Monday, April 05, 2004

It's time. I'm tired of posting here. From now on I'll be posting at www.explananda.com. Please update your bookmarks and - if applicable - your links.

The new site is a colaborative effort. I've tried to talk a few friends into posting at the site too, though I expect I'll be the most hyperactive of the crew by a long shot. I'm the only one who has ever blogged, so go easy on them. They're clever folks - they'll catch on if they can overcome their shyness about making asses of themselves in the most public forum there is.

Anyway, thanks blogger.com for providing completely free software. Can't say it was worth it for you, but that's the chance you took, isn't it? And thanks everyone for reading. Hope to see you at my new place.

Over and out,

cy
Check out how someone just got to my site: search.

Sunday, April 04, 2004

Canadian in-joke . . .

. . . here.

Saturday, April 03, 2004

I confess this story irritates me, considering that - unless I'm badly mistaken - I can't even give twenty frickin dollars to Kerry. (I'm a damn foreigner, though I live in the U.S.)

UPDATE: Oh yeah, hat tip to Body and Soul.
I'm shocked. Absolutely shocked.

(Update: Actually, that's the stupidest headline they could have come up with. It completely distorts the actual story.)
I don't care how critical Bob Woodward's next book on Bush is. The man writes political pornography, as Joan Didion so masterfully documented in her book Political Fictions. I didn't believe his Bush boosting when it wasn't corroborated by credible sources, and I'm not going to believe his Bush bashing without the same.

If you're into Woodward hating, and you haven't already read the chapter on him in Didion's book, drop everything and read it at once.

Run! (Or "click!" as the case may be.)
I find evolutionary psychology (the academic subdiscipline which derives from E.O. Wilson - not evolutionary theory, of course) so silly that reading this post gave me shivers of pleasure. It's a good day for that on the web, too. Here's another reasonable comment I noticed this morning.

Oooooooo. That felt good.

This is just one of many subjects I plan to write about as soon as I get the time.
Linguistic intuitions . . . I have the same ones Max has regarding the term "mercenary."
A very quick note on the humanitarian rationale for the Iraq war. If you care about humanitarian intervention in general - that is, if you want to establish norms of humanitarian intervention that are useful and respected, so that we can fall back on them when terrible circumstances warrant intervention - then you might take note of what the Iraq war has done to the very notion of humanitarian intervention.

As a believer in humanitarian intervention in some circumstances myself, I have a serious interest in seeing credible and widely adopted international norms coalesce around the notion. Alas, the war has done a great deal to set back this struggle.

This matters. The next time there is a debate over whether or not to intervene to stop an ongoing and serious humanitarian crisis, defenders of humanitarian intervention will be stuck with fighting through yet another layer of cynicism about both the rationale and the people most likely to be citing it.

Those into moral accounting ought to chalk that up as yet another cost of this war, and one that goes directly to the heart of the humanitarian case for it. And while not all the discrediting here was forseeable, much of it was.
If you live in NYC and enjoy jazz, you might want to check out two shows coming up at the 55 Bar:
Tony Malaby Group, Monday, April 5 - 10:00 PM

Tony Malaby - Saxophone, Angelica Sanchez - Keyboards, John Habert - Bass, John Hollenbeck - Drums

"Tony Malaby, the tenor saxophonist, has been busy since he landed in New York nearly a decade ago: he's a schooled, poetic player who becomes involved with the density and shape of his notes, and he's worth hearing for a lesson on where the lines are best drawn between abstraction and form." -Ben Ratliff, NY Times


Jazz Sax

Dave Binney's Balance, Tuesday, April 6 - 10:00 PM
Dave Binney - Alto Sax and Sampler, Jacob Sacks - Keyboards, Thomas Morgan - Bass, Dan Weiss - Drums.

Dave Binney acts as the cohesive element bringing together a wide range of New York's finest progressive jazz musicians.
(Full disclosure: My wife plays with some of these people.)

In other news, expect light posting ahead. I'm still busy, and tonight my wife and I are throwing a surprise birthday party for our beagle, Coltrane. He doesn't suspect a thing!

Also, I'm getting ready to make the jump off the Good Ship Blogger. The new site isn't quite ready yet, but I'll probably start posting there soon.
Republicans vs. Democrats (or, me vs. the Nadarites)

. . . Sometimes, it's the little things that count.

Friday, April 02, 2004

I'll second this.
If you read the New York Review of Books, you've probably been following the back and forth between Michael Massing and his critics. Massing wrote a nice piece of media criticism about the media's behaviour during the buildup to the war. Stung, his critics have been fighting back (see here and here). I just finished reading Massing's exchange with Michael Gordon of the New York Times (the second link within the previous parentheses). It twigged something in my memory, so I went back to check and - yup - Gordon played a role in an incident I related a while ago in this post.

I make a small point in that post, but I'm sort of proud. It's the only thing during the buildup to the war that I noticed and that - as far as I can tell - absolutely nobody else did.
This is what is happening in Western Sudan now.

The situation is complex and I can't claim to understand what is going on there now. As I've said before, it would take quite a bit of argument to persuade me that intervention was the best option. But it seems to me that there are a whole range of appropriate things that could be done - condemnation, support for humanitarian operations, political pressure of various kinds, perhaps - perhaps - inducements for reform, and so on. Why isn't anyone doing anything of this sort now?

The U.S. has its hands full now. Two war-torn countries reconstructed at a time, thank you very much. But the U.S. isn't the only potential actor here. Where is the rest of the world? Where is Canada? Where is Europe?

When we get a situation like this, many people are inclined to think a) a military intervention is the only option on the table; and b) it'll be the U.S. organizing the whole thing. Both assumptions are unhealthy, since they play directly into the whole neo-colonialist mindset that gets the U.S. in trouble so often. There are probably plenty of constructive non-military measures available, and they're open to the rest of the world.

If the U.S. is so untrustworthy and rotten, then why won't the rest of the world get off its ass and act once in a while?

Thursday, April 01, 2004

I wrote to Daniel Okrent last week to point him towards this post. He responded very graciously, so of course I abused his friendliness by writing him a longer email in response. See why you can't encourage the wierdos? They'll only go away if you ignore them. Anyhow, here's what I wrote him back:
Thanks for responding. If I can add one other point: In my post I complain that the "he said/he said" style of reporting prevents reporters from setting out facts which really shouldn't be in dispute. This flip side of this is that the "he said/he said" style of reporting often prevents reporters from examining claims which *should* be in dispute, but aren't. Many journalists seems to think that once they've rounded up the views of the Democrats and the Republicans, they've achieved the appropriate balance and can put the story to bed. But what about cases in which both Democrats and Republicans have a stake in holding a common front on some issue?

The debate over classified material that we're seeing with the 9/11 commission is a great example. Democrats know perfectly well that they're going to be back in power sooner or later, and so they can't really be keen to set *too* strong a precedent on the release of classified materials. But anyone who knows a bit about the history of classified material knows that a great deal of material is classified for the same reason my tape of my high school band is now classified - it's downright embarrassing. Because both parties want to minimize their own embarrassment, matters in which the public has a vital stake don't get the treatment they deserve.

I guarantee you that the media will talk about the "compromises" struck by the 9/11 commission over classified material in a way that reveals their assumption that anything which is bipartisan must be reasonable. But it ain't necessarily so.

Sorry for going on so long. I would say that I don't envy your job, but that would be a transparent lie. I will concede that it can't be an easy one. Keep up the good work,

Chris
Before you accuse me of kissing ass, let me be clear. I'm not completely happy with Okrent so far, but I do think he's doing some good work. Give him time. He's just warming up.

Oh, and as for that tape, it's priceless. It's a good thing that our band - unofficially, "Three Jews and a Goy" - never got out of my basement. The world just wasn't ready for us.
Jew.

(An explanation for my strange behaviour here.)
Extraordinary rendition - capturing people and delivering them to be tortured, questioned and/or executed by compliant governments like the Egyptian or Jordanian government - is unfortunately common.

It's also illegal. It's against the law. Not just international law, but also U.S. domestic law.

If you don't like that, then change the damn law. Otherwise, you must advocate prosecuting and jailing people when it turns out that they knowingly participated in the practice. That includes Tenet and Ashcroft. They belong in jail. They broke the law.

