Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Kaplan On The Troops

The American Enterprise has an interview with Robert Kaplan in its January/February issue. Given the time he spent with American troops while writing his new book Imperial Grunts, Kaplan has a good perspective to answer the following question. (Far better, at least, than does John Murtha).
TAE: We hear much in the establishment media about morale problems in U.S. military ranks, and reporters often seek out disenchanted troops to put in front of microphones. Have you encountered widespread morale problems among American fighters in Iraq?

Kaplan: Absolutely not. I’ve only met two kinds of soldiers in the combat arms community: Those who have served in Iraq and/or Afghanistan, and those who are pulling every bureaucratic string to get deployed there.

I spent the summer of 2004 with a group of marines in Niger and sub-Saharan Africa, and every marine in that platoon was trying to get to Iraq. A few months later, one of them got lucky and ended up leading Iraqi forces into combat in the second battle of Fallujah. He was a sergeant from Georgia, and after the battle, he sent me a long e-mail flush with pride. And that’s not just a cutesy-pie story—that’s basically what I encounter all the time.

The only disenchantment is found in the Reserves and the National Guard, mainly because they signed up for a short time and end up serving many months. That’s a system that needs reform. But generally speaking, morale is better than it’s been in a very long time.

Keep in mind there is very little combat going on now. Most deployments feature more humanitarian missions than combat. Even in Iraq, the troops really have to search far and wide to find combat activities.
As an aside, for what it's worth, I won't pretend I'm the biggest fan of Kaplan's analysis of the regions to which he has traveled, generally because no matter where he writes about, the final analysis can usually be summed up as "Intractable ancient, ethnic hatreds." When he said this in Balkan Ghosts, and Clinton used his book and the analysis therein to support his decision to stay out of Bosnia, Kaplan criticized his decision heavily, saying all he had written was a travel book. The strength of Kaplan's work is that they do provide extraordinary detail on out-of-the-way places, but his one size fits all analysis of the world's problems gets a little tiresome. He's done that to some degree (although far less than in his past works) in Imperial Grunts (of which I've read about half by now). Otherwise, it provides extraordinary detail on challenges and missions carried out by American troops deployed around the world. It certainly puts him in a better position to know the thoughts of these soldiers than John Murtha.

Here are some other interesting answers from the interview.
TAE: Have you talked to any of the troops about their feelings on Abu Ghraib?

Kaplan: Yes, and there are several levels to this. First and foremost, every soldier I’ve talked to has wanted to scream, “What were those idiots thinking? Who were their commanders? They should all be put in prison because they’ve besmirched our name! And even though 99 percent of what we do is good, nobody is writing about it because of these few idiots!”

That’s the first level. The other level is that after about six weeks of blanket coverage, they started disliking the media. They knew that the first few days of coverage were legitimate, because this was a terrible abuse. But after a few weeks, when the new revelations became smaller and smaller and less and less significant, the continuing blanket coverage obscured the great work that the U.S. Army was doing.

At that time, for example, they were involved in very restrained, close-quarters urban combat in Karbala, fighting that made Black Hawk Down look easy. Yet very little was written about it. And that’s when I heard soldiers start saying that the media was part of the problem.

TAE: You argue in your new book that evangelical Christianity has played an important role in making the U.S. military more moral, more disciplined, and more discerning. Explain that for our readers.

Kaplan: After Vietnam, one of the many motors that helped transform our military into a disciplined organization capable of complex exercises was the resurgence of religion. Perhaps most importantly, religious Christianity cut down on drinking and misbehavior. That in turn weakened the lure of the officers’ clubs, which narrowed the barrier between officers and enlisted and non-coms. I attended quite a number of religious services during my reporting for Imperial Grunts, and I never found them intimidating, proselytizing, or coercive. And the religion bucked up morale during difficult moments.

Read the whole thing.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Democracy's High Price?

In contrast to the laziness on the New York Times' editorial staff, an excellent editorial in the Washington Post today about the lack of attention being paid by Washington and Brussels to promoting democracy in Belarus and sustaining democracy in Ukraine, while Putin continue the Great Game unabated.
AYEAR AFTER Ukraine's Orange Revolution, Russia's effort to combat the spread of democracy in Eastern Europe continues unabated. Its latest weapon is natural gas. As the heating season got underway this month, Moscow announced through its state-controlled energy company, Gazprom, that it would more than triple the price it charges Ukraine for gas supplies, to $160 per 1,000 cubic meters. When Ukraine's government sought to negotiate a more gradual increase, Moscow threatened to raise the price further, to more than $200, or cut off supplies as of Jan. 1. Russian President Vladimir Putin chose to trigger this crisis just as Ukraine approaches a crucial parliamentary election on March 26. Thanks to Mr. Putin, soaring energy prices for Ukrainian consumers may be a punishing issue for the former Orange revolutionaries.

Next door in Belarus, pro-Moscow President Alexander Lukashenko has no such worries. He, too, has an election coming up, on March 19; he abruptly scheduled it last week, the day after holding a summit meeting with Mr. Putin. At that meeting, Mr. Putin agreed to hold the price of gas for Belarus steady next year, at $46 per 1,000 cubic meters. Belarus's democratic opposition, which had been preparing for a presidential election in July, was left with one week to register its candidate and just a few more to campaign, without the benefit of mass media, money or the right to free assembly.


Will the West stand up for democracy in Belarus and Ukraine? So far there's not much sign of it. The European Union decided shortly after Mr. Lukashenko's announcement to postpone the launch of a radio service intended to provide uncensored information to Belarusans. Poland's foreign minister, Stefan Meller, spoke with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice about Ukraine's gas price problems during a visit to Washington this week, but they did not reach agreement on a concrete response. Many in the administration remain unwilling to react to, or even acknowledge, Mr. Putin's aggressive campaign to undermine Mr. Bush's pro-democracy policy. As U.S. lassitude continues, Mr. Putin's price keeps going up.

