Billie Jean Not My Lover Either

The Civil Wars – Billie Jean (Bing Lounge)

For Paul Krugman, it was “just because,” the reason to post this video, but it’s oddly timely, in that the Conrad Murray case with its very alternative look back on Michael Jackson is coming to an end.  I wonder if the fact exists in Krugman’s mind just below the level of awareness.

Posted in notes

The greatest threat to the Islamic Revolution since its inception?

How Iran Really Sees Turkey – By Mohammad Ayatollahi Tabaar | The Middle East Channel

Then came the Arab Spring, which according to Iran, is a misnomer: not Arab, but rather Islamic; not a spring, but like the Islamic Revolution in Iran, permanent. For Iran’s Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, the Arab Spring is in fact an “Islamic awakening,” the flowering of seeds that were sown three decades earlier by the Iranian Revolution of 1979. According to Khamanei, the uprisings signal the time for Iran to enter the scene as Muslims rise up to kick out one Western puppet after another.

But it was Turkey, not Iran, which seized the moment. Tehran watched in horror as Erdogan was received rapturously during his post-revolution trips to Arab countries. His advocacy of the “secular” model of government, which respected Islam set off alarm bells not just in Iran’s political capital, Tehran, but also in the religious city of Qom. Both the political and religious establishments in Iran protested. Even “moderate” ayatollahs attacked Turkey’s “liberal” and “Western” interpretations of Islam and warned that Iran had fallen behind Turkey in the region. Their voices were initially louder than the voices of Tehran’s government officials.  

What sent Iran over the edge was Turkey’s shift on Syria. Prime Minister Erdogan went from being a good friend of President Bashar al-Assad, to telling him to either reform or he would soon be ousted. Turkey has hosted conferences for the Syrian opposition and is now reportedly sheltering anti-regime fighters. In response, Tehran sent several messages to Ankara, making it clear that Syria is its “redline,” and warned Erdogan not to cross it by backing the anti-Assad opposition. Turkey did not heed Iran’s warning. Instead it announced that it would install NATO’s radar system, which is said to be a shield again Iran’s ballistic missiles, in Turkish territory. Iran’s tone then became more aggressive and even threatening. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and other political and military officials warned that Iran would be forced to respond accordingly since the NATO radar system is to protect its enemies.

Conservative columnists then opened fire. They criticized Turkey for being a Sunni dictatorship that did not represent the other “50 percent of Turkey’s population,” meaning the Alevis and the Kurds. However, they failed to mention that Iran and Turkey are closely cooperating over the challenges posed by their Kurdish minorities. These commentators, who usually voice trends within Iran’s establishment, implicitly warned that Turkey should be aware that it could easily become unstable. Conservative media close to the office of the Supreme Leader argued that Shiite Alevis, who consists of “27 percent” of the population crave for Ankara to move closer to Tehran and Damascus, while Turkey’s Kurds are angry at the “brutality” of the Turkish army. Pointing to Turkey’s fault lines, they added that its people yearn for the implementation of Islamic law, but that the AKP has only provided them with a “veneer of Islamism.” Moreover, Turkey, unlike Iran and Egypt, lacks a long tradition of jurisprudential scholarship and therefore it does not have nearly the intellectual strength to lead the Islamic world. Last but not least, the Arabs cannot forget the “bitter” memories of the Ottoman period. Thus, Ankara’s euphoric moment cannot last since the new Egypt will once again reassert itself and balance Turkey.

The new Iranian narrative now fingers Turkey as part of a bigger U.S.-Israel-Saudi plot to derail the new wave of Islamic awakening. Since the United States is losing its puppets (Mubarak, Ben Ali, etc.) in the region, it has decided to use the Turkish model as a damage control measure. The AKP is also a new tool the United States would like to use for its regime change policy in Iran after the failure of the Green Movement in 2009, the argument continues. This is a sensitive point to make, however. The Iranian government is aware of the ideological affinity between Iran’s reformist opposition and the AKP. Although they were born in diametrically opposed political systems, both strive to strike a balance between Islam and democracy. Iranian leaders fear that the AKP may inflict a similar damage to their legitimacy as the Iranian reform movement has. They acknowledge that the reformists, although defeated for now, managed to crack the heart of the establishment and bring many die-hard supporters of the regime to their side or neutralize them. Now, the AKP could create a similar legitimacy crisis for the Islamic government on a regional level, weakening Iran’s soft power and undermining its popularity in the Muslim world.

