Thursday, March 31, 2011

What Kind Of Day Has It Been

  • More members of Qaddafi's government defect as public discussions of covert support for the rebels increase. For DCExile's take on covert support for Libyan rebels, click here.

  • Ireland's bank protection scheme will cost $100 billion.

  • WTO rules against the United States over its subsidies to Boeing. The US does not have a great record of success before the WTO -- it also does not have a great record of complying with those judgments.

  • Japan may nationalize TEPCO.

  • And Syria took some half measures.

The Short List - March 31, 2011

  • The CIA is on the ground in Libya, sizing up rebel groups and clearing the way for the implementation of President Obama's (briefly) secret directive to equip the rebels with arms.

  • There is early agreement between Democrats and Republicans on the hill to cut approximately $33 billion from the federal budget in 2011.  Details remain to be worked out and the specter of riders (policy amendments "riding" the budget bill) remain contentious.

  • Bureaucratic wrangling over the speed and scale of the planned withdraw of U.S. troops from Afghanistan is set to kick off.  Gen. Petraeus has yet to give a formal recommendation. 

  • Researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign (Oskee Wow Wow Illinois) have created a fast charging battery that will reach 90% charge in two minutes.  The breakthrough is expected to be a key technology if electric cars are to be viable alternatives to internal combustion.

  • Republicans are going after AARP for its support of the Affordable Care Act.

  • CNN conducted a poll and nearly half of those polled hold an unfavorable view of the Tea Party.

  • A cricket match is more then a cricket match when India plays Pakistan.  The Economist talks about the event's significance.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

What Kind Of Day Has It Been

There is no Obama Doctrine, and that's Okay


On Monday night, President Obama gave a speech meant to explain U.S. actions in Libya.  It has been widely perceived as a declaration of the Obama Doctrine, but I think his speech was less about a doctrine and more about a rationale for action in a specific situation.  But that’s okay.  President Obama doesn’t need a doctrine, indeed doctrines can be counter-productive.  However, there are people who like the structure a stated doctrine provide.  They like a fixed lens, with which to view a president’s actions.

First, I want to come back to the concept of a doctrine in international affairs.  Perhaps the most often lamented doctrine of late was the Bush Doctrine.  A doctrine largely defined by American unilaterialism and preventative war.  The costs of this doctrine were made plain in Iraq, still that same drumbeat often associated with the neo-conservative movement reared it’s ugly head regarding Libya, which drew this stern rebuke to Max Boot that I penned a few weeks ago.  There are other doctrines out there though.  

The prevailing foreign policy posture of the United States for about 45 years could be summed up as the Truman Doctrine.  Basically, the Truman Doctrine said the U.S. would combat communism anywhere it appeared.  This doctrine begot the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and dozens of other incursions into foreign lands that, on the whole, have had disastrous consequences for the United States.  The hang over from the Truman Doctrine continues to impede American credibility around the world long after the Cold War.  I point out both the Bush Doctrine and the Truman Doctrine because they are the clearest examples we have of a president acting based on a specific, unified doctrine.  Results from that sort of approach to international engagement are nothing short of calamitous.

President Obama, on Monday, laid out the humanitarian case for intervening in Libya.  Much has been made of Susan Power’s voice in the administration.  Ms. Power’s was in the Clinton administration during the run up to the war in Bosnia and during the genocide in Rwanda.  While history has been kind to Clinton for the final outcomes in Bosnia, inaction in the face of the Rwandan genocide is a mark on the record of his administration and indeed a point of personal shame for many involved, including Ms. Powers.  To be sure, her voice and the voice of many Democratic hands during the Clinton administration, obviously inclusive of Secretary Clinton herself, were loud in the president’s ear and you could feel the memory of bumbling Clinton press conferences during the Rwanda genocide in the background as Obama laid out the goal of preventing a massacre.  It’s good to learn from history, but I think many pundits forget why Clinton didn’t intervene in Rwanda.  People forget that not 8 months before the genocide began, American troops were dragged dead through the streets of Mogadishu following the failed attempt at intervention in Somalia.  People weren’t kind to the Clinton administration following the Black Hawk Down incident, and I wonder how the U.S. might have intervened in Rwanda without putting boots on the ground.  In Rwanda, a no-fly zone wouldn’t have cut it.  And that brings me back full circle.

