Friday, February 26, 2010

Disappointed again by a fellow Kentuckian [Sen. Jim Bunning]

As a kid, I loved to watch Jim Bunning pitch (for both the Tigers - where he teamed with "the Yankee-killer", Frank Lary - and the Phillies).  But, as St. Paul wrote, as an adult we put away the things of childhood.

In Bunning's case, perhaps he needs to be simply put away - like, in a peaceful place equipped with grated windows and padded walls.  What else to do with a man who decides it's OK to use partisan politics to single-handedly block a much-needed extension of aid to millions of jobless Americans. (And then to whine that the Democrats' refusal to knuckle under to his demands was causing him to miss the South Carolina-Kentucky basketball game?!  Unbelievable!)

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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Iran trying to influence Iraq vote [the horror, the horror]

The WaPo's David Ignatius reports on the extent to which Iranian influence and money are being pumped into the pro-Iran Shii political parties (like ISCI) and pro-Iran political figures (specifically, Ahmad Chalabi) as the March elections approach.  His talking points come straight from General Odierno's briefings to Iraq leaders about Iran's "covert operations":
-- "Iran provides money, campaign materials, and political training to various individual candidates and political parties [in Iraq].

-- "Iran interferes in Iraq's political process, urging alliances that not all Iraqi politicians favor, in an effort to consolidate power among parties supported by Iran. For example . . . Ahmed Chalabi met with IRGC Quds Force Commander Qassem Soleimani and Iranian Foreign Minister [Manouchehr] Mottaki in late November to discuss" the merger of two slates of Shiite candidates backed by Iran.

-- "Iran supports de-Baathification efforts engineered by Ahmed Chalabi for the purpose of eliminating potential obstacles to Iranian influence. Chalabi is also interested in Iran's assistance in securing the office of Prime Minister.

-- "According to all-source intelligence, Ahmed Chalabi visited Iran at least three times since last year. Additionally, he met with key Iranian leaders in Iraq on at least five occasions.

The ironies here, of course, are abundant.
  •  It was the US that empowered Chalabi to begin with.  The darling of Dick Cheney and his neocon crowd, Chalabi was to be the fair-haired Saddam-lite whom the US invasion in 2003 was to install as our man in Iraq.   Problem was,  none of the Iraqis wanted him - so he cuddled up to the Iranian leadership to provide himself a new patron.
  • It was the US invasion, followed by the US's support of the Shii political parties (like ISCI, which was then SCIRI = the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq) and al-Da'wa (one of whose leaders is now the prime minister of Iraq, Nuri al-Maliki), that eliminated Iran's worst threat (Saddam Hussein, who launched the disastrous 1980-1988 war with Iran) and opened the door for Iran to walk in.
Ignatius also notes:
The Iranians allegedly are pumping $9 million a month in covert aid to the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, a Shiite party that has the most seats in the Iraqi parliament and $8 million a month to the militant Shiite movement headed by Moqtada al-Sadr.

The current Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, is said to play a delicate balancing game with Iran, opposing some of its moves and acceding to others. According to U.S. intelligence reports, a member of Maliki's staff hand-delivers sensitive documents from Tehran, thereby avoiding electronic communications that might be intercepted.

Another irony, of course, is that Maliki has been "our guy" in Iraq since 2006.  Muqtada al-Sadr, on the other hand, has helped lead the resistance to the US occupation since 2003 - and his Mahdi Army stands accused of spearheading the massive cleansing of Sunnis from Baghdad beginning in 2006.

And a final irony here?  Odierno, Ignatius, et al. are horrified, shocked, that another country is infusing so much money and such into the political process of another.  Yet both men are prominent, celebrated citizens of a country
  •  whose Supreme Court only weeks ago unleashed the coffers of corporate interests (many of which will indeed have close links to foreign interests, in our globalized ("flat" - right, Tom Friedman?) world), from which bazillions of dollars may now be infused into our own political process.
  • where political elections have for years been deeply and consistently influenced by the dollars infused - or withheld -  by a pro-Israel lobby (with AIPAC leading the pack, and "reports" from think-tanks like WINEP helping to fill the cash register) whose ears prick up whenever Israel's Likud party speaks.
I doubt that many of us want to see an Iraq where Iran calls all the shots.  But let's think again before we start screaming foul about Iran's attempts to shape Iraq's election outcomes to its benefit.

Winning those hearts and minds in Afghanistan

The Times of London on a truly misconceived special-op 8 weeks ago in Afghanistan . . .

Passing of a tremendous man

The New York Times - as well as local papers here in central Michigan and at the university - marks the passing of Jim Wieghart, a courageous journalist of great integrity who as a reporter, columnist, and editor for the New York Daily News covered the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal.  And after he left journalism, he worked for Ted Kennedy and also with the Iran-Contra investigation, helping to write and edit its final report. 

I was fortunate enough to know Jim and collaborate with him when he chaired the Journalism Dept here (1989-1993), which was a time when I served as Chair of the university's academic senate and then as president of the Faculty Association.  He was a tremendous champion of faculty rights as well as a scathing critic of the university's administration, which was then suffering what was, in my nearly 30 years experience here, its worst period in terms of effectiveness and confidence.  The then president of the university was a nice, but clueless and incompetent man who was easily controlled by some rather unscrupulous characters who worked for him, and who pulled some stunts that had many of us seething.  Eventually,  I chaired a special meeting of the academic senate  (extraordinarily well-attended and covered by the local media; almost the second I adjourned the proceedings, a TV reporter thrust a microphone in my face to ask Bill O-Reilly kinds of provocative questions)  - during which a motion of no-confidence in the administration was brought to the floor, and was passed by a large margin.  That's how bad things were then.  During all the weeks and months during which this mess was brewing,  Jim consistently spoke out against the nonsense that was being perpetrated by the president's office.

Eventually, the president resigned.  The Board of Trustees replaced him, on an interim basis, with the then dean of the college of business.  Although this man within a few years was to bring relations between the administration and the faculty to an even lower point - the lowest point I've ever seen here - at the start he was a breath of fresh air who - in sharp contrast to his predecessor - seemed to be on the same page with the faculty leadership and "talked the talk" as far as addressing our concerns.  Jim convinced me to co-sign a public letter endorsing this man and recommending that the Board of Trustees move his status as president from interim to permanent, eschewing a formal search, if for no other reason than to get the university back on its feet and moving forward after a period when any momentum and sense of campus unity had been completely crushed.   The trustees did so.  Many of our faculty colleagues were displeased that no search took place, but I will go to my grave believing that, given the university's disastrous situation at the time, signing that letter was the right thing to do.  And Jim played a lead role in trying to steer us out of the doldrums and move us ahead.  That's the kind of man he was: a strong, dedicated, inspiring, unrelenting advocate for the academic mission of the university, and a man who chose to take action rather than let a bad situation fester.

