Friday, October 30, 2009

Right Signals

Indian PM Dr. Singh is giving absolutely right signals to Pakistan and all S. Asian countries when he says that "we see our security and prosperity in their progress and stability". I wonder if any other Indian leader has been so categorical and emphatic in expressing these right sentiments in so clear words.

Sad part is Pakistan is in much weaker capacity to reciprocate these gestures because of it's fratricidal conflict. But may be, just may be, Hillary undertaking straight talk in her latest visit; Pakistani elite may make the necessary amendments. This is in addition to screw tightening via Karry-Lugar aid package. It was really refreshing for Hillary to say how hard it is to believe when Pakistani Government says that it does not know whereabouts about Al-Qeda Leadership and other terrorists. She meant at least some section of Pakistani establishment is quiet likely aware of these details. It was also music to ears when she alluded to the possibility of how peace with India can be a true harbinger of prosperity for Pakistani society. And finally, it was absolutely correct for Hillary to set the expectations right - that it is not USA which can dictate peace between India and Pakistan but it is for these two countries to address their own problems. Despite objects from some foreign policy 'formalists' one can understand how fantastic a job Hilliary is doing. There cannot be any more potent symbolism when Hillary was talking with Pakistani women about War and Peace with authority and composition. And she is daring to do all this when opinions about USA are totally inflamed in Pakistan. No wonder Andrew Sullivan is all praise for her.

With Kerry delivering in Afghanistan as well as with Pakistani aid package, Biden pounding the table against McChrystal and Hillary going in the lion's dean to deliver some tough love; these Democrats are doing remarkable 'fire fighting' and 'diplomacy' for the Commander-in-Chief President Obama. Hope is something concrete comes out of these efforts.

It is clearly synchronized for good that Dr. Singh extends this 'hand of peace' in this context. With all these wheels turning in right direction, indeed there is much less room for Pakistani establishment (Army Chief Kayani, ISI Chief Pasha, Punjab Chief Minister Sharif - brother of Nawaz Sharif, Pakistani PM Gilani from PPP Party and the President Zardari) to complain about rest of the world. No doubt their political task is monumental - to turn population away from decades of nurtured views about 'good / acceptable terrorism versus terrorism against Pakistan' and to punish folks which are at the heart of such terrorism. That is not going to happen unless the Pakistani establishment:
- dares to define vision of Pakistan which is much more than simply correction of some historical grievances (like getting back certain land in Kashmir from India) and
- unequivocally denounces terrorism of any kind without worrying about whose wars Pakistan is fighting.

Truth is Pakistan is fighting 'its own war' for survival. It is not carrying water for USA or India whenever a terrorist in that land is wiped out. When it undertakes these right steps, it is only serving to the vision of it's founding father Jinha and people of Pakistan.

Update: It all started by Obama's Cairo Speech - campaign style politiciking in other country to achieve some diplomatic goals. Hillary's Pakistan tour is an exhibit A of such public diplomacy, an attempt to shape public opinions in a far way land. These are some 'high wire acts',quite impressive.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Harry Reid

The Senate minority leader in 2004 who led Dems through their most perilous period (2004 to 2006), the Senator who crossed the red line and said 'We lost the war in Iraq' on the Senate floor only to turn out that indeed America could go away from the precipice, the Senate majority leader who has been more or less listless during these early months of Obama Presidency; has final taken a decision of momentous proportion by putting forward a health care reform bill with 'opt-out' Public Option. It is difficult to believe it is all driven by leadership or statesmanship. In the end it is all driven by his electability in Nevada in 2010. As of now he has no chance to win that Senate re-election. With this 'red meat to base' he is hopping right back. True, this is how democracy works; but the decision does not seem to be done with best interests of Americans in mind.

Public Option in itself without 'iron clad' built in mechanisms to control costs is of no use. It can very well exasperate the cost burden on Federal Government. Though Senate Finance Bill has provisions for an independent Medical commission to control costs; back door attempts, like last week, to reimburse doctor fees at $250 Billion over ten years outside the scope of Health Care Reform bill make you nervous. It makes you nervous because Congress has so far no history in managing costs and there are no signs that it would change soon. In stead of focusing on getting a fiscally responsible bill, to strengthen Baucus Bill further so that it withstands cost irresponsible pressure from House; Sen. Reid simply joined the chorus of Public Option and essentially gave up efforts to get a consensus among 60 Senators. In the process he let go Sen. Snowe's vote too which otherwise President Obama was chasing for right political reasons.

