Thursday, May 28, 2015

Marxist problem

Groucho, that is. Vladimir Putin comments on the FIFA situation and ends up giving Edward Snowden, Julian Assange, and Sepp Blatter an association that none of them would probably want --

Meanwhile, according to our media, the United States Attorney General has already stated that these officers of the FIFA executive committee have committed a crime, as though he as a prosecutor is unaware of the presumption of innocence. Only a court can find a person guilty or not guilty, and only after that can anyone say anything, even if we assume that the United States have a reason to extradite those people, though the actions occurred on third party territory. 

We are aware of the position of the United States regarding the former special services employee Mr Snowden, who was a National Security Agency employee and who made public the illegal practice of the United States practically all over the world, including tapping the phones of foreign leaders. Everybody is discussing this, including in Europe, but nobody wants to grant him asylum, guarantee his security, nobody wants to quarrel with their partners, with their senior partners. This may be understandable, as Mr Snowden is a former security service employee and a citizen of the United States. 

What about Mr Assange, who has been forced to hide at a foreign embassy for several years? This is almost like being imprisoned. What is he persecuted for? For sexual crimes? Nobody believes that, you do not believe that either. He is being persecuted for spreading the information he received from US military regarding the actions of the USA in the Middle East, including Iraq. 

Why did I bring this up now? Unfortunately, our American partners use these methods for their own ulterior purposes. They are illegally persecuting people. I do not rule out the possibility that the same goes for this situation with FIFA. Although I do not know what this will result in, but the fact that this is happening on the eve of elections of the FIFA president leads one to think so.

Tom Friedman style guide addendum

In his most recent New York Times column --

U.S. policy now should be “containment, plus amplification.” Let’s help those who manifest the will to contain ISIS, like Jordan, Lebanon, the United Arab Emirates and the Kurds in Iraq ... ,

Therefore, Friedman has dumped the term Arab "islands of decency" which had a fluctuating membership roughly corresponding to the above but also places he'd recently visited.

UPDATE 19 NOVEMBER 2015: The islands are back!

Fortunately, there is a third way: the autocracies, monarchies and a few frail democracies that have invested in their people and created islands of decency — Tunisia, Jordan, Lebanon, Kurdistan, Kuwait, Morocco and the U.A.E. — where more young Arabs and Muslims can realize their full potential and build their dignity by disrupting camels and cabs — not Paris and Beirut.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

With friends like these, Iraq doesn't need enemies

Vox's Zach Beauchamp declares that Iraq 2003 Original Gangsta Ken Pollack has a point about Obama's anti-ISIS strategy --

Unlike some sky-is-falling rhetoric you hear from Republicans and some pundits, Pollack isn't warning that ISIS is about to sweep the rest of Iraq. He recognizes, correctly, that ISIS taking over Ramadi (the provincial capital of the heavily Sunni Anbar province) wasn't about cowardly Iraqi fighters running from the battlefield. Rather, it was the result of a 16-month heavy ISIS siege against an under-resourced Iraqi contingent. "it is highly unlikely," Pollack writes, "that the fall of Ramadi will lead to massive additional gains by [ISIS]." And yet Pollack still thinks the administration is bungling the job. That's because he sees a huge mismatch between the administration's stated goal — defeating ISIS — and the resources it's actually put out. Pollack believes Iraqi forces really could roll back ISIS. But without more aggressive American military aid, troop deployments, and political efforts to support the smart but beleaguered Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, he thinks the campaign to root out ISIS will take too long, and will very likely fail to create a stable political solution that prevents Iraq from once again sliding into chaos and civil war.

In-depth Wall Street Journal report on the ISIS takeover of Ramadi (which Beauchamp actually cites in a separate article) --

An examination of how Ramadi fell indicates that Islamic State commanders executed a complex battle plan that outwitted a greater force of Iraqi troops as well as the much-lauded, U.S.-trained special-operations force known as the Golden Division, which had been fighting for months to defend the city. Islamic State commanders evaded surveillance and airstrikes to bring reinforcements to its front lines in western Iraq. The group displayed a high degree of operational security by silencing its social media and propaganda teams during the Ramadi surge. The group also churned out dozens of formidable new weapons by converting captured U.S. military armored vehicles designed to be impervious to small-arms fire into megabombs with payloads equal to the force of the Oklahoma City bombing. Over the three-day surge in Ramadi, Islamic State fighters launched at least 27 such vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices, or Vbieds, that destroyed Iraq security forces’ defensive perimeters and crumbled multistory buildings.  

