Archive for the 'The Long Game' Category

Mar 22 2015

The Israeli election

I wanted to provide some commentary on the Israeli election. I think it's needed-especially when you read the trash that passes for informed commentary in American outlets. Right wing outlets are crowing about the election as a "rebuke" for President Obama and they are calling it a "landslide" election for Likud. None of these things are true.

It does prove yet again one of my key beliefs, however-when it comes to Israel, most Americans are completely clueless as to what the country is really like.

Let's dispel a few things right now, shall we?

First, it was not a "landslide"-the term has no meaning in Israeli politics. No party ever wins an out right majority of 61 seats, ever. Their system is not set up that way. It is designed to ensure proportional representation and to that extent, it succeeds, albeit at a tremendous cost.

To really understand the facts of the election, one needs to look very closely at three things: the distribution of seats in the Knesset, the make up of the smaller parties, and the demographics of each of the major Israeli cities.

With all the votes tallied here are the final results of the election (click to see correctly):

last

(Picture courtesy of Haaretz).

Definitely a definitive victory-but hardly a "landslide". Americans can be such idiots sometimes.

How did Netanyahu win and were the pre-election polls wrong?

The answer to the first question is that he won stealing votes from the other right wing parties and by indulging in what can only be described as crass race baiting.

Benjamin Netanyahu confirmed everyone’s worst fears about him when he launched a last-minute fear campaign on Tuesday, warning that “Arab voters are coming out in droves to the polls” — and proving that he is perfectly happy to win an election using racism. Depressingly, predictably, Bibi’s “the-Arabs-are-coming” bugaboo worked like a dream on the Israeli public, shoring up his base by swinging the right-wing vote toward him.


The answer to the second question is, no the polls were not wrong. ( despite what the commentary may believe-they weren't).

Go back and look at the graphic again. Bibi was very successful in convincing people that a vote for any other right wing party was a vote for the Left. And it worked. The Zionist Union, which is really just the Labor party by a new name, was not able to do the same thing on its side of the aisle, in part because of the back story of many of the smaller center left parties, but also in part because the Zionist Union misplayed that strategy-they assumed that the voters on the right would do the same. They didn't.

And that is where the race baiting comes in at the last minute. Its important to remember that Netanyahu veered sharply to the right in the last week, renouncing a stated Israeli position on peace and catering to the worst fears of many Israelis.

 

This reminds me of a chilling comparison to the United States during World War II. At the end of its prolonged fighting with Japan, the United States saw no way of ending the war other than by using its doomsday weapon, and proceeded to drop atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, which decided the outcome of the war. Can such a comparison be made? Then it was a weapon of mass destruction and here it was a surprising electoral victory by the incumbent prime minister. Though Netanyahu did not threaten Israelis with a bomb, he did not hesitate to use his own “doomsday weapon.”

First Netanyahu removed the safety pin from the doomsday weapon by disturbing the fragile equilibrium of Israeli society while inciting against half the population. In Netanyahu’s eyes, Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni belong to the extreme left, working with Arabs to topple the Likud government. Voters for Zionist Union, Yesh Atid and especially Meretz were painted as potential conspirators with Arabs, the enemies of the state’s existence. We were supposed to believe that anyone voting for them would strengthen the link between the terrible left and the Arabs seeking Israel’s destruction.

On Election Day the weapon itself was trotted out. It wasn’t politicians to the right of Likud, like Lieberman or Baruch Marzel, but Netanyahu himself who began warning voters of massive Arab participation. His assistants talked of a three-fold increase in the number of Arab voters in comparison to previous elections. Twenty percent of Israel’s citizens were depicted by the prime minister as illegitimate, as a force from whom the right needs to be saved. Herzog, a Zionist with moderate positions, was portrayed as an extreme leftist who is collaborating with the Arabs to disrupt the Jewish-Zionist character of this country.

This weapon vanquished the enemy, but left the country bleeding and riven.

 

You have to remember that 4 smaller Arab parties banded together to form The Joint List. This was in direct response to an initiative of Avigdor Lieberman's, which raised the threshold for getting into the Knesset from 2 to 3.25% of the vote. It backfired on Lieberman-but it forced the Arab parties to make a choice: unite or be crushed individually. It worked for them-they are now the third largest party in the Knesset, but it also allowed Likud to target them as a group.

By taking to Facebook and the airwaves and stating that "the Arabs are coming out in droves-driven by NGO's", it swayed about 200,000 undecided voters. ( left unsaid was the implication that those NGO's were filthy leftists or worse).

It worked spectacularly.

Not everything is about you Americans.

American commentators, especially our buffoons on the conservative side of the aisle, are jumping up and down about how it "shows up Obama". It really does not. The opinion of the United States had nothing; let me repeat that,  NOTHING to do with the results of the election. Conservative buffoons tend to overestimate their influence anyway, but more importantly, the results of the election are not related to an invitation the Speaker of the House had no right to issue.

Americans would do well to remember, that when it comes to Israel-it is all about Israel. When you have been shot at, it tends to shape your perspective:

Despite the extensive media attention to Israel’s economic woes and social gaps, the security situation — mainly its implications for Israelis’ personal safety — remains the major consideration on Election Day.

It has been this way since the first intifada and the Oslo Accords. Here Netanyahu leads by a wide margin — the same Netanyahu responsible for the housing crisis and whose problematic personal conduct became a media mainstay in recent months.

It seems that the occupation’s moral and political implications, despite the myriad of articles published in Haaretz, aren’t the Israeli voter’s main concern. Security risks concern him much more, and this angst is well founded.

The cumulative impression is that most voters adopt the right’s conclusions on the security front — the responsibility for the negotiations freeze lies with the Palestinians too, not just with Israel — and the chances of resolving the conflict are slim at the moment. Plus the Palestinians are no longer the most burning issue in the Middle East. Even if a divine miracle quickly resolved the conflict, it wouldn’t erase the other threats.

After four years of turmoil in the Arab world, with collapsing states and deranged terror groups spitting distance of Israel’s borders, voters are concerned. Most of them, despite Netanyahu’s drawbacks, think he knows better how to deal with those threats.

"Twas always thus, and Twas always ever shall be"  . Which leads into the second major point of the election: The Zionist Union may have had a good and logical message, it can't sell it outside of Tel Aviv and Haifa:

Zionist Union got the highest number of votes in 28 of the country's 33 wealthiest towns, while Likud enjoyed a decisive majority among Jewish local authorities in the middle- to lower-middle-class range; in 64 of these 77 towns, Likud came in first.

The Central Bureau of Statistics divides Israeli communities into 10 deciles based on variables like per capita income, the number of new cars, the percentage of students, the ratio of residents to unemployment, and more.

Segmenting the voting by socioeconomic levels reveals a major and probably decisive difference between Likud and Zionist Union; the former got lots of votes in wealthier communities, but the latter did very well almost solely in those richer areas.

There is probably some truth that secular center-left oriented Israelis are deluding themselves that their message is getting equal time when you have a country that is split into progressive Zionists and the living, ruling heirs of Meir Kahane. For the long term that is probably the most disturbing thing about the election, is the implications of what it means for the democratic Zionist vision of Israel's founders.

The threats to Israeli democracy are not crude or obvious: the media is free, voting is clean, there is vibrant debate. But there are more subtle issues that should cause real concern. Four problems, in particular, need watching. First, the continued settlement of occupied Palestinian land. Second, proposed laws to enshrine Israel as a Jewish state. Third, Israel’s increasing estrangement from western democracies. Finally, the intolerance and intimidation of those who question the national consensus on security and terrorism.

 

One of the main arguments for embracing a two-state solution to the Palestinian question has always been that formal annexation of Palestinian lands on the West Bank, as well as being illegal, would threaten Israel’s Jewish identity. The demographics of a “one-state solution” would mean Jews would make up only a narrow majority in such an expanded “Greater Israel”.

 

Despite this, an increasing number of voices on the Israeli right are open about their desire formally to annex parts of the West Bank. Faced with a choice between land and democracy, they seem inclined to choose land.

You can see this in the rhetoric that is present in some Israeli news outlets. Sheldon Adelson's abomination of a news paper, Israel Hayom ( Israel today) is pretty blatant about its right wing sympathies and support for people like Nafatali Bennett who combine expansionist aspirations with religious rhetoric ("There is no room in our small but wonderful God-given tract for another state,” Bennett said in a speech that stressed Israel’s Jewish religious heritage as a cornerstone of its society. “It won’t happen. Friends, before every discussion on the territories, we need to declare: ‘The land of Israel belongs to the people of Israel.’ Only then can we start the debate.”)

