Tuesday, June 30, 2009

What is This, 1981?

We have massive protests in Iran, the staff of a Western embassy was held hostage, Michael Jackson is dominating the airwaves, a superpower is bogged down in Afghanistan, and now a coup in Honduras? It's enough to make me want to break out my neon fanny pack. Or, you know, be born.
When I was growing up my lefty parents gave me a book called something like "The Twenty-Third War" about a child in an unnamed Central American country forced to fight in one of a series of never-ending revolutionary wars in his country. I spent a few years in Central America growing up, but am not currently much of an expert on the region, but to me the signs are actually remarkably good.
First, coups, revolutions, and even coup attempts have been remarkably few since the end of the Cold War.
Second, no one more moderate (and less paranoid) than Hugo Chavez seems to think the United States instigated or supported the coup. This is a remarkable and welcome change from the 1980s, and even from the past eight years when the Bush Administration cheered on a coup attempt against Chavez in 2002.
Third, in many ways the coup was actually an attempt to restore constitutional order. The Honduran constitution limits presidents to one term precisely to limit leaders from obtaining the Calvin and Hobbes-esque title "dictator for life." The military installed a civilian, not a military, leader as president. If a right-wing president attempted to pass a "referendum" supporting his right to change the constitution and run for president again the leftist blogs would be up in arms (irony intended).
Fourth, a peaceful solution is likely. Most predictions I have read say that Zelaya will likely be reinstated for the remainder of his term, until next year, and not be allowed to run again. That is perhaps the best of all solutions, and one the Obama Administration and its allies should push for.
Neither Zelaya nor the military went about this in the best possible way. Zelaya should not have tried to change the constitution to his own benefit, and his opposition should not have opposed him with force. But think of how far we've come, and how much worse this situation would have been in 1981.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Interview With Tony Woods

From Sunday's Washington Post:

When it was first implemented, the policy was allegedly supposed to preserve morale and unit cohesion. How does that fit in with your experience in Iraq?

The thing that soldiers care about is, is their leader competent and does he or she care about them. And if they had a choice between a straight superior who was not very good at their job or a gay superior who was very good at their job, I think they would choose the one who's going to help ensure that they come home to their families.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Guest Post: Double-Dutch Diplomacy

Ed. Note: The following is another guest post by Michael Rohrs. The views expressed are his own.
President Obama and his administration have heretofore taken a double-dutch approach to diplomacy; that is to stand just outside the turbine and gauge the tempo; pick a calculated spot and jump in; do work, jump out, and circle back for another pass. For the most part, they have done so adeptly and eloquently. Three weeks following his address in Cairo, however, the President seems to have gotten a little tripped and tangled.

  • 24 June- President Obama reinstates the U.S. Ambassador to Syria—A post that has been strategically vacant for four years.
  • 25 June- The White House rescinds its invitation to Iranian diplomats to attend Fourth of July celebrations worldwide (presumably held at American Embassies).
  • 26 June- Ahmadinejad publicly demands an apology from President Obama for interfering in Iranian affairs of state.

The United States is in a heated diplomatic playoff with Iran. We know this. President Obama’s strategic reinstatement of the American Ambassador to Syria on Wednesday was a straight-steal. As the Post reported, The loss of U.S. diplomatic leverage in the region,” caused by the American response to the Syrian government’s complicity in the 2005 assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, “has left a vacuum filled in large part by Iran.” It is no coincidence that because politics has forced President Obama to be careful regarding the contentious Iranian election, we’re trying to regain some diplomatic high-ground by climbing up the backside of the hill. The problem is we’re doing so clumsily.

Yesterday, the State department “disinvited” Iranian envoys from partaking in its Independence Day dissipation—a diplomatic disaster akin to taking your baseball and going home because they made you play right field. A tantrum only amplified by the White House’s self-deprecating quip, "July 4th allows us to celebrate the freedom and the liberty we enjoy…Freedom of speech. Freedom of religion. Freedom to assemble peacefully. Freedom of the press. So I don't think it's surprising that nobody's signed up to come."

