OxBlog

Friday, July 31, 2009

# Posted 2:37 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

UM, WHAT'S OUR MISSION IN AFGHANISTAN? Are we committed to nation-building, or are we just going to take out Al Qaeda? Here's Obama announcing his new strategy in March:
I want the American people to understand that we have a clear and focused goal: to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future.
Here's how the Pentagon described our objective in its new report to Congress:
The focus of the new strategy is to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al-Qaida and prevent terrorist and extremist use of safe havens in either Pakistan or Afghanistan.
Yet in the same paragraph, the Pentagon explains,
The focus for U.S. forces will be to 1) to provide security for the Afghan people and 2) to train Afghan security forces so that they can take an increasing role in operations. To meet our strategic objectives, the United States and its allies will pursue a fully resourced counterinsurgency (COIN) campaign which leverages the diplomatic, informational, military,and economic assets of the United States and of the international community to diminish insurgent capability, maintain security, deliver services, and build economic infrastructure and human capital. The COIN campaign consists of sequenced operations across three lines of operation: 1) Security; 2) Governance; and, 3) Reconstruction and Development.
If you read Obama's speech carefully, you'll notice that he also shifts subtly from counter-terrorism to nation-building:
To advance security, opportunity, and justice – not just in Kabul, but from the bottom up in the provinces – we need agricultural specialists and educators; engineers and lawyers. That is how we can help the Afghan government serve its people, and develop an economy that isn’t dominated by illicit drugs. That is why I am ordering a substantial increase in our civilians on the ground. And that is why we must seek civilian support from our partners and allies, from the United Nations and international aid organizations.
Strategically, there is a certain logic to Obama's approach. The best way to defeat Al Qaeda may be to build a strong and well-governed Afghanistan. I certainly believe that.

Politically, the White House approach is disingenuous at best. The President wants to sell one war and fight another. He wants to apply the comprehensive approach that reversed our failure in Iraq without subjecting himself to criticism that he wants to build a Denmark on the Euphrates (or in this instance, the Hindu Kush).

If things go well in Afghanistan, he might be able to get away with it. If they go poorly, and we have to provide more money and more troops, Obama will find himself subjected to the same criticism as Bush. If the President wants to fight a long and hard war all the way to the end, he shouldn't tell voters that we only have limited objectives.

Cross-posted at Conventional Folly
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Monday, July 27, 2009

# Posted 12:35 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

PAYING THE PIPER (OR JUST DOCTORS AND LAWYERS): Matt Yglesias is frustrated with
the nutty and dysfunctional nature of “fee-for-service” medicine in which doctors are paid for doing stuff rather than for treating illness.
I feel the same way, but not about medicine. My wife is an attorney at a large firm, where the firm's earnings depend on how many hours its lawyers bill, not whether the client's legal illnesses get treated. It's an extremely frustrating system, since it punishes lawyers for their efficiency. If a good lawyer can write a brief in five hours, but a less good lawyer takes ten, the less good lawyer earns more money for the firm. In fact, that second lawyer may not be less good, but more smart, since annual bonuses are handed out on the basis of hours billed, not objectives accomplished.

But is there a viable alternative to this system? Should the firm offer to defend its clients for a fixed price? Probably not. A lawsuit can go one for one year or it can go on for ten.

Is there an alternative to fee-for-service billing in medicine? Kevin Drum sympathizes with Matt's frustration, but observes,
Paying doctors a straight salary seems like the best middle ground. But that just pushes the problem up a level: maybe individual doctors get a salary, but how do you set overall compensation for the medical group or hospital? And what about physicians in private practice? You can't very well pay them a salary when they work for themselves, so does private practice go away? And what about bonuses? Should doctors be paid more based on some kind of formula for productivity and general wonderfulness? Would you care to propose such a formula so the rest of can all laugh at it?

Anyway: complicated.
An understatement.

Cross-posted at Conventional Folly
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# Posted 12:07 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

I ASSURE YOU, EVERYTHING IS JUST FINE IN THE MIDDLE EAST: Tom Friedman, Sunday morning:
I can comfortably report the following: The bad guys are losing.

Yes, the dominos you see falling in the Muslim world today are the extremist Islamist groups and governments. They have failed to persuade people by either their arguments or their performances in power that their puritanical versions of Islam are the answer.
As Dick Cheney might have said, the extremists are just "dead-enders". What we are seeing today in the Middle East is just "the last throes" of Islamic radicalism.

On the other hand, Friedman does hedge his optimism by writing,
Having lost the argument, though, the radicals still hang on thanks to gun barrels and oil barrels — and they can for a while.
One it tempted to ask, if one has the guns and the oil, what else does one need to stay on top in the Middle East?

Now, I don't want to discount the good things that have happened recently in the Middle East. But the regime still has the guns and the oil in Iran. Moderates won the recent election in Lebanon, but Hezbollah still has the guns. In Afghanistan, the Taliban are outgunned, but they have killed more US and NATO troops this month than in any month previously. In Pakistan, the government is showing more determination, but the Taliban remain extremely dangerous.

At least until recently, one of the lessons of the Bush era was not to be naively optimistic about the future of the Middle East. In 2003, I wasn't able to imagine what a real worst case scenario would look like in Iraq. For a guy who's been covering the region for 30 years, Friedman sure is an optimist.

Cross-posted at Conventional Folly
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Sunday, July 26, 2009

# Posted 11:48 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

Is Republican support necessary to pass a healthcare reform bill? The question came up Sunday morning on ABC:
[GEORGE] STEPHANOPOULOS: So it's not possible to have a Democrat-only bill.

[SEN. KENT] CONRAD: No, it is not possible and perhaps not desirable either.
During the roundtable that followed the interview with Conrad, George Will observed,
The president has 60 senators. He has a 70-vote majority in the House of Representatives and he blames Republicans. That's not the problem. His difficulties extend from the Mayo Clinic to the Congressional Budget Office, which just yesterday said of the president's latest proposal, a panel, a magic silver bullet to constrain costs, that it would save maybe $2 billion.
Clearly, the tenor of Will's comments was confrontational. But leave that aside for moment. If the Democrats have 60 votes in the Senate and a 70-vote majority in the House, how is it possible that Obama is having trouble getting his plan through?

Republicans would argue that Obama's plan is so bad that even centrist Democrats won't support it. Maybe. But plenty of awful bills have made it through Congress simply because the majority wanted it that way. Why not this time?

