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November, 2007

Friday, November 30, 2007

Did The Quartet Turn Into A Soloist?

As The Middle East Times points out, this weeks Annapolis conference signalled more than just America's return to the Middle East peace process. By not mentioning Russia, the UN, or the EU once (other than an oblique reference to the "road map" issued by "the Quartet"), the conference's joint declaration also signalled a unilateral American role in monitoring the negotiations between the Palestinians and Israelis, as well as judging the resulting agreement.

That might come with some downside, given the fact that it's primarily EU funding that has financed the Palestinian Authority's development efforts, and that Russia has been very vigorously pursuing its own interests in the Middle East. Everyone's going to have to be on board for the outcome to be durable, which makes it curious that they're already left out from the very start.

Posted by Judah in:  The Middle East   

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Friday, November 30, 2007


Willy Lam over at The Jamestown Foundation has got some background on the "Hong Kong harbor" incident. It turns out China had a massive military maneuver going on off its southeast coast at the time:

The military drills, which started on November 19, covered a wide swath of the Pacific, including sensitive terrain east of Taiwan and north of the Philippine archipelago. While official PLA media have been reticent about the exercises, Hong Kong papers and military-related websites in China noted that their purpose was to simulate a "pincer attack" on Taiwan as well as a naval blockade...

...Military analysts noted that PLA authorities did not want the Kitty Hawk battle group—whose 8,000-odd sailors had earlier planned to spend Thanksgiving in Hong Kong—to be in the vicinity... On a deeper level, the Kitty Hawk incident reflected Beijing’s anger at Washington's plan to sell Taiwan a $940 million upgrade to its Patriot II anti-missile shield.

Lam also mentions that the tardy decision to deny the Kitty Hawk's previously approved visit, followed by a quick reversal approving the visit for "humanitarian reasons" (the American sailors were on Thanksgiving leave with their families) demonstrates the lack of coordination between the Communist Party, the Chinese government, and the military. The same thing was suggested after the global outcry over the Chinese military's destruction of an outdated orbiting satellite earlier this year, when the Chinese government seemed to be taken by surprise not only by the violence of the world's reaction, but by the fact that the anti-sat strike had even taken place.

So in addition to developing transparency and improved communications with the American military command, the Chinese general staff might want to consider improving their communications with the Chinese government.

Posted by Judah in:  China   

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Friday, November 30, 2007

The View From Their Window

Once you get past the poor translation, this People's Daily op-ed on America's "capabilities of overseas interference" is pretty encouraging for anyone who takes a bearish view of America's influence in the world. According to Liu Weidong, a researcher at China's Institute of American Studies, a number of factors do in fact contribute to a relative decline in our global influence. Primary among them are the changes wrought by globalization. All roads no longer necessarily lead to Rome; bi-lateral and multi-lateral ties are increasingly being forged independently of the major powers. Beyond that, our soft power has taken a hit in the aftermath of the Iraq debacle. And finally, the folks most associated with interventionism (the so-called vulcans) "...have gone downhill...", to use the author's formulation.

But a relative decline is not the same thing as bottoming out. Here's Liu, rotten translation and all:

Nnevertheless, the primary factor for the successful intervention of global affairs is the hard power. In term of hard power or strength, the United States still ranks first. Its intervention capacity via the combination of economic means with coordinated military threat and remote or distance strikes remains very powerful and formidable...

Moreover, from a long-term point of view, the U.S. does not have a matching foe in a relatively long period to come. Although some regional powers have grown in strength, they do not intend to challenge its status and so they neither firmly support nor stay in a vehemently opposition to the intervention actions of the United States. This point is indicated distinctly by recent postures of the new French and German leaders to amend their ties with the U.S. respectively.

Liu minimizes the difference between the interventionist reflex of Republicans and Democrats, distinguishing them instead by their areas of interest and preferred methods (or as he puts it, "...What different is nothing but their focuses of attention and ways of solution they are good at.") Here's how he concludes:

...Global stability in the years ahead is, to a great extent, decided by how the American people relard or look upon international disputes, and whether or not they are able to contain and how to contain their government.

I think those of us horrified at the Bush administration's handling of foreign policy in the aftermath of 9/11 have a tendency to paint a very alarmist picture about how far our standing in the world has fallen. I know I'm guilty of it from time to time. I'm flagging this not because I think Liu's analyses is especially original or authoritative, but more to remind us all that regardless of how glum our own perception of America's standing in the world might be, the rest of the world still has a pretty healthy respect for American power, even if it's only our ability to screw things up even more. Despite everything we've squandered in blood, treasure and prestige over the past six years, we remain the pre-dominant world power, and perhaps the only one really capable of seriously considering the type of unilateral interventionism we've pursued during that time.

It will take a lot of work and effort, but should we decide both to elect a reasonable president and to contain the inevitable urge to excess that comes with such incommensurate capabilities, there's no reason to believe we can't rehabilitate our standing to reflect the true power we still possess.

Posted by Judah in:  China   International Relations   

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Friday, November 30, 2007

PKK Update

When Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan met with President Bush in Washington to discuss the PKK three weeks ago, northern Iraq was in a state of high alert, with rumors of war swirling and tensions at the boiling point. At the outcome of the meeting, President Bush had promised to take concrete steps to address Turkey's grievances, and Prime Minister Erdogan basically agreed to hold off on plummeting the only stable region in Iraq into conflict and chaos.

So where do things stand now? Kind of a mixed bag. On the positive side, Germany just extradited two PKK militants back to Turkey, which is a strong symbolic gesture considering that one of Turkey's grievances was that no one seemed to be taking their terrorist problem very seriously. In particular, the Turks had complained about western European countries allowing known agents of the PKK to operate with relative impunity, despite the PKK being on the EU's list of terrorist organizations.

It also seems like the Iraqi Kurds, and in particular hardliner Massoud Barzani, have actually decided to crack down hard on the PKK, setting up checkpoints along the arteries leading south from their mountain camps to prevent them from re-supplying. As a result, a report last week had the PKK attempting to re-locate their base of operations into Iran. But since the environment is no less hostile there, another report today suggested they are trying to move their camps to an Armenian-controlled region in Azerbaijan.

Both of these developments, when combined with American forces providing the Turkish special forces with actionable real time intelligence, would seem to have obviated the need for a Turkish cross-border operation.

So why a mixed bag? Because despite the progress, the Turkish Prime Minister's office two days ago authorized the army to conduct just such an operation. You'll remember that the Turkish parliament authorized the use of force last month, which is what brought this lingering crisis to the front burner. Erdogan's authorization could be interpreted as the final green light the military needed before engaging in an operation of their choosing.

There's no guarantee they will actually do so. The Kandil mountains where the PKK bases are located are already a difficult theater of operations. Everything I've read indicates that the winter weather makes them all but impenetrable. On the other hand, perhaps the Turkish military is motivated by the desire to pen the PKK in before they have a chance to re-locate their bases. Either way, this situation just went from "wait-and-see" to "keep your eyes peeled".

Posted by Judah in:  Iraq   Turkey   

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Friday, November 30, 2007

Petty Officers?

An AFP report claims that the US pressured Japan to cancel a scheduled tour of an Aegis-equipped warship for visiting Chinese sailors. The ostensible reason was concern that the Chinese might manage to glean some useful information about the cutting edge defense technology. But it's hard not to wonder if it doesn't have something to do with China's recent refusal to grant American vessels entry to Hong Kong harbor.

Japan denied that there was any American pressure, claiming the reason for the cancellation was that the ship was not in port. The visit by the Chinese destroyer is the first port call of the Communist Chinese navy in Japan.

Update: Add another navy vessel to the list of American ships to which China has refused to grant entry to Hong Kong harbor. The Reuben James' request for a New Year's Eve visit was denied at the same time that the Kitty Hawk was turned away last week. This little naval protocol spat seems to be rising to the level of a "perplexing" diplomatic incident.

Posted by Judah in:  China   International Relations   

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Friday, November 30, 2007

Sign Of Life

It's hard to know how to feel about the video recovered by Colombian police showing that Ingrid Betancourt is still alive. On the one hand, relief that there's still hope in this very personal tragedy for her family. On the other, an enormous sadness to see the images of such a proud, courageous and combative woman in captivity.

My first impressions of the still photos were that she'd been broken by her ordeal. After viewing the video, though, her regard seems less blank (as it's described in the French language article) so much as interiorized. Her body language, too, seems to demonstrate that she's wary, resigned to the intrusive camera, weakened even. But also overwhelmingly interiorized, un-defeated, coiled as if ready to spring into action when the opportunity presents itself.

She's now been held prisoner for five years, an amount of time that ceases to be a parenthesis in the course of a life and becomes an integral part of its text. My heart goes out to her and her family.

Posted by Judah in:  Las Americas   

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Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Gloves Are Off

There's the makings of what looks like a serious power struggle, both factional and institutional, going on in Tehran right now. The battle pits President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's hardline supporters against Hashemi Rafsanjani's reformists, as well as the executive branch against the judiciary, all in the context of the run-up to next spring's Parliamentary elections that are shaping up to be hotly contested.

Those of you who read through all of my detailed (read: obsessive) posting on Iran will remember Hossein Mousavian, a former spokesman for Iran's nuclear negotiator under reformist President Khatami. Mousavian was arrested and released in May, only to be re-charged two weeks ago with passing classified nuclear information along to the British embassy in Tehran.

On Tuesday, an investigating magistrate dismissed the espionage charges, handing down only a suspended sentence for a lesser charge of "propaganda against the system". Yesterday, Ahmadinejad pushed back, threatening to release tapes of Mousavian's conversations with British diplomats, and demanding that the case be re-opened.

Mousavian has received support not only from his reformist allies, but also from a close advisor to the Ayatollah Khameini. More significantly, conservatives within Ahmadinejad's faction have also spoken out in his defense, signalling a possible erosion in the President's support.

I'll be watching this one as it unfolds, since it should provide a pretty good glimpse of the state of play in Tehran. Given the reformists' vocal criticism of Ahmadinejad's handling of the nuclear crisis, any sign that they've retaken the pole position in Iranian domestic political jockeying could be a very significant development.

Posted by Judah in:  Iran   

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Thursday, November 29, 2007

A Brewing Storm?

I recently did a post about the military hotline that China and the US recently agreed to establish. Among other things, here's what I concluded:

China is one area where the Bush administration doesn't get some credit it deserves. The amount of trust-building measures and joint exercises that have taken place is actually pretty surprising, if you think about where things started (the Hainan airmen) as well as some of the provocation China has engaged in since (the anti-satellite test).

But as if to demonstrate that it never pays to rush a compliment of the Bush administration into print, along comes the Hong Kong harbor controversy:

The saga of a U.S. aircraft carrier being denied entry to Hong Kong at Thanksgiving took a bizarre turn Nov. 29, when China denied saying the whole affair had been a misunderstanding.

The White House said Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi had told President George W. Bush as much Nov. 28...

"Reports that Foreign Minister Yang said in the United States that it was a misunderstanding do not accord with the facts," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao told a news conference.

China later had a change of heart and granted entry, but by that time the Kitty Hawk carrier group was on its way back to Japan. Be that as it may, if the denial of entry wasn't a misunderstanding, is it possible our friends in Peking were trying to pass along a little message? Here's Liu again:

"We think that generally communication, talks and exchanges are progressing smoothly. Both sides have smooth communication on bilateral and international issues," he added. "But it should be pointed out that recently, bilateral relations have been interfered with and damaged by mistaken actions by the U.S. For example, U.S. leaders have met the Dalai Lama. Also on the Taiwan question, China approves of the U.S. opposing Taiwan’s U.N. entry referendum. At the same time, we have grave concern with U.S. arms sales to Taiwan."

In addition to turning away the Kitty Hawk, China also recently denied access to Hong Kong harbor to two American minesweepers seeking refuge from a "brewing storm":

China's denial of their request violated "an unwritten rule among seamen that if someone is in need, regardless of genus, phylum or species, you let them come in -- you give them safe harbor," Keating said.

"Jimmy Buffet has songs about it, for crying out loud," he said.

We've got a lot of fragile (nuclear eggs) in our China basket at the moment. The North Korean declaration of activities is due to the Six Nations group any day now. And once Javier Solana delivers his EU report on Iran's nuclear program, negotiations will begin in earnest for a third round of Security Council sanctions. Maybe this is just China's way of reminding the Bush administration that if we want a quid, we've got to be willing to give up some quos.

Posted by Judah in:  China   

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Thursday, November 29, 2007

You Be The Judge

Armchair Generalist on today's DoD blogger's roundtable with Dr. Ali Al-Dabbagh, the Government of Iraq Official Spokesman:

I was more irritated by two of the "correspondents" in our group...The other bozo was from Armed Forces Press Service - he asked (and I'm not kidding), "would you like to express your appreciation to all the US service men and women who want to know their service counted?" Al-Dabbah said some nice things about sacrifice and Iraq's appreciation. What a maroon.

American Forces Press Service on today's DoD blogger's roundtable with Dr. Ali Al-Dabbagh, the Government of Iraq Official Spokesman:

The government of Iraq appreciates the efforts and sacrifices of U.S. servicemembers engaged in the country's fight against insurgents, and it desires a continued American troop presence as Iraqi security forces improve in numbers and capability, an Iraqi government spokesman said today.

Yup. I think Jason nailed it. The guy's a maroon.

Posted by Judah in:  Iraq   Media Coverage   

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Thursday, November 29, 2007

Some Of His Best Friends...

[I "broke" this story last June, but it didn't gain much traction. In light of Mitt Romney's remarks this week about not appointing a Muslim to his cabinet, it seemed like it might be worth re-posting.]

After a couple e-mails to the Romney campaign asking whether I was correct in concluding that of the 50 members of his Faith & Values Steering Committee, not a single one was Jewish, Muslim or Mormon, and if so, what the reasoning behind that was, I got this four-word response:

Paul Driessen is Jewish.

So there you have it, ladies and gentlemen. Mitt Romney's Faith & Values Steering Committee doesn't even include his own faith & values. Or Muslims'. Jews, on the other hand, are disproportionately over-represented compared to relative population (2% of the committee vs. 1.6% of the population).

I've contacted the World Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League, the Council on American-Islam Relations, and the Islamic Society of North America to see if they have any thoughts on the matter. I'll keep you posted.

[No one ever got back to me with their thoughts on the matter.]

Posted by Judah in:  Politics   

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Thursday, November 29, 2007

Funny Accents

Mitt Romney's squabble with Rudy Giuliani over illegal immigrants working in his mansion got quite a bit of blog attention. But this little line seemed to pass under the radar:

Romney: ...If you hear someone that's working out there -- not that you've employed, but that the company has -- if you hear someone with a funny accent, you as a homeowner are supposed to go out there and say, I want to see your papers? (Emphasis added.)

Now I think it would be difficult for anyone to define exactly what makes an accent funny, as opposed to being just, well, an accent. But I also think we all know who Romney was referring to.

As an example, when I was a young college drop-out working in a restaurant on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, I noticed how often diners stopped to ask where the lovely hostesses were from (Sweden), where the charming waiter was from (Brazil), and even where the gregarious owner was from (Brooklyn). But not once did I ever notice anyone ask where my fellow food runners were from (India and Bangladesh), where the hardworking busboys were from (Ecuador), or where the no-nonsense handyman was from (Guatemala, where he'd been a practicing physician). Most of us have a coded understanding, whether conscious or not, of what makes one accent "exotic" and "interesting", and another "funny" and "threatening". Some of us work hard to recognize and compensate for that reflex. In today's GOP, it's celebrated.

In fairness to Romney, he followed up soon thereafter with this question, again directed at Giuliani:

...You now are responsible for going out and checking the employees of that company, particularly those that -- that might look different or don't -- doesn't have an accent like yours, and ask for their papers? I don't think that's America...

But I think the dog whistle was very clearly sounded for those who were intended to hear it.

Posted by Judah in:  Politics   

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Thursday, November 29, 2007

Made In Iran

This week, Iran announced that it had built a new homegrown missile with a range of 1250 miles. Then yesterday it followed that up by announcing the launch of a first-in-its-class domestically produced submarine. Now my understanding based on what I've read in the military press is that it pays to take these sorts of announcements from Tehran with a grain of salt, as the technological expertise usually leaves something to be desired. On the other hand, what is significant here is that, a) Iran feels the need to publicize what amounts to second-strike capabilities; and b) that it is emphasizing its domestic production. (Iran already has three Russian-built subs patrolling the Persian Gulf.)

The first demonstrates that, for all the apparent ratcheting down of rhetoric recently, Tehran still feels very acutely under threat of an attack. We already saw the counterintuitive ways such a mindset can play out in Saddam Hussein's decision-making process before the Iraq War. So it's important to take that into account as we dial in our policy from here on out.

The second gets to the heart of what's at stake, I think, for Tehran in its standoff with the Bush administration. Psychologically speaking, this is a regime that desperately wants to be taken seriously. I think it also offers the possibility of an effective political line of approach: If you want to be taken seriously, you must integrate into the global order responsibly.

What we neglect by adopting an overly hostile worldview is that the emergence of new poles of power presents enormous opportunities as well as various risks. Influence and legitimacy bring with them obligations of responsibility. You can already begin to see the impact of China's emerging influence on its role in the global order. The same is true of India.

It's time we started taking advantage of this principle with regards to Iran as well.

Posted by Judah in:  Foreign Policy   Iran   

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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Second Rock

It turns out we have a model of a planet experiencing a "runaway greenhouse effect" right next door. The latest orbital probe of Venus has led European Space Agency scientists to speculate that our neighbor in the solar system was once partially covered with water.

"Probably because Venus was closer to the sun, the atmosphere was a little bit warmer and you got more water very high up," he said.

As water vapour is a greenhouse gas, this further trapped solar heat, causing the planet to heat up even more.

It was a "positive feedback" - a vicious circle of self-reinforcing warming - that eventually caused the planet to become bone dry.

Talk about an uninviting environment, by the way: 457 degrees farenheit on the surface, with sulfuric acid-laced clouds. Ouch.

Update: And speaking of bone dry, this article on the coming water scarcity is pretty thought-provoking. 

Posted by Judah in:  The Natural World   

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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

A Piece Of The Nuclear Pie

Add India to the list of countries angling for a share of the Middle East's growing market for civil nuclear programs. Of course, rogue nuclear programs are the flip side of the coin of the enormous contracts and fierce competition involved in the nuclear industry, and the problem's only going to get worse as the demand for nuclear energy continues to spread. The challenge facing the nuclear non-proliferation regime is not only how to contain the clandestine transfer of technology, but also how to legitimately determine which countries can be trusted with nuclear dual-use technologies, and which can't. As of now, it's a political process played out at the Security Council. The current impasse with regards to sanctions for Iran show the difficulty of achieving consensus, while the Iraq War demonstrates the dangers of acting unilaterally in the face of lack of consensus.

It's also important to remember that there's absolutely nothing that requires a country to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group in order to engage in nuclear technology transfers. India, for instance, is not a NSG member but has voluntarily agreed to abide by the NSG's guidelines. Iran is not a member, and there's no telling what their export standards would be should anyone take them up on their standing offer of nuclear assistance. What's more, there's nothing illegal about a country exporting nuclear technology, so long as their own laws permit it. If such transfers take place clandestinely, it's because the receiving country might be a signatory to the NPT. But even there, being in non-compliance with a voluntary treaty is something of a legal fiction, especially if alternative sources of nuclear technology transfer make the NPT penalties less constrictive.

Ultimately, the normalization of nuclear technology transfers outside the NPT regime will render the regime itself irrelevant. So far the only response we've come up with to such a possibility is a rule of exception (India can operate outside the NPT with impunity; Iran can't), with the United States serving as final arbiter and guarantor. I'd prefer to see an institutional facelift providing for a central enrichment program integrated into the NPT that would alleviate the need for individual countries to develop their own. But given the enormous contracts of the nuclear industry, I won't hold my breath.

Posted by Judah in:  Odds & Ends   

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Wednesday, November 28, 2007


By the way, am I the only one who saw the irony in Dick Cheney's pacemaker needing a jump start on the same day that there was finally some good news on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process? They better get the defibrillators (spellcheck thanks to GS) ready if Olmert and Abbas actually do manage to sign a final status agreeement by the end of next year.

Posted by Judah in:  The Middle East   

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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Scratch That

In the midst of doing some background searches for a post about how the standoff over selecting Lebanon's next President looked likely to continue past Friday, and how factional violence has already started breaking out in the north, I came across this AP dispatch reporting that Saad Hariri's majority party has removed its objection to selecting Lebanon's army chief as President. Since the General in question, Michel Suleiman, is apparently respected for his impartiality by Hezbollah, all that's left to do is to revise the constitution to allow an active military man to sit as president.

Last week, I'd read in the French press that if Lebanon doesn't slide into chaos as a result of its presidential impasse, it will be because the army is widely respected and pretty solidly on top of things. Looks like they were pretty much spot on.

Posted by Judah in:  The Middle East   

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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Let's You And Him Fight

Hugo Chavez and Colombian President Alvaro Uribe start calling each other names, and the loser is... Nicolas Sarkozy. Huh? you might be wondering. Simple.

When Sarkozy took office in May, one of his first acts as President was to call Uribe and personally intervene to get the liberation of Ingrid Betancourt back onto the front burner. Why? Because like the Bulgarian nurses, the liberation of Betancourt -- a French-Colombian dual citizen whose husband and daughters live in Paris -- would be a high-profile success story that would demonstrate Sarkozy's ability to get results.

