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October, 2007

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Two Steps Forward, Three Steps Back?

I ran across this, from the Times of India, late last night and didn't quite have the energy to do anything with it. But it seemed significant enough to go back to:

The Pakistani Army is "bleeding", and quite profusely at that, in its ongoing bloody skirmishes with extremists in the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan, with a "high" casualty rate as well as "unprecedented" levels of desertions, suicides and discharge applications.

This is the "assessment" of the Indian security establishment closely tracking developments in Pakistan's federally administered tribal areas (FATA), especially the Waziristan region, as also the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and Balochistan.

Take it with a grain of salt, given the nature of the relationship between India and Pakistan. But it corroborates other reports I've read of high desertions, and surprisingly large amounts of Pakistani prisoners being taken by tribal militants.

There's also a rumor floating around Islamabad that Musharraf will declare martial law if the Supreme Court rules his presidential election invalid. The Pakistani government denies it, but it was enough to make Benazir Bhutto cancel a planned trip abroad. The Court is expected to hand down a ruling Friday.

So much for the good news out of Pakistan.

Posted by Judah in:  Odds & Ends   

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Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Results

It took six months, 100,000 troops massed on the border, and the threat of an invasion, but Turkey has finally started getting some cooperation on the PKK question, both from the US and the Iraqi Kurds:

"We have given them more and more intelligence as a result of the recent concerns," said Defense Department Press Secretary Geoff Morrell...

He did not say specifically when the increase started or how the intelligence was being gathered.

But the military in the last week or so has sent manned U-2 spy planes to the border region used by rebels, said a second defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak about it on the record.

The official also said that the U.S. military saw a battalion of several hundred Peshmerga - the militia of the Kurdish Iraqi regional authorities - moving toward the border over the weekend. That could represent a notable change from last week when the top U.S. military commander in the area said he was not aware of any Kurdish attempts to rein in the PKK.

The next major benchmark comes on November 5, when Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is in Washington to meet with President Bush. The outcome of that meeting should determine whether and how aggressively Turkey will pursue economic sanctions against the Kurdish north. But between the Turkish military's announcement that no invasion would take place before the meeting and the onset of winter in the Qandil mountains, it looks less and less likely that Turkey will resort to force to resolve the issue.

Posted by Judah in:  Iraq   Turkey   

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Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Appearances

In watching the clips of the Democratic debate last night, I've figured out just what it is about John Edwards that makes me recoil. When he speaks, he tilts his head off to one side and talks out of one side of his mouth. And when he smiles, one side of his mouth goes up while the other goes down. Now, I don't know if the psycho-physiological data backs me up on this, but those to me are signs of insincerity. Something along the lines of the right hand not really buying what the left hand is peddling.

And while I'm on the subject of superficial trivialities, someone's got to figure out how to do Obama's makeup. Maybe it was because he was standing in front of a red riser, but between his pancake (which looked like it was a light shade of pink), his tooth-whitener (which was blinding), the eyebrows (which looked like they'd been painted with the eyeblack used by ballplayers to avoid sunglare) and the lip rouge, he looked more like a digitized composite image than a person. Given how a lot of his appeal is based on his authenticity, that's something he wants to avoid.

Posted by Judah in:  Politics   

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Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Iraq Exodus

More really needs to be made of the fact that despite repeated promises to the contrary, the United States has done absolutely nothing to address the refugee crisis resulting from the Iraq War. Having promised to resettle up to 25,000 refugees in 2007, we've managed to take in only 1,608. In the same period of time, Sweden has received 12,000.

By contrast, since the start of the war, Syria has accepted 1.2 million refugees, and Jordan 750,000, numbers that represent 10% and 24% respectively of their entire populations. Adjusted for scale, that would be the equivalent of America receiving between 30 and 75 million refugees.

War advocates have used the Vietnam boat lifts as a comparison for what might happen should the US leave Iraq. But the Iraq exodus has long since begun. It's pretty shameful that we've yet to provide asylum for those willing to come Stateside, or assistance for those unable to. But at the very least, we should keep our word about the meager gestures we've promised to make.

Posted by Judah in:  Iraq   

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Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Earning More

One of Nicolas Sarkozy's campaign slogans was "Work more to earn more". Trouble is, since his election, French workers haven't seen their salaries markedly improved. All that changed today, at least for one French worker. His name? Nicolas Sarkozy.

Because the legislature just voted him a 140% pay raise, increasing his salary from 8,000 euros per month to 20,000. Granted, before the raise Sarkozy wasn't even making as much as a low-level cabinet minister, let alone his Prime Minister. And the current pay rate puts him in line with other European heads of state.

But I wonder. Did his divorce agreement with Cecilia include any alimony payments?

Posted by Judah in:  La France Politique   

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Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Atoms For Peace

According to an article appearing in Le Figaro, the Saudi nuclear energy program, which was announced late last year, will depend heavily on Pakistani know-how. Even more alarming, given the Pakistanis' proliferation track record, is the close ties the article claims already exist between the Saudis and the Pakistani nuclear effort:

...Prince Khaled Ben Sultan, vice-Minister of Defense, who is in charge of this sensitive dossier in Riyad, was at the last Pakistani nuclear weapons test in October 2005. The Saudis are suspected of having financed Islamabad's nuclear and ballistic missile capacity, and some sources even claim that "the Saudi bomb is already waiting in Pakistan". Be that as it may, Riyad doesn't have any ballistic missiles with a long enough range (more than 1500 km.) to make use of any eventual nuclear warheads.

It was reassuring to see Joe Biden include Pakistan in the debate last night. But if this article is any indication, a stable Pakistan presents just as many problems as an unstable Pakistan.

The other question raised by the entire region's headlong rush towards nuclear energy is, If Iran's civil nuclear program is a transparent effort to build a nuclear bomb, is the same true of Saudi Arabia's? Egypt's? Libya's and Algeria's?

It would seem like some sort of regional non-proliferation regime would be warranted, something above and beyond the NPT that governs the rest of the world. Now would be a good time to start formulating just what that would look like. Because this genie is about to get out of the bottle.

Posted by Judah in:  The Middle East   

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Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Choosing Without Enthusiasm

Hillary Clinton hedges on a question about whether she supports Elliot Spitzer's plan to issue drivers licenses to illegal immigrants because "...this is where everyone plays gotcha." And guess what? Everyone plays gotcha.

But if you watch the clip, her answer makes sense. She basically says that in the absence of a comprehensive Federal reform of immigration policy, states are being forced to patch together stopgap measures like Spitzer's. And while she understands the logic behind the measure, she would rather solve the problem as President on the Federal level than live or die by taking a position on what Spitzer can cobble together with his measly gubernatorial powers. And rightly so.

Is it a hedge? Yeah. But she's running for President, not governor. I've got to agree with Kevin on this one. If this qualifies as a killer moment, we've forgotten how to choose a Democratic candidate for president.

Which brings me to a post I've been meaning to write about how, in trying to figure out who I'll vote for in the California primary (which apparently might still matter this year), I realized that I've... forgotten how to choose a Democratic candidate for president. Because if you think about it, the last time we really had a choice was back in 1992. Gore was a shoo-in in 2000, and four years ago Democratic thinking was too skewed by the almost pathological need to beat Bush to call it a real choice.

This year, the candidates would really seem to offer a chance to define the direction the party is going to take into the next decade: Traditional Democratic populism, represented by Edwards; centrist pragmatism represented by Hillary; or a hard-to-define transformative politics represented by Obama. It would seem to offer that chance, if it weren't for one thing: The perception of inevitability that Hillary Clinton has managed to achieve this early on in the race, which is already transforming the logic of the primary from an ideological referendum into an electoral calculus.

Of course that's the genius of the Clinton machine, which is to politics what Billy Beane and Roger Elias are to baseball: Reducing elections into stat sheets of zip codes and donor lists. But it comes with a cost, to the party and to the candidate.

By all rights, I should be an Obama man. He is, for all intents and purposes, a third party candidate with a first-party platform. And with the exception of Ross Perot, I'm a sucker for third party candidates, starting with John Anderson in the first election I followed as a twelve-year old in 1980, through to Ralph Nader in 2000. (Yes, I would have voted Nader in 2000 had I voted. Relax, it was in California.)

In the meantime, though, I've moved considerably to the political center. Call it age, maturity, fatherhood, six years of living in France... Well, maybe not maturity. But at any rate, I've come to feel that politics should really just be about governing. Transformation is best left to individuals in the private sphere, not charismatic leaders in the public arena. And if you take that away from Obama, what's left? An opportunistic, not-very-experienced politician with an ordinary platform.

As for Edwards, like I said, I've moved considerably to the political center. And I've spent six years living in France. I probably should get more excited about his platform, but I can't bring myself to do the necessary work. My problem, I know, not his. But I doubt I'm alone in that.

Which brings me to Hillary, who I must say has surprised me with her ability to charm and impress. I've never had a strong negative impression of her, but like everyone, I'd assumed that too many other people did to give her any hope of winning. I'm not so convinced of that anymore. Her positions (the ones she's willing to articulate, that is) are responsible, well-considered and don't cross any red lines for me. She's one of two candidates on either side (John McCain being the other) who wouldn't face a very steep national security learning curve upon taking office.

Most importantly, she represents change, but not drastic change. And I think that in our desperation over eight years of Bush, Democrats (and reasonable people in general) have exagerrated, not the damage he's done (which is considerable), but the extent to which we need to yank the wheel back to the other side of the lane divider. Just enough and you avoid oncoming traffic. Too much and you wind up in the ditch on the side of the road.

So for the time being, I'm leaning towards Hillary. Without any passionate enthusiasm, to be sure. But I'm not so sure that's a bad thing.

Posted by Judah in:  Politics   

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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Katrina, Baghdad Edition

Just when you thought you couldn't possibly be flummoxed by news out of Iraq, along comes this:

The largest dam in Iraq is in danger of an imminent collapse that could unleash a huge wave of water, possibly drowning 500,000 people, new assessments by the US Army Corps of Engineers show.

A collapse would put Mosul under 20 metres [67 feet] of water and parts of Baghdad under 4.5 metres [15 feet], according to Abdulkhalik Thanoon Ayoub, the dam manager.

Needless to say, an American reconstruction project to temporarily shore up the dam's foundations was plagued by mismanagement, sloppy work standards, and "indications of potential fraud", according to a report from the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction. There's also significant disagreement between Iraqi and American officials about how to solve the problem.

I'm sure that Iraqis take comfort in knowing that, having already experienced American-style democracy, they might soon get the opportunity to experience American-style disaster relief. Yikes.

Posted by Judah in:  Iraq   

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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Putting Iran In Context

Russian media recently reported that China has agreed to sell twenty-four J-10's, China's fourth generation fighter jet, to Iran. Not so fast, says Defense News; so far there's been no confirmation of any agreement. Nevertheless, the reactions to the reports of the deal are in some ways as revealing as the deal itself:

"At a minimum, this small number of J-10s could provide the escort necessary to allow one nuclear-weapon-armed Iranian F-4, F-14 or Su-24 to reach an Israeli target," said Richard Fisher, vice president of the Washington-based International Assessment and Strategy Center...

But another China-watcher said there may actually be no J-10 deal, only rumors started by Beijing to persuade Washington to deny F-16s to Taiwan.

One rumor, two spins. The first serves to reinforce the meme that Tehran is desperately seeking the means to deliver its nuclear payload to Tel Aviv. The second, more relevant, reminds us that the Iran standoff is not playing out in a vacuum.

If both China and Russia have determined that it serves their interests to counterbalance the Bush administration's efforts to isolate Iran, it's not because they're eager to see a nuclear-armed Iranian regime. It's because America under the Bush administration has decided to aggressively contest these two country's historic spheres of influence. The message behind Russian and Chinese resistance to stronger UN sanctions on Tehran is that a successful diplomatic resolution to the Iran standoff will involve American concessions on missile defense and military bases in Eastern Europe, and on arming Taiwan in Asia. You want your sanctions, you've got to play ball.

But neocons don't play ball. They'll rewrite the rulebook and replace the umpires. They'll even eminent domain the playing field. But they won't play ball. That's why the broader context for understanding the Iran nuclear standoff is the neocon vision for American national security strategy, whose goal is to prevent the rise of rival powers. Contrast that with the reality of the limits of our power and it becomes obvious that something's got to give.

So far, the pushback against the neocon vision has been limited to piecemeal proposals designed to address particular crises. And in some ways, a realist approach to foreign policy is limited to this method by the value it places on pragmatism. But at a certain point, the effort to contain the damage done by the Bush administration suffers from the lack of a broad strategic vision for reconciling American national security with the need to co-exist with rival powers in the evolving geo-political landscape.

The neocons have their strategy, and it has the advantage of being reassuringly familiar to anyone who's played "king of the hill" as a seven-year old. We've got... What? Diplomacy? Negotiations? Those are tactics, not strategies. It's something we've often accused the Bush administration of confusing in its approach to foreign policy. It's time we took our own medicine.

Posted by Judah in:  China   Foreign Policy   Iran   Russia   

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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Three No's Policy

Continuing the theme of nuclear non-proliferation, Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian is the latest head of state forced to deny recent reports that his country is seeking to develop nuclear weapons:

Some legislators tend to exaggerate and tell untruths. It is deeply regrettable. So I think it is necessary again on behalf of the government of Taiwan and the people of Taiwan that I have to reassure you all and also pledge that Taiwan will definitely not develop nuclear weapons, we will definitely not bring in nuclear weapons, and we will definitely not use nuclear weapons. In other words, we have a three no’s policy when it comes to nuclear weapons. We will stand by this policy.

This reminds me of the old adage about some accusations doing their damage regardless of whether they are true or not. ("Do you still beat your wife?" was the example I grew up with, although it seems a bit out of date nowadays.) I get the feeling we're entering an era when states will be forced to take active measures to demonstrate their nuclear good behaviour, as opposed to enjoying the benefit of the doubt.

Even more in the case of Taiwan, which harbored nuclear ambitions until they were brought to light and abandoned in the 1980's. According to the article, they still hope to develop a stockpile of cruise missiles capable of striking Shanghai, although the budget for the program has been frozen until 2009 in the face of opposition from Peking and Washington.

Question. Is the idea that certain Bush administration hawks would welcome a nuclear Taiwan evidence of Bush Derangement Syndrome?

Posted by Judah in:  Odds & Ends   

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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Above The Melee

Women's rugby in Iran. Who'd a thunk it? Problems include the uniform:

All women must cover their heads and bodily contours in Iran. The rugby field is no exception.

The players dart around the pitch wearing the maghnaeh, a garment that fully covers the head, shoulders, and neck, as well as a loose blue waistcoat, long-sleeved dark T-shirts, and loose tracksuit trousers.

As well as the male coach:

Advising the team on how to tackle, he keeps a decent distance away from the women, and then instructs one of the players to demonstrate how to grab an opponent rather than carrying out the move himself.

According to Iran's Islamic rules, members of the opposite sex cannot touch each other unless they are married couples or immediate members of a family.

But the sport -- as well as women's athletics in general, introduced during the reformist 90's -- is catching on.

It strikes me as intuitively obvious that the more freedoms women gain in a country like Iran, the more likely it is we'll find common ground. So our policies towards Tehran really should be geared towards facilitating the Iranian moderates' return to power. Unfortunately, the gist of the current debate on Iran is limited to the nuclear standoff, instead of considering the larger context of how our two countries can co-exist.

With that in mind, I'd love to see one of the Democratic candidates formulate a list of concrete steps Iran could take, independent of the nuclear dossier, in order to establish diplomatic relations with the US, as well as areas of co-operation that we might develop. There's been so much discussion of what sort of stick to wield against Tehran, and too little about what sort of carrots we can offer.

Posted by Judah in:  Iran   

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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Russian Ingenuity

Now this is the kind of diplomatic initiative that scores points for being both practical and savvy: A Russian-built, Kazakh-supplied uranium enrichment facility operating under the auspices of the IAEA, designed to furnish reactor fuel to third party civil nuclear programs that meet their non-proliferation obligations. The idea has the added advantages of being profitable and pragmatic, as well:

Ivanov also said fuel for nuclear power plants was a market product and any country represented in the International Atomic Energy Agency that was also signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty had the right to buy it.

"But this is only in theory," Ivanov said. "Due to a variety of political reasons, a country may be denied access to uranium."

It's disheartening to see that at the same time the Bush administration is pushing nuclear deals (see: India) that clearly undermine the non-proliferation regime, Russia is busy outflanking us with initiatives that have both immediate (vis a vis Iran) and longterm relevance. They're also setting themselves up to reap the benefits of the Arab world's growing interest in developing nuclear energy capacity.

Update: Russia also seems to be positioning itself to benefit from the failure of Indian PM Singh to get the US-India nuclear deal through parliament.

Posted by Judah in:  Russia   

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Monday, October 29, 2007

And They're Off

Egypt has announced it will dust off its long-dormant plans for a nuclear energy program and seek investment to construct several nuclear reactors by 2020. They stressed that they have no intention of developing a fuel enrichment capacity, and will maintain transparency vis a vis the IAEA. They join Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Libya, and the United Arab Emirates on the nuclear energy waiting list. Toss in the recent deal Sarkozy just signed with Morocco to develop their nuclear energy program, Iran's controversial program, and Israel's weapons capacity and it's clear that the face of the Middle East is radically transforming before our eyes.

The region seemed volatile enough when it was just sitting on fields of combustible fuel. What's it going to be like when they've got meltdown capacity?

Posted by Judah in:  The Middle East   

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Monday, October 29, 2007

Artificial Intelligence?

At a press conference in Abu Dhabi, French Defense Minister Hervé Morin directly contradicted IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei's assertion that he's found no evidence to suggest Iran's nuclear program has military aims:

Our intelligence, corroborated by that of other countries, gives us the opposite impression... If Baradei is right, there is no reason for Iran not to allow the IAEA to carry out its inspections... (Translated from the French.)

Now it's true that generally speaking, France has got solid intelligence throughout the Arab world. So maybe they've uncovered some incriminating evidence of a hidden military component to the Iranian nuclear program. But it's hard to believe that Sarkozy knows something that Chirac didn't, so the sudden shift in tone seems hard to explain.

Which leads us to the "other countries" who -- I think it's obvious -- are most likely Israel and the US. And if that's who the French are comparing notes with, then it's not surprising that they've suddenly given this dossier a greater urgency than the other EU negotiating partners. 

Morin went on to make clear [note: English language article] that France is opposed to war with Iran, and reiterated French support for stiffer sanctions, even though they would harm French economic interests in Iran. But the newfound stridency in tone coming out of Paris is going to take some getting used to.

Posted by Judah in:  Iran   La France Politique   

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Monday, October 29, 2007

The Gospel Truth

What's ironic about the flap over Barack Obama's refusal to distance himself from Donnie "Pray the Gay Away" McClurkin is that while the evangelical "ex-gay" movement is both particularly offensive and absurd, it pales in comparison to the vastly more widespread evangelical "ex-Jew" movement. Ann Coulter's recent remarks to the effect that Christians are perfected Jews might have been roundly denounced. But they nevertheless reflect the default theological position of Christian evangelicalicism. The same holds true for its position vis a vis every other religion, including Catholicism.

Seriously, though, Democrats are correct to target Christian evangelicals as a potential constituency. But they should base their appeal on political discourse, not theology. In other words, the problem with Obama's gospel tour isn't Donnie McClurkin. It's Obama's gospel tour. If this is the future of the Democratic Party, then it might be time for an ex-Democrat movement.

Posted by Judah in:  Politics   

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Monday, October 29, 2007

Two For Two

Critics of the Bush administration's "See no evil, hear no evil" policy towards Pakistan have surely taken comfort in recent headlines out of that country. Not only has opposition leader Benazir Bhutto been allowed to return from exile, thereby providing a measure of legitimacy to upcoming elections, but the Pakistani military has recently begun a major military push aimed at bringing the badlands on the Afghan border under government control. The only trouble, as this article from The New Statesman points out, is that there's no guarantee that Pakistan can survive either: 

...In what amounts to total war on the Taliban and al-Qaeda, President Musharraf is planning to bring the whole region under military control. This is a high-risk strategy, as the consequences of failure could be devastating for Pakistan. They could even lead to the break-up of the country.

Behind the headlines, the state's contradictions and tensions are being tested to the limit. The arrival of Benazir Bhutto, supposed to help marshal the forces of moderation and reform, has increased political instability. Supporters of the other former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, who plans a second attempt to return from exile to Pakistan in the first week of November, are preparing a mass campaign against Musharraf that could lead to political gridlock...

The point here, I think, is that while it's become a knee-jerk reaction to criticize the Bush administration for its mismanagement of American foreign policy, the fact is that as a result of that mismanagement, we're now faced with an array of regional crises, none of which offer any easy or straightforward solutions.

