The Best Defense

Armitage on Pakistan’s spies, Bush’s errors, Egypt’s novels

Richard Armitage is an unusual guy in Washington -- both candid and well-spoken. He also has a talent for making the right enemies. Now he of thick neck and broad shoulders has given an interesting interview to Prism, which is some sort of new publication at the National Defense University. 

Some highlights:

  • At first, the U.S. government was able to keep Pakistani intelligence from meddling in Afghanistan. "The second surprise was frankly how successful we were for the first 4 years-almost 5 years-at keeping the ISI [Pakistan's Inter-Service Intelligence] relatively out of it. They were so shocked with the speed at which we invaded Afghanistan that I think the ISI felt it was only a matter of time until we prevailed." Armitage's timeline here suggests to me that Afghanistan started really falling apart when the ISI went back in. That's an interesting conclusion
  • He says Bush and his war cabinet never formally considered whether to invade Iraq. "Never to my knowledge, and I'm pretty sure I'm right on this, did the President ever sit around with his advisors and say, 'Should we do this or not?' He never did it."
  • The Bush administration didn't understand democracy and how to encourage it. "The Bush administration's push for votes as though voting equals democracy was wrong-headed because a vote is something that happens inside a democracy, but is not necessary for a democracy. You can have a democratic system without having people raise their hands and have a secret ballot. Loya jirgas to some extent are these."
  • He believes Bush administration actions undercut the American position abroad. "It's harder and made more complex when we abuse the writ of habeas corpus here or when we torture people."
  • Reading  he recommends, and why:  "Have you read the novels of Naguib Mahfouz? They're great, and through them all you get a couple of things, I think. First, the good humor of Egyptians; they have enormous good humor. Second, patience and long suffering, but you realize that at some point in time you can't joke something away. You can't outwait it. I would be afraid the tipping point is going to come, and particularly now that the strategic center of gravity in the Middle East has shifted to Riyadh and away from Cairo."

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The Best Defense

Gates vs. ‘exit strategy’

The best line in yesterday's hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee goes to Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who said near the close of the session that, "Quite frankly, I detest the phrase 'exit strategy.'" Loyal readers of this blog will know that I join him in that sentiment.

"What we are looking at over time is a transition in our relationship with the Afghans," explained Gates, who was present at the situation back in the 1980s when the United States walked away from its mujadhedeen allies in Afghanistan, with tragic consequences. "We will not repeat the mistake-we must not repeat the mistake of 1989, and turn our backs on these folks."

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