Thursday, October 29, 2009

# Posted 10:06 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

TOM FRIEDMAN'S AMNESIA: Tom Friedman says don't send more troops to Afghanistan, because there are no positive trends to build on, like the Anbar Awakening before the surge in Iraq. Yet back in 2007, Friedman condemned the surge precisely because there was no progress to build on:

January 3, 2007
Now President Bush wants a “surge” of more U.S. troops to Baghdad, in one last attempt to bring order. Whenever I hear this surge idea, I think of a couple who recently got married but the marriage was never very solid. Then one day they say to each other, “Hey, let’s have a baby, that will bring us together.” It never works...

Adding more troops makes sense only if it’s to buy more time for positive trends that have already begun to appear on the horizon. I don’t see them.

January 12, 2007:
More troops alone will not suffice. The only tiny hope left of transforming Iraq is if its leaders have to pay the full retail price of their passions and we have to pay the full retail price of our oil.

February 7, 2007:
Right now everyone in Iraq is having their cake and eating it — at our expense. We have to change that.

The Sunnis, who started this whole murderous cycle, participate in the government, negotiate with us and also indulge the suicide bombers and the insurgents. The Shiites collaborate with us, run their own retaliatory death squads and dabble with Iran. The Saudis tell us we can’t leave, but their mosques and charities funnel Sunni suicide bombers to Iraq and dollars to insurgents. Iran pushes its Iraqi Shiite allies to grab more power, while helping others kill U.S. troops. Ditto Syria.

March 2, 2007:
No surge can work in Iraq unless we have a “moral surge,” a counternihilism strategy that delegitimizes suicide bombers. The most important restraints are cultural, societal and religious. It takes a village — but the Arab-Muslim village today is largely silent. The best are indifferent or intimidated; the worst quietly applaud the Sunnis who kill Shiites.

March 21, 2007:
We need to root for General Petraeus to succeed...But how will General Petraeus or Congress judge if the surge is working? It may be obvious, but it may not be...Remember, enough U.S. troops can quiet any neighborhood for a while. The real test is whether a self-sustaining Iraqi army and political consensus are being put in place that can hold after we leave.

For those who'd like to check my work (or check on Friedman themselves), his old columns are available on his NYT homepage, going back to 1995. They are text searchable.

Cross-posted at Conventional Folly
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# Posted 9:10 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

TOM FRIEDMAN'S LOGIC: The vote is in. Tom Friedman says no more troops for Afghanistan. Why?
When I think back on all the moments of progress in that part of the world — all the times when a key player in the Middle East actually did something that put a smile on my face — all of them have one thing in common: America had nothing to do with it.

America helped build out what they started, but the breakthrough didn’t start with us. We can fan the flames, but the parties themselves have to light the fires of moderation. And whenever we try to do it for them, whenever we want it more than they do, we fail and they languish.
The Camp David peace treaty was not initiated by Jimmy Carter.
OK, but the process would've gone nowhere without Carter's assertive leadership. (OMG, did I just praise Jimmy Carter? Yes, credit where credit is due.) Next example:
The Oslo peace accords started in Oslo — in secret 1992-93 talks between the P.L.O. representative, Ahmed Qurei, and the Israeli professor Yair Hirschfeld.
Not exactly a happy ending, there. But progress. However, is this a discussion about Israelis or Afghanistan? Final example:
The U.S. surge in Iraq was militarily successful because it was preceded by an Iraqi uprising sparked by a Sunni tribal leader, Sheik Abdul Sattar Abu Risha, who, using his own forces, set out to evict the pro-Al Qaeda thugs who had taken over Sunni towns and were imposing a fundamentalist lifestyle. The U.S. surge gave that movement vital assistance to grow. But the spark was lit by the Iraqis.
20/20 hindsight. Democrats lined up in lockstep against the surge. How many of them said, "Wait, there are people like Sheik Sattar who deserve our help fighting Al Qaeda!" (How about Friedman himself? Did he notice Sattar? I'll be looking that up.)

Right now in Afghanistan, there are Afghans ready to fight with us against the Taliban. What we saw in Iraq was, that across the country, people like Sattar came out of the woodwork when they began to believe America would back them up. The evidence they demand is boots on the ground.

UPDATE: Kevin Drum says Friedman is a barometer of shifting conventional wisdom.

Cross-posted at Conventional Folly
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# Posted 9:07 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

FEINGOLD'S FANTASY: On CBS, the senator from Wisconsin said the following:
And the idea that the Taliban is the same as al Qaeda, and they're going to welcome al Qaeda back with open arms into Afghanistan is questionable. I understand they let them come there earlier. The-- the al Qaeda came with lots of money, Saudi money, and it looked like a pretty good deal for them. But, you know, they've seen that movie before.
I didn't know the Taliban watched movies. Anyhow, here's what some experts have to say about the relationship between Al Qaeda and the Taliban. According to Bruce Riedel, who directed the Obama administration's first review of Afghan policy,

I think the relationship between these two continues to be one of a strong bond, particularly among the top leaders, Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden.

