Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Op-Ed Contributor: Make Baghdad Pay

Imagine you are enjoying your breakfast some quiet Sunday morning. The coffee is brewing and your family is bickering peaceably, as it often does. Now imagine that the calm is broken by armed intruders smashing their way into your house. Even before the sound of tinkling glass has faded, they have set upon your spouse, and put a bullet through the forehead of your favourite child. You are strapped to a chair as your wallet and bank statements are examined to determine your worth.

Credit cards are produced, and the guests go on to ring up the charges on all kinds of choice items, though they don't seem particularly choice to you, and you had nothing to do with choosing them. No care is taken to mask the nature of the theft. Your hopes are dashed as you realize that the people taking the orders over the phone know about your situation – they just saw it on the news – but they don't care. They're treating the new owners of your credit cards as the proper legal owners of your burgeoning debt, since what goes on in your house is an internal affair, and they're not inclined to do anything as low as meddle in other people's affairs.

The same, alas, goes for your neighbours, who were at first alarmed by the noise, but have since gone back to their business – until, that is, your guests hold a garage sale to raise more money for themselves. Then, with only a few exceptions, your neighbours do make your business their business, but only long enough to purchase all your belongings at deliciously low prices.

You are muffled and beaten when you try to cry out to them. But after a while you realize that there's little point in crying out to anyone. None of your neighbours will meet your frantic eyes anyway. You're an embarrassment and you're ruining a perfectly good garage sale.

This goes on until you have lost everything. But one day, when your guard's attention slips, you manage to take back your house. Or perhaps a sympathetic neighbour sees that your house might be resold (splitting the profits with you, of course, in some way yet to be specified) and lends a hand.

Congratulations.

Except that not only is your house cleaned out, but you also find yourself with a crushing post-party debt. Your credit card companies now take a fresh interest in you, or more precisely, a fresh interest in the interest to be gotten from you.

You consult a lawyer, and he points out that you have a degree, and plenty of potential to make money. After several years, provided you don't crack up under post-traumatic stress, or have bad luck, you should be in a position to start repaying your debt. He says that debt relief in your case would set a damaging precedent – after all, what about all the other people whose homes have been likewise invaded? He chides you that the very rule of law depends on the principle that we pay back our debts, and so the standard for relief of debts needs to be a very, very strict one. He's sorry to inform you that you haven't met this standard. He reminds you that you did, after all, have a balance on your credit cards before the unpleasant business started, and points out – getting increasingly impatient with your incomprehension – that you had all those years tied to a chair in which you might have been paying it off.

Noting your distress, your takes pity and offers you a few consoling (billable) words. He's not suggesting that you pay everything off right away. But part of getting back on your feet is assuming your responsibilities. Chin up, lad. You'll make it through. Don't think that your creditors have given up on you. You'll make it. You'll make it in spite of everything.

Piece parodied below:

OP-ED CONTRIBUTOR
Make Baghdad Pay
By MARK MEDISH


WASHINGTON
The economic consequences of regime change in Iraq could get worse if the United States, Great Britain and their coalition partners act on radical impulses to make grand gestures. A case in point is Iraq's sovereign debt.
Iraq's debt includes $40 billion owed to Paris Club official creditors, most notably Japan, France, Germany and Russia; at least $30 billion to other official creditors; at least $3 billion to London Club commercial banks; and perhaps $10 billion owed to corporate creditors.

What is to be done? Already we hear calls from the right and the left to impose what might be called a "zero option"; that is, cancellation of Iraq's debt. From the right, Richard Perle and William F. Buckley Jr. have called for freeing Iraq of its "odious debt" on moral grounds. From the other end of the political spectrum, Oxfam and Jubilee Iraq have taken much the same position, while Joseph Stiglitz, the Nobelist, is advocating relief on more prudent grounds, citing the lessons of the 1919 Treaty of Versailles, which required Germany to pay heavy war reparations.

These recommendations, though doubtless well intentioned, are misguided. A country like Iraq, with the world's second-largest proven oil reserves, should be expected to be able to pay its obligations. Furthermore, the moral charge that the debts are odious is simply too sweeping. Acting on it would be bad for Iraq and would set a damaging precedent for the international financial system.

For Iraq to normalize its external financial relations, it must respect one of the first principles of the rule of law: contracts should be honored. Without this presumption, markets cannot work. The threshold for overturning the presumption must be kept high to prevent chaos. In the case of Iraq, the threshold has not been met.
Several myths have gained currency in the debt debate. The first is that Iraq's debts are invalid because they were accumulated under Saddam Hussein's regime. This is overbroad and misleading. First, much of the debt, including the bulk of what Iraq owes to banks and corporations, went to finance civilian construction — roads, hospitals, apartments and utilities. By contrast, military-related debt can and should be separated out and perhaps even forgiven.

It's worth remembering, too, that much of Iraq's debt was incurred in the 1970's and 1980's, before sanctions were imposed, when the United States was willingly doing business with the Hussein regime.
Another myth is that historical precedents dictate that zeroing out the debt would be prudent. Post-Versailles Germany is a frequently cited case. But there is an important difference between punitive reparations and commercial debt incurred by a country for civilian projects. Moreover, in the last decade countries like Poland, Egypt and Yugoslavia have escaped their heavy debts not because their debts were forgiven but because the financial community created reasonable long-term repayment plans.

Third is the myth that companies have already written off the Iraqi debts and no longer care about them. This is ridiculous. How companies account for bad debts on their books is irrelevant to the legal status of their claims. It would be a perverse result to extinguish debt simply because a debtor has not paid.

Iraq is entitled to have its special case heard. So far it has been granted an official moratorium through 2004. When the international community decides to begin tackling the wider debt problem, it should follow several simple maxims: avoid radicalism and bad precedents; promote an orderly, market-friendly debt repayment schedule based on financial analysis; and encourage creative solutions, including debt swaps.
Finally, for solutions to be meaningful, Iraq must negotiate with creditors on its own behalf. This, after all, is a major aspect of sovereignty.

The Iraqis should also favor an orderly debt repayment process. The country has been a financial rogue state for the past 12 years. What the new Iraq needs is a reputation for honoring its word.

Mark Medish, a lawyer, was deputy assistant secretary of the Treasury from 1997 to 2000.


Monday, November 03, 2003

uggabugga has some insightful visual commentary.
Light posting today. Busy, busy, busy.

In the meantime, check out this post by Brad DeLong and this post by Rubber Hose.

The latter is a nice takedown of Friedman's latest column. Not hard to do, but it's important for someone to do it, just for the record.

Sunday, November 02, 2003

Tired? Feeling down? Check out Krauthammer's latest column on the Iraqi resistance, and it'll have you rolling on the floor!

Most of the column is surprisingly sensible, considering it's Krauthammer. I think he probably underestimates the importance of nationalism as a motivating factor in the Iraqi resistance, but that's neither here nor there. What's hilarious is the way he ends the piece:

Who wins the race? If this president remains in power, the likelihood is that we do.

I love it! It's just so deliciously silly when conservatives melt down this way.

What could move Krauthammer to have any faith left in the current president? Look, this isn't a partisan question anymore, really. If I had Krauthammer's political goals – in other words, if I wanted to make war all the live-long day – I think I'd be really extremely upset with Bush and his administration right now. They're making such a complete hash of it that hawks like Krauthammer are constantly on the defensive, and the mess is seriously pushing back the schedule for the next war (Iran, Syria, North Korea, take your pick).

Krauthammer has every reason in the world to loath the Bush administration, and you have to wonder what it says about him that he can't see it. Bush is incompetent, and he has an incompetent administration, which pursues Krauthammer's favourite ends in especially incompetent ways. If this total betrayal of everything Krauthammer wants achieved isn't enough to anger Krauthammer, well then. . . I think that Krauthammer is being awfully tolerant – for once!
Don't miss this excellent piece in Slate. The basic point is pretty obvious – it's that the war on Iraq has seriously damaged the U.S.'s war against Islamic radicalism. What makes the piece stand out is the quality of its analysis.
CBC News: U.S. helicopter shot down in Iraq:

A horrible day for U.S. troops. Rumsfeld said:

"'In a long, hard war, we're going to have tragic days. But they're necessary. They're a part of a war that's difficult and complicated,' he said. "

These deaths are certainly tragic. But they are not necessary. They're only necessary if the war was necessary. And this war was not necessary, even by a long stretch.

Saturday, November 01, 2003

It's gratifying that Swopa (over at Needlenose) shares my obsession with Jerry Bremer's silly boots.
CNN.com - Powell: U.S. misjudged pre-war Iraq - Oct. 31, 2003

What outrageous hypocrisy.

It's going to be a very long time before the U.S. will again be able to stage a dramatic showdown - a la Cuban missile photos - in the Security Council.

American credibility is shot, and Powell bears significant responsibility for it. He should resign. He should have resigned a long time ago.
Discourse.net: The Secret Attack on the Right to an Open Court

Michael Froomkin refuses to panic . . . for a few weeks.
Mark A. R. Kleiman: Further down the White House memory hole

More commentary on the "robots.txt" story.

