Friday, January 30, 2004

Paul Krugman writes:
(Yes, the Hutton report gave Tony Blair a clean bill of health, but many people - including a majority of the British public, according to polls - regard that report as a whitewash.)
This is the third or fourth time I've seen that sort of comment in the last day or so. It's just weasily to insinuate that the report is bogus without standing up for the claim. So what if a majority of the British public regard the report as a whitewash? You shouldn't report it in this way unless you're prepared to assert it yourself. It would make my stomach burn if Safire used this little rhetorical trick.

I'm not sure if the Hutton report was a whitewash: My impression is that it was but that even if it wasn't, it was limited in important ways which ought to limit the kind of political mileage that people like Mr. Blair can get out of it. I also suspect that the BBC did actually screw up in their editorial oversight. But to be sure about any of this I'd need to look into it more.

(The rest of Krugman's column is right on, though.)

Thursday, January 29, 2004

Maureen Dowd thinks that the C.I.A. was suckered by Chalabi:
Certainly the C.I.A. has a lot to answer for. For a bargain price of $30 billion a year, our intelligence aces have been spectacularly off. They failed to warn us about 9/11 and missed the shame spiral of a deranged Saddam, hoodwinked by his top scientists.

They were probably relying too much on the Arabian Nights tales of Ahmad Chalabi, eager to spread the word of Saddam's imaginary nuclear-tipped weapons juggernaut because it suited his own ambitions - and that of his Pentagon pals.
That's a really stupid thing to say. I understand that Dowd has a lot to keep up with, being a pop culture maven and all, but is it too much to ask that she refrain from writing about politics until she's got a basic grasp of the players and their positions? (Chalabi was widely detested in the C.I.A.)

Meanwhile, Thomas Friedman writes another puff-piece with this gem:
Since Davos gathers together a sample of global leaders, business executives and social activists, it's a good place to take the world's pulse.
Your world, Tom, your world.

And now for a little rant:

Abolish tenure at the New York Times editorial page! Abolish it now! Dump Dowd! Dump Safire! Dump Friedman! Dump (the well-intentioned, but very boring) Herbert! And dump that jackass Brooks on the sidewalk without cabfare home!

Why does the Times editorial page infuriate me so? I realized the other day that it's not just that its influence is undeserved. The main thing is not that it's bad, but that it is so unnecessarily bad.

There are very few people who would turn down the opportunity to write for the OpEd page of the New York Times. Money isn't an issue. It may be unearned, but the OpEd page has prestige that basically makes money no object. And so the Times can have anyone they want. Anyone.

That means that those who call the shots either a) believe that the NYTimes OpEd page has a tenure policy which ties their hands; or b) are so stupid that Thomas Friedman is the best person they can think of in the whole world to write about foreign policy (and so on and on and on).

Just think about that: The best. They can think of. In the whole world.

The mediocrity of the Times page is a wholly voluntary matter, a gory, self-inflicted wound whose remedy is a few hours on the phone hiring and firing the right people.

Abolish tenure at the New York Times! Abolish it now!
Brad DeLong gives a lucid account of his bitterness at the Bush admin and the Republican party in general.

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

I have a question about David Kay. I mean, all he had to do was leave the job quietly, refuse to take phone calls for a month, and he could have settled peacefully into obscurity. Since he did play his little part in the drama, he would have been the butt of a thousand footnotes, but hey, what can you do?

But no. Kay didn't leave quietly or refuse phone calls. He's been blabbing away pretty incessantly and putting the admin in an awfully tight spot. What gives?

I'm not sure. Perhaps he was wounded by the reaction to his report, whose attempts at deception were lame enough to be widely pilloried. My guess - and of course it's a totally unfounded, unsubstantiated guess - is that there was a real struggle behind the scenes when Kay went to draft his report, and that the politicals in the admin won the struggle. Kay watches as a bogus hype-filled report gets destroyed in the press, and watches with mounting frustration since it is not called "The Bush report" but rather the "Kay Report". Eventually he gets really, really ticked and decides to say in public what he couldn't say when he delivered the report.

Anyway, I think it's really interesting that he's gone from serious spin to telling pretty much the truth in so short a period of time. And I'd like to know why.
Human Rights Watch, an organization I admire very much (though occasionally dissent from), has released an interesting paper by Kenneth Roth (their head honcho guy) on the Humanitarian argument in favour of the war in Iraq.

Despite a touch of lawyerprose, it's a good, solid piece, and it deserves to be widely read.

The piece is all the more striking because HRW usually declines to take a position on jus ad bellum (the justice of the case for war) issues, preferring to focus on jus in bello (the justice of the actual fighting) stuff. They stuck to that during the Iraq war, declining to take a position on the justice or legality of the U.S. cause and instead focusing on violations of the laws of war during the fighting. But HRW has decided to weigh in publicly on the humanitarian justification for war, partly out of fear that the Bush administration is badly discrediting an argument which sometimes desperately needs to be made.

I agree with almost the entire piece. But agreement is boring. So here's a passage I thought was a bit silly:
In noting that prosecution was not tried before war, we recognize that the U.N. Security Council had never availed itself of this option in more than a decade of attention to Iraq. The council’s April 1991 resolution on Iraq (resolution 688), in condemning “the repression of the Iraqi civilian population in many parts of Iraq,” broke new ground at the time as the first council resolution to treat such repression as a threat to international peace and security. But the council never followed up by deploying the obvious tool of prosecution to curtail that repression. Yet if the U.S. government had devoted anywhere near the attention to justice as it did to pressing for war, the chances are at least reasonable that the council would have been responsive.
Whatever. The corruption and cynicism of the French and the Russians and the Chinese appears to have escaped Roth. (Earlier in the piece, he praises French motives (!) in their 2002 humanitarian interventions in Africa. Ugh.)

Roth also has interesting things to say about the role of intentions in judging the humanitarian justification for war. Roth does not insist that intervening countries have pure motives. Still, he thinks that motive counts. I find this interesting because I spent many hours discussing questions about motives and the issue of hypocrisy in general with my students last year when I was teaching a class on the war. Roth's argument for insisting that motive counts doesn't depend on claims about their intrinsic value. Rather, he thinks that bad motives tend to have lousy consequences. In principle, I'm open to this line of attack. But I think Roth is wrong here:
To begin with, if invading forces had been determined to maximize the humanitarian impact of an intervention, they would have been better prepared to fill the security vacuum that predictably was created by the toppling of the Iraqi government. It was entirely foreseeable that Saddam Hussein’s downfall would lead to civil disorder. The 1991 uprisings in Iraq were marked by large-scale summary executions. The government’s Arabization policy raised the prospect of clashes between displaced Kurds seeking to reclaim their old homes and Arabs who had moved into them. Other sudden changes of regime, such as the Bosnian Serb withdrawal from the Sarajevo suburbs in 1996, have been marked by widespread violence, looting, and arson.
That just doesn't seem right to me. The best explanation for what happened was sheer incompetence, since there's no satisfactory hypothesis connecting motives plausibly ascribed to the admin with what actually happened.