What is it that's so hard to understand here?
Yesterday's incidents in Fallujah were even more depressing than the usual bad news coming from Iraq. I know that the story in Iraq is quite complex, but I'm getting a bit tired of seeing people posting enthusiastically about refurbished schools and the like. Refurbished schools are fantastic, but only until they're destroyed by artillery fire in a civil war. I think that's increasingly likely, so forgive me if I'm not popping corks off at each piece of good news.

I'm still waiting to be proven wrong on Iraq, but there is a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach that I won't be. Some days I feel a bit more optimistic - but today I just feel dread. For all my criticism of the U.S., I love the country and I think it has a valuable role to play in the world, if only it would have the courage and the wisdom to play it. What I'm seeing in Iraq is not just the further destruction of a wonderful country with so much potential. I'm also watching the daily shredding of the U.S.'s credibility. And frankly, I'm really getting frightened.

It is now more likely than not that there will be a civil war in Iraq - an ugly, destructive, brutal war which tears apart families and communities and leaves tens of thousands dead and homeless.

You who asked before the war how it could get worse than Saddam Hussein, you will probably live to see your rhetorical question answered several times over. What, I would like to know, will you say then?

I'm angry now. I'm angry at the Republican party for deliberately boosting a moron into the world's most important and powerful political role. World empire is big time, baby, and that was a very small time thing to do.

I'm angry at the Americans who couldn't be bothered to take a closer look at what they were getting.

And I'm angry at the people who supported this war for humanitarian reasons. Bless your souls, I was very tempted myself, and so I think I know where you were coming from. But, dammit, before you back a war you had better take a hard look at the likely consequences. It's not enough to announce that you're morally disgusted with some dictator, shout "never again", and then taunt people who are urging you to take a closer look. That's not serious either. And now we're all likely fucked as a result, including the very people you meant to help.
You might want to check out this look at the likely relationship between oil and politics in Iraq.

Via Crooked Timber.
From the National Security Archives:
National Security Archive Update, March 31, 2004

BRAZIL MARKS 40th ANNIVERSARY OF MILITARY COUP
DECLASSIFIED DOCUMENTS SHED LIGHT ON U.S. ROLE

Audio tape: President Johnson urged taking "every step that we can"
to support overthrow of Joao Goulart

U.S. Ambassador Requested Pre-positioned Armaments to aid Golpistas;
Acknowledged covert operations backing street demonstrations, civic forces and resistance groups

For more information contact
Peter Kornbluh - pkorn@gwu.edu
202/994-7116

http://www.nsarchive.org

Washington D.C., - "I think we ought to take every step
that we can, be prepared to do everything that we need to
do," President Johnson instructed his aides regarding
preparations for a coup in Brazil on March 31, 1964. On
the 40th anniversary of the military putsch, the National
Security Archive today has posted recently declassified
documents on U.S. policy deliberations and operations
leading up to the overthrow of the Goulart government on
April 1, 1964. The documents reveal new details on U.S.
readiness to back the coup forces.

Among the records:

* Recently declassified top secret cables from the U.S.
ambassador to Lyndon Johnson's top national security
officials in Washington, urging "a clandestine delivery of
arms" for military coup plotters as well as a shipment of
gas and oil to help the coup forces succeed. In a March 29,
1964, cable Ambassador Lincoln Gordon recommends secretly
"pre-positioning" the armaments to be used by "friendly
military." His cables also acknowledge CIA covert operations
to support anti-Goulart military and political forces.

* CIA intelligence reports from Brazil on the planning and
movements of coup plotters.

* Memoranda of conversations between President Johnson and
his top national security aides as the coup progressed in
Brazil.

In addition, the Archive's posting includes a declassified
audio tape of Lyndon Johnson being briefed by phone at his
Texas ranch, as the Brazilian military mobilized against
Goulart. "I'd put everybody that had any imagination or
ingenuity...[CIA Director John] McCone...[Secretary of
Defense Robert] McNamara" on making sure the coup went
forward, Johnson is heard to instruct undersecretary of State
George Ball. "We just can't take this one," the tape records
LBJ's opinion. "I'd get right on top of it and stick my neck
out a little."
A week or two ago, I mentioned that I was mulling over a switch from Internet Explorer to Mozilla Firefox as my default browser.

I am happy to report that I have switched, and that I am very impressed with the results. Firefox is more secure, more stable, and gosh darn it, purdier than Internet Explorer (after you choose a nice theme - don't be put off by the default appearance). Because I have a lot of long bus rides in my life, I'm in the habit of opening up 40 or 50 windows in my browser and then flipping through them. That often used to crash IE. Not Firefox. It's steady even at 60 or 70 open windows. Amazing.

The only hitch I discovered was the need to manually edit the config file in order to get new windows to open every time I clicked a link. (The default setting was just to steer the browser away from he site it was on, instead of opening a new window.) Even a technophobe could do that. The question is whether a technophobe could overcome the anxiety which would attend doing that.

Anyway, I heartily recommend it. Read up here.

And thanks to Grego and Pogge for nudging me in the right direction.
I got nailed by Jim Henley's April 1st joke, even going so far as to write him a quick email asking if he was serious.

I feel so silly. Every year - every year I get taken for a ride by someone.

UPDATE: On the other hand, this never even had a chance. Henley is clearly the superior satirist.

Wednesday, March 31, 2004

The following are commonly recognized as U.S. foreign policy mistakes - not by everyone, mind you, but by many mainstream thinkers: Supporting the coup in Iran in the 50s and then the Shah up to the revolution; supporting the anti-monarchist coup in Iraq in the 60s; backing Saddam Hussein during the 80s; energetically fueling the rise of Islamic fundamentalism during the 80s to try and counter communism in general, and the Soviets in Afganistan; backing brutal dictators throughout Central and South America because they promised to hold back communism.

There's more, but that gives you an idea. What many mainstream apologists say about this is, "We now know that was a bad idea - it wasn't so clear at the time."

And that's false. Lots of people knew at the time that these policies were mistaken and dangerously counterproductive.

So what will we look back on a generation from now and say "We now know it was a bad idea - it wasn't so clear at the time"? Well, lots of things, of course. But one is U.S. policy in Central Asia. We know now - right fucking now - that the policy is a mistake. And it will be false to say that we didn't know - or couldn't have known - that that's the case.

Read this for details.

No government which actually took the Chomsky-Wolfowitz Theory of Root Causes seriously would behave this way. The theory really is right: Supporting authoritarian governments which violate human rights in the name of U.S. foreign policy imperatives is dangerous and counterproductive in the long run.

We know this. We know this right fucking now and there are no excuses.
Since I'm in a fair and balanced mood today, I'd like to point out how shitty Canadian corporate behaviour abroad so often is. The Canadian government never tires of glorying in its wonderful reputation, but is usually too corrupt and unprincipled to deal with any of the counterexamples.

Here is one fine counterexample. Spread it around. The only way to change this sort of thing is to shame the appropriate people.
Question: If you were George W. Bush and you wanted to strike a blow against the popular idea that you're a mere puppet whose strings are masterfully played by your sinister VP . . . would you really want to insist that you're only going to appear before the 9/11 commission with your VP holding your hand?

Who do you think he asked for advice on this one?
John Gray will rue the day he tried to fuck with Gavin Sheridan.
Well, I'm shocked. It turns out that the U.S. is not, as a matter of international law, supposed to detain people in Guantanamo, at least in the way it has so far. This, according to a U.N. committee on human rights.

I know, I know. Doesn't the U.N. have bigger - or, um, more offending - fish to fry? And what credibility can it possibly claim when Syria gets a spot on human rights committees? And so on and on.

But there's a serious point here. There are occasional calls to reform the U.N. and give its human rights claims more teeth - the sort of thing that would put Syria and other countries on the hot seat. I'm all for that. Let's not fool ourselves, though. The U.S. would also be reluctant to see genuine reforms, since genuine reforms would make criticisms like the one I mentioned above all the more difficult to brush off. I think the Bush admin's treatment of the ICC gives a decent idea of how it would treat any really fair and open reform of international measures to promote human rights. That's a pity, because for all its failures, the U.S. really is crucial to the development of the kinds of norms and practices that would benefit everyone in the long run. That's sort of why I harp on this so much.

Mulling this over yesterday reminded me of a book I read a while ago, Richard Falk's The Great Terror War. Falk wrote the book after 9/11. It's a serious attempt to think through some of the difficulties raised by 9/11 and especially the implied threat in 9/11 of something far worse to come. If I remember correctly, one of Falk's main points is that the threat of "mega-terrorism," as he calls it, justifies some modification to existing international law. The solution here is not to just break international law, but to attempt to craft some principled and suitably restricted modifications to it.

