Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Gregg Easterbrook solves the Greece/Macedonia "name issue"

As you know, for years, Greece has refused to call its northerly neighbor Macedonia and the Macedonians won't accept being called anything else. Gregg Easterbrook, in his ESPN column Tuesday Morning Quarterback, comes up with some clever solutions. Macedonia, he argues, should retaliate by renaming itself
[t]he Greatest Nation in Human History. This would force the United Nations to say, "Now we will hear from the delegate representing The Greatest Nation in Human History."

This reminds me of my roommate's clown band The Maestrosities, who smartly realized that no one had taken the website www.thecoolestbandever.com. So they nabbed it.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

why you shouldn't talk at the movies

If you do, this might happen to you.

On the other hand, all of you out there who ever said "if I shot that talker at the movie, nobody in the world would convict me," um, that's about to be tested. And I don't think he's going to win.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

in other breaking news, Israel and Palestine are still at war

After today's heavy air raids on the Gaza Strip, the most severe since 1967, reaction is — surprise surprise — divided. Syria and its ilk called Israel's act "barbaric." Iran said it was "unforgiveable." (So we'll be at war forever, then?) The US, predictably, blamed Hamas, as did most European capitals albeit in a more circumspect manner.

The real problem here is not the action the Israelis are taking, but rather that there's a war on. When sovereignty is in dispute, as it is in Israel/Palestine, different ethnonationalistic groups will fight. One cannot blame the Israelis for winning that fight. If one wants to blame the Israelis, blame their refusal to deal with Hamas. But if one is to do that, one must equally blame Hamas for refusing to accept a two-state solution, insisting instead on a one state solution that will never happen, ever. Thus, the latest "pause" in the conflict ends, and the rockets sound again. This is inevitable. It is entirely predictable. It will not accomplish anything but strengthening the hardliners. But it's unavoidable.

As for the Annapolis peace process, which the Security Council just blessed in its first Israel/Palestine-related statement in 5 year... um... hahaha... uh... what peace process was that again?

Friday, December 26, 2008

those who want war usually get it

And those who want nationalist overreactions and massive reprioritizing usually get that too. Pakistan is now sending forces that used to be deployed in its western regions, ostensibly helping curb cross-border Taliban attacks on NATO forces in Afghanistan, to the eastern front to head off any military action by India. Which was quite possibly the real purpose of those who planned the Mumbai attacks all along.

Week 17 picks

TAMPA BAY over oakland
GREEN BAY over detroit
dallas over PHILADELPHIA
ny giants over MINNESOTA
chicago over HOUSTON
carolina over NEW ORLEANS
ATLANTA over st. louis
CINCINNATI over kansas city
BALTIMORE over jacksonville
INDIANAPOLIS over tennessee
PITTSBURGH over cleveland
miami over NY JETS
new england over BUFFALO
ARIZONA over seattle
SAN FRANCISCO over washington
SAN DIEGO over denver

Last week: 9-7
Season: 156-84 65%

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Bad Santa

Guy in santa suit kills at least 5. A bad horror movie is forthcoming...

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Happy Christmas to all

My vacation starts today, so I'll be blogging less frequently in the next week and a half. I'm not about to enter The Nightmare Before Christmas, as they're calling JFK airport. Wish me luck.

In the meantime, you should read Michael Chertoff's new piece in Foreign Affairs, and if I wasn't in such a hurry to the airport I'd link you to it. Point is, you should read it.

happy holidays!

Children on a Playground, Part XXXIII

In the 3rd floor men's lavatory in the UN Secretariat Building, first stall, someone has drawn a large pair of breasts.

Proving once again that people don't mature as they get older, they just get older.

someone take a graphic design course for goodness sake

The year in company logo changes... the best and worst. Many of them, it should be said, are for the worse.

news of the weird

Solving your home's ice problem with a blowtorch is probably not a good idea.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

best NFL tribute ever

The 49ers, in homage to many former San Francisco greats, are all growing mustaches for the season finale.

how to solve the China/Taiwan issue once and for all

It's.... panda diplomacy! They help bring about world peace... and they're cuuuuute!

a coup in Guinea

The President, who was "elected" 3 times after seizing power in a 1984 coup, dies. Surprisingly.... the military takes over! In an ethnically divided country, will Guinea destabilize fellow regional basket cases Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea-Bissau? Only time will tell.

All I know is, this calls for the bad news breakers.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Maliki: al-Zaidi's shoe-throwing may be popular but he was motivated by.... eeeeevil!!!!

An unconvincing attempt from Nouri al-Maliki to convince the world that the shoe-throwing journalist admitted to be inspired by a throat-slitting militant. This was instantly denied by the journalist's family and everyone who knows him.

Um, nice try, Mr. Maliki...

Shoe-throwing Guy For President of Iraq! Don't they have another one of those, um, whaddyacallem? Elections? coming up soon?

NFL Play of the Year

Sometimes a bad play can be just as important as a good one. With the Detroit Lions on the verge of setting NFL records for futility, this play, I think, will go down in history. More than any other, it is the play that will wind up being replaid again and again on NFL Films... the depths of NFL futility.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you... Dan Orlovsky.


The auto bailout, explained...

news of the weird

Boy survives decapitation. Full recovery.


Washington punts

And I'm referring to the White House here, not the Redskins, though there was plenty of that also in their 10-3 win over Philly yesterday. Tony Fratto today explained that the US government is leaving the shoe-thrower's fate up to the Iraqi government.

"He's in the hands of the Iraqi system. I don't have anything more on the shoe-thrower," spokesman Tony Fratto told reporters when asked if the White House was concerned about reports that the Iraqi journalist showed signs of having been tortured.

Don't Worry About The Government

By the way, this is a good time to note that I'm on a podcast called Don't Worry About The Government. The overwhelming fascination with the brand of shoe thrown at Bush pretty much guarantees that this will be discussed on our next podcast (recorded tomorrow, likely to be aired Christmas morning), along with such disparate issues as Rev. Warren, the soda tax, and the IRAA not suing people for downloading music illegally anymore. We also love making fun of Rod Blagoyevich.

More info, and previous podcasts, available here. You can subscribe on iTunes also.


Model 271 Brogues are the new black

The Daily Mail brings more word from what is suddenly the most popular shoe brand in the Middle East.

A Turkish shoemaker who made the famous footwear that was hurled at President Bush during a visit to Baghdad is enjoying a massive sales boom, it emerged today.
Ramazan Baydan has recruited an extra 100 staff to meet orders for 300,000 pairs of the Model 271 brogues that were thrown by Iraqi journalist Muntadhar al-Zeidi.
His Istanbul-based firm normally sells about 75,000 pairs a year for about £28 each.

Further worsening the p.r. situation for both the Maliki and Bush Administration alike comes this:

Today it was claimed Mr al-Zeidi was tortured into writing a letter of apology to Mr Bush - and told his brother he would 'do it again'.

With al-Zaidi promising not to apologize, "not now, nor in the future," according to al-Jazeera, and with extensive reporting that he has been beaten in custody, who exactly benefits from his forthcoming trial when the vast numbers of Iraqis wildly support his action, and when vast numbers of Americans either don't care or are disgusted that the man may have been tortured into writing an apology? This doesn't makes Nouri al-Maliki look good at home or abroad, and it doesn't really help Bush or his legacy either.

my 15 seconds of internet fame

So apparently if you do a google search of "Model 271 brogues" my blog entry from about two hours ago is the second thing that comes up. Obviously, people are as interested in this shoe-thrower story as I am, because this quirk of the internet has just garnered me over 540 hits in the past 90 minutes after getting only 900 or so in the previous 6 months.

I feel the fortunes of this blog, and by extension of myself, are now inextricably bound up with those of the shoe-thrower, whom I have never met and never will meet. Gotta love the internet. We live in a strange world.

Hypothetical Genocide Prevention, continued

Missed this Saturday piece in the NYTimes by Madeleine Albright and William Cohen hawking their report on genocide prevention.

The key graph:
"America’s standing in the world is eroded when we are perceived as bystanders to genocide. Yes, we must understand that preventing mass killings may eventually require military intervention, but this is always at the end of the list of intervention options, not the beginning. We must learn to recognize the early warning signs of genocide and move quickly to marshal international cooperation, to bring diplomatic and economic pressure to bear against those who violate the norms of civilized behavior."

Two points. One, American's standing in the world eroded far more when we took military action that was justified by humanitarian hawks in Iraq than it was when we didn't take action on Rwanda.

Second, I know it's an op-ed piece, but I looked over the report also and it was equally full of boilerplate. To justify any of this, someone would need to explain to me how US policy could have prevented, say, Darfur. Would early diplomatic and economic pressure have stopped the war? And most importantly, if not, would Albright and Cohen have advocated military intervention in Darfur in 2003 and 2004, when the killing was at its worst and its most systematic? And if so, how would this have solved anything? That's the part that's missing.