There was a time when Iran would rely on its revolutionary ideology to project power. The Islamic government now finds itself relying on using its power to project ideology, to prove its revolution was right, and to demonstrate its message was just. In a recent speech, Ayatollah Khamenei claimed that the world is entering a “historic turn,” in which the Islamic Republic should be the model for all countries on earth. But that could become a cruel prophecy indeed if the model they were looking for turns out to be Turkish.

Posted in Miscellany Tagged with: ,

David Brooks not our favorite pundit

David Brooks Wrong Inequality Column – The Case Against David Brooks, Man of the Privileged Few – Esquire

In fact, the income differentials understate the chasm between college and high school grads. In the 1970s, high school and college grads had very similar family structures. Today, college grads are much more likely to get married, they are much less likely to get divorced and they are much, much less likely to have a child out of wedlock.

Yes, and college grads are far more likely to have expensive lawnmowers and the ability to hit a two-iron. What in the hell is your point here? The life of an unemployed mechanic in Macon is not unequal to that of an unemployed recent graduate of the University of Georgia, where no unapproved fornicating occurs. That kid is going to come home with his degree and talk to his old high-school football tight end, the mechanic, and they’re both going to be angry because there is no work because, and I know I’m repeating myself here, nobody has any fking money anymore.

But, ah, you might say, what we have here is a great argument for vastly increasing and simplifying federal student loans, and for forgiving student debt, because what passes for data in this column clearly indicates that a college degree is critical to avoiding certain social pathologies that are at the root of our genuine inequality, and not the fact that nobody has any fking money anymore. No, you probably guessed by now, Your Honor, it’s values again. And, of course, not those values that we hoped our financial barons would have that would make them realize that stealing everything that isn’t nailed down is not good for America. Nope, it’s all those poor people humping again:

That’s because the protesters and media people who cover them tend to live in or near the big cities, where the top 1 percent is so evident. That’s because the liberal arts majors like to express their disdain for the shallow business and finance majors who make all the money. That’s because it is easier to talk about the inequality of stock options than it is to talk about inequalities of family structure, child rearing patterns and educational attainment. That’s because many people are wedded to the notion that our problems are caused by an oppressive privileged class that perpetually keeps its boot stomped on the neck of the common man.

But the fact is that Red Inequality is much more important. The zooming wealth of the top 1 percent is a problem, but it’s not nearly as big a problem as the tens of millions of Americans who have dropped out of high school or college. It’s not nearly as big a problem as the 40 percent of children who are born out of wedlock. It’s not nearly as big a problem as the nation’s stagnant human capital, its stagnant social mobility and the disorganized social fabric for the bottom 50 percent. 

Those two paragraphs alone, Your Honor, represent the rest of the American people’s prima facie against Our Mr. Books on the charges before the bar. There’s the sneering at “liberal arts majors” from a guy with a degree in History from the University of Chicago. There’s the usual wheedling nonsense about family structure and “stagnant human capital,” as Brooks tosses out tinpot sociology like a dime to a beggar on a steam grate. We do have an oppressive privileged class. (Brooks should look around his dinner table some time.) For three decades, as the Congressional Budget Office reported last week, most of the wealth of this country flowed upwards into it. Over the past decade, that privileged class, without a peep from people like David Brooks, turned the American economy into a dog track, and it didn’t matter a damn whether you went to college or didn’t go to college, or whether you were having babies “out of wedlock” (Jesus, what a priss) or not. That privileged class enriched itself and to hell with the rest of us. “Disorganized social fabric”? Holy hell, people are just trying to keep from getting tossed out into the street and all he’s got by way of an explanation is that too many people are getting knocked up and too few are going to college, even though we all woke up sometime in the autumn of 2008 and discovered that nobody had any fking money anymore.

