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March, 2008

Monday, March 31, 2008

WPR Blogging

Due to time constraints, I'm pretty much doing all my posting over at World Politics Review for the time being. Here's what went up today:

There's also some reader mail and other posting, so feel free to click through, too.

Posted by Judah in:  Odds & Ends   

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Monday, March 31, 2008

The Wealth Subsidy

With capital gains taxes at a 70-year low, making effective tax rates on wealth lower than that on labor, maybe a little Reagonomics wouldn't be such a bad thing after all:

Reagan’s 1981 tax cuts tilted toward the wealthy and made him a supply-side icon. But Reagan could also be fair, and fairness would permeate his last fiscal legacy. In the landmark Tax Reform Act of 1986, nearly three years in the drafting, Reagan again cut marginal rates on earned income but raised taxes sharply on investors.

The reform ended preferential tax treatment of capital gains. The tax rate on long-term gains leapt to 28 percent, nearly double the current levy. 

John McCain is quick to assume Reagan's mantle, but doesn't want to touch this one with a ten-foot pole. Making the issue one Barack Obama could win for the Gipper.

Posted by Judah in:  Markets & Finance   

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Friday, March 28, 2008

WPR Blogging

Here's the posting I did over at the World Politics Review blog:

Or just click through.

Posted by Judah in:  Odds & Ends   

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Thursday, March 27, 2008

Dept. of Shameless Plugs

I've got a new piece up over at World Politics Review on the EUFOR Chad mission and what it represents for European defense:

U.N. refugee camps in Chad's eastern province now provide shelter to more than 200,000 Darfur refugees and close to the same number of Chadians displaced by their country's civil war. But in the absence of any governmental control over the area, both the refugees and relief workers have been increasingly targeted by border-crossing insurgents, militias, and organized bandits that use the region as safe harbor, exacerbating an already desperate humanitarian crisis. The European Union peacekeeping force currently deploying just inside Chad's border with Darfur was mandated last September by the United Nations to fill the security vacuum that has allowed the armed groups to operate with impunity in the region.

The force, known by its acronym EUFOR Chad, has the delicate task of protecting the efforts of the NGO and U.N. relief agencies without compromising their impartiality. Its principle function, therefore, is to maintain a dissuasive presence. But outside of policing the border, which it is forbidden to do, the mission's rules of engagement place no limitations on its use of force. Given the proliferation of armed groups in the area and the complexity of the hostilities among them, the possibility of engagement is a very real one. But if the situation on the ground in Chad promises to be challenging, the biggest hurdle the mission has faced so far has been getting there. . .

Give it a look if you're interested in one possible future of EU global influence.

Posted by Judah in:  Odds & Ends   

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Thursday, March 27, 2008

Fighting in Basra

Magical thinking is no substitute for strategy.

Posted by Judah in:  Iraq   

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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

WPR Blogging

Got some good posting done over at the World Politics Review blog, including:

Or else just click through.

Posted by Judah in:  Odds & Ends   

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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Russian Uranium

Usually when the Bush administration appeals a lower court ruling to the Supreme Court, I start feeling a little queasy. Not this time. As Miles Pomper points out in this WPR feature, there are some really good reasons to worry about relaxing restrictions on Russian uranium exports to the American nuclear industry. So much is made of the threat of fissile material falling into the wrong hands, and the program to downblend Russia's weapons grade uranium is one of the few lasting successes of the immediate post-Cold War period. Finding a way to make it attractive enough to renew it once it expires seems to me like it should be a priority as well. But for now shoring it up for the rest of its duration is a good place to start.

Cross-posted to World Politics Review.

Posted by Judah in:  Russia   

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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Cheney in Ankara

You'll recall that last month I mentioned an increase in Turkey's troop commitment in Afghanistan and a more active Turkish role in pushing back against Iran's nuclear program as likely chits for the U.S. signing off on its weeklong incursion into northern Iraq. Well, it seems that Dick cheney flew into Ankara today and met with Turkey's president, prime minister and the Army chief of staff to collect on both accounts. And in a further sign of America's diminished standing in the region, he left more or less empty-handed. (Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan did issue a pro forma declaration urging Tehran to cooperate more fully with the IAEA.)

Now if this were a mob movie, some capo would be busy explaining to the Don in a husky whisper why someone had to get knee-capped, and quick, to keep people in the neighborhood from thinking we'd gone soft. Thing is, if this were a mob movie, chances are Cheney would be the capo sent to do the knee-capping.

So I'll be keeping my eye on this one. Ankara isn't too keen on appearing like Washington's errand boy, so there might just be a short delay for appearance's sake. The NATO summit two weeks from now, for instance, would make a nice, headline-grabbing forum for an Afghanistan announcement.

But if 'No' in this case really means 'No,' that's a pretty big setback for American regional strategy.

Cross-posted to World Politics Review.

Posted by Judah in:  Afghanistan   Iran   Turkey   

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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Nabucco in Jeopardy, Again

Turkish President Abdullah Gul met with Turkmenistan President Gurbanguli Berdymukhamedov yesterday, and while both leaders expressed their ". . .mutual will for improving bilateral economic and commercial relations between the two countries," no agreement was announced on whether or not Turkmeni gas will feed the proposed Nabucco pipeline that would make Turkey a gas hub connecting Central Asia with Southern and Central Europe. For Today's Zaman (Turkey), that meant the two countries "agree to boost economic cooperation." For RIA Novosti, citing a Turkish-language paper, that meant "Nabucco trans-Caspian gas pipeline in jeopardy."

WPR contributing editor John Rosenthal recently wrote about the fact that the logic of the Nabucco pipeline, designed to reduce Europe's dependence on Russian gas, doesn't stand up without Iranian reserves feeding it. Which makes the U.S. State Dept's sudden support for the project surprising, and its criticism of other countries for signing energy deals with Iran somewhat hypocritical.

I suppose it could be argued that participation in Nabucco could function as a carrot to try to lure Iran into adopting a more responsible regional posture. But the thing about offering carrots is that they work best when you're not absilutely dependent on the other party to accept them.

I suppose it's also worth noting that Iraq's Oil Ministry has just announced a tender for a pipeline to Iran, designed to transport Iraqi crude to Iran and Iranian refined products back into Iraq. Something to think about the next time someone argues we invaded for the oil.

Cross-posted to World Politics Review.

Posted by Judah in:  European Union   Iran   Iraq   Turkey   

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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

WPR Blogging

Posting has been light due to some heavy deadlines on a freelance contract, as well as a much needed long weekend with my son at the Normandy coast, blessedly removed from internet connectivity. I've posted this morning at World Politics Review blog, though, so click through and take a look. The theme of the day is Strategy vs. Tactics.

