Sunday, August 31, 2003

Guardian Unlimited Politics | Special Reports | Revealed: How Kelly article set out case for war in Iraq

This piece is extremely misleading. Here's an example:

Kelly's article reveals a hawkish stance on Iraq which will come as some comfort to Number 10. 'Iraq has spent the past 30 years building up an arsenal of weapons of mass destruction [WMD],' he wrote. 'Although the current threat presented by Iraq militarily is modest, both in terms of conventional and unconventional weapons, it has never given up its intent to develop and stockpile such weapons for both military and terrorist use.'

That just isn't hawkish. Many people believed that the only way to conclusively stop Iraq's WMD program was to wage war. I believed this myself. The hard questions were: how serious is the threat? (modest, Kelly believes); how does the threat compare with other current threats, i.e., would a major war be the most prudent measure, given the general strategic threat presented by the global proliferation of nuclear weapons?; would war be justified to deal with a "modest threat"; and so on.

It is the answers to these and other questions that determine whether you were hawkish about the war. If the piece has more evidence of Kelly's position on these questions, it certainly doesn't say.
The Institute for War and Peace Reporting has an amazing collection of photography from Afghanistan and the Caucasas.
Recently, I posted an argument to the effect that the more likely the Palestinians are to accept a one state solution, the more likely they are to get a state of their own. Since then I wrote up the argument in slightly more polished form. Here it is:

The 15 Minute Solution to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

No, I don’t have a solution that will tidy up the entire mess in the Middle East, just like that, in 15 minutes. But I do have a solution that would accomplish more in 15 minutes than the dangerously flawed Roadmap peddled by the so-called Quartet ever will. It’s not perfect, but its flaws will be shared by any viable final settlement, whereas its virtues are singular. It goes like this:

Arafat, or what’s-his-name, or some other respected Palestinian goes on television – excuse me, the radio - and makes the following speech: “My fellow Palestinians, all these years we’ve been fighting for a state of our own. But I’ve been thinking this whole state business over, and I’ve decided that it stinks. If we absolutely have to, I recommend that we settle for a state of our own. But think of what a state it will be. Suppose, best case, we get more or less the 1967 borders; a capital in Jerusalem; the evacuation of the settlements; and, most improbably, fair access to water. Even so, we would be left with an impoverished, militarily weak midget-state in a rough neighborhood of well-armed predators (and I’m not just talkin’ about the Israelis).

“No, no. I’ve got a better idea, and I think we should present it to the Israelis forthwith. Let’s say to the Israelis: ‘Hey, you want it, you got it. Let Israel’s true and undisputed borders stretch from the sea to the river, from the Golan (wait, wait, hear me out!) to Egypt. Let it encompass all of the occupied territories, except let’s stop referring to them as ‘occupied’. We only ask for one thing in return. Let us vote. This is the only price of the land. If the price is right, let’s make a deal pronto. If it’s not, go.’

I call this the 15 minute solution, because I think that’s how long it would take for Sharon to get on the phone with a considerably fairer offer to the PA than anything he’s so far been able to come up with. That’s because nothing gives hard line Israelis the willies as much as moderate Palestinians, and their least favorite moderates are the ones who urge the most intimate kinds of rapprochement between peoples. And in fact the vast majority of Israelis fears precisely this kind of demographic threat, even more than the prospect of many years of suicide bombing. I call this a sure attention-getter.

Nor is this merely a cheap trick to prod the Israelis towards compromise. Although the offer is unlikely to be accepted, the Palestinians ought to genuinely believe that this is the best option – a fact which has been obscured by the relentless focus on a two state solution.

Offering such a choice would be the single most effective way for the Palestinians to clarify the moral status of the noxious settler’s movement - a movement snuck in on the back of an occupation which began as an operation in legitimate self-defense, and ended up focused on the protection of the settlements. The paradox of the settlement activity is that the Israeli government has long coveted the land, without in the least coveting its inhabitants. But either the land belongs at the end of the day to Israel, in which case its inhabitants ought to be given the vote. Or it does not, and the settlement activity comes perilously close to the ideals of South Africa under apartheid (something no amount of fairness to Arab-Israelis could fix).

The dubious moral status of the settlements is admittedly already clear to most observers. Still, the settler’s movement has gotten extraordinary mileage out of the Palestinian refusal to consider just throwing in the towel and joining Israel – a refusal which hasn’t done (non-elite) Palestinians a lick of good. By holding out for a state as the only solution, the Palestinians have allowed Israel to indefinitely defer tough choices about the settlements. “Sure, they’ll go some day. Let’s worry about it when the Palestinians have their own state, i.e., when everybody’s favorite source of non-kosher meat takes wing to the skies.” A Palestinian offer to take the land in exchange for the right to vote forces the main issue into particularly sharp relief: Take or leave it. You can’t do both.

It will be observed that Arafat, a scoundrel and worse, is as unlikely as Sharon to relish the prospect of such a deal. Fine. Let him offer it as a bargaining tactic. And anyway, quite a bit could be accomplished by ordinary Palestinians if they began to discuss the idea openly, to consider it a possibility. This kind of change in thinking doesn’t have to come from the leadership itself to have important effects on negotiations. Polls showing the idea gaining ground among ordinary Palestinians would sent a jolt through political elites on both sides of the bargaining table.

I admit this proposal suffers from the same defects as any other viable solution to the conflict: It can be hijacked by extremists willing to commit atrocities which provoke the other side into retaliation, and so on. Having backed their way into tight respective corners, both sides will find any compromise difficult now. But it’s easier to compromise when you have more options on the table. And oddly, the more willing Palestinians are to relinquish the dream of statehood, the more likely they are to get a state of their own.

If you think this analysis is unserious, consider this brilliant take on the peculiar logic of the settlers' movement in today's Ha'aretz.
The Leiter Reports: Editorials, News, Updates: The Taliban Aren't Only in Texas

This is unfair. Falwell is an ass, but he's still not comparable to the Taliban.

Saturday, August 30, 2003

Some conservatives are complaining that the left is relentlessly focusing on the negative in Iraq, even the point that it secretly prefers a bloodier outcome. Since Bush is thought to be more vulnerable the bloodier the outcome, critics of the admin actually prefer the bloodshed, this line of criticism goes, even though it is innocents who are dying.

I think there's something to that, though it misses a lot of important points. The schadenfreude overseas is palpable. France, Russia, China, Germany and so on want to punish the U.S. for failing to consult them adequately. They want to decisively rebut the neo-con suggestion prior to the war that once the fireworks started, everyone would fall into line. If they don't rebut this idea, the consensus seems to be, U.S. behaviour will only get more willful and more dangerous. I think it is clear that the lives of innocent Iraqis come a very distant second after this main priority among the major players.

At home, there is also palpable glee at the early failures in Iraq and a very real satisfaction in the failure to find WMD, even though the failure to find them hurts the U.S.'s reputation abroad enormously. The focus has tended to present the issue as an intervention which has already failed. Things do look terrible, as I have pointed out many times. But it is premature, I think, to conclude that they will stay that way.

Unfortunately, many people, right and left, are focussed on politics as a game in which points are awarded for various outcomes, and when a critic predicts a dire outcome for the country, it's hardly surprising to see a wedge driven between his desire to see things come out well contrary to his predictions, and his pride in his ability to predict events.

So although it's often difficult to tell what exactly is motivating particular critics of the admin, if I had a God's eye view of the debate, I would not be surprised to see a bit of darkness in the hearts of admin critics.

But this misses many of the legitimate reasons to feel very passionate about how badly things are going in Iraq. I think conservative critics would do well to recall the kinds of charges that they made in the build up to the war. Anti-war groups didn't support the troops (fuck off, we just didn't want them killed for no reason); we're all nervous nellies (look who's nervous now); you're a paranoid conspiracy monger if you doubt the admin's intelligence on Iraq (uh huh); we can't tell you how we know that Iraq is a threat because that would compromise sources (it's safe no - where are they?); the anti-war crowd is naive about the ways of the world (who looks naive and foolish now?); the anti-war crowd doesn't care about the suffering of the Iraqi people (you've just botched a great many chances to really help the Iraqi people). And so on. There was an enormous amount of abuse heaped on the anti-war movement prior to the war and much of it was desperately unfair. So it's not hard to see why many people consider this payback time.
A short post over at the Volokh Conspiracy reads:

Consistency test? Today's New York Times tells us that the bombing in Iraq, which killed a moderate Shiite leader, "dealt a blow to American efforts to establish order..." Other papers have said pretty much the same. But when the United States, or Israel, kills terrorist leaders, are we not told that dozens will rise to take their place, making the movement stronger than ever?

