Political News Latin America

The big news here the last week has been the reported death of Manuel Marulanda, the leader of the FARC (forces armadas de colombianos revolucionaries), the Colombian left-ist cum drug warlord group that has been fighting a guerrilla insurgency for decades.  Marulanda’s death has been proclaimed about 10 times previously so yet to be determined whether this is for real.  But if so, potentially huge news for that country.

In other news, President of Nicaragua Daniel Ortega–whom John McCain lumps in with Hamas as leaders that want Obama to be president and that the rest of us should take our cues accordingly which is ludicrous if the Arizona Senator had ever spent five minutes in this country but there it is—is heading to Iran.

Ortega, former head of the Sandinista government in the 80s, blacklisted by the US.  Quite ironic given the whole Iran-Contra affair, wherein the Reagan Administration illegally funneled weapons to Ayatollah Khomenei’s Iran (whom the US was and still technically is at war with) in order to help repeal a possibly loose cannon named Saddam Hussein whom the US also happened to fund and arm in order to attack Islamist Iran.  The moneys from those sales went to fund the Contras, the anti-Sandinista, US-backed counter revolutionaries.

Rich in historical irony.  Like Cuba blackballing a small little dinky Latin America country works extremely well.

Published in: on May 26, 2008 at 7:09 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Granada Thread 1

La Merced Church in Granada  (so beautiful, best view of the city from the bell tower)

Published in: on May 26, 2008 at 7:00 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Statue of Ruben Dario (Most Famous of Nicaragua’s Many Poets)

Managua’s Old Cathedral destroyed in the Earthquake of 1972.


Sorry for a few days away.  Was having some trouble uploading photos so I’ve gone to taking some from google images like the one above.

We stayed in Managua for a few days.  Not much to report.  The city was wiped out in the tragic earthquake so everything is post 70s and pretty ugly.  Other that is than this statue, the church, and a wicked history museum across the way which houses some great pre-colombiano (prior to the arrival of Europeans) art.

Published in: on May 26, 2008 at 6:55 pm  Comments (1)  
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We’ve Arrived

In Managua.  Day two.  Staying in a beautiful place (Hotel Los Robles).  Have more to report later but so far so good.  

Published in: on May 23, 2008 at 1:26 pm  Leave a Comment  

Honeymoon: Destination Nicaragua

My wife (first time I’ve written that now) and I leave for our honeymoon tomorrow. I hope to be blogging in some updates periodically. The easiest way to keep up will be to subscribe to the RSS on the upper right side of the homepage.

We fly into Managua tomorrow. A day or two there and then off to the south. Grenada–bastion of the Conservative Party historically–then to Lake Nicaragua. Some time on the coast, then to Leon–home of the Liberals. Perhaps a tour into the mountains (central-north), coffee growing areas as well as places that maintain the scars of the Civil War.

The trip is rounded out with a more relaxing, laying on the beach week at the Corn Islands (off the East Coast of the country).

If anyone has been (hint hint Marco) and has some recommendations, feel free to leave them in the comments. Much appreciated.

La Paz.

Oh, and I’m experimenting with Twitter (username: cdierkes), so you can catch me over there as well.

Published in: on May 21, 2008 at 6:42 pm  Comments (3)  

William Lind on Iraq

One of the foremost theorists of Fourth Generation Warfare on why there is no Iraq:

The defining reality in Iraq is that there is no state. Because there is no state in Iraq, there is also no government. Orders issued in Baghdad have no impact because there are no state institutions to carry them out. Government institutions such as parliament and positions such as cabinet minister have no substance. Power comes from having a relationship with a militia, not a government office. The “Iraqi Security Forces” are groups of Shi’ite militias, which exist to fight other militias. They take orders from militia leaders, not the government. Government revenues are slush funds for militia leaders to pay their militiamen. The whole edifice Ambassador Crocker and General Petraeus described exists only as a figment of the Bush administration’s imagination.

This is why Andrew Sullivan’s recent turn to “empirical” possible good news in Iraq is only good news for the Badr Corps Militia.  The government to the degree it exists (which isn’t much) exists to support the militias not the reverse.

Lind again:

In answer to a question before one of the committees, General Petraeus gave a particularly vivid example of how words disconnected from reality can deceive. (In this case the deception is no doubt self-deception.) He said, “We’ve got to continue. We have our teeth into the jugular, and we need to keep it [sic] there.” In a column in the April 13 Washington Post, David Broder wrote, “The general clearly likes that phrase, because he used it twice more during his visit to The Post.”

In Fourth Generation war, non-state opponents, such as those we face in Iraq and Afghanistan, have no jugular. They have no single point of vulnerability an opponent can hit to bring them down. (They may have such critical vulnerabilities internally, but only they can hit them, as al-Qaeda in Iraq seems to have done in alienating its Sunni base.) For outside forces such as ourselves, Fourth Generation war is war of the capillaries. What we have our teeth into in Iraq is a jellyfish.

