One blogger’s personal bridge to nowhere

With missiles, geography just doesn’t matter

More foolhardy North Korea spitballing, this time from Greg Sheridan in The Australian, via Real Clear World:

Investment in missile defence is another precaution dictated by North Korea’s nuclear delinquency and here Obama foolishly is pulling back from Bush’s position. Missile defence, ineffective against large numbers of missiles, does have a good chance of working against a couple of missiles launched by a rogue regime.

Because an elaborate missile defense system in the Czech Republic will do wonders in intercepting short-range nuclear weapons launched from North Korea to Japan.


May 28, 2009 Posted by | North Korea | , , , | Leave a comment

Let’s make a plan for something that won’t happen

Fortunately, Michael O’Hanlon is around to tell us what to do in worst-case scenarios that even he admits are unlikely. With North Korea, he sees two options: either Pyongyang agrees to give up its nuclear program (uhh…has he been paying attention?), or…the terrorists will get it!

We might, for example, discover that North Korea had made contacts with a terrorist organization to explore the possible sale of plutonium (or even an assembled nuclear bomb). This scenario is unlikely – probably less likely, in fact, than a successful negotiation to dismantle the North Korean nuclear arsenal. But it cannot be dismissed.

And dismiss it O’Hanlon does not. He spends the next seven paragraphs describing the military procedures for enforcing the “quarantine” that will unlikely be required. This is the only insight in O’Hanlon’s piece beyond the realization that it’s “tough to deal with the North Koreans.” Maybe he should stick with informing us when things are going badly in bad places in the world.

May 28, 2009 Posted by | North Korea | , , | Leave a comment

Why striking a deal with the Taliban isn’t always that easy

Pakistan: we’ll let you have your Sharia in the Swat valley, you’ve just gotta disarm.


April 15, 2009 Posted by | Afghanistan | , | Leave a comment

Soviet Socialist Republic of Thailand

No Thailand?

No Red Thailand?

Yglesias, writing about unrest in Moldova, seems to veer a little far afield here:

Still, the larger issue is that political instability in former Soviet Republics embeds a lot of potentially problematic international conflicts. And the recession is fostering a lot of political instability. Not only in Moldova but also (via Ezra Klein) in Ukraine where, again, domestic political conflicts are tied in with geopolitical struggles between Russia and the West. And there’s also, it seems, trouble in Thailand. [emphasis mine]

Um…and there’s also instability in…Haiti.

April 9, 2009 Posted by | Asia, History | , , , | 1 Comment

Why shooting people based on sketchy tips from drug lords might not always be a good idea

I bet this happens more often than we know, though.

(via Passport)

March 31, 2009 Posted by | Afghanistan | | Leave a comment

Afghanistan’s graveyard of history

torabora1In Saturday’s New York Times, Peter Bergen rightly debunks the myth that Afghanistan is a “graveyard of empires.”

Since Alexander the Great, plenty of conquerors have subdued Afghanistan. In the early 13th century, Genghis Khan’s Mongol hordes ravaged the country’s two major cities. And in 1504, Babur, the founder of the Mughal Empire in India, easily took the throne in Kabul. Even the humiliation of 1842 did not last. Three and a half decades later, the British initiated a punitive invasion and ultimately won the second Anglo-Afghan war, which gave them the right to determine Afghanistan’s foreign policy.

But I think it’s a stretch to suggest that, because Babur ruled from Kabul in 1504, Afghanistan “might become the model of a somewhat stable Central Asian state” after U.S. intervention. Bergen is not a cheerleader, and his argument is not nearly so flimsy. But a better indicator of the phoniness of the “graveyard myth” than the history of past successful conquests of Afghanistan is the disturbing suggestion that there’s something about Afghanistan the place that causes empires to wither. Yes, there are mountains and rugged terrain and all sorts of geographic factors, but that’s not generally the sense I get when I hear the rumblings about Afghanistan exceptionalsim. It’s more like a Congo “heart of darkness” vibe, and this, I would argue, doesn’t often come with a side of racism. Debates about what in Afghan history and politics make it “better” or “worse” for invasion and occupation are one thing; a general intimation that qualities endemic to this foreboding place will doom your imperial ambitions is truly an excercise in myth-making.

