Category Archives: The World

Graham: Leave more troops in Afghanistan

Just now seeing this release that moved late yesterday:

Graham, Ayotte, McCain Issue Statement on Afghanistan

WASHINGTON—U.S. Senators Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina), Kelly Ayotte (R-New Hampshire), and John McCain (R-Arizona) today made the following statement on Afghanistan.

“We hope a recent press report that the White House is considering a post-2014 force in Afghanistan well below the recommendations of our military commanders is incorrect.

“After 13 years of sacrifice and investment, success in Afghanistan is now within our grasp. The last thing we should do in the coming years is increase the risks to our mission unnecessarily. We believe the recommendations of our military leaders represent sound military advice and would allow for continued U.S. support in the areas still needed by Afghan security forces. Maintaining several thousand additional U.S. troops in Afghanistan could mean the difference between success and failure.

“This is the lesson of Iraq. The administration ignored sound military advice and adopted a high risk strategy of withdrawing all U.S. troops. The result, tragically, is a resurgent Al-Qaeda, rising violence, and growing risk of renewed sectarian conflict. That fatal mistake in Iraq must not be repeated in Afghanistan.

“We stand ready to support a follow-on force that is consistent with the recommendations of our military commanders and that will end the war in Afghanistan with success.”

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I generally agree. The total pullout from Iraq was a terrible move, and I’d hate to see it repeated. Too many have sacrificed too much to abandon Afghanistan to the Taliban.

What, were all Obama’s drones broken that day?

Slate brings this to my attention:

A new video apparently released by al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has U.S. intelligence and counter-terrorism analysts scrambling. The video, which had been circulating on jihadist websites and was brought to light by terrorist watchdog group Terrorism Research and Analysis Consortium (TRAC), shows what appears to be the largest gathering of al-Qaida militants in years, and is one of the more brazen al-Qaeda propaganda pieces to be released in some time.

Appearing front and center in the video is AQAP leader Nasir al-Wuhayshi. Known as al-Qaida’s crown prince, al-Wuhayshi is second within the group’s global power structure….

His appearance in the video is especially notable given that the meeting seems to be out in the open, running counter to speculation that AQAP leaders had gone underground and were communicating solely by courier. …

Huh. That’s not good. Al Qaeda feeling free to have company picnics.

Of course, I was being facetious about the drones. Something people miss is that, amazing as modern surveillance is, it doesn’t see everything.

But this does represent an intelligence failure, apparently.

I blame Edward Snowden. Not that I have any reason to do so; I just choose to blame him. The way Democrats blamed Bush for everything, and Republicans blame Obama for everything. I blame Snowden. Call it Snowden Derangement Syndrome… Some of y’all have already accused me of something like that, so I might as well roll with it…

The Cartographers for Social Equality

The other night, continuing to make my way through “The West Wing” (which I never saw when it was on) while working out each evening, I saw the one in which the Cartographers for Social Equality were allowed to make a presentation on Big Block of Cheese Day.

I enjoyed it. It reminded me of the time, maybe a quarter-century ago, when I visited my friend Moss Blachman in his office, and saw his map of the Western Hemisphere with south at the top and north at the bottom. As someone who lived in South America as a kid and who has long thought my fellow gringos give Latin America short shrift, I got a kick out of it. Because, of course, the practice of putting north at the top and south at the bottom is totally arbitrary (an obvious fact that sort of blew C.J. Cregg’s mind).

I enjoy things like that which cause us to look at things in fresh ways.

Of course, the political conclusion that the cartographers draw from the way the Mercator distorts the world is rather silly. I’ve always known Africa is way bigger than Greenland, and that Africa is thousands of times more significant in world affairs. But I also know that Africa doesn’t derive its importance from being bigger; it derives it from the fact that there are multitudes of nations and cultures and geographic and biological diversity in Africa, and it is not mostly a frozen waste. Population of Greenland: 56,840. Population of Africa: 1.033 billion. Duh.

If I were stupid enough to think the significance of nations and continents were a function of size, I’d conclude that England has been of no account whatsoever in world history. Which I don’t. And I can’t think of anyone who does.

