Condoleeza Rice: An American Life

December 18, 2007

Anne Applebaum reviews Condoleezza Rice: An American Life, a biography by Elisabeth Bumiller.

The Mystery of Condi Rice

by Anne Applebaum, Washington DC, December 17, 2007

Way back when George W. Bush was still a candidate and “Condi” was not yet an internationally recognized nickname, someone who had observed the present secretary of state in a previous incarnation told me to watch her carefully. “Everyone underestimates her, because they think she’s a token. Condi’s not a token. Condi plays the game better than anyone else.”

No, Condi is not a token, and yes, Condi played the game better than anyone else–so much so that Condi has now dispensed with pretty much everyone who underestimated her to begin with, most notably Donald Rumsfeld, but for all practical purposes Dick Cheney, too. At this point it is she, the small, athletic black woman, and not one of them, the older, gray-haired white men, who is commonly understood to be the most influential foreign-policy figure in this administration. Condi has the president’s ear, Condi calls the shots, and Condi’s particular form of pragmatism has triumphed too. Step away from questions of substance (Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan), examine the results of seven long years of infighting, and it’s hard not to conclude that she is this administration’s star player.

But where did she learn how to do it? Elisabeth Bumiller’s new book, Condoleezza Rice: An American Life, is at its best when its author is dealing with precisely that question, since the answers aren’t entirely what you’d expect. Much has been made (not least by Rice herself) of Condi’s origins in 1960s Birmingham, of her friendship with a child who died in the infamous, racially motivated, bombing of a Baptist church, of the shotgun her father kept at home to protect his family from nightriders. But this “Mississippi Burning” Birmingham was not really the city that Rice herself experienced. Carefully dressed and coiffed, taught French, ballet, ice skating, and piano, Rice in fact grew up in an aspirational middle-class household which seems to have been a lot more Scarsdale than Watts.

Later in life, Rice found that she had much in common with president-to-be George W. Bush, according to Bumiller, partly because both thought of themselves as coming from elite backgrounds. Weird though that sounds, this has the ring of truth about it: Take a look at one of Bumiller’s photographs, the one that shows Soviet expert Condi, age 35 but looking 20, briefing the senior President Bush, Secretary of State Baker, Marlin Fitzwater, Brent Scowcroft, and others during a 1990 Bush-Gorbachev summit, and ask yourself if this is a woman who looks even remotely uncomfortable or out of place.

But Rice shares other things with the current president. Like him, she has always had zero interest in ideology–zero interest in “big ideas” at all, in fact. Because she’s a black woman Republican from Alabama, and because she works for George W., Condi has sometimes been mischaracterized as an ideologue: Surely she couldn’t have gotten where she is, braving all that male chauvinism and all that racism, without some fervent belief in neoconservatism, or neorealism, or whatever kind of “ism” is currently in vogue. But that completely misses the point about Rice, who is a consummate pragmatist. Sure she talks about spreading democracy–but not because she’s on some kind of crusade. She has simply judged that the United States has more stable relationships with countries which, as she often puts it, “share our values.” But that doesn’t mean she’ll drop the Saudis just because their female population is subjected to serious human rights abuse.

This sort of pragmatism–people who don’t like it call it opportunism, though I don’t think that’s quite right–has also been visible from early on. Though Soviet studies was a field that once routinely attracted zealots of the left as well as the right, Condi fell into it because, having abandoned the idea of a professional musical career, she “wandered into” a course on international relations at the University of Denver and, portentously, was captivated by a lecture on the political maneuvering that brought Stalin to power.

The lecturer was Joseph Korbel, Madeleine Albright’s father, a coincidence that Bumiller (like others) makes much of. I make more of the fact that her subsequent Ph.D. topic was Czech-Soviet military relations, a subject even more boring and idea-free than that of most political-science Ph.Ds. But it would have appealed to Korbel, a Czech, and it would set her up to enter “strategic studies”–the Cold War science of missile-counting–which was then the fast track into foreign affairs. She moved quickly from academia proper into university administration, then into the first and second Bush administrations. And no wonder: For a person who feels at home in elite settings, who is captivated by political maneuvering, and who isn’t bound to an ideology, the White House is an ideal working environment.

And as I’ve said, this particular White House fit her particularly well. To the outside world, it might have seemed as though the second Bush administration was a seething mass of conservative and neoconservative ideologists, but Rice appears to have figured out, over time, that this White House was no different from any other: What mattered was access to the president, and this president (as I’m convinced history will show) was always more interested in appearing tough and decisive than in following ideas to their logical conclusion. Though it took her a few years to establish that access–Bush seems to have spent his first four years listening a lot more closely to Dick Cheney–Rice eventually got it.

Most of the reviews of this book will doubtless focus on its second half, which dissects Rice’s tenure as national security adviser, and then her first three years as secretary of state. Bumiller has documented–from the point of view of Rice and her team–much of what was known by rumor, or from Bob Woodward’s books, about the complete breakdown in relations between the Defense Department and the State Department in the months between Sept. 11 and the invasion of Iraq, as well as the foreign-policy hiccups produced by the vice president’s back-channel conniving. As others have pointed out, and no doubt will do again, this was precisely the policy-making environment that produced the disaster of the Iraq war.

Rice’s point of view, as transmitted by Bumiller, is clear enough: “Not my fault.” While she concedes, directly or indirectly, that Cheney and Rumsfeld got the better of her–in their decisions on handling enemy combatants, for example, which emerged from private meetings with the president–she places the blame for the result squarely on them, without ever quite saying so: Until she had the staff and the prestige of the Department of State behind her, she implies, all she could do was mediate.

