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Posts For: September 4, 2007

Abe’s Hard Road

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe so far has defied predictions of his imminent political demise. Refusing to take the traditional Japanese path and accept responsibility for his party’s crushing defeat in parliamentary elections last month, he has instead forged a new cabinet of the leading politicians in his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). His bold tactic, however, may well make it even harder for him to govern, thus hastening the end of his premiership.

Abe’s party lost the last election due in no small part to scandals among his ministers. Today’s news brings word of yet two more resignations, these from a Cabinet not two weeks old. Abe’s tactic was to turn around his team and forge ahead on important domestic and foreign issues, but the opposition party will certainly push as hard as possible for early elections that would likely further weaken the LDP.

Most importantly, the presence of LDP heavyweights, including former foreign and defense ministers, has the potential both to dilute policy-making and neutralize Abe’s primacy. He will have to navigate among a group of experienced, equally ambitious leaders, who have been brought in precisely because Abe couldn’t deliver the first time around. Former Foreign Minister Taro Aso, moved from the Foreign Ministry to Secretary General of the LDP, has already made clear his intent to try to succeed Abe. The tendency toward lowest-common-denominator politics after the roller coaster years of Koizumi and the first Abe cabinet may naturally assert itself.

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Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe so far has defied predictions of his imminent political demise. Refusing to take the traditional Japanese path and accept responsibility for his party’s crushing defeat in parliamentary elections last month, he has instead forged a new cabinet of the leading politicians in his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). His bold tactic, however, may well make it even harder for him to govern, thus hastening the end of his premiership.

Abe’s party lost the last election due in no small part to scandals among his ministers. Today’s news brings word of yet two more resignations, these from a Cabinet not two weeks old. Abe’s tactic was to turn around his team and forge ahead on important domestic and foreign issues, but the opposition party will certainly push as hard as possible for early elections that would likely further weaken the LDP.

Most importantly, the presence of LDP heavyweights, including former foreign and defense ministers, has the potential both to dilute policy-making and neutralize Abe’s primacy. He will have to navigate among a group of experienced, equally ambitious leaders, who have been brought in precisely because Abe couldn’t deliver the first time around. Former Foreign Minister Taro Aso, moved from the Foreign Ministry to Secretary General of the LDP, has already made clear his intent to try to succeed Abe. The tendency toward lowest-common-denominator politics after the roller coaster years of Koizumi and the first Abe cabinet may naturally assert itself.

The result of this would be at best muddling through and at worst a rudderless leadership, at a time when Japan is facing serious domestic and foreign problems. Abe’s first major test is renewal of the special law permitting Japanese naval ships to refuel coalition forces in the Indian Ocean. Failure to secure the extension would further complicate relations with the United States, which are already under strain due to the Bush Administration’s continued negotiations with North Korea through the Six Party Talks. Tokyo has so far stuck fast to its refusal to participate further in the talks until North Korea releases the numerous Japanese citizens it has kidnapped.

Abe has to start showing results. The Japan-ASEAN free-trade agreement reached two weeks ago is an important and laudable achievement; it goes a long way toward maintaining Japan’s presence in Asia. But more needs to be done. Abe’s call for a partnership of democracies or his “arc of freedom and prosperity” is still just rhetoric. Abe’s values-based diplomacy has yet to move beyond mere words—what kinds of partnerships, organizations, or policies is he imagining? How will he move toward them? Will he embrace all democracies in the regions, including South Korea and Taiwan, or is he aiming at strategic partnerships with India and Australia? Just as important is the question of how well, if at all, Abe can balance his desire to engage China with his apparent strategy of countering its rise by promoting the partnership of democracies.

Abe’s refusal to scale back his ambitious vision for Japanese diplomacy is perhaps his one salient similarity to Koizumi, who was famous for doggedly sticking to a goal once he had pledged himself to it. Whether he can match Mr. Koizumi’s longevity in office, however, is another thing entirely.

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The Candidate

The summer trailers are about to end. This week, after several production delays, The Candidate, starring Fred Thompson, will open at a theater near you.

Senator Thompson faces stiff challenges, from a late entry to disappointing fund-raising figures to the fact that he has spent time recently outside the world of politics. The other candidates have been at this for a while now, honing their messages and building organizations. They are a debate-tested and impressive—if far from invincible—group. Thompson has almost no opportunity for a learning curve and very little margin for error. He’s got to be good, very good, right from the start.

At the same time, Senator Thompson has some advantages. At the start of the summer, he was considered one of four top-tier candidates; at the end of the summer, he’s one of three (McCain having dropped like a stone in the sea). Nationally, Thompson is running second to Giuliani and is doing well in some key early states.

