Friday, January 31, 2014

S. 1881

A commenter at R.P. Wolff's blog, C. Rossi, has a good comment on S.1881, the so-called Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act:
The legislation (S 1881) ... imposing addition[al] sanctions on the Islamic Republic of Iran is daylight madness. The bill would require the President to certify that Iran has met certain requirements of the bill, many of which the President could not determine much less certify. It would require Iran to forswear control over any of its nuclear activities, peaceful or otherwise. Worst of all, the Congress, which has cowardly given up its war powers to the Executive, would by this bill further cede these powers to Binyamin Netanyahu by requiring the US to provide “economic, military, and diplomatic” support to Israel if it chooses to wage war against Iran’s nuclear facilities. There is a good technical analysis of the bill by Edward Levine of The Center for Arms Control and Non-proliferation ( Also, a trenchant criticism in the NY Review of Books (  The bill is a priority of AIPAC, and the Democratic cosponsors tend to be clustered in the Northeast (NY, CT, PA, NJ, DE, and MD), that is, areas where AIPAC can still exert some direct effect on wayward legislators....
Cardin of Md. is a cosponsor. (Not too surprising. Still, as a constituent I suppose I should write him a note of protest.)

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

In "this town" but not of it

There are many Washington, D.C.s, not just the one punctured (or so I gather) in Leibovitz's This Town. And if there's a loop here (by "here" I mean Wash. DC plus Md. and Va. environs), I'm usually out of it. The thought occurred to me just now when I learned, via a story linked by blogger Pub Editor, that Ezra Klein is leaving the Wash. Post. The linked story called it the "talk of the town" but it was the first I had heard of it. And if I hadn't glanced at Pub Editor's blog just now I still wouldn't know about it. I read Klein at WaPo only very occasionally so it's not going to be a big deal for me one way or the other. When Monkey Cage moved to WaPo I pretty much stopped reading the Cage. For one thing there are a limited number of free articles one gets per month and to date I've been too frugal/cheap/whatever to take a digital subscription. CORRECTION: Ronan in comments reminds me that Monkey Cage is actually free for a year following the switch, and after that free if you arrive at it through twitter. So I guess I stopped reading it because I just stopped reading it.  

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Bourgeois revolution 2.0

Charles Kenny, here (I half-read, half-skimmed).

Friday, January 24, 2014

From the file cabinet: Keegan on Churchill

It's probably just a sign of when I was born, but I have a file cabinet stuffed with hard copies of various things. Not that my files are in great shape. Just now I went to put something in the file labeled "WW1 & 2; Holocaust; Cold War" (yes, a single file for all that) and Iooking idly through it I came across a piece by John Keegan published in U.S. News & World Report of May 29, 2000. It's a hagiographic piece on Churchill on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of his coming to office as prime minister in May 1940. Skimming through it I found a reference to Churchill's having become, during and especially after the war, "a hero in the United States, his mother's homeland, where he remains today the object of a cult status he does not enjoy in his own country." This cult status, especially but not only among certain American conservatives and neocons, is one reason there was a bit of a controversy when Obama a few years ago took the entirely reasonable decision to return the Churchill bust in the White House to the British embassy from which, iirc, it had been on loan.

Keegan also refers, earlier in the piece, to Churchill's commitments to "liberty" and "the rule of law." (To which I silently added an asterisk having to do with the Empire.) To give the flavor of the article more fully, I'll quote the concluding paragraph:
Churchill's sun, at the beginning of the third millennium, has risen and, if it should seem to shine fitfully at times and places, is nevertheless the light of the world. No other citizen of the last century of the second millennium, the worst in history, deserved better to be recognized as a hero to mankind.
I do think Churchill was a great war leader and that the particular moment matched his particular skills as orator and, to quote David Jablonsky, "Victorian man of action." However, the statements that the 20th century was "the worst in history" and that Churchill is the twentieth-century figure most deserving of the title "hero to mankind" are debatable. (Note: not wrong, just debatable.)

ETA: I'm reminded of a post a while back at R.P. Wolff's blog in which he went through a list of (supposed) 'great men' of the 20th cent., denying they were great, until he got to Mandela, who was, in his estimation, great (and in my estimation too, I'd hasten to add).