Well, the devil is in the details, of course. But the basic point seems fine to me. The virtue of Falk's approach is that he balances a willingness to recognize the difficulty of fighting "mega-terrorism" (the phrase just didn't catch on) against the obvious worry that many countries, including the U.S., would abuse their new powers in the name of fighting terror.

It is my sad duty to report that the U.S. has done pretty much the reverse of what Falk recommends. The administration's official position is that it is following international law in Guantanamo (because the captives don't qualify as legitimate prisoner's of war). If you think about it, this implies - rather perversely and contrary to what the admin actually believes - that existing international law crafted years ago under entirely different circumstances is perfectly suited to handling fresh challenges involved in fighting an international group of loosely organized terrorist cells.

On the other hand, the administration's unofficial position is that it hardly matters if the detentions are illegal. The administraton demonstrates this contempt for the law every time it brushes off fundamental challenges to the detentions - as if it weren't obvious that the Geneva Convention requires that the detainees be brought before a tribunal, at the very least, to determine their status. (I've read conflicting reports about conditions at the camps. I'm not sure what to believe, but the point is that the conditions are irrelevant - or rather, the fundamental objection is not to the conditions of detention, but rather to their legal justification. Another thing to note is that it was the military brass that pushed the hardest for the Geneva Convention, and many of the better features of Guantanamo are probably due to its intervention.)

The result of all this sqeamishness about international law has been deeply unsatisfying. In a situation where the administration might have been able to seize the momentum to refashion crucial legal tools necessary for fighting a long struggle against terrorist groups like AQ, it chose at once to deny the need for these crucial tools while at the time unnecessarily undermining the legitimacy of its own behaviour.

This isn't a problem without consequences, either. The finer points of international law can make a huge difference in how well the U.S. is able to coordinate its counterterrrorism activities with other countries. To take one modest example which most Americans will likely never have heard about, there was an enormous fuss in Canada when Canadian troops in Afghanistan handed over suspected AQ members directly to U.S. troops. Why, you ask? Because doing so made Canadian troops complicit in a clear violation of the Geneva Convention - a rather bigger deal up North than it is here. The Canadian government no doubt took heed of the heat it took over this, as, I'm sure, did other governments. If you think that doesn't make a difference, think again.

Ah, lost opportunities and squandered good-will . . . We're in the vicinity of the defining quality of the Bush administration.

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

This column by William Safire covers a bunch of stuff that we already knew about the UN during the 90s plus other stuff that I hadn't heard before. Unfortunately, because it's William Safire it may be partly hallucinated. I could always wait for the correct- oh, never mind.

Anyway, the outlines of the story are clear, even if Safire tells it slant. The fact is, the UN was seriously and progressively corrupted by Iraq during the sanctions regime. That's a big story and I think anyone who hopes that the UN might some day be a credible institution should favour a thorough examination of who did what and when and for how much.
The answer to the question of whether 9/11 was preventable matters for lots of reasons. Here's one that people aren't talking about much: The more preventable you think it was simply relying on the security measures and laws in place before 9/11, the less inclined you may be to support the Patriot act and other administration terrorism-combatting measures.

I think this really influences the admin's calculations. For it has repeatedly insisted that the newer measures are absolutely necessary to prevent another 9/11 - which is harder to do if you could have prevented 9/11 without the same measures.

The point I'm making isn't supposed to be decisive or anything. For you might argue - as the admin has - that even if 9/11 could have been prevented with the measures in place at the time, 9/11 woke everyone up to the possibility of more terrifying future attacks which wouldn't be prevented by the measures in place before 9/11. Fair enough. I'm making a point about politics, as much as about logic.
The best response I've seen so far to the Bush admin's smear attack on Clarke is the title to this post.
Forget morality for a moment. There are really solid prudential reasons why being a party in any way to this is downright dangerous for the U.S. in the long run.

I understand that Uzbekistan is strategically important. But it's not worth it. It's just not worth it.
Saudi Arabia to Bush's re-election campaign: Pththththt!

Seriously, I'm no economist, but isn't cutting oil production when prices are already pretty damn high, and at a time like this, just a big kick in the crotch for the U.S.'s economy?

Note to enterprising journalists: Keep a very close eye on U.S. oil reserve levels in the next few months. If they drop quite a bit, you're probably seeing the results of a short-term effort to disguise the extent of the problem until the election is over.
Oh sure, I talk a great talk about social justice and fighting poverty. But how can I know for sure that if I were a billionaire I wouldn't just hunker down and play with this all day in my indoor swimming pool?

If you're an eccentric trillionaire who reads this blog and you're into pointless social experiments . . . well, call me. There's only one way to really settle this question.

Back to work. I swear.
I interrupt my holy-crap-I'm-so-busy silence to confess that yesterday's two full-page ads in the NYT for Linux alternatives to Microsoft gave me a big boner.

Look out, MS. A rag tag band of computer rebels has created billions of dollars worth of OS value, and they're acomin' ta get ya!

That is all.

Monday, March 29, 2004

I'm still puzzling over something that I unfortunately don't have time to explore now in any sort of detail. I think proponents of intervention in Iraq have been very sceptical that Iraq's sovereignty could have counted for much before the war, given the character of the Ba'ath regime under Iraq. If recognizing sovereignty implies some sort of deference to the regime which claims it, then why not think that the depraved character of the regime makes any sort of deference, including recognition of sovereignty, out of question? Noticing this, the thinking goes, will help us to see why the U.S. had the right to intervene for humanitarian reasons.

Here's a question I've asked before, but not seen discussed elsewhere let alone answered: How would we have felt if Iran had intervened in 2003 on a humanitarian pretext to depose Saddam Hussein?

I have to confess, as much as I dislike Saddam Hussein, and as much as I'm attracted to the idea that Iraq's sovereignty couldn't have counted for much under Saddam Hussein, I don't think I would have been very happy about it. The fact is, I don't trust Iran's leaders. I wouldn't have trusted their intentions, or had much faith in their ability to do much good in Iraq (beyond, of course, getting rid of Saddam Hussein).

If any pro-war types are reading this, I'm curious: Do you share my reaction? If you do, do you notice that your dislike for Saddam Huseein can survive undiminished even as you frown at the thought of a humanitarian intervention to depose him?

So this is something I suppose I wouldn't mind seeing discussed a bit. One moral you might draw from this is that some (popular) accounts of humantarian intervention move too quickly from the claim that Iraq's sovereignty was compromised by the despicable character of the regime to the view that the U.S. therefore had the right to intervene. For even if a country's sovereignty is as compromised as can be, we might still doubt that it's a sort of "humanitarian sitting duck" - that just anyone has the right to intervene.

I've written about ths once before. But so what. I'm still mulling it over. And I haven't seen anyone else ask the question in exactly this way. Any help appreciated.

That's the homework for the day. Think about it and let me know.

Now I have to go mark an enormous stack of exams.

p.s. Spare me the outrage about comparing Iran and the U.S. I don't mean they're exactly alike in every respect. In some ways, Iran would have been a more appropriate intervener; in other ways, of course, a less appropriate one. Enumerating those differences, and reflecting on why they make the difference they do, is one of the points of the exercise.

Sunday, March 28, 2004

John Quiggin asks why no one is talking about Zarqawi anymore.

And it's a damn good question.
Light posting ahead . . . I'm really busy. Amuse yourself by clicking on the linked blogs to the right.

And don't forget to buy your "No Bush in '04" thongs. Link also to the right.

Saturday, March 27, 2004

Newbie blogger Noam Chomsky writes:
There is reason to believe -- as Halliday and von Sponeck had argued -- that if the vicious sanctions regime had been ended the population of Iraq would have been able to send Saddam Hussein to the same fate as other murderous gangsters supported by the US and UK: Ceausescu, Suharto, Marcos, Duvalier, Chun, Mobutu.... -- quite a rogue's gallery, some of them easily comparable to Saddam, to which new names are being added daily by the same Western leaders, whose values are unchanged. If so, both murderous regimes could have been ended without invasion. Postwar inquiries, such as David Kay's, add weight to these beliefs by revealing how shaky Saddam's control of the country was in the last few years.