Israelis hate comparisons to apartheid South Africa, but more and more the similarities are hard to ignore-at least with respect to the rights of Arabs inside the occupied territories.  The rhetoric of Israelis and Afrikaners is starting to be a mirror image of each other. That in the long term threatens the egalitarian ideal envisioned by Ben Gurion and others.

So very well then, what should the US do about the results of the election?

First of all, it has to accept it. And then make an honest assessment of what fights are really worth picking. This is where I have to sadly conclude that the President is being sorely led astray by whoever is advising him to "pressure" Israel at this particular juncture. Its a mistake and will blow up in his face.

I am an Obama supporter, but this is really stupid. The President is being poorly advised here. When the results were announced he should have sucked it up, called Netanyahu and congratulated him, then made a public statement that whatever our private disagreements,  support for Israel is going to continue. It would help with politics at home-and recognize that like it or not,  this is the government of Israel. Obama is blowing it.

No one has to tell me what a pain in the ass the Israelis are to deal with-I live that dream every month. And truth be told-a big part of that comes from the fact that we have enablers, like the misguided freaks of the evangelical community who give the Israelis a free pass on activities they shouldn't. And we have enablers in Congress who can't tell any Israeli "no"-even when that is the correct answer. 

But that's exactly the problem Obama faces. To openly pick a fight with Netanyahu now, is to poison his efforts at winning what ever domestic victories he can with this current Congress full of nut cases. And in the end-it won't accomplish anything for the Palestinians , for not the least of reasons their problems are actually back burner now compared to those of Syria and Iraq and the mess our foolish invasion of Iraq created.

A lower public profile and more subtle methods would do both sides a big favor. Not to mention that picking a fight on behalf of the Palestinians simply puts rhetoric in the minds of the mouth breathers who still think Obama is a secret Muslim. The last thing the US needs is more teabaggers on the front page in the election year next year.

Not to mention that the Palestinians themselves have made some really boneheaded mistakes. Especially the radicalized loons living in Gaza with their rockets. This is not time to be climbing up on the moral high ground now.

In summary I will remind you what I think most Americans, and conservative Americans in particular forget-Israel is not like the United States.  It is a land of an eastern tradition, more similar to its Arab neighbors than it realizes-and in the aggregate, is not really as nice a place as they would have you believe it is. Imagine a United States where Mennonites actually constituted a powerful political block. They use language differently than we Americans do-and they don't view the world in a rational sense at all. And that is what got Bibi re-elected.

"The biggest losers in all of this, besides all the Israelis who did not vote for Netanyahu, are American Jews and non-Jews who support Israel. What Bibi did to win this election was move the Likud Party from a center-right party to a far-right one. The additional votes he got were all grabbed from the other far-right parties — not from the center. When the official government of Israel is a far-right party that rejects a two-state solution and employs anti-Arab dog whistles to get elected, it will split the basic unity of the American Jewish community on Israel. How many American Jews want to defend a one-state solution in Washington or on their college campuses? Is Aipac, the Israel lobby, now going to push for a one-state solution on Capitol Hill? How many Democrats and Republicans would endorse that?

 

 

 

 

 

One response so far

Jan 21 2015

American Sniper

A FB friend posted a link to the following blog post: entitled "Why I almost walked out of American Sniper". No it's not a quote from Michael Moore-its a quote from a supporter of the country and the military. I can agree with her logic, up to a point :

You need to see this movie because you live in a bubble.

Stated plainly, we complain about dumb things most of the time. We live in comfort and freedom, and for the most part, we’re blessed beyond measure. We complain about bad hair days and people who get on our nerves and when we run out of coffee or get cut off in traffic and the fact that we hate Mondays. And yet we have the opportunity to live in peace. Meanwhile, all over the globe, children are born into war zones and suffer unimaginable torment at the hands of Evil.

This is why I almost left during the movie. As a Social Studies teacher and a student of the world, I’m well aware of the atrocities committed throughout the world historically and in present day. But I’ve only read about them. I’ve only heard about them. I’ve never had to witness them with my own eyes. Sure, American Sniper is a movie and it’s a dramatization of events, but it’s realistic. It’s horrible. And it truly shows how Evil is alive and working in our world.

Not only was I sobbing at various points throughout this movie, I found myself praying, “Come, Jesus. Come.” I almost couldn’t take it– this realistic depiction of evil. I don’t want to believe that people are capable of doing such horrible things to each other, but they are. Oh, they are.

The bubble around me popped. You can’t watch a movie like this, see the horrible things that man is willing to do to another man (or woman or child), not just in the name of a god or of an organization, but in the name of hatred, and go back to your cushy life and pretend the horror doesn’t exist.

Our soldiers face this evil every day on the battlefield and they persevere. They press on. They fight it and try to protect freedom because that’s one of our basic rights as humans. And they make split-second decisions that we pray we never, ever have to make. This is why we are grateful– because they have to make the decisions and carry out the actions we never, ever want to have to face.

 

It is right there at the end where her logic breaks down. Evil? Really? Then why are we not dispatching legions of American Snipers to the remaining six continents?  Evil things are happening there every day but we do not stage armed interventions by equally brave men. And why don't we you ask?

Because we don't have the resources to solve every problem on the planet.

And because most of the time-its not in our national interest.

Evil exists all over this world. As we were fighting in Iraq, un-counted 1000's were dying in other wars in Africa of the twin evils of neglect and lack of resources to fight problems such as disease, bad infrastructure and starvation. Yet not once did the President rise to the podium in front of Congress and challenge us to go fight them. Chris Kyle and those like him were never sent out to help them. Nor should they have been.

And on those two points I must disagree with Jennifer Hale. Chris Kyle went through a lot. Of course his service should be honored as should that of every other soldier who served in this despicable and unnecessary conflicts throughout the first decade and a half of the 21 st century. If anything it proves James Fallow's point regarding "The tragedy of the American Military", namely that, "the American public and its political leadership will do anything for the military except take it seriously. The result is a chickenhawk nation in which careless spending and strategic folly combine to lure America into endless wars it can’t win."

If we don't follow the statement through the logical question, namely "Why was Chris Kyle there in the first place and why did the nation so callously send him into a war the country had no business plunging into?" then we really are not honoring his sacrifices or worse yet learning real lessons from them. Cue Fallows again:

Too much complacency regarding our military, and too weak a tragic imagination about the consequences if the next engagement goes wrong, have been part of Americans’ willingness to wade into conflict after conflict, blithely assuming we would win. “Did we have the sense that America cared how we were doing? We did not,” Seth Moulton told me about his experience as a marine during the Iraq War. Moulton became a Marine Corps officer after graduating from Harvard in 2001, believing (as he told me) that when many classmates were heading to Wall Street it was useful to set an example of public service. He opposed the decision to invade Iraq but ended up serving four tours there out of a sense of duty to his comrades. “America was very disconnected. We were proud to serve, but we knew it was a little group of people doing the country’s work.”

"Either war is finished or we are"  says Herman Wouk.  I fully agree with the sentiment. But I question whether the majority of Americans do. I think not. They will see the movie in a "yellow ribbon" kind of way- "the people at the [movie theater will] feel good about what they’ve done to show their support for the troops. " But they will never think the problem all the way through. They will never rise in righteous anger that Chris Kyle had to be sent there in the first place, endure the things he had to endure-and have it all matter for nothing. That's right nothing. Iraq is still a basket case, no better than when we found it. Because in the end , Chris Kyle was failed by his leadership, he was failed by his country and he was failed by the people of his country who never asked the probing questions that might have prevented the entire ordeal in the first place. As Kipling wrote after his son's death in the disaster that was the First World War, "If any question why we died/ Tell them, because our fathers lied."

We do the veterans no good service if we choose not learn from the effort-and solemnly resolve not to repeat the  mistakes that placed them in such a harsh place to begin with. Without those questions, its not worth the time or the effort to contemplate the rest. We have to think it though to the end.

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Dec 30 2014

The tragedy of the American Military

James Fallow's of The Atlantic magazine has written a must read, thought provoking article, on the current state of civil-military relations. It is a long read, but it is well worth your time. In it, he highlights the real hypocrisy of a country that fawns over its military to the point of idolatry, yet allows its elected leadership to condemn them to unending and repetitive deployments and wars that accomplish nothing in the national interest, get a lot of fine young men killed and wounded for nothing, and insulates itself from understanding the true cost of the wars they so cavalierly cheerlead.

