Monday, July 26, 2010
Saturday, July 24, 2010
[I]t was Mahan, the American, who understood two crucial factors. The collapse of the Soviet Union originated in American sea power and also opened the door for U.S. naval power to dominate the world. Additionally, Mahan was correct when he argued that it is always cheaper to ship goods by sea than by any other means. As far back as the fifth century BC, the Athenians were wealthier than the Spartans because Athens had a port, a maritime fleet, and a navy to protect it.
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
Haass argues that the United States must clearly assess what are its Afghan objectives—a point with which I agree. He believes there are two American goals: “to prevent Al Qaeda from reestablishing a safe haven and to make sure that Afghanistan does not undermine the stability of Pakistan.” Unquestionably, these two goals are the United States’ prime objectives in Afghanistan.
However, the policy prescriptions Haass offers will not achieve either of the goals he outlined. Effectively, Haass believes that the United States should abandon the corrupt, ineffectual Karzai government in favor of power devolved to the provinces, coupled with rapprochement with the Taliban.
Haass arrives at this prescription in an eminently reasonable way. He argues that al-Qaeda and the Taliban are not one in the same—absolutely true. He argues that the two organizations have different goals—true, as well. He argues that there are a very small number of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan—true according to Leon Panetta, DCI. He argues that large troop deployments (over 100,000) intended to kill such a small number (60-100) is ineffective—yes, very true. He argues that the Taliban are predominantly Pastun—true, again. And that this renders the war in Afghanistan, against the Taliban, really an tribal-ethnic civil war—true, to a point.
Where Haass falters, and falters drastically, is his presumption that the war in Afghanistan is static. Haass believes that the United States can change tactics in Afghanistan, to focus on killing al-Qaeda in Pakistan, without causing a significant shift in al-Qaeda from Pakistan to Afghanistan. He believes this because he believes that the United States can convincingly deter the Taliban from harboring al-Qaeda. Remarkably, he believes that the US can do this after allowing a de facto partition of the country, with the Taliban operating what is effectively a Pashtunistan in South and Eastern Afghanistan.
The ability of the United States to affect the deterrent that Haass describes is questionable from both tactical and strategic perspectives. From a tactical perspective, the deterrent would require the United States to develop substantial intelligence among an extraordinarily hostile population—difficult in any environment, more difficult in an environment where you have 1. no US presence; 2. you’ve abandoned what of the civilian population that had assisted you in a 9 year counterinsurgency to their fates at the hands of the kin they turned on to assist you. From a strategic perspective, an effective deterrent would require something more than cruise missile or drone strikes, a presence the American people will not likely support after leaving Afghanistan once. The deterrent might sound good on paper but it will not be effective.
Further, even assuming the United States is able to affect a convincing deterrent, there is little reason to believe that even a co-opted Taliban will be able to prevent al-Qaeda from reestablishing itself in their territory. Even in the late 1990s, when al-Qaeda moved into Afghanistan, it was not apparent that they did so with overt support from the Taliban. The relationship, I think, is better described as parasitic. The Taliban were a weak government, al-Qaeda was cohesive. In that environment, al-Qaeda was able to carve out a fiefdom in Afghanistan, irrespective of Taliban desires.
Finally, while Haass should be commended for his willingness to recognize the differences between al-Qaeda and the Taliban, we should remember that not all militants are created equally—at least vis-à-vis Pakistan. The government of Pakistan describes the world in terms of “good” and “bad” Taliban. Good Taliban are those Taliban that focus on Afghanistan (and Kashmir, but that’s a different matter) and do not harbor Pakistani ambitions. Bad Taliban are those Taliban (and al-Qaeda) that oppose the state of Pakistan. Under the aegis of Bad Taliban fit both al-Qaeda and Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan. A vacuum in Afghanistan, or a weak Taliban controlled space in South and Eastern Afghanistan will likely offer safe haven for these so-called Bad Taliban to launch attacks in Pakistan, contributing to Pakistan’s destabilization and thereby undermining one of the twin goals of the United States in Afghanistan.
Tuesday, July 20, 2010
Monday, July 19, 2010
Let us begin with the history. The collapse of Somalia is usually dated to 1991—not Zakaria’s 1992—when Said Barre was finally driven from Mogadishu in January. In fact, Somalia was without effective government for at least several years before Barre’s ouster as the country struggled to address multiple anti-regime armed movements and recover from its disastrous war with Ethiopia.
