Sunday, August 31, 2003

Ezra Klein wrote an interesting response to one of my earlier posts about attacking China. His contention (sorry for boiling it down, Ezra) is that the U.S. should do what it can, and there's no way it can attack China, so it shouldn't worry too much about not doing so. This is fair enough, and actually a point I acknowledge.

The point, however, was not to actually advocate doing something about China, it was to point out that the "Humanitarian angle" isn't really enough to justify the invasion of a functioning state by the United States. The humanitarian point is there, but due to a number of reasons, it needs to be accompanied by something else. That "something else" can be national security, it can be multilateral consensus (especially from collective agreements like the U.N. charter), it can be the need to create order in a failed or collapsed state, and, yes, it can even be oil. Humanitarianism is a factor, but barring extreme circumstances such as genocide (which are covered under the U.N. charter, and therefore fit into that "multilateral consensus" bit), it cannot be the only one.

One other thing. Ezra says "this is an unreasoning standard to hold a human being to". Ezra, we're not talking about human beings. We're talking about states. It is most emphatically not the same thing, and I truly dislike those sorts of analogies. Among other things, they were popular among South American "security states" as an excuse to liquidate dissidents. Considering the attitude towards dissent that still exists in the United States just now, I'd like to avoid bodily analogies wherever possible. Once that "dissent=cancer" meme starts flying around, really really bad things happen.

Jesse makes a good point in the comment section for Ezra's blog too- the Iraqi adventure has weakened American abilities to make a difference all around the globe, including areas like Western Africa which by and large make sanctions-era Iraq look like paradise. If the Liberians are driven further into chaos because of the "freeing of the Iraqis", then whose fault is that, exactly? Their own? Bush's? The American people's? The world's? Nobody's?

(For the record, though, I don't think Socrates should have drank the hemlock.)
By the way, comments are down because YACCS is down. They said it should be back up after the weekend.
Looks like one of the posts I wrote a while ago has attracted some attention... from Lying in Ponds, who was the subject of the post, and (oddly enough) from Good old Donald Luskin, who never misses an opportunity to take a shot at Krugman supporters.

(A.k.a. supporters of people who know economics against people who don't.)

Luskin's attack is relatively mild and incoherent, focusing mostly on how much he loves Lying in Ponds' work and the fact that Krugman likes the name of my blog. The substantive points comes from Lying in Pond's more reasoned response:

In the comments to that post, Demosthenes carries on the discussion with Markus, who had previously offered his opinion about Lying in Ponds on his own Dormouse Dreaming weblog (scroll down). Demosthenes reiterates the point that "Bush is a natural target because he's the president, and LiP ignores that aspect of Krugman's critique of his methods . .". Since that hypothesis comes up so frequently, I thought it would be useful to delve into it -- we can try to remove Mr. Krugman's treatment of George W. Bush from the data and see how that would change his partisanship score.
What he found was relatively predictable:

I'll be looking only at the Total Partisanship Index, which makes up half of the final Combined Partisanship Index, because recalculating the other half, the Median Partisanship Index is a lot more difficult, and shouldn't change the results much. The results are shown in the table below. If one removes every direct Bush reference from consideration ("Bush", "Bush administration", "George W. Bush", "President Bush", "George Bush", "Bushies", etc.), there still would be enough remaining negative references to the "administration", Dick Cheney, etc. so that Mr. Krugman's total partisanship score would drop only from 74 to 73, second only to Ann Coulter out of our 32 active pundits.

Well, what if we also remove all administration references which don't include the Bush name directly, such as "administration", "White House", "the president", and other members of the administration such as Dick Cheney and Karl Rove? Even then, there would be enough remaining negative references to Tom DeLay, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and generic references to "Republicans" so that Mr. Krugman's score would drop only to 53, still good enough for 8th place behind Mona Charen. In fact, even if every single Republican reference of any kind is ignored in Mr. Krugman's 2003 columns, his favorable treatment of Democrats alone would make his score 54, again earning him 8th place in total partisanship among the 32 active pundits!
As I've said before, the problem here is operationalizing the concept of "partisanship". The conflict between Jesse of Pandagon and Lying in Ponds was over the definition of the term, and the fact that the confusion between ideology and partisanship often exists shows how difficult it is to nail down exactly what "partisan" means, let alone how to translate it into numbers.

It's especially difficult now, because we've witness at least one party develop an increasingly ideological bent to its partisanship. It's pretty obvious that Republican partisanship is becoming intertwined with a particular ideology. This has actually become a source of difficulties for Bush, as he's actually having trouble with his Congressional brethren for being more wedded to that ideology than he is. While I suspect that at least part of that is a good cop/bad cop game, it's not something I'd bet the farm bill on.

That points to one of the weaknesses of LiP's technique, and of what Luskin calls LiP's "crusade against partisanship". LiP seems to acknowledge that the President is a natural target, and if one removes the president, things should balance out. Fine. Unfortunately, LiP is working with a woefully short and misleading data set. Congress has been dominated by Republicans since 1994, long before Krugman wrote his column, and a quick perusal of his other materials shows that he's perfectly willing to attack Democrats too. Right now, however, the Republicans are the ones with pretty much all the power, and it is with that recognition that Krugman has set his sights on the Republicans, rather than the Democrats. If the Democrats had controlled Congress and had passed the Farm Bill (which is a distinct possibility) rather than the Republicans, they would have been the targets. Indeed, the Republicans wield an unusual amount of power right now, thanks to their coordination and effective management of partisan and ideological propaganda. If LiP used its tools on the Slate columns, it may come up with a different answer.

Or, perhaps not. Krugman's initial response was quite simple and, as I've said before, quite devastating. He contends that the policies of the Republicans (both administrative and congressional) have been almost universally bad ones and that Democratic proposals are at least somewhat better. While that claim is debatable, it is not one that LiP's methodology is equipped to measure. It points to the problem of measuring innately qualitative data like political debate, critique, and commentary with quantitative methods. There are a huge number of interrelated factors that affect the legitimacy of a political critique- they either can't be measured easily with numbers, or require methodology much more complex than LiP's simple relative scoring system. As Krugman has said, and as I've said, if that system cannot take into account these factors, then it's dangerously misleading.

(You can't "control" Krugman with other columnists, either, because they aren't neutral. Indeed, if the contentions of myself and others (especially MWO) are correct, then they don't balance out to neutrality either... they trend towards pro-Bush, because of fears of loss of access and the reality of outside factors clouding their judgement. You also point at his being "pro-Democrat" by looking at the Dem's relatively positive treatment in the columns, as LiP tries to, because removing the Republicans as a variable doesn't remove their role as a factor in how he discusses Democrats and the relative attention provided to both.)

If you want to understand Krugman now, look at his past. The books and Slate columns were both equal opportunity criticism, and the NYT column was as well until Bush's bad policy and egregious lies to the American people began with his phony tax cut plans. Then he started criticizing Bush, and when Bush became president and continued to push bad policy and to (at the very least) mislead the American people, he continued to point out both, even when nobody else had the guts. Yes, he does criticize Bush and the Republicans a lot. The question is not whether that makes him partisan, but whether they deserve it. When Helen Thomas (a person in a position to know) calls Bush "the worst president in history", I think it's pretty justifiable, and unless one is preciously naive enough to believe that doesn't have something to do with Congressional Republicans, they're fair game too.

Sorry, LiP, but I don't buy it, or the "maybe he's partisan but he's right" bit that you ended the post with. His pre-NYT works don't support that, and pseudo-psychological attempts to explain the shift from all-around critic to anti-Republican critic are blasted in the face of one key fact: he didn't change, Washington changed. I, for one, hope that it'll change back, and that Paul can go back to criticizing those on all sides. Right now, though, the Repubs are the biggest threat, and I can understand his desire to train his guns on them.

Thursday, August 28, 2003

Found on CalPundit, a quote from an LA Times article that I really liked:

"We were prisoners of our own beliefs," said a senior U.S. weapons expert who recently returned from a stint with the survey group. "We said Saddam Hussein was a master of denial and deception. Then when we couldn't find anything, we said that proved it, instead of questioning our own assumptions."
Hence the problem with the type of reasoning made for the war that I highlighted way back before the war started: arguing that Saddam is "breaking U.N. resolutions on WMD" by "deceiving inspectors to hide his weapons" requires you to assume that, um, he actually has the weapons in the first place.

Otherwise the only thing you've caught Saddam with is screwing up paperwork, and invasion based on that rationale is ludicrous. Might as well invade the DMV.

Wednesday, August 27, 2003

Thomas Friedman is almost making sense today.

He's talking about all the different elements necessary to build a new Iraq, and seems to finally be coming around on the question of Iraqi sovereignty:

And that leads to the third point: we need to get the 25-person Iraqi Governing Council to do three things — now. It must name a cabinet, so Iraqis are running every ministry; announce a 300,000-person jobs program, so people see some tangible benefits delivered by their own government; and offer to immediately rehire any Iraqi Army soldier who wants to serve in the new army, as long as he was not involved in Saddam's crimes. It was a huge — huge — mistake to disband the Iraqi Army and put all those unemployed soldiers on the streets, without enough U.S. troops to take their place.