But I enjoyed the scene anyway, because it is good for the brain (and pleasurable as well) to flip things around and look at them from unaccustomed angles. And if there are people who did make foolish assumptions about the world based on the usual depiction, and their eyes are opened, then great. But I wouldn’t attach a lot of importance to that.

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Russia now spends more of GDP on military than we do

In Putin's worldview, a small price to pay to recapture former glory...

In Putin’s worldview, a small price to pay to recapture former glory…

That’s attention-grabbing, but it shouldn’t be all that shocking, given that a), the Russian economy is smaller than ours and b), the United States itself spends less of GDP on the military than it did for most of my lifetime.

But still, as things ratchet up in Ukraine, this is worth taking note of…

Oh, and what’s my source for this? Is it some warmongering neocon publication, trying to drum up sentiment for increased U.S. military spending? Nope, it was The Guardian, which is hugging itself with delight today for winning a Pulitzer for aiding and abetting Edward Snowden. So there.

An excerpt:

Russia spent a higher proportion of its wealth on arms than the US last year for the first time in more than a decade, according to figures published on Monday by a leading international research body that highlights Moscow’s resurgent military ambition as it confronts the west over Ukraine.

Western countries, including Britain and the US, reduced defence budgets, but Russia increased arms spending by 4.8% in real terms last year to almost $88bn (£52m), devoting a bigger share of its GDP to the military than the US for the first time since 2003, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri)….

Baby-Face Musa beats murder rap in Pakistan

I’ve looked at a couple of versions of this story, and have not yet found one that really explains why authorities were initially planning on charging a 9-month-old baby boy with attempted murder and obstructing a public official.

Police have now withdrawn the charges. But before you turn away from this story, be sure to check out the picture of little Musa being fingerprinted. He didn’t like it. He appears to be saying something like, “You flatfoots’ll never pin this on ME!”

You know, the news is full of crazy-sounding stuff happening in this country. But you see something like this, and it all looks a little saner by comparison…

Irish priest’s take on Cohen brings the house down

As you may know, the name “Cohen” in Hebrew means “priest,” or “a member of the priestly class, having certain rights and duties in the synagogue.”

Father Ray Kelly, a priest of another tradition, took full advantage of his rights in performing his duties at a recent wedding at his parish in Meath, Ireland. He quickly went viral on YouTube. The bride and groom had no idea it was coming, but they and the rest of the congregation loved it.

Since he used my favorite Leonard Cohen tune, I thought I’d share.

By the way, according to the Irish Times, Fr. Kelly is “planning on releasing a charity album to coincide with his 25th year since being ordained.”

‘Our pollster’ making SC biotech connections for SC in Poland

I’m jealous of people who get to travel for their work. Yeah, I know people like Doug and Silence will talk about what a grind it is, but I’m envious nonetheless. My trip to England three years ago was my first time out of the country in many years. In my newspaper job I used to bop up to Washington occasionally, or to a conference somewhere else in the country now and then, but never abroad.

And I enjoy travel. It doesn’t just broaden the mind; it stimulates it, generating thoughts that wouldn’t occur running on the usual, everyday fuel.

So today I’m feeling jealous of my good friend Emerson Smith, who tells me from his berth on the Queen Mary II somewhere in the South China Sea (I think — there’s no telling where he is at a given moment) that next month he’ll be back in Poland — another place I’ve never been.

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International Man of Mystery Emerson Smith

He’s one of two people who will be representing South Carolina at the BioForum 2014 (cebioforum.com) in Lodz, Poland on May 28-29, 2014, Emerson and Brad Goodwin from CharlestonPharma, speaking on how biotech companies in central Europe can create joint ventures in the U.S. and South Carolina.

“South Carolina is well known for having international companies from Germany, Belgium, France, Japan, China and other countries,” writes Emerson via email. “Most of these companies are large manufacturers. What we need to attract, in addition, are small biotech companies from Europe, which includes western Europe as well as central Europe, which can grow in South Carolina. Central Europe is historically known for its scholarship and science. Copernicus is from Krakow, Poland. South Carolina’s SCRA and SC Launch are always looking for opportunities to attract biotech companies from abroad and provide seed funding as well as assistance in dealing with state and federal commercial laws.”

