Thursday, May 28, 2009

Mr. Netanyahu's answer

Well I guess that settles that question. Looks like Israel doesn't mind alienating its only remaining ally. Now to see if the US does more than verbal chastisement.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Gut check

President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu will meet face to face in the Oval Office on Monday. I have great respect for Mr. Obama's intelligence and desire to do the right thing, but this is a big chance for him to show the world that he has the testicular intestinal fortitude to stand up to Mr. Netanyahu. If there's any consistent position Netanyahu has, it is that he will do anything possible to delay, obstruct, and otherwise interfere with any moves made toward a two-state solution in Palestine. (It certainly doesn't help to have Avigdor Lieberman as his Foreign Minister.)

Netanyahu is expected to press Obama on a tougher policy toward Iran as a precondition for movement in Palestine. There's also been a lot of talk about Obama wanting movement on Palestine as a precondition for a tougher stance on Iran. Sounds like fun, right? But Obama has a much better bargaining position, due both to his personal popularity and the overwhelming support for a two-state solution world-wide. He needs to use his pocket kings to force concessions out of Netanyahu. The Bush administration mostly gave Israel a free pass for eight years, Mr. Obama needs to jump on this early and put some pressure on Israel to freeze settlements and work toward political reconciliation. Too many presidents wait until their last year or so in office to start working on this thorny problem. Mr. Obama needs to start now, and let Mr. Netanyahu know that foot-dragging will not be tolerated.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Reading Material

Now that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been simmering for a number of years, there are several good books written about combat in these theaters. I'll put aside books about the politics of the war or grand strategy. These three are mainly about combat and the lives of the soldiers risking their lives for a greater goal in the Middle East and Central Asia (in the order I read them):

The Long Road Home:
This one is an account of a major battle between the US Army and Mahdi militiamen in 2004. Written by Martha Raddatz, it is similar in style and story to Black Hawk Down. It is a detailed account of the battle, the soldiers, and their families. I read this one quite a while ago, so my memory of it isn't the best, but it was an excellent account of the beginning of the insurgency in Iraq.

Chasing Ghosts
Written by Paul Rieckhoff, an Amherst graduate and current chairman of the IAVA, this is a gritty look at combat and life in a small combat outpost. His unit entered Iraq shortly after the invasion proper ended and Iraq had been "liberated". The book is a great look at the day to day grind of a small unit in Baghdad. The book is at times hilarious, highly critical, deeply sad, and ultimately very real. At times it feels more like Catch-22, other times Platoon. Rieckhoff makes no effort to hide his feeling about the war itself and how it was and is being waged. He is very critical of the lack of equipment and training given to his unit before deployment, as well as the war in Iraq in general.

Joker One:
This book, just recently released, is written by Donovan Campbell, a guy who graduated from Princeton, but enrolled in OCS instead of heading off to a cushy investment banking job. He served two tours in Iraq as a Marine. The first was as an intelligence officer, the second as a platoon leader in the capital of Anbar Province, Ramadi. Fallujah got most of the press, but Ramadi was a very violent city, and Campbell's unit sustained the highest rate of casualties of any unit since Vietnam. Campbell pulls no punches in his description of combat and life in Ramadi. He certainly doesn't shy away from describing his own weaknesses as a leader, or the idiosyncrasies of war. He does a masterful job of illustrating the bond formed between his men over their time in Iraq. The full title calls it a "Story of Courage, Leadership, and Brotherhood", but Entertainment Weekly's review put it better, saying "Joker One isn't as much a story of war as it is a story of love." The book makes no political points, it is merely a very moving account of young men in a very tough situation.

For more immediate reading about the men and women serving their country in Iraq and Afghanistan, Gary Trudeau put together The Sandbox, a compilation of blogs by military folks stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan right now.

