Patraeus-Crocker Hearing: Lots of Questions, No Real Answers

The recent Senate hearing with General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker (or the Surge Twins as section of the press seems to refer to them) did little to re-assure Americans about anything. But it certainly helped confirm what the public had inferred for the most part. Here are some of my takeaways from the hearings.

  1. There is no end in sight. (“We’ll know when we get there, and we don’t know when we’re going to get there.” Senator Evan Bayh)
  2. Things are better than before but not better enough to start withdrawing troops. (We haven’t turned any corners. We haven’t seen any lights at the end of the tunnel.” General Petraeus)
  3. These two gentlemen can’t commit to when troop withdrawals can begin. (“The Champagne bottle has been pushed to the back of the refrigerator. And the progress, while real, is fragile and is reversible,” General Petraeus.)
  4. With the strong support of the President there is going to be no change until his term runs out. (“The top American military commander in Iraq could have all the time he needs before reducing American forces there further,” President Bush.)
  5. Despite the awful situation in Iraq, politicians in Washington can’t bury their partisanship. (“We’re no longer staring into the abyss of defeat, and we can now look ahead to the genuine prospect of success,” Mr. McCain said.)
  6. The Congress can’t do anything about the present situation except wait and watch and enjoy the limelight at hearings and issue tough talk statements in the press.
  7. There is no point blaming these gentlemen or calling them names (thankfully MoveOn didn’t have an ad this time around!), they are just doing there jobs of dealing with a mess that they had little to do with creating.
  8. Sadly, there is going to be no respite for the already overstretched US armed forces.
  9. The US can’t get out of Iraq until it defines what it means by success in Iraq as rightly pointed out by Senator Obama (See, the problem I have is if the definition of success is so high — no traces of al Qaeda and no possibility of reconstitution; a highly effective Iraqi government; a democratic, multi-ethnic, multi- sectarian, functioning democracy; no Iranian influence, at least not of the kind that we don’t like — then that portends the possibility of us staying for 20 or 30 years.If on the other hand, our criteria is a messy, sloppy status quo, but there’s not, you know, huge outbreaks of violence; there’s still corruption, but the country’s struggling along but it’s not a threat
    to its neighbors and it’s not an al Qaeda base; that seems, to me, an achievable goal within a measurable time frame.)
  10. The US invaded Iraq and destroyed Iran’s biggest enemy. The administration promised to find WMDs and found none. There was no Al Qaeda before the US went to Iraq and now they are there in plenty. All the focus is now on Iraq while Afghanistan is getting worse by the day. Despite this deplorable state of affairs, if John McCain wins the White House, the US will continue in America for many years to come (as he himself has mentioned many a time). And if this were to happen the US will be alienating countries around the world who might still willing to co-operate with America to help extricate itself from this awful mess. Voting a Democrat to the White House will at least signal to the world that the American public is serious about a fresh look at its Iraq policy with a strong intent to withdraw its troops.

Kollywood Should Stick To Scripts

The Cauvery water issue which has been a constant source of trouble between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu rears its ugly head ever so often. As usual the Tamil film industry (now often referred to as Kollywood) feels obliged to throw in their support and show their solidarity given that Tamil films become an immediate target when trouble erupts. As always, this results in controversies of its own adding little value to the overall issue.

Very often, these events cause more harm than good. While it is not a bad idea for celebrities to be involved in raising awareness for a cause, it would do a world of good if these individuals stick to their “core competencies”. Without a doubt all of them are capable of attracting the crowds. All of them are at their best when they deliver planned scripted lines. Unfortunately, these events become like election rallies. Instead of serving as peaceful, hunger strike-like events, the stars are obliged to indulge in public speaking (perhaps driven by the vested interests of those stars who are already engaged in politics), most often extempore. The reality is that most of these stars are incapable of delivering a coherent message when asked to speak without a script. The result is unsophisticated language, poor use of words, and ultimately a botched message to the largely adoring public. Actor Sathyaraj’s speech is a perfect example of the kind of dangerous and divisive rhetoric that celebrities must avoid. The only voice of reason in the midst of the hoopla over the stars was that of Kamalahasan, when he said, “I need Rajni, I need Sathyaraj but I also need Kumble”.

Here is a background on the Cauvery issue for those who are interested in the details.

Yahoo-Microsoft Battle Gets Interesting

Yahoo! is shooting in all directions hoping that something falls from the heavens. First it was Google, then it was News Corp., then it was AOL. In short, anyone but Microsoft. But as the deadlines nears and Microsoft and Yahoo try their best to outsmart each other, the battle lines appear to be re-drawn all of a sudden. The mighty News Corp. appears to have joined hands with Microsoft while Yahoo has teamed up with AOL and simultaneously announced an ad deal with Google.

At the moment though it looks like Yahoo will do a deal with any company that wants one! If you put the numbers aside, the Yahoo-AOL merger can be a good one. Both companies are quite lost and desperately in need of new direction. AOL more so, than Yahoo. An merged company with new leadership could keep Wall Street off their backs for a year and half at the least. This could give the companies’ some time to get their act together in the midst of the overall downturn in the market.

The Microsoft-News Corp. combination is bound to be hard to fend off. It would be sad to see Yahoo disappear to an acquisition (my earlier analysis not withstanding) . But at this point, the game is far from over. In fact, it might just be the beginning of a long battle provided Yahoo can turn in some decent quarterly numbers later this month.