I had very little contact with him after he left CMU, but I missed him - and I was very sad to learn of his passing.  Right now, the country could use a battalion of Jim Wiegharts.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Muslim heaven/Christian heaven?

I've spent some considerable class-time over the last couple of weeks introducing my students to the essential beliefs and obligations (the famous 5 Pillars) of Islam.  One aspect of traditional Muslim belief is what is commonly regarded as the very male-oriented vision of heaven, where the promised rewards include dozens of houris (beautiful, nubile virgins) - the implication being, of course, everlasting great sex, at least from the male's point of view.  Many in the West are critical of, or mock, Islam on that score - and it surely runs counter to the modern Western liberal notions of equality, empowerment, and sexual liberation for women.

But as I was scrolling through my various news alerts this morning, I came across this essay from Christian mega-evangelist Billy Graham, about how "Some day, God will give us new, heavenly bodies"  - i.e., "bodies that will never wear out or get sick."  (Those of us familiar with the movie might think of this as the Cocoon version of heaven.)  But it struck me that this isn't entirely dissimilar from that often-reviled Muslim vision of heaven.  Of course, the Christian vision perhaps hasn't the sexual, male-dominant overtones inherent in the Quranic vision (although the Christian vision is populated with angels, including the great arch-angels - none of whom, to my recollection, were female).  I distinctly remember that, growing up in a devout Roman Catholic household and attending RC schools, I was told that in heaven our bodies would be perfect - and beautiful - and that there'd be no need for clothes.  On the other hand, the teaching was also that there'd be no sex, because sexual pleasures and desire would pale in comparison to the joy of being in God's presence.  Still, as a pubescent Roman Catholic teenager, the vision of being surrounded by beautiful naked females - and not having to feel any guilt in the experience - definitely had its appeal.  It certainly made me more intent on living - and dying - in a state of Christian grace, so that when death came, I wouldn't be cheated out of such a fantastic eternity.

In a close comparison of the Muslim and Christian visions, I suppose one could pick apart the possible parallels and decide that the Christian vision was more chaste.  But when you get right down to it, they perhaps aren't so far apart - and perhaps Islam-bashers could cut Muslims a bit more slack on this score.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

As civilian deaths rise, NATO says, 'Sorry.'

The CSM notes that McChrystal has become quick to apologize for civilian "collateral damage" - all part of the Petraeus COIN strategy of winning hearts and minds.  But it's also evident that McChrystal can't draw too often, or too long, from that well.
Afghans are circumspect about the change in tone. “Does this apology mean there won’t be any other civilian casualties in future?” says Abdul Jabar, a carpenter from the eastern province of Wardak. “If it does then I appreciate it.”

Mohammad Yassir, a shopkeeper in Kabul, is less receptive. “I want to ask McChrystal if he had lost his family in such an incident,” he says. “And if someone called to apologize, what would his reaction be? An apology doesn’t bring anyone back to life.”
As civilian deaths mount, and apology becomes a mantra, then what?

Monday, February 22, 2010

NATO airstrike, dead civilians - but it's "worth the cost"

Thus pronounces Adm. Michael G. Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in a nicely detailed story by the LA Times' Liz Sly:
"I would remind everyone of an essential truth: War is bloody and uneven. It's messy and ugly and incredibly wasteful, but that doesn't mean it isn't worth the cost."
I'm sure the families of those killed will respond warmly to Mullen's solicitude.  And General McChrystal was quick to convey to an "outraged" Hamid Karzai his "sorrow and regret." 

Does anyone else remember the childhood song, "This is the song that never ends.  It goes on and on my friend."?

David Petraeus warns us of heavy US casualties to come in Afghanistan; God knows how many more Afghans are going to be killed and maimed as collateral damage.  Meanwhile, the newly appointed mayor of the city of Marja paid his first visit there on Monday, facing what the WaPo's Rajiv Chandrasekaran makes evident, is a massive public-relations job - not at all made easier by the fact that the mayor spent the last 15 years in exile in Germany.  Of course, we all can see how well Iraq has prospered under the governing of its own returned exiles (Nuri al-Maliki headlines that crew).  Nor are the locals who met with the new mayor all that happy to see the Taliban gone.  As the WaPo report notes:
Their questions made clear that the Taliban still enjoys deep support here, while the Afghan government is almost universally loathed, illuminating the deep challenge facing Marines and civilian stabilization specialists as they try to establish basic civic administration.

"The Taliban provided us with a very peaceful environment," said Fakir Mohammed, 32, a tractor driver. "They did not bother us. We were very happy with them here."

Mohammed said police corruption and malfeasance led residents to support the insurgents. "They were not corrupt like the police," he said.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Cheney's and Yoo's torture stances - rejected by military "heroes"

The last few weeks have brought some interesting - and disgusting - revelations about the willingness of former federal officials under George W. Bush to unleash truly any means necessary in the pursuit of victory in the "Global War on Terror."  Last Sunday, Bush's V-P Dick Cheney made the brazen admission (on national television, no less) that he was a "big fan of waterboarding."  Now, as the reports of John Yoo's interrogation by the Dept of Justice's Office of Professional Responsibility are being made public, we get nuggets like:
"Pressed on his views in an interview with OPR investigators, Yoo was asked:

"What about ordering a village of resistants to be massacred? … Is that a power that the president could legally—’

"’Yeah,’ Yoo replied, according to a partial transcript included in the report. ‘Although, let me say this: So, certainly, that would fall within the commander-in-chief’s power over tactical decisions.’

"’To order a village of civilians to be [exterminated]?‘ the OPR investigator asked again.

"‘Sure,’ said Yoo."