We may have our own subjective judgments about this matter, but we should at least have the honesty to recognize that they are completely irrelevant. Completely. Unless the population is at least given the opportunity to overthrow a murderous tyrant, as they did in the case of the other members of the rogue's gallery supported by the US and UK (including the current incumbents), there is no justification for resort to outside force to do so. Another truism, which has repeatedly been pointed out -- and systematically ignored within the doctrinal system.
I would like to know what those reasons are. Just about the only thing Saddam Hussein was good at was maintaining power. I do think that the sanctions regime helped to further entrench Saddam Hussein in power. And we'll never know what might have happened if the sanctions had been lifted. But all we have to go on here are reasonable guesses, and Chomsky's parallels aren't especially encouraging.

Chomsky also focuses in this post about the sanctions regime. I don't read enough Chomsky to know exactly what his full view of the matter is. I expect if he had a bit more time he would have mentioned that the deliberate destruction of the civilian infrastructure during the actual Gulf War campaign caused many of the deaths in the early days of the sanctions. Sometimes those deaths get lumped in with the general problems with the sanctions (Kenneth Pollack's book has some great examples of this). And, I think Chomsky would agree, that lets coalition military and political leaders off the hook way too easily. These were war crimes, don't forget. It's also worth noting that the sanctions regime grew more effective as time went on - in the year before the war there were credible reports that health was improving in most parts of the country.

What I'm less confident Chomsky would say - or at least be inclined to dwell on at any length - is the extent to which Saddam Hussein's own response to the sanctions regime damaged the country. He played all kinds of stupid, pointless games precisely because he saw that it worked to his advantage to have his Iraqis dying under the sanctions regime. That's also an important part of the story.

Friday, March 26, 2004

The Bush Administration: weak and unassertive.

Why would you be so willing to piss off France and Germany and yet so absolutely terrified of uttering even the slightest hint of criticism against Saudi Arabia.

Oh, how I yearn for an "Old Saudi Arabia/New Saudi Arabia" comment from Rumsfeld, if only because it would get him fired.
I've noticed in the past year that an increasing number of pundits, professional and amateur, are claiming to have supported the full-scale invasion of Baghdad back in 1991. For some the point is "better late than never" for others it's "too late now, but don't think me soft". I might be wrong, but from where I sit the ranks of the "full deal, first time" crowd seems to swell as the particulars of the case recede into the mists of history and memory. If you'll indulge me in a hackneyed comparison, this reminds me a bit of attendance at Woodstock, which underwent a curious inflation as the years went by. Of course, some people did want the full deal for Iraq back then, and I'm sure most people are being sincere, but many of these claims strike me as the pundit's version of, "Man, I was there. I used the can right after Jimi."

It's worth sorting through the retrospective case for the whole deal to distinguish the plausible elements from the elements of sheer fantasy. I'll bet you can guess already which I think predominates.

First the positives. Back in 1991 folks in the South of Iraq were generally much keener for the U.S. They hadn't yet been stabbed in the back, slaughtered with impunity and then ground down over a decade of sanctions and neglect. Indeed, the entire country was still much keener on the U.S. in general, and in much better shape by almost every measure. Rebuilding would have been correspondingly that much easier. Remember also that the sanctions played an important role in the maintenance of Saddam's power, since he was able to use the resulting corruption to enrich his clan and tighten belts everywhere else. Interestingly, the Kurds were less supportive of the U.S. than they are now, since their betrayal was in the not very distant past, and they had yet to benefit from the protective umbrella of air support that George the elder reluctantly bestowed upon them. But on balance, in this respect the U.S. had a lot more going for it back then than it does now.

If it had taken place in 1991 the full deal would also have come at a better time, as an immediate response to something unequivocally wrong, rather than as an ad hoc war tied to an unrelated threat. The U.S. had assembled an impressive coalition - savour the memory - and enjoyed quite a bit of support in the region, at least compared to now. The U.N. had given its stamp of approval. And don't forget that back in the day the U.S. had a much larger military, so it would have had the boots on the ground to ensure immediate stability in the aftermath of a regime-toppling invasion.

Moreover, the full deal would have obviated the need for the crippling sanctions, the cat and mouse inspections game, the gradual corruption of the entire region as Saddam bought off the various players with oil and promises of more oil, and many other consequences that not even the mother of all battles could love.

Fine. But I think that many pundits are holding this rosy picture in their minds and then adding more of their favourite details without much regard for how the whole is supposed to hang together. For one thing, as the advocates of ad hoc coalitions are always reminding us, broad coalitions are fragile things built on compromises. The fact is that most regional support for the coalition - think especially of Saudi Arabia - was only built on the explicit promise and the honest expectation that George the elder would never try anything as crass as democracy-building in the Middle East (See Kuwait, post 1991 restoration). If George had marched on Baghdad, the coalition would have fallen apart, or at least undergone a dramatic thinning at exactly the time it needed allies in the region the most. (And yes, I'm implicitly conceding that this time around, it would have been very hard to get together a genuinely multilateral democracy-promoting invasion of Iraq.)

Recall also that the first time around the State Department, fearful of a leak which would undermine the coalition, basically refrained from any planning for a new regime in Baghdad. This time, the uber-hawks chucked out the wisdom accumulated over a decade of peacekeeping missions. But remember, in 1991 there was no planning, and no decade of intensive peacekeeping missions to look back on for lessons. I'm not suggesting that they would have been flying completely blind, just that inexperience can be functionally equivalent to the kind of the arrogance that turns its back on experience. The Greeks used to say that you should practice pottery on a small jar. Iraq was a jumbo-sized pottery project for people who hadn't worked much with clay in a long time.

Rumsfeld's post war plan of winging it might have been an error on a world-historical scale, but we should also bear in mind that the capture of Baghdad itself, and the toppling of the regime, was an extraordinarily impressive military feat. Those of us, present company included, who fretted about a bloody street-by-street fight through Baghdad were proven spectacularly wrong, thank goodness. But as far as I can tell, much of that strategy was developed in the light of fairly recent military experience and made possible by high-tech communication systems which weren't available in 1991. The plan was also developed as a direct consequence of, and partly to provide evidence for, Rumsfeld's idiosyncratic views about modern warfare. Why think that the toppling of Baghdad would have been as quick and easy in 1991? Well, as I suggested, I think daydreaming pundits are holding fixed the elements of the story they like and substituting better elements from imagination when it suits them. Isn't punditry fun, kids?

Remember too that back in 1991 Saddam's military was both larger and far better equipped than it was more than a decade later. The main part of the army might well have turned on Saddam and joined the U.S. - after all, much of the regular army mutinied after 1991 on a hint from George the elder. But the Republican Guard fought hard even in lousy conditions. If the Guard had been withdrawn into the city I shudder to think of how things might have turned out. It's quite possible possible that you would then have had a brutal, drawn out siege played by Saddam for all it was worth on the world stage as Georgie's coalition fell apart for once and for all.

But suppose that the coalition had been able to decapitate the regime quickly and easily, the coalition had held together, the Guard had capitulated, and a large standing coalition army had been able to hold the peace in the immediate aftermath. And forget the inconvenient fact that George the elder had zero interest in democracy promotion. What would the prospects for success have been in that case?

Well, obviously better than the picture I've painted so far. But still, I think, problematic. On the one hand, the whole country, and especially the South, would probably have been more amenable to compromise than it is now. Even so, it would not exactly have been smooth sailing. Possible complications include: strong tensions as the imperatives of demography clashed with Sunni Arab historical entitlements, lack of support in the region, the meddling of Iran, alarm in Turkey, insurgency from nationalists, and so on. In other words, many of the same things the U.S. faces now.

Iraq's invasion of Kuwait presented the world with an extraordinarily thorny issue, and none of the options available to anyone were especially good. Some time I'll try to write about the other options; just to give you a sneak preview, they all sucked for various reasons. But the pundits who fantasize about how great it would have been if the U.S. had just done it right the first time - well, as people who were "at Woodstock" will tell you, not every flashback is reliable.
Innocent question about Richard Clarke: Clarke's very credible testimony at the 9/11 Commission has been a nightmare for the Bush admin. Of course, I would say that, wouldn't I?

But there are a few things about his remarks that puzzle me. For example, I'm not sure what to make of Clarke's story about being buttonholed by the President in the situation room and told, semi-coherently, to investigate an Iraq-AQ connection. As some people have pointed out, there's not really anything wrong with being asked to double-check something like that. But more importantly, Clarke describes the President as threatening and intimidating when he asks the question.

Does Clarke strike you as the sort of guy who would be intimidated by Bush?

No, he does not strike me that way either. I suppose that's why I find the spin he puts on this story a bit odd.

