Sunday, March 30, 2003

While I'm talking about Max, I should address a claim that he and an enormous number of anti-war protestors are making, which is that the best course is to "pull our boys out". Don't get me wrong: I absolutely and totally sympathize with the sentiment and have nothing but scorn for those who attempt to invalidate them by misinterpreting the idea of patriotism (no links, except to note that it seems like the N.Z. Bear will accept advertising from rather dubious sources). I'd love for it to be that simple.

What I question is whether it really is. What happens if the U.S. military leaves? Will things really get better? Saddam will never submit to inspections again, and the entire region will get the message that the United States is weak, cowardly, and astonishingly stupid. (As opposed to the administration, which is a common mistake: the "patriotism" defense relies on that.) At this point, all that can be done is to try to improve the situation, rebuild the diplomatic ties that were torn asunder starting this war, and make sure that Rumsfeld and the armchair warriors get swiftly removed from any decision-making process for the duration of the war.

Well, that's what needs to be done at the executive level. What needs to be done at the civil level is obvious, assuming that Josh is right. Bush, the neocons, and all the rest of Osama's unwitting puppets cannot be allowed to carry out their plans for WWIII. I had said in the past that the 2002 election was one of the most important in history. I don't know if I was right yet, because they haven't been able to pass that much in the way of hard-right legislation as of yet, and I don't know what a Democratic legislature would have done in this situation. I do know, however, that the 2004 election is even more important, because the American public cannot let this happen. Even if they succeed in building their empire, it will be a betrayal of everything the Republic has ever stood for. If it fails, however, as it most likely will, the situation in Iraq is proof that American military might will not be sufficient to subjugate the entire Muslim world, and America's current allies will not support its bid for imperial glory.

Honestly, I kind of hope that Josh is wrong.
I like this!

Max on nomenclature:

The exremely attentive MaxSpeak reader will recall my universally ignored classification of the blogosphere into the right-wing Blogistan and the left-wing Blogovia.
I had missed it, but no longer! Blogovia it is!
On CNN a few minutes ago I read something about a "state-sanctioned" protest in China.

Um, state sanctioned? Does this disturb anybody else? The news about the Palestinians going to fight for Saddam was bad enough, but marrying seething nationalist masses in China with seething nationalist masses in the Middle East is probably not what Bush and Co. had in mind.

Then again, if Josh Marshall is right, maybe that was exactly the plan.

Forget laughing. At this point, Bin Laden is dancing. This couldn't have gone any better for him had he been president himself.
I like Calpundit, but he doesn't seem to realize he's answering his own question here:

I know perfectly well that Republicans have the same problem with the Christian right, but for some reason it doesn't hurt them among moderates as much as lefty extremism hurts Democrats. It's not fair, but it's a fact.
Kevin, it happens for a very simple reason, and it's you. No, really, you're a great blogger and from all accounts a great guy, but it's the truth. This kind of thing, specifically.The spectacle of center-liberals constantly and embarassingly repudiating the left is something that is completely unmatched on the right. Indeed, as I've mentioned in the past, that's one of the strengths of the right- although they don't go out of their way to associate with the loons, they don't go out of their way to repudiate them, either.

And, yes, it's the repudiation that's the problem. Take the spectrum... left to right. (A meaningless concept, but we'll stick with it for now.) Problem is, where do you divide it? Logically, in the center. Here's the problem, though... every time a so-called "liberal" distances themselves from the right, they help to shift the dividing line, as they're consciously dividing themselves from "those lefties" in the public eye (and, honestly, in their own minds.) Enough do this, and eventually the split becomes overt- a new dividing line ends up being halfway down the left side. Once this happens, of course, any commonality between the center-left and the far-left is lost, and the right in both eyes and minds enjoys a huge consensus. After all, they're still united, and can claim the support of all these "lapsed liberals" for whatever mad policy they have in mind.

Even if the liberals in question-- shocked and horrified at being used like this-- repudiate the right as well, it doesn't matter, because they've burned bridges. They're screwed, the left is divided, the far left is so paranoid and marginalized that there's no chance in hell they'll ever reconnect with their own moderates- and if they can't move to the center, they'll move farther to the left, reproducing and emphasizing the problem.

Cal responded to his critics by claiming that they're way left of the center. Possibly true, but there's three problems with that: it assumes a center positioning that Cal doesn't back up with anything other than an extraordinarily dubious political poll, it assumes that the political center is somehow static when it is demonstrably not so, and it assumes that this somehow invalidates their point of view... which is exactly the sentiment that feeds the Movementarians and divides those who would deal with them!

(It also assumes that bloggers, and their audience, are American. Not an assumption that's safe to make nowadays.)

I normally loathe "if you aren't part of the solution, you're part of the problem" rhetoric. In this case, however, and despite the estimable work of Calpundit in the past, I have to agree. This sort of thing is not just part of the problem, Kevin.... it is the problem.
Josh Micah Marshall has been writing a series of outstanding pieces on the role the civilian leadership in the U.S. has played, and has apparently got some heat for it:

PM continues to get whining messages from Bush supporters saying that this site is somehow either supporting or giving aid to the nation's enemies by pointing out the administration's mistakes. Not true. TPM is obviously no military man. But, to the extent that I had any angle on this issue, it was from interviewing current and retired career officers over the last year. Frankly, if these Bush partisans have a beef with me, they have a beef with them.

