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Posts For: February 1, 2012

The Myth of Palin’s Influence

Alana’s question as to why Sarah Palin continues to toy with the public and the Republican presidential field and refuses to issue a firm endorsement of one candidate is a good one. I believe the answer, however, has more to do with her desire to try to hog the spotlight for as long as possible than it does with any inane hopes on her part of a deadlocked GOP eventually turning to her as a savior or even her obligations to Fox News. But after last night’s Florida result, there is an even better query to be posed to those who spent much of the last week touting the former Alaska governor as a difference maker in the South Carolina primary.

If Palin’s unofficial endorsement was thought by some observers, including smart people like the Weekly Standard’s William Kristol, to have had some influence on the outcome in South Carolina, what conclusions should we draw from the fact that her call for Floridians to “rage against the machine” and vote for Gingrich doesn’t seem to have had the same effect?

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Alana’s question as to why Sarah Palin continues to toy with the public and the Republican presidential field and refuses to issue a firm endorsement of one candidate is a good one. I believe the answer, however, has more to do with her desire to try to hog the spotlight for as long as possible than it does with any inane hopes on her part of a deadlocked GOP eventually turning to her as a savior or even her obligations to Fox News. But after last night’s Florida result, there is an even better query to be posed to those who spent much of the last week touting the former Alaska governor as a difference maker in the South Carolina primary.

If Palin’s unofficial endorsement was thought by some observers, including smart people like the Weekly Standard’s William Kristol, to have had some influence on the outcome in South Carolina, what conclusions should we draw from the fact that her call for Floridians to “rage against the machine” and vote for Gingrich doesn’t seem to have had the same effect?

The answer is obvious. While there may be a few conservatives who look to Palin for guidance, most disregarded her advice. Exit polls of those voting yesterday show Romney had a slight edge among Tea Party backers over Gingrich (winning 40-38 percent), and finished in a virtual statistical tie with him among evangelicals (losing them by a 38-37 percent margin). These are, after all, the two groups we are told are Palin’s base of support. Yet Romney–not her choice of Gingrich–held his own among them and won the overall vote by a huge margin.

We will, no doubt, continue to hear a great deal from her so long as she remains on Fox’s payroll. But as the primary season proceeds with more opportunities for her counsel to be ignored by GOP voters, her stock will continue to sink. All of which ought to remind Palin’s credulous fans as well as journalists that the idea of her influence over Republican voters is more myth than reality.

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Dissecting Romney’s Florida Victory

1. The reach and scope of Governor Romney’s primary victory in Florida was enormous. He not only defeated Newt Gingrich by more than 14 points, Romney’s total was larger than the combined total of both Gingrich and Rick Santorum. Romney won among men and women; in all age, income, and education categories; among whites and Hispanics; among those who support and oppose the Tea Party; among those who decided early and those who decided late; and among evangelicals. Among the only categories Romney did not carry was those who described themselves “very conservative” (Gingrich carried 41 percent of the vote while Romney took 30 percent). Those who consider themselves “somewhat conservative” went for Romney 52 percent v. 32 percent for Gingrich.

Almost half the voters in Florida (46 percent) said electability was their top concern – and of that group, they preferred the former Massachusetts governor by 26 percentage points. And of the 62 percent of voters who said the economy was the issue that matters most to them, 52 percent went for Romney  v. 30 percent for Gingrich.

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1. The reach and scope of Governor Romney’s primary victory in Florida was enormous. He not only defeated Newt Gingrich by more than 14 points, Romney’s total was larger than the combined total of both Gingrich and Rick Santorum. Romney won among men and women; in all age, income, and education categories; among whites and Hispanics; among those who support and oppose the Tea Party; among those who decided early and those who decided late; and among evangelicals. Among the only categories Romney did not carry was those who described themselves “very conservative” (Gingrich carried 41 percent of the vote while Romney took 30 percent). Those who consider themselves “somewhat conservative” went for Romney 52 percent v. 32 percent for Gingrich.

Almost half the voters in Florida (46 percent) said electability was their top concern – and of that group, they preferred the former Massachusetts governor by 26 percentage points. And of the 62 percent of voters who said the economy was the issue that matters most to them, 52 percent went for Romney  v. 30 percent for Gingrich.