Robert Gates

Despite my cynicism in the previous post regarding Gen. McKiernan's firing, I am becoming convinced that keeping Robert Gates is at or near the top of the list of best decisions of President Obama's administration. There is an excellent story in the Washington Post, profiling Gates. (Tip of the hat to, surprise surprise, Tom Ricks.) He seems dedicated to the safety of the American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, and very committed to winning those wars. He's not willing to give in to bureaucratic inertia. The story of his herculean efforts to acquire more Predators for the soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan is exactly what you want to see from your SecDef.

I already blogged about the defense budget, but it is another example of his doing what he believes is right, and not giving into the dug in bureaucracy. He also wrote a very interesting article(sorry, can't find a public version) in the January/February 2009 issue of Foreign Affairs on the need for the military to adapt to 21st century war, de-emphasizing conventional war in favor of asymmetric warfare. He seems uninterested in politics, only wanting to do what needs to be done for the US to prevail in our current conflicts and be better prepared for similar conflicts in the future.

Kudos to the Obama team and kudos to Sec. Gates. When politics are put aside for the common good, great things can happen.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Gen. McKiernan

Allow me to play the cynic for a moment. (It comes fairly easily, I admit.)

President Obama (and Gen. Petraeus) asked for and received General David McKiernan's resignation as senior U.S. commander in Afghanistan yesterday. While there are clearly still many issues to be worked out in Afghanistan, and perhaps news will emerge that McKiernan was standing in the way of some new administration policies... as of yet, there doesn't seem to be a huge reason for this.

My thought: Is this like the baseball team that fires the manager after a disappointing first half? The team sucks, and there's not a whole lot the GM (or owner) can do about it, but by firing the manager, it looks like they're doing something about it. With dire warnings about Pakistan, and no real change of strategy in Afghanistan, other than sending more American troops there, maybe the President wanted to look like he was doing something substantial.

I hope I'm wrong. But this thought has been nagging at the back of my mind for a while.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009


My cat, Blackjack, died this morning. He was 15.

In summer of 1993, my babysitter's cat, Tigger, had kittens. It was a smallish litter, only 3 kittens, whom we named "Friendly", "Flatface", and "Blackjack". This, of course, sparked a family conversation about adopting one of them. We hadn't had a pet since our hamster, Nibbler, died (possibly of obesity, maybe we should have called him "Gobbler"). I was on the fence, but my brother was fully in favor of getting a kitten. So we decided to go for it. Our discussion had taken a while, however, and by the time we came to this decision, there was just one kitten left, Blackjack. We were disappointed that we couldn't adopt Friendly (who would be renamed Rusty), but at least we didn't get Flatface (Taz)!

As it turned out, Friendly/Rusty got less friendly as he grew up, and Flatface/Taz grew out of his old name and into his new. Blackjack kept his name, and his friendly, laid back personality, which was quite a feat living in a house with kids the age of my brother and I at the time. As time went on, and my brother and I went off to college, he became more and more my dad's cat. They spent many an hour napping on the couch and watching the White Sox or Bears.

When I returned from college and began my (usually fruitless) search for a job, Blackjack began to spend more time up in my room. He would just nap on my bed and watch as I frittered away my time on the internet. I still find myself glancing over to my bed while writing this, expecting to see him curled up and snoring on the bedspread. Whenever I would lie down to read a book, he would get up and lay back down next to me.

When I returned from Minneapolis yesterday, I learned that he hadn't been eating and he had lost a noticeable amount of weight. He was also acting strangely, so I took him to the vet this morning. They found a large tumor in his abdomen, and while he was there, he had some kind of stroke. He had to be put to sleep shortly thereafter.

Requiescat In Pace, Blackjack. We lost a family member today.

Saturday, May 2, 2009


I was going to write a post about the incredible series that has occurred between the Bulls and Celtics over the past week. I wanted to try to put in words just how exciting these six games have been, how a person who hasn't paid attention to the NBA since MJ left the Bulls has been enthralled by a game he professed to be unable to stand (yeah, that would be me). Then I read Bill Simmons' column, and I was reminded why he gets paid to write about sports. I can't compete, and I won't try. Enjoy.