Emerson is CEO and president of Metromark Research here in Columbia. He is also a sociologist, as he used to point out to us when we called him “our pollster” in the newspaper, which bugged him. He used to do our South Carolina Poll back when I was governmental affairs editor at The State. We did quite a bit of polling in those days. And while he didn’t like being called a “pollster,” he was a good one. His horse-race polls — the only kind where you get a real-world check on your accuracy — were always dead-on. Even multi-candidate primaries, which were notoriously hard to call.

So now, our pollster is working to grow the biotech sector in SC. Good for him. Even if I’m jealous that he gets to be an International Man of Mystery while doing it.

Graham says we should bar Iranian emissary to the U.N.

This came in earlier today:

Graham Opposes Granting Visa for Iranian Emissary to the United Nations

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) today made this statement on Hamid Aboutalebi who was selected to serve as Iran’s emissary to the United Nations in New York.

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Graham opposes granting Aboutalebi a visa which would allow him to travel to the United States.

Graham said:

“This is a slap in the face to the 52 Americans held hostage in Iran for 444 days and an affront to all Americans.

“The very idea Iran would appoint someone to represent them at the United Nations in New York — who was connected in such a direct way to the American Embassy takeover in 1979 — says a lot about the regime and the so-called moderation of President Rouhani.

“Iran has been involved in worldwide terrorism plots and designated as a state sponsor of terrorism.  Iran provided equipment used to kill American soldiers in Iraq.  Iran supports Hamas and Hezbolloah, two terrorist organizations. And finally, Iran continues its pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability, not a peaceful nuclear power plant.

“I’m hopeful the Senate will soon send a strong signal to Iranians that we will not accept this individual or allow him to represent Iran on American soil.”

#####

Apparently, Rainman is now in charge of search for MH370

Image of debris Tweeted by USAToday.

Image of debris Tweeted by USAToday.

First, credit where credit is due — Bryan Caskey came up with the Rainman bit.

He said that this morning when I responded to this alert from the BBC:

A further 122 objects potentially from missing Malaysian flight identified by satellite, Malaysian minister says http://bbc.in/1duQCP9 

By saying, “122? Exactly?

Not 121. Not 123. One hundred and twenty-two pieces of wreckage, exactly. I mean, come on. Now even Rainman could fix the fragments in a debris field floating in the ocean that precisely. Toothpicks scattered on a diner floor, sure. But not pieces of pieces floating in the deep blue sea. How do you know, for instance, that two or three of them aren’t the above-water part of one piece that’s mostly submerged?

And it wasn’t just the BBC — everybody was dutifully reporting that exactly 122 objects were spotted. The thing that got me was that the Beeb said it was 122 further objects. Similarly, USAToday reported that they were 122 new objects — like you could tell these objects from others spotted before.

Yeah. OK…

One senses that these news organizations have been so starved for substantive, hard information about what happened to this flight and the people on it that they will lunge at anything that looks factual and precise.

No matter how absurd such precision seems, if you stop and think about it…

Art imitating life imitating art imitating life imitating…

USS Nimitz

USS Nimitz

Hollywood makes a movie, a year or so ago, about the Iran hostage crisis. It tells the true story of how the CIA pretended to be making a movie in Iran in order to sneak a handful of the American hostages out of the country.

The real movie about the fake movie that hoaxed the Iranians wins the Best Picture Oscar, which Iran could not have failed to notice.

So… now we see that Iran is building a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier — or rather, a vessel that looks like a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier. They do it in plain sight, so we can’t fail to notice. Our intel guys watch it being built ever since last summer, and we finally get to the point that we can’t stand it anymore, and have to say something.

Then, when the United States raises questions as to what in the world Iran is up to, they respond, Uhhh… it’s for a movie! Yeah, that’s the ticket… we’re making a movie… ya know, like ‘Argo.’

Which makes us wonder what they’re really up to. What could be the actual purpose for which making a movie is the transparent cover?

Whatever it is, when they spring it on us, I half expect the Iranians to say, “Argo ___ yourself!”

