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Alison Des Forges Dead in Buffalo Plane Crash

A light went out in the human rights movement last night with the crash of Flight 3407 near Buffalo, NY. I barely knew Alison Des Forges, but I share the collective grief of many of my colleagues in the human rights scholarly community and the International Association of Genocide Scholars, and friends at Human Rights Watch and in the wider movement.

Alison was known for her pathbreaking work chronicling the Rwandan genocide, and was a tireless advocate for human rights around the globe through her work at Human Rights Watch. Her interview by Frontline on the 10th anniversary of the genocide is worth revisiting.

I am sitting at Union Station as I write this preparing to take the train to the International Studies Association Meeting in New York, so I have no time to do justice to this news. Instead, I respectfully refer you to a few heartfelt obituaries that have popped up in the last few hours since word went out, by people who knew her better than I did: here and here.

Meanwhile, I shall be holding her family, and the families of all those who perished with her, in the light.


Another year, another TRIP

The good folks of William and Mary have completed another TRIP survey of the field. Comments later. Link now (PDF).

Obama’s NSC

I want to call attention to a WaPo article from Sunday on the emerging structure of Obama’s national security council–it was front page, but largely lost among the coverage of the Stimulus package. Indeed, only Rozen really seems to have picked up on it. While largely an interview with new National Security Adviser James Jones about organizational charts and workflows, it nevertheless offers a substantial insight into the new Administration’s ability to deal with foreign policy–both crises and long-term issues.

Students of foreign policy analysis focus on the decision-making process that Administrations use to make foreign policy. At the heart of that process is the NSC. Since the Kennedy Administration (remember Ex-Comm?), the NSC has largely taken over from the cabinet agencies as the President’s main source for foreign policy management, planning, and coordination. Any introductory foreign policy course covers the evolution of the NSC (as Daalder and Destler do in the most recent Foreign Affairs), noting how the organization and function of the NSC reflect the President’s decision-making style. JFK had a collegial group, Nixon a rigid hierarchy, Bush I an well organized coordinating system, and so on.

Jones tells the Post that:

President Obama plans to order a sweeping overhaul of the National Security Council, expanding its membership and increasing its authority to set strategy across a wide spectrum of international and domestic issues.

The result will be a “dramatically different” NSC from that of the Bush administration or any of its predecessors since the forum was established after World War II to advise the president on diplomatic and military matters, according to national security adviser James L. Jones, who described the changes in an interview. “The world that we live in has changed so dramatically in this decade that organizations that were created to meet a certain set of criteria no longer are terribly useful,” he said.

A couple changes are worth pointing out.

1. Obama plans to radically alter membership. By law, the only standing members of the NSC are the President, VP, SecState, and SecDef. The CJCS is the military adviser and DNI intelligence advisor. By design, its a flexible structure, allowing the President to add members as he sees fit. Traditionally other agencies have attended as required–Justice, Treasury, etc. Jones plans to draw in members from across the executive branch, involving any agency relevant to an issue. In part, this reflects the increasing role that other agencies, from law enforcement to energy to agriculture play in foreign policy. The potential pay-off is greater coordination and a greater ability to focus the government’s actions on a topic. The downside, of course, is that more people in the room always makes for a more difficult meeting.

2. Jones will assert greater control over access to the President and Presidential involvement in decision-making. Largely, this is a reaction to the Bush II NSC, where back-channels and unilateral action, especially among State, Defense, and the Vice President’s office, undermined effective coordination. (Do note the comparison between Bush Administrations–largely composed of the same cast of characters. Bush I is widely regarded as having had a model NSC, while Bush II is widely regarded as having had a highly dysfunctional NSC).

3. He plans to re-draw agency maps. Yes, maps. Each department divides the world into region–State has its regional bureaus, DoD has its Unified Command Plan, and the NSC has its Senior Directors. These regional division, however, reflect Agency-specific needs and do not correspond in any way to each other. State’s South Asia bureau includes Afghanistan and India, while in DoD, CENTCOM runs the show in Afghanistan while PACOM has jurisdiction over India. His goal is to have parallelism within agencies, creating peers who oversee policy with the same group of countries. It would certainly make it easier to know who to pick up the phone and call.

The point here is that, from a foreign policy analysis perspective, this stuff really matters. A significant chunk of foreign policy theory asserts that the decision-making process has a substantial influence in the quality of decision made, and thus effectiveness of US foreign policy.

The NSC is how Presidents do this. A functional NSC can provide the President with options, information, and advice to make the best possible decision when faced with a foreign policy choice. A functional NSC can make sure that government agencies work in concert to carry out the President’s chosen course of action. A dysfunctional NSC process can rapidly reproduce its dysfunction across the government and embed itself within US foreign policy.

