Archive for George W. Bush

Happy Holidays from Baghdad!

Posted in Current Events in Iraq, Getting out of Iraq, Iraq and Troop Levels, Iraq War with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on December 22, 2011 by whatafteriraq

Depressingly, it has not taken long for things to begin to show signs of unravelling in Iraq. Less than a week after the last American combat vehicle passed the frontier into Kuwait, the first crisis has emerged. It is no surprise that things are coming undone, of course; this blog has been part of a chorus for some time arguing that things would turn bad in that country after the United States and regardless of when the United States leaves. The only surprise is how fast the fissures have reopened; one would have hoped the partisans would at least have waited until after the eggnog was drunk and the presents under the tree opened. But that clearly was not meant to be.

The source of the fissure has been the newest dispute between Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s regime and the highest elected Sunni in the country,Tariq al-Hashemi, head of the al-Iraqiya party. The focus of the dispute is Shiite accusations that Hashemi and his associates engineered the murders of numerous Shiites, a charge that Hashemi says are both false and politically motivated, arguing that in making these accusations Maliki “pushes things in the direction of no return.” Not trusting the police and courts in Baghdad, Hashemi has taken refuge in Kurdistan, which has offered him effective asylum and which he uses as a platform from which to excoriate the Maliki government. His basic argument is that the charges are politically motivated, untrue, and that he could not receive a fair trial in Baghdad with its pro-Shiite, pro-Maliki courts that do not, in his words, offer adequate “transparency.”

This dispute highlights two of the most basic sources of division in Iraq that many of us have argued since before the 2003 invasion provided more than adequate reason not to invade in the first place. The heart of the disagreement is an entirely predictable confrontation between Sunnis and Shiites, the basic religious divide in Islam. The net effect of 8 1/2 years of American involvement in Iraq has been to shift power from a tyrannical Sunni dictator to what is increasingly looking like a Shiite dictator–an absolutely predictable outcome of our insistence on one-man,one-vote “democracy” is a country that is over 60 percent Shiite. Now that whatever restraint our presence had on the competition has been removed, the Sunnis and Shiites are fighting again. What a surprise!

The other dimension is territorial, the division between the Kurdish north and the rest of Iraq along ethnic and territorial lines. Although supporters of the war were always loath to admit it, Iraqi Kurdistan has been a de facto independent states for several years now, with very little Baghdad jurisdiction over what goes on there. The fact that Hashemi would seek refuge in Kurdistan and that the government would feel the need to negotiate about the Kurds turning him over rather than simply arresting him in what is, after all, officially part of Iraq tells you everything you need to know about the territorial integrity of the country. Until some agreement is reached on the division of oil revenues in the country, this status quo will continue. It is probably true that the only reason Kurdistan has not declared formal independence is strong opposition from surrounding countries with contiguous Kurdish minorities who would probably move to join such a state. Turkey, with the area’s largest and most formidable armed forces heads the lists of opponents which could, unlike the government in Baghdad, establish its sway over the Kurdish region if adequately incited to do so.

All this is playing out without great notice in the United States. The crisis emerging over the holiday season probably explains part of this–as most of us are more concerned about old Saint Nick than we are about Iraq. Indeed, the Obama administration may have made sure all the troops were out before Christmas because it knew things would blow up and wanted that to occur when we were not paying attention.

The only American politician who seems to have noticed is John McCain, whose response has been entirely predictable, arguing that the fault lies with the Obama administration for removing all the troops when it did. His argument, which he seems to apply most everywhere, is that if we kept a military presence in Iraq, it would not be blowing up today. The same argument was used in Vietnam, but misses the point that regardless of how long we stay, the divisions are going to remain and will boil over whenever our departure occurs. The Iraqis, on the other hand, realize that now that we are gone, we are not coming back, so they can revert to form.

Anyone who can make a straight line projection of the current dust up to the final outcome in Iraq has either been drinking too much eggnog or eggnog spiked with illegal substances. The current brouhaha is, more likely, simply the opening chorus of a much longer and more traumatic outcome, the exact nature of which is impossible to predict. What is safe to suggest is that it will not work out the way that George Bush, Paul Wolfowitz, Donald Rumsfeld, et. al. predicted back in the early summer of 2003.

