security Summit, we have H.E. MR VECDİ GÖNÜL, the Minister of Defense of Turkey, speaking on the situation in Iraq (unfortunately, Mr. Gonil's address in the Iraq plenary session is the only that has, as of yet, been released). Turkey's position on Iraq is colored by its own issues with the Kurds; perhaps Turkey's most important interest is in preventing any kind of autonomous or independent Kurdish state from emerging from Iraq. Thus, much of Mr. Gonul's speech revolves around urging against partition of the country:
Indeed, the key issue to be addressed at this stage in Iraq, is to put an end, to the fragmentation of the country along ethnic and sectarian lines. Due to understandable reasons that have origins in the past, Iraq’s political parties have been pursuing policies that appeal only to their ethnic or sectarian electorates. However, if this trend were to continue, what we have come to regard the future with less hope, as opportunities will turn into irreparable fault lines. Every Iraqi should bear in mind that the idea of splitting the country into sectarian parts is not a viable option. It will be the beginning of a disaster, which will engulf the whole region.
While partition may or may not be a possible answer to the ongoing collapse of Iraq, it's hard to see this argument as anything more than serving Turkey's own narrow self-interest. An independent, or even autonomous, Kurdish region on Turkey's southeastern border would be a beacon to Turkey's own Kurdish population that seeks some form of separation from Turkish control (for background on the Turkish-Kurdish issue, please see this or this).

There are largely two schools of thought as to the best solutions to ethnic conflict. If the conflict is largely rooted in historical and immutable ethnicities, then separation or partition may be the best response. This was the impetus behind the creation of Pakistan and the transfer of Muslim populations out of predominately Hindu India. However, if the conflict is more a product of short-term insecurity, then power-sharing or negotiations are a more attractive solution (I'm grossly simplifying here...).

My sense has been and is that the current problems are more the latter than the former. That is, the Sunni insurgency is made up of those who fear that a Shiite-led Iraq will not be able to protect their interests and futures. Witness Roger Cohen's argument in today's New York Times that there is no Iraq, and that the real problem is in building the lines of trust and identity required of any political entity. Also, reports today accuse the Mahdi Army, the militia loyal to Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr, of attacking a Sunni neighborhood in Baghdad. Clearly, under conditions such as these, no Sunni would trust the government to provide a secure future.

If partition is to be avoided, these militias must be confronted and disarmed or destroyed, a point I made recently and one that was largely ignored by the Iraq Study Group. But, this is, I believe, the only path towards avoiding the fragmentation of the Iraqi state. And whether or not Turkey's warning against partition is self-serving, Turkey's security and stability is of great importance to the region, as well as European and American interests as well.

The Manama Dialogue: Asia's Role in the Persian Gulf

Sorry for the delays in blogging the Manama Dialogue...there seems to be some problems in getting governments to approve the release of the transcripts of their officials. But, I now have a few more addresses....

Speaking on Asia's role in the Persian Gulf was H.E. Mr. M.K. Narayanan, National Security Advisor to the Prime Minister of India and H.E. Mr. Sun Bigan, China's Special Envoy to the Middle East. The full texts of their speeches can be found here and here respectively. Unfortunately, the speeches seem to be plagued by what I have previously identified as the Immutable Law of Speeches by Public Officials: the fact that the more important and higher up in government the speaker, the less meaningful the speech. Both of these speeches are long in vague generalizations, but short in concrete suggestions for solving the serious security problems. My guess is that the most interesting work at the Manama Dialogue is happening off-the-record at dinners, over drinks, and between plenary sessions. Note that there are also break-out groups, which are not being made part of the public record.