Even if extending invitations to celebrate our (and the rest of the world’s) freedom is standard diplomatic practice, American diplomacy operates best when we’re calling the pitches. As George Orwell espoused as his sixth and final rule of writing, we should have broken any of these rules before doing anything outright barbarous. By offering up our most sacred regalia to a base body politic, we undercut our axiomatic authority. Remember, we’re dealing with no less than half of the official state sponsors of terrorism. I’m all for extending an open hand, but you don’t invite vegans to a bull roast.

Let’s hope the President regains his diplomatic rhythm and finds his double-dutch dexterity. We need to be playing by American league rules; especially on Independence Day.

Keep an Eye on Iran Today

Today is the ultimate "take out the trash day." Yesterday Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett died, Shaq was traded and the NBA draft took place. Any possible attention left over for politics and international events is still taken up by Mark Sanford's Argentinian adventures. The only possible world news to creep in would be President Obama's meeting with Angela Merkel. In other words, now would be a perfect time for Iran to stage a Tiananmen style attempt to crush any protests. Let's hope they don't think the same thing, and keep watching to make sure they don't.

Now Get to Work!

After a lengthy delay (thanks Senate):
Obama's nominee to be under secretary of state for arms control and international security, Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-CA), and his pick to be assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, Kurt Campbell, were confirmed tonight in a unanimous consent motion, a congressional source relays.
Hopefully now they can get to work on nonproliferation treaties and taking care of East Asia. Not that those areas have had any difficulties while the posts were on hold!
Additional note: now that Tausher has been confirmed a primary date should be set for the CA-10 special election. That means Tony Woods' campaign is ramping up to full speed. Check out his website and do whatever you can to support him.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

What on Earth is Bruce Riedel Thinking?

Bruce Riedel is, by all accounts, a pretty smart guy. He's been a South Asia hand for the CIA, is a Senior Fellow at Brookings, and led one of President Obama's multiple Afghanistan-Pakistan reviews this past spring. Hopefully he gives better advice to the President, because the article he wrote for The National Interest is useless at best, damaging at worst.
In short he describes what would happen if the Taliban or other Islamic extremists took over Pakistan. He paints a grim scenario: Pakistan's embassies around the world used as terrorist bases, nuclear launches on Israel, Pakistan's Shia minority turning to Iran for help, war with India, etc.
It would be bad, no doubt. The statement is about as surprising as the recent pronouncementt that al-Qaeda would use nuclear weapons if it obtained them (a subject Riedel somehow barely addresses). Yet Riedel dangerously and surprisingly (for a former CIA analyst) devotes little attention to the probability of such an event occurring, stating only that,
A jihadist victory is neither imminent nor inevitable, but it is now a real possibility in the foreseeable future. This essay presumes (though does not predict) an Islamic-militant victory in Pakistan, examining how the country’s creation of and collusion with extremist groups has left Islamabad vulnerable to an Islamist coup.
It would be pretty bad if the Taliban took over North Dakota (home to quite a few nuclear weapons) too, but I don't see it as very likely.
Riedel then outlines quite a few events that would have to occur for the Taliban to take control: aligning with Kasmiri militant groups, defeating the MQM (moderate Muslim party based in the Sindh province), defeating the military (!), the Pashtun Taliban taking over the populous Punjabi region of the country, kicking out the military's current leadership, etc. None of those scenarios (with the possible exception of the first) is remotely likely.
In fact, I see the opposite happening. The Pakistani military is going after the Pakistani Taliban hard, and the Taliban is getting even more frustrated. Various leaders of the Taliban are disagreeing with each other, to the point of assassination. No matter how unpopular the United States is, will bombing Pakistani civilians make them more likely to support the Taliban? Will bombing mosques make Pakistanis more likely to attend?
The vast majority of Pakistanis are moderate and fairly modern, and becoming more so every year. They go to the mosque, but also enjoy a little Johnny Walker Black Label in the privacy of their own homes (political and military leaders included). The country is in a tough place, no doubt, but I believe the trend lines go in the right direction. Mr. Riedel should be more careful what he says and writes.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Another CNAS Policy Win

