Monday, May 05, 2003

# Posted 10:23 PM by Patrick Belton  

A REASSURING NOTE TO PARENTS/ADVISOR/RACHEL: Namely, this. Toledo, Ohio resident Don Flickinger received on Saturday an associate's degree from the University of Toledo. Not only is this naturally edifying in and of itself, it's even more interesting considering that Flickeringer has just turned 96, and began taking classes for the associate's degree in 1928. (CNN notes helpfully: "He was the school's oldest graduate.) His idea of celebrating? "At my age," Associate Flickinger noted, "celebrating means getting into bed for a good nap."

At that rate, I should finish up my D.Phil. by, say, at least...oh, 2075. Comforted, Rachel et al?
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# Posted 9:57 PM by Patrick Belton  

IRAQI INFO MINISTER TO UK POP STAR: Well, Madonna could do it. (Or "M," rather, as she required her fellow players to call her in her West End debut in Up For Grabs.) And now it looks as though the former Iraqi information minister, Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf, is now also going to make the transition from butt of laughter to UK pop icon. That reputable London daily, The Sun, reports that a dance track backed by Les Molloy will soon be released featuring some of al-Sahaf's best lines. And who says UK pop has lost it? (My opinion of The Sun rose substantially after, in my benighted pre-Rachellian days, I went to dinner several times with a former Page 3 girl studying at Oxford.)

(Reportedly, and per the wags at The Sun, he will cover Oasis's "Iraq and Roll Star," Charles and Eddie's "Would I Lie to You," R. Kelly's "I Believe I Can Lie," Public Enemy's "Don't Believe the Hype," And Freddie Mercury's "The Great Pretender.")

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# Posted 3:13 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

KESHER TALK: Judith Weiss of Kesher Talk raises a good point about my post on Iraqi fundamentalism. I wrote that a NYT
article [on fundamentalism] focuses on whether or not Paul Wolfowitz's ideological commitments have led him to assemble a team of secularist democrats who are out of touch with the profoundly religious Iraqi mainstream."
Judith asks
What profoundly religious Iraqi mainstream? I thought Iraq was always more secular and cosmopolitan than Syria, Jordan, Saudi, et al. and was on its way to democracy when the Baathists took over.
I don't know about Iraq ever having been "on its way to democracy", but it is definitely described quite often as one of the more secular Arab states. What is hard to know is what happened to Iraqi society over the past two and half decades, a time when Islamic fundamentalism swept over the Middle East and even that arch-secularist Saddam Hussein began to present himself as a religious figure.

One possibility is that younger Iraqis have become far more religious than their elders. For one perspective on this clash of generations, take a look at this NYT article that Judith sent my way.

Speaking more generally, the highly visible resurgence of Shi'ite devotion suggests that the people of Iraq are thirsting for spiritual liberation as well. But are spiritual liberation and political fundamentalism cut from the same cloth? I don't know and I suspect not. Thus, it may be correct to describe the Iraqi mainstream as "profoundly religious" without suggested that it is also anti-democratic.
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# Posted 2:54 PM by Patrick Belton  

DON KAGAN, IN DEFENSE OF FREE SPEECH AT YALE: YalePundits post on Yale junior professor Jim Sleeper, who pounced like a maddog on two Yale freshmen who dared criticize a faculty panel which attacked pro-war students. Professor Sleeper accused the two students of being "dubious Yalies, scenting power," of being "primed to attack professors in public," and of being "wired to interests and agendas that range far beyond what is acknowledged." One of Yale's most splendid moral compasses, Donald Kagan, wrote an unpublished letter to the YDN along with several other members of the faculty to "make it clear" to the students that "they are not alone," and that Yale must be kept a welcoming space for free expression from all points of view, rather than a place where thin-skinned professors publicly and viciously excoriate students who dare to raise questions about the orthodoxies they propound. Well done.
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# Posted 2:45 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SEARCHING FOR WMD: Zach Mears is also following the missing nukes story. He points out that American oversights on the nuclear front are symptomatic of widespread disarray in our efforts to locate Saddam's WMD.

Frankly, I expected better from an administration that presents itself as focused (like a laser beam?) on national security. While I still expect considerable evidence to turn up, the lack of effort and resources devoted to th search is disturbing. As Jason Zengerle writes in TNR this week, [subscription required]
The Bush administration has been slow to utilize several dozen civilian weapons inspectors, both Americans and foreigners, who were supposed to follow the military teams' initial work with more comprehensive searches. Indeed, many of the would-be inspectors have still not been sent to Iraq. "The [civilian] teams can't operate in a nonpermissive environment without having a protective force around them, and the argument for the last two weeks has been that we don't have enough forces to peel off to provide physical protection," says one person familiar with the civilian inspector program. "They didn't build into the plan the resources to do this, so now their argument for not doing it is that we don't have the resources." And resources, of course, are a reflection of will.
Matt Yglesias wonders whether we can expect the Bush administration to do any better when it comes to democracy promotion, though its hard to tell if he's actually concerned or just waiting for the chance to deliver to an "I told you so."
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# Posted 2:25 PM by Patrick Belton  

DOBRIANSKY VS. CAROTHERS: In this month's Foreign Affairs, Undersecretary of State Paula Dobrainsky defends the administration against Tom Carothers's criticism that the war on terrorism has impelled the Bush administration to seek friendlier relations with many authoritarian regimes for the sake of their cooperation on security measures. Carothers specifically points to China, Central Asia (Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan), Pakistan and Malaysia, and the Arab world (Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Qatar, Syria, and Yemen) as examples of authoritarian or semi-authoritarian regimes with which the US has sought closer ties and enhanced security cooperation.