Thursday, March 25, 2004

. . . More on Sudan from The Head Heeb, a great source of Africa news, among other things.

UPDATE: And for those who just can't get enough, there is also this.
Show me the Nuance!

(If I were a better man, I would not have written that header.)

Mr. Maguire (Minute Man) has graciously responded (to this) in the comments section of his blog. Watch as the bristles slowly go down on both our necks:
I'll follow the link, say "thank you" for the kind words as I skip past them, and highlight this:
...recently, MM's blog has been awfully limp. My guess is that this has to do with the total collapse of any rational basis for trust in George W. Bush. Of late, MM has been flailing at Kerry, which is perfectly respectible, but unless I'm mistaken there just isn't the same love for the task I used to see in his writing.
I agree that it looks like a long spring and summer ahead of us. "Us", of course, being anyone who sticks around as my morale is ground down to a fine powder.

Anyway, I appreciate the clarification. Since members of the lying, crooked RAM hear explanation (1) a lot (hey, follow his links), I got a litle bristly.

On a sheer tastelessness front, however, well, I threw in the "glazed over" to warn folks that plot twists lay ahead. Since it was in there for shock value, I can't complain if folks were shocked. I also tossed in the bit about "it may be a wonderful opportunity for the US to show it is a multilateral do-gooder" just to show my sensitive, caring side, and you can bet that won't happen again anytime soon.

Now, there is a rule about never, ever explaining jokes, and I won't break that now. However, let me respond to this:
Look, can you imagine someone writing a post like this about mass murder elsewhere in the world?
No, I can't either. But the story *is* in Africa, and I have been reading versions of it since the Biafran babies in the early 70's. Tribal warfare with famine and starvation as a military tactic are common in Africa and rare elsewhere. My perception is that the American public is de-sensitized, and I chose a fairly ghastly way to illustrate that.

Secondly, I am intrigued by the notion that more folks in this country can identify Jar Jar Banks, and are familiar with the controversy around him, then will ever know about the "janjaweed". Steven Spielberg made "Schindler's List", and good for him, but is anyone in Hollywood ever going to make a big film about the Sudan specifically, or African atrocities generally? "Black Hawk Down" was not really about the locals, I don't think. "The Killing Fields" obviously doesn't count, and ties in to our post-Vietnam angst.

So, big finish, do I really think rape and murder are funny? Let me get back to you. Did I choose an arguably tasteless way to illustrate some of the challenges Mr. Kristof might encounter on his current crusade to rally the American public? I think so.

And I still say, we are not going to war against the janjaweed.
If you've been following this, I objected to a post of Maguire's. He responded. I tried to clarify my position. He clarified his.

Folks, just feel the nuance!

If I can just make a few more comments before Maguire decides for once and for all that he's sorry he ever acknowledged my existence . . .

First, Maguire seems to treat all of Africa as of a piece: the whole place is always going to pot and what the hell can you do? This is an idea with real consequences, most of them unfortunate. For example, it was the idea that the U.S.'s experience in Somalia shed helpful light on the situation in Rwanda in 1994 that led the Clinton people to conclude it was better to do nothing. In fact, Somalia's political culture was (and is) utterly unlike Rwanda's and thinking the two cases relevantly alike was about as silly as trying to predict the U.S.'s behaviour from closely studying Peru.

(Sorry, but I can't leave Rwanda that quickly. I'm not an expert on the region, but the reading I've done convinces me that the case probably offered one of history's all time bargain basement resources-to-lives-saved deals - even if you ignore the role that the genocide had in destabilizing neighbouring countries and plunging the region into a bloody war. Too bad the lives weren't strategically significant. The Hutu Power government had an anxious eye on world opinion, especially France's and the U.S.'s, during the buildup to the genocide. They were probably highly deterrable. Moreover, even jamming radio stations or bombing a few of them would have saved thousands and thousands of lives.)

There are times when intervention is sensible and times when it's unlikely to do much good. I haven't the faintest idea whether an intervention would be useful now in the Sudan. Frankly, I doubt it, but I'm not really sure. A full and careful case for intervention would have to consider the prospects for success, peaceful alternatives, past behaviour, the current burdens and committments of the would-be interveners, and so on. But the main thing is that while much of Africa is a mess, it's also highly differentiated politically and culturally. So it can be deeply misleading to try to generalize about the continent.

Second, notice how quickly Maguire moves from talk of intervention to talk of doing nothing. It wouldn't be fair of me to suggest that this is a settled tendency on Maguire's part. I haven't read his site carefully enough to say. So let me just say that this basic tendency is extremely common. The problem with it is that there is a usually a whole range of measures short of an intervention that are often open to parties who genuinely wish to make a difference to some troubled area. In the case of the Sudan, these might include: support for Chad as it copes with a refuge crisis, publicization of the issue internationally, targetted sanctions, organized diplomatic pressure, the right kind of incentives, and so on.

If I can briefly break my rule and free associate about another region of Africa, it's now pretty clear that three million people died in central Africa over the last few years in a war fueled very much by demand for resources which were snapped up by companies from Western countries (and non-Western countries, of course). Putting an end to that would not have dried up the conflict right away, but it's the sort of measure which is realistic and achievable but which falls well short of an intervention.

Finally, I can't resist twitting Maguire for his remarks about holding on to support for Bush. Now that I've got his attention - if I still have his attention - I might as well ask him: What in the world is there left for a supporter of Bush to believe in? That Bush restored honour and integrity to the W.H.? That Bush would bravely hold the line on domestic spending? That Bush would attack terra effectively?

I admit that I live a blinkered little world in which people willing to praise Bush are as rare as mercury-free tuna. (The last time I actually heard someone say something nice about Bush in person was a few months ago on the subway. He was a drunk, homeless fellow whose admiration for Bush seemed rooted mainly the latter's willingness to kill Arabs - at least judging by the things that he was shouting.) So perhaps my astonishment at Maguire's stamina on this issue is an artifact of my limited experience. I am also, I blush to confess, a Canadian. But what appeal could Bush possibly hold for someone who actually follows the news? I'm hard-pressed to work up much enthusasm for Kerry, but for Pete's sake, what would it take for Maguire to abandon Bush?

Isn't the least demoralizing position for a Republican at this point something like: "Yeah, Bush has deeply disappointed me. He's screwed up everything he's attempted and betrayed the principles that led me to the Republican party in the first place. In order to save the credibility of the party, and my own damn credibility, I'm recommending that we cut him loose. This pains me, since I have nothing but contempt for the losers in the Democratic party who will no doubt do things I hate. But I've come to see that Bush is bad in a way that transcends politics. And anyone who believes in accountability has to believe that the buck stops with him. Let's cut our losses, regroup, develop credible alternatives and push for a real candidate the next time around."

I'm being condescending, I understand. But it's the best I can do in the circumstances. And I'm right, no?
The Minute Man detects furrowed brows over at See Why. The brows were furrowed here over this. Minute Man responds:
UPDATE: Oh, dear, a furrowed brow. Follow the links to see why. I'm not sure what is being insinuated with the "Hint", but that is why I have a comments section. I would be especially delighted if the explanation noted my post that, by non-coincidence, followed this one.
MM is right that my hint is unclear. Here is the original post, hint and all:
Wow, this is really tasteless.

What it is about this case that makes it safe to make ignorant and tasteless jokes about ethnic cleansing, rape and mass murder? (Hint: The events are occurring in Africa.)
I regret the "hint", because it's multiply ambiguous. To take two extremes, it might mean either:
1. Hey, I betcha if we jump MM in the parking lot and steal his wallet, we'll find his secret KKK membership card - and who knows what else?

2. Wow, that's really insensitive. The mass killing is going on as we type. Do you think we might hold off on the Ewok jokes and complaints about glazed eyes at least until it's over? Look, can you imagine someone writing a post like this about mass murder elsewhere in the world? Run through the substitutions yourself: "Nicolas Kristoff warns us about . . . as our eyes glaze over." It's not impossible, since people are tasteless about a lot of things. Still, it's much easier to find this sort of tastelessness when people write about Africa. Would that it were not so.
For the record, it was the second interpretation I had in mind. One hint that that is so is that I complained that the post was really "tasteless", rather than "racist". Still, the topic is pretty charged, so I might have made that clearer.

That said, it really was tasteless. Most people who have a blog end up writing stupid or insensitive things. So why not just admit it and move on?