President Obama, in laying out the case for intervention in Libya, cited several reasons.  First, there is an opposition that asked for help, second, there were declarations from Qaddafi that he would massacre dissenters once the rebellion was squashed, third, intervention had the public support of the Arab League, fourth, intervention had the authority of a UN resolution, and fifth, there was a viable alliance to intervene (we didn’t bribe our way to a Coalition of the Willing).  Based on all those things, we decided to intervene in a limited way.  People want to call Obama’s willingness to intervene a doctrine.  To me, it sounds like a reasoned decision based on the facts at hand.  Could the U.S. intervene elsewhere?  Maybe.  Should we have intervened in Bahrain or should we be intervening in Syria?  I have my doubts, but of course I had and have doubts about intervening in Libya.  However, when you are the bad neighbor that doesn’t cut his lawn, the neighborhood committee can turn against.  Such is the case in Libya.  When you swear to burn down the kitchen because the stove didn’t work right, somebody is going to step in and take away your matches. We could make an impact on the situation with the low-intensity no fly zone, and so we did.

There is no doctrine here.  Like so many of President Obama’s policy choices, you don’t find a doctrine or a dogma.  You see a policy that reflects the contours of the moment and the situation.  You see a policy that works now for this instance, but may not be the best in six months time or a year’s time.  And that’s boring policy-making.  You can’t put someone in a category when they look at each decision and situation independently with an appreciation for time and history.  That’s not sound-bite governing.  I remain skeptical of our intervention in Libya and I’m not sure what the end game for our involvement is and I’m fearful for what might happen to the Libyan people in the future no matter if Qaddafi or the rebels "win," however, I’m encouraged the president laid out a case for intervention here that was compelling (if not entirely convincing) and by acknowledging no two situations are the same.



The Short List - March 30, 2011

  • In Libya, government officials have confirmed reports that a limited number of the rebels in that country are part of or have ties to al Qaeda and Hezbollah.  Libyan opposition groups have maintained contact with these groups for years.  The United Kingdom has expelled five Libyan diplomats loyal to Qaddafi.  Reuters is reporting (no link available at press time) that Uganda has offered Qaddafi asylum, which helps explain Ugandan President Museveni's op-ed at CNN about the Qaddafi he knows.  Seriously.

  • Syria's President Assad has said "conspirators" are fomenting unrest in that country, in what has become a classic turn of phrase for dictators.

  • International recognized president-elect of Ivory Coast, Ouattara, and forces loyal to him have seized several towns in that country.

  • House Republican leaders have begun appealing to moderate Democrats in hopes of avoiding a government shutdown over the budget CRs.  They appear ready to make concession to those Democrats, in the face of staunch resistance to compromise on their party's right flank.

  • In Wisconsin,a judge has enjoined the implementation of the controversial bill that would strip public employee unions of their collective bargaining rights.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

What Kind Of Day Has It Been

  • A mixed one for Libyan rebels. On the one hand, foreign ministers met in London to discuss support for the rebels, resulting in envoys, promises of financing and even provision of arms. On the other hand, rebels were driven from Bin Jawad, Ras Lanuf, and potentially Brega, mere days after retaking those cities.

  • Syria's cabinet has resigned in what has become a familiar--if futile--tactic among Middle Eastern despots attempting to cling to power in the face of the Arab Spring.

  • BP may be subject to manslaughter charges arising from the blowout on Deepwater Horizon.

  • The government shutdown potentiality rears its ugly head once more.

  • Bachmann hedges.

  • Finally, the Guardian reports that there may have been a meltdown at Fukushima Daiichi.

Monday, March 28, 2011

What Kind Of Day Has It Been

  • Libyan rebels advanced on, and were halted at, Qaddafi's hometown, Sirte. NATO took control of operations over Libya. Politico previews the President's speech tonight.

  • Japan continues to struggle with its Fukushima Daiichi nuclear facility. 

  • Angela Merkel suddenly appears to be on the ropes in Germany.

  • Donald Trump: National Embarrassment.

The Short List - March 28, 2011

  • Airstikes in Libya escalate, as the nation awaits President Obama's national address tonight on the crisis.

  • A roundup of the Sunday talk show circuit.  Secretaries Clinton & Gates made the full circuit, while Newt Gingrich claims he's not a hypocrite on Libya and not being lame for explaining away his affairs because of his passion for America.

  • Radiation levels at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant have hit new highs as the long work to prevent a total meltdown continue.

  • Syria's president has called in the army in an effort to quell the rebellion in the repressive, secular nation.

  • The Israeli army has deployed an experimental anti-missile system, anticipating additional volleys originating from inside the Gaza Strip.