Mr. Narayanan makes a few interesting points, perhaps the most interesting of which is:
There are other issues as well which demand close attention. Any calibration of effort to create stable conditions cannot, for instance, ignore the role of Iran. India has long-standing ties with Iran. It is an important trade partner, apart from providing for India’s access to Central Asia. Like any other nation, Iran has its security concerns and perceptions; these need to be suitably addressed. Regional security quite clearly requires that there is a dialogue between the concerned parties in this regard. Non-engagement cannot be the basis of a long-term strategy.
India and Iran have long shared dissatisfaction at the exclusion from the parents' table, each feeling itself to be ignored and underappreciated by the most powerful players on the international stage. This has contributed to a synchronization of many mutual interests, including nuclear proliferation. The US and the West has long tried to get India to participate in ramping up pressure on Iran, which India has refused to do. The comments by Narayanan indicate that India will continue to press for direct negotiation, as well as an acknowledgement of Iran's legitimate security concerns. India's own proliferation makes it unlikely that India would support sanctions or punishments on Iran. Here, India's interests diverge from those of most of the relevant actors in the Gulf.

Narayanan does express very strong support for the stabilization efforts in Afghanistan, which is not surprising a stable and secure Afghanistan provides a check on India's major concern, Pakistan. Narayanan stated that:
Taliban’s incursions into Southern Afghanistan have been made possible by the existence of support structures across the border from Afghanistan. Any destabilization of the moderate and democratic Afghan Government would have incalculable long-term consequences, not only for Afghanistan but for almost all countries in the region, including India, and also Central Asia. It could, in turn, also have a domino effect with extremist and fundamentalist elements gaining the upper hand, endangering peace and stability along a very wide arc. This could have incalculable global consequences. Thus, the international community has a vital stake in ensuring that Afghanistan never again becomes a safe haven for extremist and fundamentalist forces.
Note the not-so-subtle accusation of Pakistani support for the Taliban. This is an issue of vital importance for India, and an area where pressure can be placed on India to, perhaps, join international efforts to deal with Iran. It does point out why Afghanistan is so critical for global security, and why NATO's effort there must not fail.

Mr. Bigan's speech was even less substantive than was Mr. Narayanan's. However, given China's recent forays into Africa, the Persian Gulf represents an excellent opportunity for China to continue to extend its influence and balance the US and the West. Thus, perhaps the most important part of Bigan's address was:
In order to build a harmonious Gulf, we must be committed to promoting economic and social development of the region. Development is a precondition to eradicate the destabilizing factors of regional security, and an important basis and the guarantee of peace and stability. Sustained peace is impossible without sustained development. We support the Gulf countries to strengthen regional economic cooperation, and to endeavor to set up an open, fair and regulated multilateral trading system, so as to realize mutual benefit and win-win results with other economies. We also support the Gulf countries to choose a model of development that adapts their own historical traditions, cultural characters and development levels. We believe that sustained and sound economic and social development will provide a solid basis for the regional security.
Again, we see a strong argument for globalization. China has learned, perhaps more than any other country, of the power of economic reform and openness. This may herald a drive for China to increase its presence in and connections to the Persian Gulf. But more importantly, it entrenches the need for economic liberalization, which cannot help but produce, albeit slowly, political liberalization.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Manama Dialogue: Keynote Address

The Manama Dialogue opened last night in Bahrain, with a keynote address from HRH Prince Muqrin Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, Chief of General Intelligence, Saudi Arabia. The full text of his remarks can be found here.

The Prince made several points worthy of comment. First:

The fact that Israel is having nuclear weapons is the most dangerous threat against the Gulf security for both the near and the middle future. Consequently, some countries in the region took part in the competition for having nuclear weapons, as this is currently witnessed. It may be unanimously agreed that the spread of mass destruction weapons in the region will make the security issues more complicated in the whole region. It will rather give the right for the countries in the region to adopt policies and to make alliances with the countries of nuclear technology. It will also stimulate moderate countries in the region which adopts policies for eliminating mass destruction weapons, to make nuclear programs (whether concealed or declared) aiming at creating military balance in the region in order to defend their interests, gains and beliefs.
We believe that most of the problems in the region, their consequences of political attitudes and the increase of the terrorists’ acts, are closely related to the Middle East’s first issue, the Palestinian issue which will have a constant impact in the whole region since it has serious effects upon the international security and stability. This is in case this issue remains unsolved.
In view of the aforesaid, the international powers, that are concerned in this issue, are asked to perform there role impartially so as to find suitable solutions that would create peaceful coexistence among the countries in the region including Israel. Such coexistence should be based upon justice and equality in accordance with the Arabian Peace Initiative adopted in Beirut Summit in 2002. This will guarantee a fair solution for the Arab – Israeli conflict.
Two things are wrapped up here: First, the issue of the proliferation of nuclear weapons in the Middle East/Persian Gulf; and second, the Israel-Palestine conflict. Of course, if these are the two most pressing issues of Persian Gulf security, and if NW proliferation is "the most dangerous threat against the Gulf security for both the near and the middle future" then why is Israel not attending this summit? It is absurd to not invite the country that is believed to be the primary security concern, particularly when the likely solutions to those concerns are going to be negotations, not confrontation. This points out the gap between the rhetoric coming out of these countries with the political realities.