Merry Baghdad to all, and to all a good night!

Libya Is Europe’s Job

Posted in Libya, Middle East Conflict, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on March 6, 2011 by whatafteriraq

As conditions continue to deteriorate in Libya and the prospect of a bloody, protracted internecine conflict looms greater everyday, the question of outside assistance to end the conflict and to end the rule of Muammar Qadhafi increasingly enters the conversation. Inevitably, the possibility of the United States taking a lead role in whatever response the international community conjures is among the potential solutions. Thrusting the United States into a leadership role would be a mistake. Doing something about the unfolding tragedy in Libya is Europe’s job. The United States may be a part of the effort, but in a supportive, not a lead role.

Why should Europe lead? In mulling the situation from afar, I can think of four very obvious answers, although there may well be more: Europe is closer, it has historic ties to Libya, the beneficiaries of Libyan oil are mostly European, and any refugees who cannot be absorbed by Egypt or Tunisia are going to head for Europe. Let’s examine each of these for a moment.

The first point is proximity. Sicily and the toe of the the Italian boot are only several hundred miles from Libya. This means, for instance, that if the international community (in this case, effectively NATO) decides to do something militarily about Libya, Italy and Spain are logical launching points, especially for air strikes that are likely the first (and possibly only) form that direct intervention will take: non-American NATO forces can do that job much better than U.S. carrier-based aircraft. So let them!

Proximity is more than geography. Libya is economically tied to Europe much more closely than it is to the United States. Italy receives more Libyan exports than any other country (approximately 38 percent of Libyan exports are to Italy), and Libya’s other top five trading partners are, according to CIA Factbook figures, Germany, France, Spain, and Switzerland; the United States finishes a distant sixth in receiving exports from Libya. The pattern of Libyan imports is similar, headed by Italy and Germany, in that order. The U.S. has no personal economic stake in Libya.

Second, Libya and Europe share history not shared with the United States. Other than a line from the Marine Corps hymn (“to the shores of Tripoli”) associated with the Barbary pirates during Thomas Jefferson’s presidency, all lines tie Libya to Europe. Notably, Italy occupied the country from 1912 until World War II, and France and Great Britain shared mandatory responsibility after WW II. Presumably these experiences give Europeans a sense of understanding of Libya that we lack (although ignorance has rarely stopped us from bumbling into situations aboyut which we have no clue, e.g. Iraq and Afghanistan).

Third, about all that is important about Libya is its oil, and the United States doesn’t get hardly any of it. Petroleum IS the Libyan economy: 95 percent of its export income comes from oil, as does 25 percent of its GDP and 80 percent of government revenues (2009 estimates from the CIA). As import/export figures indicate, the oil goes to Europe; this suggests who should be primarily worried about it.

Fourth, there is the question of refugees. The flow has already begun, but is mostly foreigners (especially Egyptian) petroleum industry workers fleeing the war. If the conflict drags on and/or if there are increasing recriminations, that flow will almost certainly increase and include Libyans, and there is no indication that either neighboring Egypt or Tunisia can or will absorb them. If not, where will they go? You guessed it: Europe, and especially Italy, which is no longer a small craft voyage away from north Africa than, say, south Florida is from Haiti. These refugees cannot get to the United States unless we invite and transport them, which we almost certain will not do. The only wayto avoid the flood is for a reasonably quick resolution that includes the overthrow of Qadhafi. It is not hard to determine whose interests are particularly served by a quick resolution.

There are also good reasons for the United States NOT to take the lead. The most obvious is overcommitment. The United States is, after all, already mired in two Middle Eastern wars that are sapping American military and economic resources. Do we need a third war? Granted, intervention meets the recent criteria for such involvement: instability in a country where we lack either knowledge or understanding, but the negatives are overwhelming. Even the most feckless, clueless chicken hawks can hardly drag out the tried-and-proven “soft on national security” argument here; the United States does not have a sufficient dog in this hunt to even imagine sticking out military nose in the middle of this one. Europeans arguably do.

There is yet another reason for us to stay in the background that is seldom mentioned, probably because it is a bit embarassing. In recent days, as the Libyan armed forces have stepped up attacks on civilians, there have been increasing calls to capture and try Col. Qadhafi as a war criminal, presumably before the International Criminal Court (ICC or War Crimes Court). Great idea, and almost certainly justified, but if the international community is going to do so, it is best to have the Americans in the background, not up front.

