Tag Archives: Abe Greenwald

A Month Ago Tunisia, Yesterday Egypt, Today Iran?

Via Andrew Sullivan, back to blogging.

Tehran Bureau liveblog

Scott Lucas at Enduring America liveblog

Alan Cowell at NYT:

Hundreds of black-clad riot police officers, some in bullet-proof vests, deployed in key locations in central Tehran on Monday and fired tear gas to thwart an Iranian opposition march in solidarity with the uprising in Egypt, news reports and witnesses’ accounts from Iran said.

At the same time a reformist Web site reported that phone lines to the home of one opposition leader, Mir Hussein Moussavi, had been cut and that several cars had blocked access to his home, preventing him from leaving. Restrictions have also been imposed on the movements and communications of another opposition leader, Mehdi Karroubi, and the authorities refused an opposition request for a permit for a demonstration.

In the city center the police gathered in small groups at some intersections but numbered around 200 in the major squares that carry symbolic importance for Iranians and are named Revolution and Freedom. Some security forces were on motorcycles and carried paintball guns to fire at opponents, news reports said.

Despite the presence of security forces, Reuters reported, thousands of Iranians marched toward the central Enghelab, or Revolution, Square, but their way was blocked by the police and security forces. The report quoted unidentified witnesses because the authorities had apparently revived regulations barring reporters from the streets to cover such protests.

The restrictions were first invoked in the tumult that followed Iran’s disputed 2009 presidential election, when vast crowds challenged the victory of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and faced a prolonged crackdown characterized by killings and mass arrests.

Demonstrators chanted “Death to the dictator,” a reference to Mr. Ahmadinejad, and were met with volleys of tear gas, news reports said.

Helle Dale at Heritage:

Announced plans by Iranian opposition leaders to hold a rally in support of the Egyptian demonstrators on February 14 have caused the authorities to react strongly, calling the plans “political and divisive.” Communication through Internet and cell phone is already tightly controlled in Iran and in a far more systematic way than in Egypt. Now the regime is making sure that dissidents remain under heavy pressure.

According to The New York Times, Iranian security forces have been stationed outside the home of the reformist cleric an opposition leader Mehdi Karroubi, who is among the organizers of the planned rally. Family members have been barred from visiting him, and there are reports of a crackdown and arrests of reporters and people associated with Karroubi and other opposition figures.

What makes the case of Iran particularly interesting—and as a matter of fact hypocritical in the extreme—is that the Iranian government itself has expressed support for the anti-government demonstrations in Egypt and Tunisia. But they are not willing to allow any popular movements challenging the control of the state in their own streets. “If they are not going to allow their own people to protest, it goes against everything they are saying, and all they are doing to welcome the protests in Egypt is fake,” Karroubi said in an interview with The New York Times.

Unfortunately, accusing Iran’s mullahs of a double standard is hardly going to cause them many sleepless nights. However, the thought of the Iranian people exercising their free political rights in their own streets certainly will.

Abe Greenwald at Commentary:

It’s worth remembering that most protests come and go, and it’s the extremely rare historical moment that turns demonstration into revolution. But what could make revolution a possibility in Iran is if the regime were to wildly overreact in its crackdown. Eliciting such overreaction is often the tactical goal of the revolutionary. Fence-sitters are not eager to give up a modicum of stability and a barely tolerable existence; but when there’s a bloodbath, they too take to the streets in disgust. Given the regional political temperature, the Iranian regime’s historical inclination to absolute security, and the new suspicion that Washington is content to be a witness to atrocity, there could be a perfect paranoid storm brewing in the minds of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Mahmoud Amadinejad.

Charles Johnson at Little Green Footballs

Weasel Zippers:

Sorry guys, Obama only supports Islamist-infested uprisings.

Doug Mataconis:

Iran is not Egypt, of course, and the regime has already survived a populist challenge to its rule once the past two years. The likelihood that this will develop into the type of mass protests necessary to bring down a government seems minimal at best. Nonetheless, it is clear  that the spirit of discontent remains alive and well in the Islamic Republic and that may be something worth looking into.


Whoa, guess where the latest Muslim-land protests are happening? Iran! A funny thing is how Iran’s religious-fanatic leadership first praised the Egyptian revolution (which has been officially been named the January 25 Revolution, which like all date-based revolution names will never be used outside of the country in question), because maybe Egypt would become a theocracy and mercilessly prosecute errant hikers, so hooray? But then it turned out that the Egyptian revolution was pretty much a “college graduates pissed off because life is hard and meaningless” revolution, and that is not looking good for the ayatollahs — who, like all professional frauds, teach that you must put up with endless crap in “this life” so that later, in space, long after you are dead and gone forever, you will have sexytime in paradise and drink so much “clear wine.” Anyway, things are getting crazy in Tehran!

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Egypt On January 28th

Again, Andrew Sullivan

Allah Pundit:

Things are happening fast so let’s get a thread up. A 6 p.m. curfew has been imposed and, thus far, widely ignored. Tanks are starting to roll as I write this and there are reports on Twitter of “loud explosions” and live ammo being used in downtown Cairo. The Telegraph has a screencap from Al Jazeera showing Mubarak’s party headquarters in the city on fire; other party headquarters have been ransacked in Mansoura and Suez. The State Department says it’s deeply concerned and is calling on Mubarak to enact reforms and allow peaceful protests — although I think we’re past that point by now. Mubarak was supposed to speak at around 11 a.m. but nothing from him yet.

Sad to say, your best bet at the moment is by clicking the image below and watching the live stream from Al Jazeera English. Its agenda is no secret — Hezbollah and Hamas are particular favorites — but they’re on the top of the minute-by-minute news here like no one else. So much so, in fact, that their feed may go down at any moment: Word earlier was that Egyptian police were banging on the door of their Cairo bureau headquarters.

Stand by for updates, needless to say.

