Friday, October 11, 2002

OK! I'm playing linker today, to three good pieces by people whose work I consistently admire.

First up is Dwight Meredith's piece on the question of disarmament vs. regime change. Yeah, it's about a week old, but I've been pretty busy lately, so I'll just play catch-up. It's not that Dwight's piece contains new and spectacular analysis or information, but it provides a great summary of the arguments for either. The only thing that I wish he could have added was the problem of invasion and regime change from an international law standpoint; not only is it directly against the U.N. charter, but it sets an example for other, less benign regimes to follow.

(I imagine that the Georgians are probably not big fans of the concept, for example.)

Second and third are a set of pieces by Jeanne D'Arc (here, and here) discussing the question of rebuilding in both Afghanistan and in Iraq. Jeanne brings a personal side to the question of Afghanistan:

The little yellow food packets were a symbol to me -- for a short time at least -- that there was a good chance that Bush understood the enormous human needs in Afghanistan, and recognized that meeting those needs was at least half the war effort. It was a token, of course -- but a good one. I took it as a promise that food, doctors, and medical supplies would be coming as soon as possible. And this time we wouldn't abandon the Afghans, because this time we understood how intimately our interests were mingled with theirs....

The essence of democracy -- whatever most people believe is true. Or all that counts anyway. George Bush obviously understood something about the American psyche that had whizzed right past my Catholic schoolgirl innocence: people in Afghanistan did not matter; what mattered was being able to tell ourselves that we are loved -- even by people we are bombing.

When Doctors Without Borders asked the administration to stop dropping the food because they were putting people's lives at risk, and making humanitarian workers' jobs harder in the long run, Bush didn't respond, and they kept dropping the food. What concerned DWB -- helping suffering people -- was irrelevant, and the issues they raised were not even worth responding to.

And if there was an implied promise to the people of Afghanistan in those packets, it has long since been broken.

The cynicism Bush displayed in manipulating humanitarian concerns (along with a similar cynicism in the exploitation of a genuine concern for women's basic human rights) and the failure to follow through in stabilizing the government of Afghanistan, continued to trouble me as I tried to decide whether or not to support war with Iraq.
That troubled thought is the subject of the latter post, where Jeanne correctly points out that if the U.S. neglects Iraq like it has Afghanistan outside of Kabul, the situation will be horrible and the region will be shattered.

And there are still more dangers. As James Fallows recently discussed in The Atlantic, a post-Saddam Iraq would be so chaotic it would make Afghanistan look easily governable in comparison. The US would have to make Iraq virtually, in Fallows' words, "the fifty-first state." We could not allow Iraq, with its arsenal, to become the kind of failed state that made Afghanistan a home for the Taliban and al-Qaeda. But keeping it from doing so would require international support and a commitment to nation-building that dwarfs anything in our history, including the occupation of Japan.

That's a commitment that ought to give us pause and force some serious thinking, no matter who is president. But in Afghanistan, Bush demonstrated that he does not consider the commitment to re-building a part of his war strategy. If Karzai's government fails and Afghanistan falls back into anarchy, we face a threatening situation, but it is nothing compared to the situation we would face if Bush were to abandon Iraq after an invasion the way he has abandoned Afghanistan.
Again, that's the big question, isn't it? Not the invasion, but what happens after. Hopefully, it won't be the process of questing around for a new target. Hopefully, it'll be keeping Iraq from flying apart and rebuilding it properly, with the political and financial support of the United States.

Unfortunately, I'm not feeling particularly hopeful.

Thursday, October 10, 2002

I dunno about you folks, but when Martin Sheen plays a president on TV who is probably more popular than the real one, without the benefit of someone scaring the nation silly, I'd hesitate to call him a has-been.

Wednesday, October 09, 2002

May I just say that I love links from non-blog news sites. 1200 visitors and rising.

Thanks, The Register!

For those who are coming in from the Register, the actual post where I mentioned that PigeonRank (tm) had somehow placed me at the top of the Google listings is here. In case you're wondering who I am or what this is about, just check out this piece, although I've moved away from rebutting neocon bloggers and more towards political analyses, simply because the rebuttal of neocons by intelligent, insightful, and wickedly funny liberal bloggers is practically a cottage industry nowadays. (Warms my heart, that does.)

One sad thing about reading that, though: At the end of that initial post, I said "don’t worry, most of my blog entries will not be this long." If I had only known.
This is classic:

Political Diatribe!

Blah blah blah partisan hoo-has! Blah blahdy blah the Administration blah blah. Bush & Cheney blah-blah-blah BLAH. And if you disagree you prove yourself to be an unpatriotic reactionary with no understanding of recent history, nor a grasp on the basic tenets of logical discourse.

Blah blah pinkos. Blah bla-bla blah Stalin! Blah blah blahdy blah Fascists!

Further, blah blah bla-bla-bla blah. Blah blah Bill Simon. Blah blah blah Gray Davis. Blah blah Jeb Bush. Blah blah blah Janet Reno blah Bill McBride!

Blah on Republicrat blah! Blah blah blah two party system!

Blah blah blah Saddam blah Weapons of Mass Destruction! Blah blah Hitler blah gassed his own people! Blah blah Al Qaeda. Blah blah blah Regime Change blah Weapons Inspections! Blah blah blah Destabilize the Region & blah blah blah Blood for Oil.

Blah blah Homosexuality blah Abortion blah Jihad blah Secular Humanists blah Fundamentalists blah Islamikazes blah Israelis blah Palestinians blah Neocons blah The New York Times!!!
I suddently feel superfluous.
By the way, Shout Out to Andrew Orlowski at The Register, who had this to say in regards to my Google ranking:

And one of my favorite b-bl-bl journals (an antidote to the armchair pugilists Governor Ventura calls 'Chickenhawks') had grabbed top spot in Google's page rank for "Demosthenes". Which as the author readily admitted was absurd, and not very helpful if you were doing a school project on ancient Greece.


Maybe I should link to Demosthenes.com. And thanks for the compliment, it's always nice to hear.
Edit: mixed up something that has since been rectified. Also, closed a parentheses.

Well, as Uggabugga has been pointing out, the Usual Suspects are slamming the NYTimes/CBS poll as being flawed and biased in some respects. Not overly surprising, but what is surprising is just how weak the attacks are.

Firstly, we get constant streams of complaints that the NY Times didn't put up their questions or the responses. Fair 'nuff, but that doesn't mean that their interpretations are incorrect, just that they didn't feel the need to break down the responses to each question. Considering that there are 87 questions, I'd say that's a pretty fair cop, and CBS put up the info on their website. Since the Times does give credit to CBS as a co-sponsor of the poll and considering that anybody who was actually interested could easily find the poll (and did), it's kind of a non-issue.

Secondly, we get amateurish whining about the article and about the authors, where we have the neo-con or Rhino bias substituted in for whatever bias might actually exist. Not overly surprising, but still somewhat depressing.

Thirdly, we get complaints about the poll itself; the questions, and the analysis. For this I turn to the Weakly Standard, who made great hash about the analysis:

Question Three. "What do you think is the single most important problem for the government--that is, the president and Congress--to address in the coming year?" Nagourney and Elder write that voters answered they are "more concerned about the economy and domestic issues than with what is happening to Saddam Hussein." In fact, however, Times/CBS poll respondents identified "Terrorism/War/Security" as the one "most important problem" facing government (30 percent), with "Economy/Jobs/Stock Market" ranking second (26 percent). And even this result understates the truth: Listed third among the responses is an additional foreign policy category, "Iraq" (7 percent)--which means that voters principally concerned with international matters outnumber those who prefer to think about issues that "Democrats had hoped to capitalize on" by an almost 3-to-2 margin.
Look at this paragraph, but more importantly look not at what they did put in, but what they didn't. What they didn't include were all the other choices, which include: "Medicare/Social Security", "Education", "Poverty/Homelessness", "Health Care", "Budget Deficit/National Debt", "Business Ethics/Corporate Ethics", and "other". Yes, Iraq and Terrorism together trump the blanket "economy" figure, but they don't by any means trump all the other figures, and the only one that perhaps isn't directly an economic concern is "other". (Both Medicare/Social Security and Education are fundamentally economic concerns, and are hugely affected by the economic state of the United States.)

Indeed, if you look at the "independent" field, more independents care about Social Security/Medicare than about Iraq, and trying to tie together Iraq and terrorism doesn't wash; that's assuming a connection that the American people have not themselves made. Plus, there's about a dozen other questions that show that people really do care about the economy and are worried about it- questions that the Standard isn't bringing up.

Another example, and this time of gross lying on the part of the Standard themselves? Take a look:

Question Eighteen. "Which of these should be the higher priority for the nation right now--the economy and jobs, or terrorism and national security?" This, of course, is simply a forced-choice restatement of the more open-ended Question Three, above. And its results therefore speak more directly to the conclusion suggested by the Times' front-page sub-hed: "Poll Finds Lawmakers Focusing Too Much on Iraq and Too Little on Issues at Home." Trouble is, Question Eighteen's results flatly contradict that sub-hed. A full 50 percent of respondents said terrorism should be a higher priority than the economy. And only 35 percent said the opposite--again, a nearly 3-to-2 preference for foreign policy.
Unfortunately, question 17 does not. Question 17 is, of course, the source of the main "70%" headline, and it really does say that 70% of people really do think that there should focus more on the economy. (17% say "War with Iraq", and 13% say "Both"... since both are not being focused on right now, that's more like 83% in favor of more economic discussion.) The two questions are related, of course, but also look at the distinction (again!) between what's being asked here. One says "War with Iraq", and the other says "Terrorism". Yes, Americans say that the U.S. government should prioritize terrorism, but that does not by any means or by any standards back up the Standard's assertion that the Times is being remotely disingenous by saying that Americans are sick of the Iraq question. In fact, it shows the assumptions of the Standard (as I mentioned above) that the American people actually think that Iraq and Terror are synonymous, an assumption that they give no reason for.