Attacking militants in the occupied territories, especially when it kills bystanders, does presumably help to recruit more radicals. That's because killing anyone tends to polarize groups of people, and adds to a general sense of instability. The killing of the "moderate" (relatively - he has a shady past, but was willing to cooperate in a limited and grudging way with the U.S.) Shiite leader hurts the U.S. precisely because he was moderate.

Kill moderates and moderates are less likely to take their place. Kill radicals, especially in a messy way, and you are likely to get more radicals.

So what's the point? I don't see a problem with consistency here.
If you're looking to put your finger on the neo-con pulse, don't miss Bernard Lewis' piece, Fixing Iraq, which was originally published in the Wall Street Journal. Lewis makes one or two sensible points, but the piece is remarkable mainly for some astonishing howlers.

The praise for Lewis in the popular press, and especially on the neo-con right, is consistently rapturous, so I'm always a little surprised when I read him and find his arguments weak and his grasp of the facts poor. This is, after all, a hoity-toity professor at Princeton, and a man with real influence on the current admin.

What am I talking about? Here are a few examples:

Lewis begins with what he thinks is a surprising contrast between the American experiences in Afghanistan and Iraq. You might think, he argues, that Iraq would go well and Afghanistan not, given their histories. In fact:

In Afghanistan, at first, things did indeed go badly, and there are still problems, both in the country and in the government, but they are manageable. Today with minimal help from the U.S., a central government is gradually extending its political and financial control to the rest of the country and dealing more and more effectively with the problem of the maintenance of order; in Iraq, after an easy and almost unresisted conquest, the situation seems to grow worse from day to day. While the Afghans are building a new infrastructure, Iraqis--or others acting in their name--are busy destroying theirs.

Minimal help indeed. What this proves is that even a professor emeritus looks stupid if he stops reading the paper. The situation in Afghanistan is deteriorating rapidly, in large part precisely because of "minimal help from the U.S." There is no central government, and efforts to rebuild the infrastructure are foundering on fresh attacks which occur daily. In fact, we've probably lost the best chance to rebuild Afghanistan (not that this means giving up) by squandering the very real momentum the U.S. enjoyed after the war.

Lewis goes on to argue that al Qaeda buys into the theory that the U.S. is a paper tiger. I think there's a great deal to that, and bin Laden's public statements give it some corroboration. However, Lewis goes on to argue that the vigorous U.S. response to Sept. 11th has undermined this notion:

The response to this attack, and notably the operations in Afghanistan and then in Iraq, brought a rude awakening, and that is surely why there have been no subsequent attacks on U.S. soil. But the perception has not entirely disappeared, and has been revived by a number of subsequent developments and utterances.

Lewis' "not entirely" obscures just how much the notion has been rebuted by American action. It rests uncomfortably alongside the "surely" of the previous sentence, which is plainly idiotic: There have been no attacks on U.S. soil since 9/11 because they haven't yet managed it and perhaps also because they really are on the run. But there is a difference between being on the run and being cowed. As for bin Laden's own attitudes, Lewis - perhaps out of loyalty to the admin - overlooks bin Laden's recent announcement crowing about his escape from Tora Bora, an escape which appears to have been made possible by U.S. military blunder and indecision. This is an astonishing omission on Lewis' part because it is the singlemost important event for bin Laden since 9/11 and he emerged with his sense of U.S. (lack of) resolve confirmed. Let me just speculate that if a democratic president had been responsible for the getaway at Tora Bora we would be hearing a great deal more about it from Lewis, and from the press in general.

Lewis actually seems to me right about one source of anti-Americanism in the region, but he overrates it to the point of parody:

During the last few months the fear has often been expressed in Europe and America that democracy cannot succeed in Iraq. There is another, greater, and more urgent fear in the region--that it will succeed in Iraq, and this could become a mortal threat to the tyrants who rule most of the Middle East. An open and democratic regime in Iraq, inevitably with a Shiite majority, could arouse new hopes among the oppressed peoples of the region, and offer a corresponding threat to their oppressors. One of these regimes, that of Iran, purports to be Islamic, and was indeed so in its origins, though it has become yet another corrupt tyranny.

There is some good evidence for this attitude towards Iraqi democracy in a number of states in the region, particularly Saudi Arabia. But this source of anti-Americanism depends, paradoxically, on belief in America's good intentions. Lewis fails to note that, alas, confidence in U.S. intentions is not running particularly high these days. So it is a bit of a stretch to call it a "greater, and more urgent fear".

So what should the U.S. do in Iraq?

The best course surely is the one that is working in Afghanistan--to hand over, as soon as possible, to a genuine Iraqi government. In Iraq as in Afghanistan, a period of discreet support would be necessary, but the task would probably be easier in Iraq. Here again care must be taken. Premature democratization--holding elections and transferring power, in a country which has had no experience of such things for decades, can only lead to disaster, as in Algeria. Democracy is the best and therefore the most difficult of all forms of government. The Iraqis certainly have the capacity to develop democratic institutions, but they must do so in their own way, at their own pace. This can only be done by an Iraqi government.

Fortunately, the nucleus of such a government is already available, in the Iraqi National Congress, headed by Ahmad Chalabi. In the northern free zone during the '90s they played a constructive role, and might at that time even have achieved the liberation of Iraq had we not failed at crucial moments to support them. Despite a continuing lack of support amounting at times to sabotage, they continue to acquit themselves well in Iraq, and there can be no reasonable doubt that of all the possible Iraqi candidates they are the best in terms alike of experience, reliability, and good will. It took years, not months, to create democracies in the former Axis countries, and this was achieved in the final analysis not by Americans but by people in those countries, with American encouragement, help and support. Ahmad Chalabi and the Iraqi National Congress deserve no less.

It is difficult to know how to respond to someone who thinks that the U.S. approach is working in Afghanistan, but let me try to pick through this mess. I do agree that holding elections very quickly could easily lead to disaster. For one thing, doing this always favours groups who are able to hit the ground running, and in Iraq that means, remnants of the regime, tribal leaders with dubious principles and religious leaders. Holding elections at a time of maximum instability also means that the stakes are that much higher in the elections, and groups tend to be more vicious when they see themselves competing for their lives as well as votes.
But after talking a good talk about gradual self-determination, Lewis ruins his argument - utterly - by throwing in his lot for Chalabi. This is wrongheaded in a number of ways. Here are two. First, Chalabi would be, and would be perceived as, a foreign imposition. There's nothing discreet about imposing Chalabi on the Iraqis. The man appears to have almost no backing in Iraq. He and the INC appear to be more of a laughingstock. And notice that there is not a single mention of Iraqi public opinion about Chalabi. Lewis doesn't see that there is a difference between legitimate caution in the transition to a democratic government and complete disregard in the meantime for Iraqi public opinion.

The second is that Chalabi is, apart from the lack of support he commands in Iraq, apparently quite unreliable. It's not just the banking scandals, the missing CIA money from the 90s, the run of the mill pre-war exaggerations about his support in Iraq. It's the fact that he was the source of so much of the phony intelligence that (mis)led the U.S. into Iraq in the first place. The yolk on the faces of so many of Lewis' friends in the admin comes from eggs painstakingly collected by Chalabi over the last few years. You would think that some bitterness toward Chalabi would be in order.

Far from bitterness, Lewis refuses the opportunity to reevaluate some of his assumptions about Chalabi. The man is detested not only by Iraqis, but also by significant portions of the U.S. government. A thinly veiled call to install him at the next leader of Iraq does not simply demonstrate that Lewis is out of touch with events in Iraq. It also demonstrates that he's out of touch with American politics. Many people in Washington resent the egg on their respective faces far more than Lewis does. Chalabi is finished as far as they're concerned.

Speaking of the domestic scene, Lewis' remark about "a continuing lack fo support amounting at times to sabotage" is both dishonest and stupid. But Josh Marshall has already done a great take down on this bit, and I'd just be repeating what he says.

Friday, August 29, 2003

North Korea and Iran Want the Bomb - Wouldn't you, too? By Fred Kaplan

Don't miss this excellent piece by Fred Kaplan in Slate.

Thursday, August 28, 2003

The latest from Human Rights Watch.

Egypt: Government Contempt for Basic Political Rights

(New York, August 28, 2003) -- The Egyptian government's decision to charge
five anti-war activists under emergency legislation shows its contempt for
the most elemental right to peaceful dissent, Human Rights Watch said today.

In letters sent today to President Mubarak and Prosecutor General Maher `Abd
al-Wahed, Human Rights Watch urged them to release engineer Ashraf Ibrahim
from detention and to halt politically motivated legal proceedings against
him and four others. The charges against Ibrahim include "communicating with
foreign human rights organizations."

"These charges testify to the poor state of political freedoms in Egypt
today," said Joe Stork of Human Rights Watch's Middle East and North Africa
Division. "The emergency laws under which these men were charged are so broad
and vague that they allow the government to criminalize virtually any manner
of political dissent at will."

