OxBlog

Monday, July 21, 2003

# Posted 9:57 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

PRAISING THE NYT: Mericless as I am when it comes to the men and women of 44th St., I don't hesitate to give credit where credit is due. And it is due once again because the NYT editorial board does understand certain fundamental things about the occupation of Iraq regardless of their terrible coverage of the subject. Today, the editors write that
This page opposed an invasion that lacked the endorsement of the United Nations Security Council, and it now seems clear the Bush administration exaggerated its central argument for the mission — the threat of Baghdad's unconventional weapons. Nevertheless, establishing a free and peaceful Iraq as a linchpin for progress throughout the Middle East is a goal worth struggling for, even at great costs. We are there now, and it is essential to stay the course. But if Washington is to retain the public support needed to see the job through, it can't pretend that everything is on track. The soldiers returning home every week in body bags make that plain.
There is what to criticize in such a statement, but it is more important to recognize the potential for a bipartisan consensus on the rebuilding and democratization of Iraq. The potential for such a consensus is one of the principal reasons that Josh and I founded OxDem. Even in the midst of the intense partisan debate now raging over WMD, it is clear that simple and shared American ideals are still capable of uniting both Republicans and Democrats behind very specific objectives, such as sharing with the people of Iraq our own inalienable rights. I am thankful for that.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 9:42 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SIX DEGREES OF BLOGERATION: Two items of note today. First, AG's uncle-in-law Mort Abramowitz has an excellent op-ed on Aung San Suu Kyi in the WaPo. Uncle Mort says that the international community has to focus its pressure on Burma's allies in Beijing:
To hold China's feet to the fire, a U.N. Security Council resolution proposing a sanctions regime on Burma needs to be introduced. While China would almost certainly veto it, Beijing does not like to use its veto, and the prospect of exercising it might cause China, at least quietly, to urge the Burmese government to free Suu Kyi.
There you have it. Another good chance for the US and the UN to work together for a cause they both believe in. Besides, if Kofi Annan is willing to endorse Iraq's new Governing Council, it shouldn't be hard to get him behind a politically immaculate cause such as the protection of Aung San Suu Kyi.

Moving on, JAT reports that
Jonathan Mermin is the second cousin of my roommate, fellow Cornell math graduate student, and friend since 8th grade, Jeff Mermin. I've been over to eat dinner a couple of times at the house of Jonathan's father, recently retired Physics Professor David Mermin.
Sort of reminds me of that scene in Spaceballs which goes something like this...
DARK HELMET: Before you die there is something you should know about us, Lone Starr.
LONE STARR: What?
DARK HELMET: I am your father's brother's nephew's cousin's former roommate.
LONE STARR: What's that make us?
DARK HELMET: Absolutely nothing! Which is what you are about to become.
And while you're wasting time, make sure to check out this New Yorker article on the origins of the Six Degrees theory. Finally, expect a follow up post by Patrick, since his mother-in-law also published an article on the subject. Those Alaskans sure have a lot of time on their hands... ;)
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 9:10 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE SEARCH FOR JUSTICE: The torture described in this article will make you sick. But you should read it as a tribute to the courage of Jumana Michael Hanna, one of the first Iraqi women willing to come forward and identify those who tortured her on behalf of Uday and Saddam.

Harrowing as the article is, there is also great consolation in the commitment of American occupation officials to working with women like Hanna to help her find the men who tortured her and bring them to justice. I wish them well.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 8:50 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SADDAM'S NEXT MOVE: This WaPo front pager begins by recycling the old news that, in October, the CIA said Saddam was most likely to launch chemical and biological attacks if the US invaded Iraq. However, buried toward the end of the article is the far more interesting and far more disturbing contention that a defeated Saddam may be reaching out to Al Qaeda and hoping to plan a joint chem-bio attack.

If such an attack were to take with it the lives of hundreds of American soldiers or civilians, it would provide considerable validation to the anti-war argument that an invasion of Iraq would undermine American security and set back the war on terror. But what is the chance of such an attack happening? Only God knows.

UPDATE: Pejman strongly disagrees. (Thanks to MD for pointing it out.)
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 11:02 AM by Patrick Belton  

WHY I LOVE THE LRB, NUMBER 28: So we've already established by judicious use of the empirical method that they have the best personals ads (to wit, this, scroll down to Wednesday at 1:19 pm).

But any periodical which writes back "It's a nice advert, so we'll run it for free," when I try to buy an ad seeking an old-fashioned Oxford-style bike for my wife....thereby races to the pinnacle of my mountain of newsprint favorites.

ME: Dear LRB Classifieds Office,
Hello, I would be very grateful if I could place the following advert. I enclose my credit card information at bottom. With many thanks, Patrick Belton
Wanted: old-fashioned, black bicycle, with basket and in good condition. For wife, who lost hers. Patrick.Belton@trinity.oxford.ac.uk

THEM: Thanks for your e-mail. It's a nice advert, so we'll run it for free. It will appear in the 7 Augsut edition. Let me know how you get on.
 
David Rose
Advertising Manager
London Review of Books


Classy act, that LRB.

P.S. Perhaps no more posting for me for the day. The Caffe Nero on the High, whose Airport base station I've been taking advantage of, has been gradually taken over by continentals, who have managed to smoke even former-Latin-America-and-mediterranean-resident-me out. Wow!
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 10:05 AM by Patrick Belton  

UPDATE ON NOAH FELDMAN PRESS SPREE: An anonymous mystery reader writes in to let us know that Noah Feldman will be speaking on WNYC, which is broadcast (and subsequently archived) online:
Noah Feldman will be on W-NYC, New York Public Radio, at 10 o’clock a.m. EST. (That would be 3 p.m. your time, I believe.) You can listen to the show in real time at www.wnyc.org. Just click on The Brian Lehrer Show under “On The Air Now” which is at the top right of the page. (Actually, the Brian Lehrer show will probably be displayed twice under “On the Air Now.” It doesn’t matter which one you click.)
Brian Lehrer’s show is two hours long. I think Professor Feldman is the first guest, so he may come on at 10:06 or so. (You know how NPR affiliates almost always have a six minute new roundup before a show starts.) If you miss the show, it will be archived much later today.

Thanks!
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 7:22 AM by Patrick Belton  

BURPING STARS FILL THE COSMOS WITH DUST. They must be from Europe.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

Sunday, July 20, 2003

# Posted 9:21 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

LA LUCHA CONTRA TERRORISMO: Randy Paul reports that Argentine President Nestor Kirchner is taking bold steps to solve the mystery of who bombed a Buenos Aires Jewish center in 1994, leaving scores dead. Kirchner is also aggressively moving to find and punish those responsible for the horrific human rights violations committed during the last Argentine dicatorship (1976-1982).
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 9:01 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

REVISIONIST HISTORY?: The NYT has a long review of who knew what about WMD when. Basically, the article says that the administration seriously overstated the case for the existence of WMD. While one might criticize the article for not providing anything new, its greatest flaw is its systematic failure to mention any of the most compelling reasons to believe that Saddam had extensive stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons.

The hero of the NYT's story is, of course, Colin Powell, who often criticized administration hawks for wanting to show the public only that evidence which favored the administration's position. Fair enough. It is now apparent that the Pentagon often let its politics get the best of its intelligence.

More interestingly, the Times avoids praising Powell for his emphasis at the United Nations on intelligence profiling Saddam's comprehensive effort to prevent UN weapons inspectors from uncovering information relevant to his weapons programs. This evidence was and still remains unchallenged. Saddam was both hiding something and in clear violation of Resolution 1441. You remember 1441, don't you?

Another glaring oversight in the NYT article is the failure to mention (let alone explain) the fact that even the most prominent opponents of the war believed that Saddam had chemical and biological weapons. If, as the NYT suggests, the administration had to spin the intelligence to persuade the American public that Saddam had WMD, why did independent and skeptical figures such as Hans Blix come to the same conclusion?

In short, the NYT tries to leave the impression that the nation was misled into war. If not for the political connotations of the phrase, one might be tempted to say that the Times is in the process of writing "revisionist history".
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 1:13 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

QUAGMIRE! QUAGMIRE! QUAGMIRE! The NYT isn't letting up. Today's Week in Review section features a lengthy essay comparing the failures of the American occupation to the failures of its British predecessor 80 years ago.

The most glaring oversight in the NYT essay is its willful blindness on the question of democratization. The essay notes that in response to a violent rebellion in 1920, the British held a rigged plebiscite in which King Faisal got 96% of the votes. Impressive, huh? Just 4% short of Saddam's total in the most recent Iraqi election.

Unsurprisingly, the Iraqis didn't take well to the rigged plebiscite. Thus,
In response, the British turned to technology, with their air force commander, Arthur (Bomber) Harris, boasting that his biplanes had taught Iraqis that "within 45 minutes a full-sized village can be practically wiped out and a third of its inhabitants killed or wounded."
Hmmm. Carpet bombing of innocent civilians. That does remind me of American strategy in a certain war. Could it be...could it be...could it be...VIETNAM?

Now, if you're looking for realistic commentary on the situation in Iraq, the WaPo Outlook section has an excellent forum on the subject. First off, retired Army officer Ralph Peters reminds us that the situation in Germany in July 1945 was far worse that the situation in Iraq in July 2003. Peters then goes on to blast press coverage of the occupation, writing that
the breathless media reporting of each American casualty in Iraq implies that the occupation has failed.
Sounds like someone has been reading OxBlog...

But let's get off our high-horse for a moment. As one of my friends in the military shot back when I criticized the media's coverage of the occupation, the fact that Iraq isn't Vietnam hardly makes Iraq a success. Point taken. So what next for the occupation? Tom Carothers that the US has to keep hammering away at the restoration of basic services and the augmentation of state administrative capacity. Otherwise, elections will only raise expectations while providing a government incapable of meeting them. In short, "The engine of democracy is useless without the chassis of the state to put it in."

