McCain Will Never Surrender

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

John McCain continues to repeat that “he will never surrender” in Iraq. This is a bit of Rovian framing that he hopes will do two things: one, keep the debate focused on his perceived area of strength, foreign policy, and two, position leaving Iraq on anything other than his timetable as “surrender.”

It’s not a bad piece of politicking. And he’ll likely repeat it throughout the remainder of the campaign. That said, it won’t work. Despite the recent gains in Iraq (now if Petraeus was running, that would be a real candidate), Americans understand that it is a giant clusterfuck with, ultimately, no good options for a successful resolution. We can support al-Maliki and the SIIC until they’re tucked in bed with the Iranians (our enemy, lest you forget) and pay the Sunnis not to fight with borrowed billions forever, but we’ll still be screwed.

To deny this, is to deny reality. But that’s all McCain has left: denial. Which is why he’ll never surrender. He’ll be fighting this battle (as I suspect he’s still fighting Vietnam) on his death bed.

What McCain really needs is just a pat on the head and a soft voice. “You do that, pops. You do that.”

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Progress in Basra?

Monday, May 12, 2008

A story by Stephen Pharell and Ammar Karim in the New York Times this morning reports that there is a lot of good news coming out of Basra. It seems the Iraqi Army (with U.S. and British support) has calmed the city, largely ridding it of the harsh fundamentalist influence and violence of Moktadr al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army. This is good news, of a sort.

It is also bad news for several reasons.

1) Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is closely aligned with the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (formerly known as the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq – Hmmm, I wonder why they changed the name?). Arguably the most powerful political party in Iraq, their power base is in the oil-rich southern part of the country, particularly Basra. Why is this bad? Because SIIC is a proxy for Iran, as, one suspects, is al-Maliki. By aiding this effort to stabilize Basra (and rid the town of al-Sadr), we hand full control to the SIIC and move their government and this oil-rich region closer to Iran.

2) The gains are temporary. They occurred largely after a cease fire was declared, and without continued resistance from al-Sadr. The article is deliberate in emphasizing the tenuousness of the peace, a fact well recognized by the city’s citizens. It is premature to see this as a significant victory.

3) Basra was supposed to be the easy city, remember? Back when the British had control of the town, there was very little violence and Basra was often referenced as an example of how well our efforts in Iraq were working. What happened? Well, parliamentary elections are coming up. The move to eliminate the Mahdi Army is likely an effort consolidate political power for SIIC and al-Maliki. See #1 for why this is bad.

The big question is, who is the greater danger to the U.S. in the long run? al-Sadr or the SIIC?

To me, it isn’t at all clear that we are helping ourselves by helping SIIC. And this is the fundamental, intractable problem in Iraq. Helping al-Sadr isn’t an alternative either. In Iraq, we are damned if we do, and damned if we don’t.


Lebanese Civil War?

Friday, May 9, 2008

Shiite militia forces loyal to Hezbollah have apparently taken control of several neighborhoods in Beirut and briefly seized “the television station and newspaper and political offices of the Sunni parliamentary majority leader, Saad Hariri” before handing them back to the Lebanese Army.

This is all in response to the government’s threat to shut down the private telephone network that links Hezbollah’s military infrastructure.

Lebanon has been a flash point for hostilities in the region for seemingly forever, including the 15 year-long civil war (1975-1990) that started it all. The place is a crazy quilt of competing sectarian interests often acting on (or reacting to) the state interests of Syria, Iran, and Israel.

It looks like things are calming a little, but if this gets out of hand, watch out.


Amis v. Wieseltier Cat Fight Continues

Friday, May 2, 2008

The New York Observer asked a few relevant “public intellectuals” to comment on the fracas.

The brilliant Tony Judt, Ian Buruma, and Mark Lilla all weighed in. Good fun for all!


Iran’s Nukes

Thursday, May 1, 2008

The New York Times ran an interesting article in the science section on Tuesday about Iran’s nuclear program. The story was prompted by the release from Iran of photos of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s tour of the Natanz nuclear facility.

The photos are considered a bonanza for arms control experts and analysts. And they are fascinating. Who knew that centrifuges were so small?

The photos are likely to give ammunition to both sides of the Iran nuclear debate. The article reveals some telling details (like what was the defense minister, Mostafa Mohammad Najjar, doing there if the program is for peaceful purposes only?) that will likely play a key role as we hear more about Iran going forward.

The big question for me is, why release these photos at all? What is Iran up to?


Wieseltier Pans Amis: World Still Revolving

Monday, April 28, 2008

In what is sure to be a gossipy little dust-up in literary circles, Iraq War supporter Leon Wieseltier of the New Republic panned Martin Amis’s new book about Islam and Terrorism.

The subtitle of the book alone, September 11: Terror and Boredom, betrays a kind of adolescent superciliousness that is likely to prevent most people, myself foremost among them, from reading it, never mind taking it seriously.

The great NY Times critic Michiko Kakutani slammed it too.

Here’s my two-bit psychological analysis on Amis: This book is simply a response to the fact that his good friend, the corpulent blowhard Christopher Hitchens, has become more popular in American (and Brit?) intellectual circles. He’s feeling left behind, so he’s taking a stab at a “brave” and possibly “shocking” position, with the hope of rebuilding his street cred.

Of course, the fact that his dad was the legendary writer Kingsley Amis never helps. Why doesn’t everybody love me the most?