Sunday, November 30, 2003

The Hunt for Black Gold Leaves a Stain in Ecuador

Via The Agonist, don't miss this long piece on Texaco's work in Ecuador.

Saturday, November 29, 2003

Now this is just sick.

Couldn't he have waited until Summer?
This week's winner of the "Most Understated Description of Your Own Beating" award goes to Robert Cottrell, for his piece "Putin's Trap", in the New York Review of Books. Here is Cottrell, who has just been describing a subtype of Russian criminal called a "violent entrepreneur":

My work as a foreign correspondent in Moscow ended, probably for good, in October last year, when I encountered two violent entrepreneurs in a pedestrian walkway under Kutuzovsky Prospect, a main road in the west of Moscow where I had an office. A prolonged transaction ensued. I spent the following week in a neurological institute and much of the winter as an outpatient at hospitals and clinics. By Christmas I could open my mouth normally. By March I could write again.

Give the man a hand, folks. A lesser writer might have tried to play up the violence. Cottrell's description is far more chilling for its modesty. And though I have never (Gott sei Dank!) suffered such violence, I imagine that his account quite efficiently conveys the delayed acceptance presumably characteristic of most reactions to violence directed at yourself - the lag between the recognition of the violence, and the awareness that you are the target, that it is real, and not happening to anyone else.

Friday, November 28, 2003

Constitutions, Democracy, and the Rule of Law

Crooked Timber linked to this conference a while ago, but I just got around to listening to one of the papers, the one by G.A. Cohen originally mentioned in the Crooked Timber post. I thought it was quite good, though if you're not used to the conventions of professional philosophy you may find yourself a bit put off by all the logical throat clearing and hair-splitting he does, especially towards the beginning of the paper. Check it out if you have the time (and a high-speed connection).
Jonah Goldberg wonders sarcastically if he's "missing a more uplifting subtext" in reporting on Bush's trip to Iraq. Goldberg remarks, "Wow, I'd largely forgotton how nasty their bias really is." Oh, I'll bet he had. I'll bet the memory of "their" bias had become so distant and hazy that, if not for this monstrosity, Goldberg might have never paid a thought to it again.

Here's the offending story:

By Adam Entous
CRAWFORD, Texas (Reuters) - For a president fond of a tough-guy image, George W. Bush was uneasy when an aide casually asked him, "You want to go to Baghdad?"

With Bush safely back at his Crawford ranch on Friday, White House supporters seized on the U.S. Thanksgiving Day visit to Iraq as a public-relations coup that could boost troop morale and Republican fund raising.

But the trip -- one of the most secretive by any U.S. president -- also highlighted how precarious security remains in the Iraqi capital, captured by U.S. forces in April.

Despite unprecedented precautions, the president slipped into Baghdad under cover of darkness on Thursday to minimize the risk of being targeted by surface-to-air missiles and was confined to the heavily guarded airport throughout his 2-1/2-hour stay.

Now here's what Goldberg needs to understand. The point of mentioning Bush's security precautions is that the U.S. is locked in a dangerous and dirty occupation long after President Chalabi was supposed to be expertly steering Iraq towards recognition of Israel and opening up Iraq's oil fields to American investors. Now, imagine if Clinton - aw, forget it.

As for the implication that Bush is a coward, I'm not sure I see it in the story. But it would have been a perfectly fair point. If you're going to play stunts on aircraft carriers and the like - if you really want to play that game - then your record of skipping military service in the most cowardly way possible (bail out from daddy, rather than running off to Canada, as any self-respecting draft dodger would do) - if, if, if, then by golly, I'ma gonna call you a coward!
Ah, if you haven't had to tangle with lit crit types, perhaps this long post won't be your cup of tea. But if you have, you'll surely enjoy every damn word.
Mark Kleiman has a very interesting post up at Open Source Politics.

Kleiman argues that the progressive critique of Bush's policy on Iraq is flawed in its assumption that preventative war is always wrong. Bush's policies may be bad, Kleiman argues, but they're not bad simply because preventative war is bad as such.

There's a lot to disagree with in Kleiman's piece, but I completely agree with him that we need to rethink a lot of the assumptions we make about preventative war, and about the justification for war in general. It's very healthy at this point to have a debate about exactly when preventative wars are bad and why.

First a little terminology. I assume that Kleiman is using the term "preventative" as a term of art, and so that he intends a contrast with a closely related term of art, "preemptive". A preemptive war is one undertaken when the threat is immanent (in the real, and not Bushian, sense, of the word) - that is, when another party is poised to strike, has made clear its intention to strike, and all other plausible mechanisms for resolving the dispute have failed. The locus classicus of comtemporary discussions of preemption, for better and for worse, is Michael Walzer's Just and Unjust Wars. The classic example of preemptive war is Israel's 1967 preemptive strike on the Egyptian airforce, since it is usually agreed to meet all these criteria.

A preventative war is one that is undertaken without an immanent threat, and is instead based on a plausible forecast of serious danger from another country, whose timing is longer term or uncertain.

There is an impressive consensus, rooted in international law, centuries of moral reflection on war, and common sense that preemptive wars may be just, so long as the conditions are genuinely met. Political rhetoric pays the highest tribute to the doctrine of preemptive war by frequently depicting aggressive war, no matter how unprovoked, as preemptive. There is also a consensus, almost as impressive, that preventative wars are not legitimate.

One reason for this consensus is practical: Because the threat involved in preventative war is vaguer and presumably longer term than the threat involved in a preemptive one, a fair standard for a geninely preventative war can be extremely difficult to draw in practice. This makes the standard easier to abuse. In the wrong hands, it's especially easy to imagine the standard being twisted to justify wars of aggression.

But this kind of worry isn't particularly compelling as a guide to the rightness or wrongness of the principle. A standard's openness to abuse might make us wary about particular applications of it, especially when the statesmen applying it are not disposed to be honest about motives or rationales. But it's in the nature of things that some cases are hard to judge, and if a principle is abused, we should blame the abuser, and those taken in by the abuse, rather than the principle itself.

A more compelling worry is that allowing for the legitimacy of preventative war seems too permissive. Any country with serious rivals has long term reasons to fear those rivals. And this fear is all the more rational - notice - if a country's leadership has reason to believe that the rival country's leadership subscribes to a doctrine of preventative war. If we considered preventative wars legitimate, the worry goes, we would be declaring a very large number of wars justified, at least in principle (though they might be morally bad in a number of other respects). And this seems incompatible with our sense that war ought to be a genuine last resort.

(Consider Iraq's invasion of Iran. The war was quite unjust, both in the justice of its cause and in the manner in which it was fought. But recall that Iraq had very sound reasons to fear Iran in the long run. And while Iraq's invasion may have been rash, there was surely no better time to take on Iran, which was so weakened by internal turmoil. What better, then, to strike at a time of Iraq's choosing, instead of waiting for Iran to regain it's strength. If we want to explain what makes Iraq's war unjust, I think, part of the story will involve the wrongness of preventative war.)

So if we do want to allow that some preventative wars are just, we need to specify a great many further qualifications that will rule out unjust wars which are undertaken for long term strategic reasons. If we can specify these further restrictions clearly enough, we may still be able to make room for the justness of some preventative wars.

It's important not to overestimate the extent to which countries have always been able to take each other by surprise. Still, nuclear weapons do more to challenge the distinction between preemption and prevention than any other development in the history of warfare, and there's no point pretending otherwise. The sheer destructive capacity of nuclear weapons, combined with their ease of deployment, make hostile countries especially dangerous to one another. Add to this the fact that it's often difficult to know how much faith to put in deterrence. Even if he had had nuclear weapons, Saddam Hussein is not likely to have used them, except in the most extreme difficulty. But they would surely have had an emboldening effect on him, and this would have opened up far more chance for miscalculation and error.

What I'm not sure about is how exactly we might rethink the distinction between prevention and preemption. We might argue that nuclear weapons force us to reclassify apparently preventative cases as cases of preemption, but leave intact the moral intuition that preventative war is wrong. Or we might leave the distinction itself intact, but argue that its moral significance has been misunderstood. Or we might simply discard the distinction as completely unhelpful and morally irrelevant.

I suspect that it's better to leave the distinction between preemption and prevention as it is, but to allow, as Kleiman suggests, that there may be special cases in which prevention is legitimate. But I'm still working through all this, and find it very difficult to draw a plausible line.

