Sanity Injection

Injecting a dose of sanity into your day’s news and current events.

Posts Tagged ‘Election’

Missing the point of Iraq election

Posted by sanityinjection on March 11, 2010

The diplomatic world awaits with baited breath today the announcement of the results of Iraq’s election. Columnists are in a tizzy over what outcome would be best for Iraq or for Western interests.

But all the speculation is missing the essential point: Nobody knows who is going to win. That in itself is the key victory for democracy – a hotly contested election whose outcome is not a foregone conclusion. What other Arab country can boast of this? Lebanon, perhaps, no other. And it’s a far cry from the days when Saddam Hussein used to be “re-elected” with 98% of the vote. And don’t think that the significance of this is lost on Iraqis themselves. With all the hardships they have faced over the last seven years, this at least is one tangible benefit: proof that the destiny of their country lies in their own hands.

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Rethinking Afghanistan

Posted by sanityinjection on October 30, 2009

I was struck by the recent decision of Foreign Service Officer Matthew Hoh to resign his post in Afghanistan in protest of what he believes to be a failed strategy. While disgruntled personnel or peacenik protesters are nothing new, Hoh exemplifies neither of those stereotypes. In fact, his record as both a  Marine and a diplomat is exemplary enough to earn him the right to have his comments taken seriously even by Afghanistan hawks. (It is significant that not one of the people interviewed by the WashPost who knew Hoh has anything even remotely bad to say about him, whereas normal institutional practice is to trash the reputation of anybody who steps out of line.) 

Hoh’s fear is that our current military activities in Afghanistan are doing more harm than good.  Speaking from his personal experience on the front lines of the Afghan provinces, Hoh argues that much of the rebel activity is locally based and not particularly affiliated with the Taliban or Al Qaeda, apart from being willing to take their money. He describes the Pashtun tribes as being extremely xenophobic and not at all happy about the continued presence of American and other foreign troops.

Normally, I would dismiss this sort of thinking as liberal bloviating. But Hoh isn’t a liberal, an isolationist, or a defeatist by nature: “There are plenty of [Al Qaeda and Taliban] dudes who need to be killed. I was never more happy than when our Iraq team whacked a bunch of guys.”

Hoh’s main point seems to be that we need to get the Pakistanis and Afghans to do the lion’s share of the work in eradicating Al Qaeda, and that the US’ close ties to the corrupt and ineffective Karzai government are proving to be a liability rather than a strength. Perhaps the upcoming Afghan runoff election could inject some new legitimacy if challenger Abdullah Abdullah manages to topple Karzai. But Abdullah is a northerner and even less likely to command the loyalty of the Pashtun tribal leaders.

I don’t know what the answer is. But it seems clear that pulling out of Afghanistan is not the answer any more than continuing with the status quo. The Obama Administration needs to come up with a new plan, and the time to do so was weeks ago.

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German election results may mean stronger US-German alliance

Posted by sanityinjection on September 28, 2009

This weekend’s elections in Germany returned conservative Chancellor Angela Merkel to power with a major difference: Instead of being stuck in an odd-couple “Grand Coalition” with the rival center-left Social Democrats, a strong showing by the free market Free Democrats will alow Merkel to assemble a more traditional center-right governing coalition.

This could be a positive development as far as the US-German alliance is concerned.  With British Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown widely expected to give way to Conservative David Cameron in the next British election, this sets up a situation where Britain, France and Germany will all have center-right governments.

At first glance, one might think that this might cause difficulties given that US President Obama comes from the center-left. But in fact, one of the hallmarks of the center-right in these three countries is that they tend to be more supportive of US policies generally, especially in the military arena. Gone are the days when Germany under Social Democrat Chancellor Schroeder was a vocal opponent of US policy in Iraq. 

In fact, the Free Democrats – who will inherit the key post of Foreign Minister in Merkel’s new government – are if anything more pro-US even than Merkel’s own party. They look to America as the model for the free market reforms they wish to see implemented in Germany, while also advocating the use of German military power abroad in support of its NATO allies. This could reap benefits for the US in Afghanistan, where the Social Democrats had been decidedly unenthusiastic about increasing the German mission there.

The one area that could become a sticking point is the issue of Turkish entry into the European Union – something the US supports as a way of anchoring Turkey firmly in the pro-Western camp. The outgoing Social Democrats strongly supported this as well, but the new government is more likely to oppose it along with France and Italy. The US fears this that EU rejection could drive Turkey into closer ties with Islamic states such as Iran.

