Monday, March 31, 2008

Rubin: Iran Saves the Surge

Has anyone noticed that Iran is saving the Bush administration's surge in Iraq?

Iran was integral in persuading Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr to halt attacks by his militia on Iraqi security forces, an Iraqi lawmaker said Monday.

Haidar al-Abadi, who is with Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's Dawa Party, said Iraqi Shiite lawmakers traveled Friday to Iran to meet with al-Sadr. They returned Sunday, the day al-Sadr told his Mehdi Army fighters to stand down. . . .

The lawmakers who traveled to Iran to broker the cease-fire were from five Shiite parties, including the Sadrist movement. Al-Abadi would not say where in Iran the meeting was held.

When Iran Revolutionary Guards helped the U.S. destroy al-Qaida's bases in Afghanistan, overthrow the Taliban, and form an interim government under UN supervision, the Bush administration responded by putting Iran (then led by President Muhammad Khatami) on the "axis of evil." Now battles between the pro-Iranian militia brought to power by the U.S. (al-Da'wa) and a more Iraqi nationalist Shi'a militia (the Sadr movement) threaten to reverse the precarious security gains of the surge by dividing the ruling coalition of Shi'a parties. Iran convenes them on its territory, and the battle is calmed.

I wonder how Bush and Cheney will react this time.... Read more on this article...

Rubin: Taliban and Telecoms -- Secret Negotiations Just Got Easier, and at a Price You Can Afford!

Last week I was at a meeting in Madrid to discuss a "Political Solution" to the conflict in Afghanistan. Among the topics discussed was prospects for talking to the Taliban. I was surprised, however, at how literally some of the participants seemed to take it. One of my friends was interrupted over tea by a call from a Taliban commander in southern Afghanistan who was trying to figure out who was behind an incident in which some of his men were killed by a remote-controlled mine.

Nothing distinguishes the Afghan Taliban from al-Qaida more than their approach to telecommunications. Back in the distant past (ten years ago -- 1998) Usama Bin Laden apparently stopped using his satellite telephone, then virtually the only form of telecommunications in Afghanistan, when it was leaked to the press that his calls were being used to locate him. This was part of the aftermath of the US missile strikes in Khost after the bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in August. Those bombs mostly killed Pakistanis being trained by the ISI to fight in Kashmir. (Richard Holbrooke reports on today's Khost.)

Today the Taliban can't seem to get off the mobile phone. In the past six years, Afghanistan has gone from no mobile (and virtually no fixed) telephone service to 10% mobile phone penetration. The Taliban have participated in this technological development. Recently they attracted attention by threatening to blow up mobile phone towers if they were not switched off at night, claiming that NATO was using their signals to track their locations.

As National Assembly member Shukria Barakzai stated, this claim "does not make any sense." They can still be tracked during the day. And if they really wanted to avoid detection, they could turn off their phones or take out the batteries! In any case, a friend of mine who negotiated the release of two of his Afghan staff who had been taken hostage by Taliban in Wardak (just next to Kabul) said that it was always difficult to reach the kidnappers at night, because they moved away from the road up into the mountains where the reception was poor. Finally they had to explain to the Taliban that they needed to stay within the coverage range to reach a deal.

Perhaps the Taliban don't trust their rank and file to turn off their phones.... Or maybe they just want to show how much damage they could do and how present they are in different parts of the country. Mobile telephone operators are among the best informed people about the territorial penetration of the Taliban. Setting up a cell phone tower anywhere in Afghanistan requires the consent of whoever "controls" the territory, or at least has the power to blow up the cell phone tower.

I have not yet been able to conduct a systematic survey of where the four mobile phone companies in Afghanistan (Afghan Wireless, Roshan, Etisalaat, and Areeba) pay the Taliban or other powerholders taxes/extortion/bribes to protect their phone towers, but one friend in the business says that the companies have to pay the Taliban in most of southern Afghanistan, right up to Kabul province. As evidence, I received a copy of this document:

The document in question is an official letter in Pashto from the "Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan" in Saidabad District of Wardak Province, about an hour outside of Kabul (if the traffic is not too heavy). The text in full (translation courtesy of Mohammad Omar Sharifi, an Afghan Fulbright scholar at Columbia University):

Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan
Wardak Province
Taliban military group in Saidabad District
Number: Date: ______________________________________________________________________________ To: Communication Tower authorities in Saidabad District, Rig Rashan area,

Salam Alaikum, May mercy of God be upon you,

As you continue to operate in the area, we are expecting you to provide financial support for the Taliban stationed in Saidabad district. If you cannot, then you should stop your work. Otherwise you have no right to complain in the future (we are warning you of future incidents). You can contact us by this number: 077 581 0513.
From Taliban authorities.
Success of Islamic society is in piety and obedience

The actual recipients of this note appear to have been Chinese. They passed it along to their Afghan colleagues. The number given is from the Areeba company, which Taliban are said to prefer because the top-up cards are less traceable or cheaper. I have been told that Taliban (or people claiming to represent them) sometimes call up mobile phone companies and claim that they are right at a tower with explosives, which they will detonate unless money is immediately transferred to their mobile phone. This is a new technology that enables migrant workers to send cash home without going through either a hawala or Western Union.

What to make of this? It has contradictory implications. My inquiries thus far indicate that Taliban (or people claiming to be Taliban) can launch profitable small military operations (blowing up cell phone towers) or at least make credible threats of doing so in most of the area south of Kabul and as far west as the southern part of Herat province. This does not mean that Taliban "control" these areas. No authority "controls" most of these areas. But Taliban, insurgents, or criminal armed groups can operate there with impunity. They can infiltrate. If these groups can also be coordinated (a big question), they have much greater capacity for disruption than they have shown thus far.

On the other hand, their behavior is nothing like al-Qaida. I have not seen any such documents emanating from Ayman al-Zawahari's office giving his cell phone number. The document shows that some Taliban, at least, are trying to operate within the administrative structure of the Afghan state, even if they are trying to subvert it (or extract money from the private sector operating with its consent). Protection of cell phone towers in Wardak is an eminently negotiable issue, unlike, say, replacing the nation-state system with an Islamic caliphate or ending all US influence in the Muslim world.

In fact, the official police do such a poor job of protecting anything, that the Afghan government is now recruiting former Taliban fighters to provide security in some areas of Helmand province, since they are less corrupt. "Talking to the Taliban" need not mean abolishing Afghanistan's constitution, turning the country over to al-Qaida, seeking "moderates" rather than "extremists," or closing all the country's schools for girls. The Taliban, like every other group that has held power in Afghanistan the last thirty years -- and quite a few of those who had power before that -- committed many atrocities and human rights violations. The legacy of injustice, fear, mistrust, impunity -- infinitely aggravated by the involvement of outside powers including al-Qaida -- cannot be overcome with a few phone calls. But it might help.

On July 14, 1992, I published an article in the Asian Wall Street Journal entitled "Toward Peaceful Afghan Diversity." I observed:
New communications technology can promote national integration without centralization. During the turnover of power in April [1992], when the Soviet-backed government of Gen. Najibullah finally fell to the mujahedeen, commaders of all ethnic groups and regions negotiated directly via satellite telephones given to them by the U.S. These instantaneous communications were key to forestalling more serious conflicts and may yet help Afghanistan build national political networks without bringing all powerholders to Kabul.
Of course satellite telephones never approached a 10% penetration rate, so perhaps I was premature. But Roshan defines its mission as helping Afghans "nazdik shodan" -- "to get close" or "stay in touch." Maybe now the telecom advertising geniuses can get to work on public information for national reconciliation. Read more on this article...

Friday, March 28, 2008

Town Hall Video on Iraq

On March 26, 2009, the Foreign Policy Association sponsored a town hall discussion in Manhattan on Iraq. The speakers were Frederick Kagan and Augustus R. Norton and the chair was Larry Korb. The Foreign Policy Association website includes a streaming video of the event, as well as speakers' bios and related materials. Read more on this article...

Wednesday, March 26, 2008



I thought Global Affairs readers might find the following of interest.

I wrote this for the Bangkok Post which just ran an editorial today expressing fears about possible US action in Iran, a serious topic expertly addressed in a guest editorial on Juan Cole's Informed Comment blog.

My piece is not strictly about global affairs but I hope it does raise some questions about a presidential race that seems to be about everything and anything but global affairs.


Why be President when you can be King?

By Philip J. Cunningham

With the rapid and unexpected ascent of Barack Obama one gets the sense in America that a national turning point is at hand, an opportunity for reconciliation and transformation, though the success of this bold project is far from assured. The transformative moment, such as it is, coexists with the deeply treacherous politics of fear, --a strike on Iran cannot yet be counted out in the lame duck days of the Bush/Cheney imperial presidency, thrusting the US onto a war footing that might very well make the otherwise charmless John McCain electable.

Given broad public discontent with Bush Jr. and the war in Iraq, the Democratic Party should own the election, but it now risks self-destruction as Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama camps vie to push one another off the high road with unfriendly nudges and low innuendoes.

The American electorate may verily be ready and hungry for change, but a truly transformative shift of the kind superficially symbolized by putting the first woman or the first black in the White House is not a sure thing even if one of them should win the general election.

