June Weekend

So right now I’m taking macro- and micro- economic classes at home to fulfill pre-requisites for Georgetown MSFS. The classes are a lot more interesting than when I took macro in college; mostly everything I’m interested now in some part relates to economics. I’m not a math whiz so it’s tough for me to slog through mathematical equations and statistical regression but the social science aspect of it seems appealing for a descendant of anthropologists on one side of my family and obsessed money-makers on the other. I seem to have merged the two; I’m interested in helping the world get better for everyone, but through public policy, which has been weakened by people who think privatization fixes everything including public and common goods.

I responded to an MSFS call for housemates two blocks away from the campus. The rent is not as cheap as I could get but if you factor in walking to school, residential parking, a safe neighborhood, and living with 3-4 other MSFS students, it’s very appealing. I’m looking forward to being with a diverse crowd — already a Liberian and German responded, and one girl doing microfinance in Senegal.

It’s extremely wet in the midwest right now, while the west and east are having droughts. As a result, we have a mosquito infestation. The front door would often have up to five mozzies sitting on it, waiting for someone to open the door. I wouldn’t sleep if I knew there was a mozzie trapped in my room — it was the same as when I knew there was a mozzie stuck in my mozzie net in the Outback and Fiji. Luckily as the temperature heats up, the stagnant water will dry out and the mozzies will die. In fact I think it’s already happening as I see more june bugs than mozzies now. This is particularly welcome to me since mozzies love to suck on my feet.

One bad thing is that it seems more laborious to run now. The mugginess is stifling and makes me sweat more. For my half-marathon it was a very cool day which helped a lot. I still try to run three-four times a week and go to the gym three times.

There are some weird things going on in Iraq. The US military has claimed that all of Anbar is less violent as a result of the tribes turning on Al-Qaeda. To be fair it does sound like Ramadi has calmed down. Fallujah is still central to the insurgency as a rallying cry. But the lack of attacks and explosions in the reporting coming out of the region says more than any military press release could. What is US troop presence like there now? Are attacks less or being under-reported? There’s a lack of reporting coming out of the area so it’s hard to say.

Violence has increased in Baghdad as the Mahdi Army is back. Al-Qaeda seems more active in Diyala and Hillah and within Baghdad, so perhaps they shifted their operations away from Ramadi/Habbaniyah/Anbar.

I don’t see much of a change in US military policy so I’d have to speculate as to what’s caused recent events. The problem has rarely been that Al-Qaeda enjoyed support within Iraq. The problem was that Al-Qaeda far out-gunned and out-financed anyone else including the tribes. They held the guns and the means to acquire more guns so they strong-armed small towns and tribes into silence. Al-Qaeda within Iraq is comprised of primarily foreign fighters. Much of what they’re trying to do has been transferred by lazy reporting as being done by the insurgent groups, whose roles are to expel American occupation forces. Al-Qaeda is never a popular presence — not even in Afghanistan, where without Taliban support it would have much more difficulty maneuvering. They’re not popular because few people are as radical as they are and most people are not as pan-Islamic as AQ would hope.

I’m guessing that the tribes have been infused with more power somehow. Reports have come out that the US is declaring cease-fires with insurgent groups in an attempt to do damage control. How conceivable is it that the US is providing arms and money to insurgent groups and/or local tribes, as well as a hands-off policy, in order to help them defend themselves against AQ infiltration? Are these Anbar towns benefiting from a new American policy of handing over control and then leaving cities? For a while it was assumed that having a US soldier on every street corner would lead to peace — this is the “surge” philosophy. But in my mind it would only make things worse…not that the old US strategy of basing outside cities was working particularly well either.

I would look to an increased covert operation with morally and security-wise dubious actions as the cause. It’s pretty old news for the US to provide arms to groups it supports more than groups it supports less. The problem is that the groups it ends up supporting don’t particularly like it but will gladly take all the money being pushed their way. The problems arise again when the money stops.

At best, without my being too cynical or paranoid, the tribes have figured out a way to beat back AQ. This is great, except that it sort of throws a wrench in the argument that our presence is needed in Iraq. I don’t know why it’s so radical an idea that Iraqis are going to eventually have to figure this shit out on their own and that it’s pretty arrogant for us to believe that we’re going to figure it out for them.

To be honest I am much happier with the people working on the Iraq problem right now. General Petraeus is in a bit of a quandary, having to push the company line but also being quite a smart guy. He issued a statement to the troops to retain their professionalism and defense of human rights and values. Basically a call to arms against prisoner abuse and disrespecting Iraqis. I have a feeling that soldiers and Marines had been prone to excess in terms of insulting Iraqis and Petraeus recognized this. He is a soldier’s general and has been good for revitalizing Army morale.

Robert Gates came out in defense of the press’s role in a democratic government, contradicting the Administration and Republican line that the press is helping terrorists. Gates also seems savvy enough to push for striking deals with tribes and insurgent groups as noted earlier. I don’t know how much Hayden would go along with that though. At any rate it seems as though at least in the defense realm of policy, we have normal people and not those ridiculous characters we had previously, who you’d just sit there with your jaw dropped in disbelief and awe whenever they opened their mouths.