Roth speaks with rare sanity about the significance of international approval for the war:
There is considerable value in receiving the endorsement of the U.N. Security Council or another major multilateral body before launching a humanitarian intervention. The need to convince others of the appropriateness of a proposed intervention is a good way to guard against pretextual or unjustified action. An international commitment to an intervention also increases the likelihood that adequate personnel and resources will be devoted to the intervention and its aftermath. And approval by the Security Council, in particular, ends the debate about the legality of an intervention.
However, in extreme situations, Human Rights Watch does not insist on Security Council approval. The council in its current state is simply too imperfect to make it the sole mechanism for legitimizing humanitarian intervention. Its permanent membership is a relic of the post-World War II era, and its veto system allows those members to block the rescue of people facing slaughter for the most parochial of reasons. In light of these faults, one’s patience with the council’s approval process would understandably diminish if large-scale slaughter were underway. However, because there was no such urgency in early 2003 for Iraq, the failure to win council approval, let alone the endorsement of any other multilateral body, weighs heavily in assessing the intervenors’ claim to humanitarianism.
I think that's exactly right. The anti-war crowd got awfully worked up about the failure to get a SC resolution prior to the war, though that would likely not have satisfied many of them. It sometimes got so that the backing of the SC seemed to be the sole criterion on which many people would judge the justice of the war. Nuts, I say. There are unjust international laws, just as there are unjust domestic laws. In addition to what Roth points out, the real significance of the failure to get SC backing was this: That on top of everything else that was wrong with the war, it violated international law. Unfortunately, it was difficult to make that point without sounding as if international law were all important.

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

The NYTimes reports that Powell is taking a tougher line with Putin on human rights and democracy in Russia. This is a wonderful development, though Powell is still being too diplomatic in my view. (It's not quite right - or at least the whole story - to complain that the U.S. is aggressive and unilateral in dealing with allies. The real problem is that it's timid and unaggressive where it ought to be forthright and assertive and aggressive and unilateral precisely where a little diplomatic finesse might work wonders.)

This is a great start, but Powell needs the rest of the admin on his side - and that includes Mr. I-Stared-into-a-War-Criminal's-Eyes-and-liked-what-I-saw. Otherwise there's no follow-through, no consistency, and no results to show for it except a couple of headlines and less cooperation in areas where Russia really does have something to offer.
The NYTimes heaps scorn on Dick Cheney for the bizarre NPR interview in which he made obviously false claims about WMD in Iraq.

Where are the jackasses who said four years ago that Cheney would add gravitas to Bush's campaign? I want to have a word with them.

Expect light posting for the next few days. Getting settled into the new semester.
Billmon writes:
Yeah, there's a lot of misinformation and just plain nonsense on the web, but a mass media that gives us Bill O'Reilly and Michael Savage on a regular basis, and that devotes more coverage to Michael Jackson's legal problems than the Iraq War, isn't in a position to lecture anyone about standards. The truth is that the blogs are getting better and better, and the mass media is getting worse and worse. If the credibility lines haven't crossed yet they soon will.
Aye, you can say that again.

Monday, January 26, 2004

The Internet is a truly strange place.

(Link via Sappho's Breathing)
The new Get Your War On cartoons are up. They've been linked to by a lot of sites, but I might as well throw my own link in, I suppose.

Very, very funny.

Saturday, January 24, 2004

Mini Link-Roundup

Support for the Flypaper theory found! And all it took was 500 dead America soldiers. How is that for a metric, Rummy?

Fear of a civil war in Iraq has spread among the U.S. government, according to this piece. The piece has been widely cited, mainly because it claims that the sunny claims about Iraq in the SOTU were contradicted days before the speech by high level CIA briefings. (But he still looked like he believed it! You can play "liar or stupid" all day with that one.) My favourite bit:
“Both the Shiites and the Kurds think that now’s their time,” one intelligence officer said. “They think that if they don’t get what they want now, they’ll probably never get it. Both of them feel they’ve been betrayed by the United States before.”
It's my favourite because it lets me harp again about unintended consequences: What do you think the chances are that Kissinger reckoned this among the consequences of his decision to sell out the Kurds back in the 70s? Or Rumsfeld or Bush the elder later on? People are always talking about the conflict between morality and prudence, a conflict which is supposed to arise particularly sharply in international relations. I'm willing to consider the evidence, but my sense is that people have the impression partly because they discount or disregard consequences of this sort.

Meanwhile John Laughland throws in a kind word for conspiracy theories.

Kerry Photo: Not Flattering

No, it's certainly not.
Matthew Yglesias discovers that people suck.

He's right, too. They do.

Friday, January 23, 2004

Colombia: Flawed Certification Squanders U.S. Leverage (Human Rights Watch, 23-1-2004)
New York, January 23, 2004) -- The United States has squandered its leverage in Colombia by signing a flawed human rights certification, Human Rights Watch said today. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell’s decision to certify Colombia’s compliance with human rights conditions releases $34 million in aid to the Colombian Armed Forces, even though U.S. officials agree that the country’s military continues to work with illegal paramilitary groups.

“The U.S. certification suggests that the Bush administration sees the defense of human rights as a matter of paperwork, not concrete actions,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch’s Americas Division. “It also demonstrates how readily the administration sacrifices human rights concerns to other interests.”
How tiresome. I can't believe anyone is making a fuss about this. Let's go back to talking about a real scandal, like Dean getting hoarse. Can you believe the nerve of that guy?
Azerbaijan: Government Launches Post-Election Crackdown (Human Rights Watch, 23-1-2004)
In light of the visible and significant support provided by the international community for free and fair elections in Azerbaijan, Human Rights Watch expressed disappointment about the often muted and contradictory messages expressed by foreign governments and election-monitoring missions in the aftermath of the presidential election. For example, the U.S. government initially congratulated Ilham Aliev on his victory, then offered a statement of concern about the abuses, and ultimately resorted to silence about the situation during U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s visit to Azerbaijan in December.

“The international community needs to take a strong and consistent stance against the rising tide of abuse,” said Denber. “In light of President Bush’s recent statements on democracy in neighboring countries in the Middle East, U.S. inaction on Azerbaijan is particularly troubling.”
Cheney: Weapons Search Needs Time (

Wow. You really can play the "deluded or liar?" game with Cheney for hours. These days I'm tipping towards deluded, after having been a stout proponent of the liar theory for years.

UPDATE: Mr. DeLong shares my bewilderment. Calpundit gently corrects him. But here's the thing: I'm really starting to get the sense that Cheney actually believes what he's saying. I could be mistaken, and I can't make a great case for it, but that's my hunch. At any rate, I think Calpundit's interpretation of Cheney's strategy here is actually compatible with the view that he's seriously out of touch with reality in some deeper sense. Remember that people who are quite out of touch with reality are also sometimes perfectly capable of executing strategies and engaging in instrumental reasoning. Someone suffering from acute paranoia, for example (and so quite out of touch with reality), might nevertheless be quite good at manipulating other people into sharing his beliefs, at least temporarily.
Another update to the post immediately below:

Some reader reaction. A friend writes:
yeah, it's true that bush was the greater bastard, but damn, wasn't that little bit at the end...well, mr. blogger sir, i giggled a little
Ok, ok. It was strange. But career destroying strange? Please. If it is, the press should never again complain about stiff, unspontaneous, and over-handled politicians.

Thursday, January 22, 2004

The whole Dean yodeling fracas is more evidence that politics is a surreal joke whose point continues to elude me. I watched the clip, which figures Dean stripping off his jacket, putting up his sleeves, speaking hoarsely to the audience and then giving a raw sort of yell that came out wrong.

The consensus, even among Deanites (I'm not a Deanite - I'm not following the primaries closely enough), is that this was a terrible mistake.