  • Sen. Jim Demint says there's room for more Republican candidates for 2012, which, if true, could give us a bakers' dozen of GOP hopefuls.

Friday, March 25, 2011

The NFL Lockout and Union Struggles

Stephen Squibb over at n+1, rights the piece I've been trying to write since the Wisconsin union battle and the NFL lockout overlapped.  The whole thing is worth your time, but I'm going to pull out two passages that get to the heart of the issue.  First:

For this obvious restraint of trade the league needs and has needed the blessing of the federal government in the form of an exemption from the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. First secured in 1966 on the occasion of the merger of the AFL and the NFL, the exemption was granted on the condition of Commissioner Pete Rozelle’s promise that teams would not relocate, the idea being that if owners had the right to move teams from city to city they could blackmail local constituencies for millions in public financing. This is, of course, exactly what they’ve done, again and again, in the forty-five years since, to the tune of about $7 billion in taxpayer dollars. It’s unclear whether this figure includes sums like the $36 million paid by the Municipality of San Diego to Alex Spanos, patriarch of the Chargers, for empty seats after the city was forced to guarantee him revenue equivalent to an attendance of 60,000. To put that number in perspective, $36 millon is a little over six times the amount Spanos donated to 527 separate groups to help reelect George W. Bush in 2004, putting him in the GOP’s top five. It is also roughly one-tenth the subsidy demanded by Spanos’s son, Dean, currently team president, to, again, prevent a move to Los Angeles and San Antonio.  “I don’t know how many cities are going to be willing to put up $400 or $500 million,” San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders said of a possible relocation in light of San Diego’s dire financial situation. “But I take every city as a credible threat.”

And Squibb concludes his piece with this:

Most convincing of all is the simple fact that, at the very least, the American people have paid $7 billion in operating expenses for the privilege to watch football in the fall, and have not complained about the rising ticket prices or the thoroughly oppressive advertising included in the increasingly bullshit bargain. Instead, in the face of overwhelming evidence that the game is more dangerous and more profitable than ever before, the owners have decided that it is still not dangerous or profitable enough, and they have shut it down rather than hear otherwise. Those behind Scott Walker and the others like him have made a similar determination about the rights of American citizens. Collective bargaining, like collective ownership before it, is an unacceptable check on the flow of public monies into fewer and fewer private hands. History needs a push and our clients aren’t interested in being partners with your guys. In other words, Fuck You.

It should come as no surprise that I'm siding with the players in this particular labor dispute.  The chief reason for my support of the unions is the categorical refusal by owners to open up their books to attempt to justify the additional $1 billion that want to skim off the top.

The Short List - March 25, 2011

  • In Libya, it is clear some of the populace remains loyal to Qaddafi.

  • In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood rises in prominence, causing concern among the secular opposition groups.

  • It appears President Saleh of Yemen is preparing for an exit, but conditions are being negotiated, and there remains a great deal of uncertainty.

  • Thousands in Dara'a, Syria marched in protest of government killings of demonstrators from earlier protests.  The outburst of dissent in that country has been remarkable, and violent acts by the government seem to sustain the protests much as they did in Iran in 2009.

  • Japan has only begun to assess the extensive damage to its infrastructure following the earthquake and tsunami that befell the country two weeks ago.

  • As U.S. Special Forces trainers prepare to leave Iraq, there are concerns the 4,000 strong force they leave behind could become the private militia of Prime Minister al-Maliki.

  • As state budgets are tightened, unemployment benefits are on the chopping block.  Ten Year U.S. T-bills are trading at 3.39% this morning.


Thursday, March 24, 2011

What Kind Of Day Has It Been

  • As NATO appears to ready itself to takeover operational control of the intervention in Libya, the tide in the fight between Qaddafi and rebels appears to be turning. If a tipping point is near, look for events to start accelerating as the regime crumbles.

  • While the world is fixated on Libya, the Arab Spring continues in Jordan, Syria, and Yemen.

  • Spasm of violence between Israel and the Palestinians may be related to a split within Hamas.

  • Michele Bachmann moves yet closer to running for President.

  • Gentrification has had a serious impact on DC's demographics--the African-American population dropped by 11% in a decade and now barely forms a majority of the District's residents.

  • Meanwhile, I'm puzzled by the sudden interest in the (Constitutional) meaning of "war" in the United States. A notable change compared to the last . . . sixty years.

The Short List - March 24, 2011

  • In Libya, pro-Qaddafi forces have resumed attacks on rebel held cities.  In the U.S., President Obama has come under criticism from House Speaker Boehner over the mission and level of consultation regarding military intervention in Libya.

