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We therefore face a stark, unattractive reality. There are only two options: Iran gets nuclear weapons, or someone uses pre-emptive military force to break Iran’s nuclear fuel cycle and paralyze its program, at least temporarily.

There is no possibility the Obama administration will use force, despite its confused and ever-changing formulation about the military option always being “on the table.” That leaves Israel, which the administration is implicitly threatening not to resupply with airplanes and weapons lost in attacking Iran—thereby rendering Israel vulnerable to potential retaliation from Hezbollah and Hamas.

It is hard to conclude anything except that the Obama administration is resigned to Iran possessing nuclear weapons.

via the Wall Street Journal

There’s a big Tea Party rally happening today in Boston Common, which (judging by the crowds and theatrics) sadly appears to be pretty popular.

I know it’s just the fringe making a lot of noise, but it’s still amazing at how many people are taken in by this stuff.  Funny to see all the vendors hawking crap like constitutions printed out, and flags with the iconic rattlesnake.

I’ve been following the news of the last couple days about the capture of the No. 2 in command of the Taliban (now under arrest in Pakistan), Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar.

It’s been a fascinating story to watch.  First, it’s a serious blow to the insurgency (I heard on NPR this morning that delegations of the Afghan government and the Taliban are meeting, possibly to discuss peace).

What will be especially interesting is getting this man to talk about where Mullah Omar and even bin Laden are hiding out.  Imagine demolishing the top-level Taliban and its vestiges even before the major troop surge planned.  It would turn that operation into a mop-up task rather than a cut-and-run plan.  But still, it’s early to tell.

It’s also interesting to hear of the intrigue around the capture.  Apparently, it had happened several days prior; one Western newspaper (the name escapes me) had reliable information about it, but was asked by Washington to withhold releasing the information.

Finally, it’s also interesting how effective the propaganda campaign being fought by the Taliban is.  They’ve been denying the capture for days now, and I don’t doubt that they’ve been effective in their message.  The Taliban have played up the deaths of civilians by NATO forces for years, while downplaying their own brutality (I saw a figure recently that of all civilian deaths, 75% were caused by Taliban).  It seems the Afghan government needs to better control their message if this war is to be successful.

Just saw this notice from Business Week about Yelp taking in $100 mil in financing:

Yelp, a Web site that features reviews of local businesses, said it has received as much as $100 million in funding from private equity firm Elevation Partners and will use the investment to expand its sales force and compensate employees.

In the near future I intend to spend some time talking about how much I dislike Yelp: the concept, the culture it’s created among users, and the adversarial relationship between small business owners and attention-seeking individuals.

On my way to work, in between phone calls, I caught a short piece of an NPR segment discussing the health care debate in light of tonight’s State of the Union address.  A commentator was explaining how the role of government was to redistribute wealth, and the government doesn’t generate wealth.

I’ve heard this argument before, and barely noticed until another commentator (providing a counterpoint) explained that he saw the government’s projects as being largely about investment, not simply wealth redistribution.

As an example, he used a highway construction project: building the highway was a capital expenditure that required tax dollars to complete (the wealth redistribution part, as those tax dollars went into the pockets of contractors and road crews), but was also an investment.  By building the highway, interstate commerce could improve, leading to a stronger economy, lower unemployment, higher GDP, etc.

The government is in the business of investments … in the country itself, rather than in a strictly monetary sense.  For instance, a traditional investment in a bond might yield a certain return thats (somewhat) predictable and in the same format of the initial investment (cash).  But a government investment often converts cash into another form of wealth: a stronger economy, etc.

It’s an interesting concept and one that requires a change in thinking of a government’s role.  Wealth redistribution seems like a fairly myopic view of a very complex institution.

When I saw the headline for this article, my eyes almost popped out of my head.  What?? How is this even possible.  After reading the article, I’m still at a loss.

First, here’s what the WSJ is reporting: insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan have used off-the-shelf software to intercept video feeds from military drones.  The US acknowledges that the video isn’t encrypted and says that the problem has been known since Bosnia in the 1990s:

The U.S. government has known about the flaw since the U.S. campaign in Bosnia in the 1990s, current and former officials said. But the Pentagon assumed local adversaries wouldn’t know how to exploit it, the officials said.