Whatever. I guess I just don't understand the rules. A lot of stuff in politics seems strange and contrived to me. The whole stripping off his jacket and putting up his sleeves struck me as strange and contrived. It seemed designed to emphasize how muscular and dynamic he was. Again, whatever. When Bush grabbed the kid from a throng of people before the SOTU for a moment - that struck me as strange and contrived as well.

I guess that politics has an unavoidable element of theatre. And some of that theatre is defensible because leadership involves skills that are frankly theatrical. But the relative importance of style as compared to substance seems so out of whack that I end up feeling like I'm watching some sort of absurdist theatre.

Two guys gave speeches that night: Dean and Bush. One contained a strange little yodel and the other basically consisted of a string of alarming lies. Look, what sort of assumptions are we bringing to the table when yodeling is seen as more damaging politically than giving a bizarre, sophistical, dimwitted SOTU address?

I'm not saying that Bush's failure ought to crowd out everything else, including failings among Democrats. Far from it. But still . . . It's just surreal. It's all just so fucking surreal.

UPDATE: Oh, what was I thinking? This actually clears everything up. I understand now, and promise to root for Bush.

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

If you're a Canadian CEO and you quit your lucrative job to run for the leadership of the Conservative Party, you can still say shit like this.

Ah, my Yankee friends, eat your hearts out.
Why would you go through the trouble to get an Op-Ed published in the NYTimes and then leave gaping holes in the argument?


a) You're stupid and/or have problems confronting reality.
b) You (rightly) suspect that no one who agrees with you is much concerned with logical blunders. But as for rational argument aimed at the unpersuaded, you've long ago decided against making an effort. Perhaps you even dimly suspect that this is not an option available to you, given the position you actually hold.
c) You (perhaps rightly) suspect that the best way to appeal to political allies who are, to your great disappointment, engaged in activity P is to accuse your political opponents of advocating activity P. That way you get across the idea "P is bad. Let's avoid P," without ruffling anyone's feathers.
d) All of the above.

Purely speculative, of course. But if I had any money, it would be on d).

UPDATE: The Three Toed Sloth weighs in, expressing sympathy for a) and c).
I can't believe that it's necessary to say stuff like this.

But it is.
This is pretty funny.

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Guardian Unlimited | Special reports | Aid cut off to millions in North Korea

I don't know what the appropriate response to this is. There is every indication that sending food to the regime only strengthens it - the food only ever reaches party loyalists.

On the other hand, we're talking about a lot of people starving to death.
Is Dick Cheney a compulsive liar or just insane? Cause these are the only options left:
Vice President Cheney says he believes "the jury's still out" on whether Iraq had the chemical and biological weapons that were the Bush administration's justification for war.

"I am a long way at this stage from concluding that somehow there was some fundamental flaw in our intelligence," Cheney said in an interview with USA TODAY and the Los Angeles Times.
The next question, of course, is just exactly what could persuade Cheney that there was a fundamental flaw in U.S. intelligence.
This is just such a brutual, thorough, effective and funny lashing.

By golly, that's how it's done! Someday I'll write like that! Perhaps.

Monday, January 19, 2004

Slate's Today's Papers writes:
A story in the WP's front section reveals what the Democratic candidates have in common: They are all apparently consistently tardy to campaign events. Among other annoyances that Iowa voters have had to endure in recent days: ubiquitous TV ads, a steady stream of campaign mail, and automated phone calls from Michael Bolton (who is campaigning on behalf of Gephardt).
Michael Bolton? Michael Bolton? I'm sorry but that's just sick. There's a line, and Gephardt just crossed it.
I'm all for mocking Bush, but most of the Bushisms these days are really stale. Take this one, for example. He just got a bit tripped up. Doesn't everyone do that?

Ah, I yearn for the days when the press had more access to him and could catch him saying all manner of genuinely idiotic things.
It's difficult to convey to people what a schmuck Conrad Black is if they haven't followed his career for a while. But this piece makes a game attempt:
The lawsuit goes into extensive detail, including internal e-mail messages that demonstrate Lord Black's often imperial manner and his fondness for grandiose language.

For example, the suit quotes a 2002 e-mail message by Lord Black to a colleague as saying: "There has not been an occasion for many months when I got on our plane without wondering whether it was really affordable. But I'm not prepared to re-enact the French Revolutionary renunciation of the rights of nobility."

In another e-mail message that the lawsuit says reflects "a contempt for public shareholders," Lord Black wrote, referring to Hollinger International by its ticker symbol, HLR, "We have said for some time HLR served no purpose as a listed company other than relatively cheap use of other people's capital." The e-mail message added, "Some others think we are running a gravy train and a gerrymandered share structure and we think they are a bunch of self-righteous hypocrites and ingrates."
But this doesn't really capture the full flavour. For that, you need to read "polished" prose by the man himself.

The blogger who's really on top of this is Pogge.
Oh sure, you might be a nice person. But are you popular?

Sunday, January 18, 2004

Norm has the appropriate responses to three developments.
For anyone following the Conrad Black silliness, the latest installment is here.

Good stuff.
It's just plain unfair to say that the U.S. didn't have a clue when they went into Iraq. By golly, they have a great deal of expertise to fall back on.

Saturday, January 17, 2004

Oh, Richare Perle. You're such a knob!

Friday, January 16, 2004

You can now download Reefer Madness

Even the program notes are funny, in a dry way:
The archetypal sensationalized anti-drug movie. This propaganda film dramatizes the "violent narcotic's ... soul destroying" effects on unwary teens, and their hedonistic exploits enroute to the bottom.

Its later audience for its campiness has far exceeded its original propaganda targets.

Thursday, January 15, 2004

After reading this Human Rights Watch report, I wondered if the U.N. was going to get caught in the middle again.
I wonder if the highly-intelligent and thoughtful Brad DeLong is mistaken.

He writes:
Origins of the War in Iraq
The highly-intelligent and thoughtful Dan Drezner sees a continuity between the Clinton and pre-911 Bush administrations on policy toward Iraq--a policy of, essentially, sanctions, containment, and close-your-eyes-and-wish-real-hard-Saddam-Hussein-would-somehow vanish. And he sees a sharp break to a policy of regime change in Iraq by force and violence coming in the immediate aftermath of 911.

I, by contrast, see much greater continuity in Bush administration policy--see the shift to a policy of regime change in Iraq by force and violence coming on Inauguration Day itself. I arrive at my perception of continuity within the Bush administration for four reasons:
1. 911 was not--at least, for a rational actor it was not--a reason to attack Iraq. It was a reason to avoid attacking Iraq. "One enemy at a time," is the first and most important rule of rational security policy. Al Qaeda is our enemy and is the threat, Saddam Hussein was not Al Qaeda's ally, and so 911 provided a powerful reason to shift all "wars of choice" to the back burner until the War on Terror was won. Cheney and Rumsfeld are smart people. They can distinguish between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. And they know the basics of rational security policy at least as well as I do.

2. From Day 1 of the administration, Rumsfeld was seeking an opportunity to demonstrate U.S. power--to warn bad guys around the world that if you attempt to develop an "asymmetrical threat" to the United States, the United States may squash you like a bug.

3. From well before Day 1 of the administration, the neoconservative security mafia had been strongly advocating the overthrow of Saddam Hussein as the first move in a strategy of remaking the entire Middle East.

