Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Quotes From Around The Blogosphere

[W]e didn't invade Iraq to provide stability, but to force change. Likewise in Afghanistan. And once we were there, we didn't aim for stability, but to encourage democracy, which (the thought is not original with me) in a region like the Middle East generally undermines stability. I mean, if all we wanted was stability, why not find a strongman and leave?
What we really are doing in Iraq and Afghanistan, I think, is instability operations. I don't think the U.S. military really has ever been comfortable with that mission, which was one reason we saw a lot of friction early on between the Bremer team trying to bring change and the Sanchez team simply trying to keep a lid on things. Personally, I think the mission of changing the culture of Iraq was nuts -- but that was the mission the president assigned the military. Remember the GOP's ongoing bid to paint Obama as a captive of the left? It's tough to reconcile that caricature with the fact that the highest praise for Obama's Afghanistan announcement is being voiced by the likes of William Kristol, Robert Kagan, and Max Boot - all prominent neoconservatives. Suppose that a government can have any two of the following things, but not all three: globalisation, in the sense of openness to international flows of goods, services, capital and labour; social stability; and a small state. Or, to put it differently, conservatives can pick any two from an open economy, a stable society and political power – but not all three. There is a split in the country that is very much like the difference between supporters of rollback and containment during the Cold War, but unlike in the Cold War the advocates of containment seem to be a small minority. Even though containment was the wiser, superior policy during the Cold War, it has somehow lost its appeal. During the first two decades of the Cold War advocates of rollback considered it insufficiently “robust” (to use a word that ideological fantasists like to throw around a lot) and not nearly aggressive enough, and current partisans of the Long War concept seem intent on not making the “mistake” of opting for containment, which is to say that they are intent on embarking on fool’s errands.

The Long War is, as [Andrew] Bacevich says in The Limits of Power, “both self-defeating and irrational.” If we wish to secure our country and to get our economic and fiscal houses in order, one thing we have to do is start by scrapping the Long War concept and focusing on national security strategy that has limited, achievable objectives.


Pressure on President Obama to recast the failed American approach to Israel-Palestine is building from former senior officials whose counsel he respects.

. . . Deploring "seven years of absenteeism" under the Bush administration, they call for intense American mediation in pursuit of a two-state solution, "a more pragmatic approach toward Hamas," and eventual U.S. leadership of a multinational force to police transitional security between Israel and Palestine.


Obama's moment of truth will come if Iran doesn't, ultimately, want to play. Will the "demons" rot away his policy judgment? Will he exaggerate Iran's power, as the Israelis and neoconservatives routinely do, turning a relatively modest regional player into an existential threat -- mad mullahs ready to blow up the world? Will he allow Republicans to force him into a tough-guy pose for domestic consumption? Will he suffer the delusion that U.S., or Israeli, power can "take out" the Iranian nuclear program without disastrous retribution?
Barack Obama's most underrated talent is his ability to get his enemies to self-destruct. It takes a lot less energy than defeating them directly, and helps maintain Obama's largely false patina of apolitical niceness.

Obama is about as far from apolitical as you can get; and while he is a decent fellow, he is also a lethal Chicago pol. His greatest achievement in this respect was the total implosion of Bill Clinton around this time last year: Hillary was next. Then came John McCain, merrily strapping on the suicide bomb of Sarah Palin. With the fate of all these formidable figures impossible to miss, one has to wonder what possessed Dick Cheney, the former vice-president, to come lumbering out twice in the first 50 days of the Obama administration to blast the new guy on national television.


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