The United States did not give tacit support to Ethiopia’s 2006 invasion of Somalia. The United States gave material support to Ethiopia, providing Ethiopia with intelligence and air support for its invasion.
The Islamic Courts Union, the emerging indigenous government of Somalia that Ethiopia and the United States help to oust, is a difficult movement to color broadly. They really were an alliance of Islamic courts that exercised extremely localized jurisdiction. Some of the courts were relatively moderate, while others were draconian in their interpretation and implementation of Sharia. To describe the ICU as a “radical movement” is, I think, overbroad—in fact, one of the erstwhile leaders of the ICU is now the president of the US-backed Transitional Federal Government.
As to whether the United States has suffered deleterious effects owing to the chaos in Somalia, the only answer to this question must be yes. In the governmental void of Somalia, members of al-Qaeda have reportedly found safe haven; the al-Shabab has been born, grown and strengthened; pirates operate with impunity from Somalia’s coast, reaching into the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden, and even the wider Indian Ocean. These waterways, particularly the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, are critical avenues of international shipping. Simply glancing at the IMB’s Live Piracy Map communicates the intensity of piracy occurring in and around the Horn of Africa as compared to the rest of the world. Reading the IMB’s Piracy Prone Areas and Warnings does an even better job. Somalia-based pirates have driven up the costs of ship insurance 4,000%; the costs of maintaining the naval flotilla in the Gulf of Aden—to which the United States contributes vessels and manpower—approaches $300 million. The impact of Somalia-based piracy on global trade has been estimated as high as $16 billion annually.
Beyond piracy, the strongest pole of power in Somalia, currently, is the extremely radical al-Shabab which emerged from the ashes of the ICU. Its links with al-Qaeda are worrisome in themselves, more worrisome in the wake of the Kampala bombings, which demonstrate an ability to mount at least regional operations. Again, this was the first cross-border operation mounted by al-Shabab and therefore represents a sea change in the behavior of a heretofore Somalia-centric organization. Finally, transit between Somalia and Yemen is common, frequent, and unregulated, making it possible, even likely, that al-Qaeda affiliates in Yemen and Somalia physically communicate.
Friday, July 16, 2010
It is an argument that sounds eerily similar to the one Mr. Obama's predecessor, George W. Bush, made to justify an unpopular war in Iraq as he watched his own poll numbers sink lower.Just because two presidents claim that their unpopular actions are in the best interest of the country does not make the actions themselves equivalent. The war in Iraq was predicated on nonsense. The stimulus package, financial reform, and comprehensive healthcare reform--what ever you think of the policy choices themselves--were reactions to actual problems, actually doing harm to the United States.
Thursday, July 15, 2010
Tuesday, July 13, 2010
In the past, Al-Shabab has threatened to attack Kenya and Ethiopia for their support of the Transitional Federal Government and their occupation of Somalia, respectively. It would appear that the bombings in Kampala fit the pattern of al-Shabab reacting against what it views as foreign interference in Somalia—Uganda has provided a large contingent of the AU peace keepers currently operating in Somalia; al-Shabab threatened further attacks against Uganda and Burundi if their troops do not leave Somalia. Notably, the United States also backs the TFG and provided military and intelligence support to Ethiopia during its invasion in 2006—the invasion that sparked al-Shabab.
Despite this apparent causal relationship, the US Assistant Secretary for African Affairs is quoted in today’s New York Times as saying, “[Al-Shabab] was a localized cancer, but the cancer has metastasized into a regional crisis. It is a crisis that has bled across borders and is now infecting the international community.”
It is not clear, at this point, that al-Shabab has or even desires to obtain the capacity to operate on a global level and truly “infect the international community.” Nevertheless, al-Shabab’s now demonstrated ability to operate at least regionally, and its supposed close links to al-Qaeda, should make the United States very nervous.
The Kampala bombings demonstrate quite clearly:
- The international community’s policy in Somalia has been an abject failure. The TFG should be abandoned and a clear eyed reassessment of US interests and local actors should be undertaken.
- In the territory of Somalia controlled by al-Shabab, terrorists are able to plan, train, and launch at least regional, cross-border terrorist assaults of a relatively sophisticated nature.
- In the territory of Somalia not controlled by al-Shabab, pirates have free rein and are able to act with impunity.