Together, all of this would put much more of an Iraqi face on the government and security apparatus, and begin to reclaim the mantle of Iraqi nationalism for the new government, taking it away from Saddam loyalists — who are trying to make a comeback under the phony banner of liberating Iraq from foreign occupation.

Again, I have to repeat the dictum of Harvard's president, Larry Summers: "In the history of the world, no one has ever washed a rented car." Most Iraqis still feel they are renting their own country — first from Saddam and now from us. They have to be given ownership. If the Bush team is ready to put in the time, energy and money to make that happen — great. But if not, it's going to have to make the necessary compromises to bring in the U.N. and the international community to help.
There's a fundamental problem here, though. It's not about Iraqi faces, but Iraqi choices- not about the appearance of sovereignty, but the reality of it. What needs to happen is that the Americans must give the Iraqis the choice to do what they see fit, not just to do what the Americans say they "need to learn to do".

Yes, this isn't absolute. There should be allowances for the possibility of a relatively small or extremist group taking control of a more popular process (as happened when the theocrats took over after the Iranian revolution), and the United States should act to prevent that to the extent that Iraqi sovereignty allows.

The important thing here, however, is that Iraqi must find its own path There is absolutely no doubt that said path will not be the path America took or that Americans would take in their place. That doesn't matter. It is not a question of turning the Iraqis into Americans; that would be disasterous. It's about Iraq becoming that rarest of creatures: a state with a government of the people, by the people, for the people. Not for Americans. For Iraqis.
Kevin Drum noticed an interesting story in Bruce Schneier's Beyond Fear:

Nokia spends about a hundred times more money per phone on battery security than on communications security. The security system senses when a consumer uses a third-party battery and switches the phone into maximum power-consumption mode; the point is to ensure that consumers buy only Nokia batteries.

Tuesday, August 26, 2003

Jesse and David Neiwert ask a relatively simple question... if we're attacking countries that brutalize their people, invade other countries, have WMDs and are big regional threats, then shouldn't the U.S. be invading China right now?

David points out that "the point of this exercise, of course, is not to actually argue for war with China. Rather, it's to point out the utter shallowness of the case being presented for our invasion of Iraq." This is entirely true, but it shows that absent the morally dubious "low hanging fruit" argument that both misrepresents Iraq and ignores even the even lower hanging fruit of the failed African states, the whole thing is built on a foundation of sand.

My point when addressing this issue was that it forces the United States to choose between countries to save and makes it morally responsible for the welfare of the people it didn't save, by definition. Jesse makes the critique just as well.

It'd also make one hell of a Socratic dialogue:

(Socrates and a Greek Student enter)

Socrates: It is inexcusable to allow people to suffer, is it not, if one has the power to prevent it?

Greek Student: Definitely, Socrates.

Socrates: And it is necessary to act to stop threats from the global peace, or the suffering will increase even further, as others fall under the sway of evil dictators. Is this not true?

Greek: It is true, Socrates.

Socrates: Indeed. Power implies responsibility, as those with power must use it to benefit the state, the people, and the world, and protect them from threats. Is this not true?

Greek: It is definitely true, Socrates.

Socrates: And one of these threats are the terrible doomsday weapons that plague humanity, that should not be allowed to fall in the hands of dictators.

Greek: They should definitely not, Socrates.

Socrates: And the United States is currently the most powerful state in the world?

Greek: Indubitably, Socrates.

Socrates: Thus it has this responsibility?

Greek: Absolutely, Socrates.

Socrates: Indeed. Americans are free and prosperous, and benefit from the best government in the world. Much better than, say, the people of China. They suffer terribly, do they not?

Greek: Terribly, Socrates. More than any other people.

Socrates: The government of China also threatens those around it with a powerful army and an array of these terrible doomsday weapons that resists any foe, even the Americans. It has conquered Tibet, and threatens to conquer others. The Americans, however, protect and aid their neighbours- like the Canadians and Mexicans, and have pledged to aid others if they should need it, like the Japanese. The United States is therefore much more suited for stewardship, is it not?

Greek: It is surely better, Socrates

Socrates: How much better it is that the United States exists, as it has pledged to protect the world from evil, which the oppressive Chinese would never do.

Greek: The world is indeed lucky, Socrates.

Socrates: Yet if this is the case, the United States is doomed, and the world must suffer! The Chinese are all the things that Americans abhor: a danger to its neighbours due to its army, a possessor of doomsday devices that could harm both Americans and the world, and a country that oppresses its people more than any other. For the United States, there is no higher calling than to immediately declare war on China, yet such a war would surely destroy the United States as much as China! Then the world would lose its steward and its guiding light, as the United States would have ceased to be! The world would be plunged into darkness! The United States cannot be the worlds steward, for such a role will doom both it and the world once the United States is forced to fight a war it cannot win!

This shows the hubris of trying to be the world's protector; it is an attempt to usurp the power of the Gods, as only the Gods are strong enough and wise enough to protect the world. Even the purest, noblest, more powerful earthly body will sooner or later fall under the weight of its nobility, for they are men, and not Gods.

Greek: You are indeed wise, Socrates. Now let's go score some Souvlaki.

Socrates: I am naught but a fool, but I'm a hungry fool. So let us go.


Need to tighten it up, but you get the idea.

Edit: Fixed spelling of "Exeunt". Credit goes out to Ed Fitzgerald for catching it.

Another Edit: Also closed HTML.
In response to the moderate left post mentioned below, Dwight Meredith has ferreted out an odd example of a right-wing commentator, Maggie Gallagher, unwittingly supporting his point:

While I agree that the threat of terrorism will be a large issue, the elephant in the room is that a conservative like Gallagher thinks that the politics of the Iraq war have shifted so far that it will not be a major political plus for the President.

It was not long ago that our Republican friends were assuring us that the war was the one and only issue that mattered for 2004. The war, the argument went, placed the Democrats against the views of the American people and assured Mr. Bush’s reelection.

Now a conservative partisan like Maggie Gallagher does not think the war is even on the short list of important issues.

Her parenthetical comment of “give it up, Dean” is remarkable. That comment suggests that Gallagher thinks that Dean, not Bush, is the political aggressor on the war. Thus, the question is whether Dean and not Bush can make political hay from the war. It is difficult to overstate the political importance of that shift.

On the issue of terrorism, who will be on offense and who on defense? Gallagher says that “we are vulnerable, and we know it.” Whose job has it been to eliminate the vulnerabilities? Who failed to provide funding for the first responders? Who plays footsie with the country that spawns, funds and supports the terrorists?
Well, first, I need to remind Dwight that publicly attacking Saudi Arabia is a bad idea. It ticks off the Saudis, for one, but worse than that is that makes them look even more like American clients to their neighbours. This makes it singularly unlikely to cause the House of Saud to back away from the policies that harm American interests in the first place, because they can't afford to look like clients or Osama will be able to exploit it to gain thousands of new followers. Their hands will be tied, whether they want to change or not. Saudi Arabia is a case where quiet diplomatic pressure must be the instrument of the day, unless one wants to spark a civil war in one of the most economically important countries in the world. Reform must happen, yes, but like many things in politics it must be a process of evolution, not revolution.

(Regular readers will no doubt remember the disdain I have for revolutions, both as rhetorical tools and political ones.)

This is why Saudi is a "tar baby" issue... attempts to attack the Republicans from the right will not only create instability, but lock the candidate into a position that is strategically and diplomatically foolish.

Anyway, on to the main point. Dwight's right that the war will likely be backburnered unless it turns around dramatically. The news out of Britain is extremely harsh and embarassing to Blair's government, and while Bush enjoys more power than Blair, attacks on Blair have already spilled over and will no doubt continue to do so. There is no foreseeable way that the troops will be pulled from Iraq before the next election, unless Bush is willing to risk the spectacle of a disintegrated Iraq as a backdrop to his election campaign. This is unlikely, as Afghanistan is probably going to present him with enough cries about America's very own
"failed state". Internationalization is unlikely in Iraq, so it's the U.S. or nothing, and the U.S. can't muster up enough troops to pacify the areas of the country whose stability weakens daily. Convenient theories aside, I honestly doubt it's the Iraqi attackers that are "desperate" here. Bush's best hope is that the news cycle focuses on something else besides Iraq, and will likely do so if Bush starts refocusing on the real war on terror. Considering his only remaining high scores are on the WoT, he'd be an idiot not to.

Thus we get to the unofficial campaign theme of Bush/Cheney 2004. Ready for it? Here it comes:

"Vote for me or die screaming".

That's what it comes down to. Many stories I've read around the net have emphasized that the "security moms" galvanized by 9/11 continue to support Bush because they're deathly afraid that if Bush isn't there they'll be horribly killed in a terrorist attack. Attempts to say "Bush has nothing to do with the lack of attacks, and is endangering the country" will be met with blank stares and insistence that the lack of attacks is precisely due to Bush's "effective fighting of the war on terror and protecting Americn security"-- even if they can't precisely figure out what it is that he's done. President as placebo.