Outsiders treat [the US military] both too reverently and too cavalierly, as if regarding its members as heroes makes up for committing them to unending, unwinnable missions and denying them anything like the political mindshare we give to other major public undertakings, from medical care to public education to environmental rules. The tone and level of public debate on those issues is hardly encouraging. But for democracies, messy debates are less damaging in the long run than letting important functions run on autopilot, as our military essentially does now. A chickenhawk nation is more likely to keep going to war, and to keep losing, than one that wrestles with long-term questions of effectiveness.

In the body of the article he highlights what many in the military will private admit, and is a subject I have written about many times here; the fact that a lot of the military's problems are not caused by its political leadership-its self induced pain that comes from some very flawed policies by the perfumed princes that now inhabit the 3 and 4 star ranks of the services. This is especially true in the area of acquisition, which can't seem to buy anything efficiently and where warfighters are treated as persona non grata. Instead we see people who have been the acquisition community their entire careers ( like a certain director of a major DOD agency a couple of years ago) who could not lead or for that matter purchase anything either.

America’s distance from the military makes the country too willing to go to war, and too callous about the damage warfare inflicts. This distance also means that we spend too much money on the military and we spend it stupidly, thereby shortchanging many of the functions that make the most difference to the welfare of the troops and their success in combat. We buy weapons that have less to do with battlefield realities than with our unending faith that advanced technology will ensure victory, and with the economic interests and political influence of contractors. This leaves us with expensive and delicate high-tech white elephants, while unglamorous but essential tools, from infantry rifles to armored personnel carriers, too often fail our troops.

At this point the letters, LCS, should be coming into your mind. Fallows picks on the F-35 which is a fine target, but in reality all of the services have their own boneheaded procurement decisions and the Navy is no exception. The American people no longer look at their military in an objective vein, recognizing both its successes and flaws-and even worse, personnel within the military seem all too willing to buy into their own hype holding themselves out as supermen who are above the level of the civilians they so ably serve. One has only to go some of the major military blogs and read the swill that passes for a comment section. Besides making you despair about the mental ability of a certain segment of the human race, it proves the incongruity that one of Fallows' readers quite accurately pointed out. They rail with fervor about issues they know nothing about.

I am an [post-Vietnam era] West Point grad. Resigned after 5 years.

Your article is spot on. I often wonder what the rest of the world thinks of us when at each major sporting event, we have fly overs of fighter planes, B-52s, Apache helicopters and legions of troops getting awards at halftime.

I see in my classmates a total divorce from civilian reality. They live in a rarefied world where they are the only ones who are honest, law abiding, and religious.

They totally disdain social welfare programs as they receive health benefits to death, commissary privileges, and pensions. In their view, civilians are not worthy of these programs.

It is a dangerous slope we are on where we worship the troops, have no clue what they do, or why, and as along as we don't need to know, we are happy.

I hope your article stirs discussion. I fear it won't. The coup may in fact be coming.

 The incongruity, and to put it bluntly, hypocrisy,  of those who are vocally speaking out against other people having benefits that improve their lives, while at the same time enjoying some of the best benefits available from any employer is indeed rich. But don't try telling them that-they are special people. Don't you know that? So long as you agree with them, that is. Others of us, who served longer and equally as well but have arrived at different conclusions-get cast out into the outer darkness.

It's a dangerous phenomenon, and the ideas of people like John Nagl who defend the idea of a "Praetorian Guard" are troubling to me. Nagl thinks that because the troops "know what they are signing up for……..They are proud to do it, and in exchange they expect a reasonable living, and pensions and health care if they are hurt or fall sick. The American public is completely willing to let this professional class of volunteers serve where they should, for wise purpose. This gives the president much greater freedom of action to make decisions in the national interest, with troops who will salute sharply and do what needs to be done.”

You should be very afraid when you hear that-at least if you believe in the concept of a democracy that serves the citizens of the country. Too much history shows us where this can lead if we are not careful. Cue Fallows again:

I like and respect Nagl, but I completely disagree. As we’ve seen, public inattention to the military, born of having no direct interest in what happens to it, has allowed both strategic and institutional problems to fester.

“A people untouched (or seemingly untouched) by war are far less likely to care about it,” Andrew Bacevich wrote in 2012. Bacevich himself fought in Vietnam; his son was killed in Iraq. “Persuaded that they have no skin in the game, they will permit the state to do whatever it wishes to do.”

Shall I remind you of the things that "have needed to be done" that have been done in your name, like torture and warrantless wiretapping? Just a couple in a long list of abuses aided and abetted by the members of that "Praetorian Guard". The problem of the civil- military disconnect is real and dangerous.

In the end of the article, Fallows turns to the recommendations in a never before published memo from Gary Hart which is also worth your time to read.  I will comment on those in a post after the first of the new year.

Many of you will not like Fallows term "chicken hawk"-but he's right on the mark in my humble opinion. The United States wasted the first 15 years of the new century going down foreign policy ratholes. And big part of that is because the American people are insulated from the sacrifices and the true costs of the policies they casually cheerlead. Fallows is doing a national service in pointing that out and I applaud him for it.

For the first time in the nation’s history, America has a permanent military establishment large enough to shape our dealings in the world and seriously influence our economy. Yet the Americans in that military, during what Dunlap calls the “maturing years of the volunteer force,” are few enough in number not to seem representative of the country they defend.

“It’s becoming increasingly tribal,” Dunlap says of the at-war force in our chickenhawk nation, “in the sense that more and more people in the military are coming from smaller and smaller groups. It’s become a family tradition, in a way that’s at odds with how we want to think a democracy spreads the burden.”

4 responses so far

Jan 10 2014

Going down a sinkhole…….

Is still a bad thing-no matter how many times you do it.

The usual suspects have come out, and seized upon Robert Gates’ new book to criticize the effort to get the US out of the worthless hellhole that is Afghanistan, and to rewrite the history of the US fiasco in Iraq.  I find the tenor of the comments interesting, if more than a little bit predictable.

First, I think it is most important that the specific quote be examined in the context of the text around them. Gates was and is a person who moves deliberately, does not waste words, and I like to think of him as a consummate professional. Certainly he made a far better SECDEF than his worthless predecessor, Donald Rumsfeld-who ranks right down there with McNamara in terms of overall mediocrity.

Furthermore, it is particularly important to remember who is out there fronting for these criticisms right now: Bob Woodward and William “The Bloody” Kristol, neither of whom can be consider to be exactly “objective” observers. As Charles Pierce notes:

I mean, is there any possible reason to criticize the president because he injured the rather peripatetic fee-fee of Saint David Petraeus, or to find it unprecedented that a president might wonder whether or not a war he inherited — and, yes, supported, as a candidate — wasn't ultimately a futile proposition, or whether his generals were giving him the straight dope. I guarantee you, back in the 1860's, Woodward would have been the go-to stenographer for all those incompetent generals who Lincoln fired. (George McClellan would have loved him.) In the 1950's, Woodward would have been MacArthur's first phone call after Harry Truman canned his ass.

The other important thing to remember about Bob Gates is that a Democratic president thought keeping him on as Secretary of Defense would be a smart, centrist, bipartisan move that would be applauded on the op-ed pages, and by important people. Like, one supposes, Bob Woodward, who now occupies as space in the dingbatosphere far beyond mere journalism.

And, no matter how professional Gates is-he is still a Republican. Who has served a series of Republican presidents and made more than a couple of mistakes himself.

Or does no one remember Iran Contra anymore?

When Obama came into office-he was committed to getting us out of the hell hole that is Iraq. (Which was just as well since there was no prospect that an American troop presence would ever have resulted in social peace there) He had campaigned on the idea that Iraq was a colossal mistake and it diverted resources from the fight against Al Qaeda in Afghanistan.  DOD was supposed to give him a menu of options for pursuing “victory”. In the end they only gave him the same tired old formula. A plan for a troop escalation of 40,000 and an open-ended big war to “prove” David Petraeus’s theories of counter-insurgency. Petraeus’ sexual proclivities were as yet unknown-so he still enjoyed sainthood status.  This even though, in Iraq, he was part of the problem long before he became the solution. And when examined in detail-the surge did nothing that it was supposed to have done. ( As is being proved every day now in that useless nation). So what he said carried a lot of weight-and going against them was not a politically expedient move.

