Does Afghanistan’s election matter? How, exactly?

The only thing that really matters about the presidential election held in Afghanistan yesterday was whether it will generate a nationwide government that has enough political credibility with the country’s 33 million people that it is able to govern.
This seems to be in severe question. And the question may not be answered for many weeks, or even months, yet.
From this point of view, the statement Obama made yesterday lauding the election as a success was both (a) beside the point and (b) inappropriate. Oh, and also distinctly (c) premature.
It is not for him, the president of the foreign country occupying Afghanistan, to declare the election a success. It is for the Afghans. That is, if we are all to believe the official US narrative about Afghanistan now being a “sovereign nation” in which the US and other NATO forces are deployed just to help the Afghan government…
There are two major ways (and a host of lesser ways) in which the election could fail to generate a “credible enough” government.
Firstly, the whole process of voting may be judged by Afghans to be non-credible, as evidenced either by very low turnout or by widesread and credible reports of voter fraud.
It may well be possible that the recorded turnout among the 15-16 million registered voters was so low– due to the intimidation of the anti-government insurgents, disillusion with the governing system, or other factors– that the whole voting exercise is inherently non-credible.
We should know that when we gain an idea of raw turnout numbers, apparently tomorrow.
Or, the turnout figures may be sufficiently high to allow for credibility– but the reports of fraud could be so widespread and credible that even (or perhaps especially) those high raw turnout numbers don’t look credible.
Secondly, even if the voting process has some initial credibility, the reported results of either yesterday’s first round or the runoff that mandated in the event of no clear winner could come under serious contest from one or more of the losers…
We are seeing before our very eyes, in Iran, the debilitating effect that such a contest to electoral legitimacy can have on a governance system.
I imagine, though, that the US military will not allow a prolonged-deadlock situation to go on very long in the event of a contest arising in Afghanistan… And they will intervene in some way… But of course, that would only undermine the legitimacy of the resulting president even more!
But anyway, let’s say that Hamid Karzai or Abdullah Abdullah manages to emerge as the winner after a first or second round, and this victory meets with no immediate serious contestation from other candidates. Then, the lucky winner goes and forms a government…. that does what?
Well, one thing I’m assuming it can almost immediately do is sit astride a rather bloated stream of foreign (US-mobilized) funding. Which it then gets to deploy. Yoohoo! (Why do you think most of these guys are runnng in these elections, anyway?)
But will it be able to provide enough basic services– including that most vital government service of all, pubic security– to enough Afghans to be able to keep and expand its legitimacy?
Who know? The odds look rather grim..
Bottom line, though: It is far too early to call yesterday’s election a “success”– for any of the candidates, or for the process itself.
… By the way, I’ve been pretty disappointed so far in the AfPak Channel of news and commentary that Foreign Policy mag and the New America Foundation got up and running a couple of weeks ago.
Maybe it’s still early days for the people there. But if you want a good, up-to-date source on the election that aggregates news and reports from a wide range of sources, then Wikipedia’s page “Afghan presidential election, 2009” looks far, far better to me.
It provides an amazing range of excellent links. Including one to this great August 19 piece by my fellow IPS contributor Gareth Porter.
Gareth quoted former US ambassador to Afghanistan Ron Neumann as saying that the odds of the election tending up as “good enough” in the eyes of the Afghans was “50-50”.
He also quoted Australian COIN specialist David Kilcullen as saying, “The biggest fear is Karzai ends up as an incredibly illegitimate figure, and we end up owning Afghanistan and propping up an illegitimate government.”
Chapeau, Gareth!

Afghanistan: “What would Thomas Jefferson do?”