Israel has long been an attractive and useful whipping point for the authoritarian regimes of the Middle East and Persian Gulf. This is not to deny that there are serious political concerns or that Israel is never at fault or to blame. But Israel is most definitely not, on either dimension identified by Prince Muqrin (I apologize if I am violating some protocol with such a reference...I've never had to refer to royalty before), the primary threat to the region.

Israel developed nuclear weapons sometime in the late 1960s and there has been little to no proliferation pressure on its neighbors since. In fact, it was Israel's acquisition of nuclear weapons that finally convinced Egyptian President Anwar Sadat that a military victory by Arab armies was impossible, which directly led to the Camp David Peace Accords.

Prince Muqrin insinuates that the current proliferation crisis in Iran is a response by Iran to Israel's nuclear capability. But this makes no sense. Israel has never, except in the context of the current crisis, threatened Iran. In fact, quite the contrary, with Iran President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad repeatedly threatening to destroy Israel. Rather, Iran's desire for nuclear weapons is much more a response to US hegemony. The international community has, in the wake of two US-Iraq wars, learned that no state can become a regional power unless it can challenge the US, and no state can stand up to the US without a nuclear weapon.

Furthermore, while many countries repeatedly point to the Palestinian problem as the key to resolving larger regional issues, I'm very skeptical of such a claim. I am on the record stating that Israel needs to do more enable a negotiated settlement. However, while it may be true that the "Arab street" (which includes Iran, a non-Arab country...maybe it should the "Muslim Street?") cares deeply about the Palestinians, there is little evidence that the regimes are willing to pay anything more than lip service to the cause. Historically, Arab solidarity has been little more than a strategically-driven pipe dream, and there has been little effort to advance the process or ease the misery of the Palestinians. Concern for the Palestinian cause is a useful way for the region's leaders to deflect public attention and anger from their own shortcomings, and provides a important outlet for the frustrations of their peoples. But there has been very little political pressure or incentive coming from these regimes for any kind of serious settlement. For example, where is the pressure on Hamas to recognize Israel?
Such a step could be vitally important in transforming the political dynamic.

Again, if Israel is so vitally important and threatening to the region, then at the very least, Israel should be invited to such an event as this. Its absence indicates the supremacy of politics over policy.

The second noteworthy comment by Prince Muqrin is:

Other factors of threat against security in our region are the issue of non-employment, and the foreign labours. Non-employment in the Gulf countries is in constant increase. It is a factor of instability that affects the security of the region’s countries. As the number of the untrained foreign labours who enter legally to our countries is getting more and more, in addition to such labours who enter illegally, then there will be serious economic, political, security and social effects. Illegal labours make labour camps in the gulf countries with the purpose of getting illegal profits. So, if this problem is not solved by the cooperation of the countries of origin of those labours, this will aggravate the security and social problems and the damages are to be incurred by the countries of the region, especially, the Gulf countries.
Now here the Prince is, I believe, right on. Globalization is the key to the economic development and success of these countries. Most of the countries have little economic productivity outside of oil, with Jordan being a notable exception. A state's economy needs to be broad-based, resting on many different sectors. For too long, the oil-based regimes of the Middle East and Persian Gulf have counted on oil revenues to buoy their economies and countries as a whole, but that will no longer suffice. These countries must be, and are, as evidenced by the large numbers of Middle East and Gulf countries in the WTO, willing to open their economies to international trade in order to develop their own domestic production.