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The summer trailers are about to end. This week, after several production delays, The Candidate, starring Fred Thompson, will open at a theater near you.

Senator Thompson faces stiff challenges, from a late entry to disappointing fund-raising figures to the fact that he has spent time recently outside the world of politics. The other candidates have been at this for a while now, honing their messages and building organizations. They are a debate-tested and impressive—if far from invincible—group. Thompson has almost no opportunity for a learning curve and very little margin for error. He’s got to be good, very good, right from the start.

At the same time, Senator Thompson has some advantages. At the start of the summer, he was considered one of four top-tier candidates; at the end of the summer, he’s one of three (McCain having dropped like a stone in the sea). Nationally, Thompson is running second to Giuliani and is doing well in some key early states.

The moment is also right for a Thompson entry. The GOP is dispirited. Rudy Giuliani is the only other candidate in the field who can send a jolt of electricity through the Republican base—but Giuliani may also be radioactive to a significant portion of it. Thompson has the potential to energize Republicans without offending them. He also has some impressive skills. At his best, he comes across as serious, informed, reassuring, self-possessed, and manly. Some people dismiss these things as matters of style; in fact, style matters quite a lot in politics. It helped that John Kennedy projected an aura of vigor and youth and that Ronald Reagan was movie-star handsome and a riveting speaker.

The most important thing Fred Thompson has to provide, though, is a compelling rationale for his candidacy. His success depends on convincing conservatives that he is, deep in his bones, one of them—and has been for some time now. There has to be more than a check-the-box quality to his conservatism, which needs to be shown both by his record and by the manner in which he articulates his governing philosophy. He shouldn’t simply insist to voters that he’s a conservative; rather, he should go about the task of speaking as a conservative, with ease and command, explaining why conservatism is the right philosophy for this new century.

Will Fred Thompson be as good as advertised? We’ll see. But here’s what we know: in the current political environment, being a good, solid, acceptable candidate probably won’t be enough. Republican hopes in 2008 rest on a candidate emerging who is in possession of uncommon dexterity and ability, someone with authentic star power. Fred Thompson has the potential; within a few weeks we’ll know whether The Candidate has a plausible chance of becoming The Nominee.

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Paying Attention to Arthur Miller

Last week, the New York Times ran a piece gathering the reactions to Vanity Fair‘s exposé of Arthur Miller’s non-relationship with his Down’s syndrome-afflicted son, Daniel. They quoted my original post about Miller on contentions, along with the words of several of Miller’s contemporaries, most of whom, it appeared, were not willing to talk.

Edward Albee, for instance, author of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and a contemporary of Miller’s, refused to comment. The strongest apologia, if it can be called that, came from “veteran Broadway producer Emanuel Azenberg,” who said, “Arthur Miller will be remembered for ‘Death of a Salesman,’ ‘The Crucible’ and ‘All My Sons.’ All the rest is talk.”

Morris Dickstein, an English professor at the CUNY Graduate Center, told the Times, “How do we know what we would have done? The birth of a child with Down’s syndrome can be a tremendous trauma, to say nothing of a strain on a marriage.” Yet the original Vanity Fair article reported that Miller’s wife, Inge Morath, tried to convince her husband to let her bring their son home, a plea he refused. She visited their child nearly every weekend. The Los Angeles Times‘s obituary of Miller reported that he “apparently never visited [Daniel].” Putting one’s disabled child in an institution is one thing. Acting as if he didn’t exist is another. And the behavior of “this hero of the left” and “champion of the downtrodden” (as the Times describes Miller), ought to convince even his greatest fans that hectoring lip service in the cause of social justice does not prevent one from being a loathsome human being.

Last week, the New York Times ran a piece gathering the reactions to Vanity Fair‘s exposé of Arthur Miller’s non-relationship with his Down’s syndrome-afflicted son, Daniel. They quoted my original post about Miller on contentions, along with the words of several of Miller’s contemporaries, most of whom, it appeared, were not willing to talk.

Edward Albee, for instance, author of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and a contemporary of Miller’s, refused to comment. The strongest apologia, if it can be called that, came from “veteran Broadway producer Emanuel Azenberg,” who said, “Arthur Miller will be remembered for ‘Death of a Salesman,’ ‘The Crucible’ and ‘All My Sons.’ All the rest is talk.”

