Friday, August 13, 2010

The Dead Fish Article

Some advice to the president I can guarantee his political team won't like! Again, my personal opinions only!

Interestingly enough, NPR reported today about the taped remarks General David Petraeus recorded for Meet the Press on Sunday. In them, he admits that the situation on the ground in Afghanistan may not have stabilized by the July 2011 date when the surge troops are set to start withdrawing--and he may have to recommend continuing with the mission. This is the type of decision that needs to be insulated from electoral calculation.

Nikolas - You make a provocative argument for letting another Democrat run in 2012. My guess is that the appearance of a backroom deal would not sit well with independent voters, but I agree that too much emphasis has been placed on the supposed limits to what Presidents can do in their last two years in office.

In foreign policy, however, the President lacks even now the support in Congress to realize his larger vision (eg. the defeat of climate change legislation). He will presumably have much less support after November, whether he runs for reelection or not.

I don't see any sign that those who want him to withdraw from Afghanistan more quickly are going to threaten him with a primary challenge. The danger is that for this and other reasons his base simply won't turn out for him in the general election, although whether they won't will depend of course on who the Republican nominee is.

At the moment the only threat I see to Obama's handling of foreign relations in 2011 would be an Israeli air strike on Iran. There has been some new attention to this possibility of late (the Goldberg article in The Atlantic, the Ron Tira memorandum in the July Strategic Assessment). Depending on what he does, a crisis like this (if it happens) could either redeem Obama's presidency or wreck it. I would be interested to know your take on the prospects for an Israeli air strike if sanctions do not bring a change in Iranian policy by next spring.
David Billington:

I read your web site.

You write well and have the talent to make the material interesting. I think it will be a good idea to cultivate that.

I also think that your views and opinbions are too American for what you wish to accomplish - you need - in my opinion - live in the Near East for a while and learn from those people a different perspective.

In regards to Iran: US planners are in denial of certain basic facts and by implication so is the President:

1- Iran has come out with more enhanced power in the Middle East as a result of the US-Iraq War followed by the Israel-Lebanon War.

2- US cannot prevent Iran from building nuclear weapons if her leaders think it is in the national interest of Iran (unless US occupies Iran for which she does not enough troops)

3- US has little control over the course of events in the Levant, in Iraq, and in Afghanistan.

Neogiations with Iran are possible but not until the above facts are accepted.

Israel attacking Iran - what a joke.
Anonymous 12:18,

"You write well and have the talent to make the material interesting. I think it will be a good idea to cultivate that."

Thank you for the comment and for finding my website

"I also think that your views and opinions are too American for what you wish to accomplish - you need - in my opinion - live in the Near East for a while and learn from those people a different perspective."

I very much regret not having spent time in the region. I would like to know more about what you think I could have learned from doing so.
David Billington:

There are too many things to enumerate nbut here are a few:

- That race (color of skin) does not matter

- That Death can exits in Public space - as opposed to US where it does not exits (are deaths are preventable)

- That piety and honor, as primary human motivators, still exist eventhough they have disappeared - for all practical purposes - from the United States.

- That the vision of a desirable future could be very different than that of American.

I suggest you take a course in one of Turkish/Persian/Urdu and then live there for a few months to deepen your knowledge of that language.

I suggest Turkish since you won't need to learn a new alphabet and could also safely work and study in Turkey.
Anonymous 1:55,

The four points you mention seem addressed to general American perceptions rather than to anything I see myself to have written, except possibly the last point. If I may comment briefly below:

On the first point, I wonder if you are aware of the changing demography of the United States. By the 2040s, persons of exclusively European ancestry will be a minority of the American people who are under the age of 65. This shift may bring important changes in the way Americans see themselves and the wider world.

On the second point, if you mean that Americans give too much attention to extending their lifespan, I am inclined to agree. But I wonder where it is possible to draw a line between improving the human condition and going too far to extend human life.

On the third point, as long as there are basic aspects that are not shared between our cultures, it is difficult for me to assess the weight to give those aspects that we do share and on which comparison would be possible. Americans see practices associated with Sharia law and with tribal or family honor in many Muslim societies, and these societies of course see aspects of our society that they do not share. I don't think it is possible for either to claim superiority in piety and honor unless there is more of a common standard in such matters.

On the fourth point, you are correct, but I would note that much of the Islamic world has embraced much of what we ourselves want in life. A Harvard study five years ago debunked the image of Pakistan as a land of radical madrasas and found that most Pakistanis want modern education and a modern society, albeit one with a Muslim character. My impression is that the Middle East and southern Asia are trying to find their own way into the modern world. There will surely be differences with the West but the areas of common striving should give hope.

I regret that I do not now have the freedom to reside abroad (I am no longer of student age and my work keeps me in the USA). However, as a graduate student in Washington, I was befriended by a Saudi student who needed practice with his English. Through him I gained insight into his culture and I learned, very much to my surprise, things that I took granted about my own.

Regarding Turkey, one my father's early graduate students in engineering recently retired as a professor at Bilkent University in Ankara, and one of my father's departmental colleagues was from Turkey. From these engineering professors I observed how little national differences really matter in modern fields of common endeavor. I think that it is as important for Americans to see and appreciate this common ground as it is to understand differences between nations.
David Billington:

Your comments on my comments are indicative that you really do need to get out of US and experience the non-Western world. It will take you 2 years of living in Turkey to fully grasp how different they are from you. It is only then that you may revise your prognostications about the future.
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