Sunday, January 21, 2007

Senator Kennedy still doesn't get it

This morning I turned on "Meet the Press" just in time to hear Senator Ted Kennedy say, once again, that it's the Senate's job to "do the will of the people." Is it really? Then why do we need a Senate at all, Mr. Senator? Why not dispense with the institutions of representative democracy and go to direct popular votes on every issue?
It's amazing to me--and quite frightening, when you really think about it--that someone can spend his entire adult life in the Senate and still not understand the basic constitutional role of that body. It makes you wonder how many other senators fail to understand their constitutional duties, as well. Quite a few, I'm guessing.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Hillary is "in to win"

It comes as no surprise to anyone: Senator Clinton has finally thrown her hat in to the ring. Didn't she promise the voters of New York she wouldn't run? Ah well, even if she did, such vows are meaningless in the fork-tongued world of politics. I have nothing personal against the woman, but I think it says a lot about our shallow electorate that she is considered the presumptive front-runner. Why? Because she was First Lady to an adulterous president? Hmph, makes sense to me.
Yes, I know, she's a very bright and capable woman. I don't doubt it for a moment. And as far as experience goes, she's no less qualified than most of the other senators running; actually, more qualified, when compared to Obama and Edwards.
So far, the only Democrat in the race who impresses me is Bill Richardson, who has exactly the kind of resume voters should look for in a potential president. But the sad reality is, he doesn't have a snowball's chance for three shallow reasons: he doesn't have a lot of name recognition, he doesn't have the generic "good looks" that voters look for in a president (because, you know, that's so important), and he doesn't have the personality of a smooth-talking used car salesman.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

34,452 Iraq civilians said killed in '06

But hey, at least Saddam is dead! That kind of makes it worth it, right? Right?

Sunday, January 14, 2007

The uncertain future of Afghanistan

This morning, on Foreign Exchange, Fareed Zakaria interviewed the Afghan ambassador to the U.S. about the uncertain future of Afghanistan. Although neither of them said it, the sad fact is that the worsening situation in that country is a direct result of our invasion and indefinite occupation of Iraq. Although the neo-cons adamantly denied it at the time, any sane military planner could have foreseen (and many did) that taking on another, ever larger, nation-building occupation when the mission in Afghanistan was far from complete was a terrible idea. I would go so far as to say it was one of the worst American foreign policy blunders in my lifetime. It's strange to me that so many Republicans, who spent years attributing our loss in Vietnam to the half-measures of the LBJ administration, turned around and wholeheartedly embraced the half-measures of the Bush administration in Afghanistan and Iraq. I am no fan of idealistic, interventionist foreign policies, and I believe--as many conservatives used to believe--that wars should be fought by necessity, not choice, and then only with the maximum amount of resources and military might possible. And it should go without saying that you fight only one war at a time, unless presented with no other choice. The future of Afghanistan is uncertain because this timeless wisdom was carelessly brushed aside by a collection of overly idealistic fools in the highest levels of power.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Plan B for Iraq

The politicos are starting to talk about what happens if the president's new plan fails. I've given that some thought myself, and here's my multi-part solution:
  1. Give up on the idea of creating a peaceful, democratic Middle East. If the people of that region really want peace and democracy, they can fight for it themselves. No externally imposed solution is ever going to last until Sunnis and Shia stop hating each other, Israel, and the West, and that ain't gonna happen any time soon.
  2. Take half of what we're currently spending on the War in Iraq and push it into developing alternative sources of energy; a far-sighted strategy that will help wean Americans off of oil, diminish the Middle East's importance to our national interests, and get us back in the business of being bold innovators and pioneers rather than bloated, dependent addicts.
  3. Take the other half of what we're currently spending on the War in Iraq and push it into radically increasing our Special Operations forces and putting far more Human Intelligence (HUMINT) assets on the ground in the Middle East. Wherever terrorist groups set up camp, take the fight to them with the troops who do it best, rather than through gigantic, conventional, occupational forces that are merely sitting targets, sources of resentment, and magnets for violence.
  4. While we're at it, throw in the more than four billion we spend annually on Israel and Egypt. Israel is a successful democracy that can easily defend itself against every Arab nation combined, and Egypt is an unconscionable waste of money all around (unless you count 80%+ anti-American sentiment, pro-Sunni insurgent television shows, and 25 years of Hosni Mubarek money well spent). That four billion could be much better spent on items 2 and 3.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Where do we go from here?