Now, even Gates’ critics acknowledge that on the whole, he was a very positive force at the Pentagon and for the nation. He appears to have helped prevent Dick Cheney and the Neocons from attacking Iran. He warned against the seductive character of drone warfare, and wants a court to sign off on drone strikes. He said he thought any military commander who wanted to take US troops into another big ground war should have his head examined. And he tried to rein in the Pentagon’s off the rail procurement processes, which have led to such fiascos as the Little Crappy Ship.

Plus, these criticisms are more than a little self-serving. They seek to completely ignore the fact that by 2009, in general, the public had had it with war without end, and was tired of the wars in general, and Iraq in particular.  As is typical for your fan of Bush’s peculiar brand of liberation theology, it ignores the real people who were causing the failure of said policy, namely the people of Afghanistan themselves. Andrew Bacevich quite correctly pointed out that there was a distance between “American actions and America's interests is becoming increasingly difficult to discern. The fundamental incoherence of U.S. strategy becomes ever more apparent. Worst of all, there is no end in sight.”. It appears to me, at first glance (and I will need to read the book), that contrary to what the neocon apologists say, it is probably Obama that got the assessment right. He understood the public mood and had no real reason to trust the folks giving him advice-especially since they had a vested interest in seeing the wars continue. “It is further understandable that Obama entertained the severest doubts about the feasibility of Petraeus’s big counter-insurgency push. At best, he was willing to give it a try.”

Events have proven the naysayers correct-the Afghans excelled at screwing away opportunities presented to them. Petreaus is gone into obscurity, and Afghanistan has increasingly become synonymous with the overall failure of the so called “War on Terror”.  Public opinion, rightfully so, wants us out-and the sooner we get out,  the better for America. Probably not for Afghanistan, but they made their choice. Now they should have to live with it.

You have to conclude that Gates resents Obama for outmaneuvering him and some of the more gung ho officers. Obama didn’t intend to go on fighting and nation-building in Afghanistan forever. Indeed, US forces are no longer in the lead in military operations and soon they’ll be gone or be little more than troop trainers.

If anything, Obama could be faulted for giving the COIN (“counter-insurgency”) officers the benefit of the doubt and playing along with their completely unrealistic plans. He should have listened to Joe Biden, who has long experience in foreign policy and is most often right (unlike Gates). If Gates is right and Obama distrusted the generals pitching them and was skeptical of the strategy itself, it has to increase your estimation of Obama. Our estimation of Gates, in contrast, can only fall because of his disloyalty and his naive approach to Afghanistan.

 

 

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Jan 01 2014

And so it begins…..

Don't let the door hit you in the ass on the way out , 2013.

For me, 2013 was, in the aggregate, something of a depressing year. For both personal and national reasons which I will explain in this post. It is my sincere hope that 2014 can turn both categories around dramatically, but I'd be lying if I said I was optimistic.

From a personal standpoint, 2013 saw for yet another year, the frustration of my ongoing desire to return to Asia to live on a permanent basis. Sadly too, I was stymied even in my modest efforts to get back for a short duration visit-a situation I hope to rectify this year. For the long term, my hopes were dashed rather repeatedly. I did make the short list twice for positions that would have taken me back to the right side of the international date line, but when the decision was made, they went with another candidate. I also had a chance to get on with a major US company in Istanbul, but in what can only be a case of age discrimination, they went with a younger and more MBA credentialed candidate, so that door also slammed abruptly in my face. Thanks to some rather bone headed policy decisions by current employer, that were not in effect when I took my current position-it would appear that window of opportunity for a return to paradise is rapidly closing, with scant chance of reopening.  Hope springs eternal, however, and I will keep throwing out lines of effort-hoping to use what ever bait I can to lure a prospective Asian employer my way.

I have to. Thanks to the utterly reckless and considerably stupid decisions being made by the increasingly classless generation of military leadership  that is moving up within the ranks of the American defense industry, the rather productive and likeable team I enjoyed working with was sucked into a vacuum bag of uselessness. And as I expected, the selfish man at the heart of the conspiracy remains clueless to the effects of evil machinations on those who must actually do the work. There are still a host of unsolved issues as a result of this stupid merger-and no one is making a serious effort to resolve them.

The words, "I told you this would happen, you pompous twit!", just don't quite say it completely enough right now.

There were other lesser disappointments, which should best be discussed elsewhere, but which center on the tyranny of different needs and expectations. "A little less conversation,  a lot more action please!" in 2014.

On the national front, I am more than a little pessimistic at the future of the great nation I have given my entire adult life to the service of. The country has become infected by a sickness of selfishness combined with apathy-enabled a by a group of charlatans who sow the seeds of national destruction, while trying to dress their effort up as some sort of "victory march". The infected cohort has not reached a critical mass yet-but I fear that if not cured soon- it will consume the body politic of the nation. In its most extreme form, its victims try to dress their selfishness up as the desire the Deity-even when it is clearly at odds with His teachings. If their attitudes are the result of the direction of the Deity, then He must me a rather vindictive and unfair sort at that. I'd like to believe not. Unfairness and vindictiveness are not values of a divine being. I do take some spark of hope at the efforts Pope Francis is undertaking to identify and shame these worthless hypocrites, and in that effort I wish him well. He is making all the right people very uncomfortable. Nonetheless, you are fooling yourself, if you don't think there is a group afoot that seeks to undermine the very fabric what made the United States, well, United. Which is just what their corporate masters want. 

Now there are those who try to console me with the idea that the country has seen worse and got through it, most notably citing the example of the Civil War. I would remind you that in that little fracas more men died than in any other US conflict, and it corrupted US politics for a 100 years. Now in an interconnected, rapidly rising multi-polar world, the potential to inflict real and lasting damage to the nation of my birth is accelerated. This is the source of my pessimism. 

Because too many people are ignoring the brick wall that Ronald Reagan built. And George Bush, refurbished and dramatically strengthened:

The brick wall, of course, is the concentration of wealth and power among the top 0.01%. That's what has sucked all the money out of our economy, and that's what needs to be reversed before our economy will work well again. That's why the young nurse cannot earn enough to pay her rent, feed her family, and pay back her student loans and must instead send her babies to live with their grandparents thousands of miles away. That's why so many must work multiple part-time jobs with unpredictable schedules, wrecking their ability to obtain safe child care or maintain a healthy relationship with their kids.   



None these problems can be solved without reversing the concentration of wealth we've allowed for the past 40 years.

Any competent look at the economics of the last 14 years, clearly shows that the threads of a strong middle class are being wiped out. As one of those folks in the path of this bulldozer-I will remain more than just casually concerned. It used to be that both sides agreed about the core goals, and simply differed on the right pathways to get there. What troubles me deeply is that this is no longer true. Now you have a group who is arguing out loud, ideas that should not even be thought in ones head, much less uttered in any company whatsoever-polite or otherwise. "Something terrible has happened to the soul of the Republican Party. We’ve gone beyond bad economic doctrine. We’ve even gone beyond selfishness and special interests. At this point we’re talking about a state of mind that takes positive glee in inflicting further suffering on the already miserable."

This scares me for the future makes me very worried. Carried to its logical conclusion it will replicate the class struggles of many centuries before. I would remind you that this the year of the 100th anniversary of World War I, a manifest catastrophe, which set the seeds of unimaginable suffering.

So I view the New Year, 2014 with cautious hope and a strong desire for real change, for both myself and for the country that I will always love, even if I don't always like it. But its going to have to be a watchful caution, because there are real predators out and about in the woods of my existence. And they seek to do me harm. So prudent caution must remain the word of the day.

Happy New Year.

18 responses so far

Nov 24 2013

The chance of precipitation just went up.

Not rain falling, but bombs. Dropped from Israeli planes.

The western powers signed an interim agreement with Iran last night. As expected a certain, rather stubborn group of folks is not happy about that one bit:

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu characterized the agreement signed with Iran early Sunday morning as a historic mistake.

Directly contrasting US President Barack Obama who praised the agreement as opening a "new path toward a world that is more secure,"  Netanyahu – speaking at the weekly cabinet meeting — said the world has become more dangerous as a result.

"What was agreed last night in Geneva is not a historic agreement, it is a historic mistake," he said. "Today the world has become much more dangerous because the most dangerous regime in the world took a significant step to getting the most dangerous weapon in the world."

For the first time, he said, the leading powers of the world agreed to uranium enrichment in Iran, while removing sanctions that it has taken years to build up in exchange for "cosmetic Iranian concession that are possible to do away with in a matter of weeks."

