Friday, November 19, 2004

Don't worry, we're still losing

I've stopped reading the New York Times, so I didn't see this op-ed by a couple of Dartmouth Professors until Oxblog linked to it. The article is by International Relations Professors Daryl Press and Benjamin Valentino. I don't know Prof. Valentino, but back in my undergrad days I took an introductory IR course with Prof. Press. It was a lot of theory and I ended up deciding that I preferred fact to theory, so I became a History major. But I remember an interesting discussion from that course.

This was before 9/11, and on the first day of class, Prof. Press brought up the Prisoner's Dilemma and the Chicken Game, two staples of simplified game theory. The idea was to describe the security situation, with particular attention to the issue of nuclear weapons. Prof. Press wanted to demonstrate that (to some IR theorists) the idea of nuclear proliferation was not a bad one because it brought about mutually assured destruction. We were introduced to the "Rationality Principle" and were told that since states are rational actors in the international system, a state possessing nuclear weapons will not use them because of MAD.

Well, at the time I was a little skeptical, but I accepted some of the logic behind it. However, my first thought after the initial shock of 9/11 was to think back to that lecture and conclude that the "Rationality Principle" is dead. There's no way that in a world where people are willing to fly planes into buildings, they'd be unwilling to use nukes. A lot of people reached similar conclusions, because today most people agree that terrorists with nukes constitute the greatest threat to America.

So, I was quite interested to see what my old professor now had to say. The article is about Falluja, and the headline says it all: "A Victory, But Little Is Gained." I am really bothered by the Professors' pessimism, so here's what I think. They start out by saying that the taking of Falluja "has not brought the United States appreciably closer to achieving its political objectives in Iraq." Really? If our political objectives include improving the security situation, then isn't cleaning up a terrorist hell-hole bringing us closer to that objective? I guess not. The Profs go on to say that "history suggests that America has slim hopes of defeating the insurgency, and that our best chance for 'success' depends on redefining what we would consider a victory." Wow. So, we can't win but let's just say that we intended to not win all along.

The article is filled with this gloomy outlook. "While major operations like the attack on Falluja create the appearance of progress [only the appearance? not actual progress?]... there is virtually no connection between seizing territory and defeating an insurgency." None? So then why sacrifice close to fifty soldiers? We might as well have left Falluja the way it was since capturing it brought us no material advantage, right? And here's another blooper: "Insurgents do not seek victory on the battlefield." So, what do they seek?

To be fair, the Profs do make some interesting points. By the above statement they actually mean that insurgents have different battle plans when compared to regular armies. But, we already know that. Tell us something we don't know. "Guerrillas do not depend on vulnerable lines of supply and communication, so counter insurgents must target them directly." Isn't that what the American military did in Falluja?

The Profs then talk about the history of insurgency, and conclude that nobody has defeated one since WWII. That is, except for Britain in Malaya and a couple of strong men here and there. They then tell us that these examples do not apply, especially the example of Malaysia.

"Many counter insurgency theorists have tried to model operations on teh British effort in Malaya, particularly the emphasis on winning hearts and minds of the local population through public improvements. They have not succeeded. [Really?] Victory in Malaysia, it appears in retrospect, has less to do with British tactical innovations than with the weaknesses and isolation of the insurgents. The guerrillas were not ehtnic Malays." Like in Iraq, right? I mean, Zarqawi et al are foreigners in Iraq, and the insurgents themselves only have a following with a minority of the Iraqi population. Shias and Kurds are on America's side in this conflict, as are most Sunnis. So doesn't this model apply?

I would also add that the Indian experience in Punjab is instructive. Sure, some strong tactics were used, but the methods were primarily liberal - elevating a Sikh to the position of President (an appointed position) and so on, to the point where we ended up with a Sikh Prime Minister. Not bad, as far as counterinsurgency goes.

The Profs continue to astonish: "as long as the insurgency rages, it is unlikely that America will achieve the political goals it set for itself - a unified, democratic Iraq as the first building block in the broader democratization of the Middle East." This is spot-on. The implication is that we should change our goals. I would contend that this means we should be even more determined to defeat the raging insurgency. They go on: "perhaps we should set our goals more realistically, and focus on the achievable." In other words, since we can't win, let's just re-define losing to mean winning, so that we can at least win rhetorically.