And it's that desire above all others -- to be perceived as the man who gets the job done when all others have failed -- that led Sarkozy to accept an offer from Hugo Chavez to negotiate directly with FARC, Betancourt's captors, when common sense and good judgment would have argued for some measure of reserve.

Chavez immediately went ahead and pulled a Sarkozy (ie. hogging the spotlight) and flew into Paris last week promising good news. Most of the French government and media assumed that meant proof of a sign of life for Betancourt. For Chavez, though, the good news was more or less that he got a great photo op at the Elysees Palace. Basta.

In the meantime, Uribe has barred Chavez from any further involvement in mediating Betancourt's release. The first reports I read referred to his "unauthorized" conversations with Sarkozy as a pretense, but the article I linked to above mentions Chavez's direct conversations with unnamed Colombian generals.

So Sarkozy ends up with quite a bit of egg on his face in the aftermath of his Chavez lovefest. Not only has whatever momentum on the Betancourt negotiations been lost, but he also lent Chavez an enormous amount of legitimacy, with absolutely nothing to show for it in return. Sacre bleu.

Posted by Judah in:  La France Politique   Las Americas   

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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Front Lines

I haven't had a lot to say about the riots that have broken out the past few nights in the outlying districts of Paris, mainly because it's such a replay of exactly what happened two years ago that there's little left to say. The major difference being that instead of stones being thrown, there have been reports of hunting rifles fired and footage of Molotov cocktails being exploded.

This past May I interviewed Rost, a French rapper who released a song predicting the 2005 riots just before they broke out. (It was immediately censored from the French radio.) He made it clear that nothing had changed in the intervening two years, except for the kids' expectations being a bit higher because of the recent presidential elections. He ended the interview by describing the message he delivered to the UMP parliament members he knows from his own political activism:

Tell Monsieur Sarkozy that when he chooses his cabinet members, that he gives them a marching order: Respect us in the ghettos. Because we won't tolerate all the injustices we've suffered all these years any longer. We won't tolerate them any longer. From now on, we'll go to the front.

I caught up with Rost in September, just after I got to Paris, and he was feeling pretty glum about the prospects for avoiding the worst. Two nights ago, just as he had predicted, a police spokesman characterized the violence as "urban warfare".

Watching one of the round-table talk shows that the French are so good at last night, I heard a French politician very matter-of-factly say that the problem could be solved in ten years with effort, commitment and funding. Lacking any one of those three, he went on, we're destined to play out the same scenario every few years.

Unfortunately, once the current violence dies down, so too will any interest in addressing the root causes of the problem. Until two years from now, that is, when the same guests will be invited to the same television studios to repeat the same tired cliches. That's how the French handle the problem of "les banlieues".

Posted by Judah in:  La France Politique   

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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Emerging World

It's old hat by now to talk about the Iraq War unlocking Iran's regional influence, creating the threat of a "Shiite Crescent" across the Middle East. What's getting less attention is the way in which Iran is engaged in a diplomatic effort to develop both bi-lateral and multi-lateral global alliances, in particular in Asia and South America. The goal of the effort, according to Benedetta Berti at PINR, is twofold. First, to consolidate China's support as an added Security Council rampart against sanctions. Second, to create a viable network of economic and strategic alliances so as to improve its position in the event of failed negotiations on the nuclear front leading to increased sanctions on the part of the US and EU.

It's important not to get too alarmist about Iran's ability to court countries like Venezuela and North Korea. The fact that it's successfully sealing energy deals with Pakistan (and most likely India), on the other hand, and pressuring the Shanghai Cooperation Organization to upgrade it from observer to active member merit more attention. Not because Iran threatens to become anything more than a well-connected, oil-rich minor power. But because it demonstrates the ways in which the post-post-9/11 world is increasingly taking shape.

In retrospect, 9/11 did not, in fact, change everything. Neither did our reaction to it. Combined, though, they managed to accelerate the development of the multi-polar world that inevitably must arise to counterbalance America's disproportionate power and influence. The run-up to the Iraq War demonstrated the limits of the multi-polar world's (as it was then constituted) deterrent power vis a vis an America bent on acting unilaterally. The aftermath of the war, on the other hand, has demonstrated the limits of America's ability to accomplish its strategic objectives when it goes it alone.

It seems intuitively obvious that while America's ability to wield its power unilaterally is destined to further decline, the influence wielded by alternative poles of power in the world is almost certain to grow. Iran's strategy of developing a broad network of alliances with emerging powers is one example of how that trend might take shape.

There needn't be anything defeatist or fatalistic about this view. An intelligent foreign policy would attempt to position America at the forefront of influencing the emerging poles' integration into the global order. Instead, the Bush administration has taken an enormous global reserve of sympathy and solidarity with the United States, in particular after the attacks of 9/11, and squandered it, much like it squandered the Clinton budget surplus.

I'm convinced there's still time to reverse course and rehabilitate America's image around the world. It will take a lot work, patience and humility, but it can be done. Perhaps most importantly, it will demand changing our habits. Instead of commanding, we'll have to start leading. And instead of talking, we should be doing a good deal more listening.

Posted by Judah in:  Foreign Policy   International Relations   Iran   

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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

If This Is Success

The last thing I heard before going to bed last night was a French news report on the Annapolis summit stating that the Israelis and Palestinians couldn't even agree on a joint statement to read at summit's end. So I was pleasantly surprised to learn that they did at least manage to hammer one out over the course of the day, allowing President Bush to get his "handshake photo op".

Be that as it may, the actual content of the statement doesn't seem to actually warrant an international conference, much less anything approaching high expectations. Which might be why Eli Yoshai, the head of Israel's ultra-orthodox rightwing Shas party, told Haaretz that:

...The speeches at the Annapolis conference [were] "dreams" and out of touch with a reality where Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas is incapable of fighting terror or establishing control.

Yishai added that the Shas party has no intention of leaving the government in protest to the joint Israeli-Palestinian statement reached at the conference, saying that there is no reason to do so as the agreements have no possibility of being carried out.

Of course, Yishai's refusal to remove Shas from the government coalition might have more to do with the fact that it will be better placed to saboutage any negotiations from within Olmert's majority than from the outside. But that's just another reason not to get one's hopes too high, and a reminder of how disproportionate an influence extremists have on both sides of the conflict.

On the other hand, maybe there's something to the counterintuitive idea that two leaders as weak as Olmert and Abbas are can hammer out a peace treaty, since it's about the only thing either of them can do to satisfy public opinion, which supports peace on both sides of the conflict. The problem, as always, is in the details. And in the fact that Hamas doesn't recognize Abbas' authority to negotiate. And in the fact that the Likoud is never more than a suicide bombing away from regaining power in Israel. And so on ad nauseum.

I'd like nothing more than to be pleasantly surprised by what follows. But it's not a good sign when a supposedly successful peace summit leaves you feeling this despondent about the actual chances for peace.

Posted by Judah in:  The Middle East   

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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

How Low Can You Go?

Two articles in the French press give you an idea of just how weak the dollar really is right now. According to Le Monde, in the twelve months between August 2006 and July 2007, Southeast Asian and Japanese investors -- including central banks -- bought 32 billion Euros worth of French government bonds, compared to only 14 billion Euros they invested in American government debt. The article quotes an official from the Chinese central bank reaffirming that the dollar is and will remain their principle reserve currency. A demonstration of faith that didn't prevent China from reducing its position in American debt since March.

Meanwhile, to add insult to injury, Marianne reports that with the dollar now at only 66% of the Euro, outsourcing telecommutable jobs to the United States has become an attractive option for French CEO's. Not, of course, as attractive as outsourcing them to Russia, India or Brazil. But, hey, it's a start.

Posted by Judah in:  Markets & Finance   

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Monday, November 26, 2007

Hell: The Business Model

Posting has been light for a number of reasons, most prominent among them a nightmarish passage through the seventh ring of Hell, otherwise known as French internet service providers. Actually, anytime you've got the words "French" and "service" in the same sentence, you know you're in for major headaches, but this is the second time I've added an internet account to an existing line in this country, and it's the second time that I've come dangerously close to stalking a call center with murderous thoughts in my heart. The last time it happened, I began referring to Wanadoo, my service provider, as Botswanadoo.

This time I was led back and forth, from France Telecom/Orange's customer service to tech support and back again, at least five or six times over the course of two weeks, with a good part of each call spent on endless hold. (Keep in mind that in France, you get charged by the minute for a service call.) It's pretty much incontrovertible at this point that at least two "customer service reps" basically told me whatever it took to get me off the line without actually doing a thing to resolve the problem, and another told me he'd done what actually needed to be done but didn't actually do it. All of them told me they had no way of communicating between the two services, which turned out to be patently untrue. So now, almost three weeks after requesting the account, two weeks after my wifi line was installed and configured, and two sets of access codes later, my account still has not been activated to allow me to connect to the server.

It was supposed to have been taken care of by the end of the afternoon today, but here we are, going on 7:30 pm Paris time and I'm still working off a spotty public access wifi connection that comes and goes and bumps me every time someone else logs on, meaning that only one out of every five clicks actually goes anywhere. If this is what the internet is going to be like once bandwidth dries up, I can only say that I hope there are still working printing presses around when it happens. Because I, for one, will be going back to the old paper and ink edition.

To be continued...

Posted by Judah in:  Odds & Ends   

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Sunday, November 25, 2007

License To IL

Laura Rozen directs our attention to this Yossi Melman Haaretz piece, which adds yet another veil of uncertainty onto the Israeli airstrike in Syria two months ago. Melman cites an Israeli professor who, after analyzing satellite photos, claims the Syrian site was not a reactor after all, but a nuclear bomb-assembling plant. The explicit assumption is that Syria was already in possession of the fissionable material necessary for constructing the bomb, and the implicit assumption is that it came from the only place on Earth where fissionable material is not held very accountable to the international community's standards of non-proliferation. Which gives me the perfect excuse to unload this photo, which I've titled "The Mack" and have been holding onto for just such an occasion.

This story had lain dormant for long enough that I was beginning to wonder whether or not it would re-surface. Of course, given the lack of any meaningful attempt to actually reveal what took place, as well as the epistemological challenges involved in using "intelligence" to convince anyone of anything anymore, there are two possibilities about the latest theory, namely 1) the phony reactor meme had been conclusively debunked, so it was necessary to find a new phony meme to alarm people about the threat posed by North Korea; or 2) the phony reactor meme doesn't even come close to doing justice to how seriously IL Kim Jong really is.

I've always dismissed the worst-case scenario that has one country (usually Pakistan, North Korea and lately Russia) just handing over a bomb to another country (usually Iran and lately Syria) in a fit of pique over an American unilateral military intervention, mainly because it seems farfetched, but also because it seems implausible to assume that any of those countries would assume the risks of actually transporting a nuclear device. Anything approaching appropriate security measures would almost guarantee attracting surveillance attention, and any attempt to sneak the thing in would leave it too vulnerable to interception.

But if the Melman story is true (and that's a big if), Kim Jong-il decided it just ain't no thang to sling some plutonium on The Corner of All Corners, the Middle East. And that's ill.

Posted by Judah in:  Dear Leader   Media Coverage   The Middle East   

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Sunday, November 25, 2007

Cartoon Reality

Last March, a news item about "bandwidth hogs" having their internet service cut off got me speculating about what internet usage would like once user demand outstrips available bandwidth. If a report just released by Nemertes Research is any indication, the answer is rolling brown-outs in about 3-5 years, unless ISP's invest $40-55 billion in infrastructure buildouts. That's 60-70% more than current outlay projections.

As I said then, on a lifestyle level we'll certainly look back on the days when we fired off a viral video to a friend just for laughs the way a man dying of thirst in the desert thinks back to his last water balloon fight. On a more serious note, net neutrality and the politics of bandwidth access will take on added significance, magnifying the importance of the outcome of today's policy battles.

On an even broader societal level, internet usage isn't the only activity we'll look back on with a sense of innocent wonder at the luxury we took so much for granted. Yesterday an acquaintance who works as a hedgefund analyst told me about a conference she'd attended recently. The featured speaker, Mikhael Gorbachev, spoke very matter-of-factly about oil at $300 per barrel in the near- to mid-term future. The potential impact on car and air travel is obvious; my acquaintance predicted a time not far off where only the global management elites (CEO's and heads of state) will enjoy the privilege of air travel. Globalization will increasingly refer exclusively to an exchange of capital and commodities, with little of the personal and virtual mobility we currently associate with it surviving.

I keep thinking that the sub-prime crisis is the defining metaphor for our historical moment: a last-gasp, credit-based mirage to fuel the tail end of a speculative bubble. So much of our current way of life is financed by virtual credit instruments whose solidity is based exclusively on the strength of our resolve to ignore their lack of foundation. Like Wily Coyote running past the cliff's edge, everything functions so long as no one looks down. The problem, of course, in reality as in the cartoons, arises when Roadrunner inevitably ambles over and nonchalantly chirps, "Mee-meep."

Posted by Judah in:  Markets & Finance   Odds & Ends   

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Friday, November 23, 2007

Itchy Trigger Finger

This MoJo profile of Mikey Weinstein, founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, made me wonder. Is it a coincidence that of all the branches of the military, Christian evangelicals have overwhelmingly chosen to infiltrate the Air Force? That is, after all, where most of the nukes are and these are, after all, people who are itching for the rapture. Good thing Weinstein's on the case. People who believe they're going to survive armageddon should definitely not be in charge of its delivery system.

Posted by Judah in:  Odds & Ends   

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Friday, November 23, 2007

Open Source Chaos

In addition to a wave of Stateside optimism, the Anbar Awakening in Iraq has also given rise to a gathering new meme about how to address counterinsurgency, the War on Terror, and the challenges facing failed states in a globalized world. According to this new line of thinking, exemplified by this John Robb post and this Robert Kaplan essay, nation-building -- characterized by establishing democratic institutions and top-down political reconciliation -- doesn't work, especially in quasi-autonomous tribal societies like Anbar province in Iraq and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas in Pakistan.

According to Robb, "Politics and populations in our new global environment fragment faster than they can be assembled into cohesive entities." Robb's answer to "temporary autonomous zones and open-source insurgency"? What he calls "open source militias": Spontaneous, local militia movements that arise in reaction to the inevitable excesses of the initial insurgencies. These militias we do little to shape, supporting them only once they've taken form.

Kaplan limits his argument to the Iraq and Pakistan theatres, but it's easy to see how easily it might be generalized to apply to any location where kinship bonds trump national identity and local tribal loyalties take precedence over allegiance to a distant central government. In such areas, pragmatic opportunism dictates that we align counterinsurgency efforts with local tribal power structures, regardless of the implications for a broader democratizing agenda. For Kaplan, "Progress...means erecting not a parliamentary system, but a balance of fear among tribes and sectarian groups."

Now I don't think either Robb or Kaplan is necessarily wrong here, although it's ironic that Kaplan uses a principle of progressive social science (cultural relativism) to justify a principle of reactionary colonial rule (divide and conquer). But what's significant about their approach, which is sure to gain traction, is that it represents a sort of glum, post-9/11 pessimistic version of the euphoric, post-Cold War optimism that heralded the end of the nation-state and the coming of a harmonic global order. In Robb and Kaplan's vision, instead of being surpassed through supra-national agglomeration or reconfigured on the molecular level through direct NGO action, the state has been effectively put out of reach through a process of controlled atomization. Here's Robb:

The use of a plethora of militias to fight a global open source insurgency from Nigeria to Mexico to Iraq to Pakistan is effective within a grand strategy of delay (it holds disorder at bay while allowing globalization to work). Most beneficially, it eliminates the need for nation-building, massive conventional troop deployments, and other forms of excess.

That's about it in a nutshell: a grand strategy of delay. Needless to say, Robb's oblique reference to "allowing globalization to work" is the key to understanding the argument.

As I said, I don't think either Robb or Kaplan is necessarily wrong. To begin with, there are areas in the world where the writ of the national government is a legal fiction. Beyond that, their vision corresponds to the practical necessities of American foreign policy in its current interventionist formulation. But it's important to remember that the two counterinsurgency wars we're currently fighting, in Iraq and in Afghanistan/Pakistan, are wars that we created. In Iraq, as a direct consequence of removing a non-democratic but functioning state, and in Afghanistan/Pakistan as an indirect consequence of our Soviet-era Afghanistan policy, which instigated the very sort of contained chaos that gave rise to Al Qaeda and which both Robb and Kaplan now suggest we try to manage. (To his credit, Robb does raise the caveat of whether we'll be able to manage "something this complex or this messy".)

As importantly, local populations delivered up to globalization are very often exploited like just another raw commodity. In the absence of nation states to defend their interests, that's how globalization "works". Which is why I'd argue for a middle ground between euphoric post-nation state utopianism and Machiavellian failed nation state pragmatism, one that defends the centrality of the nation state, reinforces its effectiveness, equips it to provide the basic needs and services for its constituents, and encourages it (as much as is reasonably possible) to respond to their grievances and reflect their aspirations.

All of these interventions take enormous effort, strong and effective mult-lateral institutions, and time -- in short, the "forms of excess" that Robb seeks to avoid. But in the long run, they offer a better chance for building a sustainable international order, capable of dealing with the existential, strategic and ethical challenges we have no choice but to overcome if we as a species are to survive.

Posted by Judah in:  Foreign Policy   Global War On Terror   Iraq   Pakistan   

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Friday, November 23, 2007

The Witching Hour

At midnight tonight, Lebanese President Emile Lahoud's term in office will come to an end, and barring a miracle, the country will enter into a constitutional crisis, as no one has been selected to succeed him. The possible consequences of the standoff range from destabilizing to catastrophic, and the Lebanese military is already in a state of alert in the capital.

Besides Lebanon itself, the big loser in the entire affair is France, which has been engaging in a diplomatic effort since July to encourage all the parties to reach a compromise solution. In the past few weeks, President Nicolas Sarkozy has dispatched top advisors to Damascus to offer a broad deal to the Syrians (a progressive normalization of diplomatic relations with the West in return for facilitating a compromise), and yesterday placed a direct call to Syrian President Bashar Assad to discuss the impasse. Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner has been in Beirut all week trying unsuccessfully to hammer out a deal. Here's how Le Figaro assesses the failure of Sarkozy's diplomatic intitiative:

A happy ending would have...marked the success of Elysee's strategy to reposition France in the region.

The cancellation of the presidential election, on the other hand, is a humiliating blow, even if Paris only played the role of facilitator in this affair. It will also, to some degree, be interpreted abroad as a sign of the powerlessness of French diplomacy which, despite all its efforts, was unable to weigh in on the events in Lebanon, the only country in the Middle East where she is still supposed to exercise a strong influence.

Lebanon has long been a chessboard on which regional powers play out their strategic rivalries, and the current constitutional impasse is no exception. Specifically, it sheds some light on some recent evolutions in France's regional diplomacy, and in particular its increasingly hard line on Iran. As Le Fig points out, Lebanon is supposed to be France's hole card in Middle Eastern politics. But an increasingly influential Iran, through its support of Hizbollah, diminishes France's ability to deliver the goods, as seen by today's failure.

What's more, should the situation in Lebanon result in violence or longterm instability, the heat on Iran, who will almost surely be scapegoated for it, will likely go up a few notches.

Update: According to Nouvel Obs, the parliamentary session to elect the president has been postponed until next Friday. Nevertheless, President Lahoud is still expected to leave office at midnight tonight, leaving the country with no one exercising the consitutional responsibilities of president for a week.

Posted by Judah in:  Iran   La France Politique   The Middle East   

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Thursday, November 22, 2007

Iran's Parallel Nuclear Track

The other day I flagged a story about Iran's ambassador to Syria offering Iran's assistance in developing a civil nuclear program, mainly because the remark seemed comically ill-timed. But today I ran across another story in the Iranian press reporting that Iran has offered its assistance to Egypt in the aftermath of Cairo's announcement that it would be seeking to develop a civil nuclear program. And yesterday, also, Saeed Jalili, Iran's chief nuclear negotiator and head of its National Security Council, formulated an Iranian nuclear cooperation policy based on "...opposition to weapons of mass destruction, preventing proliferation of nuclear weapons as well as peaceful use of nuclear energy..."

If these articles are any indication, Iran is actually serious about becoming a regional supplier of civil nuclear technology. This would be a significant and destabilizing development, and not just because Iran's own civil program is not in compliance with the NPT according to the IAEA's latest report. As things stand, a country needs to be a member of the 44-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group in order to share nuclear material and technology under the auspices of the nuclear non-proliferation regime. And the chances of the US allowing Iran to accede to the group are somewhere between none and zero.

Which suggests that Tehran is testing the waters for introducing a parallel nuclear non-proliferation regime. It's actually a pretty cagey move. By offering to help the rest of the region develop nuclear capability, it assuages the fears that the Iranian program has raised among its rivals. And by presenting the image of a self-sufficient Muslim nuclear cooperation network, it appeals to regional pride.

I'm speculating as to Iran's intentions, and what's more, I don't think it's very probable that anything will come of its proposals. But the scenario raises the question of how to keep the nuclear non-proliferation dam from breaking should the psychological barriers to dual use nuclear proliferation fail. Already, three of the four nuclear states that remain outside the NPT (Pakistan, Israel and N. Korea) have at one time or another engaged in covert proliferation. As India emerges as a global power, it's only natural that it will begin to feel unfairly constrained by its nuclear pariah status, especially as the fierce industrial competition for civil nuclear contracts heats up.

Eventually, the constraining logic of the NPT will be called into question by enough states so as to challenge its legitimacy. And if we want to have any hope of keeping the nuclear genie in the lamp for the next half-century, we'd better have a revamped system that takes into account the changed realities of the nuclear landscape before that happens.