Meanwhile, The New Republic's Marty Peretz liked the Albright/Cohen piece, which immediately makes me even more suspicious about it. Peretz also calls out his own magazine for not advocating strong enough measures on genocide in their most recent editorial, when they called for a strengthening of MONUC with European troops, and for a special envoy to be appointed. On the one hand, Peretz has a point: this is exactly the formula that has not accomplished a thing in Darfur, despite years of dedicated effort by Andrew Natsios. Never mind also that, um, which European forces can deploy to Congo? The Germans, who don't even want to stay in Afghanistan? The Italians, who are leading UNIFIL? The French and Belgians and British and Dutch, who have, um, a rather sordid history in central Africa, and Congo and Rwanda in particular?

The problem with Peretz's argument, however, is that there isn't much else to be done. It's an anarchic war between ethnic militias fighting over territory and resources, and trying to blanket it with overwhelming military force is like installing a rug to make the roaches go away. Worse, there are no clear provincial border deliniations between ethnic factions as in, say, Iraq, or Sudan, so a partition is likely out of the question, as is a federalized political settlement. Sending in a huge force would not solve the underlying problems, and it would take decades, if inded it's possible at all, to build up the security framework and institutions necessary in Congo for stable governance in North Kivu.

Peretz is basically trying to enhance his own moral credibility through toughness, by advocating aggressive and never-gonna-happen measures to stop a humanitarian calamity, safe in knowing that he'll never have to witness them fail spectacularly because no sane politician will ever undertake them. This is why I say, let reality defeat dreams, and let honesty defeat bluster. The reason people propose UNPKOs and special envoys is that, even though they're unlikely to work, they're the only feasible option apart from doing nothing. Crying about it won't save a soul in Congo, but it might earn Peretz a promotion at some point. This isn't genocide prevention. It's self-promotion.

Dept of Irony

Listening to French Ambassador Jean-Maurice Ripert say, while the Security Council renewed the mandate of the UN peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo, that "we welcome the speech by the Foreign Minister of Belgium, and note his commitment to peace in the DRC," one really cannot help but feel that all Council members should be required to read The Poisonwood Bible, or any kind of colonial history, before using the words "Belgium," "commitment to peace," and "DRC" in the same sentence.

Also, British Ambassador John Sawers referring to "President Oh-BASS-ahn-jo" was another highlight of today's meeting.

place those orders for Model 271 brogues NOW!!! they're selling like hotcakes!

More evidence that the Iraqi journalist who chucked his clogs at President Bush is actually an international hero... he's good for the economy!

Friday, December 19, 2008

to Detroit Lions fans

Just remember, no matter how bad at gets, at least you don't have to deal with this.

p.s. Whoever took that deserves a Pulitzer. Seriously. It's amazing...

no PKO in Somalia

Foreign Policy is reporting that the GAO has cleverly completely undercut Condoleezza Rice's Somalia position with a new report that, basically, says that peacekeeping missions in the future will be very difficult. It gives a "hypothetical" example that, while not actually named as Somalia, sure looks like Somalia.

The main problems, it says, are the same as I've been saying. No peace to keep, nobody willing to contribute peacekeeping forces, etc.

As AMISOM has shown, merely outsourcing African peacekeeping to Africans just won't work in situations as difficult as Somalia. The Ethiopians and Ugandans couldn't contain the chaos. This would likely require Western troops and/or equipment. And we all remember what happened the last time Western troops tried to fix Somalia.

funny ha ha

The President develops a sense of humor.

China goes to war

against Somali pirates. Foreign Policy's blog explains.

It's sort of interesting how we now have a situation where warships from China, Russia, the United States, and a host of European and Middle Eastern nations are all patrolling the same waters on hair-trigger alert hunting for pirates. Think this might lead to some tense moments?

"I don't know what that guy's cause is"

Rosa Brooks on reactions to the shoe-throwing journalist around the world.

The whole episode sent nary a shiver through Bush's sunny little universe. Bush merely expressed his mystification about why Zaidi might have hurled those shoes. "I don't know what the guy's cause is," he told reporters brightly after Zaidi was beaten and dragged away by Iraqi guards.

Maybe no one had bothered to translate Zaidi's Arabic words for the president. As Zaidi threw the first shoe, he cried, "This is a gift from the Iraqis; this is the farewell kiss, you dog!" As he flung the second, he was even more explicit: "This is from the widows, the orphans and those who were killed in Iraq!"

Brooks, while not condoning footwear-hurling among the press corps, puts it in perspective:

No, shoe throwing's not exactly a form of nonviolent resistance -- and Zaidi's not up there with Gandhi and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. But if Zaidi inspires a new global trend of shoe throwing, I'll take that over bomb throwing any day.

Via Democracy Arsenal.

state of the Bears

Bill Simmons, in his latest power poll:


14. Chicago Bears
Chicago's new offense: "Throw the ball up to Devin Hester and hope he either catches it or draws an interference penalty." In other words, the Bears are using the same offense my buddy Geoff mastered in "Madden '96," only without the wrinkle of Kyle Orton running backward for 20 yards, scrambling around for eight seconds and heaving a Hail Mary downfield. I'm gonna go out on a limb and say this fails.

It's sad, really. And to think, they were a blown 10-point lead at home to Tampa and 11 seconds in Atlanta away from being 10-4 right now and angling for a first-round bye. Sadly, I still think that, Erik Kramer '94 aside, Orton's having the best year for a Chicago quarterback since Jim McMahon. And before that you have to back to the game Walter Payton played at quarterback in '79 because we had no QB on the roster who was better. And before that, you have to go back to Sid Luckman. We're the team that started Vince Evans, drafted Cade McNown, traded for Kordell Stewart, and decided to pass on Joe Montana in the draft because we were content with Bob Avellini at quarterback. Bear down, Chicago Bears!!!

Blago's Going Nowhere

Illinois Governor Rod Blagoyevich just held a press conference in which he announced that he will fight us all to the ends of the earth.

"I'm not going anywhere, and I'll fight... fight... fight..." [looks at notes] "... until my last breath."

"These are the most serious comments from the Governor since he was arrested."

Blago continues:
"I won't walk away from a job the people of Illinois hired me to do."

Did I mention I'm from Illinois? And that 95% of us think the Governor should resign?

Obama to create Iran outreach post

Guess that whole should-we-talk-to-the-Iranians debate from the Democratic primary is settled now.

Gerson accuses Christopher Hill of "moral surrender"

Michael Gerson, and he's not the first, lights into Christopher Hill for moral equivalency after Hill's comment, when asked about North Korean human rights abuses, that:
"Each country, including our own, needs to improve its human rights record."

Gerson calls this "moral surrender." But Hill wasn't, I would imagine, equating the human rights records of the US and North Korea. He was trying to answer a question that was set up for him to insult the country he's trying to negotiate with in the most non-inflammatory way possible. Why? Because he's negotiating with the North about its nuclear weapons.

Peronsally, I rather think the real moral surrender on US-DPRK policy took place from 2001-2006, when the Bush Administration decided it was going to ignore the North Korean regime, not have any dealings with it, and renege on the Clinton Administration deals on the grounds that the North Koreans weren't being 100% honest about their dealings... all of which led the North Koreans to restart Yongbyon, pump out tens of kilos of plutonium, and ultimately detonate a nuclear weapon. Christopher Hill was left with the unenviable task of trying to convince the North to voluntarily give up its arsenal, something that wouldn't be accomplished by scoring petty domestic points by slamming the North's grievous human rights record.

Now, Hill's task was probably futile from the start. John Bolton has repeatedly warned that "the North will never voluntarily give up its nuclear weapons," and increasingly it's looking like he's right.

But like I've always said on North Korea, foreign policy thinkers need to be more honest about their intentions. If Gerson and Bolton want to try to overthrow the North Korean regime, I want to hear them say so, with an explanation of how it's going to be done. But if we're not going to remove the regime, the most important thing is to eliminate its threat to the outside world... and that threat is as a nuclear proliferator. The human rights situation in the North is abominable, possibly the worst in the world, and it cannot be condoned. But the only way to change it is either to throw the regime out (not a feasible option) or cajole the regime over decades to modernize and join the international community, as China has, building up a middle class that will one day press for its own human rights.

Does this mean we can't talk about North Korean human rights in the meantime? No, of course not. We can, and we must. But the guy who's responsible for negotiations on the nuclear issue probably shouldn't be leading the charge. Hill is right to temper his comments on the issue. If Gerson wants to wax righteous with his Washington Post editorial space, let him, but let him also be realistic. Please.

the UN weighs in on homosexuality... sort of

Yesterday, as the General Assembly passed a bevy of social and human rights resolutions, Western countries read out a declaration calling for discrimination. In all, 66 countries signed on, including the entire Western world.