(and I encourage one and all to read the fine essay in FireDogLake about Cheney, Yoo, and their ilk)

It's at least a little encouraging (only a little, given that the damage is done and their comments fall under the "too little, too late" category with regard to the US's reputation) that military worthies such as Colin Powell and David Petraeus today went on the record as opposed to the point of view still being propounded by their former commander-in-chief's VP.  Today's NY Times quotes General David Petraeus' comments this morning on NBC's "Meet the Press":
“Whenever we have, perhaps, taken expedient measures, they have turned around and bitten us in the backside,” he said. Whenever Americans have used methods that violate the Geneva Convention or the standards of the International Committee of the Red Cross, he said, “we end up paying a price for it ultimately. Abu Ghraib and other situations like that are non-biodegradable. They don’t go away. The enemy continues to beat you with them like a stick.”
Meanwhile, retired General and Bush Sec of State Colin Powell, on this morning's CBS "Face the Nation':
He also challenged criticism by some (including former Vice President Dick Cheney, who say that by not using extreme interrogation techniques such as waterboarding on terror suspects the United States is more vulnerable.

"The point is made, 'We don't waterboard anymore or use extreme interrogation techniques.' Most of those extreme interrogation techniques and waterboarding were done away with in the Bush administration.  They've been made officially done away with in this current administration."

. . . . to suggest that somehow we have become much less safer because of the actions of the administration, I don't think that's borne out by the facts."

Again, too little, too late.  But these nonetheless welcome comments from two men who have seen war in the face (as opposed to Messrs. Yoo and "I had other priorities during the Vietnam War" Cheney) reinforce the view - held by so very many, I'm sure - that
  •  for such a prestigious university as the University of California to retains on its faculty a mind as warped as John Yoo's is a gross misuse of taxpayer money and student tuition dollars.
  •  for Dick Cheney, for the sake of the country to which he professes such great devotion, it's time to go back to Wyoming, grab his shotgun, go outside and play . . . but, basically, STAY THERE and - to put it as kindly and graciously as I feel he deserves - shut the fuck up. 

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Major setback for US public diplomacy

Mr. Obama's Justice Department has decided that John Yoo and Jay Bybee, the two DoJ lawyers whose memos provided the legal cover for the Bush-Cheney "enhanced interrogation" (torture, waterboarding) regime, will not be held legally responsible for those actions.  Rather, Deputy Attorney General David Margolis concludes that they "exercised poor judgment by overstating the certainty of their conclusions and underexposing countervailing arguments.”   And he at least has the sense (bless his heart) to point out that
 John Yoo’s loyalty to his own ideology and convictions clouded his view of his obligation to his client and led him to author opinions that reflected his own extreme, albeit sincerely held, view of executive power while speaking for an institutional client. 
Margolis reached his conclusion despite the findings in the (now, finally, released) report of the DoJ's Office of Professional Responsibility, which, it turns out, "slammed Yoo for intentionally violating his “duty to exercise independent legal judgment and render thorough, objective and candid legal advice” and also concluded that Bybee “recklessly disregarded” his duties as a Justice Department lawyer.

No punishment.  No law licenses revoked. However, as the McClatchy report notes,
The report doesn’t necessarily absolve the lawyers of all legal blame. Jose Padilla, the former enemy combatant later convicted of supporting terrorists, is suing Yoo, contending that his memos led to his abuse."

In addition, a prosecutor's examination of allegations of torture continues without word of whether he'll order a criminal investigation. Holder appointed special prosecutor John Durham to determine whether CIA officials or contractors should be criminally investigated for the alleged torture.

And as the WaPo notes,
"The Democratic chairmen of the House and Senate Judiciary committees immediately scheduled hearings on the investigative report.  They vowed to demand answers from Yoo, now a law professor at the University of California, and Bybee, a federal appeals court judge based in Nevada.
[That's right, children, Bybee's a Federal judge!.  Perhaps you too can subvert the rule of law and human rights, yet go on to a distinguished and lucrative legal career.]

More from WaPo:
The left-leaning Center for Constitutional Rights issued a statement saying the Bush lawyers "have caused incalculable damage to our country and to thousands of victims as a result of the twisted legal advice they provided while at the Office of Legal Counsel." The American Civil Liberties Union called on Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. to expand a criminal probe of CIA interrogations.
Nonetheless, sales of Yoo's new book (I refuse to include a link to that; I suggest you read Jane Mayer's The Dark Side instead) are likely to spike, their speaking fees will go way up, and the crowd at Commentary and the Weekly Standard will lionize them as heroes who were unfairly demonized simply for being patriotic Americans who were only doing their jobs.

  (Why does the phrase "Ich bin eine Deutsche soldat" keep looping in my brain?)

Friday, February 19, 2010

When I'm ashamed to be a Kentuckian

It was bad enough when my fellow Kentuckians elected a dim-bulb ideologue like Mitch McConnell (who once was rated by the New York Times as one of the US's worst legislators; now he's Senate Minority Leader - go figure) and a certifiable whack-job like Jim Bunning (great as a major-league pitcher; all downhill since then) as their senators.

It got worse when evangelical entrepreneurs decided to build a new creationist museum in Kentucky, complete with dioramas of cavemen cavorting with dinosaurs.  (I'm sure that Fred and Wilma have a big fan base in KY.)

It got worse when the University of Kentucky - which for decades had one of the most respected and emulated collegiate basketball programs in the US - hired as its head basketball coach Eddie Sutton, only to have to dismiss him for major NCAA rules infractions; then later hired a fine man of great integrity, Tubby Smith, to be coach, only to fire him because, even with a national title and many winning seasons, he didn't win another national title; then hired to replace him a certified party animal, Billy Gillispie, to whom they had to assign a designated "minder" to keep him out of the bars; then fired him to bring in (at a embarrassingly monumental salary) John Calipari, who left in shambles the two programs (Massachusetts and Memphis) where he'd coached before and then brought to UK some mercenaries (I won't dignify them with the designation of student-athlete) who are likely to play one year, then bail out for mega-millions in the NBA . . .

Now, my home state's state senate is intent on passing a bill with state-sanctioned guidelines for teaching Bible Literacy - specifically, an "elective course on the Bible's literary structure and its influence on “literature, art, music, mores, oratory and public policy.”  Says one of the sponsors, "the course would be constitutional “as long as we teach it and not preach it.”

Uh huh.  And how long will that last?  How well will that be monitored?

