Bosnia anyone?

Yes, there were quite a few of you out there interested in Macedonoia, and then the piece about Bill Montgomery piece about Bill Montgomery grabbed a lot of you interested in Serbia.  What about Bosnia?  My latest is here. It is a response to a piece by Ted Galen Carpenter advocating partition.

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Wasting your money, Tomislav?

This is inside baseball, but for those of you who might be interested:  former U.S. Ambassador William Montgomery’s September 2010 registration with the Justice Department as an agent for Tomislav Nikolic, President of the Serbian Progressive Party.

I would be the last to deny a retired Foreign Service officer whatever income he can find, and 7500 euros a month is not pocket change, but I would also want to know whom he represents when he gives interviews calling for the dissolution of Bosnia.  To be fair he was doing this even before the date of his registration, and he is of course entitled to his views, which are contrary to mine.

The partitions Montgomery proposes are sure formulas for re-igniting conflict in the Balkans, with devastating results, including the formation of an Islamic Republic in central Bosnia.  Remember Bill?  We called that the “non-viable, rump Islamic Republic that would be a platform for Iranian terrorism in Europe.”  Hard for me to see how that is in the U.S. or Serbian interest.  But there is of course no longer a need for Bill to worry about that.  He works for Nikolic.

The bigger problem may be for Nikolic:  he is going to have a hard time being welcomed in Washington unless he takes a pro-Europe, One Bosnia line.  Associating himself with Bill Montgomery’s advocacy of partition of Bosnia and Kosovo is no way to overcome Nikolic’s past association with the hard-line, anti-European ethnic nationalism of the Serb Radical Party, from which he split in 2008.

What does Montgomery do for Nikolic’s money?  He’ll call his old friends at State, the National Security Council and Congress to get appointments.  This is something that the head of a party in the Serbian parliament could and should have done by his own secretary, or by the Serbian embassy.

If that doesn’t work, I’ll help him, for free.  I am vigorously in favor of Washington hearing from all parts of the political spectrum in Serbia.  But it is simply outrageous that people get paid to make appointments in Washington–our public servants should all be told to tell paid agents that appointments can only be made directly, not through intermediaries.

If Nikolic wants to pay Montgomery to write his talking points, that’s fine with me.  But they’ll have to say something different from what Montgomery has been saying in public.

Wasting your money, Tomislav?

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Oldtime revolutionary lore

As Tunisian flu has now spread from Egypt to Iran, Bahrain and Yemen, with a touch also in Algeria and now Libya, it might be wise to review what an old hand views as a few crucial points (I first sat down in front of the bayonet-armed and gas-masked Maryland National Guard in 1964 and got teargassed by the U.S. Army at Fort Dix in 1968, so I am claiming some seniority here).  I was also an early and strong supporter of the Serb uprising that forced Slobodan Milosevic out.

One key point is nonviolent discipline, not because of the moral requirement but because it will make the demonstrations more effective. Another is clarity–and simplicity–of objectives.

Why is nonviolence important?  Because you want the security forces to hesitate to crack down–they won’t hesitate if you are throwing rocks at them–they’ll fight back, and by definition they have greater firepower.  Only if the security forces hesitate to crack down is autocracy in trouble, because it rules by fear.  No crackdown, no fear, no autocrat.

The problem is that the security forces often use violence first, or maybe it will be the thugs allied with the regime (the basij in Iran, the club-wielders in Sanaa).  The use of these people is already a good sign:  it means the regime has doubts about the willingness of the regular security forces to do the dirty deed.  The trouble of course is that the thugs can cause a lot of damage.

They will hesitate to use violence only if confronted with a great mass of disciplined people.  Going out in groups of twenty to do pitched battle with thugs is no way to make a revolution–it only gets your head cracked.  People often suffer the most harm when there were few demonstrators, and at night.

That is another reason for keeping things nonviolent–many people won’t come out for a riot. The attack on camels and horses in Cairo was a turning point:  Egyptians were disgusted by a blatant attack on large numbers of ordinary, peaceful people.  Had it looked as if the attack had been provoked by violent demonstrators, the effect would have been much less salutary from the protesters’ perspective.

What about objectives?  Clarity and simplicity are important.  The protesters in Egypt were clearly aiming ultimately for democracy, but the crowds rallied around the call for Mubarak to step down.

Now that he has, there are emerging differences among the many factions that united in the demonstrations–that is only natural.  Some will think a constitutional route to democracy is best, others a non-constitutional route.  Some will want higher wages, better treatment for workers, rights for minorities–only by suppressing for the moment these differences and focusing on a common objective can a motley crew be forged into a powerful mass movement.  There will be time enough after the goal is reached for the protesters to fall out with each other and sow confusion by going their own ways.

