A U.S. war with Iran would be a big set back for longterm American interests and values in Africa as well as elsewhere

1. The basic rationale would be a version of the thinking in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq in 2001-03: sanctions do not work forever, we have been in a low grade conflict mode for years against an intransigent regime that is not going to change its mind about willingness to use terror, a desire to threaten regional interests and aspirations for extended regional influence and a refusal to loosen domestic repression to allow any opportunity for “organic normalization”. Ultimately proliferation happens and the regime will get nuclear weapons in addition to the other WMDs it has had/is developing. At the same time, the repression assures a domestic mass constituency for liberalization.

2. In my perch in the defense industry in 2003 (working on Navy shipbuilding on the Gulf Coast) I was unpersuaded personally that the Bush Administration had made its case for the Iraq invasion. It seemed to me that we did not know enough about the situation to know what would happen next after we invaded, especially in the context of the Sunni/Shiite and other divisions within the country. It seemed too risky, too much of a “Hail Mary” so to speak, given what was argued by the Administration’s public diplomacy such as the Colin Powell speech at the UN and domestic speeches in the US, Congressional debates and such about the alleged threat.

3. At that time I was a lifelong Republican, and was by reputation somewhat connected in the Party, although I was not active in partisan politics while I was a lawyer in the shipyard (starting in 2000) because it seemed unrealistic to participate as a citizen “free agent” while being a lawyer with the dominant local industry as opposed to my previous work as a student and lawyer in private practice. I had voted for George W. Bush as the Republican nominee in 2000 although he was not a top choice for the nomination because I thought he was thin on experience and got the top of the field through preemptive fundraising clout rather than comparative merit. Ironically I had been reassured about Bush’s limited experience by Cheney’s performance in the campaign, even though I was unenthused about having essentially an all-Dallas ticket and Cheney’s role in asserting himself as running mate. I did not have an understanding of how contradictory Cheney’s own views were from the messages Bush presented in the campaign. All this is to say that I was not going to automatically support a war because Bush was proposing it–the most salient reason in Washington–but I should have been highly susceptible to being persuaded and they did not succeed in persuading me.

4. I will also note that there were countervailing influences over a period of time. Several years before the start of Fox News I got married and became active again in church having drifted during school years and then we had our first child. Even during the Bill Clinton/Ken Starr years I probably spent more time in church than with cable television, a major fork in the road and ultimately countercultural. The al Qaeda USS Cole bombing hit shortly after I started in shipbuilding and the Cole was brought to our yard for the repair/reconstruction so I was very aware of al Qaeda before being in Washington on business on 9-11. Then I went home and carried on. Yes, things had “changed” but the basic issues, challenges and choices remained.

5. As an orthodox non-fundamentalist Protestant who was not a daily consumer of Fox News, I did not feel a call to cast aside my formative moral orientation of restraint for peace and embrace some new doctrine of “pre-emptive war”.

6. Nonetheless, in the run up to Iraq I continued to read and study and learn but did not actually do anything to act on my lack of persuasion that we should invade.

7. While I was not in a position of influence, ultimately I have concluded that we went to war because hundreds or thousands of people in or around Washington who did know or should have known better went along with it anyway. And in doing so we made collectively as a country a most consequential foreign policy mistake and a moral misjudgment.

8. So now today I want to warn that going to war with Iran as a preemptive policy choice rather than a bona fide necessity would gravely set back our recovery from the 2003 miscalculation in Iraq and jeopardize the hopes of Iraqis for a better future. It would potentially arrogate to ourselves a role and responsibility in Iran that we simply are not prepared for, morally or otherwise. It would potentially kill who knows how many people not given a choice in the matter. And it would sap hope of standing up to outside counter-democratic forces (Saudi Arabia and the UAE, Egypt, Russia and China) in the immediate Sudan crisis which presents an important positive longterm opportunity for us to be who we say we want to be. It would have related impact in Somalia and throughout the Horn of Africa and to an unpredictable extent well beyond on the Continent. We already lack adequate diplomatic bandwidth to do as much as what we could with our “Prosper Africa” policy and are notionally planning military drawdowns even though AFRICOM has seen substantial degradation in overall security versus Islamist terrorist groups during its ten year existence. AFRICOM has yet to become the “different type of combatant command” that it was planned to be in substantial part because of the inevitable institutional inertia associated with a “permanent war” footing in the Middle East and South Asia. Likewise war with Iran could increase Iranian-supported terrorist activity in East and West Africa. And we all know that Donald Trump does not have the experience or moral gravitas to take these decisions.

