Monday, November 29, 2010

James Carroll on Republican Opposition to START

In the Boston Globe, James Carroll retraces the history of the US's attempts to regulate and reduce nuclear arms, and concludes:

Reagan would be ashamed of Senate Republicans. He would be appalled by the ignorance of men and women who regard nuclear arms as just another occasion for partisan advantage. He would shake his head, that Reagan mystification: What don’t you understand about this treaty’s historic urgency? How crazy are you?

Schizophrenia, as the word suggests, assumes a kind of split, disorder co-existing with health. But Republican nuclear madness now is total. Americans should be clear about what has happened. The Senate naysayers are drivers of trucks in a convoy whose cargo is the future of the planet. They are careening down a midnight mountain road, without headlights. And they are drunk.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

McCain Shoots His Credibility in the Foot

Speaking with CNN (as reported in the WaPo),
 McCain compared his former running mate, Sarah Palin, to former President Ronald Reagan, noting that some viewed Reagan as divisive too. "I think that anybody who has the visibility that Sarah has is obviously going to have some divisiveness," McCain said. "I remember that a guy named Ronald Reagan used to be viewed by some as divisive. ... I think she had a positive impact on the last election, and I'm proud of her."
How sad, that a long-time Senator, former presidential candidate, and Vietnam War POW would stoop to such a low to cover his own ass for one of the grossest and most damaging mistakes ever made by a major politician.  Selecting her as his 2008 running mate doomed his candidacy, and was the single most enabling contribution to the emergence of one of the most under-qualified, polarizing, and potentially dangerous political figures of the current era.  I was - and am - no fan of Ronald Reagan -  a president whose economic policies and American-exceptionalist chauvinism lie at the heart of the US's current dilemmas.  (Was it not Dick Cheney who advised a former president that "Reagan showed that deficits don't matter?").  But for McCain to invoke his memory to try to legitimize Ms. Palin does Reagan a great disservice, and will likely win McCain the well-deserved disdain of moderate Republicans across the US.

BTW, in the same report, McCain chastises China as a not "responsible world power" for not doing more to rein in North Korea.  This, of course, in contrast to McCain's oh-so-responsible suggestion during the 2008 campaign that the US, as a putatively "responsible" world power, "bomb, bomb Iran," even after the Iraq invasion that had shown the world the US's dedication to global "responsibility" had by then destroyed the lives of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Afghanistan: worse than Vietnam?

Very interesting essay from Robert Wright in the NY Times assesses the US's current adventure in Afghanistan as much  more damaging to the US than was the Vietnam War, at least in terms of its strategic consequences.  It's hard to dispute Wright's contentions that
  • the Afghan war, besides being the longest in US history, is also costing the US hundreds of billions of dollars desperately needed to prepare America's domestic society for the future (which, as Wright notes, is what Bin Laden was hoping for from the outset); and
  • the Afghan war is likely recruiting more enemies for the US than it's eliminating.
But something that really struck me was Wright's reference to a recent analysis that concludes:
A well tuned terrorism containment strategy — dubbed containment 2.0 by the foreign policy blogger Eric Martin — . . .  would mean convincing Americans that — sometimes, at least — we have to absorb terrorist attacks stoically, refraining from retaliation that brings large-scale blowback.
I have to concur.  Indeed, I've been thinking about this for awhile.  For all the horror of the 9-11 attacks, as we assess things more than nine years later, I believe one can make a strong case that the damage wrought by the US's response - both the damage we have done to the societies of Iraq and Afghanistan, and the damage the US has done to its prestige, its international standing, and its domestic tranquility and resources -  has been grossly disproportionate to, and incomparably more devastating than, the damage done by 9-11,

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Thursday, November 25, 2010

Sarah Palin Says Most Professors Don’t Believe in God

So she says, evidently, in her newest book (pity the pulp).  The Chronicle of Higher Education publishes a nice rejoinder that makes it quite clear that, according to a 2006 survey, she's incorrect (which ought to be no surprise, given her track record).

Unfortunately, lots of her true-believers read her malarkey, and accept it as gospel-truth.  That's a shame, because she's further entrenching a stereotype that has contributed so much to the anti-intellectualism - that disdain for those horrid "elites" - that the Becks/Limbaughs/Hannitys of the country have labored so diligently  to entrench in the American mind-set.  By dint of the tremendous educational opportunities that the "American way of life" has provided to so many of its young people, the United States possesses a wonderful - and vital - resource: thousands of highly educated, bright, dedicated educators and researchers, many of them of relatively humble origins and background, eager to contribute to the welfare of their fellow citizens by sharing their expertise or applying it to solving looming problems (like the effects of global warming) that will affect Americans and people across the planet.

But the Palins of the country dismiss them as godless elites, and encourage their fellow Americans to do so as well.

And Palin's message as well? Because academics are untrustworthy, academic and scientific expertise is similarly worthless, untrustworthy - and when possessed by individuals who might not share her triumphalist Christian version of monotheism, perhaps un-American, even a tool for the working of evil.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Leslie Gelb on Obama's Mideast Bribes

From The Daily Beast, Leslie Gelb writes on how Obama's "Mideast bribes" won't work (he's right), but says that success might come instead if Palestinian leaders Mahmud Abbas and Salam Fayyad have an Anwar al-Sadat come-to-the-Knesset moment and there promise their acceptance of a "Jewish state in Israel," and avow their desire for (here Gelb borrows Sadat's words) "permanent peace based on justice."

Sounds lovely, but in the eyes of international law and UN resolutions, justice for the Palestinians ought to entail the ability to
  •  return to their lands - inside what is now Israel - from which they were dispossessed between 1947 and 1949;
  • have Jewish settlements in the West Bank removed
  • have completely equal citizenship, with full political rights and economic opportunity, in a bi-national state.  An Israel described and accepted as a specifically Jewish state (which is one of the things that Gelb would call upon them to accept) would not, it seems to me, afford them those rights and opportunity.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Human Costs of War in Afghanistan