Posted by Judah in:  Odds & Ends   

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Thursday, March 20, 2008

Iran Standoff: Running Out of Time

Most Iran-watchers agree that the recent parliamentary elections represent a mild setback for President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Pragmatists led by Hashemi Rafsanjani and Ali Larijani roughly split the conservative vote, and even reform candidates, who were suppressed from the ballots in large numbers, managed to pick up some seats. The resulting tension has immediately made itself felt in the standoff that has galvanized world attention and divided the Iranian leadership: the decision on whether or not to pursue Tehran's controversial policy of implementing Daylight Savings Time:

Iran will again use daylight saving time this year despite earlier opposition from President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's government.

Iran stopped putting the clocks forward in spring 2006 because, although it aims to save electricity by lengthening evening daylight by an hour, the government said there was no evidence to show it cut energy use.

The government said it still opposed using daylight saving time, although parliament voted to reinstate the practice last year.

"The government will be implementing (parliament's) legislation regarding the change in the country's official timing," Government Spokesman Gholam Hossein Elham said.

On a more serious note, an earthquake registering 4.1 on the Richter scale hit roughly 50 miles south of the main uranium conversion facility at Isfahan. No reports yet on damage or casualties.

Cross-posted to World Politics Review.

Posted by Judah in:  Iran   

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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

WPR Blogging

Here's a roundup of the posts I did over at the World Politics Review blog:

There's also a bunch of posts from yesterday that I didn't get a chance to link to, so click through.

Posted by Judah in:  Odds & Ends   

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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

NATO-EU Defense Fusion

There's a lot going on in terms of European defense vis ŕ vis NATO these days. France is considering integrating the alliance's command structure while at the same time pushing hard for EU defense, an effort for which America NATO ambassador Victoria Nuland recently expressed support. Russia is offering historic contributions on both fronts. Now via DefenseNews comes this, from NATO chief Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, regarding EU defense:

"I would like to see much more pooling of our capabilities, especially in areas such as vital enablers - transport, helicopters, or in research and development, or in harmonizing force structures and training methods," he said.

"It is absolutely critical that all of the capabilities that we are able to generate from this pool of forces are equally available to both NATO and the European Union," Scheffer said at the Brussels Forum conference. 

De Hoop Scheffer emphasized the need for more efficient cooperation on strategic airlift, as well as attack and transport helicopters, two capabilities in high demand and small supply for both NATO's Afghanistan mission and the EUFOR Chad mission currently deploying.

This idea of pooling capabilities goes quite a bit further than the Berlin Plus Agreement, which essentially puts NATO assets at the EU's disposal under special circumstances for Crisis Management Operations. Significantly, it demonstrates the dramatic shift that has taken place since then in terms of the newfound acceptance of a European defense capacity that is complementary to NATO.

It seems like a proposal, though, that benefits NATO more than the EU. On the material level, because it essentially amounts to a sugar-coated call for increased European defense expenditures at a time when it's unlikely that the EU will be benefitting from NATO's overstretched capacity. And on the political level, since part of the effectiveness of an independent EU defense capacity is its ability to be deployed to sensitive areas (e.g. South Lebanon) for which NATO would be politically unacceptable.

Still, it's one more thing to keep your eye on next month at the NATO summit in Budapest.

Cross-posted to World Politics Review.

Posted by Judah in:  European Union   

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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Obama's Speech: The Explainer in Chief

I just got a chance to watch Barack Obama's speech, after having read the transcript earlier today. Most of the commentary has focused, for obvious reasons, on his treatment of race and its legacy in American history and politics. And rightly so, because it's about the most succinct, balanced, inclusive and unflinching synthesis that I've seen, and I'm no stranger to the subject.

But not enough has been made, I think, about this portion of his remarks that deals with the capacity for change that exemplifies the American experience:

The profound mistake of Reverend Wright's sermons is not that he spoke about racism in our society. It's that he spoke as if our society was static; as if no progress has been made; as if this country - a country that has made it possible for one of his own members to run for the highest office in the land and build a coalition of white and black; Latino and Asian, rich and poor, young and old -- is still irrevocably bound to a tragic past. But what we know -- what we have seen - is that America can change. That is the true genius of this nation.

Change has obviously been a theme of Obama's campaign, and the election in general, but it has often been reduced to a boilerplate message about changing the way in which we practice politics. This, on the other hand, strikes to the heart of what has historically led people, and continues to lead them, to our country in the hopes of starting anew against all odds: our capacity to change our conception of what America is and what it can be.

It's what gives us such an advantage over countries that are still struggling to reconcile the tensions caused by differences of origin and custom, and what makes us a model for what can be accomplished. American exceptionalism is often a manipulative device hauled out for jingoistic effect, but if there is a reason that America might be considered an exception, truly this is it.

I've also been convinced for some time that the most compelling case for Obama is a generational one. It's time not to turn the page, but to pass the torch. What the previous generation accomplished should not be rejected but refined, improved and built upon. That's what I heard here:

. . .This union may never be perfect, but generation after generation has shown that it can always be perfected. And today, whenever I find myself feeling doubtful or cynical about this possibility, what gives me the most hope is the next generation - the young people whose attitudes and beliefs and openness to change have already made history in this election.

And that's really all I need. Whether Obama survives this controversy is to my mind no longer relevant. He has moved the torch along, and if in the end that proves to be insufficient, he will have lost the election with his dignity and character intact.

Ronald Reagan was known as the Great Communicator. With any luck, Obama will become known as the Great Explainer. Hopefully America can spare the half hour it takes for him to lay out his case, not just on this but on other issues of the day as well, because it's a half-hour well spent. If not, if the soundbites carry the day, it will be America's loss. Not Obama's.

Posted by Judah in:  Politics   Race In America   

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Monday, March 17, 2008

Kristol Klear

I have to admit, I never really understood why so many liberal bloggers bother to go after William Kristol. It always seemed like wasted effort, since the people who are going to fall for his nonsense are not susceptible to liberal arguments in the first place. But in glancing through his new Weekly Standard column that explains why the Pentagon review that found no direct links between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda actually found direct links between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda, I finally got it: Taking Kristol apart is actually fun.

Take this tortured passage about documents linking Saddam Hussein to the Egyptian Islamic Jihad:

...Apparently whoever wrote the executive summary didn't consider the link between Saddam and al Zawahiri a "direct connection" because Egyptian Islamic Jihad had not yet, in the early 1990s, fully been incorporated into al Qaeda. Of course, by that standard, evidence of support provided to Osama bin Laden in the early 1990s might not be deemed a "direct connection" because al Qaeda as we know it today did not yet exist.

Apparently it never occurred to Mr. Kristol that by the standard he's proposing as an alternative, evidence of support provided to Osama bin Laden in the 1980s (say by, I don't know... CIA proxies?) would be deemed a "direct connection" to al Qaeda as well.

Posted by Judah in:  Global War On Terror   Iraq   

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Monday, March 17, 2008

NATO's Bitter Pill

To get a sense of just how badly things are going for NATO in Afghanistan, consider the following. Just over two weeks from now at the alliance's summit in Budapest, about the only pieces of good news likely to be announced are that the French will deploy more boots on the ground to ease the strain on Canadian forces, and the Russians will allow logistical supplies to transit its air and ground space. You got that right: France and Russia are coming to NATO's rescue.