“Six Years An Ambassador” : Godec’s Kenya valedictory with Macharia Gaitho

Macharia Gaitho seems to have been of late the designated Kenyan columnist to convey certain background perspectives from the American Embassy.  His April 8 Sunday Nation column provides in interview form a review by outgoing Ambassador Godec of his tenure and the position of the State Department at present.

For me the primary “takeaway” is, as the Nation headlined, the continued/renewed statement of the need for “national dialogue”. The issues were apparent from the 2017 election going back to the 2007-08 election. The “handshake” of a month ago is said to open an opportunity for that dialogue. Likewise the U.S. position is reiterated on the status of the October 26 election and Kenyatta as legitimate per the IEBC and Supreme Court as the U.S. sees it.

I have not met Godec and I really do not have an opinion about him personally. I am not able to say, with the late American humorist Will Rogers, that “I never met a man I didn’t like” but I try to be able to say “I never dislike a man that I’ve never met.”

What makes me sad is that Godec as the Ambassador has been controversial and drawn more anger as well as more disappointment from many Kenyans than I have seen in the past.

Some of the heat would fall on the shoulders of anyone who was the voice of the controversial policies from Washington. Some of it reflects more specifically the reasons that “national dialogue” is needed: the 2008 “peace deal” got only perhaps half-executed and a lot of Kenyans are unenthused as they should be about getting the short end of the stick over the past ten years from their own government. As a “friend” of the Government of Kenya we naturally find ourselves with some “guilt by association” from the Kenyan public. And of course some of it is the behind the scenes stuff that we Americans back home have to hope to evaluate, someday, from the media or private conversations with insiders or the Freedom of Information Act, if ever.

Godec was candid enough to acknowledge that “peace” was prioritized first as a “must” in United States foreign policy in regard to Kenyan elections as but noted that we continued to also support other equities of justice and fairness. For instance, we support  allowing civil society freedom to operate. Nothing was said however to indicate we ourselves need to take a fresh look at our own role in supporting the election mechanisms or our role in supporting reform and transparency out of our own experience in these last three Kenyan election cycles.

It perhaps goes without saying that we no longer mention any notion or prospect of justice for the victims of the 2007-08 post election violence. (Or pre-election 2013 for that matter.) That was something we always used to talk about.

Ambassador Godec noted that his biggest regret was the ongoing security situation as reflected in the Westgate and Garissa University attacks. I assume we are not waiting for those reports from the Government of Kenya on those attacks that Kenyans have been waiting on. (Of course both Kenya and the United States remain at war in Somalia as we were when the Ambassador arrived as Charge in 2012.)

The biggest thing that really struck me from Ambassador Godec’s interview was that there are now 28,000 Americans living in Kenya. More people have been realizing what a great place to live Kenya can be if you are an American, as I can attest. I hope that’s a good thing.

I also hope the Ambassador will sit down with The Elephant as a newer Kenyan publication that is able to generate more depth on current controversies than the big media groups usually feel able.

Ten years after 2008 post election “peace deal” Kenya is a world leader in crime and impunity

Kenya IDP Camp Post Election Violence Naivasha

Ten years ago today I watched television coverage of the “peace deal” signed by Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga in the IRI office in Nairobi, on the new K24 television station (owned by the Kenyatta family as I later learned).

I had sent off overnight a briefing memo to IRI’s president as background for a private breakfast confab he was participating in Washington on the “Kenya crisis” in advance of the news of the “peace deal”.  In the memo I explained my assessment of insights from the exit poll we had conducted on the presidential election that had been quashed from public release. For instance, that the poll showed the ODM party candidate Raila Odinga beating the incumbent (and declared winner) Kibaki among both Christians and Muslims, as well as in the overall totals.

One of the indelible memories from that day was watching the teargassing of Kenyans celebrating the agreement and expected end of the Post Election Violence. This conduct by the Police was an enduring legacy and prophetic symbol of continuity.

Uhuru Kenyatta at the time of the settlement had been serving since January as Kibaki’s Minister for Local Government and playing a leading role in city affairs in Nairobi in those days prior to devolution. He was to be appointed Deputy Prime Minister by Kibaki under the deal.  In hindsight this appointment was his functional designation as Kibaki’s successor, although that was not so clear to many of us at the time.  William Ruto, who had been leader of the ODM party’s negotiating team in the mediation process which had failed to close the gap to get to a final agreement, was on his way to serving as Minister of Agriculture as, originally, an ODM appointment in the coalition government, but later switching sides after Kibaki blocked Raila’s effort to suspend him over corruption allegations.  Martha Karua was serving as Kibaki’s Justice Minister, having led the PNU/Government side in the mediation; she resigned in frustration soon thereafter.  She has not found her place in electoral politics thereafter, but has long served as a member of IRI’s Global Advisory Board.

