Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Democrats and Republicans on the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs committee have two separate websites.

The regular website for the committee, as you can imagine is

"" however, is the exact same website as "", as the Chair of the committee is Republican Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

Two separate websites? That bothers me.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Linda Richmond does Iran

The Islamic Republic of Iran is neither "Islamic" nor a "Republic". Discuss.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Echoes in Egypt

Saint Petersburg, 25 February 1917.

"Increasingly this became the pattern -- violent clashes with the police combined with efforts to win over the soldiers -- as the crowds took over the city centre. The police were 'theirs' -- hated agents of the regime. The people called them 'pharaohs' (much as some today might call the police 'pigs') and they had no doubts that the police would fight to the end. The soldiers, by contrast, were seen as 'ours' -- peasants and workers in uniforms -- and it was hoped that, if they were ordered to use force against the crowds, they would be as likely to come over to the people's side. Once it became clear that this was so -- from the soldiers' hesitation to disperse the demonstrators, from the expressions on the soldiers' faces, and from the odd wink by a soldier to the crowd -- the initiative passed to the people's side. It was a crucial psychological moment in the revolution."
(From A People's Tragedy, 1996, pg. 310)

Tahrir Square, anyone?


Maxim Gorky, February 1918

"A revolution is only a revolution when it arises as a natural and powerful expression of the people's creative force. If, however, the revolution is simply a release of the instincts of the people accumulated through slavery and oppression, then it is not a revolution but just a riot of malice and hatred, it is incapable of changing our lives but can only lead to bitterness and evil... The Russian people, having won its freedom, is in its present state incapable of using it for its own good, only for its own harm and the harm of others, and it is in danger of losing everything that it has been fighting for for centuries..."

Muslim Brotherhood, take note.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Profiles in Leadership: Nicholas II

I'm continuing to make my way through A People's Tragedy, a book on the Russian Revolution, and I find myself fascinated by Tsar Nicholas II. The last of the Romanov monarchs, Nicholas is such an interesting figure because his life is pretty tragic and his rule is rather pathetic. The book makes the case that it was primarily his refusal to institute any meaningful reforms throughout his reign that led to his, and simultaneously his country's, downfall. Basically, the Bolsheviks didn't overthrow the monarch-- he undermined himself and the Bolsheviks took advantage of the situation presented.

Throughout the later stages of the revolution (1905-1917), Nicholas seems to be completely oblivious to the magnitude of the events going on around him. It would almost be comical, lest we forget that this actually happened. For example, as revolution is spreading and the government is on the point of collapse, here is his diary entry from 26 February 1917 (pg. 339):
"At ten o'clock I went to Mass. The reports were on time. There were many people at breakfast, including all the foreigners. Wrote to Alix and went for a walk near the chapel by the Bobrisky road. The weather was fine and frosty. After tea I read and talked with Senator Tregubov until dinner. Played dominoes in the evening."

His countrymen are tearing each other apart and he's writing about playing dominoes!


I get the sense that he thought that simply his title, that of Tsar, was enough to get him through any problems that arose. When the war starts going poorly against Germany and Austria, he sacks the commander of the armed forces and takes over command himself-- he who has zero combat experience and next to zero strategic insight. In his mind, he is Tsar, and knowing that the Tsar is in command is enough to inspire the troops to fight for victory-- right?


The war continues to go awfully. While in meetings, he sort of milled about on the periphery of the briefing room so as not to get in the way of the generals who were actually planning the conduct of the war. In a word, he was inept.

Here's my favorite part about studying history: What is there to learn from Nicholas II? I think he provides a meaningful example of poor leadership. Let's break it down:

Skills: Minimal. Placing himself in command of the armed forces while not knowing a things about how to conduct a war meant that he set himself (and his country) up for failure. The saying goes, "With great power comes great responsibility", and with great responsibility comes a great need for specialized skills. Without those skills, responsibility will be neglected, and power will be illegitimate. Those in positions of power who lack the necessary skills often delegate to subordinates who have the requisite skills-- and these are the people who hold true power. Think Dick Cheney and George Bush. Jeffery Skilling and Ken Lay (if you haven't, see the documentary "Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room). Hitler and Hindenberg (for a short time). Boy-king and regent. In Nicholas's case, nobody was in a position to assume the responsibilities that Nicholas was not equipped to handle, hence the revolution continues and ultimately succeeds. In this respect, Nicholas errs in two respects: he fails to institute reform himself and, predictably, fails to delegate power to others with the proper knowledge. Personal pride begat ultimate failure.