2. The Washington Post makes this point: “Florida, the fourth state to vote this primary season, was not only the biggest prize yet, but also the purest test of where the party stands nationally. Unlike earlier primaries in New Hampshire  and South Carolina, Florida’s contest was open only to registered Republicans; about seven in 10 voters identified themselves as somewhat or very conservative, according to exit polls.”

3. Among the key factors in Romney’s win were the debates. ABC News reports that around two-thirds of Florida voters say the debates were an important factor in their vote in yesterday’s primary. In addition, about four in 10 voters said advertising was an important factor in their vote. All told, Newt Gingrich was outspent on TV ads by as much as 5-to-1, with 90 percent of those ads negative. Gingrich was enraged by this and complained throughout the contest, trying to make it a referendum on Romney’s character. Yet as the Post reports, “voters didn’t perceive Romney as overly negative.” Thirty four percent said Romney had run an unfair campaign while an equal 34 percent said the same of Gingrich, according to exit polling.

4. Governor Romney came within a hair’s width of winning three of four states that cast votes in January. Romney won by 16 points in New Hampshire, by 14 points in Florida, and came within 35 votes of winning Iowa (out of roughly 120,000 votes cast). The only election in which he was soundly beaten was in South Carolina, where Gingrich defeated Romney by 12 points. Gingrich, on the other hand, finished fourth, fifth, first, and second in the four contests.

5. The three most important contests in February are held in Arizona, Nevada, and Michigan. In 2008, Romney won the latter two (he came in second to Arizona Senator John McCain that year). Maine, Minnesota and Colorado also hold (non-binding) contests this month, and Romney won those three races in 2008. Romney is also the clear favorite to win in most of the 11 contests that will be held on March 6 (delegates will be rewarded proportionately). It’s also worth noting there’s only one debate on the schedule for February (February 22 in Arizona).

If Mitt Romney were to lose the nomination, he would have to experience an epic collapse, unlike any we have seen. Is it conceivable this could happen? Yes. Is it at all likely it will happen? No.

The GOP primary may not be officially over. But we know who the GOP nominee will be.

Get ready for Romney v. Obama.

 

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Operations in Afghanistan Can’t End Early

The Obama administration seems to think it can stop American combat operations a year earlier than expected—in 2013—while also downsizing the Afghan Security Forces and still strike a peace deal with the Taliban. Only in some alternative universe is this a winning strategy. In the world we actually inhabit it is a recipe for a slow-motion—or maybe not so slow—catastrophe.

It is hard to know exactly what the announcement that the U.S. is ending combat operations in 2013 means because the dividing line between “combat” and “advising” can be thin to the point of non-existent. But at the very least it signals some pull back of the American commitment. And before long I suspect we are going to hear that the number of U.S. troops—already insufficient—will be cut back some more so as to allow President Obama to run for reelection claiming to have ended one war and to be on his way to ending another. The Afghan Security Forces will be hard-pressed to pick up the slack, because they will need extensive training and support for years to come. The only way they will have any chance of success is if the U.S. maintains a substantial force in Afghanistan after 2014—say at least 40,000 troops. But that is highly unlikely if Obama stays in office. He seems determined to downsize as fast as possible.

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The Obama administration seems to think it can stop American combat operations a year earlier than expected—in 2013—while also downsizing the Afghan Security Forces and still strike a peace deal with the Taliban. Only in some alternative universe is this a winning strategy. In the world we actually inhabit it is a recipe for a slow-motion—or maybe not so slow—catastrophe.

It is hard to know exactly what the announcement that the U.S. is ending combat operations in 2013 means because the dividing line between “combat” and “advising” can be thin to the point of non-existent. But at the very least it signals some pull back of the American commitment. And before long I suspect we are going to hear that the number of U.S. troops—already insufficient—will be cut back some more so as to allow President Obama to run for reelection claiming to have ended one war and to be on his way to ending another. The Afghan Security Forces will be hard-pressed to pick up the slack, because they will need extensive training and support for years to come. The only way they will have any chance of success is if the U.S. maintains a substantial force in Afghanistan after 2014—say at least 40,000 troops. But that is highly unlikely if Obama stays in office. He seems determined to downsize as fast as possible.

