Sunday, June 27, 2010

The other Afghanistan

We had a lunch for the faculty members of the various universities that participated in our study. We had members of Kabul University's Economics Department and the Sharia Law faculty, The American University's head librarian (most of the teachers are off there for summer vacation), and several members of the political science and sociology faculties from Kateeb University. We also had a representative of the American Embassy.

There has been an explosion in higher education activity in recent years but there are not many opportunities for faculty members to get together across disciplinary and institutional boundaries. My general impression was that they enjoyed it and were interested in increasing cooperation with one another.

I found that the one thing that united all the Afghan colleagues that I worked with was their willingness to work with people they didn't know. They want to be in touch with the rest of the world. I think the image we have of Afghanistan is dominated by the Taliban, the one group that virtually every Afghan I talk to hates. There is another Afghanistan, an Afghanistan worth fighting for.

Government Irrationality

Setting an inflexible rule without examining possibly trade-offs in different circumstances is an inherent shortcoming of government. It is truly appalling that the administration first refused Dutch help and then enforced an absurd rule.


There is something a little disturbing about the way some have reacted to the McCrystal replacement. Some of my fellow expats took a positive joy in how quickly and unceremoniously the general was dismissed. They seemed to derive enjoyment from the decisiveness of our president in asserting his prerogatives and batting down the insolent military leakers. 

Perhaps this was necessary but it disturbs me how little I have heard about the real question, was McCrystal the best man for the job or not?  That seems to be the most important question and the few expats that I have talked took a deliberate pleasure in dismissing that concern as irrelevant.  Civilian control of the military is the sacred point.

Even granting that that was the issue, it leaves me uneasy to dismiss the question of generalship so cavalierly.  Having the right general could easily mean the difference between victory and defeat in Afghanistan. 10 years from now no one will care if the President's entourage was given its due respect. Some one may care whether girls are able to walk to school without having acid thrown in their face.

It is a particularly striking example of how we use our foreign affairs as resources to play out our domestic political culture wars.  Has his oneness been disrespected? That is the question.  The nation of Afghanistan? Our soldiers lives? Mere details.

David Brooks has a great column on this. Also, check out the Churchill Centre's take.

More evidence that the real dividing line is between the public and the private sectors. I think these aggregate figures help get past the appearance that the relatively small number of direct federal employees creates of a relatively small public sector.  Add in all the subsidized and the sub-contractors and the public sector gets much larger.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Democracy and Globalization not necessarily to the West's advantage

From an article describing Turkey's embrace of Islamic causes and turn away from secularism, evidence that globalization cuts both ways:

"Hifa Gulru Caglar, a 21-year-old Turk studying in Romania, drove 12 hours to take part in the protest. A visitor asked what contributed to the pro-Palestinian fervor, which wasn't as evident in the past.

"Twenty years ago, there was no Internet," Caglar said. "We had no access" to information from Gaza."

Real Financial Reform

The Huffington Post's Simon Johnson has this approving analysis of Richard Fisher's (the Head of the Federal Reserve in Dallas) of the Obama administration's proposed reform and its failings. His main argument is that the gargantuan banks of our era are the result of the lack of market forces and that unless we restrict banks to a size small enough to fail we will never end the bailout syndrome.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

The Economist reports on the things that are actually blocked by the Gaza blockade and finds that there are some pretty harmless things that have been prohibited at one point or another. The blockade would appear to be aimed at more than just prohibiting weapons but also making life worse for the residents of Gaza. The fact that your blockade makes life uncomfortable is something that you should apologize for is a problem. The whole understanding of the situation is constructed in a way that makes most any action that Israel takes is going to be illegitimate. Israel is not allowed to fight a war against a government and territory that is waging war against it. I think the focus on the tactics employed or the things allowed in or not allowed in misses the point. The situation is constructed by so that fighting a war is itself illegitimate and as long as that is the case there is nothing that Israel can do that will allow it to defend herself and avoid criticism.

On the other hand there is a tactical point that must be made. The Israelis defend the blockade on the argument that the importation of weapons must be stopped. By stopping things that are not weapons and are hard to see how they could contribute to victory in a conflict blurs their point and exposes the fact that the Israelis, in addition to stopping the importation of weapons, are trying to give the people that voted for Hamas a little grief.  They are quite right to do so in my view, but as a matter of strategy it is probably not worth it.  They should publish the list of prohibited items and the list should be confined items of clear military use.  It is unfortunate that Israel is in a fight where the rules are unfair and the umpire is biased but lamenting the fact does not change it or the necessity for dealing with that fact.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Flotilla round up

Capital Strike

It turns out that when you make something more expensive people buy less of it. It even works for labor. Who knew

I was frankly surprised by the President's statement touting the increase in employment as an achievement in spite of the growth coming from the temporary hiring of census workers.  I was even more surprised that the press did not let him get away with it.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Athens on the Potomac — The American, A Magazine of Ideas

Athens on the Potomac — The American, A Magazine of Ideas

In some way our situation is worse than Greece: we have a lot more short term debt so we are going to be constantly on the market trying to issue more debt. All of that amazingly cheap credit may come back to bite us much sooner than we think.

Congratulations To SpaceX - Transterrestrial Musings

Congratulations To SpaceX - Transterrestrial Musings

A private space launch is successful. This is a vindication of the Obama administration's policy.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Opinio Juris » Blog Archive » Why Is Israel’s Blockade of Gaza Legal? (Updated)

Opinio Juris » Blog Archive » Why Is Israel’s Blockade of Gaza Legal? (Updated)

An example of the twisted and confused reasoning that lawyers get themselves into. The blockade is not illegal because Hamas is not a state, just a place where a bunch of guys that want to destroy their enemy by means of terrorism happen to live.

I answer that if there is not a category for that in the treaties Heller cites it is because the enemy has achieved a new standard of depravity and we to a new standard of cravenness. The enemy is allowed to shelter in the gap in the lawyers' cloud castle of categories, jumping to from one to the other when convenient.