Absolutely a must-read is today's WaPo piece by Joshua Partlow about Afghan refugees from Helmand who are now congregating in pitiful conditions near Kabul.  The camp Partlow visits currently "shelters" about 1000 families, and is the largest of about 30 such "informal settlements" near Kabul.
Extrapolating from the statements of these unfortunate people, what's excruciatingly obvious is that thousands of Afghans have been simply swept up by, and caught in the middle of, the horrors of a down-and-dirty war that they did nothing to bring down upon themselves and of which they want no part.  Most of them seem to have no love for the Taliban; but at the same time, they've had more than they want of the presence of "infidels" in their land.
Ahunzada, a 35-year-old mullah, gets by on meager donations from other refugees, given to him as payment for teaching Islamic classes and leading the daily prayers in a low-ceilinged makeshift mosque built from mud. Two years ago, he left his opium fields in Sangin, one of the most violent parts of Helmand, which British troops recently handed over to U.S. Marines after taking casualties for four years.
"Every day, fighting is going on there. The more infidels who come to our country, the more Afghans die, and the less safe we become," he said.
Ahunzada has little affection for the Taliban. His father, Mohammad Gul Agha, and his brother, Abdul Zahir, both died when a fireball engulfed their car on the road to the provincial capital. The insurgents, he said, had planted the bomb to target a passing U.S. military convoy.
"We are not happy from either side, but I believe the British and American troops are more cruel than the Taliban," he said. "I have seen it happen: The Taliban come on motorbikes, they open fire, then they leave. Then the Americans just come and kill us, they bomb us, they open fire on us, they kill the children and innocent people.". . . .
Barigul and his family left Helmand last month. He said the decision was the culmination of long-running harassment from American troops and their insurgent enemies. He has been detained, he said, accused of planting bombs, searched at checkpoints, and slapped in the face by foreign troops. Outside the Musa Qala district center, where American troops are dominant, the Taliban patrol the villages, block children from attending school and kill Afghans accused of collaborating with foreigners.
"If we grew our beards, the Americans arrested us and put us in jail saying we were Taliban. If we shaved, the Taliban gave us a hard time," he said. "What are we supposed to do, shave half of our beard?"
While camp residents describe themselves as the war's collateral damage, caught between two rival forces, they also clearly want foreign troops to depart.
"Who are the Taliban? They are our brothers, our cousins, our relatives. The problem is the Americans," said Lala Jan, 25, also from Musa Qala. "If somebody attacks from one house, the Americans bomb the whole place. If the Taliban come inside, during the night the Americans come and raid the house. That's the problem."
Meanwhile, the Afghan "Surge" goes on, with the promise of "infidel" soldiers remaining on Afghan soil through at least 2014.  Whatever "good intentions" or "national interests" motivate the American occupation, the fact of the matter is that because of it, thousands more Afghans are going to die horrific, painful deaths  - like that suffered by one individual remembered by one of the refugees, who saw:
"a woman's hair entangled in the mulberry branches, her legs strewn far away in the dirt."
And please, let's hear no "that's war; war is hell" crap.  This entire enterprise will come to no good end - even if the John McCains and Lindsey Grahams among the American "leadership" do eventually declare victory and sing our military's praises as they waltz out.  No matter what happens from this point on, they will be leaving behind a shattered country and a legacy of ill will that will be seared into the collective memory of the people of Afghanistan, even as the McCains and Grahams - and the Obamas - will call upon all of us to remember it as a time of selfless heroism on the part of the United States.  

This is scary

OK, now this is scary.  No sooner had I posted my little piece on Frank Rich's essay about you know who than did this nonsensical "comment" hit my inbox:
Governor Palin is a courageous person, no doubt. In view of her massive following, SARAH PALIN CAN SAVE AMERICA WITH ONE SIMPLE ACT  if she would simply, briefly, tweet about the upcoming case before the US Supreme Court next week, it would change the course of American history. 
November 23, 2010 marks a fork in the road for the future of America of more than historic proportions — perhaps on par with events leading to the Civil War. To date, virtually all federal and state courts where actions have been brought seeking decision on the meaning of the Constitution’s Article 2 “natural born citizen” clause as a prerequisite for Barack Obama to be a lawful President and Commander in Chief of the United States (Mr. Obama having been born to a father of British/Kenyan nationality and father not a citizen of the United States), have been shut down, never getting beyond the issue of standing. To date, courts have very strategically (narrowly if not artfully) characterized and applied law and legal procedure steadfastly to prevent the question from ever rising to the merits — this on a host of different types and classes of plaintiffs, causes and defendants — admittedly under the most intensely implicit (if not more) pressure to do the same. 

The national media (some say our 4th branch of government) has aided and abetted the avoidance by mischaracterizing this as a “Hawaii birth” a/k/a “birther” issue which is nothing more than a “red herring” in that the issue for Article 2 “natural born citizen” is Mr. Obama’s father. Moreover, the legal community has aided and abetted the avoidance by mischaracterizing the 1898 Supreme Court Case, Wong Kim Arc, which dealt with the meaning of “citizenship”, not the meaning of “natural born citizen” under Article 2. 

November 23, 2010 may very well be the last chance for the Judicial Branch realistically to take up the issue, this on a case of legal standing solidly presented by Attorney Apuzzo and Commander Kerchner. If the Court finds no standing here, by a narrow interpretation of the same or otherwise, coming after all the rest of the “no standing” cases, it is doubtfull this important Constitutional issue can and will be resolved in any court of law. The question will nevertheless continue to fester, at tremendous national cost, never to abate, potentially to reach crisis stage, and in any event to undermine the structure of our Constitutional Republic. 

It is more than chilling and says volumes that NOT ONE member of Congress will publicly speak on this or, better yet, since the Congress of the United States has more than a vested interest, opine if not as a “friend of the court” at the Supreme Court, in the court of public opinion — BEFORE the Supreme Court convenes on November 23, 2010. 

The world is (should be) watching! 

Frank Rich on Palin's Prospective Presidential Run: Be Very Afraid

Frank Rich's essay is worth a read  - as are some of the comments, especially that of a commenter from Tucson, who notes:

With luck, she'll be eaten by a genuine progressive grizzly. But that may be too much to hope for.

I used to wonder how the European tyrants of the 1930s and '40s could have come to power.

What I'm seeing these days seems to be a slow-motion replay. Only this time, if the forces of darkness succeed in assuming power, there will be no democratic United States intervening to rescue the world. Instead this nation will be the threat, an irrational religious theocracy armed with thousands of nuclear weapons.

And Rich also reminds us that when the potential candidacy of George W. Bush was mentioned in the late 1990s, most observers dismissed him as an untraveled lightweight who stood no chance of being nominated, much less elected.

Be very afraid.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

In Afghanistan, Your Tax Dollars at Work

Another notch in the gun of US public diplomacy?

It's a new TV show in Afghanistan, funded by American dollars, that's designed to boost public perceptions of Afghanistan's corruption-riddled police forces.  But as the NYT notes:
Unfortunately, life is still a long way from imitating art on Kabul’s mean streets.

The real unit most similar to Eagle Four in concept is probably the Sensitive Investigations Unit, which since summer has effectively had its hands tied by the Afghan government after it and another American-trained elite unit were involved in the arrest of a presidential aide.

On American Exceptionalism

Paul Woodward at War in Context has a nice piece about American exceptionalism, building on an essay by Matt Miller ("Ohhhh, America, you're so strong") in the WaPo.  Notes Woodward:

In as much as American exceptionalism is rooted in a belief in American supremacy, then the power ascribed to the nation is implicitly shared by every American. That this is make-believe power is evident in the frequency and loudness with which it is declared and the fact that those who profess their conviction in this power nevertheless clearly easily feel threatened — threatened by the government; by the rest of the world; by immigrants; and by other Americans who don’t share their views.

And Miller winds up his piece beautifully, and explains nicely some of the basis for Ms. Palin's appeal:

The conservative use of American exceptionalism as a political sword today is perversely revealing. There's something off when the first generation of Americans that is less educated than its parents feels a deep need to be told how unique it is. Or that a generation that's handing off epic debts and a chronically dysfunctional political process (among other woes) demands that its leaders keep toasting its fabulousness. Especially when other nations now offer more upward mobility, and a better blend of growth with equity, than we do - arguably the best measures of America's once-exceptional national performance.

Wouldn't it bolster Americans more to be told that we can meet the challenges of this moment? Wouldn't we be better off striving to be exceptional at solving our common problems?