The five activists are charged with spreading false information about Egypt
abroad and membership in a banned "revolutionary socialist group." The
indictment also accuses Ibrahim of "sending false information to foreign
bodies-foreign human rights organizations-which include, contrary to the
truth, violations of human rights within the country."

"This blatant attempt to punish peaceful dissent and intimidate others
unfortunately demonstrates what constitutes the truth when it comes to
exercising political rights in Egypt today," said Stork.

Ibrahim, an opponent of the US-led war in Iraq, has been jailed since he
turned himself into the authorities on April 19 following a police raid on
his home. The other four co-defendants went into hiding when the indictments
were announced on August 7. They are Nasr Farouq al- Bahiri, a researcher for
the Cairo-based Land Center for Human Rights; Yahya Fikri Amin Zahra, an
engineer; Mustafa Muhammad al-Basiuni, unemployed, and Remon Edward Gindi
Morgan, a student.

The case has been referred to a Higher Emergency State Security Court. These
tribunals, created under the emergency law, allow no appeal to a higher
judicial body; their verdicts can only be overturned or modified by the
president of the republic.

Article 80 (d) of Egypt's Penal Code carries a prison sentence of up to five
years on any Egyptian who "deliberately discloses abroad false or tendentious
news, information, or rumors about the country's internal situation," or who
"carries out any activity aimed at damaging the national interest of the
country." The defendants were also charged under Article 86 bis of the Penal
Code, passed in a package of anti-terrorist legislation in 1992; it punishes
anyone who founds or joins an organization or association "impairing the
national unity or social peace."

To view the letters, please see
ltr2.htm and

Memo to the Bush admin: Hey, you wanna democratize the Middle East? Me too. Start by pressuring this country (which receives an extraordinary sum of U.S. foreign aid every year) to respect basic rights.
And rebuilding Iraq with good old fashioned American ingenuity.

Does America's mania for charity know any limits?
Winning hearts and minds, one day at a time.
This from Canada's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade:


Foreign Affairs Minister Bill Graham welcomed Rwanda's first pluralist
election since its independence and its first election since the 1994

"Although irregularities were noted prior to the elections, we are pleased
that Rwanda appears to have committed itself to the path of national
reconciliation," said Minister Graham. "We are all aware of the legacy and
consequences of the tragic genocide perpetrated nine years ago. This
election marks the end of the transition period and is a new step in the
country's democratization process."

Canada's team of observers in Kigali confirmed that the August 25
presidential election went relatively smoothly with no major incidents and
that the electoral process was followed. The high participation rate at the
polls deserves mention, as the observers indicated that over 80 percent of
Rwandans turned out to vote.

This is silly. Is an election only marred by what happens on polling day? The "although" that kicks off the penultimate paragraph is insulting to the reader's intelligence. You can't fix serious irregularies in the leadup to an election with a peaceful turnout.

Kagame seems to have passed up the chance to hold a genuinely open election, as and that's what Canada should say.
CBC News: Blair would have quit if dossier sexed up

This is the headline on the CBC News coverage of Blair's testimony in the Hutton inquiry. Virtually identical headlines are affixed to similar stories in lots of other publications.

They're all completely absurd. Blair would have quit? If what? If Blair had decided that Blair had sexed up the dossier?

The headline is an echo of the media strategy, not the facts: his office did sex up the dossier; there was political pressure on the intelligence agencies; the war was dishonestly sold to the people of Britain.

How about: "Blair denies he sexed up dossier".

That's the story.
Don't miss Josh Marshall's takedown of the latest neo-con silliness.
All Sides Failed to Follow 'Road Map' (

An unusually good piece on the conflict.

I'm not sure where we go from here. I do have my own pet solution to the conflict, though I admit it suffers from defects of its own.

First, I agree with a growing number of critics of Oslo that defering "final status" issues is a disaster. If they're going to make peace, both sides are going to need to have a final deal in view. If the quartet absolutely insists on the "matching concessions" model, then they have to take responsibility for monitoring the concessions. Both parties will try to cheat. The cheating needs to be roundly denounced, on both sides.

Second, any final deal with look like this: roughly 1967 borders, with a few swaps for land around Jerusalum. And I'm not talking about swapping shit for prime real estate. The swaps have to be minor and fair. Water issues need to be addressed, not swept under the table. The rest of the settlements have to go. The Palestinians have to give up the right of return, in return for compensation funded liberally by Western governments (especially European ones, and in particular Germany).

Speaking of compensation, there is an idea now floating around that radically liberalizing Western immigration laws for Palestinians might do something to lesson political and population pressures in a fledgling state. As a Canadian, I would be very happy to support this. We might consider some small atonement for the permanent stain on our honour attaching to our rejection of boatloads of Jews fleeing the holocaust. We owe this.

This would give the Palestinians what they say they want: a state of their own.

But for my part, I can't see why they want it.

Even a fair deal would leave the Palestinians with a tiny, impoverished state, suffering from the aftermath of the destruction of so much of its civil society, and permanently at the mercy of much stronger neighbours in a very tough neighbourhood. If I were Palestinian I would be interested in rethinking the assumption that Palestinians need a state of their own. Statehood seems to me second best.

Here's how to achieve this second best option: Offer Israel a choice between the best and the second best option. The best option involves joining Israel in a pluralistic state. Absurd to talk about at this point, I admit, but here's how to solve the conflict in 15 minutes. Arafat makes a major address to the Palestinian people which goes like this: "My fellow Palestinians, all these years we've fought for a state, and for what? A state of our own would be a disaster at this point. I have a better idea. Let's say to the Israelis, hey, you want it, you got it. Let Israel's true and internationally accepted borders reach from the sea to the river, and from the Golan (wait, hear me out, this is in our best interests!) to Egypt. Let it include all the occupied territories, except let us no longer refer to the territories as occupied. We only ask for one thing: Let us vote. Make us cititizens. This is the only price of the land."

Now, Israel is never going to take them up on this, but allowing for this possibility would tend to bring things into a clearer focus. Either Israel accepts the deal, in which case (however unlikely), the Palestinians can bring their fight straight to the ballot box. Or (far more likely), Israel comes under enormous pressure, far more pressure than terrorism could ever exert, to make a deal and quick or face the reality that their country is more and more resembling an Apartheid regime (straight up comparisons are unfair because Arab Israelis, for all their problems, enjoy many benefits that blacks could only dream of under Apartheid). It would also bring the settlement issue into focus: "What are you doing with this land," everyone could ask, "if you don't accept responsibility for it? If you accept responsibility for it, make the people who live on it citizens. Otherwise, get the hell out of there." As it is, many Israelis want to have their cake and eat it too: Framing the issue this way would force them to make the choice.

It's heretical to suggest this, but these are the only two long term solutions to the conflict.

I confess the main problem with this plan is that people are far too polarized at this point, far too bitter, to agree to much. Both sides have backed into a corner, and extremists can derail any conceivable deal by provoking the other side into retaliation. Still, if you want a solution, this is it.
U.S. Now Signals It Might Consider U.N. Force in Iraq

The focus these days is on whether and how the U.S. should back down on the issue of internationalizing the occupation of Iraq. Not enough attention is being paid to the fact that, if the occupation is internationalized, it won't just be the U.S. backing down. Much of the force of the rhetoric coming from Germany, France, and co. in the buildup to the war came from an implied threat: if that's how the U.S. wants to be, then it's not going to have any help afterwards. So although everyone is now kicking and screaming to see things internationalized, that may be partly because they're doubtful that the U.S. is going to call their bluff. After all, calling the bluff means that these countries can no longer punish U.S. misbehaviour prior to the war, and giving that up means retrospectively diminishing the force of the rhetoric. And in international relations, you avoid doing this if you can.

Not only that, but Iraq is, everybody notices, quite dangerous. Suppose you internationalize the occupation with very generous concessions from the U.S. which make it irresistable for more parties to get involved. Given the unpopularity of the war, how many casualties, exactly, can other countries be expected to bear? Or more to the point, how many casualties will public opinion in these other countries tolerate? My guess is that the number is vanishingly small in many of the countries where the war was least popular.

Failure to see the implications of this is now fueling pie-in-the-sky hopes that the whole thing would work out if only we could get everyone on board.

People are content to talk about internationalization, but at the end of the day it would still be the internationalization of a conflict that the international community has decisively rejected. Add to this the fear that internationalizing the conflict would retrospectively legitimize it, and you can see that it's easier to get on your soapbox and sound off about internationalization than to describe how exactly the very real rift between the parties could be mended.

This is not to knock internationalization, of course. The point is simply that the time to internationalize the conflict was before the war. You can't press recklessly ahead with some plan and then bring everyone on board once it's a fait accompli. After a while they dig their heels in - not just out of pique (though, lord knows, it includes that), but out of desire to make a point that will get them a more effective hearing the next time.