Posted by Judah in:  Iran   

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Thursday, November 22, 2007

The Other War

I've gotten used to thinking of the situation in Afghanistan as an irritating stalemate, with the Taliban seizing outposts that we're not really bothering to defend, but posing no real existential threat to the Afghan government. But this just-released report from the Senlis Council, an English think tank "known for its expertise on Afghanistan" according to Le Monde, describes things in significantly more alarming terms than a harmless game of whack-a-mole:

The insurgency now controls vast swaths of unchallenged territory including rural areas, some district centres, and important road arteries. The Taliban are the de facto governing authority in significant portions of territory in the south, and are starting to control parts of the local economy and key infrastructure such as roads and energy supply. The insurgency also exercises a significant amount of psychological control, gaining more and more political legitimacy in the minds of the Afghan people who have a long history of shifting alliances and regime change.

The depressing conclusion is that, despite the vast injections of international capital flowing into the country, and a universal desire to 'succeed' in Afghanistan, the state is once again in serious danger of falling into the hands of the Taliban. (All emphases in original.)

In addition to benefitting from a popular upswelling of non-ideological economic and political grievances, the Taliban is also gaining valuable technical assistance from an influx of experienced foreign fighters from the Iraq insurgency. (Which raises the obvious question of whether the decrease in violence in Iraq needs to be assessed on a regional, as opposed to a national, scale.)

As a remedy, Senlis proposes doubling the NATO-ISAF forces in the country from 40,000 to 80,000, removing the restrictions various countries have placed on the rules of engagement for their troops, and authorizing operations within Pakistan's frontier tribal areas. That's in addition to a massive increase in development aid. (All emphases mine.)

Of course, since none of that is going to happen, it's worth considering what Senlis thinks is an increasingly likely scenario: a Taliban return to Kabul in 2008.

This is really where Democrats should be doing more to make the GOP pay for its linkage of Iraq to the War on Terror. Because if Iraq and Afghanistan really are two fronts in the same war, then the good news coming out of Baghdad needs to be weighed against the bad coming out of Kabul. And if by invading Iraq we created a strategic alliance between Saddam Hussein's officer corps and Bin Laden's foot soldiers, then Dick Cheney's pre-war Iraq-Al Qaeda flimflam has actually become a self-fulfilling prophesy.

Beyond that, as Matthew Yglesias has been arguing all week, the lesson to be drawn from the entire enterprise is what it shows about the limitations of preventive war and/or regime change as a non-proliferation policy. Which means we desperately need to come up with a plan B, because with the region-wide stampede for nuclear "energy" programs, things are only going to get worse.

So far, if the US-India deal is any indication, the Bush administration's preferred method is still the "rule by exception" on a case-by-case basis. It would be nice to see someone try to pin the candidates down on a broad policy vision, because along with global warming and globalization, this is going to be the determinant foreign policy issue of the coming decade.

Posted by Judah in:  Afghanistan   Foreign Policy   

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Thursday, November 22, 2007

You Talkin' To Me?

Happy Thanksgiving, everybody. Enjoy yourselves. No holiday here, so I'll be posting. Feel free to check in from time to time.

Posted by Judah in:  Odds & Ends   

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Wednesday, November 21, 2007


It's not getting much notice in the American press, but former President Jacques Chirac was placed under formal investigation today by a magistrate investigating a corruption scandal that took place while Chirac was both Mayor of Paris and head of the RPR political party. That's one step short of an indictment in the French criminal justice system. One of his longtime political allies, Alain Juppé, was already convicted three years ago for his role in the scheme, which basically used phony jobs on the City Hall payroll to pay RPR employees for their political work. (No accusations of personal enrichment have ever been associated with the scandal.) Common wisdom had it at the time that Juppe was taking the fall for Chirac, who wrapped himself in Presidential immunity to postpone facing any charges while he himself was still in office.

I'm not sure what it is about ex-presidents, but they seem to have a way of becoming instantly more sympathetic to me pretty much as soon as they're out of office. I remember fighting off the wave of revisionist sentimentality that followed Nixon's death, and I'm a sucker for this type of thing. I admit that as much as I despised Ronald Reagan while he was President, I find it hard not to admire what he did restore to America, which in retrospect was, I think, a sense that we'd make it through the rough spots.

So needless to say, I don't see the point in going after a 75 year-old man who's spent his entire life in government and who once "incarnated France", as the presidential oath here puts it. True, democracy means no one being above the law. But I think the punishment should be the humiliation and disgrace of being impeached from office, which is a mechanism that didn't exist here until Chirac amended the constitution to include one just months before leaving office. I don't see who benefits, though, by throwing "France" in jail.

Posted by Judah in:  La France Politique   

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Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Viral Intelligence

Via Andrew Sullivan comes this Matt Drudge interview:

...We're now in a totally new era where information is information and you just really have to set your own threshold in what you believe.

Just because you get it from an established source doesn't mean it's true.

This is relevant, if somewhat tangential, to a point I've been meaning to make about the evolution in what's known as "actionable intelligence". It used to be that actionable intelligence referred to intelligence that was so unimpeachable that it rendered a military response not only possible, but ipso facto legitimate and justified. (Think the satellite photos of the Cuban missile installations that President de Gaulle didn't even need to see to believe.)

All that has changed in the post-"slam dunk" era. Now actionable intelligence is anything that, by meeting Drudge's standards with enough people, creates the political climate necessary for military action to be possible. (Think Bush's "sixteen words" or Colin Powell before the UN Security Council.)

In practice it means that instead of intelligence generating the necessary course of action, a pre-determined course of action generates the necessary intelligence. Bush and Cheney have been particularly egregious offenders, but in all likelihood they won't be an isolated case. To be clear, this is more than just exagerrating an incident, like Tonkin Bay, or even provoking one. It's a reflection of how epistemology has been effected by the information age. The defining feature, as Drudge says, is no longer the relationship between a source's authority and the truth. It's between an individual piece of information and each individual's belief.

And as far as I can tell, the increased transparency of the information age will do nothing to mitigate the effect of this dynamic. Partly because, as Drudge says, in an information environment devoid of authority, facts don't necessarily get the best of falsehoods. But also because people's sense of what's true is very often based on innuendo and association, rather than information. Mention Osama Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein in the same sentence often enough and a sizable amount of people will be of the opinion that attacking Iraq is part of the War on Terror. The transparent falseness of the conclusion does nothing to mitigate the propaganda value of the technique.

Posted by Judah in:  Media Coverage   

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Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Just Not Another Texan

Recently I had a long argument with a friend about why this isn't true. I don't know the ins and outs of Bill and Hillary Clinton's power-sharing arrangement, but it's clear that she wasn't just Mrs. Clinton the way Laura is Mrs. Bush. America has a long tradition of First Ladies who stood out from the "Good Housekeeping/Better Homes and Gardens" archetype. Eleanor Roosevelt, of course, sets the standard. Roslyn Carter was another. Whether you admire her or despise her, Hillary Clinton definitely falls into this category. What's more, her work as First Lady was more closely intertwined with the President's function than the first two, who blazed their own trails.

As for today's "Re: foreign policy experience" campaign press release battle, the one criteria that everyone's ignored -- oddly enough, given that foreign policy is all about dealing with foreigners -- is how the candidates are perceived abroad. And on that score, Hillary Clinton is a known and recognized commodity among foreign policy makers, widely respected and by no means considered unqualified for the job of representing the United States to the world by the people who represent the world to the United States.

Barack Obama, on the other hand, is certainly less of a known quantity, but there's every reason to believe that people abroad would take him just as seriously and be just as impressed by him as everyone who has ever crossed the guy's path his entire life. It's possible that some of our strategic rivals might see fit to test him out early on in his term more than they would Hillary (think China and the Hainan airmen), but it's not certain.

Finally, a quick glance at post-War presidencies is enough to demonstrate that foreign policy experience or the lack thereof is far from a predictive factor with regards to performance. George W. Bush had none and the results have been disastrous. Bill Clinton had just as little with the results being a relatively successful mixed bag. Reagan, Carter, Kennedy and Truman had no meaningful foreign policy experience to speak of. Neither did FDR, for that matter, unless you count his appointment as Asst Secretary of the Navy during WWI. Ike, Nixon and Bush I, meanwhile, were all pretty fluent in the ins and outs of international diplomacy when they entered office. And on the whole, history treats all of them pretty well.

In fact, if you examine American post-War presidencies, it becomes clear that when the foreign policy hand you're dealt includes dominant military power, hegemonic economic influence, infectious cultural inventiveness and a tightly-knit network of alliances, it's pretty difficult to seriously screw things up. All of them stumbled, some of them fell. But all of them, save two (Bush II and LBJ), had their major successes that strengthened the country's standing as well.

So there's really no way of predicting, based on experience, whether someone will be a successful foreign policy president. There does seem to be a predictive factor for foreign policy failure, though, and it's not lack of experience. It's being from Texas.

Posted by Judah in:  Foreign Policy   Politics   

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Wednesday, November 21, 2007


One of the stranger aspects of being an ex-pat New Yorker in Paris is that it's possible to wake up on Wednesday morning, November 21, and still not realize that tomorrow is Thanksgiving. Wow. To say that it kind of snuck up on me would be an understatement.

Last year, my sister flew in, the Lil' Feller and I met her in Paris, and we all celebrated Thanksgiving with a delicious catered meal at a friend's house. This year I'll be at a parent's association meeting at his new school. The irony is that I've offered to give a presentation on American culture for the kids at some point. What's the old saw? Those that can't do, teach?

Posted by Judah in:  Odds & Ends   

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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Ready To Go Nuclear

This strikes me as pretty poor timing:

On November 19, Iran voiced its readiness to cooperate with Syria in the field of peaceful nuclear activities should Syria be interested, Iranian Ambassador to Syria Mohammad Hassan Akhtari said. During a press conference in the Iranian Embassy in Damascus, he explained that such cooperation does not exist at the present time...

"Our relations with Syria are significant and special. If Syria is ready to go nuclear, we are ready to cooperate with her," said Akhtari.

I don't think those are the kinds of gestures Mohamed ElBaradei had in mind when he called on Iran to show some confidence-building measures in his IAEA report earlier this week. On the other hand, as long as Israel is going to the trouble of bombing Syria's nuclear sites, the least the Iranians can do is make sure they're really nuclear.

Posted by Judah in:  Iran   The Middle East   

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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

A Woman's Worth

Another women's rights advocate has been arrested in Iran. Maryam Hosseinkhah, a journalist who has been active in the campaign to change discriminatory laws against women, was jailed when she was unable to come up with bail. Here's the web site, Change For Equality, that got her in trouble with the authorities. Here's a video that they put together to highlight their cause. (I'll try to get it embedded here on the site to make it easier to share.) And here's a list of the laws they're trying to change, which include:

  • rewriting marriage and divorce laws to include women's right to self-determination;
  • raising the age of legal responsibility for girls from 9 years old (the age for boys is 14);
  • granting women the same legal "worth" as men in both liability and inheritance law (they're currently valued at half a man's worth).

The heart of the mobilization is an effort to gather One Million Signatures in support of their demands, a door to door campaign that also allows them to educate people around the issues. You can sign the online version of the petition here.

I don't want to get too sanctimonious, and I don't know what kind of impact we can have on their struggle. But I did want to call attention to these women. They're pretty damn courageous. Take a look at the video and you'll see what I mean.

Posted by Judah in:  Iran   

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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Going Long Gone

The superficial parallels between Lebanon and Iraq are striking. Both countries have experienced or are in the midst of multi-factional, multi-sectarian civil wars. Both have a neighbor (Syria in Lebanon's case, Iran in Iraq's) intent on integrating the country into its sphere of influence. Both have another neighbor (Israel in Lebanon's case, Turkey in Iraq's) that reserves the right to conduct cross-border military operations in response to terrorist attacks.

So anyone who buys into the "going long" strategy in Iraq, whereby a massive American occupation over twenty years would eventually lead to a stable power-sharing agreement in Baghdad, would do well to take a look at what's going on in Lebanon these days: seventeen years post-conflict, and that country's complicated power-sharing mechanism is deadlocked, with the very real threat of armed conflict as a result.

There's still a few days left to avoid a constitutional crisis, and there's no guarantee that the worst-case scenarios will play out. But what's significant is how persistent the factional, sectarian and political rivalries that tore the country apart remain, how fragile their resolution is proving to be, and how easily manipulated they are by regional rivals (Syria, Iran, the US and Israel) who don't hesitate to interfere in Lebanon's domestic affairs to advance their strategic interests.

Something to think about when considering the costs of stabilizing Iraq.

Posted by Judah in:  Iraq   The Middle East   

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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Fogged Goggles Of War

I understand why Kevin Drum needed a drink after reading this Anne Applebaum column about the collateral damage of Iraq. Applebaum begins by correctly describing the impact of the Iraq War on our credibility, and as I wrote yesterday, Congressional Democrats would do well to pay attention to the way she frames her assessment of the good news out of Iraq (short version: don't get too excited about it).

But after acknowledging the difficulty of convincing people to take anything we say seriously when they basically no longer take anything we say seriously, Applebaum goes on to lament that in such a climate of distrust, we'll never be able to convince our European allies of the need for a military strike. Which effectively leaves us with a policy of crossing our fingers and hoping that Iran either doesn't end up with a bomb, or remains deterrable if it does.

Now, as things stand, I think a unilateral strike on Iran would be disastrous, so to see this kind of stuff on the WaPo editorially page definitely makes me want to reach for a drink, too. I'm also not convinced that the chances of the crossed fingers approach resulting in acceptable outcomes are zero, although that doesn't make it a very attractive policy option.

But having said that, I think that on a broader level, the Iran standoff illustrates the way in which the Iraq War has fogged our own (meaning war opponents) goggles a bit as well. Take for instance Matthew Yglesias' use of a Richard Holbrooke quote about Saddam Hussein and Iraq from back in January 2001 to illustrate the risks of a hawkish Hillary Clinton presidency. As Kevin Drum later pointed out, a hard line on Saddam Hussein was perfectly reasonable in January 2001.

As for Iran's nuclear program, I think that in the absence of the Iraq fiasco, a hard and even bellicose line would be widely regarded as reasonable today as well. In fact, were it not for the aftermath of the Iraq War, there probably would be broad domestic support for a unilateral strike -- or at least the credible threat of the use of force -- and probably tacit support in both Europe and the Middle East as well.

Now that's not to say that such a consensus would have been any more correct today than it was in the run-up to the Iraq War, either on the facts or on the strategic consequences of such a strike. But if in the absence of the Iraq War, the Iran nuclear standoff would have risen to the level of liberal hawks' threat threshhold (which I think is the case), the question becomes, What has the Iraq War changed? Are we simply adjusting our foreign policy to the realities on the ground, or have we re-considered the underlying principles that led to the mistakes in the first place? I think it's a discussion that's worth having, if only to find out whether we're being pragmatic or wise.

Posted by Judah in:  Iran   Iraq   Media Coverage   

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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

It's All About The Benjamins

It turns out that in addition to being motivated by resentment of the US occupation, Iraqi insurgents are also strongly influenced by the money Al Qaeda in Iraq pays them to carry out attacks. That, according to a WaPo telephone interview with an AQI mid-level management type currently detained by the Iraqi military. The similarities to how we've gotten Sunni tribes in Anbar to target AQI instead of American troops are strikingly obvious and warrant no discussion.

But the article also brought to mind a point I'd been meaning to make about the confusion in Iraq War terminology. For most of the first three years of the war, the term "insurgency" referred (perhaps inaccurately so) to the combined activities of Iraqi Sunnis and foreign agents of AQI. Earlier this year, though, there was a push to distinguish between the two and increasingly identify AQI as the source of all our problems. Then last month, it was reported that AQI was on the verge of extinction, largely as a result of the celebrated Anbar Awakening. So now here we are, back to reading about "the insurgency" or "insurgents" in articles that are ostensibly referring to AQI, but whose agents are now Iraqis and whose viability may or may not be "significantly more upbeat than the one offered by Iraqi and U.S. officials".

Back in June, Josh Marshall addressed the question of terminology, and I think it bears a re-examination. Amid all the reports of progress and reduced casualties in Iraq, as well as those documenting the violence's migration (if in reduced intensity) to the north of Iraq, it would be useful to know just who it is we're fighting over there now. For starters, I'd like to know exactly who is currently participating in attacks, who and what they're targeting (which is not the same thing as who actually gets hit), and whether or not they represent new participants in the insurgency or seasoned veterans. The last point is significant, because if the insurgency is able to regenerate its ranks, it means that while violence might be dropping, the aggregate number of violent actors might very well be increasing, something that reflects badly on hopes of longterm reconciliation.

Of course, none of that is possible if the major media outlets give the administration a pass by parroting its newspeak.

Posted by Judah in:  Iraq   

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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

I Can't Hear You, David

Is American music really more segmented that it was twenty years ago, as David Brooks maintains? And is that a reflection of the increasing segmentation of society in general? If that's so, then the segmentation he describes allows for an enormous amount of cross-pollenization. Most of the music I hear these days is the outcome of such a complicated ancestry that it would take ten or twelve hyphens to accurately describe it. That it might have its own name and audience is more a reflection of sophisticated marketing techniques than the music itself, whose audience overlaps the marketing frontiers anyway.

Brooks seems overly concerned by the fact that it's increasingly rare to see any single group develop the kind of overwhelming popularity of the Beatles, Rolling Stones, U2 or Bruce Springsteen. But that's a result of the enormously increased offer, and the evolution in music and pop culture's influence on society. Songs and books no longer change us, like "Hound Dog" and "On The Road" did fifty years ago. They accompany us.

It's also unrealistic to expect music to have the same impact on our lives at the age of forty, fifty and sixty years old as it did when we were teenagers. There are still songs changing kids' lives the way The Beatles changed Steven Van Zandt's forty-odd years ago. We just can't hear them anymore.

Posted by Judah in:  Arts & Letters   

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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Sarko The Silent

This NY Times article captures something that I'd noticed the other day about French press coverage of the transport strikes. After months of all-Sarko, all the time, the French President has been strangely silent the past week, letting his Prime Minister and Labor Minister do the talking. This is traditionally the way things are supposed to operate, with the President functioning as a sort of political Deus Ex Machina: guarding himself from being too closely associated with the details of day-to-day governance in order to intervene with more authority when needed.

In this case, Sarkozy's discretion is facilitated by the press coverage's narrative line, which is focusing less on the details of the conflict -- which boil down to very little in terms of actually addressing the pension fund's deficit -- and more on the public's perception of the strike. And for the time being, that's working in Sarkozy's favor, as most people are royally pissed off about having their lives disrupted for the sake of a minority pension plan.

But the coverage reflects a larger truth, namely that the strike and the negotiations that frame it are largely a symbolic confrontation intended to clarify the balance of power between the government's mandate for reform and the unions' ability to protect (their) workers' interests. The outcome of the current standoff over the "special pension" that effects relatively few will set the stage for later reforms to the general pension and labor laws designed to liberalize France's economy.

Sarkozy's strategy is clever in that it forces the unions to choose between two unattractive options. A symbolic strike over symbolic reforms has a very real negative impact on public opinion; rolling over provides the government with momentum for a reform package that is sure to become increasingly less symbolic as it progresses.

The unions, for their part, have demonstrated their ability to make things very inconvenient for everyone else if they don't like what they see at the negotiating table. And that was during a normal week in November. A similar strike during the holiday season's peak traffic would raise the pain threshhold considerably. The question now is whether they'll be willing to do so again.

Posted by Judah in:  La France Politique   

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Monday, November 19, 2007

Hold The Confetti

It turns out that Stephen Biddle's best-case scenario by which recent encouraging developments in Iraq might solidify into stable outcomes entails the continued presence of 80-100,000 American troops for 20-30 years, with just one added ingredient: A whole lot more of the same dumb luck that conspired to save our ass in the first place. So I'm officially backing off from any declarations of an Iraqi endgame until further notice.

That said, it does seem like the new dynamics in Iraq warrant at least a holding pattern to see whether they stick. They certainly make another round of the Congressional Democrats' humiliating, masochistic war-funding strategy an ill-advised exercise in pathetic futility. There were certainly arguments to be made for opposing the Surge and pulling the plug on the War this past spring. They are less compelling now, whether or not the longterm chances for a satisfactory outcome have been fundamentally improved.

At any rate, the drawdown of the Surge has already begun. So a more effective political approach would be to simply applaud the recent turn of events, set a date for reassessing the situation once the Surge has been fully drawn down, and call attention to the risks our new strategic alliances have created. I don't think it would hurt to try to get a more active UN involvement in the peacekeeping and nation-building efforts, in a civilian capacity for sure, with the possibility of turning some of the symbolic functions now carried out by Coalition contingents to UN Blue Helmets.

Most importantly, Democrats need to pound the message home that fortuitous as it may be, the recent improvement in the security environment does nothing to change the underlying strategic catastrophe in terms of lives, money, prestige and influence lost as a result of the Iraq fiasco.

Posted by Judah in:  Iraq   

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Monday, November 19, 2007

Yes, But...