One is compelled to say, Sen. Reid threw caution to wind, as Ezra Klein points, because it will be difficult for many centrist Democrats to block the cloture of this bill by filibustering it. Though such Democrats would in the end may vote against it in the final passage; cloture will be there now. In that sense, Health Care Reform with Public Option has come quite near to reality.

Things could still change further if like Sen. Reid, some more Senators feel back home political pressure in their respective states, making them to take strong positions. Or the bill after the conference will be really badly compromised so as many centrists in House and Senate would not accept it. In a way, the perverse signal from Sen. Reid's this move is to abandon any consensus, national interests and to simply respond to electoral pressures / compulsions. You can find many House Members and Senators in similar positions who may abandon caution and discipline which can result pretty quickly in unraveling of the whole thing. That will be the worry for White House. Of course, White House would prefer to err on the Left side if that is what is needed to get the Health Care Reform rather than insisting on a perfectly fiscally balanced reform. The thinking will be, erring on Left will play to the Liberal Gallery resulting in keeping the Dem hold on Congress and that will enable President Obama to take any necessary actions to rectify the excesses on Left side. But as like despite playing to the base Sen. Reid's reelection may be still challenged; many other Dems can still find themselves in harder spots for the next year's election. Coming looses in Virginia Governor race and possibly in New Jersey Governor race too will set in motion a political wave 'checking the influence of' Barack Obama.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

End of Regional Identity Politics?

Mr. Balasaheb Thackery, the patriarch of Marathi Manoos, writes a desolate editorial in Samana (October 25, 2009 issue) after latest Maharashtra polls, the Western State in modern India. There is no history of Marathi Folks (those from the state of Maharashtra) without Mr. Balasaheb Thackery - for good and bad. His party was trounced in the latest assembly polls. An eighty four year old need not write such an editorial in Samana - the newspaper founded by Mr. Thackery himself. Life should have spared him here.

One can understand his anguish and sadness. It takes bit of 'end of the world' tone when he declares that he no more believes in God.

Those who believe in God would not find it amusing when a mere loss in a single election should prompt to a life long devotee to become atheist at this stage. Or on the other hand did it require Mr. Thackery that many decades to realize 'belief in God' is nothing but simply 'crutches' to deal with vagaries of Life? Truly tragic part is, whichever camp one is, Mr. Thackery has reached the end of the road literally and figuratively. He does not have any more years left to battle out. Hence his tragic editorial.

One can wonder what is the point in rebutting an 84 year old man's writing since it is questionable what can he understand in all these replies. Besides, it is obvious that he must have been offered sane advice for all thse decades but it did not have any impact on him. Though his political outfit getting trounced is a seminal event, at the end of the day his party still has around 20% members of State Assembly. His political party is not yet finished. In a way, Marathi folks still owe to him in at least engaging with him politically; we should not just 'pass on or move on'.

His is a classical step in 'denial' - he is blaming Marathi people for not voting him. His argument is that his party has been the only one to cater needs of Marathi people and those very same people have turned on him. This raises number of questions:
- What Mr. Thackery considers 'needs of Marathi'; are those indeed the real needs of Maharashtrians or do they need lot many different things than what he is offering?
- Is he ready to accept that it is not the monopoly of Shiv Sena only to serve Maharashtrians? Why is he never ready to accept a fact that for large sections of Maharashtrians other political forces might have delivered and cared?
- Finally, what about a simple fact that there are multitude of Maharashtrians who do not simply associate with 'Marathi identity' which he has been assiduously pursuing at the exclusion of everything else?

There is no point for Mr. Thackery to grouse about how other regional forces are thriving on the basis of identity politics. Did it ever occur to him, may be some of those are delivering to their people (Modi in particular) or simply that all of those regional outfits aiming to rule on the basis of linguistic and regional identities are in the end swimming against the global tide of more unifying politics?

Whatever answers Mr. Thackery wants to give to these questions, reality is as follows:

- He failed to grow Shiv Sena in more unified manner and that led to the division. Marathi Manus 'did not break' Shiv Sena. It is Mr. Tackery's continued nepotism that broke the Shiva Sena leading to a division of Sena. As a result in the first past poll method of Indian election; his party lost dramatically. Why does he not want to own this failure? Do we need to tell a patriarch of 8 decades, what 'unity' means and why it is needed? If Leadership is not bringing people together, to hold them together; then what is it? Why does he want to ignore failures in not cultivating 'institutionalized' power sharing and party management? Who's failure is that?

- True, Marathi Manoos speaks Marathi; but that does not mean he or she can make living in today's world by sticking to suffocatingly narrow and restrictive agenda of Shiva Sena. Marathi Manoos, as like every other humans and societies on this planet change, his needs change and Shiv Sena fails to understand.

