Monday, June 29, 2009

"We shall not sleep, though poppies grow..."

This is just good sense, and good counterinsurgency.

For too long, the chief modality employed for depriving the Taliban of the revenues from opium production (not to mention protecting the lives of countless addicts abroad) has been the eradication of poppy fields. Trouble is that the main victims of that policy were the poor farmers who would monetize the poppy crop, owing to their ability to store that crop for long periods of time, and sell it off to feed their families (as previously discussed in the comments section of this post):

So, instead of torching the livelihoods of rural farmers, the emphasis is shifting to interdicting the products further down the supply chain, while simultaneously providing aid and instruction in the production of alternate crops. Thus, the farmers are not alienated to the point that they throw in with the extremists, while the poisons and profits are denied the true villains in this travesty. Smart.

The libertarian in me is strongly in favor of judicious legalization of recreational substances. The Sisyphean effort to regulate behavior is a costly and destructive boondoggle which destroys more lives than it saves, and squanders precious resources for a doomed and wrong-headed goal. However, the psychologist in me cannot deny the recent uptick in the number of clients who labor under their addictions to pernicious and ignoble mind-killers in the opiate family, owing at least in part to cheap and plentiful supplies of the "good" brown heroin (as opposed to the black tarry stuff from Mexico) in recent years. Any project which simultaneously makes it more difficult to maintain a multiple bag-per-day habit, while also starving the miscreants who throw acid in the faces of schoolgirls counts as a win-win in my book.

As for the costs involved in aiding Afghan farmers to transition from poppy to some other crop (which may be less profitable by a wide margin, but which allows them to come in out of the cold), they are non-trivial in an absolute sense. However, given the obscene excesses of spending and debt with which the Obama Administration seems hell-bent on saddling our grandchildren, this at least has the rare distinction of appearing to be money well-spent, and a drop in the reservoir, at that.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Streets of Tehran

I've not blogged on the goings-on in Tehran, both out of life-business, but also out of a numb fascination which has daily chased the words right out of me. The best I could manage was to change the colors of my blog to the green of solidarity with the protesters. I watched as the outrageously clumsy and transparent election-rigging took its course. I looked on as the Iranian people took to the streets, at grave personal risk (and, in numbers which are proving impossible to tally, at the cost of their very lives). I took stock of the mettle of Mousavi, the unlikely lighting-rod of this popular uprising (since he can hardly be seen as a 'reformer' in any sense that would be meaningful in the West). I have watched the increasingly brutal repression perpetrated by the regime's thugs on people crying out for justice and freedom and self-expression.

I have waited through the Obama Administration's timid and timorous declamations for something approximating an honorable statement of support for the Iranian people with whose dictators it has shown such baffling eagerness to "engage."

To be clear, I do not think that it is appropriate for the American President to comment on the results of Iran's election; that is an internal matter to Iran, and staking out a strong position on it would indeed constitute "meddling." Still, although the Head of State could not come out thus, the Legislature quite laudably stepped up with a clear statement of condemnation for the crackdown on dissent (with the tediously predictable exception of Ron Paul, of course). There is merit to the argument that too strong a position by the Executive in support of the opposition to the regime in Tehran would feed into the propaganda of US Imperialism (though it can hardly be seen as needing much additional fuel).

However, the Obama Administration waited altogether too long, and its statements have been entirely too "measured" for my tastes, in the matter of stating support for free expression of dissent without fear of violent repression. We need not have endorsed Mousavi, nor offered speculations (however well-grounded) on the mechanics of Iranian electoral procedures to have stood strongly behind those who sought to have their voices heard. The failure to have done so right from the outset is an enduring shame on our Nation and the ideals for which it purportedly stands.

I have no idea how all this will turn out. I do not pretend to be able to prognosticate about what form the Iranian regime will ultimately take in the wake of all this. I do know that this situation has revealed and amplified some very deep fissures within the Iranian power structure, and probably irrevocably damaged the veneer of infallibility which the clerical body at the top has at least nominally enjoyed since 1979. It is likely that some sorts of accommodations will have to take place, lest the Mullahs be forced to set up the sort of frank dictatorship which they have worked so hard to conceal under the guise of a wafer-thin "Republic."

Michael Ledeen sums up the situation ably:

Those who think they can foresee the outcome of this revolutionary war have greater confidence in their prophetic powers than I. I don’t think Mousavi or Khamenei has any such confidence; they are fighting it out, as they must. Victory or defeat can come about slowly or rapidly, the result of cunning, courage or accident, and most likely a combination of all three. One thing seems certain: the Iranian people were right when they realized that nobody in the outside world would help them. They’re on their own.

