Michael Crowley

As I mentioned earlier, I spent a few days this week in Afghanistan with Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Michael Mullen. A breakneck schedule didn't allow for as much time with ground troops as I would have liked. But I did get a chance to ask some how about the Obama administration's Afghanistan strategy review process. With the the review process dragging through meeting after meeting this fall, you'll remember, conservatives hammered Obama for "dithering" that was supposedly demoralizing the troops.

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Memo From Baghdad

Greetings from Iraq. This week I've been traveling with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael Mullen, on a whirlwind tour that took us through Afghanistan and Pakistan before we arrived in Baghdad this evening. This installment of The Plank comes to you from one of Saddam Hussein's lesser palaces, situated on a stagnant pond where the dictator and his sons reportedly used to go fishing. (Most of the buildings around the compound are now named after places in Oregon.) I'll be writing plenty about this trip in the days to come, and in the print edition of TNR.

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Pakistan, not Helping

Accompanying the main PR thrust of Obama's new Afghanistan policy was a more subtle argument: that a new degree of cooperation from Pakistan in the fight against Islamic radicals had given Obama faith that a U.S. offensive could succeed. But now comes word that Pakistan is refusing our demands to crack down on the Haqqani network, whose home base is in Pakistan and which is a major source of insurgency in eastern Afghanistan. The problem is that Pakistant sees the Haqqanis as assets, not enemies.

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The Pakistan Puzzle

In a New York Times op-ed today largely in support of Obama's Afghanistan plan, Nate Fick of the Center for a New American Security writes: Progress depends on two political developments: inducing the administration of President Hamid Karzai to govern effectively, and persuading Pakistan that militant groups within its borders pose as great a threat to Islamabad as they do to Kabul. The latter proposition--bolded by me--is an oft-repeated one. But there's something odd about it. Why wouldn't Pakistan have at least as clear an idea of who poses a real threat to Islamabad as we do?

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Richard Holbrooke, while drumming up support for the war in Germany, offers a bleak assessment.

Talk about delayed reactions. I'd like to see her star in a "Good Wife"-esque reality show.

The Jerusalem Post says Obama is scaling back his diplomacy: With the Palestinians refusing to return to the negotiations, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu not calling for a complete settlement freeze and the Arab world declining to make any gestures to Israel, the current sense in Jerusalem is that the US is scaling back its intensive involvement in the diplomatic process.

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Update: Added missing link to the original item I was responding to. Before people get too excited by the notion that Obama is breaking bold new foreign policy ground by charting an innovative middle way between idealism and realism, let's pause to note that setting up these alternatives and then embracing some synthesis between them is a hoary cliche of foreign policy speechmaking. Hillary Clinton, among many other people, made the same case more than two years ago. So did Robert Gates.

Sounds like someone might've "fallen down a well" in Saudi Arabia. Not everything we do to thwart an Iranian bomb can be found in presidential speeches.

Obama in Oslo

I agree with Chait and, to offer him some fancy synonyms, think this may have been the deepest and most elegaic speech of Obama's presidency. But what a strange one it was. Obama is a man trapped amongst the contradictions created by America's awkward place in the post-Bush world. Last week, Obama's address on Afghanistan both escalated and promised an end to the war there. Today, Obama opened his Nobel Peace Price acceptance speech with a long disquisition on the nature of war and its necessity--complete with a brief survey of "just war" theory.

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