- Whenever opportunities were given to Shiva Sena - what did we get? Corrupt government not delivering basic needs and prosperity. Not that non-Shiv Sena governments are corruption free; but those deliver more - basic security to non-Marathi people living in Maharashtra and economic development. Shiv Sena does not have any sterling record when it comes to delivering governance and that is not the failure of Marathi Manoos.

- Finally, did he ever bother to get out of this narrow linguistic chauvinism and govern by much broader and accommodating politics? How can you be a legitimate political force while you want to run your politics on such a narrow basis when today's dramatically 'in flux' societies need much broader agenda and political basis? It is hard to believe in the world where Barack Obama gets elected and a Prime Minister from minority community rules a country of Billion plus people; Mr. Thackery still expects Maharashtrians stick to his narrow vision of Marathi Manoos.

Truth is, Marathi Manoos is indeed 'growing and emancipating' whenever he shows the ability to out grow ultra restrictive confines of any political party, including Shiv Sena.

So Mr. Thackery, actually you do not need to be so sad. Your life long project of igniting imagination and vitality of Marathi Manoos is indeed succeeding. Do not undermine that success in the failure of Shiv Sena where remedies of political come back are well established. If Mr. Thackery or Shiv Sena wants, obviously it can incorporate much needed ideology, policy and institutional changes and then not just Marathi Manoos, but all Maharashtrians will back Shiv Sena.

Update - Some may wonder why do I even bother for some obscure state level election in India. Reasons are:
1. First of all it is personal - my ethnic roots are strongly Maharashtrian and Marathi. So it is incumbent to be aware of what happens in that world. Most of my family members, as well as of my spouse, are intricately linked to Marathi way of Life.
2. We have to understand, many state level elections in India are equivalent or larger than elections in many countries of the world. If we report what happens in German Election or Japanese Election; why not for one of the most important states in India which has population more than 100 Million?
3. Mr. Thackery espoused a peculiar brand of politics, very typical for a young Democracy with non-developed economy. Hence, what happens to that 'polity' is an experiment of much significance.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Mopping the left out area

Many opportunities have been presented to the Obama Administration to correct the reckless bonuses of big banks and each of those opportunities have been squandered; with total disregard to 'what is fair to taxpayers' and what is good for American Economy in coming years. It is obvious that reckless risk for higher compensation and bonuses created market for CDOs which should not have been sold in the first place as well as mortgagees which should not have been given to start with. That brought American and global economy to knees, TARP was approved and by Summer of 2009 American Banks were saved, economy was saved on the basis of taxpayer money. In normal circumstances that would have prohibited the banking industry to stop bonuses.

But that has not happened and American Congress and Administration have failed so for to stop it; having left things for banker's own decisions without any disciplinary actions. Time has come for Congress and Administration to undertake and implement tough compensation policy. Bothering compensations may seem like a less important concern when it comes to saving economy since many argue that 'corporate transparency' is the real key there. It may sound vindictive too. But that is all false. It is the question of accountability and fairness. Democratic politics is all about fixing responsibility on those who caused such a great grief and who still continues to have such a potential to pull all of us down into another hole in future.

What needs to happen as far as compensation reforms go?

1. As Fed Chairman Bernanke mentioned in a testimony to Congress, banks which undertake risky transactions, banks which have large portfolio and banks which are intricately interrelated with the global financial system (i.e. those who pose 'systematic risk'); need to maintain higher capital base. Meaning Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan in today's world need to maintain higher capital reserves than yesterday. The Architect of this Great Recession - Alan Greenspan - in the end agreed to this proposition too. (He went further to support the contention of dividing these large banks as well, not that his advice has anymore credibility apart from admission of the mess he created.)

2. As long as banks do not confirm to these higher capital reserve ratios, no bonuses should be paid to any employees of those banks. Relaxation of 'mark-to-market' rule is helping many banks to show higher capital reserves artificially, Wells Fargo is the case in point, and that essentially leaves these banks to continue the payout of huge bonuses. These relaxed rules will be going out soon, starting from next year; but as far as bonuses go; those rules must be applied today. Further, any bank which has received tax payer money in last 12 months should not be allowed to pay out any bonuses as well.

3. Bonuses which have been paid after TARP injection of funds need to be claw backed as per the regulation. If that is difficult, bring that money into the bank reserves. If that is difficult, hold out money to all those employees in future assuming paid bonuses as advance future compensation. And if those employees have left banks; apply retrospective income tax of 75% payable in next few years. Yes, it is vindictive. But what do you want - a fair system or nuance in being easy on bankers?