The strategy of a unified non-sectarian Iraqi state with a strong central government is at odds both with what the Iraqi political actors themselves are doing and the surge/Awakening tactics.

Look at the reality.  The Iraqi Army is in essence The Peshmerga (Kurdish milita that controls/protects the Kurdish autonomous zone) and the Badr Corps (the milita that supports a Shia-autonomous zone in the South thereby disempowering the central gov’t).  The latter of which is trained and funded by Iran and the US simultaneously though those two are in the midst of saber rattling/proxy violence.  The US Army supported the creation of Sons of Iraq/Local Concerned Citizens Groups among the Sunnis–i.e. Militias.  And the Mahdi Army.  Another militia.  Making the US Army a Militia being used by other militias in a militia on militia fight.

The Sons of Iraq (i.e. formerly the Sunni Insurgency, Baathist and soft Islamist tribal) took out (mostly) the Salafi jihadist militia known as al-Qaeda Between the Two Rivers.  Maliki and the Badrists are in full throated intra-Shia civil conflict (which was predicted and inevitable) neither of whom the US should really have a stake in.  Both of whom will realign the second the US starts its withdrawal and the Sunni Sons of Iraq militia goes back after the Shia militias.

The central issue is the political reality does not match the military reality.  The guys who have power are the militias and Provincial Elections only hides this fact.  Namely that the pecking order is militia then government not the other way around.  And the US strategy and policy of keeping US troops in there (like McCain suggests) is predicated on flipping the mentality from militia-tribe-family-clan first to government first.  Get real.  Ain’t gonna happen.

Lind’s recommendations:

What should we do? First, we must understand what “winning” in Iraq means. It does not mean that Iraq becomes an American satellite. That remains the goal of the Bush administration and the neocons, but it is not and never was attainable.

Winning in Iraq simply means that a state re-emerges there. The rise of a new state in Iraq means defeat for al-Qaeda and other non-state entities, who are our real enemies. States don’t like competition, and real states do not permit non-state entities to exist on their territory (unless they are actually proxies the state plans to use against other states).

Second, we must accept the now well-proven fact that we cannot re-create a state in Iraq. We have tried for five years and we have nothing to show for it beyond 4,000 dead, tens of thousands wounded, and an empty treasury. The problem is legitimacy. Any state institutions we create or overtly support will not be accepted by the Iraqi people as legitimate. That is generally true of governments created and installed by foreign occupiers. The local response is, “Vichy ptui.”

A new state can only arise in Iraq independently of our efforts and indeed opposed to foreign occupation. We have to get out of the way and let it happen. It may not. There is no guarantee. There is, however, a guarantee that we cannot make it happen, so getting out of the way is the more promising road to victory. Strategy dictates that we come home, not as an acknowledgement of defeat but as a final bid to win.

Third, we must face the fact that a real Iraqi state is likely to be close to Iran. The solution is not to bomb Iran but to settle our differences—what diplomats call a rapprochement. Tehran has offered us a general settlement on quite generous terms. We should take them up on it. If the U.S. and Iran are no longer enemies, the fact that a new Iraqi state is allied with Iran is not a problem.

George Packer on Fall of Conservatism

This piece which is rightfully generating a great deal of thoughtful response is excellent.  Link here.

My favorite graf:

In retrospect, the Reagan Presidency was the high-water mark of conservatism. “In some respects, the conservative movement was a victim of success,” Wilentz concludes. “With the Soviet Union dissolved, inflation reduced to virtually negligible levels, and the top tax rate cut to nearly half of what it was in 1980, all of Ronald Reagan’s major stated goals when he took office had been achieved, leaving perplexed and fractious conservatives to fight over where they might now lead the country.” Wilentz omits one important failure. According to Buchanan, who was the White House communications director in Reagan’s second term, the President once told his barber, Milton Pitts, “You know, Milt, I came here to do five things, and four out of five ain’t bad.” He had succeeded in lowering taxes, raising morale, increasing defense spending, and facing down the Soviet Union; but he had failed to limit the size of government, which, besides anti-Communism, was the abiding passion of Reagan’s political career and of the conservative movement. He didn’t come close to achieving it and didn’t try very hard, recognizing early that the public would be happy to have its taxes cut as long as its programs weren’t touched. And Reagan was a poor steward of the unglamorous but necessary operations of the state. Wilentz notes that he presided over a period of corruption and favoritism, encouraging hostility toward government agencies and “a general disregard for oversight safeguards as among the evils of ‘big government.’ ” In this, and in a notorious attempt to expand executive power outside the Constitution—the Iran-Contra affair—Reagan’s Presidency presaged that of George W. Bush.

I’ve found it fascinating to watch the candidacy of Ron Paul, a resurgent (neo?)paleo-conservativism (The American Conservative has a helluva group blog) as well as the rise of a Reformist conservatism (a la The American Scene).   In the breakup of the conservative movement, the intellectual stew is quite rich.  But electorally the Republicans are nowhere near having bottomed out.  Congressionally that will occur this Fall and perhaps in 2010 as well depending on whether they hew to their fundamentalist right.  Presidentially we will see.