Of course, it's not the threat of a military defeat, but that of a political defeat that looms large. Afghanistan just has some sort of mojo that makes it the last meal of colonial empires, Socialist unions and very possibly trans-Atlantic alliances. And even if the weakened alliance should survive the shock, the medicine may prove more deadly than the disease. France is looking to leverage its NATO re-up to move European defense integration forward (and I've got a hunch that won't be as difficult as the WSJ suggests), and Russia already seems to have succeeded in attaching a heightened regional role to the supply route deal.

If it looks like these are the kinds of consolidations that eventually make America the odd man out on the European continent, that's because they are. As Europe looks ahead to the post-Bush era, about the only thing working in America's favor is that the post-Putin era has yet to begin.

Of course, the disaffection cuts both ways. If all NATO can offer is already available through coalitions of the willing outside the alliance structure, the alliance boils down to a big Article 5 security blanket that's not worth the miniscule European defense budgets it enables.

Cross-posted to World Politics Review.

Posted by Judah in:  Afghanistan   European Union   Russia   

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Monday, March 17, 2008

WPR Blogging

Here are links to this morning's posts over at the World Politics Review blog:

Or click through for later updates.

Posted by Judah in:  Odds & Ends   

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Saturday, March 15, 2008

Obama, Wright, and Black Ambivalence

It just so happens that the first post of mine that got widespread attention on the web was one I wrote back in February on Barack Obama's pastor, Jeremiah Wright, titled "Obama As Rorschach Test." Periodically since then, someone clicking through from a "Obama afrocentric" Google search will show up in the HJ traffic logs to remind me of it. Which is all by way of saying that the post has stuck with me more than the thousand-odd other ones I've written in the past year.

So each time the question of Wright's association with Obama has come up, I've been tempted to re-visit the post, but have held off. Now that the issue is front and center, though, I figured I'd mention two things. The first is that if you click through to this 2005 radio interview with Wright that I linked to in it, at about the 3:30 mark, Wright mentions that he'd had the honor of being invited to two clergy breakfasts during Bill Clinton's presidency. So if he's as radioactive as people are saying, what was he doing on the presidential mailing list ten years ago?

The second point is that, with respect to Wright's 9/11comments, I can't help but feel that the outrage over them illustrates the extent to which the far-left is non-existent in American political discourse. In fact, the only places you can still find remnants of radical leftist analysis are in the Chomsky-ite anti-globalisation movement, and in Wright's brand of afro-centric Black liberation theology.

Provocative declaration alert: It's impossible to put a number on it, but I'd wager that the only place on Earth where Wright's analysis of 9/11 could be dismissed out of hand is in the United States. Not that the rest of the world agrees with it. But I think you'd find a substantial amount of people willing to accept that a valid case could be made for it, even if they subsequently disagree with that case. I suspect that more people consider it defensible (not correct, but defensible) than consider it outside the realm of acceptable debate.

Now it could very well be that I'm totally wrong on this. But I don't think I am. I'd offer two reasons for why this is. First, the far-left still exists across Europe and most of the world (by which I mean the real far-left, not the Clinton administration), which means that analyses such as Wright's are heard more often and have a certain legitimacy. And second, the great cleansing narrative of globalization has all but erased America's memory of historical resentments (torture and disappearances in South America, agent orange in Southeast Asia, the plight of the Palestinians) that feed anti-Americanism worldwide. But that doesn't mean the rest of the world has forgotten.

It also doesn't mean that there isn't great love felt for our country around the world as well. But it's important to remember that the ambivalence is always there, ready to tilt one way or the other depending on the latest American foray on the global stage. The dramatic shift in sympathy for America between 9/11 and the Iraq War is all the illustration necessary to see how fluid and volatile the world's feelings towards us really are.

The significance of Wright's analysis is that it illustrates the similarities between the world's ambivalence towards the United States, and many black Americans' ambivalence towards the United States. It's no coincidence that his particular brand of Afro-centrism traces its historical roots to the moment when black Civil Rights leaders like Stokely Carmichael and Malcolm X placed the struggle in the context of the Third World's post-colonial struggle for independence. That's why it functions as America's conscience, not only for its treatment of blacks in this country, but also for its spotty post-colonial record abroad.

Now, obviously someone with Wright's views could not be elected president of the United States, so Obama is forced to denounce and reject them. The question is whether Obama's spiritual relationship, not just to Wright or a few sentences Wright has uttered over the years, but to Wright's core ideology, will now cost him the election. Back in February, I concluded that:

Assuming that his membership in the church signifies his acceptance of its agenda, Obama would do well to articulate his vision of Afrocentrism, and how it fits into his vision of a united America. Not only would it keep his opponents from doing it for him. It would bring a meaningful discussion of race in general, and his race in particular, to the forefont of the campaign. Until then, everyone will just see what they want to see.

I don't think Obama ever did that. Instead his campaign chose to present him as a post-racial candidate, in the hopes that we'd finally arrived at a post-racial America. The result is that his opponents have done it for him. And now everyone will just see what they want to see.

Posted by Judah in:  Politics   Race In America   

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Saturday, March 15, 2008

Russia's European Courtship

The other day over at the World Politics Review blog, I flagged what seemed to be significant developments in Russia-EU and Russia-NATO relations. Specifically, Russia's offer of material support (six to eight desperately needed helicopters) to the EUFOR Chad mission, as well as logistical support (relaxed supply transport restrictions) for the NATO mission in Afghanistan.

Today, M K Bhadrakumar has an Asia Times Online article that provides some context to the NATO angle. Basically, Russia is taking advantage of the desperate situation in Afghanistan to float a comprehensive proposal that would essentially break NATO's (read: America's) monopoly on stabilization efforts in Afghanistan in particular, but in the region (ie. Pakistan) in general. The move would open the floodgates to involving both Russia and China (through the CSTO and SCO) in any strategic solution to the region's problems, including extremist violence but also the growing drug-trafficking problem in Afghanistan.

As significantly, in light of Russia's historic contribution to the EUFOR Chad mission, the effort seems aimed at driving a wedge in the trans-Atlantic alliance by luring Europhile EU countries (ie. France and Germany) into closer strategic cooperation with Russia. In his January NY Times Sunday Magazine article, Waving Goodbye to Hegemony, Parag Khanna raised the specter of Russia integrating the EU. Intuitively, the move seems to make sense for both sides: Russia gains the multi-lateral legitimacy that comes with the EU brand identity; the EU gains the clout that comes with Russia's strategic and expeditionary capacities. Their mutual dependance in terms of energy purchases only lends added incentive.

Obviously, this is nothing but strategic daydreaming for now. But if an EU-Russia marriage ever did happen, it would start with the kind of flirtation we're seeing now.

Cross-posted to World Politics Review.