4. If Congress is going to take time for promulgation of these laws, then Administration should undertake execution of various existing legal provisions to prevent these bonuses. What is wrong in having 75% income tax on all bonus income above 100K limit for employees of all banks or financial companies, private or public, which do more than run of the mill 'loans and savings' transactions? The reason is Technology companies or Public Utility Companies did not bring the Great Recession. It is these big banks and financial institutions which brought this recession. Now is the time for them to payback.

So the question is - is Obama Administration ready to 'mop up the area' which it has left so far or it wants be beholden to Financial Industry?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

That is why no one believes Dems

Social Security Administration declared that there will not be any payment increase for 2010 in light of 'deflation'. Now that is for sure bad for seniors who depend on Social Security money since many other costs are relentless, especially the health care cost. This means suffering. In order to redress this suffering, our compassionate President has declared to award one time $250 to each Social Security recipient. Being mindful of not so good state of Social Security Fund, President also said that he would not like this bonus to come from that fund, but he did not mention from where!

Since we still do not have any technology to 'generate money from thin air', this means $13 Billion dollars cost of this program is going to come from the general budget; meaning - pass the hat to Chinese; more borrowing. Our esteemed Congressional Leadership of Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and Charles Rangel are not to be left behind when it comes to compassion and hence they have promptly agreed to borrow money to support President's humanitarian Social Security Bonus.

New Hampshire Republican Senator Judd Gregg got it right when he opposed such payment saying that what was the point in the first place to have such arrangement, of linking payout to inflation, in Social Security? Now we see why no one believes Democrats when they say Congress will stick to reduced Medicare Payments in the proposed Health Care Bill.

It does not stop here. It gets even more interesting. Some bright bulbs in Senate are pushing for a separate bill to the tune of $250 Billion to pay money to Doctors over the period of 10 years so that they are compensated for the proposed cuts in Health Care Bill. And the argument is 'oh, that will keep the Health Care Bill' as budget neutral!

Now is the time to ask Rep. Barney Frank, Congress and oh yes our beloved, rock start, Nobel Peace Prize Winning President - which planet these Democratic Politicians live?

This is beyond disbelief and totally disingenuous and irresponsible by Dem side. What is wrong then when Republicans say let this Health Care Reform die? True, Republicans spent like drunkard when they were in power. But we Americans do not get out of the hole when 'one drunkard is replaced by another one'; we get deeper into the hole.

Solution for Social Security non-increase is not 'not paying' those $250 per person. But if the Administration and Congress wants to do that, balance that money somewhere else - increasing some tax or cancel some spending. Doing gimmickry or unending borrowing is not the solution. Sermons like Christina Romer when she says President is not at all comfortable with Budget Deficit; that is all empty talk when neither President is doing anything nor is able to avoid 'digging more'. As Senator Bayh said, the current arrangements of 'cost control' in the Health Care Bill are not tight enough and behavior of Democrats so far confirms the worst fears of critics of this bill.

And by the way as far as one time Social Security increase to Seniors goes, we give damn to the political necessity of this Administration to placate Seniors when Republicans shouted that the proposed Health Care Bill is a raw deal to Seniors. That is the pickle of Administrations own making.

Update - Many in blogsphere contend that Obama plan is fiscally responsible because it is avoiding the base 3% increase in Social Security payment, as would be the normal case or the increase needed to yield $250 on an average. Instead it is only one time increase without having the increased base in subsequent years. Contention is that is some kind of saving. Again, the point is whatever increase outside the Social Security Fund is planned; how is it financed - by increasing deficit or by cutting some expenditure somewhere or by generating new revenue.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

WaPo Af-Pak Remedy

Washington Post puts forward it's remedy for nullifying challenges posed by Taliban. One crucial point, and the right one, which this editorial makes is that Taliban not only are aiming to capture back Afghanistan, but would like tohoist eventually on Islamabad too.

According to the WaPo Editorial the remedy is not emptying the Afghan theater of war, presumably by adding more soldiers there. The problem here is, the only fully flushed out Afghan war plan from Pentagon is the General McChrystal plan where he wants to go away, on purpose, from 'fighting a war with Taliban' to 'protecting Afghan population from Taliban'. Now that is quite a difference of strategy and objectives. Unless WaPo Editorial puts forward a war plan to fight Taliban in Afghanistan; the proposed remedy appears to be non-implementable until then.

