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Change We Can Believe In, XXV

December 6, 2011 Leave a comment

Change We Can Believe In: Empire First

On his visit to Australia three weeks ago, President Obama announced plans, as reported in the NYT,

to deploy 2,500 Marines in Australia to shore up alliances in Asia … . The agreement with Australia amounts to the first long-term expansion of the American military’s presence in the Pacific since the end of the Vietnam War. It comes despite budget cuts facing the Pentagon … .

In an address to the Australian Parliament on Thursday morning, Mr. Obama said he had “made a deliberate and strategic decision — as a Pacific nation, the United States will play a larger and long-term role in shaping this region and its future.”

I was more than a little surprised by this news. “Cuts facing the Pentagon”? I’ll believe that when I see it, what with Secretary of Defense Panetta decrying defense cuts, our wars continuing without end, indeed expanding (via drone at least) to new countries every year, and the vast domestic intelligence operation growing with bipartisan support.

At what cost? I leave it to Ted Rall to tell us:

[Ted Rall, at gocomics.com]

Roundup

October 5, 2009 Leave a comment

rainier

[Alan S. Weiner for The New York Times]

I just realized that I haven’t written a post yet this month. Sorry about that. I’ve spent most of my free computer time the last few days on trip planning. With me on sabbatical, and with Joel in Grenoble until just before Christmas, it’s obvious that we should get over there, and so we will. The pieces are now mostly in place — and just in time — for what will be our longest trip in a decade. We have flights and hotel reservations. Next up is train reservations. Three weeks from this moment we’ll be over the Atlantic, making our way to Paris to see my sister after a short stop in New York. Then on to Grenoble, Venice, Rome, Florence, Milan, back to Paris, back to New York, and finally Chicago overnight for a meeting before returning here.

I have a few items I had thought of writing about that I will instead just list here, with minimal comment. Then I’ll get on to other issues in separate posts.

1. In case you missed the coverage of the October 1 ceremony for the 2009 Ig Nobel Prize winners, be sure to review the list here. Some are pretty good. Not so the Math prize, alas, as the choice and accompanying citation only serve to reinforce the stereotype that mathematicians spend their time dealing with really big numbers. But maybe people in other fields feel similarly. Here, as one example, is the Physics prize citation:

PHYSICS PRIZE: Katherine K. Whitcome of the University of Cincinnati, USA, Daniel E. Lieberman of Harvard University, USA, and Liza J. Shapiro of the University of Texas, USA, for analytically determining why pregnant women don’t tip over.

REFERENCE: “Fetal Load and the Evolution of Lumbar Lordosis in Bipedal Hominins,” Katherine K. Whitcome, Liza J. Shapiro & Daniel E. Lieberman, Nature, vol. 450, 1075-1078 (December 13, 2007). DOI:10.1038/nature06342.

WHO ATTENDED THE CEREMONY: Katherine Whitcome and Daniel Lieberman

2. The lead story in yesterday’s NYT travel section had some local interest. It was an amusing account by NYT Styles reporter Eric Wilson of his failed effort to hike the Wonderland Trail around Mount Rainier this past summer. He had the misfortune of starting his journey on the day we all remember well, when the temperature was 103 degrees here in Seattle and apparently no different down there. Here’s one brief excerpt from his experience that day:

When we came upon an eerily blue lake, bluer than the Mediterranean, clear-looking enough to be a mirage or a mirror, I could not resist a quick dip, and so I ran headlong into the water as Chris and Rosemary were still taking off their shoes. As I broke through the still surface of water, the sensation I felt was that I would not be coming back up. My legs and arms felt disconnected from my body, collectively numb, but I could sense every hair on my head stand up in unison, and then, in the same millisecond, a piercing stab through my chest. I jerked my head up and gasped. It had not occurred to me that a lake halfway up the highest summit in the Cascade Range (14,410 feet) and one of the highest points in the lower 48 states, and not a mile from the edge of a glacier (ironically named Fryingpan) might be, well, as cold as ice. My feet touched bottom, and I sloshed out of the water, frightened by the intensity of the pain, but surely invigorated.