Spencer Ackerman at Danger Room at Wired:

Protesters have flooded the streets of Alexandria and Suez. In Cairo, they’re publicly praying in the thoroughfare. And the Egyptian government can’t seem to stop them, despite the crackdown on internet access and cellular communications.

The past four days’ worth of protests in Egypt, spurred by those that dethroned the Tunisian government on Jan. 14, have been accelerated by social media. The #Jan25 hashtag gave the leaderless revolt an internal organizing tool and global communications reach. So it shouldn’t be surprising that the Mubarak regime responded by ordering the withdrawal of over 3,500 Border Gateway Protocol routes by Egyptian service providers, shutting down approximately 88 percent of the country’s Internet access, according to networking firm BGPMon.

But the so-called “Day of Wrath” is uninterrupted. On al-Jazeera a few minutes ago, a functionary from Mubarak’s National Democratic Party called the uprising “unprecedented” and conceded that the government needs a “non-traditional way of dealing with this,” including “action against corruption, against poverty… [giving] more freedoms.” He said all this while police and the Army are firing tear gas at the demonstrators.


It isn’t a domino effect.1 What happened in Tunisia, isn’t what is happening in Egypt and what is happening in Yemen and what is happening in Lebanon and what will happen in Oman. The internet or twitter or facebook is not behind this.2 Neither is al-Jazeera.3 Each of these states have their very particular histories, very particular teleologies which are more decisive – whether politically or symbolically – than anything in the social media netscape bullcrap. Yes, there are striking similarities: the dis-enfrachised populations, the dictators or prime-ministers propped up by Europe or America (those chaste defenders of freedom everywhere), the young and the connected. Yes, no one wants this to happen – America and Europe would rather eat crow than actually admit to a democratic program in Middle East or Africa (teh Mooslims!) and there are powerful and entrenched forces within these states who will not tolerate any challenge to their hegemony.

Choire Sicha at The Awl:

You know what is the worst possible thing the Egyptian government could have done? Detaining just-returned possible opposition candidate Mohamed ElBaradei. That won’t inflame protests at all! Not that they need inflaming in the slightest; Cairo is apparently choking with tear gas. The good news? People arrested may not stay in jail for long: Al Jazeera reports that in Suez, “the police station in the port city has been taken over by protesters who have freed detainees.” Meanwhile, French journalists have been arrested and CNN’s cameras have been seized by police, as the country believes it can silence news about the brewing revolution.

Abe Greenwald at Commentary:

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s latest statement in response to the protests in Egypt should be immortalized as a classic articulation of the absurd, approaching the level of “Let them eat cake.” As hundreds of thousands of Egyptians defy a state-imposed curfew, set fire to Hosni Mubarak’s party headquarters, overturn cars, and set off explosions nationwide while demanding that Mubarak leave the country, Clinton took a moment out of her day to note the following:

We are deeply concerned about the use of violence by Egyptian police and security forces against protestors. We call on the Egyptian government to do everything in its power to restrain security forces. At the same time, protesters should also refrain from violence and express themselves peacefully. We urge Egyptian authorities to allow peaceful protests and reverse unprecedented steps it has taken to cut down means of communications.

That is, to be sure, the best, most admirable line for the administration to take – if today were January 20. On January 28, it is not merely late; it is surreal. The protests are not peaceful and the regime is not so much cracking down as it is fighting for its survival. The time to urge a dictator to grant his people freedoms is before he’s flitting between burning buildings. But back when that was the case, the Obama administration was too busy being pragmatic and humble to raise the issue of human rights in Egypt.

Justin Elliott at Salon:

As protests rage on in Egypt, the close relationship between the U.S. government and the regime of Hosni Mubarak has already garnered a lot of attention. But it’s also worth taking a moment to examine the lobbying muscle that Egypt employs to secure its interests in Washington, including a mammoth $1.3 billion annual military aid package.

Seven firms are currently registered foreign agents for Egypt, including one, the Podesta Group, that has close ties to the Democratic Party and the Obama administration.

Founded by brothers Tony and John Podesta in the late 1980s, the Podesta Group has been retained by some of the biggest corporations in the country, including Wal-Mart, BP and Lockheed Martin. Tony Podesta’s bio boasts that “if you want something done in Washington, DC, you go to Tony Podesta.” After starting the firm, John Podesta went on to serve as Bill Clinton’s chief of staff and, more recently, to found the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank closely associated with the Obama administration.

The Podesta Group counsels Egypt “on U.S. policies of concern, activities in Congress and the Executive branch, and developments on the U.S. political scene generally,” according to forms filed with the Justice Department in 2009.

Records also show Tony Podesta himself meeting with members of Congress, governors and generals in recent years to discuss U.S.-Egypt relations and the military aid package and to introduce Egyptian officials to American power brokers.

Marc Lynch in Foreign Policy:

Mubarak’s regime has been wounded at its core, and even if he survives in the short run the regime will have to make major internal changes to regain any semblance of normality. An Egyptian regime which spends the next years in a state of military lockdown will hardly be a useful ally. It’s not like there’s an active peace process to compromise. The Islamist scarecrow shouldn’t work, given the Muslim Brotherhood’s limited role in events (despite the efforts of the Egyptian regime to claim otherwise).

More broadly the costs to the Obama administration with Arab public opinion of being on the wrong side of this issue will be enormous. This isn’t about the “magical democracy words” of the past few years — it’s about a moment of flux when real change is possible, whether or not the United States wants it. Accepting Mubarak’s fierce gambit now would put an end to any claim the United States has of promoting democracy and reform for a generation, and alienating the rising youth generation on which the administration has placed so much emphasis. It would also make Cairo the graveyard of Obama’s Cairo speech and efforts to rebuild relations with the Muslims of the world. The United States will be better positioned to push such changes in the right direction if it maintains a strong and principled position today — regardless of whether Mubarak or someone else ends up in control. The cautious strategy right now is the same as the principled one, whether Mubarak falls or if he survives.