Hillary Clinton is the better known of the two candidates, having been in the fishbowl of Washington politics considerably longer. Her strengths and weaknesses are well documented but it remains an open question whether the symbolic positives of having a woman occupy the highest office begins to compensate for her known negatives as an opportunistic politician.

What you see is may be what you get with Hillary, but not so with Barack Obama who remains something of a cipher. Not only has he had only limited exposure on the national stage but also he has successfully cultivated a fuzzy public persona conveniently loaded with ambiguity.

This works for him and against him, he can be seen as healer and fence-sitter, a bridge and a brick in the wall. His identity is cast as being rooted in the African-American community, but he is a Johnny-come-lately to that community, and could have, had he chosen to do so, emphasized the strong Asian and Caucasian influences of his childhood. When Geraldine Ferraro suggested that Obama’s success was in part due to his blackness, she was making a fair observation.

Obama is indeed popular with whites, not because of his political record or his “whiteness” but because of what he’s come to symbolize. He’s that rare black American reaching out to whites, offering absolution in a way that no white man can.

Of course this is only one of many factors, he is popular with whites for many of the same the reasons he is popular with blacks; he is good-looking, articulate, knowledgeable, politically mature and gentlemanly in demeanor.

But when it comes to identity politics, Obama appeals to blacks and whites for strikingly different and difficult to reconcile reasons. To the former he is a “brother,” to the latter he is an emissary from the ‘hood offering the olive branch of racial reconciliation, which despite, or perhaps precisely because of the largely one-sided history of racial oppression, comes as a welcome relief to many guilt-challenged whites.

Thus Obama’s regular attendance at a neighborhood church espousing black liberation theology is not necessarily a negative with whites, his identification with people and places the average white American cannot connect with is unwittingly part of what makes him popular to whites, despite the off-putting rhetoric espoused of Reverend Wright, because it locates him close to the beating heart of the “real” black community. He is not a race-blind Clarence Thomas or Condoleezza Rice. He wants to and needs to speak for the street, and if he does so with his healing words, then a true thaw in racial tensions might be around the corner.

For a boy raised by a white mother, two white grandparents and an Indonesian stepfather, his ability to in some sense represent black America is actually quite remarkable. Obama has integrated himself into both black America and white America, poised to emerge as a rare all-American leader.

Exploiting a personal journey in search of identity and a complex family mix for political gain is not without a downside. At times Obama treads a line so fine that it gets outright awkward if not coldly calculating; witness the way he talks of “typical whites” and ignores the most dysfunctional side of the black community or the way he equates the white mother of his white mother with a controversial white-bashing preacher.

Obama is the rare politician who can write well, witness the poignant musings on the mulatto’s search for identity, especially the absent African father so central to his books.

The journey is a fascinating one, beautifully told, but it also makes it plain that he has thought longer and harder about race, than foreign policy issues or economics, so his electability really comes down to what Americans look for in a President.

In recent years, the Presidency has become a winner-takes-all overly exalted position that calls for someone part monarch, part martinet, part guy-next-door, part Hollywood star. Expecting one extraordinary individual to be savior and solver of all problems is corrosive to the spirit of democracy; the danger of unrealistic and misplaced hopes can be seen in the unitary presidency of George W. Bush. Armed with the right to make war, the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue has assumed unprecedented power, armed with world-shaking prerogatives that would be the envy of many an authoritarian strongman.

Is that the direction Obama wants to go? His appeal to date is his moral clarity, thanks to his youth, inexperience and ambiguous take on tough issues; he hasn’t had to make the cold Machiavellian compromises and brutal power plays that we come to expect from the commander-in-chief.

Hillary Clinton likes to say she is more electable and in a way she is right, we expect less of her and are less surprised when she acts like a politician. She will do what it takes.

In contrast her charismatic rival projects an untainted moral authority, allowing him to cast an all-encompassing net of hope that embraces opposites. Not just white America and black America, but rich and poor, winner and loser alike.

On a good day Obama sounds a lot like Martin Luther King.

But it does not necessarily follow that Obama would be a good president or that being president would be good for the reconciliation agenda that so profoundly excites the public. King was a great man, but would he have been a good president?

pc Read more on this article...

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Rubin: Patriotism and War on Drugs Remain the (Last?) Refuge of Scoundrels

Gary Kamiya tells it like it is at Salon:

Maybe we really are doomed to elect John McCain, remain in Iraq forever and nuke Iran. Nations that forget history may not be doomed to repeat it, but those that never even recognize reality in the first place definitely are. Last week's ridiculous uproar over Rev. Jeremiah Wright's sermons proves yet again that America has still not come to terms with the most rudimentary facts about race, 9/11 -- or itself.

The great shock so many people claim to be feeling over Wright's sermons is preposterous. Anyone who is surprised and horrified that some black people feel anger at white people, and America, is living in a racial never-never land. Wright has called the U.S. "the United States of White America," talks about the "oppression" of black people and says, "White America got their wake-up call after 9/11." Gosh, who could have dreamed that angry racial grievances and left-wing political views are sometimes expressed in black churches?

Scott Horton goes back to the Faulkner source of Obama's quote in the speech to tell it like it was and is but doesn't have to be:

What do two short stories by William Faulkner published by Harper’s in the fall of 1940 have to do with the 2008 presidential campaign? Faulkner finalized them in the midst of a presidential election campaign, as Franklin Roosevelt sought his third term, a fact which breaks through in a few spots. These stories seem to be a simple narrative of life in the rural South, one is a rite of passage story and the other a strange tragi-comedy. But these stories are indeed intensely political, and their message was one that the readership would hardly have been prepared to cope with, in those dark days as the specter of war loomed over America. It seems we have to go forward seventeen presidential elections to come to the day when they become a matter of public discussion.

Last Tuesday, Senator Barack Obama, facing a withering assault over his relationship with his former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, delivered a carefully measured and thoughtful speech on race relations in America. The speech was by almost every measure something extraordinary. It was delivered against the advice of Obama’s advisors, who felt—probably correctly—that any discussion of the race issue would only be used to isolate him in public debate. But more significantly, the language of the speech was not measured and shaped by focus groups. It proceeded assuming an educated and intelligent audience. As Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan reminded us in the pages of the Wall Street Journal, no political advisor would ever hear of such a thing. She points to two give-aways: the use of the word “endemic” and a quotation from Faulkner.

The words quoted were

‘The past isn’t dead and buried. In fact, it isn’t even past.’

But actually the language is just off. The actual words are “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” They come from Requiem for a Nun. But the meaning and use that Obama takes is taken straight from an earlier Faulkner novel, Go Down, Moses, a brave and profound work about race relations in America. Being bound to, but struggling to overcome the past is a key message of that work. In fact these words could be taken as a sort of moral test that he has put to a focal character: will he remain a servant to the past, or will he succeed in shaking those chains free? The protagonist fails that test, with his very Southern attitudes and bigotries. In fact, Faulkner did himself at least once–in an outburst in an interview in the fifties, which Faulkner later attributed to too much alcohol. But Faulkner left a transcendent message: Some day, he tells us, some day the people will rise above these divisions and will recognize the ties that bind all. They will recognize the fundamental lie of racism. This was not, of course, a message which could be easily delivered to an American audience in 1940. Today, however, the message finds people ready to listen and to believe.

On another topic: UNODC has published the discussion paper on poverty and opium production that they promised would respond to the criticisms I made of their claim that poverty is not linked to opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan. Of course the paper does no such thing. It once again indicates that while UNODC is very skilled at estimating cultivation and yields, it does not understand social structure. Furthermore, while superficial analysis is unfortunate, UNODC Director Antonio Maria Costa continues to present this analysis misleadingly in a way that supports the "War on Drugs" approach to counter-narcotics.

I will post a complete analysis soon. Read more on this article...

Friday, March 21, 2008

Rubin: Racism is the Nightmare of History, not Just Bias (Cross-Posted on Daily Kos)

In January a diarist on Daily Kos, recounted the writer's conversation with her "racist" father, who said he would vote for Obama:

He would vote for Obama over Huckabee. He says he would really have to hold his nose to do it, but he would. I asked him "what's your big objection to Obama?" He said well, he thinks Obama would further a "black agenda" and I said "what's that?" He said, oh you know, more affordable housing, which black people would tear up and destroy, and more welfare. I sort of rolled my eyes and said "Dad...........Barack and Michelle Obama both have advanced degrees and are bigtime you really think they have a lot of sympathy for people that take advantage of the welfare system and tear up affordable housing?"

I said, in my view, Barack Obama would be to the kind of people he is talking about, sort of like a "Nixon goes to China" thing...........if anything, they would be totally against that sort of thing.

He said "sort of like Bill Cosby" I said yeah exactly.

I really really apologize to any African American Kossacks that are reading this. These are not MY views. It's my Dad - which I am afraid is still too much the views of a lot of older white people who vote in droves, still.

Another "Kossack," shanikka, a black woman attorney and former public official exactly the same age as Barack Obama, wrote to say:

IMO, the sentiments the diarist used to "sell" her Dad on Barack Obama as a Black man running for president are racist. Each of the examples she made to her father about the "differences" of Barack Obama is grounded in a deeply negative, anti-Black stereotype. The fact that they were not "get a rope" lynching stereotypes does not change their nature. They reflect the post-civil rights movement social compact which substituted newfangled polite left-wing anti-Black racism (code) for her dad's far more honest (and therefore far easier for Black folks who actually love Black folks to deal with, as my parents often said once they left the South in the 1950’s) right-wing anti-Black racism.