Motivational technique: Bearer of title. Nicholas's mistake was that he assumed that his office, that of Tsar, was all the legitimacy he needed. A title, however, is meaningless unless there is respect for the holder of that title. A title can be a measure of success but it can also be rather meaningless. On a personal note, I've learned over the years to have a healthy skepticism for most things in life, including anybody with a name-tag and anybody who introduces themselves with a title. It sends up a red flag (pardon the pun).

Nicholas's obliviousness to the situation around him only further blinded him to the increasing uselessness of his title. He was raised under the impression that "the people" loved their Tsar, believed that the Tsar was chosen by God (literally), and that the Tsar had the power of life and death (again, literally) over all in his domain. Nicholas didn't recognize that that vision of the Tsar had faded and that "the people" no longer considered the office as sacred.

Vision: Limited. Nicholas saw his reign as an end unto itself-- truly, the Alpha and the Omega. There was nothing to strive for except an expansion of his domain and continuity of his power. When legitimate grievances were presented, he ignored them. Limited vision also meant that he could not empathize with the proto-revolutionaries and possibly prevent, or at least forestall, a revolution. Yet another lesson on why it is bad to be a spoiled rich kid.

Ultimately, I think it is fair to say that Nicholas was probably a nice guy who was in over his head, lacking any skills whatsoever associated with his office, and too proud to do something about it. A more tragic figure is hard to find.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

ALBA in the UN: Voting en bloc against condemnations of violence in Syria

The United Nations passed a resolution last Thursday condemning the violence in Syria. A relatively straightforward resolution, it condemns violence in all its forms and calls for a "Syrian-led political transition to a democratic, plural political system..." The text is very close to the draft that was vetoed by both China and Russia a few weeks ago.

Resolutions presented to the whole UN assembly are not subject to veto (as they are in the Security Council), yet they also lack the legal weight that a Security Council resolution carries.

The vote was 137 in favor, 12 against, and 17 abstentions. Who voted against the resolution this time? You'll be as tickled as I was when I read it, I can assure you. What follows is a veritable Who's Who in world despotism:
Syria, Russia, China, Iran, Venezuela, North Korea, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Ecuador, Belarus, Zimbabwe, and Cuba.

Some were obvious to me. Syria, Russia, and China should naturally have the support of Iran. Throw in North Korea, because-- well, duh. Zimbabwe is in good company here, as Robert Mugabe is a shining example of an aging autocrat whose time is way over due. Cuba? Yep. Belarus? Wait, you mean the country that is nicknamed "The Last European Dictatorship"? Yeah, that makes sense. Venezuela? Hugo Chavez will probably instruct his UN representative to vote against anything that the US is remotely in favor of. Again, this is no surprise.

What struck me as odd were the other South American nations on this Axis of Autocrats list: Nicaragua, Bolivia, and Ecuador. Now I must admit, I don't follow South American politics very closely (read: at all), and I think that I can consider myself a somewhat fair representative of the average educated American and thus declare without too much shame, "What the hell is happening in South America?"

After a cursory amount of research, I discovered that Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Cuba, and Nicaragua (along with Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines) all belong to an association known as the "Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas".

Hugo Chavez is the founder of ALBA, which initially only included Venezuela and Cuba. Today, ALBA is a socialist (not a dirty word) international organization, whose aim as stated on their website, translated into English:
"ALBA is based on the principles of solidarity, genuine cooperation and complementarity between our countries in the rational and based on the welfare of our peoples, natural resources, including energy-potential, in the formation and intensive human capital development and requires our attention to the needs and aspirations of our men and women. "

The goal of the organization is economic and social development of the nations involved, and the information given on the website tends to focus on economic ideas and projects. However, one can't help but notice that there is a strong anti-US message throughout the website and in the literature. For example, a new unit of currency has been instituted for trade among the members in order to "free us from the yoke of the dollar" and there is a reference to the Yankee "imperialists" right on the homepage ("imperialismo yanqui").

