A leopard proud of his spots

Former Vice President Dick Cheney, his wife Lynne, and their daughter Liz spoke on Monday at the Mayflower Hotel at an event hosted by Politico. The event was interrupted several times by members of Code Pink, who shouted, “Dick Cheney is a war criminal!” as they were dragged out of the auditorium.

The Vice President was unrepentant about the 2003 US invasion of Iraq. It was the right idea then, he said, and “in retrospect, it is the right idea now.” He added that the threat we face today is even greater than the threat we faced before 9-11. There is something more dangerous than box-cutter wielding terrorists, and that is a terrorist armed with weapons of mass destruction. According to RAND, Cheney said, there has been a 58% increase in al Qaeda type groups since 2010. The Islamic State, for instance, has attracted thousands of adherents over the last few weeks.

Cheney, who would “not going to into what [Iraq] did or did not have” in terms of WMDs in 2003, said that the proliferation of these weapons continues to be the greatest threat to our national security. After we invaded Iraq, he noted, Gaddafi immediately relinquished his WMDs. America’s current isolationism has made the situation more dangerous than ever. Pakistan has between 50 and 100 nuclear weapons, which could easily fall into the hands of terrorists. Today, our number one threat is a terror organization that controls large swaths of territory, which could allow it to develop its own WMDs.

Cheney blamed much of the situation on President Obama. The President, he said, denies that a problem exists. He claimed in 2011 that al Qaeda was dead. That is not to say that al Qaeda wouldn’t otherwise exist, but his isolationism has “left our allies out to dry.” Cheney admitted that Obama is responding to general battle fatigue in the US, as many people are “tired of war.” “It has been a long time since 9/11,” he added. However, “we cannot conclude but that ISIS and other groups” pose a direct threat to the United States.

He named two chief culprits for the chaos in Iraq. The first is Maliki, who failed to maintain the coalition the US built. Maliki purged many of the best generals because they happened to be Sunni. The second is Obama, whose unwillingness to maintain a military presence in Iraq led directly to the current situation. He accused Obama of knowingly allowing the Status of Forces negotiations agreement to break down. By 2009, he claimed, the terrorists in Iraq had been defeated. We allowed them to come back.

He commended Secretary of State John Kerry on securing a recount for Afghan elections. However, many of our allies do not believe in our ability to influence events. Israelis and Saudis are closer to each other than either one is to the US.

While Cheney declined to endorse any presidential candidates, he said he was worried about the growing isolationist strain in the Republican Party. His daughter Liz said of Senator Rand Paul, who is currently eyeing the nomination in 2016, that his foreign policy agenda “leaves something to be desired.” The Vice President added, “Anyone who thinks we can retreat behind our oceans” is out of their minds.

In a 2009 speech, Rand Paul accused Cheney of invading Iraq to line Halliburton’s coffers. He said that Cheney initially opposed the invasion, “saying it would be a bad idea. And that’s why the first Bush didn’t go into Baghdad. Dick Cheney then goes to work for Halliburton. Makes hundreds of millions of dollars, their CEO. Next thing you know, he’s back in government and it’s a good idea to go into Iraq.” Cheney called these accusations “totally fallacious.”

After the event, a throng of Code Pink protesters greeted guests outsides the hotel. One demonstrator, donning prison stripes and a papier-mâché Cheney mask, shouted derisively, “I admit, I was a little short on my prediction when I told you that we would make a stable democracy in Iraq!”

Eleven years after America’s invasion of Iraq, much of the debate remains unchanged. A leopard, it seems, does not easily change its spots.

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The trials of the Tribunal

I spent a couple of hours yesterday observing the trial of Bosnian Serb Republic army chief Ratko Mladic at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). I did not come away cheered.

The trial itself was a desultory affair. A witness for the defense–who I gather was a “home guard” reservist type–was doggedly telling the court that the people he was guarding “dusk to dawn” without a break in Foca in April 1992 were held for their own protection. They could leave whenever they liked, NATO bombing had destroyed the town’s mosques (or maybe they had been fired on previously because Muslims had fired from them), “loyal” Muslims had fought with the Bosnian Serbs, the authorities of the Bosnian Serb municipality were democratically chosen…. I can only imagine what someone held in this supposedly voluntary detention in Foca in 1992 would like to do to the “soldier” recounting this litany of half truths and bold, well-rehearsed lies.