Except one country.

Guess which one...

The Holy See's response on the GA floor, meanwhile, was telling. While commending the declaration's call for the end to violence against homosexuals and the criminalization of homosexuality, the Holy See was concerned that the statement
"gives rise to uncertainty in the law and challenges existing human norms."

In other words, that it might actually make homosexuality acceptable, and the Holy See could never abide that.

The US position, like the Holy See's, is then somewhat problematic: they don't want to condone hate crimes or violence against the LGBT community, but they don't want to bestow legitimacy on it as a lifestyle either.

Still, it's very revealing that the sponsors simply read out an oral statement and listed the cosponsors. At this moment, it's impossible to imagine such a resolution passing on the General Assembly floor. (Though it is possible to imagine an extremely ugly debate over one.) Maybe a few years down the line that might change, but given the attitudes of many African and Asian countries on this issue, I doubt it will be soon.

Photoshop Phriday

The New York Post keeps it classy in its coverage of Clinton's foundation donors.

Iraq learns what to do with political dissidents

Beat them, apparently. So nice to see a nascent political autocracy take its first baby steps towards iron-fisted rule. It's these little moments that remind us why nation-building is so worthwhile.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

the American foreign policy establishment's War On Human Nature continues

Belatedly, I want to express outrage upon reading Graeme Wood's story in the New Yorker about US Afghanistan policy. Basically, the story chronicles the US's tactic of having ethnic minority Hazara police officers patrol predominantly Pashtun, Taliban-dominated regions of the country:

Hazaras are mostly Shia, with a history of ties to Iran, whereas most Pashtuns are Sunni and have turned to Pakistan for support. Over the past century, the two peoples have fought periodically, and the Hazaras, who are thought to make up between nine and nineteen per cent of Afghanistan's population--the Pashtuns make up nearly half--have usually lost. On the border between the Hazara heartland, in the country's mountainous and impoverished center, and the Pashtun plains in the south and east, conflicts over grazing land are common. But, working alongside NATO soldiers, Hazara police units are now operating far to the south of these traditional battlegrounds and deep into Pashtun territory.

If this is our Afghanistan policy, we should just turn around and go home now before we get somebody killed. I mean, seriously? Pitting regional ethnic groups against each other... has this ever produced a good outcome in a country in human history? Usually what it produces is Rwanda, whether the favored minority group gets the business end of a genocide at the first opportunity. This is guaranteed to make the overall situation in Afghanistan worse, no matter what short term security guarantees can be arranged. It's also guaranteed to help drive the Pashtuns further into the arms of the Taliban and extremists in Pakistan who have historically backed the Pashtuns in Afghanistan.

American and NATO forces can beat any army in combat, but they can't beat human nature. And in Afghanistan, they won't, not with a strategy like this. I'm appalled.

more evidence that The New Republic has jumped the shark

Big time. Seriously, what happened to these guys on foreign policy? Or, like, on anything?

the economic Civil War

Slate has an interesting piece about the ongoing economic war between the south and the north, with the south attempting to undercut the north's industrial advantage by gutting services, unionization, and worker pay and benefits. Applied to the car industry, it becomes the southern attempt to undo Detroit and American car manufacturing so that southern auto plants, which don't have the same labor standards, can thrive by producing cars from foreign companies.

Perhaps the South should have been allowed to secede after all...

governments stopping evil?

Whatever one thinks of Rick Warren's controversial statements on abortion and gay rights, I think by far the most disqualifying thing about him fto deliver the invocation at Obama's inauguration is that he supports the assassination of foreign leaders... specifically Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Responding to Hannity’s assertion that “we need to take him [Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad] out,” Warren agreed, saying that stopping evil “is the legitimate role of government. The Bible says that God puts government on earth to punish evildoers.”

Words fail me here. Does Warren think that invading and destabilizing Iraq, leading to the deaths of as many as a million people and the displacement of one sixth of the Iraqi population, was a just use of governmnent because it "punished" the evildoing Saddam Hussein? Would war with Iran, with the immense casualties that would come with it, be an example of fighting evil? And would a world where assassinating unfavorable leaders is acceptable -- this is against US government policy, by the way -- be a world of justice? Killing Allende and Lumumba and removing Mossadeqh... OK?

Ultimately, the main problems here -- problems that afflict foreign policy in general are:
-- the assumption that anyone that is opposing US geopolitical interests is "evil"
-- the assumption that the use of force to remove a bad actor like Ahmadinejad will improve the situation in Iran, the Middle East, or for the United States
-- the Messianic belief in spreading American values by whatever means, a tactic guaranteed to pit foreign American values against domestic nationalism, a battle which nationalism will always win

Thankfully Warren won't get within a hundred yards of the Obama Administration's foreign policy, but it's a little annoying that he'll be standing right next to the President giving a speech on his inauguration day. Hopefully the speech will skirt around foreign affairs.

paternalism or smart policy?

Nicholas Kristof advocates for David Paterson's soda tax. Especially as someone who drinks no soft drinks, I'm quite in favor of this one. What would be better is if we didn't subsidize massive corn monoculture in the first place, which leads to drinks like the ones in question, but if we can't have that (and with Tom Vilsack coming into the new administration, we probably can't), then a more roundabout solution is fine with me.

At the very least, it's a helluva lot better idea than his iTunes tax.

why the UN is useless on Israel-Palestine

I have ranted about this before, but because the UN General Assembly is voting on a host of social, cultural, and human rights resolutions today, I can't help but do it again. When it comes to Israel and Palestine at the United Nations, here's how it works here. In order to cut the Western countries who seek human rights promotion by way of the United Nations down to size, the Organization of Islamic Conference, in league with a large swath of developing countries, passes about twenty General Assembly resolutions every year with various formulations of the words "the inalienable right of the Palestinian people to self-determination." Fine. Pretty much everyone who doesn't vote Likud supports Palestine's right to self-determination. But Israel and the United States consider these resolutions one-sided, and vote no on all of them. The resolutions pass overwhelmingly. The more uncontroversial ones pass with tallies like 188-4. The more lopsided ones garner a massive Western bloc of abstentions, lowering the tally to something like 138-4, with 50 abstentions. Israel and the US then make statements generally reminding the General Assembly that its resolutions are non-binding and calling the body worthless and pointless. (Neither country has ever gotten over the GA's infamous "Zionism equals racism" resolution that passed in 1974.)

Later, whenever Israel does something that ticks off the Arab League (which is often), the League brings a draft resolution or statement to the Security Council to try to get a binding action taken there. The US vetoes anything that is even remotely critical of Israel, and the Arab League won't allow a statement that's critical of the Palestinians. The Council hasn't released a presidential statement (which requires unanimous support from all 15 members) in years. Even the most recent resolution that passed on Monday, the first in five years, didn't get unanimous support, because Libya abstained. This despite the fact that the resolution basically did nothing more than laud the sides for their work on the peace process and encourage them to continue trying.

Needless to say, no one in Israel or Palestine is aided by these shenanigans, but a huge number of General Assembly committees, working groups and resources are devoted to the Palestinian cause, which makes Israel distrustful of the General Assembly, and vice versa. And the beat goes on.

heeding the wise words of Pervez Musharraf

When then-Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf came on his US book tour a couple years ago, he spoke to us at the Council on Foreign Relations. Asked why his country wasn't doing more to crush Taliban resistance in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, he warned that one couldn't fight the Taliban in such a way as to turn it into "a Pashtun movement." In other words, the extremists had to be kept separate from any indigenous social uprising from the Pashtun population, which is about half of Afghanistan and whose numbers spill over into Pakistan as well.

Um... uh oh:
Lately, not a week passes without an exclusive report hitting the front page of newspapers in Britain or America conveying the same message: the Taliban is back, boastful, bearded and boisterous. Still, as a Swiss anthropologist pointed out to me recently, the Taliban of today is more than just the result of US failure in Afghanistan. According to him, it is a multifaceted, indigenous movement, mirroring many of the concerns of rural Afghan society.

Defeating the Taliban's movement absolutely requires isolating the extremists from the population. The US military can defeat any army, but no one can defeat nationlism.

between Iraq and a hard place

In other news, it turns out that to the surprise of everyone, Shiites and Sunnis don't get along, as most recently evidenced by a bunch of Sunni officials being arrested by Nouri al-Maliki's Shiite government on suspicion of launching a coup and trying to get the Baath Party back into power.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Turkmenistan embraces modernization!

Sort of. Expunging the previous dear leader's personality cult has to count for something, right? In these trying times, let's take what we can get.

