Wednesday, April 27, 2005

I Can Now Go Home With No Hassle (Let's Hope I Don't Jinx Myself)

I'm leaving Barcelona on Friday. I have a 3:30 flight out of Girona-Barcelona airport to London-Stansted Airport, upon which I'll be spending the night in London, before flying back to the States the next day. However, for a little bit, I wasn't sure if I was even going to get out of Spain. Spanish baggage handlers were threatening a strike during the upcoming May Day weekend holiday, choosing April 29 and May 4 as their strike days. The 29th is the day I fly out of Girona. Until now.

From Ryan Air's website:

Ryanair was advised today 27th April that the proposed strike action by Spanish Baggage Handlers for Friday 29th April & Wednesday 4th May 2005 has been cancelled. Normal flight operations will apply and check-in baggage will be accepted in accordance with Ryanair's terms and conditions. Ryanair apologise for any inconvenience caused to customers by this threatened strike action which is now cancelled.

Thank God. Otherwise, if the strike was going to carry on, I would have been screwed. I have a huge suitcase, a huge duffel bag, a smaller travel bag and a book bag - the latter two I'd carry on. There was no way they would let me carry on my two big bags, and I don't know how I would have gotten my bags to London in time for my Saturday afternoon flight home out of Heathrow.

Anyway, I could not believe, that of all the days the unions here chose to strike, they had to pick the day I was leaving. I somehow have the best luck flying to and from Europe. I say this because coming to Barcelona via Paris in January, I missed my flight from Newark to Paris because my flight out of Pittsburgh was delayed a half hour. Fortunately, the folks at Air France at Newark were able to put me on stand-by on the next flight to Paris -- only problem was that the flight was out of Kennedy airport! They advised me to get in a cab ASAP and high-tail it to JFK. They said if my bags didn't come in off the Pittsburgh-Newark flight, forget about them (because they were tagged final destination Barcelona) and get over to JFK. Of course, my bags didn't show up.

So I get a taxi, tell the cabbie (a really nice guy from Egypt) my "situation," and he gets me to JFK in 45 minutes -- half the time in normally takes to get from Newark International to JFK. The bill came to (including tip) 120 freaking dollars. Drama already, and I hadn't even left the country! I checked in at JFK -- 10 minutes before the flight closed -- and, thankfully, I was bumped up from stand-by. Walking to my gate, I finally began to breath again. I was at least going to Europe. My two big bags, on the other hand, didn't make it to Barcelona until four days after I arrived. As you can imagine my first week basically sucked. But I made the most of it.

And so, here I am, four months later, ready to head back home. My Spanish has gotten a lot better - from where it was. I can read the paper and hold a basic conversation. I got to see a lot of Catalonia, London (again; and I'll be visiting again on Friday!), San Sebastian, Rome, and Mainz and Wiesbaden, Germany. Also during the course of my stay, I got an internship at the Claremont Institute in California (which is, I think, about an hour or so east of Los Angeles). I'll be working there from the beginning of June to the end of July. So I'll have May to re-adjust (i.e. catching up on Seinfeld re-runs, Brit Hume, ESPN, etc.) and all of August to get ready for my last semester at Penn State. And then, sometime early next year, I voluntarily become property of the United States government and the United States Army!

Lot of stuff going on right now. Pretty exciting time. Barcelona to California to PSU to the Army. The scary part is how fast it's all going by.

Finals week

I've got finals this week and had final papers due last week, thus explaining the lack of updates. Will be coming back to the States on Saturday and regular blogging will certainly return.

By the way, I'm really looking forward to ordering some buffalo wings and watching Brit Hume's Special Report. Along with catching up on my Seinfeld re-runs, CNBC, SportsCenter, Viva La Bam marathons on MTV, and of course, regular C-Span programming.

I'm planning on kissing American soil when I get off the airplane, as well. Being away for four months, you don't realize how good you have it in the U.S. Nothing beats home.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Habemus Papem!

Pope Benedict XVI, formerly Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, has been selected as the new pope. God bless him. From what I've been reading, he's a true conservative and defender of church doctrine. Following the news and commentary on Pope Benedict XVI at NRO's the Corner, I came across this excerpt from the pope's work, "The Question of Suffering, the Response of the Cross," that just about sums up my personal attitude toward my faith:

Today what people have in view is eliminating suffering from the world. For the individual, that means avoiding pain and suffering in whatever way. Yet we must also see that it is in this very way that the world becomes very hard and very cold. Pain is part of being human. Anyone who really wanted to get rid of suffering would have to get rid of love before anything else, because there can be no love without suffering, because it always demands an element of self-sacrifice, because, given temperamental differences and the drama of situations, it will always bring with it renunciation and pain.

...

As mentioned above, updates at the Corner.

Also, no doubt, in the mainstream media's analysis of the pope's background and life, the myth that he was a Nazi will surely be propogated. Sam Ser, of the Jerusalem Post, says don't believe it (reg. required).

Monday, April 18, 2005

Problems and Progress

Tim Russert and NYT reporter Dexter Filkins on Meet the Press on Sunday, discussing Iraq:

MR. RUSSERT: Dexter, talk about life in Baghdad as opposed to prefall of Saddam. What is the average guy, the average lady--do they get up in the morning? Are they going to work? Is the city functioning? Are kids going school? Are the markets open? What do you see?

MR. FILKINS: All those things. I mean, the truth is, you know, on most days, Baghdad is a very normal, Middle Eastern city. You know, after the fall off Saddam, there was a huge economic boom. They took down all the duties, you know, the amount of car traffic has, you know, quadrupled or possibly more. The traffics--the streets are jammed, the schools are open. There's lots of commerce. So in that sense, it's a very vibrant, bustling place. It's just sort of punctuated by, you know, this terrible violence. But, you know, it's difficult to describe the country because you have these very dramatic moments of violence. But the truth is, you know, most of the time, it's pretty normal.

Telling words from a Times reporter. Granted Filkins and the other MTP guest, NBC News' Jim Miklaszewski, were quick to note the on-going difficulties, but it's encouraging (from a media standpoint) to see these kinds of comments being made.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

The Weekend

I'm off to Frankfurt, Germany for the weekend. I'll be back Sunday. And then, only two weeks left in Barcelona. I cannot believe how fast this semester has gone.

Via Instapundit. Interesting post on the possible "collapse" of the EU from Anklebitingpundits.com.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Tiger Woods ya'll

"Socially aware" Europeans would find the following story typical of the greedy, money-grubbing mindset that consumers America (Ha!), but how could Nike not want to, uh, capitalize on something like this? ESPN.com reports:

In the time it took the swoosh to disappear over the lip of the cup on the 16th green, Chris Mike had already picked up the phone to discuss strategy with Nike's advertising specialists about how to capitalize on the defining moment of Tiger Woods' fourth Masters title.

Nike pays Woods $20 million as its top endorser, but it's Mike's job to seize on moments like Woods' amazing chip shot on Sunday.

"When I saw the shot roll in, I knew that what we would be doing for the next quarter or two would revolve around this," said Mike, director of marketing for Nike golf.
...

"This moment was so natural, it was almost unbelievable," said Joseph Jaffe, a marketing consultant and author of "Life After The 30-Second Spot." "The ball stopped as if it were in 'Caddyshack.' And as it slowed, everyone could see the swoosh on the ball."

Nike, the shoe and apparel maker, owns about 9 percent of the golf ball market and 4 percent of the club market, according to Golf Datatech. But capitalizing on the moment could give Nike golf products a boost. The timing couldn't be better. The ball Woods played during The Masters, the One Platinum, hits stores in May.

"Every time Tiger does something great, he can affect sales," Mike said. "When he hit a 300-yard drive with a 3-wood at Doral, our phone lines were flooded, so I suspect we could see an uptick now."

Yeah, I should say so.

China News

Not sure how I missed this story from the Washington Post (from Friday Apr. 8):

President Bush has decided the United States and China should begin holding regular senior-level talks on a range of political, security and possibly economic issues, signifying both China's interest in the prestige of such sessions and the administration's efforts to come to grips with China's rising influence in Asia, senior administration officials said.

Deputy Secretary of State Robert B. Zoellick has been assigned to head the U.S. delegation, and a Chinese vice foreign minister will be his counterpart, officials said. Regular meetings between the two countries have never been held at such a level.

Chinese President Hu Jintao formally asked Bush to consider engaging in what the Chinese call a "strategic dialogue" during an economic meeting in Chile last November. During a visit to Beijing last month, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice confirmed that the United States is interested in regular senior-level talks, but the administration has chosen to call the meetings a "global dialogue" because, officials say, the phrase "strategic dialogue" is reserved for close U.S. allies.