After Senator Obama's magnificent (or sublime) speech on Tuesday, I would like to repost what I wrote in response and add a few more ruminations:

Part of the problem is the unspoken American conceptual frame: radical individualism; defining race as a characteristic of individuals; racism as an belief of individuals about other individuals; equality as consciously judging an individual without regard for "skin color," as if race were just a question of complexion, and behavior were just a function of conscious belief.

Race is a code for classifying people as different. Skin color is one of many markers for "race" -- the one we use in the U.S. These markers are social constructs. In Brazil or South Africa, someone with parents like Obama's would not be considered "black," because race is a spectrum in Brazil and was a pseudo-scientific multiple classification in South Africa. In the U.S., the historical definition of race was the one-drop rule; but this used to be different in Louisiana, which was more like the Caribbean/Latin world in its construction of race. For Nazis, hair color, nose size, and religious background were markers of race (that's why some of my relatives were killed).

My wife is a social worker in Bedford-Stuyvesant who sees mostly black people -- not typical black people, but those with severe psychological and social problems. But I hear about the family histories. And these family histories are the result of trauma, unemployment, marginalization, forced migration, rape, exclusion from education .... you name it. Sometimes it is amazing that anyone can emerge sane and whole from these experiences (though not all black people share all of them in the U.S.). "Race" is a category for color-coding the socially marginalized.

Some people intellectualize it into a theory or belief system. In contemporary American most people don't. But the social system in which we live produces and reproduces such attitudes because of the interactions it makes us have.

A seemingly trivial example about myself: Once I couldn't find something in a huge supermarket. I saw a neatly dressed black guy with short hair and a pen in his shirt pocket, so I went over to ask him where it was. It turned out he was another shopper -- he wasn't a supermarket worker. He didn't have the uniform on. I was mortified at my stereotyping racist behavior. I wasn't even thinking about race! I was thinking about organic breakfast cereal.

That's the point. I wasn't thinking about race. I don't "believe" that all blacks are supermarket workers or social inferiors. My adviser at Yale was a black professor of Afro-American history, and I was his research assistant on a book on the history of black communities under slavery. But my social experience led me unconsciously -- without thinking -- to code my fellow shopper as a social inferior in this context. I am not a "racist" in any ideological sense. My mother took me to hear Dr. King speak at the March on Washington when I was 13 (I have a dream etc.). I marched with the Black Panther Party in the 1960s. Etc. etc. But I committed an act of racism (and probably others) because of the way that social structure affects my perceptions and behavior. What if I were a teacher or a policeman or an employer? What effect would I unconsciously have on others?

I'm not confessing "guilt." I am taking responsibility for trying not to be a racist in a racially coded society. Not being a Nazi or an ideological white supremacist is not enough, because this system (racism) reproduces itself even without such ideological rationales as long as we don't consciously struggle against it (and even then...).

The conclusion being: many white (and other non-black) people may vote for Obama regardless of his race because he is an extraordinary individual. But that by itself does not change the racially coded social structure of the United States. Maybe Obama will be the leader who can help whites realize that changing this social structure is not a threat against them but a promise for us all. I hope so. Maybe his candidacy will at least get us started on these discussions.

But eliminating racism requires a transformation of structures of employment, housing, education, taxation.... and also a change in U.S. national identity. Most people in the U.S. have European ancestors (including a large number of black people), but our culture is a mix of African, European, and our own creativity. "White" gospel music in this country shows strong African influences. So does "white" popular music and popular religion. The people of this country invented forms of music -- an essential part of all civilization -- that have conquered the world with their genius and beauty, and in this music African and European elements are fused into an entirely new creation.

Now the update -- reading this today I became conscious that the first diarist above used the common shorthand on Daily Kos for members of the site -- "Kossacks." For Jews whose ancestors came from the former Russian empire (those parts that were previously part of the Polish Commonwealth), the word "cossack" evokes memories of pogroms, of rape and killing. I am old enough to have heard these stories. My wife's paternal grandmother told of a pogrom in her village (in Kamenetz-Podolsk) where the pogromists cut off the baker's hands so he could not knead bread. My wife's maternal grandmother was in Odessa during the pogroms of 1905, when the Tsar tried to blame the Jews for the 1905 revolution. A Christian (probably Russian) neighbor hid their family. When the pogromists (known as Black Hundreds) came by, they came out with a cross and swore there were no Jews in the house. You can read "fictional" depictions of these events in the stories of Isaac Babel, who also lived through them and saw the corpses littering the streets.

Of course to Don Cossacks -- the people described in the work of Mikhail Sholokhov, it must be painful to be stereotyped as anti-Semitic pogromists. Jews, Ukrainians, and Poles will never agree about the seventeenth century Cossack leader Bogdan Chmielnitski, the national hero of Ukraine (his statue is in the center of Kyiv). Poles remember him for killing Poles, and Jews remember him as one of history's biggest killer of Jews before the twentieth century. You can read a Jewish depiction of that period in Isaac Bashevis Singer's The Slave. The trauma of those massacres gave rise to the chiliastic movement that formed around the false messiah, Shabtai Zvi, who married a daughter of a survivor of the "Chmielnitski massacres" and whose preaching led thousands of Jews to sell their belongings and pack in preparation for their return to the Land of Israel -- Palestine. They thought that the massacres were "hevlei mashiah" -- the birth pangs of the Messiah. Today the followers of Rav Kook -- the founder of the Merkaz ha-Rav seminary (yeshiva, bait midrash, madrasa) where the March 6 massacre took place -- also pray that today's conflict should become those birth pangs. I wonder if Condoleeza Rice has any ideas how deep are the streams she is tapping when she talks about the "birth pangs of a new Middle East."

When Shabtai Zvi met with the Sultan in Istanbul in 1667, he emerged from the Sublime Porte a convert to Islam. His followers claimed that the real Shabtai Zvi had ascended to heaven and that only an empty "vessel" remained behind. They too pretended to convert to Islam and became a sect of Judaizing pseudo-Muslims known in Turkey as the Donme. The Islamic foes of Kemal Ataturk claimed that he was a Donme, and it appears that some members of the Young Turks were. Many of the Donme were in Salonika (today's Thessaloniki, in Greece). Hitler killed the remnants.

Nonetheless, the legend of the Young Turks and the Donme feeds anti-Jewish currents among Islamists. And Palestinians, Arabs, Muslims, and others reading this might ask, "Why should the Palestinians be driven from their homes because of Chmielnitski and Hitler?" I noticed that despite all his truth telling, the one group that Obama studiously pandered to was my own, as he criticized those who blame the Middle East conflict on "the actions of stalwart allies like Israel, instead of emanating from the perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam." Need I note that when the conflict between the Zionist movement and the Palestinian Arabs began, Sayd Qutb had not yet been offended by a dance in Greeley, Colorado, and perhaps had not even been born.
Still, some Arabs and Muslims propagate the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a forgery used by the Tsarist secret police to justify the 1905 pogroms. On Labor Day 1990, just a few days after I moved to New York, I went to the Caribbean Day parade in Brooklyn and found an Afro-centric nationalist selling copies of the Protocols -- edited by the well known Afro-centric liberationist Henry Ford (yes the one with the Model T). Such confusions led some Arab nationalists to see Hitler a potential liberator from British imperialism and Zionism. Similar confusion led Ariel Sharon to see apartheid South Africa as a model for how Israel should control the Palestinians. It was Sharon who started this comparison, by the way, not the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, Bishop Tutu, or any anti-Zionist or anti-Semitic propagandist.

History is a nightmare from which we all have to struggle, and keep struggling, to awake and stay awake.

Read more on this article...

Sunday, March 16, 2008

A Commentary on Iran’s Parliamentary Elections

Farideh Farhi

Iran’s parliamentary (Majles) elections finally took place on Friday March 14. It usually takes a few days for things to settle and take stock of what really happened. This is particularly so since a good percentage of the seats (about 20 percent in the provinces and even perhaps 50 percent or so in Tehran) will have to be determined in the second round. This is because none of the candidates were able to receive the necessary 25 percent of the cast ballot for those particular seats. In fact, throughout Iran very few candidates were able to take anything close to 50 percent of the vote. I guess this is what happens when close to 4500 candidates participate in elections held for a 290 seat (207 constituencies) parliament.

It is also difficult to take stock of what happened because various players and their connected newspapers, news agencies, and websites are also into the business of spinning the results of this election to their favor. So here is my half-baked attempt (half-backed since the counting of Tehran vote is not over yet) to come up with some conclusions that also take into account the history of recent Majles elections in Iran.

1. Turnout. There is talk of a 65 percent turnout. I am a bit skeptical of this figure and expect the percentage to go down to around 60 or even a bit less after the whole process is over and the numbers for big cities are counted. In the past few Majles elections, the percentages have varied from the low 51 percent in the Seventh Majles (2004) to 67 percent in the Sixth (2000) and 71 percent in the Fifth (1996) Majles elections.

