Posted on 02-10-2010
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

Just when you thought that week 1 of this blog resuming posting could go by without a shout out to our favorite American “allies,” this week has has been full of delightful news in the region.

  • Our venal, incompetent ally in the presidential palace in Kabul may be suffering a nervous breakdown, but we are stuck with him.
  • Our venal, incompetent (though well meaning) ally in the presidential palace in Islamabad could be forced out of office in a shadow coup.
  • Pakistan is seething about drone attacks that NATO is now aggressively carrying out on their side of the border for the logical reason that the terrorists are located there.  The problem is that the drones have tendency to kill Pakistani civilians and soldiers.
  • As a result, American supply lines to Afghanistan are threatened by attacks on NATO convoys and by Pakistan blocking them.
  • The overhyped Pakistani offensive in the tribal areas still has not worked (as evidenced by the stoning to death of a woman by the Taliban for being seen with a man).
  • But Pakistan’s leaders are still focused on the drones crossing the border rather than fighting the Taliban in its North Waziristan stronghold.  Their elite in denial try to pretend that they are somehow being sucked into America’s war – even though Pakistan midwifed the Taliban and by sponsoring Al-Qaeda’s ideological allies as proxies against India was the training ground for terror.  This (and the recent discovery of a terror plot in Europe by men of Pakistani origin) got them a dressing down from CIA director Leon Panetta.
  • And last but most importantly, the Afghan army will not be ready in time for the withdrawal of American troops.

I understand the political imperative that forced the Afghan surge, but it has not worked in the face of bumbling civilian allies and duplicitous military ones (as shown by the Wikileaks documents this summer).  The question remains whether the administration will have the courage to cut its losses and focus on a smarter war against Al Qaeda, rather than squandering blood and treasure in the Land of Bones.

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Posted on 28-09-2010
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

A bunch of uninhabited islands in the East China Sea seem unlikely candidates for a diplomatic showdown between China and Japan.  But the combustible mix of oil and natural gas reserves and aggressive nationalism egged on by Beijing to hide the regime’s ideological bankruptcy gives you a diplomatic explosion.  It also causes sleepless nights in Washington and other capitals concerned with managing the rise of China.  While this current spat seems to have been resolved, China’s aggressive adoption of imperial hauteur is ringing alarm bells across the Pacific Rim.

This blog has (before its unexpectedly long summer hiatus) noted China’s tensions with India.  China has also made (sometimes tenuous) claims to a bunch of islands in the South China Sea (which contain oil reserves) leading to tensions with Vietnam and other ASEAN countries.  This summer it essentially claimed exclusive rights to the Yellow Sea by objecting to a joint US-South Korean naval exercise aimed at North Korea.  Seoul is already peeved with China giving the rogue regime in Pyongyang diplomatic cover.  The recent saber rattling adds to the general alarm.

The last 20 years have seen the spectacular rise of China, largely by avoiding the type of spats that epitomized its foreign policy in the 60s and 70s.  But the result of its abandonment of Deng’s cautious foreign policy has been to force the Asian countries into Uncle Sam’s far more benign embrace.  So while China asks outsiders (i.e. Washington) not to meddle and tries to take down the Asian minnows one by one, America is reengaging in a region it had ignored amidst the distractions of Iraq and Afghanistan and so far has ignored Beijing’s bluster.  With North Korea in the midst of another dynastic succession and behaving more erratically than ever it is about time.

The effects of China’s policy also highlight the lack of wisdom in the muscular unilateral foreign policy that the neo-cons advocated during George Bush’s first term.  A great power that throws its weight around on every single issue soon finds that it is left with few friends.  While Beijing has cultivated clients among the world’s rogue gallery, it finds itself with very few friends in its backyard (other than the millstones North Korea and Pakistan).

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Posted on 09-04-2010
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

The United States and Russia signed a new treaty designed to slash nuclear warheads of each country by 30%.  See link.   This leaves  each with about 1,550 warheads, more than enough to create nuclear Armageddon many times over and each will still have more nuclear warheads than those of all the other nuclear powers combined.  This will ratchet up the pressure on other nuclear powers to trim their own stockpiles, which are not cheap to maintain in any case.