A few of Kleiman's other points are worth commenting on. First, it's true that Iraq did not hold up it's part of the bargain by submitting to inspections. But the case for war obviously depends on some sense of proportionality between the offence and the punishment. So some further argument is badly needed to demonstrate that war was a just response to Iraq's cheating. I'm also afraid that the situation with inspections was more morally complicated than Kleiman suggests here. For all of Iraq's lies, the U.S. never really played the inspections game straight either. It allowed the inspection team to collection intelligence which was passed along to Israel, for example. I'm very sympathetic to Israel's desire for this intelligence, but this fact gives the lie to the idea that inspections were apolitical and reasonably conducted. And it was also perfectly obvious from the outset of the inspection regime that the U.S. would try to keep inspections in place as long as Saddam Hussein was in power, as a series of top officials all the way up to George Bush Senior made clear.

Also, Kleiman expresses doubt about whether sanctions were really much worse than war. It's very useful to remember how awful the sanctions were, and to face up to the fact that continued sanctions as an alternative to war would have led to further suffering among the Iraqi people. Still, remember that many of the early deaths were due not to sanctions but to the (deliberate) destruction of the civilian infrastructure. And this was an effect of the actual fighting and not the sanctions. Second, there is evidence, collected for example in a UN report released just prior to the war, that the worst of the health crisis in Iraq was over. Both of these points, however, pale in comparison to the third point, which is that if Iraq undergoes a civil war, as I am increasingly afraid it will, then I can say with great confidence that the sanctions were preferable to war.
Matthew Yglesias thinks that Bush's trip to Iraq is a farce. Brad DeLong is much more charitable.

Sorta seems as if he's damned if he does and damned if he doesn't, doesn't it?

So, should we just leave him alone?

Hell, no!

Why, you ask?

Because its Bush's fault in the first place that he's damned if he does and damned if he doesn't! Yeah, it's certainly a nice gesture to fly over and cheer up some troops. (It's not fair to doubt that he cheered up lots of troops. Come on, now.) So I understand DeLong's reaction: All other things being equal, it is a great gesture.

And yet, and yet, all other things are not equal. He shouldn't have to be cheering anyone in Iraq up now. In a better world, there wouldn't have been a war in the first place and he would have been able to fly to Afghanistan to cheer up the troops for having helped to stablize the country and capture bin Laden and co.

And it doesn't help that he's telling all kinds of smarmy lies there (e.g., they're keeping America safe - when invading Iraq did nothing of the sort) and getting a superb photo-op in the process.

Thursday, November 27, 2003

More Gelb bashing, this time from Helena Cobban.

I got my licks in early.
Some holiday fun with Friedman today. Adopting the clever, and entirely unexpected, literary device of pretending to be Saddam Hussein writing a letter to Bush, Friedman writes:

By now you've realized that I was prepared for this war. I got rid of all my W.M.D., hid explosives and set up an underground network to fight you once you were in country. But God bless the Turkish Parliament. By not allowing you to use Turkey to invade from the north, my boys in the Sunni Triangle were spared. By the time you got here from the south, we just receded into the shadows. You occupied our Sunni towns, but never defeated them. Had you been able to sweep down from the north, my boys would have had to engage you, and you would have killed them wholesale by the hundreds. Now you have to kill them retail — one by one.

Friedman sure can pack a lot of nonsense into a short paragraph. It's hard to know where to begin.

Friedman supposes that S.H.'s grand plot involved getting rid of W.M.D., rather than, say, supposing that if he kept most of his brutality directed inward he would be left alone. (No one else is going to make that mistake again soon! Get working on your W.M.D. everyone!)

I also expect that S.H's preparation for an overthrow was far less developed than Friedman thinks, if it was developed at all. I don't think S.H. planned, for example, to have weapons caches lying around unguarded long after the downfall of the government so that insurgents could restock when supplies dwindled.

It may be comforting to portray your own incompetence as your enemy's evil genius, but it's not especially helpful if you're trying to figure out what is actually happening.

What really caught my interest, though, is that Friedman wants to pin the blame for much of the postwar situation on Turkey. This is a very convenient explanation for the whole mess in Iraq. In fact, it's so convenient that I'm astonished I haven't seen more of this line. Hell, it's so damn convenient, I'm going to bet that it becomes enshrined as a major article of faith among the pro-war camp. I'll bet that years from now we'll be hearing people defensively refering to the oasis of democracy that the Middle East might have been if only Turkey hadn't gone and ruined everything.

So I might as well take my first crack at it, even though it won't do any good.

I do agree that the war would probably have gone more smoothly if troops had been able to go in through the North as well as the South. But many of the postwar problems also appear to stem from entirely different causes, among them the failure to provide enough troops to properly secure areas once the fighting was over. That ain't Turkey's fault.

Friedman seems to think that this magnificent sweep from the North would have wiped out the bulk of what currently ails Iraq, but it's now obvious that resistance to a U.S. occupation runs very deep in the Sunni triangle (for example). There are many tens of thousands of angry young men in Iraq now. I'm not sure how much difference killing "hundreds" of them would have made, especially when they would have left behind brothers and friends and parents to avenge them. Better, if I can offer a little advice, to keep an eye on enormous caches of weapons that seem to be lying around unguarded a lot of the time.

Anyway, if S.H. planned the whole damn thing, as Friedman suggests, wouldn't he have given the orders for those troops to melt away before they could get pulverized? Or is his evil genius only selective? May we invoke it to get ourselves off the hook and reinvoke it when we're casting blame at others?

Set that aside, though. Orders or no orders, one would have thought that many of these troups would have had the sense to melt away rather than risk a direct confrontation with the U.S. as it swept down from the North. But don't take my word for it: that's what a lot of them did when the U.S. came in from the South, isn't it?

But if we're playing the blame game, it's worth taking a closer look at how Friedman keeps score. Friedman assumes the essential rightness of U.S. behaviour and then rates other country's actions depending on how well they fit with its plans. Well, of course if you do that Turkey comes off looking pretty bad. But if the U.S. has no right in Iraq in the first place, if the venture was dishonestly sold and contrary and international law, why assume that it's the failure of others to cooperate that's to blame when things go wrong?

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Abu Aardvark tries to imagine Michael Ledeen locked in a room with Laurie Mylroie:

Michael Ledeen, who can easily match Laurie Mylroie for obsessiveness (can you imagine the two of them locked in a room? Saddam is the source of all evil! No, Tehran is the source of all evil! Saddam bombed Khobar! No, the Iranians did! Saddam was behind 9/11! No, Iran was! Hey, maybe Saddam was actually an Iranian agent, and that whole 8 year war in the 1980s was just an elaborate ruse to pull the wool over America's eyes - you guys ever think of that?)...

Myself, I prefer to imagine them trying to set up a meeting: "Hey, I'll have the voices in my head talk to the voices in your head, and we'll set something up . . ."
The latest from Human Rights Watch, if you can stomach it:

Sudan: Oil Companies Complicit in Rights Abuses

(London, November 25, 2003) The Sudanese government's efforts to control oilfields in the war-torn south have resulted in the displacement of hundreds of thousands of civilians, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. Foreign oil companies operating in Sudan have been complicit in this displacement, and the death and destruction that have accompanied it.

The report, "Sudan, Oil, and Human Rights," investigates the role that oil has played in Sudan's civil war. This 754-page report is the most comprehensive examination yet published of the links between natural-resource exploitation and human rights abuses.

"Oil development in southern Sudan should have been a cause of rejoicing for Sudan's people," said Jemera Rone, Sudan researcher for Human Rights Watch. "Instead, it has brought them nothing but woe."

The report documents how the government has used the roads, bridges and airfields built by the oil companies as a means for it to launch attacks on civilians in the southern oil region of Western Upper Nile (also known as Unity state). In addition to its regular army, the government has deployed militant Islamist militias to prosecute the war, and has armed southern factions in a policy of ethnic manipulation and destabilization.

Human Rights Watch urged that the current peace negotiations deal comprehensively with the legacy of Sudan's oil war, particularly the ethnic divisions that persist in oilfields of the south and threaten the long-term peace.

The report provides evidence of the complicity of oil companies in the human rights abuses. Oil company executives turned a blind eye to well-reported government attacks on civilian targets, including aerial bombing of hospitals, churches, relief operations and schools.

"Oil companies operating in Sudan were aware of the killing, bombing, and looting that took place in the south, all in the name of opening up the oilfields," said Rone. "These facts were repeatedly brought to their attention in public and private meetings, but they continued to operate and make a profit as the devastation went on."

Conditions for civilians in the oilfields actually worsened when the Canadian company Talisman Energy Inc. and the Swedish company Lundin Oil AB were lead partners in two concessions in southern Sudan. Amid mounting pressure from rights groups, Talisman sold its interest in its Sudanese concessions in late 2002, and Lundin followed in June.

These Western-based corporations were replaced by the state-owned oil companies of China and Malaysia- CNPC, or China National Petroleum Corp., and Petronas, or Petrolium Nasional Berhad-which had already been partners with Talisman and Lundin. Following CNPC and Petronas, a third state-owned Asian oil company, India's ONGC Videsh Ltd., began operations in Sudan.

