OxBlog

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

# Posted 7:34 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

GENOCIDAL DICTATOR DEFEATED: Voters turned back Guatemala's Gen. Efrain Rios Montt in his effort to win yesterday's presidential election. Rios Montt headed a military government in 1982-83 that sought to crush a leftist insurgency by indiscriminately murdering Guatemalan peasants.

Monday's election was also the most peaceful in recent Guatemalan history. It also had the largest turnout.
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# Posted 7:22 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

MISSION TO AFGHANISTAN: 15 envoys -- one from each state represented on the UN Security Council, have returned from Afghanistan with a mixed report on its progress toward democratic government. The mission found that
while Afghan officials have largely achieved the benchmarks of the Bonn agreement, which established the interim government and a timeline leading to national elections in 2004, "the conditions necessary for a credible political process are not yet in place," Mr. Pleuger [the German representative] said.
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# Posted 7:15 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

A TRIBUTE ON VETERANS DAY: The NYT has published a set of letters sent home by servicemen and -women who later lost their lives on the battlefields of Iraq. All of them are well worth reading.
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# Posted 7:06 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

DEAD-TREE HYPERLINKS: As Josh mentioned earlier, David Brooks' latest column relies heavily on some excellent research and writing done by the blogosphere's own Dan Drezner. But since you can't link directly from Brooks column to Dan's work, I thought I'd provide some links here on OxBlog.

First up is Dan's recent article in Slate. After reading that, check out the extra material -- all of it well worth reading -- in this post on Dan's website. Finally, OxBlog is proud to say that it told the world how great Dan Drezner's work was three whole days before David Brooks decided to share it with the NYT's seven-figure readership. Go us! But more importantly, congratulations to Dan.
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# Posted 8:25 AM by Patrick Belton  

COME PLAY WITH US: I've mentioned a few times here before that a few friends and I have started up a foreign policy society, which runs discussion groups in a handful of cities in the U.S., and also has a think-tank side that is aimed at contributing to the national foreign policy conversation the analyses and considered thoughts of the young, rising generation of foreign policy professionals.

Well, I'm happy to report that we've got a few more local chapters starting up: in San Francisco, Chicago, New York, and New Haven, with two more to come shortly in Boston and L.A. as well. Each group will be meeting twice a month to discuss a topic in U.S. foreign policy - early topics will probably include our relationships with China, Russia, and Europe, and lessons to be learned from the U.S. experience in democracy promotion, development, and the war on terror. Our more established groups, in D.C. and Oxford, always warmly welcome new participants too.

So please drop me an e-mail if you'd like to come out and talk with us! I think we'll have fun.
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# Posted 7:29 AM by Patrick Belton  

HEADING TO SEE THE MATRIX THIS WEEKEND? Don't do it - learn from your older brother Josh's mistakes! (And if you're even thinking about taking a date, just think about the variegated romantic repercussions of a bad movie upon your love life.... And now that I've heartlessly played on your worst insecurities, move on and read the next paragraph)

Instead, you might think about accompanying your popcorn (sorry - don't read that) with a quite good Irish art film called in America, which is by Jim Sheridan of "My Left Foot" directorial fame. It's a very well done film, with ample untaken plot twists touched on very lightly and deftly. It also includes a dextrously handled recurrent theme of depiction and representation (introduced by the young girl's camcorder), and presents one of the strongest black masculine roles in a recent cinematic history generally given to superficiality and type-casting. (Don't believe me? Try googling black men movies.) Much of what it does could have been heavy-handed in a less skillful treatment, and it is in this that Mr Sheridan's adeptness of his craft truly shows. So go see it; at the moment, it's playing in Oxford at the Phoenix, in LA (in the Egyptian), and one assumes it will probably be out in the east coast before too long as well.

And your date will like you for it, too.
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# Posted 7:22 AM by Patrick Belton  

YALE PROFESSOR DAVID GELERNTER, writing in the Weekly Standard:
Does Iraq bring back memories of Vietnam? The president's critics say yes, and they are right. Vietnam came to mind when we saw Saddamites torturing their captives on camera. Do President Bush's opponents grasp that those are (or were) real people getting beaten to a pulp, mutilated, tortured, murdered? (If they did, wouldn't they be overjoyed now that the smug murderers have been thrown out, and radiantly proud of America?) Our moral obligations as the world's most powerful nation come strongly to mind when we hear about rape rooms and children's prisons; when we read about captives fed into industrial shredders, and swaggering princelings dragging women off the street to the torture houses.

We are haunted by the image of Vietnamese who trusted and supported us trying frantically to grab a place on the last outbound helicopter; by Vietnamese putting to sea in rowboats rather than enjoy Uncle Ho's "Workers' and Peasants' Paradise" one more day. We are haunted by the consequences of allowing South Vietnam to collapse. Tens of thousands of executions (maybe 60,000), re-education camps where hundreds of thousands died, a million boat people.

We put them in those rowboats--we antiwar demonstrators, we sophisticated, smart guys. The war was nearly over when I graduated from high school. But high school students were old enough to demonstrate. They were old enough to feel superior to the fools who were running the government. And they were old enough to have known better. They were old enough to have understood what communist regimes had cost the world in suffering, from the prisons of Havana to the death camps of Siberia. It was my fault, mine personally; I was part of the antiwar crowd and I'm sorry. But my apology is too late for the South Vietnamese dead. All I can do is join the chorus in shouting, "No more Vietnams!" No more shrugging off tyranny; no more deserting our friends; no more going back on our duties as the strongest nation on Earth.