Bin Laden continues to swear allegiance to Mullah Omar on a periodic basis. If you look at these two, what's remarkable about their relationship is not friction, but that, for 13 years, they have hung together. Now they think they are on the verge of victory in Afghanistan and Pakistan. They're not going to break apart now.
And here is Peter Bergen, also a longtime Bin Laden watcher,

Today, at the leadership level, the Taliban and Al Qaeda function more or less as a single entity...One of the key leaders of the Afghan Taliban as it surged in strength in 2006 was Mullah Dadullah, a thuggish but effective commander who was quite upfront about his close links to Al Qaeda. "Osama bin Laden, thank God, is alive and in good health," he told CBS in December 2006. "We are in contact with his top aides and sharing plans and operations with each other."
Feingold may not carry a lot of weight in foreign policy circles, but I think his comments say a lot about the opposition of the liberal base to the war in Afghanistan.

Cross-posted at Conventional Folly
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# Posted 9:04 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

EVIDENCE THAT WE DON'T NEED MORE TROOPS: David Adams commanded a US advisory team in the Afghan province of Khost. Ann Marlowe reported from Afghanistan. They write,

From the beginning of 2007 to March 2008, the 82nd Airborne Division's strategy in Khost proved that 250 paratroopers could secure a province of a million people in the Pashtun belt. The key to success in Khost—which shares a 184 kilometer-long border with Pakistan's lawless Federally Administered Tribal Areas—was working within the Afghan system. By partnering with closely supervised Afghan National Security Forces and a competent governor and subgovernors, U.S. forces were able to win the support of Khost's 13 tribes.

Today, 2,400 U.S. soldiers are stationed in Khost. But the province is more dangerous.
A lot more dangerous, actually. Is our initial success in Khost an indication that a small number of troops doing the right things is all we really need? I don't know enough about the province to have an opinion one way or the other.

Now that the province is in trouble, can it be brought back under control with only a small contingent of troops? I don't know.

Was our initial success in Khost something of an illusion, similar to the relative peace throughout Afghanistan during the first years after 9/11? Again, I don't know.

Although skeptical, I'm more open to arguments like Adams and Marlowe's because it's based on evidence from the battlefield, not spurious analogies between the Taliban and our Founding Fathers.

Cross-posted at Conventional Folly
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# Posted 9:01 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

A SUPERB ARTICLE ABOUT AFGHANISTAN: There's plenty of material out there, but Steve Biddle's article in TNR [subscription only] stands head and shouders above the rest. Even if you're against more troops, you should test your logic against Biddle.

For example, NYT columnist Nick Kristof wrote:
The United States was born of our ancestors’ nationalistic resentment of a foreign power whose troops we saw as occupiers, not protectors. The British never fathomed our basic grievance — this was our land, not theirs! — so the more they cracked down, the more they empowered the American insurgency.

Given that history, you’d think we might be more sensitive to nationalism abroad. Yet the most systematic foreign-policy mistake we Americans have made in the post-World War II period has been to underestimate its potency, from Vietnam to Latin America.

We have been similarly oblivious to the strength of nationalism in Afghanistan and Pakistan, particularly among the 40 million Pashtuns who live on both sides of the border there. That’s one reason the additional 21,000 troops that President Obama ordered to Afghanistan earlier this year haven’t helped achieve stability, and it’s difficult to see why 40,000 more would help either.
The American revolution a nationalist insurgency? Did the British allow us to hold national elections and set our own tax policy? Yeah, that analogy has some soft spots. But the real issue is Afghanistan. Biddle writes:

Afghans surely resent foreign occupation, as would anyone. But it is far from clear that this is the primary problem, or that a drawdown to a "light footprint" could defeat the Taliban. After all, we've tried it, and it hasn't worked.

In 2004, there were only 15,200 American troops and under 9,000 NATO-led troops in Afghanistan; as recently as March of 2006, there were only 20,000 American soldiers on the ground and about 12,000 NATO-led troops in a country of about 30 million people. The thinness of these deployments was defended by then–Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld precisely in terms of a perceived need to avoid nationalist resistance to a foreign occupation. If a light footprint could avert insurgency, then there should be no war in Afghanistan today. To put it mildly, it has not worked out that way: The Rumsfeld light-footprint policy gave us the mess we have now. It yielded too little security to protect the population from the Taliban, too few trainers and advisers to create an indigenous military, but enough of a foreign presence to alienate the public all the same.
Read the whole thing.

Cross-posted at Conventional Folly
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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

# Posted 6:03 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

FASHIONABLE RACISM? Yesterday, I was flipping through the Brooks Brothers fall catalogue. The catalog tells a story, in which all the models are part of one multi-generational (super-rich, super-WASPy) family.