The Obama administration has handled developments in the Arab world skillfully over the last month. It has done a good job of siding with the universal demands for freedom and political rights, without taking overt sides. It has wisely avoided trying to stamp the events as “made in America.” Now conditions are changing rapidly, and now is the time for the administration to move to a new level. I’m hoping that we’ll soon hear some strong words from administration officials about Egypt.

UPDATE, 11:40am:   Secretary Clinton is now scheduled to give a statement on Egypt in about 10 minutes.   Good.  I know that a lot of Arabs are disappointed with Obama’s perceived silence on Egypt over the last few days (and furious over Biden’s comment) but there’s a long way to go.    The Obama administration is going to have to play a key role in talking Mubarak down if it comes to that, and the right intervention there would be at least as important, probably more important, than public statements.  There is a longer game here than posturing for the cameras — getting this right is the point.

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This Young Man In The New York Times Article Needs But One Word… Plastics

Chart via Catherine Rampell at NYT

Louis Uchitelle at NYT:

For young adults, the prospects in the workplace, even for the college-educated, have rarely been so bleak. Apart from the 14 percent who are unemployed and seeking work, as Scott Nicholson is, 23 percent are not even seeking a job, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The total, 37 percent, is the highest in more than three decades and a rate reminiscent of the 1930s.

The college-educated among these young adults are better off. But nearly 17 percent are either unemployed or not seeking work, a record level (although some are in graduate school). The unemployment rate for college-educated young adults, 5.5 percent, is nearly double what it was on the eve of the Great Recession, in 2007, and the highest level — by almost two percentage points — since the bureau started to keep records in 1994 for those with at least four years of college.

Yet surveys show that the majority of the nation’s millennials remain confident, as Scott Nicholson is, that they will have satisfactory careers. They have a lot going for them.

“They are better educated than previous generations and they were raised by baby boomers who lavished a lot of attention on their children,” said Andrew Kohut, the Pew Research Center’s director. That helps to explain their persistent optimism, even as they struggle to succeed.

Abe Greenwald at Commentary:

The New York Times is running a story about the “millennial” generation in America and its inability to find employment. The article is supposed to convey the challenges for young Americans due to bad economic times but will probably exacerbate the hopelessness of older Americans, who won’t recognize this strange, new definition of ambition:

Mr. Nicholson, 24, a graduate of Colgate University, winner of a dean’s award for academic excellence, spent his mornings searching corporate Web sites for suitable job openings. When he found one, he mailed off a résumé and cover letter — four or five a week, week after week.

Over the last five months, only one job materialized. After several interviews, the Hanover Insurance Group in nearby Worcester offered to hire him as an associate claims adjuster, at $40,000 a year. But even before the formal offer, Mr. Nicholson had decided not to take the job.

Rather than waste early years in dead-end work, he reasoned, he would hold out for a corporate position that would draw on his college training and put him, as he sees it, on the bottom rungs of a career ladder.

“The conversation I’m going to have with my parents now that I’ve turned down this job is more of a concern to me than turning down the job,” he said.

A 24-year-old man is more fearful of a parental lecture than unemployment. If that doesn’t capture the dreary state of able-bodied America, nothing does. Meanwhile, this same person, living off of mom and dad, is so certain of his worth on the job market, he won’t consider pocketing an expense-free annual $40,000 because it requires dead-end work.

Daniel Indiviglio at The Atlantic:

Wait. You mean he found a job with the national underemployment rate at 16.5%, with no professional work experience, that paid $40,000 per year, and didn’t take it because it wasn’t exactly what he wanted? There must be some confusion here about the American Dream. The idea that every 24-year old lands their dream job straight out of college isn’t the American Dream: it’s a fantasy.

Anyone who grew up throughout the 20th Century could attest that the American dream isn’t about always getting precisely what you want. It’s about taking what life hands you, working extremely hard, and having the ability to live a relatively satisfying life. Millions immigrated to the U.S. over the years seeking an opportunity to succeed, not to be provided precisely the opportunity they wanted.

Look back at those Americans of past generations who lived the American Dream. Did the coal miner who had a brutal job but decent wages that allowed him to provide for his family live the American Dream? How about the worker who drove railroad spikes into the ground under the hot sun all day? What about the factory employee who sat on a monotonous assembly line for hours on end? They all attained the American dream, because they had an opportunity to work, raise a family, earn enough money to live relatively well, and find some joy in life. They may have preferred to be a professional golfer, a famous novelist, or high-powered corporate executive making millions of dollars per year. But not everyone has such luck, but in America they can live relatively fruitful, pleasant lives nonetheless.

Certainly, millennials will have a different job path than their parents and grandparents. It will likely take them longer to gain their footing in the labor market. But that hardly means they’re hopeless, it just means they will have to work a little harder to end up in a job they like and attain a higher income. They won’t be able to walk into any manufacturing jobs and succeed like their predecessors, but they will have opportunities in technology, the service economy, and other U.S. industries that will endure.

The American Dream that so many other nations envy isn’t to live a perfect life. It’s to have the opportunity to succeed if you work hard. You don’t get that in some places, but you do in the U.S. The millenials won’t lose out on that, but they may have to work a little harder to attain it.

Catherine Rampell at NYT:

The chart above, adapted from a recent Bureau of Labor Statistics report, shows the difference in weekly pay between people with a given education level today and their counterparts from a generation ago.

As you can see, most men today earn less than equally educated men in 1979, with the exception of the most highly educated.  The opposite is true for women: Most women today earn more than their equally educated counterparts from 1979, with the exception of the least educated.

There are a few forces behind these trends. One is that generally speaking, it’s harder to make it in today’s job market than it was a few decades ago if you don’t have at least a high school degree, since the expectations for what educational credentials workers should possess have risen. This is in part because the economy is less dependent on lower-skilled, manual-labor-intensive industries like manufacturing, and more reliant on industries that require formally credentialed education and training, like health care. Thus, in general, the earnings potential for the most educated has risen, and that for the least educated has fallen.

