For Your Protection
September 22, 2009

Earlier this month, Barack Obama apparently completed an anti-free-market trifecta, adding "protectionist" to a rap sheet that already included "deficit spender" and "serial nationalizer." And not just any protectionist, mind you. In the words of former Bush spokesman Tony Fratto, Obama will hereafter be known as "the president who ‘lost' trade for America." The following day, the Wall Street Journal editorial page elaborated: "America now has its first protectionist President since Herbert Hoover." So what did Obama do to earn this unsavory distinction?

Afghanistan: The Petraeus Factor
September 21, 2009

Largely invisible in the current debate over troop levels in Afghanistan, which has exposed some stress fractures between the Obama White House and the Pentagon, is Centcom commander David Petraeus. Given his immense credibility as the man perceived to have "saved" Iraq, Petraeus could have a potentially decisive influence on a domestic political debate about troop levels by making his own assessment known. But, while Petraeus's commentary about Iraq was once ubiquitous, today he's laying awfully low.

The Wire, Season 6: Kabul Boys
September 21, 2009

In which McNulty, exiled to an agricultural-training mission in rural Afghanistan, winds up bringing down the Afghan president. LAT: U.S. spy agencies have already stepped up their scrutiny of corruption in Kabul. The recent Senate report described a wiretapping system activated last year that is aimed at tracing ties between government officials and drug kingpins in the country. Yes, my setup was a joke--but this surveillance is not. It's not hard to imagine it leading us to some inconvenient places.

Blockade Iran?
September 21, 2009

As a senator, Chuck Robb was certainly a DLC-style Democrat, but never a wild-eyed hawk. Yet writing with two co-authors in the Washington Post today, he suggests that the U.S. might consider a sanctions-enforcing naval blockade on Iran by early next year. I would be surprised to see Barack Obama take such a step.

Could McChrystal Quit?
September 21, 2009

That Post article today isn't the only sign of impatience within the military brass over Afghanistan troop levels.

Obama vs the Generals?
September 21, 2009

This morning's Washington Post's account of Stanley McChrystal's Afghanistan review isn't very surprising. We already knew that McChrystal sees the Taliban as a formidable enemy and thinks the U.S. needs an ambitious coutinerinsurgency to succeed. What is striking  is the back-and-forth, by means of background quotes, between the White House and the Pentagon in the Post's accompanying analysis piece.

UK General: Failure in Afghanistan Would "Intoxicate" Terrorists
September 18, 2009

More evidence for the idea that policymakers see "winning" in Afghanistan and an end in and of itself: The new head of the British Army, General Sir David Richards, also warned last night that Nato had yet to find the right formula for success in Afghanistan. General Richards also warned that defeat for the international coalition would have an “intoxicating impact” on extremists around the world.

Karzai Changes His Tone
September 18, 2009

For the past several months Afghan president Hamid Karzai has been lashing out at NATO forces, complaining bitterly that civilian casualities were the result of Western indifference to Afghan lives and arguing (probably correctly, though unhelpfully) that such "collateral damage" was abetting the terrorists. But in his Kabul press conference yesterday, Karzai sang a different tune when asked about one of the biggest air strike foul-ups of the war: Striking a magnanimous tone, Karzai said he would welcome Abdullah or any of his other challengers into a new government.

Lexicon Update: It's "PakAf" Now?
September 18, 2009

Al Kamen hears that's what Richard Holbrooke now calls it. The verbiage is trivial, of course, but represents an important substantive point: that nuclear-armed Pakistan is actually more important to us than the country where we have 60,000-plus troops. I've heard that the modified phrase has currency with at least one other very senior administration official.

Troop-Increase Politics
September 18, 2009

WaPo: Meanwhile, McChrystal has finished drawing up his request for what is expected to be thousands or tens of thousands of additional trainers and combat troops for Afghanistan, but he is awaiting instructions before submitting the request to the Pentagon. Senior defense officials said that, in effect, McChrystal has been asked to delay submitting the request. "We're working through the process by which we want that submitted," Gates told reporters, without elaborating. This isn't necessarily sinister in any way.