The political crisis in Pakistan, as a nuclear-armed country that also happens to be essential to any longterm stabilization of Afghanistan, is definitely worth our attention. But besides the sparring match between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton over unilateral strikes on Wajiristan, I haven't seen much discussion about it.

Posted by Judah in:  Foreign Policy   

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Monday, October 29, 2007

The Spyglass Ceiling

From Laura Rozen's MoJo piece on sexual discrimination and the lack of transparency at the CIA, a female operative who -- like many male spooks -- had an "unauthorized relationship" with a foreign national but who -- unlike said male spooks -- lost her job because of it:

"There is an idea that men can do this hard job, but women get too emotional," Brookner says. "As soon as a woman sleeps with a man, she tells every secret she ever knew. The mentality is that a man is in control..."

The idea that women aren't adept at getting men to reveal information they'd rather keep to themselves -- as the "old boy network" at the CIA seems to believe -- is absurd. Apparently no one at Langley has ever heard of Mata Hari. Or been married, for that matter.

Rozen also points out the broader implications of the culture of secrecy at the CIA:

Plame Wilson's, Brookner's, and Mahle's cases are all unique, but their accounts reveal a bitterness that I have often noticed with other officers, and that threads through the debate about the intelligence community's failures before 9/11 and the Iraq War. The list of complaints is long—politicization, subordination of field operations to headquarters bureaucracy, and outdated security procedures—but all have festered in a culture whose leadership faces only pro forma oversight... 

There are obvious tensions between the need for secrecy and the need for oversight. But the intelligence community (including the relevant Congressional committees) seem to be doing an exceptionally lousy job of finding the right balance lately.

Posted by Judah in:  Odds & Ends   

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Monday, October 29, 2007

Turkey And The Mullahs

A short while ago, in a post about the damage we've done to our strategic alliance with Turkey, I made the mistake of suggesting that one of the dangers of alienating Turkey might be to see that country slide into theocracy. A reader left a comment to the effect that there's little likelihood of that happening. This Dissent interview with Seyla Benhabib, a Turkish political scientist, confirms that analysis:

...I don’t think that the AK Party wants a theocracy. They are carrying out an incredible experiment and it is unusual for some one who is a democratic socialist like myself to be supporting, and watching very carefully, a party like them. But we are all watching carefully because they also represent a kind of pluralism in civil society which is absolutely essential for Turkey.

So I don’t fear an Islamic theocracy in Turkey. I don’t think that the Turkish people want an Islamic theocracy and I don’t think that the AK party wants an Islamic theocracy. There have always been some elements who may have dreamed of this but I can’t see it happening...

Benhabib also briefly addresses the extent to which Turkey might serve as a model for other Arab Islamic states. Remember that the failure of the secular Arab nationalist movement, of which Turkey was an early example, directly led to the emergence of the Iranian-style Islamic revolution throughout the Arab world. And it's against the backdrop of this latter movement's inability to free the Middle East of Western influence that Osama Bin Laden's brand of Qutbism has taken root.

So inasmuch as Turkey -- as a healthy, secular democracy with a modernized economy -- represents the alternative to what the jihadists offer, the question is an important one. Benhabib is optimistic, specifically as regards Syria, whose improved relations with Turkey could serve as an incentive for Bashir Assad to open his country up a bit to the world.

In other words, while Andrew Sullivan is correct that a Turkey-Iran-Syria re-alignment would certainly deal a blow to American regional interests, it wouldn't necessarily result in a three-headed theocratic hydra. In fact, the opposite assumtion, that Turkey could function as a moderating influence on both Syria and Iran, is entirely plausible.

Posted by Judah in:  Iran   The Middle East   Turkey   

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Monday, October 29, 2007

Really?

It turns out that for some reason they played the World Series this year, even though the Yankees had already been eliminated. And here, I'd always assumed people just lost interest at that point. As for this nonsense that the Curse is over, nothing doing. It's just a Y2K bug that still needs to be worked out.

Posted by Judah in:  Hoops, Hardball & Fisticuffs   

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Monday, October 29, 2007

Slow Motion Suffocation

Malcolm Nance is a SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape) master instructor who has worked in counter-terrorism for 20 years. Here's his bio over at Small Wars Journal, which gives you an idea of his commitment to national security. And here's his long and forceful denunciation of "Enhanced Interrogation Techniques". His conclusion is in the title: Waterboarding is torture... Period.

Nance is no softie. Unlike the guys talking tough from the comfort of Washington offices, television studios and campaign podiums, he's personally experienced every technique under discussion, interviewed survivors of torture, and studied all the taped and written debriefings available. And here's what he has to say about what he's witnessed:

Most people can not stand to watch a high intensity kinetic interrogation. One has to overcome basic human decency to endure watching or causing the effects. The brutality would force you into a personal moral dilemma between humanity and hatred. It would leave you to question the meaning of what it is to be an American.

If you can, read the whole thing. If not, keep this in mind the next time someone dismisses waterboarding as a little bit of water in the detainee's face:

Waterboarding is not a simulation. Unless you have been strapped down to the board, have endured the agonizing feeling of the water overpowering your gag reflex, and then feel your throat open and allow pint after pint of water to involuntarily fill your lungs, you will not know the meaning of the word.

Waterboarding is a controlled drowning that, in the American model, occurs under the watch of a doctor, a psychologist, an interrogator and a trained strap-in/strap-out team. It does not simulate drowning, as the lungs are actually filling with water. There is no way to simulate that. The victim is drowning. How much the victim is to drown depends on the desired result (in the form of answers to questions shouted into the victim’s face) and the obstinacy of the subject. A team doctor watches the quantity of water that is ingested and for the physiological signs which show when the drowning effect goes from painful psychological experience, to horrific suffocating punishment to the final death spiral.

Waterboarding is slow motion suffocation with enough time to contemplate the inevitability of black out and expiration –usually the person goes into hysterics on the board. For the uninitiated, it is horrifying to watch and if it goes wrong, it can lead straight to terminal hypoxia. When done right it is controlled death. Its lack of physical scarring allows the victim to recover and be threaten with its use again and again. (Emphasis in original.)

And here's a question for the GOP 'roid ragers. Would any one of them agree to be waterboarded? Not as part of a hypothetical scenario to prevent a terrorist attack. Just to know what they're talking about? If it's as benign as they say it is, their hands should go up as quickly as when they're asked if they'd authorize it.

Posted by Judah in:  Global War On Terror   Human Rights   Politics   

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Sunday, October 28, 2007

Virtual Apology

Ehud Olmert offered an apology to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan during a meeting last week in London for any inadvertant violation of Turkish airspace during the Sept. 6 airstrike on Syria, and any "affront" that may have resulted. Aside from being Olmert's first public coments on the raid, the apology doesn't really advance the story at all. The Times of India story does include this quote fom the IAEA's Mohamed ElBaradei, though:

To bomb first and to ask questions later I think it undermines the system and it doesn't lead to any solution.

Can't find much to argue with there.

To my mind, ElBaradei is one of the the most compelling public figures of our time. By all rights, the guy should be poring through technical reports and chairing meetings of degree-laden geeks. Instead he's been thrust into an unlikely and prominent role smack dab in the middle of three crises that will mark history -- North Korea, Iraq and Iran. And at every turn, he's refused to back down when people on every side of the issue exerted heavy pressure to try to instrumentalize him and his agency.

The non-proliferation system might be in its death throes. But there's something noble about the way ElBaradei's gone about defending its integrity.

Posted by Judah in:  The Middle East   Turkey   

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Sunday, October 28, 2007

Not Enough

I'm sorry, but if this is the best the opposition to the Iraq War can manage, this war is a long way from being over. I'm increasingly convinced that protest marches are outdated as a means of achieving any sort of meaningful change. Be that as it may, any protest that can't simultaneous immobilize several major cities across the country does more harm than good to a cause of this magnitude. In an age of flash mobs and viral videos, certainly some creative mind out there can come up with something more potent than "What do we want? Peace. When do we want it? Now."

Posted by Judah in:  Iraq   Politics   

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Sunday, October 28, 2007

Make That Very Not Warm To The Idea

A quick followup to yesterday's post regarding the possible impact of Turkish economic sanctions on Iraqi Kurdistan. According to Today's Zaman, the Turkish Security Council has already narrowed down an eventual embargo to the energy and food sectors. There's also this passage, regarding the possible closing of the Habur border crossing and the diversion of Turkish commercial traffic to the Nusaybin border crossing with Syria:

Turkey is aware of the fact that the US is currently sending 70 percent of the logistic needs of its troops in Iraq through the Habur border crossing and will not be warm to the idea of accessing Iraq via Syria, particularly considering the current state of diplomatic relations between the two countries. Full closure of Habur would render the US unable to provide logistical supplies to its troops in Iraq. For this reason, such an action may spark a crisis between Turkey and the US. Accordingly, Turkey is not planning to fully close down the crossing and is trying to decide on which export items will be sanctioned. Turkey will not block passage of medicine and medical products and may opt for allowing the provision of logistical supplies to US troops in Iraq.

Make no mistake about it, the Turkish-PKK crisis is piping hot and pesky. But there's a lot of arm-twisting and deal-making left to be done before it goes ballistic.

Posted by Judah in:  Iraq   Turkey   

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Sunday, October 28, 2007

Allez!!

Via Art Goldhammer over at French Politics comes word that Nicolas Sarkozy walked out of his "60 Minutes" interview with Lesley Stahl after she asked him about his divorce from Cecilia. In the "60 Minutes" clip, you can hear Stahl wondering outloud, "What was unfair?", to which Sarkozy responds by basically giving her the French version of "Talk to the hand, girlfriend."

Two things. First, while it's true that French political culture respects the boundary between a politician's public and private life more than in the States, Sarkozy is the French politician most identified with putting his personal life in public view. During his long rise to power, Cecilia was never far from his side, and was considered one of his closest advisors. Her trip to Libya to negotiate the release of the Bulgarian nurses was considered an official state mission.

Second, by many people's best guess, Sarkozy wasn't above using the announcement of his divorce -- which he dangled for three days before finally officially announcing the day of the first major strike in protest of one his reform packages -- for his own political advantage. Needless to say, the top story that night on the news was Sarkozy vs. Sarkozy, not Sarkozy vs. the unions.

So while I've yet to hear the exact wording of Stahl's question, in some ways the Sarkozy's divorce -- at the very least inasmuch as it effects his access to a close collaborator -- is very much fair ground. His reaction shows the "dark side" of a man known for seduction but capable of strong-arm tactics. Simply put, the guy likes to get his way. When he doesn't he can be brittle and crass, both of which are on display in the clip.

Posted by Judah in:  La France Politique   Media Coverage   

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Sunday, October 28, 2007

Quote Of The Day

"When you mix politics and religion, you get politics."

Rev. Gene Carlson, describing his disillusionment with the evangelical right

Posted by Judah in:  Quote Of The Day   

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Sunday, October 28, 2007

Factions

Recent reporting on the North Korean and Iranian nuclear standoffs has revealed a recurring split within the Bush administration, one that basically boils down to Condi Rice and Bob Gates on one side arguing for restraint and diplomacy, Dick Cheney on the other arguing for a more, shall we say, pugnacious approach to the problems. To the extent that the Bush administration has shown more restraint on each of these dossiers than it did in dealing with the Iraq "threat", it's because the Rice-Gates faction has proven more able to push back against the Cheney gang than Rice and Colin Powell were able to do when Don Rumsfeld was backing Cheney up.

Of course, this shift is a direct result -- perhaps the most significant one -- of the November 2006 elections. The Democratic base expected the election to realign the balance of power between the Executive and Legislative branches of the Federal government. But given the actual numbers, those expectations were probably exagerrated.

On the other hand, the election did manage to realign power within the Executive. It's not quite what folks were hoping for, but given the circumstances, it's probably the only thing standing between us and a headlong rush over a neocon cliff.

Posted by Judah in:  Foreign Policy   Politics   

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Saturday, October 27, 2007

Syria Snapshots

Now that administration hawks have established (in the popular imagination) a Syrian-North Korean proliferation link, it looks like the "Rice-Gates-Keep Cheney Away From The Launch Codes" faction has decided to push back. The NY Times is reporting the release of another satellite image of the alleged Syrian nuclear site, this one dating back to 2003, showing that the building believed to be a nuclear reactor was already under construction back then:

A dispute has broken out between conservatives and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice over the administration’s pursuit of diplomacy with North Korea in the face of intelligence that North Korea might have helped Syria design a nuclear reactor.

The new image may give ammunition to those in the administration, including Ms. Rice, who call for diplomacy. If North Korea started its Syrian aid long ago, the officials could argue that the assistance was historical, not current, and that diplomacy should move ahead.

For whatever it's worth, the outfit that released the image, GeoEye, is based in Dulles, Va, a stone's throw from CIA headquarters in Langley. Its Board of Directors includes a former career CIA operative, and a Reagan-era Lt. General who worked on the SDI program. Not unusual for the private sector satellite imagery racket, I'm sure, but enough to make me wonder whether there aren't any backroom agendas being played out here. Hmmm... You think?

Posted by Judah in:  Dear Leader   The Middle East   

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Saturday, October 27, 2007

Relative To What?

I keep seeing quotes like this one from a NY Times article describing how Turkey rejected an Iraqi delegation's proposals at their latest round of meetings designed to head off a Turkish incursion:

The Turkish Parliament has approved the use of troops to follow the fighters into Iraq if necessary, and the United States and Iraq have been trying at all costs to avert a conflict in the region, which is one of the few relatively peaceful areas of Iraq.

Trouble is, if you're Turkey, there's already a conflict in the region, and the area is pretty violent relative to other parts of Turkey.

As for the negotiations, it's pretty obvious why Turkey rejected the Iraqi proposal to position American troops along the border out of hand. An American presence probably wouldn't be able to prevent the PKK from infiltrating the border, and the last thing Turkey wants is to run into a bunch of American units -- who are currently positioned out of harm's way -- if they eventually do launch an attack.

Posted by Judah in:  Iraq   Turkey   

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Saturday, October 27, 2007

The Baghdad Embassy Fiasco, Staffing Edition

Well, it looks like the Iraq War is going to force America to reinstate the draft after all, but not to fill out the ranks of the fighting forces. We've got the Reserves and the National Guard to do that. No, it's the diplomatic corps that's a little thin in Baghdad, and so far the call for volunteers hasn't exactly resulted in a stampede of applicants. So starting Nov. 12, the State Dept. will be identifying a pool of 300 "prime candidates" to fill the 40-50 vacancies expected in Baghdad next year. If after ten days not enough people out of the initial pool put their names on the dotted line, the Dept will basically fill the remaining spots by assignment. Anyone refusing the order to go will face dismissal:

The move to directed assignments is rare but not unprecedented.

In 1969, an entire class of entry-level diplomats was sent to Vietnam, and on a smaller scale, diplomats were required to work at various embassies in West Africa in the 1970s and 1980s.

More than 1,200 of the department's 11,500 Foreign Service officers have served in Iraq since 2003, but the generous incentives have not persuaded enough diplomats to volunteer for duty in Baghdad or with the State Department's provincial reconstruction teams.

Those ordered to Baghdad will still receive the incentives such as hardship pay and choice of future assignments offered to volunteers. There's been no response yet from the union representing career diplomats, but it has expressed concern about the possibility of this kind of posting in the past.

I imagine that most of the posts to be filled are entry- to mid-level, so should the move result in a hemmorhage of qualified personnel, the damage done to the American diplomatic corps will be felt in the longterm, when these people would have graduated to higher-level positions. Just another way the Bush presidency has deferred payments for its disastrous policies to America's future generations.

Posted by Judah in:  Iraq   

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Friday, October 26, 2007

Good News Of The Day

Genarlow Wilson was freed from prison by the Georgia Supreme Court today. The Attorney General for Georgia declined to appeal the case.

Posted by Judah in:  Good News Of The Day   

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Friday, October 26, 2007

South Of The Border

The Turkish military is massing along the Iraqi border and reports of limited cross-border operations are already trickling out. But I'm still doubtful the Turks will mount a large scale military incursion. Why? Because given the choice, they'd much rather have the Kurds deal with the PKK than do it themselves. And while the threat of military action has certainly gotten everyone's attention, economic sanctions -- which Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan hinted at this week -- could prove to be much more effective to making that happen:

Many analysts feel that such an embargo would cause serious problems for Iraq’s relatively stable north, which is highly dependent on Turkish investment as the driving force of its economy. From food to energy, all vital supplies are obtained from Turkey, and Turkish contractors are restructuring the north by constructing roads, hospitals, residential buildings, apartments and infrastructure. Turkey’s exports to Iraq have surpassed $3 billion, and the Habur border gate on the trade route between Iraq and Turkey has become the lifeline of the region’s trade, despite the decrease in the number of trucks passing through the gate to 700 from 3,000 after the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. Analysts opine that closing Habur would alone cause great losses in profits to the Barzani government in northern Iraq, which earns a healthy revenue from traffic through the gate.

To give an idea of the kind of pressure Ankara can exert, simply closing the Habur border crossing for a week in September cost the Kurdish region $1 million per day in economic losses (figures on p. 20 here). The kinds of sanctions being floated now -- recalling Turkish nationals, blockading electricity sales -- would dwarf those figures. And while economic sanctions would take their toll on the Turkish companies doing business in northern Iraq as well, the same would be true of a miltary incursion.

Needless to say, Turkey's aggressive military posturing has helped them make the PKK a priority south of the border. But I'd be surprised to see them resort to a military operation before giving economic pressure a chance to achieve results.

Posted by Judah in:  Iraq   Turkey   

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Friday, October 26, 2007

Down On The Farm

In case you haven't seen it yet, here's the new John McCain ad playing in Nevada:

Ezra Klein, in an appearance on Hardball, responded by saying:

I don't want to see us have another fight over who's a hippy and who's a soldier. I find it dull.

Unfortunately, that's the fight the other side does want to have, because it's one that polarizes important electoral demographics (presumably in their favor), as the other members of the Hardball panel made forcefully clear. As I've mentioned before, it's the kind of polarization that has not yet occurred in the Iraq War debate, where opposition cuts across cultural lines. But knowing this would be a subtext, if not the subtext, of the 2008 campaign, it's hard to understand how Hillary Clinton could have set herself up for such an easy attack.

The intellectual response to McCain's ad is that Woodstock represents America as much as the US Army does. Is there anything more patriotic than Jimi Hendrix's version of the Star Spangled Banner? Anything un-American about gathering on the farm to celebrate the bounty of the American soil, which is symbolically what the event amounts to?

Obviously, that won't play very well in Nebraska, but what might is pointing out a simple historical fact. The imprint America has left on the world in the post-War era begins with it's rebels. Starting with James Dean, Marlon Brando and Marilyn Monroe and continuing on through the Sixties rock 'n roll generation, the hip hop & graffiti revolution, and the internet upstarts, America's cultural legacy is one of freedom, reinvention, and the embrace of a certain type of experience that can best be described as carnal. That this rebellious streak has always wrestled with the Puritan code was obvious ever since Nathaniel Hawthorne sent Hester Prynne out into the world with a scarlet "A" sown on the breast of her shirt.

Woodstock and Vietnam were inseparable, even if they were by nature hostile to one another. But America has evolved since then, and Ezra Klein is a good example of how. The opposition to the war, young and old, is well-groomed, articulate and respectful. No one's trying to tear down the foundations of Western civilzation. Museums are cemetaries, built to preserve artifacts from a dead past. The fact that we're now building one for Woodstock shows how much things have changed since then, not how much they've stayed the same.

Posted by Judah in:  Politics   

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Friday, October 26, 2007

Nuclear Fingerprints

Via Jeffrey Lewis over at Arms Control Wonk comes this NY Times article on the pressure the Bush administration is feeling from the right over its North Korean deal. Here's the key graf:

One senior administration official, who has seen the intelligence about the Syrian site and advocates a tougher line against North Korea, said he was frustrated that even in light of possible North Korean help on a Syrian nuclear program, “we are shaking hands with the North Koreans because they have once again told us they are going to disarm.”

From the moment North Korea was mentioned in connection to whatever Syria was doing out in the desert that warranted an Israeli airstrike, it was clear that there was more at stake here than just regional nuclear politics. Lewis goes through the recent satellite imagery and finds it inconclusive, whether as proof that the structure was a nuclear facility or that it was based on North Korean designs. (The fact that Syria has apparently swept the site clean probably means we'll never know for sure.) He also points out that the intelligence we've heard about so far has been leaked by the Bush administration insiders who lost the internal debate, that is those who argue for a tougher stance on North Korea and by extension Iran (ie. Cheney et al).