Today, I see news from Quartz Africa that PWC has issued its latest annual report of its Global Economic Crime and Fraud Survey. Kenya has ranked #2 in the world (barely trailing South Africa, and solidly leading the rest of the Big Five: France, Russia and Uganda)! The biggest thing I’ve learned from these last ten years may be that in Kenya, you can get away with pretty much anything (from stealing an election to the vilest of mass murder, rape and mayhem in its aftermath, along with looting the public treasury while millions of Kenyans are parched and hungry).

“Africa is a Command” – Bush to Obama to Trump

By electing President Obama we got through with race and became post-racial. Now that we have elected Trump we are surely done with “political correctness”, so lets us speak plainly. What is “Africa” as seen from Washington?

Well, surely Africa is a playground for so many characters, but that is nothing new at all, and we don’t really like to focus on that.  From Trump children big game hunting to politically engaged ministers and ex-diplomats involved in unusual investment schemes, Africa abides.  With election campaigns to run and autocrats to lobby for in Washington.  And missions and aid and economic investment programs continuing apace with varying degrees of pep and power in accordance with the visions and priorities of policy makers.

The thing that is new from U.S. vantage in this century is the overriding common legacy of the Bush and Obama administrations: AFRICOM (recognizing that the new command was primarily planned by the Bush Administration but did not “stand up” until Obama was almost in office).

I never had strong opinions about whether having a separate combatant command for Africa would be better or worse than than the status quo under CENTCOM, et al, that existed in my time working in Kenya and Somaliand in 2007-08.  It has escaped my attention if there are many Americans who see our policies in Africa during the Cold War as a highlight of our better angels, and I think on balance our aspirations for our relations in Africa in this century are higher than back in the past; nonetheless, largely staying out of Africa directly with our own military during the the Cold War and its initial aftermath may have reduced risks that are now potentially at play.

I think it is fair to say that ten years in the December 2006 Ethiopian operation to remove the ICU in Somalia with our support has not over time convinced all skeptics.  In fairness, perhaps, as with the French Revolution, it is still too early to tell.

So did having AFRICOM as a separate combatant command from late 2008 (with a new “whole-of-government” flavor and hardwired entre for USAID and State Department involvement) result in wiser judgment and better execution in terms of US national security and/or related and ancillary command objectives in recent years?

It is hard to judge because it is a big command (aside from the answer being, in substance, classified) but the experience with regard to the Libya intervention in particular is not altogether encouraging.

Would having CENTCOM engaged from Tampa rather than AFRICOM from Stuttgart have made a difference in some way to our consideration of intervention and our planning-perhaps more hard questions initially to Washington from a more “war wary” perspective as opposed to input from an entity with the bureaucratic equivalent of the “new car smell”?  [If inexperience was not a factor, what do we need to change to avoid future repetition if we agree that something went wrong on Libya?]

One way or the other, Trump takes office with AFRICOM at his command, a vast range of relatively small training interactions of a primarily “military diplomatic” nature all over, large exercises and larger programs with many militaries, active limited and largely low profile (from outside) “kinetic” operations  across a wide “arc of instability” and the war in Somalia with a new legal opinion, for what its worth, tying the fight against al Shabaab more explicitly to 9-11 and al Queda.  Along with a real live emergency in South Sudan and several other critical situations from a humanitarian and stability perspective.

I have declined to be persuaded by a dark view of the intentions behind standing up AFRICOM (versus the status quo ante and any realistic alternatives).  Perhaps this is merely self protective since I am, after all, not only American, but also worked for much longer in the defense industry than my brief foray in paid assistance work.  But it is my attempt at honest judgment from my own experience. Regardless, we are where we are, and Donald Trump will be giving the orders at the top to AFRICOM and whatever anyone had in mind, the fact that it is a military command rather than a civilian agency makes a great deal of difference in terms of the latitude that he inherited along with possession of the American White House.

Needless to say I hope it turns out that he has a yuge heart and bigly wisdom however fanciful that hope might look from what he has said and done so far.

Merry Christmas

Merry Chrismas

My last post corresponded to the sixth anniversary of this blog, so this in the seventh time I’ve had the opportunity to wish you a Merry Christmas and a wonderful Festive Season.