Others have argued that it was precisely Rice’s failure to control the warring cabinet secretaries that led to the Iraq disaster. Perhaps her experience in the first Bush White House–a more gentlemanly administration, and one in which the president’s top foreign-policy adviser actually was the secretary of state, not the vice president–led her astray. Perhaps Cheney and Rumsfeld ignored her, since they thought she was a token. Or perhaps it’s better to wait for the rest of their memoirs and decide. There will be plenty of blame to go around, eventually.

The book does have a bland overall flavor–I couldn’t quite make out whether Bumiller actually liked Rice. And it doesn’t fully answer the No. 1 burning question about Condi’s personal life, except to point out that she once almost married a professional football player, though no one seems to know why it fell through. She does seem strangely comfortable weekending with the president and Mrs. Bush, an ideal way to spend time if one were trying to avoid deeper emotional ties–as well as a neat way to cut out the influence of all those men who have wives, families, and other places to go.

But Bumiller may be reflecting the blandness, or rather the remoteness, of Rice herself. At least in my limited experience, Rice almost never says anything off the record that she wouldn’t say in a television studio. She isn’t chilly–on the contrary, she is unfailingly warm and polite–but she isn’t exactly revelatory either. Though she does drop hints. “I never had a conversation with the president about Rumsfeld moving on,” she says, for example–though it is also clear that she offered his job to Robert Gates, Rumsfeld’s replacement, while Rumsfeld was still in office. That sounds to me like she did have a hand in his moving on but isn’t anxious to claim credit for it, at least not at the moment. Which is very Condi: take no prisoners, leave no traces, express surprise that anyone is upset about it–then smile for the camera, and move on.

Reprinted with kindly permission of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI).

Turkey launches an all-out invasion into northern Iraq

December 18, 2007

Hundreds of Turkish troops entered Iraq last night, Iraqi officials said, in pursuit of separatist Kurdish rebels. It marks the first land invasion since the Turkish parliament approved such measures last month and involves as many as seven hundred troops.

At last report Tuesday, officials in Turkey had not confirmed the reports but a Turkish diplomat in Washington told the Associated Press that “It was a Turkish operation, it was a Turkish decision. We were informed.”

The reported incursion threatens to resurface tensions that had partly subsided since Turkey’s vote last month to enable cross-border operations. Reuters reports Turkish troops engaged in minor skirmishes with fighters from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a separatist group based both in Turkey and Iraq.

The reported attacks come on the heels of weekend air strikes and coincide with a surprise visit by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to Iraqi Kurdistan.

The Washington Post reports this morning on a new program in which the U.S. government aims to help the Turkish military by providing intelligence on PKK targets in Iraq.

Oil prices edged higher on the news of the invasion.

Harvard professor criticizes US intelligence report on Iran

December 18, 2007

Harvard University law professor Alan Dershowitz has criticized the recent US intelligence assessment that Iran suspended its nuclear weapons program in 2003.

In an interview with ‘Shalom TV’ Dershowitz called the report both “dangerous” and “false”, adding: “[Iran is] clearly intending to develop a nuclear bomb, and anyone who doubts that should not be in a position of responsibility in the United States, in Israel, or in any Western country.”

Dershowitz asserted that it took “an absolute moron not to understand what Iran is doing. For purposes of getting the sanctions removed from Russia and from China and from others, they are overtly eliminating the military superstructure, but they are developing their capacity so that they can transfer it to a military use almost instantaneously… All the intelligence assessment is saying, basically, is that the Iranian government has pulled a bait and switch.”

Forget headlines: The world economy has never been better

December 17, 2007

Newsweek International has an article arguing that despite dire headlines, the global economy has never been better.

Read full story.

Europe’s Economy

December 17, 2007

The Financial Times examines what an economic downturn would mean for Europe. The article says if the United States rebalances its trade and budget deficits, Europe could wind up “bearing the brunt of international adjustment.”

Read full story.

European retail banking: Will there ever be a single market?

December 14, 2007

The Center for European Reform, a European think tank, has a new policy brief examining European retail banking. It questions how close the European Union is to being able to consider itself a cohesive financial market.


U.S. Intelligence reappraises the Iranian nuclear issue

December 14, 2007

The Institute for National Security Studies, an Israeli think tank, has a new report assessing the U.S. National Intelligence Estimate on Iran and its potential impact on Israeli security.

Read full story.

New EU Treaty

December 13, 2007

EU ministers meet in Portugal today to sign an EU reform pact dubbed the “Treaty of Lisbon.”

The treaty promises to end nearly a decade’s worth of disputes over efforts to simplify the bloc’s institutions. The reforms, outlined in this Q&A by the Financial Times, include reducing the total number of EU member states in the EU commission and elevating the EU’s foreign policy chief. The reforms will come into effect in January 2009, if all EU member states ratify them.

Prior efforts to pass EU reforms have failed due to domestic pressures in member states, but the Wall Street Journal says this iteration of the treaty is likelier to pass – only Ireland is holding a referendum vote on it.

The reforms remain controversial, but the Associated Press reports that Europe’s leaders have become increasingly skeptical about domestic complaints.

Even in Britain, where public fear runs high that the treaty will encroach on state sovereignty, many analysts are taking a guardedly positive position.

U.S.-Nigeria Meetings

December 13, 2007

Nigeria’s President Umaru Yar’Adua meets today with U.S. President George W. Bush in Washington.

Jendayi Frazer, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, writes on that the meetings with Yar’Adua present an opportunity for substantially deepening U.S. interests in Nigeria.

Read full story.

