Palin: average isn’t good enough

Americans have an unhealthy desire to see average people promoted to positions of great authority. No one wants an average neurosurgeon or even an average carpenter, but when it comes time to vest a man or woman with more power and responsibility than any person has held in human history, Americans say they want a regular guy, someone just like themselves. President Bush kept his edge on the “Who would you like to have a beer with?” poll question in 2004, and won reelection.

This is one of the many points at which narcissism becomes indistinguishable from masochism. Let me put it plainly: If you want someone just like you to be president of the United States, or even vice president, you deserve whatever dysfunctional society you get. You deserve to be poor, to see the environment despoiled, to watch your children receive a fourth-rate education and to suffer as this country wages — and loses — both necessary and unnecessary wars.

Obama answers your science questions

America asked Barack Obama about science, and Obama answered.

“This is the first time we know of that a candidate for president has laid out his science policy before the election at this level of detail,” said Shawn Otto, CEO of ScienceDebate2008.

A 38,000-member coalition of scientists, engineers and concerned citizens, ScienceDebate2008 pushed presidential candidates to attend to science — an area that is vital to America’s economy and touches on nearly every important political issue, but is generally neglected during elections.

What Palin says about McCain

In selecting Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) as his running mate, John McCain violated the first, and perhaps only, rule of vice presidential selection — first do no harm.

Commentary aplenty has explored her qualifications for the job. Instead of retracing that well-trod ground, consider what the process reveals about John McCain himself.

With his first “presidential” decision, McCain has cast considerable, and mostly unflattering, light on his own character and thinking.

First and foremost, it underlines his rash and impetuous nature. Whatever her appeals, what kind of person offers the vice presidency to someone he met just once before? What kind of judgment does that reflect?

Editor’s Comment

“By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and Third by experience, which is the bitterest.” — Confucius

“The intelligent want self-control; children want candy.” — Rumi

A word that has fallen out of the contemporary political vernacular but dearly needs resurecting is wisdom. Has this not been, thoughout history, what people most wanted from their leaders: that their actions be guided by wisdom?

Experience is the field in which wisdom can grow, but no amount of experience eliminates the danger of impulsiveness. Indeed, to be impulsive is to unshackle oneself from the past and disregard everything but the passion of the moment.

The flash of impulse invigorates and empowers the individual by confusing his adversaries. It might at very specific moments demonstrate the courage and flexibility that the circumstances demand. But beyond that, if impulsiveness is an operating procedure — if it is the way someone works — there’s no doubt that those driven by impulse are parading their lack of wisdom.

If John McCain has more wisdom than he’s recently displayed, he’ll give the GOP another shock and with or without grace engineer the means to allow Sarah Palin to step aside. But for this to happen would seem so un-McCain, it seems almost impossible to imagine.

Palin disclosures raise questions on vetting

A series of disclosures about Gov. Sarah Palin, Senator John McCain’s choice as running mate, called into question on Monday how thoroughly Mr. McCain had examined her background before putting her on the Republican presidential ticket.

The “Eagleton scenario”

Barring a dramatic reversal, Sarah Palin will formally become the Republican vice presidential nominee Wednesday night. Since Friday, when the pick was announced, news surrounding Palin has been almost uniformly negative: the initial focus on her lack of experience quickly gave way to reports of her involvement in the Troopergate scandal, the “Bridge to Nowhere” earmark, an Alaskan separatist party, a 527 group organized by recently indicted Alaska Senator Ted Stevens, and, on Labor Day, her teenage daughter’s pregnancy.

Here in St. Paul, talk of Palin has dominated the Republican convention—even more so than cable news—and by Monday night discussion among Republican operatives and reporters had turned to whether Palin would survive or become the first running mate since Thomas Eagleton in 1972 to leave a major-party ticket. On Monday, the InTrade futures market opened trading on whether Palin would withdraw before the election.

McCain ad: Palin more qualified than Obama

Mounting a ferocious defense of his embattled running mate, John McCain said he is buying a TV ad arguing that Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has more experience than the Democratic presidential nominee, Barack Obama.

In an effort to rev up conservatives, a campaign statement issued a list of critical media mentions that it called “smears” of Palin, who speaks in primetime at the convention on Wednesday night.