Bush and his advisors know about American politics. They know that presidents get the credit and the blame for things out of their control unless they're very careful, know that even the least complex critiques against the president will be ignored by those who need to believe that they're safe, know how to exploit events for their own benefit, and (most importantly) know how to whitewash brutal claims such as the one above in more comforting terms, even if all involved know exactly what's going on. Bush and the rolling re-election squad would never say "support me or Osama will dance on your bones", but they will talk about Bush's "commitment to security", about "the fight to win the war on terror" and the Democrats' "inexperience in security issues" and "weakness on terrorism".

Look at how Bush speaks. Whenever he paints things in good vs. evil terms, it's intentionally chosen not simply because he sees the world in such terms (although he likely does), but because it's comforting and threatening at the same time: comforting because the side of "good" that supports him can feel confident that what they're doing and what he's doing for them is right, proper, and just... and threatening because although he promises victory, the act of painting the opposition as a primal, Satanic evil makes them seem more powerful, more dangerous, and more difficult to defeat than they would be otherwise. Good will triumph over evil; evil still must remain powerful, and can devour those who stray from the flock. Both America and its enemies become seemingly wiser, more dangerous, and more powerful than they really are.

This is how Bush thinks he will win... through fear.It's not new, and it's perhaps inevitable in the wake of 9/11, but it should be understood nonetheness.

Monday, August 25, 2003

Great Piece by Jeff Fecke:

Before the war, the righty blogs had all the mojo. Reading Insty or Lileks or Mitch Berg's site was fun, because they were so damn giddy. They knew they had the momentum, they knew the big issue of the day favored them, and they were joyous.

Meanwhile, the lefty blogs were either dispairing or furious or, in my case (and a few more notable cases, like TPM), circumspect. The left knew we were on the wrong side of the White House door, and while not all of us opposed the war outright, most all of us were leery, to say the least, at the way the war was sold and prosecuted.

Fast-forward six months, and look around. Kos is at the top of his game, Josh Marshall is witty as Hell, Pandagon has found his voice, Atrios rules, and...well, pretty much any lefty blog you stumble into is sweetness and light, while righty sites grumble about media coverage and why people don't see things like they do.

And I realize something: We've got the mojo now...
I had been noticing this too, although mostly in the context of increased liberal blog hit counts and the fact that Dean's campaign is at least partially blog-driven. He has a warning, though:

We must guard against hubris. I don't think that's going to be hard to do. If the ego hasn't been kicked out of the Democrats in the last four years, it never will be. We have to scrap and fight like the future of the world depends on how we do--because it does. We must never stop working, never stop trying, never stop doing.

But we have the advantage, my friends. If we move together, for once, we can leverage that advantage into victory in 2004, and whether the person being cheered is Howard Dean or Wesley Clark or Dennis Kucinich, I'll be cheering loud and proud.
I find Kucinich unlikely, but not the other two, and people are going to pay attention to the liberal blog scene more than they have before.

(Yeah, this conflicts with Max's post below. Maybe it's my own blog fatigue talking.)

(Thanks to Ezra Klein for pointing this out, and remember: Flood the Zone!)
Max is hit with some blogger fatigue:

IN THE VALLEY OF FATIGUE, blogospherically speaking, is where I've been. At work I've been busy trying to fry some bigger fish.

"A hurricane in a drop of water" is a memorable phrase used by an old and dead communist named Max Shachtman to describe arcane internecine squabbles within the relatively tiny American left. The so-called blogosphere looks a lot like that. Scores of pissing matches, some entertaining, some informative, and others not. But in general they are starting to bore me. I wonder if they matter at all.

The drop of water analogy seems apt, when you consider that the greatest blogger of them all -- Glenn Reynolds -- is utterly unknown outside his and our small corner of the Web. I'd be amazed if one person in my office, an otherwise literate and informed group, had ever heard of him. Political types in Washington know Josh Marshall and Mickey Kaus, but not because of their blogs. Whatever you think of them, they are real, professional journalists.

Writers who matter in politics are those who come from and publish in dead-tree media -- books, periodicals, newspaper op-ed pages. Scholars who matter publish peer-reviewed material in professional journals, and their work is germane to legislation. They may be involved in crafting legislation themselves. Blogs have little relevance for them....

Many blogs, from both left and right, are full of interesting, well-informed intellectual discussions. But my view is that for something to really count, it has to be on paper. It's still not quite real otherwise. The permanence of paper, and the implied cost of circulating it, lends such material a gravitas I suspect the web does not match at present. Web material is still not quite respectable.
I've been having the same problem recently, but I'm not quite convinced that it's the same thing. (I view Web stuff as far more respectable than Max does, for example, although I think he has a point.)

The problem I'm having blogging, recently, is the way in which it works... with that "sequential scrolling posts" aspect of it; there's a catch-22 at the center of it all. If one writes fairly long, well researched or well-thought-out or whatever posts, there is still a significant possibility (if not a likelihood) that the post will have no impact whatsoever. It'll just disappear into the archives, and once that's happened, it's gone. This creates a disincentive towards longer posts, unless you're absolutely sure that you'll get noticed. Even then, there's the problem of getting people to actually read through the thing, instead of skipping ahead to something more easily digestible.

The alternative is smaller, pithier postings, akin to Instapundit or Atrios. This does wonders for one's visitor numbers, because people come back often to see "what's new", but often there isn't much content to the post beyond the link itself. Atrios doesn't suffer from this that much, but Instapundit is notorious for this problem. It means that blogs themselves become less useful, as there are other, better ways of filtering information (such as Google News). Comments threads can help flesh things out, but they're a crapshoot too... length seems to depend more on the contentiousness of an issue, rather than any intrinsic worth.

Plus, since there's so many blogs nowadays, a "linker's blog" has that much more trouble standing out, and the mad hunt for visits and hits is at least partially due to the fear that one is simply typing into the ether, unknown and unread. (I've been hit with that somewhat lately, despite not being a "linker", and it's starting to affect my entire attitude towards blogging.)

Damned if you do, damned if you don't. Write long original stuff, and too soon it'll disappear, unread and unremarked, into the archive; all that time and effort is for naught. Write shorter link-based stuff, and you're just a links page with some pithy words attached, no different than literally thousands of other writers. Try to find a balance between the two, and length becomes the priority instead of content.

No matter how it works out, it seems like maybe weblogs really are best suited for the purpose that they were originally designed for: personal journals.
Well, Friedman is at it again, engaging in a bit of poorly examined wishful thinking. WitnessFriedman's "The Big One":

We are attracting all these opponents to Iraq because they understand this war is The Big One. They don't believe their own propaganda. They know this is not a war for oil. They know this is a war over ideas and values and governance. They know this war is about Western powers, helped by the U.N., coming into the heart of their world to promote more decent, open, tolerant, women-friendly, pluralistic governments by starting with Iraq- a country that contains all the main strands of the region: Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds.
Assumptions abound here, and some simply don't make sense. The big one here is that Tom's assertions actually reflect the understandings of those that are going into Iraq. It comes back to the same criticism that others have had about the theories of David Adesnik... it might conceivably be true, but why on earth should we believe it, and how can we trust an argument built on such fragile foundations? It is hardly settled that this is not a "war for oil" (far from it), and Tom conveniently ignores a major reason why Arabs would be pouring into Iraq: the fear that the Iraqi state will become a puppet government for a Western power, with an ineffective democracy with administration largely by corporations aligned with the U.S. Government and the Republican party.

This seems to be the elephant in the room. Nobody seems to talks about it, especially the hawkish liberals like Friedman. It's mostly discussed by leftists; they claim that Iraq is "imperialism". I don't buy that argument, not exactly, because there is some truth to the "Americans distrust empire" meme... but they are certainly looking for a client state, and the conflict between Iraqi and American interests is pretty obvious, especially when one considers the Turkish example. Realism rears its ugly head once again.

You'd think from listening to America's European and Arab critics that we'd upset some bucolic native culture and natural harmony in Iraq, as if the Baath Party were some colorful local tribe out of National Geographic. Alas, our opponents in Iraq, and their fellow travelers, know otherwise. They know they represent various forms of clan and gang rule, and various forms of religious and secular totalitarianism- from Talibanism to Baathism. And they know that they need external enemies to thrive and justify imposing their demented visions.
I'll leave aside that "external enemies" bit, because it's such an easy target when one is discussing Republican foreign policy.

The real problem with the assumptions here is that the critics of whatever stripe believe that Iraq was bucolic. This could be a strawman, and certainly smells of it, but Friedman may honestly believe this, and it's because he misunderstands the problem that Saddam presented and continues to present. Like most dictators, he treated his people with contempt and was an ineffective administrator (to put it mildly); unfortunately, like many dictators, he staved off internal strife and chaos precisely through the brutal repression that made him so hated. Hobbes pointed out that this is the most important role of a sovereign leader, democratic or otherwise, because he realized (and Tom forgets) that chaos is so very much worse that even a Saddam is preferable. (For proof, see most of Western Africa.) Iraqis and American critics worry that despite American efforts, Iraq will disintegrate, and become a black hole that will suck what stability exists out of the region.

Friedman also ignores an inevitable future event. Iraqi interests and American interests will diverge. Not "may"... will, and to an extent that makes the divide unbridgeable and the resolution of which will be intolerable to one side or another. There is no doubt about this. When that happens, one of two things may happen if the Americans run the show, or are allied with the Iraqis.