Which is indeed a great pity, and a terrible stain on our national virtue.

Indeed. And may the gods save them...and us all.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Mr. Zawahiri? Meet Ms. Miranda...

[by Mr.Hengist]

It's long been one of the defining ways in which hawks and doves have differentiated their framing of the post-9/11 world, with hawks arguing that 9/11 was an act of war as opposed to a criminal act. The differentiation between the two is neither academic nor semantic as it goes the to the heart of the ensuing disagreements between the two camps on the strategies employed by the Bush Administration.

The notion that doves would have us advise captured terrorists that they are entitled to Miranda rights has long been derided by hawks, and rightfully so. Acts of war are not covered by the American criminal code of law. Nevertheless, in accordance with their fantasies, POTUS Obama has reportedly instructed the FBI to issue enemy combatants a reading of Miranda rights - which apparently includes the right to remain silent.

I suppose this will give a rhetorical boost to their argument that harsh interrogation of detainees in the GWOT are inappropriate, but this is only a policy change and neither adds to nor subtracts from the bodies of law governing these detainees. Parenthetically, it's little wonder then that the Obama Administration thought it inconsequential to reveal our catalog of allowed interrogation techniques; Miranda gives these evildoers the option to simply opt out of talking.

At any rate, if the lawyer quoted in the Weekly Standard article is to be believed and these detainees may soon be prosecuted in United States courts of law, the logical extension of this policy change is to apply the U.S. laws regarding the sanctity of the chain of custody. Imagine a world in which U.S. Armed Forces are issued little plastic baggies into which they must drop and seal evidence. In a war zone. During a firefight. In the meantime, exploitation will have to wait, as these baggies are transferred to a stateside FBI crime lab or evidence room.

Does that sound insane? That's what hawks thought about reading Miranda to terrorists, and yet here we are. In fact, only a couple of months ago POTUS Obama assured Steve Kroft and the American people on "60 Minutes" that Miranda for detainees was ridiculous. As Hugh Hewitt would say, every Obama promise has an expiration date.

Balance Tilting Against the Taliban?

This afternoon, I was listening to NPR and heard a report on the "new" tactics being employed by US Special Forces operators in the tribal regions of Afghanistan. The report described public works projects, outreach to tribal elders, protection of civilians, and training of indigenous security forces. If none of this sounds particularly new to any of you out there, then do keep in mind that this was NPR. Any clear acknowledgment that this is precisely the sort of COIN strategy which had been implemented so very successfully under the Bush Administration in Iraq would have robbed the Obama Administration of its credit for a Bold New Approach in the 'Stans. Context is everything.

Still, I have long thought that some variant of the COIN doctrine which has been so effectively applied in Iraq could be adapted to take root in Afghanistan and Pakistan, provided the local conditions were taken into account and the strategy adjusted accordingly, and if the Jihadis would over-play their brutality hands as egregiously as they had in Iraq. Encouragingly (if tragically!), there have recently been growing signs that the latter may be occurring in Taliban-controlled areas of the 'Stans:

PESHAWAR, Pakistan — Villagers are rising up against the Taliban in a remote corner of northern Pakistan, a grass-roots rebellion that underscores the shift in the public mood against the militants and a growing confidence to confront them. More than a thousand villagers from the district of Dir have been fighting Taliban militants since Friday, when a Taliban suicide bomber detonated his payload during prayer time at a mosque, killing at least 30 villagers.

The Pakistani government is taking advantage of this tentative groundswell against the militants and gangsters and terrorists loosely assembled under the rubric of "Taliban," but they have their work cut out for them. Resentment against the atrocities perpetrated by Islamist militants is indeed growing...but that does not mean that the fiercely independent, downright xenophobic peoples of the tribal regions have any more love to spare for the interference of distant bigwigs in Islamabad or Kabul...let alone the US. It will indeed be a long row to hoe for the Pakistani government and military to convince the Tribes that their interests will be respected, their lives and livelihoods protected, and their insurrections supported against reprisals. There is a lot of unlearning to be done there.

Meanwhile, on the Afghan side of the border, Army Rangers and other operators are, as previously mentioned, hoeing that row as we speak. The extent to which the Tribal elders feel respected, their Lashkars backed up, and the influx of replacements for the miscreants they succeed in dispatching is successfully stemmed is going to make all the difference. Extremely valuable operational memory from Iraq is available to be deployed in service of this end, and the leadership of General Petraeus and his chosen officers should not be underestimated.

