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.

Tuesday, September 24, 2002

"Republicans reacted angrily, accusing Mr. Gore of using the Iraqi situation for political advantage."

I'll probably write more on this Krugman column later, but for now:

"for we won't bomb Iraq, then wash our hands of responsibility, will we?"

I wish I could believe that, Paul. I really do.
Rather odd situation going on at the U.N., as the U.S. proposes a security council resolution that would condemn Israel's demolition of Arafat's compound:

Seeking to avert a confrontation with Arab states over the siege, the Americans offered a draft resolution calling on Israel to "cease measures in and around Ramallah," saying that they "aggravate the situation" and that they "do not contribute to progress on comprehensive Palestinian civil and security reforms."
This is odd, considering that the current administration has all but given Israel carte blanche in conducting their own war against Palestinian terrorists (freedom fighters, militants, "islamists", whatever) and I had hardly expected that position to change. Indeed, that Stratfor analysis I had mentioned earlier had said that the U.S. would probably give Israel an even freer hand in exchange for the promise that Iraqi attacks on Israel would not be responded to. Even if one considers the current Israeli actions against Arafat to be an overreaction, overreaction isn't exactly unwelcome for the Bush administration.

On the other hand, the old tone hasn't completely disappeared, and sheds some light, I think:

The American draft, presented during an emergency session of the Council today to counter a Syrian proposal, cites two Palestinian groups by name, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hamas, holding them responsible for the recent attacks in Israel. The proposal would require that they be treated as terrorists under a Security Council resolution passed last year to condemn the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

It was the first time that the United States had sought to equate, in the formal terms of a Security Council measure, the Palestinian suicide bombings and other attacks in Israel with the terrorism of Sept. 11, 2001.
As the NY Times article notes, this is partially a tactical move to ensure that a competing Syrian resolution doesn't get passed, but it's still worth looking at. It's interesting not for what it includes, but what it doesn't include, and what it doesn't include is Fatah. The coupling of these two positions together might mean that the administration is rethinking its policy on Arafat, or at least not quite as willing to label Arafat himself as a terrorist as they were, say, three months ago.

Then again, it might be simply because the U.S. didn't want its proposal to be utterly ignored, or to enjoy the spectacle of having to veto the Syrian proposal, as the article implies. Still, it seems to speak to an administration whose newfound multilateralism is perhaps constraining it more than it had been, or at least an administration that knows that it can't deliberately antagonize other players in the region while it gears up for a war in Iraq whose chief raison d'etre, the lack of weapon inspectors in Iraq, is fast disappearing.

Monday, September 23, 2002

Okay.... now Stratfor is saying the U.S. is going to invade Iraq. The article in which they stated it is an interesting breakdown of Iraq's strategic options, and perhaps I just missed the article where they said they had changed their minds, but when did that happen, and what has happened to invalidate the analysis they made before?

Ah well. Good bit about the Saudis here:

The Saudis' main concern is that the post-Hussein world would place Iran in the dominant power position in the Persian Gulf. A contained Iraq under Hussein is infinitely preferable to a disintegrated Iraq and an uncontrolled Iran. Their second concern is that an American victory in Iraq would set the stage for more intense demands by the United States on the Saudis -- and deeper intrusions into internal Saudi affairs in the search for al Qaeda. The Saudis would find this destabilizing and want no part of it.

Obviously, the Saudis are not indifferent to American power and cannot simply ignore overwhelming pressure. The compromise they seem to have reached is not to object to an offensive force being built up in Kuwait or to American air operations out of Qatar if a U.S. attack is inevitable. Since the Saudis want to be aligned with the winner, they might even cooperate with the United States if an attack becomes inevitable. It also increases their influence on post-war policies in Iraq. But what the Saudis would like most is for there not to be an attack. They would love to be in a position to withhold their cooperation and to have a legitimate basis for limiting U.S. operations out of Qatar -- and particularly Kuwait.
There's some other good stuff here, especially surrounding Hussein's interest in instability in the occupied territories so as to ensure that the Saudis (who don't want the war, as said above) can keep the U.S. off their backs and pressure Qatar and Kuwait to deny the U.S. access to those respective countries. There's also a rather insightful (and possibly scary) passage that mentions that "the argument now will be made that U.S. insistence on following U.N. resolutions on Iraq is hypocrisy, since the United States does not apply the same standard to Israel"... which may make both Israel and the U.S. vulnerable to Bush's own rhetoric.

Still, I would have preferred that Stratfor explain, even briefly, why their analysis was so easily and so quickly shifted. Their reputation is supposedly based on being able to predict what political actors do, and if they can't sustain that reputation, why on earth would anybody pay for their services?
Matthew Yglesias pointed to a really good blog entry by Mark A. R. Kleiman about the pharmaceutical industry, why it works the way it does, what the flaws are, and what the difference is between violation of a copyright or patent and good ol' fashioned theft. (He even brings out a neat term for it: "non-rival consumption", which sounds like SKO buffet.)

