A Few Humble Links On Afghanistan

Through my indirect experience, most of the people who serve are called. Honor, duty and sacrifice figure heavily. Smashing things, adventure, skill-development and money tend to be important variables, too. Over time, money and stability become more important, as they do for anyone aging up, or through, an institution. Few of us spend time imagining waking up every morning, with thirteen intricate steps to put on a prosthetic, seeing what the day holds.

That’s where our duty comes in, as fellow citizens, to make the losses more bearable.

As for Afghanistan..:

-Dexter Filkins at The New Yorker: ‘Last Exit From Afghanistan

-The Soviets didn’t scurry away in ignominy? This was written in 2012, mind you.

-The Silk Road, and the geo-strategic importance of this area….will remain in play. The world has never been, and will forever remain, a chessboard.

Time to leave?

From where I stand: Yes, the New York Times, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, NPR, and most major media outlets are in a process of negotiation/conflict with elements of a radical and activist Left. Some will follow the logic towards Good/Evil with their own countrymen, in a pose of childish and irrational rebellion (utopia always better to any reality). Others will settle into some kind of protagonism/antagonism with new authority; major Tech companies having to make and enforce rules, in relation with many lawmakers.

If you didn’t solve the problems of authority/hierarchy, totalizing and authority-beholden types beneath your Ideals, well…you haven’t solved those problems.

You’ve probably noticed this, too-Deeper and emergent Western thinking, along humanistic lines, is becoming more dominant: Conceptualizing the main purposes of war as advancing humanistic ideals (War vs Peace, (G)lobal (M)an vs the (I)nhumane) motivates much American institutional authority and leadership. No institution has avoided the rising waters of presumed freedom, diversity and inclusion, pushed often by liberation activists (making the personal political). I’m not sure of all the deeper currents and reasons, but this seems pretty unstable.

To be a ‘Kennedy Liberal’, Nationalistic and proud, has begun to emit a curious odor, a moral stench in the culture-at-large (as long ago has anything Christian, traditional, patriotic, and proud).

Perhaps it’s true: Today’s liberal idealist might well find himself where yesterday’s ‘neo-conservative’ found himself, willing to underwrite the Western project, with American military force if necessary, to vindicate highest ideals.

This blog’s thinking: The cultural revolution of the 60’s is a more consequential beast than most Boomer’s and Gen X’ers have realized. We’ve pretty much all of us internalized elements of these ideas, doing with them as we will.

If you are joining the armed services, for reasons of honor, duty, and sacrifice, you’d probably do okay to think about these elements of American leadership and political authority.

Some past links, Dear Reader:

Related On This Site: From CSIS: ‘Turmoil In The Middle-East’Lawrence Wright At The New Yorker: ‘The Man Behind Bin Laden’…perhaps Bacevich is turning inward upon religious belief, and doesn’t have a larger analysis to put the war within, despite his insight: From Commonweal: Andrew Bacevich “The War We Can’t Win: Afghanistan And The Limits Of American Power”

Robert Kaplan makes the argument that geography and history are destiny in Pakistan’s case:

Pakistan encompasses the frontier of the subcontinent, a region that even the British were unable to incorporate into their bureaucracy, running it instead as a military fiefdom, making deals with the tribes. Thus, Pakistan did not inherit the stabilizing civilian institutions that India did. Winston Churchill’s first book as a young man, The Story of the Malakand Field Force, wonderfully captures the challenges facing colonial border troops in British India. As the young author then concluded, the only way to function in this part of the world is through “a system of gradual advance, of political intrigue among the tribes, of subsidies and small expeditions.’

and:

‘The term AfPak itself, popularized by the late diplomat Richard Holbrooke, indicates two failed states — otherwise, they would share a strong border and would not have to be conjoined in one word. Let me provide the real meaning of AfPak, as defined by geography and history: It is a rump Islamic greater Punjab — the tip of the demographic spear of the Indian subcontinent toward which all trade routes between southern Central Asia and the Indus Valley are drawn — exerting its power over Pashtunistan and Baluchistan, just as Punjab has since time immemorial.’