With elections coming up in both Belarus and Ukraine in March, it is going to take more than calling Lukashenka a dictator to bring real change. The US and EU could really effect change if they tried. Russia is operating from the disadvantage, but the US and EU give it the advanatage by doing nothing. Russia is unlikely to fall in with China if we make Moscow mad. It knows its fortunes are in the West, but it is intent on being pulled kicking and screaming the entire way.

The Intellectual Lightweights At The New York Times

The New York Times had an editorial today that was, unsurprisingly, simple-minded and lazy, showing no intellectual rigor or original thought - in other words, typical of the New York Times. In it, the editors, having noticed that Evo Morales won the Bolivian election - get ready for this - blamed it on Bush!
The political balance in Latin America has clearly been shifting to the left. Nearly 300 million of South America's 365 million people live under left-wing governments. While many of these governments, like Brazil's and Chile's, have worked hard to cooperate with the United States, others, like Venezuela's, have gone out of their way to bait Washington. Mr. Morales gives every indication of following the Chávez approach. And there could be similar lurches to the demagogic left in the numerous Latin American elections soon coming up in places like Peru, Mexico and Nicaragua.

One explanation is that nearly two decades of Washington-recommended economic and trade policies have not done much for millions of urban and rural poor. Another is that the Bush administration has not shown much interest in addressing Latin American social problems. And Mr. Bush has done a terrible job of cultivating personal relationships with Latin American leaders.

The fact that Bush doesn't have friends in Latin America on the same level as, say, Tony Blair or Junichiro Koizumi, could be just as much a reflection of the leadership in Latin America as one of Bush's friend-making abilities. That aside, this editorial is nothing short of comical in its lazy attempt to understand Latin American politics. Take, for example, this op-ed by Georgetown professor Michael Shifter.
Despite these labels, viewing Latin America through a strictly "left-right" lens doesn't make sense today. It is too simplistic, and it obscures the region's highly differentiated political landscape. Latin America is undergoing considerable social and political ferment. Street protests have forced a string of presidential resignations — in Bolivia and Ecuador, for example. Economic and political reforms haven't tamed the unrest. As poll after poll has shown, Latin Americans are disenchanted with politics of all colorations and with the lack of remedies for mediocre economic growth, scant job creation and stubborn poverty.

The political responses to this sour mood are far from monolithic. The prescriptions promoted are so varied as to render suspect any overarching, catch-all term — including "leftist." Politically, Latin America is, and will likely remain, a patchwork, marked by hybrid social, economic and foreign policies.

To illustrate: Chile under Lagos (his likely successor and fellow Socialist Michelle Bachelet is expected to continue his policies) reflects Latin America's most successful model, one that blends reliance on free markets and trade with targeted progressive social policies. The results — in terms of sustained growth and poverty reduction — have been impressive.

Brazil's Lula, like Lagos, has controlled spending, a policy not usually associated with the Latin American left. Unlike Lagos, however, Lula's government has been critical of hemispheric free trade initiatives.

Argentina's Kirchner, charting his own peculiar course, takes an anti-U.S. stance, pursues closer ties to Venezuela's Chavez and consistently defies the international financial community. Neighboring Uruguay's first "leftist" government (in office since March) has been distinguished chiefly by more conservative economic policies than its predecessors.
Like Shifter says, and as I pointed out yesterday, politics in Latin America no longer follows any left/right scheme. Instead, political camps are broken into populist and pragmatic, with varying degrees of each often adopted by the leader. There have been populists and pragmatists on both the right and the leftAs I said yesterday, politicians like Lagos and Lula, while recognizing the power of a populist platform, have ultimately come to recognize the efficacy of pragmatism over populist policies. Lula is hardly a regular guest at the Crawford ranch, and his free trade stance differs markedly from that of the Bush administration, but he's usually not actively trying to give Washington headaches with his policies. Chavez has not, but he also has vast amounts of oil revenue to fund his irresponsible policies.

The question remains which path Morales will take. On the one hand, it needs a great deal of foreign investment in order to make use of the pool of natural gas underneath the country (drilling practices with which Venezuela's state oil companies are not terribly efficient). On the other, the populist rhetoric of anti-imperialism and fighting what has supposedly been the cause of all of Bolivia's woes will not sit well with potential investors.

The Times editorial also pushes the idea that Latin America's drift "to the left" is somehow a backlash to Bush's presidency. This is an outright lie. The central tenets of the Bush administration's policies in Latin America have been democracy, free trade and open markets. It's worth dragging out this Chilean poll I liked to during the FTAA Summit last month. Between 60 and 80% of respondents in all South and Central American countries, with the exception of Chile, Venezuela and Uruguay are satisfied with democracy. Support hasd dropped since the 1996 poll in some countries, but has remained the same (including in Bolivia) or increased in others (Peru, Ecuador and to a lesser extent in Paraguay). Meanwhile, support for authoritarian governments "under certain conditions" has declined significantly during the Bush years.

Likewise, between 60-80% of respondents in all countries except Argentina and Paraguay believe the free market is the only system for them. Those who agreed in Argentina and Paraguay amounted to only slightly less than 60% - let's call it 55-57%. Support for privatization, which had been declining since 1998, the earliest year on the chart (I'm pretty sure someone else was in office who, according to the times, apparently wowed everyone in Latin America with free markets and democracy) has increased nearly 15% since the financial crises of 2002.

On a similar note, Russell Crandall, the former NSC Director of Western Hemisphere Initiatives I quoted yesterday, has a piece coming out in the Winter edition of The National Interest of what he learned about Latin America in his time at the NSC (he left in September 2005). The article is not out yet, but Nikolas Gvosdev, the National Interest's editor, has a preview at his blog, The Washington Realist.
Alarmist headlines notwithstanding, Latin America is not on the verge of violent, anti-American revolutions nor has the United States abandoned its backyard. To be sure, leftist leaders at times will keep a healthy distance from certain U.S. policies, but we should not interpret that as a wholesale rejection of market-led economic policies, democracy or general interaction with Washington.
Crandall himself gives his own preview of his findings, with some commentary on the media's role in playing up the supposed US-Latin American divide.
“I’m much more skeptical now of what I read in the press because reporters often don’t have the full story, or are predisposed to cover an event from a certain angle. And over the course of my time in government, I often asked myself if I perhaps I had done too much pontificating from my own ivory tower in education.”

