More evenhandedness needed

It is odd to me that those who are knocking Kosovo for unsubstantiated allegations against the Kosovo Liberation Army and current Prime Minister Hashim Thaci spare nary a sentence for Serbia’s continued failure to arrest and turn over to The Hague Ratko Mladic, indicted for well-established war crimes in Bosnia.  Even for Belgrade’s supporters, this should be a serious embarrassment, never mind those who pretend to even-handedness.

In the meanwhile, it has emerged that Dick Marty, the Council of Europe rapporteur who made the allegations against Thaci and the KLA, was a vigorous opponent of Kosovo independence. His arguments, and others, have now been thoroughly and completely rejected by the International Court of Justice in its advisory opinion.

Clearly Marty’s allegations require a more even-handed and professional investigation.  Thaci has agreed to cooperate–he can hardly do otherwise.  In the meanwhile, it behooves us all to leave the Kosovars to sort out the political consequences on their own.  Those who advocate using this moment to ram through solutions to serious problems–like the status of Kosovo’s Serb-controlled north–are only showing their own biases against Pristina and sowing the seeds of future resentment.

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Beyond DADT and New START

As New START heads for ratification and the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell gets signed, I am feeling the need to explain why I’ve devoted so little time to both, even though my Twitter feed talks about little else.

In my way of thinking, both New START and DADT are peripheral to the main war and peace issues of our time.  Even though New START was bought with a giant increase in funding for modernization of U.S. nuclear weapons, far more than even proponents of modernization envisaged at the beginning of the process, it can be argued that without the treaty efforts to strengthen the nonproliferation regime through measures like a cut-off in production of fissile material would be harder.  It can also be argued that eliminating DADT will grow the pool of competent people interested in entering the U.S. military and eliminate a hypocritical restriction unworthy of a country dedicated to the proposition that all people are created equal.

But these are indirect arguments, secondary effects that do not deal directly with the main war and peace issues of our day.  People are fighting and dying in Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan, Yemen, Somalia–if peacebuilding efforts are not handled well more will die.  Iran poses a serious challenge to American goals in the Middle East, with consequences for friends and allies as well as ourselves.  The United States faces difficult choices:  are we right to devote so many troops and so much money to Iraq and Afghanistan, or should we be paying more attention to Yemen and Somalia, or Iran?  Will our beefed up diplomatic efforts in Sudan avoid catastrophe there after the January 9 referendum on independence for the South?  There are real trade-offs among the conflict issues of our day, with life and death consequences for real people.

Let me be clear:  I support repeal of DADT as well as ratification of New START.  These are good things that respectively improve America’s record of consistency with its own ideals and increase the prospects for controlling proliferation of nuclear weapons.  But they are mainly about us:  our foolish discrimination against people who want to serve the nation, our nuclear weapons and their modernization.

The Administration should not rest on these laurels, important and deserved as they are.  There is a dangerous world beyond DADT and New START that needs American attention.

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Maliki’s men’s club

As Reidar Visser says, Iraqiyya (Iyad Allawi’s coalition) did better than expected in today’s division of the second Maliki government ministries, but of course he bemoans the size and all too obvious divvying up of the ministries according to political affiliation rather than competence.  I am less concerned about that, because governments in a democratic system had better reflect political weight and also because some manifestly competent people are entering the government:  Salih Mutlaq (deputy prime minister), Rafi Eisawi (finance), Muhammed Allawi (communications) are the ones I know best.

The fact that the sectarian-based ISCI (the Islamic Supreme Council in Iraq) and Moqtada al Sadr’s people did relatively poorly might also bode well, if not for the possibility that they will be compensated with positions in the all-important national security structure, where no permanent ministers were named today. It would be best to withhold final judgment until the ministers of defense, interior, the state secretary for national security and others are announced.  The picture may then look different.

The lack of women in the cabinet Reidar suggests is not something to worry about, as there will be many in parliament who will eventually rise to more important roles commensurate with their contributions.  I’m surprised a Norwegian can still say such things.

Let’s be clear:  there are many competent women in Iraq, certainly more competent than some of the hacks appointed and approved today (no, I’m not going to name names).  The lack of women in the cabinet is a reflection of their marginalization in Iraqi politics, which is largely a late-night men’s club.  Breaking the glass ceiling is no less important in Iraq than in the U.S. or Norway:  it would make a real difference to more than half the population, which suffers the many indignities of all too frequent sexual violence, widowhood and poverty.  Maliki would do well to name one or more women to the national security ministries, thus ensuring himself a place in the annals of Iraqi history (and a lot of votes in the next election).

