OxBlog

Tuesday, April 29, 2003

# Posted 10:35 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

"IRAQI PARALLELS TO THE INTIFADA are now complete," according to Kos. Foolish as that statment sounds, I have to admit that I immediately thought of the West Bank and Gaza when reading about the death of a dozen or more civilians during a protest march in Iraq that ended in a firefight between US forces and Sunni gunmen.

Coverage of the incident had all the hallmarks of dispatches from the West Bank and Gaza. The soldiers tell a plausible story but cannot verify it. Friends and relatives of the victims tell a slightly less plausible story interspersed with absurd anti-American remarks), but one that will immediately be believed by those looking for an excuse to resent the occupation forces.

But for the moment, it's important to keep things in perspective. One tragic incident does not an intifada make. Moreover, there are encouraging signs of US-Iraqi cooperation.

But what I would really like to see is a thorough investigation of the shooting at Fallujah. What makes similar incidents in Palestinian areas so maddening is that one hears the same story from both sides over and over again without ever finding out who was right and who was wrong. Now, I generally believe what the Israelis have to say about such incidents, given that Israelihas a powerful opposition press as well as impressive human rights organizations, whereas as the PA has neither. But such arguments tend not to persuade the skeptics.

What the US military needs to do is establish a relationship with the Iraqi public based on total candor. Hatred makes that sort of relationship impossible in the West Bank and Gaza. But the interest of Iraq and the United States are similar enough to make honesty work. While neither the Bush administration nor the US military has a great record on this sort of thing, I think that fear of another intifada may be enough to give the upper hand to common sense.
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# Posted 10:15 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

JOHN KERRY, HYPOCRITE: I am still in touch with my inner dove. So today, I'm going to defend Howard Dean, who told Time.com that
"We have to take a different approach [to diplomacy]. We won't always have the strongest military."
No, I'm not going to defend the actual content of his remarks. But I won't criticize it either, since what Dean offered up is nothing more than a vague cliche that implies his support for a more multilateralist foreign policy.

What I am going to do is defend Gov. Dean from the Kerry campaign's offensive suggestion that Dean's comment
"raises serious questions about his capacity to serve as commander in chief...No serious candidate for the presidency has ever before suggested that he would compromise or tolerate an erosion of America's military supremacy."
As Will Saletan points out, Kerry himself used to talk about the inevitability of China's growth to superpower status back in the mid-1990s. So I guess being a "serious candidate" requires a short memory.

But let's say Kerry had said no such thing. Attacking Dean's competence as commander in chief is the stuff of gutter politics. I may strongly criticize Dean, but I don't suggest that his views on military spending make him unfit for office or indicate that he doesn't have America's best interests at heart.

But what makes the Kerry campaign's remarks so disgusting is that, just a few weeks ago, Kerry harshly criticized Republicans for attacking his patriotism after Kerry called for "regime change" in the United States.

While I thought Kerry should have taken back his rather stupid remark, Josh Marshall defended him on the grounds that
"there is only one way to deal with [Republican] bullies: you must fight back against them with at least the ferocity and intensity that they use against you."
But as this most recent attack shows, fighting back with that sort of ferocity just leads to character assassination and hypocrisy.

Kos argues that the Democrats can't start throwing mud at one another if they want to stand a chance in 2004. I agree. In contrast, ByWord is perversely proud of Kerry (his man in 2004) because Kerry is
aggressive and smart - he picks the fights he wants, and then goes out and starts them...

He's playing the Democratic Primary game on a different level than anyone else in it. It really is a pleasure to watch him work.
While I'm not naive enough to say that fighting dirty doesn't work, I think that when one's hypocrisy is as transparent as John Kerry's, it's hard to go all that far in presidential politics.
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# Posted 9:01 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

CRY FOR ARGENTINA, DAMMIT! Leading the pack after the first round of Sunday's presidential election is former Argentine President Carlos Menem. A victory for Menem in the second round would be a tragedy of historic proportions. He is a corrupt and megalomaniacal charlatan.

Discosure: I am not a neutral observer of Argentine politics. As I've mentioned before, I spent the past summer as an intern in the Argentine Senate, working for Rodolfo Terragno, one of the few men committed to honest politics in a den of thieves.

Thankfully, there is a good chance that Menem won't win. His negative ratings have been in the 60s or higher for the past fifteen months. The WaPo notes that Menem's opponent, Gov. Nestor Kirchner of Santa Cruz, "has a reputation for running a clean government."

With any luck, the Post will do a little more research on Kirchner before the final balloting next month. Having a reputation for clean government in Argentina is like having a reputation for chastity in a brothel. It's all relative. While Kirchner doesn't seem to have authored the sort of billion dollar scams that earned Menem his reputation, people I talked to in Buenos Aires observed that Kirchner seems to share the difficulty of most Argentine provincial governors in distinguishing between the provincial budget and his personal allowance.

If there is hope for Argentina, it is that its citizens are slowly beginning to recognize that widespread corruption is the primary cause of their suffering. However, they must learn to criticize not only their politicians but also themselves. As a very perceptive friend of mine in the Senate observed, the politicians are of the people, and the politicians will only change when the people change.

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# Posted 1:49 PM by Patrick Belton  

IF WE START GETTING INSANE NUMBERS OF HITS...well, I'd be surprised, but nonetheless OxBlog is now proudly Google's first result for "aesthetic neo-cons' nudity."

Note to Entertainment Weekly: if you're still looking for a cover theme for next week.....
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# Posted 11:40 AM by Patrick Belton  

NO MORE BOWING and curtseying to the Royal Box by players at Wimbledon's Centre Court (except for the rare occasions royals are actually present). Seems a bit sad, actually, somehow. One of the more important roles of the monarchy and the traditions that surround it seems simply to be to make the country more aesthetic- this along with, and instrumental to, its functions in establishing continuity with Britain's national past, and providing a ceremonial emblem of British statehood who is above politics. Thus it is paradigmatic of Bagehot's "dignified" parts of the state - existing to excite the devotion and loyalty of the people, rather than actually to govern (this latter being the work generally of the Commons - the constitution's "efficient" part). In fact, go read Bagehot's The English Constitution here whenever you have a free evening - his arguments are lively and his style extraordinarily memorable. (Although of course I defer to Josh on constitutional book recs...)

In other sports news (and betcha didn't know neo-cons did sports commentary, eh?), some Iraqis in Najaf utterly decimated a platoon of marines: in soccer, where they defeated a side of combat-boot-clad marines by a score of 7-0. But in true Arab fashion, the Najaf Poets and their supporters were gracious hosts: "They were cheering for the Iraqi side, but they were also rooting for us, because we were getting beaten pretty bad," Major Mark DeVito told Reuters.
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# Posted 9:07 AM by Patrick Belton  

MEMRI posts an excellent part one of a two-part political profile of new PA Prime Minister Abu Mazen.
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# Posted 12:08 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THIS WEEK'S SHI'ITE MEME: Via Daniel Drezner. For last week's meme, click here. For OxBlog's comments on last week's meme (which anticipate this week's meme), click here. Don't worry if all those pronouns throw you for a loop. Just read the posts. You'll get it.
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Monday, April 28, 2003

# Posted 11:13 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

IN TOUCH WITH MY INNER DOVE: Go figure. Tom Friedman writes one of his most hawkish columns to date, but I'm going to attack it from the left. I actually like most of what Friedman said. But there is one point I have to disagree with. Friedman writes that:
As far as I'm concerned, we do not need to find any weapons of mass destruction to justify this war. That skull [of a political prisoner], and the thousands more that will be unearthed, are enough for me.
Yes and no. If that skull is enough, why didn't a single advocate of war justify it on humanitarian grounds before it happened? Even OxDem's own Josh Chafetz argued that
Democratization itself cannot be enough to justify military action...But I maintain that democracy must always be the outcome of military action, even if it is not the cause. So what, then, is the justification for using force in Iraq? Simply put, it is security.
I agreed with Josh then and I agree with Josh now. Both of us have long believed that the case for humanitarian intervention in Iraq is even stronger than it was in Kosovo. Both of us knew that should Saddam fall, apalling evidence of his brutality would come to light.

But neither the President nor any of his principal advisers ever sought to justify the war on humanitarian grounds. The one context in which the humanitarian issue was raised was in response to anti-war protesters' irresponsible assertion that a war against Saddam would result in hundreds of thousands of civilian casualties. As well he should have, Tony Blair shot back that the brutality of an invasion would pale in comparison to the brutality that the people of Iraq have suffered under Saddam. Yet the Prime Minister did not go on to argue that Saddam's brutality, by itself, justified an invasion.

This apparent contradiction within both Blair's logic and my own illustrates the importance of defining "justification" before asking if it has been found. On the one hand, a justification exists for all those acts that are inherently just. Thus, by virtue of being just, the liberation of Iraq was justified. Yet such a definition of justification fails to grapple with the importance of one's intentions.