Another consideration is that the gap between men’s and women’s pay has narrowed over the years. One effect of this is that women’s wages, at most levels of education, have grown.

Felix Salmon on the chart:

But in fact what we’re seeing here understates how bad things have been for most men over the past generation. If you go to the source, this chart only shows data for people working full time. And, at least when it comes to men, that’s much less common now than it was in 1979.

The labor force participation rate for men 20 years and older was 79.8% in 1979; today, it’s just 74.4%. And I don’t think that most of that drop can be explained in terms of a larger number of students: the rate was as high as 77% as recently as August 2000, and then dropped to a low of 73.9% in December 2009.

You can be sure that most of the drop in labor force participation is coming from the less well educated Americans. Which means that if you’re a man with less than a high school diploma, your real wages have fallen by 28% over the past 30 years if you’re lucky enough to have a job at all. At the same time, the number of such men without a job has been growing steadily. It’s a depressing set of data, and there’s no sign of it turning around in the foreseeable future.

Matthew Yglesias:

What I would also add to that is the observation that college educated men typically marry college educated women, creating very high earning households. Working class people tend to marry each other, and also have much higher rates of divorce, meaning that on the household level the inegalitarian impacts are magnified.

James Joyner:

In 1979, most married women stayed at home with the kids or simply tended house; that almost immediately changed.   And, while being a high-school dropout wasn’t exactly a road to riches even then, there were still entry level jobs that would take you and allow you to work yourself up if you were good enough.  Why, “self-service” was still a necessary descriptors for gas stations that didn’t have attendants to pump it for you.   The personal computer was a novelty item and the Internet as we know it was nearly 15 years into the future.

Good thing that our levels of education have changed to keep up with the trend:

Americans are more educated than ever before, with a greater percentage graduating from high school and college than a decade ago, U.S. Census data released Tuesday show. Eighty percent of Americans are graduates of high school or higher, compared with 75.2% in 1990, the 2000 figures show. That change came about in part because of a decline in the rate of students dropping out before ninth grade: 7.5% in 2000, compared with 10.4% in 1990.

That report, based on the 2000 Census, came out in 2002.  It’s almost surely even more stark now, at least for native-born Americans.

That’s not to say that these trends are sustainable.  We can’t keep increasing our level of meaningful education.   Everyone isn’t college material or capable of doing intellectual work.   But the nature of modernity is that more skills are necessary to do median level jobs.

Derek Thompson at The Atlantic:

The upshot is that even as the cost of college comes under scrutiny, the evidence continues to suggests that four expensive years is the price our generation has to pay if we expect to earn more than our parents.

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Putting The Iraq Into Afghanistan

Picture by Moises Saman for New York Times

Dexter Filkins at NYT:

American and Afghan officials have begun helping a number of anti-Taliban militias that have independently taken up arms against insurgents in several parts of Afghanistan, prompting hopes of a large-scale tribal rebellion against the Taliban.

The emergence of the militias, which took some leaders in Kabul by surprise, has so encouraged the American and Afghan officials that they are planning to spur the growth of similar armed groups across the Taliban heartland in the southern and eastern parts of the country.

The American and Afghan officials say they are hoping the plan, called the Community Defense Initiative, will bring together thousands of gunmen to protect their neighborhoods from Taliban insurgents. Already there are hundreds of Afghans who are acting on their own against the Taliban, officials say.

The endeavor represents one of the most ambitious — and one of the riskiest — plans for regaining the initiative against the Taliban, who are fighting more vigorously than at any time since 2001.

By harnessing the militias, American and Afghan officials hope to rapidly increase the number of Afghans fighting the Taliban. That could supplement the American and Afghan forces already here, and whatever number of American troops President Obama might decide to send. The militias could also help fill the gap while the Afghan Army and police forces train and grow — a project that could take years to bear fruit.

The Americans hope the militias will encourage an increasingly demoralized Afghan population to take a stake in the war against the Taliban.

Joe Klein at Swampland at Time:

Sunday morning brings a glimmer of good news from Afghanistan, courtesy of the amazing Dexter Filkins. The U.S. is beginning to support tribal militia fighting the Taliban. This is important because the weakest link in the military’s Afghan plan is the idea that we can train a 250,000 man Afghan army and 150,000 police officers. It’s important to train up some organized security forces, especially for the more urban areas. But Afghanistan is a land of a thousand remote valleys and those are best defended by their residents, as they always have been. If the U.S.–and, especially, the Kabul government–can establish credibility as a friendly force that will provide economic, humanitarian and some tactical support, without demanding payoffs in return, there is a very good chance that the local tribes will reject the Taliban. Ultimately, this is the only way the situation can be stabilized. Let’s hope it works as well as it did in Iraq, although you always have to add the caveat: this is a very different, and more difficult, country.

Paul Mirengoff at Powerline:

The Taliban proved itself to be a vicious, blood-thirsty lot when it held power prior to 9/11. There is no evidence that it has changed and there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence that it has not. Thus, it’s quite plausible to believe that the Taliban is vulnerable to a large-scale tribal rebellion like the Sunni uprising in Iraq.

What’s the biggest difference between Afghanistan now and Iraq in early 2007? I think it’s the fact that in 2007 the U.S. had a president who was committed to victory in Iraq, whereas today the U.S. has a president who is committed to finding an exit from Afghanistan. An uprising is significantly less probable when those who might undertake one think they cannot count on help from the U.S.

Abe Greenwald in Commentary:

Critics often say there is no clearly defined goal in Afghanistan. I submit that if anti-Taliban sentiment there were parlayed into something that resembles the Sunni Awakening in Iraq, it would mark the achievement of a goal almost too welcome to hope for: Afghanistan’s organic inoculation against the Taliban and al Qaeda.