"I'm, uhhh... making a movie! Yeah, that's the ticket..."

“I’m, uhhh… making a movie! Yeah, that’s the ticket…”

If ‘crazy’ is called for, Obama’s not your man

Thought this clip of David Brooks talking about what it might take to stop Putin in Ukraine — since the usual stuff (sanctions, etc.) isn’t working — rather interesting:

DAVID BROOKS: I’m also thinking, sometimes you just have to do something a little crazy. Putin did something a little crazy. And we’re all, ooh, let’s not get in front of that guy.

Obama is like the least likely person you’re ever going to meet to do something crazy. He’s prudent, thinks thing through? But sometimes you just got to strike a little fear…

JUDY WOODRUFF: Like what? I mean, what would be…

DAVID BROOKS: Well, I’m beginning to think we’re going to get to a spot, if this continues to escalate, and it’s clear — well, it seems clear that Putin is — just wants to — if Ukraine wants to go West, he will dismember Ukraine.

And it seems to me that arming, not getting involved, us, in Ukraine, but arming Ukraine for some deterrent effect to keep the Russians out of there is a useful thing to start to think about. And I think we’re probably going to end up having a serious debate about that…

Yeah… You’ve got that right. Barack Obama just doesn’t do crazy.

Now, George Bush, he would do crazy. And as you know, I thought it one of his virtues. (I didn’t think he had many, but I granted him that one.) The invasion of Iraq would have been a wonderful deterrent to rogue, or merely problematic, regimes — if Bush could have maintained the impression that he would be willing and able to do something like that again.

The invasion of Iraq scared the stuffing out of Moammar Qaddafi, who immediately gave up his attempt to get nukes. There were signs of nervousness across the region, as oligarchs and dictators thought, “If he’ll take out Saddam, just like that, he could come after me next. He’s crazy…”

But then Bush lost public support over Iraq, and it became clear he didn’t have the capital to do anything like that again, and everybody calmed down…

No chance of that happening with President Obama. Even when the other kids — France, Britain — volunteer to go first, he’s not going to get crazy. He was elected pretty much on an anti-crazy platform.

Crimean cast of characters includes The Missing Hero, the Cute Attorney General and the Colonel with the Rolling Pin

Just a few of the characters whose stories illuminate little corners of the crisis in Crimea:

  • Col. Yuli Mamchur, the Ukrainian fighter pilot who led a pocket of resistance against the Russian takeover until Russian troops took his base on Saturday and took him away. He had become the “face of Ukrainian resistance,” but no one has seen his face since he was taken for a meeting with senior Russian officers. “They won’t say where he is,” says his distraught wife.
  • Natalia_Poklonskaya_fan-art_by_Itachi_KanadeNew Crimean Attorney General Natalia Poklonskaya has become something of an Internet sensation since the 34-year-old (some reports say she’s 33, but she had a birthday last week) rose to the position last week. There’s the video of her taking charge (above). There are the sexy glamour shots. There’s the anime renderings of her out of Japan. There’s the silly new meme that holds that she “put the ‘cute’ in ‘prosecute’.” But the detail that tells us the most about the political situation in Crimea is this: The former attorney general had remained loyal to Ukraine, and she replaced him after, reportedly, four other men had turned down the job. Chaos can indeed lead to opportunity, can it not?
  • Ukrainian Lt. Col. Sergei Illushenko, the son of a former Soviet officer, saw this coming. Last month, he sent his wife and three kids to mainland Ukraine, bought a rolling pin and reinforced the grip with tape. Then he settled in to wait for the Russians to try to take his coast-guard artillery base. He’s still waiting. He and his men have guns, but hope not to have to use them in the crowded urban area where his base is located.

 

Bright goes out of his way to make Graham look good

To reasonable people. You know, people who would think that a member of a loyal opposition would want to help the secretary of state with a difficult matter bearing on a huge international crisis.

Here’s the release from Lee Bright:

Offers Aid to Ultra Liberal Who Embarrassed Himself Last Week

If there were any doubt that Lindsey Graham sees himself as the Senate Republican who helps liberals defeat conservatives in Congress, it was all removed yesterday as an open mic caught Graham in an awkwardly candid moment – offering political help to Secretary of State John Kerry. This is the same John Kerry who displayed an infantile view of the world last week with his “19th century” comments regarding Vladimir Putin and the Ukraine.

