On the subject of national security, reading it later* is another option.

Steven Aftergood, at the FAS Project on Government Secrecy, discussed a new judge for the FISA court.  The article also discussed the idea of setting up a similar court to “review the conduct of drone strikes.”

Spencer Ackerman, writing for Wired/Danger Room, says that a cash strapped Army still plans on helping Pakistan fight narcotics. To quote his conclusion:

It’ll be a long time before the U.S. military gets out of the south-Asian anti-drug game, whatever the budget situation might be.

Aljazeera is reporting that Egypt will hold parliamentary elections.  Details:

Voting will take place in four stages with new People’s Assembly invited to convene on July 6, presidential decree says.

*Source: Get Pocket.com (formerly Read It Later) is my aggregator.


Liberals lament that the accomplishments of the Obama administration are not keeping up

With the Liberals' agenda. . .

On Inauguration Day we were all ecstatic, optimistic, inspired and hopeful that all the things that we hated during the previous administration would change.  The watchwords were going to be looking forward, maintaining transparency, reforming greedy and irresponsible business practices, etc.  President Obama's platform began with the three-legged stool of health care reform, education reform and energy self-sufficiency.  But his agenda grew rapidly, even as the economic crisis and two wars remained as central issues.  But since that time peoples' optimism has been dampened as problems proved to be more difficult to solve than we thought they would be.  The question is whether it is a lack of leadership on the President's part, leading in the wrong direction, naive reliance on bipartisanship, inexperience, the fierce recalcitrance of Republicans or something else. Here is a typical story of the kind seen in recent months: High Liberal hopes threaten to crash down on Obama , trumpets the US News and World Report (10/19/09).  To quote:

During the presidential transition and following Obama's inauguration, many Republicans warned of the administration overreaching and trying to do too much (with good reason, did anyone reasonably expect the government to have an ownership stake in General Motors?). There also existed the distinct possibility that many in the left—the truest of the true believers—would be disappointed and feel Obama was actually under-reaching. With hopes higher than the Frank Sinatra hit song , a letdown was probably inevitable.

Blumenauer remains optimistic. But much of Obama's liberal base wants to see results instead of lofty rhetoric, which could be a problem for the administration in the weeks and months ahead.

However, there has been noticeable push back by the administration, not seen in some time, in the past couple of weeks, .  For example, taking on the Health Care Industry, Fox News and the Chamber of Commerce are the stories making headlines these days.  The rift between the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Obama administration seems to be widening, according to the Washington Post 's Tuesday analysis.  To quote:

Instead of working through the Chamber, President Obama has reached out to business executives, meeting repeatedly with small groups of CEOs in his private White House dining room. He also has dispatched top aides Valerie Jarrett and Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel to corporate boardrooms. Since the summer, the three have met with some of the biggest names in the business community, including the heads of IBM, Wal-Mart Stores, Time Warner, Eastman Kodak, Starbucks, Amazon.com and Coca-Cola.

In the process, Obama is attempting to rewrite the rules of the game in Washington, where the Chamber and other business lobbying groups have long held a highly visible, and powerful, place at the intersection of policy and politics.

And it looks as if another more liberal position has been adopted when comes to the long-standing "war on drugs."  The headline reads, "U.S. eases its stance on medical marijuana," according to the Washington Post on Tuesday.  The Attorney General says prosecuting such cases 'will not be a priority.'  As state after state has passed medical marijuana laws, the federal government is allowing that to reasonably play out, focusing instead on the more serious aspects of drug crime.

Here are a few predictions on current left leaning issues.  Health Care Reform with some sort of "public option" will become law before year's end.  The administration will nudge the armed services and Congress to reform the policy regarding the LGBT community's participation in the military.  That will happen before the middle of next year.  Regulatory reform on Wall Street will take a considerable amount of time.  We have to hope the necessary changes are made soon enough to prevent another bubble and bust cycle.  Concluding with the confession of an inability to predict what will happen in Afghanistan and Pakistan, we can feel good that this administration is sticking to the status of forces agreements with Iraq to pull out our forces on time.  Presidents Obama and Malaki are talking about those issues this very day.  Things could be a whole lot worse.