The treaty also explicitly gives the countries a free hand with violators of the NPT (Iran and North Korea).  The most controversial part of the treaty is a commitment not to threaten non-nuclear states in compliance with the NPT with with nuclear strikes even in response to chemical and biological attacks.  However, there remains sufficient wiggle room as the treaty does not specify who defines compliance with the NPT and provides the United States the ability to modify its commitment as the chemical and biological threat evolves.  See link.   The biggest importance in the treaty is likely a reduction in the chill in United States and Russian relations over the last couple of years.  See here.

The bellicose John Bolton has not surprisingly already starting barking disapproval on the odd grounds of sovereignty (See here) but one hopes that the party of no (whose support will be needed for ratification) understands the limited scope of the deal.  See here.

It does not help that Fox “News” in its inimitable fashion started characterizing the treaty (and some legitimate concerns) like this:

Former half-term governor Sarah Palin and Mr. 9/11 have started singing praises of Ronald Reagan in marking their opposition to the treaty (ignoring the fact that Reagan signed a similar treaty for a 30% reduction of the nuclear stockpile during the Cold War and (like Obama) set a Utopian goal of a nuclear weapons free world…but why let facts interfere with the random invocation of the GOP’s Reagan mythos).  It brought on the unusually sharp slap down below by the President on the “policy wonk” Palin:

This does raise the question whether the fairly pragmatic Reagan who was not averse to raising taxes if needed or was willing to (gasp) negotiate with the Evil Empire and thru back channels with Iran would have any place in today’s Republican party.  The mythology of the man grew in comparison with George Herbert Walker Bush and when the Republicans lost the White House to Bill Clinton and is now quoted as gospel by empty suits like Giuliani or Palin with little regard for whether their invocation comports to reality.  In today’s radicalized GOP rump, it is not impossible to think that Reagan would run the risk of being labeled a RINO (Republican in Name Only).  It is hard to see how Nixon with his far more moderate social stances and much greater willingness to have the government interfere in the economy would not earn the derisive label.

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Posted on 24-03-2010
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

Pakistan’s foreign minister visited the United States this week.  On deck were a discussion for aid to Pakistan, a civilian nuclear deal similar to what India was granted in the Bush administration and a familiar litany of complaints on Indian intransigence on bilateral talks.  The timing seems propitious as Pakistan is still basking in the warm afterglow of approval for finally moving against its erstwhile Taliban proxies.  Some of the sheen on that accomplishment has started to wane, with Hamid Karzai angrily complaining that Pakistan had disrupted ongoing talks and with intelligence communities still suspicious of Pakistan’s motives.  See here.  Yet, it may be some time before Pakistan gets as favorable a reception in Washington.

However, apart from some more money Pakistan is unlikely to get much of its wish list.   See link.  Since independence Pakistan has aggressively sought diplomatic parity with India.  However, the economic, military and geopolitical gulf between the two countries has widened in the last 20 years.  It is a bitter pill that the Pakistani establishment has not come to terms with.

There was a lot of Congressional resistance for the nuclear deal with India.  A similar deal for a country whose nuclear scientists sold nuclear technology to Libya and North Korea will be dead on arrival.  The thin-skinned Indian response to the prospect does not seem needed.  See link.

The litany of complaints against India is not likely to go too far either.  For the last 30 years Pakistan has agressively sought to internationalize its dispute with India and India has stubbornly pointed to the 1972 Simla Accord as the bench mark for bilateral negotiations.  Foreign diplomats like Robin Raphael or David Miliband who hinted at third party facilitation of negotiations drew a sharp Indian response.  See here.  That is unlikely to change in the near future, particularly with Indian sensibilities sore after the plea bargain by (and the promise not to extradite) David Headley.  See here.

Pakistan’s security establishment seems still stuck in the 1980s when its allies in Congress would issue annual anti-India resolutions and India would have to go all out to stop them.  By the mid 1990s, Pakistan’s staunchest ally Dan Burton could not even get a sufficient number of co-signers for his resolutions to proceed.  The best Pakistan can hope for on the subject are bland statements calling for dialogue.  See link.

As noted in a previous blog the talks are meaningless so long as Pakistan’s terror support infrastructure remains in place.  See link.  From India’s perspective there is no point coming to the table to discuss disputes while Pakistan treats terrorism as a bargaining chip.  For all of Pakistan’s bluster of similar Indian activities in Baluchistan, precious little evidence has been made public.  Unlike Kashmir, Baluchistan does not lie along the India-Pakistan border making it hard logistically for India to provide much meaningful support to Baluch separatists.