Sarah Palin's focus on this theme proves she is shrewder than her critics acknowledge. I don't doubt that Palin's beliefs are sincere. But she's also tuned in to her audience: Millions of Americans who are anxious about America's trajectory and worried about their family's economic future. If you don't have real answers, soothing words are a start.

Oooh, you're so strong, baby, so handsome. Palin knows the country she is courting.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Counterinsurgency? It's Whatever Petraeus Wants it to be, including "Shock and Awe"

The WaPo's Rajiv Chandrasekaran reports that, for the first time, the US is deploying M1 Abrams heavy battle-tanks to Afghanistan, a move that, as he notes, "signals a further escalation in the aggressive tactics that have been employed by American forces this fall to attack the Taliban."  In other words, as one US spokesman put it, the gloves are off.

. . . except that the gloves have been off for awhile now, what with the ramped-up use of Special Ops night raids (which have been tri,pled over the last three months) the demolition of thousands of houses because it "was thought" that they might be booby-trapped, and the use of line-charges to clear minefields.  As for the tanks, as one US officer noted, ""The tanks bring awe, shock and firepower . . . . It's pretty significant."

Gosh, we remember how well the shock and awe used in 2003 eventually turned out, don't we?

And as for those tanks . . . as RC also notes, they bring a couple of downsides: they may suggest that the US is getting desperate, and they will remind the locals of the Soviet occupation of 1979-1989, which featured the employment of similarly frightful firepower.  And we all remember how well that turned out, don't we?  The Soviets killed hundreds of thousands of Afghans, but in the end, they had to leave, humiliated, their country's resources and prestige bled dry.

General Petraeus, however, is not about to have his "winning streak" snapped in Afghanistan, if he can help it.  Indeed, for me, this report produces a few particularly disgusting insights into the cynicism underlying the whole thing:
  • in the eyes of his acolytes, Petraeus has not abandoned his be-nice-to-the locals COIN doctrine, but is only tweaking  it a little by adding shock and awe to its tool-kit.  In other words, COIN can be redefined however he likes.
  • This very sudden ramping up of the pace of killing "Taliban" by Petraeus is as much a public-relations exercise as anything else.  NATO is meeting, even as I write, to discuss strategy in Afghanistan, and next month, Obama is engaging in a full-fledged review of the US's Afghan expedition.  Petraeus has indeed taken the gloves off in order to stack the deck as much as possible in his favor.
  • The US military notes a nice up-side to dropping 2000-pound bombs, or using mine-clearing line-charges that destroy everything - trees, crops, houses - in their path: By devastating their homes and property, the US forces the locals to travel to the district governor's office to submit a claim for compensation.  This, says a US military officer, is truly a good thing, because "in effect, you're connecting the government to the people."
It's one thing to be cynical.  But can that officer truly be that stupid?  This is the same government that - as all Afghans know - has been wallowing in corruption for years, which is one of the reasons why so many Afghans have turned to the Taliban as a force for stability.

Can we please be clear?  There will be no "winning" in Afghanistan, no "success."  The shock and awe of Abrams tanks will not bring victory; but they will cost the US thousands more of those Afghan hearts and minds that need to be won over if the US is to eventually depart that country with at least a little less ignominy.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

On the Rise of Sarah Palin

If you care to know how Ms. Palin got her start, Jane Mayer's 2008 piece in The New Yorker (which I happened to serendipitously come across in my daily researches) is a good place to start.  The extent to which personal ambition (as opposed to principle) drives her is evident, especially in the way she pitched herself to the same media "elite" she claims to despise.  And Mayer's quote from former Bush campaign strategist Matthew Dowd says it well about John McCain: "He put the country at risk" by selecting her, and he would have to live with that.
Palin's sex-appeal-based popularity (her biggest single bloc of support seems to come from white males aged 40 or older) continues to put the US at risk, if only because the policy nonsense and leather-jacketed "star quality" she peddles (and Mr. Limbaugh promotes) in her quest for political super-stardom and big bucks hinder the country from coming together to address the huge, frightening problems it now faces both at home and abroad.  Twenty years from now, we will look back on this era as one of America's lowest, and Palin's rise  will epitomize it - as will the fact that a war hero and self-proclaimed patriot like John McCain would have stooped so low in his quest for power that he became her most useful "enabler."

Monday, November 15, 2010

Hitchens on Obama's "craven offer" to Netanyahu

I've not been a huge fan of Hitchens ever since he declared himself in favor of the Iraq invasion, but his Slate essay about Obama's offer to Netanyahu begging for a new settlement freeze hits it about right.  It is indeed a "national humiliation."

Sunday, November 14, 2010

A Sucker's Bet

Seems that Hillary has been busy with Mr. Netanyahu, and has convinced him to try for a 90-day, one-time-only, freeze on West Bank settlements building (although it's by no means certain that Netanyahu will include East Jerusalem in the freeze, which diminishes its worth significantly).  The NY Times headlines it as a "90-Day Bet."
How about calling it what it really is: a bribe.
The US will pony up an additional 20 top-of-the-line F-35 fighter planes, and also promise to give Israel all the diplomatic cover it needs to prevent any movement in the UN toward declaring unilaterally a Palestinian state - a prospect that's been getting lots of attention in recent days.
So, is this what we call being an "honest broker"?
Palestinian officials are outraged - and justifiably so. The Lebanon Daily Star tells us why:
 In private, Palestinian officials have expressed anger over US incentives to get Israel to prolong the partial freeze on Jewish settlement building, saying it effectively constituted bribing Israel to fulfil basic international obligations. . . . .  Settlement watchdog Peace Now published a report Sunday showing that in the seven weeks since the end of the freeze, Jewish settlers had begun building work on 1,649 new homes – more than making up for the 10-month ban. Figures showed that since the freeze ended, new homes had been started in 63 settlements and, in more than two-thirds of cases, settlers had begun laying the foundations. . . . .  Also Sunday, Syria’s Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem said Israel was showing it lacks the will for peace through its actions in the Palestinian territories. “Israel is not a partner for peace. Instead, the policies of colonization [of the Palestinian territories], judaizing Jerusalem and blockade of the Gaza Strip continue,” Moallem said.“Israel and those who sponsor it should assume the sole responsibility for the freezing of the peace process.”

Analyst: Iraq Deal is the Work of Outside Powers

Reported in the Daily Star, with Reuters . . . 

 Iraq’s power-sharing deal, hailed as a sign of its factions coming together, is more a result of foreign powers’ influence and was pushed in particular by the US and Iran, analysts say.

Which, of course, raises the issue of legitimacy, the extent to which the agreement - and a second term as prime minister for Nuri al-Maliki - reflects the will of the people.  This analysis suggests that the Iranians gave the deal their imprimatur in large part because they wanted the issue off their plate as they head into new negotiations about their nuclear program.  The US also wanted to see Maliki return as prime minister.  But it's obvious that to the extent that Iraqis opposed to him see him as the anointed one of the Iranians and the US (with each of whom Iraq has been at war at least once in the last 30 years; the war with Iran is seared into the memory of anyone older than 40), he's going to be seen as untrustworthy, and controlled by his foreign masters.

