The Washington Post has a very good story on the former Secretary of State adding his voice to the chorus voicing doubt about the Administration's current thinking on the Middle East:
Former secretary of state Colin L. Powell said today that the United States is losing what he described as a "civil war" in Iraq and that he is not persuaded that an increase in U.S. troops there would reverse the situation. Instead, he called for a new strategy that would relinquish responsibility for Iraqi security to the government in Baghdad sooner rather than later, with a U.S. drawdown to begin by the middle of next year.
Powell's comments broke his long public silence on the issue and placed him at odds with the administration. President Bush is considering options for a new military strategy -- among them a "surge" of 15,000 to 30,000 troops added to the current 140,000 in Iraq, to secure Baghdad and to accelerate the training of Iraqi forces, as Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and others have proposed; or a redirection of the U.S. military away from fighting the insurgency to focus mainly on hunting al-Qaeda terrorists, as the nation's top military leaders proposed last week in a meeting with the president.
But Bush has rejected the dire conclusions of the Iraq Study Group and its recommendations to set parameters for a phased withdrawal to begin next year, and he has insisted that the Iraq insurgency is not a civil war.
"I agree with the assessment of Mr. Baker and Mr. Hamilton," Powell said, referring to the study group's leaders James A. Baker and Lee Hamilton. The situation in Iraq is "grave and deteriorating and we're not winning, we are losing. We haven't lost. And this is the time, now, to start to put in place the kinds of strategies that will turn this situation around."
Speaking on CBS's "Face the Nation," Powell seemed to draw as much from his 35-year Army career, including four years as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as from his more recent difficult tenure as Bush's chief diplomat.
Last summer's surge of U.S. troops to try to stabilize Baghdad had failed, he said, and any new attempt was unlikely to succeed. "If somebody proposes that additional troops be sent, if I was still chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, my first question . . . is what mission is it these troops are supposed to accomplish . . . is it something that is really accomplishable . . . do we have enough troops to accomplish it?"
Although he said he agreed with Central Command head Gen. John Abizaid that there should be an increase in U.S. advisers to the Iraqi military, "sooner or later you have to begin the baton pass, passing it off to the Iraqis for their security and to begin the draw-down of U.S. forces. I think that's got to happen sometime before the middle of next year."
Before any decision to increase troops, "I'd want to have a clear understanding of what it is they're going for, how long they're going for. And let's be clear about something else. . . . There really are no additional troops. All we would be doing is keeping some of the troops who were there, there longer and escalating or accelerating the arrival of other troops."
"That's how you surge. And that surge cannot be sustained." The "active Army is about broken," Powell said. Even beyond Iraq, the Army and Marines have to "grow in size, in my military judgment," and Congress must provide significant additional funding to sustain them.
Powell also agreed with the study group's recommendation that the administration open talks with Syria and Iran as it gropes for a solution to the Iraq problem. Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice have explicitly rejected talks until Syria ends its destabilizing influence in Lebanon and support for anti-Israel militants, and until Iran suspends its nuclear enrichment program. The administration has charged both countries with aiding the Iraqi insurgency.
"Do they get marginal support from Iran and Syria? You bet they do," Powell said of the Iraqis. "I have no illusions that either Syria or Iran want to help us in Iraq. I am also quite confident that what is happening in Iraq is self-generated for the most part. The money, the resources, the weapons are in Iraq already."
"Are Iran and Syria regimes that I look down upon? I certainly do. But at the same time, I've looked down on many people over the years, in the course of my military and diplomatic career, and I still had to talk to them."
The NYTimes' Week in Reivew section today devotes lots of space to the Sunni-Shiite dynamic in the Middle East, a subject we've been writing about a great deal in recent weeks, and yesterday.
Their main story talks mostly of Cheney's "Shiite tilt" theory, an idea that seems to be getting the appropriate amount of cold water thrown on it in Washington. A second piece offers lots of good insight on how to think about Iran. And a third gives some basic background on the Sunni-Shiite split.
It is refreshing to see American elites beginning to come to terms with the complexity of finding a better path forward in the Middle East today, a process greatly accelerated by the Iraq Study Group Report. But at the same time this complexity, and the utter mess our Iraq policy has brought, seems to be causing a dangerous paralysis in the White House. As the Washington Post reports this am, and has been confirmed in many other stories, our President seems to be rejecting any new thinking on the Middle East, and will end up deciding to ride out his current failed strategy.
