Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Monday, May 30, 2011

Pragramatic Flexibility vs Doctrinaire Foreign Policy

So the latest in Libya is that 8 high ranking officers in the Libyan army are defecting to the rebels. This comes after a series of cabinet officials, including the Oil Minister and Foreign Minister, have defected. Qaddafi is rapidly losing friends. The time is coming soon when Qaddafi will be hold up in some bunker somewhere with a thousand or so "dead enders."

Meanwhile, in Syria, the military has "surrounded" several towns (see BBC story here). Over a thousand people have been killed. However, because of Syria's military strength, alliance with Iran and sensitive quasi-peace with Israel, the world has largely taken a hands off approach.

Perhaps, more worrying, China has declared martial law in a number of cities in Inner Mongolia where demonstrations have taken place (see story here). To expect the world to react to China the same way they react to Libya (or even Syria) is just absurd. We cannot hope to move China with military force. Nor can we expect that economic sanctions against China would be a realistic option.

The critics of President Obama's reaction to Libya have focussed on the lack of a "doctrine" that would be consistently applied around the world. But what I like about the President's approach is its pragmatism and its flexibilty. Syria and Libya are doing exactly the same things. If Obama were to adopt the doctrinaire approach favored by the right, we should be bombing Damascus right now. But I doubt even McLieberman and the other neo-cons would advocate doing that to China. Obama's policy recognizes that different countries require different approaches.


Sunday, May 29, 2011

Saudi Spills Beans is reporting (here) that a Saudi prince let slip that his family wants oil prices to stay lower to prevent Americans and Europeans from investing too much in alternative fuels.

"We don't want the West to go and find alternatives, because, clearly, the higher the price of oil goes, the more they have incentives to go and find alternatives," said Talal, who is listed by Forbes as the 26th richest man in the world.

This just underscores the central role that research in renewable energy sources and electric cars should play in our national security thinking. But the Republicans want us to back off from renewables, reinforce our relationship with oil sheiks and spend lots and lots on new wars and weapons in the Middle East.


Thursday, May 26, 2011

The CA LAO Needs to Remember It's place

California's Legislative Analyst's office is putting itself smack in the middle of a political battle . . . on purpose!

The CA LAO is suggesting that the state legislature refuse to appropriate matching funds for California's new High Speed Rail unless the ground breaking is in either SF or LA. To get Federal funds for this project, the state must provide matching funds. The LAO insists that the California High Speed Rail Authority has overstated ridership, thus profit, and understated the construction costs. If the LAO persists, and if the CA Legislature follows this advice, CA will loose all it's Federal money and in effect, the rail project will be dead, despite the strong support of CA voters and the Obama Administration.

The LAO suggests that the authority renegotiate start plans with the Feds, but the Feds have made it clear that starting the project anywhere but Central Valley will result in no Federal monies, period. The project deadlines must be met or the funding dissolves.

Now, I don't think the LAO is trying be partisan. But the media I've heard and read today makes it seem like the LAO is overstepping, or at least being too pushy. Assembly woman (D), Cathleen Galgiani is quoted in the Fresno Bee article as saying, "The LAO wants the Legislature to set criteria for choosing where to start building, but legislators already did that when they put Prop. 1A on the ballot. What this looks like is that perhaps the LAO doesn't like the outcome, so they want another legislature to change the rules to affect a different outcome." If the LAO is overstepping, it needs to be put in its place.

For some background you can read more at the Fresno Bee or the LA Times.

So the plans for ground breaking are all set. CA rail authority planners have worked closely with the Federal Government to get started. The Feds have insisted that the first branch to be built be the Central Valley portion from south of Merced to Bakersfield. See map below.

