Tuesday, April 22, 2008

# Posted 7:52 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

OXBLOG MEGA-SUPER-UPDATE SPECTACULAR: It's hard to live up to a headline like that, but I think I've got a pretty decent story to tell. I've mentioned in passing that I've been travelling abroad for the past few months. Well, that was a euphemism. I was in Iraq, working as an analyst for the Coalition's counter-IED task force.

That wasn't a secret per se, but I was instructed not to blog about my job until I got home from Iraq. When people ask what exactly I was doing in Iraq, I like to say that if I told them I'd have to kill them. Sadly, that just isn't true. I won't go into it right now, but the broad contours of my work had to do with some pretty general questions about the insurgency that lots of people are asking.

I got home from Iraq three weeks ago. Forty-eight hours later, I started working as a full-time volunteer on the foreign policy and national security staff for McCain 2008. I've taken a leave of absence from day job so that I can work a lot more hours for a lot less pay. (Just more proof that I'm an irrational, impractical, delusional ideologue.)

Now let me toss out my third hand grenade: I'm getting married. I proposed to Susanna six days after coming home from Iraq. We hope to get married some time in the spring of 2009. I don't recall off-hand if I ever mentioned Susanna by name on OxBlog. I've generally tried to separate my personal life from my blogging. But this is just too big and too exciting (at least for me).

So, lots of big changes in my life, none of them conducive to frequent blogging. (Some of you may be quite thankful for that.) In Iraq, I could blog, but I was almost always too tired after work. Now I'm too tired and I can't go around expressing political opinions because being part of a campaign means having some discipline. I hope I can work something out where I can blog as part of the campaign, but that's up in the air for the moment.

Now to close on another random note. I'm writing this post sitting next to a window with a panoramic view of downtown Seoul. I made a commitment almost six months ago to do several days of research in South Korea. From the little I've seen, Seoul is an amazing city and I hope to come back when I have time to enjoy it.

To say the least, my life isn't boring these days.
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Sunday, April 20, 2008

# Posted 1:11 PM by Patrick Porter  

SPECIAL RELATIONSHIPS, BLOOD TIES: In Prime Minister Gordon Brown's recent US visit, we can see the peculiar dynamics of the Anglo-American relationship at work.

This piece in the Times in particular tells us a lot about the anxieties that accompany the British/American alliance.

On the one hand, we see the competitive desire to prove that Britain is most special in America's constellation, even more than Atlanticist Sarkozy (who only got to speak to the President rather than all three candidates!) and Oz Prime Minister Kevin Rudd (who only, gasp, got a phone conversation).

The alliance with the US means that Britain can play Greece to America's Rome, and is first in a strong field of contenders for that role.

And we also get a glimpse of what the British alliance delivers the US: a sense of mystical pedigree and ancestral prestige. Thus the New England Historic Genealogical Society has found that Obama is a distant relative of Winston Churchill, himself part American, and the embodiment of Anglo-American kinship, shared burdens and world mission.

Obama's claim to a blood tie is actually more than an eager identification with Churchill. It is an American presidential tradition, but with a twist. On the accession of a new American President, there is the publication of their genealogy as it relates to the English monarchy.

Thus George Bush senior was announced as a distant relative of Queen Elizabeth II by the director of 'Burke's Peerage', and Burke's Presidential Families of the United States links Lincoln to Edward I, Washington to Henry III, and Teddy Roosevelt to Robert III, King of Scots.

Obama, wittingly or not, has updated this tradition, tracing his blood ties to an aristocrat, but one of democratic politics.

For her part, Hillary has more prosaically found a Welsh ancestor. She also discovered Jewish ancestry some years ago during a public dispute over her views on Palestine, and in a moment of real excitement, remembered in New Zealand that she was named after Edmund Hillary, who conquered Everest some six years after she was born.

But the factual truth of these claims is less interesting than what motivates them, which is a kind of compact. The US offers access to power, Britain offers the mystique of old-world prestige. And history is pressed into action to serve both.

NB: For more on this blood-tracing and much else besides, see the Hitch's Blood, Class and Empire.
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Thursday, April 17, 2008

# Posted 10:20 AM by Patrick Porter  

CLINGING TO GUNS AND RELIGION: There doesn't seem anything intrinsically offensive in Obama's remarks about the political ecology of small towns. But it might be empirically wrong.

Getting fired up about wedge issues at election time might not be what struggling folk from small towns do more than others.

According to Larry Bartels, it is college-educated urbanites who are far more attached to social issues when it comes to their voting behaviour:

Small-town people of modest means and limited education are not fixated on cultural issues. Rather, it is affluent, college-educated people living in cities and suburbs who are most exercised by guns and religion. In contemporary American politics, social issues are the opiate of the elites.

Moreover, it is Ivy-League educated Presidential candidates, both Hillary and Obama, who see small-town America in this distorting way. Hillary by pandering to it, and Obama by despairing of it.
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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

# Posted 8:10 AM by Taylor Owen  

WOW. JUST WOW: Bill Clinton in Pennsylvania yesterday.
"I think there is a big reason there's an age difference in a lot of these polls," he said. "Because once you've reached a certain age, you won't sit there and listen to somebody tell you there's really no difference between what happened in the Bush years and the Clinton years; that there's not much difference in how small-town Pennsylvania fared when I was president, and in this decade."
I just finished listening to an abridged version of Clinton's autobiography (I just couldn't commit to the full thing). There are two things that are glaringly clear. First, it's all the evil "far right's" fault. Everything. It is never Clinton's fault. Second, and more relevant here, is that in 1992, Clinton was running a VERY similar campaign to Obama. Had Hillary been in the race, there is no doubt that he would be have mocked her as the establishment candidate. He would have been right, and he would have won. He would have done so using words, which he was at one point pretty good at. And he would have argued that a new generation was ready to have a turn in Washington. Sound familiar?

