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Live-Blogging the Debate: The Blogs to Read

26 Sep

I’ll be busy at one of the last Fall For the Book readings tonight so I won’t be following the debate as closely as I’d like.  You, however, should follow along with these fine bloggers who will be giving you some of the best foreign policy and political commentary as they live-blog the event:

  • Ned Resnikoff and Charlie Eisenhood at NYU Local: Sweet political barbs from the Big Apple’s progressive, hipster capital.
  • Democracy Arsenal hits you with a right hook of wonkishness and lays you out with a southpaw of firece foreign policy analysis.  Or some other such boxing/defense policy metaphor-combo.
  • Dan Drezner: The man boasts political economy and foreign policy bona fides. If you mess with him, he will cut you.
  • Think Progress: It’s a virtual room full of wonks and twenty-something Beltway progressives, including Matt Yglesias. You don’t have to drink to hang out, but you will have to provide your own booze.
I’ll weigh in with a (hopefully) substative take post-debate, but until then enjoy your Friday.

The Future of American Power

13 Sep

I have a book review of Francis Fukuyama’s America at the Crossroads up at SouthAsia-Online. I encourage you to read the whole thing, but here’s my takeaway observation:

But for the near future, Fukuyama’s observation that “American power remains critical to the world order” is less hubris than a pragmatic understanding that America has a central role to play in that order.   Not as benevolent hegemon imposing its whim but as a great power that, like it or not, needs the international community as much as it needs America. 

 

When Worlds Collide

26 Jun

There aren’t many instances where I get to write about the meeting of the literary and political worlds, but TPM’s book discussion of Philip Gourevitch’s Standard Operating Procedure is one of them.  Gourevitch has his feet in both worlds as both the editor of The Paris Review and a journalist who wrote an excellent book on the Rwandan genocide, and makes him well suited to flesh out the varied stories and narrative strains the make up the abuses at Abu Ghraib .

What makes this book discussion more interesting than the usual fare is the inclusion of poet/memoirist Mary Karr (of The Liars Club fame) as part of the discussion and that fellow poet/memiorist Nick Flynn shows up in the comments section to chastise Gourevitch for not including more Iraqi voices in his account.  Gourevitch responds that part of the reason for not explicitly including the words of those Iraqi’s tortured at Abu Ghraib was his focus on the events as a particularly American story–that the abuses at Abu Ghraib, as Gourevitch  argues, were not inevitable, and were the result of tacit (and sometimes explicit) support of American officials. This is a story about the policy of torture.

Flynn’s concern is common one among writers: who to include and how to tell the story without distorting the truth or privileging one narrative over another.  But it is, I think, a secondary concern here, and one too focused on the (laudable) goal of including voices that were silenced or otherwise appropriated in the media swarm that followed Abu Ghraib.  SOP‘s major contribution seems to be the way it examines how the decisions and policy of the Bush administration translated to actions at Abu Ghraib, as Matt Steinglass observes :

What’s really powerful about this story is that it’s one of the best stories I’ve ever seen for examining the way that policy decisions translate into events. Think, for instance, of Jane Mayer’s amazing article for The New Yorker on Alberto Mora. The hardest thing to do in journalism is to draw connections between complex and fuzzy management and policy decisions, bureaucratic political maneuvering and the adoption of one or another document as official policy, and the consequences such documents and management tactics have for the accomplishment of an organization’s mission. The reporting that’s been done on how abuses at Abu Ghraib (and Bagram and Guantanamo) stemmed from the evolution of US torture policy has been probably the best, most gripping organizational reporting I’ve read.

I’m calling this one for Gourevitch because (as Karr also notes) a book that widens the narrative scope to all accounts is a different, though important, book.

Also in torture reporting: Spencer Ackerman goes to the Amnesty Guantanamo protest in DC and talks with former army chaplin CPT. James Lee, who was arrested, and eventually released, for suscpision of espionage.