4. Cheney and Rumsfeld had made up their minds to overthrow Saddam Hussein's regime by force and violence before Inauguration Day, and there was no way within the Bush administration that Colin Powell could block Cheney and Rumsfeld for long.

Drezner appears to make the opposite judgments--that 911 was a reason to attack Iraq, that Powell could have won the bureaucratic war with Cheney and Rumsfeld, et cetera. But I don't understand why.
Not so fast, I say, surprised to find myself disagreeing with DeLong:

1. What the hell makes DeLong think he's interpreting the behaviour of rational actors?

2. This rather underdetermines the choice of Iraq.

3. Yes, lots of people had been advocating lots of things. Remember that even the neocons knew that it would be extremely difficult to persuade people to attack Iraq. Also, Rumsfeld really isn't a neocon. I agree that he was ambitious and aggressive. But he was very ambitious about reforming and restructuring the military before Sept. 11th, something which was consuming a great deal of time and energy. No doubt he would have picked a fight eventually, but, again, the choice of Iraq is vastly underdetermined by this consideration.

It's also important to remember how precarious his position was before Sept. 11th, his famous briefings, and a tidy little campaign in Afghanistan. Without these, he wouldn't have been the unstoppable force he seemed between the Afghanistan campaign and the botched occupation.

4. Oh baloney. First, see the point immediately above. Second, it's not as if Powell was the only thing standing in their way. Even after Sept. 11th, the war in Iraq was a very tough sell. A full scale invasion would have been much, much harder had Sept. 11th not happened.

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Off the Kuff: Guilty, guilty, guilty!

Ooooooh. Schadenfreude! Intense, sweet, overpowering Schadenfreude!
Oh Lord. This is almost too much. If this piece is anything to go by, Saddam Hussein refused to have anything to do with foreign fighters and Islamic radicals even after he was toppled from power.

If true, you can only call that a swift, brutal kick in the crotch for the theory that Saddam Hussein wanted to team up with AQ, and a stunning vindication for people who doubted it.
If I had enough money to own mutual funds, I'd be hopping mad at this.
Still waiting for progress on this case in Uzbekistan.
Two questions about Safire's least loony column in a long time.

First, Safire writes:
The U.S. is committed to helping to build a unified Iraq, with no path to secession, and with representation based on geography, not ethnicity. The Kurds, a 20 percent minority in Iraq, are committed only to autonomy within a federal Iraq: they refrain from declaring independence, but require constitutional and security guarantees that they will not be tyrannized again.
Says who? Why does the U.S. get to make that call? As a Canadian who not too long ago faced the very real prospect of seeing his country break up, I can tell you that separation is an emotional, complex issue. And Safire is mistaken about long-term Kurdish goals, I suspect. I would not be surprised to see strong support for the succession option once the U.S. is out of the way. There aren't any easy answers here. But it seems arrogant and hubristic for American commentators to be making these calls.

Second, Safire writes:
The key is the city of Kirkuk, which Iraqi Kurds consider their capital. But Arab colonists and indigenous Turkmen dispute that hotly, as does Turkey, worried about a rich Kurdistan attracting Turkish Kurds. Kirkuk sits atop an ocean of oil holding 40 percent of Iraq's huge reserves.
Two factual questions here: First, my impression was that Kirkuk (and the surrounding area) did have a substantial Arab population in the region for a long time - it's just that Saddam Hussein's Arabization policies aggressively tipped the balance against the Kurds. So if I'm right about that, it's very simplistic to claim that all the Arabs currently living in Kirkuk are "colonists". (And I've long ago given up hope that the Times fact checkers would be allowed anywhere near Safire's column.) The second factual question has to do with oil: I had Safire's impression that Kirkuk was sitting on lots of oil. But Juan Cole keeps downplaying the significance of Iraq's Northern oil reserves. What gives? Does anyone know for sure? What are the estimated extraction costs (the singlemost important thing to know about oil reserves) in the North as compared to the South?
What's this about?!?

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Hope Dean or Clark steals this theme once Lieberman has flamed out:

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Joseph Lieberman last
week provided the most detailed critique of Bush Administration
secrecy policy yet offered by any presidential contender, and
proposed a plan outlining specifically how he would tear down
what he called the "Bush wall of secrecy."

Under President Bush, "the federal government--which is supposed
to be 'of, by, and for the people'--is doing more and more of
its own business in the shadows," Lieberman noted in a January
9 statement.

Bush Administration secrecy is "eroding the public's confidence
in their leadership and making it harder for independent
watchdogs to hold our government accountable," he said.

Sen. Lieberman outlined what he would do differently as
President, beginning with a reversal of many of the secrecy
positions advanced by the Bush Administration.

He would annul the October 2001 Ashcroft memorandum of Freedom
of Information Act policy, which encouraged agencies to
withhold information whenever legally possible. He would
"commit to no more secret task forces," a pointed reference to
Vice President Cheney's controversial closed-door Energy Task

He would "reverse the Bush executive order on presidential
records," which imposed extraordinary restrictions on public
access to the records of past Administrations. And where the
Bush Administration had moved to purge government web sites, he
would "ensure that key government information that has been
posted on the Internet will remain available to the public."

The most innovative proposal is one to "grade agencies on
fighting secrecy," which is intended to inculcate openness as a
positive value throughout the executive branch. The Lieberman
statement explained:

"In the Bush Administration, secrecy sometimes seems to be a
form of loyalty. Joe Lieberman will require and reward
openness--by mandating that all agency heads establish and
implement an openness plan and then requiring agency officials
to disseminate the most information possible, consistent with
national security. The plans will be audited and scored in
annual Open Government Report Cards," the Lieberman statement

The January 9 Lieberman statement on secrecy almost completely
escaped public and media attention. A copy is available here:

Billmon deftly punctures the Bush admin's hypocrisy on corruption.

Still, I think the world is slightly better off for the Bush admin's move. That might have been worth noting too.
N. Korea Still Denies Enriching Uranium (

North Korean mindfuck!:
North Korean officials told an unofficial delegation of U.S. experts last week that the country has no clandestine program to enrich uranium, even though one member of the delegation had been present when a senior North Korean official admitted it during a meeting in October 2002, according to U.S. officials who were briefed on the trip.

Monday, January 12, 2004

Another silly Safire column.

It's too tedious to discuss at length. Just want to point out one thing. Safire has a long list of things supposedly accomplished by Bush's aggressive foreign policy. The enemies of the U.S. worldwide are, according to Safire, finally willing to bargain with a U.S. that clearly means business.

But here's the thing: The U.S. military is now tied down and over-extended in Iraq. It has also lost a great deal of the diplomatic support it needs to wage wars. Still a force to be reckoned with, of course, the most powerful in the world. But it is less able now, far less able, to threaten its enemies militarily. That's because everyone can see perfectly well that the military is tied down and the U.S. discredited diplomatically.

Nor is it really right to attribute gains to enhanced U.S. credibility. Do anyone really think before the invasion of Iraq that the U.S. wouldn't invade a country if it seriously wanted to?

So I don't think it's right to interpret diplomatic progress with difficult countries as evidence that acting all tough works. Not at least if acting tough has obviously made you weaker.
Sensible thoughts on O'Neill from Dan Drezner and Brad DeLong.

As much as I like to dump on Bush, I'm inclined to agree with Drezner that the Iraq planning story is much less significant than it seems. (But I could be talked out of that view. Come on lefties! Give me one more reason to loath Bush.)