What really grabbed me, though, was this line about alternate systems: "the fact that there’s no perfect system doesn’t mean that the one we now have in place is the least bad that could be developed." This particular idea is something that would seem obvious and does when it's stated, but there's an awful lot of situations where it's clearly ignored in debate, discussion, and just simply what kind of assumptions people make.

Too often people will respond to critiques by saying "well, it's not perfect, but what is?" There's your answer, right there. Thank Mr. Kleiman for it.

Sunday, September 22, 2002

Excellent entry by Josh Marshall about the idiotic phrase "regime change", and how despite the citation of Orwell by several conservative commentators lately there's no doubt that Orwell would take great pleasure in tearing that little euphemism into tiny bite-sized pieces. Marshall uses it to complain about the nature of the public debate...

[The public debate is] one in which assertions which are widely understood to be false are stated and not corrected, in which important distinctions are clouded with obscuring phrases, and in which discussion of the long-term consequences of specific actions are trumped by slogans. And that's a very big deal.
He dishes it out to both supporters and opponents of invasion, but I think he misses the important point that there are different reasons for each, and the opponents are much more "under the gun" than the supporters; there's a reason that Democrats avoid the issue, and it's a valid one.

Besides, I can think of at least one commentator who has been pretty damned clear about exactly why he believes what he believes, and a lot of opponents are opposing it because of the rules it would break and the precedents it would set that go far beyond the one country of Iraq. The implicit argument is that those rules exist for a reason, and breaking them would create global problems that dwarf even the prospect of a nuclear-backed Iraq. The burden of justification is on those who are arguing in favor of invasion, not those who are arguing against it, because invasion would have many, many more repercussions. they need to prove not just that the action is necessary, but that it is so necessary that the repercussions are something we can live with. As most pro-invasion types seem to think that those rules (such as the ones enshrining national sovereignty) don't even exist, it's necessary to first explain why those rules are important.

As those reasons can be complex, and as rather a lot of pundit types seem to dislike complex, "nuanced" arguments, it's kind of an uphill battle.

Friday, September 20, 2002

Digby on Eschaton:

[I]t has become clear that the immaturity and inexperience of our President is becoming a real danger. He is caught between two competing philosophies, one the realist internationalist philosophy of his father and the other the extremist philosophy of certain advisors who have a radical global agenda. This important battle is taking place in public with the President extolling both philosophies simultaneously despite the fact that they are incompatible. Apparently, he doesn't realize that he must make a choice.

I predicted a week ago that the neocon hawks would not give up this fight and they certainly have not. They are zealots and they will do whatever is necessary to advance their cause. According to the Washington Post that includes lying to the President and the public about intelligence and military preparedness.

This is the most dangerous thing I believe we've learned recently. They are underestimating the costs, both financially and militarily, to accomplish their goal of overthrowing Saddam and completely ignoring the subsequent costs of occupation. This betrays a form of magical thinking that will lead this country into graver trouble than we have ever seen. It's one thing to coldly and pragmatically propose an invasion. It's quite another to rely on wishful thinking to accomplish the task.

Atrios said that Digby needs to "get his own #%@#$@#% Blog". I don't know if I agree, because what the heck would the rest of us do with all that free time, with him so eloquently criticizing the Bushistas for us?

(Maybe I'll take up Go or something.)
Now that I stop and think about it, I'd like to repost here something I said in one of Atrios' comments threads, because I think it's important:

Pretty much everything that the warblogger/neo-conservative right have been calling for is pretty much exactly what Osama wanted, so much so that I wonder whether he wasn't much, much smarter than we've given him credit for. After all, he wanted the U.S. troops out of Saudi Arabia, he wanted the House of Saud overthrown, and he wanted war between the west and Islam... and by inflaming the rage of Americans with his attack and then making sure that Al Qaeda is too difficult and diffuse a target to satisfy that rage, he's moved a lot closer to those goals than anyone would have dreamed a while ago.

(Heck, I doubt he was a big fan of Saddam either, and Saddam would be the perfect loud patsy to enrage Arabs and set them against the Americans, and possibly isolate the U.S. from the world over the issue of invading Iraq. Israel/Palestine is too tricky and too secular, but he had to know that Iraq would be target #1 after his Taliban buddies were wiped off the map. He could use Saddam without even talking with him.)

