Running Local

This Train of Thought Makes All Stops

Posts Tagged ‘Obama’

Fighting the Next War, Part One

Posted by Bob Kohm on July 21, 2009

America has a nasty habit when it comes to maintaining our military– we fight, throw all of our economic and industrial might into the battle… and then destroy the military created the day after the armistice is signed.  The ugliness of this cycle has, of course, become greatly magnified during the era of industrial-technological warfare; with the drawdown post-World War I setting us up for WW II, the post-WW II drawdown enabling the North Koreans to launch their war in 1950 and push the Americans all the way to Pusan within roughly 5 weeks. Drawdowns occurred even in the Cold War settings that followed Korea and Viet Nam, always returning America to a dramatically weakened strategic position than it was in during the war.

The reasons for this are clear– in a democratic society war fatigue runs high and the will of the people to be reminded of war after the fact is low, leading to demands for a “peace dividend” and for tremendously reduced military spending. This is, of course, a sensible response– unbridled military spending during peace time can be ruinous, but in the course of American history we have traditionally overcompensated for this sentiment and cut back to the point of fundamental weakness with relation to our global responsibilities.

As the most active portion of the ill conceived and strategically unsuccessful “War on Terror” comes to a close with the shuttering of the Iraq Theater, war fatigue is running particularly high at the same time America deals with a financial crisis that makes spending on military systems particularly painful. The situation is further complicated by the traditional dual impetus to reduce military capacity coming at a time of transitional technology, in which robotic systems seem nearly ready to displace traditional man-in-front systems.

Into this maelstrom flies the F-22 Raptor, a tremendously advanced aircraft with no clear role in the current war and a pricetag that represents the cost of ten to fourteen F-15s, the current American fighter in the air superiority role that the F-22 seeks to fill.

The Obama Administration’s stance on the F-22 is clear– we don’t want this thing. The Congress is divided between fiscal responsibility and the fact that suppliers for the F-22 project have been strategically salted throughout the most important Congressional Districts in the nation, making the vote tough for key Congressmen and Senators. The Air Force sees the design potential of the aircraft and wants many, many more. The other three services see the Raptor as the usual platinum plated Air Force toy– good only for air-to-air combat and useless in the close air support role that has been so incredibly vital to the Marines & Army in this and the past several wars. They may have a point– since 1991 and Operation Desert Shield/Storm, through Somalia and Kosovo and the WoT, the US Air Force has made fewer than 25 air-to-air kills against jets of an enemy air force, all of them in 1991 in the air war phase of Desert Storm. In that same time, over 10,000 missions have been flown against targets on the ground.

Oddly enough, that disparity makes, for both sides, the most militarily compelling argument over the F-22. The President, the members of the DoD not wearing blue suits, and the budget conscious can point to the scarcity of air-to-air combat and make the seemingly rock solid case that an incredibly expensive air superiority fighter is unneeded; the Air Force can conversely claim that we have fallen into the trap of falling the last war rather than preparing for the next against a more symmetric adversary against whom the F-22 would be a key to American victory over China, Russia or (in a stretch) Iran. “Fighting the last war” is a phrase loaded with meaning to military planners and historians, an indictment of the thinking that what worked last time will prevail next. The Maginot Line is an oft-cited example of fighting the last war; the French built a huge line of fixed positions that mimicked the trench system of the First World War in the hope that it would secure France from Germany; Germany on the other hand had prepared for the next war by developing mobile operations featuring tanks and trucks that easily outflanked the Maginot Line. It’s a damning accusation.

Later today the Congress will issue an up or down vote on continued funding for the F-22, and the vote counters are hard at work trying to figure out the balance between self interest, military necessity, financial prudence and technological advance. Running Local will be back after the vote with Part Two of the story.

Posted in American Politics, Obama Positions, Warfare | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

If You Don’t Like The Game…

Posted by Bob Kohm on July 7, 2009

Sarah Palin is giving an extraordinarily entertaining series of interviews this morning with the major network morning shows plus the news nets. Appearing in chest waders (but with her hair perfectly coiffed and in full makeup…) Simple Sarah is busy attacking not only the media but the individual correspondents who are interviewing her. Speaking to Andrea Mitchell, Palin came close to screaming at her, saying that she just wasn’t listening and didn’t understand. The somewhat creaky and very proper Ms. Mitchell, wife of Alan Greenspan, was also clad in chest waders. Classic TV.

What has become obvious is that while Simple Sarah does not see this as the end of her political career. While wallowing in a storm of claims that “opposition researchers” are wasting her time, the State’s resources, and making it impossible for her to govern, Simple Sarah is also telling all who ask her the key question– are you still considering a run for President in 2012?– are getting the classic candidate’s answer (in this case with a twist): “I can’t know what the next fish run is going to be like, much less what’s going to happen in 2012”. She says she’s tired of “this insane game of politics”… and then refuses to end speculation that she’s still a candidate for the Presidency. If you really don’t like the game, Sarah, don’t play it.