Posted by Judah in:  European Union   Russia   

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Saturday, March 15, 2008

Russia & the 'Stans

It looks like the Nabucco gas pipeline project just took another hit. Russia just announced an agreement with the 'Stans (Khazak-, Turkmeni-, and Uzbeki-) raising its pruchase price of their gas to European market rates, thereby appropriating one of the major attractions of the U.S-EU offer. As this analysis points out, though, the deal is something of a trade-off for Russia, since it complicates their South Stream pipeline project by reducing marginal profits that pipeline would have offered its southern European partners. That, more than the dissolution of the Serbian parliament, might be what motivated remarks by Serbia's parliamentary speaker to the effect that finalization of the Serbian-Russian gas deal signed in January is essentially on hold.

Cross-posted to World Politics Review.

Posted by Judah in:  Russia   

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Saturday, March 15, 2008

Voter Suppression, Tehran Edition

In other election news, Iranians voted for parliament yesterday, although how many actually voted seems to be the first spin battle over the election's significance. Here's how the AP saw it:

Only a handful of voters showed up at many polling stations in Tehran on Friday in Iran's parliament elections, a sign of frustration with a vote that hard-liners allied with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are expected to dominate. . .

Iran's reformist movement, which seeks democratic changes at home and better ties with the West, was largely sidelined in the race after most of its candidates were barred from running by Iran's clerical leadership.

Here's how IRNA, one of Iran's official press organ, saw it:

Iranians responded to the United Nations Security Council's anti-Iran Resolution 1803 by their massive turnout at the parliamentary election on March 14, Interior Minister Mostafa Pour-Mohammadi said on Saturday.

Speaking to reporters, he said the Iranian people showed to the world that the resolution which was adopted by the UN Security Council against Iran's peaceful nuclear program had no impact on their national will.

PressTV, a semi-official press organ, put turnout at 65%. I'm leaning towards the AP's version, but that might just reflect my Western bias. Actual results should be available over the next few days.

The big story for the Western press has been the exclusion of the reformists from the balloting. But it's important to remeber that Iran pursued its clandestine nuclear program while the reformists were in power. As for the more pragmatic conservatives like Hashemi Rafsanjani, there's not a whole lot of daylight between his negotiating position and that of Ahmadinejad. In a sermon yesterday, Rafsanjani reiterated the standard Iranian position of negotiations with no pre-conditions (ie. no uranium enrichment freeze). So while the exclusion of the reformists is significant for what it reveals about Tehran's general orientation, I'm not sure it will have a major impact on the particular issue of the nuclear standoff.

Cross-posted to World Politics Review.

Posted by Judah in:  Iran   

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Saturday, March 15, 2008

Election Surprise, Pekin Edition

In a major surprise out of China, President Hu Jintao suffered a stunning electoral reversal and lost 9 votes out of 2,965 cast by China's parliament members. Hu will remain in office, but with only a 99.7% mandate, doubts were raised about his effectiveness as a lame-duck president.

On a more serious note, the election of Xi Jinping as Vice-President as heir apparent seems to be the significant news coming out of this election. He replaces a Jiang Zemin ally, definitively signalling the end of the Jiang era. The election caps a meteoric rise for Xi, who first showed up on the international radar last fall when he was elected along with three other members of China's new generation of national leaders to the Communist Party's politburo. Here's his bio from a Communist Party organ Who's Who, and here's some coverage of his introduction last fall from the Telegraph and the Independent.

Back to a less serious note, a quick tabulation reveals that Xi's Scrabble Index marks a return to the mid-twenties after a disappointing high-teens period under Hu Jintao (18). Xi's 26 points put him just ahead of Yang Shangkun (24), but behind Jiang Zemin's record-setting pace of 29*. I've yet to correlate the Scrabble Index to any substantive policy orientation, but I'm working on it.

*Jiang's record climbs to 33 if you use the hotly disputed 'Zhemin' spelling.

Cross-posted to World Politics Review.

Posted by Judah in:  China   

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Friday, March 14, 2008

Growing the Army on the Sly

Lorelei Kelly has a post over at Democracy Arsenal taking aim at the sacred cows of the American defense budget that's worth a read. I admit to being a missile defense skeptic myself, more for strategic reasons than for technological ones. Maybe I'm just a prisoner of a Cold War childhood, but the ABM Treaty always struck me as an island of reason in a MAD world.

In passing, Kelly also takes a shot at growing the military by 90,000 troops, which seems to have passed from proposal to foregone conclusion. She wonders what we're going to do with them. I wonder how we're going to get them, given the anemic enlistment rates the army's been posting. What doesn't seem to get much attention, though, is the way in which the transformation of the Army Reserves from a strategic to an operational reserve has already in essence grown the military. There are currently roughly 24,000 Reserve and National Guard personnel deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Anyway, consider this an open thread on ways we can get more security from our defense spending. If you've got any defense spending pet peeves, drop them in the Comments.

Cross-posted to World Politics Review.

Posted by Judah in:  Odds & Ends   

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Friday, March 14, 2008

When Military Commanders Attack

By an odd coincidence, yesterday when I was clearing out some bookmarks, I ran across this Army War College monograph on the ethics of military dissent that caught my eye back in February. The author, Don Snider, was writing in response to the Revolt of the Generals in 2006, when six retired generals publicly voiced their criticisms of the conduct of the Iraq War. But his argument seems applicable to Admiral William Fallon's resignation as well (on which Thomas Barnett, the author of the Esquire profile, offers some final thoughts).

Snider argues that the military's strategic leaders must balance their executive function, which demands obedience to civilian control, with their advisory function, which demands freedom of expression. At stake are the three primary trust relationships upon which their moral authority depend: ". . .those with the American people, those with civilian and military leaders at the highest levels of decisionmaking, and those with the junior corps of officers and noncommissioned officers of our armed forces."

Snider argues for erring on the side of self-restraint, but concludes that dissent is warranted if:

. . .the leader believes that an act of dissent best balances the immediate felt obligation to bring his/her professional military expertise to bear in a public forum with the longer-term obligation to lead and represent the profession as a social trustee, as a faithful servant of the American people, and as expressly subordinate to civilian control. . . On rare occasions, true professionals must retain the moral space to “profess.” (pp. 30-31)

Fallon's case seem to hang on Barnett's heroic portrayal of a Wyatt Earp-type hero taking on the bad guys in the Bush administration single-handedly. I admit to having fallen for it to a certain extent, but there's a wrinkle that doesn't quite fit the narrative. Namely that he's distanced himself from the aspects of the portrayal that would qualify him as a noble dissenter. There's also the question of timing, which Snider addresses:

Here common sense must also apply. If something is worthy of an act of dissent, then it is worthy. Thus, as soon as that is discerned and decided by the strategic leader, the act should follow immediately. Any separation of months or years between the cause and the act is grounds, again, for suspicion of lack of moral agency and for a search for ulterior motives. (pp. 27-28)

Fallon seems to have waged a bureaucratic war of attrition against policies concerning both Iraq and Iran, accompanied by periodic remarks that bordered on insubordination. And when he stepped over the line and got called on it, he fell on his sword and retracted his dissent. Not exactly what I'd call staking a principled position and holding it.