 What does it portend when a fellow senator chooses to congratulate the bill's co-sponsors by asserting that:
 “an angel was sent down on your shoulders” prompting “you to put this bill together. . . . .  I‘ve said for many years that until we put God back into our households, things in society will not change for the better. Your bill is the first step to that change.”
Despite the best intentions of some of the senators (who - bless their hearts -  are well and duly worried about where this all might lead), let's face it, my fellow Kentuckians: it's only a matter of time before this bill, if enacted, leads to where - we can be very sure - it's going to lead: some teachers becoming classroom evangelists (but swearing that they aren't; they're just imparting "Truth"), parents complaining, other parents complaining about the parents who complained, then lawsuits that will get national and international attention.  By the end, the labels of "redneck" and "hillbilly" will have been injected with newer meaning, much to the (perhaps deserved?) embarrassment of the state of Kentucky.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

US troops need more air support(?)

Thus argues an essay in today's NYT by one Lara Dadkhah, an intelligence analyst of unstated affiliation.  Except that's not her most significant conclusion (and shame on the NYT for not being more up-front about that).

The real point comes at the end:
all this is not to say that the United States and NATO should be oblivious to civilian deaths, or wage “total” war in Afghanistan. Clearly, however, the pendulum has swung too far in favor of avoiding the death of innocents at all cost. General McChrystal’s directive was well intentioned, but the lofty ideal at its heart is a lie, and an immoral one at that, because it pretends that war can be fair or humane.

Wars are always ugly, and always monstrous, and best avoided. Once begun, however, the goal of even a “long war” should be victory in as short a time as possible, using every advantage you have.

Her real bottom line, once you wade through all the rationale: War is hell, we must have "victory," so bombs away.  And if the US takes out a few thousand more Afghan civilians in the process? . . . well, ya know, to make an omelette . . .

IMHO, the decision to publish this essay was not one of the shinier moments for the US's supposed "paper of record."

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Texans, Evolution, and the Flintstones

I don't know why any of us should be surprised by this anymore, but a University of Texas survey finds that 60 percent of the Texans polled believed that humans and dinosaurs occupied our planet at the same time, or weren't sure that this wasn't the case. The UT scientist who devised the survey noted that:
the results recall a line from comedian Lewis Black. "He did a standup routine a few years back in which he said that a significant proportion of the American people think that the 'The Flintstones' is a documentary.  Turns out he was right. Thirty percent of Texans agree that humans and dinosaurs lived on the earth at the same time."
Funny line.  Wish I could laugh.

Glenn Beck on Mullah Baradar

"If I were in charge, we'd be interrogating him. And we'd interrogate him and interrogate him and interrogate him...and then we'd shoot him in the head."
-- Glenn Beck on Taliban leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, recently captured in Pakistan

Is the Israeli leadership losing its mind?

You know, the media and blogosphere have been ranting for months about the madness of the Iranian leadership: Ahmadinejad's intemperate pronouncements, the fiasco of the summer 2009 elections, the repression of the Green Movement.  These people are nuts, irresponsible, irrational actors - runs the mantra - time for regime change!  And Netanyahu and his ilk are screaming the loudest.

Hey, nobody would be happier than would I to see a more liberal, human-rights-conscious regime established in Iran.  But when you look at what the Israelis have been up to in recent weeks . . .  Just who is it who's crazy?

Let's be specific:

  • Sending Mossad agents into Dubai, with fake British passports, to assassinate a Hamas official?  This is the action of a rational, law-abiding, respectable member of the world community?  Even the Israel-defending NY Times has highlighted the "mystery"over the affair, and the evidence of "skullduggery.".  Now The Guardian reports that PM Gordon Brown is voicing his concern, even as "demands were made for the Israeli ambassador to be summoned to the Foreign Office to answer allegations that the Mossad security service was behind the assassination."  Notably, Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman says there's no proof the Mossad was responsible; but he's not denying it either.
  • The threat of war between Israel and Lebanon grows larger by the day - and Israel is doing absolutely nothing to dampen down the fears.
  • There's talk of a new Intifada in the West Bank, yet rather than calm the waters, the Israelis are pushing the Jewish colonization of East Jerusalem, and Netanyahu is inflaming tensions over prerogatives around the Temple Mount.
  • Israel's foreign ministry has already insulted the government of Turkey with its shameless denigration of the Turkish ambassador.  Now, it's a US congressman (William Delahunt of Massachusetts) who's been dissed, evidently because he's leading a congressional delegation hosted by the un-AIPAC US Jewish lobbying group J-Street, which supports Obama's stance on the two-state solution.
  • Finally, you know that things are spinning out of control when the Israeli government's Information and Diaspora Affairs Ministry (the department of hasbara) has launched an advertising "blitz" to (as the NYT's Ethan Bronner phrases it) turn every Israeli — and ultimately every Jew — into a traveling public relations agent.
This is the same government that has been bringing you unending demands for crippling sanctions on Iran, regularly threatening to launch an airstrike on Iran's nuclear facilities (an act that, according to virtually every war-game devised to simulate its effects, would plunge both the region and the global economy into turmoil), - and, meanwhile, continuing an inhumane blockade of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians trapped in Gaza, all the while defying the facts, and world opinion, by insisting that its military forces conducted their devastation of Gaza last year in scrupulous accord with international law and moral principle.

If so much of the world is going to point its collective finger at the madness in Iran, how can it not do the same for an Israeli government that so brazenly flaunts world opinion, and conducts its foreign affairs with all the grace and nuance of a bull in a china shop?

Monday, February 15, 2010

Taliban's No. 2 Commander Captured

The NY Times has a long report on the recent (but just-revealed) capture of Mullah Baradar, described therein as the #2 Afghan Taliban commander, second only to Mullah Omar.  (Can anyone tell us, by the way, why almost every news story published about Mullah Omar insists om describing him as the "one-eyed mullah"?  Is the idea to scare us, by making him into some kind of cyclopean monster?)

ISAF and the Karzai government will tout this as a huge victory - and the NYT quotes former CIA official Bruce Riedel (who knew nothing of the capture before the NYT called him)  as saying that the raid that captured Baradar was a "sea change in Pakistani behavior," in that the Pakistanis had not made it a priority to go after Afghan Taliban, whom they saw as strategic assets in Pakistan's ongoing, seemingly existential struggle with India.  Riedel has a point.  On the other hand, the Taliban have been able to find new leaders pretty readily.

Time will tell as to whether this development indeed marks either a turning point in the fight against the Afghan Taliban, or a major shift in attitude by the Pakistanis.

