Tag Archives: iraq

How bad design led to a lost decade

First, I’m away on vacation (hence the scarce number of posts) and am consumed writing a few chapters for a couple of books that I’m contributing to – more on those in the near future I hope.

In the interim, I became profoundly depressed this morning after reading the passage below. I’m certain that history will look back at the Bush presidency as a “lost decade” when not only did the economy go off the rails and America’s standing in the world plummeted, but hundreds of thousands of lives were lost and billions were wasted in Iraq, human rights were hurled decades backwards and the benefits and progress of work in the humanities and sciences were put on hold (and in many cases, simply wasted).

Thinking these thoughts can itself be depressing. But this excerpt made it worse:

If you’re still unconvinced that design can have consequences beyond the carport and cutting board, point your memory back to the 2000 U.S. presidential elections and the thirty-six-day snarl over whether Al Gore or George W. Bush won the most votes in Florida. That election and its aftermath may seem like a bad dream today. But buried in that brouhaha was an important, and mostly ignored, lesson…

…According to an exhaustive examination of all of Florida’s ballots that several newspapers and academics conducted a year after the election-and whose findings were largely lost amid the coverage of the September 11th, 2001, terrorist attacks and utterly forgotten after Bush’s 2004 reelection-what determined who won the U.S. presidency was the infamous butterfly ballot that voters in Palm Beach county used to mark their choice for President. In Palm Beach County – a heavily Democratic enclave populated by tens of thousands of elderly Jewish voters – ultraconservative fringe candidate Pat Buchanan recieved 3,407 votes, three times as many votes as he did in any other county in the state. (According to one statistical analysis, if the voting pattern of the state’s other sixty-six counties had held in Palm Beach, Buchanan would have won only 603 votes.) What’s more, 5,237 Palm Beach County voters marked ballots for both Al Gore and Pat Buchanan, and therefore had their ballots invalidated. Bush carried the entire state by 537 votes.

Less well known is the ballot in Duval County in which the presidential ballot showed five candidates on one page and another five candidates on the next page, along with instructions to “vote every page.” In that county, 7,162 Gore ballots were tossed out because voters selected two candidates for President. Had the instructions been clearer, Duval County, too, would have provided Gore the margin of victory.

A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future, Daniel H. Pink

Design does matter. In this case, poor design costs America (and much of the world) a decade of progress and, possibly, countless billions (if not trillions).

Why the US isn't leaving Iraq – even under Hillary

Just read the three powerful paragraphs below off the recent Strafor report. Damning stuff. It suggests the prospect of the US concentrating forces in Afghanistan are slight as Iraq will continue to tie them down for the next several years. Moreover, if there was ever any doubt, it should now be erased: the Neo-cons have created a geopolitical disaster that makes Vietnam look minor. The US had few tangible interests in Vietnam – in Iraq it has to worry about the stability of global oil supply.

“After years of organizational chaos, the United States has simplified its plan for Iraq: Prevent Iran from becoming a regional hegemon. Once-lofty thoughts of forging a democracy in general or supporting a particular government were abandoned in Washington well before the congressional testimony of Gen. David Petraeus. Reconstruction is on the back burner and even oil is now an afterthought at best. The entirety of American policy has been stripped down to a single thought: Iran.

That thought is now broadly held throughout not only the Bush administration but also the American intelligence and defense communities. It is not an unreasonable position. An American exodus from Iraq would allow Iran to leverage its allies in Iraq’s Shiite South to eventually gain control of most of Iraq. Iran’s influence also extends to significant Shiite communities on the Persian Gulf’s western oil-rich shore. Without U.S. forces blocking the Iranians, the military incompetence of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar could be perceived by the Iranians as an invitation to conquer that shore. That would land roughly 20 million barrels per day of global oil output — about one-quarter of the global total — under Tehran’s control. Rhetoric aside, an outcome such as this would push any U.S. president into a broad regional war to prevent a hostile power from shutting off the global economic pulse.

So the United States, for better or worse, is in Iraq for the long haul. This requires some strategy for dealing with the other power with the most influence in the country, Iran. This, in turn, leaves the United States with two options: It can simply attempt to run Iraq as a protectorate forever, a singularly unappealing option, or it can attempt to strike a deal with Iran on the issue of Iraq — and find some way to share influence.”

Apparently there is something worse than a contained Saddam Hussain in Iraq. An uncontained Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Iran.

Op-ed on Iraq and Canada in today's Toronto Star

Taylor and I have another op-ed in today’s Toronto Star. It isn’t often that we get to see a foreign policy dilemma development in front of us. When we do, we have a rare opportunity, and responsibility, to debate and plan our response. I accept that people may not agree with the prescription… but I would encourage them to at least voice their own proposal.

Iraq suddenly appears on Canada’s radar screen
Aug 29, 2007 04:30 AM
David Eaves and Taylor Owen

For the past five years, Canadian leaders have had little to say about the Iraq war. Content not to be in but careful not to be too critical, most have adopted a laissez-faire position on the conflict. This position is unsustainable.

In just over a year’s time, Americans will elect a new president. Regardless of whether the victor is a Democrat or a Republican, the last ardent defender of the Iraq war will have left the international stage and the world will look at Iraq through a new lens. The Iraq war, “Bush’s War,” will be over. Iraq the humanitarian crisis will be in the ascendant.

In anticipation of this emerging shift, the Security Council last week voted unanimously to increase the UN’s role in Iraq. The international body will endeavour to do what it – and notably not what the U.S. military – does best: engage in essential diplomatic, negotiation and humanitarian activities.

And this is only the beginning. While the departure of U.S. and British troops will undoubtedly remove one aggravating factor, sectarian strife, a humanitarian crisis and a failing state will remain.