Friday, October 31, 2003

Correction to today's post on Feldman.

Juan Cole writes:


Feldman Denies Writing Report

Informed Comment received an email from Professor Noah Feldman saying that he had not, as al-Zaman alleged, written a report for the CPA on the likely form of the Iraqi constitution. It appears that al-Zaman was summarizing an article in the Daily Telegraph, and mistook a few oral comments for a position paper.


http://www.gulf-news.com/Articles
/news.asp?ArticleID=101683

The article said,

"the new, democratic Iraq appears bound to be an Islamic state – with an official role for Islam, and Islamic law enshrined in its constitution. That prospect is triggering alarm and opposition from the White House and the Pentagon, Noah Feldman, a leading American expert in Islamic law, said. "The end constitutional product is very likely to make many people in the US government unhappy. It's not going to look the way people imagined it looking," said Dr Feldman. "Any democratically elected Iraqi government is unlikely to be secular, and unlikely to be pro-Israel. And frankly, moderately unlikely to be pro-American".

Professor Feldman also points out that his Near East degree is from Harvard, not Princeton. He adds by email, "Although I did advise the CPA, and do think that we are headed for a state in which Islam plays a constitutional role..."

Informed Comment regrets the imprecisions in the earlier report.

And See Why? regrets repeating the imprecisions and thanks Rubber Hose for the correction.
Ooooo, this is a good line:

Irony may be dead, but Luskin et al are energetically committing necrophilia on the corpse.

Beautiful rant over at Hullabalo.
Juan Cole writes:

Feldman: Iraq will be an Islamic Republic at Odds with the West


Noah Feldman, an independent consultant to the Coalition Provisional Authority and to President Bush has written a report to the White House casting severe doubts on the likelihood that Iraq will emerge as a Western-style democarcy with separation of religion and state and a foreign policy stance friendly to the West. Al-Zaman's London office appears to have seen a copy of the report, and summarizes it today. Feldman, an NYU professor of law, says that after observing the situation there he is convinced that the Iraqi constitution will enshrine Islam as the religion of state and Islamic law as the basis for national law, that the new regime will refuse to recognize Israel, and that it is likely to be antagonistic to the West. Feldman said that the outcome is likely to contradict all the prognostications made before the war, that it would establish a pluralistic, secular democracy. Feldman, a Democrat, was appointed to consult on constitutional issues because he also has a degree in Islamic Law from Princeton. But his report, if al-Zaman summarizes correctly, has ended up demolishing the rhetoric of the neoconservatives who hyped the war last spring and who predicted that a new democratic Iraq would lead a wave of democratization in the region.

I saw Feldman give a talk at a conference on Just War Theory at NYU in the Spring of 2003. His talk seemed quite good (outside my area and way over my head, hence the "seemed"), and he also seemed like a reasonable fellow, so I was a bit surprised to learn that he was participating as an advisor to the Coalition Authority on the new Iraqi constitution. (I was also surprised since he was raised as an Orthodox Jew, and the Middle East being what it is, I guessed that that might lead to the usual anti-Semitic conspiracy theory nonsense.)

If I read him correctly, Feldman is inclined to be very hopeful about the democratic prospects for Muslim countries. So it is all the more striking that he thinks the new regime will be antagonistic to the West.
The Blog, Just One Minute, suggests that Atrios is trying to "stifle" Luskin's views because he has asked people to stop linking to him.

That's just silly: there's an obvious distinction between ignoring someone and trying to actively stifle them. We're all free to ignore views that we don't like, and even to urge other people to ignore them.

Does this really need to be pointed out?

Thursday, October 30, 2003

The Agonist: Perle: Throw Russia Out Of G8

Anyone who reads this blog knows that I can't stand Perle. And I'm not sure what I think about the proposal to throw Russia out of the G8. But it's not an obviously ludicris idea is it?

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Calpundit: "Just Mow the Whole Place Down"

Holy crap! Holy crap, holy crap, holy crap.
This just in from the Institute for War and Peace Reporting. (Their stories don't get reprinted very widely as far as I know, in spite of their generally high quality. So I will reprint it here, even though I get laughably little exposure. Oh well, every bit helps, I guess.)

Recent spate of devastating suicide attacks turning Iraqis against the resistance.

By Hiwa Osman in Baghdad

The series of car bombs earlier this week that killed dozens of civilians on the first day of the holy month of Ramadan seems to have inexorably altered the view of Iraqis about the resistance to America's occupation.

An angry Iraqi street generally feels that the recent spate of attacks are intended to keep the country unstable and on its knees. An oft-heard refrain runs, "They cannot bear to see us stand on our feet"; a reference to the foreign Islamic militants - supported by former Ba'athists - who are assumed to be the perpetrators of the attacks.

In the working class Bayyia district west of Baghdad, a bustling market lit by a bank of fluorescent lights heaves with people out shopping after breaking their Ramadan fast.

Some were testing new and second-hand cars brought from Jordan and Syria. "They are not just exporting cars," said a salesman who did not want to be named. "They are also sending suicide bombers and criminals."

He is dressed in the traditional long white Arab robe. Before the American invasion, he wore the uniform of the Special Republican Guard - for 17 years he was one of Saddam's many bodyguards.

"When I hear an attack against the Americans or their dogs, the Iraqi police, I get very excited," he said. "But killing children and innocent people is not acceptable."

Earlier in the month, a vendor came and sold CDs with songs of praise for Saddam to many of the car dealers, said Ahmad Hussein, a ministry of trade employee who sells cold cans of soda pop in the car lot after his normal office hours.

Referring to Saddam's war with the Americans, one song goes, "You just start it and your men will do the rest." Until last week, many of the salesmen were playing the song in their shops. "They even had Saddam's posters in their offices," said Hussein.

But the mood in the car lot recently changed. "They used to openly support the resistance, but not anymore," he went on. "The new waves of attacks have silenced them all."

Near the centre of the district, on a main shopping street, tea shops are crowded with men sipping sweet black tea and smoking their first cigarettes after a long day of fasting.

The men are irritated with the American way of handling security in their country, angry at the resistance and even more enraged with neighbouring states, who they say are encouraging Islamic militants to settle their scores with the US on Iraqi soil.

Pointing to a pond of sewage water beside the street, Jasim Ali, the tea shop owner, asks rhetorically, "What did the Americans do for us?

"Not only are public services are bad. Our security has also been compromised."

His views were echoed by school teacher Mudhir Ulayan, who says the Americans parade their armour in the streets to enforce law and order, only to become magnets for attacks. "The job of the Iraqi police has become protecting the Americans and not protecting us," he said. "It makes them look like guard dogs."

Hashim Ali, who has a degree in history, agrees. "What do they [the Americans] know about our streets?" he asked. "They are insulting us. We can defend our streets, but they don't let us."

The men, however, direct more anger at the opponents of the American presence in Iraq. "They are cowards," shopkeeper Hussein Muhsin says of the resistance.

He says that people in what is today called the Sunni triangle of Iraq "did not fire a single bullet" when the Americans came in April. "They handed over their cities then, and they are using these cowardly tactics now," he said, referring to the former Ba'athists and their Islamic militant allies.

But they reserve most of their wrath for the latter, who are widely believed to be staging the car bombings.

In the run-up to the war, thousands of Syrian and volunteers from other Arab countries turned up in Iraq in preparation for a Jihad against the Americans.

These Jihadis were amongst the last to hold out against the US forces, Muhsin says. But after the fall of the regime, they went into hiding, appearing only to launch suicide attacks that largely kill civilian Iraqis.

"They have turned our country into a battle ground between them and the Americans," he said.

He believes that neighbouring countries are sending these fighters so the situation in Iraq worsens, and so that the Americans will be less inclined to target them later, "It's a foreign plot. They do not want to see us successful."

The most recent attacks have been directed at Iraqi police stations, just as local enforcers are beginning to win public respect. "Now that the police have started to stop crime and managed to restore some order, they are targeting them," said Jasim Ali. "They have the Golan Heights to liberate. It is our business to free ourselves."

Ulayan thinks that unless something is done to stop the foreign fighters coming into the country, US forces will have to pull out and everyone will take the law into their own hands. "If the Americans do not control the border, and leave the cities to us," he said, "the volcano will erupt and everything will be burnt."

Hiwa Osman is an IWPR editor/trainer in Iraq.
The Dead Parrot Society: Sinister doings at whitehouse.gov?

Hmmmmmm. Perhaps I was too quick off the mark here.

Apology extended if I was wrong.
OK, so I've been railing about coddling dictators and Generally Bad People for a few posts now. But I'm sidestepping difficult questions. Do I think that we should disengage from every country we find abhorent? Surely we need to engage Russia and China and surely Israel, for example, needs to engage awful people (e.g., Hamas) whom Israelis have very good reason to hate. So what's up?

I'll try to answer that in the next day or so. I think there is a coherent way to sort through these challenges, but I'll have to do more than spew sentiment everywhere (ew!) to explain it.
Putin's Old-Style K.G.B. Tactics

Why are people just starting to wake up to the serious danger that Putin poses to Russia, and so to everyone else?