Mladic sat calmly, listening intently and occasionally trying to communicate with his defense counsel, who seemed far more seasoned than the younger and sometimes confused prosecutor.  I am told Mladic feels he is innocent of any wrongdoing whatsoever. He merely did what he had to do to protect Serbs.

Two of the three judges were openly skeptical of the testimony, asking their own probing questions. A good deal of time and effort went into establishing mundane facts: which mosques had been destroyed when, who had done it, whether a document originated with the Bosnian Serb army or was issued by another organization (and whether the prosecution or the defense would carry the burden of proof on that question).

The bigger issues of the Bosnian Serb Republic’s war aims, its techniques for achieving them and its subservience to the Yugoslav army command were nowhere to be heard in my short sampling of Tribunal proceedings. I imagine you could attend for many days without hearing much about those important issues.

I’ve never been an enthusiast for the Tribunal. Nor have I been one of its critics. It was one of the things done during the Bosnian war that was supposed make people behave better, for fear of being held accountable.  There isn’t much evidence I know of that Milosevic, Mladic or any of the other eventual indictees paid it any heed while they were in powerful positions. Nor do most Bosnians today think it has done much for reconciliation, especially in the Serb Republic entity of that unhappy country.

The costs have been hefty: over $1.2 billion by 2007 and hundreds of millions since. You don’t want to calculate how much that is per conviction, but it is still small beans compared to the $25 billion and more eventually spent on Balkans military intervention.

The initial years of the Tribunal, when it indicted small fry because evidence against bigger fish was hard to come by, were turbulent, as it established its authority and procedures. More recent years have also been controversial, as a new president of the Tribunal has backpedaled on standards of proof and other procedures set before he arrived. The result has been a series of controversial acquittals, as the threshold for demonstrating guilt has risen significantly.

The sad fact is that there has been little reason to applaud the Tribunal, even if you think (as I do) that things would be worse without it. I don’t believe for a moment that Serbia would have been able or willing to try Slobodan Milosevic in Belgrade, or that the proceedings would have been fair. And attempting such a trial would have profoundly distorted Serbian politics, hindering the democratic transition that Serbia has managed, one way and another. Whether the decisions have been acquittals or convictions, ICTY has managed to produce a massive documentary record of the crimes committed during the several Balkans wars, a record that in the end may be its most lasting legacy.

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The Muslim Brotherhood’s bleak future

The Muslim Brotherhood experienced its fall from grace in Egypt just one year ago with President Morsi’s removal. The once highly organized and hierarchical party is now shattered, bringing into question the future of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, as well as the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood and the Tunisian Ennahda party. On Monday, the Middle East Institute hosted “The Muslim Brotherhood: Between the Path of Ennahda and the Threat of the Islamic State” with panelists Alison Pargeter, Hassan Mneimneh, and Eric Trager. They came to a consensus that the Muslim Brotherhood has weakened, especially in Egypt, and its strategy has become disjointed. It is currently unlikely to succeed in gaining power either in Egypt or in Syria.

The future of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood is questionable after the violent clashes and unprecedented crackdown this past year. Pargeter, author of The Muslim Brotherhood: From Opposition to Power, said that the party has faced significant challenges over the past twelve months in internalizing its overthrow and moving forward to regain legitimacy. It has had to face depleted finances, party leader arrests, and distrust from the public.

The current strategy has been to act defensively and shift blame away from the Brotherhood. The discourse of self-preservation has been far from successful. The international community has moved on—Sisi has taken power and the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood is crippled. It is trying to give the impression that the fight is still going on, but is it has not found a viable path back to political power.

The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood has always struggled in articulating its ideology. It is now more important than ever, as the future of the party depends on institutional reform and transparency. A genuine change in political culture will be necessary if the Brotherhood is ever to gain power again. The cycle of competition between the military and political Islam will need to change if Egypt is to ever move forward, which Pargeter concluded could ultimately take more than a decade.

Trager, Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, discussed the role and future of the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria. The party was founded in 1946 and had a tumultuous history throughout the past several decades. It was exiled in 1982 after a violent uprising, which ultimately forced the leadership to reshape its chain of command and membership strategy.

The Syrian Muslim Brotherhood has now had to focus entirely on organizational maintenance, such as funding livelihoods and housing for its members. It is still a wealthy organization but has become very weak within Syria since its exile. It faces significant long-term challenges and is preoccupied with maintenance rather than politics. The organization will have to gain significant support within Syria if it is to ever acquire political power.