OK, but then there's this line:

Reflecting the administration's concern, Rice initiated an effort during her trip to Asia to make India into a major world power and elevate Japan as a key ally on a range of international issues.

During Zoellick's meetings, U.S. officials expect to ask tough questions about China's rapid rise in military capabilities. "It will almost certainly be raised in the strategic dialogue," a senior administration official said. During Rice's visit to Beijing, she was "very direct in our concerns on their military buildup," he added.

OK, so which is it? Global dialogue or strategic dialogue? If officials say a "strategic dialogue" is for close allies and go out of their way to describe these talks as a "global dialogue," why is "a senior administration official" saying otherwise? Maybe the qualifications of a certain type of "dialogue" really have no bearing on this relationship? Or maybe this public diplomatic-speak is a bunch of bull - which it usually is anyway. Still, I would think a strategic dialogue is necessary to deal with North Korea:

The growing coordination between the United States and China -- even when each country's objectives may be different -- is illustrated by the crisis over North Korea's nuclear ambitions. The United States has increasingly relied on China to persuade North Korea to attend six-nation talks as a way to dismantle Pyongyang's nuclear programs, even though China often appears to value stability on the Korean peninsula over the goal of disarming -- and possibly destabilizing -- North Korea.

Indeed, U.S. officials have been frustrated that China has often acted as a mediator in the talks rather than as a full participant. Frequently, China has called on the United States and North Korea to show greater "flexibility and sincerity" in dealing with each other. U.S. officials in recent weeks have privately told the Chinese that there is little appetite in Washington for that rhetoric and that it is time for China to demonstrate more toughness with North Korea.

Publicly, China still refers to the United States and North Korea as the "major parties" in the talks and says the burden should not be on China to get Pyongyang back to the table. But in recent talks with U.S. officials in Beijing, Ning Fukui, China's special ambassador for the nuclear issue, indicated growing frustration on the part of China at North Korea's behavior, U.S. officials said. Ning for the first time did not call for additional flexibility by the United States and said the two sides may need to discuss "next steps" in addressing the crisis -- a euphemism for possibly ending the six-party process.

U.S. officials are not sure what to make of Ning's comments, though some believe they may signal a growing willingness to pressure North Korea. In the past, China has generally lured Pyongyang to the talks with offers of cash and other sweeteners -- exactly the opposite of the Bush administration's mantra that North Korea should receive "no reward" for its behavior.

Tom Barnett, of course, has some thoughts on this emerging relationship (first and second series of items).

A Letter to Andrew Sullivan

I recently sent this letter to Andrew Sullivan (not sure why I read him anymore, curiosity perhaps?):

Andrew,

And you voted for/endorsed this guy for commander in chief?

Re: Your Iraq post.

How convenient for you now to admit you were wrong. While you were busy "fearing the worst," George W. Bush, his commanders in the field, our troops, and the Iraqi people never stopped believing that the outcome we are seeing now - genuine progress - could have been "stymied by wrong decisions." I'd also throw in 59 million Americans who felt the same way. For all the criticisms you made about how hopeless Iraq was, you could never convince me all was lost (the guys at IraqTheModel gave me some perspective, a website you never seem to link to anymore; to pro-Bush, right?).

Mistakes were made, and we learned from them pretty damn quickly. Bush may have not admitted so publicly, but the progress in Iraq today is proof positive that Bush learned from those mistakes and made the necessary adjustments. There was no other choice! (not going into Fallujah last April being the case 1 example.) If you feel a public acknowledgment of those mistakes by Bush would have made everything better for you, would have reassured you that Bush's supposed hubris was actually a determined, yet realistic, focus, based upon a deep faith in his generals and GI's, to rewrite the wrongs made, then you, sir, do not know what a true leader is. After all he did stake his presidency on the whole enterprise.

A leader is someone not to wallow in his mistakes, consumed by guilt of the consequences of those mistakes (i.e., 19 year old GIs getting RPGs shot through their chests). A leader does not quiver in the face of opportunistic politicians and agenda-driven reporters (both, btw, who are still stuck in that warped Vietnam syndrome) pleading for his mea culpa. How do you think Zarqawi would have taken the news that Bush admitted he messed it all up? Funny how Zarqawi, in his "memo" that circulated around last fall, admitted he was on the ropes.

Were we ever on the ropes? I don't think so. Our soldiers sure as hell didn't think so. You certainly did. How ironic. So if Bush was going to give in to the media and a politician that, let's be honest, were not genuinely concerned with a positive outcome in Iraq simply because their Bush-hatred superceded everything, how do you think our soldiers would have taken that? You can bet the New York Times would be all over the GIs, hounding them for their response to the president's admittance that Iraq was "botched." It would have made their job impossible because their commander in chief now had some doubts about the mission. The soldiers knows things may not have gone smoothly, but that's why they are the finest fighting force humanity has ever seen. They can adjust, adapt, learn on the fly, and come back kick your ass so hard you're already dead before your heart stops beating. Those warriors were the same ones building schools, delivering Iraqi babies in helicopters, training Iraqi police, and organizing basic civics classes for Iraqis - all the while you were convincing yourself the mission was botched.

My point is this: how can things be looking so (cautiously) positive right now when, in all your "thorough" analyses and assessments, you came to the conclusion that the decisions President Bush made in post-war Iraq warranted your endorsement of that "pathetic vulture," who is now trying to score political points by exploiting fallen soldiers, Senator John Kerry. That man's post-election behavior, first on Meet the Press, the day Iraqis were going to the polls in the face of Zarqawi's threats, and now this, is utterly sick. And not a peep from you.

Instead of holding our would-be president accountable (who still hasn't released his 180 forms yet), you say, let's be that contrarian and rip the pope - another man with rock solid principles. You seem to like to go after those people with conviction without acknowledging the fact that their humanity permits them NOT to be perfect (you actually believe the pope - not those cardinals surrounding him - is that power-hungry to ignore the pedophilia in his church?). I say, let God judge those sinners who show no remorse for their transgressions. President Bush and John Paul II, I think you would agree, are the kind of men who are humble enough to ask for forgiveness for their wrongs. Despite their failures and shortcomings, they seek only to learn from their faults and be a better commander in chief and a more holy sheperd of his flock, respectively. And this is why they are the true leaders of our time.

UPDATE.

The Wall Street Journal has some similar thoughts re: Iraq.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Rudy G in 2008?

Via Austin Bay, Outside the Beltway has great post and an even better discussion in the comments section about the prospects of Rudy Guiliani running for president in 2008.

For the record, I'd support him in a heartbeat. I really don't have a problem with his social issue positions (except for some pro-choice comments he made several years ago), and anyway, he'd at least shift a little to the right in the primaries.

Although I'm still holding out hope for a Cheney run!

The Church, Condoms, and AIDS in Africa

Ross Douthat has a pretty enlightening post that certain Church critics should take note of.

The Arab Human Development Report

The UN's Arab Human Development was last week's news, but I thought Powerline's take is on the money:

The UN Development Project has released its 2004 report on Arab development. It finds that a good portion of the blame for the Arab world's lack of progress lies in the creation of Israel 57 years ago, and in the support by the U.S. for Israel's existence since then (our presence in Iraq hasn't helped either). That's right -- 300 million Arabs live under oppression because 5 million Israeli Jews live in freedom, supported by the U.S.

Israel and the U.S. already have officially rejected this crackpot theory. However, Caroline Glick in the Jerusalem Post points out that "both Israel and the US are basing their policies towards the Palestinians specifically, and the Arab world generally, on an internalization of the UNDP's ridiculous claims." First, they assume that the Palestinian conflict with Israel is the cause of the Arab conflict with Israel. Second, they assume that the Palestinians are weak and the Israelis are strong, and that the way to solve the conflict is to strengthen the Palestinians and weaken Israel. This latter assumption "leads both Israeli and American foreign policy elites to advocate Israeli surrender of land and rights to the Palestinians and to support Palestinian acquisition of arms, money and sovereignty."

Glick dispatches these assumptions. She shows how the Arab states conspired to keep the Palestinians in squalor thus fueling the rejectionism that would promote their perpetual conflict with Israel. She also shows how the strength of the Arab states, based in large part on the economic power they wield thanks to their oil reserves, has enabled them to play this deadly game for decades.

Rocket Man has argued that, contrary to the conventional wisdom (not to mention the nonsense promulgated by the UN), the transformation of our relations with the Arab states, and the transformation of these states themselves, does not depend on resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Rather, resolving that dispute depends on the transformation of the Arab states that stand behind it. Glick's piece provides powerful support for this thesis.

It also backs up Princeton professor Michael Scott Doran's thesis I talked about a few days ago, that finds major holes in this Palestine-centric argument.