Team India: Last Hope at Kanpur

DadaWhatever happened to the idea of a home ground advantage? The Motera curators served South Africa a dream wicket. Team India completed the gift with a disgraceful performance in the first innings . The match was all but over by lunch on day one. The lone highlight of the match for India was Saurav Ganguly’s fighting knock of 87 in the second innings. Ganguly was outstanding. His sweep shots, late cut and straight drives were a terrific addition to his sweetly timed cover drives. But it was too little too late. What India needed was a huge second inning score to make SA bat again. That never materialized and the game was over on day three as expected by many. The curators at Kanpur will do well to prepare an all out spin wicket that gives the home team an advantage. Its about time!

The Openers: Time to Try Pathan Again?

Virender Sehawag is a hit or miss kind of batsman. The last Test was a “hit”, so its not surprising that this Test was a miss. But given the dramatic game-changing nature of his hits he is still worth retaining in the team. His partner Wasim Jaffer has been around for a while but seems to struggle with consistency. His position seems to be in doubt almost every third Test. It won’t be a huge surprise if the Indian captain picked Irfan Pathan again to open in place of Jaffer.

The Number 3 Spot: VVS over Dravid

This a tough call but probably due. Rahul Dravid has been India’s mainstay for many years. But of late he has struggled. Despite the odd good score he is a picture of hard work and determination rather than confidence and control. Unfortunately, the number 3 spot is a pivotal position and needs a free stroking batsman who can take the pressure off even in the event of an early wicket. Unfortunately, Dravid has struggled. In the Chennai Test he walked in with a huge score on board on a dead wicket and struggled instead of keeping up the scoring tempo. In the Ahmedabad Test he walked in early and did pretty much the same. This pattern was on display in Australia as well. The Wall clearly seems to be past its prime. VVS has waited in his shadows for too long. VVS is a very free stroking player and when he is at the crease the score board is always ticking. This is very similar to Ricky Ponting and Sangakkara both of whom do a terrific job for their teams in Test cricket. India could do well to drop Dravid down the order and number four (when Sachin is not around) or number 5 when Sachin gets back on board and move VVS to number three.

India’s Bowling: RP Deserved to Be Sent Packing

RP Singh was a huge disappointment and his dropping for the third Test comes as no surprise. The return of Ishant would be a welcome change. In the spin department, the return of Romesh Powar is a good move. Despite the wickets that Harbhajan has taken in this series and Kumble’s preference to bowl with him in tandem, Powar is a far more aggressive bowler who could serve as a better bet for Test cricket than Harbhajan. Over the years (thanks to ODI) Harbhajan has become a far more defensive bowler with the result that his wicket taking ability in Tests has dropped significantly.

Kumble’s Absence in the Third Test?

If Kumble were to miss the third Test because of fitness trouble it will be very interesting to see MS Dhoni lead the side. In all probability Piyush Chawla, Harbhajan and Romesh Powar will play in the eleven along with Ishant Sharma were Kumble to miss out. Would he include Pathan over Jaffer? The team composition will give us some insight into the future Test captain’s style and preferences. On the other hand there is talk of Dhoni missing out as well due to fitness problems. If that happens Dinesh Karthik’s return might make room for Irfan Pathan in the team ahead of Jaffer.

Dems in Dilemma: More like a Bollywood Climax (from the 80s) than an Epic!

Howard Dean is clearly uncomfortable to openly call for Hillary to withdraw. Shortly after he announced publicly that the candidates’ battle must be settled by July 1, Hillary Clinton swore to fight to the very end. Nancy Pelosi issued statements about the need for super delegates to not go against the popular vote and promptly earned the wrath of Hillary supporters. Other party elders have been calling for Hillary to withdraw. In short, the Democratic party can’t get its act together though it appears as though many in the party want to stand up to the Clintons and bring an early end to this protracted race for the nomination. The immediate side effect being a battle between the two candidates that is getting increasingly nasty. On the one hand, its unfair to ask Hillary to quit simply because at this stage it looks like no candidate will win the required delegates and the super delegates will have the final say. The super-delegate system was setup to precisely decide this kind of eventuality. Besides, she could argue that she could be the better candidate against John McCain just as much as Barack Obama can argue the same. Then why quit the race?

Some like Mario Cuomo prefer a dream ticket. He calls for leadership on the part of the two candidates and for an agreement between the two that the loser will settle for the VP post. This would surely be a “fairy tale” especially because it looks like Hillary Clinton will have to settle for VP. Cuomo’s wish is highly unlikely (and most likely very acceptable to many or I dare say most Democrats) but sounds attractive on paper.

Ultimately, the current situation is a sad reflection of complete lack of leadership in the Democratic party. While some like Bill Richardson and Chris Dodd have announced their candidate affiliations others like John Edwards are playing an endless (self-serving?) waiting game. It appears as though many among the party bigwigs want to see Obama as the candidate (and/or an end of the Clinton hold on the party) but simply don’t have what it takes to achieve this. Instead of working together, isolated statements that expose a fractured party are emerging from all corners of the party further undermining its chances in November.

Senator Obama compared this campaign to a long movie while Senator Clinton responded that she likes long movies. The press refers to it as an “epic” battle. At this stage the campaign appears more like a Bollywood flick that ends with a dreadfully long fight sequence. Unfortunately, this is the time when most movie watchers leave the theater except for the die-hard fans and front-benchers. Maybe Howard Dean can join in the climax with his trademark scream! He surely can’t seem to offer more than that at the moment.

The biggest nightmare that Democrats could have now is that the final scene in the long movie might feature John McCain (in an anti-climax) in the White-house come November.