Saturday, June 28, 2008

Iranian Nuclear Program

In his June 22nd column, Threat of ‘iron and blood’ won’t resolve Iranian’s nuclear deal,” Abdulahi Ahmednasir provides an interesting study of one of the most intractable international problems today, how to deal with Iran’s nuclear program. Whereas, Mr. Ahmednasir’s study of the situation is laudable, and his advice against using force to solve the problem, there are a number of problems with his presentation. One regards the legal basis for the West’s focus on Iran’s nuclear program. The other is the author’s focus on the West-Iran dyad, while missing the wider regional opposition to Iran having nuclear weapons, the proverbial trees versus the forest conundrum.

As a signatory to the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT), Iran has the right to pursue a peaceful nuclear power/research program. However, the NPT prohibits Tehran from pursuing a nuclear weapons program, and requires it to make regular declarations to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), as well as, bowing to regular IAEA inspections.

The current crisis was brought by Iran’s failure to fully live up to its treaty obligations and its concealment of a secret uranium enrichment program. In fact, on a number of occasions the UN Security Council has seen it fit to sanction Iran for its intransigence. Moreover, the lack of clarity about Iran’s nuclear intentions, has lead to a high level of suspicion, and in light of its treaty obligations, Iran has given the West the necessary legal basis to curtail its nuclear program.

The author – by focusing only on the West and Israel – also fails to appreciate the fears of other regional parties, and the extent to which a nuclear Iran would destabilize the already fragile region. These states – Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States, Egypt – are greatly worried about having a Persian, Shiite nuclear hegemon on their doorsteps. For political, religious, as well as, strategic reasons, these nations are opposed to a nuclear Iran. A nuclear Iran would in all likelihood engulf the Middle East in a destructive arms race, one that could only end in disaster.

By failing to take the regional powers’ views into consideration, as well as, Iran’s failure to live up to its treaty obligations, the author reduces what is a complex regional interplay, into a simple David v. Goliath dyad; and who would root against an underdog?

There are no simple answers to this problem, but at the least, Iran must show a willingness to live up to its treaty obligations, and the West (the U.S.A and Israel in particular), show some restraint and pay more than lip-service to Iran’s right to have a peaceful nuclear power program.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

What a way to make amends

Friday, June 20, 2008


As the general election period begins in earnest and speculation about the biggest pre-election decision the candidates will make, picking a vice presidential candidate, a number of intriguing match ups have been suggested. One of the most intriguing is a McCain-Lieberman ticket.

Over the past couple of years, McCain and Lieberman have been bosom buddies, especially with regard to their support of the war in Iraq. So much so that Lieberman has endorsed McCain for president, and actively campaigns for him, and is heading a new group to attract Democrats and Independents to McCain. This has caused some friction with his Democrat colleagues in the senate (where he helps them maintain a slim 51-49 majority, by caucusing with them). Most threatening has been Lieberman’s role as an attack dog (a role played by vice presidential candidates) for McCain, to the point that a few weeks ago, Obama confronted him in the senate regarding his schilling for McCain.

A McCain-Lieberman ticket would work on a number of levels, the two get along well and agree on a number of critical national security issues. Moreover, it would take some of the change initiative away from Obama. There is nothing more post-partisan than a post-partisan ticket. Moreover, Lieberman would help (as he did in 2000) with the Jewish vote in Florida, and this could put McCain over in that state. He would also help bring in disaffected Democrats (Reagan Democrats as they are referred to), and attract a lot of independent voters, whom McCain is banking on to take him to the White House.

However, a McCain-Lieberman ticket would do nothing to assuage the social and economic conservative base, groups that are already lukewarm about McCain. Picking Lieberman (a social liberal/moderate) would be another poke in the eye and could have the unintended consequence of suppressing Republican votes, which McCain also needs to win. Whereas the ticket would be seen as post-partisan, it would not help to have two of the most senor members of the U.S. senate (age and experience wise) on the same ticket, the democrats can continually harp on the “generational change” offered by Obama, and emphasize the McCain/Lieberman ticket as a relic of old Washington, dressed up in a convenient façade of bi-partisanship.