The Offensive in Iraq Continues

The Times reports a very encouraging story (despite the unfortunate news about the American contractor kidnapped by insurgents) about a recent Iraqi forces-led raid that netted 65 bad guys:

Hundreds of Iraqi troops and commandos backed by American soldiers swept through central and southern Baghdad early Monday morning, capturing at least 65 suspected insurgents in one of the largest raids in the capital since the fall of Saddam Hussein, military officials said.
...

The raid, which began at 3 a.m. and lasted more than six hours, disrupted three insurgent networks, American military officials said. They said those captured included men suspected of assassinations, beheadings, kidnappings and attacks on Iraqi and American forces. One group was planning attacks on the new National Assembly, said Maj. Gen. Mudher Moula Aboud, an Iraqi Army commander.

In the raid, more than 500 Iraqi soldiers and police officers cordoned off areas in some of Baghdad's most dangerous and crime-ridden areas, searching from house to house in more than 90 locations with American troops playing a supporting role, United States military officials said. One of the men captured was reported to have been injured. The raid was the latest of several large-scale operations led by Iraqi forces in recent weeks.

In the Washington Times, Rowan Scarborough documents al Qaeda's man in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's "close call" with the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force:

Abu Musab Zarqawi, the most-wanted terrorist in Iraq, is on the run in an undeveloped western border region where he was nearly caught in recent weeks, a U.S. Marine commander says. "He's going from brush pile to brush pile just like a wet rat," said Lt. Gen. John F. Sattler, whose 1st Marine Expeditionary Force is back home at Camp Pendleton, Calif., after months of intense combat in Anbar province. "I believe he possibly slid back into the Anbar area, possibly the hinterlands."

Gen. Sattler, who commanded operations in the region, said in an interview with The Washington Times that the U.S.-led coalition has forced Zarqawi to work "independently" by killing or capturing his first- and second-string lieutenants. Zarqawi fled the Anbar region before his base in Fallujah was captured by a Marine-Army force in November. He operated in northern Iraq until he was pressed back to western Iraq, but this time in isolated frontier country.

"He can't use cell phones," Gen. Sattler said of the Jordanian-born terrorist, whose capture promises a $25 million reward. "He can't use any type of Internet. He doesn't know who he can trust."
...

Gen. Sattler disclosed in the interview that his Marines and special operations troops came within a whisker of capturing the terror master "within the last six weeks" in western Iraq. While guarded on details, Gen. Sattler said that only poor visibility in bad weather allowed Zarqawi to escape. "The elements worked to his advantage," the three-star general said.

Lastly, SecDef Rumsfeld is in Iraq today, on a surprise visit meeting with new Iraqi leadership and his top military brass, the AP reports.

Bolton Hearings

Over at Slate.com, Fred Kaplan, a big critic of John Bolton, thinks the hawkish U.N. envoy nominee tanked on the first day of Senate confirmation hearings. He points to Bolton's evasiveness on a variety of topics and thought Bolton never really showed any desire to want to improve the battered world body.

However, I didn't see any mention in Kaplan's piece about Kofi Annan calling Bolton and telling him to "get yourself confirmed quickly"? National Review is running an editorial supporting Bolton's nomination, and takes on the charge that Bolton fired intel officers who didn't agree with Bolton's policy conclusions - specifically on alleged Cuba's bio-weapons program.

India-China update

Good news out of New Delhi, the New York Times reports:

China and India agreed Monday to resolve a decades-old border dispute and let trade flourish between the countries. Promising a new era of "peace and prosperity" between the world's two most populous countries, the announcement came during a four-day visit to India by Prime Minister Wen Jiabao of China.

It signaled an end to a protracted dispute over several patches along the 2,200-mile border between the countries, stretching from Kashmir to Myanmar. China defeated India in a war over territory in 1962, and relations have been fraught for four decades. The two countries have reached "a certain level of maturity," India's foreign secretary, Shyam Saran, said at a news conference here. "India and China are partners, and they are not rivals," he added. "We do not look upon each other as adversaries."

The announcement did not spell out which territory would go to which country, but the two countries did agree to come up with a plan to resolve disputes over frontier territory. Each side has troops along the border, but there have not been any recent skirmishes. Despite the border dispute, relations between India and China - both nuclear powers, both witnessing rapid economic growth, both facing an enormous demand for energy - have flourished in recent years, led primarily by trade. China is now India's second-largest trading partner, after the United States.

On Monday Mr. Wen and his Indian counterpart, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, said the two countries expected to increase bilateral trade from $13 billion last year to at least $20 billion in 2008.
...

Twelve separate agreements were signed during the visit, ranging from the border issues, to cooperation on filmmaking, to the export of Indian bitter gourds and grapes to China. India and China also agreed to expand flights between the countries, and to military exchanges to enhance "mutual trust" between their armed forces. They also agreed to engage in joint exploration for oil and gas in other countries. What India did not mention were agreements that China has made with India's neighbors and rivals, from building road links with Bangladesh to financing a deep-sea port in Pakistan.

On that last point about the Chinese financing a deep-sea port in Pakistan, there was an op-ed yesterday in the Times by Nayan Chanda about this issue and larger issue of expanding Chinese navy that I meant to clip and post as well. The primary reason for this port is obviously better accessibility to energy reserves in the Middle East:

Five hundred and ninety years after a Chinese fleet cast anchor at Hormuz, the Chinese are back in the Arabian Sea. When Prime Minister Wen Jiabao of China visited Pakistan last week, one of the many deals he signed was for the deepening of the port at Gwadar, whose Chinese-built facilities symbolize China's return to an area that was, briefly, a playground for its navy.

The port's just completed first phase - three berths that can accommodate very large ships - is relatively insignificant. But its projected size and strategic location have sent ripples of anxiety through Washington, Tokyo and New Delhi about the potential establishment of a permanent Chinese naval presence near the Strait of Hormuz, through which 40 percent of the world's oil passes.

For the sake of regional stability, Beijing should forgo any ambitions to use Gwadar for its naval vessels. Yet China has valid reasons to help develop a commercial port that other powers must accept. Its return to the Indian Ocean is the logical outcome of its blazing economic growth, which the West has encouraged, applauded and profited from. A China that depends increasingly on imported oil transported great distances can justifiably seek commercial refueling and repair facilities, just as European powers dependent on far-flung coaling stations for their ships did in the 19th century.
...

Many believe it is only a matter of time before the Chinese Navy, much strengthened by recent purchases of ships and technology, arrives in Gwadar. Pakistani officials boast that Gwadar's Chinese connection will help to frustrate India's domination of regional waterways. A Chinese maritime presence in the area would enable the mainland to monitor naval patrols by the United States and protect Chinese sea lines of communication. China Economic Net, an online news outlet sponsored by China's leading business paper, calls Gwadar "China's biggest harvest."

The fact remains, however, that with the exception of the Chinese "fishing trawlers" occasionally found mapping the ocean floor (information needed by submarines), the Chinese Navy has yet to show up. So for now, instead of raining on China's parade at Gwadar, India and the United States should welcome China's contribution to expanded maritime commerce and the additional sense of security that Beijing might derive from it. The port at Gwadar will be a boon to the regional economy; and to deny China's need for a secure oil supply while pumping billions of dollars into China to produce more gas-guzzling cars is both illogical and, in an indirect but palpable way, hostile. China should be left in no doubt, however, that using the Gwadar port for its military would increase tensions and weaken the energy security that it ostensibly seeks. Checking its frigates and submarines at the door would be a good way for China to ensure that others are also able to enjoy the party.

In a separate, unrelated article, the Washington Post picks up on the strengthening-Chinese-military theme that has been circulating the major papers in recent weeks. The article basically documents China's hardwares and the strategic posturing vis-a-vis Taiwan. However, I did find this line to be noteworthy:

"The main purpose of that is not to attack the United States," Lin [Chong-pin, a former Taiwanese deputy defense minister and an expert on the Chinese military at the Foundation on International and Cross-Strait Studies in Taipei] said. "The main purpose is to throw a monkey wrench into the decision-making process in Washington, to make the Americans think, and think again, about intervening in Taiwan, and by then the Chinese have moved in."

Interesting that line comes from a former Taiwanese official. It makes you think the absorption of Taiwan by China is inevitable (we just don't know when) and that the U.S. really isn't going to do anything about it. So in 2025, don't be surprised if the "War of the Taiwan Straits" really isn't war at all - or, at the very least, a war without the American Navy.