UPDATE: Here's Ted Barlow writing at Crooked Timber:
(I should make a pre-emptive note: no sensible person would object to the fact that the Administration had a plan to fight a war with Iraq in early 2001. To do so would only be prudent. The Pentagon makes plans to attack just about every country on Earth.

However, there is a significant difference between plans to attack and intention to attack. We almost certainly have a plan to attack Great Britain, which is unobjectionable. However, if we had the intention to attack Great Britain, this would be a very significant problem. It is easy ‘n’ fun to pretend that these are one and the same, but a moment’s thought reveals that they are not.

Opponents of the Iraq war are making the assertion that the Administration had the intention to attack early in 2001, before 9/11 and before any attempt at intelligence analysis.

Mr O’Neill was also quoted in the book as saying the President was determined to find a reason to go to war and he was surprised nobody on the National Security Council questioned why Iraq should be invaded.
“It was all about finding a way to do it. That was the tone of it,” Mr O’Neill said.

“The President saying ‘go find me a way to do this’.”

This is very different from having a plan in case of war. I hope that having dealt with this here, I won’t have to swat it down in the comments.)
Ominous news from Turkmenistan.
Should really be offering programs like this?

Cause I can't think of a legitimate use for such a program . . .

(Not saying they shouldn't be allowed to offer it. Just saying that I hate spam so much that it seems odious to give any help to spammers.)
Radio Free Europe reports some progress on capital punishment in the -stans. A long way to go, though:
Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev signed an edict prolonging the
country's moratorium on the death penalty for another year, the
presidential press service reported on 1 January. The moratorium --
originally instituted for two years in December 1998 to mark the 50th
anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human
Rights -- has been extended each year since. According to AKIpress on
1 January, the 2004 extension both commemorated the 55th anniversary
of the Universal Declaration and was meant to underscore
Kyrgyzstan's commitment to basic human rights and freedoms,
humaneness, and mercy. The presidential press service also noted that
the government aimed to improve the physical conditions for those
prisoners waiting on death row, of whom there are currently 150 in
Kyrgyzstan. Under the terms of a national human-rights development
program presently underway, the government in Bishkek has said it
aims to abolish capital punishment by 2010, IRIN news agency reported
on 2 January.
On 18 December, Khabar news agency reported that Kazakh
President Nursultan Nazarbaev had signed a decree ordering an
indefinite moratorium on the application of the death penalty. The
moratorium is intended to remain in force until the death penalty is
abolished altogether. The decree instructed the government to draft
an amendment to the Criminal Code that would designate life
imprisonment as a possible punishment for serious crimes (see "RFE/RL
Newsline," 19 December 2003). Nazarbaev's decree was welcomed in
a statement by the European Union, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported on 6
January. According to the statement, eradicating the death penalty
would increase the value of human dignity in Kazakhstan and promote
"gradual" human-rights development. In the interpretation of Kazakh
Foreign Minister Qasymzhomart Toqaev, who issued a press release the
same day, the EU regarded Nazarbaev's decree as "a significant
step towards ensuring the protection of human rights in Kazakhstan
and is a major contribution to the complete abolishment of capital
punishment." The statement also quoted Anton Rupnik, the Organization
for Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) chief
representative in the Kazakh capital, Astana, as saying that the
moratorium was "yet another major step towards futher improving the
social and political system in Kazakhstan." The introduction of life
imprisonment to replace the death penalty has been under discussion
in the country since early 2003 in connection with ongoing reforms of
the penal system. Nazarbaev and other political figures have often
noted that the population remains largely in favor of retaining the
death penalty.
Meanwhile, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan continue to apply
capital punishment, which is administered by firing squad. However,
on 25 December the Uzbek Foreign Ministry informed Interfax that
henceforth capital punishment would be limited to cases of terrorism
and premeditated murder with aggravating circumstances. In December
2003, delegates to the Oliy Majlis (Uzbekistan's parliament)
voted to abolish the death penalty for acts of aggression and
In Tajikistan's latest capital case, the Supreme Court
sentenced 34-year-old Farhod Sharopov to death on 29 December,
Asia-Plus said. He was found guilty of stabbing his wife and four
young children to death in a family quarrel in July 2003.
This is a long, interesting, and sensible guest-post on the topic of evil over at Normblog.

I was thinking about this subject the other day as I read over an old Hitchens article in Slate criticizing people for sneering at Bush's use of the term "evil". Whether deliberately or not, Hitchens seems to miss the point. When people like myself sneer at Bush for using the term "evil", we're not sneering at the term "evil", we're sneering at Bush-using-the-term-"evil". I agree with Garrard that the term "evil" is an indispensible part of our moral vocabulary and that objections to it are usually misguided. The problem with Bush's use of the term include, but are not limited to, the following:

a) We feel that it is connected intimately with Bush's moral arrogance, his refusal to examine his own behaviour. And we see that as dangerous.
b) We feel that, however justified the use is in a particular case, Bush comes by the application of the term dishonestly. For Bush, it is a symptom of lazy thinking (which we righly see as dangerous), even if many uses of the term aren't a symptom of lazy thinking.
c) We feel that in the wrong hands the term functions (and is intended to function) as a debate-stopper rather than part of an attempt to inform or articulate a principled position. We can't help noticing that many people who use it in the current political climate regard themselves as exempt from the need to defend their position in any detail, when in fact their own favoured position is not the only response to the evil we both recognize. The objection, then, is not to the use of the term "evil" - it is to the mere use of the term evil in contexts where more desperately needs to be said.
The Unavoidable Chun feels sorry for President Bush. I sometimes feel this way myself. But as often I end up resisting the feeling because I think that as clueless as Bush is, he is surely bright enough to know that he is not bright enough for the job.

I think the problem of interpretation here is thornier than Chun thinks. At least it is for me. There are different ways to fit theory to the facts here: There are in fact all sorts of evil to stupid ratios that are compatible with everything I know about Bush. Certainly, if he's smarter than he seems, he's more evil. But of course, more of one doesn't necessarily imply less of the other: He might be very stupid and very evil.

Still, I found myself sympathetic to Chun because Bush's obscure evil to stupid ratio has thus far led me to focus my ire on other members of the admin. Bush remains a complete mystery to me, and that keeps me from really hating him the way I hate, e.g., Cheney.

Sunday, January 11, 2004

David Adesnik writes:
FULL OF SHI'ITE: It is time for a creative American response to the ethnic politics of post-war Iraq.
Hmmm. Perhaps we could begin with a little cultural sensitivity. You know, resisting the urge to print a clever title because, on further reflection, you don't really want to press the whole "Shit/Shi'ite" idea.

Just a suggestion.
U.S. Gives Uzbekistan Failing Grade on Rights (

Good stuff, but as The Agonist points out, the real test is what the U.S. actually does about it.

(via The Agonist)
MaxSpeak takes a crack at the first (of what will surely be an avalanche) of personal attacks on O'Neill for criticizing the Bush admin:
I was taken by the following line in the article:

A senior administration official said O'Neill's "suggestion that the administration was planning an invasion of Iraq days after taking office is laughable. Nobody listened to him when he was in office. Why should anybody now?"

[Teeing up.] Let's see. You appointed this fellow Secretary of the Treasury, and you didn't listen to him. Who's the idiot?
Oy. That's weak, very weak. Come on, is this the best that the Bushies can do?
Read this call to protect the internet in Iran.

