Sunday, December 25, 2005

Can democracy take root in Iraq?

Amidst the chaos, Iraq has seen some progress since the US invaded it. Most notable were the three democratic elections that were successfully held with Hussein no longer in power. The Iraqi people have expressed their sincere desire to further the democratic process in their land by proudly displaying their purple ink-stained fingers.

Unfortunately, although the results are not even in yet, Sunni Arabs are already charging that the election was beset with widespread fraud. Twenty-thousand Iraqis protested the election in a mass demonstration organized by 35 Sunni Arab and secular Shiite parties Friday. Granted, these protests might be dismissed as simply "sour grapes," with the Sunni minority losing the controlling power it previously held in Iraq, but that makes them no less troubling.

Although some 1,500 complaints have been lodged against the election, what's even more troubling is that Iraq's leading Shiite religious bloc is ready to discuss Sunni Arab participation in a coalition government. Why is this troubling? Because it circumvents the already very fragile democratic state that's developing in Iraq. How will the majority of Iraqi people who voted in the election feel if their vote is not what establishes membership in the Parliament but, instead, negotiated deals by political power brokers do?

In the latest news, Sunni Arab political leaders asked the main Shiite political bloc to give them ten of the parliamentary seats the Shiite won in the election. The Shiite turned them down, which is the appropriate action for those who believe in democracy. However, it's likely to inflame ethnic tension. Iraq's Shiite and Kurdish communities have historically been victims of the Sunni-dominated Baathist regime. The Sunni are sure to be concerned about the possibility of retribution once the Shiite firmly establish control of the government.

Now democracy is stuck in a Catch 22. Democracy cannot take hold in Iraq unless the people participate but, now that the Iraqi people can finally vote, their elected leaders will not all go along with the democratic process. As grand a vision Bush's is, of planting the seed of democracy in Iraq to spread across the Middle East, perhaps the biggest barrier to accomplishing it is that the Iraqi society simply cannot sustain democracy.

Monday, December 19, 2005

A shameful act

Since October 2001, president Bush authorized the NSA to eavesdrop on thousands of Americans' private phone and email communications domestically without a court order. At a press conference today, president Bush said that leaking information about his executive order to do so "was a shameful act." How could any American construe the leak as the shameful act?

Only an American who has not read the Constitution could do so -- and Bush is clearly one of them. This is all the more ironic when you consider that he twice vowed to uphold the Constitution, the most basic decription of his job. If he had simply read the Bill of Rights, he would've seen that Amendment IV grants all Americans the right to privacy:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
Bush cited Article II of the Constitution of the United States as permission for his acts. This citation only reinforces the observation that he has not read the Constitution. Nowhere does Article II permit him to spy on American citizens. However, if he had read it, he would've seen that it says, "The President ... shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors." Violating the civil rights of thousands of Americans clearly qualifies as grounds for impeachment, so his activities should lead to articles of impeachment coming out of Congress soon.

Bush also claimed the USA PATRIOT Act authorized his action. However, this directly contradicts what he said of the Act and wiretapping at an event he held in Wisconsin in July of 2004:
"A couple of things that are very important for you to understand about the Patriot Act. First of all, any action that takes place by law enforcement requires a court order. In other words, the government can't move on wiretaps or roving wiretaps without getting a court order."
Granted, the Act does authorize law enforcement officials to secretly tap telephone communication without getting a subpoena beforehand. However, they must request a warrant shortly thereafter, something Bush still has not required years after his spying activity started. Perhaps this is what allowed freedom-loving Senators to prevail in their filibuster to prevent extension of the most controversial sections of the Act (although Bush considers this "inexcusable"). Fortunately, they will expire at the end of this year if congress goes into recess for the holidays with the filibuster still active.

Bush tried to dodge the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) as the appropriate vehicle for spying on Americans. He knows full well that it would require a judge to issue a warrant before law enforcement officials could tap a phone line or intercept email communications from the US. His excuse was that using FISA would not permit quick action. However, Bush said "I have re-authorized this program more than 30 times. I intend to do so for as long as our nation faces a continuing threat." Regularly renewing his executive order for years on end does not indicate activity requiring quick action. That's strike three.

Bush called the leak of his spy program a shameful act but he didn't stop to think why someone in his administration would do that. If he did, Bush would have to face the probability that the whistle blower did so because he or she got fed up with the president acting as if he is above the law. Law-abiding American citizens are also fed up and they consider the president spying on them a shameful act.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

The incredible George W. Bush

George W. Bush has no credibility in Europe. In his 2003 State of the Union speech, the president declared that Iraq had tried to buy nuclear weapons material in Africa. Yet more than a year prior, the French counterintelligence service repeatedly warned the CIA in secret communications that there was no evidence of this claim. It's no surprise that the Europeans give Rice's claims about CIA activity there no credibility.

Now that lack of credibility has spread to Capital Hill. Democrats in the House are now demanding the president turn over pre-war intelligence on Iraq to Congress. Specifically, they are seeking drafts and documents related to his October 2002 speech in Ohio and his 2003 State of the Union address. It should also come as no surprise that the GOP is trying to rebuff the disclosure of those documents, with only one Republican congressman siding with the Democrats.

Even today, Bush still presents his pack of lies on his website without a single acknowledgement that his claims have since been proven to be false.

Offshoring takes a new twist

Secretary of State Rice has been touring Europe echoing Bush's words: "We do not torture." Although the claim is unambiguous about torture, Rice is more coy about the 'black sites,' neither confirming nor denying that the CIA is maintaining secret prisons in Europe. Nonetheless, to avoid embarrassment, CIA officials said that al Qaeda suspects were moved from detention in Europe to Africa before Rice's visit.