Today we are haunted, in thinking about Iraq, by the fact that a noisy, self-important, narcissistic minority talked the United States into betraying its allies. (Loyalty didn't mean a lot to antiwar demonstrators; honor didn't mean a lot.) We betrayed our allies and hurried home, to introspect. They stayed on, to suffer. We were eager to make love, not war, but the South Vietnamese weren't offered that option. Their alternatives were to knuckle under or die.

Voltaire once felt obliged to rouse all Europe over the judicial torture of one man. Europe today reacts with the same charming befuddlement it felt back then: What's all the fuss? Surely, it's none of our business.

People ask: Are you proposing to overthrow every sadist tyrant on Earth? No, only proposing to be proud that we overthrew one.
His full article is here.
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# Posted 6:53 AM by Patrick Belton  

TODAY THE GUNS FELL SILENT OVER FLANDERS, and so today we pause to call to mind those whose lives were silenced as well by all wars in the preceding century.
Britain comes to a halt today for two minutes at 11:00, as do her Commonwealth allies, among them Canada and Australia, which relative to its population suffered more losses than any other in the First World War. Here in Britain, the Queen unveiled a monument to Australian war dead, and the BBC dedicates a page to remembrance. Oxford has a page dedicated to poetry from the Great War.
They ask me where I've been,
And what I've done and seen.
But what can I reply
Who know it wasn't I,
But someone just like me,
Who went across the sea
And with my head and hands
Killed men in foreign lands...
Though I must bear the blame,
Because he bore my name.
- Wilfred Gibson, private, "Back" (1915)
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# Posted 6:25 AM by Patrick Belton  

THEY'VE GOT ISSUES: and this one's very good. Lots of good pieces in this week's TNR, on Khodorkovsky, al Sadr, the need for more troops in Iraq, Peter Beinart on the Democrats on Iraq, and the Dean campaign's inventive use of the internet. (There's also a lovely review of Rebecca West's unfinished writing on Mexico, for readers who've ponied up their subscriptions, and bought lunch for some lucky intern.)
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Monday, November 10, 2003

# Posted 6:39 AM by Patrick Belton  

FOR DEMOCRACY IN THE MIDDLE EAST: ARABS -
The Daily Star (Lebanon): "Good Rhetoric and Goals Need Good Follow-Up Policies"

Hafez Abu Se’da, head of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights:
"It is an historical speech, and I agree with what the president had to say, and this is the first time....It is a new vision from the United States now because they focus on democracy. For a long time, they focused on economy and commercial interests. It is historical because the United States is talking about democracy and the interest of the people in these countries.”

AGAINST: NYT, GUARDIAN, AND THE LEFT -
Guardian: "It Would be Laughable, Were it Not So Pathetic" (which, incidentally, includes only one quote from an Arab source)

MSNBC: "Arabs to Bush: Mind Your Own Business" (virtually the entire story, by the way, is made up of quotes from Iranian government sources - who, as OxBlog has often controversially pointed out, aren't Arab)

Ditto NYT: "In Mideast, Reaction to Bush Speech is Dismissive," where the only actual dismissive reactions come from official Iranian sources, and, of course, from the reporter.

World Socialist: "Bush Vows Decades for War for 'Democracy' in the Middle East'"

(And the Times of India, by contrast, simply reports the speech this way: "Pak Not a Democracy: Bush") And who says there's no objectivity left in journalism?
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# Posted 6:29 AM by Patrick Belton  

YOU TELL 'EM: Brookings's Michael O'Hanlon, one of the young stars of the think tank world, writes this week to call on Democratic presidential candidates to offer critiques of the administration's foreign policy which are substantive, fair, and politically useful. He says, however, that what they're currently offering up is none of the above.

Instead, says O'Hanlon, Democratic candidates are dwelling on three misgrounded premises:
The first mistake is to argue that Iraqi weapons of mass destruction were not a serious concern before the war. The second is that somehow Bush administration unilateralism has been the principal cause of our current problems on the ground in Iraq. And the third is the assumption, explicit or implicit, that the Iraq mission will remain just as difficult as it is today right through general election time next year.
Michael's piece is a refreshing breath of good sense, both for those of us who still want to call ourselves Scoop Jackson Democrats, and also for everyone who simply values a fair public debate on matters of foreign policy. His whole piece is here.


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Sunday, November 09, 2003

# Posted 5:29 PM by Patrick Belton  

REMEMBRANCE SUNDAY:
They shall not grow old as we grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun, and in the morning
we will remember them......

-Laurence Binyon, For the Fallen (1869 - 1943)
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# Posted 10:09 AM by Patrick Belton  

SARTRE, ET LES SARTRIENS: I paid a visit, about a fortnight ago, to Sartre and Simone at the Cimetière du Montparnasse. Slate has a thoughtful piece up this week on his legacy. For all his weaknesses, including his oft-raised inability to inoculate himself with his own vaccine against totalitarianism, no subsequent philosopher (or earlier, pace Voltaire) has to such a great extent engaged the broader culture of his day, and wrapped it around himself:
Despite the phenomenological complexities of his philosophy, Sartre managed to make it exciting. Anybody could become an existentialist, especially the young. The teutonic dread of Kierkegaard and angst of Heidegger gave way to Sartrean fun. In the underground caves of St. Germain-des-Prés, jazz dancing was deemed the highest expression of existentialism. Never has a serious philosopher had such an impact on nightlife.
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# Posted 9:26 AM by Patrick Belton  