Chinese-Japanese Relations

December 13, 2007

China today marked the seventieth anniversary of the episode known to the West as the “Rape of Nanking,” in which the Chinese city of Nanjing was razed by Japanese forces.

TIME notes that solemn commemorations in Nanjing come alongside a renewed push by the Chinese government to improve relations with Tokyo.

How Remote is the Offshoring Threat?

December 13, 2007

A working paper by the French think tank CEPII examines the phenomenon of operational offshoring of business and questions to what extent it will threaten European economic prosperity.

Read full story.

Analyzing next Russian president Medvedev

December 12, 2007

The BBC outlines Russian press opinion on President Vladimir Putin’s announcement that he will support Dmitri Medvedev as his successor.

The majority of Russian newspapers supported Putin’s announcement but also note that Medvedev may have trouble asserting his independence.

Read full story.

Fed Volatility

December 12, 2007

The U.S. Federal Reserve announced it would overhaul the way it provides emergency funds to banks. Fed officials cited soaring inter-bank loan rates and said the Fed’s tools are not adequate to keep liquidity flowing smoothly in times of crisis.

The Economist examines the U.S. Fed’s decision yesterday to cut its benchmark interest rate by twenty-five basis points. The article notes sharp investor disappointment at the decision and questions whether it was prudent.

France: Europe’s Counterterrorist Powerhouse

December 12, 2007

A report from the Washington-based American Enterprise Institute (AEI) argues France is becoming Europe’s “counterterrorism powerhouse” due to ramped up efforts.

by Gary J. Schmitt and Reuel Marc Gerecht

Washington – November 1, 2007

Counterterrorism, like espionage and covert action, is not a spectator sport. The more a country practices, the better it gets. France has become the most accomplished counterterrorism practitioner in Europe. None of the western European counterterrorism officials we have met with over the last eighteen months would dissent from this view.

And while there may be a debate about which European state has had the most experience dealing with terrorism–be it Germany with its Baader-Meinhof Group, Italy with its Red Brigades, Spain with the Basque separatist group Euskadi Ta Askatasuna, or even Great Britain with the Irish Republican Army–there is no question that France has had as much experience with the most virulent, police-resistant forms of modern terrorism as any of them. Whereas September 11, 2001, was a heart-stopping shock to the American counterterrorism establishment–and only slightly less revolutionary for many in Europe–it was not a révolution des mentalités in Paris.

Two waves of terrorist attacks, the first in the mid-1980s and the second in the mid-1990s, have made France acutely aware of both state-supported Middle Eastern terrorism and freelance but organized Islamic extremists. The attacks in 1985 and 1986 were probably Iranian-inspired, carried out as payback for France’s military and financial support of Saddam Hussein. The attacks in the 1990s, however, in part an outgrowth of the Algerian civil war, clearly revealed to French security officials that “proper” Frenchmen, les français de souche, could convert to Islam, and that Muslims raised in France could spearhead mass-casualty terrorism.

By comparison, the security services in Great Britain and Germany were slow to awaken to the threat from homegrown radical Muslims. Britain gambled that its multicultural approach to immigrants was superior to France’s forced assimilationist model. But with the discovery of one terrorist plot after another being planned by British Muslims, as well as the deadly transportation bombings that took place in London on July 7, 2005, British public and security officials have begun to question the wisdom of their “Londonistan” approach to Muslim integration. Similarly, until recently, officials in Berlin believed that Germany was safe from homegrown Muslim terrorism, but two major bomb plots over the past year and a half–one aimed at German trains, the other at American military personnel, installations, and interests in Germany–have raised serious doubts in the minds of many German security officials about that previous assumption.

French scholars and journalists have also been way ahead of their European and American counterparts in dissecting Islamic extremism and jihadism, and in analyzing the “Zacarias Moussaoui” phenomenon of European-raised Muslim militants and terrorists. And French officials, who work in counterterrorism domestically and overseas, appear to be well aware of this intellectual spade work, often maintaining friendly relationships with scholars and journalists working in the field. The French interior ministry and prison system, for example, were remarkably open and helpful to the renowned Franco-Iranian sociologist Farhad Khosrokhavar in his interviews of jailed al Qaeda members. Khosrokhavar’s research, which produced the untranslated Quand Al-Qaida parle: Témoignages derrière les barreaux (When al Qaeda Speaks: Testimonies from Behind Bars) is the most insightful look into the mind and manners of highly westernized, Europeanized members of al Qaeda. Nothing in the American literature comes close to dissecting the nature of al Qaeda’s westernized elite. Given the distance and stiffness between the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and American scholars and journalists, it is unlikely that Khosrokhavar will soon have any American competition.

The Marsaud Report, issued on November 22, 2005, by a special parliamentary commission charged with examining France’s counterterrorism capacities, articulates the general French view of the threat posed by radical Islamic terrorism. It is perhaps the most cogent statement yet by an official European governing organization on why its citizens are inextricably involved in the fight against radical Islamic terrorism and unavoidably tied to the United States.

The absence of Islamist attacks on French soil since 9/11 should not be misinterpreted: it does not signify at all that France has been immunized from such actions, notably because of its position on the Iraq conflict. Elsewhere, we have already indicated that terrorist cells have been taken apart [since 9/11]–cells which were planning attacks on our soil. Further, outside of our national territory, French targets were struck, like the May 8, 2002, attack in Karachi, which killed fourteen, of whom eleven were employees of the DCN [Direction des Constructions Navales, France’s major shipbuilder], or the attack against the oil tanker Limburg off the coast of Yemen on October 6, 2002. France is an integral part of Western civilization, a target of radical Islamic terrorists. In this regard, she figures among the potential targets of these terrorists to the same extent as any other Western nation. A member of the international coalition in Afghanistan, where our special forces participate in the hunt of al Qaeda’s leaders, France is thus considered an enemy, no matter her position on Iraq. Furthermore, France has been since 1986 on the cutting edge of countering [Middle Eastern] terrorism: her contribution in dismantling networks and her central role in the international counterterrorist effort have made her undeniably an enemy of international terrorist groups. Additionally, France must take into consideration her geographic position and her history. It has been clearly shown that France is the target of choice for the Algerian GSPC [the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat].

