Friday, December 28, 2007
# Posted 4:16 PM by Taylor Owen
If Kenneth Anderson’s writings are the vintage Pinot Noir of the neocon vinyard, Podhoretz’s manifesto is the rancid two-dollar Spumante.ha! (9) opinions -- Add your opinion
Thursday, December 27, 2007
# Posted 1:53 PM by Patrick Porter
Over Christmas, I had a read through 'World War IV', culture warrior Norman Podhoretz's latest call to arms. And just in time for Christmas, its an awful turkey of a thing.
But before dissecting it, its worth making some observations about the broad political philosophy ‘neo-conservatism.’ Thanks to the horrific loss of life and anarchy in Iraq especially in late 2006, the word ‘neocon’, like the word ‘liberal’ in US domestic politics, has degenerated into an empty and lazy word for anything in foreign policy that is undesirable.
So in some quarters both right and left, to believe in containing Iranian nuclear ambitions through sanctions and a global alliance, or to enjoy the film ‘300′, or even to favour continued in-principle support for Israel’s existence, is to be hyper-aggressive, irresponsible and naive.
In fact, neoconservatism is a school of thought with defenders who vary wildly in their intellectual calibre. One of its more powerful spokesmen is Kenneth Anderson, whose overall appraisal of the failures and insights of neocons is one I share:
In the case of Iraq, neoconservatives preferred war. Their search for a quick and painless democratic transformation, which they did not find, was a naive one. But their other belief was not so naive: this is the belief that over the long run, the realist strategy of accommodation and containment of execrable regimes – the pursuit of stability at all moral costs practised by the West for thirty years – would only serve to feed the beast.
In other words, neoconservatism is a form of tough democratic idealism, and it has its strengths and weaknesses. Its strength is to go beyond amoral and short-sighted policies of backing friendly dictatorships no matter how reprehensible, to see the linkages between long-term security and political liberalisation, and to seek some alignment between liberal values and foreign policy beyond the paralysing ineffectuality of liberal internationalism.
It has also contributed to serious foreign policy failure. Needless to say, so has so-called realism. President Jimmy Carter and Brent Scowcroft, quick to point to Iraq as a vindication of their world view, may be reminded that it was ‘realist’ counsel that led Carter to encourage Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Iran in 1980, a catastrophic attack that became the longest conventional war of the past century, beggared two countries, killed millions, involved chemical warfare and ‘human wave’ slaughters. Its unfortunate that so much foreign policy debate and analysis of the crises in the Arab-Islamic world is carried on as though ‘neocons’ are the only ones with any explaining to do.
But if neoconservatism has an ideational value, its failures also need to be recognised and explained. One of those failures is the underlying and misplaced confidence that if the ideology and policy is correct, execution and detail don't matter that much. This can be done with the aid of Podhoretz’s book. If Kenneth Anderson’s writings are the vintage Pinot Noir of the neocon vinyard, Podhoretz’s manifesto is the rancid two-dollar Spumante.
‘World War IV’ is written primarily to endorse the ’Bush Doctrine’ (the need to spread democratic freedom to ensure US security) and from a hugely partisan standpoint to defend Bush against any and all charges. Most importantly, his argument is strong on belligerent rhetoric and the need for resolution and a historic sense of mission. We must awaken and realise the threat, Podhoretz argues, and mobilise together against the foe.
But it is strategically illiterate. The will to prevail in a vital struggle is not a strategy. Churchill’s soaring speeches used to end with a call to solidarity and common purpose, but this call would be preceded with an outline and strategic vision of the conflict. By contrast, the relationship between ends, ways and means, the search for achievable goals, the direction of resources towards a goal, the development of more astute strategy from inevitable and avoidable mistakes, none of this is considered in any depth by Podhoretz. Instead, we get a morality tale containing only a plea for greater willpower and a resentment of people who disagree. Capacity or competence is barely considered.
Disturbingly, Presidential candidate Rudi Guliani has appointed Podhoretz as an advisor and has identified himself with this book. Rudi’s continual claim about foreign policy is that he will ’stay on offence’ against Islamic terrorists. What does this mean? I would assume that any responsible US President would continue to pursue, arrest, capture and kill AQ agents, and there is little there that even the far left wing of the Democratic Party would dispute. Beyond that, is he saying he would like to stay in Iraq for thirty years, expand the war in Afghanistan to Pakistan, bomb Iran, or dismantle civil liberties or legal obstructions at home? The point is, we don’t really know, and maybe neither does he. Podhoretz takes rather longer to say roughly the same thing, and without much idea of any policy content. It would just read as a silly manifesto, were it not being taken seriously in some influential quarters.