On the flip side it is time for India (and its media) to recognize India’s rising maturity as a global player not hyperventilate on perceived slights every time the Obama administration dangles Pakistan a carrot.  American policy makers in both parties are only too aware of the greater desirability of India as a strategic ally.  However, the realities on the ground in Afghanistan force the United States to make some concessions to Pakistan.  It is the only strategic card Pakistan has at present and it is hardly surprising that it will be played as often as possible.  With low global tolerance of terrorism as a tool of foreign policy, Pakistan’s diplomatic options are limited.

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It often comes down to what gets through the filter of the American media. To be fair, the United States is hardly unique in this.  Few countries engage in serious introspection about their actions.  However, there often seems to be a major disconnect between American self-image and the image as seen abroad.

To some extent it is understandable.  Self-criticism is too hard to take and certain groups can often go too overboard on the critiques of America without acknowledging the good.  But too often the American media goes to the other extreme by embracing the Pollyannaish version of American exceptionalism (like the ridiculous George W. Bush assertion “they hate us for our freedoms“) in which all American foreign policy actions are undertaken for noble reasons.  As many Latin Americans would tell you, that has unfortunately not always been the case.

A column by Juan Cole brought this issue up for me recently.  The column deals with the continuing human catastrophe in Gaza.  Israel’s apologists in the United States often attribute any criticism of Israel to an undercurrent of anti-semitism and are only too willing to grant it unquestioned support.  However, it is stories like the one linked above that have undercut the sympathy Israel attracts (including among some progressives in the United States) in many parts of the world.

Israel is no longer the plucky underdog of the Six Days War or the Yom Kippur War threatened by seemingly overwhelming odds.  While the threat to Israel is real, the armies of its Arab neighbors have atrophied since the fall of the Soviet Union.  Meanwhile the Israeli army built up with a steady diet of American aid is the 800 lb gorilla in the Middle East.  Add to that the (not publicly acknowledged, but understood) second strike nuclear capability delivered to Israel by the United States and Israel has the ability to pulverize any of its neighbors (as Lebanon and the Gaza strip found out in the last two years).

However, with great power comes great responsibility.  American media coverage generally fails  to acknowledge this change in status for Israel or the extremely disproportionate number of Palestinian casualties in the last decade.  American media has also not really delved into the details of the collective punishment inflicted on Gaza in the past year.  When the destruction is covered, it is generally framed solely in the context of a response to terrorist attacks with little discussion of whether a hammer is being used to swat a fly.  As a result, the United States remains one of the few countries where public opinion and elected officials generally uncritically support Israel.

In contrast, the rest of the world’s media has covered this issue extensively.  So now a furious and sometimes bewildered Israel finds much of world opinion treating it as a bully for actions it feels are justified self-defense.  Israel is also painfully learning the lesson the United States learned in Vietnam.  Civilian suffering transmitted to the living rooms makes for awful public relations for a democracy, unless of course the media chooses not to cover it.  It is unfair, but countries are generally held to higher standards than terrorist groups.

A critique I have had for the Cheneyian vision of the world is that it often seeks to lower American actions to the standards of the thugs they oppose while encouraging charges of hypocrisy by maintaining the high minded rhetoric that plays so well domestically.  Israel does have a point that it should not have to take too many pious bromides from human rights “paragons” Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iran, etc. who are only too willing to use the Palestinians as props while doing nothing to ameliorate their lot.  However, the question does arise whether Israel really wants to lump itself on the issue of human rights with these countries?

Juan Cole’s column also brought about a sense of deja vu.  The stories about Gaza sound distressingly similar to the stories about the sufferings of Iraqi civilians during the sanctions in the 1990s.  These stories were circulated by human rights groups, dismissed by the Clinton and Bush administrations as solely Saddam Hussein’s fault and were largely ignored by the media.  While nobody should discount Saddam’s brutality, hiding behind indifference of a tyrant to the suffering of his people is an odd way to absolve yourself of any responsibility.  And ultimately all that suffering made not a whit of difference to toppling his regime.  As the Iranian people are finding out and as the Chinese found in 1989, public outrage by itself cannot topple men with the guns who have no qualms about shedding blood.  It is also very easy, as in the case of Iraq, for governments used to manipulating public opinion to transfer the blame to the people implementing the sanctions.