Based in part on his time in the White House, Crandall has written an article for the winter edition of the widely read journal, The National Interest, that he hopes will help set the record straight on current relations between America and Latin American nations. Entitled “The Myth of the Latin American Backlash,” the article contends that media focus on vocal protests in South America against U.S. policies ignores the fact that relations between North and South are the strongest in almost fifty years. “Contrary to the general impression, there’s been significant progress on making democracy the only game in town in the Western hemisphere,” he said. “Almost all governments in Latin America are cooperating with us now on key issues such as making military forces more respectful of human rights, and both sides are eager for progress in trade relations.”

He writes in the article, “The region at times is stymied by a vicious cycle of voter apathy, poor public institutions, anemic economic activity and continued social unease. But the most encouraging sign is that Latin Americans seem predisposed to solve social and economic problems via the ballot box. Popular dissatisfaction with the pace or outcome of reforms has not lead to revolutions or coups d’état.”

Crandall concludes that a continued low-key U.S. approach to the region is best because, “A number of Latin American governments—especially the leftist ones—are hesitant to be seen as too close to Washington; yet, behind the scenes they are developing increasingly deep and trustful relationships with the United States.”

The Times' editorial does nothing more than further illustrate the continuing decline of serious thought at that newspaper. In fact, in a shallow attempt to blame Bush for something else, perhaps the Times has given the United States too much credit by assuming Latin America's political fortunes are wholly reliant on the actions taken by the United States. The Times wraps up its self-serving bloviating with this statement that beggars belief.
When denunciations of Yanqui imperialism in Latin America start coming from the presidential palaces as well as the streets and opposition benches, Washington needs to change its ways. The friendship of neighbors is a terrible thing to lose.
Nevermind that Bolivia's biggest foreign investors are countries like Brazil, Britain, Spain, France and Argentina. Nevermind that the uproar that led to the fall of Sanchez de Lozada (Goni) and Carlos Mesa had more to do capitalizing on anti-Chilean sentiments than anything done by the United States. At stake was whether a pipeline that would export Bolivian natural gas would run through Chile or through Peru (an out-of-the-way route that would cost an additional $600 million). Goni said Chile, given that that was the most logical route and the one most likely to pull in the up-front support of foreign investors.

Hopefully, Morales will want to take the Lagos/Lula pragmatic path rather than the Chavez populist path. If so, not only will the US have little to worry about, but Morales will be more likely to actually accomplish something as president. Should he take the Chavez route, he'll have a much more difficult time bringing about change, and the US will still have little to worry about because chances are good the Morales regime will implode as a result of isolation from just about all of its neighbors and the US. The ball is in Morales' court.

The New York Times, however, will certainly continue publishing lackluster editorials such as this one that display little research, thought or analysis.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Morales And The Latin American Populist Cycle

Much has been said recently about Evo Morales' election victory in the Bolivian presidential race. Publius is somewhat worried at the outcome of the election, as are some of the other bloggers linked to by Publius. One of these, however, is less than concerned.

Morales will be a headache for the US, that much is for sure - the same way fifty years of populist leaders in Latin America have been headaches for the United States. Since the end of the Soviet threat in Latin America, however, a total of two of these governments have been truly worthy of American concern: Castro and Chavez. Morales' election does not make three.

For more than a decade now, Latin America has been electing leaders based on who gave the most rousing, charismatic speech from a balcony. These have included leaders both on the left and the right, although the former has been more common. Let's count them. Most recently they have included Nestor Kirchner in Argentina, Lucio Gutierrez in Ecuador, Lula in Brazil, Chavez in Venezuela. Past populists have included Alan Garcia and Alberto Fujimori in Peru, Carlos Menem in Argentina, Mexico City's current mayor and possible contender for the Mexican presidency next year Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, Alfonso Portillo in Guatemala, and the list goes on. And this was only within the last twenty years or so!

Most of these leaders came to power on platforms of anti-imperialism and standing up to the yanqui and the "Washington Consensus." Some, like Lula and Kirchener have enjoyed more success than others (although Lula has spent the past year or so trying to distance himself from major corruption within his administration) and it's no coincidence that these two are among the few of the Latin American populist class who recognized the necessity of working with Washington, and the added benefits of doing so.

As for the others, Garcia's Peru suffered skyrocketing inflation and some of the worst human rights abuses during the government's fight against the Maoist terrorist group, Sendero Luminoso. Fujimori's presidency was not much better. Although he deserves credit for defeating Sendero and cutting down on state human rights abuses in the process (although admittedly not by the most democratic of means), his presidency ended in charges of massive corruption including top administration officials buying support from numerous congressmen. Fujimori fled Peru and has spent the last 5 years in exile in Japan with a Peruvian warrant out for his arrest. Menem's "free market reforms" were built on a platform of scandals and corruption, especially in privatization of state-owned industries. His corrupt "reforms" set the stage for the collapse of the Argentinian economy in 2001.

Portillo's Guatemala suffered through 5 years of one scandal after another, including money laundering and the creation of bank accounts in Panama, the US and Mexico that served as slush funds for administration officials. Gutierrez was driven out of Ecuador by the Congress earlier this year on a plethora of charges, including violent repression of demonstrators taking part in oil strikes, funnelling public funds to political allies, politicizing the judicial system to pardon past presidentsfacing charges of corruption, to name a few charges. Much like Fujimori in Peru, he is currently under arrest following his return to Ecuador in a delusional attempt to regain power.

By legalizing coca and befriending Chavez, Morales will be sure to present the United States with a headache it doesn't need. But the best option the US can take is to sit back and watch the Morales regime self-destruct. Chavez will certainly shovel money to Bolivia, but he is not going to get the same bang-for-the-buck, so to speak, that he gets by shoveling money to Castro, the yanqui imperialist's age-old enemy in the Western Hemisphere. Morales will certainly continue with the rhetoric that he has already started by calling Bush a terrorist, but eventually no one is going to care. Chavez gets attention because he has money and oil, and because idiots like Pat Robertson help Chavez make his case. Castro gets the attention, well, because he's Castro. But Morales? Who cares? Who's he?