Funny thing is, even if you do assume that, these two questions are "half-samples". Add them together and average them out, and you still get a massive call for more focus on the Economy on the part of the polled citizens, especially if you (logically) add in "Both" to the "Economy" side. By leaving out question 17 and the "half-poll" aspect, the Standard does a fantastic job of blowing apart its own critique.

To be honest, though, question-by question responses are unnecessary due to a simple fact. There are eighty-seven questions on this poll. Of all of these, the Standard could find three to criticize, two of which, as I've shown above, are perfectly credible. They didn't even address or mention the other questions, which again brings up the question of what exactly they aren't telling us. How many questions contradict the ones that they've pulled out? Why do they just keep on comparing it to the headline, instead of actual text in the article? Why leave out CBS, whose findings were substantially similar? As Holmes said, why didn't the dog bark?

In the end, the answer is clear. There's no reason to doubt the Times study on the key point of Economy vs. Iraq, and every reason to doubt its critics. Once again, the neo-cons (and Rhinos) prove that they're spinners and little else. Half-assed spinners at that.

(By the way, the .pdf of the study is here, for those who want to check themselves.)

Tuesday, October 08, 2002

This is the coolest thing ever.

Just hook this up with a HMD and I'd never forget a name again. Yeah, I'm for that.
Found on Eschaton:

BLITZER: Let me pick up on that point because we're getting flooded with e-mail. Mike, this one for you. "The Bush administration is
making Iraq its cause celebre (ph) and diverting attention from other issues like the economy. It is short-sighted to think that a war
with Iraq will solve all our problems with terrorism."

What do you say to Gila from California?

GALLAGHER: Well, Gila needs to remember that this is about national security. And Gila shouldn't have a short memory and forget
what happened September 11, 2001. And that's what this is about. If people want to play political games and already say -- have
Joe Madison sit there in Washington and say this won't be a slam dunk before hearing the first word out of President Bush's mouth,
tonight. That's because people like Joe and Gila are rooting against the president and against this country. And listen, I say to Gila or
to Joe, if you don't like what this government stands for, go over to Baghdad and be a loyal to Saddam Hussein like McDermott is.

MADISON: You know, I'm going to tell you something. Now, Mike, we are both, and spent some time in Dayton, Ohio, about 50 miles
-- I know it's true. And because I'm stating a fact, let me tell you, don't you ever question my loyalty to this country...

GALLAGHER: You're un-American. You're un-American.

MADISON: Don't...

GALLAGHER: ...you hate America. And that's why...

MADISON: Well, this is not a ...

GALLAGHER: ... People like you are being deemed irrelevant. Madison. ... Debate. Now, it's name calling. GALLAGHER: It's true.

MADISON: I mean, this is...

GALLAGHER: ... You're un-American. You're either with us or with the terrorists.

BLITZER: Wait a minute. Wait a minute. Wait a minute. Mike, let him respond (inaudible). You can't make an accusation like that
without giving him a chance to talk.

MADISON: He can't -- as a matter of fact, he can't make an accusation like that without knowing the person.

GALLAGHER: I do know the person...

MADISON: That's the best...

GALLAGHER: I know what you stand for, and that's why your whittling away and saying that you know President Bush won't
have a slam dunk tonight because you're hoping he doesn't. Listen, I asked a simple question...

BLITZER: Wait a minute. Wait a minute. Wait a minute. All right...

GALLAGHER: You're either with us or with the terrorists, Wolf. The president's (inaudible). Which side are you on, Joe?


I'd like to come out and say that, yes, I'm against Bush. Many people are, both inside and outside the United States. We don't want his agenda passed, we want his policy initiatives checked, we think that his (s)election was a sad mistake, we want the Democrats to take Congress so they can frustrate his attempts to remake America in the image of his neo-conservative handlers, and we think his foreign policy is deadly dangerous. We don't want him to be president a minute longer than he is constitutionally entitled to, and will bend our every effort that we legally can to ensure that he follows his father's legacy of a single-term presidency.

We are not, however, against the United States. If we were, we wouldn't work against him, and the harm he would do to the United States. We'd let him do it, and reap the rewards of the chaos, inequity, economic ruin and lowered standard of living that he could leave the United States in. Those inside the country could take power by taking the reins themselves and taking credit for the rebuilding, and those outside it could exploit America's weakness to become more powerful themselves.

We could, but we won't.

We won't because we like the United States, like Americans, and want both the country and its citizens to prosper and succeed. We think it has an important role to play in the world and a unique perspective on that world and on those who live within it. It is not necessarily a commanding role, but it is a key one, as the realities of the American experiment make almost inevitable.

Those who cannot parse that should get the hell off the airwaves. And, for that matter, the Internet. You're contributing nothing useful, and wasting everybody's time.
In some respects, it was a pretty good day for the Democrats yesterday. First, of course, is the news that the Supreme Court will not be hearing the N.J. case, which means that Lautenberg is pretty much a lock for the N.J. Senate seat; if not a lock, then certainly as strong a contender as the Democrats could hope for. (It doesn't hurt that Forrester has subconsciously given the impression that he can't handle the competition, either, thanks to the legal challenge.)

Second is the news that Americans are interested in more of a focus on discussion of domestic economic issues instead of merely Iraq. Most Democrats think will help their situation, especially considering that economic figures are dropping like stones. Not exactly a nice thing to contemplate, but it undercuts Republican efforts to say that there's a recovery going on, and helps Democrats in the charge that the Republicans aren't exactly competent economic stewards. (Paging Dr. Krugman...) Indeed, this new poll might demonstrate that there's been more of a focus on economics all along than many had previously thought, although it might not necessarily benefit the Democrats as much as they think it will. (Depends on whether or not the Republicans get associated with those figures. If this continues they undoubtedly will in 2004, but right now it's a tough call.)

There is, however, a third factor entering into all of this that's less positive towards the Dems: the new Bush speech tonight, which was obviously aimed at convincing the American public that this is the way to go. I didn't get a chance to watch the speech myself, but most of the media reports on it I read imply that it didn't really impart any new information- it just summarized and restated what arguments already exist. That's useful, of course, but most Americans would probably already be familiar with these arguments from any number of pro-war pundits and commentators, and therefore I doubt they'll be any more swayed than they were beforehand. Less, actually, if that new poll that says that support has dropped to nearly fifty percent holds steady after the speech.

Edit: I doubt it'll make much difference at all. Apparently only Fox and its affiliates (and, I suppose, CNN) actually carried the speech. Unless they consciously tuned in (which is doubtful), a large part of the American public didn't even watch the speech. They'll get the gist of it from the media, but judging by the reporting by the NY Times, Washington Post, and to a lesser extent CNN, even the positive reactions are going to be variations of "he strenuously stated what he already knew". That will work for direct viewers, but probably not in after-the-fact news reports.

(There's no doubt it also reinforced the international perception that there's no way that Iraq could possibly avoid the invasion. Austrio-Hungary prior to WWI and the drafters of the Versailles Treaty would be envious of Bush's terms. This may cause some issues, but again, they're probably not issues that don't already exist.)

The big question here is, of course, what will happen in the Security Council. I've talked to several people who think that the U.S. is going to horse-trade its way into compliance by China, Russia, and France, but I'm still not convinced that that's going to happen; they stand to lose a lot more than some petrodollars if the Bush doctrine eliminates the concept of national security and sovereignty. Remember, according to that unearthed think-tank document, China's a candidate for regime change. There's no doubt they know that. There's no doubt they know that this will make that easier. The only doubt is whether or not the Bushies are dumb enough to go for China. Considering that they wrote that paper in the first place... I wouldn't put it past them.

Monday, October 07, 2002

Five words:

Mo Rocca's magic Saddam heads.

(I'll link if and when it ends up on the comedy central site. Jon Stewart for Philosopher-King.)

Saturday, October 05, 2002

Another issue that I hadn't addressed is Ted Barlow's piece and Rob Lyman's response on the issue of namecalling between the left and the right. Ted thinks that the right has been going too far, whereas Rob points out that the namecalling exists on both sides. Fair enough, it does; the question is who's doing it. Most mainstream Democrats (or liberals) are being almost painfully fair to the Republicans (or conservatives), and the same is not true in the reverse direction. Examinations of the neo-conservative right are pretty clear on this point: relatively centrist or not, they have a complete disdain and loathing of their opposites that simply doesn't exist going the other way- and they're at the core of the current conservative movement.

Yes, there are people on the "far left" who criticize conservatives. By and large, however, they're usually focusing on specific issues or on some sort of political-economic indictment of the "elites" and the "system"... not on conservatism itself. That's a leftist thing, rooted in their belief that the system shapes the attitudes, not the other way around. It's one of the reasons why the larger left is so damned incoherent- this laser-focus on specific issues and broader focus on the system instead of the individuals means that they have trouble being electorally effective and having much of a say in this system. (No, those two points are not contradictory.)