An aggressive rhetorical posture is not a strategy. It is a sound-bite. And his book has a few other dragons.
Podhoretz is a conservative cultural critic ever mindful of the 1960’s, and he also launches attacks on a host of enemies in the US, from extremist campus professors to hippies revisiting the glory days of Vietnam war protests, from the Clinton Administration who apparently with AQ deserve all of the blame for 9/11, to conservative isolationists. But its not sufficient to criticise their positions. If Podhoretz wishes to mobilise all of America for a global struggle against militant jihadism, he needs to make a substantive case for how this might be done. Instead, much of the book is a lament that the 1950’s are over and won’t be coming back.
Beneath the surface of much of this debate, between those who argue that America has isolated itself and those who argue that the world has abandoned America, there is a more interesting story. France and Germany have politically evolved into pretty close Atlantic partners. The Bush administration has managed over a few years to craft a diverse coalition of partners with an interest in containing or at least counterbalancing Tehran with its regimes existential hatred of Israel. America rates very highly in polls of Indian opinion, and even the countries most vocally critical of American unilateralism continue to track down, round up and pursue wanted terrorists. Sunni insurgents of 2003-5 have turned on their predatory guests AQI, who are now reeling from the Anbar awakening. The long project of containing AQ is unspectacularly working, without a need to silence dissent or unify America behind Podhoretz’s world war.
But this complexity is often lost in the polarising rhetoric of the ‘neocon’ debate, a debate that has suffered a bit at the hands of Podhoretz’s strange screed.
Labels: War on Terror(8) opinions -- Add your opinion
Wednesday, December 26, 2007
# Posted 12:22 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
Before laying out the rationale for this decision, I would just like to point out that there are two kinds of anonymity in the comment section. One is the ability to post as "anonymous", indistinguishable from any other anonymous reader. Yet even if you have a login, no one else has access to any information about your true identity, place of residence, or other personal information (unless you choose to share it). That is a kind of anonymity we value and are not asking any of our readers to compromise.
Up to this point, an overwhelming majority of posts left by "anonymous" have contributed to a vigorous debate in the comments section, mostly civil and mostly substantive. However, a very small number of individuals have abused their anonymity by launching repeated ad hominem attacks against one of the authors on this site or even trying to intimidate one of the authors in a personal manner. We think you will agree that this is completely unacceptable.
In addition, we regret that many of those who post anonymously in a responsible manner will have to go to the trouble of establishing a login in order to comment further. However, given that logins are cost free and require minimal effort to establish, we believe that this is a reasonable request to make in exchange for the right to post.
Finally, we would like to express our belief that requiring a login will in no way restrict the substance of debate on this site. For quite some time now, named commenters have argued for positions that range all the way across the political spectrum. (Well, maybe a little further to the right.) In addition, named commenters have vigorously, but fairly, attacked the positions advocated by this blog's authors, again from both the left and the right. If you don't already have one, we hope you'll get yourself a nom de plume or nom de guerre and continue commenting on this site. (2) opinions -- Add your opinion
Tuesday, December 25, 2007
# Posted 8:09 AM by Taylor Owen
A SAVAGE CHRISTMAS IN IRAQ: Once again, Al Qaeda in Iraq has demonstrated the brutality for which it is so widely known and despised. In spite of suffering heavy losses this year precisely because the people of Iraq turned against its vicious ways, Al Qaeda has learned nothing, while we have adapted.
Today's suicide bombings were horrific, but the number of such attacks has been falling consistently over the past several months. The war is not over, not by a longshot. But if our commander and our troops keep on doing what they have been, 2008 will give us and the people of Iraq much to be proud of.
David Adesnik (5) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 8:07 AM by Taylor Owen
POSTED FOR DAVID BY TAYLOR
BEWARE OF GLOBAL
I came across this quote, attributed to Lowell Ponte, while reading Global Warming: A Very Short Introduction, written by Mark Maslin and published by Oxford University Press. The author's self-avowed objective is to persuade his readers to adopt a more "collectivized" and "egalitarian" approach to the threat of global warming, or to affirm such an approach if they already favor it. ( pp.40-42) Maslin teaches geography at University College of London. Although Americans associate "geography" with the memorization of state capitals, in British English it refers to a discipline that we might call environmental studies, broadly defined.
Given Maslin's agenda, I think it's fair to say that his inclusion of Ponte's quote shouldn't be taken as a crude effort to discredit today's warnings of environmental disaster. Rather, Maslin approaches the global cooling myths of the 70s as an example of how scientists can make seriously mistakes, but ultimately correct themselves by virtue of their dedication to finding and analyzing new evidence.