Memo to Obama

23 Jun

In his latest article, Fareed Zakaria proposes some things Senator Obama should say about Iraq.  Key excerpts:

All today’s gains could disappear when American troops leave—and they will have to leave one day. The disagreement I have with the Bush administration is that it seems to believe that time will magically make these gains endure. It won’t. Without political progress, once the United States reduces its forces, the old mistrust and the old militias will rise up again. Only genuine political power-sharing will create a government and an Army that are seen as national and not sectarian. And that, in turn, is the only path to make Iraq viable without a large American military presence.[…]

[…]My objective remains to end American combat involvement in Iraq and to do so expeditiously. At some point we are going to have to take off the training wheels in Iraq. I believe that we must have a serious plan that defines when that point is reached. If we define success as an Iraq that looks like France or Holland, we will have to stay indefinitely, continue spending $10 billion a month and keep 140,000 troops in combat. And that is neither acceptable nor sustainable. We will have to accept as success a muddy middle ground—an Iraq that is a functioning, federal democracy with a central government and an army able to tackle the bulk of challenges they face.

Defining what victory looks like is the key policy metric here.  Any politician who won’t tell you what victory looks like (or what sort of state–roughly–Iraq should be when we leave) is asking for us to spend lives and resources based on vaguely defined goals like “security” and “stability”¹.  Loosely defined terms do not a foreign policy make.

¹ Or your personal (but not publicly defined!) concept of an ideal democratic state. Your actual Iraqi democratic results may vary.

Bad Ideas About Jerusalem

5 Jun

Via Matt Yglesias, Obama’s speech to AIPAC included this wrongheaded line:

Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided.

Not only is this unrealistic, it’s moving backwards. Every plan for a two state solution since the Clinton Parameters has included some kind of split in sovereignty for Jerusalem. If facts on the ground had changed radically that would be one thing. But they haven’t. So it’s an idea that remains divorced from reality, as Gershom Gorenberg observes:

In most respects, Jerusalem is already a divided city, and recognizing this politically is the key to precisely the kind of agreement that Obama says he’d like to reach. Alas. “Yes, We Can” pander to Aipac.

UPDATE:

Obama’s people clarify that his comment doesn’t preclude Palestinian sovereignty :

“Two principles should apply to any outcome,” which the adviser gave as: “Jerusalem remains Israel’s capital and it’s not going to be divided by barbed wire and checkpoints as it was in 1948-1967.”

He refused, however, to rule out other configurations, such as the city also serving as the capital of a Palestinian state or Palestinian sovereignty over Arab neighborhoods.

“Beyond those principles, all other aspects are for the two parties to agree at final status negotiations,” the Obama adviser said.

(H/T Byron York at The Corner)

It’s Time to Get Off The Merry Go Round

2 Jun

Over at Passport, Blake Hounshell is asking if Obama has an Iraq problem. I’m not quite sure how a policy of withdrawal from Iraq would be a harder sell if it turns out the surge is rousing success:

It’s possible the war staying out of the news will only help focus the race on the economy, where the Democrats have an advantage. But I can see it cutting both ways. At the very least, it will be awkward for Obama to pivot from saying, “the war is lost, let’s get out” to “the war is won, let’s go home.”

First, I haven’t heard any message that equals “the war is lost”. The central message of the withdrawal plan has been the logic of disengaging to allow Iraqi elected officials to make the necessary political decisions. It’s not that we’ve lost Iraq, but that we can’t build the kind of Iraq we’d like (or, more importantly, the Iraqi’s would want and deserve) through a military solution alone.

As Fareed Zakaria put it, we’re stuck in the “Iraq loop”. If the surge is a success we can begin disengaging, but when violence flairs up, we redouble our commitment in order to give Iraqis a chance to strike some sort of political accord that will quell the sectarian fighting. Whether it’s an upturn or downturn in violence, there’s still the need for the political compromises to build a lasting government and peace. I don’t see how saying “well things are working out, now we can go” has a different political consequence from “if we don’t leave, things won’t work themselves out”.

Fake Policy Commentary

19 May

[Subtitle: Of Course You Need Another Blog Post About Foreign Policy and Comic Books]

I’m in general agreement with this Spencer Ackerman article about imperialism and Iron Man, but the concluding sentence leads to some unintentional policy consequences, at least in the comic book world:

America either needs to submit the Iron Man armor to a series of institutions to govern its just use, or it needs to take off the suit once and for all.

I wonder what a series of institutions governing Iron Man might look like.  Perhaps a superhuman registration act?  Uh oh.  That can’t lead to good things.