That, in turn, renders the last piece in the analysis even more disturbing.  It's a quote from Iraq expert Reidar Visser:

“One potential long-term scenario is that once he is confirmed, Maliki will try again what he did in 2008, that is develop an independent power base without his coalition partners such as the Kurds and the Sadrists, and once more become a strongman ruler”

That would be, of course, entirely in keeping with the history of Iraq since its birth almost 90 years ago: the balance of power in the hands of a strongman, one who has the backing of the military, or even has emerged from its ranks.  It's a kind of government to which many Iraqis have become conditioned and accustomed - and for which, given the instability since 2003, many have indicated a preference.  Historically, it's the norm.

And for the US, even with all the palaver about democracy and liberation, the most important concern is stability; representative government be damned (cf. Mubarak in Egypt, King Hussein in Jordan, the Saudi monarchs).  And especially attractive to the US as far as Mubarak and Hussein are concerned is their officially friendly relationship with Israel (even if their citizens are seething).  That may be too much for Maliki to deliver.  Iraq's Arab citizens wouldn't stand for it; nor would Iran's government.

The Kurds, on the other hand, have been a different matter altogether in terms of making nice with Israelis.  But Iraq's Kurds are becoming increasingly tied  to Turkey economically, and the mood in Turkey has swung very much against Israel - and, for that matter, the United States.

Karzai Speaks. Is Anybody Listening? (Lindsey Graham sure was!)

If you have any remaining doubts about who is the ruler of Afghanistan, this piece in this morning's WaPo will remove them.  Pres. Hamid Karzai wants a reduced US troop presence, and he especially is insisting that the US cease its infamous night raids. (The WaPo could just as easily call them death squads, but that would upset the editorial board and Charlie Krauthammer, not to mention the Pentagon. They're fighting for our freedoms, aren't they?  Well, aren't they?)

The American position is reflected well in the following:

 Under Petraeus and his predecessor, such raids by U.S. Special Operations troops have increased sharply, to about 200 a month, or six times the number being carried out 18 months ago, said a senior NATO military official, who requested anonymity so that he could speak candidly about the situation. These operations capture or kill their target 50 to 60 percent of the time, the official said.
To American commanders, the nighttime strike missions are a crucial weapon to capture Taliban commanders, disrupt bomb-making networks and weaken the 30,000-man insurgency in Afghanistan. In the past three months, U.S. Special Operations troops have killed or captured 368 insurgent leaders. On each mission, Afghan commandos accompany U.S. troops and Afghan officers work with the Special Operations command at Bagram Airfield to choose targets, military officials said.

"We understand President Karzai's concerns, but we would not be as far along as we are pressuring the network had it not been for these very precision operations we do at night," the NATO military official said. "I don't see any near-term alternative to this kind of operation."

In other words, you can cram it, Karzai.  His viewpoint?

 Karzai was emphatic that U.S. troops must cease such operations, which he said violate the sanctity of Afghan homes and incite more people to join the insurgency. A senior Afghan official said that Karzai has repeatedly criticized the raids in meetings with Petraeus and that he is seeking veto power over the operations. The Afghan government does not have the type of legal arrangement that the Iraqi government has with U.S. forces to approve particular military operations.

"The raids are a problem always. They were a problem then, they are a problem now. They have to go away.  The Afghan people don't like these raids, if there is any raid it has to be done by the Afghan government within the Afghan laws. This is a continuing disagreement between us."We'd like to have a long-term relationship with America, a substantial relationship with America, that's what the Afghan people want. But we'd like the Afghan countryside - villages, homes, towns - not to be so overwhelmed with the military presence. Life has to be seen [as] more normal."
U.S. officials have grown increasingly concerned with the failure of the Afghan government to root out corruption and provide services to the people. Karzai deflected this criticism by arguing that much of his government's corruption problem comes from the American money that is pumped into the country outside the control of Afghan ministries and frittered away on private security firms that undermine the authority of Afghan security forces. During the Soviet occupation, he said, ministers lived in modest housing blocks and the foreign money flowed through the Afghan government.

"How come we are now so luxury-oriented today?" he asked. "The transparency of contracts is not there. Why is the U.S. government giving contracts to the sons and relatives of officials of the Afghan government? We don't do those contracts. I don't have an authority over a penny of those contracts. . . . and we've been protesting against this for years."

Bottom line: David Petraeus is the ruler of Afghanistan . . . or better, the American viceroy.  But the professor of make-friends-with-the-natives counterinsurgency is finding out that COIN doctrine won't work for him nearly as well as will the bust-down-doors, shoot-or-detain-whoever's-inside tactic that, ironically, his successor in Iraq, Gen. Raymond Odierno, practiced before he received the gospel according to Petraeus, and for which he was castigated as Petraeus' stock rose in Iraq.

And take note of this other brief mention in the report:

 Karzai's comments come as American officials are playing down the importance of July 2011 - the date President Obama set to begin withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan - in favor of a combat mission ending in 2014. 

Slowly, but ever so surely, we're being prepared to accept a 2014 official end-date for the US's Afghan expedition - with bases and advisers ensconced well beyond then.  Think leverage: versus Pakistan (our ally?), Iran, Russia, China . . . and think insurance: natural gas, and those trillions of dollars of resources said to lie in the soil of Afghanistan.

UPDATE: Turns out that Lindsey Graham was indeed listening to Mr. Karzai, and is simply shocked, shocked! (well, the actual word he used is "stunned") that Karzai wants the US to take night raids out of the tool bag.  Says he, how can Gen Petraeus be successful if he can't continue with them.
Oh, by the way, also says Sen. Graham:
 I think in the summer of 2011, we can bring some troops, but we're going to need a substantial number of troops in Afghanistan past that; 2014 is the right date to talk about. That's when Karzai suggests that Afghans will be in the lead. . . .   Post-2014, when the Afghans hopefully get in the lead, it'd be great to have a couple of air bases there in perpetuity to help the Afghans to send the right signal to the regions . . . . But none of this is possible unless you have a reliable partner in the Afghan government."
Send the right signal?  As in, we (the US) own this place? 
Reliable partner?  As in, dear Hamid, shut the fuck up?

Friday, November 12, 2010

Some Plain Sense on Afghanistan

CNN reports that an expert bipartisan task-force sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations (you can't get more policy mainstream than that) and chaired by former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and former National Security Adviser Samuel "Sandy" Berger is recommending that, unless real signs of progress are forthcoming, the US should make drastic cuts to its troop levels in Afghanistan, along with a change of mission to counter-terror rather than counter-insurgency.  The report highlights that time and patience have grown short, and that the US is dealing with huge budget deficits and a sluggish economic recovery - factors that, by my lights, aren't getting nearly as much attention here as they deserve.

David Petraeus likely will not welcome this report .  He is, of course, the guru of counter-insurgency (COIN), as well as the commander of US forces in Afghanistan.  For weeks he's been waging an information war designed to "demonstrate" progress there,  hoping to undercut the Obama deadline of July 2011 and win himself more time to achieve "success."  The major newspapers have expressed some skepticism about Petraeus' "progress"; the McCain-Graham-Lieberman triumvirate, on the other hand, are touting it as the path to victory.  Notably, in his remarks of a couple of days ago in Kabul, McCain referred to the current "surge" - undoubtedly an intended allusion to the 2007-2008 "surge" in Iraq that, in his estimation, was the major reason for what he considers the American "victory" there.