Carothers wins this exchange, hands-down. Dobriansky completely ducks Carothers's key criticism, and rather than defending the administration's ongoing attempts to strike a balancing-point between security and democracy promotion, she instead bats down the straw man that Carothers was, she claims, arguing the administration should only support democracy promotion and ignore pressing security exigencies. Carothers rightly takes her to task for this dodge. I've in other contexts (especially Russian policy) been an admirer of her thought and analysis, but with regard to this debate - Dobriansky's done better.
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# Posted 12:06 PM by Patrick Belton  

CINCO DE MAYO, PRIMERA PARTE: NYT reports that Hartford, Connecticut now has the greatest percentage of Hispanic residents of any major city north of Florida and east of the Mississippi. While immigration always brings about for any community its particular sets of economic and social challenges, most importantly of all, ¡muchísimos bienvenidos muy cordiales a todos nuestros nuevos vecinos y compadres!"

And this very especially on the Cinco de Mayo - the day when an upstart American republic repulsed at Puebla the undemocratic ambitions of an imperialistic, and French, government. Americans of all nations and languages share important values and democratic traditions - even if at the present moment some governments, such as those in Havana and Caracas, aren't yet as good as their people. Cinco de Mayo reminds us we can never forget the importance of nurturing the hemispheric commercial and political ties which knit us together with our neighbors, and working shoulder to shoulder with them as a hemisphere of democratic American republics which are jointly committed to together promoting democracy, clean and efficient governance, and economic development throughout both our hemisphere and the world.

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# Posted 11:46 AM by Patrick Belton  

RECONSTRUCTING IRAQ WATCH: CNN reports on nine Iraqis, drawn from different parties and ethnic groups, expected to head the interim government. General Garner greeted the arrival of Ambassador Jerry Bremer (short story here, saying "he will get more involved in the political process. I'm doing all of it and don't want to do all of it.") (Purely from a stylistic viewpoint, "don't want to do any of it" would likely have been a much more memorable phrase.) CS Monitor also reports on city council and mayoral elections which took place in the northern city of Mosul. Reuters notes that several candidates withdrew from the election to protest the division of delegates along ethnic lines (Mosul is mainly Arab, with a large Kurdish minority and substantial Assyrian and Turkmen communities); U.S. military officials suggested that they were radical Islamists who wanted to discredit attempts at representative government.

Project for the New American Century releases a statement calling for political support for "staying the course" (which principally consists of a piece in the Weekly Standard by a NY Post Reporter, arguing that the US military presence is much better received in Iraq than most reporting has indicated). Tom Friedman's piece "Our New Baby" (which counterintuitively is not actually about recent happy events in the Friedman household) argues that Democrats are still quietly hoping for the war to turn out to be a disaster, to prevent the president from campaigning for re-election on it and in the meantime using its luster to push a conservative domestic agenda; Friedman calls on Democrats instead to recognize that "we now have a 51st state of 23 million people, and engage in constructive opposition on how we should go about building a democracy there (instead of quietly hoping for a failed effort which will help elect a President Kerry). Both a reporting piece in the WaPo and an analysis article in the LA Times (both via CS Monitor) raise concerns about insufficient U.S. poltiical engagement in Iraq, which has permitted competing religious, tribal, and ethnic forces to instead occupy the political ground.

Larry Kaplan praises U.S. covert assistance to moderate Shia (and to a lesser extent, Sunni) clerics, sensibly hopes for a U.S. presence comparable to that in Germany after World War II, but despairs at signs from DOD that it hopes to withdraw American forces within six months, ceding to a multinational NATO force. Over at the Weekly Standard, three investment hands with mid-east experience attempt to inject new ideas into the rebuilding-Iraq discussion, including a thick sister city initiative (in which US cities would, through means public and private, infuse money and talent into the public schools, hospitals, and pharmacies of their paired ciy), a New Deal-style public works program to get unemployed Iraqis to work, and a (possibly less promising) idea to put the U.S. in charge of funding mosques and training imams, as a way of heading off extremism bankrolled from Tehran or Riyadh. They also note the promising (Bruce Ackerman-meets-Alaska permanent fund) idea of a national oil trust giving each Iraqi citizen a share in the nation's oil and mineral resources, and a stake in the success of the democratic regime. Also over at the Weekly Standard, Agency alum Reuel Marc Gerecht presents a well-written, nuanced essay in which he reminds his readers (who had forgotten their Bernard Lewis) of the long history of influence of western ideas in the Middle East, and argues on that basis that a calm, extended U.S. engagement with Iraq could stand a high chance of profoundly transforming the region - especially in the light of the discrediting of the discrediting of Ba'athist authoritarianism. His conclusion, "we should stay calm and realize that the fiercer this debate, the more profound its repercussions. We shouldn't be talked into accommodations we will certainly regret."
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Sunday, May 04, 2003

# Posted 10:28 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

A WAYWARD THOUGHT: In an otherwise excellent editorial, the WaPo observes that
Mr. Bush noted in passing on Thursday that the transition [in Iraq] "will take time," but he has done little to prepare Americans for the large and sustained commitment of U.S. troops and resources that will be needed.
This business about "preparing" the American public has become pretty cliche by now. Yes, it would help for Bush to talk more about the United States' obligation to invest substantial resources -- both political and economic -- in the rebuilding of Iraq.