Didn't we learn anything from all the harm that came from years of pretending that Yeltsin was stable and sane?

Shouldn't the danger have been even clearer in the case of Putin?

Say it all together now, children, good things are very unlikely to come from war criminals.
This piece in the Guardian is highly recommended.

The author writes of the very low standards which Blair and Bush apply to allies like Uzbekistan, after resting the case for war against Iraq partly on humanitarian grounds. This lack of consistency is both wrongheaded (support for dictators hasn't proven a particularly useful strategy in the past, has it?) and corrupting.

In Bush's case, I suppose you might argue that he's hardly aware that such a country exists. So perhaps the piece only directly challenges the moral coherence of his position, rather than the sincerity with which he holds it (this is not exculpatory, nor am I taking a position on whether he is in fact sincere). In Blair's case, it's obvious that he knows exactly what the score is, but he simply does not care. The piece shreds the moral coherence of Blair's position and his claim to be genuinely concerned about human rights.

And don't tell me that this policy of sucking up to dictators is part of the cost of the war on terror, or that in the real world we're forced to make difficult trade-offs. No administration that squanders as many lives and as much credibility and influence as this one has in Iraq deserves to lecture me about the costs of my policy prescriptions. And neither do any of its apologists.
I keep thinking about this piece by Anne Applebaum in the WaPo. Writing about recent reports of the North Korean regime's barbarity, including new satellite evidence of its massive Gulag system, Appelbaum throws down the challenge:

But the problem is not only one for immediate neighbors. In fact, if any of the democratic participants -- the United States, South Korea, Japan -- were to absorb fully the information the images convey, the knowledge would make it impossible for that country to conduct any policy toward North Korea that did not make regime change its central tenet.

Applebaum's description of North Korea is not, unfortunately, exaggerated. There is ample accounting from all sorts of human rights groups which testify to the fact that the regime is among the very worst in the world, possibly the worst.

But what do you do? You cannot simply go to war with North Korea. Even if the nukes threat is a bluff pure and simple, North Korea has a massive conventional deterrent.

You cannot ignore North Korea. If the country someday collapses, the collapse may be even more dangerous if nuclear weapons are involved. And in the meantime its desperate leaders may well barter away some of its nuclear expertise and material with other unsavory states and groups.

And yet, and yet, I feel a profoundly Bushian hatred for the regime, which is strong enough to make me loath the idea of giving it support, aid, and security guarantees. These things only prop up an apparatus of evil which I would like to see vanish from the earth as quickly as possible.

So . . . what the hell do we do?

(I haven't read enough of Appelbaum's work to know where exactly she draws the line. Russia, for example, is a paradise compared to North Korea . . . unless you live in Chechnya, where the Russians have waged a brutal and indiscriminate war. Putin is quite simply a war criminal. It seems to me that absorbing fully what Russia has done in Chechnya would make conducting normal relations with Russia highly distasteful. But even if I hate it, I can see that there are some very good reasons to hope for normal relations with Russia.)

Tuesday, October 28, 2003

the antic muse: A Story Composed Entirely of David Brooks' First Two Months of Times Columns

The Antic Muse takes on Brooks.

Coming up next (I hope), Thomas Friedman.
Whiskey Bar: Alice in Blunderland

Great picture over at the Whiskey Bar.
The Federation of American Scientists' "Secrecy News" adds their 2 cents on the White House website silliness. And they give a fun example:

WHITE HOUSE WEB SITE BLOCKS SEARCH ENGINES

The White House is blocking search engines from accessing much of the White House web site, particularly web pages relating to Iraq. As a result, these web pages cannot be directly accessed through external search engines such as google.com.

The White House employs a "robots.txt" file which "disallows" search engine access to over a thousand specified directories. See:

http://www.whitehouse.gov/robots.txt

The matter was first noticed and discussed on this web page:

http://www.bway.net/~keith/whrobots/

Say, for example, that you want to find the White House web page where President Bush made this remarkable statement on October 3:

"See, free nations are peaceful nations. Free nations don't attack each other. Free nations don't develop weapons of mass destruction."

You can't get there from Google, because the page is blocked. But it's here:

http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2003/10/20031003-4.html

The latest from Human Rights Watch:

D.R. Congo: U.N. Must Address Corporate Role in War

(New York, October 27, 2003) - The United Nations Security Council should insist that member states launch immediate investigations into the involvement of multinational corporations accused of profiteering from the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), said a leading group of nongovernmental organizations today. The Security Council on Thursday will examine the final report of a Panel of Experts examining illegal exploitation of natural resources in the DRC.

The Security Council has failed to act on previous reports from the panel showing the link between the activities of multinational corporations and armed groups guilty of massacres and other atrocities. The war in the DRC is estimated to have caused the deaths of more than three million people, the highest death toll in terms of civilian lives since World War II. According to the Panel of Experts, established by the Security Council in June 2000, the drive to control natural resources was a major motive for the war.

"The Security Council can no longer ignore clear evidence linking the exploitation of resources to the war in the Congo," said the nongovernmental organizations. "It must insist that member states hold the companies and individuals involved to account, including companies based in Western countries. Business must demonstrate its commitment to
change the way it operates in conflict situations."

Despite criticism of the Panel of Experts, its central findings have been corroborated by a growing number of independent reports. Human rights groups have recently concluded that the desire to exploit DRC's mineral and economic wealth has been the biggest single factor in the continuing violence in eastern DRC. Natural resources have been exploited by all warring parties allegedly to finance the war and acquire weapons, often resulting in widespread human rights abuses against civilians.

In an October 2002 report, the Panel of Experts alleged that 85 companies involved in business activities in Congo breached international norms, including the Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises formulated by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and
Development (OECD). None of the governments participating in the OECD has yet investigated the conduct of any of the companies listed. Instead, several governments have pressured the Panel to remove from the list the names of companies registered in their jurisdictions or to declare that such cases have been resolved.

"It is not just the Security Council but also the governments of member states that must live up to their responsibilities," said the nongovernmental organizations. "They must conduct open and transparent investigations using the OECD process or other judicial procedures to clarify the role that companies have played in the conflict in Congo."

The Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Luis Moreno Ocampo, has stated that his office may also investigate the way businesses have contributed to the prevalence of war crimes and crimes against humanity in the DRC. The Security Council should ensure that information gathered by the Panel is made available to the prosecutor to assist in
his investigations.

Since August 1998, the DRC has been enmeshed in one of Africa's most widespread wars, directly involving six other countries. The armies of Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi along with Congolese rebel groups were pitted against the DRC government, supported by Zimbabwe, Angola and Namibia. Under increasing international pressure, the bulk of the foreign armies have withdrawn from Congo in the past year but they left behind many vested interests and a network of economic ties. Illicit economic exploitation reportedly continues through armed groups linked to neighboring countries and corrupt government officials.

"The Security Council has heavily invested in the current fragile peace process in the DRC, but its efforts risk failure unless it also addresses the underlying economic motivations that have driven the war," said the nongovernmental organizations. "The council must follow
through on the findings of the Panel of Experts."
Mark A. R. Kleiman: And which pharmaceuticals has William Safire been using?

Mark Kleiman gets to Safire's latest column on pharmaceuticals before I can. (Give me a break, I'm trying to write a thesis!) Readers who just can't get enough of the Pharma industry might want to check out the always-interesting Oligopolywatch for even more detail. See, in particular, the page devoted to this issue.

Monday, October 27, 2003

Bushism of the Day By Jacob Weisberg

Lately the Bushisms at Slate have been pretty weak - pouncing on the kind of slips that are really quite common in everyday speech. I assume that the really great Bushisms dried up because his handlers were taking great care to minimize unscripted moments. Or something. He surely didn't grow up and learn English overnight.

This one isn't a classic, but perhaps it's a sign that we'll get our old George back yet.
Wow, this is so pathetic. And sooooooo stupid.

How could they think they would get away with something like this? Once again, I'm torn between disgust at the complete lack of integrity in the admin and amazement at its incompetence.

Sunday, October 26, 2003

Mark A. R. Kleiman: What did Gen. Boykin say that got some people so angry?

Mark Kleiman reminds us why Boykin oughta go. I can't believe his defenders here. Shouldn't you be worried about your case if you can't even bring yourself to bring up the words that got everyone so upset? Wouldn't that be a tip-off that you're not particularly comfortable with what he said either?
The usually sensible Needlenose goes off the deep end:

At the severe risk of being politically incorrect, I'll say that it's a shame Wolfowitz walked away unscathed from this attack. Not so much because I wish the man ill, but because as one of the prime architects of the Iraq fiasco, he should be exposed to some of the dangers he helped create, rather than leaving someone else's sons and daughters to be cannon fodder (and mortar/grenade bait).

Um, look, are you sure you don't wish the man ill? Cause I would say that being in a building attacked by rockets does in fact count as being exposed to some of the dangers he helped create.

I think Wolfie is my favorite hawk. Rummy, Cheney, Rice, and co. all seem either evil (Cheney), unconcerned with evil (Rummy) or stupid (Rice). With Wolfowitz I can never tell if he's sincere, and my doubt about that opens up a little space in which I can feel friendly towards him. He talks such a good talk about the evils of Saddam Hussein, he was a staunch critic of the regime long before his boss was shaking hands with Hussein, he seems to genuinely hate the decision to walk away from the uprising in Iraq in 1991, not just strategically, but also morally, and so on.

