Wednesday, January 31, 2007

As Seen on TV

Boy do I wish I could get this on satellite....
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Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Guardian on Iraq

Another quick bit... I'mn probably the last to know, but the Guardian has quite good reporting coming out of the midst of the sectarian violence in Baghdad, by Ghaith Abdul-Ahad. This offers fascinating insights in to the complex relationship between moderate Sunni militants and the American military, including the thorny issue of the Iraqi Interior Ministry. Well worth a few minute's read.
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Looks like Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is in a bit of trouble. A slight majority of MPs have signed a letter condemning his economic policies, and the Supreme Leader (the country's de facto leader) has apparenty made a habit of refusing to meet him. There's even talk of an impeachment. Funny how these things come around.
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Friday, January 12, 2007

War and the Social Sciences

Another interesting New Yorker thing here. It concerns a number of people, particularly an Australian officer and academic named Kilcullen, who have been pressing the Pentagon to make greater use of the social sciences in determining policy, specifically in dealing with counterinsurgency efforts in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere.

The project, speaking broadly, is to localise counterinsurgency efforts, making them more culturally sensitive, more efficient, and more geared to local politics and concerns. The idea is that Islamic militancy (and other problems like it) tends to be rooted and manifested locally, and that any good attempt to address them should be local as well.

The ethical concerns presented are simple enough, and are emblematic of the problems that generally face engaged intellectuals. On the one hand, trying to do change US policy in these sorts of places means signing on to the disastrous US grand strategy of the moment. On the other hand, signing on to big mistakes might make it easier to turn them into smaller ones. As one academic interviewed points out, the alternative is to “sit back and watch these mistakes happen over and over as people get killed, and do nothing.”

In any event, the effort doesn’t seem to be getting very far. Funding and staffing for an interdepartmental office dedicated to the project seems to have been limited, and American actions over the last week or so don’t seem much in tune with it. Air strikes in Somalia, air strikes and running battles in the streets of suburban Baghdad, and a five-digit troupe increase in Iraq do not suggest cultural sensitivity.

That said, ethical issues or no, these folks make a pretty good case, and are probably right in large part. If one is going to do what the Bush Administration insists upon, one might as well do it efficiently, carefully, effectively, right in short. That this opportunity will probably be missed represents one more tragedy in the current situation, the sort of footnote that makes it seem all the more unnecessary. In a few decades, the story of its failure may well be grimly fascinating.

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Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Saddam Hussein

The New Yorker has a nice editorial on Saddam Hussein’s execution, which I’ve been meaning to write on for some days now.

Quite the hash they’ve made of it, by all appearances. The Bush administration has apparently expressed displeasure at the heckling the former dictator received at the time of his death. I suppose this is reasonable enough. The jeering and so on were certainly inhumane—but then, so is hanging. It seems to me a poor response to the man’s truly abominable time in power to answer it in kind.

From what I gather, the American government attempted to have the execution delayed. The Iraqi prime minister of the moment apparently declined, out of fear that he could become a symbol of resistance if still alive (a martyr being evidently preferable). It is testimony to have far things have gone that he seems genuinely to have feared that the former president could go free, something that would probably have been unthinkable even a year or two ago.

But then, with running battles underway in Baghdad, and the Americans calling in air strikes on a city they putatively occupy, this is probably the least of anyone’s concerns. The former leader has written himself neatly, if appallingly, into his country’s history. The currently leaders have quite a long way to go, if they want to be anything more than footnotes to a disaster.

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