Repost-From Michael Yon: ‘The Battle For Kandahar’Dexter Filkins Book On Afghanistan And Iraq: “The Forever War”Monday Quotations-Henry KissingerTom

A Wednesday Link On Afghanistan

Via Mick Hartley-Terry Glavin at The Ottawa Citizen: ‘Admit it. We’ve Lost Afghanistan:’

I can’t say I really agree, but am open to argument  (I don’t believe U.S. soldiers have died in vain, either). The logic keeping coalition forces in Afpak is pretty simple:

Because it’s so unstable, Afghanistan is a haven for all networks of ruthless, unscrupulous Islamist and terrorist organizations aiming to target citizens in Western countries, and Western leaders can’t risk that happening:

Of course, it’s a mess, and it appears a worsening mess:

‘Like every Afghan leader over the past two centuries, Ghani is a Pashtun – the ethnic bloc that has produced everything from enlightened monarchs and quick-witted statesmen to the murderous pro-Soviet thug regime of the late 1970s to the leadership of the Taliban and its allied Haqqani network in Pakistan’

Many parts of the world are truly lawless, but increasingly connected: It’s important to remember there’s a world black market full of shady, unscrupulous people, sometimes in control of States, that peddle nuclear technology and Afghanistan often serves as the market bazaar:

‘In recent weeks, Taliban commanders have confirmed that Tehran is boosting its supply of funding and weaponry to the Taliban leadership, and that some of those arms shipments originate in Russia.’

Ah, that delightful post-1979 crowd in Iran may simply have been emboldened to keep oppressing many of its people and to keep advancing its aims with questionable and limited gains for the West (the community of nations may have in fact, less leverage than the coalition in Afghanistan).

Here’s a documentary on the Green Berets passed along by a reader, which has good footage of what American special forces are being asked to do in Afghanistan: The fierce fighting. The tribal, poor and divided loyalties of what come to be Afghan forces. The thuggish tactics of the Taliban:

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Related On This Site: From March 27th, 2009 At WhiteHouse.Gov: Remarks By The President On A New Strategy For Afghanistan And PakistanStephen Biddle At Foreign Affairs: ‘Running Out Of Time For Afghan Governance Reform’

Repost-From Michael Yon: ‘The Battle For Kandahar’Dexter Filkins Book On Afghanistan And Iraq: “The Forever War”Monday Quotations-Henry KissingerTom Ricks Via Foreign Policy: ‘American General Dies In Afghanistan; An American Lt. Col. Goes Off The Reservation

Repost-David Rohde At The NY Times: ‘Inside The Islamic Emirate’

Full article here.  (The second in a series)

Rohde was the NY Times reporter kidnapped for months inside Afghanistan and Pakistan.  He wrote a series of articles about his experiences.  Let this be a lesson to young journalists…risking your life can be worth it…

Also, as previously posted:

Walter Russell Mead: ‘Media Gives President A Pass Again

‘Obama should have been criticized over his smarmy and vacuous claims to have a solution for the problem back in 2008, but the press was more interested in crucifying Bush and wounding McCain than in offering the public a serious account of a genuine dilemma. What was clearly true back in 2008 was that the U.S. had won a difficult and shaky victory in Iraq after a war that should in hindsight not have been launched, while the smaller and more justifiable war in Afghanistan still offered no serious prospect of a happy ending.’

And it still doesn’t…Mead takes the NY Times to task.

Here’s a documentary on the Green Berets passed along by a reader, which has good footage of what American special forces are being asked to do in Afghanistan: The fierce fighting. The tribal, poor and divided loyalties of what come to be Afghan forces. The thuggish tactics of the Taliban:

============

Related On This SiteFrom March 27th, 2009 At WhiteHouse.Gov: Remarks By The President On A New Strategy For Afghanistan And PakistanStephen Biddle At Foreign Affairs: ‘Running Out Of Time For Afghan Governance Reform’

Repost-From Michael Yon: ‘The Battle For Kandahar’Dexter Filkins Book On Afghanistan And Iraq: “The Forever War”Monday Quotations-Henry KissingerTom Ricks Via Foreign Policy: ‘American General Dies In Afghanistan; An American Lt. Col. Goes Off The Reservation