The people who have spent a year trying to make sure we didn't send our troops into battle unprepared are not the ones who are endangering our soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines.
So, let's compare and contrast. On the one side, we've got the obnoxious supporters of the same civilian leadership whose brilliant schemes led to Marines getting to eat a single meal a day. On the other hand, we have retired career officers. The latter merely point out how the civilian leadership screwed up in not letting soldiers do their job... the former use "patriotism" tactics that wouldn't be out of place in Stalinist Russia.

I honestly doubt that Josh needs to worry about losing the moral high ground here.

Friday, March 28, 2003

Just added The Agonist to the blogroll. I liked the site, but hadn't got around to adding much lately... but Sean-Paul's site is probably the best place for war news going at this point, and is incredibly important.

Edit: or maybe I didn't? What the hell is wrong with Blogger, anyway?
Well, this is a surprise... if by "is" you mean "is not". Yep, it looks like the CIA warned the Pentagon about the possibility of guerilla warfare.

Intelligence analysts warned senior Pentagon officials before the war in Iraq began that Iraqi paramilitary units would fight back and could pose a significant threat to American-led coalition forces, officials said today.

The Central Intelligence Agency issued a report last month that said that paramilitary units loyal to Saddam Hussein could threaten rear areas during an allied advance. The agency report also raised concerns about the possibility that the paramilitary forces could mount attacks against Iraqi civilians and use other irregular methods to try to tie down coalition forces.
To be fair, the same story points out that the threat of guerilla warfare wasn't being prioritized by said analysts, and that "a lot more attention was paid to the Republican Guard and to the possible use of weapons of mass destruction". Fair enough. The problem, though, is the possible political consideration:

The optimism of the political leadership at the Pentagon that Mr. Hussein's government would quickly collapse in the face of an American-led invasion may also have overridden concerns among analysts about the possibility that Iraqi forces would use guerrilla tactics.

Officials have said top Pentagon policy makers were strongly influenced in their belief that the Baghdad government was brittle by accounts from Iraqi dissident leaders who said they expected relatively little opposition to the invasion.
This might be nothing... or it might mean that said analysts were also under pressure to adhere to the accepted interpretation being put forward by the Neo-con hawks about the situation, an interpretation that was at the root of the (what would have been disasterous) plan of Rumsfeld's to send in even fewer troops, a plan that the military brass luckily (and wisely) avoided. There is certainly precedent for this: pressure to "stick to the party line" has been characteristic of the Bush administration's treatment of its economic advisors since they took power, and the Bush administration is notorious for its obsession with loyalty and disloyalty. It's also odd that this wasn't prioritized, considering how it would disrupt Rumsfeld's plans for the war... it begs the question of why it wasn't paid "a lot more attention".

Even if everything else goes according to plan, questions should be and must be raised about how this war was planned and conducted. Right now the nation is behind the soldiers, behind Bush, and behind winning this war as soon as possible. The Bush administration and its satellites would do well to remember, however, that when the war stops- the questions will start.

Welp, Perles' off the defense policy board.

Richard Perle resigned as chairman of the Defense Policy Board, an independent group that advises Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. But he will remain on the board at Rumsfeld's request.
Perle, a strong conservative advocate for the Bush administration's hard-line approach to Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, said he was resigning because "I cannot quickly or easily quell criticism of me based on errors of fact concerning my [business] activities."
I doubt this will mean much... his access to this administration and its officials isn't really limited to that policy board gig. Nor will he stop being a convenient "senior government official" for anonymous sourcing for the media, as he will retain his seat.

At best, this will simply mean he can't call journalists terrorists with quite so much ease.

Wednesday, March 26, 2003

Well, well, well! Looks like the pro-war rallies were textbook astroturfing!

The CD-smashing rally was organized by KRMD, part of Cumulus Media, a radio chain that has banned the Dixie Chicks from its playlists. Most of the pro-war demonstrations around the country have, however, been organized by stations owned by Clear Channel Communications, a behemoth based in San Antonio that controls more than 1,200 stations and increasingly dominates the airwaves.

The company claims that the demonstrations, which go under the name Rally for America, reflect the initiative of individual stations. But this is unlikely: according to Eric Boehlert, who has written revelatory articles about Clear Channel in Salon, the company is notorious — and widely hated — for its iron-fisted centralized control
Not overly surprising. In fact, it explains an awful lot. There have been numerous questions asked about how Clear Channel seems to privilege conservative commentators when it comes to syndication, despite the success in local markets of more liberal radio personalities. The questions appear to be answered: Clear Channel is currying the favor of The Movement.

...There's something happening here. What it is ain't exactly clear, but a good guess is that we're now seeing the next stage in the evolution of a new American oligarchy. As Jonathan Chait has written in The New Republic, in the Bush administration "government and business have melded into one big `us.' " On almost every aspect of domestic policy, business interests rule: "Scores of midlevel appointees . . . now oversee industries for which they once worked." We should have realized that this is a two-way street: if politicians are busy doing favors for businesses that support them, why shouldn't we expect businesses to reciprocate by doing favors for those politicians — by, for example, organizing "grass roots" rallies on their behalf?