Here’s the difference between Iraq and Afghanistan. In Iraq, the Sunnis realized that coalition forces were a) the strong horse, and b) sticking around. In Afghanistan, brave civilians taking up arms against the Taliban have no such reassurances. In fact, one hopes they didn’t hear President Obama say he’s “not interested in . . . sending a message that America—is here [in Afghanistan] for— for the duration.” Let’s also hope they didn’t hear Hillary Clinton say that “we have no long-term stake” in Afghanistan. As Gen. Stanley McChrystal put it, “A perception that our resolve is uncertain makes Afghans reluctant to align with us against the insurgents.” If in reality our resolve proves to be uncertain then we will have squandered an invaluable gift.

In any case, let’s stop this talk of tribal peoples who love their tormentors.

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Come On, Come On, Listen To The Biden Talk


Joe Biden in the WSJ:

“The reality is the Russians are where they are. They have a shrinking population base, they have a withering economy, they have a banking sector and structure that is not likely to be able to withstand the next 15 years, they’re in a situation where the world is changing before them and they’re clinging to something in the past that is not sustainable.”

Daniel Drezner (via Sully):

If Biden was just shooting the breeze off the record, I’d be hard-pressed to disagree with anything in the quotes.  I’m pretty sure, however, that part of “smart power” is not being gratuitously insulting to fellow members of the nuclear club.  Maybe, just maybe, they’ll take this kind of dumbass statement personally.

Don’t take my word for it, though — take Joe Biden’s:

It is never smart to embarrass an individual or a country when they’re dealing with significant loss of face. My dad used to put it another way: Never put another man in a corner where the only way out is over you. It just is not smart.

The word “stupid” has been thrown around a lot this week, but I think it applies pretty well to Biden’s language.

Andrew Sullivan:

The sad truth is: Biden cannot shut up. But his job as veep requires him to shut up. Dan is right: on the merits, Biden isn’t wrong here. Just completely unprofessional and unable to maintain the discipline to perform his job without constantly undermining his boss. I’d say someone needs to tell him to shut up. But it hasn’t worked for the last thirty years of his bloviation. So why would it work now?

Peter Feaver:

But the quote and the insight that really stands out concerns Russian pride and the dangers of drawing public attention to their predicament:

It won’t work if we go in and say: ‘Hey, you need us, man; belly up to the bar and pay your dues…It is never smart to embarrass an individual or a country when they’re dealing with significant loss of face. My dad used to put it another way: Never put another man in a corner where the only way out is over you.In other words, Biden said that the United States was going to be able to bend Russia to our diplomatic position but we should not say so publicly.  This raises the obvious question of whether Biden, in this very interview, had done just that. That question occurred to the Wall Street Journal, and they apparently posed it to a Russian spokeswoman who declined, diplomatically, to comment even while largely affirming Biden’s analysis.

I am inclined to give the Vice President a pass on this “gaffe” for two reasons.  First, I think he is more right than not in terms of his geopolitical analysis; Putin has overplayed the Russian hand and deft American statecraft should be able to do better. Second, for years I have been giving a version of this provocatively contradictory message in talks about relations between the United States and our transatlantic allies (or, as I puckishly label them, our transatlantic “in-laws”).

Daniel Larison:

What may be most remarkable about this is that this is not being treated as one of Biden’s legendary gaffes, but rather as an appropriate and acceptable comment. As I was saying earlier this week, the administration must think that Russia’s relatively greater weakness at present will make it more compliant, but I never expected any of its top members to come out and say exactly that. Bizarrely, Biden was offering all of this as evidence in favor of why the “reset” was going to work. In other words, for Biden the “reset” has always meant Russian concessions and submission, and it will “work” because Russia lacks the means to do anything else. This is staggeringly wrong.

Jay Newton-Small at Swampland:

Biden, I’m told, was simply trying to play bad cop to Obama’s good cop. After all, the straightforward, nice guy “I looked into his eyes and saw his soul” routine wasn’t exactly effective. This isn’t the first time Biden’s propensity for telling it like it is has gotten him in to trouble. So, while it’s usually the VP’s job to play bad cop, maybe saying that they’re on the brink of becoming an irrelevant third world country takes things a little too far.

Via Larison, Greg Scoblete:

And I think the mixed messages coming from the Obama administration – with Biden poking Russia in the eye and Obama taking a more conciliatory tone – are reflective of the fact that it’s not sure how to handle this situation.

And via more Larison, NYT:

At the gathering with displaced Georgian children from South Ossetia, Mr. Biden saved his harshest words for Russia.

He said he believed that Moscow “used a pretext to invade your country,” weighing in confidently on the question of whether Mr. Saakashvili should be blamed for ordering the Aug. 7 shelling of Tskhinvali, the South Ossetian capital. He said Russia had paid dearly for invading Georgia, arguing that “all the countries that surround them are now saying very harsh things to Russia.” He promised the children that the United States would press Russia to comply with the French-brokered cease-fire agreement, and that if they continued to defy it, “it is a problem for them.”

He noted the largess of Americans — “they said, ‘It’s O.K., take my money, raise my taxes’ ” — in pledging $1 billion in aid to Georgia after the war. Only five million people live in Georgia, making it one of the highest per capita recipients of American aid in the world.

“You should understand, America cares about you, cares about you personally,” Mr. Biden said. “We care about all of you, and we’re not going to leave you. It’s a hard journey, but we’re not going away.”

And Isaac Chotiner at TNR:

This is certainly a nice sentiment, but should the vice president be going so far in promising support to Georgia? If Russia does not comply with the ceasfire, the United States is going to make trouble? Really? And Americans are perfectly willing to see their taxes raised to help the Georgian people? The stakes are currently much lower, but this does put one in mind of the CIA’s efforts (via Radio Free Europe) to encourage serious resistance in Hungary in 1956, only to then inevitably abandon the Hungarians.