That's not to say that the intelligence is false. But keep this in mind as more of it gets leaked.

Posted by Judah in:  Dear Leader   Foreign Policy   The Middle East   

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Thursday, October 25, 2007

Allegedly Stupid, Too

Here's the lede from today's LA Times article on the fallout from James Watson's remarks on race and intelligence:

Nobel laureate James D. Watson, the renowned co-discoverer of the structure of DNA, resigned today as chancellor of the prestigious Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in the aftermath of an uproar over allegedly racist comments he made last week. (Emphasis added.)

Here's the offending passage from the Sunday Times profile/interview:

He says that he is “inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa” because “all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours – whereas all the testing says not really”... His hope is that everyone is equal, but he counters that “people who have to deal with black employees find this not true”. (Emphasis added.)

Now, I understand that the first remark is supported by enough research data to make it defendable, even if it is both highly contested and extremely provocative. Indeed, the context of the quotation as well as the profile in general demonstrate that Watson is no stranger to provocative, even inappropriate, declarations.

But I just don't see how that second remark can be considered anything but flat out racist. There's no "allegedly" about it; it's the real McCoy. Even if Watson himself isn't necessarily a virulent racist, as evidenced by this passage which closely follows the above citation:

In his mission to make children more DNA-literate, the geneticist explains that he has opened a DNA learning centre on the borders of Harlem in New York. He is also recruiting minorities at the lab and, he tells me, has just accepted a black girl “but,” he comments, “there’s no one to recruit.”

I don't know enough about the medical research community to know if there really is a shortage of qualified black candidates or not. But Watson strikes me as an Al Campanis-type, albeit a more articulate version. Here's a man who obviously does have a conscience, seems to have gone out of his way to advance the careers of individual black and female proteges, but in a moment of candor lets slip some wildly outlandish views on race, and elsewhere in the profile some veiled misogyny.

As Watson himself said, the change in leadership at the lab is overdue. But imagine he weren't a 79 year old man at the tail end of his career, but someone with years ahead of him. Does the punishment fit the crime? Again, his actions seem to have been beyond reproach, and there's every reason to believe he'd engage in even more outreach and recruitment now that he's under the microscope. He also immediately took responsibility for his comments, expressing his dismay and regret at the sight of his own words in print. Is it possible the guy can get a pass on something like this?

Update: Based on this comment from one of Josh Marshall's readers, I take it back. Screw Watson. The guy deserved it. 

Posted by Judah in:  Media Coverage   Race In America   

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Thursday, October 25, 2007

Off Their Meds

The slow trickle of satellite imagery and intelligence leaks about the Syrian site bombed by Israel last month is either increasingly incriminating or increasingly misleading. For the time being, I don't think there's any way for those of us without access to classified source material to know which. Should the claims of a nascent Syrian nuclear program prove true, though, it doesn't really matter how far off the actual threat was. The fact that they would even think of going down the nuclear road demonstrates just how unhinged the entire region has gotten, all the more so in light of the ease with which the facility was detected and destroyed.

It would also seem to make the case that the threat of loose Russian nukes winding up in the hands of rogue states, the scenario so dear to Hollywood's heart, is largely overblown. Because no one in their right mind would go through all the effort of building a warhead, let alone a warhead that stands absolutely no chance of ever seeing the light of day, if all they had to do was mail order one from a down-on-his-luck Russian nuclear scientist.

Posted by Judah in:  Media Coverage   The Middle East   

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Thursday, October 25, 2007

Housekeeping

I finally got around to adding an in-site search field on the main page, link pages, and archive pages. Sorry it took so long. I think that just about does it, though. Since the site is 100% homemade, from the coding to the graphic design, it always helps to know if there are any glitches or interface issues, especially with Mac browsers. I can't promise I can fix them, but it helps if I know about them.

Also, I'd like to take this opportunity to thank all of you who have made Headline Junky a regular part of your online reading fix. So much of the satisfaction of doing this is knowing that it's appreciated. And since the circle of regular readers has long since expanded beyond people who I know personally, it would be a real treat to find out a little bit about who actually stops by. So if you're not too shy, by all means drop an e-mail to introduce yourselves.

Posted by Judah in:  Odds & Ends   

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Rudy & Mario

Maybe it's been floated out there and I just missed it, but I haven't seen anyone really mention Rudy Giuliani's endorsement of Mario Cuomo in the 1994 NY Gubernatorial election as something that might come back to haunt him among the GOP base. Not only is Cuomo anathema to the right, the man who beat him in that election, George Pataki, seems to be pretty well-regarded among Republicans. Granted, with all the skeletons in Rudy's closet, it's only natural that this one might fly under the radar. But sooner or later, you'd think that someone would make some hay with it.

Posted by Judah in:  Politics   

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Saint Benazir

I've been meaning to post about the strange cult of personality that's suddenly sprung up around Benazir Bhutto in the American press. Ken Silverstein just made that unnecessary. Getting run out of office by a military junta doesn't automatically make a crooked politician straight. Neither do backroom deals for immunity from prosecution. Bhutto's our horse in this race because, as a twice-elected former prime minister with a large and loyal following, she adds a useful element of credibility to the Pakistani electoral process, whether or not she brings her Swiss IRA's back home with her.

Posted by Judah in:  Media Coverage   

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Invisible Hand

The consensus among Afghan President Hamid Karzai, European diplomats, and the US military is that eradicating Afghan poppy crops through an aerial spraying campaign could very well provoke a serious backlash among peasant growers against both the Afghan government and NATO forces. So needless to say, the Bush administration is energetically lobbying Karzai to implement just such a crop-spraying program. And as The Times reported a few weeks ago, Karzai is beginning to crack.

Which ain't good. Here's what a new Army War College monograph has to say about the consequences of the manual crop-clearing eradication program to date:

The U.S.-backed opium poppy eradication efforts have not succeeded in reducing the production of opium and have, in many cases, been counterproductive. The aggressive pursuit of eradication has alienated many peasant farmers and resulted in some of them turning against U.S. and NATO forces. The Senlis Council, an international drug policy think tank, argues that the U.S.-backed eradication effort was "the single biggest reason many Afghans turned against the foreigners."...

...The Senlis Council argues that eradication not only ruins small farmers, but drives them into the arms of the Taliban, who offer loans, protection, and a chance to plant again. Instead of improving the quality of life for Afghan citizens, the U.S.-backed opium eradication efforts are instead alienating many Afghans, strengthening the Taliban, and increasing instability.

The spraying program will only make matters worse since it will very likely destroy food crops planted among the poppies, and can be used to stoke fears of American chemical attacks among a suggestible populace.

There's no disagreement about the scope of the problem. Since the overthrow of the Taliban, Afghan poppy production has flooded the world market, now supplying 92% of global illegal trade. The resulting windfall -- $3 billion (35% of Afghan GDP) in 2006 -- is increasingly funding the Taliban either directly or indirectly through protection rackets and payoffs. The legal market for opium-based medical products offers little solution, since it's too small to absorb the Afghan supply, offers only 20% of the illegal market price, and is already saturated anyway.

So here's a thought: Instead of lowballing growers with legal market rates, why not bid the price of the poppy harvest up by buying it from them at illegal rates? Black markets exist when profit and demand justify the risks involved in breaking the law. Raising the cost of the raw material will reduce profits, and the higher cost passed along to the end consumer will lower demand. It has the advantage of being a market-based solution. And it probably works out cheaper than the eradication program, aid packages and useless interdiction efforts combined.

Posted by Judah in:  Afghanistan   

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Price Is Right

So, how do you smooth things over when you've gone and ruffled a good friend's feathers? Well, if you're Tom Lantos and the friend in question is Turkey, you sponsor a bill to give them three decommissioned guided missile frigates worth a total of $375 million free of charge, as well as a fourth one at a $100 million dollar discount. That's right, $500 million worth of naval hardware for the bargain price of $28 million.

It's not the first time we've done it, and part of the reasoning behind the gift is that it encourages Turkey to order the American-made attack helicopters that supplement the frigates. But still, doesn't something about the timing just give you the feeling we really don't want Turkey going into northern Iraq?

Posted by Judah in:  Iraq   Turkey   

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Someone's Bombing, Lord?

I know I've been posting a lot on Turkey and the PKK the past few weeks. But despite my best intentions to stay away from this story, I'm by nature drawn to hotspots. And besides, how could I pass on this?

According to an official familiar with the conversation, Mr Bush assured the Turkish President that the US was seriously looking into options beyond diplomacy to stop the attacks coming from Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq.

"It's not 'Kumbaya' time any more - just talking about trilateral talks is not going to be enough," the official said.

"Something has to be done."

While the use of US soldiers on the ground to root out the PKK would be the last resort, the US would be willing to launch air strikes on PKK targets, the official said, and has discussed the use of cruise missiles.

It's becoming intuitively clear that the US is going to have to actually do something and get its hands dirty in order to keep this simmering crisis from boiling over. I'd assumed it would be some sort of symbolic strike. But cruise missiles and bombing raids would probably do the trick, too. On the Turkish side of the border, anyway. I don't think it will play too well in Irbil.

Posted by Judah in:  Iraq   Turkey   

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Slow Boil

According to Gareth Porter, the PKK attack on a Turkish base over the weekend was part of a calculated and clever plan to force Turkey to the negotiating table. Coming just days after the Turkish parliament approved a military intervention, the raid as well as the apparently pre-meditated decision to take prisoners were designed to push Turkey to the brink of an incursion in order to mobilize a subsequent diplomatic backlash against the use of force.

If it's true, it would seem to have worked for the time being. I'm not sure just what concessions the PKK can realistically hope to extract, whether directly or through intermediaries. But I've become increasingly convinced that Turkey will make quite a bit of noise about this -- including some border shelling -- before eventually hammering out some sort of cooperative agreement with the Iraqi central government, the Kurdistan Regional Government, and the US. But the threat of an attack can't be sustained for very long without some sort of results, otherwise it loses its credibility. That, plus the fact that winter conditions are quickly setting in on the border, make time of the essence.

Posted by Judah in:  Iraq   Turkey   

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Center Court

In 2004, Howard Dean famously declared that he represented the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party before he ultimately crashed and burned. This year, at least two Democratic candidates (Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama) are visibly if subtly courting the Democratic wing of the Republican Party. Now, to be fair, the meat of their policy proposals are soundly Democratic. But between Hillary's robust national security stance and Obama's emphasis on bi-lateral consensus, two of the three Democratic heavyweights are making serious overtures to moderate Republicans.

So what gives? Democratic anger over the Bush years and the Iraq War doesn't seem to have subsided in the three years since then. And all the forecasts for the 2008 Congressional and Senatorial elections seem to be pretty encouraging for a workable Democratic majority.

My guess is that it reflects a generalized trend among most of the major democracies at the moment (England appears to be an exception) whereby the margin between right and left is so narrow that elections now turn on a candidate's ability to cement together a center-straddling coalition. In a parliamentary system, that often also gives an inordinate amount of power to parties on the extremes of the political spectrum. In the case of the American two-party system, on the other hand, a closely divided electorate exclusively inflates the importance of the center.

I'm a little surprised that Clinton and Obama's strategy doesn't seem to be hurting them at all in the Democratic primary, and that John Edwards' more genuine vintage of traditional Democratic values hasn't played better. But it seems to corroborate the soundness of the strategy.

Posted by Judah in:  Politics   

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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Framing The Debate

A reader took me to task in the Comments for suggesting that there's some doubt as to whether or not civilian and military casualties have decreased in Iraq. Which made me confront the fact that I'd read the recent casualty reports (which like this AP dispatch have consistently documented fewer deaths) with skepticism, and confront the possibility that I've begun to filter information on the war through a failure-tinted lens.

Now as Anthony Cordesman points out in the AP story, judging the war's progress by casualty figures is reductionist. Internal and external displacement, civil cohesiveness, infrastructure, the rule of law, Sunni-Shiite power-sharing, the 'Kurdish exception' -- all of these problems need to be solved before the experiment in statehood that we call the Iraq War can be judged a success. Add to that the multitiude of semi-autonomous militias, not to mention the enormous number of detainees (somewhere near 50,000, based on this and this), that will eventually have to be successfully reintegrated into Iraqi civil society and it's clear that there's still quite a ways to go before Iraq resembles anything close to a truly functioning state. And after we've covered all that ground, we'll still only be at the beginning of finding out if the whole gamble was worth it, because only then will we know just what role this new Iraq will play on the strategic chessboard of the Middle East.

Still, I think it's a healthy exercise for opponents of the war to ask ourselves whether, as the right has claimed, we've become attached to the idea of failure. Whether we've become fixated on the bad news of the past four years to the point that we can't see any positive developments. And whether we run the risk of getting seriously outflanked by the Republican 'roid ragers in 2008 should the war succeed.

The answer, I think, is fairly obvious from the above list of problems yet to be solved in Iraq. We're a long ways from being out of the woods. But the value of such an exercise is that it illustrates to what extent we've been guilty of political and analytic laziness. In focusing so much on the war's many operational failures, we've given the right an opening to define success operationally. Reducing violence is a pre-requisite to success, not a result of it. If the casualty figures hold, we will still only find ourselves where the Bush administration expected -- even claimed -- to be back in June of 2003: Confronting the challenges of a stabilized post-Saddam Iraq, which remain many and complex.

And what if, five years from now, Iraq is a stable state with an intricate fabric of partnerships, alliances and influences, none of which are openly hostile to American interests? Will it have been worth it? I think the war's opponents (and the Democratic Presidential candidates) had better come up with an answer to that question, because it will be asked come 2008. And as unlikely as the prospect has seemed for the past four years, the operational data now emerging just might support wishful thinking.

My answer is a categorical no. The status quo in March 2003 did not justify the loss of life, resources, influence, goodwill, and strategic standing that we've suffered as a result of the invasion and its aftermath. It's time to start re-framing the debate based on those larger issues. Because those are the ones that we'll still face long after the last flag-draped coffin is lowered into the ground.

Posted by Judah in:  Iraq   

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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Essential Power

Jason over at Voices of Reason brought this Walter Russell Mead article to my attention. The title alone (Failing Upwards: Relax, America will survive George W. Bush) is enough to calm the spirit. The characterization of American foreign policy as a sort of bumbling, stumbling Mr. Magoo that's historically managed to bungle its way to global dominance is pure genius. Then there's this:

This is an analysis of power, not a defense of failure. Had the Bush administration made different choices at key points, both the United States and the world would be much better off than they are. But, fortunately or unfortunately, the foundations of American power have less to do with the wisdom of particular policies than with the way that the priorities of American society and the strategic requirements of American power intersect with the realities of international life. It is not how smart we are; it is how well we fit.

It will take some time to know to what degree the Bush years have damaged America's influence in the world, and whether that damage is permanent or not. But if I had to single out one determinant factor it would be the one that Mead mentions: How well we fit. Mead is correct when he says that the international system is strong, and that the US is its essential power.

But the world has the capacity to change more radically, more quickly now for a variety of technological and ideological reasons. Potential challenges are as diverse as the rapid advances in the developing world to the regressive, anti-modernist movements springing up everywhere from Kansas to Karachi. Toss in the kind of destructive forces that can now be harnessed by non-state actors and the possibility of radical, paradigm-shifting events can't be ruled out.

That kind of volatility demands a commitment to calm, measured policies that provide a benchmark of stability for a world in need of reassurance. Not exactly how you'd describe the Bush administration's legacy. Eight years is a long time, long enough to mark the spirit of a generation. And the generation that has come of age worldwide during the Bush years is a generation that sees America as a problem, and one that has learned to look elsewhere for the solution.

Like Winston Churchill's adage about democracy, the question now is whether it will find a better alternative.

Posted by Judah in:  Foreign Policy   

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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Who You Gonna Call?

Okay, quick. Take a look at this graphic and guess: a) What it represents; b) Where it came from. Now click through for the answer.

The work of a nation. The center of intelligence. Indeed.

Via PSP's Photo Blog.

Posted by Judah in:  Say What?   

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Monday, October 22, 2007

EF Putin

This article from Asia Times Online's Kaveh Afrasiabi on the recent shuffling in Iran's nuclear negotiating team raised my spirits a bit:

Various commentators, especially in Europe and the United States, have been quick in interpreting Larijani's resignation as a "bad omen" reflecting a triumph for hardliners led by Ahmadinejad. But that is simplistic and ignores a more complex reality in the Iran's state affairs (sic). The quest for greater centralization of nuclear decision-making has met a contradictory response in, on the one hand, the move for more direct input by Khamenei, and, on the other hand, a parallel effort by Ahmadinejad to gain greater control of decision-making.

Afrasiabi explains that Iran's factional infighting on the nuclear dossier threatens to seriously weaken its negotiating posture by creating confusion and paralysis. It's not all good news, because derailed or frozen negotiations can lead to a lose-lose outcome on the actual conflict. It is reassuring, though, to hear that there are weaknesses in the Iranian position in light of how clumsy our own handling of the crisis has been. But that's not all:

According to veteran political analyst Davood Hermidas Bavand, the real reason for Larijani's resignation can be found in the failure of the government's "eastern approach" that naively banked on support from China and Russia in the nuclear row, despite Moscow and Beijing's role in supporting sanctions resolutions at the UN Security Council. "Larijani's resignation is his objection to the strategy laid out by the government of Mahmud Ahmadinejad," Bavand insists.

If Bavand is correct, Larijani is skeptical that Iran can count on Russian and Chinese support when the chips are down, an analysis seconded by Steve Clemons in this post on The Washington Note:

There has been a lot of movement in recent days on Iran's nuclear program. Days after Defense Secretary Bob Gates met with Vladimir Putin, Putin is in Tehran meeting with Khamenei. And in the midst of these meetings, Gates states that a new course in Iran's nuclear plans that might move its nuclear reprocessing requirements into Russia would curtail the need, possibly, for the US to deploy intermediate range missiles is Europe.

There has been fragile but real deal making going on -- and it is progress on this front that Larijani wanted to have the government announce -- but Ahmadinejad refused.

Toss in Olmert's lightning visit to Moscow and it looks like there's a lot of behind the scenes maneuvering taking place. The kind of maneuvering that makes Iran seem more like a prop being used by the big kids on the block to hammer out their arrangement than a tipping point in global power alignments.

One thing the past week does demonstrate very clearly, though, is that when Vladimir Putin gets pissed, people pay attention.

Posted by Judah in:  Iran   Russia   

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Monday, October 22, 2007

One Down, One To Go

I won't venture too far into the outcome of the Polish elections, since I admittedly wasn't even aware that they'd taken place until a friend from Poland asked me what I thought of them. I will say that the twins seriously creeped me out, so I'm glad I'll only have to be reading (or not reading, as the case may be) about one of them from here on out. And while they did seem to do a good job of defending Poland's interests in the EU, they did it in such a confrontational way that I doubt that too many European heads of state will be sad to see them go.

Posted by Judah in:  European Union   

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Monday, October 22, 2007

Dead Presidents

In a stunner out of China, Hu Jintao won re-election as head of the Communist Party today. All kidding aside, it's important to remember that unlike in America, where an incumbent who fails to win re-election faces a future of lucrative speaking fees and hefty honoraria, the motivation for quite a few incumbents around the globe to stay in office is that the alternative is to wind up dead. Think about it. You don't read about too many ex-presidents in Africa, and the ones you do read about are the ones who managed to reach the border (and their Swiss bank accounts) ahead of the firing squad. One way or another, you generally leave the job in a casket.

Posted by Judah in:  Odds & Ends   

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Monday, October 22, 2007

On The Down Low

I mentioned earlier, in relation to the recent PKK attack on Turkish forces that left twelve Turkish soldiers dead and eight missing, that it's the captured soldiers that are more likely to have an inflammatory impact on that situation. So I wasn't at all surprised to note that in the English-language Turkish press, as well as in the Turkish military press briefings, the emphasis has been on the casualties. The only mention I found of the missing soldiers was this paragraph from Today's Zaman:

An intelligence source speaking to Today’s Zaman on condition of anonymity said 10 to 12 soldiers were revealed to have been missing in a headcount after the attack. The source added it was not clear whether they ran away in panic or had been kidnapped.

Even after this deadly attack, I still get the impression that Turkey is ready and willing to exhaust all the possible diplomatic avenues to avoid engaging in a cross-border operation, mainly because it's in no one's interests, least of all their own, to send Turkish forces into northern Iraq. My observation that the captured soldiers turning up in Kurdish hands would increase the odds of such an operation (a reflection that Andrew Sullivan described as "obvious" -- ouch!) was mainly in reference to previous posts to this effect.

