Michael Crowley

What He Said
November 30, 2009

Fred Kaplan articulates an ambivalence that I largely share about an Afghanistan escalation. The bottom line is that there are no good options here for the U.S., and choosing the least bad is a combination of hopeful guesswork and prioritizing national costs and risks.

Whack-a-Mole in Pakistan
November 30, 2009

The Pakistani military finally got serious, more or less, and launched a big offensive into Talibanland in South Waziristan. But this important LA Times story says the results have been something less than dazzling: Pakistani military commanders say that after five weeks of fighting, they are in the final stages of their offensive aimed at crushing Islamic insurgents in South Waziristan, a rugged expanse of mountains and plateaus that for years has served as the primary base of operations for the Pakistani Taliban and as a sanctuary for Al Qaeda fighters. When the offensive began Oct.

Trouble for Zardari Means Trouble for Obama
November 30, 2009

It's hardly convenient for the White House to see Pakistan's prime minister* president on the brink of toppling just as Obama rolls out his new(er) strategy for Afghanistan, which we care about in large part because we want to see a stable Pakistan. That said, Zardari has been a hapless and ineffectual prime minister president, and it seems that the military basically holds Pakistan together anyway. Dictatorship under Musharaff wasn't exactly a noble condition, but democracy hasn't fared much better. *Correction: In haste, I called Zardari Pakistan's prime minister; I know better than that.

Global Warming Skepticism Up, Not Winning
November 25, 2009

A new Washington Post poll shows that the proportion of Americans who believe global warming is occurring has dipped by one tenth in the past year (from 80 percent to 72 percent). Leave aside the fact that most of this shift might be explained by the margin of error. Isn't it still remarkable that a majority of Republicans still believe warming is occurring? Several years ago that fact alone would have been cause for a headline.

Is Russia Finally Getting Serious About Iran?
November 24, 2009

In recent weeks, Barack Obama's foreign policy has been derided by critics who say he has almost nothing to show for his first 10 months in office. But on one of his most important priorities--stopping Iran's relentless march towards a nuclear weapon--he may be quietly reaping a critical diplomatic turnaround: Russia may finally be getting serious about Iran's nuclear program. That would be great news for Obama. In recent weeks Iran has shown little sign of cutting a good-faith deal with the West to freeze its nuclear program.

Israel, Iran, and "Mowing the Lawn"
November 24, 2009

Given that everyone agrees Israel can't just destroy Iran's nuclear program--what with underground bunkers and secret facilities--people often wonder why Israel would launch air strikes that could have calamitous consequences.

Afghanistan Speech Next Week
November 24, 2009

So, multiple outlets are reporting that Obama is days away from a decision on his Afghanistan strategy, and that he will likely present it to the nation in a prime time (unlike his mid-March speech, which was delivered on a Friday morning). For now there's not much to say, except to remind people that the waiting game has just begun. It will take months to get those troops over there. The winter will put a chill, so to speak, on combat operations. And it probably won't be clear many more months--maybe a year--whether we've turned the conflict around. Take your patience pills.

Sunni Awakening, Afghan Version
November 23, 2009

It's often said that you can't hope to apply Iraq strategy to Afghanistan because the two countries/conflicts are so different. But Stanley McChrystal seems not to agree: In Iraq, the U.S.-funded Sons of Iraq program got as many as 100,000 Sunni insurgents to stop fighting the U.S., or even take up arms against the group Al Qaeda in Iraq, by forming paramilitary groups. Efforts are underway to move them into state security forces or provide other jobs. U.S.

Why Did Iran Flip-Flop on that Nuclear Deal?
November 23, 2009

CFR has an illuminating interview with Carnegie's George Perkovich: [W]hat happened is that Jalili returned from Vienna to a place where the leadership had systematically made enemies of many in the Iranian establishment, including the speaker of the Parliament, Ali Larijani, who was the former chief nuclear negotiator and who himself has been regarded as a pretty hard-line guy. Ahmadinejad in the past had belittled him and said that he was weak, and so now was time for payback. Everybody who had been angered or frustrated or brow-beaten by Ahmadinejad turned around and dumped on him.

Shake up the Foreign Policy Team?
November 23, 2009

Les Gelb thinks Obama's trip to Asia was a flop, and that the time would have been better spent on a Hawaii vacation. He also wonders whether, after a couple of foreign trips with little to show for them, Obama's foreign policy team is serving him well: First, the trip’s limited value per day of presidential effort suggests a disturbing amateurishness in managing America’s power. On top of the inexcusably clumsy review of Afghan policy and the fumbling of Mideast negotiations, the message for Mr.