I’ve been immersed in “real life” at home and catching up on my reading rather than writing; in the upcoming weeks I’ll be trying to follow the crises in Burundi and South Sudan and the election in Uganda in addition to the ongoing dramas in Kenya but will probably not offer much comment.

Let me reiterate what I said in this Christmas post last year:

This is going to be a challenging time for many Kenyans who will be legitimately concerned about being vulnerable to terrorists, and those who will be legitimately fearful of the forces of their own government. I trust that the spirit of the season will touch most Kenyans to continue to look out for each other regardless of the animus and contrary ambitions of a relative few.

My Memorial Day post: If a President Al Gore had invaded Iraq in 2003 with the support of Sen. Hillary Clinton . . .

all the current GOP presidential candidates would agree now that it was a foolish act of hubris given that the administration had in hindsight clearly been shown to have simply not known what they were doing.

I am not now nor have I even been a member of the Democratic party.  I worked in the defense industry throughout the whole bloody course of the Iraq war.  I even voted for George W Bush that first time in 2000 even though I knew deep down he had very thin, maybe too thin, experience on foreign and national security policy.  (In my defense I will say that I don’t think I should have been expected to know how strongly opposed many of his most senior advisers and subsequent appointees would turn out to be to the values he expressed in seeking our votes in his campaign that year.)

I certainly did not wish him to fail, nor did I wish the harm experienced by my country or by Iraq and its region from that decision but I cannot pretend it away.  It seems to me to be deeply misconceived for citizens of a democratic republic to create an “identity politics” around the competition of parties to the point of transcending a larger patriotism, moral and spiritual values, even the ability to observe and process basic facts.  Over 4000 Americans and over 100000 Iraqi civilians were killed in the Iraq war and the pre-ISIS aftermath and no one who wants to be the “leader of the free world” can plausibly duck an assessment of this war, of our choice, because of the identify of the party of the Commander in Chief at the time.

Part of the reason I took leave from my job and moved my family to East Africa in 2007 to work on democracy assistance is that I had seen how badly we were screwing up our relationships in the world by having embraced a doctrine of “preemptive war” that traditionally might have been seen as unworthy of our national ethos by both “hawks” and “doves” of other generations.  And how our biggest democracy assistance program, by far, was going in Iraq were it was in many respects too late in the wake of the invasion, as opposed to places like Kenya and Somaliland that were not at war where we had a bona fide opportunity to make a positive contribution.  The suspicions and damaged credibility of our country made the work more challenging even among those inclined to a positive view of our aspirations.

Other than the “moral injury” to our country as a whole, the Iraq war did me no personal harm–my taxes didn’t go up so my kids presumably get stuck with the bill, although it might cramp my Social Security and Medicare down the road.  I worked primarily in Navy shipbuilding, on which going to war or not going to war had relatively little business impact; we didn’t build more or less ships than we would have if we had not gone into Iraq from 2003-11.  Before we launched the invasion I was convinced by a senior friend in the industry who had been a naval officer that the sectarian situation in Iraq was beyond our grasp and I did not see the decision to launch the war as anything other than a huge risk that would have been warranted only by an extreme immediate threat which the Iraqi regime simply did not pose by any reasoned assessment.

But here at home now my dry cleaner is an Iraqi Christian.  Before we invaded, he was a medical doctor, a specialist, in his country, as was his wife.  He runs the cleaners himself six days a week, but will be closed and with his family for Memorial Day.  I’ll think of him with gratitude that he was able to get here and for the relative safety and freedom he has here, but with sadness that we elected to reach for the war hammer rather than have the patience to continue to turn the diplomatic screw in 2003 and in so doing upended his life, that of his family and community and his country.  (See Waiting for An Ordinary Day: The Unraveling of Life in Iraq by Wall Street Journal reporter Farnaz Fassihi, excerpted here.  A must read, to accompany all the war and political reporting, on life for middle class Iraqis following the invasion, for those who want to learn from the war.)

I will mourn those Americans who gave their lives for the endeavor, especially those young people who volunteered out of patriotism to protect our country in the wake of the 9-11 attacks.  The rest of us collectively let them down and the very least that is required of us now is to learn from their sacrifice and do better together whatever our preferences of party or domestic ideology.