In a moment eerily reminiscent of Obama’s unfortunate open mic moment with Dmitry Medvedev – then President and now Prime Minister of Russia – Graham whispered to Kerry to “let me know what I can do to help you with Boehner,” indicating that the S.C. Senator would strong arm the Republican House Speaker.

“I don’t know what it is about Lindsey Graham, but he’s never seen a chance to work with liberals to sabotage his own party that he didn’t take,” said Lee Bright, the Tea Party candidate challenging Graham in the June Senate Primary. “And in this case, he was channeling his inner Obama, trying to work with a Secretary of State who just a week ago made a fool of himself on the international stage. When he knows the microphone is on, Graham pretends to be this big conservative. We see the real Lindsey exposed in this instance. Then again, I think a lot of South Carolina voters already know the real Lindsey Graham.”

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How about that weird touch, implying that the reason likely GOP primary voters wouldn’t want anyone to help Kerry is because of some faux pas he committed last week. You would think that all he would need would be to say “John Kerry,” because the SecState is, after all, John Kerry. Given his rep among Republicans, of course, the “ultra-liberal” tag is redundant, but this is coming from a segment of the GOP where redundant constructions are all the rage (how about that weird one I keep seeing, “left liberal”?).

Is the release written this way because Bright thinks his likely supporters aren’t very, you know, Bright? Why else would he have to over-explain who John Kerry is, right down to the non-sequitur about something he said last week? Does he think they can’t remember as far back as 2004?

As for what Graham said…

That is exactly the kind of behavior we should expect of our elected representatives of both parties. It was reminiscent of the collegiality that was once so common in the Senate, and which made the deliberative process possibly under difficult circumstances. It was a moment in which an honest lawmaker said, “Look, all partisan B.S. aside, you’re dealing with a difficult foreign policy situation, and I’m an American, and I’m here to help.”

Good for Lindsey. It’s good that we have at least one Senator in Washington who still understands that the idiocy is supposed to stop at the water’s edge.

South Ossetia stands as reminder of Western helplessness

As we huff and puff at Russia over Crimea and the rest of Ukraine, NPR urges us to remember this:

Russian troops enter a former Soviet republic claiming they must protect ethnic Russians who have strong ties to the motherland. The U.S. and other Western nations threaten sanctions, but do little. Russia effectively gets its way.

We’re talking, of course, about Russia’s 2008 decision to send troops into South Ossetia, a breakaway Georgian region with a large Russian population.

More than five years later, a similar crisis exists today. This time, Russian forces are in control of Ukraine’s Crimea region. Again, Moscow says the reason is to protect ethnic Russians. The West has expressed strong opposition, but now, as in Georgia, the options appear limited….

And how did all of that come out? I confess that, as interested as I was in that five years ago, I had to check Wikipedia to find out. South Ossetia is still occupied by the Russians.

Here’s hoping we can find a way to be somewhat more effective this time…

A few glimpses of the human cost of Syrian war

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Our own Bryan Caskey brings our attention to some stunning pictures (maybe not as technically arresting as the Ukraine ones from the other day, but the content and framing make up for it) in The Daily Mail, with these comments:

Not sure if you’ve seen this or not: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2568251/UN-calls-Syrian-warring-sides-allow-aid-flow.html

 

Normally, I’m kind of down on journalists, but in this instance, a photographer has truly done the “picture is worth a thousand words” thing with the first photo. I’m not making a political point. I just thought this photograph was extremely evocative of the scale of human suffering in Syria.

 

So this is one of those times that I’m giving journalists some praise. Since you’re a journalist (or at least a former one) I thought that you would appreciate it.

I hope all concerned consider my showing you the image above to fall within the realm of Fair Use (seeing as how I can’t afford to pay for it). There would seem little point in this post if I didn’t at least show you that. I urge you to go to the site itself and see all of the pictures, and if you are so inclined, to subscribe to the Mail and give your custom to their advertisers.