Posted in Miscellany

BTW in case you missed it Film is dead

R.I.P., the movie camera: 1888-2011 – Salon.com

We might as well call it: Cinema as we knew it is dead.

An article at the moviemaking technology website Creative Cow reports that the three major manufacturers of motion picture film cameras — Aaton, ARRI and Panavision — have all ceased production of new cameras within the last year, and will only make digital movie cameras from now on.  As the article’s author, Debra Kaufman, poignantly puts it, “Someone, somewhere in the world is now holding the last film camera ever to roll off the line.”

What this means is that, even though purists may continue to shoot movies on film, film itself will may become increasingly hard to come by, use, develop and preserve. It also means that the film camera — invented in 1888 by Louis Augustin Le Prince — will become to cinema what typewriters are to literature. Anybody who still uses a Smith-Corona or IBM Selectric typewriter knows what that means: if your beloved machine breaks, you can’t just take it to the local repair shop, you have to track down some old hermit in another town who advertises on Craigslist and stockpiles spare parts in his basement.

As Aaton founder Jean-Pierre Beauviala told Kaufman: “Almost nobody is buying new film cameras. Why buy a new one when there are so many used cameras around the world? We wouldn’t survive in the film industry if we were not designing a digital camera.” Bill Russell, ARRI’s vice president of cameras, added that: “The demand for film cameras on a global basis has all but disappeared.”

Theaters, movies, moviegoing and other core components of what we once called “cinema” persist, and may endure.  But they’re not quite what they were in the analog cinema era. They’re something new, or something else — the next generation of technologies and rituals that had changed shockingly little between 1895 and the early aughts. We knew this day would come. Calling oneself a “film director” or “film editor” or “film buff” or a “film critic” has over the last decade started to seem a faintly nostalgic affectation; decades hence it may start to seem fanciful. It’s a vestigial word that increasingly refers to something that does not actually exist — rather like referring to the mass media as “the press.”

Posted in Miscellany

as if we needed yet another problem

(h/t Nerdcore)

Posted in notes

…and now a word from Koli Gindas

kali gindoleod?

Once upon a time when I was identifying especially strongly with my Jews, and especially un-strongly with my Christians, I thought about changing my name, or at least about adopting a nom de plume that more accurately reflected my maternal roots, and that suited someone who, in my view and in the views of most at the time, also happened to look Jewish (schnoz, curly hair).

“Gindas” was supposedly the original rendering of the Polish-Jewish family name that was Ellis-Islandized to the more slavic-looking “Gindoff.”  I can’t really vouch for the accuracy of “Gindas” as a transliteration, but I’m too lazy to call up a cousin who knows the story better to confirm my interpretation of the family tale.

In addition to sounding a little ridiculous next to “Gindas” or “Gindoff,” “Colin” has problems of its own.  Though the name translates as “young, virile,” it’s always sounded a bit effeminate to my ear – the liquid “l,” the hard “kah” sound softened into a “C,” which, even if it sounds a “k” before a following open vowel, appears commodious and receptive:  more cunt than cock.  Could simply reflect a lack of masculine self-esteem on my part, I guess, and the history of “Colin” – Colin the kisser, Colin Clout, General Colin Powell, American fighter ace Colin Kelly (my namesake, I’ve been told) – goes against my interpretation, but I’ll stand by it anyway:  I don’t think anyone today thinks about Colin Clout, and Coh-lin Powell (he prefers that pron.) has always struck me as a pretty, prissy General as Generals go.