The Profs suggest "a new secular strongman," arguing that cohesion and stability are more important. "Saddam Hussein was able to keep his politically, ethnically and religiously divided state together only through nearly constant repression; it seems unlikely that any successor could rule with a velvet glove." This is a misnomer, and one I'd like to address. Saddam Hussein did not maintain cohesion through repression - he maintained his tyranny through repression. The implication is not that constant repression is the only means of maintaining Iraqi unity. Arguably liberalism, freedom and democracy will achieve that goal. In fact, that is exactly what the American government is arguing today.

So what's going on? Why are two Government Professors at Dartmouth arguing that we should redefine our understanding of victory in Iraq? Well, there are two reasons. First, they are arguing for an easy out. By redefining failure to mean success, we can fail and still claim success. That way, we won't need to put in the hard work necessary for success. But, there is also something a little more sinister going on here. Here's the kicker: "These are depressing prospects. The fact that we must now consider them underscores the caution that should be employed before deciding to go to war." Aah! So there it is! In the last paragraph of this Op-Ed, we finally see what they are getting at. We should have known this was going to be difficult from the start, and therefore we shouldn't even have gone in the first place! But don't worry, just because you are seeing victorious marines and soldiers in Falluja today, it doesn't mean that we're winning. And, rest assured, even if it does we'll spin it so that America sees it as a loss and will shy away from force projection in the future. This isn't an argument about Falluja or insurgencies, but a re-opening of the pre-war debate. This strikes me as a note to the faithful not to lose heart - the warmongers may appear vindicated now, but don't worry - we'll still lose!

I ran a search on the NY Times website and found that Prof. Press has written an Op-Ed for them in the past, on March 26, 2003 titled "How to Take Baghdad". You have to pay for it, and I'm not particularly interested in doing so, but here are the first fifty words. They say a lot about Prof. Press' prophetic powers.

"American and British ground forces are approaching Baghdad, but the war has not gone as smoothly as the Bush administration had hoped. Neither intense psychological operations nor precision missile strikes has toppled Saddam Hussein's government. The Republican Guard is standing by its man. And the Iraqi security forces appear willing... "

Friday, November 05, 2004

The Election

So it's over, and (as they say) the good guys won. I have to admit, I was pretty nervous while watching the returns, despite the fact that I was in a room full of Kerry supporters and they seemed to be getting more and more depressed as the night wore on. But, the result is pretty unambiguous. George W. Bush won a majority of the popular vote and increased his party's share in Congress.

This was an election unlike any other I've seen (which really isn't saying much). It was the first election since the attacks of September 11th, and foreign policy was on the ballot. A lot is being made of the fact that "moral values" seemed to be the defining issue of the election, but I don't think that holds a lot of water. "Moral values" is a vague and meaningless term. Also, this was the first election in which values were listed on the exit polls. That might have had something to do with why the exit polls suggested that people voted based on values. Of course, as we found out, the exit polls themselves were pretty useless, so I really don't buy the moral values argument at all. Furthermore, I don't buy that moral values is code for gay rights. Yes, all eleven states that had a gay rights initiative on the ballot voted overwhelmingly for those initiatives, but the fact is that the unpopularity of extending the term marriage to include gay couples is a bi-partisan phenomenon in the U.S. In fact, Kerry won two of the states that passed such initiatives. Bush is a strong, principled leader, and in times of war, these qualities are more important than any particular policy. Maybe that explains the whole moral values red herring.

No, this election was about the war and Bush's leadership. The fact is, for the last four years we've seen a lot of vitriol and hate directed at the Bush administration, and the average person was sick of it. The American people have given the Bush Doctrine their seal of approval, and it will be interesting to see where Bush goes with it. Like I've been saying throughout this campaign, the election was a referendum on Bush's war leadership. Unless you believed that Bush was further endangering the American people, you would be irresponsible in voting against him. It's pretty clear that people were voting either for or against President Bush, and the against argument just seemed too angry and unseemly.

