Friday, August 29, 2008

Brilliant, McCain!

John McCain's pick of Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin was a brilliant tactical stroke. I must say, I was caught off guard by that pick but in retrospect I shouldn't be so surprised. If McCain is anything, he is a tactician. His VP is youthful, to offset his age. She is charismatic, something he lacks to some degree. She is moderate, and helps make the GOP ticket look as such. And of course, being female, McCain just tapped into the largest disaffected group of voters in this country. At this point, all bets are off. Intrade still has Obama at 60% to win, but make no mistake - it is a horse race at this point.

My own feelings are still pro-Obama but are relatively balanced between the two candidates. On economic issues, I side with McCain and always have. On foreign policy issues, the success of the surge and the stabilization of Iraq has turned a foreign policy and humanitarian disaster into a huge benefit - if it can be maintained. Everyone should give McCain props for that. The question we need to ask ourselves is who can best win the war in Afghanistan and who can best reduce our dependence on foreign oil. I believe Obama is still that man, but certainly not by a large margin.

P.S. Republicans should be very careful what they wish for. If Obama loses this election, Hillary Clinton is a guaranteed lock for the Democratic nomination, and probably the presidency, in 2012. The GOP might wish they'd tolerated an Obama for four years when faced with the prospect of another Clinton White House for eight.

****** Addendum ******

So apparently my initial sources might have been inaccurate. Governor Palin may not be a moderate at all. Some of the things I've been reading paint her as a religious right-winger similar to Rick Santorum; teaching creationism in the schools and all of that (BARF). At any rate, my opinion still stands that it was a smart political move on McCain's part. It isn't a decision that appeals to intellectual voters, it is a decision that appeals to spiteful voters. And there are many of them, who will soon realize if they already haven't that an Obama defeat in 2008 guarantees a Hillary Clinton run in 2012.

McCain will lose some ground with independents and moderate Republicans, who were hoping for someone with a strong economic background to complement McCain's obvious weakness in that area. But the truth is, as long as Obama talks like a populist and speaks against free trade, economic-issue voters will still be in McCain's camp. Meanwhile any losses he would have had will be more than offset by the gains in evangelicals and women voters.

There are a lot of people railing that this is a bad decision for the country. Bringing in someone with little experience and putting that person "a heartbeat away" from the Presidency. They point out that it makes a mockery of McCain's campaign slogan, "Country First". I agree with this people. It is a bad decision for the country. But it is undeniably a good decision for McCain's chances of winning the election.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

The US Economy is a beast!

GDP grew at 3.3%? I thought we were in a recession? 3.3% is significantly more than what would be considered "fast" growth in Western Europe.

My 2008 election prediction had Obama trouncing McCain. I did allow for a caveat, though. For McCain to have a chance, the US economy had to be strong and Iraq had to be going well. Amazingly, both seem to be a reality. I still think Obama will win, but it isn't so surprising that the polls are pretty close.

Obama's speech tonight was good, but he will have to perform well in the debates if he is going to win this thing.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008


I've been reading "Nixon and Kissinger" this month, which naturally has a lot of discussion of the Vietnam war. Specifically, the negotiations, the conflict, and the enemy mindset and strategy. There are far more parallels between Afghanistan and Vietnam than there are between Iraq and Vietnam, in my opinions.

Iraq was a nastier war from the start, but I said some time ago that I think it will resolve faster. Either we will win or we'll leave; either way, some conclusion will be met. This is more or less consistent with the past governing history of Iraq; it is used to being unified by a strong force despite all of its differences in ethnicity and religion (Turks first, then Arab strongmen like Saddam).

Afghanistan, on the other hand, has a long storied history of NOT being under the control of one dominant central authority. It also has a long storied history of refusing to become pacified by any major power, even in ancient times. More recently we look at the British, the Russians, and now the USA.

Terrain looks to be another factor. Vietnam obviously had terrain that was extremely conducive to guerrilla warfare, support from local populace or no. Now compare the two present battle-zones. Iraq is flat, with fertile river basins or desert depending on where you go. It isn't especially easy to hide from US reconnaissance aircraft in the middle of a desert. Contrast this all with Afghanistan. Just mountains and caves and nothing. And a 2000+ long mile border with Pakistan. This is probably another reason why Iraq has traditionally been more centralized while Afghanistan hasn't been. In Iraq, Saddam could just send his army to crush the dissenting ethnic groups, who had nowhere to hide. Not so in Afghanistan. Notice also that the one ethnic group that gave Saddam the most trouble - the Kurds, have a lot of mountainous terrain in their homeland.

I was also thinking that oil would contribute to a centralized power structure whereas the lack of an organized economy or lack of reliance of a central government would discourage such organization in Afghanistan. Could be a combination of all of those factors.

But the main similarity between Afghanistan and Vietnam in my mind is the psyche of the enemy. There is simply no negotiation, nor is there a desire to negotiate. The Taliban simply do not care how many men they lose. Their reserves are nearly infinite. This is identical to the mindset of Ho Chi Minh and the Vietnamese Communists. They will continue to attack even in the face of 10:1 casualty ratios.

So this is why I said some time ago that I think Afghanistan is more of a lost cause than Iraq; I see fewer prospects for a resolution and in 5-10 years we're going to ask why we should even bother. This isn't to say that we should give up the mission, but we need to re-think our strategy if we're going to make any progress. The impetus for this post in the first place was the news today of the French corps who were ambushed, with 10 killed and some 20+ wounded. France is contributing 3000; I imagine they will be gone before the years end. The war is pretty unpopular in other NATO nations as well. I'd say we have five years max to get this things wrapped up, because thats the very longest that public opinion will tolerate this sort of thing any longer, even in the states.

As far as what strategy changes are concerned, I would emphasize that we must think in political, social, and economic terms. Military solutions aren't as effective when your enemy doesn't care at all about casualties and your side does. I mean from news reports its seems like we already have 25:1 kill/loss ratios, it simply can't get much better than that unless we have robots. So here are my ideas:

1. Political: fix Pakistan. Yea, pretty simplistic and difficult I realize. But what I mean is we need to encourage democracy and strong institutions there, even if it means an anti-American (within limits) Islamic party takes power. We need to learn to work with such a government, to coexist with it. Once Muslims realize democracy isn't incompatible w/ Islam, a big reason for the Taliban to fight the Afghani government disappears.

2. Social: elect Barack Obama. The last thing we need is another militaristic Christian crusader speaking of going to war with miscellaneous Islamic countries. We are trying to get these people to see our point of view, to work w/ us, to coexist with us. Maybe we are destined to fight a clash of civilizations. But in the meantime, if anyone can convince some of the enemy to lay down their arms, its Barack Obama. I fear that McCain will only encourage more to pick up arms against us.

3. Economic: the opium trade is forcing poor Afghani farmers to break the law and side with the Taleban in order to feed their families. We need a three pronged approach here. First, mount a massive public campaign across the world but especially in Europe to reduce opium usage (discourage demand). Maybe Barack could spearhead it? Second, we should have our pharmaceutical companies buy Afghani opium for a fair price so the farmers can make their money legally. Third, we should subsidize Afghani farmers to grow other crops.

Third year of medschool is strange. I feel that there is less pressure and it is less busy than 1st and 2nd year. And yet, I feel that I have far less time than I used to. I barely ever get to read on the net anymore, and hardly get to crack my new issues of the Economist. So I decided I'd sit down tonight and think about something other than whatever clerkship that I'm in, but unfortunately have no time for editing or revising so if it looks jumbled, thats why. Because its way past my bedtime, and I have neurological examinations to perform in the morning...