Actually,I would prefer to see the track laid between Sacramento and Fresno. It would be more expensive, but it would serve more people immediately. So in some sense the LAO's objection is valid. That said, it isn't worth it if it means killing the whole project. Talk about snatching defeat from the jaws of victory! There are a couple of good reasons why the Merced-Bakersfield plan makes sense. 1)The Valley is under-served in terms of public transportation. Many commuters to the Bay Area and LA live in the Central Valley where property is more affordable. 2) The Bay Area has BART, and it is heavily used. It reaches inland to Pleasanton. LA has public trans as well. The main highway down the Vally (HW 99) is overused and in pretty bad shape. I-5 carries a lot of traffic as well, but is also in varying degrees of disrepair. 3)The Valley needs the jobs & development. This part of the Valley is the poorest of the poor. 4)There is strong political support for it in the Valley and less environmental resistance. The Valley has space and the land is much cheaper than in the LA or SF areas.

The LAO's report makes some fair arguments about overall costs of the project. But we are talking about a public good. And public goods, like the post office, shouldn't be expected to turn a profit. We need to get used to this idea. Some things are purely about services and the economic growth that those services make possible. Truth be told, LA and the Bay Area are nearly built out. And if CA wants to draw big companies, the only place left is the Central Valley.

CA should not go the route that Florida went and turn away federal matching funds. This project is too important.


Tuesday, May 24, 2011

More On Romney and the GOP

In an earlier post, I argued that the biggest beneficiary of Huckabee dropping out was Mitt Romney. This argument was based not on my assessment of the popularity of Romney's increasingly contradictory policy positions with Republican voters. Rather, my argument is that in most of their competitive nomination races since WWII, the Republicans have nominated the guy who's turn it is. That is, they have a strong tendency to nominate someone who has run before and usually someone who was the first runner up in the previous nomination round.

There is new poll from CNN/University of New Hampshire of voters in New Hampshire (see link here) that has some interesting results in light of my expectation that Romney is "the guy" that the GOP will ultimately line up behind (however unenthusiastically). You can see CNN's analysis of that poll here.

First, since Huckabee's dropping out, Romney's support has jumped from around 20% (see older results here) to 32%. The next best polling Republican is Ron Paul with only 9% support. So if the primary were held today not only would most voters in New Hampshire be really surprised but Romney would win the primary walking away. He'd get about a third of the vote in a field of about ten candidates.

Second, 87% of the Republicans say that they were really unsure about who they will vote for, so the preferences voiced above could be very unstable. So it would be good to see where Romney stacks up in the 2nd choice and 3rd choice results as well. Romney is also by far the most popular 2nd choice with 20% of Republicans naming him as their second choice (Sarah Palin is the next most popular 2nd choice with 10%). Romney is also the most popular third choice (9%). This suggests to me that as candidates continue to drop out (will Gingrich be next?), Romney will gain more of their supporters than the other candidates who stay in. Romney might have reason to worry if someone else, Pawlenty for example, were closer on the first choice numbers and ahead of him on the 2nd choice numbers. But Romney leads the pack across the board.

Another feature in the poll suggests that the media story about the weakness of the field of Republican candidates isn't telling the whole story (at least as far as Republicans are concerned). While it is true that many New Hampshire Republicans are dissatisfied with their choices (about 43%), most are satisfied (51%) even if they aren't fully decided about which choice they'll make.

Of course, all of this good news for Romney may just be because Romney is from Massachusetts and New Hampshire Republicans like their neighbor. But New Hampshire's early timing makes its results especially important. At the same time, the other early state, Iowa, has older polling that while a bit stale (taken prior to Huckabee dropping out) may tell a similar story, albeit at an earlier stage of development. See the press release here of the Hawkeye Poll from the University of Iowa and top results here. That poll doesn't have a "2nd choice" question. But it does show that Romney's support among people who identify themselves as "not strong Republicans" is only 5% but among self identified "strong republicans" Romney's support is 23% suggesting that more deeply a person identifies with the GOP the more likely they are to support Romney. In contrast, Palin gets about the same amount of support from both weak Republicans and strong Republicans. It's also worth noting that in this poll from Iowa, Romney was first and Huckabee was second and no other candidate was in double digits. Huckabee is out. If I had to guess, I'd guess that the next poll about the situation for Republicans in Iowa will show Romney way out in front.