Pauline Baker At The American Interest: ‘Unraveling Afghanistan’

Also On This Site:  Dexter Filkins Book On Afghanistan And Iraq: “The Forever War”…Sarah Chayes On Afghanistan In The Boston Review: Days Of Lies And Roses

There’s Still A War In Afghanistan

Walter Russell Mead: ‘Media Gives President A Pass Again

‘Obama should have been criticized over his smarmy and vacuous claims to have a solution for the problem back in 2008, but the press was more interested in crucifying Bush and wounding McCain than in offering the public a serious account of a genuine dilemma. What was clearly true back in 2008 was that the U.S. had won a difficult and shaky victory in Iraq after a war that should in hindsight not have been launched, while the smaller and more justifiable war in Afghanistan still offered no serious prospect of a happy ending.’

And it still doesn’t…Mead takes the NY Times to task.

Here’s a documentary on the Green Berets passed along by a reader, which has good footage of what American special forces are being asked to do in Afghanistan: The fierce fighting. The tribal, poor and divided loyalties of what come to be Afghan forces. The thuggish tactics of the Taliban:

============

Related On This SiteFrom March 27th, 2009 At WhiteHouse.Gov: Remarks By The President On A New Strategy For Afghanistan And PakistanStephen Biddle At Foreign Affairs: ‘Running Out Of Time For Afghan Governance Reform’

Repost-From Michael Yon: ‘The Battle For Kandahar’Dexter Filkins Book On Afghanistan And Iraq: “The Forever War”Monday Quotations-Henry KissingerTom Ricks Via Foreign Policy: ‘American General Dies In Afghanistan; An American Lt. Col. Goes Off The Reservation

Pauline Baker At The American Interest: ‘Unraveling Afghanistan’

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To be fair, there is good journalism out there, which this blog looks for, and where the facts, attention to detail, legwork, and good writing offer undeniable value.

A few unsolicited opinions regarding the press:

There seems to be a bent towards supporting whomever’s in power along with a certain amount of conventional wisdom.  News orgs need eyeballs, and like politicians, often traffic in influence and public sentiment.  There are a lot of fingers in the wind.

News orgs don’t like (any more than politicians or companies or all of us, really) to be called on their mistakes and failures. Individual journalists must often bend their work to the demands of their employers and to current public sentiment in the marketplace.

Journalists like to think they are speaking truth to power, but often quite less so when their favored ideals are in power.  Newsroom culture matters. People who want change and are generally suspicious of power often end up in journalism, often in pursuit of their ideals.  Like minds also tend to attract like minds, so people often drift towards certain like-minded outlets across the spectrum.

Personally, I don’t trust any organization to speak for all of the public, nor to ever become institutionalized enough to do so.  I couldn’t possibly do so. The capture inherent in a government-funded org seems too great to not be considered an ultimate threat to pursuing the truth and for liberty more broadly–Too many bad incentives.

A generally liberal-ish set of favored ideals seems shared amongst a majority (the left and activist Left highlighted under the current administration…the current mood very confused).  I’m guessing there are common beliefs such as: History is on a general path towards more freedom, equality and progress.  It’s a noble thing to walk this path and spread the wealth, fairness and knowledge around and be good citizens (see number 1).

The truth value of such ideals is another matter, which wars like the one in Afpak can highlight.

******This, and because the demands of the market, there’s a lot of junk science, dietary advice, human-interest stories, royal-baby watching, some light Kennedy-worship, What-should-we-feel-about-what-we-think-about-our relationship-to-that-new-TV show etc.

It’s hard to take many people seriously at all.

A Few Links On Iran & Afghanistan-Happy New Year!