The result is a propaganda coup for the regime (another example would be Castro’s dictatorship in Cuba that blames the yanquis for the failures of its socialist revolution) and a recruiting boon for fanatics like Al Qaeda who tap into the resentment caused by the suffering that is transmitted into living rooms across the Middle East.

However, as little of this is transmitted to American living rooms the perspective of the American public is shaped very differently than the rest of the world.

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Posted on 02-12-2009
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

Barack Obama’s speech yesterday threw no surprises. (Transcript here).   More troops are headed to Afghanistan (see previous post here) which has caused heartburn on the left.  There are assurances that this is not an indefinite mission and troops are supposed to start coming back by 2011 which has caused conniptions on the right.  There have been the expected harrumphs about fighting corruption and getting the Afghans ready to step up when the Americans leave (original post on Afghanistan from this blog here).

What is unclear whether this is feasible.  If the Afghan army is still a figment of imagination (previous post here) and the Karzai government remains as incompetent (both very likely scenarios) will the United States really start withdrawing to the chorus from Republicans that Obama “lost” Afghanistan?  Hopefully the answer is yes, because the prospect of an American withdrawal may be the only way to jolt the Afghan government to action.

What happens if the Taliban withdraws to its safe havens in Quetta?  Will Pakistan, which only reluctantly turned its guns on its homegrown Taliban, start another fight inside its western border in a province (Baluchistan) already brimming  on the verge of open rebellion?

What about the various NATO allies who have started withdrawing their troops?  Obama’s address noted that Al Qaeda’s attacks had targeted them as well.  Will that be sufficient to overcome the war weariness in those countries? Germany’s top general and deputy defense minister were forced to resign last week over a botched air strike and there are calls for a German withdrawal by 2011.

A successful solution is not entirely in American hands and relies a great deal on lady luck (and on wobbly Pakistan doing its bit).  Obama’s speech was a sober and realistic appraisal of the situation on the ground, but perhaps too optimistic (as such speeches always are) about success in the future (See Juan Cole’s take here).  The “success” of the Iraqi surge may have raised hopes of similar success in Afghanistan, but these are two entirely different societies with very different problems.  The future in Afghanistan remains murky.

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Posted on 26-10-2009
Filed Under (Environment) by Rashtrakut

How to deal with emerging economies has been a huge stumbling block in climate change negotiations.  The Kyoto treaty foundered in the United States because it did not place requirements on India and China.  India and China point out that their per capita pollution is a fraction of western countries and they would need assistance in terms of technology transfer.  This position has been cynically exploited by resource rich countries like Saudi Arabia.  However, faced with the impact of global warming the Indian environmental minister is internally lobbing around a proposal to kick start negotiations.  However, as the article suggests that none of this will work without American leadership.  And American leadership is imperiled by climate change deniers (See a slideshow of some of the most vocal deniers) many of whom who control the ideology of its opposition party and a national chamber of commerce too short sighted to explore the opportunities that a clean energy policy could provide.

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Posted on 24-10-2009
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

Update on a post earlier in the month when Turkey and Armenia signed their historic accord.  Turkey’s domestic cousin Azerbaijan has tossed the first (and expected) roadblock in the attempted rapprochement.  Like with most regional disputes the final normalization of ties is going to require a regional settlement and a lot of patience.  The benefits to the region and the world’s (particularly Europe’s) energy supply are great.  An added benefit will be the diversification of energy supplies so that Europe does not have to rely as much on Russia’s mercurial mood swings the next time they want to send a message to Ukraine  or another country that displeases it.

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Posted on 22-10-2009
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

Since World War II the British and American governments have harped on the special relationship between the “mother country” and the first of its children to leave. An interesting read from last week’s Christian Science Monitor on how special public opinion in the United Kingdom finds the relationship.  It is not surprising that the British could resent the country that replaced it as the global behemoth.  The loss of empire after World War II, the economic malaise and then the jarring realization during the Suez Crisis that it could not operate a foreign policy in opposition to the United States are bound to hurt the self esteem of a country that thought the sun would never set on it empire (notwithstanding the prestige of an undeserved permanent spot on the Security Council with fellow second tier power France).

