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Speaking of John Bolton…

Responding to a Marty Peretz post mocking the UN for General Assembly elections won by some of his favorite countries, this commenter sounds a welcome note of reality to Peretz's sarcastic jibes:

All well and good, but do you imagine that Ambassador Bolton would have prevented the elections of Libya, Sudan, Algeria, and Iran? It is surely regrettable that the UN does not do what the US would like, but why would one expect that it would? Given that most of the world is governed by regimes for which we have little regard, we can confidently expect that they will take self-serving actions (just as we do) for which we will have little regard.

The UN, in short, is composed of 192 countries. Railing against the world body for the existence of these countries is neither productive nor particularly insightful. Nice to see a TNR commenter call Peretz out on that.

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The only person who can argue for war AND diplomacy with a straight face

From the stark-raving mad department...John Bolton targets his Israel's missiles on Iran again. In Boltonland, Iran already has dozens of nuclear weapons pointed at Israel and the United States Chicago, anything short of pre-emptive warfare is "weakness," and the fact that Iran's presidential elections are tomorrow -- and may actually unseat neocons' favorite whipping boy -- is a reason not for nuance, but for publishing a warmongering op-ed sooner rather than later.

In fact, Bolton crookedly argues that a pre-emptive attack on Iran should actually have occurred under the Bush Administration, which at least did not engage in the kind of "apologetic" outreach that just might undo some of the ill will that a good bombing campaign could generate in the Muslim world. (His answer to the problems that a regional attack on Iran would cause? Unsurprisingly, more bombs!) What is truly unfathomable, though, is that Bolton somehow thinks that we can just attach a nice note of diplomacy alongside the missiles that should rain on Tehran.

Many argue that Israeli military action will cause Iranians to rally in support of the mullahs' regime and plunge the region into political chaos. To the contrary, a strike accompanied by effective public diplomacy could well turn Iran's diverse population against an oppressive regime.

Bomb first, negotiate later.

The other strikingly dense aspect of these two sentences is how utterly -- but unsurprisingly -- Bolton has failed to learn the lessons of Iraq. There is absolutely nothing to back up his blithe assertion that Iranians would most likely "turn against" the regime in the face of an Israeli bombing campaign. The same sort of forecast, equally unsupported by fact, was precipitously used to simply explain away any complicating reactions from Iraqis beyond their relief at the ousting of a tyrant (and one with much, much more blood on his hands than Ahmadinejad). This strategy, of course, proved disastrous in its oversimplification. Millions of Iranians have been rallying during their country's election campaign, but an unprovoked military assault would only sow disorder and antagonism.

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Diplomacy! The Horror!

It's probably no surprise that AEI's Danielle Pletka would dismiss Obama's speech in Cairo yesterday as mere "jawboning." Her implication, though, is much broader: that basically all efforts at negotiations with nefarious or intransigent actors -- the usual suspects of Iran, North Korea, and Palestine -- are not only wasteful and ineffective "jawboning," but provide a near-treasonous benefit to America's adversaries.

The underlying fallacy of Pletka's argument comes exactly here, in the assumption that negotiation -- the entire act of diplomacy -- is a zero-sum game. No one is arguing that negotiations don't come with trade-offs, or setbacks, or, yes, disingenuousness on the part of one's unsavory interlocutors. But continuing to engage in talks despite these problems is not, as Pletka would have it, to allow these problems to win the day. It is simply giving up.

In fact, Pletka seems more exercised by the medium of diplomacy than of the rotten fruit that she sees it begetting. The question she does not answer, though, is what method besides the "negotiation" and "engagement" that she derides -- and beyond simply giving up talking to other counties -- she would have us employ. Recklessly wielding sticks (or bombs) just limits our options -- and will only make the negative outcomes that she disdains all the more likely.