The specifics of the downsizing matter less than the signal it sends—a signal of American irresolution. Already housing prices are falling in Kabul and Afghans who are able to do so are moving their assets offshore. Meanwhile, Taliban fighters interrogated by the coalition are confident of victory after 2014. In this climate there is little to no chance peace talks will succeed at doing anything except providing a Nixonian fig leaf covering the American abandonment of an embattled ally.

Obama may claim he is ending the war, but he is actually widening it by making much more likely a resumption of the large-scale civil war that tore Afghanistan apart and led to the rise of the Taliban, which, for all the mindless chatter about their supposed “moderation,” remains as closely linked as ever to al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups.

Having begun his administration with a buildup in Afghanistan, the president is now busy dismantling that strategy and substituting for it—what? A policy of hope and sleight-of-hand whose bankruptcy is likely to be brutally revealed in the unforgiving terrain of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

 

 

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Electoral Map Shifts to Obama’s Disfavor

In recent weeks, as the Republican presidential field has been busy tearing each other apart while the primaries heated up, Democrats have been feeling a lot better about their chances to re-elect Barack Obama. The spectacle of the GOP’s internecine warfare and slightly better, though by no means encouraging, economic statistics have led some to believe the president may have an easier time this fall than many had thought just a few months ago. But the latest Gallup survey of the president’s approval ratings tells a very different story. Breaking down the job approval numbers state by state, Gallup presents a picture that ought to be deeply distressing to the White House.

If you add up the states where the president has a net positive approval rating in 2011, you only get a total of 215 electoral votes, while those where he has a net negative rating amount to 323. If these numbers remain unchanged through the fall that would mean a decisive loss in the Electoral College for Obama.

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In recent weeks, as the Republican presidential field has been busy tearing each other apart while the primaries heated up, Democrats have been feeling a lot better about their chances to re-elect Barack Obama. The spectacle of the GOP’s internecine warfare and slightly better, though by no means encouraging, economic statistics have led some to believe the president may have an easier time this fall than many had thought just a few months ago. But the latest Gallup survey of the president’s approval ratings tells a very different story. Breaking down the job approval numbers state by state, Gallup presents a picture that ought to be deeply distressing to the White House.

If you add up the states where the president has a net positive approval rating in 2011, you only get a total of 215 electoral votes, while those where he has a net negative rating amount to 323. If these numbers remain unchanged through the fall that would mean a decisive loss in the Electoral College for Obama.

It is true the negative job approval numbers for 2011 are an average of the entire last year and not necessarily a snapshot of what people think today, let alone next November. It is also a poll that does not pit the president against an actual opponent but instead measures only what voters think about him. However, it is hard to argue that the daily tracking poll over a lengthy period is an aberration. It also appears, at least for the moment, that the Republicans are likely to nominate their most electable candidate in Mitt Romney.

Moreover, this map shows the divide between red state America and the blue has decisively shifted to the advantage of the former. In this formulation, Obama has put himself in position to lose every state south of the Mason-Dixon Line and every one west of the Mississippi except for California and Washington. Whereas Obama in 2008 was able to make inroads in the South and West, he now finds himself only ahead in the Northeast and in a few Democratic strongholds in the Midwest and the West. Most importantly, he is behind in terms of approval in most of the key battleground states such as Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio.

None of this preordains a Republican victory in 2012. But when they stop chortling about the GOP attacks on Romney and Newt Gingrich, Democrats need to remind themselves a president with an approval rating in the mid-40s is in big trouble. If Obama is going to give himself a chance to be re-elected, he’s going to have do something to change that number or count on vacating the White House next January.

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Is NATO Expansion Really More Dangerous Than the Status Quo?

Daniel Larison responded to my post yesterday in which I argued that Georgia should be considered for NATO membership. I recounted that the stated reasons for keeping Georgia out in 2008 were Foggy Bottom’s concern such advocacy would prompt Russia to turn against our Eastern European missile defense plans, and the hypocritical warning from Germany–which endured quite a significant territorial dispute with the Russians for the first 35 years of its NATO membership–that countries with territorial disputes with the Russians should be kept out of NATO.

