Friday, March 12, 2010

While this blog is dedicated to the investigation of issues of international security and diplomacy, I ask you to forgive me for my domestically focused post below. As a former educator, both in the US and abroad, the recent decisions of the Texas Board of Education require my response, and I ask that you read on.

The state of Texas is one of our Nation's largest -- and thus, is one of the largest buyers of textbooks. Therefore, the standards set by the Texas board of education may very well dictate the content of all textbooks available for the entire US market. This year, that very board held their once-a-decade revision of standards for their textbooks -- and we have many reasons to be worried.

James McKinley Jr. at the NYT has done an excellent job of covering the facts of the proposed changes to the Texas standards, and I invite you to read his piece. However, the facts do not appropriately outline the danger presented by the board's decisions.

The danger is beyond left or right political leaning -- it lies between fact and fiction. As a former high school teacher, I can tell you that biased interpretation masquerading as fact is the most detrimental to a young child's education. While teachers frequently use interpretive analysis as secondary source material, it is to their textbooks that students retreat for their analytical 'north' when beginning their analysis of those more biased essays. Perhaps, after the Texas' board decision, they will not have that opportunity.

“We are adding balance,” said Dr. Don McLeroy, the leader of the conservative faction on the board, after the vote. “History has already been skewed. Academia is skewed too far to the left.”
Mr. McLeroy's solution? Swing the pendulum back -- past the center -- to the right. The Texas board has decided that the past needs a reinterpretation in its textbooks -- a bit of conservative revisionist history...

Welcome to Friday! Your humble correspondent of all things odd and mockable is pleased as punch to offer you TWIW! Also, please feel free to continue emailing us your odd story finds from around the world...

This Week in Weird: Pillow Love!

The Otaku can be an odd beast. It is not a new phenomenon -- being obsessed with Anime and Manga, but lately it has reached new heights. Sure, people have chuckled at the pudgy, bespeckled, middle aged, ComicCon attending, mother's basement living, Otakus -- they laugh at their loneliness, sure that the poor Otaku is doomed to a life alone.

But some Otakus have struck back! Loneliness be damned...

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The House of Representatives today voted down H. Con. Res 248, a bill from Congressman Dennis Kucinich that would have directed President Obama “to remove the United States Armed Forces from Afghanistan.” The bill was defeated by a 356 to 65 margin, with some 189 Democrats and 167 Republicans joining forces against the bill. Along with Kucinich, other leading figures of the anti-war Left (and Right) joined to sponsor and support the measure, including Reps. Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Ron Paul (R-TX). Although well-intentioned, with this misguided resolution Congressman Kucinich is wrong on the law, wrong on the politics, and wrong on the policy.

First, what Rep. Kucinich is proposing is unconstitutional. Section 5(c) of the War Powers Resolution states that when “the United States Armed Forces are engaged in hostilities…without a declaration of war or specific statutory authorization, such forces shall be removed by the President if the Congress so directs by concurrent resolution.” Giving Congress the ability to overrule the executive through a concurrent resolution is known as a “legislative veto.” It was widely used (nearly 200 times) by Congress until 1983, when it was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in INS v. Chadha.

The Court ruled that overruling an action of the executive “requires action in conformity with the express procedures of the Constitution’s prescription for legislative action: passage by a majority of both Houses and presentment to the President.” A bill passed by one only House of Congress expressly violates the requirements spelled out in Article 1, Section 7 of the Constitution. A Court ruling a few months later ruled that even a legislative veto by two Houses of Congress is unconstitutional.

Even if one believes that Chadha was wrongly decided (which many do – see here and here) the constitutionality (or lack thereof) of the legislative veto is almost universally agreed upon. Even Congress’ own research service says that the legislative veto is “constitutionally suspect under the reasoning applied by the Court.”

Also, the War Powers Resolution only applies when Congress has not given “specific statutory authorization.” The “Authorization for Use of Military Force” passed on September 18, 2001 grants the president general authority to use “all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001….” Regardless of one’s policy ideas, it’s difficult to make a legal argument against the war in Afghanistan. Invoking Article 5(c) of the War Powers Resolution is surely the wrong legal tactic to affect US policy.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

This past weekend the New York Times published an article entitled "Letting Women Reach Women in Afghan War." The following is my take on this evolution in the practice of counterinsurgency.

