Monday, October 30, 2006

Gray Ending to Iraq?

In the most recent issue of Newsweek Fareed Zakaria writes "Rethinking Iraq" an attempt to explain how the United State can create a "gray ending" in Iraq, one that "that is unsatisfying to all, but that prevents the worst scenarios from unfolding, secures some real achievements and allows the United States to regain its energies and strategic compass for its broader leadership role in the world." It is an article well worth reading for anyone interested in the current Iraq debate, as a member of the foreign policy establishment Zakaria's views will probably be echoed in the post-election Baker report.

Zakaria's has a pretty good understanding of events on the ground, that we are not winning, and therefore are loosing, the war against the chaotic poverty, the Sunni insurgency, and the sectarian violence that define the current state of Iraqi politics. He outlines the intra-communal "deal" (division of oil revenue, amnesty, distribution of jobs to all three communities, disbanding of Shia militias) that appears to be the consensus among US foreign policy experts on how to solve the current situation in Iraq. He also explains that this deal probably won't happen, because both the Sunni and Shia communities would rather fight it out than make peace (see the US/al-Maliki rift). Meanwhile Iraqi leaders denounce the presence of US soldiers in order to win favor with their communities, while quietly assuring America that they support our continued involvement. The main goal of his article, however, is to explain what the US needs to do, assuming that Iraq's leadership does not go through with "the deal." His suggestion:

Currently we have 144,000 troops deployed in Iraq at a cost of more than $90 billion a year. That is simply not sustainable in an open-ended way. I would propose a force structure of 60,000 men at a cost of $30 billion to $35 billion annually. . . The core national-security interests of the United States in Iraq are now threefold: first, to prevent Anbar province from being taken over by Qaeda-style jihadist groups that would use it as a base for global terrorism; second, to ensure that the Kurdish region retains its autonomy; third, to prevent or at least contain massive sectarian violence in Iraq, as both a humanitarian and a security issue.

Zakaria then proceeds to undermine the relationship between his proposed reduction in force and achieving the two remaining goals that most American's would support the fight against Al-Qaeda and protecting Kurdistan. First, he argues that most Sunni's and Shia hate Al-Qaeda and would probably clean out the minority of jihadists once they made a deal (or, as he implies, if the Shia win a civil war). Second, he claims that since the Kurds can provide their own internal security, a major presence of US troops may cause more problems than it solves.

Thus, the reader is left to assume that most of the 60,000 men would be, in essence, managing a civil war (training the Iraqi army, guarding bases/supply lines, conducting limited offensive operations, etc). This is deeply troubling, on the one hand a "butcher's bill" that would likely stand at $30 billion, likely 500-600 American dead, 5000-6000 seriously wounded, and an endless source of jihadi propaganda inflaming Muslims worldwide, every year, for a decade. On the other, what exactly would we accomplish, given that as Zakaria admits, the Al-Qaeda and Kurdistan issues could be managed at a far lower cost?

Zakaria never makes that clear what America would receive for that painful, politically unpopular sacrifice he proposes, except some ability to shape the new government (so we can have "our" favorite Shia thugs in office?, to keep our bases?, to deter the Iranians?. . .) and prevent regional chaos. How exactly does Zakaria propose to sell the American people on to paying the aforementioned "butchers bill" so that Iraqi refugees don't destabilize our dear friends in Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia?

If this is the best case for staying in Iraq that the establishment crowd can come up with, then, if I were an Iraqi, I would be making my reservation on the last helicopter out of the Green Zone.

And now for somethingcompletelyy different, today's YouTube Clip: the Dreseden Dolls Girl Anachronism.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

You are powerless to resist

The Isthmus has a round-up of what went down on State St. last night. It looks like the police are planning on being colossally stupid tonight - the claim is that about 15,000 tickets have been sold. This means that the entire rest of the student population is going to go somewhere else - where the police are not - to celebrate Halloween. Personally, I'm pulling for Langdon Street - and I'm hoping the ensuing riot burns the whole street to the ground.

There is also a link to one of the dumbest things I've ever seen - a quote from former UW Sociology Professor Jane Piliavin:
In a crowd, a group mind takes over and you have no ability to resist becoming irrational.

Yep. Resistance is futile!

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Electioneering!

Well, not really, but folks are worried. Jib wonders whether
...Republican pessimism over the midterm elections [will] become a self fulfilling prophecy? Hand wringing can get the base to the polls, but it can also turn off those independent and right leaning Democrats.