The first concern has obviously vanished, since those missile shield plans were scrapped. Germany’s position–which is refuted most effectively by its own history–should be reexamined now that Georgia and Russia have signed a border-control agreement. Larison disagrees, but I think ends up strengthening my original point. He writes:

Trying to bring Georgia into the alliance does not enhance European security in any way, and Russia would still regard it as an intolerable provocation. Just as it did not in April 2008 during the Bucharest summit, Georgia still does not have full control of its territory. It is ridiculous to ask members of the alliance to extend an Article V guarantee to a country with ongoing territorial disputes.

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Daniel Larison responded to my post yesterday in which I argued that Georgia should be considered for NATO membership. I recounted that the stated reasons for keeping Georgia out in 2008 were Foggy Bottom’s concern such advocacy would prompt Russia to turn against our Eastern European missile defense plans, and the hypocritical warning from Germany–which endured quite a significant territorial dispute with the Russians for the first 35 years of its NATO membership–that countries with territorial disputes with the Russians should be kept out of NATO.

The first concern has obviously vanished, since those missile shield plans were scrapped. Germany’s position–which is refuted most effectively by its own history–should be reexamined now that Georgia and Russia have signed a border-control agreement. Larison disagrees, but I think ends up strengthening my original point. He writes:

Trying to bring Georgia into the alliance does not enhance European security in any way, and Russia would still regard it as an intolerable provocation. Just as it did not in April 2008 during the Bucharest summit, Georgia still does not have full control of its territory. It is ridiculous to ask members of the alliance to extend an Article V guarantee to a country with ongoing territorial disputes.

The latter point echoes the Germans’ concern about the “frozen conflicts” of the breakaway Georgian territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Larison also faults Georgia for “escalating” the 2008 conflict with Russia. But to me, this seems to incentivize exactly the wrong behavior on both sides.

One point I made yesterday was announcing the “frozen conflicts” were reason enough to keep Georgia out of NATO encourages Russia to continue to stir up trouble. The Germans said this in April 2008, and Russia invaded in August of that year, and has since admitted that of course keeping Georgia out of NATO was exactly why they did so.

NATO has never considered itself exclusively a club for countries with no natural predators, so I’m not convinced the Russia-Georgia dispute should disqualify Georgia anyway. I’m not arguing it would absolutely prevent war, but our current position has instigated war already, and set a pattern of such conflict. So it cannot be argued that keeping Georgia out of NATO contributes in any meaningful way to conflict prevention.

Larison and I disagree on whether Russia or Georgia is more to blame for the 2008 war, and I don’t want to relitigate that entire discussion. But it’s worth noting that before that war, Russia had already stacked South Ossetia’s government with ethnic Russians who were trained by the Russian military and security services. (Russian General Vasily Lunev, who was installed as South Ossetia’s defense minister a few months before the war, is but one such example.) Led by such men, Russian forces had been shelling Georgian territory for years prior to that war. Russia, therefore, “escalated” the conflict several times prior to the 2008 war, which was itself a Russian escalation of the conflict.

So let’s take Larison’s point of view for a moment. If Georgia were a country looking for excuses to “escalate” the conflict, wouldn’t keeping them out of NATO on their lack of full control of South Ossetia and Abkhazia be likely to trigger a Georgian “escalation”? Would it not, that is, encourage Saakashvili to keep trying to replicate his success in exiling Aslan Abashidze from Adjara and getting the Russians to remove their base from Batumi?

And wouldn’t this require a major war, since Russian personnel run so much of South Ossetia’s government, and therefore Saakashvili might get the impression that nothing less than a full de-baathification of those provinces would resolve this conflict enough for Germany to consider the border matter settled? I think the answer is yes–I think our current posture toward the conflict as the justification for excluding Georgia from NATO is one that incentivizes war, whether you believe Russia or Georgia is more likely to be the aggressor.