Adam Garfinkle At The American Interest:

‘So then what’s wrong with this picture of presidential remarks on Libya, Syria, and Iraq? What’s wrong is that the President is apparently unable or unwilling to connect his own damned dots.’

and:

‘Far be it for me to advocate the use of U.S. force in any of these places. We cannot put these states back together at an acceptable cost in blood and treasure. As I have stressed in earlier posts (for example, here), what is happening, at base, is historio-structural in nature and no mere policy nipping and tucking can restore the status quo ante. I am no more in a mood to move chess pieces around on a table than the President is, especially if I have to do it with bombers, APCs, and Aegis cruisers loaded up with SLCMs. But to pontificate about the need for Arab self-help in these three cases, as though U.S. policy had nothing whatsoever to do with their present plights, very nearly surpasses credulity. It reminds me of a three-year old not yet well experienced at hide-and-go-seek who covers his face and thereby imagines that others cannot see him. Who in the region does the President think he’s fooling?’

I don’t think Obama’s speaking to the region per se, so much as a group of like-minded, internationalist semi-radical democratic peace protestors bending the arc of history towards justice.  I’ve heard the crew meets every third Tuesday at the Rose Main Reading Room at the New York Public library (kidding, kidding).

As for Iran, we’re still doing business with a bad, generally untrustworthy lot, though the options have never been good (there are many people we could potentially do business with in Iran, but as in Cuba, they’re indisposed at the moment).

At what cost?  Garfinkle:

‘It’s clear—actually a little too clear—that President Obama is trying to flatter the Supreme Leader and other assorted higher ups in Tehran. Someone no doubt explained to the President in another, earlier drive-by incident that these guys believe they deserve more respect for their sovereignty, history, and culture than they get. He wants to assure them, insofar as he can, that regime change is not high up on the U.S. want list with regard to Iran, though he cannot explicitly rule it out without cutting the knees out from future U.S. policy options. He wants to let them know he’s sensitive to how the world looks from their perspective.’

Transcript of Obama’s interview with NPR here.

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As for Afghanistan (and Pakistan, the FATA, and Waziristan, and our limited influence there, too), we’re scheduled for troop withdrawal, but not so fast:

From accounts I’ve heard, what doesn’t often reach the American public is how fierce the fighting in Afghanistan has been, how much we’ve asked of our troops in fulfilling such a broad mission, and how we still haven’t reached our objective, which is to prevent further attacks on our soil.

Corruption runs rampant, illiteracy remains high, and decades of war have ruined the infrastructure.  Under such conditions, and with so many different ethnic and linguistic groups, it’s tough to provide basic security and incentivize the good in people, allowing interested local village elders, farmers and decent folks have a shot at stability. Afghanistan was most recently headed by a thuggish gang of religious purists, warlords and opium-traffickers, and will probably soon be again.

Truly brutal people.

Many of these guys, whose ancestors likely fought against the British, and a few elders who fought against the Soviets, are now aiding or abetting the enemy, and/or are fighting our troops. It’s their backyard, after all, but it’d be much better not to have these local and tribal grievances become the fuel for an international fire, and the opening for the Taliban to fill back in. If so, this opens the door to the global ambitions of Islamist franchises.

Which means we could be right back where we started.

Interestingly, the concerns of Western secular humanists and global peace-workers actually line-up pretty well with traditional, conservative, pro-military supporters:  We’ve got to keep thinking about solutions and a larger strategy when it comes to this region.

It’s not really over, even though this is the longest war we’ve ever had:

Vice had some coverage:

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From Walter Russell Mead: ‘Hastily Leaving Afghanistan Won’t Encourage Taliban To Make Concessions:’

‘And there are still lots of countries in the region that don’t want Afghanistan to fall under Taliban rule again: Iran, Russia, China, and India all think this would be a terrible outcome. We shouldn’t assume that Mullah Omar is going to get everything he wants’

Sarah Chayes’ Essay From 03/01/2007:  ‘Days Of Lies & Roses

Canadian documentarian Louie Palu covered the Kandahar region of southwest Afghanistan, where much of the fiercest fighting has occurred, and where the British, Soviets and coalition forces have fought.

————

Related On This SiteFrom March 27th, 2009 At WhiteHouse.Gov: Remarks By The President On A New Strategy For Afghanistan And PakistanStephen Biddle At Foreign Affairs: ‘Running Out Of Time For Afghan Governance Reform’

Repost-From Michael Yon: ‘The Battle For Kandahar’Dexter Filkins Book On Afghanistan And Iraq: “The Forever War”Monday Quotations-Henry KissingerTom Ricks Via Foreign Policy: ‘American General Dies In Afghanistan; An American Lt. Col. Goes Off The Reservation

Pauline Baker At The American Interest: ‘Unraveling Afghanistan’

Full piece here.