After 9/11, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the FBI decided to headquarter America’s premier European counterterrorism liaison shop in Paris because they recognized–despite the acrimony arising from the run-up to the Iraq war and the historical coolness between the CIA and French intelligence–that France is the European country most serious about counterterrorism.

French Lessons

It is unclear what practical lessons Americans can draw from the French encounter with Islamic terrorism, given the two countries’ different histories of interaction with the Muslim world and the significant differences between the two when it comes to legal systems and the domestic purview of the state. Nonetheless, it is always worth knowing how others do things–especially other democracies–when what they do seems to work.

And one of the things the French do well–and perhaps the hardest thing for Americans to appreciate, let alone adopt–is granting highly intrusive powers to their internal security service, the Direction de la Surveillance du Territoire (DST), and to their counterterrorist investigative magistrates (juges d’instruction). The latter institution is the linchpin of France’s counterterrorism prowess, allowing the French to combine the powers of prevention, deterrence, and punishment in one individual. This office, created after 1986, has no American parallel and in its powers seems to be unique within Europe. They oversee and often direct the investigative reach of France’s myriad police services, especially the intelligence unit of the French national police, the Renseignments Généraux and the DST.

This direction is exercised through a distinctly French combination of administrative statutes and–just as important–informal institutional and personal relations. The juges d’instruction do not have the authority to command the DST, which belongs formally under the authority of the interior minister. But because of the success of such magistrates as Jean-Louis Bruguière and Jean-François Ricard, who proved that they could handle sensitive information collected by a domestic intelligence agency, the DST has essentially formalized its relationship with these magistrates. The juges d’instruction can now direct DST operations and intelligence collection.

The political class in Paris, often at odds with the judicial class, has grown comfortable with the independence exercised by these investigative magistrates. A cynic might say that this reflects the political sensitivity of the terrorism portfolio–better that magistrates handle the potential blowback from these cases than elected officials. But it is also an acknowledgement of how effectively and professionally the juges d’instruction have conducted themselves since 1986.

These magistrates and their offices have become the repositories of counterterrorism information in the French government. The advantage over the American system here is significant: counterterrorism personnel at the FBI, Justice Department, CIA, and National Security Council usually rotate out of the terrorism portfolio after a few years. Few could be said to have monitored specific cases and particular Islamist organizations for years on end. Bruguière, France’s most famous juge, stayed on the counterterrorism beat for over twenty-five years and could overwhelm his interlocutors with details and insights that come only from long-standing first-hand experience. These magistrates have become, as Jeremy Shapiro and Bénédicte Suzan have pointed out in their incisive evaluation of the juges d’instruction, their own counterterrorism intelligence services.

Observers are struck by the ability of the French to concentrate the combined resources of the state quickly. From the substantial use of wiretaps and other forms of electronic interception to day-and-night physical surveillance and “preventive detention” that can be directed against targets about whom authorities do not have sufficient evidence to seek criminal prosecution, magistrates and their allied police and intelligence services can rapidly monitor, harass, and paralyze those they suspect of terrorist activity. As the French 2006 white paper on domestic security and terrorism states:

To be effective, a judicial system for counterterrorism must combine a preventive element, whose objective is to prevent terrorists from acting, and a repressive element, to punish those who commit attacks as well as their organizers and accomplices. The French system follows this logic. But its originality and strength lie in the fact that the barrier between prevention and punishment is not airtight.

The juges d’instruction have largely demolished this wall.

The French have other important counterterrorism agencies. Foremost among them are the Conseil de Sécurité Intérieure (Internal Security Council), chaired by the French president or his representative, which “defines the orientation for domestic security policy and establishes priorities.” The prime minister chairs the Comité Interministériel du Renseignement (Interministerial Intelligence Committee), which brings together all of the ministers involved in counterterrorism. The interior ministry leads the Comité Interministériel de Lutte Antiterroriste (Interministerial Counterterrorist Committee), which coordinates actions at the ministerial level.

Most important is the Unité de Coordination de la Lutte Antiterroriste (Counterterrorist Coordination Unit), which was created in 1984 inside the interior ministry. This office collects information supplied by all the other agencies, including the interior ministry, the defense ministry, and the ministry of economy, finance, and industry.

As noted by Shapiro and Suzan:

Previously, no single service had specialized in terrorism and thus no one was responsible for assembling a complete picture from the various different institutional sources, for assuring information flows between the various agencies, or for providing coordinated direction to the intelligence and police services for the prevention of terrorism.

None of these organizations and offices is of course uniquely French. We certainly could not conclude that they operate more efficiently than their American counterparts–excepting the greater efficiency one would expect to find in a smaller, highly centralized state. What sets France apart are its juges d’instruction and their ability to harness the country’s enormous police resources. These magistrates are also able, because of their singular focus, to keep the counterterrorism apparatus in France operating with an esprit and at a tempo other countries find hard to match, especially as 9/11 recedes into distant memory. The French themselves are not deluded about their capacities: the counterterrorism white paper notes that “the threat now develops almost invisibly and is much more difficult for the intelligence and security agencies to detect.”

