Update: The Baltimore office at least was closed on Thursday 1/3 but will be open tomorrow 1/4. The vote will be on [1/22], post-inauguration, although calling sooner is still probably better.
Senator Cardin apparently may be part of a bipartisan group opposing bringing democracy and effectiveness to the U.S Senate. In doing so, he risks blowing our one opportunity for the next two years to make progress. I had the alarm raised for me via email, but the story checks out according to Ben German of `the Hill:
A bipartisan group is offering Senate leaders a political compromise on filibuster reform as Democrats push to change rules that frequently require 60 votes to pass bills.
The group met Friday morning in the office of Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), the Senate’s No. 2 Republican, and plans to present its idea to the separate caucuses later in the day…
Lawmakers involved in the ad-hoc group, in addition to Kyl, Alexander and Cardin, include Sens. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) and Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and, according to The Huffington Post, Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).
The filibuster as presently constituted does not work with European style parliamentary politics and as a result the Senate can't get anything done. The alternative to an effective legislature is not some panacea of democracy: it is the accrual of power to the executive branch. This is true whether the President is Republican or Democrat.
The Progressive Change Campaign Committee is leading up a call drive to push for real reform; if you follow this link, they'll get you the phone numbers and information you need.
In summary, I'll hand the floor to Ezra Klein:
[The McCain proposal] is filibuster reform for people who don’t want to reform the filibuster.
In other words, it wouldn’t do much of anything. Unlike Sen. Tom Harkin’sreform proposal, it wouldn’t change the number of votes needed to break a filibuster. Unlike Sen. Jeff Merkley’s reform proposal, it wouldn’t require the minority to actually hold the floor and talk. And perhaps most importantly, it wouldn’t use “the constitutional option,” thus protecting the precedent that changing Senate rules requires a two-thirds vote rather than a simple majority.
If you think the Senate is pretty much working well as is, and the biggest threat are the folks who want to change the rules, then this is the proposal for you. It lets people say they’re doing something to curb the abuse of the filibuster without actually doing anything at all. But if you think the Senate is broken, there’s nothing in here that would even plausibly fix any of its problems.
If you care about this issue, please call soon.
For those that are undecided, perhaps because of the warnings of pastors, I'd argue that it's key to realize that this measure is about going to the court house, not the chapel. It's explicit in the language of the bill. Whether churches choose to recognize the marriages is left to them.
Obviously, those provisions haven't completely allayed the concerns of some religious groups. However, I'd still ask you on a personal basis to support it.
My marriage was only possible because a gay friend introduced my wife and I. For that reason and many other reasons, he was my best man at my wedding. We both gladly attended his subsequent marriage and the stable, loving example he and his husband set a positive example for other couples. This should be no surprise, friends in loving stable relationship are regularly an inspiration. The reason this issue has gained public support so quickly is that same sex marriages succeed, and fail, just like any other marriages. When the match is right, they can bring a lot of good to two people and those around them, and more or more people have had a chance to witness this phenomenon. To know gays or lesbians that have been able to gain formal recognition for their relationship is to know that there's nothing to be afraid of. At the same time, denying these civil rights makes the lives of such couples unnecessarily hard by blocking benefits, visitation rights, and all the other little things our society grants in recognition of a couple that have chosen to commit themselves to each other.
Please vote yes for 6.
Along with DIIG Assistant Director Guy Ben-Ari, the plan is we'll be speaking with Francis Rose about trends in defense contracting. It may be around 3 p.m. but no promises.
If you'd like to listen online, it should be live steaming from the Federal News Radio site.
[Update: The archive is available from Federal News Radio]
From what I'm reading from a range of sources, mostly Twitter, it sounds as if the security situation has deteriorated in Egypt with many blaming the former security services for the looting. U.S. citizens are being offered evacuation. From David Kirkpatrick and Alan Cowell's reporting for the NY Times, it sounds like a crackdown order is coming:
But the soldiers refused protesters’ pleas to open fire on the security police. And the police battered the protesters with tear gas, shotguns and rubber bullets. Everywhere in Cairo, soldiers and protesters hugged or snapped pictures together on top of military tanks. With the soldiers’ consent, protesters scrawled graffiti denouncing Mr. Mubarak on many of the tanks. “This is the revolution of all the people,” read a common slogan. “No, no, Mubarak” was another.