While Carothers is absolutely right, it is worth keeping in mind that Paul Bremer will get hit hard regardless of whether he speeds up or slows down the transition. I put the problem this way in a forthcoming report for OxDem:
Conflicting pressures to both accelerate and decelerate the transition to an elected government illustrate the fundamental paradox of occupation: satisfying immediate demands for autonomy may threaten the prospects for democratization in the long-term, while a refusal to satisfy such demands may provoke an immediate backlash against the democratization process. The best illustration of this paradox is the way in which Bremer initially suspended the transition process in response to widespread criticism of his predecessor’s efforts to rush it forward. After winning initial praise, Bremer came under fire for not pushing the process forward fast enough. And now that he has responded to that sort criticism by appointing a Governing Council, experts such as Carothers are dissatisfied with his efforts to rush the process too much.

In the short-term, the untying of this Gordian knot may depend on the occupation forces’ ability to ensure a rapid increase in the Iraqi standard of living, since material advances tend to increase public patience with the gradual pace of political reform. And given enough time, the new Iraqi state may be able to take advantage of its most important asset in the democratization process: the desire of its people to ensure that they will never suffer again as they once did under Saddam Hussein.
As such, it isn't particularly helpful when Kofi Annan demands a timetable for the American withdrawal. If the guerrilla war gets worse and fundamentalist Shi'ites show little respect for democratic norms, will Annan still insist on meeting the timetable's objectives? (Don't answer that question.)

Moving on, the last two articles in the WaPo forum each make one solid point and then take it to ridiculous extremes. Historian Niall Fergusion writes that American underfunding of the reconstruction effort is extremely perilous, because
Without jobs and wages, many of the young men of Iraq will find the temptations of violent crime and guerrilla warfare impossible to resist.
Mind you, Ferguson knows from personal experience that money talks. After all, that's why he left Oxford for NYU. But would Fergusion have become an academic guerrilla if he were unemployed? That, of course, it is an absurd question. But how much more likely is it that all Iraqi youths -- especially Shi'ites and Kurds -- will join the Ba'thist guerrillas is they lose their jobs? Still, crime is a serious problem, along with the general dicontent that comes with poverty. Ferguson is right that the US has to spend more and not wait for the Europeans to get on board.

Finally, we come to Lesley Abdela passionate argument that having just three women on Iraq's Interim Governing Council will help perpetuate the brutal variant of sexism that has already taken hold in Iraq. Abdela writes that
As someone who has worked with Kosovo Albanians, Sierra Leonians and Afghans in rebuilding democratic institutions after devastating wars, I have heard local men and the international community alike excuse the exclusion of women from political power with weak arguments about "cultural sensitivities" and "custom and tradition." And yet, the introduction of pluralistic democracy itself is a clear break with the past -- a break from systems in which rights over others are based on gender, class, tribal affiliation or heredity.
Exactly. Exactly. But does that mean that there should be 14 women on the Governing Council instead of 3, as Abdela suggests? I don't know. It was hard enough to find three prominent women in a male-dominated society. Seems to me the real issue is to ensure that the men in charge are sensitive to women's rights and concerns.

So, leaving all the rhetoric aside, where are we know? I have to admit that I just don't know. While things certainly are not as bad as the media make it seem, their misguided reporting has made it all but impossible to know what is actually happening on the ground.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 8:36 AM by Patrick Belton  

ABU MAZEN AND THE NYT: Abu Mazen gives his first interview to a U.S. paper to the New York Times this week.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 8:31 AM by Patrick Belton  

MUSICAL CHAIRS: So David's packing his bags and getting ready to head to Harvard, and Josh is off vacationing in Ireland (and getting ready to change his d.phil. topic to an exploration of Belton sociology)....which leaves me - can it be true? - the only OxBlogger actually in residence at Oxford. Whowouldathunk?
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 8:29 AM by Patrick Belton  

NOAH FELDMAN IN DC: Several friends have been kind enough to point this out to me: namely, on Tuesday Noah Feldman will be speaking in Washington at the New America Foundation. Given that he's just departed his position as the interim Iraqi government's chief constitution-drafter, and the event is marked on the record, we can perhaps assume that we'll be hearing strong remarks, and criticisms, about the process of building Iraqi democracy. Feldman's departure, it's said, wasn't under the happiest of circumstances, but he's a bright, idealistic young man (and a Yalie Oxonian), so his criticisms, even if laced with a touch of bitterness, will surely be much worth listening to.

The event will be at the New America Foundation at 12:15 pm this Tuesday, and the announcement says, significantly: "A special note to the media, Noah Feldman resigned his U.S. government position last week from his Baghdad position and has much to say on the subject of Iraq as well as on the very broad subject of Islam and constitutional democracy. THIS MEETING IS ON THE RECORD." I'd encourage any of our readers who can, to go, and report back what he has to say.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 8:14 AM by Patrick Belton  

WAR AND LITERATURE: OxBlog Lower East Side correspondent Liz Goodman on why Vietnam is a recurring metaphor for war - partly, she says, because the literature that came out of Vietnam and seared it on our national consciousness was just so good:
It occurs to me suddenly that the reason that Vietnam gets brought up so often in conjunction with any kind of American military incursion is that the war stories field reporters told about their experiences and their mission in Vietnam were better and more compelling than any job-narratives since. I've just been rereading Dispatches, by Michael Herr, which John le Carre called "The best book I have ever read on men and war in our time."

"I see a road. It is full of ruts made by truck and jeep tires, but in the passing rains they never harden, and along the road there is a two-dollar piece of issue, a poncho, which had just been used to cover a dead Marine, a blood-puddled, mud-wet poncho going stiff in the wind. It has reared up there by the side of the road in a horrible, streaked ball. The wind doesn't move it, only setting the pools of water and blood in the dents shimmering. I'm walking along this road with two black grunts, and one of them gives the poncho a helpless, vicious kick. 'Go easy, man,' the other one says, nothing changing in his face, not even a look back. 'That's the American flag you getting' your foot into.'"

On the one hand, I think most reporters would love to have the sense of purpose and storytelling ability of a Michael Herr; I think the myth of Dispatches is that war correspondents were in the trenches desperately trying to tell the truth to a country that did not want to hear them. On the other hand, it's a brilliant, terrifying book. I try to reread Dispatches every time the Vietnam analogy comes up or American soldiers are at risk in some foreign place. I find that it greatly helps me to remember exactly what we mean by "quagmire."
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

Saturday, July 19, 2003

# Posted 10:38 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

RESISTING THE PA FROM WITHIN: Dan Drezner has an excellent post up on the Palestinian Authority's [literally] heavy-handed efforts to silence intellectuals who question its policies.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 10:27 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

ABUSING IMMIGRANTS: Dan Simon explores the implications of a French decision to ban foreign words that have made their way into the Fifth Republic.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 10:22 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

URANIUM WATCH: Kevin Drum has the latest, plus an amusing photo of the President wearing glasses.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 10:19 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

MATT YGLESIAS IS BACK from his Italian adventure and seems to be in quite good spirits. In the past three days, he has linked to my posts twice, both times in agreement. Unheard of!

On the 17th, Matt gave his qualified endorsement to my argument that the American media has locked itself into a Vietnam mindset. While Matt refers to this argument as David's theory, I really shouldn't take all the credit. For those of you who have the time, check out the work of Jonathan Mermin, who studies media coverage of US military interventions.

While I haven't had a chance to read Prof. Mermin's book, his 1996 article [no permalink] in Political Communication makes a very detailed argument about the misleading comparisons between Vietnam, Panama and the First Gulf War which the media made in the early days of those conflicts. The main difference between myself and Mermin is that the good professor attributes a narrower scope to his argument. Rather than say that this sort of coverage is characteristic of a media establishment that came of age in Vietnam, he argues that it simply reflects the media's willingness to criticize even popular military endeavors (by comparing them to unpopular and unsuccessful ones).

A harsher critic might say that Mermin doesn't recognize the implications of his research because he can't see beyond the ivory tower belief that the American media has a strong pro-conservative bias. (Yes, you heard right. "Pro-conservative". Talk a look at either this textbook or this one to see what I mean.)

Getting back to Mermin, I think he is holding back in the article because he recognizes the sort of critical firestorm he'd bring down on himself if he contradicted the prevailing paradigm in his discipline. As a young professor with one book to his credit, I don't think he can afford to offend the top scholars in the field. But that's just my instinct. Perhaps after reading his book I'll know for sure.

Now, the second time Matt Yglesias had a kind word for OxBlog was when he wrote today that even though
"a lot of hawkish bloggers seem to have a real distaste for discussing domestic policy issues that can't be reduced to mocking radical academics...Though I note that OxHawk David Adesnik is getting pretty darn caustic on the subject of Bush's tax cuts. Maybe it's time to start liberating another country before the hawk crowd starts focusing it's mind on other issues."
I guess the question is whether Matt would still be praising my diverse interests if I were an ardent defender of Bush's tax cuts. Regardless, I think I'm going to have disappoint Matt and say that I know a lot less about taxes than I do about foreign policy. When I write about economics, I do so as a layman tackling issues with which he is unfamiliar. By putting my opinions out there, I hope to get responses that introduce me to the basic facts of political economy.

In contrast, when I write about foreign policy, I am testing myself to see if I can apply my academic knowledge and doctoral research to current events and issues. That's why most of my posts focus on foreign policy and why I'm willing to go to the mat (no pun intended) to defend my views on the subject. So, if you want to see more domestic policy posts on OxBlog, write in if I put up even a single post on the subject and you'll have my attention.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 9:34 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

A SOLDIER'S LIFE IN IRAQ: Chief Wiggles gives a detailed account of a day in the life, in his case dealing with Iraqi POWs. I don't think there's anyway not to be impressed with how hard the Chief is working, or for that matter how hard almost every soldier is working regardless of his or her specific task.