All in all, these are some tentatively promising signs on the COIN front in a far more complex operational environment than it has faced to date.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Que Sarah, Sarah...

I'm probably just tilting at eco-friendly, bird-dodging, serenely sustainable wind mills here.

When it comes to Sarah Palin, after all, it seems people's minds are pretty well made up, and no number of pesky facts nor nettlesome contexts will make a whit of difference. She's a theocratic zealot bumpkin wolf-killing book-banner who misuses the privileges of her office and callously neglects her errant and altogether too-numerous children...for Jesus. Right?

Well, maybe not so much. Seems her opponents just can't seem to gin up ethics violations, outright illegalities, and personal peccadilloes as fast as she keeps getting cleared of them (at considerable and still-mounting taxpayer expense).

It's a good thing that a compliantly hostile media machine isn't busy blazing every lurid accusation across the clouds like the Bat-Signal, and allowing every subsequent refutation to sink with nary a bubble, because...oh...wait...

Say, did you hear that Sarah Palin has bed slippers made from Real Puppies?

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Chaka, When the Walls Fell...

So, we've got the disgruntled denizens of EUtopia voting down their Leftoid governments, right and center...while here in the Home of the Free, our sickening slide toward socialism seems only to be accelerating like a plunge down a thousand-foot waterfall.

That's it. I'm following the sleestaks to the nearest pylon.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Better Neighbors

From Professor Victor Davis Hanson, some life lessons for our esteemed Commander in Chief. May his learning curve be steep.

The Speech

Over the past two weeks, I have proven to be a most felicitous host for a succession of cold viruses. Good for them. Bad for blogging. But some light appears to be glimmering at the end of the tunnel (and with precious little time to spare, as I'll be off to my first taste of New Orleans to celebrate a momentous birthday for a good friend next week-end) .

I've been poring over the text of President Obama's speech in Cairo this past Thursday, and over the voluminous commentary across the political spectrum. I have found much that I (rather unexpectedly) liked about Obama's address. He told some hard truths to an audience which was none-too favorably disposed to hear them. He expressed some worthy sentiments, which were not entirely devoid of specific content. Were I in a more energetic place right now, I might undertake a point-by-point analysis of his words and their import. Alas, I am in no such place (paging Mr. Hengist....).

Rich Moran, over at Pajamas Media comes the closest to mirroring my impressions of the speech, and I encourage you to read over his remarks.

One bit which Moran omits was an aspect of the speech which rankled me the most: Obama's seeming equivalence between the Holocaust and the plight of the "Palestinians" and their dislocation and "occupation." That simply will not do. Now, I know that the raw content of Obama's words do not comprise a perfect symmetry between the two experiences: of the Jews he spoke of enslavement, torture, gassing and shooting, whereas for the "Palestinians" he spoke of dislocation, humiliation, and waiting in refugee camps (though he made no mention of the multitude of opportunities they have had --and spurned-- for that purportedly-longed-for homeland, nor of the extent to which they have been given no succor by neighboring Arab people who have been all-too eager to use their suffering as a political and ideological football). Still, by positing that particular parallelism, he pandered to the baseless and pernicious moral equivalence which many in his audience take as a matter of course.

Many have also commented on Obama's failure to include Israel in his list of destinations, fearing that it was emblematic of a worrisome cooling trend in this Administration's approach to our staunchest ally in the region. Actually, this does not bother me overmuch; Obama's intent was to address the Islamic world, and his trip was designed to signal a new kind of engagement with that world. A layover in the midst of the "Zionist Entity" would muddy the message. I get that.

Also, Obama's forthright and refreshingly forceful rebuke of Holocaust denial, and clear statement of the "unbreakable" bond between the US and Israel struck the right note (and was predictably greeted with crickets from the audience), and he cannily walked the talk by traveling --the very next day-- to Buchenwald, where he re-iterated his stance on the deniers of history (this time specifically mentioning Iranian president Ahmadinejad, and challenging him to walk among the haunted ruins himself. Nice touch, that). Indeed, I find myself wondering if his stinging words for the Iranian president might not have been crafted to send a subtextual message to the Sunni majority that he is not a creature of the Shiites (particularly with the US' support of the Shiite administration in Iraq featuring in some of the paranoia in the region).