However, such openness will not be easy. Free trade always produces short-term dislocations, as capital moves to its most efficient uses. Furthermore, increased openness to trade also producues increased openness to outside cultural influences, which could exacerbate some of problems that currently exist between Islam and the Western countries. Finally, economic reform demands and produces political reform. How far will these non-democratic regimes be willing to go and how much power will they be willing to give up to improve economic and living conditions for their people?

This may, in fact, be the most important question for Gulf security. Economic and political opportunity are some of the strongest predictors of peace and stability in international politics. As more countries move to improve the domestic conditions within and the political structures that control, the more likely it will be that security concerns can be resolved through negotiation and cooperation, rather than competition.

Friday, December 08, 2006

A Test For Trade

As the 109th Congress prepares to close this afternoon, both the House and Senate are racing to finish up some critical business, including a bill that will serve as an excellent bellwether of the new Democratic Congress' commitment to free trade (true, the newly-elected members aren't voting on this bill, but the Democrats already in Congress may feel empowered to vote the bill down, as has already happened with free-trade agreements with Peru and Colombia).

The bill, in addition to including numerous domestic tax breaks [full disclosure: As a resident of Washington state, which has no state income tax, I stand to benefit from this bill which will allow residents of states without income taxes to deduct state and local sales taxes from their federal income], contains several vitally important trade elements, including the granting of permanent normal trade relations (what used to be known as Most-Favored Nation status) to Vietnam, an essential criteria for Vietnam's entry into the World Trade Organization. The bill will also extend existing agreements with Haiti and sub-Saharan African states to allow those countries to export textiles and apparel to the US at lowered tariff rates, and extends a program to provide low tariffs for the products of more the 140 developing countries.

It cannot be stressed enough how important free trade is to the economic health of not only this country but of the entire international community. I have blogged in an earlier post about how restricting free trade and increasing either protectionist tariff rates or subsidies produces massive harms for the poor in this country and in the developing world. But free trade is also a critical component of the democratic peace. By trading and interacting with other countries, mutual expectations of gain are formed, patterns of behavior are established, and economic interdependence is created to connect the future well-being of states to one another.

The US has spent much of the latter half of the 20th century building a liberal economic trade regime that has resulted in massive improvements in the living conditions and well-being of peoples all over the world. The creation and maintenance of this order is one of the most important components of US global leadership. This regime must not only be sustained, it must be broadened by dropping the remaining impediments to free trade so that all states might benefit.

If this bill is defeated, I fear for the future, as should you.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

The Manama Dialogue: List of Speakers

In case you've forgotten, this weekend, Security Dilemmas has been invited to blog the Manama Dialogue Perisan Gulf Security Summit. Over the weekend, I will be emailed transcripts of the plenary sessions and speeches, which I will post and comment on.

So, here's the agenda, with the speakers:

The Manama Dialogue 2006


21:00 – 23:00 Keynote Address and Opening Dinner

HRH Prince Muqrin Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud

Chief of General Intelligence, Saudi Arabia

Saturday 9 December

09:00 – 09:05 Opening of the Summit

Dr John Chipman

Director-General and Chief Executive, IISS

09:05 –09:40 First Plenary Session


Dr Zalmay Khalilzad

Ambassador of the US to Iraq

09:45 – 11:15 Second Plenary Session


Manouchehr Mottaki

Minister of Foreign Affairs, Iran

Hoshyar Zebari

Minister of Foreign Affairs, Iraq

Sh Khalid Bin Ahmed Al Khalifa

Minister of Foreign Affairs, Bahrain

Sh Mohammed Al Abdallah Al Sabah

Director, Citizens Services and Governmental Bodies Assessment Agency

11:45 – 13:15 Third Plenary Session


M. K. Narayanan

National Security Adviser to the Prime Minister, India

Yuriko Koike

National Security Adviser, Japan

Sun Bigan

Special Envoy to the Middle East, China

15:30 – 17:30 Simultaneous Break-Out Groups


Chair: Professor François Heisbourg

IISS Chairman; former IISS Director

Vice Admiral David Nichols

Deputy Commander, Central Command, US

Vice Admiral A K Singh

Commander-in-Chief, Eastern Naval Command, India

Zainul Abidin Rasheed

Senior Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Singapore


Chair: Ellen Laipson

President and CEO, The Henry L. Stimson Center, US

Dr Saadoun Al Dulaimi

Adviser to the Prime Minister; Iraq

Wafaa Bassim

Deputy Foreign Minister, Egypt

Mohammed Abdulla M Al Rumaihi

Undersecretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Qatar


Chair: Field Marshal The Rt Hon Lord Inge

Former Chief of the Defence Staff, UK

Dr John Hillen

Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs, US

Jean de Ponton d’Amécourt

Director, Strategic Affairs, Ministry of Defence, France

Dr Hossein Mousavian

Foreign Policy Advisor to the Supreme National Security Council; Vice President, International Issues, Center for Strategic Research, Iraq

20:30 – 23:00 Reception and Dinner

Hosted by His Highness Sheikh Salman Bin Hamad Bin Isa Al Khalifa

Sunday 10 December

08:45 – 10:00 Fourth Plenary Session


Jawad Al Bolani

Minister of Interior, Iraq

Mehmet Vecdi Gonul

Minister of Defence, Turkey

Carl Bildt

Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sweden

10:30 – 11:45 Fifth Plenary Session


Maurice Gourdault-Montagne

Diplomatic Advisor to the President of the Republic, France

Rt Hon Adam Ingram

Minister of State for the Armed Forces, UK

Christian Schmidt

Parliamentary State Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Germany

12:15 – 13:30 Sixth Plenary Session


Muhammad Ali Al Anisi

Chairman, National Security Agency and Head of the Presidential Office, Yemen

General Ehsan Ul Haq

Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, Pakistan

Dr Mowaffak Al Rubaie

National Security Adviser, Iraq

This is really an impressive event. Please check in with Security Dilemmas for continual updates and analysis of this security conference.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

From Trans Fats To Big Brother

The New York City Board of Health has voted to ban the use of nearly all trans fats in NYC restaurants. As I wrote about several months ago, this is just another link in the chain that allows our government to do anything possible to protect us.

American society has become infantilized by our need to have government solve every problem. We need the government to forbid restaurants from serving hamburgers cooked to rare or medium-rare, we need the government to make our bars smoke-free, we need the government to force restaurants to use one type of oil over another. So why is anyone surprised when the government, which is called on to solve any and all problems, takes that mandate seriously and tries to protect itself and our society from terrorism? If the government needs to tell us what we can and cannot put into our bodies, why shouldn't it torture suspected terrorists? Or tap our phones?

When government is seen as the answer to every problem, those answers will inevitably and necessarily become more and more oppresive. And if you support today's intrusion of government authority into our lives, you most certainly will not support tomorrow's. As I wrote in my earlier post on this subject:

This is the reason that true libertarians (and I don't mean the wackos in the Libertarian Party) fear giving power to government to solve problems; even problems for which we all agree on a solution. You may like what Big Government does today, when your preferred elected official is in office. But what about tomorrow, when the other party holds power? And how do you stop government from taking as much power as it believes it needs to protect the country? The next time you find yourself calling for government regulation, remember where it can lead. Big Government is inherently and necessarily a threat to liberty and freedom.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Moving Forward in Iraq

It was an interesting week with regards to Iraq, with President Bush indicating that he plans "significant changes" to the US strategy for reconstructing and stabilizing Iraq, despite doubts as to whether the president will actually be willing to shift course, as well as the anticipation of Wednesday's release of the report from the Iraq Study Group. However, perhaps the most interesting revelation was the release of a memo drafted by former SecDef Donald Rumsfeld, written a few days before his resignation in the wake of the Democratic victory at the polls.

The memo expresses Rumsfeld's doubts about the progress and prospects for success in Iraq, stating that "what US forces are currently doing in Iraq is not working well enough or fast enough." Rumsfeld went on to present a range of options, divided into two categories: Above the Line, and Below the Line, which translate to attractive and viable, and unattractive, respectively.