By Saturday night, informal brigades of mostly young men armed with bats, kitchen knives and other makeshift weapons had taken control, setting up checkpoints around the city.
Some speculated that the sudden withdrawal of the police from the cities — even some museums and embassies in Cairo were left unguarded — was intended to create chaos that could justify a crackdown.
If enough of the Army cooperates, Mubarak could still get control of the situation. However, it would be a discredited regime that emerged from the rubble. We're now seeing an Egyptian population that is willing to stand up and choose its own destiny. I think John Quiggin is right in that we are seeing the end to the Arab exception [which treats Arabic nations as unready for democracy], although the oil rich emirates can probably buy their people off for some time to come. Yglesias highlights the key point (emphasis Yglesias):
The point applies most obviously in relation to oil. The idea that the US can legitimately use its military power to ensure continued access to oil resources rests, in large measure, on the (not entirely unfounded) assumption that those controlling the resources are a bunch of sheikhs and military adventurers who happened to be in the right place, with guns, at the right time. Without the Arab exception, the idea of oil as a special case, not subject to the ordinary assumption that resources are the property of the people in whose country they are found, will also be hard to sustain.
It is time to say that we will not support a regime that engages in a brutal crackdown and that free and fair elections are the only soft landing available. More important, it's time to call in the chips we have with the military to increase the odds that a crackdown order is not obeyed. The removal of the police forces made this a double or nothing situation; martial law without security services will likely prove reminiscent of the Tiananmen square massacre where police forces were similarly inadequate or unavailable.
[Minor grammar edits and a clarification on the term "Arab exception."]
In a silly experiment, with help from Matt Zlatnik, I present the following seven haikus inspired by defense-related newsletters. There’s a bit of a contest involved with these with a prize of a Lockheed Martin toiletries kit, see the Next America page for details.
Cost six billion through ‘09
More in subcontracts
Big 3Q spend bump
The supplement arrived late
Now buys many more services
McCain not pleased
Six hundred million
Meant for small businesses
Went to the big boys
Europe does research
But Americans sell stuff
Thank you big budget!
Spend lots on fancy add-ons
Save the President!
Large trade surpluses
Show the U.S. still produces
When it comes to arms
This entry also available at CSIS’s Next America Blog.
Dichotomies such as counter-insurgency versus counterterrorism, double down or fold, are useful ways to try to force prioritization rather than allow inertia to set strategy. However, they preclude options that would vary the approach based on the region. Another, still overly simple, way to look at Afghanistan is by comparing possible end states.
Colombia: The U.S. has had mixed success is strengthening the government of Colombia and cracking down on cocaine cultivation. However, mirroring Colombia's achievements would still be a boon to Afghanistan while still being a more realistic end-state than the mountainous and decentralized democracy of Switzerland. Getting to Colombia in the mid-term would likely require a counterinsurgency approach and a substantial increase in resources and improvements in governance.
Vietnam: Joshua Kurlantzick raises Vietnam as a positive model of an end state. Namely after the withdrawal and the fall of South Vietnam, while the country is still authoritarian, the U.S. enjoys a close relationship with that country and the long-feared domino effect never occurred. Whether a successor of the current government or the Taliban is in charge, the question of terrorist havens must be addressed. However, that issues is by no means limited to Afghanistan.
Pakistan: Through the use of Predator drones support by good intel, the U.S. has been quite successful at targeting Al Qaeda leadership without a large scale military presence on the ground. Austin Long discusses how such an approach could be applied in Afghanistan (via Michael Cohen). On the one hand, civilian casualties from drone strike do raise tensions, on the other, many of the civilian deaths from airstrikes were a result of missiles and bombs being used to provide support to U.S. combat troops. The experience in Pakistan shows that these target strikes alone will not defeat the Taliban, but may achieve the narrower objective of crippling Al Qaeda. Implementing this strategy in the short-term should be manageable, but the sustainability, either in Afghanistan or Pakistan, is an open question.