French officials are confident, however, in what the French state, properly focused on an internal enemy, can do.

We underscore the power of the French state since so much post-Patriot Act commentary in the United States suggests that enhanced police powers–for example, the sequestration of terrorist suspects without immediate access to attorneys, or the use of wiretapping and physical surveillance that falls far short of “probable cause” of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) standards–are counterproductive to counterterrorism efforts since they corrode our collective trust in the law and are ineffective in any case.

We are uncomfortable with some French counterterrorism practices–such as the government’s ability to jail French citizens without sufficient grounds for actually taking them to court–and would not want to see them imported to the United States. Some in France worry that police power, when focused on the Muslim community, can become overbearing and counterproductive.

The French national police and the DST are conscious of this concern. We suspect that the presence of Muslim Frenchmen in the police and domestic intelligence services–larger, it appears, than in any other European country–allows French officials to track this concern, as well as deploy a more effective counterterrorism cadre, better able to penetrate police-resistant radical Muslim circles. In any case, anxiety about police intrusiveness still appears to be a minority opinion in France, both among officials and in the wider population.

Transatlantic Parallels

It is worthwhile to mention a critical study of Franco-American counterterrorism relations commissioned by the policy planning staff of the French foreign ministry. Entitled The Counterterrorist Effort in France and the United States: Beyond the Celebration of Our Cooperation, Are There Long-Term Structural Problems?, its critique is pessimistic.

France’s highly codified legal system, in which the French state enjoys enormous powers of intrusion and coercion, does not resemble the messier U.S. system of separated powers, judicial independence, and presumptive rights held by individuals against the government. The censure in the piece, which likely represents the views of much of the French elite, is more procedural than moral. America’s legal and political system, at least under George W. Bush, could not handle such “extralegal” challenges as Guantanamo, extraordinary rendition, or warrantless surveillance. According to the authors of the report, the United States got hoisted by its own petard by making the struggle against radical Islamic extremism into a highly politicized, militarily front-loaded “war on terror” that its legal and ethical system could not handle.

We can agree with some of this critique–for example, we do not think the Bush administration effectively thought through the judicial and legal challenges it would encounter as it interrogated and imprisoned members and suspected members of al Qaeda, the Taliban, and other extremist Islamic groups. But the stabilizing genius of American government is its extremely open political system, in which convulsive questions can be asked and debated, and bipartisan consensus can usually be found on serious matters of national security. The Bush administration, reflecting the desire of all presidents to protect executive prerogatives they deem necessary to wage war successfully, got itself into a difficult spot with aspects of the “war on terror” precisely because it did not allow politics to intervene early enough on the thorny–at times gut-wrenching–questions of how to interrogate, imprison, and eliminate “enemy combatants.” The French political and legal system does notdo debate easily; if allowed, the American system does it sublimely well.

These “procedural” challenges, which torment some of our allies, are unlikely to seriously affect our counterterrorism cooperation with Paris. Throughout the run-up to the Iraq war, which was perhaps the nadir of post-World War II Franco-American relations, counterterrorism cooperation blossomed. In 2007, Nicolas Sarkozy, who openly admires much about the United States and rarely engages in the anti-American cynicism so common among the French intellectual elite, was elected president. Unless he has been hiding his true feelings–something he is not known for doing–Sarkozy does not seem to believe the United States has been ethically deficient since 9/11. We suspect that many in France, especially those in its intelligence and security services, understand the unique challenges the United States confronted after 9/11–the challenges that only a global military power could confront.

In the end, looking at the French and American approaches to counterterrorism provides an odd symmetry. In the case of France, the threat is largely–but not simply–within the confines of its own borders. To meet the threat, the French are willing to give their officials what we would consider extraordinary powers and discretion. In the case of the United States, the terrorist threat comes largely–but not solely–from abroad. To meet that threat, President Bush has used his power as commander in chief to its fullest. And while his political opponents and a few judges criticize the use of that power, for the most part, Americans have not reacted in a manner that suggests that they see a darkening, dangerous shadow over their personal liberties. Similarly, since 1986, when French domestic counterterrorism became much more intrusive–when Judge Bruguière’s distinctly un-Anglo-Saxon mission began–France has not gone down the slippery slope into tyranny. France’s society, its politics, andmany of its laws have actually become much more liberal and open.

As a practical matter, there will always be a trade-off of sorts between citizen liberties and the powers a state needs to fight certain threats. Yet it is the paramount duty of any liberal democracy not only to protect the rights associated with a decent political order, but also to protect the lives of its citizens. Exercising power in the name of security is not necessarily illiberal. And as our examination of the French approach to counterterrorism suggests, the exercise of such power can be considerable indeed. It is a point that some liberal and civil libertarian critics of the Bush administration, who too rarely study what is going on abroad, might do well to remember.

Reprinted with kindly permission of the American Enterprise Institute.

Qaddafi-Sarkozy Meetings

December 11, 2007

Libya’s President Muammar Qaddafi met with French President Nicolas Sarkozy in Paris yesterday, in Qaddafi’s first state visit to France in more than three decades. The talks focused around economic cooperation and arms trade.

The talks also set off protest in Paris, with some members of Sarkozy’s cabinet objecting to the president’s welcoming of Qaddafi, and Parisians upset over the terms of possible trade deals between the countries.

Meanwhile, Senator Hillary Clinton, with six other senators, sent a letter yesterday asking Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice to urge Libya to compensate victims of the 1988 Pan Am 103 bombing and the 1986 bombing of a discotheque in Berlin. Libya agreed to pay the victims in 2003, but has yet to fulfill that obligation, the letter says.