Some of the more interesting Above the Line options with analysis:

Publicly announce a set of benchmarks agreed to by the Iraqi Government and the U.S. — political, economic and security goals — to chart a path ahead for the Iraqi government and Iraqi people (to get them moving) and for the U.S. public (to reassure them that progress can and is being made).
It's shocking that this hasn't already been done. Absent clearly stated goals no one -- not the Iraqi government, not US policy makers, not the US public -- can truly judge what's going on. We have no idea what is being tried and what isn't, nor what constitutes success. Also, as Somalia and Vietnam taught this country, a clear and achievable exit strategy is a necessity.

Initiate a reverse embeds program, like the Korean Katusas, by putting one or more Iraqi soldiers with every U.S. and possibly Coalition squad, to improve our units’ language capabilities and cultural awareness and to give the Iraqis experience and training with professional U.S. troops.
This is an excellent, and low-cost idea, but again I'm shocked this hasn't been tried yet. Cultural awareness and sensitivity is critical in a war against insurgents that takes place among civilian populations.

Retain high-end SOF capability and necessary support structure to target Al Qaeda, death squads, and Iranians in Iraq, while drawing down all other Coalition forces, except those necessary to provide certain key enablers for the ISF.
This seems to be a recognition of the situation on the ground. This war will not be won, if it can be won, by large military units engaging in set-piece battles. Special Forces are vital, with their mobility and flexibility.

Begin modest withdrawals of U.S. and Coalition forces (start “taking our hand off the bicycle seat”), so Iraqis know they have to pull up their socks, step up and take responsibility for their country.
See above.

Initiate a massive program for unemployed youth. It would have to be run by U.S. forces, since no other organization could do it.
Brilliant. While it's widely accepted that poverty and unemployment doesn't cause terrorism, the conditions created by poverty and hopelessness do. Even more importantly, in the case of a domestic insurgency which is largely spurred by peoples' fear of the future, making that future less bleak could do a lot to undermining the Sunni insurgency.

There are two things most interesting about this list (I left off several recommendations). First: Most of them are quite simple and it's very hard to understand why they haven't already been tried. This just seems to support the claim that Rumsfeld and Bush are/were completely blind to the on-going problems and were refusing to think creatively about the problems in Iraq. I'm not saying that any one of these recommendations is a silver bullet that will end the insurgency, but they are all worth trying, and seem to be fairly low-cost and low-risk.

Most interesting is one not on the list, but one that seems to me to be the most important: Using US military might to rein in and/or destroy the extra-governmental militias operating in Iraq. While in the early days after the invasion, much of the insurgency was led by foreigners operating through or in coordination with al Qaeda, now the majority of violence seems to be carried out by Sunnis who are, understandably, fearful of their futures in an Iraq run by a Shiite-Kurd government.

Between death squads being run out of Iraqi military and police units and Shiite militias such as the Mahdi Army of Moktada al-Sadr and the Badr Brigade, it's pretty hard to be a Sunni in Iraq these days. According to the Council on Foreign Relations (link above), "Whereas in 2004 and 2005, these militia groups primarily targeted ex-Baathists, rival militia groups, or U.S. troops, now they target everyday Iraqis based on their ethno-religious sect." The militias are highly popular among those that they protect as they provide security and social services, and both the US and the Iraqi government have proven unwilling to take them on directly (with a few exceptions such as in Fallujah), as many of the militias are extremely well-armed.

Perhaps the most important step the US could take would be to directly attack these militias. If the insurgency is to be co-opted and the government to succeed, Sunnis must come to believe that they can be protected and their interests advanced by the Iraqi government. The Iraqi government cannot do that if it's authority is undermined by numerous armed groups operating in country. As Lebanon learned this summer, a government that does not enjoy a monopoly of force within its borders is in for trouble.

If the US is serious about trying to "win" in Iraq, it must challenge these militias. The US should commit to a short-term increase in manpower, during which it should demand the disarmament of all extra-governmental armed groups. Any group that refuses to do so, be it Shiite, Kurd, or Sunni must be attacked head-on and destroyed.

Of course, disarming or destroying these militias, especially the Kurdish peshmerga will be difficult and unpopular, to put it mildly. Also, a group that has lost its protective militia will be exposed to the predations of others. This would be no easy task for the US. But if there is to be any hope of building a stable Iraqi government, it is a step that must be taken.

