Monday, November 23, 2009
The New York Time reported yesterday that the United States and its allies have begun arming independent, indigenous anti-Taliban militias. These militias, like the Awakening Councils in Iraq, have grown-up organically. Unlike the Awakening Councils, the Afghan militias do not appear to be localized to any particular region of Afghanistan. Rather, they appear to be spread throughout Afghanistan. Also, unlike the Awakening Councils, they do not appear be overtly nationalist. Apparently, the anti-Taliban militias are something of a village-by-village or valley-by-valley response to the Taliban that the United States hopes to harness and coordinate into a tribal uprising.
As the Awakening Councils gained momentum in the spring of 2007, I wrote that, while the Sons of Iraq were clearly serving a useful end, the emergence of an armed group not necessarily loyal to the State—and one the Shiite central government clearly feared—could be dangerous. My fear then was that if the Iraqi central government did not achieve some sort of condominium with the Sons of Iraq, Iraq would eventually witness another round of sectarian violence, this time between two entities armed and supported by the United States. Fortunately, the Iraqi Central Government and the Sons of Iraq have been able to work together, and the civil war has not be renewed.
Afghan Awakening Councils do not present the same threat of civil war. However, building any armed power structure outside of the State is inherently dangerous. That said, in the case of Afghanistan, devolving power to the tribes may be the appropriate solution to the vexing problem of how to stabilize Afghanistan.
I have, in the past, drawn parallels between Somalia and Afghanistan—the threat their respective instabilities pose to US national security. Somalia, as strange as it may sound, may possess an example of the utility of devolving power to traditional tribal structures: Somaliland. Somaliland is a stable, self-governing, and democratic entity in northern Somalia. Its success may be attributable to the indigenous, tribal-based reconciliation process it underwent in the early 1990s—a reconciliation process that was successful in marked contrast to the constant, on-going failure of externally grafted reconciliation processes in rump Somalia.
All of the above is to suggest that a widespread tribal uprising, supported by the United States, will not in the near-term result in a strong, central government. However, unlike the corrupt Karzai regime, grafted on Afghanistan from outside forces, the indigenous tribal structures may actually be able to police their individual domains, and extend necessary stability throughout Afghanistan.
Of course, the twin difficulties of convincing the Pashtun tribes to abandon the Taliban, and of convincing the tribes that have taken up arms against the Taliban not to later turn those arms on even a weak Afghan state remain. That said, US support for the tribal militias represents a heartening step towards pursuing a coherent strategy that both reflects Afghan realities and is responsive to real US national security needs.
Monday, November 16, 2009
Appropriately, an article appears in today's Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune discussing a forthcoming analysis of Palin's speech patterns, noting:
David Bowie, an English professor specializing in linguistics at the same university, said Palin didn't use so many informalities before she ran for national office.
"She doesn't sound like that when she's speaking to Alaskans," Bowie said.
But we have no illusions. This is not the prior days when people would come on your show and talk about how we were going to help the Afghans build a modern democracy and build a more functioning state and do all these wonderful things. That could happen but our primary focus is on the security of the United States of America. How do we protect and defend against future attacks. We do not want to see Afghanistan return to being a safe haven and a staging platform for terrorism as it was before. That is what is driving the President to make the best decision he can make.
Hopefully, Sec. Clinton’s remarks yesterday represent the emerging consensus within the administration.
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
At the same time, the AP reports that NATO expects to deploy additional troops to Afghanistan with a view towards increasing the number of advisors tasked with training Afghan security forces. The limited ability of the Afghan security forces has gained more attention of late as questions of the purpose of NATO’s deployment have increased with talk of sending additional troops. These questions have only been exacerbated by the Afghan election and subsequent runoff debacle.
Finally, McClatchy reports that the price of food has spiked across Afghanistan following the UN’s decision to remove international aid workers in response to last week’s bombing.