Check out also our story from August 2007: France and Libya sign arms deal.

Abraham’s children: The genetic history of the Jewish people

December 10, 2007

Jon Entine‘s interview in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz about his new book Abraham’s Children: Race, Identity and the DNA of the Chosen.

Read full story.

Somalia’s collapse

December 10, 2007

An article in the December edition of World Today, a monthly magazine from Britain’s Chatham House think tank, examines the spiraling crisis in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu. It says the threat of further violence now extends well beyond Somalia’s borders.

Read full story.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, ‘The Decider’ of Tehran

December 10, 2007

Columnist Vali Nasr writes in the Washington Post about Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the man he says is Iran’s “decider,” despite U.S. focus on dictator Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Read full story.

Russia-Belarus Questions

December 10, 2007

The Christian Science Monitor reports that Russia‘s President Vladimir Putin may soon drop a “political bombshell”- a plan for a full sovereign union between Russia and its neighbor, Belarus.

The article says such a union would give Putin the power to rewrite Russia’s constitution, perhaps allowing him to strengthen his hold on power.

Read full story.

Wie das Internet zu einem Debattierklub von Idioten verkommt

December 8, 2007

Im Aufmacher der Süddeutschen Zeitung am Wochenende prangert Bernd Graff unter der Überschrift “Web 0.0″ das Internet an. Und zwar jene “Idiotae” die sich darin ohne Erlaubnis des Qualitätsjournalismus zu äußern wagen, und dann auch noch kritisch:

“Sie zetteln Debattenquickies an, pöbeln nach Gutsherrenart und rauschen dann zeternd weiter. Sie erschaffen wenig und machen vieles runter. Diese Diskutanten des Netzes sind der Diskurstod, getrieben von der Lust an Entrüstung. Haben wir Entrüstung gesagt? Setzen Sie dafür bitte beliebig ein: Sabotage, Verschwörung, Häme, Denunziation, Verächtlichmachung, Hohn, Spott. Ja, wir müssen uns die Kräfte des freien Meinungsmarktes als äußerst destruktiv vorstellen.”

Zum Artikel.

National Intelligence Estimate: Iran remains a danger for the world

December 8, 2007
Despite the focus of early news reports, the new National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) actually reinforces the danger posed by Iran’s continuing pursuit of the ability to make nuclear weapons.

Iran, the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, remains a threat, vowing to destroy Israel and calling for a world without the United States. Tehran has made significant progress in its ability to enrich uranium-the critical component for nuclear weapons-in direct defiance of multiple U.N Security Council resolutions. The NIE’s conclusions that Iran is vulnerable to pressure makes clear that concerted international efforts to impose tough sanctions is the best way to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability.

The NIE confirms that Iran has pursued nuclear weapons and is continuing key nuclear activities needed to produce atomic arms.

• The NIE’s dramatic revelation that Iran had a clandestine nuclear weapons program is perhaps the clearest official confirmation to date that Iran’s nuclear efforts-which the regime lied about for 18 years-are ultimately intended to produce an atomic bomb.

• The NIE confirms that Iran’s nuclear program, including uranium enrichment-the key process needed to produce the fuel for nuclear weapons-is continuing and the NIE only assesses with “moderate confidence” that Iran has not restarted its weapons program.

• Iran’s nuclear efforts, combined with its long-range missile and warhead development programs, could lead to weaponization at a time of its choosing.

• The NIE also confirms that Iran is “keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons.” Iran’s projected timeline for achieving the capability to produce a nuclear weapon has not changed since the last NIE two years ago. Iran will likely be able to produce sufficient fissile material for a weapon by the early part of the next decade, and a weapon within a few years thereafter.

The NIE says that Iran could restart its “weapons” program any time the regime decides to do so.

• While the unclassified version of the NIE states that Iran stopped nuclear weapon design and weaponization work, the report does not reveal the status of the weapons program when it was halted or indicate that the program was dismantled. This clandestine effort could easily be restarted when Iran has enriched enough uranium to produce a bomb.

• The NIE does not conclude definitively that the Iranian leadership “is willing to maintain the halt of its nuclear weapons program indefinitely.” Israel believes that Iran has already restarted its weapons efforts and sees Iran’s continued enrichment activities as a major threat.

• The NIE also did not rule out that “Iran has acquired from abroad-or will acquire in the future-a nuclear weapon or enough fissile material for a weapon.”

Without a focused international effort to stop Iran, Tehran will achieve a nuclear weapons capability.

• Sanctions are having an effect on Iran and should be increased to ensure that Tehran does not acquire a nuclear weapons capability.

• The combination of current sanctions and the threat of additional measures have already led scores of financial institutions and businesses to end their operations in Iran. Sanctions are increasingly spurring criticism of government policies by top Iranian political leaders and financial experts.

• The NIE concludes that Iran’s actions have been guided by a cost-benefit calculus and is vulnerable to additional pressure, saying: “Our assessment that the program probably was halted primarily in response to international pressure suggests Iran may be more vulnerable to influence on the issue than we judged previously.”

• Tough sanctions offer the best hope to dissuade Iran from resuming its nuclear weapons program. Intensifying sanctions would raise the costs for Iran and increase the chances that it may comply with U.N. Security Council requirements to suspend its enrichment program.

Reprinted with kindly permission of The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

Force and Restraint in Strategic Deterrence: A Game-Theorist’s Perspective

December 7, 2007


This study of The Strategic Studies Institute of the US Army War College is a short nontechnical introduction to the use of game theory in the study of international relations, focusing is on the problem of deterrence against potential adversaries and aggressors. The author, Dr. Roger B. Myerson, winner of the 2007 Nobel Prize in Economics, uses game models to provide a simple context where we can see more clearly the essential logic of strategic deterrence.