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Khilnani on Bass and Raghavan

Sunil Khilnani's review, in the New Republic (Nov. 25, 2013), of Gary Bass's The Blood Telegram and Srinath Raghavan's 1971 is informative, but I do have a couple of small criticisms (well, the first point is a criticism, the second point is more of an observation).

(1) Khilnani twice refers to India as "militarily weak" (the first reference is to India in 1971 as "the world's largest democracy but also one of its poorest and militarily weakest"), and he writes that, during the months of the crisis leading up to the Indian intervention, "the Indians were aware that Pakistan's American weaponry gave it an edge over India...." Yet, as Khilnani also observes, once the war was launched in December it was a "swift and decisive" Indian victory. This doesn't compute. If India was so militarily weak, why was the victory so quick and decisive? Even if one agrees with Raghavan's view that the Indian victory "was considerably influenced by chance and contingency" (1971, p.235), Khilnani's emphasis on India's military weakness seems a bit odd.

(2) Khilnani writes: " Bass and Raghavan each make clear, Pakistan was not the only route available to the Americans [Nixon and Kissinger] to pursue their China goals. The United States could have restrained Pakistan's military actions while still securing the China opening." I think this is probably a correct historical judgment, but it's a bit more definite than what Raghavan says (I'm leaving aside Bass here because I haven't read the Bass book). Raghavan (as mentioned in my review of 1971, below) says Nixon's and Kissinger's refusal to "squeeze" Yahya was "understandable" (1971, p.92) through early July, when Kissinger made his secret trip to Beijing. It is after that point that Pakistan was no longer needed as a conduit to China. On the other hand, Raghavan also suggests that Nixon and Kissinger could have put effective economic pressure on Pakistan in late April or early May (p.266), probably without jeopardizing the China opening. But his overall judgment on this particular issue seems less definite than Khilnani's. It's a matter of nuance, not sharp disagreement. (Romania was the other possibility Nixon and Kissinger considered as a conduit to China, but "the line through Pakistan was the better bet" for reasons Raghavan explains on p.86, from which the quoted phrase is taken.)

Monday, January 20, 2014

MLK Day note

Before MLK Day ends, I thought I'd mention (since I don't think I've mentioned it before, though could be wrong) that last August I went downtown for the Saturday march/event/happening commemorating the 50th anniv. of the '63 march on Washington. I missed the actual march that Saturday but saw the crowds of people on its extended peripheries and the MLK memorial (which I hadn't been to before despite its relative proximity). The bust is striking. The language chiseled on the side, which sparked controversy because of the truncated way it had been excerpted from a speech and is being (or has already been) changed, was pretty easy to more-or-less overlook amid the sea of people. The day was quite a scene, and I'm fairly sure MLK would have liked it.      

Factoid of the day

In the 1970s "the number of the world's universities more than doubled."

-- E. Hobsbawm, The Age of Extremes (1994), p.297

Friday, January 17, 2014

Marcus on the FISA Court

On the NewsHour this evening (which, as per usual, I listened to on the radio), Ruth Marcus waxed enthusiastic about the virtues of getting the FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) court more involved in some aspects of the intelligence regime than it is now (issuance of warrants to do surveillance is basically what it does, and the reforms announced today by Obama will, among other things, require warrants in more situations. Yes, that's vague. I haven't read the news coverage properly yet. ETA: Court order will be needed "to query phone number records," to quote the WaPo blurb.) Marcus said (verbatim or close paraphrase) "I'm a big believer in judicial review." Well, that's nice. But the question is whether the FISA court has provided effective, independent judicial review up to now, and I think a good case can be made that the answer is no. Taking a defective model and applying it more broadly may not do the trick.

As for no longer eavesdropping on Angela Merkel's cell phone, I'm down with that. (Even Brooks thought that was good. Always a little scary to agree with him on anything, even what day of the week it is.)

Is "al-Qaeda-linked" a useful designation?