These numbers are for the whole country. The numbers in larger cities, particularly Tehran, are lower and this year is reported to be around 40 percent (I actually would be surprised if it is this high in Tehran itself, although such a percentage or even a bit higher for the whole Tehran province is believable. They were about 56 percent for the Fifth, 47 percent for the Sixth, and 37 percent for the Seventh Majles). My sense is that the percentages were higher in this election than the 2004 election (when the en masse disqualification of reformist Majles deputies led to calls for boycott; something that didn’t happen this time). But they will be below the 1996 and 2000 Majles elections when there was a real sense that the results of those elections could lead to a change of direction in the country.

2. General Results: No one expected this election to lead to a reformist or centrist win. The “engineering” (mohandesi-ye entekhabat or election engineering is actually a term openly used in Iran to talk about this election) that went with the process of disqualification assured that the reformists had only candidates for about a third of the seats in the provinces and many of those candidates were not well-known. In the city of Tehran, after the reversal of some disqualifications, reformists and centrists did end up having separate lists (with about half of them in common) for all thirty seats but many of the candidates were again not well known. In addition, lack of resources and control of the media by conservatives made campaigning very difficult. So the victory shouts of many conservative outlets, proclaiming 70 percent win for the so-called "principlists" deserves only a “but of course and what else did you expect” response.

What was always at issue was how well the reformists/centrists and the more pragmatic conservatives critical of President Ahmadinejad’s economic policies and management would do (and conversely how badly his supporters do). The reformists/centrists are hoping for a stronger minority status (both in terms of numbers and more influential candidates), while the more pragmatic conservatives are hoping for a stronger presence particularly in the leadership of the Majles as a means to create a working majority in a more centrist and effective Majles (more on conservative divisions below). The Seventh Majles had been criticized for being weak and ineffective on economic issue vis-à-vis an erratic and yet forceful president.

With results in, incomplete as they are, it seems to me, one should expect an even more fractured Eight Majles than the Seventh one. But this same Majles has the potential to move to the center with effective leadership on the part of pragmatic conservatives; with pragmatic conservatives, centrists, or even perhaps reformists working together to put up more resistance to Ahmadinejad’s expansionist economic policies and erratic management. The reported low number of incumbent returnees(33%) should also give the new leadership a chance to mold this Majles in a pragmatic direction if there is political will. This at least is the expectation the so-called more pragmatic conservatives, such as Ali Larijani - Iran’s former chief nuclear negotiator - who was elected with over 75 percent of the vote from Qom, have placed on themselves or have created. Whether they can pull it off, is of course yet to be seen.

Note that this is a very limited expectation about improving the management of the economy and does not include any challenges in the foreign policy arena; nor does it include major shifts in the domestic political arena. The only important political ramification of the potential rise of a more centrist/pragmatic conservatism in Majles is the challenge individuals rightly or wrongly associated with it, such as Ali Larijani or Tehran mayor Mohammad Qalibaf, may pose to Ahmadinejad in the 2009 presidential election. But that election is more than a year away and it is just too soon to start speculating about it. These folks have to raise their profile throughout the country (not only in Tehran) before the next election and prove themselves more popular than they have been in the past, in order to challenge Ahmadinejad successfully.

3. Reformist Performance: Given what they had to work with, the reformists actually did better than expected (especially for seats where there were common candidates between the two main reformist/centrist groups: The Reformist Coalition and National Confidence Party). This election should give reformist and centrist parties a boost in positively assessing their participation in the election process and continuing to organize throughout Iran.

In the provinces they won about 35 seats and they are reportedly in contest for another 15 seats or so in the second round (they had 39 seats in the Seventh Majles).The way it looks, it is their higher than expected performance in the provinces that may be causing a bit of post-election engineering or tampering in Tehran results.

The initial reports from Tehran suggested that reformists had done well but the numbers coming out so far only has the reformist list header, Majid Ansari (the chair of Budget Committee in the Sixth Majles and a current member of the Expediency Council), in the top thirty (29th to be precise). Tehran results are important because they are usually treated as reflection of how well different tendencies do throughout the country. As such, it will be considered a major setback to conservatives if reformists and centrists, who did have complete lists of candidates for this city, do too well in Tehran. Tehran is also important because its candidates have more of a national profile and accordingly more impact in shaping opinion and policies.

The way it looks, the top 15 or so candidates in Tehran, who all happen to be from the main principlist list will make it in the first round while most top reformist candidates have to compete with other principlists in the second round for the next 15 seat. A similar process occurred in the 2006 municipal elections for the city of Tehran. The reformists did well but with a little bit of post-election engineering the number of their winning candidates was reduced. I am guessing that something similar will happen in this election and their number of their winning candidates will be reduced to about 5 or 6 (if they are lucky) instead of 15 or 16! This is just yet another dimension of the strangeness of Iranian politics. Conservatives still worry about the process at least appearing somewhat legitimate or acceptable to significant domestic players; and reformists and centrists taking whatever they can get as being better than nothing in terms of impact.

One more point about reformist performance is that they did surprisingly well in a couple of important cities. Tabriz in East Azerbaijan province is particularly worth noting. This city has six seats and reformists/centrists, because of disqualifications, only had one candidate. And he was initially the only one that was able to get into Majles in the first round (as I write this post, a news alert came saying that the Tabriz data was reassessed and two principlist candidates were also seated in the first round!). The principlist candidates all ran well behind this reformist candidate, suggesting that other reformists would have done well had they not been disqualified. As such, the conservatives did indeed have a good reason for all the disqualifications!!

One particular reformist candidate that I have been following is from the city of Qazvin. He is current deputy and frequent government critic. He was initially disqualified and re-qualified in the last minute. His easy win was clear early on but the delay in voting results raised fear that some tampering was about to take place but his win was ultimately announced late in the day.

It will be a while before I can do a detailed study of provincial differences but provincial differences are there and should be noted. Part of the difference lay of course in the fact that in some provinces, reformists simply didn’t have candidates but this doesn’t mean that they won in every seat they contested. Reformists, for instance, did fairly well in Kerman and Kordestan but not in South Khorasan (although they did pick up one seat out of four)). In the southern province of Bushehr, those associated with the United Principlist Front (this is the group generally associate with Ahmadinejad’s government) did particularly bad, losing every seat decided in the first round to either reformists or independents. In Kordestan, the alternative principlist list may win two seats out of six but the UPF list did not win even one seat.

4. Principlist Success or Divisions?: The conservative Kayhan newspaper reports that in the provinces 147 out of the already decided seats of 204 have gone to the principlists (with about 25 going to independents). My numbers, generated out of the matching of the names of the winning candidates and the pre-election lists, suggests that the number of independents elected so far is as high as forty (and more may get elected after the second round). To be sure some of these independent candidates, like the husband and wife team that was re-elected in Esfahan, are conservative but this is not necessarily the case regarding the less well-known candidates, many of whom had reason to hide their reformist leanings in order to avoid vetting.

More importantly, the number of principlist winners cannot be considered as constituting a unified bloc in Majles. This is because despite a concerted effort to come up with a unified list under a coalition of conservative parties and organizations called the United Principlist Front (UPF), the conservatives ultimately ended up offering two major lists with UPF identified more closely with Ahmadinejad’s administration while the Comprehensive Principlist Front (CPF) identified loosely, but not formally, with more pragmatic conservatives critical of Ahmadinejad’s economic policies and management. The pre-election negotiations even assured that the UPF list had some government critics in it.

Because of these negotiations, these two lists ended up having many joint candidates (for instance, in the city of Tehran they had 9 shared names) but quite a few of their candidates were not joint, ultimately bringing into question the idea of conservative unity. My numbers are rough at this point but suggest that out of the 120-130 self identified conservatives who won in the provinces, about 70 of them are not joint candidates; about 40 were exclusive UPF candidates while about 30 were exclusive CPF candidates. This means that even if we accept that all the shared candidates are Ahmadinejad supporters (which I do not think is a correct thing to do), so far the total number of Ahmadinejad supporters is less than 50 percent of elected deputies.

This of course is the result of an engineered election. Without such an engineering, the popular sentiments may be best reflected in the districts that were really contested, A reformist analysis reported in Aftabnews, close to former president Hashemi Rafsanjani, suggests that out of the 102 provincial seats that were contested, supporters of the government’s line only gained 35 seats while the rest went to more pragmatic conservatives, reformists, and independents. If this outcome can be generalized to the whole country, this is not good news for Ahmadinejad but I am not convinced if it can.

5. Women’s Performance. This is my last point about these elections for now. Women did miserably in this election. As far as I can tell, only 3 women have been elected in the first round, none of them reformists. Two are deputies in the current Majles and one is a new one from Khorasan Razavi Province (city of Mashad), replacing the one female conservative deputy who lost in the Ardebil Province. The Tehran list has a handful of women in the top 50 but at most one or two have chance to be seated in the first round. There are also a few women in contention in the second round throughout the country. But these numbers may portend an even lower presence of women in the Eight than the Seventh Majles (I think there were less than 10 in the Seventh Majles). Read more on this article...

