If I had to bet, I would say the creators of this brilliant jape attended the University of Chicago…
If I had to bet, I would say the creators of this brilliant jape attended the University of Chicago…
On Sunday, Daniel Ortega, Nicaragua’s President, met with Ezzatollah Zarghami, director of Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting. Zarghami’s visit is just one of a series from lower-level Iranian officials, who have fanned out across Latin America in search of friends. In recent years, Tehran has worked hard to strengthen contacts in the region—and it has accomplished much while Washington has neglected the countries south of its border. The world is full of threats, and Washington is paradoxically ignoring the ones closest to the American homeland. Says Riordan Roett of Johns Hopkins, “Since there has been no coherent United States policy toward Latin America, there’s a window of opportunity for the Iranians to come fill the vacuum.”
Tehran has missed no opportunities to do so. In addition to building relations with Ortega’s Sandinistas, Iran has nurtured ties with new leftist governments in Bolivia and Ecuador. And of course there is the combination of Iran and Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela, what Tehran calls the “axis of unity.” Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is also reaching out to moderate Latin American governments, most notably Brazil’s. “Iran is trying to create a geopolitical balance with the United States,” according to Bill Samii of the Center for Naval Analyses in Virginia.
Yesterday, the San Antonio Express-News reported how the mullahs in Tehran intend to achieve this “balance.” Friendly Latin American governments are giving the Iranians bases of operation in their countries to carry out covert activities. Iran-supported Hizballah, through front organizations, already operates in the region, and the presence of even more Iranians will undoubtedly enhance its capabilities. Americans, unfortunately, can expect Tehran-supported terrorism: Argentina, contending that Iran was behind bombings in Buenos Aires of Israeli and Jewish community targets, last month obtained Interpol approval for arrest warrants against five Iranians.
There is nothing left to the Monroe Doctrine. If the Bush administration is not going to abandon Latin America to Iran and that country’s terrorist allies, then it will have to tie the region to America in some fashion. At this moment, the fastest way to do so is to erect a network of free trade deals. Yet these agreements are controversial in Washington. Although President Bush signed the FTA with Peru on Friday, similar ones with Colombia and Panama are languishing in Congress. There are many problems with Washington’s free trade agreements with less developed economies, but Ortega’s meetings with junior Iranians like Zarghami suggest that this might be the time to consider dropping technical quibbles and to start looking at the bigger picture.
Showtime’s Dexter, which just finished its second season, is up for a WGA award this year. Like most high-profile cable dramas that have appeared in the wake of The Sopranos, it balances upper middlebrow dramatic concerns—quirky characters, complex narrative lines, psychological questioning—with visceral, often vulgar elements. But the competing interests of these two strains has forced it into a series of ungainly, and sometimes ugly, moral contortions.
The show, which follows the exploits of Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall), a Miami PD blood-spatter analyst who also happens to be a serial killer—albeit one who only targets other murderers—is high concept in the extreme, a cockeyed mash-up of American Psycho, Miami Vice, and CSI. Dexter, we learn, is a bona fide murderous sociopath—lacking a conscience and unable to experience normal emotions—but he lives by a code imparted to him as a boy by his adoptive father.
The code allows Dexter to control his bloody urges by killing those who “deserve it,” and requires him to blend in with society in order not to get caught. So he maintains a polite, even conciliatory persona, and has a perky girlfriend, a respectable job, and a sister for whom he has assumed responsibility. Meanwhile, Dexter, in voice-over, muses on his own humanity (or lack thereof) as a creature with no more moral compass than a rock.
In Afghanistan, the hard-won progress of Afghan and international forces is being undermined by NATO’s inefficiency, and it’s a scandal. Canada, Germany, and the Netherlands are looking to withdraw troops by 2010. If these forces remain hindered by the restrictions already imposed upon them, their exit may very well go unnoticed. Self-imposed checks on NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISF) keep most European soldiers out of southern Afghanistan, where they’re needed to fight a resurgent Taliban. Moreover, these troops are only allowed to fire in self-defense.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy has said he’ll support a stronger French effort in the south. Meanwhile, a story in the Sun—about a leaked memo written by Afghan-stationed German commanders, in which they describe themselves as “useless cake-eaters”—states: “Last month German rescue helicopters refused to fly at night. And their troops are not allowed to travel more than two hours from a military hospital—making huge areas supposedly under their control off-limits.”
Australia’s new Prime Minister Kevin Rudd remains a committed U.S. ally in Afghanistan, but has made intimations about not wanting to pick up the slack for NATO. New Zealand is mulling the idea of sending additional troops.