It's not realistic, perhaps, to expect him to have publicly aired his grievances once he was asked to resign. But if he were really the one man standing between an ill-advised war with Iran, as the article made him out to be, silence would have been a more effective dissent than retraction.

Cross-posted to World Politics Review.

Posted by Judah in:  Odds & Ends   

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Thursday, March 13, 2008

WPR Blogging

Here are links to the posting I did this morning over at WPR:

Or else just click through.

Posted by Judah in:  Odds & Ends   

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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Surge as Pyrrhic Victory

On the heels of the release of the Pentagon's definitive study demonstrating that there was no pre-Iraq War link between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida, comes this WPR feature from Bernard Finel arguing that recent progress in Iraq should not be confused with progress against the global terrorist threat:

We are slowly digging ourselves out of the hole of the Iraq war. Al-Qaida has increasingly been marginalized in Iraq, and the success of American counterinsurgency efforts has diminished the perception that we can be defeated quickly or easily. And yet, Iraq remains a net negative in the overall struggle. . . Al-Qaida is on the run in Iraq, but continues to use the war as a potent and effective recruiting tool throughout the Muslim world.

Worse, six and half years after Sept. 11, 2001, al-Qaida is stronger than ever. It has a safe haven in Pakistan. It has replaced revenue lost through better financial monitoring with increased ties to the drug trade. It has tightened its institutional links to jihadist organizations around the world, making deep inroads in Southeast Asia and North Africa, as well as maintaining its core of support in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Finel is the author of the American Security Project's report Are We Winning?, which last September measured progress in the fight against extremist violence based on a variety of metrics. The ASP just issued a six-month update to the report today, and the results are discouraging.

To be sure, the threat of Iraq becoming a vector for the spread of radicalized and trained al-Qaida operatives can't be dismissed. Matthew Levitt, for instance, points to the similarities between a recently de-classified State Dept. assessment from 1993 of the threat posed by radicalized Afghan mujahidin and today's Iraq to make that case. And that's probably the most compelling argument as far as American public opinion goes against a precipitous withdrawal from (or a continued presence in) Iraq. (Strategically, the collapse of Iraq is probably more of a threat to our regional interests.)

Still, I can't help but wonder whether, with al-Qaida Iraq's recent reversals of fortune, the most seasoned and hardcore operatives haven't already left the burning ship to sink and begun to fan out into the other theaters of operation that have already been identified. (Western Europe and the Maghreb, for instance.) In many ways, the idea that AQI ever harbored a serious ambition to somehow conquer and govern Iraq is farfetched. More than a territory to be conquered, Iraq represented a convenient host for the extremist virus to nourish itself and spread. In that sense, it has long since served its purpose, which means that AQI can now shed the "I" with little impact on its broader strategic goals.

Which in turn means that our "victory" over the AQI threat might end up being a pyrrhic one. Metrics such as body counts are tricky when it comes to an enemy that uses suicide as a tactic. And going by the ones the ASP has come up with, the broader war is far from over.

Cross-posted to World Politics Review.

Posted by Judah in:  Global War On Terror   Iraq   

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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Fallon's Gone

Wow. That was quick. The question now is, What just happened? More specifically, what game was Fallon playing? He ostensibly quit because of the implication of a disconnect between him and the White House on Iran, which created an untenable situation. At the same time, given Fallon's past comments and known position on Iran (Bob Gates called the 'resignation' "...a cumulative kind of thing"), there's a lot of reason to believe that this was inevitable and that the Esquire article just forced the White House's hand. Fallon immediately distanced himself from the article, but the article's author, Thomas Barnett, suggested just after the piece appeared that that was disingenuous:

Writing a piece that pretended there was no tension, when it exists in spades, would have been dishonest. Not preparing the American public for the possibility that Fallon's stance may cost him much like it did MacArthur would also have been poor journalism... Finally, it would have been wholly irresponsible...to not raise the issue that what Fallon's doing here is exactly what so many young officers in the military now say wasn't done before Iraq: providing strategic context to the debate about whether or not this country goes to war again...

But let me be clear here regarding any impression garnered from the admiral's "rejection" of the piece: I approached the admiral expressly on the issue of his ongoing stance on Iran, informing him that Esquire was interested in exploring the man and the vision attached to this stance. The subject constituted a major portion of my first interview with him and later ones following the trip.

There's just so many different levels on which to speculate here that it's hard to know where to start. Is this an NIE-type maneuver, broadcasting a tell (ie. Fallon gone = war with Iran) in order to mobilize resistance to the outcome? Is it a ploy to put the fear of Cheney into the Iranians' hearts, in the hopes that they might become more cooperative if they know the countdown clock's been re-started? Is he signalling to the officer corps' that it's now or never to push back against an ill-conceived attack on Iran?

One thing is sure. When a strategic genius like Fallon gives the kind of access he granted to Barnett, he knows what he's doing and he has a plan. I'm not a strategic genius, so it will take me a while to figure out what that plan is.

Cross-posted to World Politics Review.

Posted by Judah in:  Iran   

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Monday, March 10, 2008

India Roundup

The Times of India reports that the government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is unlikely to jeopardize its ruling coalition by greenlighting the US-India nuclear energy deal over opposition by India's Communist party. So it looks less and less likely that India will meet the July timeframe that three visiting American Senators (Biden, Kerry and Hagel) recently pushed for.

In other India news, the Center for Defense Information posted a brief piece last week by Todd Fine explaining why offering missile defense technology to a country engaged in a regional arms race (with a recent emphasis on delivery systems) is probably not very sensible policy. Which might explain the Bush administration's enthusiasm for the idea.

Cross-posted to World Politics Review.

Posted by Judah in:  India   

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Monday, March 10, 2008

System Capacity

Ezra Klein:

But the capacity of the system to stand against those who would reform it, and who come into office with a broad mandate to do so, is really quite sobering.

As it happens, he's talking about Eliot Spitzer. But the comparison to Barack Obama is... really quite sobering?

Posted by Judah in:  Politics   

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Monday, March 10, 2008

WPR Blogging

My arrangement with the World Politics Review blog has now been made permanent, so I'll be doing most of my foreign policy, foreign affairs, and national security posting over there. If you haven't already, now would be a good time to bookmark the WPR blog or add it to your RSS feed reader. I'll still be cross-posting, and I'll add links to exclusive WPR posts in the sidebar, but I'll no longer be doing a daily reminder.

Posted by Judah in:  Odds & Ends   

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Monday, March 10, 2008

Yoko vs. The Graduate

Like everything else in the Democratic primary, how you answer the question of experience probably says more about you than about either of the candidates. Take the Hillary Clinton-Yoko Ono "analogy as insult", for instance, which is revealing for what it leaves out. Namely, that Yoko Ono was an accomplished and internationally recognized artist before she met John Lennon (ie. a person in her own right), and that while she might not have been a Beatle, she certainly understood what being one was like as well as anyone besides than the Fab Four themselves.

