Blake Hounshell

Recent Articles

Foolish Embrace

In Pervez Musharraf, the Bush administration has bet on a leader whose incompetence mirrors its own. Pakistan's hapless military dictator can't seem to do anything right: stop Taliban infiltration into Afghanistan, catch Osama bin Laden, settle the Kashmir dispute with India, or follow through on promised democratic and educational reforms. So why does the Bush administration treat him as if he's the only game in town? Until recently, the White House's biggest fear was that its ally would be assassinated. That fear was well-founded -- Musharraf has survived at least four attempts on his life by jihadist groups. But more recently, it was the general who shot himself in the foot, and it's his political survival that's in question. Musharraf's latest troubles began on March 9th, when he ousted the chief justice of the Supreme Court (presumably because he wouldn't comply with plans to rig the upcoming elections, which Musharraf has promised will be free and fair). Angry public protests...

The Dream Palace of the Bushies

Lebanese-American scholar Fouad Ajami, who contributes to the Wall Street Journal opinion pages and consults with the Bush administration on Middle East affairs, originally became known for his dense essay collection The Dream Palace of the Arabs . In it, he harshly criticized his fellow Arabs for their predilection for failed ideologies like Arab nationalism and for unyielding, unrealistic stances regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. President Bush recently bestowed a National Humanities Medal on Ajami, who was a fervent advocate of the Iraq War. There is indeed much to criticize in contemporary Arab politics and society, and Ajami has often put his finger on the region's ills. Diagnosing the ailment, however, is not the same as prescribing the cure. President Bush and his dwindling supporters in the media suffer from their own delusions in the region -- principally that Arabs want and are ready to create liberal democracies that will support American foreign policy goals for...

THE MAIN EVENT.

THE MAIN EVENT. Today's meeting between President Bush and Iraqi PM Nouri al-Maliki in sunny, safe Amman is not likely to solve Iraq's problems. If the text of Stephen Hadley 's leaked memo is any guide, the purpose is to confirm that al-Maliki is still our guy despite his inability to control the sectarian violence that is often perpetrated by factions within his governing coalition. The Post says Bush is likely to press al-Maliki to take on the Mookster , whom Newsweek is now calling "the most dangerous man in Iraq." Pressure is not going to cut it, I'm afraid. Why does the Mahdi Army exist? Because several million Shi'a are desperate for services and protection from criminals and Sunni insurgents, while the government has proven unable to provide those things. The Hadley memo suggests that al-Maliki's government needs to do a better job providing services in Sunni areas, but it also needs to do a better job in Shi''ite areas in order to obviate the need for Sadr. The danger, though...

DID SYRIA DO IT?

DID SYRIA DO IT? Never loath to leap to conclusions without evidence, the Wall Street Journal editorial page has already decided that Syria killed Pierre Gemayel, Jr. last week. The Journal is pushing back against the expected Baker-Hamilton proposal of talks between the United States and Syria, which seem to meet with widespread approval everywhere but the Bush administration . It's possible that Syria killed Gemayel, but given Lebanon's byzantine complexity, I don't think it's prudent to leap to any conclusions. See Josh Landis for more on that. I believe that talks with Syria are a good idea -- unless we come to a modus vivendi in the region, they will keep making trouble for us -- but only after Serge Brammertz , the UN investigator looking into the assassination of Rafiq al-Hariri , assembles more proof of Syrian complicity. His next report is due out in mid-December, around the same time the Iraqi Study Group will release its own findings. Syria is clearly uncomfortable about...

TRAGICALLY HIP.

TRAGICALLY HIP. I'm afraid that this innovative ad campaign , which pokes fun at Lebanese sectarianism through billboards like "Parking for Maronites Only," is bound to be misunderstood. Maybe it's a little too close to Lebanon's reality for comfort? -- Blake Hounshell

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