In spite of this admirable self-awareness, Maslin doesn't really take a balanced approach to the politics of global warming, at least so far. (I'm halfway through the book right now.) For example, Maslin describes those who discount the threat of global warming as "individualists…Their success is often measured by their wealth and the number of followers they can command. Victorian mill owners or self-made oil barons are good representatives of this category." (pp.38-39) Maslin may as well add that skeptics of global warming like to kick puppies and hunt endangered species for sport.
In spite of such excesses, Maslin does cover a fair amount of basic science that places the global warming debate in a much more useful context than, say, the polemics of Al Gore in An Inconvenient Truth. For example Maslin describes how, from a truly long-term perspective, the earth is in a period of relatively low temperatures. 100 million years ago, in the age of dinosaurs, the earth was far warmer than it is today. Over the past million years, there have been Ice Ages at regular intervals. Over the past 10,000 years, the earth's temperature has risen consistently as it emerged from the most recent Ice Age.
What does all of this mean for the debate about global warming? I'm not sure. I started reading Maslin's book precisely because I don't know much about climate change (or to be more precise, I've forgotten what I learned when I sophomore in college back in the spring of '97.) Unlike almost any other scientific issue, global warming is water cooler talk just about everywhere. If it 80 degrees one day in October, people casually talk about global warming. I'd like to know a little more.
UPDATE: I did a bit of quick googling for Lowell Ponte and came up with some interesting results. These days, Ponte is an internet-based conservative pundit, among other things. There also seem to be a fair number of conservative sites and comments that hold up his best-selling book from 1976 as evidence that it is best to ignore scientists' reckless predictions of imminent disaster, hot or cold.
Saturday, December 22, 2007
# Posted 11:45 AM by Taylor Owen
ON THE TIMELINESS OF TIMELINES: It is often difficult to disentangle the debates on Afghanistan and Iraq. The two are not the same, as Tony Cordsman demonstrates convincingly in his latest brief. Part of the problem of course is the rhetoric used for both tends to slip into the same fight against islamo-fascism story. In this regard, Harper's shift in language in Canada has been particularly unhelpful in distinguishing the conflict Canadians supported (Afghanistan) from the one they widely did not (Iraq).(8) opinions -- Add your opinion
One issue that gets improperly conflated between the two is the issue of timelines. If timelines are good in Iraq, as the Democrats are telling us in the US, then surely they should then be good in Afghanistan as well, as the Liberals in Canada claim? In fact, I would argue that timelines are good for US engagement in Iraq, and not for NATO engagement in Afghanistan. Let me explain.
In Iraq, a significant majority of the population (lets say 80%), view Americans as occupiers and actually support attacks against them. In Afghanistan, on the other hand, a significant majority of the population (some polls say 90%), support NATO presence. In Iraq, therefore, the timelines would serve to demonstrate to a unsupportive population that the US is not permanently occupying their country. A positive thing, and likely to bring local support to their side. In Afghanistan, the lack of a timeline would show Afghan's that the international community is committed to staying long enough to fight off the resurging Taliban, who by all accounts are making progress in the south and convincing local populations that it is better, in the long term, to side with them. A timeline in Afghanistan would support the rhetoric of the Taliban and likely drive support to them.
Timelines are good in Iraq because they will serve to convince the unsupportive population that the occupation is not permanent. Timelines are bad in Afghanistan because they would suggest to a supportive population that it would be in their long term interests to side with the resurging Taliban.
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
# Posted 8:04 PM by Taylor Owen
Rudy is: Bush + fiscal conservatism + more brains + better communications skills + more experience + an ability to bang heads as necessary. I think Amerians would vote for that in large numbers.There is something a little precious about a Bush supporter telling Americans not to worry because this new and improved Bush (Rudy), is far better than the last Bush, whom they supported as well, twice. How about someone who is not at all like Bush? I think Americans are going to vote for someone like that in large numbers. (11) opinions -- Add your opinion
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
# Posted 7:58 PM by Taylor Owen
For my money, Obama wins in any scenario, and Hillary beats everyone (just) but McCain head on. If McCain is the independent and Huckabee is the GOP, all bets are off.
UPDATE: And then there is the wild card. (4) opinions -- Add your opinion
Sunday, December 16, 2007
# Posted 10:57 AM by Taylor Owen
HUCKABEE A DISASTER? Rich Lowry of the National Review says that Huckabee is the GOPs Howard Dean -- an untested governor who is surging in the polls because he appeals to one niche within the party. Lowry adds that like Dean, Huckabee's nomination would be tantamount to suicide for his party.