In other words, if someone does the right thing for the wrong reason, are they justified? Even without providing a general answer to that question, I think one can apply it to the invasion of Iraq. If, after consulting all the relevant evidence, the President had good reason to believe that Saddam possessed WMD, then it is hard to condemn him for ordering the nation to war even if he turned out to be wrong.

Still, it would be fair for critics of the war -- and even moreso, its supporters -- to distrust the President from now on, given his constant insistence, without reservation, that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. Moreover, the case for preemptive war against WMD-armed adversaries would suffer irreparably if the United States turns out to have been wrong about Iraq.

In fact, there is reason to believe that the United States' credibility will be damaged for years to come if it turns out to have been wrong about Iraq. Even on the homefront, voters will wonder whether the government knows what it is talking about when it comes to foreign affairs.

In such a climate of distrust, it will be very hard to either fight the war on terror or achieve any other important objective. If that is the price of not finding Saddam's weapons, then it becomes much harder to say that the war was justified.

Yet considered in isolation, one would still have to say that the war was right. When it comes to justification, one's answer is often a matter of context. There is no question that we should celebrate the liberation of Iraq. But that may be not enough to make it justified.
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# Posted 10:00 PM by Patrick Belton  

QUOTE OF THE DAY: "Strictly speaking, talking to the National Enquirer or others of like ilk, in and of itself, is neither illegal nor unethical. Rather, it is akin to drinking water out of a toilet bowl -- dumb, distasteful and, when observed, embarrassing." Salt Lake City Tribune Editor James Shelledy, in a letter to readers apologizing for the fact that two of his staff had dealt with the Enquirer on an article embarrassing to the family of kidnapped teenager Elizabeth Smart
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# Posted 8:04 PM by Patrick Belton  

JUST WHEN I GO AND PRAISE the (wonderful) D.C. International Film Festival....

...which remains an absolutely beautiful, incredible gift to the city's residents and visitors - last night I went down with a lovely Kuwaiti friend and saw a film entitled Guerreros set in Kosovo, which struck me as a Spanish version of Black Hawk Down, centered around bureaucratic cowardice and the disintegration of a military mission into chaotic tragedy.

However, of course then the French would have to go and enter a pornographic film for their entry. I mean, come on: "Marie-Jo and her two loves"? Geesh.... I ask, have you people no shame?

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# Posted 3:35 PM by Patrick Belton  

PATRICK'S FAVORITE HEADLINES OF THE DAY: Brought to you by the OxBlog Information Minister (motto: "where knowledge is power....and I have fairly negligible amounts of either")

via CNN: "Van Gogh, Picasso art found behind public toilet." (Christ, can't they appreciate art in Europe?)

via WashPost: "All-Reality TV Channel Planned" (Nooooooooooooooooo!!!!!!! When are they going to start paying actors again?)

again via WashPost:"Boy Makes Waves in Girls' Lacrosse" (yes, yet another vicious instance of cruel sex discrimination yields....)

and via CS Monitor: In Greece, 'I want to know' means 'I care'. (Incidentally, second graf reveals Greek-American J. Edgar Hoover cared a great deal for most prominent Americans and civil rights leaders during his tenure as FBI chief....)
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# Posted 1:00 PM by Patrick Belton  

AXIS OF EVIL, PART "TOO"?: More on Franco-Saddam and Russo-Saddam cooperation is emerging from the remnants of the bombed-out Mukhabarat headquarters. (Regarding the initial nature of all of these reports as they come in, see Josh's excellent caveat above.....)

The British press is reporting that documents being discovered in Baghdad indicate Moscow provided Saddam with lists of assassins available for "hits" in the West. Moscow also provided Saddam with intelligence, it now turns out, on conversations between PM Blair and other Western leaders. In other stories over the weekend, it's also emerging from Iraqi intelligence files that the French foreign ministry kept Saddam informed about every development in American planning to which they had access. (We've covered Russo-Saddam cooperation before here, and Franco-Saddam cooperation recently here.)

The U.S. has long and appropriately adopted a strategy of carrots and sticks in its sometimes cooperative, sometimes competitive relationship with Russia. Fortunately, the U.S. is showing that it will now also respond to France's active alignment with Iraq against the US and UK with the appropriate sticks, and later with carrots as they are earned. As the NYT reports, a White House official told a visiting French official "I have instructions to tell you that our relations have been degraded." And administration officials have indicated their intent to sideline France within NATO and at international conferences.

This response of measured anger is appropriate. As enjoyable as it can regrettably be to bash the government of France when its actions contravene all of the decent norms of mankind, we can never take joy in the treachery of an ally, especially when it is of this magnitude. The utter and complete degradation of the Franco-American alliance, initiated by France, should be recognized by the US by its downgrading of all political (if legal are impracticable) expressions of that alliance - and then restoring these as soon as they are earned.
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# Posted 3:05 AM by Patrick Belton  

WOO-HOO!!!! My love, I'm extraordinarily proud of you.
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# Posted 1:12 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SOMEONE NAMED BELTON has a fantastic op-ed in today's WaPo. No, it isn't Patrick. It's his better half. Congratulations, Rachel! (And our condolences to Kevin Drum, who will now have to confront this brilliant argument against letting the UN have a leading role in postwar Iraq.)

And did I mention that Rachel is a founding member of OxDem? We're everywhere!
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# Posted 12:13 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

FRIENDS IN HIGH PLACES: Nir Rosen, a friend of mine from junior high school is now a correspondent for Time Magazine in Baghdad. You can read his first article here.

Now, some of you might be thinking that this a good thing, since surely David's friends will take an even-handed approach to what is happening in Iraq. Dream on! My friend is one of the most hardcore leftists I have ever met. His mission in Baghdad is to document and expose the inner workings of American imperialism. This is the same guy who insisted that the United States bombed Kosovo in order to expand into the Balkan marketplace.

But whatever you think of Nir, you should know that he is a committed journalist and that nothing will stop him from getting the story. A few years back, he left a comfortable life in DC to head for the wilds of Bosnia. Then he crossed over into Serbia -- still under Milosevic at that time -- and was thrown in jail for meeting with the opposition. So expect some great stories from Baghdad.

Leaving politics aside for a moment, you should know that Nir is a good friend and genuinely nice person. And 99% of that time, that's more important than politics.






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Sunday, April 27, 2003

# Posted 4:14 PM by Patrick Belton  

FOR THOSE OF OUR READERS IN D.C.: If you haven't yet been to any of the films being shown in the International Film Festival....well, there's still plenty of time, and the selection of films from all over the world is absolutely stunning. It's running until May 4th, at various theatres around town and such other venues as the Freedom Embassy (um, I meant....). It's an amazing tribute to the city of Washington, D.C. to have assembled such a fine tribute to international film, and for the 17th consecutive year no less. I'm very impressed - kudos!
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# Posted 2:21 PM by Patrick Belton  

BAGHDAD GOV'NUR FALLS: Nothing about this yet in the American press, but the Mexican and British presses are reporting that the US has taken into custody the self-proclaimed mayor of Baghdad, Mohammed Mohsen al-Zubaidi, for blocking US attempts at restoring basic services.
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# Posted 1:08 PM by Patrick Belton  

NOW WE PAUSE FOR SOMETHING TRULY IMPORTANT: Namely, in my favorite city of New Orleans, it's the New Orleans Jazz Festival. See their website, named, as usual, www.nojazzfest.com - which stands for New Orleans Jazz Fest, and not the anti-jazz protest movement "NO Jazz Fest!"

All readers who are reading this within at the very least a 50-hour drive to N'Orleans should instantly call in sick for tomorrow, get in their cars, and drive without any further delay to Preservation Hall. The only exceptions we're willing to consider are for currently serving military - for y'all, mais cher go on down to the live webcast on N'Orleans channel WWOZ, and listen to it nonstop for the next several days. Although ya'll'd be missin' out on le gumbo, the oyster po'boys, and all the other delicious Louisiana cuisine. So drive on down and laissez les bontemps roulez....

Now back to your usual diet of politics and foreign affairs....
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# Posted 12:04 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

KISSING COUSINS: Turns out Santorum isn't the only one who thinks a right to privacy protects first cousins' right to marriage. (Thanks to JAT for the link.)

Plus, Andrew Sullivan is still going strong.

UPDATE: Kevin Drum responds to Josh's post on Democratic homophobia. Yes, it exists. But there is no getting around the fact that Democratic politicians are the only ones with a solid record of defending of gay rights.
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# Posted 12:02 PM by Patrick Belton  

LITERARY INTERLUDE: Maureen McLane, a prize fellow at Harvard, writes a lovely review of poet Henri Cole's latest work, Middle Earth. In one memorable passage, McLane writes that in Cole's hands metaphor
becomes a dazzling figure for the self that is not identical to itself, the always self-estranged subject, the self amazed by its origins, the distances it has traveled, the desires it has fed, the death it always faces. ''My heart as innocent as Buddha's / . . . I eat sugar like a canary from a grown man's tongue / . . . I cling like a cicada to the latticework of memory.''