But the ones who need "preparation" are not America's voters, but rather the foot-dragging opponents of nation-building within the President's own administration. While the President himself has been fairly straightforward about our commitment to rebuilding and promoting democracy in Iraq, Cheney and Rumsfeld have not shown much interest. If they don't speak out, high-ranking officers may well take that as invitation to lobby for a strategic withdrawal before the President's objectives have been fully achieved.

Also more important than persuading the American public is persuading the Republicans on Capitol Hill. They have the sad habit of identifying nation-building as the extension of welfare-state politics rather than a projection of fundamental American values which enhances our national security.

Finally, the President ought to consider lobbying the Democrats on Capitol Hill to ensure bipartisan support for the reconstruction of Iraq. While Democrats tended to support such operations under Clinton, there will be a strong temptation for them to re-enact their successful effort to deprive the President's father of a second term by portraying him as more concerned with the welfare of those abroad than those at home.

If both Democrats and Republicans strongly fall in line behind the President's insistence that we must promote democracy in Iraq, the American public will follow. When both parties reach consensus on foreign affairs, the American public almost always interprets such consensus as an indication of what is clearly in the United States' national interest.

More than any president address, televised or not, the critical determinant of American attitudes toward nation-building will be the tenor of the 2004 campaign. If Republican candidates show pride in the United States effort to promote enduring freedom in Iraq, voters will recognize that the GOP's commitment is serious. If Democrats describe our efforts in Iraq as an extension of the Clinton administration's efforts in Bosnia & Kosovo, voters will recognize that they support reconstruction as well.

Perhaps the more probable scenario is one of silence. Republicans will avoid the issue of reconstruction in order to avoid suggesting that they care more about the people of Iraq than their own constituents. Democrats will avoid the issue as well, figuring that the less attention given to foreign affairs, the better.

Such an outcome would throw the ball back into the adminstration's court. If it were a second Bush administration, it is hard to know what might happen. The bureaucratic struggle would resume, this time without the imperative of re-election hanging over both sides. If it were a Democratic administration, who knows.

Well, at least the WaPo seems committed to keeping the Iraq on the agenda.

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# Posted 8:54 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

YIKES! It seems that Iraqi nuclear facilities have been looted and no one knows what was stolen.
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# Posted 8:48 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE GOOD ISLAMIC STATE: Today, the NYT offers up a long profile of the Iraqi exiles chosen by the Pentagon to advise the occupation government. The article focuses on whether or not Paul Wolfowitz's ideological commitments have led him to assemble a team of secularist democrats who are out of touch with the profoundly religious Iraqi mainstream.

The article itself is well worth reading, even if it is a variation on the classic theme of Americans-impose-their-values-on-other-cultures-they-know-nothing-about. While there is no question that America might be better served by having representative abroad who are more familiar with local cultures, I often wonder whether focusing on this issue so intensely directs journalists' attention away from other trends that may have a greater impact on the future of Iraq.

First and foremost, there seems to be very little attention paid to what exactly 'Islamic fundamentalism' is. Given that most experts identify it as the principal threat to democratic reforms both in Iraq and throughout the Middle East, there should be a wealth of information available about it.

In a recent WaPo poll (one which I criticized heavily on other grounds), respondents were asked "Do you think the United States should or should not allow a fundamentalist Islamic government to be established in Iraq?" 39% percent said 'should', while 47% said 'should not'.

Those respondents who answered 'should' were then asked "What if [a fundamentalist government] wins an open, democratic election? In that case do you think the United States should or should not allow a fundamentalist Islamic government to be established in Iraq?" 50% said 'should', while 46% said 'should not'. In other words, half of those who initially opposed having a fundamentalist government would accept if it were elected.

Those who intially accepted the rise of an Islamic government were asked "What if it demands that all United States forces leave Iraq? In that case do you think the United States should or should not allow a fundamentalist Islamic government to be established in Iraq?" 59% still supported such a government, while 35% did not.

I found these results especially interesting, since I get asked so often how OxDem would react to the establishment of an Islamic fundamentalist government in Baghdad. Unfortunately, I don't have a good answer to this question just yet, since I am still trying to figure certain things out.

First of all, what is the difference between an 'Islamic' and a 'fundamentalist' state? Reading the papers, one gets the sense that a fundamentalist state is one in which the political order is an extension of Islamic law and in which Muslim clerics have a dominant political role. In contrast, an Islamic state may be something like the Christian republics of Europe where there is an official church but its presence is not all that important.

In light of the divisions between Sunni Kurds, Sunni Arabs and Shi'ite Arabs in Iraq, the establishment of an Iraqi government with a token commitment to Islam may be the best way of protecting the rights and privileges of all such groups concerned. Of course, such an outcome depends on the leaders of such groups recognizing that tolerance is in their own self-interest, an outcome one can hardly take for granted.

So let's assume for a moment that a strong 'fundamentalist' impulse gains hold throughout Iraq. Are fundamentalism and democracy mutually exclusive? First of all, I sense that there is no one thing that goes by the name of 'fundamentalism'. For most Americans, fundamentalism refers to beliefs such as those of Hamas and Al Qaeda. But fundamentalism also includes the reigning ideologies in Iran and Saudi Arabia.

While one might say that these four share a certain preference for authoritarian politics, I think it is safe to assume that all four have very distinct theological foundations and particular views of how the church and the state should interact. Moreover, to what degree are such fundamentalists' authoritarian impulses inherent in their beliefs, as opposed to being an extension of their self-interest?