McCain's calculus: the Surge worked in Iraq, but Obama opposed it then.  The Surge will work in Afghanistan, provided Obama doesn't pull the plug now.

Ray Takeyh's Superb Tactic for Moving Iran Forward

By my lights, an excellent essay by Ray Takeyh in today's WaPO that deserves posting in full:

How to squeeze Iran on the nuclear issue

By Ray Takeyh
Friday, November 12, 2010;

In an all-too familiar ritual, the United States and Iran are once more contemplating their diplomatic dance. The question that has perennially bedeviled Washington and its allies is how to compel the theocratic regime in Tehran to alter its objectionable practices. As a rational and pragmatic democracy, the United States perceives that economic pressure will compel Iran's leaders to yield on strategic priorities in order to relieve financial distress. The Islamic Republic has its vulnerabilities; however, too narrow a focus on its economic deficiencies has obscured its manifest political weaknesses. An insistence on human rights and the empowerment of the Green Movement can pave the way for Iran's transition to a more tolerant society and provide the West an indispensable lever for tempering the mullahs' nuclear ambitions.

In one of Iran's great paradoxes, a nation in clutches of clerical despotism has given birth to the most intellectually vibrant democratic movement in the contemporary Middle East. The Green Movement, which traverses all of Iran's social classes, has reconceptualized the relationship between the public and the state, as well as religion and democracy. At its core, a movement that emphasizes the need for the public's consent, respect for global opinion and relaxation of onerous cultural restrictions is a denial of the politics of intolerance practiced by Iran's supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Despite repression, imprisonment and show trials, the Green Movement continues to thrive and is gradually pressing the society away from state control. The movement is better organized and commands a greater degree of popular support than comparable past political movements in Eastern Europe that - with the assistance of the West - eventually dislodged the intractable communist tyrannies from power. The scale of defections from the state and the disillusionment of many stalwarts of the revolution demonstrate how the Greens have succeeded in sapping the self-confidence and the legitimacy of the system.

As part of any negotiations with the West, the Islamic Republic should be asked to amend not just its nuclear infractions but also its human rights abuses. This entails releasing political prisoners, lifting the restrictions on civil society groups and allowing publication of banned newspapers. Unless Tehran accedes to such measures, it must continue to confront economic pressure and political isolation. Should the United States take such an unequivocal stand as part of its diplomatic outreach, it can further stimulate domestic dissent in Iran. In the meantime, an isolated, weakened regime faced with economic decline, political ferment and international ostracism maybe tempted to offer important concessions to escape its predicament. The path to disarmament and democracy lies in making common cause with the Green Movement and making Iran's behavior toward its citizens a precondition to its reintegration in the community of nations.

As Washington assesses how to deal with Iran's nuclear challenge, it must widen its canvass and consider its approach to the slow, simmering political change unfolding there. Given the alienation of the population and the fragmentation of the elite, the regime will not be able to manage a succession crisis. For all his faults, Khamenei is the glue that keeps the Islamic Republic together. Should the elderly supreme leader pass from the scene, the system is too divided and lacks a sufficient social base to easily choose another successor. In the process of consolidating his power and ensuring the fraudulent election of his protege, Khamenei has all but ensured that his republic will not survive him. All this suggests that a transactional relationship with Iran whereby carrots and sticks are traded for modest nuclear concessions is unwise.

History has shown that human rights do contribute to dramatic political transformations. The Helsinki Accord of 1975 invigorated the moribund opposition groups behind the Iron Curtain and ensured a smooth transition to a post-communist reality. More so than arms races and arms control treaties, those accords defied the skeptics and cynics by contributing to the collapse of the mighty Soviet empire. An emphasis on human rights today can not only buttress the viability of the Green Movement but also socialize an important segment of the security services, clerical estate and intelligentsia to the norms to which a state must adhere in order to become a member of global society. The successor generation of Iranian leaders would then be more sensitive to their obligations to citizens and the international community. By linking its diplomacy to human rights behavior, the United States could mitigate Iran's nuclear ambitions and pave the way for a peaceful transition from clerical autocracy to a more responsible and humane government.

Ray Takeyh is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Obama Praises New Iraqi Government as Inclusive

As reported by the AP. . . . but the fact of the matter is that the Sunni remain largely marginalized, and the government has yet to be formed, and Obama is putting a smiley face on a still troubled situation.
The winners: Iran, Iraq's religious Shia parties, and al-Qaeda, which will likely attract recruits among Sunni Iraq-nationalists and Arab nationalists who realize that they've been left out in the cold.
The losers: Iraq's Sunni, of course; and Mr. Obama, who will be pressured even more to keep US troops in Iraq when al-Qaeda in Iraq boosts its attacks on what is going to be most assuredly a Shia-led government with strong links to Iran.
And if Iraq's security forces can't dampen down the attacks, the Mahdi Army can be mobilized quickly.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Iraq's new deal not such a big deal?

No sooner is it announced that the protagonists in Iraq's post-election saga have made a deal, is it reported that a bunch of Iraqiya's representatives walked out in protest when the parliament wouldn't discuss some of their demands.  And it's evident that a lot of Sunnis on the street - and in parliament - are finding that the whole thing is pretty bogus, merely a cover for Maliki (who finished second to Allawi in the voting) to steal the election for Iran and away from the Sunnis.  There's also little faith that the Shii-led coalition is going to come through on their agreements.

We have a long way to go . . . .  and the longer this saga is prolonged, the more the McCain triumvirate - in line with their new "mandate" to re-direct foreign policy - will pressure Obama to encourage Iraq's leaders to let US troops stay longer.

Wheeling ad Dealing in Iraq: More to Come

Not the easiest of reads, but this post from Reidar Visser spells out very well the implications of the "deal" done today among the various contenders for political leadership in Iraq . . . .  Bottom line:
  • The US did not get all that it wanted.  Although both the US and Iran wanted Maliki to stay as prime minister, the US wanted the current president, the Kurd leader Jalal Talabani, to step aside for Ayad Allawi so as to fashion a so-called national-unity government that would feature both men at the top.  But as Visser notes, the presidency is largely a ceremonial office (as in the Israeli system) once the prime minister is installed and his government formed.  On a purely constitutional basis, Maliki then could have sidelined Allawi if Allawi had accepted the presidency.  Allawi would seem to be no fool; yet, he did agree to chair a new "national council for strategic policies," which putatively gives empowers him to rein in Maliki.  But that council does not yet exist; it certainly is not authorized under the present constitution.  Bit of a gamble on Allawi's part, I'd say.
  • Although the deal had been made and the top prizes awarded, the various ministerships and cabinet positions have yet to be allocated - and as Visser notes, that could still take several months.  A lot can happen in several months.  And at this point, it's not clear that all the Sunni factions have bought into the new arrangement. 

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Undercutting Obama: Joe Lieberman chimes in

I'd posted a few days ago about John McCain's demand that Mr. Obama abandon his July 2011 begin-withdrawal-from-Afghanistan date, and Lindsey Graham's warmongering speech about "neutering" Iran's military, and wondered about when Joe Lieberman was going to get in on the act.

