It's Time to Change Names, Switch Analogies

Let’s start by stopping. It’s time, as a start, to stop calling our expanding war in Central and South Asia “the Afghan War” or “the Afghanistan War.” If Obama’s special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke doesn’t want to, why should we? Recently, in a BBC interview, he insisted that “the ‘number one problem’ in stabilizing Afghanistan was Taliban sanctuaries in western Pakistan, including tribal areas along the Afghan border and cities like Quetta” in the Pakistani province of Baluchistan. And isn’t he right? After all, the U.S. seems to be in the process of trading in a limited war in a mountainous, poverty-stricken country of 27 million people for one in an advanced nation of 167 million, with a crumbling economy, rising extremism, advancing corruption, and a large military armed with nuclear weapons. Worse yet, the war in Pakistan seems to be expanding inexorably (and in tandem with […]

Or Killing a Chicken to Scare the Monkeys

Is the Israel lobby in Washington an all-powerful force? Or is it, perhaps, running scared? Judging by the outcome of the Charles W. (“Chas”) Freeman affair this week, it might seem as if the Israeli lobby is fearsome indeed. Seen more broadly, however, the controversy over Freeman could be the Israel lobby’s Waterloo. Let’s recap. On February 19th, Laura Rozen reported at that Freeman had been selected by Admiral Dennis Blair, the director of national intelligence, to serve in a key post as chairman of the National Intelligence Council (NIC). The NIC, the official in-house think tank of the intelligence community, takes input from 16 intelligence agencies and produces what are called “national intelligence estimates” on crucial topics of the day as guidance for Washington policymakers. For that job, Freeman boasted a stellar resumé: fluent in Mandarin Chinese, widely experienced in Latin America, Asia, and Africa, a former U.S. […]

Who Wants to Be a Dove? (They Always Lose.)

How come they get to be the hawks? And we get to be the doves? A hawk is a noble bird. A dove. Well, basically it's a pigeon. The sort of bird that, in New York City anyway, messes your building's window sills, is always underfoot, and, along with the city's rats, makes a hearty lunch for the red-tailed hawks which now populate our parks. Even a turkey would be less of a turkey than a dove. We get to carry that olive twig — okay, they call it a "branch" — around in our beaks, but you can bet your bippy that they get the olives, or, more likely, the opportunity to trample the olive groves into oil. They get to swoop and prey. We get to pace the sidelines, cooing our complaints. Their ideas — it never matters how visibly dumb they are — get tried. Ours never […]

The Struggle to Feed America's Nouveau Needy

The message is simple. Ever more Americans need food they can’t afford. As tough economic times take their toll, increasing numbers of Americans are on tightened budgets and, in some cases, facing outright hunger. As a result, they may be learning a lot more about food banks and soup kitchens than most of them ever wanted to know. In recent interviews with, representatives from food banks — the non-profit organizations that distribute groceries to those in need via food pantries, shelters, and soup kitchens — expressed alarm at the recent surge in need all across the country. At the same time, most stated that, however counterintuitive it might seem, financial contributions to their organizations are actually on the rise. So, too, are food prices, however — and donations, unfortunately, are not keeping up with demand. Food bank representatives agree on one thing: the need for their services is spiking […]

Afghan Faces, Predators, Reapers, Terrorist Stars, Roman Conquerors, Imperial Graveyards, and Other Oddities of the Truncated American Century

Sometimes, it’s the everyday things, the ones that fly below the radar, that matter. Here, according to Bloomberg News, is part of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates’s recent testimony on the Afghan War before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee: “U.S. goals in Afghanistan must be ‘modest, realistic,’ and ‘above all, there must be an Afghan face on this war,’ Gates said. ‘The Afghan people must believe this is their war and we are there to help them. If they think we are there for our own purposes, then we will go the way of every other foreign army that has been in Afghanistan.’” Now, in our world, a statement like this seems so obvious, so reasonable as to be beyond comment. And yet, stop a moment and think about this part of it: “there must be an Afghan face on this war.” U.S. military and civilian officials used an equivalent […]