What makes it all possible, of course, is the absence of effective watchdogs. In the Clinton years the merest hint of impropriety quickly blew up into a huge scandal; these days, the scandalmongers are more likely to go after journalists who raise questions. Anyway, don't you know there's a war on?
I imagine that Krugman knows exactly what's going on, because the spectacle of tight connections between large corporations and a party-in-government with dubious respect for democratic processes isn't exactly a new thing. He's just afraid to say it. Me, I'm just afraid to even think it.

By the way, props for the (oblique) reference with that last line. Anybody else get it?

One thing, though: when all is said and done, people are going to be pointing fingers, and nobody is better at the CYA game than the military. They will know who to blame, and it'll be the same people that are supposed to take the blame: their civilian masters. The difference, of course, is that if Cheney, Rumsfeld, Perle et al go down, the whole Movement might crash down with 'em. Leaving Lott twisting in the wind is one thing, but Cheney?
Digby on Dehumanization:

Adrian Brody, the guy nobody expected to win, came up and let himself be human and emotional --- for his win, naturally, but also because of the the nature of the role he was being rewarded for playing. He said:

“My experiences of making this film made me very aware of the sadness and the dehumanization of people at times of war,” he said. “Whatever you believe in, if it’s God or Allah, may he watch over you and let’s pray for a peaceful and swift resolution.”

Dehumanization. That’s what I’m feeling when I see the scared faces of those POW’s and the horrors of decapitated children.

This is why civilization was supposed to be beyond the superficially logical rationalizations of "preventive war" and grand global ambitions of world domination through military force. While tallying up the 20th century’s horrific body count we were supposed to have recognized that war must be a last resort in the face of NO OTHER OPTION. There can be no excuse but immediate self-defense to justify it. If Vietnam didn't teach us that, then it taught us nothing. Wars of aggression, by definition, cannot be glorious.

This war never met that test. And we have opened up Pandora’s Box.

The historians will sort out the rightness and the wrongness of the policy. But, as I was watching that glamorous telecast being held just a few miles from where I live, I could not help but be struck, once again, by the fact that we Americans are the luckiest people on the planet. I hope that we stay that way. We are good people, decent people, but we are being led astray by a leadership that is perpetrating a wrong. We simply cannot expect to remain safe and prosperous if we create a world in which it is the prerogative of one country, our country, to decide that a potential future threat is enough to justify a war. It is a dehumanizing undertaking that devalues every single one of us. It is not the America I know.
There's more, of course, and well written at that.

It's funny... I seem to have had a bad track record on this war. At first I thought that it would never happen, because Bush would never alienate the vast majority of the planet like that... nope. Then I thought that the US would probably get its resolution when it looked like it couldn't happen without said resolution... nope. France and Russia stood firm (and China... we can only speculate on how they'd react.) Then I predicted that the aftermath would be worse than the battle, which would roll right over the Iraqis. I'm wrong about the second part of that, and I wish I weren't... but now I wonder whether fourth time will be the charm, and the aftermath really will be that bad. Considering how weak Hashemite King Abdullah's position appears to be (which is bad... he's about as western-friendly an arab leader as exists right now), I wonder whether the important aspect will even be what's going on in Iraq.

If the rumors (also found at Digby's site are true about exactly how much responsibility for these problems can be laid at the neocons' feet, though, then the most important issue for Americans is exactly what should be done to these people. If Dick Cheney, Newt Gingrich and Donald Rumsfeld really have cost American and Iraqi lives through their inept and ideologically blinkered bungling, and it gets out...well, at the very least, the Bush II administration will go down in history as the worst the United States has ever seen. With luck, though, it'll also go down as a one-term presidency too. With even more luck, it'll bring down the "movementarian" conservatives once and for all, too. Considering what conservatives like Robert Novak have gone through for criticizing their Leninist apparatchik counterparts, I imagine the entire political spectrum, left and right, would be better off.

Monday, March 24, 2003

From the Agonist:
11:15 CST It does seem to me that there is a total lockdown as to casualties and the brweing fight in the southwest of Iraq. All my sources are drying up. I do have some decent ones. They have nothing. This is in response to someone in the comments. Sorry it is not reassuring.

No, Sean, it isn't. Although I have heard some more upbeat reactions, including from posters on Sean's own site, I'm starting to become very, very worried about what's really going on. Especially if the information that can be found at this site translating a russian intel site is true... it paints a picture of a war that has gone badly wrong, and a press corps that is neither allowed nor particularly eager to tell us how bad.

Still, I'll keep checking, and repeat what I wrote on Sean's own site: his site is quite possibly the most important one on the Net right now. It's data concentration, but it's damned good data concentration: the agonist has turned from a decent blog into a paradigmatic one. Ignore the yahoos over at the "command post" site that mistake editorializing for reporting... Sean's the real deal.