So, take note of Jone’s comments, as his success in creating the working NSC structure he describes will be a sizable indicator of the Administration’s ability to handle the myriad of critical foreign policy issues it faces.

Depleted Uranium Munitions: Emerging Norm, or Propagandist Overreach?

Arab states’ accusation that Israel used depleted uranium weapons in its recent attacks against Gaza, and Israel’s denial of this, raise an interesting question: is a customary norm against the use of depleted munitions* emerging? As scholars studying norm emergence, how would we know?

As far as I can ascertain it would not be illegal for Israel to have used such weapons, since there is no ban on DPU in international law, and since the suspected qualities of the weapons that would render them illegal if proven (widespread environmental damage and uncontrollable negative effects on civilians) have not been shown conclusively. Indeed, neither most governments nor leading human rights and humanitarian law organizations have concluded the DPU is a violation of humanitarian law. The ICRC has not commented on the issue since 2001, when a press release stated:

“Currently available scientific information provides evidence that the increase in levels of uranium is marginal in areas where depleted uranium munitions have been used, except at the points of impact of depleted uranium penetrators.”

So this is not an issue around which mainstream human rights organizations are actively mobilizing.

A growing opposition to the use of DPU is clearly emerging in public opinion, however. A widespread transnational network of activists has emerged promoting a global ban on depleted uranium munitions, drawing members from the anti-war community, veterans groups, feminist peace groups, environmental movement, the anti-nuclear movement, and local NGOs in war-torn countries where DPU weapons have been deployed. This network of groups has lobbied the UN, EU and various member states to ban the use of such weapons. Some meager results so far: Belgium initiated a moratorium; and the UN First Committee has issued a resolution expressing concern over the possible health effects of DPU and encouraging the Secretary General and several specialized agencies to look into it.

None of this renders DPU illegal, and without a clear position on the issue by organizations such as the ICRC and Human Rights Watch, it is hard to imagine that momentum will develop to formally codify a ban against these munitions. If I read the tea leaves correctly there is not widespread support among humanitarian law mainstream for taking such a position in favor of a ban along the lines of landmines or cluster munitions.

This makes it that much more interesting, in my mind, that the use DPU is now being routinely cited by governments eager to accuse one another of misconduct, despite its current legality. Even more interesting is the compulsion to deny their use. Does this mean a norm against the weapons is emerging even in the absence of a formal treaty process? Or are there other ways to interpret this discourse?

*Depleted uranium is a by-product of nuclear enrichment processes increasingly used in armor-piercing incendiary projectiles to penetrate tanks, bunkers and personnel carriers; and by corollary, to harden tank armour against anti-material weapons. Its military utility is said to come from its particular density: depleted uranium munitions are both cheaper and more effective at penetrating armor than tungsten, the alternative. DPU has been used by the United States and Britain since approximately 1960 and is increasingly sought after by other militaries: China, France, Russia and Pakistan are among the countries now known to include DPU rounds in their arsenals. Whether Israel does or not is uncertain.

News flash: defections give dems filibuster-proof majority

You can’t really blame the AP. It can be so hard to tell those DINOs and RINOs apart.

Alex Cooly on Manas

From an opinion-editorial in the International Herald Tribune:

The recent decision by President Kurmanbek Bakiyev of Kyrgyzstan to close the U.S. military base in the small Central Asian country should come as no surprise to Washington’s new foreign policy team. Since its establishment in the fall of 2001, the U.S. air base at Manas has been founded upon the granting of narrow economic incentives to the host country – and not on the Kyrgyz Republic’s commitment to the broader international campaign in Afghanistan.

What began as a relationship based on economics is about to end for financial reasons. Though the loss of Manas will deal a short-term blow to U.S. efforts in Afghanistan, staying is not worth the new Kyrgyz asking price.

Read the rest.

Rally from war to election?

The rally effect, where public opinion surges in favor of an incumbent government in the face of a foreign policy crisis or military action, is well documented in studies of US foreign policy. Similarly, diversionary theories of war posit that leaders will engage in military adventurism to distract a public from economic troubles or electoral difficulties.

Israel goes to the polls tomorrow. The recent Gaza war is front and center in the campaign. Barak and labor were poised to lose seats, and the conventional wisdom was that a good showing in Gaza could help Barak, Defense Minister, and bolster Labor’s vote share. Same with Livni and Kadima, the current ruling party. And yet, the initial benefactor seemed to be Likud and Netanyahu–as a growing sector of Israeli public opinion seems to think that perhaps the war did not go far enough.