FAREED ON BUSH'S DEMOCRACY PROMOTION SPEECH: Fareed applauds the President's speech heartily in his Newsweek column, and calls for a redoubling of U.S. efforts and resolve in what he warns will be a "long, hard slog" toward the building of a world of liberal democracies.
Whatever the problems—and I’ll get to them—as a speech it stands as one of the most intelligent and eloquent statements by a president in recent memory.... If it marks a real shift in strategy, it will go down in history as Bush’s most important speech.
Then,
Sometimes I think that President Bush’s critics need to put up a sign somewhere in their rooms that reads: “Some things are true even if George W. Bush believes them.” A visceral dislike for the president is boxing many otherwise sensible people into a corner because they cannot bring themselves to agree with anything he says.
Read the whole thing.
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# Posted 9:18 AM by Patrick Belton  

JAPAN VOTES TODAY: Pollsters are predicting that Koizumi's LDP-led coalition will triumph, but narrowly, with the Democratic Party poised to make major gains. CNN, Reuters. The election is being fought principally over the stalling Japanese economy, with supporting roles being played from time to time by pension reform (a significant issue in heavily greying Japan), the prime minister's support of the US over Iraq, and his push to permit the Japanese army to engage in counterterror operations.

The prime minister's hair, however, has yet to play a major role in the election.
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# Posted 2:15 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

CULTURAL INSENSITIVITY: The WaPo reports: "The mujaheddin hosted a banquet for the Americans, laying out a spread of chicken and French fries after showing off a new museum dedicated to the history of their struggle." Those are FREEDOM fries, dammit! I said FREEDOM FRIES! (Regardless of whether that joke made you laugh, the WaPo article is worth a read.)
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# Posted 2:09 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SHOW ME THE MONEY: Howard Dean's decision to opt out of the federal campaign finance program hasn't exactly been an exercise in intellectual honesty. Yet leaving aside the issue of hypocrisy, I am glad to see a Democrat boldly willingly to state that he is going to match the Republicans dollar for dollar. I just with it weren't this particular Democrat...
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# Posted 1:59 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE ETERNAL PESSIMIST: Today's NYT features an essay from Milt Bearden, a 30-year veteran of the CIA's directorate of operations. Mr. Bearden warns that the Ba'athist insurgents in Iraq have developed a brilliant strategy worthy of Sun Tzu and that the prospects of American success are doubtful at best.

Two years ago, Mr. Bearden published an essay in Foreign Affairs entitled "Afghanistan, Graveyard of Empries". In it, he warned that
It is more than doubtful that the Northern Alliance forces could capture bin Ladin and his followers, and there is no reasonable guarantee that they could dislodge the Taliban. On the contrary, the more likely consequences of a U.S. alliance with the late Masoud's fighters would be the coalescing of Afghanistan's majority Pashtun tribes around their Taliban leaders and the rekindling of a brutal, general civil war that would continue until the United States simply gave up. The dominant tribe in Afghanistan, which also happens to be the largest, will dominate; replacing the Pashtun Taliban with the largely Tajik and Uzbek Northern Alliance is close to impossible. The threat of providing covert assistance to the Northern Alliance might be a useful short-term strategy to pressure the Taliban, if it is handled delicately, but any real military alliance to Masoud's successors will backfire.
Without pretending that the American-led reconstruction of Afghanistan has been a success, I think it is pretty fair to say that Bearden's prediction of a US military failure was far off the mark. Also of special interest is his misguided belief that there would be a Pashtun backlash if the United States chose to side with the Northern Alliance.

During the first months of 2003, OxBlog patiently documented the widespread belief that a potential US invasion of Iraq would provoke a massive backlash throughout the Arab world. And yet the peoples of the Arab world stayed home, rather than flooding the streets and toppling their governments -- just as the Pashtuns have not declared war on the US-backed government in Afghanistan.

The point here is that those who expect failure on the part of the United States almost always underestimate the ability of Middle Eastern and other "non-Western" peoples to distinguish between imperialists, e.g. the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, and liberators, e.g. the United States in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

This is not to say that the establishment of a democratic order in either Afghanistan or Iraq is even close to being guaranteed. But if we commit ourselves to working honestly toward that goal, the people we work with are likely to recognize that their best interest is ours as well, and vice versa.

UPDATE: It seems that Wes Clark is also in the habit of overestimating Iraqi resentment of the United States.
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# Posted 1:27 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE SANCTIONS PARADOX: I expect that that the blogosphere's resident expert on sanctions will soon post something about this one-sided column from Nick Kristof. In the meantime, I'm going to ask aloud why the Burmese junta has decided to release Aung San Suu Kyi if international economic pressure has been completely ineffective.
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# Posted 1:21 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WHO'S STEALING CHINA'S JOBS? According to conventional wisdom, China's low-paid labor force lets it steal jobs from American workers. But it turns out that China has lost an even greater percentage of its manufacturing jobs than the United States has.

So, you might ask, who is the culprit? Answer: efficiency. Now it's true that some jobs are leaving the United States for lower-wage markets. But as massive factory job losses in China, Brazil and elsewhere in the developing world show, protectionism is not the answer. With any luck, public awareness of this trend will increase support for making the Western Hemisphere the largest free trade area on earth.
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Saturday, November 08, 2003

# Posted 8:56 PM by Patrick Belton  

NEW FROM SUU KYI: The Burmese junta has released Suu Kyi from her house arrest, but the persecuted pro-democracy leader is refusing liberty until 35 colleagues arrested at the same time as her are released from detention as well. CNN, BBC, Suu Kyi's pages.