The CW is that Simple Sarah has dynamited her hopes, torpedoed her chances, burnt her bridges. Nearly every “name” GOP leader seems to be echoing that sentiment– she’s toast. There’s something interesting happening here, though– as the orgy of obituary rolls along, Sarah Palin seems to be cementing the one thing she has going for her, politically– her “ultimate outsider” status. It’s clear that the party bosses (such as exist in the GOP) aren’t fans and in fact wish she’d be eaten by a grizzly on one of her fishing trips; given her penchant for hunting there’s some speculation that Haley Barbour may dispatch Dick Cheney to her igloo for a bird shooting excursion. Think about this from the perspective of a campaign strategist seeking to make a buck (well, several million bucks) from Sarah Palin over the next three years, though. The Republican Party’s popularity is below the levels it nearly drowned under after Watergate, so being the sworn enemy of the “establishment” that put it there is a boon. Simple Sarah is a pretty girl who plays to that point even in denying that she does– it’s almost pathological– and the big bad boys are picking on her, triggering that most American of sentiments: standing up to the bully. She’s  busy trying to make quitting on her state a matter of “politics as usual”– it’s opposition researchers hectoring her out the door and she’s just trying to be fiscally and politically responsible and saving Alaska’s taxpayers from the expense of answering never-ending FOIA requests and suffering through a year of a lame-duck (lame-caribou?) governorship when so many important things are happening in the country. Take that all two years down the road and it starts to sound sensible; her former constituents (and the GOP base) will have gotten over the sense of being quit on, she’ll seem to have stood up to not only the Party bosses but the political process in and of itself, she’ll appeal to the idea that she doesn’t want to be a career politician. Her veracity will be perversely increased by stage managing her “exit” from politics, only to be brought back by her dad-gum gee willikers desire to do good by her countrymen and step into the race at great personal sacrifice to do nothing more than help her fellow Americans escape from the (wait for it) tax and spend Obama Admin. If she steps in late– think a few weeks before New Hampshire, skipping the organization-intensive Iowa Caucus but still influencing it– she might hope to create a media maelstrom that would drown out the obvious questions and enrage the Party establishment, thus bolstering her outsider image. She saw how Obama rode the wave of momentum he generated with his early showings and how it drowned (in GOP minds) negative coverage of his run and she wants some of her own. More importantly, as of two weeks ago Palin was handicapped by Mike Huckabee’s 2012 ambitions as they draw from the same base. if she can simply dance her way in and steal the spotlight she can neutralize the Huckster if things break right.

Anyone else sensing that maybe Palin really, really, really does like “the game”?

Posted in American Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Orbital Bumper Cars or A Message Sent Via Communications Satellite?

Posted by Bob Kohm on February 12, 2009

The New York Times is reporting that for the first time two large satellites have collided in orbit, an American Iridium sat-phone orbiter and what has been described as an “inoperatve Russian communications satellite”. The debris from the collision of the two spacecraft is a potential disaster for other spacecraft; indeed the International Space Station and its crew is already in danger from the debris field, which is expanding through not only its orbit but also through that of hundreds of other birds.

This mess is reminiscent of the January 11, 2007 Chinese intercept of a satellite in a demonstration of their ability to take out militarily significant sats. The Chinese came under fire from all quarters for the irresponsible test/poke in the eye which resulted in a gigantic cloud of orbital debris in an already crowded orbital path. Satellites, despite the rough journey they follow to get into orbit, are extraordinarily delicate instruments and can be easily damaged by tiny, high velocity mini-meteors and bits of space junk; huge chunks of defunct satellite are not, thus, a good thing. Worse, the bits of debris need to be tracked as their orbits change due to the initial energy of the impact and then either settle into an orbit or, more likely, degrade across many other orbits. Think about that– take two 1200+ pound plus machines loaded with ceramics and metals, smash them into each other at 17,000+ mph and then consider how many pieces they will break into. Now track the larger parts that can be resolved on radar for weeks, months, and years as they first expand their orbital paths and then plunge back through the orbital paths of thousands of other spacecraft on their way to burning up in the atmosphere sometime over the next few weeks to years. It is, to simplify, not good.

There are larger issues here. The first is that orbital space is getting very, very crowded as redundant sats are launched to do jobs that satellites of competitors are already doing while other satellites fail and replacements are launched, with new birds going up all the while for new purposes. Some say these collisions will become inevitable, although to this point only three smaller accidental collisions have been recorded. Sooner or later, either satellite design is going to have to dramatically change to deal with collisions (most likely an impossibility) or satellite losses are going to become more frequent, a problem that will grow exponentially as the failure by destruction of one satellite will lead to a debris field which in turn may well destroy others. It’s quite a mess.

The other concern here is that since these were an American and Russian satellite and the collision happened over Siberia that we have a Chinese test redux happening here. There have been rumors in the past that the US was covering some of its intelligence satellites as Iridium constellation birds, an exchange that was allegedly worked out as the US government bolstered the technologically brilliant but fiscally disastrous early Iridium days. Additionally, the US military and intelligence agencies make extensive use of the Iridium satellite phone system, and the satellite destroyed was, coincidentally, the one that would handle transmissions from a swath of Central Asia, already the arena of US-Russian competition in the previous few weeks as the Russians have sought to hamper our Afghan War effort by shutting down the Kyrgyz Manas air base to us.  Could this have actually been a Russian demonstration of their capacity to intercept an American satellite? There is some logic to it when you consider the belligerence of the Putin-Medvedyev regime as well as the “Test Obama” ethos that our rivals can be expected to adopt and indeed some have, especially the Russians. It’s also hard to imagine that this collision came as a surprise, given how closely satellites are tracked in orbit– it suggests that one of those satellites was actively maneuvering to get close o the other, otherwise this collision would likely have been seen coming in advance. I’ll be keeping an eye on Aviation Week (aka AvLeak) over the next few weeks amongst other sources to see what buzz pops up.

Either way, accident or attack, this is a nasty situation and one we will likely be visiting and revisiting in the future as space not only continues to fill up but also as its strategic importance is magnified.

Posted in Foreign Affairs, Intelligence (and lack thereof), NASA, Russia, Space, Warfare | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Ecomonic Warfare or Fiscal Porn?

