Weekly Web Watch 09/21/09 – 09/27/09

by
Gen. Stanley McChrystal

Gen. Stanley McChrystal

The White House is considering a drastic change in Afghanistan strategy, according to the New York Times.  President Obama is, apparently, exploring the feasibility of drawing down the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan and getting out of Afghani politics, leaving the Taliban alone in order to focus exclusively on al-Qaeda.  Gen. Stanley McChrystal, commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, sent a memo to the President warning that, if he does not receive more troops, the mission in Afghanistan is doomed to failure.  The memo is available here (.pdf).  Dave Schuler points out that, under conventional counter-insurgency doctrine, more than 400,000 troops are necessary to secure Afghanistan.  Spencer Ackerman finds that figure in the memo and reminds us that Afghanistan is supposed to supply at least that many troops and police to the effort.  And Andrew Exum points out that counter-insurgency tactics will increase the number of U.S. casualties.  If you visit that link, however, be aware that Exum has several other posts up with arguments and links supporting a counter-insurgency strategy.

The Justice Department concluded that Congress does not need to pass additional legislation regarding the detention of alleged terrorists.  The DoJ claims that the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force provides the administration all the detention power that it requires.  Adam Serwer points out that this is considered a victory for civil libertarians.  Meanwhile, the administration is preparing to miss the self-imposed deadline for the closure of the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay.

President Obama delivered a speech to the U.N. on Wednesday.  Reaction to the speech has been fairly quiet.  The New York Times was pleased by the greater multilateralism on display, but concerned about the absence of any discussion of Afghanistan.

William Schambra penned an essay claiming that many of President Obama’s political problems can be traced to his affinity for large-scale policy proposals.  David Broder read the essay and pushed it to a wider audience, claiming that Schambra’s analysis pinpoints why Obama’s is unlikely to be a successful presidency.  Joe Klein takes issue with this and accuses Broder of being overly selective with his historical examples.  Stephen Griffin offers additional thoughts, including ways to amend the Constitutional structure in order to make this type of large-scale policymaking easier.

Andrew Bacevich argues that the U.S. should adopt a “Cold War” strategy with regards to international terrorism.  Bacevich claims that using the military to fight in Afghanistan and Pakistan is not clearly achieving our goals and that better results can be obtained by securing access to various “hubs” that terror networks have to use to achieve results (e.g., airports, seaports, border crossings).  He also calls for greater surveillance capabilities.  Fred and Kimberly Kagan have a different view, one that argues that fighting the Taliban has to be an integral part of any anti-terror strategy.

The Iranians admitted that they have constructed a second nuclear-enrichment facility.  They deny, however, that it is to be used to construct nuclear weapons.  Most of the media coverage has decried Iran’s actions; I will point you instead to this essay by Scott Ritter that claims that the action shows that Iran may, in fact, be serious about engaging with the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

An Irish stress researcher, Shane O’Mara, published a review that claims there is no scientific evidence that waterboarding or other “enhanced interrogation techniques” are effective.  The review, in fact, suggests that prolonged stress can produce false memories, causing subjects to lie without even realizing that they are lying.  If you find the review persuasive, you will likely also find Alex Knapp’s analysis devastating; he points out that “expert” opinion seems to entirely disfavor waterboarding.  Sharon Begley offers a summary of the study here.

The FCC publicized its intent to follow up on “net neutrality” regulations.  FCC chair Julius Genachowski gave a speech in which he pledged to use the FCC to keep internet service providers from privileging or impairing (or even blocking) certain sites and applications from their users.  If Richard Koman is right, there could be a strange executive power aspect to this: Several members of Congress are now trying to pass legislation that would block any funding from being used by the FCC to implement these rules; Koman argues that such an amendment would be unconstitutional.  Julian Sanchez, ah, disagrees, in rather spectacular fashion.

The Justice Department said that it will continue to use the “state secrets” doctrine as an absolute bar to some litigation.  However, the DoJ said that they will only do so to prevent “significant harm” to national security.  Ed Brayton reviewed the policy and is convinced that it changes little, if anything.  Daphne Eviatar find several more civil libertarians that agree with him.  Oddly, security maximalists may not be pleased with the news, either.  In any case, only hours after the announcement was made, the DoJ confirmed to Judge Vaughan Walker that it was continuing to assert the privilege.

Ryan Singel reports that the FBI has operated a massive data-mining project that currently contains tens of thousands of records, including information mined from a wide variety of sources.  For instance, the database contains at least 55,000 records from the Wyndham Worldwide system of hotels.

Mark Cuban (yes, that Mark Cuban) reports that unpaid internships are illegal.

More details have been released in the Zazi terrorism case.  Also, an alleged terrorist was arrested in Dallas.  Hat tip to Jesse Walker.

The Department of Health and Human Services issued a “gag order” to insurers, preventing them from using mailings to lobby their own policyholders against health-care reform.  The Wall Street Journal smells a double standard at work.

The White House was lobbied by a Georgia congressman to ignore a candidate for a U.S. attorney position.  The congressman, John Lewis, maintains that he did nothing wrong.

Finally, Ken at Popehat has a simple request for the FBI that I think most of us can support: Please stop having sex with your witnesses.  Warning: profanity at the link.

Photo: Reuters

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