Joe's right on cue: the WaPo reports that the merry triumvirate of McCain, Graham, and Lieberman are touring Afghanistan (and later, Iraq and Pakistan), where today they shared a lectern in Kabul to tell reporters that Mr. Obama was oh-so-wrong to set July 2011 as the start of the pullout from Afghanistan.  Said McCain:

"But the fact is, it was wrong to set the date July 2011. . . . It sent the wrong message and created a problem, and we need to have the president state unequivocally that [a drawdown] is solely conditions-based. I worry a great deal about the effect of that [target date] because it encourages our enemies and discourages our friends."

OK, now it's Joe's turn to get the microphone:
"There is an overwhelming majority of both parties that agree July 2011 will not be an American pullout," Lieberman said. "The goal the president set was based on a review of conditions on the ground. We're going to stay here until the job is done. Members of Congress understand that completely."
Such patriots!  Such lusty, manly men!  Let's keep the troops in Afghanistan for another four years!  Build more bases!  By God, America can NOT be defeated!  We'll spend all the money we need to spend!

Meanwhile, back on the home front, a bipartisan panel is proposing major changes to Social Security, including reducing benefits and bumping up the full-benefits retirement age to 69 (from 67).  They also propose a significant increase in the gasoline tax - something that's sure to please the folks back home.  Hey, I've been OK with a higher gas tax for a long time, if it's intended to promote more energy-efficient cars, or a move toward energy-saving, planet-friendlier mass transportation.  But to keep the military funded for a permanent war?

Speaking of which . . . uh oh, the panel also is recommending deep cuts to military spending.

Better hurry home, boys!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Netanyahu Dissing Obama - with the GOP ready to back up the prime minister, not their president

More from the NY Times and the WaPo on the Israeli high-handed decision to build, as it turns out, not only more than 1000 new housing units in East Jerusalem (specifically, the Har Homa area, which was a major center of controversy several years ago), but also 800 in the West Bank settlement of Ariel, which juts way into the West Bank, like a dagger into the heart of any future Palestinian state.  In Indonesia today, Mr. Obama has voiced his frustration with Israel's decision, which he calls "unhelpful."  State Dept.'s P. J. Crowley has indicated the US "disappointment."

But, says Netanyahu, Israel has every right to build in Jerusalem, which, after all, as Israeli dictate has proclaimed and every Bible-toting Christian knows, that city is Israel's "eternal and indivisible capital" - it's hardly a  settlement.

According to international law, the strong consensus of legal experts, and the long-held policy of the State Dept (which refuses to re-locate the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem), Netanyahu and his allies are wrong.  Obama knows that.  Netanyahu knows that Obama knows that; and he also knows that the Republicans in Congress have his back, which accounts for (as Ron Kampeas puts it) Bibi's new "swagger."

And meanwhile, in the streets of Sanaa and Riyadh, Amman and Damascus, Cairo and Marrakesh . . . and Islamabad and Kabul, young men grow angrier . . .

Monday, November 8, 2010

Bush on his decision to invade Iraq

The Guardian synopsizes the chapters in Bush's new published memoirs that deal with the invasion of Iraq.
The one thing Bush does not consider a mistake was the invasion itself. Seven years after the war began, America is safer without a dictator pursuing WMD and supporting terror at the heart of the Middle East, he says. "The region is more hopeful with a young democracy setting an example for others to follow. And the Iraqi people are better off with a government that answers to them instead of torturing and murdering them."

Well, OK, except that . . .
  • he'd hold up as a model a "young democracy" that, eight months after a major election, still can't form a government - or provide electricity or clean water, or ensure security?
  • the new government doesn't torture?  Has our infamously non-reader Leader not read about the ongoing practice of torture by the Iraqi police?

More US meddling in Iraq's politics

Jane Arraf reports that both Obama and Biden have approached the current Iraqi president, the long-time Kurdish politician (and president of Iraq ever since Saddam was ousted) Jalal Talabani, with the "request" that he step aside for Ayad Allawi, the secular Shii leader (and former PM) who heads the Iraqiya bloc, which won the most votes in March's election but had no partners with which to form the new government.  The idea is to set up Allawi as president with powers sufficiently expanded as to mollify him into giving up his quest to lead the government as prime minister.  That would enable the current PM, Nuri al-Maliki, to keep the position to which he's clung tenaciously ever since the elections, voters wishes be damned.

Arraf notes that the Kurds will not be keen to relinquish the presidency and settle for speaker of Parliament.  I can't blame them.  Ever since the creation of Iraq as a constitutional monarchy after World War I, the parliament has functioned as a debating society and locus of dissent, but has never wielded the kind of power that, say, the US Congress has.  In the Iraqi system, initiative has always been in the hands of the executive.  Talabani would become a secondary figure - and the Kurds as a bloc would be relegated to similar stature.

But I can't fathom what lasting benefit the US sees in creating what would effectively amount to a two-headed executive.  Is this some attempt to salve the administration's collective conscience about Iraq, arranging a putative settlement, touting it as a "unity" or "coalition" government - then saying, our work is done here as we head for the exit, leaving the Iraqi people with what will likely devolve into state-sanctioned gridlock between Iran-backed Shii religious parties led by Maliki and Sunni-supported nationalists and Sunni conservatives led by Allawi?  Does any halfway sentient person truly believe that these two guys are going to share the harness?

It's become increasingly obvious (as General Odierno made so plain) that the US entered Iraq essentially clueless, with nothing thought through as to where that country might be going in the wake of the invasion.  Is anybody in the White House and State Department thinking through the consequences of leaving Iraq with such a dystopian government?

Chutzpah! Israel Risks US Fury With New Settlement Plan

The timing of this announcement beggars belief.  The Israelis are today announcing plans to build more than 1000 new housing units in East Jerusalem.

Obama is away from D.C., in Asia; Biden is minding the store - the same Biden, please note, whom the Israelis dissed when, during his state visit to Israel several months ago, they announced plans for new housing in the Occupied Territories.  Meanwhile, Netanyahu is visiting D.C., where Congress has his back and the resurgent Republicans would be more than happy to slap his back, hail him as a hero, and thank him for sticking it to Mr. Obama with this new announcement.  Obama's peace process never really got out of the starting gate.  With an announcement like this, it's for all intents and purposes been euthanized - and Mr. Abbas can expect to come under even more fire at home for ever thinking that the US might somehow broker a peace settlement.

But at what point are American Jews and Christian Zionists going to recognize that, with such provocations, Israel is bringing even more trouble, more threats, down upon itself - quite possibly, as Linda Heard's essay in Arab News headlines, digging its own grave. She quotes IDF Military Intelligence General Yadlin: 

 “The recent security calm is unprecedented,” he said, “but there should be no mistake that there are efforts (by elements) in the area to grow stronger. The next military confrontation will not be between Israel and another country but between Israel and two or three different fronts at the same time. It will not be similar to anything we have grown accustomed to during the Second Lebanon War or Operation Cast Lead,” he told a Knesset panel.

Yadlin predicted a far greater threat from a strengthened Syria that has acquired advanced S-300 anti-aircraft mobile systems from Russia. “The effective, deadly missiles will make it more difficult for the air force to have freedom of operations,” he said. He further warned that Hezbollah is also growing stronger in terms of advanced weaponry and expects S-300 missiles will be passed by Damascus to Hezbollah’s military wing.