Posted by Bob Kohm on February 10, 2009

But at this particular moment, with the private sector so weakened by this recession, the federal government is the only entity left with the resources to jolt our economy back to life. It is only government that can break the vicious cycle where lost jobs lead to people spending less money which leads to even more layoffs. And breaking that cycle is exactly what the plan that’s moving through Congress is designed to do. –Barack Obama

Yesterday, Barack Obama finally got back to doing what he does best– taking his case to the people of our nation and rallying them behind policy positions that previous administrations of both stripes have considered to be “above” them, too complex to understand and thus not worth attempting to explain. Suffice it to say that you never would’ve seen George Bush (pick your iteration…) in front of a large crowd of politically unscreened citizens handed microphones to ask questions after being given a straight assessment of the problems facing our economy and the extraordinary tasks that need to be undertaken to quell them. Yesterday in Indiana and today in Florida, however, that is exactly what we have and will see Barack Obama do. Lest you think that these were randomly chosen locales, recall that Indiana and Florida were two of the toughest Red states that flipped to blue in the election, a clear reminder to the Senate and House of who they’re dealing with, politically.

Some of the questions he received yesterday were extremely critical of him and his administration– one was delivered by a woman who identified herself as “…one of those who think you should have a beer with Sean Hannity”– but they were handled with aplomb and humour as the cost of doing business for a President who knows that he will have to deal with detractors head on to gain the trust of a nation. Like him or not, that’s a refreshing…wait for it… change.

Last night Obama went before reporters for a live prime time presser and again handled everything thrown at him, acquitting himself well and making yet another strong case for his particular vision of a stimulus package and the steps needed to fix the economy.

Obama and his aides are not fools– they understand that despite the losses of the Republican Party and the seeming rejection of its philosophies by the voting public, there is still an aftertaste of the conservative fiscal policies that the Bush Admin and the House Republicans, in particular, have  told America that they were practicing for the better part of the last decade. There is a seductiveness to talking about tax cuts and limiting government while ignoring the larger issues that drive the economy and the nation; it’s fiscal porn. Why talk about having to free the liquidity of the credit markets when you can talk about the bliss of a paycheck less encumbered by taxes or the pleasures of getting government “off of your back”? The GOP has engaged in this quite literal application of bread and circuses and has done so well– give the people some extra bread in their weekly take-home while keeping them diverted with asinine wedge issues like gay marriage and putting the Ten Commandments on public property and they conveniently forget to take a look at what Fannie & Freddie are doing. It’s undeniable– and undeniably sad– that this formula has worked politically so well for so long.

What Barack Obama has been giving us, literally, is the opposite of fiscal porn– it is depressingly honest at times, featuring quotes like the above and a constant reminder that “the party is over” or “this is the worst financial crisis we’ve seen since the Great Depression”. Obama is treating us as adults and partners, not only in the problem but in its solution. Not only is this the right thing to do– our grandparents handled the Germans and the Japanese, I think we can handle Goldman Sachs and sovereign wealth funds– it is also the politically smart thing to do. As noted by David Gergen last night on CNN, last week saw the Admin focus entirely on policy and working the hallways at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue. They were effective in doing so, getting a fixable stimulus package through the House and then saving a better bill in the Senate, but they also allowed public support for the bill to erode. They gave people like Jim DeMint, Lindsay Graham and Mitch McConnell the media floor to rally against what they saw (often mistakenly, sometimes correctly) as excesses in the bill passed by the House and attempted to make the bill a referendum whose choices were Nancy Pelosi’s “San Francisco Power Bitchery” or the Debbie Does Taxes myth of Republican fiscal responsibility featuring their promise about going down on taxes and the double penetration of cutting spending while shifting focus to social issues.

When given the choice between someone with a plan, an actual way to move forward on a problem, and someone who tells you that the best thing to do is either nothing or, worse, admits the problem and then tries to hand you another that has the illusion of being easier to solve, the choice is clear. Obama has a proactive plan of attack that he’s willing to talk about and allow scrutiny of; he’s been honest enough to say that his plan will sometimes lead into blind alleys or need to be adjusted along the way, and that pain will be felt by all as we move forward. What he describes and the way he describes it is very much akin to a war; the comparisons to FDR have already been made ad nauseum, but it is impossible to not note here the latter-day Fireside Chat ethos of Obama’s town hall events this week and his general willingness to tell us we’re in for a bad ride for the next few years– but also that there is an end to the ride in sight in the distance. The war that Obama describes isn’t a war in the sense that Mr. Bush forced us to grow accustomed to; the war that Mr. Obama lays out has clearly defined goals, a frank assessment of risks and challenges, and a strategy to overcome them. It is also explained as war without fait accompli as a component– in this war, the enemy will fight back and will even win battles. We start this war much as we did World War Two– under attack, shocked and dazed, with an enemy in the field that will be initially superior to our efforts to fight it. We are also uniquely suited to grow in strength throughout the fight and overwhelm the problems facing us as long as we do so in a progressive (little “p” progressive, note) fashion that has us methodically building a foundation and then laying successes atop it until the overall fight is won. We started World War Two with crappy and far too few airplanes, a Navy that needed to be built from the keel up, and tanks that were ten years out of date but with a strong base from which to fix those problems. We start this war similarly challenged, with a fiscal sector in chaos, with corporations running out of date models, with too few and patently lousy tools to manage Wall Street, but with the ability to fix those problems with some discipline and some reassessment and realignment of our priorities.

Obama is our Roosevelt; Geithner & Summers our Marshall & Eisenhower. The fight will be long, but it is on. If that doesn’t sound like fun, though, Ann Coulter is going down on your tax bill over at FoxNews LateNight. Your choice.