Morales has actually been on the scene in La Paz long before the recent election. He was leading the masses to the streets to protest the imperialist-ties of the previous two governments, leading to their eventual downfall. But it's not just America he's been protesting, which is yet another reason why he's bound to fail: he'll be causing more than a mere annoyance to his own neighbors.
Relations with other South American leaders have not been as warm [as with Chavez' Venezuela]. On Monday, Morales said that he had asked President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil to return to Bolivian control two refineries Brazil's state-run oil company, Petrobras, bought from Bolivia in 1999.
Brazil is actually one of Bolivia's largest foreign investors in the oil and gas industry, along with Britain, France, Spain and Argentina. The United States isn't even that high on the same list of investors. Now, with Morales' rhetoric about nationalization and "re-negotiating contracts" with foreign firms, he's not likely to make many friends.
The problem: Morales is trumpeting a vague plan to "nationalize" a gas exploration and production industry dominated by foreign companies, but Bolivia doesn't have the cash or expertise to take over the job, Latin American experts and oil analysts say.


Morales clearly needs allies. Bolivia's cash-strapped state-owned natural gas company -- Yacimientos Petroliferos Fiscales Bolivianos -- would need billions of dollars and technology to go solo as a legitimate explorer and producer of natural gas.
Furthermore, Morales and Chavez both recognize that they won't be able to count on Venezuela's petrodollars forever, nor will Venezuelan companies be of much help in Bolivia.
Chavez has lavished petrodollars across South America, trading oil for cows with Argentina, pledging to help finance a $2.5 billion refinery in Brazil and promising to work with other nations on a pipeline linking Venezuela with Brazil, Argentina and possibly Bolivia.

But experts say Venezuela's PDVSA lacks experience in natural gas extraction. And while Venezuela is rolling in cash as the world's fifth-largest petroleum exporter, Chavez is also spending huge amounts at home to bankroll programs for the poor based on socialist ideals

"Chavez hasn't reached his financial limit, but he is nearing it," said Patrick Esteruelas, a Latin America analyst at the Eurasia Group in New York City.

So Morales' policies could end up making things worse for Bolivia, given the pool of natural gas upon which Bolivia currently sits.
Deep under the earth in Bolivia lies enough natural gas to supply South American consumers and industry for years, a windfall that could ease the astonishing poverty in one of the continent's poorest countries.
But hurting Bolivians' economic fortunes has been a habit of Morales' for some time, mostly under the banner of political expediency. As Russell Crandall, political science professor and former Director for Western Hemisphere Initiatives at the NSC pointed out in early 2004, Morales capitalized on a century of mistrust between Bolivians and Chileans to kill a deal to run a pipeline through Chile to the sea, a deal that would have created numerous jobs and millions of dollars in annual revenue for Bolivia.

The controversial plan to export Bolivia’s vast natural gas reserves (Bolivia holds Latin America’s second-largest gas reserves) through a pipeline that would end at a Chilean port prompted Sánchez de Lozada’s opponents into the streets. Evo Morales and his supporters painted the pipeline proposal as yet one more way that the country’s economic fortunes were being sacrificed at the altar of globalization. Morales pressed this case despite the fact that the pipeline would generate numerous jobs and an estimated US$500 million in annual revenue for the Bolivian government, capital that Bolivia desperately needs if it is going to improve its health and education systems. The project will require around US$3 billion in investment, most of which will need to come from foreign sources of capital as Bolivia is a severely capital-deprived country.

Relying on Bolivia’s historic dislike of Chile, following Bolivia’s defeat at the hands of the Chileans in the War of the Pacific in the late 19th century, Evo Morales instead has demanded that Bolivia must instead “industrialize” the reserves by using the gas in value-added processes. While this alternative certainly resonates intuitively and emotionally with many in Bolivia who have not fully benefited from the country’s economic liberalization process, there is little to indicate that this strategy would be more beneficial than the pipeline and would likely worsen the situation of the poor majority. Carlos Mesa, the interim president who replaced Sánchez de Lozada as president, has announced that he will hold a referendum on the pipeline issue. The problem with this solution, however, is that so much of the opposition to the pipeline is based on emotion and hysteria whipped up by the likes of Evo Morales. Compounding the problem even more is that indigenous leaders have promised to return to their “ideology of fury” and “more blood, more fighting and more rebellions” if Mesa does not meet their demands.

This has sadly been a political trend in Latin America for decades. Chalk "the populist temptation" up to the "Ibero-Catholic familial-centered culture", as Samuel Huntington and Lawrence Harrison (to name a few) have done, and to some degree that is the case. This is overstated, however, as Catholicism has nothing to do with it (as seen in, say, Ireland), and there are plenty of Latin American governments that have been far more successful, disproving the notion that capitalist democracy is somehow antithetical to Latin American culture. Likewise, as I wrote on last month, a recent poll of Latin Americans shows overwhelming support for free market capitalism and democracy, and less overt, but still overall support for the United States and the Bush administration.

What's the answer then? Maybe there isn't one, which is of course the cop-out explanation. The populist pattern tends to follow a more or less consistent pattern, with the populist making a mess, the relatively more free-market president doing its best to clean it up and put the country back on the right track, followed again by the charismatic, pragmatic politician. As Crandall pointed out:
With its paternalism, lofty goals and emotive rhetoric, populism has tended to capture the hearts of Latin Americans as well as observers of Latin America. Indeed, few non-populist leaders can compete in the romantic category with populists such as Castro, Chávez or even Morales. Yet, while youth around the world might not wear their likenesses on t-shirts or berets, in recent years it has been the more plodding, often charismatically-challenged leaders such as Ernesto Zedillo in Mexico, Ricardo Lagos and Eduardo Frei in Chile, and Brazil’s Fernando Henrique Cardoso who have done the most to address the many ills that face the region’s normal populist constituency—the poor. In Brazil, for example, hunger alleviation is an integral component of Lula’s current political agenda. While that goal is certainly noble, it is worth remembering that it is strongly predicated upon the success of President Cardoso’s elimination of hyperinflation in the mid-1990s, which remains Brazil’s most effective social policy in its modern history.
Perhaps the answer is in part psychological. As longtime Mexican strongman Porfirio Diaz used to say, "Poor Mexico! So far from God, yet so close to the United States." Despite the accuracy of the statement, and given that Mexico is singing a different tune now with wide open borders witnessing a steady stream of illegal immigration northwards, this sentiment has been oft-adapted by many a Latin American populist leader, but perhaps has yet to be separated in the Latin American mind from the financial mess so often created by the same leaders, who tend to continue their rise to power with promises to fight yanqui imperialism, be it real or imagined.