(image from flickr user Michael Foley under a Creative Commons license)

March 30, 2009 Posted by | Afghanistan, History | , | Leave a comment

Was Johnny Appleseed a Kyrgyzi?

Previously unknown bit of random trivia: the Central Asian nation of Kyrgyzstan is “home to the genetic parent of all the apples of the planet.”  But that evidently has not been enough to keep the country well-off enough to turn down a $300 million bribe loan from Russia to close down an important U.S. base in the country.

Apples for a base?

Apples for a base?

(image from flickr user Don-Piefcone under a Creative Commons license)

February 9, 2009 Posted by | Asia, Foreign politics, Russia | , , | Leave a comment

Slumdog must just be too realistic…yes, that’s it

So the vastly overrated Slumdog Millionaire is flopping inspiring riots following its release in India.  I can’t say I’m surprised — the contrived, and entirely predictable, happy ending that enables Westerners’ decadent, guilt-free slum-gazing in the rest of the film does not appear to convince Indian audiences so unconcernedly — but this explanation in Time seems entirely to miss the mark.

“We see all this every day,” says Shikha Goyal, a Mumbai-based PR executive who left halfway through the film. “You can’t live in Mumbai without seeing children begging at traffic lights and passing by slums on your way to work. But I don’t want to be reminded of that on a Saturday evening.”

slumdog-millionaireSlumdog‘s problem is not that it is too real.  It is that it presents an entirely sensationalized depiction of these real-life slum scenes, flitting over them with bright shots for just enough time to provoke a reaction, but without any of the attendant thematic concerns.  Rather than a presentation of Mumbai’s everyday “real life,” Slumdog gives a caricature.  From a very worthy Slate review:

It traffics in some of the oldest stereotypes of the exoticized Other: the streetwise urchin in the teeming Oriental city. (The success of Slumdog has apparently given a boost to the dubious pastime of slum tourism—or “poorism,” as it’s also known.) And not least for American audiences, it offers the age-old fantasy of class and economic mobility, at a safe remove that for now may be the best way to indulge in it.

And to indulge in it through the conceit of a gameshow once-popular in the United States — aww, look at those Indians, now they have their own “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?”, too, how cute! — is to situate this “slum tourism” within a prism in which Americans can feel comfortable, and even, despite the plot’s painful predictability, experience some sort of dramatic tension.  The film, in other words, seems to offer the best of all possible worlds: abhorrent poverty, but a certain redemption; darkness and despair, but bright colors and a fast pace; the ostensible pursuit of love, but the undeniable allure of sex.  It is in the gaps between these crude tugs on the viewers’ sensibilities that the movie founders, and where this gaudily assembled pastiche ultimately comes completely undone.

(image from flickr user movies&movies2 under a Creative Commons license)

January 27, 2009 Posted by | India/Pakistan, Movies | , , | 4 Comments

Why the Mumbai terrorist attacks weren’t important

tajmahalGideon Rachman, on why the attacks in Mumbai don’t make his top five list of “what we will remember from 2008”:

So what is the fifth choice for 2008? Several readers pointed out that if the terrorist attacks in Mumbai had taken place in London or New York, I would have put them on the list without hesitation. True – and if the attacks had taken place in Mogadishu, I would definitely not have put them on the list. Doubtless, this says something unpleasant about the relative values placed by western journalists on lives around the world. But a more palatable explanation is that a terrorist attack assumes true geopolitical significance if it has global consequences. So if the Mumbai terror attacks provoke a war between India and Pakistan, they will indeed be one of the most significant events of the year. So far, thank goodness, that has not happened.