The Kurds held on to the Foreign Ministry today, with Hoshyar Zebari continuing in a national role he has played well.  Tariq al Hashemi and Adel Abdul Mehdi got nothing and will presumably try to hold on to their “vice presidencies,” which have lost any semblance of power under the constitution, as has the presidency. Allawi is presumably slated for the chairmanship of the still to be created National Council for Security Policy, or whatever they will call it.

Overall, it seems to me that this government is leaning in the direction of marginally more competence, less sectarianism and more Iraqi nationalism, with some obvious individual exceptions.  Not a bad reflection of the spirit of the election results, despite the lack of women and minorities.  Hats off to Maliki, if he continues in the same overall direction in naming people to the remaining empty slots, and adds some women and minorities to boot.

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Iran: still hope for an enrichment agreement

As I’ve been keen on the idea of an enrichment agreement with Iran, one that would allow Iran to exercise its “right” to enrich but limit the extent and quantity, the question arises:  how might the appointment of Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, as Acting Foreign Minister affect the prospects for such an agreement?

The most detailed recent  interview with the MIT doctorate Salehi I have been able to find in English was done by CBS in April. He says there:

we have been consistent. That we are against nuclear weapons. That we are not looking for nuclear weapons. That we are a member of the NPT. That we should stay in the NPT. That we allow the inspectors to visit our sites. And we don’t want nuclear weapons. We want peaceful nuclear technology and this is our right in accordance with Article 4 of the NPT.

The interview with CBS’ Elizabeth Palmer ends this way:

the mere fact that we’ve offered not to enrich uranium to 20% …this was a big message sent to the West. But unfortunately they did not receive the message. I remember in many interviews I said ‘Please. Please Listen. This is a big offer…that Iran is offering. OK? We keep our promise of [only enriching up to] 5%… although it is our right to enrich to whatever level we want. But we keep our promise to 5%. And please enrich for us the 20%. But they didn’t. They started putting conditions after conditions after conditions. And then we had to start 20% enrichment. And now I am saying we are ready if they – today – say ‘OK we will supply you the fuel’, we will stop the 20% enrichment process. What else do they want?

Palmer: And you will give up the LEU equivalent to what you’d get back [in the plates for the Tehran Research Reactor].

Salehi: Yes, in fact [in a proposal for…] partial shipment. We said ‘No. We will give it in one go….the 1,000 kilos of 3.5% enriched uranium, in return for the 100 kilos of 20% enriched uranium. You can put that 100 kilos of uranium under the custody of the Agency in Iran.

Palmer: So that deal is on the table?

Salehi: Yes. That deal is on the table.

It is not clear to me whether it is still on the table, but on the face it seems pretty close to what Hillary Clinton has been hinting for some time. You can also watch Salehi in an Al Jazeera interview from February, where he seems to be saying the same things he said to CBS in April.

It would be a mistake to conclude that an agreement at the late January meeting in Turkey of the P5+1 with Iran  is therefore likely, or even possible. Iran and the U.S. are both countries with multiple power centers that will be difficult to satisfy. Salehi’s relationship to the emerging praetorian Iran is not clear to me:  is he close to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps?  What does his appointment by President Ahmedinejad signify?  Is he just window dressing, or can he deliver a serious agreement with verification measures sufficient to satisfy not only the Obama Administration but also the Congress?   These are critical questions I am not seeing answered–they would of course be key questions for a U.S. embassy in Tehran, if we had one.

For those who are interested, Salehi’s MIT Ph.D. thesis, “Resonance region neutronics of unit cells in fast and thermal reactors,” is available on line. Whatever his political connections and clout, I hope the Americans have negotiators at the same technical level.

PS:  In my original post three days ago, I omitted this link, which is an excellent 360 of the issues Salehi faces. It is as good as I’ve seen on the subject.

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The scruffily bearded guy is back on stage

The scruffily bearded guy is on stage again and appears to be getting ready to sing, so the opera buffa, “Iraqiya Sconfitta” is entering its final act.  Like the rest of the plot, this act promises to be a bit ragged, with only some of the ministers named and others held over in caretaker roles, a procedure that sounds like a novelty to me. Why, however, the New York Times claims

For the first time in Iraq’s recent history the proposed government represents all main ethnic and sectarian factions, with participation from parties supported by Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds

is a mystery: the author must have slept through the last seven years of admittedly difficult to follow acts, since all those groups have been represented in the various incarnations of Iraqi governments since 2003.