I think this is an especially important question since one often hears that there are nascent political movements throughout the Middle East that are both firmly Islamic and firmly democratic. Does the minimal influence of such groups reflect their repression by dictatorial governments, or is there an uncomfortable tension between their Islamic and democratic views?

One might say that it all comes back to Algeria. Whenever one talks about the prospects for democracy promotion in the Arab world, the first question one gets is "What about Algeria? They had elections. The radicals won and a brutal civil war followed."

It would be interesting to know what Algeria's fundamentalists would have done had the military allowed them to hold the reins of government. Would they have revoked the constitution and imposed an Islamic dictatorship? As critics often say, Islamic democracy is about having "one man, one vote, one time."

One argument that Josh has often made (at the pub, not on OxBlog as far as I know), is that fundamentalists governments can often exploit anti-imperial or anti-Western sentiment to win an initial victory at the polls, but cannot command much support later on if their policies reflect the interests of a radical minority. Thus, the best way to deal with Islamic governments that are "too" Islamic is to give them their and let them fall on their face.

As Josh recognizes, the main challenge to pursuing such a strategy is to ensure that such a government respects the basic political and civil rights of the opposition. While that may not have been possible in Algeria, Iraq is a very different case, given the strong American presence on the ground.

Given how much talk there has been about promoting democracy in Iraq, it wouldn't surprise me if all the major parties pledged to respect the constitution once in office. What may be more important is the degree to which voters demand evidence of politicians' good faith on this issue.

In other words, will Shi'ites vote for a Shi'ite party regardless of its stance on democracy? Or will voters demand credible assurances of a such commitment? Or will multiple Shi'ite parties emerge some of which are committed to democracy rather than others? Will the formation of such parties reflect religious differences between their founders, or political ones?

Unsurprisingly, I don't have answers to these questions. Having taken not one single course on Islam or the Middle East, it is an area I have to learn about by reading the papers. If I had time I would read books, but who has the stamina to do independent research at the same time that one is working on a doctoral thesis? (Don't answer that question.)

I guess what I'm trying to say is that polls which ask whether or not "the United States should or should not allow a fundamentalist Islamic government to be established in Iraq" can only be meaningful in a situation where one assumes that fundamentalism is a monolithic sort of thing. But it isn't. And with any luck, more and more Americans (especially journalists) will begin to recognize that.
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# Posted 7:21 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

MORE POLARIZATION: Jeff Hauser has written in to defend the WaPo's characterization of the American electorate as polarized.

To support his point, Jeff points to this op-ed by Bush pollster Matthew Dowd, which observes that presidential approval ratings have become increasingly dependent on voters' partisan identity. Before 1980, the difference between Democratic and Republican approval ratings for any given president tended to hold fast at about 30 percentage points. Since Reagan, the split has grown to 50 points.

The one point on which Dowd is evasive is the role of independent voters, which, according to Dowd, make up 20% of the electorate. I was under the impression that the percentage of independent voters has risen considerably over the past few decades. If so, then the apparent polarization Dowd describes is just a byproduct of the fact that moderate voters now prefer to identify themselves as independent, thus ensuring that a greater uniformity of views within both the Republican and Democratic parties.

If any of you out there know more about this, please drop a line.
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# Posted 9:12 AM by Patrick Belton  

SICKENING, SICKENING, SICKENING: Labour MP and Father of the House Tam Dalyell complained of a "cabal of Jewish advisers" which, in his paranoid imaginings, were exercising undue influence over the Prime Minister. Among the putative cabal-players: Lord Levy (the Prime Minister's Middle East envoy, and the only actual Jew on the list); Foreign Secretary Jack Straw (who has a Jewish grandparent), and Peter Mandelson (whose father is Jewish).

In a flimsy denial, Dalyell attempted to make things right by saying that his remarks were not anti-Semitic. Instead, he said, he was simply being ... "candid." Right.
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Saturday, May 03, 2003

# Posted 1:06 PM by Patrick Belton  

CHALK ONE UP for US intelligence (and in this case, also our sometimes allies in Pakistan's ISI...): An Al Qaeda plan, nearing the operational stage, to fly an airplane into the U.S. consulate in Karachi has just been broken up, as the US follows up on information gained from interrogating the six Al Qaeda members arrested earlier this week in Karachi. Among the crazed killers now off the street: Tawfiq bin Attash (considered the planner of the October 2000 bombing of the USS Cole) and Ali Abd Aziz (believed to be the paymaster of the September 11 attacks, and the nephew of Khalid "Best Picture" Sheik Mohammed).
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# Posted 12:50 PM by Patrick Belton  

STUFFING IT: Stuff magazine loses a unique talent (and his mom). This is partially but not entirely due to dwarves.
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# Posted 11:58 AM by Patrick Belton  

DO NOT GO QUIETLY: An symbol of pride to New Hampshiremen everywhere, New Hampshire's Old Man of the Mountain slid off to sleep overnight. We wish him pleasant dreams and richly deserved rest.
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# Posted 11:13 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE OTHER SUPERPOWERS: Anti-war politics may be a necessity for China and Russia, since their armed forces can't seem to get anything to go right these days.
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# Posted 11:05 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

CONFUSION: I found nothing to disagree with in this first-rate column by Charles Krauthammer. I find that very disturbing. But does Dr. K really have to sound so vindictive all the time? From the way he writes, you'd think Republicans were a persecuted minority, not the party in charge of the White House and the Capitol.
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# Posted 10:55 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SILVER LINING: The UN has embarrassed itself once again, thanks to the Human Rights Commission's decision to elect Cuba to another three year term of membership. The WaPo recommends that the US try to fight back against such insults by organizing a democratic caucus within the UN that would prevent dictatorships from receiving this sort of moral legitimation.