Joshua Keating suggests that because, for example, ISIS has "directly disobeyed" Zawahiri and clashed with Jabhat al-Nusra, it may not be useful to describe the former (or the latter) as 'al-Qaeda-linked.' He writes:
The 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force, which is still being used to justify U.S. counterterrorist operations in places like Somalia, pertains to the groups that “planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001.” Dangerous as ISIS may be for its region, it seems like a bit of a stretch to describe its goals as in concert with those of al-Qaida central, circa 2001. As Osama Bin Laden’s successor, Zawahiri, appears less and less in control of the actions of groups like ISIS, al-Shabaab, al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, and others that routinely fall under the “al-Qaida” umbrella in media accounts, it seems like it may be time to narrow our definitions a bit.
I understand the point but I think there may be some reason to treat groups as linked if they share a common ideology, even if their specific aims differ. But it's true that the ordinary U.S. consumer of news, hearing the phrase "al-Qaeda-linked," probably has no clear idea what that means. And there's another point: 'al-Qaeda central' itself, c.2014, may not share the goals of 'al-Qaeda central' c.2001. What are Zawahiri's current goals, other than to survive uncaught and to keep issuing videos?

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Book review: Raghavan on the birth of Bangladesh

Srinath Raghavan, 1971: A Global History of the Creation of Bangladesh.  Harvard University Press, 2013.  358 pp.

The crisis that led to the creation of Bangladesh was a major episode in the history of South Asia and had implications that reached beyond the subcontinent.  It raised issues that would recur frequently in subsequent decades, as humanitarian catastrophes increasingly took place in the context of civil wars and/or secession.  The creation of Bangladesh also had lasting geopolitical consequences: Srinath Raghavan writes in 1971 that it “was the most significant geopolitical event in the subcontinent since its partition in 1947” (4).  

Raghavan’s book is marked by narrative detail and backed by extensive research: among other things, he has gone into various archives (though Pakistan’s archives on the episode remain closed), read many memoirs and other sources, and also made use of the substantial amount of recent work on the international history of the 1960s and 1970s.  He maintains that the birth of Bangladesh was not inevitable but the product of “choice and chance” (8) and should be viewed in light of “the interplay between the domestic, regional, and international dimensions” (9).  Raghavan deals with the stances of many countries during the crisis and also pays attention to actors such as the press, celebrity musicians, NGOs, and the UN. However, the classic figures of diplomats, soldiers, and heads of state occupy center stage in his account.

This post focuses on what 1971 says about the roles in the crisis of the Soviet Union and the United States, and how these roles were complexly entangled with those of some of the other main players, notably China.  As will be seen, Raghavan is highly critical of Nixon and Kissinger, particularly the latter’s overemphasis on U.S. ‘credibility’ and his tendency to see linkages everywhere.

One general impression that emerges from this history is that none of the main actors wanted the crisis to escalate into a direct great-power military confrontation.  The dominant, though certainly not exclusive, diplomatic-strategic note was one of caution.  This impulse toward restraint, however, also meant that no decisive action was taken to stop the Pakistani army’s rampage in East Pakistan until India went beyond supplying aid to the indigenous independence forces and eventually intervened with its own soldiers (and Raghavan thinks India should have intervened earlier).       

The Nine-Month Crisis

Raghavan’s account starts with the fall of Pakistan’s ruler Ayub Khan in early 1969 and his replacement by a military regime led by Gen. Yahya Khan.  The catalyst for Ayub’s departure was student-led protests, part of the global wave of protests in 1968.  The protests “not only deposed Ayub Khan but also radicalized the movement for autonomy” in East Pakistan (266).  In December 1970, Mujibur Rahman’s Awami League, running on an autonomy platform, won a majority in parliamentary elections, including all but two seats in the East. 

Negotiations on forming a new government ensued between the Awami League and Yahya Khan.  When the negotiations broke down despite the League’s willingness to be flexible on some key points, the Pakistani army launched its crackdown in East Pakistan on March 25, 1971.  A description of the initial assault, written by a UN Development Program official in Dacca (the capital of E. Pakistan), referred to “Army trucks loaded with the dead bodies of civilians” (quoted, 148).  The army shot students in the halls at the university in Dacca (now Dhaka) and also hit Old Dacca (52).  Estimates of the dead from the initial attack varied from 5,000 to 25,000 (149).  Subsequent continued brutality by the Pakistani army led millions of Bengalis to flee into India.