As for the commander-in-chief brouhaha, take this McClatchy article about Barack Obama's foreign policy team. Basically it says that Obama's surrounded by a pretty pragmatic team whose input he seeks out due to his voracious interest in foreign affairs, an interest that the article implies (but never says explicitly) springs from his lack of experience. What it doesn't do is offer anything other than the team members' word for it that Obama has what it takes to run American foreign policy.

The quality that comes across most strongly to me is a certain kind of vision of the world, free of pre-conceptions, a sort of lived experience that can only result from a lack of policy experience. Unlike Clinton, who already seems to have the world grouped into good guys and bad guys according to a pro forma prism, or McCain, who already has his bombing targets circled in red on his bedside atlas, Obama doesn't seem to have things sorted out yet. Whether or not that bothers you probably depends on how you see the world yourself.

Posted by Judah in:  Politics   

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Friday, March 7, 2008

Licensing The Monopoly On Violence

If you haven't yet read Nir Rosen's Rolling Stone article, The Myth of the Surge, definitely click through and give it a look. It provides anecdotal support, but support nonetheless, for all the caveats being attached to the recent progress in Iraq, especially as concerns the Sunni Awakening. But it also anecdotally supports the image that's beginning to emerge of a low-intensity, quasi-suspended civil war under way in Iraq, ie. the exact opposite of what the Surge was designed to accomplish.

It's already clear that the American military approach to the complexities of Iraq has been to assemble a network of sub-contracted militias, from Blackwater to the Shiite-infiltrated Iraqi National Police (INP) to the Sunni Awakening's Concerned Local Citizens councils. Naturally, the result has been a jockeying for position among the rival factions. Since all of them derive their power (at least to operate openly) from their proximity to American handlers, this boils down to competing for recognition of legitimacy from the American military. In this hub and spokes model, the state, with its monopoly on the use of violence, has been replaced by the American military, which proceeds to grant licenses on the use of force to the Iraqi spokes radiating outward.

To get a sense of how unstable this kind of arrangement is, and the degree to which it pushes problems down the line instead of solving them, replace Sunni with "Bloods", Shiites with "Crips", and Baghdad with Los Angeles. Then picture them manning armed checkpoints along every major traffic artery from Silverlake to Venice Beach, and feel the chills running down your spine.

To be sure, some aspects of the new counterinsurgency tactics seem likely to be effective. Back when I was working as a gang intervention counselor in Watsonville, CA, for instance, we would have loved to have this kind of mojo:

First Lt. Shawn Spainhour, a contracting officer with the unit, asks the sheik at the mosque what help he needs. The mosque's generator has been shot up by armed Shiites, and the sheik requests $3,000 to fix it. Spainhour takes notes. "I probably can do that," he says. The sheik also asks for a Neighborhood Advisory Council to be set up in his area "so it will see our problems." The NACs, as they're known, are being created and funded by the Americans to give power to Sunnis cut out of the political process.

But if this kind of investment is being made in East Baghdad instead of East LA, chalk it off as just another opportunity cost of the Iraq War. 

Meanwhile, floating above it all is the destructive effect of the American occupation:

. . .Raids by U.S. forces have become part of the daily routine in Iraq, a systematic form of violence imposed on an entire nation. A foreign military occupation is, by its very nature, a terrifying and brutal thing, and even the most innocuous American patrols inevitably involve terrorizing innocent Iraqi civilians. . . U.S. soldiers are the only law in Iraq, and you are at their whim. Raids like this one are scenes in a long-running drama, and by now everyone knows their part by heart. . .

The grimmest aspect of Rosen's account is the Shiite officer in the INP who finds himself caught between Mahdi Army threats for doing his job too well and American pressure for not doing it well enough. All the while, his loyalty -- like that of most of the professional officer cadre -- lies with neither Shiite, Sunni or America, but Iraq. By the end of the article, he confides to Rosen his intention to quit his job, as if to show that in a civil war, the real losers are the people who, because of their higher loyalty to the nation, don't pick sides.

Cross-posted to World Politics Review.

Posted by Judah in:  Iraq   

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Thursday, March 6, 2008

The Real Impact Of 9/11

A month is a long time in the era of online news and opinion, but I just stumbled on a Project on Defense Alternatives monograph from back in February that's really worth a mention. Carl Conetta makes a pretty convincing argument that the major significance of 9/11 was political, not strategic, and that the true historical pivot point of our time remains the fall of the Soviet Union.

Conetta begins with the paradox of American military primacy in the post-Cold War era. This nugget is enough to make any foreign policy writer green with envy:

With Soviet collapse, America won a windfall in a currency of power that - because of Soviet collapse - was simultaneously devalued.

He also makes the good point that while the 90's saw the birth of the liberal hawk movement, the embrace of American military intervention was far from universal, and often faded soon after the initial engagement with the enemy:

The disappearance of the Soviet threat also made it difficult to form a stable US domestic consensus on overseas military activism. During the 1990s, almost every contingency operation - Somalia, the Balkans, Haiti, Kosovo - quickly became a point of acute contention. Outside the context of the global East-West struggle, America's security stakes in many far-flung conflicts seemed attenuated. Neither the notion of "humanitarian interests" nor that of "important if not vital interests" were sufficient to quell dissent. . .

Conetta articulates a three-point plan for developing domestic political consensus for military activism abroad in the post-WWII era, one that bears a remarkable resemblance to the selling of the Iraq War:

  • First, the national security stakes in foreign involvements must be perceived as real, present, and substantial;
  • Second, the United States must retain freedom of action abroad. In alliance or other multinational endeavors, it must possess a distinct leadership role; and,
  • Third, the modes of action must be perceived as "decisive" - that is: perceived as likely to yield clear, positive results. . . In military operations, it implies the demand for clear, invariant objectives and for using overwhelming force to win them quickly.

This gets us to the crux of Conetta's argument, namely that 9/11 changed everything not in the world, but in American public opinion:

What made a more energetic and proactive interventionary policy broadly acceptable within the United States was the 9/11 attacks - together with the initial impression that the US armed forces would be used in ways best suited to their capabilities. What has proved far less acceptable - and, indeed, has been the Bush administration's undoing - is the desultory occupation duties that followed the initial, conventional victories in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Concetta goes on to argue that the failure of the nation-building experiments in Iraq and Afghanistan illustrate the fallacy of America's post-9/11 conception of military intervention:

What the next US administration can learn from this is that the "war on terrorism" framework, together with popular fears about the spread of weapons of mass destruction, can enable greater military activism, but only of a certain type: fast and decisive. An entirely different matter are protracted campaigns of occupation and those that either seem detached from clear security threats or seem to diverge from the warfghting model. It is disconcerting, then, that the American policy "center" seems to be trending away from a recognition of this lesson. Instead, it is gravitating to a putative midpoint between the Clinton and Bush administration positions.

By this he means the kinds of "peace and stability operations" (PSO's) that are now commonly referred to as nation-building. He wraps up by summarizing the true cost of not accurately assessing the failure of our recent military interventionism:

This failure points to a more fundamental one: seized by a sense of military primacy, we have failed to appreciate the difference and the distance between achieving military effects and achieving political-strategic ones.