Vampire06 of ‘Afghanistan Shrugged’ had an informative, well-written post yesterday about the challenges of trying– as the head of a US Army ‘Embedded Training Team’– to put into place the building blocks of procedural democracy in a place in eastern Afghanistan. (HT: Registan.)
V06 has enough self-awareness to understand some– but not all– of the ironies of his situation. Plus, he’s a good writer with an engaging, self-deprecating sense of humor.
His immediate challenge is to identify a location for the voter-registration center, in the northern part of Goumal District, right next to the border with Pakistan. The traditional tribal coloration of all the local terrain deeply impacts this issue.
He writes,

    What would Thomas Jefferson do?? I’m fairly sure he wouldn’t do what I’m doing which is standing there with my mouth open trying to catch some Afghan upper respiratory disease. Did I miss something along the way? Isn’t there some kind of UN monitor or some PhD in election science around to settle this?? Usually, if the question is really hard I ask my wife for the answer and she tells me and I sell like I knew it all along. You wives reading this know what I’m talking about, but that ain’t gonna fly here.
    OK, here we go. If I talk really fast and loud they’ll think I know what I’m talking about…

Now, V06 is in that district, as head of the ‘training team’ working with a battalion of the Afghan National Army. But don’t be in any doubt as to who’s really calling the shots here.
He writes:

    Because of our proximity to the border we have CAS [combat air support] circling the area, every 15 minutes or so we have them conduct a show of force our way of saying to anyone who might want to drop by unannounced; that we have a big stick to swing if needed. Later in the day we’ll here the gunfire from another unit closer to the border in contact. Be nice to everyone but have a plan to kill them.

Of course, the people flying CAS are Americans; and almost certainly the people able to “call them in” when needed would be the American “trrainers”, rather than the Afghan National Army officers. So it’s clear that it’s the US military that dominates the strategic environment there.
(I imagine our friends in Iraq are well aware this is what would happen there, too, if the US military is allowed to retain ‘training units’ with the Iraqi army even after US ‘combat troops’ have all supposedly evacuated the cities… )
But then, there is the also conundrum, very vividly represented by Vampire06, of how anyone can “implant” democracy in a distant foreign country, on the tip of a cruise missile or under the weight of a 2,000-pound bomb such as– in a big fight– the CAS people would be capable of delivering.
Democracy is, after all, at its very base a mutual agreement among the participants in a political system that they will not use force or coercion to decide tricky issues of policy arising amongst them, but will do so on the basis of an egalitarian respect for the views and preferences of all citizens, as brought together through a non-coercive process of deliberation and an accepted, well understood, and egalitiarian decision mechanism.
So how can you implant “democracy” in a situation where you have foreigners, backed up by cruise missiles and 2,000-pound bombs, making the decisions on behalf of a people who are living under foreign military occupation?
“Be nice to everyone but have a plan to kill them”? It doesn’t quite stack up to the high ideals and timeless principles of the US Declaration of Independence, does it?

Some quick thoughts about democracy

Remember back in 2005, how George Bush and his acolytes provided us with a series of “purple finger moments”, using the record of the three successive nationwide polls that the US and UN had organized in Iraq as “proof” that the US invasion had led to democracy there?
I was reminded of that when Robert Mugabe produced his country’s own “purple finger moment” in recent days…
Elections on their own do not a democracy make.
In Iraq, the last of those three polls, in December 2005, cemented in place a very heavily sectarianized party system in the country. And because the US occupiers had previously demolished just about all of Iraq’s institutions of national administration and governance, the elected leaders had no levers through which they could even have hoped to govern their country. People should look at Roland Paris’s important work on post-conflict priorities, in which he concludes that the best approach is “institutionalization before liberalization.” What Bremer and Co did was quite a novel approach: “institution destruction before liberalization.” Almost enough to give the whole project of political (and economic) liberalization a bad name.
Like probably all other Quakers, I am strong adherent of democracy in all forms of decisionmaking. But here’s something worth thinking about: In our own internal governance, we never have votes at all! We decide everything by seeking “the unity of the meeting,” and in the event of differences we simply carry on discussing and deliberating together until we arrive at it. In the event of a lengthy stalemate, the holdouts may choose to “stand aside” and allow a decision they’re uncomfortable with to proceed. (Or they may not.) But our version of democracy is based on the idea that any individual, even if she is only one person in a large gathering, may be the one who has the right idea; and therefore everyone should be fully and respectfully listened to and engaged with.
Maybe in the broader world, that kind of lengthy deliberation is not often possible, and hence voting may– on some basis– be the best way to proceed. Though even then, you want to make very sure you don’t get a “dictatorship of the majority” that rides rough-shod over the concerns and needs of any minority.
In international diplomacy, consensus is nearly always a better way to proceed than through factionalism and voting.
So if voting– and all those purple finger moments– do not, actually, tell us anything particularly useful about whether a country is truly democratic or not, what does democracy actually consist of?
In my view, it rests on two core convictions:

    1. The conviction that differences of opinion should always be resolved through non-violent and non-coercive means– through deliberation, discussion, and negotiation, rather than through violence or coercion. Voting may (or may not) be a part of this; but the party that “wins” any particular vote has to remain committed to not using violence or coercion against the “minority”; and
    2. A deep conviction in the equal worth of every human person. As Jeremy Bentham put it: “Each one counts for one, and only one.” No-one should belong to any special class that is above the law. The views of even the humblest person in society should be sought out, included, and valued.

If we can promulgate adherence to these two principles in all the communities of which we are a part– including the community of all humankind– then surely our communities will flourish!
But the idea that “democracy” can be exported to other countries through violence and war is quite bizarre. War and invasion demonstrate that it is quite okay to resolve policy differences through violence and coercion.

Support democratic principles in Egypt!

Reuters is reporting from Cairo that Egypt’s biggest opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood says that only 50 or 60 of the thousands of its members who have tried to register as candidates in the April 8 local elections have been allowed to do so.
Reuters reports this:

    Since the middle of February police have detained, usually without charges, more than 300 Brotherhood members who were planning to stand or who were helping with campaigning.
    Muslim Brotherhood officials said on Monday that the movement planned to field about 7,000 candidates for the 52,600 seats at stake in the elections on village, town, district and provincial councils across the country.
    The Brotherhood seeks an Islamic state through non-violent, democratic means. The government calls it a banned organisation but allows it to operate within limits.

Egypt’s President Husni Mubarak receives considerable financial, military, and “security sector” support from the US and from other western democracies. Now is a time for democrats in western and other countries to stand up. Do we support democracy in other countries only when it brings to power people who agree completely with our own views? Or do we support the participation in it of all parties and movements that agree to abide by the rules of the democratic game, first and foremost among them being an agreement to settle differences through nonviolent means?
Regarding the use of violence and violent intimidation sin the prent confrontation between the Mubarak regime and the opposition political forces in Egypt, look at any of the pictures of what is happening at the candidate-registration places and read any of the accounts of what is happening, and you decide: which side is trying to use violence and intimidation?
Western governments should inform Mubarak that the aid they give him is completely conditional on him allowing these long-planned elections to proceed in a free and fair manner. Otherwise, what kind of “democracy” is it that these governments proclaim?