One answer is that it's simply premature to assume that a bill won't make it out of Congress. In his contribution to the roundtable, Paul Krugman suggested,
All of that we're seeing, all of the Sturm und Drang, and all of that is actually just Kabuki; that in the end, the Democrats will come together. What we're seeing is jostling for the shape of the final outcome. And that in the end, everybody will come on board, the Blue Dogs will come onboard, the progressives will come onboard, because of the fear of failure.
The Democrats didn't come together in 1994, when they had similar majorities in the House and Senate. This time around, they're under much greater pressure to come together precisely because they failed to do in 1994.

Don't ask me what happens next.

Cross-posted at Conventional Folly
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# Posted 11:17 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WORST. MOVIE. EVER. How often do you see a review that begins like this?
It's hard to know where -- and with whom -- to begin when assessing the depraved, worthless piece of filth that is "Orphan," a high-gloss horror show about a well-meaning couple who bring home a 9-year-old girl to join their family, only to discover, way too late, that she's a homicidal psychopath.
The quote is from Ann Hornaday's review in the Washington Post. Interestingly, most of the comments on Hornaday's review trashed Hornaday, rather than the film itself. I must confess I'm not interested in resolving this debate to spend $10 on a movie ticket.

Cross-posted at Conventional Folly
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# Posted 10:18 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WHY MAUREEN DOWD ISN'T IN JAIL (AND A QUESTION FOR DENNIS):Maureen Dowd is a free woman because "Being obnoxious isn't a crime." That is the opening line of Dowd's column from this morning. She intended her words as a defense of Henry Louis Gates, but it's awfully tempting to see them as a sort of mea culpa.

Although Kathy offered considerable praise for Dowd's column, I protest. Dowd's column is an exercise is just the sort of profiling that she claims to denounce. In what way? Without any evidence to back it up, Dowd suggests that "testosterone" led both Sgt. Crowley and Prof. Gates to behave in a combative manner.

Dowd also suggests that both Crowley and Gates became more combative because their egos were in play. That is clearly the case for Gates, who warned Crowley not to mess with someone as important as Prof. Gates. But what is Dowd's evidence for Crowley's ego getting in the way? Just that it was an encounter of "the town vs. the gown" and "the hard-working white cop vs. the globetrotting black scholar."

Once again, Dowd fixates on racial and class status, relying on them as explanations for individual behavior.

In contrast, TMV's Dennis Sanders provides a much more thoughtful and constructive take on the whole series of events. Dennis writes,
White conservatives want us to “get over it.” Maybe in time we will, but it isn’t that easy. You can’t just undo 400 years of history in a few decades.
Context is everything here. What are the real world implications of not "getting over it"? Dennis writes,
Like Professor Gates, I would also be a bit apprehensive around a white cop because I don’t know how things will transpire.
There's nothing wrong with Dennis being apprehensive. Yet the first three words of his sentence suggest that Gates' confrontational behavior is the natural extension of apprhensiveness, which itself is the natural extension of "400 years of history".

This is the chain of thought that strikes many people, conservative or otherwise, as problematic. It suggests that completely unacceptable behavior may be excused, at least in part, on the grounds of racial history. Dennis does not say this explicitly. Rather, it all comes back to that enigmatic phrase, "getting over it". What does it mean? Can we agree on what it means?

Here is the essential question I would ask about "getting over it" -- If someone has not gotten over the history of discrimination against their particular group, are they entitled to any behavioral leeway to which a member of the majority is not entitled? Or are they simply entitled to a measure of sympathy?

Cross-posted at Conventional Folly
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Saturday, July 25, 2009

# Posted 8:32 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WELCOME TO GATES-GATE: When I first saw the headlines about Gates being arrested, I thought to myself, "How in the world did the Secretary of Defense get arrested?" No, not that Gates. Henry Louis Gates, of Harvard. I read the WSJ's first write-up of the story and thought to myself, "Please let this be a one-day story. Please, don't let this become a pointless racial brouhaha."

IMHO, if there are going to be a whole bunch of headlines about Gates, and there are wars going on in Iraq and Afghanistan, then those headlines should be about Robert Gates. But since they aren't, let me wade into this quagmire on the homefront.

One fact that jumps out at me right from the beginning is the background of the arresting officer, Sgt. James Crowley. As the AP tells it:
Cambridge Sgt. James Crowley has taught a class about racial profiling for five years at the Lowell Police Academy after being hand-picked for the job by former police Commissioner Ronny Watson, who is black, said Academy Director Thomas Fleming.

"I have nothing but the highest respect for him as a police officer. He is very professional and he is a good role model for the young recruits in the police academy," Fleming told The Associated Press on Thursday.
This would be a totally different story if Crowley didn't have that kind of background to draw on. If he could be pigeonholed as a generic cop, this would become a story about all police officers and all the problems they have.

I'm guessing President Obama might have been more restrained at Wednesday's news conference if he knew about Crowley's background. Aside from Obama's comments about the police "act[ing] stupidly", what surprises me most about what he said is simply its length -- 441 words, according to my MS Word Counter. Why give this story legs? It is a distraction from Obama's real priorities, like health care.

One final question for this post: Why did this have to become a news story in the first place? Best I can tell, four days went by between Gates' arrest and the first stories about the events. I wish that Prof. Gates and the Cambridge police could've resolved this issue before it became a national story.

Cross-posted at Conventional Folly
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# Posted 8:31 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

ABU MUQAWAMA, BACK FROM AFGHANISTAN: Counterinsurgency blogger Andrew Exum, aka Abu Muqawama, is back from Afghanistan. Andrew explains:
I was asked by General McChrystal to be part of a small team of scholars and practitioners helping to conduct his 60-day review of strategy and operations in Afghanistan. So I have spent the past month traveling around Afghanistan conducting interviews and trying to evaluate ISAF's operations.

The three main points Andrew took away from his visit are:

  1. Winning will be extremely hard.

  2. Gen. McChrystal has a great staff.

  3. Gen. McChrystal understands that counterinsurgency is about protecting the population.


What I'd be curious to know is whether Andrew thinks there's much hope for the different NATO contingents working together effectively, or whether America will have to do the all the heavy lifting.


Cross-posted at Conventional Folly
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# Posted 8:29 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE GENERALS OF '76: The Wall Street Journal has a very good profile today of the West Point Class of 1976, whose graduates include Ray Odierno, our commander in Iraq, and Stanley McChrystal, our commander in Afghanistan, along with several other prominent generals.