Obviously, ALBA is meant to be the alternative to a US dominated economic model (the acronym originally stood for "Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas"). Fair enough. But where does anti-US sentiment end? Is ALBA against the US's economic policies, or against the US in other respects as well?

Based on the fact that the entire bloc voted against a resolution condemning the wanton violence in Syria, a resolution which enjoyed the support of the US and its Arab allies, I don't think that ALBA is restricting its coordination strictly to the economic field.

Hugo Chavez's and Ecuador's President Rafael Correa's ties to Iran should also be noted. Are we seeing the development of Iranian proxies in South America? I don't think so. Chavez is much too proud to be a stooge of Iran. However, their interests do overlap in many ways (oil, relations with the US, suppressing democratic impulses...).

I think the relationship should be noted, as should ALBA's political-- rather than economic-- aspirations.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Listen Up, I've Got a Secret!

I have a problem when politicians proclaim their public support for covert operations. It doesn't make sense. Either support a program and shut up, or don't support it and voice your concern if that's what you choose. Saying that "I think we should secretly kill all the elephants" lets the elephants know that you are coming-- which is directly counter to your wishes (assuming the elephants speak English, of course).

And yet here is Senator John McCain and Lindsay Graham saying that we should arm the Syrian opposition... covertly. Now I'm not arguing about the merits of that argument. We'll leave that discussion for a future post. Here's my problem:

"I believe there are ways to get weapons to the opposition without direct United States involvement..."

Fine Senator McCain, that's fine if that's what you believe. But for christsake, keep that idea to yourself. You do no good by publically proclaiming it. In fact, you hurt the ability of the US or any other nation from arming the opposition because now Assad can say "The imperialist Americans are intervening!" That might not bother some people, but it bothers most of the Middle East, and those are the people who count. And if Assad says that and he's right, well, we've lost all legitimacy. At least keep some "plausible deniability" in your pocket.

There was once a Golden age in American history when "politics stops at the water's edge." This meant that foreign policy was not an area where petty politicians played politics. Once we start debating foreign policy, allegiance is to the US, not to a re-election campaign.

Yet Senator McCain's statement is plainly for political gain. Bottom line. Announcing "here's what I would do if I was in office!" allows McCain and the Republicans to now criticize Obama for "being soft" or some other ridiculous label. It's a political tool, or outright stupidity. I respect John McCain, so I'll give him the benefit of the doubt and go with the former.

If Senator McCain really felt strongly about arming the opposition, and wanted to see that goal accomplished, there are other ways of going about it. Not by publicly announcing his intention to seek ways to arm the opposition... in secret.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Ronald Burgess, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, testified to Congress, "The agency [DIA] assesses Iran is unlikely to initiate or intentionally provoke a conflict."

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Groundhog Day of War

Leave it to the indomitable Robert Fisk to point out the obvious: that the United States is being led to war because of the threat of weapons of mass destruction... again.

How can the American public be led into another war over possible WMD? What makes this palatable and how is it at all believable? I see four reasons:
1. Fear
2. Perceived moral clarity
3. Factual Ambiguity
4. Historical amnesia

The driving force behind conflict with Iran is fear. Fear that Iran will get the bomb. Fear that Iran will bomb Israel. Fear that Iran will bomb US troops in Afghanistan. Fear of the unpredictability of Ahmadinejad and Khamenei. Ultimately, fear of the Iranians, period.

Iran isn't on par with North Korea, but it certainly is painted as reclusive and as a closed society by the media. "Iran" conjures images of Ayatollah Khomeini, hostages, the crackdown on the Green movement, of Ahmadinejad (in his ever-present Borat-esque gray suit and white shirt) calling for the destruction of Israel, and of religious fanatics. All these images instill fear.