Obama, Arabs and cheap shots

Friends here are still annoyed by the hint of unexpected Arab-bashing they detected in the historic acceptance speech last week by Barack Obama, otherwise a very popular figure in the Muslim world. I hope that Obama wasn’t taking a cheap shot. But my friends have a point.

Al Qaida has free movement in Pakistan, top official concedes

Pakistan’s top security official Monday admitted that al Qaida’s leadership moved freely in and out of the country and vowed that “no mercy” would be shown to extremists based in its tribal territory that borders Afghanistan.

In the past, Pakistan has been heavily criticized for rejecting evidence that al Qaida was largely based in the country and for denying that the tribal territory was used as a safe haven for Afghan insurgents.

U.S., Afghan troops kill 20 in Pakistan

At least 20 people were killed in northwest Pakistan on Wednesday after U.S. and Afghan troops crossed from Afghanistan to pursue Taliban insurgents in an early morning attack that marked the first known instance in which U.S. forces conducted an operation on Pakistani soil since the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan began, according to witnesses and a Pakistani official.

The United States has conducted occasional air and artillery strikes against insurgents lodged across the border in Pakistani territory, and “hot pursuit” rules provide some room for U.S. troops to maneuver in the midst of battle. But the arrival of three U.S. helicopters in the village of Musa Nika, clearly inside the Pakistani border, drew a sharp response from Pakistani officials.

“We strongly object to the incursion of ISAF troops on Pakistani territory,” said Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas, chief spokesman for the Pakistani military, referring to the International Security Assistance Force, the coalition of U.S. and other NATO troops that has been battling the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan since 2001.

A sting in Pakistan’s al-Qaeda mission

The Pakistani military has halted operations in Bajaur Agency in the northwest of the country, saying “the back has been broken” of the militancy there.

A military spokesman said that in light of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which began on Sunday, all action would stop, which would allow about 500,000 displaced people to return home. Officials claim that in three weeks of fighting 560 militants have been killed, with the loss of 20 members of the security forces.

The ground reality, though, is that the operation failed in its primary objective, to catch the big fish so wanted by the United States – al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri. This would have been the perfect present for Islamabad to give the George W Bush administration in the run-up to the US presidential elections in November.

Return to the Valley of Death

This is not a war where soldiers are taken prisoner; if a position were to be overrun, virtually every American in it would be killed during the firefight. The wounded would probably be executed where they lay, or worse. The Taliban would take astronomic casualties, but they may have calculated that one or two such incidents would cause the American public to demand an end to the small-base strategy in Afghanistan. With roughly 30,000 troops in the country—there are more police in New York City—the U.S. command would never be able to reinforce those small bases. They would have to withdraw to larger ones instead, and swathes of territory between these bases would become open to infiltration by the Taliban.

In early July, American military intelligence learned that a force of 300 foreign and local fighters had massed around another remote base, named Bella, but the Americans completed a planned pullout before they could be attacked. Bella had been occupied by Chosen Company, part of the Second Battalion of the 503rd Infantry, and Chosen had just finished a 15-month deployment in one of the most rugged and dangerous parts of Afghanistan. Like the rest of their brigade, they were literally days from going home. Chosen had acquired a bit of a reputation in the battalion, however. The previous August they had nearly been overrun at a 22-man outpost named Ranch House; at one point the enemy was so close that Chosen asked the A-10 pilots to strafe their own position. And several months later, 14 men from Chosen—along with 14 Afghan soldiers—were ambushed along a mountain trail in the same valley. Within minutes, every single man on the patrol was dead or wounded. An American unit hasn’t suffered a casualty rate of 100 percent in a firefight since Vietnam.

Israel of the Caucasus

NATO guarantees that an attack against one member country is an attack against all are no longer what they used to be. Had Georgia been inside NATO, a number of European countries would no longer be willing to consider it an attack against their own soil.

For Russia, the geopolitical stars were in perfect alignment. The United States was badly overstretched and had no plausible way to talk tough without coming across as empty rhetoric. American resources have been drained by the Iraq and Afghan wars, and the war on terror. As Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov put it, Washington must now choose between its “pet project” Georgia and a partnership with Moscow.

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili evidently thought the United States would come to his side militarily if Russian troops pushed him back into Georgia after ordering an attack last Aug. 8 on the breakaway province of South Ossetia. And when his forces were mauled by Russia’s counterattack, bitter disappointment turned to anger. Along with Abkhazia, Georgia lost two provinces.