Ironically, improved relations with Germany (not that they have been that bad) come at the same time that countries of Eastern Europe that have been staunch US allies are beginning to question their stance, after the embarrassing  reversal by the Obama Administration on missile defense that left the Czechs and Poles feeling betrayed. Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Romania have been strongly supportive of the US since the end of the Cold War when French and German support was lukewarm. We may now be witnessing a full reversal of that dynamic as Eastern Europe asks the US, “What have you done for us lately?”

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Obama, free trade, and leadership: Who is that masked man?

Posted by sanityinjection on June 18, 2008

To those too young to get the reference, it’s what people used to ask about the Lone Ranger. Our modern day identity query concerns Barack Obama. As he continues to take the political world by storm, we want to know who he is and what he stands for.

Obama’s public statements on free trade and NAFTA in particular help us to understand him.  If you recall, Obama took a somehwat protectionist stand during the primary, criticizing NAFTA and threatening to pull out of it unless it is renegotiated. This alarmed our neighbors, Mexico and Canada, enough that Obama’s economic advisor had to go to Canada and reassure them that it was all talk. But he got caught and Obama had to disavow him, embarrassingly.

Now Obama, in a new Fortune magazine interview, is tacking back toward the free trade side of things, suggesting that he may have overdone it with the rhetoric a little on NAFTA. So what does Obama *really* think about free trade?

Having observed the man for some months now, this is what I see. Obama is a smart person. Smart enough to know how to play the political game of pandering to the people he needs to win over, but also smart enough to understand the benefits of free trade. He’s also a global thinker – he lived in Indonesia and has relatives in Kenya. He knows what international trade means for the standard of living of people in those countries.

So I do not think, in his heart, Obama is a protectionist. But his voting record in the Senate shows that he will only vote for a trade agreement if the unions don’t oppose it. It may be that he does not feel strongly enough about the issue to take a political hit over it.

And therein lies the heart of the matter and its importance to us. A great leader is someone who is willing to part company with the special interests that support him or her in order to do what he or she feels is right for the country. A perfect example from Obama’s party is Harry Truman. As President, Truman ticked off every group that supported him – the Missouri Democratic machine, the unions, Southern whites – and made decisions that he thought were in the best interests of America. As a result, he almost didn’t get elected in ’48, and couldn’t run again in ’52 because he was so deeply unpopular with voters of every political stripe. Yet some of those decisions, like de-segregating the military, turned out to be not only right, but exactly what needed to be done.

Barack Obama is still very young in political terms. Up until now, he may not have encountered many situations where his convictions require him to part company with powerful supporters (Reverend Wright does not count as “powerful”.) How he responds in such a situation will speak volumes about his character and his leadership. For now, at least to me, this is an unknown.

McCain, on the other hand, has virtually made a career out of giving the finger to his own party and the special interests that usually support Republicans, knowing it could hurt him politically, when he felt it was important to do so. But again, he’s had a longer career in public service, and by his own admission, it wasn’t until his brush with the Keating Five scandal that he really began to understand how problematic the influence of special interests can be.

If Obama turns out to be cast from the mold of Truman and McCain in this area, then America may not fare too badly over the coming years regardless of which candidate is elected President.

Preview of the Fortune interview with Obama is here:

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Thanks for nothing, Al…

Posted by sanityinjection on June 16, 2008

Al Gore formally endorsed Barack Obama for President today. Surprising nobody.

Regardless of your opinion of Gore and/or Obama, this endorsement would only have meant something if it had been given earlier or not given at all. Gore’s endorsement would have meant a lot to Hillary or Obama in the thick of their primary fight – had he timed it right, he could have been seen as the kingmaker. But he didn’t want to burn any bridges, probably thinking he may yet run again if McCain wins and is a one-termer.  So he waits until it’s all over. Thanks, Al.

As for the general election, does anyone seriously believe there is anyone out there who can be swayed by Al Gore’s endorsement that wasn’t already going to vote Democrat in this election anyway? Way to go, Al.

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Fun for political junkies

Posted by sanityinjection on June 12, 2008

The Los Angeles Times has got an interactive electoral map on their website that allows you to view how each state has voted in the past and then click on it to turn it red for McCain or blue for Obama, and see the effect on each candidate’s total number of electoral votes. Although some states with strong leanings are already done for you, you can change those too, if you want.

In addition to being a good tool to learn where the real battlegrounds of the campaign are likely to be and which states each candidate really needs to win, it’s just good geek fun:,0,2338623.htmlstory 

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