(A glimmer of doubt creeps in: What if it's just that Kristof bores MM, and not ethnic cleansing? Well, no one could be faulted for finding Kristof boring. Still, it's unclear and the Ewok jokes don't exactly point in a promising direction. MM seems to perk up at the chance to make a 12-year-old's joke about Kristof's subject.)

Anyway, a general point about MM. He's usually wrong, but he can also be very funny. That's why the lucky devil has a spot on my blogroll. If I wanted to explain the appeal to my liberal friends, I would say "He'll have you laughing out loud - through gritted teeth." I even nominated him for some stupid blog award or other once (stupid, because I was crushed by the competition when my own site was judged). But recently, MM's blog has been awfully limp. My guess is that this has to do with the total collapse of any rational basis for trust in George W. Bush. Of late, MM has been flailing at Kerry, which is perfectly respectible, but unless I'm mistaken there just isn't the same love for the task I used to see in his writing. Can any sentient person really throw themselves heart and soul into any part of an effort to retain George W. Bush? My hope is that Kerry will win, the Republicans will regroup and present themselves as a more credible alternative, and MM will grow funny again, just like the old days.

UPDATE: Oh yes, and kudos to MM for not sulking about "political correctness".

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Bush Fulfills Campaign Promise

In three years, Bush has managed to bring together an astonishing coalition of critics, from Richard Clarke and Paul O'Neill right on down to Noam Chomsky. That is an astonishing accomplishment, matched only by Nixon at the peak of his powers.

Give the man some credit. He's a uniter and not a divider.
Wow, this is really tasteless.

What it is about this case that makes it safe to make ignorant and tasteless jokes about ethnic cleansing, rape and mass murder? (Hint: The events are occurring in Africa.)

UPDATE: Get yer latest here.
Thanks to a link a week or two ago from Brad DeLong, I've been enjoying this very odd blog recently.

It's very, very odd. But funny.
Via Robert Tagorda, I see these remarks by Peter Feaver, which I'd like to riff on briefly:
[Madeleine] Albright is partly correct; there was a pre-9/11 mindset that shaped Clinton-era responses. The mind-set was "counterterrorism as law-enforcement." The role of the military was at best a supporting one. Moreover, because the uniformed military themselves opposed a military role, the law enforcement mind-set was reinforced by Clinton's pathological civil-military relations. Even if President Clinton wanted to conduct military operations against al Qaeda, he was simply too weak a commander in chief to prevail over a military that wanted nothing to do with a war in Afghanistan.

The Clinton record on military operations was clear: frequent resort to low-risk cruise-missile strikes and high-level bombings, but shunning any form of decisive operations involving ground troops in areas of high risk. The Clinton White House was the most casualty phobic administration in modern times, and this fear of body bags was not lost on Osama bin Laden. Indeed, al Qaeda rhetoric regularly "proved" that the Americans were vulnerable to terrorism by invoking the hasty cut-and-run after 18 Army soldiers died in the 1993 "Black Hawk Down" events in Somalia -- a strategy developed and implemented, ironically enough, by the same Richard Clarke who torments the Bush team today.

So Albright is correct that Operation Enduring Freedom, the campaign to topple the Taliban, was not possible with a commander in chief who was afraid to lead the public to accept the human costs of war.
After quoting a bit more, Tagorda remarks:
Seriously, I think there's something to be said about how Clinton's "pathologies" limited his military options, as well as how Bush's leadership helped the push for decisive action, and they should have probably been raised before the commission. But, at the same time, Feaver seems to put more emphasis on these factors than they deserve. In the end, public awareness is the "elephant in the room." Though we should also examine other dimensions, we should stress that they existed within the broader context of public attitudes at the time.
I'd just like to point out that one of the main reasons for Clinton's uneasy relationship with the military was that his draft-dodging was held against him. It may be hard to remember, but this was a huge issue for many people and Clinton was never allowed to forget it.

I think that's why it drives me so completely bonkers that Bush gets a pass on all the Vietnam stuff. I don't mean he gets a pass in the press - though it's also that. He gets the most leeway in the popular idea that he's a decisive military leader who has some right to prance around on aircraft carriers. And that supposedly gives him much greater leeway to use military force. None of the people who sneered at Clinton for his Vietnam era behaviour are able to work up much resentment at Bush for behaviour that was even less principled in its way than Clinton's. And this shows itself in countless little differences in reporting and public opinion.

So, yeah, there's lots of pathology here. But I'm not sure it's the sort we hold against Clinton or give any credit to Bush for - not at least if we're being consistent.
Heh.

A nice little bit of political jujitsu on the question of same-sex marriage.

Via Metafilter.
Ian Ayres and Barry Nalebuff to Antonin Scalia:"Tisk tisk, we know where the real ethical quandry is, you naughty boy."

Hope none of them ever have a case before the Supreme Court.

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

I wonder if this is the sort of unintentional quasi-plagiarism that could happen to anyone. Here is Fred Kaplan, bless his soul, defending Richard Clarke:
To an unusual degree, the Bush people can't get their story straight. On the one hand, Condi Rice has said that Bush did almost everything that Clarke recommended he do. On the other hand, Vice President Dick Cheney, appearing on Rush Limbaugh's show, acted as if Clarke were a lowly, eccentric clerk: "He wasn't in the loop, frankly, on a lot of this stuff." This is laughably absurd. Clarke wasn't just in the loop, he was the loop.
And here is Josh Marshall, bless his soul too, also defending Richard Clarke:
So Cheney's claim is that Clarke "wasn't in the loop ... on a lot of this stuff."

Consider what that means.

Clarke, as we've said, was the counter-terrorism coordinator at NSC. That means he ran the inter-agency process on terrorism issues. Cheney says Clarke wasn't in the loop; but that means that he actually ran the loop.
It's an obvious point, and an obvious retort. Still . . .

Anyway, I've wondered once or twice if Krugman was unconsciously deriving inspiration from Marshall too. The "up-is-down-ism" crack in one of his latest columns struck me as very Marshall-istic in tone.

Just thought I'd point that out.

UPDATE: Oh yeah, and another thing. Why does Marshall cut out the "frankly" in Cheney's comments? That "frankly" is very like Cheney. I have the (perhaps mistaken) impression he says "frankly" a lot in interviews, especially when he's lying.
Just a quick snark: Hitchens was right about at least one thing. Remember John Walker Lindh? The kid joined the Taliban and got right up close to bin Laden lickety-split. After 9/11, Hitchens was one of the few people to point out what an enormous hole this blew in the theory that the B.L was an invisible and untracable international man of mystery. If someone wants to ask a real question at the 9/11 hearings, why don't they bring up Lindh?

Also: I can understand that 9/11 changed a lot of perceptions within government, and that it's best to focus on what happened after 9/11 rather than what happened before it. But was it really so hard to figure out that the US mainland would be targeted by Islamic extremists? I mean, give me a break. My impression may have something to do with the fact that I'm such an outrageous, over-the-top geek that I was reading books on blowback before 9/11. But it's not like that should have put me in a better position to judge these things than the people tasked with the security of the U.S. No?
I really do like Abu Aardvaark. Don't always agree with him, but he is a really wonderful voice in the blogosphere, and someone I learn from regularly. This is yet another example what makes him invaluable: it's a nice explanation of why the U.S.'s media strategy in Iraq is so bloody awful.

Mr. Aardvaark confesses that he's beating a dead horse. Ah yes, but the brute really deserved it.
Busy, busy. I've got a few crushing deadlines coming up, so I'm going to try to go a little lighter on the blogging. Don't complain! I know you don't read all the posts anyway. Hell, I don't read all the posts. My Proust-like blogging frenzies have gotten a bit out of control lately, and as much as it hurts, from now on I'm going to have to limit myself to 5000 words a day, tops.

By the way, I've updated the post immediately before this one, to ward off a possible misunderstanding (of mine).

One other thing. I read somewhere recently that some rich lawyer blogger was rewarding readers for pointing out spelling mistakes or places where his prose could be improved. He was giving out big bucks too, so I don't know why you're wasting your time here. But, except for the fact that I'm really very broke, it seems like a splendid idea to me. In the year I've been blogging, I think my writing has improved a bit. But it's still so wretched most days I can hardly bear to look at the screen. So if you have any suggestions or corrections or admonishments, by all means send them my way.