Sounds like a good idea, but the real challenge may be to get France & Co. to prioritize their democratic values over their crusade to reign in American hegemony. The real silver lining of the Cuba fiasco is that it willl make it that much harder for the UN to get up on its moral high horse and demand a leading role in the transitional government of Iraq. Then again, Castro probably understands better than the US how exactly a totalitarian dictatorship functions...
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# Posted 10:31 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

POLLS, POLS, & POLARIZATION: I'm beginning to think that even the WaPo is incapable of reporting intelligently on the results of opinion polls. Take a minute to read this paragraph:
Partisan polarization continues to define views of Bush and the state of the country. Just 32 percent of Democrats said the country is heading in the right direction, compared with 72 percent of Republicans and 55 percent of independents. On Bush, 92 percent of Republicans said they approve of how he is handling his job, compared with 53 percent of Democrats and 68 percent of independents.
Polarization? If a majority of opposition voters and two-thirds of independents approve of how the president is handling his job, you call that 'polarization'? I call that 'unity'.

If the Post wanted to support its argument, it should've shown that fewer Democrats support Bush now than they did 3 months ago or 6 months ago or whenever. And, while I don't know the number for the Clinton era off-hand, I'd very surprised to discover any moment during those eight years at which a majority of Republicans approved of the job he was doing.

Leaving that aside for a moment, let's take a look at the raw data from the poll that the WaPo is describing. Here again, we see that there is much more evidence against polarization than for it.

For example, take a look at the results of question 20, "Who do you trust to do a better job handling [insert issue here]. (Bush) or (the Democrats in Congress)?" The answers aren't all that surprising. Bush has a 70-20 lead on Iraq on the war on terror and a 60-30 lead on defense policy and North Korea. In contrast, the Democrats have significant leads on health care and the enviornment, in addition to slight leads on Social Security and taxes.

What those results mean is that many of the individuals who approve strongly of Bush's foreign policy prefer Democratic approaches to domestic policy. That sort of ability to discrinimate between issue provides compelling evidence against the charge of polarization. If the nation were actually split, voters would line up with their party across the board, instead of defecting on critical issues.

One might even say that issue discrimination is an important sign of healthy democratic politics, since it shows an ability to look past partisan identity and evaluate the policy proposals offered by different parties.

Finally, here's one last thing for those of you who have been following the polls as closely as I have. Two weeks ago, I blasted a WaPo/ABC poll for including the following question:
"How do you feel about the possibility that the United States will get bogged down in a long and costly peacekeeping mission in Iraq - would you say you're very concerned about that, somewhat concerned, not too concerned or not concerned at all?"
Lo and behold, this week's poll included the exact same question again. Who writes these things? Johnny Apple?
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# Posted 10:03 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

POKER UPDATE: I guess I'll be taking care of this while Josh is travelling. So here goes: The WaPo reports that three more of the 55 are in custody, bringing the total to 18.

Some Al Qaeda folks have also been apprehended lately. Rumor has it that Bin Laden will turn himself in Rumsfeld lets him be the Ace of Spades instead of Saddam.
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Friday, May 02, 2003

# Posted 2:51 PM by Patrick Belton  

RECONSTRUCTING IRAQ WATCH: Writing in Boston Review, Khaled Abou El Fadl attempts to reconcile Islamic jurisprudential traditions with liberal democracy. In the Washington Times, Mark Pomar (president of the International Research and Exchanges Board) highlights issues needing to be addressed early in the democratization process. In NRO, Peter Brookes suggests how to make UN involvement more workable, if it happens. Predictably, Matt and Daniel have been making astute arguments as well (which I'll respond to as soon as the weather becomes less dern gorgeous in DC); they each also provide several additional links.

Many thanks to Zach Mears for his suggestions for these! There have also been other very timely, well-written pieces on the subject this week, but for reasons of spousal humility I can't point out all of them.... :)

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# Posted 12:09 PM by Patrick Belton  

RESULTS IN - GOD (FOR), COUNTRY (FOR), YALE (FOR), GESO (AGAINST): Yale graduate students voted Wednesday to reject unionization. See CNN's and the YDN's stories on democracy at Yale.
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# Posted 11:35 AM by Patrick Belton  

ALL ALONE: Wow, I've driven my co-authors away. Guys, I was joking about this! Anyway, Entertainment Weekly paid us a kill fee about the cover.

More seriously, David writes in by back-channel that he has lots to say, as always, but Blogger won't let him. In the meantime, OxBlog is mine, all mine. Mwaaa - hahahahaha....
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# Posted 11:31 AM by Patrick Belton  

I'LL BE YOUR (SCHU)MANN: Brahms's biographer writes in the Guardian about the composer's life-long, wrenching love-affair with Schumann's pianist wife. Schumann was, of course, Brahms's mentor; Brahms was Schumann's discovery and protege. Like Berlin's with Akhmatova, it was a romance of titans, vexing both of their lives, to the end utterly unconsumated. Brahms writes Clara in 1855, "I can do nothing but think of you... What have you done to me? Can't you remove the spell you have cast over me?"