Posted in American History, American Politics, CongressCritters, Economy | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Threat Evolution in the Islamist World

Posted by Bob Kohm on February 6, 2009

Just in case there was any doubt that the Islamic World can prove to be a major pain int he American ass– especially when they get a boost from the Russians– let this week serve as an example. Not only did Iran finally tell the truth about a techno-military breakthrough, the friendly folks in Kyrgyzstan just agreed with their former overlords in Moscow to form a new “Soviet” bloc rapid reaction force while simultaneously kicking us out of our most important base to stage Afghan operations from. In related news, a C5 dropped an entire cargo load of Zanax into the Pentagon’s north parking lot on Thursday.

Starting with the lesser of the two events, the Iranians are notorious for declaring major military breakthroughs that are later found out (and by later I mean 20 minutes after release) to have been either outright fabrications or PhotoShop mashups– who can forget the time the Iranians announced that they had synthesized sharks with frickin’ laser beams under their Dr. Evil program? This week, though, the usual cries of “BS” rang hollow after the Iranians claimed to have a launched their first independently built and flown sat.. and the damned thing had the audacity to actually exist and broadcast tones for everyone to hear. Amateur skywatchers detected both the satellite and its upper stage booster in orbit even while the Pentagon was still telling everybody that they doubted Iran’s claims, even though they must have had the same visuals and have been tracking the telemetry signals the bird was beaming back. Who at the Pentagon decided to make a fool of our space tracking folks is a question worth asking one of these days.

The significance of Iran launching a sat isn’t so much that they can now broadcast bad Iranian television worldwide as it is that the technology to orbit a satellite is much the same as launching an ICBM– put a smallish payload into a low orbital track on a set course and you have the first several parts of the formula for putting a payload down anywhere in the world. Add that to a nascent nuclear power and you have a problem for everyone, especially as you would have to assume that Iran would be more than willing to share for a price with anyone who wanted the capacity to nuke any target from Gary to Gorky. Further complicating the package is the nasty surprise that Iran actually does have a real capacity to do the advanced engineering needed to do this and you have to start wondering just what else they can do; is today’s Iranian vaporware  stealth missile or super cavitating underwater missile tomorrow’s Iranian military capability? I put that in the “highly doubtful” category, but before this week it resided safely in the “Oh god, stop it! You’re making soda come out of my nose” zone.

Now for the more disturbing development on the Islamist-Pain-In-The-Butt-ometer… a renewed and quite troubling military alliance between Moscow and the Central Asian nations we’ve been courting, spending heavily on, and relying upon for carrying out our Afghan War for the past several years. There have been rumors and threats from the Kyrgyz leadership to close Manas Airbase to us over the last year, but they have always proven to be false or just bluster. This week, that changed with Kyrgyzstan joining former Soviet Republics Armenia, Belarus Armenia, Kazakhstan, Tajikstan & Uzbekistan in a security alliance with Moscow that features a 10,000 member rapid reaction force under central (read, Russian) command. Tossing the Kygyz two billion in loans and one hundred fifty million in largely military aid in exchange, Moscow got the Kyrgyz government to close out the leases on Manas to the US, leaving us hugely in the lurch in supporting ongoing logistical operations int he expanding Afghan War. With the loss of Manas (the lease provides a 180 day closeout period, which hasn’t officially started yet), we’re either going to need to greatly expand Baghram AFB with Afghanistan, with all the security and logistical headaches that using an in-theater locale for your major staging location brings, or try to split Blofeldian badguy Islam Karimov’s Uzbekistan from the new RetroSoviet alliance and regain access to K2 airbase in his nation. Dealing with Karimov is, to be kind, an unsavory prospect– the petty madman has a nasty habit of engaging in the mass murder of unarmed groups who oppose him, exotically imaginative tortures for political foes (he went Terminator II on one and slowly lowered him into a vat of molten steel, feet first…), and general unkindness to kittens and soft cuddly puppies. Talk about your Hobson’s Choice…

This is the outflow of George Bush’s crappy misplay of the Central Asian region over the last five years, culminating in Russia’s unopposed stomping into grisly paste of American ally Georgia late last year. Having demonstrated that America can or is willing to do very little to support its Caucausus and Central Asian allies, they are wisely and inevitably cutting deals with the Putin-Medvedyev regime to the great detriment of the United States. As Russia puts a stranglehold on our Afghan operations jsut a few weeks after Pakistan asserted it’s own pain-in-the-assibility by closing our other major supply route into Afghanistan, the Khyber Pass, the Obama Admin is going to be left with some uncomfortable choices to make on how to clean up the mess they’ve been left with.

America has had a nasty tendency to freeze in time the Islamic nations as members of the Third World as it existed in the Eighties, a mode of thinking that has gone from simply outdated and ignorant to downright dangerous. As technological competence disseminates and statecraft advances with boosts from traditional US rivals, our relied upon two barrelled approach of technological superiority and diplomatic dominance are no longer to be taken for granted and, perhaps, not even to be relied upon at all. The playing field, while not nearly level, is trending towards symmetry rather than the asymmetric game we’ve become used to. The new Administration must adapt to this new reality at the same time it remediates the problems caused by the last Admin’s reliance upon it. It will not be an easy task.

Posted in Afghanistan, Foreign Affairs, Islamists, Russia, Warfare | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Embracing An Islamist Regime?

Posted by Bob Kohm on January 29, 2009

David Axe’s brilliant blog, War Is Boring, yesterday explored what I view as a patently insane proposal from the Council on Foreign Relations to establish an internationally funded Somali Coast Guard to combat piracy. Somalia cannot govern itself, provide food for its people or police its own territory much less the oceans so yes, sure, let’s assume that the mythical Somali government not only would use the international funding to establish a hugely expensive and technically complex force structure but also that they would even have the inclination to do so.

Stunning.