I also mentioned that America urgently needs to make this an American issue, even at the risk of getting our hands dirty and stepping on some (Kurdish) toes. It might very well be that no one can actually root out the PKK from their mountain bases in northern Iraq -- not the Kurds, not the Turks, and not us. But if we don't offer some concrete military assistance to at least give the appearance that we're trying to do that, it's hard to imagine the Turks' sitting on their hands for much longer.

Update: Click "Publish", find story. The Turkish military has just confirmed that the 8 soldiers are missing. It also seems that a PKK news outlet has published their names. Better keep those raincoats handy.

Posted by Judah in:  Iraq   Turkey   

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Monday, October 22, 2007

Spiritual Atrophy

Count me among those who read this Kevin Drum post, wanted to write something about it, and simply felt like I'd already said everything there is to say so many times in similar contexts that I just kind of let the whole thing pass. The collective silence led Kevin to wonder why the story's not getting any legs:

Long story short, the FBI screwed up, forced a confession out of an innocent man, and then the evidence of the forced confession was redacted from the court opinion on the case. That sure seems like a juicy story, but it's not getting much play today.

I get the feeling there's a certain amount of "outrage fatigue" that's gathered on some of these stories. We've reached the phase where the initial shock of finding out that we're torturing confessions out of prisoners, both innocent and guilty, has now worn off. The problem is that that initial shock mainly succeeded in changing our definition of, and not our fundamental policy towards, torture.

"America still tortures prisoners" just doesn't have the same impact as "America tortures prisoners". Worse still, it aggravates the sense of powerlessness that comes from being unable to stop our highest ideals from being trampled on in the name of protecting our highest ideals. But Kevin's right. It's worth a mention.

Posted by Judah in:  Human Rights   

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Monday, October 22, 2007

What's Good For The Goose

The point Matthew Yglesias is making here takes on added significance in light of recent suggestions that the pretext for an eventual attack on Iran might end up being a fabricated or provoked "hot incident" involving US and Iranian forces on the Iraq-Iran border. Having expressed his hope for a diplomatic resolution to the PKK problem, Yglesias drops this nugget:

That said, I do wonder what the apostles of "toughness" and willpower on the right will say about this. Don't they think that the Turks must cross the border in force and show the Kurds what's what? Won't weakness only invite further aggression?

Not according to Condoleeza Rice, who told Turkish Prime Minister Reccep Tayyip Erdogan that "we do not believe unilateral cross-border operations are the best way to address this issue."

There are obvious differences between the PKK, which is not an official organ of the Kurdistan Regional Government, and Iran's Revolutionary Guards (although by some accounts the latter do operate with a certain autonomy vis a vis the Iranian government). Even so, it will be useful to recall our response to Turkey's anger and frustration should such an event take place.

Posted by Judah in:  Iran   Iraq   Turkey   

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Monday, October 22, 2007

Raw Sewage Alert

If the border between Turkey and Iraq can best be described as a heap of explosives soaked with kerosene, the kind of attack that just took place there might turn out to be the spark that sets it all off. Dead soldiers are hard enough to manage in terms of public opinion, especially twelve of them at once. Captured soldiers, though, tend to push things over the brink and provoke reprisals. If the eight missing Turkish troops turn up in Kurdish hands -- or worse yet, mistreated in Kurdish hands -- the odds of a Turkish incursion (and the urgency of finding an American response to the PKK's campaign of provocation) will rise dramatically.

Posted by Judah in:  Iraq   Turkey   

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Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Lonely American

I spent the evening going through some IAEA reports, UN Security Council resolutions and a timeline of Iran's uranium enrichment program to get a better sense of why I'm feeling so pessimistic about the direction the deepening US-Iran standoff is taking. The good news is that the reading helped me locate the source of my pessimism. The bad news is that it did nothing to alleviate it. The problem is that the actual uranium enrichment conflict, as significant as it is, is really functioning as a pretext for underlying strategic faultlines, both regional and global, that have far wider implications. Any diplomatic resolution of the crisis will depend on taking these faultlines into account, which doesn't seem like a very realistic possibility these days. And any non-diplomatic resolution of the crisis (ie. unilateral military strikes) will only exacerbate them, regardless of whether or not it successfully eliminates Iran's enrichment capacity.

To get a better sense of just what those underlying faultlines are, it helps to examine the Bush administration's two-track approach to the issue. The first track is essentially a political/legal remedy to the difficulties involved in enforcing nuclear non-proliferation, namely that there's nothing inherently illegal about developing nuclear weapons. The only response is to build a diplomatic coalition capable of defining the terms under which the Iranian program is non-compliant with existing treaties and agreements. This was accomplished through the UN Security Council resolution of July 2006 which, as a result of Iran's failure to allow IAEA inspectors more intrusive access to its nuclear facilities (the so-called Additional Protocol that Iran voluntarily signed in December 2003), demanded that Iran suspend its uranium enrichment activity. When the IAEA later reported neither inspections progress nor enrichment suspension in its reports of August 2006 and November 2006, the US and its EU allies had what they needed to secure the two UNSC resolutions that first imposed and then strengthened sanctions.

The limitations of this political/legal remedy are that, a) sanctions might not suffice to persuade Iran to renounce its nuclear program; b) the Bush administration has not demonstrated the necessary diplomatic savvy to assemble a strong coalition capable of really tightening the screws on Iran; and c) Iran has shown increasing willingness to comply with the IAEA's Additional Protocol, as demonstrated by the relatively upbeat report the Agency issued in August 2007. If the Iranians do, in fact, end up cooperating with the intrusive inspection regime, the legal foundation of the Bush administration's approach (ie. crippling UN sanctions) crumbles, while Iran's ability to eventually build nuclear weapons stays intact.

Which brings us to the second track of the Bush administration's approach, which is exemplified by the President's recent "World War Three" remarks and can best be described as an extra-legal approach to the nuclear non-proliferation regime. The Bush argument essentially boils down to a subjective and unilateral determination of just who will and who will not be allowed to possess nuclear weapons. And it's this argument that brings into focus the strategic faultlines that spread out beneath the surface of this conflict in just about every direction. Because it's an argument that alienates small-to-middling regional powers who, whether they entertain nuclear ambitions or not, will identify with Iran's efforts to expand its sphere of influence. And it insults the sensibilities of major powers who have an interest in establishing these middling powers as their client states.

Take the Russians, for instance, who have got plenty of reasons ($1.2 million of them in the case of Iran's Bushehr reactor, to be exact) to refuse to grant the US an effective veto power over who they can and can't do business with. By increasingly aligning himself with Iran in this standoff, Putin is sending the message that he can and will make things difficult for Washington if it refuses to take Russia's interests into consideration. Behind the Russians, and basically echoing their annoyance, are the Chinese, and to a lesser extent, some of our EU allies. For the time being, Russia's posturing is mainly symbolic. They have yet to deliver the uranium fuel rods for the Bushehr reactor, and probably won't until Iran offers more oversight concessions to the international community. But that could change if the American position hardens into an even more obnoxious expression of the unilateralism that has already alienated so much of the world to date.

What's remarkable about the American position is that it's managed to crystallize so much international support for a prospect -- a nuclear Iran -- that otherwise doesn't play very well outside of Tehran. The reason being that given the choice between an Iran armed with a nuclear weapon and an America bingeing on unilateral military interventions, a significant portion of the globe would feel more comfortable with the former. We don't really know what the global balance of power will look like once a majority of nations identify their self-interest with opposing American interests. But we're sure to find out if we continue to strong-arm the Iran conflict towards a unilateral military strike.

Posted by Judah in:  Foreign Policy   International Relations   Iran   Russia   

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Saturday, October 20, 2007

Clear Victories, Clear Defeats

I don't really know the inner workings of Iranian politics well enough to know whether Ali Larijani's resignation as chief nuclear negotiator is as bad as it seems. John Bolton called it "a clear victory for Ahmadinejad", which is reason enough for me to withhold judgment. Larijani always struck me as a tough and shrewd negotiator, almost more dangerous than Ahmadinejad in his ability to make the Iranian bargaining position sound very reasonable. (Of course, if you take away the assumption that the Iranians will use their nuclear fuel enrichment technology to achieve nuclear weapons capacity, as well as the assumption that the Iranians armed with a nuclear weapon will be an uncontainable menace to the regional and global balance of power, the Iranian bargaining position is pretty reasonable.)

Larijani's resignation will inevitably effect the negotiations, if only to slow them down for the time it takes for the new principals to feel out and take their measure of each other. And that, I'm afraid, is bad news. I'm increasingly pessimistic about where this standoff is heading. While Iran has skillfully built tactical partnerships to strengthen its position, the Bush administration's approach has alienated us from the international support we need to exert the kind of pressure that might make a difference in Iran's decision-making circles. It also appears to be hardening the opinions of Iran's decision-making circles.

Even worse, having painted itself into a corner with bellicose language and aggressive posturing, I don't see how the Bush administration can conceivably walk its negotiating line back without in effect losing face and appearing weak. That they were able to do it with North Korea is mainly due to the cover provided by the Six Party talks and the unified position of the Chinese and Russians. That isn't the case with Iran, and the stakes in that part of the world don't really allow for signs of weakness.

Which leaves us moving in one direction, the worst possible one in my opinion. I hope something changes to throw the switch. Unfortunately, I think time's running out for that to happen.

Posted by Judah in:  Iran   

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Friday, October 19, 2007

Tough Guy

In the mad rush among American and Iraqi leaders to placate Turkey in the aftermath of its parliamentary approval for an incursion into Iraq, the one party who had yet to be heard from was Massoud Barzani, President of the Kurdish Regional Government and something of a hothead and straight shooter. You'll recall Barzani's the guy who last April threatened to "interfere" in Turkish cities if Turkey interfered in the Kirkuk referendum.

Well, Barzani broke his silence today. And as we used to say in Brooklyn, dem's fightin' words:

"We frankly say to all parties that if the region or the Kurdistan experiment come under attack under any pretext, we will completely be ready to defend our democratic experiment, our people's dignity and the sanctity of our homeland," Kurdish regional President Massoud al-Barzani said in a statement...

Iraq's Kurdistan is not "responsible for the war between the Turkish government and the PKK," al-Barzani said, underlining that the Kurdish regional government "did not support violence and bloodletting and we are not willing to be dragged into this war."

Barzani isn't alone in discouraging a Turkish incursion. He's just the only one who didn't bother phrasing it politely.

Posted by Judah in:  Iraq   Turkey   

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Friday, October 19, 2007

Handling The Press

In France, stars are often called 'les peoples' (pronounced pea-pull), and the growing creep of celebrity culture is referred to as 'pipolization'. It's the equivalent of what's becoming known in the States as fame-iness. The Sarkozy divorce, as dramatic and newsworthy as it is, is 'pipolized' political coverage. Sarkozy has been at the forefront of the 'pipolization' of politics, and understands the media as well as anyone. So it's not surprising, as Kevin Drum points out, that he would use the 'pipolized' coverage of his divorce to his advantage in the very real political arena, mainly by diverting attention away from the nation-wide one-day transportation strike yesterday. The rumor that Elysee would be imminently announcing the Sarkozy's divorce began circulating Monday morning. And despite gathering momentum, Sarkozy managed to save the major headlines for the day of his fiercest opposition since taking office. You've got to hand it to him. The guy's a master of media management.

Posted by Judah in:  La France Politique   

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Thursday, October 18, 2007

After The Surge

I've given up following whether the Surge has actually decreased casualties, civilian and military, in Iraq. Because I've honestly lost track of who's pedaling which numbers and how they came up with them. Which essentially means Mission Accomplished for Gen. Petraeus, because if someone who follows these things relatively closely -- as I do -- can't keep up anymore, the confusion must be pretty widespread. And in this case, confusion favors the status quo.

Be that as it may, here's where the rubber really hits the road on the Surge:

...An Army spokesman confirmed Wednesday that the 3rd BCT, which is re-deploying to Fort Hood in December after 15 months in theater, will not be replaced. Instead, soldiers from the 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team working in neighboring Salahuddin province will expand their area of operations into Diyala province...

The decision not to replace 3rd BCT, 1st Cavalry Division, signals the beginning of a downsizing in the surge of five additional brigades that began pouring into Iraq in the spring.

It's only logical that the Surge should have had an immediate impact on levels of violence in Iraq, and it's even possible that it actually did. That still doesn't prove that it was a sound strategy. The final judgment will depend on whether the levels of violence remain low now that the surged troops are drawing down.

So don't be surprised to see Petraeus working the refs over the next few months in an effort to inluence American public opinion. Because contrary to what some people might think, that (and not downtown Baghdad) is now the war's center of gravity.

Posted by Judah in:  Iraq   Media Coverage   

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Thursday, October 18, 2007

Main Street

How do you turn this ordinary home video (317 views) of a cute girl reciting a religious text that her parents have encouraged her to learn by heart:

into the most watched user-generated video (3.7 millions views) online? Well, you add a little feel-good acoustic strumming to give folks the sense they're riding down main street in a horse and buggy, back when America was a country that still remembered it's Christian values, and presto-change-o, you get this:

Whoever generated this one was no ordinary user. I wonder if Brian knows what they've done with his daughter's image.

Via Andrew Sullivan.

Posted by Judah in:  Odds & Ends   

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Thursday, October 18, 2007

Horn + Horn = Dilemma

Gareth Jenkins is the man to read when it comes to Turkey and the PKK. This article over at The Jamestown Foundation is no exception. Why would a Turkish incursion today be less successful than the already costly incursions of the 1990's? Because ten years ago the Peshmergas fought alongside the Turks, cutting off the PKK's lines of retreat in the face of the Turkish advance, whereas today they're mobilizing to fight alongside the PKK. What will a Turkish incursion look like if the army does eventually get the order to roll out? Ground attacks on the PKK forward bases along the Turkish border, air strikes followed by airborne special forces infiltrations on the main bases in Iraq's Qandril Mountains. How likely is a Turkish incursion? Hard to tell, but Jenkins suggests that a lot depends on the US giving a clear signal of just how they would respond. Turkey is convinced American forces will do nothing; the Kurds are convinced they'll intervene after the first engagement between Peshmerga and Turkish ground troops. They can't both be right.

Posted by Judah in:  Iraq   Turkey   

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Thursday, October 18, 2007

Casting Light Into The Shadows

When Gitanjali Gutierrez met with Majid Khan on Monday, it marked the first time a lawyer was able to visit one of the "high value detainees" transferred from the CIA "black sites" to Gitmo last September. Gutierrez is an attorney for The Center for Constitutional Rights who is representing Khan on a pro bono basis. I have no way of knowing whether Khan is innocent or guilty (he's been charged with researching attacks within the US on water supplies and gas stations). I do know that he deserves legal representation and the chance to defend himself against those charges. That's why I've put the CCR's banner at the top of the right sidebar. Click through and find out a bit more about them. And if you can, support what they're doing. Equal justice under the law applies to everyone, without exception. Otherwise it applies to no one.

Posted by Judah in:  Global War On Terror   Human Rights   

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Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Reality-Based Community

When I first stumbled across this brief item titled "Anti-Syrian Propaganda Unmasked" over at the Arab Monitor, I thought it was a fascinating example of disinformation made up out of whole cloth:

From the Israeli media, the legend of the existence of a Syrian nuclear facility spread to Western news outlets. Today, the United Nations' General Assemby's First Committe was forced to admit that the legend of the alleged Syrian nuclear facility was the fruit of an error committed by the UN translation office.

So of course I googled "israel strike un translation office" and -- lo and behold! -- it turns out it's disinformation made up out of half-cloth:

The United Nations on Wednesday blamed an interpreter's error for an erroneous report that Syria said an Israeli airstrike hit a Syrian nuclear facility, a mistake that made headlines in the Middle East and heightened concerns over Damascus' nuclear ambitions...

The incident started Tuesday night with a UN press summary of the disarmament committee which paraphrased an unnamed Syrian representative as saying that Israel was the fourth largest exporter of weapons of mass destruction and a violator of other nations' airspace, and it had taken action against nuclear facilities, including the 6 July attack in Syria.

Israel Air Force warplanes carried out a strike in northeastern Syria near the border with Turkey on September 6, not July 6.

The target remains unknown but widespread reports say it may have been a nascent nuclear facility, a claim Syria has denied.

Not quite enough to justify the Monitor's conspiracy theory, especially since Western media have been reporting the target as a nuclear facility since well before Tuesday. But at least there's a kernel of factual truth buried in there.

Posted by Judah in:  Media Coverage   The Middle East   

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Thursday, October 18, 2007

Hillary's Sally Field Moment

A thought ran through my mind about Hillary Clinton today that I haven't seen mentioned yet. It would seem (based mainly on some of the feedback that Andrew Sullivan's been collecting from his readers) that Clinton has been surprisingly successful at getting folks who were pre-disposed to oppose (read: despise) her to not only giver her a second chance, but to actually find her charming, appealing, even convincing. Whether by design or luck, she's in effect reversing the traditional logic of the primary season by "stealing" soft votes on the other side of the aisle, instead of chasing after the Democratic base.

If it's a strategy, it's probably based on two things. First, her sense that barring some sort of unforeseeable meltdown, her political organization will be enough to carry her through to the convention without leaning too far left. And second, the weakness of the Republican field which has resulted in what amounts to a listening period for moderate Republicans. Which makes me wonder how a Chuck Hagel candidacy might have effected Hillary's primary campaign.

Posted by Judah in:  Politics   

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

When Wednesday's Just As Bad

I've avoided posting on it, because there's still been no official announcement. But it's been all over the news for the past week, and more and more of the French political press is beginning to break their silence, so what the heck. Cecilia Sarkozy has apparently filed divorce proceedings to end her marriage to Nicolas Sarkozy. Given Sarkozy's devotion to her, not to mention his hyper-macho style, her leaving him must be a pretty stiff blow.

Toss in the French rugby team's defeat in the World Cup on Saturday and tomorrow's massive nationwide transportation strike, and you get the feeling that it might be a good idea to keep the guy away from the nuclear launch codes for a while.

Posted by Judah in:  La France Politique   

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Squeaky Wheel

Turkey's sabre-rattling campaign about a cross-border incursion into Iraq has already achieved one of its objectives. Namely, a sense of urgency among the Iraqi leadership. Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki called his Turkish counterpart today to reaffirm his commitment to eradicating the PKK presence in Iraq and to ask for "another chance". Meanwhile, Iraqi Vice-President Tareq al-Hashemi arrived in Ankara yesterday for what Today's Zaman called a "hastily arranged visit".

Significantly, though, comments made by Jalal Talabani, Iraq's (Kurdish) President, were somewhat more tepid:

"We consider the activities of the PKK against the interests of the Kurdish people and against the interests of Turkey. We have asked the PKK to stop fighting and end military activity," Talabani said during a visit to Paris.

Of course, getting the PKK to end their military activity will have to go through the Kurds, and will probably require more than just asking them politely (although the PKK did declare a unilateral ceasefire in the past). But in the meantime, taking the Turks seriously is a start.

Posted by Judah in:  Iraq   Turkey   

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Flower Power

One of the stranger phenomena of the past fifteen years is the way in which war has been rehabilitated as a policy tool at the same time that the actual casualties from military conflict have overwhelmingly shifted towards the civilian population. According to this graphic from RIA Novosti, in the early 20th century, 85-90% of war casualties were military personnel. By the late 20th century, 75% of casualties from military conflicts were civilians.

The suffering of war's innocent bystanders used to be a cornerstone of the pacifist movement. Yet now that their suffering is greater than ever, the pacifist movement has largely been "discredited" by foreign policy realists. The popular refrain now is to say, like Barack Obama, "I'm not against war, I'm against this war". But when I see those numbers, it's enough to make me wish for the good old days.

Posted by Judah in:  International Relations   

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Astute Diplomatic Efforts

To get a sense of just why we urgently need to rethink our approach to dealing with Iran in general and its uranium enrichment program in particular, read Kaveh Afrasiabi 's two articles over at Asia Times Online: this one, which discusses the internal divisions within Iran on their uranium enrichment policy, and this one, which discusses this week's Caspian Sea regional summit. Here's a clip from the first article quoting Hassan Rowhani, Iran's former chief negotiator on the nuclear dossier:

Today in the international sphere we are confronted with more threats than ever before. A country's diplomacy is successful when it does not allow the enemy to bind to itself other countries against the national interests of that country ... We should not create opportunities for the expansion of enemies ... Unfortunately, our enemies are increasing. Yesterday, England was standing next to America, but today, France has heatedly joined the United States.

The problem, as Afrasiabi points out, is that Iran isn't actually doing that badly in the diplomatic arena:

...Rowhani's blistering criticisms coincided with a two-day visit by a high-ranking delegation from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), led by the Deputy Director-General, Olli Heinonen, who met with the Iranian officials and fine tuned the recent Iran-IAEA agreement pertaining to nuclear transparency and the timetable to resolve "outstanding questions" regarding the chronology of Iran's centrifuges.