Netanyahu said the consequences of this deal threaten many countries, including Israel. He reiterated what he has said in the past, that Israel is not obligated by the agreement.(emphasis mine)

That last sentence is the key one. The whole last week I was on travel, the Israeli press was having kittens over the idea that the west might do anything less than bomb, bomb, bomb, Iran. Which never made much sense to me. For one thing-Iran is the size of Europe, its a big country, and the chances that the Israeli Air Force can get all the things it needs to in one strike ( which is all they would realistically get) are low indeed. Secondly the idea of getting us to do the dirty work for them is full of traps and problems for the US.  Not to mention that starting a 4TH war in over a decade is just plain stupid. Thanks GWB, Thanks a lot. Because of your stupid wars-we are in this mess to begin with.

The interests of the US and Israel do not always align. This is going to be one of those times. And Israel will just have to accept that fact.

But I am convinced they won't. They will continue to push and prod to get their way. That's how they do business.

"And by the way, we still expect our over 4 Billion dollars in US aid next year. Got that?"

The apocalyptic rhetoric started in Israel almost immediately:

The deputy speaker of parliament, Likud MK Moshe Feiglin, said on Saturday the interim agreement signed between Iran and the Western powers was tantamount to the Munich Agreement of the late 1930s.

“Like Czechoslovakia at that time, which was not party to the discussions that effectively sentenced it to death, Israel today watches from the sidelines how its existential interest is being sacrificed by the Western powers,” Feiglin said.

“Any rational person understands that we are in the midst of a process leads to a nuclear-armed Iran,” he said. “For years I have warned about the dangers of the strategy adopted by Israel towards the Iranian nuclear threat.”

Feiglin said that entrusting foreign powers to secure Israel’s defense interests is “disastrous” and “much worse than that which led to the Yom Kippur War.”

The lawmaker called on the Israeli government to declare an immediate end to all contacts with the West over the Iranian question and to make clear that it would not be bound by the agreement signed.

I can't wait to see what our group of AIPAC funded  whores Congressional stooges has to say about it on Monday.

Some problems are just tough-and there are no easy solutions, especially military ones-and its even tougher when over 60 years of stupidity has gone into the problem of relations with Iran, who are not Arabs.

I will say this again, two things actually. First, one can admire and respect Israel and its citizens-and give them support-without agreeing with everything they ask for. And that leads to my second point, most Americans do not understand Israel at all. They think they do-and they think its a transplanted version of America in the Levant. Trust me,  its not-its a different society. They use language and view their situation in a very different way than we do. And they always will. Furthermore-Israel is indeed a melting pot of cultures-and not all of those cultural traditions are ones we would like if we knew the details. That still does not stop us from being supportive-but supportive does not mean, contrary to what Rev Hagee and the members of AIPAC believe, a blank check.

So buckle up boys and girls, 2014 is going to be an up and down ride.

"The Lord is our Shepherd says the psalm, but just in case, its Iran we gotta bomb!"

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3 responses so far

Sep 17 2013

Random thoughts.

When I think of yesterday's events.

First of all, I hate it when someone prescribes, based on their own social conventions and biases, how exactly I am supposed to feel and react to such a horrific event. My values are not your values. So you will forgive me if I don't react in exactly the manner you-or the thousands like you think I should react.

How do I react to an event like yesterday's as an American? Fear, disgust, despair and anger.

Fear because when you look at the names of the victims-one quickly realizes that there is nothing to distinguish them from you. The went to work-to do their jobs-never expecting it would be the end. They had plans, families, dreams, a life. And it was all ended senselessly. Consider:

  • Michael Arnold, 59.
  • Sylvia Frasier, 53.
  • Kathy Gaarde, 62.
  • John Roger Johnson, 73.
  • Frank Kohler, 50.
  • Bernard Proctor, 46.
  • Vishnu Pandit, 61.

 

 

They have a lot in common with you-and with me. I don't know their individual stories but I'll bet a couple were prior Navy or otherwise prior service. They just wanted to do their jobs. These are hardly the "moochers" that government workers are portrayed as daily in the halls of Congress and in supposedly "smart" political circles. If I had taken a job in DC ( or LA , or Washington State, or Pittsburgh, or Charlotte) -it could have been me.

Which leads to a second point. I don't understand those who say they were targeted because they were Navy. That they were Navy is actually a secondary consideration. This was a workplace shooting. Nothing more, nothing less. If they had been working for Honeywell, General Dynamics, Merrill Lynch, the Department of State-would their deaths somehow have been less tragic? The Navy was their corporation. They were randomly targeted because the shooter objected to something that had occurred connected with the corporation. This work place had extra security to be sure-but the shooter still got through.

It's disgusting to me that this happened in my own country. Its also less than thrilling to realize that in the grand scheme of things in the world-it is just a drop of water in the sea of violence that engulfs our planet. Consider, in the 24 hours of yesterday:

41 people died in Mexico yesterday due to flooding.

8 People died in Colorado for the same reason.

No one knows how many people died in Syria yesterday.

The most senior police woman in Afghanistan died in as a result of shooting injuries.

36 people died in Iraq over the weekend.

3 people died in Japan on the 16th-as a result of a Typhoon.

64 people died in the Philippines as a result of fighting in Zamboanga.

And the list goes on.

Its here that anger can and should kick in. Its all tragic. Its all unnecessary. Its all fundamentally unfair. Yet we daily see events such as these pass us by and pay no mind to it. We become numb to it-unless it happens to someone we know.

I've been a bystander to a couple of instances of work place violence. During my time as a squadron XO, a Sailor in a sister squadron, after getting a career ending piece of paper, injured another Sailor and shot himself. On another occasion a fellow officer went AWOL and committed suicide. When I was in college-a Freshman refused to come home from leave. So he shot his family in their beds.

The cycle of violence goes on.

Those who survived and were spared, in the sheer joy of being alive, attributed the fact that they did so-because "God was with them". Are we then to surmise that God was not with the dead and wounded? That's hardly fair….or just. What kind of a God just lets random, senseless acts of violence roll on unabated because its some kind of "divine plan"? If it is a plan-its not divine nor is it much of one. Its pretty goddamn twisted and unfair if you ask me.  I'm not getting into the problem of why evil exists. Or how believing people reconcile themselves with the fact that God lets bad things happen to good people. I certainly do not know the answer.

However,  I do know its unfair-that unfairness undercuts His attempts to draw people unto himself.

And, while we’re discussing things that are unfair, here’s another: how the owner of the contracting firm that hired the shooter got so damn rich. Or how he has the balls to blame what happened yesterday on the sequester. Sorry pal-as the purveyor of a product, sequester or no, you still had an obligation to do due diligence. There is more here than meets the eye-and hopefully it will come out.

And if you are not mad about that-then perhaps you should be.

There's a lot more to be angry about-and I have a right to show my anger.  Its the primary feeling I had yesterday-especially since I was pretty sure from the start it was a disgruntled employee and not a terrorist attack-and it appears I was right.

I'm going to start drinking now because here is where the despair kicks in.

Because nothing is going to change.

Oh sure there will be tighter security-and background investigations for non deluded, non shooting, non messed up people are going to get really painful. Despair that dickheads like Joe Wilson can spout off nonsense. And never get called on it. A year will come and go and he will still be Joe fucking Wilson.

Despair that the clock is ticking till the next place of workplace violence appears-because rather than do the best thing one could do to honor their memories,-namely find a way to keep that next event from happening-the country will slump back into its pit of doing nothing and accepting this kind of mindless violence as the "cost of doing business".

And of course the same government employees now being praised will be screwed when the Congress shuts the government down next month.And it will only be a matter of time until some asshole Congressman tells us that clearly, only more sequestration, more budget cuts, more tax cuts,  can make our troops safe.

Because you know….we can't make any real changes. That benefit someone besides rich people.

As I said-I have a right to be angry. 

 

One response so far

Aug 30 2013

Worth two hours of your time.

Published by under The Long Game

Contrary to popular belief in America, there is something more important in the world than whether Ben Affleck will play Batman or Miley Cyrus' performance at the video awards.

This 2+ hour video from C-span is worth your time. Yesterday was a bad day for David Cameron-but it was a great day for democracy. Its also a good primer on the issues in Syria.

http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/CommonsDeb

If you are pressed for time just watch David Cameron's speech and Ed Milibrand's at the begining.

 

One response so far

Aug 29 2013

No upside-only down sides.