I haven't had the chance to read much about Huckabee yet, but have found his performances in debates and interviews were quite proficient, even if I disagree with some of his stands. But I strongly agree with this point made by Lowry:
I think GOP primary voters may want a candidate who has nothing to with Iraq, and that kind of gamble may seem worthwhile as things on the ground are getting better and better. But I agree that national security has to be the core of any winning strategy in 2008. Then again, what real credentials do Romney or Thompson have in that regard? Or even Giuliani, who's great "foreign" policy moment took place in his own back yard. I think you can see where I'm going with this. Ron Paul in 2008! (Just for the record, that was a joke. Also for the record, if you are a Ron Paul supporter who didn't think that was funny, please be nice.)
Then, there's national security, the Republican trump card during the Cold War and after 9/11. Huckabee not only has zero national-security credentials, he basically has no foreign-policy advisers either, as a New York Times Magazine piece this Sunday makes clear.
Posted by David (10) opinions -- Add your opinion
Thursday, December 13, 2007
# Posted 3:58 PM by Taylor Owen
DES MOINES, Dec. 12 -- When senior advisers to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton awakened to the fact that they faced a serious problem in Iowa, they knew they needed a summit. For the divided staff, the question was where.A journalists finds out that political operatives are afraid of stories about panic. So what does she do? She writes a story about it. It's amazing how journalists pretend to be observers, rather than participants, in the political process.
On Iowa, I also recommend taking a look at Joe Gandelman's comments on the cocaine issue. Hillary -- the one woman who can bring together Republicans and Obama supporters. As the saying goes, she's a uniter, not a divider.
Posted by David (2) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 11:22 AM by Taylor Owen
David (0) opinions -- Add your opinion
Friday, December 07, 2007
# Posted 9:20 AM by Taylor Owen
(20) opinions -- Add your opinion
FROM KANDAHAR TO CARNEGIE: David and I have the piece below in this morning's Toronto Star. It tries to link the supply side of the opium problem (our failing counter narcotics initiatives in Afghanistan), to our failure to address the domestic demand side of the issue. Closing Vancouver's Insite supervised injection site would be a major step backwards, both in our strategic capability to address the challenges posed by poppy production in Afghanistan, and in our moral responsibility to help our own citizens in need. The opium problem begins at home, and harm reduction is a key component of this fight.
Failed strategy connects Afghan fields, city streets
TheStar.com - comment - Failed strategy connects Afghan fields, city streetsIn the coming months, under the leadership of the former U.S. ambassador to Colombia, U.S. private contractors will likely attempt to fumigate poppies in Afghanistan. Around the same time, the Canadian government will decide whether to shut down the Insite supervised injection site in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.
The two policies are inextricably linked and unambiguously bad.
In April, the United States appointed William Wood, nicknamed "Chemical Bill," its new ambassador to Afghanistan. In his previous post, Wood championed and oversaw the fumigation of large swaths of the Colombian countryside. The result? For every 67 acres sprayed, only one acre of coca was eradicated. Moreover, production increased by 36 per cent. In addition, the spraying negatively impacted legitimate crops, contaminated water supplies and increased respiratory infections among the exposed populations.
Wood is in Kabul for a single reason – to execute a similar plan in Afghanistan. Poppy production, once held in check by the Taliban government, is exploding – up 60 per cent in
The short-term economic costs and long-term development and health impacts of fumigation will be borne by those whose livelihoods are both directly and indirectly connected to poppy cultivation. Spraying could easily cause public opinion to turn against the Karzai administration and NATO forces, further compromising the mission and increasing the danger to Canadian soldiers.
Given the increased risks this policy poses to both our soldiers and the overall mission, the
Such policies, however, are only part of a long-term project. Success will require a holistic view, one that understands the connections between the consumption of illicit drugs in places like Vancouver and their cultivation in Afghanistan. Specifically, this means tackling the demand for opiates. Although 90 per cent of world heroin comes from Afghanistan, the vast majority is consumed in western countries. Blaming Afghan farmers for the problem is as hypocritical as it is ineffective.
Reducing the cultivation of poppies in Afghanistan begins not on the streets of Kandahar, but on the streets of Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.
Fortunately, such policies exist. Insite, Vancouver's supervised injection site, offers a real first step toward reducing poppy cultivation. This small storefront provides drug users with a sanitary and safe place to inject in the presence of registered nurses. The result: 21 peer-reviewed studies document how Insite diminishes public drug use, reduces the spread of HIV and increases the number of users who enter detox programs.