Except for the two black models. These two -- one man and woman -- seem to be married to each another (see page 112, for example). Perhaps they fell in love because of their shared passion for dressing up like WASPs (which I completely approve of, as a Brooks-loving semite myself.)

But seriously, why are interracial relationships taboo in clothing catalogs? And by interracial, I mean a relationship involving one white person and one black person. (White and Asian is old news. White and Hispanic? No way to tell who's Hispanic.)

I haven't done a scientific survey, but in a lifetime of flipping through LL Bean, Land's End and other catalogs, I feel like interracial couples are invisible. The same applies to television commercials, as well as mainstream television shows and films.

Everyone is against racism, but we've all got a long way to go in being honest about interracial relationships.

Cross-posted at Conventional Folly
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# Posted 5:37 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

MICHAEL GOLDFARB'S WAR ON J STREET: Michael Goldfarb is not interested in constructive criticism of J Street. What Mike wants is to expose J Street as a fringe, left-wing activist group that only pretends to be pro-Israel to advance it's relativist agenda.

So call Mike partisan, but don't forget that partisan critics often make substantive points, regardless of their intentions. And Mike is both very sharp and very entertaining, so it's worth reading his posts, including his three on-site reports from J Street's annual conference.

Although neither Mike nor I are objective observers when it comes to J Street, the group seems fairly determined to provide an abundance of evidence that confirms our worst suspicions about its motives. As Mike notes, J Street's student wing, J Street U, has dropped the words "pro-Israel" from its official motto, because they're afraid it will drive people away.

J Street director Jeremy Ben-Ami described himself as "concerned but realistic" about the decision by J Street U.

Given what Sonny posted below about some of the non-student members of J Street, you have to wonder which parts of the organization are actually interested in identifying themselves as pro-Israel.

If you're interested in reading more about the J Street conference, I recommend a visit to the October 2009 page on the Weekly Standard's blog, where Mike has chronicled his efforts to deter as many congressmen and senators as possible from attending the J Street conference. His efforts were surprisingly successful, although I'm guessing Mike had his feelings hurt pretty badly when J Street condemned him for engaging in thuggish smear tactics.

Cross-posted at Conventional Folly
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Monday, October 19, 2009

# Posted 5:56 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

TWO CHEERS FOR JOHN KERRY! Yes, you heard me right. Here's what Kerry had to say on CBS about relying on counterterrorism instead of counterinsurgency in Afghanistan:

SENATOR JOHN KERRY: That's correct. I-- I-- I do not believe that a counterterrorism strategy all by itself without a sufficient level of counterinsurgency will work because if you don't have a presence on the ground that's effective, it-- it's almost impossible to collect the kind of intelligence that you need to be equally effective in your counterterrorism.

JOHN DICKERSON: All right, Senator.

SENATOR JOHN KERRY: And, obviously, one of your components of counterterrorism is avoiding collateral damage, civilian casualties. So knowledge and-- and relationships and intelligence are really critical components of that kind of a mission. I think there's a lot I've learned about how we can recalibrate that part of it but that's not the whole mission. Counting the numbers of troops is not going to define our
success here.
Great, great stuff except for that last sentence. If you've read either the Petraeus counterinsurgency manual or Gen. McChrystal's assessment, you know that counterinsurgency is a very labor-intensive process. Kerry is way out on a Biden-esque limb if he thinks troop numbers don't matter.

But that's not why I down-graded Sen. Kerry from three cheers to two. Jamie Fly saw the same interview with Sen. Kerry and entitled his post about it Sen. Kerry's Colossal Error of Judgment. Actually, I agree pretty much with everything Jamie says, although I really wanted to praise Kerry for keeping one foot firmly planted in reality. Frankly, it's amazing to compare the indecisive and hesitant Kerry of today with the fabulously hawkish John Kerry who said this about Afghanistan just three years ago:
The Administration’s Afghanistan policy defines cut and run. Cut and run while the Taliban-led insurgency is running amok across entire regions of the country. Cut and run while Osama bin Laden and his henchmen hide and plot in a lawless no-man’s land. Cut and run even as we learn from Pakistani intelligence that the mastermind of the most recent attempt to blow up American airliners was an al Qaeda leader operating from Afghanistan. That’s right – the same killers who attacked us on 9/11 are still plotting attacks against America and they’re still holed up in Afghanistan.

We need a new policy – the one the president promised when we went into Afghanistan in the first place. Where NATO allies have pledged troops and assistance to Afghanistan, they must follow through. But the United States must lead by example by sending in at least five thousand additional American troops. More elite Special Forces troops, the best counter-insurgency units in the world; more civil affairs forces; and more experienced intelligence units. More predator drones to find the enemy, more helicopters to allow rapid deployments to confront them, and more heavy combat equipment to make sure we can crush the terrorists.
I hesitate to recycle talking points from 2004, but dare I say that Kerry has flip-flopped?