*Just a note: for whoever reads this blog and wonders why I post huge chunks of new articles with little commentary, it is because I like to "clip" articles that I feel are important in helping me understand ever-changing world we're living in. In that context, I consider this blog a personal research archive (along with being an outlet for my own commentary). For example, I see the economic and military emergence of China and India as critically important developing story in the world today, and I think the United States is in a position to create important relationships (economic, strategic, political) with both countries to advance its interests in Asia. Likewise in the Middle East. So, my goal, I guess, is to do my best in tracking all the important goings-on around the world and attempt to synthesize that information for myself and whoever else might be slightly interested. Of course, as I said before, commentary on whatever issue that needs discussed will not cease.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Press Conference in the Dirt

Of the many reasons why I love George W. Bush: an "open collar" press conference with Ariel Sharon in the dirt (literally) at the Crawford ranch, while wearing cowboy boats.

Other reasons why I love W include: the customary Ford F-350-tour -around-the-Crawford-ranch with world leader X; the cactus theme; the "open collar" dress down for the White House staff, as well; W's giant belt buckle; and, of course, W clearin' brush at Prairie Chapel. How bad ass is that shot?

If you think I'm "making light" of all this, you're wrong - except for maybe all the cacti. Honestly, this is what I love about Bush. This whole swaggering, cowboy aura he gives off that pisses off all those tweedy, uptight professors/intellectuals, elite media-types and Eurocrats/limp-wrist publics just makes my day. He does things his way, in his environment - and he's damn proud of it.

Cockiness? No. Arrogance? No. Confidence? You bet. You think he gives a flip about his low poll numbers? Doubt it. He's too busy spendin' all that political capital right now.

Ok, enough Bush fawning. The Times gets into the meat of the Bush-Sharon meeting. Full press conference t-script here (with more Crawford pics! - sorry)

Live Free or Die

Neo-Neocon has a heartfelt post in honor of everyone's favorite Iraqi blog, IraqtheModel, as they celebrated what they call the "Eid of Liberty" on April 9 - the day of their liberation two years ago from Saddam Hussein. Be sure to read both posts.

And how fitting is it that we get confirmation that true victory in Iraq is in sight from our commanders in theater. From the New York Times:

Two years after the fall of Saddam Hussein, the American-led military campaign in Iraq is making enough progress in fighting insurgents and training Iraqi security forces to allow the Pentagon to plan for significant troop reductions by early next year, senior commanders and Pentagon officials say.

Senior American officers are wary of declaring success too soon against an insurgency they say still has perhaps 12,000 to 20,000 hard-core fighters, plentiful financing and the ability to change tactics quickly to carry out deadly attacks. But there is a consensus emerging among these top officers and other senior defense officials about several positive developing trends, although each carries a cautionary note.
...

Several top associates of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian militant whose network has claimed responsibility for many of the most deadly attacks, have been captured or killed in recent weeks. American commanders say it now takes longer for insurgents to regroup and conduct a series of attacks with new tactics, like the one on the night of April 2 against the Abu Ghraib prison that wounded 44 Americans and 13 Iraqi prisoners.
...

The American military's priority has shifted from waging offensive operations to training Iraqi troops and police officers. Iraqi forces now oversee sections of Baghdad and Mosul, with American forces on call nearby to help in a crisis. More than 2,000 American military advisers are working directly with Iraqi forces.

More Iraqi civilians are defying the insurgents' intimidation to give Iraqi forces tips on the locations of hidden roadside bombs, weapons caches and rebel safe houses. The Pentagon says that more than 152,000 Iraqis have been trained and equipped for the military or the police, but the quality and experience of those forces varies widely. Also, the Government Accountability Office said in March that those figures were inflated, including perhaps tens of thousands of police officers who are absent from duty.

Interviews with more than a dozen senior American and Iraqi officers, top Pentagon officials and lawmakers who have visited Iraq yield an assessment that the combination of routing insurgents from their sanctuary in Falluja last November and the Iraqi elections on Jan. 30 has given the military operation sustained momentum, and put the Bush administration's goal of turning Iraq over to a permanent, elected Iraqi government within striking distance.

"We're on track," Gen. Richard B. Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in an interview. But the insurgency "kills virtually every day," he warned. "It's still a very potent threat.
...

Precisely when and how many American forces withdraw from Iraq hinges on several factors, including the security situation, the size and competence of newly trained Iraqi forces, and the wishes of the new Iraqi government. Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the top commander in Iraq, told CNN two weeks ago that if all went well, "we should be able to take some fairly substantial reductions in the size of our forces" by this time next year.

General Casey has declined to describe the size of any possible troop reductions, but other senior military officials said American force levels in Iraq could drop to around 105,000, or about 13 brigades, by early next year, from the 142,000 now, just over 17 brigades.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Matt's Sports Report

Keeping an eye on some interesting developments back home in the States:

- At Augusta National:

"Tiger Woods tied a Masters record with seven straight birdies and surged past Chris DiMarco to take a three-stroke lead into Sunday's final round at Augusta National. Woods shot a 7-under 65, one stroke better than the second-round score that got him back in contention. He opened the tournament with a 74.

"Not bad, huh?'' Woods said, smiling. "It's been a while, hasn't it? Most majors, you're not going to be making a whole bunch of birdies. You're going to be making a bunch of pars.''

Just when everyone was beginning to say his run was done. Not quite. Live Leaderboard here.

UPDATE: Tiger wins his 4th Green Jacket and ninth major championship, beating out Chris DiMarco in a playoff. Halfway there Jack! (to Nicklaus' record 18 majors, for those who may not know)

- The Bus, Jerome Bettis, will come back for the 2005 season with the greatest football team in NFL history, my Pittsburgh Steelers.

- The Chicago Bulls, for the first time in the post-Michael Jordan era, have made the playoffs. I guess this is the compensation for those Illini fans still bummin' after UNC .

The Up-and-Comers

Fascinating New York Times article on the rise of China and India on the heels of Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao's arrival in New Dehli. The narrative goes a little like this: 1/3 of the human race expanding economically at incredible rates; huge demand for energy resources; on the hunt for new markets; and a reassertion of the balance of power in the world (from the trans-Atlantic relationship with the U.S. to the emergence of an East Asian-Pacific relationship with the U.S.). Where the two diverge is political openess:

"There is constant talk these days of turning Mumbai, the southern commercial metropolis formerly known as Bombay, into a new Shanghai, China's most glitteringly modern city. More to the point may be Bangalore, India's booming capital of telephone call centers and high-tech software. Growth there has been menaced by political delays that have stalled construction of a new airport for seven years. Shanghai, on the other hand, built one of the world's most spectacular airports in three years.

Such contrasts have left some Indians to remark, sometimes despairingly, about a "democracy price" that slows development. At the same time, Indians almost invariably say they would have it no other way. "I'm often approached by friends returning impressed from China, saying how our airports in Bombay and Delhi can't compare," said G. P. Deshpande, a longtime China scholar at Jawaharal Nehru University in Delhi. "When I tell them that these things come in a package, that you don't just get the new airports, and I describe the package, though, they say no thank you."

The package Mr. Deshpande alludes to is strict authoritarianism, which allows the local and central governments in China to rezone entire districts without so much as a hearing, to pollute city and countryside without having to face public objections and to conduct large-scale social engineering, often disastrously, but with similarly little question. For their part, mainstream Chinese intellectuals talk of India's advantages in democratic governance. For all of China's apparent strengths today, they say, future success may depend on democratic reform.

"If China learns its lessons from India, it can succeed in democratizing in the future," said Pang Yongzhing, a professor of international relations at Nankai University in Tianjin.

"India is a far more diverse country," he said, "a place with the second largest Muslim population in the world, and lots of ethnic minorities, and yet it organizes regular elections without conflict. China is 90 percent Han, so if India can conduct elections, so can China."

Chinese have also begun openly to question the kind of growth their authoritarianism has spawned.

"We are using too many raw materials to sustain this growth," said Pan Yue, China's environment minister, in a recent interview with the German magazine Der Spiegel. "To produce goods worth $10,000, for example, we need seven times more resources than Japan, nearly six times more than the United States and, perhaps most embarrassing, nearly three times more than India.

"Things can't, nor should they, be allowed to go on like that," he said.

Others worry about China's seeming addiction to large investment, which leads to huge waste and steep cyclical downturns, a shaky financial system imperiled by a huge burden of nonperforming loans, and rampant official corruption.

"In India there is a lot more room to move around," said Zhang Jun, director of the China Center for Economic Studies at Fudan University in Shanghai. "Their capital markets are good, their banking sector is better than in China, and there is entrepreneurialism everywhere in India, along with well-protected intellectual property rights. All of these are things that China lacks."

Pressed for a prediction, Mr. Zhang said he saw the two countries' positions converging within 15 or 20 years, by which time they may rank as the two largest economies in the world, if still far below the United States and other top economies in terms of per capita wealth. How they get there, and the examples they set along the way, may hold important lessons for other developing nations, on global peace, human rights and democratization.