  • In Japan, even as power has been restored to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, there are many challenges that remain including potential salt build up linked to previous efforts to cool the reactors using seawater.

  • In Syria, there are reports the government continues to crackdown on protesters, killing several people.

  • In Yemen, President Saleh's control grows more tenuous as the web of tribes in the country start to turn on him.

  • The Justice Department and the SEC have been stepping up prosecution of U.S. companies allegedly perpetrating bribes to foreign governments.

  • As state budgets find ways to balance their budgets, support to municipalities is on the chopping block.  Meanwhile, the 10 year treasury rate sits at 3.39%, over half a point from the 52-week high of 4.01%.

  • Sen. Rand Paul mulls a presidential run, to ensure the Tea Party point of view is represented.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

What Kind Of Day Has It Been

  • Tokyo drinking water is unsafe for infants, raising more fears about radiation.

  • Largely unnoticed, the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians seems to be heating up.

  • Rumsfeld has the nerve to criticize another administration's handling of a military intervention. Newt caught being completely inconsistent on Libya.

  • Crude.

Interesting Graphic

So I stole this from Ezra Klein, and I also stole regular viewing of xkcd.com from a friend of mine, but I thought this was an interesting graphic concerning radiation levels.

Click to Enlarge
You should definitely follow his less serious, but seriously funny comics through your preferred reader.  An example:


The Short List - March 23, 2011

  • In Libya, as the air strikes have been successful, managing the allies has not.  If you haven't,  read the account of the four NYT journalists captured and brutalized by the Libyan government.  The New York Times explores the diplomatic no-man's-land for ambassadors from the Middle East with governments in turmoil.

  • Elsewhere in the region, six people were killed by government forces in Dara'a Syria.  Jordan's King Abdullah II is blaming the country's prime minister for the lack of political change.

  • A report by Human Rights Watch claims the Ugandan police are guilty of torture and killings of their own citizens.

  • The Justice Department has sued on behalf of a former Illinois math teacher who quit after her request to complete the Hajj, or a Muslim's pilgrimage to Mecca, was denied.

  • The Affordable Care Act, often derisively referred to as "Obamacare," was passed a year ago this week. While legal challenges persist, even as calls for repeal have quieted, Republicans have failed to clearly articulate an alternative that would cover as many people.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

What Kind Of Day Has It Been

  • The No Fly Zone over Libya got more complicated today, as Turkey blocked NATO's taking command of the operation. The United States, which is currently in operational control of coalition forces, is trying to extricate itself from that role as quickly as possible. AFRICOM, the youngest U.S. Combatant Command, is getting quite a bit of exposure from the Libyan operations.

  • Moshe Katav, former President of Israel, has been sentenced to seven years imprisonment for rape.

  • Romney accuses Obama of a "fundamental disbelief in American exceptionalism." That makes him a realist, right? Imagine, a President who makes foreign policy decisions on the basis of the national interest and not blind ideology.

  • More inconsistently fiscally conservative Republicans. I wonder how much the tax payers will end up shelling out in the inevitable taxpayer suit challenging this if it becomes law?

Presidential Power and the Libyan Intervention

Yesterday, a debate emerged over whether the President has the authority to order U.S. armed forces into action over Libya without Congressional ascent. Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle attacked the President for exceeding his Constitutional authority in launching attacks against Libya without prior Congressional authorization. While it is nice to see members of Congress cross party lines to defend Congress’s institutional prerogatives—something woefully absent when Republicans dominated Congress during the Bush Administration—the criticism here leveled is nonsense. Jack Goldsmith explains why here.

The Short List - March 22, 2011

  • The U.S. has achieved its immediate goals in Libya, and looks to hand off command to European forces.  Over night, a F-15E fighter jet crashed though no casualties are being reported.

  • The situation in Fukushima Daiichi may be stabilizing, according to a member of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission.  However the impact of the radiation that has been leaking from the plant is hard to calculate at this point.

  • In Yemen, President Saleh has indicated he would accept an offer from the opposition that would clear they way for him to leave his office sooner then 2013.

  • The European Union agreed on parameters for a future bailout fund, giving member states access to up to $700 billion in emergency loans with low interest rates.

  • The Supreme Court rejected, without comment, a challenge that to the campaign restriction that limits an individual candidate from collaboration and coordinating directly with his party.  In semi-related news, a consumer advocacy group, The Media Access Project, has filed a petition with the FCC to require campaign ads to include notification of the biggest donors to the ad.