Rubin: Uri Avnery on Jewish Self-Knowledge and the Conflict (You Know Which One)

It's sort of a complicated and perhaps pompous title, but this article struck me as one of Avnery's best. For those of you who don't know, Uri Avnery is one the Israel's veteran peace campaigners. He fought in the 1947 War of Independence and met Yassir Arafat in Beirut in 1975. His columns in Ha-Aretz are also posted in Hebrew, English, Arabic, and Russian on the website of Gush Shalom. Gush Shalom means Peace Bloc, a name in conscious opposition to Gush Emunim, the Bloc of the Faithful. Gush Emunim is the association of religious-messianic settlers who take their inspiration from the teachings of Rav Abraham Isaac Kook, at whose Merkaz ha-Rav Yeshiva (academy, also known as bait midrash or madrasa) the recent massacre in Jerusalem took place. Rav Kook taught that by settling the Land of Israel, even secular or non-religious Jews were carrying out an important commandment (mitzvah) and thus repairing the world and bringing the day of messianic deliverance closer.

After the Merkaz Ha-Rav massacre, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert expressed outrage that some Palestinians in Gaza were celebrating the event. Of course, one of the dehumanizing effects of protracted conflict is the loss of human solidarity with the "enemy" -- on all sides. Avnery, who is old enough to remember when Jews were known for their ironic self knowledge, recalls this joke about a protective Jewish mother taking leave of her son, who has been called up to serve in the Tsar's army against the Turks:

"Don't exert yourself too much," she admonishes him, "Kill a Turk and rest. Kill another Turk and rest again…"

"But mother," he exclaims, "What if the Turk kills me?"

"Kill you?" she cries out, "Why? What have you done to him?"

Avnery continues:

This is not a joke (and this is not a week for jokes). It is a lesson in psychology. I was reminded of it when I read Ehud Olmert's statement that more than anything else he was furious about the outburst of joy in Gaza after the attack in Jerusalem, in which eight yeshiva students were killed.

Before that, last weekend, the Israeli army killed 120 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, half of them civilians, among them dozens of children. That was not "kill a Turk and rest". That was "kill a hundred Turks and rest". But Olmert does not understand.

THE FIVE-DAY WAR in Gaza (as a Hamas leader called it) was but another short chapter in the Israeli-Palestinian struggle. This bloody monster is never satisfied, its appetite just grows with the eating.

Read the rest. Read more on this article...

Friday, March 14, 2008

Rubin: Points on an Integrated Strategy for Afghanistan

Below is a think piece I did for a discussion a couple of months ago. I don't even entirely agree with it myself any more, but I still think it poses some questions that need to be thought through. I don't have time right now to publish this as an article, so I am just posting it here in the hopes it will spark additional thoughts. It would benefit from pictures, links, and clarification of some points -- but after all blogs are an open-source environment: so let the redrafting begin...

Desired end state: Afghanistan is stable and secure within the normal range for a poor country without the presence of large numbers of foreign troops. The Afghan government has access to all or nearly all of the territory and is able to finance its recurrent costs from domestic revenue. Question: Does Afghanistan aim to finance all recurrent security costs from domestic revenue, or will it rely permanently on subsidies of the armed forces, police, and intelligence apparatus? If the former, how will it either raise sufficient revenue to pay security costs or lower recurrent security costs so that domestic revenue can pay them? If the latter, how will Afghanistan obtain secure, predictable funding for its security forces? The nature and origin of this funding will have major political implications. What is the time frame for a transition to sustainability, whether through contractual subsidies or relative self-sufficiency?

Conditions for Security and Stability. Security and stability of the Afghan state depend on the relations of the state to: (1) its neighbors, other major powers, and transnational entities (al-Qaida, the drug industry, international financial institutions or corporations) concerning what role Afghanistan and its territory and resources will play in the international balance (or imbalance) of power; and (2) Afghan communities and other social strata such as Islamic clergy and educated professionals (“intellectuals”). The two are interdependent, as foreign states and transnational entities dissatisfied with the orientation of the Afghan state can offer resources directly to disaffected communities and strata, while both the state and social groups in Afghanistan can use access to international resources to strengthen their bargaining positions. This process of simultaneous bargaining on (at least) two levels constitutes the context within which to consider political, ideological, and ethnic struggles over control of the Afghan state and its various constituent parts. The current instability is due to a combination of international contestation of the current political dispensation and the failure to integrate key communities, which remain accessible to and at times integrated with the state’s opponents or competitors.

International Strategic Identity of Afghanistan. The current territory of Afghanistan was not demarcated by a strong state that consolidated control of the territory using resources it mobilized, but by neighboring empires that agreed to subsidize the state in order to stabilize their frontiers. Security and stability of this Afghan state has required a high degree of strategic consensus among neighbors and great powers, combined with a flow of foreign aid that subsidizes the state in such a way as to reinforce its legitimacy and capacity. This strategic consensus broke down in 1978-79. The events of 2001 appeared to reinstate it, with the formation of an international consensus around the implementation of the Bonn Agreement and the reconstruction effort launched at the Tokyo conference. In practice the Bonn Agreement, by bringing together the Northern Alliance and the supporters of the former King, His Majesty Zahir Shah, established a government supported by a coalition of the U.S. and its allies with Iran, Russia, and India, which had been the supporters of the Northern Alliance. Pakistan, al-Qaida, and the Taliban were the big losers but were under pressure at that time.

Since that time the following trends have frayed or destroyed that coalition and enabled Pakistan and its Taliban clients to make a comeback:

  • The U.S. shifted its focus to Iraq and then to Iran, significantly lessening pressure on Pakistan.
  • Pakistan became concerned that, in the absence of a threat from Taliban and al-Qaida, the U.S. would realign itself with India (a concern reinforced by the U.S.-India nuclear deal), possibly confronting Pakistan not only with India to the East but with an Afghanistan hosting a U.S.-India alliance to the West.
  • NATO took over command of ISAF, which has moved into being much more of a combat force than originally conceived, while the Coalition has maintained its “kinetic” mission, and troop levels have increased.
  • The U.S.-NATO military presence, which is looking more permanent, plus the U.S.-Afghan Strategic Partnership, have aroused suspicion in Russia, Iran, China, India, and Pakistan that the US is using the issue of terrorism in order to maintain bases on the Asian mainland (rather than the reverse), threatening Russian, Indian, and Chinese interests in Central Asia, the Persian Gulf, and South Asia (including access to oil and gas), surrounding Iran with the aim of “regime change,” and aiming at weakening Islamic Pakistan.

As a result the international military presence that the Afghan government and most Afghan people consider, even if reluctantly, as necessary for the stability of Afghanistan and its protection from regional competition, has provoked additional instability, as various neighbors retain and even reinforce their ties with political groups and militias in Afghanistan in order to pressure the U.S. and NATO and discourage a long-term presence.

Afghanistan faces the following strategic alternatives:

  1. Strengthen the strategic partnership with the U.S. and rely above all on that bilateral relationship, including a long-term U.S.-NATO troop presence, to deter interference by neighbors and assure that the U.S. will subsidize the Afghan security forces as a subsidiary of CENTCOM;
  2. Return to the historic policy of bi-tarafi, announcing that Afghanistan seeks strategic partnerships with all those helping it, including Iran, Pakistan, China, Russia, and India, and assure that Afghanistan is not the base for threats real or perceived to any of these. Therefore:
    • Begin discussions with each of these, regardless of objections from other powers; the award of the Ainak copper mine contract to China could be a step in this direction.
    • Plan to phase out the NATO and Coalition presence within an approximate time frame and replace it with a combination of Afghan security forces and international non-aligned forces, whether a U.N. peacekeeping operation or a multi-national force from Islamic or non-aligned states outside the region; this will depend on settlement of the insurgency and elimination of al-Qaida sanctuaries in Pakistan. A more modest alternative would be at least to end the full freedom of action currently accorded to the Coalition, so that all military operations would be subject to a bilateral agreement with a sovereign Afghan government.
    • Establish frameworks for the resolution of bilateral issues with all neighbors and other stakeholders; whereas alternative (1) might be consistent with resisting changes in the status quo on the Durand Line, though the U.S. and NATO have thus far resisted being dragged into this issue; alternative (2) would require a plan for reducing or ending the longstanding tensions with Pakistan over the border, mutual subversion, transit trade, India-Pakistan conflict (including the use of Afghan territory and population for fighting in Kashmir), the Tribal Agencies, and the presence of al-Qaida leadership. Any agreement on the border should also include the administrative integration of FATA within Pakistan so as to eliminate military-controlled terrorist sanctuaries. Alternative (2) would also require either a settlement of U.S.-Iran conflicts or an agreement on a modus operandi to insulate Afghanistan from those conflicts.

Insurgency, Terrorism, and Internal Security. Domestic stability and security requires a settlement/defeat of the insurgency, the integration of dissident tribes, clans, and social strata in the south and east in such a manner as not to provoke a destabilizing reaction from groups in other regions of the country and their foreign allies. These in turn require elimination or curbing of external sanctuary for Taliban, al-Qaida, and Hizb-i Islami, as well as agreement by anti-Taliban regional powers to accept the terms of a settlement of the insurgency rather than responding with resistance or subversion. Political settlement of the insurgency must be done in such a way as to make clear that it is part of a strategy for stabilization, not realignment. International alternative 1 (alignment with the U.S.) is likely to make any steps toward political settlement of the insurgency appear as a realignment in the interests of the U.S. and Pakistan, and will therefore provoke a reaction. International alternative 2 (regional and global non-alignment) will facilitate confidence building measures, though it might lower the military capacity of the forces in the country.

