Tuesday, March 13, 2012

US troops must remain in Afghanistan

I watched an episode of The Practice many years ago where a lawyer argued that the United States army was obliged to finish its mission in any particular country it decided to wage war in, for the same reason that a doctor faces tricky legal territory if he or she stops at the scene of an accident. 

In both instances, the illusion of taking care of the problem implicitly indicates that no one else needs to come in and take charge. In other words, if you do decide to involve yourself in something, make sure you finish the job. 

This philosophy is very apt for the debate raging across US media at the moment about pulling American troops out of Afghanistan. We can argue until we're blue in the face about whether the Yanks should or shouldn't have gone in (I personally believe this war was far more justifiable than war in Iraq, but both would have been best avoided), but the fact is that US troops are there. This mission is soon to enter its eleventh year. There isn't any going backwards. Currently Afghanistan is somewhat unstable, with a government that is still battling/negotiating with the Taliban with a leader who doesn't exert effective authority (for more reasons that just his own weaknesses). 

Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai has many faults (his lackadaisical attitude towards corruption and absolute hatred of women's rights being examples) including a lack of control over what is going on in his own country. The presence of the American army is assisting him in keeping violence to the level at which it currently finds itself (which is lower that it could be, believe it or not). 

Recent events, the Afghan public's violent reaction to US troops burning copies of the Quran, and an expected violent reaction to a rogue US soldier systematically putting bullets into 16 civilians, have seen calls increase for the US to get out of Afghanistan. But while this is tempting, the US is responsible for the mission it decided to undertake in Afghanistan, and cannot just pack up and go. While it is terrible that the military is in more danger should it remain in the country, Afghan civilians are even more at risk from militants within the country should the soldiers (who are not shooting the people they are supposed to be defending) depart. 

The US is under obligation to remain in Afghanistan until the country has been stabilised. Interior movements and the (outside) possibility of help from other countries will have been dampened by the entry of the USA and allies. 

While hauling the troops home would suit the foreign military, it would not suit Afghans. 

The US began this war and is obliged to leave a peaceful country when it departs. Packing up and leaving now would plunge Afghanistan into something worse than anarchy. 

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

News roundup 7 March

Spain may close its embassy in Syria and fly its ambassador home, according to foreign minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo on Tuesday. Whether the Spanish government can afford the flights from Damascus to Madrid should be established by the finance ministry within the coming days, once it obtains permission from German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Two journalists at the British newspaper The Sun have apparently attempted suicide as the pressure of a wholly legal investigation into dodgy dealings at the paper increases. Luckily the investigation isn’t taking place dictated by The Sun’s ethical standards, or we’d already know what was in their garbage, how they looked with out a shirt on while on the beach, would see their name in capital letters on the page next to a naked woman with huge tits, would be declared guilty while an investigation was going on, would have “friends” declaring that they always were a bit dodgy, and would have an encampment of photographers outside their houses.  Sometimes the shoe doesn’t fit on the other foot.

Scientists have a new explanation for how the Titanic may have sunk back nearly 100 years ago. Although we all know that the unsinkable vessel hit an iceberg and then sank, braniacs believe the moon was responsible for an increase in iceberg obstacles on that particular sea highway. Coincidentally, our sources inform us that the man in the moon will also be responsible for coughing up the R300-billion for Transnet infrastructure upgrades announced by President Jacob Zuma in February.

Three of the four American Republican presidential candidates competed to be the most forceful aggressor on Iran, and its suspected nuclear weapons facilities. To be clear, there is as much proof of an Iranian nuclear weapons programme as there was evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. That’s zero. Zilch. Nil. Our sources within the Republican Party claim that Mitt Romney wants to attack Iran because its trees are a similar height to Israel’s and he wants to protect Prime Minister Beebee Netanyahu’s timber industry. Rick Santorum advises a pre-emptive strike before Iranians possibly become illegal immigrants, and Newt Gingrich would attack Iran until it began limping, then Syria until its economy got sick, and then something young and hot like South Sudan or East Timor.

The USA will take action against India at the World Trade Organization over a ban of poultry and egg imports which India claims are necessary to prevent avian flu. US trade representative Ron Kirk said, “The United States is the world's leader in agricultural safety and we are confident that the WTO will confirm that India's ban is unjustified.” Our sources tell us that the Indian government is already in touch with Oprah Winfrey. 

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

What is genuine?

Susan Rice on her first trip to Israel, "I will never forget my first visit to Israel, when I was just 14 years old.... We had the extraordinary experience of flying on one of the very first flights from Tel Aviv to Cairo, just around the time of Camp David. On that same trip, we went to Yad Vashem, we floated in the Dead Sea, we walked the lanes of the Old City, climbed Masada, and picked fruit at a kibbutz. I learned by heart the words of the sacred prayer, the Sh’ma. And since that first wonderful visit, my admiration for Israel has grown ever stronger."

Romney on his home state of Michigan, "I love this state [Michigan]. It seems right here. The trees are the right height here. I like seeing the lakes. I love the lakes. There's just something very special here. The Great Lakes, but also all the little inland lakes that dots the parts of Michigan. I love cars. I grew up totally in love with cars."

Romney could use some tips from the US ambassador to the UN about being genuine, methinks. 

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Stop worrying about Ohio

Mitt Romney, having been dragged through the washers over Michigan, is now being told he needs to win Ohio or else the world will end. Santorum is supposed to be the big dangerman because he is from neighbouring Pennsylvania and is all about the blue collar works in the “rust belt”.