"If China continues to grow and grow, people will inevitably begin to think this is proof of the validity of their system, and that would be very bad for all of Asia," said Subramanian Swamy, president of India's Janata Party and former minister of law, commerce and justice.

"On the contrary, if India continues to emerge, taking a seat on the Security Council, it will have a tremendous impact for the good," he said. "As far as exporting democracy, it is only a matter of time before India gets the self-confidence to begin doing this."

My guess is that the first part of the 21st century, the primary focus for the U.S. will be continuing to help the Middle East get up to speed and stomping out the the last remants of al Qaeda. But the for the rest of this century, the action will be in East and South Asia, led by India and China. Wall Street and American business are already there "setting up shop." The question remains if our political and strategic thinking will follow the economic and financial route in locking up those important diplomatic and strategic partnerships -- not antagonizing or threatening these folks.

The Unipolar Moment

David Brooks makes the case for what I might call "cultural neoconservatism" -- and really isn't too high on it.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Politics Are Always Local

I was looking through the archives on the Foreign Affairs website and I found this short essay on the issue of Palestine as the "vulcrum of Middle East politics" written by Princeton Near East Studies professor (and Bernard Lewis protege) Michael Scott Doran. It's actually a follow-up to a piece he wrote in an earlier issue of Foreign Affairs examining this Palestine-centric thesis in much more depth:

"'Palestine, Iraq, and American Strategy' attacked the school of analysis that identifies the Palestine question as the fulcrum of Middle East politics. Washington's pro-Israel bias, this school argues, alienates Arabs and feeds support for radicals such as Osama bin Laden. The school's adherents were so myopically focused on Israel as the "root cause" of the region's problems, I claimed, that they failed to appreciate the diversity and significance of various inter-Arab conflicts. Events over the past two years have largely borne out my thesis.

Professor Doran continues:

"
Many commentators warned, for example, that there would be dire consequences if the Bush administration set out to topple Saddam Hussein without also pressuring the Israeli government to do more for the Palestinians. The administration chose to ignore this advice, and -- thanks partly to the passing of Yasir Arafat -- Israeli-Palestinian relations are now the warmest they have been in years.

"Similarly, many commentators warned that the invasion of Iraq would produce a powerful nationalist backlash in that country. They were taken by surprise, accordingly, when millions of Iraqis turned out to vote in the recent elections, putting the lie to the notion that the insurgency represents anything like the will of the people.

"And they have been shocked by the recent developments in Lebanon, because the spectacle of teeming Lebanese crowds protesting Syria's occupation -- rather than Israel's -- was beyond their imaginations.

"What all these 'surprises' have in common is that they can be traced to local issues. They came as a shock because they put paid to the concept at the heart of the 'root cause' school's thinking: a monolithic pan-Arab public opinion driven by an obsessive concern with the Palestinians and their supposed Israeli and American oppressors."

Doran then furthers his point with a really interesting discussion about the Shia in Saudi Arabia. Pretty enlightening stuff from a guy who was denied tenure at Princeton.

F*** Time Magazine

Powerline explains why that magazine should go screw itself.

Bolton's The Man

Bill Kristol comes out swining (no surprise) for John Bolton's nomination as U.N. ambassador:

"Despite Soros's millions and the Times's resources, the assault on Bolton has been pathetic. What does it amount to? He's a longtime U.N. skeptic -- appropriate, one would think, given the U.N.'s 'Zionism is Racism' history during the Cold War, and its ineffectiveness (to be kind) in Rwanda in the '90s and in Sudan in this decade. But he's worse than a skeptic, the critics say: He has been disrespectful of the august body in which he will represent us. Why, he once joked, 'The Secretariat Building in New York has 38 stories. If it lost 10 stories, it wouldn't make a bit of difference.' Well, truer words were never spoken.
...

"The case against Bolton is silly and weak. Democrats want to embrace it. Let them do so, and let Republicans make them pay a price. When Bolton is reported out of committee, Senator Frist should schedule floor debate without a time limit. Republican senators should challenge their Democratic counterparts to debate John Bolton's record, and the U.N.'s record, every day, for as long as the Democrats want. The Bush administration should put senior spokesmen on TV every night to engage in an argument over whose foreign policy is preferable for the country--George Bush's or George Soros's. Republicans should welcome a discussion of whether the U.N. is just fine as it is, or requires tough-minded reform. In stimulating such a debate, Bolton would be doing yet another service to this country. And then he can go to New York as ambassador to the United Nations and get to work chopping 10 stories off the Secretariat building."

Ha!

Friday, April 08, 2005

A Little Bit of Nostalgia

Democracy Arsenal, which I have linked to before, is one of those blogs conservatives need to read regularly to keep our foreign policy arguments sharp and clear. This group blog of foreign policy professionals are openly partisan Democrats, don't care much for George W. and are sometimes snarky about it, but share the relatively same vision of a muscular liberal internationalist foreign policy. They also adamantly oppose John Bolton's nomination as U.S. ambassador to the U.N. I disagree with plenty of what is said at DA, and I hope to spend some time challenging some of their own arguments.

In the meantime, Derek Chollet has a very cool "who's-who" round-up of Bush II's foreign policy team. Ever since I've began to regularly follow foreign affairs and American foreign policy, I've always been interested in the personalities that shape and influence foreign policy. I love to know where they studied, what degrees they've earned, how they built their careers, what schools of thought they come from, who they've worked under, what articles or books they've written, etc.

I think my interest in the "who's-who" aspect of U.S. foreign policy goes way back to my grade school and middle school days when I collected baseball and basketball cards and obsessively followed the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Chicago Bulls, and my ex-favorite NBAer, Grant Hill. Like any kid growing up playing baseball and basketball in a relatively serious environment (i.e. tournament team and American Legion baseball and CYO and public school league basketball), I liked to pattern my playing habits and style of play in both sports off of the great ones like Barry Bonds, Ken Griffey, Jr., Andy Pettite (the Yankee southpaw with the best pick-off move to first), Michael Jordan, Grant Hill, Penny Hardaway (remember him?), and Kobe Bryant. My success wasn't notable, but I held my own up through the varsity level in high school.

Getting back to foreign policy...now that my focus has shifted from athletics to academics, I see a definite parallel in how I modeled my athletic abilities after those top guns from the court and the diamond, to now, when I do a paper on the Iraq war and the role of the foreign policy bureaucracy or post a blog entry on whatever issue of the day I wish to discuss. Today I use the resources I have availabe to me - the newspapers, other blogs, journals, papers, books, government reports, etc - to help me write that paper or write a coherent post in the same way I'd go to the batting cage to work on my swing, run a couple miles on the track to build up stamina, hit the weights to add muscle, or watch video tape of the Chicago Bulls or own my own varsity basketball team to gain that competitive edge.

Although, I'm reluctant to admit that I find myself much more passionate about my academic and political pursuits than I ever really was with baseball and basketball. Don't get me wrong; I really enjoyed both sports, got to be pretty good at both, and actually started for a championship baseball team my junior year of high school. But...there's always a but, I don't think my heart was ever really in the "game," as I believe it is with what I do and enjoy now. I haven't mentioned this anywhere on this blog or in any of my college newspaper columns, but my passion for what I enjoy now has led me to the decision (which I made last spring/summer) to join the Army and apply to Officer Candidate School (because I'm not in ROTC) after I graduate this December. After 9/11 and the war in Iraq, I've slowly discovered that I want to be where the action is, as scary as that sounds. Reading all the Baghdad dispatches from the Times and the Post only gets you so close. I read about the discipline and comraderie amongst our soldiers, and I find myself wanting to be a part of that, even with all the tragedy that war brings - the lost limbs, the parents that bury their kids. Maybe I'm being a naive idealist. Maybe I'm gonna be in for a rude awakening. Or maybe this is my inner-self trying to reclaim that athletic glory I could have had if I only got up at 5:30 a.m. every morning and head to my high school gym to shoot those 5oo jumpers like those guys from Gateway did; or if only I had gone to the batting cage during the winter months after my Saturday morning basketball practices to get ready for the spring baseball season. Ha. Maybe not all that. But the point is that I think I've found one of my callings in life with military service and, honestly, I can't wait to see how it goes.

Anyway, wow. This post got a little off track and probably a little too personal. But it's all good. We all need a little self-examination every now and then, right? And what better place do it than in the pseudo-anonymous setting of a blog, haha!