The UN’s move is understandable but it could not have come at a worse time. If the Obama administration is planning to increase troop deployments, as CBS reported, then the US is committing itself to a more robust counterinsurgency strategy. At least, that is what the move should auger, assuming that the Obama administration has done the necessary predicate work to arriving at that decision—namely, determining the purpose of US involvement in Afghanistan, a goal (or endgame) and a broader strategic vision for the region and US national security. But, as has been discussed in this space at length, counterinsurgency requires more than additional troops. It requires stability, both through added security (troops) and economically—pulling foreign aid workers from the country, causing food prices to increase dramatically at the outset of winter, is as damaging as providing the Afghan Taliban with weapons and ammunition, perhaps more so.
Of course, the United States cannot dictate the UN’s deployment of aid and aid workers. And, while the deployment of aid under UN aegis arguably ensures a measure of protection for aid workers, the disaggregation of aid from security likely is at cross-purposes with NATO goals. Perhaps, at long last, it is time for the United States to reconsider its anemic reconstruction effort. A more robust, integrated reconstruction and civil society development effort that mirrors the military component in size, resources, and command-and-control may be a better solution.
Thursday, November 5, 2009
To be sure, there are many factors that played a significant role in Deeds’ defeat. He was a poor candidate from the outset; the political climate works against democrats—the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a persistent recession only showing signs of improvement very recently, the drawn-out and unrealized healthcare reform process—and a hangover from the long 2008 presidential campaign.Organizationally, however, the Virginia Coordinate campaign represents an epic failure of leadership. Following the Virginia Democratic Primary, many of the senior field positions were filled by veterans of the Obama for America campaign. These individuals, by virtue of their sweeping success in the 2008 presidential and primary campaigns, had excellent claims to these roles. However, their involvement with the Obama for America campaign was not necessarily indicative of their personal abilities. Indeed, the electric quality of their candidate, President Obama, deprived them of the challenges familiar to organizers in the past—challenges that teach organizers how to organize and separate those that are able to build effective machines and those that are not.
Friday, October 30, 2009
The three most striking figures in the G.D.P. report were that consumer spending on durable goods, such as cars and refrigerators, rose at an annualized rate of 22.3 per cent; residential investment (spending on housing) rose at an annualized rate of 23.4 per cent; and exports of goods made in the United States rose at an annualized rate of 21.4 per cent. All of these things can be traced directly to official efforts to stimulate the economy
[emphasis added]. You can read the GDP report here.
Beyond stifling the democratic process and abusing the privilege of his position he also makes at least one ridiculous statement. Towards the end of the article, in explanation for his opposition to healthcare reform, he says, “If you look historically, every great republic has died over fiscal issue. That is the biggest moral issue of our time.” If he expounds on this statement the reporter declined to include it. I dare say the reporter couldn’t include any exposition on the statement because it’s patently false as Coburn has framed it.
To my knowledge no republic has gone broke and suddenly died. There have been crises, massive loans, and rescues but not sudden death. Much to the contrary republics have “died” because of the income polarization of the haves and have-nots. Two prime examples include the French Revolution and even, to a lesser degree, the American Revolution. When the wealth of a nation is to consolidated in the upper rungs of the income ladder. When the poor get poorer, and when the government refuses to address this inequity you get revolution. Anyone would be hard pressed to say that one’s level of income has no connection to the level of healthcare they receive. Sen. Coburn would have you think that providing healthcare to the have-nots would lead to the end of our republic, when history teaches us that the exact opposite is true.
Sen. Coburn also calls this the “biggest moral issue of our time.” Now it’s unclear if he means the fiscal issue is the greatest moral issue or if he means the survival of the republic, a survival he falsely sees threatened by healthcare reform, is a great moral issue. What is clear is that for him there is not morality involved as it relates to ensuring basic healthcare to all US citizens. This seems entirely backward to me.
I balk at anyone suggesting the survival of our republic is a moral imperative. It implies a level of hubris regarding out own form of democracy that is dangerous and untethered from the reality of the imperfections in our system. It also assigns a kind of spiritual superiority to our system of government which complicates compromise. Of course, it’s not as if Sen. Coburn spends much time worrying about compromise anyway.