Axe himself had a more interesting idea– is the answer to the Somali problem simply embracing the concept of a hard line Islamic regime in Mogadishu? For the sake of background, Somalia, long the victim of near total anarchy, was for a brief while in 2006 & 2007 effectively governed by a confederacy of Sharia-law courts, known as the Islamic Courts Union (ICU). That came to an end in 2007 when the Bush Admin encouraged and facilitated an invasion of Somalia by Ethiopia under the concept that the ICU was providing a home base for alQaeda and similar Islamist radical elements. The Ethiopian Army, supplied with intelligence and armaments by the US in addition to oft rumoured US Special Ops raids and operations, had little problem defeating the ICU’s armed militia, taking back Mogadishu and eventually driving the ICU out of its last strongholds, leaving Somalia once again ungoverned and the ICU reduced to a guerilla band.

The piracy problem grew out of control shortly thereafter begging the question of whether we would be better off with an Islamic regime that isn’t disposed to liking the West or the current mess which threatens international commerce and the flow of oil. A fuller description of the piracy issue and the US Navy’s lackluster response to it can be found in my previous entry, The Vaporware Navy.

As the American Presidency moves to Barack Obama, we are seeing a different attitude being taken towards the Islamic World. While the realities and exigencies of war still exist and have been accepted by President Obama, an effort is clearly underway to defuse hostilities by winning over the Islamic people. Could that effort extend all the way to the acceptance of a true Islamist regime in Mogadishu if it meant Somalia would be under some authority and the piracy problem would be curtailed?

A return of the ICU may be underway already, even without our help or acceptance. With the withdrawal of Ethiopian forces Somalia has reverted to form and become an anarchist failed state, while the ICU is starting to re-emerge in the south. That being said, if the Obama Admin backed a return of the ICU as a reversal and redress of the policies of the previous admin ICU could take control of the entire nation fairly quickly.

What are the risks of an ICU/Islamist Somalia? There is, of course, the risk that our enemies would find haven there; it is a questionable risk, however, given that they are just as likely to find haven in an ungoverned Islamic region such as Somalia is now; indeed our Special Forces have been very active in Somalia taking down terrorist camps and operations. There is the risk of severe human rights abuses, as seen from a Western perspective, of allowing a Sharia-court based system to govern the country. Clearly it will not be pretty– women in burkas, denial of human rights, the reality of Sharia-mandated punishments for adultery, etc. That entails political risk to Obama’s left flank as the women’s rights and Amnesty Internaitonal crowds will feel betrayed by their President on this issue– the reality that the people of Somalia are living with even less human rights and dignity now doesn’t seem to penetrate the dogma of these folks. There will also be risk to his right flank as the Limbaughs and McConnels of the world try to hang a “soft on Islamic terror” label on Obama if he reaches out to the ICU. Never mind that you cant win a war against a movement and that you need to find soft solutions to the problems.

On the upside, we would almost certainly see a huge reduction to pirate activity out of Somalia. The Islamic Courts greatly curtailed piracy when they had control in ’06 & ’07 and there’s no reason to think that they suddenly see piracy as being in keeping with Islamic law; for a change we’d be on the benefit side of Sharia. Obama would have the opportunity to really make an impact on the Islamic “Street”; it would be very hard to demonize America as the enemy of Islam if we very publicly came out in favor of returning a Sharia movement to its role as ruler of an islamic nation. This is the kind of move that would do what Obama hoped to do with his recent interview with al Aribiya Television– prove that America is not the enemy of Islam. Additionally, returning order to Somalia would make possible real foreign aid to a suffering people, including the safe delivery of food. One wonders if the solution of so intractable a problem as Somalia might not also lay the groundwork for real action in regional neighbor Sudan’s Darfur region.

Can Obama recognize the ICU and return it to power in Somalia? Clearly it is within his power to do so, but the political cost, both at home and in Western Europe, will be extremely high. So too would be the potential payout. The time is arrived for America to realize that the export of Democracy and western style human rights to unwilling nations or those simply not yet equipped to deal with them is not a reasonable or even desirable goal; “better dead than red” does not translate to “better secular than starving”. Somalia is an Islamic nation in a state of chaos; resisting the emergence of an Islamic government to fix the problems is a fundamentally unsound strategy.

To look at past as prologue, consider the fact that a young socialist by the name of Ho Chi Minh desperately sought the acceptance and support of Harry Truman in 1945 & 1946. Ho effectively controlled post-Japanese occupation Indochina and had instituted a workable governing structure that was feeding the people and keeping order; he petitioned the United States to recognize his government and stop the French from reoccupying Indochina in much the same way we were making it clear to other European nations that the colonial period ended with the cessation of World War II. Ho was, sadly, not politically acceptable to a Red Scare America despite his friendly overtures; the rest is history. It is important for America to learn from that oft forgotten lesson and not allow our Islamist Scare mindset to prevent order from returning to Somalia and security returning to the seas off of the Horn of Africa.

Posted in Africa, American Politics, Foreign Affairs, History, Human Rights, Islamists, Warfare | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Money,Missiles, and a Question of Credit

Posted by Bob Kohm on January 28, 2009

Ben Smith had a very interesting short in his blog today, about your friend and mine Dmitry Medvedev and the Bush iskandermissile1v. Medvedev standoff over the proposed US missile shield in Eastern Europe and the Russian SS-26 forward deployment to Kaliningrad.

Smith, drawing on Joshua Keating’s piece in Foreign Policy, posits that President Obama and SecState Hillary Clinton’s tough talk on the US-Russia relationship may have catalyzed the rumored Russian decision to hold off on the deployment of the nuclear missiles to the Russian enclave less than 100 miles from Gdansk and 300 miles from Berlin. As much as I agree with most of Obama’s positions on foreign policy, I have to question whether anything he’s done has much to do with this decision.