Go read the whole thing.
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# Posted 11:52 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SYRIA ISN'T NEXT: PeakTalk was way out in front of the headlines on this one. Last Sunday, Pieter pointed to a little-noticed memo from Donald Rumsfeld which called for regime change in Pyongyang. Pieter then predicted that the memo would put North Korea back in the headlines.

On Friday, we find out the North Koreans have admitted having nuclear weapons. On Saturday, we find out that China is embarrassed and concerned by the North Koreans' unexpected admission. And today we find out that a major interagency brawl over North Korea has been going on in Washington.

Way to go, Pieter!

While this sudden flurry of activity may come as somewhat of a surprise, it makes a lot of sense if you bring Rumsfeld's regime change memo into the picture. Knowing that Rumsfeld had his way with Iraq, the North Koreans saw his most recent regime change memo as the writing on the wall. Hoping to deter the Pentagon, Pyongyang insisted that it had nuclear weapons. And the rest is history.

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Saturday, April 26, 2003

# Posted 8:54 PM by Patrick Belton  

IRAQ, AL QAEDA, AND FRANCE: CNN just posts this story on documents being found in the headquarters of Saddam's intelligence service which demonstrate that there were meetings taking place between Saddam's government and Al Qaeda. (UPDATE 1: Transcripts of the documents have now been released.)

Also, the Sunday Times is reporting today that France provided Saddam with regular reports on French dealings with American officials - including contents of private transatlantic meetings and classified diplomatic cable traffic. (UPDATE 2: A day later, this link required registration; however, Fox News carried a report by the same Sunday Times correspondent, Matthew Campbell, on Monday.)

You've gotta hand it to France - now that there's no Soviet Union to provide leaked cables and highly classified military information to (as new records show they did during most of the Cold War), it's not easy finding a replacement. Now who will they turn to now that we've taken away their Tikriti playmate? Les pauvres.
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# Posted 8:46 PM by Patrick Belton  

SCHASTLIVOI PASHKI to our Russian readership!

Today is Orthodox Easter, so Xristos Voskres to all of you who are celebrating it today - now go enjoy some some cirnaya paska and lamb.
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# Posted 8:16 PM by Patrick Belton  

BEING DONE WITH PRESS CONFERENCES FOR THE DAY: Our friend Jeff Hauser poses one of his always provocative questions by pointing out this quote by Josh Marshall, which he presents as a challenge to neo-cons: (This is a quick response, incidentally, written over a hasty pb&j being quickly consumed in the leadup to a birthday party.)
"For intellectuals, however, there is always a temptation to take momentous, morally serious questions and make them out to be slightly more momentous and world-historical than they really are. Call it the Orwellian temptation. George Orwell not only epitomized what an intellectual can and should be. He has also become the symbol of the role the best intellectuals played in those critical mid-century years. Along the way, however, the image he cast--or rather his ghost, or his shade--has also become part of the pornography of intellectuals


First, I should be impelled by a certain requisite amount of humility to disclaim that I, personally, am not an intellectual - but rather, at absolute best, a pseudo-intellectual. However, I do know several intellectuals - for instance, my good friends and coauthors (one of whom also, incidentally, is a scholar-athlete).

Second, I think the answer lies in the recognizing that there are important turning points in intellectual and (more obviously) political history, and intellectuals write to attempt to bring these about, sometimes successfully, sometimes not. They do so by attempting to change the way in which we conceptualize the social and political universe in which we live - and in particular, the extent to which we're willing to view as acceptable particular dimensions of the status quo by which we're surrounded. We tend to categorize portions of the status quo as alternatively problematic or acceptable, and to different degrees, and important shifts in intellectual and the ideational aspects of political history often happen by prominent thinkers (Thomas Paine, Betty Friedan) shifting the ways in which we categorize particular aspects of the status quo - and the relative priority we give to aspects of the status quo we agree are unacceptable. For instance, it is historically largely up to writers and crafters of ideas to fashion competing arguments about which of these are acceptable, or, conversely, problematic - transitions from religiosity to secularism in liberal democracies (less so in the U.S.); the lack of democracy and respect for individual political rights in much of the developing world; or the legal-political protections given to labor migrants across particular international boundaries, such as Mexican nationals laboring in the United States, or Europeans within the Schengen area.

What a Kissingerian realist may claim is acceptable - a lack of democracy in large regions of the world in the service of stability, prioritizing with Goethe order over justice - a neo-con may not, believing that only a foreign policy of democracy promotion truly fulfills both the United States's ethical ideals and secures its long-term security. And changing our categorizations of acceptability versus unacceptability (a postmodernist would have written something along the hideous lines of "un/acceptability" - but, then again, I could live with that since it's on second glance a rather nice disparagement of the UN), in this case about the acceptability of a lack of democracy remaining in large portions of the world, generally can't be done without making strong cases. To impute a questionable "pornographic" or "Orwellian" label to neo-cons for attempting to make what's actually a quite large change in our way of viewing the rest of the world seems to me, somehow, unwarranted. I grant that it would be irresponsible to treat minor political decisions as though the future of the world somehow hung in the balance on its outcome, but conversely, minor political decisions are generally the linchpins for broader pervasive changes in the political moment, when the latter occur (eg, the colonial response to the Stamp Act) - and rhetorical considerations aside, in this case the degree of weight being given to these issue does seem to me to be truly concomitant with the significance of the matter.

There's much more to be said, but friendship duties must temporarily prevail.
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# Posted 7:57 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

OUT OF THE DOGHOUSE: Kristof is back off of the unreadable list for now, thanks to yet another OxDem-friendly column as well as fairly reasonable mea culpa admitting that the doves -- himself included -- made extravagantly wrong claims about what might go wrong in the event of war. (Actually, his second mea culpa in the past six months.)

I think I'm going to have to fall back on my original diagnosis of Kristof as a columnist with split-personality disorder. Insightful one day, kneejerk liberal the next. Strangely enough, Kristof accounts for his own bad predictions by saying that they were the work of "[his] my body double while I was on vacation." I figure Dowd and Krugman have actually been writing the columns in question and submitting them as Kristof's work without him knowing about it. Remember, you heard it here first.
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# Posted 6:53 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

CHUTZPAH: Jordan's Foreign Minister says all the right things about how Arabs must launch their own indigenous movements for democratic reform. How unfortunate that King Abdallah II has spent the past few years destroying what is left of his father's reforms in order to consolidate his own personal dictatorship.
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# Posted 6:41 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

RUMSFELD VS. TEHERAN: From the NYT:
"A vocal minority clamoring to transform Iraq in Iran's image will not be permitted to do so," Mr. Rumsfeld said. "We will not allow the Iraqi people's democratic transition to be hijacked for ? by those who might wish to install another form of dictatorship."
Not bad for the SecDef. All I would've added is something about how only those who participate in the democratic process and win the support of the Iraqi people will have a right to say how Iraq is governed.
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# Posted 6:07 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WHAT FOLLOWS is the transcript of a press conference held by OxBlog Information Minister Mopatrick Saeed Al-Belton on the subject of OxBlog Vice-President-For-Life David Adesnik's remarkable achievements in today's all-Britain karate tournament:
MSaB: Ladies and gentlemen of the press, thank you for coming this afternoon. As expected, I will begin today's briefing with the announcement of excellent news from the front. According to initial reports, David has won a tremendous victory in the first round of the kata event. Thus, I can confidently say that the black belts' ordeal of humiliation has already begun. Are there any questions?

Q: Yes, Mr. Al-Belton, I was wondering if you could let us know who David's opponent in the first round was.

A: I have no interest in embarassing the unfortunate individual who was humbled before David's might. Next?

Q: Mr. Minister, I've just received notice from a reporter embedded at the tournament that David apparently had no opponent in the first round. Could you explain?

A: There is nothing to explain. If the coward was afraid to even show himself in the ring, then let him bear the resultant shame.

Q: According to a confidential source at black belt headquarters, David received a bye in the first round because there were an odd number of participants in the tournament. Do you have any comment on this?

A: I have had enough of your impudence. Let's move on to more important things. We now have a report that in the second round of the kata event, David performed a mighty version of heian shodan.

Q: Having checked the rulebook, I'm fairly sure that this is an elimination round, so wouldn't you agree that the real question is not how well David did, but whether he did better than his opponent?

A: If that were the case, it was only because David wanted to take advantage of the overconfidence of his potential opponents by letting them think that he is not at his strongest.

Q: So basically, you've conceded that David was knocked out of the kata bracket immediately? What can you tell us about his performance in kumite?

A: Don't put words in my mouth. However, because I am gracious enough to share with you as much of the truth as possible, I will let you know about the kumite. It seems that in the kumite event, David has chosen to demonstrate his courage by not accepting a bye in the first round. So there. I have disproven your silly pig-dog notions about his victory in the kata event being gratuitous.

