Opinion

The Great Debate

The U.S. war in Iraq is over. Who won?

The end of America’s combat mission, after seven and a half costly years, has raised questions that will provide fodder for argument for a long time to come: Was it worth it? And who, if anyone, won?

It’s too early to answer the first question, according to U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, a man of sober judgment. “It really requires a historian’s perspective in terms of what happens here in the long run … How it all weighs in the balance over time remains to be seen.”

For a sizeable group of Middle East experts, the second question is easier to answer than the first. “So, who won the war in Iraq? Iran,” says the headline over an analysis by scholar Mohammed Bazzi for the Council on Foreign relations, a New York-based think-tank. His argument: “The U.S. ousted Tehran’s sworn enemy, Saddam Hussein, from power. Then Washington helped install a Shi’ite government for the first time in Iraq’s modern history.

“As U.S. troops became mired in fighting an insurgency and containing a civil war, Iran extended its influence over all of Iraq’s Shi’ite factions.” As a consequence, U.S. influence has been waning, Iran’s has been rising, and there are predictions that Iran will fill the vacuum created by the drawdown of U.S. troops to 50,000 who will “advise and assist” the Iraqis.

When President Barack Obama announced the completion of the drawdown in a somber speech on August 31, he made no reference to Iran – a curious omission – but said that “in an age without surrender ceremonies, we must earn victory through the success of our partners.” In the case of Iraq, only optimists find it easy to see shining success.

Iraq, America and hired guns

Here is a summary of America’s future role in Iraq, in the words of President Barack Obama: “Our commitment is changing — from a military effort led by our soldiers to a diplomatic effort led by our diplomats.”

And here is a note of caution about that promised change: “Current planning for transitioning vital functions in Iraq from the Department of Defense to the Department of State is not adequate for effective coordination of billions of dollars in new contracting, and risks both financial waste and undermining U.S. policy objectives.”

Obama’s statement came in an Aug. 2 speech in which he confirmed that by the end of this month, America’s combat role would end. The 50,000 American soldiers remaining in Iraq (down from a peak of almost 170,000) would advise, train and support Iraqi security forces. By the end of next year, the last U.S. soldier would come home.

Time for the space vision thing

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Florida – My head is spinning as I sit here waiting for President Obama to do what should have been done when the White House rolled out its budget for NASA: do the vision thing.

I have faith in POTUS to deliver the goods and explain his revolutionary approach to space exploration.

Here are a few things to remember as you watch the speech and listen to the spin:

U.S. aid, Israel and wishful thinking

In June 1980, when an American president, Jimmy Carter, objected to Jewish settlements in Israeli-occupied territories, the Israeli government responded by announcing plans for new settlements. At the time, settlers numbered fewer than 50,000.

In 2010, another American president, Barack Obama, is calling for an end to settlements he considers obstacles to peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Israeli authorities responded by announcing new ones, illegal under international law. Settlers now number close to half a million.

In the three decades between 1980 and 2010, there have been multiple U.S.-Israeli spats over the issue and they often fell into something of a pattern, spelt out in 1991 by James Baker, President George H W Bush’s secretary of state: “Every time I have gone to Israel in connection with the peace process … I have been met with an announcement of new settlement activities. It substantially weakens our hand in trying to bring about a peace process.” That is as true now as it was then.

Healthcare summit as interesting as Olympic curling

Peter_Pitts- Peter J. Pitts is president of the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest and a former FDA associate commissioner. The opinions expressed are his own. -

The much ballyhooed White House summit on healthcare created no “aha” moments or Daily Show -worthy gaffes and was about as interesting to watch as Olympic curling.

President Obama was hoping, by force of will, intelligence and gravitas to both sway Republican lawmakers to his point of view (aspirational at best) while simultaneously demonstrating to the American people (and particularly American voters) that his proposal was a moderate one (arguable at worst).

A faulty prescription for reform

– Dr. Steffie Woolhandler is a co-founder of Physicians for a National Health Program, an organization of 17,000 doctors who support single-payer national health insurance. She is a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and co-director of the school’s General Internal Medicine Fellowship program. The views expressed are her own. —

President Obama, at today’s summit and in his proposal earlier this week, has embraced a deeply-flawed bill – the Senate bill – as his model for reform.

That bill would leave about 24 million people uninsured in the year 2019, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Leaving 24 million people without health insurance is neither “universal care” nor even serious reform. As my research team has recently shown, that 24 million uninsured people would translate into about 24,000 unnecessary deaths annually. As a doctor, I find that prospect completely unacceptable.

Islam, terror and political correctness

– Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own. –

The Islamic terrorists of the Bush era are gone. They have been replaced by violent extremists in a purge of the American government’s political lexicon. Smart move in the propaganda war between al Qaeda and the West? Or evidence of political correctness taken to extremes?

Those questions are worth revisiting after the publication in February of two key documents issued by the administration of President Barack Obama, the Pentagon’s Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) and the Quadrennial Homeland Security Review. Both deal with what used to be called the Global War on Terror. Neither uses the words “Muslim” or “Islam.”

Lowering risks from large, complex financial institutions

– Robert R. Bench, a former deputy Comptroller of the Currency, is a senior fellow at the Boston University School of Law Morin Center for Banking and Financial Law. The views expressed are his own. –

Financial institutions inherently are fragile.

As intermediaries, they are exposed to both exogenous and endogenous threats. The 2007-2008 financial crisis was caused by endogenous forces.  Simply, financial institutions were poorly governed, taking-on extreme liabilities and gambling them into high risk activities.  The meltdown of the financial system fed contractionary forces into the real economy, causing our “great recession,” creating negative exogenous loops back into financial institutions.

The roots of the financial crisis were poor underwriting of credit.  However, the crisis happened because that credit risk was amplified through abusive underwriting, distributing, and trading of debt-backed financial instruments.  The abuse was driven by “heads I win, tails you lose” compensation schemes.  Wall Street won, Main Street lost.

Obama disappoints on bank reform

— Peter Morici is a professor at the Smith School of Business, University of Maryland, and former Chief Economist at the U.S. International Trade Commission. The views expressed are his own. —

President Obama announced he wants to prohibit banks from forming hedge funds, private equity funds and trading securities on their own accounts, and he wants to limit the size of banks and financial institutions generally.

Hedge funds, private equity funds and proprietary securities trading did not cause the banks to get into trouble, and the size of banks did not cause the credit crisis.

America, terrorists and Nelson Mandela

berndforblog- Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own -

Woe betide the organization or individual who lands on America’s terrorist list. The consequences are dire and it’s easier to get on the list than off it even if you turn to peaceful politics. Just ask Nelson Mandela.

One of the great statesmen of our time, Mandela stayed on the American terrorist blacklist for 15 years after winning the Nobel Prize prior to becoming South Africa’s first post-Apartheid president. He was removed from the list after then president George W. Bush signed into law a bill that took the label “terrorist” off members of the African National Congress (ANC), the group that used sabotage, bombings and armed attacks against the white minority regime.

The ANC became South Africa’s governing party after the fall of apartheid but the U.S. restrictions imposed on ANC militants stayed in place. Why? Bureaucratic inertia is as good an explanation as any and a look at the current list of what is officially labelled Foreign Terrorist Organisations (FTOs) suggests that once a group earns the designation, it is difficult to shake.

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