Pointing to this agreement as well as the UN Security Council's inability to impose further sanctions in light of opposition by Russia and China, and Putin's much-anticipated planned visit to Tehran next week irrespective of the loud American objections to such a visit, Ahmadinejad's supporters have questioned the wisdom, let alone timing, of Rowhani's criticisms.

Now members of Ahmadinejad's parliamentary majority are calling for legal action against opposition members practicing "parallel diplomacy". In other words, Iran's diplomatic successes are making it easier to target opponents of Ahmadinejad's belligerent approach. And that was before this week's Caspian Region summit meeting, whose most significant outcome was a strengthening of the Russian-Iranian strategic re-alignment:

How did this summit come about? The answer is, first and foremost, by astute diplomatic efforts on Iran's part and, equally, by a strategic evolution of Russia's foreign policy that is no longer self-handicapped by prioritizing tactical or conjunctural interests above strategic ones.

Having reached this level, Moscow is now poised to enter into a new strategic relationship with Iran that will serve the geostrategic, security, and other shared interests of both nations...

A major achievement for Iran's diplomacy and particularly for Amadinejad's embattled foreign policy team, the "good news" summit will likely serve as the hinge that opens new breathing space for Iran's diplomacy, and not just toward the Caspian, the Caucasus, and Central Asia. Iran's Persian Gulf policy is also bound to benefit from the improved image of Iran in the Middle East, making more attractive Iran's role as a corridor to Central Asia which the Arab world in general and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states in particular can take advantage of in their external trade and energy policies...

To summarize Afrasiabi's main points, there's been a pretty dramatic shift in momentum over the past few weeks on the Iranian nuclear standoff. France's adoption of the American hardline position backfired, alienating both Russia and China. Now Putin is pretty clearly throwing his weight behind Iran. He'll need to show that he can get some concessions from Tehran, ie. a reasonable bargaining position with the IAEA. But Iran has already shown signs of moving in that direction.

The big question now is whether American diplomacy can prove itself as shrewd and adaptive as Iranian diplomacy. And if you're wondering, no, I never thought I'd see the day where that question wasn't the punchline to a Monty Python sketch either. Worse still, having boxed itself into a militaristic corner, the Bush administration doesn't exactly inspire optimism on the answer.

Posted by Judah in:  Foreign Policy   Iran   Russia   

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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Putin & The Mullahs Redux

Matthew Yglesias is correct to argue that we ought to take Russia's relationship with Iran -- and its interest in deterring any strike on Iran's Russian-built nuclear energy program -- very seriously. But I'm not sure about his suggestion that Putin would just hand over the plans for a bomb or two in a fit of post-strike diplomatic pique. In fact, Russia's got plenty of reasons to consider the prospects of a nuclear-armed Iran with something less than enthusiasm.

To begin with, while the Bush administration's claims that Iran might develop a missile capacity to reach the American mainland are preposterous, Russia could one day very conceivably find itself threatened by an Iranian nuclear weapon. More immediately, an Iranian bomb would likely set off a regional nuclear arms race. Given Russia's history with Islamic insurgents in Chechnya, the idea of widespread proliferation in the Muslim world is not a particularly comforting one.

So while Russia, and a good part of the world, will very likely be majorly ticked off should we go ahead and unilaterally bomb Iran's nuclear program, I don't think that will play out as the nuclear weapons equivalent of a food drive for Tehran. On the other hand, it will make cobbling together a longterm containment and deterrent strategy significantly more difficult.

Update: Both Josh Marshall and Andrew Sullivan have now signed on to Yglesias' interpretation of Putin's declaration. Odd. There are plenty of sound arguments against a unilateral strike against Iran. But to suggest that the Russians will hand over a nuclear weapon to Tehran in response to such an attack doesn't seem like one of them. The reason we did not have to disarm a nuclear Poland, Romania, Hungary, East Germany, etc. is because the Russians did not share their nuclear weapons technology with them. And those countries formed a regional strategic military alliance at the heart of Russian national defense doctrine for more than forty years. By contrast, Russia's bonds with Iran are based on short-term tactical considerations and economic interest, hardly the basis for a nuclear kiss. Putin's threat is a combination of posturing and a warning that he can make things difficult for us. That alone is plenty.

Update 2: Ezra Klein has now added some water to the Kool Aid before tossing it back. Guys, nobody just gives away nuclear weapons. Desperately isolated states (ie. North Korea) sell them, as do desperately greedy individuals (ie. AQ Khan). A uni-lateral strike against Iran will certainly make it more difficult to use diplomacy to stave off an eventual Iranian second push for nuclear capacity, thereby locking us into a cycle of military intervention. But no one's going to just hand over the atomic goody bag to Tehran just to get back at us.

Posted by Judah in:  International Relations   Iran   Russia   

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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

What's He Doing Here?

Andrew Sullivan nailed it:

President Bush has a weak person's idea of what strength is; and a dumb person's idea of what intelligence is.

It's similar to the point Jon Stewart made about Bush's tendency to use words to describe action, instead of actually taking action. As Stewart put it, "When he's giving his speeches, it's like he's reading the stage directions... He's our first meta-President. He comes out and spends all day describing the things he should be doing."

It's all of a piece. The man is transfixed by "the reason he's here", without having any real sense of what he's doing here.

Posted by Judah in:  Politics   

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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Saving Face

Based on everything I've read in the (anglophone) Turkish press, I think the chances of a full-scale Turkish military operation in Iraqi Kurdistan are actually pretty slim. Yes, the authorization for an incursion has been put before the Turkish Parliament, and yes it will almost certainly be approved. This gives Prime Minister Erdogan a year's worth of serious leverage to really get people's attention in Washington, Baghdad and Irbil. Think of it as the Turkish equivalent of the Iraq War Authorization Act, only given to a head of state who has demonstrated an appreciation for the limits of military force.

Aside from an occasional loud boom for Turkish domestic consumption, if there is any military operation it will probably come in the form of an under the radar infiltration of special forces, augmenting the hot pursuit incursions and artillery shelling of PKK positions that's been taking place -- and largely ignored by everyone involved -- for months now.

The reality is that a Turkish invasion risks turning an irritating situation into a regional crisis that will almost certainly degrade Turkey's strategic position, with little hope of actually solving the PKK problem. On the other hand, a low-level special forces operation allows everyone to walk away with a moral victory: Turkey by claiming they're addressing the problem, the US by claiming they've avoided the worst, and the Kurds by claiming that nothing's happening.

Posted by Judah in:  Iraq   Turkey   

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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Little Whisper

In case you're looking for the science behind that South Carolina e-mail campaign perpetuating the debunked rumor that Barack Obama attended a muslim madrassa, here it is. According to German researchers, gossip about someone's reputation determines other people's opinions of that person, even in the face of contradictory factual evidence. Think of it as the 21st century's response to The Big Lie.

Posted by Judah in:  Odds & Ends   Politics   

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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Spread Thin

In case you haven't seen it yet, this WaPo op-ed by twelve former Army captains who served "in Baghdad and beyond" goes a little bit against the grain of the Petraeus party line:

Against this backdrop, the U.S. military has been trying in vain to hold the country together. Even with "the surge," we simply do not have enough soldiers and marines to meet the professed goals of clearing areas from insurgent control, holding them securely and building sustainable institutions. Though temporary reinforcing operations in places like Fallujah, An Najaf, Tal Afar, and now Baghdad may brief well on PowerPoint presentations, in practice they just push insurgents to another spot on the map and often strengthen the insurgents' cause by harassing locals to a point of swayed allegiances. Millions of Iraqis correctly recognize these actions for what they are and vote with their feet -- moving within Iraq or leaving the country entirely. Still, our colonels and generals keep holding on to flawed concepts.

America's choice, as they see it? Institute a military draft to draw up the troops needed to actually accomplish the mission, or get out now. Of course, instituting a draft would be political suicide, which is far less palatable (to politicians) than sending soldiers off to die in an ill-conceived war. But by bringing it to a vote, it would force those who argue the importance of continuing the Iraq War to put their money where their mouth is. Charlie Rangel tried this as a stunt a few years back, but the timing was a little early. It would pack a lot more punch now. Support the troops: they need some backup.

Posted by Judah in:  Iraq   Politics   

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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Putin & The Mullahs

Next time you hear about Iran belonging to a global movement intent on "collapsing" western powers and installing a worldwide Islamic caliphate, keep this in mind. Putin's Russia, remember, is not only a secular regional power. It has also brutally suppressed an Islamic insurgency in Chechnya for the past decade. Yet that hasn't stopped him from establishing a pretty solid working relationship with the "irresponsible" and "unreliable" mullahs in Tehran.

America's conflict with Iran has everything to do with regional strategic interests, and very little to do with Islamic fanaticism. It's just easier (for both sides) to use the latter to mobilize the base.

Update: Click "Publish", find related article. From The Economist:

What did Iran’s leaders see when they looked into Vladimir Putin’s eyes? Apparently somebody to do business with. As outsiders watched carefully for signs of Russia’s intentions regarding Iran’s nuclear programme, Mr Putin arrived in Tehran, Iran’s capital, and appeared to show support for the country’s nuclear efforts. “The Iranians are co-operating with Russian nuclear agencies and the main objectives are peaceful objectives”, he said.

The article goes on to identify Russia's reasons for not wanting to see a nuclear-armed Iran. But the takeaway is that twenty years after the revolution, the Iranians are businessmen at heart. The only thing that sustains the firebrands is a bellicose rival threatening their sovereignty.

Negotiating is only a sign of weakness if you are indeed weak (ie. Chamberlain in Munich). Not only does it do no harm to talk things over when you've got the strength to stand by your bargaining position. It also undermines the position of diehards on the other side of the table, whose power depends on demonizing you to their base.

Posted by Judah in:  Iran   Politics   Russia   

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Monday, October 15, 2007

All Downside

The gathering crisis along the Turkish border with Iraqi Kurdistan is illustrative of the nature of asymmetric warfare. As The New Anatolian puts it:

The PKK is pushing hard to further provoke the Turkish military into a full scale cross border operation deep into northern Iraq thus severely hurting Turkey’s ties with the European Union as well as Washington.

A PKK attack killing 13 Turkish soldiers last week created furor in Ankara forcing the government to bow to public pressures to order the military to prepare for a cross border operation into Iraq...

But the PKK has taken a defiant position saying it will intensify its terrorist campaign against Turkey.

If this sounds familiar, it's because it is. This is exactly the same strategy Osama Bin Laden pursued with the United States, minus the religious fanaticism and cult of suicide martyrdom. What's striking is how successful it remains. As Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan acknowledged last week, Turkey has already tried and failed to solve the PKK problem militarily. Yet here they are rattling their sabres once again, despite the fact that an incursion will severely damage Turkish interests.

Make no mistake, a Turkish military response will jeopardize America's delicate balancing act in Iraq by destabilizing the one area of that country that has known relative calm. It will throw the entire region into high alert. But it will also hurt Turkey's relations with its two most critical allies. All because of the common wisdom that sometimes you just have to hit back, even if the person you're hitting the hardest happens to be yourself.

Posted by Judah in:  Turkey   

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Monday, October 15, 2007

Distant Cousins

With all the discussion about John Mearsheimer's and Stephen Walt's "The Israel Lobby", it's interesting to note, as does this Haaretz video feature, that while political clout and representation among American Jews is rising, the percentage of American Jews who feel a strong connection to Israel is in decline. 70% of Jewish senior citizens feel a close bond to the Jewish state, compared to only 56% of Jews in their thirties. The video identifies the secular nature of American Jews, combined with Israel's attitude towards reform Jews as contributing factors. I'm not sure if there's any polling data to back this up, but I'd speculate that Israel's military approach to the Occupied Territories probably doesn't appeal much to the younger generation either.

Posted by Judah in:  Politics   The Middle East   

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Monday, October 15, 2007

Stigmata

As often happens with a throwaway post that probably interests no one around here but me, I spent much of the afternoon thinking about George Will's attack on academic social work and my response to it. Will condemns graduate social work programs for enforcing a post-modern progressive orthodoxy. As an example, he uses a case where an MSW student was required as part of her coursework to advocate for a social policy position (the right of homosexuals to adopt and provide foster care) that was at odds with her religious beliefs.

I argued that he's right about academic social work representing a progressive orthodoxy, whose ideal I described as a non-normative society, but that for the most part the normative biases identified by social work -- ie. sexism, racism, classism and a host of others -- are in fact damaging to both individual and society, and find very few defenders among reasonable people, conservative or liberal.

Then I got to thinking about the DSM, the Diagnostic Standards Manual, which is the Bible of psychiatry and a contested but omnipresent pillar of social work. In case you're not familiar with it, I don't call it the Bible for nothing: the DSM is about as normative a book as there is. It serves as the detailed reference of what constitutes a behavioral disorder, complete with checklists of "symptoms", and is the basis against which healthy behavior is differentiated from a treatable disorder. To give you an idea, homosexuality was still diagnosable as a behavioral disorder as of the DSM II, which was replaced in 1973, and remained in watered down form through the DSM III-R as recently as 1987. (The current edition is the DSM IV, with DSM V in the consultation phase.)

There's still, in fact, an undifferentiated category of sexual behavior disorder resulting from anxiety over sexual orientation. Now, of course, the primary cause of anxiety over sexual orientation is the normative gender roles that society communicates explicitly and implicitly from the earliest age. Take away the normative bias and there's no longer any stigma attached to the behavior. It's in that context that the teaching of social work has increasingly contested these norms.

Will's target may ostensibly be the mingling of politics with academics. But like the religious right, he's really using the cloak of a political stigma (social work as a liberal discipline) to reinforce the historic behavioral stigma (homosexuality as sexual perversion). I don't take issue with the former, because he's largely correct on that score. It's the latter one that bothers me.

As for the point I raised, I think it's legitimate to wonder, question or even doubt whether society can function in the absence of normative behavior models. For the model proposed by academic social work to gain traction, it's got to find convincing responses to those doubts. In the meantime, its critique of the existing stigmas, and the harm they do, at the very least allows us to know ourselves a little bit better. Which can only help us make a better choice.

Posted by Judah in:  Odds & Ends   

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Sunday, October 14, 2007

The Isms Game

George Will weighs in on the liberal bias of graduate schools of social work and describes a conservative's nightmare:

Schools' mission statements, student manuals and course descriptions are clotted with the vocabulary of "progressive" cant -- "diversity," "inclusion," "classism," "ethnocentrism," "racism," "sexism," "heterosexism," "ageism," "white privilege," "ableism," "contextualizes subjects," "cultural imperialism," "social identities and positionalities," "biopsychosocial" problems, "a just share of society's resources," and on and on.

The thing is, I worked as a non-degreed social worker for a few years on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, and later in Santa Cruz, CA. I also read quite a bit of the course materials when my ex-wife got her MSW. And Will's description is pretty accurate. As discipline's go, academic social work has got a pretty radical worldview which could almost be described as advocating for a society free from normative behavior. It's pretty satisfying from a theoretical point of view. The trouble arises, as usual, when theory meets practice.

Because while it's true that normative values often contribute to adaptive disorders, I'm just not sure how a society can really structure itself in their absence. The goal of recognizing the equality of each individual's inherent value is a noble one. But inherent value is not the same as utility value, and a society wherein everyone is free to assume any identity they choose is not likely to achieve the greatest possible advantage from its members. I'm quite certain I'd have led a much happier and fulfilled (to say nothing of wealthier) life, for instance, if the culture of professional basketball weren't so ridden with "heightism", "strengthism", "speedism" and "talentism". Fans of professional basketball, on the other hand, were probably better off for it. This dynamic explains why, not surprisingly, social work as a profession often consists of helping people find practical solutions for harmonizing their needs with the social mechanisms that frame their lives.

By contrast, the goal of eliminating discriminatory normative values (ie. biases) is not only noble, it's also very practical. To the extent that racism, sexism, and classism keep ethnic minorities, women and underprivileged individuals from developing their full potential, it's not just the victims that suffer but the society at large as well. We'll never know how many diseases might have been cured, mathematic problems solved and new technologies developed by the individuals who were denied access to those fields based on historically discriminatory codes of behavior.

Will's correct in claiming that social work as it's often taught represents an ideology as much as an academic discipline. As a wing of progressivism, it probably represents the left's mirror image of the religious right: atheist, non-normative, post-modern and full of jargon that South Park could have a field day with. But if you look closely at his list of offending terms, it's hard to see which one of the "isms" he'd want to argue for.

Update: I revised this post to make a distinction between academic and practical social work.

Posted by Judah in:  Odds & Ends   

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Sunday, October 14, 2007

Dept. Of Bitter Ironies

Here's a rundown of today's headlines from a news page I monitor:

  • Condoleezza Rice criticises Putin's concentration of power
  • US appeals for Turkish restraint on Iraq
  • US to watch Russia's military agenda: Rice
  • Gates warns Russia against break with arms treaties

No word on whether they were able to keep a straight face.

Posted by Judah in:  Media Coverage   Odds & Ends   

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Sunday, October 14, 2007

Hidden Costs

It's become increasingly clear ever since iTunes cornered the market for paid digital music files that, while the arrangement has been a goldmine for Apple, it's done little to change the declining fortunes of the recording industry. There are a few reasons for this, not least of which is the revenue split negotiated by Steve Jobs ("indecent" according to one record company executive). But the fundamental explanation is structural. The iTunes model is simply a digital age version of the traditional method of selling recorded music, where digital files replace mechanical copies. The problem, of course, is that the competition faced by the recording industry isn't more efficient distribution of music, it's free distribution of music.

Which is why the deals they'll be seeking with music distributors will increasingly give the appearance of offering free music by rolling the licensing cost into a service or product. In the case of this arrangement concocted by Universal Music head Doug Morris, access to three major label catalogs representing 75% of the American recorded music market would be included in the price of an mp3 player. In the case of French internet service provider Neuf Telecom, Universal's catalog was bundled into the monthly subscription fee. Airplane entertainment libraries and luxury car mp3 players offer similar opportunities to hide licensing costs in the purchase price, and others will be developed.

So as you read about the advent of free recorded music, keep in mind that you're still paying for what you listen to. You're just not being shown the price tag.

Update: Of course, just after I posted this, I ran across a WaPo article discussing whether and how much an artist is "selling out" if they license their music for commercials. This is a 1990's approach that will soon be obsolete. I wouldn't be surprised if in the not too near future, at least a certain amount of licensing rights will be retained by the record company in the standard recording contract. In other words, the record company itself will have product endorsement deals, and by agreeing to that first contract, newly signed artists will be licensing their music to the label's brand roster. Of course, once an artist becomes successful, they can always re-negotiate. But for the length of that first contract, selling will mean selling out.

Posted by Judah in:  Arts & Letters   Markets & Finance   

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Sunday, October 14, 2007

Free Lunch

As you can tell by glancing at the top of the sidebar, I've added a new feature to the site. It occurred to me that while I might not be able to sell ad space, I can give some away. So as the disclaimer makes clear, the link in no way represents an endorsement of Headline Junky by the Center for Constitutional Rights. It does, however, represent an endorsement of the CCR by Headline Junky, primarily for the work they've done on behalf of Gitmo detainees in an effort to establish their habeas corpus rights. So definitely click through and take a look at what they're all about, and support them in whatever way you're able.

I'll be changing the link regularly, in the hopes of providing some deserving progressive organizations with whatever exposure Headline Junky can offer. If you know of any groups that do good work, don't hesitate to bring them to my attention, either in the comments or via e-mail.

Posted by Judah in:  Featured Link   

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Sunday, October 14, 2007

And Iran, Iran So Far Away?

Kevin Drum links to another NY Times story "clarifying" the Israeli airstrike against Syria last month. According to the emerging consensus on intelligence reports (or the latest leaker's agenda, take your pick), the target was an unfinished nuclear reactor resembling one used by North Korea in its weapons program. Questions remain as to whether the North Koreans were involved in either providing the plans or directing the construction. Opinion on how to respond was divided within the Bush administration, with the usual suspects (Rice, Gates) against an airstrike and the world's most feared quail hunter in favor of one. Kevin goes on to add:

The Times' sources also confirmed that the Syrian reactor was several years away from completion. The raid, according to one Israeli official, was meant primarily to "re-establish the credibility of our deterrent power."

Think about that for a second. A regional power whose image of military invincibility has recently taken a hit suggests bombing a nuclear program several years from completion in order to re-establish the credibility of its deterrent power. Cheney argues for, Rice & Gates argue against. Cheney wins. The bombs drop.

Sound like a dress rehearsal for anything?