  • President Obama has asked federal workers to give him ideas on how to reorganize the twelve federal agencies that have some sort of purview over trade and export issues.

Monday, March 21, 2011

What Kind Of Day Has It Been

  • The UN Security Council rejected Libya's request for formal hearings regarding the ongoing coalition bombing of Libya pursuant to UNSCR 1973. Meanwhile, Tripoli has been bombed for the third night in a row. Reinvigorated, Libyan rebels advanced on Ajdabiya.

  • Ivory Coast, everyone's favorite forgotten sub-Saharan crises, gets worse.

  • TPaw edged closer to running for the GOP nomination.

  • Republican hypocrisy--or at least, inconsistency--continues. Color me unsurprised. This may just be yet another example of Lucy and the Football.

Jus Ad Bellum versus Jus In Bello in Libya

The law of armed conflict is a funny beast. It distinguishes between the law governing going to war (jus ad bellum) and the law governing rights and duties within an armed conflict (jus in bello). Curiously, whether an armed conflict is lawful under jus ad bellum has no bearing on whether the actions taken within that armed conflict are lawful under jus in bello. That is, even if one state invades another state in a blatant act of aggression (illegal), its armed forces may still lawfully target the armed forces of the invaded state and its combatants are still protected by combatant immunity. Similarly, the invaded state’s armed forces are not freed from their obligations vis-à-vis the enemy invading armed forces or enemy aliens present within its territory during the armed conflict.

Examining Libya through these lenses is an interesting exercise. For instance, had the United States or any of its coalition partners begun bombing Libya last Wednesday, the bombing campaign would arguably have been an act of aggression and, therefore, illegal under international law. Despite that hypothetical illegality, the bombing campaign could still be lawful so long as it conformed to jus in bello—particularly, proportionality, necessity, and distinction. On the other hand, a bombing campaign begun after UN Security Council authorization would be lawful under jus ad bellum but would be illegal under jus in bello if, for example, the coalition forces bombed indiscriminately.

These two separate but interrelated paradigms spring to mind today in the wake of the bombing of Qaddafi’s compound over night. The majority of the reporting has focused on the fact of the targeting and the claim by the coalition that it is not specifically targeting Qaddafi.

Now, whether the coalition is targeting Qaddafi or not, he is likely a lawful target from a jus in bellow perspective. He is the commander—and therefore a member—of the Libyan armed forces. The coalition—a group of several states—is engaged in hostilities using regular armed forces against Libya, another state, indicating that the coalition and Libya are in an armed conflict of international character. In such an armed conflict, the members of the armed forces are targetable 24/7 unless they have been rendered hors de combat.

However, from a jus ad bellum perspective, targeting Qaddafi may be a crime. Resolution 1793 authorizes the imposition of, among other things, a No Fly Zone for the protection of civilians. It is not immediately obvious how targeting Qaddafi’s compound furthers the imposition of a No Fly Zone for the protection of civilians. The compound is presumably fixed to the ground and not flying, nor presumably was the compound the site of an anti-aircraft or radar battery that targeted coalition aircraft.

Yet, UNSCR 1793 also authorize the use of “all necessary measures” to protect Libyan civilians. Such language is broad enough to excuse all manner of action—including, potentially, the bombing of Qaddafi’s compound. The compound may have been the base of Qaddafi’s command and control apparatus. If so, then the coalition forces may have determined it is necessary to disrupt or disable Qaddafi’s command and control to ensure civilians are protected. If so, then targeting the compound complies with the UNSCR and it is not violative of jus ad bellum.

The question is more difficult, however, when one examines the reporting of the first airstrike outside of Benghazi.

Closer to Benghazi, the tanks and missile carriers were blown to pieces as they faced the city. Farther south along the road, many of the tanks seemed to have been retreating, or at least facing the other way.
The fact that the tanks were apparently retreating from Benghazi and fleeing the airstrikes would seem to suggest that destroying them was not necessary to protect Libyan civilians. Unless, of course, we are to adopt a definition of necessary that requires the destruction of the whole of the Libyan military apparatus regardless of its current use against civilians.

Such a definition seems to be overly broad. However, it is likely the definition embraced by the coalition forces. Indeed, no other definition of necessity would be sufficient to achieve the apparent goals of the coalition: the ouster of Qaddafi. By destroying the Libyan military—at least those elements of the military loyal to Qaddafi—the coalition hopes to facilitate the anti-Qaddafi forces ability to route the government and take over the country.