Mneimneh, Senior Transatlantic Fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, said  that Tunisians don’t want what happened in Egypt and Syria to play out in their countries. Ennahda has been the only true success story among the three. It is making strides towards democratic practice.

The Ennahda leader has spoken with the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood regarding how to seek compromise. There ultimately needs to be an acceptance of diversity and inclusivity in Egypt rather than focusing on one party at the exclusion of the others. Ennahda is working to break the three main characteristics of politics in the region:  paternalism, tribalism and elitism. It aims at broader pariticipation in government. This approach has proven far more successful than the Muslim Brotherhood’s approach in Egypt or Syria.

The Muslim Brotherhood has had a tumultuous few years and it is unlikely that it will gain power in Egypt or Syria anytime soon.  It is preoccupied with its own survival. With no coherent strategy, there isn’t much hope for the Egyptian and Syrian branches moving forward.

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Finishing the job in the Balkans

I spoke yesterday on “Finishing the Job in the Balkans” with Dutch Foreign Ministry Europe Director Daphne Bergsma, Carnegie Europe’s Stefan Lehne, European Council on Foreign Affairs Sofia office director Dimitar Bechev and former Netherlands/NATO/EU diplomat Pieter Feith at the Hague Institute for Global Justice, former Macedonia ambassador Nikola Dimitrov presiding.  Here are the notes that I prepared for myself, though I confess I departed from them to comment a bit on the International Crisis Group’s final report on the Balkans, along the lines I published yesterday:

1. The organizers of this event did me a great favor in announcing it. They reminded me what I wrote with Soren Jessen-Petersen in the International Herald Tribune:

Only when all the region’s countries are irreversibly on a course toward the E.U. will we be able to celebrate. Likely no more than five more years are required. Until then, we need to keep the Balkans on track, ensuring that Bosnia, Kosovo and Macedonia remain on the train.

2. That was more than three years ago. Where are the Balkan laggards now?
3. Kosovo, I’m happy to say, is making real progress, due in part to Pieter Feith, who presided over the post-independence transition there.  A vigorous EU initiative with German—and off-stage American—support is reintegrating its northern municipalities. It recently ran a decent election with Serb participation. If the government formation process has been slow, that is nothing unusual in parliamentary systems.
4. It is clear enough that Kosovo and Serbia will both someday become EU members if they keep on their current courses—and they’ve pledged not to slow each other down. There are still serious obstacles—perhaps the most important is non-recognition of Kosovo by five EU members—but there is time to overcome them.
5. Macedonia has made some progress, but its human rights situation has seen some backsliding. Sad to say it remains stalled in the EU accession process. The accursed name issue haunts Skopje and Athens.
6. I won’t say much about this: I am a notorious advocate of recognizing people and countries by the names they call themselves. I don’t think modern day Athens has an exclusive claim to the name “Macedonia,” which happens to be attached to 1257 places in the United States. Failure of the Europeans to unite and insist on a resolution of this issue is in my view shameful.
7. But the worse shame is Bosnia. There the US and Europe are at odds.
8. Let me start with the conventional wisdom, which I think is correct: Bosnia is stuck because its constitution ensconced ethnically nationalist political parties in positions of power from which only more nationalist parties are be able to remove them.
9. Dayton ended the war but failed to provide the country with a central governing structure capable of negotiating and implementing the requirements of NATO or European Union membership.
10. This didn’t matter much for the first decade after the war. There were lots of things that needed doing, and NATO and EU memberships were not much of an issue. Using virtually dictatorial powers, the international community force-marched Bosnia away from war.
11. By 2005/6 the constitutional problems were all too evident.  A team of Americans tried to start fixing the constitutional problem by facilitating preparation by the Bosnian political parties of constitutional amendments later known as the April package.
12. The package clarified group, individual and minority rights, as well mechanisms for protecting the “vital national interests” of Bosnia’s constituent peoples. It also included reforms to strengthen the government and the powers of the prime minister, reduce the president’s duties, and streamline parliamentary procedures.
13. They failed in parliament to achieve the 2/3 majority required by two votes. The responsibility was clear: one political party that had participated fully in the negotiations blocked passage, in order to ensure its leader election to the presidency.
14. Whatever the faults of the April package, its passage would have opened the way for a different politics in Bosnia, one based more on economic and other interethnic issues and less on ethnic identity.
15. I confess I thought its defeat would only be temporary. I thought for sure the package would be reconsidered the next year and passed.
16. I failed to understand that the moment was not reproducible. Over the past eight years, the situation has deteriorated markedly. Only one constitutional amendment has passed during that period, under intense international pressure, to codify the status of the Brcko District in northeastern Bosnia.
17. Meanwhile, the country has fallen further and further behind most of its neighbors in the regatta for EU membership and now looks likely to end up in last place, with little hope of entering the EU before 2025 or even later.
18. Those who advocate that the High Representative responsible for interpretation of the Dayton agreements be removed and Bosnia’s problems be left to the EU accession process for resolution have little evidence that will work.
19. All the leverage of EU accession did not work to get Bosnians to align their constitution with a decision of the European Court of Human Rights. Nor has it accelerated the adaptation of Bosnia’s court system to European standards.
20. So what is to be done?
21. I think there is no substitute for the Bosnians solving their own problem. They could do worse than return to the April package, fix whatever problems existed in it, and get on with the process of constitutional revision.
22. I also think there are directions that would not be fruitful.
23. Some would like to see even greater group rights and ethnic separation than provided for in the Dayton agreements. That is not in my view a fruitful direction. Apart from its impact on Bosnia, it would have the undesirable effect of encouraging separatism in Ukraine and elsewhere.
24. Others would like to further weaken the central government or allow the entities to negotiate separately their entry into the EU. Those in my view are not fruitful directions.
25. There is a simple test for any proposal for reform in Bosnia: will it make the government in Sarajevo more functional? The corollary question is whether it will accelerate Bosnian entry into NATO and the EU.
26. The April package would have done that. I think it is time to return to it and get the difficult job of constitutional reform started.