So it looks like a big, if not exactly a grand, coalition, with power-sharing at the heart of it despite Reidar Visser’s well-articulated objections. Alas, poor Reidar, Iraq is more infected with sectarian and ethnic sentiment than you would like, but it is nevertheless good to see the prospect of a new government forming, now that some of Iraqiya’s principal spear carriers have been liberated from the dark prison of de-Ba’athification.

I know, and appreciate, two of the three (Salih al Mutlaq and Zafir al Ani)–neither strikes me as a threat to the democratic regime in Iraq, even if their rather virulent public anti-Americanism is tempered only by whispered entreaties for the United States to fix Iraq before leaving. If Salih becomes Foreign Minister, as is rumored, we are guaranteed a more interesting and amusing time at international events than is common these days.  I remember asking him a year ago whether he could envisage joining a Maliki government, because a member of his coterie had told me “absolutely not!”  Salih said nothing but raised an eyebrow in a signal of possibility that was worthy of Groucho Marx.

As I have noted previously, the Ashura holy day passed relatively quietly, which is certainly a good omen. If Maliki can get his new government delivered to parliament by Christmas, that would be even better.  When it comes to current wars, Iraq is looking like something much closer to success than Afghanistan, even if it is difficult to keep any significant number of American troops in Iraq past 2011. Americans will certainly be glad to welcome them home.

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A (very) long war in Afghanistan

Fred and Kim Kagan offer today in the Washington Post a vigorous defense of the Obama Administration’s strategy in Afghanistan. They argue that there have been significant military gains, that progress can continue even without full Pakistani cooperation against Al Qaeda and Taliban safe havens in Quetta and Waziristan, and that we have to worry not only about military success but also about “stability and legitimacy of the political order” at the local level when transitioning security responsibilities to the Afghans.  They rightly see efforts to strengthen local and central governance not as “mission creep” but as necessary components of the overall counter-insurgency strategy. They also argue that we need an Afghanistan that will continue to host American forces on the Afghanistan/Pakistan border, presumably for as long as there is a threat from Pakistan-based enemies.

Let’s be clear:  this is a formula for an even longer war than currently planned, one that the President is not fully committed to, as the Kagans implicitly recognize.  We are very far from Afghanistan acquiring the kind of local and central governance required–we have barely begun, even after nine long years of war, to think about strengthening provincial governance, and the national government can at best be described as spotty.  It will be more than several years before many Afghan provincial governments, and important Kabul ministries, will be able to prioritize and execute projects that benefit citizens in ways that make them think twice before helping a cousin who happens to be in league with the Taliban or a local drug/war lord.

The problem as I see it is that we have deployed nowhere near the civilian capabilities required to help the Afghans establish even half decent governance in areas the Taliban contest.  The problem is not money.  Andrew Exum has made it eminently clear that there is too much money flowing, often into the wrong pockets, at the moment. The problem is the one the UN has been studying lately: we don’t have enough civilians with the talents, training and protection required to enable them to help build institutions.

Afghanistan is a particularly difficult state-building environment, because of widespread illiteracy and poverty, the unsafe and insecure environment, miserable infrastructure and deeply entrenched poppy economy.

Ahmed Rashid usefully reminds us

…the key question for General Petraeus is not how many Taliban he kills, but whether the bare bones of an Afghan state—army, police, bureaucracy—which have been neglected so badly in the past nine years, can be set up by 2014. Moreover, can Afghan leaders, including the President, win the trust of a people who have put up with insecurity, gross corruption, and poor governance for many years?

Moreover, keeping U.S. troops along the Durand line indefinitely could make the task even more difficult, as it provides a rallying point for those Afghans who resent the American presence (not to mention that it might be as readily outflanked in Yemen and Somalia as the Maginot line was in Belgium).  Only if we are willing to face up to the substantial human resources required to meet the state-building challenge should we try.  The alternative, a deal with the Taliban, starts looking good if you think we don’t have what it takes.

PS:  To their credit, and the Washington Post’s, the Kagans are described in today’s paper as “independent military analysts who have conducted research for commanders in Afghanistan.” Precisely what this means is unclear, but it is certainly better than the past practice of not mentioning when op/ed writers have worked for the military, as many have done.  It is hard to find a Washington thinktanker who hasn’t accepted at least a trip to Iraq or Afghanistan funded by the Defense Department (present company excepted–but caveat emptor–I’ve been at least 10 times to Baghdad and once to Kabul on tickets provided by the United States Institute of Peace, sometimes bought with money provided by the State Department).

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