And yet, the most recent reports have seen the right wing (yet secular) party of Lieberman, Israel is our Home, as the real story, gaining seats at the expense of Likud and others. Governing Kadima and Labor don’t seem to be making a significant showing, though the final results tomorrow will tell the full story.

This was not the first time that Israel has launched a military operation right before an election. In 1996, Shimon Peres launched an attack into Lebanon near the election, and subsequently lost to Netanyahu.

Does any of this suggest that these theories might not apply?

Scientifically the “middle course” is not truer even by a hair’s breadth, than the most extreme party ideals of the right or left

Steven Mufson and Lori Montgomery report in The Washington Post:

Despite a growing sense of urgency, economists across the political spectrum continue to criticize the congressional stimulus plans. Most economists agree that the Senate alterations in the plan would undermine stimulus aims. Taxpayers who fall under the AMT are generally well-off enough to be able to save some of the tax cuts they receive, delaying any positive effect on the economy. By comparison, school aid to states would probably be spent immediately to prevent layoffs of teachers.

Let’s hope the reconciliation process restores some sanity to the Senate bill.

Iran’s Sputnik

Earlier this week, Iran put a satellite into space for the first time. The AP covered it on Wednesday, February 4:

The telecommunications satellite – called Omid, or hope, in Farsi – was launched late Monday after President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad gave the order to proceed, according to a report on state radio. State television showed footage of what it said was the nighttime liftoff of the rocket carrying the satellite at an unidentified location in Iran.

At least unofficially, some experts within the U.S. government seem to be trying to play down the importance of this event — comparing it without context to a Soviet launch more than 50 years ago:

A U.S. counterproliferation official confirmed the launch and suggested the technology was not sophisticated. Speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence-gathering, the official said it appeared it “isn’t too far removed from Sputnik,” the first Soviet orbiter launched in 1957.

However, as The New York Times reported, not everyone in the government dismisses the significance of this technological achievement:

In Washington, the State Department called the event worrisome. “Iran’s development of a space launch vehicle establishes the technical basis from which Iran could develop long-range ballistic missile systems,” said Robert A. Wood, a department spokesman.

At the White House, Robert Gibbs sounded fairly hawkish too.

My dissertation had a lengthy case study chapter on the U.S. reaction to Sputnik — it was certainly not “ho-hum.” At the time, U.S. security experts believed that a state that could put a satellite into space could probably launch a missile soon. Threat perceptions soared. Sputnik dominated the news for weeks. It was a VERY BIG DEAL.

Interestingly, in its story about the Iranian launch, Voice of America quoted an expert who makes the launch sound defensive:

“They want a nuclear weapon to defend their territory, defend their government. They live in a very tough neighborhood. They are surrounded by nuclear states – Russia, China, Pakistan, India. And, too, Israel and the United States,” The Ploughshares Fund, President Joseph Cirincione explains.

However, Sam Sedaei at the Huffington Post seems to think the media overplayed the alleged threat signaled by Iran’s satellite — and he’s not talking about the right-wing media. Sedaei criticizes the Times and The Guardian!

Despite this concern, I think the coverage was reasonably balanced and I applaud the Obama administration for exhibiting some concern without panic. As we all recall from the Iraq debate, there’s more than one way for public officials and media to address this kind of stuff.

How do you say “Great Game” in Russian?

For some time now, NATO and Russia have engaged in on-again, off-again discussions about supplying Afghanistan via the Russian Federation. So consider this sequence of events:

1. An increasingly hard-currency strapped Kremlin offers Kyrgyzstan $2 billion in aid.
2. Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev announces that he’s expelling the US and NATO from Manas.
3. The Russians agree to give the US transit rights for non-military supplies headed for Afghanistan.

As the BBC reports:

Russia has long opposed the presence of American military forces in Central Asia, says the BBC’s Richard Galpin in Moscow.

Russia says it has agreed to a request from the US to allow the transit of non-military Nato supplies across its soil, but says it is waiting for details of specific shipments before issuing permissions.

“As soon as that happens we will give the corresponding permission,” said Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, quoted by Russian media.

For the US, the base closure comes at a critical moment, as the new administration of President Barack Obama plans a sharp increase in the number of American troops in Afghanistan.

For Russia, on the other hand, its closure would be a significant diplomatic victory as it seeks to reassert its influence in all former Soviet republics and beyond, analysts say.

Now, a cynic might see an additional motive for the Russians. If Russia became a key supply route for Afghanistan, that would certainly give Moscow some leverage over the US and NATO on a variety of other issues. At the very least, they get to play “the good guys” as part of their bid to de-ice US-Russian relations.

