The bottom line is clear: Our vital interests in Afghanistan are limited and military victory is not the key to achieving them. On the contrary, waging a lengthy counterinsurgency war in Afghanistan may well do more to aid Taliban recruiting than to dismantle the group, help spread conflict further into Pakistan, unify radical groups that might otherwise be quarreling amongst themselves, threaten the long-term health of the U.S. economy, and prevent the U.S. government from turning its full attention to other pressing problems. -- Afghanistan Study Group

Friday, November 13, 2015

Update for Friday, November 13, 2015

Kurdistan president Massud Barzani says Peshmerga fighters have taken the town of Sinjar. As you may recall, this was the Yazidi town whose capture by IS precipitated a humanitarian crisis that led to the U.S. led air campaign against IS. The Yazidi speak a Kurdish language. The Kurdistan government made a substantial effort to rescue thousands of Yazidi who were stranded on a mountain after fleeing the IS advance, and the recapture of the town is viewed as redemptive. Note there are now Yazidi fighters among the peshmerga. IS put up no resistance -- it is possible they are grouping for a counterattack. The U.S. is more cautious about the situation.

Two separate bomb attacks aimed at Shiites in Baghdad kill 18.

The Iraqi military says the long-delayed advance on Ramadi has begun, but nearby observers say it has not. We shall see if the Iraqi army has any meaningful capacity.

I was asked to review Language of War, Language of Peace, by Raja Shehadeh. You can read another review here. I have not had much to say about Palestine here, not because I'm not interested but because it has been largely off topic. At one time Palestine was a major irritant to U.S. relations with the Arab countries, because the U.S. is seen, quite correctly, as enabling the Israeli occupation and creeping dispossession through the settlement process. As you may remember, a sub-rationale for the U.S. invasion of Iraq was that the successor government to Saddam Hussein would be friendly to Israel. I have no idea what the basis was for such a belief, which has turned out to be completely absurd. However, the Arab countries now have more pressing concerns, including both IS and the rivalry with Iran, and they have largely abandoned Palestine.

Shehadeh's book is based on lectures given in memory of Edward Said, and I have to say that it isn't a very good way in to the Israel-Palestine problem for people who aren't already deeply familiar with it. There isn't much language of peace in it either. Shehadeh still hopes for an eventual two-state solution, but the book is just about his despair and anger over the current situation. It's a recitation of injustices, abuses and betrayals, with little to point to in the way of hope. And it assumes the reader knows the background of history, through which the chapters flit with no clear narrative thread or temporal coherence. So, read it if you want to know how the man feels.