Governor Pawlenty's announcement that ethanol subsidies should be abolished won't hurt Romney's chances in Iowa either. The national press is full of praise for Pawlenty's courageous reversal of his long time support for ethanol. However, Iowa conservatives I've talked to tend to be both rural and thoroughly convinced that agricultural subsidies like ethanol are a kind of divinely ordained right. The looks on their faces when I've made passing references to the negative consequences of ag subsidies in class rooms or living rooms where the stakes don't matter suggest to me that when these people are confronted by someone actually in a position to do something about ag subsidies, they'll react negatively. Maybe not all of them, but enough of them to reinforce Romney's already existing advantage.

Romney is also far ahead in Nevada (see realclearpolitics here) and his closest rival is Gingrich who had a bad week to put it mildly. That Gingrich's problems are related to his graceless flip flop regarding the individual insurance mandate feature of the so called "Obama care," it will make it hard for Gingrich to attack Romney's Massachusetts health care reform for having the same feature. It's hard for the second place guy to catch up if he makes himself look just like the guy he's trying to catch.

I think this all adds up to Romney winning both Iowa and New Hampshire then going into the Southern Primaries as the best funded Republican with a solid organization and local activists who remember his campaign from 2008. He will also likely have the lion's share of the delegates.

Of course, a lot can happen between now and February. Romney could have a flip flop public relations disaster like Gingrich. Pawlenty could prove me wrong and look like a "leader" with this latest ethanol flip flop. But Pawlenty is about as exciting you'd expect from a moderate from Minnesota. So for now, I'll stay with my expectation that Romney will be the eventual nominee.


Friday, May 20, 2011

It’s about time!

"The dream of a Jewish and democratic state cannot be fulfilled with permanent occupation."- Barak Obama

Its’ about time that somebody got a bit more aggressive with Israel. You can see how the map of Israel/Palestine has evolved over the years by going to this link. I don't know much about the book and I don't necessarily endorse it. However the map on the cover is a good one and I don't want to risk violating copyright laws by posting the illustration here.

It’s a hackneyed discussion, I know. But I don’t think we should let it pass without comment. The President’s speech was important because it was agile. He had to speak to many people- leaders of the Arab world, activists in the Arab World, and leaders outside the Arab world wondering how Obama would define a new US policy toward the region. I think he succeeded. Obama was smart to place the long standing conflict in the larger regional context of the Arab Spring. This is particularly interesting since Israel was NOT a central issue to demonstrators across the region. It was an issue, but not the most important issue. Changing their governments was the issue. If the demonstrators succeed in getting more democratic, stable governments, this will increase pressure on Israel and provide the US with other options for alliances in the region. Remember, US support of Israel started because Nasser’s overtures to the USSR. Prior to that, the US was very cool toward Israel.

The best I can add is that for any negotiations to take place, Netanyahu must stop the settlements. That’s not a new idea. And he will have to abandon some of these settlements because they were built illegally. Telling Palestinians that Israel should be allowed to annex territory where Israeli settlements have been built is the equivalent to telling them that they will have no state. There just isn’t that much room in this tight corner of the world.

What Israel and Egypt have succeeded in doing is isolating Hamas through tough blockades. This has forced Hamas to work with the Palestinian National Authority. Hamas has not been able to get a foothold in the West Bank. Hamas should go the way of Shin Fein. It should cut its ties with Iran, give up its calls for the destruction of Israel and function as a political party. That said, I recently read the most of Hamas’ funding comes from Saudi via Syria. So there are multiple money sources at play. Hamas will continue to harass Israel with an occasional rocket, seeing if it can draw Israel into another military action. But that should also stop if Hamas’ intents to see some form of peace.


Vive La Difference

This post was inspired by an interesting interview published in Le Monde with Arthur Dethomas, a French lawyer who also practices in New York discussing the difference between the criminal justice system in the US and France. What I like about the interview is that he doesn’t pass judgment on which system is better. He simply presents the differences. It thought it would be interesting to share what he said here.