Fear can lead people to do stupid things and sometimes can lead them to do heroic things. However, the line between the two is often blurred. Going to war can be seen as heroic, but it can shortly be recognized as a colossally stupid endeavor.

Moral clarity, in regards to the US, is important to the conflict as well. To the average American's perspective, this is clearly a conflict between good (us!) and evil (them!). Unlike the war in the former Yugoslavia for example, where both sides committed horrible crimes, this conflict is perfectly clear cut: The Iranians won't let inspectors in; the Iranians are the ones calling for the annihilation of another country; the Iranians are imprisoning protesters; the Iranians are not agreeing to talks about their nuclear program.

In the interest of a balance in perspective, consider this: The US's refusal to allow troops to be tried by international bodies for war crimes; John McCain singing "Bomb Iran" to a group of veterans; Guantanamo Bay; and the Bush policy of explicitly not negotiating with Iran. It's a matter of perspective. Moral clarity fades when considered from both perspectives. Vietnam taught us that.

Also consider the ambiguity of the situation. We are being told that the US and Israel should bomb Iran because of its nuclear "ambitions". Really? That's enough evidence to start a war with? The exact same argument was used with the war in Iraq and we all know how well that war was sold to the US public. I'm thinking that the CIA should be on its guard if a request comes through to prove that there are WMD in Iran, because that's what got them in trouble last time. If there is evidence, double check it ("Curveball" anybody?). My feeling is that is exactly what has happened, hence Washington's placing the ball in Israel's court. If Israel does strike, I doubt it would have genuine US government support-- but Washington will probably go along with it anyway.

The facts are not solid and the cause not well defined. Ambiguity allows us to fill in the details ourselves with our imaginations, and not have to deal with nasty little facts instead.

Lastly, as mentioned, starting a war over the possibility of Iran having WMD is the exact same reason given for the war in Iraq. That is not being mentioned nearly enough in the public "debate". America should have collectively rolled our eyes when we heard that this was reason enough to go to war. "Hidden nukes? Gimme a break." But, no. This isn't a part of the discussion. And that, my friends, is historical amnesia. And that is sad.

Yo, Hamid. STFU!

Hamid Karzai told a reporter for the Wall Street Journal that his government was secretly negotiating with the Taliban.

Mr. Karzai, please shut up.

Whenever somebody admits to a secret, we need to ask a few questions:
1. Why is this person telling the public about this secret?
2. Are they doing it for a reason?
3. Are they just plain incompetent, or simply loose-lipped?
4. What advantages are to be gained from admitting to the secret?

In this case, I'm not too sure, because in the long term the Afghan's have everything to gain from negotiating with the Taliban. Coming to some kind of an agreement can stop the fighting, bring some measure of stability to Afghanistan, and quite possibly increase Karzai's expected lifespan. In the short term (and this is how decisions tend to be made), however, a continuation of the war means money continues to be pumped into Afghanistan and Karzai's corrupt government remains in place. In this sense, it is not in Karzai's interest to stop the fighting because an end to fighting probably means a new government structure and a new government means no more Karzai on top.

Therefore, if it is in Karzai's interest to prolong the fighting, admitting that his government is secretly negotiating with the Taliban completely kills the chances of a possible settlement-- easily! He single-handedly demonstrated his untrustworthiness to any negotiating party (the U.S. included) and simultaneously pulled the rug out from underneath the Taliban. Job well done!

No serious and competent negotiating partner would admit to secret negotiations, and a trustworthy partner would recognize that if the negotiations are being kept a secret, there's probably a reason for it. In the Taliban's case, secret talks are necessary because that has been their stance all along, namely, not negotiating. Understandably, if they are going to talk, those talks would be held in secret (at least at first). Karzai killed that chance and betrayed their scintilla of trust.

I don't like to think that Karzai is purposefully sabotaging a possible reconciliation, but I also don't think that he is an idiot and would let such a secret casually slip in front of a reporter. It is for that reason that I have to assume that he did it on purpose, and that his only purpose was to kill the chances of reconciliation.

