Zimbabwe on Edge

Watch this one very closely.  We could be witnessing the end of the Mugabe dictatorship. Or heading over the cliff to incredible bloodshed (and perhaps both).

Published in: on March 31, 2008 at 2:50 pm  Comments (2)  

The War (Race) Is Over

So why does the media keep acting as if Hillary Clinton had some quadruple bank shot possibility of winning the Democratic nomination.

Absent a total meltdown by Obama–the old “unless I’m caught in bed with a dead woman or a live boy” routine–there is not shot.

Point in fact:

The trickle of Democratic superdelegates declaring for Barack Obama is turning into more of a gusher, fast closing Hillary Clinton’s one lead in the nomination race and ratcheting up pressure on her to defend her candidacy.

Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota is announcing her support this morning. The Wall Street Journal reported today that all seven Democratic US House members from North Carolina plan to come out for Obama in one fell swoop before that state’s May 6 primary…

She is the 64th superdelegate to endorse Obama since Super Tuesday on Feb. 5. Obama, boasting a more than 6-1 edge in superdelegate endorsements since Super Tuesday, is quickly catching up to Clinton in that count. He already leads in overall delegates and popular vote heading into the next contest, the April 22 primary in Pennsylvania. The 795 superdelegates — elected officials, party leaders, and others — are likely to decide the nominee because neither Clinton nor Obama appear likely to reach the clinching number just from those delegates awarded by primaries and caucuses. (my emphasis)

The superdelegates who are staying out are not leaning towards Clinton. I would bet most are like Kloubacher had been–clearly leaning Obama but looking for a final knockout punch. Some (like her and Richardson) have clearly determined than absent the final final final blow, the race is getting too destructive and are going to insert themselves shifting the media away from Clinton. Clinton started off with a huge superdelegate lead because of her clout (and her husband’s) within the party.

A little delegate math from Chris Bowers:


Published in: on March 31, 2008 at 9:56 am  Comments (1)  
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Sadr Blog Roundup


John Robb: “Maliki routed”
Spencer Ackerman: “This isn’t a ceasefire statement, it’s a manifesto.”
Juan Cole: “Iran Brokers Call for Ceasefire”

So the backstory (Cole most info. on this) is that delegations from PM Maliki’s own party and allied group (Dawa and SIIC respectively) against the Prime Minister it would appear goes to the Holy Seminary City of Qom in Iran (where Moqtada is studying to become an Ayatollah) and makes a deal with him. Sadr sets the terms of the ceasefire and it appears keeps very open the door to violence should his demands not be met. Put a fork in Maliki.

For Robb: “Further, any internal dissension [within the Mahdi Army] that existed before the event due to a ceasefire is now gone.” The key as his analysis always points out is not large scale command and control structures imposed from above–or attempted to be imposed in the case of Maliki–but local power from the street, networked organization, and playing defense as prime strategy.

For the official spin from the right, Ed Morrisey here (“Remind Me Again Who Is Losing Basra?”). Easy answer: Not the guy he thinks.

Even Allahpundit (co-blogger on Hot Air with Morrisey) isn’t buying that line.

It does put an interesting take on this (h/t Obsidian Wings):

Randy Scheunemann, the McCain campaign’s senior foreign policy adviser [said] “Would you rather have the Maliki government in control, or the Iranian-backed special groups in control, or Al Qaeda in control?”

Well given that the Quds Force did broker this deal in Iraq….asking about would you rather have is the wrong question.  Better to ask what you do have.  The Maliki has never and will never be in control.  That fact has been made crystal clear by this episode.  The Mahdi Army gains further cred, which means (as Robb points out) any casualties they took in this fight–particularly by standing up to US firepower–will be filled and then some by new recruits.  No government in Iraq can gain legitimacy after being installed by the US.  Period.

Luke 4 Exegesis


When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
18‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’
20And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’ 22

The Christian tradition often reads this passage as the initiation of Jesus as the Messiah. Today the Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing means that the Scripture is fulfilled (i.e. the Messiah has arrived) because Jesus is the Messiah.

That is a venerable reading, and I don’t want to criticize so much as suggest an alternate reading.

In the Hebrew tradition, hearing is to not only hear say words but to believe them and act by them. So you don’t just Hear the words of the Torah, you embody, you enact, you live out the Torah.

Today the Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing according to this way of understanding, is something like the Scripture is fulfilled–i.e. the lame walk, the oppressed freed, the year of Favor proclaimed–only in the doing of that message by the hearers. I.e. By the people not Jesus per se. Or at least Jesus as part of the larger group.

It adds a conditional sense to the meaning–the scripture will only be fulfilled in your hearing, otherwise its just words on a page or vibrations in the air between my vocal chords and your eardrums.

If we do not hear, truly hear, the scriptures, they are not fulfilled. “They have eyes but do not see, ears but not hear.”

In the US where 1/100 citizens are incarcerated these words ring: to proclaim release to captives. In a world where children in poor countries become blind through water-borne illnesses: recovery of sight to the blind.