Iraq: Still A Long Way To Go

Here are two items - one security, the other political - that signal how far we (Americans and Iraqis) still have to go in Iraq - and why it's critical we don't get complacent and declare victory just quite yet. Although, in the same breath, we can't set the goal posts so high - Iraq becoming Sweden, or some other blissful European social democratic haven - that we're never able to declare victory. I think we have to come to the realization that, yes, there will be troop reductions after the elections set for this December (that is if they don't get delayed which is likely the case because, according to most observers, the deadline for writing and ratifying the new constitution - originally set for August 15 - will be given a six-month extension, as stipulated in the TAL), but there will be a long-term U.S. troop presence in Iraq for at least, in my estimation, five more years. (In fact, I've read that the Pentagon plans to deploy somewhere around 20,000 more troops for those elections). I don't know what the troop number will be reduced to over that period of time, but, barring any dramatic uptick in insurgent activity, I can see the level of U.S. forces being cut to half or 60% of the current 140,000 or so currently deployed. All depends on, one, security, stability and the ability to continue to train and deploy indigenous Iraqi forces; two, the pace and quality of reconstruction; and three, when the Iraqi government tells us to go home (however that will come when American and Iraqi generals tell the Iraqi government that the first stipulation is sustainable for the long haul).

Ok, let's go to those two items I mentioned. First, from the WashPost. The article talks about the youthful renegade Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, and the apparent "resurgence" of his Mahdi Army. At first read, you get the feeling al-Sadr's boys are back for more. But then you get into the meat of it, and you find some rational thinking and political straddling among even the radical Shia elements.

On Sheik Aws Khafaji, al-Sadr's man in Nasiriyah: "In private, he can be measured and militant. In one sentence, he will denounce the U.S. presence, warning of calamity if American troops fail to depart. In another, he strikes a more mainstream, nationalist tone -- outreach to Sunnis, cooperation with police, even holding out the prospect of formal participation in the political process once the Americans leave."

On the other hand, Post reporter Anthony Shadid gets this assessment from the U.S. military:

"U.S. military officials say they believe the toll they inflicted during last year's fighting sapped the young cleric's support. While still a threat, the militia is less so than when it first took up arms in April 2004, the officials say.

"'We believe Moqtada's militia is generally marginalized, and there is little to be gained from taking a military role,' said Lt. Col. Bob Taylor, chief intelligence officer for the 3rd Infantry Division, which oversees Baghdad. 'But it could still be a threat.'"

On to the second item, the political front. Nathan Brown, in an interview with the CFR, says the two biggest challanges facing the newly appointed Iraqi government include the status of the Kurdish and oil-rich city of Kirkuk and the level of Islamic influence in the new constitution. He also has a few interesting points about the Sunnis.

I want to highlight his analysis of the role of Islam in Iraq:

"Nobody seems to dissent from the position that Islam should have some kind of official standing and some kind of official recognition, so a completely secular state is out of the question. And at the other end of the spectrum, a completely Iranian model under which clerics exercise some rule in day-to-day politics, is off the table as well. But almost anything in between is a possibility. It could be that laws are given a greater Islamic coloration. It could be that clerics, if not ruling day to day, are still consulted in important matters. It could be that you would have, especially in personal-status matters, a reversion to a situation in which religious law--as determined by religious scholars rather than by the state--plays a much greater role."

Also, Brown on the importance of bringing all parties to the table:

Q: Prime Minister Jaafari, a Shiite, has been talking about the need to bring Sunnis, Kurds, everybody into the government. Do you think that sentiment will prevail at least for the writing of the constitution?

A:It has to prevail for the writing of the constitution, because so many people are given so many different points at which they can exercise a veto. It's a process of virtually enforcing a consensus. So the question is: can a consensus be developed? Without a consensus, the process breaks down. If any three provinces vote against the adoption of the constitution, it is rejected. So, in effect, Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds all have a veto.

Q:That requires a major effort to bring Sunnis into day-to-day politics.

A: Yes. On a constitutional level, I think that's a little less difficult than it is with the Kurds, because most of the Sunni demands don't focus on the content of the constitution. They focus on [pressing for an end to the] American presence, they focus a little bit on procedure. I don't think, when writing the constitution, it'll be that hard to make it more palatable to a Sunni audience. The trick will be to get Sunni leaders and the Sunni population on board in the process.

Q: We've seen mixed signals recently, haven't we? Some Sunni leaders are saying people should join the army and the security forces, but some others say that is meant to subvert those forces.

A: And, unlike the Kurdish population and the Shiite population, who have a set of clearly identifiable leaders, it's much less clear who is speaking authoritatively for the Sunni population.

And, finally, as if this post isn't already long enough, StrategyPage has an pretty upbeat, yet realistic, assessement of some of the things I've discussed above along with a discussion about the trouble al Qaeda is having in Iraq.

UPDATE

The AP reports (and the NYT picks it up) on an Sadr-inspired Shia protest in Baghdad today, marking the second anniversary of the crumbling of Saddam's regime. Some telling points: Sadr himself didn't even go because of security concerns. And then you find this nugget of information buried deep down in the story:

"Al-Sadr had stayed out of the limelight since leading failed uprisings last year in the southern city of Najaf and in Baghdad's Sadr City neighborhood. But he has stepped up criticism of the United States in recent weeks, mainly by organizing Saturday's protest, which fell far short of the 1 million people he hoped would assemble."

So there are about 26 million Iraqis, 60% of which are Shia, and al-Sadr's hopes of 1 million of his young trouble-makers turning out to protest the oppressive American occupation doesn't quite materialize. Despite the AP pointing out this well-know fact - "Al-Sadr has wide support among impoverished and young Shiites but overall fewer followers than Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the most revered Shiite cleric in the country" - the reporters, Qasim Abdul-Zahra and Sameer Yacoub, seem to want to lead us to believe that al-Sadr's movement is regaining traction. I'm not buying it.

In somewhat related news, I didn't catch an AP or NYT dispatch on this or this.

Spain Exporting WMDs to Chavez

It looks like Zapatero's government sold a little more than some military spy planes and patrol boats to the Venezuelan dictator. Barcepundit's all over it.

Gordon England to be Dep. SecDef

Paul Wolfowitz's replacement at the Pentagon will be, pending Senate confirmation, SecNavy Gordon England. The Boston Globe (via YahooNews) has this report:

"President Bush yesterday nominated two-time Navy secretary Gordon R. England, 67, to replace Paul D. Wolfowitz as the deputy secretary of defense. A native of Baltimore, England is a confidant of Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld and last year was put in charge of overseeing the military's controversial detention operations [wonder if that'll slow his confirmation??]. A former executive at General Dynamics, England was Navy secretary from 2001 to 2003, when he served a brief stint as deputy secretary of homeland security before returning to the Pentagon. He must be confirmed by the Senate."

Here's his official bio from the Navy's website. I didn't see any neocon credentials (like that matters anymore, especially if Wolfowitz can be voted in to the World Bank presidency by a bunch of Eurocrats), however his military detainee policies may bring some scrutiny to his nomination. Otherwise, he looks to be a solid pick. Reports also said he's on board with Rumsfeld's transformation goals. However, I'll, of course, have to wait to see what Tom Barnett says about the news.

41 And 42 Join 43 on Intel Brief

I don't know about you but I thought this little bit in the Times was pretty cool:

''According to a pool report filed by reporters aboard Air Force One, Mr. Bush asked his father and Mr. Clinton to join him on Wednesday morning during his intelligence briefing.''

I wonder what that must've been like for Papa Bush and Clinton. I'm sure they've gotten their fare share of intel briefings during their terms in office, but this is probably their first (if they've sat in on them before, it would be news to me) post 9/11 brief. It would be cool to know if they had anything to offer during the briefing.

Yeah, this is an extreme example of my political geekiness, but I just find this kinda stuff fascinating.

UPDATE:

Well, thanks to Bill Sammon at the WashTimes, we have some idea of what those intel briefings were like with Bush 41 and Clinton. Plus, the White House released the transcript of that press pool. If you'll allow me to, I want to reprint a portion of the exchange between Bush and some of the reporters I found to be quintessential Bush...

Q What has it been like spending time with the former Presidents for three days? That's the longest time --

THE PRESIDENT: It's fun. Oh, it's great. You know, we share war stories, you know, a lot of talking, a lot of interesting experiences about different world leaders that we may all have met -- or all three of us met. Just different experiences that, you know, my dad might have had or President Clinton might have had.

There is a lot of interest, obviously, with former Presidents about, you know, policy, so I had them sit in on our policy briefings this morning with Condi and [National Security Advisor] Steve [Hadley] and the CIA fellow traveling with us -- not this morning, yesterday and the day before, on Air Force One. And then yesterday at the embassy I wanted to include them in. And, you know, we had a -- these CIA briefings a lot of time prompt policy discussions, you know, how is this process going, Steve -- and Condi, now that she's here, both of them were able to bring dad and President Clinton up to date on our strategy in dealing with a particular issue. It's interesting to get their points of view about their experiences in particular countries. It was fun. It was really a lot of fun. I was honored they came.