Kaveh Afrasiabi makes some good points as usual in his Asia Times Online piece about the IAEA's Iran report (which I finally tracked down here). Yes, Iran has made "substantial progress" in cooperating with the IAEA, especially on providing a paper trail documenting its declared nuclear activities. Yes, all the declared nuclear material is present and accounted for. Yes, more information is on the way, consistent with Iran's obligations under the working agreement it signed in August. Yes, in light of Iran's cooperation, the UN Security Council's demand that Iran suspend uranium enrichment -- especially with no attached timeframe -- and the resulting sanctions regime is on tenuous ground under the NPT. Yes, Iran's intransigence about possessing its own nuclear fuel cycle is a result of twenty years of frustrated above-board attempts to strike deals for a civilian nuclear program, demonstrated once again in the difficulty it is having in getting Russia to ship the nuclear fuel necessary to get the Bushehr reactor online.

Yes, but...

The major sticking point in the report is not Iran's increased cooperation with monitoring its declared activity. It is its refusal to provide more transparency to verify that there is no undeclared activity taking place as well. That is extremely significant in this case because for twenty years Iran clandestinely pursued a nuclear enrichment capacity, and acquired materials and technology on the nuclear black market, in contravention of the NPT to which it was a signatory. It might very well be that the resulting program is a strictly civilian one. But it was nonetheless developed secretly.

Now granted, it's impossible to prove that something does not exist. Iraq War supporters' obstinate refusal to acknowledge that there were no Iraqi WMD's is a case in point. But the IAEA report clearly states that Iran could do considerably more to alleviate any suspicions. Which makes the report, contrary to what Afrasiabi maintains, a mixed bag.

A mixed bag is ostensibly a win for Iran, because it makes a third round of UN sanctions very unlikely. I'm convinced that whether or not a third round of sanctions is just or even necessary, a report that facilitated the realistic threat of a third round of sanctions (ie. a report that brought the Russians and Chinese on board) would have served as a major catalyst for defusing this standoff through diplomatic means. And that would have been a win for everyone.

Posted by Judah in:  Iran   

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Monday, November 19, 2007

Reach Out And Touch Someone

It came as something as a shock to me when I learned a few months back that the US and China had never established a "hotline" to prevent the kinds of misunderstandings that lead to accidental nuclear armageddons. Fortunately, the news came in the context of an article reporting that the Chinese and American militaries were making progress on putting one in place. That agreement was finally sealed two weeks ago, and here's what the People's Daily Online has to say about it:

In a nutshell, it can be said that the China-US military hotline is sure to add more mutual military trust to the security cooperation of the two nations and in the Asia-Pacific region as a whole, and it will play a still more positive role in enhancing the high-level military exchanges and cooperation, further increasing their mutual trust, and dispelling any of their doubts or suspicions.

China is one area where the Bush administration doesn't get some credit it deserves. The amount of trust-building measures and joint exercises that have taken place is actually pretty surprising, if you think about where things started (the Hainan airmen) as well as some of the provocation China has engaged in since (the anti-satellite test).

Meanwhile, in case you thought that hotlines were all about nail-biting crisis management, think again. Take the Cold War-era hotline to the Kremlin, for instance, which continues to function to this day:

...It is tested hourly, with the Pentagon sending a message every even hour, and Moscow sending one back every odd hour. Both sides transmit in an agreed-upon code and avoid any political or controversial test messages.

Mostly, operators on either side of the hot line try to test each other's translation skills with selections from obscure texts. For example, the U.S. operators will send their Russian counterparts recipes for chili, or articles on the psychology of pets. The Russians might then respond with excerpts from their great novelists, or a treatise on the history of invention in the ancient world. But the battle of wits is cordial, and some hot line operators have even met face-to-face at government functions.

This is the sort of thing that's important to remember when considering the longterm evolution of all our strategic rivalries. Namely that a cordial battle of wits is as realistic an endgame scenario as a mushroom cloud.

Posted by Judah in:  China   Odds & Ends   Russia   

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Saturday, November 17, 2007

Time For A Friedman Unit?

Like most people (and all bloggers), I like to think I've got a developed analytical sense and an ability to parse through news coverage. But when a day after I suggested that for once a Friedman Unit might be warranted in Iraq, I then read this and this and go back to thinking that we're just putting off an inevitable meltdown, it makes me realize to what extent the media narrative influences my perception and hence my judgment. And while it's true that everyone's entitled to their own opinion but not their own facts, it's important to remember that in this case the facts are in Iraq, which is to say, far away and hard to pin down.

The assessment I based yesterday's post on seems somewhat less authoritative when stacked up against the available anecdotal evidence of just who we're pinning our strategic hopes on in Iraq. It gave me the impression that the Sunni's taste for civil war had been bled dry and that legislative reconciliation wasn't the only way to assess Sunnis' and Shiites' willingness to share power. But the articles cited in the posts I linked to above (and others from the past few weeks) suggest just the opposite: That everyone's just waiting until we're gone to get on with the killing, and that the failure to formalize a power-sharing arrangement poses a potentially fatal threat to stabilizing the country.

I still think that if ever a Friedman Unit was worth a try, it's now, when the cost in terms of lives lost has declined and the potential return in terms of stabilizing the country has risen. But I'm really past knowing whether circumstances dictate postponing firm withdrawal dates right now or not.

One thing does seem certain, though, as a result of the Anbar Awakening. Namely, that by eliminating the real threat of Al Qaeda establishing an Iraqi base, it weakens the strategic logic for what I'd previously considered to be the best course of action: withdrawing the bulk of American forces, but leaving behind a large contingent (50,000 strong) in non-engaged outposts around the country. The choice is now clearly between a full withdrawal or a full commitment. Nothing in between seems justified.

An all-out civil war might result from a full withdrawal, but I'm not convinced by the doomsday scenario that has it spreading conflagration throughout the region. If a bloodbath does break out after we leave, the Saudis, Iranians, Syrians and Turks all have enormous incentives to contain it within Iraq's borders. That bloodbath will be on our hands, though, and that's something to consider in deciding what to do next. The question is, Will we be able to make a better decision six months from now? For the first time, I think the answer is yes.

Posted by Judah in:  Iraq   

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Friday, November 16, 2007

The Endgame

There are a couple of paradigm-shifting formulations in Stephen Biddle's latest assessment of Iraq over at CFR, enough to make me reconsider my skepticism and reticence with regard to recent reports of real progress. To begin with, he replaces discussions of sectarian violence and casualty levels with the language of civil war. In a nutshell, the Sunnis basically lost the Battle of Baghdad, realize that their broader insurgency would likely suffer the same fate, and are now ready to accept a powersharing arrangement. The Shiites, for their part, while they are not yet comfortable enough to formalize any deal (ie. oil revenue-sharing legislation), are willing to conduct themselves as if one was in place (ie. voluntarily distributing oil-revenues proportionately).

In other words, the various parties are convinced that they can they can no longer achieve a better outcome through armed conflict, which is a prerequisite for any negotiated resolution to a civil war. Biddle conditions future progress on a continued US force commitment, since it's only in the context of the security guarantees provided by an American presence that everyone feels safe enough to run the risk of trusting each other.

My sense is that there are disincentives for a return to civil war even if the US withdraws. Covert Saudi aide for the Sunnis combined with Shiite infighting could level the playing field. There are also major caveats. Biddle is a former advisor to Gen. Petraeus, and one of the major causal factors he cites in all the progress is just dumb luck.

But I wonder if the Democrats' retread war budget maneuvers aren't a little tone deaf to the major shift in dynamics in Iraq, whether real or perceived. If there's ever been an argument for giving this disaster of a policy a little time to play out for the better, now -- while casualties are down and Iran is cooperating in cutting the flow of weapons into the country -- would be it.

Instead of playing a rerun of six months ago (does anyone think they won't cave again this time?), the Democrats should instead be thinking about ways to internationalize the endgame. Try to get the UN back into the country, if only in a civil capacity. Mandate a major diplomatic campaign to internationalize the peacekeeping force. Don't just withdraw American forces. Replace them with UN Blue Helmets.

If the security situation is really as improved as everyone says, it shouldn't be such a hard sell. If, on the other hand, no one's willing to step up, it's a measure of how much Bush has isolated us within the international community, or how bad things still are over there. Or both.

Posted by Judah in:  Iraq   

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Friday, November 16, 2007

The Homefront

Since I finally got around to reading Hillary Clinton's Foreign Affairs essay, I figured I should do the same for Barack Obama's essay from a few months ago. In doing so, I realized that the reason I didn't dive right into them when they first came online was that I'm never that impressed with these kind of exercises. They reward boilerplate platitudes, especially in foreign policy, which by nature is more unpredictable and reactive than domestic policy. Obama's (staff's) boilerplate seems to be as good as Hillary's (staff's) boilerplate: the same broad brushstrokes that seven years of Bush render somewhat obvious. That said, I liked this little throwaway paragraph at the end:

Ultimately, no foreign policy can succeed unless the American people understand it and feel they have a stake in its success -- unless they trust that their government hears their concerns as well. We will not be able to increase foreign aid if we fail to invest in security and opportunity for our own people. We cannot negotiate trade agreements to help spur development in poor countries so long as we provide no meaningful help to working Americans burdened by the dislocations of a global economy. We cannot reduce our dependence on foreign oil or defeat global warming unless Americans are willing to innovate and conserve. We cannot expect Americans to support placing our men and women in harm's way if we cannot show that we will use force wisely and judiciously. But if the next president can restore the American people's trust -- if they know that he or she is acting with their best interests at heart, with prudence and wisdom and some measure of humility -- then I believe the American people will be eager to see America lead again.

We tend to think of foreign policy as something that takes place beyond our borders, but obviously it grows out of our culture, our character, and our perceptions here at home. All the more so in the age of mass-media democracy. In fact, media infrastructure and government transparency combine to form one imbalance in the globalized world that in some ways handicaps America's ability to project its power and influence. American foreign policy is under much more scrutiny than that of, say, China, Russia or Iran, with fewer shadows to hide behind, relatively speaking.

In light of which, Obama's talent for sharp analysis and his ability to effectively communicate it really do make a compelling case for him being the better-qualified candidate to rally American opinion for the much-needed repair work ahead.

Posted by Judah in:  Foreign Policy   

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Friday, November 16, 2007

Dangerous Nostalgia

I was belatedly going through Hillary Clinton's Foreign Affairs essay, and scattered amid the pretty decent boilerplate about correcting the Bush administration's mess I found this:

In the cities of Europe and Asia -- such as Hamburg and Kuala Lumpur, which were the springboards for 9/11 -- terrorist cells are preparing for future attacks. We must understand not only their methods but their motives: a rejection of modernity, women's rights, and democracy, as well as a dangerous nostalgia for a mythical past. We must develop a comprehensive strategy focusing on education, intelligence, and law enforcement to counter not only the terrorists themselves but also the larger forces fueling support for their extremism. (Emphasis mine.)

That pretty much echoes what I was arguing here. (Or I suppose I echo Clinton, seeing as how her (staff's) essay has been online for weeks, even if I just got around to it.) I haven't seen it formulated in this way very often, but it's an approach that should get more attention.

Posted by Judah in:  Global War On Terror   

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Friday, November 16, 2007

Smoke For The Fire

I haven't seen this mentioned in any Western press coverage of the IAEA report on Iran, which I'm still trying to locate. But the Iranian press has pointed out that it includes a reference to the fuel for the Russian-built Bushehr reactor:

Gholam-Reza Aqazadeh noted that another point which is eye-catching in ElBaradei's report is the fact that the IAEA has coordinated with Russia for the transfer of the required fuel for the Bushehr nuclear plant and this will be achieved in the near future.

ITAR-TASS has also picked up the story. This is a significant angle to watch since it will signal the depth of Russia's support for the Iranian nuclear program. Should Russia oppose a third round of sanctions but also delay shipping the fuel, there's room for a deal with Moscow. On the other hand, if the Russians oppose sanctions and go ahead and ship the fuel to Bushehr, things could get bumpy.

Posted by Judah in:  Iran   Russia   

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Friday, November 16, 2007

ElBaradei's Failure Of Nerve

Here's a rundown of the IAEA's report on Iran's nuclear program, and despite the language I cited in a previous post, both sides have found spin room. I've been impressed with Mohamed ElBaradei in the past, but not this time. He has unapologetically assumed a political -- as opposed to a strictly technical -- role on handling this crisis, and his stated goal is to avoid a military outcome. Given the politicization on all sides of the issue, there's nothing inherently wrong with that.

But in being overly cautious with this report, he's exacerbated the diplomatic impasse that stands in the way of a peaceful resolution. Given his animosity to the Bush administration (frankly, who hasn't been burned by them?), it's understandable that he'd be loathe to deliver a report that plays into their hands. But the clear threat of a third round of sanctions, supported by both Russia and China, would have put Ahmadinejad on the spot at a time when he's facing increasing domestic criticism for his hardline stance. In such a scenario, it's hard to imagine the Iranians resisting concessions, whether on transparency, freezing uranium enrichment, or both.

Instead ElBaradei has given a nod to both camps, citing increased uranium enrichment and continued non-compliance with regards to investigating undeclared nuclear activity, but at the same time emphasizing increased cooperation in piecing together the document trail establishing just how Iran procured their nuclear equipment as well as continued access to declared activity. In other words, he's delivered an even-handed technical report at the very moment that a political one was called for. Should his decision scuttle more UN sanctions, the possibility of unilateral American sanctions -- even supported by England and France -- will play into Ahmadinejad's hands, allowing him to continue his domestic crackdown in the name of presenting a united front. It will also inreasingly reduce the room for diplomatic maneuver, making the logic of war seem inevitable. And ElBaradei the politician will only have ElBaradei the technocrat to blame.

Posted by Judah in:  Iran   

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Friday, November 16, 2007

Rudy The Not So Potent

There are a lot of easy ways to target Rudy Giuliani. Starting with the fact that the guy's certifiably crazy. (In fact, the changes in his body morphology over time suggest to me that the single question that would most likely derail his campaign is, Are you now or have you ever been prescribed psychotropic medication?) So Josh Marshall's insistence [spelling error, ahem, hereby corrected] that as Mayor of New York, Giuliani wasn't responsible for the security of the city's eight million residents is difficult to understand, since it strikes me as, 1) wrong; and 2) generous.

Wrong because the City of New York has so many security functions -- ranging from the direct (police and fire departments, hospital and emergency response systems, a city environmental protection agency) to the indirect (health inspection, infrastructure oversight) -- that to deny the Mayor's role in protecting New Yorkers takes an act of will. Now there might be some lawyerly distinctions to be made between "security" and "safety", but I don't think anyone understands Giuliani's claim to mean that he would serve in a command and control capacity in the event of an armed invasion of New York.

But besides the fact that it comes off as obstinate to deny Giuliani this point, it's politically generous as well. Sure, crime in New York went down on Giuliani's watch (although there's some doubt over how much of that was due to his "zero tolerance" policy and how much simply the result of broader national crime trends). As important is the fact that both the cops and the firefighters, the two "security services" so central to the symbolism of a Giuliani campaign, despise him.

The firefighters resentment of Giuliani's Twin Towers cleanup policy resulted in him being excluded from their Presidential Forum this past spring. As for the cops, here's a recent press release from Patrick Lynch, the head of the NY PBA, on Giuliani:

Giuliani has wrapped himself firmly in the cloak of 9/11 for his own political purposes. But the real heroes of 9/11, those who helped to evacuate those towers and lived to tell the tale and all those who participated in the recovery and cleanup, know the truth. Rudy Giuliani has no real credentials as a terrorism fighter. His only credentials lie in managing the cleanup after a terror attack. The New York City Patrolmen's Benevolent Association could never support Rudy Giuliani for any elected office.

But what about his managerial performance, upon which his claims are based? His decision to override his advisors' misgivings and locate the City's emergency "war room" in the Twin Towers suggests he graduated from the Homer Simpson School of National Security. (A building already targeted by terrorists = D'ohhh!!) What's more, he did nothing to resolve the police and fire departments' historic and notorious "first-responder" rivalry (brawls between cops and firefighters were not unheard of at emergency scenes).

I say, Give Giuliani his security bona fides. Then hold him accountable for them.

Posted by Judah in:  Politics   

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Thursday, November 15, 2007

Round Three

The IAEA has announced that Mohamed ElBaradei has circulated his report on the Iran uranium enrichment program to the IAEA's Borad of Governors, and McClatchy is reporting that they've gotten hold of a leaked copy. The report states that Iran has provided some answers about past nuclear activity and accounted for declared nuclear material, but still hasn't provided "full transparency" about its current activities and is still enriching uranium in defiance of previous Security Council resolutions. Here's the money graf:

"The agency is not in a position to provide credible assurances about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran," says the confidential report, obtained by McClatchy Newspapers.

Translation: Iran still hasn't provided IAEA inspectors unfettered access to carry out "intrusive inspections" of the kind called for under the Additional Protocol of the Non-Proliferation Treaty that Iran agreed to in 2003 but has stopped complying with since early 2006.

This strikes me as pretty good news, seeing as the very same kind of report led to a second round of sanctions this spring. Compare the operative clause from that document:

The Agency is able to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material in Iran. The Agency remains unable, however, to make further progress in its efforts to verify fully the past development of Iran’s nuclear programme and certain aspects relevant to its scope and nature. Hence, the Agency is unable to verify the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran unless Iran addresses the long outstanding verification issues through the implementation of the Additional Protocol (which it signed on 18 December 2003, but has not yet brought into force) and the required transparency measures. (My emphasis.)

Reports in May and August came to the same conclusion, and the only thing that forestalled the third round of sanctions in September was a cooperative framework agreed to by Iran for providing more assurances of the civilian nature of its program. Clearly, they haven't gone very far in that direction.

It could very well be that the Russians and Chinese still refuse to sign on, but frankly, this round goes to the Bush administration. Iran had ten weeks to win friends and influence people, and they've done neither.

Posted by Judah in:  Iran   

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Thursday, November 15, 2007

Half-Full Or Half-Empty?

The IAEA is due to release an report today on Iran's compliance with inspection regimes of their uranium enrichment program. The eagerly awaited assessment will determine to a large degree whether or not Russia and China will go along with a third round of UN Security Council sanctions. The run-up consensus is that the report is a mixed bag of partial but inconclusive progress, one that won't do much to move opinion one way or the other. A lot will depend on whose spin proves more influential, but that in and of itself seems to make it less likely the Russians and Chinese will come on board for sanctions.

Not to get too far ahead of the news cycle, but a strong report condemning Iran would most likely have been a tipping point in solidifying support for the American position. One that showed a remarkable turnaround in Iranian cooperation, on the other, would have made a convincing case for restraint. A report that simply extends the status quo for another three months seems like the worst possible outcome, if only because the Bush administration has made it clear it will end-run the UN and pursue unilateral sanctions if necessary.

That will put a lot of pressure on Germany, which is very reluctant to operate outside the auspices of the UN, and also alienate Russia, which is counting on using its leverage with Tehran to exact some concessions from the US on European force structures. It also threatens to make Sarkozy put up or shut up in his support of the American line, creating a significant precedent for France's historically multi-lateral foreign policy doctrine.

Meanwhile it's worth noting, in light of recent reassuring reports on the crisis, that Iran's former nuclear negotiator under Mohamed Khatami, Hossein Mousavian, has been charged with sharing classified information with the British. Moussavian, who has expressed criticism of Ahmadinejad's negotiating strategy, had initially been arrested this past May. Ahmadinejad and his proxies have previously accused critics of his nuclear policy of undermining Iran's diplomatic position. The charges against Mousavian would seem to indicate that Tehran's recent crackdown on journalistic, labor and civic dissent has extended into the political sphere.

Finally, Le Figaro reports from Riyad that the Saudis are increasingly convinced that a unilateral American strike against Iran is inevitable. Like everyone, they seem to be putting their hopes in Russia's leverage with the Iranians to avert a military outcome. Significantly, the diplomatic contacts the Saudis had been pursuing with Tehran had been passing through Ali Larijani. Perhaps another reason for Larijani's ouster last month.

I'll keep an eye out for the IAEA's report, but for the time being the optimism I'd been feeling the last week or so has been a bit tempered.

Update: No report yet, but it looks like China's still sitting on the fence.

Posted by Judah in:  Iran   

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Thursday, November 15, 2007

Cash And Carry

Something that rarely gets mentioned in the discussion of the dollar's decline (or oil and gold's climb, or the rise and fall of the sub-prime market) is the extent to which globalization, by freeing the flow of capital, has created a situation where there's an enormous reservoir of cash looking for profit. And since shortterm profit goals surpass longterm growth projections, there's an enormous incentive for speculative bubbles. That's not to say there aren't underlying fundamental causes behind the shifts. But the proliferation of market-moving capital funds with very little restraints on their cash flows plays a role as well.

Posted by Judah in:  Markets & Finance   

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Thursday, November 15, 2007

Dealing With Russia

If you're a little unclear over what's behind Russia's recent confrontational posture, this short article from the Power and Interest News Report gives a pretty good rundown. Russia's military modernization and tactical maneuvering have not occurred in a vacuum. The absorption of former Soviet Union states into NATO, the Bush administration's unilateral abrogation of the ABM treaty, and plans to install missile defense systems in Eastern Europe were all based on the assumption that Russian power was irreversibly in decline and therefore its national security concerns could for all intents and purposes be disregarded.

Now, the confluence of energy revenue windfalls, European dependance on Russian gas, and the strategic leverage of the Iranian nuclear standoff has conspired to put Russia into the position of regional spoiler. And they're using the CFE (Conventional Forces in Europe) Treaty as a way to focus everyone's attention.

The bad news is that the Bush administration has been singularly shortsighted in its radical transformation of American foreign policy into a heavy-handed instrument of unilateral interest. The good news is that there are a lot deals to be struck that could conceivably bring things back into balance. They will initially involve concessions, since Bush has seriously overreached our hand. But in the absence of any further catastrophic failures, they're still do-able.