I buy Rachman’s first instinct much more than his cleaned-up, “more palatable” version.  What is the point, I must wonder, of making a predictive list of what the global “we” will remember, looking back on 2008, if you condition it with what may still happen?  9/11 certainly changed the entire world, but it was not yet clear, in October 2008, how it would do so.  The shockwaves of Mumbai are as powerful to those in India right now as were those in New York seven years ago, and if Rachman purports to be writing for “lives around the world,” he should consider that the lives of more than a billion people were more affected by what happened in Mumbai than the rise and fall of oil prices for the Western world.

(image of the Taj Mahal from flickr user Honza Soukup under a Creative Commons license)

December 23, 2008 Posted by | India/Pakistan | , , , | 1 Comment

Anglo-American nuclear cooperation

Turns out the idea of putting Pakistan’s nuclear weapons up on the auction block may not have been that far-fetched after all.  If Britain can do it, why not Pakistan?

December 22, 2008 Posted by | Brittania, India/Pakistan | , , | Leave a comment

How Much for Your Nukes?

(cross-posted at On Day One)

Here’s an interesting nuclear nonproliferation idea. Buy out countries’ nukes. Specifically, Pakistan’s, the benefit of which, in the words of a Pakistani nuclear physicist, has been limited to the ability to “destroy India and be destroyed in its response.”

Here’s Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens’ proposal:

How much?

How much for all of them?

This is the deal I have in mind. The government of Pakistan would verifiably eliminate its entire nuclear stockpile and the industrial base that sustains it. In exchange, the U.S. and other Western donors would agree to a $100 billion economic package, administered by an independent authority and disbursed over 10 years, on condition that Pakistan remain a democratic and secular state (no military rulers; no Sharia law). It would supplement that package with military aid similar to what the U.S. provides Israel: F-35 fighters, M-1 tanks, Apache helicopters. The U.S. would also extend its nuclear umbrella to Pakistan, just as Hillary Clinton now proposes to do for Israel.

A pipe dream? Not necessarily. People forget that the world has subtracted more nuclear powers over the past two decades than it has added: Kazakhstan, Belarus, Ukraine and South Africa all voluntarily relinquished their stockpiles in the 1990s. Libya did away with its program in 2003 when Moammar Gadhafi concluded that a bomb would be a net liability, and that he had more to gain by coming to terms with the West.

So in addition to the $700 billion economic stimulus package, taxpayers can embrace a $100 billion nuclear bailout bill? My guess is that this will be a tough sell. Further, Stephens’ imagined impositions sound a bit like aggressive nation-shaping under another name. And the key to the successes that Stephens cites is that they were voluntary abdications of the countries’ nuclear programs, not enticements to gain additional military assistance.

(image from flickr user OpenThreads under a Creative Commons license)

December 16, 2008 Posted by | India/Pakistan, U.S. Foreign policy | , , | 2 Comments

Women’s rights are no more than “stirring words”

In an otherwise mostly reasonable essay, Michael Crowley makes the rather repugnant insinuation that those who argue in favor of the war in Afghanistan from the standpoint of defending women’s rights against the horrific abuses of the Taliban just don’t understand the man’s world of realpolitik.

women-afghanistanShortly after the fall of the Taliban, in November 2001, Hillary Clinton, soon to be Obama’s woman at Foggy Bottom and a key voice in the Afghanistan debate, penned a Time essay arguing against the notion that imposing Western values there amounted to “cultural imperialism.” “Women’s rights are human rights,” Clinton wrote. “They are not simply American, or western customs.”

Stirring words, to be sure. But the day may come when cutting deals in Afghanistan means consigning some women, if not to the brutal life of the high Taliban era, to strict Islamic rules sure to offend the likes of Hillary Clinton. It may well be, in other words, that America’s moral and strategic interests are beginning to diverge in Afghanistan in a way that supporters of the “good war” may not yet appreciate. [emphasis mine]

What makes Crowley’s dismissal of “the likes of Hillary Clinton” so disturbing is that he cites, in the same article, the disgusting incident of two Taliban supporters spraying acid in three teenage girls faces as simply a harbinger of what other rank transgressions might ensue under the Taliban.  To make a grudging calculation that, once all factors are considered, a compromise with the Taliban is advisable, even if it may to some extent curtail Afghani women’s difficultly reclaimed rights, is one thing.  To minimize the legitimacy of defending women’s rights qua rationale for war as mere “stirring words,” and to imply, essentially, that feminist activists like Clinton may just not “get it,” is quite another.