Keeping people together, across secular/sectarian and religious or ethnic divides, sends a very powerful message and rallies more people to the cause.

One last note:  Obama’s soft approach is the right one.  Hillary Clinton’s more strident advocacy is not a good idea.

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Haste makes waste

David Makovsky in USA Today wisely councils the Egyptians to take their time in building democratic institutions and not focus excessively on elections.  The quick response: the constitutional amendments will be done in 10 days, referendum on them within two months, elections within six.

I imagine someone in the Army is saying this is the way to be responsive to the protestors, but it is also a formula for mistakes, including mistakes made with some malice aforethought.  The process is as important as the outcome.  Despite the American precedent of writing a constitution behind closed doors in Philadelphia, long experience suggests that fragile, conflicted and formerly autocratic societies–and Egypt should be considered one–need time to decide on how power is to be distributed, which is what a constitution does.  They also need the participation of a broad segment of the population, because otherwise it will look like a power grab (and may well be one).

There is in any event a need for time to develop the institutions of a free society:  most of the media, courts, political parties, trade associations, NGOs and labor unions existing today in Egypt are heavily conditioned by the former regime.  It will be some time before they are reformed, or new ones created.  Context counts.  As Makovsky says,

This means going beyond the obvious of lifting the existing emergency law and amending the Egyptian Constitution. It also requires an independent judiciary, a free press, minority rights, and a security apparatus that maintains the monopoly on the use of force. These institutions provide the opportunity for the creation of a civic culture where parties can negotiate their demands in a peaceful framework. Otherwise, the hope for democracy can be easily thwarted.

It is of course problematic to move slowly when the mainstays of the revolution are apparently pressing for fast action. But more than anything else, the quick action needed now is a new government, an early demand of the protesters that has not been fulfilled. The one currently in place, appointed in his desperate last days by then President Mubarak, will do everything it can to block accountability for the regime’s past behavior and tilt the scales of the future towards their continuation in power. It is no surprise that the military would not be replacing its friends in the government quickly, but that makes it all the more urgent.

Of course all these issues should be left up to the Egyptians to decide–I am not suggesting that the Americans or anyone else can do this for them.  But there is a lot of experience out there to suggest that haste makes waste, especially in matters of constitutional reform.

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My debut on bloggingheads

Recorded Friday with Ussama Makdisi of Rice University, discussing next steps in Egypt:

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Maliki ueber alles?

While we’ve all been preoccupied with Tunisia then Egypt, an Iraqi Supreme Court decision has called into question the independence of the central bank, the electoral commission, the human rights commission and the integrity commission.  Reidar Visser has commented on the electoral commission aspect, but arguably the central bank is even more important.  The big issue is accumulation of power in the hands of the Prime Minister.

Here are the most obviously relevant articles of the Iraqi constitution:

Article 102:

The High Commission for Human Rights, the Independent Electoral Commission, and the Commission on Public Integrity are considered independent commissions subject to monitoring by the Council of Representatives, and their functions shall be regulated by law.

Article 103:

First: The Central Bank of Iraq, the Board of Supreme Audit, the Communication and Media Commission, and the Endowment Commissions are financially and administratively independent institutions, and the work of each of these institutions shall be regulated by law.

Second: The Central Bank of Iraq is responsible before the Council of Representatives. The Board of Supreme Audit and the Communication and Media Commission shall be attached to the Council of Representatives.

What the court apparently decided is that agencies with an “executive” function have to be subordinated to the executive branch, not the Council of Representatives, in order to respect the separation of powers.  This is obviously pretty deep legal water in which I don’t know how to swim, so I am reluctant to dive in.

But it also raises important questions about the survivability of democracy in Iraq, where accumulation of power has a long and unhappy history. Independent agencies are a frequent feature of the landscape in democratic societies, and independent central banks are regarded as absolutely vital to macroeconomic stability, which Iraq has enjoyed for the most part since the fall of Saddam Hussein.  If executive branch supervision refers exclusively to financial probity and other administrative questions, that is one thing (though perhaps not entirely without problems).  If executive branch decision is going to mean that these institutions are no longer in any serious sense independent, that is another.

We shouldn’t leap to conclusions, but I certainly hope the U.S. embassy in Baghdad is inquiring and letting the Prime Minister know that those who fought and paid for Iraq’s relative freedom would not be interested in seeing it undermined by an overly aggressive effort to centralize power.

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