1)American interests will prevail, because they really rule the country (one could think of this as the "Shah scenario"):

Iraq will be hurt by this, perhaps deeply, and Iraqis will either begin to resent the United States or (more likely) will remove the American-controlled government. We'll get the Shah all over again, Iraq will descend into chaos and the Islamic theocrats will take over during the chaos, because they will present a proven alternative to U.S. alignment- Iran may not be pleasant, but at least it's certainly independent. Iran will probably snap up a big chunk of Iraq, and the United States will either have its interests hurt or go to war with Iran, a state that may well be nuclear very soon.

2)Iraqi interests will prevail, because they really do have sovereignty. (One could look at this as the "Turkish scenario"):

This will be the best result for the Iraqis, but it may hurt the stability of American security interests, and it will either cause the United States to tighten its grip or withdraw completely and engage in retaliatory measures. As the entire point of the Iraqi exercise is to have a U.S. friendly regime in the region in order to ensure its interests, this is a big problem, but it's inevitable. It will also create huge internal conflict for the United States, because it will force the U.S. to decide between its role as the "shining city on the hill" and its real security needs. I doubt the former will work, and the decision will may future U.S. nation building efforts extremely difficult, if not impossible. That's a problem, because although nation building is extremely difficult in Iraq, it's much more likely to work in failed or collapsed states, such as Liberia, where the U.S. would perceived as a creator of order instead of chaos.

(This is another factor that Friedman seems to never consider- the fact that Iraqis feel that the Americans are largely responsible for the mess they're in. The sanctions were at the behest of the Americans and the Americans were the invaders; without either, Iraq would still be a dictatorship but the last decade and the last few months would not have been remotely as bad as they were. Iraqis aren't going to forget that, even if they are glad that they Americans removed Saddam.)

Of course, this latter scenario could be reversed... the United States could value its symbolic and moral role more than its security interests, and give up some of the latter in the face of the former. That will likely work for most issues, but by definition it can't work for all... sooner or later, something will give, and the U.S. will attempt to exert control.

Finally, this:

In short, America's opponents know just what's at stake in the postwar struggle for Iraq, which is why they flock there: beat America's ideas in Iraq and you beat them out of the whole region; lose to America there, lose everywhere.
This is ludicrous. If Iraq goes democratic, they will be as fully aware of the inevitable conflict between American and Iraqi interests as I am. They'll hunker down and wait, and exploit the chaos when they can. If the Americans start exploiting Iraq to press their case for nation building and westernization, it would also be relatively simple to make the argument that Iraq is simply one particular case that is not exportable to other countries, and make the point that the United States is only giving Iraq its head as long as Iraq goes in the direction they want. The only way that the United States can really make this work is if they successfully "nation build" in several hetereogenous countries and allow them to make decisions that are seriously against American strategic interests. It's possible, but again, sooner or later something has to give, and the more countries get "built" the more likely it is that the type of issue I described above will emerge. This is why the "realists" have been consistently against this war... because they know what's going to happen.

Tom's a smart guy, but he's too busy spinning this story of a climactic war between goodness and light against darkness and evil to look at the situation honestly. It seems like he's been doing this for a while now, but at least before the war it was plausible that the U.S. would secure the country quickly and enjoy flowers and hosannas from the people. That isn't happening, and he needs to recognize it. He's attempting to alter reality to fit his theory, and that's not the mark of a journalist, but of a propagandist. Honestly, Tom, that's really not a good career choice. Just ask that Information Minister.

Saturday, August 23, 2003

Just another note on the Greens, prompted by this earlier post

The problem, really, is that the Greens are setting their sights too high. They should be moving into state and national Congresses, not the Presidency. One is irreversibly tied to the two-party system; the other is not, and is more tied into local politics that the Greens could exploit. The Greens should be pouring their resources into challenging Democrats for more liberal congressional seats, and then making deals with the Dems to coordinate policymaking in Washington and in state capitols. They could build their influence and have a realistic shot at influencing policy. Yes, it means that the Greens wouldn't really have a shot at the presidency for about a decade or two, but that's the reality of the project- successful "invasion from the margin" is a very slow process.

Of course, this presumes that Green voters, activists, and politicians are actually interested in policymaking, and from that I think they "purity is the enemy of goodness" attack on the Greens may have some merit. I think the Greens think of themselves as a social movement, and social movements are near-sacrosanct within much of the left. Fine, they have their purpose, but successful social change requires a "grassroots and treetops" approach; you need a governmental branch as well as broad social movements. Even the IRA understood this, and they were far more extremist than the Greens would ever be.
The importance of an independent judiciary:

A federal judge in Manhattan told Fox News yesterday that it had to learn how to take a joke. Then he rejected the network's request for an injunction to block the satirist Al Franken from using the words "fair and balanced" on the cover of his book, "Lies, and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right."

Calling the motion "wholly without merit, both factually and legally," the judge, Denny Chin of United States District Court, said that a person would have to be "completely dense" not to realize the cover was a joke, and that trademark protection for the phrase "Fair and Balanced" was unrealistic because the words are so commonly used....

....[Fox's] arguments were met by laughter in the crowded courtroom, as Fox tried to defend its signature slogan. Part of the network's burden was to prove that Mr. Franken's use of the phrase "fair and balanced" would lead to consumer confusion.

One round of laughter was prompted when Judge Chin asked, "Do you think that the reasonable consumer, seeing the word `lies' over Mr. O'Reilly's face would believe Mr. O'Reilly is endorsing this book?"

The giggling continued as Dori Ann Hanswirth, a lawyer for Fox, replied, "To me, it's quite ambiguous as to what the message is here."

She continued, "It does not say `parody' or `satire.' "

Ms. Hanswirth said Fox's "signature slogan" was also blurred, because people who were not associated with the network, which owns the Fox News Channel, also appear on the cover with Mr. O'Reilly.

Judge Chin said, "The president and the vice president are also on the cover. Is someone going to consider that they are affiliated with Fox?"

The courtroom broke into laughter again.
One wonders what would have happened had there been a different Supreme Court back in 2000. In any case, it's good to see that the ongoing crusade to blunt every amendment except the 2nd has been delayed, at least this one time.

Friday, August 22, 2003

Atrios took a shot at the Greens, and they've responded in his comments thread with everything from "you can't expect Green votes when you insult them" to "the idea that Nader was saying Gore and Bush were identical was a lie".

Folks, those who are saying "we should be nice, or we'll lose the green vote!" are kind of missing the point, which is that the vote is, by definition, lost. Those who choose to vote Green in states that matter aren't going to vote for Democratic candidates who are centrist enough win the election. They'll go for their man Nader.

(Trying to attract them by changing policy will just encourage them to stay the course, in order to have the Dem candidate move more in their direction.)

And, yes, Bush=Gore was a theme of the Greens; trying to deny it is revisionism. There's nothing wrong with that from a partisan point of view: attacking centrists for being centrists is a logical way of getting outlier votes, and worked well enough for the Reform party in Canada. The problem is that just as Dem rhetoric is ticking off Greens now, Green rhetoric was incredibly insulting to Democrats back in 2000. Nobody's forgotten this.

Greens have also seemed to have not realized that trying to "pull" parties in one direction is useless when the political discourse is being pulled in the other direction. The U.S. right realized it long ago, and has been effectively using a "play the fringe vs. moderate" strategy to pull things rightward over the past ten to fifteen years. Greens have the fringe, but that doesn't work without coordination with the Dems, and they can't coordinate with the Dems without losing their relevance. As at least some of them are partisan more than they are ideological, that won't happen.

Finally, to those Greens (and others) who advocate different voting systems- even if it's constitutional (and I have my suspicions), there's no way that a Republican will enact such a thing, and if the Greens are ensuring Republican victories, it's empty rhetoric. It's academic, at least for the foreseeable future, and possibly forever if it'll require a constitutional amendment. Without it, though, the Greens will never own the presidency, and should stop trying. Some seats in Congress, sure, but not the presidency.
Wow... this is amazing news:

Just over two in five (43%) likely voters say they would choose President Bush over a Democratic candidate, and a like number (43%) preferred a Democrat if the election were held today, compared to July polling by Zogby International where 48% would choose Bush and 43% would favor any Democrat.
Jessequoted a few other things from this polls, but not this tidbit, and I thought it was the most significant of the bunch. After all, approval ratings are inherently unreliable due to the nature of the presidency itself- the president is an executive that represents the American people, and that tends to lead to a positive reaction no matter what. Just because they support their current leader doesn't mean they'll want to keep him for the next round. What matters there is their intention to actually re-elect the guy, and when he's even against a random Democrat... that says a lot.
A nasty little blogwar has broken out between Jesse of Pandagon and Lying in Ponds over the question of what "partisanship" actually means, and its relation to ideology. Jesse claims that the distinction is a false one, whereas Lying in Ponds argues that there's a strong difference.

I actually think he has a point on the difference between being ideological and partisan, because one can have a strong allegiance to a party and not be strongly ideological, and/or be strongly ideological but not attached to any particular party.

(Outside of the U.S. system of two ideologically based parties, it's actually quite common. Canadians have known about it for years; look at the NDP/Liberal or PC/Reform divide. Indeed, it's the close association between ideology and party that makes the Republicans so relatively unique.)