The Center for a New American Security released a report on Pakistan and Afghanistan in advance of their conference two weeks ago in which they recommended, among other things, a drastic reduction in missile strikes from drones along in Pakistan, and a renewed focus on protecting the populations.
Now, predictably, new Afghanistan commander General Stanley McChrystal's first order was to restrict air strikes into Pakistan in order to protect the population. Of course that was followed by the news today that an air strike in South Waziristan killed two more people at the funeral of militants killed by a previous air strike, so we'll see how the policy plays out.
McChrystal also stated that air support would be limited even when directly fighting the Taliban if the fighting is taking place near populated areas. That's great, because civilian deaths are certainly counterproductive, but if American forces are pinned down in fighting near a town will he be willing to take the heat for American lives lost due to the policy? We shall see.
Update (6/23/09 14:04 ET): News reports are now saying the drone strike killed 40-80 people at the funeral. I assume that's the same strike mentioned earlier. That's what reducing strikes and minimizing damage to civilians looks like? Wow.

Twitter on Zardari

I'm new to this Twitter thing, having only joined last week, but others have clearly been around quite a bit longer. My response to Zardari's op-ed could have been as simple as these:
@AfPakChannel Summary of Zardari's op-ed in the Post: my wife was Benazir Bhutto! Dictators are bad! Pakistan needs more $$!
@kalsoom82 hahaha it seems that zardari wants to use Wash.Post as his begging pulpit of sorts.is he trying to guilt the intl. comm. to help?

Monday, June 22, 2009

Another Truly Impressive Obama Skill

Piggybacking on Tom Ricks' notation of an interview President Obama did with Dawn of Pakistan in which he notes that he knows how to cook South Asian (looks like Punjabi) food I just wanted to say "wow." Being able to cook at all when you are charging full speed ahead in a career that gets you to the White House in your first half century is pretty impressive. How many different cultures can he cook from? One would guess some traditional Indonesian food, as well as some native Hawaiian dishes, and "traditional" Chicago foods (can he cook a deep dish pizza?). He's certainly been making the rounds of some fine DC eateries (and packing them for weeks). Will he check out the hot DC Indian joint Rasika?
On Friday celebrity Iron Chef and grill master extraordinaire Bobby Flay showed the President a few tricks on the grill. How great would it be for an Indian or Indian-American (or Pakistani or Pakistani-American) chef to be invited to the White House to cook with him? That would truly be an example of Obama's personal soft power.

Cricket the Uniter!

I was in New Delhi, India in September 2007 for the finals of the inaugural Twenty20 (a roughly 3-hour version of cricket, as opposed to the multi-day test matches) World Cup, gathered around the TV in the bar in the basement of the ITC Maurya hotel watching India defeat arch rival Pakistan, celebrating with everyone present long into the night, and the boisterous mood throughout the city for the next several days.
Now Pakistan has won the second Twenty20 World Cup, defeating Sri Lanka mere months after the Sri Lankan team was attacked in Lahore, Pakistan. Pakistan was scheduled to host the 2011 World Cup, but will not due to security concerns. So far the celebrations seem to be enthusiastic and peaceful. Any act or excuse that causes Pakistanis to become closer and see themselves as a united body should help to defeat the Taliban and other extremists. Hopefully this victory can serve as a unifying rallying cry for Pakistani moderates.
(Photo from Telegraph.co.uk)

