Archive for June 2009
This post is by no-means substantiated by polls, surveys, or serious academic inquiry. Everything herein is either anecdotal or pulled from about 5 news sources and Wikipedia. But, since I am in Mexico, a student of political science, and about witness a mid-term election it seems fitting that I put something down on virtual paper – at least for posterity’s sake.
Appearances seem to indicate that the Institutionalized Revolutionary Party (PRI) will gain ground in the elections. Currently, the PRI controls 106 seats in the Chamber of Deputies and 35 in the Senate. The centrist PRI is campaigning on a platform (and this is going to be a gross generalization) to lessen taxes and liberalize markets. This article sheds some insight on how the economy is factoring in Mexico’s elections.
Following behind the PRI in likely vote-getting is the National Action Party (PAN), President Calderon’s party. Currently, PAN controls 52 Senate seats and 206 Deputy seats. PAN is the most right-wing of Mexico’s big three political parties. As it was explained to me, PAN is similar to some evangelical conservatives in the US as it is against abortion, gay rights, and has other Christian conservative political tendencies. PAN’s main platform, as I see it, is to be tough on crime. This is obvious to anyone who has been tracking the drug war and Calderon’s law-enforcement focus. To read about PAN’s tough stance on drug crime see this article.
Following the PRI and PAN, and apparently losing some appeal, is the Party of Democratic Revolution (PRD). Currently, PRD controls 127 Deputy seats and 31 Senate seats. The most left-wing of Mexico’s main parties, the PRD is campaigning for wider social benefits and “fairer” trade practices. PRD’s biggest influence can be found in central and southeastern Mexico. Whereas the PAN and PRI carry more weight in the north and southwest. For a commentary on one reason why the PRD is losing votes to the PAN and PRI read this blog post.
Along with these “big-three” are several smaller parties, to include a worker’s party (PT), socialist party (PSD), and a green/environment party (PVEM). These parties are expected to gain some seats but not many.
In total, here’s what’s at stake in the election:
- 128 seats in the Senate (Camara de Senadores)
- 500 seats in the Chamber of Deputies (Camara de Diputados)
There are also a lot of disenfranchised voters in Mexico who are upset with the political system, as can be seen in the above cartoon of the voter throwing his vote away rather than give it to one of the big-three. In this regard, there is a strong push to “Vota en Blanco” or “Vote No” by simply not casting a ballot for any party.
A marine stationed in Fallujah sent this letter to Tom Ricks explaining his thoughts on the American pullout.
The marine’s key point:
[...] we have taken it as far as Americans can. In my opinion, anything we do now may do more harm than good in delaying the inevitable and reinforcing their, at times, crippling malaise. The only enduring role for Americans is to provide the safety net to prevent complete collapse, chaos, and civil war; three things that I do not believe will happen in any event.
What do you think? “Are we leaving Iraq before the job is done?“
Here’s a pullout from the above article by John Hannah:
Given that Obama has largely adopted the Bush timetable for withdrawing U.S. forces, one can ask whether it really makes any difference that he still sees Iraq more as a liability to be escaped than an asset to be secured. The short answer is yes.
But it gets better, because he goes on to say, “Psychology in international affairs can have strategic effects.” Almost like this “psychology” is the most important strategic consideration to make. But isn’t a bit more complicated than this? Aren’t there other strategic effects which we must consider if we want to promote a prolonged deployment of over 100,000 American troops at annual costs of over $100 billion?
Ezequiel History lesson IV: Fútbol, the origins of Mexico’s (extreme) dislike for the US team and love for the Brazilian team
Yesterday, I watched the US futbol team narrowly lose (dammit!) to Brazil in the championship game of the Confederations Cup. We were up 2-0 at half-time and I was in a pretty good mood. But for some reason, everyone else in the cafe was looking pretty upset. It was even more intense whenever the US would score and I would clap my hands with satisfaction, while everyone around would glare at me with contempt. But, I guess that’s what I get for being a US fan in Mexico City. Because apparently Mexicans are pretty angry that the US is beating them at their own game, e.g. the US is #1 while Mexico is #2 in the Central and North American division.