I'd expect there's an easy way to measure that - take a look at where moderate and libertarian-leaning Republicans are going this year. Instapundit aside, many centerists are really not sure where to go - and even Reynolds at least had doubts. Althouse was soliciting advice a few days ago. I personally am at the point of considering third-party protest votes - no politician in any race in this state seems to have earned the job.

But that kind of thinking might - and this is a long might - help Democrats. Andrew Sullivan notes that the New Jersey Supreme Court will issue a decision on "marriage equality" tomorrow. Depending which way it goes, that could have major reverberations - and drive a lot more of the religious right to the polls.

So, loathsome as it is to say, turning off the socially liberal Republican voters could be a real boon to the Republicans this year. God knows they've been trying to get rid of that part of the party for a while anyway, so I guess it works out.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Banned

Wigderson raises an interesting question - would this humble blog be banned if the gay marriage amendment passes?

I guess that's why I'm voting "no".

He's also got an excellent reason to vote "no" on the death penalty question.

Toward an effective American public diplomacy in the Middle East

Abu Aardvark is exploring the effectiveness of American public diplomacy, using the recent comments by Alberto Fernandez (think "arrogance... and stupidity") as a jumping-off point:
This is a way of establishing credibility and a reputation for candor with Arab audiences - two things that almost all American spokespeople who stick to the administration's script lack. His humility treats those audiences with respect, rather than trying to force talking points crafted in Washington down the throats of skeptical listeners who live in the region and know better...

For all that it is demonized by too many Americans, al-Jazeera is still by far the most watched and most politically influential Arab television network. Its programs are the most important place where Arab views of the United States and American policy are formulated. Those arguments about America can happen with or without American participation. All America's absence from those debates accomplishes is to cede the field to its enemies, to allow hostile arguments or allegations to go unchecked, and to give speakers on those programs no incentive to take American perspectives into account.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Szabadsag


Today marks the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the Hungarian Revolution. On this day fifty years ago, students took to the streets, demanding political and economic changes. Within a day, demonstrations had become violent battles, with Soviet tanks firing on unarmed protestors, and Hungarian partisans attacking Soviet troops stationed in Budapest. (The BBC has an excellent timeline of events up.)

This wasn't without precedent, of course. In 1848, the Hungarians rebelled against Austrian domination of the country. The Petőfi Revolution, as it is known (for the poet whose National Song was the rallying cry of the day and is now the national poem), was only put down after the Austrians asked the Russian Tsar to send troops into the country. The only non-Slav people of Central Europe, the Hungarians have always been wary of the Russians, with their focus on building a pan-Slavic empire with Moscow (or, at the time, St. Petersburg) at its center, and their defeat at the hands of Tsarist troops was doubly crushing. 1956 was very much informed by this history.

America was also complicit, of course. Radio Free Europe encouraged the Hungarians with talk of American support - support which never materialized, sadly. The Hungarians are still touchy about this, but some understand that the tensions of the Cold War bound America more tightly than she might have liked.

There were still bullet holes in some buildings, left from the fighting in 1956, when I lived there in 2000. Hungarians would point to them proudly, and recount the glory of those brave men and women who fought in the face of all odds, and even won a Soviet withdrawal - even if it was only temporary.

Strangely, the plazas of Hungary today bear a remarkable resemblance to those of 1956, with Hungarians again taking to the streets to voice political outrage. Socialism still drives a deep wedge through Hungary (indeed, I was once yelled at by an older gentleman - times were better when Hungary was Communist, he informed me). But today, no one is firing on the protestors. They will be able to be heard - in the streets today, and eventually at the ballot boxes. And that, at least, is a victory.

Iraq, The Lost Year

The escalating bloodshed in Iraq continues. This headline could have been written on any number of days, in any number of weeks, in the past three years, and it is as true now as it was then.

My best advice for at least asking the right questions about the policy debate in Iraq stats with a chilling documentary, The Lost Year in Iraq, presented by Frontline last week (watch it free, here). It is a film that presents clearly, in the protagonists own words, the first year of United States occupation and its ultimate failure. The film does not lay out the standard Leftist-laundry list of concerns and criticisms about the Administration and its policies in Iraq, instead it focuses on just four crucial moments: the lack of planning for the occupation and the transition of power, the failure to provide security and prevent looting for over a month after Saddam fell, the destabilizing effects of de-Baathification, and the decision to disband the Iraqi army.

In retrospect, it is clear that these mistakes led directly to two of the wars that we face in Iraq today: first the war between common criminals and peaceful citizens that emerged in the lawlesness of the early occupation, and a second the war between the central government and Sunni/Baathist insurgents removed from the Iraqi power strucutre. These failures also paved the way for the emergence of Al-Qaeda in Iraq (as allies of the Sunni insurgency) and the eventual devolution of power from the central government to the warring sectarian militias that have filled the security vacuum.