Traditionally when a New Testament writer quotes a line or two from the Scriptures (meaning the Hebrew Scriptures) the author implies the entire section of scripture (chapter or psalm) within which the quotation is embedded. This Lukan passage quotes the Prophet Isaiah Chapter 61 (from the section of the work called Third Isaiah).

And if you read Chapter 61, there is this interesting verse:

6 And you will be called priests of the LORD,
you will be named ministers of our God.

The reading I’ve offered above, is an exposition of this verse. By the hearing and doing of the Scriptures (fulfilling them), one becomes (or expresses what one already is perhaps) the identity of a minister of our God. And this God as Isaiah 61 says is a “God who loves justice and hates robbery and iniquity (v.8).”

Published in: on March 31, 2008 at 8:41 am  Leave a Comment  
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Iraq Act IV: A Responsible Plan

The Plan can be downloaded and read as well as the summary.

The Plan is built around two foci:  ending US involvement in Iraq and (more interestingly) undoing the mindset/architecture that got the US into Iraq in the first place.  In this the Responsible Plan sounds most like the Obama Doctrine.

As with all the plan in this thread, from the Baker-Hamilton through Obama’s to this one, all can be criticized I suppose for assuming that reconciliation can be achieved in Iraq.  I tend to lean towards the Biden-Gelb plan, but only again if chosen by the Iraqis.

The Responsible Plan (p.14) then goes on to call for the creation of a Nation-Building & Reconstruction (a la Thomas Barnett) except that they want to put this in the State Department. This seems highly mistaken–putting it within the State Department that is.  But the idea itself is sorely needed.

Then Part II, the most important part of this document in my mind–restoring transparency and accountability in the governance, in the wake of the erosion of the rule of law under President Bush (43).

It starts  on p. 18 of the Document:  eliminate signing statements (huge), end torture, revise FISA (stop illegal wiretapping).

Then the re-building of the Army (a new GI Bill).

The real strengths of this document is not the Responsible Plan Itself on Iraq, but on the future of US governance–state Department, Military, Executive Branch, etc.

Published in: on March 30, 2008 at 10:57 am  Leave a Comment  

RIP Dith Pran

The eye that opened to the world the horrors of the Killing Fields has died.

Published in: on March 30, 2008 at 10:04 am  Leave a Comment  


The cover story of this issue of Newsweek investigates surrogate childbirth.  As the article notes, it has detractors across the political spectrum:  from the social/cultural conservative right because they feel it weakens the traditional family; from some quarters of the left, that it turns women into transactional baby producing slaves.

Apparently the largest segment of surrogates are military wives.  Don’t know what that does for a pro-family pro-war social conservative, if anything.

This graph made my head spin:

In the course of reporting this story, we discovered that many of these women are military wives who have taken on surrogacy to supplement the family income, some while their husbands are serving overseas. Several agencies reported a significant increase in the number of wives of soldiers and naval personnel applying to be surrogates since the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Also military wives are high on the list of surrogates because of the military’s excellent health coverage.

I have no idea what I think about this issue, but what I like about this article is that it simply looks into the lives of people involved in these relationships–parents, surrogates, babies–including the potential pitfalls and joys.  As usual it’s far more beautiful, painful, and real (it would seem) than any of the stereotypes in the media and political discourse let on.

Published in: on March 30, 2008 at 9:54 am  Comments (1)  

opium brides afghanistan

Harrowing and tragic story in Newsweek Int’l on Afghan farmers who now in debt (to opium traffickers and the Taliban) are now selling their daughters to cover the financial difference.

It’s a stark reminder among other things that low-level drug dealers, whether in inner city Baltimore or Eastern Afghanistan, don’t make the coin, it’s the higher ups that do.

A snippet:

The family’s heartbreak began when Shah borrowed $2,000 from a local trafficker, promising to repay the loan with 24 kilos of opium at harvest time. Late last spring, just before harvest, a government crop-eradication team appeared at the family’s little plot of land in Laghman province and destroyed Shah’s entire two and a half acres of poppies. Unable to meet his debt, Shah fled with his family to Jalalabad, the capital of neighboring Nangarhar province. The trafficker found them anyway and demanded his opium. So Shah took his case before a tribal council in Laghman and begged for leniency. Instead, the elders unanimously ruled that Shah would have to reimburse the trafficker by giving Khalida to him in marriage. Now the family can only wait for the 45-year-old drugrunner to come back for his prize. Khalida wanted to be a teacher someday, but that has become impossible. “It’s my fate,” the child says.

The government crop eradication program in question has been pushed by the US against elements of the Afghan government (and even some NATO members).   One suggested way out of this is to buy up the opium (NATO) and find a use for it that does not involve turning into in heroin and ending up on the streets of Paris.  (Or alternatively and more controversially, control the drug trade).  But crop eradication is clearly not the answer.  This year will see record profits (for the warlords and Taliban and crooked government/police go betweens) but not for the farmers depicted in this story.  The eradication program only furthers enmity towards the NATO forces/mission.  You can’t win hearts and minds by destroying a man’s livelihood, so he is forced to sell his daughter to a trafficker–think about what that poor girl’s life is going to become for a moment.  Death would likely be a sweet release compared to what she is likely to endure.