Sunday, March 23, 2003

For those few who probably don't already know: Sean Paul Kelley's The Agonist is, by far, the best place to go for up-to-the-minute blogged info about the war. I hadn't mentioned Sean Paul's site in this space, and should have; even before he carved out this all-important data concentration niche, it was a good read. Now, of course, he's made it indispensible.

As for my own take on this? Like I said a few days ago, I hope that it goes off without a hitch (although a few hitches have, apparently, already happened). I'm not overly surprised at the apparently ambiguous reaction of the Iraqis: some happy that the U.S. is there, some supposedly not. My biggest concern is the old movie cliche about it being "all too easy": Saddam had ages to prepare for this, and we haven't seen any chemical attacks, so what's coming? The "false surrender" technique aside, I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Other than that, and noting that the "peace blossoming throughout the mideast" theory appears unlikely by the moment, I find myself having little to contribute at the moment. Like everybody else, I'll sit, read Sean Paul's site, watch the weird conflation of propaganda and information that is CNN, and hope for the best.

Wednesday, March 19, 2003

What's to say, really? I honestly thought that war would be averted; that the price that would be paid in credibility and unity in the international system would be simply too much and, therefore, the United States would try to find a way out; especially after Bush gave that "getting rid of WMD would be a regime change" line. I certainly didn't think the invasion ultimatum of "leave or die" would be given before Blix gives his speech about inspections today; I have little doubt that a goodly number of Europeans and other non-Americans have looked at the timing and thought "what is Blix going to say"? I didn't think that Bush would proceed while his "coalition of the willing" is so effectively small and isolated that even Canada decides to oppose it: a nation that faces graver economic consequences from defying the American will than any other.

Still, here we are. At this point, as many others have stated, one can only hope that the dreams of the pro-war types come true, and that the war goes relatively easily. There's simply no other choice; a dislike for the idea or the leaders that propagate it is not worth the death of either American soldiers or Iraqi civilians. I also can do little but hope that the reconstruction goes well. After the fog of war is over and Saddam is removed, the most important question will rear its ugly head. It's the question that I can't stop thinking about and the question that is being pointedly ignored by everyone focused on this war. The simple question that says everything:

What next?

Friday, March 14, 2003

Here's an interesting bit from a poster on Atrios' Comments board:

Here's a tip from a friend of mine, whose father is a JAG (Judge Advocate General) at the Pentagon:

Watch Rummy's presscons, and see how many high brass are standing behind him at the podium.

Here's why: The higher the brass factor, the greater the amount of support for whatever Rumsfeld is pushing at the time.
Makes sense, actually; anybody who gets up on stage with the civilian leadership is associating him/herself with both that civilian and whatever policy they happen to be pushing. Choosing wrong could be a career hit, and you don't get that far up without caring about your career.

Ever since the Bushistas started pushing their PNAC-driven invasion obssession, Rummy's been lucky to get one highly embarrassed-looking general or admiral to stand beside him. When you consider that the Pentagon lives by the idea of "You don't salute the man, you salute the uniform," this is so shocking as to border on mutiny.
I really, really worry whether this invasion is going to go off as well as planned. A short, quick takeover would (most likely) lead to the least casualties on all sides, and I have little appetite for the thought of American soldiers (or Iraqi civilians, for that matter) dying for this quixotic enterprise. This is doing nothing to ease my concern.

Still, it sounds like a useful defense department rule-of-thumb. For that, at least, I'm once again glad that Atrios has the guts to put comments on his site.
So now it's doomed again?

U.S. officials in recent days have claimed, without providing evidence, that they were within striking distance of reaching the necessary nine votes on the deeply divided Security Council. But officials were noticeably gloomy today after a British compromise offered Wednesday was largely rejected by the six countries that are officially undecided.

In addition to an almost certain French veto, and the possibility of a Russian veto, officials said they were convinced they would not even achieve what they call the "moral victory" of nine votes among the council's 15 member nations.

"It looks pretty grim," one senior administration official said. Another senior U.S. official said: "There is no reason to believe positions will change today or tomorrow."
Ok, at this point I just want to know who these duelling officials are and where they work, because this is getting honestly tiring. Tiring and more than a little frightening. If the group crowing about getting their votes is proved this wrong, this quickly, then the question arises of whether the violent spinning that characterizes the Bush administration has given way to an out-and-out campaign of anonymous lying.

I can see why it would be done, too. Foreign leaders reading the U.S. newspapers or watching U.S. media would no doubt believe that things were inevitable, that they were that (conveniently unnamed) single holdout, and that if they don't go along with the U.S. they'll be solely responsible for thwarting the desires of the U.S. (with all the economic reprisals that will no doubt go along with it.)

Still, it's not a good idea. An official version of the old cop tactic of claiming that "the other guy has cracked" might be cunning strategy, but it's poor diplomacy, because if the truth comes out (or even a competing account, as has happened here) the credibility and foreign relations of the government in question are seriously damaged.

Then again, considering this:

U.S. and British officials believe that the French veto promise has made it easier for uncommitted governments to turn against the resolution since it has no chance of passage. All of them, particularly the Latin American nations and Pakistan, face widespread antiwar pressure at home.
...and considering the U.S. reaction to it-- especially if the U.S. eventually fails in getting U.N. support and Britain pulls out-- I doubt that relations are going to be too warm anyway. The idea that the anti-war stand of the French is giving other countries the nerve to stand up to the Hegemon isn't going to go over well with the empire-builders in the Executive branch, and a political hit like that will no doubt prompt very serious responses from this oh-so-politically conscious administration.