The New ISAF mantra

Five more civilians killed in Operation Moshtarak.  Says the ISAF representative:
"We regret this tragic accident and offer our sympathies to the families of those killed and injured."
And the beat goes on . . .
Five civilians killed in Nato rocket attack in Afghanistan | World news |

Firefight in Afghanistan

Salon has a remarkable eyewitness account (from an AP reporter embedded with a US Marine outfit) of an ambush and firefight near Marja - part of the ongoing Operation Moshtarak.  Scary stuff; US and Afghan troops are facing a difficult situation:
the intense gunfight showed the difficulty of fighting an enemy who knows the terrain, watches, waits and strikes when it chooses -- frequently appearing to capitalize on Western rules designed to prevent civilian casualties.
Shades of the American experience in Vietnam?

Don't get me wrong. I'm no fan of those Taliban whose intent is to impose a draconian rule that would debase women.  And I want to see all those American kids get home safe and sound.

But I can't ignore the fact that a large proportion of the "Taliban" likely are not ideologues, but men who resent the presence of foreigners and a proven-corrupt, illegitimately elected central government (which the US authorities describe now as a "government in a box," ready to be rolled in and installed once the "insurgents" have been cleared out).  They're confronted by a military force supported by overwhelming air superiority and the best of 21st-century weaponry.  They resist with whatever resources they can muster - via ambushes and IEDs.  From the "Western" standpoint, they're illegally bending the rules:
Close to the road and relative safety, soldiers saw a man in black walking. He was unarmed. They watched him in their scopes but did not shoot. Western forces in Afghanistan are operating under rules of engagement, or ROE, that restrict them from acting against people unless they commit a hostile act or show hostile intent. American troops say the Taliban can fire on them, then set aside their weapon and walk freely out of a compound, possibly toward a weapons cache in another location.
Again, not meaning to impugn our "founding fathers," but isn't this the kind of thing that American colonial rebels resorted to against the British in the 1770s?   The British were screaming foul, cursing the "uncivilized" tactics.  Some of the colonials did get caught, and became martyrs for the cause. We see them today as heroes.

Many of the "insurgents" will be killed, or else detained and perhaps abused at the hands of American or Afghan "interrogators."  When the US forces leave Afghanistan, and many of those who are now "Taliban insurgents" become part of whatever new political system is set up (and let's not kid ourselves; they will), can't we expect those who were killed or abused to be lionized as heroes and martyrs who gave their lives to drive out the invaders?

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Democracy, Iraq-style

First, many of the Sunni secular parties were banned from the upcoming elections.  Now, their party offices are being bombed.  Some of them have decided to stop campaigning.  Can you blame them?

And Mr. Cheney wants to tout the good that George W. Bush and he did for Iraq?

Thomas Friedman's Selective Historical Remembrance

Thomas Friedman offers another "history lesson" in today's NYTimes:
 "the key forces shaping [the Middle East] today were really set in motion between 1977 and 1979 — and nothing much has changed since. Indeed, one could say Middle East politics today is a struggle between 1977 and 1979 — and 1979 is still winning." 
1977 was the year of the "good Arab" (my emphasis), as Anwar Sadat made his trip to make a separate peace with Israel (a bold move that, implies TF, the Arab people were too backward, or perhaps too full of hate, to follow).  1979 was the year, in contrast, that saw the rise of  those "bad Muslims": the Wahhabi fundamentalists of Saudi Arabia, the "mad mullah" Iranian Shii under the Ayatollah Khomeini, and the mujahideen in Afghanistan. 

At least Friedman is willing to point the finger at the US (if only on the way to his larger point) for Reagan's support of the Saudi royal family's "Wahhabification" of their country and the Afghan "freedom fighters."  But the real problem, says he, is that people across the Arab and Muslim worlds are still buying into a  false "meta-narrative" (as recently described by Edward Djerejian in the Wall Street Journal):
"‘The Arabs and Muslims are victims of an imperialist-Zionist conspiracy aided by reactionary regimes in the Arab world. It has as its goal keeping the Arabs and Muslims backward in order to exploit their oil riches and prevent them from becoming as strong as they used to be in the Middle Ages — because that is dangerous for Israel and Western interests.’ ”
That story, says TF, needs to be "deconstructed" in order for a new narrative of "responsibility, modernization, and Islamic reformation" to take hold.  Only then, says TF, can such seeds as Iraq's new democracy, the Green Movement in Iran, and young pro-democracy reformers across the Middle East really sprout.

I have no beef with Friedman's hope that reform movements come to fruition in Iran and elsewhere (although I'm hardly as sanguine about the fledgling Iraqi system's possibilities of resulting in meaningful "reform').  But Friedman seems to think that once that happens, all will be well, for little Americas will take wing across the region.  Ain't gonna happen - and when I look at the current state of affairs in our nation's capital (including the Supremes' decision to unleash the lobbyists), I can't say I'd wish the American system on anybody at this point).

But my real problem with Friedman's little history lesson is that his historical field of view is (as usual) too little.  The problems of the Middle East didn't begin in 1977.  And to wax on about the need to "deconstruct" the narrative about Western-Zionist imperialism and colonialism ignores the reality of that imperialism and colonialism.  Think Balfour Declaration, Sykes-Picot Agreement, post-World War I mandates, the Seven Sisters and the Red Line Agreement of Big Oil, Operation Ajax, the Suez Crisis of 1956 . . . .  Hell, I'm not even to 1960 yet.

Fast forward then, to Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, or the 2006 Israeli war in Lebanon, or the earlier Israeli Operation Grapes of Wrath in Lebanon, or the ongoing Zionist colonization of Palestinian land in the West Bank . . . .

I understand the pitfalls of Friedman's needing to come up with punchy columns in the New York Times, week after week.  But that's simply no excuse for purveying to a huge public such "history lessons" that are so oblivious to the deep historical roots, and grievances, that underlie the current realities.  The reductionism of such a "1977 and 1979" approach is a disservice to Friedman's readers - and with an advanced degree from Oxford in Middle East studies, Friedman ought to know that.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

"I believe that democracy in Iraq is committing suicide"

Just a heads-up on what's happening in Iraq.  If you thought that Iraq was "done" - peaceful and quiet, democracy assured, etc. -- think again.  The US's attention - and that of the mainstream media 24/7 news cycle - has moved on to Afghanistan.  But Iraq's fault lines, which ruptured badly after the US invasion in 2003, are being held semi-closed right now by the diplomatic equivalent of chewing gum and baling wire.  What may happen over the coming months, especially as US troops are withdrawn, is a bit of a crap-shoot.

