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Wednesday, January 31, 2007

"I'm in to win"

This gem from the Sunday Frank Rich column highlights why I'm not enthusiastic about HRC:
last weekend's "Saturday Night Live" gave us a "Hillary" who said, "Knowing what we know now, that you could vote against the war and still be elected president, I would never have pretended to support it."
As I've been writing in a long comment thread at the Duck of Minerva, I think the Bush administration and Republicans in Congress are overwhelmingly responsible for the Iraq disaster (at least 75-25).

However, I can still be disappointed in Democrats for their enabling behavior -- from their October 2002 vote to authorize Bush's discretion to use force to their continued votes to fund US participation in Iraq's civil war.

Maybe they need a candidate who didn't vote for the war against Saddam Hussein and does not support the ongoing mission, whatever that is this month.

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Monday, January 29, 2007

Who will win?

No, not the Super Bowl. I mean Iraq's civil war. I caught this story from the AP last week and meant to post it earlier:
That winning side is likely to be the Sunnis, according to Said, who believes that minority's background of military and political leadership in Iraq better equips them for a fight. They can "easily triumph," he said, "unless there's extensive Iranian intervention," that is, on behalf of Iran's fellow Shiites in Iraq.
The person quoted is Mohamed el-Sayed Said, of Cairo's al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies.

Said seems to draw an odd conclusion, given that the Shia outnumber the Sunni in Iraq, potentially have the backing of Iran, and already have control of much of the government.

Would the Sunni really win?

One method could be with external help. The AP story quotes Andrew Terrill of the Army War College, who is rightly worried about the implications should the Iraqi Shia government start waging overt war against the Sunni. He thinks this would invite Saudi intervention, "they would at least provide money, arms and other support."

There are many other scenarios, I suppose, for Saudi Arabia to start assisting the Sunni factions.

Stanford's James Fearon testified to Congress last September that civil wars usually end with a clear victor -- precisely because one side receives decisive external help:
When they finally do end, civil wars since 1945 have typically concluded with a decisive military victory for one side or the other. In contests for control of the central state, either the government crushes the rebels (at least 40% of 54 cases), or the rebels win control of the center (at least 35% of 54 cases). Thus, fully three quarters of civil wars fought for control of the state end with a decisive military victory.

Quite often, in perhaps 50% of these cases, what makes decisive victory possible is the provision or withdrawal of support from a foreign power to the government or rebel side.
Iranian support of a Shia government might also tilt the balance, I suppose.

The gorilla in the room, of course, is currently the presence of the US military. That force is fighting the Sunni insurgents, but is also concerned about the rise of violence by the Shia militias. The US, then, hasn't overtly tilted to either side.

Interestingly, Fearon does not think that US presence effects the outcome much in the short term. And he's definitely not optimistic about Iraq's foreseeable future:
In broad terms, the US has three options in Iraq: (1) ramp up, increasing our military presence and activity; (2) “stay the course” (aka “adapt to win”); and (3) gradual redeployment and repositioning our forces in the region, so as to limit our costs while remaining able to influence the conflict as it evolves.

The analysis above suggests that none of these options is likely to produce a peaceful, democratic Iraq that can stand on its own after US troops leave.
He doesn't conclude that the US should withdraw (he worried about escalating ethnic violence in the civil war), but he does talk a lot about phased withdrawals linked to political deals.

That's a different metric than the administration has in mind, but it might make for a nice compromise with the pro-withdrawal factions in the US.

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Thursday, January 25, 2007

Climate change and big oil

In the "State of the Union" address the other night, President Bush mentioned a problem that he's never before discussed in a SOTU speech: global climate change.
America is on the verge of technological breakthroughs that will enable us to live our lives less dependent on oil. And these technologies will help us be better stewards of the environment, and they will help us to confront the serious challenge of global climate change.
This was mentioned, primarily, in the context of a new energy plan:
Tonight, I ask Congress to join me in pursuing a great goal. Let us build on the work we've done and reduce gasoline usage in the United States by 20 percent in the next 10 years. (Applause.) When we do that we will have cut our total imports by the equivalent of three-quarters of all the oil we now import from the Middle East.

To reach this goal, we must increase the supply of alternative fuels, by setting a mandatory fuels standard to require 35 billion gallons of renewable and alternative fuels in 2017 -- and that is nearly five times the current target. (Applause.) At the same time, we need to reform and modernize fuel economy standards for cars the way we did for light trucks -- and conserve up to 8.5 billion more gallons of gasoline by 2017.
In the very next sentences, he also discussed stepping up domestic oil supplies -- code, perhaps, for drilling in Alaska -- that may not be especially popular in a Democratically-controlled Congress that is already trying to end a tax break for big oil companies.