“Colin”‘s cognates include “Nikolai” or “Nicholas,” and, though I like those names, one could hardly get more gentile.  Ditto for “Klaus,” of course.  But “Koli” looked Hebraic enough to me, like it could be the nickname of an Israeli journalist or politician.  Also my best friend in those days called me “Collie,” like the dog, and I like dogs, and dogs are more male than cats.  Plus Koli got rid of the unfortunate pun on one common pronunciation of “Colin” – a pronunciation which the educated effete might want to associate with a favorite punctuation mark of the educated effete, but which everyone, even the effete when forced to tell the truth, associates first with the lower alimentary canal.

Having once been named, the personality Koli Gindas cannot help but exist a little, somewhere.

The odd, but predictable thing about Koli is that he sounds even more like a Scot than CuntcockfucK MacLeod does, and he’s just about always drunk, even when he hasn’t imbibed in days, trying but failing to forget his banishment from the proud, never vanquished Skye-born Highland clan of the sons of the brutal, the ugly, the loud.

His anima or feminine aspect, his other self inevitably, under the non-vocalic Hebraic spelling, is Kali, of course.  If you suffer from lacking macho, what better feminine aspect than Kali?

So, Koli Gindas says,

It’s my fuken borthday

so no one can horth may. 

Posted in Miscellany

Conservative Politics as Warfare

Wake up, commentators. The most dangerous group of “right-wing extremists” today is not the grass-roots tea party. It is the financial and ideological leaders in the Republican coalition who have embraced the extremist philosophy of “politics as warfare.” | Democratic Strategist

Writers and commentators who, in private, will cheerfully concede that, of course, the crisis is fundamentally the fault of Republican intransigence will then fall back on “both sides are equally to blame” clichés in their public writing — not only to avoid charges of liberal bias but also to portray themselves as impartial and intellectually superior observers of all career politicians.

There is, unfortunately, one major problem with this “elites as pragmatic, fringe as extreme” view: it is deeply, profoundly and fundamentally wrong. The most dangerous group of political extremists today is not the grass roots supporters of the Tea Party. It is the major sector of the Republican financial and ideological elite who have embraced the philosophy of “politics as warfare.”

To see why this is so, it is necessary to very clearly distinguish between two entirely distinct meanings of the term “extremism.” On the one hand, it is possible for a person or political party to hold a wide variety of very “extreme” opinions on issues. These views may be crackpot (e.g. “abolish paper money) or repugnant (“deny non-insured children medical care”). But as long as the individual or political party that holds these views conducts itself within the norms and rules of a democratic society, this, in itself, does not lead such groups or individuals to be described as “political extremists” by the media or society in general.

Libertarians and the Libertarian Party offer the best illustration. Vast numbers of Americans consider many libertarian views “extreme.” But, because the libertarians conduct themselves within the norms and rules of a democratic society, they are virtually never described by the media as “political extremists.”

The alternative definition of the term “political extremists” refers to political parties or individuals who do not accept the norms, rules and constraints of democratic society. They embrace a view of “politics as warfare” and of political opponents as literal “enemies” who must be crushed. Extremist political parties based on the politics as warfare philosophy emerged on both the political left and right at various times in the 20th century in many different countries and circumstances.

Despite their ideological diversity, extremist political parties share a large number of common characteristics, one critical trait being a radically different conception of the role and purpose of the political party itself in a democratic society.

In the politics as warfare perspective a political party’s objective is defined as the conquest and seizure of power and not sincere collaboration in democratic governance. The party is viewed as a combat organization whose goal is to defeat an enemy, not a governing organization whose job is to faithfully represent the people who voted for it. Political debate and legislative maneuvering are seen not as the means to achieve ultimate compromise, but as forms of combat whose objective is total victory.

This basic conception of the role of political parties leads to the justification and use of two profoundly anti-democratic strategies.

First, in the politics as warfare perspective it is a legitimate strategy for a political party to paralyze the workings of government in order to prevent a democratically elected government of an opposing party from implementing the platform on which it was elected. In the politics as warfare perspective the extremist political party accepts no responsibility for stability–engineering the failure of the existing government is absolutely paramount and any negative consequences that may occur in the process represent a kind of “collateral damage” that must be accepted as inevitable in warfare.