The fate of the Bushites’ “demagogratization” project in the Middle East

I went to a lunch-time discussion at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, titled “Recovering from Arab Spring Fever”. That’s a reference to the fad for “democratizing” the Middle East that swept through the Bush administration in 2004-2005 and that came to an abrupt end in late January 2006.
The presenters were Nathan Brown and Amr Hamzawy, who have an article on the state of democratization in the Arab world in the current issue of a mag called “The National Interest”, and Suzanne Maloney, who has a broadly parallel piece on democratization in Iran in the same issue. (Those links, alas, won’t give you the full texts, for which you have to pay.)
Maloney’s presentation was pretty good. She pointed out that Congress’s funding of the $75 million program to support citizen-based regime-change efforts in Iran had been almost unanimously opposed by Iranian democrats, precisely because it delegitimized their role. She said the State Dept would have a very hard time spending even the first tranche of this funding. Moreover, because of the intensely controversial (among Iranians) nature of the program, the identity of recipients of the funding would remain classified– for their own protection. This could end up tainting all opposition activists; plus, the State Dept– where, incidentally, she used to work until recently– would not have any real internal or external accountability for how the money gets used.
Altogether, a rather counter-productive way to try to “spread” (and even to demonstrate) democratic values at work…
The other presentation was, necessarily, more nuanced. The “Arab world” is, after all, a much more politically and institutionally diverse a place than Iran. Brown and Hamzawy did a generally good job of describing the present, fairly tenuous, status of the pro-democracy movement in many Arab countries. But in their consideration of what had happened to Washington’s “democratization” project of 2004-2005, I think they did less well. They really failed to identify and explain the impact of the 180-degree turn the Bushites made on democratization in Arab countries in late January of 2006– once it became clear to them that the free and fair elections they’d been calling for in the occupied Palestinian territories had generated a robust Hamas plurality in the PLC.
When I was talking with numerous Arab democrats in Egypt, Jordan, and Syria earlier this year, they all pinpointed two particular positions the US government adopted in 2006 as crucial in their sense that Washington had betrayed the spirit of democracy in the Arab world. The first, as mentioned, was the harshly punitive policy the Bushites adopted toward the elected leadership of the PLC after January 2006; and the second was the strong support Washington gave to Israel’s vicious attack in July-August 2006 against the country and people of a Lebanon that was headed by Fuad Siniora– a man who had emerged from the “Beirut Spring” democratization moves of 2005.
The politics of each of those developments was, at one level, distinct: Hamas was seen as an anti-US (or at least, anti-Israel) force, whereas Siniora was viewed in Washington as very much “on the US side”. But for Arab democrats, the fact that the US in one case openly participated in, and in the other strongly encouraged, harsh actions taken against Arab leaderships who had emerged precisely through the Bushite pro-democratization campaign of 2004-2005 led to, as I have said, a strong sense of betrayal.
It strikes me that to promote democratic values and democratic practice one should also practice these values oneself?
Indeed, it is hard to see how anyone in the Arab world– or, come to that, Iran– can take seriously Washington’s avowals of support for “democratization” if Washington itself is not prepared to deal with differences of policy and opinion using the existing institutions for dialogue and nonviolent conflict resolution but chooses, instead, to do so through force and threats of force.
From this perspective, perhaps we ought to rename the Bushites’ campaign. It was not, after all, a true campaign for democratization but rather, an attempt to demagogue the issue for narrowly defined strategic purposes in the Middle East: demagogratization, not democratization.

Sam Waterston: Commencent Address for America

Actor Sam Waterston, known to the nation as Jack McCoy on the long running TV series Law & Order, recently delivered one of the best commencement speeches anywhere — at Monticello, home of Thomas Jefferson, on July 4th, as part of the annual ceremony for new citizens.
With wit, history, and splendid twists of phrase, Waterston earned what may have been the only standing ovation in 25 years of Monticello Independence Day speeches.
You can read the full text here, or listen to an audio podcast here.

(Technical note: Visitors presently need to click on the “streaming audio” link on the right, as the mp3 version on the “left” mysteriously cuts off 4 sentences from the end…. I’m hoping Monticello may yet place the full 22 minute streaming video of this speech on its web too.)

The entire speech is worth the effort to read/hear/view in full. Savor it. With one of the most recognizable voices in all of America (his past roles include Abraham Lincoln and yes, Thomas Jefferson), “old guy” Waterston breathes new life into the art of citizenship. He alerts citizens, new and old, that citizenship in a democracy requires not mere passive “pursuit of happiness” but “active interference” in how our politicians protect our “lives and liberty.”
Waterston puts “the participation back into ‘participatory democracy’.”
Rejecting the misplaced hope that “America is the all-time greatest self-correcting nation” or that ordinary citizen mistakes will “gum up” the magical functioning of our government, Waterston instead cites Jefferson’s ultimate faith in the people:

“The evils flowing from the duperies of the people [— that is, the ignorant errors of folks like you and me —] are less injurious than those from the egoism of their agents [ — that is, the arrogant errors of those who speak and act for us].”

