Tuesday, January 22, 2013
Hope isn’t found in any one set of policies; it’s in a process that allows the country as a whole to peacefully debate those policies.
It was in the middle of the president’s victory speech that I started to feel it. Barack Obama had moved on from the perfunctory post-election thank yous to his thoughts on what the election meant. Every victorious politician has an opinion on what the vote totals say about their pet policies. But it wasn’t Obama’s political positions that caught my attention; it was what he had to say about our political system as a whole. “Each of us has deeply held beliefs. And when we go through tough times, when we make big decisions as a country, it necessarily stirs passions, stirs up controversy,” he said after Election Day results came in. “That won't change after tonight, and it shouldn't. These arguments we have are a mark of our liberty. We can…
Monday, May 28, 2012
Victory in war may be a way to achieve a more favorable peace, but it’s not the end in itself.
In hockey, the team with the most goals wins. In football, it’s all about touchdowns and field goals. In boxing, fighters seek a knockout punch. Whatever the sport, coaches and managers have just one goal: Winning. Since the Napoleonic conflicts, many strategists have viewed war the same way. Once the decision has been made to go to war, these strategists argue, all of a nation’s resources should be focused on the singular goal of victory—a victory in which one’s country “imposes its will” on the enemy state. “Victory,” though, is not the point of war. Any conflict—even total war—is nested within a larger strategic framework. Victory may be a way to bring about more favorable conditions, but it is not the end in itself. “You go to war to …
Sunday, May 27, 2012
There can be numerous sides in a war—and it’s not always clear who’s who.
The first time I was in a firefight, I didn’t know who was shooting at me. The attackers were likely firing from the upper story of an apartment building and behind a satellite dish about 50 meters away—at least that’s where the American soldiers were shooting. All that sticks in my mind is dust kicked up by wind and bullets, sparkles as grenade shrapnel hit surrounding debris and nearly unbearable noise. Yet my inability to identify the attackers was as much metaphorical as literal. The gunmen fighting that day never staked out membership in one group or another, and there were a handful of enemies to choose from. That firefight was part of a larger battle in March 2008 (which soldiers inevitably dubbed March Madness). The battle erupted …
Thursday, May 24, 2012
Military force doesn’t create a lasting peace. It creates the conditions in which peace can be pursued through other means.
The ammunition etched the battle’s story into the landscape. Bullet holes pockmarked the buildings around the Sadr City neighborhood. During one patrol, the soldiers took me onto the second floor of a high rise to show off the damage from a missile fired at an insurgent. The explosion had scorched the room’s entire inside. We could see the street below through a missing wall. Yet on that same street, a line of cars waited for Iraqi Police officers’ permission to proceed. Shoppers crowded the market to purchase staples for the week’s meals. Children chatted with the soldiers standing guard. The fighting, it would seem, had forced the insurgents out and brought about peace. That was probably true in the short term. But with limited wars, …
Wednesday, May 23, 2012
Wars are activities nested within larger, enduring confrontations.
The Iraq War launched with spring break. I was on an exchange program at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, and took advantage of the vacation to see more of the state. In the days leading up to the break, it became increasingly apparent that the United States was on track for war with Iraq. Driving between Fairbanks and Kenai, I scanned the Alaskan airwaves for whatever stations penetrated the wilderness. The news that the United States had invaded came through somewhere along an icy rural highway. Memories like these aren’t unique. As humans, we note key dates. We remember where we were when the Twin Towers fell, when JFK was assassinated or when Pearl Harbor was bombed. It helps interpret a complex world. But wars aren’t about dates. …
Monday, February 20, 2012
The congressman said courts should be allowed to force banks to reduce the principal on home loans.
Speaking with KSTP-TV, Rep. Keith Ellison (DFL-Minnesota) said he thinks a law should be passed that would allow courts to force banks to reduce the principal on home loans. "In fairness to some of the banks," he told KSTP, "many of them have re-modified loans and work with people. I don't want to paint too broad of a brush because there have been some good actors in the financial community. But there have been some horrible actors too. And far too many. And the bad ones are not making up for the good ones." Ellison's interview with the TV station was part of a larger story about foreclosure rates by zip code in Minnesota. The 55411 zip code in Minneapolis—which is where Ellison lives—had the most foreclosures in the state since 2006, KSTP…
Monday, October 24, 2011
President Barack Obama announced Friday that the United States will withdraw all of its forces by the end of the year.
On March 20, 2003, the United States military crossed the border between Iraq and Kuwait—marking the start of the Iraq War. More than eight years have passed and nearly 4,500 American troops died since that invasion. Minnesota lost 68 of its neighbors in the war. But that war is set to conclude soon. President Barack Obama announced Friday that the United States will withdraw all of its forces, except for a remnant left behind to guard the U.S. embassy, by the end of the year. So tell us what you think: Is now the right time to leave Iraq?
Monday, May 30, 2011
Amid the rituals, don't forget the messy reality.
The stench of human waste from sewage-drowned streets cut through the evening chill and wafted to the rooftop. There, beneath camouflage netting that shielded them from snipers below, young men with do-it-yourself buzz cuts moshed to thumping rock music, shaking and then stabbing cans of near beer with their boot knives and racing to down the foamy piss. This is how one group of American soldiers, serving in Baghdad, bid farewell to 2008. When their cell phones ticked off the year's final few seconds, a couple of the soldiers fired off parachute flares from their grenade launchers. Across the rooftops, Iraqis celebrated the New Year with bursts from their Kalashnikovs. Today, Americans across the country will take some time to honor …