Meanwhile, I'd like to point out that the new President's name—Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov—is quite possibly the greatest name for a head of state of all time.

amazingly, no shoes were thrown

Gordon Brown visits Iraq to announce that British troops are on their way out.

Somalia divides the Security Council in unusual ways

Somalia is such a basket case right now that even the P3 (the United States, United Kingdom and France) cannot come to a consensus on what should be done there. The French and Americans now support a UN peacekeeping mission, but the UK holds out. Just yesterday, while visiting the UN, Condoleezza Rice called for a UN force to be established in Somalia by the end of the year (while declining to send any American forces to participate, naturally).

Said Rice:
We cannot get into a situation in which there a security vacuum is left in Somalia and all the good work of Djibouti is undone and we go back to two years ago prior to the Ethiopian offensive. That would not be a good circumstance to find ourselves in. And I really don't imagine American forces being a part of a peacekeeping operation. American forces are pretty busy these days.

British Ambassador John Sawers politely dissented today outside the Security Council:
The Secretary-General has been giving some very careful thought to the way forward in Somalia. He has recommended a multinational force which could prepare the way for a UN peacekeeping force in the future. But at the moment, many members of the Council feel that the conditions aren't right for the UN to be able to put in a traditional blue-helmeted UN force.

Meanwhile, in other Somali news, pirates nabbed four vessels on the same day that the Council passed yet another anti-piracy resolution. Also, on Monday the President fired the Prime Minister, then yesterday named a new one even as the parliament and nearly every foreign government said they still supported the original PM. This leaves Somalia with two dueling Prime Ministers. And, very soon, it may have zero presidents.

The Ambassador At Large's take on all of this? Not surprisingly, I'm siding with the UK and DPKO here against deploying a UN peacekeeping force at present. In the future, perhaps there could be a viable one, but there's no peace to keep right now. When the Secretary-General and the UN Department of Peacekeeping want no part of a mission, you can bet that it's probably not a good idea. Despite the Djibouti peace process, Somalia ia still a war zone, and UN forces aren't very effective in war zones.

Furthermore, given that the Ethiopian troops are about to leave, and that AMISOM forces are also looking to withdraw, and that no one has signed up for a multinational force... um... who exactly is going to staff a Somalia peacekeeping force? The troop contributors don't seem to want any part of this mission either.

p.s. Word to Meles Zenawi, as he prepares to bring Ethiopian troops home from a 2-year occupation of Somalia that achieved virtually nothing: when you have to declare "Mission Accomplished," it probably isn't.

Iraqi security forces learned too well from Rumsfeld, apparently

The brother of the shoe-throwing journalist says that his brother was beaten so severely that he cannot appear in court.

why President Bush must take a trip to Chad right now

A New York Times piece explores various insults around the world in the wake of the shoe-throwing incident. In terms of hilarity, Chad is the runaway winner here:

For scholars of insults, what comes to mind almost immediately after a high-profile insulting incident is the central African nation of Chad, where hitting someone with a pair of pants is the highest form of insult. It means that the target is lower than pants, the hem of which, while not on the ground, is often near the ground and, again, unclean. The only problem with this form of insult is that the thrower then has to retrieve the pants, as he or she had been wearing them.

For many years people threw shorts, but almost no one was offended, as the hem of shorts is a great distance from the ground. “We’re working on new forms of insult, as well as changing our country’s name, which, strangely, is a common first name in California,” said a Chadian cultural attaché. “We need to be taken more seriously.”

Nota bene: I'm pretty sure this isn't real.

The 10 Worst Foreign Policy Predictions 2008

Foreign Policy lays them out. Highlights include The Economist praising Kenya's election and Jim Cramer shrieking on CNBC that Bear Stearns was not in trouble, don't be silly. A fun read.

Meanwhile, Daniel Drezner says that it's not a good thing for Adm. Dennis Blair's hopes to be Director of National Intelligence that he's #3 on this list:

“[In] reality the risks to maritime flows of oil are far smaller than is commonly assumed. First, tankers are much less vulnerable than conventional wisdom holds. Second, limited regional conflicts would be unlikely to seriously upset traffic, and terrorist attacks against shipping would have even less of an economic effect. Third, only a naval power of the United States’ strength could seriously disrupt oil shipments.” —Dennis Blair and Kenneth Lieberthal, Foreign Affairs, May/June 2007

On Nov. 15, 2008 a group of Somali pirates in inflatable rafts hijacked a Saudi oil tanker carrying 2 million barrels of crude in the Indian Ocean. The daring raid was part of a rash of attacks by Somali pirates, which have primarily occurred in the Gulf of Aden. Pirates operating in the waterway have hijacked more than 50 ships this year, up from only 13 in all of last year, according to the Piracy Reporting Center. The Gulf of Aden, where nearly 4 percent of the world’s oil demand passes every day, was not on the list of strategic “chokepoints” where oil shipments could potentially be disrupted that Blair and Lieberthal included in their essay, “Smooth Sailing: The World’s Shipping Lanes Are Safe.” Hopefully, Blair will show a bit more foresight if, as some expect, he is selected as Barack Obama’s director of national intelligence.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

independence for North Kivu?

Giles Fodden becomes the latest to sound the alarm on Congo. He also proposes a fascinating solution that I've not yet heard from anyone else: an independent state in Eastern Congo. Why, do you ask? Fodden:

In the immediate term, pressure should be put on the Rwandan leadership itself to rein in Nkunda; in the short term, Monuc should be supplemented by a large EU force; in the longer term, as eastern Congo seems ungovernable from Kinshasa, I see no option but the creation of a buffer state on the western shores of Lakes Kivu and Tanganyika. This could be achieved by regional forces with Monuc-EU backup.

Worth looking into, though I'm not at all convinced that the ethnic cleavages or the resource expropriation issues at the heart of the conflict would be solved by a buffer state. Still, Ambassador at Large is always intrigued by the possibility of partition, if done properly, when a country clearly cannot work as constituted. If ever there was a country that can't work as constituted, it's Democratic Republic of Congo.

Dubai's war on nature

Just what I always wanted on my vacation: a refrigerated beach.

unilateral when we can... no, wait... multi... wait... hang on...

Jonathan Chait critiques Yglesias's genocide post.

[T]he notion that "whenever humanitarian emergencies break out, we do nothing to stop them" is incorrect. During the Clinton administration, the United States intervened to stop the mass slaughter of Bosnians and then Kosovars. It didn't work perfectly, but it worked, and it would have worked better if we had intervened earlier.

I'd also point out that the notion that the United States can't intervene militarily without U.N. Security Council authorization is not a historical norm that existed before the Bush administration smashed it. In fact it's never existed at all. ... No government in American history has ever committed itself to gaining U.N. permission before using non-defensive force. ... Previous governments did pay more attention to international opinion than the Bush administration has, but none of them granted it veto power. The Clinton administration's motto in this regard was "Multilateral when we can, unilateral when we must."

Chait's post misses the point. I don't think Yglesias nor myself would argue that the US must get UN Security Council authorization every time, no exceptions. Yglesias himself says that the Kosovo action was justified, and I tend to agree.

The issue is not whether we can take action, but whether we should. If you look at the world's worst humanitarian emergencies and ethnic wars, basically none of them would be approved by the arrival of a multinational coalition of the willing. Many of them would be made much worse off, with massive humanitarian calamity and social collapse. The problem is less about whether we needed the Security Council to okay the US taking action in Iraq and more about whether we should have at all. We shouldn't have. It was a bad idea. By the same token, US unilateral or coalition-based military invasions, occupations or strikes against bad actors in Burma, Iran, North Korea, Somalia, Sudan, Congo, or Zimbabwe are all terrible ideas. It doesn't matter whether the Council would give the okay to any of them. The policy itself would lead to a bad outcome.

Not that that's something I'd expect anyone at The New Republic to understand, given their general foreign policy stance.

One more point: Chait attacks people who think that military interventions are generally a bad idea by calling them wimps on Bosnia:

There is a school of thought which holds that U.S. intevention in the Balkans was a pretext to kill people rather than a genuine effort to stop genocide. But this school is mostly associated with extreme Serbian nationalism. I'm surprised to see it propounded by an organ of mainstream American liberalism.

The problem with this was that the case of Bosnia was an international incident, where sovereignty was violated by one ethnic nation (Serbia) trying to carve out a sister nation of the same ethnic group (Republika Srbska) in a neighboring nation (Bosnia) through ethnic cleansing. This absolutely warranted a military response and, belatedly, it got one. But how Chait would apply this to proxy wars in Somalia and DR Congo, or internal strife in Zimbabwe or Burma, is a complete mystery to me.

hair vs. hare

So a blogger has written in to inform me that it's "hare-brained," not "hair-brained." I'm stunned. Although, frankly, both make sense, if you think about it.