‘Many Americans think that President Barack Obama’s decision to withdraw most if not all U.S. combat forces from Afghanistan by the end of this year will end the U.S. role in that country’s travails. To the extent they think about Afghanistan at all, most Americans seem to assume that when the last combat soldier has departed from what has been the longest war in American history, the United States (and its International Security Assistance Force [ISAF] allies) can close the book on Afghanistan with a mixed record of accomplishment.’

Have we met our objective?

From accounts I’ve heard, what doesn’t often reach the American public is how fierce the fighting in Afghanistan can be, how much we’ve asked of our troops in fulfilling such a broad mission, and how we still haven’t reached our objective, which is to prevent further attacks on our soil.

Corruption runs rampant, illiteracy remains high, and decades of war have ruined the infrastructure.  Under such conditions, and with so many different ethnic and linguistic groups, it’s tough to provide basic security and incentivize the good in people, allowing interested local village elders, farmers and decent folks have a shot at stability. Afghanistan was most recently headed by a thuggish gang of religious purists, warlords and opium-traffickers, and may well soon be again.

Many of these guys, whose ancestors likely fought against the British, and a few elders who fought against the Soviets, are now aiding or abetting the enemy, and/or are fighting our troops. It’s their backyard, after all, but it’d be much better not to have these local and tribal grievances become the fuel for an international fire, and the opening for the Taliban to fill back in. If so, this opens the door to the global ambitions of Islamist franchises like Al Qaeda once again.

Which means we could be right back where we started.

Interestingly, the concerns of Western secular humanists and global peace-workers actually line-up pretty well with traditional, conservative, pro-military supporters:  We’ve got to keep thinking about solutions and a larger strategy when it comes to this region.

It’s not really over, even though this is the longest war we’ve ever had:

Vice had some coverage:

———————

From Walter Russell Mead: ‘Hastily Leaving Afghanistan Won’t Encourage Taliban To Make Concessions:’

‘And there are still lots of countries in the region that don’t want Afghanistan to fall under Taliban rule again: Iran, Russia, China, and India all think this would be a terrible outcome. We shouldn’t assume that Mullah Omar is going to get everything he wants’

Sarah Chayes’ Essay From 03/01/2007:  ‘Days Of Lies & Roses

Canadian documentarian Louie Palu covered the Kandahar region of southwest Afghanistan, where much of the fiercest fighting has occurred, and where the British, Soviets and coalition forces have fought.

————

Related On This SiteFrom March 27th, 2009 At WhiteHouse.Gov: Remarks By The President On A New Strategy For Afghanistan And PakistanStephen Biddle At Foreign Affairs: ‘Running Out Of Time For Afghan Governance Reform’

Repost-From Michael Yon: ‘The Battle For Kandahar’Dexter Filkins Book On Afghanistan And Iraq: “The Forever War”Monday Quotations-Henry KissingerTom Ricks Via Foreign Policy: ‘American General Dies In Afghanistan; An American Lt. Col. Goes Off The Reservation

Some Wednesday Links On Afghanistan

From Vice.com:  Some of the daily challenges our soldiers have faced in being asked to do so many things in Afghanistan.

From Walter Russell Mead: ‘Hastily Leaving Afghanistan Won’t Encourage Taliban To Make Concessions:’

‘And there are still lots of countries in the region that don’t want Afghanistan to fall under Taliban rule again: Iran, Russia, China, and India all think this would be a terrible outcome. We shouldn’t assume that Mullah Omar is going to get everything he wants’

Maybe only Pakistan might want Afghanistan to fall under Taliban rule again, but the fundamental poverty, decades of war, illiteracy, ethnic, linguistic and geographical barriers make any stable government in Afghanistan a long-shot at best.  Meanwhile, what we really don’t want are large groups of people trained only in war, in and out of Islamist ideology only emboldened and reverting the region back to what it was before we entered:  A haven for Islamist and terror planning.