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Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Covered on the Duck

In the past 10 days, I've posted these articles at the Duck of Minerva:

January 15: "The politics of Iraq's violence." The post explores why the Bush administration's misleading Iraq statistics may spell doom for "the surge."

January 24: "Iran update." This post is about the lack of evidence demonstrating that Iran provides assistance to insurgents in Iraq.

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Tuesday, January 23, 2007


The Oscar nominations are out and I've actually seen all the films in one category:
Best animated feature film
Happy Feet
Monster House
I'm going to go with "Monster House," though I saw it on DVD and the other two on the big screen.

"Little Miss Sunshine" is the only Best picture nominee I've seen, so I guess there are some excellent films yet to be viewed from 2006. Add 5 more films from the Best actor category and four more from Best actress. Hard to believe that I see a lot of movies, eh?

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Sunday, January 21, 2007

Four Horsemen

Tonight, my wife and I went to a great concert put on by some terrific Americana singer-songwriters: Guy Clark, Joe Ely, John Hiatt and Lyle Lovett. This was the first time we'd seen Clark and Hiatt, though we've been fans (particularly of Hiatt) for a long time. I bought "Bring the Family" back in 1987 and was quite pleased that "Memphis in the Meantime" was in the setlist (and "Have a Little Faith in Me"). He changed the country singer reference in the original lyric: "I dont think Ronnie Milsap's* gonna ever Record this song." Milsap was replaced with Kenny Chesney.

We previously saw Ely in Chicago at the Lounge Axe back in about 1989. That was a lone guy with a guitar show, and I remember being a little disappointed that he didn't have a loud band. Tonight, he played a terrific version of "Honky Tonk Masquerade," which is an old favorite, but he didn't play "My Baby Thinks She's French." I look forward to his promised song about Dick Cheney.

Lovett we've seen a couple of times previously, including in the same venue with his Large Band. It was great to see that he's a terrific entertainer even when stripped down to a simple guitar (with occasional assistance from the other Horsemen, including a fine set of guitar riffs from Hiatt). I think the highlight of Lovett's night was "L.A. County," though every song he played was very good. On a couple of songs about relationships with women, I kept thinking "this guy was once married to Julia Roberts."

I'm not sure that Clark played any tunes that were familiar to me, though I own a couple of his CDs. Unfortunately, he also forgot his lyrics a few times during the set (once because of a distracting noise from the audience). His lyrics tell memorable stories and the long-time fan Lovett covered what was ostensibly Clark's first song.

It was a great show. Check them out if they play near you.

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Thursday, January 18, 2007

Hot flashback: Iraq, January 2003

It looks like a number of left-leaning bloggers are referencing particularly prescient pieces about the potential Iraq war, written before March 19, 2003.

My blog did not begin until September 2003, but I was trying to find an op-ed home for my thoughts. I'm virtually certain that the following -- dated January 10, 2003, in my file list -- is the document I sent to the PR person at Louisville in advance of the war:
If evidence of Iraqi wmd emerges, then the United Nations Security Council might well authorize the use of force against Iraq. It would depend upon the size of the arsenal and Iraq's willingness to destroy the weapons.

Absent documented evidence, however, much of the world is going to be reluctant to begin a new war. It is difficult to believe that the Security Council would act.

Even Britain, America's closest ally, has recently called for the US to listen to the world if the US wants the world to listen to its concerns.

If the US goes to war against Iraq without explicit authorization from the UN, it will be an unpopular move globally. Much of the world would view such an attack as a violation of the UN Charter, which prohibits the use of force except in self defense. Under international law, preemptive attacks are legal only if threats are imminent.

Germany, one of America's closest allies, is adamantly against war. Virtually no Persian Gulf states have publicly agreed to serve as a base for war absent UN authorization -- and Turkey is also quite reluctant.

The US needs these allies. In the Persian Gulf War, most of the funding came from Japan, Germany, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Most of the ground troops were deployed in states surrounding Iraq.

Thus, it seems clear that the US should only go to war after Iraqi wmd have been documented and the UN Security Council acts. In that case, the US would likely lead a large coalition of willing partners.

The alternative would have much higher economic, political and military costs.
What do I win?