That being said, Lying in Ponds completely out to lunch on Paul Krugman; Krugman devastated the whole "partisanship" argument ages ago, driving a stake deep into the heart of LiP's methology that it has never truly recovered from. LiP's supposedly "quantitative" measurement of partisanship is entirely robbed of context, rendering it utterly useless, as (as Krugman noted) a supposed "partisan" could be an honest critic of a dishonest target. Partisanship isn't necessary for this and, because of this, is entirely unprovable by LiP's methodology. As the entire point of the exercise is to measure partisanship, it's rendered pointless, useless, and highly deceptive.

(Not surprising, as quantification of inherently qualitative media such as text is a tricky business at any time.)

So Jesse is wrong on this particular issue of definition, but the point remains that the entire Lying in Ponds exercise is just a sad joke. "Quantitatively", that'd even out... but in the qualitative real world, I'd say that Jesse comes out ahead.

Wednesday, August 20, 2003

Ok, I've gotta ask this:

Why on earth is Atrios continually linking to that Mischa thug? Even with Atrios' speedy and short style, he's gotta have better things to do.
Several commentators (including David Adesnik and Ralph Peters) are convinced that the attacks on civilian targets in Iraq indicate that guerillas/militants/terrorists/whatever in Iraq are getting "desperate". My reaction upon reading Adesnik's post on the subject was "nice theory; any particular reason I should believe it?"

Matthew Yglesias appears to agree:

Now I'm not going to say that Ralph or David are wrong about this -- they could be right. Maybe all the various attacks we've seen in Iraq were organized by a single, loosely-affiliated group of people. Maybe these people really are deeply unpopular Ba'ath Party remnants. Maybe they've started targeting infrastructure because they're on their last legs and no longer capable of targeting US soldiers. Honestly, though, I just don't see how anyone could know these things.
Exactly. It's a theory entirely unsupported by any evidence whatsoever, and what reasons Adesnik does bring to bear beg the question rather severely. It's like saying that the Iraqis would welcome the Americans with flowers and kisses, in that it's a theory that sounds good and makes America look good (always a growth industry), but dangerous to base analysis or policy on.

After all, according to the hawks, wasn't the U.S. supposed to be out of there by now?

(I'm not even going to get into Adesnik's attempt to berate the media for not agreeing with said theory. Why should they?)
Ezra Klein has a bold plan to use a little political Ju Jitsu on Bush:

George W. Bush has a new website up, and upon seeing it, you have to admit -- this is a campaign that "gets" the web. Their website consolidates many of the tools that the Democratic challengers and their supporters have been experimenting with, and they are well implemented. Particularly impressive is their Action Center, which has one the the coolest, most useful tools I've ever seen:

If you scroll about halfway down the page, you'll see a field where you can input your zip code -- once you do, you'll be given a large list of newspapers and radio shows in your area, complete with contact information for each of them. It's mighty impressive.

Well, George Bush might have some good tools, but we have the online organization -- and tools mean nothing without good, motivated activists. However, we can do a lot with those tools, and we mean to.

[H]ere is what we propose. We want to get a coalition together -- every influential and non-influential lefty site with the ability to direct readers and members over to the Bush action tools. And every Friday, we want to use those tools to write letters and make calls highlighting a different part of the Bush disaster. This Friday will be fiscal irresponsibility day -- where we blanket the media with calls and letters about Bush's absurd fiscal policies. We're even going to get you the info, for instance, behold the Bush Record (if you're not a Dean supporter, just ignore the stuff about Dean).

But this week, we have to pull together the players. That's where you all come in. This needs to move through the blogosphere in much the same way that the "Fair and Balanced" day did. Matt and I can get to a lot of people, but we don't know everybody and we don't have the manpower to do it on our own. So E-mail this around, or simply E-mail your favorite blog-owners and ask them to be part of "Flood the Zone" Fridays, brought to you by Karl Rove and the good folks running the Bush Campaign.

Come Friday, Matt or I will post up some talking points and sample letters, and then watch the fun begin. Lets show Rove who owns the 'net.
So there you have it: "Flood the Zone" Fridays, using Bush's own tools against him. I'm all for it.
Kos is asking a simple question: Can anybody name three good things that Bush has done? Most people cited topping the Taliban and Saddam... others responded to these by saying that the Taliban is far from gone and what will replace Saddam may, incredibly, be worse.

Thing is, these point to a big problem with asking these sorts of questions: it's really too early to tell whether what Bush has done has been "good" or "bad". The only way we can tell is if these countries and his own is in better shape after his presidency than it was before it, and whether the actions and events of that presidency were worth that change. Up until right now, it's possible to say that removing Saddam and the Taliban were good things, but we don't know right now if Iraq and Afghanistan will be completely ruined next year or in 2005.

With that in mind, though, I can't really think of much that Bush has done that has been an unqualified "good thing". Still, he's got a t least a year and a half left. If things don't start improving, though, it's more and more likely that a year and a half is all he's got left.
This has been a very bad day.

On the one side, we likely will see some kind of Palestinian civil war at this point:

Palestinian sources told CNN that Abbas began holding meetings with his ministers and heads of security after the bombing, and decided to break off talks with the two militant groups. The source said the Palestinian Authority blames Hamas and Islamic Jihad for severely damaging the interests of the Palestinian people.

The authority is also considering additional measures against the groups, details of which will be announced in a few days.
..and on the other side, it looks like Al Qaeda may intend to turn Iraq into America's Afghanistan, at least according to Peter Bergen:

"A half-dozen U.S. officials who investigate or analyze al Qaeda ... say that Iraq has become an important battleground for al Qaeda in the past several months," CNN terrorism analyst Peter Bergen said.

"The officials use words such as 'magnet' and 'super magnet' to describe the attraction that Iraq has for al Qaeda and other 'jihadists,' " said Bergen, author of "Holy War, Inc.: Inside the Secret World of Osama bin Laden."...

..."Let's face it, if you are a terrorist in the Middle East and you have a mission to kill Americans, Iraq is now the place you're going to want to go," said [former U.S. deputy secretary of state James] Rubin, speaking from London, England.
Once again, this doesn't mean the "flypaper" theory is validated; American cells aren't going to Iraq, but may well attack while American forces are distracted. Indeed, now may well be an ideal time, as National Guard units continue to be posted to Iraq. The fighters in Iraq may not be part of "Al Qaeda" per se, but simply independent cells under Al Qaeda's indirect control.

One of the bigger wrinkles here is the Saudi angle:

[Dr. Saad]... al-Faqih said Saudis make up about 85 percent of the foreign fighters in the country, but a few of them are Kuwaitis.

The Saudi fighters consider their actions jihad because they see coalition soldiers as unjustifiably occupying a Muslim country, al-Faqih said.

Another factor is that Saudi authorities have cracked down on al Qaeda since May, when terrorists attacked complexes housing Westerners in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, giving al Qaeda members an additional impulse to leave the kingdom.
There are still people who believe that it is Saddam loyalists at work: Ken Pollack and Paul Bremer both argued that it is likely to be loyalists rather than Al Qaeda. Still, it could well be that the United States is now embroiled in a war on three fronts: the resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan, the Saudis pouring into Iraq to fight the Americans there, and the continuing danger of terrorist attacks around the world.

Far from his claim of "mission accomplished", it looks like Bush's half-assed and inept foreign policy has only made things worse. Even Ronald "we launch in five minutes" Reagan couldn't have screwed it up this badly, and he started this whole damned mess with his ham-fisted Afghanistan policy back in the 80's. This time, though, there's no Gorbachev to save Bush's hide.

Tuesday, August 19, 2003

George Will remains blissfully mad.

The shah's "at least temporary control of the country" lasted just a bit more than half of these 50 years. The fact that his control crumbled in 1979 under the assault of Islamic fundamentalists responsive to the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini does not mean the coup was misguided or unavailing....

...The fact that the coup in some sense set in train events that led to today's highly unsatisfactory situation in Iran does not mean that the coup was not successful.
First, anybody who knows about the revolution knows that the fundamentalists took over only after the revolution had already happened... they were merely opportunists who filled the power vacuum left behind by the removal of a dictator. (Sound familiar to anybody?) Why is Will commenting on an event that he appears so grossly ignorant about?

Second, that "Second World War" bit in just insane. The entire point of the backing of the Shah was to place a U.S. friendly despot in the region, and that lasted, what, 30 years before he was swept away? The goal of the Second World war, on the other hand, was to defeat the Axis, and that was actually accomplished. it's not like the Nazis took Germany back in 1965. In what Bizarro world are these remotely similar? Saying "everything is temporary", as Will does, is absolutely no answer... that very attitude is what tends to lead to the ham-handedness of U.S. foreign policy and the irritation, annoyance, and hatred that said foreign policy tends to engender. Just because "to Americans, a hundred years is a long time" (as the saying goes) doesn't mean one should make policy for the short term.