We knew that Biden was a hawk and was embarrassingly pro-Georgian during the August war, going so far as to visit Saakashvili that same month, and it was already clear how meaningless all of this “reset” talk was. Even so, I don’t know of any American politician other than McCain who has been so reckless and ideological in his statements about last summer’s war in Georgia. This can’t be written off simply as Biden’s normal idiocy. He was representing the administration on a major trip overseas, and this trip seems to have been calculated to serve as an insult and warning to Moscow based on Biden’s itinerary and his public remarks.

To take Biden’s claims in order, his claim about the Russian invasion is true only if by “pretext” he meant the Georgian government’s decision to escalate some small border disputes into full-scale war. It is worth noting that the ethnic Georgians who were unfortunately expelled from South Ossetia have not lived under Tbilisi’s authority for almost twenty years. There were probably not any children in the audience old enough to remember a time when South Ossetia was meaningfully part of Georgia. That doesn’t mean that they and their parents don’t think of it as part of Georgia, but it does draw our attention to an important distinction between the claims of the Georgian governmen and the political realities of the region. It also serves as a useful reminder that South Ossetia’s inclusion as part of Georgia is something relatively very recent and artificial. It has less history as part of Georgia than South Tyrol does as part of Italy.

Abe Greenwald at Commentary focuses on another Biden remark:

If you’re an enemy, we’re sorry. If you’re a friend, you’re sorry. Two days after Hillary Clinton told India to take it easy on all that industry and economic dynamism stuff, Joe Biden tells Georgia, still occupied by Russian troops, to quit whining and accept impotence like a good U.S. ally[:]

Vice President Biden told this nation’s leaders Thursday that they would never be able to use military means to recover territories lost in last year’s war with Russia, and urged them to do more to deepen democratic reforms, a senior administration official said.

That’s not mere meddling. That’s what Michelle Obama might call “downright mean.” If you take Biden’s words as policy, that is. There are two other possibilities. First, Biden is being Biden, letting the muse guide him off the reservation into the land of incoherence. Second, Obama is being Obama, counterbalancing the pro-Georgian line he took with Putin last week against its opposite so that when things go kablooey he can test the political winds, refer back to one of his two faces, choose a direction, and cite his consistency.

J.E. Dyer in Commentary:

As Abe nicely captures it, Joe Biden’s advice to Georgians this week is a masterpiece of end-of-life counseling. A “good counselor/bad counselor” dynamic seems to be emerging with the Obama-Biden foreign relations team. Biden’s entourage also performed a key role in a subtle interplay during the Georgia visit, when Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Grigory Karasin, warned third parties against selling arms to Georgia. Karasin invoked a January decree by Medvedev on “measures taken to prohibit the supply of military and double-purpose products to Georgia.” Said Karasin: “The decree foresees the use of special economic measures in relation to nations, international organizations and individuals supplying military equipment to Georgia.” The U.K. Guardian interprets this as a threat to the United States, but the Moscow Times may be more accurate in emphasizing the threat to Georgia’s regular arms suppliers in Eastern Europe. Either way, the assurance issued yesterday by a senior official traveling with Biden that the U.S. will not be selling arms to Georgia could not have been timed better to evoke appeasement.

More Larison

Spencer Ackerman

Ariel Cohen at The Heritage Foundation

Pravda, who tell Biden to “Shut it.”

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Rockin’ Out With Rafsanjani


Over at Sully’s place, two posts of live tweets, here and here, on the Rafsanjani speech.

Joe Klein in Swampland:

So what does this mean? As an Iranian friend of mine predicted yesterday, this means that Rafsanjani intends to lead an Iranian opposition front to the Khamenei-Ahmadinejad government. Given his stature–he is the one opposition leader who is part of the regular Friday Prayer rotation–this seems a clear indication that Iran remains something less than a totalitarian state, controlled by the Revolutionary Guards. The question now is: how broad an opposition front? Will it include people like Mohsen Rezaie and Ali Larijani, conservatives who are at odds with Ahmadinejad, as well as the Green Revolutionaries? Will it include conservative newspapers like Resalat, which have been critical of Ahmadinejad? Will it be able to moderate the ruling junta in any way?

There’s no way to know…but it is good to know that the struggle in Iran continues, and may now have an organizing force.

Ed Morrissey:

Rafsanjani had maintained a careful silence until now, perhaps waiting to see which way the wind blew.  Even now, Rafsanjani spoke carefully enough to perhaps remain in Khamenei’s good graces, couching his criticism in conditionals rather than explicit accusations.  However, no one can doubt that Rafsanjani’s words will breathe new life into the protest movement.  It gives the opposition their highest ranking cleric so far, clearly siding with the people who believe the election was rigged to appoint Ahmadinejad to a second term.

The question will be whether the protest movement stops at Ahmadinejad now.  Mirhossein Mousavi attended Rafsanjani’s remarks, but seems to have become almost a bit player in the movement.  Even before Rafsanjani spoke, the opposition returned to the streets, chanting “Death to the dictator” and “coup government,” which indicates how far the anger has gone

Juan Cole:

Mostaghim reports from Tehran that the crowds seemed older and grayer than in past demonstrations, suggesting the depth of dissatisfaction with Ahmadinejad in the general public– this is not just a youth movement as some have attempted to depict it.

In the end, the security forces deployed motorcycles, beatings and tear gas in an attempt to break up the multiple demonstrations. Crowds fought back, including by setting trash fires to burn up the tear gas and by waving burning cigarettes in front of each others’ faces.

In the course of the crackdown it is said that the Basij or popular rightwing militia beat up opposition leader Mehdi Karroubi.

Blake Hounshell in Foreign Policy (from before the speech):

One interpretation of the former president’s motives, a version of which Geneive Abdo explains here, is that this is all about Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. He’s only out for No. 1, and is using the reformers to get a leg up on Khamenei. Or, he’s simply in a fight for survival — Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has all but accused him of gross corruption and is clearly out to get him and his family — and is hedging his bets. Either way, it’s clear he’s no reformist himself.