3. A week ago I had anticipated writing a post about Afghanistan, but it never happened. As a substitute for my own uneducated thoughts on the subject, I’ll just point to two of the several articles I read a week ago: George Packer’s article on Richard Holbrooke in the September 28 issue of the New Yorker and Ahmed Rashid’s article in the October 8 issue of the New York Review of Books on the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan. I should add to this yesterday’s Washington Post op-ed piece by Peter Galbraith, written in the wake of his firing as deputy special representative of the United Nations in Afghanistan. (It turns out that I know Peter, sort of. He was a college classmate. We were in the same residential house. Just two Junes ago, during our 35th reunion, we sat together at lunch one day and chatted.) Galbraith writes about the recent Afghan election, for which he supervised the UN support:

Afghanistan’s presidential election, held Aug. 20, should have been a milestone in the country’s transition from 30 years of war to stability and democracy. Instead, it was just the opposite. As many as 30 percent of Karzai’s votes were fraudulent, and lesser fraud was committed on behalf of other candidates. In several provinces, including Kandahar, four to 10 times as many votes were recorded as voters actually cast. The fraud has handed the Taliban its greatest strategic victory in eight years of fighting the United States and its Afghan partners.

The election was a foreseeable train wreck. Unlike the United Nations-run elections in 2004, this balloting was managed by Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission (IEC). Despite its name, the commission is subservient to Karzai, who appointed its seven members. Even so, the international role was extensive. The United States and other Western nations paid the more than $300 million to hold the vote, and U.N. technical staff took the lead in organizing much of the process, including printing ballot papers, distributing election materials and designing safeguards against fraud.

President Obama needs a legitimate Afghan partner to make any new strategy for the country work. However, the extensive fraud that took place on Aug. 20 virtually guarantees that a government emerging from the tainted vote will not be credible with many Afghans.

I can’t imagine any US mission in Afghanistan having much chance of success. But again, what do I know? On the other hand, Rory Stewart knows a lot, and he doesn’t seem to see things much differently. (See a post of mine from two months ago.)

4. I try to keep my references to Glenn Greenwald’s blog within reasonable bounds, but here I go again. In a post yesterday, he has a passage that aptly describes the state of the nation:

Reviewing the Sunday news shows and newspapers creates the most intense cognitive dissonance: a nation crippled by staggering debt, exploding unemployment, an ever-expanding rich-poor gap, and dependence on foreign government financing can’t stop debating how much more resources we should devote to our various military occupations, which countries we should bomb next, which parts of the world we should bring into compliance with our dictates using threats of military force. It’s like listening to an individual about to declare personal bankruptcy talking about all the new houses and jewels he plans on buying next week and all the extravagant trips he’s planning, in between lamenting how important it is that he stop spending so much. That would sound insane. And that’s exactly how our political discourse sounds.

Where is the change we can believe in?

McCain on Iran

June 18, 2009 Leave a comment

In April 2007, John McCain famously sang “Bomb Bomb Iran” to the melody of the Beach Boys song Barbara Ann. (Watch the video above.) Here’s the thing — and I’m hardly the first to point this out — if we had bombed them, among the victims would be the people now fighting for a just election result, democracy, and the rule of law in Iran. Here’s how Glenn Greenwald put it two days ago:

Much of the same faction now claiming such concern for the welfare of The Iranian People are the same people who have long been advocating a military attack on Iran and the dropping of large numbers of bombs on their country — actions which would result in the slaughter of many of those very same Iranian People. During the presidential campaign, John McCain infamously sang about Bomb, Bomb, Bombing Iran. … Rudy Giuliani actually said he would be open to a first-strike nuclear attack on Iran in order to stop their nuclear program.

Imagine how many of the people protesting this week would be dead if any of these bombing advocates had their way — just as those who paraded around (and still parade around) under the banner of Liberating the Iraqi People caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of them, at least. Hopefully, one of the principal benefits of the turmoil in Iran is that it humanizes whoever the latest Enemy is. Advocating a so-called “attack on Iran” or “bombing Iran” in fact means slaughtering huge numbers of the very same people who are on the streets of Tehran inspiring so many — obliterating their homes and workplaces, destroying their communities, shattering the infrastructure of their society and their lives. The same is true every time we start mulling the prospect of attacking and bombing another country as though it’s some abstract decision in a video game.

For more on McCain and Iran, see the comments of hilzoy and Larison. hilzoy concludes her post as follows:

Seriously: this guy might have been President. National security was supposed to be his strong suit. On the most charitable interpretation, he is completely ignorant of the history of our relations with Iran, but this fact does not prevent him from pontificating about what we ought to do. Think about that, and thank the deity of your choice that he lost.

Categories: Foreign Policy, Politics