Duly noted, however. "Hare-brained" it shall be henceforth on AaL.


Al Jazeera is claiming that the shoe-throwing journalist has been tortured.

Meanwhile, Robert Waldmann says that the man could get a 7-year sentence for "insulting the nation's leader."

I'm glad we've fought so hard for a liberal democracy in Iraq!

a softening of relations between Iran and the Zionist regime?

From a statement by the Permanent Mission of Iran to the United Nations:

"While a whole population in the Gaza Strip is being slowly eliminated by the Israeli regime and while the international community is in shock and anguish over the horrendous Israeli war crimes against the innocent Palestinian people in the Gaza strip, the US tries to divert the attentions in one way or the other."

And later:

... "If there is one thing that the people in the Persian Gulf region are concerned about that is the interference of the United States in the region and its tired divisive policies and practices that is futilely aimed at creating divisions in order to pursue its own narrow political aims and to serve the interests of the Israeli regime."

Notice anything about these two paragraphs? Anything?

They both refer to "the Israeli regime" ... not "the Zionist regime," as is Iran's normal preference. In fact, this is the first time that the word "Israel" or "Israeli" has shown up in any Iranian statement that I can recall.

Okay, okay, I'm a nerd, but on a day when the Security Council passed its first resolution on Middle East peace in five years, this has to mean something!

Week 16 NFL picks

What makes the NFL so compelling is that literally one week's games can change everything. One play, one injury. No other pro sport's regular season is like that. Like how, after 13 weeks of ruling the roost, suddenly neither Tennessee nor the New York Giants might get the top seed in their respective conferences. Tennnessee fails on a fourth down try to lose at Houston in a game where Albert Haynesworth goes down, and lo! The top seed is Pittsburgh's to lose. Plaxico Burress shoots himself in the leg, the Giants lose at Philly, and suddenly New York could lose home field and maybe even a first round bye entirely if they fall to Carolina. Meanwhile, Philly looks like it's got the inside track on a playoff spot. Two weeks ago Andy Reid was about to be traded and Donovan McNabb was on the bench. No, wait, Andy Reid was going to be fired and McNabb was going to be traded... AND was on the bench. Go figure.

I say this to apologize for my crappy picks last week, where I went a pedestrian 8-8 after a string of double-digit win totals that stretched over two months. Stick with me, kids. I'm 65% for the year and hopefully it'll stay that way. Next year, when I start picking against the spread, I make no guarantees.

My week 16 guesses:

colts over JAGUARS
COWBOYS over ravens
BROWNS over bengals
49ers over RAMS
saints over LIONS
steelers over TITANS
dolphins over CHIEFS
PATRIOTS over cardinals
BUCANEERS over chargers
texans over RAIDERS
BRONCOS over bills
SEAHAWKS over jets
falcons over VIKINGS
eagles over REDSKINS
GIANTS over panthers
BEARS over packers

Last week: 8-8
Season: 147-77 65.6%


If nothing else, give Bush credit for brevity.

genocide prevention, continued

Amazingly, the reader responses on Matthew Yglesias's blog are actually largely intelligent, which is almost unheard of on internet comment forums. Normally internet comment forums attract the shallow end of the gene pool, but there were so many interesting responses to Yglesias's genocide post that referenced my post that I feel a need to respond to the best of them. So here we go:

Kolohe (#8) says:
Ok, I’ll bite. How can one tell the difference a priori between something like Kenya and something like Rwanda? Because it certainly seemed like in Rwanada all that happened was the international community trying to ‘grasp thoroughly the ethnonationalistic motivations of all actors in a conflict, and work towards implementing diplomatic solutions that head off the worst impulses of these actors’ when what was needed was ‘”sending in the troops” to stop the bad guys from doing bad things’.

Trying to contain the damage around the edges of a conflict doesn’t really solve anything
On this I strongly disagree as well. I concur with your spectrum of resolution, prevention, enforcement, as well as not landing right in the middle of a hot LZ guns ablazing. However, on the margin is where (an appropriately multilateral and authorized) force could do the most good. Think of like fighting wildfires. The centers are a lost cause, and pre-fire prevention and abatement is obviously the most bang for the buck. But while the conflagation is in progress, fighting it around the edges to push it back and moreover to prevent it spreading is the best and really only way to fight it.

A good point on Rwanda, BUT there was ample evidence in advance that the motivations of the Hutu extremists was to start and extermination campaign. The UN force that was already there to secure a fragile peace had a responsibility to nip that in the bud. It tried. The UN Security Council and troop contributing countries had a responsibility to back that force up with mandate and materiel. They didn't. As for Yglesias's point that "trying to contain the damage around the edges doesn't really solve anything," the point is that merely protecting civilians across the border in Chad won't save Darfur. Only a political settlement that will lead the government and rebels and militias to stop making war on each other, allowing a UN force to reestablish security and keep the peace (which is what UN forces are for) will ultimately solve the conflict. Unless you want to "liberate" Darfur as we did Kosovo.

Robert Waldmann (#11):
Ambassador at Large is setting up a straw man when he raises the issue of Kenya. No one proposed sending in foreign troops (he could have used the case of the USA in 2000 just as well).

Myanmar doesn’t work very well for AaL for several reasons. For one thing, the people of Myanmar made their wishes very clear in the last election, but their will was thwarted. In a case where the people’s will is clear, why shouldn’t foreigners help them ? Same goes for re-installing Aristide in Haiti or (I assure you) removing Coard from power in Grenada. For another, the military regime in Burma is horrible and not just horrible in the imediate aftermath of typhoons

What about Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraqi Kurdistan ? I mean there have been a few armed interventions into ethnic conflict. I’d be interested in his opinions on things that were actually done not something which no one proposed.

OK now Sudan. On one side there is, among other things, a military dictator who uses militias who murder civilians to fight a possible threat to his power. Now what does a dictator have to do to lose the protection of international law ? I’d say bombing hospitals should count as crossing a line which makes a civil war not civil for the purposes of international law. The Bashir regime has done that.

There is huge human suffering. There is a military dictatorship. That regime has violated the rules of war. To me the case would be clear *if* there weren’t insane hawks in the USA who might be in power again and would use the intervention as a precedent. On the other hand, they will do insane things in any case when they are back in power. I mean does anyone really think that if Clinton had respected Haitian and Serbian sovereignty then Bush would have stayed out of Iraq ?

A good critique. My response:

- "No one proposed sending in foreign troops" to Kenya. But why? What is the difference between Kenya and Zimbabwe? Hundreds of people were killed in Kenya, and hundreds of thousands displace. I rather feel that Annan's diplomacy there was MORE successful because the threat of foreign interference was nonexistent, whereas Mugabe seems almost obsessed with thwarting what he sees as Western neocolonial designs.

- On Myanmar, I'm fully aware the regime is horrible, and that the democratic will of the people has been denied. However, if you invaded Burma, you'd end up with a population that has myriad ethnic cleavages, and a country of mountainous jungle terrain, no infrastructure, plus great power backing for the military junta from China. Oh, and it's twice the population of Iraq. Ethnic groups like the Karen would expect their own country or autonomy, and would get mad when they didn't get it. You'd basically end up Iraq, but twice as populous, even more formidable terrain, and with China quite possibly backing a military insurgency. (Needless to say, relations with China would suffer dramatically if we invaded their client state.) Again, this is not a case where military invasion will make the country better off, and it would come at great cost to both us and the Burmese.

- The other examples you give of successful military interventions are not necessarily applicable. Bosnia was a case of clear international aggression across borders. Kosovo was a rare case where we basically took sides in an ethnic war and granted independence to an autonomous breakaway zone. Can we imagine that happening in Darfur? I doubt it. The de facto protection given to Iraqi Kurdistan would be a compelling case if there wasn't an active rebellion going on in Sudan. If we stopped the government from its worst atrocities with a no fly zone, and the rebels kept fighting, the region would be plunged into greater anarchy, and nothing would be solved. A political settlement is essential, and without one no military action will ultimately be effective beyond the immediate short term.

You know, I’ve been concerned about the Darfur “genocide” for a long time. What’s it been now, 4 years? 5? But I’m starting to wonder. Either the Janjaweed are really slow inefficient genociders or this isn’t a genocide. I mean, shouldn’t they have killed everyone by now?

The genocide in Darfur is over. The active killing campaign took place in 2003 and 2004. After that, the situation spiraled out of control into anarchy, with rebels, militias, government troops and bandits shooting at each other, at civilians, and at humanitarian agents and peacekeepers. Now the problem is lawlessness. as much as a genocidal campaign by the janjaweed. This is why a political settlement is so essential.