No one believes that the speech is to be the final word on these matters, and it is hoped that subsequent statements (and, far more importantly, actions) will address many of the lingering questions which it raised. It was a flawed and airy treatment of grave and complex matters, but it was arguably a thing worth undertaking, and was not altogether devoid of merit.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Axis and Ye Shall Receive

Scary stuff about what was once quaintly referred to as the "Axis of Evil," via Bret Stephens at the WSJ Opinion Page:

Another noteworthy detail: According to a 2003 report in the L.A. Times, "So many North Koreans are working on nuclear and missile projects in Iran that a resort on the Caspian coast is set aside for their exclusive use."

Now the North seems to be gearing up for yet another test of its long-range Taepodong missile, and it's a safe bet Iranians will again be on the receiving end of the flight data. Nothing prevents them from sharing nuclear-weapons material or data, either, and the thought occurs that the North's second bomb test last week might also have been Iran's first. If so, the only thing between Iran and a bomb is a long-range cargo plane.


There are still good reasons why Japan would not want to go nuclear: Above all, it doesn't want to simultaneously antagonize China and the U.S. But the U.S. has even better reasons not to want to tempt Japan in that direction. Transparently feckless and time-consuming U.S. diplomacy with North Korea is one such temptation. Refusing to modernize our degraded stockpile of nuclear weapons while seeking radical cuts in the overall arsenal through a deal with Russia is another.

This, however, is the course the Obama administration has set for itself. Allies and enemies alike will draw their own conclusions.

Not that there's anything new about Pyonyang ponying up the plutonium party favors to assorted unsavory customers, mind you. What's noteworthy is the amount of activity along what was supposed, in these newly enlightened times, to be an Ex-Axis. It is understandable, then, that a host of actors will be watching very closely to judge the extent to which the US will act to counterbalance that activity. Will the US wait for the Security Council to obtain permission from Russia and China to issue a strongly-worded letter of concern, or will it take some more direct diplomatic and economic action? And if this fails to prompt the Norks to reconsider their behaviors?

So, now can we call it a Global War on Terror again?

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Number Two: "You're Not The One"

Just goes to show, you just can't please everybody.

DUBAI (Reuters) - Al Qaeda's second-in-command urged Egyptians not to be seduced by the 'polished words' of what he called the criminal Barack Obama

when the U.S. President makes a speech in Cairo seeking to repair ties with the Muslim world.

"O, Egypt's free, righteous and honorable people and mujahideen; stand united in the face of this criminal," Ayman al-Zawahri, an Egyptian, said in an audio recording posted on an al Qaeda-linked Islamist website.

"(Obama's) bloody messages have been received and are still being received and they will not be concealed by public relations campaigns or theatrical visits or polished words."

Whoops! Now it looks like the other One has gotten in on the act. Can somebody say 'cage match?'

Meanwhile the American media is predictably all tingly over Obama's inevitably altogether inconsequential turn at an Egyptian teleprompter Thursday afternoon. Now, no one ever expected that The One was going to be able to win over the Big Bads of al Qaeda (well, maybe a few folks in Berkely...or the sad sods who believe that the CIA or someone made up the whole al Qaeda business in the first place). But I have to scratch my head when I listen to the coverage of this "Historic Speech" on NPR or CNN, or read about it on some of the MSM sites. It almost feels as though somebody out there actually expects Obama to accomplish something tomorrow. Allahpundit over at HotAir hits it out of the park on this:

To believe that half an hour of pap will advance the ball in the Middle East, you’d have to believe that tensions there are based largely on “cultural misunderstandings,” not wholly irreconcilable goals like the right of return. It’s worth doing simply because it’s a costless exercise, but as with anything Obama does, the media hoopla is wildly disproportionate to the actual effect. A productive use of righty bloggers’ time this afternoon will be to seize on the passages inevitably touted by the press as “breakthroughs” and then comb through Bush’s speeches for their analogs, of which there are bound to be many. Exit question: Will The One address the lingering “cultural misunderstanding” about whether the Holocaust happened? It’d be nice to find common ground on that, at least.

To be clear, it is my considered opinion that being called a blood-soaked murderer or somesuch by the likes of Zawahiri and bin Laden is pretty strong evidence that you are doing something right. I can only hope that Obama keeps this in mind during his reading tomorrow. I hope (and I'm not alone in this) that our POTUS does not apologize himself into the appearance (...) of joining these Islamowankers in blaming America and its policies for their own murderous rage and its real source in the collective, self-imposed impotence of their dying culture.