No matter how they dress up this version of "stay the course," progressives cannot for one moment accept a "new path forward" that is not a better one. All of us need to prepare for what is shaping up to be a major and sustained debate about the objectives of American foreign policy and a new strategy for the Middle East early next year.
Blogger Sean-Paul Kelley has written that my characterization of the Iran-Iraq war in a recent post was inaccurate, and has also taken exception to several of my conclusions about what is happening in the Middle East today. I will not respond to all his points here today, as many of them are addressed in other recent posts about the worsening situation in the Middle East. I will however address one very spot-on criticism directly, my characterization of the Iran-Iraq war.
Looking at it now, it was not the most artfully written part of the post, so let me restate what I was trying to say. Iraq invaded Iran in 1980. Iran defended herself, and the two countries went to war. One of the main reason Saddam attacked Iran was to slow the march of Shia Islam, newly emboldened with the success of the Iranian Revolution in 1979. Many of the leaders of the Iranian revolution trained at the Shiite religious center of Najaf, in southern Iraq. Saddam was worried that the the revolution could spread to Iraq, and eventually topple his Sunni-led government. So while there were many reasons for this conflict, one of the main reasons the war broke out and lasted so long was the Sunni-Shiite tension beneath it all.
The United States backed Saddam Hussein in this eight year-long war. Even though Iraqi Shiites fought against Iranian Shiites for eight bloody years, and the Iraqi identity trumped the Shiite one, there can be no question that we sided with the region’s Sunni Arabs in a war against the revolutionary Shiite in Iran. We too wanted to slow the momentum of the Iranian revolution, one that was virulently anti-American.
In the Middle East today we are trying to prevent Iraq from becoming a proxy war between the Sunni Arabs and the Persian Shiites and their allies. Iran has regional hegemonic ambitions. With the coming to power of Shiites in Iraq, the first Shiite-led Arab government in Islam's history, Iran was given an historic opportunity to weaken the Sunni political hold over the lands where the Shiites live, and where they have been oppressed for more than a thousand years. In Lebanon, for example, the current efforts of Iran's proxy and ally, Hezbollah, to topple the pro-Western Lebanese government, if successful will strengthen the hand of the pro-Iranian Shiite Hezbollah at the expense of the Sunni-backed government, and further tip the balance of power towards the Shiites in the region. Sunni Saudi Arabia has become so alarmed at all this that they have made it clear that unless America contains the Shiites there could be a regional Sunni-Shiite war.
Finally, the stories this week about the Iranian-backed Holocaust denier conference in Tehran is a must-read for anyone trying to make sense of all this. Calling from the eradication of Israel and holding a conference for those who believe the Holocaust never happened confirms that the current Iranian government is a dangerous, destabilizing and belligerent political force in the Middle East. It is no wonder the Israels are terribly worried about Iran developing nuclear weapons, and imagine the international reaction if an Israeli leader called for the elimination of an Arab state like Syria. The Iranians need to be held to the same standard in a fragile and explosive part of the world.
The Iranian political leadership has repeatedly called for the elimination of Israel. It is funding and training the most radical Shiite militias in Iraq, who are a critical part of the Shiite-led Iraqi government. It has funded and built Hezbollah into a regional force which is now trying to topple a democratically-elected government in Lebanon, and provoked a military confrontation with Israel (remember that the Sunni Arab nations of the Middle East backed Israel’s effort to weaken the Shiite Hezbollah, the first time Arab nations has backed an Israeli military action in history). It funds Hamas, another regional force bent on the destruction of Israel and now currently fighting the more moderate and pro-Western Fatah faction in Palestine. It has blown off the international community’s efforts to stop their illegal nuclear program. Its greatest source of income is from oil, and thus has a financial incentive to foster instability in the Middle East to help keep oil prices high. The well-respected Freedom House rates Iran as one of the least free nations in the world today.
While Iran may not control Sadr, Hamas and Hezbollah, they are political allies, and are working together for a common cause: the weakening of those who have power today in the Middle East – the Sunnis, the Americans and America’s ally, Israel.