Posted by Judah in:  Iran   The Middle East   

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Friday, October 12, 2007

Walking Back The Turkey Crisis

Despite the gathering Perfect Storm of alarmist headlines, Turkey's government is reacting to both recent PKK attacks and the Armenian genocide resolution with what I'd call measured outrage. The Parliamentary vote authorizing cross-border assaults into Iraqi Kurdistan won't take place before next week at the earliest. And even if an incursion is authorized, that doesn't make one inevitable.

By all indications, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's main reason for seeking the authorization vote, besides assuaging domestic public opinion, is to use it as leverage at a regional meeting on Iraq and a bi-lateral meeting with President Bush both scheduled for next month:

Erdogan said the problems stemming from the PKK presence in Iraq would be discussed when a meeting of Iraq's neighbors and key international actors convenes in Istanbul early next month and when he visits the United States for talks with President George W. Bush, again next month. "Let's make sure we have the authorization at hand so that we can decide to take a step whenever it is necessary," Erdogan said in the interview, aired on CNN Türk.

He also appeared less than sanguine about an incursion's chances of success:

"So far, there have been 24 such operations. When you look back at its benefits, we see they have not been particularly effective. We have to see this fact… If we don't analyze it well, we will lose in the end," he stated.

Meanwhile, Erdogan downplayed reports that the Turkish Ambassador to the US has been recalled:

"I do not have any such information. Possibly, the Foreign Ministry called in the ambassador for consultations, but no one has recalled him," Recep Tayyip Erdogan said.

So it looks like the fan blades ought to stay clean for at least the weekend.

Posted by Judah in:  Turkey   

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Friday, October 12, 2007

The Court Of Public Opinion

The latest military commission proceedings get to the heart of just how flawed the cost-to-benefit analysis that went into building Gitmo really was:

The U.S. military has filed an attempted murder charge against a Guantanamo Bay detainee who allegedly threw a hand grenade into a vehicle carrying two American soldiers and an interpreter in Afghanistan, according to documents released Thursday...

At a hearing last year at Guantanamo, Jawad said he falsely confessed to local Afghan police who had arrested him because they tortured him.

The fundamental question being, Who really wins this one in the global court of public opinion? Let's even assume for the sake of argument that the charges are true. What we've got is a guy who tossed a grenade at a couple of soldiers in a war zone. Was he an enemy? Yes. An unlawful combatant? Sure, why not. Was he a dangerous terrorist? Seems like a stretch. But most importantly, was he worth giving the entire world the impression that we're rounding up innocent goatherds and torturing them in a gulag under the Cuban sun? Decidedly not. 

I don't see how a good old-fashioned POW camp wouldn't have done the trick here. Unless it has something to do with this

Posted by Judah in:  Global War On Terror   Human Rights   

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Friday, October 12, 2007

Dept. Of Bitter Ironies

The blind leading the blind. At least one of them has a White Cane.

Posted by Judah in:  Odds & Ends   

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Friday, October 12, 2007

You're Either With Us Or Against Us

It always pays to be skeptical of accusations made by someone trying to avoid the inside of a jail cell. But according to redacted court documents just unsealed from former Qwest CEO Joe Nacchio's insider trading trial, the NSA pulled the plug on a $100 million deal for Qwest to build them a "private" fibre optics network in retaliation for the company's refusal to go along with what is clearly a reference to the NSA telecom surveillance program:

Nacchio planned to demonstrate at trial that he had a meeting on Feb. 27, 2001, at NSA headquarters at Fort Meade, Md., to discuss a $100 million project. According to the documents, another topic also was discussed at that meeting, one with which Nacchio refused to comply.

The topic itself is redacted each time it appears in the hundreds of pages of documents, but there is mention of Nacchio believing the request was both inappropriate and illegal, and repeatedly refusing to go along with it.

The NSA contract was awarded in July 2001 to companies other than Qwest.

Nacchio was prevented by the first trial judge from presenting the evidence due to its classified nature. He's currently free pending appeal.

Posted by Judah in:  Global War On Terror   Markets & Finance   

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Friday, October 12, 2007

Bait & Switch

That Radiohead record that was going to revolutionize the music industry by allowing fans to download it for whatever they felt like paying? I don't think so. Looks like round one in the Battle Over the Future of Recorded Music goes to Madonna®.

Posted by Judah in:  Arts & Letters   Markets & Finance   

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Friday, October 12, 2007

Memorex Redux

A quick footnote to yesterday's post about Live Nation, the company buying the rights to Madonna®:

Although it is the largest concert promotion company in the world, it lost $161 million in 2005 and 2006, and barely managed to make $10 million profit from $1 billion revenues in the most recent quarter of this year.

Meanwhile, according to leaks about the deal, Madonna's cut of the concert tour take will be 90% of the gross. Frankly, I don't see where the upside is coming from for the folks distributing the music, whether it's record companies or concert promoters. Teenage boys will form rock 'n roll bands for as long as there are groupies crowding the stage (and the dressing room after the show). The $64,000 question is, who's going to record their music?

Update: To answer my own question, they'll record it themselves using the ridiculously inexpensive home recording technology now available. And they'll distribute it themselves using file sharing over the internet. And then when they've gotten enough exposure and buzz (precisely measured by clicks and downloads), they'll sign a deal with a tour promoter, who will expand their distribution capacity. In fact, it looks to me like there's some room there for a savvy online middleman to connect the talent to the re-invented "distribution" outlet. A cross between an online record company and an agent.

Posted by Judah in:  Arts & Letters   Markets & Finance   

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Friday, October 12, 2007

The Age Of Torture

Before you take a look at this article about abuses at boot camps for "problem kids", be warned. It's very disturbing, particularly if you have or deeply care about children. The kinds of abuses described are typical of what I've come to think of as Absolute Power Zones: places where for whatever reason, those in charge wield their authority with no effective oversight and those in detention have no recourse to justice. It's a recipe for abuse, and for me is of a piece with Abu Ghraib, Gitmo, jihadi kidnappings/beheadings, and detainee/prisoner abuse and torture. The degree of violence certainly varies from one case to another, as does the justification. But the underlying dynamic -- the brutal and barbaric abuse of power -- remains the same.

It would be hyperbolic to suggest that this is a new problem. I'm not even sure it's worse now than it was 10, 100 or 1000 years ago. What is significantly different now is the existence and diffusion of photographic and video images of the abuse, a direct consequence of the internet revolution. In particular, the voyeuristic component of these abuse scandals perversely mirrors the explosion of internet pornography specializing in fetishized portrayals of violence and domination, and coincides with the appearance of S&M in mainstream pop culture (think Mel Gibson's Payback for the fetishized version, The Passion for the straight-up gore).

This is what I meant yesterday when I referred to ours as "an age where strength is increasingly fetishized as brutal dominance." And if this article is any indication, the indoctrination process begins early.

Posted by Judah in:  Human Rights   

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Thursday, October 11, 2007

Ring The Alarm

Since being appointed Army chief of staff, Gen. William Casey has gone out of his way to sound the alarm on the toll six years of war have taken on the Army. This is from the keynote speech he gave at the Army's Annual Meeting, in which he foresaw a future of "persistent conflict":

"Today's Army is out-of-balance," said Gen. Casey. "The current demand on our forces exceeds the sustainable supply. We are consumed with meeting the demands of the current fight and unable to provide ready forces as rapidly as we would like for other contingencies. Overall, we are consuming our readiness as fast as we are building it."

In addition to the accelerated plans already in place to increase the standing force, Casey identified the changing role of the Reserves as critical to getting the Army back in balance:

"They are no longer a strategic reserve mobilized only in national emergencies," he said. "They are now an operational reserve, deployed on a cyclical basis to allow us to sustain extended operations. Operationalizing the Reserve Components will require national and state consensus as well as continued commitment from employers, Soldiers and Families. It will require changes to the way we train and equip, resource and mobilize, and also administrative policies. We owe it to them to make this transition rapidly."

This is worth noting, because what he's talking about is institutionalizing what was initially a stopgap measure. And it's a process that is already underway. Over the past four years, the Reserves have effectively functioned as a draft pool because, let's face it, anyone who signed up previous to 9/11 did not realistically expect to see active duty. Casey's suggesting we transform their role into a sort of rotating replacement corps, giving breathers wherever the line is stretched thinnest. Not, mind you, because of any logistical advantage that might offer, but because we simply don't have the capacity to prosecute the War in Iraq -- let alone "other contingencies" -- otherwise.

It's true you go to war with the Army you have, as Donald Rumsfeld famously noted. But you don't start wars unless you have the Army you need. Now we're playing catch-up, expanding the army in both explicit and implicit ways, all for a war that remains highly contested and so far largely inconclusive. One that even the Army chief of staff believes will do nothing to prevent decades of persistent conflict. Discouraging, to say the least.

Posted by Judah in:  Afghanistan   Iraq   

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Thursday, October 11, 2007

Is It Live Or Is It Memorex?

It's increasingly looking like the future of recorded music is as a marketing tool for selling concert tickets and developing brand identities. The deal reportedly in the works between Madonna and Live Nation is just another step in that direction:

The story was first reported on the Wall Street Journal's Web site, which said Madonna would receive a mix of cash and stock in exchange for allowing Live Nation to distribute three studio albums, promote concert tours, sell merchandise and license her name...

The paper, quoting people briefed on the Live Nation deal, said the package includes a general advance of $17.5 million and advance payments for three albums of $50 to $60 million. (Album advances are generally recouped from sales income.

Live Nation also is expected to pay $50 million in cash and stock for the right to promote Madonna's concert tours.

To give you an idea of how lucrative the concert circuit is, in 2005 the industry totalled $3.1 billion in revenue, and that's not counting the ways in which technology will allow promoters to develop new revenue streams from live performances. Madonna's last three world tours grossed $400 million combined. Add to that merchandising, image endorsements and music licensing (which I'm surprised isn't part of the deal), and you've got a pretty lucrative market, even if the actual sales of mechanical copies will continue to decline.

It's ironic that at the dawn of the recording era, musicians felt threatened by technological advances that allowed mechanical copies to achieve better sound quality. Rightly so, since at the time, any activity that depended on music -- dance classes, theatre performances, nightclubs and private parties -- required live musicians, hence guaranteeing their livelihood. They became enthusiastic only after it became clear that recorded music sales could not only provide a revenue stream (although never a very reliable one due to shady industry practices), it could also serve to spread an artist's reputation. In the intervening years, recording became both an art and an industry in and of itself, distinct if not separate from the artistry of performance.

It would seem as though the industry has come full circle. Recorded music will once again serve primarily to publicize an artist's work, with live performance (complimented by licensing revenue from advertising) providing the livelihood. For artists with an already established stature, it won't really change much other than their accounting methods. What remains to be seen is how it will impact the way in which new artists are discovered and popularized.

Posted by Judah in:  Arts & Letters   Markets & Finance   

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Thursday, October 11, 2007

Nothing New, Update At Eleven

Here's the full text of an interview Syrian President Bashar al-Assad gave the BBC ten days ago. The interviewer presses him pretty insistantly to provide some details about last month's mysterious Israeli airstrike, but he simply described the target as an unfinished, unmanned, undefended military construction site of little significance. Here's what he had to say about suggestions of a North Korean link:

We have a relation with North Korea and this is not something in secret. We have a relation with them but to have a construction, if you have, like they say you mean the nuclear, we are not interested in any nuclear activity. So far even peaceful reactor we do not even mention peaceful reactor for electricity or for any peaceful use in Syria. Talking about a strategic project like this, you do not have any protection, any air-defence, any people and then the aircraft attack that reactor and there is no radiations, no emergency plans. This is impossible. This is only a building, a construction, and they attacked this construction, nothing happened. So, it is not nuclear at all; these are only false claims.

To add to the already thick fog of confusion around the strike, a NY Times headline is announcing that Syria is now denying that the raid took place, while the accompanying story only reports an effort to deny an Israeli journalist's claims that a desert research center had suffered damage during the attack.

So for everyone keeping score at home, we effectively know very little more -- and possibly less -- than we did before, which was already close to zero. Now back to our regularly scheduled programming.

Posted by Judah in:  The Middle East   

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Thursday, October 11, 2007

Big Love

Wyoming answers the call! We've now had at least one visitor from every state of the union during the past month. Biggup, Y-O!

Posted by Judah in:  Odds & Ends   

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Thursday, October 11, 2007

The Little Death

In answer to what Matthew Yglesias calls "the necessary questions" (Why the second wetsuit?), it's because human sexuality is such a complex intersection of biological urges, physical stimuli and psychosocial imprints that for some folks (read: most all of us to varying degrees) the only way to feel marginally in control of it is to keep it pretty tightly under wraps. Reverend Aldridge's death is just a remarkably vivid illustration of a universal phenomenon. So the need to ridicule him (and Larry Craig and John Vitter et al.) is understandable, and transcends (or more accurately is submerged beneath) the fact that they're all hypocrites. (I say that assuming that Rev. Aldridge espoused the typical "values agenda" of the Christian right.)

Don't mistake this observation for sanctimony, because truth be told, I don't really care one way or the other. But this does strike me as one way in which the left engages in its own form of moral hypocrisy. Liberating politics from sexuality means more than just supporting gay marriage. It means eschewing macho posturing, avoiding the trap of the "bitch slap theory", and not stigmatizing people based on infantile conceptions of sexual gender roles. And the fact that "they (ie. the right) did it first" doesn't absolve us of not having the courage of our convictions.

I'm under no illusions that we'll see the disappearance of this blind spot any time in the near future. Transformation is driven by transgression, which always puts it at a disadvantage when confronting the dominant ideology. Not very likely in an age where strength is increasingly fetishized as brutal dominance.

But so long as we internally reproduce the dominant paradigm of sex, gender and power in our own political discourse, it makes no difference how superficially liberated we appear to be. We're still stuffing human sexuality, in all its messy complexity, into the comforting confines of a wetsuit.

Posted by Judah in:  Media Coverage   Politics   

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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Finding The Words

I'm not really sure what to say about this. It's certainly true that the Congressional resolution calling the Turkish massacre of Armenians a genocide will most likely damage our relations with Turkey, and thereby do harm to our interests in the Middle East. It's also true, although this point isn't made, that there's no urgent reason to pass this kind of resolution right now, and it carries with it no binding consequences. So I could almost understand the White House's discomfort at seeing this thing go to a vote at all.

But it's creepy to hear the State Department express its regret over the resolution now that it has passed, while quite clearly taking pains to avoid referring to what it actually addresses. As if the only way to get the statement out is to avoid its actual meaning: That this administration, ordinarily so devoted to moral absolutism, is willing to ignore a historical crime against humanity for the sake of political expediency.

You can bet the Sudanese government is sleeping a little bit more peacefully tonight.

Posted by Judah in:  International Relations   Turkey   

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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Turkey's Options

Here's a pretty solid rundown of Turkey's options in response to PKK attacks. In a nutshell, the most effective leverage Turkey has over the Iraqi Kurds is economic, including electricity exports and crucial border crossings. The only military option with any hope of success would involve a closely coordinated effort between Turkey and Iran, and if possible the Iraqi Kurds.

Turkey is already conducting hot pursuit incursions into Iraqi territory with the tacit approval of the Iraqi Kurds, and the two recently signed a cooperation agreement to deal with the PKK problem. So there might be some more water left in that well. If not, don't be surprised to see this wedge issue drive Turkey into a tactical alliance with Iran.

Posted by Judah in:  Iran   Turkey   

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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Safe Haven Redux

I'd suspected that the Pakistani air and ground raids against Taliban bases in North Waziristan had something to do with the recently resolved negotiations between President Pervez Musharraf and exiled former-Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto that secured his re-election as president in return for her safe return to Pakistan for parliamentary elections later this year. But if this article in Asia Times Online is any indication, in assuming the campaign was Musharraf's way of showing up Bhutto, who recently declared that she'd be willing to let American forces take care of the Pakistani badlands, I was putting the cart before the horse.

According to the article, the deal between the two was pushed through by Washington in order to keep the volatile political situation from delaying Pakistani military action against a massive Taliban force poised to infiltrate the Afghanistan border. So in case you were wondering just what the billions of dollars of aid we're pouring into Pakistan were buying us, this is what it boils down to: Musharraf plays ball with Bhutto -- who despite numerous outstanding corruption charges against her represents Pakistani democracy -- and gets tough on the Taliban.

Posted by Judah in:  Odds & Ends   

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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Collateral Damage

We still don't know just what they were targeting when Israeli warplanes carried out a bombing mission in northeastern Syria a month ago. But in addition to whatever they managed to hit on the ground, you can add two unintended victims to the raid: the Yes satellite television station in Israel, and Headline Junky's traffic stats.

Apparently, ever since September 6, the date of the Israeli strike, Yes broadcasts have been hit with intermittent electronic snowstorms, leading viewers to complain en masse and even file a class action lawsuit. Potential culprits range from UN ships monitoring Lebanese communications to Russian electronic assaults in retaliation for having the air defense systems they provided to Syria so easily shown up.

Meanwhile, on that same day, I briefly speculated that the strike might have been a dry run for an attack on Iranian nuclear installations, including a link to a map of the Middle East to illustrate the point. Despite the fact that the map itself never appeared in the post, that link has somehow sparked a Google Image hit parade of people looking for maps of the Middle East. And there are a lot of people looking for maps of the Middle East, enough to render my traffic stats for the past month entirely useless.

The question the Israelis need to be asking themselves right about now is, Was it really worth it? 

Posted by Judah in:  Odds & Ends   Say What?   

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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The Fat Lady Singhs

It looks like the India-US nuclear deal might not make it out of Congress. The Indian Congress, that is. With his government coalition jeopardized by staunch opposition to the deal on the left, Indian PM Manmohan Singh has backed off of threats to open negotiations with IAEA over the deal's provisions until at least the end of October, when a legislative freeze on ratifying it ends. There's also speculation that Singh is ready to scrap the deal entirely.

By all reports, this deal was pretty lopsided in India's favor, and undermined America's non-proliferation stance to boot. So I guess there are some upsides to anti-American sentiment abroad after all. 

Posted by Judah in:  Odds & Ends   

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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

PACS On Both Houses

Confirming my belief that the government doesn't belong in the marriage business, a study on French civil unions (known as PACS) has found that the closer their legal status resembles that of marriage, the more popular they've become. Not just with same-sex couples, for whom the legal status was ostensibly invented, but also with mixed-sex couples. In fact, gay couples now represent only 7% of those seeking the PACS status. Since 2000, while marriages were declining by 10%, the number of couples getting PACS'ed tripled and now represents 25% of all heterosexual unions:

Similarly, the sociology of the PACS tends to imitate that of marriage. The average age of those entering a PACS, which went from 37.6 years old in 1999 to 31.5 years old in 2006, has approached that of marriage. Another common element between the two types of unions: The seasonality. Couples prefer to get PACS'ed in June and July. (Translated from the French.) 

The idea that government recognize the same civil unions for everyone and leave marriage up to the individuals' chosen religious denominations is both fair and consistent with the principles of separation of church and state. But it also has the added advantage of being more politically palatable for people who don't necessarily have a bedrock position on the issue, but are simply uncomfortable for whatever reason with the idea of gay marriage.

Civil unions for everyone means marriage denied to no one. It also places the ceremony of marriage -- all marriage -- where it, as a religious ceremony, belongs: in the private sphere. 

Posted by Judah in:  Domestic Policy   Odds & Ends   

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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Classic Assymetry

Gareth Jenkins over at the Jamestown Foundation has a bit more on how the PKK operates:

Since its resumption of violence in June 2004 following a five year cease-fire, the PKK has conducted a two-front strategy: a rural insurgency in eastern Turkey and a bombing campaign in the western part of the country. The latter has focused primarily on economic targets, particularly Turkey's lucrative tourism industry.

The rural insurgency picks up every year during the spring, when the mountain passes between Iraqi Kurdistan and Turkey thaw out. It's still not clear whether a recent string of explosions in the West represents a surge in the group's terrorist activities. Both tactics put enormous pressure on the Turkish government to respond, even though cross-border incursions in the past have had little impact. At the same time, neither the terrorist attacks nor the insurgency represent an existential threat to Turkey.

Neither side can accomplish what it wants through armed conflict, and neither side is willing to accomodate the other at the negotiating table. Which means we'll be reading about this one for some time to come.

Posted by Judah in:  Turkey   

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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The Incredible Site Makeover Redux

It didn't take me long to realize that while aiming for sober and vibrant with the new look, I ended up with ugly. Luckily, today while walking past the book vendors along the Seine I happened to notice some of the vintage magazine covers they had on display. It occurred to me that the layout and design from the fifties and sixties print magazines actually works pretty well for the web. So there you have it. If you're not seeing a red and black header at the top of the page, hit the refresh button. This should be the last time, at least for another year or so. I promise.