(More on our past vocal support for Suu Kyi and for the cause of Burmese freedom is here, and as a cautionary note, we've noted here that she's been released in the past under international pressure, only to be reimprisoned shortly thereafter - after the junta had garnered trade and other benefits for releasing her.)
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# Posted 1:50 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

ZELL EXPLAINS JOE SIXPACK: Greg Wythe has an in-depth review of Zell Miller's new book. On a more substantive note, Greg also reviews avant garde film classic Satan's Cheerleaders. Plus, Greg mentions my favorite place in Texas: New Braunfels.
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# Posted 1:43 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

AND NOW FOR SOME REAL NEWS: Everytime I sit down to blog I think, "Gee, I should focus on something other than the occupation of Iraq. You know, put up one or two posts about it, but give some serious airtime to all the other important issues out there." But then I read something that gets me all worked up about the occupation, so I write about it. Again. And again. And again.

Anyhow, I thought I'd break the monotony by linking to this story about Tenacious D's abortive hunger strike, which the band had hoped would last "for 45 days or until their DVD went platinum, world hunger came to an end or there was peace in the Middle East." Now that's what I call social activism.
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# Posted 1:33 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

A BLOGGER AND A GENTLEMAN: When expounding upon his interest in pornography, Matt Yglesias spends his time defending OxBlog's honor. As Matt writes,
I keep wondering why I see conservative writers saying the Democratic candidates want to cut and run from Iraq and that the great thing about George W. Bush is that he wants to stay the course. My best guess was that they're just liars. After reading this from David Adesnik, though, I'm not so sure, since David's no liar.
While Matt's compliment is somewhat backhanded, I'm proud to accept it. A reputation for honesty is very hard to come by. But we all say dumb things about politics sometimes.

Still, I'm not about to disavow my criticism of Howard Dean. As Matt goes on to note,
David explains that we can't get too focused on little things like Dean's "official position" on the war. David, apparently, was able to gaze into Dean's heart and see that he has a secret plan to end the war.

Meanwhile, we know that Bush is going to stay the course because, after all, his official position is that we're going to stay the course.
In other words, Matt thinks that "official positions" are more credible when they come from Howard Dean than when they come from George Bush. But I'm not so sure.

Bush & Co. may have said a lot of misleading things, but they have been consistenly clear about where the stand on the two biggest issues of the day: taxes and Iraq. In contrast, Dean is the kind of guy who publicly asks
"Where do you get this 'I'm a strong supporter of NAFTA'?" -- though in fact he had described himself as "a very strong supporter of NAFTA" on that same network [ABC] eight years earlier
Of course, the NAFTA incident doesn't mean that Dean isn't being up front about Iraq. While that is my sense of the matter, I recognize that the issue is a controversial one. For example, one of the comments appended to Matt's post (by Swopa) points to the following statement by Howard Dean in a the Oct. 9 Democratic debate:
Now that we're there [in Iraq], we can't pull out responsibly. Because if we do, there are more Al Qaida, I believe, in Iraq today than there were before the president went in. If they establish a foothold in Iraq, or if a fundamentalist Shiite regime comes in, allied with Iran, that is a real security danger to the United States, when one did not exist before when Saddam Hussein was running the place.
That's a pretty firm statement, so I'm going to have to do some more research on the issue before I convince anyone that I have a strong case. Still, what is clearly absent from either this statement or the one from Dean that I initially criticized is that he really cares about building democracy in Iraq. For him, the occupation is a mounting cost without any possible benefits -- which leads me to think that he will not respond to unexpected events in the Middle East the way that a liberal hawk might want him to. What he wants is to avoid entanglements, not fight a war of ideas.

UPDATE: This persuasive Peter Beinart column (recommended by HTY) makes a point about Howard Dean very similar to my own.
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# Posted 12:55 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SO WHAT YOU'RE TRYING TO SAY IS...Josh Marshall says everyone should read this column by Fareed Zakaria. Now here are some highlights from it:
Frustrated by the lack of quick progress on the ground and fading political support at home, Washington is now latching on to the idea that a quick transfer of power to local troops and politicians would make things better. Or at any rate, it would lower American casualties. It was called Vietnamization; today it's called Iraqification. And then as now, it is less a winning strategy than an exit strategy...

This new impulse has less to do with Iraqi democracy than with American democracy. The president wants to show, in time for his reelection, that Iraqis are governing their affairs and Americans are coming home. But it might not work out that way...

For the neoconservatives in the Pentagon, a quick transfer fulfills a pet obsession, installing in power the Iraqi exiles led by Ahmad Chalabi. Last week the Philadelphia Inquirer quoted a senior administration official as saying, "There are some civilians at the Pentagon who've decided that we should turn this over to someone else and get out as fast as possible." But every indication we have is that the exiles do not have broad popular support.

There are no shortcuts out. Iraq is America's problem. It could have been otherwise, but in the weeks after the war the administration, drunk with victory, refused to share power with the world...
In short, Zakaria's column covers all the bases of the Josh Marshall Weltanschauung. There is the Bush administration's ignorance of history, its preoccupation with electoral concerns at the expense of the national interest, the devious and self-destructive influence of the neo-cons, and a reckless disregard for allied opinion.

The funny thing is, that despite all of these hyperbolic attacks on the administration and comparisons to Vietnam, Zakaria's message is almost identical to that of the President himself, i.e. we must stay the course in Iraq, come hell or high water, because our national security depends upon it. If you click over to Zakaria's column, you'll see that after denouncing the Bush Administration for "refus[ing] to share power with the world", Zakaria writes that "Now there can be only one goal: success."

Moreover, the point of his Vietnam analogy is not that American has entered a quagmire, but rather that we cannot depend on incompetent local allies. In fact, drawing a sharp contrast to the US effort in Vietnam, Zakaria believes that we have the fundamentals of victory in place the insurgents lack popular support and external sources of supply.