Ultimately, this press release did lead to a number of interviews about Iraq in 2003. My favorite headline was dated April 10, 2003, soon after Saddam's statue fell: "Iraq war not over, experts say."
"Going into the middle of Baghdad and toppling a statue doesn't constitute the end of the war," said Rodger Payne, an expert on international relations and professor of political science at the University of Louisville....

But the conflict will continue even as troops leave and peacekeepers enter, Payne said.

Even if U.S. or U.N. peacekeepers are in place, fighting likely will occur because dissidents will be opposed to new types of authority.

But no one is sure whether those peacekeeping troops will be predominantly from the United Nations or the United States.

Leaders of many European countries have said the United Nations should play a large role in peacekeeping, Payne said, but U.S. leaders think differently. "The actor that envisions the least amount of U.N. involvement is the U.S."
An anchor man from a local TV station appeared in my office the day the statue fell. He was so excited and seemed quite unhappy when I told him the war was not nearly over.

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Monday, January 15, 2007


How many innocent Iraqis are killed directly by the American military?

This is an important question, perhaps critical to the ongoing prosecution of the wider war on terror. I write that because winning hearts and minds of Muslims around the world arguably matters more than "winning" on the ground -- and al Jazeera broadcasts images of the often brutal deaths throughout the Muslim world. Unfortunately, the available information does not show any kind of casualty breakdown -- but the effects seem clear.

A sliver of information was recently revealed in an article explaining how the military is trying to train its soldiers in the difficulties they will face in Iraq. The past outcomes were not great:
Marines are also under orders to shoot to kill if a vehicle crosses the "trigger line," the inside edge of the last of four security zones between the outside world and a fortification. So, a coyote [slang for Marine instructor] asked the grunts, why would an Iraqi cross that line? "Maybe his wife's pregnant. He's trying to get her to the hospital. That happens all the time. Maybe he's just a fucking retard." The instructor offered up another example culled from experience: "Marines grab an Arabic sign. They throw it out at the blockingposition thinking, 'That's a stop sign,' when in actuality it says, 'Coalition Checkpoint, Proceed With Caution.' What do you think the Iraqis do? They fucking proceed with caution, and they proceed to get lit up."

Two different instructors backed up this scenario with a stunning statistic: "Over the last 12 months or so we killed about 1,000 Iraqis at blocking positions and checkpoints," the first coyote told the grunts. "About 60—six-zero—we could demonstrate that, yeah, he was a bad guy, he was an insurgent. Six-zero out of about 1,000. So if we don't communicate what we want them to do, all we're doing is creating more enemies." The second instructor later offered up the same figures, concluding: "So obviously, 900-something innocent Iraqis have been killed. That's pretty shitty numbers, right?"
This marine instructor estimate of more than 900 innocent Iraqis killed at checkpoints is not far off the Central Command's numbers:
According to CENTCOM's records, as of July, two Iraqi civilians were killed by Coalition troops at checkpoints or by convoys each week, down from an average of seven per week a year earlier. A total of 668 civilians were killed or injured in "escalation of force incidents" over the 12-month period from July 2005 to June 2006.
Each of those tragic deaths likely spawns anger -- and perhaps reprisals against American troops.

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Sunday, January 14, 2007

Grayson Capps

Last night, my wife and I ventured out to see a musician that our neighbor (part-time DJ Michael Young) has been promoting on his radio program and to his friends: Grayson Capps.

Mike was right! Capps puts on a terrific show and his songs (and storytelling) are very entertaining. Capps quite obviously won the crowd quite early and I'm happy to report that Mike hopes to lure the musician back to Louisville for an outdoor Waterfront Wednesday show. We bought the latest Capps CD on the way out the door.

Catherine Irwin of Freakwater was the solo warmup act and she was very good too. If you are interested, I recommend her band's excellent "Springtime," which I've enjoyed for years.

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Thursday, January 11, 2007

Reaction to Bush Iraq speech

The chattering classes are calling last night's speech on Iraq the most important of his presidency.

Today, I've written a long analysis of its meaning at the Duck of Minerva: The price of failure in Iraq: my 2 cents.

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Tuesday, January 09, 2007

History lesson: Algiers Accord of 1981

This is point 1 in the agreement from January 1981, which settled the Iran hostage crisis:
The United States pledges that it is and from now on will be the policy of the United States not to intervene, directly or indirectly, politically or militarily, in Iran's internal affairs.
The overwhelming majority of the agreement concerned financial affairs, as the US had frozen Iranian assets after the hostages were taken.

