Recent writing, mostly about horrible things

Tweeting the war:

The crowdsourcing of war reporting in Kabul is sort of  like a running version of the Red Balloon Challenge, only with explosives instead of balloons.

Two and a half years on from the first documented use of Twitter to crowdsource information about an attack in Kabul, no new platform has replaced Twitter for this purpose among Afghan and foreign journalists and aid workers.

If you want to follow the war in real time, follow its most prolific Twitter users.

Why Afghanistan’s dangerous political crisis is about power, not ethnic grievances:

Ethnicity matters among Afghan politicians, but it is not a reliable indicator of political affiliation or loyalty. Even party affiliation isn’t a reliable indicator of where an individual legislator will come down on a nationally controversial issue, because Afghanistan’s party system is weak and party discipline within the parliament is almost non-existent.

The rise of Afghanistan’s next generation of feminists and their campaign against street harassment:

A generation of Afghan feminists who came of age in the years following the fall of the Taliban regime is rising to challenge their country’s harmful traditions and attitudes more loudly than ever before. Unwilling to compromise with conservatives and disappointed with the pace of reform over the past decade, a group of these women in Kabul formed Young Women for Change in 2011.

Led by feminist activist and Dickinson College sophomore Noorjahan Akbar, the group aims to fight the deep-seated beliefs that underpin the oppression of women in Afghanistan. Its members aren’t content with gender quotas in government and progress on paper. They want to see progress on the streets, in the rulings of the courts and in the behavior of the police.

The undeclared and escalating border war between Afghanistan and Pakistan:

Tribal leaders in Nangarhar and Kunar rallied around Amarkhel and urged him to stay in his position. They also promised to send their own militia fighters to support the Border Police in any confrontation with Pakistani forces, according to a local researcher who attended several tribal large tribal gatherings in Nangarhar in the past few days.

Describing the affected villages he visited in Kunar, the researcher, who requested anonymity because he often travels to Taliban-controlled areas, told me, “The whole place really looks like a war zone. The artillery shells have destroyed the compounds. Animals are dead and many people have left. The UN has not been able to get into the area, although some people who have moved [away from the border] have been helped by UNHCR.”

Taking drastic measures to protect Afghanistan’s mobile phone networks during the drawdown of international forces:

No one should confuse the planned shadow network with development. It is not development, or even emergency aid. It is a  short-term communication fail-safe for a country where a simple text message –’shooting on road to town, turn back!’– can draw the line between life and death.

Someone please high-five Charli Carpenter

For tackling torture proponent Marc Thiessen’s central argument in Courting Disaster: How the CIA Kept America Safe and How Barack Obama is Inviting the Next Attack on utilitarian grounds as well as liberal ones.

What if we were to accept that the CIA has made America a wee bit safer by torturing KSM?

Liberals actually need an answer to this question, I would argue, because so many of their fellow Americans will buy Thiessen’s empirical case. So the most important part of his argument to refute is actually not the causal argument. The most important part of his argument is his moral argument.

In fact, the most fascinating chapter of his book is the one in which he poses the question: why should torture be considered an absolute prohibition, when killing is not? He explores just war theory and makes an interesting argument that non-lethal forms of torture – the kinds that are scary more than physically injurious – are a lesser evil if innocent civilian lives can be saved as a result.

But this argument as it turns out can be answered by liberals on Marc Thiessen’s own terms as well, because if you read closely it is clear that Thiessen’s overriding goal is not to promote a torture culture per se, but something much nobler: to protect innocent civilian life. The problem with his analysis is that he simply doesn’t have a clear empirical understanding of the factors that most threaten innocent civilian life.

As a matter of fact, terrorism falls pretty far down that list, but state repression is a rather important risk. Think-tanks that track terror fatalities measure the number of dead from terrorism since 1970 in the tens of thousands. Compare this to the hundreds of thousands killed by their own governments over the same period, a number that rises, RJ Rummel tells us, to a staggering 169,198,000 between 1900-1987. International terrorism may be scary, but in relative terms it’s pretty small beer.

It stands to reason that if the goal is to protect civilians the means used to be consistent with the wider protection of civilians. So although liberals are fond of making the absolutist moral argument and the constitutive argument against torture, it turns out that you can also argue against torture on purely utilitarian grounds. And the argument is not that it’s ineffective. The argument is that even if it’s sometimes effective and even if it’s necessary to protect civilians, civilians stand to benefit far more from preserving a rule of law political culture than they do from avoiding every single risk that comes with living in an era of techno-globalization in which the gap between the haves and have nots is widening.