In policy terms, Zakaria's is also the opposite of what one might expect from the quagmire camp. His answer to what's going wrong right now is not a faster exit, but a more patient one. And I wholeheartedly agree. Zakaria is absolutley right that
The desperation to move faster and faster is going to have bad results. Accelerating the training schedule (which has already been accelerated twice before) will only produce an ineffective Iraqi army and police force. Does anyone think that such a ragtag military could beat the insurgency where American troops are failing?...

The idea of a quick transfer of political power is even more dangerous. The Iraqi state has gone from decades of Stalinism to total collapse. And there is no popular national political party or movement to hand power to. A quick transfer of authority to a weak central government would only encourage the Shiites, the Sunnis and the Kurds to retain de facto autonomy in their regions and fragment the country.
The question Zakaria didn't ask but should have is whether all of the pressure to "Iraqify" the occupation as quickly as possible is the result of premature pessimism about its outcome. By making it seem that Iraqification is the Administration's preferred option, Zakaria avoids asking whether the Administration has begun to drift toward such a reckless strategy in response to widespread, often exaggerated perceptions that the United States is achieving nothing on the ground.

What it all comes down to is a question of rhetorical strategy: Does Zakaria's harsh criticism of the administration increase his credibility as an advocate of intensive nation-building? Or is he making it even harder for the US government to support the nation-building process by packaging his support in criticism that reinforces the arguments of all those who want to us to end the occupation as soon as possible?
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# Posted 12:17 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE DEFENSE RESTS ITS CASE: There's something we've wanted to know for a long time now -- Is it true that the Bush Administration has been handing out reconstruction contracts to its personal friends and seven-figure campaign donors? According this report by the Center for Public Integrity (CPI), the answer is an unequivocal yes. Thanks to its impressive array of statistics, the CPI report got some very favorable coverage from the Washington Post and a lot of other leading newspapers.

However, that kind of coverage may have proven to be CPI's undoing. Curious about what CPI had to say, Dan Drezner decided to take a closer look at their work. What he found was a lot of bad math and false accusations.

Then, in this impressive post, Dan goes on to answer another big question on the reconstruction front -- Even if it's true that the Bush Administration awarded major contracts to firms that weren't friends or donors, don't the contracts given to KB&R and Halliburton show that favoritism still matters?

According to Dan, the answer is once again 'No'. It turns out that there were very good reasons behind the administration's decision to give major contracts to KB&R and Halliburton. Plus, those companies seem to do a very good job of what their hired for.

Dan does point out, however, that we still don't know enough about Pentagon outsourcing to pronounce it an unmitigated success. The fact is, there aren't that many companies ready to step up and perform the services that KB&R and Halliburton offer, so competitions remains dampened. But for the moment, it is safe to throw out some of the unsubstantiated charges that are casting suspicion on the American effort to rebuild Iraq.

UPDATE: MF points out that the WaPo ran this op-ed in response to the CPI report. It's by a Clinton Administration procurement officer who thinks the current administration isn't handling Iraq well at all. Still, he's 100% confident that there has been no cronyism or dishonesty in the process of awarding reconstruction contracts.

While MF is right that this op-ed balances the WaPo's coverage, one has to wonder why their initial coverage completely failed to uncover so much of the logic and evidence in this one op-ed.
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Friday, November 07, 2003

# Posted 11:34 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

ADVICE FROM A FRIEND: A pro-American Pole thinks the US should be doing more to show the Polish people that they are our peers, not our inferiors.
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# Posted 11:15 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

IRANIANS ARE NOT ARABS: I just thought the headline writers at the WaPo might like to know that.
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# Posted 11:12 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

ON THE MOVE: While my knowledge of economics consists largely of what I read in the papers, a couple of statistics in today's NYT struck me as fairly interesting. First, according to this very upbeat news analysis piece, there are 130.13 million individuals in the US workforce, representing 66.11 percent of the adult population. Then, in this even more upbeat op-ed column, it says that anywhere from 27 to 35 million old jobs disappear each year, ulitmatley to be replaced by approximately the same number of new jobs.

As such, one might infer that the average American changes jobs every few years -- a process that can be exhilirating or terrifying depending on one's perspective. On the other hand, it is entirely possible that the population is divided into two blocks of workers, one that changes jobs very frequently and one that doesn't. Thus, what I want to know is how long the average worker stays in the average job, as well as the average income of those workers who leave old jobs and take new ones. With that kind of data, one might be able to tell whether job loss is the curse of the lower-middle class, or the escalator to higher standards of living.
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# Posted 7:55 PM by Patrick Belton  

DON'T ALWAYS BELIEVE WHAT YOU READ IN THE PAPER, NO. 3815: From the Guardian, May 15th:
[Jessica Lynch's] Iraqi guards had long fled [at the time of her rescue], she was being well cared for - and doctors had already tried to free her....

The doctors in Nassiriya say they provided the best treatment they could for Lynch in the midst of war. She was assigned the only specialist bed in the hospital, and one of only two nurses on the floor. "I was like a mother to her and she was like a daughter,"says Khalida Shinah....

[Lynch's] memory loss means that "researchers" have been called in to fill in the gaps...

Her rescue will go down as one of the most stunning pieces of news management yet conceived. It provides a remarkable insight into the real influence of Hollywood producers on the Pentagon's media managers, and has produced a template from which America hopes to present its future wars.

Their "daring" assault on enemy territory was captured by the military's night-vision camera.
Now from the Washington Post, November 6:
A new authorized biography of the soldier accurately cites medical records indicating Lynch was sexually assaulted, Stephen Goodwin said.

