Once our soldiers leave the theater, all that will remain is a clinical and codified policy of assassination writ large
A man carries a bag over his shoulder as he pulls a suitcase in Kabul
On Wednesday, the New York Timesreported that Pakistani officials, eyeing President Obama's spurious timeline for withdrawal from Afghanistan, are "watching as the war, in their view, goes badly and are waiting for their share of the Afghan spoils." The report added that Pakistan's generals and spymasters "appear to have little incentive to bargain away their demands or to modify their side of the ledger," confident that the president lacks the political will to see the war through. In December, U.S. forces will begin withdrawing from Afghanistan. Those combat troops deployed as part of the surge will come home in September 2012. If there is a strategic military reason for that particular date, David Petraeus is unaware of it. David Axelrod might have a keener insight on the matter.
Last month, Stanley McChrystal told the Council on Foreign Relations that we're just over the 50 percent mark in Afghanistan. The retired general noted that where we're providing security, "The change has been stunning. The ability to move crops around, the ability to apply governance and whatnot, has been good." But that requires boots on the ground and men with rifles. Where the Coalition footprint is light, meanwhile, the Taliban "campaign of assassination is terrifying to people, because it makes everyone feel under threat." During his recent confirmation hearings to take the helm at CIA, General Petraeus called the president's withdrawal plan "a more aggressive formulation, if you will, in terms of the timeline than what we had recommended." In Petraeus-speak, this was the equivalent of banging his shoe on the table.
Ten years ago, who would have thought that victory in Afghanistan meant luring the Taliban to the bargaining table? And who would have been surprised when the Taliban then assassinated our proxy negotiator? (There's no need to reach back ten years; in 2010, the Taliban said point blank that they intended to kill members of the High Peace Council.) With the military security option all but exhausted (and thus unavailable to support the remarkable work of civil affairs teams), and diplomacy a hopeless endeavor, the United States and Afghanistan can now look forward to an eternity of Predator drones primed with Hellfire missiles.
It would be hard to improve on essays by Jane Mayer and Conor Friedersdorf on the immorality of drone warfare. But drone warfare is what we're left with. Sherman famously said, "There's many a boy here today who looks on war as all glory but it is all hell." Small communities know that hell and reel when their sons become men, become infantrymen, and never return from third world wastelands. Military spouses know that hell when chaplains in Class A uniforms knock at the door, hats in hand. Combat veterans know that hell better than anyone. And collectively -- oftentimes tragically -- the results of war inform our culture and serve as society's most effective moderating influence. There are many good reasons to go to war, but when we don't, it's often because we know how terrible a thing it is.
Humanity can be found and understood in the best and worst of war. But drones change the equation. It's the worst kind of war, a frightening new enterprise that we've embraced, celebrate, and laugh about. But there's something dishonorable about it. It's the aerial equivalent of roadside IEDs. It's the only kind of war America seems willing to fight anymore, and that is what we're leaving behind in Afghanistan. To be clear, "fairness" should never be an objective of war. But almost by definition, this is not war. Once our soldiers leave the theater, all that will remain is a clinical and codified policy of assassination writ large, with virtually no public scrutiny. It won't be front-page news when drones vaporize innocents, and it won't be front-page news when drones vaporize al-Qaeda operatives, because we've got no skin in the game. It's just robots hunting ghosts.
How long will Afghans agree to that? Are we even asking? Or will this silent non-war be negotiated with our man in Kabul, who, until he was convenient to this administration, was deemed corrupt and incompetent? And how long will Pakistan allow missiles to materialize from nowhere and leave behind craters and corpses? How about the next government, and what are we prepared to do if they say no? The White House has established a precedent that borders are just fine for the people at Rand McNally, but meaningless in the context of drone warfare. Consent of the Congress is a quaint relic; as proven in Libya, the president doesn't need authorization so long as we get a nice snuff film at the end.
Afghanistan is a war worth seeing through. Last week, I spoke with Michael Yon, a writer who's spent four years, cumulatively, in Iraq and Afghanistan -- three of those in combat. According to Yon, as withdrawal moves from concept to reality, "Many troops see their actions will be for naught. They've done their parts and have succeeded when properly resourced, but they see the presidential decisions for what they are. The unit that I last embedded with, 4-4 Cav, was clearly making progress and they know it, but they also see the light at the end of the tunnel is turned off, and that's due to politics. We waited a long time to get serious here, and never got totally serious."