Perhaps we're using the wrong word after all. Perhaps he was never trying to create terror, and therefore this isn't terrorism. Perhaps he was trying to create exactly the kind of rage that resulted from 9/11, knowing exactly what it would entail, who would be targeted, and what kind of ideas and ideologies it would bring to the fore. I wouldn't be overly surprised, but the fact that it seems so damned plausible is also damned frightening.
Atrios on invasion:

Despite the rather cynical and mocking tone I've taken with respect to the whole Iraq thing lately, the truth is that all along I've had a rather Marshallian view of the issue (Josh, not Alfred). Though I wasn't convinced by the Washington Monthly article he wrote, I suppose that I, like him, was quite open to being convinced. I have been open to all of the possible justifcations for invading Iraq - humanitarian, national security, realpolitik, defense of Israel, etc... But, for me, all of them have fallen completely flat. Josh lays out one reason why:

But let me discuss with you for a moment what I find the most difficult about this debate. The more ardent supporters of regime change lie a lot. I really don't know how else to put it. I'm not talking about disagreements over interpretation. I mean people saying things they either know to be false or have no reason to believe are true. Perhaps the word 'lie' is a very slight exaggeration. Perhaps it's better to say they have a marked propensity to assert as fact points for which there is virtually or absolutely no evidence. How's that?

From the desperate attempts to link 9/11 to Saddam, to the repeated claims that he's a "bad man who gassed his own people" (with our support and our gas, essentially), to the misrepresentations of analyses of his potential for nuclear capability, to the knowingly false claim he "threw out the inspectors" (a failing process, admittedly), etc... etc... Not one element of this debate from the Hawks has been, by any stretch, honest.

I could have even lived with that, perhaps. But what I can't live with is that combined with the *zero* effort (And I Mean *ZERO*) to present (or formulate?) any conception for what Step 2 would be. No description of what an occupying force would be like - size and length. No description of plans for transition to a new government. Nothing.

The only guide we have are the collected writings of his advisors. And those are scary.
Indeed. Then again, it could be because of the siege mentality- they know that they're under fire and that a widely-supported invasion becomes less and less likely every day, and also know that a unilateral invasion would be militarily possible but politically suicidal. They've been thrashing about, looking for some way to bring their critics onside, or at least marginalize them to the extent that it's no longer a big problem, and they can get the multilateral support that despite their unilateralism they obviously crave. (There's no other reason to explain Bush's appearance at the U.N.)

To be honest, that situation makes the lack of "what's next" pretty understandable. Those that might formulate it simply don't have the time, and those that do are either too optimistic, too incoherent, or too batshit insane to do any useful work in this regard. Then again, maybe the plan exists, but they don't want their critics getting their claws into it. Like so much else that comes out of that crowd, a scary thought.
Wow. Out of curiosity, I ran a search for "Demosthenes" on Google, wondering where I placed in the search.

It was, um, first.

The Blogosphere really does play merry hell with Google, doesn't it?
Odd... I keep getting that "503: Unable to load template file" error, but it's publishing, and it does use the template. The normal workarounds don't seem to be working here, either.

Is this unique to my own little journal, or are others having the same problem?
This oughtta be good.

On Friday, the Bush administration will publish its first comprehensive rationale for shifting American military strategy toward pre-emptive action against hostile states and terrorist groups developing weapons of mass destruction. The strategy document will also state, for the first time, that the United States will never allow its military supremacy to be challenged the way it was during the cold war.
Hmm... anyone else notice scary echoes of that think-tank document that the Sunday Herald brought to light a little while ago? The one that myself and others responded to that basically called for the U.S. to stomp on all that would oppose it, and that was written by the same folks who are running the country now?

The formalization of this doctrine will probably jettison whatever good relations that the U.S. still has with the U.N., which by definition is opposed to this sort of thing (and for damned good reasons.) Especially that latter goal... the former can be justified, but what will happen if (as I've theorized in the past) Europe binds even more closely together and develops a joint military strength that rivals the U.S.? Or if China's impending status as a economic powerhouse leads it to massively develop its military might? Or, heck, what happens if Japan renounces their "self-defense clause", gets into the business of force projections, and uses some brute-force military keynesianism to pull itself out of its current malaise?

Are they the next targets?

And can they afford to assume that they won't be?

Scary stuff.

Apparently a Germany minister claimed that Bush was akin to Hitler. Well, not really, but she definitely made the comparison:

Justice Minister Herta Daeubler-Gmelin told a small group of labour union members on Wednesday that "Bush was going after Iraq to divert attention from domestic problems. 'That's a popular method. Even Hitler did that,' the German newspaper, Schwaebisches Tagblatt, quoted her as saying.
First, I wasn't actually aware that that was the reason for Hitler's expansionism.. I had always thought it was more intrinsic to the fascist system itself. Still, accurate or not there's no doubt whatsoever that this is going to inflame the opinion of the right and of Americans in general. Looks like the rhetoric continues to heat up in the German election.

She appears to realize this, however, and addressed it with a bloody hilarious backhanded comment:

The minister called the report misleading but did not deny the remarks. "I would regret it very much if this matter were to cast the slightest shadow on my respect for the president of the United States," she said.
Notice she never said what that level of respect actually was. Snicker.