Trials and Tribulations in Afghanistan

For those of you not in the DC area, or those of you who don't subscribe to/see a print copy of the Washington Post, I recommend two articles on the difficulties in stabilizing/reconstructing Afghanistan. The first is from Friday's Post, a lengthy articles on the many false starts and mistakes made in trying to encourage agricultural progress in Afghanistan, most simple mistakes that could have been solved by people talking to each other, doing basic research, or not simply handing millions of dollars to a USAID contractor and assuming that the job would be done well. It also highlights the difficulty of a civilian "surge" that some are calling for in Afghanistan. As Andrew Exum and others have pointed out, people with the right kind of expertise simply don't exist. It would be great to be able to send 100 civilians with experience in Central Asian agriculture over to help and advise--if only we or anyone had 100 such people.
The second article is from today's Post on U.S. Army Captain Michael Harrison, and his personal efforts at counterinsurgency along the Durand line by as much as possible living and working among the population. He took command of his unit almost two years early in order to go back to Afghanistan and help both his soldiers and the population. His example and efforts are a truly great example of smart influence. I applaud his vision, spirit, and sacrifice in spending so much time away from home. I know many selfless young officers and veterans like him, so I'm sure he's embarrassed by all the attention, but if it serves as a good example for others to learn from I want to assure Captain Harrison that it is both well deserved and worthwhile.

News Flash: Zardari Blames Others; Asks for (More) Money

It is hard to know what to mock first in Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari's op-ed in the Washington Post:
  • The Taliban and al-Qaeda are a threat to the entire world and indeed civilization itself! -- a threat it took Pakistan years to take seriously and even now has not fully committed to fighting (and expects someone else to pay for, while financing the build-up of equipment aimed at fighting India as well).
  • Benazir Bhutto (his wife) is by far the best leader Pakistan has ever had, perhaps one of the best the world has ever known -- one who was removed from power twice for corruption.
  • Democracy MUST succeed in Paksitan -- as long as "Mr. 10%" is re-elected.
  • The United States committed $1.5 billion per year to Pakistan for at least five years (on top of significant aid to the military) -- and Pakistan is holding out its other hand and saying "where's the rest?"
I don't envy Zardari's position. Pakistan is clearly not an easy place to govern, especially not now. But he continues the far-too-frequent Pakistani mindset of blaming others, refusing to take any responsibility, and expecting a physical and monetary bail-out.
If Zardari had written an op-ed with the message of "we are in a tough spot and could use some help" I think the "West" would be a lot more receptive. Instead his attitude is "you broke it, we did nothing wrong, give us money and come in and fix it yourselves." Not very constructive Mr. Zardari.


If I were to ask you design a perfect candidate for Congress for the Age of Obama, what would you come up with? You might say a West Point and Harvard-educated, young, attractive, black, gay Iraq veteran with economic policy experience, right? Well check out Tony Woods, who is running the the special election to replace Ellen Tauscher in California's 10th district.
Well now those of you in DC have a chance to meet Tony, at a fundraiser this Wednesday at Darlington House near Dupont Circle from 7-9pm. And you get to meet the always-engaging Richard Clarke. RSVP here. Hope to see you there!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Walking the Iranian Balance Beam

Lots of good stuff to read on Iran, perhaps too much... much like clicking on the #Iranelection feed on Twitter. So far I think President Obama is doing an excellent job of walking the fine line between expressing support for democracy and not being seen as meddling or taking sides.
First read the op-ed in the New York Times from an anonymous Iranian student, who states that all our outside opinions, beliefs, and assumptions about Iran are likely to be at best outdated and at worst dead wrong. As both the student and Walt point out, even if a recount or re-vote occurs and Mousavi is declared the winner that doesn't necessarily mean a more pro-U.S. government or one that will stop pursuing nuclear weapons.
Also check out Tom Ricks' post about how the current situation reminds him of the aborted Hungarian revolution in 1956. Although my memories of Budapest are entirely from history books and The Company I had the same thought, and would hate to egg on the protests into a revolution with veiled promises of support only to leave the protesters holding their limp... lets just say empty handed and alone.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Guest Post: The Politics Behind the Acoustics

Ed. Note: The following is a guest post by my colleague, Michael Rohrs.

The show was organized and advertised in under two weeks.The tickets were sold out in under twenty minutes.Dispatch, a world famous yet eternally philanthropic college band from Vermont, has been broken up for five years, but was playing a reunion concert in the Kennedy Center’s Eisenhower Theater. I came into two coveted tickets by a cosmic stroke of luck. The evening performance coincided with Prime Minster Morgan Tsvangirai’s eminently diplomatic visit with President Barack Obama that afternoon. The entire set was played acoustically, the Prime Minister himself spoke eloquently, without notes, and the proceeds went directly to the starving people of Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe’s government exists today, as it has for four months, as a two-headed snake. The unlikely ‘unity’ or ‘power-sharing’ system has precariously empowered two heads of state—the inexorable Robert Mugabe and the ineluctable Morgan Tsvangirai—each the illustrious champion of his party.