Cross-posted at Conventional Folly
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Saturday, October 17, 2009

# Posted 5:12 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

RUSH IS STILL A RACIST:Steve Benen has a very different opinion from my own. So what if some racist statements were falsely attributed to Rush? He's said plenty of real racist things, too. Steve provides this list, via TAPPED,

Limbaugh's record of racist commentary...includes not only a habit of comparing black athletes to gang members but a general hostility toward black people. Limbaugh only recently suggested that having a black president encouraged black children to beat up white children -- he's also compared President Obama's agenda to 'slavery reparations,' used epithets to reference his biracial background, and compared Democrats responding to the concerns of black voters to rape."
I recommend clicking through to all the links, since they provide the full flavor of Limbaugh's remarks.

My conclusion? Limbaugh clearly enjoys his own over-the-top, politically incorrect humor. Not "edgy", "politically incorrect" humor like what you see on the Daily Show or Colbert Report, but things that are actually incorrect, because they will actually offend a lot of people.

Yet nothing on the TAPPED list comes close to the vicious remarks falsely attributed to Limbaugh by CNN, ThinkProgress and the Huff Po. Unless you're a white supremacist, you won't say that James Earl Ray deserves a Medal of Honor for killing Martin Luther King.

It seems there's plenty to criticize about Rush, so critics won't be giving much up if they stop calling him a racist.

Cross-posted at Conventional Folly
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# Posted 4:44 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

YOU KNOW WHO IS A BIG FAT IDIOT: As I've said before, I don't listen to Rush Limbaugh or any other conservative talk-show hosts. Nothing I know about Rush & Co. has inspired any particular respect or fondness on my part. Yet I remain deeply suspicious of those who rely on criticism of Rush & Co. to advertise their own alleged commitment to civility, facts and the reality-based community.

This brings us, of course, to the recent admissions by CNN, the HuffPo and ThinkProgress that all of them falsely attributed to Rush some vicious racist remarks, namely, that slavery was good, that the Medal of Honor should be awarded to the man who killed Martin Luther King and that “all composite pictures of wanted criminals resemble Jesse Jackson."

I'm inclined to agree with John McCormack this kind of false attribution is exactly what is meant by a "smear". Usually, CNN, ThinkProgress, and the Huff Po demand severe atonement from smear artists, not just limp apologies of questionable sincerity.

Could it be that such an intense concern with Rush Limbaugh's many shortcomings has led certain critics to develop the same nasty habits they condemn on Rush's part?

Cross-posted at Conventional Folly
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# Posted 4:04 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

HOPE IS A FRAUD: As Joe noted this morning, Shepherd Fairey, the artist responsible for the "HOPE" portrait of President Obama, has admitted to tampering with and manufacturing evidence in a lawsuit related to the portrait. The Associated Press claims that Mr. Fairey owes them compensation, since the portrait was based on an AP photo of Obama.

I'm curious to know whether Obama will get a question about the portrait at his next press conference. He bears no responsibility for what happened, of course. Yet on a symbolic level, Fairey's behavior represents an ironic indictment of the borderline personality cult embraced by so many of the President's admirers.

We were told that Obama's election would mark the beginning of a new era of (post)-politics, in which we would leave behind the selfishness, the pettiness and the deceptions of the past. As it turns out, the iconic image at the heart of this personality cult embodies everything we were supposed to transcend.

Which brings us to the Nobel Prize. Once again, Obama bears no responsibility for the strange decision to award him the Prize. To his credit, he stated that very clearly. Yet the premature Prize, like the HOPE portrait, is both a manifestation of the Obama personality cult and a demonstration of its emptiness.

But perhaps all of my carping is irrelevant. The burdens of office have already brought the President's reputation down from the clouds. Yet as someone who spent seven months working full-time on the 2008 campaign (on the other side, of course), I have a hard time letting go of the contrast between the unbridled expectations of Obama's fans and the reality that us critics warned them of.

Cross-posted at Conventional Folly
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# Posted 3:24 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

AUTHENTICITY IS FAKE: My old friend Dara Horn has a great column in the WSJ. She writes,
Americans crave authenticity, culinary and otherwise. But most of what we consider authentic is just an earlier generation's novelty. The Jewish delicatessen is a case in point. While cured meats are a European specialty, Mr. Sax points out that most Jews in Eastern Europe were too poor to afford red meat; pastrami got its start as a way of curing fatty poultry. Sandwiches on rye, equally alien, were an accommodation for the quick meals required for the New World's factory work.
This only makes me love pastrami even more. I love what tastes good. It's so pretentious to worry all the time about what's authentic.

Cross-posted at Conventional Folly
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Thursday, October 15, 2009

# Posted 9:52 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  


Andrew Sullivan:

How do we know that Petraeus is, or will be, a Republican? Does anyone actually have evidence of this? Or is all this speculation based on the stereotype that military = Republican?
Jason Zengerle:

As best I can tell, the assumption that Petraeus is a Republican stems from the fact that he is. From Steve Coll's New Yorker profile of Petraeus:
Petraeus is registered to vote as a Republican in New Hampshire—he once described himself to a friend as a northeastern Republican, in the tradition of Nelson Rockefeller—but he said that around 2002, after he became a two-star general, he stopped voting.
Personally, I think there's no chance Petraeus will run in 2012.