America's current forces in Afghanistan have achieved removal of Taliban from Kabul and have kept it that way. Credibility of Afghan presidential election is the issue to be sorted going forward there. Such an approach without adding substantial troops can create a vacuum for Taliban to re-occupy part of Afghanistan; that danger is there. But by engaging in Pakistan, if Taliban or more important terrorist / militant outfits are cleared; that will be a core redress of the problem on hand. Then to co-opt part of Taliban (Afghan version of Sunni participation in Iraq?) or to always keep them away can be handled since already the half of part keeping them 'away from power in Afghanistan' is attained.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Afghan Resolution

It is classic Obama process - let the Public, Media and Events eventually coalesce on a policy he wanted, as a result of which it becomes politically feasible to sale the policy. Notwithstanding foolish and utterly irresponsible interpretation by California Senator Feinstein (look for her awful Sunday talk show comments) and many like her in Senate; following things indicate how finally the resolution to Afghan problem is unfolding:

- Richard Hass writes a classic Op-Ed in Washington Post arguing for the middle course;
- Fareed Zakaria presents a compact case for not adopting McChrystal recommendations; and
- Rawalpindi attack on Army HQ starts percolating minds of people and make them ask serious questions.

This all means it now seems quite possible (I would bet now on that):
- President Obama is unlikely to adopt McChrystal recommendation as is and he at the most may order 10K additional soldiers under the grab of training troops.
- Afghan President Karzai will have to share the power or have the entire election nullified (UN Chief is finally speaking now). Better will be he is booted. But it seems tough now he will be allowed to have his free reign of the affairs continued.
- Administration will play a hard ball with Pakistan in forcing them to accept all the proposed (or even some new) conditions attached to the aid package.

And as far as folks like Sen. Feinstein and Sen. McCain go, who never learn from their disastrous Iraq vote (oh yes, she was one those laughable Senators who backed Bush without applying her own judgment); probably the world will move on. I wish Sen. Feinstein reads Frank Rich's column in New York Times and makes some honest efforts in being a responsible senator rather than abducting her responsibilities of sound strategic judgement in national interests. We only talk about folks who has some chance to repair; Sen. McCain is beyond repair when it comes to war related policies.

Frank Rich Hammer

Another must read column by Frank Rich in New York Times:

"Two Wrongs Make Another Fiasco"

Pakistan - A Nightmare

On the background of brazen militant attack on Pakistani Army Headquarters in Rawalpindi, few nightmare scenarios come to mind:

1. Militants get hand on the nuke information and mounts an attack on some nuclear facility. Militants actually capture a nuke or two and the news sends shock wave through world capitals. America sends a crack force of 5K soldiers on the site and along with remaining Pakistani State Loyal forces, starts the immediate counter attack. In an emergency UNSC meeting, China and Russia side with America to make the necessary military intervention in Pakistan. American navy moves all sorts of assets in Arabian Sea with space and on surface abilities to stop any rouge nuke missile flying from militant control. The battle rages for some 1 to 2 days with a full blood bath. Remaining Pakistani State imposes complete news black out and all subsequent news are relayed only in controlled manner. After lot of American blood nukes are controlled.

2. Despite Pakistani court finally indicting Lakhavi yesterday and some other LET perpetrators of various terrorist attacks, main power brokers, in LET are still at large. These power brokers align with stupid political parties in Pakistan, like of cricketer Imran Khan's party, to ignite further anti-American sentiments for various American Aid Conditions proposed. Political situation goes out of hands and millions of Pakistanis are mobilized by these fundamentalist political parties to literally bring down moderate Pakistani government. Extremist Political Party in conveyance with some major component of Pakistani Army stages a coup and captures the power and nuke control. It starts rattling the region by flaring up Kashmir dispute with India on eastern side and starts alliance with Taliban on Western side. America and rest of the world powers can hardly do anything and the world sees the rise of another Iran, except that it is much more dangerous with actual nukes in hand.

3. Part of Pakistani Army and ISI aligns with some political faction of a Western region of Pakistan and declares independence along with some additional area from Afghanistan. Under the counter insurgency plans adopted by American forces and the policy adopted where by premium is placed on securing certain Afghan population rather than land; there are no American forces while such secession is taking place. With armed forces of thousands and some air power, this nascent rogue independent state is able to hold the fort with embattled Pakistani Army for months as well as American forces. With the inability of American forces, for various domestic, logistic and UN political reasons to clamp down this rebellion for months; the quasi nation state provides necessary cocoon to nurture and plot another terrorist attack either on India or America. With an attack on India, India starts the war with Pakistan. With an attack on America, finally America is forced to start another ground attack.