As for Kerry, I don't think he made any particular mistake that cost him the election (except perhaps picking Edwards as his running mate). From when the campaign began Kerry had a lot to prove, and he consistently met and exceeded expectations. During the primaries he had to prove to Democrats that he would be an electable candidate, and by the Iowa caucases he had done that. His next job was to prove to the rest of the American people that he had the ability to be the Commander-in-Chief. After his convention, that doubt was put to rest (for the most part). His next task was to prove that he could be an effective counter to Bush, and during the debates he did just that. At the end of the day though, I think the Democrats just did not have the numbers. I don't think a decidedly more anti-war campaign would have helped him. In fact, I'm certain that such a course of action would have led to a thumping Bush victory. The Democrats did everything right, and what they needed was a major screw-up from the Bush camp if they were to win. Since this was a referendum on Bush, Kerry had to hope that there were enough people in the country who wanted to fire Bush. It now looks like those numbers were just not there.

I find this fact very encouraging. Despite the bad news coming out of Iraq, and the gravity of the times we live in, America has opted for strength and resolve over vacillation and paralysis. It was a little too close for my liking, but then I would have liked a landslide. The thing to do now is to focus like a laser-beam on moving us along to victory in the war. I think Bush is right. He has earned political capital, and now he should spend it pursuing the radical, totalitarian Islamists. His Presidency has received the vote of confidence it badly needed. Time to pull out all the stops.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Nana Sahib: Terrorist?

NRO has an article up by James Robbins discussing the growing irrelevance of Osama bin Laden. Robbins says, "If he is alive, he will have to prove it soon or suffer the same slow descent to obscurity as his predecessor, Nana Sahib."

Money 'graf:

"Who was Nana Sahib, you ask? Surely, for some he was the Osama of his times, a well educated, Hindu radical who was instrumental in the Sepoy revolt of 1857. In June of that year he seized the town of Cawnpore and proclaimed himself the Peshwa. After a three-week siege of the redoubt the British garrison and citizens surrendered, almost 1,000 in number, having been promised safe passage down the Ganges to Allahabad. Yet, for reasons unclear, the promise was not kept. Most of the men were shot down outright. The women and children were imprisoned and later methodically hacked to pieces over the course of one evening, their body parts thrown down a well. These gruesome events shocked the conscience of the British people, and sparked bloody retaliation. "Cawnpore!" became the rallying cry of the British soldiers, and Nana Sahib's forces soon were routed. He fled over the mountains to Nepal, his name having become a byword for brutal, pitiless mass murder. A search commenced. A bounty was placed on his head. Letters periodically appeared supposedly authored by Nana Sahib. There were occasional sightings, and rumors abounded. However, the leading terrorist of his day remained elusive. He had some impact on popular culture; Nana Sahib was brought to the stage by 19th century sensationalist Dion Boucicault who, in his role as the archvillain, dared the audience to throw things at him. Jules Verne wrote a novel about him. An Indian magician toured the U.S. under his name, "whose exhibition of occultism is said to be beyond belief," the Washington Post noted. Then, 17 years after the events at Cawnpore, Britain thrilled to news of the capture of Nana Sahib, only to find out later the man was an imposter. His true fate is unknown. One report had him dying soon after fleeing India, another that he passed away in 1926 at the age of 102. By then he was mostly forgotten in the West. However, true to the adage, Nana Sahib was another man's freedom fighter, and after independence, the government of India honored him with a stamp."

Now, none of this is untrue, but it does rankle Indian sentiment to think of the 1857 conflict as terrorist activity, especially given the peaceful way in which India did end up winning Independence. There's a lot of talk of 1857 being the "First War for Indian Independence." Hogwash, of course. Nana Sahib's primary grievance was the Doctrine of Lapse, or the way in which the British stopped recognizing adopted heirs (interestingly, the legendary Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi fought for the same reason). Because he was only the adopted son of the Peshwa Baji Rao II, upon the Peshwa's death (or rather former Peshwa, since he had lost the Third Maratha war and was by then a pensioner) the British authorities, under the Doctrine of Lapse did not recognize Nana Sahib's claim to the title and the pension (paid for of course, by the British). Nana Sahib was pissed off that the East India Company was not giving him an annual stipend. Talk about desire for Independence!