This blog remains highly skeptical of the current administrations’ withdrawal plan and lack of strategic planning on Syria and Iran, but also remains aware of the deeper budgetary issues and divisions at home.

From Michael Yon: ‘Afghanistan: A Bigger Monster

‘If we execute a zero option, this is my basic worst-case prediction, which is not far from my most likely scenario prediction:’

Yon envisions a dark future with a direct withdrawal, suggesting it might even be get worse than what it was before we went in.

From Stephen Biddle:  ‘Ending The War In Afghanistan‘.

Biddle pushes for a negotiated settlement with the Taliban:

‘The international coalition fighting in Afghanistan has long planned on handing over responsibility for security there to local Afghan forces. But the original idea was that before doing so, a troop surge would clear the Taliban from strategically critical terrain and weaken the insurgency so much that the war would be close to a finish by the time the Afghans took over. That never happened. The surge made important progress, but the tight deadlines for a U.S. withdrawal and the Taliban’s resilience have left insurgents in control of enough territory to remain militarily viable well after 2014. Afghan government forces will thus inherit a more demanding job than expected.’

I still don’t think we’ve met our objective if we just pull-out, and this looks like trying to make the best of a pull-out.

Addition:  How do we meet our objective?

Related On This SiteFrom March 27th, 2009 At WhiteHouse.Gov: Remarks By The President On A New Strategy For Afghanistan And PakistanStephen Biddle At Foreign Affairs: ‘Running Out Of Time For Afghan Governance Reform’

Repost-From Michael Yon: ‘The Battle For Kandahar’Dexter Filkins Book On Afghanistan And Iraq: “The Forever War”Monday Quotations-Henry KissingerTom Ricks Via Foreign Policy: ‘American General Dies In Afghanistan; An American Lt. Col. Goes Off The Reservation

Stephen Biddle At Foreign Affairs: ‘Ending The War In Afghanistan’

Full piece here.

Biddle pushes for a negotiated settlement with the Taliban:

‘The international coalition fighting in Afghanistan has long planned on handing over responsibility for security there to local Afghan forces. But the original idea was that before doing so, a troop surge would clear the Taliban from strategically critical terrain and weaken the insurgency so much that the war would be close to a finish by the time the Afghans took over. That never happened. The surge made important progress, but the tight deadlines for a U.S. withdrawal and the Taliban’s resilience have left insurgents in control of enough territory to remain militarily viable well after 2014. Afghan government forces will thus inherit a more demanding job than expected.’

There’s much reluctance at home, from bitterly bipartisan politics and deficit spending battles to isolationism and war exhaustion, as to why we should still be in Afghanistan (and addressing the AfPak issue, really).  Much of the fighting there has been pretty nasty for our troops with the enemy either dug-in or easily melting away across the border into Pakistan.

The primary objective was clearly getting bin-Laden and breaking up his network.  We wanted to inflict a real cost on them.  To do that it was decided that the Taliban, with roots in the mujahideen against the Soviets in 1979, as factions of Islamically purist warlords, needed to be removed from power without making war with Afghans nor other Muslims necessarily.  The Taliban have been cleared away for awhile, and coalition forces have gotten rid of bin-Laden, and while I’ve heard the Al Qaeda network still has presence over the border in the FATA region of Pakistan, basic conditions on the ground haven’t changed that much:  The Taliban are pretty much expected to fill right back in, and groups sympathetic to bin-Laden enough to fight alongside, shelter and harbor him are still likely going be active throughout the region.

How do we prevent this region from remaining a haven for terrorist activity?

Feel free to highlight my ignorance.  Any thoughts and comments are welcome:

Canadian documentarian Louie Palu covered the Kandahar region of southwest Afghanistan, where much of the fiercest fighting has occurred, and where the British, Soviets and coalition forces have fought.