Within a year, Iraq will have shifted from a precipitous and ill-executed American invasion and occupation, into an internationalized humanitarian crisis.

And a crisis it is.

According to a recent UN report, there are 1.8 million internally displaced persons and 2 million refugees in neighbouring countries, with an additional 40,000 to 50,000 leaving per month; 54 per cent of the population lives below the extreme poverty line of $1 a day; 43 per cent of children under the age of 5 suffer from malnutrition; inflation is 70 per cent, and in 2006 there were 34,452 recorded civilian deaths and 36,685 recorded civilian injuries.

Compare these numbers to Kosovo and East Timor, and add the regional consequences of a prolonged Iraqi civil war, and surely there is a case for active international engagement.

As the recent Security Council resolution indicates, a global strategy is starting to take shape. There will be calls for still greater UN intervention, possibly even a peacekeeping force. Over the next 12 to18 months, an international plan for dealing with Iraq will likely emerge.

Will Canada help shape it?

We could opt not to. That would be politically expedient, although it would confirm our declining status on the international stage.

Or we could see this as a diplomatic opportunity where we are uniquely positioned to lead. Canada is an ally of the United States and Britain but had the integrity and self-confidence to not participate in the flawed invasion. Canada is not burdened with a colonial or imperialist past in the region. Unlike Germany and France, Canada has had limited financial interests in Iraq. And, in contrast to Russia and China, Canada possesses a relatively well-respected record on human rights.

By helping to develop a solution that could bring stability to Iraq, the region and the international community, Canada could shine. Indeed, the parallels to the event that launched Canada’s much vaunted but greatly diminished status as an international peace broker are noteworthy.

During the 1956 Suez crisis, the world’s powers were equally hamstrung. What made us so useful then is what could make us so useful today.

This potential is, of course, complicated by our role in Afghanistan. It could reasonably be argued that Afghanistan is our primary international commitment and that we simply do not have the resources to contribute to two major peace-building efforts. But military constraints need not curtail our diplomatic role in a new UN-led effort in Iraq.

Any future mission in Iraq will require a legitimacy that the U.S. invasion lacked. Our position within the UN, coupled with our unique standing in the international community, could make sure this is achieved.

As a country, we need to remember that, regardless of the causes, Iraq today is a humanitarian crisis and a geopolitical time bomb, a country whose collapse or breakup could destabilize the immediate region, and potentially much more.

Here’s hoping Canadian humanitarianism helps shape the way forward.

Taylor Owen is a doctoral student and Trudeau Scholar at the University of Oxford. David Eaves is a frequent speaker, consultant and writer on public policy and negotiation.

Where is the Daily Show?

I’m beginning to wonder if there is a vast right-wing conspiracy against The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. I’m currently nestled into my hotel room in Chicago and would love nothing more than to catch the Daily Show and the Colbert Report before knocking off to sleep and yet… whenever I’m in the US I find that no matter how many channels the hotel has, neither show can ever be found.

Ah the irony. In order to watch the Daily Show I have to be in Canada…

Sadly, I did catch a few seconds of The O’Reilly Factor, long enough to hear how the current mess in Iraq is the fault of the corrupt, and lazy Iraqi administration whose vacations are too long and who remain insufficiently grateful for America’s sacrifice. Good to know that on Fox news, Iraq has finally debacle status, it’s just not the White House’s fault.

Negotiating with the Enemy: the case of Iran, Syria and the United States

After my friend Taylor published this post about the US-Syrian-Iranian negotiation he asked me how would I structure the talks and what would be the most significant obstacle.

Back in the 1970’s Roger Fisher used a method called the one-text that helped create the document that became the basis for the 1978 Sinai Agreement between Israel and Egypt. The one-text process is a variation of mediation that is simple, but powerful. Clinton also proposed using the process in 2000 with the Israeli’s and Palestinians.

The one-text process feels appropriate because it works best in multi-party negotiations where trust is low. Iranian-Syrian-American relations have deteriorated to such an extent that any conversation is unlikely to be open, honest, or even civil. In short, they are unlikely to be productive. The basis for an agreement, and even just communicating, will be hard to establish. Think that diplomacy is above that? Then why did Bush feel the need to confirm that if Condi ran into her Iranian counterpart, she would be civil?

Indeed, this is the main issue: can the parties trust each other? There are enormous opportunities for joint gain… but the domestic risks for each of the actors are also enormous. This is the tragedy of the situation. Each actor (Syria, Iran and the US) is now hostage to the negative perceptions their domestic populations have of one another, negative perceptions their respective elites helped create, foster and nurture. How can Iran, America or Syria cut a deal with a country that have for 20 years been labeled as a mortal enemy? This would be, at best, politically problematic in the US and potentially destabilizing for the Syrian and Iranian governments.

Consequently any functional solution cannot threaten (in the short and medium term) the legitimacy of any of the actors domestic standing. This probably means that any negotiated solution will have to be discrete. The parties may come to agreement, but they cannot be seen coming to an agreement.

A back channel one-text thus becomes the obvious choice. The starting point being that all the parties recognize the opportunity cooperating presents, but also recognizing they can’t be seen working together. Of course, the other challenge is that this means there are huge risks for cooperating, but the costs of defection (particularly if the interest calculus shifts) are low. The negotiators would have to find a way to make the costs of defection feel relatively high versus the costs of cooperation. A one-text process that explores their interests may reveal such an outcome, but if I had an answer to that quandary offhand I’d probably be in an air conditioned room in Turkey right now, working with State Department officials.

Ironically, the main obstacle to using the one-text process would likely be a reluctance on the part of the United States to submit itself to a mediated process.  I suspect that although the Americans feel it is a good enough process for everybody else, the world’s only superpower will never enter into mediation.