This doesn't get him off the hook, of course. I would just love the opportunity to ask him, "Just a sec here. The U.S. gives 2 billion to Egypt every year, and it hasn't managed to stop it's long slide into authoritarianism. What makes you think Iraq is going to be any easier to democratize, assuming that you really are sincere about this? Just what exactly are you thinking, man?"

It's the fact that this is an overwhelmingly good question to ask, and the fact that Wolfie is obviously a bright guy that always makes me suspect that he just can't be sincere about the whole democracy thing. But then I hear him talk about it, and he seems so awfully convinced himself, and his dark ponderous eyes just look so determined and hopeful.

He's got his head up his ass, that's for sure, but I certainly don't wish him any ill (for real, not Needlenose's version of not wishing him ill, which appears to involve wishing for ill things to happen to him).
In Iraq, Sexual Assault Incidents Are Brushed Aside, Report Says

Three cheers for (feminist) cultural imperialism. I hope that the quotations here are not representative, but I am afraid that they may well be . . .

Saturday, October 25, 2003

Rodger A. Payne has a good post on preemption and WMD.

Someday I'll get around to griping about sloppy thinking about preemption.
This post by Easterbrook is just wantonly stupid:

IT'S THIS SIMPLE: COME CLEAN ON WMD, OR LEAVE IRAQ: I'd like to propose a simplification of the entire Iraq/WMD debate. It's this: If the reason we went into Iraq really, truly was that the Bush administration really, truly believed Saddam possessed weapons of mass destruction, then there is nothing of which the administration need feel shamed --but the United States must immediately leave Iraq.

We now know there is no significant banned-weapons program in Iraq. Any serious manufacturing facilities for banned weapons would have been detected by this point. If we went in to stop a banned-weapons program genuinely believing one existed, and now know one did not exist, then our military must depart immediately. This is the only honorable course.

Alternative: The administration admits that other reasons, possibly valid, were the real reasons all along

First of all, suppose that the administration went into Iraq solely in order to get WMD. In order to get into Iraq they had to make certain promises to Iraqis, promises which are binding whether or not there turn out to be any WMD in Iraq. Even in international relations, it isn't considered that easy to get out of a promise. And even if they hadn't made any such promises, the very act of invading an occupying a country imposes significant moral obligations on the invading country to ensure the well-being and safety of the citizens of the invaded country.

But suppose that the administration went into Iraq for other reasons, besides a fear of WMD. Suppose - just suppose - they lied like crazy the whole time about their real reasons. Does Easterbrook actually think that this would lessen the obligations of the U.S. to the people of Iraq? Wouldn't having lied about WMD impose greater obligations on the U.S. to help with the rebuilding of Iraq?

(Notice also that Easterbrook sets the bar very low by framing the moral evaluation of the war in terms of sincerity rather than reasonableness. I have no doubt at all that - for all the lies about specific pieces of intelligence - most of the administration quite sincerely believed that Hussein had WMD. (But so what? Even if Iraq had WMD, the war would have been, at the very least, debatable. Doesn't Easterbrook remember the debate leading up to the war, which proceded mostly on the assumption that S.H. did have WMD? Even with that assumption, the case for war struck me as very weak.) The big players also overrated the threat because of bad judgment or ignorance. Both of these are morally culpable, and an appropriate source of shame. The decision to go to war is an extremely serious one: sincerity by itself is never an excuse.)

Look, I know that this is just a short blog entry by a guy who has not been on his game lately. Still, it's incredible how Easterbrook manages to frame the issue in a way that completely loses the perspective of the people his country just waged a war on.

Afterthought: What if Easterbrook was joking? Perhaps he was slyly parodying a stupid view he's seen floating around the internet rather than presenting the position as his own. So, my apologies if I've misunderstood. I'm tentatively assuming that Easterbrook is serious here just because his other posts have the same gee-whiz-look-at-me-miss-the-point sort of feel.
Wow! Wired News reports a great stunt.
On High-Speed Trip, Bush Glimpses a Perception Gap

"Glimpses" . . . as in for the first time? A "gap" . . . rather than, say, a yawning abyss? In "perception" . . . rather than, oh, maybe substance?

This is the point at which I would pray for us all, if I weren't a sceptical godless lefty-liberal secular humanist . . .
Kurds Are Finally Heard: Turkey Burned Our Villages

In a story of this length, was it really impossible to make any mention of Western complicity in Turkey's behaviour all these years?

It doesn't need to be the focus of a news story, but surely the fact that Western governments denied plausible accounts of mistreatment is part of the story of how these things happened.

And while the primary responsibility always rests with the primary agents, in this case the Turkish military (and the PKK, whose human rights record was also abysmal), surely it matters that the U.S. supplied 80% of Turkey's military hardware during the period. And surely it matters that it knew perfectly well what it was used for.

And while the media shouldn't be the focus of every story in the media, is it not relevant - is it not also part of the story? - that the Western press showed a shocking lack of interest in the Turkish military's behaviour during the worst of the human rights abuses in Turkey?

Friday, October 24, 2003

Via INTEL DUMP.

Apparently, the National Review has withdrawn their editorial calling for Boykin to resign. The original editorial puzzled a number of commentators since it seems so . . . well, sensible.

Don't worry, folks. The National Review is back to sucking up to the admin come hell or high water and the world is back in joint.
Inquiry Faults Intelligence on Iraq (washingtonpost.com)

This report is really going to help Americans get to the bottom of the intelligence failures that led to the war. Not, mind you, because the report itself is a serious attempt to get at the truth. It looks like it will be a complete joke.

No, no. The report is going to help Americans get to the bottom of things because Tenet is going to strike back with more leaks, and while they should be treated with caution, he probably has a lot of real dirt left to spill on the monkey business in the admin which preceded the war.

Never underestimate Tenet. Correction: Never underestimate Tenet's ability to cover his ass. Go ahead and rate very low his ability to actually protect the country, stand up for the intelligence community and so on. But never, ever (especially you, Condi) underestimate Tenet's skill in deflecting negative attention away from himself.

Thursday, October 23, 2003

Rumsfeld's Pentagon Papers - His leaked memo is the most astonishing document of this war so far. By Fred Kaplan

And now let me throw in my two cents. Rumsfeld's leaked memo contains a glaring run-on sentence.

Shocking. Don't they proof those things?
Why is Israel behaving so badly these day?

Well, if I were Sharon, I would, to be safe, assume that Bush was going down in 2004. So I would want to push as hard as possible to make gains and consolidate them before he gets the boot.
The Agonist: How the Poll Results on Iraq Were Manipulated

The Agonist asks a good question: Why haven't the mainstream media pointed out that Cheney is having reality problems . . . again?
Rubber Hose has a nice post on Safire's idiotic cheerleading for a Turkish military presence in Iraq.
At the start of each of Bush's bad ideas is Dick Cheney

What could Josh Marshall be thinking? Doesn't he know that Cheney adds gravitas to the Bush administration?

He does, right?

Right?
Rights Group Exposes Conditions in North Korean Prison Camps

This is an absolutely horrifying report, though it comes more as a reminder of the North Korean regime's evil -if it isn't evil, as you-know-who said, I don't know what is - than as a revelation.

The report is disturbing because it reminds me that there really is no easy way out of the North Korean standoff. It's easy to say that the U.S. should just buckle and give North Korea food aid and a security guarantee in exchange for an end to its nukes program. But a) the food aid will only ever go to propping up a regime that is as evil as anything on the planet; b) they're not likely to follow through on their end of the bargain anyway; c) the prospect of propping up a regime that is as evil as anything on the planet is - or at least should be - quite unappealing.

That's not to say that I'm a fan of the Bush admin's rhetoric. They didn't create the problem, to be sure, but the rhetoric may well have deepened the problem by giving an already paranoid regime a solid reason to fear for its existence. And, as Josh Marshall points out, you don't get points for Churchillian swagger unless you have a plan to along with it.

Ach. What a mess.

That is all.
Whiskey Bar: Looking for a Better Body Count

Billmon wrote this post before I could get to it, but I'm consoled by the fact that he does a better job than I would have.

The uncanny resemblance between Rumsfeld and McNamara has already been noticed by a number of people. I was struck by it again reading Rumseld's latest leaked memo. So was Billmon.
Once at Arm's Length, Wall Street Is Bush's Biggest Donor

If this piece is accurate, I think it confirms that the rich aren't particularly good at pursuing their own long term interests. It's simply not in anyone's long term interests to see Bush back in power. How does the rotting of the country's financial situation really help Wall Street? How does an inept and badly targeted campaign against terrorism help protect these people? It doesn't, and I don't think we need to come up with an explanation for the behaviour of these Wall Street "investors" in Bush's campaign that explains why their behaviour is rational.

I suppose the rich have often misjudged their own interests. But it's often a bit of a surprise to realize it, at least to me. The tendency is to give people too much credit, and not to give enough attention to the possibility that they're simply behaving irrationally.