The point is number of such nightmarish, Halloween type scenarios can be visualized. Clearly, adding 40K forces to Afghanistan as per the General McChrystal plan is not the solution here and nor will it address the challenges posed by this unstable region. For those American Politicians (Sen. McCain for example) to demand and behave as if the key to region's success lies in just more boots in Afghanistan is literally being irresponsible.

So it is imperative that American establishment throws away the bunker view of what is happening in this region. With the attack on Pakistani Military HQ, there cannot be any more dire warning than the dangers emanating from there. America needs to get deeply involved in Pakistan and at least need to move along what has been laid out in Kerry-Lugar bill. The bill demands that:
- military chain of command is exposed to America,
- military budget of Pakistan is revealed,
- Pakistan helps to dismantle nuclear weapons networks operating in the country, and
- cracks down terrorists (otherwise loose the financial aid),
- does not use American funding to attack India.

But the nagging issue is whether even this will be sufficient or not. For example, as like CIA and American Media did in case of Iraqi militants, it may be needed to publish a running list of 'whose who' of Pakistani militant gang and publicly track taking down of these members one by one. America needs to pressurize remaining Pakistani state in taking out these militants in some 'time bound' manner.

Will all this be sufficient? What more is needed? Resolution of Kashmir mess? Will India come on board? For example, will India accept to formalize line of control as the international border? Will Pakistani Establishment accept that? In other words those of Pakistan who politically depend on keeping alive Kashmir controversy, will those agree? Or identifying such folks early and removing them is the key? Will China co-operate in all this?

The thinking so far as has been Kashmir is a hard knot to solve, it is better for America and the world to by-pass it and just box the situation in Af-Pak region. But doubts are starting to come whether this can be any more possible or not. In immediate term, 'boxing of the problem' is necessary, but every passing day indicates the need to start the parallel track of diplomacy on Kashmir issue. May be in the coming visit of Indian PM to Washington, ice is broken on this topic.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Obama Peace Nobel

This is a surprise. I think it is quite early in the game for this President. There was a hunch that eventually this President was going to win the Nobel Peace Price. But so early in the inning is a surprise.

This means that contrary to what many Americans think, the world seriously thinks that this President has started the inning quite well. Of course, two years of a solid presidential campaign and to be the first African American President count too.

Obviously, keeping with more activist role of Nobel committee in recent years (look for yesterday's literature Nobel to a Romanian born German writer, 10th German writer!); this prize is more towards keeping an eye on future. It is an attempt to ensure that this young Presidency continues the current path of 'deliberation' in world matters instead of veering on the road of ill fated Bush adventures. It is also to strengthen his hand against Iran and against Conservatives in shrill Afghan policy debate. The prize is also a nod for reducing the missile menace to a some extent on E. European soil. (VP Biden is going to have far easier trip now to Eastern Europe.) The world liked when President Obama presided the UNSC meeting with the unanimous vote for the eventual nuclear disarmament. President Obama's efforts in moving to next stages of START (nukes and missiles treaty with Russia), is also a welcome move.

In no small measure, America's co-operation with world economies and G-20 to address current crisis is well worth too. (Larry Summers - behind the screens must be a happy guy; he contributed immensely to these rescue efforts. Eventually he and Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke will get their Economic Nobel too.) Helping to bring G-20 to forefront, that has been a good contribution too.

Looking forward, Iran negotiations, Copenhagen Climate Treaty and China Bilateral Relations; all may have some positive effect. It will be hard for Obama (and Congress as well) to go to Denmark and not to have serious 'climate control' commitments from America.

On the other hand, this prize may put little bit of 'expectation burden' on this Presidency. But it is expected that President Obama and his Administration will be able to handle this burden very well. There is no doubt that he is capable of so and chances are that he will deliver on this promise.

Conservative Miss

Peggy Noonan has articulated the Conservative case of why General McChrystal should be called for Congressional hearings - in order for the American Public to know all sides of this Afghan war. She supplements her argument by giving examples of Lincoln and the way he handled McClellan. Needless to say, the old man, Sen. McCain is jumping up and down all the way hyperventilating about how President Obama is 'at sleep' when America is burning in Kabul. But America has seen that 'movie' before. Last time it ran - President Bush was to announce TARP when over excitedly then presidential candidate Sen. McCain suspended his campaign to render dramatic politics in White House - it did not add any value to America; Americans saw the bluff and Sen. McCain lost badly. No reason to get excited, this time too.