The advantage may not last, however.

The US is negotiating with both Tajikistan and Uzbekistan to acquire a replacement for Manas, and the BBC reports that a US-Uzbek deal may be very close.

Despite the K2 fiasco, in fact, a number of reports suggest increasingly low-level US-Uzbek cooperation prior to the last few days; one has to wonder if Islam Karimov might be concerned about the consequences of the Russians consolidating their position in Central Asia.

UPDATE: Patrick Barry got their first, and adds some stuff I didn’t address about how this all relates to Georgia and the potential Georgia-Azerbaijan transit route.

It seems I need to start reading Democracy Arsenal again.


We’re now only the THIRD most unpopular great power! We beat Russia and China!!!!

Now that I’m done quaffing celebratory beer and eating nachos, I should quote the article:

“Our poll results suggest that China has much to learn about winning hearts and minds in the world,” said GlobeScan chairman Doug Miller.

“It seems that a successful Olympic Games has not been enough to offset other concerns that people have,” he added, referring to the summer games hosted by Beijing in August 2008.

The poll also suggests that substantially more people now have a negative view of Russia’s influence – 44% negative versus 31% positive – and that was before the recent disruption in Russian gas supplies to Europe. […]

The US, for the first time since 2005, has surpassed Russia in positive ratings, with an average of 42% compared with 36% last year.

But it is still rated negatively by 42% of those polled, down from 46% in the 2008 poll.

Views of the US have improved in six countries, but attitudes towards it in Russia and China have grown more negative, while most people in Europe show little change.

“Though BBC polls have shown that most people around the world are hopeful that Barack Obama will improve US relations with the world, it is clear that his election alone is not enough to turn the tide,” said Steven Kull, director of Pipa.

Indeed, some of the best work on anti-Americanism suggests that most hostility towards the US centers on its policies, not its “values.” Let’s hope we can put behind us disastrous fad for public-diplomacy-as-superficial-branding that marked the Bush years, and focus on adjusting US policies where appropriate, and doing a good job of explaining them when we can’t.

It’s About Time. (For Regime Change.)

Finally, a resolution to the four-month-old stand-off with the hijackers of the Faina off the coast of Somalia. NY Times reported today that the pirate crew will disembark from the Faina after some sum of money, paid by the ship owners, was air-dropped onboard:

“According to one of the pirates, the owners of the ship had paid the ransom; the pirates had counted the money; and now they were just waiting for nightfall to slip away from the ship.

The hijacking of the Ukrainian ship, called the Faina, stirred up fears of a new epoch of piracy and helped precipitate a rash of similar attacks off Somalia’s coast and an unprecedented naval response in return. Warships from China, India, Italy, Russia, France, the United States, Denmark, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Greece, Turkey, Britain and Germany have all joined the fight against the pirates, though the attacks have continued.

The pirates aboard the Faina would not reveal how much they had netted in ransom — originally they were asking for more than $20 million. According to businessmen on shore, the ransom was around $3 million and the money was dropped by parachute from a small plane, which seems to be the new way to deliver pirate booty. Last month, a huge Saudi oil tanker that had been hijacked was freed in a similar way.”

You can look at this in two ways. One: as a triumph of diplomacy with no loss of life. Two: as an excruciatingly glacial policy response to an incident emblematic of a widespread human security problem afflicting civilian and commercial traffic on the high seas – a global governance failure which could be changed with a shift in priorities and some savvy institution building, if these could only be sparked off by a bit of political imagination.

I don’t have concrete proposals, but I tend to see it through the latter lens. Four months? Surely this track record could be improved if governments took hostage taking at sea seriously as a human security problem. In fact, the protection and liberation of hostages was one of the ‘human security problems’ identified by respondents to my human security survey that has not attracted significant advocacy or global policy response.

In other words, this strikes me as an example of what Radoslav Dmitrov and his collaborators called a “non-regime” on p. 235 of their 2007 International Studies Review article: “a transnational public policy arena characterized by the absence of multilateral agreement for policy coordination.”

I wonder how this might be changed. Readers are invited to submit their ideas: what concrete goals could human security activists push for in terms of mechanisms to protect and assist victims of high seas piracy?

Manas: the hands of fate? (Updated)

It remains unclear whether the Kyrgyz government really wants the US out of Manas or whether it wants to extract higher rents.

Rob Farley comments that the “United States has been paying considerable rent to use the airbase in question.”

Yes and no. It can be too easy to focus merely on the size of sidepayments. In fact, that might be part of the problem.