I don't agree with Lyman's point that:

So the point is not that Quick's post or Coulter's columns are good or meaningful contributions to the debate. They are not. But neither are they simply insults tossed out because the author is motivated by hate, bile or because the author is a cornered weasel. They are abbreviations, placeholders; they serve to tell the faithful "I am making argument #421(c) in response to opposing arguments #117(b-f)." In this way the lazy or busy can pile hundreds of pages of philosopy, political science, opinion research and ideology into a few sentences. (In some cases, of course, they are simply all an ignorant author knows how to write.)
I think there's far too little of that going on for it to be a credible explanation, and far too few people who can call up all that stuff in order to see where everything's going. While participants may see political debate as a chess match (although, oddly enough, it seems a lot more like Go than chess), other people derive their opinions from it, and the vast majority of the audience of these debates do not either know about or understand all these background tidbits. It's questionable as to whether anybody could; opinion research changes by the day, and political science is a field that is pretty badly misunderstood by far too many people, including those who spend a significant part of their lives discussing politics. (Witness Den Beste and proportional representation, or Chomsky and I.R. realism, or the Lyman-linked article by Jonah Goldberg and the problem of unintented consequences, the element of trust in I.R., the importance of collective security, the real arguments of internationalists, and several other boners that imply that either Goldberg hasn't the faintest clue why the U.N. was invented in the first place or simply doesn't care if ignoring them will assist his argument.)

And finally, to say "we're all just partisans anyway" gets dangerously close to a kind of PoMo. To say that bias and perspective exists is perfectly valid. To say that means that all sides are equal... isn't the right kind of against that kind of thing?

Still, all of that isn't really what I was getting at. (Yeah, I know, but I hate breaking things up into two different posts when they're thematically consistent and come from the same source.)

Ok, as a response to all of that, Ted offers, among other things, this:

If I was going to write a long reply, which I can't do right now, I would state that I wasn't being facetious when I said "so what?" about Bill Quick's post. I think it was way over the line, and I think that it's worth arguing about. But in the grand scheme of things, bloggers don't really matter. Bill Quick doesn't matter, Counterspin doesn't matter, and Ted Barlow sure as hell doesn't matter. If you want to find extremists of any sort in self-published web sites, you will find them.

On the other hand, pundits kind of matter, and elected officials definitely matter. And I just don't often see major liberal pundits or elected Democrats engaging in the same kind of personal, insulting attacks. I don't see prominent liberals denying the intelligence of all conservatives, or attacking their colleagues as unpatriotic, or whatever. You sure don't see elected Democrats treating Bush with the same personal venom that elected Republicans treated Clinton, even before Lewinsky. When Ted Kennedy starts shooting pumpkins in his backyard to establish that President Bush is a murderer, I'll apologize.
As to the main point of this (the pundits on the right are far meaner and nastier) I'll heartily agree; nobody who watches CNN for any significant amount of time will fail to notice that right-wingers are much more aggressive (outside of Crossfire, but Begala and Carville are noticable largely for their uniqueness) and that they tend to use much nastier rhetoric about their ideological opponents. Anybody who compares leftist and rightist magazines will have this conclusion proven pretty damned quickly as well; the Weekly Standard and the American Prospect differ not just in perspective, but in practically everything else.

As to bloggers not mattering, though; well, that depends on how you define a blogger. The vast majority of us typing into the night... yeah, we probably don't matter. The general public certainly doesn't pay attention, nor are they likely to; political bloggers usually run their discussions on a pretty elite level, and usually cater to those who already know something about politics and economics and the like. It ain't the Academy by any means, and it isn't ever close to the level of knowledge that Lyman asserts, but those who don't have much of a clue what's going on won't hang around. This is pretty much the same audience political magazines cater to; the politically-involved minority. It's also no doubt true that these magazines do have an influence, although more on the right side... an article that starts in the Weekly Standard might end up in Republican talking points a few months down the line, and I still wonder where the "chickenhawk" meme got started in the current quasi-debate on Iraq, because I doubt it was at the DLC. Finally, some blogs do have influence- MWO's popularity offline is proof of that, and I imagine that it largely exists within the Beltway, not outside of it.

More important than all of that though, is the posibility of "graduation". That coincidence of audiences and methods means that bloggers have an opportunity to both be taken seriously by the magazines and media and eventually become become part of them. Online this is already pretty common; Eugene Volokh's article on NRO, the numbers of guest editorials on the Fox News website, and the linkages back and forth between bloggers and other media shows that there is a strong possibility that right-wing bloggers might end up writing for right-wing media. (This doesn't exist on the left yet, but give it time... somebody is going to realize just how good, say, James Cappozola is and is going to capitalize on that.) Plus, there's a possibility of ideas travelling back and forth.. a blogger comes up with an idea, someone with more influence picks up on it and either uses it directly or refines it for broader discussion, it's picked up by the mass-market and pretty soon it's everywhere.

The most worrisome (or interesting) influence, though, is the possible policy influence, especially on the right. There are tight linkages between the right-wing media and the right-wing policy community (the latter practically created the former), and that process of idea adoption and refinement need not stop at the individual columnist or journalist. If Richard Perle or Grover Norquist see something good in, say, the Weekly Standard, they're going to no doubt use it; and if they manage to bend the ears of somebody in the administration or the legislature(which is assuredly not difficult for either), it could easily become policy or, perhaps, the core of a new law. Indeed, it need not be as direct as this; the talking point simply being trotted out could prompt action from those who aren't even quite sure where it comes from.

Do I think this is common? Hardly; there are thousands of political bloggers out there and "graduation" remains incredibly rare. The whole "blog" concept has huge barriers to this as well: A "linker" wouldn't really get a shot at having ideas filter upward, and there's so much replication and repetition of ideas and concepts that individual bloggers wouldn't really get the credit for it unless they're either exceptionally lucky, exceptionally well-placed, or through sheer strength of rhetoric and knowledge make their presence known. Even if the idea is good and well-presented, it might be ignored unless it catches someone's eye, and that's often remarkably arbitrary: the post that prompted my highest number of daily hits was a fairly minor thing compared to the larger articles I write that get largely ignored. I'm not exceptional in this, either; lots of bloggers complain about it.

Still, Ted, the possibility remains for bloggers to get noticed and get read, and I think that as the dust settles and people move on to something else (as usually happens online), those that remain will become more integrated into the policy community as blogging stops being a fad and starts becoming a normal part of the political landscape. Heck, at one point, the ideological makeup of bloggers might even start resembling the United States as a whole, and might become truly international instead of incredibly U.S. focused.

It'd be a nice change.

Friday, October 04, 2002

By and large I've stayed out of the Torriceli flap, simply because I see it as both a tempest in a teapot and a rather sad commentary on the Republican party's ability or willingness to "win" elections without running to the conveniently friendly U.S. Supreme Court. (State's rights my ass.)

(Yes, this is a large reason why I haven't blogged since Wednesday, although it was also because I've been somewhat busy.)

Still, so far as I have an opinion on this subject, it matches
Joshua Micah Marshall's.

The real public good question, it seems to me, is just what harm anyone has suffered through this decision. I can't see one, save Doug Forrester's being forced to run against an actual candidate.
Yeah, that just about sums it up.

Thursday, October 03, 2002

Interesting speculation on Conanson:

So the chances that the origins of this hoax will ever be revealed are now conveniently small. Was it the work of a pair of clever Turkish con men? (Swindling Saddam's agents sounds like a very unhealthy idea. Wouldn't they examine the goods before handing over the $5 million? Wouldn't they shoot someone who tried to sell them a handful of useless metallic dust?) Or was it a disinformation scheme concocted to further certain political aims?

A clue appeared two days ago in Kommersant, a Russian publication whose correspondent revealed what he had learned on the Debkafile Web site, which claims to have sources at high levels in various intelligence and military services (particularly the Israeli Mossad). According to Debkafile, "the uranium seizure resulted from a joint operation by the [Russian] Foreign Intelligence Service and the CIA which began at the start of August." How interesting. After they played this hoax so big, why aren't the media more curious about the perpetrators?
Well, Joe, my first guess would be that the news that the whole thing was a hoax is inherently uncomfortable for the media, considering how they hyped it, and they probably don't want to explore it any further. After all, if it isn't scaring somebody, why play it?

Then again, I'd also speculate that since the American media is rather big into the self-censorship these days, they aren't really going to chase a story that could possibly create the perception that there was an attempt by an arm of the U.S. government to deliberate misinform the people it is supposed to represent... or that said arm was so appalling incompetent as to get hoodwinked by a scam this lame. That's just me, though.

Wednesday, October 02, 2002

For those (no doubt few) people who read my site and don't (yet) read tbogg, there's a great deconstruction of Sully over there regarding the whole "Reps in Baghdad" flap.

Here's a taste:

Andy:Congressman Jim McDermott has just accused president Bush of wilfully lying to the American people about national security threats from Saddam or Al Qaeda.

Looks like the International Atomic Energy Agency begs to differ. Guess it was just a mistake in the Cliff Notes that Condi prepared for him...or Bush lied.

Andy:He said this not on the floor of the House or in his district - but in Baghdad, the capital city of a despot who is on the brink of war with the United States.

Actually, it looks like the Bush is on the brink of war with Iraq, not the other way around. I haven't heard Saddam threatening "regime change" in the US. If he did, I'm sure the papers would have mentioned it.

Andy:At a time when the U.S. government is attempting some high-level diplomatic maneuvers in the U.N.

Bush: Either you go with us or we are gonna go anyway. Yup, sounds "high level diplomatic" to me.


My personal view has been that the Bush administration wouldn't be stupid enough to invade with inspectors packing up and getting ready to go, but I could definitely be wrong on that. They might indeed be that stupid.