A great power’s use of its military forces may be rendered ineffective or even counterproductive when there are no clear internationally recognizable limits on this use of force.

Professor Myerson derives this conclusion from the basic observation that our ability to influence potential rivals depends on a balanced mix of threats and promises. Potential adversaries should believe that aggression will be punished, but such threats will be useless unless they also believe our promises that good behavior will be better rewarded. A reputation for resolve makes threats credible, but a great power also needs a reputation for restraint, to make the promises credible as well. Thus, international restraints on a nation’s use of military force may actually increase the effective influence of its military strength.

Read full study.

Power over principle in Pakistan

December 7, 2007

TIME examines the newly formed political coalition between former Pakistani Prime Ministers Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto.

The paper says the arrangement seems to represent the triumph of power over principle, in that their stances on policy don’t much overlap.

Read full story.

Nigeria’s drug trade

December 7, 2007

The Economist examines Nigeria’s spiking drug trade and says the country is becoming a hub for the continent’s illicit drugs, which often are flown into Lagos and then exported to Europe.

Read full story.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s speech to the American Jewish Committee

December 6, 2007

Watch French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s recent, stirring speech on anti-Semitism to the American Jewish Committee (AJC), with full English translation, at, the internet’s leading website for international opinion-makers and diplomacy.


Kosovo’s End Game

December 6, 2007

Kosovo is expected to declare independence this month. Russia says this could trigger instability in other nearby breakaway regions. Ambassador Richard C. Holbrooke, the architect of the Dayton Accords that ended the Bosnia war, says Russia’s uncooperative attitude in Kosovo combined with western inaction could sparked renewed conflict.


Interviewee: Richard C. Holbrooke, Vice Chairman, Perseus LLC

Interviewer: Bernard Gwertzman, The Council on Foreign Relations

New York, December 5, 2007

On December 10, 2007, the three-man group-U.S. envoy Frank Wisner, Russian representative Alexander Botsan-Kharchenko and EU envoy Wolfgang Ischinger-that the United Nations set up last summer to bring about a negotiated solution between Kosovo and Serbia ends its work in failure. It’s widely expected that Kosovo, the autonomous province of Serbia, will soon announce its independence. Do you have any idea when that may happen?

To the best of my knowledge, the Kosovo Albanian leaders, who were elected last month, will make a unilateral declaration of independence about a month or so after December 10.

And they will ask all countries of the world to recognize them, as well as the United Nations?


Now the European Union, at the moment, from what I can tell, has about five member states that are nervous about recognizing an independent Kosovo.

The United States, Britain, France, and Germany have already said they will recognize Kosovo. Most of the EU, but not all, will recognize them. Some will recognize them on a slightly slower time frame than others. Russia will not recognize them. Other countries will be up for grabs. There will be a lot of pressure in both directions. And I’m assuming the Islamic states will recognize them.

This will leave the new country of Kosovo in somewhat of an awkward position. UN membership will not be possible as long as the Russians are prepared to veto their admission, and the Russians have indicated that will be their policy. The EU will have to find ways of giving them economic assistance, even when not all EU members recognize them. Most importantly, a new basis for the continuation of international security forces-the sixteen thousand NATO forces that are now there-must be found. If those forces were to leave, the chances of violence would be even greater.

How many Serbs still live in Kosovo?

There is no accurate census, but the best estimates are that there are about two million Albanians, and somewhere between 100,000 and 200,000 Serbs left. But I stress, those are estimates.

Serbs have a majority in the most northern part of Kosovo that borders on Serbia.

Around the town of Mitrovica in the north is a predominantly Serb population and then there are Serb communities scattered throughout other parts of Kosovo. It is my assumption that Serbian-populated districts, which did not participate in the recent elections at all, will announce that they do not accept the fact that they are part of a newly declared independent state of Kosovo. They’ll say, “No, we’re still part of Serbia.” So you’ll have another one of these breakaway conflicts, which have dotted Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union in the last fifteen years, such as in Nagorno-Karabakh [a de facto independent republic within Azerbaijan but claimed by Armenia], South Ossetia [a rebellious part of Georgia backed by Russia], Abkhazia [an independent republic within Georgia that is not recognized by any state but backed by Russia] and Trans-Dniester [a breakaway part of Moldova also backed by Russia]. I suspect these Serbian areas in Kosovo will fall into that category.

Talk a bit about the situation in Belgrade. The Serbian government is supposedly pro-Western, right? And they’ve been talking about trying to get in the EU.

Calling the Serbian government in Belgrade pro-Western is a bit of a stretch. They are intensely nationalistic, particularly Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica. He is a real nationalist. Former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic was a fake nationalist. He’s the real deal. He has a mystical attachment to Kosovo as the birthplace of the Serb people. Some of the greatest religious monuments in Europe are these ancient Serb monasteries that are all over Kosovo-twelfth-, thirteenth-, fourteenth-century monasteries. So the Serbs have been there a long time, but over time this area has become overwhelmingly Albanian.

The Serbs suppressed the Albanians and denied them their political rights, particularly under Milosevic, but ever since 1912, Serbs have been the minority rulers of Kosovo and now the situation is about to be reversed in the most dramatic manner imaginable.

Will the Serbs in the north make some declaration to definitely be part of Serbia itself?

It’s very possible that the northern districts will do the same thing which the Serb portions of Bosnia did in 1992, when the Bosnian Muslims declared Bosnia an independent country. You’ll recall that the Bosnian Serbs refused to accept it, and instead started the terrible civil war, which was so costly.