So don't expect a compromise to emerge from the latest wrangling at the U.N. The U.S.'s allies are unlikely to hand the U.S. even a rhetorical victory on this one, and if they do, don't expect much substance from it. I'm afraid that with its rhetoric the Bush admin has succeeded in mobilizing a powerful desire to contain the U.S. Containment won't, of course, take particularly active forms. Rather, it will most likely take the form of a slow, passive refusal to help where help is needed.

And now more than even help is needed.
Juan Cole continues his superb job of providing updates and commentary on Iraq. Highly recommended.

I found it particularly gratifying to see Cole make the following remark:

*Richard Perle, powerful member of the Defense Advisory Board that counsels the Pentagon, has "admitted" that the US "made a mistake" in not working more closely with the "Iraqi opposition." The press even seems to be buying this load of horse manure and reporting it with a straight face. All Perle is doing is criticizing the State Department and the CIA for refusing to work with the corrupt expatriate financier Ahmad Chalabi, who seems to have struck some sort of shady deal with the Defense Department that if they would only put him in power, he'll give them everything they want (including Iraqi recognition of and provision of oil to Israel). Actually, refusing to preside over the coronation of Chalabi, who has no support whatsoever inside Iraq, was among the few things the US got right. The CIA and State called this one.

This was exactly the reaction I had to the news when it broke yesterday.

Wednesday, August 27, 2003

Perle Cites Errors in Iraq, Urges Power Transfer

This is the closest to self-criticism Perle's ever going to get. My favorite line:

"Our principal mistake, in my opinion, was that we didn't manage to work closely with the Iraqis before the war, so that there was an Iraqi opposition capable of taking charge immediately," he said.

Principal mistake, indeed. Translation: "State and the CIA didn't go along with my Chalabi-lovin' friends at the AEI. They're to blame."

There's another worrying suggestion that you can expect to see pick up steam, on both the right and the left, in the next few months:

Today, the answer is to hand over power to the Iraqis as soon as possible," he added.

This is predictable advice, from someone who was willing to play the "Don't you care about Iraqis?" card, but surely never really gave a shit about the people he wanted to "liberate" (unlike people like Hitchens, who, I believe, really were sincere). Prematurely transfering power would also have predictable results. For better or worse, the U.S. has no made a committment, and to pull out too early would be disasterous and disasterously irresponsible.

BBC NEWS | Middle East | Arafat calls for new ceasefire

A transparent power play. He wants to make himself seem indispensible. Alas (for all involved), he may be right.
Bush, Speaking to Veterans, Says Iraq May Not Be Last Strike


Unlike the earlier rhetoric, this is just bluster, perhaps in anticipation of the N. Korea talks. By invading Iraq, the U.S. has severely restricted what it can now do - precisely the opposite of its intended effect.
Philosophy in a Time of Terror: Dialogues with Jurgen Habermas and Jacques Derrida, excerpt

This link courtesy of Brian Leiter. Derrida comes across as deliciously silly. My favorite bit (you have to read the rest to really get the full flavour):

We do not in fact know
what we are saying or naming in this way: September 11, le 11 septembre,
September 11. The brevity of the appellation (September 11, 9/11) stems
not only from an economic or rhetorical necessity. The telegram of this
metonymy-a name, a number-points out the unqualifiable by recognizing that
we do not recognize or even cognize that we do not yet know how to
qualify, that we do not know what we are talking about.

To which we can only say, "Hmmmm, speak for yourself, Jacques. You may not know what you're talking about. I use 'Sept. 11th' to refer to the occasion on which some loonies flew a plane into the WTC and the Pentagon. Any objection to offhandedly referring to 1789? Why not?"
Guardian Unlimited | World dispatch | Get real

The money graf:

When Rumsfeld and Bremer say there is no need for extra troops, what they really mean is that it is preferable to tolerate the current level of casualties and sabotage than it is to expand the security force. They are also gambling on a gradual reduction in violence as those responsible for attacks are rounded up or killed, and hidden supplies of explosives and ammunition start to run out.
Follow this link to get a taste of theastonishing ignorance among top leaders of Hamas.

Again, I hate Israeli policies: they're mostly stupid and counterproductive. And I think I'm open to quite radical critiques of the occupation. But there is a serious question here: How do you make peace with this?

Tuesday, August 26, 2003

This is funny, but it's also important to see that this test of character is unfairly biased in favour of idiots like Reagan and Bush Jr who may sometimes not be lying, but whose sin is culpable ignorance or ideological fervour.

(By the way, they certainly weren't trying very hard when they went digging for Clinton's lies.)
Here's a press release from Public Citizen. I'm not an economist, so I'm not sure what to make of it. I'm a little curious why they don't mention the current high price of crude that is a direct result of the, ahem, unrest in Iraq. Still . . . seems worth considering.

Public Citizen Press Releases
Providing the latest information about Public Citizen activities

Aug. 26, 2003

Skyrocketing Gas Prices Are Result of Consolidation of Big Oil
Companies and Opposition to Improved Fuel Economy Standards

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Record increases in gasoline prices are socking
Americans in the pocketbook as the Labor Day weekend approaches, but
instead of promoting policies that would moderate prices - such as
stronger fuel economy standards and tighter oversight of Big Oil -
Congress is steering toward passage of anti-consumer energy legislation
that would do little but shower billions in taxpayer subsidies on energy

The nationwide average price for gasoline soared to a new all-time
record on Monday, hitting $1.75 per gallon - just in time for one of the
heaviest driving seasons of the year.

Some industry analysts blame a broken pipeline in Arizona and the
temporary shutdown of seven refineries due to the massive electricity
blackout in the Northeast. But such disruptions occur periodically and
would not cause this type of price spike if the government promoted
conservation and exercised proper oversight of the industry by, for
example, requiring oil companies to maintain minimum reserves and
adequate inventories.

A bigger problem, on the supply side, is industry consolidation that
gives a handful of companies tremendous pricing power through mechanisms
such as keeping inventories of crude oil and refined gasoline low in
advance of peak demand periods. On the demand side, the number of
gas-hogging sport utility vehicles has more than tripled since 1992 (to
nearly 22 million) and the number of pickup trucks has grown by 40
percent (to 38 million). But the federal government has not upgraded
fuel economy standards significantly since the 1970s, and the Senate
version of energy legislation contains new hurdles to raising those

The proliferation of SUVs and pickup trucks has reversed the course of
oil savings that began with the passage of Corporate Average Fuel
Economy (CAFE) standards in 1975, following the Arab oil embargoes. Even
though they are used much like cars, SUVs are treated as "light trucks"
and have more lenient fuel economy requirements.

"Strengthening fuel economy standards would make motorists and our
economy less vulnerable to supply disruptions, market manipulation and
price shocks," said Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook. "Congress
should be focusing on conservation, but instead it is pursuing an energy
bill that gives away billions in taxpayer dollars to big energy
companies with no savings for consumers or help for the environment."

In terms of gasoline consumption, the average 2002 model SUV uses 40
percent more gasoline than an average 2002 model car for a 100-mile
trip. Largely as a result of the SUV proliferation, the average fuel
economy of the U.S. passenger vehicle fleet declined from 21.7 miles per
gallon (mpg) in 1992 to 20.4 mpg in 2002, the lowest level since 1981.
Less efficiency triggers greater demand for gasoline, putting pressure
on prices.

SUV owners also pay significantly more at the gas pumps. With gas
prices at $1.66 per gallon (the average price on Aug. 25), the driver of
the average 2002 model SUV would pay $9.59 to drive 100 miles, while the
driver of an average 2002 car would pay $6.83. (For an additional fact
sheet, please visit )

On the supply side of the equation, as a result of mergers, the five
largest oil companies operating in the United States now control 61
percent of the domestic retail gasoline market, 48.5 percent of the
domestic oil refinery market and 50 percent of domestic oil exploration
and production. ExxonMobil, ChevronTexaco, ConocoPhillips, BP and Shell
also control 15 percent of the world's oil production. These top five
corporations now produce more oil everyday than Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and
Yemen combined.

"It is no surprise that gasoline prices are skyrocketing as we approach
Labor Day weekend," said Wenonah Hauter, director of Public Citizen's
Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program. "This is what you get when
you have a handful of mega-corporations dominating the market, and it is
what we predicted when the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) allowed
massive consolidation of the oil industry in 1999 and 2000."

These new mega-corporations are involved in all facets of the oil and
gas industry: exploration, production, refining, transportation and
retail sales. This vertical integration has resulted in a handful of
corporations controlling a substantial chunk of the domestic oil and gas
market, allowing them to artificially inflate prices and take advantage
of any supply disruptions by gouging consumers.