Had India decided quickly to intervene militarily, the crisis would not have lasted long.  However, for reasons Raghavan details in chapter 3 India did not intervene early, and the episode unfolded over a period of nine months: April-December 1971.  When India did decide to launch full-scale operations, the war was short: it “formally began” (234) in the early hours of December 4 (though Pakistan launched a preemptive air strike in the west on Dec. 3), and it ended when the Pakistani army in the east surrendered on Dec. 16. 

Maneuvering in the Whirlwind

The birth of Bangladesh, as this book makes clear, occurred at a turbulent time in world politics.  The intense Cold War crises of the early 1960s – the Berlin crisis and the Cuban missile crisis – were in the past, but parts of the Third World (as it was then called) had become an arena in the superpower contest.  The U.S. was still mired in the Vietnam War (and had expanded its operations into Cambodia), while the Soviet Union and China had barely been on speaking terms since 1961 and had come to blows on the Ussuri River in 1969.  China was reeling internally from the effects of Mao’s Cultural Revolution, the Prague Spring had been suppressed by the Soviets, and, particularly in the West, non-state actors and the emergence of human rights as an international-political issue both were having an increasing if uneven impact on the conduct of foreign policy.  At the same time the relatively new postcolonial states generally opposed secessionist movements wherever they occurred.        

The Sino-Soviet split and the U.S. determination to capitalize on it by a rapprochement with China provide the backdrop for much of the diplomatic maneuvering that surrounded the East Pakistan crisis.  The superpowers, Raghavan writes, took fundamentally different approaches to it: Nixon and Kissinger viewed the events through the lens of their grand geopolitical plans, whereas the USSR’s perspective was primarily regional (115). 

The Soviets, having mediated in Tashkent the settlement that restored the status quo after the 1965 Pakistan/India war over Kashmir, saw themselves as peacemakers on the subcontinent (and for a brief period they sold arms to Pakistan and India at the same time).  Premier Alexei Kosygin, for example, favored a “‘trade and transit agreement’ between India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan which would be ‘beneficial for the whole region’” (114).  In line with this approach the Soviets, at least through most of the crisis, sought to discourage Indian military intervention in East Pakistan and to push Yahya Khan “toward a peaceful, political resolution of the problem” (116).  It was only toward the end of the crisis that the Soviets gave up hope that Yahya might release Mujibur Rahman from jail and negotiate a resolution with him (see below).         

The USSR and India signed a “friendship and cooperation” treaty on August 9, 1971.  According to Raghavan, it was a statement by Kissinger that finally pushed India to sign the treaty.  Having returned from his secret trip to China (see below), Kissinger informed the Indian ambassador to the U.S. on July 17 “that if China intervened in an India-Pakistan war, the United States would be unable to help India”; this led Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi, who had been hesitating, to move to finalize the treaty with the USSR (127).  The treaty’s key provision, Art. IX, called for “mutual consultations” between the parties with a view to “remov[ing]” any threat of an attack on either one; it also, in effect, ruled out Soviet assistance to Pakistan if India-Pakistan hostilities broke out.

However, a gap remained between the USSR and India on the proper approach to the crisis, since the Soviets for some time thought that the refugee issue could be resolved separately from the political issue of East Pakistan’s future (124) and were reluctant to give even conditional approval for Indian military action or to confer about “contingencies.”  The day after the treaty was signed, Soviet foreign minister Gromyko urged Mrs. Gandhi to view “the situation in a cold blooded way…The heart should be warm but the mind should be cool as we say” (quoted, 130).  It was only later, specifically in late September, that the Soviet leadership, having concluded that Yahya Khan “was unwilling to work toward any reasonable solution,…decided to throw its weight behind India” (226).  By late October, the Indian foreign minister was able to tell a parliamentary committee “that India could count on ‘total support’ from the Soviet Union” (226).  To the end, however, the Soviets remained determined not to become directly involved militarily in the crisis and worried about the possibilities of an escalation that would drag them into a great-power confrontation.                   