First they came for the Persian bloggers . . .
Brad DeLong is upset.
The Leiter Reports: Editorials, News, Updates: A gripping letter from a U.S. solider about the real situation "on the ground" in Iraq

The battle of the dueling letters continues. The pro-war camp quotes letters from soldiers trashing the anti-war camp, assuring everyone that everything is hunky-dory. The anti-war camp quotes letters from soldiers ripping the occupation.

Here's quite a good one from the anti-war camp. To be sure, if you try hard enough you can find just about any perspective you're looking for in some letter written by someone in the field. Still, it's hard to quibble with the patriotism of someone who says:
Everytime I see someone's arm, leg, or face blown off or see dead bodies (Iraqi and American), I get this terrible pit in my stomach. What a waste.

Saturday, January 10, 2004

U.S. shares Israel s concerns about Hague fence talks

"The U.S. is privy to Israel's concerns about the upcoming discussions on the security fence at the International Criminal Court in The Hague (ICC). American officials believe these anticipated discussions will set a negative precedent, and politicize international law. "
If "politicization" means unprincipled, partisan ad hockery, then I agree that it is a problem. And I also think that the U.S. and Israel have legitimate grounds for worry on this count. But here I suspect "politicization" simply means "unfavourable to us even though we're obviously violating international law".
BBC NEWS | World | Middle East | US gives Saddam enemy POW status

Random thoughts on this:

1. Does this mean that the interrogation was not, as suggested by numerous leaks, going well? Or that he turned out to be not much use at all? Official POW status limits the kind of, ahem, persuasion they can bring to bear during questioning.

2. The legal case for his status as a POW is unimpeachable. Still, can our minds not boggle just a bit at the thought that teenagers in Guantanamo arrested on the say-so of unreliable warlords looking for cash compension have no similar rights? Cause, you know, surely that's worth a bit of boggling.

3. Wasn't his legal status clear before now? They had elaborate contingency plans developed for S.H.'s capture. Did this not include a little sticky note "Check Geneva Convention at first possible opportunity" anywhere in the file? Does conferring this status on him late matter legally? If so, what the hell were they thinking? If not, why confer it now?

4. The piece doesn't indicate whether S.H. was brought before a tribunal to determine his standing. My (entirely defeasable) understanding was that this was the standard procedure. Here is an excellent chance for reporters to play "gotcha!" If he wasn't, then they're still not playing by the books, as they claim to be. If he was, then why can't they be consistent about it?

Saddam's Ouster Planned In 2001?

Not sure what to make of this:
(CBS) The Bush Administration began laying plans for an invasion of Iraq, including the use of American troops, within days of President Bush's inauguration in January of 2001 -- not eight months later after the 9/11 attacks as has been previously reported.

That's what former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill says in his first interview about his time as a White House insider. O'Neill talks to Correspondent Lesley Stahl in the interview, to be broadcast on 60 Minutes, Sunday, Jan. 11 at 7 p.m. ET/PT.

"From the very beginning, there was a conviction that Saddam Hussein was a bad person and that he needed to go," he tells Stahl. "For me, the notion of pre-emption, that the U.S. has the unilateral right to do whatever we decide to do is a really huge leap."
A few points here. Although this telling makes it sound as if the Bush admin was inflexibly committed to invasion from the start, it's entirely possible that this was just contingency planning. In fact, if you think (as I do) that the Bush admin would not have been able to get popular support for an invasion had Sept. 11th not happened, and you also think (as I do) that the Bush admin knew that, then you're very likely to think that this is just (wishful) contingency planning.

Governments engage in contingency planning all the time. In fact, one serious concern is that they don't engage in enough of it. I recall reading that the first Bush admin refused to do contingency planning for the possibility that Saddam Hussein's regime would fall during the first Gulf War because they were afraid that the contingency plans would leak and stress out allies. The result is that when the regime seemed to totter, they were more inclined to let Ba'ath thugs massacre hundreds of thousands of civilians - their failure to plan cut off all kinds of options they might otherwise have had at the time. (I'm not taking a position on what they should have done - just pointing out that if you're going to pound the shit out of a dictatorship, you might want to think a move or two ahead about what you're going to do if it collapses.)

That said, O'Neill's remarks are interesting. Oh how I miss the O'Neill days of the Bush admin! I'm not an unabashed O'Neill admirer - too many interesting questions about his time as a CEO for that. But he did sometimes seem refreshingly honest, by the standards of any administration. I'm guessing that O'Neill is about to drop several mega-bombs on the Bush admin, and that Republican hacks will depict it all as sour grapes. But although it's important to weigh someone's words especially carefully after they've been fired, it's also worth noting that O'Neill was fired basically because he kept telling the truth. I'm tentatively inclined to trust what he says, and not just because it makes Bush look even worse than before.

(Link via The Agonist)
Help keep all of us safe. Buy a Dell.

(Link via Stephen Laniel.)
I read this piece in the print edition of the New Yorker recently. I didn't know it was online until I saw a link to it somewhere. It's a journalist's account of his time in Saudi Arabia in a mentor program for Saudi journalists. Very interesting, though also thoroughly depressing.
War On Drugs Clock

Link via Metafilter.

Thursday, January 08, 2004

If you've just wandered in from Wampum, click here for a tour of my greatest hits.
UN says voter registration in Afghanistan insufficient to allow for June elections

Two steps forward, one step back . . . but time is running out and we have a long way to go.

My thoughts exactly. To be honest, an ipod (full size) is just about the only material thing on this planet that my heart lusteth after. I covet my neighbour's. My yearning heart burns for one.

I'd been listening to the hype about a less-than-$100 mini-ipod and getting more and more excited, more and more worked up about it. And after all that, let's just say I'm blue.

Wednesday, January 07, 2004

Juan Cole sees this as a half empty/half full story. I think it's the most encouraging thing I've seen out of Iraq in quite a while.

The pessimist in me wants to qualify and hedge that, but I'm too tired. Anyway, if the results are accurate they are good news.
Calpundit: Rhetoric vs. Reality

Yes, this is about right.
Phluzein: Ancient manuscripts destroyed


Several years ago, I feared and loathed only the Christian fundamentalists. After September 11th I learned to fear and loath the Islamic fundamentalists. When I begin to read and think about Israel, my fear and loathing of Islamic fundamentalists was joined with a fear and loathing of Jewish fundamentalists. And now, anxiously trying to peer into the future of a nuclear-armed subcontinent, I must say that I have come to fear and loath the Hindu fundamentalists. Laura's Girls

This story is not cool. Newspapers whine about the mediocre quality of politicians and then harrass the families of anyone who dares to go into politics. How many decent would-be political figures write off a life in politics because they're unwilling to expose their families to this kind of bullshit?

(There is a single legitimate paragraph the entire piece:
It only took a month after their dad became president for Jenna to land in the headlines, with news that she had used her Secret Service detail to spring a male friend from a Texas jail after he was arrested for public intoxication. The White House refused to comment about the incident, and so did the Secret Service when a spokesman was asked about the propriety of using agents to spring drunk kids from the county clink.
Beyond that, the story is bitchy, irrelevant garbage.)
Chinese Not Convinced of North Korean Uranium Effort (

But . . . but . . . *splutter* . . isn't the word of U.S. intelligence officials enough?!?
At the meeting, the Chinese official, Fu Ying, and her Japanese counterpart, Mitoji Yabunaka, were discussing a possible freeze of North Korea's nuclear programs when Yabunaka noted it would be necessary to freeze both Yongbyon and the highly enriched uranium program.

