Sunday, September 26, 2004

In my WoPo class (new acronym coined by a student last year, i think i like it and am going to try it out for a while) last Thursday, one student asked "Why don't we just leave Iraq?" I thought this an important enough question that i engaged the class in a discussion of it for about 15 minutes instead of whatever else we were supposed to be talking about.

Its a very good question-- one that appears in key articles in both the NYT and Wash Post sunday sections. Both are very good and worth reading.

This is the key question-- what is "winning" in Iraq? When can we declare victory and just come home? Both articles above, and just about every non-Administration source, argues that there is no such thing as "winning" as Bush originally called for. a neo-American liberal democracy is just not going to arise in Iraq. Even the government's own intel agencies think that the status quo is the best case scenario for the near term future.

So, what is winning? Is it enough to keep at what we are doing? Should we hope for a neo-Saddam, a Musharaf-like strong-man who can keep the country together and friendly to US interests? Do we hope for a Bosnia-like slog of a reconstruction with prolonged occupation? Do we ramp up the war, OIF-2, to get rid of the insurgents? Or, do we bail and let the pieces of Iraq fall what may into what could possibly be another Lebanon?

Such is the dilemma of a foreign policy choice: No good options, you have to pick the least bad. Perhaps this is why Candidate Kerry is having such a hard time with what really is the central campaign issue-- its clear that the administration has significant problems, but he has yet to come up with a sinificantly better (sounding) plan. Perhaps that's because there isn't one.

What should we do?

(for those of you playing the home game, that is an open invitation for discussion.....)

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

For a slow evening, its a good IR-Movie night. First, I just bought the Star Wars DVDs-- must have movies if there ever was such a thing. Then, Star Trek the Undiscovered Country (i can't remember if its 5 or 6!) is on Spike tonight.
The Star Trek is the one where they make peace with the Klingons. Its essentially the end of the cold war movie. Really-- this movie has no resonance, no power, without the contemproaneous end of the cold war angst of what do you do when your enemy is no longer your enemy and you really don't know who your enemies (or your friends) are any more.
Star Wars, of course, is a classic, but it too is wrapped up in IR. Lucas was heavily influenced by World War II and WWII movies. The Empire and Stormtroopers are all modeled after Nazi Germany. The raid on the Death Star at the end of the original movie is lifted straight from a WWII flick the Dam Busters, which is based on a real story of Allied planes flying low and slow down a canyon to drop a bomb at exactly the right spot so that it would fall into a river and detonate at the base of a dam causing a chain reaction.......

So, this is where the extra credit assignment for my classes comes from. Movies and IR-- its great stuff.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Rock and roll-- I have a new computer and broadband access from home. I have joined the 21st century.
It is a happy new year (L'Shanah Tova to all).

Except, of course in Iraq.
What is very troubling is the reports out today about the government's most recent NIE. The National Intelligence Estimate is the Official Position of the US intelligence community, representing the best guess of the best analysts using the best available information. According to that estimate, the best case scenario for Iraq is continued violence--violence that is getting worse by the day. Already US forces have lost control of large swaths of Iraq-- the western portions as well as major cities such as Najaf and Falujah. And now, the official polition of the US intelligence community is that this is the best we can hope for in the short to medium term.

Is it still good to be so firmly committed to such a situation?

Monday, September 13, 2004

I have been thinking about this for the past few days, and both of my World Politics classes today served to reinforce my concern that not enough attention is being paid to what Grahm Allison called the top threat to the United States-- Nuclear Weapons. (I heard him on Diane Rheme last week, he called nuclear terror the number one threat and totally preventable).
In class today we were talking about Realism and Power Politics. The logical realist lesson is of course, if you want to play power politics with the USA, get your nuke first, and then stand up to the US.
So, it seems that the push to acquire nuclear weapons is accelerating faster and faster.
There was a huge explosion in North Korea the other day, and everyone though that it could be a nuclear test. It now appears not to, but the fact that this was the first speculation of Korea watchers shows how close to full-blown nuclear power North Korea already is.
Compounding this was South Korea's admission to producing a bit of fissile material.
Plus, Iran is moving forward with its own reactors.

Now, if it were just these states, it would be bad enough. But, of course, Al-Qaeda is seeking nuclear weapons. With more nukes out there, more nuclear states, and more nuclear weapons getting lost, is it only a matter of time?

(Oh, and if you think that lost nukes are just a Russian problem, check this out...)

So, how to approach this? John Kerry called the NYT this week to talk North Korea policy-- that call was made in this context. To allow North Korea to go nuclear, especially when we had an agreement in place that froze their nuclear program, is a significant policy failure.
But, what else can one do?
(I actually do have an opinion on this-- well more than just an opinion, an entire case study, but I'll see if there are any good comments before I lay that out... Or, you can guess what it is if you are enterprising and know my work a bit!)

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

I must be the last person on earth not to have high speed internet access at home. Having already tried to blog twice this weekend, only to be kicked off the internet by my testy modem, I have made the decision to go high speed. That should make life easier once its accomplished. I'm trying to look up an article from the Financial Times which I read on the Metro today (someone left a paper, i recycled it) and its seriously taking 20 minutes for the FT page to load......