Cross-posted at Conventionally Folly
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# Posted 9:34 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

DEAD AL QAEDA LEADER GIVES INTERVIEW: Eli Lake reports. Mohammad Ilyas Kashmiri was killed by a Predator strike last month. This week, he granted an interview to the Asia Times. Comment:
Cases like this highlight why drone strikes have to be part of a larger strategy," said Andrew Exum, a former Army Ranger officer and part of an assessment team that advised Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, commander of U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan.

"Drone strikes like this can't stand alone because ... they are heavily dependent on real-time intelligence," said Mr. Exum, a fellow at the Center for a New American Security. "If we can't measure the success that we are supposedly having with drone strikes, it calls into question strategies that rely almost exclusively on drone strikes in our war against terrorism."

Cross-posted at Conventional Folly
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# Posted 9:22 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WEEKLY STANDARD=PRAVDA? TNR's Jon Chait is furious about Republican demagoguery:
There's not much fun in conceding that your side is winning over public opinion by exploiting ignorance and fear. It's far more pleasant to imagine that the people have risen up in principled revulsion against statism.

The vanguard of this fantasy movement rests at The Weekly Standard. One issue from a few weeks ago featured a cover image glorifying the town-hall protestors. Modeled after Norman Rockwell's famous Freedom of Speech painting, it depicted a heroic conservative with a copy of the Standard in his pocket. Unlike Rockwell's image, which portrayed the onlookers as fellow citizens holding their tongues in respectful disagreement, the Standard cover depicted them as hideous goons armed with brass knuckles. The corresponding editorial, unironically entitled "People Power," explained that the public had righteously stood up against elites in the name of "freedom and responsibility." The editors of Pravda would have called this package over-the-top.
If you like Chait, you might describe his Pravda analogy as a charming exaggeration. If you don't, you might compare his writing style to, I don't know, maybe, uh, Pravda?

More importantly, while dismissing the Standard's cover package, he makes no reference to the actual cover story, an excellent analysis by Mary Katherine Ham of how Democrats have demagogued the town halls in order to spin public anger about health care as a violent, right-wing fringe movement.

Chait does raise an interesting conceptual point, however. Can Republicans oppose Obamacare as a government takeover of healthcare while simultaneously warning about dangerous cuts to Medicare?

In terms of pure free-market ideology, it doesn't make sense. If you don't like government healthcare, consistency demands that you oppose Medicare. But if you blend conservatism with free-market politics, the answer changes a bit. The fact is, Medicare exists and is the only choice for a lot of seniors. You can oppose Medicare cuts on pragmatic grounds while opposing the extension of government healthcare to new markets.

Does this mean GOP opposition is purely principled and has nothing to do with politics? Of course not. Politics is what political parties do. Even Democrats!

Cross-posted at Conventional Folly
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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

# Posted 1:17 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

NO GLOBAL WARMING SINCE 1998? The Weekly Standard blog links to a BBC article which reports,
For the last 11 years we have not observed any increase in global temperatures.

Naturally, the Standard reminds us that the BBC is not exactly a "bastion of right-wing extremism." Fair enough.

But the facts are a little more complicated. As I noted back in July, 1998 was an unusually hot year, whereas 1999 was relatively cool. Use 1998 as your benchmark, and it looks like temperatures have remained the same. Use 1999, it looks like they've gone up a bit.

But the real issue is how much we can tell from only ten years of temperature data. If you look at the graph below, you'll notice that you can have thirty years of cooling in a century of rising temperatures:A century of temperature change

But this is a political debate, so neither side is going to wait for decades. Skeptics will say there's been no warming for a decade. Activists will say that most of the hottest years in history all occurred in the last decade.

I guess if we're really lucky, we can find some policies that make long-term sense regardless of how they're justified.

Cross-posted at Conventional Folly
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# Posted 9:11 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

DIANNE FEINSTEIN, AFGHANISTAN HAWK: I'm glad to see a staunch liberal staying strong on this issue. Hypothetical question: What if Feinstein were up for re-election in 2010 instead of 2012? I don't know, but here's what she said Sunday on ABC:
The mission is in serious jeopardy. I think General McChrystal, who is one of our very best, if not the best at this, has said a counterterrorism strategy will not work. The president said to us very clearly, just as you said, George, we will not pull out.

Now, if you're going to stay, you have to have a way of winning. The question is, what is that way? And I think the counterinsurgency strategy, which means protecting the people, not shooting from afar, but securing, taking, holding, and providing security for a period of time is really critical...

You leave this country, and the Taliban are increasing all of the time. They're taking over more. It will have a dramatic impact on Pakistan one day. I really believe that.