In March 2001, the FTC reached a curious conclusion about high gasoline
prices in the Midwest. While it claimed that no collusion had taken
place under current law, it found that "conscious (but independent)
choices by industry participants" to intentionally withhold supplies
resulted in artificially high prices. The report, however, did not
publicly name the names of the companies it alleged to have inflated
prices, since the FTC considered the information proprietary.

In response to this latest gasoline crunch, Public Citizen urges that:

- Congress raise CAFE standards for all passenger vehicles, including
SUVs, to 40 mpg, to be phased in by 2015;
- The federal government require oil companies to maintain sufficient
reserves and inventory to reduce price volatility;
- Congress immediately conduct hearings to determine the cause of price
spikes and conduct regular reviews of the status of competitive markets
in the oil industry; and,
- Congress reject the current energy legislation pending in a
House-Senate conference committee.
A Press Release from the Council of Canadians:


AUGUST 19, 2003

Maude Barlow on the Mexican authorities “watch list” for WTO Meeting

OTTAWA, ONTARIO – Maude Barlow, the National Chairperson of the Council of Canadians, is listed on a “watchlist” of people that Mexican police and military will be observing very closely in Cancun, Mexico, site of the 5th WTO Ministerial Meeting, according to a leaked document made public yesterday by the Mexican newspaper Reforma.

Ms. Barlow is among three Canadians whose name appears on the list. Diane Matte, former President of the Fédération des femmes du Québec and writer Naomi Klein, author of No Logo and Fences and Windows, are also listed as “globalphobes” who will be under scrutiny by the Mexican police and military in Cancun.

“This is sickening,” says Barlow. “We are listed for no other reason that we disagree with the powers that be on the effects of economic globalisation. The message is clear: if you have a dissenting opinion from your government’s, then you are a potential threat.

“On the other hand, what can you expect of an organisation that decided to hold its previous gathering in a place, Qatar, where protests are illegal? The ironic thing is that WTO officials are always offended when we remind them how their organisation is working against democracy… What could be more undemocratic than putting a tag on opponents of your philosophy, of your ideology?

“The fact of the matter is, the WTO proceedings are highly controversial and the whole international trade debate should be transferred to the public and political stage, from where it has consistently been absent. The WTO negotiations will be affecting millions of citizens without them having much of a say on the desirability of the WTO policies. No one should be surprised that much of civil society feels excluded and powerless.”

The list includes some very well known names, of the North and the South, all of them active in denouncing economic and corporate globalisation or putting forward alternative systems of international trade. Listed on the police/military document are:
Noam Chomsky, MIT Faculty and outspoken critic of U.S. Foreign Policy (U.S.);
Ralph Nader, consumer advocate and former leader of the Green Party (U.S.);
Ignacio Ramonet, Editor-in-Chief of the widely respected Le Monde diplomatique (France);
Lori Wallach, Director of Global Trade Watch, a division of Public Citizen (U.S.);
Waldon Bello, Economist and director of Focus on Global South (Philippines);
Vandana Shiva, Director of the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology (India);
Barbara Stocking, Director of OXFAM Great Britain;


For more information, please contact:
Jean-Yves Lefort, Trade Campaigner, 613.233.4487 ext. 249
Guy Caron, Media Relations (in Ottawa) - 613.233.4487 ext. 234
The Best of George W. Bush - The bravest thing he ever did. By William Saletan and Ben Jacobs

The fact that the decision was made to go to war in the summer of 2002 is finally getting some play. Here's another example.

Remember, you heard it here first . . . if you were reading me then, which you were most likely not.
This link on Afghanistan provided courtesy of my favourite blog, TPM. I'm afraid that whatever momentum they had in Afghanistan is now gone. Or rather, squandered.
UN watchdog eyes Iran's atomic program

More evidence of Iranian shenanigans. Now, the theory was that invading Iraq would help transform the region, not only by breaking the OPEC cartel but also by allowing the US to put more direct pressure on Syria and Iran. And in fact critics of the admin often bought this premise, including myself: One of the big fears on the left was that that invading Iraq would empower the admin to do even riskier things, that it would lead to even more reckless adventurism. I think it's fair to say that this very assumption was a selling point for some people in the pro-war camp. (We also worried that what is happening would happen. But I think that I'm describing a real pre-war fear here.)

We were all to the extent that we were afraid of this, wrong. Now, as the U.S. turns its attention to the Iranian nukes program, it finds itself a) enormously burdened down by complications in Iraq; b) enormously burdened by the diplomatic damage it recklessly incurred in the buildup to war; and c) fighting an up-hill battle in terms of credibility, which has been shredded by the rhetoric it used in the buildup to war.

All of this means that the U.S. has considerably less freedom of movement now than it did a year ago. Now that's it has put its chips on the table, it can't easily threaten to move them anywhere else very quickly.

Now, there are two kinds of criticism you can level here. The first is the moral criticsm of the policy, focusing on hypocrisy, viable alternatives to war, etc. The admin clearly doesn't give a crap about that. The other criticism is to argue that the policy is incompetent: that, given the goals of the admin, the policy has been poorly formulated to achieve them. Although it's likely to be brushed off too, I think this one stings people in the admin, who see themselves as masterfully competent.
Earlier, I referred to a controversy about Daniel Pipes. Pipes now responds to critics in a piece published, among other places, in Canada's National Post.
Rising Toll Shows U.S. Challenges (

Here's the lead:

With the death yesterday of another U.S. soldier in Iraq, the number of U.S. troops who have died there since May 1, when President Bush declared an end to major combat operations, rose to 138 -- the same number as perished during the six weeks of fighting that marked the fall of Baghdad and its immediate aftermath, according to Pentagon records.

Note the "major" there in "major combat operations". There's no excuse for that adjective after the publication, a day or so ago, of this piece on how the White House retroactively changed the wording from "combat operations" to "major combat operations".
Dust and Deception

I've written about the recent EPA report. Here's Krugman's take on it.

(One point: Krugman can't see any possible explanation for the admin's behaviour except budgetary concerns. But surely they were also concerned to limit the sense of immediate danger as well (while hyping the sense of general danger from a future attack for political gain).

Monday, August 25, 2003

Hey, screwing the Russians and the French in the reconstruction business is just par for the course. Butcutting the poor Italians out? That's just shabby.
From the UN News Service:

New York, Aug 25 2003 2:00PM
The senior United Nations envoy for the Middle East, Terje Roed- Larsen, today condemned Israel's extra-judicial assassination on Sunday of four Palestinians, when helicopter gun-ships fired missiles into a car in Gaza City, reportedly killing a Hamas militant and three Islamic University students.

Mr. Roed- Larsen, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, reiterated the world body's consistent and vocal opposition to such assassinations.

Israel clearly has a right to live in peace and security, Mr. Roed-Larsen said in a statement, but no country can resort to these extra-judicial measures.

He urged all parties to halt violent actions and immediately re-engage in a constructive process toward peace, as outlined in the Road Map, the plan drawn up by the UN, United States, European Union and Russian Federation that calls for Israel and the Palestinians to take a series of parallel and reciprocal steps culminating in the achievement of two states living side by side in peace by 2005.

The Acting High Commissioner for Human Rights, Bertrand Ramcharan, has also condemned acts of violence by both the Israeli and Palestinian sides over the past week and appealed to all parties to refrain from any further violence and to do their utmost to control those who commit terrorist acts against civilians or engage in the disproportionate use of force.

Mr. Ramcharan called last week's Palestinian suicide bombing in Jerusalem, which killed 20 people, "senseless and repulsive violence" but also referred to subsequent Israeli military operations and extra-judicial killings.

"Such acts of violence on both sides are severe and unacceptable breaches of the truce agreed upon by the Palestinian Authority and Israel and work against all efforts carried out so far within the Road Map process to achieve a just and sustainable peace in the region," he said in a statement.

Claims about WMD 'may have been excuse rather than reason for war

Notice the criticism at the bottom: That the decision seems to have been made during the summer. As this site has repeatedly stressed, there's a great deal of evidence that the decision to go to war was made - at least by the Americans - sometime during the Summer (a decision that was firming up in late Spring).

U.S. Said to Plan Bigger Afghan Role, Stepping Up Aid:

(Thanks to Slate for the link and for drawing attention to this passage in the piece.)

The money quote:

A new Rand Corporation study examining American 'nation building' efforts beginning with postwar Germany found that while there were 18.6 peacekeepers per thousand people in Bosnia and 20 in Kosovo, the 4,800 international peacekeeping force in Kabul amounts to 0.18 peacekeepers per thousand Afghans. Even including the 11,500 mostly American combat troops here, the statistic is well under one peacekeeper per thousand Afghans.
Per capita external assistance for the first two years of conflict in Bosnia was $1,390 and in Kosovo $814, the study found. In Afghanistan, it is $52.
The BBC strikes back.
Thank goodness the world finally took decisive action to save the people of Liberia.
Jewish terror and its sources

The question is, what would happen if the Israeli government tried to withdraw from the occupied territories? Would Israel be able to contain its own extremists? These groups are easily contained now, mostly because the government does so much of their work for them. But what if the government stopped doing that? What then?
A Weapons Cache We'll Never See

Scott Ritter gets an "I told you so" moment.