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Informed Comment: Afghanistan Election Run-Off, Italian Scandal, Lahore Attacks on Eve of Obama Decision

  • President Obama is now said to have completed his policy review of Afghanistan and now to be moving toward making a decision about whether he will pursue a wide-ranging counter-insurgency strategy that implies substantial investment in state-building (as recommended by Gen. Stanley McChrystal and apparently by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton), or whether he will adopt the much more modest counter-terrorism strategy proposed by Vice President Joe Biden.

  • It now seems increasingly likely that there will be a run-off in the Afghanistan presidential contest between incumbent Hamid Karzai and his chief rival Abdullah Abdullah. As fraudulent ballots have been tossed out, Karzai’s margin of victory has apparently fallen below the 50% threshold that would have allowed him to avoid a run-off. Since, however, Abdullah Abdullah’s support largely comes from the Tajik (Dari Persian-speaking Sunnis) ethnic group, and Karzai’s strongest support comes from anti-Taliban Pashtuns, there are fears that the run-off might produce increased ethnic tensions and even violence. On the other hand, had Karzai been declared the victor on the basis of clearly fraudulent ballots, it would have fatally undermined the legitimacy of his government.
  • Dr. Juan Cole is among the most trustworthy of Middle Ease experts. He has amazing contacts and speaks who knows how many of the languages.

    The thing about the run-off election is the timing. It has to happen very rapidly before winter shuts down everything. It is not certain that President Karzai will certify the UN election panel’s findings, either. President Obama has no good or easy options for his long awaited Afghanistan strategy.

    Posted via web from Southwest Postings

    High profile journalists weigh in on the Afghanistan plan —

    There are a number of good reasons for the Obama administration to review the plan for Afghanistan and Pakistan.  The election of an Afghan president has yet to be settled; a runoff may be necessary.The strength of the Taliban insurgency has nearly quadrupled since 2006.  Reuters reported that, "A U.S. intelligence assessment, showing the number of fighters in the insurgency has reached an estimated 25,000 from 7,000 in 2006, spotlights Taliban gains and the tough choices facing President Barack Obama in trying to reverse the trend."  Senators are beginning to take one side or the other in the debate.  Senator Levin, chair of the Armed Services Committee, came out early as opposed to sending any more troops.  More recently Senator Inouye, heading the Appropriations Committee, is supporting General McChrystal's plan.  Glenn Greenwald, writing for Salon.com, on Tuesday effectively analyzed what is at stake in this for Democrats.

    Arianna Huffington
    led the political news headline lists on Wednesday with her provocative piece titled, "Why Joe Biden Should Resign."  Like so many other readers, my first thought was, "my goodness, what has he done now?"  And I immediately clicked on the HuffPo article.  Well, the Vice President's only transgression was to do what the man who chose him expected.  Joe Biden staked out the other end of the spectrum of the escalate-now view.  And Huffington's article calls upon Vice President Biden to resign in protest if the military's escalate-first view becomes the centerpiece of the administration's strategic plan.

    Politico.com published an excellent article about who might have leaked General McChystal's Afghanistan assessment to the Washington Post's Bob Woodward.  Ben Smith offers a wide range of plausible possibilities, but no conclusions, except that the leak highlights the divisions within the Obama administration  over a future Afghanistan strategy.  And it really does not matter who leaked the information, because the administration has no plans to focus on finding the culprit or hero, depending on your point of view.

    George Will wrote a column for the Washington Post on September 1 that recommended "Reduce troops and revamp Afghan strategy."  He concludes unequivocally:

    U.S. forces are being increased by 21,000 to 68,000, bringing the coalition total to 110,000. About 9,000 are from Britain, where support for the war is waning. Counterinsurgency theory concerning the time and the ratio of forces required to protect the population indicates that, nationwide, Afghanistan would need hundreds of thousands of coalition troops, perhaps for a decade or more. That is inconceivable.

    So, instead, forces should be substantially reduced to serve a comprehensively revised policy: America should do only what can be done from offshore, using intelligence, drones, cruise missiles, air strikes and small, potent special forces units, concentrating on the porous 1,500-mile border with Pakistan, a nation that actually matters.