Remember that the US doesn’t officially pay rent for basing and access agreements. It just so happens that host countries get “unrelated” aid packages and foreign-policy perquisites. This isn’t simply a normative issue; the US has strong incentives to reduce the transparency of the price it pays for bases in order to preclude upward pressure on host rent seeking. Keeping the true “value” of transfers and concessions opaque both makes it more difficult for hosts to calculate the true “market price” of the strategic package it offers, as well as gives US officials greater ability to deflect direct demands for higher rents.

Prior to the Tulip Revolution, the US was getting Manas on the cheap. In addition to some development assistance that was probably in the US interest anyway, the US negotiated some pocket-change (in relative terms) contracts with Kyrgyz elites to supply goods and services to US forces. As Alex Cooley wrote in 2006 (PDF):

The Manas base also offered critical material support to the Kyrgyz president and his political clients. The base constituted the biggest U.S. economic investment in Kyrgyzstan. From its first year, it contributed about $40 million annually to the small Kyrgyz economy and employed about 500 Kyrgyz nationals in a variety of positions.

The lion’s share of base-related funds flowed not to national agencies, however, but to private Kyrgyz entities closely tied to the ruling regime. The Manas International Airport, a technically independent company partly owned by Aydar Akayev, the president’s son, collected $2 million annually in lease payments, plus additional landing fees of $7,000 per takeoff. The airport company also was awarded most of the base-related service contracts. These revenues flowed directly to Manas Airport and were neither accounted for nor taxed by the Kyrgyz government.

However, the most lucrative source of base-related payments were fuel contracts, secured by the airport- affiliated Manas International Services Ltd. and another legally independent fuel company, Aalam Services Ltd., owned by Adil Toiganbayev, Akayev’s son-in-law. A New York Times investigative story revealed that out of a total of $207 million spent by the U.S. Department of Defense on fuel contracts during the Akayev era, Manas International Services received $87 million and Aalam Services received $32 million in subcontracts. The amounts and structure of these payments were kept opaque and were not reported in the Kyrgyz media. A subsequent investigation by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation uncovered that the Akayev clan had embezzled tens of millions of dollars of these base-related revenues through a network of offshore accounts.

Pentagon and State Department officials contend – and they are legally correct – that none of these payments or contracts clearly violated any U.S. laws or DOD tender procedures. But such claims do not change the fact that these payments played a highly
political role within the Kyrgyz political system. These base-related revenues supported the Akayev regime and its political clients, who regarded them as the unstated quid pro quo for granting basing rights to the United States and its coalition partners.

Commenting specifically on the adoption of the seemingly generous landing rights formula, former U.S. ambassador to Krygyzstan John O’Keefe suggested that the fees could have been avoided but were viewed by the U.S. side as an important economic inducement that would secure the Kyrgyz government’s commitment. Consequently, these private or selective incentives also served to “depoliticize” the base issue in Kyrgyz politics, as political parties, the Kyrgyz parliament, and the media neither publicized nor overtly criticized the terms of the basing agreement.

The problem came when the new government “opened” the terms of the US-Kyrgyz agreement and realized what was actually going on. They demanded an hundred-fold increase in rent. The ultimate agreement fell short of Kyrgyz expectations.

As I alluded to in my prior post, there are a couple of dynamics going on.

First, the Kremlin has never been particularly pleased with US influence in Central Asia (Russia has its own base in Kyrgyzstan). It looks like the Russian government decided to provide “exit options” to the Kyrgyz in the form of a significant offer of bilateral assistance. Even if that aid is unconditioned upon shutting down US operations at Manas, the Kremlin’s decision to play Monty Hall still significantly shifts the balance of leverage in US-Kyrgyz negotiations towards the Kyrgyz. Indeed, I write about this dynamic in a forthcoming review essay on the state of balance-of-power theory.

Second, the US approach toward Manas, consistent with the so-called “lily pad” vision of the 2001 QDR (PDF), focused on creating a “light footprint” base with minimal social impact on the country. The idea is that doing so makes anti-basing sentiment less likely. In fact, such a posture only increases suspicions about US policy objectives, fails to avoid incidents of the kind that reduce the legitimacy of the US presence, and inhibits the process whereby US bases produce substantial local public goods.

Thus, while current US rents really are quite substantial given the size of the Kyrgyz economy, they come in a variety of side payments that fail to concretely tie the base to the prosperity of significant domestic constituencies. Under those circumstances, the dynamics of the relationship become merely about the size of the aggregate rents paid by the United States compared to public concerns over US activities, i.e., the least desirable frame for US negotiators.