Sunday, August 24, 2003

Campbell talked up Iraq's nuclear threat

Oops. Campbell hallucinates dates and British intelligence goes along with it.

I just knew at the time that 1 to 2 years couldn't be right, even in the worst case. Wish I'd written that in the blog. Oh well, believe me or not.
The Memory Hole > White House Alters Webpages About Iraq Combat

Whoops! Why bother trying to get away with this nonsense, if you know people are going to notice?

Oh yeah, because the media will probably roll over and play dead.
Yahoo! News - Experts Doubt U.S. Claim on Iraqi Drones

This is hardly surprising. Still annoying, though.
Do What It Takes in Iraq

Oooo. The tide is turning. If admin lackeys start to criticize policy, you know there's a problem. (Of course, it's also clever ass covering: "It wasn't my advice that sucked; it wasn't followed properly.")
I'm now up to anaverage of 9 hits per day!. And I'm clearly becoming an international sensation!.


Of course, some of those hits are me. Many of them, poor souls, are directed here by Google. Most, I confess, never return. I notice that even my own mother rarely visits here anymore.

Still, no one ever said the path to fame and internet stardom would be easy.

(And welcome to a new reader, Brad. Hey Brad! How's it going?)
Taking Arabs Seriously

Check out this piece by Marc Lynch in Foreign Affairs, the journal where the establishment goes to talk to itself. Lynch's point is that a number of flawed assumptions dominate thinking about the Middle East. Here's a consise statement of the main ones:

One such assumption is that Arabs respect power and scorn attempts at reason as signs of weakness -- and so the way to impress them is to cow them into submission. Another assumption is that Arab public opinion does not really matter, because authoritarian states can either control or ignore any discontent. Still another is that anger at the United States can and should be disregarded because it is intrinsic to Islamic or Arab culture, represents the envy of the successful by the weak and failed, or is simply cooked up by unpopular leaders to deflect attention from their own shortcomings. And a final, increasingly common notion is that anti-Americanism results from a simple misunderstanding of U.S. policy. Together, these concepts have produced an approach that combines vigorous military interventions with a dismissal of local opposition to them, offset by occasional patronizing attempts to 'get the American message out' (through well-intentioned but ineffective initiatives involving public diplomacy, advertising, and the promotion of radio stations featuring popular music). Not surprisingly, the result has been to alienate the very people whose support the United States needs in order to succeed.

You might think that all this is too obvious to need stating . . . until you look at the policies and the people who make them. (It is nice to see the idea that Arabs are singularly impressed by "strength" challenged. If you were casting about for a racist stereotype, wouldn't you look in the other direction? Just asking!)
Rather, argues Lynch:

The United States needs to approach regional public diplomacy in a fundamentally new way, opening a direct dialogue with the Arab and Islamic world through its already existing and increasingly influential transnational media. Such a dialogue could go a long way toward easing deep-seated anger over perceived American arrogance and hypocrisy and could address the corrosive skepticism about Washington's intentions, which colors attitudes toward virtually everything the United States does. It might also help nurture the very kinds of Arab liberalization that the Bush administration claims to seek.

And again:

Rather than shun them out of pique, the United States should try to change the terms of debate in the Arab world by working through them and opening a genuine dialogue. Doing so effectively, however, will require more than simply sending more officials onto talk shows, especially because all too often such appearances only confirm the viewers' worst stereotypes. On one recent al Jazeera program, for example, a running survey tallied votes on the question, "Is the United States acting as an imperialist power in Iraq?" The longer a prominent former U.S. official talked, the more voters said yes, with 96 percent voting yes by the end of the show.

And once again:

It is conceivable, therefore, that more honest and less overbearing diplomacy by the Bush administration might have produced greater international support for a campaign against Saddam, even in the Arab world. But Washington chose not to go that route, relying instead on calculations that Arab public opinion would be won over by a quick and clean American victory in Iraq followed by images of Iraqis welcoming U.S. troops as liberators. Radicals would be shocked and awed by U.S. military prowess, the argument ran, while mainstream Arab publics would be impressed by the gratitude of the Iraqi people for their newfound freedom. Anti-American voices would be discredited, opening a window for new thinking and self-criticism.

The current American attempts at propoganda in the Middle East and simplistic and naive. What's needed is a more genuine dialogue:

Arabs and Muslims recognize and dismiss such efforts as propaganda, something they are quite familiar with from their own regimes. They are angered at being treated like children and feel the sting of contempt in being objects of manipulation rather than true interlocutors. As one Egyptian bitterly complained, "Americans think Arabs are animals, they think we don't think or know anything." Only by treating Arabs and Muslims as equals, listening carefully and identifying points of convergence without minimizing points of disagreement, will a positive message get through. It may be uncomfortable -- particularly for this administration -- but Washington needs to put its own interests and viewpoints up for discussion as well, rather than focusing solely on Arab pathologies. And words will have to be matched by deeds if they are to have any chance of persuading a highly suspicious and skeptical audience. . . . Successful dialogue requires minimizing power considerations and demonstrating mutual respect. Obviously, no U.S.-Arab dialogue could or should avoid the reality of American power, but invoking that superiority too directly would cripple efforts at rational persuasion. Arab and Islamist commentators focus obsessively on the imbalance of power and hardly need to be reminded of their weakness. Relying on "shock and awe" to win respect will alienate far more than it will persuade. Threats of force, no matter how useful in the short term, will entrench the impression of American hostility and ensure future conflict.

This is about as sensible a piece as you're likely to read in Foreign Affairs. Unfortunately, it is also defective in the conventional-wisdom way that Foreign Affairs is so often defective. The author spends almost the entire piece talking about a respectful dialogue, and precious little time on the fundamentals of the policies that people in the Middle East find so abhorent. Yes, I concede that the Arab media is, as far as I can tell, as biased and unfair as Fox News. But doesn't Lynch fall into the trap of condescending to Arabs by focussing so intently on American rhetoric rather than American behaviour? (He does, towards the end of the piece, address some real policies that are also a problem. But his recommendations are shallow and so incomplete that they would still leave U.S. policy deeply and persistently unjust.) Without a serious change in American behaviour, no amount of window dressing is going to solve the U.S.'s PR problem in the region, and to think otherwise really is to fall into the trap of seeing Arabs and gullible, naive, and easily manipulated.
BBC NEWS | World | Africa | Activists held ahead of Rwanda poll

This is all so painfully stupid since Kagame was going to win anyway. What a waste of a chance . . .
British Aim to Defuse Tensions With Iraqis (

The story contrasts U.S. practices with British ones, to the decided advantage fo the British. Of course, the British have an easier job to do in the South, but still . . . It is stories like this, combined with the obvious lack of interest in the American military on strategically essential jobs like peacekeeping, that make one wonder if there's not a serious culture problem in the U.S. military.
11 Killed In Ethnic Violence In N. Iraq (

. . . Worrying because the North has been surprisingly quiet recently. . . (Long term, of course, it's a ticking bomb.)
Microsoft Windows: Insecure by Design (

Man, I wish I'd had the money to stay with Apple.

Saturday, August 23, 2003

Telegraph | News | 'Road map' in shreds as Arafat halts purge

The PA is now claiming that Arafat was on the verge of ordering a purge of militant groups . . . if only Israel hadn't assassinated a leader of Hamas! This is a fairly transparent lie - so transparent that there is no excuse for that stupid headline. Every single Israeli strike is followed by some such annoucement, often that Hamas was on the verge of proclaiming a ceasefire. When you look at the details of the "ceasefire", though, the fine print always has a "and the Jews will be pushed back to the sea" clause.

The Israeli assassination policy is idiotic and immoral, but let's not kid ourselves. Arafat had no intention of ordering a purge.

(By the way, the PA line all along has been that this was too difficult without significant concessions from Israel. Now they were going to pull it off after tensions have been racheted up that many more notches? Give me a break. Either he could or he couldn't. If he could, he should have earlier. If he couldn't, then this is a silly lie.)

(Also by the way, the NYT noted in a piece recently that the Hamas leader killed was actually - by Hamas' standards - fairly moderate. Precisely the sort of person you would want to attempt, if you were serious about peace, to coax into a more moderate position. It's not surprising that the IDF went after him. Potential moderates are the most dangerous militants of all, and the Israelis, just like the Palestinians, never miss a chance to pass up an opportunity.)
It's easy to see why politicians lie when there's little danger of being caught. But here's a question: why do they lie when there's a very good chance of being caught? And why do they continue to lie after they've been caught?