NB: One of the Chief's associates pointed out to me, the Chief does not GUARD the prisoners, as I wrote earlier. That kind of work is for "the average boot". The Chief is responsible for debriefing the POWs and other related tasks.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

Friday, July 18, 2003

# Posted 10:58 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

OH, THE IRONY: Maureen Dowd writes that America is still afraid of intelligent women. Is that a subtle dig at the NYT for not having a serious female columnist? Or is MoDo trying to tell us that she's just been playing dumb?
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 10:35 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

BRAVO, NYT: Kinds words for the NYT are not common on OxBlog, but today they are very much in order. On the op-ed page, the Times has published a column by Jordan's Prince Hassan which upraids the occupation forces in Iraq for their hypocritical rhetoric and cultural insensitivity. As Prince Hassan would have it,
The occupying coalition talks of transitional justice. But how can it explain the absence of an Iraqi court to deal with the affairs of its citizens? Other than a new, relatively powerless governing council, why are Iraq's people — inheritors of the cradle of human civilization itself and arguably some of the most sophisticated and advanced in the Arab world — having to watch while others impose their will and their plans on the country?

The people now in charge of Iraq, be they in Baghdad or Washington, seem to lack the cultural sensitivity and proper knowledge of Iraq and its neighbors, and to have little regard for the religious and spiritual values of the Iraqi people, lacking even an appreciation of Iraq's ecumenical and cosmopolitan past. Nor has the de facto authority shown any intention to put to use the intellectual and technical potential of the Iraqi people, causing even greater frustration, confusion and anger.
At this point you might be thinking to yourself, "So what? Trite anti-American banter is par for the course on the NYT op-ed page." But hold on just a second. What makes Prince Hassan's comments so delightful is that the Times has run his column side-by-side with this essay by Fawaz Gerges, in which the author blasts the monarchs and dictators of the Middle East for their shallow and hypocritical embrace of democratic rhetoric. I can only imagine the look on Hassan's face when he picked up his copy of the paper this morning...

Anyhow, Gerges main point (one that OxBlog made two months ago...) is that the emergence of democratic rhetoric in the Middle East is part and parcel of cynical strategy designed to placate the United States for long enough to ensure that the Bush Administration forgets its declared interest in promoting democracy in the region. Gerges observes that
Shamefully, President Bush and his senior aides spent most of their meeting last month with the leaders of Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia pressing them to fight terrorism. What they should have been talking about was the importance of promoting democracy and reform. This emphasis sends the wrong message to Arab rulers and citizens by reinforcing the widely held perception that the United States uses democracy as a whip to punish its enemies, like Iraq, while doing business as usual with its autocratic allies.


Moreover, it is shortsighted. If America wants to end terrorism, it needs to understand that ultimately, democracy and respect for human rights and the rule of law are the most effective way to undermine extremism. That change will come about only when the United States begins exerting pressure on its allies, not just its foes.
Even I have to admit that Gerges is going a little too far. There is no question that the President and his senior advisors had to focus on terrorism in their meetings with Middle Eastern heads of state. But what Bush and his advisors apparently failed to do was make it clear to those heads of state that (as Gerges says) promoting democracy and fighting terror are all part of the same war.

While that sort of rhetoric may sound nice on a website or on the NYT op-ed page, if the President of the United States is willing to make the exact same point in closed door meetings with Middle Eastern heads of state, it can have a tremendous impact. Much as the people of the Middle East seem to want greater freedom, their governments will not give it to them unless they have no other choice.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 9:41 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

MONEY, MEET MOUTH: Leading Shi'ite cleric Moqtada Sadr has denounced the new Iraqi Governing Council and called for the creation of an independent Islamic army.

Am I concerned? Yes. Not because Sadr has the necessary legitimacy within the Shi'ite community to effective challenge its pro-Council leadership. (He doesn't). But because this is the moment the skeptics have been waiting for. The people of Iraq have finally been called to the banner of anti-American fundamentalism.

Will they rush to it, or will they prefer to focus on "democracy, security, services and food on their plates" (as one Shi'ite cleric on the Governing Council put it)? I know what my answer to that question is. So now it's time for OxBlog to put its money where its mouth is.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 9:31 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

POLITICAL CALCULUS: My erstwhile NYC neighbor AG writes in with some further thoughts about partisan politics and free trade:
Here's an alternative hypothesis. The Bush II administration's objective function has one and only one domestic argument -- the average marginal tax rate on the 1,000 wealthiest taxpayers -- and the first and second derivatives of this function in this arguement are large and negative. They'll adopt whatever other policies it takes to decrease the expected future value of this variable through all time. Trade? Who cares as long as we can get tax cut votes out of the Missouri and Michigan delegations. Farm subsidies that keep Africans impoverished? Who cares as long as get concurrence from the Iowa and Nebraska delegations. Free abortion on demand? Maybe, if we really have a chance of getting Hilary and Chuck to help eliminate estate taxes.

This is extreme. But I haven't seen any evidence that would lead me to refute this hypothesis.
Nor have I, nor have I.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 8:43 AM by Patrick Belton  

A NEW SPEECH attributed to bin Laden is making the rounds in the Islamist press, courtesy of MEMRI.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

Thursday, July 17, 2003

# Posted 8:57 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

DEMOCRACY IN A SMALL PLACE: It isn't easy for countries like Sao Tome to make the headlines, even when the military overthrows its elected president. Thus Bill Hobbs and Adam Sullivan deserve considerable credit for bringing this issue to the blogosphere's attention. Given's Sao Tome's size, it shouldn't be all that hard for joint US-European pressure to restore the elected government, as it did once before in 1995. The question is, with so many other issues on the agenda, will the Bush administration be paying attention?
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 7:58 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

FREE TRADE BUSHWHACKED? The always thoughtful JAT isn't satisfied with my assertion that
"...we now inhabit a strange world where the Democratic Party has
become the most credible advocate of free trade and balanced budgets, i.e. economic conservatism."

No. As I'll explain below, it is paradoxically because the Democratic
Party is less a party of free trade that Democratic *Presidents* (as
opposed to Congressmen) have stronger political incentives to be free
trade.

First off, your comment seems absurd to someone who lives in North
Carolina, and witnessed the Elizabeth Dole- Erskine Bowles Senate race in
2002. Almost every Bowles ad contained some criticism of cheap Mexican
goods flooding into the US, and cheap Chinese goods flooding into the US
through Mexico. (Complete with scary maps and red arrows.) Elizabeth
Dole generally tried to avoid the issue, but made a defense of free trade.

The same was true of Rep. Robin Hayes's (R-NC) race. (Rep. Hayes was one of the final "Yes" votes for fast track authority.) His Democratic
opponent ran nothing but anti-free trade ads in 2002. Everywhere in North Carolina, every legislative race I've ever seen, the Republican candidate is more free trade than the Democratic one. This is repeated throughout
the state and the country-- relatively protectionist Republicans represent
protectionist districts (heavily union, especially) where the Democrats
who run against them are even more protectionist. Free trading Democrats represent very pro-free trade districts.

In the larger picture, remember that even during the Clinton
Administration, a majority of the Republicans in the House and Senate
voted for fast track trade authority, while a much smaller fraction of the
Democrats. (Under a Republican president, Bush, more Republicans and
fewer Democrats voted for fast track.)

Remember Gephardt and most of the rest of the Congressional Democrat
leadership saying that the steel tariffs didn't go far enough.

The Republicans have a much, much larger free trade bloc than the
Democrats, and have a much more naturally free trade constituency. The
legislative votes reflect this.

However, this does peversely mean that Democratic *executives* can
sometimes be more free trade, in an "only Nixon can go to China" sense.
When a Democratic President advocates free trade, he upsets his union and left wing base, but reaches out to moderates and Republican supporters. A sitting Democratic President doesn't have to fear an attack from the left
as much, and can broaden his support by supporting free trade. His base
may be upset, but he can use other issues to placate them.

A Republican President faces exactly the reverse dilemma. Caving on free
trade upsets mostly Republican voters (and moderate Democrats), but is an attempt to appeal to large Democratic constituencies that are open to
Republicans on other issues-- but are very protectionist. (Unions,
especially.) Again, it's an attempt to broaden support at the expense of
upsetting the base.
I have to admit, JAT's logic is pretty solid. I'm not sure, though, that there is such a clear incentive for Presidents to offend their base in the process of reaching out to the center. After all, it is the base that votes in the primaries and sends in donations. As such, I think it is still fair to say that Clinton had a real commitment to free trade while Bush simply doesn't.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 7:46 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

GRAN'PA IN BAGHDAD: How many blogs out there are written by American army officers charged with guarding captured Iraqi generals? As you might guess, Chief Wiggles (I presume that is not his real name) is a little older than your average soldier. And definitely a little wiser. He is a father and a grandfather as well as an officer, not to mention a former missionary. Interesting reading to say the least.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 6:40 PM by Patrick Belton  

MAIL BAG: Our readers do some pretty neat things. And occasionally, they let us know about them, which is the absolute best. So without further ado, a few interesting things OxBlog readers have recently brought to our attention:

The Center for Regulatory Effectiveness, a group of former OMB officials, has a white paper out on the fradulent diversion of pharmaceutical drugs from their intended recipients - a problem they find to be large, growing, and troubling.

Brian Ulrich has posted some interesting thoughts on Afghan-Pakistani relations.

And our friends at MEMRI note Al Hayat's coverage of Iraqi intelligence's plan for insurgence operations in the event of the fall of the Iraqi regime, recently unearthed in the Mukhabarat's former building. (Here's the original Arabic, for those of you who can use the practice).
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 6:38 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

DEMOCRACORPS: Boomshock has claimed christening rights for OxBlog's new nation-building corps. Meanwhile, Reihan Salam points out that Donald Rumsfeld came up with a surprisingly similar idea (but has no idea how to implement).
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 6:35 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

HONOR AMONG THIEVES: Attend the 3rd Annual Nigerian E-mail conference!
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 6:28 PM by Patrick Belton  

TONY BLAIR IN CONGRESS: "There never has been a time when the power of America has been so necessary or misunderstood." text, MSNBC, CNN.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 3:23 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

CLINTONIZING BUSH: I've already put in my two cents about the significance of Uranium-gate. But what matters far more is the significance that the President's antagonists want to give it. What they want is nothing less than to discredit the President permanently in the way that Lewinsky-gate discredited President Clinton.