Statistics from the Sudanese government and the oil companies show how the major share (60 percent) of the US$580 million received in oil revenue by this poverty-stricken country in 2001 was absorbed by its military, both for foreign weapons purchases and for the development of a domestic arms industry.

"The Sudanese government has used the oil money in conducting scorched-earth campaigns to drive hundreds of thousands of farmers and pastoralists from their homes atop the oil fields," said Rone. "These civilians have not been compensated nor relocated peacefully-far from it. Instead, government forces have looted their cattle and grain, and destroyed their homes and villages, killed and injured their relatives, and even prevented emergency relief agencies from bringing any assistance to them."

The 20-year civil war in Sudan has been fought between the Islamist, northern-based Arab-speaking government and the vast marginalized African populations of southern Sudan, where the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) has been the largest rebel group. The war spread to eastern and central Sudan, and while the parties signed a cease-fire agreement in October 2002 western Sudan remains engulfed in war.

The report also covers the SPLM/A's role in the struggle over oilfields. The regular SPLM/A forces have carried out serious human rights abuses, including summary execution of captured combatants. Commanding officers of the SPLM/A have taken no steps to investigate or punish these crimes.

Peace talks promoted by a troika of the United States, Britain and Norway have been underway in Kenya since June 2002. However, the Sudanese government and the SPLM/A, the only parties to the talks, have yet to agree on how to share revenue from the oil reserves, most of which lie in the south. The northern-based government has agreed to a self-determination referendum for the south, but not until 6 1/2 years after the peace agreement is signed.

"The hundreds of thousands of persons displaced from the oilfields should be allowed to return, with guarantees of safety and compensation for their losses," Rone said. "This needs to be a central part of the peace agreement."

Related Material

Sudan, Oil, and Human Rights
Report, November 2003 available online at:

Sudan: Human Rights and Political Inclusion Must Be Part of Sudan Peace Agreement
Briefing Paper, September 2003
Via Metafilter: Find out how rich you are

Turns out I'm wa-hay rich!
David Adesnik, over at Oxblog quotes a friend in response to Gelb's piece in the times yesterday (for my take on Gelb, click here):

Iraq is unique in the Muslim world as a country where Sunnis and Shias, both secular and religious leaders, have often collaborated against internal oppression and external aggression, and have not engaged in the vicious sectarian bloodshed seen in Pakistan, or the Wahabbi view of Shias as heretics and polytheists. Shia Ayatollahs supported Sunni opposition movements, and a radical Shia movement like the Da’wa party had a Sunni membership of ten percent...

Iraq’s Sunnis and Shias are related by common history and often common tribal relations, since Iraq only became a majority Shia state after Sunni tribes converted to Shiism in the 18th century. Even the most extreme Iraqi Shias are Iraqi nationalists and view Iran with suspicion. Iraqi Shias believe their country is the rightful leader of the Shia world, since Shiism began in Iraq, most sacred Shia sites are in Iraq and the Hawza, or Shia clerical academy of Najaf, dominated Shia thought until recently. Iran is a rival for them. Iraqi nationalism and unity were proven when all members of the Iraqi Governing Council unanimously rejected the American proposal to introduce Turkish peacekeepers into the country...

Kurdish leaders from all political parties have called for inclusion in the new Iraq, and while many may dream of an eventual Kurdish state, all recognize that it is quixotic at this juncture. There is only a light American presence in Kurdistan anyway, and it is not the reason troops are meeting resistance elsewhere. A Kurdistan without US troops is the greatest fear of most Kurds today who live under the ominous shadow of their Turkish, Iranian, and even Syrian neighbors. There is no clear border for Kurdistan. Kurds covet Mosul and Kirkuk, where many Arabs, Assyrians and Turkmen would violently oppose secession...

Gelb’s proposal is the singularly least democratic suggestion offered to solve the Iraq crisis to date. Moreover, no neighboring country would accept the idea of dividing Iraq. How many small, artificial and unviable countries (like Jordan and the Gulf countries) does the west wish to create in repetition of its post Ottoman errors? Unlike Yugoslavia, Iraq’s different groups have no history of separate existence and they have no history of mutual slaughter. It is true that Iraq was to a certain extent an invention. But all states begin as an imagined idea. A state succeeds if its people believe in it. Iraqis believe in Iraq. If anything, the American occupation is only uniting Iraqis in resentment of the foreigners and non Muslims who
rule them, and increasing their desire to be “free, independent and democratic” as the graffiti says on walls throughout the country. Iraqis believe in Baghdad, an extremely diverse capital city, where Shias, Sunnis and Kurds live together and even intermarry.

I agree with the main sentiment expressed final paragraph, certainly. If I can add a pessimistic note, the author seems to assume that past ethnic harmony in Iraq (arguably overstated by the author) gives us a reason to hope that Iraq will continue to enjoy a reasonable amount of ethnic harmony in the future.

But past ethnic harmony is a good predictor of future ethnic conflict only if ethnic conflict is mainly about, um, ethnic conflict. I think it isn't.

What do I mean? In many cases - Yugoslavia is an excellent example - the real causes of ethnic conflict have less to do with ethnic hatreds than may seem the case. It's often far more plausible to see the causes as political, as having to do with the struggle for control over wealth and power. My sense is that the trouble in Yugoslavia had much more to do with the mafia and the struggle for control over state resources than with an eruption of long dormant ethnic hatred. And it is worth pointing out that Yugoslavia had the highest rate of intermarriage between ethnic groups in the world in the year before the ethnic cleansing started. Of course, recognizable ethnic groups are needed to get things going, and past grievances certainly help. Once things gets going, ethnic identity becomes the surest shortcut to figuring out who is safe and who is not - and this helps to fuel the impression that the conflict is, at root, an ethnic one.

This matters because it influences our sense of how likely an ethnic conflict is to erupt somewhere. Instead of asking whether there is a history of ethnic cooperation or conflict, it is probably more helpful to ask: Are there pre-existing ethnic divisions which might be exploited by unscrupulous leaders? How high are the stakes in the struggle over control of the state? What other legitimate kinds of groups exist besides ethnic categories (unions, associations, multi-ethnic political parties, etc.)?

I'm pessimistic because I think the answers to these questions are not encouraging, and because I think they matter more than the fact - to the extent that it is a fact - that Iraq has a history of ethnic cooperation.

Gelb is mistaken, I think. But make no mistake, the U.S. will need to work very hard to avoid a civil war.
Anyone with an insatiable appetite for current Iraqi politics should be sure to read this post by Juan Cole. Abu Aardvark has interesting things to say about the same topic as well.
Ayn Rand Admirers - The Atlasphere - Ayn Rand, Fountainhead, Atlas Shrugged, Objectivism

Oh lordy. Via Reason magazine's Hit and Run comes word of . . . . a dating service for admirers of Ayn Rand.

I'm trying to think of something funny to say about this, but I think this plenty funny by itself.
Chaplain's Release Comes With New Charges (

I feel much, much safer knowing that John Ashcroft will not rest until everyone with porn on their laptop is brought to justice (and treated to a bit of public humiliation!).
Will I sulk on Thanksgiving? Will I pout? Will I whine? Will I gripe?

By golly, I will!

My otherwise wonderful wife won't let us have a turducken!
And now for something completely different . . . .

If you like Jazz and live in New York City, you may like this:


Jacob Sacks - piano
Yoon Choi - voice
Jacob Garchik - trombone
Dave Ambrosio - bass
Gerald Cleaver - drums

55 bar
55 christopher Street near 7th Ave and w4th st
West Village

Tuesday, Dec 2nd
One set only
no cover

[Full disclosure: I'm married to the "voice"]

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Ew! Check out Bush's attack ad here. I feel dirty just linking to it!

It's amazing what a lousy speaker Bush is. People have already noticed that the ad has been overdubbed to correct a slip of the tongue (which apparently raises interesting legal questions). I wonder why they didn't overdub the next bit, in which Bush stumbles over his words.

Slate has an angry response to the ad, if you're not feeling angry enough already.
Leslie Gelb, President emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations and former columnist for the New York Times, has a piece in today's Times that deserves, and will no doubt receive, lengthy comment. Gelb argues that the current thinking on Iraq is flawed because it assumes that whatever the character of a future Iraq, it must be a single state. On the contrary, Gelb thinks, Iraq was only held together as a state in the past by brute force. Better to move, then, to a three state solution, with the Kurds in the North, the Sunni Arabs in the central part of the country and the Shiites in the South.