For more, see another piece by Alex Cooley: “U.S. Bases and Democratization in Central Asia,” Orbis. Vol. 52, No. 1 (Winter 2008), pp. 65-90 (PDF).

UPDATE: As I was arguing:

Bakiyev has been seeking more money from the United States for use of the air base, and the timing of his announcement seemed designed to highlights his nation’s economic needs. Russia agreed to provide Kyrgyzstan with $2 billion in loans and $150 million in financial aid, and also to write off $180 million in debt and build a $1.7 billion hydropower plant.

U.S. payments to Kyrgyzstan currently total $150 million a year, of which about $63 million is rent for the Manas base. “We hope to continue those discussions because Manas is vitally important to our operations in Afghanistan,” said Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell. Morrell added, however, that “we can continue without it, obviously.”

“There is obviously a long-term political dimension here that’s in play vis-à-vis Moscow,” a senior U.S. Central Command official said yesterday, with Kyrgyzstan “trying to play one bidder off the other. The United States is caught in the middle, seeing who is going to be the highest bidder. We don’t know yet whether this is simply a card being played in the negotiating process or they are going to ask us to leave.”

The Manas base is “pretty inexpensive from the U.S. point of view when you consider what it gives us in terms of access in the region,” the official said. “I don’t know what price the United States is willing to pay . . . but at the same time I don’t know whether we’re willing to be held hostage.”

Image Source: Defense Update

Hot deal for our UK readers

Well, “hot” isn’t quite the right word. But I just got word that you can pre-order a copy of The Struggle for Power in Early Modern Europe: Religious Conflict, Dynastic Empires, and International Change (Princeton University Press Description) for 34% off the cover price at

Someone must have taken a look at the book and realized what a dog they had on their hands.

PS: Yes, the title on the cover mock up is wrong.

Manas no more?

Breaking reports, if true, vindicate a manuscript Alex Cooley and I wrote last year.* Whatever pleasure I get from saying “I told you so,” however, is outweighed by my concern about the complications to US operations posed by the potential loss of Manas.

The AP:

MOSCOW – News agencies are quoting Kyrgyzstan’s president as saying that his country is ending U.S. use of a key airbase that supports military operations in Afghanistan.

A decision to end the U.S. use of the Manas base could have potentially far-reaching consequences for U.S. and NATO operations in Afghanistan.

Interfax and RIA-Novosti quoted Kurmanbek Bakiyev as making the statement just minutes after Russia announced it was providing the poor Central Asian nation with billions of dollars in aid.

Bakiyev is being quoted as saying that the Kyrgyz government “has made the decision on ending the term for the American base on the territory of Kyrgystan and in the near future, this decision will be announced.”

Kyrgyz government officials could not be immediately reached for comment.

UPDATE: more information continues to come in. US officials say this is just a move to increase rents.

*We’ve only sent it to one journal, which rejected it based on a range of positive to negative reviews. Because I’m a bitter and vindictive person, I am now going to point out that the decisive review rejected our contention that increased exit options for US basing partners and enhanced information about the deals the US cuts with other basing partners might (1) create upward pressure on rent demands and (2) even lead to the US losing some of its “light footprint” bases. This is exactly what has been happening, and may now have come to fruition, at Manas.

Metaphors of War: Superbowl Edition

Football and War have long been metaphors for each other, with players famously (and infamously in some cases) referring to themselves as “warriors” who will “do battle” on the gridiron led by “field generals” at quarterbacks, throwing “long bombs” to score, and Generals “calling an audible” to launch a “blitz” or a “hail-marry pass.” Indeed, those seeking to inject greater tolerance into American culture have long counseled that we do away with such metaphors, as they trivialize war on both sides of the equation. George Carlin saw this years ago. (Updatedrepaired link to Carlin’s baseball vs. football routine).

Today’s Superbowl between the Arizona Cardinals and Pittsburgh Steelers provides a rare moment reflection on this seemingly inescapable current in American popular culture. The Cardinals offer a unique mechanism for this, as until this year, they were probably best know for being the team of Pat Tillman, the former Cards player who joined the Army and was killed in Afghanistan.

It also provides a moment to notice, as the Washington Post reports, that the NFL seems to have re-thought its role in this process:

In a little-discussed shift in recent years, the NFL has moved away from depicting its games in military terms. While the league continues to embrace the military as an entity, inviting Gen. David H. Petraeus, the head of Central Command, to make the Super Bowl’s opening coin toss and having the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds perform a pregame flyover at Raymond James Stadium, the NFL no longer endorses using military terminology to describe its contests.