Furthermore, the Rebellion of 1857 happened only in the Ganga-Jamuna Doab, with major engagements taking place at Meerut, Delhi, Kanpur, Lucknow and (a stretch) Gwalior. Indian soldiers were among those trapped in the seige of Lucknow, and were also among those who fought against the rebellion in each of those engagements. Furthermore, the Sepoy Mutiny only took place within the Bengal Army. The Bombay and Madras armies were actually called in to relieve the Company's forces in the north. There was no All-India National Princes League fighting for the various principalities (later called 'Princely State') across the nation. In fact, the vast majority of Princes remained loyal to the British, and were given the rights and benefits of Princely State status as a direct result of that loyalty.

Nana Sahib himself was insignificant. According to John Keay, Nana Sahib "owed his celebrity less to his exploits and more to the British need for scapegoats plus Indian nationalism's later need for heroes." But, Robbins has a point. Nana Sahib's forces engaged in barbaric activity at Kanpur. Even if you believe his cause was just (and I'm not sure if fighting to re-establish a feudal order is a just cause), it is impossible to condone the means he used. People have argued that Nana Sahib did not know about the massacres (as he later claimed). I don't think Nana Sahib was cruel or bloodthirsty. He appears to be more of a bumbling oaf who couldn't control his soldiers. Regardless, he was in charge, and the actions of his subordinates tainted the entire sub-continent's people (much like a certain global figure is doing for his community today). Let us hope that Robbins is right and that bin Laden has been rendered irrelevant, just like Nana Sahib was only two years after his capture of Kanpur.

Friday, October 08, 2004

And now I'm depressed again

It looks like things are going badly for the Bush campaign again. Man, this is really depressing and nerve-racking. I don't think I can take a few more weeks of this.

This is a war election, so essentially it is a referendum on how the incumbent is conducting the war. The question on the ballot this year is the Bush Doctrine of pre-emting gathering threats and promoting democracy and liberalism in Muslim countries. It looks like both parties agree on these pillars of the Bush Doctrine, although with Kerry it is sometimes hard to tell. However, there is a sizeable group of people in this country (read: Michael Moore) who disagree entirely with the Bush Doctrine (probably because they dislike the author of that doctrine). A Bush loss might be interpreted as a rejection of his doctrine.

Another interpretation though is that the doctrine itself is not being repudiated, just its application in Iraq. I feel though that if you are going to enumerate a doctrine of militarily pre-empting a potential threat, and replacing hostile dictatorships with liberalizing governments, then you need to put your money where your mouth is. Just saying that we believe in this doctrine is not going to be enough when faced with such audacious enemies as Osama bin Laden. And, if this doctrine is inapplicable to Iraq, then where exactly is it applicable? Baathist Iraq was about as abominable a tyranny imaginable. Not to pre-empt the Saddam regime and attempt to replace it with a decent one would be a rejection of our own doctrine.

So, a Bush loss is certainly a step back from his agressive stance in the new war. That the American electorate is seriously considering this is just too depressing.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Bose and the Nazis

Interesting. Newly released documents show that Subas Chandra Bose recruited Indian soldiers from German POW camps before he did from Japanese ones. They were of course betrayed and became wretched tools of Himmler's SS during the retreat from France.

One can make a parallel analogy to what's going on today - people may dislike America, but perhaps we should identify the greater evil in the world and work to end that. History will harshly judge our actions if we fail to do so.

Friday, September 03, 2004

What, me worry?