Maybe SDB isn't that far off on the prospect of a military conflict (or some kind of new extra-frosty Cold War) between France and the United States. The question, though, is who's going to openly declare hostilities. "Freedom Fries" may be only the beginning. For the sake of pretty much the entire planet, however, I hope not.

Thursday, March 13, 2003

I have nothing to add to this. Take it away, Neil:

And according to (which is, curiously enough, not an Onion parody) Congress has renamed French Fries (for people who didn't need any explanation of who Bob Monkhouse was, that's what the Americans call chips. They keep the word chips in reserve for crisps.), er, anyway, they've renamed them Freedom Fries, to signify their displeasure with their perfidious former allies. Coming soon in America: sticking your tongue in someone's mouth will be known as freedom kissing, condoms will be freedom letters, while British Actor, Coraline audio reader and the new Harry Potter, Dawn French, will, for appearances in America, be forced to change her name to Dawn Freedom. In Congress they will breakfast on Freedom toast, smear Freedom mustard on their steaks and drink, well, Californian Wine I expect.

However, at least when shown on TNT, we can assume that the film The French Connection will be shown as, simply, The Connection, and that any specific source for this connection's location will have been digitally erased.


I have very mixed feelings about Americans disliking the French. I'm English, after all. We have a special relationship with the French: we are in awe of their sophistication, their cuisine and their wines, we think their women are beautiful, we like them as individuals, we badly want to go and live in their country when we retire, while at the same time we are deeply suspicious of them. It's like having people living next door to you who may be snappier dressers and better cooks, but who, after all, borrowed the lawn mower sometime in the thirteenth century and never gave it back. Anyway, the English dislike the French. We're really good at it. We've been doing it ever since we got up one day and realised that the Norman Conquerors were now, like it or not, Us, and weren't conquering French people any more. We feel, frankly, that if anyone's going to dislike the French, it's going to be us. On the whole we manifest our dislike for them by drinking their wines, buying up their cigarettes, and, despite the fact that all English people can naturally roll their Rs and speak perfect French, declining to do so, and when forced by circumstances to speak French the English do it with an English accent on purpose.

These are tactics we've worked out over the course of hundreds of years, and if carried on long enough, they will bring France to its knees. I'm English. I know these things.

Changing the name french fries to freedom fries, on the other hand, will just make them laugh at you.
And, for that matter, everbody else.

Wednesday, March 12, 2003

Shit. The Serbian PM was assassinated.

Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, who played a key role in the overthrow of Slobodan Milosevic, has been shot dead by a sniper.

Djindjic, 50, was hit twice in the chest in front of the main government building in Belgrade at about 12:45 p.m. local time (1145 GMT) on Wednesday. He underwent emergency surgery but doctors were unable to save his life, hospital officials said...

...Officials are speculating that the shooting could be linked to a crime wave in the country and the government's efforts to stamp out crime. An emergency session of the Serbian government was convened, government officials said...

Djindjic had put himself out on a limb to meet Western demands for aid by handing over other war criminals to the Hague. His reformist pro-Western stance drew opposition from Serb nationalists and created many enemies.
This is disturbing, if all of this is related. Combined nationalism and anti-Westernism is pretty much the key explosive mixture in the world today, and Serbian nationalism has, um, a rather long and checkered history in the first place. Most people have been operating under the assumption that the key ingredient for anti-Western sentiment (and violence) was fundamentalism of one form of another, but if that's somewhat of a chimera and the true problem is nationalism, then the problem becomes (if one can believe it) even thornier, and filled with even more depressing historical precedents.

It also raises the question of whether we'll end up in a situation of dueling irrational nationalisms as a source of conflict. After all, attacks on "the West" usually mean attacks on the United States, which is in no small way nationalistic itself. That example of nationalism in a wealthy country shows that prosperity cannot serve as a balm for nationalist sentiments in the third world... but if you can't buy your way out of conflict, Thomas Friedman-style, then how exactly do you end it? After all, Serbia has already been bombed, and these are illegals.

Definitely a worrisome event.

Tuesday, March 11, 2003

Edit: but the biggest, biggest, biggest news.... feh.

Sorry about the lack of posting. Mostly, it's been because things seem to have been in a holding pattern lately; everybody is awaiting the United States' invasion of Iraq, and even domestic politics in the U.S. seem to be in a kind of loop. The biggest news in the blogosphere seems to be the "flight of the liberals", as most of the liberal hawks (most visibly Kevin Drum) rethink their support of the invasion as their confidence in Bush plummets.