The first difference between the US and France is how charges are brought against the accused. In the US, we accumulate charges. So in DSK’s case, there are 7 charges against him, each which comes with a set punishment. So the accused must counter each charge. And for those changes for which he is found guilty, the punishments accumulate. Therefore, prison sentences are longer. In France, they try the accused for the single most serious charge, the one that will result in the harshest punishment. What Dethomas doesn’t address is if after the trial for the severe charge, the accused can be tried on a different, lesser charge. So if anyone knows, share!

He also points out that sex crimes are addressed more aggressively in the US than the France because we have a culture that requires that. This has less to do with the law than with culture values and traditions.

The next question he addresses is about the heavy-handedness used by American authorities (the violence of the system) and if this is something of a culture shock or clash between the US and France. Mr. Dethomas says that there is cultural difference that rests on notion of the “perp walk”. In America, we tend to display the accused when he/she is brought before the judge. In France, the accused is not shown when brought before the judge. It is not really correct to say that the American system is more or less harsh than the French system, but that the American system is more visible, and therefore, appears more harsh. Mr. Dethomas says that the French system is equally harsh in its own way. It incarcerates, denies people liberty, places people on probation or under guard, etc.

Next, Mr. Dethomas says that the idea of “innocent until proven guilty” is the underlying principle of both systems. However, because there is less regulation of privacy in the US (he emphasize use of photos and film here), the system exposes the accused. And to assume that you treat celebrities with more discretion would be viewed by the American system as “special treatment”.

In France, the judge determines the charges against an accused. The judge uses the powers vested in him/her by the state to lead an investigation and to determine which charges to bring based on that investigation. One benefit of the French system is that is levels the playing field for the accused. You don’t need a lot of money to hire private investigators and high-end lawyers.

In the US, he says, state prosecutors determine the charges and the defense team must argue before a judge why certain charges should be dropped. The prosecutor, or the state, has a great deal of power. So in effect, the accused appears to be very “alone” in facing a system that is geared toward accusation. However, Dethomas doesn't mention the role of the Grand Jury (or that part got edited out). In the DSK case the prosecution laid out a set of charges before a grand jury, not a judge. And it was up to the grand jury to determine which charges were viable and which were not based on testimony from the accuser. The defense didn't even get to argue.

Because prosecutors in many jurisdictions, New York being one of them, are elected, they reap political benefits from successful prosecution, especially if those are high profile cases. This isn’t the case in France.

Lawyers in the US have the right/duty to run independent investigations. The prosecutor must share with the defense all evidence (called “discovery”) that their investigation of the CRIME turns up. That does not extend to investigations of witnesses. So to get an edge, they investigate witnesses and try to discredit them. That said, the defense team has to “protect” the accused from media attention, and from the possibility of civil suits that can be brought against the accused after trial. The French don’t have this type of system, where you can be found innocent of the crime in criminal courts and then be tried in civil courts. (Frankly, I don’t think we should allow this either. It’s a mere technicality to say that you aren’t being tried twice for the same crime just because the charges and type of law change.)

When asked if there is a two-tiered system in the US, one for the rich and one for the poor, Dethomas agrees that those with more means get a better quality defense. However, France also has a two tiered system, he says-one for celebrities and one for everyone else. In American, DSK is being treated as a common prisoner. In France, he’d get special treatment.


Tuesday, May 17, 2011

DSK is Guilty, But Not of Rape

When I was growing up, my parents consistently drove home the point that to avoid trouble, you don’t put yourself in risky situations. Vigilance and discipline will keep you clear of trouble. That has worked well for me thus far. This scandal of Dominique Strauss Kahn(DSK) is a prime example of what happens when you ignore such wise advice.