Ok, so close to two months have passed since my last post. This week saw the Republican National Convention, and let me just say, that the President is finally playing ball. The Repubs showed what we're capable of, and we've finally started defending our position with vigour. Zell Miller's critique of the modern leftists is spot on - they're uselessly trying to fight old wars in order to prove some kind of street cred that is completely counter-productive to our current mission. I'm a lot more heartened now, and am finally beginning to feel like the good guys have got this election in the bag. Of course, it ain't over yet (some charming southernisms in honor of our President!), and the Bush campaign needs to continue fighting this one. But, from the way they ran the convention (especially when compared with the Democrats) it looks like the Republican party officials intend to continue with the intense fighting all the way to November.

An interesting point is the grass-roots efforts. I've been reading a little bit about the Republican strategy, and what I gather is that the lesson George W. Bush took away from the 2000 campaign is that grass-roots mobilization is absolutely critical. Apparently his campaign has been spending a lot of time building that infrastructure, and according to Ralph Reed (who I saw on CNN), that is going to be the key to electoral victory this year. I certainly hope so. I still feel that we should be taking this fight to where the Democrats are safe. California and New York have some extremely popular Republican politicians (as was show-cased this past week), and there's no reason we shouldn't try to rebuild our party in these extremely important states. The Republican ascendancy of the 80s relied heavily on the support of California, and it's silly to think that we can continue with Republican dominance in the country without the largest state or the largest city behind us.

I recently read The Right Nation by a couple of writers for The Economist, and they argue that a victory this year can seal the deal for Republican domination of American politics for at least another decade. I don't disagree, but of the four largest states in the country (think electoral votes) the Dems have two in the bag (CA and NY), we have one (TX) and the fourth is a complete toss-up (FL). Sure, the Carolinas, Dakotas and the rest of the slew of small states makes up for this, but I don't see a successful long-term electoral strategy without at least two of the big four squarely in our column. In fact, until recently both Texas and Florida were solidly Republican, and the fight was in places like CA. The tables have turned, and not in a way that's beneficial to Republicans. We need to change that.

Thursday, July 08, 2004

Am I wrong to be worried?

This weekend I met a friend who's working for the Bush re-election campaign and I told him that the faithful are worried. He told me I was wrong to be worried, and that the election is in the bag. I'm still worried though. Am I wrong?

This is the first election since September 11th. This is the equivalent of the 1944 election, when Roosevelt kicked ass. The whole country should be united in the mission to defeat Islamist terrorism, and it's clear that it isn't (exhibit A: Michael Moore). What's going on? Why has this administration been terrible at selling its message? Incidentally, it's not just half of the American people who aren't buying it, but half of the rest of the world as well. Now one can argue that French perfidy and other factors play into the rest of the world not agreeing with America, but that's not a good enough excuse.

The fact is that Americans are the best sellers. Yet somehow we're having an awful time selling America. And the Bush administration is really bad at selling its agenda. Bush may be a conservative President and his core constituency may be the South and Midwest, but he's still the leader of the free world, and he should at least acknowledge this fact. He may not get the vote of the latte-swilling San Franciscan, but Bush is that person's representative to the world, and by not acknowledging that the President is reneging on his responsibility.

Of course, I agree with the man on the main issue of the day, and so will vote for him. But I would like to see a little less arrogance and a little more leadership.

Wednesday, June 30, 2004

I've enabled comments. Let's see if anyone actually reads this blog.

UPDATE: To post a comment you have to click on the little # sign and then click on "Post a comment."
"I'm from South Asia"

I'm quite bothered by this business of labelling things subcontinental as "South Asian." I first came into contact with this term during my freshman year at college, when I was asked to join the "South Asian" ethnic group (oh, sorry cultural group) on campus. I couldn't really tell what bothered me about it, until my dad put his finger on it - what is this South Asian stuff? I've never been to Pakistan, never been to Bangladesh, only once visited Nepal, and have never been to Sri Lanka. What is my connection to this vague "South Asian" identity?

Well, thankfully my college offered a course called "South Asian Identities." I took it, only to learn that it was a bunch of post-colonial, post-modern, sub-altern studies, multi-culti stuff. I wasn't as hostile to this type of thinking back then, but in my gut, something didn't seem to sit well. Here's my understanding of South Asian identity: it's a way to say Indian while being inclusive of all the subcontinental people who don't like being called Indian.

