Time for Washington to disengage in Egypt

Apropos of today’s events in Egypt, the U.S. must immediately suspend aid and begin leaning on GCC lines of communication to arrest the country’s slide into hyper-polarized anarchy. I had favored suspension of aid after the July 3 coup, though unlike many in that camp I did not find Washington’s chosen course all that objectionable. The Obama administration had hoped that whatever leverage it held could add a slight preventive check against the type of baldly repressive measures used this morning. Key to understanding their policy was a widely held belief that expanded military and police action represented a strategically self-defeating course of action for GEN Abdul Fattah el-Sisi and his cohorts. Clearly the current military government retains a far different strategic vision; perhaps the apportionment to military benefactors of so many provincial governorships should have, in retrospect, raised flags. And perhaps the initial beatdowns immediately following the coup were meant to be a clear warning shot, not some regrettably muddled mess.

Egyptian woman protects youth as military bulldozer disassembles makeshift Muslim Brotherhood fortifications. (Mohammed Abdel Moneim, AFP)

Egyptian woman protects youth as military bulldozer disassembles makeshift Muslim Brotherhood fortifications. (Mohammed Abdel Moneim, AFP)

For Washington, professor Marc Lynch just outlined the crux of the argument for a forward course of disengagement: Continue reading


recalibrating hope: panahi’s “this is not a film” and davoodi’s “red, white, and the green”

“Will you be voting tomorrow?” “What will you do if you wake up the morning after the election and your candidate has lost?” Documentary filmmaker Nader Davoodi’s Red, White, and The Green revolves around these two central questions. Davoodi’s hour-long impressionistic account of the 2009 Iranian presidential elections maintains a focus on Mousavi voters—the entirety of footage is selectively desaturated, shot in black and white with only green objects retaining their hue–yet he fairly represents viewpoints proffered by Ahmadinejad supporters. Still, the film’s understated bedrock are the cynical, the disillusioned—jaded liberal boycotters who in some eyes lost the 2005 election.

A second striking aspect of Davoodi’s interviews and footage presides in the widespread exuberance shown by young Mousavi supporters. A feeling of inevitability permeated their social circles, a wholesale placement of hope in the perfectly coiffed former prime minister. Continue reading

Unplanned Colombia: Washington’s undermining of liberal democracy



It remains tempting to look at a compilation of Colombia’s statistics from 2000 to the present and draw several feel-good conclusions about U.S. foreign policy. Namely, that the U.S.-aided escalation in targeted kinetic operations against Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) brought the insurgency back to the negotiating table and improved Colombia’s prospects for a stable, democratic future, concomitantly cementing a Bogotá-Washington strategic partnership. U.S. officials and analysts frequently proffer such conclusions, often accompanied by a bewildering barrage of hard statistics.1 But wait, there’s more: Plan Colombia also earned for itself a reputation as the ideal example of what America’s strategic partnerships should look like in the future.2 With just over $9bn in mainly military aid and a hefty contingent of Green Beret advisers, the U.S. defeated a longstanding insurgency, beat back cocaine production, and added a South American ally to balance the nascent adversarial alliance of leftist countries in the hemisphere. Almost every major institution outside Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch laud unqualified praise on U.S. special operations forces (SOF) involvement in Plan Colombia.

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Coca farmer and her daughter, enjoying a post-fumigation stroll; Carlos Villalon/Getty Images.

At least, so goes the established narrative. Nowhere in Washington’s conclusions are considerations of how Plan Colombia’s components affected the practice of Colombian democracy or fit into overarching U.S. democracy promotion policy. Continue reading

CLEAR, HOLD, REPEAT: how civilian institutional failures lost the Afghan War

By early 2002, the pattern had been set for Afghanistan’s reconstruction. Rhetorically, President George W. Bush would hail that effort as a new Marshall plan. Practically, it would be the most poorly resourced American venture into nation-building in more than sixty years.” –James Dobbins


Eleven years on the Afghan War trundles ahead, its conductors toiling dutifully and heroically to reverse the momentum and leave Afghanistan with some semblance of functional nationhood whilst the targets of their efforts increasingly desire an end to foreign involvement in their lands. This is not to say ordinary Afghans do not appreciate the sacrifices made by their coalition interlocutors. Rather, the chasm between what Afghans believed a superpower capable of and its bumbling efforts at reconstruction and political development (RPD) have culminated in a pervasive sense of betrayal or, at the very least, disillusionment. Curiously, a similar feeling does not exist in the U.S. itself. The recently concluded presidential campaign treated the Afghan War as an afterthought, prompting consternation from national security analysts and veterans alike.

Amongst the American populace, U.S. involvement with Afghanistan ostensibly ended with the withdrawal of al-Qaeda through the frosted tunnels of Tora Bora to Peshawar and the concomitant retreat of Mullah Omar and his coterie of Talibs to Quetta. A steady stream of two-paragraph reports from Pentagon press wizards on “mid-level commanders” and “militants” killed by ISAF forces reflects the numbing lack of interest in understanding the war as a whole. Continue reading

Spread, not rise: a review of Khaled Abou El Fadl’s “The Great Theft”

In one fell swoop, Abou El Fadl renders impotent and wasteful the life’s work of Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer, but fails to explain the spread of puritanical interpretations of Islam. 

Tap any American on the shoulder and ask her what the last decade’s most important question was. Participation may vary, of course, but one might reasonably expect “Why do they hate us?” to garner a plurality. Likewise, asking passersby who “they” refers to in that formulation would undoubtedly find most Americans answering correctly. But while the question might be durably ubiquitous, it has since been replaced in American discourse by a corollary: “Where are the moderate Muslims?” This more intelligent formulation suggests two lines of inquiry: are there moderate Muslims and, if so, why aren’t they speaking out against the extremism of their coreligionists? Continue reading