One more point. Is it really a smart idea to start attacking a whole new generation getting engaged in politics? Like Obama or not, bringing in millions of new voters is an undeniably positive result of his candidacy. Telling them they are naive, waving your wise ex-presidential finger at them, is just demeaning.

HRC: "No you can't. No you can't."


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Wednesday, April 09, 2008

# Posted 10:00 AM by Taylor Owen  

OBAMA-BIDEN: I know I have mentioned this before, but after yesterday's prosecutorial performance, it is worth repeating that aside from the pesky Delaware issue, Biden would make a great Obama VP.


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Saturday, April 05, 2008

# Posted 9:08 AM by Taylor Owen  

2001 IS A DATE, NOT A GOAL: Patrick Travers and I have an oped, here, and below, in the Star today on the recent NATO summit in Bucharest. The background is that Prime Minister Harper was seeking the additional 1000 troops that were part of the conditionality that Parliament place on the extension of the mission to 2011. Also, the Manley Panel, was our Iraq Study Group.

2011 is a date, not a goal

Reinforcements are welcome but do not address Manley's sweeping critique
Apr 05, 2008
Patrick Travers
Taylor Owen

Prime Minister Stephen Harper told reporters in Bucharest that the French troop commitment to Afghanistan represents a "significant and historic re-engagement." The truth is somewhat less dramatic, particularly when measured against the Manley panel's comprehensive and wide-ranging recommendations.

Certainly, the injection of additional resources is good news. It frees American forces to offer more assistance and provides a badly needed show of unity within NATO. But these relatively minor additional resources must be seen in context.

Although allied support will shore up flagging Canadian capacity, the overall mission remains under-resourced. The contributions pledged in Bucharest do not meet the 10,000 troops demanded by ISAF commander Gen. Daniel McNeill before the summit. Even counting the Afghan National Army, there are still fewer forces available than the minimum levels experts identify as necessary for successful peacebuilding operations.

More importantly, the government's success in Bucharest was largely due to a careful reframing of the Manley report. While the panel did emphasize the need for additional troops and helicopter support, it also went much further.

The critiques were sweeping: too many civilian casualties, incoherent counter-narcotics policies, widespread corruption in Afghan institutions, insufficient diplomatic effort, failure to communicate the mission to Canadians, poor interdepartmental co-ordination, and a lack of civilian participation and oversight. Our strategy, as well as our capacity, is flawed.

The report emphasized this point explicitly when it identified "harmful shortcomings in the NATO/ISAF counter-insurgency campaign" caused by "inadequate co-ordination between military and civilian programs for security, stabilization, reconstruction and development." The conclusion that "these and other deficiencies reflect serious failures of strategic direction" could hardly be clearer.

Luckily, the panel provided a blueprint. Its recommendations were rooted in the principles of "3D" or "whole-of-government" peacebuilding. Three successive governments have claimed that they are implementing this new approach to rebuilding failed states, but reality has yet to match the rhetoric. In particular, four challenges still need to be addressed.

First, co-ordinated and comprehensive policy-making demands exceptional clarity. Diplomats, humanitarians and defence experts may view the same issues in strikingly different terms. If we are asking them to work together, as we are, we must provide them with clear goals. For Canada in Afghanistan, this has been lacking from the start and the decision to extend the current mission does little to solve the problem.

Second, much of the Canadian debate about our role in Afghanistan has omitted the international context. We are a modest contributor in a 35-member coalition. Success or failure in Afghanistan depends crucially on the actions of our allies. In this sense, it is hard to see the benefit of an arbitrary extension to 2011. If the international effort to stabilize Afghanistan lasts longer, as it almost certainly will, then we need to be clear about what both Canada and ISAF expects to accomplish in next three years. Our commitment has to be viewed in the context of the larger strategy.

Third, peacebuilding demands balance. According to the Manley panel, "for best effect, all three components of the strategy – military, diplomatic and development – need to reinforce each other."

Not only has this not happened, but the degree of integration has also been difficult to determine from outside observation. The government has consistently failed to provide the verifiable information, clear benchmarks, and concrete timelines to necessary to judge Canada's mission accurately.

Fourth, strategy begins in Ottawa. Harper has taken steps to improve co-ordination between the departments contributing to the mission, but old habits remain. The Manley report underscored that new and more creative solutions are needed for this bureaucratic deadlock.

Other countries, such as the U.K., may provide an example. They have explored alternate means of encouraging departments to work together when managing complex peacebuilding missions. This may be a rare instance of bureaucratic turf battles mattering deeply both for Canadians and for the success of the mission.

Neither the political compromise that extended our involvement in Afghanistan nor recent developments in Bucharest address these challenges. If we are to avoid finding ourselves in the same position in 2011, a more comprehensive re-engagement is needed.

The Manley panel should have sparked a full and informed public discussion of these issues. Instead, the opportunity was largely lost in political manoeuvring. It is past time we had that debate. Otherwise, we are condemning Canada's mission to reliving its past.

Patrick Travers is a doctoral student at the University of Oxford. Taylor Owen is a Trudeau Scholar at the University of Oxford and an Action Canada Fellow.

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