Wow.

You realize what this means: any ecommerce shopping site on the Internet is better protected than our military’s own drone system.

I still can’t believe it’s been this long and the problem still hasn’t been solved.  I know it adds additional processing requirements to encrypt live video data, but surely the military (with their vast budget) could come up with something.  We’re not even talking 256-bit encryption here: it could be minimal.  But something!

I’m still at a loss as to how this could have happened.  The only plausible explanation (outside of complete oversight, which I doubt) is that it was more difficult to install the kind of processing necessary to encrypt the video feeds.

As I discussed recently, I’m concerned about AOL’s reinvention plan.  Seems like I’m not the only one.  CNN is reporting that the company may have some success “as a smaller and less highly visible Web player”:

The new model, he said, is focused on three areas — publishing blogs, news and other online offerings; advertising; and refocusing on communications tools such as e-mail and its AIM instant-messenger service as ways to distribute its original content.

AOL’s split from Time Warner is a long time in the making, and expectations about AOL’s future as an independent tech company should be tempered.

Looks like Hamid Karzai is making the rounds today saying that the US must be patient if Afghanistan isn’t ready for a security handover on Obama’s timetable.  Ultimately, he’s trying to shift the focus of the debate back to an open-ended one, saying the US isn’t going anywhere until Afghanistan is safe, rather than using the time he has to make it as safe as possible.

The distinction is important: Karzai should see the US’s surge as giving him 18 months of significant strength, and he should plan to make the most of it during that time.  Instead, he wants to frame it as being open-ended, giving him the incentive to squander the surge during those 18 months so he could keep the troops around longer, using Afghanistan’s poor security situation as a means for keeping the US around to bolster his government.

And let’s be clear here: with all the allegations of corruption surrounding the Afghanistan government after the last election, he knows how much he needs the US to keep things stable.  So instead of focusing on what Afghanistan needs, he’s focusing on what he needs.

Although I personally believe in what the US is doing in Afghanistan, I will be very happy when we’re no longer there.

There’s a new report out saying that “Bin Laden was within our grasp” back in 2001.  Apparently the intelligence on where Bin Laden was hiding (in the Tora Bora mountains in Afghanistan) indicated that there was a good chance of capture if the military could execute a “classic sweep-and-block maneuver”.  The decision was made not to attempt it, however, as it would require a large number of forces and went against the established strategy of “light footprint”.

Of course, the report brings up a lot of questions:

  1. How solid was the intelligence at the time (Cheney says it wasn’t certain)?
  2. What exactly would have been the risks involved that made it prohibitive?
  3. What was the likelihood of success had the military committed to the operation?
  4. What would have been the result had Bin Laden been captured?

Most of those questions aren’t answered, but there’s some interesting speculative parts to this:

  1. What if an executive decision was made not to proceed due to outside influences?
  2. What would we have done with Bin Laden had we taken him alive?

Both of those can be merged into one scenario: would America have allowed Afghanistan to prosecute Bin Laden, or would we have taken him back to the US to prosecute?  Look at the situation with Saddam: the US captured him and gave him to the Iraqis to put on trial.  Would that have happened in this case?

Politically I don’t think Bin Laden could be given to Afghanistan due to the charged atmosphere in the US, especially back in 2001.  At the same time, what kinds of strain would that put on the legal system in the US?

Right now debates are ongoing about how to deal with the Guantanamo Bay detainees who are going to be tried in the US (specifically New York).  Can they get a fair trial in the US?  How will security be handled (especially with regards to them facing their accusers)?  It’s a fascinating look at the extremes the judicial system is put under, and it would be all of this times a hundred with Bin Laden.

From what I’ve read, I don’t believe Bin Laden has much influence anymore.  If he’s still alive, he and his group spend all their efforts just running and hiding rather than planning any operations.  Many of the news reports also state that his organization has been upended by infighting among factions, and more pressing priorities in other Middle East regions.  So spending much time worrying about this guy isn’t particularly productive, though it would sell a lot of papers if he were ever captured and brought back to the US for a trial.

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