Saturday, April 10, 2010

Although it seems much longer, it has only been less than a month since some pundits were declaring the death of the Obama Presidency. The failure, or success, of health insurance reform would "devastate" the Administration and Democrats in the 2010 mid-term elections. Words like "doomed" and "failure" were tossed around like inevitabilities by respected news sources.

But in politics, like in many things, success begets success. More importantly, narratives of success beget narratives of success. Today, a mere 20 days after the House of Representatives passed health insurance reform by a 219-212 margin , Obama's presidency is now "emboldened". The president's "sensible" Nuclear Posture Review was announced last week, immediately garnering both international, bureaucratic and domestic support. A few days later, President Obama signed a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) with Russia. As new job numbers for March were announced, coverage focused on President Obama's argument that the U.S. economy was "turning the corner." And finally, just yesterday President Obama was given the opportunity to name a new Associate Justice to the Supreme Court with the retirement of Justice John Paul Stephens, which the media is reporting as putting the GOP "on the defensive."

Our northern neighbors in Canada described the dynamic well:

His presidential voice carries more weight than just a few weeks ago. It's an odd political world where the difference of a few congressional votes on a subject such as health care can be said to define a presidency's success.
The CBC adds that President Obama's "influence abroad is clearly greater if he is seen to be a winner at home."

The Administration won't be able to wave a magic wand and create world peace and stability now. But the Administration's hand has clearly been strengthened, and the White House is once again in control of the political narrative in the United States, critically important as it faces financial regulation, the upcoming nuclear summit, and more tough decisions in Afghanistan.

What a difference a couple of weeks make.

Louisa Seferis
Demagogues and Dictators Sudan Analyst

Beginning Sunday April 11, Sudan will hold historic national elections – the first in 24 years. As expected, the buildup to the elections has been fraught with inconsistency, opacity and contention. President Omar al-Bashir’s main political opponents – except for one party – have withdrawn at all levels because of fraud. Only minor opposition parties remain in the presidential, parliamentary, and state polls in the northern areas. (South Sudan will have its own regional voting structure, making these polls extremely complicated.) What’s worse, EU election monitors in Darfur left due to insecurity, proclaiming they had never been treated so badly. Indeed, Bashir doesn’t seem to want to make friends: the BBC quoted him as saying that if the observers intervened in Sudan's affairs, "we will cut off their fingers and crush them under our shoes."

While discouraging, it’s not clear if the EU monitors’ departure from Darfur will have an impact. Most of Darfur’s nearly 2.7 million internally displaced people were not registered due to insecurity or remoteness; even if they were, it is unclear if they would vote at all. The SPLM candidate, Yassir Arman, announced on Wednesday that he was pulling out of the election. He cited a “lack of preparedness” in Darfur as one of the reasons for his withdrawal, explaining in an interview with the BBC "the people of Darfur in the internally displaced people's camps asked the SPLM not to be involved in the election.” Darfur’s IDPs know their votes will not be counted properly, regardless of an international monitoring presence.

This is actually old news. As Reuters reported Friday, “Sudanese activists say the irregularities began with a flawed 2008 census, demarcating electoral constituencies and fraudulent voter registration.” A lovely example of this is when more than 1,900 security force members were registered to vote at a tiny police post in Khartoum where only five policemen were officially stationed. Sudanese civil society organizations continue to report outrageous situations like this one, but they fall on national and international deaf ears.

Simply put, Bashir refuses to delay the elections so he can check them off his list and use the event as political leverage later. It is difficult to accuse a sitting head of state of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court if he wins “democratic” elections, no matter how fraudulent.

And these elections will go through. The polls are already underway, and although the U.S. and others (EU, UN) have expressed dismay at Bashir’s unwillingness to postpone the elections, the stakes are not high enough for them to interfere – if Afghanistan’s elections took place, so will these. The world is more interested in the referendum for South Sudan’s independence than anything else, and Bashir is dangling this in front of the international community. The BBC reports...

Friday, April 9, 2010

P.W. Singer, Foreign Policy - Meet the Sims...and Shoot Them

The link between games and war goes all the way back to "boards" scratched onto the back of statues by Assyrian guards almost 3,000 years ago. Three millennia later, as the U.S. military recruits from, and is increasingly led by, a generation raised on Grand Theft Auto, real warfare is taking on the look and feel of a video game, from the aerial drones launching precision strikes at terrorists in remote hideouts in Afghanistan and Pakistan to the joystick-controlled robots defusing roadside explosives in Iraq. "The biggest change is that it's gone from being unique to being ubiquitous. It's everywhere now," Mark Sinclair, a staff vice president at military contractor General Dynamics, told a U.S. Navy journal.

Adam Hoschild, Mother Jones - Blood and Treasure
IN 1890, A BEARDED YOUNG POLISH SEAMAN made a trip up the Congo River as a steamboat officer and was appalled by the lust for riches he saw among his fellow Europeans. A decade later he finally got the experience onto paper. "A stream of manufactured goods, rubbishy cottons, beads and brass-wire" flowed into the interior, wrote Joseph Conrad in Heart of Darkness, "and in return came a precious trickle of ivory...The word 'ivory' rang in the air, was whispered, was sighed. You would think they were praying to it."

Eli Saslow, The Washington Post - For a look outside the presidential bubble, Obama reads 10 personal letters each day
Obama read the 10 letters in the folder on Jan. 8, but he responded to only a few. He typically returns five to 15 letters each week, aides said, and he tends to write back most regularly to level-headed critics, military veterans and destitute Americans who maintain their optimism. He gravitates toward messages that "inspire," said Valerie Jarrett, his close friend and adviser, and prefers mail that provides a "counterbalance to business in Washington" and transports him someplace else.
After Obama read Cline's letter, he took out one of his custom-made notecards -- thick slabs of white paper cut to the size of postcards, with the presidential seal embossed at the top.