But this could be a defining moment for Rafsanjani. As Carnegie Endowment analyst Karim Sadjadpour puts it, “This Friday is probably the most important speech of his career. He’s nearly 75 years old, and his legacy has always been important to him. If he complains about personal slights and electoral improprieties but submits to the will of the Leader ‘for the sake of the ‘glorious revolution’, history will remember him not only as a crook but also a coward. I’ve learned to have low expectations of the courage and integrity of Iranian officials, and hope that I’ll be pleasantly surprised.”

Abe Greenwald in Commentary:

Obama need not do anything that rises to the level of “meddling” in order to put the U.S. squarely on the side of Iran’s democrats. A new statement condemning the crackdown and calling for a second election would go a long way. The regime has lost the ability to deceive the people of Iran. This would be the very worst time to reach a “realist” arrangement with Tehran. A little outrage is in order once again.

UPDATE: Reza Aslan in Daily Beast

Ed Morrissey

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I Am He as You Are He as You Are Me and We Are All Together


Today, we look at America’s place in the Iran uprising.

John Cole and Andrew Sullivan have had a little fracas about bloggers and Iran.


God love Sullivan, because I know his heart is in the right place:

We switched the color scheme in solidarity. Wear green if you can. They need to know we care.If someone can give me one legitimate piece of evidence that wearing green boxers is going to help bring democracy to Iran, so help me I’ll wear plaid from head to toe and shoot for world peace.

I know he means well, but this is what I was talking about this morning when I said that the coverage of the events in Iran by American bloggers was giving me a warblogger circa 2003 vibe. I can’t be the only one who is reminded of Abbie Hoffman’s plans to levitate the Pentagon through the power of meditation.

My thoughts are with the folks in Iran risking it all fighting for democracy, but this can not be said enough- this is not about us, it is about them. I love the coverage of events, but please stop with this narcissistic nonsense.


Seriously, whatever our differences on how to tackle foreign policy, whether we’re conservative or liberal, Democrat or Republican, neocon or post-neocon or noncon, witnessing this struggle for core democratic freedoms puts it all in perspective. There are no sides in this respect. Because this is America. And these people are risking their lives for freedom.


Yeah. They are risking THEIR lives for freedom. You changed your font color.

I think these kids should be supported, of course, but posts like this from Andrew only reinforce my earlier comments about the 2003 warblogger vibe and rampant narcissism.

James Joyner agrees with Cole:

Cheering from afar is harmless enough and if it makes you feel good to adorn your apparel and websites green, by all means do it.  It’s no less silly than wearing your favorite team’s jersey while you drink beer and watch them on TV.

But revolution isn’t a spectator sport.  Demonstrators are getting killed in Iran in outrage over what they believe was a stolen election.  Sadly, those deaths will likely be in vain, in that the mullahs will continue to rule and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will probably stay president.

The United States will stand by and do nothing.  We’re not going to dispatch our military to affect regime change to support the Green Twitter Revolution, or whatever the hell we’re calling it.  Nor should we.  This is the Iranian people’s fight.


There was a disputed election in Iran and thousands of political bloggers who have never lived outside of the city in which they were born and who have absolutely no experience in Middle East affairs will now tell you what this all means, how this will impact the region, and what to expect by drawing upon their extensive background in World of Warcraft and a hardly used MCSE certification.

On the larger question of America’s (and President Obama’s) reaction to events, there’s, of course, a sharp divide.

Abe Greenwald in Commentary:

Is it too much to say, “I call on the leadership of Iran to refrain from visiting violence upon that country’s citizens”? Apparently so. Obama declined from criticizing the regime because “sometimes, the United States can be a handy political football.” Sure, but sometimes the United States can be an extraordinary beacon for those fighting for liberty — starting with the French Revolution and leading up to the Iranian student who said yesterday, “Is [Obama] going to accept this result? Because if he does we are doomed.” What does that student mean? He’s not  expecting the U.S. to send troops to Persia where they’ll make officials count ballots at gunpoint; he’s hoping that America is really what it says it is — an ongoing revolution built on the very idea of freedom and consensual government. If it’s not, and it’s just another well-off behemoth that can’t be bothered to oppose the mullahs, then what hope is there for Iran itself?

John Judis in TNR:

Countries are held together by a spirit of national pride–it’s the positive side of nationalism, and it’s particularly strong in countries that were once under imperial control or suffered from Western interference. The U.S. has a long record of intervention in Iran. It’s not just Mossadeq in 1953 or the Shah. As recently as last year, we were spending money to overthrow the regime. That had exactly the opposite effect intended. And for the Obama administration to throw its support to Ahmadinejad’s foes now would help Ahmadinejad invoke his country’s national pride on his own behalf.

In other words, there are severe limits on the U.S. intervening in a country’s internal affairs, and in this case they are more severe for the U.S. than for countries that have enjoyed less conflictual relations with Iran.  We don’t even have an ambassador we can recall. Sure, we can call for fair elections and the right of free assembly, and denounce the killing of demonstrators or the jailing of opposition candidates, but we can’t, as Richard Just would suggest, “protect” the “Iranian liberals” from the state. Nor could we have protected the demonstrators at Tiananmen Square from the regime’s tanks. And our incapacity is not just military; it is also political.

Paul Mirengoff in Powerline:

Ignatius addresses Obama’s reticence at the end of his piece when he praises the president’s unobtrusiveness and states that “millions of Muslims hunger for change — but they want to make it themselves.”

As Obama would say, this is a false choice. By speaking up in favor of the dissidents and against the Iranian regime Obama would not be displacing the dissents as agents of change, he would simply be providing them a boost. Ignatius cites no evidence (not even a statement for an “intelligence official”) that the millions of Muslims who hunger for change wouldn’t welcome less “unobtrusive” support from Obama than the mostly silent treatment they are getting.