Ohio seems important because it is a swing state in the general election. It is vitally important in the general because, as I have mentioned before, only about 12 states are contested in a general election. Some states tend to always vote one way or another. Republicans will not win Massachusetts or California. Democrats will not win Mississippi or Oklahoma. That’s just how it goes. Ohio is one of the states that changes its mind every so often, so you’ll see a huge effort in this state by both parties leading into November.

However, claiming Romney needs to win it in the primary to secure it in the general election is untrue. Although Ohio is an open primary (anyone can vote in it, as opposed to having to register with the party in some other states) it will be a small amount of Republicans who vote on the day. The amount of voters in a primary is always smaller than the number of voters in an election. Now, believe you me, the voters who vote Republican on primary day will almost certainly be voting Republican on election day, in spite of who wins the nomination. In other words, if Rick Santorum wins Ohio, but Mitt Romney wins the Republican nomination, the probability of Ohio falling Democrat or Republican remains pretty much the same.

Let’s look at an example: In the 2008 Democrat primaries, Barack Obama lost the nomination race in five major swing states and still went on to win them in the general election. Michigan, Florida, New Mexico, Pennsylvania and ---> *OHIO*<--- all preferred Hillary Clinton over Obama. But all five states were carried by Democrats.

Also, it’s not as though Romney hasn’t beaten the rest in a major swing state before during this nomination process. He won Florida – remember the state that was so important in handing George Bush 43 the election in 2000? Florida will have 29 electoral votes in the 2012 election, ten more than Ohio. It is a VITAL state to win in a general, and by current media analysis it should factor into the same “need to win” as Ohio. Florida has voted for the winner of the general election in every vote since 1964, with the exception of 1992. Ohio has voted along with the winning party in every election since 1964. So outside one election result, Florida is as determinative as Ohio.

An aside from my point of view, Romney’s biggest danger on Super Tuesday is not Rick Santorum. It is Newt Gringrich who is polling very competitively in southern states: Georgia (Gingrich’s home state), Oklahoma and Tennessee all go a-voting on Tuesday 6 March, with those three boasting 177 delegates between them. Getting drilled in all of the southern states, which is quite plausible, would hurt Romney far more than dropping Ohio. 

Is Romney's result really that bad?

Image kindly pinched from HollywoodReporter.com

I watch a lot of sensationalist news. I figure that by watching Fox and MSNBC, I will average out the hysteria into a basic understanding of what is going on in the world. But sometimes the hysterics cannot be accurately blended into fact, and I feel like the great loser in this melee of somewhat-facts over the last week has been Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. 

"Analysts" of all types unanimously agreed that it was vital for Mitt Romney to win his home state of Michigan in Tuesday's primary. At face value this seems legitimate: one would expect candidates to take their own state, particularly one where their father was an incredibly popular governor. However, what threatened to sink Romney was not so much the fact the people don't like him. Romney penned a highly controversial piece in the New York Times called "Let Detroit go Bankrupt", which criticised what President Barack Obama planned to do (and ultimately did), which was bail out the auto industry, much of which is based in Detroit, Michigan.

Now, the auto industry is to Detroit what Table Mountain is to Cape Town - people get highly protective over it. Romney surely knew when he wrote that column for the New York Times that he was going to piss some people off. In fact, that's half the reason some people write columns. And such a divisive issue was bound to come up when he ran for president this time around. Of course Michiganders are going to have split opinion when it comes to the auto bailout; simple logic would dictate that some folks would be against it. In fact, it was nice to finally see Romney take a principled stand and stick with it.

What this means is that Romney was quite entitled to not win Michigan, in spite of his roots there, because he picked a side in a massively controversial battle. People were quite entitled to disagree with his view on the bail out. Surely the political system is better when people are voting over issues and records than the bloke that comes from a certain place and adores the height of the trees?

What also surprised me greatly was that not one media outlet I read, and I read many, discussed how Romney's opposition to the bailout may play in other states. Instead, we were treated to constant repetition of just how ghastly it would be if Mitt failed to win Michigan. Now, in many southern states, a portion of whom go to the polls on Super Tuesday (on 6 March) are far more concerned with fiscal conservatism. While arguing against the bailout may hurt in Michigan, it is unlikely to do so in Oklahoma, Tennessee or Georgia, all of whom will vote soon. And, let's be honest, if Romney starts winning in the south then this race will be over swiftly.

Something else the media climbed all over was Romney's speech to the Detroit Economics Club on Friday last week at the Ford Field, home of the Detroit Lions American football team. Romney has been invited by the club to deliver a speech about his economic plan for the US, and naturally, attendance to an address by a  presidential nominee was higher than normal. The DEC (note, NOT Mit Romney) changed the venue to the Ford Field and set up a stage and chairs in a small portion of the field. There was never any intention to fill the stadium. But multiple media outlets reported how Mitt Romney failed to fill a stadium. One would think that the nominee would have invited more than 1,200-odd people in a 60,000-seater stadium if he was attempting to do something grand, right?

Image pinched from mlive.com.

Often, Romney doesn't help himself. He manages to walk around with both feet in his mouth a lot of the time, with increasing regularity. But he isn't helped by criticism that isn't, well, in-depth.

While much criticism is justified, it is surely worth looking at why Romney may have stuck with a point of view past the next primary. It is easy enough to point fingers and say you're criticising. It is something else entirely to actually be critical.