Q: The al-Karateka network has just broadcast a report that David was seen being smacked in the face. Can you verify this?

A: I have no evidence to back up this sort of malfeasant roguish claim. What I can say is that half of the match is over and that David is still bravely holding his own against the blackbelt forces.

Q: Al-Karateka is now reporting that David was hit by a reverse hook kick to the face, thus eliminating him from the tournament. Can you verify this?

A: Don't trust anything you hear from al-Karateka. Because of their slanderous nincompoopery, we have expelled all of their correspondents from OxBlog.

Q: Eyewitness accounts now confirm that David is crumpled on the floor and his face is a bloody mess. Isn't it about time you admit you have no idea what the hell you are talking about?

A: There are oceans of blood all around David! It is the blood of his hegemonistic black belt pig-dog enemies who have futilely sought to oust him from this tournament.

Q: Mr. Minister, why are you stuffing all of your papers into that attache case? And why is your finger on the trigger of your 9mm sidearm? Are you in a rush to get somewhere?

A: I have no more time for any of your knavish skullduggeries! This conference is over.
[OK. So I made up the part about being crumpled on the floor with my face a bloody mess. But the rest is all true. I swear! -ed.]
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# Posted 11:38 AM by Patrick Belton  

LIKE ALLEN DULLES, it will to her great credit be said of Baroness Park that she kept the secrets. Nonetheless, the former principal of Somerville College, Oxford, and humble, brave, dryly self-deprecating MI-6 officer - whose long quiet labor in the service of democracy and the interests of her nation was rewarded with a peerage - most likely still has some interesting vignettes she might share to those of you who care to trek up to her flat on Woodstock Road.
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# Posted 9:53 AM by Daniel  

TAKE THAT, RICK. YOU AND YOUR PARTY. Dan Savage on Santorum and the G.O.P.
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Friday, April 25, 2003

# Posted 8:46 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

CONFIDENT OF VICTORY: This will be my last post for the night, because early tomorrow morning I will be heading off to Birmingham to participate in the KUGB's annual all-Britain karate tournament. Even though I do not have a record of success in such competition, this time things will be different.

The foundation of my triumph will be my opponents' assumption that I am a spent force. Expecting to meet with negligible resistance, they will soon find themselves caught in a quagmire.

My opponents' initial attacks -- designed to instill "shock and awe" -- will only demonstrate how impotent they are. Unable to recognize their own failure, my opponents will carry on with their conventional battle plan only to find themselves paralyzed by my unconventional strategies of resistance.

As the fight drags on, my opponents will find their own morale flagging because of their initial overconfidence. In contrast, I will find myself strengthened by the moral support of all of those other underrated fighters -- contemptuously referred to as "brown belts" -- who have decided to join the struggle against unipolar black belt hegemony.

For an official announcement of my victory, please visit this site again tomorrow, when OxBlog Information Minister Mopatrick Saeed Al-Belton will have exclusive results from the tournament. While you may be accustomed to visiting other sites for results, I am sure that by now you have had enough of the lies propagated by the mainstream sports media.

Until then...
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# Posted 8:15 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

COMMEMORATION: As OxBlog's Australian correspondent reminds me, April 25th marks the anniversary of the day in 1915 on which the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) landed on the shores of Gallipoli. April 25th is now known as ANZAC Day, the day on which Australians commemorate both the tragic loss of life that followed the Gallipoli landing, as well as the sacrifices made by all Australian soldiers since that time. May they rest in peace.
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# Posted 12:40 PM by Patrick Belton  

NUDITY, NUDITY, NUDITY: As is OxBlog's long tradition, this post actually is about nudity. More specifically, it's about Dixie Chicks, the relationship of art and politics, and some reflections on the politicized use of the body.

First of all, to begin with what I hope to be the quite obvious: any functioning democracy needs to create flourishing, broad spaces for conceivably quite brutal dissent, with bare-minimal (no pun) strictures imposed on dissenters (like, obviously, that they obey laws and don't become violent, threaten individual liberties, or give support to a foreign intelligence service: but these are, and should be, absolutely minimal strictures applying equally to all citizens regardless of their degree of support for the government in power). Strauss may have pointed out that Socrates and the city will perennially be at cross-purposes, but contemporary liberal democracy has taken the strong stand that the city must give a wide berth in the Forum to all those who would be the day's Socrates. Furthermore, this berth must not merely be legal and political, but also normative and moral: a polity which does not engage its dissenters in civic conversations runs the risk of fragmenting itself into poles which merely shout past each other, the greatest danger of our own republic. As Senator Fulbright put it (disclosure who paid for a large portion of my recent education, and whom I am therefore strongly disposed to think well of), dissent has become an article of faith in democracies. I support in the strongest terms possible performers' rights to criticize the President of the United States in their concerts - although frankly, it may detract from my aesthetic opinion of their art, as at least crassly-politicized art is generally less likely to be any good. And given the foreign venue of the Dixie Chicks' concert in which they criticized the U.S. President, there was something pandering about their comments. However, my response, and I hope yours, would not be to criticize the notion of artistic political protest, but rather to either (1) treat their opus on aesthetic grounds, or (2) to deal with the content of their political arguments, and not their propriety in making them.

We do a fair amount of the latter here, so I'd like to deal with the former for a moment - i.e., the aesthetic dimensions of politicized nudity, a frequent phenomenon in contemporary politicized art. Obviously, the Dixie Chicks' Entertainment Weekly cover had me thinking of Karen Finley, the famous "chocolate smeared woman" whom NEA opponents loved to attack. So I went back and read several interviews with Finley. Her work is confrontational, radical, includes copious amounts of profanity, and intentionally deals indelicately with controversial issues such as rape - and is, unquestionably, art. There's a complex structure of meaning and signification in her work, as clearly comes across in reading through several transcripts of her pieces. (I leave aside entirely for the moment the issue of whether she should receive public funding; frankly, I'm not sure what the role should be of politics, and, through it, popular aesthetic and other value judgments, in funding artists. Without having considered the issue much, I'm inclined to think that public funding for controversial artists represents neither a human right nor an abomination, but instead a public decision through complex layers of political process.) Now I'm not sure that the next time Karen Finley performs in Washington or in New Haven I'll necessarily go see her, but her work undoubtedly qualifies her as an artist - and, after all, I may even go see her in the end.

I'm not sure this is true for the Dixie Chicks, in their recent act of politicized nudity on the cover on Entertainment Weekly. In an attempt to seem profound and artistic, the band members had written on their bodies controversy-laden words like "Dixie Sluts" and "Traitors." The whole episode reminded me, more than anything else, of some of the exhibitionist displays I'd seen on various University of California campuses that attempted to legitimate themselves by pretending to be political, and thence, artistic and profound. Rather than artistic (and intentionally controversy-provoking) nudity like Karen Finley's adventures with chocolate, that of the Dixie Chicks seems rather more a combination of marketing stratagem with pretentious non-statement. After all, nudity is a wonderful way to recover popularity, since, first, people generally like or are at least well-disposed to it, and second, it doesn't force you to engage at all the arguments or opinions that you voiced that had made you unpopular. And writing the words "Dixie Sluts" on their bodies doesn't seem to engage their earlier debate at all, but rather seems only a diversionary tactic that seeks to divert ad hominem criticism of the president into issues of sexuality, and therefore to cover them (ironically) with the veneer of the more respectable feminist cause established by women such as Ms. Finley.

Politicized art is only generally, not necessarily, less valuable aesthetically: the tension seems to be more of an empirical than an essential matter, and it's easy to think of important and beautiful artistic works that have been both political and have endured as noteworthy aesthetic creations. Most of the spiritual repertory goes into this category; so does much folk music out of the labor protest genres, and jazz (such as many pieces by the recently-departed Nina Simone). A general pattern seems to be that the most memorable songs depict the particular in a way that gets at something universal. The duality is inescapable, since either one without the other becomes somewhat vapid and unsturdy. Thus when we hear the evocative words "Go down Moses, way down in Egypt-Land....Tell old Pharoah: Let my people go," we instantly know that they are simultaneously and powerfully about contemporary blacks, the ancient Hebrews, and sadness and the search for freedom as an inescapable part of the human condition. All would-be political artists of our day should take careful note.
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# Posted 9:27 AM by Patrick Belton  

WINNER FOR THE "NEVER-BEFORE-SAID SENTENCE CONTEST": From one of our closest friends - "So there I was racing down the stairs in Saddam's palace at the ruins of ancient Babylon on Easter morning when I tripped on the marble and fainted into the arms of a Catholic priest." (true)
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# Posted 2:15 AM by Patrick Belton  

LABORATORIES OF DEMOCRACY, sure, but state legislatures come up with really kooky ideas at times. To wit: a "scarlet letter" law in Florida under which, before giving a child up for adoption, mothers were required to publicize their sexual histories in great detail in newspaper ads. Not only did this odd idea also encompass rape victims and underage girls who had been victims of abuse - but the rallying cry for lawmakers in the bill's passage was Baby Emily, a Florida girl put up for adoption in 1992, but whose convicted rapist father contested her adoption. Injustice, sure.