The article mentions in passing that Odierno's son lost his arm in 2004, in a firefight near Baghdad. Later, the article mentions in passing that the daughter of Gen. Keith Walker was killed by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan in 2005.

This kind of tragedy is almost inevitable, given how many senior officers (colonels as well as generals) have children serving in the military, often in front-line combat units. My analyst position in Iraq was previously held by a retired lieutenant colonel whose son's was leading an infantry unit just over the wall in Baghdad. The deputy commander of my task force in Iraq was an active-duty lieutenant colonel with a son in Iraq. One of my colleagues was a retired NCO who survived more than one IED blast and had a son in Iraq.

The headquarters I served in was not unusual. Military service is a family tradition, passed on from father to son (and often now from father to daughter).

We often hear that our political leaders (with rare exceptions like John McCain) don't have children in the line of fire. But our military leaders certainly do, and they pay the price.

Cross posted at Conventional Folly
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# Posted 8:27 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

ANOTHER FORAY INTO CLIMATE SCIENCE: As always, my role is the amateur plunging into a pool of expertise. On Thursday, George Will quoted Mark Steyn to the effect,
If you're 29, there has been no global warming for your entire adult life. If you're graduating high school, there has been no global warming since you entered first grade.

Kevin Drum ismissed Steyn's comment as a denialist talking point:
Global temps have been trending up for over a century, but in any particular year they can spike up and down quite a bit. In 1998 they spiked up far above the trend line and last year they spiked below the trend line. So 2008 was cooler than 1998.

Kevin provides the relevant graph to make his point.

I found the graph interesting for several reasons. First of all, it shows that global temperatures were falling from around 1940 through 1975. Then there were big jumps in the late 70s, late 80s and late 90s. Whatever's happening to our planet's temperatures, they certainly aren't holding steady.

Anyhow, Kevin's post (along with those of Ezra Klein and Ryan Avent) led Jim Manzi to defend Will and Steyn on the grounds that they are, at a minimum, technically correct, since average temperatures haven't risen over the past ten years, regardless of what's happened over the past thirty-five. Jim also raises some very interesting questions about how much data we actually need to know whether the globe is warming or not. He admits that ten years of stability doesn't mean much. But how many years of data do we actually need to come up with good answers about the existence/extent of global warming?

Finally, there's one last response from Kevin in which he takes Jim to task for saying that temperatures have been stable over the past decade, since they actually have risen (by one-fifth of a degree (Celsius) to be precise). Kevin's baseline year is 1999. Compared to 1998 (a hot year), it seems temperatures have actually fallen slightly. I think Kevin's argument would've been much more robust if he said that the average temperature for the past ten years was significantly higher than the average temperature for the decade before that.

So all I need to figure out is what the average temperature will be a decade from now.

Cross-posted at Conventional Folly
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# Posted 10:58 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE GENERALS OF '76: The Wall Street Journal has a very good profile today of the West Point Class of 1976, whose graduates include Ray Odierno, our commander in Iraq, and Stanley McChrystal, our commander in Afghanistan, along with several other prominent generals.

The article mentions in passing that Odierno's son lost his arm in 2004, in a firefight near Baghdad. Later, the article mentions in passing that the daughter of Gen. Keith Walker was killed by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan in 2005.

This kind of tragedy is almost inevitable, given how many senior officers (colonels as well as generals) have children serving in the military, often in front-line combat units. My analyst position in Iraq was previously held by a retired lieutenant colonel whose son's was leading an infantry unit just over the wall in Baghdad. The deputy commander of my task force in Iraq was an active-duty lieutenant colonel with a son in Iraq. One of my colleagues was a retired NCO who survived more than one IED blast and had a son in Iraq.

The headquarters I served in was not unusual. Military service is a family tradition, passed on from father to son (and often now from father to daughter).

We often hear that our political leaders (with rare exceptions like John McCain) don't have children in the line of fire. But our military leaders certainly do, and they pay the price.

Cross-posted at Conventional Folly
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Monday, July 20, 2009

# Posted 1:28 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

MEANWHILE BACK AT THE RANCH...This would've been much bigger news if not for the Sotomayor hearings --Kevin Drum notices that moderate Senate Democrats have excised the card-check provision from the Employee Free Choice Act. From the NYT:

A half-dozen senators friendly to labor have decided to drop a central provision of a bill that would have made it easier to organize workers.

The so-called card-check provision — which senators decided to scrap to help secure a filibuster-proof 60 votes — would have required employers to recognize a union as soon as a majority of workers signed cards saying they wanted a union. Currently, employers can insist on a secret-ballot election, a higher hurdle for unions.

The abandonment of card check was another example of the power of moderate Democrats to constrain their party’s more liberal legislative efforts. Though the Democrats have a 60-40 vote advantage in the Senate, and President Obama supports the measure, several moderate Democrats opposed the card-check provision as undemocratic.
Count me as a fan of secret ballot elections, for pretty much anything.

Cross-posted at Conventional Folly
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# Posted 12:57 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WILL NINJA LOBBY BLOCK SOTOMAYOR CONFIRMATION? If I were Judge Sotomayor, I would be concerned about the gun lobby. But I would be much more afraid of the nunchuk lobby. Doesn't anybody remember what happened to the last Supreme Court nominee who suggested that states have the right to ban ninja weapons?

Of course nobody remembers! When ninjas take you out, they make sure that nobody even remembers you even existed in the first place!

In an ominous sign of things to come, celebrity ninjas have already begun to speak out against Sotomayor:

Ninja Turtle Press Conference

(Photo courtesy of Paul Tassi, who recently did a fascinating interview with ninja turtle Michaelangelo.)

If I handled communications for the ninja lobby, I would be sure to point out that the Second Amendment protects "the right of the people to keep and bear arms." It does not say firearms. Just arms.

Why? Because James Madison was probably a ninja.

Cross-posted at Conventional Folly
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# Posted 12:02 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

MULTIPLE CHEERS FOR POLYGAMY! My cultural intake the past couple of weeks has provided me with a strong dose of polygamy. Courtesy of Netflix, I am about to finish season two of Big Love, the HBO drama about a forward-thinking polygamist family in Utah. On the literary side of the house, I just finished A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini, which recounts the story of two Afghan women who find themselves married to the same brutal man.