So, my friends, that’s the argument you use when your crazy uncle starts banging on about how liberals aren’t willing to do what it takes to protect their way of life.

Malou Innocent wants you to know she doesn’t give a sh*t about Afghans

Malou Innocent has a new blog post up at the Huffington Post in which she argues that:

- Supporting a functioning state in Afghanistan is a waste of precious US tax dollars –the most precious dollars of all!

Rather than propping up a failed state, U.S. leaders should focus on
countering the al Qaeda threat still clinging to life in this region.

- A Taliban takeover of the Afghan government would be kind of a bummer for Afghans, but we shouldn’t really care about that.

The uncomfortable truth is that without indefinite foreign protection,
the Government of Afghanistan would probably fall to the Afghan
Taliban. But Americans should not equate the fall of that regime with
“losing” to al Qaeda. Violent, Islamist extremist groups indigenous to
this region threaten the Afghan government, not the American
government. Because these radical groups lack the ambition–let alone
the capacity–to threaten the sovereignty or physical security of the
United States, they do not merit the strategic obsession that they
currently receive.

- We totes not only have super awesome weapons we can use to kill the Taliban from afar, but we have these cool Special Forces teams we can send in to kill the baddies under cover of darkness too. Better still, OMFGLOCALMILITIAS!

Technological advances over the past decade allow us to monitor places
without having 100,000 boots on the ground. Furthermore, the blueprint
for an effective counterterrorism approach is the initial U.S.-led
invasion in 2001, when small Special Forces teams, working in
conjunction with local militias, assembled quickly and struck
effectively and cheaply at “real” enemies.

- There are terrorists and insurgencies in rich and democratic countries. This disproves any correlation between lack of development and political violence.

Americans should reject the misguided belief that terrorists can only
flourish in failed states like Afghanistan. After all, India, a major
U.S. ally far more stable than Afghanistan, is fighting several
internal insurgencies. Likewise, the very al Qaeda terrorists
responsible for 9/11 not only found sanctuary in poverty-stricken
Afghanistan, but also in politically free and economically prosperous
countries like Germany, Spain, and the United States.

- Less talk about governance and crap like that, and more killin’ people.

Policymakers in Washington must stop conflating the punishment of al
Qaeda with the creation of stable societies, particularly when ensuring
the survival of an illegitimate foreign government distracts from the
conceptually simpler task of finding and killing terrorists.

As craven as Innocent’s arguments are, they’re also refreshingly honest. She isn’t pretending to care about Afghanistan but disagree with the current strategy, she’s saying I don’t give a shit what happens to those turbany folks, I just want to pay less in taxes and see some terrorists minced by drone strikes.

These people are beyond parody

Too bad, because parody is fun.

Anyway, here is a video that will ruin your afternoon:

You’re welcome.

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A side note: Videos like the one above make me think, and we’re the ones advising other countries how to run liberal democracies and promote civic involvement and all that warm, fuzzy stuff? Insane.

But then, mercifully, I remember that it’s not the crazies doing that work, it’s people like me, or, more precisely, people like my superiors.

Where do I enlist?

Americorps volunteers are, apparently, the Afro-Socialist shock troops who will keep Real Americans in line (and by lines, I mean bread and medicine lines) when Obama and his pals, George Soros, Ban Ki Moon and Bill Ayers, turn America into a totalitarian oligarchy through provision of free abortions  to billions of illegal aliens and establishment of Sharia Law and criminalization of heterosexuality and mass granny killings and the nationalization of all the conglomerates you hold dear.

Or, something like that. Just ask Glenn Beck, America’s last patriot!

As Jason Linkins sagely put it:

Who hasn’t gazed upon the average gaggle of Americorps volunteers, fresh and clueless from college, and thought to themselves: “From this raw material, I could surely fashion a brutal cadre of fearsome shock troops that will finally bring Western civilization to its knees!”

My best friend just applied to Americorps and her birthday is coming up. I need to scour eBay for an ammo belt to match her fave heels.

At least she’s being honest!