Not surprisingly, the Taliban have rejected they have been conducting negotiations, and the chances of that happening in the future seem even more distant.

The only other possibility I can imagine is that the Taliban are fractured, and that one group is indeed interested in negotiating while another group is against it (hence the conflicting signals). Either way, the process is dead for the foreseeable future thanks to Karzai's comments.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Moscow 1917 to Mazar e Sharif 2012

This is why I love history.

I'm reading "A People's Tragedy: The Russian Revolution 1891-1924", by Orlando Figes. Chapter three, "Icons and Cockroaches", discusses the life of a Russian peasant and how their lifestyle, myths, legal systems, and hierarchies provided fertile ground for the coming revolution.

On page 99, Figes discusses three important legal ideas that "shaped the peasant revolutionary mind." Those ideas were: the concept of family ownership of the farm and farming tools, the organization of the farm according to the "labour principle" (those who worked on the farm had a claim to it; blood ties were not necessary), and the subjective approach to law. What caught my interest was the latter.

Figes defines a subjective approach to law as, "judging the merits of a case according to the social and economic position of the parties concerned". For example, "The peasants considered stealing from a rich man, especially by the poor, a much less serious offence than stealing from a man who could barely feed himself and his family."

The crux of the analysis is that, "the peasants viewed justice in terms of its direct practical effects on their own communities rather than in general or abstract terms."

Taking subjective justice to the next step, the Russian writer Gorky wrote about the Russian concept of volia: "For hundreds of years, the Russian peasant has dreamt of a state with no right to influence the will of the individual and his freedom of action, a state without power over man." In essence, we are talking about a desire for controlled anarchy. A desire for order, not order imposed by a state, but by a community-oriented order. When one considers that most peasants never left their respective villages-- passports were needed to travel, and were not usually given-- this parochial mentality is understandable.

What interests me about this concept is that it is so far removed from our Western concepts of justice and fairness, yet it is in no way intrinsically "wrong". It's just different. The Russian peasant had an appreciation for the practical, not for abstractions. "I took his bread because he has too much and I have none."

Immediately my mind goes to somewhere like Afghanistan. The United States is trying to craft a modern nation-- complete with all the trimmings that a modern state has-- on various groups of people who are not interested in an all powerful and organized state. I'll be the first to admit, I've never been to Afghanistan, so I might be under the wrong impression. Yet reading Figes's analysis demonstrates that there are different ways of viewing justice and law and the state. Afghans might not desire a centralized (corrupt) Afghanistan state. They might want volia instead. I get it.

I'm also reminded of a scene in the fantastic documentary, Restrepo, where a group of village elders approach a US army outpost seeking compensation for a cow that was killed by a US soldier. The cow became entangled in razor-wire outside the compound, so technically the US soldiers just put the cow out of its misery and killed it. The elders fail to appreciate the nuanced explanation. To them, a cow was killed by the US and therefore the US should compensate them. They don't. The elders leave empty-handed (they were offered foodstuffs equal in weight to the cow). One can imagine the elders' impression: the most powerful country in the world refuses to compensate a poor villager for a killed cow? What is one cow to the United States? Is that just? I get it.

Robert Grenier, 27 year CIA veteran and one of my favorite op-ed contributors to Al Jazeera, wrote an article that echos my sentiments. Check it out:
Thankfully, somebody picked up and discussed the Iran/Syria link. Check out this well argued op-ed from the New York Times:

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

What's Next for Syria?

Unfortunately, there has not been much talk of what to do next in Syria. Heaping scorn on China and Russia is all well and justified, however the killings continue.

Let's have a brainstorming session. Ready? Go.

1. Encourage organization among the Syrian opposition. Nothing can be achieved and no help can be sent (in whatever form) until there is some degree of organization and unity within the opposition movement. CNN reports that the "Syrian rebel leadership is split", and various groups claim to be leading the fight on the ground. ( Without a unified structure negotiations cannot produce results, aid cannot be given, and coordinated strategy (including possible military campaigns) will be impossible.