As Obama ascends to the Presidency, the world does seem to be breathing a sigh of relief at the end of the seemingly random belligerence of the Bush Administration and some concrete results are building from it– the possibility of allies taking released Gitmo detainees and the possibility of true economic coordination to resolve the global financial crisis both having made news of late. If you told me that Russia had become amenable to revisiting this issue on that basis, I might have less of a problem with the analysis– the writing is on the wall that Western Europe will be giving Obama a honeymoon and Russia should try to capitalize on that to seek renegotiation of what has been a roundly botched and needlessly aggravating situation.

What I have trouble buying is that Russia has been cowed into making a unilateral decision, even if it is in anticipation of a delay or reversal of the deployment of the American missile shield to the Czech Republic and Poland. Are we to believe that Russia is more afraid of Obama’s posturing than that of the Bush Administration, which actually explored and had advocates for deploying American combat troops into Georgia during the 2008 South Ossetian conflict.

So, if we can discount that tough talk of Obama and Clinton while also questioning whether or not Russia is simply defusing a messy situaiton under the guise of joining the honeymoon party, what are we left with? To my mind the answer is simple– it comes down to money. Russia recognizes that Obama, who has never been a huge proponent of missile defense, would love to shed the expense of this system’s deployment to Eastern Europe but really can’t due to the fatc that the Czech Republic and Poland have stuck their necks out to accommodate the Bush Admin and by extension America  in playing host to the system. They also recognize that the downturn in petroleum prices is trashing what had been up until a few months ago their own boom economy and that they may once again need Western and Central Europe not just as clients for Gazprom and the rest of their petroleum industry but also as economic partners. Forward deploying clearly offensive missile systems in Kaliningrad meant to threaten Prague, Warsaw, Berlin, Copenhagen, Oslo and the Baltics is not necessarily the best way to foster the kind of mutual trust economic relationships that Moscow may well need.

Economics, goodwill, fear, hidden circumstance– it is hard to ascertain precisely what Moscow’s driving influence right now might be with regard to the deployment of the Iskander missile system to Kaliningrad, although we can make some educated guesses– most of which come down to money. Will the G20 meeting, to be held in April, be the forum in which the two leaders finally resolve this issue by agreeing to basically backburner all of it, as Keating suggests? Possibly, but I suspect that will be the “public” resolution to a problem whose outcome has already been dictated by forces outside of the control of Obama, Medvedev or indeed anyone. As always, strategic military issues are tied so tightly to economic realities that they become indistinguishable.

Posted in Foreign Affairs, Nuclear Weapons, Russia | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Playing Chicken With The Train

Posted by Bob Kohm on January 28, 2009

“I’m big and black, clickety clack, and I make the train jump the track like that”–Cowboy Troy…because, hey, how often do you get to open a political post with a Hick-Hop quote, right?

One has to question whether or not John Boehner is clinically stupid. I’m sorry, I know that’s a fairly harsh lede, but really, Mr. Boehner, have you lost not only your mind but your will to lead the House GOP back into a position of at least some authority after the 2010 midterms?

Yesterday saw President Obama’s barreling freight train take a short ride down Pennsylvania Avenue to meet with the House GOP on their own turf, in the Capitol itself. Mr. Obama, who has built a national popular groundswell on the concept of a post-partisan Presidency has also done something a bit more realistic amongst the political cognoscenti– he’s made them understand that as far as the media is concerned that groundswell is at least founded on a sincere effort to work across the aisle.

How– no, why– then would Mr. Boehner try to marshall a lockstep partyline vote ont he Stimulus Package and show his hand before Obama convened the meeting with the House GOP? Is there a worse move that Mr. Boehner could have executed than to put a nation hungry for cooperation and terrified of where the economy is going than to show that he will not even pretend to cooperate and will let the economy burn while he plays politics with our lives?

I understand that there are philosophical differences between President Obama’s vision of how to fix the economy and, say, Jeb Hensarling’s or Jim DeMint’s in the Senate. They are part of a legitimate policy debate and absolutely need to be explored– which is what the President was doing on the Hill yesterday. It’s easy to spout a cynical view of the meeting and say that Obama went to simply break the GOP to his view, but it would also be an incorrect view; if Obama wanted a simple show he would’ve summoned Boehner, Eric Cantor, and a few other GOP Leadership/fiscal conservatives to the Oval for a photo op. He didn’t– in his first week he actually went to the Capitol rather than bringing people to the White House and met with the full GOP Conference. If you aren’t a DC type, what you need to understand is that a President leaving his turf to go to the Hill for something like this is a sign of one of two things– a defeated President or a hell of a lot of respect. Clearly, Obama is no defeated President.

So, in said hungry country, a wildly popular and brand new President humbles himself by going to the Hill as a sign of how willing he is to work with a loyal opposition. What is the media treated to by his hosts? A pre-meeting flurry of press avails featuring GOP leadership and ranking members saying that they are voting against the plan before even hearing what President Obama has to say. Politically, this is madness.

What Minority Leader Boehner is trying to do is clear– he’s trying to carve out a position for the GOP for 2010 by opposing government spending. Forgetting how laughable that is after the last eight years of GOP largess, it is understandable– he’s in a failing and falling minority and his only “traditional” lifeline is to stake out a position diametrically opposed to the Democrats and appeal to his base. By doing this, however, Rep. Boehner ignores a few things. First, America is scared and looking for someone to do something to get the long process of fixing our economy under way and, rightly or wrongly, they are blaming the traditional GOP positions and personalities for creating the crisis. The way for the GOP to start picking up seats is, clearly, not retreating to those positions. Second, Mr. Boehner is courting the tag of being an obstructionist, perhaps intentionally, perhaps not. Either way, it is the absolute wrong tenor for him to be taking– people want an amalgam of Democratic & Republican positions to make up this bill but they’ll settle for a purely Democratic one. Boehner, if he wants to forestall another dramatic loss in 2010 (and another serious internal challenge to his leadership this Spring), needs to get some of his positions into bills like this by cooperating and showing that the GOP is capable of governing at all.