Hosseini's novel is relentlessly critical of the violent sexism that passes for culture, tradition and faith in much of Afghanistan. Yet polygamy itself is never a target of that criticism. In fact, the great solace in the life of Hosseini's protagonists, Laila and Maryam, is the close friendship they share in spite (or because) of the suffering inflicted on both women by their husband Rasheed. Nor does Hosseini suggest that Rasheed's brutality has anything to do with polygamy. He is equally brutally toward Maryam for several years before his marriage to Laila. One almost gets the sense that sexism is what ruins polygamy, which might otherwise be a dignified lifestyle. Briefly, the novel does introduce us to the multiple wives of Maryam's wealthy father Jalil, all three of whom seem quite content.

Big Love premiered in 2006, before the publication of Hosseini's novel in 2007. It also seems to suggest that polygamy wouldn't be such a bad thing if practiced by modern, self-conscious adults. The show focuses constantly on the profound contrast between the loving (although imperfect) family of the protagonists and the brutal, demented behavior of the polygamous cults who live on isolated compounds. As a result of family ties, the protagonists Bill, Barb, Nicky and Margene cannot escape the influence of the compound.

Although generous and loving, Bill is often consumed by business affairs to the point where he cannot give his wives the attention they need. Instead, their friendship with each other emerges as the saving grace of the polygamous lifestyle. Whereas Maryam and Laila seems to enjoy an impossibly perfect relationship, Barb, Nicky and Margene often squabble as a result of their petty jealousies, insecurities, and thirst for recognition. Yet their conflicts never seems any worse than what all of us have probably seen in our own families.

Although you won't see me protesting on behalf of polygamy anytime soon, there are some interesting policy questions here. Implicitly or explicitly, the Taliban's brutality toward women often serves as a justification for our military intervention in Afghanistan. Both Democrats and Republicans have celebrated the new freedom of women in Afghanistan.

Should we be embarrassed then, by the persistence of polygamy? Or can we celebrate our enlightened approach to gender issues while tolerating plural marriage in the name of cultural diversity? If we can tolerate it in Afghanistan, why is it unacceptable here in the United States?

My personal suspicion is that it is simply impossible to separate sexism from polygamy. Or to put it slightly differently, I seriously doubt whether a husband and a wife can truly be equals if there is another wife in the equation (or another husband, for that matter). Yet I won't take a more definitive position since I haven't studied polygamy as it is actually practiced. Moreover, can there be a fair test of polygamy if it is only studied in the profoundly sexist regions of the world where it is currently practiced?

If our efforts to promote women's education in Afghanistan turn out to be a success, we may soon find ourselves confronted with doctors, lawyers and professors who eloquently assert that they are glad to be one of many wives and wouldn't have it any other way.

Cross-posted at Conventional Folly
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Sunday, July 19, 2009

# Posted 11:13 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE AFGHANISTAN DEBATE (YES, THERE IS ONE): Republicans may not complain much about President Obama's strategy for Afghanistan, but there is a good amount fire now directed at the administration from the liberal side. Ibn Muqawama provides a solid round-up and critique:
A common refrain I hear is that the Taliban has limited appeal, they're fragmented, the Afghans don't want them back, they're not that strong, etc. The humanitarian camp seems to think that IGOs and NGOs can effectively conduct reconstruction without more security by helping the population (a rather extreme take on "winning hearts and minds") while the "not important" camp seems to say, "Why are we wasting our time running around after a bunch of backward, bearded guerrillas who aren't a direct threat to us?"

While the past isn't necessarily a predictor, I do think it's important to remember that between 1994-2001, the Taliban was able to take over nearly all of the country. Its leadership proved adept at exploiting Afghan disenchantment and religious symbolism to attract supporters, and at gaining the allegiance of numerous warlords to bolster its ranks. Once in power, it facilitated the expansion of violent extremist groups in other Central Asian countries. Obviously things have changed a lot since 2001, but if we were to withdraw combat troops I'm not sure what prevents that from happening again.
And this time, Pakistan is on the brink of chaos, so a Taliban state next door would add fuel to that dangerous fire.

Cross-posted at Conventional Folly
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# Posted 11:04 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE LONG ARM OF THE LAW REACHES FOR JACK MURTHA: The editors of the NYT (of all people) say that Rep. Murtha is becoming a dangerous liability to the Democrats. An ongoing investigation has found that
[Confessed bribe-taker Richard] Ianieri’s company hired the lobbying firm of Mr. Murtha’s brother Kit. The company soon was blessed with money from an $8.2 million defense earmark. The Capitol newspaper Roll Call reported last month that Representative Murtha, using a 2005 tsunami relief bill, took the $8.2 million from another contractor that had severed ties with his brother’s lobbying firm. The Department of Justice alleges that Mr. Ianieri’s company then illicitly distributed $1.8 million of the money to other companies, some of them represented by Kit Murtha’s firm.
I must confess to bit of schadenfreude. Just two years ago, Jack Murtha was a fixture on the Sunday morning talk shows. With the indignation of the prophets of old, he thundered against the folly of those who would sacrificing his beloved soldiers and Marines on the altar of a futile war in Iraq. Apparently, Mr. Murtha knows first hand about betraying the best interests of our military.

Cross-posted at Conventional Folly
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Friday, July 17, 2009

# Posted 5:54 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

GAY RIGHTS AND THE AMERICAN ELITE: The cover story in the current issue of the Yale Alumni Magazine recounts the remarkable progress toward equality and acceptance that gay students have made at Yale over the past thirty years. The same is true at every prominent college or university I'm familiar with.

In the homes and workplaces of the American elite -- roughly defined by a certain mix of education, wealth and social status -- gays and lesbians have achieved something very close to normalcy, that is, a situation in which being straight or gay makes no more of a difference than having blue eyes or brown. Conversely, if you argue that homosexuality is perverse or disgusting, you will quickly be branded as ignorant.

Given how liberal the American elite tends to be on a broad array of social issues, this may not seem surprising. But it should be. As George Chauncey's cover story in the Alumni Mag makes clear, things were very different very recently. Long after overt racism became unacceptable and overt sexism was on the way out, wide swaths of the elite still found it acceptable to condemn homosexuality.

In 1984, the Alumni Mag published its first-ever ad sponsored by the Gay and Lesbian Alumni Association. The response was
one of the largest outpourings of hostile letters the magazine had ever seen.
When the Wall Street Journal ran an op-ed in 1987 that described Yale as a "gay school", the president of the university rushed to assure alumni that it was no such thing.

