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New Book- The Envoy: From Kabul to the White House

Friday, March 25th, 2016

[by Mark Safranski / a.k.a  “zen“]

The Envoy: From Kabul to the White House […] by Zalmay Khalilzad

Just received a courtesy review copy of The Envoy, the memoir of Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, from Christine at St. Martin’s Press.

Khalilzad was part of a small group of diplomatic troubleshooters and heavy hitters for the second Bush administration, whose numbers included John Negroponte, Ryan Crocker and John Bolton who were heavily engaged during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Like the others, Khalilzad had held a variety of important policy posts at State, the NSC and the Department of Defense before assuming ambassadorial duties; the bureaucratic experience, ties to senior White House officials and the exigencies of counterinsurgency warfare would make these posts more actively proconsular than was typical for an American ambassador.   Indeed, the endorsements on the book jacket, which include two former Secretaries of State, a former Secretary of Defense and a former CIA Director testify to the author’s political weight in Khalilzad’s years of government service.

It’s been a while since I have read a diplomatic memoir, so I’m particularly looking forward to seeing how Khalilzad treats Afghanistan’s early post-Taliban years, given that he personally is a bridge from the Reagan policy of supporting the anti-Soviet mujahedin to the toppling of the Taliban in the aftermath of 9/11 and helping to organize the new Afghan state. Khalilzad is also, of course, an Afghan by birth, giving him greater insight into that country’s complex political and social divisions than most American diplomats could muster.

I will give The Envoy a formal review in the future but Khalizad has given a synopsis of where he thinks American policy went awry in Afghanistan over at Thomas E. Rick’s Best Defense blog.

Islamic State — hanging by a chad?

Tuesday, March 15th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — light-hearted, almost science-fictional “butterfly-hurricane” question in geopolitics, with an Elkus follow-up ]
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chad bolton
A scene from the 2000 Florida recount: Palm Beach County’s canvassing board chairman eyes a questionable ballot as Republican attorney John Bolton looks on. Image: Greg Lovett/AP

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Is the Islamic State an “unanticipated consequence” of Bush v Gore?

Donald Trump, as quoted in Vox’s America’s unlearned lesson: the forgotten truth about why we invaded Iraq:

You do whatever you want. You call it whatever you want. I want to tell you. They lied. They said there were weapons of mass destruction, there were none. And they knew there were none. There were no weapons of mass destruction.

Without getting too far into the weeds, my question is this:

Is it fair to say that the Islamic State (aka ISIS, ISIL) was born in 2006 in response to the American invasion and occupation of Iraq, which in turn was initiated by President George W Bush, who became Commander in Chief in 2000 in a disputed election only resolved by the Supreme Court’s ruling in Bush v. Gore, 531 U.S. 98 (2000)? And if so, looking back at the branching possibilities and eventualities that led to the creation of IS, might I plausibly suggest the Islamic State owes its very existence to a “hanging chad”?

If the Florida electoral votes hadn’t been disputed on account of flaws in the mechanical method by which they were registered, in other words, might there have been no invasion of Iraq, and hence no IS as such?

I know: this is hugely simplistic, both in terms of the election and of the drives behind Zarqawi and company — but I’m looking for an illustration of a very small digfference in “initial conditions” giving rise to a notable difference in a “later state” of a related aspect of the world system, Lorenz’s butterfly effect.

I understand that “dimpled chads” were also part of the “initial conditions” in question, but “hanging by a chad” works better as a phrase than “dimpled by a chad” — although “hanging by a dimple” has a certain charm.

Srsly, though — to what extent is our current timeline, in which IS may reasonably be viewed as a notable threat, causally connected to the resolution of a mechanical flaw in voting machine design?