On the whole, McCain it would be best for McCain to steer clear away from picking Lieberman. It is more effective to have him a surrogate, where he can focus on national security matters, without having to explain away differences in economic/social issues. Moreover, judging from Obama’s and the democrats’ reaction to Lieberman’s role in the McCain campaign, it is more effective to have him as an attack dog. A bi-partisan attack dog, who - unlike Zell Miller in 2004 - is a credible, level headed advocate.

Monday, June 16, 2008


The last year of any Presidents second term can be quite lonely, no longer relevant and cast into oblivion by the winds of change in DC, gone are the daily headlines, televised speeches and incessant questions from the press. It is at this lame duck period that Presidents strive to find a “legacy” a pet project that they can point to to salvage their reputations and avoid a “failure,” or “near failure” Presidential rankings. To cement his legacy, Clinton embarked on a whirlwind diplomacy tour aimed at achieving Middle East peace, Bush has followed the same path, but with the prospects of any real peace being achieved, he is hanging his hat on capturing Bin Laden.

It is quite disconcerting when things like legacy take control of a presidency. When Clinton takes it upon himself to push for Middle East peace as his lasting mark on the presidency, or Bush calls for increased efforts to capture Bin Laden. One wonders why these noble policies could not have been pursued earlier on the presidential term.

The American presidency is such a select group, that successive generations are forced to emulate, and out do previous presidents. The quest is to be the next Lincoln, or FDR, not to be a Buchanan or Johnson. But what the leaders fail to appreciate is that the “greatness” or “worseness” of the past presidents is based on a totality of their efforts as presidents, not just one presidential decree, or presidential policy, Presidents should aim to implement substantial policies from the get go and not wait until the last few months of their administrations to salvage some good.

An effort to capture Osama should have been in place from the get go, what is happening now only feeds to peoples cynical views about Iraq and what it has done to the American focus in the “war on Terror.” Moreover, for a man who says he models himself after Truman, it is difficult to understand why he insists on short term actions to burnish his reputation. Truman was very unpopular when he left office, and it took many years for people to recognize the utility of his policies (especially on foreign policy). If he truly believes that history shall vindicate him, he shouldn't be focused on short term gimmicks. Capturing Bin Laden would be laudable, but it will be seen as a "wag the dog" gimmick, much as Clinton's attacks on Yemen and Sudan in 2000.

Friday, June 13, 2008


Sunday Mornings will no longer be the same, your concise analysis of politics and unrelenting objectivity shall surely be missed during this and other election seasons.

Condolences go out to the family, who should have been celebrating the graduation of their son/brother, but are now mourning the death of a husband/father.

Thursday, June 12, 2008


A couple of years ago (can’t remember specific time) on his “Special Report” show, I remember an occasion when Fox News’ Brit Hume seemed to be gloating about a reduction in troop casualties over the previous two months. He was decidedly pleased that the “facts on the ground” were confounding the previous narrative that Iraq was hell bound. This was just before the bombing of the Golden Mosque and the hell that broke out in 2006, where casualties (both American and Iraqi) rose substantially.

Over the past couple of months, as the “surge” has taken hold, American casualties (and indeed Iraqi casualties) have declined considerably, from a high of 131 in May 2007, to a low of 19 in May 2008. General David Petraeus and his men: as well as, a more assertive Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki, have been credited with the success of the surge. Success in the military front has also been accompanied by some success on the political and economic fronts.

Over the past couple of days – starting with an article by Fred Kagan, the architect of the surge - there has been a great deal of self congratulation among the supporters of the surge. Granted the situation in Iraq has considerably improved in the past 18 months, one cannot help but feel a sense of déjà vu. Democrats had opposed and presaged a failure of the surge, and in light of the recent success, the Republicans feel a need to one up their opponents on an issue the Democrats had an advantage on. However, this does not mean that the Republicans should ignore their previous premature celebrations. Cautious optimism should be the mantra, “Yes things have improved, but if the recent history is any guide, the situation could change radically.”