To attacking Syria. All the usual suspects are lining up telling us how we have to "do something" in Syria. I really don't understand why. Apparently a lot of other Americans don't understand why either, judging by polls that say a majority of Americans are opposed to any intervention in Syria.

It may be tragic and a lot of Syrians are being killed-but that is their problem not ours. Foreign Policy has to be about a narrow and ruthless focus on what is in America's long term strategic interest.

What I'm most bothered by (aside from the rapid pace of escalation), is I can't, looking at a map of Syria, figure out what the hell anyone advocating for [military action] thinks will be the strategic benefit.

Syria is surrounded by unstable states. Egypt, Iraq, Iran, even Turkey. To the South, you have Jordan, Israel and Saudi Arabia.

When we entered Iraq 10 years ago, [as recommended by] the Project for a New American Century, we were facing a series of relatively stable dictatorships and despots. The PNAC wanted to remake the Middle East in favor of American interests. Those were likely to be the best conditions to enter a confrontation, because at the least, these were at the time, allied despots and their countries were, again, relatively under control.

Looking at Syria now, what is to be gained? We prop up an opposition movement that has no capacity to actually hold its country. That's the best case scenario. But even if we do this, what happens in the rest of the region? Our allies are put into further peril because the conflict while perhaps never reaching our borders, will reach theirs. That means, for the sake of [averting] calamity in one region, we will not be able to contain it reaching Jordan or Israel or Saudi Arabia.

Further, where exactly do we plan to be stationed once we [are drawn into] to a major confrontation? What allied nation will we expose, in the midst of this instability, to bear a brunt not just put forward by Syria or Iran, but very possibly by Russian forces, or at the least, Russian armaments. What exactly is the hope here, that former Soviet States will volunteer as shipping stations and endanger their current relationship with Russia? That Russia and Iran won't get involved? That this will be an isolated incident? That there will be no Assad loyalists after a few precision campaigns? That we will bomb for show of force and then just leave regardless?

I mean, let's say our worry was stability, we would actually be propping up Assad, not his opposition, because Assad has a better chance of maintaining long-term control than they do.

So, we're not after stability. We're not, I'm assuming, [trying for] a winnable war unless someone can explain to me how the United States by giving limited assistant to the rebels will not only topple the government but ensure the complete irrelevance of the loyalists…. Are we going to commit ground troops when things get worse and Assad isn't gone?… Even if everything somehow magically goes according to a plan that no one even has yet, then what? Syria's opposition becomes what, exactly? Syria is a stable state? How?

There is a rush to go to war now being advocated by people who are ready to play with the ripped and shaken up pieces of a jigsaw puzzles as though they were flat and in place. But these men aren't gods and they don't see all the angles they think they do.

I also agree with James Fallows, Obama should be doing more to get Congress on board before he does anything. He's not Ronald Reagan and does not have the same type of Congress Reagan had in 1986-nor is this the same type of situation as the Libya strikes. The President has time-and he sure as hell does not need to hand the House of Representatives, some of whose members are just chomping at the bit to impeach him, anything that looks like an excuse. Sometimes a tragedy is just a tragedy, but we have to be more cold heartedly focused on our own interests. And unless we are prepared to go in full bore and take down Assad and destroy the nation of Syria, we have no business striking there at all.

And for the Galtian overlords who are advocating striking Syria while at the same time telling me how the debt is "crushing our children". Go and politely fuck yourself.

I mention this only because, well, Congressman Tom Marino is very sorry, Grandma, but you'll be eating some Fancy Feast for Thanksgiving.

"It's going to take two decades – even if we start now – to try to eliminate this debt," he said. "Folks, we do not have the money. The revenue is not there. How are you going to pay for it?"

But $30 million to blow stuff up? Absolutely. We're like a drunk on payday.

 

4 responses so far

Jul 09 2013

The best favor we could do for ourselves.

Get the hell out of Afghanistan-as fast as we can.

I would love to see that happen. If we can't afford to pay our employees their full salary, can't afford to buy the things the nation needs, can't afford to do the things the nation should be doing-then we don't have the money to pursue stupid wars for people won't change no matter what we do.

Not-going-to-happen. But still a man can dream, can't he?

Increasingly frustrated by his dealings with President Hamid Karzai, President Obama is giving serious consideration to speeding up the withdrawal of United States forces from Afghanistan and to a “zero option” that would leave no American troops there after next year, according to American and European officials.

Mr. Obama is committed to ending America’s military involvement in Afghanistan by the end of 2014, and Obama administration officials have been negotiating with Afghan officials about leaving a small “residual force” behind. But his relationship with Mr. Karzai has been slowly unraveling, and reached a new low after an effort last month by the United States to begin peace talks with the Taliban in Qatar

I think this is a trial balloon-probably designed to send a message to Karzai to get with the program. But it sure would be nice if it were true.

The wars are a costly drain on American resources-and as I have repeatedly maintained and I still believe-just about all of our current problems can be directly or in directly traced to the wars, Especially our massive mis-adventure in Iraq. Furthermore our objectives in accomplishing retribution for 9-11 were accomplished a long time ago. Every day we stay, accomplishes nothing in the national interest of the United States-and accelerates the decline of the United States as a global super power.

Contrary to the opinions of some, the wars-especially the war in Iraq-were not noble causes. And in both Afghanistan "victory" has very different meanings depending on who you talk to. The real issue though,  is that "victory" no matter how you define it,  is unattainable. Primarily because the Iraqi and the Afghan people themselves remain mired in a pit of ancient rivalaries and misgudied beliefs that had no place in the 17th century-much less the 21st. Since they refuse to change-then leave them to their beliefs. Cut them lose and lets get back to taking care of ourselves.

Problem is Obama won't take that kind of bold step. Because he doesn't have the political capital to do it for one thing-there are too many surgeaholics like Linsey Graham and William "The Bloody" Kristol around. He could stand up to them -but he won't.

And secondly-bold change is not Obama's style. The last three years have been proof of that, which is one reason we are stuck in the tea party hell of our current politics.

Ah but if only! Lets get hell out of Afghanistan and go home.

 

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Jul 07 2013

Even when they are right, they somehow get it wrong.

Published by under The Long Game

I swung a golf club today for the first time in 2 years. Actually had some good shots- all things considered. Its like riding a bike, it all comes back. ( Including the hooks and slices).

It was a great weekend. The S.O. had to work for most of it-which gave me hours and hours to enjoy the peace and quiet, without her whining. As she gets older-it seems to be getting worse and worse ( as well as her libidio seems to be drying up and going away. :-(   )

ANYWAY.

I have been watching the news in Egypt with a lot of interest. From my sojourns to Israel, I feel pretty confident that the Israelis are crying no salt tears over Morsi’s departure. What they will be worried about is whether the Egyptian military can gain-and keep control. That remains to be seen.

Nonetheless, it  is quite amusing to read the reaction of the conservative media and blogosphere to the coup. As  my Canadian Counterpart took note of:

I carry no water for the Muslim Brotherhood, but there’s no shortage of supposedly conservative nonsense out there that begs responding to. Fox News Republicans and their moronic fellow travelers in the idiot blogosphere have managed over the last year, and especially in the last 24 hours, to be both hypocritical and hysterical. And like most bitches with the vapors, they need to be sent to their fainting couches for a good long time.

Although I thought it would have something to do with a change in foreign policy toward Israel, I predicted that the Egyptian military would depose Mohammed Morsi since he was first elected. Most of my freedom loving friends thought me a knave, a fool, or both. Y’know, because Obama.

The unmitigated balls of some of these people, talking about freedom in the Middle East! The simple fact is that the single greatest retarding factor for democracy in the Muslim world has been American foreign policy. But lets look at places where “freedom” has been imposed at gunpoint, specifically Iraq and Afghanistan. Are things looking good in either country? I think the consensus is that they are not. Any country that requires a massive foreign military presence to sustain its “freedom,” absent third-party aggression, is ultimately doomed.

Don’t believe him that the conservative media is being stupid? Then clearly you are reading Chunky Bobo or the Wall Street Journal. They both have come out with some of the most reprehensible sentiments expressed in public since Paul Ryan offered to gas his own grandmother.

Let’s start with the Journal shall we? They pine for the glorious days of Augusto Pinochet:

Egyptians would be lucky if their new ruling generals turn out to be in the mold of Chile’s Augusto Pinochet, who took power amid chaos but hired free-market reformers and midwifed a transition to democracy.