Some problems I'm already aware of:

-Tense problems, especially involving subjunctives. "He should have seen that it is wrong to think that it would be fair to . . . . " Help! This just gums up my prose when I'm trying to talk about what would have been right to think about the war and describing things that are still the case. That kind of thing.
-Long, unwieldy sentences. I need to break these up into tasty bite-sized pieces.
-Lame jokes.
-Piss-poor proof-reading.

Anyhow, if you read something that has you wrinkling your nose, cut and paste it into an email and try to shame me into better prose. Thank ya in advance.

Monday, March 22, 2004

The March of Progress Goes On!

Norm has responded to another one of my posts.

Norm's first response to me was a bit of a fiasco (UPDATE: For me, I mean.). I had much unhatched chicken reproduction unit on my face after that one. This one, I think, leaves us both looking just fine - at least if you were disposed to think that before you read it. For the disagreement noted here is a poor, malnourished little thing indeed. Norm mentioned in the course of a post that the anti-war crowd ought to just move on. I responded, agreeing with most of the post, but adding a dissenting note or two. Norm has now pointed out that the dissenting notes have actually gotten a lot of play on his blog. And so they have. Duly noted.

Too much agreement is a bad thing, so let me protest the hook Norm uses as an excuse to get the post going. The hook is a letter in the Guardian:
Asked why she was protesting on Saturday... an anti-war demonstrator replied: "Because I have the right to tell the government that I don't approve of what it did." Fair enough, but the invasion gave the Iraqi people a similar right, which Saddam's continued existence would have denied them. Apparently this hadn't occurred to her. Extraordinary.
Now, you see that's exactly the kind of silliness that had me throwing tantrums at Norm a few months back. Why oh why does the letter writer assume that this hadn't occurred to her? What presumption - what galling presumption - to judge this from a simple remark about the protester's entirely legitimate displeasure with the government! And why does Norm approve of this? Does he not detect an unpleasant echo of the Cold War superhawk's refrain "Why do you hate freedom so?" which always carried with it the implication that to reject his methods was equivalent to hating freedom?

Good golly, it hath driven me mad!

Anyway, as a result of Norm's post, I've just discovered another very interesting looking blog, Short Hope Unfiltered. Interesting, I say, but for that reason it's all the more annoying that it lacks an RSS/Atom feed. Dude, it's 2004 - where's your frickin' feed?

Finally, it seems to me that Norm is now doing warm-up exercises to prepare for the tougher stuff ahead. I don't want to rush him - and I wouldn't presume to dicatate the exact sequence in which he refutes me. For what it's worth, though, it's really this post that I'm dying to see an answer to.

UPDATE: Now that I've slept on it, it occurs to me that I may have misunderstood the letter Norm quotes. If the letter writer is responding to an original piece in the Guardian which I haven't seen, it might be that there is enough context in the original piece to start throwing around blame. If so, then I suppose I would scale down my criticism a bit. Whatever the case, though, it's annoying to be playing this game of look-how-stupid-a-random-person-who-disagrees-with-me-is. It's one thing to point to prominent spokepeople on the left and scrutinize them for stupidity. It's another to pick some person off the street and pretend that a great deal hangs on it either way. A lot of people protested for perfectly good reasons and a lot of people came down on both sides of the issue for wildly idiotic reasons. I think that really ought to be acknowledged.
Mark Felber asks the essential question, and gives a pretty decent answer:
I guess the essential question is this: What would it take for Bush's supporters to believe that the Iraq war was policy from the start, and that the War on Terror and US intelligence were cynically twisted to bolster public support for this agenda? Who would have to leave the administration, write a book, and go on "60 Minutes" with anecdotes and documents before America's Bushies began to smell something rotten?

You can answer in the Comments below, but it's my suspicion that if George W. Bush himself resigned, wrote a book entitled "I Lied to You All, Especially About Iraq," and confessed tearily to Lesley Stahl that he'd been "a very, very bad boy," the next morning Scott McClellan would express President Cheney's disapproval, assert that Bush missed most of the meetings that involved national security and Iraq, and point out that Bush was never really in the administration's inner circle.

And a lot of folks would buy it.
Rice is still refusing to testify under oath at the 9/11 commission.

The piece I've linked to doesn't even offer her explanation. In fact, I've never even read the official reason for this, let alone the real one. They're going to take a huge amount of flak over this - it's a bloody election year, remember. What the hell is going on? What does she know that makes her testifying under oath so dangerous that a rational cost/benefit analysis rules it out of the question?

WTF?
Wow!

Read this extremely interesting interview with Norm Geras. It's far better than a blog entry, and much more to my taste, since he very carefully qualifies many of the claims that he leaves unqualified on his blog. (And I'm a hopeless qualification-addict.)

Very long, but very worth reading.

Via BertramOnline.
An observation: Everyone is gearing themselves up for the admin's anticipated smear job on Clarke. But, really, was the smear job on O'Neill so bad? What are they going to do?

Course I'm not the one standing in the line of fire.

UPDATE: Instant support for this observation, via War and Piece.
The ever-thoughtful Mark Kleiman writes:
Today's New York Times reports that the fall of the Baathist regime in Iraq has given heart to dissidents in Syria. That's exactly the sort of thing the "neocon" architects of the Iraq invasion were hoping for. Like the end of the Iraqi tryranny, it has to be, on any reasonable accounting of the costs and benefits of going to war, an entry on teh credit side.

I wish that those who criticize the war were more willing than they seem to be to acknowledge its benefits, as I wish that those who still think it was a good idea were more willing to acknowledge both that the fear of a major Iraqi WMD program was central to the argument for war as it was actually made at the time and that it has proven in retrospect to have been seriously overestimated.

What the anti-war and pro-war sides have in common is an almost total unwillingness to acknowledge what seemed obvious to me: this was a hard problem, with no obvious right answer. No which side you were (or are) on, there are patriotic, humanitarian folks who know more than you do about the problem who disagree with you. If that were better understood, there might be a little less vitriol in the conversation.
Well, that sounds a bit like stuff I've said here at See Why. Still, I'd like to make a few qualifications to Kleiman's point.

Set aside for the moment reservations about the NYT piece expressed by the equally thoughtful Abu Aardvaark. For it's a rare policy that has no advantages whatsoever, and so I have no objection, in principle, to recognizing all kinds of benefits of the war. Grant, then, Kleiman's point that people should be more willing to acknowledge the benefits of the war, even as you forgive those who drag their feet a bit because they (correctly) see that concessions about benefits are often twisted into drammatic rhetorical victories by their political opponents.

And yet, as much as I like what Kleiman is trying to do in this post, I'm looking for a little more nuance on this question of vitriol.

As far as the prudential case for the war goes, I think Kleiman is just wrong: It wasn't a hard problem, and there was an obvious right answer. I think smart, well-meaning people were suckered into thinking that it was a bright idea, but that's because I think that smart, well-meaning people can be suckered into all sorts of stupid ideas. Study enough intellectual history, and you'll start to think that that's the rule, rather than the exception. It's now commonplace to point out how the war on Iraq diverted resources from other worries like instability in Pakistan, rebuilding Afghanistan, fighting AQ, and so on. But during the buildup to the war, I watched in astonishment as one highly intelligent person after another focused on the question of Iraq with laser-like intensity and to the almost complete neglect of the broader foreign policy priorities that we could all agree on. It was stupid. Forgivable, but stupid. But recognizing this is also compatible with respecting people's intellectual and moral capabilities.

We don't have to choose between seeing the question as difficult and seeing it as a cause for vitriol - even if the questions we're debating are life and death issues.

As far as the humanitarian case for war goes, I think it was a very difficult call. And although I think the humanitarian case was premised on a number of naive assumptions, I think anyone who has read much about Saddam Hussein's regime will be familiar with the deep longing which comes over one as page after page of atrocity goes by. (And anyone who has spoken with Iraqi exiles knows this feeling even better.) For many this longing was overpowering. And this I respect very much. No vitriol for these chaps. Impatience, exasperation, sharp questions, the odd rhetorical jab - we're only human, after all - but no vitriol.

But before you swear off the vitriol altogether, consider that there were many people who supported the war for reasons that were both stupid and immoral, and for whom the humanitarian argument was a cynical and insincere cover. There were reasons and there were reasons, some of which we should respect, and some of which we should be in the business of shaming as vitriolically as we can. Kleiman is absolutely right that we ought to be careful not to impugn the integrity of people simply because we find them on the other side of this difficult issue. You're relying on a very odd intellectual taxonomy if you just lump Rumsfeld in together with Norm Geras. They don't fit together at all, even if they found themselves on the same side of the issue. But some people on the other side of the question, like Rumsfeld, are just plain asking for it.