Israel has enjoyed for years an overwhelming military dominance in the region, along with the support of the US.  But its freedom of action has indeed become constrained by the emergence of Iran and Syria, and especially, Turkey, which for decades was an ally of Israel but now features a government led by an Islamist party, the AKP, that has pledged to uphold the secular values with which the republic was founded, but that (along with most of Turkey's public) has taken a very dim view of Israel in the aftermath of the IDF's devastation of Gaza two years ago and its killing of Turkish protestors aboard the Gaza-blockade-running ship, the Mavi Marmara (for which Turkey has demanded an apology from Israel, still not forthcoming - nor will it be).

The point?  Any new conflict is likely to be a regional one, with significant loss of population and damage to infrastructure not only regionally, but in Israel as well.  Thousands of Israelis will choose to emigrate; joining the thousands who have already done so.  But as Ms. heard points out (and many others have made these points as well), it doesn't have to be that way:

There is a very simple answer to such looming regional crises and to Israel’s ultimate security. Israel holds the key but refuses to walk through the door. Engaging in a peace process that would involve the creation of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital — blessed by the Palestinians and all Arab League member countries — would put a lid on any bubbling conflict and diminish the crowd-pleasing abilities of Hassan Nasrallah and Iran’s leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Tehran has indicated on several occasions that it would endorse the will of the Palestinians should any peace process be sealed and would be expected to quit saber rattling. At the same time, Hezbollah’s military raison d’être, as the only organization capable of defending Lebanon from the Israeli aggressor, would be substantially weakened once Lebanon’s only foe is rendered benign.

And from a broader world perspective, Middle East peace would likely diminish the numbers of recruits queuing up to join extremist entities such as Al-Qaeda.

Peace would put an end to Israel’s security worries, bring increased prosperity, and dampen demographic concerns that Israeli Jews will soon be outnumbered. Moreover, there would be no more anti-Israel boycotts, no need for all young Israelis to be conscripted into military service, no necessity for such high taxation — and Israelis could go out into the world with their heads held high.

A Message to America's Jews (and Christian Zionists)

Israeli commentator Gideon Levy (in Haaretz) publishes a heartfelt plea to America's Jews to help Israel by being willing to criticize it before its policy of gobbling up the West Bank leads to its destruction:

 Your beloved Israel is addicted. It is addicted to occupation and aggression, and someone has to wean it from these addictions. Like any other junkie, it is incapable of helping itself. Thus the job falls to you. . . .  You, dear brothers and sisters, have enormous political power. Sometimes, I think it is too enormous: One day, it will blow up in your faces. But it is possible to use this power for something more than a despicable witch-hunt after every congressman who dares to criticize Israel. . . .  The town is burning, Jews. Israeli democracy is being torn apart; soon, it will no longer be possible to talk about "the only democracy in the Middle East," as you so love to do. The occupation is also growing both more entrenched and more crushing; already, it is almost impossible to talk abut a two-state solution.

This, by the way, comes on the heels of a recent Israeli TV appearance (as reported by Bradley Burston in Haaretz) by the NY Times Thomas Friedman, who insists upon his undying support for Israel (no surprise there, but something to always bear in mind when he pontificates on Middle Eastern affairs) but also slams the Netanyahu government for actions that embarrass the US, hasten disinvestment from Israel, and cost it support:

"You are losing the American people," Friedman warned. "Not to dislike, not to opposition - they are fed up, fed up with the Palestinians, believe me, fed up with the Mideast in general.But they're also fed up with Israel. When they see their president working hard to try to tee up an opportunity. All we're asking is just test - go all the way to test whether you have a real partner.  And you say 'No, first pay me - let Pollard out of jail, have Abu Mazen sing Hatikva in perfect Yiddish, and then we'll think about testing.' It rubs a lot of people the wrong way."

Given a consensus among Israeli analysts, rightly or wrongly, that the man they called the world's most important commentator was speaking not only for himself, but directly for Barack Obama as well, you can bet that Benjamin Netanyahu was listening.  It says everything about the Netanyahu government's attitude toward America, however, that what the prime minister heard was the polar opposite of what Thomas Friedman said."Israel doesn't have to worry about me," Friedman had stressed early in the interview. "At the end of the day, Israel will have my support - it had me at hello."  But many Americans, Friedman continued "just are fed up with this conflict, and over time, that will become a national security problem for Israel, given the fact that the United States is your only friend."

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Once again, Ashamed to be a Kentuckian

. . . when I consider the humanity and abundant good sense of essays such as this wonderful piece by Nicholas Kristof, and then consider that Sen. Mitch McConnell, the senior senator from my home state of Kentucky, will be leading the fight to repeal Mr. Obama's health-care legislation and ensure that America's plutocracy rules the roost in, as Kristof so appropriately labels it, the banana republic that the US is becoming.

Bravo, Barack! U.S. subjects its human rights record to review by U.N. council

WOW! And you can be sure that the Fox News idiots - Krauthammer in particular - are going to excoriate Obama for this.  By my lights, it's a brave move, one of a man who aspires to be a true leader on the global stage.  It's also a shot across Israel's bow, I should think.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Rejuvenation of GOP Warmongers

With their party's resounding victory on Tuesday, some of the usual-suspect  Republican hawks in the Senate are feeling their oats and calling for bringing US military power to bear in Afghanistan and Iran.  A few days ago, John McCain used the Republicans' victory to demand that Mr. Obama forgo his timetable of starting a withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan in July, or else risk losing the US's burgeoning relationship with India.  Notably, McCain decided to chum those waters right on the eve of Obama's very important trip to India.  Outstanding timing, John; bless your heart, nothing like stirring things up just as the president is embarking on a mission - accompanied by major players from same of the same corporations that probably fill your campaign coffers - with the potential of adding lots of jobs to the US economy.  Indeed, today's news is that Obama has spearheaded some major deals with India. As the NYT reports:

Here in Mumbai, Mr. Obama lavished attention on American business leaders who timed their visit to his and spotlighted $10 billion worth of deals between American and Indian companies that, the White House said, would support more than 50,000 jobs in the United States.

Then again, more jobs = more wage-earners paying taxes = more funding for the never-ending war and global-presence military that are like Viagra for McCain and his pals Lindsay Graham and Joe Lieberman.  And speaking of Graham . . .

He's up in Nova Scotia, claiming that we're past the time for a simple little "limited airstrike" against Iran's oh-so-dangerous nuclear program.  Indeed, says he

"Instead of a surgical strike on their nuclear infrastructure, I think we're to the point now that you have to really neuter the regime's ability to wage war against us and our allies. And that's a different military scenario. It's not a ground invasion but it certainly destroys the ability of the regime to strike back."

And as for the possibility of Iranian retaliation,

"You can expect that," he said. "You can expect, for a period of time, all hell to break loose. You must have to almost plan for that. And weigh that against the idea of a nuclear-armed Iran and what that means to the future of the world."

Excellent, Lindsay!  You betcha, we can plan for that - just like we planned so well for the aftermath of "Mission Accomplished" in Iraq back in 2003.  And sure, we can handle a third war.  A trifecta!  A cakewalk!  And with Yemen perhaps tottering toward failed statehood . . . well hell, why not four?  We're already pounding folks there with drones anyway!  How to pay for all the weapons and bases and soldiers?  Hey, I know, how about making permanent those Bush tax cuts?  Worked before, didn't it?