Whatever the reason, until the repercussions of concrete actions give the United States more of a reason to think so, Morales' electoral victory should not be treated with too much undue concern. The real danger will be to the Bolivian people. With any luck, he'll come to realize, like Lula and Kirchener, that the only benefits Chavez can provide him would only provide short-term fixes. If not, Morales has no reason to think his fate will be any different than the string of Latin American populist leaders who came into power with "mandates" and left power amid scandal, corruption and economic collapse.

Daniel Benjamin Continues Clinton-Era Hackery

Daniel Benjamin, the Clinton era-NSC staffer (who somehow jumped directly from NSC speechwriter to Director for Transnational Threats with a mere four years of NSC staffer work in between - perhaps an indication of the level of importance given to counterterrorism by the Clinton administration) propagates a long-held myth of the left that claims the "unabashedly conservative" Washington Times ran a story that "leaked" the fact that the US was tracing bin Laden's location through his satellite phone.
On Aug. 21, 1998, the Washington Times, the capital's unabashedly conservative newspaper, which regularly breaks more intelligence-related stories than any other daily, ran an article saying that Bin Laden "keeps in touch with the world via computers and satellite phones." This occurred less than two weeks after the destruction of the U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam by al-Qaida and the day after the United States had bombed al-Qaida targets in Afghanistan and Sudan. After that report, Bin Laden stopped using his phone and let his aides do the calling.


The Washington Times story was a classic case of "sources and methods" being compromised.
Benjamin then goes on to make the outrageous claim that the satellite phone was our best chance of finding bin Laden, and that Sieff's leak was somehow a direct cause of 9/11.
If there was one piece of intelligence in the entire file on Bin Laden that might have spelled the difference between 9/11 happening or not, the satellite phone was it. When Osama hung up for the last time, the United States lost its best chance of finding him and, perhaps, preventing the deaths of 3,000 people.
This claim is staggeringly so outrageous and dishonest. Benjamin's book "The Age of Sacred Terror" (co-authored by fellow NSC staffer Simon Reeve) is 400+ pages of unabashed cheerleading for the Clinton administration's counter-terrorist efforts. Three years later, Benjamin has not relented in his hackery. Sieff's article did mention the satellite phone. It does not mention how the US kept track of bin Laden, just that he used the phone. Perhaps he heard this from a leak, but he could just as well have read this BBC piece from the day before (August 20, 1998 - Emphasis mine).
Mr bin Laden, a Saudi millionaire dissident, spoke to the BBC by satellite phone one hour before the attack, denying involvement in the embassy bombings.

However, he said he would continue his war against the Americans and the Jews until the liberation of the Islamic holy places. (HT: PrairiePundit)

Something tells me Bin Laden's goons would hit up BBC online before they ever made it to the Washington Times. There were probably instances where his usage of the phone was reported even before that, but either way Bin Laden obviously was not trying to keep secret the fact that he used a satellite phone. The worst part is, the much-ballyhooed 9/11 Commission Report has continued this myth that the Washington Times was responsible.
This information was more useful than it had been in the past; since the August missile strikes, Bin Ladin had taken to moving his sleeping place frequently and unpredictably and had added new bodyguards. Worst of all, al Qaeda’s senior leadership had stopped using a particular means of communication almost immediately after a leak to the Washington Times.[105] This made it much more difficult for the National Security Agency to intercept his conversations.

105. See Martin Sieff, “Terrorist Is Driven by Hatred for U.S., Israel,” Washington Times, Aug. 21, 1998, p. 1.

The context of this story is that Benjamin claim's Bush's analogy between then and now (that the media's leak of the satellite phone story and the leak of the NSA program are one in the same) is bogus. He claims that, because everyone knows the NSA intercepts phone conversations, that the leak didn't do much damage to national security, while the 1998 leak did.
It is also a matter of public record that the U.S. government has the right to obtain warrants to allow it to listen in on the communications of individuals in the United States for both criminal and intelligence investigations. Furthermore, it has frequently been reported that the FISA Court, the secret court that issues warrants under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978, almost never turns down applications. In short, no terrorist with half a brain thinks his communications are protected by the Fourth Amendment strictures against unlawful search and seizure.
Clinton's lackluster counter-terrorism efforts (led in the NSC by a promoted speechwriter) aside, this is nonsense. If that's the case, let's just open up the NSA to the public! Let's give guided tours of Fort Meade. Maybe we can even hold a contest whereby the winner gets to play SIGINT analyst for the day! The revenue would sure help decrease the deficit by allowing us to cut down on funds earmarked for the Intelligence Community. Yes, people "know" that the NSA listens in on phone conversations of suspected terrorists. But there are details to the program that remain secret for a reason. Surely Benjamin knows from his speechwriting-cum-NSC counterterrorism chief days that there is far more to intelligence programs such as these than just "let's tap some phones." It is these details that Bush refused to discuss in the analogy Benjamin labeled as "bogus."