Iraq election officials confirm Sunni candidate ban
By Muhanad Mohammed
Saturday, February 13, 2010; 7:24 AM

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraqi officials confirmed on Saturday that appeals by prominent Sunni politicians against a move to ban them from next month's election had failed, opening the door to sectarian recriminations that could mar the vote.
Many Iraqi Sunnis are alarmed by a campaign by the Shi'ite-led government against people accused of links to former Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein's Baath party, and a decision by a panel to ban almost 500 candidates because of Baathist links.
The controversy has threatened to reopen old wounds just when the sectarian slaughter triggered by the 2003 U.S. invasion has begun to fade and Iraq has started to attract multibillion-dollar investments from global oil firms.
Usama al-Ani, deputy head of the independent electoral commission, or IHEC, said the agency had received a formal notification from an appeals panel that only 26 appeals by banned candidates had been successful.
One hundred and forty-five appeals were rejected, he said. Other candidates had been voluntarily replaced by their parties.
"Among those whose appeals were rejected were Saleh al-Mutlaq and Dhafer al-Ani," said Ani, referring to two Sunni politicians who are among the most prominent Sunnis in Iraq.
The furor over the banned candidates has come to dominate the campaign for the March 7 parliamentary election, which kicked off officially on Friday.
The election will determine who runs Iraq as U.S. troops prepare to withdraw by the end of 2011 and massive oil sector projects kick into gear. If broadly accepted, the vote could help to heal the rift between Sunni and Shi'ite; if it is viewed as unfair by Sunnis, it could lead to more bloodshed and strife.
The panel that drew up the list of banned candidates is dominated by Shi'ite politicians and its actions were viewed by some Sunnis as an attempt to disenfranchise them.
The list actually includes more Shi'ites than Sunnis, and disproportionately targets cross-confessional, secular alliances that are expected to fare well against the religious Shi'ite Islamist parties that have dominated Iraq since the invasion.
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and other Shi'ite leaders have jumped on the issue to stir up widespread fears among Shi'ite voters over a possible return to power of the Baath party, which brutally repressed Shi'ites and minority Kurds under Saddam.
The tactic could distract from complaints about corruption, poor services and bomb attacks, and deter Shi'ite voters from backing secular contenders, like the Iraqiya list of former prime minister Iyad Allawi that both Mutlaq and Ani belong to.
"It is not a judicial decree, it is a political one for clear political effect, and it has a clear Iranian flavor," Ani told Reuters, echoing perceptions that the Shi'ite politicians who drew up the list of banned candidates are close to Tehran.
The Iraqiya coalition announced it would temporarily suspend its election campaign to protest the ban, as well as the murder of one its candidates in the tense city of Mosul a few days ago.
Mutlaq, who had been openly and controversially courting the votes of Iraqis nostalgic for the greater stability and security of Saddam's rule, warned of disaster.
"If the current political process continues along this path it will fail and finish soon," Mutlaq told Reuters at a protest called on Saturday by his supporters.
In an interview with Reuters on Friday, Mutlaq said that "enemies of Iraq" had won a battle against him but not the war.
"I believe that democracy in Iraq is committing suicide," he said.
(Additional reporting by Waleed Ibrahim and Ahmed Rasheed; Writing by Michael Christie; Editing by Alison Williams)

Attack on Taliban Stronghold Begins. Caveat lector.

Well, Operation Moshtarak ("Together" in Dari) is under way at the town of Marja, a major Taliban stronghold in Afghanistan's Helmand province.  The major MSM have some of their top reporters on the job: Rajiv Chandrasekaran for the Washington Post (he did some very important reporting from Iraq a few years ago, including his extremely insightful book about the foibles of Jerry Bremer's CPA, Inside the Emerald City), Dexter Filkins (along with C J Chivers) for the NY Times.

Initial reports indicate that the fighting is intense, with few Marine casualties taken and quite a few inflicted, although one report suggests that the "insurgents" are falling back toward the center of the town, which they seem to be defending with hundreds of bombs and booby traps.  It's uncertain at this point how many locals have remained in Marja.  McClatchy's recent report suggested (despite its headline) that a large proportion of them had fled to nearby Lashkar Gah; but today's NYT reports that, according to a tribal elder,
 “Only about 5 percent of the people have left the city — but the rest, 95 percent, are still here,” one of Marja’s tribal elders said, speaking at a meeting of tribal elders in Lashkar Gah on Thursday. The elder spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear that he would be killed.
Bottom line: no one really knows at this point how many got out ahead of the attack.  The locals who did remain in the town seem to be hunkering down, huddled together in their houses - or, in one instance, an old woman emerging into the open air to beg the troops not to fire at her house.  (I hope they listened to her.)

Obviously, the stakes here are huge, especially for the US+NATO+Afghan forces, and especially given Obama's pledge to start reducing US troop levels in Afghanistan in less than 18 months from now.  The US secretary to NATO, Ivo Daalder, writes of this:

In the coming months we need to see NATO and its partners rise to the occasion, turn the corner, and keep Afghanistan on the path to security and development.  It’s not going to be easy, and we don’t have unlimited time.  President Obama has said that U.S. forces will begin drawing down in July 2011.  We need to use the time until then to build Afghan capacity so that the Afghan authorities can take on ever greater responsibility for the security of their own country.   Training Afghan policemen, mentoring the Afghan National Army, and partnering with organizations and countries from around the world are all vital to this effort.  Graduating more policemen from training centers in Helmand, Jalalabad, and elsewhere means intensified recruiting and providing more qualified instructors.  Conducting effective patrols within local communities means more international mentors.  And having ISAF and Afghan soldiers plan and conduct joint patrols that help keep the peace means making our forces increasingly flexible in support of a national Afghan strategy.

We must seize the moment and ensure the July 2011 timeline can be met by taking on the hard tasks while we have these additional troops on the ground, the momentum of a new strategy, and the backing of a committed international community.
But because the stakes are so high, and because it's imperative that the US's efforts show significant positive results very quickly, I would caution any and all to have their antennae well tuned to distinguish "real facts" from happy talk about success.  General McChrystal has indeed made it clear that perhaps the biggest task here is the war of perceptions: winners and losers, good guys vs. bad guys.  The operation's name (Moshtarak, or "together") is a tip-off to one of the biggest talking-points here: that the US is going into battle "together" with the Afghan military.  You can expect military press releases to hammer the point that the the Afghan "national army" troops are helping to lead the way.  Whether the townspeople of Marja, who are mostly Pashtun, will view as their "national" defenders an army that is predominantly Tajik, and that is accompanied by American foreign "infidels," remains to be seen.