For an early reaction to Gelb's piece, see Juan Cole's remarks here. Cole, I think, is mainly right about Gelb. I just have a few points to add.

First, I'm not sure why Cole is so confident that oil reserves in Northern Iraq are so close to being depleted. I'd be curious to know why Cole thinks that, especially since oil exploration and development have been almost completely neglected for the last two and a half decades.

Second, both Gelb and Cole seem too quick on the Turkish question. Gelb basically seems to think that the Turks will just suck it up if the Kurds separate, while Cole flat out asserts the contrary. But surely the reaction will depend on all kinds of variables: to name just a few, the length of time between now and a proposed separation, the situation in South East Turkey, Turkey's relationship with Europe and the U.S. at the time, the U.S.'s estimation of the costs and benefits involved in each policy, and so on.

The thing that is really striking about Gelb's piece is its arrogance. Gelb speaks of various minorities and interests in Iraq as though they are chess pieces on a board, rather than groups of human beings with legitimate interests in own right. With a few modifications, Gelb's piece could pass as an artifact of the colonial era, when Western powers carved up with the world without entertaining the slightest doubts about their own judgment or wisdom.

The trick, as far as Gelb is concerned, is to find the cleverest way to move the pieces about the board. Why not, for example, starve the Sunnis of oil revenues to bring them to heel?:

"The United States could extricate most of its forces from the so-called Sunni Triangle, north and west of Baghdad, largely freeing American forces from fighting a costly war they might not win. American officials could then wait for the troublesome and domineering Sunnis, without oil or oil revenues, to moderate their ambitions or suffer the consequences."

Or why not facilitate ethnic cleansing throughout Iraq?

"For example, [the Sunnis] might punish the substantial minorities left in the center, particularly the large Kurdish and Shiite populations in Baghdad. These minorities must have the time and the wherewithal to organize and make their deals, or go either north or south. This would be a messy and dangerous enterprise, but the United States would and should pay for the population movements and protect the process with force."

No. This won't do. This kind of brutal calculating is almost always too clever by half. And Gelb's talk of various political arrangements as "natural" or "unnatural" disguises a plain contempt for the wishes of ordinary Iraqis about the shape of their future political arrangements.

Gelb's piece is a reminder that the capacity for moral engagement with a topic has deep connections with our ability to think prudentially about it. I'm not saying that if you're a good person, it'll be easy to figure out what to do. Nor I am saying, exactly, that immoral people always make prudential mistakes. I do think, though, that the capacity for moral reflection is very closely connected with our capacity to imagine what it is like to be differently situated than we are. Moral emotions and concerns can highlight aspects of a situation that are likely to be given more significance by other people, and that we're liable to miss if we're narrowly focused on the pursuit of our own interests. And this can be valuable when we assess how people are likely to respond to our behaviour. I don't know what Gelb is like as a person - perhaps he's a swell chap. But to judge from his piece, he hasn't bothered to imagine what it must be like to be an Iraqi now. And it shows in his grasp of the strategic situation in Iraq, and his sense of how things are likely to play out there.

There are no easy solutions in Iraq's future, and Gelb is right to point to powerful forces working against a unified state. Indeed, I am most terrified now of a civil war tearing apart a new Iraq within a year or so of a U.S. departure.

I also don't want to argue that a unified state is the best or only solution for Iraq. I think that's a matter for Iraqis to decide, if things ever reach the point at which a democratic process might legitimately help them sort through the options.

What I am arguing is that Gelb's article embodies the sort of arrogance that mars so much U.S. foreign policy thinking. This arrogance has (deservedly) come to be associated with the Bush administration, but it obviously runs much deeper than that. Gelb isn't some bozo the Times picked off the street. He's at the very centre of the U.S. foreign policy establishment. That he can talk so casually about other countries, other lives, in this way, ought to be an occasion for much soul searching.
Here's the latest from the National Security Archive:

National Security Archive Update, November 24, 2003



Oval Office Tape Reveals Strategy to hold clandestine Meeting in Havana; Documents record role of ABC News correspondent Lisa Howard as secret intermediary in Rapprochement effort

For more information contact:
Peter Kornbluh - 202/994-7116
email -

Washington D.C. - On the 40th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and the eve of the broadcast of a new documentary film on Kennedy and Castro, the National Security Archive today posted an audio tape of the President and his national security advisor, McGeorge Bundy, discussing the possibility of a secret meeting in Havana with Castro. The tape, dated only seventeen days before Kennedy was shot in Dallas, records a briefing from Bundy on Castro's invitation to a U.S. official at the United Nations, William Attwood, to come to Havana for secret talks on improving relations with Washington. The tape shows President Kennedy's approval if official U.S.
involvement could be plausibly denied.

The possibility of a meeting in Havana evolved from a shift in the President's thinking on the possibility of what declassified White House records called "an accommodation with Castro" in the aftermath of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Proposals from Bundy's office in the spring of 1963 called for pursuing "the sweet approach…enticing Castro over to us," as a potentially more successful policy than CIA covert efforts to overthrow his regime. Top Secret White House memos record Kennedy's position that "we should start thinking along more flexible lines" and that "the president, himself, is very interested in [the prospect for negotiations]." Castro, too, appeared interested. In a May 1963 ABC News special on Cuba, Castro told correspondent Lisa Howard that he considered a rapprochement with Washington "possible if the United States government wishes it. In that case," he said, "we would be agreed to seek and find a basis" for improved relations.

The untold story of the Kennedy-Castro effort to seek an accommodation is the subject of a new documentary film, KENNEDY AND CASTRO: THE SECRET HISTORY, broadcast on the Discovery/Times cable channel on November 25 at 8pm. The documentary film, which focuses on Ms. Howard's role as a secret intermediary in the effort toward dialogue, was based on an article -- "JFK and Castro: The Secret Quest for Accommodation" -- written by Archive Senior Analyst Peter Kornbluh in the magazine, Cigar Aficionado. Kornbluh served as consulting producer and provided key declassified documents that are highlighted in the film. "The documents show that JFK clearly wanted to change the framework of hostile U.S. relations with Cuba," according to Kornbluh. "His assassination,
at the very moment this initiative was coming to fruition, leaves a major 'what if' in the ensuing history of the U.S. conflict with Cuba."

Please follow the link below:

Monday, November 24, 2003

I'm sure everyone in the blogosphere has already heard about this, but just in case . . . this handy website promises to turn NY Times article links into permalinks.

Anything that helps to postpone linkrot, I suppose . . . .
Random links . . .

Phil Carter at Intel Dump sifts through the latest signs of a drop in reenlistment among reserves.

Steve at No More Mister Nice Blog wonders where Friedman gets off with his latest column. Friedman's latest muses about whether Americans are losing their nerve for fear of terrorist attacks. Excuse me, Mr. Friedman, but aren't you the guy who wrote that another September 11th would mean the death of civil liberties in the U.S.? (I'm relying on memory here, but I'm pretty sure that's what he said.)

And Safire goes off the rails . . . again. Here's his take on the Feith memo:

But with so much connective tissue exposed — some the result of "custodial interviews" of prisoners — the burden of proof has shifted to those still grimly in denial.

The "grimly in detail" bit is just so silly. At what point do the NY Times fact checkers have to weigh in on Safire's columns? I wonder what it would take. If I'd been working there, I think I would have melted down at Safire's recent claim that Americans have "supported the Kurdish cause through thick and thin". For the love of Pete, it's like some kind of sick joke or something.

Brian Keefer at Spinsanity took some shots at silly responses to the Feith memo, but Safire's column was presumably too late to be included in the rundown of distortions, errors, and falsehoods.
iPod's Dirty Secret - Neistat Brothers

Do we have too much time on our hands?

Remind me not to piss this guy off.

Also remind me not to buy an ipod unless this site is thoroughly debunked or Apple changes its policies.
Random Link Roundup

In Iraq, a recent bombing in the Northern city of Mosul renewed fears of a spreading insurgency.

The WaPo says that the military is taking a fresh look at the need for a force devoted to peacekeeping. The story notes strong resistance to the idea in the past, both within the Bush administration and within the army.

Conservative pundit watch: Mark Kleiman points out that Rush Limbaugh is in bigger trouble than he seems to think. Meanwhile, Triumph the Insult Comic Dog poops on Bill O'Reilly.

Meanwhile, the world's only known albino gorilla has passed away. And check out these cool Soviet era anti-alcohol posters (via

Sunday, November 23, 2003

Rapport Between Bush, Bremer Grows (

Here's the funniest graf in this piece:

Bremer's style, direct and briskly decisive, also appeals to Bush. "When you deal with Jerry, you don't have to worry about what he says behind your back. He tells you exactly what he thinks," said former Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger, who has worked with Bremer since the 1970s.

