State of the Union

NATO’s New Colombian Adventure, in Afghanistan

Comments by Gen. Bantz John Craddock, head of U.S European Command and Supreme Allied Commander Europe for NATO — who wants NATO soldiers to shoot Afghan drug traffickers first, ask questions later — have led to a spirited debate within the NATO community about the legal and moral implications of taking out suspected drug dealers in the lucrative Afghan opium trade without evidence and whether drug interdiction is outside the scope of the military mission in Afghanistan.

Craddock reportedly wrote in a classified memo leaked to the German magazine Der Spiegel last week that “it was no longer necessary to produce intelligence or other evidence that each particular drug trafficker or narcotics facility in Afghanistan meets the criteria of being a military objective.”

Senior NATO officers have been weighing in, saying they do not agree with Craddock, that his approach is not only illegal, but would undermine the mission and endanger civilians there. But really, Craddock is just taking recent statements made by Secretary of Defense Bob Gates one precarious step further.

This is what Gates said this month, according to Stars and Stripes: “If we have evidence that the drug labs and drug lords are supporting the Taliban, then they’re fair game,” he told a gaggle of reporters on January 22. He got the ball rolling about changing the rules of engagement on the ground back in October:

“My approach was that we are not talking about a counternarcotics strategy; that route really is the Afghans’ responsibility,” Gates told a small group of U.S. and European journalists Thursday evening during a two-day summit here of NATO defense ministers. “What we are talking about is greater freedom to track down the networks of those who are funding the Taliban, which happens to be drug money.”

Though opposed by leaders in Spain and Germany, Poland and others, NATO’s defense ministers signed an agreement — led by the U.S and Britain — a day after Gates’ statements in Brussels, allowing NATO forces to begin targeting the Afghanistan drug trade (this is not counternarcotics?) which, according to estimates, gives the Taliban about $80 million a year in operating cash. Poppy farming is also the country’s largest cash crop– and 50 percent of its gross domestic product, according to reported estimates.

The Craddock memo, on the heels of this new NATO agreement, ups the ante and is fraught with danger signs and moral ambiguities. No one wants to see the Taliban continue to extort these poor farmers, fueling their own violent deeds and oppressive rule with the only lifeblood this crippled, war weary society has left. There have been widely accepted alternative approaches (short of ending the global drug war and therefore killing the high price that opium-fueled heroin fetches on the market altogether) like encouraging farmers to scrap poppy and grow something else through subsidies, construction projects, whatever incentives possible. But not through force.

Admittedly, for many reasons, the non-violent approach hasn’t been working. But will executing people? Under Craddock or even through Gates’ new directive, who exactly would be targeted? Tribal leaders and drug kingpins? Poor schleps running pack mules, teenage heads of households bringing home their families’ only income? Resistant farmers with no choice but to harvest the tainted crop because it’s the only way their families will eat through the winter? If all is fair, will NATO forces target, too, the corrupt local and central politicians and bureaucrats allowing the Taliban to thrive off poppy while picking our pockets, and living lavish lifestyles while the lowliest people of Kabul burn trash in the streets to get a little warmth? Read More…

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President Obama: A Realist Interventionist?

President Barack Obama might turn out to be a foreign policy pragmatist, eschewing the grand strategies and big-label crusades that inspire the minds of Washington’s cognoscenti. After eight years of the Bush administration’s foreign policy fantasies, the notion of an Obama administration muddling through foreign policy choices should be welcomed, even by those who will inevitably be disappointed when Obama fails to live up to their high expectations. Read my latest commentary on the issue.

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John Patrick Diggins, RIP

The thought-provoking intellectual historian died yesterday, age 73. Diggins’s 2007 book on Reagan is fascinating — the evidence for his thesis, that Reagan was was at heart a disciple of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Tom Paine, is not quite positive, yet rings so true that it’s become my favorite take on the 40th president. I suspect, both on account of this column and from reading The Reagan I Knew, that Diggins even revolutionized Bill Buckley’s understanding of his friend.

I had hoped to get Diggins to write a revisionist piece on Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan for TAC. Alas, that’s not to be, but he did contribute a short piece to our election symposium last November.

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Ethnonationalism Endures

Standing before the Siegessaule, the Victory Column that commemorates Prussia’s triumphs over Denmark, Austria and France in the wars that birthed the Second Reich, Barack Obama declared himself a “citizen of the world” and spoke of “a world that stands as one.”

Globalists rejoiced. And the election of this son of a white teenager from Kansas and a black academic from Kenya is said to have ushered us into the new “post-racial” age.

Are we deluding ourselves? Worldwide, the mightiest force of the 20th century, ethnonationalism — that creator and destroyer of nations and empires; that enduring drive of peoples for a nation-state where their faith and culture is dominant and their race or tribe is supreme — seems more manifest than ever.