Posted by Judah in:  Odds & Ends   

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Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Sorrows And Tears

By now you've probably seen that things are heating up again on the Turkish border with Iraqi Kurdistan. Fifteen Turkish soldiers were just killed by PKK militants, and the Turkish cabinet just gave the green light for "legal, economic and political preparations... including if necessary a cross-border operation" to end the PKK's presence in Iraq.

One of the problems with picking up a story mid-stream -- and Turkey has been battling PKK militants for 23 years -- is that it's easy to fall prey to the dominant narrative. And a lot of this sabre-rattling has always seemed to be for Turkish domestic consumption.So I thought I'd cite this passage written by Ilnur Cevik, a Turkish opinion columnist writing in The New Anatolian:

We call these people terrorists and we are frowned upon if we do not do so. However, it is time we all realized the facts and lived with realities instead of nationalist cliches.

What the PKK does in our cities is an act of terrorism. On Monday a bomb went off in Istanbul injuring five people. Recently two bombs went off in Izmir killing one student and injuring several people. This is an act of terrorism and it is most probably performed by the PKK terrorist organization militants.

However, what we see in eastern and southeastern Turkey is not terrorism. It is clearly some form of warfare which should be taken seriously and which should not be regarded as an act of terrorism.

If the PKK can roam around and survive for all these months in these areas which are supposed to be high security zones with such ease then they are getting help from some local people.

Land Forces Commander General Ilker Basbug has already admitted that the authorities have failed in preventing PKK recruiting from the local people... Why is this so?

It is time to look for solutions beyond the current military means. We have to reduce the PKK into a terrorist organization that has no local support.

To do this we first have to understand the needs and wishes of the people of southeastern Turkey. The area needs bread. People are feeling the pressures of poverty. There are no jobs and no means to sustain a family...

The reason why PKK can enlist people is not really because of Kurdish nationalist sentiments. The PKK recruits poor and hungry youths who do not see any future for themselves. There are also those who are fed up being pushed around by the authorities because everyone in the region is regarded a PKK sympathizer...

This is the puzzle our leaders have to solve. Or else will (sic) face more sorrows and tears.

Of course, one of the problems with citing foreign opinion writers you've just read for the first time is that you might be sending the Turkish equivalent of a Friedman Unit out through the tubes. But what the hell. It adds a little perspective.

Posted by Judah in:  Turkey   

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Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Menage A Six

We know that Nicolas Sarkozy has increasingly re-aligned French foreign policy to a pro-American stance, most notably on the Iran standoff. So Paris and Washington are all smiles and George and Nicolas are buddy-buddy. Except that France will very likely be selling Pakistan air-to-air missiles and radar for use with its Chinese-made fighter jets, a move that will (potentially) provide China with access to the weapons and insight into effectively countering them. Which will strengthen the Chinese hand vis à vis Taiwan, whose French Mirage fighters are equipped with the same missiles, thereby royally pissing off Washington. So, no smiles after all. No playdate for George and Nicolas.

To complicate matters even more, while France (and the rest of the world) not-so-secretly covets the Chinese weapons market, they also covet the Taiwanese and Indian weapons market. And both Taiwan and India are likely to be royally pissed off about the Pakistani deal, too. Keep your eyes on this one. Whether or not the deal goes through will be a good indication of who's really in the driver's seat in the emerging Franco-American rapprochement.

Posted by Judah in:  International Relations   La France Politique   

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Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Top Down Reconciliation

With all the emphasis on political reconciliation as a litmus test of progress in Iraq, it's surprising that the pact reached this weekend by Moqtada al-Sadr and Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, heads of the rival Mahdi Army and Badr Brigades, has largely flown under the radar in the American press. You'll recall that these are the two militias whose battle for control of Shiite Iraq has accounted for the greater part of the intra-sectarian violence that country has experienced in the past four years. So the fact that they've agreed to a truce and are planning to cooperate on guaranteeing security seems like a major development, and much better news from a structural perspective than the drop in casualty numbers registered last month.

The deal is inherently unstable due to the litany of policy and personal disputes between the two men and their followers. But as the article does a good job of explaining, there are a lot of circumstantial factors that make it a win-win scenario for both of them. Not least of which was the need to forcefully reject the Senate's recent non-binding resolution endorsing a partition for Iraq's ethno-sectarian regions.

Oddly enough, I found myself musing just yesterday that it seemed as if Moqtada al-Sadr's long run of resurrecting himself just when it looked like you could count him out had finally come to an end. I guess not. He's found a way to buy himself a bit more time, admittedly as the junior partner in an unstable coalition. But that seems to be his specialty.

Meanwhile, Moqtada's fate seems to be curiously bound to President Bush's, for better and for worse. His latest move will undoubtedly buy more time for the Bush-Petraeus plan, while at the same time strengthening Iran's hand in Iraqi affairs. Not necessarily a good combination, that. But that's the dilemma of Bush's quagmire: We can't leave Iraq until good things happen. But the good things we need to happen are not necessarily good for our post-Iraq interests.

Posted by Judah in:  Iraq   

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Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Not So Safe Haven

It looks like the safe haven enjoyed by al-Qaeda and the Taliban in the badlands of the Pakistani border just got a little bit less safe. Pakistani war planes "pounded militant positions" in the fourth day of heavy fighting that has left over 200 dead. Not a whole lot of information there.

There are so many groups and factions in those mountains at this point that it's hard to know what any of it means. My hunch is that the Pakistanis would be targetting the foreign jihadists (Uzbekis if I remember correctly) that the locals have already turned against. If you see anything, pop it into comments or e-mail.

Update: Here's more on those clashes between the Pakistani army and what are allegedly Taliban-supported militants (also referred to as extremists and rebels). The fighting was sparked by a rebel attack on a Pakistani military convoy.

Posted by Judah in:  Odds & Ends   

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Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Shadow Dancing

Take a look at the dancer on the right. Do you see her spinning clockwise or counter-clockwise? Now see if you can get her to spin in the other direction. Then click here to see what it all means.

If you've given it a good try and still can't get her to change directions, click through to the comments and I'll give you a hint. Also, extra credit for whoever can tell me the name of the artist who recorded the song this post is named after without googling it. Extra extra credit if you can name the artist's significant other at the time the song was recorded.

Via The New York Nerd.

Posted by Judah in:  Odds & Ends   

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Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Weapons Of Mass Detection

Via Laura Rozen comes this Jeff Stein piece which describes how former Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Sen. Richard Shelby once requested NSA intercepts and raw FBI files in order to target one of his political enemies. It's not a particularly earth-shattering revelation, but it goes to the heart of why unwarranted domestic wire-tapping poses such a threat to our notion of civil liberties.

The common argument in support of expanded surveillance powers is that if you're not doing anything wrong, you've got nothing to worry about. It's an argument that's based on an idealized vision of government whereby the State has only the interests of its citizens, and none of its own, at heart. By and large, the American government has proven comparatively deserving of such an indulgent view.

But there are two problems with the argument. First, the State does have particular interests, ranging from the banal tendency of bureaucracies to satisfy their appetite for expansion to the more threatening tendency of government to satisfy its appetite for power. Second, while the State in its abstract might indeed be a benign or even benevolent actor, the government in practice is comprised of people. Honest-to-goodness human beings, with moral weaknesses and character flaws like the rest of us.

Recent Congressional shenanigans have revealed a bevvy of them. Duke Cunningham had a weakness for money; for Larry Craig and John Vitter it was illegal or indiscrete sex. The first corrupts government; the second demeans it.

Richard Shelby, on the other hand, was willing to abuse the access his position afforded to stick it to one his political enemies, and that represents an existential threat to a free society. Because it doesn't take a lot of imagination to come up with scenarios where the target might not be a Washington insider, and the motive no longer political in the insitutional sense but political in the ideological sense. Shelby's not the first, and he surely won't be the last, which is why the NSA surveillance program is so ill-advised.

The logic of warfare is that when a weapon exists, it will be used. Data banks full of NSA intercepts on American citizens are the information equivalent of weapons stockpiles, just as the executive's claims to the right to detain and torture represent operational ones. Throughout America's relatively short history, men and women of character have filled the breach in each of its moments of constitutional peril. It would be a dangerous mistake, though, to confuse that good fortune with destiny or entitlement.

As the brokerage firms like to say, Past performance is no guarantee of future success. You don't need any broad conspiracy theories or a particularly pessimistic vision of government to recognize that once intelligence is gathered, there's no telling who might eventually get their hands on it nor what their motives might be.

Those who argue that the NSA program is justified by national security concerns have placed their bets on American exceptionalism. Me, I'll take human nature every time.

Posted by Judah in:  Human Rights   Politics   

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Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Quote Of The Day

"Was it possible that I had helped persuade someone I had never met to place himself in the path of an I.E.D.?"

-- Christopher Hitchens on learning that his columns in support of invading Iraq had influenced a recently killed soldier to enlist.

Posted by Judah in:  Quote Of The Day   

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Monday, October 8, 2007

Site Makeover Update

A few hours after I'd uploaded all the files for the site's new look, I had the brilliant idea to actually give it a test run in Internet Explorer. And of course, there's a script error that I'm having trouble ironing out. I'm running IE7, so maybe it's not a poblem in other versions. I'll do my best to clear it up ASAP. In the meantime, it's running fine in Firefox.

Update: All clear. 

Posted by Judah in:  Odds & Ends   

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Monday, October 8, 2007

Little Man On Campus

Back in high school, I had the privilege and good fortune to have taken two classes from the legendary New York social studies teacher and department head, E. Ira Marienhoff. Mr. Marienhoff was loved (and feared) by generations of NY high school students for his high standards, his disdain for intellectual laziness, and his aphorisms, of which he seemed to have both an endless supply and an endless capacity for repetition.

There was, of course, his beloved equine paradox, which noted that there are always more horse's asses than horses. And then there was his observation that even in the Soviet Union, everyone was guaranteed freedom of speech... once.

I thought of Mr. Marienhoff when I saw this NY Times article about university students protesting a speech by Iranian President Ahmadinejad. This is the second time the guy's been humiliated by students protesting his appointment of a cleric as head of the university, and for his repression of student dissidents.

That's not the kind of guy you bomb. It's the kind of guy you wait out.

Posted by Judah in:  Iran   

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Monday, October 8, 2007

The Incredible One-Day Site Makeover

In case you didn't notice, I went ahead and gave the site a couple nicks and tucks. (In case you really didn't notice, hit the refresh button on your browser.) It's something I've been meaning to do for a while now, but kept putting off due to html/css/php code dread. I guess popping the del.icio.us and digg links into the blog posts got me over the hump.

Anyway, the esthetic goal was to obtain sober without also obtaining dead. Hence the simple layout and the vibrant color scheme. About two-thirds of the way through, I found this, which kind of reassured me:

The background color of your website, the color of your header, the color of your text, headlines and sub-headlines etc. can all have a psychological impact on your visitors.

Here is a list of some of the common colors and what type of psychological emotion they invoke in people:

...BLUE is associated with trustworthiness, success, seriousness, calmness, power, professionalism.

...GREEN is associated with money, nature, animals, health, healing, life, harmony.

...ORANGE is associated with comfort, creativity, celebration, fun, youth, affordability...

You can use the above as a guide when choosing colors for your website. It really boils down to your target audience and what psychological message you want to convey in colors.

Apparently no one's told Mr. Martinovic that CAPITAL LETTERS are associated with ANGER, POOR IMPULSE CONTROL, and ANTI-SOCIAL BEHAVIOR, but hey, the man knows his colors. And in case you're wondering about the pale blue background, it's because the Andrew Sullivan & Kevin Drum have already got the royal blue locked down.

So there you have it. The new & improved Headline Junky: Trustworthy, harmonious, and cheap. Hope you like it.

Update: Funny, in re-reading Mr. Martinovic's quotation, I realized that I could have opted for "Powerful, rich and creative." Oh, well. Next time.

Posted by Judah in:  Odds & Ends   

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Saturday, October 6, 2007

Rugby, Etc.

There's something extraordinary going on here in France during the World Cup of Rugby, a convergence of the athletic with the political in a way that happens only rarely in the history of nations. Against all odds, France just defeated the All Blacks of New Zealand, 20-18. And in case you're like me and you know nothing about the sport, the All Blacks are to rugby what Brazil is to soccer, only without the occasional lapses in concentration. France has got a solid, competitive team that deserves plenty of respect. It remains, nonetheless, a major upset.

Now to give a little context, Bernard Laporte, the coach of the French national team, is set to enter the government of Nicolas Sarkozy as a vice-minister of athletics at the tournament's conclusion. Sarkozy was in Cardiff for the match tonight, and has been known to visit the team's dressing room before matches.

Laporte was widely criticized for using the famous last letter of Guy Moquet, a 17 year-old French communist executed by the Nazis during WWII, to motivate the team before their first match against Argentina. The tactic was blamed for the team's emotional tightness that ultimately resulted in a sloppy defeat. But more than that, it was considered bad judgment and bad taste to appropriate Moquet's sacrifice for something as profane as a sporting match.

The stunt also drew attention because it echoed a proposal Nicolas Sarkozy had made during this year's presidential election requiring French students to collectively read the young martyr's letter as part of their education. He later went on to put the measure in effect as one of his first acts upon taking office.

Anyone who has ever watched a rugby match would probably agree that it's about as brutal a sport as exists. I don't think I'd get much argument if I suggested that it doesn't exactly fit the stereotype commonly used to portray the French, either. Like American football, despite flourishes of individual skill and grace, the game is principally decided by controlling territory through brute force and team discipline. Cheese eating surrender monkeys need not apply.

It's a sport traditionally associated with the political right, played in "la France profonde" (the heartland), "la France d'en bas" (the little people). In other words, Sarkozy's France. Tonight's victory is along the lines of the 1980 US Olympic hockey team. Not in the significance of the symbolic narrative of the two teams playing, but in what it means for the narrative of France as a nation.

Of course, it hasn't been that long since France tasted the joy of victory. Winning the 1998 soccer World Cup followed by the European championship two years later defined a historic moment in the country's identity. France, like its national soccer team, was no longer bleu, blanc et rouge (blue, white and red) but black, blanc et beur (black, white and Arab). And contrary to American opinion, its defiance of the American invasion of Iraq, so eloquently expressed by Dominique de Villepin at the UN Security Council, was here considered a point of pride. (In fact, I'm convinced that the World Cup victory played a role in France finding the confidence necessary to stand up to US and England on the world stage.)

Nevertheless, since 2003 (and even before, if you include Le Pen's second round finish in the 2002 presidential election) it's been a pretty bad dry spell. So to see the country back in the running, and for a title that symbolically represents all the values of the new direction Sarkozy would like to take it in, resonates with a particular signifance.

Posted by Judah in:  Hoops, Hardball & Fisticuffs   La France Politique   

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Saturday, October 6, 2007

Reverse Panhandling

You've probably heard about the weak dollar. But have you ever tried giving one away?

(Via The Big Picture.)

Posted by Judah in:  Markets & Finance   

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Saturday, October 6, 2007

iTune Rates

Call it one of the unexpected consequences of blogging, but in writing down one's spontaneous thoughts on a wide variety of subjects, one is inevitably confronted from time to time with one's minor inconsistencies that might otherwise have gone unnoticed. (In case it's not immediately obvious, 'one' in this case refers to me.)

How else to explain that a day after recording for posterity the fact that I'm a penny-pinching cheapskate when it comes to buying recorded music, I splurged and dropped five euros for the CD of the gypsy guitarist I mentioned in the same post. It only occurred to me once I'd gotten back home to check out the playlist, at which point I discovered that there were only five songs. Meaning I'd paid a whopping one euro per song, far more than the ten cents I try to stick to.

To make matters worse, the CD was on the whole not only bad, but very bad in a way that is usually only achieved by people who have no business with an instrument in their hands. And this guy is, as I noted, one of the most emotive guitar players I've ever heard. Unfortunately, instead of the gypsy/flamenco ballads he plays in the Metro, four of the five songs on the CD are cheesy Spanish-influenced numbers accompanied by a Casio orchestra. There is one solo guitar track which is good, but hardly reflects the power of his playing.

There's a category of band that can blow the roof off of every place they play but can never quite capture their sound or energy in the studio. Urban Blight, a NYC band from when I was growing up, was one. Soul Asylum, one of the Minneapolis post-punk pioneer outfits, was another. I'm going to file this guy in the same category. I'll keep tossing some change in his jar when I pass by. But I'll be a harder sell for the next CD.

Posted by Judah in:  Arts & Letters   Markets & Finance   

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Friday, October 5, 2007

The Radical Transformation Of Self

I just got back from a brilliant lecture at the Université Paris Descartes titled "Islamism Today". The speaker was Hamit Bozarslan, who gave a brief history of the Islamist movement from the Muslim Brotherhood through Osama Bin Laden. He avoided stereotypes and clichés, instead focusing on the historic continuities -- and discontinuities -- in the evolution of this movement. In the process, he completely changed the way I understand the current expression of radical Islam and its violent confrontation with the West.

According to Bozarslan, the initial phase of radical Islamism (which arose in the late-Seventies in response to the failure of leftist/nationalist Arab liberation movements) had run out of steam and was largely in decline by the year 2000. Unable to re-generate itself, and finding its violent methods rejected by mainstream Muslim opinion, Islamism was in retreat before authoritarian states that represented order and stability for an increasingly cosmopolitan Arab world.

But at roughly the same time that Islamic scholars were anticipating the disappearance of jihad, a new form of Islamism appeared that, in Bozarslan's words, introduced a new "subjectivity": That is, a new way of understanding the self in the world. This new subjectivity centers around the body and its singular role as locus of both corruption and salvation: Corruption through its participation in an imperfect world; salvation through its sacrifice in jihad.

To illustrate this dramatic shift, Bozarslan compared Yasser Arafat's body with that of Hamas founder, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin. The one, portly, corporal, pugnacious. The other, feeble, paralysed, almost blind. When the goal is national autonomy, the physical body is an end in itself. When the goal is spiritual salvation through martyrdom, the body is a only a means to an end.

The new wave of Islamism advocated by Yassin and Osama Bin Laden represents a rupture: with worldly society, with classical Islamism, with the Western tradition. Its struggle is an eschatological battle between good and evil, with little attachment to the physical body or the material world. The individual becomes responsible for both the decline of Islam and the deliverance of the world, and self-martyrdom becomes the central if not determinant act of devotion.

I've had an intuition for a while now that suicide bombings, if not radical Islam itself, will eventually just peter out on their own, if only we just do our best to prevent them from happening and carry on with our lives as normally as possible. And Bozarslan's lecture just convinces me that there's something to that intuition. Because the metaphysical subjectivity he describes is just not that appealing. Especially in the long run. But it's one that is reinforced by frontal engagement with its bi-polar imagination: The more its enemy attacks it as evil, the more convinced it becomes of its saintliness.

It's often been said that Levi's and rock 'n roll played as big a role in the fall of the Soviet Union as any military or political measures taken during the Cold War. Because the West, with all of its shortcomings and contradictions, was able to combine the elements that led to the emergence of a new subjectivity (modern, liberated, expressive) that ultimately proved more appealing than that proposed by Communist society.

The same goes for the current struggle with radical Islam. Our most potent weapon isn't a better bomb. It's a better alternative.

Posted by Judah in:  Global War On Terror   The Middle East   

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Friday, October 5, 2007

Paying The Fiddler

I was just reflecting the other day in the Metro how my rule of thumb when buying music is to never pay more than 10¢ per song, which generally limits me to those four CD, hundred song compilations that you find in the supermarket here for about 10 euros. Usually it's a generic, The 100 Greatest Salsa Hits-type number (although as I recall, David Bowie's greatest hits came in under-budget as well), and truth be told, I've never really been disappointed. There's almost always a solid amount of familiar classics, with a bunch of b-side surprises to keep things interesting.

And yet, despite this red line when it comes to price per song of recorded music, I'm perfectly willing to toss a Euro or two into the basket of a subway musician for the pleasure of listening to about 40 seconds worth of live music. (Especially this gypsy guitarist who I pass nearly every day here, whose playing is among the most soulfully emotive I've ever heard.)

Be all that as it may, I'd certainly never pay $9,250 per song, as Jammie Thomas was just ordered to do by a federal jury for engaging in illegal file-sharing. That amounts to $220,000 in total, all in order to set an example of what can happen if you try to dance without paying the fiddler. Thomas, who according to her lawyer lives paycheck to paycheck, faces the possibility of seeing her meager earnings garnished by the recording industry for the rest of her life.

This, of course, is akin to getting sentenced to life in prison for stealing a horse in 1912 (ie. the dawn of the automotive era). Because long before Thomas is through paying, the idea of actually buying recorded music will be obsolete.