For the impoverished people of Zimbabwe, caught between the pestle and the mortar, it’s midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Depending upon the political leadership in the country and which man best leverages the power of the government ministries he controls (in general, Tsvangirai controls the treasury and Mugabe controls the secret police), determines whose political will be done. As the Post’s Michael Gerson wrote today in his op-ed Taking Meetings with a Murderer,

His [Tsvangirai] intention is to fight arbitrary and personal rule with the weapons of process—a Madisonian response to a Neronian dictator…If Tsvangirai fails, he will be just another victim of Mugabe’s charming ruthlessness. But if the prime minister succeeds, he will be an exceptional statesman who set aside his own claims of justice for the peace and progress of his country.

For the citizenry, the cessation of despotism, the economic prosperity of the country, the existence of sustainable democracy, and so many more basic human and civil rights hang in the balance.

Last Friday, the United States tipped the scale towards Tsvangirai. The Obama Administration devoted $73 million in foreign aid to the people of Zimbabwe—a salvational humanitarian effort that will, however, require an international political end-around. The Obama Administration will mete out millions of dollars for medicine bottles, bread loaves, and text books through NGOs and charities—effectively circumnavigating the graft of the Mugabe machine. The Dispatch Foundation, and the proceeds from their small but sold-out acoustic evening in the Kennedy Center, is one such charity. The amount of U.S. aid to ease the suffering and promote the suffrage of Zimbabweans just went up to $73,022,000. Now, we’ll watch and hope—as Obama remarked during his meeting with Tsvangirai—that concrete things solidify and enable the Prime Minister’s commitment to concrete improvement in day-to-day life in Zimbabwe.

I was lucky to get two tickets to see my favorite band reunited. But from what I saw on Friday night, the Zimbabwean people are even luckier to have the immanent resolve of PM Tsvangirai and the attention and aid of the United States.

Promising Pakistani Prognostications

Four hopefull signs relating to Pakistan recently:
  1. The U.S. House of Representatives passed the aid bill for Pakistan and Afghanistan last week.
  2. The European Union pledged $100 million in aid to Pakistan and will hold a meeting on EU-Pakistan relations in the near future.
  3. Pakistani authorities caught at least one of the terrorists who attacked the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore.
  4. Prime Minister Singh and President Zardari met in Russia at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization meeting, and the back-channel negotiations, primarily on Kashmir, are likely to resume soon.
Hopefully things will keep trending upward. The country could use good news.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Piecing Together the Story From Iran

I spent much of the past weekend at the Truman National Security Project's mid-annual conference (yes, two major conferences in one week). As part of the conference we had a tabletop exercise where we played members of the National Security Council debating ways to work toward President Obama's stated goal of getting to zero nuclear weapons. The event included fictional, though realistic, news inputs, such as an announcement that Kim Jong-Il had had another stroke, but this being a modern age people were also able to get real news, like the announcement that Iranian President Ahmadinejad was declared the winner of Friday's elections. A bit surreal to mix real and fake news like that.
I mention the experience because of the different sources of news flowing in from Iran. I was sufficiently dissatisfied by the mainstream media reports (this video is one of the best) to join Twitter (@robinjwalker) in hopes of some more news from different sources.
The only large-scale protests I've been in the middle of that turned violent was the 1999 WTO protests in Seattle, in what was essentially the communications stone age. I remember how scary and disorienting the whole experience was, not knowing if anarchists, riot police with tear gas, or just a wall of protesters running from one of the above was coming around any given corner. I wonder if Twitter, YouTube and the like make it any less confusing, or if the fire hose of information, some good and some bad, makes it just as confusing.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Known Knowns