In the [recently released authorized biography] book, [Rick] Bragg writes: "The records do not tell whether her captors assaulted her almost lifeless, broken body after she was lifted from the wreckage, or if they assaulted her and then broke her bones into splinters until she was almost dead."
Gee, from the Guardian's reporting, I sure would've thought that Pfc Lynch was living in the lap of luxury, you know, like in some kind of (e.g., Hanoi) Hilton, and it was only the Straussian-Volvofitzian-media cabal which had pretended otherwise....

Note too the copious use of scare quotes in the May Guardian report. Perhaps I'll be forgiven if I follow their lead and begin systematically referring to the Guardian as a "news" source. Imitation is the best form of flattery, right?
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Thursday, November 06, 2003

# Posted 7:32 PM by Patrick Belton  

MORE ON THIS IN THE MORNING: But incredible kudos to the president for giving this speech today at NED outlining a coherent U.S. policy of democracy promotion. Initial coverage is in the NYT and WaPo. (Many thanks to our friend JG for bringing this speech to our attention, in a day otherwise occupied by pitying the fool naive enough to take on Perfessor Chafetz in an argument....)

A few significant quotes:
Some skeptics of democracy assert that the traditions of Islam are inhospitable to the representative government. This "cultural condescension," as Ronald Reagan termed it, has a long history. After the Japanese surrender in 1945, a so-called Japan expert asserted that democracy in that former empire would "never work." Another observer declared the prospects for democracy in post-Hitler Germany are, and I quote, "most uncertain at best" -- he made that claim in 1957. Seventy-four years ago, The Sunday London Times declared nine-tenths of the population of India to be "illiterates not caring a fig for politics." Yet when Indian democracy was imperiled in the 1970s, the Indian people showed their commitment to liberty in a national referendum that saved their form of government.

Time after time, observers have questioned whether this country, or that people, or this group, are "ready" for democracy -- as if freedom were a prize you win for meeting our own Western standards of progress. In fact, the daily work of democracy itself is the path of progress. It teaches cooperation, the free exchange of ideas, and the peaceful resolution of differences. As men and women are showing, from Bangladesh to Botswana, to Mongolia, it is the practice of democracy that makes a nation ready for democracy, and every nation can start on this path.

It should be clear to all that Islam -- the faith of one-fifth of humanity -- is consistent with democratic rule. Democratic progress is found in many predominantly Muslim countries -- in Turkey and Indonesia, and Senegal and Albania, Niger and Sierra Leone. Muslim men and women are good citizens of India and South Africa, of the nations of Western Europe, and of the United States of America.

More than half of all the Muslims in the world live in freedom under democratically constituted governments. They succeed in democratic societies, not in spite of their faith, but because of it. A religion that demands individual moral accountability, and encourages the encounter of the individual with God, is fully compatible with the rights and responsibilities of self-government.
and
This is a massive and difficult undertaking -- it is worth our effort, it is worth our sacrifice, because we know the stakes. The failure of Iraqi democracy would embolden terrorists around the world, increase dangers to the American people, and extinguish the hopes of millions in the region. Iraqi democracy will succeed -- and that success will send forth the news, from Damascus to Teheran -- that freedom can be the future of every nation. The establishment of a free Iraq at the heart of the Middle East will be a watershed event in the global democratic revolution.
and a personal favorite:
Sixty years of Western nations excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the Middle East did nothing to make us safe -- because in the long run, stability cannot be purchased at the expense of liberty. As long as the Middle East remains a place where freedom does not flourish, it will remain a place of stagnation, resentment, and violence ready for export. And with the spread of weapons that can bring catastrophic harm to our country and to our friends, it would be reckless to accept the status quo.

Therefore, the United States has adopted a new policy, a forward strategy of freedom in the Middle East. This strategy requires the same persistence and energy and idealism we have shown before. And it will yield the same results. As in Europe, as in Asia, as in every region of the world, the advance of freedom leads to peace.

The advance of freedom is the calling of our time; it is the calling of our country. From the Fourteen Points to the Four Freedoms, to the Speech at Westminster, America has put our power at the service of principle. We believe that liberty is the design of nature; we believe that liberty is the direction of history. We believe that human fulfillment and excellence come in the responsible exercise of liberty. And we believe that freedom -- the freedom we prize -- is not for us alone, it is the right and the capacity of all mankind.

Working for the spread of freedom can be hard. Yet, America has accomplished hard tasks before. Our nation is strong; we're strong of heart. And we're not alone. Freedom is finding allies in every country; freedom finds allies in every culture. And as we meet the terror and violence of the world, we can be certain the author of freedom is not indifferent to the fate of freedom.
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# Posted 9:59 AM by Patrick Belton  

THANK GOD FOR SCIENTISTS:
Scientists have proved that even the most seemingly innocent chat with a woman can be enough to send male sex hormones soaring. A team from the University of Chicago paid students to come into their lab under the pretence of testing their saliva chemistry.
While there, the students got to chat to a young female research assistant. Saliva tests showed the brief interaction was enough to raise testosterone levels by as much as 30%. The more a man's hormone level shot up, the more attractive he later admitted to finding the research assistant. And perhaps more tellingly, the research assistant herself was able to identify those men who found her attractive. The men who she judged to be doing the most to try to impress her proved to be those who registered the biggest jump in testosterone levels.
Maybe I should considering withdrawing my objections to whether politics should be considered a science. (On multiple grounds. Incidentally, widely read politics blog seeks research assistant...apply in person, and do please just ignore all the saliva lying around our office)
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# Posted 8:46 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

CATS AND DOGS LIVING TOGETHER: Atrios and Luskin have decided to kiss and make up. So I ask: If there can be peace in the blogosphere, why can't there be peace in the Middle East?
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# Posted 8:34 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

ST. DAIACL HUTEEVS: Can't remember whether the Secretary of Commerice or the Secretary of Transportation comes first in the line of presidential succession? Then you need an acronym!
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# Posted 6:22 AM by Patrick Belton  

SPANGLISH FINALLY GETTING ITS DUE: After living for a substantial period in Mexico, I came to nurse a lifelong affection not only for that beautiful country and its people, but also for the borderlands, and the people who occupy the at times creative, at times painful, space that corresponds to the tidy black line which on political maps neatly separates two countries and cultures.