Given how many decades it took, even for progressives, to become advocates of racial and gender equality, changing attitudes toward homosexuality are remarkable. But why have they changed so fast? Although the American elite has become more secular, I don't see many indications that its hostility towards homosexuals had much to do with religion. Thirty years ago, homosexuality was considered at least as much of a mental illness as it was a sin. But this passage in the Almuni Mag caught my attention:
[The gay rights movement was] profoundly shaped by the sexual revolution of the 1960s and '70s. All around them, lesbians, bisexuals, and gay men saw their heterosexual friends decisively rejecting the moral codes of their parents' generation, which had limited sex to marriage, and forging a new moral code that linked sex to love, pleasure, freedom, self-expression, and common consent...the fact that so many young heterosexuals considered sexual freedom to be a vital marker of personal freedom made lesbians and gay men feel their quest for freedom was part of a larger movement.
I think that's right. The American elite -- and much of American society -- now believes that the individual alone should decide what is ethical and what isn't when it comes to (consensual) sex. If you believe that pre-marital sex, promiscuity, and most any strange fetish is fair game for consenting adults, how can you possibly condemn some one else for deciding that he likes men better than women?

Cross-posted at Conventional Folly
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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

# Posted 6:13 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

PLATITUDES! Hillary Clinton gave her first big speech today as Secretary of State. To be fair, every politician fills his or her orations with an impressive array of insubstantial platitudes. But today's assortment was still impressive. Here are the best:

Rigid ideologies and old formulas don't apply.

I've also seen how hope, hard work, and ingenuity can overcome the longest of odds.

And all that I have done and seen has convinced me that our foreign policy must produce results for people.

Our approach to foreign policy must reflect the world as it is, not as it used to be.

We are determined to channel the currents of change toward a world...in which more people in more places can live up to their God-given potential.
Finally, my favorite one of all was Hillary's description of:
The people, hundreds of millions of them here in America, and billions around the world, whose lives and experiences, hope and dreams must inform the decisions we take and the actions that follow. These are the people who inspire me and my colleagues and the work that we try to do every day.
I look forward to a foreign policy motivated by billions of hopes and dreams. I am such an idealist!

Cross-posted at Conventional Folly
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# Posted 5:21 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH RAISING FUNDS IN SAUDI ARABIA: A fascinating exchange between Jeffrey Goldberg and Human Rights Watch Executive Director Ken Roth, all in response to this op-ed by David Bernstein. (Hat tip: MG)

Cross-posted at Conventional Folly
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Sunday, July 12, 2009

# Posted 11:11 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WILL RUMSFELD APOLOGIZE FOR THE WAR IN IRAQ? McNamara eventually apologized for Vietnam. It took him 28 years. How long before we hear from Rumsfeld?

That's the question posed by Bradley Graham, author of a new book about the previous SecDef.

It's actually a pretty one-sided question, which could easily be met with one-sided answers such "Rumsfeld will apologize right after Obama apologizes for opposing the surge" or "Rumsfeld will apologize as soon as the people of Iraq ask for him to put Saddam back in charge."

In spite of the splashy headline, Graham recognizes that the war in Iraq remains far too politicized for anyone to apologize for anything, since the other side would exploit it mercilessly.

Finally, although the tone of this post is defensive, I'm not a Rumsfeld partisan. I think John McCain was right all along; Rumsfeld never understood the principles of counterinsurgency. Bush should've replaced him much, much earlier. But I think that calls for Rumsfeld to apologize have much more to do with a vindictive desire for humiliation than with a serious interest in fixing the problems Rumsfeld left behind in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Cross-posted at Conventional Folly
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# Posted 10:53 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

OBAMA IN AFRICA! (SOMETHING ABOUT BUSH): The Sunday Times ran a front-page story with the headline Obama Delivers A Call For Change To A Rapt Africa. The lengthy article describes how Obama "symbolize[s] a new political era." But perhaps Africa wants continuity more than it does change? If you read all the way to the end of the NYT story, this is what you'll learn:
[Mr. Obama's] approach follows that of Mr. Bush, who was widely credited with doing more for Africa than any previous president. Like Mr. Obama, Mr. Bush tried to frame policy by rewarding good governance and building institutions through programs like the Millennium Challenge Corporation, an antipoverty effort that gave Ghana $547 million in 2006.

Even Mr. Obama, who typically talks about the problems his administration inherited, said he was “building on the strong efforts of President Bush” in Africa.
I think Bush also tried to do something about the AIDS crisis, but I guess I'll have to wait for Obama's next trip to Africa to read about it.

Cross-posted at Conventional Folly
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# Posted 9:35 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

NYT VS. WaPo: THE CHENEY ANGLE. Like Dorian and Kathy, I'm fascinated by the story of a secret counterror program hidden from Congress by the CIA. When the NYT first reported the story, a big part of the splash was the suggestion that Dick Cheney gave "direct orders" to hide the program from Congress. Yet the WaPo has clearly chosen to downplay that aspect of the story. The article in the Post doesn't mention Cheney until its fifth paragraph, which reports,
The New York Times, on its Web site, reported yesterday that Panetta has told the committees that Vice President Richard B. Cheney gave the order to keep the information from Congress. The newspaper cited unnamed sources.
To be more precise, the Times quoted "two people with direct knowledge of the matter."

What's very interesting about these two people is that they let the Times know there was a secret program, that Congress was not informed, and that Cheney had something to do with it. Yet not a word about the nature of the program. Why? If you're already going to tell journalists half the story about top secret programs, why hold back the other half? My spider-sense is tingling. My instinct is similar to John McCain's (see here): “If I know Washington, this is the beginning of a pretty involved and detailed story."

As Dorian noted in his second post, the WaPo added a key piece to the puzzle, when it quoted a "senior intelligence official" who "said the program remained in the planning stages and never crossed the agency’s threshold for reporting to the administration and congressional overseers." If that's correct, there may not be so much air in this story's tires. This comment also seems to jibe with the NYT's reporting that the program "never became fully operational, involving planning and some training that took place off and on from 2001 until this year."

I think this story's momentum will really depend on what the nature of this secret program actually was. If it isn't something controversial, something that really gets passions going on both sides, then this will become a bureaucratic story about what precisely crosses the CIA threshold for Congressional reporting.