Why? Simply because the United States not only is not a member of the ICC, but was (particularly under the neo-conservative influenced Bush White House) positively opposed to acceptance of the jurisdiction against Americans (on the grounds that the U.S. would lose sovereign control of its own soldiers). In this circumstance, how can the United States be the champion of bringing Qadhafi to justice before a tribunal whose jurisdiction we refuse to accept without appearing hopelessly hypocritical? The question is not rhetorical: the reason George W. Bush cancelled his plans to go to Switzerland earlier in the year was because he might well have been arrested on war crimes charges and potentially been brought before the ICC for actions taken by the United States in Iraq and at Guantanamo. The Europeans do not have the same problem.

The case for European, not American, leadership in dealing with Libya is, in my judgment, overwhelming. That does not mean that European NATO will step up to the plate and accept that responsibility, simply that they should. If they do not (as they well may not), Libyan blood will be much more on their hands than ours.

A Black Cloud over Baghdad

Posted in Current Events in Iraq, Getting Into Iraq, Getting out of Iraq, Internal Violence in Iraq, Iraqi Oil with tags , , , on January 9, 2011 by whatafteriraq

We have now–finally!–entered the last year of American military involvement in Iraq. As the months proceed toward the removal of the last U.S. forces by year’s end, one can expect to hear a great deal of justification of the war that began when George W. Bush ordered a full-scale invasion of that country in 2003. Those rationalizations will be essentially that, because any hard look at what has happened, and what is likely to happen, in Iraq after we finally depart can only maintain straightfacedly that we have accomplished exceptionally little at extraordinarily large costs.

A couple of particularly black clouds crossed the radar in the United States last week that bode very poorly for the prospect on a positive American footprint at the end of the adventure. In Baghdad, our good friend, Iraqi prime minister Nuri Al-Malaki (as quoted in the Perspectives section of Newsweek) bid us a fare-no-so-well, stating of the withdrawal, “This agreement is not subject to extension, not subject to alteration. It is sealed.” In other words, “don’t let the doorknob hit you in the a**hole on your way out.” So much for the gratitude that the neo-conservatives assured us that the Iraqis would have for our “help.”

The second, and blacker, bit of news was the return of Muktada al-Sadr from his self-imposed exile in Iran. Al-Sadr, to put it mildly, is no friend of the United States, and his return bodes very poorly for the political tenor of Iraq toward the United States and U.S. interests post-occupation. For one thing, the Sadr army has been among the most violent opponents of the U.S. occupation (they have fought us at least twice), and al-Sadr’s political supporters have the second most seats of any party in the  Iraqi parliament, where their support has allowed al-Maliki to secure his majority. It is, of course, highly unlikely that al-Sadr ever talked politics with members of the Iranian government during his exile, but this still does not heighten the prospects of warm, congenial, and mutually supportive U.S.-Iraqi relations in the future, particularly with regard to Iran.

These events should not come as much of a surprise to anyone. It has become virtually conventional wisdom that the major geopolitical effect of the U.S. military action in Iraq has been to hand Iran a major geostrategic prize it could not achieve on its own when faced with a Sunni-dominated Iraq: primary political influence over its major Arab Sunni opponents in the region. The Arab states understand that their position vis-a-vis the Iranians has been materially compromised by George Bush’s war, which, among other things, helps amplify their horror over Iranian nuclear weapons development. If you are an Arab, your security is far less firm than it was before the invasion, and although you may not have liked Saddam Hussein very well–who could?–at least he kept the crazy Shiite Persians off your front doorstep. The Americans, in effect, have put them back in that position. Thanks, Dubya!

These events also help prejudice the post-occupation ethnic politics of Iraq in ways that do not favor American interests. When the major pinheads who planned the war (Paul Wolfowitz, et. al.) decided that a western-style democracy was just what Iraq needed, they seemed to ignore the obvious implication that this would be run by Shiites whose motives toward other religious and ethnic groups were no more benign that that of the Sunnis that our “idealism” would displace. The return of al-Sadr as a major prop for al-Maliki means the Shiite motive for revenge is going to be intensified, and we will not be there to get in the way. Although post-American internal instability in the country was pretty much a given under any circumstances, this can only make it worse. 