At this point, I believe DSK was set up. I believe this for a couple of reasons- all of them speculative on my part:
1) Sarkosy is scuzzy enough to sully a strong contender for his job.
2) Perhaps I am cynical, but I doubt the NYC police would take the accusations of a hotel maid so seriously as to rush over to JFK and pull DSK off an airplane unless they wanted him for some other reason. And I find it hard to believe that they are actually holding him at Rikers.I think the maid was a pretext really. There is something else going on.
3) The guy is wealthy enough, that if he wanted sex, he could hire a very high class prostitute.
4) I don’t know how a man can force an unwilling woman to do a blow job. Women have teeth, we can and will bite.
5) French news is reporting that DSK left the hotel well before the claimed time of the “attack” and that the reason the maid entered the room to begin with is because she believed it to be empty and ready for cleaning.
6) You don’t spend a life in politics without making enemies. He is part of what the French call the “caviar left”. His politics is left (i.e. French Socialist, former communist), but his lifestyle is much the opposite. He is part of a wealthy, intellectual elite in France. I’m gonna guess that there are plenty of people who would love to take the guy down a notch or two.

All of that said, if DSK was set up, it was because he was an easy target for just such a honey trap. He consistently put himself in situations where trouble was possible. He has a reputation worthy of Bill Clinton.

He was accused of rape in 2002 by a French journalist who did not press charges. Reports are that she is now reconsidering. Big surprise. Not sure what the statute of limitations for such crimes is in France.

In 2008 he was investigated for having an affair with a subordinate, married, IMF employee. She accused DSK of harassment, coercion, and abuse of power. She was fired but DSK found her a new job.

The man has been married 3 times and four daughters.

DSK’s sexual activity and love of the ladies has long been the stuff of tabloid in France.

DSK is guilty of something, but I don’t think it’s rape. I will be interested to follow this tale to see if there is a deeper truth here. It's yet another classic case where a successful person's weaknesses lead to a spectacular crash.


Sunday, May 15, 2011

Obama vs Romney in 2012

Hi Everyone,

I thought I would indulge in a little excessively early prognostication. With Governor Huckabee declaring his non-candidacy, that leaves the field open. The conventional wisdom among many is that Mitt Romney is incapable of winning the Republican nomination because he's Mormon and is "soft" on Obama-care. I think Romney is the guy to bet on getting the nomination and here is why...

First, there is a long history of the GOP nominating the guy who has the "resume." If the Democrats picked nominees like the GOP did, the 2008 contest would have been between Clinton and Edwards with Obama having to wait for a VP offer - assuming he could hang around longer than Richardson. But Republicans LOVE to pick the resume. The often nominate the runner up from the previous election cycle. Examples: Reagan lost to Ford in 1976 and was nominated in 1980. GHW Bush lost to Reagan in 1980 and was nominated in 1988. Bob Dole was Ford's running mate in 1976 and lost the nomination to GHW Bush in 1988 but was nominated in 1996. John McCain lost the nomination to GW Bush in 2000 but had a come back win to get the nomination in 2008. So who came in "second" in 2008? It depends how you figure it. Romney was probably the second most serious candidate but Huckabee hung on like grim death to come in second in the delegate count even though he was mathematically eliminated. So the "who's turn is it" question would be open to interpretation with both Romney and Huckabee in the race. With Huckabee out, Romney is in sole command of the "best resume" title for 2012.

In addition to the "tradition," the GOP nomination process is more dependent on "winner take all" results. So if a candidate comes in first in a crowded field but with only 25% of the vote, that candidate could walk away with 100% of the delegates for that state. So being out in front is huge. The early polls show that only Romney and Huckabee were consistently getting close to 20% of support from Republican respondents (see polls here). Romney and Huckabee were also the most popular "second choice." So with Huckabee gone, that sets up Romney.