It is inappropriate, league officials say, to do so at a time when American forces are fighting two wars halfway around the globe.

“It’s a matter of common sense,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said as he stood outside the stadium the other day.

The same is true at NFL Films, an arm of the league that perpetuated for decades the image of football as controlled warfare by producing movies glorifying the game’s violence with phrases like “linebacker search and destroy.” In recent years the company’s president, Steve Sabol, ordered all allusions to war be removed from its new films.

“I don’t think you will ever see those references coming back,” he said. “They won’t be back in our scripts, certainly not in my lifetime.”

The sport that once saw itself as the closest thing in athletics to the military no longer holds to this once-cherished notion.

“We’re not going to fight no war, man,” Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Nick Eason said….

“They were basically cliches anyway,” Sabol said. “Just like you would hear coaches say, ‘That’s a guy I want to be in a foxhole with,’ they’ve never been in a foxhole and they’re trying to articulate that to a player who has no idea what a foxhole is.”

At the extreme, these metaphors were always silly, at their worst, they devalued the true sacrifices of soldiers and dehumanized the true destruction and human devastation wrought by actual war. Its a good thing that the NFL is moving in this direction.

Why the Kremlin worries (but not too much…yet)

The BBC:

Thousands of people have held rallies across Russia protesting against what they describe as the government’s mismanagement of the economy.

The biggest demonstration took place in the eastern city of Vladivostok, where protesters demanded the resignation of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

In the capital Moscow, police arrested a number of people at an unauthorised gathering by a radical party.

Meanwhile, government supporters also held their rallies across the country.

Protests on such a large scale were unthinkable just a few months ago as the economy boomed with record high oil prices and as the Kremlin tightened its grip over almost all aspects of society, the BBC’s Richard Galpin in Moscow says.

But now with the economy in deep trouble, there is real fear amongst ordinary people about what the future will hold, he says.

He adds that unemployment is rising rapidly, as are the prices of basic food and utilities.

I cannot emphasize enough how much of the Kremlin’s legitimacy rests–either directly or indirectly–on good economic performance.

There’s a lot more to write about recent developments involving the Russians. I hope to get around to it soon.

Calling all hands

If recent posts are any indication, Laura Rozen has finally stopped referring to virtually every rumored or confirmed Obama foreign-policy appointee as a “hand,” as in “a a think tank hand” and “Clinton-era NSC Africa hand”and “former CIA Latin America analyst and NSC hand” and “top foreign-policy hands” and “several Washington South Asia hands” and “veteran negotiator of the Dayton accords and sharp-elbowed foreign policy hand” and “a long time Africa hand and foreign service officer”and “Hill foreign policy hand”, etc.

She’s doing wonderful work, especially for people like me who have some concrete interest in finding out where people are going, but I’m starting to think she needs to invest in a thesaurus.

Researchers identify “historic” Plutonium

As the person who sent the link to me said, “this is [just] really cool.”

Nuclear archaeology has solved the mystery of a jug of plutonium that was found sealed inside a safe dug up as workers cleaned up an early Hanford burial ground.

Science showed the plutonium was historic: Researchers at the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland traced its origins to the first batch of weapons-grade materials ever processed at Hanford.

It’s also the second oldest known man-made plutonium 239, said Jon Schwantes, a PNNL senior research scientist who led the investigation. The oldest is held in the Smithsonian.

The results of the investigation are not just historically significant. Schwantes believes the research also may have applications in the field of nuclear forensics and efforts to keep nations safe from terrorists.

When researchers received the plutonium, they suspected it came from the beginnings of the Atomic Age after the 586-square-mile Hanford nuclear reservation was created during World War II as the United States raced to make enough plutonium to make an atomic bomb.

Hanford’s B Reactor was built as the nation’s first production-scale reactor. It irradiated nuclear fuel that was sent to Hanford’s T Plant, the world’s first industrial-scale reprocessing facility, which chemically extracted the plutonium.


Almost live Panel Blogging:

I’m sitting (or at least was, when I started this post) in a rather interesting panel that’s running at AU right now: The Obama Administration and the Palestinian / Israeli Conflict. It’s a pretty intense, thoughtful, and insightful discussion, featuring Aaron Miller, Yoram Peri, Amjad Atallah, and moderated by our own Boaz Atzili. On the schedule but not able to make it today was Joshua Muravchick.

Aaron Miller has quite a lot on his mind and is very talkative and is quite passionate about his points. Its clear that he has a lot that he wants to say—not just here, but in his recent writings, his book, and his other recent commentary. Its the I worked at this for 24 years and got nowhere because you crazy people can’t get over your inane mythology and appreciate the world as it is, not how you want it to be (he didn’t actually say the crazy people part, but he did drop the realism line at one point in his remarks).