As progressives look to correct the great foreign policy failures of the Bush era, and I for one believe that we must foster some sort of regional peace and reconciliation process that includes all the actors in the region, including Iran and Syria, we cannot view Iran through rose-colored glasses. No matter what happens in the Iranian elections this weekend, Iran is a nation controled by radicals, has aggressive regional ambitions, has called for the elimination of America's greatest ally in the region, and is looking to alter the ancient balance between Sunni and Shiites. Iran will be a difficult and destablizing force in the Middle East for some time to come and cannot be treated with kid gloves.
For years, our community has focused on developing and promoting the ideas, leaders and institutional capacities that would make the 21st century just as much an American century as the century that has just passed.
The opportunity to imagine and proceed down this 21st century path has never been greater, or more important.
As you may have noticed, we’ve been just as busy since the election as we were before, holding forums, offering our ideas, appearing in the press, blogging and talking with the leaders and staff of the New Majority. We plan to keep up this relentless pace, as we sense, as I’m sure you do, that we are in a very critical period in American history. Our challenges our great, and after years of disappointing and failed conservative government, progress is not an option.
Your support today will allow us to hit the ground running in early 2007, and play a very strong and assertive role in helping progressives take advantage of this historic opportunity to chart a better course for our nation.
In the coming weeks we will be outlining our initial plans for 2007, and asking for your input on what we should be focusing on. Wherever we end up, be certain that it will include enhanced efforts to ensure that progressives master the new politics of our day, put to bed the era of conservative ascendancy, make globalization work for all Americas, finding a better way forward inthe Middle East, pass comprehensive immigration reform, deploy the latest and best tools, raise the minimum wage, take advantage of the new Hispanic opportunity, as outlined in our cutting edge and powerful media campaigns in both English and Spanish, and fight for our modern and far-sighted Agenda, A Commitment to Hope and Progress.
Thank you for all that you’ve done for NDN and for the nation. We have accomplished much, together, over the years. But I feel, as you must too, that this is a very important and serious time, perhaps the most challenging time our nation has faced in generations. With your help, we will ensure that our community is doing everything it can to help our great nation meet the challenges of this century, and lead us all to a better tomorrow.
To finish up my theme of the week, about the explosion of new ideas to deal with our 21st century problems, I point out Worldchanging.
I have watched this effort from the very beginning, and I know the founders, Alex Steffen and Jamais Casio, well. It pretty much started as a two person blog with the idea of pointing out all the new tools and ideas and people who are already creating a 21st century world that is sustainable and works for all, in their language, one that is bright green. Worldchanging is a positive place, with none of the gloom and doom talk that so many traditional environmental sites have. As their tag line says: “Another world is here.” The solutions are all around us, we just need to catalyze them, scale them up, and make it all work for everyone.
Over the years they have grown from the two of them to a vibrant worldwide community. They got a boost a couple years ago when the elite TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) conference chose them as one of three places for their affluent attendees to support. Since then they have taken off and are building a national infrastructure to spread their ideas into the mainstream.
Their most recent effort is a book, Worldchanging: A Users Guide for the 21st Century. It acts more like a reference book, not something you would read cover to cover. But you can flip through it and find all kinds of new ideas and heartening developments. It is broken up into sections that pertain to huge areas that need to be radically reworked, like the business world, cities, and, yes, politics. The politics they talk about is more people-powered and less about inside legislation. And it also has a very global viewpoint, as do the solutions throughout the book. But it is well worth reading for those in DC and state government and politics. This is particularly true for those who want to focus on solutions that deal with our myriad environmental challenges, like climate change.
It’s a heartening book, one that hopefully will inspire other similar efforts. A good gift for the holidays…
Since he transferred power to his brother, Raúl, and obeyed doctors orders to stay away from ceremonies honoring his 80th birthday celebration in Havana, we have all been questioning the state of Cuban President Fidel Castro's health. Putting suspicion to rest, Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte said that Castro is "very ill and close to death." Speaking to a group of Washington Post editors and reporters, Negroponte added, "Everything we see indicates it will not be much longer . . . months, not years."