Fu responded that North Korea has denied having an enrichment program, and that China also did not believe that it had one. She added that the U.S. government briefing provided to China had not been sufficient to convince China that North Korea had such a program.

Chinese officials, in their own briefing to U.S. officials on the talks, said that Fu merely noted to Yabunaka that the United States and North Korea have not come to an agreement on whether the enrichment program exists.

Chas Freeman, a former assistant secretary of defense and senior U.S. diplomat in China, said to some extent the administration is paying the price for the controversy over its intelligence on Iraq's weapons. "Post-Iraq, the credibility of U.S. intelligence is not very high" around the world, he said.

(link via The Agonist)
Dan Drezner nails it.
A Partner in Shaping an Assertive Foreign Policy

This, via Atrios:
"Condoleezza Rice, President Bush's national security adviser, stood in front of Mr. Bush's desk in the Oval Office last summer and tried to coax the president into something he did not want to face.
She suggested, carefully, that the White House begin repairing the rupture with the allies over Iraq by reaching out to Germany, whose chancellor, Gerhard Schröder, had infuriated the president by campaigning for re-election on an antiwar platform. Mr. Bush, simply put, did not trust him.
'I can't do it with Schröder,' Mr. Bush told Ms. Rice, according to a senior administration official who witnessed the exchange. Ms. Rice, who had not directly suggested that Mr. Bush meet with Mr. Schröder, rushed to reassure. 'No, no, no, we won't make you do it with Schröder,' she said. But Mr. Bush seemed to know what Ms. Rice had in mind. 'Wait a minute, you'll get me back with Schröder, I know what you're trying to do,' the president said, the official recounted. "
Atrios calls this unbelievable, and I confess, it's almost too much for me to believe. One question is: Who is the senior administratio official named here? Does Rove now go through his mental notebook and try to figure out who it is? Because either Bumiller is completely twisting the anecdote or whoever told this story wants the president to look like a complete tool.

Tuesday, January 06, 2004

Well, interesting news about Pakistan these days. On the one hand, there is confirmation of our worst fears about Pakistan's role as a nuclear proliferator. On the other, there are encouraging signs of a thaw in relations with India.

An intelligent Bush administration would seize the opportunity to really push for progress on Kashmir and related bilateral India/Pakistan irritants. An intelligent Bush administration would also bring out the really big carrots and really big sticks to try to reverse Pakistan's slide into complete and utter chaos.

Of course, an intelligent Bush administration would have the resources, the time, the intelligence capabilities, the money, the diplomatic capital and so on (and on and on) to do this because an intelligent Bush administration would not have invaded Iraq.
I'm going to keep asking this question until someone at least tries to answer it: If the U.S. couldn't - or wouldn't - bring democracy to Egypt despite two billion a year in aid over two decades, how will they - or would they - bring it to Iraq?
David Brooks worries that "partisanship has left many people unhinged".

Uh huh.

I was annoyed when I read Brooks' article, but the thing really discredits itself. Anyhow, there are already intelligent responses over at Crooked Timber, Calpundit, TalkingPointsMemo, and IntelDump.

I'd never read Brooks before he started at the Times, but lots of people seemed to respect his work (they are now loudly repenting). So perhaps there wasn't any warning that he would intellectually self-destruct in the way he has. But I suspect the basic error in hiring someone like Brooks is tightly connected to the misguided search for "balance". Balance usually results from a good team of intelligent people working on a problem, but it's also a silly excuse to hire someone you must secretly think is a dimwit. If they'd set out to find the best, most intelligent, thought-provoking and lucid commentators without regard to where they sat on the political spectrum, they probably would have discovered themselves with a more interesting and instructive and perhaps even balanced editorial page than they currently have. As it is, it's mostly a waste of paper.
Surprise, surprise. MEMRI dings Assad . . . again.

What a jackass.
Op-Ed Contributor: Second Thoughts on Free Trade

This drives me bonkers:
"The question today is whether the case for free trade made two centuries ago is undermined by the changes now evident in the modern global economy.

Two recent examples illustrate this concern. Over the next three years, a major New York securities firm plans to replace its team of 800 American software engineers, who each earns about $150,000 per year, with an equally competent team in India earning an average of only $20,000. Second, within five years the number of radiologists in this country is expected to decline significantly because M.R.I. data can be sent over the Internet to Asian radiologists capable of diagnosing the problem at a small fraction of the cost. "
It drives me bonkers because - for a variety of reasons - the poor have been exposed to the rigours of this sort of competition far longer and at much higher risk for much, much longer. It's only when software companies start outsourcing that anyone notices.

This isn't to take a position on free trade. My point here is just that our attention is usually riveted by changes in the position of the well-off, and rarely by inconveniences to anyone else. It would be easier to trust the interlocutors in this debate if they faced that squarely and tried to correct for it a bit.

Monday, January 05, 2004

Live jazz fans in NYC take note. There are three very cool gigs coming up. They are:
Friday Jan 9
one set
Jacob Sacks Group
Jacob Sacks - piano
Jacob Garchik - trombone
Ben Gerstein - trombone
Shane Endsley - trumpet
Tim Flood - bass
Gerald Cleaver - drums
The Friend's Seminary Meeting House
15 Rutherford Place (between East 15th and East 16th Street)

Saturday Jan 10
one set
Judith Berkson - voice and piano
Jacob Garchik - trombone
Tim Flood - bass
Gerald Cleaver - drums
376 9th Street between 5th ave and 6th ave
Park Slope, Brooklyn
F train to 7th Ave and 9th st
playing originals and improvisations on Mahler, Schoenberg, standards, and Greek Rembetica Music. Spacious, quiet, almost loud, dissonant and melodic.

Sunday Jan 11
one set
Judith Berkson - voice and electric piano
Jacob Garchik - trombone
Tim Flood - bass
Gerald Cleaver - drums
CBGB's lounge
313 bowery at Bleecker
$10 admission gets you in all night
also playing are
7:00 HANUMAN ENSEMBLE: Andy Haas, Matt Heyner, Don Fiorino, Mia Theodoratus, David Gould, Dee Pop
10:00 Paul Corio, Jeremy Stark, Theo Regan
Full disclosure: Yeah, I know some of the musicians at these gigs (and my wife plays with some of them). But so what? They're really good.
Chatterbox doesn't know what to make of Laura Bush's lie. Neither, it must be confessed, does See Why.
Juan Cole has something very sensible to say:
Meanwhile, big thoughts are being thought about reorganizing Iraq for elections. Edward Wong of the NYT reports, "Mowaffak Rubaie, a Shiite member of the Governing Council, said his preference was to split Iraq into five states: the Baghdad area; the Kurdish region; the largely Sunni Arab northwest; the Shiite holy area that includes the cities of Najaf and Karbala; and the far south, where the culture is rooted in the nomadic traditions of the Arabian peninsula. A joint government would rule Kirkuk. "This system has a tacit acceptance of the ethnic confessional divide of Iraqis," Mr. Rubaie said. "If Najaf and Karbala want to ban alcohol, so be it. But the Kurdish people like their bottle, so let them vote for it."