The United States now faces four wars in Iraq; in nearly four years we have made little progress in winning any of them. The question that must be asked then: given the failures in our policy is it possible for the United States to achieve any of its objectives in Iraq. If so, what will be the cost?

PS. Frontline and its counterpart Frontline World have a treasure trove of other documentaries, all available for free and viewable with a broadband internet connection. They also have interviews and other goodies.

You can't argue with that logic

What with Joe's Youtube prowess, I've been feeling a bit insufficient lately. Thankfully, I've found a remedy! It's a bit late, but via Logan, here's the greatest music video ever.

I especially dig the guitar riff in the chorus - they might as well be doing the school-yard nyah-nyah-nyah you lost! And you can't argue with the logic of this verse:
Ted Kennedy – wrong!
Cindy Sheehan – wrong!
France – wrong!
Zell Miller – right!

Right on!

You like us - you really, really like us!

Just a quick note - thanks to Logan over at Among Giants for the link!

And also a belated thanks to Mark Murphy for being the heppest cat on the block, and being the first to notice this humble blog's existence. Rawk.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Notes from a scene - pt 1

As we mentioned, this blog isn't all about politics - so when cool stuff happens, we'll blog that, too.

As such, I have to say that Regina Spektor's show at the recently-troubled Majestic theater was absolutely fantastic.

Regina was 500% more charming than on her records, which, if you've heard her, is really saying something. She was absolutely delightful tonight, apologising for her (really not at all bad) guitar playing and happily cursing when she messed up one of her last encore songs. She played about a third of the show by herself, then brought on a band - a bunch of session musician schmucks who looked like they should have been in some crappy top-40 radio band. But they knew how to play instruments, and gave our dear Regina the ability to really rock out on some of the cuts from Begin to Hope. And the theater itself is gorgeous inside - far too beautiful to waste on hip-hop nights, certainly. It's far more ornate than I had expected, and is quite crowd-friendly, with a nicely sloping and terraced floor that makes for easy viewing of the stage, even from the back. I wish I could give you some photos or something too, but a.)my camera is pretty crappy, and takes bad pictures in anything less than blazing sunlight, and b.)cameras weren't allowed in anyway.

So, I'll leave you with some good advice from the charming lady herself:
Well maybe you should just drink a lot less coffee
And never ever watch the 10 o'clock news
Maybe you should kiss someone nice or lick a rock or both
Maybe you should cut your own hair cause that can be so funny
It doesn't cost any money and it always grows back
Hair grows even after you're dead

People are just people
They shouldn't make you nervous
The world is everlasting
It's coming and it's going
If you don't toss your plastic
The streets won't be so plastic
And if you kiss somebody
Then both of you'll get practice

You brute!

Having graduated, I find that I almost immediately stopped reading the campus papers. But finding myself with some time on my hands today, I picked up a copy of the Badger Herald and found a pleasant surprise - an article about my favorite campus building, Humanities:
Many students, faculty members and administrators agree that on the University of Wisconsin campus, no building matches the Humanities Building when it comes to character. Of course, nearly all would be quick to point out that saying Humanities has character is a nice way of calling it ugly and out-of-place.

5 Minute Europe

I'm not a fan of much user created YouTube content. Why, because once you've seen one mindless rant, one pointless photo-montage, one stupid gag, and a half-assed film school project, it feels like you've seen them all. If anyone needs a reason why we pay people obscene amounts of money to make movies, watch enough YouTube and you'll realize how much effort, skill, and ultimately, luck, goes into making something remotely watchable.

But this film, a fast montage of a multi-day trans-Europa soft drug bender, works as a terrific little piece of cinema, a spoken word piece, even a satire on Hunter S Thompson style Gonzo journalism. If you've ever wanted to wander across Europe in a drunken stupor, or wondered what it would feel like, you can do it for 5 minutes and $0.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Red Rain on Dr. Phil in Baghdad

The LA Times finds this pearl of wisdom: Tense Baghdad Residents Find Oasis in Dr. Phil.

Suhaili doubts Dr. Phil can help him or Iraq.

Maybe he'd suggest a vacation or a hobby. "If you compare our problems now with the problems he is talking about, it is very big difference," he says, with a chuckle." He's addressing psychological problems, how to deal with people," he says. "Here you are dealing with big problems. You are dealing with insurgents and terrorists.

"How would Dr. Phil disarm a militia?"

Today's YouTube Clip: Red Rain, featuring Peter Gabriel with Natalie Merchant and Michael Stipe.