It's a big question, but part of the answer, I suspect, has to do with some of the norms of reporting. The relevant norms here are:

a) If there's a broad consensus among the main political players that X is true, then the media will report X as true. If X is false, and known by the media to be false, then reporting on X will, at best tack on the qualifier "widely believed to be" before any mention of X, and usually leave it at that.

b) If there's disagreement among the main political players about X, then the issue is considered controversial. This difference in status is crucial. A controversial issue is typically (not always, but usually) treated as a "he said/he said" affair, with the media declining to "take sides".

c) Given any political dispute among the main political players about X, the default position for the media is to split the difference. There are plenty of exceptions, but the midpoint between the two positions defines, roughly, the centre of gravity for reporting about the issue.

Now, sometimes the media will call a spade a spade in the most blatant cases. But there are quite a few issues, some of them quite blatant, in which one side is clearly mistaken or lying and the media takes refuge behind the second norm rather than simply reporting the facts.

These norms go very deep into our political culture. And they are, at best, an attempt to mediate as neutrally as possible disagreements about which reasonable people will disagree.

But they are also at the root of a great deal of disfunction in our political culture.

The case of lying is a good example. If a politician screws up, and admits it, the first norm means that it will be reported very widely. The third norm guarantees that if the politician's opponents capitalize and exaggerate the screw up, the media will over-report the error. These norms work together to produce an atmosphere in which politicians rarely take responsibilty for screwups, and against that background any admission of error appears especially scandalous. After all, why is the politician admitting to something if it isn't very serious?

Now, suppose the politician who has screwed up - against all evidence, and very plainly - lies. Now we have a dispute and the second norm usually requires the media to report the conflict as a dispute rather than as a lie. And the third norm tends to lead the press to assume that the truth, at least for the purposes of the pieces they're writing, lies somewhere in between.
Check out these two pieces on the EPA's response to concerns about air quality in New York after 9/11. Now, if I recall, it was only the frickin Village Voice which ran a story about this at the time, scooping both these papers by almost 2 years.

I was uncertain at the time what to think about the Voice piece. On the one hand, it seemed alarmist, and I was also surprised that none of the mainstream press picked up the story. I also doubted that the EPA would squander its reputation with a lie which would be easy to refute, and whose refutation would seriously erode public trust the next time it was needed.

I see now how very naive these assumptions were.

EPA Pressed to Call Air Safe After 9/11, Report Says (

EPA's 9/11 Air Ratings Distorted, Report Says

MEMRI: Incitment in the Palestinian Authority After the Aqaba Summit

They call themselves the "Middle East Media Research Institute," but I never see articles critical of the Israeli press. Also, it's very hard for a non-Arabic speaker to judge whether the selection of materials is fair. Nevertheless, it's usually interesting material, and this is no exception.

Friday, August 22, 2003

The Latest from Human Rights Watch. Hate to admit it, but they're right:

Iraq: "Chemical Ali" Should Get Fair Trial
International Participation is Key to Justice Effort

(New York, August 22, 2003) -Iraqi Gen. Ali Hassan al-Majid ("Chemical
Ali") should be prosecuted on charges of genocide, war crimes, and
crimes against humanity, Human Rights Watch said today. International
judges, prosecutors, and investigators should participate in the trial
so that it is fair, impartial, and independent.

"The capture of `Chemical Ali' presents a rare opportunity to bring a
measure of justice to the countless victims and their families who
suffered under Ba'ath Party rule," said Richard Dicker, director of
Human Rights Watch's International Justice Program. "International
participation is essential for fair trials that will expose his crimes
before independent and impartial courts."

Al-Majid, a cousin of Saddam Hussein, masterminded the genocidal 1988
campaign that resulted in the murder or "disappearance" of some 100,000
Kurds. He led the forces that suppressed the popular uprising in
southern Iraq in March 1991, and reportedly played a principal role in a
killing and repression campaign against Iraq's Marsh Arab population
during the 1990s.

Prosecuting Iraq's former leaders -- including former Vice President
Taha Yassin Ramadan, captured earlier this week -- will pose significant
challenges, Human Rights Watch said. Trials will require technical
expertise in conducting focused investigations, classifying and
analyzing evidence, and developing a prosecution strategy. Few judges,
prosecutors, or investigators in Iraq have participated in cases as
complex as those involving genocide, crimes against humanity, or war

The United States and its coalition partners have thus far failed to
address the needs that will arise from trying senior leaders in the
former Iraqi government for serious past crimes.

Coalition forces have been slow to secure mass grave sites, resulting in
the destruction of substantial evidence. The Coalition Provisional
Authority has also failed to indicate what it intends to do with the 37
senior former Iraqi governing officials currently in custody. To date,
none has had access to family or legal counsel.

"The trials of Iraq's former leaders should have international
participation to avoid the perception of vengeful `victors'
justice,'" Dicker said. "The United Nations and the Iraqi
Governing Council should work together to achieve this."

The trials could be held in Iraq, using Arabic and Kurdish as their
official languages and presided over by Iraqi and international
judges applying the relevant provisions of Iraqi and
international law, Human Rights Watch said. It called on the
Iraqi governing council and the United Nations to support
creating either mixed or international tribunals soon.
Here is FAIR's take on reporting on the recent breakdown of the hudna:

Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting
Media analysis, critiques and activism

Journalists Find "Calm" When Only Palestinians Die

August 22, 2003

The deadly bus bombing in Jerusalem on August 19 was foreshadowed by a
pair of suicide attacks a week earlier which killed two Israeli civilians.
While U.S. media tended to portray these attacks as a return to violence
after a relatively peaceful period, there were numerous killings in the
weeks leading up to the suicide bombings that underscore the lack of
evenhanded attention given to loss of life in the Israeli/Palestinian

When the two Palestinian suicide bombers each killed an Israeli civilian
along with themselves on August 12, U.S. news outlets immediately depicted
the attacks as an apparent resurgence in Mideast violence. "Summer truce
shattered in Israel," announced CBS (8/12/03), while NBC (8/12/03)
reported that "the attacks broke more than a month of relative silence."
The Los Angeles Times (8/13/03) wrote that the bombings "broke a six-week
stretch during which the people of this war-weary land had enjoyed
relative quiet."

During this six-week period of "relative quiet," however, some 17
Palestinians were killed and at least 59 injured by Israeli occupation
soldiers and settlers, according to the Palestine Red Crescent Society.
The dead included Mahmoud Kabaha, a four-year-old boy, who was sitting in
the back seat of a jeep with his family at a checkpoint when an Israeli
soldier shot him dead-- in a spray of bullets that the army simply called
an "accidental burst of gunfire" (Associated Press, 7/25/03). Virtually
none of the major U.S. news reports on the August 12 bombings alluded to
the Palestinian death toll in this period, leaving out a key piece of the
story: For Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, the violence had never
ceased; while the Israeli attacks had decreased, there had never been
anything like an Israeli cease-fire.

An Associated Press report on August 19 (filed prior to that day's
bombing) did acknowledge that since June 29, "more than 20 people have
been killed on the Israeli and Palestinian sides." What it didn't note was
that of those "more than 20," at least 21 were Palestinian, according to
the Red Crescent.

After a month and a half in which Palestinians were being killed several
times a week and receiving relatively little mention, the Washington Post
and New York Times both put the bombings on their August 13 front pages,
each declaring the violence a break from weeks of "relative calm," and
each including a front-page photo of the victims' relatives in mourning.
USA Today also put grieving relatives on the front page, along with the
headline, "Two Suicide Attacks End a Six-Week Lull in Conflict." One can
empathize with the losses of those survivors while recognizing that the
families of the Palestinians who died during the "lull" were virtually

On CNN, the August 12 bombings were a major story, with eight separate
segments mentioning the attacks in a three-hour period. Anchor Wolf
Blitzer declared a "grim return to the battle days in Israel and the
Palestinian territories." His colleague Aaron Brown echoed that theme,
noting that "after a period of relative calm there has been a major surge
in violence in Israel and the Palestinian territories." Correspondent
Jerrold Kessel reported that the bombings "cast doubt on the viability of
this peace process known as the road map for peace."

These bombings had killed four people, including the bombers. Just four
days earlier, on August 8, two Palestinians and one Israeli were killed in
an Israeli raid on a suspected militant, while two more Palestinians were
killed at an ensuing rally-- one shot, and the other killed by Israeli
tear gas (Chicago Tribune, 8/9/03). But those five deaths-- mainly
Palestinian-- were not deemed a "major surge in violence" or a "grim
return to the battle days" on CNN. Instead, anchor Carol Costello
(8/8/03) suggested that the Israeli raid "may be another smudge, a bump if
you will, on that road map to peace."