Tuesday, October 01, 2002

Updated information on the U.N./Iraq talks:

The United Nations and Iraq have agreed on practical arrangements for the return to Iraq of UN weapons inspectors.
Announcing the deal - after two days of talks in Vienna - the head of the inspection team Hans Blix said Iraq accepted all inspection rights under existing UN resolutions.

Dr Blix said the inspectors would have unconditional access to all sites - but not to eight presidential palaces which are covered under a separate agreement between Iraq and UN.
Good news, although the presidential palace part will likely be a sticking point. Can anybody point me to the relevant agreement involving those palaces?

What this meant, of course, is that the U.S. had instantly lost a lot of the momentum to have the new resolution put in place. If Blix and co were going in, then the argument for the necessity of a new resolution (and the possibility of a related war) weaken considerably.

Why do I use the past tense?

Because there's more. Feast your eyes on this:

Another State Department official even went as far as to warn that the US will "thwart" the return of inspectors under the existing UN arrangements.

Washington - which wants to see Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein toppled - is pressing for a tougher Security Council resolution that would specifically mention the threat of military intervention should the inspectors be unable to complete their work.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said President George W Bush had not made any decision to go to war in Iraq - he suggested the Iraqis assassinate their leader.


Ahem.

"Thwart??"

What the hell were they thinking? As if it didn't already look like the U.S. wanted to invade at any costs and under any circumstances, they have gone so far as to say they want to deliberately subvert the inspections regime? Do they even have the faintest idea how utterly this will discredit them in the eyes of world public opinion, and how absolutely valid that discrediting is? Even if this was their goal, to publicly go ahead and say it was so astoundingly stupid that I have to wonder how much desperation propelled it.

And (although not quoted) you're also saying (through Ari) that the only way to avert war is the exile or assassination of Hussein?

See, the Bushite's war would be in trouble already thanks to these inspection agreements , but this clinches it. Georgie, you might as well wave bye-bye to Chirac, the Chinese, and "Pootie-poot", because there's no bloody way that they're going to support the U.S. resolution now. They'd have to be absolutely daft, and that is one thing that they are not. Especially Putin. Hell, I wouldn't be overly surprised if Blair backs away too.

This was ludicrous. It's possibly the biggest and best example yet of just how incompetent at P.R. the Bushites really are, despite their cynical harnessing of 9/11 sentiments and their tight control over leaks. Neither helps if your "message" is so utterly moronic.

Looks like the only options remaining are giving up on the war or invading despite world opinion being aligned against you. Lovely. Just think- Americans have to suffer two more years of these idiots.
Bwahahahaha!

Atomic energy officials said Monday that a substance seized by police near the Syrian border was not weapons-grade uranium as Turkish officials first reported, according to the Anatolia news agency.

Atomic Energy Institute chief Guler Koksal said the material was harmless, containing zinc, iron, zirconium and manganese.

Police, acting on a tip, recovered the material in a taxi last week in Sanliurfa province, near the Syrian border. Two Turks who were trying to sell the material as uranium were released from custody.

The seizure alarmed intelligence agencies around the world when the Turkish police said it weighed 35 pounds last week. On Monday, police said the material weighed only 5 ounces.

The disparity occurred because authorities initially included the weight of the lead container in which the material was placed, police said.
Zinc, Iron, Zirconium, and Manganese!

Wonder if they were actually trying to smuggle some of that "gorgeous cubic zirconium" to the Shopping Channel? That stuff's red hot, you know.

So, lessee... IAEA proven as deliberately misinterpreted (or an out-an-out lie); IISS says that Iraqi nukes are years away at best; the Blair Dossier is a textbook example of embedding old and dubious information in new speculation; U.N. talks are going swimmingly and barring interference will likely get inspectors in by October 16; the U.S. resolution appears to be going nowhere; nobody has really dealt with the clear fact that Iraq is as deterrable as anybody else without being reduced to poorly-written science fiction; the "uranium" will likely make for a lovely necklace; and Rumsfeld is reduced to claiming that anti-aircraft missile launchers are actually breeder reactors in very clever disguises.

Massaoui could make a better case.

So, can we just drop the pretense and admit that this is all becuase the U.S. wants a League of Nations-style mandate in Iraq?
In the aforementioned Times article:

Rumsfeld said the fact that Iraq continues to fire on U.S. and British warplanes shows that Iraq's claimed willingness to open the country to weapons inspectors was ``patently false.''
Mind explaining that one, Rummy? I'm having a little trouble making the connection there.

(Y'know, for an administration with a supposedly "ironclad case", they pull out an awful lot of really, really stupid arguments.)
In the Times:

Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joseph Biden, D-Del., and senior committee member Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., on Monday circulated an alternative proposal that they said ``helps the president attract strong bipartisan support in Congress.''Their draft resolution would focus on authorizing the use of force against Iraq as opposed to the entire region and make clear that dismantling Iraq's weapons of mass destruction would be the primary reason for using force.
Seems reasonable enough. The limitations fit a limited war in Iraq on the important issue of non-proliferation and the latter aspect is precisely what Blair has been advocating.

What was Bush's response, though?

``I don't want to get a resolution which ties my hands,''
Ties his hands how, exactly? In that it declares that WMDs are the primary reason, or that it authorizes the use of force against Iraq as opposed to, um, the...entire...region....

Ladies and gentlemen, I think we have a winner.

Yeah, this is just about Iraq and Saddam. Sure it is. I wonder who it's going to "just be about" next?
What He Said.

Speaking on US television, Mr Powell said the UN weapons inspectors might have to wait for Security Council guidance before any plans for going back into Iraq are finalised.

However, Hans Blix, the head of UN weapons inspectors, made it clear that he answered to the Security Council - not to the US.

"I'm asked by the Security Council to do this job, and I do it. I try to," Mr Blix said as he headed into a second and final day of talks with senior Iraqis at the headquarters of the IAEA in Vienna.
There's little doubt that the Bush administration is trying to disrupt or discredit these talks- as I've said, they're probably the biggest obstacle (outside of maybe the French) standing between them and their war. If the talks go well and inspectors go in, the momentum for a new resolution stalls completely, and the Bush administration faces either the spectacle of invading despite the presence of inspectors or the embarassment of climbing down from war footing because of Bush's embrace of multilateralism. They can still hope that the Iraqis would screw around with the inspectors, but what little information is coming out of the talks implies that the Iraqis really were serious about letting inspectors in.

(It's not surprising, though. I've felt for a while that the Iraqi regime wants to preserve itself, even if it loses its WMDs. It's just that they don't want it to be a pretext for weapons targeting and for eventual war, as it would no doubt be under the terms of the U.S.-sponsored resolution.)

At this point the big question is whether a new resolution gets passed, and which resolution it will be. The apparent success of these talks seems to imply that it'll either be "no resolution" or the French compromise. Barring ugly horse trading or arm-twisting, I doubt that the U.S. resolution would get past China, Russia, and France at this point.

Actually, come to think about it, it probably wouldn't get past them either way.
While I'm quoting Jim Henley (who is recovering nicely from that weird library thing from a few months back) I'll happily point to this piece on the nascent "weapons of (some) destruction" debate... whether chemical and biological weapons really count as weapons of mass destruction.

Personally, I argue for a little nuance and complexity here. (Surprise.) There's no doubt that some chemicals and biological agents can theoretically be as deadly as an equivalent-sized nuke, but that isn't usually what we're talking about, and those are under best-case-scenario conditions. (Well, for the attacker.) Jim Henley's example of a fuel-air bomb as a type of WMD illustrates how illusory this definition can be, and brings up a very good point- what happens when "conventional" explosive weapons are just as effective? Dead is dead, after all.

It should probably come down to which chemical, and which bug. Some really should count as WMDs, and some shouldn't. Doesn't mean that banning them from the battlefield isn't a good idea anyway, but conflating them with nukes gets you in all sorts of trouble, especially once the whole argument gets broken down and starts looking somewhat suspicious. It's not necessary (the treaties that ban them don't worry about "WMDs", after all), so why bother?

(Well, unless you're pushing a sham justification for a war, that is. But that's a different story.)
Edit: other oopsie fixed. Bloody picky HTML hyperlinks. Leave out one bracketed "A" and the whole thing goes blooie.

Jim Henley lays out the possibilities on the Turkish Uranium debacle:

1) Some Turkish cops and some foreign reporters got way, way hysterical over what turned out to be nothing at all. Odds: Decent.

2) The US and Turkish governments have decided that, on second thought, they really don't want people worrying about this stuff right now. Why: If they know a bunch of stuff did get through, or if they realized that the Uranium was destined for someone decidedly other than an authorized villain. (Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Israel all suggest themselves, though you'd think the Israelis could produce all the Uranium they need.) Odds: Decent.

3) They're playing the "released" smugglers, expecting to trail them back to their boss. Odds: Decent, but would be higher if we lived in TV.

4) This was a US/British covert op that went wrong. Odds: Non-negligible

5) This was an Israeli covert op that the US decided was ill-timed. i.e. Israel wanted to make it look like, oh, Bashaar Assad was smuggling Uranium into Syria (which is probably happening anyway) to get Syria moved up the invasion list. But the US just isn't ready for that. Odds: Small, but maybe better than the US/British op theory.

6) You and me actually ever find out what happened. Odds: Negligible.

Conclusion: Become a comics blogger instead. You get nice e-mails.
Hey, there's a reason I link to 8-bit theatre.