Then again, it's not supposed to make sense. It's just supposed to create enough talking points to confound people long enough to get Bush re-elected and try to keep his dwindling popularity up. Rolling re-election squad stuff, nothing more.
Found in a Toronto Star editorial about the ruling Liberal party and same-sex marriage that mostly treads well-worn ground, there was one sentence paragraph that resonated well with me:

"Defending the right of others to march to a different, even discordant, drummer has never been easy. But it is the natural work of liberals."

John Stuart Mill would have been proud.

Edit: Link removed, as it was non-functional.

Monday, August 18, 2003

Found on CalPundit:

Hey, that big blackout makes it more important than ever to pass the president's energy bill, right? So important, in fact, that in order to get it passed George Bush has agreed to jettison the portions related to upgrading the power grid.
Unsurprising. Welcome to yet another Bush "Bait 'n Switch", where he uses one thing to accomplish something else, and neglects the initial (and usually critical) issue.

"Straight shooter", my fair and balanced ass.
Ok, I'm back. It wasn't related to the blackout, actually... there were different reasons, but I'm good to go now.

The blackout, oddly enough, was actually predicted by at least one man: Nathan Newman, who wrote a post about his 1998 Ph.D. dissertation that showed both how and why it happened:

While the exact cause of this year's blackouts are not established yet, it's clear that neglected infrastructure lay at the heart of the problem. "electricity demand has shot up by 25 percent since 1990, [while] construction of transmission systems has declined by 30 percent." People will point to why this regulation or that regulation was not in place, but the reality is that deregulation gave the key energy players self-interested incentives not to waste their own funds on maintenance.
The Dissertation is called "Net Loss: Government, Technology and the Political Economy of Community in the Age of the Internet". What I've seen reminds me of the work of Cass Sunstein and Lawrence Lessig (a compliment, to be sure); those two luminaries, however, can't really lay claim to playing the Cassandra here. Nathan can, and while it's a dubious honor, it shows why Nathan is a commentator and analyst to be taken seriously.

Thursday, August 14, 2003

There is a story in the Pakistani "Daily Times" detailing a failed attempt by the CIA and DoD to plant WMDs in Iraq.The information comes from a whistleblowing DoD debriefer named Nelda Rogers and the author and former Iran-Contra insider Al Martin.

I find the source somewhat suspect, as Martin's site obviously isn't as Fair and Balanced as my own. I'll still link, however, on the off chance that it might be true. If it is it's explosive news.
Yeah, I'm doing it too, mostly because I think Fox's suit against Franken is the dumbest thing I've seen in a while, and that's saying something.

Great publicity for the man, though.

Fair and Balanced? You bet!
While some bloggers, like Calpundit were quite happy to cite and applaud this Maureen Dowd piece about politicians blogging, I find myself disagreeing. Here's Dowd:

The most telling sign that the Internet is no longer the cool American frontier? Blogs, which sprang up to sass the establishment, have been overrun by the establishment.

In a lame attempt to be hip, pols are posting soggy, foggy, bloggy musings on the Internet. Inspired by Howard Dean's success in fund-raising and mobilizing on the Web, candidates are crowding into the blogosphere — spewing out canned meanderings in a genre invented by unstructured exhibitionists.

It could be amusing if the pols posted unblushing, unedited diaries of what they were really thinking, as real bloggers do. John Kerry would mutter about that hot-dog Dean stealing his New England base, and Dr. Dean would growl about that wimp Kerry aping all his Internet gimmicks. But no such luck.
I doubt most bloggers post their ideas completely unchecked, but that kind of misses the point, as does Ms. Dowd and, for that matter, a lot of blog cheerleaders. A weblog is just a format. It's a way of organizing a website such that the material is placed in reverse chronological order on the same page. That's it. Nothing more.

There's absolutely nothing in the concept of the weblog that they or their owners should do what Ms. Down says they do. They don't have to "sass the establishment"... many don't, and many are actually quite approving of the establishment in different ways. Yes, anti-authoritarianism is common online, but there is zero reason why a blogger should adopt that attitude. Ditto with her complaints about the various politicos weblogs, which reveal not that they're lousy bloggers, but that they simply tend towards the kind of logging of personal events that caused many famous and not-so-famous people to take to weblogs or other online diary systems. The people who use Diaryland pages are generally apolitical, and often far from "sassy", but that doesn't make the material any less compelling. Indeed, it's often a welcome change.

Neil Gaiman's weblog isn't "sassy", either, but does it really need to be? It's interesting, funny, and allows me to peek into the life of a man whose work I enjoy and whose talent and skill at wielding the language I sometimes envy and always admire. Isn't that enough? And if I were as interested in the life and times of, say, John Kerry, isn't that enough as well?

Weblogging is just a medium, and while McLuhan had a point about media and messages, I somehow doubt that there's any intrinsic connection between weblogging and "sass". It may feel understandably good to many bloggers; ultimately, however, it limits the form.

Wednesday, August 13, 2003

Dammit. More suicide bombings, one by Hamas and one by al-Aqsa. As far as I know al-Aqsa isn't supporting the truce, so it isn't really a surprise, but the Hamas one certainly is, if only because they benefit far more from observing the truce than breaking it. Typically for this conflict, they claimed that the attack was to "avenge the killing of two of its members by Israeli troops last week", but that justification won't hold water, as the Israeli attacks were claimed to be in response to earlier attacks and any Israeli response will no doubt be in response to these attacks. Nobody is going to buy this justification, so why bother?

There is a bit of welcome news, though:

Still, an Israeli military source said there would be no large-scale retaliation and the extremists hinted that they would try not to escalate tensions.
Don't misunderstand; I support Israels right to defend itself, and believe that suicide bombings are both tactically and morally insupportable. They need to end, and this is one of the problems that needs to be solved in order to stop them. It become obvious to all parties: cloaking attacks in the rhetoric of retribution is as useless as attempts to "show them we're serious" or "send them a message". Self-defense may be part of the solution, but vengeance is forever part of the problem.
Edited out the extra "accurate". Sorry about that, been too busy to be able to carefully check as well as I'd like.

So, is the "flypaper" theory espoused by conservatives and Bush supporters accurate? On first inspection, this NYTimes article about militants moving into Iraq appears to support it, but as usual, the truth is somewhat more complicated.

In much the same way as the Russian invasion of Afghanistan stirred an earlier generation of young Muslims determined to fight the infidel, the American presence in Iraq is prompting a rising tide of Muslim militants to slip into the country to fight the foreign occupier, Iraqi officials and others say.

'Iraq is the nexus where many issues are coming together- Islam versus democracy, the West versus the axis of evil, Arab nationalism versus some different types of political culture,' said Barham Saleh, the prime minister of this Kurdish-controlled part of northern Iraq. 'If the Americans succeed here, this will be a monumental blow to everything the terrorists stand for.'

Recent intelligence suggests the militants are well organized. One returning group of fighters from the militant Ansar al-Islam organization captured in the Kurdish region two weeks ago consisted of five Iraqis, a Palestinian and a Tunisian...
So, does this mean that the conflict in Iraq is really supposed to be a lightning rod for militants? It seems unlikely, and if it were intentional then it'd betray the Bush administration as being bone stupid.

It's stupid because the professed goals of the Iraq invasion could all be nullified by this. The security of the oil supply would be in serious jeopardy, as it would be a prime target for terrorist attacks, and because Iraq's oil supply can now have a serious affect on world prices, threats to that supply would seriously increase investor uncertainty across the board, which could hurt regional economies and the world economy (including the U.S.). The goal of creating a stable arab democracy in the Middle East would go out the window: stable democracy requires, well, stability. Even the attempt to make Arabs think that the U.S. is not to be messed with would be contradicted, because this situation makes the U.S. look exactly like the U.S.S.R., another global power that nobody expected to fail and which was confident of its ability to crush opposition. That won't make militants fear the U.S., it will make them even bolder. As for preventing attacks in America, I personally find it doubtful... American sleeper cells aren't going to cut and run to go fight in Iraq, and they may feel that American resources are being diverted to Iraq, making their job easier.

The article includes an interesting piece about the psychology that the U.S. is up against, as well:

...Iraqi officials say they expect a broad spectrum of Muslim militants to flood Iraq. They believe that Ansar al-Islam, a small fundamentalist group believed to have links with Al Qaeda, forms the backbone of the underground network. The group was forced out of northern Iraq by a huge attack during the war.

Mullah Mustapha Kreikar, the founding spiritual leader of Ansar al-Islam, said in an interview on Sunday with LBC, the Lebanese satellite channel, that the fight in Iraq would be the culmination of all Muslim efforts since the Islamic caliphate collapsed in the early 20th century with the demise of the Ottoman Empire. "There is no difference between this occupation and the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in 1979," he said from Norway, where he has political asylum.

"The resistance is not only a reaction to the American invasion, it is part of the continuous Islamic struggle since the collapse of the caliphate," he said. "All Islamic struggles since then are part of one organized effort to bring back the caliphate."
I find that unlikely; there's no Caliphs nowadays and little likelihood of one emerging.

This might, however, explain the enduring popularity of Osama in the arab world, even in places where they don't necessarily share his hatred of the United States. Osama is seen as a kind of ascetic, having given up wealth and power for the sake of his religion. In that, he's very, very similar to the original Caliphs that followed Mohammed, who eschewed the trappings of fame and power that later became associated with the title during the Umayyid and Abbasid Caliphates.