A Florida appellate court struck down the law on Wednesday, the state's lawyers having refused to defend it.
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Thursday, April 24, 2003

# Posted 10:24 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

'I TOLD YOU SO' FROM THE LEFT: Kos smells blood and is beginning to smile at the though of Bush being impeached if we don't find any WMD.
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# Posted 10:14 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

LOOTING: Glenn Reynolds thinks that widespread criticism of American passivity during the chaos is unfair, given certain evidence that the looting may have been well-planned and hard to stop.
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# Posted 10:00 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

ADVICE FOR GARNER: Columnist David Broder is blasting Jay Garner for his imperial naivete. Admittedly, even I'm a bit uncomfortable with Garner's statement that
To get [the Iraqis] comfortable with self-government I don't think will take long...Once they're comfortable with it and they realize where they are and what they have, I think they'll take off. I have high hopes for this."
If Garner knew what was best -- both for himself and for the United States -- he would keep his opinions to himself. Especially after its embarrassing failure to predict how the invasion would turn out, the media is looking for an administration official whose naivete and hubris will render him or her vulnerable to humiliation.

Even for those journalists who are not interested taking the administration down a notch, the constant imperative to expose politicians' incompetence will ensure that every sign of things going wrong in Iraq will become a big story. If the occupation authorities insist that things are going well, every thing that goes wrong will become an even bigger story.

A considerable amount of academic literature suggests that journalists measure the significance of world events according to the expectations generated by the White House, the Pentagon and the State Department. This point has really been driven home to me during my research on the Reagan administration's policy on Central America . At this point, having read through five years of headlines, it is has become self-evident that the more a politicians denies that a problem exists, the more likely that any evidence of that problem's existence will become a front-page story.

Consider this example: In 1982, there were approximately 50 US soldiers working as instructors for the armed forces in El Salvador. According to their rules of engagement, these soldiers were permitted to carry sidearms, but not rifles. Such restrictions reflected the Reagan's administration's desire to demonstrate that the presence of 'advisors' was not going to result in an incremental commitment of the kind that (allegedly) led to the American involvement in Vietnam.

After CNN produced footage of US instructors carrying rifles, Reagan ordered an investigation of the incident, which of course made the front page. The next day, when the US Ambassador in El Salvador sent one of the officers home for disregarding his orders, it made the front page again.

The point here is that the newsworthiness of a given event often reflects journalists' expectations much more than it does the events significance. In light of the widespread fear that El Salvador would become another Vietnam, there was no chance that the presence of 50 advisers would grow into the presence of half a million soliders. But because of such fears, the rifle incident became an important one.

So, on the off chance that Gen. Garner or any other occupation officials are reading this post, I'm going to list a few guidelines that may help you avoid bad coverage:

1) Always talk about the complexity of the situation in you are facing. Journalists love nothing more than someone they can portray as having a black-and-white worldview.

2) Always talk about the importance of respecting and learning from foreign cultures. Journalists love nothing more than someone they can portray as an Ugly American.

3) Always talk about the local population's interest in dignity and autonomy. Journalists love nothing more than someone they can portary as an imperial proconsul.

4) Always talk about the United States' less-than-perfect record of promoting reform abroad. Journalists love nothing more than someone they can portray as an ignorant patriot.

5) Never remind journalists of their own mistakes. Journalists hates nothing more than someone who tells them how to do their job.

Just in case it wasn't self-evident, points one through five summarize the worldview that journalists developed in Vietnam and have carried with them ever since. While the original generation of war correspondents has mostly retired, its worldview has become that of the mainstream media establishment. You can't work against it, only around it. The only protection from it is success.

Gen. Garner, I wish you the best.
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# Posted 9:23 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

LIONS AND TIGERS AND SHI'ITES, OH MY! On Monday, the WaPo ran a front page headline that read "Officials Argue for Fast U.S. Exit From Iraq." On Wednesday, it ran a front page headline that read "U.S. Planners Surprised by Strength of Iraqi Shiites". Coincidence? I think not.

As one might expect, these stories reflect the input of anonymous "senior officials in the White House and Pentagon" (Mon.) and "Bush administration officials" (Wed). While I firmly support the practice of anonymous quotation, there are times when it becomes problematic. After all, wouldn't it be convenient for those who want the US out of Iraq as fast as possible to play up the intensity and unexpected nature of Shi'ite resentment?

To be fair, there are indications in the text of the WaPo articles that they do not quote the same officials. First of all, the identification of Monday's officials as "senior" is significant. Next comes the fact that the first quotation in the Wednesday article comes from a State Department official, not a White House or Pentagon man.

In addition, that same article observes that "Some administration officials were dazzled by Ahmed Chalabi, the prominent Iraqi exile who is a Shiite and an advocate of a secular democracy." Thanks to the passive voice, it's impossible to tell whether this sentence paraphrases the opinion of "some administration officials" or whether it is a semi-factual observation made by the article's authors. Either way, the firm anti-Chalabi spin on this point suggests that it also has its origins in the State Department.

The important thing, I think, is not to overplay Shi'ite antagonism to the American occupation. Today, the front page of the WaPo tells us that "Iraqi Shiites Grow Uneasy Over U.S. Occupation; Cleric Says Americans Must Leave". Take a closer look at the evidence, though, and you'll see that this story is just a reincarnation of journalists' refusal to believe that Iraqis appreciate their liberation.

According to the Post, an anti-occupation "statement by Abdul Aziz Hakim, one of a variety of clergy vying for power among Shiites in Iraq, was another sign of growing unease among Iraq's 60 percent Shiite majority over U.S. intentions." Strikingly, the WaPo's correspondent don't think to ask whether Hakim is playing up his anti-American stance because he is "vying for power". If memory serves, Middle Eastern politicians occasionally resort to disingenuous anti-Americanism in order to fire up emotions and deflect criticism of their other shortcomings.

In this case, Hakim has good reason to deflect attention from the fact (which the Post duly notes) that he is the brother of SCIRI's Teheran-based leader, Ayatollah Mohammed Bakir Hakim. This is a classic of Middle Eastern politics: hide your own flawed nationalist credentials by attacking the United States. Thus, for the Post to call Hakim's words an indication of "growing unease" among Shi'ites is questionable to say the least.

Thankfully, US officials don't seem prone to rush to conclusions as fast as the media has. As Jay Garner said,
"I think the bulk of the Shia, the majority of the Shia, are very glad they are where they are right now...Two weeks ago they wouldn't have been able to demonstrate."
Exactly. There is every reason to believe that most Iraqi Shi'ites are greatful for their liberation. In fact, many indigenous Shi'ite clerics are open to working with the United States. What we have to watch out for are the ambitious men with friends in Teheran.

One important strategy for winning Shi'ite support has nothing do with religion. It has to do with reconstruction. According to the lede of another front page story in Wednesday's WaPo,
In a milestone of sorts, Baghdadis have begun shooting their automatic rifles in celebration rather than anger as electricity is gradually restored to one neighborhood after another in a darkened city noisy with generators.
If we move fast on the reconstruction front, Iraqis of all denominations will recognize that an American presence serves their own immediate interests, in the short-run and possibly over an extended period of time.

What's also important to recognize is that the United States shares a critical interest even with the most provocative Shi'ites leaders. We want to leave and they want us to leave. Clearly, there is reason to suspect that some Shi'ite leaders want the Americans out so that they can establish their own theocratic dictatorship. That is why, rather than getting defensive when the legitimacy of our presence is challenged, we ought to demand that all those who challenge it specify what they want to replace it with.

If the radical fundamentalists have to admit exactly what it is they are after, I expect they will lose considerable support. In order to make that happen, what the United States has to do is prevent the radicals from assuming the mantle of Iraqi nationalism. But if we don't get defensive and continually remind the people of Iraq that we want to leave as well, it shouldn't be all that hard.

Of course, the way to make clear that we are serious about leaving is not by having "senior administration officials" share their thoughts with WaPo reporters. That kind of diplomacy undercuts American authority by emboldening anti-American politicians without having an impact on Iraqi public opinion. What we need are clear statements from Jay Garner (which we seem to have) and, more importantly, from the President.

UPDATE: Kos misses the anti-Chalabi spin of Wednesday's Post article.
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# Posted 8:12 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

PILE ON! The WaPo blasts away at Santorum, with arguments that seem surprisingly familiar. Richard Cohen adds that:
In 2001, 1,393 hate crimes were committed against gay and bisexual Americans -- 14.3 percent of total hate crimes.
That's an important point, because we can't afford to forget that homophobia, just like racism, has real physical victims. Perhaps the most eloquent argument against Santorum's bigotry is simply this: Remember Matthew Shepard.

