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Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Iraq: more cracks in the coalition

While I've often noted the withdrawal of nation-states from the so-called "coalition of the willing," this post is about Republican Senators who are now expressing much stronger frustration with the Iraq war. Senator Voinovich of Ohio, for example, recently called for gradual troop withdrawal.

However, this post focuses on the views of Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN), a widely respected foreign policy voice. On June 25, Lugar delivered a speech on the Senate floor that has received a fair amount of press coverage. These sentences were in his opening paragraph:
In my judgment, our course in Iraq has lost contact with our vital national security interests in the Middle East and beyond. Our continuing absorption with military activities in Iraq is limiting our diplomatic assertiveness there and elsewhere in the world. The prospects that the current “surge” strategy will succeed in the way originally envisioned by the President are very limited within the short period framed by our own domestic political debate.
If you read the speech, it is quite clear that Lugar has not joined the anti-war movement. He does not call for rapid withdrawal. However, he is quite skeptical about "the surge" and wants the U.S. to pursue an alternative plan that would require fewer troops:
I believe that we do have viable options that could strengthen our position in the Middle East, and reduce the prospect of terrorism, regional war, and other calamities. But seizing these opportunities will require the President to downsize the U.S. military’s role in Iraq and place much more emphasis on diplomatic and economic options. It will also require members of Congress to be receptive to overtures by the President to construct a new policy outside the binary choice of surge versus withdrawal.
Lugar foresees continuing sectarian factionalism in Iraq, a stressed US military and a domestic debate that is likely to become increasingly partisan as 2008 elections approach.

That means that the US has a narrow window in 2007 to come up with a bipartisan plan for Iraq that would focus on vital interests. His argument is grounded in realism (he approvingly mentions Henry Kissinger's views on Iraq). Lugar:
The risk for decision-makers is that after a long struggle in Iraq, accompanied by a contentious political process at home, we begin to see Iraq as a set piece -- as an end in itself, distinct from the broader interests that we meant to protect. We risk becoming fixated on artificial notions of achieving victory or avoiding defeat, when these ill-defined concepts have little relevance to our operations in Iraq. What is important is not the precise configuration of the Iraqi government or the achievement of specific benchmarks, but rather how Iraq impacts our geostrategic situation in the Middle East and beyond.
The U.S., says Lugar, cannot rest its Middle East policy on building a "stable, democratic, pluralist society in Iraq."

Lugar's sober assessment focuses on top priorities: preventing Iraq from becoming a terror safe haven, preventing Iraqi sectarian violence from sparking regional war, preventing Iranian domination of the region, and limiting the loss of U.S. credibility.

Lugar would lean heaving on the Iraq Study Group as a starting point, but notes that he would downsize and re-deploy US forces to more sustainable positions -- like Kuwait or other states, Kurdish territory, or non-urban areas of Iraq. The force remaining in Iraq would be "residual." Lugar would even downsize the large new American embassy in Iraq. Though he does not say it, such a move would send a strong anti-imperial signal throughout the world.

This changed strategy would take more than six months to accomplish and would necessarily be accompanied by a diplomatic offensive on many fronts. Note that Lugar has been calling for more diplomacy for at least 3 years. The Arab-Israeli conflict receives some attention near the end of Lugar's address, as does the need to reduce U.S. dependence on imported oil.

Let's hope the White House is listening.

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Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The academy vs. the conspiracy theorists

Scientists at Purdue University have apparently explained away some of the evidence that 9/11 conspiracy theorists find dubious. For example, some claim that the Twin Towers couldn't have collapsed without explosive assistance -- the fire could not have been hot enough to melt the steel and topple the buildings. AP:
A Purdue University computer simulation of the 2001 World Trade Center attacks shows in 3-D animation how the hijacked airplanes plowed through the towers, stripping fireproofing material from steel columns and causing the weakened skyscrapers to collapse.
The story provides a number of other details that challenge the argument often put forward by 9/11 doubters:
The report concludes that the weight of the aircraft's fuel, when ignited, produced "a flash flood of flaming liquid" that knocked out a number of structural columns within the building and removed the fireproofing insulation from other support structures, Hoffmann said.

The simulation also found that the airplane's metal skin peeled away shortly after impact and shows how the titanium jet engine shafts flew through the building like bullets.

Ayhan Irfanoglu, a Purdue professor of civil engineering, called the trade center "a very beautiful design, very sensible from an engineering point of view."