Rather than relying on agents, lobbyists, or any opinion dictator:

“America has been marvelously able to correct its course in the past because the founding idea — of individual freedom expressed through direct representation — has stirred its citizens to participate, and interfere. Information from the people makes the government smarter. Insufficient information from us makes it dumber….
In our country, things are ‘normal’ only when your voices are clearly heard. The old model of our citizenly relation to politics was of a group of people under a tree, taking turns on the stump all day, discussing the issues of the time. The old model was the town meeting where every citizen can have their say. Old citizens like me hope that between you and the Internet the old model will get a new lease on life.”

I especially appreciate Waterston’s rebuke of the God-like status being given to mind-numbing public opinion polls:

“We can’t let ourselves become mere units of statistical analysis. It appears to be so, that if you ask any 1000 Americans their views on anything, you’ll have a pretty good idea what all Americans think. You might almost conclude that individuals didn’t matter at all anymore.

Yet individuals can prove the opposite, that we’re potentially more than the “mere grain of sand in a vast statistical ocean.”

“Men may be trusted to govern themselves without a master,” as Jefferson predicted. But will we, by our silence, indifference, or inaction, give the trust away, cede it to the wealthy, present it to the entrenched, hand it off to the government, entrust it to any process or procedure that excludes our voices? It could happen.”

Waterston then spins his own quote for the ages:

“As graduating citizens, you will know how the government is set up: the justly familiar separation of powers, the well-known system of checks and balances, and the famous three branches of government: the executive branch, the judicial branch, and the legislative branch.
If these are the branches, what is the tree? Do not think it’s the government.
We are the tree from which the government springs and spreads into its three branches. Every citizen is part of the root system, part of the trunk, no mere twig or leaf. Help our government never to forget it.”

The conclusion then follows for the new citizens at Monticello and for us all:

“So it turns out citizenship isn’t just a great privilege and opportunity, though it is all that, it’s also a job. I’m sorry to be the one to bring you this news, so late in the process. But don’t worry, it’s a great job. Everything that happens within this country politically, and everywhere in the world its influence is felt, falls within its province. It’s a job with a lot of scope. You’ll never be able to complain again about being bored at work. As we multiply our individual voices, we multiply the chances for our country’s success.”

Scary Politics: “What happens if we lose?”

We survived Halloween. No October Surprises; No Gulf of Tonkin incidents manufactured to start another war in the Persian Gulf – yet.
Meanwhile, the political air here in America has been especially “thick.” I presently anticipate a significant defeat for Republicans in Congress. Like so many others who once thought themselves conservative, my political loyalties have been increasingly “independent.” Taken over by neoconservative transplants from the Democrats, today’s Republican leadership is as recognizable to me now as Dick Cheney is to Brent Scowcroft.
My favorite US Presidential pick for 2008 might still be Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb) – though he disappointed me with his recent vote on on the detainee “treatment” bill – the one that tossed away Habeas Corpus. But this year here in Virginia, I’m more impressed with the major Democratic candidates.
One of my Jefferson Fellow colleagues, a sharp young English chap with a Ph.D. from Oxford, thinks quite the opposite – anticipating a November surprise wherein the Republicans will retain control of both Houses. He thinks the President’s “simple strategy” of painting the Democrats as “soft on terror” will remain the “brilliant” winning ticket.
Maybe I’m guilty of letting my hopes – for a return to a government of checks and balances, one that gives a hoot about the Constitution – get in the way of my analysis. Perhaps. We’ll see who gets humbled more next Tuesday; which one of us gets to feel like Charlie Brown trusting Lucy with the (political) football.
In my corner, I take some support from a Sunday essay written by a top former Republican Congressional Leader, Dick Army – of the “Contract with/on America” fame – which I think could be a first cut for his party’s obituary. Notice though that Army focuses on his party having strayed from first principles of smaller government. Little mention is made of it losing its way abroad – my most severe gripe with the party.
I chatted Tuesday with Mitch Van Yahres, a local Democrat icon in Charlottesville, the “conscience of the House” who recently retired from long service as a Virginia Delegate. Van Yahres shared my sense that a political ‘tsunami is in the works, even as he counted ways something might go awry.
Yet he stopped me in my tracks with a cheerfully presented, yet chilling Halloween thought:
“What happens if we lose? — What if the Republicans retain control of everything?”