In other words, ISIS was underestimated from the start (especially not realized was its base of deeply experienced foreign fighters including products of the Vlad Putin school of counterinsurgency), its learning by doing from previous attempts to take it on, and its ability to capture US-supplied weapons long before the final contingent of Iraqis left their posts. The specifics of who left where in the last days doesn't validate a hypothesis that Iraq needs more US intervention.

Choose your columnist

David Brooks (yesterday), New York Times --

Eight hundred years ago next month, English noblemen forced King John to sign the Magna Carta. It’s still having amazing effects on the world today. The Magna Carta helped usher in government with a separation of powers. It helped create conditions in which centralized authority could not totally control fiscal, political, religious or intellectual life. It helped usher in the modern Anglo-Saxon state model, with its relative emphasis on the open movement of people, ideas and things. The Anglo-Saxon model has its plusses and minuses, but it is very attractive to people around the world.

Philip Stephens (1 May), Financial Times (subs. maybe req'd) --

As for history, it is surely time for Britain to acknowledge the role of its old enemy France. Almost as soon as Magna Carta was sealed, the king reneged. He was brought to heel only with the aid of Prince Louis, son of the King of France, who marched his army into London at the behest of the English barons. Democracy, whisper it ever so quietly, was a Franco-British enterprise.  

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Come back Operation Together Forward, All is Forgiven


A spokesman for the Shi'ite militias, known as Hashid Shaabi, said the codename for the new operation (to recapture Ramadi) would be "Labaik ya Hussein", a slogan in honor of a grandson of the Prophet Mohammed killed in the 7th Century battle that led to the schism between Shi'ite and Sunni Muslims. "The Labaik Ya Hussein operation is led by the Hashid Shaabi in cooperation and coordination with the armed forces there," Ahmed al-Assadi said at a televised news conference. "We believe that liberating Ramadi will not take long."

[From the archives: Operation Together Forward]

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Diverse meanings of diversity

Something is missing from the photograph accompanying RTE's story on Joan Burton's (consensus) claim that Ireland is now a nation of inclusion and diversity.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

My caliphate for a horse

Fred and Kimberly Kagan in today's Washington Post, only a couple of months after proclaiming what a good job the Iraqi Prime Minister was doing against ISIS --

Had the Islamic State been dealt a rapid and crushing blow in Iraq, one might have hoped for a collapse in support for the organization and the dwindling of these various movements, all of which were preexisting organizations that swore allegiance to the Islamic State opportunistically in the hope that they would prove to be early backers of what Osama bin Laden liked to call “the strong horse.” The Islamic State’s success against the United States in Iraq makes the group look, indeed, like a strong horse and is likely to strengthen its efforts to recruit individuals and groups to its ranks.

Here's an attempted intellectual history of the strong horse philosophy of Middle East politics: Bernard Lewis to Dick Cheney to George W. Bush. Not a word about WMDs.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Load-bearing country

Paul Krugman lays out the scheme that's been going on for a while -- to narrow the terms of USA's Iraq adventure to the issue of incorrect intelligence. Just because it happens to be closest corresponding date from 12 years ago where the Administration addressed Iraq, here's Condi Rice on 16 May 2003 discussing it at a commencement address:

Our democracy is still a work in progress, not a finished product. The hard work begins anew each day. Yes, we practice what we preach but 225 years after the fact we are still practicing; practicing each day to get it right. And by doing so we strengthen America's moral authority and the currency of these values across the world. We must always remember that while America cherishes the ideals of equality, justice, and the rule of law, we do not own them. 

As President Bush has said, the values of freedom are not America's gift to the world but God's gift to humanity. People everywhere share the most basic yearnings for liberty to create, speak, and worship in freedom. When these values are under attack, we must not ? and we will not spare any effort in their defense. When freedom is being sought by brave people living under tyranny, we must stand on their side. And when newly free people are seeking to build the institutions of law and democracy, we have an obligation if asked to help. And we are. 

