winterbadger: (books)
Those Angry Days: Roosevelt, Lindbergh, and America's Fight Over World War II, 1939-1941 by Lynne Olson (18) I need to come back and give this a proper review later, but it's another excellent book about America in the 1930s, which has broadened my appreciation of the politics and society of that period and provided more material for my ever-changing impressions of FDR. Like Blackett's War, this is not truly centered exclusively on its titular protagonists, as the action covers a much wider sweep of American and European personalities than even these two larger than life men constitute. As have many books I've encountered in the last few years, it gives me a pang of longing for something now long-dead, the liberal, progressive wing of the Republican Party, featuring as it does the few remaining hangers-on to the ideals of Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt, among whom I think Wendell Wilkie (a man I knew almost nothing about before encountering him in this book) should be numbered.

Wobble to Death and The Detective Wore Silk Drawers by Peter Lovesey (19) and (20) Two of a series of novels about a police detective in Victorian London. I remember seeing several of these stories televised in the 1980s. They're all right, but not great; they feature murders set in two of the popular sports of the time: long-distance competitive walking and (illegal) bare-knuckle boxing. I'm still trying to drag out of memory what the other detective series by a modern author set in the Victorian era was, since this wasn't it.

The Dragon Scroll by I.J. Parker (22) A detective novel of Heian-era (11th century) Japan. I'd read a selection of one story online and bought up a couple of copies of Parker's series cheaply on the strength of it. I'm glad that they were very cheap, as I find from closer acquaintance that not only is her style heavily dependent on that of Robert van Gulik (who she credits as her inspiration), but her writing is not very good and (this novel, at least) filled with attitudes, behaviours, and physical culture that seem entirely out of place in Japan, let alone medieval Japan. Most of her characters sound and act very much like modern Western people, which is highly disappointing.

Children of Jihad: A Young American's Travels Among the Youth of the Middle East by Jared Cohen (23) A travelogue by an American postgraduate student wandering through the Middle East, meeting and interviewing young people in Iran, Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq. Considering that the author had traveled through some pretty hairy parts of central Africa and was a Rhodes Scholar in international relations at Oxford, he seems to have been remarkably, astonishingly naïve and ill-informed about the places he went during the course of researching this book. That he parlayed his experiences into a job on the US State Department's policy planning staff and advisor to two Secretaries of State is even more amazing. Despite his quite remarkable lack of understanding of the places he went and the people he encountered, his book is nonetheless quite interesting and enjoyable, both for the insights it provides into popular culture and political discourse among young people in a pivotal region, but also for the simple human interactions he engages in with ordinary people throughout the region.

In progress:

Dunkirk: Retreat to Victory by Julian Thompson
Berlin Diary by William Shirer
Shinju by Laura Joh Rowland
Queen Victoria's Book of Spells Edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling
winterbadger: (pooh tao)
Catching up before the year ends. I've already beaten last year's 21, but I'm nowhere near the desired 50.

The Assassination of the Archduke: Sarajevo 1914 and the Romance That Changed the World by Greg King and Sue Woolmans (26)

The Rise of Islamic Capitalism: Why the New Muslim Middle Class Is the Key to Defeating Extremism by Vali Nasr (27)

Magnificent Delusions: Pakistan, the United States, and an Epic History of Misunderstanding by Hussain Haqqani (28)


In Progress:
The Battle of Midway by Craig L. Symonds
How Can Man Die Better: The Secrets of Isandhlwana Revealed by Mike Snook
Dunkirk: Retreat to Victory by MG Julian Thompson
Empire of the Mind: A History of Iran by Michael Axworthy
Boer Commando by Denneys Reitz
winterbadger: (coffee cup)
Why nonlethal aid is not sufficient to help less-extremist Syrian opposition groups

("less-extremist" because, honestly, let's not pin our hopes on a "moderate" faction succeeding in a civil war).
winterbadger: (python)
The most recent horrific "scandals" in Washington seem to be:

  • an investigation by the IRS to ascertain whether organizations that claimed tax-exempt status were acting in violation of that status by actively engaging in political action

  • several investigations by the DOJ to determine (a) who had criminally leaked classified material, violating the oath they took in order to gain access to it and severely damaging national security in the process and (b) whether the journalists who solicited those crimes had done so in contravention of the laws on espionage

These are in addition to the ongoing hearings into the events in Benghazi, despite a thoroughgoing review that resulted in a report harshly critical of the State Department, which led to the resignations of four senior DOS persons. But no hearings, strangely, on more than a dozen attacks on embassies in recent prior years, in which over 100 people were killed.