Washington and NATO have ordered a series of appraisals of policy in Afghanistan. Additionally, Australian Defense Minister Joel Fitzgibbon is asking for fresh ideas. On loan to the U.S., former Australian Army Lieutenant Colonel David Kilcullen played a critical role in the counterinsurgency strategy that’s turned Iraq around. This kind of collaborative ingenuity could help forces secure and build upon the advances made in Afghanistan. However, if NATO doesn’t step up, the heavy lifting may become too much to bear.
So Time has chosen Vladimir Putin as its Person of the Year. It’s a shame, but predicable, that Putin would be selected instead of the obvious choice: David H. Petraeus (he is the fourth runner-up, after Al Gore, J.K. Rowling, and Hu Jintao). We have seen czars before, and we have seen autocrats turn their nation toward oppression before. What none of us have seen before is a counterinsurgency plan that has made this much progress in this compressed a period of time.
Critics of the war in Iraq said that if we lost there, it would have awful ramifications for decades to come. The damage would be incalculable. It would destroy American credibility and destabilize the Middle East. It would be a bullet in the heart of the President’s Freedom Agenda. It would be a boon to jihadists throughout the world. Ethnic cleansing and genocide would follow in the wake of an American loss in Iraq. Those, we were told (with some justification), would be the consequences of defeat. The consequences for victory must therefore be equally enormous—for America, for the Middle East, and for the larger war against militant Islam.
At the beginning of the year, Iraq was on the precipice. A low-grade civil war was unfolding. Things were spinning out of our control. Today, the situation has reversed on almost every front—and it has happened faster than anyone could have anticipated, even those of us who supported the surge. And one man, more than any other, is responsible for turning things around: General Petraeus. He embodies human excellence and will enter the ranks as one of America’s greatest military commanders.
It can’t be said often enough: We have a long way to go before Iraq can be judged a success and we cannot let up even for a moment. But we now have a good shot at a decent outcome in an epic struggle. None of this would have been possible had it not been for General Petraeus. The good news is that Time, once hugely influential, is no longer so, and so the Person of the Year award carries less prestige than it once did. What General Petraeus and the extraordinary troops he leads have achieved will one day be found in history books, and not just military history books. What Time did will soon be forgotten, as it should be.
As expected, former Seoul mayor and Hyundai executive Lee Myung-bak seems handily to have won yesterday’s South Korean presidential election. Exit polls have him at between 40 and 50 percent of the three-man race. This is good news for South Korea, Asia, and the United States. Lee is not only an experienced businessman and politician, he is likely to bring a more realistic approach to Korean affairs, warm up relations with the U.S., and perhaps even take South Korea onto new paths of international involvement. For now, Lee has promised a “747″ strategy: achieve 7 percent annual growth, increase South Korea’s per capita income to US$40,000, and put the country in the top 7 nations worldwide in terms of GDP.
Especially audacious is Lee’s income doubling plan (currently South Korea’s per capita income is around US$20,000), and it harks to former Japanese Prime Minister Ikeda Hayato’s income doubling policy of the 1960’s, which put Japan on the road to economic superpower status. With a growing asset bubble around Seoul, corruption in the state and among private enterprises, and rising income inequality, Lee has his work cut out for him. But in bringing clarity to his political platform, he has given South Koreans a road map for moving forward.
Equally importantly, this is the moment for the U.S. to take advantage of having an ally in Seoul. The past decade of rule by presidents Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun has seen a near-collapse in U.S.-South Korean political relations. Both Kim and Roh pursued active engagement with Pyongyang, and most South Koreans saw nothing emerge from the policy except a nuclear North Korea. Lee has indicated that any further engagement with Kim Jong-Il depends on the North’s living up to the promises it has already made. This should give Washington an excuse to re-evaluate its policy of bending every deadline in the Six Party Talks in Pyongyang’s favor. Washington also has a unique chance to rethink the military reform projects put in place over the past several years, and to consider delaying the dissolution of the highly successful Combined Forces Command, a reform opposed by an overwhelming majority of South Korean uniformed officers.
Now is also the time to encourage South Korea to think about a larger role in East Asia, starting with improving relations with Japan, perhaps within a new trilateral arrangement spearheaded by the United States. The Japanese more forthrightly will have to address lingering historical issues to Seoul’s satisfaction, but the two should be natural partners in promoting democracy, free markets, and human rights in Asia. This should become a priority of the Bush administration in its remaining months. Yesterday’s election is a rare piece of good news in a region that needs it desperately.
I’m with you, David, in thinking that what is going on in Gaza is mysterious. Here’s another way to look at it: Israeli action is constrained by two major factors. On one side, the government must do something in response to the recently increased tempo in rocket fire. On the other, a full-scale ground invasion, at least right now—unless there is a major attack—is off the table. Israel’s maneuvering must take place inside of those parameters. And inside diplomatic parameters, as well, as the NYT’s Steven Erlanger explained in an unusually good piece yesterday:
So long as rockets are fired toward Israelis from Gaza, Israelis will be very reluctant, even unwilling, to make a political deal for a Palestinian state that cannot provide them security. And if the Israelis reinvade Gaza in a serious way, killing many Palestinians, it will put Mr. Abbas and moderate Arab countries in their own dilemma, making it very difficult for them to sanction a political deal with Israel.