Despite a November promise, I haven't recently blogged about the prospect of war with Iran. However, readers should be aware that despite all the current talk about the surge against Iraq, neo-cons still have their eye on what they see as a bigger prize. Michael Ledeen wrote this today for the NRO:
As luck would have it, this is the ideal moment to go after the Iranians, since their supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, is either dead or dying, and a vicious internal power struggle is under way in Tehran. We should propose a better solution to the Iranian people: revolution, leading to their freedom. That would require the president and the secretary of State to call for regime change in Iran and Syria, something from which they have always retreated in the past.

But if we want to win, that’s the first step. Anybody ready?
Ledeen blogged something similar on January 7.

According to the January 1 Boston Globe, the Bush administration may already be violating the Algiers Accord:
the Iran Syria Policy and Operations Group, or ISOG, is also coordinating a host of other actions, which include covert assistance to Iranian dissidents and building international outrage toward Iran by publicizing its alleged role in a 1994 terrorist attack in Argentina, according to interviews with half a dozen White House, Pentagon, and State Department officials who are involved in the group's work.
Remember Michael Doran? He is apparently one of the frequent members of ISOG.

I should note that many people see the 2006 Iran Freedom and Support Act as a precursor to war with Iran. The LA Times provided this detail back on October 29:
Democrats who voted for the measure were at pains to distinguish it from the Iraq Liberation Act, noting, for example, that the legislation specifically rejected military aid to opponents of Iran's current government, and that it calls for Iran's "democratic transformation," not regime change.
"Nudge Nudge, know what I mean, know what I mean!"

Say no more.

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Friday, January 05, 2007

2007, so far

The new Congress took office this week and the Democrats are back in charge. That fact should make most 2006 voters happy -- but I've read a couple of recent pieces suggesting that the election was just as flawed as the 2000 and 2004 ones seemed to be.

Simply put, the 2006 exit poll results did not come close to matching the 2006 election results:
When we compare the results of this national exit poll with the total vote count for all House races we find that once again, as in the 2004 Election (“E2004”), there is a very significant exit poll-vote count discrepancy. The exit poll indicates a Democratic victory margin nearly 4%, or 3 million votes, greater than the margin actually recorded by the vote counting machinery. This is far outside the margin of error of the poll and has less than a one in 10,000 likelihood of occurring as a matter of chance.
Hmmm, it sounds "stranger than fiction," eh?

Maybe that's why my wife and I spotted our new representative at that terrific film (great script) earlier this week.

Perhaps John Yarmuth was doing homework: is the Bush administration a (perhaps now dated and not particularly humorous) comedy -- or a tragedy?

Meanwhile, the Bush administration has been busy this week -- "rearranging the deck chairs on the Hindenberg."

And finally, while the information about the election and Bush foreign policy team has been bubbling around in my head for a couple of days, I have discovered that there is one less voice I can turn to for reliable and interesting analysis of the news: Billmon seems to have closed his Whiskey Bar blog.

This is disappointing, to be sure. Needless to say, I hope he continues to write -- perhaps a book -- and that he finds all the time he needs and deserves for his family.

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Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Victory in Iraq

Over the past five days, most of my blogging has been in comments here, at the Duck of Minerva, or on Red Stater's blog (follow this link).

Red argues that I favor defeat in Iraq, simply because I do not think that the US should continue to prosecute war there.

My argument is that war is merely a means to achieve the national security interests of the US. In Iraq, it is currently a poor means because of the civil war now raging. The pre-war goals have also been completed (overlooking the fact that many threats did not exist). Iraq is not pursuing WMD, it is not a state sponsor of terror and the Saddam Hussein regime is gone. It would be great if the government became a stable democracy and sectarian violence ended, but neither of those goals is best attained with US military force. Nation-building is a different problem.

Apparently, General Tommy Franks agrees. See this piece in the December 2006 "The National Interest," which is a conservative journal:
Now, without a doubt, there has always been this desire to create within Afghanistan and within Iraq conditions where the people in those countries have a representative form of government, and where this government is integrated into the international community of nations. This is a worthy goal. But we have to ask ourselves, “What was it that moved us into Afghanistan in the first place? And what moved us into Iraq in the first place?” The answer is clear: to ensure the security of the people of the United States of America.

So the first question we need to ask, then, is not whether Afghanistan and Iraq are flourishing democracies, but, since 9/11, how are we doing vis-à-vis the protection of the people of the United States?
Franks reminds everyone that the primary goal in both Afghanistan and Iraq was to assure that those states are not safe havens for terrorists.