Internal political settlement of the insurgency (contingent on settlement of its external factors) will require some political integration of former insurgent elements. The current structure and functioning of political institutions in Afghanistan constitutes an obstacle to such a settlement. Not only is the administration unitary and highly centralized around the Office of the President, but the National Assembly and Judiciary’s powers appear in practice to be subordinate to the executive. There are virtually no mechanisms for institutionalized power sharing according to the constitution and law. The unitary, centralized administration means that there is no mechanism for territorial power sharing. The presidential system means there is no mechanism for power sharing in the central government through coalition formation. The weakness of the National Assembly and provincial councils and the lack of a structural role for political parties means that political participation through forming parties to contest legislative elections. In practice individuals formerly aligned with insurgent groups (political or tribal) can be appointed to posts n the unitary, centralized administration, but their only official role is then to implement the policies of the central government. Patronage and the exercise of local power take place through informal means, i.e. corruption. To settle the insurgency sustainably, negotiations must lead to the strengthening of inclusive institutions, not just the cooptation of individuals by enabling them to benefit from “corruption.”

In the first instance this requires strengthening the institutional role of the National Assembly. As the NA has proposed a number of the measures mentioned above (subordinating the Coalition to a bilateral agreement under Afghan sovereignty, a negotiated settlement with the Taliban), some Taliban sources claim that enabling the NA to fully carry out its constitutionally mandated role would provide greater opportunities for political integration.

The role of provincial, district, and local administration and elected bodies is even more important. The immediate impetus to insurgency in the south often came from the abuse of office to create and maintain tribally-based patronage networks. While tribes or clans could be abused or dispossessed, partly because the Coalition empowered certain tribal militias, which took power at the expense of others, but also because in such a centralized system there is no accountability of the government to the governed, but only to the higher levels of government. Especially in an atmosphere of scarcity, insecurity, and lack of rule of law, the competition for power becomes a competition to grab resources, and those who lose turn for support to the state’s opponents.

The many local and tribal disputes resulting from misgovernment over the past several years will have to be settled; even more important for the medium and long term is the reconstruction of contractual, consensual, and accountable relations between communities on the one hand and the administration on the other. This is the task of the newly established Independent Department of Local Governance in the Office of the President. The constitution provides an institutional framework for this task through the mandate of elected councils at all levels, but much work is needed to make these institutions function.

Domestic Security. The failure of the government to provide and protect domestic security and justice is a major reason its legitimacy has declined. The capture of the police and judiciary by factional and indeed criminal interests has made Afghan people see domestic security institutions as threats rather than protectors. Reform and restructuring of the security and justice institutions must be integrated into the reconstruction of governance. The domination of Afghanistan’s economy by illicit activities (mainly the drug trade) has been a driver of the corruption of these institutions. Transforming the criminalized economy (see below) is one major strategic piece. The government now must decide whether it is still possible to reform the police and the MoI within the current institutional structure, which provides for a totally centralized structure with no local accountability, or whether to empower communities to take responsibility for their own security. Security on roads, at borders, at markets, and in towns and cities will remain a governmental responsibility. Can the MoI be reformed, or will it have to be demobilized and a new one created, along the model used for the AMF and the ANA?

Political Elites. A central political question for establishment of domestic security and governance is how the government should relate to the de facto power holders – “warlords,” commanders, militia leaders, factional or ethnic leaders, strongmen – that have emerged over the past several decades. In some cases they overlap with more longstanding social elites (landlords, religious figures, big families), but in other cases they are “new” men who emerged in the war. Among the alternatives are:

  1. Coopt and transform these leaders by appointing them to official functions; this requires establishment of a set of criteria to determine their eligibility, such as DIAG, accounting for past crimes, cutting ties with the drug trade, and mechanisms for monitoring. The guidelines do not appear to be clear and are affected by political and economic interests. This would be facilitated by programs such as do not now exist for helping them establish legitimate businesses or professions consistent with their status, providing they integrate themselves into new institutions.
  2. Remove these leaders and either “hold them accountable” for their past actions or just sideline them, as the government and its partners build new institutions or revitalize pre-existing ones.
  3. Use essentially political criteria for dealing with them: do they ally with the government and international forces in the counter-terrorism operation?

Elements of these policies are already in existence, in electoral vetting, DIAG, the senior appointments board, the civil service commission, and the action plan on transitional justice, but each policy area establishes them ad hoc through bargaining between the government and various donors. The various elements of the policy are not integrated into a common approach.

The government also needs to develop a strategic approach to the ulama and spiritual leaders. Policies on judicial reform and education are particularly important to this. For instance, in development of the judiciary does the government want to build a parallel secular judicial elite or transform and upgrade the qaziat? What tools does the government have to influence the religious authorities?

Economic Development. The economic development strategy includes investment in infrastructure for production and connectivity to domestic and international markets (roads, pipelines, electricity, water); investment in human capital (education, health); social protection; transformation of the criminalized economy; and regional and global integration. The basic strategic choices made about Afghanistan’s international strategic identity will affect decisions on which infrastructure to make a priority. The decision on the size and mode of financing of security services (and the rest of the public sector) will determine what rates of growth and extraction of public resources are need to finance the desired end state. Sectoral decisions on how to achieve the desired growth and human development will have to be consistent with the overall strategy. The transformation of the illicit (especially narcotics) economy while increasing the standard of living requires the integration of counter-narcotics into the governance, security, and development strategies.

Counter-Narcotics. Counter narcotics tools, including crop eradication (negotiated or forced), alternative livelihoods and other development programs, interdiction, law enforcement, anti-corruption measures, border security, anti-money laundering programs, and any other should not be considered as parts of a counter-narcotics strategy developed in parallel to strategies for other policy areas. Counter-narcotics tools should be considered as various forms of sanctions and incentives in the political negotiation over the future of the Afghan state and economy among government, its international backers, strongmen, communities, and various transnational forces including the drug industry.

With respect to the narcotics industry, it is vital to bear in mind that poppy production is not considered a criminal activity by the current social consensus in Afghanistan, whatever written laws (that no one reads) may say. Communities decide to devote a portion of their resources to poppy cultivation, even though they know it is un-Islamic and illegal, because they believe they need it for their own security and welfare. Poppy cultivation provides cash incomes, credit, finance, access to land, and employment. It is not considered deviant or anti-social behavior but a regrettable adaptation to insecurity and poverty. An attempt by the state to use threats or force to stop cultivation is not seen as legitimate action against criminals (deviants), but as an attack on a hard-pressed community that would not have made such a choice if alternatives were available.

One goal of counter-narcotics policy is to gradually transform participation in the narcotics industry into a crime, so that it can be handled through law enforcement. But this first requires a political process of legitimating the power of the state, including its adherence to the international counter-narcotics regime, through a political process. Technical assistance and capacity building can strengthen legitimate institutions, but they cannot make institutions legitimate.

Afghan experience shows that is possible to curb poppy production through political agreements between the state and communities, but that such agreements are sustainable only if the state and its supporter s offer adequate benefits to convince communities that it is safe to shift from the illicit activities they wish to leave. Communities need other livelihoods, such as jobs, not just other crops. They do not need the same level of gross cash income from licit economic activities as from illicit ones in order to be secure.

As currently planned, communities will agree to phase out poppy production over a period of years, as part of its overall contribution to security and development. The government similarly agrees to provide a range of public services over the same period. This policy is not a simple exchange of aid for ending poppy production, which international experience has shown is ineffective and vulnerable to defection from both sides. These agreements would define a comprehensive political, security, and development agreement between the state and communities – a local version of the Afghanistan Compact. Just as counter-narcotics policy is an integrated and cross-cutting theme of the Compact, so it will be a cross-cutting theme of these local compacts.

Taking the idea of a gradual transition seriously involves several components, including establishing the status of the crop during the agreed transition, investment in infrastructure (physical and institutional for development), and interim measures such as price supports or subsidies to provide economic support to communities undergoing the transition.

Investments would be required to create and strengthen licit institutions that would provide the public goods previously provided by the drug industry, including credit, extension services, marketing, and employment in industries of transformation. Some of these programs could be implemented through the National Solidarity Program.

But the benefit of those investments would not be felt in full for years. Until then other programs are needed to provide rural communities with support and incentives to pursue other livelihoods. These could include a program of price support for key commodities throughout the country (not only in poppy growing areas) and subsidies, if it is possible to administer them in existing conditions.

Finally, alternative livelihoods are not just or even mainly crops. In order to create more jobs, the countries that constitute the main market for illicit drugs manufactured from Afghan raw materials should enact legislation providing for preferential treatment for other Afghan exports, such as textiles. Such tariff treatment would encourage investors from Asian countries to move some operations into Afghanistan in order to capture those market segments.

At some point in the process of implementing these political agreements with communities, the social consensus would shift to seeing poppy cultivation as anti-social deviant behavior. At that point it would be appropriate to introduce crop eradication for those who continue to grow poppy despite collective agreements not to do so.