It couldn't be done.
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# Posted 2:17 AM by Patrick Belton  

IRAQI INTELLECTUALS: For those of you who can get by in French, this piece from Le Monde is a sobering but fascinating glance into what Iraqi (and, more broadly, Arab) intellectuals and academics are saying about the U.S. presence in Iraq. Arab intellectuals' voices are complex, nuanced, and not monolithic, and though they often are obscenely cynical about our motives (and believe we perceive them all as bedouin), they are nonetheless people whom we need to be engaging, listening to, and trying to convince. Despite the breadth of the Iraqi intellectual tradition, which even managed to survive Saddam, theirs is a voice which is sorely lacking in American reportage.
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# Posted 2:02 AM by Patrick Belton  

ACADEMIA MEETS SIMPSONS: Several years ago, I remember reading a piece in the Yale Herald in which the student author enthused about a day in the distant future when students would watch episodes of the Simpsons in a library basement while working on term papers on late 20th century U.S. culture. Well, the future is now. The academic papers on the Simpsons range from "Simpson Ethics" to "An Analysis of the Medical Care in the Simpsons" to this one arguing the Simpsons are really Sephardic crypto-Jews. Open question to the academics in the blogosphere: is it too late to change my dissertation topic?

UPDATE: And I've gotten an answer! Ann Haker writes in from LA that, as she puts it, an "honest to goodness talking head" (thanks for putting my professional ambitions so appositely, Ann), CSIS's Anthony Cordesman, came up with a 42-page essay on the lessons Buffy the Vampire Slayer can teach us in a post-9/11 world. (I would insert a comment here that Buffy doesn't rise to the Simpsons-esque level of enduring cultural criticism, but half of the blogosphere seems to watch the show; and I'm two degrees of dating-separation from Buffy - via a New Haven townie - so I'll let her off the hook this time.....)
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# Posted 12:37 AM by Patrick Belton  

A HOPEFUL SIGN?: The WaPo runs a piece on the newly-named head of the interim government in Iraq, Ambassador L. Paul Bremer, a former counterterror chief, foreign service veteran, and Kissinger consulting associate who is known to his friends as "Jerry." Now Lieutenant General Garner's superior, Ambassador Bremer has a background in the State Department and close ties to Kissinger which have both raised some concern about his commitment to building democracy in Iraq - most notably, by our own David (permalink bloggered; his post is from Wednesday at 11:39).

I suggest the first indicators, though few, provide several glimmers of hope. For one, Bremer seems to come to his job with the strongest degree of backing from Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz and former Defense Policy Board chair Richard Perle, who in turn are probably among the most committed proponents of a strong degree of U.S. investiture in a democratic Iraq. Wolfowitz and Perle would likely be more perfunctory in their praise if they did not believe Bremer truly shared their degree of commitment. Second, Amb. Bremer seems to have a much more subtle understanding of foreign affairs than that permitted by academic or professional strands of realism, such as Dr. Kissinger's. For instance, he was arguing for a comprehensive policy to combat terrorist networks and state sponsors as early as 1996, and in the private sector he displayed an acute understanding of issues of economic inequality and unequal gains from globalization within developing nations. Third, Ambassador Bremer will report to the SecDef rather than to State, which is heartening because the concentration of higher-level officials strongly committed to Iraqi democracy seems higher at DOD than in Foggy Bottom. Incidentally, he is also known for being blunt, hawkish, and decisive.

I'm cautiously optimistic. As far as it goes, this much all represents a burst of good news, and after a dispiriting week of hearing from Pentagon sources who are intimately involved in the planning of post-war Iraq that large swaths of DOD, recoiling viscerally from any tasks that could be called nation-building, were pushing to make the U.S. commitment as short and as focused on security issues as possible. Granted, the degree of commitment to building democracy seems higher at the level of the DOD principals than at the more bureaucratic ranks - and with as much of the Pentagon involved in post-Iraq planning as is the case now, my sources' impressions may not actually characterize the whole DOD perfectly. (Everyone's got their own DOD sources. Of course, my DOD sources can beat up your DOD sources....) Although in the end, all will of course depend on how effectively the new proconsular appointee resolves bureaucratic disputes under him and musters U.S. strength to build constituencies for political liberalization and democracy, from the first limited indicators it seems like Amb. Bremer's appointment may actually be a needed step in the right direction.
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Thursday, May 01, 2003

# Posted 11:28 PM by Patrick Belton  

IT MUST BE THE CIRCUMCISION: Eugene, in the midst of some awfully productive blogging over at Volokh Conspiracy, helpfully points to a study which recently found that Jews have much more sex than every other American religious grouping (hey, it's a mitzvah, after all). More precisely, whereas a heaping 12 percent of all Protestant, Catholic, secular, and other respondents had no sexual partners whatsoever in the preceding year, only a miniscule 3 percent of Jews fall into that category. (There has even been a profusion of articles written about Jewish adult film stars, for that matter - but sorry, no links, this is after all a family blog....)

As for that three percent, well, there's always blogging....
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# Posted 7:21 PM by Patrick Belton  

MAY MORNING!!!!!! Here are some pictures from this year's May Morning at Magdalen College, Oxford (as well as a painting from 1890, and one freelancer's reflections). Some of us have to be there in spirit.....
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# Posted 4:07 PM by Patrick Belton  

FREE TRADE! GET YER FREE TRADE!: At a lunch event I was at today, a senior administration official, speaking on background, said that he had "a pretty good idea when and where" a hemispheric agreement inaugurating the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas would be signed. (No promises though about at what point the hemisphere can also expect free beer, free love, or a free lunch. ) The source also said that the administration would be devoting much more attention to security, democratization, and economic development in the hemisphere after the war with Iraq.