The difference between Kosovo in 2007 and Bosnia in 1992, however, is twofold: One, the overwhelming majority of the people in Kosovo-over 90 percent are Albanian, where as in Bosnia there was a relatively even balance between the three groups, Bosnians, Serbs and Croats. Secondly, there just isn’t the appetite anymore for the kind of all-out, brutal, genocidal war, which took place in that area for so long.

Still, there’s a real threat of violence as this escalates, and for that reason I have called, in my recent column in the Washington Post, for the United States and NATO to put additional troops into both Kosovo and Bosnia as quickly as possible. Not an enormous amount of troops, because those aren’t available anyway, but enough to let both sides know that a slide back into violence is not acceptable to the international community.

NATO is stretched to the hilt with its troop obligations in Afghanistan right now.

They’re stretched very thin, but they have troops. And I’m just talking about a couple of companies, a battalion or so, and it doesn’t have to be primarily American. We have two choices here: You send troops in beforehand, to prevent the violence, or you rush troops in after it breaks out and the social fabric has been further torn apart.

We always talk about “preventative diplomacy.” The Council on Foreign Relations has a Center for Preventive Action. Everyone talks about it, but no one ever does anything about it. Here is a classic case where a few troops now might prevent the need for more troops later, and we have to try to get some additional troops in fast. I am very pessimistic that the suggestion I just made for more troops will be acted on, because of the problem you just raised: Iraq, Afghanistan. Also the passivity of the European Union, the mistakes that the U.S. government has made in the last few years, and the opportunistic actions of the Russians have been a poisonous combination.

On the Russian side, has the United States pressed President Vladimir Putin on this at all?

Not adequately. It’s been discussed at lower levels, but President Bush has not brought it up with Putin in a firm, determined way that would indicate to Moscow that this really matters. And the U.S.-Russia relationship is not a very good one anyway. This administration misjudged Putin from the beginning. In effect this administration gave Putin complimentary words, which he didn’t deserve. And he just kept taking advantage of it-not just in Kosovo, but all over the place.

So you think there’s about a month between the end of the UN mission and some declaration of independence. Do you think Kosovo can work out any kind of deal with the Serbs on their own?

No. The only chance for a deal was if the Russians had joined the EU and the U.S. in the search for a solution. They did this in 1999, while the United States and NATO were bombing Serbia for seventy-seven days, and that group, run by former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari for the EU, Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott for the U.S., and Russian envoy Viktor Chernomyrdin, produced UN Resolution 1244, which ended the bombing and created the UN trusteeship over Kosovo, which has lasted eight years. That was a pretty successful operation, because when the Serbs, Milosevic specifically, realized that there was no more chance for him to get Russian help, that’s when he came around. But this time around, Putin is playing a very different game. He is in effect enabling the Serbs. He’s put no pressure on them at all to reach an agreement. On the contrary he’s become their encourager, and thatis the reason we’re headed towards such a huge diplomatic train wreck.

Is there any chance the Serbs will try to send troops into Kosovo?

There’s a chance, and the only way to prevent that is twofold: One, the international community must prevent Albanians from taking vengeance against the Serbs. That’s a real danger and it’s a big one. Secondly, the presence of additional international troops, NATO troops in particular, is the best guarantee to reduce the chances of that happening. Serb troops moving into Kosovo would be such a provocation that it’s hard to imagine, but this year everything has gone wrong in the region because of the Russian encouragement of the Serbs.

Are there problems in Bosnia, too?

In Bosnia, after twelve years in which the Dayton Accords have worked pretty well, and there have been no casualties, a very serious dilemma has now arisen. In the Serb portion of Bosnia, the Serb leader, Milorad Dodik, has previously been pro-Western and worked with the United States and the EU quite well, but he now seems to have been turned into something of an anti-Western, pro-Russian, pro-separatist leader. I believe it’s because the Russians have been showering petrodollars on him and he’s under intense pressure.

When I wrote this in the Washington Post last week, he wrote a very angry letter back to the Post, in which he said the Dayton agreement was still “sacrosanct.” I wrote a letter saying, “Well, I’m glad things are sacrosanct, but I’m not sure we interpret it the same way and, besides which, some of his words have undermined it.” So that’s the problem, but it’s also true that some of the Muslim politicians in Sarajevo have been provocative lately as well. Bosnia is a federal state. It has to be structured as a federal state. You cannot have a unitary government, because then the country would go back into fighting. And that’s the reason that the Dayton agreement has been probably the most successful peace agreement in the world in the last generation, because it recognized the reality.

I’ll conclude on Kosovo. You were talking about the possibility again of the Albanians seeking retribution against the Serbs. They already had a kind of brief massacre a couple years ago, right?

Yes. Very serious.

I would have thought by now things had calmed down, but I guess not.

Who knows? Most people hate each other, really hate each other, much more than in Bosnia. In Kosovo, there was almost no intermarriage, there are completely different languages, different cultures sitting in the same land-it’s much more like Arabs and Israelis. Bosnians, Croats, and Serbs all spoke the same language, all went to the same schools, all lived together-it wasn’t the kind of apartheid that you’ve got in Kosovo. And there’s so much history there. Even in the Middle East, you will not find people who hate each other as much as these people.

Reprinted with kindly permission of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Pakistan’s new army chief

December 6, 2007

NPR profiles Pakistan’s new military chief, General Ashfaq Kiyani, who took the army’s reins from President Pervez Musharraf.

The segment says Kiyani has a moderate, pro-American streak, but adds that thousands of suspected terrorists simply disappeared under his leadership of the country’s intelligence services.

Read full story.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 46 other followers