Two-plus points, reacting to what I heard.

1. Both Atallah and Miller prefaced their remarks: “Speaking as an American…” Aside from the obvious use of this rhetorical device to preface remarks about the status of the negotiations, the frame also allows them to raise a very critical issue that has been absent from the recent dialogue of US involvement in the Middle East Peace Process. Both noted that the US has very vital National Interests at stake in resolving this conflict. The Obama administration has some major items on its plate: withdraw from Iraq, deal with Iran, the war in Afghanistan and the situation in Pakistan, and terrorist networks who might seek to attack the US directly. The Israeli / Palestinian conflict is connect to all of these and as it degrades, it further complicates the US’s ability to resolve its most vital interests in the region. Resolving the Israeli – Palestinian issue, beyond any Israeli or Palestinian interests, beyond any alliance with Israel, is important to the US achieving key goals on its own. Atallah recalled the way the US dealt with Bosnia—for a while, it was a horrible problem but one where the deep, ancient hatred and longstanding conflict rendered it impossible for the US to do anything. Then, at a certain point, the Clinton Administration decided that resolving the conflict was in the US interest, and they got involved and pushed a resolution (not that the Balkans is the Middle East, his point being that when the US decides its in its interest to act, it can and will take action).

The new “reality”* of the situation might now be an American National Interest in ending the conflict—not solving it to the liking of any one side, but ending it so that it is no longer a problem to the US advancing its other key interests in the region. At this point, the US decides what it needs, and what its worth, in terms of willingness to invest / pay, to get these needs, and makes it happen. Now this is not to capitulate to the inane Walt argument that Israel is somehow dragging down the US in the region (interestingly, Miller referenced the Walt / Mearshiemer book, trashed it, and then called for a more realistic understanding of the US – Israeli relationship, both by the general public and by American Jews that moves beyond some sort of mythology of fear.)

The difference here is that the subtle change of role for the US that they suggest—no longer protector of any one side, no longer “honest broker” but rather concerned great power able to see a workable solution that is good for the US and apply appropriate pressure to both sides to get there.

2. Its very interesting to hear the different analyses of what the barriers are to peace. On the one hand, Miller says the gap between the Israelis and Palestinians is large, while Atallah and Peri say that these gaps are less substantive and more process-oriented. The one thing that is clear from this (and, honestly, any discussion you ever listen to by anyone with any familiarity with the issue) is that the basic issues are still the same basic issues, the general terms of an agreement have a straight genealogy from the Roadmap to the Mitchell Plan, to Camp David, to Oslo, to Madrid, to Camp David. Its essentially the same plan, the same issues. So where’s the problem? Miller says that nothing will happen until there is a unified Palestinian political order, one organization controlling violence over its territory. Now, that’s a state (cue Weber), and as Atallah points out, they aren’t a state yet. Peri says the problem is a lack of trust and leadership on both sides. Miller also faults poor leadership. Peri notes the interesting dynamic in Israeli public opinion: he references surveys that show the Israeli public as more supportive of trading land for peace and closing settlements, but also shifting to the right politically, with Likud expected to win the upcoming elections. No trust in the leadership to actually deliver these long term goals.

Other interesting tidbits:

Atzili noted a new word making its way around Israeli slang: Condoleezation, to work long and hard and accomplish nothing.

There was general consensus that the idea that the Bush Administration was in any way good for this region or this conflict, or any of the parties, is mythology. To say you support a 2 state solution and then do nothing about it is no help to the Palestinians. To say you support Israel and then disengage from the peace process is no help to the Israelis. No one had much nice to say about the Bush Administration. Muravchik might have altered that dynamic, but he was apparently sick or something.

There was also general consensus that a peace deal with Syria was perhaps more likely than anything else. Its doable, its easy—no existential issues, it has support from the Israeli military (Peri reported), and it would actually help a bit with the other tracks.

Atallah noted that Arab leaders now feel they can engage the US again. The Bush Administration, with Iraq, Abu Gharib, Gitmo, and the like, was impossible to talk to. Obama offers a fresh chance. This holds out the promise that the Obama administration could engage and bring about the regional support necessary for an Israeli – Palestinian process.

Overall, a very interesting panel. There was audio and video taken, I’m told there might be a podcast, and if there is, I’ll try to link to it.

*MEPP commentators always like to talk about “realities” the changing realities, the new realities, the realities on the ground. Sorta makes you wonder how “real” they are, and if they are so real, how they keep changing all the time.

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