But he said half of the weight-bearing columns were concentrated at the cores of the towers.

"When that part is wiped out, the structure comes down," Irfanoglu said. "We design structures with some extra capacity to cover some uncertainties, but we never anticipate such heavy demand coming from an aircraft impact. If the columns were distributed, maybe, the fire could not take them out so easily."
Note for newcomers: this topic has been of interest since the blog began.

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Monday, June 25, 2007

This is progress?

While this finding might suggest progress for some Afghanis, the world is not better off for it. AFP:
‘The amount of the opium being processed (in Afghanistan), I think, is around 90 percent -- at least the lion’s share,’ UNODC representative Christina Oguz told reporters in Kabul.

Oguz said that anyone flying over the major opium producing areas ‘would see a lot of small fires in the mountains. These are heroin labs.’

‘A couple of years ago, most of the drugs that were trafficked out of this country was opium,’ Oguz said.

‘Now more and more of the opium is being processed into morphine and into heroin. And this indicates sophistication that we didn’t have in this country before,’ she added.
Unfortunately, more than $3 billion in revenues "helps finance the Taleban-led insurgency" according to Oguz, of the United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime.

Afghanistan is responsible for over 90% of the world's heroin supply, produced from more than 6000 tons of opium.

Afghani farmers need alternative lucrative crops.

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Saturday, June 23, 2007

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Yes, second place feels like losing

Iraq is now the second worst failed state in the world, according to the recently released Fund for Peace study. The BBC has some of the details:
Iraq ranks as the world's second most unstable country, according to an annual index of failed states.

The report - compiled by the US Foreign Policy magazine and the US-based Fund for Peace think-tank - ranks nations according to their vulnerability.

Judged according to 12 criteria, including internal conflict and society breakdown, states range from the most failed, Sudan, to the least, Norway.
As I've written previously, it is much easier to create a failed state that to rescue one.

Afghanistan is #8 on the list.

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Tuesday, June 19, 2007


What's up with Chuck Hagel? He was skeptical about Iraq even in 2002, when he voted for the "use of force" resolution. Later, he became a more vocal critic. Earlier this year, he even voted for a Democratic resolution opposed to war funding.

Some are questioning his political sanity.

John Judis investigates that issue in a well-done piece:
Yet what Hagel seems to have lost is not so much his sanity or his grasp of world politics--his recent floor speech opposing the Reid-Feingold bill, which would have entirely cut off war funding, was a model of sober intelligence--but rather the part of the political cerebellum that allows politicians to put career before conviction. In my final conversation with him, I asked whether he saw irony in the fact that, while his anger about the war was driving him to run for president, what he had said and done about the war was putting the Republican nomination out of reach. I told him that he seemed to be paying a price for honesty. Hagel laughed. "Of course there is a price for honesty in politics," he said. "Are you paying it?" I asked. He replied, "I'll let others make that judgment."
I recommend the entire piece.

Long-time readers might recall that Hagel is a strong candidate for the "my favorite Republican" tag -- even though he might make an Independent run for the presidency.

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Thursday, June 14, 2007

Duck news

At the Duck of Minerva, I recently made these blog posts:
  • "Iran Negotiations," on June 7. As you might guess, the post is my take on the recent U.S. bargaining with one of the so-called "axis of evil" members.

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Wednesday, June 13, 2007

College baseball fever

"Omaha is going to be amazing," senior Skylar Meade said.
While it sounds like Meade doesn't get out much, he's reflecting University of Louisville's excitement at its first trip to the College World Series.

The tournament in Omaha fields only eight teams and Louisville's RPI rating is 44. Ordinarily, that would make Louisville the Cinderella of this tournament. However, some other underdog participants include Mississippi State (25), Cal State Irvine (30), Cal State Fullerton (32), and Oregon State (34).

Try to imagine an NCAA hoops tournaments with an elite 8 including a seven seed, two eight seeds, a nine, and an eleven!

Louisville plays top-rated Rice in the first round Friday. Other favorite teams are North Carolina (4) and Arizona State (5). Those teams are the equivalent of two top and one second seed in basketball terms. If Louisville and UNC both win (or both lose), they will play each other on Sunday. Two losses and a team is eliminated.

Last weekend, Louisville managed to slam long-time power Oklahoma State 2 games out of 3 in the Super Regional games. The team lost the middle game by only one run in extra innings. Still, the big excitement of the Series involved a potential first amendment issue -- a reporter working for the local newspaper was evicted from the stadium for live blogging the game from the press box.