The politicos I don't expect reason or balance from. Hypocrisy and demagoguery have replaced honesty and responsibility in the opposition--that I have come to accept. What I find disturbing is that the press seems to be more interested in smearing mud and crying foul than at looking at the facts. That the same media swallowed, hook, line, and sinker, every baited lie that they were to9ld by the previous administration for year after year makes me wonder what happened to the honest, idealistic, truth-seeking journalists I recall being lionised when I was growing up in the 1960s and 1970s. There seem to be precious few of them around these days, as far as I can tell.
winterbadger: (slightly bemused cat)
Well, no I'm not.

Guatemala's top court annuls Rios Montt genocide conviction

(I was only surprised he was convicted to begin with.)

The head of Russia's only independent polling agency, Levada Centre, has said it could be forced to close after a warning from officials that it had to register as a "foreign agent" (a Soviet-era label in Russia, suggesting that an organization is a front for spying) because it was involved in political activity (it conducts opinion polls independent of government direction) and received foreign funding (less than 5% of its budget).
winterbadger: (Bartlet)
“The evidence in this book suggests that the blood and wealth spent to maintain a country’s record for keeping commitments are wasted: when push comes to shove, credibility is assessed on the basis of the current interests at stake and the balance of power, not on the basis of past sacrifices. . . . Leaders understand that no two crises are sufficiently alike to be confident that past actions are a reliable guide to the future.”

Daryl Press, quoted by Fareed Zakaria in a good Washington Post article on why U.S. credibility is not on the line in Syria.
winterbadger: (iraq)
from Fareed Zakaria in Time

"Those urging the U.S. to intervene in Syria are certain of one thing: If we had intervened sooner, things would be better in that war-torn country. Had the Obama Administration gotten involved earlier, there would be less instability and fewer killings. We would not be seeing, in John McCain's words of April 28, "atrocities that are on a scale that we have not seen in a long, long time."

In fact, we have seen atrocities much worse than those in Syria very recently, in Iraq under U.S. occupation only few years ago. From 2003 to 2012, despite there being as many as 180,000 American and allied troops in Iraq, somewhere between 150,000 and 300,000 Iraqi civilians died and about 1.5 million fled the country. Jihadi groups flourished in Iraq, and al-Qaeda had a huge presence there. The U.S. was about as actively engaged in Iraq as is possible, and yet more terrible things happened there than in Syria. Why?

The point here is not to make comparisons among atrocities. The situation in Syria is much like that in Iraq--and bears little resemblance to that in Libya--so we can learn a lot from our experience there. Joshua Landis, the leading scholar on Syria, points out that it is the last of the three countries of the Levant where minority regimes have been challenged by the majority. In Lebanon, the Christian elite were displaced through a bloody civil war that started in the 1970s and lasted 15 years. In Iraq in 2003, the U.S. military quickly displaced the Sunni elite, handing the country over to the Shi'ites--but the Sunnis have fought back ferociously for almost a decade. Sectarian killings persist in Iraq to this day."
winterbadger: (badgerwarning)
Washington Post facts-checks Senator John McCain's Libya-related hysteria.

Sen. McCain, please STFU before you embarrass yourself, your constituents, and your party even further.
winterbadger: (books2)
Little America by Rajiv Chandrasekaran (32)
(review/synopsis under the cut) )

Dolly and the Bird of Paradise by Dorothy Dunnett (33): Another Johnson Johnson mystery. Another unsuspecting (but capable) young woman encounters JJ, the yachting, portrait-painting intelligence officer and becomes involved in one of his cases. High life, sailing misadventures, murders, and an unexpected (almost unprecedented) glimpse into Johnson's personal life ensure. Of all JJ's appearances, it is here, I think, that he reminds me the most of Francis Crawford. Like all these novels, it comes with a recommendation; just remember that while her detective novels are not as ornately complex and footnoted as Dunnett's historical novels, they're not brain candy--there's plot within plot, and few things are straightforward or, indeed, ever clearly spelled out. Read this when you're awake and clear-headed to get the most out of it.

In progress:
Afghanistan: A Military History from Alexander the Great to the War Against the Taliban by Stephen Tanner
The Interpreter by Robert Moss
Boer Commando by Denneys Reitz
In the Skies of Nomonhan by Dimitar Nedialkov
The Fort by Bernard Cornwell
Through a Howling Wilderness: Benedict Arnold's March to Quebec, 1775 by Thomas Desjardins
The Western Front: Ordinary Soldiers and the Defining Battles of World War I by Richard Holmes
Knights of the Cross; or, Krzyzacy by Henryk Sienkiewicz
Tales of Terror and Mystery by Arthur Conan Doyle
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle
winterbadger: (editing)
An excellent summary of this week's events in North Africa so far.