This, of course, is because the whole thing is becoming increasingly smelly- to the extent that now we are told that: "Former U.N. weapons inspector David Albright suggested the men could have been trying to swindle potential buyers. But he said investigators should try to determine both the source and the intended purchaser."

Um, yeah.

In related news, negotiations between Iraq and UNMOVIC appear to be plodding along well enough, and although there are still issues to be resolved, the negotiations are moving along and it appears likely that the inspectors will be going in on Oct. 15 as planned. This, of course, could end up as yet another blow to the U.S., after the twin setbacks of the Russian condemnation of the latest no-fly zone bombing and the French intransigence on the proposed new U.N. resolution gives new credence to the idea that the French will simply not allow a single resolution that both sets up the inspection conditions and authorizes military force if the conditions are breached.

The reason for this French position is apparent enough. a resolution like the one the Bush administration is proposing is tantamount to a declaration of war, as there is no doubt whatsoever that the Bushites would find some reason to find Iraq's actions lacking and use the resolution as cover for the invasion. The French propose instead...

a two-stage resolution: firstly demanding Iraq allow the weapons inspectors to do their work and then - only if Baghdad fails to comply - a second part authorising military intervention.
This is intended as a multilateral check on the Bush administration. The necessity of passing a second resolution returns the authority for action to the Security Council itself- while the U.S. could no doubt use an existing force provision in an existing resolution, the Security Council itself would be needed to pass the other one.

In some respects, though, where this goes will provide a valuable insight into the mentality of the Bush administration. It depends on how you see this. If you (and they) think that Iraq is going to comply with the current inspection regime (or a stronger-yet-reasonable alternative), then the Bushites would be definitely against this, as they need U.N. support to keep their domestic support up and to attempt to repair their tattered international relations. If they honestly believe that Iraq will try to end-run around the inspectors, then there's no reason why they couldn't accept the double resolution, because they know that they'll get their authorization in the end anyway. The BBC seemed to think that the U.S. might go for the French proposal, and I'm inclined to agree.

Still, if the negotiations are successful, then the French and Russians might go back to arguing that no new resolutions are required. It is true that the U.S. might horse-trade or buy them off, but I personally find that unlikely, because their own national security and domestic popularity could be hurt by this. (I know Blair's has.) That would be a huge victory for the Iraqis- invasion would be practically unthinkable if inspectors were on the ground in Iraq.

Unless, of course, the U.S. says "screw it" and invades anyway. That's possible- there's no doubt that the "debate" is entirely a sham, and that these U.N. machinations are solely because Bush stuck his neck out on the 12th and is trying to deal with ramifications of that perhaps rash decision. At this point, it's coming down to good old fashioned Realist conflicts of interests. Nothing surprising about that. That's what the U.N. is there for.

Monday, September 30, 2002

Edit: oopsie fixed.

Ok, I'm going to post some comments from one of my comments threads, because they should be seen on the front page. First, though, is this article written by Jay Bookman, which is a pretty accurate breakdown of exactly what the hell is going on here. It's not the first analysis I've seen of this type (I've made the point myself several times), but it explores accurately and intelligently exactly why the U.S. is moving in the direction of empire, despite the transparent rhetoric to the contrary from those who don't want the notoriously empire-averse American public to realize it's happening, or those who refuse to believe it themselves.

First is Yuval Rubenstein:

Certainly, this latest sideshow is maddening for its sheer irrelevance. However, when you stop to think about it, that's exactly what the pro-invasion crowd wants. Atrios just linked to what, IHMO, is the best analysis so far about the real motivation behind the desire to invade Iraq. The author, Jay Bookman, convincingly argues that invading Iraq is merely the neocons' first step in establishing an American empire. Lest you think this is merely crazed paranoia, Bookman offers some quotes from people like Robert Kagan who admit that this is their ultimate goal.

Therefore, I think those of us who consider ourselves anti-Imperialist (whether on the Left or Right)should be hammering home the point made by Bookman, instead of being bogged down in all these obfuscatory details. Specifically, we are wasting our time with all of our refutations concerning Saddam's WMD, connection to Al Queda, etc. because this only serves to deter us from discussing the real issue at hand. Of course, I could be dead wrong...
He's absolutely right, although the problem is that all these obfuscatory details serve as convenient justifications and if they're not refuted, they can be a problem. Fortunately, most of them avoid the real, basic critiques in question, and those that address said critiques are transparently weak (like trying to use the attempt on Bush 41 as proof that Saddam actually wants to get nuked.)

Next is Nick Sweeney:

It's the Bush modus operandi: objectives first, justifications once we think of them. Or even better, justifications once the original ones have been proven groundless. The means justify the end, because the end is the only constant.
The unfortunate part is that the ends are often so wildly arbitrary, and somehow manage to be both transparently obvious and yet difficult to address at the same time, thanks to the blizzard of annoying lies and spin brought up to justify whatever happens to be in their heads at the time. It doesn't necessarily even need to be consistent. We werenever at war with Europa and Oceania, citizen- to say otherwise is transparent WrongThink.

Finally is uber-poster Digby:

>>bullshit detectors are going off like obsessive-compulsive klaxons all around the world>>

You've got that right.

And Yuval's right about the Bookman piece. It's all there is anyone chooses to see it.

The problem is less that they don't know what the justifications are than that they are an undemocratic lot who are cynically using 9/11 as a pretext to launch this country into a completely new global foreign policy strategy that has nothing to do with it. They are obfuscating the reasons because they do not trust the citizens to allow them to do it if they know the truth.

Why am I not surprised that people such as this have huge hard ons for war and global empire?
They don't trust the citizens to allow them because they know they won't. That's the tricky little game involved in all of this. They say that Americans are reluctant of empire, and they're actually quite correct on that- but then they try to extend that to mean that the Americans that are currently in charge are reluctant of empire. As Bookman (and others) have pointed out, that's not correct in the slightest. It's a useful, entirely plausible defense against those who call "imperium" on them, though, because they can paint them as "conspiracy theorists" and take advantage of the tendency to paint all people of the same type (in this case, Americans) as having the same basic political culture, beliefs, and goals. Neo-conservatives are, as should be obvious, not like other Americans.

Sunday, September 29, 2002

On OliverWillis:

The International Atomic Energy Agency says that a report cited by President Bush as evidence that Iraq in 1998 was "six months away" from developing a nuclear weapon does not exist.
"There's never been a report like that issued from this agency," Mark Gwozdecky, the IAEA's chief spokesman, said yesterday in a telephone interview from the agency's headquarters in Vienna, Austria.
In a Sept. 7 news conference with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Mr. Bush said: "I would remind you that when the inspectors first went into Iraq and were denied — finally denied access [in 1998], a report came out of the Atomic — the IAEA that they were six months away from developing a weapon.
"I don't know what more evidence we need," said the president, defending his administration's case that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was building weapons of mass destruction. The White House says Mr. Bush was referring to an earlier IAEA report.
"He's referring to 1991 there," said Deputy Press Secretary Scott McClellan. "In '91, there was a report saying that after the war they found out they were about six months away."
Mr. Gwozdecky said no such report was ever issued by the IAEA in 1991.

People should really "watch what they say". Lying about sex = rule of law. Lying about Iraqi capability = get yer war on!
As I said on his site, the problem isn't that this particular piece of "evidence" (and I use those scare quotes deliberately) or another is proven to be either a lie or wildly inaccurate spin, it's that there's no way it'll change anything. The Bush administration and their surrounding neocon policy community (and sympathetic online Echo Chamber) already know that they're right, and the only important question here is figuring out how to convince everybody else. If any one piece of information disappears, then they'll just dredge up another piece to place wildly out of context, hoping that this time the repetition of the latest Big Lie takes and those who question both within the country and without are finally convinced. They know in their hearts that they're right, and if they know they're right, then the ends justify the means.

Let's be frank, folks: this "debate" is a sham. It probably always have been. It's just one side throwing out one inane assertion after another and the other side racing around trying to disprove them, only to discover that the disproval is irrelevant due to the latest bit of nonsense that's come out. IAEA document proves to be a lie? Doesn't matter, Bush is going to prove that he has a legitimate case at the U.N. Bush crapped out after Iraq invited inspectors in? Doesn't matter, the "Blair Dossier" proves that Iraq is dangerous. Analysis shows that it does nothing of the sort? Doesn't matter- they just found weapons grade uranium near Iraq. Uranium turns out to be best measured in grams? Doesn't matter, Iraq proved they were irrational because they have come out against an American proposal that is as transparently designed to start a war as Austrio-Hungary's was before WWI. And so it goes. Can't wait to see what happens next.

That's why everybody is uncomfortable, angry, and/or frightened. It's not because they like Saddam, and it's not because they dislike Americans, and it's not because they're cowards, and it's not because of Trans-fucking-national Progressivism. It's because bullshit detectors are going off like obsessive-compulsive klaxons all around the world, but the people they're hooked up know they're powerless to do anything about it.
Bob Herbert makes some good points about judicial nominations:

But the appeals courts, divided into 13 regional circuits, are crucial arbiters and shapers of the American way of life. How easy or difficult will it be for a woman to get an abortion? How safe can we make the food supply? What happens at the many intersections of the environment and commerce? What's up with civil rights and civil liberties?

Whoever controls the appeals courts has tremendous say over whose values will prevail in the United States. And no one has a deeper understanding of that than America's right-wing conservatives.
This is why I'm not about to indict the democratic leadership on their attempts to refocus the debate to the economy by whatever means are necessary so as to win the election. Even if the war in Iraq goes swimmingly, the Bush administration has repeatedly demonstrated that if they were empowered with a double majority in Congress they'd push through more partisan legislation and partisan judges than Americans have seen in decades.

