R.I.P. Guru of Economic Liberalism

November 16, 2006

Milton Friedman died today at the age of 94.

Any good student of economics owes many a sleepless night hunched over term papers to this man, and yours truly is no exception. Even those who bitterly oppose neoliberal economics and economic liberalism choose not to make their straw men out of Mr. Friedman’s own arguments.

I admit to being taken with his staunch (near doctrinaire) libertarianism, and if not with his economic theories in themselves, with their transformative power on modern economic theory and many nations’ economic policies, including Reagan and Thatcher’s reforms in the US and the UK (many would also attribute the demise of many a Latin American economies by extension to Mr. Friedman’s influence on the Chicago School of economics.) Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke said it all in a speech honoring the man in 2003: “His thinking has so permeated modern macroeconomics that the worst pitfall in reading him today is to fail to appreciate the originality and even revolutionary character of his ideas.”

I guess the reason I am not won over more fully by his economic theories is that I am still too much of a Keynesian, coming as I do from a confict-stricken country with too many market irregularities. (More on the folly of going directly from a war-time economy to Mr. Friedman’s model -now in full force in Afghanistan’s finance ministry- later.)

The IHT carries a long and impressive obituary on Milton Friedman here.


The Jihadi Who Liked Booze

November 16, 2006

The option of infiltrating Al-Qaeda with spies and informants has intrigued Western intelligence agencies for some time now. Of course there is no way to know whether they have succeeded or not. With a foe as zealous, motivated and existentially committed to their cause as the Al-Qaeda, one would imagine that any infiltrators would have to be really good at their game.

But then again, even to think this way we are guilty of falling into that old trap of thinking of Al-Qaeda as an organization. You can infiltrate a secret service, an organized crime gang, a mob, but surely everyone knows that Al-Qaeda is different. It is at once organized and disassembled. It is not a secret society, and yet it is a secret society of sorts. It is not hierarchical and centrally-administered, and yet it has a core and an identified leadership of sorts.

In fact, framing this issue in terms of an organization or even Al-Qaeda is a waste of time. It is more an ideology than an organization, and yet it is not quite an ideology either. Go figure.

At any rate, on 360 Blog today there is a story about an infiltraror who has cooperated with the French intelligence agencies and advised them on Al-Qaeda and other such groups in North Africa. He has a book coming out titled “Inside the Jihad” (just the sound of it ought to guarantee great marketing for the publisher), and according to CNN’s Nic Robertson, he is “the only jihadi I’ve met who likes booze.”

** UPDATE** (Nov. 21)

The book “Inside the Jihad” is out now. For an excerpt, visit Salon here.

New Report an Indictment of the Afghan National Police

November 16, 2006

Why is it that when the -throw in your own euphemism here- hits the fan, one can always count on two things happening:

In the beginning, all parties involved find a penchant for euphemism, and then later when it just cannot be covered up, the blame game flares up.

Let me illustrate my point: take the case of the corrupt, ineffective, and disgraceful Afghan Police. It is a secret to no one that it is a miserable failure. It does not exist in much of the country, and where it does, civilians would rather not cross paths with the police. Let those of us who have the benefit of nom-de-plumes and hence are not subject to assorted political pressures have the fortitude to call it for what it is: a scandal.

Now, consider the new audit report just released by State Department’s Inspector Howard Krongard, a result of a months-long assessment of the state of the Afghan police: the “Interagency Assessment of Afghanistan Police Training and Readiness Program.”

I have yet to read this tall tale of scandals (97 pages) because I have not been able to locate it online despite my exhaustive investigative endeavours. However, from what can be gleaned from secondary sources, let’s parse some of the quotes from the report and employing the George Carlin methodology, let’s see how the high art of white-washing works:

According to the report, the current capabilities of the Afghan national police are “far from adequate.” Now doesn’t that strike you as a little bit suspect? We are talking about security for pete’s sake, not the amount of milk left in the fridge. The capabilities of the police (in providing security) is either adequate or inadequate, simple as that, a matter of life and death for many, and “far from adequate” simply does not cut it. What the report really should do is to state the obvious -in plain language: the police does not exist in many places, and where it does exist -in the words of Barnett Rubin in a recent testimony before the SFRC- it is “pervaded by corruption and lack basic skills, equipment and resources.”

Moving right along. The report says: “The US and international effort for standing up the ANP is not limitless; therefore, transitioning full responsibility and authority to the MoI needs greater emphasis.” Here we see the first rule of politics beautifully at work: when something start going down the drain, quickly dissociate yourself from it, or it will drag you down with it. Shove it onto other shoulders. The Afghan national police has thus far been the mandate of the international community in Afghanistan -and they have failed (more on the blame game later.) Now, the unsuspecting Ministry of Interior (itself riddled with corruption and incapacity) will be the bearer of this torch of shame and disgrace.

Which brings us to the next stage:blame games. The finger-pointing has already started. The report itself ostensibly delegates responsibility for some of the shortcomings, but so far, the harshest of rebukes is pointed at Germany, responsible for training the Afghan national police (it tried to accomplish this feat with a mere 41 German police officers doing the training.) Read “Germany Assialed for Training Afghan Police Poorly.”


Link to Interagency Assessment of Afghanistan Police Training and Readiness in PDF document format.