Although Hungarian officials were quick to deny the existence of such facilities in their country, il manifesto reported that the CIA was holding terrorists under "illegal conditions." The Polish prime minister is not so confident. While Polish officials repeatedly deny their existence, Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz commissioned a detailed investigation into the existence of 'black sites' in Poland.

The Polish probe better go back a few years. It turns out the CIA was rendering terrorist suspects to foreign countries for interrogation at least as far back as 9/11. Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi was handed over to Egypt in January 2002, subsequently fabricating claims of ties between Iraq and al Qaeda (that the bush administration relied on to justify invading Iraq). The Defense Intelligence Agency issued a classified report in February 2002 expressing skepticism about Libi's credibility, saying he made the claims under duress of harsh treatment by the CIA.

The world has known for some time about 'black sites' in Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib. Now it's becoming clear that the administration runs a network of secret prisons around the world. While the Democrats express concern about jobs being sent offshore, it seems the Republicans have been sending prisons and torture offshore.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Stay the course

Bowing to political pressure to regularly report on the progress of the war in Iraq to the Senate, the president released a 35-page document detailing his National Strategy for Victory in Iraq. Replete with the same rhetoric we've heard from the president for more than two years, his strategy can be summed up in three words: stay the course.

In all fairness to the president, the document elaborates on that summary, painting a beguiling picture of what the neo-conservative principles say will come to pass in Iraq. In fact, this Utopian society is something most Americans, including opponents of the president, would love to see in the Middle East. No one would deny how nice it would be to have this strategy bear out. However, this begs the question: How likely is it to play out as planned?

Even in retrospect, that'll be difficult to determine. Therein lies one of the problems with the president's strategy: it specifies no quantitative benchmarks against which success can be measured. Beyond that, it has precious few objective criteria of any kind that Americans can use to tell if we're making any progress with the plan. That leaves only the president himself to notify Americans of how well his strategy is playing out according to his own subjective determination.

For example, he defines victory in Iraq in three stages: short, medium, and longer term. However, he uses terms like "Iraq is making steady progress in fighting terrorists ... and standing up security forces" to define short term victory. Midterm, Iraq is "on its way to achieving its economic potential." Longer term, "Iraq is peaceful, united, stable, and secure." What does any of that mean? How can Americans tell if any of these milestones have been achieved unless the president makes the call?

The president goes on to lay out a three track strategy for victory. One of those tracks is The Security Track. That track has a three-part campaign:
  1. Clear areas of enemy control by remaining on the offensive, killing and capturing enemy fighters and denying them safe-haven;
  2. Hold areas freed from enemy influence by ensuring that they remain under the control of the Iraqi government with an adequate Iraqi security force presence; and
  3. Build Iraqi Security Forces and the capacity of local institutions to deliver services, advance the rule of law, and nurture civil society.
Unfortunately, we've already failed on the first two parts. For example, immediately after being reelected, the president approved the destruction of Fallujah and the razing of its mosques to clear it of enemy control. In the process, 1200 "insurgents" and 800 civilians were killed, with the rest of the enemy being driven out of the city. However, after troops left the city to clear other areas, insurgents flowed right back into the city. Just last Thursday, the enemy killed ten Marines in Fallujah and injured many of the others in their attack on the patrol of more than twenty Marines.

The president's document concedes that "victory will take time." However, it refuses to tell Americans how much time. Instead, it says their "strategy is working." This is the same administration that told us, "I think they're in the last throes, if you will, of the insurgency." Since then, almost 500 more American troops have been killed by the insurgency. Considering that they have been wrong about every prognostication they have made about the war, is there any reason to believe their strategy is working?

Instead of a timetable, the strategy is conditions-based. It identifies three metrics as the most important for tracking the conditions:
  1. Political ... the number of Iraqis from all areas willing to participate in the political process as evidenced by voter registration and turnout.
  2. Security: The quantity and quality of Iraqi units; the number of actionable intelligence tips received from Iraqis...
  3. Economic ... electricity generated and delivered; barrels of oil produced and exported...
While the Shiite, with a 60% majority of the Iraqi population, are likely to participate in the political process, they're unlikely to get cooperation from the other major ethnic groups in Iraq. Hard-line Sunni clerics refuse to join the political process, denouncing the constitution, and Shiite militiamen battle the Sunni militants. Meanwhile, sitting on the oil-rich part of Iraq, the Kurds fly their own flag, speak their own language, and their militia wear a different uniform than the rest of the country, being "100% for independence."

Measured against the Security metric, conditions are getting worse as time passes. Last year there were three Iraqi battalions at what is called Level One readiness. However, the top American commander in Iraq, General George Casey, testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee in September. He told congress that the number of Iraqi battalions capable of combat without U.S. support had dropped to just one.

The Economic metrics fared little better, with electricity and oil production falling well below the pre-war levels for years after the invasion. It wasn't until this past summer that electricity production was finally restored to the levels maintained while Hussein was in power and it's still hampered by frequent outages caused by insurgents sabotaging the grid. As of May, Iraqi oil production was less than three-quarters what it was before the invasion.

The president's strategy is far superior to any plan he had in place for Iraq before last week. However, it's still preliminary at best. More than a year and a half ago, this blogger recommended that the president put a plan in place that meets four basic criteria:
  1. He provides an unambiguous plan for winning the peace in Iraq.
  2. He provides milestones and objective metrics of success with each milestone.
  3. He provides an exit strategy from the war with a projected timeline for achieving it.
  4. He provides unambiguous criteria as to what constitutes the completion of the mission in Iraq.
As a fellow MBA, the president should recognize these as the most basic components of a plan to manage a project as complex as a war. Nonetheless, his latest strategy does not even meet one criterion. It's just 35 pages of flowery language saying stay the course (see This Modern World: America, a brief parable).