Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The Real McCain

And thus it came to be that on November 4, 2008, Barack H. Obama defeated John S. McCain, III, to become the 44th president of the United States. Congratulations Senator. Your ability to inspire millions, both at home and around the world, while breaking down countless barriers speaks volumes to your unwavering strength of character and ability to lead. While I may not agree with you, I do admire you and all those who have worked tirelessly for you, and in the end, that may be what matters most. I wish you all the best.

But what of the defeated?

Last night, in the dark hours of defeat, an exhausted American hero walked on to a stage in Phoenix and gave one of the greatest speeches of his life. Full of grace, humility, and reverence, John McCain offered congratulations and pledged to do all in his power to bridge the divide that has plagued the country for so long. To long-time supporters of the Senator from Arizona, this came as no surprise, for this was the real McCain we had always known, the McCain that has always been there, quietly lurking beneath the surface of a conservative facade forced upon him by a political party of which he was never fully apart. This facade, though never comfortable, was the price of nomination but was also the price of defeat. Through cruel luck and a cancerous GOP legacy, America never saw the real McCain. For the real McCain was never the man conservatives wanted. He was there for a short time in 2000, only to be savagely destroyed by a governor from Texas. The real McCain is not the attack dog of combative politics nor the glamorous orator. He is not found at loud speeches or red-baiting rallies. He is neither Reagan nor Bush. And at times, neither Republican nor Democrat. He is the quiet soldier, the modest patriot, the tireless servant, working tirelessly to meet those with opposing views in order to discuss differences and compromise, and he is found in the quiet patriotism of all Americans. He is found in the reenlisting soldier, the selfless Peace Corp member, the idealistic public defender, the committed civic volunteer and the driven public school teacher. He is found in all those Americans who put country above self to quietly ensure a better America, and a better world, for all. This is where the real McCain has, and will always be. For McCain is not the stuff of political machinery or partisan politics, he is someone who has seen and experienced Hell and come out all the stronger. He is the tested veteran, the noble moderate, and in a very real sense, a true American hero. For conservatives that have slowly destroyed the party, he was the maverick, always bucking the party line and frustrating hardliners, but for moderates, he was familiar and he was ours. And he was my candidate for President of the United States.

Grace, it would seem, is a dying virtue in American politics. Losers hate their enemies and always believe apocalypse is nigh. They curse the opposition and threaten to leave the country in stormy protest, or at times they even sue for relief. Winners gloat and throw their victory in their enemies’ faces. But last night a man who has seen and lost much taught us all a very difficult lesson with grace in abundance. Losing is never easy in Presidential elections but in the City on the Hill we must all be reminded from time to time that we are bigger than issues and bigger than party. We are all apart of an idea. An idea that all individuals, no matter who they are, are free to pursue their dreams, and only together can we maintain that dream which is, and will always be, the last best hope of the earth.

Country first.

Monday, October 06, 2008

The Great Debate

Wow. My lack of motivation seemingly knows no bounds. Couple that with horrendous allergies and you get a very bad blogger.

Not much going on foreign-policy-wise since Wall Street decided to play Russian Roulette with mortgage based securities underpinned by sub-prime loans. But there has been some debatin’ goin’ on, especially around this neck of the woods. I myself got the hell out of Oxford last Friday and missed all the celebs. However, my sister was interviewed by Katie Couric. Wild!

Anyway, last Friday I seemed to sense McCain was going to lay an egg and it would be over; I got the same feeling Thursday night before the VP debate. However, McCain did very well and, in my opinion, won the debate. Palin on the other hand certainly didn’t win but she did perform much better than expected. And so, the McCain Campaign continues to limp on, albeit on life-support.

Substantively, I was very disappointed in the foreign policy debate. McCain’s big plus in this area is his support for the surge. However, he really missed an opportunity to explain exactly why the surge was such a game-changer and how the situation would look if US forces had been withdrawn as Obama proposed. He also really failed to press home how much and how long he has disagreed with Bush over troop levels in Iraq.