The big mainstream story is seems to be the battle at the U.N. (which feels like a tempest in a teapot, as the U.S. won't stand down no matter how the vote goes), and even that news is a little odd:

The United States dropped its plans to seek a Security Council vote today on a draft resolution that would open the door to a military strike against Iraq, but the White House insisted that it would secure a vote this week even as support for its position appeared to be withering.
Perhaps I've missed something, but what exactly is the source of this confidence? Wishful thinking, or is there some kind of "secret weapon" Bush is planning to bring out? Not that the attempts to do so in the past have been overly successful, but maybe they've found something useful. Considering the (incredible to consider) castigation of U.S. intelligence by the U.N. inspectors, though, I kind of find that doubtful.

Of course, the key to understanding the U.N. vote (as everybody knows) isn't the U.S. really, it's Britain.

Britain, the United States' staunchest ally in its campaign to disarm Iraq, has begun to distance itself from the White House's insistence on confronting Baghdad with or without the United Nations' blessing. France and Russia said unequivocally on Monday that they planned to veto the draft resolution if and when a vote occurred.

While France and Russia have become familiar opponents of the United States in the Iraq debate, the possibility of a shift by Britain presages an even thornier diplomatic path ahead for the White House. Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain has come under strong domestic criticism of his support for the United States, criticism that has undermined his popularity and threatens the viability of his government.

In response, the British are now adopting a more temperate posture toward Iraq. Diplomats here say that Britain is hesitant to support military action against Iraq without United Nations backing and that it does not support the White House's advocacy of "regime change" in Baghdad to overthrow the Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
This isn't a military question, of course; the United States doesn't need the U.K. (or anybody, really) in order to invade. The problem is that without the U.K. the "coalition of the willing" is absolutely and entirely a joke, which creates diplomatic problems for the U.S. when it tries to do, well, anything else after the invasion.

Of course, just what that is is an open question.

Wednesday, March 05, 2003

Holy Crap, I knew that the Koreans had fairly long range missiles, but I didn't know they had the range to hit Alaska.

The warhead of a long-range missile test-fired by North Korea was found in the U.S. state of Alaska, a report to the National Assembly revealed yesterday.

``According to a U.S. document, the last piece of a missile warhead fired by North Korea was found in Alaska,’’ former Japanese foreign minister Taro Nakayama was quoted as saying in the report. ``Washington, as well as Tokyo, has so far underrated Pyongyang’s missile capabilities.’’

The report was the culmination of monthlong activities of the Assembly’s overseas delegation to five countries over the North Korean nuclear crisis. The Assembly dispatched groups of lawmakers to the United States, Japan, China, Russia and European Union last month to collect information and opinions on the international issue.
So, it would appear that at least one member of the Axis of evil has the capability to threaten the territorial United States...

and it ain't the one that Bush is going to war with. The one that he's going to war with is the one that is least likely to pose a threat, but most likely to have horrible side effects. Yes, they could threaten to attack North Korea and the bombers that are being sent over are undoubtedly a message to that effect, but with the commitment in Iraq looking bigger by the day, they know that's an empty threat.

Just think, though; this is all thanks to David Frum and the "Axis of Evil" remark, because the North Koreans would probably have sit back and let the U.S. go harass someone else (read: the arabs) were they not identified as "evil" and identified with a regime that the U.S. is obsessed with (the Iraqis) thanks to Frum. His poor mother must be spinning so fast she could be hooked up to a generator and power New York state.

Gad. Upon looking at the page, I've noticed more than a few typos and the like. If you notice editing in several of my previous entries, that's why.
A fine rant by Atrios:

Christians are great. Devout Christians are great. Devout fundamentalist Christians are great. Devout evangelical Christians who are light on the evangelical are fine. Theocrats are not. People shoving their religious beliefs down my throat, giving me no respect for mine, and wishing to put religion into the public schools are not fine. People who would rather violate federal anti-dscrimination regulations than receive federal funding are not fine. People whose sick beliefs make them want to inflict torture on others by attempting to "cure" young gay and lesbian kids in "conversion camps" are not fine.
On a related note, the creators of "The Shield" have demonstrated a LOT of guts by incorporating a "curing homosexuality" plotline into the show. No matter how it comes out, it's guaranteed to offend somebody: if it works, gay advocacy groups will go ballistic, and if it doesn't work the theocratic (or overly wishful) elements within the Christian right will no doubt do the same. They had to have known, and demonstrated a lot of bravery in deciding to do the plotline anyway. Honestly it's that bravery, not the corruption or violence or whatnot, that makes me like that show so much.
Um, wow. I had mentioned that Atrios was big now, but according to the new 'n improved N.Z. Bear ecosystem, he's the third highest blogger (in terms of inbound links) on the internet. Here's the top twenty:

Higher Beings
1. Instapundit (759) details
2. Eric Alterman (634) details
3. Eschaton (Atrios) (398) details
4. Andrew Sullivan (367) details

5. USS Clueless (366) details
6. James Lileks (354) details
7. TAPPED (353) details
8. Little Green Footballs (345) details
9. The Volokh Conspiracy (341) details
10. Joshua Marshall (315) details

Mortal Humans
11. CalPundit (292) details
12. MaxSpeak (288) details
13. Stephen Green (278) details
14. Daily Kos (274) details
15. The Truth Laid Bear (272) details ** WMDI **
16. The Weigh In (269) details
17. Tim Blair (267) details
18. Rittenhouse Review (263) details
19. Cold Fury (252) details
20. Asymmetrical Information (249) details
Notice something? The bolded text up top? Your eyes aren't deceiving you: Eric Alterman is second, Atrios is third, and both are beating (excuse my language) ANDREW F***ING SULLIVAN, who was until recently second only to Instazilla in popularity and easily outstripped him in notoriety.