Congratulations to the photographers involved, whom the Mail, unfortunately, does not name. Especially the one who shot the image above, which is the most dramatic (the cutline: “Residents of Syria’s besieged Yarmuk Palestinian refugee camp, south of Damascus, crowding a destroyed street during a food distribution led by the UN agency”). We whose comfortable behinds stay in more convenient parts of the world depend on those who go there and do good work to tell us what the rest of the world is like.

As for Bryan’s illiberal asides regarding journalists (I wouldn’t know he was down on us if he hadn’t mentioned it), you’d think a lawyer would be wary of casting aspersions at entire professions (right, Juan?). But we like him anyway.

Amazing, hyper-real photos from Ukrainian protests

Post front

I’m really struck by the photos I’ve seen today of the violence erupting from the protests in the Ukraine.

The pictures have a dreamlike, end-of-the-world quality. But when I say “dreamlike,” I don’t mean hazy or gauzy or indistinct. They are on the contrary hyper-real. They don’t look like photographs. They look like acrylic paintings made to look like photographs, in which the color saturation and intensity of the images exceed real life. Look at the blue, and the folds, in the jeans worn by the figure on the left. There’s a quality there that must be much like the way colors and folds look while under the influence of hallucinogens.

It must be something about the quality of the light filtering through the smoke from the fires; I don’t know.

The one in which this effect is most pronounced is this one, which both The Washington Post and The New York Times used prominently this morning.

Then there’s this one, which is harder to take, showing two shocked faces staring out of masks of blood. This one has a kick to it like a Hieronymus Bosch.

I’m being careful here to point y’all to these images at publications that paid for them. I wouldn’t dream of violating the copyrights. The photogs who shot these deserve to be paid in full.

I urge you to view the entire slideshow at the NYT. And this one at the WashPost.

More good news for al Qaeda!

This just in from the WashPost:

The National Security Agency is collecting less than 30 percent of all Americans’ call records because of an inability to keep pace with the explosion in cellphone use, according to current and former U.S. officials.

The disclosure contradicts popular perceptions that the government is sweeping up virtually all domestic phone data. It is also likely to raise questions about the efficacy of a program that is premised on its breadth and depth, on collecting as close to a complete universe of data as possible in order to make sure that clues aren’t missed in counterterrorism investigations….

So… if you’re plotting a terror attack, you now know that in a pinch, it may be safe to use that cell phone you’ve been avoiding. Oh, it would be prudent to avoid it as a regular thing — why take unnecessary chances? — but in an emergency, the odds are in your favor.

You know, that ol’ Edward Snowden is just the gift that keeps on giving — if you’re al Qaeda.

No, this is not a direct disclosure by that individual, but it’s something we’re learning as a result of a train of events triggered by his disclosures.

And like so much that he did disclose, it’s something that’s useful to know. If you’re a terrorist.

The passing of Ariel Sharon, who inspired the UnParty

Well, he sorta, kinda inspired it.

It was his decision, in 2005, to leave the Likud behind and form another, more centrist party that started my mind on the way toward dreaming up the UnParty, as I disclosed in the original column announcing the formation of the UnParty.

So one day, when the UnParty dominates American politics, and the planets are aligned, and the lion lies down with the lamb, our party’s flame-keepers will honor the warrior known alternately as “the Bulldozer” and “the Lion of God” for his unintentional role in our formation.

For now, President Obama has offered his condolences to the Sharon family and Israel for “the loss of a leader who dedicated his life to the state of Israel and reaffirmed “our unshakable commitment to Israel’s security and our appreciation for the enduring friendship between our two countries and our two peoples.”

Lindsey Graham said, “With the passing of Ariel Sharon, America has lost one of her best friends and the Israeli people have lost one of their greatest champions.  He was a fierce fighter for the State of Israel who boldly embraced peace.  His life’s work has made him an Israeli icon.  May he rest in peace.”

Meanwhile, Palestinians celebrated. Which isn’t cool, but you know how things are over there.

 

 

My baby’s gone off to join the Peace Corps

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If I seem distracted today, it’s because my youngest daughter, who graduated from College of Charleston several months ago, left today to begin her training for the Peace Corps — in Thailand.