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ICG’s unfortunate Bosnia finale

I feel an obligation to explain my tweet from last week:

’s Future shows again analytical prowess does not entail good policy judgment, or even clarity.

One hundred forty characters really does not allow for a full explanation. So here goes, in 900 words.

The ICG report is correct in fingering the Dayton constitution as the culprit responsible for the country’s current dysfunction. But when it comes to discussion of what to do about the dysfunction, it meanders into a thicket of ill-defined options, premised on this key phrase: “the Croats are a fundamental difficulty”:

In Dayton, they were forced to merge with the Bosniaks in the FBIH [Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina], partly due to the West’s effort to expatiate its sense of guilt for allowing a genocidal war of ethnic separation to go so far.

This is wrong factually, historically and (contrary to what I tweeted about prowess) analytically.  No one forced them, there was no “merger,” it did not happen at Dayton and it was not done to expiate guilt feelings.

The Federation was created more than a year and a half before Dayton, in order to stop the fighting between Croats and Bosniaks (Muslims to Americans). The Bosniaks were winning that war against the Croats but needed to stop it because it prevented them from success in the war against the Serbs, which raged simultaneously. The Croats were having their clocks cleaned, with disastrous consequences for their presence in central Bosnia.

The Americans and the UN convinced Croatian President Tudjman that continuing the Muslim/Croat war would result in a “non-viable, rump Islamic state in central Bosnia that would be a platform for Iranian terrorism in Europe” (I’m quoting from many memos to the Secretary of State).

Tudjman saw the danger of such an entity on his border and decided it would be better to form a Federation, provided it offered absolute equality between Croats and Bosniaks (and he wanted it confederated to Croatia, something that was never done). The Bosniaks, who numbered at least twice and likely close to three times the population of Croats, agreed to this patently disadvantageous formula because a) it would enable them to focus on fighting the Serbs, b) Tudjman controlled the flow of arms from the Adriatic into the Bosniak-controlled territory.

At Dayton, the Croats were anxious–even determined–to maintain the Federation, because it gave them a large measure of self-governance in a structure they thought would guarantee–through its group rights provisions and ethnic quotas–dominance of Croat nationalists. They also insisted on one-third of the central Bosnian “state” government and got what they asked for. I know because Kresimir Zubak, then the (Croat) President of the Federation, came to me and asked that the Americans reduce the six (or was is seven?) member presidency to just three, one seat reserved each for a Croat, Bosniak and Serb.

The ICG report thus goes badly wrong when it suggests that the Croats need to get a better deal in the future than they got at Dayton, when they got an excellent deal that reflected their strong wartime cards. Today, they no longer have a stranglehold over central Bosnia, which is accessible from the north and east as well as the south. When asked, Croats are hard-pressed to cite specific examples of disadvantage in a Bosnia that does largely leave them to govern themselves, at least in those cantons of the Federation where they are the majority. Their one consistent complaint is that the current Croat member of the the presidency is not a nationalist and may have been elected by a margin smaller than the number of Bosniaks who voted for him.