Wednesday, October 22, 2003

The marvellously talented economist Brad DeLong tries his hand at Biblical commentary . . . How do his targets go on living with themselves?
Another little tidbit from the UN's News Service:

DUES ARREARS FORCE BORROWING FROM PEACEKEEPING FUNDS, UN OFFICIAL SAYS
New York, Oct 22 2003 2:00PM
The United Nations is owed so much in regular dues that it has had to borrow from its peacekeeping account, though that was not fully paid up either, to cover its bills in October and was likely to have to borrow up to $125 million in November, a senior UN manager said.

Under-Secretary-General for Management Catherine Bertini <"http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2003/gaab3578.doc.htm">told the General Assembly's Administrative and Budgetary Committee on Tuesday that unpaid regular budget assessments from 78 countries totalled $693 million, while the arrears for peacekeeping was $1.56 billion.

"The financial stability of the organization is under pressure," she said. "We must be able to rely on payment in full and on time to provide the predictable resource base needed to carry out all our mandated activities."

The United States contributed $31 million of its regular dues earlier in the year and said it would send in another $233 million to $341 million, depending on congressional action, by the end of the year. If it got the lower amount, the United Nations would be $5 million in the red; if the higher amount, it would have a surplus of $103 million, Ms. Bertini said.

At the end of September, the United States owed $732 million for peacekeeping, but it paid $252 million of that on Monday, she said. Fourteen other major contributors owed $464 million.

Nonetheless, the organization was reimbursing Member States for troops and equipment as promptly as possible. It had paid $339 million in troop costs and planned to add another $64 million by year's end, she said.

Meanwhile, the war crime tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia were $117 million in the hole, compared to an unpaid amount at this time last year of just $49 million, so they, too, had had to borrow from peacekeeping funds, Ms. Bertini said. Sixty States had paid their tribunal assessments in full, but five major contributors owed $102 million and 126 others owed $15 million.
Don't miss this wonderful takedown of Krugman's critics.
Why, oh why, do they keep William Safire around at the New York Times? The only charitable interpretation is that the editors must consider it the price that they pay for appeasing the balance police. Fire Safire and you'd get howls of protest that they'd ditched a voice that spoke uncomfortable truths, and all that rubbish. . .

But as his latest column reminds me, Safire is almost totally detached from reality. Sending the Turks into Iraq is a bad idea any way you look at it, in my view. But there's got to be some argument that is better than Safire's. I don't have time - or frankly, the patience - to go through Safire's column paragraph by paragraph. Suffice it to say that if Safire cared at all about developing an argument, or persuading anyone who isn't either already persuaded, gullible or stupid, he might have tried to address Turkey's egregious human rights record, or any of the other very good reasons for politely turning down Turkey's offer. And if he wanted to connect - just a bit - with reality, he wouldn't have described Turkish leaders as eager to help out, when they're quite obviously casting about frantically for some way, any way, to get out of the committment. And he wouldn't have described Turkish opinion, in a recent column, as supporting the move, when everyone who follows Turkish politics knows perfectly well that public opinion is still dead set against participation.

But Safire seems long ago to have given up on anything like this. Instead, he reminds me of a little boy sitting on his bedroom floor moving troops from one part to another, without any clear sense of what the movements would actually mean if they were real.

It's one thing to represent a stupid opinion. It's even worse to represent it so badly, and on the editorial pages of the New York Times. This is - after all, and whether it deserves the distinction - the op-ed world's equivalent of prime real estate. It's painful to see someone this stupid and intellectually irresponsible wasting such a nice opportunity.
The latest from the UN News Service:

CONSTRUCTION OF ISRAELI SEPARATION BARRIER HAS SPEEDED UP, SECURITY COUNCIL TOLD
New York, Oct 21 2003 4:00PM
Israel has quickened the pace of erecting its separation barrier between itself and Palestinian territories, dividing Palestinian communities and families and threatening to seal off Jerusalem from the West Bank, a senior United Nations official told the Security Council today.

"Over the last month the speed of construction has accelerated," Kieran Prendergast, UN Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, told the Security Council in his <"http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2003/sc7902.doc.htm">monthly briefing on the Middle East. "Palestinians along the barrier's route face land loss and severely restricted access to jobs, markets and essential social services…We repeat our call to the Israeli authorities to halt construction of the wall."

Yesterday the UN General Assembly reconvened an emergency session on the Middle East to consider the barrier's construction as well as two draft resolutions on the question. One, similar to a version already vetoed by the United States in the Security Council, would have the Assembly say the construction was illegal. The other draft proposed asking the International Court of Justice in The Hague for an advisory opinion on whether Israel should cease construction of the barrier and dismantle the portions it has already built.

A recent report from the three co-chairs of a Local Aid Coordination Committee said that around East Jerusalem the barrier "affects tens of thousands of Palestinians as it divide communities and families and threatens to seal Jerusalem off from the rest of the West Bank," Mr. Prendergast said in his Council briefing. He named the co-chairs as the World Bank, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process (UNSCO) and Norway.

Earlier this month, the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) had issued an order on the areas between the barrier and the Green Line specifying that "people aged 12 years and older who resided in these areas before the military order was issued must now have entry permits to continue doing so. Free access will be granted only to Israelis," Mr. Prendergast said.

"This order marks an unacceptable deepening of restrictions against Palestinians caught between the Barrier and the Green Line."

Tuesday, October 21, 2003

The New York Review of Books: Terror & the Attack on Civil Liberties

Don't miss this superb piece by Ronald Dworkin in the New York Review of Books. In the past, Dworkin has offered fierce critiques of the Bush administration's terror policies from the point of view of a legal scholar. In this piece, however, he focuses on an even more neglected criticism of the policies, the moral one.
If you use a cell phone, pay especially close attention to the next few bills. This is the latest from the Center for Public Integrity:

Hundreds of Millions in the Bank for Service Not Yet Offered
(WASHINGTON, October 20, 2003)--The nation's top wireless phone
companies have been slipping some mysterious new fees in the bills of
their 101 million customers. The fees, which range from a nickel to
$1.75 per month, are needed primarily to cover the wireless industry's
costs for implementing "number portability," a new service that will
allow phone users to keep their same number when switching from one
wireless company to another. The companies are charging the new fees
with the full knowledge and approval of the Federal Communications
Commission, the government agency that is supposed to look out for the
public on telecommunications issues.

The cost to wireless phone customers: $629 million so far, and still
climbing.

Sunday, October 19, 2003

Lost in Translation

This is a piece about the difficulties the F.B.I. has had in finding competent translators. May I remind you that the U.S.'s homophobic policies resulted in the departure of several Arabic translators from a training school not so long ago.

True, that story concerned the military. Still, you know you have a culture problem when people won't take gay translators even when the need for translators is very serious indeed.
Rubber Hose has a good post on Bush's recent comparison of U.S. involvement in the Philippines with its involvement in Iraq.

Some got a C in history at Yale! (Probably - I'm too lazy to double check whether history was one of his C's.)

Saturday, October 18, 2003

State Dept. Study Foresaw Trouble Now Plaguing Iraq

Huh. I hadn't realized that the State Dept. planning for the occupation had gotten so far when it got scrapped by Rummy. Nice work, you jackass.
BBC NEWS | Middle East | Turkey cools towards Iraq role

Good news. I like the direction this is moving, if it really is moving in this direction . . .
Whiskey Bar: Freedom of Speech

I was waiting for someone to go through the trouble of assembling all these quotations together in the same place . . .
BBC NEWS | World | Europe | Kurd trial sours Turkey's EU hopes

The timing on this is hardly convenient for Turkey . . . or the U.S. (which idiotically wants to base Turkish troops in Iraq).
Just a reminder that the U.S. shouldn't send Turkish troops into Iraq. . . . in case you needed one.

Friday, October 17, 2003

Baghdad Burning

A nice little discussion of Turkish troops. Wow, I just can't get my head around how stupid the administration is being on this. You'd think I would be used to it by now, but there's something about this decision that just encapsulates all the stupidity so far.

Be sure to read to the end of the post for the Mexico analogy.
Another twist of the knife:

IAEA FINDS NO EVIDENCE OF REVIVAL OF IRAQI NUCLEAR WEAPONS PROGRAMME
New York, Oct 17 2003 5:00PM
The UN agency charged with uncovering evidence of an Iraqi nuclear weapons programme has found no such evidence, according to a report issued today.

The report from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), dated 10 October but released today after UN Secretary General Kofi Annan officially delivered it to the Security Council, said that despite the war and occupation, the agency has been able, "with the support of Member States, to continue with some of its investigations outside of Iraq," and follow up previous inspections with subsequent analysis. IAEA investigators also conducted inspections inside Iraq for a week in June.
U.S. should accept inevitable, return Iraq to the Iraqis

Pipes thinks the U.S. should pull out of Iraq because failure is inevitable. Didn't Pipes recommend that the U.S. fight the war in the first place? In that case, why didn't he share his rule of thumb with us before the war:

From this pattern, I draw a rule of thumb: Unless a non-Muslim ruler has compelling reasons to control a Muslim population, it will eventually be worn down by the violence directed against it and give up. Note that the U.S. government has already given up twice in recent years, in Lebanon and Somalia.