It's extraordinarily frightening to contemplate, but there may well be a large number of arabs out there who are convinced that Osama is a potential Caliph; they support him so zealously due to that conviction. That's deeply disturbing. It would be akin to the return of King Arthur, Charlamagne, or Alexander the Great. Heck, there's an element of the Second Coming as well, and one need not be an Evangelical to appreciate how important a perceived second coming would be to Christians.

Even if that isn't the case, it's still a problem that they profess a desire to return to the caliphate. It makes it that much more difficult to win over "hearts and minds", because you're up against the greatest period in Islamic history, and against the sort of mythology that drives many people who belong to the other monotheistic religions to this day. When the perceived alternative to that is (supposedly) being slowly absorbed by the secular West, well.. it shows that the neocon fantasy about the Middle East and Iraq may well be in the process of exploding in their faces.

I am hardly comforted by that. Such things have a way of killing people, and I certainly don't look forward to the job the rest of us have of cleaning up the mess they leave behind. I just hope the lessons we learn are worth it, because I'm pretty sure that "flypaper" isn't going to be.

Monday, August 11, 2003

My apologies for the lack of updates today, but I've been extraordinarily busy and haven't had the chance to update. I will be able to write a bit more later on tonight.

In the meantime, I'll just quote a favorite bit I just saw over at Matt Yglesias' site:

Check out the update to this InstaPost which appears to suggest that someday Glenn Reynolds may learn the lesson that while Paul Krugman is an actual economist (albeit a shrill one), Donald Luskin is a ranting, inept, hack who has trouble grasping elementary math.
I would have figured that he'd clue in when Luskin discredited himself with that job growth bit. Not surprising that Luskin keeps popping up, though, when one is as desperate as Glenn is to find somebody to reconfirm his beliefs in the face of the good Professor's continuous outpouring of truth. Like most of the "Krugman truth squad", it has nothing to do with "fact-checking"- it has nothing to do with facts- and has everything to do with staving off cognitive dissonance for just one more day.

Nowadays, though, it's gotta be getting harder and harder.

Sunday, August 10, 2003

Astonishingly depressing email exchange in the Guardian yesterday on the question of Israel and the Palestinians. It was between Roman Bronfman (a member of the Knesset) and Israel Harel (a settler), and mostly featured the two correspondants talking past each other. This was especially the case with Israel, who seemed to be pushing a variation on transfer, seems never to have heard of the utter failure of pan-Arabism (which puts the lie his "all Arabs are the same people" arguments), complains that the use of the term "West Bank" is somehow a plot against Israelis, appears to believe that empty desert is as suitable for habitation as anywhere else, and argues that Jordan and Egypt will be only too happy to give up their territory to a new Palestinian state so that Israel can keep part of the West Bank and Gaza, defying all history and logic.

I can understand that there's no small amount of self-interest here, I wouldn't want to have to move either, but come on.
I loved Today's Doonesbury.
I can't remember which blogger it was (Atrios?) which noted that the Washington Post has a journalistic form of multiple personality syndrome... that the news pages were very aggressively going after Bush, whereas the Op/Ed pages were just as aggressively pushing the spin. Whoever it was, he nailed it when it came to this Washington Post editorial, which was attacking former veep Gore and his recent speech for Moveon:

Mr. Gore, who not so long ago was describing Iraq as a "virulent threat in a class by itself," validated just about every conspiratorial theory of the antiwar left. President Bush, in distorting evidence about the Iraqi threat, was pursuing policies "designed to benefit friends and supporters." The war was waged "at least partly in order to ensure our continued access to oil." And it occurred because "false impressions" precluded the nation from conducting a serious debate before the war.

This notion -- that we were all somehow bamboozled into war -- is part of Mr. Gore's larger conviction that Mr. Bush has put one over on the nation, and not just with regard to Iraq.
These paragraphs show a trend that goes on throughout this editorial- it pooh-poohs the supposed "conspiracy theories" of the left without actually rebutting them. Said "conspiracy theory" is, of course, that of the relative coordination of the right in America, which should be relatively uncontroversial were it not for the strenuous denials of those who either know better or damned well should.

(I'd hope that the Post falls into the latter camp.)

I'm not going to go into heavy quotation because you've all heard this before, so I'll just summarize the basic points and respond:

1) Gore's claim that there wasn't a "proper debate" is nonsense: there was a lot of debate.

Answer: Gore's claim was based on the idea that the debate was operating under false pretenses; that people were engaging in it believing that the administration had evidence of Hussein's deception and dangerousness that it actually did not, and knew it did not. The full power of the conservative movement was bent to convincing the people of the validity of that information, and of the validity of Bush's reaction.

(Not that the latter was hard- the case was practically teleological if you bought Bush's arguments, which was part of the problem. It's hard to argue by attacking assumptions, which is why controlling those assumptions is so important.)

2)The belief in "conspiracy theories" discredits Mr. Gore, as it's insulting to believe that Bush has some sort of "propaganda machine".

Answer: Every political party has a propaganda machine. Indeed, almost every organization of any stripe does. It's what Public Relations is all about, and it's the raison d'etre of spin doctors. It's hard to think that there's such a thing as "propaganda" in modern American society, but it's undeniably true. Bush is not exceptional in that.

What is exceptional about the Republican machine (it doesn't belong to Bush, but it benefits him) is its sophistication, breadth, and tactics... that it's willing to not only put the spin out there, but change the ground rules by which their position is understood. This is partially done by right-wingers "working the ref", but this is what Bush's intelligence games are all about, too: changing the background upon which the debate takes place.

This is why the lies and redefinition are so important. He's using the power and legitimacy of the presidency to support Republican propaganda.

3)Gore's wrong because the Democrats voted for the war resolution.

Answer: Democrats had their eyes on one date: November 2002. Their vote had precious little to do with policy and everything to do with politics. The vote still remains legitimate, of course, but it can't be used as proof that the Republicans were right and that the Democrats truly supported them. Besides, Democrats maintain that they were lied to about this, or at least mislead, and the Post never did explain why exactly this impression is wrong. It's a circular argument... they're saying that the claim that the Democrats were mislead is wrong because of their vote, when the question is whether the vote was made while they were mislead.

4)Gore's wrong because Democrats voted for USA PATRIOT.

Answer: The World Trade Centre had just been destroyed; positions then seemed justifiable that seem wrong today. We didn't know then that Bush would use this as an excuse to Iraq, we didn't know that Bush would lie about it, we didn't know that Bush would so badly abrogate his duties to national defense... we didn't know a lot of things that we do now.

Finally, and this ain't exactly new:

5)Gore and the Democrats are doomed because they're trying to be both anti-Bush and for national security.

Answer: Bush is a danger to national security. Period. His weak domestic spending on national security is dangerous. His needlessly belligerent and naive foreign policy is dangerous. His extremely poor handling of the war on Iraq and its aftermath is dangerous. The problems that said war created for information-gathering in the war on terrorism is dangerous. His poor handling of the war on terrorism in particular is dangerous. His abandonment of Afghanistan and the Afghani people is dangerous. His fetish for secrecy is dangerous. His outrageous mistreatment of American soldiers is dangerous. The Washington Post is dead wrong on this. If you're for national security, criticizing Bush just makes sense. Period.

Is this editorial really worth this long response? Probably not. It's poorly written, tendentious, and full of holes you can fly a space shuttle through. It'll also likely be forgotten, the metaphorical "fart in the wind". Still, it's a useful example of the kind of talking points that Democrats are only going to hear more of in the coming months, and engaging those talking points is going to be critical in ensuring that Bush doesn't get to own the issue that he's so manifestly screwed up: foreign policy and national security.

Edit: Atrios eviscerates the Post here for inconsistency and here for deliberately misquoting Gore.

Friday, August 08, 2003

Nice bit about conservatives and the press on Tapped:

Tapped is of two minds... On the one hand, we're sick of watching conservatives work the ref -- see Tim Graham's painfully tedious posts on The Corner, in which softball questions to Democrats from network anchors, newsweekly coverage of Howard Dean and replays of Democratic political ads during chat shows are all evidence of 'liberal bias.' Pace FOX, conservatives have zero interest in an objective press, they just know it pays to mau-mau those who do. When it comes to policy, press objectivity favors conservatives, who have mastered the art of the press-friendly white paper. During coverage of tax cuts and budget policy, for example, the nuttiest supply-side nostrums get equal time with the opinion of mainstream economists. If The New York Times or The Washington Post had been explicitly partisan papers, for instance, Tapped is convinced neither of President Bush's tax cuts would have passed Congress at the size they did. Debates over the effects of Bush's policies were covered not on empirical grounds but as 'he said, she said' arguments. It was a national disgrace.

But for the most part, the objective press provides reliable, accurate information to the public. And this is no small thing. As an opinion journalist and blogger, Tapped absolutely relies on these papers to get it right, even if we give them guff when they don't.
The difference here is that there's often a gulf between showing "both sides" and "getting it right". There are definitely situations where things it's all about opinion and things are too muddied to take a position, but (to use an extreme example) you wouldn't want to present the claims of the Simon Weisenthal Centre and Holocaust deniers in a "fair and balanced" manner.