U.S. is set to announce $1 billion in aid for Georgia

The Bush administration plans to announce a $1 billion package of aid to help rebuild Georgia after its rout by Russian forces last month, administration officials said on Wednesday, as Vice President Dick Cheney arrived in the region to signal support for Georgia and other countries neighboring Russia.

The aid — along with Mr. Cheney’s visit — is sure to increase tensions with Russia, whose leaders have accused the United States of stoking the conflict with Georgia over its two separatist regions, by providing weapons and training to the Georgians. President Dmitri A. Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin have also complained that humanitarian supplies delivered by the American Navy and Air Force since Russian forces routed Georgian forces and occupied parts of the country were a disguise for delivering new weapons.

Arab mismanagement? Blame colonialism

The agreement signed last Saturday that saw Italy apologize and pay $5 billion in compensation for its colonial rule and misdeeds in Libya was a powerful example of why it is so important to acknowledge that which many of our friends in the West constantly tell us to put behind us: history.

History matters, and endures, and its consequences constantly must be grasped, not ignored. In this case, we witness neither the end nor the resumption of history, but the neutralization of one aspect of history as a fractious force of resentment and discord.

For many in the West, history, especially the West’s colonial and imperial history in Asia, the Middle East and Africa, is something to skim through in a high school class, and then to relegate to the past as irrelevant to today’s conflicts and tensions. For many people in the former colonized world, however, history is a deep and open wound that still oozes pain and distortion. Libya is a classic example of colonialism’s twisted and enduring legacy of nearly dysfunctional states governed by corrupt and often incompetent elites, whose people never have a chance to validate either the configuration of statehood or the exercise of power.

MK Eldad forms anti-Islam coalition

A new front being formed by representatives of the Israeli Right and European lawmakers is threatening to ignite flames of hatred. Knesset Member Arieh Eldad (Nationa Union-National Religious Party) announced Wednesday that he would be hosting a convention in Jerusalem under the banner, “Standing Up to Jihad.”

“The spread of Islam threatens the foundations of Western civilization,” he explained, and screened a scene from a film produced by Dutch politician Geert Wilders, which sparked a row in the Arab world several months ago and was banned in many places in Europe.

Iraqi army readies for showdown with Kurds

Iraqi troops and Kurdish peshmerga forces are bracing for conflict in the disputed city of Khanaqin in the most serious threat of clashes between Arabs and Kurds since the fall of Saddam Hussein.

A delegation flew from Erbil, the capital of the Kurdish regional government, to Baghdad at the weekend to try to resolve the crisis. The two main Kurdish parties are allied and form part of Iraq’s coalition government.

However, Massoud Barzani, the president of the Kurdistan region, and leader of the Kurdish Democratic party, said Iraq was still living under the influence of Saddam’s regime and the central government was not serious about sharing power with Kurds. He claimed many military decisions were made without consultations with General Babakir Zebari, a Kurd who is the Iraqi army’s chief of staff.

Maliki’s growing defiance of U.S. worries allies and critics

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki has been on a roll, and American officials are getting worried.

Once perceived as a sectarian Shiite Muslim leader, the U.S.-backed Maliki has won over Sunni constituents in recent months with offensives to curb Shiite militias in southern cities such as Basra and Amara and in the Baghdad Shiite slum of Sadr City.

He then turned his security forces north to wrest control of Mosul and Diyala province from Sunni extremists. U.S. forces provided strong backing, and except for Basra and Sadr City, the operations were announced in advance so that militants and insurgents had a chance to run.

Whether anyone admits it or not, Hamas appears to have won

Whether those supporting the moderate leadership of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas admit it or not, Hamas appears to have won. Now, before Islamists around the world start celebrating, it is important to note that the Middle East, let alone the world, is far from embracing hard-line fundamentalists. Hamas, for the record, has made some important ideological and practical changes, the most important of which was the tahdiya, or temporary cease-fire with Israel.

The signs of Hamas’ victory can be seen all over. From the success of the siege-breaking peace boats to the partial opening of the Rafah crossing with Egypt and the serious talks Hamas leaders are holding with Egyptian and Jordanian intelligence chiefs.

Part of the reason for Hamas’ success is the fact that the region and the world have little choice but to accept the reality that emerged in February 2006 and that Hamas in June 2007, with its takeover of Gaza, served notice that it was not going away.

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