Historically, the Republican Party never embraced this strategy at any time during the Democratic administrations of Truman, Kennedy or Carter. The strategy first made its appearance when Newt Gingrich engineered the shutdown of the government in 1994. After Obama’s election in 2008 the use of this “paralyze the government” tactic accelerated dramatically with the conversion of the filibuster into a minority veto of virtually all majority-sponsored legislation and a Republican bar to the huge numbers of judicial and administrative appointments.

Previous generations of Republicans would have been scandalized by the notion of crippling the administration of justice by leaving courts grotesquely understaffed in order to prevent the appointment of individuals who did not strictly adhere to conservative orthodoxy.

The most dramatic escalation of this approach, however, occurred after the elections of 2010 and was reflected in the rejection of the very substantial reduction in federal spending that Obama offered the Republican house majority. Observers concurred that the deal was far more favorable to conservatives in terms of policy than the deal Ronald Reagan accepted in 1986 on tax reform or that Newt Gingrich accepted on welfare reform in 1995. But public statements by Republican leaders indicated that the deal was rejected in substantial part on the explicitly political grounds that any legislative agreement that produced a “victory” for Obama was unacceptable. In effect, the political objective of weakening the president had actually become a higher priority than the achievement of the most fundamental long-sought conservative policy goals.

It is almost impossible for anyone who does not remember previous eras of American politics to realize how extraordinary this transformation actually is. It would have been literally inconceivable to the Republican senators and congressmen of the 1950s and 1960s.

The second, even more directly and profoundly anti-democratic strategy that directly flows from the politics as warfare philosophy is the calculated attempt to disenfranchise likely pro-Democratic voters.

There were no systematic Republican initiatives to disenfranchise voters during the Nixon, Reagan or Gingrich eras. But after the 2008 elections Fox News began promulgating the notion that massive voter fraud had occurred. Fox News featured a video of two members of the New Black Panthers at a single polling site more than 100 times on its national programs, asserting that they had intimidated voters in order to insure Obama’s election. Even after it was conclusively demonstrated that sworn eyewitness testimony had been intentionally falsified in order to fabricate this charge, Fox continued to air the accusations and to assert that they were the tip of the iceberg of similar incidents. In parallel, accusations were also made that massive numbers of fraudulent votes had been cast in the election.

The result of these charges was a widespread grass-roots effort by local tea party groups to police polling places and record incidents of intimidation and fraudulent voting during the 2010 elections — an effort that produced not a single documented case anywhere in the country. Nonetheless, there is now a major, nationally coordinated and massively funded effort to prevent pro-Democratic constituencies from casting their ballots.

Posted in Miscellany Tagged with: , ,

Gotcher Silver Lining Right Here, Dude

World power swings back to America – Telegraph

The US already meets 72pc of its own oil needs, up from around 50pc a decade ago.

“The implications of this shift are very large for geopolitics, energy security, historical military alliances and economic activity. As US reliance on the Middle East continues to drop, Europe is turning more dependent and will likely become more exposed to rent-seeking behaviour from oligopolistic players,” said Mr Blanch.

Meanwhile, the China-US seesaw is about to swing the other way. Offshoring is out, ‘re-inshoring’ is the new fashion.

“Made in America, Again” – a report this month by Boston Consulting Group – said Chinese wage inflation running at 16pc a year for a decade has closed much of the cost gap. China is no longer the “default location” for cheap plants supplying the US.

A “tipping point” is near in computers, electrical equipment, machinery, autos and motor parts, plastics and rubber, fabricated metals, and even furniture.

“A surprising amount of work that rushed to China over the past decade could soon start to come back,” said BCG’s Harold Sirkin.

The gap in “productivity-adjusted wages” will narrow from 22pc of US levels in 2005 to 43pc (61pc for the US South) by 2015. Add in shipping costs, reliability woes, technology piracy, and the advantage shifts back to the US.

