Category Archives: Foreign Places

Taking America Too Seriously

I just got a reminder of why I don’t truly like Andrew Sullivan’s commentary, even though I often find much of it worthwhile:

If any person has done more to advance some measure of calm, reason and peace in this troubled word lately, it’s president Obama. I think the Cairo speech and the Wright speech alone merited this both bridging ancient rifts even while they remain, of course, deep and intractable. He has already done more to heal the open wound between the West and Islam than anyone else on the planet.

I’d just add one caveat: the American people who elected him deserve part of the credit too. Now he needs partners to help him.

Andrew Sullivan buys into American exceptionalism to an embarrassing degree.  He’s the perfect example of a foreign policy liberal in my typology (inspired by FDR): conservatives say “America is always right”, liberals say “this is a betrayal of America’s nature–we’re always right except this time”, leftists say “same old shit from America.”†   I think Matt Welch is entirely on target:

Among many other things, this selection illustrates the United States’ way-too-oversized role in the world’s imagination.

I do think Obama’s remarks were almost perfect.  Not a note in there that suggests he thinks he’s being awarded for special accomplishments he made.  There was a lot of danger that he’d react awkwardly to an award this premature.

Update: James Fallows has a nice breakdown of Obama’s speech and why it was good.

† I admit that it makes the taxonomy look bad that I come out as a leftist.  It’s even worse that it implies Daniel Larison doesn’t exist…maybe I should just give up.

British DNA Database Struck Down

Good news from Britain, national motto: “So bad we make Americans feel like they’re enjoying freedom.”  European Court Rules Against Britain’s Policy of Keeping DNA Database of Suspects. The policy that was struck down had the police keeping permanent DNA and fingerprint information for anyone who was arrested, whether or not they were ever charged, tried or convicted.

A Different October Surprise

Iraqi provincial elections originally planned for October of this year appear to have been postponed.  Petraeus says he believes they will still happen sometime in the fall.  That’s from the Washington Independent’s coverage of the confirmation hearings before the Armed Services Committee.  Petraeus is slated to move to central command, while Odierno would take Petraeus’ position as Iraq commander. In what is probably bigger news, provinces that were to transfer to Iraqi control this year won’t.  I’m not really sure how real “Iraqi control” would have been, given our continuing involvement in the country, but that sounds like the Iraqi government is less prepared than was predicted.

However, it is Petraeus’s plan to announce more troop withdrawals in September or thereabouts.

Yesterday’s Quotation (posted today)

He told his interrogators everything they wanted to know including the truth. They rarely stopped. In torture, he confessed to being a hermaphrodite, a CIA spy, a Buddhist Monk, a Catholic Bishop and the son of the king of Cambodia. He was actually just a school teacher whose crime was that he once spoke French. (Small Wars Journal).

Good News From Iraq

It seems that violence in Iraq as well as US casualties are well down since June, and that the drop in the previous few months was not just a matter of summer’s typical downturn in violence (hard to kill people in 130° weather). If the trend continues, that would be extremely good news on both counts, and might even point towards some sort of success in Iraq.

The downside: that’s if the trend continues. At the moment, violence levels are still where they were in 2005, at which point almost everyone thought that we needed rapid improvement or Iraq would be a disaster. Second, the drop in US casualties may be largely the result of changes in strategy: using air power instead of on the ground counter-insurgency. But we started using ground troops more actively because air strikes exacerbated civilian casualties and caused Iraqis to hate us more–the Kaplan article notes that civilian casualties from airstrikes this year are greater than the past two years combined.

Finally, the ultimate test of success in Iraq is political: will the various factions ever decide they don’t want to kill us and kill each other? None of these developments seem to speak to that issue. Much of our recent strategy has involved arming Sunni militias in return for their pretending to be the good guys, but nothing suggests that those militias won’t go back to their old habits if we ever cease arming them.

Condoleeza Rice is Almost Awesome

If you’ve been confused about Israel’s striking targets within Syria, Matthew Yglesias forwards the short version. Don’t trust Israel, because only the crazy people in the administration do. It seems that once again, Dick Cheney leads one faction, which believes that the intelligence Israel provided the United States justifies Israel’s action and a hard-line US posture towards Syria. Condoleeza Rice thinks there’s nothing there.

My opinion of Condoleeza Rice hasn’t been favorably impacted by her role in this administration, but I will put forth a small conjecture. There has never been any major issue on which Condoleeza Rice and Dick Cheney disagreed where it would have been sane to back Cheney over Rice. My complaint about her is that she really didn’t spend enough time disagreeing with him.

Publicity Stunts

As I continue to waffle on Ahmadinejad’s visit to Columbia, I’ve once again turned around what I thought. I just saw Lee Bollinger’s statement during his debate with Ahmadinejad that “you described the Holocaust as a fabricated legend. When you have come to a place like this, this makes you quite simply, ridiculous. Mr President, you exhibit all the signs of a petty and cruel dictator.”

If you meet someone evil on the street, it is perhaps appropriate to use such language. But if you are willing to say to a man’s face that he is a petty and cruel dictator–if you are willing to close off the conversation in that fashion, why would you invite him to speak?

With language like that, the invitation continues to look like a publicity stunt by Columbia’s president.

Laughter is the Best Medicine

No gays in Iran, says Ahmadinejad

I’m going to take back a lot of my previous doubts concerning the wisdom of inviting Ahmadinejad to Columbia. There’s certainly no danger that he would gain dignity via the encounter.

Can We Just Go Ahead and Admit that Rudy is Dumb?

That’s all there is to it. No need for subtlety here: he wants to admit Israel, Japan, Israel, Australia and Singapore to NATO.