Yglesias on McCain’s Foreign Policy

I think this deserves a full quotation of the post (my emphasis):

Washington Post correctly says that John McCain is “distorting history” as he criticized Barack Obama’s pro-negotiations position. The United States really only has two experiences with a sustained effort at the Bush/McCain approach to diplomacy. One would be our effort to deny recognition to Communist China during the Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson administrations. This, it’s generally acknowledged, was a strategic fiasco that denied us the opportunity to gain leverage vis-à-vis the Soviet Union. Indeed, it was a fiasco of such enormous proportions that Richard Nixon’s role in undoing it actually manages to stack up in a non-trivial way against his otherwise terrible record in office.

The other is our fifty year effort to starve the people of Cuba into rebelling against Fidel Castro. McCain actually defends continuing this policy, but everyone with a functioning brain understands that it’s been a ludicrous failure. So that’s the path Bush has been taking with Syria and Iran and used to take with North Korea. McCain wants to keep on taking it, put North Korea back under the interdict, and perhaps add Russia to the disfavored list. Like McCain’s apparent belief that it would be better if we’d spent another decade or two fighting in Vietnam, it really calls into question whether he has any understanding of what he’s talking about.

Published in: on May 21, 2008 at 1:35 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Bible as Literature (plus Theologians)

I’ve been a little busy, (see here) so I’m late coming to this excellent post (that nevertheless I have some disagreements with) by Matthew entitled God too Important to be Left to Theologians. Since I’m studying theology let me defend their role for a second. [If the meaning is God Too Important to only be left to theologians, I actually agree quite strongly.]

This is a longish quotation from the piece but it spells out nicely the key stance: (more…)

Published in: on May 20, 2008 at 6:33 pm  Leave a Comment  

Reply to Goldfarb on Obama

From Weekly Standard:

First of all, I’m not clear on what the difference is between preconditions and preparations. I’m just a knuckle-dragging warmonger, and perhaps I don’t perfectly understand the distinction, so someone will have to spell it out for me. Preparations sounds like scheduling, catering, and protocol, i.e. there is a huge difference, because preparations are meaningless. Unless, of course, the preparations consist of making sure A’jad doesn’t blurt out something about wiping Israel off the map in the middle of the summit–but that sounds suspiciously like a precondition to me.

I don’t think Michael is a knuckledragging warmonger, but the difference between a precondition and preparation is pretty clear or should be.  If not, here it is.

Relative to Iran (since this is the context of the statement & analysis):

A precondition:  Just that.  Without a condition beforehand.

A precondition for talks would require the other country to do something tangible in order to achieve talks.  Talks in this regard are like a reward for good behavior.

e.g. Iran would stop all material aid to Hezbollah and/or Hamas prior to talks.  Prior to Iran taking such action no talks. Unless they do so, forget about it.

Preparation is preparing, laying groundwork–i.e. process.  Imagine a scenario where Obama sends the Secretary of State say to meet with their Foreign Minister.  They describe what will be on the agenda.  They lay out the terms of the debate, what is open to discussion, what is not, what are the go/no-go lines diplomatically.  Whether back channels are to be employed or not.  If so, how.  So that if and when there are another set of higher level talks (perhaps involving President Obama) there are no surprises.

But no preconditions put on these talks.

An easy way to put this is a precondition is an if-then statement.  If you Iran Do X,  then we the US will meet with you.  If you do not do X, then we will not.

And contrary to Goldfarb’s argument, Obama was asked about being willing to meet with the leaders of said rogue nations (from the US pov) in his first year without preconditions and he said yes.  And Joe Klein’s point still holds–that he hasn’t explicitly stated Ahmadinejad.  Goldfarb’s evidence to the contrary here, is not as conclusive as he thinks.  Obama goes meta in answering a direct question about Iran’s President.

McCain on the other hand is now arguing that Ahmadinejad represents the mouthpiece of the Supreme Leader.  That’s a charitable read of McCain’s statement I might add.  A less charitable one is that he doesn’t know the President of Iran is not the read leader of the country.  An even less charitable read is that he does know that and is lying to play the anti-Semite card via implication against Obama.

Even the most charitable interpretation is open to serious dispute given all the reports of the Supreme Leader balking at Ahmadinejad.  e.g. Letting students Chant “Death to Mahmoud” in public without a crackdown.  Taking A’Jad off the nuclear power/weapon issue.  Pushing for anti-A’jad clerics in the latest round of elections for the Guardian Council (which elects the Supreme Leader).

But McCain doesn’t care about subtlety on this issue.  All he has at this point is Obama is a weak Democrat who loves terrorists and can’t protect America.

Published in: on May 20, 2008 at 5:11 pm  Leave a Comment  
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