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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Randall Forsberg, RIP

I did not know her especially well, but I met Randall Forsberg a few years ago when she performed some public service reviewing for the Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order -- and talked to the local Committee on Foreign Relations. Forsberg was personable and bright and I enjoyed her company.

She was best known as the main political activist behind the nuclear freeze movement (which inspired my second journal article). She was also an MIT-educated Ph.D. (focusing on disarmament).

Sadly, Forsberg has passed away of cancer at age 64.

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Department of Peace

Thursday, October 25, at 3 pm in the Library's Chao Auditorium, I'm participating in a panel discussion on the proposed new Cabinet-level Department of Peace.

Dot Maver, Executive Director of The Peace Alliance, is the visiting guest.

Discussion will focus on issues relating to legislation currently pending in Congress. The bill proposes the following:
  • A Secretary of Peace, who will advise the president on peacebuilding needs, strategies, and tactics for use domestically and internationally.

  • The creation of a Peace Academy, a sister organization to our military service academies, which will build a world-class faculty of peacebuilding experts. They will analyze peacebuilding strategies at the highest level, advise other branches of government, and facilitate the training of peacebuilders for domestic and international service.

  • Funding to create and expand proven domestic peacebuilding programs in our communities, such as mediation trainings for police, firefighters, and other emergency services personnel; alternative dispute resolution techniques, peer mediation and nonviolent communication programs in public schools, etc.

  • Providing ways to meaningfully prevent conditions of conflict before violence erupts.

  • The institutional platform necessary to successfully apply American genius to dramatically alleviate our national and global epidemic of violence.
Obviously, the U.S. Institute of Peace does not have this kind of authority.

The House bill currently has 68 co-sponsors (including Presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich). None are from Kentucky.

Celebrity support comes from Walter Cronkite -- as well as Paula Abdul...and Flea.

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Monday, October 22, 2007

Constructive engagement

One highlight of my weekend trip to Kansas was watching the current KU students debate the 2007-2008 college topic:
Resolved: that the United States Federal Government should increase its constructive engagement with the government of one or more of: Afghanistan, Iran, Lebanon, the Palestinian Authority, and Syria, and it should include offering them a security guarantee(s) and/or a substantial increase in foreign assistance.
I got to talk at length with members of the top two teams and told them that I often blogged about U.S. relations with these states (especially Iran).

I also recommended the students read The Duck of Minerva (some former debaters blog there, including me), Abu Aardvark, and Arms Control Wonk (more former debaters) for up-to-date analysis of current policy, as well as great links.

Given what I heard and what we discussed, I would suggest starting with these specific links (should any of you stop by):
Syrian "Copy" of Yongbyon?

Why Engage? China and the Logic of Communicative Engagement, a journal article by Marc Lynch in EJIR.

The Osiraq Myth

Spin: state of the art, 2007

Iraq WMD to Syria?

Rogue state roundup

War With Iran?
Look around, there's a lot more.

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Sunday, October 21, 2007

Debate reunion

I spent about 48 hours this weekend in Lawrence, Kansas, at a debate team reunion. This fall we celebrated the 25th anniversary of my senior year (which included a happy ending, after a very slow start).

We also roasted Professor Donn Parson, who was the Director of Forensics at KU for 24 years, beginning in 1964.

In my talk, I explained Dr. Parson's Godfather-like leadership of the Kansas Debate mafia. If I get some time, I may post the notes on-line.

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Thursday, October 18, 2007

More Duck

Since the Duck of Minerva receives about four times as many reader hits per day as this blog does, then I'm going to be posting most international relations material there.

Today, I posted "Bush on WW 3" concerning his latest statements about the Iranian nuclear program.

Monday, October 15, I blogged "UNAMI Report on Iraq: Dire, Grave Crises." The post discusses the 11th report on the human rights situation in Iraq issued by the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI).

I'll continue posting here on a variety of topics, including politics, especially as the presidential race unfolds. Discussions of film, baseball, local Louisville matters and many other topics will be found on this blog as well.

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Sunday, October 14, 2007

At the Duck

Readers might be interested in my recent posts at the Duck of Minerva blog:

Today, I blogged "Sarah Sewall and COIN." It concerns the efforts of the leader of a Harvard Human Rights center to make counterinsurgency less deadly to civilians.

Thursday, October 11, I blogged "Securing Our Survival" about a security conference at the University of Pittsburgh. The meeting focused on both global warming and nuclear proliferation.

Tuesday, October 2, I took note of a University of Chicago professor's appearance on Comedy Central: "Mearsheimer on Colbert."

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Thursday, October 11, 2007

Is this a coincidence?

OK, so it has been widely reported that the US is missing a large number of assault rifles in Iraq:
The Pentagon has lost track of about 190,000 AK-47 assault rifles and pistols given to Iraqi security forces in 2004 and 2005, according to a new government report, raising fears that some of those weapons have fallen into the hands of insurgents fighting U.S. forces in Iraq.

The author of the report from the Government Accountability Office says U.S. military officials do not know what happened to 30 percent of the weapons the United States distributed to Iraqi forces from 2004 through early this year as part of an effort to train and equip the troops.
What if the U.S. does not care very much if the rifles disappear -- and end up in the hands of various insurgents?