Continue reading “Scary Politics: “What happens if we lose?””

Elections and post-conflict tasks: Iraq and elsewhere

Juan Cole had a quick link to this piece by Robert H. Reid in yesterday’s Guardian. Reid argued there that,

    The search for an end to Iraq’s violence is being complicated by an electoral system that empowers religious and sectarian leaders who see little gain in offering concessions to rivals or cracking down on factions that put them in power.
    That makes it tough for the U.S. to steer Iraqi leaders toward the kind of political compromise that American military commanders believe is the only way to guarantee long-term stability.

He quotes the (American neo-con) analyst Michael Rubin– who had been a political advisor in an earlier portion of the US occupation rule in Iraq— as now criticizing the proportional representation electoral system that the US introduced there:

    “The problem with proportional representation … is that it encourages populism and empowers ethnic and sectarian leaders. It encourages politicians to be more accountable to party leaders rather than their constituents,” said Michael Rubin, a former political adviser in Iraq.

Well, yes and no. It is not as if the main alternative to a nationwide p.r. system– that is, some form of a constituency-based system, with either single-seat or multi-seat constituencies– may have been any better for Iraqis. In those systems you are more likely to get a “winner takes all” outcome. And it was always very unlikely indeed, in the very fragile political environment created in Iraq after the American occupiers had not only removed Saddam but also dismantled all the main institutions of national governance, that a constituency-based system would have served the interests of stability in Iraq any better than a national p.r. system.
The central political problem in Iraq by the summer of 2003 was how the Iraqis could conclude the kind of national political compact needed to act as the foundation on which they could quickly reassmble their national institutions.
Roland Paris recently published a very important book called At War’s End: Building Peace after Civil Conflict in which he studied the various attempts made to build stable post-conflict orders in 14 countries wracked by civil strife in the 1980s and 1990s. One of his big conclusions was the need, in general, to aim at achieving “institutionalization before liberalization”.
He summed up this approach in six important lessons (p.188):

    1. Wait until conditions are ripe for elections
    2. Design good electoral systems that reward moderation
    3. Promote good civil society [with a warning there, that not all “civil society” is in fact good.]
    4. Control hate speech
    5. Adopt conflict-reducing economic policies
    6. The common denominator: Rebuild effective state institutions