Morris Dickstein, an English professor at the CUNY Graduate Center, told the Times, “How do we know what we would have done? The birth of a child with Down’s syndrome can be a tremendous trauma, to say nothing of a strain on a marriage.” Yet the original Vanity Fair article reported that Miller’s wife, Inge Morath, tried to convince her husband to let her bring their son home, a plea he refused. She visited their child nearly every weekend. The Los Angeles Times‘s obituary of Miller reported that he “apparently never visited [Daniel].” Putting one’s disabled child in an institution is one thing. Acting as if he didn’t exist is another. And the behavior of “this hero of the left” and “champion of the downtrodden” (as the Times describes Miller), ought to convince even his greatest fans that hectoring lip service in the cause of social justice does not prevent one from being a loathsome human being.

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Austria’s Iran Deal

Austria’s Chancellor, Alfred Gusenbauer, issued a stern warning to Iran while on a visit to Israel. According to the Associated Press, he said: “Iran must not only slow down its uranium enrichment activities, but stop it completely.” Gusenbauer continued, rather cryptically: “we have to track closely the sanctions on Iran, and even move beyond them.”

It’s not clear what “moving beyond sanctions” means, in practice. Austria’s energy giant, OMV, has just recently signed a deal with the Iranian government worth $18 billion. The deal is part of the Nabucco pipeline project, an ambitious attempt to diversify EU energy supplies—where Iran will supply the lion’s share. If all goes well, Iran’s gas fields will be linked all the way to Austria sometime early in the next decade. At which point, the meaning of “going beyond sanctions” will probably become clearer: letting business partnerships with Iran dictate European attitudes on the country’s nuclearization program.

Austria’s Chancellor, Alfred Gusenbauer, issued a stern warning to Iran while on a visit to Israel. According to the Associated Press, he said: “Iran must not only slow down its uranium enrichment activities, but stop it completely.” Gusenbauer continued, rather cryptically: “we have to track closely the sanctions on Iran, and even move beyond them.”

It’s not clear what “moving beyond sanctions” means, in practice. Austria’s energy giant, OMV, has just recently signed a deal with the Iranian government worth $18 billion. The deal is part of the Nabucco pipeline project, an ambitious attempt to diversify EU energy supplies—where Iran will supply the lion’s share. If all goes well, Iran’s gas fields will be linked all the way to Austria sometime early in the next decade. At which point, the meaning of “going beyond sanctions” will probably become clearer: letting business partnerships with Iran dictate European attitudes on the country’s nuclearization program.

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The List

Yesterday, North Korea, after talks with the United States in Geneva, said that Washington had decided to take it off the State Department’s list of terrorism-sponsoring states. Today, Washington denied that it had agreed to do so. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, Washington’s chief negotiator in the six-party disarmament negotiations, stated: “Getting off the list will depend on further denuclearization.”

Hill must have misspoken. The State Department does not maintain a list of states possessing nuclear weapons, but of states that sponsor terrorism. Inclusion on the list depends, simply, on sponsorship or non-sponsorship of terrorism. There is evidence suggesting that North Korea should be on the list. But its possession of nukes should not be a factor.

Pyongyang wants to be taken off the list, and Washington obviously is using this matter as a bargaining chip in the long and agonized negotiations over North Korea’s nuclear programs. This may be smart diplomacy in the short run, but it’s a fundamental mistake nonetheless. Cynical maneuvering should not define our approach to diplomacy. Veteran diplomats may laugh at that statement, but maintaining our global reputation for fair dealing will eliminate many of the problems we face today—and make the remaining ones easier to solve.

Yesterday, North Korea, after talks with the United States in Geneva, said that Washington had decided to take it off the State Department’s list of terrorism-sponsoring states. Today, Washington denied that it had agreed to do so. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, Washington’s chief negotiator in the six-party disarmament negotiations, stated: “Getting off the list will depend on further denuclearization.”

Hill must have misspoken. The State Department does not maintain a list of states possessing nuclear weapons, but of states that sponsor terrorism. Inclusion on the list depends, simply, on sponsorship or non-sponsorship of terrorism. There is evidence suggesting that North Korea should be on the list. But its possession of nukes should not be a factor.

Pyongyang wants to be taken off the list, and Washington obviously is using this matter as a bargaining chip in the long and agonized negotiations over North Korea’s nuclear programs. This may be smart diplomacy in the short run, but it’s a fundamental mistake nonetheless. Cynical maneuvering should not define our approach to diplomacy. Veteran diplomats may laugh at that statement, but maintaining our global reputation for fair dealing will eliminate many of the problems we face today—and make the remaining ones easier to solve.