Mexicans don’t take this fact lightly. For over 10 years the Mexico team has not won a game against the US. And to make matters worse, one American player is especially despised in Mexico – for amongst other things – taking a leak on the national stadium in Jalisco. This player is Donovan and he was one of the players who I cheered for most when he scored our second goal of Sunday’s game.
So the US was up 2-0 at halftime but the second half was a different story altogether with Brazil scoring 3 goals unanswered to win the game 3-2. Now I was also curious why when each time Brazil scored, the Mexican game-watchers cheered with great enthusiasm. According to Ezequiel, this is because Mexicans love the Brazilian team on average second only to their own.
Why is this? Because during the 1970 World Cup, Mexico had made it to the quarter-finals only to be beat by the Italian team. This same Italian team would later go on to lose in the championship game to Brazil. Now, this is not the only reason why Mexicans in general like the Brazilian team, there is a caveat. Apparently the Brazilian team was especially gracious to its host city Guadalajara during the Cup and even went so far as to thank Mexico for its hospitality. Brazil’s Pelé added to the admiration when he took a Charro (type of Mexican sombrero) and sprinted through the stadium shouting with glee.
So score one for friendly goodwill. And maybe the US should think about adding some to its repertoire for the 2010 World Cup.
Note: Who is Ezequiel? My co-worker. A man of intellectual rigor and fanatical fútbol knowledge. The go-to source for Mexican history and all things related to the foot.
One of my most enthusiastic blog followers (I am not going to say her name but she can be found here) emailed me a question on the protests in Iran versus similar protests which have occurred in the US.
Here’s her exact wording (bare in mind this was from about a week ago) * I should also note that this question came from a person who is surely on the side of Iranian protesters who want democratic accountability:
I have been listening all day to news coverage about President Obama’s stand on the protests in Iran. People are saying we should intervene because the Iranian police are killing protesters. I know that US police have been responsible for deaths of protesters in numerous instances. My question is: during those instances, have other countries condemned the US actions in those instances?
Like the 1968 Chicago riots? the LA riots?
As expected, I didn’t know the answer. But I did postulate that perhaps there were harsh criticisms from typically anti-US world leaders such as Castro and Qaddafi – but I didn’t know for sure. I imagine that when our riots occurred they did so in a much different global context. One where I think the brevity of the riots and the lack of real-time international media probably limited any international criticism.
But, I can’t be sure of this. If anyone has a better answer please share.
A web router developed by the US Navy, and now property of a non-governmental organization called the TOR project, is being used by Iranian protesters to bypass government bans on certain websites such as Twitter and Facebook. Basically, the TOR program allows internet users to disguise their traffic and visit websites anonymously despite the Iranian government’s blocking attempts.
From Eli Lake’s Washington Times article on the subject:
Iran, a country of 70 million people, has more than 20 million Internet users – the highest percentage in the region outside Israel – and a well-developed blogosphere.
For Iranian Internet users, TOR allows them to visit government-banned Web sites and avoid detection by the authorities. The Tor Project does this by routing Web requests among several different computer servers all over the world.
I can’t help but think that technology like this is a great way for US interests to be promoted with minimal commitment. I mean Iran’s government can’t blame the US for interference if people are simply accessing information, right?
So basically this gives Iranian protesters a tool that they can use in their struggle that doesn’t directly involve the US - not that they would want any help from the US. Meanwhile, the Iranian government cannot do anything to counter this technology except attempt to shut it down. But shutting it down will only continue the Islamic Republic of Iran’s downward decline of legitimacy.
Now the bigger picture: the initial investment made in the TOR project by the US Navy is now paying off in dividends. Whereas, other US foreign policy investments to create a more Western-aligned Iran (such as the $90 million appropriated to the State Department to promote democracy from 2007-2008) only tend to create accusations of unwanted influence. Soft Power as it’s known is the power to gain influence simply by espousing univeral political values and an attractive culture. While Soft Power is a key device to promote US interests, it seems that internet and technology may be a better input to making that device work – more so than the millions of US dollars spent on “democracy promotion”
There’s not many who dare critique current counter-insurgency (COIN) and it’s “population-centric” ideology. I mean, who would with labeling like that? To go against it would almost mean going against the population, right? Well not exactly. Like every approach towards a policy (especially one where we spend of $100 billion a year and risk the lives of many) it needs serious critique.