Even though we wish the administration would also devote much more attention to Iraq after the war with Iraq, this is good news, if it proves true.
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# Posted 2:54 PM by Patrick Belton  

HI to all our readers coming in from googling "rumsfeld saddam kissing pornographic." (We're result number five.) Check your trenchcoats at the door, gentlemen...

UPDATE: Now we're number one!
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# Posted 2:42 AM by Patrick Belton  

SOMEBODY LEFT THE BAD-PUN MACHINE RUNNING OVER AT CNN: Thus, we have the worst headline of the day, "Anglers Carp at 'Fish Pain' Theory", and a distant second, "Brits Seek Missing WIMPs of Universe," referring to dark-matter candidate "Weakly Interacting Massive Particles."

Professors Ian Halliday and Neil Spooner say that if successful, their quest will answer one of science's great questions. Perhaps they need a candiblog. (Propogate the meme, propogate the meme....)
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# Posted 12:39 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

PLAY BALL! Kevin Drum has taken up the challenge I threw his way a couple of days back. What I wanted to know was whether was still going to defend the importance of a UN role in postwar Iraq even after reading Rachel's incisive criticism of the UN's shortcomings as a nation-builder.

Here's what Kevin had to say:
While Belton lists several knocks against international coalitions, she fails to address their biggest positive: they provide a broad acceptance of the effort that the United States is almost certain to lack on its own.
Now, as I have said to Kevin before, the acceptance of American efforts to rebuild Iraq will depend not on the multilateral validation of such efforts, but rather on their contribution to Iraqi freedom and prosperity. This is a point that firm multilateralists never seem to pick up: America's reputation depends much more on whether its actions promote common values than on whether its actions reflect a UN consensus.

In the short term, America would no doubt win plaudits for granting the UN a considerable role in the governance of postwar Iraq. But if a joint UN-US occupation fails, the US will be the one that takes the blame in Europe and elsewhere. Now, as Kevin acknowledges, giving the UN a considerable role may well jeopardize the success of the transition to democracy. In fact, Kevin goes so far as to admit that there are members of the Security Council who have a strong incentive to see the process fail.

That being the case, the question one has to ask is whether it is better win short-term applause for accommodating the UN, or long-term respect for actually making Iraq a better place to live?

On a related note, I'd like to take some shots at a slightly more theoretical post on the UN that Kevin put up just after his response to Rachel and myself. In it, Kevin answers the question of "why [he] think[s] we should continue to take the United Nations seriously." After all,
The UN does indeed have a lot of problems, some of them inherent in any international organization, but regardless of this there are only a few options for how we can conduct both the war on terrorism and our broader relations with the world.
Those few options for how the US can conduct its foreign policy are basically four: on its own, through bilateral ties, through a better multilateral organization, or through the UN.

In case you couldn't tell, the way Kevin sets up the options, its pretty clear that the UN comes across as the most realistic. But that is only because Kevin has cleverly excluded from his list of options the most viable form of international cooperation: multilateral alliances similar to NATO.

Even if the UN gets sidelined because of the recent Security Council fiasco (which I doubt will happen), the intelligence sharing functions of NATO will continue to play a critical role in fighting the war on terror. Moreover, it doesn't seem that any of the cooperation the US has received from Arab regimes has had anything to do with the UN. In fact, in terms of the actual search for Al Qaeda, the UN really hasn't contributed anything at all.

Aside from its humanitarian functions, I'd be curious to know what Kevin considers to be the UN's contribution to "our broader relations with the world." As I see it, the UN has two main roles. First, to win over European public opinion. The only reason 19 European governments supported the war against Iraq was because the US made a serious effort to secure a resolution authorizing the use of force.

Second, the UN takes care of situations the US wants to stay out of: Bosnia, Kosovo and (earlier on) Cambodia and Somalia. I have to admit, that is quite a useful thing, since the US can't afford to take responsibility for the aftermath of every civil war. For example, if the current war in the Congo ever ends, we'll need the UN to runs things afterward.

In short, we need the UN. But in no way does that mean that we have to work with the United Nations even when doing so would severely damage our interests, as in the case of postwar Iraq. The important thing to avoid is the sort of kneejerk anti-UN sentiment that led Rumsfeld & Co. to recommend that the US not even ask for a resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq.

Finally, working with the UN plays an important role in ensuring domestic support for US foreign policy. While Americans may have supported the war even without a second resolution, I seriously doubt they would have done so had the administration not made a compelling case against Iraq at the United Nations. Sensibly, the American public sought UN approval but recognized that such approval is not the be all and end all of the search for international legitimacy.

OK, Kevin, now it's your turn.
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Wednesday, April 30, 2003

# Posted 11:42 PM by Patrick Belton  

CANDIDATE BLOGGERS: Thanks to Kevin S. for this piece in the WaPo on campaignblogs. I'll try multiple variants in search of starting a meme: other candidates are prezblogs (but not accurate, since only one candidate, presumptively, will actually be a U.S. president), hartblogs (etc, except the same applies), spinblogs (but a bit negative for my tastes), and candidateblogs (too many syllables, although reader Jake is partial to "candiblogs").