Q Are you worried about them spending so much time together, those two? (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT: Well, you heard my Grid Iron speech. (Laughter.)

Listen, thank you all. Hope you enjoyed the experience as much as I did. Absolutely fascinating.

By the way, I think when you discuss religion -- on doubt --there is no doubt in my mind there is a living God. And no doubt in my mind that the Lord, Christ, was sent by the Almighty. No doubt in my mind about that. When I'm talking about doubts, I'm talking about the doubts that an individual struggles with in his or her life. That's important for you to make sure you get that part of the dialogue correct, if you don't mind.

Q Thank you.

THE PRESIDENT: Got it? Everybody got it correct? All right.

Q Thank you.

Q What are your plans this weekend?

THE PRESIDENT: Like Stretch, I'm on the injured reserve list from running, so I'll be mountain biking. I think Cat McKinnon is going come up from Austin. Oh, yes. And I'll be fishing. I'll be finishing my book, "Peter the Great," by Robert K. Massey. Some of you old-timers have probably already read it, I'm just now -- have you read it?

Q Getting ready for the next Russia trip.

THE PRESIDENT: Have you read it?

Q No.

Q I like when you said "old-timer" and you looked at Steve -- (laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT: He probably had read it -- and I wasn't going to look at Ann, of course, I'm too polite. (Laughter.)

We'll have briefings, Condi is coming to spend the night, Hadley will be spending a night there. We'll start briefing the Sharon visit Sunday night. And then we'll obviously greet the Prime Minister and then head off to Fort Hood on Tuesday morning, and work on that speech probably Monday evening.

Looking forward to getting back down there again. I may do a little cedar work, depends on how sleepy the crew is.

Q I'll be fishing, just down the Bosque River.

THE PRESIDENT: Really?

Q Yes. I'm sleeping at the Side Oats Ranch tonight.

THE PRESIDENT: Tell them "hi." Middle Fork has got some water in it.

Q They do.

THE PRESIDENT: The Middle Fork comes down to my place.

Q Does it come down to you from his, or goes the other way?

THE PRESIDENT: I think it comes down, doesn't it? Yes, I think he's west of me, so it's coming down toward Waco. The Middle Fork feeds into the Brazos.

Consider yourself lucky you get to go down to Texas.

Q I'm delighted.

THE PRESIDENT: You're not grousing about it, are you?

Q Oh, no, no, no. I'm sorry I missed Easter, I was at home for that.

THE PRESIDENT: It may be -- I hope, I haven't heard, but it may be that the wild flowers, are they out yet? They say there is going to be a spectacular blue bonnet season this year, I mean, spectacular.

Q Is that in honor of the Baylor women's basketball team?

THE PRESIDENT: I called, as a matter of fact, on the airplane flying to Rome, I called the coach, Kim Mulkey-Roberts. A fine person. I had met her before when she brought -- you all saw her, at least if you were on the pool, right, let's see -- anyway, she was with the Midway girls softball team when they came out, the national champs softball team. Her daughter is a player on it, and so she came out with the parents. But she was one excited lady. And she did a heck of a job.

Q Blew them out.

THE PRESIDENT: They've got a great team. I'm looking forward to welcoming them to the White House.

END 9:16 A.M. EDT

As Much As It Pains Me to Say

For an American conservative, what I am about to say is tantamount to an act of treason (well not quite treason, but some on the right may now feel justified in calling me a "cheese-eating, surrender-monkey"), but I think this needs to be said.

France is right - and we are in fact quite wrong - to want to lift the arms embargo on China. Yes, despite even China's recent passage of the anti-secession law threatening military force against a Taiwanese break for independence, the French and those limp-wristed Europeans have it right this time. I couldn't put it any better than how French foreign minister Michel Barnier put it in yesterday's Financial Times, page 2 (from the print edition I picked up; didn't see it online):

"'There is a real, fundamental difference of perception that we have about China on both sides of the Atlantic,' he said. 'One cannot treat China like Zimbabwe.'"
...

"Mr. Barnier said China had evolved since the EU imposed the embargo in 1989, entering the World Trade Organization and winning the right to stage the 2008 Olympic Games. It was now 'anachronistic' to maintain the arms embargo, he said, while stressing that a strict arms export regime would could continue to apply to arms sales to China."'Our intention is at no point to multiply the sale of arms in the region. This lifting of the embargo has a political dimension,' he said."

Barnier is right; the decision to lift the embargo is not so much so Europe can arm China to the teeth, but so Europe can continue to expand trade with the Chinese because, after all, who doesn't want to do business with China now? Let me allow Tom Barnett to explain the Bush administration's backward thinking on this:

"The US can't trade with and invest in China like crazy, sell arms to both Taiwan and Japan, and then tell the EU not to do the same with China on both trade and arms. We just don't get to decide which other Core powers [if you're not familiar with Barnett's lingo, these are essentially the G-8 countries] get to arm and under what conditions. China's rising economically, and like any other country in such a trajectory, it builds up and modernizes its military. We can't stop that, but we can shape it and work to make that process dovetail with a rising security alliance between us two. But the Bush Admin seems to think they're in the driver's seat on this one, when they're not. I mean, China's supposed to keep buying our debt so we can spend lots on our military and then we get to tell them what they can or cannot buy in military arms?"

Barnier's comments come on the heals of Deputy SecState Robert Zoellick's recent trip to Europe where he implored Europe to not give in to China on this issue (I should point out that the U.S. has had success in getting the Europeans to delay removing the embargo - mainly due to the passage of the anti-secession bill). It's pretty ironic that Zoellick's leading the charge against China when, during his tenure as the U.S. trade representative, he was instrumental in getting China into the the WTO.

What worries me even more about the Bush administration's China policy is the kind of stuff I read on page 13 of the FT. The full page "Comment & Analysis" article by Victor Mallet begins with the fearful headline: "Strait ahead? China's military build-up prompts fears of an attack on Taiwan." Little background first. The Bush administration came into office in Jan. 2001 seeing China as its number one foreign policy challenge. Indeed, the collision of a China fighter jet and an American spy-plane in April 2001 only heightened those worries (remember that?). But then came 9/11 and the war on terrorism which brought about a general shift in focus, rightly so, from China to the Middle East. Now it seems, with progress being made in southwest Asia, Bush and Co. want to put China back on the "hit list" for the simple fact that China may actually match our military capacity in the coming decades - it would be the first challenge to our military (and economic) hegemony since the Soviet Union. But why are we looking for a fight when, just last month, our own National Security Council gave clearance to a deal that saw IBM sell its PC business to China's own PC-maker, the Lenovo Group?

This is not good strategic thinking, especially when you've got someone like Kim Jong-Il with nukes and no stake at all in the global economy. The view in Washington has gotten so off track on East Asian issues that I have to read a sentence like this in the FT article:

"The Taiwan Straight is regarded in Washington as the most dangerous flashpoint in the Asia-Pacific - more sensitive for now than North Korea's nuclear weapons program."

Fantastic. I know this might sound like some kind of lefty-argument, but how we can threaten and then actually go to war against Iraq, but object to China's saber-rattling over an island that only over just a half-century ago - before it broke away after the civil war - was still part of China? Are we really going to live up to our defense guarantee with Taiwan if China does attack? How does China's intention to "reabsorb" Taiwan threaten U.S. national security more than a nuclear-tipped ICBM from North Korea? That's the kicker here. And, in addition, are we willing to send the global economy to the crapper for Taiwan's independence? As I've said before, I'm quite sympathetic to the neocons' vision for the Middle East, but I don't want anything to do with what they have planned for China - for the scary fact that they're totally ignoring the whack-job on the Korean peninsula who actually wouldn't mind an epic battle to the finish.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Spain, you've been a bad boy!

In relation to Zapatero's apparently contradictory foreign policy - by selling military planes and boats to Chávez's bellicose Venezuela, Rumsfeld has stepped in saying that Spain is making a "mistake." Read more here.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Iraq's New Government

How cool is this? From the New York Times:

"After being named president of Iraq today, one of Saddam Hussein's staunchest opponents urged the diverse national assembly that appointed him to move past sectarian and ethnic differences.

"Mr. Hussein watched the announcement on a television set outside his jail cell, a senior Iraqi official said.

"The new president, Jalal Talabani, 72, was the first Kurd to take the office in the history of modern Iraq, and his appointment brought the minority Kurds out into streets in celebrations across the country."