The list of “repatriates” is growing. Farouk Systems is bringing back assembly of hair dryers to Texas after counterfeiting problems; ET Water Systems has switched its irrigation products to California; Master Lock is returning to Milwaukee, and NCR is bringing back its ATM output to Georgia. NatLabs is coming home to Florida.

Boston Consulting expects up to 800,000 manufacturing jobs to return to the US by mid-decade, with a multiplier effect creating 3.2m in total. This would take some sting out of the Long Slump.

As Cleveland Fed chief Sandra Pianalto said last week, US manufacturing is “very competitive” at the current dollar exchange rate. Whether intended or not, the Fed’s zero rates and $2.3 trillion printing blitz have brought matters to an abrupt head for China.

Fed actions confronted Beijing with a Morton’s Fork of ugly choices: revalue the yuan, or hang onto the mercantilist dollar peg and import a US monetary policy that is far too loose for a red-hot economy at the top of the cycle. Either choice erodes China’s wage advantage. The Communist Party chose inflation.

Foreign exchange effects are subtle. They take a long to time play out as old plant slowly runs down, and fresh investment goes elsewhere. Yet you can see the damage to Europe from an over-strong euro in foreign direct investment (FDI) data.

Flows into the EU collapsed by 63p from 2007 to 2010 (UNCTAD data), and fell by 77pc in Italy. Flows into the US rose by 5pc.

Volkswagen is investing $4bn in America, led by its Chattanooga Passat plant. Korea’s Samsung has begun a $20bn US investment blitz. Meanwhile, Intel, GM, and Caterpillar and other US firms are opting to stay at home rather than invest abroad.

Europe has only itself to blame for the current “hollowing out” of its industrial base. It craved its own reserve currency, without understanding how costly this “exorbitant burden” might prove to be.

China and the rising reserve powers have rotated a large chunk of their $10 trillion stash into EMU bonds to reduce their dollar weighting. The result is a euro too strong for half of EMU.

The European Central Bank has since made matters worse (for Italy, Spain, Portugal, and France) by keeping rates above those of the US, UK, and Japan. That has been a deliberate policy choice. It let real M1 deposits in Italy contract at a 7pc annual rate over the summer. May it live with the consequences.

The trade-weighted dollar has been sliding for a decade, falling 37pc since 2001. This roughly replicates the post-Plaza slide in the late 1980s, which was followed – with a lag – by 3pc of GDP shrinkage in the current account deficit. The US had a surplus by 1991.

Charles Dumas and Diana Choyleva from Lombard Street Research argue that this may happen again in their new book “The American Phoenix”.

The switch in advantage to the US is relative. It does not imply a healthy US recovery. The global depression will grind on as much of the Western world tightens fiscal policy and slowly purges debt, and as China deflates its credit bubble.

Yet America retains a pack of trump cards, and not just in sixteen of the world’s top twenty universities.

It is almost the only economic power with a fertility rate above 2.0 – and therefore the ability to outgrow debt – in sharp contrast to the demographic decay awaiting Japan, China, Korea, Germany, Italy, and Russia.

Europe’s EMU soap opera has shown why it matters that America is a genuine nation, forged by shared language and the ancestral chords of memory over two centuries, with institutions that ultimately work and a real central bank able to back-stop the system.

The 21st Century may be American after all, just like the last.

Posted in Miscellany Tagged with:

Campaigning on foreign policy among those who don’t care about it

Five thoughts on the politics of Obama’s foreign policy | Daniel W. Drezner

“As president, I have to address both domestic policy and foreign policy. Because of the way that the commander-in-chief role has evolved, I have far fewer political constraints on foreign policy action than domestic policy action. So let’s think about this for a second. On the foreign stage, America’s standing has returned from its post-Iraq low. Al Qaeda is now a shell of its former self. Liberalizing forces are making uneven but forward progress in North Africa. Muammar Gaddafi’s regime is no longer, without one American casualty. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are winding down. Every country in the Pacific Rim without a Communist Party running things is trying to hug us closer.