Judging by that comment, it's really hard to say that she's stupid enough not to realize the heat she's going to get, so why make it? Only explanation that makes sense is that she thinks that she'd benefit more by attacking the U.S. president in such an outrageous manner than she would lose, and the only way she'd think that is if sentiment on the ground in Germany was so anti-Bush that not even a comparison to the architect of Germany's darkest hour would be considered inappropriate and over-the-top.

The incumbant Social Democrat party was quick to distance themselves from the comment. They have to. If they win, they need to actually work with Washington for the next few years. I don't think that Daeubler-Gmelin was necessary a loose cannon, though, and I wonder whether or not she made her comments on the orders of her party superiors. If so, regardless of the validity of the comparison, the fact that it could be credibly made speaks volumes. It's rather a disturbing comment on exactly how far apart European and American sentiments are on Iraq, and what is to be risked by Bush ignoring the U.N.'s imminent resumption of WMD inspections and going to war anyway.

(For those who say "who cares? Europe isn't a real military power", I have a simple response: "not yet".)
Well... somehow, for reasons I'll probably never entirely fathom, yesterday featured the largest number of visitors I've yet had, more even than the pseudonymity battle.

Well, for those new to the site, welcome, and I hope you stick around. Feel free to check out the archives on the left. (I really need to set up one of those "best of" article indices, although I wouldn't know which articles to put there, really.)

(What is it about Den Beste that prompts this sort of thing, anyway?)
Well... Iraq has responded to the Bush speech... and if this story is to be believed, it went over rather well with the U.N., if not with the U.S.:

The speech to the U.N. General Assembly — one week after Bush addressed the gathering — was greeted with loud applause by diplomats from around the world.

But in Washington, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said the speech "presented nothing new and was more of the same."

"The speech is an attempt to lure the world down the same dead-end road that the world has traveled before and, in that, it represents a disappointing failure by Iraq," Fleischer said.

Appearing in the afternoon at the homeland security command center, Bush told reporters he had not heard the speech by Iraq's foreign minister.

"Let me guess, the United States is guilty, the world doesn't understand, we don't have weapons of mass destruction — it's the same old song and dance we've heard for 11 years," he said, calling anew for the United Nations to pass a get-tough resolution.
Other than the resounding silliness of Bush's personal response (and why the hell didn't someone brief him?) I'm struck by how lame the administration's party line is sounding in the face of Iraq basically begging the U.N. to inspect whatever they please.

Then again, with the news that Congress is planning to quickly pass a resolution authorizing force, it may be that Bush's abortive attempt towards bringing the U.N. onside might not stop him from invading Iraq after all, although I'm sure that Powell and the rest know exactly what it would mean if Iraq invited inspectors and the U.S. invaded anyway. Needless to say, it wouldn't be pretty.
As Aziz Poonawalla happens to be Islamic himself, his own response to SDB is particularly interesting, and is a substantial critique of many of Steven's "cultural eradication" arguments. Plus, Aziz wrote the email that prompted the response, so his own take is particularly enlightening.

(For those who are wondering why I keep returning to the topic of the essay when I have expressed little desire to write a lengthy response, I'll just say that I'm definitely interested in what others have to say about it. After all, why write a lengthy response when others are doing it so adroitly for you?

Edit: more adroitness, this time from Amitava Mazumdar.
While critical of the "protocols of the Elders of Zion" comparison Hesiod made (a critique which Atrios admits is valid), Charles Dodgson nonetheless wrote a rather brutal takedown of the SDB "American Man's Burden" essay that has raised rather a lot of blogger ire lately. It also happened to lead to my dismissal of SDB as a useful source of analysis and debate, but that's more because I've spent rather more time than most addressing his arguments in the past, and grew heartily sick of it when I realized that the whole enterprise was relatively meaningless and discovered both that he deliberately writes to a conclusion and that he refuses to do any real research on the political topics he writes about at such great length.

Dodgson makes a number of good points:

The striking thing to me about den Beste's essay is the lack of connection between the ends, elimination of the terrorist threat from Islamist radicals, and the means, a military attack on, and defeat of, the secular Baathist regime in Iraq --- a regime which the Wahhabi-inspired religious fanatics who drive al-Qaeda view as an ally of convenience at best. (If at all; Dubya's crowd is soft-pedaling the argument that Hussein has something to do with al-Qaeda, because they haven't been able to show convincing evidence).