This paragraph in particular jumped out at me, because it seems to encapsulize the national security debate embodied by an Obama-McCain presidential campaign:

In light of America's misadventure in Iraq - its great costs and poor results - it seems unlikely that the US public will be easily won [over] to attempt similar experiments on a grander scale. Not even the "war on terrorism" or the notion of a "global Islamic insurgency" seem sufficient motivators.

Clearly, McCain is running on the assumption that Iraq still satisfies the three-point checklist Connetta articulates above. Obama (and, to a lesser extent, Clinton) makes the case that the predominant challenge facing America is the political-strategic aftermath of the Iraq War, rather than the (mistaken) national security threat that lead to our invasion. The national security aspect of the campaign will boil down to which of the two competing narratives the American voters embrace.

Cross-posted to World Politics Review.

Posted by Judah in:  Foreign Policy   Iraq   

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Thursday, March 6, 2008

Fallon Gets Bashful

Apparently Centcom commander Admiral William Fallon has distanced himself from Thomas Barnett's glowing Esquire profile. Too bad, because Fallon really does seem to have a folk wisdom about how to handle some of the region's trouble spots that in its simplicity offers more substance than some of the more soaring diplomatic initiatives I've seen proposed elsewhere. Here he is on Iran:

"Tehran's feeling pretty cocky right now because they've been able to inflict pain on us in Iraq and Afghanistan." So the trick, in Fallon's mind, is "to try to figure out what it is they really want and then, maybe--not that we're going to play Santa Claus here or the Good Humor Man--but the fact is that everyone needs something in this world, and so most countries that are functional and are contributing to the world have found a way to trade off their strengths for other strengths to help them out. These guys are trying to go it alone in this respect, and it's a bad gene pool right now. It's not one with much longevity. So they play that card pretty regularly, and at some point you just kind of run out of games, it seems to me. You've got to play a real card."

Compare that view of engagement with this one offered by former ambassador (and former Iran hostage) John Limbert, or this one by Thomas Pickering & Co. and you'll see what I mean.

Fallon has been widely portrayed as pushing back against elements in the Bush administration who are itching for war with Tehran, and the article locates his appointment as part of a broader Bob Gates effort to that effect. But his strategic cost-to-benefit analysis shouldn't be confused with being afraid of the Iranians:

And if it comes to war?

"Get serious," the admiral says. "These guys are ants. When the time comes, you crush them."

If there's one thing that startled me about the piece, it was the extent to which American diplomacy seems to be conducted out of the DoD these days. The article describes Fallon as meeting with heads of state in Pakistan, Egypt, the 'Stans and elsewhere, and basically coordinating a diplomatic initiative that seems like a macro regional version of the Provincial Reconstruction Teams on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan. But given that his strategic vision for the region seems more dialed in than that of the diplomats, maybe that shouldn't be so surprising.

Via FP Passport. Cross-posted to World Politics Review.

Posted by Judah in:  Iran   The Middle East   

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Wednesday, March 5, 2008

WPR Blogging, Nation Building Edition

We've got a pretty interesting discussion thread on nation-building over at the World Politics Review blog (see here, here and here). If you've got any thoughts, let me know and I can pop them into a post there tomorrow.

Posted by Judah in:  Odds & Ends   

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Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Can Blackwater Save Darfur?

I'm not really sure what to make of this Michael Walzer TNR piece. He begins by making a pretty good point: People who oppose the use of private military contractors (read: mercenaries) often assume that the case for their argument is so self-evident that they don't actually have to make it. So Walzer offers a corrective by going ahead and making a pretty good case against the use of mercenaries in the conduct of war. The basis of his argument is the lack of accountability that results, both for the mercenaries themselves (which has been widely criticized) but also for the government that employs them (which has gotten less attention).

Simply put, the use of military force is a political act that should be part of the political calculus by which any government is judged. By using mercenaries (and Walzer uses Bill Clinton's use of them in the Serbo-Croatian war as an example), a government gets to enjoy the benefits or suffer the consequences of the outcome, but not actually be held politically accountable by its electorate, since the actual deployment is largely invisible.

Walzer also highlights the logical inconsistency of trying to stabilize a country like Iraq (an operation which as much as anything implies reining in private militias in order to return the monopoly on the use of force to the state), through the use of... private militias.

But just when I expected Walzer to wrap up and close the deal, he pivots:

There are, of course, exceptions to every rule...

Since neither the United Nations nor NATO has any intention of deploying a military force that would actually be capable of stopping the Darfur genocide, should we send in mercenaries...?

Whatever Blackwater's motives, I won't join the "moral giants" who would rather do nothing at all than send mercenaries to Darfur... But we should acknowledge that making this exception would also be a radical indictment of the states that could do what has to be done and, instead, do nothing at all.

Now I admit that after an initial "WTF?!?" double-take, I actually considered the proposition, and wondered whether it's not, after all, the kind of bold gambit that might actually be needed, given the diplomatic gridlock that's got the world sitting on its hands while a bunch of thugs go about the business of methodically committing crimes against humanity.

But in the final analysis, to believe that Blackwater or any other mercenary outfit could somehow lock down that corner of the world, given the highly complex ethno-sectarian-politico-tribal dynamics at play, involves a willing suspension of disbelief. The truth is, Darfur -- like Baghdad -- is a cautionary tale about the dangers of allowing guys with guns to operate without any accountability. Adding Blackwater to what's already a bloody and tragic mix is simply adding more of the problem and calling it a solution.

Walzer's frustration and disgust with the world's failure to act is exemplary. But I think the rule he articulates stands up better than its exception. A military intervention might very well be necesssary in Darfur. But if it happens, it should be under the flag of a nation or the flag of a collection of nations, not that of a private militia operating under cover of political invisibility.

Posted by Judah in:  International Relations   Iraq   

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Wednesday, March 5, 2008

The Advantages Of Going Long

Kevin Drum offers '68 as proof that Democrats are over-reacting to the potential divisiveness of the ongoing primary campaign, which yesterday did nothing to settle:

In other words, [1968] was the mother of all ugly, party-destroying campaigns. No other primary campaign in recent memory from either party has come within a million light years of being as fratricidal and ruinous. But what happened? In the end, Humphrey lost the popular vote to Nixon by less than 1%.

I'd add that there's even an advantage to the primary campaign lasting into April: it has forced both candidates to develop ground games in states that they would otherwise have ignored had the nomination been wrapped up a month ago. That means networks of volunteers, media saturation and personal appearances that can only come in handy for the general election.

It also occurred to me that all the hand-wringing is an illustration of how deep the traumas of 2000 and 2004 really go. In many ways, it will probably take a Democratic president for the party to finally and fully recover from hanging chads and Swift Boating.