The rubber will hit the road over Kurdistan, where the United States has and will retain what few interests it ever had in Iraq. For one thing, the Kurds are the only group in Iraq that actually like us, largely because they think we will protect their autonomy (given the casualness with which we have turned on the Kurds in the past, why is not clear) in post-occupation Iraq. More objectively, the United States wants access to Kurdish oil (about half of Iraq’s reserves), and if we don’t get it, we will leave Iraq with absolutely nothing to show for our sacrifice. Concessions for the other half of Iraqi oil in Shiite areas, after all, was held last year, and the U.S. came out of that without a drop of oil. If the Shiites dominate the discussions of what happens to the Kurdish oil, the result could be the same. Should that be the case, we will be left holding the bag, and it will not be a sack with no appreciable oil stains on it.

If the reader happens to be (which he/she almost certainly is not) an Iraqi Shiite, this analysis is the cause of joy, not concern, and the black cloud analogy does not much hold. Rather, the final, irrevocable removal of the Americans lifts, not imposes the cloud. Rather, maybe it is more appropriate to say the black cloud has descended over Washington (where, in a deadlocked Congress, the Democrats will declare it is black, the GOP will equally declare it is white, and they will be unable to agree on a shade of gray). Or maybe the cloud will descend in the tony neighborhood in Dallas where the Chief Decider decided that invading Iraq was a good idea in the first place.

Bibi’s Coming to Town!

Posted in Diplomacy, Israel and the United States, Israel-Palestine Peace Process, US Values and Freign Policy with tags , , , , , , , on March 21, 2010 by whatafteriraq

Israeli prime minister Benjamin (Bibi) Netanyahou is coming to the United States this week. He does not come with any olive branch in his hand to help smooth over the rift of a week and a half ago regarding the settlement issue that exploded like a trick cigar during Vice President Biden’s visit to Israel; rather, he comes puffed up following his announcement in his own country that he is not about ready to halt new Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem. So much for the peace process!

Given the toxic tenor of politics in Washington these days, his arrival puts the Obama administration in an absolutely politically untenable position. American Likud (those parts of the American Jewish community that supports the Netanyahou approach) expect President Obama to greet Bibi with open arms, and that not to do so would be a terrible affront to one of our closest allies. If we appear to abandon the Israeli leadership on this matter of such importance to Israel, they maintain, how can any of our allies trust us in the future? If you want to know, just look at French reaction after the United States co-sponsored a UN Security Council Resolution with the Soviet Union in 1956 demanding that Britain, France, and Israel withdraw from Suez, which they had invaded illegally to protect Franch and British interests in the Suez Canal.

The other side, of course, will argue equally fervently that Obama should not reward Israel’s bad behavior–opposing very publicly stated U.S. policy–by embracing Netanyahou as if nothing had happened. To do this, they will maintain, is to make a mockery of any American policy position on anything–wishy washy old Barack Obama. Moreover, such an embrace would reward the snubbing of the country’s second highest official, not exactly a patriotic move.

The President, of course, cannot win in these circumstances; he is truly damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t. The point, however, is that the position he is in is not his fault. One can argue, of course, that had he not personally guided the United States into the controversial position of promoting a two-state solution of which the settlement situation is a primary part, the seeds of disagreement would not have been sown, and the East Jerusalem expanding settlement/annexation issue would have been a non-issue. He could, in other words, followed the George W. Bush policy of simply rolling over on his back and waiting for Netanyahou to scratch his belly. Under Bush, that policy (of course Ariel Sharon did the belly-scratching for much of the period) coincided with no forward progress toward peace and facilitated the settlement process that has all but killed (if it hasn’t already) the possibility of a two-state solution. Letting Israel have its way is probably better American domestic politics than the alternative, but it is arguably not very good or responsible foreign policy.