Lebanon: According to Scott Wilson, one train of thought emerging in the Administration is that we attempt to weaken but not destroy the Taliban. The analogy would be Hezbollah, which controls a portion of Lebanon and participates in its government as a minority party. There is a risk that allowing this would destabilize Pakistan, but on the other hand the relationship between Pakistan and the Taliban has often been far friendlier than the relationship between Hezbollah and Israel. Such an approach could be population-centric in government strongholds while reserving the counter-terrorism for any Al Qaeda activity in the remainder of the country.
Afghanistan's Past: A way to pursue counter-insurgency with less troops would be to exclusively defend the cities. As Matt Yglesias notes, this approach in some way mirrors the Soviet approach in the latter stages of their occupation, though of course would not seek to emulate many soviet methods. The Soviet approach may be a subset of the Lebanon approach, the difference would be that a cities approach would pick key population centers nation-wide while a more Lebanon-like approach may abandon some larger population centers in Taliban sympathizing territory while protecting smaller but more sympathetic locales.
Successful pursuit of a strategy in a hostile environment typically requires providing a sufficient level of resources and sacrificing desirable objects that are not necessary for success. More ambitious approaches require far more resources which will further tax the U.S. economy. Less ambitious approaches, up to and including withdrawal, will not accomplish everything we would like to see happen in Afghanistan, but may prove the most efficient way to advance U.S. interests and values. As the Status of Forces agreement in Iraq showed, these choices will be further limited by what the local politicians and population will support, but for such a negotiation to be practical we need to first determine what we are shooting for.
While determining the cost in casualties of any of these strategies is quite difficult, the cost in dollars is easier to estimate. So, reader, do you think this is a good starting list? Are there any other end-states to be considered?
To my surprise, we were actually in Belfast shortly before the Orangemen march. That’s the time when a group of Unionists (Protestants who want to stay in the UK) do their traditional march celebrating the a victory of William of Orange in Ireland. As a side note, Orange was his color because he was from Holland, he was the Norman that conquered the UK. This march goes through a Catholic neighborhood and thus tends to direct clashes. The controversy over the march, and the larger marching season, is a symptom of sectarian conflict and not a root cause, but it does make for good news stories.
The tour, done in the back of a black taxi that Belfast is known for, got into the deeper issues. Here’s wikipedia’s full summary of the Troubles. A short version is that Catholics were a minority in Northern Ireland and often discriminated against. The British army was actually sent in to protect them around 1970 but ended up throwing oil on the fire at Bloody Sunday in (London)Derry when protesters were shot. Civilians were killed by partisans and security forces had happened prior to that point, but that was when the bombing campaign got going. In Belfast the center of the conflict was in two polarized neighborhoods in the West part of the city that were immediately adjacent to one another. The tour went through both of them, pictures on the Loyalist side first.
The square at the start is a march staging area. It’s surrounded by murals, some historical, some focusing on paramilitary (including terrorist) leaders, and a few that are harder to characterize.
Next stop was the “Peace wall” between the two communities. There were multiple gates with no checkpoints, though they would be closed in the evening. Similarly getting around the wall wouldn’t be hard at all. Instead, it serves to force anyone seeking to cause trouble to go through a few chokepoints, throw things over the wall at the caged backyards on the far side, or travel outside of their strongholds before or after an attack. While the Good Friday peace accord has been in place for around a decade now, our driver, Tom, didn’t think the wall would be going away anytime soon. I think he’s probably right. Walls do a good job of providing protection but they also calcify lines of division. You can’t attack as easily but nor can you intermingle.
The ones that came later on the Catholic side were more recognizable as appeals for legitimacy or agitation regarding other conflicts. The most interesting one for me was the mural of Bobby Sands, who was an IRA leader that the leadership managed to get himself elected as an MP while he was in prison. He subsequently died on hunger strike as part of an attempt to get IRA prisoners treated as political prisoners/P.O.W.s. Apparently he’s still a contested symbol between those in the IRA that compromised and breakaway hardliners, but I think the mural we saw was firmly in the mainline camp. On the Catholic side there we’d also seen a remembrance garden listing the IRA and civilian dead from the Troubles. Though there were certainly dead on the Unionist side, we didn’t see any of such shrines, so I’m not sure how they’d be different.