UPDATE: Andrew Sullivan.
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# Posted 5:14 PM by Patrick Belton  

BOLSHOI MOLODETS!!!!: Guess who's going to be giving the University of Minnesota's valedictory speech this spring? If you guessed OxBlog's friend David Simon, you're right on the money, even if it is in rubles. So a big shout out and bravina to our friend David!!! And the best thing is, next fall he and his good friend Heidi are both coming here to Oxford and my college, the College of the Holy and Undivided Trinity, courtesy of some fat dead Zimbabwean benefactor of the New World Order.

He and I made friends by the Coke machine at CFR two summers ago, and not only is he going to be president someday, he's a really sweet guy to boot. (I just had to go and embarass him in front of all his future IR MPhil classmates....) Congrats, David!
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# Posted 4:50 PM by Patrick Belton  

SANTORUM WATCH REDUX, OR SIGNS OF THE APOCALYPSE: a CNN headline this morning reads: Polygamists angry at gay link.

I can't even bring myself to make a joke here. Sometimes real life does it for you.
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# Posted 9:15 AM by Patrick Belton  

NEEDED A REMINDER THAT CUBA'S GOVERNMENT IS PRETTY DOWNRIGHT EVIL? Feeling tempted to tag along to one of the multiple peregrinations of Yale seniors to Cuba, because, heck, it's slightly illicit and the food and salsa are so darn good there? Then for homework, go and read this.

For those of you who are on a slim diet of clicks in the pre-summer run up (and for those you who aren't, then also check out this and this and this and...), the article (from this morning's WaPo) shows how pervasive the Cuban police state apparatus has become: Cuban domestic intelligence placed agents in the human rights community, and as friends and executive assistants to noted academics suspected of harboring reformist views, and as journalists posing as sympathetic to reformers. When after fifteen years' time, these agents then became presidents of leading human rights organizations (as did Odilia Collazo, Agent Tania to her handlers), confidantes and assistants to leading academics - with access to their files and email passwords (as did Aleida de las Mercedes Godinez, or Agent Vilma), or president of an independent journalists' association with friendships to key reporters (as did Nestor Baguer, Agent Octavio), the Cuban government was able to develop comprehensive information on the most intimate thoughts, musings, or emails of these journalists, human rights organization members, academics, etc. - with the goal of imprisoning the latter for two decades for "subversive activities" (as happened to 75 noble people earlier this month, including some of Cuba's best-known poets, journalists, human rights workers, and professors). Absolutely sickening - this regime is a blight on the hemisphere, and on the democratic aspirations of mankind.

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Wednesday, April 23, 2003

# Posted 11:22 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

VOLOKH ON FOODCRIME: "If meat is murder, then chicken is manslaughter, eggs are kidnapping, and milk is sexual harassment."
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# Posted 8:09 PM by Patrick Belton  

SUSPICIOUS: I just received a letter addressed to me and asking for a $25,000 contribution to the President's re-election campaign. (A year of law school, or dinner. Yeah, why not....)

What's interesting about this is that, not only am I not registered as a Republican, but having just moved into Washington, absolutely no one had my name or address. Being a bad citizen (and not that interested in politics...), I hadn't yet gotten around to registering to vote. And the WaPo and all of my magazine subscriptions (for the oh-so-curious and my stalkers: the Economist, NY and London Reviews of Books, and the New Yorker) are jointly in Rachel's and my name.

However, I had sent my resume to the National Security Council to apply for a position on its staff - even though my chances of getting a job there from a cold letter were between zero and none, given that this administration unlike its predecessor has drawn together an NSC staff generally composed of tenured faculty. However, being from an absurdly wealthy working-class southern family and having married into an equally wealthy dynasty which inhabits a log cabin in Alaska, I just had nothing better to do with those 37 cents. Neither Rachel nor any of my neighbors received the letter.

I'm therefore left, for want of a better explanation, with the conclusion that this administration is making a practice of adding people applying for positions in the administration (including such nominally nonpartisan bodies as the NSC staff) to the White House's political database of potential contributors.

Now, I support much if not most of what this administration has done in foreign policy. But mixing governing and re-elective databases, and sending letters asking for fairly massive donations to people who had applied for foreign policy positions in the administration seems, somehow, slightly crass if not downright unethical. I say this not from any ideological or partisan motivation for attacking the president, but simply from a strong remembrance from my time as a congressional staffer of the strong ethical firewall that had been erected between casework and campaign databases, and in general between government and campaign offices.

Too many more of these letters, and, and, I just might even get around to registering to vote in D.C.!!!! (New Haven, I found out, has kicked me off the rolls - fair enough, since I'm not dead yet.)

UPDATE: A number of readers, including some Republican staffers admirably concerned to make sure that the White House was in compliance with campaign finance laws, have asked me for more information about which precise fundraising push the letter was part of. Our Republican readers particularly wanted to ensure that all this didn't controvene somehow the legislated individual donor limits of $2,000 per campaign cycle.

Now my actual invitation hitched a ride to the Pentagon with Rachel this morning on the dashboard of my car, but I believe it was for this fundraiser - the House and Senate Republicans' presidential dinner on May 21. Dinner tickets are $2,500 each, and tables were the big-ticket item at $25,000 each.

I'm inclined to be fairly confident the organizers' lawyers were probably pretty fastidious on this point (this confidence in the wisdom of campaigns comes in spite of having served on the staff of many of them....), but I'd nevertheless be very interested if anyone could give me a bit more information on the point.
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# Posted 7:42 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

FINGERS CROSSED: Martin Kimel thinks that pointing out media bias plays a critical role in keeping journalists honest. I hope. [Martin's post is the first one for Monday, April 21st.]
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# Posted 7:26 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

STILL TELLING'EM SO: The WSJ's editors are a little late with this one, but their list of absurd predictions is quite impressive.
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# Posted 7:06 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

MY THOUGHTS EXACTLY: This is a proud day for Josh, who has been the driving force behind OxBlog ever since it came into being one year ago today. With his razor-sharp logic, fierce commitment to principle and compelling written style, Josh has built OxBlog into a formidable institution. I am proud to be associated with it and profoundly grateful for the generosity Josh has shown by letting me a be a part of it. Happy Blogiversary!
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# Posted 6:56 PM by Patrick Belton  

ACTUALLY, I had just been recovering from our massive blogiversary gala ... Thanks to David and Josh, yes, for a great first year, but most importantly for being kind enough to provide me with cover - even though some of you noticed that there was something ever so slightly Irish about the guy "photographed" below.....

More seriously, an ENORMOUS thanks and congratulations to Josh (i.e., OxBlogger 1.0) on your baby blog's one-year birthday!

And to OxBlog: many happy returns of the day!
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# Posted 6:53 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SANTORUM DECORUM: CF writes in to say
I think that Sen. Santorum raises a valid point: if the U.S. Supreme Court finds a new "sexual privacy" right or other emanation under a penumbra that guarantees government non-interference in private sexual matters, how can we avoid applying that to consensual incest or adultery?...At worst, I think, you can accuse [Santorum] of being insufficiently supportive of the rights of gays to have private sexual freedom.
I agree with the first half of CF's argument. Once the Court extends the right to privacy to homosexuals, it will have to extend it to all other forms of consenting sex between adults. Now, since I don't really know anything about constitutional law, I suggest you go read Eugene Volokh's explanation of why this is so. Gene, of course, would like to see the right of privacy extended to all forms of consenting sex. (Gene writes as if he has no personal interest in the matter, but don't you ever wonder about him and Sasha being so close? ;) )

Now, regardless of the fact that Santorum is correct from a legal perspective, that doesn't mean he isn't a homophobe. Consider Santorum's statement (while answering the same quesiton in which he made his constitutional argument) that the constitutional right to privacy
destroys the basic unit of our society because it condones behavior that's antithetical to strong healthy families. Whether it's polygamy, whether it's adultery, where it's sodomy, all of those things, are antithetical to a healthy, stable, traditional family.
How, I ask, is sodomy "antithetical to a healthy, stable, traditional family"? I know many loving gay parents who have raised wonderful children. Some are married. Some are not. But the important point is that parents' sexual practices have no apparent impact on their children. (And if you consider that state laws often define oral sex as sodomy, I'd have to imagine that the number of loving parents who practice sodomy must number in the millions.)

If Santorum were really worried about those things which "destory the basic unit of our society", he would spend his time worrying about spousal violence, child abuse and divorced parents who renege on child welfare payments. But for some reason, Santorum thinks that having less-than-traditional sexual preferences is a greater threat to one's children than beating them or refusing to buy them food and clothing. You know why? Santorum is a bigot.

Of course, you could have figured that out pretty easily from Santorum's strictly consitutional argument that
if the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual sex within your home, then you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to polygamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery. You have the right to anything.
Would anyone actually place homosexuality in the same context as incest and adultery if they weren't a bigot? If you or I were to argue against the existence of a right to privacy, we could draw on a wide array of valid arguments, none of which rest on immature fears about a right to privacy resulting in widespread incest or adultery.

