Michael Crowley

COIN Toss

On the night of December 1, shortly after Barack Obama announced plans to send 30,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan, retired Lt. Colonel John Nagl appeared on MSNBC’s “The Rachel Maddow Show.” Maddow was dismayed by Obama’s new plan, which she called “massive escalation,” but, when she introduced Nagl, a counterinsurgency expert who has long called for a greater U.S. commitment to Afghanistan--even if it means raising taxes and expanding the military--she was surprisingly friendly.

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BIGGEST TACTICAL BLUNDER: Pushing the Israeli-Arab peace process too hard. Obama took office looking for bold strokes at a time when peace seemed as far away as ever: Israel had just finished its punishing military campaign in Gaza last winter, and the Arab world was inflamed, and deeply uninterested in making offerings to Israel. Obama's squeeze on Israeli settlements, meanwhile, managed to a) tick off a backlash in Israel that enabled the Netanyahu government to stand its ground, without b) shaking loose meaningful Arab support.

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This AP story reminds us that it's going to be tough to defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan so long as they have a safe haven across the border in Pakistan: SHAKTOI, Pakistan (AP) -- A top Pakistani Taliban commander says he sent thousands of fighters to neighboring Afghanistan to rebuff incoming U.S.

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Apparently I found Newsweek's interview with Henry Kissinger and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton more interesting than Isaac did. Clinton makes what I think are a couple of interesting observations,  including this one, about diplomacy in the modern world: What I have found hardest to balance is the amount of travel that is expected today. One would think that in an era where communication is instantaneous, you would not have to get on an airplane and go sit in a meeting.

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I'm no expert, but the more I think and learn about Pakistan, the more I wonder whether there's any hope of a healthy long-term relationship between our country and theirs.

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Ahmadinejad, Defiant

Via AP: TEHRAN, Iran — Iran's president on Tuesday dismissed a year-end deadline set by the Obama administration and the West for Tehran to accept a U.N.-drafted deal to swap enriched uranium for nuclear fuel, and claimed his government is now "10 times stronger" than a year ago.... The international community can give Iran "as many deadlines as they want, we don't care," Ahmadinejad said in a speech to thousands of supporters in the southern city of Shiraz...."We told you that we are not afraid of sanctions against us and we are not intimidated," he said, addressing the West.

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Islamabad, Pakistan The US Embassy in Islamabad is a tense and embattled place. The embassy complex is fortress-like, sequestered in a secure area to the east of the city known as the "diplomatic enclave," whose approaches are guarded by multiple security checkpoints. The compound's outer perimeter is festooned with barbed wire and towering walls. Arriving vehicles are stopped for bomb-checks, sealed into a quarantined area with high walls on either side and heavy iron doors at front and back.

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Quote of the Day

Barack Obama: “One of the things that I’ve felt very strongly about during the course of this year is that hard stuff requires not paralysis, but it requires going ahead and trying to make the best of the situation that you’re in.” Doesn't have quite the same ring as "the fierce urgency of now," does it? And in fact, MLK's next line was this: "This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism." Of course, Martin Luther King never met Ben Nelson.

Overheard

At a Washington, D.C., restaurant, a child looking at a picture of Barack Obama turns to his mother and says: "Is he always going to be the president, mommy?" "No," the mother replied. "Four years." Maybe she's a Palin voter?

Geopolitical realities force Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri to visit Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, who probably orchestrated a massive car bomb that killed Hariri's father in 2005. The recent rise in Syrian influence would be less galling were Assad doing anything visible to advance the Middle East peace process--one common view holds that untangling the Syrian-Israeli border could be a crucial first step towards a broader paece--as this Sy Hersh opus suggested might happen.

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