Implementation. No strategy can be formulated or implemented within the current institutional structures. There is increasing call for a higher level of coordination, but effective implementation of that coordination would require delegation of budgetary authority over expenditures to a collective body presided over by the coordinator, along the model of the ARTF. The pursuit of bilateral and parallel institutions by donors prevents the empowerment of Afghan institutions and implementation of a coordinated strategy. That does not mean that all projects must be implemented by the Afghan government. The Afghan government does not currently have the capacity to develop and implement all the projects that are needed. The most important element of coordination is not mechanism of implementation, but mechanism of decision making. The JCMB and the consultative groups now have purely consultative functions and no budgetary functions. The Compact and ANDS institutional structure, however, could be adapted to make it much more an executive rather than solely a monitoring body for the implementation of the Compact. This would be consistent with the needs of a integrated strategy.

The current security and development structures should also be rethought. PRTs were a response to the inability to expand ISAF. An expanded ISAF should focus on security, while an expanded UNAMA should focus on the provincial and regional coordination of political, governance, and development strategy. The UN, unlike NATO, is a multifunctional organization that includes agencies with all the relevant expertise.

Read more on this article...

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Rubin (Updated): More on Wheat, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Global Security

Update: The British government is providing food aid to Afghanistan:
The [UK] government has promised an extra £3m in new funding to help meet growing food shortages in Afghanistan. . . .The International Development Secretary Douglas Alexander said the cash would provide a "safety net" that would will help avoid a humanitarian crisis. UN research suggests that poor Afghans are struggling to buy food because of rising wheat prices. In Kabul it is estimated that people spend up to 60% of their income on bread alone. The UK government says the shortages have been caused by rising global prices made worse by severe cold weather.
Original post:

I previously showed how the rising global wheat shortage and the resultant price increase is feeding conflict (as it were) in both Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The media are starting to catch on to the political implications of the commodity boom. It's not just oil: today's New York Times analyzes A Global Need for Grain That Farms Can’t Fill. Most of the article focuses on how rising prices for grains and other agricultural commodities are reviving the U.S. farm economy. (Of course the article misleadingly uses a few family farmers as examples rather than the multi-national agro-businesses that account for most of the production and market).

An earlier article in the Wall Street Journal (behind subscription firewall, excerpted here) attributed the shortage and price increase to "drought in Australia and poor weather in other grain-producing countries." The Times article attributes it mainly to increasing demand:

Many factors are contributing to the rise, but the biggest is runaway demand. In recent years, the world’s developing countries have been growing about 7 percent a year, an unusually rapid rate by historical standards.
But the Times article also highlights the global implications:
A tailor in Lagos, Nigeria, named Abel Ojuku said recently that he had been forced to cut back on the bread he and his family love.

“If you wanted to buy three loaves, now you buy one,” Mr. Ojuku said.

Everywhere, the cost of food is rising sharply. Whether the world is in for a long period of continued increases has become one of the most urgent issues in economics....

The increases that have already occurred are depriving poor people of food, setting off social unrest and even spurring riots in some countries. . . .

Around the world, wheat is becoming a precious commodity. In Pakistan, thousands of paramilitary troops have been deployed since January to guard trucks carrying wheat and flour. Malaysia, trying to keep its commodities at home, has made it a crime to export flour and other products without a license. Consumer groups in Italy staged a widely publicized (if also widely disregarded) one-day pasta strike last fall.

As I mentioned in the previous post, one of the most common themes in messages from Pakistan since the assassination of Benazir Bhutto has been the wheat flour (atta) shortage, which many people ascribed to the political instability in the country, though it is a global phenomenon. In response, Pakistan has stopped wheat exports to Afghanistan.

As I also reported, rising food prices in Afghanistan are creating a crisis that is so far silent but that could manifest itself in urban riots, increased recruitment to the insurgency, and increased planting of both opium poppy and cannabis to earn cash incomes to buy food at the higher prices.

(On other commodity markets: The latest UNODC assessment of Afghanistan's drug economy notes "the steady rise in cannabis cultivation, giving Afghanistan the dubious distinction of being one of the world’s biggest suppliers of cannabis" (as also reported, left, in the New York Times). With a completely deadpan delivery, the UNODC report praises cannabis growing provinces as "poppy free." Afghan governors who succeed in convincing farmers to grow cannabis, the price of which has jumped, instead of opium poppy, the price of which is falling because of Afghan over-production, are now considered to be counter-narcotics heroes. Anyone who reads this report should carefully parse where it refers to opium and poppy and where it refers to illegal narcotics. Substitution of one illegal drug for another is being sold as counter-narcotics.)

Meanwhile, the Afghan government, which lacks economic expertise and administrative capacity in rural areas (to say the least) has proposed some kind of support for wheat farming to compensate for the food shortages and take advantage of the rising prices, which appear to be a long-term trend. Currently Afghan farmers are poorly positioned to take advantage of the wheat price rises, as traders monopolize most of the profit, as they do with poppy and cannabis. The World Bank vetoed such a program for the usual reasons (distorting markets, etc.) many of which are valid -- in addition to the fact that the Afghan government could not administer a complex and wasteful program like US agricultural price supports, especially since Afghan cultivators have no political influence.

Nonetheless, the rise in price in wheat and other commodities (what is happening to horticultural commodities, flowers, essential oils, and so on?) presents an opportunity for investing in other cash crops and their marketing in Afghanistan. For all the rhetoric about how the drug economy is supporting insurgency and terrorism, where is the program to seize this market opportunity? And for all the talk of the importance of Afghanistan to global security, where is the program to assure Afghans of an affordable supply of basic food? This would do at least as much good as more NATO troops, and with less risk of collateral damage (market distortion versus killing civilians).

Please post policy proposals in the comments. Thanks.

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Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Ahmadinejad: The Age of Nuclear Weapons is Over (OSC)

The USG Open Source Center translated an interview with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad published in El Pais of Madrid on March 4, 2008.

Iranian President Ahmadinezhad Says 'Age of Nuclear Weapons Is Over'
Interview with Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinezhad by Angeles Espinosa and Javier Moreno in Tehran on 1 March: "'People of Iran Ready To Fight Enemy in any Situation'"
El Pais (Internet Version-WWW)
Tuesday, March 4, 2008
Document Type: OSC Translated Excerpt

. . . (passage omitted: background information on Ahmadinezhad)

(Angeles Espinosa) Your country is at the center of the international stage due to its nuclear program, its role in Iraq, and its regional ambitions. We have the impression that your relations with the United States, or rather the lack of them, have a lot to do with this situation. What prevents you from normalizing relations?

(Mahmud Ahmadinezhad) We do not accept the world's dominant and hegemonic regime. That is why the relations with the United States require certain conditions. They broke ties with us. They thought that they were thus punishing us but, in fact, it has benefited us because, thanks to that decision, Iran has been able to grow strong. We are interested in having relations with all of the countries in the world, apart from the usurping Zionist country.

(Espinosa) Do you think that there will be more possibilities to achieve this with the change of occupant in the White House?

(Ahmadinezhad) It will depend on the attitude and the behavior of the new president. If he changes his mind about the region and the people of Iran, then, perhaps.

(Espinosa) There are currently three candidates who might win the final race (McCain, Obama, and Clinton). Whom would you prefer to see in the White House?

(Ahmadinezhad) I think it is impossible for Obama to become president because of the United States' hidden powers. For us, it makes no difference who wins. The most important thing is that the one who does understands the international situation well and the problems its politics are causing.

(Espinosa) In any case, Obama has made an extraordinary statement for US politics by expressing publicly his will to meet you personally. Would you be willing to take an equally extraordinary decision and meet him, if he were elected president?

(Ahmadinezhad) Two and a half years ago, I expressed in New York my will to talk with Bush, but before the media. We do not have any problems talking, although it seems impossible to me that they will let Obama win. You know the US balance of power. It is based on aggression in foreign politics. The people's vote is a mere front.

(Espinosa) The misunderstandings between Iran and the United States began almost 30 years ago with the seizure of the US embassy in Tehran. What did you experience, as a young student, at that moment?

(Ahmadinezhad) When that incident happened, we accepted it gladly. It made us happy because the 25-year US hegemony over our country had not benefited Iranians. On the contrary, those years affected our culture, our independence, and our progress. That is why the break in diplomatic relations was considered to be an opportunity. If we had continued to walk that path, Iran would not have been where it is today.

(Espinosa) When you were elected president, some of the former hostages recognized you as one of their captors. Were you in any way related to the seizure of the embassy?

(Ahmadinezhad) They even published a photography of somebody and said it was me, but the person in the photo was 40 years old and I was 22 back then, besides, I did not wear a long beard as did the man in the image... I was really surprised that its secret services made such a crude mistake.

(Espinosa) In your letter to US President Bush, you made a very serious accusation: that the terrorist attacks on 11 September 2001 had required the involvement or infiltration of a secret service. Who were you thinking of?

(Ahmadinezhad) I made two accusations. There are many questions about that event that need to be answered. Books and reports have been written in the United States itself. We think that it is impossible that it happened without the involvement of part of the US security services. It is impossible that the planes were able to take off, fly over its territory, and crash into the towers without any contact with any secret service. And even more doubts have been aroused when the United States used the attacks on 11 September as an excuse to attack the Middle East and they continue to do so.