Monday, November 27, 2006

A Lesson NOT To Learn From Iraq

Of course, there are going to be numerous lessons and consequences of the US-led invasion of Iraq. Many of them will have to do with the nature of decision making, the wisdom of unilateral, or more accurately unsanctioned multilateral, intervention, the problems inherent in intelligence analysis, and other similar issues. However, in two recent article we can see warnings of a lesson we should hope odes not get learned. In the Washington Post, Robert Kaplan warns us that a move back to realism (as evidenced by the appointment of Robert Gates to SecDef) ignores the vital moral element of US foreign policy. And in the Weekly Standard, Robert Kagan and Bill Kristol warn that the dictates of realism demand foreign policy decisions that clash with the interests of the US.

As the appointment of Gates to replace Rumsfeld shows (although Rumsfeld was no neo-con; just a realist convinced in two things: Terrorism as an existential threat to the state, and the need to transform the US military), one of the dominant reactions to the on-going debacle that is Iraq is a return to the basic tenets of realism. As Kaplan puts it, "U.S. foreign policy will be defined by an obdurate caution, coupled with a ruthless, almost mathematical application of balance-of-power principles." According to Kagan and Kristol, a return to realism would mean "the United States should turn a blind eye to Iran's nuclear weapons program, in exchange for Iran's help in easing our retreat from Iraq" and "putting pressure on Israel to deal in a more forthcoming way with the Hamas-dominated Palestinian government. Israel should be induced to make concessions despite the ongoing violence and the refusal of Hamas to ratify even Yasser Arafat's acceptance of Israel's right to exist."

If we learn anything from Iraq, it's that the US must be exceedingly careful if it ever thinks about attempting large-scale coercive nation-building. But that lesson must not force the US to retreat from its liberal mission. The US does not always act in accordance with its principles, but it is unthinkable that the US would NEVER do so. It was the US that rebuilt the shattered European and Japanese states after World War II, it was the US that presses Zimbabwe and Burma to improve their human rights records, it is the US that is standing firm in its refusal to negotiate with North Korea, it is the US that is keeping attention focused on Darfur. And without the security umbrella provided by US military hegemony, issues of human security such as the ICC would be nowhere near the international agenda.

Iraq should, and very likely has, taught the US humility and restraint, both of which are valuable and important to learn. But those lessons must not be taken too far. A retreat to a realist foreign policy would betray the ideals of this country, and would abandon the rest of the world to misery.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Live-Blogging the Persian Gulf Security Summit

Security Dilemmas has been selected to live-blog the Third Annual Regional Security Summit for the Persian Gulf, now known as the Manama Dialogue, sponsored by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, which will take place December 8-10. According to the invitation:

The Manama Dialogue is the primary security institution in the Persian Gulf and will see the greatest ever involvement of the national security establishments of the region with key outside powers this year. As in previous years, the Dialogue will provide a unique forum for the discussion of the regional security challenges by the most senior authorities responsible for defence, foreign policy and security issues in the participating states.

The summit will be opened formally by the Crown Prince of the Kingdom of Bahrain, His Highness Sheikh Salman Bin Hamad Al Khalifa, who will deliver the Keynote Address on Friday 8 December. On Saturday 9 December, the US National Security Advisor, Stephen Hadley, will make a key statement on US security strategy in the Persian Gulf. Delegation leaders from the other participating countries will also deliver official policy statements throughout the course of the weekend. Plenary session subjects include: “The U.S. and Gulf Security,” “Regional Perceptions of Gulf Security,” “The Gulf and the East,” “Security Guarantees and Regional Stability,” “The Situation in Iraq,” “The Gulf and Europe,” and “Iran and Outside Powers.”
This should be a fascinating look at the major security issues of the Persian Gulf. The conference organizers will be sending me summaries of the plenary sessions immediately after their conclusion, after which I will post the summaries and provide analysis.

If you want more information, you can see the draft agenda, the information sheet, or the poster.

I hope that you will join me and participate in what should be an excellent examinatioin of Gulf security issues.