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Friday, June 08, 2007

The return of the ISG

Back in 2004, I posted a number of blog entries noting Republicans who had abandoned George W. Bush. Occasionally, I've updated the series. Most of those I noted who were criticizing Bush were former executive branch officials from the Nixon, Ford, Reagan or Bush I administrations who did/do not serve in elective office.

Today, however, make note of the handful of Republican Senators who are calling for implementation of Iraq Study Group recommendations about Iraq: Lamar Alexander (TN), Robert Bennett (UT), Judd Gregg (NH), and Susan Collins (ME). Olympia Snowe (ME) is also giving it some serious thought.

Their message seems pretty clear to me. These Republicans are warning Bush that U.S. Iraq policy needs to change.
``The president needs bipartisan support if the United States is to sustain a long-term position in Iraq,'' said Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn...

``What we have here, hopefully, is a roadmap for consensus,'' said Gregg. ``That's what we need.''

Bennett called the proposal ``a nudge'' for the president.
As noted in the AP article linked above, the ISG would shift the U.S. mission from fighting and securing Iraq to training Iraqis -- and then sending most troops home by early 2008.

It doesn't take a genius to foresee another Republican electoral train wreck if U.S. troops are still "surging" in Iraq this time next year.

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Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Deterrence 101

Does President Bush understand deterrence theory -- and the implications of the so-called US "missile shield"?

The United States and Soviet Union long ago effectively banned missile defenses (or Anti-Ballistic Missiles) in the ABM Treaty of 1972. Defense analysts widely interpreted that agreement as a ratification of MAD (mutually assured destruction). Neither the US nor the Soviet Union could strike the other because of certain catastrophic retaliation.

However, a missile defense would undermine the effectiveness and thus the certainty of retaliation. Even Ronald Reagan acknowledged that defenses can be viewed as threatening in his famous 1983 "Star Wars" address:
I clearly recognize that defensive systems have limitations and raise certain problems and ambiguities. If paired with offensive systems, they can be viewed as fostering an aggressive policy, and no one wants that.
Nonetheless, George W. Bush unilaterally ended the ABM Treaty in 2001.

For some months now, Russian officials, including President Vladimir Putin, have been making noises about a new cold war. Russia has been especially angry about America's announced plans to deploy a missile defense system in Europe. Putin views the system as a threat to Russia's nuclear deterrent, assuring it only a "ragged" retaliatory capability.

Could MAD be threatened by the missile shield?

Given recent changes in the arsenals of the two former superpowers, the US will, in the words of Keir Lieber and Daryl Press, "probably soon" have the ability "to destroy the long-range nuclear arsenals of Russia or China with a first strike."

A missile defense looks kind of like a scary fail-safe mechanism in that context, eh?

In a roundtable event earlier today, in Germany, President Bush made a series of arguments that reveal a decent understanding of deterrence. However, I doubt they will dispel Russian fears.

Indeed, key clauses seem to be aimed more at reassuring his European hosts -- a journalist had just asked the about the importance of Russia again targeting Europe with its nuclear missiles -- rather than the Russian listeners:
Russia is not a threat. Nor is the missile defense we're proposing a threat to Russia...Russia is not going to attack Europe. The missile defense system is not aimed at Russia...

By the way, a missile defense system that is deployed in Europe can handle one or two rocket launchers. It can't handle a multiple launch regime. Russia has got an inventory that could overpower any missile defense system. The practicality is, is that this aimed at a country like Iran [sic], if they ended up with a nuclear weapon, so that they couldn't blackmail the free world.

I will continue to work with President Putin, Vladimir Putin, to explain to him that this is not aimed at him. And there's all kinds of ways you can do that. One is total transparency between our militaries and scientists -- military people and scientists, which I'm more than happy to do.
Hmmm. Maybe the President intends to have American "military people" and scientists assure Putin that the US defenses won't work?

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Saturday, June 02, 2007

Saturday dog blogging

This photo is from last summer, but all the newer ones are on the laptop.

The dark brown dog is Robey and the lighter one is Paddy.

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Friday, June 01, 2007

All he is saying.... give peace a chance.

Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell, last week:
“I think the handwriting is on the wall that we are going in a different direction in the fall, and I expect the president himself to lead it,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

McConnell added, “We’ve given the Iraqi government an opportunity to have a normal country, and so far, they’ve been a great disappointment.”
Welcome to the movement, Senator.

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