Posted by Judah in:  Foreign Policy   

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Thursday, November 15, 2007

See No Evil, Hear No Evil

Turkey's military has acknowledged receiving "real time" American intelligence that will help it target pinpoint strikes against the PKK in northern Iraq, while denying reports that it had already begun to carry out air strikes. Meanwhile, representatives from five political parties in Iraqi Kurdistan travelled to Istanbul to meet with Turkish officials. So it looks like there's been at least some movement since the meeting between Erdogan and Bush ten days ago. And I suspect that in the next few weeks we're going to get scattered reports of limited Turkish strikes on PKK positions which will either be denied or overlooked by all parties.

The key person to watch will be Massoud Barzani, President of the Kurdistan Regional Government. He's consistently been the most confrontational voice among Iraqi Kurds, responding to Turkey's threats and warnings with provocative declarations aimed at tripping all of Turkey's red flags on the Kurdish question. The Turks have for their part categorically refused to officially recognize Barzani as anything other than a "tribal leader". So if they now manage to reach a working compromise, it's safe to say the PKK hurdle has been cleared for now. If not, stay tuned.

Posted by Judah in:  Iraq   Turkey   

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Thursday, November 15, 2007

Obama Republicans

Via Andrew Sullivan comes more anecdotal evidence of a phenomenon: Republicans giving Barack Obama not only serious consideration, but support. I called this constituency Iraq War Republicans. If the Obama campaign had any sense, they'd start calling them Obama Republicans. And above all, stop talking about playing bi-partisan pattycakes with them, and instead invite them into a party-redefining coalition. Bringing Republicans and Democrats together is not the same thing as bringing Republicans into the Democratic party. Reagan did it in the opposite direction. Obama can do it this year. He needs to make them a concrete offer they can't refuse, one that doesn't jeopardize his need to appeal to Democrats. It's a tough balancing act, but I think it's possible. If he does manage it, this post goes out out the window.

Posted by Judah in:  Politics   

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Thursday, November 15, 2007

Zeno's Electoral Paradox

I see Matthew Yglesias' epistemological anguish and raise him one. Not only is it pretty much impossible to predict who will actually win the primary campaigns and general election. When you look at each individual candidate, it becomes obvious that there's not a single one on either side who actually can win their party's nomination. Every single one of them has a solid, incontrovertible disqualifying strike against them ranging from electability issues (real or imagined) in Hillary Clinton's case to mental health issues for pretty much the entire GOP field. (Okay, okay, insanity is actually a qualification for the GOP nomination these days. But notwithstanding the foam around the mouth, Romney and Giuliani have electoral records that correspond more closely to the Gerry Ford-era GOP than to the party of Bush.)

Barack Obama is probably the only candidate who makes it past the raised eyebrow test. But as much as I am seriously considering voting for him, it would take a very unlikely sequence of events to keep him from ending up as this year's model of the Democrats' perennial idealist: Doomed to lose, but keeping the party honest in the process.

The only thing is, someone's got to win. So, will it be brokered conventions all around? Or an Inconvenient Candidate? Dunno. But I have a hard time seeing anyone from the current field up on the podium accepting the nomination.

Posted by Judah in:  Politics   

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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

When Anthropologists Attack

I guess it's not surprising that an anthropologist that's accepted an Army invitation to teach the officer corps how to use cultural awareness to finetune American counterinsurgency doctrine will end up having a positive view of the Army's inviting anthropologists to teach the officer corps how to use cultural awareness to finetune American counterinsurgency doctrine. But I have to admit, I find this surprising:

Since the military's mission is to execute the policies of our democratically elected officials, can...anthropologists really deny commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan the cultural knowledge they need to wage a war they were charged by their political leaders with fighting? Is it ethically more correct for them to retreat from the world and leave others to do the fighting? Is the moral response to cynicism about politics and military power to do nothing, censure those who choose to do something? (p. 17)

Those are the questions that Sheila Miyoshi Jager feels are begged by her colleagues' criticism of the cooptation of anthropology for military use. The idea that war, once declared, gives the military a moral claim on academic knowledge seems like a stretch even within the logic of the Bush administration's wartime imperial presidency. But Jager's an eager participant, as is obvious from her rapturous descriptions of Gen. David Petraeus' overhaul of the Army's counterinsurgency manual, the celebrated FM 3-24:

FM 3-24 has been described as "radical" and "revolutionary" by Time Magazine, and it has received rave reviews in the New York Times. Understanding the cause for FM 3-24's enthusiastic reception is itself noteworthy, notes Sarah Sewell, "because it seems to point to the overwhelming feeling of a majority of Americans that the United States is adrift in the world with no foreign policy to guide it in Iraq and elsewhere." Americans are "simply confused about the nation’s strategic purpose in wake of September 11, 2001..." Once again, Americans are wrestling with a "disillusionment about politics and military power, and the debacle in Iraq has reinforced a familiar cynicism that risks disengaging Americans from their government and America from the rest of the world." In an attempt to understand America's new role in the world and also to stem the growing disillusionment about politics at home, they have looked to FM 3-24 for answers: "The doctrine's most important insight is that even -- perhaps especially -- in counterinsurgency, America must align its ethical principles with the nation's strategic requirements." (pp. 13-14)

You got that right, folks. Adrift, confused, disillusioned and disengaged, America is looking to the FM 3-24 for answers. I guess if nothing else pans out, Gen. Petraeus has a promising future on the self-help circuit.

And perhaps I'm misreading that last sentence, but it seems to me that it's gotten the equation frighteningly backwards: It's our strategic requirements that we must measure against our principles. To do the reverse reduces our principles to the level of mere window dressing. It is, nevertheless, ironic to see that the War On Terror, if it accomplished nothing else, did manage to make moral relativism more palatable to the right.

Jager seems to have fallen prey to the anthropologist's worst enemy, namely losing one's academic objectivity and identifying with the host culture. Here's her admiring citation of Petraeus' warm and fuzzy appeal for more culturally sensitive... Wait a minute, what's that word I'm looking for? Oh, yeah. I know. Propaganda:

In chapter 5, "Executing Counterinsurgency Operations," the manual encourages the development of counternarratives "which provide a more compelling alternative to the insurgent ideology and narrative. Intimate cultural familiarity and knowledge of insurgent myths, narratives and culture are a prerequisite to accomplishing this." (p.13)

Jager's monograph also contains some eye-openers of the purely absurd variety. The following passage would be sidesplittingly funny for its deadpan lack of self-awareness if it didn't reveal that such a major shortcoming in the American military's strategic thinking was addressed only last year:

As part of the "cultural turn" within the DoD, new lessons on National Cultures in the standard Strategic Thinking course and a new series of Regional Studies courses were introduced into the curriculum in 2006-07. The aim of these courses is to teach students about the importance of cultural awareness and understanding of "how other regions, nations, and societies view themselves and others" and the effect of this awareness on policy and strategy formulations and outcome. This is a significant shift away from the traditional focus on American interest and policy in foreign areas... (p. 6)

Or this:

Every dimension of the framework must be appreciated as both a cumulative and revisionist process of not only the actual historical experience, but also memory of that history for memory often distorts history for contemporary purposes. (pp. 6-7; Emphasis definitely all mine.)

It's a shame, because Jager's principle policy proposal is insightful. Instead of lumping all of our enemies together in an "Us against them" approach that serves to magnify their power, we should be using our cultural understanding of our various adversaries to emphasize the differences among them. The anthropologist's version of divide and conquer. But it's lost amid the unquestioning cheerleading that surrounds it.

Finally, there was a point just after the invasion of Iraq that President Bush was fond of evoking occupied post-War Japan. So this passage about how we used an understanding of Japanese culture to advance the implantation of democracy there got me thinking:

Hirohito was miraculously transformed from Japan's preeminent military leader who oversaw a brutal 15-year war against Asia and the United States to an innocent Japanese victim and political symbol duped by evil Japanese militarists. The surprising and rapid transition from Japanese militarism to Japanese democracy was made not through the imposition of American democratic values and norms, but by a not-so-subtle manipulation of Japanese cultural symbols and meanings, including a rather blatant manipulation of history. (p. 8)

If only we'd framed the invasion of Iraq as an effort not to liberate the Iraqis from Saddam Hussein, but to liberate Saddam Hussein from the inner circle of evil Baathists who had used him as a puppet for the past thirty years. It would have been a not-so-subtle manipulation of Iraqi cultural sympbols and meanings, including a rather blatant manipulation of history. But it might have worked.

Posted by Judah in:  Global War On Terror   Iraq   

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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Big M.O.

Michelle Obama just sent me a personal message which for some reason Thunderbird thinks might be an e-mail scam. Anyway, as you know, it's not the first time Michelle's written me, so I'm sure she won't mind if I share some excerpts with you:

Judah --

I was there.

I watched my husband electrify a crowd of more than 9,000 Iowa Democrats...

I've known Barack a long time, and it's clear to me when he's in his element.

Years ago, after we first met, he took me to an organizing meeting in a small church basement in Chicago. He was so comfortable and genuine speaking to folks in the community about the issues they faced that it moved me.

He moved me again last Saturday in Iowa...

She went on to hit me up for some dough, but Michelle does that with me. It's kind of like an inside joke between us. She asks me for money, and I call her a gold digger, and then we both laugh and head off to a church basement and watch Barack get comfortable and genuine with folks in the community and she gets moved and I get the feeling that presidential politics in the age of mass media and the internet has gotten weird and creepy.

Posted by Judah in:  Politics   

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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Citizenship Soldiers

The symbolism of a Veteran's Day ceremony in Baghdad honoring American soldiers seems fitting enough. But what if the ceremony is actually to administer the Oath of Allegiance because the American soldiers in question aren't yet American citizens? That's what happened this past Sunday when Harry Chertoff administered the oath to 178 of the estimated 40,000 soldiers now serving in the military in order to win a fast-track to American citizenship.

There's something particularly moving about the idea of men and women volunteering for military service in time of war for the chance to call themselves American. It says a lot about the attraction America still holds for the world. Of course a great deal of that attraction has to do with the relative economic opportunity here compared to many of these people's countries of origin. But I don't think there are that many countries that inspire the same sort of willingness to risk life and limb in order to gain citizenship.

On the other hand, at a time when the American military is stretched thin and immigration policy has been deadlocked by a vocal contingent of xenophobes, it also says a lot about this country that we're willing to hand these guys a rifle and ship them into a war zone based on the promise of a passport if they make it out alive.

Posted by Judah in:  Iraq   

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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Taking It To The Streets

Tonight the French transport workers unions will go out on strike, hoping to repeat their successful one-day walkout that shut down the country's rail and subway systems last month. The unions face two problems. First, last month's strike obtained nothing in the way of concessions from the Sarkozy government, leading them to accuse the government of practically asking them to strike again. Which leads to the second challenge: Public opinion is largely critical of the strikes. That the public is also largely critical of the government's performance on social and economic issues seems less important to Sarkozy, who in a speech yesterday before the European Parliament declared his intention to "see the reforms through to the very end".

Significantly, the minister overseeing the negotiations had earlier this week refused to even meet with the unions, referring them back to the representatives of the rail and subway authorities in charge of the collective bargaining agreements. While he later agreed to meet a delegation from the various unions, the reception was in sharp contrast to that given to the heads of the rail and subway authorities, who have been invited to Elysee Palace for a pow wow with Sarkozy himself.

The entire confrontation coincides with a student strike in opposition to university reforms that has shut down a number of campuses, as well as a walkout of public sector employees planned for next week in opposition to Sarkozy's effort to reduce the government payroll. The unions, for their part, have rejected the possibility of joining forces with the other two movements, in part because the striking students are a minority faction not very highly regarded by public opinion either, but mainly because they're still hoping to negotiate a compromise reform of the special pensions.

But while continuing to emphasize his openness to dialogue, Sarkozy's unwillingness to compromise seems to be based on an expectation that the public will support him in any confrontation that plays out in the streets. (Already the police have forcibly removed students illegally blocking one campus.) If he's right, he'll have effectively broken the unions in the same way Thatcher and Reagan did, leaving him free to open France up to liberal market reforms. If, on the other hand, the image of violent street clashes turns the public against him (a possibility in a country where social protest is sacred and the use of police force disapproved of), it's going to be a long five years here.

Posted by Judah in:  La France Politique   

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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Frontier Justice

You remember those eight Turkish soldiers who were taken prisoner by the PKK in an attack three weeks ago? The incident raised Turkish-Iraqi border tensions to crisis level and precipitated an urgent American effort to defuse the situation. The eight were eventually released after being held two weeks in Irbil (so much for the PKK not operating with impunity in Iraqi Kurdistan), a release negotiated by representatives from the US, Turkey and the Kurdish Regional Government.

But yesterday, after a weeklong military investigation, they were arrested and charged by a Turkish court martial with disobeying orders. Two were additionally charged with "desertion to a foreign country" (hard to understand since Turkey adamantly opposes any claims of the Kurds to nation status), and one also saw a charge of "not fulfilling the necessities of civil duty". They face a minimum of five and a maximum of twenty years in prison.

There's been suggestions that the charges are based on the soldiers' Kurd ethnicity. The entire episode seems to suggest that whatever happens with regard to the PKK crisis, the underlying tensions between Turkey and its Kurdish minority (to say nothing of Iraq's, Syria's and Iran's) are from being resolved.

Posted by Judah in:  Turkey   

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Monday, November 12, 2007

Sarkozy: A User's Manual

[Nicolas Sarkozy's DC lovefest kind of snuck up on me when I was busy moving. As a result, I missed the "news bump" to try to get the following op ed placed. So here's a freebie for anyone interested in what he really said, between standing ovations, last week.]

By now Nicolas Sarkozy has returned to France, having accomplished the primary purpose of his visit to Washington: to leave behind a legion of admirers. He made no secret of his intention, announcing upon his arrival that he was there "to win back the heart of America". To that end, he left nothing to chance. The entire visit was a carefully choreographed public relations campaign, tailor-made for the American audience. With a kiss on the hand for Laura followed by a slap on the shoulder for George, Sarkozy set the tone, alternating between seduction and business, and offering a little bit of something for everyone.

For those who might have heard he was a divisive figure, Sarkozy used the composition of his delegation – three women (one of Arab descent, another of African origin) and a Socialist – to present the image of a "new France", one that America could easily identify with. In his speech before Congress, too, Sarkozy gave everyone a reason to feel satisfied. For those on the right, who want a French ally that will fall in line with American interests, Sarkozy was tough on Iran, committed to Afghanistan, and resolute in the fight against terrorism. For those on the left, who want a French ally that will keep us honest, Sarkozy was (silently) unapologetic on Iraq, forceful on global warming, and convincing in his arguments for a strong Europe.

As a result, Sarkozy accomplished what every media consultant dreams of: To have each listener hear not what he actually said, but what they wanted to hear. But for anyone familiar with Sarkozy's method, his speech before Congress was more than just a successful public relations ploy. It was the outline of a bargaining position for what he conceives of as an unfolding negotiation with his newly reconciled friend and ally...

Continue reading Sarkozy: A User's Manual>>

Posted by Judah in:  Foreign Policy   International Relations   La France Politique   

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Sunday, November 11, 2007

Putin And The Mullahs, Crawford Edition

This seemed worth pointing out, from NSC Advisor Stephen Hadley's press briefing on President Bush's meeting with Angela Merkel:

One of the things I guess people need to understand is that Russia has been pretty good on the issue of Iran. They understand the problem, they have been active in the diplomacy. You may remember nine months to a year ago, they had a very active engagement going on with Iran, trying to get Iran to accept the notion of suspending an enrichment program and being willing to participate with Russia in an international consortium in Russia that would ensure an adequate fuel supply for their civil nuclear power.

President Putin was recently in Tehran, and he gave a very good message, very consistent with what we've said, the Germans, and others have said, about Iran needing to recognize that it's isolating itself internationally, and needs to give up these programs, and particularly suspend the enrichment, so we can come to the negotiating table.

I think the issues with respect to Russia are tactical issues: at what point do you look at a third resolution; exactly how tough that resolution should be, so that you are both pressing Iran, but also leaving the door open for some solution? And this is, I think, a tactical issue between the two.

The Cheney Gang might very well end up manufacturing a war with Iran. But I get the impression that one of the reasons that they're increasingly looking for bones to pick in Iraq is because the uranium enrichment standoff might actually go our way. Just a few weeks ago, the tone coming out of Moscow was agressive enough to lead some folks here to suggest that Putin might actually give the Iranians nukes. But these kind of conciliatory remarks (coming from one of the vulcans, no less) seem to lend even more support to the idea that some sort of deal has been struck with the Russians. If that's the case, that leaves the China as the odd man out, a position that's much more difficult to sustain than one backed up by Russian cover.

If there's one sticking point, it's the demand for a unilateral enrichment freeze before proceeding with overarching negotiations, something the Iranians claim infringes on their sovereignty. But if the framework of the negotiations were expanded to include a "grand bargain", ie. if the rewards for an Iranian freeze were multiplied, some sort of face-saving arrangement could probably be worked out.

It would take courage and boldness, something this administration lacks when it comes to anything other than appropriating extra-Constitutional authority. It's too bad, because the pay off for America's image around the globe would be enormous, contrary to what the fearmongers would have people believe. Far from being a demonstration of weakness, it would show America's strength. The kind that allows you to distinguish a minor annoyance from a major threat.

Posted by Judah in:  Iran   Russia   

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Sunday, November 11, 2007

A New Majority

I just watched Obama's speech at the Jefferson-Jackson dinner which everyone seems to be raving about. (Andrew Sullivan has the video and a rundown of links here.) I liked what I heard, even if it struck me as a "two steps forward, one step back" affair.

First the two steps forward. To begin with, he finally quit talking about bi-partisanship, and only mentioned bringing Democrats and Republicans together once (how on Earth that formulation makes it past whoever's vetting his speeches is beyond me). Instead he framed his ability to appeal across the center as creating "a new majority", and spoke of Republicans and independents "listening intently" to the Democratic campaign. To my mind, the difference is substantial and I'd like to see him be even more aggressive in how he formulates and deploys it.

Secondly, he really took the gloves off with regard to Hillary Clinton, or at least it seemed that way to me. Matthew Yglesias has written about how Obama's attacks on Clinton need to be spelled out for the 99.9% of voters who haven't begun to pay attention to the campaign yet, which render them essentially ineffective as attacks. His litany of national security bona fides (no Iraq vote, no Kyl-Lieberman vote, and a willingness to speak with leaders we don't like) seemed pretty direct, but then again, I've been paying attention.

He also responded to the meme that he won't be tough enough to stand up to the inevitable GOP swiftboating by pretty much calling out the swiftboaters. This criticism has more to do with the Obama campaign than with Obama himself, though, so I might be exagerrating the importance of this brief passage.

The step back for me was his refusal to scrap the trope of "summoning America to a higher purpose". Blech, blech, and ugh. Most of the catastrophic failures we're busy extricating ourselves from these days are largely the result of having confused geopolitics with messianic evangelism these past seven years. I'm willing to indulge a certain amount of expansive, inspirational imagery as a rhetorical device, but not if it borders on charismatic preaching. By contrast, for instance, when he vamped on the refrain "Our moment is now", I instinctively jotted down "Reagan" (thinking, of course, of "Morning in America"), which is high praise when it comes to rhetoric, regardless of how you might feel about the man's politics. America could probably use some inspiring reminders about all the good things we can still accomplish right about now, but I think the purpose should remain relatively low, somewhere on the nuts and bolts, grease under the fingernails level.

One thing that Obama might learn from Reagan's example is that there's a difference between being polarizing and divisive. Reagan polarized America in the sense that people who disagreed with him disagreed with him pretty strenuously. But it's hard to call a guy who won 60% of the popular vote divisive. (The obvious comparisons are with George W. Bush, who's both extremely polarizing and divisive, and Jimmy Carter, who was divisive without being very polarizing.)

I think that's the weakness of Obama's campaign, at least in the way it's perceived, rightly or wrongly. While attacking Hillary Clinton for being too careful about staking out her positions, he strikes me as being too careful about staking out his constituency. Reagan saw an opportunity to win over blue collar, rank and file Democrats based on social issues and by seizing it he re-wrote the balance of power between the two parties for a decade. I think Obama has the same opportunity but he needs to dial in on exactly who he's aiming for and how to win them over. Granted, he's still running in the Democratic primary, not the general election, so I might be ahead of myself on this. But I don't think I am.

One final observation. If Garance Franke-Ruta finds it noteworthy that Hillary Clinton rises into "...crescendos that, regretably, can only be described as shrill...", I think it's only fair to point out that Obama's crescendos sounded hoarse and strident.

Posted by Judah in:  Politics   

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Sunday, November 11, 2007

Sincerity Test

The recent meeting between President Bush and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was eagerly anticipated, since it was expected to determine whether or not Turkey would launch a cross-border incursion into Iraqi Kurdistan. As usual with such eagerly anticipated meetings, the outcome was largely anti-climactic, producing pretty much the exact same "carefully worded statements" afterwards that both sides had been issuing for the week or two leading up to the meeting.

In this case, that amounted to Erdogan demanding concrete American steps to address the PKK problem and refusing to renounce Turkey's right to defend itself against the hybrid terrorist-guerilla organization, and Bush providing his assurances that America was taking concrete steps to address the problem and firmly repeating his conviction that invading Iraq to prosecute a Global War on Terror would almost certainly drag the entire region into violent upheaval.