According to Maureen Dowd,
More and more, with Bush administration pronouncements about the Iraq war, it depends on what the meaning of the word "is" is.
Josh Marshall is taking the slightly different tack of posting Bush's best-known attacks on Clinton's credibility side-by-side with the embarrassing excuses now being offered for the infamous 16 words. For example:
"I will bring honor to the process and honor to the office I seek. I will remind Al Gore that Americans do not want a White House where there is 'no controlling legal authority.' I will repair the broken bonds of trust between Americans and their government."

-- George W. Bush
March 7th, 2000


Quote number two ...
"It didn't rise to the standard of a presidential speech, but it's not known, for example, that it was inaccurate. In fact, people think it was technically accurate."

-- Donald Rumsfeld
July 13th, 2003
For the moment, I still think it's extremely premature to compare the White House spin on Uranium-gate to Clinton's outright lies regarding his relationship with Monica Lewinsky. (No, I don't think anyone should ask the President about his sex life. But if he is testifying about it in court, then a lie is a lie is a lie.)

Even so, the Administration's inability to get its foot out of its collective mouth is making it harder and harder not to ask just what the White House has to hide. Just a few days ago, George Tenet took the fall for the administration after Condi Rice insisted that the CIA was responsible for letting the '16 words' into the State of the Union.

Now Tenet says his staff never asked him to evaluate the 16 before they went into the President's speech. Not only does that contradict Tenet's good soldier act from earlier in the week, but it seems implausible given yesterday's NYT report that Tenet called Stephen Hadley before the President's October speech in Cincinnati and insisted that he take the uranium-from-Niger story out of the text.

What this sort of Cabinet-level chaos calls to mind is not the mendacity of our 42nd President but the incompetence of our 40th. Throughout the 2000 campaign, the Republican line was that Bush would surround himself with experts on foreign affairs. But now he seems unable to control his cabinet.

By the same token, the much-lauded White House press machine has been unable to offer any sort of convincing explanation of what exactly went on in the days leading up to the SotU.

Ideally, this will all come to end when the President decides that the excuses being offered in his name are doing far more damage to his reputation than the truth itself. But I'm beginning to wonder, does Bush even know what happened? What I fear is that Bush will have to come before the nation and declare in a Reagan-esque manner that he has no recollection of how policy was made in his own White House.

I hope I'm wrong. Not because I have an interest in protecting the President's reputation. But because I don't want to believe that no one is in charge in the White House.

AFTERTHOUGHT: Andrew Sullivan and the WSJ have cited last October's National Intelligence Estimate for Iraq in order to show that the CIA had, at one time, considered the Niger story to be thoroughly reliable. But if the NYT report I mentioned above is to be believed, George Tenet explicitly told Stephen Hadley not to believe those sections of the NIE dealing with the uranium from Niger. Both Andrew and the WSJ also point out that the British are still standing by the uranium story. Yet given that the UK has excellent intelligent services, why doesn't anyone in the White House want to defend the actual content of the 16 words?
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 2:46 AM by Patrick Belton  

BLIND CENSORS AND NABOKOV IN PERSIAN: TNR'S Cynthia Ozick offers a beautiful review of Azar Nafisi's Reading Lolita in Iran. A favorite excerpt:
One of Nafisi's recurrent "jokes"--not unlike the joke about the Rule of the Bus--is her account of the official censor, whose job it was to guard against insult to religion in film, theater, and television. What made him highly suitable as a judge of the visual arts was that he could not see what he condemned--he was virtually blind. The sightless censor is Nafisi's metaphor for the Islamic Republic: it declined to see, and in not seeing, it was unable to feel. This blind callousness--Nafisi rightly terms it solipsism--ruled every cranny of the nation's existence. The answer to governmental solipsism, Nafisi determined, was insubordination through clinging to what the regime could neither see nor feel: the sympathies and openness of humane art, art freed from political manipulation--the inchoate glimmerings of Fitzgerald's green light, Nabokov's "world of tenderness, brightness and beauty," James's "Feel, feel, I say--feel for all you're worth."

(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 1:29 AM by Patrick Belton  

AND WHO SAYS NOTHING GOOD COMES OUT OF CONGRESS????? The Senate passed, with a lone dissenting vote, a measure backed by Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) to ban the importation of goods from Burma, freeze the junta's assets in the United States, expand the ban on visas for Burmese junta officials and codify the current ban on US support for assistance to the Burmese government by international financial institutions. The House passed the same measure by a 418-2 vote the day before (who votes against this kind of stuff?). Happily, the administration has greeted the move with support.

Just look at that - Congress passing a measure imposing tough sanctions on a regime brutally abusing human rights, and a Bush administration is backing rather than vetoing the move. Perhaps we've come a long way, baby, since Tiananmen.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

Wednesday, July 16, 2003

# Posted 9:24 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

NOT THE INDEPENDENT'S DAY:First it recycled Palestinian lies about an alleged massacre in Jenin. Now's it printing groundless stories about Dick Cheney on the brink of getting fired. Well, what do you expect from a newspaper whose top foreign correspondent is Robert Fisk?
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 8:53 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

YOUCH! Anne Applebaum writes:
Nearly all of the arguments about multilateralism, unilateralism and whether the United States should have allies need to be framed differently. For we do have allies -- it's just that they're allies who want America to fight the war on terrorism while their citizens, simultaneously, denounce the United States for fighting the war on terrorism. What we have, at the moment, is not a coalition of the willing, in other words, but a coalition that dare not speak its name.
You know, you'd think I'd feel better about having a moderate WaPo columnist say exactly what I want to hear. But now I'm so paranoid about the media, that if it says what I want, then I think I must be wrong!
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 8:47 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WEAPONS OF MASS DISTRACTION: Jim Hoagland perfectly captures my take on uranium-gate; it's a minor flap handledly so incompetently by the Administration that it's opening bush up to well-deserved partisan ridicule while distracting both the policymakers and the public from more important issues.

UPDATE: Josh Marshall gives reason to think that Hoagland is hardly an impartial judge when it comes to the intel wars.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 7:52 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

ANTI-SEMITISM VS. ANTI-AMERICANISM: There is something amusing about French anti-Americanism. It is a strange sort of faith that considers certain carbonated beverages, hamburger franchises and animated children's films to be its mortal enemies. In political terms, this sort of anti-Americanism is little more than an adjunct to the longstanding nationalist pride that is responsible for France's periodic efforts to step on the toes of the American colossus. No wonder that the American response to such sentiments consists of patently ridiculous initiatives such as the liberation of French fries.

But French anti-Semitisim is deadly serious. The incidents described in today's WaPo are both so brazen and so violent that it is almost beyond belief. In one instance
A gang of 15 North African teenagers, some of them wielding broom handles, had invaded the grounds of a Jewish day school on Avenue de Flandre in northeast Paris the previous evening. They punched and kicked teachers and students, yelled epithets and set off firecrackers in the courtyard before fleeing.
In broad daylight in the heart of Europe. Unthinkable. Or rather, in the United States such behavior would be unthinkable. I myself am the graduate of a Jewish day school in Manhattan. If this sort of violent attack took place at my school or at any other day school in New York, it would become the focus of all student activity for months, if not years, to come. Hundreds of thousands of Jews would march on the Capitol and demand an end to anti-Semitism and all other forms of primitive racism.

But what if this sort of attack were not an isolated incident, but rather part of a disturbing pattern. Would American Jews be able to mobilize the same anger if they knew that this sort of attack were inevitable? Consider the following:
Police forensic experts in Lyon, France, investigated an attack on a synagogue in March 2002, in which assailants used a car outfitted with battering rams to smash the doors and then set fire to the building.
The degree of calculated malice involved in that sort of attack is absolutely shocking. It is an act of war. At minimum, there is something comprehensible about the decision of 15 North African teenagers to overrun a Jewish school. Their behavior bears some sort of resemblance to the Crown Heights riots of a decade ago, during which an outraged mob vented its anger on innocent Jews.

But to outfit a car with battering rams? That is not aggravated assault. It is premeditated murder. Perhaps because of such shocking events, the French authorities have begun to take anti-Semitism more seriously. Better late than never. I am afraid, however, that no amount of law enforcement can prevent such motivated criminals from doing their worst. What must ultimately change is the mindset of the Muslim communities from which the attackers come.

In the WaPo article mentioned above, the leader of a Muslim organizaton in Paris attributes the attacks to the disaffection of young Muslims and the influence of television.
"For these kids, television is enormous," he says. "It conditions their minds. Before, they had respect for their parents and their roots. Now with this new generation, the respect is gone. The roots are cut."
I don't buy that for a second. I simply do not believe that either rising unemployment or news broadcasts could provoke anti-Semitic attacks if the teenage assailants were not brought up on a steady diet of anti-Semitism at home and at school.

While anti-Semitic attacks do rise and fall in response to the temperature of politics in the Middle East, one still has to ask why young French Muslims respond to events in the Middle East by terrorizing Jews rather than participating in the French tradition of strikes and protests. Thus, the WaPo was right to headline its report "For Jews in France, a 'Kind of Intifada'". The same inbred, inter-generational hatred that motivagtes suicide bombings in the Middle East has begun to rear its head on the European continent.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 8:09 AM by Patrick Belton  

BACK TO PLAY....This after a lovely sun-splotted weekend spent discharging the happy honor of steering my beloved friends Rafael and Alexandra Cox down the aisle at Trinity, and several subsequent days spent scribbling in the Bodleian to get to the point where I can call myself a real DPhil student. But not wanting David to get lonely or be playing all by himself, I thought I'd come back to play....

So, first of all, a few quick links to today's best of the web:

My DC foreign policy posse, the Nathan Hale gang, drives home just how superfluous I am by having - while I'm away - a splendid and searching discussion examining US policy options toward North Korea.

MEMRI has a quite good summary of the current situation facing the pro-democracy student demonstrators in Iran.