So, suppose we fight what den Beste views as the battle of Iraq in the War on Islamia, or something like that, and suppose we win. Will that, in fact, refute any of the arguments of the Islamists? No. It will play into their hands. We will show them an Arab country which has adopted a secular regime, with no religious trappings, getting the pants beat off of it in a conflict with the actual West, which will only reinforce their argument that religious revival is a road to glory. And, as Demosthenes points out, it will play into their own "clash of civilizations" rhetoric. The mere fact of a military defeat, particularly of a secular regime, won't dampen their movement --- in fact, by den Beste's own argument, it is a sustained record of military defeats at the hands of the West, over hundreds of years, which has given rise to it.
The logical response to this is that Saudi Arabia will be next, but that opens up a whole host of other issues were that to happen. It is assuredly the case that if the U.S. decides to invade Saudi Arabia they will not only be going it alone but will be actively opposed by pretty much every other country on the planet, a position that no sane administration wants to be in. Besides, a logical counter-argument presents itself in the Iranian revolution, where a U.S. sponsored dictatorial regime was deposed and replaced by the current theocratic/quasi-democratic regime; while that latter regime isn't especially strong, it's proof positive that U.S. backed rulers are hardly invincible, even when opposed by those which SDB believes to be dangerous throwbacks.

This last paragraph was incisive and insightful too:

By the way, if the idea is to establish a "beacon of democracy" in the larger Muslim community --- well, there are other places we could try that. Indonesia, where we... umm... sponsored a coup. Iran where... umm... we put the Shah in power, displacing an elected prime minister who didn't like the way the West was running his oil industry. (That worked out great, huh?) Pakistan, where our current "bastard in the region" --- who's taking over that role from ummm... Saddam Hussein --- is rapidly converting himself into a military strongman. (By the by, he's also a former sponsor of Kashmiri terrorists whose disavowals of support for their current operations are less than completely convincing. And he certainly has WMD. I have a sick feeling we may be hearing more about that in the years to come). And of course, Afghanistan, where we have in the past supported, ummm... Islamic fanatics against the Soviets, and where the regime we installed just this year is hanging on by its fingernails...
Charles is right- the track record isn't that promising, and SDB's utterly consequentialist argument simply doesn't work if the consequences are even remotely in doubt.

It's somewhat disturbing that this sort of xenophobic nonsense is taking the place of real issues on the sites of people like Hesiod and Atrios, but at least it's laying bare the real argument for invasion of Iraq, and just how weak that argument is. I'm somewhat glad that Bush decided to go to the U.N. and consequently ensured that invasion would be difficult at best and most likely politically impossible, while at the same time (accidentally) prompting a new inspection regime. Now that the WMD fig leaf has been torn away, the real arguments for invasion are surfacing. With luck, they'll be seen as the ludicrous fantasies that they are, and be swept away by those sensible and realistic enough to not be caught up in them. That will be the first step towards truly insuring that Osama, dead or alive, doesn't get exactly what he wants.

Thursday, September 19, 2002

Interestingly, the exchange I mentioned in my last post wasn't the first... there has been a back-and-forth between Hesiod and SDB since at least this posting. This is causing me to wonder something... is dealing with SDB's enormous essays, Tom Clancey-esque worldview and sheer unwillingness to listen to any dissenting opinion (despite his claims otherwise) just kind of a "phase" that liberal bloggers go through before they realize that he's the political equivalent of a crank scientist and move on to more important and relevant things?

Just wondering.
Speaking of Hesiod, he's got a great excerpt of an email conversation where he plays merry hell with SDB's choplogic and simultaneously outlines where exactly the administration is right now, how Powell and the military brass were likely instrumental in getting us here, and the price Bush (and Blair) would pay now for unilateral action. (Hesiod believes that if Iraq agrees to inspections and Bush invades anyway, Blair must break off or his government will fall, which is probably substantially true. That leaves the U.S. truly alone. Scary prospect.)
It's sad, really. I know that I'm probably known as SDB's biggest and most strident critic, and I'm sure that those who have read this and see me that way are expecting a point-by point takedown or something of the like.

I mean, it's not like there's not a lot there to look at. The naive notion that what happened in Japan can be easily replicated, for example, even if the jury didn't remain out on whether the "Salaryman" culture that resulted after the war isn't in the process of meltdown. Perhaps he insane belief that deliberately erasing an ethnicity and culture is somehow not genocide (which has absolutely nothing to do with PoMo and everything to do with the difference between genocide and mass murder.) There's the absolute paranoia, borderline racism, absurd stereotyping, pathetic invocation of "political incorrectness", parroting of Raymond's anti-Islamism, incredible overreaction, and the downright evil South-American dictator style use of medical terminology to try to describe chaos, violence, and death.

Heck, even the silly "they're just jealous of our freedom" argument rears its ugly head, when time and time again arabs in the region say that they don't particular dislike the U.S. itself... just its foreign policy. (Whether that dislike is justified is quite suitable for debate, but doesn't remotely fit this "jealous" paradigm.) It's even coupled with the traditional breast-beating statements that the United States is the best country in the history of the world, "economically and technologically and militarily and even culturally", a statement of dubious validity at the very least, and abject hilarity to anybody who isn't trying to rally the faithful.