Either the authors are dolts, or this is a sly way of insinuating the opposite of what Kissinger says. This is a little bit like getting the Grinch to vouch for your Christmas cheer.
Via the Beltway Bandit:

Guardian Unlimited | Special reports | War critics astonished as US hawk admits invasion was illegal

Wish he'd said that before the war. . . .

For what it's worth, I don't think that international law has some sort of absolute moral standing. It might be morally acceptable, or even obligatory, to violate it in certain circumstances - just as it might be acceptable or obligatory to violate domestic law in some circumstances. But it was relevant, and it deserved to be weighed in the balance.

As I've pointed out in the past, when we're assessing the case for war, we need to take ALL the relevant costs and benefits into account. And if lying or omitting crucial details is necessary to sell a war, that will have a great many effects which need to be considered.

Friday, November 21, 2003

I've just finished reading the piece on Cheney in the New Republic that everyone is raving about. The piece makes a number of interesting points, the most important of which, I think, is that there are some good reasons for doubting the CIA's judgment.

But the piece also throws its weight behind the idea that Cheney is a thoroughgoing neo-con, rather than an aggressive nationalist. Although the two schools agree on many things, the philosophical differences can be important, especially on the subject of democracy.

I simply can't swallow the claim that Cheney has cared for a number of years about promoting democracy around the world. Examine U.S. foreign policy with respect to Egypt, Venezuala, Saudi Arabia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and so on and on – and examine it especially before Sept. 11th, and . . . well, concern about human rights and democracy, if it is there at all, is consistently subordinated to other priorities.

How do you tell what someone believes, if you're not inclined to believe his own testimony about it? Well, look at the choices he makes. Look at how he handles conflicts between competing goals. And then experiment with different hypotheses about what underlying values and assumptions best explain that pattern of behaviour.

If you do this with the Bush White House – and Cheney is, as the story points out, a driving force behind the development of its foreign policy – it's just very hard to buy the line that Cheney gives a crap about democracy.

It's very hard, but it's not impossible. Suppose that Cheney does care about democracy? What other assumptions do we have to make to square it with his behaviour? I think in that case we have to assume that he's very, very stupid.

Of course, he might be both . . .
If Friedman or Safire were bloggers, I'd just ignore them. But they aren't just bloggers - they get the regular opportunity to sound off on one of the most widely read and influential opinion pages in the world. That's why it's worth taking the trouble to point out some of the more stupid things they say, even if there's not much sport in it.

Here's Swopa at Needlenose slamming Friedman for going from arguing P to not-P without noticing it, and in the space of a month or two.

Thursday, November 20, 2003

Email back . . . Computer healing (slowly). . . I'll be back in full swing in a few days.

Meanwhile, let me direct your attention (back) to the Arar case. This story got shockingly little attention in the U.S., despite being a major issue up in Canada.

Is this kind of behaviour worth it? How do we balance the risks of terrorism against other kinds of risks?

And if a government is not bound by its own laws, at what point does it begin to resemble a very strong gang rather than a legitimate government?

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Billmon writes:

But I still can't believe that anyone with half a brain -- which may even include some of the people currently planning military operations -- would consider this an effective way to fight a guerrilla war. Granted, the Brits did have some success using air power to suppress a popular revolt in Iraq back in the '20s. But they used poison gas. I don't think Centcom is ready to dig that deep into its bag of war crimes.

A friendly correction: Actually, the U.S. used napalm during the "major combat" phase of the war in Iraq. The military originally denied using napalm, but it turned out that the denial was based on the fact that the napalm used in Iraq is a second-generation napalm, which has been improved since then. It is no longer officially called napalm, though everyone in the field calls it napalm, and it smells like napalm, works like napalm (except better), and so on.

Napalm is a chemical weapon. Most countries in the world have banned it, though the U.S. has refused to sign the convention outlawing its use.

Now, it's not obvious to me that napalming someone is that much worse than bombing the crap out of them. But then again, I'm not the one who made the conflation of different types of WMD the centerpiece of my rhetorical strategy.

Surely there's an irony here. As far as I know, only two small American newspapers picked up this story. Neither the New York Times or the WaPo touched it.

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

There was a man in the land of New York and his name was CY. and that man was blameless and upright, one who feared God, and turned away from evil. He had a laptop, which was worth more to him than all of the oxen of New Jersey. And lo he did blog on his laptop. And he worked mightily on his PhD during the day, and during the evenings reclined with his laptop and watched Monty Python videos borrowed (for free!) from his university's library. And he was pure of heart, or at least pure enough to hate the evil Bush.

Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them. The LORD said to Satan, "Whence have you come?" Satan answered the LORD, "From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it." And the LORD said to Satan, "Have you considered my servant CY, not a perfect man to be sure, but at least he dislikes Bush? And verily he treasures his laptop as a man should."

Then Satan answered the LORD, "Does CY fear computer failure for nought?

Hast thou not hitherto delivered him from system failure, even though he tempted fate this very summer by switching to a PC because he was too cheap [ed. Satan is unfair here. He was too poor.] to buy a Mac? But put his laptop to failure and he will curse his fate to your face."

And the LORD said to Satan, "Behold, all that he has is in your power; only upon himself do not put forth your hand." So Satan went forth from the presence of the LORD.

And CY was frolicking with his laptop on Sunday, tinkering with a blog entry before resuming work on his paper to be delivered on Wednesday, and lo, his computer became sluggish. And lo! when he rebooted his computer began to repair itself. But verily it was completely kaput.

And CY fell on the ground and said: "Without a laptop was I this summer, and without a laptop am I now. Anyway, it's under warranty and as chance would have it I backed up my paper on my email account an hour before disaster."

In all this CY did not sin or despair or feel especially sorry for himself, beyond a little pouting to his wife.

Again there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them to present himself before the LORD. And the LORD said to Satan, "Whence have you come?" Satan answered the LORD, "From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it." And the LORD said to Satan, "Have you considered my servant CY, that he's holding up pretty well considering how much he loves his laptop and how nervous he is about the talk."

Then Satan answered the LORD, "What. Ever. But put forth thy hand now, and touch his email account and he will sob like a little girlyman." And the LORD said to Satan, "Behold, he is in your power; only spare the laptop itself."

And so when CY went to check his email Tuesday morning, the day before the talk, verily was his email down. And Satan singled him out, since the email shortage seemed to affect very few people on campus, though the computer geeks did note mail server problems in isolated cases. And verily was CY an isolated case.

And then did CY curse his dependence on technology, having been screwed once before he got his laptop and by the same idiots who run his school's email server. And then did he curl into a ball and wimper and resign himself to finishing the talk in the computer lab, a process involving not only a lot of typing but also the futile attempt to filter out inane conversations going on around him a good deal of the time.

And so, he'd better get to work and stop playing with his blog. But you'll surely understand if it's a little quieter around here for a few days.

BONUS HELPER POINTS: Anyone know what you do if you think you might have lost your Home XP System disk? Verily, I suspect I'm fucked.

UPDATE (much later): If you've just wandered in from Wampum or anywhere else, I've written a little welcome here.

Monday, November 17, 2003

Conrad Black has been forced out as CEO of Hollinger.

This is so very gratifying.

A pompous windbag who "ruled" his media empire from Napoleon's chair, Black richly deserves this humiliation.
Juan Cole writes:

I'd like to see the Saudi royal family get out in front on this issue by forcefully condemning the Istanbul attacks, and by linking them to the Riyadh one, and by coming out against the anti-Jewish bigotry that has become so widespread in the Muslim world. Arabs are always saying they are against Zionism, not against Jews. Well, Turkey's 25,000 remaining Jews are in Turkey because they did not want to be ingathered. The front page of the Saudi daily al-Watan covers the Istanbul bombing. It then quotes President Bush at the end of the article condemning it. But this is a Saudi paper. What are Saudi high officials saying? They are not quoted to my knowledge. The bottom link on the first page is to the campaign by US Zionist organizations to discredit Saudi Arabia and to attempt to link the royal family to terrorism. Well, what better way to change that image than by video of a forceful condemnation by Crown Prince Abdullah of this attack on Jews? Saudi Prince al-Waleed bin Talal has recently said that the Saudi authorities have cracked down on preachers making anti-Jewish comments, since Islam respects the right of Jews to practice their religion. That is a start, but it isn't enough. And, it isn't visible in the West.

Catastrophic computer failure. Expect light posting.

Will return this weekend . . . I hope.

Sunday, November 16, 2003

I can't remember who sent me to this, but it's worth reading. It's a very funny take-down of Thomas Friedman. . . who, of course, deserves it.
I want to call attention to a little noticed irony in hawkish attitudes towards risk, and to use it to reflect a bit on a taboo in American political debate which has potentially serious consequences.