Then there are the delegates who get to vote at the convention independently from the primary and caucus results. Democrats call these "super delegates." Republican use them too. This crowd is the "Party establishment" that the tea party dislikes so much. These are also the people who occasionally leaked out "Palin is an idiot" stories in the aftermath of the 2008 election catastrophe. I hardly think these people are going to line up behind either Palin or Trump. They'd be torn between a couple of former governors with decent records in office but not when the choice is between one of them and cluster of whackos, anti-establishment demagogues and unknowns. Gingrich MIGHT attract some of this support but his tenure as Speaker was controversial among the Republican establishment. Also, Gingrich's infamous relationship with his family(ies) makes the Mormon Romney look good to evangelicals, at least the elite ones, by comparison.

This sets up Obama vs Romney in 2012. It also takes the health care reform issue off the table for things Republicans can challenge Obama on. That could be huge as this was the main issue Republicans used to win seats in 2010. Romney's close ties to the auto industry might make it hard for him to go after Obama on the stimulus because a big part of the post 2010 bail out/stimulus was directed at keeping the US auto industry afloat. On foreign policy, Romney can hardly make a serious claim that he's got more or more hawkish foreign policy credentials than the incumbent president who "got Bin Laden." His best bet would be run against the idea of foreign policy and portray himself as something of an isolationist (which is what Ron Paul is doing).

All of this makes me think that the biggest beneficiary of Huckabee's non-candidacy is going to be Obama.


Monday, May 09, 2011

What's the Deal with Pakistan

OK, so the big post Bin Laden story is about how messed up our relationship with Pakistan is. Our alliance with Pakistan, much like the mess in Afghanistan, is a hangover from the Cold War. When the British Raj ended in the South Asia, Pakistan and India emerged as bitter rivals. India tried to steer a path of "non-alignment" in the Cold War. But India early on moved closer to the Soviet Union.

Pakistan decided an alliance with the US was the way to go. Pakistan was a charter member of CENTO (a less well known part of the series of treaties, including NATO, designed to contain the spread of communism inside a ring of regional alliances, the third organization was SEATO). Pakistan had already established a separate relationship with China in 1950, being one of the first countries to recognize the Communist government following their defeat of the Chinese nationalists in 1949.

The 1960s, 70s and 80s saw the complex alliances get entrenched. As the US enlisted China as an ally against the USSR, a kind of three way alliance between the United States, Nationalist Pakistan and Communist China formed. All of it was based on convenience. The US wanted allies against the USSR. China wanted support against the USSR and India and Pakistan wanted support against India. This three way alliance was useful when the USSR invaded Afghanistan with Pakistan playing a crucial role in US efforts to support the anti-soviet resistance in Afghanistan. Part of Pakistan's foreign policy had always been enlisting Islamic fundamentalists as proxies both in their conflict against the Soviets in Afghanistan and against India (especially in Kashmir). All of this led to the emergence of the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

But in the post cold war era, the goals of the US have shifted. Russia is no longer the greatest concern. Rather, US foreign policy is focussed on containing Islamic fundamentalism and China. Pakistan is a particularly unreliable ally for both goals. At the same time, democratic India is looking increasingly like a better ally in that region on both dimensions. India is a large, fast growing developing country that is already a relatively stable democracy. They have an inherent incentive to see containing China as a benefit and they are a frequent target of Islamic fundamentalism.

So why do we still need an alliance with Pakistan at all? So long as we have troops in Afghanistan, we need Pakistan's cooperation to keep them supplied. Afghanistan is land locked and any connection to the Indian Ocean must go through or over either Iran or Pakistan. Iran is out of the question so... Pakistan's military elite has us by the short hairs. And since they know we need them and they're helping us is politically costly for them domestically, these elites demand exorbitant payoffs in the form of massive military aid and indulgence when they do things like sell nukes to North Korea or support terrorism against India or hide Bin Laden from us.

Also, our support for secular elites in Pakistan is the only thing keeping that country away from sliding into becoming a nuclear armed version of Afghanistan. Granted those elites are way too cozy with people who mean to do us serious harm. But we have little choice at this point but to try to influence the Pakistanis as best we can. The faster we pull out of Afghanistan the easier it will be Pakistan to be friends with us and the less they'll have us by the short hairs. In other words, us pulling out of Afghanistan will strengthen our bargaining position with Pakistan just as it makes it easier for Pakistan to be cooperative with us.