One of the most memorable experiences in my career was walking into a room full of more than 100 mid-career U.S. military officers (mostly captains and majors) on November 8th, 2006 and announcing that Donald Rumsfeld had resigned. They instantly broke out into a standing ovation. 
Still, I believe we can learn as much from failed leaders as from successful ones. I enjoyed watching Robert McNamara's discussions in "The Fog of War" and I enjoyed reading the profile of Rumsfeld in Sunday's Post Magazine. His efforts at "transformation" greatly undermined the actual operations he was charged with running. His replacement, Robert Gates, has focused much more on the wars and left the "transformation" to others. In Godfather parlance, Rumsfeld simply wasn't a wartime consigliere

The Genius of The Economist

I'm always amazed at how the authors of The Economist can sum up the facts, salient points, arguments, and options that would take a typical graduate student (some of my friends included) a whole Master's thesis to go over. For example, check out Asia columnist Banyan's take on Indian Ocean naval competition between India and China in the June 13th issue. It's the most concise take on the "string-of-pearls" theory I've read yet. 

Thursday, June 11, 2009

CNAS Conference Round-Up

I spent all day at the Center for a New American Security's annual conference. The think tank has become the de-facto bench for a lot of top Obama Pentagon officials (Flournoy, Miller, etc, etc), so the room was packed with people waiting to see what future policies might look like (although quite a few people left after keynote speaker General David Petraeus was done).
The event featured four panels, each on a recent report the organization has produced, on Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, natural security, and North Korea.
Overall I thought the event was very well run. I got to meet two of my favorite bloggers, Andrew Exum and Tom Ricks. Both panelists and the audience raised some very interesting points. The fact that I didn't get satisfactory answers to my questions is beside the point. I thought topics missing from the reports/panels included:
  1. How much can we trust Pakistan's government? What leverage do we have for increasing accountability and governance in Pakistan? What metrics should we use for how responsive and cooperative Pakistan's government is, and can we tie aid to those metrics?
  2. Lots of organizations are writing reports about how climate change and natural security are related to national security. Of course they are. These groups are great at saying "you think that's bad, let me paint an even worse scenario for you." I get that it's bad. How about some solutions or policy prescriptions. I already drive a hybrid car, but I want something on a bigger scale. CNAS' project is just getting started, so hopefully they can come up with some answers.
  3. One reason China may be reluctant to get tough with North Korea, or allow us to really tighten the screws, is that they fear a humanitarian crisis and refugees flooding across their border if North Korea really goes downhill. What can we (the United States or the international community) do to lessen that possibility, in order to enable China to take action? The panel said that South Korea is even more worried about refugees than China. Fine, I get that, but what can we do?
If any of my readers has answers or opinions, I'd love to hear them.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Taliban's Questionable Tactics

I am of course encouraged by the news that in parts of Pakistan, such as Dir, people are standing up to the Taliban (although I suspect a little wishful thinking by the reporter is also involved). I also applaud the Pakistani military's efforts to back up those home-grown uprisings against the Taliban (though they need to improve their aim to the point that they are helping, not killing, the population). 
But what are the Taliban thinking? Bombing a mosque won't encourage the population to side with you. How does that encourage people to be more observant and go to the mosque more often? Is their argument "the government can't protect you from us, so you should side with us?" A weak argument at best. The larger bombing of a hotel popular among foreigners I can understand on the premise that it might discourage foreigners from coming and providing aid, but a mosque? Just who is providing the strategic thinking for the Taliban?

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Obama's Bulletin Board Cairo Speech

Once again President Obama's speechwriters did a masterful job on today's speech in Cairo directed at the Muslim world. I enjoyed all the references, from the Koran and elsewhere, on Islam as a religion of tolerance, peace, and knowledge. And I certainly detected some themes from Vali Nasr, an Iran expert and former professor of mine who advised on the speech. 
But it seemed too busy to me, as if it was trying to be all things to all people, groups, or advisers. The speech had seven major issue areas: violent extremism; Israel-Palestine; nuclear weapons/Iran; democracy; religious freedom; women's rights; and economic development and opportunity. I can imagine the writing process where a group of writers and advisers gather in a room and each pins several dozen issues they want included in a bulletin board before gradually taking those down they didn't absolutely have to have. I wish they had been able to pull a few more. Not that all of those issues aren't very important, but it jumbled the overall message, that America's interests are aligned with the Muslim world on many core values. 
It was trying to be something to everyone, and while it did an admirable job of that I think the process weakened some of the core message. And as many have noted, the only actions he promised or proposed were more discussions. The messages were good, but it could have been stronger if they were less muddled and if they were backed by stronger actions. 