Donald Morrison, The Financial Times - The Dreyfuss Affair
Dreyfus’s ordeal was the first big test of a modern justice system, and it defined one of the central issues of democracy: should the rule of law be applied consistently, or are there cases in which it should be bent to fit a current crisis or pressing national concern? Even today, hardly a month passes without an alleged misstep of justice somewhere in the world being labelled a “new Dreyfus Affair”. 

Stan Grossfield, The Boston Globe - Cleaned-up Hitter
“I probably smoked two joints, drank about three or four beers, got to the ballpark, took some [amphetamines], took a pain pill, drank a cup of coffee, chewed some tobacco, had a cigarette, and got up to the plate and hit,’’ Carbo said.  The Sox were four outs from elimination against Cincinnati’s Big Red Machine in Game 6 when Carbo came off the bench to smash a three-run home run into the center-field bleachers, tying the score at 6-6. The blast set up Carlton Fisk’s arm-waving, 12th-inning walkoff home run for the ages.

Sometimes I have trouble with my intrepid searching for all things random in weird for my weekly column here at D&D. This was not one of those times.

Our story this week begins (and ends) at the Liverpool Airport. The players? Gitta Jarant, 66, and Anke Anusic, 41, and Willi Jarant (91).

The three arrived to catch their flight home to Germany. Gitta and Anke pushing Willi in a wheelchair up to the check in counter. Willi was dressed for a vacation, relaxing in his wheelchair, sporting his dark sunglasses to protect him from the tropical Liverpool/Manchester sun. Yet, the agents there were concerned about Willi's ability to fly -- mostly due to his lack of breathing (mostly because he was dead, and had been for approximately 24 hours).

(more after the jump)

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

UPDATE as of (Thursday, 22:56 EST)
Russian complicity in Kyrgyz revolution confirmed by opposition party now in power. Please see the following Reuters piece here

This news is both unsurprising and troubling. Snap analysis soon.


UPDATE as of (Thursday, 10:52 EST)

For those of you still following this story, please read Simon Shuster's piece at Time, and Peter Leonard from the AP.

Information is still trickling out of Kyrgyzstan to the western media as this snap analysis goes to print -- we here at D&D are monitoring the situation as we go here, and should any of you have contacts in Kyrgyz, please pass their information on to us at demagoguesanddictators@gmail.com

First -- a thanks from our reader Drew, who sent us the link for following pictures from Bishkek -- a quick warning: these pictures are graphic, but important. They can be viewed here.

Background, News and D&D Snap Analysis After the Jump

Today in the NY Times, former Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Affairs, Bing West wrote an Op-ed outlining his plan to save Afghanistan by circumventing Hamid Karzai and focusing on bringing governance to Afghanistan at the local level. Mr. West puts it out there that having a strong military actually running the country from behind the scenes may in fact be the best case scenario for Afghanistan. As he points out this would be situation like in Pakistan where instead of the country having a military, the military would have a country, but at least it would be more stable than the Afghanistan we find ourselves with today.

This argument is certainly interesting, and I do not argue with Mr. Bing that what we have now in Afghanistan is certainly not a democracy considering the blatant evidence that Hamid Karzai stole the election. However, his plan for a strong man government backed by the military has a very serious flaw. Bing West assumes that the Afghan National Army (ANA) is actually a capable force. While the ANA is rated higher than the Afghan National Police (ANP) in the sense that they aren't actually extorting locals or running drugs like the police. However, you have to think about who is actually joining the ANA. Afghan families and tribes are not going to let their best men leave their homes to support a government that they have no faith in. From what I have heard from U.S. troops who have gone on patrol with members of the ANA is that a lot of them are the "scrubs" of Afghan society.

My readers may find this short documentary clip of interest. Its a british video journalist who is on patrol with British and Afghan troops. As you can tell, the ANA shows no discipline and are in fact High in the middle of a firefight!

I leave you to draw your own conclusions about this.

And that's my fifty cents (inflation...)

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

In case you haven't been following the news, Wikileaks.org recently posted a video showing American helicopter pilots firing on Iraqis in Baghdad in 2007.  I've embedded the shortest version below the fold.

I won't rehash the whole saga here - check NYT or WaPo for the background - but the short version is that among those killed in the attack were two Reuters employees.  Reuters has been pressing the US military for information about the death of their employees without success.  Additionally, the attitude, disposition, and actions of the pilots has been called into question.  See here, here, or here for some insight into the issue.

I have two primary takeaways.

First, without knowing the ROEs and situation, I'm hesitant to condemn the pilots.  While I too find their language overly-enthusiastic, that alone doesn't make their actions wrong. 

Monday, April 5, 2010

A great story this week from the New York Times about vets struggling with P.T.S.D. getting help from specially trained dogs.

In dozens of interviews, veterans and their therapists reported drastic reductions in P.T.S.D. symptoms and in reliance on medication after receiving a service dog.
Veterans rely on their dogs to gauge the safety of their surroundings, allowing them to venture into public places without constantly scanning for snipers, hidden bombs and other dangers lurking in the minds of those with the disorder.
P.T.S.D is a serious problem.  It's not as easy to spot and treat as a physical wound, and consequently it has historically been neglected.  Diagnosis and treatment has increased in recent decades, and awareness has grown.

Our vets deserve the only the best care and treatment, and if dogs help soldiers recover than they should get dogs.  Kudos to Senator Al Franken for writing the bill and spearheading the movement in the Senate to fund the program and to Secretary Gates for helping repair the broken veteran care system.  We've come a good ways from the Walter Reed debacle, and hopefully will only continue to improve from here.

Photo Courtesy of U.S. Army

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