So it should come as no surprise that the Turkish military was somewhat underwhelmed by what the meeting actually accomplished and is adopting a wait and see attitude towards the promises Bush made, what they call a "test of sincerity":

The military leaders want to see first and for all (sic) sincerity from the Americans on intelligence sharing... The quality of the intelligence to be given to Turkey will show the sincerity of Washington, they stress. They said such instant intelligence should allow the Turkish forces to utilize the information for operational purposes...

Among other gestures that would prove Bush's sincerity, the Turkish military would like to see four or five PKK leaders (included on a wanted list shared with the US in the past) actually turned over. Now this would seem to be a problem, seeing as how Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, one of the more moderate Kurdish leaders, recently declared that he wouldn't even hand over a Kurdish cat to Turkey. Interestingly enough, though, American forces just liberated nine Iranian prisoners held in Iraq, among them Iranians who had been captured while on a diplomatic visit to Iraqi Kurdistan. In addition, Iran just re-opened its consulates in Irbil and Sulaymaniyah (where some of the prisoners had been captured).

Now the two developments might be entirely unrelated. Or, given the fact that the Kurds loudly protested the detentions when they took place and have long enjoyed fruitful relations with Iran, the moves might be part of a larger deal to defuse the PKK issue. If four or five PKK leaders just happen to turn up in Turkish hands in the next week or two, with only symbolic protests from the Iraqi Kurds, I'd wager on the latter.

Posted by Judah in:  Iran   Iraq   Turkey   

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Sunday, November 11, 2007

Payment Due

Steve Clemons at The Wasington Note flagged this as a must read article. As usual, he's right. It's an up-close profile of one of our hired guns in the so-called Anbar Awakening. It seems to me the Sunni Sleep Walking would be a more accurate description of this strategy. We're not solving problems over there. We're papering them over to be dealt with sometime down the line. In effect, we're mortgaging them with high-risk loans, the foreign policy equivalent of the Sub-Prime Crisis.

It's the guiding metaphor for this moment in American history: Bush's fiscal irresponsibility, the extra-Constitutional measures in the name of national security, the fly-by-night alliances with shady characters (whether they be heads of state in Pakistan or tribal chiefs in Anbar). All of them serve to give the appearance of solving problems, just like "new credit instruments" gave the illusion of owning a home. Mission Accomplished. At least until the payments come due.

Posted by Judah in:  Foreign Policy   Iraq   

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Saturday, November 10, 2007

Friends Like That

Lost amid all the attention given to the declaration of martial law is the news that Pakistan and Iran just finalized a deal to build a multi-billion dollar gas pipeline between the two countries. The Bush administration had been strongly opposed to the project, since it undermines its attempts to isolate Tehran.

Good thing Musharraf's on our payroll. I'd hate to see what he'd be up to if we hadn't given him $9 billion over the past six years.

Posted by Judah in:  Iran   Pakistan   

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Saturday, November 10, 2007

One More Year

How long do assets have to be frozen before they can just be considered confiscated?

Posted by Judah in:  Iran   

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Saturday, November 10, 2007

Three Years, Ten Lashes

To follow up on a post from a few days back, Amnesty International and six other human rights groups have now called on Iran to set aside Delaram Ali's sentence of three years in prison and ten lashes. She's the young woman who was violently arrested last year, suffering a broken arm, during a protest for women's rights. According to the BBC, her sentence is part of a larger crackdown on dissent:

It comes as the Iranian Writers Association has talked of the increasing suppression of the press - with writers, journalists, academics, labour and social activists being arrested and newspapers closed down one after another.

One of Iran's most outspoken human rights activists, Emadeddin Baghi, was arrested last month and there has been no news of him since.

He was a man who tirelessly campaigned for the rights of political prisoners - only to become one himself, our correspondent says.

Courts have also recently upheld jail sentences for the leaders of Iran's bus drivers' union and teachers' organisations after protests over low pay.

I remember after the first student protest against Ahamdinejad earlier this year, when they burned him in effigy during one of his speeches, there was some suggestion that Iran is less totalitarian than it's portrayed to be. This seems to put that idea to rest.

Posted by Judah in:  Human Rights   Iran   

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Saturday, November 10, 2007

Lunch Money And A Ticket Home

To give you an idea of just what kind of insurgency is taking place in Pakistan's Swat region, militants captured a "Frontier Constabulary fort" on Thursday, capturing 60 members of a paramilitary government militia who surrendered when their supplies ran out. Pakistan daily Dawn picks up the story from there:

About 60 paramilitary soldiers taken hostage by militants on Thursday were released...

The militiamen captured in Daroshkhela area were also given Rs1,000 each by the militants so that they could reach their areas...

"We had given our word to the militiamen that they would remain unharmed in our custody and be released. We have kept our promise," said Mohammad Alam, a militant commander.

Mr Alam told journalists that the militants would not leave Madyan town which they had taken over.

The militants had earlier left Bahrain and Kalam towns on the request of local elders.

The militant commander said the elders in the two areas were united and they could look after the law and order situation themselves.

"We believe that the people of Madyan are not in a position to control law and order, therefore, we will stay in the town," he said.

Local people said the militants had set up their office in the police centre in Madyan and hoisted their white and black flags in the area. (Weird single-sentence paragraphs in original.)

Things aren't always so rosy over there, of course. The same story mentioned two killed and fourteen wounded in a roadside bombing incident Friday. But the Pakistani militants seem to have grasped at least two things that the Bush administration would do well to take to heart. Namely, when you treat the enemies you capture on the battlefield humanely, they're more liable to think twice before they decide to fight you to the death. And when folks don't want you to stick around, you're better off leaving.

Oh, and by the way, I'm liking the white and black flags.

Posted by Judah in:  Global War On Terror   Pakistan   

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Saturday, November 10, 2007

The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly, Crawford Edition

The post on Angela Merkel got me wondering just who among the world's luminaries had received the ultimate honor of an invitation to Crawford. Here's the VIP guest list according to Wikipedia, although there's more fun facts and photographs over at Crawford, Texas' homepage:

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin, November 2001
  • British Prime Minister Tony Blair, April 2002
  • Saudi King Abdullah, April 2002, April 2005
  • Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan, August 2002
  • Chinese President Jiang Zemin, October 2002
  • Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, February 2003
  • Australian Prime Minister John Howard, May 2003
  • Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, May 2003
  • Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, July 2003
  • Mexican President Vicente Fox, March 2004, March 2005
  • Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, April 2004
  • Spanish King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia, November 2004
  • Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin, March 2005
  • Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, April 2005
  • Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, August 2005
  • German Chancellor Angela Merkel, November 2007

As they say, you can tell a lot about a man from the company he keeps: Crooks (Bandar and Berlusconi), liars (Aznar and Blair) and all-around bad apples (Mubarak and Uribe).

Posted by Judah in:  Odds & Ends   

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Saturday, November 10, 2007

The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly

Missed this yesterday, too:

Nine Iranians held in Iraq on suspicion of aiding insurgents were freed by the American military in Baghdad Friday, amid growing signs that both the US and Iran are seeking to ease tensions over Iraq.

Eleven other Iranians were kept in custody. But it looks like there's been a subtle shift in dynamics in the past week or so, ever since Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov made a surprise visit to Tehran. I think it's clear this standoff is going in our direction if the IAEA reports Iran to the Security Council this week. The big question now, of course, is what happens if the IAEA reports satisfactory progress?

On a related note, these remarks by Congresswoman Ellen Tauscher caught my eye in light of the French Defense Minister Herve Morin's comments a few weeks back that France had intelligence demonstrating Iran's nuclear ambitions were military:

"Iran is deadly dangerous. They have been isolated from us for a very, very long time, and we don't have very good intelligence. I am glad we use a lot of international intelligence, especially the French and (the U.K.'s) MI6," she told reporters.

Asked if the U.S. administration's warnings about Iran's alleged secret nuclear weapons program should be believed, Tauscher said, "You shouldn't, you should believe the French."

The lawmaker added that Wednesday, after meeting with U.S. President George W. Bush, French "President (Nicolas) Sarkozy was totally unambiguous about Iran, and (said) that there was reason to be concerned about (its) ambitions."

In his comments two weeks ago, Morin said that France's intelligence was confirmed by that of "other countries". I'd assumed that one of those "other countries" was the US (the other being Israel, who's Prime Minister recently visited Paris). But if, as Tauscher claims, the US depends on France for its Iran intelligence (as well as Great Britain), that couldn't be the case.

Her remarks did bring to mind the famous Niger yellowcake documents, which formed the basis for Plamegate. Those documents, which were later shown to be obvious forgeries, were funneled into the intelligence pipeline via the Italian intelligence service and then picked up by MI6. Which was how President Bush was able to refer to British intelligence about Iraq seeking to purchase yellowcake from Niger, even though the CIA had already decided there was nothing to the story.

In other words, we're depending on French intelligence. But are we also feeding it to them?

Posted by Judah in:  Iran   

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Saturday, November 10, 2007

The Line Starts Here

This one slipped under my radar yesterday, but add Turkey to the list of countries in/near the Middle East pursuing a civil nuclear program. They're looking to get three reactors up and running by 2015. Unlike some of the other countries queued up already, Turkey actually has limited energy resources. But the whole move towards civil nuclear programs in the region seems to have reached a tipping point. The question pretty soon won't be whose got one, but who doesn't.

Posted by Judah in:  The Middle East   Turkey   

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Saturday, November 10, 2007

Back At The Ranch

Frankly, I'm surprised to see Angela Merkel reach the Crawford Ranch before Nicolas Sarkozy. All the honor and glory of addressing Congress notwithstanding, I'm betting he's green with envy right about now. Especially given that the EU rumor mill has it that Angie and Nico don't exactly... get along?

After a tour of the property and a round of hamburgers, Merkel expressed support for a third round of UN sanctions if the IAEA reports Iran to the Security Council next week, as well as a very tepid agreement to possibly consider limited unilateral sanctions if absolutely nothing else imaginable shows even the slightest chance of getting Iran to... Well, you get the picture.

Be that as it may, Le Monde fills in some backstory on the visit, and the behind the scenes policy divergences, from the German and European perspective. Specifically, while Washington might be a little impatient with Merkel's reluctance to go along with unilateral sanctions (ie. those not imposed by the UN) as well as her restrained rhetoric, the Germans are convinced their approach is the most effective. As one of Merkel's parliamentary coalition members put it:

Everyone is criticising us for showing signs of weakness, especially in the United States. Meanwhile we're trying to keep the Russians and Chinese on board. (Translated from the French.)

Of course, the fact that Germany remains Iran's primary trading partner might have something to do with their reluctance to impose sanctions as well.

Meanwhile, Sarkozy, with his muscular rhetoric and willingness to go along with unilateral sanctions, has clearly become Bush's go to EU ally on Iran. His stance on unilateral sanctions is especially significant, as Hubert Vedrine pointed out in an article for Telos in September, since it would represent a major shift in French foreign policy doctrine, which until now has relied on multi-lateral and coalition-based consensus to legitimize all interventionist policies, which includes sanctions.

Posted by Judah in:  European Union   Iran   

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Saturday, November 10, 2007

Tangled Web

Common wisdom has it that Syrian agents were responsible for the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic Hariri in February 2005. Hariri was a close personal friend of Jacques Chirac, so France's relations with Syria grew cold, as in just this side of permafrost, as a result. So it raised some eyebrows last week when Nicolas Sarkozy dispatched two close advisors to Damascus to discuss ways to resolve the deadlock in choosing Lebanon's next president.

Today, Le Monde offers something of an explanation (for French readers, anyway). One of Syria's principal allies is Qatar, whose Emir advocates ending its regional isolation and defends its interests at the UN. (His position is conspicuously at odds with that of the Saudis, who consider Bashar Assad untrustworthy.) The same Emir of Qatar was influential in helping Sarkozy obtain the release of the Bulgarian nurses from Libya's Muammar Khaddafi (although the promise of weapons and a civil nuclear reactor probably helped also). And Qatar has not only placed orders for 80 Airbus A380's, they've also been extraordinarily understanding about the repeated production and delivery delays that have cost the French industrial giant quite a few contracts. (Both UPS and FedEx eventually cancelled their orders for the freight version.)

Sarkozy himself has forcefully condemned the use of violence to interfere in Lebanese internal affairs, even if he has refrained from directly accusing Syria of being behind the assassinations. But it's worth watching how France's posture towards Syria evolves. French influence in Lebanon is something Paris has to offer in its dealings with Washington. And if it does manage to thaw relations with Damascus, it could wind up serving as a backchannel for American diplomatic overtures.

Posted by Judah in:  La France Politique   The Middle East   

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Saturday, November 10, 2007

Quote Of The Day

"Cecilia, on est comme toi,
on en a marre de Nicolas.

(Cecilia, we're just like you,
We've had enough of Nicolas, too.)"

-- Slogan chanted at a recent street demonstration against the reforms of Nicolas Sarkozy.

Posted by Judah in:  Quote Of The Day   

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Saturday, November 10, 2007

The Mystic Martyr

I've been developing an argument over the past week or so that militant jihadism and the cult of the suicide martyr represent a rearguard pre-modern resistance to the incomplete attempts to introduce modernism in the Islamic world. The obvious counterargument, what I'll call the Mohamed Atta exception, occurred to me today. Namely, that while the Taliban and the tribal militants in the Pakistani badlands are certainly the products of a pre-modern (or hybrid "post-pre-modern") culture, the men who actually represent the greatest terrorist threat to the West largely come from urban, educated and modern backgrounds.

But the distinction between the two, while significant, actually strengthens my argument. Western attempts to understand what motivates guys like Mohamed Atta have focused on political aspirations and Arab nationalism as the source of their extremism. According to this line of thought, repressive regimes propped up by American support drive young, alienated, urban Muslims to the only movement they feel is taking concrete steps to resist, or avenge, America's presence in the Arab world: Al Qaeda. All of that might be true, but it's only part of what drives them.

Because if this modern rejection of the West's policies marks the first steps of the trajectory that eventually produces the Mohamed Atta brand of terrorist, its later stages is dominated by a nostalgia for a simpler, more authentic, more "whole" pre-modern existence that is common to urban modernites of all backgrounds. One need only consider the journey of young, urban, "Westernized" Muslim men from the streets of the European and Arab capitals, where they studied and grew up, to the Al Qaeda training camps in the hills of Afghanistan, where they put the finishing touches on their indoctrination, to get a sense of it. Once in place, that nostalgia is welded to a mystical ascetism that uses a reading of religious texts to encourage a spiritual cleansing, of both self and the world, through the sacrifice of the flesh.

The same nostalgia has driven the New Age, "back to the land" awakening in the West that over the course of two generations has popularized Yoga, Eastern and Native American philosophies, wholistic approaches to health and healing, and Paganism, including some of the more ascetic aspects of those disciplines. Where the cult of the suicide martyr differs is not in its refusal to spare judgment of the "less enlightened" for the evils of modernism, a practice shared by many New Age schools of thought. It differs in its refusal to spare them the sentence -- a sacrificial death -- embraced by the ascetic mystic.

That a large part of this nostalgia is driven by the attractive reassurance of traditional gender roles, and in particular male privilege, is obvious when one considers women's place in fundamentalist Islamic society. But in this, as well, it's the expression rather than the fundamental motivation of the urge that differentiates it from Western versions. The hippie ideal of the Earth mother, for instance, under the guise of softening gender roles only serves to reinforce them. That the Pagan influence of Western pre-modernism has allowed for an acceptance of the "wild woman" and her sexuality does nothing to undermine the argument. What is celebrated under the light of the full moon in Santa Cruz is hidden under the burka in Afghanistan. The difference is enormous, but both responses spring from a common source, namely traditional pre-modern interpretations of gender.

By no means am I minimizing the differences between Western expressions of nostalgia for pre-modern ways of life and the jihadi suicide cult's version. I'm simply suggesting that we can use one to better understand the underlying psycho-socio-cultural dynamics of the other. In particular, it bears mentioning that these critiques of modernism draw many valid conclusions about the alienation and atomised social structures of modern life. More centrally, they point to a fundamental flaw of modernism, namely its failure to adequately address humankind's (innate?) need for a core metaphysics of meaning.

The jihadi terrorist has mistakenly been accused of nihilism. But he is no more nihilist than the medieval Christian mystic mortifying the flesh to repent for the sins of humankind or, for that matter, the well-meaning BoBo who covers the carbon tracks of his 4x4 by subsidizing the planting of forests. His ascetic mysticism has simply been perverted into a murderous purging of modernism. We haven't paid enough attention to this aspect of his revolt. It's time we did.

Posted by Judah in:  Global War On Terror   

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Friday, November 9, 2007

For A Real Centrist Party

A friend sent me an e-mail touting Obama-Webb as a winning 2008 ticket. I joked back that it would be the first majority-Republican Democratic ticket in history. (One's bi-partisan, the other's straight out GOP, which makes for 75%.)

All joking aside, in the same way that Reagan Democrats changed the political landscape of the 80's, it seems clear that Iraq War Republicans are going to have a lasting impact on the political territory staked out by the Democratic Party for the next few elections to come. Specifically, I think they'll facilitate the re-branding of the Democratic Party as a centrist party that actually straddles the center, not just in practice but in name as well. The GOP field is so far out on the lunatic fringe that I'm sure there's a lot of room for sane Republicans who'd like to come in from out of the cold.

Six years spent here in France has made it clear that not even a shadow of the left exists in mainstream American politics. So it makes no sense for the Democrats to suffer a stigma that's out of date. I'm not familiar enough with the polling, but I imagine some sort of strategic alliance with moderate Republicans would create a pretty solid majority.

That would mean completing the transformation begun by Clinton, bringing the Democrats full circle, back to the party of Truman and Kennedy. Guys like Wesley Clark and Jim Webb strike me as Democrats in that mold already. And others would probably be willing to make the jump if room was made for them.

Intuitively it feels like it's time for that sort of shift. Many of the battles that cleaved American politics across the center have already been decided on the merits, even if there's still a lot of work to be done on the ground. (I'm thinking of civil rights and women's equality for the left, fiscal responsibility and national security for the right.) And the ones that haven't should probably be re-imagined in more contemporary terms.

I guess in many ways, this resembles Obama's bi-partisanship. And I wouldn't be surprised if Obama does pick a Republican as his running mate should he win the nomination, whether it be Webb, Wes Clark (unlikely given the Hillary connection) or Chuck Hagel. I just wish the guy would be more assertive and actually claim the space on the other side of the center for the Democrats, instead of talking about holding hands with Republicans and playing nice.

Posted by Judah in:  Politics   

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Friday, November 9, 2007

Progress Or Metastisization?

By now the consensus is that things are going better in Iraq, and that all the major casualty figures are significantly down. Call me a cynic, but when I see the Iraqi government announcing that 46,000 Iraqi refugees returned home from Syria in the same week that the Iraqi Red Crescent announces that 67,000 Iraqi have fled their homes during the month of September, it makes me wonder. Even if both reports are correct, it still leaves a net outflow of refugees and suggests that the violence, like so many Iraqis, is just being internally displaced.

Most of the reassuring casualty reports I've seen have been sourced to the Iraqi government or the American military. Both have a vested interest in showing progress. Even assuming civilian sectarian killings are down, if you take a glance at the weekly summaries of recent incidents over at Iraq Body Count, you'll notice how many Iraqi police (read: militia members) are being targetted.

To my mind, taken together all this certainly reflects a significant change in what's going on over there. But I'm not so sure that's progress.

Posted by Judah in:  Iraq   Media Coverage   

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Friday, November 9, 2007

OTB, Pakistan Edition

One of the justifications put forward by Pervez Musharraf for declaring martial law was the Pakistani Supreme Court's interference in terrorism prosecutions. To get a sense of just what the nature of the government's grievances were, here's a passage from an article describing revisions just made to Pakistan's Army Act giving military courts the right to prosecute terrorism cases:

Attorney General Malik Muhammad Qayyum told the channel that some new clauses and offences were being added to the existing Army Act to provide legal cover to law enforcement agencies. He said the ordinance would allow law enforcement agencies to legally arrest and prosecute alleged terrorists without an arrest warrant.

...Qayyum said the new ordinance was necessary and inevitable for protecting the sovereignty of the country, adding that it would be similar to the United States’ Patriot Act.

...the Supreme Court had questioned the intelligence agencies’ legal authority to apprehend and detain people during the missing persons’ case and this ordinance sought to redress that. The channel said that following the enactment of this ordinance, people arrested and shifted to an unknown location would not have to be presented before any court of law. It reported that the families of missing persons could not ask the courts to force law enforcement agencies to produce suspected terrorists.

This is, of course, more along the lines of a domestic Gitmo than the Patriot Act, but it's precisely why both the Patriot Act and Gitmo make people nervous in the States: Because the logic of constitutional infringements, especially in response to a threat like terrorism, is expansive. [Update: It's also a textbook example of bad actors using our compromises in the name of national security as cover for their own, even if their's are more egregious.]

In other Pakistan news, Nawaz Sharif has rejected Benazir Bhutto's overtures for a united front among opposition parties, basically accusing Bhutto of collaborating with the Musharraf regime for not withdrawing her deputies from parliament at the time of Musharraf's recent election.

And finally, as long as Pakistan coverage has transformed the situation into a horserace, here's who I'm betting will be running the country before the month is out: Gen. Ashaq Kiani. Currently the Army's second-in-command, he's the man already tapped to replace Musharraf as Chief of Staff. In addition to being a graduate of Ft. Leavenworth's General Staff College and the former head of Pakistan's notoriously powerful intelligence services (ISI), he also served as a military attache under Benazir Bhutto during her first term as Prime Minister in 1988. If that weren't enough to make him a perfect fit for a position as transitional dictator, he's also the president of the Pakistan Golf Association. Remember, you read it here first.