The U.S.-led effort to fix Iraq is not important enough for Americans, Britons, or other non-Muslim partners to stick it out. That is why I advocate handing substantial power over to the Iraqis, and doing so the sooner the better.

It's too late, frankly, to be casually tossing off comments like this. I've said this before, but I'll continue to say it until every stupid far lefty and far righty accepts it: An immediate U.S. withdrawal from Iraq would lead to bloody chaos. The chances for a better future in Iraq are pretty slim now, but they are nil if the U.S. leaves right away.
Experts Downplay Bioagent

I was wondering when a story like this would get written. Funny thing is, the basic point here has been floating around the better blogs since a day or two after Kay released his report.

The media does this stuff all day long, and they get paid for it. Bloggers do this for fun and they're often ahead of the game. Don't give me that crap about bloggers never breaking a story.
Rummy: There were enough troops.

Sane critics of the war: No there weren't.

Rummy: Quit griping. There were enough troops!

Sane critics of the war: Oh no there weren't.

Thursday, October 16, 2003

Filter Tips By Michael Kinsley

I want to be Michael Kinsley when I grow up.
The Pentagon Unleashes a Holy Warrior

This story is making the rounds today on my favourite blogs. Since my own blog is one of my favourite blogs (such penetrating judgment! such prodigious memory! such silly spelling mistakes!), I thought I would link to it too.
Scotsman.com News - Latest News - Powell ‘Misled Public over Iraq Threat’

This, by way of Juan Cole.

Ouch. Notice that this criticism comes from State. This isn't some yahoo from Defense.
Whiskey Bar reports a nice little tidbit about infighting in the Bush WH.

I'd like to point out a piece I wrote back at the beginning of April comparing the Bush's admin's infighting to all the fighting in the Reagan admin. This was back at a time before the infighting was so apparent, so I think I'll just pat myself on the back for pointing it out early.



Wednesday, October 15, 2003

BBC NEWS | Middle East | Russia shuns US Iraq resolution

Condi Rice's strategy of remaining cordial with Russia while dissing France has yet to pay off. If there's any wisdom in the plan, I have yet to find it.
The Pentagon is under fire for shoddy security checks on translators used at Guantanamo.

Whenever I read stories like this, my first two reactions are:
a) to feel angry, once again, that the military kicked out a bunch of Arabic translators (in the buildup to the war, no less) for being gay;
b) to wonder why it is essential to pare back civil liberties if the admin hasn't even tried to make do with existing laws.
Guardian | Turks will bring chaos, say Kurds

More warnings.

The U.S. apparently views the Kurdish fear of Turkish troops as some sort of quirk that they can work around. The problem is that the Kurdish fear of Turkey is entirely rational. Anyone who spends a minute or two thinking about this should see it. Why oh why can't the Yanks spend that minute or two?

Tuesday, October 14, 2003

Richard Perle goes freelancing again.
'A Gift From God' Renews a Village (washingtonpost.com)

This is not just feel-good propoganda. The plight of the Marsh Arabs under Saddam Hussein was well-documented, even if rarely commented on in the mainstream press. It's worth recalling that if the U.S. hadn't invaded, this 1000 year old way of life would surely have vanished within the next decade.
Juan Cole reports on a new poll on the presence of Turkish troops in Iraq.

I'm not sure about the poll - as usual, it's wise to treat it as suspect until it's methodology and sampling, etc. check out. But still . . .

You know, there are legitimate policy disputes where you say, "Hey, I disagree but I can see your point." And there are policy disputes in which all you can say is, "You're an idiot. How can you even think about doing that?" I think the decision to use Turkish troops in Iraq falls pretty solidly in the latter category. It's just so wantonly stupid that I don't even know where to begin . . .
Remember when things got a bit hot between Pakistan and India in the fall of 2001 (and onwards)? Many sensible people pointed out at the time that the dispute over Kashmir called for international mediation. Although quite serious, the dispute may not be intractible, and anyway, the consequences of a miscalculation between the two powers should be enough to get anyone's attention.

In the meantime, though, no one has dealt seriously with the problem. Despite the occasional hopeful signs of thaw between the countries, no serious progress has been made in resolving the underlying causes of tension. Now things may be heating up again. I notice, for instance, that Pakistan has apparently stepped up its missile testing recently.

I think we may all look back at this and wish that the U.S. had turned its attention to the subcontinent instead of Iraq. A joint focus on settling the Kashmir dispute and encouraging the spread of civil society in Pakistan would have done more to hurt bin Laden's recruitment than anything else they could have done. And let's hope that by the time the threat between these two countries is appreciated, our appreciation isn't being prompted by a mushroom cloud.

Monday, October 13, 2003

Cheeky question of the day: Remember way back in 2000 when all (ok, many of) the pundits cooed about Bush's selection of Cheney? Remember how everyone said that it added "gravitas" to Bush's campaign?

Are any of those morons still willing to stand up and repeat this? Or is it not finally obvious that Cheney was a disasterous selection - a wretched choice - who has brought out the worst in an weak and inept president?
Poll shows Bush job approval rating back up

This is really sad. What the hell is wrong with people?

I know there's a taboo against blaming ordinary people for supporting idiot politicians. We're supposed to focus our rage on the politicians, and complain about the media for failing to present the facts. Well, I do think there are problems with the media, but the painful truth is that the facts are out there and anyone who really wants to know what's going on just needs a bit of time and patience.

No, the fact is that some of the blame for the awful mess the U.S. is getting itself into rests with idiot voters. Americans want the benefits of empire, but they'll be fucked if they have to do their homework in exchange.
BBC NEWS | World | Europe | Turks warn Iraqi Kurds

Oh how I wish the U.S. wasn't inviting the Turks into Iraq. Has anyone in the Bush administration ever read a Human Rights Watch report?

One interesting issue that this raises is how closely connected our capacity to predict the outcome of decisions like this is to our capacity for moral reflection. Now, of course sociopaths are sometimes quite good at predicting how others will behave. But all the same, I do think that a capacity for moral reflection - semi-sophisticated moral reflection, at least, and merely not Bush-style moralizing - is often a great aid in figuring out how things are actually going to go in the real world. Certainly a capacity for appropriate moral outrage at Turkey for its disgusting behaviour in South East Turkey would have warned U.S. policymakers off their present course. But they apparently lack this capacity, and so they won't have a clear grasp of the extent of the damage until it is far too late.

Sunday, October 12, 2003

Whiskey Bar: Deserting Dean

The Whiskey Bar's bouncer throws Dean through the bar window.

I'm not as surprised as he is by Dean's remarks. He's presented himself as quite hawkish on lots of wars, and seems only to have taken a pass on Iraq. I share his general sense of depression, though.
TIME - Joe Klein - Dick Cheney, Hard-Liner in Chief

Cheney bashing goes mainstream. . .
Here's the latest from MEMRI:

Special Dispatch - Inter-Arab Relations
October 10, 2003
No. 587

To view this Special Dispatch in HTML format, please visit:
http://www.memri.org/bin/opener_latest.cgi?ID=SD58703

Al-Qaddafi: 'Libya Should Quit the Arab League... Women Must be Trained to Booby-Trap Cars, Houses, Luggage, and Children's Toys'

In an October 4, 2003 speech delivered to a group of women in the city of Sabha, Libyan ruler Col. Mu'ammar Al-Qaddafi spoke of Libya's work for the pan-Arab cause, accused the Arab countries of ingratitude, and apologized to the African states for bringing them into the Arab League. He also said that women should be trained to carry out suicide operations. The following are excerpts from his speech:(1)

The Reactionary Arab Leaders of the Past are 1,000 Times Better Than Those of Today

"...When the war against the Palestinians was declared in 1948, it was the only time that all the Arabs fought as one people and as one nation. The volunteers set out from Libya and from every Arab country for Palestine. The regular armies set out from Egypt, Iraq, and the Sudan and fought in Palestine. This was the period of [King] Farouq, [King] Faisal II, Nouri Sa'id, King Abdallah and the Imam Yahyah [King of Yemen.] We see them as reactionaries, and they were removed and finished, but they were 1,000 times better than the Arabs of today, who have no courage, honor, blood, or pride. They [the kings of the past] did not relinquish their honor and [protected] their women and their children. They did not relinquish Palestine, Iraq, Libya, or any other place in the Arab homeland..."

All Non-Africans Should go Back to the Arabian Peninsula

"Today, you cannot speak of Arab unity and pan-Arab nationalism. Today, you are an Egyptian, Sudanese, Libyan, Tunisian, Moroccan, or a Mauritanian. You are African... You are part of this continent. If Africa is not your land, go back to the Arabian Peninsula. If only all the Arabs, from Mauritania to Egypt, would return to the Arabian peninsula, at least in order to receive their quota of oil...