Oh, really? And tell me again how long it took? Oh yea just over 17 years. And when it happened it was not because Pinochet wanted it, or started it. There are two main problems with this line of thought:

1) It ignores the general desire of the Egyptian people not to become Iran. People tend to forget that Egypt has Western roots in many ways-not the least of which was the influence of that now despised creation that served many nations well, the British Empire.  Most Egyptians don’t want to turn back the clock. Or become Iran.

2) These folks and the rest of their neo-con ilk ignore the fact that contrary to what they believe, NATIONAL SOVEREIGNTY MATTERS. This was the key flaw in the thinking about Iraq- the dangerous demon George W. Bush allowed to be loosed-”preventive war”. The transition of the Egyptian government is a problem-but its not our problem.  Plus  they appear to be sanctioning  jettisoning voting, tossing ballot boxes over the  shoulder as they strive toward some point about the difference between democratic “process” and “substance.” “Process” means holding and respecting free elections. Substance means making the results of elections hold.

It places too little faith in the Egyptian citizenry:

Voters can recognize when they are cheated. On the same opinion page as Brooks’s column was one by Shadi Hamid, who argued that the coup undid the hard work of persuading Islamists throughout the region to give up violence for electoral politics: “To limit the fallout from this week’s events, Egypt’s new government must ensure that the Brotherhood and its Freedom and Justice Party are reincorporated into the political process and free to contest—and win—parliamentary and presidential elections.” Brooks-wise, that would be cause for a whole new coup.

And that is a big problem. The Muslim Brotherhood is not going away-no matter how misguided they are. The choices are co-opting them, or executing them. Historically, option 2 never works out well. Just ask Mr. Pinochet.

Chunky Bobo is right when he wrote is column about “It’s not that Egypt doesn’t have a recipe for a democratic transition.  It seems to lack even the basic mental ingredients.

Well, yes-that is sort of true-Arabs do tend to fuck up every good deal given to them. But its not because they don’t know how to do it-its that they won’t take the initiative to dispense with the things that hold them back.

Like Islam.

The track record of Arab failure is long and not distinguished. Algeria. Lebanon. Syria. Libya. 4 Arab defeats in 4 wars. Iraq-which was given an incredible gift, only to punt it away in their stupid tribalism and endemic laziness. Yemen.

However the problem is, that the United States, if it really means what it says about principles of self determination-cannot pre-ordain a better result. It has to enable the Egyptians to find it on its own.

And that’s what conservative commentators hate. They hate the idea of not being able to pull the strings. The idea of just waiting it out and focusing on our own issues just grates them to their very core.

But like it or not, that is the only prudent course right now.  We did the same in Turkey in the 70′s.

Morsi failed. The best favor we can do his followers is not to cheer too loudly for that failure.

UPDATE! Regarding the Wall Street Journal, Charles Pierce is quite quotable in highlighting the hypocrisy in Murdoch land:

There are great reporters doing great journalism at the WSJ. Then, there are the authoritarian whackadoos on its editorial page, pining for the blood-dimmed days in which 3000 Chileans died “midwifing a transition to” democracy, just as the followers of Charles Manson once “midwifed a transition” to thoracic surgery. The operation of the newspaper is altogether like finding an artist colony thriving in the upper floors of Bedlam.

4 responses so far

May 17 2013

Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.

Published by under Military,The Long Game

In recent days the military journals have run stories of how Congress wants to strip commanders of their authorities to confirm or overturn the results of courts martial. This due to several high profile cases where folks did not agree with the final decision of the convening authority.

On Capitol Hill, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., introduced legislation Thursday taking top commanders out of the process of deciding whether a sexual misconduct case goes to trial. For sexual offenses with authorized sentences of more than one year in confinement — akin to felonies in the civilian judicial system — that decision would rest instead with officers at ranks as low as colonel who are seasoned trial counsels with prosecutorial experience.

“‘What we need to do is change the system so victims know that they can receive justice,” Gillibrand said Thursday on CBS “This Morning.”

Let me state it clearly, to do this is a huge mistake. Commanders who have court martial authority HAVE to have the ability to decide how cases are to be prosecuted and the ability to affirm or reject the conclusions of the judicial proceedings.

There are fundamental differences between the civilian criminal justice system and the military justice system. Yet far too many people fail to understand those differences and the rationale for them.

It is important to remember that in a military proceeding there is no standing court -it has to be created. And because the commander is still trusted with the responsibility to maintain good order and discipline-he or she has to be quite careful not to create a stampede to make an example out of someone. That is a big difference between the military and civilian systems. The civilian court system is more removed from the proceedings after they occur. Not so in the military.

The specific case that prompted the desire for this change was one involving the 3rd Air Force commander overturning the conviction of a Lt Col accused of sexual assault. He had been convicted by court martial. LTG Franklin made the decision to overturn the decision, throwing out the sex assault conviction.

I don't know the details of the case-but I do know that the general, in making his decision,  did not make it lightly. He knew full well how particularly sensitive these types of cases are and how much visibility anything with the "sex" word attached to it gets right now. So I am convinced that he must have had access to some pretty good mitigating information to make the very serious decision that he made. We will never know that-but I am confident he would not have made the decision flippantly. Overturning a conviction happens very rarely.

And it should be his decision to make. If he made the wrong decision-then fine. Fire him and find a new 3 star. But don't take away the commander's ability to fully exercise his authority. That in the long run is a big mistake and is setting the stage for some innocent person to be wrongly convicted and railroaded for the rest of his life. Court Martial do make mistakes.

We claim that we want to enforce a culture of accountability. And then we turn around and deny commanding officers the tools they need to exercise their authority and lead their subordinates in fairness. That's not smart.

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Apr 16 2013

Bring out the usual suspects.

Published by under The Long Game

I was on the computer last night, surfing, when the S.O. ran into tell me the news was on with pictures of Boston. That it was all horrific-goes without saying.

All I could think about was two things-one, how truly awful it must have been with flying metal all around and very little places to go. And two, how soon would it be before someone linked it to some Arab or Islamic group somewhere.  As I told the S.O. at the time-this will get really ugly.

And of course, true to form, we have the first folks already doing exactly that. Even though-as far as I know-there is no definitive proof. All speculation about who did this is premature and pointless. We would do well to remember, that the last US bombing of a sports event came from a right wing extremist.

However people who stand on their pedestals and point out that "We are at war, there will be more bombings, and not just by Islamic terrorists." are both correct-and naive in the extreme. We are not at war-except in the places we chose to execute military action. However,  we are always fighting criminal elements. Regardless of who set yesterday's bombs-they are nothing but criminals and will be hunted down and treated as such. If there is one lesson we should have learned from the past 11 years-is not overreact. We did that in the early years of the decade, and where did it get us? Nowhere, except older, poorer, and more behind the rest of the world.

Criminals are always with us-and I can't help but wonder if the criminal who did this was "home grown" vice being imported from abroad. We don't-really-know.

But as the Atlantic points out these types of incidents are not the rule:

 

Remember after 9/11 when people predicted we'd see these sorts of attacks every few months? That never happened, and it wasn't because the TSAconfiscated knives and snow globes at airports. Give the FBI credit for rolling up terrorist networks and interdicting terrorist funding, but we also exaggerated the threat. We get our ideas about how easy it is to blow things up from television and the movies. It turns out that terrorism is much harder than most people think. It's hard to find willing terrorists, it's hard to put a plot together, it's hard to get materials, and it's hard to execute a workable plan. As a collective group, terrorists are dumb, and they make dumb mistakes; criminal masterminds are another myth from movies and comic books. 

Even the 9/11 terrorists got lucky. 

If it's hard for us to keep this in perspective, it will be even harder for our leaders. They'll be afraid that by speaking honestly about the impossibility of attaining absolute security or the inevitability of terrorism — or that some American ideals are worth maintaining even in the face of adversity — they will be branded as "soft on terror." And they'll be afraid that Americans might vote them out of office. Perhaps they're right, but where are the leaders who aren't afraid? What has happened to "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself"? 

Terrorism, even the terrorism of radical Islamists and right-wing extremists and lone actors all put together, is not an "existential threat" against our nation. Even the events of 9/11, as horrific as they were, didn't do existential damage to our nation. Our society is more robust than it might seem from watching the news. We need to start acting that way. 
My prayers and sympathies go out to the city of Boston. But please, spare me the hyperbole, and stop looking for Muslims under every carpet. Extremists are everywhere-not just under the guise of Mohammed. 

17 responses so far

Dec 17 2012

Will anything change?