Iraq clearly is not. There are nationalist insurgents trying to kick the US out of Iraq, there are a small number of foreign fighters attracted to Iraq for the opportunity to fight the USA, and there are growing sectarian militias trying to gain control of Iraq. If the US leaves Iraq, the first two forces lose their reason for fighting and most will put down their arms and/or leave Iraq. Some will join up with the sectarian forces and escalate the civil war.

Since Iraq serves as an al Qaeda recruiting tool, there's no evidence suggesting that the US can find and eliminate active foreign (or Iraqi) members or partners faster than they can find and recruit still more, motivated by US occupation of Iraq.

It is not at all certain that the US wants a clearcut Shia victory, even though al Qaeda is a Sunni operation. The US wants Iraq to recognize minority rights, but the Sunni minority is petrified that they will be left out of the governance of Iraq. Many Shia militia members want revenge for years of oppression under Saddam.

Those grievances are not much related to the primary US purpose for being in Iraq. I'm in favor of employing conflict resolution and/or management techniques, for bringing highly motivated neighbors into the discussion, and for stepping up nation-building efforts. Lots of strategies alternative to war could and should be explored (remember, it is supposed to be a last resort). I'd even support linking withdrawal to achievement of specific benchmarks related to non-violence, rather than immediate removal of all troops.

But the US troops are a major part of the problem in Iraq and must come home soon.

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Monday, January 01, 2007

Books of 2006

Last year, I posted a complete list of books I read in 2005. I'm not sure the post was revisited much, but I decided to make a 2006 list too.

Note that I do not intend to list books that I reviewed, unless those reviews were published. In my academic job, I chair a committee that awards $200,000 annually to the best "ideas for improving world order." Most of our nominees have written books and I read my share of the nominations.

Of course, since I'm an academic, I read multiple chapters and large sections of lots of books related to my research and teaching. However, I'm not going to list them here unless I read them cover-to-cover. Save for the books I use in class or read for review, I often skim over some portions even of outstanding books. It's a time/efficiency issue.

Finally, I'm also excluding the books I read aloud to my youngest daughter, even though some of them are fairly substantial.

So, what did I read this year, mostly for pleasure?


The Purpose of Intervention, by Martha Finnemore.

Blood and Oil, by Michael T. Klare.

Boiling Point: How Politicians, Big Oil and Coal, Journalists, and Activists Have Fueled the Climate Crisis and What We Can Do to Avert Disaster by Ross Gelbspan.

The European Dream, by Jeremy Rifkin

Fever Pitch, by Nick Hornby.

The Juice: The Real Story of Baseball's Drug Problems, by Will Carroll.

Game Time: A Baseball Companion, by Roger Angell.

I also read just about every word in Baseball Prospectus 2006, but not in cover-to-cover fashion. It was edited by Steven Goldman and Christina Kahrl.

Of these, all were worth reading, though this was not Angell's best book. Carroll's writing is rough around the edges, but I learned from his look at steroids in my favorite sport. Rifkin's work is overlong, but parts of it would be great for an American student audience. Klare and Gelbspan were used in class last spring.


A Long Way Down, by Nick Hornby.

The Quiet American, by Graham Greene.

The Secret Agent, by Joseph Conrad.

The Hot Kid, by Elmore Leonard.

Hombre, by Elmore Leonard.

The Simple Art of Murder, by Raymond Chandler.

Trouble is My Business by Raymond Chandler.

Deep Blue Good-by, by John D. Macdonald.

Nightmare in Pink, by John D. Macdonald.

A Purple Place for Dying, John D. Macdonald.

Meet Me at the Morgue, by Ross Macdonald

Baseball and Benevolence, by Mark Valenza

The Seventh Babe, by Jerome Charyn.

Double Play, by Robert B. Parker

Spanking Watson, by Kinky Friedman

Saving Faith, by David Baldacci

Of these, I put the best first, then the genre fiction, and then the worst. I really like Nick Hornby's work and this book was very entertaining. John D. Macdonald's Travis McGee stories are a pleasant diversion, but the Pink one is kind of dated -- and none of them were as good as Leonard's latest paperback.

Currently, I'm about halfway through James Ellroy's oddly written The Cold Six Thousand, which I think one reviewer said was narrated by a hopped-up Dr. Seuss, hungry for violence. Also well underway is Richard Ned Lebow's The Tragic Vision of Politics: Ethics, Interests and Orders, which figures into my latest writing project. More on that soon.

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