I will also be thinking with gratitude of my uncle who volunteered for the Navy in World War II as a 17 year old on the family farm after Pearl Harbor, made it home from the Pacific and is still with us at 90.  He he told me years ago that he did not believe we had any business taking it on ourselves to invade Iraq to change the regime without the support of the United Nations that we created with our allies in the wake of that war that he and his “greatest generation” fought at high but shared cost.  And his grandson, serving in the Air Force now, with his own young son.  Let us use his service wisely, with a judicious and open debate over what we ask him to do for us, being honest enough with ourselves to learn from the experiences that have cost the lives of others.
 

 

 

KPTJ Statement

Sharing the statement released by KPTJ this morning:

At this time of grief, we, Kenyans for Peace with Truth and Justice, wish to express our deepest condolences to the families of those who have been lost or remain missing, and wish a swift recovery to all those who have been hurt. We applaud the contributions of our fellow Kenyans to support rescue and security work and medical care for victims, as well as the unity our nation has demonstrated throughout this crisis. We condemn this despicable attack and support all work to rescue those still trapped at Westgate, and to end the situation as soon as possible and without further loss of life.

African Great Lakes Initiative releases report on observation of Kenya elections

I have previously praised the grassroots observation approach and thoroughness of the AGLI in observing the referendum vote in 2010.

Here is their report on the March 4 general Kenya elections.  Basically they found widespread problems in the areas they observed and reported on in detail.  They did not aspire to cover the whole country and thus make no claims as to the total impact of the problems, but show clearly that there were multiple avenues and opportunities for widespread fraud.

In particular, they observed extra presidential ballots being given out by a polling clerk in one station.  The observer reported the matter and the clerk was arrested, but the polling station ended up with roughly 100 extra votes for president over the votes for the other races, and this was apparently reported on and included in the national totals.  This type of conduct would be one explanation for the huge overvote in the presidential race.  I have not seen other explanations . . .

The AGLI recommends a post election audit by the IEBC and an outside group now that the Supreme Court has ruled without delving into the details so that the process can be improved.

 

Who would have the outrageous moral audacity to go to court to question 4100 votes out of 12M rather than defer to “crimes against humanity” suspects?

A simple question of what Kenyans chose to expect of and hope for themselves really, for them to answer.

Everyone is tired, no question. Most Kenyans are poor, and the breakdown of the IEBC process caused loss in the economy which hurts poor Kenyans the most. At the same time, the short term value of sweeping another electoral commission fiasco under the rug would be balanced by a huge cost in terms of the dreams of democracy that seemed to have been achieved in the 2002 vote.

The situation regarding the vote is less clear than in 2007, but the meaningful ability to go to court exists this time, unlike in 2007. Should the legal process be shelved now that it is finally available–and if so, will it be available again?

President Obama releases message to Kenyans on election

President Obama’s Message to the People of Kenya
February 5, 2013

Habari yako. Over the years, I have been greatly moved by the warmth
and spirit – the strength and resolve – of the Kenyan people. And I’ve
been grateful for my connection to Kenya, and the way you’ve welcomed
me and my family to your beautiful country – from my father’s village
in Alego, to bustling Nairobi.

In my visits, I’ve seen your progress. Kenya has lifted people from
poverty, built an emerging democracy and civil society, and sustained
a spirit of hope in the face of great difficulty. After the turmoil of
five years ago, you’ve worked to rebuild communities, reform
institutions and pass a new constitution.

Now, Kenya must take the next step in March, with the first national
elections under your new constitution.

We all know what makes for successful elections. Kenya must reject
intimidation and violence, and allow a free and fair vote. Kenyans
must resolve disputes in the courts, not in the streets. Above all,
the people of Kenya must come together, before and after the election,
to carry on the work of building your country.

The choice of who will lead Kenya is up to the Kenyan people. The
United States does not endorse any candidate for office, but we do
support an election that is peaceful and reflects the will of the
people.

This election can be another milestone toward a truly democratic Kenya
defined by the rule of law and strong institutions. If you take that
step, and reject a path of violence and division, then Kenya can move
forward towards prosperity and opportunity that unleashes the
extraordinary talents of your people – especially young people. If you
continue to move forward, you can build a just Kenya that rejects
corruption, and respects the rights and dignity of all Kenyans.

This is a moment for the people of Kenya to come together, instead of
tearing apart. If you do, you can show the world that you are not just
a member of a tribe or ethnic group, but citizens of a great and proud
nation. I can’t imagine a better way to mark the 50th anniversary of
Kenyan independence. And I say to all of you who are willing to walk
this path of progress-you will continue to have a strong friend and
partner in the United States of America. Kwaheri