A powerful and depressing realization struck me last night after watching the president and then his critics speak about our "new direction" in Iraq. It was the realization that most of our elected leaders are suffering from one of two fatal delusions about Iraq, and in some cases from both: the first delusion is that 21,000 extra troops can actually help restore order there, and the second is that a "political" solution is possible for Iraq. The first betrays a criminal naivete about military operations and the nature of the conflict we're fighting, and the second betrays a profound ignorance of how deep and violent the divisions in Iraqi society really are. We continue to believe, in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, that Sunni insurgents and Shia militias--driven by hatred of the West and distorted religious faiths that deny the humanity of each other and Infidels alike--are capable of and willing to behave like civilized democrats. They're not.
Thus, we are caught in a horrible dilemma: hoping for a political solution that will never come, and unwilling to commit anywhere near enough troops and resources to decisively quell the violence.
Furthermore, the "clear and hold" strategy our president wants to pursue begs the question, for how long? When you clear and hold any area in Iraq, the enemy combatants know the Americans won't be there forever. Long after we're gone, there will still be Sunnis and Shia who hate each other, with Iran and Syria meddling from across the border. Unless someone can fabricate the strategy and means to resolve all of those problems at once, the violence in Iraq will continue to worsen.
At least the president is sending a naval carrier group and antiaircraft guns to the region. We're going to need them for the bloodbath ahead.

Monday, January 08, 2007

To surge or not to surge...

This is a tough issue for Democrats. If indeed they deny funds for a troop surge as appears likely, then Republicans for years to come will place the blame on them for the disaster that is Iraq. I can hear it already: "If only we had made that one last troop surge," they will say, "we could have quelled the sectarian violence and democracy would have flourished. But no, the Democrats had to pull the rug out from under the military's feet, just like they did in Vietnam." I know, I know, it's ludicrous, but this is politics.
My own reluctant conclusion about a troop surge is this: too little, too late. It would take a lot more than an extra 2o to 40 thousand troops at this point to quell the sectarian violence. The time for overwhelming strength was at the beginning of this conflict, when it might have helped prevent the violence from erupting in the first place. I am frankly skeptical that any amount of force the U.S. could have mustered would have kept the lid on all the ethnic, tribal, and religious schisms that Saddam kept in check through brute force and terror.
Egypt, incidentally, is the 3rd highest recipient of U.S. foreign aid, after Iraq and Israel. Money well spent on making the Middle East more democratic? Well hey, at least it's kept Mubarek in office for 25 years.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

The Top 5 books I read in 2006

5. American Guerrilla: My War Behind Japanese Lines, Roger Hillsman
4. In Our Image: America's Empire in the Phillippines, Stanley Karnow
3. Armageddon: The Battle for Germany, 1944-1945, Max Hastings
2. John Adams, David McCullough
1. Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, Doris Kearns Goodwin

Numbers 3 to 5 are excellent books that help put current conflicts like the war in Iraq in a healthier historical context than most people, both for and against the war, frankly have. Numbers 1 and 2 I would commend for their warm and moving accounts of two great (if unappreciated, in the case of Adams) presidents and their relationships with other famous men (Jefferson, in the case of Adams, and William Seward, in the case of Lincoln).

Honorable mentions that didn't make my Top 5 are Freedom & Virtue: The Conservative/Libertarian Debate by George Carey and The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad by Fareed Zakaria. The latter, in particular, I would commend to anyone who believes that democracy is an unqualified good that can work anywhere.
One book I found a little disappointing was Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East by Michael Oren. It was informative and worth reading for anyone who needs more proof about how utterly dysfunctional Arab states really are, but not as gripping an account of combat as I had hoped.
The rest of the non-fiction books I recall reading in 2006 were:
1776, David McCullough
In the Company of Soldiers: A Chronicle of Combat, Rick Atkinson
Martin Luther, Martin Marty
Plan of Attack, Bob Woodward
The Victors: Eisenhower and His Boys: The Men of World War II, Stephen Ambrose