(Espinosa) Excuse me for insisting, Mr President, just to make sure that we have not misunderstood you. Are you therefore convinced that some kind of cooperation, even if passive, by the US secret services was necessary to commit the attacks on 11 September?

(Ahmadinezhad) Yes, at least by part of them. Some 4,000 people were killed. We regretted it and we condemned it. I even (in September 2007) wanted to pay tribute to the victims. But subsequently, thousands of people have been killed in Afghanistan and Iraq using that as an excuse. That is why we think it is important to carry out an international investigation to ascertain the roots of the event. Nobody has been hitherto convicted for it.

(Espinosa) You must acknowledge that it seems that the United States is doing the dirty work for Iran. It has freed you from the Taliban regime and Saddam Husayn (with whom Iran fought a tough eight-year war). Is it not contradictory that, despite having very similar interests in the region, you are incapable of overcoming your differences?

(Ahmadinezhad) The consequences of their actions are not completely negative. But the damage is 100 times greater than the accomplishments. Did they finish off the Taliban in Afghanistan? Did they finish off the terrorists? Are they weaker than five years ago? No, they are stronger. The United States has not been able to achieve its goals. Saddam left. Then, why do they continue to occupy Iraq? Because its main goal was not to get rid of Saddam Husayn. The people of Iran are very powerful. It has transformed these events into an opportunity, just as it turned the break in relations into an opportunity. This does not mean that the occupants intended to help Iran.

(Espinosa) You are about to start a historic trip to Iraq. What is the aim of this visit?

(Ahmadinezhad) Iran and Iraq are two friends and neighboring countries. We have a historical relationship. Only for a short period, instigated by Western countries, were the relations between us broken off. But there has always been profound ties between us. Many Iranians were born in Iraq and the other way around. We have a good relationship and must strengthen it even more. My visit intends to convey a message of respect to the Iraqis, to their election, to their national sovereignty, and to their independence.

(Espinosa) Why have you requested an audience with the Grand Ayatollah Al-Sistani?

(Ahmadinezhad) No, it is not planned. I am only going to Baghdad.

(Espinosa) Are you offering military aid to the Iraqi Government to replace the US troops?

(Ahmadinezhad) We do not have a military relationship with the Iraqis. Our relations are limited to politics, economics, and culture.

(Espinosa) The United States has accused the Revolutionary Guard, and especially the Al-Quds force (a special unit, which is under the direct command of the Supreme Leader of Iran, to export the Islamic revolution abroad), of meddling in Iraq's domestic affairs and providing weapons to certain militias. Could such a thing happen without your knowledge?

(Ahmadinezhad) The Unites States talks a lot, especially about the countries in which it has failed. It is normal that the people fight those who occupy their country. The Americans are occupiers and they know it. And the Iraqis do not like the occupiers. The United States' problem is that it does not understand the culture of the region. It thinks that every problem can be resolved with gunshots. The human beings must be taken into consideration.

(Espinosa) Excuse us for insisting. Could an Iranian military force opperate in Iraq without the knowledge of the Iranian president?

(Ahmadinezhad) If Iran wanted to confront the United States, the situation would change immediately. Iran is a very powerful country. We think that the United States has failed in the region and is currently looking for a justification before its public. It has 160,000 troops deployed in Iraq and only a few people make it feel defenseless? It is like the photograph linking me to the hostages.

(Espinosa) What kind of government would you like to see in Iraq?

(Ahmadinezhad) An independent government elected by the Iraqis. Their votes would be beneficial for the region.

(Espinosa) Even if they elect a government allied to the United States?

(Ahmadinezhad) We would respect the decision of the people. Hence, we will respect whatever the Iraqis decide. But you know that, in any place in the world, if the people are free they will not give their votes to a pro-US government. In freedom, people vote against the United States, something we must thank Mr Bush for.

(Espinosa) Do you think that the Iraqis have elected their government freely?

(Ahmadinezhad) Yes, the current Iraqi Government has been elected by its people. That is why the occupants are still there. If the government had been imposed by the United States, this country would have already left Iraq.

(Espinosa) But the Iraqi Government is a friend of Iraq and of the United States at the same time. Is this a contradiction or does it open a communication channel with Washington?

(Ahmadinezhad) We have relations with many countries that are also friends of the United States. This is not a problem.

(Espinosa) Now, during your trip to Iraq, your security will depend on the US army, as the Iraqi forces do not control their country yet. This puts you in the hands of the United States...

(Ahmadinezhad) It is the occupant country's responsibility in accordance with international law.

(Espinosa) The UN Security Council has unanimously endorsed two resolutions imposing sanctions on Iran and is preparing a third one. However, you keep on saying that Iran will not renounce uranium enrichment. Is there any way out?

(Ahmadinezhad) We are not at a dead end. The other parties to the conflict are. They made a mistake by adopting resolutions based on incorrect information. Now, the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) report has ratified our position. What will they do? In my view, they have three options. The first one, the most rational one, is to admit their mistake. This would suit everybody well. The second option is to keep silent, which is almost the same. And the third option is to attempt to cover up their mistakes by making new errors. This would harm us and them, too. They are free to choose. That is why we think that they have reached a dead end. But we are working within legality. Every new resolution is a shot into the UN's body. It diminishes its credibility. Hence, those who take the decisions should do so properly to prevent discredit. For our part, regarding this resolution, we will act the same way as we did with regard to the other two prior resolutions.

(Espinosa) Are you not surprised by the fact that the resolution was unanimously endorsed, even by Russia and China, which are Iran's allies and friends?

(Ahmadinezhad) How were the first two resolutions issued? We are on good terms with China and Russia, but we defend our rights (regarding the nuclear program).

(Espinosa) Have you not presented a very optimistic interpretation of the IAEA report? Experts and European diplomats have insisted that you have to explain your prior nuclear activities. What did they base their opinions on?

(Ahmadinezhad) This debate has a legal and a political aspect. The legal aspect has come to an end with this report. Now, it is the IAEA's duty to declare it closed. The report has clearly stated that the problem with Iran is over, that Iran has not diverted nuclear material for military purposes. Despite the US accusations, they have not found any evidence. The political aspect is linked to the enmity harboured by certain Western countries toward Iran. They have been against us for 30 years. They already supported Saddam Husayn against us. Their attitude is not new. Those countries are not satisfied with the fact that the IAEA has closed the Iranian dossier. When they talked about building trust, they were lying. They do not care about the nuclear program. They are only looking for arguments against Iran. We have learned to live without them. That is the advantage of this experience. They cannot treat Iranians this way. Iranians will not be expelled from the international stage because of those problems. Iran will continue to make progress and, in the future, they will have to cooperate with Iran, but the situation will be very different. Two and a half years ago, I proposed the creation of consortium to help us with the nuclear program. They did not accept it and now we have made that program on our own. We do not need that consortium any longer. If they do not accept our terms now, it will be more difficult for them to do so in the future. They can choose. We are giving them the freedom to do so.

(Espinosa) Do you not fear that this attitude might lead to a pre-emptive intervention by the United States or Israel?

(Ahmadinezhad) Who can do so?

(Espinosa) Perhaps, Israel...

(Ahmadinezhad) The Zionists cannot do anything, not even stand up by themselves. There is no power in the world that can even think of attacking Iran. We are 70 million united Iranians. Who would dare? But they are looking forward to doing it. Their desires are not a problem, but they cannot fulfil them. The people of Iran are ready to fight the enemy in any situation. The Iranians knows very well how to stand up for their rights, so do the Spaniards.

(Espinosa) Some of the missiles Iran has tested are only intended to carry nuclear warheads. This, without doubt, has fuelled the international preoccupation...

(Ahmadinezhad) Throughout its history, Iran has always been a peaceful country. We have not attacked anybody. Everything we are doing is aimed at defending the country. We think that the age of nuclear weapons is over. If they were useful, the United States would not have the troubles it currently has and the Soviet Union would not have disappeared. The Zionists have atomic bombs, but they are failing against HAMAS. We not only think that the age of nuclear weapons is over, but we are also not interested in building them, because we consider that they are against human rights and dignity. Our security doctrine is a defensive doctrine. This missile that we have launched is an investigation missile, which is intended to carry a satellite. It is our right and we need to have a presence in space for communications. We announced it before launching it. We are working transparently, unlike other countries that work clandestinely and, even so, condemn us.

(Espinosa) You became president by promising that you would bring oil profits to the Iranians. However, in the taxis and in the bread queue, people complain about inflation, unemployment, and the difficulties to make ends meet. What has happened to prevent you from keeping your promise?

(Ahmadinezhad) What did you think? That we would carry an oil barrel to every house? Now, the government is distributing the shares of the companies that are being privatized. We are also working to reduce the income inequalities between the poorest, the middle class, and the rich people. Iranians are vivacious people, attentive to every issue. They are free to express their opinions and to criticize if something goes wrong. This helps us to correct problems. We do not consider this to be bad.

(Description of Source: Madrid El Pais (Internet Version-WWW) in Spanish -- center-left national daily) Read more on this article...