Tilting at Windmills

Now to the matter of the U.S. stance.  Although “Nixon wheeled with him to office a trolley of biases against India and in favor of Pakistan” (82), Raghavan contends that it was not these prejudices, for the most part, but rather the planned opening to China, and Pakistan’s role in it, that dominated Nixon’s and Kissinger’s calculations.  As the crisis erupted, Nixon ordered his people not to “squeeze” Yahya Khan (81).  The Chinese premier, Zhou Enlai, had suggested that Yahya Khan’s good offices could be used to facilitate the China opening, and “[i]n this context, Nixon and Kissinger’s desire to refrain from squeezing Yahya…was understandable” (92), at least until after Kissinger’s secret trip to China in early July.  Incidentally, contrary to Kissinger’s claim in his memoir White House Years that “Pakistan’s leaders…never sought any reciprocity” (quoted, 87) for their role as conduit to China, Pakistan pressed for a resumption of arms sales, which the U.S. did resume on a one-time basis in October 1970 (84, 87).   

Nixon and Kissinger’s refusal to pressure Yahya Khan elicited a strong protest from the U.S. consul in Dhaka, Archer Blood, who sent cables in late March and early April 1971 “detailing the terror being unleashed on the populace by the Pakistani army” (89).  Nixon and Kissinger were unmoved, and the U.S. ambassador in Islamabad chimed in, deprecating “righteous indignation” (quoted, 89) as a basis for policy.  Raghavan suggests that, however “understandable” was the U.S. softness toward Yahya because of his role as channel to China, the U.S. could have  exercised economic leverage on Pakistan, which was “facing a major liquidity crisis” (94), without undermining the China opening.  Raghavan thinks it “highly probable” that U.S. pressure of this sort "in late April to early May" would have forced Yahya to grant the Awami League’s autonomy demands (266).  (This must remain somewhat conjectural, of course, since the leverage was not exercised.)

After Kissinger’s secret trip to China (July 9th-11th), U.S. policy, Raghavan notes, “began shifting from a disinclination to squeeze Yahya to an active tilt in favor of Pakistan” (105).  (Among major powers, the U.S. was mostly alone in this; Edward Heath’s government in Britain, for example, took a quite different tack; see 162-69.  For the positions of Australia, Canada, France, Germany, and others, see chapter 7.)    

Why the tilt?  “After all, following Kissinger’s trip to Beijing, Pakistan was no longer important as a diplomatic conduit to China” (106).  The answer, according to Raghavan, boils down to Kissinger’s and Nixon’s “excessive concern with reputation” (198) – their belief that if they failed to tilt toward Pakistan and thereby failed to stand with an ally, the nascent U.S.-China connection would be damaged. 

During Kissinger’s July trip he and Zhou Enlai had discussed the crisis, and in their last conversation before Kissinger left, “Zhou asked Kissinger to ‘please tell President Yahya Khan that if India commits aggression, we will support Pakistan’” (106).  This statement was vague – “we will support Pakistan” could mean a range of different things.  But Kissinger interpreted it as a Chinese test of U.S. commitment to Pakistan, such that if the U.S., in Raghavan’s words, “stood aside and allowed Pakistan to be humiliated by India, [U.S.] credibility in the eyes of Beijing would suffer -- resulting in deep, possibly irreparable harm to the budding relationship with the People’s Republic” (106; cf. 198, 247). 

Thus when the crisis reached its climax in December, Nixon and Kissinger sent a U.S. naval task force steaming from the coast of South Vietnam toward the Bay of Bengal, told the Soviets that the situation on the subcontinent jeopardized U.S.-Soviet détente, and urged – unavailingly – the Chinese to move soldiers to the border with India (Nixon to Kissinger: “I tell you a movement of even some Chinese toward that border could scare those goddamn Indians to death” [quoted, 247].)  Kissinger’s remarks to Nixon at this point are laced with urgency: e.g., “the world’s psychological balance of power” is at stake (quoted, 248); and “at least we’re coming off like men” (quoted, 256).   