Posted by Judah in:  Pakistan   

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Friday, November 9, 2007

The Big Picture

Posting has been a bit lighter than normal for a number of reasons. First off, an op ed on Sarkozy's visit to Washington which I'll post to the site if I don't get it placed somewhere else. Second, I just moved. And while waiting for internet service, I'm using a spotty public access wifi connection that goes in and out. To give you an idea, about one out of every three clicks works.

Andrew Sullivan just mentioned that the nature of this medium has effected his politics and worldview. For me, I'd say the nature of how we connect to the medium is significant as well. I'd compare what I'm trying to do here on the site to reading a newspaper (or thirty, more like it) while taking part in a conversation in a crowded cafe. It really depends on being able to shift fluidly back and forth between the two. And the disruption hasn't only effected the way in which I can access the information. It's also effected how I'm processing it.

Anyway, things should be back to normal shortly, but until they are, posts might be a little less topical and more broadly focused than usual.

Posted by Judah in:  Odds & Ends   

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Thursday, November 8, 2007

Development As National Security

As this post from Small Wars Journal makes clear, development aid can be determinant in stabilizing fragile countries that are either post-conflict or still experiencing insurgencies. The example the authors use, Sierra Leone, managed to conduct vigorously contested elections that remained peaceful just five years after a civil war had bitterly divided the country. Even the limited success of the post-conflict assistance went a long way, and the authors present a vision for what they call a "New Deal" for nation-building to improve the outcomes even more.

There's another point to be made here, though. Since the end of the colonial era, development aid is essentially the primary method for introducing pre-modern societies to modernism. But the idea that modernism exclusively presents gains to be offered, as opposed to an exchange to be made, is a fallacy. Modernism often entails a violent disruption of traditional social structures, resulting in alienation, loss of cultural identities, the rise of individualism, and other not so pleasant social consequences. The transition from traditional to modern economies also often entails transitional periods of intense dislocation, as largely agrarian populations adapt to urban productive economies.

An argument can be made that all of the painful consequences of modernism are worth bearing due to the enormous benefits that come with it. Improved health and sanitary conditions lead to both longer life expectancies and longer healthy life expectancies. Technological advances lead to improved living conditions and wider diffusion of the fruits of productivity. And modern social arrangements lead to increased innovation and personal freedom.

The trouble is that, in practice, very few of the benefits of modernism are actually reaching the populations we're asking to modernize. Which means we're essentially asking them to undertake this painful transition without delivering on the payoff. So it's not surprising to see a backlash, not only of insurgencies contesting control of the modernizing institutions, but also of movements -- such as radical Islamic fundamentalism -- that reject modernism completely.

Many, though not all, of the regional crises that we're periodically forced to parachute in on could be prevented through the much less costly approach of helping developing nations alleviate the conditions that lead to conflict in the first place. That requires a commitment to finally making good on the promises of modernism, something we have in our power to do. But it would first require seeing past the false distinction we've drawn between national security and development.

Posted by Judah in:  Foreign Policy   

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Thursday, November 8, 2007

More Socialized Medicine Nightmares

Last night I woke up at 3 am, with one of my eyes swollen halfway shut. Since I just recently moved to Paris, I don't yet have a general practitioner. So I called SOS Medecins, who sent a doctor to my apartment. He diagnosed an eye infection, and prescribed some drops. At the pharmacy afterwards, as I was leaving, it suddenly occurred to me that I had forgotten to pay. The pharmacist laughed and explained that the cost of the drops, ten euros, was covered by Social Security.

Total time between my first call to SOS Medecins and filling the prescription? One hour and fifteen minutes. Total cost? Forty euros to the doctor, with some of that reimbursable by Social Security if I manage to send the paperwork in (big if given my administrative disarray at the moment).

Socialized medicine really sucks when you're trying to get a small business off the ground and you see the enormous amount of your gross revenue that goes towards financing it. But it's pretty damn cool when you need medical care.

Posted by Judah in:  Odds & Ends   

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Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Conflating Two Threats

Matthew Yglesias is correct to point out the relationship between American support for anti-democratic regimes and anti-American sentiment, and it's true that we pay a much greater cost for a hands-off policy towards an authoritarian country we're friendly with than one we're hostile towards.

But I think causally linking the resulting anti-American backlash to extremist violence is only possible if you conflate the two distinct oppositions faced by regimes such as Iran under the Shah, and Pakistan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia today.

The Islamic extremists setting off bomb belts in crowded plazas aren't motivated by a yearning for democracy. To the contrary. They'd still be setting them off if Pakistan were ruled by a democratically elected civilian government. They don't target these regimes because they don't resemble America enough. They target them because they resemble America too closely.

On the other hand, the lawyers protesting martial law in Pakistan, who serve as a bulwark against Islamic militants and represent in principle the constituency most likely to be sympathetic to America, are much more likely to resent the hell out of us if we don't take a tougher line against Musharraf. And while they probably won't embrace extremist violence and terrorism as a result of our abandonment, they probably won't be very inclined to align themselves with us when they eventually do achieve democratic rule.

So it really does seem obvious that we should be doing everything we can to support them, while at the same time trying to find solutions to the broader faultlines that fuel the Islamic militants.

Posted by Judah in:  Foreign Policy   Pakistan   The Middle East   

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Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Hold The Hysteria, Pakistan Edition

Laura Rozen has got a great interview up over at Mother Jones. A "former US government official" very familiar with Pakistan gives a very enlightening assessment of what's going on over there. Short version: Musharraf is not the Shah of Iran, Bhutto is Chalabi, the nukes are pretty safe for now, and we'd better develop some better approaches to dealing with the Pashtuns, because they're pissed of on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistan border (which they don't recognize). Good stuff, reassuring in terms of the hysterical worst-case scenarios being bandied about, a little less so on the outlook for finding a stable solution to the longterm policy challenges in the region.

Posted by Judah in:  Pakistan   

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Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Police Blotter, Tehran Edition

A lot of people, myself included, were impressed by the Iranian student protests last month that publicly humiliated President Ahmadinejad. The Iranian regime, it seems, was less impressed and has been gradually arresting the student leaders.

Also, an Iranian appeals court upheld a sentence of three years in prison against Delaram Ali, a young woman who took part in a demonstration for women's rights last year. (The ten lashes that had been included in her sentence were dropped.) The demonstration was violently broken up by Iranian police and Ali suffered a broken arm at the time. Five other women involved in the protest have also been sentenced to prison terms. The women had been organizing a petition drive, called One Million Signatures, designed to pressure the Iranian government to change laws that discriminate against women.

The two stories highlight a recurring thought I've been having, that all the crises we're now facing in the Middle East are really just longterm repercussions of the region's (incomplete) post-colonial transition to modernism. Of course, secular education and equal civil rights for women are two cornerstones of any such transition. So the condition of students and women is a barometer of a country's modernism, as much if not more so than their technical expertise or military hardware.

On the other hand, relations between (post-)modern and semi-modern states have greatly changed since the post-colonial era, due mainly to the widespread diffusion of technical expertise and military hardware to semi-modern states. Modernism can no longer be imposed from without at the hands of an occupying power, nor from within at the hands of a crusading national liberator. And with the exception of Turkey, wherever it still manages to resist the reactionary backlash of fundamentalism (Syria and Egypt come to mind), it is through the brutal methods of authoritarian dictators.

Unfortunately, that doesn't seem to offer much hope for Iran's students and women. Or for finding longterm solutions, consistent with the ideals of democracy and equal rights, to the region's conflicts. Pessimistic, I know. But twenty-four year old women getting tossed in jail for demanding a fair shake does that to me.

Posted by Judah in:  Iran   The Middle East   

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Tuesday, November 6, 2007

A Way Out

I'm not sure how much of a shift in rhetoric this is, but both the Iranian Foreign Minister and the Deputy Security of the National Security Council seemed to suggest this weekend that Iran would consider a third-country enrichment plan of the type recently proposed by Russia, as long as the plan secured Iran's "nuclear rights". I take that to mean that as long as any freeze of their uranium enrichment program was voluntary and not imposed, they'd consider foregoing domestic enrichment in favor of a guaranteed third-country source.

The declarations follow closely on the heels of Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov's surprise visit to Tehran last week, a visit that one Russian analyst interpreted as signalling a possible shift in Russia's stance on the issue following American overtures on missile defense and the CFE treaty:

Most likely the prospect of multiple concessions (on missile defense and CFE) prompted Moscow to try to persuade Teheran to announce a moratorium on all uranium enrichment. But what can Russia offer in exchange? Teheran is unlikely to be moved by the mere readiness of Washington to sit down at the negotiating table or even resume direct bilateral contacts.

The more likely explanation lies elsewhere. Teheran has long wanted to position itself as Russia's "strategic ally". So, there is no reason why Moscow should not make use of partnership relations. It could well act as a guarantor of the peaceful character of the Iranian nuclear program in exchange for the U.S. renunciation of military actions. Russia, of course, has something to offer Iran. And judging from the reception accorded in the Iranian capital to Sergei Lavrov, Teheran finds these proposals interesting.

I've been extremely critical of the Bush administration's handling of the Iranian nuclear stand-off. But this would seem to be a satisfactory resolution of it. The Russians do come out looking like the big winners, but at this point that might be a lesser of many evils.

Posted by Judah in:  Iran   Russia   

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Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Transit Issues

In addition to military cooperation and intelligence sharing to fight the PKK in northern Iraq, President Bush promised Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to take some steps to address "transit issues" and "issues with money". What he's referring to is the difficulty Turkey has had convincing the EU to take more aggressive action on the PKK's representatives and front groups operating in Europe. According to a report in Today's Zaman, for example, France has had a policy since the Jospin government of refusing to extradite French-based PKK agents, allowing several of them to disappear despite being on an Interpol "red list" and under police surveillance. Another was able to leave the country and eventually fly, via Vienna, to Iraq:

French and Turkish experts on the PKK file attribute the French government’s attitude toward the PKK to a “political decision” made during the socialist government of Lionel Jospin in 1998. The socialist government had decided not to extradite the PKK militants, even if there were international arrest warrants for them, on grounds of “capital punishment, human rights violations and torture” in Turkey. Turkish requests for extradition and diplomatic notes issued since 1998 are still waiting to be taken into consideration by the French Justice Ministry. Although Turkey has abolished the death penalty and implemented reforms in human rights, the French attitude has not changed. In other words, while it recognizes the PKK as a terrorist organization and condemns its terrorist attacks, France still condones the presence of the terrorist organization in its territories.

The article goes on to say that France "seems to be changing its attitude". Bush's success in getting more such attitude adjustments from our European allies could very well play a role in determining the outcome of the PKK crisis. Good thing we have such an abundance of goodwill over there.

 Update: Or over here, seeing as "over there" is where I am.

Posted by Judah in:  European Union   Turkey   

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Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Dept. Of Bitter Ironies, Pakistan Edition

You'll remember that one of the accusations Pervez Musharraf made against the Pakistani judiciary was that it interfered in the struggle against Islamic militants. Specifically, he claimed they had released militants who had gone on to engage in further attacks. Well, today the Pakistani army released 25 Islamic militants, in return for the release of 213 army personnel held captive by the militants in South Wajiristan.

It also appears that CentCom commander Adm. William Fallon's mission to Islamabad in the hours preceding the declaration of martial law included an offer of military assistance, in the form of US troops on the ground, to the Pakistani campaign against Islamic militants on the Afghan border. Musharraf rejected the offer due to the negative impact it would have on Pakistani public opinion.

Update: Via Noah Shachtman over at Danger Room comes this NY Times report that the prisoner exchange was part of a larger "peace agreement" between Pakistani forces and Baitullah Mehsud, a local militant leader. According to the Times, the Pakistani will withdraw from the area, turning patrolling duties over to Mehsud's militia. In other words, given the choice between outsourcing the job of containing Islamic militants to American soldiers or to Islamic militants, Musharraf chose the Islamic militants.

Posted by Judah in:  Pakistan   

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Monday, November 5, 2007

Musharraf's Shakespearean Turn

The emerging common wisdom about the state of emergency in Pakistan is that notwithstanding Pervez Musharraf's claims to the contrary, the crackdown has little to do with Islamic militants and everything to do with Musharraf's domestic political opposition. Namely the professional and political class as symbolically represented by the judiciary, the political opposition parties, and the legal profession, all of whom were the first to be rounded up under the order. (Think Shakespeare's famous injunction: "The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers.")

As I pointed out yesterday, the Provisional Constitutional Order that suspends the constitution explicitly leaves in place all Islamic injunctions. And according to the Pakistani press (can't find the damn link), Musharraf's crackdown on political opposition has not extended to the extremist Islamic political parties, to whom he is actually extending olive branches. (Although some of them have declared their opposition to the crackdown nevertheless.) Which would seem to bolster the longstanding claim that Musharraf pays lip service to the War on Terror line when it comes time to cashing American checks, while doing everything he can to accomodate the fundamentalist Pakistani street the rest of the time.

My hunch -- and it's a gut feeling based only on the reading I've been doing, mainly in the Pakistani press -- is that Musharraf isn't going to survive this one. His position is far from stable, based as it is exclusively on his ability to advance the Pakistani military's agenda, which is primarily stability, efficient government and keeping a low profile so they can continue playing their strategic games in Afghanistan and Kashmir. He's delivering none of the above, with seriously failing marks on the keeping a low profile angle. I also think that with a little distance, the Bush administration will realize this and begin to tighten the screws. In fact, I sense a hardening of the tone coming out of Washington already.

I'd lay odds that the clever way out of this impasse will be a new general emerging to replace Musharraf, allowing the Bush administration to save face. The new guy will then be accorded a short period of time to re-stabilize the political situation before re-launching Pakistan's return to civilian rule. The old "When in doubt, switch despots" ploy. It worked for Shakespeare.

Posted by Judah in:  Pakistan   

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Monday, November 5, 2007

Shit Or Get Off The Pot

In another must read out of the Small Wars Journal blog, Adam Cobb spells out the options for America in Iraq:

Bottom-line: we have to accept the current situation and be realistic about fixing it or we cut our losses and get out.

By that he means that anything short of a ten-to-twenty year guaranteed commitment, as in "We're not going anywhere 'til this thing's settled", will amount to incrementalism and allow everyone who doesn't feel like fighting against us now to wait us out. On the other hand, he argues that the consequences of our leaving immediately, while potentially bloody, will in all likelihood be self-correcting.

The worst possible option, though, is to keep ante-ing up for one year intervals and postponing a final reckoning, something the current administration has been all too willing to do, and something that plans for gradual withdrawal might become should we get drawn back in while we're busy getting out.

Posted by Judah in:  Iraq   Politics   

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Monday, November 5, 2007

Four Hundred Forty-Four Days

In case you missed it, Iran celebrated the "National Day of Struggle Against Global Arrogance" yesterday, which is what they call the anniversary (this year marks the 28th) of the storming of the US embassy in Tehran and the taking of the 53 American diplomats and guards as hostages.

I was eleven at the time, and I still remember the odd mix of fear and derision those effigy-burning mobs of angry religious revolutionaries inspired in me. The odd mix of sadness and anger I felt as the days dragged on and Walter Cronkite's solemn count climbed each night at the end of his evening news broadcast. The odd mix of pride and shame I felt each time I looked at the small American flag sticker -- Free The Hostages! -- which for some reason I stuck in the middle of my white formica desk.

I remember when they were finally released, the urgency with which I scrawled on that sticker "Free! 444 Days Of Captivity". As if to make sure that it no longer represented an open wound, but a scar ready to fade. As the sticker, which I couldn't bring myself to remove, eventually did.

Liberals (and conservatives) have a tendency to trace the Democratic Party's loss of the national security mantle to opposition to the Vietnam War, but if you ask me, those 444 days had a far greater impact on America's sense of who, between the left and the right, was more likely to keep us safe. The Vietnamese had fought to get us out of their country, but when we did end up leaving, it was of our own resolve. The Iranians were herding our men and women through the streets, chanting "Death to America", and we could do nothing to stop them. And while it might not be very politically correct to admit it, the fact that there were beards, turbans and militant religious zealots to boot made the whole experience somehow indelibly traumatic.

It's ironic that today we find ourselves at the opposite end of the spectrum in terms of our ability to project our force, if not our will, abroad. And yet there before us, once again, are the Iranians. They, too, find themselves at the opposite end of their own national narrative, a country no longer picking itself off the ground after years of humiliation, but one now demanding the respect it feels it deserves. A country no longer reduced to desperate and squalid gestures, but able to protect and project its interests across the region. We'd do well to reflect on how our two nations' narratives have once again brought us face to face. And how what transpired before still effects what we see when we look out upon one another.

I've taken the position on this site that it would be strategically disastrous for the US to unilaterally attack Iran. I've argued instead for the use of diplomatic engagement with Iran, coupled with coalition-building with our allies. Not because I have any naive illusions about the Iranian regime. But because I have an abiding confidence in America's strength when we're driven by our highest ideals and principles, instead of by our darkest fears.

Posted by Judah in:  Iran   

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Monday, November 5, 2007

Iraq Exodus, PKK Edition

Alexander Cockburn reports that the PKK is moving some of its fighters across the border into Iran due to the threat of a Turkish incursion. It's apparently a tactic the PKK have used in the past, taking advantage of the Kurd diaspora across four nations (Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria) to get off the anvil before the hammer strikes.

According to the brother of jailed PKK leader, Abdullah Ocalan, the move also represents an escalation of the PKK's "war against Iran". If true, the entire problem posed by the PKK will have been displaced from a friendly but recalcitrant neighborhood to an extremely hostile one. The resulting complications of transposing Iran for Turkey in the current standoff are obvious, especially in light of Sy Hersh's report that the Cheney gang is waiting for an Iranian incident to serve as an excuse for military strikes against Iran.

If it also turns out that facilitating the exodus (ie. "exporting" a listed terrorist organization) was part of the American response to Turkish pressure, the fallout -- on both a regional and global level -- would be disastrous.

Posted by Judah in:  Iran   Iraq   

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Monday, November 5, 2007

Less Is More

I haven't seen that much discussion of Barry Rosen's proposal to re-imagine America's foreign policy grand strategy, which is a shame. Because it's one of the more original, thought-provoking proposals I've seen recently, counter-intuitive in its willingness to go so far against the grain of what's been driving American strategic engagement, not just since 9/11, but since the fall of the Soviet Union.

Rosen argues that while the relative increase of America's power has increased our ability to pursue an activist role in world affairs, global trends -- including the diffusion of assymetric military capacity, globalization and the rise of identity-based conflicts -- have greatly increased the costs of such activism. That, combined with the empirical evidence of the failure of an interventionist approach, leads him to argue "The Case For Restraint", as the piece is titled:

...A U.S. strategy of restraint must include a coherent, integrated and patient effort to encourage its long-time wards to look after themselves. If others do more, this will not only save U.S. resources, it will increase the political salience of other countries in the often bitter discourse over globalization. If other consequential powers benefit as much from globalization as does the United States, they should share ownership of its political costs. If others need to pay more for their security, they will think harder about their choices.

It's similar to what I was suggesting in a few previous posts, namely that instead of concentrating responsibility for costly interventions in our own hands, we should be distributing them to everyone who stands to gain from the solutions. Rosen goes a step (or three) further and calls for a wholesale, top-to-bottom makeover of American regional alliances, most notably with Europe, Japan and Israel.

His argument -- that by subsidizing these countries' national security we're giving them a pass on responsible ownership of regional and global outcomes -- is compelling in the abstract, perhaps even convincing, even if it's probably less feasible from a practical perspective. But in his willingness to tackle the broader assumptions of policy, Rosen is provoking the kind of discussion we need to be having. Like I said, too bad it hasn't attracted that much attention.

Posted by Judah in:  Foreign Policy   

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Monday, November 5, 2007

Splitting Hairs

I think a more appropriate title for this article would be "Meeting Between Gates, Chinese Counterpart Yields Carefully Worded Statements". Instead they went with "Gates, China Agree On Iran Plan". Go figure.

Posted by Judah in:  Media Coverage   

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Monday, November 5, 2007

Musharraf's Trump Card

In the face of their tepid reactions to the state of emergency in Pakistan, questions are being raised about whether Washington and London actually gave a last-minute green light to the measure. According to some reports, CentCom commander Adm. William Fallon was still in the offices of the Pakistani chiefs of staff while Pervez Musharraf was fine tuning the actual declaration, and by all indications had not yet left the country when the announcement was made.

But whether they reluctantly consented or not, it's increasingly clear that Musharraf felt emboldened to disregard their objections based on his reading of the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan, exacerbated by NATO's recent refusal to increase the force structure there. Having established Pakistan as an indispensable ally in that effort, Musharraf correctly assumed that neither America or England could afford to take him to task for his power grab, despite the enormous public relations fiasco the move represents.

It reminds me of the old saw: If you owe me $50 and you can't pay, you're in trouble. If you owe me $50 million and you can't pay, I'm in trouble. The return to democratic rule was kind of like Pakistan's interest payment in return for us showering them with military grants and re-integrating them into the circle of "responsible nations". Now, not only have they stopped paying interest, they've defaulted on the entire package.

In the meantime, because we failed to finish the job in Afghanistan before shifting our attention to Iraq, we've transformed a situation in which they needed us into a situation where we need them.

Posted by Judah in:  Afghanistan   Pakistan   

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Monday, November 5, 2007

Wishful Thinking?