2. Any possible effort to aid the opposition or hurt the Assad regime must be in response to a direct request for aid from a unified and organized opposition group. Pleas for help from individuals will not move other nations to act.

My mind goes to Libya, where the National Transitional Council (formed in late Feb 2011) was a player on the scene 8 months before the fall of Gaddafi (Oct 2011). I remember during the lulls in fighting, there were reports that the rebels were training and organizing (this was when there were rumors that CIA or MI6 had people on the ground in Libya training the rebels.) Now I have no idea if this was being organized by the NTC, but the fact that groups of fighters were able to be trained for a coordinated campaign shows that there was at least some structure. Libya also has the advantage of vast stretches of desert where training was possible out of the reach of Gaddafi. Syria doesn't really have that, but it does have a border with Turkey...

3. Turn Syria into a pariah state and build a coalition around that concept. Let's face a fact: Iran isn't massacring its citizens. Syria is, and everybody can see it. Therefore, if Russia and China won't allow a UN resolution meant to transfer power from the Assad regime, make the Assad regime unprofitable. In effect, indirectly help the opposition by hurting Assad, thus making their job easier.

The link between Syrian and Iran isn't to be ignored either. I haven't read any news reports mentioning this, outside of a report on Al Jazeera that there might have been Iranian snipers operating in Syria (though, rightfully, the report was skeptical in tone and showed how those shown in a video of the alleged snipers closely resembled a photo of a group of Iranian engineers missing in Syria).

Washington should be working to separate Damascus and Tehran, not drive them closer together, if at all possible. Though, according to Ayatollah Khamenei, as quoted on Hezbollah's English website (yeah, they have one:, the US is orchestrating a plot to punish Syria because Syria "supports Palestinian resistance and Islamic resistance in Lebanon", however, "Unfortunately, some other countries and some regional countries are participating in the American plot". Yeah, those other countries include the entire security council (including Morocco). I guess Tehran and Damascus will be desperately holding on to each other for the foreseeable future.

4. Get the Arab League to grow some claws. They need to lead this charge. I think Obama played it brilliantly in Libya by not waving the American flag in the faces of those who didn't ask for it. Keep it cool. Let the regional players settle this in the way they deem best. After all, they live there and they will deal with the consequences first hand. Offer US logistical and technical support when requested.

Turkey is also a major ally here. I'm glad to read that Ankara plans on picking up the pieces of the failed UN resolution and coming up with a new plan. (

5. Should things continue to go sour and should the Syrian opposition get its act together, what would be the next step? I hate to say it, but a Limited War doesn't always have to mean military deployment. It could mean a cyber-offensive. The possibilities are endless in this respect: the power grid, command and control, communications, etc. This would be a declaration of war against Syria, so I'm not for it. This is a brainstorming session, after all.

6. Berlin Airlift-style campaign. Dropping food and medicine into a country isn't necessarily an act of war, rather, it's a humanitarian gesture. One must expect Assad to consider this an act of war, but would Assad really commit himself to a war when he's fighting a revolution? Either way, dropping supplies is logistically going to be relatively simple, especially with Syria's border with Turkey.

The argument can be made that supporting the opposition would only prolong the strife, inflame a civil war, and increase the body count. I think it's a valid criticism, but I don't think that that's our decision-- further underlining the need for the opposition to unify and organize itself. Ultimately, only Syrians can choose the next course to take.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Condemnation and Political Transitions


China and Russia vetoed the UN draft resolution condemning the violence in Syria. My bet is that one item in particular in the resolution was the deal-breaker. Let's go to the text, section 7:

7. Fully supports in this regard the League of Arab States' 22 January 2012 decision to facilitate a Syrian-led political transition to a democratic, plural political system, in which citizens are equal regardless of their affiliations or ethnicities or beliefs, including through commencing a serious political dialogue between the Syrian government and the whole spectrum of the Syrian opposition under the League of Arab States' auspices, in accordance with the timetable set out by the League of Arab States;

And there you have it. The Arab League supports a "political transition" to a democratic system. Meaning, after a sustained protest movement with a harsh government repression, the Arab League wants Assad to step down and a democratic system to be implemented instead (The two cannot coexist; Assad and democracy are mutually exclusive systems).