Consider this: Phillip Killicoat of Oxford's Econ Department arrived an interesting finding in his recently completed World Bank Policy Research Working Paper called "Weaponomics: The Global Market for Assault Rifles" (warning: pdf). I read it in a short item in the Atlantic Monthly, October 2007 ("The Way of the Gun."):
Most surprisingly, the study cites research suggesting that having more arms in the marketplace makes running a counterinsurgency easier, presumably because it tends to fragment rebel groups: “The more easily individual combatants can obtain weapons through independent suppliers,” the author writes, “the more difficult it will be to mount and maintain a united and coordinated insurgency.”

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Wednesday, October 10, 2007


I'm nearly a week late noting it, but October 4 was the 50th anniversary of the Soviet launch of Sputnik.

This is shameless self promotion, but one of my early publications (in Armed Forces & Society, Fall 1994; available here) focused on the importance of Sputnik in regard to cold war threat inflation. Basically, President Eisenhower had strong information about the status of the Soviet missile program -- and was not particularly worried about the threat (for good reason) -- but the satellite triggered great fear inside the U.S.

Most of that was explained by domestic politics. Democrats blamed Ike for keeping the US behind in the "space race." JFK did not actually use the phrase "missile gap," but that was the (false) fear at the time.

The U.S. image was further damaged when the Vanguard blew up on the launch pad in December, 1957. Time then named Nikita Khrushchev "man of the year" for 1957.

As explained in my article, the roots of the Cuban Missile Crisis can be found in the U.S. over-reaction to Sputnik.

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Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Coalition: less and less willing

October 9, William Kole of AP reported about the continued unraveling of the "coalition of the willing" in Iraq. PM Gordon Brown announced that the UK is withdrawing most of its remaining forces from Iraq:
At its height, in the months after Saddam Hussein was toppled, the multinational force numbered about 300,000 soldiers from 38 countries - 250,000 from the United States, about 40,000 from Britain and the rest ranging from 2,000 Australians to 70 Albanians.

By January of this year, though, the combined non-U.S. contingent had dwindled to just over 14,000. As of Tuesday, it stood at 20 nations and roughly 11,400 soldiers.

It's in for more unraveling: Prime Minister Gordon Brown said Monday that Britain will halve its remaining force of 5,000 next spring, and another official said there were no guarantees any British troops would remain in Iraq beyond the end of 2008.
Denmark pulled out most of its forced in August. Latvia and Lithuania left over the summer.

Georgia has announced, like the UK, a major reduction in its force presence -- from 2000 now to 300 next summer.

I've frequently noted the withering away of the coalition.

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Sunday, October 07, 2007

"Taken with a pinch of salt"

Patrick Mercer, special security adviser to UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown, was quoted by The Guardian today:
'There is increasing concern about the apparent evidence that America is preparing about Iranian military involvement.'
Mercer, who last month accepted a post as an adviser to the Brown government, said: 'All that I heard when I was in Iran was British authorities saying "be careful about what you hear from America". I'm not saying for one moment that it is necessarily wrong, but it's got to be taken with a pinch of salt. Is it American rhetoric, propaganda or fact?'
The Guardian story also reports on the activities of a new neocon group called Freedom Watch (established in March), which recently starting running TV ads emphasizing the "threat" from Iran.
The group has close links with the White House: its president, Bradley Blakeman, is a former deputy assistant to Bush. Among its founders is Mel Sembler, a Florida shopping centre magnate who helped to finance the 2000 Florida recount campaign that gave Bush his first presidency. Another is former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer.
A few weeks ago, Freedom Watch spent $15 million running ads in support of the US strategy in Iraq.

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Monday, October 01, 2007

Al Qaeda in Iraq

Andrew Tilghman, who was an Iraq correspondent for the Stars and Stripes newspaper in 2005 and 2006, has published an excellent overview on the myth of Al Qaeda in Iraq. His piece appears in the October 2007 edition of The Washington Monthly.

Basically, Tilghman argues that AQI is "neither as big nor as lethal as commonly believed." Size first:
How big, then, is AQI? The most persuasive estimate I've heard comes from Malcolm Nance, the author of The Terrorists of Iraq and a twenty-year intelligence veteran and Arabic speaker who has worked with military and intelligence units tracking al-Qaeda inside Iraq. He believes AQI includes about 850 full-time fighters, comprising 2 percent to 5 percent of the Sunni insurgency. "Al-Qaeda in Iraq," according to Nance, "is a microscopic terrorist organization."
What about lethality?

According to the Bush administration's narrative, AQI commits the lion's share of the spectacular acts of violence in Iraq that provoke civil conflict between Sunni and Shia. The Samara mosque bombing is the ultimate example:
it remains unclear whether the original Samara bombing was itself the work of AQI. The group never took credit for the attack, as it has many other high-profile incidents. The man who the military believe orchestrated the bombing, an Iraqi named Haitham al-Badri, was both a Samara native and a former high-ranking government official under Saddam Hussein. (His right-hand man, Hamed Jumaa Farid al-Saeedi, was also a former military intelligence officer in Saddam Hussein's army.) Key features of the bombing did not conform to the profile of an AQI attack. For example, the bombers did not target civilians, or even kill the Shiite Iraqi army soldiers guarding the mosque, both of which are trademark tactics of AQI. The planners also employed sophisticated explosive devices, suggesting formal military training common among former regime officers, rather than the more bluntly destructive tactics typical of AQI. Finally, Samara was the heart of Saddam's power base, where former regime fighters keep tight control over the insurgency. Frank "Greg" Ford, a retired counterintelligence agent for the Army Reserves, who worked with the Army in Samara before the 2006 bombing, says that the evidence points away from AQI and toward a different conclusion: "The Baathists directed that attack," says Ford.
Read the entire article, it is is well worth it.

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