Peter K. (#24):
AoL: But Rwanda, as Albright herself today said, was “volcanic” violence. It was almost unprecedented in its virulence and speed, and it was in many ways unique. Darfur is the genocide of the future, the brutal suppression of ethno-geographic rebellion. With diplomatic skill, perhaps we can head off the worst before it happens. But we basically can’t do anything to stop such an event once it starts. The sooner we accept that, the better.

I don’t agree. As Samantha Power has written, many things short of military intervention - like jamming radio signals - can be done, although with Rwanda, the US should have intervened.

The US should sign on to the International Criminal Court so that genocidal dictators will be assured they are not safe within their sovererign immunity. Milosevic - who enabled genocide against the muslim Bosnians - and Saddam - who committed genocide against the Kurds - paid the price and serve as warnings. And there are other examples. Unfortunately China and Russia are making the UN irrelevant by blocking many things interfering with “sovereignty.”
The punishment of criminals serves as a good deterrent. But I agree with Matt and AoL, more preventative diplomacy is needed. And we shouldn’t define genocide down, as Russia did with the South Ossetians.

I read Power's book, and I do agree, there were many little things the US could have done to help mitigate the Rwandan genocide or make it less virulent. But ultimately that killing was going to go on until the UN force stopped it, or until somebody won. The UN force didn't stop it, so Paul Kagame's Tutsi militia ousted the Hutus, saved Rwanda, and destroyed eastern Congo for a generation. I can't really blame him.

Ultimately, like I've said, I'm not against genocide prevention, and there are times where unilateral action is both necessary and effective in the face of Security Council blockage. But these are exceedingly rare, and such proposals should be viewed with the utmost skepticism.

genocide prevention

Matthew Yglesias linked to my genocide prevention post, leading to the single highest 24-hour hit count in this blog's history. So I'm grateful for that. Thanks, Matt!

Yglesias makes a point that I probably should have made in my early post ("Don't Save Darfur"). Namely, that I'm not against genocide prevention per se, just against the way it's currently advocated in op-ed columns and press conferences.

There’s nothing wrong with preventing genocide, of course. But the public conversation on preventing genocide in the United States has, over the years, come to be dominated by a kind of myopic focus on the idea of using unilateral American military force to stop genocides. The basic way the conversation goes is basically that whenever humanitarian emergencies break out, we do nothing to stop them. And sometimes we invade Iraq. But then whenever anyone suggests that the U.S. commit itself to following international law and not using non-defensive military force absent a UN Security Council authorization, people show up insisting that we need to maintain the right to unilateral non-defensive war in order to stop genocide. Then whenever humanitarian emergencies break out, we do nothing to stop them. But the larger cause of unilateral militarism lives to fight another day. Or something.

I've had a few dinners with Salih Osman, an Darfur opposition parliamentarian and human rights lawyer in Sudan, and I can tell you it's impossible not to be moved by, and want to do something about, what's happening in Darfur. And there are things we can do. But unilateral external military force generally doesn't solve ethnic wars very well, and often makes them worse in the long run.

So when I say "Don't Save Darfur," what I really mean is "Don't Save Darfur The Way The Humanitarian Hawks Want To." Because it won't work.

The meeting that didn't need to happen because it had already happened

To show how far off track Iran policy has gone, I give you this quote from Secretary of State Condi Rice following a meeting with representatives of the Permanent 5 members of the Security Council, Germany, and the Arab League. Rice was asked if this meeting -- the first formal one of its kind -- would lead to more action on Iran in the Security Council or anywhere else.

There will need to be a way to finally incent Iran to make a different choice concerning its nuclear ambitions, but this was not an effort to develop a common strategy. It was really the first large meeting. We had an informal consultation in Sharm el Sheikh, but I think what really did come through here is that these are countries who have really deep interest in how this issue gets resolved, and they want to continue consultations with the P5+1 on how this is all going to come out.

Meanwhile, Iran had already come out with a statement rebutting Rice's "baseless allegations" and "put[ting] on display the ill-intended policies of the United States in distorting the realities about Iran's peaceful nuclear program" BEFORE Rice spoke at the microphone. Having dutifully listened to confirm that, yes, Rice said exactly what the Iranians thought she would say, the Iranian press officer cheerfully distributed his mission's response to the assembled journalists.

In other words, everyone said exactly what everyone knew they would say, then departed with no outcome. I believe this is what John Bolton refers to as "diplomacy for diplomacy's sake."

can free trade save Congo?

Lately I've been reading the UN Dispatch blog, which is very interesting.

Here's an idea they suggest, by way of Herman Cohen: establish a multinational free trade zone including Congo and its neighbors, so that Rwandan businesses can still exploit Congolese resources, but they'll just pay taxes to Kinshasa rather than Kigali.

I'd like to think this is a brilliant idea. There are a couple of issues though, starting with what incentive Kigali has to agree to a scheme where Rwandan businesses pay tax revenue to Kigali's arch-rivals? The other concern is that many bad actors in Congo have simply expropriated mines and other sources of profit in eastern Congo. Will the Hutu militias or rogue generals who control these resources voluntarily give them away? And if not, who is going to take them away? Or will they just keep them? And if they do, how will it be different from the present?

Still, worth exploring.

no PKO in Somalia

UN Dispatch, by way of the Enough Campaign, offer up some compelling reasons why the proposed UN force in Somalia is a bad idea.

I'll add one more: it's a war zone. Sending UN peacekeeping forces when there's no peace to keep is like try to fix a flat tire with a blender. It's the wrong tool for the job, and you're guaranteed to fail and look stupid in the process.

Monday, December 15, 2008

North Korea and the death of Responsibility To Protect

Apparently, the growing-more-neoconservative-every-day Washington Post editorial page seems to have forgotten what happened the last time we crossed the Yalu River, and wants more aggressive action on North Korea. As usual, they're fully aware (I hope, at least) that no military action is feasible or will work, and thus propose nothing, but invoke the US decision not to bomb railways to concentration camps in Nazi Germany and slam Christopher Hill for being "practical."

To the Post: Do you want us to bomb a nuclear-armed country because of its human rights abuses or not? And do you think that will improve its human rights record or not? I didn't quite understand, please speak more clearly.

shoe fly

An Iraqi journalist chucks his shoes at Bush at a press conference in Baghdad. Let the punning begin:

- Halperin: "Bush on shoe toss: I saw his sole"
- CNN: Bush shoe thrower cools his heels in jail
- The Post Chronicle: George Bush Shoe Throw Video: Naomi Campbell Would be Proud

Ain't Goin To Goma

Friday was a busy day for us at the UN, so I didn't have time to blog a response to Michael Gerson's Washington Post piece that basically sorta-kinda advocated military intervention in Congo.

As far as hair-brained interventionist schemes go, I view this one with more empathy than most, for two reasons:
- Eastern Congo really is in a world of trouble, and Gerson, filing from Goma, is writing from the heart here.
- It's never gonna happen, so I don't need to worry about it.

Still, out of tradition, I need to lay the hammer down here. For starters, what exactly would foreign forces DO when they arrived? There's not a "vacuum of sovereignty," as Gerson claims, but a dispute of sovereignty between Hutu, Tutsi, Mai-mai militias and the Congolese army (which, since it often doesn't get paid, is nothing more than a militia itself). Throw MONUC into that mix too, as it mostly sides with the army, though it at least has the decency to protect civilians on occasion, something no other force in the region can say.

Gerson acknowledges that "[in] situations such as this one, President Obama's options will be flawed," since the AU and UN have limited capacity and a coalition of the willing is, well, somewhat discredited at this point. The problem lies not in Gerson's desire to end the suffering in Congo, but in his belief that the imposition of foreign troops to fill the sovereignty vacuum will make the situation better at all. Bringing in US or Western troops won't solve the underlying ethnic dispute, it will merely overwhelm it with firepower in the short term, and only for as long as we have the commitment to stay. (In other words, probably not long.) Moreover, the very problem in Congo is that foreign forces have routinely invaded and destabilized it, usually profiting for themselves, but never, no matter what their intentions, making the country a better place. That goes for the Belgians before Congo's independence, the CIA afterwards, and the Rwandans, Angolans, and the other six countries who had fighters claiming a stake of the last Congo war. It's a little hubristic of us to assume our Congo adventure will be different.

p.s. Congratulations if you got the highly, highly obscure music reference in the title of this post. Gotta love the Alabama 3.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Michael Chertoff vs. the US economy

Turns out illegal immigrants were cleaning his home. Kind of like how illegal immigrants are cleaning a lot of American homes. And doing a lot of other jobs in this country. Ooops...