But Insite does more than get drug use off the street. It is a portal into the health-care system for addicts who are too often shut out. Drug users who visit Insite are an astounding 33 per cent more likely to enlist in a detoxification program. Indeed, Insite has added a second
Sadly, the Harper government remains ideologically opposed to Insite. It is unclear if the federal government possesses the legal authority to close the site but there is significant concern it will attempt to do so within six months.
The Conservatives should be looking to scale Insite nationally, not contemplating its closing. A national network of injection sites could dramatically reduce heroin use in Canada by channelling more drug users into drug treatment programs. Diminishing the demand for heroin would in turn devalue the poppies from which it is derived. Changing this economic
To many Canadians, Afghanistan is a world away. But the lives of drug users outside Vancouver's Carnegie Centre and those of our soldiers in Kandahar are bound together –
Wednesday, December 05, 2007
# Posted 9:39 AM by Taylor Owen
QUICK THOUGHTS ON 'THE UNEXPECTED WAR': Janice Stein and Eugene Lang have written a great book on the first 5 years of the Canadian engagement in Afghanistan. I won't review it in full, but a few of quick points.(0) opinions -- Add your opinion
First, this is a very effective model for a foreign policy book. Lang was on the inside, so we are privy to the story as it evolved in Cabinet. Stein is a great writer, and brings an analytic clarity to the work that complements the policy wonk writing of Lang. She also has the academic and intellectual credibility that clearly led to impressive access to candid interviews with the real players in this story.
Second, this book both praises and damns Hillier. The story of how he romanced Graham and Martin is important, and clearly demonstrates his intelligence and revolutionary spirit within the military bureaucracy. He is the Canadian Rumsfeld. However, there is little doubt that he oversold the military's capability to do both Afghanistan and Darfur - a clear precondition for Martin's support of going to Kandahar. What's more, he also was not honest on his intentions to stay longer than a year, advocating for an expanded role before we even deployed. One is left wondering whether the PMO's case for Andrew Leslie as CDS instead of Hillier was prescient.
Third, the military hysteria around US relations is a knee jerk reaction that undermines Canadian foreign policy. It has got to change. Time and time again, Stein and Lang detail the exaggerated warnings by the military of the consequences of not aligning with US policy. Iraq and BMD were supposedly death nails in US-Canada relations. Neither proved to be even remotely the case. There is a reason that the DM positions controlling our military are split. Civilian military leadership may not be good at procurement, but they do know politics. Related, this point seems particularly important now that we have a government that is more sympathetic to the types of arguments the military were making regarding streamlining with the US military.
Fourth, the story Stein and Lang tell of the federal bureaucracy, and their clear inability/unwillingness to implement any real form of integration is proof that if we are serious about 3D, or any such integrated peacebuilding model, then a laissez-faire approach is wholly insufficient. The British model of incentivised funding structures, in their case Conflict Pools, is going to have to be considered much more seriously than it has to date.
Fifth, the military component of our mission is engaging in tactics that Stein and Lang believe fundamentally undermine the mission. What's more, the balance between the three D's of the mission are so disproportionately weighted to the military that the impact and effectiveness other the two are significantly marginalized. I agree with both points, as Patrick Travers and I argued here. Stein and Lang, however, fail to draw out the consequences of such a critique. What are the implications of this argument? Seems to me that the logical conclusion to their damning assessment is to either address the unbalance and the tactics that threaten the mission, or get out and stop pretending that we are doing something we are not.
Or, maybe these critiques don't actually matter. Perhaps integrated peacebuilding is just a rhetorical tool to sell counterinsurgency to a country which wants to peacekeep. In which case, as you were.
Tuesday, December 04, 2007
# Posted 10:43 AM by Taylor Owen
WHERE DID THE ALLIANCE GO?: With Howard's loss last week in Australia, Prime Minister Harper has found himself as a somewhat reluctant, and one might say lonely stalwart of the Bush driven Atlantic alliance. Particularly on climate change, but also to some degree on Iraq, (he is in denial of the former and was in favor of the latter), he now stands in notable contrast to both British and Australian governments. With all likelihood, the US will also soon diverge on both.(5) opinions -- Add your opinion
Lucky for him, the lack of international temptation will probably serve him well at home, as the Canadian public is largely more sympathetic to the new emerging Atlantic consensus. The main question is whether Harper will stick to his principles or buck to popular pressure. For what it's worth, my bet is that his conservatisms runs deep and will not be easily shed despite electoral temptations. Bad news for the Conservative Party, good news for the Liberals.