Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Allow Me to Be the First to Say


Of course, there's a bit of bias in pointing this out. Rallies tend to happen over days or weeks, and thus are much less dramatic than the sense of doom created by sell-offs. I think the main point to take away from such events is that markets don't know jack about the future. If they did, big market-wide one-day moves wouldn't happen.

Update: Beat Atrios this time.

Monday, June 28, 2010

After Action Report

President Obama responded in an acceptable manner to McChrystal's inappropriate behavior by having him step down as leader of foreign forces in Afghanistan. I say "acceptable" because McChrystal deserved a more severe punishment. But I suspect Obama didn't want to offend too many people in the military, which would have happened if he had been harsher.

Replacing McChrystal with Petraeus was a savvy move on Obama's part. If counter-insurgency is the appropriate military strategy in Afghanistan, then selecting the general who knows the most about it was a no-brainer. Unfortunately, the strategy in Afghanistan is wrong, so choosing Petraeus won't make much of a difference in the outcome. The savvy part of the choice comes from Petraeus' credibility in official Washington, which means that Obama more-or-less pre-empted any Republican complaints about the change of command. They'll complain a bit anyway, but it won't get any traction in the mainstream press.

Unlike a few people (in comments around the web), I'm not disappointed that the change in command wasn't accompanied by an immediate change in policy. Such a massive course change would have looked desperate and ill-considered. Besides, if Obama is going to change his mind about the overall mission in Afghanistan, McChrystal's snit wasn't the kind of event that would prompt a re-evaluation. I don't know what would prompt a re-evaluation. But whatever it is, I hope Obama comes across it soon.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Ottawa's Shakedown

Those damn Canadians are trying to shake down the good ole' U.S. of A. Literally.

We should have expected Chicago-style thuggery from them.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Unfriendly Fire

This mind-boggling article in Rolling Stone is the hot topic of the day, for good reason. If it's accurate (it's a bit gossipy, so I regard it as accurate but not quite the full picture) then McChyrstal and his command really have lost their minds. One of the reasons America has lasted so long as a democracy is that the military has never developed the mentality that it is a source of authority separate from the elected government. This is not to say that individual generals haven't stuck their noses into the political arena at various times, just that it hasn't been done by the military as a whole. In order to remind the military of it's place, McChrystal needs to be beaten down. Hard.

It's one thing for the military to question the goals of an assignment given to it by the civilian government, though that needs to be done through the hierarchy. But it's entirely different when a military officer mocks elected officials and others civilians. It's simply not acceptable. Individual officers serve at the whim of the president, though that official should (and does) usually defer to the military's promotion system. The top generals are different, however, and Obama should not hesitate to remove McChrystal from responsibility for an ongoing conflict.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Looking at that Movement

Unsurprisingly, the security situation Afghanistan hasn't changed much since my previous post on the situation there.   Last fall, after a long period of (what appeared to be) serious consideration, Obama chose to escalate the conflict.  The decision did not translate into immediate troop movements, however. American forces have ramped up slowly, with the goal being to have all the troops in place for a summer offensive in Kandahar.  That action is taking place now.  But it has been re-branded as a ... well, I don't know what to call it now.  I think the Obama administration just doesn't want the word "offensive" floating about any more.  Nameless or not, it is taking place, and more people are dying.

Recovering economist Atrios likes to ask the question, "What are they doing there again?"  I have no idea what the DoD or White House thinks, but it seems pretty clear to me that the ultimate goal should be to keep al-Qaeda or any other international terrorist group from operating out of Afghanistan.  The strategy - which I believe wasn't articulated until some time after the invasion in late 2001 - has been to create a friendly, pro-Western democratic state.  A lot of the time, however, it seemed like creating a democracy was the goal.  Either way, I think it is fair to say that the strategy-cum-objective has failed.  After 104 months, the central government exercises full control over less than half of the country, and only does so with the backing of the U.S. military. Afghans have gone to the polls several times, but latest presidential election was marred by accusations of fraud, and in all likelihood, fraud.  The Kabul-based government, in addition to being unpopular, is also deeply corrupt.  That is a huge problem, because there are few things that hinder both democracy and economic development more than corruption.

So what now?  I think the goal should remain the same, but the strategy radically changed.  Instead of trying to defeat groups like the Taliban on the ground with US military forces, the US needs to reach an understanding with them.  The deal should include two conditions.  One should be that if a group allows al-Qaeda or something like it to operate in its territory, the US will come after the leaders of the group.  The other condition should be that a group will receive aid as long as it doesn't attempt to destabilize or conquer any other group.  In return, the US will GTFO.

To back up both the threat and the promise, the US will need to maintain at least one base in Afghanistan, probably in the north near Mazar-e-Sharif.  That base would support drones, training, and aid distribution.  The aid should be in the forms of both cash and stuff.  Stuff would be things like construction equipment, steel beams and rebar, transportation equipment, telecommunications equipment, water and sewage equipment, medical supplies, and so on.  Cash, naturally, will flow where it is least useful in the deeply corrupt country.  But it greases palms, so distributing some will have to be done.  Stuff is less mobile, and perhaps the Afghans will put it to good use.  Training would be limited to the national defense and police forces because ultimately, the US would still benefit from an a strong central government in Afghanistan.  But it should be up to the Afghans to go about creating it.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Talking Turkey

One of the most disturbing aspects of the Gaza flotilla disaster is how it has strained relations between America and Turkey.  It can’t be emphasized enough how extraordinarily dumb it would be for the US to antagonize Turkey. The country has a number of internal issues that I’m not exactly happy with, most notably the relationship between the Turkish majority (58 million) and the Kurdish minority (12 million). But it’s also a middle income country of 72 million people that has been trending in the right direction both economically and politically for the past two decades. And it has been a stalwart US ally for decades, so much so that the US has positioned nukes there and has two large bases.

I was never pleased how much the rhetoric of democracy and human rights was subsumed by realpolitik during the Cold War. But at least when it happened it made short-term sense. Now realpolitik is being subsumed by a bizarre mish-mash of tribalism, religion(s), campaign contributions, and arms sales. That makes no sense whatsoever. In the long-run, the US needs to have good relations with Turkey, Egypt (beyond the military), and Iran. They will be the regional powers in the future. But the US can’t, because for now it is enabling Israel’s immoral and self-destructive behavior.

Saturday, June 5, 2010