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Week 15 NFL picks

A tough slate to pick this week. I'm least confident about the two biggest games: Cowboys-Giants and Ravens-Steelers. I'm going with New York out of habit, and I'm taking the Ravens 'cos they're at home and the Steelers continue to be banged up, especially in the running game. I could go either way here.

My picks:

BEARS over saints
bucs over FALCONS
redskins over BENGALS
COLTS over lions
chargers over CHIEFS
RAMS over seahawks
DOLPHINS over 49ers
JETS over bills
titans over TEXANS
packers over JAGUARS
CARDINALS over vikings
PANTHERS over broncos
RAVENS over steelers
patriots over RAIDERS
giants over COWBOYS
EAGLES over browns

Last Week: 12-4
Season: 139-69 66.8%

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

HOW NOT TO SAVE DARFUR: why genocide prevention as we know it needs to die

We can't do a damn thing about Darfur, so let's just admit this. It will be better for everybody.

I say this because I've just gotten a copy of "Preventing Genocide: A Blueprint for U.S. Policymakers," by Madeleine Albright and William Cohen, and witnessed their press conference at the United Nations today.

I'm not going after the whole report, which contains many good proposals, including a $250 million fund to be used to prevent genocide from breaking out in at-risk regions. Nipping this sort of thing in the bud is the best hope for the future. It's the "military action" section that makes my head hurt, and the Sudan is the perfect country to explain why.

The fact is, there isn't an effective military or coercive response that will bring about positive results in the country, and there never was. NATO can't legally deploy a force to a country that hasn't attacked or threatened a NATO member. The UN Security Council would never authorize a force that would actually take on the janjaweed, thanks to China. Sanctions won't work, because an oil embargo is the only sanction that would affect the government financially, and as we saw with Oil For Food, international oil embargoes are amazingly ineffective at keeping profits out of the wrong hands. The UN peacekeeping force that's slowly deploying is undermanned, underequipped, and can't solve the problem.

But even if these tools weren't limp instruments, the idea of using any of them misses the point. Darfur is not a war between good and evil: it's an ethnonationalistic rebellion of one ethno-tribal coalition against the central government of a country beset with the resource curse of oil, arbitrary colonial borders, and no history of national unity. One can say, without condoning Khartoum's brutal response, that no government in human history has ever dealt with such an uprising humanely. Without solving the underlying political problems to some degree of satisfaction for both the government and the rebels, no action will be effective. If a US, NATO, or UN force were deployed, its task would be to, in effect, hold warring tribes at arm's length, and we saw how damaging that is for all concerned during the worst of the bloodletting in Iraq in 2006. We can also see just how ineffective it is now, with the UN force completely incapable of being more than a bystander as Darfur unravels. Even in the UN Department of Peacekeeping, I've found skepticism as to whether the force should ever have been deployed. And national governments, given their unwillingness to contribute the pittance of helicopters the mission needs to function, clearly have no faith in it either.

Likewise, humanitarian aid will continue to put humanitarian workers in harm's way, which is why a week doesn't go by without several World Food Programme trucks getting hijacked, their contents stolen, and their drivers shot. It also won't solve the underlying problems of the refugee camps, where people will be stuck until there's a political settlement that allows them to go home. It's a band aid fix, perhaps necessary in the short term, but completely ineffective in the long term.

Once there's a political settlement, UN peacekeepers should and can deploy quickly to help restore security and the rule of law. But that won't prevent genocide. The genocide is already over. Realistically, nothing could have stopped it, and the sooner we recognize that, the smarter and more effective our foreign policy will be in preventing genocides in the future.

Rather than focusing on "sending in the troops" to stop the bad guys from doing bad things, we can grasp thoroughly the ethnonationalistic motivations of all actors in a conflict, and work towards implementing diplomatic solutions that head off the worst impulses of these actors. That's what worked -- temporarily, at least -- to defuse the crisis in Kenya before it spiraled out of hand. That, my friends, is Responsibility To Protect in action, and not a shot was fired from the international community. Sending NATO or the UN to a futile mission of pacifying Darfur, or sending Western troops to distribute aid at gunpoint in Myanmar after Cyclone Nargis (let's remember, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner was a strong advocate of this hair-brained scheme) will cause more problems than it solves.

By contrast, we could have taken action in Rwanda. A UN peacekeeping force, with robust mandate, was already there, and the signs of chaos were everywhere well in advance. Proper preventive action could have stopped the bloodletting, which killed 800,000 before spilling into Congo and bringing about the deaths of at least 5 million more in the subsequent 14 years.

But Rwanda, as Albright herself today said, was "volcanic" violence. It was almost unprecedented in its virulence and speed, and it was in many ways unique. Darfur is the genocide of the future, the brutal suppression of ethno-geographic rebellion. With diplomatic skill, perhaps we can head off the worst before it happens. But we basically can't do anything to stop such an event once it starts. The sooner we accept that, the better.

p.s. We'll probably be talking about this on the Don't Worry About the Government podcast tonight, so check that out when it comes out on Thursday morning.

what the General Assembly should not be use for

Domestic legislation. To wit: the GA just passed another resolution calling for a moratorium on the use of the death penalty. Personally, I dislike the death penalty, but I also dislike the UN General Assembly staking out a position on it, and here's why:


Where: Press briefing room, UN headquarters, New York
Contact: Austin Ruse, President 202 -393-7002 (office), 202-531-3770 (cell)
UN Headquarters, New York – Tomorrow, December 10th, a coalition of social conservative groups from around the world will present a petition of 330,000 names calling for Member States of the United Nations to interpret the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as protecting the unborn child from abortion and protecting the traditional family.
The group formed in response and in opposition to petition efforts by pro-abortion groups International Planned Parenthood Federation and Marie Stopes International that are calling for a right to abortion on the 60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
“We are proud not only to match but far surpass the efforts of pro-abortion groups,” said Austin Ruse, president of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute (C-FAM), the primary organizer of the petition drive. “We launched our drive only two months ago and have generated more than 300,000 names from all over the world.”
Ruse said, “I suspect that Marie Stopes and IPPF will present a few thousand names. This shows what we have known all along; that abortion is supported mostly by elites while every day people are for protecting the unborn child.”
Ruse’s group along with the Pro-Life Federation of Poland, the Institute of Family Policy of Spain, United Families International of the US, and US-based Concerned Women for America will present the petition at UN headquarters and in private meetings with Ambassadors.
The UN Petition for the Unborn Child and the Family asserts that the rights presented in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are inherent to every person and that governments should extend the right to life to all members of the human family, including the unborn child. The petition also calls on governments to: protect the family “as the fundamental group unit of society,” give special assistance to motherhood and childhood and promote the rights of parents.

Friday, December 5, 2008

I feel the jaws of evolution closing on my throat

A Japanse restaurant has hired monkey waiters. Remember that Dilbert where Zimbu the monkey uses his tail to move the mouse, thus allowing him to work faster than the other engineers? I'm just saying... if Charlton Heston arrives in a few hundred years and screams, "You maniacs! You blew it up! God damn you all to hell!!!"... we'll know where the apes got their start.

the counterplan on Pakistan

On the Don't Worry About the Government podcast a couple nights ago, I was explaining why Robert Kagan's international-invasion-of-Pakistan idea is so awful, and my colleague Ethan Cheng asked the legitimate question: what should we do about the lawless areas of Pakistan?

The Economist gives one of the best answers I've seen yet. Basically, Zardari and other elements of the Pakistani government that oppose militant action against India over Kashmir need to be bolstered, and the extremists weakened. Massing troops for war against Pakistan won't do that. Sending in an international US-led force will not do it either, because sovereignty violations virtually always strengthen domestic hardliners. A balanced approach of carrots and sticks that strengthens Zardari and company while weakening the Lashkar e-Taiba and its ilk offers the best chance.

stop Robert Kagan's idea before it gets somebody killed

Scary to see an editorial in the Times of India echoing Robert Kagan's alarming, counterproductive and pie-in-the-sky idea to have an international force troll Pakistan's more lawless regions for evildoers. Worse, that qualifies as a moderate proposal in India's current political climate, where more and more people seem to be calling for military action.

The article's point (to the extent that it has one) is that, because elements of the Pakistani army and ISI, it appears, backed the Mumbai attack, and because the civilian Zardari government is powerless to stop it, a US-led international force should go into Pakistan to hunt down the bad guys. As I've argued previously (see "Robert Kagan goes completely fucking bananas" from Wednesday) this would be a horrendous idea for a handful of reasons, including:
- the US and friends lack the troops to do it
- the UN Security Council never authorize such a force
- the mission itself, given the size and scope of Pakistan, the ethnogeographic makeup of the country, and its lack of any functioning institutions besides the army, would be completely impossible
- and most importantly, the force would violate sovereignty in a country that is terrified of being taken over. Attempting to quash a Kashmir liberation force by invading Pakistan is pretty much guaranteed to wildly escalate the situation, while not solving a damn thing.

