Friday, February 03, 2012

Book Review

When God Was a Rabbit by Sarah Winman.

Laugh out loud funny by page 46.


Exit Strategy

Fred Kaplan makes a reasonably convincing argument that Barack Obama is doing in Afghanistan what Lyndon Johnson did not in Vietnam: pull out. Well, maybe not all the way--we'll still be fighting on the border with Pakistan--but a significant change in the level of effort and resources the United States will continue to devote to securing an Afghan government that has minimal legitimacy.
The critical fact is that, by and large, we’ve done our part, but Karzai hasn’t done his. The U.S. military (increasingly with Afghan counterparts coming along) has made considerable progress on the tactical military front. But the Afghan government hasn’t followed through—hasn’t provided services, hasn’t cleaned up its corruption, in short hasn’t given the population’s fence-sitters much reason to turn away from the insurgents (who exploit real grievances) and pledge allegiance to the government.

That being the case, there’s only so much a foreign army can do.


Obama isn’t quite bailing. American troops will be on the ground for some time to come. But the page has turned. If we didn’t have troops in Afghanistan already, the present conditions would hardly justify sending tens of thousands there. And, while we shouldn’t expect those whose land we occupy to love us for our assistance, we should at least have the same basic interests as the government that our troops are fighting and dying to uphold—and that doesn’t seem to be the case either.

Kaplan acknowledges that Obama is taking a chance and that Afghanistan's fate may well be more years of civil war and mayhem. He concludes,
It’s a mess, but it would be a mess, whether we stayed for one year, two years, or 10. So why not make it one year, push hard, hope for the best, then stop spending lives and money on a lost cause?
Why not, indeed?

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Thursday, February 02, 2012

There We Go Again

It's not enough that my country left a deadly legacy of Agent Orange in Vietnam. Now my country is sowing Afghanistan with radioactivity from depleted uranium munitions. And before Afghanistan, the Balkans.

We are truly the plague that keeps on giving.

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Sunday, January 29, 2012

Not an American Value

"Empathy is nothing more than imagining how the world is perceived by someone who is not you."
Bill Clinton, speaking at American University

But it should be.

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Odious, Vile and Smarmy

Those words sum up my view of Newt Gingrich, a man who is truly odious, vile, and smarmy. That he is a candidate for president at all, much less a major one speaks volumes about American politics. Gingrich has little to offer beyond bluster and bombast yet he is what passes for a serious candidate in 2012. But even by the low standards presidential politics Gingich is a particularly unpleasant manifestation. Here's a quick tour.

  • Odious: highly offensive; repugnant; disgusting. Gingrich's speech and judgments are highly offensive. He speaks sweepingly of ghettos and dismisses entire classes as unworthy, all ideas other than his own as dubious. He promises much but delivers only to the few, including himself.
  • Vile: highly offensive, unpleasant, or objectionable. Serial infidelities show the value of Gingrich's word and attest to a lack of any true moral compass. His only guide is What's Best for Newt.
  • Smarmy: excessively or unctuously flattering, ingratiating, servile, etc. Gingrich flatters himself excessively. He claims vast knowledge. He makes promises. He deludes himself that he is a public servant when he largely serves himself.

This rant was sparked by a Washington Post article about Newt's latest hypocrisy: working your way through college. I am particularly incensed by accounts of Gingrich's first wife and others putting him through grad school so he could avoid taking a job, something he now recommends for students.

Work was not the only thing Newt avoided during his college and graduate school years. He also famously avoided military service in a war he supported. "Given everything I believe in, a large part of me thinks I should have gone over," he told Vanity Fair in 1989. That's easy to say now. These days he continues to support a militarized America and more foreign wars.

As a rule, I don't question anyone's decisions about military service in Vietnam. We made those decisions long ago under difficult circumstances. My one exception is public officials who advocate war and were eligible for military service then. Newt fails that test. I find it hard to imagine anyone with less moral character in public life. I can imagine no one less fit to be president of the United States.

Odious. Vile. Smarmy. Hypocritical. Newt Gingrich. A complete package.

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