(image of Afghani women from flickr user Feinstein International Center under a Creative Commons license)

December 16, 2008 Posted by | Afghanistan, Feminism, U.S. Foreign policy | , , | Leave a comment

Indonesian beer-mergency

Grab an Indonesian Bintang while you still can.

Bintang...your only option in Indonesia.

Josh at Passport sees an impending catastrophe looming in Indonesia.

Indonesia may soon be in danger of running out of alchohol. The Muslim country has only one legal importer and charges sin taxes of up to 400 percent. After a government crackdown on the thriving black market, many bars are on the verge of going dry. With young Indonesians increasingly acquring a taste for drinking, the BBC reports, that might be just what the government wants.

Except it won’t work out as well as the government might hope.  A shortage of beer does not mean that young people stop drinking.  Just look what vodka-deprived Russians are turning to.

Indonesian officials may want to give some of the new South Sudanese lager a try.

(image from flickr user DaVrolik under a Creative Commons license)

December 16, 2008 Posted by | Asia | , | Leave a comment

Insert “they” and “us” here

In a WaPo op-ed, Patrick French makes the tired claim that terrorists “they” hate the United States India “us” for our freedoms.  And, naturally, anyone who points to any other possible reasons for the terrorist attacks in Mumbai is an apologist, a sympathizer, and/or morally barren.

The terrorists themselves offered little explanation, and made no clear demands. Yet even as the siege continued, commentators were making chilling deductions on their behalf: their actions were because of American foreign policy, or Afghanistan, or the harassment of Indian Muslims. Personal moral responsibility was removed from the players in the atrocity.

mumbaiI do not have any insight into the Mumbai militants terrorists’ (lest I come under the wrath of right-wing semanticians who contend that anything less than using the t-word is also a moral abdication) motivations; perhaps French is right in dismissing the reasons provided by his unnamed “commentators.”  Yet, even if not applicable in this case, the suggestions that French cites are not “chilling deductions,” and it is offensive and irresponsible to impugn this analysis as made “on [terrorists’] behalf.”

That terrorists may be exercised by ramifications of American foreign policy, or the fallout of regional conflicts, are as sensible — and in fact, probably more so — initial hypotheses as the throwaway assumption that the actors in question “hate freedom.”  Moreover, the two motivational tacks — the “rational” and the irrational — are not mutually exclusive (a Pakistani terrorist can be angered by India’s Kashmir policy and espouse an intolerant and hateful outlook toward India’s democratic values), and nor does the former type of impetus at all excuse the heinous means by which terrorists opt to lodge their protest (see Bill Ayers, persistently complete lack of understanding thereof).

The title of French’s op-ed, “They Hate Us — and Indian Is Us,” is staggering in the extent that it repeats — and transposes to another continent — the off-the-mark, self-exculpatory, analytically hollow, and utterly unhelpful trope of “freedom-hating.”  Similar, too, is the strategy that allows him to brand anyone who ventures a more nuanced explanation as an apologist who essentially is working for terrorists.

Patrick French may insists that “India Is Us,” but, some of “us” — and presumably some of India, as well as some of the other side of this unproductive dichotomy, the otherized “they” — respectfully disagree.  But then, that probably just puts “us” right in the pockets of terrorists.

(image from flickr user stuti ~ under a Creative Commons license)

December 8, 2008 Posted by | Asia, Conservatives, India/Pakistan, media, U.S. Foreign policy | , | 2 Comments

As far as prank phone calls go…

What’s worse than either agreeing to shoot baby seals from a helicopter with a faux French president or hanging up on the U.S. president elect twice?

Almost starting a war between two nuclear-armed states that are already in tense relations with one another, that’s what.

December 7, 2008 Posted by | Asia, Foreign politics, Humor, India/Pakistan | Leave a comment