I also became very fond of the language which is often spoken on that tidy black line, Spanglish. And for that reason I'm very pleased to note this underappreciated, amazingly versatile language is finally receiving its long-overdue literary recognition: this, namely, in a new book by Ilan Stavans, a Jewish Mexican who teaches at Amherst, and whose engaging earlier works include The Hispanic Condition and Tropical Synagogues. Particularly worth mentioning, the introductory essay of his book includes inter alia (Latinglish) his playful translation of a particularly significant passage from Iberian literature: “In un placete de la Mancha of which nombre no quiero remembrearme, vivía, not so long ago, uno de esos gentlemen who always tienen una lanza in the rack, una buckler antigua, a skinny caballo y un grayhound para el chase.” ¡Que viva la frontera!
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# Posted 1:03 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

CUBA LIBRE? A prominent dissident says free trade won't pry open the Castro dictatorship.
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# Posted 12:56 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

KERRY -- NO LONGER THE FRENCH CANDIDATE: Now that Howard Dean has characterized his remarks about the Confederate flag as "a big contretemps", John Kerry shouldn't take it for granted that he has the Francophile vote locked up.
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# Posted 12:51 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SADDAM'S FINAL PEACE MISSION: The NYT has just put up a detailed investigative report about an apparent effort by Saddam to broker a last-minute deal with the United States. Basically, Saddam was offering the US the chance to conduct its own inspections.

According to Imad Hage, the Lebanese Christian intermediary who was running messages to the Pentagon for Iraq, the Iraqis "understand the days of manipulating the United States are over." I find that hard to believe. As far as I can tell, the Iraqis were playing for time at the last minute, hoping that further inspections might delay an American invasion until after the summer -- during which time either opposition to the war would mount or the US would find it impossible to keep 150,000 troops on the ground in the Middle East.

To the NYT's credit, correspondent James Risen states up front that Saddam's "overtures, after a decade of evasions and deceptions by Iraq, were ultimately rebuffed." While that kind of statement comes pretty close to editorializing in favor of the Bush Administration's position, it does balance the suggestion elsewhere in the article that the United States missed a valuable opportunity to avoid an unnecessary war. Although you have to wonder: if Saddam was so interested in peace, why did he invest so much effort in deceiving the UN inspectors?
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# Posted 12:21 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

LIB-HAWK TURF WAR: Winds of Change has compiled a comprehensive set of links to a recent discussion among liberal hawks about whether there is any hope for the Democratic party when it comes to national security. Before getting into the intricacies of the debate, let me state my position up front: I'm with Peter Beinart.

Beinart makes two basic points. First, the Democrats tend to confuse biography with ideology. They assume that a war hero like John Kerry or a general like Wesley Clark will have instant credibility on national security issues despite having no clear position on the most important issues of the day.

Second, the Democrats had a golden opportunity to present themselves as the party of responsible internationalism by saying that Bush's $87 billion plan for Iraq and Afghanistan was an admission that the Democrats had been right all along about the need to take nation-building seriously. Instead, the Democratic candidates for President began to offer evasive answers about whether they supported the plan, sometimes suggesting that the money might be better spent at home.

So, when Election Day 2004 rolls around, who will I vote for? Answer: I don't know. But what if things stay as they are now, with the Democratic candidates half-heartedly promising to rebuild Iraq while the Bush Administration says all the right things but only does half of them? And what if 20-30 soldiers a month are still falling prey to hostile fire while there is no clear progress toward the drawing up of an effective constitution?

Even then, I would find myself closer to the President's side. He has invested so much of his credibility in this issue that I think it will be all but impossible for him to declare victory and retreat, perhaps in concert with the United Nations. And part of me really believes that he is personally committed to seeing Iraq become democratic.

In my heart, I'm still hoping that the Democrats can put up a credible national security candidate. But Lieberman is a long shot. Gephardt seems solid on this front, but is a long shot as well. If Clark gets things together, perhaps it could be him. But in the end, I see myself forced into a situation where I may have to sacrifice my preferences on the domestic policy in order to ensure a responsible US approach to foreign affairs.

But enough about me. What are all the other lib-hawks and moderate Democrats saying? First, there's Zell Miller. It's not often that someone who voted for Adlai Stevenson twice comes out in favor of George W. Bush. Still, the explanation Miller gives for his change of heart is simplistic at best, disingenuous at worst. He says that the Democratic candidates
to varying degrees, want us to quit and get out of Iraq. They don't want us to stay the course in this fight between tyranny and freedom. This is our best chance to change the course of history in the Middle East. So I cannot vote for a candidate who wants us to cut and run with our shirttails at half-mast.
As Democratic partisan for over five decades, Miller must've confronted plenty of Republicans who charged his party with being the home of cowards and traitors. So how can he turn around now and say things that are so maddeningly similar?