Although not every reader is likely to agree with me here, the real responsibility for this whole brouhaha resides directly on the desk of Bibi Netanyahou and his supporters. Regardless of whether the logistical embarassment of announcing actions directly contrary to US preferences while Biden was in country was purposive or not (my personal take is that the Israeli regime is so arrogant as not to have cared one way or the other), the March 8 incident was simply one manifestation of underlying Netanyahou policy. Bibi is nothing if not open about this; he thinks the West Bank is Israel’s, and he is not about to back away from that position. He and the Obama administration are at loggerheads on this issue, and there is no point in phony expressions of comraderie and common cause until someone is willing to move on this issue. The Obama administration is not ready to back down, and neither is Netanyahou. So what is there to talk about? The outcome of the health care vote?

Bibi is coming to the United States mainly to raise money from the disapora to fund, among other things, more settlements. He has a perfect right to do so, and contributors have an equal right to sign checks. President Obama, however, is under absolutely no moral or political obligation to welcome or embrace a visit for that purpose. What do the critics think the President of the United States should do: write a check from part of his Nobel Prize award to fund a few more condos in East Jerusalem? I don’t think so.

The Voting in Iraq

Posted in Current Events in Iraq, Internal Violence in Iraq, Iraqi Oil, Leaving Iraq with tags , , on March 7, 2010 by whatafteriraq

Iraqis went to the polls this weekend in long-anticipated and admidst much (possibly excessive) analysis and predictions. Given the trillion-plus dollars the United States has dropped in Iraq, our interest in seeing how well we have invested is not surprising. All the analysis, however, is premature, and anyone taking the slim evidence of actions–positive or negative–on the run-up to and conduct of the election is getting badly ahead of themselves. What will the outcome mean? It’s hard to say; coming back and asking the question in a year or so would probably be a better time to ask than now, but in an information soaked world where the instinct is to report and analyze everything in “real time,” such restraint is clearly in short supply.

This past week demonstrates the fervor of the enterprise. Newsweek, for instance, ballyhooed the voting in its lead article as “The Rebirth of a Nation,” suggesting this was the first step to the Iraqi democracy that George W. Bush promised in November 2003, when he expounded, “Iraqi democracy will succeed….The establishment of a free Iraq in the heart of the Middle East will be a watershed event in the global democratic revoltion.” The Newsweek story led with that quote; five pages later, it concludes describing  an Iraq, “for better or worse, democratic or not.” At the other end of the scales, The Nation sourly predicts the election will lead to further factionalization and conflict in a lead article by Robert Dreyfuss,”Iraq’s New Sectarian Storm Clouds.” The gist of his argument is that the elections will only accentuate and bring to a head the considerable fissures within Iraqi politics.” Who’s right?

Equally predictably, the hype has spread to America’s increasingly dysfunctional domestic politics. Vice President Joe Biden yesterday proclaimed that the successful outcome of the election will serve as proof of the success of Obama administration politics. Former Vice President Richard Cheney quickly grumped in return that Bush should receive our thanks for a “mission accomplished.” The beat goes on.

All of this is at least partly evidence that the “silly season” of politics is in full bloom, weather patterns in the eastern half of the country over the past couple months notwithstanding. That the Iraqis are holding open and apparently fair elections is a good and positive thing. The outcomes, however, are almost certainly going to disappoint the cheerleaders from either end of the spectrum. They will not, at least immediately, solve any of the deep underlying differences that divide Iraqis and that could, ultimately, cause the country to succeed or fail. There is, for instance, little indication that the electoral efforts have transcended traditional ethnic lines that must be reconciled if Iraq is to prosper. Where are the Kurdish-Sunni, or Shia-Kurdish, or Shia-Sunni coalition parties? Will parties representing the various factions coalesce to form a government? For that matter, how will the outcomes move forward the underlying question of how oil revenues will be distributed? These are vital questions,the answers to which will not be known in any definitive way for months, maybe years, to come.

Is it a good and newsworthy sign that the Iraqi elections have been held? Yes, of course it is. That does not mean, however, that this single–if significant–event allows us to extrapolate far into the future immediately. For now, the most responsible course is simply to note the elections have occurred and then to sit back and see how things unwind. In other words, chill!

The World Averts Its Eyes: Darfur

Posted in Darfur, Diplomacy, US Values and Freign Policy with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 11, 2009 by whatafteriraq

One of the offshoots of the current fixation with Afghanistan, with which this space has itself been almost totally consumed, is that it tends to redirect our attention away from other crises in the world that might otherwise attract our attention, and even possibly corrective action.