Obama's Cairo speech, moreover, seems a rather awkward hook on which to hang a denunciation of diplomacy. Obama was not involved in negotiations yesterday; he was making a broad outreach to Muslim populations. This use of "smart power" is a very different exercise than that of negotiating with, say, Hamas. When commentators like Pletka shudder at that latter thought, they are merely misunderstanding both the futility of isolation and the point of "smart power." While Hamas may still rail against Obama's outreach, millions of moderate Muslims heard what the U.S. president had to say. And most of them probably liked it a lot more than what extremists on either side had to say.

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Stopping civilian casualties in Afghanistan

In the simmering controversy over U.S.-caused civilian deaths in Afghanistan, Washington has been sending decidedly mixed signals. It has acknowledged that civilian protection must become the top priority for U.S. forces, and, in appointing counter-insurgency acolyte Stanley McChrystal to lead the mission in Afghanistan, has sent the signal that military operations must undergo a top-down shift in strategy and focus. A U.S. military report has even agreed that troops who conducted a particularly devastating air raid in early May committed grave errors that jeopardized civilian lives.

Yet, even as it has castigated its own, the U.S. has still insisted that the Taliban was responsible for the deaths of the 30 (the U.S. number) to 140 (Afghanistan's number) civilians in the raid. (And, for that matter, the continued squabbling over mortality figures, which are consistently lower than either Afghan or UN totals, does not ultimately help the cause of reducing these fatalities.) Even if Taliban fighters did force these civilians to remain in the combat zone, the U.S. military's use of this rationale belies the purported goal of civilian protection: if the primary aim of the operation was to attack the Taliban, then it was not, by definition, to protect civilians.

A stronger critique than the United States' own has come from UN's special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions, Philip Alston, who issued this sharp rebuke:

"The government has failed to effectively investigate and punish lower-ranking soldiers for such deaths, and has not held senior officers responsible," Alston said. "Worse, it has effectively created a zone of impunity for private contractors and civilian intelligence agents by only rarely investigating and prosecuting them."

Actual prosecution is less important than creating an atmosphere of deterrence. All 68,000 American troops that are to be deployed to Afghanistan under President Obama's plan will need to embrace the principle that civilian protection comes first. Criticism from a UN envoy is ultimately less important than negative reactions from those who matter most -- the Afghan people.

(image of a U.S. drone in Afghanistan, from flickr user jamesdale10 under a Creative Commons license)

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Miliband on Bolton

Well said, from David Miliband, the blogging British Foreign Minister:

Today the latest round of talks on a successor to START finish in Geneva. Last week former US Ambassador to the UN, John Bolton, argued in the New York Times that START negotiations with Russia are no more than "a fast way" for the US to "lose the arms race"

This zero-sum Cold War mentality, that sees US cooperation as a win for Russia, misses the point - cooperation brings gains for both the US and Russia, and it allows them to draw closer together on meeting the real, shared threats they face.

Today's major threats to the US and its allies come not from Russia but from states like North Korea and Iran, and from asymmetric warfare carried out by groups like AQ. Our resources and energy should go into combating these far greater threats. START is right for the new, more joined-up world.

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If the United States were in the Organization of The Islamic Conference….

En route to Riyadh, the New York Times reports that President Obama told a French reporter "United States also could be considered as 'one of the largest Muslim countries in the world.'"

Predicably, this has set off a flury of controversy. Robert Spencer of Jihadwatch, for example,  asks "what planet is he on?"

I'm guessing "earth." Because according to the Pew Research Center, there are an estimated 2.35 million Muslims in Amerca.  This means that if the United States were a member of the 57 nation Organization of the Islamic Conferences it would rank, in terms of Muslim population, above Albania, Kuwait, Brunei, Benin, Togo, Djbouti, Suriname, Gabon, Gambia, Guyana, Guinea-Bissau, Comoros, Qatar, Lebanon, and the Maldives.

UPDATE: It is also probably worth noting that most Muslims in the United States are not Arab -- and most Arabs in the United States are not Muslim