As for me? I come in at 71, which makes me a "Marauding Marsupial" and, oddly enough, places me one spot ahead of the Media Horse itself, which kind of bothers me. (It also places me healthily ahead of Mickey Kaus, which doesn't.)

Anyway, props to Alterman and Atrios.
I imagine a fair number of people are wondering why I haven't been updating so much recently (or at least haven't been updating regularly.) Partially it's been because I've either been somewhere without access to a computer, partially it's because everything seems to be in a holding pattern politically until the war starts, but a lot of it is because every time I think of something worthwhile to say, somebody else has already said it. (The situation that prompted my starting this blog- the paucity of good liberal commentary- has largely abated, and the long prophecised "liberal instapundit" has apparently come to be.)

Case in Point?Max Sawicky's excellent entry about "the new and bizarre phenomenon of American philo-semitism"; where Israel and world Jewry are identified as one and the same thing. Max is closer to the issue than I am (being both Jewish and more than a little disturbed at the charges of "anti-semitism" aimed at those who are, like himself, against invading Iraq) and has nailed a lot of the problems that made me slightly uncomfortable about this and him palpably angry. The latest target is the Catholic church, and it's perhaps predictable that the locus for this is Instapundit, who never saw an insult against principled opposition to war that he didn't like.

Here's a piece:

One blogger, no shiksa she, offers a potted history of Vatican/Israeli relations. The problem with this catalogue, broadly speaking, is that it demands that the Vatican state be a light unto the nations. In other contexts, this has been recognized as unfair, hence discriminatory. After all, the U.S. government itself, not to mention Israel, has trucked with all manner of fascist and neo-Nazi swine through the decades.

I've previously noted the new and bizarre phenomenon of American philo-semitism. In the philo-semitic world view, the Israelis are like Jackie Robinson or Colin Powell. They are remarkable and super-tough, like the Terminator (the good Terminator). They will do the dirty work because they love America. Like Tonto loved the Lone Ranger. Come the apocalypse, the Jews will all become Christians, the ultimate act of devotion.

In the philo-semitic universe, Israel and world Jewry are one. The Jewish state is the vessel of world Jewry. Zionism is our universal ideology. As that noted Talmudic scholar George Will once said, surveying the furniture on his front lawn, "Israel holds just one one-thousandth of the world's population, but holds all the hopes for the continuation of the Jewish experience as a portion of the human narrative."

You see, philo-semitism has some similarities with anti-semitism. In both views, Jews are identified as a narrow undifferentiated whole embodied in one tiny country that has lots of sand. It would not be a stretch, in this light, to suggest that Jews' first loyalty is to their mythical 'homeland.' (Note, a refuge is not necessarily the same as a homeland.) In fact, Jewish experience is very diverse -- dare I say it, multi-cultural? There are different ethnicities, languages, cultures, and varieties of religious thought (two Jews, three opinions). In our local deli, there is some god-awful thing called 'schwarmerei.' I never saw that stuff in Washington Heights.
Aside from an enduring curiosity about what "schwarmerei" is, Max pretty much sums up my thoughts, which has been happening far too much recently. The discussion is great, too, if more than a little disturbing, as this piece by Tom Walker illustrates:

The thing is, one can understand Ariel Sharon's psychosis when one encounters the philo-semitism of Will, Reynolds and their ilk. Sharon harbours no illusions about what lies beneath such professed "friendship". Hence the utter ruthlessness -- Sharon's determination to use the Christian right as means to HIS ends.

I have a friend who regularly goes apocalyptic on the theme of how the turd blossom establishment will revert to an anti-semitism of the more strenuous early-20th century kind when the going gets really, really rough. One day we can expect to see George Will patiently explaining in the New Christian Völkischer Beobachter how the treacherous Wolfowitzs, Kristols, Frums AND THEIR SWARTHY ZIONIST, COMMUNIST, WALL STREEET BRETHREN got us into this mess.
I don't see Sharon as psychotic and Tom would have better made the point if he had left that out, but it's a worrisome thought; the movement neocons have shown that they're willing to embrace or abandon whomever or whatever it takes to maintain power, and while charges of anti-semitism are often levelled at the left, it's worthwhile to remember that it is the extreme right that is historically connected with it.

(I had run across mention of a study that contrasted the broad anti-semitism that is found in some of the more reactionary right against the anti-Israelism that is present in the hard left, but having no link, I sadly can't offer proof.)

This prompts a thought, though. If the Arabs ever did embrace Israel (or at least accept it), enough so that the U.S. didn't see the necessity of handing over the vast amounts of foreign and military aid that they certainly are, then is it possible that the middle east itself might become a new global power to rival the U.S.? Israel is (as is often belabored) a modern and extremely advanced democracy whose citizenry can be counted among the best and brightest in the world, and the resources in manpower and energy that could be brought to bear by the region are awesome to contemplate. If Bush's scheme to "let democracy bloom" actually succeeds and the region becomes modern and democratic, there's no reason to believe it would be see itself as a client to the United States. Indeed, considering the endemic nationalism in the region, that seems unlikely.