The piece makes the obvious allusions to earlier significant presidential campaigns in dubbing the absence of Kerry-, Gephardt-, and Edwardsblogs a "blog deficit" and "blogging gap." Other blasts from the past are predictions that this new technology will "eliminate the middleman," in this case television, from the scene in bringing candidates, pundits, and journalists all into blogosphere contact.... (Incidentally, similar predictions were raised for the internet, e-mail, and toaster ovens.)
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# Posted 11:39 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

CIVILIAN CHIEF APPOINTED FOR IRAQ: The President has appointed L. Paul Bremer, former head of counterterrorism at the State Department, to head the transition authority in Iraq.

Bremer was an assistant to Kissinger during his tenure as Secretary of State and later joined Kissinger Associates after his departure from the State Department. Which brings to mind one simple question: Can this man be trusted? Let's just say that the last person I would appoint to promote democracy in Iraq -- or anywhere -- is someone who was close to Kissinger.

But perhaps Bremer I shouldn't judge Bremer by who his friends are. When it comes to dealing with such folks, I think it's best to follow Ronald Reagan's advice and "trust, but verify". I'll let you all know what I turn up on Bremer.
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# Posted 11:28 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

STRANGE BEDFELLOWS: Both Kos and Jim Hoagland have blasted the administration for signing a ceasefire with the People's Mujahedeen, a pro-Iranian terrorist group with 10,000 fighters in Iraq.

Kos' spin on the story is that Bush is going soft on the Mujahedeen because it was the Clinton administration that initially designated them as a terrorist organization. Talk about partisanship going overboard . Hoagland defends the considerably more intelligent hypothesis that the Bush administration's September 10th realism has begun to challenge its more recent commitment to moral clarity.

As Hoagland observers, the State Department is now recommending that the administration come to terms with Qaddafi's Libya. Given the administration's rising comfort level with dictators in Pakistan, Uzbekistan and elsewhere, Qaddafi might just fit in at Foggy Bottom.

As you might have guessed, my ultimate concern when it comes to moral clarity is that this resurgence of faux "realism" will endanger the administration's commitment to promoting democracy in Iraq. So keep your fingers crossed.
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# Posted 11:10 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

HMMMM...US soldiers have shot dead two more protesters in Fallujah. At first, reports of the conflict in Fallujah struck me as disturbingly reminiscient of the Palestinian intifada. While such similarities clearly exist, I think it is also important to point out how the situation in Fallujah is fundamentally different from that in the West Bank and Gaza.

When one compares Fallujah to the occupied territories, one implies that the residents of occupied Iraq are no less united in terms of purpose and identity than the Palestinian residents of the West Bank and Gaza. However, with regard to Fallujah, such an implication is dangerously misleading.

As noted before, the Fallujah casualties were Sunnis, not Shi'ites. As the AP noted, Fallujah was, before the invasion, a stronghold of pro-Saddam sentiment.

The significance of this second fact didn't occur to me until I noticed an important difference in the chants of the Sunni protesters in Fallujah and the Shi'ite protesters in Karbala. Whereas the Karbala Shi'ites chanted "No to Saddam...Yes to Islam", the Falljuah Sunnis never indicated any sort of opposition to the old regime.

As such, I have to wonder whether Iraqi Shi'ites will react to the American shootings as an insult to the people of Iraq, or rather a well-deserved punishment for the henchmen of Saddam. In public, Shi'ite leaders will obviously condemn the shootings in order to put American forces on the defensive. But will there be any real outrage at the grassroots level? I don't know.

In contrast, I know for sure that all Israeli attacks provoke uniform Palestinian criticism. One doesn't even have to ask whether a martyr in Nablus is also a martyr in Ramallah. All in all, the best conclusion to draw from the recent incidents in Fallujah may not be that American forces will have to resort to violence, but rather that peaceful co-existence is possible with all those except the remaining partisans of Saddam.

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# Posted 7:18 PM by Patrick Belton  

NOT MUCH RUSH IN THE WEST OF IRELAND: Irish novelist John McGahern's latest novel, ten years in the making, is now out in the press. It was worth the wait.
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# Posted 5:57 PM by Patrick Belton  

THE ROAD MAP GETS UNFOLDED: And the highlights are here. In general, the Palestinians seem happier with it at the moment than the Israelis, with the Foreign Ministry at work on a list of (reportedly 15) changes. Hamas, of course, isn't happy with it either (thus suggesting it can't be all bad), and it sought to demonstrate instantly that it was also not impressed with the swearing-in of a prime minister advocating "political intifada." Israeli intelligence assessment officials have submitted a set of classified recommendations to the government which would help Abu Mazen establish his authority and shore up his position vis a vis Arafat (and Hamas). These recommendations are reported to include a "grace period" of military restraint, while avoiding Israeli official contact with Abu Mazen in the short term or speaking too positively of him (both of which would undermine his legitimacy and permit others to cast him as an Israeli water-carrier). Meanwhile, Israeli army intelligence is skeptical whether the new prime minister will be strong enough politically to fend off power grabs from Arafat or Hamas and Islamic Jihad (thus moving away from the Army's earlier optimism about Abu Mazen, and toward the pessimism which Shin Bet had displayed from the beginning). From outside the country, Tehran seems worried that Syria will respond to U.S. pressure and limit its support for the terrorist organizations; Tehran is reputed to be considering stepping up its level of support to fill the gap.
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# Posted 5:31 PM by Patrick Belton  

HEADLINES THAT MAKE YOU LOOK TWICE: From today's Haaretz, "[Israeli National Football Coach Avraham] Grant Relying on Intelligence to help Israel get win over Cyprus."
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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  

"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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