Far be it from me to second guess Steve Clemons on foreign policy. But I admit I'm puzzled to see him link the situation in Pakistan to the lack of a final status settlement of the Israel-Palestine conflict. Not because I think a final settlement isn't necessary or even essential to re-establishing American integrity in the region. In fact, I think Israel's best hope for longterm stability is in a very generous peace, along the lines of a regional common market like the EU leading to an eventual quasi-federal arrangement with the Palestinian state.

It's just that I don't expect even the most generous agreement, let alone one that stands a realistic chance of being adopted, to have much impact on the Islamic radicalism that threatens the Arab and Muslim world. Iran, Hizbollah, the Taliban, Al Qaeda, and their copycat splinter groups aren't calling for a two-state solution to the conflict. In fact, a Palestinian state that reached such a settlement would become a principle target for these groups. And while the plight of the Palestinians exacerbates the alienation that leads to Islamic radicalsim, it is far from being its exclusive cause.

A fair final status agreement for the Palestinians is necessary for a variety of reasons. I just wonder if it's reasonable to expect it to have such a wide impact. And to assume that that impact will operate exclusively in our favor.

Posted by Judah in:  Pakistan   The Middle East   

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Sunday, November 4, 2007

From Paris With Disbelief

I find it hard to believe that Roger Cohen actually pulls down a steady paycheck for this. It's one thing for an op ed (if you want to call it that) to be poorly written, but this one lacks any substance as well. It's especially maddening to someone -- like yours truly -- trying to pitch articles on French politics, given the quota system on French political coverage in the American press.

Posted by Judah in:  La France Politique   Media Coverage   

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Sunday, November 4, 2007

Gallows Humor

If history serves up one big belly laugh at George W. Bush's expense, the punchline will most certainly come via Vladimir Putin. Because what other foreign leader better exemplifies President Bush's rapid evolution from foreign policy buffoon to foreign policy bungler to foreign policy nightmare? With Russia as prickly as a Joshua Tree Cholla, this hardly strikes me as an opportune time to pull backroom deals worthy of JR Ewing:

Guided by American legal advisers, the Iraqi government has canceled a controversial development contract with the Russian company Lukoil for a vast oil field in Iraq’s southern desert, freeing it up for potential international investment in the future...

The contract, which had been signed and later canceled by the Saddam Hussein government, had been in legal limbo since the American invasion. But the Kremlin remained hopeful it could be salvaged until this September, when Mr. Shahristani traveled to Moscow to inform officials there that the decision to cancel it was final, he said.

The Russian government, newly emboldened in international affairs by its expanding oil wealth, is still backing Lukoil’s claim and protesting what it considers selective enforcement of contracts in Iraq.

As for that new round of Security Council sanctions on Iran, well, don't hold your breath.

Posted by Judah in:  Iraq   Russia   

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Sunday, November 4, 2007

Very Inconvenient

Whoa. Colombia's covered in white powder. No, seriously. Almost the entire country of Colombia (39 out of 42 districts) got hit by a freak hail storm yesterday. Parts of Bogota were covered by six feet of ice. Le Monde has got some pictures. Crazy stuff.

What's striking about these stories now is that the first thought I have --and I'm sure I'm not alone -- is that it's a result of global warming. Were there freak hail storms in Colombia before? Heck if I know. But the advantage of the hypothesis that global warming is our fault is that it follows logically that there are things we can do to remedy it. The only conclusion that global warming negationists can reasonably defend, on the other hand, is that we're seriously screwed.

Posted by Judah in:  The Natural World   

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Sunday, November 4, 2007

America The Necessary

Justine Rosenthal over at The National Interest, does a good job pointing out the many reasons why America ought to consider showing more restraint in its foreign policy. It's something I touched on indirectly the other day in a post about how nurturing a multi-polar world would in fact distribute responsibility for global crises. Rosenthal goes a step further and reminds us that in the absence of an easily demonized American hegemon, most of the world would actually solicit American support when faced with the rise and resurgence of China and Russia, to say nothing of Iran.

By resisting the temptation to intervene everywhere simply because we can, we will increase the likelihood of generating mulit-lateral support to intervene when we must.

Posted by Judah in:  Foreign Policy   International Relations   

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Sunday, November 4, 2007

Pakistan In Context

Another quick post about the State of Emergency in Pakistan, under which opposition activists (including the former head of Pakistani intelligence) have now been detained. Pakistan has found itself under increasing American pressure to both rein in its Islamic militants and restore some semblance of civilian democratic rule. My reading of the State of Emergency -- and I admittedly might be giving Musharraf and the generals too much credit -- is that Musharraf is clearly signalling that he can deliver one or the other, but not both. That, at least, is what he's claiming, and I don't pretend to know enough about the realities on the ground to assess whether or not it's true.

But as this clause from the Provisional Constitutional Order issued to suspend the Pakistani constitution demonstrates, it's obvious which part of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan gives way when push comes to shove:

Notwithstanding anything contained in the Proclamation of the 3rd day of November, 2007, or this Order or any other law for the time being in force all provisions of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan embodying Islamic injunctions... shall continue to be in force.

The biggest flaw in the Bush administration's response to 9/11 has been its failure to appreciate just how tight a tightrope our Muslim allies are walking. Because while the very limited cult of suicidal martyrdom represented by Al Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden represents no real existential threat to America, the much broader movement calling for the imposition of a fundamentalist Islamic theocracy throughout the Arab world does pose such a threat to our allies in the region. And the 20th century model of secular democracy represented by Turkey, or secular non-democratic modernism represented by Egypt and Jordan, but also Syria and Iraq under Saddam Hussein, is an increasingly obsolete alternative. Which seems to leave as the best alternative, at least for the time being, a hybrid form of theocratic-modernism, ideally with -- but predominantly without -- the trappings of democracy.

The transition to modernism has historically met fierce opposition everywhere it has taken place. So it's not surprising that the same should be true in the Islamic world. It's also impossible to speak of a universal modernism. The West modernized through hard-won democratic institutions; Russia, Japan and China through centralized totalitarian states.

By falling prey to the Clash of Civilations paradigm in the aftermath of 9/11, instead of addressing the unique challenges faced by the Islamic world in its pursuit of modernism, we've reinforced the environment of hostile conflict that in fact favors our enemies. Pakistan is just the latest symptom of that phenomenon.

Posted by Judah in:  International Relations   Pakistan   

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Sunday, November 4, 2007

The Logic Of National Security

Josh Marshall muses about the odd hybrid form of government that is Pakistan's constitutional military dictatorship. All proportions guarded, it's interesting to note the similarities between the logic that drove Musharraf to place the Pakistani constitution "in abeyance" and the logic used by the Bush administration to justify its vision of broadened executive powers (specifically the use of extra-Constitutional measures) in time of war. Namely, that the exigencies of national security trump the Constitutional restraints of separation of powers, in particular as regards judicial oversight. Here are the relevant passages from Musharraf's declaration of a State of Emergency:

Whereas some members of the judiciary are working at cross purposes with the executive and legislature in the fight against terrorism and extremism, thereby weakening the government and the nation's resolve and diluting the efficacy of its actions to control this menace;...

Whereas constant interference in executive function, including but not limited to the control of terrorist activity... has weakened the writ of the government; the police force has been completely demoralized and is fast losing its efficacy to fight terrorism and Intelligence Agencies have been thwarted in their activities and prevented from pursuing terrorists;

Whereas some hard core militants, extremists, terrorists and suicide bombers, who were arrested and being investigated were ordered to be released. The persons so released have subsequently been involved in heinous terrorist activities, resulting in loss of human life an property. Militants across the country have, thus, been encouraged while law enforcement agencies subdued;

Whereas some judges by overstepping the limits of judicial authority have taken over the executive and legislative functions;

Whereas the law and order situation in the country as well as the economy have been adversely affected and trichotomy of powers eroded;

Whereas a situation has thus arisen where the government of the country cannot be carried on in accordance with the constitution and as the constitution provides no solution for this situation, there is no way out except through emergent and extraordinary measures;

If there's a difference between the two, it's that Musharraf admits that the Pakistani constitution offers no method to arbitrate the conflict, leaving him no choice but to abrogate it temporarily, whereas the Bush administration bases its claims of extra-Constitutional power in its peculiar and self-serving reading of the Constitution itself.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm no apologist for the Pakistani regime. But consider how the Bush administration responded to the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Now imagine those attacks multiplied throughout the country on an ongoing basis, with Al Gore still in the process of challenging the 2000 presidential election, and you've got an idea of what's going on in Pakistan right now. Under those circumstances, I'm not sure we'd have made out any better than the Pakistanis.

Posted by Judah in:  Global War On Terror   Pakistan   

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Saturday, November 3, 2007

Dog Whistle Politics

I like Garance Franke-Ruta's take on the recent accusations that Hillary Clinton tried to play the "gender card" in the aftermath of the last Democratic debate (via Kevin Drum). She frames her discussion in the context of "the secondary conversation" that women have amongst themselves due to the fact that, a) so much of the discourse in the "primary" political arena is controlled by, conducted by or catered to white men; and b) women in positions of mainstream power suffer consequences if they call too much attention to their status as women. Hillary has been a master of what Franke-Ruta calls "dog whistle politics", basically shout-outs that are only heard by their intended audience. If she got called on it this time, it's mainly due to the intense scrutiny her opponents are placing on her every word these days.

On the other hand, I'm not so sure about this:

For example, Barack Obama took on Clinton on television this morning for slipping into secondary conversation talk, something he himself almost never does, even though he's been offered plenty of opportunities to do so. And, to the extent that he avoids embedding himself within or evoking the common tropes of an African-American secondary conversation, it's actually part of his cross-racial appeal. (Emphasis and links in original.)

I'm thinking about his appearance on 60 Minutes when, in answer to the question "Are you black enough?", he responded, "When it comes time to catch a cab, I am." Or more recently, when he danced his way onto the set of Ellen De Generes' show and, in answer to her comment that he was the best dancer of the candidates she'd seen, joked that "It's a low bar." Then there's his South Carolina Gospel Tour, which wasn't very subtle to begin with, but ended up more closely resembling a foghorn than a dog whistle, due to the flap over Donnie McClurkin.

Granted, these are tropes that have perhaps "crossed over", but they definitely resonate differently for a black audience than for a white one. Same goes for his "Rocky/Apollo Creed" quip at the last debate. It's true that given the historical stereotypes of black men, Obama probably has to be more careful of what he lets slip, as demonstrated by the extreme restraint he showed (hardly) getting his groove on with De Generes. But I'd argue he's been doing the same thing as Hillary.

Posted by Judah in:  Politics   Race In America   

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Saturday, November 3, 2007

Musharraf Clamps Down

After denying all week that he would declare a state of emergency, Pervez Musharraf went ahead and did just that today, according to breaking AP wire dispatches and Indian press reports. Not surprisingly, the Pakistani press has nothing on what's going on. The measure comes on the heels of Benazir Bhutto's return from exile and amidst ongoing negotiations to determine the power sharing arrangement between her and Musharraf. Complicating the domestic situation even further was the widening fighting between the Pakistani military and jihadi militants that has recently spread beyond the badlands of the Afghan border.

The roots of the current crisis can be found in Musharraf's recent election as president. At the time he had agreed to run as a civilian, only to backtrack and promise to resign as army chief-of-staff after the voting. The Supreme Court was set to deliver a ruling on the legality of that maneuver next week. Significantly, Musharraf declared the "provisional Constitutional order" in his capacity as army chief-of-staff.

When rumors of the state of emergency began surfacing earlier this week, Bhutto announced she would cancel a scheduled trip to her party's headquarters in Dubai, with the intention of mobilizing opposition from within Pakistan. Apparently she went ahead with the trip, leaving Pakistan on Thursday. After conflicting reports from Dubai, her husband announced she was already on her way back to Pakistan.

The major question yet to be answered is whether this is a move to consolidate power for power's sake, or if there really is a fear among the Pakistani military that the country would not be able to effectively defeat the growing Islamist threat in the face of political instability caused by a return to democracy. Either way, it deals a blow to American efforts to "legitimize" its tactical cooperation with the Pakistani regime.

Posted by Judah in:  Pakistan   

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Friday, November 2, 2007

From My Blog To Obama's Ears?

Either great minds think alike, or Headline Junky has got readers in high places. A few days ago, I posted a piece on Iran, suggesting the following:

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.

Via Kevin Drum, comes this passage from an interview Barack Obama gave yesterday to the NY Times:

Making clear that he planned to talk to Iran without preconditions, Mr. Obama emphasized further that "changes in behavior" by Iran could possibly be rewarded with membership in the World Trade Organization, other economic benefits and security guarantees.

"We are willing to talk about certain assurances in the context of them showing some good faith," he said in the interview at his campaign headquarters here. "I think it is important for us to send a signal that we are not hellbent on regime change, just for the sake of regime change, but expect changes in behavior. And there are both carrots and there are sticks available to them for those changes in behavior."

As long as you're listening, Senator, you can run a solid, issues-based campaign without searching America's soul. Drop the charismatic healer routine. You'd get my vote in a second.

Posted by Judah in:  Iran   Media Coverage   Politics   

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Friday, November 2, 2007

Two Generations On Alert

You might have seen that retired Gen. John Abizaid, the former Centcom commander who oversaw Iraq operations, predicted that American troops would be deployed in the Middle East for the next 25 to 50 years. Here's the direct quote:

Over time, we will have to shift the burden of the military fight from our forces directly to regional forces, and we will have to play an indirect role, but we shouldn’t assume for even a minute that in the next 25 to 50 years, the American military might be able to come home, relax and take it easy, because the strategic situation in the region doesn’t seem to show that as being possible.

Which got me to thinking about how things used to look in the Middle East -- before 9/11, before the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, in short, before it became a foregone conclusion that American forces belonged there. That thought, after a few google searches, led me to this Heritage Foundation report on year-by-year American troop deployments by country. The actual data, fom 1950-2005, is here, in an Excel file.

There are some surprises. For instance, I was unaware that through the 1970's, the primary American deployment in the Middle East was in Morocco, with a peak of 15,000 troops in 1954, followed by a sharp drop which steadily tapers off before all but disappearing in the Eighties. But after that, with the exception of the brief spike of the First Gulf War, we basically had no deployment to speak of for most of the Nineties.

That starts to change towards the end of the Clinton years. By 2000, we had roughly 11,000 troops deployed between Saudi Arabia (7k) and Kuwait (4k). A number that actually decreases in 2001, before eventually going off the charts in 2002 and 2003.

In other words, we managed to navigate the height of the Cold War, the Iranian Revolution, the Iran-Iraq War, and the aftermath of the First Gulf War with basically no significant force deployment in the Middle East. Now as a result of one successful terrorist attack and a failed war, we're being told that two generations of American soldiers will be deployed on high alert in the region. And anyone who challenges that orthodoxy is accused of being soft on national security. 

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

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Friday, November 2, 2007

Options On The Table

You've got to hand it to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Not only does he have the coolest name of any current head of state that I know of, he's also managed to navigate the PKK crisis pretty damn skillfully. Between Turkish public opinion calling for all out war, the military revving their engines at the border, the Kurdistan Regional Government basically thumbing their noses at him, and the American military commander for the region announcing as recently as last week that he'd do "absolutely nothing" to intervene, you'd have thought an incursion was all but inevitable.

But while letting the sabres rattle, Erdogan never stopped calling attention to the limits of what a military response could accomplish. It looks like he's going to get what he needed using the threat of war -- or a "cross-border operation" as he prefers to call it -- without actually having to resort to one. Hopefully someone in Washington is paying attention.

Posted by Judah in:  Iraq   Turkey   

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Friday, November 2, 2007

Dept. Of Bitter Ironies

Today the Washington Post reported that the head of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, as well as her predecessor, took "...dozens of trips at the expense of the toy, appliance and children's furniture industries and others they regulate..."

Also today, President Bush nominated Carl T. Johnson, most recently the head of a lobbying outfit for the compressed gas industry, to be the Dept. of Transportation's Administrator of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

Posted by Judah in:  Odds & Ends   

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Friday, November 2, 2007

Neocon Dream, American Nightmare

I've got a tendency, in my reading and blogging habits, to focus on emerging hotspots and crises. I'm aware of it, and really do try as best I can to resist being overly alarmist about them. So instead of doing a post about the fact that the situation in Pakistan is getting dicey and deserves some urgent attention, I'm going to instead discuss the ways in which the situation in Pakistan illustrate the limits of the Bush/neocon world view and foreign policy approach.

Perhaps the defining characteristic of the emerging pattern of crisis and conflict around the world is the increasing overlap of the phenomenon of failed and "rogue" states with that of rampant nuclear proliferation. In the past, the very characteristics that put a state in danger of failing, or that isolated it to the point of adopting "rogue" or irresponsible policies, also dramatically reduced the likelihood that it would develop a nuclear weapons capacity. The technological and industrial requirements for such a capacity demanded a level of stability and wealth they just didn't have.

With the windfall of oil revenue, the widespread diffusion of technical know-how, and a few irresponsible proliferators, all that has changed. The neocons are right when they argue that the stakes of any worst-case scenario are dramatically higher now than they were even five or ten years ago. Their response -- to insist upon American primacy and the suppression of rival powers -- is misguided.

Something needs to be done to ensure that Pakistan remains a stable and responsible nuclear power, in the same way that something needs to be done to dissuade Iran from its nuclear ambitions. Something needs to be done to achieve a longterm solution for stabilizing Iraq, and the same goes for Afghanistan. There's no question that something needs to be done. The question is, who needs to do it?

The advantage of a multipolar world is that it by definition distributes the responsibility for regulating crises. By allowing other powers -- notably Europe, Russia and China -- to expand their spheres of influence, we at the same time oblige them to expand their definition of what constitutes a threat to their interests. We've already seen how China's growing global influence has contributed to its more active role in the North Korean nuclear negotiations, and to a lesser extent in Darfur.

By unilaterally invading Iraq (and continuing to occupy it), we turned the Iraq question from a regional problem into an American problem. The same goes for the Iran dossier. The Russians have absolutely no interest in a nuclear-armed Iran to its south. But as long as we're generously offering to shoulder the entire burden of the problem via a unilateral strike, they have no incentive to make any meaningful efforts to contain Tehran.

There are only two reasons America even considers these problems exclusively her own. One, we have the ability, at least in theory, to do something about them. And two, we've adopted the posture that letting another power do something about them is inherently a threat to America's national security. Neocon dreams to the contrary, the first is only possible to the extent we renounce the second.

Posted by Judah in:  Foreign Policy   

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Friday, November 2, 2007


If you've been following recent events in Pakistan, you'll know that the situation there is tense on a number of fronts. Recent military operations on the Afghanistan border are taking a toll on the military, an eagerly awaited Supreme Court verdict on the legality of President Musharraf's presidential election has provoked rumors of an imminent state of emergency, and the return of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto has ratcheted the political pressure on Musharraf up a notch or three.

So what company, known for its diplomatic skills and sensitive handling of high-pressure situations, do you naturally think of as a perfect fit for such a political tinderbox? Why, Blackwater, of course, who according to Pakistani press reports has been approached to provide security to Bhutto following the suicide bombing that targeted her upon her return to Pakistan. The communique (which is either from Blackwater chairman Erik Prince or Bhutto's PPP headquarters in Dubai, hard to tell from the wording of the article) suggested a way to bypass the negative image associated with their company:

In a communication, it has been suggested that “it would be best to hire the service of Ravan Development Group and our strategic partners, Aviation Worldwide Services because some parties may not like to hear the name of Blackwater.”

There's also this priceless nugget:

It has been suggested that black American securitymen would be best suited for Benazir because they look like PPP’s supporters from Makran commonly known as Makrani and can be mistaken by the authorities as locals.

I wonder if that would qualify as discriminatory hiring practices.

Posted by Judah in:  Say What?   

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Friday, November 2, 2007

Music As Amenity

Ann Althouse calls the Ritz-Carlton's complimentary iPod with 1,000 classic and contemporary music selections a "strange hotel amenity", and wonders:

Who doesn't have their own iPod? Who wants 1,000 songs loaded by the hotel? Maybe if you lost your iPod...

She's right and wrong. It's actually just a clumsy prototype of how recording companies will squeeze some revenue out of their catalogues in the age of free recorded music for the end consumer. Eventually the "one size fits all" complimentary iPod will become a progressive menu. For an imperceptible fee hidden in the basic cost of the room, you'll get the iPod (or equivalent database) loaded with a generic music library. For an extra fee, kind of like the charge for using room service or the wet bar, you'll get a library selected by cutting edge artists and a&r insiders who can no longer find work in the downsized industry. And for a little bit more, you'll get every song ever recorded since Edison.

The hotels (and airlines, car manufacturers, etc.) will pay global licensing fees. The record companies will divide them among artists based on how often the files have been accessed. And the end user will pay nothing. Or at least, that's what it will feel like, because the cost will be included in the price of the service.

Eventually, the same system will be expanded to include heavily branded consumer products (like sneakers, and certain clothing lines), whose price will also include access to corresponding mp3 libraries. The major challenge facing the industry is that in its rush to solve the revenue question, it doesn't create licensing agreements that undercut one another. If you've already got a universal song library included (for a fee) in your mp3 player, you're not going to be interested in paying extra for one in a hotel room. It will probably be trial and error -- like the Ritz-Carlton's complimentary iPod -- for a while. But the industry will ultimately find a standard it's comfortable with.

Oh, and for what it's worth, I don't own an iPod, and couldn't for the life of me imagine being aurally isolated from what's going on around me.

Posted by Judah in:  Arts & Letters   Markets & Finance   

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