Whatever the legal similarities between homosexuality, incest and adultery, the sociological differences are profound. And if one happens to accept a realist approach to the law -- as Jack Balkin recommends in this instance -- social behavior has significant legal ramifications. As Balkin points out, there was a time when Americans thought of pre-marital sex as no less offensive than homosexuality and would have felt comfortable with state regulation of pre-marital behavior. Today, of course, any such regulation would be struck down without a second thought.

As Balkin argues, the most persuasive explanation for the Court's changing attitude is that it accepts social norms as a legitimate source of constitutional interpretation. Thus, the real question isn't whether the protection of gay rights might provide a constitutional foundation for the protection of incest and adultery. The question is whether social acceptance of homosexuality will result in social acceptance of incest and adultery.

As Gene points out, adultery has already become so widespread that the prosecution of adulterers is now unheard of, even if there is no effort underway to legalize such behavior. Once again, if Santorum's real interest were protecting the family, he would be speaking out against the adulterers, not the homosexuals. If anything, Santorum should be arguing that adultery promotes homosexuality and not vice versa. But that kind of logic might undermine the Senator's mindless campaign against gay marriage.

So what about incest? Is there anyone out there who will take advantage of a Court ruling in favor of homosexuality to advance the cause of incest? [Insert West Virginia joke here.] As Dan Simon asks, why do Santorum's critics, OxBlog included,
find it outrageous and offensive that anyone would compare gay sex with (presumably consensual) polygamy, incest and adultery, because the latter are all.....uh, what? Icky and disgusting? Prohibited by the Bible? Just not done, you know, by Our Sort of People?
I admit, of course, that there is no rational case to be made against consensual polygamy, adultery or incest. If it turns out that all sorts of well-adjusted adult siblings (say, Gene and Sasha) have been hiding their love for one another until now, I might be willing to hear them out. But for the moment, incest tends to be associated with predatory and often violent behavior. Polygamy often entails abuse as well. And adultery is almost always associated with deception. Santorum knows that. If he thinks homosexuality belongs in the same category, then he is a bigot.

Now, the fact that Santorum has refused to apologize suggests that he really is a bigot. According to the Senator, "My comments should not be construed in any way as a statement on individual lifestyles." Especially not those lifestyles that "destory the basic unit of society," right? What a hypocrite.

No less absurd is Bill Frist's statement that "Rick is a consistent voice for inclusion and compassion in the Republican Party and in the Senate, and to suggest otherwise is just politics." Of course, the politics here are actually Frist's. He's not a bigot. But sure as hell isn't going to let the Republicans suffer the same sort of embarrassment they did because of Trent Lott.

At the same time, I don't really agree with Rep. Barney Frank's (D-MA) statment that "This kind of gay-bashing is perfectly acceptable in the Republican Party." Acceptable only in the sense that Bill Frist would rather defend Santorum than sacrifice him to Democratic critics such as John Kerry and Howard Dean. I have no doubt that most Republican politicians recognize the right of homosexuals to full and equal protection under the law, even if many of them harbor private doubts about its morality. What there is now is a struggle between those who want to leave the party's gay-bashing rhetoric behind and those embarrassing few like Santorum who just won't let go.

So enough of all this Santorum bashing. Let's remember the nice things he's said about homosexuals. For example:
"In every society, the definition of marriage has not ever to my knowledge included homosexuality. That's not to pick on homosexuality. It's not, you know, man on child, man on dog, or whatever the case might be."
Damn. And I was about to propose to Rover.

UPDATE: Unsurprisingly, Andrew Sullivan is all over Santorum, both on his website and in Salon.
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Tuesday, April 22, 2003

# Posted 11:35 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

CLASH OF CIVILIZATIONS? Not exactly. Turns out the 82nd Airborne caught five Ba'ath terrorists and an Al Qaeda operative who had intended to bomb Shi'ite mosques in Karbala. Memo to Rumsfeld: Next time, deploy some of those guys from the 82nd around Paris' synagogues. (Via Instapundit)
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# Posted 11:03 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

REAGAN REDUX: While I happen to be reading Alexander Haig's memoirs as part of my research project on the Reagan era, his book is well worth reading for anyone interested in the making of American foreign policy. Above all, there are disturbing parallels between Haig's recollections of divisive debates over foreign policy within the Reagan cabinet and the divisions that have emerged in the current one.

In both cases, such divisions have been played out in the public sphere rather than behind closed doors. As CalPundit points out, the inconsistency of the administration's stated policy on Iraq has reached an unacceptable level.

Of course, such observations are hardly original. And I don't just mean that OxBlog has made the same point before. In December 2000, I was relaxing on the beach in Thailand with CM, an Army Ranger, now stationed at Fort Drum with the 10th Mountain Division. An obsessive reader, CM had his head buried in The Prince while I had my head buried in the sand. Metaphorically, that is.

At one point, CM read out a passage in which Machiavelli describes the situation of a prince who lacks sufficient knowledge of public affairs to personally direct the affairs of his kingdom. Machiavelli notes that such a prince ought to entrust all important decisions to a single adviser, since the presence of multiple advisers would result in arguments that such a prince lacks the ability to resolve.

Of course, CM noted that The Prince's advice stood in direct contrast to the stated position of the Bush campaign, which was that the President-elect would compensate for his deficient knowledge of foreign affairs by surrounding himself with a broad array of expert advisors.

This is not to that history has proven the Italian right and the Texan wrong. In fact, Bush's surprising success as a foreign policy President suggests that old Niccolo may not have the final say on affairs of state. Nonetheless, I think it is fair to say that the internal divisions reported in the press have constantly threatened the integrity of Bush's foreign policy.

While one might argue that this sort of public debate is an admirable model of open deliberation in a democratic context, I think that such an interpretation is simply not tenable in light of the fact that the President's advisors disagree over what the United States' policy is, rather than what it should be. At times, one might even use the term insubordination to describe certain individuals' response to presidential decisions.

While I am most definitely an optimist on certain counts, I don't expect the President to impose any sort of discipline on his subordinates any time soon. The Reagan precedent suggests that such divisions only become worse over time.

In certain instances, a lack of presidential oversight can have dramatic consequences. In Reagan's case, those consequences became known as Iran-Contra. Regardless of whether one considers the actions of Poindexter and North to have been criminal, I think is fair to say that the Reagan administration suffered extensive damage as a result of the President's public admission that he had no idea what his own National Security Advisor was doing.

(Note to Republicans: I hope you don't feel I'm picking on your favorite presidents. As everyone knows, Eisenhower and Nixon were in firm control of their cabinets, while Carter had to confront divisions similar to that of his successor.)

For the moment, I am fairly confident that President Bush has enough control of the Cabinet to ensure that there is no second Iran-Contra. But that doesn't mean that existing divisions are not damaging. Given that there are any number of American adversaries waiting to take advantage of unexpected developments in postwar Iraq, the President would be well advised to discourage such adventurism by demonstrating that his administration cannot be led astray from its stated objectives.

UPDATE: Dan Simon defends the Presidents' mangerial style, at least with regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
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# Posted 10:00 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

ARE THE NEO-CONS FRENCH? In his 1984 memoir, Alexander Haig, the one time Secretary of State to President Reagan, observed that the increasingly successful Republican party
has even attracted a class of intellectuals, called neoconservatives, who used to be liberal Democratic intellectuals and still sound like liberal Democratic intellectuals, as a Frenchman who learns English late in life will typically still sound like a Frenchman when he speaks our language. There are also some real conservatives in the party.
Keep that in mind next time you pick up a copy of The Weekly Standard.
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# Posted 6:55 PM by Patrick Belton  

THANKFULLY, SENATOR SANTORUM is garnering some of the condemnation merited by his recent prejudiced remarks which have no place in the polity, and debase the chamber to which he belongs.

HOWEVER, as I remember the modus ponens from a mostly-forgotten class in logic, I now have the permission of one of the most conservative Republicans to do, basically, anything....
If the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual (gay) sex within your home, then you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to polygamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery. You have the right to anything.

Clearly the antecedent clause holds (well, okay, more precisely...in 1996 the Court struck down an anti-gay amendment to the Colorado Constitution on equal protection principles, and is considered likely to reverse its 1986 5-4 decision in Bowers v. Hardwick, since only three justices from that ruling remain on the Court), so therefore I (and I assume of course he meant me) now have the right to anything, including...hey, a doctorate from Oxford (and, gee, why not a junior professorship at Yale, just while we're at it) without doing any academic work these days more substantive than blogging. (Hey, wait...no, never mind.)

Of course, Santorum has no credibility whatsoever at the moment to speak about moral issues, so this is all fairly, err, academic.
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# Posted 10:06 AM by Patrick Belton  

MANISCHEWITZ WATCH: On the seventh day of Pesach, my true love gave to me....dry, stale, stinking unleavened bread. Mmmm...let's try that again.