Journalists seeking objectivity need to place themselves somewhere between these extremes, and need to remember that whether it serves the right or the left, their job is primarily to ferret out the truth. The newfound (and somewhat postmodern) relativisms of modern conservatives aside, that is not only possible, it's essential.
It's sometimes entertaining to watch a columnist so adroitly miss the point. To this end, I present to you Charles Krauthammer on the Israeli fence:

The State Department is proposing that the United States play hardball with Israel -- reducing badly needed loan guarantees -- if it proceeds with the barrier it is erecting between Israeli and Palestinian populations. With this, the State Department joins the latest Palestinian propaganda ploy -- inverting cause and effect, and making the fence the issue, rather than the terrorism that made the fence necessary.

The Israelis are not happy with the fence. They love the land as much as the Palestinians, and scarring it with any barrier is so painful to Israelis that for years they resisted the idea. The reason they finally decided to build it is that they could no longer in good conscience refrain from taking the one step that could prevent Palestinian suicide bombers from sneaking into Israel to blow up innocents.
Krauthammer goes on to say that there's nothing in the "road map" about the fence, and that it's necessary to prevent Palestinian militants/terrorists from attacking Israeli civilians. All fine and good, but what stunning is that he completely misses the real fear about the fence... that the Israelis "love the land" so much that they're attempting to slowly annex it!

The whole reason that the fence is creating so much anxiety is because of the long-standing Palestinian perception that the settlement process is an attempt to slowly crowd them out of "Judea and Samaria". This is one of the biggest obstacles to peace; the Palestinians (rightly or wrongly) believe that if they do not wage war on the Israelis, the Israelis will simply (and peacefully) build settlement after settlement. This process doesn't even require that the Israelis do it purposefully; all they need to do is allow their more extremist factions the lattitude to do what they wish by either benign neglect or waffling on the issue. Considering the divisive Israeli political system, this isn't exactly a difficult task, and as long as the belief exists that the West Bank is ordained to the Jews by God, there will be little traction for the idea of removing the settlements. They will simply multiply until they're numerous enough that the argument that the Palestinians should simply be sent to Jordan becomes an inevitability.

(This rational argument in favor of militancy is rarely discussed in the blogosphere, by the by; it certainly doesn't factor into the "Palestinians are animals" argument made by those ironically named "anti-idiotarians".)

Now, this isn't a justification for terrorism, because terrorism rarely acheives its goals; the paranoia and anger only intensifies the desire to "stay the course". What this situation requires is a hard border between the two countries, and reassurement of the Palestinians that this sort of "creeping eviction" will not take place. This is precisely why the fence's location is a bad idea- there is the perception that this fence around the settlements will become a de-facto border. The Palestinians (and their supporters) will believe that if the Israelis succeed in moving the border once, they'll do it again, and that the fence is proof that the Israelis have absolutely no intention of removing the settlements and, thus, are tacit supporters of the settlements.

The ironic and tragic part is that this will only increase the power of the Hamas and Islamic Jihad and the like, because they'll be able to more easily convince ordinary Palestinians that extremism and violence are the only way to fight back, because peace will mean slow national oblivion. This means that the PA will be unable to act against them, as the attempt will mean civil war and, inevitably, oblivion for the PA.

The State department knows this, the Bush Administration almost certainly knows this, and even the Israelis likely know this, so I find it extraordinarily hard to believe that Mr. Krauthammer somehow doesn't.

(Krauthammer addresses the idea of civil war, but only as Abbas' "excuse" for violating the road map plan... that Abbas may have a point is utterly ignored.)

The only answer, then, is that he doesn't care. Which is fine. He's entitled to that opinion. It doesn't mean, however, that we have to listen to him, or anybody else that advocates acts that feed Palestinian fears and then rails against the reaction to those fears.

No, terrorism is not acceptable, and should not be condoned. The first step to proving that is not simply to kill terrorists, but to ensure that those that the terrorists are supposedly "fighting for" understand that they don't need them. The best way to do that with the Palestinians is to convince them that peace will not bring slow oblivion. To that end, the fence is a serious step backwards.

Thursday, August 07, 2003

From Condi's editorial today:

Soon after the conclusion of World War II, America committed itself to the long-term transformation of Europe. Surveying the war's death and destruction -- including the loss of hundreds of thousands of American lives -- our policymakers set out to work for a Europe where another war was unthinkable. We and the people of Europe committed to the vision of democracy and prosperity, and together we succeeded.
See what I'm talking about? And this is a former college professor.

Yes, it's no doubt self-serving, but there's a reason she can get away with it.
Odd reversal by George "Stoner" Will:

(Yeah, I'm re-reading Franken. "Chickenhawk brigade" is classic stuff)

The 2004 election, even more than most elections, will turn on the parties' ability to turn out their committed supporters. And some in the White House are beginning to worry about Dean because he understands that venting may be a practical precursor to governing: Venting energizes the party's base.

That is why some in the White House say they worry that Dean might be an especially dangerous opponent. But, then, Br'er Rabbit said, 'Please, Br'er Fox, don't fling me in that briar patch.'
See, this is what confuses me... I hadn't really heard from anybody aside from Will here that the White House doesn't want Dean as an opponent. On the contrary: a thousand stories and editorials talk about how the Republicans are chortling with glee at the prospect of facing McGovern redux. So while Will may well be correct about the "briar patch", he seems to be either completely missing the picture or deliberately obscuring it.
As most readers probably already know, there was a car bomb atttack on the Jordanian Embassy:

A powerful car bomb exploded outside the Jordanian embassy on Thursday, hurling vehicles in the air and killing at least 11 people, including a woman and two children, morgue officials said. More than 50 people were wounded in the blast.

Lieutenant-General Ricardo Sanchez, commander of U.S. ground forces in Iraq, called the bombing of the embassy a terrorist attack and said it was "the worst on a soft target" since Baghdad fell to U.S. forces on April 9.

...Shortly after the blast, young Iraqi men stormed the embassy gate and began destroying pictures of Jordanian King Abdullah II and his late father, King Hussein. They were shouting anti-Jordanian chants but were quickly dispersed by U.S. forces and Iraqi police.
Anti-Jordanian chants? Say it with me now: "uh oh". It is very much not good news, especially because nobody can be sure if it's because Jordan allowed asylum to Hussein's daughters, or because of its relatively pro-American stance.

In any case, this could become a huge problem, as Jordan is one of the most pro-western countries in the region; if Iraqis maintain this attitude even after they develop some sort of democratic government, it could turn two prospective U.S. allies against each other, and seriously endanger the reformist agenda of Jordan's King Abdullah.

(Somehow, I doubt that the PNAC types planned for this little eventuality, either.)

Edit: Steve Gillard (at his classy new digs), said much the same thing. Congrats to Steve on the new blog, but one complaint: permalinks are a necessity nowadays.)
Iain J. Coleman brought up something in the comments thread for this post about the First World War.

Demosthenes, the Great War may have faded from the North American mind, but I assure you it still looms large in Europe. It's continually revisited in popular history, popular drama, and even one excellent comedy series ("Blackadder Goes Forth"). The memorials are still places of pilgrimage.

If anything, the First World War is more culturally important in Europe than the Second. Indeed, one will sometimes hear people refer to the 1914-1945 war.
This is something I had meant to mention, and didn't, and I'm grateful to Iain for reminding me. Yes, attitudes towards the two wars are different in Europe, very much so. Europe and the United States took two different lessons away from the Wars. Europe took away the lesson that nationalism (and even it's more positive counterpart, patriotism) can be suicidal and fatal, especially on a crowded supercontinent where nationalisms can push against each other like punks in a mosh pit. It had almost killed them; if one looks at the damage it did to the continent and the ease with which the Russians mopped up the remains of Central and Eastern Europe to build their network of satellite states, one could even say it had.

The United States, on the other hand, due to its popular mythology of having singlehandedly won the Second World War (and collective amnesia about the first, except for a similar belief of singlehanded victory), came away with the idea that nationalism and patriotism are not just important, but absolutely vital. When this was paired with the reality that American nationalism has always been tied to certain laudable ideas about freedom, society, business, and civil and human rights and faced with another superpower that America believed was a dire threat to all of those, "rallying 'round the flag" to an extent that most Europeans would find distasteful and dangerous only makes sense.

(In this case, the "North American" label doesn't apply. Canadians took away a much different series of lessons, and I'm honestly not well versed in the Mexican WWII experience.)

Now that the Cold War is over, and the United States is the single hegemonic power, those lessons are conflicting with one another. The Europeans see America's nationalism as mirroring their own, and constantly see a replay of the Great War in the offing. Americans, on the other hand, see WWII in whatever they do, wherever they go, and whoever they see... it always comes back to Hitler, and Stalin, and Roosevelt, and Churchill, and Chamberlain, and the so-called "Greatest Generation".

(That term always grates against my ears; even though I have deep respect for those that lived through WWII, I have just as much respect for the forgotten soldiers of WWI.)

In any case, thanks again to Iain. And to Ed Fitzgerald and his insights into how the current conflict(s) echo the opening of the Great War. Which is what I worry about, because we've become much, much better at killing people than they were.