RIP: Gillo Pontecorvo director of the Battle of Algiers.

Will the "intensity gap" be enough?

The New York Times is getting excited about Democrats' prospects in '06:
Voter intensity is a critical element in politics, especially in midterm elections, when Americans’ interest and turnout are typically much lower than in a presidential election year. Pollsters say enthusiasm among Democrats is particularly high this year — significantly higher, by several important measures, than the intensity of Republicans.
...
Conservative voters have many reasons to be less enthusiastic this year, analysts say, including their party’s deficit spending and the scandal over Mr. Foley’s conduct toward Congressional pages, not to mention an array of local Republican scandals in Ohio. But if the Republican get-out-the-vote drive, known as the 72-Hour Project, lives up to its billing, said Andrew Kohut, head of the Pew center, “the turnout consequences for the G.O.P. might not be as dire as these poll numbers suggest.

The Dems certainly want it this year, to use an irritating sports cliche. And having seen the 72-Hour Project up close and personal - I worked on the Bush '04 campaign - I see real flaws to focusing exclusively on the program. By focusing purely on the most fundamentalist Republicans - identification calls have already been done to weed out any potential Democrats and even "soft Republicans" who might not vote the right way - the 72-Hour Project not only drastically skews the voice of the religious right, it also cuts any libertarian-leaning types and moderates completely out of the equation. That plan may backfire - libertarians seem to be getting the message that they're not wanted in the GOP.

Moderate Republicans have plenty to be turned off by, and it's beginning to show, while the Dems are apparently starting to leverage discontent into actual votes. With a number of Wisconsin conservatives against even the gay marriage amendment, and faced with craptacular choices at most every level of state elections, the Dems have a decent shot.

Of course, Howard Dean's 50-State strategy will play a major role - whether for good or ill is yet to be seen. This retrenchment, coupled with a purge of not-really Democrats like Joe Lieberman, is probably a good thing for the Dems long-term, but may hurt their chances this year. If history is any indicator, the Dems are quite good lately at losing spectacularly.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Someone gets the divide

I usually don't agree with Dick Armey - he's rather too religious for my tastes. But apparently he and I agree on more than I thought:
Freedom works. Freedom is a gift from God Almighty, and we have a responsibility to protect it. Christians face a temptation to power when we are fortunate enough to have a majority of support in Congress. But government can never advance a faith that is freely given, and it is corrosive to even try. Just look at Europe, where decades of nanny-state activism— including taxpayer support for churches and for religious political parties— have severely eroded the faith. In America today, too many of our Christian leaders fail to recognize the temptation to power and the danger it holds for our society and our faith.

And so America’s Christian conservative movement is confronted with this divide: small government advocates who want to practice their faith independent of heavy-handed government versus big government sympathizers who want to impose their version of “righteousness” on others through the hammer of law.

Minus that "gift from God" stuff, this is exactly why I no longer claim affiliation with the Republican Party. It's gone totall off its axis, and is lost in a swamp of religious conservatism that has nothing to do with the founding of the party.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Some Strangelove From the DPRK

It looks like the North Korean government, perhaps heartened by the display of propaganda on this blog, (sorry folks!) decided to go ahead and test their very own atomic bomb. While reports are still filing in, it looks like this is serious. This is opposed to as the not so serious, "sorry guys we only meant to give
you a good scare" atomic bomb test. We know those happen all the time.

While everyone is covering the story, the wikipedia page on the subject, seems to be doing the best job of aggregating all of the content.

After the Democracy Bomb (US), the Communist Bomb (USSR) the Fish and Chips Bomb (UK), the Wine and Cheese Bomb (France), Asia's Bomb (China), the Jewish Bomb (Israel), the Hindu Bomb (India), the apartheid Bomb (South Africa), and, of course, the Islamic Bomb (Pakistan), we have,the Fourth World Bomb or, if you like, the Backyard Nuke.

If North Korea can do it, so can you.

The reason that I'm joking about this very unfunny business is simple, there's not much that we, as citizens of the (more or less) free world, can do.

The NYT, in its great habit of stating the obvious, leads off with an editorial that states:

Let us all agree: North Korea's government is too erratic, too brutal, and too willing to sell what it has built to have a nuclear bomb.

This is true, but Stalin also brutal and so was Mao, indeed if the Purges and the "Great Leap Forward" showed us anything, they were also pretty irrational. Yet we learned to live with their bombs. North Korea is unstable, but so was South Africa when it built its weapons and so is "Major non-NATO ally" Pakistan today. Yet the US and India live with the "Islamic Bomb" only a few minutes as the Scud flies from New Deli.