The humanitarian crisis in Darfur is a case in point. The Sudanese government’s efforts to repress the insurgency in their Darfur province is slightly longer in duration than the American war in Iraq (the insurgency by the Justice and Equality Movement [JEM] and Sudanese Liberation Army/Movemnt [SLA/M] in Darfur began in February 2003, while the American invasion of Iraq occurred in March 2003). The toll in Darfur is high: estmates suggest between 2-400,000 killed in Darfur as well as upwards of 2 million internal and external displaced persons (IDPs and EDPs) or refugees. The Darfurian population, both in and outside Sudan, have been subjected to regular atrocities ever since, with the most public being the actions of the so-called Janjaweed (which translates as “evil men on horseback”), a sort of informal militia with apparent ties to the Sudanese government.

The Darfurian case is part of a broader pattern of unrest, rebellion, and atrocity in Sudan. In addition to the troubles in the western Darfur region, there has been an ongoing civil war in the southern parts of Sudan since 1962 that has periodicially raised its ugly head, been negotiated to a ceasefire, and then reemerged. What sets this conflict apart is that oil was discovered in the southern part of the country in 1978, which makes control of the area all the more important. This aspect of Sudanese violence has, over the year, resulted in as many as 2,000,000 deaths and 4 million IDPs and EDPs.

And yet the world hardly notices, and when its attention is forced back to the situation, does very little. Media coverage of Darfurian misery prompted international cries of despair, and even caused then Secretary of State Colin Powell and President George Bush to describe the campaign against the Darfurians a “genocide.” Sudanese President (since 1993) Omar al-Bashir has since been indicted in absentia for war crimes and crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court (ICC). These charges do not include genocide, and the United States is disadvantaged in being part of this process since it not a member of the ICC. To deal with Darfur, the UN Security Council authorized a peacekeeping force, the United Nations Mission in Darfur (or UNAMID) in July 2007 with an authorized force size of 26,000 soldiers and police to bring and maintain order in an area roughly the size of Texas. As of this month, the actual force is less than 19,000, including no American participation.

While the United States continues to debate how many troops are needed in Afghanistan, Darfurians in Sudan and contiguous countries (notably Chad and the Central African Republic) continue to suffer, with little prospect of improvement. Sudan’s civil war in the south is in abeyance as Sudan moves toward national elections next year that could provide for substantial autonomy for the south, including a division of oil revenues between Khartoum and the southerners that appafrently is acceptable to both. Despite a 2006 Darfur Peace Agreement that neither side honors, the situation is not so hopeful in Darfur.

Why has nothing been done internationally to halt this disaster. While there is no universally agreed answer to that question, let me suggest four possible elements.

1. It happened at the wrong time. The Darfur crisis, as well as the war in the south, happened at times when the international system was preoccupied with other problems. The civil war in the south began during the height of the Cold War, the same year as the Cuban Missile Crisis, and, as noted, Darfur began a month before the US invasion of Iraq. Had Darfur occurred during the 1990s, when response to humanitarian disasters was at its peak in places like the Balkans, there might have been a stronger response. But maybe not, for reason #2.

2. It happened at the wrong place to the wrong people. The Sudan is, after all, in Africa, where humanitarian responses to tragedies by the west have been, to put it politely, restrained. In the 1990s, the international system acted forcefully in the European Balkans but ignored Rwanda until it was too late. The southern civil war in Sudan pits the majority Arab Muslims of northern Sudan against a collection of Christian and animist Africans, with the Christians in the minority. In Darfur, the combatants are basically all Muslims, with sedentary farming Africans being besieged by nomadic Arabs. For better of worse, these are not conflict parameters thathave activated the outrage of the developed world.

3. The United States, Madeleine Albright’s “indispensable nation,” was otherwise predisposed in both cases. As the world learned in the 1990s, international responses depend on a prominent American role, and we were busy with other things. UNAMID, for instance, has no American personnel, although the United States does provide some aid to the displaced.

