Readbook: Civilians in Iraq, Victimizing Iran, Identifying Jonathan Bernstein, and Media Multitasking

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More civilians in Iraq. Interesting that within days of President Hamid Karzai issuing a less than reasonable decree banning private security firms in Afghanistan by this fall, the US decides it needs more civilian contractors to protect its diplomatic presence in Iraq after the drawdown of US troops there. 

Victimizing Iran. The Atlantic's debate on bombing Iran continues. Gary Milhollin, executive director of the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control, asks what a strike on Iran would actually accomplish, in tactical terms: which sites or capabilities would be destroyed? Not much, he thinks, and any damage done would be difficult to verify in the absence of outright occupation of the country. OK. The analysis feels a like hinky when Milhollin describes how Iran could gain from the situation: by playing up its post-strike victimhood. There's a certain logic to the argument, as Reuel Marc Gerecht points out, but Milhollin's meaning of victimhood reads strangely, like some sort of limp Westphalian ragdoll - the victim as inert, placid, passive, empty of will and capacity. There's a contradiction, I think, in that a strategy that cultivates such perceptions would seem to imply, by its very deliberateness, more agency than Milhollin's description allows.

Who is Jonathan Bernstein? He tears a toxic strip off Matt Bai for what - in Bernstein's terms - is a poorly supported critique of Obama's ratings:  

Just last month, Matt Bai "discovered" that the source of Barack Obama's troubles was that the Democrats weren't specific enough in their campaign proposals during the 2006 and 2008 campaigns.  He's back again today with yet another explanation for Obama's sagging approval ratings; now, it seems that Americans have soured on Obama because he's too much of a legislator.  It was nonsense then, and it's nonsense now.  It's not complicated at all: Obama's approval ratings have fallen because the economy stinks.  End of story.  Anything else is on the margins...and it's certainly possible that everything else is pushing his ratings up, not down.

I plead no exceptional knowledge of academia or the media, so take what follows next with a grain of salt. Bernstein's author bio has him as a "political scientist" - no affiliations given - and author of "A Plain Blog About Politics"  - which is indeed plain and a blog about politics, again with no identifiable affiliations beyond that one, simple, obscure blog. How odd, especially since Berstein's Bai-attack appears in The New Republic, not generally known for hosting no-name pundits of dubious provenance. 

Media multitasking. Britons, especially young ones aged 18-24 yrs, are adepts, reports the Guardian newspaper, citing a new study.

Travel literatureFive Books is running a great series on "Journeys" - selections on Indian FilmIndian JourneysSoutheast Asian travel literatureVietnamThe Rise of Latin America, and Spain.



Iraq presence. The last US combat convoy has left, video courtesy of CNN.

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