I'm sure they wouldn't lose a wink of sleep about it. Fairness, representativeness, and consultation are for the other guys. After all, why bother screwing around with that sort of stuff when you just know that your side (neo-conservatives) is right and that the other guys are both wrong and evil? Even when "the other guys" are the poor centrists in your own party?
I am of two minds about the news that Iraq has angrily denounced that proposed new resolution.

On the one hand, of course, it makes Bush's PR job somewhat easier, because he can point to this as being merely a tough inspection regime and say "see? Saddam doesn't want inspectors to succeed". There's no doubt that the Echo Chamber is going to look at it the same way as well; it's the one most in harmony with their own position, and God forbid that they should believe an inconvenient analysis.

On the other hand, however, it doesn't necessarily have to be seen that way. There's no doubt that Iraq (and rather a lot of states around the world, including perhaps the U.S. itself) see it as a trojan horse- an ultimatum that is calculated to ensure that even if Iraq cooperates, the U.S. will use it to invent some plausible reason for invasion. That requirement for "full documentation", for example, could easily be screwed with, and there are likely dozens of ways in which that "inspections at any time in any place" could be manipulated to ensure that Iraq would say "no".

(The requirement for diplomats from the five security council members could be a problem as well, as Iraq would likely think that they would all be intelligence plants, if not assassins. Iraq might even be right.)

In that case, than the Iraqi reaction makes sense, simply because they know that they're just playing the part of Serbia prior to WWI, which knows that it cannot agree to Austrio-Hungary's terms and knows that the ultimatum has been deliberately crafted to ensure that. They can't possibly survive by complying to this.

My own personal opinion on this is not that Iraq is now somehow being proven as unreasonable, but that they shouldn't have shouted it to the world but instead kept a low profile. It's very unlikely that the European and Asian contingents in the Security Council would have bought into this, because they know quite well what it's really supposed to represent and want no part of it. They also know that the UNMOVIC meeting with Iraqi officials is scheduled for tomorrow, and that there was no reason for the U.S. to push this thing before the negotiations about real inspections came to pass. The U.S. would likely lean on them, but they know that if the oil spigots get turned off in Iraq, Iran, and Saudi they'll be the ones that suffer, not the U.S. (which doesn't get a lot of its oil from the region.)

What really bothers me though, are the tidings to Iran. Not because I think that Iraq is actually going to successfully draw Iran into this (they simply don't like each other enough), but because it may be the first domino falling in a chain polarizing the entire region's governments against the west. I'm sure that Al Qaeda would love that.

Edit: Hesiod responds:
Why not require Saddam to dress in a bras and panties, and do the dance of the seven veils live on Al Jazeera, while we're at it?

Seven days?

It took Bush SEVEN MONTHS to figure out his Stem Cell policy.
True, but it does make sense... without that sense of urgency on Iraq, Bush's buddies in Congress would be strung up by his own economic policy. Makes me wonder... would we still be having this debate even if 9/11 didn't happen? Was invading Iraq close to an election always the plan after all?
Avedon on Instapundit:

Alex Frantz has a little primer on how to smear Al Gore, and raises an interesting question: What can we make of the likes of Instapundit, who continue to purvey these smears? Surely Glenn Reynolds cannot possibly be so ignorant that he still doesn't know that you can't believe a single thing the right wing says about Gore, especially if a lot of people on the right wing are saying it. When someone - particularly a right-wing source - tells you about the latest evil by Al Gore, you'd have to be a real idiot to respond with anything other than a lot of distrust and questions about what the real story is.
Of course, the answer can be gleaned by simply looking at the facts- IP's getting his Rhino on, and has been for a while.

After all, i'ts not like it's a new observation to discover that IP links uncritically to dubious sources that agree with his POV.
Great little comment on Atrios' message board by Brian Newhouse, related to that silly Volokh article that I just blogged about:

Someday, some scholar will have an incredibly easy and highly productive time demonstrating the all-pervasive and unchallenged influence of Tom Clancy's novels on American politics and political thought from the time of their first publication on.
What's sad is that it isn't even based on the good Clancy novels from the Cold War, but the cheesy stuff that he put out from "Debt of Honor" on.
This speculative article by Eugene Volokh is astoundingly goofy, but no more so than right here:

Permanently withdraw all American troops and military advisers from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and all other Muslim countries, and agree not to become involved in any military action by one Middle Eastern country against another...

...Extradite to Iraq the traitors, spies, and saboteurs that you are currently harboring as supposed "dissidents" and "opposition leaders," as well as the blasphemer Salman Rushdie, who we believe is currently visiting your country.
One question: who honestly believes that Saddam would give a rat's ass about Salman Rushdie or about the Peninsula? One other question: why does this have to be Saddam and not, say, the Glorious Islamic Republic of Pakistan that the U.S. totally missed because it was laser-focused on Iraq? (Not that this is a new thing... remember when the U.S. government was beating its collective head against its collective desk after it "lost China"?)

I mean, Saddam is about the last person to pull half of the nonsense Volokh is spouting off about in this article. He values his regime a hell of a lot more than he does Iran's fatwa or Mecca, and there's no way his advisors are stupid enough to not know that were this to happen world opinion would be on the side of the U.S., not Iraq.

But, never let reason stand in the way of a good NRO appearance, hmm?

Saturday, September 28, 2002

Atrios weights in on the death penalty question:

In a weird kind of way I almost agree with Instapundit, in that my objection to the death penalty has a lot to do with a reluctance to give the State the ultimate power to kill its own citizens....however, I don't see how that requires me to agree with this statement:

The notion that it's per se immoral for the state to kill peple is absurd -- or at least, proves too much, as killing people is the core function of nation-states, and always has been. Government power is based ultimately on violence; all else is superstructure.
I don't agree with it either. Yes, one of the aspects of a sovereign government is a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence, but that doesn't necessarily mean lethal violence. Nor does that right necessarily entail some sort of moral obligation or moral priviledge. Any political actor, whether an individual or a state, can have the right to do something without it being moral in every situation or even most situations. It also doesn't necessarily mean that it has the right to kill citizens in cold blood as a method of punishment for crimes.

Just as there can be limitations implicit in situations where the rights of one individual comes up against another, so too can there be limitations implicit in situations where the rights of an individual come up against the rights that he and other individuals have invested in the state (including the right to legitimate violence). Even Hobbes agreed that an individual had a right to defend his life from the agents of the state, and modern conceptions of the state are far more narrowly defined than his were.

(This is somewhat true even for warfare. the point of warfare is not to kill, but to destroy your opponent's ability to fight... and if that could be done reliably without killing, then there's no reason why killing would be preferable.)

And by the way, IP seemed to have truly screwed up on one thing, which was rather surprising for a law professor. State power is based on obesience, not violence. While violence is one tool by which one can guarantee obesience, it is by no means the sole way, or necessarily even the best way by which to gain said obesience. Many (if not most) people obey the state because they've been socialized to and because they know that the benefits outweigh the costs, not because they fear the violent reaction. That isn't necessarily universal, of course, and sometimes this breaks down, but a state that relies solely on violence is usually not a very long lived one.

Thursday, September 26, 2002

Edit: Just to clarify the following post is not intended as an indictment of the Republican party, or as an intimation that they are in any way connected or sympathetic towards Al Qaeda. Just in case anybody's wondering.

Oh, and Digby needs to get a blog, dammit. Go read his stuff in the comments section, it's spectacular. I might start just posting it wholesale, especially posts #29 and #30.


A little while ago I wrote about the possibility that the reaction of the Bush administration was exactly the reaction that Osama Bin Laden was looking for. The core goal of Al Qaeda remains a war between the West and Islam, and Bin Laden knew that the U.S., dissatisfied with their relatively simple (yet utterly messy) campaign and current problem-filled situation in Afghanistan, would start casting about for a larger conflict. This casting about would mean that Al Qaeda-as-enemy would be replaced by theocratic Muslim-as-enemy and (Bin Laden hopes) we'd finally end up with Islam-as-enemy. Whether or not that actually happened at the time, there's no doubt that Al Qaeda must feel that an American overreaction to terror is their own best weapon right now.

An additional element that I hadn't mentioned, however is that Al Qaeda may have (and may continue to have) the opinion that the neo-conservative wing of the Republican party is the best weapon they have right now in bringing their goals about, both because of their harsh rhetoric against Islam and because of their embracing of American exceptionalism and "might-makes-right" unilateralism. Whether or not this is true is unimportant. Al Qaeda has no doubt seen the Republicans prosecute this coming war on Iraq (a country they have precious little to do with), and know that while a Gore administration would have definitely acted against Afghanistan, it would be very unlikely to the point of impossibility that it would have gone on to prepare to unilaterally invade Iraq. A unilateral U.S. war in Iraq is probably perceived by Al Qaeda to be in their interests, as they know that it would polarize the world against the U.S., alienate both Arab governments and Arabs themselves from the U.S., remove a secular dictator that wasn't overly inclined towards any more religiosity than was necessary to achieve his goals, and (as Al Qaeda is no doubt inclined to believe the worst about the U.S.'s desire and ability to engage in nation-building) leave behind a shattered Iraq that would be a bonanza for them in recruits, weapon sources, friendly warlords, and general good old fashioned chaos.