I don’t mean to say that a “population-centric” approach is worse or equally bad as the old approach. Or even that it is a bad way to go in general. But instead we should analyze the current doctrine on COIN as if it were a stepping stone to understanding a more optimal strategy. One that required a minimal commitment (of our physical resources – troops/money/aid workers) and provided a maximum benefit.
This last week, I came across these three general critiques on COIN which at points overlap and reinforce each other.
The first is this well-written post by Todd MacDonald. In it, MacDonald compares “nation-building” and “population-centric” COIN to Migdal’s notion of a social contract (recognize this Lesley), established between the state and its population as a form of currency and social control. MacDonald makes a lot of good points and I recommend it as a definite read. But here are some excerpts that my thesis may argue are relevant critiques of COIN, e.g. that it is both unsustainable and undesirable as a policy. Moreover, that COIN’s outcomes must be seen as legitimate by the population and rooted in an organic process that reflects the true nature of a host nation and its people… and not idealistic Western versions of what constitutes a well built state. Here’s what MacDonald has to say:
If legitimacy must be situated within the norms and values of a population, then the counterinsurgent must realize what social contract is being offered by the state, what social contract is being offered by CCNAs [insurgents], and how these social contracts are regarded by the population. Attempting to force a social contract on an unwilling population is not only unsustainable for the counterinsurgent, but it is also counterproductive. Pushing a social contract that is incongruent with the norms and values of a population is a poor investment.
The importance of time and resources is reflected in one of the main tenets in nation-building in both Iraq and Afghanistan: capacity building. The “Afghanistanization” and “Iraqization” of the state and state agents (e.g. the army, police, and civil service) is the idea that Afghanis and Iraqis will be able to replace foreign nationals. [Michael] Ignatieff refers to capacity building or the empowerment of local people as “the authentic vocabulary of the new imperialism.” (emphasis added)
Following that, let’s look at a piece by Kelly Beaucar Vlahos in the American Conservative. While Vlahos’ tone is rather vindictive, buried beneath the harsh personal indictments are some relevant critiques on contemporary COIN. To summarize, Vlahos critiques COIN’s inherent “Long War” crusaderism as effectively turning American troops and host-populations into experimental “guineu pigs”. Additionally, Vlahos makes an observant point that the commitments we are making in Afghanistan and Iraq are prescribed to be met with civilian aide specialists and foreign service personnel, but instead are driven by the military. The point being that with civil reconstruction matters, the military is of limited utility. Here’s some excerpts from Vlahos:
In Counterinsurgency 2.0, the Democrats and their military partners now emphasize a “population-centric” over an “enemy-centric” approach, rebooting the old “clear, hold, and build” by adding a “civilian surge” and a ramped-up humanitarian mission. The goal for Afghanistan is to flood the country with Foreign Service officers, diplomats, and aid workers to fight corruption and rebuild institutions. The military serves to protect populations, “open up space” for democracy, and eventually marginalize the enemy.
So far it’s not happening that way. The Pentagon has maintained a lead on operations, and according to reports, there just aren’t enough State Department officials to make a dent in Kabul, so DoD is planning to take up the slack by directing capable Reserve officers (and probably private contractors) toward the civilian component. (emphasis added)
Quick note, this is true: Within the new supplementary budget, roughly 80% of our resources for the war efforts are going to fund military operations and personnel. This is in direct contrast to Petraeus’ recommendation that 80% of our war resources go to fund civil aide.
Last bit from Vlahos:
COIN has yet to be fully tested or even legitimated by any success outside of the surge narrative. So while one well-connected think tank [presumably CNAS] gets top billing in Washington, the people of Iraq and Afghanistan—as well as the American men and women serving dutifully there—remain “long-term” guinea pigs. If it doesn’t work, an office on Pennsylvania Avenue might shut, but the implications for the world could be catastrophic
Let me conclude with an anecdote from this Washington Post article by Rajiv Chandrasekaran. I won’t get too much into Chandrasekaran’s article, except that it highlights some inefficiencies of American aid policy in Afghanistan. The article is long and very good, so I recommend reading the whole thing if you get the chance. To me, this anecdote from the article reflects how “capacity-building” and “nation-building” can often be misguided and doesn’t necessarily match with what the host-population would want.