Even though it is still about the 7th largest economy in the world the United Kingdom still tries to punch above its weight with the 4th largest defense expenditures in the world  (just below China almost twice as much as India without anywhere near the same security threats).  The history of colonial rule and the aggressive attempts to remain relevant still keep the United Kingdom as a possible bogeyman for tyrants from Iran to Zimbabwe.  At other times it can cause embarrassments, like the spats with India in the past decade from clumsy attempts to interfere in the Kashmir dispute.  See here and here.

It is difficult for a major power to adjust to a diminished status through slow decline.   The declines of previous major powers whether abrupt like Sweden, Germany and Imperial Japan or over a longer period like Spain, Austria-Hungary. Ottoman Turkey and Manchu China received a major assist from military defeats.  The British case is unusual in that it fought and won two world wars only to find itself exhausted and surpassed by its erstwhile allies and then its former foes.  The absence of that defining defeat probably made it harder to accept a diminished world standing.  Not that defeat can always bring such objectivity.  France is still overcompensating for the triple  debacles of World War II, Algeria and the Indo-China war culminating in the decisive defeat at Dien Bien Phu.  But however annoying the Gallic Rooster can be to Americans, French self esteem has not suffered from a policy of supine abasement that the “special relationship” entails.  When was the last time a French leader was called the poodle of any foreign power (even if the string of French military debacles since 1870 have prompted other phrases)?

So Britain frets that the torture and arrest of Barack Obama’s grandfather and father when Kenya was a British colony may cause him to resent it.  A purported snub of the Prime Minister causes national hyperventilation. Why is the United Kingdom so keen for marks of favor from the occupant of the White House?  Who cares?  Its time British politicians publicly discussed whether the “special relationship” is worth the cost in national self esteem and human life.  With its wealth, the United Kingdom will not be entirely unimportant.  But by cutting loose some of its ties to the memories of past grandeur and operating within its means, it may be a happier one.

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Posted on 22-10-2009
Filed Under (Environment) by Rashtrakut

Or rather the radioactive rabbit poop…I kid not.

Visit msnbc.com for Breaking News, World News, and News about the Economy

On a serious note, the United States still has to figure out what to do with its nuclear waste now that the Yucca repository fell prey to NIMBYism.  Reprocessing the fuel like the French do could be an option, or at least worth further review.

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Posted on 22-10-2009
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

A truly horrendous fact pattern in the attached link.  Woman gets raped.  Takes anti-HIV drugs as a precaution.  Because of exercising common sense in protecting herself she is now uninsurable.  This on the heels of examples that could constitute uninsurable preexisting conditions in some states like spousal abuse, being a firefighter or having acne, getting pregnant. getting pregnant again after a previous caesarian birth, etc.

Health insurers do have a point in that without a strong mandate to buy insurance, people with pre-existing conditions will only obtain insurance when they need medical care.  But they do not address two issues. What do the people in some of the cases who were not engaging in moral hazard do?  And if private insurance companies are not willing to accept people with pre-existing conditions how do such people afford health care?  If you are 65 the answer is simple.  Get on Medicare.  What happens to the rest of America?

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With millions of votes from the ham-handed rigging of an election Hamid Karzai would have likely won being tossed out, a runoff in Afghanistan appears increasingly likely. After displaying some intransigence pressure from the Obama administration appears to have forced Mr. Karzai to back down, for now. See this link for a great article by Renard Sexton on the recount and its implications on a fair election, if one were possible. The rigging in the Afghan election has made the logistics of a runoff harder and a Zimbabwe of Kenya style compromise may be needed (though those have not worked well).

Regardless of the next step, its time to have a heart to heart with Mr. Karzai. Even with his incompetence and corruption, the Afghan people do not appear to want the Taliban back, for now. But a failure to provide security could cause the Pashtun majority to remember the relative peace in the brutal Taliban regime with nostalgia. If America is supposed to keep fighting in what is now an Afghan civil war, it needs a partner on the ground whose administration put added obstacles in its way. Just as Pakistan is not getting a free ride, neither can the corrupt Karzai government. With the patience of American public opinion running out, America may be better off cutting bait. If Hamid Karzai and his backers do not want this to happen, they need to shape up. Even if some of the problems are caused by Hamid Karzai’s weaknesses, he cannot turn a blind eye to the corruption in his inner circle and family any more. The fate of Moussa Arafat should warn them of the fate of corrupt, nepotistic cronies when their protector moves on.