Benjamin then goes on to talk about the European "secret prisons" and how the two cases somehow boil down to Bush getting caught with his hand in the cookie jar.
This is the second time in a matter of six weeks that stories about administration excesses in the war on terror have brought the administration grief. The other was Dana Priest's Washington Post piece about "black site" detention centers. That story does appear to have compromised sources and methods to some extent, and it may have increased the physical risk that CIA officers face. It could also have a long-term cost in terms of the viability of our liaison relationships with other intelligence services, as publics, especially in Europe, begin to insist on restrictions on cooperation with the U.S. intelligence community. Post editors had to weigh those potential harms against issues of prisoner abuse and the right of the public and of Congress to know what the Bush administration is doing in our name. (emphasis mine)
This is amazing. Presumably, in his non-speechwriting days at the NSC, Benjamin never came across any information that he felt he shouldn't be allowed to go home and tell his family or report in a press interview all in the high-minded, hypocritical name of letting "the public and Congress...know what the Clinton administration [was] doing in our name." There's a reason it's TOP SECRET! There's a reason you have to wait at least a year to be cleared to know this information. (Of course, Congressional leadership DID know about the NSA program, but that's another story.) Notice too the ease with which he brushes of the admittedly increased physical danger faced by CIA officers and the damage to sources and methods that resulted from the Post publishing the story about the "secret prisons" ("black site detention center" does sound good - if you're going for maximum effect). To Benjamin, this damage is somehow less important than being the second, thrid or fourth reporter to note that bin Laden used satellite phones. That "damage" caused the death of 3,000 people in Benjamin's warped mind. Putting CIA officers at risk and damaging REAL sources and methods is nothing. I'd be interested in knowing what Benjamin's reaction was to the "leaking" of a CIA employee who was so covert that she had to go out and pose for Vanity Fair and Time within the next two years. The hypocrisy is staggering.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Dueling Polls

The general usefulness of presidential polls/approval ratings has once again been brought into question by contradictory Washington Post/ABC and CNN/USA Today/Gallup polls.

According to CNN:
A CNN/USA Today Gallup poll conducted over the weekend found his approval rating stood at 41 percent, while more than half, or 56 percent, disapprove of how the president is handling his job. A majority, or 52 percent, say it was a mistake to send troops to Iraq, and 61 percent say they disapprove of how he is handling Iraq specifically. The margin of error was plus or minus 3 percentage points.

The poll interviews were conducted before President Bush's Oval Office address, which was broadcast on primetime television Sunday.

And yet, via Instapundit, we learn of the Washington Post/ABC News poll:
President Bush's approval rating has surged in recent weeks, reversing what had been an extended period of decline, with Americans now expressing renewed optimism about the future of democracy in Iraq, the campaign against terrorism and the U.S. economy, according to the latest Washington Post-ABC News Poll.

Bush's overall approval rating rose to 47 percent, from 39 percent in early November, with 52 percent saying they disapprove of how he is handling his job. His approval rating on Iraq jumped 10 percentage points since early November, to 46 percent, while his rating on the economy rose 11 points, to 47 percent. A clear majority, 56 percent, said they approve of the way Bush is handling the fight against terrorism -- a traditional strong point in his reputation that nonetheless had flagged to 48 percent in the November poll.

Like the CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll, this one does not take into account last night's speech or this morning's press conference.

So what's a right-wing reactionary Bush-lackey to think?! One possibile explanation, of course, takes into account the fact that Bush's approval rating in the Gallup poll never changed. While his rating in the WaPo/ABC poll had plunged to the low-to-mid thirties in October/November, the Gallup poll had consistently put his approval rating in the low 40s, where it remains to this day. According to Gallup, therefore, the past two months, which had hardly been wanting for negative news for the administration has had absolutely no effect on his rating.

Likewise, a new strategy and aggressive counterattack against Democrats who had calling for immediate withdrawal and accusing Bush of lying his way into war had no effect on his approval rating. This leads us to two possible conclusions. We are either left wondering exactly what actions taken by the administration are needed to affect the president's approval rating in one way or the other, or Gallup has some problems in its polling methodology that need to be tweaked.

The Pro-Americans

OpinionJournal.com has an op-ed by two members of the advisory board of a group called Terror Free Tomorrow (a number of 9-11 commission members are involved, but rest assured the intelligence community is not mentioned). Interesting polling numbers out of Pakistan and elsewhere in the Muslim world. It seems Americans aren't really hated anymore. A poll carried out by TFT and AC Nielson Pakistan shows the effects of what a little humanitarianism can do.
In the first poll in Pakistan since the earthquake of October 8, 2005, Pakistanis now hold a more favorable opinion of the United States than at any time since 9/11, while support for Al Qaeda in its home base has dropped to its lowest level since then. The direct cause for this dramatic shift in Muslim opinion is clear: American humanitarian assistance for Pakistani earthquake victims.
The increase in the favorable opinion of America isn't just a one-off result of assistance in recovery efforts, as that does nothing to explain the dramatic drop in support for al Qaeda and suicide bombing. What's more likely is that the presence of the American military in the earthquake zone has caused some Pakistanis to concede that just possibly Americans weren't the infidels that they had previously assumed us to be. Before, radical clerics in madrassas were proclaiming America to the the Great Satan. Now, however, it's the previously maligned American military helping them recover bodies of their loved ones and find a way to survive in the wake of the earthquake. Odd, that. Here's what the poll found (emphasis mine):
Key Findings of the Poll:
  • 73% of Pakistanis surveyed in November 2005 now believe suicide terrorist attacks are never justified, up from 46% just last May.
  • Support for Osama Bin Laden has declined significantly (51% favorable in May 2005 to just 33% in November), while those who oppose him rose over the same period from 23% to 41%.
  • US favorability among Pakistanis has doubled from 23% in May to more than 46% now, while the percentage of Pakistanis with very unfavorable views declined from 48% to 28%.
  • For the first time since 9/11, more Pakistanis are now favorable to the United States than unfavorable.
  • 78% of Pakistanis have a more favorable opinion of the United States because of the American response to the earthquake, with the strongest support among those under 35.
  • 79% of those with confidence in Bin Laden now have a more favorable view of the US because of American earthquake aid.
  • 81% said that earthquake relief was important for them in forming their overall opinion of the United States.
  • The United States fared better in Pakistani public opinion than both other Western countries and radical Islamist groups.
  • While opinion of the United States itself improved significantly, this did not translate into increased support for US-led efforts to fight terrorism. Tellingly, those who oppose US efforts against terrorism grew, from 52% in May to 64% now
TFT's website has lots of additional information on favorable opinions of America among Indonesians and Palestinians as well.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

It's On (And More Dirty Tricks)

The Belarusian parliament yesterday announced the date for the 2006 presidential elections. Originally scheduled to be held sometime in July, they are now to be held on March 19, a full three months ahead of schedule. No doubt this is yet another attempt to disadvantage the opposition by giving it less than half the time it originally expected to have to run a campaign.