And with regard to the trustworthiness of the military updates that will be forthcoming from this operation, take heed of the insights recently proffered by Harvard prof. Stephen Walt.
According to the Times, the general also said that "The biggest thing is in convincing the Afghan people ... This is all a war of perceptions. This is not a physical war in terms of how many people you kill or how much ground you capture, how many bridges you blow up. This is all in the minds of the participants" (Walt's emphasis).

On the one hand this statement is something of a truism, in the sense that resolve, morale, and expectations about the future can be critical factors (though what is actually happening on the battlefield is hardly irrelevant). But McChrystal's statement invites us to doubt anything he might choose to tell us about the progress of the war either now or in the months to come.  Why? Because if he believes it is "all a war of perceptions," then spinning the war in the most favorable possible light has to be part of his strategy, in order to try to persuade both Afghans and Americans that we are winning. And that means we can't accept anything he says at face value, because we can't know if he's giving us an honest appraisal or just deploying a lot of blue smoke and mirrors in order to influence perceptions (which he thinks are key).
Paul Rogers at Open Democracy makes some similar points about what he terms the US's "narrative of anticipatory semi-triumphalism," which, he also notes,  "in no way corresponds to current signals from elsewhere in Afghanistan, including Helmand."  Other, less-happy-talked analyses suggest, says he,
that the intense and positive publicity devoted to Moshtarak is more a public-relations exercise than a realistic estimate of the current situation.
In other words, when the Kool-Aid is offered, sip lightly, and intersperse here and there a squirt of lemon.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Can there be much hope for the civilians of Marjah?

A reader comments in re my post of a couple of days ago that we ought to trust the ISAF press release asserting that most of the population of the about-to-be devastated city of Marjah in Helmand province have opted to stay put.  (He also warns readers off from my "opinions."  Hey, that's fine.  It's nice to know that someone is reading.)

McClatchy news service - which quotes  the same press release - reports a somewhat different story:
Mohammad Anwar, the head of the provincial council for Lashkar Gah, the provincial capital near Marjah, told McClatchy by phone that the council had registered 244 families from Marjah, 60 of them in a newly established camp. He estimated that another 100 families had gone to the nearby district of Nawa, and more had trekked to the towns of Garmsir and Gereshk.
"They're still coming; every day they're coming," Anwar said. "They come by tractor, Toyota station wagon, some with blankets and other possessions, some with just their children . . . ."
"I don't know what NATO is talking about, 50 families came out (of Marjah) just today," tribal leader Juma Gul said by phone from Lashkar Gah. "There are just poor people left there, those who don't have money to come to Lashkar Gah."

Meanwhile, those unfortunate souls still hunkered down in Marjah are about to see their city be crumbled around them.  Again, from McClatchy:
The presence of a large number of civilians could make the operation much trickier and provide a test of the new coalition military doctrine of protecting the population. A large media contingent from around the world will accompany the troops, recording their progress.

An estimated 2,000 Taliban fighters are dug in and are believed to have planted roadside bombs and booby-trapped buildings. Residents said the insurgents had dug trenches in a traffic circle and mined the roads out of town. It may be too late for those who haven't escaped by now.
"If (NATO forces) don't avoid large scale civilian casualties, given the rhetoric about protecting the population, then no matter how many Taliban are routed, the Marjah mission should be considered a failure," said Candace Rondeaux, an Afghanistan-based analyst at the International Crisis Group, an independent research and campaigning organization.
Although international forces counted relatively few evacuees, local people told McClatchy that more civilians had evacuated, though still only a fraction of the population. Leaflets dropped over the town had warned townspeople for days of the impending offensive.
"The message to the people of the area is, of course, keep your heads down, stay inside when the operation is going ahead," Mark Sedwill, the civilian head of NATO in Afghanistan, told reporters in Kabul.

Well, isn't that reassuring.  I'm sure the residents of Marjah are sleeping more soundly.

Monday, February 8, 2010

The Marines and Civilian Safety in Helmand Battle

The last few days have seen unusual advance publicity for the impending Marine attack on the important village of Marja in Helmand, as well as a lot of focus on the Petraeus/McChrystal counter-insurgency doctrine of protecting the civilian population against the Taliban (who, however, often are the civilian population; bit of a dilemma there) and exercising restraint in calling in air strikes.  This is, of course, good to see, even if saving some civilian lives may mean more Marines put at risk, at least in the short run.  (On the other hand, the calculus here must be, in part, that operational restraint will win hearts and minds; which will turn the locals against the Taliban; which will hasten "success" in Afghanistan (however that's to be measured) and therefore save Marine lives over the long haul.

Today's LA Times reports, however, that the Marines are also warning civilians to flee the area - which again points to what good guys we are and how evil the "enemy" is.  But as the LAT notes, "Many Afghans . . . are reluctant to leave homes and farms unattended. For cultural reasons, Pashtun tribesmen are also often unwilling to let women and children take shelter elsewhere without a male family member."  So, in other words, ideally our warnings to the locals may make us out to be humanitarians solicitous of their welfare, but the fact of the matter is that a large percentage of them simply can't leave, and are therefore going to be in harm's way.  Again, the LAT notes:

The Marja assault will be the largest joint effort by U.S., coalition and Afghan troops since the Taliban was chased from power in 2001, and the first major offensive since President Obama's decision to authorize sending 30,000 additional troops to the country.

It is also a test of whether a large-scale ground battle can be conducted in a densely populated setting without large numbers of civilian deaths and injuries. About 85,000 people live in Marja itself, and an estimated 45,000 more in outlying parts of the district.

At least one source warns of another Fallujah in the making.  For those of you who don't remember, that was the Iraqi city on the Euphrates that US Marines pulverized in 2004, at the cost of thousands of Iraqi lives and the demolition of much of the city, in an attempt to squelch the then burgeoning Sunni insurgency.  All it did was enrage the people of Iraq, who still look back on it as one of the more egregious atrocities perpetrated against them by the US.  (Today, of course, given the 24/7 news cycle and the short memories of most Americans, I'd wager that most of our fellow citizens wouldn't be able to distinguish Fallujah from Flagstaff.)