“Vote Reflects Racial Divide” ran the banner in the Washington Times over Tuesday’s story datelined, “Santa Cruz, Bolivia.” It began: Read More…

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Iraq’s Trash, Our Treasure

Upon news their company is being booted out of Baghdad by Iraqi officials who have denied the private security company an operating license there, Blackwater Worldwide executives said the North Carolina-based contractor is well on its way to making $1 billion in annual revenues over the next year or two anyway. And while their guards — and aircraft — are prepared to be out of that country within 72 hours if forced to, no one has formally asked them to leave, including the U.S State Department, which is dependent on the approximately 1,000 private security men there to keep its diplomats safe.

By refusing to court this operation any longer, Iraqi officials are demonstrating that they have some standards. And pride. And an interest in showing the people they are not going to allow those accused of gunning down and blowing up its innocent citizens in the public square, in broad daylight, to remain there to profit from the foreign invasion-turned-occupation-turned-the-ginormous diplomatic encampment that is now the US Embassy in the center of Baghdad any longer.

Five Blackwater security guards have pled not guilty in federal court here in the US on charges they killed 17 unarmed Iraqis in Nisoor Square in Baghdad in 2007. The guards say they have proof in radio recordings that they were being fired upon.

No matter the outcome of the trial, Blackwater guards have been accused of numerous other violent acts against Iraqis over the course of the war, including murder. Their reputation speaks as much to the ugliness of for-profit war as it does about the militarization of our own country, which has greatly fostered the likes of Blackwater and similar contractors throughout the years.

As the AP reported just this evening:

The private security firm, which trained some 25,000 civilians, law enforcement and military personnel last year, continues to expand even as its future in Iraq becomes less promising. Blackwater has a fleet of 76 aircraft, and almost all of them are deployed in hot spots in places like Afghanistan and West Africa.

On Thursday, three international teams were at the company’s compound in North Carolina going through classes: Authorities from Yemen flipped through four-inch binders as they learned how to identify the components of an explosive by looking at X-rays. A group from the country of Georgia was practicing SWAT techniques in a makeshift building, taking instructions through a translator from a Blackwater official.

A Canadian team was also on site, along with a number of other law enforcement, Coast Guard and civilians who kicked up burning rubber on a driving track and rattled off rounds on shooting ranges. Members of the Army and Navy were practicing their driving skills in Blackwater’s mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles.

“When you first hear Blackwater, you automatically, instantly think about the overseas stuff,” said Jim Sierawski, Blackwater’s vice president for training. “That overshadows the training center. Here, we’ve been on a steady incline every year.”

Be assured that even in the deepest, bleakest times of recession, the militarization of this country will go on unimpeded. Iraq can now do what it likes — we’re clearly glad to have ‘em.

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It’s the End of the Book World

Even before the recession/depression began, newspapers had been paring back their books coverage for years. Now comes word that the Washington Post is abolishing its “Book World” as a separate supplement. What’s left of “Book World” will be absorbed into the Sunday Outlook and Style sections.

Every institution of the books trade, from retail to publishing to reviewing, is going to be overturned by the crisis, I suspect. The logistics of the publishing industry already make as little sense as those of the old-fangled recording industry. Both bet the house on a few sure-fire hits, with side bets on new and outsider prospects. But the sure-fire hits aren’t so sure any more, and the hits are getting smaller and smaller. My best guess — wishful thinking maybe — is that once the titans fall we’ll see a golden age of micro-publishing. Organizations like the Mises Institute are even now doing remarkable things with print-on-demand and small-run books. Reviewing won’t disappear, of course, even if print reviews do. It may be a while, though, before reviewers once again figure out how to make a living by reading books. That’s a good life, and it would be a shame to see it disappear.

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The Coalition is dead, long live the Coalition!

The Harper government survives for another day (or week, or month, half a year, who knows? They like to live on the edge) as opposition Liberals voiced their pleasure at the Tories’ big spending, deficit-ridden budget, which also includes a measure that forces credit card companies to allow their Canadian customers extended grace periods on payments (something Obama may very well take back with him as he meets with Harper on Feb. 19). As a result, new LP leader Michael Ignateiff dropped his supposed coalition partners, Jack Layton’s New Democratic Party and Gille Duceppe’s Bloc Quebecois like so many sacks of garbage and pledged themselves to vigorously police the Tories so they live up to their budget promises. Or better yet, put them on “probation.”

In other words, as Layton put it, there’s a coalition government alright, between the Liberals and the Tories.