Here's the thing though - why not just call a spade a spade? I mean, if my college were to have an Indian cultural group, would that necessarily mean that we Indian students would become hostile towards Pakistani students? The South Asian business serves only one purpose - to blur lines and force a common identity where none (or a very weak one) exists. The whole thing reminds me of the European Union project, especially in its aspect of forced identity creation from above. Worse still, I think it puts Indians at a disadvantage, because it equates all "South Asian" identities, when it's clear that India is the largest component of that.

Take for example, the South Asian Students Association. If that group were split up into an Indian Students Association, Pakistani Students Association etc., one would probably see greater funding and attendance at the Indian group's events to the detriment of the others. More importantly, University faculty and curricula are now chosen based on this South Asian identity. If we were to split it up, it's doubtful that a university would allocate equal resources to Indian and Pakistani studies. So, by merging all these various identities, peddlers of the South Asian identity are basically trying to tie down India's numeric, geographic and cultural advantages in order to create a "more equal" playing field.

Now I'm all for tolerance and fraternity, but I also believe in the truth. It's better for everyone involved if we don't skirt around the issue and state the obvious: there's no such thing as a South Asian identity, and this manufactured identity is detrimental to the exploration of Indian identity (and Pakistani identity and all the others for that matter) because of its misleading nature. I'm glad that Salman Rushdie seemed to have the same take on this.

Thursday, June 24, 2004

I shook Salman Rushdie's hand!

Last Friday I met Salman Rushdie at an event hosted by the South Asian Journalist's Association. The event was at Columbia University, and speaking were Rushdie and his wife, actress Padma Lakshmi. The event was set up rather poorly (my opinion). It was basically organized as a press conference with all the excited journalist types pushing to the front to ask inane questions ("Salman, were you surprised by the reception of 'The Satanic Verses'?"). Both Mr. Rushdie and his wife were very intelligent and at several points, Rushdie looked like he was quite enjoying putting down these journos. At one point someone asked him (another inane question), "Salman, I'm a moderate Muslim who was offended by 'The Satanic Verses'. What do you have to say to me?" Of course, there really isn't much else to say, except what Rushdie said: "Well, if you close the book, it will stop offending you."

A couple of things that bothered me:

-the inaneness of the questions. Here's another exchange:

Questioner: "Salman, what are you working on now?"
Rushdie: "I usually don't like talking about my books until they're done and published. There'll be plenty of time to talk about them then."
Questioner: "So is it set in India?"
Rushdie: "Exactly."

At another point, Rushdie was talking about Indian writers writing in English, and some moron shouted from the audience "you mean South Asian authors". Rushdie just shrugged it off and went on about how he's so impressed by the bright new Indian writers!

-Everyone calling him 'Salman'. The man is 'Mr. Rushdie'. He's not your pal, don't talk to him like he is.

-the set-up. I've already mentioned this, but basically the press conference feel with lots of people making too much noise in the back ruined the event. Rushdie didn't even make a preliminary speech. The organizers just made him jump right into taking questions. Frankly, I'd rather hear what Rushdie has to say, not what you have to ask him (especially if your questions are going to be so dumb). I had to squeeze my way to the front to be able to ask him a question, and thanks to the generosity of the organizer, I got in the last one.

I asked him what his assessment is of progress made in the Islamic world towards liberalism etc. His response was very pessimistic. The one positive point in his answer was his appreciation of my question (yeah, so I'm bragging - you got a problem with that?!)

Oh, another gem from the evening - another moron said he (the moron) was writing an article about how modern-day American outsourcing to India is like the British conquest of India. Rushdie looked quite bewildered!

One more - someone asked him how he could write and say the things he does since he's a Muslim (not authentic, you see). Rushdie's response: "I'm as muslim as your fingernail!" (kill the apostate!!)

After the gig was over I went up and shook his hand. I'd left my copy of "Midnight's Children" at home (like an idiot), so I couldn't get that signed. Whatever. I got to meet a great man and it was fun!

**In other news, I took the LSAT recently and bought an iPod. Sorry for not blogging recently, but I don't think I have any readers so it probably doesn't matter!!