On the whole, the Black Taxi tour was well worth doing at 25 pounds for two people. As an added bonus we got dropped off over at Queen’s university setting up our dinner and walk for the evening.
See here. Reading Medium Large? If not you should.
One of the reasons some U.S. aid may have been turned away by the Burmese government is that some of the assistance would come from warships. The U.S. Navy has a lot of capacity to do good, but even smaller detachment of ships still could pack a serious punch. We do have strictly hospital ships, such as the USNS Mercy shown below, but they’re only part of our response capability. One possible solution, suggested my friend and colleague Bryan Shea, might be to transfer some older ships to the State Department rather than selling or simply decommissioning them.’
The idea would face complications. To be effective the ship(s) would probably need to be forward deployed, perhaps combining aid with public diplomacy when there isn’t a disaster to respond to. Piracy can be a real issue in southeast Asia and aid teams often are targeted by spoilers or those simply seeking to rob them. An old nuclear carrier would have the advantage of fast movement but would raise a whole new class of concerns. But ultimately for our civilian agencies to be effective they must be in the field, and for large parts of the world, the field can be the oceans.
Image taken by Telstar Logistics and used under a Creative Commons license.
It’s about month since Cyclone Nargis hit. The Burmese government has consistently failed their people with 2.4 million still homeless. More aid was allowed in after the government conducted its unfair and unfree constitutional referendum in the week following the quake. Near as I understand it, some U.S. aid is allowed in, but the aid workers who can actually operate in the country largely have to be from Asian countries. Given the severe limits on aid, from most of the world, I think it’s safe to say that initial harsh U.S. comments might not have made the difference in terms of access and were certainly well deserved. Sullivan has a link with pictures.
There are some, such as George Packer, that consider intervention. I don’t think anyone is arguing for a full on invasion, but instead sending in naval ships that have a proven record when it comes to disaster relief. Sadly, it would probably take ships or landing aircraft, as the PCR project points out airdrops can’t really be effective in this sort of situation.
I’d oppose a naval intervention, the Burmese government is made up of paranoiacs with no interest above maintaining power, they would escalate and a limited intervention would not stay limited. At the same time they’d likely cut off humanitarian access to those countries they’ve allowed in. Moreover, gross negligence in disaster response, while evil, doesn’t rise to the level of genocide. At the same time, setting aside China’s active opposition, we don’t have the support of democratic regional powers such as India or Indonesia.
However, as Matt Yglesias notes there are many opportunities, such as non-coercive relief opportunities in Sudan, where aid could help deal with disasters. We’d do well to gain experience by taking these opportunities that would give valuable experience. We actually handled the tsunami pretty well, but often have difficulty dealing with the other parts of a failed state even when we do have U.N. support. Learning to get better at that and developing a track record of success would much improve our performance and ability to gain support when coercion might be appropriate.
Image taken by groundreporter and used under a creative commons license.
Well, PN Maliki’s make-or-break offensive is still rolling along. Sadr’s supporters have turned out thousands of protestors.
See Kevin Drum for other theories on PM Maliki’s motivation. He also provides a terrific cheat sheet for telling the Shiite factions apart. This is useful because they ofteen go by many names.
There’s a lot of other good material out there, but I’m kinda sleepy after a big meal and a bunch of wedding planning work.
So I’ll just say this. My money is on Sadr winning this round. Massive offensives are a highly questionable counter-insurgency tool. The fact that Sadr’s ceasefire did substantially clamp down on the violence leads me to believe he’s got a pretty well controlled and disciplined militia, "special groups" not withstanding.
More specifically, I think they’ll be an inconclusive outcome, Sadr’s people will probably get a few nice PR victories, and Maliki’s credibility will be greatly diminished. That said, I’m just going off what’s in the newspapers.
Good, the voters could use the time. It’s pretty miserable out there. Take care. The precipitation wasn’t that bad but the sidewalks were really icy. Not sure how the roads were, local ones I drove on weren’t that bad.
My sympathy to the judges (and my Mom who acts as an observer and will now be up an extra hour and a half).