But thinking back to the early days of the invasion of Afghanistan, I remember participating in an open forum here on campus, in which I spoke about the devastation US forces were wreaking there.  One member of the audience, however, criticized my comments by noting that, after all, we had warned the population to clear out before we came in, so what's the problem.  I just about lost it completely, sitting up on that stage.  You'd have thought, from this young man's comments, that it was simply a matter of gassing up the SUV, piling the kiddies and grandma and grandpa into those comfortable seats, maybe even hitting the MacDonalds drive-thru window for some Happy Meals on the way out of town, and then taking off for a few pleasant days in the countryside until the danger had passed.

Let's face it: most of us are clueless as to the misery of most Afghans' lives even before we force them onto the roads (such as they are) to flee for their lives.  And when they come back (if they're still alive), they're likely to find their homes and villages destroyed, their pitiful fields and crops trashed, and their livelihoods ruined.

Our media and military, however, will be celebrating "success", and the "liberation" of the locals.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

One step closer to a new war?

Mr. Ahmadinejad has announced that Iran will now begin to produce more highly enriched uranium - not the 90% needed for a weapon, but up to 20%, needed for Iran's medical reactor.  As the NYT's report notes, it may be gamesmanship to get a better enrichment deal from the West, but it's another "in your face" to the US and its European allies.  Sec Def Gates has used the announcement to issue yet another call for more sanctions.  And of course, the announcement will surely set off more alarm bells within the Netanyahu government.  But the Iranian government also says "Iran's stance on the nuclear fuel swap has not changed. Iran is still ready to do such an exchange and if the other side is ready we can negotiate over the details of such a deal."

Games of "chicken" are seldom fun for the onlookers, and tend to end badly.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Mossad assassination of Hamas official in Dubai

The Mossad's  hugely illegal act of assassinating a Hamas official in Dubai has been commented on all over the internet.  (And combined with the recent anti-Syria rhetoric from Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, as well as talk about a new IDF incursion into Gaza, and a new Palestinian intifada . . . .well, tensions overall have been ramped up.) 

At some point, sooner or later, there likely will be a reprisal from Hamas.  Such reprisals, of course, have often provided Israel with a pretext for over-reaction that suits Israel's ultimate goal of keeping its Arab neighbors cowed into submission.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Sounding the alarm on an impending war with Iran

Seumas Milne in The Guardian makes the case, and with reason.  The US's actions in ramping up naval forces in the Persian Gulf, providing weapons and missile defense systems to the Gulf Sheikhdoms, issuing warnings to Iran (and to China for failing to support the US and the Euros in applying sanctions to Iran) all suggest a hardening of attitudes, a line being drawn in the sand, that bodes ill.

And we're heading into an election season . . . what Obama once termed the "silly season" . . . when Obama and his party will have to pander to the Israel lobby and all the congressmen in its thrall.   Obama's once outreached hand will be withdrawn into his pocket,  and he and his will instead be baring their teeth to Mr. Ahmadinejad and the "mad mullahs."  Of course, Obama understands that a military strike against Iran would not save his presidency (as Daniel Pipes asserts), but destroy it, and probably trash the global economy.  Obama understands that . .  . 

. . . doesn't he?

Monday, February 1, 2010

Bushama's Never-Ending Wars

It truly wears on a person to be always spotting gloom and doom lying down the road, but the impending release of the Pentagon's quadrennial review indicates that the US is poised to be fighting lots of wars, in a variety of theaters, in the years ahead - and that the Pentagon is going to be asking for proportionally larger budget allocations to fund them.  (And, of course, in looking ahead to a variety of wars and theaters, the Pentagon makes room to spread the appropriations wealth to ever more weapons manufacturers, which brings jobs to favored states and votes to legislators.)

According to Pentagon officials, Defense Secretary Robert Gates will be asking for $708 billion, including funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan -- $44 billion more the 2010 budget of $664 billion.

The review also focuses on - among other things - more helicopters and drones for Afghanistan, cyber-attack prevention, and the looming threat from China - who, by the way, is feeling its muscles and asserting itself ever more strongly on the international stage.

All the while, the US is likely moving toward a negotiated settlement with the Taliban in Afghanistan, even while it undercuts the Karzai government by recruiting local tribal militias against them and funneling aid directly to them in order to keep Karzai's corrupt officials out of that loop.  None of this suggests that the US will be able to leave Afghanistan in the foreseeable future.

At the same time, we're ramping up Special Ops efforts in Yemen, selling missile defense systems to the Persian Gulf countries (to thwart Iran, as well as induce Israel to hold off on any military strike), permanently stationing naval forces in the Persian Gulf - and Congress is about to present Mr. Obama with a bill to authorize sanctions against Iran.

Of course, Mr. Obama has insisted that the US will indeed depart Iraq on his watch.  And truly, we keep hearing that it's all over there (or so says Max Boot and his ilk).  Except that it's not.  Tensions between the Shii-dominated Baghdad government of Nuri al-Maliki and the Kurdish Regional Government in Erbil are extremely high (and getting higher), over both territorial issues (like Kirkuk) and oil revenues.  General Odierno is having to re-insert US combat forces between the two to keep the peace.  Maliki's government has also banned from the upcoming elections more than 500 candidates, most of them Sunni or otherwise secular nationalists whom Maliki's Iranian allies don't want to see in any future Iraqi government.  One of Iraq's most influentials Sunni tribal leaders is threatening to call for a Sunni boycott.

And, to make things worse, today a suicide bomber killed perhaps as many as 50 Shii pilgrims making their way from Baghdad to Karbala to commemorate Arbain.  No, Iraq's not over.  Thomas Ricks may have been right to opine that it may be only beginning there.  What Obama will do if the lid blows off remains to be seen, but he has long been feeling pressure to delay the US withdrawal.

So, Bushama, you ask?  Well, why not.  These wars, these quagmires, these crises in Iraq and Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen now, and the ongoing crisis with Iran, were largely brought to you courtesy of George W. Bush.  And except for Iraq (which is by no means a done deal as far as the US is concerned), they've been continued, even ramped up, by his silver-tongued successor.  Fifty years from now, unless Mr. Obama acts soon to turn things around, historians will see them, and their policies, as cut from the same cloth, though embroidered with different rhetoric.


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