This summer in Afghanistan a working draft of a new democratic constitution will be presented at town hall meetings across the country. In Iraq, leaders from every province and ethnic group have declared their commitment to a democratic future for their country. And last week, President Bush announced an important initiative for working in partnership with the people of the Middle East to bring more economic opportunity, better education, and more freedom to the region. The United States will help countries seeking to reform their judiciaries, provide training for the growing number of women seeking elective office, establish media law projects, and support new parliamentarians and civil society organizations. 

 This enterprise will be long, not short. Often, progress will come in small, quiet steps, less dramatic than the toppling of statues. Occasional setbacks are inevitable. But these efforts are vitally important and they are an essential element of the war on global terror. President Bush is fully committed to their success both as an American, and as a person of faith. As he said last week, "[W]e are determined to help build a Middle East that grows in hope instead of resentment."

This was 2 months into the war, with no WMDs yet found -- but no shortage of war rationales. That was the real time "debate" on Iraq. 

Friday, May 15, 2015

Still looking for excuses

Wall Street Journal editorial on what Jeb Bush should have said about Iraq --

So how to do better? Mr. Bush could cite the experience of his father, George H.W. Bush, who as CIA director in the Ford Administration organized a “Team B” panel of outside experts to question his agency’s estimates of Soviet military power and strategy. Historians still debate the merits of Team B’s conclusions, but the point is that the quality of intelligence, like everything else, improves with choice and competition. 

There already was a Team B on Iraq.

It was called "UN Weapons Inspectors."

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

US Air Force surrenders to Islam

In this photo of the arrival of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, behind the younger Prince Mohammed bin Salam (bearded) is the Saudi flag, which is a version of the Shahada. The script says that there is no God but God, and Mohammed is his messenger.  Where's Pamela Geller when you need her!

Photo: Saudi Press Agency.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Inaction can be shocking

Perfectly informative but revealingly headlined Independent (UK) article --

Syria crisis: Turkey and Saudi Arabia shock Western countries by supporting anti-Assad jihadists

For a different perspective, how about --

Syria crisis: Western countries shock Turkey and Saudi Arabia by seeming ready to cut a deal with Assad

Because that really was the situation until 2 months ago, with the industrial-scale torture, the barrel bombs, the chemical weapons, and indeed the original unnecessary repression all to be swept under the Khorasan rug. Then the regional players got their act together. In a couple of years, those US-trained rebels will be ready to help with the post-Assad state.

They're telling the French the real plan

The White House is doing its best to spin the no-show of Saudi King Salman at the Camp David US-Gulf summit as par for the course. But it turns out that while the Saudi rulers were reportedly feeling stressed for time by the need to pay attention to the crisis in Yemen, they did have time for an en route to DC stopover in ... Paris! Here's the top 2 next generation princes, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef and Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman being met at the airport by foreign minister Laurent Fabius.

Photo: Saudi Press Agency.

Saturday, May 09, 2015

If all you've got is a hammer

To be convinced that the UK election outcome was driven by views on austerity -- either that it worked or that its failure was camouflaged or that it packaged a false narrative about the 2008 financial crisis, which is the debate zone that Paul Krugman is in -- you have to believe that:

1. The Tories simply pulled austerity policies out of thin air in 2010 and not in reaction to real-time fiscal outlooks of the time;
2. Labour had failed to present distinctive economic polices other than somewhat less deficit reduction (and thus ignoring their proposals for higher income, home and banking sector taxes, energy price freeze, etc);
3. The dynamics created by the Scottish independence referendum mattered less than the austerity debate in determining electoral outcomes; and,
4. You're more confident in your ability relative to voters to attribute outcomes for jobs, housing, and cost of living to the respective roles of fiscal policy, land use, productivity developments, migration, and international influences like oil prices and you know it's really all about paths for public revenue and expenditure relative to baselines and the effects are so strong they'd be visible to the naked eye!

Friday, May 08, 2015

Beware media coverage of coalitional election systems

The previous incumbent PM who we were assured had swept to a freedom loving election victory was Benjamin Netanyahu.  He ended up scraping together a one seat majority that may not last.