Eurasianet has added some typically insightful analyses to their website: on Turkish and US interests in Iraq, military-civil tensions again within Turkey, and Hizb ut-Tahrir. With regard to the last, the ICG's caution that more democracy, rather than more repression, is the appropriate way to deal with Central Asian extremism is extraordinarily welcome and timely.

Via my friend Alexandra, here are two round-ups of the recent Mexican legislative elections: here and here too.

Rita Katz and Josh Devon, whom I'm privileged to know slightly, have a quite good piece in NRO on terrorists' use of the internet. And Stratfor has a good, non-subscription piece on the strategic challenges posed in pursuing counterinsurgence operations in Iraq.

That's it for now - happy reading. I'll be off scribbling.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

Tuesday, July 15, 2003

# Posted 9:42 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

BELIEVING THEIR OWN LIES: As far as I can I tell, my constant fulminations against the WaPo's misinterpetation of polling data hasn't had much effect on its reporting. Today, my criticism of the WaPo's coverage focuses on the same biased question that provoked my wrath once before:
8. 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?
Sadly, none other than David Broder, the vaunted "Dean" of political journalism has been taken in by the answer to this one-sided question. According to Broder, the most recent WaPo/ABC poll
"found a dramatic reversal in public tolerance of continuing casualties, with a majority saying for the first time that the losses are unacceptable when weighed against the goals of the war.

Eight out of 10 in the Post-ABC poll said they were very or somewhat concerned that the United States "will get bogged down in a long and costly peacekeeping mission."
Now, before getting in to what the data actually showed, it is worth noting that Saturday's WaPo ran a front page headline that read "Support for Bush Declines As Casualties Mount in Iraq." In other words, Broder is simply echoing the same quagmire theme that both his own colleagues and countless other journalists have been harping on since the second week of the war.

Unfortunately, the American people are refusing to play along. When asked
Do you think the United States should keep its military forces in Iraq until civil order is restored there, even if that means continued U.S. military casualties; or do you think the United States should withdraw its military forces from Iraq in order to avoid further U.S. military casualties, even if that means civil order is not restored there?
72% said the US should stand its ground. Lest anyone think these 72% are naive, a similar number (74%, to be exact) answered in the affirmative when asked
Do you think there will or will not be a significant number of additional U.S. military casualties in Iraq?
To some degree, that answer conflicts with the one given to the following question:
Again thinking about the goals versus the costs of the war, so far in your opinion has there been an acceptable or unacceptable number of U.S. military casualties in Iraq?
44% said acceptable and 52% said unacceptable, the reversal of the 51-42 split from three weeks ago. But what exactly does it mean to say that the casualty count is unacceptable? Here's one explanation:
"I don't think any [casualties] are acceptable, but they're necessary," said Chris Eldridge, 29, an electronics technician from Louisville. "They're a lot lower than I expected. I expected there would be more during the initial fighting. I expected a lot more killed. Fortunately there hasn't been."
Answers like that demonstrate just how important it is to be precise when designing poll questions. Still, one shouldn't jump to the conclusion that Americans are enthusiastic about the occupation. When asked
All in all, considering the costs to the United States versus the benefits to the United States, do you think the war with Iraq was worth fighting, or not?
the Yes-No split was 57-40, down from 64-33 in late June. Frankly, it's hard to know whether those sort of numbers reflect the absence of any major WMD finds, the uranium-from-Niger debate, or the rising casualty count. Given that 72% of Americans support the occupation, it is reasonable to infer that the WMD and uranium issues are more important.

Of course, that isn't what the WaPo wants you to believe. As they have it, "Support for Bush Declines As Casualties Mount in Iraq." What's so interesting about that sort of spin is that it has no clear relationship to journalists' own self-interest. With regard to the uranium, the media can plausibly argue that their investigative reporting helped expose the President's mendacity. So why not suggest that Bush's falling approval rating reflects the success of their investigative reporting?

With regard to WMD, it makes sense to argue that some Americans feel betrayed by the Administration's inability to validate its firm prewar assertions that Saddam had impressive stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons. While the media couldn't take any direct credit for exposing the apparent absence of WMD, the failure of an American president to deliver on his word is exactly the sort of story that journalists love to play up.

Yet in spite of these compelling alternatives, the WaPo decided to favor the least plausible explanation of Bush's falling numbers: the supposed quagmire in Iraq. It is precisely this sort of indefensible decision which highlights the lasting impact of the Vietnam mindset on American journalists. Our media is so invested in the Vietnam narrative of hit-and-run guerrillas, disappointed GIs and homefront dissent that it turns every war into Vietnam.

At times, this Vietnam mindset results in coverage that is decidedly liberal. Yet in this instance, the quagmire prism favors those conservatives and realists who believe that America has no business rebuilding war torn nations and promoting democracy abroad. Thus, it isn't politics in the partisan sense of the word that determine how the media cover foreign affairs. Instead, there is an unconscious ideology -- derived from a self-absorbed interpretation of American political history -- that leads journalists astray.

Thankfully, the American public is not following that lead.

(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 5:13 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SELLING OUT AUNG SAN SUU KYI: In today's WaPo, the director of Asian studies at Georgetown argues passionately for engagement with Burma. Prof. Steinberg argues that whereas taking a hard line
"may be morally comforting to all of us who wish the world were more democratic, but have they been or are they likely to be effective? What the United States has been doing is to drive the Burmese back onto themselves and more closely into the Chinese sphere of influence...

The United States should not foster Burma's isolation. It should, with Japan, the European Union and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, engage that state to encourage positive changes. It should induce China to warn the Burmese of their predicament.
Like most supporters of Mrs. Suu Kyi, I am well aware that strident protests may have no effect on a junta led by ignorant and violent men. Yet what reason is there to believe that "engagement" would work any better?

Stunningly, Prof. Steinberg doesn't list a single incentive that might induce the Burmese junta to improve its record on human rights and democratization, in the event of a more conciliatory approach by the West. If I were a member of the junta, I would interpret Western diplomatic openings as a clear indication that the United States, the EU , Japan and ASEAN will continue to do business with the junta regardless of how brutal it is.

Now mind you, "engagement" is not a dirty word. It is not necessarily the same as appeasement. Take China, for example. While I have serious misgivings about engaging its leadership, Chinese society is far more open than its Burmese counterpart. Because there are businessmen, labor leaders and local politicians who have an important say in what happens, at least at the lower levels of government, engagement has the potential to strengthen pro-democratic forces in China.

In contrast, Burma is the most primitive form of dictatorship, in which hapless generals rule over an impoverished and resentful population with no means of resisting government violence. In short, there is no one in Burma to engage.

If the United States, the EU, Japan and ASEAN take a consistent hard line with the junta, the Chinese may decide to accept Burma as a satellite. On the other hand, a united US-EU-Japanese-ASEAN front may well convince the Chinese that taking on another backwards henchman (cf. North Korea) may entail far more trouble than it's worth. If so, the Myanmar junta will recognize that they have no choice but to compromise with pro-democracy forces or hope that their more resentful subjects don't launch a bloody revolution first.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

Monday, July 14, 2003

# Posted 8:52 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

NOT BIAS. JUST CONFUSION: Compare the headlines, both on the front page:
"Appointed Iraqi Council Assumes Limited Role" --Rajiv Chandrasekaran, WaPo, July 14.

"Iraqis Set to Form an Interim Council With Wide Power" -- Patrick Tyler, NYT, July 11.
What's even funnier is that you could switch the headlines around and both articles would still make just as much sense.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 8:36 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE STRANGEST OFFER: Con-artists are getting more and more creative. Just take a look at this:
MAKE MILLIONS WITH YOUR BLOG!

By making a small investment in the growing market for Nigerian blogs, you have the potential to become a major market force in West African communications.

As a leading American blogger, you surely recognize the value of getting into the revolution on the ground floor. With our experienced corps of professional spammers, we can use your blogospheric credibility to bilk millions of dollars from naive American consumers. Just imagine if we could unite our compelling model of online fraud with your tremendous credibility!

For a small additional investment, you can also purchase a share in the expanding Nigerian bridge-building industry.

Please be aware that we cannot offer you protection from the American Secret Service or Department of the Treasury. We can, however, defray the cost of bribes to local politicians.

Looking forward to hearing from you,
Patrick Beltonabene

TESTIMONIAL:
"I now make more than $80,000 a year thanks to the Beltonabene business model!"
--Andru Sullivin
And to think most bloggers just have a tip jar...
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 8:21 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

VIVE LA REPUBLIQUE! Happy Bastille Day to one and all. While it is hard to resist the temptation to make some sort of snide remark about the vanity and hypocrisy of modern-day France, there is already enough of that out there. In the post-Howell era, even the NYT has begun to publish condescending and cynical essays about the French.

In today's paper, Walter Isaacson writes that Benjamin Franklin long ago discovered how best to deal with the French:
"always play to their pride and vanity by constantly seeking their opinion and advice, and they will admire you for your judgment and wisdom."
With all due respect to Mr. Hundred-Dollar Bill, that is pure bullshit. No resilient alliance can rest on a foundation of cynical condescension. Instead, we must constantly remind both ourselves and the French that our nations are founded on shared ideals.

Both "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" as well as "liberte, egalite, fraternite" are expressions of the same democratic ethos underlying both of our revolutions. (So what if the American revolution lasted for seven years while the French one lasted for eighty? What do you expect from a nation with a 35-hour work week?)

Anyhow, the better the United States is at living up to its ideals, the more persuasive it can sound when demanding that France live up to those same ideals as well. There will come a day, I hope, when the Tricolor, the Stars & Stripes and the Union Jack are recognized around the world as symbols of a single Enlightenment faith that has brought freedom and democracy to the four distant corners of the earth.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 7:22 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

BUSH AND ANNAN HAVE FAILED to take any substantive measures to punish the Myanmar junta for its imprisonment of Aung San Suu Kyi and its violent crackdown on the Burmese democracy movement. The UN even elected Myanmar (as the generals call it) to serve as Vice President of the General Assembly during the upcoming session. Burma's neighbors are evading responsibility as well.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 6:21 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

VICTORY FOR BOOMSHOCK: Robert Tagorda (aka Boomshock) cruised to victory in the most recent running of NZ Bear's New Weblog Showcase.

