May 13, 2010

A couple notes in passing

*With so many people lining up to discredit every last aspect of the testimony of interpreter Ahmadshah Malgarai, people are going to start wondering if he might have been at a different war altogether.

*On a completely unrelated note, I for one am happy to live in a time when this could have been viewed 3.8 million times and still be going strong.

*Great, I'm going to have that tune in my head every time I think of the Commons Afghanistan committee now.

*On a serious Afghan note, this was thought-provoking. Yglesias has already made the (trite) communism parallel. What I thought was more interesting was this bit:

"We must also contend with the effects of the media, and a world population that cringes when it is witness to overt aggression and the marginalization of people. In this response, the leaders of this campaign have taken too many precautions to ensure that everyone is content with the tact taken."

The author is saying the top-down control of our conduct in Afghanistan that is strangling the counterinsurgency effort exists because of domestic pressure to do good. But if that's the case, then what you're really saying is counterinsurgency fights are not winnable because domestic disapproval of the specific actions taken in any kind of more distributed, effective strategy would be prohibitive, outweighing public support for the mission as a whole. If the only effective way to do things is quasi-Kurtzian independent actors operating free of media scrutiny, that's basically saying there is no effective way. Which means the West will never, can never win at COIN, which probably begs the question why we would even want to try. (I don't know that I agree with that, but that's the upshot of this kind of argument.)

To bring this post full-circle, I think that the Canadian detainee controversy is a perfect example of this. If there are any Canadian liberal internationalists left, they might want to ponder what the burden of only intervening in countries where there's already a functioning and rights-respecting judicial system will do to any future prospect of Canadian peacemaking or peacekeeping anywhere in the world after 2011. (Leaving aside the point that if a country has a well-functioning justice system, it doesn't need any security sector assistance from us, anyway.)

*In other news, Andrew Exum, of all people, has decided full-up COIN's a waste of time. Which may sound drastic, but it all comes back to what's been said here and elsewhere about FM 3-24 and counterinsurgency theory. That theory says that when local forces can fight the war on their own, you've won. That's your end state. You can achieve it by degrading the enemy or building up local forces, or both, but that's what winning means: closing that gap. But take that to the logical next step (which 3-24 never does), and that means all the other COIN stuff seems at best a distraction, and/or best-handled by non-soldiers. The FID/army mentoring mission, backed up with air power but otherwise with as light a footprint as possible, seems the most likely future for western "low-intensity" fighting doctrine, not this massive-conventional-forces/"government in a box"/remaking societies stuff.

Posted by BruceR at 11:54 PM


I have no idea what Russell Smith of the Globe is on about here.

Smith hates the quirky band Pomplamoose because they've been doing a lot of cover songs recently, and to him that it's a sign of how self-referential culture is now.

That would be a valid point if Pomplamoose (AKA Jack Conte and Nataly Dawn) ONLY did covers. But they don't. Actually, I always found Conte's own songs much more interesting: try "Beat the Horse" or "Expiration Date."

Now obviously they do mp3 covers because those covers are popular right now, and they introduce a larger audience to their work. But they're clearly not just a cover band.

Smith says, "folk-jazz treatment of high-energy pop will always strip out that which makes the pop so much fun: Take off the brassy, buzzy, abrasive edge and you’re left with banality – in this case, a pretentious banality." But why is that even a given? Just because a song was delivered loudly and brassily in its best-known incarnation doesn't mean that it can't also have value when reduced to a more basic, accessible form.

A good song is a good song, and some of us, at least, are still interested in appreciating the good songs that underly the massive production numbers as lyrical and melodic accomplishments, not fashion statements and fx-laden videos. It's not a great song, but you give me the choice between my uncle singing "Summer of '69" to us as kids with just his own guitar for backup many years ago, or the whole Bryan Adams treatment, I know what experience I would have taken. But to Smith, those magic moments of small-scale creativity are just banal, apparently, because a single guitar can't do pop songs justice. All that means to me is he lives in a poorer, less interesting world.

The irony is Smith's piece was juxtaposed on the front page with their "Rock of Ages" review: the utterly clapped out and recycled 80s pop revival musical. If Smith wanted to declare war on self-referential banality (brought to you in that case by a cynical corporate benefactor), all he had to do was read the piece going up next to his. Pomplamoose isn't anyone's biggest problem in this regard.

Posted by BruceR at 11:14 PM