What Peggy and Conservatives miss in this case is - what if the General is wrong? Is the Administration and Obama supporters going to come out in Public and mount a political attack on the General and the Pentagon to prove their point? How good that will be in today's environment? Is such public discrediting of the General, Army and Pentagon going to be any effective on the field and not to mention the political cost to Dems as well as Republicans in all of these political games? It is fine to give examples of Lincoln waiting for then general McClellan, but to think that it is same today in contemporary 24/7 news cycle is being naive and missing completely how media works and how it can be damaging for America ultimately.

General Petreous's testimony - did that move the public opinion then? American Public was skeptical about the surge after the hearings as well as like how it was before the testimony. President Bush needed Congress to come around his tactics and hence he brought in the General. President Bush moved forward with his surge in any case was the prerogative of Commander in Chief and he exercised that. For President Obama, bringing the General to the Congress does not serve any purpose. That is his prerogative and he would exercise it as he deems fit as Commander in Chief.

As reported, the General himself has provided the menu of 10K, 25K and 40K additional troops in his plan. To assume everything is dependent on whether President Obama sends 40K or 1 less soldier is laughable and childish.

Finally, as this blog post started, what if the General McChrystal is wrong? He can be wrong because, no matter what, it is clear that he concentrated on Afghanistan only and he assumed the end goal as bringing Iraq style state in Afghanistan. What Administration and American people are wondering is - is that the core objective in Afghanistan? Under what conditions Afghanistan can attain such stability? If rooting out terrorism from Pakistan is the pre-condition of any such stability in Afghanistan; why are we putting a cart before horses? General McChrystal's brief was Afghanistan and in a certain sense he only narrowly focused on that problem. General Petreous, as the Centcom chief with overall responsibility of Af-Pak area, is far from pounding the table for 40K more bodies.

What is happening is Conservatives are falling over each other in their Pavlovian instincts for anything that says 'more war'. They seem to know only one weapon in the arsenal and that is the end of the story for them. During the presidential election campaign General Petreous was 'God' for Sen. McCain. Now there is a new addition to his Parthenon - General McChrystal. Oh, don't bother to ask where is his independent mind.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Zakaria Iran Theory

Fareed Zakaria writes a good column in Newsweek about options for West in addressing Iran's quest for nuclear weapons. He rightly explains why Iranian President Ahmanijedad continues his vitriolic against Israel - in order to avoid any coming together of Arabs and Israel which otherwise will heighten the fear about a Shi'ite State acquiring nukes among Sunni Arabs. In such a scenario Sunni Arabs will forcefully align themselves with American efforts in thwarting Iranian nuke ambition. That is a good insight Zakaria is offering here. However, in the end this Zakaria article gives a feeling of 'do nothingness' in case of Iran. Many on Conservative side think Soviet style containment is euphemism for such 'do nothingness' and simply acceptance of Iranian nukes in the end.

George Kenan's containment was more in reference of the world wide quest of Soviet Union to increase its geopolitical sphere of influence and embedding certain ideology in far away places. Iranian state, though equally ideological in certain sense, is not talking any world wide quest of increasing the geopolitical sphere. Not only it is not in the league of Soviet Union when it comes to resources, it does not have the equivalent glow of sacrifice as like what was there with Soviet Union. Let us face it - Americans very well think that in the end they defeated Hitler, but in reality it was the Soviet Union with unimaginable scale of sacrifice who defeated the Nazis. Americans get the credit but the price was paid by Soviet Union largely, not to undermine what Americans contributed in the European theater; crucially the leadership on Western front. Compared to that the only Iranian regime's sacrifice was at the hands of Saddam Haussain in 8 years of Iran-Iraq war. With Saddam gone and new democratic Iraq on rise; all of that Iranian 'well' of sacrifice - what have you done lately - is depleted. While containment as a strategy against Soviets in Cold War era was imperative due to all of these reasons of then political history, heft of Soviets along with their nukes & Sputniks and overall receptive image of Soviets all over world immediately after WWII; to stretch that anology to Iran does not fly. Add to that it was rare to hear any language of 'wiping out nations and people from map' as well sponsorship of Terrorism from Soviets. No, I do not intend to sing paeans for Soviets nor do I wish it to come back. Soviets are good where they are - graveyard of History. But the point is in the end current Iranian Regime also belongs there but the Kenan containment strategy against Soviets is not applicable here.

In case of India and Pakistan, containment applies in shades because there is this balance of mutually assured destructiveness on both Indian and Pakistan side. Besides there is a whip of again MAD between India and China too, at least to a some lesser degree. But in case of Middle East, to ingite that race will be too destabilizing for the world peace. Israeli nukes are more along the lines of Japanese and S. Korea - ready for assembly in quick time. For Israel to survive in the sea of enemies all around, it needs nuclear weapon readiness.