Sunday, July 11, 2010
NPR reporting on a Moody's Analytics study demonstrating the economic impact of unemployment benefits versus tax cuts. Mark Zandi, Chief Analyst for Moody's and a former advisor to Sen. McCain's 2008 campaign, testified similarly before Congress.
The airline industry trade group argues that the number of 3 hour or longer tarmac delays has been in decline for over year. BTS data, however, reveals a more mixed picture. April and March 2010 were likewise significantly lower than the numbers for 2009, but February 2010 was actually higher by 50%.
Read USA Today’s article on the new regulation here. See the BTS data for yourself here.
Friday, July 9, 2010
- The disappearance of in-flight meals.
- The end of checked baggage for free (or, rather, included in your ticket price).
- Charging for blankets and pillows.
- The death of stand-by.
- The impending end of carry-on baggage--which, nicely dovetails with being charged for checked baggage.
Wednesday, July 7, 2010
According to McCain, because the Supreme Court disagreed with actions like Kagan's, Kagan "stepped beyond public advocacy . . . into the realm of usurping the prerogative of the Congress and the president to make law and the courts to interpret it." One would be justified in asking how exactly an university administrator could possibly "usurp the prerogative of the Congress?" The statement is so baldly irrational it really defies critical examination. McCain's criticism might sound in reason if he were extrapolating her actions as Dean to some indication of judicial temperament--this too would be an extraordinary leap--but McCain goes out of his way not to do that. Instead he writes, "I do not believe judges should stray beyond their constitutional role and act as if they have greater insight than representatives who are elected by the people. Given the choice to uphold a law that was unpopular with her peers and students or interpret the law to achieve her own political objectives, she chose the latter." But Kagan's duty was to the students of Harvard Law School--all of those students, regardless of sexuality--it was to not interpret the Constitution of the United States. She embraced the rather long and generally celebrated tradition of American academia staking out positions that sometimes contravene current law in pursuit of justice and equality.
Don't Ask, Don't Tell was and is a stupid, half-measure of policy that has served only to discriminate against patriotic Americans. It is one thing for the Congress to pass such a law and for the Supreme Court to interpret it in accord with its plain meaning, however they manage to rationalize it with the principles of the American Constitution. It is entirely another matter for the Dean of an institution of higher learning--to say nothing of one dedicated to educating students in the law and justice--to invite onto campus recruiters compelled to discriminate in hiring against one or another minority.
Kagan's actions were civil disobedience. They were not an example of one branch of government overreaching and insulting another branch of government. I should hope that every future Supreme Court nominee in a position like Kagan's during the era of Don't Ask, Don't Tell--or any other patently discriminatory regime--would take similar action on behalf of her students.
Monday, July 5, 2010
It is not the first time a successful democratic process in Somaliland has inspired hope that now, finally, Somaliland will receive international recognition. Similar hopes attended the referendum ratifying Somaliland’s constitution in 2001, its first presidential election, and its parliamentary elections. In fact, Somaliland’s short, nineteen year history is a string of disappointments for the people of a country that is doing all the things that vex post-conflict societies all over the world: disarmament, reconstruction, establishment of the rule of law, and adoption of democratic institutions. Somaliland has done all these things without outside assistance and in the face of outright hostility by the international community.
Somaliland’s story would be remarkable and triumphant anywhere in the world. In a place nominally under the jurisdiction of Somalia—a state synonymous with failure and anarchy—it is unthinkable. But the incongruity of the international community’s refusal to recognize Somaliland is not limited to its juxtaposition with its neighbor to the south. No, what makes Somaliland’s nonrecognition bizarre is Somaliland’s cooperation with the international community which refuses to recognize it. While Somalia serves as a haven for al-Qaeda linked militants and pirates, Somaliland cooperates with NATO and prosecutes captured pirates and terrorists.
On this, the two hundred-and-thirty-fourth anniversary of our independence, the United States, through a simple act of diplomacy, has the power to secure the dreams of independence of a small nation. In doing so, the United States will both be manifesting its own values and securing an ally who shares those values in a region of the world with few nations evincing commitments to democracy and rule of law.
It is time to recognize Somaliland.
Tuesday, June 29, 2010
AFP reports that the Taliban have threatened to attack any companies attempting to extract minerals from Afghanistan. This is wholly unsurprising. I actually find it a little odd that the Taliban felt the need to state their threat explicitly. It would seem to me clear—threat or no threat—that any company doing business with the Karzai government would become a target, just as aid organizations have been targeted.