I could. Easily.


I just don't see the point. All I really get from this is a vague sense of nausea that someone could think this way, and relief that by and large most others don't. I have visions of SDB revving that motorcycle, shouting "aaayyy" right before he jumps the sharktank. I look around and see that he's reduced himself to an article of fun on Eschaton. Hesiod easily skewers it as well, making a damned good point when he calls it the "Protocols of the Elders of Mohammed". While the charges and rhetoric are different, it is still an assault on a ethnocultural group, just as anti-semitism is, and would anti-semitism be any less so if the anti-semite wasn't advocating that the jews all be killed, but forced at gunpoint to give up their religion, culture, and identity, just as Mr. Den Beste has said should be the policy of the United States? And all because 19 Al Qaeda Members flew some planes into some buildings hoping to start exactly the cultural war that SDB is calling for? Is he even aware that he's become Bin Laden's posthumous marionette?

For that matter, why is he so bloody eager to basically replicate what happened to the Native Americans?

Honestly, while I have no doubt that this particular article will play well with those who are hungry for enemies to hate, cultures to attack, and grand purposes to no doubt utterly screw up, it completely finishes him as any sort of worthwhile and objective commentator. He might as well get a contract with Newsmax, start hanging out with Ben Shapiro, and suck back the Scaife dollars. TransProg was silly and funny, but this is the end. It's beneath contempt.

Wednesday, September 18, 2002

You know, it's kind of funny... every time I think the Bush administration can't sink any lower, they pull out something like this. Picking and choosing scientists to suit their pre-determined views isn't particularly surprising on the part of the administration that dismissed an EPA report as "just something from the bureaucracy", but this goes beyond simple bias to almost, well, post-modernism.

Yeah, Bush being PoMo seems a little weird. Think about it, though. How else could you describe the actions of someone who decides that they don't like the truth they've been presented with and go shopping for a different one? The only way that's even possible and remotely justifiable is if one believes that there is no ultimate truth that can be found, and that sounds pretty damned PoMo to me. If it were that the committees and scientists in question were accused of bias that'd be different, but that simply isn't the case, and the ones that are being brought out are by no means demonstrably more fair-minded.

Bush as PoMo. Who'da thunk it?
Paul Wright Responds.

He quotes me as saying:

he showed that he hasn't the faintest clue what multilateralism is, what the point of it is, what the "coalition" term stands for in this context, what the U.N. charter says, what the U.N. does, what the role of the Security Council is, what the role of the General Assembly is, where the point of conflict is right now, what happened during the first Gulf War, or, well, anything.

All true, although it's telling that he only quoted this one paragraph.

He then responded:

Which gets it off your chest, but doesn’t answer the questions:
So you want a Coalition? Then define your terms please. After all, this is your idea:
1. How many nations? A firm number please.
2. Which nations?
3. Why not the others?
Interesting. He neatly ignored everything but that one "coalition" issue, when the response (and the article it responded to) was about the role of the U.N. in general. Why use the reductive tactic of trying to bring up coalitions over and over again? It's especially odd when you consider that he attempted to accuse me of the same thing by ignoring a ridiculous ending paragraph about supposed U.N. racism- a passage I omitted out of a sense of good taste and no small amount of empathetic embarrassment.

Still, responses in order:

1)Firm numbers are impossible- it depends on the severity of the action, the region, the countries involved... it varies from situation to situation.

2) Usually it would be a good idea to have the security council members either onboard or abstaining as they represent Great Power nations (in the case of Russia, the U.S., and China) or general regional interest (France and England). Obviously you'd want at least some regional governments onside, as they'll have to deal with the fallout of your actions most directly. The support of regional powers will make the job a lot easier as well, although it's not necessarily required. Finally, you'd want some sort of consensus in world public opinion (or at least elite opinion)... it wouldn't have to be ironclad, but it should be strong enough that the country in question couldn't be accused of unilateralism.

3.) Why not indeed? Again, it depends... some countries (like China) are hardliners on national sovereignty, so you'll never get them to agree to any sort of domestic intervention, but they'd likely abstain. Some regional powers may either publicly oppose the coalition or at least stay away from it due to their own political and strategic interests; that's to be expected. (They might back it, quietly, so as not to inflame domestic opposition). And world opinion rarely reaches an absolute consensus; there will probably always be those who oppose a particular action for one reason or another. It isn't something that can be quantified; politics is as much an art as a science, after all.

Then again, to a large extent the U.N. can and does fulfill these roles; it's a pity that Mr. Wright seems unable or unwilling to do the basic research required to understand what exactly the U.N. does and how it assists in the creation of a coalition as a diplomatic, agenda-setting, and multilateral body.