Daniel Larison, arguing with Sullivan over Obama’s future fashion choices:

While we’re at it, it would be seen as an attempt to use worldwide sympathy for the movement in question to bolster himself politically while doing absolutely nothing for the people with whom he supposedly sympathizes. It would give the regime the pretext of treating Mousavi as an American lackey. They may do this in any case, but Washington need not enable or provide justification for this. The administration’s wait-and-see approach is the right one

Allah Pundit:

Here we get a hard dose of Hopenchange caution-speak, acknowledging that the protesters have “inspired” Americans and that we respect Iran’s right to decide its own fate but that we’ll continue to pursue “tough” diplomacy with the regime on nukes no matter how odious Ahmadinejad might be. Hey, if we wanted a president who’d throw down the gauntlet and walk away in a situation like this, we would have elected the other guy. Sorry, Iranian kids.

John Schwenkler on the Obama response:

Just as I’d hoped, really. Straightforward condemnation of violence and the suppression of dissent, a renewed commitment to diplomacy no matter who is in charge, and no comment on the electoral irregularities beyond acknowledgment of the apparent frustration of many of the Iranian people. Oh – and no green tie, either. Watch as the news ticker quotes John McCain calling the election “corrupt”, and imagine how that might have gone

Michael Goldfarb and an e-mailer are also thinking of McCain:

A friend emails:

Remember when McCain suspended his campaign and Obama said a president has to be able to do more than one thing at a time? Yet, today health care rollout is all he can do. He appears to be afraid of alienating the Ahmadinejad forces that stole the election because he wants to offer them a grand bargain. It is reminiscent of the Chicken Kiev policy advocated the last time the “realists” were calling the foreign policy shots. The fist is clenched vs. the Iranian people and all Obama can do is make his case for government run health care.

The president is expected to break his silence momentarily. It only took three days, reminding me of another moment from the campaign trail — when Obama called on the Georgians to “show restraint” as columns of Russian armor poured into the country. It was about three days later that Obama finally came around to a responsible position.

That’s right. Whether or not the Iranian people prevail depends on how steadfast we are. How steadfast we are in what? In wishing them well? In tweeting mean things about the Iranian security services? Of course what Americans do isn’t totally irrelevant, but it’s unquestionably a peripheral factor in this drama. Iran is a country populated by Iranians, and their fate is primarily in their own hands.

Matthew Yglesias on McCain:

His twitterview today with Jake Tapper is full of examples as he talks about Iran not so much as an actual country full of actual people doing actual things in a difficult situation, but instead as a kind of phantasmagoric canvass onto which we should paint a tableau of American hubris and militarism.But nothing sums it up better than this Tweet:

@jaketapper no prediction, but if we are steadfast eventually the Iranian people will prevail. But this regime has tight control.

That’s right. Whether or not the Iranian people prevail depends on how steadfast we are. How steadfast we are in what? In wishing them well? In tweeting mean things about the Iranian security services? Of course what Americans do isn’t totally irrelevant, but it’s unquestionably a peripheral factor in this drama. Iran is a country populated by Iranians, and their fate is primarily in their own hands.

EARLIER: #TwitterverseSaysCNNEpicFail

“The Iranians, They’ve Taken To The Streets”

Ahmadinejad And Mousavi Or Florida In Iran

UPDATE: Another post from Joyner

Jonah Goldberg on Obama’s response

Kevin Drum on Goldberg

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Liberal And Conservative Bloggers Head To Their Tree Forts, Arm The Pea Shooters, And Fire

Spankie_No Homers

To sift through all the responses to the Obama/Cheney speech-off today is impossible. Everyone’s got their post up. And nobody on the left liked Cheney. Nobody on the right liked Obama. This was a surprising outcome. You might as well go to TNR’s The Plank for the left and NRO’s The Corner for the right.

The Left


Jason Zengerle

Michael Crowley

Jonathan Chait

Outside TNR:

Andrew Sullivan comes back from vacation to give his thoughts on Obama and Cheney

Glenn Greenwald


John Cole

Steve Benen

Dave Weigel

Spencer Ackerman

Joe Klein in Swampland

Dave Noon

BlueTexan at Firedoglake

The Right

There’s a ton of posts at NRO. Just a few:

Dana Perino

Michael Rubin

Jay Nordlinger

Peter Kirsanow

More Nordlinger

Outside NRO:

John Podhoretz in Commentary

Abe Greenwald in Commentary

Jennifer Rubin in Commentary

Michelle Malkin

Allah Pundit on Obama

Allah Pundit on Cheney

Bill Kristol in The Weekly Standard

Michael Goldfarb in The Weekly Standard

Stephen Hayes in The Weekly Standard

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Filed under Foreign Affairs, GWOT, Political Figures

What The Hell Is Going On In Pakistan?

Your guess is as good as mine. But we got lots of links here. This week, the Taliban seized Buner, an area 70 miles from Islamabad. They already have Swat.

First, in the Daily Beast, there’s Parag Khanna, talking about the situation in Buner and Pakistan as a whole, arguing for a stronger government in Pakistan:


A piece from Allah Pundit, yesterday, about the situation in Buner, wondering if it isn’t time to freak out:


But today, as Jason Zengerle reports The New Republic, it looks the Taliban are withdrawing from Buner.


Despite this above news, however, there’s obviously still a lot of reason to worry. What if the Taliban tries to take the capital? Two posts, one from Dave Schuler:


In that post, Schuler refers to a post by

In response to this, one Pakistani legislator is advocating imposing Shari’a law. Which I guess should be filed under “If you can’t beat ’em…”

The links in Matt Y’s piece, first to Michael Crowley, discussing the WaPo article that discusses the President’s meeting on Af/Pak:


Malou Innocent at Cato:


Ahmed Rashid at the BBC:

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