Right now, that capability is seriously in question.

Posted in American Politics, CongressCritters, Economy, Obama Positions | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Obama to Islam: We Are Not Your Enemy

Posted by Bob Kohm on January 27, 2009

President Obama (and doesn’t it feel good to read that instead of “President-elect Obama”?) gave an interview to al-Arabiya satellite TV and in the process declared to the Muslim world that the United States is not it’s enemy.

While from our perspective Obama is correct, this will obviously be a tough sell to many in the Islamic nations. The reality is that we must and will be continuing combat operations against or at least within Islamic nations for the foreseeable future– the devolution of Pakistan is going to be one of the major foreign policy story of the next two years along with the fall and Islamification of Mubarak’s Egypt, we are likely going to be seeing a lot more about major coordinated operations in Afghanistan, sooner or later the Special Ops types conducting operations in Indonesia and the Philippines are going to get picked up on by the main stream media, etc.

Is it unreasonable to ask the Islamic people to see us as anything other than an enemy? To put it closer to our own cultural experience, let’s ignore our strategic treaty alliance with the Aussies and suppose that China or India attacked Australia. Even though they wouldn’t be attacking the US, would we feel an enmity towards the Chinese? Does anyone recall a wave of Argentinian sympathy when the Falklands war was going on? Me either. Perhaps even more on point is the reaction of the Russians to the NATO operations against their Slavic brethren in Serbia. There was no compelling strategic linkage between Belgrade and Moscow, but that became the very identifiable pivot upon which the emotions of the Russian people turned on the West, facilitating the emergence of Putin’s dictatorial powers.

As an American, I do not view Islam as an enemy although I do see it as being the facilitator for the emergence of our enemies. It’s a fairly nuanced view and one that I realize many of our countrymen don’t share for a number of reasons, from positions that posit that Islam is indeed the enemy to the neo-Buddhist views of the far left that hold we have no enemy except ourself. In the Islamic nations, especially in the ones that are lacking in affluence and education, it is so much easier to simply hear the Pat Robertsons and Dick Cheneys of our nation who make noises about Islam being the enemy than it is to convey nuance just as in our nation, despite its affluence and education, it is so much easier to simply see binLaden as the face of Islam.

President Obama is making the right choices and broadcasting the right message; I am concerned, however, that any message, no matter how  correct, can not penetrate the cloud of static that has been fostered byt he previous administration. Now more than last month the United States is not the enemy of Islam; the question is if the often mentioned “Muslim Street” is even tuned in anymore.

Posted in Foreign Affairs, Islamists, Middle East, Obama Positions | Tagged: , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Silver Tickets, a Random Irishman, and the Madness of Crowds

Posted by Bob Kohm on January 21, 2009

It has been a long week.

We’ve had Texans in the beds, Jersey girls in the family room and an Irish journalist on the floor. We had no intention of going to the Inauguration, then we had tickets to the Inauguration, then we were left standing on the street after five hours in the cold, amongst the mob.

Did I mention that it has been a long week?

An acquaintance and sometimes drinking buddy asked several weeks ago if we might have room for him for the Inauguration. Of course we said yes and, after he asked if we could take a few of his staffers from Texans for Obama we said “yes” again. In the intervening weeks we prepared for something between two guests and half the population of Austin and even had friends volunteering their houses if we had so many Texans that we wouldn’t be able to walk the floors without stepping on them.

Last Sunday the original guest, we’ll call him the Index Texan, arrived at 10.30 in the morning on the train from New York, only to inform us that he was it. The women whom he expected to join us had crapped out because one of them hadn’t been able to reach him the day before and so had never left Texas, the couple who was staying out in the exburbs had never called him back about the offered geographic upgrade, various others hadn’t played out. It was anticlimactic but fine– one Texan was still fun and we wouldn’t have to worry about hot water for showers.

The phone rang about twenty minutes after I went to bed. The Index Texan was talking to my wife in the kitchen for a few minutes before I heard them coming down the hall. “There’s news,” said Beth– “We’re heading out to Dulles, Ken’s friend from Ireland is landing at 12.30am”. Apparently the Index Texan had made the acquaintance of an Irish freelance journalist who came to Texas to be part of the Obama experience during the campaign and wound up moving into his house; the Irishman had now jumped on a plane with the expectation that he’d stay at the house of someone whom he had met on a previous plane… which didn’t quite work out.

Next came the Jersey girls and their brother, via Houston, South Jersey, Philly, far northern Maryland and all points in between. The friend of the woman who wasn’t coming was coming and bringing friends. They showed up roughly five hours before we had to wake up to go to the Inaugural.

Did I mention we were going to the Inaugural?

My wife had decided to volunteer on the Mall during the Inaugural and she was determined to have the experience of the day; I was content to watch it from the warmth of my family room on the big screen TV– I was actually quite adamant about it when people asked the week before. The Index Texan said that he might be able to score what had been billed as an impossible-to-get extra ticket and asked if I wanted it– off went the kids to a friend’s house and I was making plans for the several layers of clothing I would wear the next day. Beth was getting ready for bed and a 3am wake-up call when we got a text from the Index Texan, now resplendent in a tux and boots at the Texas Society Inaugural Ball. Did she want a ticket too? After an agonizing four seconds of soul searching, she said yes. We were all going to the show. I’ll tell that story in the next post.