Instead, if one were to bring morality into the healthcare debate, it is the morality spoken of so eloquently by the late Robert F. Kennedy. Our moral imperative is to our fellow man, our fellow citizen. We are obligated by our interconnection as people to do what we can to provide for our neighbor when he or she can not provide for themselves. Why is this a moral imperative? Why in our hyper-capitalist society, built on ferocious individualism should we care for our neighbor? Because there could come a day where any one of us falls on hard times and needs a helping hand. I’m not a tremendously religious person. I don’t attend Bible study every Sunday as Sen. Coburn does, but I remember the golden rule. Treat others as you, yourself would like to be treated. Perhaps if Sen. Coburn heard "no" as much as he said "no" he would be a more humble public servant and more compassionate elected representative of this republic.
Thursday, October 29, 2009
I'm a Yankees fan. So last night's Game One loss to the Philadelphia Phillies is, to put it mildly, disappointing. That said, Cliff Lee pitched a heck of a game. It is rare enough for a pitcher to go a full nine innings during the season, for Cliff Lee to go the distance in Game One of the World Series, against the Bronx Bombers, at Yankee Stadium is impressive. Much respect, Cliff Lee. Much respect.
That said, Yanks in 5.
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
I'd say that the constant wink-wink implications that the President is (a) a communist or socialist, (b) not an American, (c) maybe a Muslim, (d) a friend of terrorists, (e) a front man who is taking orders from...others, (f) committed to misreading or abrogating the Constitution of the United States or (g) a threat to our basic institutions--these approach sedition. [emphasis added]
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
Sunstein himself has recently been the object of a right-wing disinformation campaign. As soon as word got out that he was going to be nominated by the Obama Administration to head the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, the American Conservative Union set up a Web site on him. It was called stopsunstein.com.
. . . [F]inally, Fox News’s Glenn Beck got into the act, exhorting, in a Twitter message to his supporters, “FIND EVERYTHING YOU CAN ON CASS SUNSTEIN.” (In an interesting twist on group polarization, some liberal bloggers, who had initially not been keen on Sunstein’s nomination, decided at this point that it must be O.K.; as one of them put it, “If Glenn Beck and the other loons are against him, how bad could he be?”)
Monday, October 26, 2009
To describe any public figure as “corrosive” to the “pillars of our country” cannot be dismissed as mere political rhetoric. Such an attack is—and can only be viewed as—a sweeping broadside designed to undermine the President and establish him as an “other.” If there were any question remaining whether Rep. Pawlenty would seek the 2012 Republican nomination, he has now disabused America of it.
It is, though, disingenuous (and, potentially, dangerous) for Gov. Pawlenty to describe President Obama as “corrosive” to such things as “markets, private enterprise, individual responsibility, freedom and liberty.” Indeed, were the nonsensical accusations of socialism not treated as reasonable, honest concerns by news organizations, remarks like Pawlenty’s would be laughable. Unfortunately, as we have seen over the course of the last several months, such ridiculousness must be refuted.
Under the banner of the free market, fiscal responsibility, freedom and liberty, Pawlenty seeks the nomination of a Republican party responsible for cutting taxes while engaging in incredibly reckless, unwarranted and voluntary deficit spending (see, e.g., Operation Iraqi Freedom). Pawlenty seeks the nomination of a Republican party responsible for corporate welfare both through no-bid contracts (see, e.g., Haliburton) and through the Troubled Asset Relief Program (yes, passed by a Democratic Congress but orchestrated, signed, and necessitated by a Republican administration). Pawlenty seeks the nomination of a Republican party responsible for the Patriot Act, Warrantless Wire Tapping, Free-Speech Zones, and eight of the most damaging years to the Constitution.
Pawlenty thus desires the mantle of a party more aptly described by his anti-Obama abuse than the target of said abuse. In short, Pawlenty will not only prove to ultimately be corrosive to America, he represents a party that has proven itself already corrosive to America, its values, its primacy, its national security, and its economy.