The media's tendency to downplay-- or completely ignore-- Palestinian
suffering and death is nothing new. In late 2001 and the beginning of
2002, for example, a loose cease-fire declared by Yasir Arafat led to a
period of very few Israeli deaths, but sustained Palestinian deaths-- and
the American media repeatedly referred to it as a time of "relative calm"
(FAIR Action Alert, 1/10/02, 2/5/02).

In order to convey the Mideast crisis in all its complexity, journalists
need to take seriously the violence suffered by all communities.
References to "relative calm" while Palestinians are being routinely
killed only serve to trivialize human life and obscure the cycle of
violence that afflicts the region.

Basic point taken: I agree that if Israel was serious about a ceasefire, the IDF wouldn't have gone on assassinating militants. The IDF's policy not only guarantees a breakdown in the ceasefire (a breakdown, which, I confess, may well be overdetermined given the behaviour of the militants), it's also risky for civilians who are often killed in the operations. FAIR is also right that "relative calm" is silly, even with the qualifier "relative" when the IDF is conducting regular raids and the Palestinians are still dying.

But there surely is a difference between attacking militants and blowing up busses of kids. And the deaths of militants surely do get weighed differently in the balance. FAIR mentions the murder - let's call it that, since it is poorly explained and will most probably never be properly investigated - of a Palestinian child, but it doesn't bother to go to the trouble of breaking down the death toll: exactly how many killed by the IDF in this period were innocent bystanders, how many militants?

Again, even if the killing of militants is wrong - and I think the IDF assassination policies are stupid and immoral - the deaths should be treated differently from the deaths of civilians. There is a distinction here, and FAIR errs in failing to note it.
Don't miss thispiece in Ha'aretz by Uzi Benziman. Benziman has a very sane analysis of the hudna and its collapse. He also has details of Israel's own failures during the "ceasefire" which I alluded to yesterday without explaining:

Since ostensible understanding was reached
between the Sharon government and the Abu Mazen
government on the road map (on June 29), which
was accompanied by an internal Palestinian
decision on a cease-fire, the Israeli security
forces carried out the following operations
within the area of the Palestinian Authority:
On July 3, the Border Police antiterrorist unit
killed Mahmoud Shaour, a Fatah leader from the
Qalqilyah area, and arrested 15 Palestinians,
including Ibrahim Yassin, head of the military
wing of the Tanzim in the city; two days later,
13 wanted individuals were arrested; on July 9
the IDF killed Iyad Shlamish in the West Bank
village of Burkin, in an operation that was
intended to capture his brother; on July 15 the
IDF arrested nine wanted individuals, including
two Fatah activists who had volunteered to
perpetrate suicide attacks; on August 6 the IDF
went into Jericho and arrested 14 members of
the Palestinian preventive security force in
the city; on the same day an undercover unit of
the Border Police arrested an Islamic Jihad
activist in the village of Aja, near Jenin; on
August 13 the IDF arrested seven wanted
individuals in the Nablus area; and the next
day the head of the military wing of Islamic
Jihad in Hebron, Mohammed Sidr, was

According to data of the Shin Bet security
service, more than 100 Palestinians were
arrested from the day the hudna was declared
until Wednesday of this week. During this
period, there were 280 terrorist attacks (of
which 192 were shooting incidents) in which 26
people were killed and 152 wounded. According
to the data, 54 attempted terrorist attacks
were prevented.

At the same time, Benziman is careful not to imply that this is the same thing as deliberately blowing up a bus full of children:

There is no symmetry between the responsibility
of the two sides for the undermining of the
agreement, just as there is no similarity
between the liquidation of an arch-terrorist,
in whose home several explosives workshops
catch fire in the wake of IDF gunfire, and the
suicide bombing attack perpetrated by the imam
of a mosque, who chooses to murder infants in a
crowded bus. But there is a similarity between
the aversion of the two sides to seize the road
map by the horns and implement it: Sharon is
evading a necessary confrontation with the
settlers and Abu Mazen is ignoring his duty to
impose his authority on all the armed
organizations within the area of the
Palestinian Authority.

We can, however, assign blame on both sides:

The weakness on the Israeli side lay in its
inability to show restraint when opportunities
to assassinate terrorists cropped up; the
weakness on the Palestinian side lay in its
unwillingness to take action to disarm the
terrorist organizations.

I confess, this is a very difficult issue. I have very little respect for Hamas or Islamic Jihad or Fatah. And yet, a ceasefire is a ceasefire. The IDF's response to the "ceasefire" seemed to be "now hold still so we can kill you". It may be that Hamas or IJ or Fatah were, as accused, only using the ceasefire to recoup. Nevertheless, it's insane to think that a ceasefire with an enemy will hold if you're actively using the time yourself to kill him as quickly as poossible. Indeed, it's insane to think of it as a ceasefire.

I think I see Arafat's game in all this. He is refusing to intervene, and Abbas is too weak to intervene with Hamas, et. al. on his own. "You want me to sit on the sidelines. Ok, I can do that," is the point he's currently making. Whether or not he could effectively intervene is another question. The problerm is: If he could intervene, then presumably it was in his power previously, and so he bears moral responsibility for his failure to do so. If he couldn't, then he is irrelevant.

I also think I see Sharon's game. Sit tight, present "concessions" very publicly, while at the same time tightening the screws, assisting settlers behind the scenes, ensuring that the radical groups have nothing real to gain from a genuine ceasefire by assassinating them in the middle of it, and wait for terrorism to scuttle the whole deal. Meanwhile the wall is going up, and no one can stop it. The destruction of the PA last year cleared the ground for much of this, by ensuring a power vacuum and further radicalizing the Palestinians. Now Sharon can point to the PA's failure to stop terrorism - by which Sharon means, and will only ever mean, "enforce the occupation" - and argue that they are not ready for statehood. - Concern rises as observers fear Rwandan vote not `credible'

A worrying development. Kagame, Rwanda's current leader, got really good press in one of the more widely read books on the Rwandan genocide, Philip Gourevitch's "We regret to inform
you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families". Since the book came out, Kagame has had a very mixed record, doing a great deal in extraordinarily trying circumstances to rebuild the country and at the same time, getting stuck in a horrible and pointless conflict in the DRC. And now this.

I'd be curious to know whether Gourevitch has revised his opinion of Kagame in the meantime.
BBC NEWS | World | Middle East | Security council split on Iraq

In other words, France wants the U.S. to eat crow.
Australia 'sexed up' Iraq threat: senior analyst

What is it with this new expression, "sexed up"? It seems to be one of the more successful phrases added to popular usage (at least this side of the Atlantic) by the war.
Security May Not Be Safe Issue for Bush in '04 (

This is a puff piece with no fresh evidence. It's also agonizingly obvious that Bush ought to be vulnerable on this issue, his supposed invulnerability to this point being for the most part a construction of the media. It might be significant, however, if it's a signal from the punditry that this new idea will be kosher from now on. No new evidence, just a shift in perspective, with most of the herd now free to interpret the old evidence from the new perspective.

Dana Milbank is usually out on front of this kind of thing - he's one of the few reporters in the mainstream press willing to point out that the President is lying.

Let's hope the herd gets the hint.
Check out this completely bizarre piece by MEMRI (The Middle East Media Research Institute), an organization apparently devoted to translating embarrassing passages from the Arab press.

Thursday, August 21, 2003

Juan Cole writes:

*Colin Powell is reportedly trying to get Italy and the UK to commit more troops to Iraq, and to convince France and Germany to join the effort. He almost certainly will not succeed with the latter two, despite the sympathy generated by the bombing, without a new UN Security Council Resolution that devolves more decision-making power in Iraq on the United Nations. Why should other countries put their troops in harm's way to support a solely US administration of Iraq? (A lot of international leaders may be asking why they should put their troops in harm's way at all.) The Bush administration made a very major mistake in blowing off the United Nations last spring. It just wasn't necessary. If Bush had delayed the start of the war 45 days, he could have had a majority of votes on the Security Council in favor of a war. If he had delayed 2-4 months he probably could have gotten France and Russia aboard. It wouldn't have cost $4 billion a month to wait a bit, which is what it does cost the US every month its 140,000 plus troops are in Iraq. A Security Council Resolution in favor of the war would have brought billions of dollars and thousands of troops from the international community, and made it far easier to provide security to post-war Iraq. The downside? Bremer wouldn't be able to just award contracts to Halliburton and Worldcom with no oversight or bidding. How would that constraint have hurt the American public? What if, you ask, the US had waited, and France and Russia had still refused to go along, because the inspectors could not find weapons of mass destruction? Well, the WMD wasn't there, so maybe there was not a casus belli. The war could have been called off, or the US could have gone ahead on the basis of the UNSC majority. Either outcome would have been preferable to the chaos and expense we see now.

Exactly right.