Posted by Judah in:  Arts & Letters   Markets & Finance   

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Thursday, October 4, 2007

Is Blackwater Untouchable?

There's been a lot of wringing of hands lately with regard to military contractors in Iraq, particularly how to rein in what increasingly amounts to a private army, answerable to no one, running amok with high calibre weaponry. Sprinkled throughout news coverage of the most recent Blackwater shooting spree in Baghdad, and peppered throughout the Congressional testimony of Blackwater CEO Erik Prince, was the gathering realization that as serious a problem as these rogue contractors are, they're somehow immune from being brought to justice because of their odd hybrid status. Not quite military, because they're civilian contractors, and not quite civilians because they're military contractors, they exist in a legal limbo, able to tear off rounds of automatic weapons fire with seeming impunity.

Quite a dangerous conundrum, that. Except for the fact that it's just not true. As Marc Lindemann makes clear in an article for Parameters, the Army War College's quarterly, the US military code has a long history of extending military law to contractors, the determining factors being whether or not they were serving with or accompanying the American military in time of war. And while the judiciary has repeatedly narrowed the military's jurisdiction over civilians, Congress has consistently responded with bills designed to respond to the courts' concerns.

Indeed, as recently as the defense authorization act of 2007, Congress deliberately plugged loopholes in previous enforcement measures by adding language to expand the Code's jurisdiction over civilians to include "contingency operations" instead of only "in time of declared war". The Iraq mission is, by statutory definition, a contingency operation:

Senator Lindsey Graham, one of the change’s architects, has stated that this modification of the UCMJ would “give military commanders a more fair and efficient means of discipline on the battlefield” by placing “civilian contractors accompanying the armed forces in the field under court-martial jurisdiction during contingency operations as well as in times of declared war.”

The expansion of the UCMJ’s jurisdiction now provides a means of regulating contractor behavior, whatever the contracting company’s mission is in the combat zone. In doing so, the 2007 legislation has fundamentally changed the military-civilian relationship in stability operations.

That hardly strikes me as legal limbo. And while some of the more egregious Blackwater incidents occurred before the new language was put into effect, there was already an existing measure, the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act, designed to cover civilian military contractors:

Under MEJA, DOD contractors “employed by or accompanying the Armed Forces” could be brought back to the United States and tried in federal court for any crime that would be a felony under US law. MEJA entrusted the US Department of Justice with the prosecution of these crimes. Military and civilian lawyers alike heralded the 2000 law as a means of regulating contractors’ actions in a theater of operations.

Lindemann blames the evidentiary difficulties of prosecuting a crime committed abroad to explain US Attorneys' reluctance to bring charges, even in cases of blatant criminal behavior like Abu Ghraib. In fact, it was this reluctance on the part of prosecutors that led Congress to return the enforcement of contractor discipline to the military.

In all fairness, Lindemann makes it clear that there are some wrinkles to be ironed out. Parts of the UCMJ would have to be revised to "de-criminalize" certain behavior (misconduct while in captivity, for instance) for civilian contractors. But on the big picture items, like murder and reckless use of deadly force, the laws are already there on the books. It's just a question of applying them.

Posted by Judah in:  Iraq   

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Thursday, October 4, 2007

Feeds

After a bit of tinkering with code, I'm pretty sure I've got the RSS feed up to speed. Full text, with links. Let me know if you're encountering any difficulties.

If I have some time this weekend, I'll try to integrate some file-sharing buttons, like digg and del.ici.ous. If you're a regular reader and would like to see one of these in particular, drop a line in comments or by e-mail.

Update: As you can see, the digg and del.icio.us links have been added. So much for waiting for this weekend. Lemme know if you're experiencing any problems.

Posted by Judah in:  Odds & Ends   

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Thursday, October 4, 2007

Bitter Pills

Because the American military cannot replace the 190,000 firearms that have already gone missing in Iraq quickly enough, Baghdad is turning to China to arm its police force, to the tune of $100 million. Granted, it's a drop in the bucket compared to the $1.6 billion arms deal we just signed with the Iraqis. But as the article notes, the Iraqi police force is a pivotal component of any American exit strategy. And we still haven't really solved the problem of how to arm them.

Meanwhile, to add irony to injury, among the four oil development deals that the Kurds -- to the annoyance of Baghdad -- concluded today was one with the privately held French company, Perenco. L'horreur, l'horreur.

Posted by Judah in:  China   Iraq   

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Thursday, October 4, 2007

Couples Counseling

It might be slipping under the radar in the American press, but France and Germany have been engaging in something of an armwrestling match over European industrial projects, dating back at least to last year's negotiations over how to re-structure the European aviation heavyweight, EADS. According to an article in last week's Nouvel Obs (print edition), recent tensions between the two countries are in part a result of German exasperation over Nicolas Sarkozy's frenetic style, and his tendency to "tirer les draps" (French for hogging the covers). Now comes word that Berlin is insisting on structuring the financing of a European satellite GPS system in such a way that stacks the deck for German aerospace contractors, to Paris' (and the rest of Europe's) irritation.

In the traditional logic, these two countries are the motor that drives Europe. And while their relationship has always known peaks and valleys, rumor has it that it's entering a pretty deep valley phase. Which adds some context for Sarkozy's emerging re-alignment of French foreign policy to an American line.

Posted by Judah in:  European Union   La France Politique   

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Thursday, October 4, 2007

Pret A Porter

I have yet to see any evidence of this, although I did see the movie with the Lil Feller last week.

Posted by Judah in:  Say What?   

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Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Die Hard

Back in March 2003, while the Bush administration and most of the country was busy preparing for war with Iraq, Stanley Kurtz had the foresight to consider the threat posed by a nuclear North Korea. Here's what he predicted in a piece for The National Review Online:

...Once North Korea processes weapons-grade plutonium and removes it from Yongbyon, that plutonium will be effectively hidden from spy satellites, inspectors, and military strikes. At that point, North Korea will be free, not only to construct more nuclear weapons, but to sell weapons-grade nuclear material to al Qaeda, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Syria, and anyone else who will pay for it.

Continuation of this situation will be catastrophic for the United States. In the short term, North Korean sales of plutonium would lead to dirty bombs in American cities, rendering sections of Washington or New York uninhabitable for generations. In the medium term, plutonium sales will doubtless lead to full-scale nuclear blasts, set off by terrorists, in American cities. These will kill hundreds of thousands, even millions of Americans. Full-scale nuclear arms proliferation to rogue nations will also lead to yet more nuclear blackmail, of the type being practiced by Korea right now. In effect, America's conventional military might will be neutralized, and Saddam-like regional adventurers will become a constant threat. In short, if we overthrow Saddam, while still letting North Korea turn itself into a worldwide engine of nuclear proliferation, then we will have lost the war on terror.

Of course, North Korea proceeded to not only process its plutonium and remove it from the plant, but to successfully test a nuclear device. With the most catastrophic consequence (from the NRO's perspective, that is) being that negotiations over the shuttering of the Yongbyon plant have apparently progressed to the point that North Korea will soon be removed from official membership in the Axis of Evil (ie. the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism).

Now does this demonstrate that nuclear proliferation among rogue states is desirable? I suppose that depends on which side of the negotiating table you find yourself on. I, for one, am not too thrilled by the idea of a nuclear North Korea. Ditto for a nuclear Iran or Syria. (Same goes for Israel, the US, Russia, China, India, Pakistan et al, though I wouldn't put them in the same category, and I think their track records as nuclear powers demonstrate proven restraint in the face of provocations.) The North Koreans, of course, would probably see things differently.

What this does demonstrate, though, is that the assumption that possessing a nuclear weapon will automatically render hostile, rogue regimes recklessly and aggressively belligerent is unfounded. For all the caricatures of Kim Il-Jong as an erratic, laughable munchkin, the guy has played his hand skillfully to obtain exactly what he wanted. Which, it turns out, is not to dominate the world, or even Southeast Asia, but to simply secure his survival.

There's a lesson to be learned here, most obviously with regard to Iran, but also for re-inventing our nuclear non-proliferation strategy for the geopolitical landscape of the 21st century. Hollywood doomsday scenarios sell tickets at the box office. But solid diplomacy gets the job done in the real world.

Posted by Judah in:  Dear Leader   International Relations   Iran   

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Tuesday, October 2, 2007

No More Teasers

For anyone subscribed to the RSS feed, this has convinced me. I've reprogrammed the feed, so as of this post it will be full text. Unless I screwed up the code, that is.

(Via Matthew Yglesias.) 

Update: That did the trick as far as text goes. Now all I've got to do is get the links in there. That's the trouble with homemade blog platforms. You get what you didn't pay for.

Posted by Judah in:  Odds & Ends   

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Tuesday, October 2, 2007

The Peacemakers

Here's a thought-provoking passage I found while surfing through the Time Magazine archives. It's from a March 1969 article describing Spiro Agnew's charm campaign to improve his image as a bumbling moron:

He told the Gridiron Club dinner that Nixon had urged him to get on TV interview shows, and had the White House staff schedule appearances. Said Agnew: "I'll be on Meet the Press, opposite the Army-Navy game; on Face the Nation opposite General de Gaulle's arrival at the White House; and on Issues and Answers opposite live coverage of Julie and David's surprise party for Ted Kennedy — at the ranch." But Nixon also promised him, he said, "that when he's ready to recognize Red China, he'll let me announce it." (Emphasis added.)

The self-deprecating gag being that in March of 1969, the idea that Richard Nixon might one day recognize Red China was so farfetched that he could safely promise the announcement to his incompetent veep. Of course, in hindsight, the irony is that reality is sometimes more optimistic than our assumptions about it.

I don't know why, but I've recently had a recurring vision of President Bush touching down in Tehran, firmly, proudly, courageously. Talk about stealing Ahmadinejad's propaganda thunder. I've also wondered what the history of the last four years might look like if he had flown into Baghdad to confront Saddam Hussein personally, instead of sending in a hail of cruise missiles to do it for him.

The argument goes that meeting with our enemies legitimizes them, and demonstrates weakness. But has anyone ever looked at the pictures of Nixon in China without marvelling at the sheer improbability of it all? Or seen the images of Sadat in Jerusalem without a chill running down their spine?

In this moment when the collective imagination seems to be preoccupied with rumors of another ill-conceived war, I'd like to think that reality still has the capacity to outstrip our lowered expectations. It's been said that President Bush is obsessed with leaving his mark on history. He'd do well to consider that while history certainly remembers the men who wage war, it cherishes the peacemakers.

A dream? Maybe. But as the man said, "If you don't have dreams, Bagel, you got nightmares." Here's hoping.

Posted by Judah in:  China   Foreign Policy   Iran   

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Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Glad That's Over

This + A man obsessed with his watch (if nothing else in his life) being perfectly on time = 10 minutes not spent blogging.

Posted by Judah in:  Odds & Ends   

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Tuesday, October 2, 2007

What Comes Before Alarm?

A few weeks ago, British and Norwegian fighter jets scrambled to escort Russian bombers that had breached NATO airspace. Now, NORAD is reporting that American and Candian jets scrambled seven times this summer due to increased Russian air activity near its Alasaka region. The training exercises, which were announced ahead of time in the Russian press and involved heavy bombers, never came closer than 12 miles of American airspace and, according to a NORAD spokesman, are no cause for alarm. But they just might be cause for wondering what the hell is going on in Vladimir Putin's cranium these days.

Update: I'm beginning to think that the very act of clicking the "Publish" button on a post automatically generates a related news item somewhere else on the tubes, but I just came across this alternative take on the Russian training flights. According to the commander in charge of NORAD, the Russian bombers are a major pain in the ass and big-time waste of money because NORAD is forced to scramble jets to investigate every time an unidentified blip shows up on the radar. All of that could be reduced, if not eliminated, if the Russians would file flight plans for their training runs. But despite repeated requests to current and former Russian air commanders, they've yet to comply.

Posted by Judah in:  Russia   

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Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Old Times Redux

As so often happens, just after clicking the "Publish" button to send this post through the tubes, I found these remarks from former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto:

I would hope that I would be able to take Osama bin Laden myself without depending on the Americans. But if I couldn't do it, of course we are fighting this war together and (I) would seek their cooperation in eliminating him.

Ms. Bhutto also told the BBC that were she to win Pakistan's upcoming elections, she would be willing to allow the IAEA to question Pakistani nuclear godfather AQ Khan.

My understanding is that the reason Pervez Musharraf has backed off both of these options is that they're wildly unpopular with the Pakistani street. In particular, they're seen as caving in to American influence. So it will be interesting to see whether or not they harm Ms. Bhutto's chances.

Posted by Judah in:  International Relations   

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Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Just Like Old Times

The thought of what might happen should the Pakistani state fail is the stuff of worst case scenarios. But if this Jamestown Foundation article about the increasing Talibanization of the Pakistani badlands is any indication, Pakistan would already seem to meet one of the minimum requirements for failed state status. Namely, an inability to project the government's writ throughout the country.

Of course, when it comes to Pakistan, what really matters is who's got their hands on the launch codes and the warheads. There remains, though, the little question of al-Qaeda, which has effectively traded its bases in a failed state for bases in a failed corner of a state. Not much of a downgrade, if you ask me.

What attracted Osama Bin Laden to Taliban-controlled Afghanistan wasn't the state-of-the-art infrastructure and the modern amenities. It was the fact that it was Taliban-controlled. 

Posted by Judah in:  Afghanistan   

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Monday, October 1, 2007

PTSD

A quick thought. If it's true, as some folks speculate, that Dick Cheney's transformation into an evil warmonger can be traced to the stressful events of 9/11, maybe it's a good thing he ducked serving in Vietnam, after all.

Posted by Judah in:  Politics   

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Monday, October 1, 2007

More Manwaring

No monograph from the Army War College (ie. the guys who have really, really, really studied the subject) would be complete without making mention, at least implicitly, of just how ill-conceived the Bush administration's Iraq adventure really was. This one comes in the form of a passage emphasizing the importance of identifying precise strategic goals before initiating any hostilities, something known as "end-state planning":

...The end-state planning argument concludes that if the United Nations or the United States or any other international player is going to succeed in future conflicts, civil and military forces must be structured and employed in ways that respond to the dynamic political, economic, social, as well as military variables at work in the stability-peace paradigm. And, as logic and experience demand, the interagency community must base its decisions on a clear, mutually agreed definition of what ultimate success looks like—that is, share a vision of strategic clarity.

Attempts to achieve political and strategic objectives cannot be based on the ad hoc use of national and international instruments of power. Without organizations that can establish, enforce, and continually define a holistic plan and generate consistent national and international support, authority is fragmented and ineffective in resolving the myriad problems endemic to survival in contemporary conflict—and thus, operations can become increasingly incoherent. Requiring a high level of planning and coordination is not a matter of putting the cart before the horse. It is a matter of knowing where the horse is going and precisely how it is going to get there. Decisionmakers, policymakers, and planners should never lose sight of that bigger unity of effort picture. (pp.45-46)

Even now, four years down the road, in all the discussion about the Iraq War, that's still something I don't see much of: Knowing where the horse is going and precisely how it is going to get there.

Posted by Judah in:  Iraq   

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Monday, October 1, 2007

Dreams And Nightmares

I admit that for a while now, I've taken Hugo Chavez seriously. Ever since the price of oil started skyrocketing, to be exact, and neo-Bolivarian candidates won elections in Ecuador and Bolivia, to be even more exact. I also admit that for a while now, I've felt like something of an idiot for taking Hugo Chavez seriously. Because, for me, Hugo Chavez represents everything that, in an ideal world, ought not be taken seriously.

So I don't know whether to be relieved or disappointed, or both, to learn that Max Manwaring, in a National War College monograph, takes Hugo Chavez very seriously:

President Chavez is pursuing a Super Insurgency with a confrontational, defensive, populist, and nationalistic agenda that is intended eventually to liberate Latin America from U.S. economic dependency and political domination. That is a Herculean task, but he appears to be prepared to take his time, let his enemies become accustomed to a given purposeful action, and then slowly move toward new stages of the revolution in a deliberate, slow, and phased manner. Thus, by staying under his opponents’ “threshold of concern,” Chavez says that he expects to “put his enemies to sleep—to later wake up dead.”

This is not the rhetoric of a “nut case.” It is, importantly, the rhetoric of an individual who is performing the traditional and universal Leninist Maoist function of providing a strategic vision and the operational plan for gaining revolutionary power. (pp. 32-33)

Not good. Fortunately, Manwaring (as I) believes that Chavez is unlikely to succeed in his effort to unify all of Latin America into a grand counterweight to the United States. But that's not the point. The point is that Chavez is willing to de-stabilize targeted governments in order to do so. In fact, it's part of his grand strategy. And failed states, as breeding grounds of violence, crime and non-state bad actors, might be even worse than a grand Latin American counterweight to the United States:

However, if misguided political dreams were to come true, Osama bin Laden would see the artificial boundaries of the Muslim Middle East and North Africa turn into caliphates reminiscent of the glory days of the 12th and 13th centuries. And Hugo Chavez would witness the metamorphosis of 15 or 20 Latin American republics into one great American nation. Experience demonstrates, however, that most of these political dreams never come true. Ultimately, the international community must pay the indirect social, economic, and political costs of state failure. Accordingly, the current threat environment in the Western Hemisphere is not a traditional security problem, but it is no less dangerous. (p. 8)

The comparison between Chavez and Bin Laden is no coincidence, because Manwaring sees them as two sides of the same asymmetrical warfare coin: Osama goes in for the high-profile attack; Hugo's more of a stealth provocateur. But they've both got pan-nationalistic goals, they've both identified the limitations of conventional conceptions of power, and they've both developed their strategic visions accordingly.

That's more than Manwaring can say for America, which is still locked into obsolete concepts and stultified organizational structures that hinder our ability to respond to tactical challenges to the full extent of our abilities.

Take deterrence, for instance. With the advent of 4th generation warfare (4GW), the battlefield is no longer (exclusively) a physical space where armies meet. War now takes place anywhere and everywhere that the conflict's center of gravity -- public opinion and leadership -- can be influenced: In the media, in the marketplace, and in the halls of the UN, to name but a few. Freed from the restrictive role of threatening a largely obsolete use of force, deterrence could be re-invented more broadly as prevention:

Deterrence is not necessarily military—although that is important. It is not necessarily negative or directly coercive, although that, too, is important. Deterrence is much broader than any of these elements. Deterrence can be direct and/or indirect, political-diplomatic, socioeconomic, psychological-moral, and/or militarily coercive. In its various forms and combinations of forms, it is an attempt to influence how and what an enemy or potential enemy thinks and does. That is, deterrence is the creation of a state of mind that either discourages one thing or encourages something else. Motive and culture, thus, become crucial. In this context, political-military communication and preventive diplomacy become a vital part of the deterrence equation. (pp.42-43)

But as our missile-rattling handling of the Iranian crisis shows, this multi-hued approach to deterrence has yet to emerge from its cocoon.

Manwaring's analysis does more than just rehabilitate Chavez from a certified loony to a legitimate psychopath, though. It calls into question the very nature of the security challenges America faces in the 21st century. In mobilizing America for an unnecessary war against Iraq, President Bush reduced the threat we face to a "War Against Terrorism", later re-labelled as a "War Against Islamo-Fascism".

But the real threat to American global interests is much broader than that. It lies in the limitations of conventional power in the face of asymmetric conflict, and the resulting vulnerability of already-fragile nation-states to non-conventional methods of de-stabilization. Neither of which are to be found exclusively in the Islamo-Fascist hinterlands of the Middle East.

It should come as no surprise that a world confronted with a solitary super-power should attempt to re-configure itself in ways that might counterbalance such immense unilateral power. Osama Bin Laden's dream of a Caliphate and Chavez's dream of a unified Latin American state are not very different from China's dream of a peaceful rise, or Russia's dream of a return to form, even if the methods differ.

By squandering our military strength and international influence where the enemy wasn't, instead of articulating a broad strategy that can help us outsmart them where they increasingly are, President Bush has brought all of those dreams one step closer to coming true.

Posted by Judah in:  Global War On Terror   International Relations   Las Americas   The Middle East   

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Monday, October 1, 2007

Re: Re: Hey

I'm not sure I understand the logic of Michelle Obama sending out fundraising e-mails with "Re: Hey" as the subject field. (Lest there be any uncertainty, I don't know Michelle Obama, I've never sent her an e-mail in my life, and if one day I were to contact her with a message that boiled to down to, "Hey", I seriously doubt she'd reply.)

Everyone knows that these campaign mailings amount to spam, but calling attention to that fact by using one of the most repugnant spamming techniques known to humankind seems to reflect not only bad judgment but bad taste. Especially for a candidate promising to change the way we practice politics.

Posted by Judah in:  Politics   

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