Robert won for his post on Arnold Schwarzenegger's bid for the California state house. Impressively, the Ah-nuld post won the endorsement of Glenn Reynolds and Andrew Sullivan as well as numerous others.

Embarrassingly, I forgot to vote in the Showcase even though I told Robert he should enter. So I'm glad that everyone else thinks as highly of Boomshock as I do. As I did once before, let me put it in terms an LA Dodger fan can appreciate: Folks, your looking at the Rookie of the Year. Next up, MVP?
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 6:01 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

A SHEEP IN WOLF'S CLOTHING: While Will Saletan bashes the anti-Americanism at the heart of Howard Dean's foreign policy, Dan Drezner illustrates how Dean has clothed a mainstream Democratic foreign policy in the rhetoric of the radical left.

In some respects, Saletan and Drezner aren't far apart. Both recognize that the most offensive thing about Dean's foreign policy is not its substance, but the arrogance with which the candidate conveys it.

While Saletan and Drezner suggest that Dean's arrogance is a personal characteristic, I tend to think that it reflects the anti-Vietnam heritage of the Democratic Party's far left. While the overwhelming majority of American were anti-Vietnam by the time the war as over, the anti-war resentment of many protesters and activists became the foundation of a worldview that was automatically suspicious of American power to the point of being anti-American (in the foreign policy sense of the word.)

Since the end of the Cold War, only those Democrats who share this heritage resentment have been able to criticize American foreign policy with the same bravado dispalyed by Howard Dean. Whereas many other Democrats have offered thoughtful criticism of US foreign policy under both Clinton and Bush, they advance their criticism in the spirit of loyal opposition to a foreign policy that has done great things for the world.

In contrast, it often seems that Dean wants to tear down the accomplishments of his predecessors. The irony, of course, is that Clinton and Bush have slowly, sometimes unwillingly, brought American foreign policy around to the values vocalized so forcefully by the anti-Vietnam protesters.

Two decades ago, humanitarian intervention in Africa and nation-building in the Middle East would have been written off as hopeless causes. Admittedly, the US military has played a greater role in these endeavors than peace-loving protesters might be comfortable with. Still, the values animating the enterprise are the same.

In many ways, we are living in Howard Dean's America. The strange thing is that Dean himself isn't aware of that fact.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 5:27 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

IDIOTARIANS OF THE RIGHT: Dan Drezner adds considerable depth to my comments on Pat Robertson.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 5:22 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

BUSH THE SOCIALIST: Andrew Sullivan writes that
President Bush's massive increases for such subsidies is yet another indicator that, in economic policy, he's much more of a socialist than he lets on. Big debt, deficit financing, huge new entitlements, and bigger subsidies: Bush's economic policy is a Democratic dream. So why are Republicans voting for it?
The answer is simple: Republicans are not economic conservatives. They are tax-cutting revolutionaries who will let nothing get in their way.

The Republican party has inherited its economic platform from the Reagan era. It insists that tax cuts will promote both economic growth and sound government finance. Of course, that idea was implausible in Reagan's time and discredited further by the Reagan deficit; according to a fellow named Bush, it was a classic example of "voodoo economics".

What made Reagan so successful as a tax-cutter, however, was that he knew not to touch the entitlements that Americans have come to depend on thanks to Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson. This pragmatism continues to inform Republicanism today, giving it the debt-laden, welfarist character Sullivan rails against.

And so we now inhabit a strange world where the Democratic Party has become the most credible advocate of free trade and balanced budgets, i.e. economic conservatism.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 8:59 AM by Daniel  

SAFIRE ON TRUMAN ON UNDERDOGS. Very well put column about the newly released Truman diary. I agree that Truman should be criticised for his comments--why does he deserve a free pass simply because cultural anti-Semitism was common at the time? His decision to recognize the Jewish state 11 minutes after it decared independence is a seperate matter for which he should be commended.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

Saturday, July 12, 2003

# Posted 10:27 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

FOER PLAY: If Frank Foer wrote an article called "My Butt", OxBlog would still link to it because Frank is such a great writer. Instead, Frank has written a WaPo op-ed arguing that the Democrats should draft Wesley Clark as their candidate for President.

I have to admit, it's pretty persuasive. I would've linked to it even if someone other than Frank had written it. But for the moment, I'm still wondering whether Clark's inability to generate his own momentum says something about him as a candidate. While my heart says "Lieberman in '04", my mind is very much open.

Also, make sure to check out "Everything is Illuminated", the debut novel by Frank's brother (and my friend) Jon. It's fantastic.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 10:06 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

ANGLING FOR THE BIG FISH: The WaPo has an interesting cover story on the hunt for Saddam. Nice as that would be, one shouldn't overlook this week's capture of #23 and #29 on the most wanted list. Regardless of their importance as individuals, their capture demonstrate that Ba'athist guerrillas still lack one of the most important capabilities of an effective fighting force: the ability to protect their leaders.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 9:51 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

NOT ENOUGH SOLDIERS IN IRAQ: Trent Telenko has just put up a first-rate post on this subject which explores different ways in which the United States can redress the shortage of military manpower that has become self-evident as a result of the occupation in Iraq.

After some very sharp analysis, Trent comest to a conclusion that I strongly disagree with: We need to reinstitute the draft. A draft is a very bad idea on both practical and political grounds. As Phil Carter has observed, the superior performance of our soldiers is a direct result of the fact they are part of an all-volunteer force. On the political side, I have a very hard time imagining that the American electorate wants anything to do with a draft, especially if its purpose is to facilitate nation-building.

So what are the alternatives? Patrick, Rachel and myself have talked about this and are slowly working our way towards the idea of a nation-building force that has the virtues of both the Peace Corps and the Foreign Service. Like the Peace Corps, it should be composed of idealistic young men and women who want to better the lives of impoverished nations. Like the Foreign Service, it should be composed of professionals whose expertise in local languages and cultures enables them to advance American ideals and interests.

Given that the Foreign Service accepts only an infinitesimal percentage of its applicants (and the Peace Corps is extremely selective as well), there is clearly an untapped reserve of American citizens who want to serve their country abroad. One should also note that the Foreign Service is extremely attractive because it offers what is, in essence, lifetime employment and excellent benefits. If we want to establish a professional corps of nation-builders, attached to the Department of State or any other, I think that offering similar terms will be absolutely necessary.

And extremely expensive. Without knowing much about military logistics, I still suspect that having combat divisions serve as nation-builders is far less cost effective than having a purpose-built nation-builiding corps. To be sure, there will still have to be significant combat forces deployed to protect our nation-builders. However, the nation-building corps should be able to perform those tasks which resemble the work of an American police department.

In other words, nation-builders should not be afraid of carrying a gun. If you are a pacificst, go to the Peace Corps. If you a warrior, enlist. But if you are prepared to face the maddening complexity of working on the margins of peace and war, then you are ready to build nations.

Admittedly, this is a role for which Americans are not naturally suited. Our political culture does not recognize that some nations must live neither at peace nor at war. If anything, this transitional state of being reminds us of Vietnam. The British, on the other hand, have a long historical memory of imperial service that bridged the divide between peace and war. Sadly, the purpose of such service was control, not liberation.

What America does have is a historical faith in the importance of promoting democracy abroad. Impressively, the Founding Fathers recognized the universal applicability of their values. They knew that there could not be democracy in just one country. And they believed in helping others to achieve the freedom that is the inherent right of man.

Thus, America has the necessary faith to engage in nation-building, even if it does not have the necessary experience. However, if this Administration maintains its commitment to a democratic Iraq, we will be on our way to having both faith and experience. Let the tyrants beware.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

Friday, July 11, 2003

# Posted 7:30 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

OPIATE OF THE MASSES: A few days back, Josh declared that there are some definite reasons for optimism about the future of Afghanistan. While it is most definitely unfair (and perhaps even snarky) to take cheapshots at those who are on vacation, I can't help but wonder whether Josh's optimism reflects his possible consumption of Afghanistan's leading export.

Yesterday, the WaPo published an in-depth, front-page report on the pervasiveness of opium cultivation in Afghanistan. In part, this trend reflects pure desperation. Growing poppies is the only way to earn a secure living. The situation is so bad, in fact, that Muslim clerics are disregarding the tenets of the faith and entering the drug trade themselves.

On its own, however, desperation was not enough to fuel the massive spread of opium growth. Far more important is the impotence of the Afghan central government. The WaPo reports that
In the eastern province of Logar, convoys of trucks loaded with drugs and guarded by men armed with semiautomatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenade launchers travel toward the Pakistani border at least two or three times a week. The police chief says that his men don't have the firepower to stop them and that some well-armed militiamen are in league with the smugglers...

Police across the country not only do not have the might to confront well-armed drug smugglers, they also lack such basics as cars, telephones and radios.

In mountainous Badakhshan, the police have just one vehicle, a pickup truck. When police at headquarters in the provincial capital, Faizabad, receive a tip about a smuggling operation in a far-flung district, Nazari often has to send an officer on foot. A round trip can take a month and leave an officer in trouble with no way to call for help.
While all that is bad enough, the real impact of the opium crisis may not be felt until Afghanistan holds its first elections. In the same WaPo report,
Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani called the drug trade "a threat to democracy" as Afghanistan tries to prepare for elections next year. "Elections are expensive propositions," he said in an interview last week in the capital, Kabul. "The liquid funds from drugs, in the absence of solid institutions, could corrupt voting practices and turn them into a nightmare instead of a realization of the public will."
Bad as that sounds, it is an accurate description of exactly what happened to democracy in Colombia. Given that Afghanistan is far more impoverished than Colombia, the influence of drug money will be even greater. Moreover, the Colombian military is fundamentally committed to preserving the constitutional order, something that cannot be said of either the (non-existent) Afghan army or the provincial warlords and their militias.