No surprise that the announcement came a day after Lukashenka met with Putin at Sochi, on the Black Sea.
The meeting was closed to the press, but the Kremlin said "energy cooperation" was high on the agenda. Diplomats said the meeting may have been used to secure Russian economic and geopolitical support for Mr Lukashenko's re-election.


Diplomats believe that Thursday's meeting may have been used to secure cheap gas and oil for Belarus, preventing any economic upset in the near future. "Economic problems would be the spark for any unrest," said one western diplomat, adding that such a prospect looked unlikely now.
The good news from the opposition is that its various factions are finally unified around a single candidate. The New York Times explains why this has Lukashenka (and Putin) so worried.
Mr. Lukashenko is eligible to run again only because of a constitutional amendment approved in a referendum in October 2004 that abolished presidential term limits, allowing him to seek office indefinitely. That referendum approval, officially supported by 77 percent of voters, was widely denounced as a fraud. An independent survey of voters leaving polling places indicated that only 48 percent had voted in favor of abolishing term limits.

Mr. Lukashenko has responded defiantly to international criticism. With the election approaching, his government has put independent newspapers under new pressure by revoking their ability to be sold through state-owned kiosks or delivered through the state postal system.

The two houses of Parliament also toughened criminal penalties for organizing protests, joining banned organizations or speaking against the national interest. The legislation, awaiting Mr. Lukashenko's signature, would impose prison sentences of up to three years for anyone convicted of advocating the overthrow of the government and up to two years for "discrediting the country."

Parliament voted to set the election for March 19 in a hastily called session. Under the country's Constitution, twice revised by Mr. Lukashenko, the next election could have been held as late as July. But with Mr. Milinkevich's campaign showing signs of winning popular support, according to its own polls, many of his aides believed that Mr. Lukashenko would move to compress the election campaign.

The explanation given for the date change by the Central Election Commission is nothing short of comical.
Nikolai I. Lozovik, a spokesman for the Central Election Commission, said in a telephone interview that the date had been set because of more prosaic concerns: "July is the time of vacations." He added that March elections were "an old Soviet tradition."
If it's such an old Soviet tradition, why were they unofficially scheduled for July for so long? Better keep Lukashenka and the government better informed of these "old Soviet traditions," even if they're just made up on the spot.

The key here that determines how Belarusians will vote, and what their reaction will be to the inevitable massive fraud is what their opinion is on Lukashenka having a third term following the October 2004 referendum that abolished term limits. As the Times article suggests, even if Belarusians generally supported Lukashenka, they weren't overwhelmingly supportive of the referendum. This Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty report from the week before the 2004 referendum suggests the same thing.
The Lithuanian polling company Baltic Surveys, which is affiliated with the Gallup Organization, conducts opinion surveys in Belarus on a regular basis. The director general of the company, Rasa Alisauskiene, says recent polls by her firm indicate that Lukashenka would enjoy significant support if he does run again for president.

"Currently, 34.5 percent say they would vote for Lukashenka in any [future] presidential election, [while] 31.5 percent say they would prefer another candidate. Twenty-four percent have no opinion," Alisauskiene says.

However, Alisauskiene says, Belarusians appear less inclined to make changes to the Belarusian constitution necessary for Lukashenka to run again.

"During the last month, the number of people who support the referendum and changes in the constitution enabling Lukashenka to run for president for a third time has increased only slightly -- by some 2 percent. The number of those opposed did not change. The number of undecided voters remains the same -- around one-fourth of all voters. The latest figures say 35.7 percent support the referendum, 44 percent are against," Alisauskiene says.
The major reason for Lukashenka's popularity, according to the pollsters?
Alisauskiene says Lukashenka's popularity can largely be explained by the weak and divided political opposition. She says it is difficult to have a strong alternative leader in a country where the opposition is so firmly repressed and where a free media is almost nonexistent.
For the sake of the opposition, and for the sake of a democratic Belarus, 2006 better be the year where that all changes. Despite the manifold attempts by the government to disadvantage the opposition, there is far more reason for optimism now than ever before.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Lukashenka Shows True Leadership

Just when you thought all was lost in Belarus, that the country was devoid of true leadership, the government leaves us with egg on our collective face by showing how REAL leadership works.
Belarusian lawmakers have passed legislation that would crack down on Internet dating and online spouse searches in the latest of a series of stringent government controls backed by authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko.
What possible reason could the government have to put online dating at the top of its list of threats to the state?
Authorities said the measure, which was passed 101-1 by the lower house of parliament Wednesday, was intended to help halt human trafficking in the former Soviet republic.
Ahh yes, match.com: a diabolical front for human trafficking. But the new bill would do more than just outlaw online dating.
The bill also would require Belarusian students to receive written permission from the Ministry of Education to study abroad if the length of stay is longer than 30 days. Foreign companies seeking to hire Belarusian students for summer jobs also would need ministry approval.

"The measures are directed at improving the mechanisms guaranteeing effective counteraction to human trafficking _ one of the most dangerous phenomena modern society faces in its development," First Deputy Interior Minister Alexander Shurko said.
So, let me see if I've gotten this right. According to the Belarusian government, the three main facilitators of human trafficking are, in no particular order: online dating, study abroad and internships in other countries. Is it any wonder this government can't get any respect from anyone else in the world besides Russia, China, Iran, Venezuela and Cuba? Perhaps, at least in the latter two cases, foreign influence is the biggest fear with an election coming up next year. As for banning online dating? Well, I'm flummoxed.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Another Newspaper Evicted In Belarus

The crackdown continues. This time an independent newspaper dared to protest in favor of a
free press.
The editorial office of the independent Pinsk-based newspaper “Myastsovy Chas” (publishing house “Intex-press”) has received a written notification from the administration of the hotel “Sport”, that the tenancy contract would be cancelled starting from January 31, 2006. The administration of the hotel belonging to the Belarusian Defence and Sports Technical Society (BelOSTO) does not provide any reasons for its decision.