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And more seriously:

I very much appreciated Adam Elkus‘ post, Trump: The Explanation of No Explanation, and the great quote from Charles Kurzman on the Iranian Revolution from which Adam kicks off:

All of [the Iran] analyses are wrong, even if events unfold the way they predict. After all, if you make enough predictions, some are bound to look accurate. They are wrong because the outcome of this week’s events is simply unpredictable. Unpredictable means that no matter how well-informed you may be, it is impossible to know what will happen next. Moments of turmoil make a mockery of accumulated knowledge. Routine behavior, on the other hand, can be predicted. It is likely to occur tomorrow the way it occurred yesterday, with adjustments for shifts over time. But breaks from routine are a different beast altogether. The more that people feel that normal rules of behavior no longer hold, the more they search around for new rules, surveying their neighbors, collecting rumors, checking their text messages in a frantic attempt to figure out what everyone else is planning to do. Very few people are willing to be the only ones out in the street when the security forces start to advance. If people expect millions of their compatriots to demonstrate, many will want to help make history…. Such moments of mass confusion are unsettling and rare. They usually fade back into routine. Occasionally, however, they create their own new routines, even new regimes, as they did in 1978-1979. In later retelling of these episodes, especially by experts, confusion is often downplayed, as though the outcomes might have been known in advance. But that is not how Iranians are experiencing current events. Their experience, and their response to their experience, will determine the outcome.

A simian (ethological) glance at the Republican presidential race

Wednesday, October 21st, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — just one photo among many, or a defining display of power? ]
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My friend Tom Parsons made what I thought was an insightful comment on the photo above:

the serious hit was seeing the accompanying picture of Trump again showing simian dominance as the alpha male, and getting a submissive smile and pose from Jeb. That’s scary because I’m not finding online discussion of the simian dominance game that seems so clearly to me to be the foundation stone of Trump’s campaign.

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Tom’s not exactly right about there being no discussion of the Trump / Bush body language, as these two headlines [1, 2] show:

SPEC wimp

— but “wimp” is pretty mild pop-psych for “simian submission”, and Tom’s language emphasizes the biological roots of Trump’s apparent dominance.

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See what I mean?

SPEC trump

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When you come down to it, ain’t biology everything?

There’s the height factor to consider, too. Hey, in Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury has one of his characters claim:

You just don’t go running a little short man like that against a tall man.

— and Abraham Lincoln stood tall at six foot four.

DoubleQuote: “forgoes a headscarf and sparks a backlash”

Wednesday, January 28th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — diplomacy and dispute.. ]
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One of the simplest uses of the DoubleQuotes format is to take the sting out of an accusation. Michelle Obama was recently criticized for not wearing a headscarf during the Obamas’ recent visit to Saudia Arabia:

SPEC DQ 1st ladies Saudi

Barbara Bush did the same…

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But of course, the gander can be cooked as easily as the goose, so a DoubleQuote can also be used to put the sting into the accusation — as when the complaint is made that the First Lady did indeed wear a headscarf in Indonesia — so why not in Saudi Arabia?

SPEC DQ Michelle O x 2

Maybe the fact that she was visiting a mosque in Indonesia has something to do with it?

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On the subject of diplomatic protocol, there’s a terrific quote about Queen Elizabeth II and the late Crown Prince Abdullah going the rounds. You’ve probably seen it, but I’m thinking of making it the opening anecdote of my upcoming book on coronation and monarchy — yup, I have an agent nibbling at the idea — so here it is, as I first encountered it in tweet form from Shashank Joshi:

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Sources:

  • White House photograph, Michelle Obama without scarf
  • GW Bush White House archive, Laura Bush
  • USA Today, Michelle Obama with scarf
  • Mother Jones, Badass Feminist Queen Elizabeth II
  • **

    And for extra points, Her Majesty the Badass Feminist in her Range Rover:

    queen over drive

    Sorry, no headscarf — you’ve already seen HM in hijab in my post Birmingham, a little light relief in tough times.

    He must have a long spoon that must eat with the devil

    Sunday, September 1st, 2013

    [ by Charles Cameron — borrowing my title from Shakespeare, though Chaucer and Erasmus said it first ]
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    You may or may not like John Kerry. You may or may not like Assad. You may or may not like Mother Teresa, or Michèle Duvalier and Papa Doc. Rumsfeld and or Saddam. GW Bush or Abdullah bin Abd al-Aziz Al Saud. But paired photos of someone you dislike with someone many of us loathe is a neat visual tactic in which the not-so-bad party of the first part is tarred by association with the way-more-evil party of the second.

    Does it ever work the other way around, though? is the party of the second part ever redeemed through contact with the party of the first? or even relieved of a few tens or hundreds of thousand dollars for authentic, charitable purposes?

    What would I know?

    The simplest way in which the two images above can be seen as similar to one another is that each one features someone named Teresa. But that’s not the point.

    And I do have to say, that restaurant in Damascus looks pleasant enough.


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