This list is, in my judgment, an excellent one. Of these steps, the US occupation authorities in Iraq only ever really tried to work on #2– by using a p.r. system instead of a winner-takes-all system. Meantime, they were acting determinedly against Paris’s recommendations as regards #1, #5, and especially #6.
I readily confess that back in 2004, when Sistani was calling for quick elections as a way to facilitate the quick exit of the US troops from the country I thought that was a good idea (and wrote so, many times, here on JWN.) However, it is now quite clear that that whole string of electoral “events” that were orchestrated by the occupation authorities between then and December 2005 never resulted in brokering and cementing the key political compact required within Iraq; nor did they succeed in providing a basis for the rebuilding of effective national institutionshin the country; and nor, finally, did they pave the way (as Sistani had hoped) for a speedy and orderly withdrawal of the US occupation presence from the country.
Back in 2004, I had hoped that speedy elections inside Iraq could play the same role there– in helping to midwife a basically peaceful transition from a non-representative, minority regime to one of full one-person-one-vote democracy– that nationwide elections had played in midwifing an transition of just such a nature in South Africa, back in 1994.
I think that far and away the main factor that was missing in Iraq in 2004 and since, that had been present in SA in 1993-1994, was a substantial degree of insulation of the country’s national politics from any influences from outside, meaning that all the players within the South African system realized that, for their own longterm survival, they needed to find a way to deal with each other, without having any option of using an outside force as a crutch. There were other differences, too, of course; but that was certainly the main one.
So now, all these three main challenges for Iraqis still remain: to find that internal political compact; to rebuild the country’s institutions; and to get rid of the occupying forces.
Right now, it does look as if, acting from purely domestic-US political motivations, the Bush administration may well be planning at least a substantial drawdown of the US deployment within Iraq. (And if we anti-occupation forces can keep up our pressure, there’s a good chance we can force them to undertake a complete withdrawal fairly soon, too?) So as the US footprint within Iraq shrinks, will the political forces inside Iraqi society be able to find the national-level internal political compact that will allow them to start rebuilding their country together? I certainly hope and pray that this is still possible. It won’t be easy– mainly because of the terrifying divisiveness that the US presence there has sown over the past 42 months.
But it’s not impossible.
And then, once Iraqis have made some good progress in rebuilding their core national institutions, perhaps one day in the future they can have some truly democratic national elections, whenever they themselves are ready for them… And by “truly democratic elections”, I’m not just referring to procedural issues like the nature of the electoral system or whether all parties have been given a fair chance at campaigning… I’m talking about elections that are not held under the heel of an occupying army, and elections that generate a national leadership that is connected to, and will accountably assume responsibility for a set of real, existing instruments of national governance.
As opposed to all the Potemkin elections that have been held in the occupied country so far.

Birth pangs or an abortion, Condi?

Writing as someone who has delivered, and raised, three healthy children (thank G-d), and as someone who knows the difference between “birth pangs” and an abortion, I feel I need to tell Condoleezza Rice (no known kids, no known abortions) that what Israel has been doing in Lebanon and occupied Palestine with the so far unquestioning support of the US government is much more like a series of abortions of democracy than like any “birth pangs” of democracy.
I am particularly concerned about what has been going on in Palestine, almost unremarked by the MSM in a United States that continues to give Israel unbelievably generous funding and political support, even while it continues its assault against the residents of Gaza and the West Bank. We can recall that in January 2005 these Palestinians went to the polls and held a free and fair election in which they elected Mahmoud Abbas to be President; and in January 2006 they held a second free and fair election in which they elected a Hamas-dominated parliament into office…
In recent weeks, a total of 40 of the elected Palestinian legislators (out of 128) and five government ministers have been arrested by Israel, and today an Israeli court brought some very evidently politicized charges against the previously arrested speaker of the Palestinian legislature, Dr. Abdel-Aziz Dweik.
Birth pangs– or abortion?
The Palestinian Center for Human Rights has this depressing report about the IOF’s major rights abuses against the Palestinians in the period 10-16 August, and also 25 June through August 16.
Throughout this longer period, PCHR reports:

    207 Palestinians, mostly civilians, including 46 children and 10 women, have been killed by IOF.
    o At least 815 Palestinian civilians, including 232 children and 27 women, have been wounded by the IOF gunfire.
    o At least 217 air-to-surface missiles and hundreds of artillery shells have been fired at Palestinian civilian and military targets in the Gaza Strip.
    o Buildings of the Palestinian Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of National economy, the office of the Palestinian Prime Minister and a number of educational institutions have been destroyed.
    o The electricity generation plant, providing 45% of the electricity of the Gaza Strip, was destroyed, and electricity networks and transmitters have been repeatedly attacked.
    o 6 bridges linking Gaza City with the central Gaza Strip and a number of roads have been destroyed.
    o Hundreds of donums[1] of agricultural land and dozens of houses have been destroyed.
    o Hundreds of Palestinian civilians, including 8 ministers and 27 members of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), including the Speaker and Deputy Speaker have been arrested. Minster of Prisoners’ Affairs, Minister of Labor and Deputy Speaker of the PLC were released.
    o The Palestinian governmental compound in Nablus has been destroyed.
    o Many families in Rafah, Beit Hanoun and Beit Lahia have been forced to leave their houses.
    o IOF intelligence has warned some Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip by phone to evacuate their houses, which would be attacked.
    o 25 houses belonging to activists of Palestinian factions were destroyed by IOF warplanes.
    o IOF have imposed a strict siege on the OPT, and have isolated the Gaza Strip from the outside world.

Birth pangs– or abortion?
And then, of course, there have been all the many Israeli depradations against Lebanon since July 12, as I discussed earlier, here. Let’s recall that in May-June 2005, Lebanon held a nationwide round of parliamentary elections that were deemed to have been generally free and fair. The Lebanese government was then formed by that legislature. It contains two members from Hizbullah, not surprisingly since the Hizbullah-Amal List in the elections won 35 of the 128 seats.
Birth pangs– or abortion?
Maybe someone needs to take Condi aside and discuss the facts of gynecological life with her? Or gosh, do you think maybe the administration’s commitment to “democratization” for Muslim and Arab people might be only skin deep??

Kaplan making sense?!

I don’t think I’ve ever agreed with much at all of what Robert Kaplan– just one of a long string of western male writers who trail around the world imagining themselves to be Joseph Conrad– has written in the past. So imagine my surprise today when I read this piece in the WaPo in which Kaplan seems to have come round almost completely to the view of the world I’ve been articulating for many years now.
It includes these important truths:

    Physical security remains the primary human freedom. And so the fact that a state is despotic does not necessarily make it immoral. That is the essential fact of the Middle East that those intent on enforcing democracy abroad forget.
    For the average person who just wants to walk the streets without being brutalized or blown up by criminal gangs, a despotic state that can protect him is more moral and far more useful than a democratic one that cannot.

Also this:

    The lesson to take away is that where it involves other despotic regimes in the region — none of which is nearly as despotic as [Saddam] Hussein’s — the last thing we should do is actively precipitate their demise. The more organically they evolve and dissolve, the less likely it is that blood will flow. That goes especially for Syria and Pakistan, both of which could be Muslim Yugoslavias in the making, with regionally based ethnic groups that have a history of dislike for each other. The neoconservative yearning to topple Bashar al-Assad, and the liberal one to undermine Pervez Musharraf, are equally adventurous.

Kaplan was an eager supporter of the decision to topple Saddam. Now, he seems to be hedging his bets– or would you say this paragraph qualifies almost as a mea-culpa?

    In the case of Iraq, the state under Saddam Hussein was so cruel and oppressive it bore little relationship to all these other dictatorships. Because under Hussein anybody could and in fact did disappear in the middle of the night and was tortured in the most horrific manner, the Baathist state constituted a form of anarchy masquerading as tyranny. The decision to remove him was defensible, while not providential. [Meaning– what??] The portrait of Iraq that has emerged since his fall reveals him as the Hobbesian nemesis who may have kept in check an even greater anarchy than the kind that obtained under his rule.

No, I don’t think it’s a mea culpa. But still it’s great to see someone who has been such an inspiring figure for the architects of various US military adventures since the early 1990s suddenly starting to urge caution.
(Hat-tip to spouse for telling me I should read that. It was interesting to see that George Will had a piece urging US caution re Iraq on the same op-ed page… Those two, and Frank Fukuyama: quite interesting how the debacle in Iraq is starting to fragment the previously existing bloc of US militarists of both left and right.)