I’m very proud of her, and also traumatized. We expect her to be gone a long time. How long? Well, my 19-month-old grandson will be almost 4 years old.

I try to cheer myself up with the below clip from “Volunteers,” which she posted on Facebook the day she learned where she would be posted. But today, it’s just not as funny as it normally would be.

I don’t know what else to say right now; words fail me. But she did a good job elaborating on this moment on her own blog last night:

So tomorrow marks the beginning of what people keep telling me will be a life changing journey.  I will meet my fellow Peace Corps trainees in Washington, DC before we board the flight to Thailand aka the other side of the planet.  You would think that I would be double-checking my packing lists or re-reading official documents, but instead I have spent the day rolling around toy tractors with my baby nephew and learning about Star Wars from my 4 year old niece. Not to mention eating as much southern food as possible.  After all, I don’t really think I could prepare myself for the next two years right now if I wanted to.

Not to say I haven’t tried.  I have stocked up on quite a few “riap roy” outfits (this is the expression for polite and professional).  This has definitely been the most difficult part of my preparations.  More difficult than the nearly year long application process, the multiple interviews, background checks, or medical clearances.  In fact, all of those things were pie.  Finding clothes that cover my shoulders, chest, and legs below my knees that I don’t feel Amish in has been more challenging than it sounds.  Sometimes I think to myself, how did my life go from getting in trouble for covering up my body and wearing more clothes than a leotard in ballet class, to this?  I took a weird turn somewhere, but I’m adjusting.

I have also prepared by learning the most important Thai phrases for survival.  I can now say, “fried chicken is delicious”,  “I don’t understand”, and “beautiful dress”.  I can also count to 100, though since Thai is a tonal language, meaning intonation determines the meaning of a word and not emotion like in English, I am probably making arbitrary philosophical statements instead.  This is fine with me for now, as I am sure that the next three months of Pre-Service Training will expand my linguistic abilities ten-fold.

What else to say?  I will miss my friends and family, my country, and my party clothes, but I feel really good about leaving.  Maybe the anxiety that everyone keeps expecting me to have will set in before I step off the plane or something, or maybe in a few months when I realize that I am the sole American in a 100 mile radius, but for now all I am is happy.  I have lived a lucky life, and I couldn’t be more grateful for everyone and everything in it. …

Robert Gates, the quintessential national security professional, judges ex-boss Obama harshly

Coming from the source it comes from, this is pretty devastating:

In a new memoir, former defense secretary Robert Gates unleashes harsh judgments about President Obama’s leadership and his commitment to the Afghanistan war, writing that by early 2010 he had concluded the president “doesn’t believe in his own strategy, and doesn’t consider the war to be his. For him, it’s all about getting out.”Gates cropped

Leveling one of the more serious charges that a defense secretary could make against a commander in chief sending forces into combat, Gates asserts that Obama had more than doubts about the course he had charted in Afghanistan. The president was “skeptical if not outright convinced it would fail,” Gates writes in “Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War.”…

The source is someone for whom I’ve always had the utmost respect, as I’ve written in the past. Other political appointees come and go, but Gates has always seemed to me the real-life version of what the fictional George Smiley was in John le Carre’s world:

Mr. Gates is a Smileyesque professional. He was the only Director of Central Intelligence ever to have come up through the ranks. He had spent two decades in the Agency, from 1969 through 1989, with a several-year hiatus at the National Security Council. He received the National Security Medal, the Presidential Citizens Medal, the National Intelligence Distinguished Service Medal (twice) and the Distinguished Intelligence Medal (three times).
I trust professionals, particularly those who have devoted themselves to national service. Not in every case, of course — there are idiots and scoundrels in every walk of life — but if all other things are equal, give me the pro from Dover over someone’s golf buddy every time…

You know the real-life “golf-buddies” and campaign contributors and hangers-on. The fictional counterparts to them, in the le Carre world, would be Saul Enderby and, to a lesser degree, Oliver Lacon.

It’s one thing for Republicans and other professional detractors to attack the president’s national security seriousness. For Robert Gates to do it is quite another thing.