Nixon and Kissinger claimed credit in their memoirs for saving West Pakistan from Indian aggression, although the only concrete evidence of Indian intentions in that respect that they had was a single-sourced CIA report of early December (244).  Raghavan argues that an attack on West Pakistan was never India’s aim. He writes: “Nixon and Kissinger overplayed the importance of an intelligence source, mainly because it helped them rationalize their desire to demonstrate resolve to China and the Soviet Union…. The only practical consequence of the aggressive U.S. posturing was to spur the Indians to capture Dhaka and seal their victory – objectives that had not been on their strategic horizons when the war began.  This was Nixon and Kissinger’s war of illusions. In retrospect, they come across not as tough statesmen tilting toward their ally but as a picaresque pair tilting at windmills” (262-63).


A few concluding remarks.  1971 covers a lot of ground, and I’ve left out much in this post.  For instance I’ve mostly passed over Raghavan’s discussion of how trends in the global normative/political environment of the time affected the crisis and the reactions to it (see chapter 6), a topic which could occupy a post by itself (and which, from my standpoint, would involve taking issue with one or two of the author’s interpretations, albeit on somewhat tangential points).  The book’s wide scope coupled with attention to detail will make it valuable to historians, IR scholars, and others.  Finally, a minor point: 1971 has a full scholarly apparatus and two maps, but in addition a timeline/chronology would have been helpful.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The War on Poverty 50 years on

See here for one of many media discussions of the 50th anniv. of LBJ's announcement of the War on Poverty.

One of the aspects that I haven't heard discussed in the current round is the use of the 'war' metaphor, although that's been written about before. See also, e.g., the War on Drugs, though the War on Poverty had significant successes, which I don't think -- although I'll stand open to correction -- the War on Drugs did.

Added later: Loomis says today we'd largely have to call the war on poverty lost. An overstatement. E.g. the kind of malnutrition that existed pre-'64 in Appalachia and elsewhere is considerably less prevalent in the U.S. today -- not gone, but less prevalent. By the way, why only 188 comments (at last look) on the Loomis post? It's LGM, after all; shouldn't there be at least 6,789,444,567 comments? Loomis writes, for the most part, serious posts, but I occasionally wonder what it would be like to blog at a place where you can write virtually anything (except Farley's videos of his talking-heads exchanges) and get a fair number of comments.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

'Three-way war' in western Iraq

A WaPo piece about the apparent fall of Fallujah to al-Qaeda (ISIS) paints a picture of a confused situation:
The capture of Fallujah came amid an explosion of violence across the western desert province of Anbar in which local tribes, Iraqi security forces and al-Qaeda-affiliated militants have been fighting one another for days in a confusingly chaotic three-way war.

A few thoughts: 

(1) The U.S. 'surge' of 2006-07 in Iraq depended on making allies of the local Sunni tribes in the west in the fight against al-Qaeda. Those groups still oppose each other, but what was more-or-less a two-way conflict then has now become a three-cornered one, as the tribes are apparently no longer willing to make any kind of common cause with the Iraqi government. This point leads to:

(2) Had Maliki's government made more of an effort to reach out to Sunnis and bring them into positions of responsibility/authority, the disaffection of the Sunni tribes in Anbar province might have been less and there might not have been the demonstrations against the Maliki government that led to the Iraqi security forces' response and thence to the current situation that the linked article describes. That's a lot of "mights," but it seems hard to avoid the inference that Maliki's shortsightedness, foolishness, fearfulness or a combination thereof have contributed to the current mess.

(3) It might be tempting to argue (as McCain and others no doubt will) that had the Obama admin adopted a more interventionist position on Syria, the al-Qaeda forces currently operating across the Iraq-Syria border would not have had the opportunity to reconstitute themselves in the way they have over the past year or so. But this assumes, first, that a U.S. intervention in Syria would have been able to alter the dynamics of the Syrian civil war fairly quickly and easily, and second, it assumes that if Assad had been removed from power, 'moderate' rebel forces in Syria would have been strong enough both to hold the reins of the state and to keep at bay al-Qaeda and/or the Nusra front and the other anti-Assad Islamist elements. Both these assumptions seem questionable (if not simply wrong).

Added later: Liz Sly (WaPo) has another piece on various Syrian rebel groups fighting against ISIS in northern Syria. (I will put in the link later.)

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Happy new year

Stay tuned for an announcement about the new site, coming soon.