Of course China and Russia would veto this, at it is directly related to their respective domestic political systems. Both China and Russia have politically repressed systems and don't want their populace to get the idea that after a sustained protest, it is possible for an outside collective to push for democratic change. Plainly, it is not in their interests to promote democracy because they don't want it themselves.

However, to call this "a resolution condemning the crackdown in Syria" (as the BBC puts it is misrepresenting the text. While the draft is full of condemnation for the crackdown, it contains the above quoted excerpt. Therefore, in addition to condemning the crackdown, the resolution also calls for a change in political systems (read: regime change). That's not something to take lightly. Voting for this resolution is showing support for a change to a democratically based system.

This isn't about Syria. Russia can sell guns to plenty of other clients. This is about regime stability. This is about outsiders influencing domestic issues. This is about supporting democracy. Russia and China don't support democracy nor outsider influence in (their) domestic affairs; the UN draft resolution does. You do the math.

(In the interest of fairness, let's not forget that the US [solely] vetoed a resolution condemning Israeli settlement building and its failure to abide by multiple UN resolutions of the past. Check out the text:)

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Cocktail Family Tree!

I had to prepare a presentation for my new job, but fortunately, the presentation was called off. However, there is one part of the presentation that I spent a fair amount of time on and was slightly disappointed that I did not get to share it with others. It was a drawing I made, showing the evolution of cocktails, and the choices that one can make when constructing a cocktail and what those decisions can subsequently be labelled. Let me just share the drawing and you'll see
what I'm talking about.

The writing is RED is the class of the drink that you get when adding the ingredient or using the technique listed in BLACK. Enjoy!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

To Strike, Or Not To Strike... That Is the Question

The public debate about whether To Strike, or Not To Strike Iran is not an actual intellectual debate. I've seen precious few pundits actually favoring a military strike (outside of some Republican candidates), as anybody who actually considers the consequences of such an action realizes that it would be ridiculous to start a war with Iran.

Yet the debate continues and the news is portraying this as an actual choice between striking and not striking. If the debate is bunk, why are we having it? Overall, the effect of having a public debate about whether or not to bomb Iran is palliative, preventative, and populist.

Having public discussions about possibly striking at Iran makes us feel better. It leads us to believe that we have more of a measure of control over a situation than we really do. (This is nothing new. Take prayer for example.) Preventing Iran from acquiring a nuke is within the US's capabilities, right? Americans don't want to hear a "no" in that respect, that's why hearing this debate on television is comforting. "Which option should we choose? So many to choose from! Oh, let's stick with sanctions now and keep the military option on the table. Just in case!" I feel better already! It wouldn't be comforting to hear, "A military strike on Iran would likely start a regional and possibly global war, all because the Iranians probably have the technical knowledge to build something the Americans built in the 1940's, and the Americans and Israelis don't like that." It's not a sexy statement.

Having a public discussion about striking Iran is also to some degree preventative, in a sense. It prevents Iran from doing whatever it wants to do out in the open. If Tehran didn't know that a military strike was an option for the US, they could openly seek assistance from any nuclear armed power in trying to build a bomb. In this regard, a public debate is necessary, because it informs Tehran of the options that the US and others have on the table (even if those options would be harmful to all involved).

And let's face it: it's popular and populist-politics to threaten military force. With great power comes great responsibility, and those who hold back from punching out the lights of the schoolyard bully in favor of a hardy shove and a "why I oughta..." clenched fist in the face are viewed as chivalrous and brave. As long as we can cheer ourselves and applaud our restraint and denounce the mullahs, we can continue to see ourselves as the good guys. Nationalism creeps into the argument, and turns a no-brainer "debate" into a battle for national pride (read: Who's got the bigger stick?)

Even though the debate about whether to strike Iran is ridiculous, it is meant to give you that warm fuzzy feeling. Insane.