And why not? as Ignatieff would put it. The Liberals aren’t ready for new elections nor are they ready to govern anything at this point. Let the Tories take the blame for the bad economy. And since Liberals don’t like sharing power with anyone, there’s no reason to share a government with the NDP or the Bloc that they can’t run themselves in a year’s time if the economy continues to deteriorate and the Tories take the hits. Why legitimize them when you don’t need to?

The problem is, the next time the Liberals want to throw their weight around like they did by proposing a new government with the Bloc and NDP, Harper may very well call their bluff. The Grits will have no partners to dance with.

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Rabbit RIP

John Updike died yesterday. There’s no shortage of fawning obits, but as it happens I was reading Florence King’s Reflections in a Jaundiced Eye yesterday, which includes this timely debunking inspired by her attempt to write about Updike for Lear’s magazine:

When Samuel Johnson was asked to comment on the plot of Cymbeline, he refused, saying, “It is impossible to criticize unresisting imbecility.”

I am at brain-death’s door. I can’t finish any of Updike’s books. I keep putting one down and going on to another, thinking it’ll be better, but it never is. His last one, Roger’s Version, is about a divinity professor and a computer expert who team up to prove the existence of God. Part of it is written in computerese and part in medieval Latin. The lit. crit. crowd called it “a novel of ideas.” How can they tell?

For the past month I’ve been hoping that Lear’s would self-destruct so I wouldn’t have to read John Updike. Last week while deep-frying softshell crabs I got the oil too hot and the pan ignited. It was a Freudian slip — I was trying to burn the house down so I wouldn’t have to read John Updike.

I’d rather be a human mine sweeper in the Strait of Hormuz than read John Updike. I’d rather run away and join the ladies auxiliary of the French Foreign Legion than read John Updike. Tell the Lear’s lady I’m dead — it’s more or less true.

There’s much more, so track down a copy of Reflections in a Jaundiced Eye.

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Culture11 Folds

The Bill Bennett/David Kuo/Joe Carter website is not long for this world, according to the Washington Independent. Too bad — any site that has John Schwenkler, Helen Rittelmeyer, and Tim Carney contributing regularly is doing several things right.

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Proof in the Punch

The Arabiya interview had some troubling aspects, an undercurrent of hardness running through the feel-good rhetoric, the mailed fist beneath the velvet glove — Justin Raimondo, Antiwar.com, in “The Mailed Fist and the Velvet Glove.”

Raimondo’s piece today puts words to those wary (weary?) feelings I experienced watching what is being hailed as Obama’s break-through interview with  Al-Arabiya  television  (the  original investors at the network’s 2003 debut hail from those freedom loving oil-rich Gulf states, including Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. It would have been more impressive if Obama had reached out to Al-Jazeera, Al-Arabiya’s rival and widely considered the first choice of “the Arab street,” but that’s another story.)

There is nothing wrong strategically with having a mailed fist under the velvet glove, but it’s helpful to know who might be on the receiving end. As Raimondo and others not undone by the vapors point out, Obama’s Muslim outreach came within days of the hellfire strikes that wiped out alleged insurgents and civilians in two Pakistani villages Friday. Just like Bush never left.

When Juan Cole — a liberal, self-described card-carrying Democratic professor of Middle East studies –  had the temerity to speak out about the strikes he found out fast that even liberals guzzling the newer, sweeter Kool-Aid get Hawaiian Punchy.  HPWhen he questioned in a thorough, altogether sober Salon.com article whether Pakistan might turn into “Obama’s Vietnam,” liberal talker Taylor Marsh accused him of hyperbole and of giving comfort to the enemy (Sean Hannity). As many on these and other conservative pages have already found out the hard way, the trip off the reservation can be a cruel and lonely journey. One of the few comforts is knowing that once Democrats start demanding the goose step they put their own demise into motion. Just ask the ghosts of Karl Rove and Newt Gingrich, who’s ego is still haunting but hardly impacting anything in Washington these days.

Obama made this point in his interview : his administration’s actions will speak louder than his words. And he spared everyone the gratuitous chant of freedom, liberty and democracy so abused by the former administration and wielded like a battleax by Madame Karen Hughes on her legendary listening tour through the Muslim World. Yes, actions are everything, and the sound of missiles and the cries of orphaned children will pierce through any message of R-E-S-P-E-C-T no matter how charming the messenger. It would seem that Obama is on the verge of telling us something important — how he is going to approach the quagmire that Afghanistan has become under the Bush Doctrine (Bush holdover Sec Def Gates gave some interesting hints yesterday) and whether he is really willing to change the American relationship with the Muslim world through policy and diplomacy and not just sunshiney talk. So far, his unwillingness to question possible warcrimes and the suffering in Gaza has not been lost on Arab opinionmakers. But we are listening. The proof will be in the punch, mailed fist and all.

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