So, yes, things are better than they were under the Taliban. And they always will be, because you can't put a price on the right to vote or speak your mind. But if the warlords and the drug barons aren't brought under control, corruption and violence will soon rob most Afghans of the personal freedoms that democratic citizens are supposed to enjoy.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 5:10 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SCHOLARSHIP GUILT: Thought it was only the Rhodes? Now the Truman Scholars are at it as well.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 5:02 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

URANIUM-GATE: Josh Marshall is still all over this one. As things now stand, Powell has basically said he knew the uranium story was false from the get go and that that's why he avoided mentioning it at the UN. Meanwhile, Condi is explicitly holding Georget Tenet responsible for letting the story into the State of the Union address.

Josh himself is taking both Bob Woodward and the New York Times to task for playing down the whole story. While I agree that Uranium-gate says a lot about the irresponsible spin doctoring that is characteristic of this administration, Josh seems to think this story has the potential to become a major scandal. Why else would TPM focus so obsessively on every unfolding detail?

But the fact is, Uranium-gate will never become much more than a diversion from the more important issues of the day. Why? First of all, because Niger's alleged sale of uranium to Iraq was never more than a peripheral aspect of the case for going to war.

Perhaps more importantly, it was well-known two solid weeks before the invasion of Iraq that the documents describing Saddam's uranium purchase had been forged. Josh Marshall points this out himself, albeit without recognizing its significance.

The big accusation now floating around is that Bush misled the nation into going to war. For uranium-gate to matter, there would have to be evidence that concern about the alleged uranium sales played an important role in generating support for the war. Yet if we all knew before the war that the uranium story was a fabrication but still supported the use of force, then it is self-evident that no one was misled.

Now, instead of looking backward, let's look forward to 2004. It may turn out that Bush or Cheney knew before the State of the Union address that the uranium story was implausible or even flat out untrue. That may cost the President some votes. But unless the American public comes to believe that its sons and daughters gave their lives because of a lie, Bush will still be untouchable on foreign policy.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 4:17 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

PAT ROBERTSON, GODDAMNED LIAR: Turns out old Pat still thinks Charles Taylor is a swell guy. It's especially important to note, however, that many other Baptists and evangelicals have taken a firm stand against Taylor's brutality. Moreover, this stand reflects their sincere and enduring commitment to defending human rights. As one political scientist told the WaPo, Robertson's
comments really feed into the media critique of Christian conservatives, that they are not sophisticated, they don't care about others, all they care about are Christians around the world -- when in fact that is a caricature of the faith-based human rights movement.
While I admit to being highly suspicious of faith-based politics, I believe it is extremely important to work with its advocates when they embrace such worthy causes.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 3:41 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

IS FOX CHICKEN? Glenn Reynolds takes Murdoch Inc. to task for ignoring this week's massive pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

Thursday, July 10, 2003

# Posted 8:53 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

BEN & JERRY GO TO LIBERIA: Ryan Booth dismantles Howard Dean's comments on Liberia.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 8:34 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

OXBLOG VS. NYT, PART II: I am now slightly less pissed off at the NYT. Perhaps reconizing how misleading and inaccurate its original article on the Rhodes Scholarship was, it has printed the following letter-to-the-editor, written by a pair of South African Scholars:
"Rhodes Scholars Are Split on a New Foundation for South African Awards" (news article, July 6) hints at opposition to the Rhodes Trust's efforts in South Africa. In truth, however, the letter to the trust cited in the article, signed by 115 current scholars, focuses on issues of internal management and transparency, while unambiguously expressing the signers' "full support for the trust's new commitment to South Africa" and applauding "the creation of the Mandela Rhodes Foundation." Nowhere does it complain that the foundation is diverting funds from the scholarships.

As Rhodes scholars and South Africans, we have a deep appreciation of the powerful symbolism involved in linking the names of Nelson Mandela and Cecil Rhodes, and firmly believe that the association is in the long-term interests of both the trust and our country. We would not have signed a letter that claimed otherwise.

MURRAY WESSON
KIM MATHIESON
Oxford, England, July 6, 2003
Well-said.

UPDATE: Kikuchiyo has some nice comments on my first post about the Rhodes Scholarship.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 8:21 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

UNFAIR. UNBALANCED. UNMEDICATED. Yesterday was IMAO's blogiversary!
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 4:15 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

REAGAN'S VISION: Just recently, Henry Yang sent me a long and thoughtful response to a post I put up on May 11th as part of a wideranging discussion on the nature of liberal foreign policy. (NB: The discussion was set off by Michael Totten's provocative essay "Builders and Defenders", which was later published by WSJ Online. For further comments from myself and others, click here.)

Henry writes that:
...Through OxBlog, I have learned that you have been working on your dissertation. As I said, I was reading the archives of your blog when I encountered a post you made on May 11th of this year when you characterized President Reagan as someone who battled isolationists and realists within the Republican Party as a finding in the course of your research. I write in to inform you of my disagreement with that perspective.

I would certainly agree that Reagan chose to take what one might call a “proactive” stance toward the Soviet threat that effectively silenced the isolationists in the party for a long time. (though not decisively crushed, as evident from the likes of Pat Buchanan before he left the GOP) What I disagree with is your assertion that Reagan represented idealism in combating the realist elements in his party. In my opinion, nothing can be further from the truth.

From your blog, I can tell that you are already aware of many exceptions to the “democratic idealism” that you ascribe to Reagan, though I’m puzzled by your failure to note the fact that there are so many “exceptions” to your theory that the "exceptions" are the rule, and that the examples supporting your theory are the real exceptions. In other words, Reagan was a realist who achieved realist ends occasionally (though infrequently) through idealist means (and often employing idealist rhetoric).

For a realist statesman, his primary interest is the interest of his country. As a realist myself, I am more interested in the actions of statesmen than their
words. (So, please, do not quote me his words as rebuttal since I’m quite familiar with them and will be dealing with that aspect later on.)

Reagan’s actions contributed to the collapse of the Communist system throughout the Soviet bloc and encouraged their replacement with democratic states.
Though that is obviously consistent with Wilsonian idealism, it also served US interests. Therefore those examples cannot decisively prove one argument or
another.

You might say that Reagan’s view that Communism was an evil that must and could be defeated was an idealist view, since the realist view, as represented by the detente of Nixon and Kissinger, was that Soviet Communism was a force that could only be contained and that perhaps the 2 forces could reach a peaceful accommodation.

This view ignores a few facts:

1. The above view could only be an idealist view if detente was the complete realist solution to the Soviet threat. It was not. Quite the contrary, Kissinger viewed detente as nothing but a phase in his strategy to defeat Soviet Communism.

Kissinger’s memoirs, “Years of Renewal”, made that quite clear. We must remember how seriously the Vietnam War weakened the United States. Economically, the US was a train wreck. Socially, it promoted civil disobedience that destroyed internal cohesion. Politically, it caused the Democratic Party to adopt the idea of unilateral disarmament and destroyed whatever little bipartisan consensus the 2 parties had. (Consider, for example, the lopsided
Congressional vote on the Tonkin Gulf Resolution. In contrast, Reagan’s decision to deploy “Euromissiles” and his SDI were denounced thoroughly by the
Democrats) Diplomatically, it seriously weakened the United States’ prestige overseas. Most important of all, the American people lost confidence in their own country.

Nixon and Kissinger knew that the US was in no position to begin a campaign of confrontation against the Soviet Union. Therefore, detente was devised,
which was no more than a tactic of buying time for the US to recover so that it can resume on its grand strategy of bringing Communism to an end. As
Kissinger puts it: “I shared their [neoconservatives] distrust of Communism and their apparent determinationto thwart its aims. I thought once they realized that our goal was not to placate but to outmaneuver the Soviet Union, we would be able to join forces in a common cause.”

You might question the wisdom of putting one’s faith in the architect of detente whose policy was eventually revoked. You might make the argument that
this is nothing less than Kissinger’s attempt to rewrite history so that he might appear as a wise sage than a bumbler. [I would! --ed.]

I don’t believe that’s the case. First, surely Kissinger’s narrative was sound strategy, considering the context. Second, let’s remember Kissinger’s background. He was a Jew, and the memory of the Holocaust must have oppressed him. It is hard to believe such a person would so readily compromise with the likes of the Soviet Union.

Third, there’s also Kissinger’s acts, which showed that he was trying to hold as much ground as possible considering the miserable hand dealt to him by
Johnson...

Reagan’s realism in his handling of Latin America is a matter of record. (In other words, he followed the prescription of Dr. Jeanne Kirkpatrick in her
“Dictatorships and Double Standards”: Support any right-wing government, no matter how despicable their death squads may be, in the interests of attacking Communism.)

What is also instructive is the way the US dealt with the dictatorship of Mobutu in Zaire (or, shall we say, how Reagan continued the policy of supporting one of the most corrupt dictatorships in Africa) and supported the military government of South Korea.

My favorite example remains the Kwanju Massacre of 1980, when the South Korean military government massacred hundreds of protestors and students. During the conflict, the protestors and students managed to seize some weapons from the military and discovered that they were all made courtesy of the United States. Reagan continued the policy of supporting the military government of South Korea.

Also, the idealist quotient of President Reagan’s support of the proxy war in Angola, with the Soviets supporting the government and the US supporting UNITA (hardly a lily white lamb when it came to human rights) is questionable.

You might say that this criticism is unfair. That without US support, Angola would go over to the Soviets. However, surely the most humane (i.e.
fastest) way to bring that conflict to an end was a full scale American invasion? Or perhaps the US could have threatened UNITA with withholding aid if they
don’t become more humane? Of course, no such threat was issued. As long as UNITA was effective in checking the Angolan government, Reagan did not lose much sleep over their brutality.

What about all those beautiful speeches urging no compromise with the “Evil Empire”?

For better or for worse, the American people cannot be roused with a pure realist appeal to their best interests. It must also be combined with a call to
their ideals. (As someone once quipped: Just as realist can never convince the American people to follow the example of Metternich, liberals can never
convince the American people to always defer to Kofi Annan.)