Beginning today, Members of Congress in favor of easing sanctions will be on the island for a three-day visit. The ten member delegation is the largest to visit Cuba, a fact that emphasizes the increasing interest among policy-makers to learn more about the state of its affairs. Yet the White House position remains firm:
Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Shannon told reporters that the Bush administration will deal with Cuba's Communist government only when it shows a commitment to democracy. During the period of uncertainty under Raul Castro, Shannon said, "the regime has actually become harder and more orthodox and is not in a position to signal in any meaningful way what direction it will take post-Fidel."
To learn more about the opinions of the Cuban-American exile community, check out the poll NDN conducted in October.
As I wrote the other day, it increasingly looks like whatever "way forward" the Administration offers in January, it will not be a better one. Today we learn that Secretary Rice has dismissed talks with Syria and Iran, a remarkably modest step and one essential to any improvement in the economic and political prospects in the region.
The American people are facing a difficult period. They overwhelmingly believe our policies in the Middle East have failed. They voted the Party of the Iraq War out of power. A very credible independent study group recommends an urgent change of course, focusing on lessening our military presence in Iraq and opening up new diplomatic channels to restore stability to the region. An emerging political leader of this Iraq War Party, John McCain, recommends more troops. The country's military leaders reject that path, publically. Reasonable people across the world urge some kind of regional peace process. The Administration rejects it. A US Senator goes to Syria to explore a new path forward, the Administration attacks him. The Administration talks about a "Shiite tilt" in Iraq, Saudi Arabia says a regional war may erupt if we proceed down that path....
Battered by the elections, the Administration is turning inward, and becoming more isolated from reality and the wishes of the American people. Their management of the War has already cost America too many lives, too much money and too much loss of prestige. Their management of the "way forward" process in recent weeks reinforces that they are lost, weak, unclear where to go, unwilling to listen to new ideas. Their leadership of the country is no longer just wrongheaded, but is becoming dangerous to our national security interests. As progressives, we have an extraordinary obligation to challenge a lost and wayward Administration, and to find not just a way forward in the Middle East, but a better way forward. And it must include, as the ISG suggested, an aggressive diplomatic effort to restore stability to the region.
The Wall Street Journal had a nice story today about the shift in mindset in the Venture Capital sector from investing in startup companies dealing wit the Internet to those dealing with clean energy. It came in the form of an interview with two top Kleiner Perkins partners, the legendary John Doerr, and Ray Lane.
What’s interesting from the political perspective is that it shows that many actors in the private sector and the world outside of politics already are moving headlong towards 21st century solutions to our problems. Like the smart money of Silicon Valley.
Smart progressive government needs to help catalyze those efforts and align them. It needs to draw them together, and highlight the best of them, building popular consensus around a clear way forward. Government also needs to fill in the gaps, stimulate efforts and solutions where none exist now.
What we don’t need is some one candidate to step forth with all the answers. That can’t happen, and waiting for it paralyzes our politics and government. Washington and old style politics in general is so caught up in commander-in-chief mode. Look to the president for all the answers. Wait for the guy at the apex of the hierarchy to give orders. That is so 20th century. The future is all about enabling and coordinating many, many actors.
Anyhow, back to the WSJ story, which you can read in full here (they generously opened up the link to those without an online subscription). Here is a choice section to pull you in:
WSJ: Why is there so much interest in clean tech now?
Mr. Lane: We have always said that we do well by focusing on sectors, not companies. So when we saw changes happening in the semiconductor and microprocessor industry, and when we saw changes happening around the Internet, [we knew] these were major sectoral changes that occurred that would essentially displace the economics that were in place at the time.
The Internet is an example. Billions were made, billions were lost. You take that cataclysmic change that occurred over the last 10 years and you say, 'This looks like it could occur in energy.' Now we are dealing not with a sector of billions, but we're dealing with a sector of trillions. The venture business does well if it gets involved early because we're willing to take the risk.
It's a natural thing for Silicon Valley. We like very large markets. It doesn't make sense to go into small markets. It is huge sectoral change in one of the biggest industries on Earth, if not the biggest, and then it's being driven by technology, hot technology change. WSJ: Does this look to be bigger than the Internet or as big?
Mr. Lane: This is bigger than the Internet, I think by an order of magnitude. Maybe two.
If you thought the 1990s was a ride, hold on for this one….
"Older politicians will have to get beyond their ideological blinders to recognize the opportunity waiting for any candidate or political party that can embrace both halves of the Millennial era civic ethos paradox."