Obama’s big blunder was Russia. He seriously seems to have no idea what to do, which is why he chose to talk about pursuing alternative energy instead of discussing containment methods or the status of NATO.

However my biggest complaint is that both campaigns are blowing the Iranian nuclear issue WAY out of proportion and neither camp seems to have a plan for Afghanistan.

Look, Iran may be enriching uranium and they might even make enough to explode a nuclear device, but the road between a nuclear device and a weapon is a long one. The device has to be ruggedized and miniaturized in order to be placed on some type of delivery vehicle. Realistically Iran simply does not have the technological capacity or infrastructure to complete that process without help. Furthermore, even if they do get the technology it’s still going to take a long-ass time to produce a weapon. So while McCain and Obama thunder about Iran, in reality it’s hard to see a nuclear Iran coming to fruition during the next eight years.

However Iran does come into play when it comes to dealing with Iraq and Afghanistan but neither candidate explains the difficulties. To be clear, Irans influence in Iraq is substantial. Prior to surging Iran attempted to curb Sunni influence in Iraq’s security forces in order to prevent a Sunni Iraqi government backed by Washington and thus creating another version of the Hussein regime that had waged war with Iran for years. The surge forced Tehran to reassess its strategy since, due to political agreements between Sunni nationalists and US forces, it became clear that a pro-Iranian government was evaporating. Therefore, Iran decided a coalition government was the best it could hope for and reigned in its Shiite militias. The result is an extremely fragile coalition government that is loyal to neither the US nor Iran but could easily fall apart if the latter decides to press for its pro-Iranian government, especially if US forces are withdrawn prematurely and Iran’s proxy militias are reconstituted. Secondly, Iran also has a huge stake in Afghanistan. Tehran is no friend of the Taliban, having nearly gone to war with them in 1998 after the regime killed several Iranian diplomats and intelligence officers when it attacked the city of Mazar.

So, the next president will need to deal with Iran but it will be quite the tight-rope walk. The US needs to gain a commitment to a neutral Iraq so US forces can be redeployed to Afghanistan, plus a larger commitment to stabilization efforts in Afghanistan, all while discouraging Tehran from nuclear development and entering into an understanding with re-emerging Russia. In order to accomplish all this, a much more stable relationship with Iran will be absolutely critical.

Neither candidate explained how he would approach this situation.

As for Afghanistan, neither side seems to have a clue. Currently US and NATO forces number around 50,000 and both candidates favor increasing force strength. However, the Soviets deployed over 120,000 troops in the 80's and still failed to pacify the country. Currently US forces are essentially implementing a holding action. They are defending the Kabul regime, other major cities and are keeping roads open but they are not winning. Furthermore, Afghanistan has almost zero infrastructure and no major exports to speak of, which will make it difficult to cultivate growth and attract foreign investment.

Aside from economic concerns, the United States faces several significant problems that it must deal with in formulating a policy for Afghanistan. First, the Taliban is essentially the same force Americans faced in 2001. Rather than engage in massed warfare against American airpower, the Taliban simply chose to retreat and redeploy to the countryside in the face of the invasion and thus remains essentially the same force that defeated the Northern Alliance in 1996. This force is fueled by the same vast logistical network that enabled the mujahideen to defeat the Soviets in the 80's and is sheltered by local tribes. Thus in order to neutralize this support, US and NATO forces must break up the logistical network and form some sort of a relationship with local tribes in order to deny the Taliban shelter in some of the most rugged terrain on the planet. Both of these goals will be impossible without help from Pakistan, who remains extremely reluctant to engage due to domestic political considerations.

Realistically, the US might be forced into negotiations with the Taliban in order to form some type of viable coalition government that it can live with before US forces are withdrawn. While this may seem unthinkable, it really is our only option unless we can launch a major offensive against the Taliban that includes Pakistan because we simply don’t have the operational capacity to win on our own.