Those speeches were rallying cries to motivate a nation that was spiritually drained after Vietnam War, Watergate, and the uninspired leaderships of Ford and Carter. (“malaise”, anyone?) The purpose of rallying the people was to serve the country’s interests, which was not an accommodation with the Soviet Union. The fall of the Communist order was seen to be in the best interests of the country.

Isolationism did not serve the interest of realism. Therefore it never became mainstream Republican thought. (Trent Lott’s statement on Operation Allied
Force notwithstanding, I should note that Sen. John McCain supported the operation once it got underway. So did Kissinger, Norman Podhoretz, Joshua
Muravchik,...etc.)...

I hope you don’t misunderstand me and think that I’m an embittered Leftist e-mailing you a rant on Reagan and Bush. Quite the contrary, I’m a conservative
realist who applauds the realist policies of both administrations as I believe they have served American interests well. (I dare say the current president has
done more for the US in terms of foreign policy in his first 9 months than Bill Clinton had done for the country in all his 8 years.)

There’s a principle in logic known as “Occam’s razor” which states that the simplest hypothesis is always the best in explaining inexplicable facts. A theory
of idealism would have trouble accounting for any lack of restraint of UNITA or the South Korean military government or the likes of Mobutu, and would have to fall back upon complicated (and not necessarily accurate) factors such as bureaucratic infighting to account for Reagan’s foreign policy.

In contrast, the realist explanation is simple, straightforward, and requires no Kremlinology.

The best theories are not only descriptive but also predictive. Not only does realism account for a lack of attention to Afghanistan now, not only is the
realist paradigm being validated everyday as the US continues to refuse to expend the necessary energy and resources to reconstruct Afghanistan, I believe it will be validated by Election Day 2004 when the reconstruction of Iraq continues apace whereas Afghanistan, aside from garnering a few posts on
OxBlog and a few editorials in a few newspapers, would be entirely forgotten. I would not be surprised if most US troops would be withdrawn by then. (I heard a report suggesting that the Pentagon is trying to sub-contract security to some security firms.)

I apologize for this exceedingly long e-mail and look forward to any thoughts you might have.

Sincerely,
Henry Yang
Well-said, Henry. Here's my response:
I am much obliged for your extensive comments on President Reagan. And I apologize for not responding sooner. In case you didn't notice my recent post on the subject, my e-mail has been down, thus preventing me from sending responses to all those who've been in touch.

Anyhow, moving on to more substantive matters, let's talk about realism. First of all, I take issue with your definition of a realist (or "realist statesman") as someone whose "primary interest is the interest of his country." Absent a clear definition of what the national interest is, this definition is nothing more than a place holder. It was precisely because Hans Morgenthau relied on such a vague definition that his work come under such heavy assault in the decades after its publication. While Ken Waltz sought to improve on Morgenthau's work, his work proved to be just as maddeningly evasive on the question of what the national interest is. In essence, Waltz insisted that the national interest consists of "security", which he does not define any better than Morgenthau did the national interest. [Note: Amazon's prices for the Morgenthau and Waltz books are outrageous. Any campus bookstore should used copies available for a tenth of the price. --ed.]

Before descending from this high theoretical plane to the world of actual politics, I think it's worth considering the ideas of John Mearsheimer and other "offensive realists". In essence, they attack Waltz for presuming that states tend to defend the status quo rather than expand their territory or resources. I hope you'll agree with me that the Waltz-Mearsheimer dispute has ended in a fundamental and unresolvable deadlock about state motivation. What's so interesting about this deadlock is how it EXACTLY REPRODUCES Morgenthau's distinction between "status quo" and "revisionist" states. In the final analysis, 60 years of realist scholarship has not moved the realist camp any closer to an account of state motivation any more specific than Morgenthau's original insistence that some states are aggressive and some states aren't.

So let's talk about Reagan. How can we assess whether or not he was a realist if we don't have a clear definition of the national interest? My answer: By examining his attitude toward the most important realist doctrine of statecraft, i.e. the pursuit of a balance of power. As Martin Wight and others have pointed out, the notion of a balance of power has proven just as hard to define as the national interest. In practice, however, realists have consistently defined it as the belief that stability results from balanced relations between the great powers and CANNOT be achieved through the pursuit of dominance. This, fundamentally, was the motivation for Kissinger's vision of detente. While I endorse your comments with regard to Kissinger (moreso, Nixon) recognizing the limits that Vietnam had placed on American foreign policy, the fact remains that Kissinger closely adhered to a historical vision which saw the civilized world in decline. To arrest this decline, the United States best hope was to accept the Soviet Union as its equal and avoid any sort of devastating conflict with it.

Reagan's historical and political vision could not have been further removed from the one advocated by Kissinger. Reagan was an eternal optimist who believed that the United States was destined to triumph over all adversaries and become the greatest and most powerful nation of all time and for all time. Rather than refer to Reagan's speeches to make this point, I refer you to the remarks he made in private to his colleagues throughout his political career. You can read more about them in the many memoirs such men have written. However, I think that the best account of Reagan the man is Lou Cannon's biography of him, which carefully demonstrates that there WAS NO DIFFERENCE between the public and the private Reagan. While I certainly accept your insistence that one must approach political rhetoric with a dose of skeptical disregard, Reagan made no attempt to persuade the American people of anything that he himself did not believe.

The natural corollary of Reagan's optimism was his belief that the United States must aggressively confront and triumph over the Soviet Union. In practice, this strategy may seem little different from the sort expected by "offensive realists". Given your standard of judging statesmen by their actions rather than their words, you would no doubt object that Reagan was therefore an offensive realist. However, one must be more precise about the nature of offensive realism. Whereas offensive realists predict that states will engage in aggressive behavior, they also accept that such behavior is ultimately self-defeating because of the inevitability of a restored balance of power. According to offensive realists, the only reason that statesmen pursue such self-defeating strategies is because they fail to recognize the inevitability of a restored balance of power.

Naturally, many realist scholars (both offensive and defensive) criticized Reagan on precisely such grounds. However, I gather from your letter that you think of Reagan as a masterful practitioner of the realist art. That, however, forces you to explain away Reagan's belief that the United States could triumph over the Soviet Union once and for all. (Moreover, if you are a committed realist, you will also have to deal with the attendant problems of explaining how the United States actually did manage to win the Cold War and establish the first ever unipolar international order in modern history.)

But if Reagan was such a realist, what then of all the ruthless forays his administration made into Third World politics? In fact, you were so concerned about the immorality of Reagan's policies that you hoped I wouldn't "misunderstand [you] and think that [you are] an embittered Leftist" ranting against the evils of Reagan and Bush. You can rest easy, however. I recognize that you are advancing a principled defense of unprincipled behavior in international affairs (which, I might add, constitutes an ideology, something that "realism" most definitely is.)

Getting back to Reagan, the critical thing to understand is that by describing him as an idealist or even a Wilsonian I do not mean to say that his version of American idealism was the same as that of his liberal critics. For Reagan, the United States ultimate commitment to a democratic and capitalist world order justified its ruthless efforts to destroy Communism in all of its many forms. Sadly, Reagan didn't appreciate the degree to which this sort of idealistic ruthlessness hurt the United States far more than it helped it.

With regard to Latin America, the issue was not that Reagan accepted the prevalence of right-wing death squads as an acceptable price to pay in exchange for preventing Communist takeovers. Rather, Reagan's appalling ignorance of the facts on the ground resulted in his delusional belief that the death-squad massacres were covered incessantly by the same liberal media that ignored the (allegedly) far worse crimes of left-wing terrorists. Given this sort of inexcusable detachment from reality, it is hard to describe Reagan as any sort of realist at all.

There are many other interesting issues you raise in your post which I have not addressed. However, I think my response is long enough for the moment. While our beliefs about what is wise and just in international relations are diametrically opposed, I think I can say without hesitation that I admire your consistency, your honesty, and your commitment to an all-encompassing vision.

Sincerely,
David
For those of you haven't had enough, I suspect that there is more to come...

UPDATE: PS says that
I'm not going to weigh in on whether or not Reagan is a realist or idealist, but I do think you might be misinterpreting Mearsheimer-ian offensive realism. You state that
"Whereas offensive realists predict that states will engage in aggressive behavior, they also accept that such behavior is ultimately self-defeating because of the inevitability of a restored balance of power. According to offensive realists, the only reason that statesmen pursue such self-defeating strategies is because they fail to recognize the inevitability of a restored balance of power."
I think this is actually more true of defensive realists - see Jack Snyder's "Myths of Empire", in which he talks about self-encirclement as a result of foolish domestic ideologies of expansion (Van Evera and Waltz are other defensive realists who can strike similar tones). Mearsheimer (who I have had the pleasure of being taught by) doesn't think that balancing is under all conditions inevitable. States act offensively to gain regional hegemony,
which, if successful, eliminates the possibility of regional balancing. The US is his classic regional hegemon, and he defends Germany, Japan, and France's attempts at regional hegemony over the centuries. As Mearsheimer puts it, offense sometimes does pay and states can be acting quite rationally when they act aggressively. In at least Mearsheimer's offensive realism there is not "inevitability of a restored balance" nor is offense always "self-defeating." States and statesmen will act offensively not because they do not
understand balancing, but because it is possible to eliminate the threat of balancing through conquest. More often that not they fail to achieve hegemony, but they don't act as they do because they are foolish or short-sighted - they recognize all too well the likelihood of balancing and try to escape it by force, sometimes successfully.
PS is right that I have given short shrift to Mearsheimer's thoughts on regional hegemony. Prresumably, John M. lays out those thoughts in his new book, which I haven't yet had the time to read. Still, given the content of Mearsheimer classics such as "Back to the future: instability in Europe after the Cold War" (International Security 15:1, Summer 1990), one has to wonder if he has been revising his theories to account for his failed prediction of Europe falling apart in the 1990s.

More importantly, with regard to Reagan, potential arguments about regional hegemony cannot enable offensive realists to reconcile Reagan's views with their own since Reagan unabashedly believed in the inevitability of American global dominance.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

Home