Coming back to the Zakeria article, he denounces any military attacks on Iran because that will immediately force the Iranian Opposition to back the discredited regime of Ayatollah. Response there is - so what? To sustain and nurture democratic Iranian Opposition is not whole responsibility of the rest of world. Rest of the world can encourage democratic opposition to Aytollahs, but in order to maintain any such political space, the world cannot simply accept nuclear shenanigans of a nation which actually has signed NPT (India, Pakistan and Israel have not). If the entire Iranian nation, including democratic opposition of Ayatollahs, wants to continue the quest of nukes; all of them will have to be made to learn how unacceptable such a quest is. Political demonstrations and martyrdom in hands of Ayatollahs while fighting for freedom and liberty is no license to make nuke bombs. Iranian democratic opposition is doing what they are doing for the benefit of their own people, beyond a point that cannot be a political debt which rest of the world has to pay back.

Sec. of Defense Gates has said, more in the vein of discouragement, that any military attack will only delay the Iranian nukes. But that is really the only outcome feasible until and unless Iranian people as a whole accept that such a quest of nukes is ultimately of no benefit to them. Such delay in nuke building is what rest of the world can rationally expect, accept and with if push comes to shove. Arguments like what Zakeria offers simply do not stand there.

America and Obama Presidency will be well advised to not take any military option off the table and should even execute it as and when needed if diplomacy fails.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Afghan Election

It was coming in any case - dismissed UN representative Peter Galbraith has come out with a 'tell all' story of what a mess Afghan election has been. Sure, there will be another rebuttal Op-Ed from UN secretary or any other official carrying the water of another UN Secretary General who is continuing the great tradition of being a feckless and ineffective UN chief. Media will be obliged to publish that in the name of being 'balanced'. But the truth is all clear - Afghan election was stolen by Karzai.

It is not that UN has not conducted any credible elections. Starting from Lebanon to Iraq, in many elections UN has played very critical role with much more effective and positive intervention to uphold will of the people. So it is quite surprising that not only UN allowed the theft of Afghan vote but also attempts, seems like successfully so far, to suppress the revelation of this fraud. Generally, UN chiefs are one of the weakest international officials. They succumb to pressure and always compromise basic democratic principles for 'some grand' historical compromise to achieve peace for humanity. The theory is you compromise some such Western notions like 'people's will' to promote larger peace. Nothing of that sorts happen in most cases is a different story. In a way it is understandable with authoritative members of Security Council - China and Russia for quite long - and more than half of nation states struggling to put any democratic political process in motion, why bother for legitimate representation of people's will!

So the real question is, for whom UN Chief is continuing the farce of fraudulent Afghan election? To think any other country like Pakistan to have more influence than heavy weight super powers of UNSC is laughable and non-realistic. There is no apparent reason for any of these powers to let continue Karzai apart from USA. United States is the country which is most invested at this moment in the quagmire called Afghanistan and with their heavy presence on ground is in full capacity to know what is happening as well as to shape things most compared to any other nation. Considering all that, it is inescapable conclusion that Obama Administration is 'okay' with all this fraud.

First starting with public dislike of Karazai, for Obama Administration to allow the current fraud is perplexing and counter productive. Obama Administration has been right early on to diagnose the need of non-Karzai government (or at least coalition) to achieve stability in Afghanistan. But then it seems a big political error for the Administration to allow Karzai government to 'run' the elections in the first place instead of fully controlled and managed election by UN with a complete security blanket provided by Americans and NATO. To trust that discredited government was very naive especially when American blood and tax payer dollars are paid to conduct that election.

Next, it is worse now to ignore that fraud and not to demand the 'second round' or even total nullification of this election. One can understand that White House would like to keep quiet until UN and Afghan process correct themselves in this case. But the fear is, will this White House be not 'naive' again? This means unless Obama Administration is vigilant and very alert for the outcome of the Afghan election, America has the danger of not getting any creditable government - partner - in Afghanistan. It is really strange and surprising for Obama Administration to bask in the glow of the Cairo Speech and Iranian resistance movement, but when it comes to Afghanistan to ignore such a blatant vote theft; especially when the right outcome is so appropriate for America's future work in Afghanistan.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Disastrous Friday

Bad employment number and President is out of country lobbying for Olympics. Then on top of it, he gets drubbing and Chicago is eliminated in the first round itself! Oh man, how bad a day can go even for the mighty President.

It is clear that the world wants to send a message to Obama and America - USA is simply not hot and the world is eager to see Globe without any show stealing by USA. Curtain is down indeed.