Links from Yglesias

  1. The contractors who were just kicked out of Iraq had spent the last several years running around Iraq with automatic weapons, not subject to military justice, Iraqi justice or US civilian courts for any crimes they committed in Iraq.
  2. Most of the top sellers on Islam in America are just works of Muslim-bashing. The best of them has to be “The Day of Islam: The Annihilation of America and the Western World.”

We Are Hated

I can’t believe I forgot this, but I’ve been busy. So, it turns out that 60% of Iraqis believe it is justifiable to attack US soldiers. What the heck are we doing in a country where people think that?

Now That’s How You Write a Lead!

In his speech last night, President Bush made a case for progress in Iraq by citing facts and statistics that at times contradicted recent government reports or his own words.

Just short of the eminently reasonable: “Impeachment of Bush Only Moral Option.” Weird to see something like this in the Washington Post, though.

Possible Troop Drawdown

The pregame speculation about Petraeus’s reports has the surprise that he may back a troop drawdown. Specifically, he would propose bringing 30,000 troops home within the next 9 months, while waiting until after next July for any further withdrawal.

This is obviously the worst of all possible plans.

That may come as a surprise–surely bringing any troops home is a good thing? Not really. First of all, this plan would leave 130,000 troops in Iraq, roughly the same as prior to the surge. So it indicates no real plan to leave. Second, with fewer troops, the US military would be less able to create any kind of security in Iraq. The troops who got to go home would be sitting pretty, but those left in Iraq would be in greater danger. They could take a less active stance, but that’s not going to improve the situation.

As anyone who reads me regularly knows, this isn’t a push for us staying in Iraq. Rather, I think we need to be realistic about whether or not we can succeed in Iraq. On any remotely realistic assessment of the situation, half-measures like the above won’t work. I’d hope that even the delusional people who think we can succeed in Iraq can recognize that.

The political danger is that Democrats will be swayed by Petraeus’s testimony, implicitly accepting the argument that we’re making progress and accepting the cheap victory of bringing home a few troops.

UN Report Delayed

The UN has chosen to delay its report on Human Rights in Iraq to occur after debate over Petraeus’s testimony to Congress. This follows a request by the United States ambassador to Iraq:

The move follows a request by Ryan C. Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, to Ashraf Qazi, the United Nations’ top envoy in Baghdad, saying Iraq needs “several weeks” to study the report, according to an account by a senior U.N. official.

That the U.S. ambassador decides how long the Iraqi government needs to review a document says a lot about how we see our mission. Crocker seems to have decided that the report could spoil the zen of Petraeus’s testimony, and then made up a convenient story about what the Iraqi government needed.

Meanwhile, I’m sure that the cheese eating surrender monkeys are overjoyed by the UN’s continued role in frustrating the United States. More seriously, while the Washington Post article has the feel of “same old, same old” it’s really bad if UN reports are being manipulated just to suit the Bush administration’s need for publicity.

Today’s Links

  1. Wikipedia is almost to 2 million articles. John Quiggin suggests that it is now about as profitable to complain about Wikipedia as it is to complain about the Internet as a whole.
  2. Anatomy as art! A few really cool pictures, from Neurophilosopher.
  3. Another reminder of just who it is that owns stock.
  4. Useless transformers.
  5. Most importantly, we have a graph of troop deaths in Iraq. The situation is pretty bad.
  6. More people work in services than farming for the first time in 10,000 years.

Could the US Be Arming Turkish Criminals?

And if we are, should Turkey invade us? Weapons that the United States distributed to Iraqis have been appearing in Turkey, possibly in the hands of Turkish militants. Sheds new light on the fact that Iranian weapons may have been present in Iraq.

One point that’s very hard to deal with properly is the interplay between the fact that the United States is adopting a double standard with regard to Iran, and the fact that the Iranian regime is generally much worse than we are. On the one hand, we’re obviously doing everything we’ve charged them with (interfering in another nation’s affairs by arming factions in a civil war), on the other, you don’t really want the Iranian government to influence anyone’s affairs.


A really good point from Matthew Yglesias: even if you think Iran is trying to interfere in Iraq, it doesn’t make sense to confront them over it. The reason is that the United States has basically thrown everything it has at the Iraq conflict, whereas Iran has a lot more room for escalation. Or put another even easier way: things aren’t working now, so why think that picking one more fight will help?

Russia Looking for Deterrence?

Russia has started putting its strategic bombers on regular flights, reviving a policy from the cold war. Strategic bombers carry nuclear warheads, and having them continuously fly is intended to preserve a nuclear deterrent even if the enemy carries out a first-strike. Josh Marshall has a really good post summing up some of the issues involved. Oddly, it’s not clear to me that this is a bad development. While it is a sign of increasing belligerence from Russia, there are arguments that American nuclear superiority has a destabilizing effect on geopolitics (see my earlier post for links). If that’s on the level, then moves by Russia to return to a partial equilibrium would be a good thing.

Undermining Maliki

It’s hard to take the stated aims of the war seriously when the United States waits for Iraqi’s prime-minister Maliki to leave the country before launching attacks that he would have tried to block. The goal is an independent, sovereign Iraq with Maliki as leader, yes? Well, how do you get there from here?

Accountability Is Awesome

This is the best visualization of political information I’ve seen all year. It’s a timeline, with various public figures’ statements concerning how before we’d know we’d won in Iraq. Needless to say, the results are not pretty. What most of us already know becomes undeniable looking at the timeline–that our leaders have never had a strategy beyond waiting a few months for the situation to improve. Now imagine if every news story contained something this juicy–how long would it take to vote the bastards out? (Via Matthew Yglesias).