The U.S. pressuring Saudi Arabia would do wonders here as well, and there's no doubt that the neo-conservative wing of the Republican party has been very, very critical of the House of Saud lately, and the beating heart of the "after Saddam, Saudi is next" rhetoric that waxes and wanes nowadays. If Saudi is threatened, of course, Muslims all over the world develop an immediate interest in the situation, and all the inflamed rhetoric about nuking Mecca and the like is going to make them very concerned, indeed. If the U.S. acts, then Al Qaeda may feel that this (and the raft of American anti-Muslim rhetoric that already exists and will likely only increase) will be the spark that ignites Muslims around the globe to become antagonistic if not violent towards the U.S. and its allies. It wouldn't actually be that tricky- translating and circulating the sort of thing that gets published in right-wing magazines and newspapers daily would do a good job of it, especially if presented the right way and if American actions also seemed to back up this interpretation.

(Again, whether this will happen or not and whether it is actually in Al Qaeda's interests or not is functionally immaterial... the point is the perception.)

So, it's very likely that Al Qaeda would like nothing better than the continuation and elevation of Republican rule, as they believe that the Republicans are more likely to elevate the current conflict into a war between the secular west and Islam. This isn't because they like the Republicans or vice versa, far from it- they want conflict and antagonism, and the Republicans are far likelier to give it to them. (They're also more likely to support Bush, which means that Bush gets a far freer hand to elevate the war and thereby increase the likelihood of a negative Islamic reaction.) It won't make their personal lives any easier and it might end rather a lot of them, but the Al Qaeda leadership might be thinking that it would accomplish what they're really after.

Oddly enough, however, if true this provides a scary possibility regarding the current election. Current polls show that Democrats lead on economic issues and Republicans lead on foreign policy (read, terrorism) issues. Whichever issue dominates the minds of voters is probably going to decide which side wins the election, and both sides know that. If Al Qaeda knows that too, though, then they'd also know that they have a control over this situation very close to the infamous "Hamas veto". All they'd need to do to ensure their favoured outcome is to arrange for a terrorist act close to the time of the election. It wouldn't need to be that big, or that spectacular, and probably shouldn't be... because the press would be all over it regardless and too big an act might rally world opinion around the U.S. again. That means that Americans become more security-conscious, and even though it's very unlikely that the Repubs would be stupid enough to try to take over advantage of it, their advantage in national security issues would push them over the edge in this very closely-fought election. It probably wouldn't lead to a sweep, but they'd end up controlling the balance of power. The neo-conservative right would have a free hand and be very, very anxious to use it.

Then again, perhaps I'm wrong, and the leadership of Al Qaeda is neither this Machiavellian nor this in tune with American politics. Perhaps they don't want Republicans to win because they hate Bush, or perhaps they're somewhat unclear on what exactly a "Republican" is. Maybe their goal of a grand war between Islam and the West is being left alone right now in favor of sheer survival.

Still, if I were Tom Ridge, I might consider turning up that terrorism meter a notch.
As I was watching Jon Stewart grill George Stephanopoulos tonight, I was reminded of just how useful and important the Daily Show has actually become. Not only is it bloody hilarious and not afraid to to take a critical stance on Bush and his administration (that "eeeexcellent" bit with Cheney and the riff on Bush's incredibly Simpsons-esque "embetterment" line were great examples), but Stewart is actually doing a lot of good things with his interviews.

For example, he's taking "policy guys" and he's making them interesting. One of the weirdest things about the Daily Show is that it's often the political wonks and administration figures (or diplomats, or congressmen, or whatever) are actually more interesting than the celebrities. The celebrity interviews are pretty good and it's often interesting to get their take on what's going on, but they're also pretty standard; it's the same sort of late-night interviewing that's been around since Carson. The wonks, though, not only get into much more interesting and detailed riffs back and forth with Stewart, but miraculously Stewart can take these guys and make them really, really funny. Not "be funny at their expense" or "be funny and ignore them", but actually help these guys to be funny in-and-of themselves.

More importantly is the stunning fact that he's doing a damned good job of bringing out political issues and presenting them in a fairly easy-to-follow fashion, especially when it comes to the war. The way that Jon's questioning style and choice of questions tonight quickly, clearly, and effectively laid out the case against invading Iraq was amazing to behold. It doesn't feel dumbed down and the jokes about the whole thing worked pretty damned well, and even though Stephanopoulos managed to riposte him, Jon did an amazing job. Jon wasn't insulting or hostile either, and to be honest he never is (even when faced with Ann Coulter). He might disagree, and might poke fun, but it's no Crossfire.

(He also provides the deathblow to the idiotic "only conservatives have fun" meme, which is always handy.)

Probably the best aspect, though, is the way that he's approaching the political interviews and the choice of subjects. He tends to get people who know about politics but who aren't either partisans or pundits, and if he does end up with a partisan, he's pretty careful to keep things light and veer around the talking points as much as possible without making the discussion pointless. Compare that with the drubbing that Bill Maher and his guests got daily on Politically Incorrect at the hands of those hired-gun conservative mouthpieces that managed to dominate and muddy practically every second on that show where Bill wasn't blathering on himself. It's stunning, really.

Honestly, I've been somewhat of a fan of Stewart for a long time, and I'm glad that he seems to have finally found his niche. I don't think that Comedy Central knows what kind of talent they're sitting on (Steve Colbert is good enough to headline a show as it is, and Lewis Black is, well, Lewis Black), and I hope they catch on and give Jon the hour-long program that he deserves. Honestly, it really is one of the best shows on television.

Wednesday, September 25, 2002

Timothy Noah goes over the various complaints about Gore supposedly "flip-flopping", and finds them lacking at best and deliberate falsehoods at worst.

I've got to wonder, though... why the hell is this supposed to be a critique of the speech? Even if he's changed, that doesn't mean what he says isn't true, or that he doesn't believe it... just that his opinion has changed between 1991 and 2002. There's rather a lot of warbloggers out there whose opinions changed rather a lot over the past two years, so why the hell couldn't Gore's have changed over the past eleven? Even if his opinion changed only three months ago, who are these people to presume the reasons for that change? Do they have a direct pipeline into Gore's head of which I am not aware?

It's a dance around the substantive critiques in Gore's speech; a way of trying to make sure that the electorate doesn't start seriously questioning the party line on Iraq. If wouldn't even be possible were the media (and the Echo Chamber) not already desperately trying to keep that infantile "flip-flop" narrative intact, as Gore jumps in and plays a role that only he can. Predictable, yet still somewhat sad.
Found on The Bleat:

Well, it seems Gerhard Schroeder has won election in Germany.

Of course, Hitler did the same thing.
Indeed. Pity that Bush never quite managed it.

(I must have missed Schroeders brownshirts, by the way.)
TBOGG on Kelly's temper tantrum:

It's no suprise to anyone that Kelly doesn't like Gore, but for him to dismiss Gore's speech because of personal pique is sloppy journalism. Ever since 9/11 Kelly has been running around like a high school girl who discovers a big zit on picture day. His columns have become hysterical in a way that makes him sound like the freakish spawn of some bizzare mating ritual between Ann Coulter and Peggy Noonan. Now that's a scary thought.
Funny thing is that since there's no way that someone like Kelly is going to support Gore anyway, and considering that Gore's supporters will probably increase that support at the sight of the spectacle that was Kelly's frothing column, I think much of Kelly's frustration is that he's ultimately completely impotent when it comes to actually influencing Gore.

After all, what has the media done for him lately?

Edit: Bob Somerby makes a similar case.
Interesting bit on D-squared:

OK, a thought that struck me while on holiday, in the form of three questions;

1. Hands up if you believe that Benjamin Franklin was talking sense when he said "They that can give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty or safety" ....

2. Hands up if you believe that African governments are doing something wrong or stupid in rejecting genetically modified corn given as food aid.

3. Now ... hands up again if you still think [you] agree that "that can give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty or safety"
Some people disagree on his comments board, particularly Matt Weiner, but it's good nonetheless.
Despite the wild frothing of the usual suspects and a few "respectable journalists", the Gore speech was actually probably a pretty good political move and, in some respects, an important one in general. (it certainly wasn't "the reprehensible piece of bloody-shirt-waving in American political history", but that should be bloody well obvious.)

(Atrios was right.. Michael Kelly really did lose it, didn't he? He made Neal Pollack look tame, and Pollack's blog is supposed to be satire!)

There's no doubt that the speech energized the base, which is something that's pretty key to this mid-term election. It also probably reflects the beliefs and sentiments of a hell of a lot more people out there than the blogosphere and fellow-travelling pundits like Kelly are willing to admit, and right now Gore is going to be seen as the only person out there who is articulating their point of view in the face of the nonstop beating of war drums in the national media. Gore is also effectively distancing himself from both the DLC and Republicans, but in this case I think that's a good thing, as that's been his goal for a while now..

It's very unlikely that this particular bit will come back and haunt him later. If he's wrong and the war happens and goes well, one speech from fall 2002 isn't going to sink his political career- there's simply too much time in between and too much ambivalence about the whole thing nowadays for it to turn the public against him. If either the war doesn't happen or something goes wrong, however, he can use it himself both to dominate the partisan-driven primaries and to provide a lightning rod for discontent about the war in Iraq by using the same argument that "the actual war on terror isn't being fought well because of this Iraqi adventurism" and be confident that it will help him more than it hurts him.