Cross-posted at Conventional Folly
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# Posted 8:30 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

CAN WE DIVIDE THE TALIBAN? The experts' views are diametrically opposed. As far as I can tell, there is no partisan element to this disagreement. In Foreign Affairs [subscription only], Fotini Christia and Michael Semple write:
The idea that large groups of armed men bent on killing Americans and other Westerners can be persuaded to change sides may seem fanciful at first. But it is not -- at least not in Afghanistan. After continuing uninterrupted for more than 30 years, war in Afghanistan has developed its own peculiar rules, style, and logic. One of these rules is side with the winner. Afghan commanders are not cogs in a military machine but the guardians of specific interests -- the interests of the fighters pledged to them and of the tribal, religious, or political groups from which these men are recruited...Thus in Afghanistan, battles have often been decided less by fighting than by defections. Changing sides, realigning, flipping -- whatever one wants to call it -- is the Afghan way of war.
In contrast, Gilles Dorronsoro of the Carnegie Endowment insists,
While it is true that the
Taliban have multiple commanders, some with “star” quality that may suggest internal rivalry, this does not mean that the Taliban are inchoate or divisible. The Taliban’s structure is resilient: centralized enough to be efficient, but flexible and diverse enough to adapt to local contexts...

The Taliban are not confused or in conflict over who is in charge in a particular district or province. Foreign observers recalling Iraq may wishfully imagine exploiting competition or infighting among Taliban commanders, but the fissures are not there.
Don't look at me. I don't know who's right.

Cross-posted at Conventional Folly
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Friday, July 10, 2009

# Posted 7:26 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

"A PRIME CANDIDATE FOR A VISIT FROM A PREDATOR": That's what Ibn Muqawama has to say about Baitullah Mehsud, leader of the Pakistani Taliban. On a related note, Ibn Muqawama adds,
We really need to rethink our entire concept of airpower. I don't think it lies in F-22s, but in the persistent presence and low-observability offered by the next generation of unmanned and relatively inexpensive drones, operating from longer ranges with a wider variety of weaponry and strike capabilities. That's the real future, not our efforts to build a new generation of fighters that do the same thing but better and with a pointier nose.


Cross-posted at Conventional Folly
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# Posted 7:12 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

ABE LINCOLN WAS NO ABE LINCOLN (BUT BARACK OBAMA MIGHT BE): If you thought five books was a lot to review, try seven. Princeton historian Sean Wilentz takes on that challenge in a cover story for The New Republic.

Wilentz begins by recounting a crude remark about "mulatters" (i.e. mulattos) that Lincoln made while stumping for Gen. Winfield Scott, his party's presidential candidate in 1952. Wilentz explains,

My point in re-telling this story is not to try, yet again, to debunk Lincoln's reputation for probity and sagacity, and for perfect enlightenment on racial issues... My point is simpler and larger. It is that Abraham Lincoln was, first and foremost, a politician.
It is a point that applies equally well to other hero-politicians such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and (in some quarters) Barack Obama. Wilentz continues:

In 1854, when Lincoln began shifting his loyalties to the anti-slavery Republican Party, the tone as well as the substance of his speeches became grander, and the casual racism receded...But it is important to understand that those later pronouncements of Lincoln's were no less political that his earlier ones...He was a shrewd and calculating creature of politics; and he achieved historical greatness in his later years because of, and not despite, his political skills. It was the only way that anyone could have completed the momentous tasks that history, as well as his personal ambition, had handed to him...

Yet many of Lincoln's latter-day admirers, the most effusive as well as the begrudging, prefer a fantasy Lincoln who experienced some sort of individual awakening or mystical conversion, who somehow transcended politics for a realm more pure.
Perhaps you can see where this is going. Regardless, you'll have to skip ahead almost 20,000 words to arrive at Wilentz's comments about Obama.
Our president is hardly the innocent that he tries to appear to be, but it is precisely his intensely political character, the political cunning that lies behind all his "transcendence" of politics, that makes him Lincolnian; and it comes as a great relief from the un-Lincolnian sanctimony that surrounds his image.
You can see why Wilentz was a strong supporter of Hillary Clinton in the primaries. She clearly has the cunning of a Lincoln, whereas Obama's cunning was so great that even Wilentz apparently mistook him for the high-minded idealist he said he was. The article continues,
The Obama campaign, with its talk of repudiating politics as usual and creating a new post-partisan era in Washington, and with its liturgical incantations of "change" and "hope," aroused liberal anti-politics to a fever pitch. The above-politics talk also appears to have played a major role in winning Obama favor with the political press and the intellectuals, as well as with many more Americans (including not a few libertarian Republicans) for whom "politics" means "dirty politics."...

Although Obama's supporters at times likened him to the two Kennedys, and at times to FDR, the comparisons always came back to Lincoln--with the tall, skinny, well-spoken Great Emancipator from Illinois serving as the spiritual forebear of the tall, skinny, well-spoken great liberal hope from Illinois.

The danger with the comparison does not have too much to do with the real Barack Obama, whose reputation will stand or fall on whether he succeeds or fails in the White House. The danger is with how we understand our politics, and our political history, and Abraham Lincoln...In misunderstanding Abraham Lincoln, these writers misunderstand American democratic politics, in Lincoln's day as well as in our own.
If it is any comfort to Prof. Wilentz, I can assure him that many Republicans appreciate just how much of a politican President Obama truly is. We're just not so confident that he will deploy his political talents to the same noble ends as Abraham Lincoln.

Cross-posted at Conventional Folly
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# Posted 6:37 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE IRON LADY: John L. O'Sullivan reviews five (count'em, five) new books about Baroness Thatcher. O'Sullivan himself was an adviser to Thatcher and helped with her memoirs. This point jumped out at me:
Owen Harries theorized some years ago that Thatcher was seen by many people around the world, foes as well as friends, as being more important than Reagan in spreading the free market revolution, just as Reagan was more important in winning the Cold War. She had successfully transformed a far more socialist, and much weaker, economy. Her most distinctive contribution to the market revolution, namely privatization, was more widely imitated worldwide than any single element of Reaganomics. And she was a more intellectually persuasive advocate of market economics than Reagan because she had initially honed her arguments before a sophisticated and skeptical audience in her own country (and in her own party) in a political culture that greatly prizes debating. She had therefore become an international symbol of free market economics, "neoliberalism," and all the rest--and the system she symbolized ha[s] apparently just crashed.
But do not worry, my capitalist friends. O'Sullivan is confident that the Baroness' reputation will weather this storm.

Cross-posted at Conventional Folly
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Thursday, July 09, 2009

# Posted 8:29 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

LOW-HANGING FRUIT: Chris Brose responds to criticism of his question,
How good should we feel about a U.S.-Russia relationship where we can make progress on many issues of questionable importance while we disagree over most of the important stuff?
The "issues of questionable importance" to which Chris refers are the extension of the START regime for nuclear arms reduction and the opening of a Russian air corridor for supplies to Afghanistan.