Now, there are more controversial cases. Kenneth Pollack, for example, was highly regarded for his extremely careful and influential book on Iraq. But as a public intellectual with a high degree of influence, I think he had correspondingly high responsibilities. He failed, in my opinion, and miserably at that. His book is in fact a deeply dishonest work, as I would have documented by now if I weren't such a lazy bastard. I don't think he should be readmited to polite society, not at least until he does a more honest penance than one slick, ass-covering article in the Atlantic Monthly. From me Pollack gets nuttin' but scorn.
Innocent question of the day

Why did it take until a week ago for me to learn that Philip Zelikow, the executive director of the Sept. 11th Commission, has a whopping conflict of interest?

I spend half my life reading the news. I suppose this coulda just slipped past me. Things do, especially now that I've reached the hoary old age of 30. But still . . .
Re: Richard Clarke interview

Good golly, if Bush can survive this . . .

It doesn't matter if Kerry is exposed as the long lost brother of Bashir Assad, or it turns out he secretly sports an "authentically French" tatoo on his butt, or he is revealed to be a member in good standing of a secret Washington intern dating service.

If Bush can survive this, I just give up . . .

. . . No, I don't. But you know what I mean.

Sunday, March 21, 2004

Re: Torture.

Forget the moral problems with it for a moment. There are also rather formidable epistemological problems with it.
Here's an interesting piece in the NYT. Powell is apparently traveling through the Middle East promoting democratic reform. The first paragraph is worrying:
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell sought this weekend to allay the furor in the Middle East over the Bush administration's proposed democracy initiative for the region, assuring the leaders of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia that there was no intention to impose reforms on their countries.
But the key word here is "impose". Powell is pushing the line that reform has to come from within, and has to draw on the resources of the local culture.
But when he was asked in Saudi Arabia whether the United States would be satisfied if the Arab League adopted a democracy resolution, Mr. Powell bristled.

"It's not a matter of satisfying the United States," he said. "It's a matter of satisfying the aspirations of the people in the Arab world."
That's not a terrible line to take, but rhetorically and substantively.

But notice the careful deference to the region's rulers reported in the piece. It stands in quite jarring contrast to much of the admin's tough talk. Once again, the problem with the Bush admin is not that it's arrogant and pushy - it's that it's arrogant and pushy and cowardly and appeasing in turns, and always at the wrong times with the wrong people. Compare, for example, this diplomatic line with the (wholly counterproductive) warnings and admonitions for the people of Spain that we heard from senior administration officials recently.

Powell has a difficult task here. There really is a risk of backlash if he pushes very hard, very fast. But against this are two considerations which suggest he ought to be pushing a lot harder and a lot more publicly than he is. First, there's the fact that the U.S. is strongly associated with the undemocratic autocrats in the region. Never push governments in the public eye, and you never really get a chance to challenge that perception. The second is that so long as this is just words, it doesn't count for shit. To take one example, Powell needs to make clear that further assistance to Egypt is out of the question barring a long list of democratic reforms. Until he does that and other things in that spirit, the U.S. is simply enabling authoritarians in the region and then tisk-tisking them about it. Everyone knows this, so this sort of talk only adds to the cynicism about the U.S. in the region (and elsehwere) if it isn't followed up in any way.

Let me conclude with one observation: At the time of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Kuwaiti women were still not allowed to vote. In fact, torture is quite routine in Kuwaiti prisons, and there are a whole host of other human rights concerns about the place. And this was 12 years after the country had been restored by the U.S. The U.S. had a dozen years to push for reforms in a tiny country which was completely dependant on it for security and which owed it an extraordinary debt.

Kuwait is much better now than it would have been under Saddam Hussein. But it is very much worse than it would be if the U.S. had cared one whit for reform in the country. So if the U.S. couldn't - or wouldn't - induce very much change at all in that case, why oh why would anyone believe that it could - or would - induce it in Iraq in almost incomparably more difficult circumstances?
In the past, I've complained a bit about yesterday's march (unequivocally here; rather equivocally here), but this kind of complaining is just silly. Really, it reads like a Nabakov story in which an unreliable narrator slowly reveals just how unreliable he is.

This isn't especially impressive either. I can understand strong disagreement with the anti-war crowd, even anger. But there's a palpable contempt here that seems to extend to the whole anti-war movement, and which strikes me as unfair and counterproductive.

Different people had different reasons for supporting or opposing the war. Contempt is fine, when it's appropriate. I have a finely honed contempt for Rumsfeld, for example. But throwing everyone on the other side into the same pile just isn't right. In fact, it's a decent sign that you're missing something.
Recycling

I just want to reaffirm my disgust at Colin Powell's cynical attempt to use the Halabja massacre to score political points. Colin, if you can't say something true, then don't not say something that isn't false. Got it?

I also want to say that I'm sort of pleased with myself for coining a new phrase: The Chomsky-Wolfowitz Theory of Root Causes. It's catchy and mildly amusing, and I urge everyone to use it.

Finally, I just can't stop thinking about this passage from a Thomas Friedman piece that I quoted earlier:
The real reason for this war - which was never stated - was to burst what I would call the "terrorism bubble," which had built up during the 1990s.

This bubble was a dangerous fantasy, believed by way too many people in the Middle East. This bubble said that it was OK to plow airplanes into the World Trade Center, commit suicide in Israeli pizza parlors, praise people who do these things as "martyrs," and donate money to them through religious charities. This bubble had to be burst, and the only way to do it was to go right into the heart of the Arab world and smash something—to let everyone know that we, too, are ready to fight and die to preserve our open society. Yes, I know, it's not very diplomatic - it's not in the rule book - but everyone in the neighborhood got the message: Henceforth, you will be held accountable. Why Iraq, not Saudi Arabia or Pakistan? Because we could - period. Sorry to be so blunt, but, as I also wrote before the war: Some things are true even if George Bush believes them.
Sorry, Thomas, but some things aren't true even if they're said by people who say that they're true even if George W. Bush believes them.

I feel a primal scream coming on . . . .

By the way . . . if you read this site regularly, you're probably a news addict like me. In that case, if you're not using an RSS aggregator, you're probably wasting a lot of your time.

Very briefly, an RSS aggregator gathers together the "feeds" that your favourite sites offer. For example, check out the link at the top right of this page which says "Atom Feed". It's not very pretty when you click on it in a web broswer. But if you enter that address into an RSS aggregator then your aggregator will poll my server at set intervals to notify you when the site has been updated.

This doesn't sound like much, but it makes a huge difference in practice. I can monitor hundreds of pages without ever opening my browser, and very quickly since the entire page doesn't need to load to figure out whether it's been updated. That means that I can get much more procrastinating done in a given amount of time.

You can get a list of aggregators here. I use the FeedDemon. Unlike most aggregators, it actually costs money. But it's one sweet little app.

UPDATE: Oh yeah, and if you have a blog and don't have an RSS/ATOM feed, then by golly get off yer duff and get one! Email me if you can't figure out how to do this.
For anyone in the NYC area:

Please join us for the following event:

Remembering Rwanda: Africa in Conflict, Yesterday and Today
NYU Kimmel Center, 60 Washington Square South, Room 914
Monday, March 22, 2004, 7:00-8:30

The presentation will discuss the devastating events culminating in the death
of over 500,000 Rwandans in 1994 and highlight the similarity of conflicts and
human rights abuses in Africa today. The lecture will be followed by a Q&A.
Seating is limited, and admission is free. The speaker will be Human Rights
Watch Africa Division Counsel and Harvard Law School lecturer, Binaifer
Nowrojee.

The event is sponsored by Human Rights Watch and Co-Sponsored by NYU Black
Family Reunion, NYU African Students Union, and the NYU Undergraduate Law
Society.
Jay Rosen to stupid campaign strategy stories: "Die, strategy news. Do it this year, 2004. And we'll dance the dance of real politics on your grave."

Amen, brother. Amen.

UPDATE: Napsterization has a nice discussion of this as well.
Random Sunday musing: I'm really a bit surprised that Left Blogistan hasn't made more of the fact that Paul (or Jerry or whatever) Bremer is a close (former) associate of Henry Kissinger.

I'm not saying that it's never discussed. Juan Cole made a remark about it the other day. Still, given the extent to which Kissinger is hated on the left I had expected it to be added to the standard litany by now.