4. Sudan has international defenders. Sudan, of course, has maintained all along that these situations are entirely internal and thus exclusively within the purview of Sudan. Their argument for non-interference is based in sovereignty, and they have one strong champion in defending this position, China. The PRC is,along with the United States, one of the staunchest defenders of national sovereignty. China is also the largest importer on Sudanese oil. Draw whatever conclusions you wish.

5. The international response is inappropriate. The IN Security Council has conceptualized the Darfur crisis as apeacekeeping operation (PKO), which it is not. You must have peace as prerequisite to keeping it, and that is clearly not the case in Darfur. Yet UNAMID is a PKO. Why? Because it is what the UN can afford and what the international community is willing to support. That it is also almost totally ineffective is almost beside the point.

So, Darfur simmers and festers while the world looks the other way. “Attention! Eyes Right (or Closed)!” Now, what’s going on in the strategic review over Afghanistan…?

Flying Shoes and the Queen of England

Posted in Afghanistan, Afghanistan War, Current Events in Iraq, Middle East Conflict, Middle East Peace, US Occupatio with tags , , , , on December 16, 2008 by whatafteriraq

The recent incident of an Egyptian journalist hurling his shoes at Prrsident Bush during a press conference with Prime Minister al-Maliki in Baghdad has received enormous publicity over the past several days. More often than not, it is depicted as a clownlike portratit of the soon-to-depart president in a scene befitting a Saturday Night Live sketch. But is it the symbol of something more important than that?

It was certainly an insult to President Bush himself. The perpetrator of the “air attack,” Muntadhar el-Zeidi, certainly meant it that way. Apparently, throwing shoes at someone is the ultimate insult in Middle Eastern culture, symbolizing the conviction that the victim is considered to be dirt below the soles of one’s shoes. El-Zeidi’s accompanying epithet concluded by referring to the President of the United States as “you dog.” Being called the “dog” in my house means you are a privileged character who essentially rules the roost; I doubt if that is what the Egyptian had in mind.

El-Zeidi is apparently being hailed as a hero in the “Arab street” of Baghdad and beyond, even though he is being held under arrest. What should we make of this? Was it simply an embarassing moment akin to when Bush’s father upchucked on the feet of the Japanese Prime Minister at a state dinner? Or was it a more serious popular indictment of the United States and its policy? In other words, was Bush or the United States the object of the attack?

Enter the Queen of England. One of the great advantages the British system has over ours is that it separates the two major functions of the political executive. In England, the prime minister is the chief elected, partisan politician in the country, and he (or she) can be attacked on partisan grounds based on what one thinks of his or her policies without raising questions about loyalty to or support of England. The prime minister is the head of government, in textbook fashion. The Queen (or King), however, is the symbolic representative of the country, the head of state. Attacking the queen is not so much an attack on the individual as it is a criticism of the state.

In the United States, by contrast, the two roles of head of government and state are combined in the president (head of government) and the presidency (head of state), so that it is difficult to tease out whether an attack against the office is a based on a dislike of the incumbent or the country. This is occasionally troublesome. For instance, during the disgrace of Richard Nixon, many defended him not because of his innocence but instead because criticism seemed to weaken the presidency and thus the country.

So against whom was el-Zeidi was directing his ire? The prime minister (the president)? Or the queen (the United States)? In one sense, it is hard to distinguish, since it is the policies of the Bush administration that have created an outpouring of disrespect, even hatred, for the United States. It is, however, important as the United States moves forward in the Middle East under a new leader.

If it is just George W. Bush who is the object of disdain, then the problem is less severe. In that case, Bush’s replacement by Obama will help put the hurt behind us: there is some evidence that many Middle Easterners have some positive hope for the administration of a man with a shared regional middle name. If, on the other hand, it is the queen at whom the ire is directed, that is a more serious and difficult matter to reverse. If el-Zeidi and those who agree with him hate America, then only a sharp reversal in how we are perceived will turn that situation around.

Changing the American image will require overcoming the reasons we are resented in that part of the world, and nothing symbolizes the resentment more than the enormous, very public American military presence in the region, the capstone of which is the military occupation in Iraq and the American intervention in Afghanistan. The Iraqi occuption will begin to wind down with the change of administration,  but American interference in Afghanistan is scheduled to increase, not decrease. Does this mean more flying shoes in our future? God save the queen if it does.