In an otherwise unremarkable blob of her usual anti-refugee nuttiness, Ann Corcoran writes:

I have no clue what is really happening in Rwanda, or DR Congo, or Uganda, or Somalia or Kenya for that matter, and neither do you!

Well, actually, those of us who work in international fields and get our news from sources other than World Net Daily, Glenn Beck, and Tom Tancredo email blasts do know what’s happening in various African countries. But mad props to Ann for admitting that the subject of her blog is one she couldn’t write a failing college paper about.

We don’t need to worry about which side is the right side, as I said in my title, let Africa take care of Africa.  Let us take care of America.

And by “take care of America” she doesn’t mean provide healthcare or better education or alternatives to incarceration. No, she means stop refugee resettlement and all other forms of immigration, seal the borders, and commence mass deportations of immigrants already here. Because  “care” in the language of right wing America means the opposite of its dictionary definition.

Iran panel FAIL, and how you can avert it

Nico Pitney brings upsetting neocon-related news, and articulates the following appeal for a little balance in the upcoming Congressional hearing on Iran:

Neocons invited to Congressional hearing on Iran. Last week, the House Foreign Affairs Committee announced that it was holding a hearing this Wednesday titled, “Iran: Recent Developments and Implications for U.S. Policy.”

My initial thought was that the panel was decent but a bit disappointing, and lacking in progressive voices. Among the initial four witnesses announced were Patrick Clawson, a Bush administration supporter who repeatedly advocated that the U.S. use the threat of military strikes to shift policy in Iran, and Abbas Milani, whose 2004 op-ed arguing that President Bush should resist negotiations and publicly endorse democracy activists in Iran was distributed by the neocon outfit Project for a New American Century. (Milani has since shifted his position on the matter of negotiations.)

Suzanne Maloney, a Bush-era State Department official who notably worked against the administration’s hawkish elements, is also invited to testify. So is Karim Sadjadpour of the Carnegie Endowment, who has generally done excellent work on Iran.

On Friday, I spoke with committee chairman Rep. Howard Berman’s staff and suggested that they invite Trita Parsi, the superb analyst who heads the National Iranian American Council, to testify. I was told that Parsi would be considered but that it was late in the process to add witnesses.

But on Monday morning, the committee announced two new additions to the hearing, both aggressive neoconservatives whose Middle East analysis has proven detrimental. One is Orde F. Kittrie of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, the other is Michael Rubin of the American Enterprise Institute. (These witnesses were chosen by Republican members of the committee.)

Rubin’s addition, in particular, is rather stunning. His career work include aiding Doug Feith in the notorious Office of Special Plans to advance dubious intelligence that helped lead the U.S. into war in Iraq; repeatedly advocating for military action against Iran over the last several years; and, in June, laying out the case for why Ahmadinejad would be preferable to a “more soft-spoken and less defiant” president like Mousavi — “it would be easier for Obama to believe that Iran really was figuratively unclenching a fist when, in fact, it had it had its other hand hidden under its cloak, grasping a dagger.”

This panel really needs some balance. If you’re interested in calling the committee and suggesting Trita Parsi (or someone else) [REZA ASLAN! -Ed], you can reach them at (202) 225-5021.

Go!

Thoughts for the weekend

HOLY SH*T!

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Next time I come across one of those ‘Feminism Killed Romance/Chivalry/Marriage/Civilization’ pieces that seem to be so popular right now, I think I’m going to start projectile vomiting Exorcist-style.

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Dozens killed in suicide bombings: Iraq is going to pieces. I didn’t think the surge would work, but I didn’t want it to fail. On the contrary, I very much wanted to be wrong in my prediction, and I still do.

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I am disappointed that Ashraf Ghani has hired James Carville to advise him in his bid for the Afghan presidency. Carville represents all that is mercenary, cynical and deeply illiberal in American politics.

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A trusted friend sent me a very reassuring email from Sarajevo, basically telling me to chill, and that Dodik knows he has already lost, but enjoys theatrics. Despite the deadlock, we push ahead, keeping sight of larger goals that move us beyond divisive politics –that was his message. This friend of mine is his country’s future, I am convinced.

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Ann Corcoran hates refugees. And Muslims. But more than anything else, she hates vulnerable Muslim minority refugees. Iraqi Palestinians, for example. On my other blog, I wrote about this.