That makes him an interethnic hero in American eyes, but it makes him insufficiently Croat in nationalist Croat eyes. The nationalists want no serious competition for that seat from non-nationalists. It is interesting to note that the analogous thing happened when Vojislav Kostunica beat Slobodan Milosevic in the Yugoslav election of 2000, by a margin smaller than the number of non-Serbs who voted for him.  I never heard Serbs complain about that.

But I wander from the ICG report, which takes the Croat question as fundamental and then spins four possible options. The first is a vague muddling through that takes as its starting point a proposal from several years ago that blew up over boundaries. The second proposes a third, Croat entity, without worrying about its boundaries. Even Zagreb’s fantasists think the time for that has passed. The third proposes three non-territorial communities, cover for creation of a “virtual” Croat entity.  The fourth simply dissolves the Federation, which under today’s conditions would mean independence for Republika Srpska and three-way partition of Bosnia.

Only in the fifth, shortest option does ICG doff its thinking cap to “federal but liberal Bosnia”:

The simplest solution is also the most radical: abolish entities and cantons and build the state anew without reference to community rights, protecting only individual rights.

The eleven lines devoted to this proposition betray it as a throw-away, meant to satisfy those of us in the international community thought to harbor it as our preference, but not worthy of more than cursory attention.

Oddly, ICG never does discuss returning to the 2006 “April package,” which it describes as “the nearest BiH got to comprehensive constitutional reform.” Not surprising, as the April package would not satisfy Croat nationalist ambitions, which is the not so hidden agenda lurking in this unfortunate finale to ICG’s long series of reports on Bosnia, many of which are far more worth reading than this one.

More on the April package option in a future post.

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Afghans want legitimacy

As Afghanistan awaits the result of the second round of elections, countless allegations of fraud have arisen between candidates Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani, bringing the legitimacy of this first peaceful transfer of power into question. On Wednesday, the Asia Society Policy Institute (ASPI) discussed “Afghanistan’s Future: Politics, Prosperity, and Security Under New Leadership” with keynote speaker Ambassador James Dobbins, Ambassador Omar Samad, Clare Lockhart, and Hassan Abbas.

While some argue that US efforts in Afghanistan have been futile, Ambassador Dobbins, Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan at the US Department of State, said this is inaccurate. Political and economic investments have yielded substantial changes over the past decade.  The economy has expanded by more than 400%, the literacy rate has doubled, and longevity has increased by 20 years. UN Development Programme studies have shown that Afghanistan has made more progress than any other country over the past decade. Afghan society has experienced remarkable changes, specifically in its evolution into an urbanized, informed and technological nation.

These social and economic changes are largely a result of the significant US commitment to Afghanistan, which will decline in the near future. According to Dobbins, the success of the transition ultimately depends on three factors. First is the shift to an Afghan-led and managed security force. This process is largely complete. Second, declining US and international financial support will affect the national economy. Third is the behavior of neighboring states. The instability surrounding Afghanistan and the possible influx of militants could have a significant impact on how the country will transition to self-reliance.

While this will be a challenging process in the future, the most potent issue that Afghanistan currently faces is its electoral dilemma. Ambassador Samad, Senior Central Asia Fellow at New America Foundation, discussed the complex political process surrounding the presidential election. A corrupt system has taken hold. The fraud allegations in the recent presidential election are very real. President Karzai has used patronage to create a political mafia. It is vital for the country to restore trust in the system and legitimately elect a new leader. Afghans view this election as a reflection of their newfound political voice and free will. Afghans have had enough—they are committed to a credible election.

Clare Lockhart, Director and Co-Founder of the Institute for State Effectiveness, emphasized the preservation of constitutional law in the Afghan political system. It is vital to maintain the legitimacy of the constitutional order as a means of counteracting political and economic deterioration. However, this should be addressed not from a political dialogue standpoint, but rather from a conflict resolution approach. Afghan leaders must consider what inclusivity truly means and learn from the mistakes of the Bonn Agreement of 2001.

“People will not accept fraud. They want a mechanism that is credible,” concluded Abbas. It must be clear who won and exactly how Karzai’s successor will move forward. According to Abbas, the US needs to provide the confidence that justice will be done and that the rightful winner of the election will take office.

Afghans are more than ready for a legitimate election. They have waited ten long years to gain their political voice. They will not stand for candidates stuffing the ballot box.

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