More importantly, though, is that I think something like this is pretty important in-and-of-itself. A lot of liberal commentators have decried the weak response of the Democratic caucus, wondering why there isn't and can't be a "loyal opposition" to ensure that there's a real debate between governmental officials and those who could form another government themselves (ie a party.) The answer is that there's no such thing in American politics: the Democrats have to be concerned about their re-election and the comparatively non-partisan American system is not particularly predisposed towards unified "official oppositions"; their positions are perfectly valid. Regardless, it still shows that there's a void out there, one that can't be filled either by letters to the editor or books by marginalized leftists with little to no connection to the actual left-wing party in the United States.

Enter Al Gore.

See, he doesn't have to worry about re-election, as he's not currently holding elected office. (Well, kinda, but let's ignore Florida for now.) 2002 isn't an issue for him, except generally as a member of the Democratic party. His goal is 2004, and that's a long way away. What he does need, however, is to remain in the public spotlight... to remain relevant. He needs to say something unique so that he differentiates himself from the other candidates, and he needs to say something that reflects the beliefs of the important voters (in this case primary voters) enough that they will identify with him and believe that he's speaking in their place.

The speech accomplishes both. First, it clearly differentiates him from Congress. Second, in its careful distinction between the invasion of Iraq and the necessity of the unfinished war on Al Qaeda, in its call for the cultivation of alliances with a larger section of the world community than Britain and Israel, in its articulation of the "where's Osama" question, and in its focus on the consequences of unilateral war it probably reflects a decent chunk of the general electorate and a massive section of likely democratic primary voters. (That poll I mentioned below certainly suggests that he's tapped into something.)

Because of this, Al Gore's speech (and perhaps the man himself) can serve in that role of the "official opposition" that congressional Democrats simply can't afford to take up. It's in the American public interest to have a major political figure articulating those points of view, and it's in his interest to articulate them. The fact that it irritates the E.C. blogger consensus and shark-jumping columnists like Kelly so much that it prompts hilarious strawman attacks (the one I quoted above is relatively mild) is just icing on the cake.

Maybe the economists are better at describing politics than I had thought. There was a market need, and Al Gore happened to be the political entrepreneur who exploited it. Win/Win situation. Well, except maybe for Lieberman.
A new Gallup poll suggest that the American public supports the impending war on Iraq, 57% to 38%. So Bush can expect widespread support, right? Well, kinda, but there's a huge caveat there. See, there's a series of other numbers that revolve around the question of whether he gets Congressional and U.N. support for the action or not. If he gets the support from either, his support shoots up: 69% in the case of Congress, and 79% in the case of the U.N. If he doesn't, then it drops: 37% support for the lack of either. There's only 38% support for invasion "if the United States has to invade Iraq alone", either, but that's pretty much a foregone conclusion anyway, and I don't think it'll make that big a deal compared to the first two figures.

So, what does this mean? Well, the question of how these questions connect is pretty important, and I wish they had broken it down further into "U.N. supports and Congress doesn't" (which is unlikely as hell) and "Congress supports and U.N. doesn't" (which is far, far more likely.) What it means in those situations kind of depends on the assumptions made by the subjects... it depends on whether or not they assume that the U.N. is onside when Congress is (or vice versa), and you can't assume that they'll all make the same assumption or that the "yeas" will cancel out the "nays". Still, there's a lot of useful knowledge to be gleaned from this using a Machiavelli-style "either-or" analysis, including figuring out who to watch and what will likely happen.

Either the U.N. supports the invasion, or it does not. If it does, the Congress will likely be onside too, and Bush will enjoy clear public support, congressional support, and U.N. support. Assuming the military side works out ok, it'll be smooth sailing.

If the U.N does not support the invasion, things get trickier. Congress will probably be onside anyway, due to the election and the twin pressures of neo-cons hawks leaning on the Republican candidates to toe the party line and Democratic fears of Republican attack ads. The public will, however, probably be deeply ambivalent if not opposed to the war due to the lack of U.N. (and therefore international) support and their knowing full well that real opposition within Congress is being stifled by these two forces. Bush can't survive this, and he probably won't try, because I'm sure that as much as the military brass are scared of the spectacle of an unpopular war, their fright would be dwarfed by that of Republican partisans. There might be a "rally 'round the flag" effect boosting support at first, but the underlying support won't be there. The public won't necessarily support a war just out of patriotism or fear; communism was just as scary in the 60's as terrorism is now, and the country was still getting over McCarthy at the time. There's the additional problem in that the public is still thinking "war on terrorism" and of retaliation for 9/11, and Iraq is only peripherally attached to either. They might stay onside after that initial boost, but Bush can't count on it, and his staffers should know it.

So, given those two choices, we see that Bush either needs to get the U.N. onside, or to convince the public that the U.N. is unnecessary, that their support doesn't matter, and therefore ensure that the public will still support him if the U.N. goes against the invasion. Either would remove the "U.N. factor" from the public support equation, and makes everything a lot easier. We've seen examples of both, but I don't think either is quite sticking, partially because he (somewhat optimistically) tried to accomplish both at the same time with the U.N. speech and the rolling out of that new multilateral party line from a few weeks ago.

The central thrust of his speech (and the following talking points) was that the U.N.'s relevance was threatened by Iraq's refusal to obey the Security Council's resolutions, and that the U.N. should make those resolutions stick. This worked to accomplish both goals: it was simultaneously a goad to the U.N. to act and a reaching out the U.N. to involve them and, thus, ensure their support; and at the same time it was an insurance policy against the U.N. getting bogged down, because he could then go to the American public and say "look, they're bureaucratic and useless, whereas I'm strong and forceful. I will fix the problem and liberate the Iraqis. Support me". Bingo, both problems solved, which is no doubt why he used that particular strategy in the first place.

Unfortunately, Iraq has managed to frustrate both goals by inviting inspectors in. It frustrates the first because the U.N. sees a U.N. brokered and administered diplomatic solution, which they would prefer. It frustrates the latter because it appears to the public as if going through the U.N. actually works, and that it was the unilateralism of before that was the flawed approach. (To the point that some knee-jerk Bush defenders actually see it as a mere tactic.) Yes, there is that new party line that Saddam can't be trusted and that the letter shows that he's going to limit the available sites (which is actually one damned tortuous spin on said letter), but it can't really be used to support a unilateral strike even if the U.N. does buy into it. It would support a new resolution at best, and that resolution is not going to authorize regime change.. just a new and more intrusive inspection system. It doesn't look like the U.N. is going to go along with it, though.

The new "he's lying" party line isn't helping Bush justify his war to the public, either. After all, the Gallup poll is recent; it shows that even despite the new spin, the U.S. citizenry still wants the U.N. onside. He's not going to top the U.N. speech, so if they aren't convinced now, they aren't going to be. The only way Bush can recover this is if Iraq becomes extraordinarily belligerent and defiant, if it's obvious that Iraq will not allow inspectors in, and if the U.N. either ends up deadlocked or throws up their hands and gives their blessing to the U.S. This is incredibly unlikely, as preemptive strikes and especially "regime change" go against the Charter. The Bush administration knows that.

So what does all this mean? Essentially, that Bush is all dressed up with nowhere to go. It's clear that he's set up for a war in Iraq, and wants to fight it. Bush has staked his credibility on it, the neo-cons have been egging the administration on, the Bush admin knows that it's what is keeping Republicans from falling apart in the face of the still-weak economy and impending housing bubble burst...and the fact that Saddam really is a nasty SOB doesn't hurt, either. I doubt that the Bushistas and their fellow travellers care that much about the U.N., either. If he does invade, however, those polls suggest that the public's initial support will be fundamentally weak. He won't have the support to weather any setbacks or problems that stem from the invasion or (much more importantly) the following occupation. There's no doubt that the Bush administration will care about that- visions of Vietnam and Somalia will dance in their minds.

Still, the status quo cannot stand. Either inspectors have to go in or be in the process of going in (and thereby pretty much postpone invasion for a good while, unless the Bush administration wants to ensure that they look like imperial buffoons by invading despite present or impending inspectors) or the U.S. will have to invade, if only because the neo-conservative right would turn on Bush like a pack of starving jackals if he doesn't, just like they did his father. (I doubt they liked the multilateralist talk much either, which is probably why they're framing it as a tactic instead of a true policy shift.)

Therefore, the organization to watch right now is Hans Blix and UNMOVIC, not the Bush administration. Next Monday, according to the UNMOVIC site, their "concluding talks" will convene in Vienna. Depending on how those talks go, their advance team should arrive in Baghdad on Oct. 15. If all goes well, then Bush can't credibly invade and expect U.N. (and therefore public) support. Those troops in the Middle East get to cool their heels for a good while. But if Iraq stonewalls or otherwise screws around with UNMOVIC, the Bush administration can exploit that. At the very least they can get a new resolution from the U.N., but they could possibly gain the support of the American public despite U.N. intransigence. If that happens, it's war.

That's why I don't expect Iraq to be especially hostile or confrontational for a while. Aziz and the rest of the Baathist regime know perfectly well what's at stake, and Hussein no doubt knows as well. Right now UNMOVIC is their best friend, if not their lifeline. They have to at least act as if absolutely nothing is off the table, because they know that the Bush administration is watching over Blix's shoulder, hungry for even the slightest hint that Iraq will screw around with the inspectors and perfectly willing to spin absolutely anything into "hostile stonewalling by Saddam Hussein". We're living in the prelude to WWI, with Austrio-Hungary ready and waiting to attack Serbia and practically desperate to seize on an excuse, any excuse, to go in with swords drawn and guns blazing.

Come to think of it, the fact that this situation just might turn out differently is proof positive of just how important the U.N. is.