Here we are, then, on Wednesday night– the Jersey girls have departed, we think the Random Irishman leaves in the morning, the Index Texan is with us until Friday. We’ve had an interview with the Irish equivalent of the Today Show conducted at 3.30 AM from our family room and another Irish media interview conducted from the crush that was 3rd Street mid-morning, we stopped for a chat with the cast of Morning Joe and were harassed by a belligerent homeless man in Union Station, we had some great political and ethical conversations over pizza and beer in the dining room, we’ve made some new friends and had a few laughs. We also had new people with us who busted their butts to get Barack Obama elected in one of the most Republican states in the nation, and that made our Inaugural experience so much the richer. So, to the Random Irishman, the Index Texan, the Jersey Girls and their brother, thanks, it made this surreal moment, the impossible Inauguration of a black man with a strange name as President of not only New York and California but also Alabama and Utah, that much more surreal. We need our house back, now. Let’s do this again some day… say, perhaps, in four years.

Posted in American Politics, Autobiographical, Events | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Sanjay Gupta Kicked Upstairs and Off the Air?

Posted by Bob Kohm on January 6, 2009

cnn-logo1Is there a more annoying thing than turning on CNN to try and catch the news and instead getting Dr. Sanjay Gupta smiling his way through a two segment piece on pancreatic cancer? As impressed as I’ve been with Obama’s Cabinet & senior staff picks, the buzz about naming Sanjay Gupta Surgeon General drives me to distraction. I get the rationale– the Surgeon General’s chief job is to cheerlead the White House’s health policy and various causes and a media-savvy guy like Gupta has the ins to smooth that process, but sheesh, Sanjay Gupta in a position of authority over anything? He did have a functionary-type job in the Clinton White House, granted, but I’d prefer a Surgeon General who might have treated an actual patient or at least has stepped into a hospital without a producer and cameraman in the last ten years. Call me a traditionalist.

Then again, it will get him off of CNN…

Posted in Healthcare Policy, Obama Cabinet | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

The Ironic World of Bobby Rush

Posted by Bob Kohm on January 6, 2009

Bobby Rush had a large tumor cut out of his throat to save him from cancer; the scar from that, however, is 2803066331_3498031398_onothing compared to the one where his nose used to be, the result of self-mutilation in spite of his face.

A founder of the Illinois Black Panther Party and every inch the radical that the GOP failed to portray Barack Obama as during the campaign, Rush has gone from being an effective agent of social change to the stooge that he always railed against. While many only need to read as far into Rush’s biography as the Black Panther tag, Rush took his notoriety and organization and did some amazing things with them back in the late Sixties and early Seventies. From sickle-cell testing and awareness to education reform and nutrition programs, Rush embodied his ethos and moved forward issues and programs badly needed by his community literally by force of will. The “radical organization as social services provider” model that he promulgated has been twisted to more nefarious purposes by many groups since, with Hamas being the one most currently in the public eye.

How sad it is, then, to see what Rush has become, an aging crank who is literally becoming the stooge of the people whom he so virulently railed against throughout his life. Over the past week Rush has forced himself back onto the scene by enlisting in one of the dumbest causes seen of late, the push by Rod Blagojevich to appoint Roland Burris to the Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama. Burris is an old line Chicago politician of a similar stripe to Rush, but with one significant difference– Burris knowingly sold out to the Chicago establishment years and years ago, maintaining his Civil Rights status as a thin camouflage for his naked ambition. His appointment by Blagojevich is seen by many as a “screw you” to Barack Obama, whom Blagojevich sees as the proximate cause of his downfall.

Rush’s frenzied support of Burris slips into that “Screw Obama” template quite handily. Rush has long despised the President-Elect as the reflection of everything that Rush saw himself to be in his youth but failed to be as a member of the establishment that he sought to reform. Young Obama, the community organizer on the South Side stomping grounds of Rush, brought a measured and calm approach to helping the community, yes, one part Alinsky but three parts Harvard. Whereas Rush would’ve railed against “the man” and crammed what he needed for the community down “his” throat, Obama worked the system to achieve his goals deftly and with a maximum of resident participation but also a minimum of screaming and stress. When a more mature State Senator Obama sought to move into the national scene, it was the aging dinosaur Rush whom he set his sights upon. Obama primaried Rush in 2000 for his House seat and suffered the only electoral loss of his career to date in a nasty primary that saw Rush frequently resort to harsh personal attacks on Obama, calling him at times a “…Harvard educated fool”, a “puppy”, and, most surprisingly from a civil rights leader like Rush, a “boy”.

This past week has seen Congressman Rush continue his harsh personal attacks on Barack Obama coupled with racial invective totally inappropriate to the situation. Rush has become the token black activist serving at Blagojevich’s behest, forwarding the cynical supposition that the Democratic resistance to Buriss’ appointment is a matter of racism rather than one of propriety and legality. From his hateful use of the lynching hot point to his comparison of the “cause” of Blagojevich & Burris to the Jena Nine, Rush parodies everything he has ever stood for.

He still is a racial firebrand, but his torch is now wielded not by an oppressed minority seeking to burn down their oppressor’s castle but by that cynical and haughty Duke himself in order to set light to the pyre upon which the original cause is burnt.

Rush today is Rush as satire and nothing more. Railing against the manifestation of his dreams, an African-American President drawn from the Community Organizing movement of the South Side of Chicago, for the sake of a guy who is every bit the plantation master would be comical were it not so sad. His is a very modern tragedy.

Posted in American Politics, Jerks | Tagged: , , , | 4 Comments »

 
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