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The Star-Wars Fantasy

Back in June, the Democratic-controlled Congress was reported by Aviation Week to be planning to cut funding for the Airborne Laser (ABL), an essential element in American efforts to develop a shield against missile attacks. I wrote at the time in Anti- Anti- Anti- Missile Defense that “if the U.S. or one of its allies falls victim to a nuclear-missile attack that we are unable to avert, it will be much too late for finger-pointing at the people responsible for delaying–or killing–our defensive capabilities. It is better to do the finger-pointing now.”

The good news now is that prudence has prevailed and the program continues fully funded.

The even better news is that on August 31 the Airborne Laser completed one of its most significant test to date. A Boeing-747 was rigged up with a low-power laser and used to detect, track, and then engage a target–in this case, another aircraft.

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Back in June, the Democratic-controlled Congress was reported by Aviation Week to be planning to cut funding for the Airborne Laser (ABL), an essential element in American efforts to develop a shield against missile attacks. I wrote at the time in Anti- Anti- Anti- Missile Defense that “if the U.S. or one of its allies falls victim to a nuclear-missile attack that we are unable to avert, it will be much too late for finger-pointing at the people responsible for delaying–or killing–our defensive capabilities. It is better to do the finger-pointing now.”

The good news now is that prudence has prevailed and the program continues fully funded.

The even better news is that on August 31 the Airborne Laser completed one of its most significant test to date. A Boeing-747 was rigged up with a low-power laser and used to detect, track, and then engage a target–in this case, another aircraft.

The U.S. Missile Defense Agency statement reports that this test included a number of history-making firsts, which include:

lasing an external airborne target using all three ABL lasers–the Tracking Illuminator Laser to track the airborne target; the Beacon Illuminator to compensate for atmospheric distortion, and the Surrogate High Energy Laser to engage the target, called “Big Crow,” a modified NC-135 aircraft loaded with test instrumentation and equipped with a missile-shaped profile painted on the side of the aircraft to provide an aimpoint for the three lasers. Cameras onboard Big Crow verified all laser beams hit their intended locations, and data analysis has verified ABL’s performance is adequate to enter the program’s next phase. This is the first time in history an airborne directed-energy platform has successfully engaged a non-cooperative airborne target at significant ranges.

Surprisingly–or should I say unsurprisingly–this major milestone was not reported by any newspaper in this country. Why not?

When Ronald Reagan announced his Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) in 1983, it was widely ridiculed. The New York Times editorial page mocked it as “a pipe dream, a projection of fantasy into policy.” Having invested heavily in the proposition that SDI was nothing more than a “Star Wars” fantasy, is the Times, and the American media as a whole, reluctant now to take losses?

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Correcting the GAO

The Washington Post gave front-page play last week to a leaked version of a draft Government Accountability Office report, claiming “Report Finds Little Progress on Iraq Goals.” Bill Kristol has already pointed out some of the report’s flaws—namely that it measures whether the Iraqis have “completed” (as opposed to simply made progress on) many irrelevant “benchmarks” mandated by Congress in an attempt to embarrass the Bush administration.

But I was still left wondering about one part of the Post’s front-page piece: “While the Baghdad security plan was intended to reduce sectarian violence, U.S. agencies differ on whether such violence has been reduced.” The Post article goes on about the GAO report: “While there have been fewer attacks against U.S. forces, it notes, the number of attacks against Iraqi civilians remains unchanged.”

How can it be, I wondered, that GAO claims that the level of violence in Iraq is unchanged when every observer who has returned recently from Iraq says otherwise? I put that question to a friend of mine, an officer currently serving in Baghdad. As he explains below in this email (see below the jump), the problem is that GAO is citing suspect statistics. The figures he presents—generated by the U.S. military using procedures that have remained consistent and are generally accepted throughout the U.S. government—paint a picture of impressive progress since the surge began. (I’ve added a few explanations of acronyms.)

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The Washington Post gave front-page play last week to a leaked version of a draft Government Accountability Office report, claiming “Report Finds Little Progress on Iraq Goals.” Bill Kristol has already pointed out some of the report’s flaws—namely that it measures whether the Iraqis have “completed” (as opposed to simply made progress on) many irrelevant “benchmarks” mandated by Congress in an attempt to embarrass the Bush administration.

But I was still left wondering about one part of the Post’s front-page piece: “While the Baghdad security plan was intended to reduce sectarian violence, U.S. agencies differ on whether such violence has been reduced.” The Post article goes on about the GAO report: “While there have been fewer attacks against U.S. forces, it notes, the number of attacks against Iraqi civilians remains unchanged.”