Hard work lies ahead and it could all unravel, especially as the provincial elections approach later on this year. As Kagan noted on a number of occasions, the militias, and Al Qaeda may be reconstitution, and buying time till the elections (which coincidentally happen in November). Much as the Democrats were mistaken in their premature claims that the surge was failing, Republicans should be careful about prematurely declaring victory. “Officials often stress that the security gains in recent months, while real, remain fragile.”

Friday, June 06, 2008

Electoral College Prediction

I found a new toy too keep me busy, the Washington Post's Electoral College Predictor, makes for a fun time. Going through the various possible electoral outcomes is loads of fun. The following is one of my tie predictions, but the possibilities are endless.

<p><strong>><a href=''>Electoral College Prediction Map</a></strong> - Predict the winner of the general election. Use the map to experiment with winning combinations of states. Save your prediction and send it to friends.</p>

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Obama Vice Presidential Choice:

Now that the primary season is over, and the general election only five months away, the most highly anticipated decision to follow shall be the completion of the opposing tickets. Over the next month or two – before the conventions – we shall hear about the Veep stakes ad nauseum. Let me put my two cents (on Obama) in now.

The conventional wisdom on Obama, is that his greatest weakness lies in attracting white blue collar workers. This mantra has been repeated often since the Texas and Ohio primaries, and the theme carried through to West Virginia, South Dakota etc. If we hold this conventional wisdom to be true, Obama shall need to pick a VP who can blunt the media’s portrayal (and voters’ assumption) that he is an “elitist.” This is the calculation that the Clinton people are hoping his team would use, and she awaits in the bull-pen, waiting for the call. 18 million people (many of them white blue collar workers) vote for her.

There is a lot of baggage that comes with picking Clinton, and the consensus amongst the pols seems to be that an Obama/Clinton ticket is unlikely. Moreover, picking a Washington insider (whether Clinton, Richardson, Bayh, Biden, Dodd, or any other Senator/Representative) would not gel well with the overarching theme of his campaign: “Change Washington”. It would seem that the stars are aligned for a Governor. A governor would also have the additional benefit of providing some “executive branch” experience to the ticket. There are a number of Governors whose names have been posited as potential VP’s, my states very own Janet Napolitano, Kansas’ Kathleen Sebelius, Virginia’s Tim Kaine, Ohio’s Ted Strickland, and Montana’s Brian Schweitzer.

Governor Schweitzer is the most intriguing choice for me, he comes from a region that Obama is targeting, he’s a very popular governor in a conservative state, and has no once of “elite” about him. Moreover, he is well known for his strong reform agenda, and out side the box thinking. Moreover, unlike Strickland of Ohio, he endorsed Obama and not Clinton. It is unlikely that Obama would pick a VP from a state that is likely to go republican, but it would be nice to see an outside the box cow boy as VP.

For the record, my money is on Tim Kaine of Virginia.

Obama Win

There is nothing like a realization of how wrong your political instincts were, to fight a severe case of blog block. In late 2006, as the Barack Obama juggernaut was slowly inching toward its first station, I wrote the following: “I find myself not convinced of the efficacy of an Obama 2008 campaign. If he decides to enter the race he shall receive a lot of media attention and shall be considered – initially – a front-runner. However, as some have noted, the honeymoon is likely to be short. Remember Howard Dean was the media darling in 2004. Mr. Obama has yet to be given a through vetting, or face a substantial opponent; this is unlikely to happen in the primary season. Especially if Clinton seeks her opposition research on him. I am not sure how well Obama would do in rough and tumble politics, when the microscope is on him and what he has done.” Now to be sure, I was not alone in my assessment of Obama’s chances – or Clinton’s strengths – but it nonetheless stings. Obama’s team should that they have the skill and strategic insight to out wit and out maneuver one of the most experienced political teams.

Where many focus on his “change message” as the most important aspect of his win, I would argue that his teams relentless focus on “delegate math”, a strategic focus on getting delegates (not overall vote totals), led to an emphasis on the ground game and in particular organizing caucus states to ensure wins. This shows an acute awareness of what matters in American elections, it is not the total vote that matters, but the delegate (or ELECTORS). Clinton can comfort herself with the fact that she won the “popular vote” but much like Al Gore (in 2000), that is not what matters.

Congratulations to team Obama.