So if you’re an Israeli strategist, the bottom line is that you need to keep the rocket fire, at least for now, to an acceptable level, and your only means of doing so is through air strikes. I am a little skeptical of the Israel-Hamas collusion theory, though, but for all I know it could be exactly what’s going on. Here’s what makes me leery: Islamic Jihad functions for Hamas like a proxy militia—in the Middle East, proxies have proxies, and perhaps soon we’ll be hearing that Islamic Jihad has hired out a network of scrap metal scavengers on rented mules to do its dirty work—allowing Hamas to maintain a fig leaf of deniability when it comes to rocket attacks, but also allowing it to take credit among its admirers for the obduracy of its “resistance.” (This is an important bona fide if you’re an Islamist.) Hamas’s complicity in IJ’s destruction would remove one of the primary means by which it keeps itself in the headlines, on Iran’s payroll, politically salient, and in the jihadist dreams of a large number of Palestinians.
But perhaps right now the Hamas leadership believes itself cornered, has decided to bargain away a little bit of its militancy, and is putting Islamic Jihad’s heads on the Israeli chopping block as part of the deal (this could also sow terrible internal division among Gaza’s jihadists, who like to think of themselves as unified in their struggle). But even if true it’ll be a short-lived, and aggressively repudiated, quiescence. Hamas has to keep up appearances.
There is good and bad news from South Africa. The good news is that the ruling party, the African National Congress, had its first wide-open and competitive election to choose a new leader. The bad news is that the winner is Jacob Zuma, an uneducated populist given to violent rhetoric (at campaign rallies he sings a catchy ditty called, “Bring me my machine gun”). With this victory, Zuma becomes a shoo-in for the Presidency. Zuma was fired as Deputy President over charges of corruption, and still faces trial over those allegations. He has beaten charges of rape in the past (his defense was that the woman was asking for it by wearing a short skirt in his house). It is almost as if Huey Long had become the Democratic Party Presidential nominee in the 1930′s, except that democracy in South Africa is much newer and more fragile than it was in America at the time.
The incumbent President and ANC leader, Thabo Mbeki, has hardly had an unimpeachable tenure. As my fellow contentions blogger Jamie Kirchick has pointed out, he has been guilty of not paying enough attention to AIDS or to human-rights abuses next door in Zimbabwe. But he has been a model of economic stewardship, eschewing the ANC’s Marxist rhetoric in favor of sound fiscal management. Despite pressure from his party’s base, he has not moved to punish whites or to dispossess them of their farms and businesses. Instead, he has continued the reconciliation policies of Nelson Mandela, one of the great men of the 20th century. In the process, Mbeki has made his country a model of democracy and economic growth on a continent that badly needs some success stories.
The concern now is that Zuma could undo Mbeki’s legacy, the worst case being that he could turn into another out-of-control tyrant like Robert Mugabe. Such concerns seem overblown, at least for the moment. Zuma has been promising business leaders that he will not depart too radically from Mbeki’s pro-business policies. More importantly, although South Africa has a fairly anemic, if vocal, opposition party, it does have some robust checks and balances from an independent press and judiciary. The latter may wind up being the country’s salvation. If Zuma is convicted in a pending bribery case, he would be ineligible to serve as President, and a more moderate ANC leader might emerge to succeed Mbeki.
At first blush, this seems like a genuinely great campaign ad — the story of how Mitt Romney basically closed down his business, Bain Capital, in 1996 when the daughter of one of his partners went missing in New York City and Romney sent dozens and finally hundreds of employees to New York to engage in a massive search through the streets for her. It was indeed a selfless and noble thing to do. However, the ad implies Melissa Gay had been kidnapped or something equally sinister, and that is not what happened. As a quick search of the New York Times and Boston Globe archives reveals, she went missing after she traveled to New York from Ridgefield, Conn., on her own, took Ecstasy at a concert on Randalls Island, ended up at a party under the Whitestone Bridge in The Bronx, met a boy there who took her to his house in New Jersey, and stayed with him for a few days, too embarrassed (I would wager) to call her parents and have them come get her. No charges were filed against the boy, which suggests her presence in his house was consensual. I’m sure it was a nightmarish time for her parents, and it was unquestionably was a noble thing Romney did to step in and direct the resources of his firm, including its employees, to search for her. But a) she wasn’t in need of “saving” in the way the ad’s narrative implies and b) there’s no evidence in the open record that the Bain Capital search, wonderfully well-intentioned, was responsible for Melissa’s safe return to her family. UPDATE: There is some contention in the comments below that indeed Melissa Gay was in danger from an Ecstasy overdose. That does not comport with the contemporaneous record. According to the Boston Herald on the day after she was found, “The hunt went on until a family in Montville, N.J., heard of it and called police later to say Missy was with them and fine.” An overdosing teenager is not “fine,” but Melissa evidently was, and probably knew her parents’ home phone number. And, for the record, I am not, nor have I ever been, an adviser to the Giuliani campaign, paid or unpaid.