During the Cold War, hawkish attitudes to the risk of a confrontation with the Soviet Union were often alarmingly casual. I don’t mean that anyone actually wanted a confrontation. But hawkish rhetoric and strategizing flirted more openly with the risks of nuclear annihilation than many of us were comfortable with – and that includes many of those who supported standing up to the Soviets in all sorts of ways. (This isn't a point aimed exclusively at Republicans, of course - think of McNamara's advice to Kennedy during the Cuban Missile Crisis.)

It's worth remembering how serious a risk we were all flirting with. A nuclear exchange would have wiped out life on earth.

Compare this to the threat of terrorism. What is the worst that a terrorist could do? Well, it's pretty damn awful. In the worst case, a small nuclear device packed in a truck in Midtown Manhattan could kill hundreds of thousands, destroy the American economy, spread sickness and devastation, and render my favourite city in the U.S. uninhabitable. But this is still not as awful as the complete and final destruction of life on earth coldly contemplated by hundreds of pointy-heads in government and Think Tanks for the duration of the Cold War. And although this is a difficult judgment call, I think there's considerably less risk of a worst case terrorist attack than there was of a nuclear confrontation.

It isn't being cavalier about terrorism to point this out, since even less than worse case terrorist attacks are awful enough that we ought to be prepared to go very far out of our way to try to prevent them.

And again, I don't mean that anyone intentionally courted disaster during the Cold War. I mean that the risk of nuclear annihilation was never considered an absolute argument stopper when policymakers were weighing risks of different sorts against one another.

The irony, then, is this: Hawks during the cold war went from excessive risk-taking in the face of a far greater threat, to a total refusal nowadays to countenance any course of action that involves an increased risk – however slight - of further terrorism.

Critics of the current administration have noted that many of the hawks who were gaming intelligence during the Cold War were up to the same old tricks during the build-up to the war on Iraq. And indeed, there is a depressing continuity both in actors and tactics here. But it has eluded critics that the underlying attitude towards risk has been completely reversed: The risk of terrorism is no longer considered a risk to be balanced against other risks in other areas. It is a trump card, a genuine argument stopper. It is now the case that to identify a plausible measure in the War on Terror is automatically to have a decisive reason to act, whatever the other consequences.

Now, perhaps this is more a feature of hawkish rhetoric than hawkish belief. Anyone who is serious about protecting Americans from future terrorist attacks should also be serious about adequate funding for homeland security, and this is not something which the Bush administration or its defenders have been serious about. Still, I have a sense that I've put my finger on a real article of faith in the administration and among its supporters. And anyway, it functions as an argument stopper in real political debate, so we might as well treat it as sincere and examine it accordingly.

It might also be objected that the nature of the threat has changed in ways that make this shift in attitudes to risk intelligible. But this overlooks the fact that, for one thing, the risks presented by further terrorism are less serious than the ones contemplated by policymakers and analysts in during the Cold War (What is the best case scenario involving a nuclear exchange?). I think this also overlooks the years of uncertainty during the Cold War about whether, in fact, the Soviets were deterrable. Don't forget that this was once a very open question, especially over the years as each side postured to try to stare down and unnerve the other. But, more important, this objection misses the main point. The undeterrability of terrorist groups is part of the risk we're considering. And what I'm comparing is the risk presented by these two very different kinds of adversaries and the attitudes of American policymakers to that risk.

Without our much noticing or debating it, this principle – the one that says that no risk of terrorism is acceptable under any circumstances, and can't be weighed against any other sort of risk in formulating policy – has hardened into one of the firmest taboos in American political culture. It's the explicit party line of the hawks, who trumpet it most loudly, but it's also never been challenged effectively in the mainstream, as far as I know, and this has allowed it to enter the conventional wisdom by default.

Despite this, I think it's a terrible principle, and one that is bound to mislead Americans. In fact, I think it's bound to make all of us much less safe given enough time.

Let me explain this by describing one of the consequences of the principle in action. Consider the U.S.'s dealings with Russia. The relationship is complex, with all sorts of trade-offs, and I don't want to oversimplify things. But one very prominent justification offered for the U.S.'s steadfast refusal to press Russia on Chechnya, or human rights in general, or the failure to respect the rule of law, or for generally behaving like France on the international stage, or for any number of worrying developments, is that Russia is an ally in the war on terror and provides intelligence cooperation on Muslim extremist groups. (And the same considerations apply to China, more or less, mutatis mutandis.)

Well, I'm sure it does, though I've not heard many stories of actual cooperation. On balance I rather doubt that the trade is worth it, even on its own terms. Russia's behaviour in Chechnya has surely done more to inflame radical Muslim sentiment than its intelligence on radical groups could ever compensate for. But set this aside, and assume that the trade makes sense from the point of view of combating terrorism.

Also set aside – just for the moment - the moral question: Is Russian intelligence so good that it's worth turning a blind eye to the wanton persecution of human beings in Chechnya? Hawks who like to brag about saving Muslims in Bosnia and Kosovo might want to chew on that one for a while. It's a bit deflating to add Chechnya – and the U.S.'s non-response to it - to this supposedly glorious story. Pooty-Poot is a war criminal, and anyone who stares into his beady little eyes and comes away without shuddering is a fool or worse. But let this go for a minute.

The most serious prudential point is that U.S. policies which subordinate the goal of fighting terrorist groups over everything else miss the fact that an increasingly unhealthy Russia is bad for the U.S. (and a lot of other people, like, for example, Russians) for all kinds of reasons quite unrelated to terrorism. Investment, a stable source of oil, a potentially reliable partner, an actor on the global stage which still has considerable influence – all these things are set at risk by the sort of political decay in Russia that the U.S. has so clearly declined to resist since the collapse of the U.S.S.R.

This is a bipartisan criticism, by the way, and a problem in which – just to be clear – there are more factors than an interest in combating terrorism. I think Clinton's coddling of Yeltsin for quite different reasons played a crucial, and very unfortunate, role in bringing things to this point.

But the War on Terror as an article of unquestioned faith has made things much worse, and now stands firmly in the way of a re-evaluation of the policy. Here, then, is the effect of the taboo: Our politicians (and indeed, most of the chattering class) now lack the vocabulary, and perhaps even the conceptual tools, that would help to evaluate the various risks and balance them sensibly. That's because balancing them sensibly would require them to seriously consider the possibility that other considerations might, in principle, outweigh the risks posed by terrorism. It might make sense to accept slightly more risk in the War on Terror in order to achieve a more stable Russia, assuming for the moment that helping to bring about a stable Russia actually did require the U.S. to jeopardize a potential source of intelligence on extremist groups. In fact, I think this particular trade off would be worth it. And I live in New York!

Now, part of the solution here would be to try to figure out a way to frame the political debate which doesn't allow this point to be distorted into the simplistic claim that critics of the assumption are soft on terrorism, and don't take national security seriously. Perhaps you can figure this out. I'm not sure I can.

It's important to rethink this mess of intuitions from the start. For the refusal to consider different sorts of trade-offs influences more than just foreign policy. It figures prominently in the debate over civil liberties, for example. People have assumed that Ashcroft and others are acting consistently with past positions when they balance civil liberties against terrorist measures and civil liberties come off worse for it. But in fact we've come a very long way from the days of "Better dead than red". It would be nice to have just a bit more of that spirit back in the right. It would be better to have just a bit more of that spirit back in all of us.

Friday, November 14, 2003

Whiskey Bar: Soul Brothers

Billmon has nice little post here on Bush and Putin. Can I just add that Bush has made a point of refusing to meet with the Prime Minister of Canada at his ranch.

And that Putin is a war criminal.
Why Microsoft Word sucks, Part the Nine Hundred and Sixty-Second

I sometimes write posts on Microsoft Word before posting them to Blogger. This is partly because I don't have a connection at home, partly because it's easier to edit the posts that way, and partly because the spell checker saves my readers from many a howler.

But there's one thing that continually annoys me. When I cut and paste URLs into the document, they are magically transformed into hyperlinks. That's fine, except that this process usually automatically deletes the quotation marks I had around them, so each time I cut and paste a URL into place, I have to check to see if the quotation marks are still there.

That's not exactly the annoying part. The annoying part is that I can't figure out how to change it. It's not in the options, as far as I can see (which, by the way, are less easy to scroll through than they should be), nor is there any obvious way to fix this in the formatting. Try typing "HTML" or "Hyperlink" or "Hyperlink defaults" into the Help function, and watch in rage as the passive-aggressive little paperclip wears down your patience with irrelevant dead ends. That little runt of desk debris is smirking at me. Don't try to deny it.