At any rate, says Yon, "The war is largely forgotten. Soldiers who have been going back on leave and are shocked when many Americans don't realize that there is a no-kidding war going on here. I've done my best to highlight some of them." He adds, "The trajectory of the war favors the enemies. If the president precipitously reduces our footprint, the war will be lost. The good news (for somebody) is that most Americans don't seem to realize that we are still in a war, so they won't realize that we lost."
But at least we fought a war that could be forgotten. As America turns to drone technology, more than ever we will be fighting wars we never knew about in the first place.
Einstein’s gravitational waves rest on a genuinely radical idea.
After decades of anticipation, we have directly detected gravitational waves—ripples in spacetime traveling at the speed of light through the universe. Scientists at LIGO (the Laser Interferometic Gravitational-wave Observatory) have announced that they have measured waves coming from the inspiral of two massive black holes, providing a spectacular confirmation of Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity, whose hundredth anniversary was celebrated just last year.
Finding gravitational waves indicates that Einstein was (once again) right, and opens a new window onto energetic events occurring around the universe. But there’s a deeper lesson, as well: a reminder of the central importance of locality, an idea that underlies much of modern physics.
The bureau successfully played the long game in both cases.
The story of law enforcement in the Oregon standoff is one of patience.
On the most obvious level, that was reflected in the 41 days that armed militia members occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns. It took 25 days before the FBI and state police moved to arrest several leaders of the occupation and to barricade the refuge. It took another 15 days before the last of the final occupiers walked out, Thursday morning Oregon time.
Each of those cases involved patience as well: Officers massed on Highway 395 didn’t shoot LaVoy Finicum when he tried to ram past a barricade, nearly striking an FBI agent, though when he reached for a gun in his pocket they finally fired. Meanwhile, despite increasingly hysterical behavior from David Fry, the final occupier, officers waited him out until he emerged peacefully.
Today’s empires are born on the web, and exert tremendous power in the material world.
Mark Zuckerberg hasn’t had the best week.
First, Facebook’s Free Basics platform was effectively banned in India. Then, a high-profile member of Facebook’s board of directors, the venture capitalist Marc Andreessen, sounded off about the decision to his nearly half-a-million Twitter followers with a stunning comment.
“Anti-colonialism has been economically catastrophic for the Indian people for decades,” Andreessen wrote. “Why stop now?”
After that, the Internet went nuts.
Andreessen deleted his tweet, apologized, and underscored that he is “100 percent opposed to colonialism” and “100 percent in favor of independence and freedom.” Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO, followed up with his own Facebook post to say Andreessen’s comment was “deeply upsetting” to him, and not representative of the way he thinks “at all.”
Ben Stiller’s follow-up to his own comedy classic is a downright bummer, no matter how many celebrity cameos it tries to cram in.
You don’t need to go to the theater to get the full experience of Zoolander 2. Simply get your hands on a copy of the original, watch it, and then yell a bunch of unfunny topical lines every time somebody tells a joke. That’s how it feels to watch Ben Stiller’s sequel to his 2001 spoof of the fashion industry: Zoolander 2 takes pains to reference every successful gag you remember from the original, and then embellish them in painful—often offensive, almost always outdated—fashion. It’s a film that has no real reason to exist, and it spends its entire running time reaffirming that fact.
The original Zoolander, to be fair, had no business being as funny as it was—it made fun of an industry that already seems to exist in a constant state of self-parody, and much of its humor relied on simple malapropisms and sight gags. But it was hilarious anyway as a candid snapshot of the fizzling-out of ’90s culture. Like almost any zeitgeist comedy, it belonged to a particular moment—and boy, should it have stayed there. With Zoolander 2, Stiller (who directed, co-wrote, and stars) tries to recapture the magic of 2001 by referencing its past glories with increasing desperation, perhaps to avoid the fact that he has nothing new to say about the fashion industry or celebrity culture 15 years laters.
Carly Fiorina’s exit from the 2016 race could stifle debate over gender equality across the political spectrum.
When Carly Fiorina dropped out of the presidential race, she took the opportunity to talk about the meaning of feminism—or at least advance her own definition of the term. “A feminist is a woman who lives the life she chooses and uses all her God-given gifts,” Fiorina wrote in a Facebook post on Wednesday. The message was familiar for Fiorina, a Republican candidate who used her most recent moment on the national stage to argue that women in America still face an uneven playing field.