Following up on the good news straight out of Baghdad is Omar at IraqTheModel, who offers some perspective on what some Western observers said would become a political Vietnam:

"Some people are skeptical about the capacity of the new National Assembly to monitor and guide the democratic change in Iraq because they think the Assembly's meetings are chaotic and disorganized but what I see is fruitful and free dialogues that were absolutely impossible two years ago under the rule of the one and only glorious leader.

"Our democracy is not perfect, I know that and our politicians still have a lot to learn and I know that too but what I care about and what really counts here is that freedom of speech and freedom of criticism is granted for the members of the Assembly who are the representatives of the people.

"It will probably take years before security stops being a concern and probably more than that before electricity becomes normal but you know what? I don't care much about that because my freedom is worth much more than all these things and freedom is the key to achieve unlimited progress and we have this key now."

The Pope, Bush, and the Media

Arriving a couple of hours ago in Rome, President Bush is leading the high profile American delegation including the first lady, SecState Rice and Presidents Clinton and Bush 41 to the Vatican for Pope JP II's funeral. Here's how AFP reported the President's visit to the Vatican to pay his respects:

"US President George W. Bush knelt before the body of Pope John Paul II, rendering homage in Saint Peter's Basilica to one of the leading critics of the US-led war on Iraq.
...

"Although the two leaders clashed over the US-led war in Iraq, Bush hailed the pontiff earlier this week as a "great world leader."

The lede graph just says it all about the international media, whether it be Agence France-Presse, Reuters, the BBC, or the AP for that matter. Is it really necessary to make the point about JP II's opposition to the war in the first line (and again later in the story)? Why don't they say, if they want to include the pope's politics, "...rendering homage to the fiercely anti-communist pontiff who was seen as instrumental in helping to bring about communism's demise in the 1980s"? Or, if they want to stick with Bush's politics, they could have said something about the pope's social conservative teachings on gay marriage, abortion, and morality. But, mustering a semblance of respect for the pope, the news agencies (who would trash both the pope and Bush if they could) take the cheap swipe at Bush. No big surprise, just kind of annoying.

Drudge is King

Awesome article from the NY Observer about Ariana Huffington's new "Huffington Report" - a Hollywood-liberal counter to what they see is a right-leaning Drudge Report. These Hollywood types are too funny to watch in their vain efforts to counter the ascendancy of the new media. Don't they ever stop to think that maybe - just maybe - their ideas, or lack thereof, that explain why they're losing the media battle and the greater political battle? The Democrats really have an opportunity to make up ground if they lose the silly anti-war babblers like Mike Moore and company and follow in the tradition of FDR, Truman, JFK and Sens. Scoop Jackson & Joe Lieberman, remain where they are on social issues, and adopt an economic policy of fiscal restraint and balanced budgets. This seems like a no-brainer, but I'm afraid that the Dems continue to be mired in the ludicrous belief that they're "still having trouble getting their message out."

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Friedman firing blanks?

And the battle of the two most ardent advocates for globalization has begun. Tom Barnett launches this assault on the Tom Friedman article I linked to the other day:

"If Friedman thinks that telling everyone about outsourcing is going to make for a great book, then I think he's run out of ideas completely. But I'm sure the book is full of Geo-Green and a host of other kewl phrases he's worked to death in his columns. But just stringing those together with all his "conversations" with famous people gets a bit tiresome. I really feel like he's in a rut and needs to change jobs or something to get back to what he once did. He's becoming a hybrid Andy Warhol/Rooney on globalization: either too poppy or too cranky."

Strange how, even though I buy both guys' general arguments, I took something away from Friedman's piece, while Barnett didn't. I'm gonna read both of their new books and then come to my own conclusion.

Dance, Whiteboy, Dance

Brilliant. This kid will probably be flying an FA-18 Hornet one day. (HT, Andrew Sullivan)

Monday, April 04, 2005

Iraq's TAL

I read this yesterday but didn't get a chance to post it. Jim Hoagland's WashPost column takes good and honest look at the current political gridlock (Amazing, political gridlock in Iraq! You'd think it was Capitol Hill and the judicial filibustering...) we're seeing in Iraq right now:

"The code -- the Transitional Administrative Law, or TAL -- was deliberately shaped in an anti-Baathist image. It fragments power among the country's ethnic and religious groups to guarantee that none of them can again dominate and abuse human rights as Saddam's regime did.

"The TAL contains great value, especially its protections for women and the country's victimized Kurdish minority. But it sets the bar for forming the transitional legislative and executive branches of a new government so high that few nations could clear it. The pursuit of the perfect has become the enemy of the good in post-occupation Iraq.
...

"Greece's Arcadians might have been able to resist the temptation to use the blocking mechanisms built into the TAL, which requires a two-thirds vote of the parliament for a three-member presidential council that must then unanimously name a prime minister. Got that?

"Neither do the Iraqis. The Kurds lay claim to the ceremonial presidency for Jalal Talabani but are unhappy with the Shiite majority's Islamist candidate for prime minister, Ibrahim Jafari. So they stall and hope he will go away. Jafari's main short-term supporter (but his long-term rival for power), Abdul Aziz Hakim, lets Jafari twist in the wind. Meanwhile the Sunni Arabs demand an unobtainable guaranteed American withdrawal date as their price for participation in a new government.
...

"The TAL delivered the elections and a period of calm. But without active U.S. leadership, its complex provisions could strangle the embryonic, still traumatized Iraqi democracy that American soldiers died to create. Those provisions must be made to work and quickly, or set aside in favor of simple majority rule."

The NYT has a good summary of the issue here. And today, the Times also reports this encouraging, however, in reporter Edward Wong's words, "symbolic," development:

"The Iraqi national assembly appointed a speaker and two deputy speakers on Sunday, taking the first step, though a largely symbolic one, toward installing a new government.

"In last-minute deal making on Saturday and Sunday morning, the leaders of the top political parties settled on Hajim M. al-Hassani, a prominent Sunni Arab and the minister of industry in the interim government, as speaker. They selected Hussain al-Shahristani, a nuclear physicist and leading Shiite Arab, and Arif Taifour, a Kurd, as the two deputies.

"Speaker of the assembly is a largely ceremonial post, and so the step the assembly took was more symbolic than substantive. But it showed that the various parties could at least resolve their differences on minor issues. The first significant move will only occur if the assembly agrees on a president and two vice presidents. Those officers would then have two weeks to select a prime minister, who would appoint a cabinet."

Weigel (again!) on JP II

The more I read up on the pope, the more I am blown away by this man's intellectual and spiritual capacity. He was truly fearless in the espousal of his beliefs because his convictions were rooted in the unwavering truth of his faith. George Weigel, in the WSJ today:

"This profound crisis of culture [the great catastrophes of the 20th century], this crisis in the very idea of the human, had manifested itself in the serial crises that had marched across the surface of contemporary history, leaving carnage in their wake. But unlike some truly "conservative" critics of late modernity, Wojtyla's counter-proposal was not rollback: rather, it was a truer, nobler humanism, built on the foundation of the biblical conviction that God had made the human creature in His image and likeness, with intelligence and free will, a creature capable of knowing the good and freely choosing it. That, John Paul II insisted in a vast number of variations on one great theme, was the true measure of man--the human capacity, in cooperation with God's grace, for heroic virtue."

I think there's some saying that (I'm going to butcher it but...) says "you really don't know what you had until it is gone." As a 21 year old college-kid, this axiom couldn't be more true. More Weigel:

"For if there is only your truth and my truth and neither one of us recognizes a transcendent moral standard (call it "the truth") by which to settle our differences, then either you will impose your power on me or I will impose my power on you; Nietszche, great, mad prophet of the 20th century, got at least that right. Freedom uncoupled from truth, John Paul taught, leads to chaos and thence to new forms of tyranny. For, in the face of chaos (or fear), raw power will inexorably replace persuasion, compromise, and agreement as the coin of the political realm. The false humanism of freedom misconstrued as "I did it my way" inevitably leads to freedom's decay, and then to freedom's self-cannibalization. This was not the soured warning of an antimodern scold; this was the sage counsel of a man who had given his life to freedom's cause from 1939 on.

"Thus the key to the freedom project in the 21st century, John Paul urged, lay in the realm of culture: in vibrant public moral cultures capable of disciplining and directing the tremendous energies--economic, political, aesthetic, and, yes, sexual--set loose in free societies. A vibrant public moral culture is essential for democracy and the market, for only such a culture can inculcate and affirm the virtues necessary to make freedom work. Democracy and the free economy, he taught in his 1991 encyclical Centesimus Annus, are goods; but they are not machines that can cheerfully run by themselves. Building the free society certainly involves getting the institutions right; beyond that, however, freedom's future depends on men and women of virtue, capable of knowing, and choosing, the genuinely good."