Published in: on March 30, 2008 at 9:32 am  Leave a Comment  
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Sadr Ceasefire? (w/Update)

Moqtada al Sadr has called for his fighters off the street in exchange for amnesty for his captured folk and the end of US/Iraqi Gov’t raids on his militia.

Here is part of his statement (courtesy BBC):

“Because of the religious responsibility, and to stop Iraqi blood being shed, and to maintain the unity of Iraq and to put an end to this sedition that the occupiers and their followers want to spread among the Iraqi people, we call for an end to armed appearances in Basra and all other provinces.

“Anyone carrying a weapon and targeting government institutions will not be one of us.”

If you caught that dig, the sedition of the occupiers followers means that the Shia Iraqi Government of Nuri al-Maliki and the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, whose Badr Corps is de facto the Iraqi Army.

What I have not seen anyone comment upon is that this ceasefire offer is conditional in its formulation. What if Maliki and Crew do not proclaim an amnesty, release some prisoners, and cease their raids? Will the JAM (Jaish-al Mahdi, Mahdi Army) then re-break the truce and return to attack mode?

There is some discrepancy whether the US Army was given a heads up by Maliki that this attack was coming, but either because the Iraqi Army was unable to defeat the Mahdi Army (either in Sadr City in E. Baghdad or in Basra), the US was called in with air strikes. Air strikes. In a country said Army is occupying. Meaning civilians are now dead.

Spencer Ackerman posted a letter a friend of his in Baghdad. This unnamed person predicts quite accurately what is unfolding as of today (my emphasis):

That said, it looks like the cease-fire’s mostly holding, because if it truly disintegrates things in Baghdad will be A LOT worse (much more street fighting, a lot more EFPs and rocket attacks, etc.). I think it all depends on whether the Basra fighting drags on for a while or wraps up.

My complete guess is that it will wrap up sooner rather than later, because the militias will make the same decision Sunni insurgents made over and over again, and just fade into the crowd after putting up some resistance. Their power in the south is as much political as military; I don’t necessarily think that Maliki planting a flag in the center of town will really change things in the long-term. So I guess I’m anticipating something close to the “best-case scenario” — which, this being Iraq, pretty much means that a lot of people will die and things won’t change, as opposed to a lot of people dying just to make things worse than they were before. That said, I think I’m more optimistic about this than a lot of people.

That is the clearest description of the realty of Iraq I’ve read ever I think. All these groups have to do is wait out the US Army and be able to defeat the Iraqi Army (or at least not be defeated by them).

Update I: Speaking of Ackerman, here he is on the LiberalOasis Radio Show discussing foreign policy. They discuss his very good article on the Obama Doctrine and McCain as Bush-Plus.

Listen to one of his final point. The reason foreign fighters (aka al-Qaeda in Iraq) enter Iraq is that they are shown photos of Abu Ghraib and the American occupation.

Update II:  If you want to see how this story of Sadr’s call for a ceasefire gets interpreted/spun on the we’re winning in Iraq right, this piece from Ed Morissey.  A couple of corrections to Ed’s piece.  1)The British leaving did not create a power vacuum in Basra–the British never controlled Basra.  For a year or more they were holed up taking mortar fire on their base.   2)While Captain Ed clearly grasps the intra-Shia nature of the conflict, his pro-war outlook keeps him blinded to the fact that Sadr is playing it cagey as always (lying low) and that the Iraqi Army is really fighting for the pro-Iranian Badr Corps not al-Maliki’s central government.  3)The ceasefire has been called only because the US had to get involved via air strikes (i.e. the Iraqi Army can’t beat the Mahdi Army without the US).  Every time the US has to send in air attacks to defeat the Mahdi Army backing Maliki, Maliki is further seen as a tool of the occupation and loses legitimacy.  Remember for Shia theology, the image of the persecuted, holy warrior is the most important source of legitimacy.

Reports of Sadr’s imminent demise have been greatly exaggerated every year of this conflict by compatriots of Ed’s.  I wouldn’t so easily count him out.

McCain’s First General Election Ad

Sad shot of his days in captivity.

One thing from it getting play is the rather strange formulation at the end:  “John McCain The American President Americans Have Been Waiting For.”

Why the American President?  Why not just The President Americans Have been Waiting For?  As opposed to say The American President non-Americans Have Been Waiting For–that’s Obama so not that one?

What about the reverse (indicating a non-American President possibly?)

Michael Crowley in TNR writes the following:

I’m pretty sick of the obsessive rhetoric-parsing game that’s been going on lately. And yet: That’s an awfully conspicuous formulation when your opponent has been accused of being unpatriotic and of murky foreign origin. All the more so given that it echoes Obama’s line, “we’re the ones we’ve been waiting for.” Am I reading too much into it?

Perhaps, perhaps not Michael.  I’ll give my alternate theory—he’s still worried about being seen as constitutionally ineligible to hold the office of the Presidency from being born in the Panama Canal (possibly).   Nice preemptive strike in that context.  The American President…[I’m only being half-serious on this last point].

Published in: on March 28, 2008 at 5:07 pm  Leave a Comment