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The “Main Stream Media” has disapprovingly noted the Obama administration calling out Fox News as the media arm of the Republican party.  See here, here, here, here and here.  Not unexpectedly Fox News howled in outrage and liberal blogs cheerfully detailed the hypocrisy of Fox’s complaints when it cheered on the Bush administration calling out NBC News and MSNBC.  Very few media members noted that the underlying charge that Fox News is “opinion journalism masquerading as news” is essentially true.

A couple of good reads from the Economist’s Democracy in America blog today comparing Fox News to what is happening in Russia, Italy and Thailand, and Slate’s Jonathan Weisberg noting that the Fox response to the administration shows the inherent bias in its coverage.

I agree with the final point in both articles.  Cable “news” is now unwatchable.  Opinion shows dominate the peak hours and off-peak hours are filled with a bunch of documentary shows.  Even CNN Headline News which a decade ago provided 24 News coverage is now filled with shows that masquerade as news.  The Internet would be a refuge for finding news, but alas even the AP has decided to muddy its role as a wire service by falling for the opinion journalism lure.

More than ever, developing a filter to separate the wheat of news from the chaff of opinion is essential.  Paraphrasing the legal principle of caveat emptor, let the  unwary news reader beware.

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I will let these two articles speak for themselves.  First is the column by two Republican Party county chairmen in South Carolina.  Next is an editorial by the Palmetto scoop.  One would think that after a year of racial gaffes by Southern Republicans a memo about using ethnic stereotypes would have been circulated by now.  Evidently not.  One hopes that the inevitable apology will be a genuine one, instead of the meaningless “If I offended someone, I am sorry” that public figures seem to think constitutes an apology.

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Posted on 17-10-2009
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

As noted before the neo-cons have been urging military action against Iran.  The fact that a ground invasion is impractical without a neighboring country willing to allow the United States to use it as a staging area, the exhausted United States army has no troops for an invasion and subsequent occupation, allowing Israel to bomb the Iranian nuclear sites is unlikely to have much practical effect and any bombing campaign would force the Iranian public that hates the regime to rally around the flag are mere technicalities to be dismissed in their fantasy world.

Now the man George W. Bush insisted on appointing as ambassador to the United Nations has revealed that there is no limit to his bombing fetish.  Earlier this week Bolton raised the possibility that the only solution may be for Israel to preemptively nuke Iran.

By all accounts Iran is still some distance from actually getting the Bomb.  Even if it gets the ability it is unclear whether Iran wants the expense of keeping an active arsenal or getting a quick trigger ability like Japan.  Even if Iran did get the Bomb it is not a given that a nuclear strike on Israel will follow.  Regardless of the focus on the theocratic aspects of the regime and the rewards in the afterlife, the Iranian regime has displayed time and again that its primary motive is survival.  Israel’s second strike ability and Washington’s nuclear shield guarantees the annihilation of Iran should it strike with nuclear weapons.

Even Saddam Hussein in 1991 held back from using chemical weapons in his Scud strikes against Israel, knowing that the result would be annihilation.  An Israeli nuclear strike against a nation without nuclear weapons would be sheer insanity.  I agree with Daniel Luban, that this rhetorical escalation is intended to shift the contours of the debate further to the right.  But the lack of rational boundaries for Bolton’s warmongering raises the question why exactly George W. Bush thought this man could be a diplomat.

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Posted on 14-10-2009
Filed Under (Current Affairs, Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

Hamid Karzai’s Teflon cover in American opinions sheets is drawing to an end.  A year after now Vice President Biden famously walked out of a dinner where Karzai denied that his government was corrupt, Tom Friedman now joins the chorus.  This follows a detailed New York Times article this summer on Karzai detailing his descent into haplessness and paranoia.  Vietnam analogies are always problematic, but Washington now faces a repeat of trying to bolster a corrupt, faction ridden ally against a more ideologically cohesive foe.  The long term answer to Washington’s draw down in Afghanistan, short of abandoning the place, relies on an Afghan partner whose army takes the lead in fighting the Taliban.  That and not the surge enabled Washington’s drawdown in Iraq…absent that the United States is stuck in the Afghan quagmire.

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