    Genius, said de Gaulle, recalling Bismarck's decision to halt German forces short of Paris in 1870, sometimes consists of knowing when to stop. Genius is not required to recognize that in Afghanistan, when means now, before more American valor, such as Allen's, is squandered.

    Roger Simon, also of Politico, wrote an excellent and very clear-eyed piece last month that discussed the evolution of the United States mission in Afghanistan over the years.  The terms used were "mission creep to mission gallop."  The pace or destination is central to the administration's current strategic planning project.  Simon's stark conclusion is one with which I tend to agree.:

    So send more troops, or lose the whole shooting match. It is easy to see why the memo was leaked. The Pentagon does not want Obama to go wobbly on Afghanistan. It wants him to stay and fight. And stay and stay and stay.

    “I don’t have a deadline for withdrawal,” Obama told David Gregory on “Meet the Press” Sunday, “but I’m certainly not somebody who believes in indefinite occupations of other countries.”

    But if Iraq was George W. Bush’s war — and it certainly was — Afghanistan has now become Barack Obama’s war. He wasn’t the president who started it, but he can be the president who finishes it.

    Or he can be the president who stays there indefinitely.

    Because I am not one of the high profile journalists featured in today's post, I am a bit reluctant to weigh in myself.  But I will.  My vote for President Obama was predicated upon his commitment to get out of Iraq and go after Al Qaeda in Afghanistan.  I believed that the U.S. needs to finish the job ignored by the Bush administration.  That does not mean replay Iraq in Afghanistan.  It is time to get back on point — pursuit of Al Qaeda.

    Posted via email from Southwest Postings

    South Asia plans keep members of the media breathless with curiosity

    Planning for next steps in Afghanistan continues — National Security Adviser former Gen. Jim Jones will brief the full House on the Afghanistan situation in a closed meeting later this week in the Capitol Visitor Center, according to The Hill.  White House advisers appear to be split on what to do in Afghanistan. Administration spokesman, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, has ruled out the option of leaving Afghanistan and also refused to rebuke Commanding General Stanley McChrystal's very public stance. Congressional leaders head to the White House on Tuesday afternoon to discuss the worsening situation , adding their input to help the President make his decision.  "President summons congressional leaders on Afghanistan strategy," is the headline from The Hill (10/5/09).  To quote:

    The meeting comes amid mounting casualties in the eight-year war and as President Barack Obama weighs a pending request for 40,000 more troops from the leading commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal.

    It is the first time in six months that House Republican leaders have been invited to the White House to discuss official business; Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) are both scheduled to attend. If Obama decides to send all the troops McChrystal wants, he will probably need Republican votes to sustain the escalation.

    Pakistan pushes back — Congress passed an aid package for Pakistan of $1.5 billion a year for the next five years last week. President Asif Ali Zardari acceded to the demands of Congress contained in the law.  Pakistan agreed to end support of terrorist groups in its country.  It will also make sure that its military does not interfere with civilian politics. The headline, "U.S. Push to Expand in Pakistan Meets Resistance^," is from The New York Times (10/6/09).  To quote:

    Steps by the United States to vastly expand its aid to Pakistan, as well as the footprint of its embassy and private security contractors here, are aggravating an already volatile anti-American mood as Washington pushes for greater action by the government against the Taliban.

    Short takes from others —

    Chuck Todd^ tweets (10/5/09), "Ponder this: Obama admin sees al Qaeda has an org U.S. needs to DESTROY while the Taliban is a group that needs to be DEFEATED. Thots?"

    "Gates to Army: We'll follow Obama's orders on Afghanistan," is from McClatchy News (10/5/09).  I favor McClatchy for providing the most helpful coverage of the situation in the war zones.

    "Voice of Bush's favored general is now harder to hear," is by Elizabeth Bumiller at the New York Times (10/4/09).  Her report refers to General David Petraeus.

    "Obama Meets Advisers on Afghanistan; Ismail Khan Warns against US Troop Surge," is by Professor Juan Cole at Informed Comment (10/1/09). Good analysis from my favorite Middle East expert.

    "Containing a Nuclear Iran#," is by Fareed Zakaria from Newsweek Magazine (10/3/09).  HT to my regular contributor of links, Jon for this good piece.

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