UK exit poll

If true then the lasting contribution of the Democratic Unionist Party to UK politics will have been to break up the union. Come in Agent Paisley: Mission Accomplished. 

UPDATE: to be less opaque, with a 12 seat majority, Cameron is eventually going to need those 8 DUP votes, even if he doesn't need them right away. And he'll need them on devolution and EU issues, where he has difficult constraints within his own party.

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Fog in channel and along wall

The two stories featured most prominently on Telegraph website on election eve --

Election 2015: I know Labour - don't let them and the SNP tear our nation apart, says Sir John Major

Anglo-Saxons' would rip Europe apart after a Grexit, says Juncker

Note the logic: outrage at the self-manufactured accusation that the SNP would tear "our nation" apart trumped only by outrage that an EU veteran would imply that elements in England want to tear the EU apart!

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

His latest fling

French President Francois Hollande, the special guest at the summit of Arab Gulf countries in Riyadh. There's symbolism somewhere about the revised role the US is seen as playing in the region.

Photo: Saudi Press Agency.

Sunday, May 03, 2015

Can't see the drones for the bombs

White House statement on Yemen, specifically on a National Security Council meeting with the incoming UN special envoy on the Yemeni peace process --

Ms. Monaco underscored the importance the United States places on rapidly shifting from the military conflict in Yemen to all-party negotiations under UN auspices, and offered strong U.S. support for Mr. Ould Cheikh Ahmed’s efforts. She noted that this shift would allow Yemen to resume the inclusive political transition process outlined in the Gulf Cooperation Council Initiative, the National Dialogue outcomes, and relevant UN Security Council resolutions and focus on combatting al-Qa'ida in the Arabian Peninsula. ...  Finally, Ms. Monaco and Mr. Ould Cheikh Ahmed agreed that all Yemenis must come together in a political dialogue to serve the needs of the Yemeni people and counter the shared threat from al-Qa'ida in the Arabian Peninsula, which is exploiting the crisis. 

So the White House is defining a satisfactory solution to Yemen's crisis as one where everyone agrees that the big threat is AQAP and, implicitly, is fine with US drone attacks on AQAP and anyone else who might be in the vicinity. No other threat to Yemen -- such as its corrupt former President, Ali Abdullah Saleh, who tactically agreed with the US on the evilitude of AQAP -- is singled out the same way. Does the extreme tangle of a Yemen peace dialogue really need an externally-imposed demand of agreement to a militarized solution to the existence of one entity?

Poverty reduction through gravity

David Brooks, using the Baltimore disturbances as a platform, says we need to unlock the hidden dimension of relationships to truly understand poverty --

Jane Jacobs once wrote that a healthy neighborhood is like a ballet, a series of intricate interactions in which people are regulating each other and encouraging certain behaviors ... The world is waiting for a thinker who can describe poverty through the lens of social psychology. Until the invisible bonds of relationships are repaired, life for too many will be nasty, brutish, solitary and short.

David Brooks, around 6 months, ago in his ad-worthy riff on Interstellar --

But in the era of quantum entanglement and relativity, everything looks emergent and interconnected. Life looks less like a machine and more like endlessly complex patterns of waves and particles. Vast social engineering projects look less promising, because of the complexity, but webs of loving and meaningful relationships can do amazing good. As the poet Christian Wiman wrote in his masterpiece, “My Bright Abyss,” “If quantum entanglement is true, if related particles react in similar or opposite ways even when separated by tremendous distances, then it is obvious that the whole world is alive and communicating in ways we do not fully understand. And we are part of that life, part of that communication. ...”  

Could it be that we need to put some of that wasted anti-poverty money into NASA so that they can crack the gravity-coded relationship-healing message that we may already be sending our poorer selves?

Friday, May 01, 2015

Invisible Hand

The topic is UK economic policy. The Tory switch from insane and needless austerity to easing off and letting growth resume post-2012 is such a stark illustration of austerity madness that it should be clearly visible in the data.

Above is Central Government receipts and expenditures since 1997 (source: Office of National Statistics, Figure 4). This doesn't include the additional debt that the government was absorbing through the bank rescues.

Spot the austerity!