How can it be, I wondered, that GAO claims that the level of violence in Iraq is unchanged when every observer who has returned recently from Iraq says otherwise? I put that question to a friend of mine, an officer currently serving in Baghdad. As he explains below in this email (see below the jump), the problem is that GAO is citing suspect statistics. The figures he presents—generated by the U.S. military using procedures that have remained consistent and are generally accepted throughout the U.S. government—paint a picture of impressive progress since the surge began. (I’ve added a few explanations of acronyms.)

Max,

We disagree with the methodology the GAO uses to calculate its statistics, and we told them so during their short visit here last month. As you note, the GAO statistics differ considerably from the data we have for the same periods.

The statistics we use come from MNF-I [Multi-National Forces Iraq] databases which are a carefully managed collection of both Iraqi and Coalition reports. We strive to be rigorous in our data collection and checking, so much so that the analysts from CIA and DIA who worked on the National Intelligence Estimate, after spending three days poring over our methodology and data, announced that MNF-I numbers are the most accurate and would be used for the August 2007 NIE [National Intelligence Estimate] on Iraq. We do use Iraqi data that is verified by our forces. And we also continue to update/reverify data after the receipt of “first reports” (which are, as you know, generally wrong) and subsequent reports. The death toll in the recent truck bombings against the Yezidi villages in northwest Iraq, for example, when verified by our Special Forces teams after the dust literally settled, was a good bit lower than original accounts reported, and we thus adjusted that report downward. Sometimes, as in many Baghdad bombings, the first reports are low and we adjust the numbers upward in subsequent days. Some statistics we are tracking follow:

-Throughout all of Iraq, since the height of the ethno-sectarian violence in December 2006 until the end of August 2007, the overall number of civilian casualties (killed and wounded) has dropped 71 percent. Just counting civilian deaths, by any means, the numbers are even more dramatic, with a 74 percent drop since December 2006.

-Ethno-sectarian deaths (e.g., AQI [al Qaeda in Iraq] bombing Kurds or Shi’a Arabs or Turkmen or Yezidis, etc., or JAM [Jaish al-Mahdi led by Moqtada al-Sadr] killing of Sunnis, etc.) in all of Iraq are down to less than one half of levels at the height of the violence last December.

-Attacks of any type in Anbar Province have gone from a high in October 2006 of more than 1350 per month to fewer than 250 per month now.

-The number of ammunition and explosive caches found has risen from a total of 2726 in 2006 to over 4350 this year (through the end of August).

-Overall incidents of violence against any target (ISF [Iraqi Security Forces], CF [Coalition Forces], civilian) in Iraq are down from a high of 1700 per week when we started the surge of operations in mid-June 2007 to fewer than 960 per week now. Overall incidents have declined in eight of the past eleven weeks. Last week’s number of incidents was the lowest in over a year.

-High profile attacks (car bomb, suicide car bomb, and suicide vest attacks) nationwide are down from a high in March 2007 of more than 170 per month to 88 in August.

-Since the intent of the surge was to secure Baghdad, which is the political heart of Iraq, here are some statistics focused on the ten security districts that comprise Baghdad from December 2006 to the end of August 2007:

-Car bomb attacks: 44 in December 2006, nineteen in August 2007 for a 57 percent drop.

-All IED’s [improvised explosive devices]: 240 in December 2006, 203 in August 2007 for a 15 percent drop.

-Explosive belts (Suicide vests): two in December 2006, zero in August 2007.

-Mortar and Rocket Attacks: 139 in December 2006, 98 in August 2007 for a 29 percent drop.

-Dead civilians (not just ethno-sectarian violence, but all categories): 2193 in December 2006, 575 in August 2007 for a 74 percent drop.

-Wounded civilians: 876 in December 2006, 302 in August 2007 for a 66 percent drop.

-Dead Iraqi security forces: 44 in December 2006, twenty in August 2007 for a 45 percent drop.

-Wounded Iraqi security forces: 136 in December 2006, 61 in August 2007 for a 55 percent drop.

-575 dead in Baghdad in August from all causes is still excessively high and we continue to work to drive down the violence. Nonetheless, by all of these measures there has been progress in bringing greater security to Baghdad.

Our methodology and numbers have been scrubbed thoroughly by the intelligence community and declared by the intel community the best available measures and data. We carefully examine both Coalition and Host Nation reports to ensure we have the most inclusive data available. Iraqi reports come from a variety of official governmental sources including the National Operations Center, the Baghdad Operational Command, the National Joint Operations Center, and Joint Security Stations. Unfortunately, the media and other agencies often use suspect data provided by the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior, which is less rigorous and perhaps also motivated by a sectarian agenda.

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