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And again here’s Zbigniew Brzezinski on a brief visit with the Taliban in 1979, in a rather ‘conspiratorial’ video.  You do what  you’ve gotta do, sometimes:

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Related On This SiteFrom March 27th, 2009 At WhiteHouse.Gov: Remarks By The President On A New Strategy For Afghanistan And PakistanStephen Biddle At Foreign Affairs: ‘Running Out Of Time For Afghan Governance Reform’

Repost-From Michael Yon: ‘The Battle For Kandahar’Dexter Filkins Book On Afghanistan And Iraq: “The Forever War”Monday Quotations-Henry KissingerTom Ricks Via Foreign Policy: ‘American General Dies In Afghanistan; An American Lt. Col. Goes Off The Reservation

Photo Series From The Atlantic-Afghanistan: May 2013

Photos here.

We’re still in Afghanistan.

Related On This Site: Form Foreign Affairs: ‘Stephen Biddle and Max Boot Discuss U.S. Afghanistan Policy’

Obama’s vision?  His Security Report here.

Some Saturday Links On The Middle-East

Just a blogger in the wilderness, trying to make sense of our foreign policy.  Because of the many levels of security, knowledge, intelligence, and experience out there, it’s a pretty daunting task, but maybe it’s of some use.

Syria-Still burning. As Israel gets further involved to secure their interests, Walter Russell Mead thinks Obama could cut a deal with the Israelis to help them deal with the deteriorating conditions in Syria, Iran and Egypt, and get some concessions on the Palestinian issue.  One big concern in Syria has been a long conflict that inflames other fault lines throughout the region.

Interesting paper here.

Al Jazeera live blog on Syria here.  Possibly 70,000 dead so far.

Libya-There’s a book out on Benghazi (the authors do not look favorably on John Brennan conducting covert operations without the knowledge of most everyone else, which they claim caused the retaliatory attack, killing Ambassador Stevens).  Obama’s Libyan war has also stirred the uprisings in Mali, and Algeria, and which could spill over into Niger.  Regardless of what you think of our strategy, the same authors lament the lack of an overall strategy, and stronger leadership.

Afpak-We’re in a pretty much un-winnable situation, but our objective really hasn’t been met.  The FATA region of northwest Pakistan is poor, tribal, and not even controlled by the federal government.  Enemy fighters in Afghanistan simply melt back into Pakistan, recharge, and return.  The Taliban mill around, kill our troops, and know they can pretty much wait us out.  Kabul is notoriously corrupt.  Pakistan is barely stable, and nuclear.  The area is still home to the Haqqani network and some Al Qaida fighters. 

Dexter Filkins, now at the New Yorker.  The Afpak channel at Foreign Policy.  Michael Yon’s Twitter feed.

Iran-Part of the axis of evil or not, Iran is a state sponsor of terror in Hezbollah, is still supporting Assad in Syria as a key ally, and is still trying like mad to get nuclear weapons.  In order to be top dog in the region, they lie, project, delay, and play aggressive, belligerent games.  They are almost completely untrustworthy, even by international standards.  Yes, we took over Britain’s colonial project, yes, we helped to install a Shah, yes, the Khomeni came back and is running an aggressive, repressive theocratic regime alongside Ahmadinejad. There are many ways of thinking about what happens if Iran gets the bomb.  Almost none of them are good.

Even Obama has said Iran getting the bomb is a red line, so we’ll see how this develops.

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Since Obama took office, it seems his overall inclination is towards Enlightenment humanist/universalist ideals.  Many former human rights players turned diplomats are those he chooses for positions of power.  Some of their idealism is tempered by realpolitik, and Obama has often had to rely the experience of others.

Other, more hawkish Democrats like Hilary Clinton and the Clinton camp have gone along to get along.  In the Wilsonian tradition,  he seeks to subsume U.S. interests to international organizations, laws and courts.  I would guess his strongest base are made up of the peaceniks, one-worlder types, secular humanists, human rights people, and the anti-Bush crowd.  This noted, he’s enjoyed much broader popular support due to strong feelings of isolationism, his having appropriated the Clinton wing, and other factors.  Our economic recession/depression, the American people’s suspicion of our long wars and continuing challenges have contributed to his relative popularity.

Here’s to hoping we don’t back ourselves into worse situations.