There is not much of local importance in the news. Last night''s prime time headlined the tragedy of a young Israeli traveler in the wrong place at the wrong time in Christchurch, someone yelling "Free Palestine" and "Apartheid" who was hustled from the room where Foreign Minister Lieberman was about to address his European counterparts, and a rambling speech by Muammar al-Gaddafi that alternated between boasts about his nation''s progress and threats of greater bloodshed. 

The feeling is that the world has stopped, except for wondering what will happen from the storms raging through the Muslim countries of the Middle East. One of the experts speaking in the pauses of covering Gaddafi''s speech speculated that Syria is ripe for more of the same. An ethnic/religious minority has been ruling that country for several decades in the styles that have provoked mass protest elsewhere. So far the lid remains on the chronic unrest.


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Who knows? is the appropriate headline for Syria and elsewhere. Only dreamers and ideologues are confident about democracy. As we saw in the case of George W. Bush and Iraq, some of those people can be dangerous. Chaos, musical chairs (replacing the person at the top), and symbolic reform are more likely. Only the most daring will predict the details, except for the likelihood that leaders in this region and elsewhere will claim success from whatever happens.


An item came to my mailbox from one of Barack Obama''s cheerleaders that illustrates the politics that are inevitable in the midst of disaster.


It was an op-ed piece from the New York Times that began


"It is hard to tell when momentum shifts in a counterinsurgency campaign, but there is increasing evidence that Afghanistan is moving in a more positive direction than many analysts think."

Those wanting to read more of the good news can find it here.


Before reaching for the rose-colored glasses, it is useful to note that the authors are Nathaniel Fick and John Nagel, both decorated veterans who are the Chief Executive Officer and President of the Center for a New American Security.


According to its web site 


"The Center for a New American Security (CNAS) develops strong, pragmatic and principled national security and defense policies. Building on the deep expertise and broad experience of its staff and advisors, CNAS engages policymakers, experts and the public with innovative fact-based research, ideas and analysis to shape and elevate the national security debate.


As an independent and nonpartisan research institution, CNAS leads efforts to help inform and prepare the national security leaders of today and tomorrow."


Perhaps "independent" and "nonpartisan" are not appropriate. Another source describes the Center as "a largely centrist think tank with liberal-hawk tendencies" and close ties to the upper reaches of the Obama administration. "Liberal-hawks" may be replacing the "neo-cons" close to the previous administration who helped push the United States and others into Iraq and Afghanistan. The rhythm may change,  but the drum beats are not all that different.


The Fick-Nagel article came to my attention only a week after I finished  Robin Andersen''s A Century of Media, a Century of War. It begins with British propaganda from World War I claiming that German soldiers ravaged Belgian babies, and passes on to the tearful testimony of a young woman said to be recently arrived from Kuwait before a Congressional committee who described how Iraqi soldiers threw Kuwaiti babies out of incubators that they stole from hospitals. As some of you may remember, that young woman turned out to be the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador to the United States who later admitted that she lied. Independent inquiries found no evidence of what she had described. The book goes on to Oliver North and Ronald Reagan. It does not get to Nathaniel Fick and John Nagel. They might be a higher order of beings than Ollie North. However, what we know about the British experience in Afghanistan in the 19th century and the Russians in the 20th century suggests pity rather than applause for Americans and their allies in this century.

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