I am still fascinated by the fallout from the School Hostage situation in Russia. There was a huge (though not that huge says the FT) march in red square to protest terrorism. (The article I wanted to link to-- giving some great history on this is a subscription one and I don't subscribe!) Putin has admitted his government's failings, but at the same time, there doesn't seem to be much he or anyone could have done to stop the particulars of this instance. It was a planned and executed mission to hold hundreds of children hostage. Now, David Brooks says that we should call it what it is, mass murder by those taken with the "cult of death." Its an interesting argument, and potentially has its merits. If you push his point, you end up in a very Bush-like stance against all the evils of terrorism everywhere. Who knows-- maybe Russia will sign up for the coalition of the willing!

But, what bothers me about it is its a-historical nature. This is why the missing FT article was so good-- it trace Russia's troubles in the Caucuses. Yeltsin fought this war, reached a truce, and installed a weak and ultimately failing government. Putin re-launched the war and it has been far from a success. Point being, though this particular plot had a horrible and tragic end, its beginings lie deep within the mess that Russia and the Chechens have created. The point is not to blame Putin for this incident, but rather to say that things like these don't come from nowhere. (for anyone is my 206 class this semester-- this is Steve Smith's very point). It all comes from somewhere. The question is-- where, and what did you, or me, or Bush or Putin or anyone else for that matter do to about it?

Saturday, September 04, 2004

Its a good day, Ohio State put it together and beat Cincinnati 27-6. The Buckeyes were a bit shakey at first and had a few turnovers, but Zwick and the recievers look good. Now, if Ross can actually hit holes like that all season, he might finally be a good runningback. ESPN Game Plan is the coolest thing in the world!!!!

So, since it seems like no one else is reading this, i think I will depart from a foreign affairs discussion and comment on US politics for a change.

Well, not a total departure-- I will type one thing about the school hostage situation in Russia. I think that the way the Russian government handled the whole situation was not good. They were secretive about what was going on, kept people in the dark, under-reported the number of hostages, and seemed to have an ad-hoc military response (though it will be a while before we really who know who shot first and who reacted unexpectedly). Still, (and this applies to the US as much as Russia), I don't think you can effectively fight terrorism when you are not 100% honest with your own people. Terrorism is a tactic that ultimately depends on shock, horror, outrage, and legitimacy to work---legtimacy from some band of supporters and, more importantly, the crumbling of legitimacy from those attacked. When Putin's Russia responds as it did, it undermines its own legitimacy and undermines its ability to fight terror. Any effective strategy in a struggle against terrorists depends on open, clear, honest government response. Even when the government screws up, an open and honest government can avoid the recriminations that detract from an effective strategy.

Ok, so now my American Politics thing. I think that this election is really improtant-- but not for the reason that most say. While we can and should discuss the importance of who is in the oval office for the next 4 years (can you imagine how different it would have been with a President Gore facing Sept 11? How much would be the same, how much would be different?), I think the real high stakes are for the parties. I really think that we have the final stages of a political realignment going on, one that started in 92 or 94 and one that might solidify soon. I think that its the losing party that will go through it first, and the winner will be able to paper over things for a while.

Now, I could be way off base here, but I really see the two wings of the Republican Party tugging at odds with each other. Its the William Weld - Arlen Spector - Susan Collins wing vs. the Tom Delay - Orrin Hatch - Rick Santorum wing. A presidential victory can keep them together, but if they lose, I can see many "moderates" leaving the party as it moves farther to the right.
Same with the Democrats. If they lose, there is going to be some real divisions, as some call for a move to the Dean - Kennedy side and others want to be more like Lieberman. It will be interesting to see what happens.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

I have decided that the Daily Show is the best convention coverage. Its so funny, and yet, its so true, which is sad, and funny and true.

I am surprised that a bigger deal is not being made over Bush's recent admission that he probably can't win the war on terror. The great irony here is that its probably the most thoughtful thing about the war that he has said to date, but its totally at odds with his campaign strategy. This is a different type of war-- there is no formal "enemy," there are a bunch of loosely aligned threats, each acting in its own way. There will be no surrenders, no treaties, no victory parades. It will probably be hard to even know when the war is over.

Politically, this statement drew flack from Kerry (as it should have) and of course Bush immediately corrected himself (as he needed to do). If Kerry had a sense of humor, he might go after Bush for a major "flip-flop" of his own (we win, we can't win, there are still 2 months until the election for the president to change his mind again....).

But, analytically, this whole argument was dropped-- it was reduced to politics. Yet, this is precisely the discussion we ought to be having--how do we understand this new war, what does it mean to "win" and what, exactly, is a "win" ? That there will be no "victory" is something we should all be prepared to deal with. Sure, we could somehow manage to catch Bin Laden (in October if you are a cynic), but that wouldn't end the terrorist threat. Yet, I surmise that people would think that it would. That's not the type of war this is.....

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