Andrew S. Natsios, the USAID administrator at the time [during the Bush administration], had recently viewed cobblestone roads in Bolivia’s Chapare rainforest that were built under a U.S.-funded alternative-livelihoods program to discourage coca planting. He figured that such roads, which are inexpensive but require extensive manual labor to build, could be a new tool in the fight against poppies in southern Afghanistan because the construction effort would result in thousands of short-term jobs. Chemonics [the private-contractor partnered with US AID] readily agreed.
The Bolivians trained 46 Afghans in the art of placing fist-size river stones on the ground. Then they set about constructing a road from the capital of Helmand to an archaeological site on the outskirts of the city. Once a sixth of a mile was complete, Chemonics held a celebration that featured speeches from local officials and the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan.
Chemonics had plans to build additional cobblestone roads across southern Afghanistan, but local Afghan leaders objected. They said that they were willing to humor the Americans with the path to the ruins, but that what they really wanted were gravel and asphalt roads. They complained that the cobblestones hurt their camels’ hooves.
“It wound up being a huge waste of time and money,” said one person who worked on the project. “Nobody did the due diligence.”
Natsios maintains that the cobblestone roads were a good idea, but he said he could not comment on the implementation because it occurred after he left the agency. A Chemonics spokeswoman said the company “can’t comment on the decision-making process that took place before the work began.” A senior USAID official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Afghan officials initially supported the project but then changed their minds because they believed they could extract kickbacks from gravel and asphalt construction. (emphasis added)
Quetzalcoatl is a mythic figure in Mexico. As legend has it – and Ezequiel explains it – Quetzalcoatl existed in two forms: as a feathered serpent and as a pale skinned, blue-eyed, bearded, blond guy. Apparently both forms of Quetzalcoatl produced some interesting stories and the mythic figure dominates much of Mesoamerican folklore. Today I’ll post a story about the feathered serpent Quetzalcoatl. Hopefully, tomorrow I’ll post one about the white guy Quetzalcoatl. So here goes…
The feathered serpent Quetzalcoatl was seen as a heavenly God who presided over the rain and wind. He was the Lord of Light and the Morning Star. He embodied pure goodness. This Quetzalcoatl was also a God prince of sorts who had three brothers and was the son of Coatlicue, Goddess of the moon and stars. Together, he and his brothers created the Sun, Earth, and Heavens. With his twin Xolotl, he is said to have entered the underworld in order to create mankind. This specific folklore makes Quetzalcoatl the God of Creation for many Mesoamerican religions.
Now let’s here Ezequiel’s version of Quetzalcoatl, feathered serpent, God of Creation and how humanity came to exist:
During the fourth sun Quetzalcoatl entered into war with Tezcatlipoca – God of the Nocturnal Sky and warrior patron. This war resulted in earth’s complete destruction and its subsequent reconstruction (similar to Iraq 2003-present). *Coincidently, Tezcatlipoca also embodies change through conflict.
For more on the epic battle, check here.
Whence the war was over, Quetzalcoatl saw the need to create people to occupy the newly constructed earth. And like a charm, it took him three times before he got Man’s creation right.
The first time, Quetzalcoatl wiped the sweat from his brow and fashioned it to create humans. But, he found that these humans party’d too much and would not be serious. This would not work for Quetzalcoatl, so he tried again.
From his tears, Quetzalcoatl created Man 2.0 but found yet another problem: these humans slept too much and never had any fun. So he tried again, for one last time.
And to ensure that he got this one right, Quetzalcoatl pulled out all the stops. He went to the underworld and took bones of the dead. From these bones he made a powder which he brought back to earth. With this powder Quetzalcoatl mixed his own blood. Then he put the mixture in a corn husk (something like a tamale) and let it grow into a human. Quetzalcoatl’s perseverance paid off because he found the third version of humans to be much more suitable.
And there you have it. The story of how earth and the humans who live here came to exist.
Note: Who is Ezequiel? My co-worker and distributor of Mexican folklore. He is not a historian, but a student of history.