So at breakfast this morning, I noticed an extraordinarily skillful bit of marketing by Mr. Manischewitz. I admit - I was in desperate search of reading material, since Berkowitz's virtue book was in hiding somewhere underneath my bed with volume two of We the People - it's a really broad church down there. So I was reduced to reading a cardboard box. Anyway, I'm now the proud owner of a 50 cent coupon for any "Guiltless Gourmet" product. Splendid marketing - by labelling their chicken soup as blissfully guiltless, you're automatically made to feel vaguely guilty about eating all other brands. For instance, at the moment I'm sipping vaguely-guilty coffee and contemplating a moderately-guilty protein shake in an hour or so. That's remarkably skillfully done.

(Okay, I know, it's actually Rabbi Manischewitz - as I read on their history page. But I felt better dissing on a faceless, abstract, corporate "Mr." Manischewitz than a real-life Cincinnatian peddler and shochet from the nineteenth century. And yes, by now you've probably figured out that it was my intention through panning Manischewitz to write them a paean. So there.)

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# Posted 9:24 AM by Patrick Belton  

SHOTS ACROSS THE BOW OF STATE: Newt Gingrich, who currently serves on the Defense Policy Board, will apparently make a speech this morning at AEI to promote State Department reform. (See this story from the morning's WaPo.)

In the past, I've considered criticisms of the State Department here, because like any human institution, the State Department is inherently in continual need of reform. I simply happen, as a foreign policy hand, to know State best. (Incidentally, the idea of institutional sin, which received a compelling formulation in the anthropological assumptions of theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, has been very influential in forming the intellectual worldview of most post-WWII foreign policy realists, from Kennan and Morgenthau to Kissinger).

What's needed, however, are creative ideas about how to reform and revive a human institution that's inescapably in need of continual reform, rather than merely another inning in the traditional Republican pastime of State-bashing. Hopefully the former Speaker will begin a process that will produce such needed creative ideas; we'll be looking on attentively, and eagerly.
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# Posted 8:46 AM by Patrick Belton  

PLOV WATCH: The Soros Foundation's brainchild EurasiaNet continues to be an absolutely stellar source of analysis and reportage on Central Asia and the Caucasus. It's definitely worth checking out.

Among pieces it's featured lately - Taliban author Ahmed Rashid warns that Taliban leaders have fled to Pakistan under the secret shelter of sympathetic ISI officers, and are using Pakistan as a base from which to launch operations against Hamid Karzai's government. Switching countries, Tajikistan has been something of a bright spot in the region, even as its economy attempts to recover from devastation, because since the end of its civil war in 1997, the Islamist opposition has been taking part in politics and elections, and apparently moderating greatly as a result, becoming a "normal" political party. However, in an interview, IRP chief Said Abdullo Nuri (whose political opponents charge him with untoward involvement with Iranian intelligence) decries President Imomali Rahmonov's current potentially-destabilizing efforts to amend Tajikistan's constitution to permit him to serve beyond his seven-year term, and join his neighbors in the region's ruler-for-life club.

Finally, this piece analyzes the overlap and divergence in interests between Iran and the New Iraq. Iran worries that a strongly pro-American New Iraq will not develop close relations with it, whereas a fragmenting Iraq will be an irritant to Iran's security situation. Iran's interests lie in seeing Iraq's Shiites, principally Ayatollah Hakim's Supreme Council of Islamic Revolution of Iraq, secure a key role in the new Iraqi politics; Iran will try to provide as much help, in ways both public and quiet, to this party as it can in the coming months. A prominent role for the Islamist party is clearly very much not in the U.S.'s interest; however, a resurgence of the Shi'a theological school in Najaf could conceivably provide a point of reformist theological criticism of Iran's mullahs (as there are signs Qom in Iran slowly may be becoming).
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# Posted 1:50 AM by Patrick Belton  

GETTING MARRIED? EVER? Then check out the Bad Bridesmaids' Dresses Compendium. You'll be glad you did.
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# Posted 1:38 AM by Patrick Belton  

WHAT MONTY PYTHON CHARACTER ARE YOU? And I'm not just linking to this only because it told me I was King Arthur. You can be the judge of the quiz's accuracy here:
You are an idealistic king, but not very bright. You hate the French and all those bloody peasants.... You also have the keen ability to distinguish between African and European Swallows.


Idealistic. Not excessively bright. Francophobic. Hmmmmmm..... Naaah.
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Monday, April 21, 2003

# Posted 10:17 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WHAT DID I DO? A reporter made an innocent mistake. Well, not all that innocent.
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# Posted 10:06 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SLIPPERY SLOPE or just too much KY? Atrios is blown away by just how offensive Rick Santorum's views of homosexuality are. Damn right.
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# Posted 9:42 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

MATT ON MY SIDE: Whodathunkit? Matt Yglesias agrees with my critcism of Josh Marshall. But Dan Drezner takes Josh's side. Strange days, my friends, strange days.
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# Posted 9:39 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE LOYAL OPPOSITION: I will be the first to admit that I am a passionate advocate of promoting democracy throughout the Middle East and that passion is not well-known for its contribution to patient and self-critical analysis. In theory, this sort of passion might lend itself to either an overly optimistic or an overly pessimistic frame of mind. (Such pessimism might result from impossibly high expectations for democratic reform, against which all actual reforms appear deficient.)

In practice, I recognize that I am much more of an optimist on this count than a pessimist. Thus, in order to prevent myself from discarding evidence that goes against my expectations, I have decided to appoint a loyal opposition to my optimistic views. I stumbled across this idea just yesterday, while reading the Daily Kos.

In the event that you aren't familiar with Kos, it is a blog firmly rooted in the left wing of Democratic politics. I read it for the first time around four months ago, but quickly lost interest because its approach to Iraq seemed to be motivated by such a visceral hatred for George Bush that its authors became incapable of serious analysis.

Since then, Kos has become a higher being on the left-wing of the blogosphere, right alongside Atrios, Josh Marshall, and CalPundit. Returning after four months, I also sensed that the quality of the site had improved even if its profound resentment of the President and his party is still there.

After reading a number of Kos' posts on the occupation of Iraq, it became evident that its creators (especially Steve Gilliard) are committed to the dual proposition that a democratic Iraq would be a very good thing but that the ignorant cowboys in the White House are to f*** things up. On the face of it, the opposing halves of this dual proposition are logically compatible.

However, it often seems as if Kos is more concerned with showing the world that it is right about Bush than ensuring that the people of Iraq have the sort of government they deserve. Nonetheless, there seems to be a genuine commitment on Kos' part to making sure that the development of Iraq stays front and center on the United States' political agenda.

I very much hope that is the case, since I have decided to appoint Kos, at least temporarily, as the loyal opposition to my own personal optimism. One might say that Kos is my mirror image: passionate about democracy but fundamentally inclined to pessimism. Therefore, it can be expected to focus on exactly those bits of information that an optimist might ignore.

Now, I haven't told the folks over at Kos that they have suddenly had a new set of expectations imposed on their writing. In time, I may decide to send an e-mail their way or post a few messages on their discussion boards. But for now, I don't think that a higher being such as Kos need be concerned about an interest taken in its work by one third of OxBlog. (Of course, if all of you start going over to Kos and leaving messages on its boards, its proprietors may begin to wonder what happened to its readership.)

So for now, let me just comment on a couple of Kos' posts. First up, Kos pulls no punches when saying that the sack of Baghdad was apalling, that the US had ample warning of what was about to happen but still did nothing, and that Rumsfeld's reaction to the riots and looting has shown just how small-minded and ignorant he can be.

Leaving some of Kos' more extreme rhetoric aside, I think one simply has to admit that the administration failed. Moreover, this failure seems to be a direct extension of leading officials' inability to admit that their President has committed them to nation-building and that they cannot persist with their self-defeating efforts to think outside the military box.

Moreover, accusations of failure regarding the sack of Baghdad are far from being the exclusive province of the far left. As Ken Pollack writes,
The looting and lawlessness that continue to prevail in large parts of Iraq were entirely predictable, and almost certainly preventable by the presence of coalition troops charged with keeping the peace. While this may seem like a minor problem, it is one that could have very severe consequences if not quickly resolved.
So if Ken Pollack and Robert Fisk agree, you have to wonder about those who don't. (Note to CalPundit: See, I am capable of reading Robert Fisk with an open mind. But he's still an idiot.)

Moving on, Kos has shown a marked interest in the role that SCIRI (The Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq) will play in the reconstruction. In short, it is going to be a very, very dangerous one. While one has to discount some of Kos' pessimism, which often borders on the absurd, the premise here is pretty solid: the heavily-armed friends of Iran's mullah-led dictatorship have the potential to cause a lot of trouble.

It seems that we all have the terrible misfortune to live in interesting times.
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