Unless this proposal is supposed to be used as leverage to goad the Pakistani government into taking measurable action against extremists, it can only bring about chaos. Fortunately, since there is no mechanism or logistic capacity for such a force, it'll never happen. And there you have it: the only defense against Robert Kagan is reality.

OJ to prison

OJ gets anywhere from 9 to 33 years, depending on... no, I'm not even following this story. I was the only human being alive to ignore his murder trial, and I'm going to keep it up.

I do have to give a shoutout to the New York Daily News, who, as usual, keeps it classy with an excellent OJ pun in their headline. Good going, guys.

p.s. Note the clever wag on the comments page of that story who observed that "this will definitely hamper OJ's search for his wife's killer."

gone in 57 seconds

Apparently the aforementioned Paris jewelry robbers were quick on their feet. If this story is accurate, it means they were making approximately $2 million per second. Nice work, if you can get it.

nerves of steal

Robbers snatch $108 million from a diamond store in Paris.

Hopefully a screenplay, preferably starring Jason Statham, is already in the works.

Chris Matthews for Senate?

There's talk that he's going to run in Pennsylvania. I feel that there are just so many examples of Matthews being awkward or saying something stupid on his television show, however, that he will be easy fodder for negative campaigning.

On the other hand, maybe there's no such thing as bad publicity.

did Coldplay jack Viva la Vida from Joe Satriani?

Satriani sure thinks so, because he's taking Coldplay to court over it. And, yeah, they do sound pretty similar. It's kind of eerie, actually.

In the end, though, I'm kind of skeptical that it matters. The melody is pretty simple, as is the chord progression, and it's hard to copyright something like that. The Beatles didn't sue Beck because "Loser" stole the outro melody from "Hey Jude." Civilization is theft. It's either an excellent and unlikely homage or just a cool coincidence that Girl Talk should exploit someday. The only purpose of this suit is to increase the profile of both artists in the media, although even that is somewhat questionable because there's basically no crossover between Satriani's and Coldplay's fan bases. Few Coldplay fans are going to hear the Satriani track and say, "Hey, that sounds pretty good," and go snag If I Could Fly off iTunes. Likewise, no Satriani fans are going to hear Viva la Vida (if, indeed, they've somehow missed it to date) and say, "Hey, these Coldplay lads have some talent." Mostly, they're just going to think Coldplay are a bunch of tools while Satriani is even further deified on the pantheon of Guitar Gods. Maybe that's the point.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

not India's 9/11

A good piece on why the Mumbai attacks shouldn't be likened to 9/11. The short version is:

1. It's not apt because this is by no means the first terrorist attack in India, or even the first one this year. This is a country that has a long experience with this sort of thing. The attacking of foreign nationals and the organizational planning of the attack are the only things that make it unique.

More importantly,

2. Likening it to 9/11 pushes the Indian government to respond with overwhelming force, presumably at Pakistan, which is exactly the wrong thing to do, and incredibly dangerous.

I was uncomfortable with the 9/11 analogy almost as soon as I heard it the day the attack happened. This article helps explain why.

Week 14 NFL picks

Oh, did I want to pick the Lions this week. I think they have a chance, not least because no team goes 0-16 and this might be their last chance to win one. But their rush defense is too awful, so I have to feel that Daunte Culpepper won't be able to sting his old mates, not with Adrian Peterson running wild on the other side of the ball. I could see a couple of 50+ yard TD runs. But I have very little confidence in this pick. Don't say I didn't warn you...

Without further ado, my picks for week 14:
CHARGERS over raiders
BEARS over jaguars
vikings over LIONS
PACKERS over texans
TITANS over browns
COLTS over bengals
falcons over SAINTS
GIANTS over eagles
BRONCOS over chiefs
dolphins over BILLS
jets over 49ERS
patriots over SEAHAWKS
CARDINALS over rams
STEELERS over cowboys
RAVENS over redskins
PANTHERS over buccaneers

Last week: 11-5
Season: 127-65 66.1%

Robert Kagan goes completely fucking bananas

I hope you had a happy Thanksgiving. I did, even after my plane was delayed in Chicago. And it remained happy until I read this amazingly delusional piece by Robert Kagan that was somehow published in the Washington Post.

Basically he argues that because the Zardari civilian government in Pakistan is too weak to stop terrorists from attacking India, a nebulous international force should invade Pakistan and secure its more lawless regions.

When I say this is quite literally the worst idea I've heard uttered in a major newspaper in my entire lifetime, know that there were many, many qualified candidates for the honor. But nothing holds a candle to this. The flaws in it are almost beyond description but I'll do my best.

1. Kagan proposes to invade a nuclear power. Let us not forget what we're talking about here. And not just a nuclear power, but the world's sixth most populous country, with no functional institutions besides the army, huge lawless regions, multiple active separatist/autonomy-seeking regions, a rash of ethnic and tribal allegiences, and extremists galore. If you loved Iraq and Afghanistan and thought invading Burma after Cyclone Nargis was a good idea, you'll love Pakistan, because it will be as bad as all three combined.
2. Kagan suggests that using a UN-authorized international force to basically conquer and pacify several lawless provinces of Pakistan -- a force most likely commanded by Americans and Europeans (for reasons I explain below) will make the Pakistani security forces more willing to receive it than an Indian invasion. It's almost as if Kagan has never read anything about Pakistan... specifically, how Pakistan's leadership has constantly been afraid of its neighbors and interested players (India, US, Afghanistan) ganging up against it and carving it up. Witness the furor over the infamous "neocon map" a couple weeks ago. And of course its outraged response to US drone attacks in the FATA. The odds Pakistan would accept an international force to traipse about its territory hunting for bad guys (many with ties to key people in the military)? Zero. This is quite literally the worst proposal one could take if one wanted to fight terrorism in Pakistan, akin to suggesting that throwing a several buckets of kerosene over a fire will snuff it out.
3. Kagan compounds the idiocy by proposing to use this as a test of China and Russia's loyalty in fighting terrorism. He does this by demanding they support Security Council action to authorize the multinational force. This shows a staggering ignorance about the UN. Not only would China and Russia not support such a measure, but neither would virtually anyone else (including many of our closest allies, who balked on Iraq and are wary of even keeping their forces in Afghanistan). Also, just because someone doesn't support your Council resolution doesn't mean they're your enemy. It could just be that they think it's an incredibly stupid idea and a dangerous precedent... like, I dunno, Iraq, for example. (Meanwhile, the one thing no one ever accused either China or Russia of is being "soft on terrorism." The Bush Administration's more hawkish elements can only dream of being able to take the kind of measures Russia has taken against its own self-labeled terrorists in Chechnya, or that China has taken against the Uighur separatists.)
There are many other flaws with using the UN, here. Like, the bulk of UN peacekeepers come from the Indian subcontinent, so who exactly would man this force? Indians? Bangladeshis? It could be African troops, but almost without exception they will be more ill-equipped than the people they're fighting against. So basically, this would be a UN-authorized force led by NATO members, like the first Gulf War. Why is this a terrible idea?
4. Because it fails to understand the nature of the problem. Since the primary motivation of the Mumbai terrorists was (we believe) a sovereignty dispute issue (in this case, Kashmir), what do we think will happen if we violate the sovereignty of Pakistan itself with an international force? Less terrorism? Or much, much, much more?

So basically, Kagan proposes an international force that has no chance of being authorized by the Security Council or being accepted by Pakistan, has no feasible way of being deployed, will actively make the problem worse rather than improving it, and then has the stones to suggest that we delegitimize the UN, China and Russia if the latter two block his stupid idea.

Or, we could try to solve the issue of Kashmir, over which way too many people have already been killed. The possibility of diplomatic progress towards a satisfactory outcome on this issue would be way, way, WAY more likely to draw a positive response from Pakistan in hunting down the militants responsible for the Mumbai attack. In the longer term, it will also drain support for terrorist groups who try to justify their existence with the Kashmir issue, and make it easier to hunt them down without any popular sentiment behind them. The issue here is not that sovereignty is being used as a crutch by Pakistan, but that sovereignty is in dispute in Kashmir. Solve this, and, magically, violence will decline. Quoth Lao Tsu: "Give evil nothing to oppose, and it will disappear by itself." He didn't mean do nothing when he said that.

Or we could pour tens of thousands of troops into a tenuous, fractious, nuclear-armed Pakistan and expect this to improve things.

Unless this piece was a stunt, a la "A Modest Proposal" for Pakistan, it shows only that Kagan has no understanding of international affairs or, more damningly, human nature. If this is responsibility to protect, let it die, quickly please. Good grief.