The term of the tenancy contract between the administration of the hotel and the editorial office is to expire in July 2006. The editorial office pays rent and community facilities regularly, and the renter had never had any complaints.

The editor-in-chief of the newspaper Viktar Yarashuk views that as another move of the local authorities aimed at stifling the independent newspaper. Pinsk regional printing office denied concluding a contract with the newspaper; Pinsk branch of the “Belsajuzdruk” refused to cooperate with the newspaper. The “Myastsovy Chas” has not been included to the catalogue for subscription in the year 2006, and postal offices un Pinsk refuse to subscribe readers for the newspaper. In this connection the editorial office of the newspaper in its issue of December 8 addressed its readers with a proposal to take legal action against postal workers, who violate constitutional rights of citizens for receiving information, and also the Belarusian “Law on press and mass media”.
(emphasis mine)
Keep up the mantra: "Oh, but he provides stability!" Would you take the life of a mindless robot in return for a lower crime rate?

Looking West

Still catching up on what I've missed in the past week or so, Ukraine and President Viktor Yuschenko held a two-day conference in Kiev last week, which included delegates from Balkan, Baltic and Black Sea countries. The forum dubbed itself "Community for Democratic Choice," and announced three objectives: promotion of democracy, regional stability and economic prosperity.
The basic principles of the Community of Democratic Choice are contained in a joint statement signed by Saakashvili and Yushchenko last August in the Georgian resort town of Borjomi.

The Borjomi Declaration, as the joint statement is known, envisions the Community of Democratic Choice as a "powerful instrument for removing the remaining divisions in the [Baltic-Black Sea] region, human rights violations, and any type of confrontation, or frozen conflict.”

Participants in the Kyiv forum today adopted a final declaration in which they vowed to work closely together “with a view to strengthening peace, democracy, and prosperity on the European continent.”

Of the nine founding members of the Community of Democratic Choice, two -- Georgia and Moldova -- are confronted with unresolved separatist conflicts, which started during the period of turmoil that preceded the Soviet collapse.


Yushchenko today hinted Ukraine and Georgia might use the new grouping to attempt to internationalize their respective sovereignty disputes. He said the Community of Democratic Choice would put a particular emphasis on conflict resolution.

“The achievement of stability -- in particular through the regulation of existing conflicts -- will create prerequisites for opening up the significant economic potential of our region," said Yushchenko. "In this way, we will foster political, security, and economic rapprochement between the Western and Eastern part of the European continent, and the development of each nation."

Many see this forum as another attempt to pull countries out of the Russian sphere of influence, which it most likely is. Russia, however, is doing nothing to help its situation, and is only making things worse. It's response was typical: knee jerk emotional reactions.
Russian President Vladimir Putin reportedly declined an invitation to attend the forum, sending an embassy official in his place.

A headline on Russia's "gazeta.ru" information website today referred to the new grouping as "The Unfriendly Community."

"Gazeta.ru" commentator Ilya Zhegulyev wrote: “Hiding behind democratic slogans," all of the members of the Community of Democratic Choice will use the forum to "voice their grievances toward Moscow.”
Amazing that sovereign nations might have grievances, and that 45 years of Soviet rule might have had something to do with that!? That said, Russia is only digging a whole for itself. It likes to believe that it doesn't need the West, and that it can fall back on China to balance against Europe and the US, but it is dreaming. Russia has gotten more benefits for little cost from Western involvement in Central Asia in the last 5 years than it did in previous decades trying on its own. It took them 6 years to realize the invasion of Afghanistan was a failure, and when they saw Islamic extremists on their border both in Afghanistan and Uzbekistan, the Coaltion forces fixed their problem within weeks.

Likewise, Russia's even less likely to look to China than it is to look at the West. For all its rhetoric in the Shanghai Cooperative Organization to get US troops out of Central Asia, look at its extremely restrictive customs policies on its border with China. Moscow has spent more than a little time worrying that China simply planned to swallow up Russian territory near the border for population spillover. The history of distrust is simply too great between those two countries to ignore it all and pretend they have a common enemy. Likewise, for all of Russia's bitching and moaning about Western incursion through NATO, the EU and the US, it eventually comes to accept every such incursion. Go back and look at the bloody racket it put up just before the Baltic states were to join NATO. It realizes that it can't stop it, and it eventually comes to accept it, but it shoots itself in the foot by refusing to take whatever advantage of the new situation it can. Maybe they can content themselves with pretending they still hold influence over a nevertheless exceedingly pro-Western ruler like Nazerbayev, but it's very clear that the world is not going Russia's way - and it has only itself to blame.

Meanwhile, Lukashenka had some choice words for the Community for Democratic Change.
Alyaksandr Lukashenka is confident that there is no future for the organization which foundation was proclaimed in Kyiv, the Community of Democratic Choice. This opinion was expressed in Beijing, answering the questions of journalists, the Belarusian state agency BelTA informs. “You have chosen so-called democracy, so go this way. Why do you oppose East and go to the West? Firstly, nobody needs them in the West. The EU needs to “chew up”, to “digest” the Eastern-European states that have joined recently. Secondly, with what do they go to the West? What shall they bring? Crime, robbery, banditism? They will show how to seize power in an unconstitutional way? Europe doesn’t want that. Maybe some European leaders welcome such things, but only in others’ states, and not in theirs,” Lukashenka stated.

According to Lukashenka, the reaction to the foundation of the Community of Democratic Choice should be tranquil. “If they want to gather in front of the TV cameras, hag out – do as you please. Let them gather, make statements. But I think that there is no future and prospects for this community. I think it’s a political organization. But except for bare politics there is economic basis. No matter how eagerly you campaign against East, you will come there all he same for sales of your products. What for do they step on the same rake?”
I've got to believe that people, no matter where they live, want just a little more in life - like perhaps freedom from fear - than to be absolutely sure they won't be victim of what is already a statistically improbable purse-snatching - even if that "security" comes at the cost of not being able to think freely.