(Why don't I switch to OpenOffice (Damn, just did it again!)? My academic work requires me to be able to type in full Greek font complete with accents and all. And as far as I know, the best Greek font program for PCs only works with Word. If you know otherwise, please let me know.)

Perhaps there's an easy solution. If so, I invite you to send it along. But the criticism stands. I'm not exactly computer savvy, but if I can figure out basic HTML, how set up a blog, check my email, and turn on my computer – hell, if I can brush my own damn teeth - then by golly it's Microsoft's fault and Microsoft's problem if I can't figure this out on my own in a few seconds.
Everyone is talking about the recent WaPo piece which raises the possibility that the insurgency in Iraq was in fact part of Saddam Hussein's plan all along. (Phil Carter discusses it here, and Calpundit here, for example.)

I would be surprised if this turned out to be true. Yeah, sure, I imagine the regime had some contingency plans. But:

a) It's not just Yankee self-congratulation that makes Saddam Hussein sound inept as a military strategist. He's been proving his total incompetence for the duration of his career. Think about his invasion of Iran, or the tactics he thought would work during the first Gulf War.

b) A lot of the insurgents are using weapons looted from Army caches that weren't guarded (Rummy: There were enough troops. Me: Whatever, Don.) Was it part of Saddam's nefarious and far sighted plan that Rummy not guard weapons caches, for example? Please.

c) Anyway, if I'm wrong, then I seriously underestimated the extent to which Saddam Hussein could command personal loyalty. This was a regime held together by fear, in which even top advisors had to be searched thoroughly to guard against assassination attempts before they were admitted to see Hussein. His elaborate security precautions before the war testify to the degree of faith he had in the loyalty of others. How could S.H. have assumed that the centre would hold once it no longer had the power to enforce its will?
Josh Marshall mulls over the consequences of unilaterialism:

In this whole unfortunate business, the White House took our preeminence and mistook it for omnipotence or something near to it. And by treating our preeminence as omnipotence they’ve put our preeminence into question.

Thursday, November 13, 2003

Light posting this week. I'm fighting a cold, preparing a paper, and meeting with students.

So, just in case you missed them, let me send you back to my greatest hits of the last two weeks. I savage the President's latest speech
here, and add a few more comments to that posthere. And don't miss my attempt to imagine what Bush would sound like channelling William Carlos Williams, or this response to an Op-ed piece in the New York Times about debt relief for Iraq.

Check out this piece by Josh Marshall. Of particular interest is the speculation (not unique to Marshall, of course) that Bremer put his stamp on the recent gloomy CIA report out of Iraq in order to try to catch the President's eye. In other words, he knew or suspected that the real news out of Iraq wasn't getting through to the president.

Where's a stovepipe when you need one?

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Juan Cole writes:

Although the military situation is not ideal, the level of attacks on US troops is not a military challenge yet. I suspect that this frantic anxiety is mainly political, and is fueled in part by Karl Rove's realization that if Iraq is still in the headlines next summer, it will sink Bush's presidency. The US press is not interested very much in other governments, nor even in US troops serving in countries that have their own government. Note that attacks on US troops in Afghanistan seldom make the front page, even when there are casualties. This lack of press interest in Afghanistan was a by-product of creating the Karzai government. (Bold font mine)

I think this is only partly correct. One crucial difference here is that the war in Afghanistan was so much less controversial than the war in Iraq. If people are on board, if they agree with the policy too, they're willing to accept the losses as acceptable. It's when people rejected the war, when they were lied to about its justification and its risks, that they become especially angry about casualties. Every single casualty in Iraq is unnecessary, contrary to Rumsfeld's assurances. Every since casualty is a reminder of why we opposed the war in the first place.
I've occasionally posted translations from MEMRI's translation service, always (or perhaps, usually) noting that I can't vouch for the accuracy of the translation, and also sometimes expressing doubts about how representative the samples from the Arabic press are. But I hadn't seen anyone who actually knows something about the subject comment on it.

Now, via Brian of Brian's Study Breaks, I've found one interesting bit of criticism here.

Again, can't vouch for the criticism. But since I post MEMRI translations from time to time, it's only fair to air doubts about it too.

AFTERTHOUGHT: One reservation I have about the criticism of MEMRI I linked to above: One of the MEMRI pieces is a translation of something by Rantisi, the leader of Hamas. Well, given the prominence and influence of Hamas, surely he's fair game. And if we're trying to work out general impression of things, his stated views will surely be given more weight than some of the columnists that Abu Aardvark cites.

In the interests of balance, I will also point out that if MEMRI's mandate is to translate texts from the Middle East, it's surprising that - as far as I've seen in their e-mail updates, at least - they never translate anything from the Hebrew press. In particular, they never translate anything from the settler newspapers. Is that because there aren't similarly extreme (or relevant) views to be found there?

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Haaretz has a brief piece on the security fence under construction in the West Bank.

Apparently Rumsfeld declined to criticize the fence during a meeting with the Israeli defense minister. That's hardly surprising. Not too long ago he referred to the "so-called occupied territories".

Monday, November 10, 2003

Yet another diplomatic triumph for the Bush team!
If you didn't catch it the first time around, Dissent Magazine ran an interesting debate on the moral legitimacy of torture recently. Sanford Levinson kicked off the debate with this piece. There are also rebuttals by Henry Shue and H. Weisberg. Finally, Levinson responds to both here.

The response by Shue is especially good. I TAed for Shue at Cornell and have enormous respect for him. It's a pity he isn't more widely read (outside of philosophy).

Sunday, November 09, 2003

A little more Cheney bashing from Josh Marshall.

I'm convinced that Marshall is correct about Cheney. I do think that the Bush presidency would have been a bad one even without Cheney, but I don't believe that it would have been so disasterously bad. If I'm not mistaken, Cheney was responsible for getting Rumsfeld his current position. And if you remember that (assuming I'm remembering correctly), Cheney's influence on the current government seems even more pervasive and even more harmful than you might have thought if you just focused on Cheney's personal screwups.
Tom Tomorrow takes on Rumsfeld's latest lie. Michael Froomkin also piles on the outrage.
An afterthought to my post below responding to the President's recent speech on democracy and American foreign policy.

I think that the war on Iraq will surely make Americans less safe than they would otherwise have been. This isn't mainly because of any backlash over the invasion, though there may well be one. It's because diplomatic, economic, and military resources which might have gone to fighting AQ and other groups didn't go towards that struggle, because they were diverted towards Iraq. Even if I concede that Iraq posed some real long term threat, the prudence of the war is not settled by the mere fact – if it ever is one – that the long term threat from Iraq has been dealt with. The prudential case for war has to grapple with the relevant counterfactual: We have to compare not just the benefits of war against the losses, but the probable benefits and losses of acting otherwise against the actual benefits and losses which will accrue to the war and reconstruction.

An analogous point applies to the humanitarian case for war. Defenders of the war have claimed that Iraq is now liberated, and so its people are substantially better off than they would otherwise have been.

Well, in the first place, they're not liberated, as far as I'm concerned, until they're free, and they're not free until the U.S. succeeds in establishing a functioning democracy. Now, Saddam Hussein was so awful that I agree it will be hard to find something worse. But in the meantime, there's been a war, and people have died and been further harassed and that surely gets weighed in the balance. More troubling, there is something worse than Saddam Hussein, believe it or not, and it is now a very real possibility. If there is a civil war in Iraq – and don't you dare count that out – things will be even worse than the almost impossibly low standard set by Saddam Hussein.

But suppose that Iraq has now been through the worst, and has been set on the path to freedom and prosperity. The humanitarian case for war still has to confront a more difficult question in order to succeed: If your aim is really to impartially advance the cause of human development and freedom across the world, was this the most effective way to spend several hundred billions of dollars and a generation's worth of credibility in the international sphere?

This seems like a pretty heartless question to ask. After all, it is extremely unlikely that the Iraqi people would have been able to dump Saddam Hussein by themselves. So what I am contemplating is having set aside 25 million people as too difficult a case for the moment, to concentrate on other people. And this means – just to be clear – that Saddam Hussein would have continued his low grade civil war in the South, and continued to menace the North, and that he would have been able to complete his destruction of the Iraqi marshlands in the South, and destroyed the ancient civilization of the Marsh Arabs. It means that his people would have continued to suffer malnourishment (though this was improving in the years before the war), and – perhaps worst of all – from an almost complete lack of hope for the future. Societies under dictators like Saddam Hussein continue to rot for the duration of their servitude, and in a thousand thousand ways. And I am suggesting that something short of the radical solution proposed by the Bush administration might have been better, morally speaking, even if I had been more confident that the U.S. could avoid the worst outcomes as it goes about reconstruction. Why, I can just hear Christopher Hitchens sneering as I write this.