This is the first time I have seen Rubaie's plan laid out so clearly. I personally think it is a bad idea. Democracy flourishes where you set things up so that politicians have to please more than one constituency in order to get elected. Right now, a Diyala politician would have to try to satisfy Kurds, Sunni Arabs and Shiites. She would have to seek common denominators that would draw people together. Rubaie's plan would make it possible for a Shiite politician in Najaf or Basra to ignore the non-Shiites, and to ratchet toward Shiite extremism if that played well with his constituents. Rubaie doesn't realize it, but the effect of his plan will be to weaken Iraq's unity over time.
This is pretty creepy. . . and perhaps partly explains how reporters who spend all day hanging out with politicians on the campaign trail can lose their perspective.

Sunday, January 04, 2004

Wow. I would have bet money that bin Laden was dead. Guess not.
Mark Schmitt helps us read the Bush budget.
Pogge, who shares my dislike for Conrad Black, has a nice update of his business woes here. After summing up recent developments, Pogge writes:
There may not be enough popcorn in the world to see me all the way through this one.
Aye, especially not if we're all munching together.

Saturday, January 03, 2004

She's tough.

Friday, January 02, 2004

I am ashamed.
A Few Plame links

Mark Schmitt and Josh Marshall go after a WaPo story that tries to throw cold water on the whole issue here and here. Mathew Yglesias weighs in here and here.

These commentators have shaken me from my dogmatic slumbers. Perhaps I was wrong yesterday to underrate the seriousness of the scandal pre-Novak.

Andrew Northrup, who (unlike me) didn't need a nudge back to reality, has a fine little rant on the subject over at The Poor Man.
This is disturbing. Why did someone type this into a search engine in the first place? And why was my site number one in results?

Head . . . spinning.
If I hadn't been so damn lazy when I was writing a post on the subject yesterday, I might have pounced a little harder on Powell for his strangely optimistic claims about Afghanistan's constitution. To find out how silly Powell's remarks were, click here and here.

This is more than just spin, or even dishonesty. One almost wonders if he wrote it a week or two ago with different assumptions about where the constitutional process in Afghanistan would be when his piece actually appeared. Or something. I don't know.

Thursday, January 01, 2004

More on Plame here.
A friend bitterly complained to me about my failure to blog promptly about the news of Ashcroft's decision to recuse himself from the Plame case. Sosueme! Anyway, I read Mark Kleiman's post on the subject right after the announcement, and couldn't think of anything to add. I've got my money on the hypothesis that this shows that the whole thing is a big deal, but who knows whether that's just wish fulfilment. . .

My position on the matter is this: I think that what's most damning about the incident is the failure to deal appropriately with the scandal after it broke. I'm agnostic at this point about how much damage was actually done to national security by the whole thing. It might well turn out that the principals had no idea how much damage they were doing, and just assumed that they were engaged in day-to-day evil-doing instead of an indictable offense.

So, I suspect this post from Juan Cole goes a bit beyond the available evidence:
Attorney-General John Ashcroft recused himself Wednesday in the investigation of the Valerie Plame case, saying he will appoint a special prosecutor. High Bush administration officials broke US law in July of 2003 by revealing to reporter Bob Novak that Valerie Plame, wife of Ambassador Joe Wilson, was an undercover CIA operative. These Bush appointees did untold damage to US intelligence efforts, since they unmasked and put in danger all the contacts and agents overseas who had been known associates of Ms. Plame, an expert in preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction. The officials outed Plame in order to punish her husband, Wilson, for blowing the whistle on the Bush administration, revealing that he had reported to the US government as early as 2002 that the allegations of Iraqi uranium purchases from Niger were false.
Course, it might turn out to be true.
Here's Kleiman responding to a post on Instapundit that I complained about yesterday:
Glenn Reynolds is free to believe, if it makes him happy to do so, that the European Union is deliberately financing Palestinian terrorism as part of a "proxy war" against the United States, even though that would imlicate, among others, the British Government. (I thought, and think, that his somewhat ambiguously worded suggestion that Israel or the United States should retaliate by sponsoring terrorism against Europeans was beyond the pale, but that's another question. See his post and my comment; he doesn't seem to have clarified his words.)

But in his latest post, in which he calls for the United States to use its best efforts to influct suffering on the Palestinians, Reynolds claims that the "proxy war" assertion has been "admitted." He doesn't say who has "admitted" it; his only link is to himself, linking to another blogger linking to an Israeli news service quoting a Green Member of the European Parliament (who opposed military intervention to stop genocide in the Balkans) as making the charge.

We're all entitled to our opinions, but we're not entitled to make up our own facts. Unless someone responsible can be shown to have "admitted" Fraulein Schroeder's charge, Glenn ought to retract.
I've removed the Instapundit feed from my RSS aggregator, but I remain ambivalent about the appropriate response to this sort of nonsense.

View #1: Reynolds and co. are idiots. If they wanted a sensible view, they would have put some effort into discovering one. Nothing you say is going to change their minds because a) they don't read you; and b) even if they did, all you have are arguments, and they don't suffer from the sort of intellectual imbalance that can be fixed by arguments or new facts. As a general rule, you're as unlikely to learn something from them as they are to learn something from you. They have nothing to teach you because they're unable and/or uninterested in engaging the kinds of concerns that you have. Spend your time reading people who have something to teach you, who challenge your assumptions effectively.

If Kleiman took this advice, he'd wonder whether it's worth caring about whether Reynolds retracts or not. The guy's a jackass and only other jackasses take him seriously.

View #2: No, no. When you argue with Reynolds you're also appealing to people who are undecided or looking for someone to put their finger on exactly what is wrong with his way of thinking. That can be productive too. And although it might be a bit like shooting fish in a barrel, sometimes a mistake on a site like Instapundit can act as spur to further reflection on a topic. Or it can just be a handy way of picking a fight with an assumption which is widespread but rarely made explicit. There's also a duty to challenge stuff like that - not all of it, but you started your blog partly because it mattered to you that you made your disagreement with certain positions clear and public. So it's not always a waste of time.

My current position is a sort of quantum superposition of View #1 and View #2.
Mini Link Round-up:

The WaPo has an interesting piece about contingency planning during the 1973 oil crisis. Kissinger hinted darkly at the time of possible countermeasures to deal with the oil embargo, but the extent of the planning wasn't clear until recently when the British government declassified documents from the period. According to the documents, the U.S. actually considering seizing oil fields in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. (Since governments often draw up all sorts of contingency plans, by themselves such plans are dubious indicators of actual intentions Still, the story suggests that the British government's reading of the situation assumed that these were not merely theoretical exercises in planning.)

The WaPo also has a longish piece focusing on the admin's preferred plan to deal with global warming. It's fair to say that the authors of the piece are underwhelmed by the Bush plans.

Colin Powell has a "New Years Resolutions" piece in the NYTimes. It's mostly just recycled blah-blah about freedom. It also contains this gem:
We are resolved, as well, for peace. Freedom cannot flourish and prosperity cannot advance without security, and this we are determined to achieve. Americans are safer as 2004 begins than they were a year ago. Afghanistan is no longer a devil's playground for terrorists, nor is Iraq an incubator for weapons of mass murder that could have fallen into terrorists' hands.
From which we can infer that telling the truth is not on Colin's list of resolutions for 2004. He knows perfectly well that Americans aren't safer now than a year ago, and that if they are, it isn't because of an invasion of Iraq. And since the war diverted essential resources away from Afghanistan (and the constructive project of engaging Pakistan that might have been) I think he's a bit optimistic about Afghanistan. And what he says about Iraq is strictly true, but implication here is a big fat lie.
(Mathew Yglesias has characteristically sensible things to say about Powell's piece here.)