The events in Connecticut are so horrific-it is just painful still to think about. 20 children-CHILDREN-and six adults all of whom got up and went to the Sandy Hook school thinking it was just another day.

Now if the world were just, we as a nation would come together and craft a means to stop the possibilities of sick twisted people getting a hold of weapons.

But we won't.

Even now-morons like John Fund are already hard at work writing rationalizations as to why gun control does not work. And Uncle Dumbo is hard at work slandering anyone who believes we should do things differently.

Probably the best analysis I have read comes not from an American publication,  but a British one:

Switching to red-blooded conservative talk radio, I found two hosts offering a “move along, nothing to see here” defense of the status quo. One suggested that listeners should not torment themselves trying to understand “craziness”, though it would, the pair agreed, be understandable if some parents were tempted to remove their children from public education and homeschool them.

To that debate, all I can offer is the perspective of someone who has lived and worked in different corners of the world, with different gun laws………

The first time that I was posted to Washington, DC some years ago, the capital and suburbs endured a frightening few days at the hands of a pair of snipers, who took to killing people at random from a shooting position they had established in the boot of a car. I remember meeting a couple of White House correspondents from American papers, and hearing one say: but the strange thing is that Maryland (where most of the killings were taking place) has really strict gun laws. And I remember thinking: from the British perspective, those aren’t strict gun laws. Strict laws involve having no guns.

After a couple of horrible mass shootings in Britain, handguns and automatic weapons have been effectively banned. It is possible to own shotguns, and rifles if you can demonstrate to the police that you have a good reason to own one, such as target shooting at a gun club, or deer stalking, say. The firearms-ownership rules are onerous, involving hours of paperwork. You must provide a referee who has to answer nosy questions about the applicant's mental state, home life (including family or domestic tensions) and their attitude towards guns. In addition to criminal-record checks, the police talk to applicants’ family doctors and ask about any histories of alcohol or drug abuse or personality disorders.

Vitally, it is also very hard to get hold of ammunition. Just before leaving Britain in the summer, I had lunch with a member of parliament whose constituency is plagued with gang violence and drug gangs. She told me of a shooting, and how it had not led to a death, because the gang had had to make its own bullets, which did not work well, and how this was very common, according to her local police commander. Even hardened criminals willing to pay for a handgun in Britain are often getting only an illegally modified starter’s pistol turned into a single-shot weapon.

And, to be crude, having few guns does mean that few people get shot. In 2008-2009, there were 39 fatal injuries from crimes involving firearms in England and Wales, with a population about one sixth the size of America’s. In America, there were 12,000 gun-related homicides in 2008.

The numbers don't lie-and countries with very strict gun laws like Britain and Japan experience far lesser amounts of gun crime. It does exist of course, but not in the volumes that exist here. The easy way out for many Americans is to pretend that guns are not the problem-"its the society".

Well that may be-but easy access to weaponry makes the consequences of madness far, far greater than should have to be endured.

Probably the argument put forth that is the silliest one,  is the idea that somehow, the Founding Fathers intended the 2nd Amendment to be some sort of check and balance on the government. They never intended anything of the sort-the only reason the amendment was there was to form a militia. A well regulated militia. I remain firmly convinced that were the Founders drafting the bill of rights today-the 2nd Amendment would not be there. Its a very narcissistic expression of a "courage" that simply does not exist.

 

I would also say, to stick my neck out a bit further, that I find many of the arguments advanced for private gun ownership in America a bit unconvincing, and tinged with a blend of excessive self-confidence and faulty risk perception.

I am willing to believe that some householders, in some cases, have defended their families from attack because they have been armed. But I also imagine that lots of ordinary adults, if woken in the night by an armed intruder, lack the skill to wake, find their weapon, keep hold of their weapon, use it correctly and avoid shooting the wrong person. And my hunch is that the model found in places like Japan or Britain—no guns in homes at all, or almost none—is on balance safer.

As for the National Rifle Association bumper stickers arguing that only an armed citizenry can prevent tyranny, I wonder if that isn’t a form of narcissism, involving the belief that lone, heroic individuals will have the ability to identify tyranny as it descends, recognize it for what it is, and fight back. There is also the small matter that I don’t think America is remotely close to becoming a tyranny, and to suggest that it is is both irrational and a bit offensive to people who actually do live under tyrannical rule.

Nor is it the case that the British are relaxed about being subjects of a monarch, or are less fussed about freedoms. A conservative law professor was recently quoted in the papers saying he did not want to live in a country where the police were armed and the citizens not. I fear in Britain, at least, native gun-distrust goes even deeper than that: the British don’t even like their police to be armed (though more of them are than in the past).

But the problem remains-American politics are anything but rational. And as Tom Levenson pointed out, "An armed society may be a polite one. But it’s not one that is free. It is not one in which a civic life in any meaningful sense of the term can take place. Guns kill liberty."

And too many Americans can't or won't think rationally on the subject of guns. So we will remain stuck right where we are today and have been for some 50 years in both this and the previous violent centuries.

But here is the thing. The American gun debate takes place in America, not Britain or Japan. And banning all guns is not about to happen (and good luck collecting all 300m guns currently in circulation, should such a law be passed). It would also not be democratic. I personally dislike guns. I think the private ownership of guns is a tragic mistake. But a majority of Americans disagree with me, some of them very strongly. And at a certain point, when very large majorities disagree with you, a bit of deference is in order.

So in short I am not sure that tinkering with gun control will stop horrible massacres like today’s. And I am pretty sure that the sort of gun control that would work—banning all guns—is not going to happen. So I have a feeling that even a more courageous debate than has been heard for some time, with Mr Obama proposing gun-control laws that would have been unthinkable in his first term, will not change very much at all. Hence the gloom.

Thus the editors of the Economist are right. We Americans are simply going through the motions. Since we, collectively, have no intention of fixing the root problem-we, collectively, have no rights to "mourn" the helpless children and their teachers. "It's our fault, and until we evince some remorse for our actions or intention to reform ourselves, the idea that we consider ourselves entitled to "mourn" the victims of our own barbaric policies is frankly disgusting.".

12 responses so far

Sep 24 2012

Don’t think they are getting the point here.

 I want write about the abomination that is the Romney campaign-and the failed dirt digging that is the Liars Club and their reaction to a reasonable statement. John Cole framed it well when he voiced the same sentiment I have:

 

What a crazy position for an American President to take- to actually focus on American security concerns and American foreign policy goals. It’s almost like Obama understands we are not an Israeli client state.

Call me an anti-Semite, but I guess I just have no problem with my President looking out for US foreign policy goals. Crazy, that.

 

Five trips to Israel in the last year have convinced me of a couple of things: 1) Israel is a vital ally of the United States and will remain so, and nothing this President has done has effectively denied that fact. In fact he's worked steadily and privately to strengthen the United States support for Israel. 2) Israelis are among the most obstinate and unreasonable people on the earth. I know that will offend some people-but its the truth. Yes there is a historical background for it-but time has marched on, and despite what the religious right believes, Jerusalem is not at the center of the world vortex right now.  Americans, as a whole, do not understand what Israel is really like-rather they have a preconceived idea of what they think it is like.

Finally, Israel's interests and ours are not in complete alignment. No nations is-but particularly the interest of a nation that is founded, rightly or wrongly, as a religious state. Or the secular representation of a particular religion. It is natural, that in the course of events-Israel and the US will disagree.  That does not make the US any less of a friend nor does it make the Israeli whining about certain matters nothing more than noise on particular issues. The President was right to say that and the folks over at the Weekly Standard can just go suck eggs. There is more to foreign policy than the views of AIPAC.

William Kristol and Benjamin Netenyahu should both realize that.

There! I feel better for having gotten that off of my chest. There are others who agree with me.

And here we see the perils of believing your own hype — apparently Bibi and friends actuallybelieved the idea of the all-powerful Israel Lobby. Whether through Romney's bald-faced pandering to that perceived lobby with his ugly comments about the cultural inferiority of Palestinians or, more shockingly, through Netanyahu's decision to take sides in the 2012 presidential campaign, they seem to think that if they can portray Obama as "weak on Israel" they will materially advance their own causes. It's worth noting, of course, that those interests are different. For Romney, the approach only works if it undermines Obama in key states, notably Florida. For Netanyahu, it would work if the fear of losing Jewish support pushed Obama to get visibly tougher on Iran, to accept, for example, the Israeli leader's call for clearly demarked and more aggressive "red lines" with Iran.

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