In his criticism of Chris' initial post, Patrick Barry insisted that "START is the most significant arms-reduction agreement in the last 20 years." I pretty much agree -- but I'm still on Chris' side on this one. Why? Negotiating an extension to START is not a major accomplishment. It's low-hanging fruit. Since the end of the Cold War, US and Russian interests have coincided very closely when it comes to the reduction of our once massive nuclear arsenals.

The real shock would've been if Obama failed to negotiate an extension of START. There is a strong enough consensus on the fundamentals of the treaty that John McCain also expected to renew and strengthen the agreement. Last May he said,
We should be prepared to enter into a new arms control agreement with Russia reflecting the nuclear reductions I will seek. Further, we should be able to agree with Russia on binding verification measures based on those currently in effect under the START Agreement, to enhance confidence and transparency.
Now what about the tough issues we have to work on with Russia, such as Iran? As Chris says,
Color me skeptical that Russian interests will ever lead it to be an effective partner in pressuring Iran on its nuclear weapons ambitions.
Chris' co-blogger Will Inboden mines an even deeper strain of pessimism, asking whether George Kennan's memorable analysis of Russian impulses in 1947 remains just as relevant today. At minimum, Kennan's analysis may tell us a lot about Vladimir Putin.

Cross-posted at Conventional Folly
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# Posted 7:46 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WORLD WAR I -- NOT WORTH WINNING: Dismayed realist Andrew Bacevich starts his column in the LA Times by arguing the British should've accepted a compromise with Kaiser Wilhelm instead of fighting to win. Their reward for victory was opening the door to Hitler, Stalin and World War II. Or as Bacevich puts it, "seeds of totalitarianism had been planted, producing in their maturity an even more horrendous war."

With that kind of logic, you can pretty much argue that the British should've let the Germans take over Europe in 1914, since they should've known that an even worse bunch of Germans would take over Europe in 1939 and 1940.

Ibn Muqawama is also unhappy with Bacevich's column, especially his pious call for
no more wars of choice; henceforth only wars of necessity. The United States will use force only as a last resort and even then only when genuinely vital interests are at stake
Ibn Muqawama shrewdly asks,
how do you tell a "war of choice" from a "war of necessity?" That's entirely dependent on your definition of "last resort" and "genuinely vital interests," and I think there's a legitimate debate to be had on both. Let's not forget that most Americans probably would have called the Afghan war a "necessity" not long ago, even though we might have continued to try negotiating for the Taliban to hand over bin Laden...Go further back to the 1991 Gulf War, which is commonly thought of now as a clear-cut war of necessity (Richard Haass has just written an entire book about this), and you'll find that many people considered it a bad war of choice at the time, arguing that we needed to give sanctions and diplomacy more time to work.
In other words, even in hindsight, the distinction between wars of choice and wars of necessity is fairly blurry. As a matter of fact, some people still argue that it wasn't worth fighting World War I...

Cross-posted at Conventional Folly
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# Posted 7:19 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THUMBING ITS NOSE AT EUROPE: Yesterday, the WSJ ran a column co-authored by Gordon Brown and Nicolas Sarkozy. I'm guessing that neither 10 Downing St. nor the Elysee was terribly glad to discover that the Journal buried their column at the bottom of a page, without even including one of those charming pencil portraits of either the French president or the British prime minister.

More importantly, the Journal also chose to run the Sarkozy-Brown column under the headline "Oil Prices Need Government Supervision," which I found to be rather misleading. It sounds like Sarkozy and Brown are calling for a government takeover of yet another market. But here's the closest they came to saying anything like that:
The Expert Group of the International Energy Forum should take the lead in establishing a common long-term view on what price range would be consistent with the fundamentals.

These experts should also consider any measures that could be put in place to reduce volatility. And they should look again at whether trading activity is amplifying erratic price movements.
Pretty vague, huh? If the Journal wants to editorialize about energy policy in UK and France, it should publish an editorial, not hijack a column.

Cross-posted at Conventional Folly
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Tuesday, July 07, 2009

# Posted 11:16 AM by Patrick Porter  

ROBERT MCNAMARA: To have been a business supremo, Pentagon chief and President of the World Bank is to have lived to some purpose.

But Robert McNamara, who died yesterday, spent his final years trying to work out what that purpose was, where it all went wrong, and seeking a kind of armistice with the American public.

He might be remembered as the architect of escalation and disaster in the Vietnam war. His arithmetically elaborate, mechanistic approach to war planning and strategy turned out to be folly. Business acumen and organisational genius were no substitutes for sound strategic judgment. The fragility of America's client state in Saigon, the boundless political will of the communists, and the sheer difficulty of running a manpower-intensive war of divisive military occupation - these problems wrecked his war.

Decades later, he wrote a retrospective mea culpa of sorts, diagnosing where the US erred and measuring his own guilt. This was unlikely to please many - unflinching supporters of the war found him to be changing course with the winds of opinion, whereas opponents and alienated veterans found it all too late. A later film, The Fog of War, found McNamara repeating Sherman's words 'War is Cruel, M'aam', part seeking forgiveness but part seeking justification.

Large-scale military involvement in Vietnam was in many ways a disaster for the US in terms of lives lost, money spent, legitimacy squandered, millions of Vietnamese dead, a generation divided and ultimate failure to prevent the country being unified under a communist regime. Slightly more controversially, the carpet-bombing of Cambodia may not have created Pol Pot-ism, but it helped to midwife it into being by radicalising the Cambodian revolution. To a certain extent, by trying aggressively to stop a domino falling, America helped to knock one or two over.

However, I've always been uneasy with the many, glib judgments that still linger over the mythologised war.

There may not have been a straightforward 'domino effect' in the way McNamara believed and then renounced. But the fall of countries to communist rule could inspire other revolutions and make allies waver. America was possibly right to worry about its credibility as an ally. This didn't mean that the US had to intervene in mass wherever communism appeared, but it also meant that there was a trans-national dynamic of revolutionary momentum and cumulative strength that was hard to ignore. America could hardly hope to stop enemy expansion everywhere, but it could try to make it expensive and difficult. How to do so was the issue that plagued policymakers right the way through.