Thanks to Karl Musser for the link!
winterbadger: (coffee cup)
Inside the White House During Fukushima

NSC senior director for East Asia talks about administration reaction to last year's nuclear crisis in Japan.

Poker Lessons from Richelieu

A review of a new bio on the pivotal French leader.

KONY 2012 and the Prospects for Change

Three researchers explain why the response from Africa to the West's sudden discovery of the evil of the LRA has been less than wholehearted.
winterbadger: (iran)
Chuck Hagel is no firebrand. I don't agree with him about everything, but he's a careful, thoughtful observer.
I don’t think that we are necessarily locked into one of two options. And that’s the way it’s presented. We are great in this country and in our politics of responding to false choices; we love false choices.
This is so very true; Americans love forcing everything into binary choices: black or white, good or bad, yes or not, enemy or ally. The world, the real world outside our effed up consciousness, is not like that.

We Americans have this frame of reference … we see a problem, there has to be a solution... Well, the kind of complicated world we live in, I’m not sure there’s a solution to everything right now. What you have to do is manage it so it doesn’t get worse, manage it toward a higher ground of solution possibilities.
It takes a smart man to see that there isn't an (immediate) solution to every question.

I like what he says about Obama too. Why do we have so few of these people left in politics? What happened to "respectfully disagree"? It's all Cleon nowadays, and far too few Pericles.
winterbadger: (candle)
BBC obituary

I never met him, but I've heard him speak a lot, and I've seen him move across the world stage, shaping the modern day and the future as he did so. He wasn't everyone's favourite person, but he was remarkably accomplished, a powerful man (physically and emotionally) with a first-class mind. I think our nation will be the poorer fr his loss.

a more detailed bio on Wikipedia
winterbadger: (afghanistan)
500/500 for my term paper in Professor Thistlebottom's class. His comments on this and the last previous essay were quite friendly and devoid of picky grammar comments. Perhaps, as with horses, one just needs to be firm and decisive.

I won't bore you with the entire 11-page paper, but it raised an interesting question: if the Afghan security and intelligence system becomes weaker, what else can the US do to shore up the situation there? It's a hypothetical based on a counterfactual premise; while there continue to be problems with the military and police there, I think there's been tremendous progress. The problem, IMO is the national political part. Karzai has been compared to Diem in Vietnam, and I think it's a fair comparison. He's not very popular; he's not very capable; we more or less put him where he is. In addition, he seems to have lost confidence in the US and NATO--probably because we've been very frank about criticizing his government's corruption and election cheating--and is flailing around wildly for an alternative. But the terms that his enemies want before they will talk to him are higher than he's prepared to go. We can't possibly get rid of him, because we'll get just what we did when Diem went down--a chaotic mess where any hope of a credible national government supported by the people goes by the wayside.

My essay argued that we have to look at what is keeping the insurgents going. It's not popular support--people in Afghanistan HATE them, and while they don't like the Karzai government either, they're prepared to tolerate it *if* it can protect them and let them go about their business, even make things a little better here and there. I think we have to look at the basic nature of Afghan warfare and peel off the insurgent groups that can be peeled off. They're run by some pretty loathsome people, but loathsome people are who, in the final analysis, run things in that part of the world. If we can bribe (to be frank) the Hekmatyars, maybe even the Quetta Shura with NATO withdrawal and a chance to participate in ruling the country, I think we could get them to stop fighting (with guns).

But only if we don't have someone egging them on. And right now, Pakistan is doing that. They are afraid that if we withdraw, Afghanistan will go back to civil war, and so they want the major factions that will predominate in such a war to owe them. They are deathly afraid of India gaining a foothold there and surrounding them. And they have their own insurgents (that IMO have grown out of the vipers they've nursed in their bosom) that they do not have the resources to defeat. I think we need to engage much more fervently with Pakistan. Stop sanctioning them and making them question whether or not we support them. Pressure India (who owe us a lot IMO, after the boosts that they got from Bush) to make it clear they have NO ambitions in Afghanistan. And we need to provide serious (hands-off) COIN support to Pakistan to help them squelch their own Taliban. The people in the FATA don't like these folks, but if the only way the government can deal with them is to clear all the villages and drive people out of the hills, guess who they will like less? So we need to supply the Paks with helos, comms, and most of all training, training, training. We simply cannot send troops in there to partner with them the way we have in Afghanistan--they wouldn't be tolerated. So we have to help them learn how to do modern COIN: presence, patrolling, making friends with the population, building infrastructure that people need, working with local government instead of dictating to it, building local self-defense forces instead of insisting that "foreign" troops (Punjabis instead of Pathans) should guard them.

I think if we're prepared to throw our weight behind Pakistan, they can be convinced to stop supporting the Afghan Taliban. And if they AT don't have that support *and* they have a chance to participate in Afghan decisionmaking, they will talk.