Now, should we stay there for 10, 12 years? General, I don't think so. I don't think the American people are up for that or want that. But I think -- I don't know how you put somebody in who was as crackerjack as General McChrystal, who gives the president very solid recommendations, and not take those recommendations if you're not going to pull out.

If you don't want to take the recommendations, then you -- you -- you put your people in such jeopardy, just like the base in Nuristan. We lost eight of our men. We didn't have the ability to defend them, and now the base is closing, and effectively we're -- we're retreating away from it. And so I think the decision has to be made sooner, rather than later.
Cross-posted at Conventional Folly
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# Posted 8:53 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WHO WOULD OBAMA GIVE THE PRIZE TO? I'm guessing he wouldn't answer that question, but I hope his answer would be Morgan Tsavngirai, leader of a peaceful effort to bring democracy and human rights to Zimbabwe, which has been terrorized and impoverished by the Mugabe regime.

Obama met with Prime Minister Tsvangirai at the White House in June. During the 2008 campaign, Obama contacted Tsvangirai:
"to share my deep concern for the way his supporters are being targeted by the regime, and to express my admiration for his efforts to ensure that the will of the Zimbabwean people is finally respected"...

"The United States and the international community must be united, clear and unequivocal: the government of Zimbabwe is illegitimate and lacks any credibility," Senator Obama said.
Although Tsvangirai is now Prime Minister, Mugabe is still President. A Nobel for Tsvangirai could help ensure the success of Zimbabwe's nascent transition.

Cross-posted at Conventional Folly
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Sunday, October 11, 2009

# Posted 9:36 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WHAT THE NORWEGIANS WERE THINKING: The President's reaction to winning the Nobel Prize was to say he will "not view it as a recognition of my own accomplishments." Presidents rarely refuse to take credit for any sort of achievement, so I won't give Obama a hard time.

What's more interesting is how the Prize committee framed its decision:

Agot Valle, a Norwegian politician and member of the committee, said in a phone interview that the choice of Mr. Obama was primarily related to his stance on nuclear disarmament. Ms. Valle said the committee last met on Oct. 5, and that the decision to choose him was unanimous. She said his recent work at the United Nations in late September to pass a resolution calling for a strengthened Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty helped his candidacy.

"There is a criticism about the war in Afghanistan, and I understand that," said Ms. Valle. "But this was primarily an award on his work on, and commitment to, nuclear disarmament -- and his dialogue. Of course there will be criticism, because he hasn't achieved his goals yet. It will take time, but this is a support."
Obama gave a major address on nuclear disarmament on April 5 in Prague. Is there something distinctive about his stance on nuclear disarmament that won over the Prize committee?

One way to think about Obama's address is to ask whether he said anything that George Bush would not have said. There were some. First:
To achieve a global ban on nuclear testing, my administration will immediately and aggressively pursue U.S. ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.
Bush was clearly on the other side of the issue. Yet it would be hard to say that the Obama White House has pursued ratification either immediately or aggressively.

The second point of departure, both more important and less exact, was Obama's pledge to "seek engagement with Iran based on mutual interests and mutual respect." George Bush could have (and probably did) say something very similar. After all, the US supported an extended negotiation process led by the Europeans. The real difference, one might say, is that the Norwegians actually believe that Obama is serious about reaching a deal with Tehran.

But there was plenty of language in Obama's address that sounded exactly like the words of George Bush:

We will support Iran's right to peaceful nuclear energy with rigorous inspections. That's a path that the Islamic Republic can take. Or the government can choose increased isolation, international pressure, and a potential nuclear arms race in the region that will increase insecurity for all.

We will support Iran's right to peaceful nuclear energy with rigorous inspections. That's a path that the Islamic Republic can take. Or the government can choose increased isolation, international pressure, and a potential nuclear arms race in the region that will increase insecurity for all.

So let me be clear: Iran's nuclear and ballistic missile activity poses a real threat, not just to the United States, but to Iran's neighbors and our allies. The Czech Republic and Poland have been courageous in agreeing to host a defense against these missiles...

We go forward with no illusions. Some countries will break the rules. That's why we need a structure in place that ensures when any nation does, they will face consequences...

Rules must be binding. Violations must be punished. Words must mean something.
In the final analysis, Obama's speech in Prague does not explain much about why the Norwegians consider his activism on disarmament to be his premier qualification for the prize. In the end, perhaps it's best to say that Obama won the prize simply for being Obama.

Cross-posted at Conventional Folly
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Thursday, October 08, 2009

# Posted 8:00 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE NON-PARTISAN? I just sent off a post to a listserv discussion about J Street and AIPAC. After one AIPAC member described the organization as non-partisan, a critic shot back that AIPAC is no more non-partisan than Queer Nation or the KKK, because all the members basically have the same opinion about their #1 issue. Here's my response to that:
Non-partisanship and diversity of opinion are two different things.