Now, you may argue we can still keep Georgia out of NATO because, as Larison suggests, Russia would consider it an “intolerable provocation.” So it would make Russia angry. And what would they do in retaliation? Perhaps they would sell Iran upgraded radar jammers; suppress the UN nuclear watchdog’s report on Iran’s nuclear program; sell weapons to Bashar al-Assad; prevent even token action against Syria at the UN Security Council. They could not do any of this in retaliation, because they are already doing all of those things.

Is Russia’s cooperation on the Afghan supply route the only chip left to play? Of course it’s not nothing–we greatly appreciate it. But can that be the trump card to any Russian provocation? And who in their right mind thinks Russia wants us out of Afghanistan? They unambiguously do not.

Larison suggests Georgia isn’t democratic enough for NATO. But it’s hardly Belarus, let alone Ukraine. And isn’t that why we have membership action plans in the first place? No one is suggesting we leave NATO’s front door wide open for just anyone to waltz in. They have to earn it. And isn’t the prospect of NATO membership a better way to encourage such democratization than leaving such nations to Russia’s sphere of influence? Again, I give you Belarus.

Ironically, I don’t think Larison’s suspicion of NATO enlargement in general is all that unreasonable; I just think in this case it has been overtaken by events. Putin’s behavior has not earned him the benefit of the doubt, but you can certainly make the argument that the reverse was true with regard to Ron Asmus’s manic push to enlarge NATO as the Soviet Union was dissolving. Indeed, I asked Gorbachev’s adviser, Pavel Palazchenko, about that a few months ago, and he said their impression of that push for NATO enlargement was built on a misunderstanding of whether a new “union” of former Soviet republics might form, and that NATO’s eastward march made the transition more difficult for everyone involved. (I’m not endorsing the criticism; just noting that Gorbachev and Yeltsin had more credibility then than Putin does now.)

So I remain convinced that of the three options–bringing Georgia into NATO, permanently excluding Georgia from NATO, or forcing a more concrete resolution of Georgia’s breakaway provinces–Georgian inclusion in NATO (provided, of course, they meet democratization criteria) is the best.

UPDATE: Larison responds here.

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Why Won’t Palin Just Endorse Newt?

Last night wasn’t the first time Sarah Palin has beseeched Republicans to vote for Newt Gingrich. But it was the latest step in Palin’s strange Gingrich dance, in which she defends the former speaker, praises him, calls on voters to vote for him – but stops just short of officially endorsing him. The Globe and Mail reports:

There is a curious dance Sarah Palin is doing lately with Newt Gingrich, and it goes something like this: do not formally endorse Mr. Gingrich, but on the eve of key state primaries make an appearance on Fox News TV and deliver what sounds an awful lot like an endorsement.

The former Alaska governor and vice-presidential candidate did it ahead of the South Carolina primary, saying that if she were a South Carolinian she would ”vote for Newt.” Mr. Gingrich welcomed the lift and credited Ms. Palin’s comments with helping his South Carolina campaign. “She’s an enormous help. She’s a big help in the South Carolina victory,” he told Fox News.

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Last night wasn’t the first time Sarah Palin has beseeched Republicans to vote for Newt Gingrich. But it was the latest step in Palin’s strange Gingrich dance, in which she defends the former speaker, praises him, calls on voters to vote for him – but stops just short of officially endorsing him. The Globe and Mail reports:

There is a curious dance Sarah Palin is doing lately with Newt Gingrich, and it goes something like this: do not formally endorse Mr. Gingrich, but on the eve of key state primaries make an appearance on Fox News TV and deliver what sounds an awful lot like an endorsement.

The former Alaska governor and vice-presidential candidate did it ahead of the South Carolina primary, saying that if she were a South Carolinian she would ”vote for Newt.” Mr. Gingrich welcomed the lift and credited Ms. Palin’s comments with helping his South Carolina campaign. “She’s an enormous help. She’s a big help in the South Carolina victory,” he told Fox News.