Finally, he asks what I'd consider a justifiable conflict, and asks for concise reasons. Sadly, as that's a topic that libraries of books have been written on, concise reasons are impossible for anybody who isn't satisfied with mouthing simplistic catchphrases and self-serving talking points. As blog entries are theoretically supposed to be short, I'll have to get back to him on that.
Found on Samizdata's Glossary:

noun. Derived from 'Transnational Progressive', a term popularised by John Fonte. Transnational Socialists. Not a term of endearment.
Bah. The proper word is TransProg, which summons up juuust about enough contempt for the entire concept to suit those of us who didn't self-interestedly buy into the concept of TransProg as a way of categorizing that which irks wingers.

(Interesting, though, that the new TransSoc variation shows people already slowly moving back to the pathetically obvious source of TransProg: the oft-demonized International Communism.)
Well, Iraq's offer to allow inspectors in appears to be catching the Bush administration flat footed, if this AP piece is accurate:

U.S. President George W. Bush said today the United Nations Security Council "must not be fooled" by Iraq's promise of unfettered weapons inspections. He told wavering world leaders to maintain pressure on President Saddam Hussein to disarm.

"You can't be fooled again," the president said as his administration sought to head off attempts by Saddam to rally support at the UN. Privately, Bush advisers said Saddam may be getting the upper hand in the public relations war.

Noting that Iraq has repeatedly made and broken similar pledges since the Gulf War, Bush said: "You've got to understand the nature of the regime we're dealing with. This is a man who has delayed, denied, deceived the world. For the sake of liberty and justice for all, the United Nations Security Council must act - must act in a way to hold this regime to account, must not be fooled, must be relevant to keep the peace."

The strong words came after Russia - a powerful veto-holding member of the Security Council - said a new resolution is unnecessary now that inspectors were welcomed back.
This was and is the achilles heel of the new Bush attempt to co-opt the U.N... the focus on enforcing existing security council resolutions and on WMDs can be neatly circumvented by Saddam simply saying "go ahead and bring them in". Indeed, I think that the Iraqi regime might actually be honest in their offer, because while Saddam is almost definitely intent on becoming a nuclear power, he knows that his regime is at stake here. By allowing the inspectors in, he renews the division between the U.S. (which has designs upon Iraq that only obliquely involve the WMD issue) and the U.N. (which is largely concerned with WMDs, and is hardly interested in granting the U.S. the control over world oil prices that control of Iraq would entail.) It's certainly in his own best interests.

This leaves the Bush administration in somewhat of a bind. Bush can't simply retract his reaching out to the U.N. without looking foolish, untrustworth, and erratic, so a successful return of U.N. inspectors to Iraq would preclude an invasion. Nor can he easily dismiss Iraq's latest gesture. Those lame accusations and protestations aside, there's no way that the French, Russians, or Chinese are going to dismiss Iraq's invitation of inspectors on a U.S. say-so. The best that the U.S. can hope for at this point is a new resolution- the U.N. endorsement of invasion and regime change is out of the question, unless Iraqi officials are far dumber than they've proven themselves to be up to this point.

What bothers me is that this was and is utterly predictable, and should have been anticipated well in advance by the administration. Far from being the masterstroke of politics that it has been characterized as by the media, it looks like Bush's Sept. 12 speech has just allowed Iraq an "out" that Bush can't readily deal with. Perhaps those cries of "brilliant maneuvering" were a little hasty. Instead of finally realizing its ambitions, the administration looks to be hoist by its own petard.

Monday, September 16, 2002


Josh Marshall on those who Sully the debate. He's right of course - Bush did submit to his critics, domestic and international, and it's ridiculous to pretend otherwise. That doesn't mean he's given in to a caricature of his critics being swatted around which has them being against war in Iraq under any circumstances. There are those people, of course, but they aren't the ones who are really a part of this public debate. And, sure, some people really don't think we should be going to war might be using the U.N./inspections issue as a cover. But, on the whole, most critics, from Kissinger on one end to Ritter on the other, have said we need to involve the international community, we need to push for inspections, and when all else fails perhaps war is necessary.

To paint a picture of Bush snookering his critics requires making the point that Bush himself is being dishonest - that war will happen regardless, and the rest is just show. That might be true, but it isn't exactly an impressive portrait.
Yet another reason why the guy's blog is practically my homepage nowadays.
Ok, the more time goes on the more it looks like everybody is trying to find an "out" to this international impasse over Iraq. One step in that was taken today by Saudi Arabia, which said in today'sNYTimes that:

The Saudi foreign minister indicated this weekend that his country would let the United States use its military bases in a United Nations-backed attack on Iraq, a sign that Arab nations may be dropping their resistance to an attack on Saddam Hussein.

The Saudi minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, said that if there was a Security Council resolution backing military action, all United Nations members would have to honor it. In a CNN interview from New York, first broadcast late Saturday, the prince was asked if the Saudis would make bases available to the Americans, and answered that if the United Nations warranted action, "everybody is obliged to follow through."