Fiorina’s assertions lent credibility to the idea that gender inequality is not merely a lament of the political left, but a reality to be confronted by Republicans and Democrats. That message opened the door to debate over what kind of policy platform might best improve quality of life for women in America. Now that Fiorina has exited the race, it seems extremely unlikely that any Republican presidential contender will take up the mantle of talking about feminism and the challenges women face. The debate that Fiorina fostered will be far less prominent as a result.
Though the senator may be running as a moderate, his proposal is anything but.
Senator Marco Rubio is running as the acceptable moderate among the three leading Republicans presidential candidates, compared to Senator Ted Cruz and Donald Trump. But as the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center reported yesterday, his tax plan is not moderate, and it is scarcely acceptable.
Rubio’s proposals would deliver a $1 million tax break to the richest 0.1 percent of the country in its first year and slash government revenue by $6.8 trillion over the next decade. To avoid adding to the deficit, it would require “unprecedented” spending cuts, according to TPC. But that’s not all. Rubio has also called for higher military spending, delayed cuts to Medicare and Social Security, and a Balanced Budget Amendment. To appreciate the impossibility of balancing the budget while raising military spending and slashing taxes at unprecedented levels, try running a marathon while fasting.
When four American women were murdered during El Salvador’s dirty war, a young U.S. official and his unlikely partner risked their lives to solve the case.
On December 1, 1980, two American Catholic churchwomen—an Ursuline nun and a lay missionary—sat down to dinner with Robert White, the U.S. ambassador to El Salvador. They worked in rural areas ministering to El Salvador’s desperately impoverished peasants, and White admired their commitment and courage. The talk turned to the government’s brutal tactics for fighting the country’s left-wing guerrillas, in a dirty war waged by death squads that dumped bodies in the streets and an army that massacred civilians. The women were alarmed by the incoming Reagan administration’s plans for a closer relationship with the military-led government. Because of a curfew, the women spent the night at the ambassador’s residence. The next day, after breakfast with the ambassador’s wife, they drove to San Salvador’s international airport to pick up two colleagues who were flying back from a conference in Nicaragua. Within hours, all four women would be dead.
In New Hampshire, he won working class men without college diplomas—and most every other demographic group.
Earlier this year, when Mona Chalabi wanted to describe a Donald Trump voter in The Guardian, she conjured a 45-year-old male named Michael who never attended college, works 9-hour days as an exterminator, and earns $33,000 per year. Trump “is more popular among Americans that are white than those who aren’t, and more popular among Americans with penises than those without,” she wrote. “Often, these white men are also working or middle class and middle-aged.”
The New Hampshire primary didn't contradict that conventional wisdom. The billionaire won among voters who never attended college; the working class; and the middle-aged.
Then again, Trump won almost every other demographic, too.
The exit polls couldn’t be clearer. As Ramesh Ponnuru put it, “They raise questions about what we think we know about the Trump phenomenon.” Since the Granite State is so white, it didn’t test the candidate’s performance among minorities. But Trump proved an ability to best all his rivals among the following groups:
The number of American teens who excel at advanced math has surged. Why?
On a sultry evening last July, a tall, soft-spoken 17-year-old named David Stoner and nearly 600 other math whizzes from all over the world sat huddled in small groups around wicker bistro tables, talking in low voices and obsessively refreshing the browsers on their laptops. The air in the cavernous lobby of the Lotus Hotel Pang Suan Kaew in Chiang Mai, Thailand, was humid, recalls Stoner, whose light South Carolina accent warms his carefully chosen words. The tension in the room made it seem especially heavy, like the atmosphere at a high-stakes poker tournament.
Stoner and five teammates were representing the United States in the 56th International Mathematical Olympiad. They figured they’d done pretty well over the two days of competition. God knows, they’d trained hard. Stoner, like his teammates, had endured a grueling regime for more than a year—practicing tricky problems over breakfast before school and taking on more problems late into the evening after he completed the homework for his college-level math classes. Sometimes, he sketched out proofs on the large dry-erase board his dad had installed in his bedroom. Most nights, he put himself to sleep reading books like New Problems in Euclidean Geometry and An Introduction to Diophantine Equations.