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I keep telling my boss that I have hope that the reformists will win out in Iran. I believe they will, and I look forward to visiting a democratic Iran some day. I want to sit in a cafe in Tehran with my peers and listen to them tell me how they forced their government to recognize them as citizens and not mere subjects, how they won.

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“The most important lesson the struggle taught me and my friends is that no one is endowed with remarkable courage. But courage is another word for learning to live with your fears. Now, after eighteen years and the Chilean Truth Commission, courage has again evolved a new definition: the guts not to give in to easy justice. To live within the confinements of reality, but to search day after day for the progressing of one’s most cherished values.”

-Jose Zalaquett, at the opening of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

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“One cannot expect morality from politicians, but one can hold them to the ethics of accountability.” -Antjie Krog. From  ‘None More Parted Than Us’ in the amazing book Country of My Skull.

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I know a lot of people think  Amnesty International letter (now email/fax) writing campaigns on behalf of prisoners of conscience are futile, but they’re not, even when the subject of the campaign remains imprisoned. German Chancellor Angela Merkel was right when she said this:

I know from the time of the GDR (East Germany) how important it was that people around the world made sure that the people stuck in (Stasi prisons) Bautzen and Hohenschoenhausen … were not forgotten. Iran must know, particularly in the age of modern communications, that we will do everything in our power to ensure that these people (arrested in Iran during the recent turmoil) are not forgotten about.

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Thinking of Bosnia, of Srebrenica, of the grim anniversary. A powerful letter by a member of Women in Black (Belgrade), translated and published here:

And my dear Senka…

I missed you…so much…yesterday in Srebrenica…Again at the place where crimes were committed in my name, in our name…
Srebrenica…every time…it is an experience that will be remembered…the physical experience above all…which can never be forgotten…it’s here again…in me…and me with her (Srebrenica).

Meeting with the Women of Srebrenica…meeting with women whose bodies have been emptied of children killed by Serbs in my, in our name…

That’s them, those are “our” women…the same ones that followed the trial of the “Scorpions” with us, the same ones who we visit in Tuzla, and the ones that we meet in Srebrenica every year…You know this best…You know…Home is where you are loved…They always welcome you with a smile in their eyes, the same eyes that will never see their loved ones again…Serbs killed them! And they always open their arms to us, the same arms that will never hold their children again…Serbs killed them! And they come to you with a pure heart and a pure soul…they hug you and kiss you and even say thank you… to us, people from a brutalized, shameful, guilty land…And then you just want to die…to be gone…to vanish…to cease to exist…

And then…after all, after you have been burned by the July sun…wearing black…when you feel so guilty that you think this is it…Srebrenica is inside you…and that, my dear Senka, is confronting the past…our feminist approach…No abstract process…and it’s not happening to someone else, someone  far away…it’s happening to us in a land of  humanity, we who live in a land deprived of its humanity.

And then I remembered you…You, my image of you, every time we would travel back together from Bosnia…that horrible…hard…weight and silence I would see in your eyes…In front of me I see a large eyeball, a mouth of stone, which gives the impression that the verdict is already there…in front of me is a stone jury…
“We are guilty…”

I love you,
Milos

And the award for most ludicrous Afghanistan commentary goes to…

Ralph Peters, that’s who. Hands down.

A taste (h/t Registan):

Although it seems unthinkable now, future wars may require censorship, news blackouts and, ultimately, military attacks on the partisan media. Perceiving themselves as superior beings, journalists have positioned themselves as protected-species combatants. But freedom of the press stops when its abuse kills our soldiers and strengthens our enemies. Such a view arouses disdain today, but a media establishment that has forgotten any sense of sober patriotism may find that it has become tomorrow’s conventional wisdom.

The point of all this is simple: Win. In warfare, nothing else matters. If you cannot win clean, win dirty. But win. Our victories are ultimately in humanity’s interests, while our failures nourish monsters.

Add ” kill journalists” and “censor media outlets that do not cheerlead for us” to the list of things those on the extreme right believe we need to do to “save Western civilisation”/win the “War on Terror”/fulfill our pubescent boy dreams of bloodying far-off lands in the name of freeeeedooooom.

So, let me think, we’ve got;

- Kill journalists and censor the media

-Suspend civil liberties

-Set up secret prisons

-Undermine the rule of law,  including  international criminal law

-Torture

-Support (politically and materially) dictatorial regimes that oppose “our enemies” while brutalizing their own populations

Hmmm…what am I missing?