The narrow definition of non-partisanship -- that it brings together both Democrats and Republicans -- is actually a very good one. For example, think about the various organizations that are calling for an end to genocide in Darfur. They involve substantial numbers of both Democrats and Republicans. As far as I can tell, they do not include anyone who agrees with how the Sudanese government treats the people of Darfur.

So how about Queer Nation and the KKK? I don't have personal knowledge of either one, but I'd guess that gay and lesbian Republicans are not likely to join Queer Nation. What makes it partisan isn't that all the members are pro-gay, but that it only represents liberals who are pro-gay.

As for the KKK, one won't make any friends at an AIPAC convention by comparing the two organizations. Anyhow, the KKK represents something that both parties consider repulsive, so you certainly can't call it bi-partisan. To the extent that "non-partisan" literally means unaffiliated with any party, you could call the KKK non-partisan, but I'm inclined to say that they're just extremists.

Cross-posted at Conventional Folly
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# Posted 7:57 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

J STREET CRITIC TO KEYNOTE J STREET CONFERENCE: I was pleasanly surprised to see that Rabbi Eric Yoffie will be one of the keynote speakers at the J Street convention later this month.

Rabbi Yoffie, the president of the Union for Reform Judaism, describes himself as a dove who welcomed the founding of J Street as an alternative to AIPAC. Yet when J Street equated the actions of Israel and Hamas in Gaza, Yoffie lashed out, writing,
[J Street's] words are deeply distressing because they are morally deficient, profoundly out of touch with Jewish sentiment and also appallingly naïve.
It's saying a lot when a prominent dove echoes the standard conservative criticism of J Street.

So what will Rabbi Yoffie say at the J Street convention? Has there been a reconciliation? Have J Street's actions since January persuaded Yoffie that he judged the organization too soon? Or did J Street actually invite an unrepentant critic to address its conference? I'm genuinely curious.

My opinion of J Street hasn't changed. As far as I can tell from a recent NYT Magazine profile of the group, the same team is still in charge of the organziation. Since then, J Street has been rewarded with an invitation to the Obama White House. Not exactly an incentive to change.

Cross-posted at Conventional Folly
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Tuesday, October 06, 2009

# Posted 6:55 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SHADY CAR SALESMAN AND A PUNDIT? He is the demented comedian who gave us Uncle Sugar. He also analyzes public policy in his role as associate director of the Regulatory Studies Program at George Mason University. Ladies and gentlemen, the one and only Rob Raffety:

Incidentally, the editors of the Wall Street Journal acidly note that car sales began to plunge as soon as Cash For Clunkers expired.

Cross-posted at Conventional Folly
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# Posted 6:23 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

READING BOB GATES' MIND: Everyone wants to know what he's thinking. If Gates says no more troops for Afghanistan, Obama can say "Why send more troops if George Bush's secretary of defense says they're not necessary?"

If Gates says send the troops, it will be extremely hard for Obama to reject the advice of a secretary so highly-regarded that he was the only Bush cabinet member reappointed by Obama.

So what is Gates thinking? Yesterday, he did a rare joint interview with Hillary Clinton, filmed by CNN:
FRANK SESNO, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, let me ask you about our objectives, because back in March, President Obama said several things. He said our clear and focused goal -- that was his term -- was to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda. He said, for the American people, the Afghanistan/Pakistan border was the most dangerous place in the world, that Afghanistan was an international security issue of the highest order, and that, if the Afghan government were to fall to the Taliban, the country will -- and I'm quoting him here -- "be again a base for terrorists who want to kill as many of our people as they possibly can."

Has any of that changed from then until now in this review?


GATES: I don't think so.


SESNO: So, staying the course and having this government survive and not fall to the Taliban and disrupting and dismantling al Qaeda is the objective, is the goal of this review that you're going through?

CLINTON: Well, Frank, the goal remains, as the president said last spring.
Generally, those who think the Taliban will open the door to Al Qaeda favor more troops. But Gates (and Clinton) know that. So were they hinting at their own positions, or were they just pretending to hint?

What a game.

Cross-posted at Conventional Folly
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# Posted 5:56 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

IS McCHRYSTAL OUT OF LINE? Mike O'Hanlon says no. Eugene Robinson says,
The men with the stars on their shoulders -- and I say this with enormous respect for their patriotism and service -- need to shut up and salute.
Robinson adds that he applies the same standard to military officers whose opinions he agrees with. Clearly, Robinson shares the suspicion of many, including myself, that opinions about civil-military relations constantly flip as a result of partisan realignments. When George Bush went against his generals' advice and ordered the surge, weren't Republicans celebrating civilian supremacy while Democrats insisted we must listen to the generals?

Before that, it was Bush who insisted on the importance of listening to the generals. And before that, it was Democrats who celebrated generals like Eric Shinseki, who earned his place in Obama's cabinet by saying things that displeased the Bush administration.