In the long run, our best outcome would be to build friendly relationship with both Pakistan and India and use their mutual friendship with us to establish something like the peace that now reigns between Greece and Turkey. Getting out of Afghanistan helps that. Frankly, even if things deteriorate in Afghanistan after our departure, it's better for us to be out.


Monday, May 02, 2011

What the Killing of Bin Laden Means

Now that Osama Bin Laden is dead, it's time to think about what it means. There are lots of consequences that could be discussed, and may well be brought up in comments or future posts by various contributors to this blog, but for now I'll focus on just a few that come to mind. In particular, I'll open discussion on three dimensions: the implications for the future "war on terror" (including our involvement in Afghanistan), implications for our relations with Pakistan and India, and the implications for domestic politics, especially presidential politics, here in the United States.

Terrorism and Afghanistan:
This is not going to end the terrorist threat to the United States or in any country. But the killing of Bin Laden is a serious blow to one of the most important international terrorist groups in the world. Al Qaeda has been increasingly marginalized by the so called "Arab Spring" and the Obama administration's cautious but reasonably consistent, albeit imperfect, support for democratization demands in Arab nations. Because of this political marginalization, it is perhaps more important that killing Ben Laden gives President Obama the opportunity to declare victory in Afghanistan and move forward with a decrease in the US military presence there. This is important because it will allow Obama to get out of Afghanistan while inoculating himself against the "cut and run" charge that will inevitably be directed against him by the Republicans.

US Policy on the Subcontinent:
Because of the circumstances around this raid, it is increasingly clear that Bin Laden was getting protection from elements in the Pakistani military/intelligence apparatus. It simply does not pass the stink test that Pakistani authorities would allow such a large and secure compound to be built and inhabited so close to their primary military academy without checking it out. I doubt someone could build such a complex in the United States (a relatively free society) without attracting the attention of police. That such a building could pass unnoticed in a police state like Pakistan is simply implausible. This is the most prominent bit of evidence that the Pakistanis make very poor allies indeed. I'll post more about this later, but for now I'll just mention that Pakistan was important to us because our primary goal was the containment of the USSR. Now, our primary foreign policy goals are the containment of China (a close ally of Pakistan) and the tracking and combatting of terrorist groups. Pakistan is not a reliable ally for either goal. At the same time, India is an almost natural ally for both goals and to the extent that Pakistan will insist that we chose between Pakistan and India, finding Bin Laden living for years, literally on the door step of the main Pakistani military academy makes that choice considerably easier to make.

Domestic Politics in the United States:
On September 26, 2008, then candidate Obama said, "If the United States has al Qaeda, (Osama) bin Laden, top-level lieutenants in our sights, and Pakistan is unable or unwilling to act, then we should take them out." To this Republican nominee, John McCain replied, "(Obama) said that he would launch military strikes into Pakistan. Now, you don't do that. You don't say that out loud. If you have to do things, you have to do things, and you work with the Pakistani government."

A hypothetical President McCain would have informed the Pakistani authorities at least of our intent to conduct a raid and asked permission to proceed. That would have risked Pakistani leaks to Bin Laden's people. For all we know, ill advised trust of Pakistani military/intelligence officials is why the Bush administration was never able to get Bin Laden in 8 years of trying.

This inoculates Obama from the charges of being "weak" and "lacking leadership" that Republicans' talking points have been focussing on lately. Now, every time he is accused of being "weak" he can whip out the "well, we got Bin Laden on my watch and I'm the guy who gave the order and to hell with Pakistani sensibilities."


Sunday, May 01, 2011

Bin Laden Dead

He'd been hiding in a mansion in suburban Abbottabad, Pakistan (a city just north of Islamabad). This is going to take some time to process. I'm sure a lengthier post will be forthcoming on this blog.