OK, isn't it Joe Lieberman's turn to thump his chest and stake out a new mission for the US military?  We're waiting . . . .

Truly, though, isn't it time once again to bring up David Petraeus' famous question: "Tell me how this ends."

The Costs of Pounding Yemen

Jeffrey Fleishmann provides timely analysis in the LA Times

The U.S. is growing impatient with Saleh's corrupt government. Yemen's recent military campaigns have pounded villages, spawning refugees but netting few Al Qaeda fighters. Western intelligence agencies worry that Yemen could tumble into being a failed state at the intersection of the Middle East and the Horn of Africa, where another Al Qaeda branch is battling the government of Somalia. Such instability would endanger neighboring countries and further jeopardize the pirate-laden shipping lanes around the Arabian Peninsula.

Add to this destabilization

  • the impact of US drone strikes that all too often have killed tribal villagers, which likewise turns locals against Mr. Saleh's already wobbly government
  • the evidence that US involvement in Yemen is drawing more jihadists from Iraq and Afghanistan (where there are still enough around to keep things unstable in those two countries . . .

And you have a recipe indeed for chaos in Yemen, as well as Somalia, and the shipping lanes.

For more comment and analysis, check out Max Rodenbeck's recent essay in the NY Review of Books.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Boy George admits to his own criminality

In his new book, up-front, and evidently unashamed, Mr. Bush tells us that he did indeed give the CIA the go-ahead to waterboard Khalid Sheikh Muhammad.
Bush recounts being asked by the CIA whether it could proceed with waterboarding Mohammed, who Bush said was suspected of knowing about still-pending terrorist plots against the United States. Bush writes that his reply was "Damn right"

However, as the WaPo report goes on to note:
The 26-year-old United Nations Convention Against Torture requires that all parties to it seek to enforce its provisions, even for acts committed elsewhere. That provision, known as universal jurisdiction, has been cited in the past by prosecutors in Spain and Belgium to justify investigations of acts by foreign officials. But no such trials have occurred in foreign courts.

It's unlikely that he'll ever face prosecution.  More's the pity.
Tom Malinowski, the Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, said, "Waterboarding is broadly seen by legal experts around the world as torture, and it is universally prosecutable as a crime. The fact that none of us expect any serious consequences from this admission is what is most interesting."

Indeed.  And as long as US leaders hold themselves above the reach of international law, and unaccountable to it, even as they hold the Saddam Husseins and Mahmud Ahmadinejads of the world strictly accountable to it - we can all expect more "terror"attacks on Americans both at home and abroad.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Republicans control the House. Be very afraid!

I cannot recommend highly enough the opinion piece by Timothy Egan in today's NYT, titled "How Obama Saved Capitalism and Lost the Midterms."  And for an extra helping, read as well Bob Herbert's piece - "Fast Track to Inequality" - of a couple of days ago.

My take on yesterday's elections?  The GOP has succeeded in playing the fear-and-anger card to capitalize on the desperation of an electorate victimized by the greed and incompetence of major corporations and the financial industry.  Ironically, to this point, it is those same "titans" of American capitalism who have benefited most from actions Obama has taken.  Yet, it is also they who funneled millions of dollars to fund a GOP and popular-media campaign of fear-mongering and mud-slinging designed to both terrorize and enrage a terrified American electorate.  Their ultimate goal?  Turn them against a president who, after all, as Messrs. Limbaugh, Hannity, Beck et al. loudly insisted, could not be trusted.  (After all, isn't Hussein his middle name? Isn't his father, after all, a Muslim African?  Indeed, as Mr. Limbaugh once loved to sing, isn't he Barack, "the magic Negro?")

Well, it worked.  So now, we collectively are saddled with a Republican-controlled House, with a Republican-invigorated Senate where the minority leader, the Honorable Mr. Mitch McConnell (the senior senator from the state that I long called home, much to my sadness today), has already made it plain that his purpose for the next two years will be, not to help Americans recover, not to work for the best interests of the country, but to destroy the Obama presidency.  And House Republicans are already laying plans to do their part, by issuing subpoenas to any and all, launching "hearings" in which to tar the Obama White House with any brush they can lay their hands on - and in the process, of course, providing as much fodder as they can for the Fox News "experts" to incite even more hatred toward the man in the Oval Office.

And how the President is going to be able to navigate the shoals of foreign affairs, with Republicans constantly trying to  torpedo him in this new age of winner-take-all, take-no-prisoners, give-no-quarter politics, is anybody's guess.

It's not going to be pretty over the next two years.  Indeed, the adjective "disgusting" comes to mind.

Monday, November 1, 2010

David Broder's FDR solution

Marc Lynch weighs in on David Broder's very strange WaPo piece, "The War Recovery?", in which Broder suggests that Obama might rescue his presidency - and the US economy - by marshaling a massive war effort against Iran, thereby rallying Republicans to his side and jump-starting the economy as it moved more to a war footing.  Broder notes:

Look back at FDR and the Great Depression. What finally resolved that economic crisis? World War II.

This idea is beyond bad, for more reasons than I have time to go into.  But it surely plays into the "Greatest Generation" trope in which Tom Brokaw and Tom Hanks have been bathing the national ethos for quite a few years now.  Broder seems to insinuate that the US can get back to national greatness (and perhaps international predominance?) by involving itself in a great crusade-war against a putative 21st-century Hitler, Mr. Ahmadinejad.  Thing is, by the time the US entered the war, Nazi Germany's imperial ambitions were obvious: almost all of Europe had been incorporated by conquest into the Third Reich  (and Hitler had had Britain on the ropes) and the Wehrmacht was pouring into Russia.  Last time I checked, Iranian troops were all still within Iran's borders.  And despite all the wailing about Iran's supposed declaration of intent to "wipe Israel off the map," Juan Cole and others have repeatedly made the point (to which Beck-Hannity-Limbaugh-Fox remain determinedly deaf) that Iranian leaders have never made such a declaration.  They simply insist that Israel will someday disappear - and given what's been happening internally in Israel in recent years, the Israelis are well on the way to ensuring the de-legitimizing and breakdown of the Zionist state.

Broder also insists that he does not want the president of the US to actually instigate a war.  But I have to believe that a journalist of his experience knows that some historians once suggested that FDR might have set up the US for the Pearl Harbor attack in 1941, knowing that it would take some such provocation to enable him to bring the US into the conflict (much, of course, to the relief and delight of Winston Churchill, who remains a hero of the US neocon crowd).  The US had forced Japan's hand by imposing a metals embargo on that resource-poor country; the US intelligence failures in the run-up to the attack were, in the eyes of some, almost suspiciously egregious; and, as it happened, on that fateful morning of 7 December 1941, none of the American aircraft carriers - which military strategists knew would be the warships most critical in an upcoming war - were moored in Pearl Harbor.

Do I subscribe to that school of thought?  No, and I don't believe Broder does either.  But some of his more experienced readers might have heard of it, and they might feel that, all in all, a little push (or provocation) might not be, in the long run, such a bad thing.


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