What I don't know is whether specific individuals, whether in government or media, have reversed their positions on civil-military relations in order to advance a partisan interest. Those Republicans who favor listening to the generals may simply be silent now, while those Democrats who favor civilian supremacy were equally silent when Bush ordered the surge. Strange as it may seem, a party can contradict itself without having any of its members compromise their personal reputations (although some of them presumably have.)

Cross-posted at Conventional Folly
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Sunday, October 04, 2009

# Posted 1:51 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

OBAMA'S MISLEADING SCARE TACTICS: Last month, I gave the President a hard time for denouncing GOP scare tactics, while relying on his scary stories to build support for his healthcare plan. On Monday, ABC's Jake Tapper pointed out that the President's scary stories were "not quite accurate" or, in plain English, completely misleading.

First up, there's the man who died when his insurance company cut off his chemotherapy because he allegedly failed to report he once had gallstones. Actually, the man got his coverage back, got his chemotherapy, and lived for three and a half more years.

Next up, there's the woman with cancer whose coverage was cancelled because she forgot to report a case of acne. Turns our the acne had nothing do with her cancellation (although to Obama's credit, it does seem the woman actually had some pimples.)

As Tapper notes, the whole truth still makes the insurance companies look pretty heartless. But if the President wants to denounce the liars and cynics who oppose his plan, he should work a little harder to be part of the reality-based community.

Incidentally, this was how I closed out my original post about Obama's scary stories:
So I guess if I provide a few examples of terrible things that happen in Canada, I would’ve responsibly documented the perils of government-run healthcare?
Per the Wall Street Journal:
When the pain in Christina Woodkey's legs became so severe that she could no longer hike or cross-country ski, she went to her local health clinic. The Calgary, Canada, resident was told she'd need to see a hip specialist. Because the problem was not life-threatening, however, she'd have to wait about a year.

So wait she did.

In January, the hip doctor told her that a narrowing of the spine was compressing her nerves and causing the pain. She needed a back specialist. The appointment was set for Sept. 30. 'When I was given that date, I asked when could I expect to have surgery,' said Woodkey, 72. 'They said it would be a year and a half after I had seen this doctor.'

So this month, she drove across the border into Montana and got the $50,000 surgery done in two days. 'I don't have insurance. We're not allowed to have private health insurance in Canada,' Woodkey said. 'It's not going to be easy to come up with the money. But I'm happy to say the pain is almost all gone.'
As I said before, anecdotes can't prove a broader point. But they should at least be true.

Cross-posted at Conventional Folly
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Friday, October 02, 2009

# Posted 4:28 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

CARL LEVIN'S AFGHAN FLIP-FLOP: Goldfarb has the goods. Four-and-a-half months ago, Chairman Carl Levin and eight other Democratic members of the Senate Armed Services Committee signed a letter to President Obama that began

We agree that the United States has a vital national interest in ensuring that Afghanistan never again becomes a safe haven from which al Qaeda can plot attacks against our homeland, and that achieving this objective requires that we put in place a well-resourced, comprehensive counterinsurgency strategy.
Of course, Levin is now one of the premier opponents of giving Gen. McChrystal the resources he's asked for.

The letter was also signed by John McCain and seven Committee Republicans.

Cross-posted at Conventional Folly
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# Posted 4:02 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

BROOKS DECLARES WAR ON TALK RADIO: David Brooks' column this morning is a guns-blazing assault on Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity and the rest of the conservative talk radio-sphere.

As Pete noted earlier, Brooks also has harsh words for those Republicans who ignorantly overestimate the influence of Limbaugh & Co. Let the record also show that Brooks is no more fond of "cynical Democrats, who love to claim that Rush Limbaugh controls the G.O.P." Those cynics include White House spokesman Robert Gibbs, who presumably takes his orders from Barack Obama.

Now let me be clear about where I stand. I don't listen to talk radio. I generally trust David Brooks' instincts, but I won't pretend I know enough to agree or disagree this time around. Limbaugh & Co. only make it onto my radar screen when the mainstream media cover them, which happens either when one of them says something outrageous or when the White House decides to crown them as the leaders of the GOP.

Cross-posted at Conventional Folly
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# Posted 4:00 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SAY IT THREE TIMES, "THERE'S NO PLACE LIKE HOME": I've been off the network for almost two weeks now, while my wife and I were in the process of moving into our new home in Northwest DC.

This move will mark the end of an era. I've packed up and moved almost every 12 months since graduating from college ten years ago. Now, I've found a place where I hope to live for ten or twenty years or longer.

For the moment, it still feels like we're just playing house and pretending to be grown-ups. Maybe if a couple of kids show up and keep us up all night with their crying, it'll seem more real. For now, it's just fun.

Once again, a big shout out to Uncle Sam for his pro-homeowner tax policies, which have made it remarkably affordable to upgrade to from an apartment to a house. It's still hard to believe, but we are now paying less per month for a mortgage than we were to rent a nice two-bedroom.

Now back to serious blogging.

Cross-posted at Conventional Folly
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