Now, how we get the Paks to stop supporting LeT and the Kashmiri militants, which would probably be India's price for backing off, I have NO idea....
winterbadger: (badgerwarning)
thanks to [livejournal.com profile] wcg for this link to a piece by a former Commandant of the Marine Corps and a former CENTCOM commander on how we need to respect *our own* moral standards and not simply sacrifice them whenever we find ourselves in a difficult struggle

thanks to [livejournal.com profile] tacnukesoul for this piece on how simply playing three-card monte with prisoners isn't the same thing as "closing" Gitmo, and this piece suggesting the former president still has something he needs to say to the US people and to the world.

I'm surprised I haven't heard much discussion of a major shift in US security policy. I guess part of it is that the people I work with day to day are more IT people than policy people. And that the rest of the office is focused on other things. Still, it's a mjor shift (IMO in the right direction).

ETA: Andrew Sullivan's letter to Mr Bush is long. The passages describing torture are difficult to read. But this is at the core of it, for me:

You have also claimed that defending the security of the United States was the paramount requirement of your oath of office. It wasn’t. The oath you took makes a critical distinction: “I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” It is the Constitution you were sworn to defend, not the country. To abandon the Constitution to save the country from jihadist terrorists was not your job. Yes, of course your role as commander in chief required you to take national security extremely seriously, but not at the expense of your core duty to protect the Constitution and to sincerely respect—not opportunistically exploit—the rule of law.

And the core value of the Constitution, and of your own rhetorical record, is freedom. ... Because the war you declared has no geographic boundaries and no time limit, the power of the executive to detain and torture without bringing charges—the power you introduced—is not just a war power. Because the war on terror is for all practical purposes permanent, the executive power to torture is a constitutional power that will become entrenched during peacetime.

... by condoning torture, by allowing it to take place, and by your vice president’s continuing defense and championing of torture as compatible with American traditions, you have done enormous damage to America’s role as a beacon of freedom and to the rule of law.

America is exceptional not because it banished evil, not because Americans are somehow more moral than anyone else, not because its founding somehow changed human nature—but because it recognized the indelibility of human nature and our permanent capacity for evil. It set up a rule of law to guard against such evil. It pitted branches of government against each other and enshrined a free press so that evil could be flushed out and countered even when perpetrated by good men. The belief that when America tortures, the act is somehow not torture, or that when Americans torture, they are somehow immune from its moral and spiritual cancer, is not an American belief. It is as great a distortion of American exceptionalism as jihadism is of Islam. To believe that because the American government is better than Saddam and the Taliban and al-Qaeda, Americans are somehow immune to the same temptations of power that all flesh is heir to, is itself a deep and dangerous temptation.
winterbadger: (editing)
Also titled "Neologisms that make me want to KILL"

The latest entry? "Optic" which seems to be being used now as a noun signifying a view or appearance or an image (e.g., "The US wishes to avoid an optic of defeat in Iraq.")

Folks, there are all sorts of good ways to say this withe words we already have. There is no need to take a word which means something and misuse it in such a perverse fashion. This is a travesty of usage, because it turns the meaning on its head. Optic is a noun meaning an eye, or a device used to see; it is also an adjective used to indicate that something is related to seeing. It is NOT a word that means "the thing being seen". That's like using "chef" to mean the person who consumes a meal, or using "up" as a synonym for "down".

Bryan, can I borrow a few large-calibre handguns?...
winterbadger: (pakistan)
If the Pakistanis don't deal with the Taliban sheltering in their country, we are going to feel the need to go in and deal with them ourselves (as will, in time, the Afghans).

But when we do so more and more openly and violently, this sort of thing is bound to happen. Keep going this way, and the Pakistanis will be killing NATO troops soon.

We need to find a way out of this situation, but I can't for the life of me imagine what it is...
winterbadger: (re-defeat Bush!)
The problem with the Bush Administration, in one sentence:

from the Washington Post's excellent series on the White House's change of Iraq War strategy

[After a description of the way Bush browbeat a reluctant, almost rebellious Joint Chiefs of Staff into accepting the surge.] Still, Bush fully understood the power of his office.

"Generally," he said, "when the commander-in-chief walks in and says, done deal, they say, 'Yes sir, Mr. President.' "


Yes, of course. You don't listen to trained professionals, the top men in their field, when they tell you that what you are doing is dangerous, irresponsible, or unlikely to succeed. You jsut overrule them.

I think someone else did this too. And, as Bush will undoubtedly do (given that, within narrow parameters,t eh surge *did* work), drew the wrong lessons from some lucky guesses on his part early in his career of second-guessing.

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