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Cybersecurity is Useless...

...if we continue to make human errors like this one. Apparently we published a "highly classified" list of nuclear sites online, in "an online newsletter devoted to issues of federal secrecy." (emphasis mine).
We can have the best security procedures and safeguards in the world, but it can't make up for human beings making stupid decisions like this, or flying nuclear weapons around by accident. As the saying goes, we have to get it right every time, the terrorists just have to get it right, or be lucky, once.

One Armed Economist...

With respect to President Harry Truman...
On the one hand, the decision by a Pakistani court to release Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, the founder of Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorist group and alleged mastermind of the Mumbai attacks, is remarkably unproductive for both counter terrorism activities and Pakistan-India relations.
On the other hand the court ruled that the arrest of Saeed and his three colleagues violated Pakistan's already fragile constitution. Any decision that strengthens the secular judicial system at this point in Pakistan is a welcome step. 
I'm not sure how Pakistan's double jeopardy laws work, but I do wish that information/intelligence/evidence sharing between Pakistan, India, and the United States had been a little better so that Saeed could have been brought to justice with sufficient evidence to properly charge him with his crimes. 

Define "Win"

Yesterday the New York Times called for General Stanley McChrystal, bound for Afghanistan once he dodges the Senate shrapnel, to be asked tough questions. It doesn't seem like he's getting them. Today on the Hill he said the war in Afghanistan was winnable. But did any senator ask him what a win would look like? Of course not. 
Game 6 was winable for the Cleveland Cavaliers (if LeBron had decided to play while not on Ambien). I know what that means. But you don't win a war, and especially not a counterinsurgency, by having more points than the other "team." What is a win in Afghanistan? A thriving democracy with a strong economy? All the Taliban dead? A 300,000 person Afghan army capable of controlling the whole country (and the tax revenue to support it)? Without defining the term, saying the war is winnable is just a good sound bite. 

Onward Pakistan

For all their faults, South Asians in general and Pakistanis in particular are steadfast. I've been pretty harsh on the Pakistani mindset of refusing to take responsibility or action for the problems facing their country. I'm not convinced that they are now taking responsibility, but at least the Army and the general population have recognized the threat the Taliban poses. They should, and I predict will, continue their actions in Swat and the NWFP, despite the increased bombings, kidnappings, and whatever else the Taliban can dream up. If they're shooting at you, you know you're touching a nerve. 
Yes, the Pakistani Army's tactics have been heavy handed, displacing 2.5 million people in order to chase several thousand. That's far from ideal, and I would certainly encourage restraint (shelling a town doesn't usually encourage your enemy to come out and fight, it only enrages and kills the local population), but the signs are encouraging. Pakistan moved several thousand troops from the Indian border, as many people around the world have urged them to do. So don't stop now because of some bombings and kidnappings.
All due respect to the very smart Amed Rashid, but Pakistan is not "on the brink" of collapse. The central government has never had much control over the NWFP, much less the FATA. The population, and perhaps just as important the Pakistani press, seem to have recognized the danger the Taliban pose and have embraced the offensive as an action that is good for Pakistan rather than doing the bidding of the evil Americans. 
Pakistan has plenty of problems, primarily the lack of good governance and the terrible economy, but the country working together against the Taliban could be a turning point. Perhaps this is what the army meant when it kept saying it could take on the Taliban whenever it felt the need. 
I will keep up the pressure on Pakistan, but they also deserve credit when they do a good job.
(image from Dawn.com, "Locals walk past an army check point, lifting up their shirts to show they are not wearing suicide jackets.")