Palin has repeatedly claimed she’s simply trying to “keep the race going.” But as Allahpundit notes, this excuse has its problems:

Has any Fox News reporter thought to ask her point-blank yet whether in theory that would mean encouraging people to vote for Romney if suddenly there were a big momentum shift and Newt started winning states? Somehow it’s hard for me to imagine that, but she should at least have a chance to answer. Also, what’s the endgame here? The idea is that the race should roll on because “competition breeds success.” Fair enough; in that case, presumably undecideds in any given state should vote for whichever candidate is behind at any given moment in order to extend the primary as long as possible. Is that correct, or are we looking at a shorter timeline? I’m skeptical that there are many Republicans who want this race to go all the way to the convention while Obama builds up his arsenal, but presumably most voters are happy to let it go on a while longer. How long is optimal? Super Tuesday? A bit longer than that? I’m asking earnestly. Click the image to watch.

So why no endorsement? There are plenty of possible explanations, but two initially come to mind. First, Palin could lose whatever remains of her reputation as a “kingmaker” if she throws her weight behind Gingrich and he loses. Second, she could be holding out hope for a brokered convention – plenty of conservatives still do – and maybe thinks she could end up getting tapped for the nomination. That one’s a lot less plausible. Not only would she have to be wildly delusional, if she had presidential aspirations, why wouldn’t she have just run in the primaries?

Here’s another thought. Would an official endorsement conflict with her current role as a Fox News commentator covering the primaries? I can’t think of any of them who have made endorsements yet. Karl Rove is pretty clearly rooting for Mitt Romney, but he also hasn’t backed him officially. Palin may be able to help Gingrich more as a “neutral” analyst of the race than as an official endorser who would likely have to disclose her support on the air.

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Romney and the “Very Poor”

This morning on CNN, fresh off his win in Florida, Mitt Romney discussed where the focus of his campaign lies. He said,

“I’m in this race because I care about Americans. I’m not concerned about the very poor, we have a safety net there. If it needs repair, I’ll fix it. I’m not concerned about the very rich, they’re doing just fine. I’m concerned about the very heart of America, the 90-95% of Americans that are struggling.”

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This morning on CNN, fresh off his win in Florida, Mitt Romney discussed where the focus of his campaign lies. He said,

“I’m in this race because I care about Americans. I’m not concerned about the very poor, we have a safety net there. If it needs repair, I’ll fix it. I’m not concerned about the very rich, they’re doing just fine. I’m concerned about the very heart of America, the 90-95% of Americans that are struggling.”

Soledad O’Brien incredulously asked Romney to explain why he wasn’t concerned about the very poor and Romney repeated that they fall within a safety net that provides food stamps, housing subsidies and Medicaid.

How big, exactly, is the safety net that the government provides? In a report last year, The Heritage Foundation explains:

Means-tested programs are limited to those at or below the poverty line. However, many welfare benefits go beyond this threshold to include persons who have incomes below 200 percent the poverty level, or about $44,000 per year for a family of four. Close to one-third of the U.S. population falls within this income range. A family of four at this income level would be eligible for approximately $28,000 worth of federal and state welfare benefits per year.

Compare this $28,000 to what the average middle class American receives from the government in comparable subsidies, $0. While he’s right that the government provides an enormous safety net for the poor (99.4% of whom own at least one television), the explanation he provides on welfare in this country leaves everyone to the left and right of his campaign on edge. To the left, it verifies the long held suspicion Republicans only care about people with money, callously disregarding the plight of the poor. This verification will be played over and over during a general election if Romney clinches the nomination. To the right, it verifies that Romney is as liberal as they fear, complacent with the welfare state as it currently stands.

Romney stated a truth about the welfare state that too often goes unsaid. The problem is he’s now glorified a system Americans find either insufficient or too far-reaching.

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Taliban Far From Ready to Give Up Struggle to Take Over Afghanistan

Typically, peace negotiations are successful when one side has decided it cannot win on the battlefield. That was the case with insurgent groups as disparate as the IRA in Northern Ireland and the FMLN in El Salvador. Is it the case with the Taliban in Afghanistan? The administration would like us to think so because it has invested such high hopes in peace talks that would allow us to withdraw our troops as fast as possible. Unfortunately, there is plentiful evidence the Taliban are far from ready to give up their struggle to take over Afghanistan.