Noah Pollak is right to draw attention in an earlier post to events in Gaza of the last few days. Israel has taken out, stunningly, some of the top people in Islamic Jihad in Gaza, including Majed al-Harazin, their military commander, who has been responsible for hundreds of Kassam missiles launched at Israeli communities in recent months. The dramatic video of the takeout, shot from an IDF drone, can be seen here.
Yet the picture Noah describes of Israel stepping up pressure on “Hamas and Islamic Jihad” could be a little off. Israel is targeting only leaders of the Jihad, and Hamas’s response has been unusually subdued. After the attacks Monday night, Ismail Haniyeh, the head of Hamas, told an Israeli TV reporter that he would be willing to talk with Israel through a third party. The organization has condemned the attacks, but stopped short of declaring that they will retaliate, as they usually do. And today Israel’s deputy Prime Minister and former IDF chief of staff Shaul Mofaz says that Israel should take Haniyeh up on his offer.
It’s pretty unclear what’s really going on. It could just be that Noah is right, and that Hamas’s leaders are moderating their tone because they fear they might be next on the hit list, as one analyst has suggested. But there’s another possibility as well: that these hits reflect some kind of deal worked out between Israel and Hamas. For instance: Israel takes out Hamas’s main Islamist rival in Gaza, helping consolidate Haniyeh’s hold on the strip, but also deals a blow to Kassam launchers, scores points with the Israeli public, and gives Olmert a much-needed miltiary success as he faces mutiny in his own party in advance of next month’s release of the Winograd Commission report, which may blame him for massive failure in last year’s Lebanon war. Either way, senior terrorists are taking a big hit, and power is shifting in the Strip.
A New York Times story on John Edwards today includes this quote:
“We have an epic fight in front of us, and anybody who thinks that’s not true is living in a fantasy world,” Mr. Edwards said. “How long are we going to let insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies run this country? Every time this has happened in our country, the American people have risen up and taken action.”
This statement is revealing of Edwards and his party’s mindset these days. We do in fact have an epic fight in front of us—but the fight is with militant Islam, not insurance and pharmaceutical companies. One need not be a defender of these industries to realize that Edwards’s quote captures, in a nutshell, the reason why he and those in his party leadership are not ready for prime time when it comes to waging and winning this war. For one thing, many of them are reluctant to call this conflict a war; more importantly, they are unwilling to treat it as one. Virtually every policy change they advocate would amount to a retreat in this struggle, and the effect would be to help al Qaeda and the worldwide jihadist movement.
There are real enemies we face in the world. They are as remorseless and brutal an enemy as any we have ever faced. It’s a pity that John Edwards seems unaware of all this and has, instead, gone in search of all the wrong ones.
James Schlesinger, a former director of the CIA, makes a critical observation about the Iran National Intelligence Estimate in a Wall Street Journal op-ed today. The intelligence community, burned by the presence of speculation in some of its previous NIEs, stuck to the “hard facts” this time around. “Many in the intelligence community,” he writes, ”embrace this as a return to virtue”:
Yet in itself it has severe drawbacks. As in this case, reading the key judgments may now require something akin to Cliffs Notes listing other relevant events and considerations that may be necessary in interpreting an Estimate limited to the hard evidence.
Exclusive reliance on hard evidence not infrequently results in deliberately blinding oneself to the most obvious explanation of what has occurred. The classic example of this failing occurred during the Vietnam War, when intelligence analysts stubbornly refused to accept that enemy supplies were pouring through Sihanoukville ostensibly on the grounds that there was no hard evidence. (Actually, there was an agent’s report that revealed the activity, but it was dismissed as insufficient.) Intelligence based on hard evidence requires supplementation by other forms of intelligence.
“Failures of imagination,” to which the 9-11 Commission referred, can come in a variety of modes.
Reading the entire op-ed requires a paid subscription to the Wall Street Journal site, which is a pity, since it is by far the liveliest and most informative editorial page going. For the sake of informing public opinion and avoiding future “failures of imagination,” let’s hope that reports are accurate that the new owner of the newspaper, Rupert Murdoch, plans to reverse course and offer content for free.