First of all, let me state that I think this is a really novel idea that has a decent chance of yielding good intel. Its definitely a sign that General McCrystal is doing his best to implement COIN doctrine and give it his own special twist.

What can be gained specifically from talking to the women in Afghan society is a sense of what the practical needs of the people really are. As the family caretakers, women are much more likely to discuss practical issues such as food or water shortages or lack of access to medicine or winter clothing. From interviews I have read with Afghani men and tribal elders, they tend to focus on the bigger issues like "why are you occupying so many houses in our town, how long are you staying, are you going to destroy our poppy crop? etc."

Acquiring this type of knowledge can allow the marines embedded in these villages to take small steps towards improving the quality of life for these villages. The article in the New York Times claims that this data is to be uploaded into a database in order to help guide military planners and aid workers. This will only be helpful if the database exists on the unclassified level. Too often the military feels the need to classify such information thus preventing many of the NGO's working in Afghanistan from gaining a better perspective of the needs on the ground. A similar flaw can be found with Human Terrain Teams currently operating in Afghanistan. These teams are made up of many academics who do not wish to share their data with anyone but their direct superiors as they are hoping to one day publish it on their own.

Talking to women in their homes has the added advantage of removing a lot of the posturing that we see in more public Shura meetings with men in rural villages. In these meetings a lot of the Afghan males feel the need to act hostile towards American forces, due to the fact that there are representatives from the Taliban sitting in the circle with them.

I see one major flaw in this plan. It is fantastic that any group of marines is being given specialized training in counterinsurgency, let alone an all female unit that will be operating outside the wire interacting with Pashtun women. However, the plan rests entirely on whether or not husbands of Pashtun women allow them access to their homes in the first place. While the husbands may actually be ok with an American woman entering their home, how are they going to feel about the male translator who is accompanying her?? The piece to this story that is clearly lacking is that as far as I can tell these female marines are not learning Pashtu, and as long as I have been studying Afghanistan I have never heard of the military employing female translators in Afghanistan.

A colleague of mine named Emily Keane who has spent time as an aid worker in Afghanistan informs me that there are in fact female translators offering their services in Afghanistan who have in fact been of vital help to many NGO's especially in the area of family planning and reproductive health services. However, it is unlikely that the number of female translators needed exist outside of Kabul and it is equally unlikely that the female translators that are known to exist in Kabul would be willing to leave their families and travel with American military units into combat zones.

To conclude, I think this is a fantastic step in the right direction and is a sign that the US military is giving a lot of thought as to the best way to adapt counterinsurgency practices to needs on the ground.

And thats my fifty cents (inflation...)

Monday, March 8, 2010

In Marjah, the "Government in a Box" is about to deploy. It will be the moment of truth for General McChrystal and Hamid Karzai's battle strategy for Operation Moshtarak. The stakes are higher than simply the success of ISAF's COIN strategy in Marjah, and after Marjah comes Kandahar.

This past week I was lucky enough to attend two events featuring US Special Representative. Richard Holbrooke. During the second of these, a public address at the Kennedy School of Government, Amb. Holbrooke spoke of his fear of the possibility of a "dependency trap" in Afghanistan. This is not the first time the US Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan has touched on this subject. In a 2009 appearance with USAID, Holbrooke noted that his greatest concern was

“the dependency trap” in which USAID builds schools, clinics, and roads but they are not maintained once turned over to local control. “We can succeed only if the government of Afghanistan succeeds,”
Clear, Hold, and Build -- these are the first 3 stages of the current COIN strategy in Afghanistan. As Operation Moshtarak has shown in Marjah, ISAF forces are getting consistently better at these three things. But they are only the first three steps, and perhaps the least important in terms of grand strategic victory in Afghanistan. Without successful implementation of the fourth step -- Transfer -- clearing, holding, and building will not end...

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