"The Arabs have become the joke of the world because they do not think of their future... The unification of the Arab Maghreb [i.e. North West Africa] was not the fruit of the thought of the people of the Maghreb; it was a dictate from the European Union. The Europeans said: 'We cannot deal with Libya alone, Tunisia alone, Algeria alone, and with Mauritania alone. You must unite, otherwise we will not be able to conduct business with you...'

"How can this great European Union, which includes nuclear states and industrialized states, deal with the midget Libya, with the midget Tunisia, and with the midget Mauritania? Europe said: 'We will not conduct business with you because you fly like chaff in the wind. You must unite so that you turn into one market, from Libya to Mauritania.'"

Libya Became an Enemy of the U.S., the West, and the Jews For the Arabs' Sake

"I came [to the Arabs] and I told them: Brothers, since our revolution we stand for Arab unity. We have done thus and so for the sake of Arab unity. The U.S. has become Libya's Enemy No. 1 due to Arab and pan-Arab unity and the Palestinian cause. Libya became the enemy of the Jews and the entire West for the Arabs, and without this there would have been no problems between Libya and the U.S. and even between it and the Jews, or between Libya and Europe. If we had not gotten ourselves in trouble in battles because of pan-Arabism and Arab unity, we would have been spared all the tragedies caused us."

We Should be Treated Like Africans

"Today, [the Arabs] curse us and attack us. If we were not an Arab country, they would not be cursing us. Have you heard of an Arab paper, or Arab ruler, or Arab radio station [discussing] a country called Lesotho? Never! It doesn't matter what happens in a country like this, they do not talk about it. Leave us alone! Are you attacking us because we are Arabs? We're fed up. We are Africans. Treat us like Africans; treat us like black Negroes; we'll stay away from you, and you'll stay away from us. Don't talk to us and we won't talk to you. What is the connection between Libya and Kuwait? One country is situated in Africa and the other in Asia. We will not meet again until Judgment Day, and then one of us will go to Paradise and the other will go to Hell..."

On Al-Qaddafi's Valor in the 1973 War

"We gave you [i.e. the Arabs] funds and weapons, and we became exhausted together with you, and for nothing. Ultimately, you all became friends with the U.S., and you recognize Israel. Only Libya has not recognized Israel, and of course will never recognize it until the Day of Judgment. We were exhausted for your sake, and ultimately you cursed us. We gave you 100 Mirage aircraft as a gift to Egypt in order to liberate the Sinai. We gave 100 Mirage aircraft, and then Sadat cursed us. It came out [looking] as if we had not participated at all [in the war], and the unfortunate Egyptian people do not know the truth.

"We are approaching the anniversary of October 6. All the boats that the Egyptian army used to cross the Suez Canal and all the rubber dinghies were Libyan. We do not want reward and we do not want them to say thank you to us, because we fulfilled our pan-Arab and historic obligation. The mobile artillery at the Egyptian front was all Libyan. All the mobile Italian cannons that we purchased from Italy and gave as a gift to Egypt. The Egyptians had no bulldozers. We acquired bulldozers [for them]. It was us who gave the Egyptian army supplies, clothing, and even socks...

"I personally carried the missiles on my shoulders and marched with them until we gave them to the Egyptians. The Israelis reached 83 kilometers from Cairo. But Sadat told me: 'Enough. I am finished with my war. Have a happy holiday.' I told him, 'Goodbye, and happy holiday.'"

The Arabs are Unwilling to do Anything for Their Unity

"The Palestinians and the Lebanese - we sacrificed our blood for them, we gave them our money, we gave them everything. We held training for them and ultimately it turned out that we were terrorists, while they embrace the Americans, the Israelis, and the Westerners, Libya is [accused of] terrorism because it trained the Palestinians. We fulfilled our obligation, we gave our money, we gave them weapons, we exposed ourselves to dangers, [and] we are on the blacklist to this day...

"The Arabs are completely useless. They are unwilling to do anything for the sake of unity."

We'll Ultimately be in Our African Nation on the African Continent

"We will not be finished together with them. We will be, ultimately, in our African nation and on the African continent... by means of which we will become stronger, like the American continent and the European continent. The Arabs have written a mark of disgrace in history that they will never be able to eradicate. They watch what is happening in Iraq and in Palestine from the sidelines. They are finished. They have no honor and they have no blood. There is no longer any Arab blood or pan-Arab blood, Arab unity, Arab manliness, Arab femininity. There is nothing. The situation has gotten so bad that the women are the ones who take the initiative. Today was the most dangerous Fedaii operation in so-called Israel - and it was carried out by a young Palestinian woman, not by a man."

Apology to the African States for Dragging Them Into the Arab League

"There are nations to which I did an injustice and I apologize for this. I brought Mauritania, Djibouti, Somalia, and the Comoro Islands into the Arab League, and I tried to bring in Eritrea. But now I cannot speak with Eritrea. Look what an injustice I did them. I brought them into a failed nation, a failed regime, and failed people....

"The Arabs are completely useless. We must not waste time. The Arabs are through. Tomorrow, Asia will establish great unions and Africa is already united - and where are you, Arab?..."

I Ask the Libyan People to Quit the Arab League

"I ask of the Libyan people to agree to quit the Arab League, without wasting time. These people [i.e. the Arabs] are useless. Their situation is terrible. We must be rid of them, of their curses and of their problems. Let them go in peace. They won't talk to us and we won't talk to them. Even the Arab League is nothing. It has been four months since its officials received their salaries, because the Arab countries refrained from paying their membership dues..."

In Favor of Explosive Belts and Car Bombs In Iraq and Israel

"The war changed and moved from the battlefields we learned about in books, into the homes. In the past, soldiers fought soldiers, and today soldiers fight women and children in Baghdad and Gaza... As long as the woman is home and she is the one targeted, she must be trained... The woman must be trained how to fight within the home, how to put together an explosive belt and blow herself up together with the enemy soldiers. Anyone who has a car must make preparations and know how to booby trap it and turn it into a car bomb... In the past they would say [to us in Libya]: 'Why do you train the women? It is not logical that the woman will go out to the battlefield...' Today the face of the battle has changed, and the arenas of fighting have moved to the place where the woman is...

"We must train the women how to booby-trap the car and blow it up among the enemy, how to blow up the house so it falls on the enemy soldiers. Traps must be prepared. You have seen how [the enemy] check[s] luggage. These suitcases should be rigged so that when they open them they blow up. The women must be taught how to booby-trap their clothes closets, booby-trap their purses, booby-trap their shoes, booby-trap the children's toys, so they blow up on the enemy soldiers."

Endnote:
(1) Al-Shams (Libya), October 5, 2003.

Charming. Quite charming.
Violence in Iraq Spreads to North (washingtonpost.com)

One of the pleasant surprises out of Iraq so far is how quiet, relatively speaking, the North has been. I hope that this story isn't a sign that things are deteriorating now.
Der Spiegel is reporting that Israel may strike Iran in an attempt to destroy its nuclear program.

That would raise the temperature a notch or two, I suspect.

Ha'aretz's description of the Der Spiegel piece begins:

Israel is prepared to launch an attack on Iran's nuclear sites in order to prevent them from being operational, the German weekly magazine Der Spiegel reported Saturday.

But the story doesn't appear to suggest that any sort of attack is immanent. It only claims that Israel has drawn up detailed plans for an attack. But of course countries draw up details plans for things they won't do all the time.

Striking now would scuttle talks with Iran on its compliance with the IAEA, which no one wants. I wonder what's going on here. . . . Perhaps this threat is being held in reserve in case talks break down.

Saturday, October 11, 2003

Are these idiots freelancing or is this all part of the plan?
Good to be reminded every once and a while that the Lukid party does not have a monopoly on insanity.
KR Washington Bureau | 10/10/2003 | Leak of CIA officers leaves trail of damage

Now the problem with stories like this is that they're all sourced to current or former CIA officials. It may well turn out that the leak was a serious one. But I just don't trust the CIA to be straight about it. They have too much in this to be trusted: The worse the admin looks on this whole thing, the less attention is paid to the screwups within the CIA, and the more leverage the CIA against the White House when it comes to apportioning blame for those screwups.

I'm reserving judgment on this for a bit, until I hear something firmer. That is, I'm reserving judgment on the question of how seriously the leak damaged national security. I don't have any doubt about what leak itself and, ever more important, the failure to act on it, says about this administration. For that I have all the evidence I need that top officials in the admin have zero integrity.
Just watched Frontline's documentaryon the Iraq War.

Random observations:

1. Holy crap, Bremer has enormous feet! I noticed his big gangly boots once in a picture, but you don't really get a sense of it until you see him try to walk.
2. I never watch TV, so I forget how much I dislike watching Bush or Cheney speak. This reminded me.
3. The interviewer guy was a real knob. I hated his "gritty interviewer" act, which basically consisted in his simply repeating whatever anyone said back to them in an incredulous tone. Doesn't this guy practice in front of the mirror? Doesn't he notice he looks like a knob?
4. The interviews with the Iraqi exiles are fascinating. Chalabi comes off as such - such, such, such - an idiot. What I want to know is, how the hell did this guy impress J. Miller, Rumsfeld, Wolfie, etc.? I wouldn't trust that guy with my laundry, and these very smart (say what you like, they're not stupid) people entrusted their reputations to him. But the other exiles come off looking much better. I found myself really rooting for them, hoping that it will work out, that I'll be wrong in my dire predictions, hoping that Iraq won't turn into a bloody mess, hoping against hope that it escapes the fate of Lebanon.