It's perhaps an unlikely prospect, but could the United States be in the process of building its greatest rival?

Sunday, March 02, 2003

Absolutely brutal indictment of blogging, memes, academia and a whole series of other related topics at Gimle.

Here's the bit about blogs:

Weblogs are prime territory for this kind of simplistic mental ooze. Memes—thought infections—which crawl, burrow, drill and scratch their way from weblog to weblog, the prime infection vectors being the so-called “A-list” webloggers.

Topics are covered and then dismissed with a short paragraph and a link.

Debate consists of short volleys of 80 word meme brain-boils where the thought-virus biomass simmers under the thin skin of comments and trackbacks. Everything can be categorised.

The meme-plague is the only thing which can destroy the weblogging revolution, murder it in its tracks.

Everybody speaks the same, in the same way, about the same thing, with little to no variation. We could easily turn into the lightspeed version of the same unsubstantiated bullshit of postmodern academia, shedding even the pretense of giving ideas space and scope for discussion.

What killed the author and poisoned academia is trying to return through the violated corpses of a horde of ’blogger-zombies spouting inane commentary on the links of the day.

We aren’t there yet. There is still a critical mass of well-structured debate and good writing within the “blogosphere”.

But as the popularity of weblogging increases, the number of meme-victims will rise and the blogdex top fifty will not only describe the fifty most popular subjects amongst webloggers…

It will describe the only subjects.

Concentrated Viral Refuse.

And the weblogging meme will eat its own.
Personally (and unsurprisingly) I find this a little extreme, and am a little skeptical that the problems of a relatively long-form medium (such as the academic paper) are tracably similar to the problems of the extreme short-form medium of blogging, but it (and the rest of the article) contains interesting ideas to chew on.

Even if I think Bjarnason is dead wrong about Campbell.
Excellent entry by Hesiod about Hussein Kamal and whether or not he actually said what the Bush administration alleges he said.
Well well well... it looks like the Bush administration is going all out to win this UN vote, and I mean all out:

The United States is conducting a secret 'dirty tricks' campaign against UN Security Council delegations in New York as part of its battle to win votes in favour of war against Iraq.
Details of the aggressive surveillance operation, which involves interception of the home and office telephones and the emails of UN delegates in New York, are revealed in a document leaked to The Observer.

The disclosures were made in a memorandum written by a top official at the National Security Agency - the US body which intercepts communications around the world - and circulated to both senior agents in his organisation and to a friendly foreign intelligence agency asking for its input...

...The leaked memorandum makes clear that the target of the heightened surveillance efforts are the delegations from Angola, Cameroon, Chile, Mexico, Guinea and Pakistan at the UN headquarters in New York - the so-called 'Middle Six' delegations whose votes are being fought over by the pro-war party, led by the US and Britain, and the party arguing for more time for UN inspections, led by France, China and Russia.

The memo is directed at senior NSA officials and advises them that the agency is 'mounting a surge' aimed at gleaning information not only on how delegations on the Security Council will vote on any second resolution on Iraq, but also 'policies', 'negotiating positions', 'alliances' and 'dependencies' - the 'whole gamut of information that could give US policymakers an edge in obtaining results favourable to US goals or to head off surprises'...

...Disclosure of the US operation comes in the week that Blix will make what many expect to be his final report to the Security Council.

It also comes amid increasingly threatening noises from the US towards undecided countries on the Security Council who have been warned of the unpleasant economic consequences of standing up to the US.

Sources in Washington familiar with the operation said last week that there had been a division among Bush administration officials over whether to pursue such a high-intensity surveillance campaign with some warning of the serious consequences of discovery.
Now, this is the Observer, so it's inevitable that warhawks will likely respond that this is a fake of some sort.

(Well, assuming they don't go off on some McCarthyite rant about how disapproval of using whatever means are necessary to get rid of Saddam is unpatriotic, "objectively pro-Saddam", or whatever.)

The Observer anticipated this, and does go to some lengths to try to assure readers that it is indeed legitimate. Still, there's a problem. The date format and spelling of the quoted memo are British, not American, raising questions about why an American email would include U.K. English. The email quotation has an addendum that says that it was for the benefit of the British audience, and that's quite possible, but it does raise the question about whether this is spin control. This question of veracity left hanging means the email probably won't make much difference; countries and individuals that were inclined to distrust the U.S. will continue to do so, and countries and individuals that were inclined to trust the U.S. will continue to do so as well. (Essentially the U.S. citizenry and the Brits in the latter group, and everyone else in the former; but Bush doesn't listen to the former, so it washes out.)

Personally, I find it unsurprising, but I'm intrigued by the question it poses: why is the Bush adminstration so afraid about their ability to make the case using reason and evidence-- to audiences that aren't pre-disposed to agreeing anyway-- that they feel the need to pull these sorts of shenanigans? How badly did the round condemnation and dismissal of the Powell report and the British dossier hurt them, anyway?