This is heartless in its way, but that way is the way in which we are always heartless when we make difficult choices involving large numbers of people. What I am suggesting is that the humanitarian case for war has to consider not just the consequences of inaction against the consequences of action, but the consequences of the action actually undertaken against the array of other possible actions we might have undertaken using the same diplomatic, economic and military resources.

And if you are honest enough to consider it that way, let me suggest that if you gave me several hundreds of billions of dollars, and that much diplomatic and military capital to spend, I could have gotten you far more bang for your humanitarian buck than the U.S. is currently getting in Iraq, even if the rest of the reconstruction goes off without a hitch. In case you haven't noticed, much of the world is in rough shape, and it is part of the humanitarian case for war on Iraq that the resources spent there be diverted from efforts which might have improved the lives of other equally deserving people in other equally deserving countries. And if my objections to the humanitarian case for war are heartless, then so is the humanitarian case for war.

Saturday, November 08, 2003

What the heck is up these days with everybody's favourite Baghdad blogger? Explain this, will ya.
Global dislike for President Bush has reached the point that there's very little he could say now to please anyone abroad, beyond a brief resignation speech. Bush's speech at "The National Endowment for Democracy" on November 6th, was his government's most recent attempt to change the stubborn perception of Bush as a malevolent force in world history, and although it was no doubt pitched partly at his domestic supporters, it is not hard to imagine that the speech was also prompted by genuine concern about the intensity of loathing Bush now inspires the world over. The loathing runs very deep, and its impact on foreign policy is very real, since it constrains the sorts of the concessions Bush is able to win from foreign leaders, who have strong domestic political reasons to avoid any association with him. Although Bush's speech is extraordinarily dishonest on the subject of history, and also very short on specifics about the future, it does contain an inspiring vision. Given the context of the speech, and the speaker, however, the piece is as likely to enrage as to inspire, as initial reactions to the speech already suggest. The President's call for the spread of democracy, freedom, women's rights, and literacy, will be met with contempt and anger. It's worth reflecting on how we got to this point.

Setting aside the frustrating attempt to distort the historical record in Bush's speech (on which more below), the substance of the speech is as follows: Freedom and human rights are absolutely essential to progress, peace and stability. In the long run, the failure to respect these principles lead societies to rot and lose their vibrancy. In a pluralistic world with different faiths and cultures, we can't expect – and we don't expect – an enthusiastic embrace of all things American. But there are universals, and these include respect for human rights, freedom and democracy. It is especially patronizing and wrong-headed to think that Muslim countries are any less capable of achieving a free society than anyone else. The U.S. must move to protect and spread democracy and respect for human rights, since the failure to do so breeds the kind of false stability and political extremism that is both morally wrong and a source of very real dangers to Americans. Here is the high point of the speech:

There are, however, essential principles common to every successful society, in every culture. Successful societies limit the power of the state and the power of the military -- so that governments respond to the will of the people, and not the will of an elite. Successful societies protect freedom with the consistent and impartial rule of law, instead of selecting applying -- selectively applying the law to punish political opponents. Successful societies allow room for healthy civic institutions -- for political parties and labor unions and independent newspapers and broadcast media. Successful societies guarantee religious liberty -- the right to serve and honor God without fear of persecution. Successful societies privatize their economies, and secure the rights of property. They prohibit and punish official corruption, and invest in the health and education of their people. They recognize the rights of women. And instead of directing hatred and resentment against others, successful societies appeal to the hopes of their own people.

Though I have significant reservations about what Bush probably intends in the economic sphere, I think the rest of this is exactly correct, and so do many other people. If the President is willing to articulate such compelling principles, then I suppose things could be much worse than they are. It is better that Bush say this, for example, than that he glorify war explicitly or omit any attempt at moral justification at all for his actions.

But Bush cannot pretend to be morally serious while he acts as he does. And he cannot hope to persuade anyone when his words stand so obviously at odds with his behaviour. In the end, Bush's words will be unpersuasive because they insult his listeners intelligence. And they will be discouraging, because they suggest an alternative path for American foreign policy which is far wiser and more effective than the one it is currently treading.

Bush delivered his speech the same week that a scandal was tearing through the Canadian press. Some months ago, A Syrian born Canadian citizen had been nabbed at JFK on a layover during a return trip to Canada. In violation of international law which would have required his return to Canada, the U.S. returned the man to Syria, where he was imprisoned and tortured at length. When the deportation became a scandal in Canada, the U.S. government's response was to depict the deportation as standard practice. And indeed it is: the policy of deporting suspects in this way is part of the Bush administration's policy of outsourcing torture. The spread of human rights in the Middle East would therefore pose a serious inconvenience for Bush's administration since it relies on this increasingly as an investigative technique. Certainly, it leaves Bush in a delicate position if he genuinely wishes to push other governments on human rights, since his government's own position with respect to torture is not indifference or inadequate attention, but rather active complicity. And how can Bush urge foreign governments to respect their own citizens when the U.S. is not itself willing to forgo the alleged advantages offered by institutional brutality, and before the very eyes of the governments which are the targets of the criticism?

The painful fact is that the Bush administration has lacked the moral fibre, the resolution and the judgment to seriously question the human rights record of a very long list of allies. For most of these countries military and economic support from the U.S. bears no relation at all to their record on human rights. This list includes, but is in no way limited to, Russia, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Egypt, and the list goes on.

The last item on the list recalls one of the enduring puzzles of the Bush administration's prewar rhetoric for me, which was how the administration expected to spread democracy in Iraq when the U.S. has been unable to bring it to Egypt, in spite of its relatively moderate political culture and a generation's worth of substantial U.S. aid. Part of the problem is that although some U.S. policymakers see the spread of human rights as desirable in principle, in practice actual human rights concerns are consistently subordinated to so many other priorities – the War on Terror, the War on Drugs, the War for Freer Trade, and so on – that the U.S. has had depressingly little effect for the good on most of the troubled countries it deals with. Indeed, the final irony of the Bush administration's foreign policy is that, in spite of its reputation for assertiveness, it has been timid and unambitious in pursuing the laudible goals outlined in Bush's speech.

The world is filled with hypocrites, of course. But Bush is far and away the most powerful of them, and the special attention paid to his hypocrisy is not a result of simpleminded inconsistency. The administration's bellicose rhetoric, its drive to disarm potential nuclear rivals while simultaneously pushing forward on new nuclear research, its dishonestly sold war against Iraq all combine to make the U.S. a legitimate source of concern as a global actor. Bush's speech is not likely to address this unease because blatant hypocrisy is rarely reassuring.

Bush's speech was obviously written with the desire to present Bush as a leader comparable to Reagan, that great and principled cold warrior who was dismissed in his time as out of touch and hypocritical, but who is now held in such esteem that it is apparently unwise to criticize him on television. I think the comparison with Reagan is apt, though not for the reasons which Bush's speechwriters fancy. Reagan proclaimed himself against tyranny, but no one who seriously studies the historical record could possibly think that tyranny as such bothered Reagan very much at all. Reagan was an avowed and sometimes effective foe against communist tyranny, and communist tyranny was both wretched and worth resisting. But he continued and aggravated the longstanding U.S. habit of uncritically supporting any dictator who offered nominal support in this struggle, and we are still living with the consequences (Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran to name just a few of the most troublesome cases).

Like Bush, Reagan was probably a genuine moral simpleton, someone so disengaged from the world, except in the most abstract way, that he was unable to fashion a morally coherent response to any evil which didn't fit comfortably into his way of seeing the world.

Like Bush, Reagan's rhetoric could be magnificent and inspiring if stripped of context, but it fell on deaf ears precisely because the speaker's actions belied his own words.

But if the comparison with Reagan is apt, much of the history lesson in Bush's speech is dishonest. Bush cites a whole series of countries as if their emergence as democracies had some connection with anything Reagan did. In fact, the United States played different roles in each of these countries, encouraging the spread of democracy in some, tolerating it reluctantly in others, and thwarting or undermining it elsewhere. The last country on Bush's list, South Africa, comes as a bit of a surprise. Does Bush know, one wonders, that his own Vice President would have nothing to do with Nelson Mandela in the 1980s on the grounds that he was a terrorist? Does he know that Reagan did far less than nothing to help bring about a world in which Nelson Mandela could come to power peacefully?

This distortion of the historical record matters. It matters partly because it undermines the sensible things that Bush wants to say. But it also matters because part of being morally serious involves reflecting on past mistakes. Bush's administration is filled with hardliners who refuse to accept these as mistakes, or to grasp that living up to the ideals outlined in Bush's speech would mean a more radical shift in U.S. policy than any it has ever undertaken. And since they refuse to learn from these mistakes, they are surely doomed to repeat them.