Friday, October 10, 2003

The latest from HRW:

Pakistan: Four Years After Coup, Rights Abuses Abound

(New York, October 10, 2003) -- Pervez Musharraf's four-year
rule in Pakistan has led to serious human rights abuses,
Human Rights Watch charged today in a letter to the
Pakistani president. On the fourth anniversary of the
military coup that brought General Musharraf to power, Human
Rights Watch called on him to immediately return the country
to constitutional rule.

Human Rights Watch pointed out in its letter that military
agencies have frequently tortured and harassed political
opponents, critical journalists, and former government
officials. The past four years have also seen a rise in
activity by extremist religious groups and an increase in
sectarian killings in Pakistan, in part due to the Musharraf
government's policy of marginalizing mainstream opposition
political groups. Opposition legislators have told Human
Rights Watch they have been beaten, harassed and subjected
to blackmail for opposing Musharraf's policies.

"In Pakistan, the judiciary has been emasculated, political
parties rendered powerless, and extremist and sectarian
religious parties strengthened under Musharraf's rule," said
Brad Adams, executive director of Human Rights Watch's Asia
Division. "General Musharraf should transfer power to a
legitimate government now."

Pakistan's parliamentary opposition has contested
Musharraf's efforts to ensure that federal and provincial
governments remain subordinate to the military. The
Musharraf administration has sidelined the mainstream
political opposition and negotiated only with the Muttahida
Majlis-e-Ama, an alliance of religious political parties
that have historically enjoyed close links with the Pakistan
military. However, even these negotiations broke down
recently over General Musharraf's refusal to provide a date
by which he would resign as army chief in exchange for being
elected president of Pakistan in a civilian capacity.

The growing influence of extremist religious elements has
impinged on the rights of women and religious minorities.
Laws regarding rape and honor killings still discriminate
against women. The number of blasphemy cases registered has
risen while discrimination and persecution on grounds of
religion persist. Adherents of the Shi'a branch of Islam
have faced numerous violent attacks by Sunni Muslim militant
groups.

Human Rights Watch also raised concerns about Pakistan's
collaboration with the United States in the so-called war on
terror.

"Pakistan's collaboration in the U.S. `war on terror' has
been exemplified by a disregard for due process. Arbitrary
arrests and detentions, allegedly with the support of U.S.
authorities in Pakistan, have taken place with depressing
regularity," Adams said.

To view the letter to General Musharraf, please see:
http://www.hrw.org/press/2003/10/pakistan10103-ltr.htm
For those with the time (certainly not me), you might want to check out an interesting interview on the subject of Don Rumsfeld in the Atlantic Monthly.
Earlier, I indulged in baseless speculation that Libby and Rove were behind the Plame affair (the guess was "Libby, with an assist from Rove.").

Then the White House specifically denied that they were involved.

So why haven't I apologized? Well, because they haven't exactly denied that they were involved. And so the theory is not dead - not quite, not yet.

Check out Josh Marshall's post on this here. (And please pay special attention to his point that the question was not asked by a mainstream reporter.)

I promise to apologize when it becomes appropriate to apologize. But not a minute before then.
Well, isn't that classy? A U.S. administration official says that Canadians are ashamed of their Prime Minister for joking about smoking a little pot once it is decrminalized.

Well, he's certainly right that many of us are ashamed of our Prime Minister. But I thought his remarks on this subject were actually a nice touch, a pleasant exception to the nonsense that usually comes out of his mouth.
Brad DeLong has a nice little piece on the criticism of motives in political and economic arguments.

Thursday, October 09, 2003

Kurd Sellout Watch, Day 219 - The Turkish are coming, the Turkish are coming! By Timothy Noah

They're idiots. They're just complete idiots. If Mr. Noah fails to convince, please direct your browser to Human Rights Watch to get a sense of what the U.S. is flirting with here.
Josh Marshall nails it again.

Don't know whether to laugh or cry. . .
Daniel Pipes writes:

"Suppose for an instant that no weapons of mass destruction ever turn up in Iraq. Of course, WMDs might well still appear, but let's imagine that intelligence estimates were completely wrong about Saddam Hussein having an advanced program for chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons, as well as the missiles to carry them.
What would that imply?
U.S. President George W. Bush's Democratic opponents say it renders the decision to go to war a 'fraud' or 'hyped.' But they miss the point, for there was indeed massive and undisputed evidence to indicate that the Iraqi regime was building WMDs.
Defectors and other Iraqi sources nearly all agreed on his WMD program. The actions of the Iraqi government -- fending off United Nations weapons inspectors tooth and nail, hiding evidence, and forgoing opportunities to have the economic sanctions lifted -- all confirmed its existence.
Nor is that all: Rich Lowry of National Review has shown that the entire Clinton administration leadership -- as well as the UN and the French and German governments -- believed in the existence of Iraqi WMDs.
If no WMDs exist, the real mystery is not how the Bush administration made the same mistake everyone else did; the mystery is why Saddam purposefully created the false impression he had WMDs. Why did he put himself into the bizarre position of simultaneously pretending to build WMDs and pretending to hide his nonexistent weapons?"

Not so fast, there, mister.

Pipes goes from the perfectly obvious (a) everyone agreed that S.H. had a WMD program, to the false (b) so the Bush admin was telling the truth (or were, at least, sincere) in their claims about S.H.'s alleged WMD program.

Why is this a problem?

First, there are programs and there are programs. It was crucial to the admin's position that Iraq's program was vast, ambitious and highly successful. The serious debate was between people who thought that S.H. had WMD and could be contained and people who thought that S.H. had WMD and could not be. The admin is most certainly guilty of hyping the evidence regarding the extent of the WMD program on this question. If Pipes disagrees, he must not have been following the pre-war debate very carefully.

Second, and even more important, the admin lied about particular pieces of evidence that were used to lead the public into war (uranium from Niger, pilotless planes, aluminum tubes, etc. etc.). They lied repeatedly about what they knew. In doing so, they put U.S. credibility on the line and now that credibility is essentially gone.

Just try and imagine the U.S. attempting in the next decade or so to repeat Colin Powell's performance at the U.N. Yeah, I can't either.

Pipes obviously cares about the proliferation of WMD. You'd think, then, that he would care about the U.S.'s capacity to address the problem. But Pipes' judgement about this issue is so distorted he can't even see that this admin, by repeatedly lying, has seriously degraded the U.S.'s capacity to follow through on its policies.
BBC NEWS | World | Asia-Pacific | US rejects Burma progress report

I'm astonished to say that I completely agree with the U.S.'s position.

Now if only they could apply the same standards to the U.S.'s favoured dictatorships. . .
New Chechen President 'Will Not Tolerate Opposition'

Oh! Well, that takes care of that.
Here's the latest from FAIR:

FAIR-L
Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting
Media analysis, critiques and activism

ACTIVISM UPDATE:
Times Corrects Iraq Inspections Myth

October 7, 2003

In the wake of a FAIR action alert, the New York Times printed the
following correction on Saturday, October 4:

------
An article on Wednesday about renewed criticism of the Bush administration
for its handling of intelligence before the Iraq war misstated the
circumstances under which international weapons inspectors left Iraq in
1998. They were withdrawn by the United Nations, not expelled by Saddam
Hussein.
------

Hundreds of FAIR activists wrote to the Times after a recent report
(9/29/03) repeated as fact a charge by Secretary of State Colin Powell
that weapons inspectors were thrown out of the country in 1998. According
to the Times, "Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, in a television
appearance today, noted that the Iraqi leader threw weapons inspectors out
in 1998, making it more difficult for intelligence agencies to get hard
information." In fact, as FAIR's action alert pointed out, the inspectors
were not kicked out, but were removed by team leader Richard Butler right
before an American bombing campaign. The Times had corrected the same
error three years earlier (2/2/00).

The TV program on which Powell made the false statement, ABC's This Week
(9/28/03), has yet to correct the error.

FAIR thanks the many activists who took the time to write to the Times
about this matter. For the record, the error was in Monday's edition of
the paper, not in Wednesday's, as the Times indicated in its correction.

FAIR is, of course, perfectly correct to point out the "mistake". This is one of the little rhetorical tricks that the admin used in the push to war.

The problem is that the inspectors were withdrawn in circumtances which were considerably more complicated than either the admin or FAIR admits. On the one hand, the inspection process had been corrupted at the time by spying and other shenanigans. On the other hand, the inspectors were withdrawn when it had become quite clear that Iraq would no longer really cooperate with them. By this point, the UN had caved into so many crucial Iraqi demands that the inspections were pointless anyway.

So . . . they were withdrawn by the UN rather than kicked out. But only after the whole thing had become a pointless farce anyway, a result for which Iraq bears considerable responsibility.

FAIR is so eager to point out the admin's lie that it comes dangerously close to distorting the historical record itself.