“Imagine what I could accomplish in domestic policy without the kind of obstructionism and filibustering that we’re seeing in Congress — which happens to be even more unpopular than I am, by the way. I’m not talking about the GOP abjectly surrendering, mind you, just doing routine things like sublecting my nominees to a floor vote in the Senate. I’ve achieved significant foreign policy successes while still cooperating with our allies in NATO and Northeast Asia. Just imagine what I could get done if the Republicans were as willing to compromise as, say, France.”

Posted in Miscellany Tagged with:

Seems we just get started then before you know it…

Yes, the U.S. is withdrawing from Iraq | Marc Lynch

Iraq still faces many difficult challenges and won’t be fully secure or politically stable for a long time.  But the U.S. military presence is now largely irrelevant to those problems. Nor would the remaining troops have greatly troubled Iran.  Iraqi politics and security institutions have long since adapted to the reduced American role and its impending departure.  Disaster did not follow when U.S. troops stopped patrolling, or when 100,000 troops left over the course of a year. Instead, Iraqi Security Forces took over the lead role in internal security under the new conditions, and adapted effectively enough.  Even if an agreement had been reached to keep some U.S. troops after 2011, they would have been almost exclusively involved in training and support. The ongoing terrorist attacks and unresolved instability along the Arab-Kurdish border pose real challenges, but the U.S. troops which might conceivably have stayed behind in 2012 weren’t going to be dealing with them.

Crucially, Iraqis will not be surprised by the American withdrawal. This is no rush to the exits. Thanks to Bush’s 2008 SOFA deal and Obama’s clear public declarations over the last few years, the withdrawal will not be a sudden, unexpected or disruptive removal of a vital support structure. Iraqi politics have already adapted to the declining American role, and factored it in. The result hasn’t been pretty — worrying centralization of power by Prime Minister Maliki, a fractious and ineffective Parliament, continuing institutional deficiencies, a nasty political discourse, and ongoing low level violence. But it looks resilient enough to avoid catastrophe, and above all it doesn’t depend on (or want) constant American pushing and prodding and intervention to carry on. 

The reality, too often downplayed in the U.S.-centric debate, is that most Iraqis simply didn’t want the U.S. troops to stay.  This matters in the intensely polarized Iraqi political arena.  The scars of invasion, occupation, and civil war run deep. There are plenty of Iraqi elites who privately hoped that the U.S. would stay, who recognized Iraq’s external military weakness, warned of a resurgent civil war, or feared for their political future. But very few would make that case to Iraqis in public because they knew it would be political suicide. And that matters.  It should not be a surprise that negotiations over extending the U.S. presence collapsed over the question of immunity for U.S. troops — essential to the Pentagon, but perhaps the single most politically incendiary issue for Iraqis. 

While there’s of course a wide range of opinion, it’s worth noting that Iraqi officials with whom I’ve spoken recently shrugged when asked about the likely effects of a full American withdrawal. They didn’t expect a major impact on security, and some thought that removing the issue of extending the U.S. troop presence from the Iraqi political debate would have a healthy effect.  People whose political lives depend on it don’t all seem to share the apocalyptic fears often heard in Washington — and if they did, presumably they would have behaved differently during the negotiations. 

Even those who privately hoped the U.S. would stay opposed the idea of a small residual force, which they pointed out would keep the political issue alive without providing many real security gains. Trying to circumvent public opinion through a secret agreement or through a deal which didn’t require Parliamentary approval would have been even worse, leaving the U.S. presence in a vulnerable condition of contested legitimacy which would have ensured that it remained a top political wedge issue.