Of course, we could always just support alternative fuels and I’m sure that would clear everything up.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Rising

Can't see nothin in front of me
Can't see nothin coming up behind
I make my way through this darkness
I can't feel nothing but this chain that binds me
Lost track of how far I've gone
How far I've gone, how high I've climbed
On my backs a sixty pound stone
On my shoulder a half mile of line

Come on up for the rising
Come on up, lay your hands in mine
Come on up for the rising
Come on up for the rising tonight

Left the house this morning
Bells ringing filled the air
I's wearin the cross of my calling
On wheels of fire I come rollin down here

Come on up for the rising
Come on up, lay your hands in mine
Come on up for the rising
Come on up for the rising tonight

There's spirits above and behind me
Faces gone black, eyes burnin bright
May their precious blood bind me
Lord, as I stand before your fiery light

I see you Mary in the garden
In the garden of a thousand sighs
There's holy pictures of our children
Dancin in a sky filled with light
May I feel your arms around me
May I feel your blood mix with mine
A dream of life comes to me
Like a catfish dancin on the end of my line

Sky of blackness and sorrow (a dream of life)
Sky of love, sky of tears (a dream of life)
Sky of glory and sadness (a dream of life)
Sky of mercy, sky of fear (a dream of life)
Sky of memory and shadow (a dream of life)
Your burnin wind fills my arms tonight
Sky of longing and emptiness (a dream of life)
Sky of fullness, sky of blessed life

Come on up for the rising
Come on up, lay your hands in mine
Come on up for the rising
Come on up for the rising tonight

--Bruce Springsteen

"Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends."

--John 15:13

Monday, August 25, 2008


Currently judging the Mississippi Law Journal Write-On Competition. Barring war with Iran, I'll return to weekly posts next week.

Friday, August 15, 2008

The Devil Went Down to Georgia

A few days ago I went to bed fully intending to write a blistering critique of Bush & Co. this morning since they seemed to be content to throw Georgia under the bus without lifting a fucking finger. However, I awoke to better news. The U.S. Navy has now been cleared for a humanitarian relief mission which reportedly will include USNS Comfort, and has pulled out of a naval exercise with Russian forces. Meanwhile, relief supplies are being flown in by the USAF (alone I might add. Hats off to the Frenchies for moving quickly here on the cease-fire but where are the troops?). These are smart moves. While the ability of U.S. personnel to deliver aid will certainly be limited, having U.S. boots on the ground will act as effective insurance against a full-blown resumption of hostilities by Russia. You start killing U.S. soldiers in an artillery barrage while they’re handing out water and you’re gonna have SERIOUS problems.

So now what?

Well, Russia is back baby and Secretary, I mean Comrade, I mean President, I mean, oh yeah Prime Minister Putin is clearly in charge. So what do we do? For starters we need to wait and let emotions cool before we make some stupid-ass move that will hurt us and Georgia long term. Now let’s be clear, Ivan did invade in its normal textbook style, it incited anti-government attacks by pro-Russian militias in South Ossentia designed to goad Georgia into attacking and greeted the Georgian crackdown with a well-planned offensive that brutally slaughtered soldiers and civilians alike in unabashed fashion while the Ruskies raped and pillaged as they advanced. Historically, these developments mirror Nazi Germany’s occupation of the Sudetenland in order to protect pro-German Czechs in 1938 almost to the letter, all be it without the raping and pillaging. Meanwhile, the West looks like a bunch of weakass idiots who backed the wrong horse in Saakashvili and seriously underestimated Russia. Therefore, there are plenty of reasons to get pissed and get cowboyed-up. But we need to keep our eye on the ball.

