Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Middle East’ Category

Now that it’s convenient–in this case, the eve of a diplomacy tour to the Middle East–Obama talks far more candidly about his background, his Muslim dad, the Muslim country he was raised in, and his Muslim roots.

I don’t think he’s a secret Muslim, a Manchurian Candidate who will soon institute sharia law. If anything, many of his writings suggest an extremely self-absorbed agnostic. But I do think he has a great deal of sympathy and fellow feeling with Muslims because of his background and friendships (such as his many Pakistani friends from college) and also identifies as a black person with the Third World criticism of America as arrogant and oppressive. This all matters because Obama portrayed himself as American as Apple Pie during the campaign, highlighting his white relatives from Kansas, even though his whole life has been spent in strange locales (Hawaii, Indonesia, Pakistan), in the company of his mom’s strange succession of Third World men and then her eventual abandonment of Barack, and his public life has consisted of a fight for the “oppressed” against America’s traditional elites and traditional institutions.

This all matters because people that don’t obsess about politics and policy tend to vote for people that they think share their values and experiences. His “official” background–ambitious, American, sensitive to the marginalized, by the bootstraps, explicitly Christian, patriotic, even-handed and open-minded–was something many could relate to and about which they could find something to admire. But it deviated greatly from reality and concealed his very exotic past and his Muslim connections in particular.

His criticisms of Guantanamo Bay or the War on Terror take on a very different cast when one must ask if they merely appear to be from a patriotic American concerned about imperial overreach but are in fact expressions of a sense of brotherhood with the groups–seething Muslim extremists and their supporters–most Americans cannot relate to and consider to be the enemy.

Read Full Post »

You can usually tell things are going well in Iraq when the media is silent; they have been for weeks, focusing their attention instead on the economy. As always, their silence on important matters is a few steps behind the eight ball. They said little of al Qaeda’s growing reign of terror when Bill Clinton was in charge, nor much criticism of his assertion of Iraqi WMDs during his periodic bombing campaigns, and on the economy, they had little to say when the seeds of that disaster were being planted in the name of expanding home ownership. Nonetheless, here we are.

This small window of tactical success should permit us to make up for the strategic failure that is Iraq, a failure premised on the twin pillars of “democratic nation building” as a means of reducing al Qaeda’s appeal and disarming terrorist-supporting states of WMDs, even when those WMDs are nonexistent.  Yesterday’s mistakes should not be continued simply out of fear of embarrassment, particularly if they can be undone in a way that does not have substantial collateral damage to other strategic interests. Further, developments in Pakistan, Russia, and elsewhere demand a more substantial strategic reserve than the last five years in Iraq have permitted.

The always curmudgeonly Bill Lind makes the point as follows:

The only source for additional troops for Afghanistan is Iraq. The September 2008 issue of Army magazine quotes Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Michael Mullen as saying, “I don’t have troops I can reach for, brigades I can reach, to send into Afghanistan until I have a reduced requirement in Iraq.”

Without railways running on interior lines, we cannot move three brigades from Iraq to Afghanistan this week, then move them back to Iraq again a few weeks later if the situation there demands them. That means any shift of forces requires long-term stability in Iraq.  Neocon voices in Washington are now claiming “victory” in Iraq, which, if it were true, would release American forces stationed there for redeployment. This appears to be what Secretary Gates is counting on when he says we should be able to meet commanders’ request for 10,000 more troops in Afghanistan next spring or summer.

But I fear this represents a falsely optimistic reading of the situation in Iraq. In my view, the current relative quiet in Iraq is merely a pause as the parties there regroup and reorient for the next phase of the war. Unless we have the good sense to get out of Iraq now, while the going is good, we will be stuck there when that next phase starts. We will not then be in a position to shift forces from Iraq to Afghanistan, because without interior lines, any such shift much be long-term.

Read Full Post »