The Obama administration did what it could to negotiate an agreement to keep a training and support mission in Iraq. But administration officials involved with the issue seem satisfied with the outcome, as they should.  As I wrote months ago, I wouldn’t have been bothered much if Obama and the Iraqi government had ultimately agreed to keep a few thousand troops in an agreement ratified by the Iraqi Parliament.  It wouldn’t have been necessary, and would have looked like he had broken his commitment to withdraw, but it wouldn’t have remotely resembled an occupation under those terms.  But I am glad that it didn’t work out that way. It’s simply better that the troops all leave.  And it’s far, far better that the Obama administration didn’t accept either a fatally flawed deal or one which had not won Iraqi political consent — which were the only other plausible outcomes. 

I do hope that Obama’s invitation to Maliki to come to Washington in December to discuss the implementation of the Strategic Framework Agreement leads to real, mutually beneficial cooperation between the U.S. and Iraq.  The fact that most Iraqi elites recognize that they still need U.S. logistical support, especially for external defense needs, should give them a strong incentive to stay engaged with us even without a new SOFA. There are plenty of non-military ways that the U.S. could help Iraq, more important to building an enduring relationship than the military dimension, even if Congress still doesn’t seem inclined to pay for them.  One way to get around the deal would be to rely even more on private contractors — and, indeed, their continuing role is one of the main criticisms already aired on the left against the withdrawal announcement. But it wouldn’t surprise me if the expected army of thousands of American security contractors and massive Embassy staff also soon comes into question.  

Those questions will all come up soon, though I suspect that the actual fallout on the ground and in the region will be limited. But for now, the announcement of the withdrawal of all U.S. troops should be welcomed as a major step forward and an opportunity to develop that new relationship. 

Posted in Miscellany Tagged with:

Noted & Quoted

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And this programmer suggested a way to avoid user input all together:

Eventually, programmers on Reddit started making fully-functioning, interactive versions of the awful forms, like this and this and this. Someone even created one out of the classic game Snake. The meme hasn’t stopped for weeks now, and iterations of it seem to be growing more detailed and elaborate.

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Trump actually congratulated Erdogan on the outcome. Trump apparently thought it was a good thing that, despite all the flaws in the process, a bare majority of Turkey’s citizens voted to strengthen their populist leader. I don’t think any other post-Cold War president would have congratulated a democratic ally that held a flawed referendum leading to a less democratic outcome. This is not that far off from Trump congratulating Putin on a successful referendum result in Crimea if that event had been held in 2017 rather than 2014.

Public disquiet and behind-the-scenes pressure on key illiberal allies is an imperfect policy position. It is still a heck of a lot more consistent with America’s core interests than congratulating allies on moving in an illiberal direction. In congratulating Erdogan, Trump did the latter.

For all the talk about Trump’s moderation, for all the talk about an Axis of Adults, it’s time that American foreign policy-watchers craving normality acknowledge three brute facts:

  1. Donald Trump is the president of the United States;
  2. Trump has little comprehension of how foreign policy actually works;
  3. The few instincts that Trump applies to foreign policy are antithetical to American values.
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He sensed that the public wanted relief from the burdens of global leadership without losing the thrill of nationalist self-assertion. America could cut back its investment in world order with no whiff of retreat. It would still boss others around, even bend them to its will...

There was, to be sure, one other candidate in the 2016 field who also tried to have it both ways—more activism and more retrenchment at the same time. This was, oddly enough, Hillary Clinton... Yet merely to recall Clinton’s hybrid foreign-policy platform is to see how pallid it was next to Trump’s. While she quibbled about the TPP (which few seemed to believe she was really against), her opponent ferociously denounced all trade agreements—those still being negotiated, like the TPP, and those, like NAFTA and China’s WTO membership, that had long been on the books. “Disasters” one and all, he said. For anyone genuinely angry about globalization, it was hard to see Clinton as a stronger champion than Trump. She was at a similar disadvantage trying to compete with Trump on toughness. His anti-terrorism policy—keep Muslims out of the country and bomb isis back to the Stone Age—was wild talk, barely thought through. But for anyone who really cared about hurting America’s enemies, it gave Trump more credibility than Clinton’s vague, muddled talk of “safe zones” ever gave her.

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