At this point, in my opinion, the "best of worst actions" is inaction. Here's my "idiot's guide" to our chocies.

Option A: Sanctions on everything except minimum food and fuel oil. Result: Kim makes due with less cognac and starves his people some more, the status quo endures. US credibility takes a hit, Iran takes note.

Option B: Complete sanctions. Result: Kim threatens to send a horde of starving grandmothers over the border at gunpoint, Chinese reconsider sanctions, US protests, China threatens to dump Treasury bonds, US reconsiders bullying its chief creditor. Sanctions fail, status quo ensues.

Option C: Armed response. Result: Kim starts burning Seoul with his big guns. General War. 50,000 dead Americans, 1 million dead Koreans.

Option D: Deterrence. Send Kim congratulations for joining "the club" and a pair of gold launch keys as a token of our esteem. Invite him over for talks at the ranch now that he is "in the neighborhood." Also include an autographed photo of the Minuteman missilee wing targeted at his palaces, just a little reminder that since he is now a MAD man, he is also a marked man.

Option D is purposeful inaction, also known as deterrence. We can, and should, supplement this with talks, indeed offer the DPRK a "Grand bargain" if he is interested and we can verify that he is keeping his word. Otherwise we should just let Kim&Co know that if he takes his new toys out of the sandbox, or shares them with his "friends," his ass is glass. It may not be pretty, and it doesn't give us any room for lofty rhetoric, but it has worked for 60 years, and I believe it will work now.

And now, direct from the newest part of the Imperium Google, YouTube, some good old fashionedd Strangelove. This one's for you Kim.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

PSA Away!

So on my last post, I served up a slice of North Korean propaganda, on this post, in the interest of equal time, I'd like to share some from our side, the great public service announcement or PSA.

The first is a World War II cartoons from Disney, the classic, Der Fuehrer's Face , featuring the Donald Duck we know and love dreaming of being a Nazi slave laborer.

Saturday Night Live mocks its parents NBC and General Electric in the style of Schoolhouse Rock.

The US launched an anti-suicide bombing PSA this year (see the MSNBC article about it). Watch it and compare with 200, a psychedelic (yes, as in mushrooms) Bicentennial cartoon made by the US Information Agency.

And, finally, director David Lynch does the scariest anti-littering ad ever.

You may not believe the hype, but some of it is pretty funny, or at least really freaky.

A party in a ghost town

The news cycle moves fast, and the war in Lebanon has already been largely forgotten about - indeed, it's ancient in comparative terms. But this reporting, from the discussion thread at Robert Young Pelton's website Come Back Alive is very much worth reading. The site's boards are one of the few discussion boards worth reading on the Internet, especially if you're into dashing deeds of derring-do - his bio on the website states
His recent journeys have taken him inside the seige of Grozny in Chechnya, the battle of Qala-i-Jangi in Afghanistan, the rebel campaign to take Monrovia in Liberia, inside the hunt for Bin Laden in the Tribal Areas with the CIA, with insurgents during the war in Iraq, and running RPG Alley every day for a [sic] two weeks with Blackwater in Baghdad.

So what do those who were actually there think about Lebanon?
This all seemed to me to be a culmination not so much between Hezbollah and the Israeli state but rather a proxy war between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the United States. One could cynically say that while on the surface another war between Arab and Jew, the driving forces underneath were a confrontation from an emboldened Iran looking to assert itself over weakened American neoconservative policy... Was the war here in Lebanon part of Jordanian King Abdullah's predicted "Shia Crescent"? While this current war can be viewed in several different hues depending on one's political and too often ethno-religious outlook, the deification of Secretary General Nasrallah was absolutely undeniable.

At some point - and I really think that point has already come - it will be quite necessary to make hard choices about what we're doing in the Middle East, and where our priorities must lie. Unfortunatley, the spineless cowards in Washington refuse to make any choices at all.

Monday, October 02, 2006

DPRK Is Invincible Paradise

Praise the Dear Leader!

In this season of campaing advertising: negative, postive, and just plain weird, let us give thanks that we have elections.

The propaganda of the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea (North Korea) is the hardest of hard-core political humor porn, so disturbing in its blissful disconnection from reality, common sense, and logic, that it just has to be seen to be believe.

And now, thanks to the wonders of YouTube, you can.

Did you know that Pyongyang is the Capital Of Paradise 0r that General Kim Jong Il is Son Of Partisans , or that the DPRK Army is Invincible, me neither, but now I do. And now, my fellow running-dog-Yankee air pirate-imperialist-war-mongers, so can you.