The latest data point is this report compiled by NATO forces based on interrogations of thousands of Taliban detainees. According to the AP’s summary, “The Taliban believe they will return to power after the U.S.-led coalition ends its combat role in Afghanistan in 2014″; they “also believed they were receiving support from Pakistan and that they were doing well on the battlefield.” Does this sound like a group ready to put aside its weapons? Hardly. So why engage in peace talks? Negotiations have many advantages from the Taliban’s standpoint–they could hasten America’s withdrawal and provide some breathing space for a movement battered by a U.S.-led offensive on its homeground in southern Afghanistan.

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Typically, peace negotiations are successful when one side has decided it cannot win on the battlefield. That was the case with insurgent groups as disparate as the IRA in Northern Ireland and the FMLN in El Salvador. Is it the case with the Taliban in Afghanistan? The administration would like us to think so because it has invested such high hopes in peace talks that would allow us to withdraw our troops as fast as possible. Unfortunately, there is plentiful evidence the Taliban are far from ready to give up their struggle to take over Afghanistan.

The latest data point is this report compiled by NATO forces based on interrogations of thousands of Taliban detainees. According to the AP’s summary, “The Taliban believe they will return to power after the U.S.-led coalition ends its combat role in Afghanistan in 2014″; they “also believed they were receiving support from Pakistan and that they were doing well on the battlefield.” Does this sound like a group ready to put aside its weapons? Hardly. So why engage in peace talks? Negotiations have many advantages from the Taliban’s standpoint–they could hasten America’s withdrawal and provide some breathing space for a movement battered by a U.S.-led offensive on its homeground in southern Afghanistan.

There is also the concrete prospect of the U.S. releasing senior Taliban prisoners to facilitate talks. This article has a rundown on some of the detainees who may be released as part of this process–it makes for dismaying reading because of all the atrocities they have committed. I am not opposed to prisoner releases per se, but they should only be undertaken when there is concrete evidence of goodwill on the other side. That was apparent in Iraq where Sunnis switched sides and began fighting against al-Qaeda in 2007. I am still waiting for any evidence of Pashtuns defecting en masse from the Taliban and being willing to take up arms against their former comrades. Until that happens, I suspect, peace negotiations will result in more war–not peace.

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Beware the Egyptian School Teacher?

Egypt’s greatest export has always been its school teachers, at least in the Middle East. In the 1950s and 1960s, not only did President Gamal Abdul Nasser export Egyptian teachers, but many Arab states—especially in the Persian Gulf—used the Egyptian curriculum as well. It was not simply Nasser’s rhetoric which propelled Arab nationalism beyond Egypt’s borders, but also Egyptian expatriates.

I’m in the Persian Gulf region, interviewing a number of government and opposition officials. While American policymakers debate whether the Muslim Brotherhood has moderated (it hasn’t), or whether the new Islamist-dominated government in Egypt will void the Camp David Accords, thereby signaling to the world that treaties made with Arab countries are meaningless, the perspectives here differ.

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Egypt’s greatest export has always been its school teachers, at least in the Middle East. In the 1950s and 1960s, not only did President Gamal Abdul Nasser export Egyptian teachers, but many Arab states—especially in the Persian Gulf—used the Egyptian curriculum as well. It was not simply Nasser’s rhetoric which propelled Arab nationalism beyond Egypt’s borders, but also Egyptian expatriates.

I’m in the Persian Gulf region, interviewing a number of government and opposition officials. While American policymakers debate whether the Muslim Brotherhood has moderated (it hasn’t), or whether the new Islamist-dominated government in Egypt will void the Camp David Accords, thereby signaling to the world that treaties made with Arab countries are meaningless, the perspectives here differ.

Egyptian teachers still work throughout the region. While the Persian Gulf states no longer use Egyptian curricula, many still employ a disproportionate number of Egyptian teachers. If Egypt radicalizes religiously, will Egyptian teachers propel that radicalization through Arab states’ education systems, much as Saudi Imams and the oil wealth which fueled them spread religious radicalism through the mosques? Other Arab governments could always, of course, fire the Egyptian school teachers, assuming they could find others to replace them. This would be a further disaster for the Egyptian economy, but the cost of not doing so in such a case where Egyptian teachers become engines for radicalism could be a slow motion disaster for the entire region.

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