Ho Chi Minh may not have been a mouthpiece or puppet of a monolithic Red conspiracy around the world. But he was an avowed Stalinist as much as he was a Vietnamese anticolonial nationalist - just ask those fellow Vietnamese nationalists who didn't share his Stalinism.

And his regime certainly went beyond mere nationalism. Former Vietcong General Pham Xuan An looked back, at 'All that talk about "liberation" twenty, thirty years ago, all the plotting, all the bodies, produced this, this impoverished broken-down country led by a gang of cruel and paternalistic half-educated theorists.'

To find in Vietnam a front of the global anticommunist effort was not necessarily to indulge in McCarthyite hysteria. The Vietnamese communists depended very much on the external patronage of the Soviet Union and China at different points. And the very fact that President Johnson was reluctant to escalate the war fully to the north was due to the problem that it might spread the war catastrophically beyond Vietnam.

At the same time, the pursuit of 'symmetrical containment', as John Lewis Gaddis calls it, was not always the prudent course nor 'worth it.' There were other, often dark, ways to contain local communisms. Local proxies, covert funding or 'indigenised' forces, for example. And by intervening as they did, the vital cause of anti-communism was entangled with colonialism, and all the poison that brought with it.

This, of course, is to judge with 20/20 hindsite. Some kind of involvement in Vietnam was widely accepted as a policy in Washington orthodoxy in the early 60's. But as MacNamara discovered and had to endure, historical judgments are made this way, they can be harsh indeed, and not even a lifetime and later career of altruism afterwards can deliver forgiveness.

To his credit, MacNamara did not indulge in the kind of blatant genre of self-exoneration that we see all too often around other wars. But his attempt at a more complex dialogue with the public didn't dissipate the enduring anger. As a memory, Vietnam was simply too painful.

Cross-Posted at Kings of War
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Sunday, July 05, 2009

# Posted 1:59 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

I'VE GOT NOTHING TO ADD ABOUT SARAH PALIN: But I'll recommend one thing - before digging in to the avalanche of commentary, read all of Palin's own explanation of why she's stepping down.

Cross-posted at Conventional Folly
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# Posted 1:19 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

GAYS IN THE MILITARY, PART TWO: (Part one is here.) Michael Goldfarb has an interesting suggestion: Why not allow gay servicemembers to serve openly in roles that wouldn't threaten unit cohesion? After all, women are allowed to serve in some roles but not in others. Why not extend that logic to gays and lesbians? Michael writes:
It's madness for the service to discharge gay translators and the like. But the military leadership still seems to believe that the core of the policy must be preserved in order to maintain the effectiveness of combat units -- politicians from both parties are unlikely to question that assessment.
Forgive the double entendre, but I wonder if the threat to unit cohesion is any different on the front lines than it is in the rear. The scenario often brought up with regard to gays in the military is "What if he's looking at me in the shower?" No one I know asks, "What if he's looking at me instead of firing back at those insurgents over there?" In that regard, the analogy to women doesn't hold; there is a physical reason that women are restricted from serving in combat units (although when you're fighting an insurgency, any unit can find itself in combat).

Leaving aside the logic, I'd be more than glad to support a repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" for non-combat units, if there's a consensus behind that approach in the military. If gays can serve openly in non-combat units, I'm fairly confident that their service will earn them the right, in the not too distant future, to serve in combat units as well.

Cross-posted at Conventional Folly
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# Posted 12:55 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

LOTS OF DOUBLE STANDARDS: Courtesy of The Weekly Standard:

The MSM has one standard for covering captured American journalists and another for captured American soliders.

The New York Times has one standard for covering the current president's town-hall meetings and another standard for his predecessor's "town hall" meetings.

But what you really wanted to know is that Gwyneth Paltrow has one standard for loving America and another for loving Europe.

Cross-posted at Conventional Folly
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Thursday, July 02, 2009

# Posted 11:57 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

HONDURAS -- SET THE BAR HIGH FOR DEMOCRACY IN THE AMERICAS: With US support, the Organization of American States has threatened to expel Honduras. The Pentagon has cut off military ties. Our Secretary of State wants the actions of the Honduran government to be "condemned by all".

Kathy describes this situation as one of regional democracy at work. Personally, I am more inclined to James Kirchick's view that it is extremely strange for real democratic governments to be lining up so passionately behind Manuel Zelaya, a disciple of Hugo Chavez and friend of Fidel Castro -- all in the name of democracy.

As I noted earlier this week, I think that the real democrats in Honduras could've dealt with Zelaya in a less confrontational and destabilizing manner. Regardless, it wouldn't have been hard for the US and the OAS to take a more balanced approach to the crisis in Tegucigalpa.

But there may be a silver lining to this cloud. With US support, the OAS is setting the bar very high for democracy. It is demonstrating that it will enforce the rules relentlessly even when pro-American, pro-democracy governments break them. So the next time that one of Chavez's disciples tries to establish a dictatorship in democratic clothing, the same high standard will apply.

Of course, this all assumes that diplomacy at the OAS is driven by a good measure of high principle...

Cross-posted at Conventional Folly
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# Posted 11:19 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

GAYS IN THE MILITARY NOW! This week, both the editorial columns in both the New Republic and the New Yorker are demanding that Barack Obama demonstrate his commitment to gay rights by revoking "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" so that gay men and women can serve openly in the US military.

The editors at both publications seem to have forgotten the conventional wisdom of just a few months ago: Don't make the same mistake that Clinton did in his first hundred days; Don't define yourself by taking sides with liberal activists against the military, especially not when we still have two wars to fight.

Full of indignant demands for the President, neither editorial even seems to consider whether an aggressive effort to get rid of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" would threaten the success of so many other liberal initiatives supported by the New Republic and the New Yorker.

As a Republican, I just don't get where these editorials are coming from. Are you guys trying to do us a favor?

As an advocate of equality, I also don't get where they're coming from. Why is it so important right now to get rid of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"? It has real flaws, but it's lasted for 16 years. Wouldn't it be a heckuva lot smarter to take a gradual approach that first builds consensus within the military rather than imposing change from outside?

Cross-posted at Conventional Folly
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# Posted 10:57 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

"WE WERE ALL AHMADINEJADS THEN": Hooman Majd in TNR:
One Mousavi campaign manager was asked about the brutality of [the regime], way back, when [Mousavi] was prime minister in the 1980s. The staffer answered, "We were all Ahmadinejads then." After 6/12, we Iranians are all Mousavis now, even those who voted for Ahmadinejad, whether they know it yet or not.
Cross-posted at Conventional Folly
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