Clearly, eastern Europe and the former Soviet Republics (especially the Ukraine) need to be assured that we’re serious about stemming this sort of aggression. Bob Killebrew over at Small Wars argues for Ivan’s containment and offers some suggestions:

For military strategy, the U.S. should immediately revamp its foreign military assistance programs to those countries, including a post-invasion Georgia. The intent of U.S. aid now should not be aimed not only at preparing forces for low-intensity conflict -- because most of these states have their own problems with breakaway militias and extremist terrorism -- but also at deterring Russian high-intensity, combined-arms attacks. Advanced integrated air-defenses (the Georgians had none), antitank munitions, precision weapons all must be provided so that Russia can no longer plan a walkover like the one we have witnessed. Military assistance groups should be stationed in frontline states, and m military exercises conducted calibrated to bolster the defensive capabilities of local armies. The Russians will cry foul, but their military authorities will understand what they are seeing -- no more easy campaigns. Military aid must include methods and training in our best techniques for computer network defense, a move that -- given the global nature of computer networks -- will integrate our allies' defenses with ours.

These are sound hard power options that need to be implemented alongside soft power components, which can be accomplished by a successful deployment of Comfort. On the other hand, it is interesting to note the U.S. and Poland reached a deal yesterday on a missile defense shield that had some very unusual aspects. This is the kind of stuff we need to be careful about. Making big decisions in a crisis basically to piss Russia off because there really isn’t anything else we can do should be avoided. Let’s get real, when Moscow escalated they knew we would sign that deal. So again we’ve played into Putin’s hands and given him plenty of propaganda material. There certainly is a Big War crowd in the Pentagon that’s just going to be happy as pie about this sort of stuff. The bigger the perceived threat the more we get to spend on kick-ass high-dollar weapon systems but the less money there is to fight the war on terror. The big winner in all this might just be Osama.

So, I’d say we need to hold it for awhile and reassess our policy after tempers have cooled. We’ve still got major problems to deal with re: Iran and while violence in Iraq is down, it seems to be hunting season again in Afghanistan. Face it folks we can’t fight everyone. It’s gonna take Comfort at least a month to arrive on-station so lets work the soft power angle for a bit before we start handing out missiles.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

In Memoriam

A cruel wind blows in through left at Turner Field. On Saturday and Sunday afternoon the wind sounded of injury; a bullpen decimated, a starting rotation destroyed and a slugger’s spot left sadly, but yet again, vacant due to another hamstring pull. The Braves were 10 out and the season all but over. But suddenly on Sunday night, and without warning, all that was gone, as that sinister wind unleashed a far darker howl. Skip Caray, the voice of the Braves since 1976, was dead at 68.

I was away from fellow baseball fans when I received the news, it sent me reeling and no one seemed to understand. I have never met Skip Caray so people seemed to wonder why I cared so much. Well, simply put, I felt his loss like that of a friend because in the end that’s what he was. Night after night, for 27 years, through good times and bad, he was always there.

My father is not a baseball fan, we rarely played catch and he never taught me to keep score but he did tune in to TBS on summer nights and there was Skip, just waiting. Whether he was poking fun at notoriously slow-working pitcher Steve Trachsel stating “Trachsel will, because of the rules, inevitably have to throw one” or the infamously bad Dale Murphy 80s saying “The bases are loaded again and I wish I was” he was always there, in between wise cracks with Pete “the professor” Van Wieren in tow, teaching me the game.

And then came the 90s. I remember that cool Wednesday night on the 14th of October like it was yesterday. It was game seven of the NLCS and the Pittsburgh Pirates took a two-run lead into the bottom of the ninth. Doug Drabek was on the mound pitching a masterpiece but would face the heart of the Atlanta order. The Braves fought back to make it 2-1 with 2 out and the bases loaded. David Justice was 90 feet away with Sid Bream in scoring position and Damon Berryhill on first and Francisco Cabrera, the last position player on the Atlanta bench, strode the plate. “Francisco Cabrera? Who is he???” my mom yelled as my entire family huddled around our living room television. “We’re screwed.” my dad replied. We all dug in our heels. I was so nervous I was shaking. Skip had the call:

A lotta room in right-center, if he hits one there we can dance in the streets. The 2-1. Swung, line drive left field! One run is in! Here comes Bream! Here's the throw to the plate! He is...SAFE! Braves win! Braves win! Braves win! Braves win!...Braves win! They may have to hospitalize Sid Bream; he's down at the bottom of a huge pile at the plate. They help him to his feet. Frank Cabrera got the game winner! The Atlanta Braves are National League champions again! This crowd is going berserk.