For now though, here’s a review, Bamian is a terrific Afghan restaurant in Falls Church. The atmosphere is nice if not amazing, the location not that terrific, you will have to drive or take a bus from a nearby Metro stop. However, the food is wonderful!
Anyways, the place was recommended to me by my Program head when I’d made an Afghan dish for a work function. Specifically he’d recommended the Aushak (dumplings) as an appetizer and Qaubili Palau (rice, lamb, carrots, and more) and Kadu Chalau (pumpkin with home made yogurt which was the dish I’d prepared).
So I had the Aushak and it was good, my friend had the Kabob Gosfand and liked it as well. I didn’t get the chance to do the Kadu Chalau this time, but will have to try it when I get back.
But, primarily, I am here today to praise the Qaubili Palau. (For the record, I think Qaubili os a different transliteration of the Afghan capital). The lamb was good but the rice, sweet carrots, and raisins (I think there was also some cinnamon) were perfectly blended and tasted incredible in combination. I’m a rice lover but typically I’m not even a fan of raisins in most contexts. The carrot preparation was particularly neat, they made carrot strips, I’m guessing with a peeler, and then just spread them over the top of the rice.
Other notes. MY friend was disappointed with the black chai, the green was alright, but based on the waitresses reaction I don’t think they specialize in either. I thought the bread was okay, I’ve heard they have great bread available, but maybe that’s something you can order extra. And, these dishes are pretty big, so unless you’ve got a large group you probably won’t need lots of extra bread. Large group with lots of trading is probably the best way to enjoy this place, but the two of us were still quite happy.
Group picture from the Bamian website. I’m guessing they won’t complain since I’m giving them a good review.
Yglesias among others caught this:
Am I reading this right? Intel czar Michael McConnell thinks waterboarding would be torture but no waterboarding that was actually done was torture, because torture is a crime and so that would mean that the people who ordered waterboarding (i.e., his bosses) are criminals. But what does this mean? If it’s torture, it’s torture.
So we’ve learned from past experience that this administration can be very careful with wording. Saying things that are highly misleading but technically true. Obviously there’s outright lies too, such as "We don’t torture." But I’m guessing McConnell is attempting to slowly improve U.S. policy while at the same time not getting caught in a lie. Here’s the quote:
"Waterboarding would be excruciating," the US director of national security, in overall charge of intelligence, said in the interview in the New Yorker magazine, speaking of the simulated drowning technique that many regard as torture.
"If I had water draining into my nose, oh God, I just can’t imagine how painful! Whether it’s torture by anybody else’s definition, for me it would be torture," he said.
When asked to define torture, McConnell replied: "My own definition of torture is something that would cause excruciating pain...."
But he told the magazine flatly: "We don’t torture."
Waterboarding involves pouring water over the covered mouth of a suspect, creating a sensation of drowning.
So, what’s the distinction? Well, the wikipedia article on waterboarding goes into some detail about the technique. The main source of variety seems to be whether the mouth and/or nose are covered. An ABC News report describes the technique thusly:
Water Boarding: The prisoner is bound to an inclined board, feet raised and head slightly below the feet. Cellophane is wrapped over the prisoner’s face and water is poured over him. Unavoidably, the gag reflex kicks in and a terrifying fear of drowning leads to almost instant pleas to bring the treatment to a halt.
So, out on a limb here. I don’t have any special sources, I’m just assuming McConnell has picked his words very carefully. Perhaps the cellophane keeps water from dripping into the nose. I think the drowning effect would still happen just from having your breathing passages covered and feeling the water pouring over the covering. So, since the water doesn’t technically enter the breathing passages, I’m guessing the administration would argue that the suffering is psychological and not physical so it doesn’t count. Hence the emphasis on "excruciating pain" in McConnell’s statement.
So, would that actually be true? Well, let’s consult the UN Convention against Torture (which the US has ratified):
the term "torture" means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession...
Yup, mental pain is covered. So, if there’s those with more expertise on the specifics of the technique, feel free to correct me about whether this dodge makes sense. But, for now, this is my best guess as to the future propaganda we’ll be hearing.