Posted by Judah in:  Politics   

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Tuesday, March 4, 2008

The Fallacy Of The Surge

This is important, and not just for what Gian Gentile says about the mistaken credit given to the Surge for reducing violence in Iraq. It's a military truism that an army often prepares to fight the last war. So while there are a number of positive conclusions to be drawn about the U.S. Army's adoption of a more nuanced counterinsurgency posture, it's also important to remember that there is no guarantee that the next enemy the American military faces will be an insurgency.

Between the pre-invasion purges (Shinseki) and post-invasion failures (Sanchez, Casey) of the old school generals, Iraq has become a closed feedback loop selecting for new school counter-insurgency strategists (Petraeus, Odierno). Obviously Casey failed upwards, and General Fallon seems like a throwback. But the danger of the military establishment and, more likely, Congress getting seduced by "this year's model" is a real one.

Given the size of the American defense budget, though, there's no reason why the military can't be balanced, with both classic and asymmetric capacities. Especially if people like Gentile, Thomas Barnett (here and here) and Fred Kaplan (here) continue to push back against the trend towards all COIN, all the time.

Cross-posted to World Politics Review.

Posted by Judah in:  Iraq   

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Tuesday, March 4, 2008

WPR Blogging

I did lots of posting yesterday and this morning to the World Politics Review blog, covering China, Russia, Iran, Turkey, South America and Europe. There's also other content from the WPR team. So click on through and take a look.

Posted by Judah in:  Odds & Ends   

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Monday, March 3, 2008

IAEA: Revenge Of The Nerds

There's been a lot of reaction to yesterday's WaPo article about a technical presention to diplomatic representatives of IAEA member states that followed up on the IAEA's Iran report. Some have interpreted the presentation, which revealed documentary evidence of Iranian weaponization efforts up to and slightly after 2003, as a vindication of IAEA Director Mohamed ElBaradei, who had previously been accused of carrying Tehran's water.

So I thought I'd point out that last week, a well-informed source I spoke to following the delivery of the report flagged the presentation -- which significantly was given by Olli Heinonen, the IAEA's head of safeguards -- as evidence of the internal tension between the technical wing of the IAEA (ie. the inspectors on the ground) and the political wing (ie. ElBaradei and his circle). According to my source, Heinonen's presentation grew out of the sentiment among the inspection teams that their "work is not faithfully reflected in ElBaradei's statements." He didn't say it explicitly, but the clear implication was that the followup presentation was an attempt to end run ElBaradei, who presents the IAEA's reports to the Board of Governors, and get the incriminating evidence directly into the record.

He directed my attention to an article in Le Monde from two weeks previous. Here's the key graf:

Within the IAEA, very strong pressures have appeared. . .

According to a source within the Agency, who requested anonymity, the heads of the inspections teams are "unhappy" and privately express their "incomprehension" of what they perceive as Mr. ElBaradei's intention to give Tehran a free hand. "He wants to close the file," the official regretted, "despite incoherences that persist in the explanations furnished by the Iranians, and despite the fact that the information that they've delivered isn't complete." Translated from the French.)

I didn't emphasize the point because I thought the allegation was already a matter of public record. But the reaction to yesterday's WaPo story seems to warrant a re-visit.

A word, too, about the NIE, because there's also been something of a dismissive attitude towards people who worried that it might have an adverse impact on international resolve to maintain pressure on Iran. I'd point out that the overwhelming popular reaction to the NIE was to ridicule the Bush administration's hawkish posture and absolve the Iranian program of any weaponization intentions. The problem wasn't with the former, but the latter which, by conflating a suspension of weaponization programs with the renunciation of a desire for weapons, amounted to a significant misreading of the report's implications.

Moreover, with regards to the IAEA and verification of NPT compliance, the previous existence of the weaponization program as well as Iran's refusal to be forthcoming about it amount to major violations of its NPT obligations. So if the third round of sanctions is back on track, I'd argue that it's because of an intense lobbying effort that included flooding the zone with intelligence to refocus attention on the very serious violations that were obscured by the impact (if not the actual content) of the NIE.

Cross-posted to World Politics Review.

Posted by Judah in:  Iran   

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Sunday, March 2, 2008

Cite Unseen

Here's Barack Obama, off the cuff and without the script:

Obama restated his opposition to gay marriage, but asserted that he supported civil unions because "people who are gay and lesbian should be treated with diginity and respect and the state should not discriminate against them." He added, "If people find that controversial, than I would just refer them to the "Sermon on the Mount."

Now I understand this is a campaign, and there are some swing votes to appeal to. Heck, I'm a big fan of the Sermon on the Mount; Prabhavananda's Vedic reading of it, The Sermon on the Mount According to Vedanta, is among the most moving spiritual texts I've ever read. But is it asking for too much to expect a presidential candidate to refer people to the Constitution of the United States?

Meanwhile, as a practical matter, it occurs to me that supporters of gay marriage might get more mileage out of framing the debate in terms of contract law, rather than civil rights. Because in essence what's being denied, as much as legal recognition of the state of matrimony, is the right to enter into a legal contract. Which to the best of my knowledge, outside of a consensual slavery agreement, the government doesn't have the constitutional authority to do.

Posted by Judah in:  Politics   

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Sunday, March 2, 2008

Gaza Outsourcing

To get a sense of what's going on in Gaza right now, just go read Laura Rozen. She's got all the essential links and analysis. One thing, though, that I haven't seen mentioned yet among all the talk of possible local brushfires (Gaza, West Bank, Lebanon, Syria, etc.) is the impact Hamas-Israel and Hezbollah-Israel conflicts might have on Iran's activity in Iraq. The Iranians have already demonstrated how much they can contribute to improving the security situation there. A three-front war between Israel, Hamas, Fatah and Hezbollah would seem like the kind of scenario they would use to demonstrate how much they can contribute to worsening it.

Cross-posted to World Politics Review.

Posted by Judah in:  Iran   Iraq   The Middle East   

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Sunday, March 2, 2008

Sweet Home Alabama

A quick word on the EADS tanker contract that's getting so much blog attention. (Kevin here, Art here, Danger Room here and here.) Some mention was made of EADS' promise to build the aircraft in Alabama as a way to placate Congress. It's important, though, to point out that as early as last December, EADS was floating suggestions of outsourcing operations to Alabama as a way of counteracting the collapse of the dollar to third-world currency status correction in the dollar's exchange value. So while the move might make for some good Stateside p.r., it makes for some even better bottom line.

There are still some potential rough patches for the deal, though. To begin with, EADS, while publicly traded, counts among its major shareholders both the French and Spanish states, as well as a Russian state-controlled bank. The resulting public-private hybrid could trip the kind of ad hoc (read: politically motivated) American national security sensors that killed the Dubai ports contracts in 2006.

But perhaps just as dangerous will be how outsourcing EADS operations to America will play in Europe, where both France and Germany have often displayed protectionist impulses to what's considered an industrial feather in Europe's cap. It's hard to stick up for a national industry when the soundtrack for its payroll is more Lynyrd Skynyrd than Marseillaise.

Cross-posted to World Politics Review.

Posted by Judah in:  European Union   Markets & Finance   

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