He was accused of being a “homer” by critics who never seemed to get that being a fan of the team you love is not a sin, it is a badge of honor that Skip wore with pride and rightly so. Skip was not Hollywood or New York. He was, in the truest sense, a fan; he loved the Braves and he made listeners love them too, the hallmark of a hometown voice and a man who truly loved his team. Passion, Skip would remind us, is a quality best lauded, not concealed.

He was, like his father before him, a unique voice in a gulf of bland objectivity.

And yet slowly and quietly, Skip was shown the door by a network that no longer cared. He hated reading “fluff” commercials and carried a special dislike for the “Aflac Duck” when it announced trivia questions. Coupled with his so-called “homerism” Skip and Pete were removed from TBS in 2003. But the fans, the real fans that Skip won throughout his life were by his side, boycotting TBS broadcasts and turning to radio so we could hear that high nasal voice that marked the time and always made us laugh. He was not Howard Cosell, Joe Buck, or Al Michaels, but for Braves fans he was ours, and in the end that’s probably all he ever wanted to be.

Skip was raw, Skip was dry, Skip was sarcastic, and Skip was cynical but, Skip, through it all, was always honest and always there. He was our eyes and our ears, he was the keeper of the moment, he was the unabashed fan, and with humor and grace he taught us the purity of the greatest game there is.

Godspeed Skip, and thank you for teaching me how to be a fan.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Iran Update

Ahma . . . Ahma . . . Ahmadinejad (whew) let fly with another statement this weekend claiming Tehran has radically increased its nuclear enrichment program. Specifically, he stated the nuclear program now posses more than 5,000 centrifuges; an IAEA report in May estimated the number of running centrifuges to be around 3,500. He then celebrated the development and commended the program for beating back western calls to halt nuclear development.

Ahmadinejad certainly hopes these statements will anger Europe and the U.S. as they come only a week before the latest deadline for Iran to accept a package of incentives for freezing enrichment or face further U.N. sanctions. He is very fond of saying crap like this because he gets just what he wants: the West gets pissed and begins to talk about military options, which pushes the Iranian public away from the West into Ahmadinejad’s waiting arms and distracts them from the catastrophe that is the Iranian economy.

We’ll see if we get a reaction. Clearly the Bush administration has elected to go the diplomatic route since it has sent Undersecretary of State William J. Barnes to peace talks in Geneva and has expressed interest in opening a diplomatic post within Iran itself, both of which are major policy reversals that seemed to ease tensions. However, as I noted two weeks ago, the Israelis do not seem to be as willing to talk and this development seemingly flies in the face of the “freeze for freeze” agreement, which stated Iran would add no further centrifuges or expand its nuclear program and the West would refrain from pressing for another round of sanctions. Of course, the IAEA estimate could have been wrong about the 3,500 estimate or Ahmadinejad may have taken some, shall we say, dramatic license.

One of the actual issues here, if we can get away from the rhetoric, is the number. Iran has been shooting for 6,000 centrifuges, which would, according to what I’ve read, in theory give them the ability to produce enough weapons-grade uranium for a nuclear bomb in six months. When the West signed on to “freeze for freeze” we thought the number of centrifuges was not as high but if Iran already has enough centrifuges to produce a bomb, the Israelis might be less inclined to cooperate. Another issue of course is whether they are running and whether they are running smoothly. I guess you can have 6,000 centrifuges and technically not “expand” your program if they’re not made operational during “freeze for freeze”. I don’t really know the specifics on this though.

We’ll see what these statements do to discussions because the clock is ticking.