Prince Saud said he remained opposed in principle to the use of military force or a unilateral attack by the United States, but his remarks seemed to indicate an important shift in Saudi Arabia's posture.
There's a couple of related things here that I'd like to tease out.

First, of course, is who's saying this. The House of Saud has a bad rep in the U.S. nowadays and is obviously anxious to repair it before they're targeted themselves, but they can't look like they're just throwing over to the U.S. or they'll be seen as Bush's lapdogs by most of the Middle East. The "U.N. resolution" angle provides a perfect opportunity to them- they can look helpful to the U.S. while at the same time showing their commitment to the international system, to the U.N., to multilateralism and to the concept of "an Arab say in what's going on".

Second is the question of who's going to take credit for this thing. Some (usually neo-cons and wingers) are already saying that the international warming towards the U.S. that followed the Bush speech is due to his brilliant oration and "if you don't do what we say, you're irrelevant" posturing. To an extent this might be correct, but I think some credit is also due the critics of the unilateralism. Whether or not he was really reaching out to the body, Bush definitely gave a nod towards the importance of international action that he wasn't about to a few months ago. Even if the administration should get some credit for having rethought its position, the reality is that said rethinking is due to the critics that have already come forward. Frankly, as long as this thing end without Baghdad as rubble and Iraq littered with corpses, then I don't care who takes the credit.

Third is the question of what happens next. It would appear that Iraq is willing to let inspectors in, and that means both good things and bad things for multiple sides. It isn't surprising that they've relented; thanks to the U.S. finally getting on board with the U.N. (or vice versa), Iraq is finding itself without much in the way of support, and there never really was much support for the notion of an inspection-free Iraq in the first place, just the importance of respecting national sovereignty. If a successful inspection regime is implemented, then the Bushistas will try to take the credit and may even succeed... but there will be precious little reason to go to war with Iraq, and all the related strategic goals that would be aided by American control of Iraq will disappear. Indeed, an Iraq without WMDs is an Iraq without sanctions, and an Iraq without sanctions is an Iraq that is free to eventually rebuild itself into a regional power using conventional armaments. (Perhaps this rebuilding need not happen right away... Iraq might first rebuild its economy and then only later actually rearm when the region becomes somewhat more stable.. when the "heat dies down", so to speak.) If Saddam were wise, he would submit to the inspections now without any trouble at all and bide his time, as it would cement his presence, develop some "good will" on the part of several regimes, allow Russia to trade with Iraq without American intransigence, keep his regime intact, and frustrate American designs upon Iraq.

Of course, while Saddam isn't mad, I have severe doubts that he could be characterized as "wise".
Found over at Nick Denton's site, This:

Bush, on this day, a year ago: "We will make no distinction between those who committed these acts and those who harbor them." Osama bin Laden, Mullah Omar, Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia: they should be captured, killed or deposed by now.
and this:

Al-Shibh was caught in Karachi, which adds to evidence that the Pakistani city is now Al Qaeda's main center.
Other than the "huh?" factor in naming Abdullah (didn't the Saudis kicking out Osama and Al Qaeda start this whole damned thing?) an interesting question has arisen. To wit, why the hell are we invading and "regime changing" Iraq (however long that takes) because they might have nukes sometime in the future...

...when Pakistan is well-armed, on a hair trigger with India, and is harboring Al Qaeda, the guys who this war was originally supposed to be against?

(Well, actually, it's because Iraq is "unfinished business" for the Bush family, but it's always nice to show just how oblique it is to the war on terror itself.)
Found on Patio Pundit, a comment by one Steve Smith:

Sometimes, no comments are needed.
I don't know what's funnier... the fact that David Kreitman actually wrotethis about Oliver Willis:

Don't bother taking time to Fisk my commentary. You have a lot of football observations to make, and taking time to focus on matters of geopolitical consequence would detract from that. So call what I say spew and get back to dissecting the latest news of who threw a ball filled with air to who, and who caught it and who fumbled it. Critical stuff.
...after Oliver and Atrios tore him a new orifice over the stupid "Arabs luv Democrats" bit? The fact that he got completely bitten in the ass over the Florida med student debacle, when he posted this:

as I write this, certain adherents of the Most Peaceful Religion of Love and Happiness are being detained in South Florida where today they clearly intended to wreck death and devastation
...and never bothered to retract this vicious libel? The spectacle of an incoherent defense of invasion like this?

The fact of the matter is that there is nowhere to go in protecting the United States and the Western world from the Islamic menace if you decide there is nowhere else to go, invade, and reconfigure. Once you take a stand against moving against Iraq you cut off the military and dare I say "imperial" solution to the problem, and America becomes a pathetic, helpless bystander in Her own future and fate.

Or is it, really, the sorry sight of Instapundit actually linking to this?

Yeah, I was thinking the latter, too.