Since that is what I think of Miller, you won't be surprised to hear that I disagree with Michael Totten's assertion that Miller's conversion is a reflection of a Democratic failure to come up with a serious foreign policy. By the same token, I don't put much stock in the significance of Roger Simon's assertion that
[The Democratic candidates] are one of the sleaziest collections of low-down opportunists I have ever seen on one stage together short of that crowd of tobacco executives who testified “No, sirree, I didn’t know that nicotine was addictive.”
If this election were about honesty and opportunism, I would not consider voting for four more years of Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld. I also disagree with Roger that the Democrats have failed to appreciate the stakes of our conflict with terrorism and dictatorship. I think they know what we're fighting for. They just aren't as clear about what it takes to win.

That said, I'd ask Kevin Drum and Matt Yglesias to respond to Peter Beinart's arguments about the failures of Democratic foreign policy, instead of taking down the straw-man arguments that they associate with the Democrats-for-Bush camp.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'll go back to pretending that Harry Truman is still president.

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Wednesday, November 05, 2003

# Posted 8:43 PM by Patrick Belton  

IT'S OFFICIAL: HAROLD KOH TO ASSUME the deanship of the Yale Law School, for our readers who are interested.
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# Posted 6:35 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SERIOUS CHARGES: No, this isn't another post about Wesley Clark. Thank God. It's a post about a Canadian citizen whom the US deported to Syria on grounds of being a suspected terrorist. Released last month, Maher Arar said he was brutally tortured in Syria, something that American authorities knew would happen. While the facts aren't all, it certainly seems that Mr. Arar was the victim of unjust American actions that did nothing to advance the war on terror.
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# Posted 6:16 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

BREMER-OXBLOG TELEPATHIC LINK: So now it seems like Paul B. doesn't approve of the the paramilitary idea. He is simply "open" to it.
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# Posted 12:13 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

MASON-DIXON FOLLIES: "Former Vermont governor Howard Dean came under fierce attack Tuesday night from several Democratic rivals, who accused him of arrogance and insensitivity and demanded that he apologize for saying last week that he wanted to be the candidate for 'guys with Confederate flags in their pickup trucks...'" Don't ask. Just read.
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# Posted 12:08 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

BREMER'S SECRET POLICE: Under pressure to clamp down on Ba'athist insurgents, Paul Bremer has agreed to the training of an Iraqi paramilitary and intelligence-gathering force under the auspices of the Ministry of the Interior. Supposedly, the local knowledge of the Iraqi force will enable to track down insurgents more effectively.

To Bremer's credit, he is deeply worried about the implications of establishing such a force, initially opposed it, and wants to ensure that there will be a rigorous screening process so that the ranks of the new counterinsurgency force don't become filled with criminals in uniform. Bremer also wants the force to undergo police training, not military education.

Frankly, I don't think Bremer is going to get what he wants. The United States has never been good at teaching foreign military forces to respect civilian government, human rights or anything else. When we are successful at promoting democracy, we are successful because we side with the civilians against the military.

It is also worth pointing out that the US has a pretty bad record of training counterinsurgency forces, even if one leaves human rights issues aside. In El Salvador, for example, a massive of amount of American funding and manpower did little more than entrench the corruption and incompetence that plagued the Salvadoran military. Bottom line: On this one, I'm siding with the pessimists.
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Tuesday, November 04, 2003

# Posted 11:03 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

APPARENTLY, OXBLOG OWES CONDI AN APOLOGY: In a recent post, I criticized Wes Clark for saying that the Bush Administration's negligence was in part responsible for 9/11. As part of OxBlog's ongoing effort to be fair and balanced, I also criticized Condi Rice for saying that the Clinton administration was negligent with regard to Al Qaeda. But now it seems that Condi may not have said that at all.

As Pejman points out, the idea that Condi said what she said comes from this NYT article. As such, Pejman has some sharp words for Matt Yglesias, who blasted Condi for her one-sided accusations on the basis of what he read in the NYT. So I guess OxBlog ought to suffer some of Pejman's wrath as well.

FYI, the quotation I attributed to Condi (taken from an e-mail sent by one of our readers) is pretty much a verbatim repetition of what the NYT said, with just a few of the quotation marks moved around. Still, it should go without saying that I had an obligation to verify the quote before posting it on the web.

Btw, I'm still looking for a transcript of Condi's speech since it isn't up on the NSC website yet. (Even so, it's pretty clear from reading the NYT article that Condi's remarks were misrepresented.)
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# Posted 7:36 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

STUDENTS FOR WAR: While Reihan suggests that it's a parody, I think that the SFW website is for real. Yes, the graphics on the SFW homepage are ridiculous. And agitating for war with North Korea is almost ridiculous. Still, SFW was a real organization with typical right-of-center views back in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq.

Anyhow, the reason I raise this issue is because the Campus Organizations section of the SFW site has a link to OxDem. To SFW's credit, it describes OxDem and the other student groups as "organizations supporting the cause of freedom". If SFW were a parody, I think it would have the decency to call us "young hegemonists" or something to that effect.

So, bottom line: Website real. In no way representative of OxDem's views.
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# Posted 11:35 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

"AMERICA WILL NOT RUN": The President has come out with one response to Sunday's tragic loss of life. Howard Dean has come out with another:
"[The attack] weakens the position of the president and my Democratic opponents," said Dr. Dean, a Democratic contender who, as one of the most vocal critics of the war, cited the attack on a Chinook helicopter that took the lives of 16 American soldiers on Sunday. "There are now almost 400 people dead who wouldn't be dead if that resolution hadn't been passed and we hadn't gone to war."
While Dean can argue with some validity that the war may have been a mistake given our failure to find a substantial cache of WMD, this sort of statement implies that because we made a mistake by going in, we should pull out right now regardless of the consequences. That is the kind of short-sighted thinking that makes it so hard for me to even consider supporting the Vermont governor's bid for Commander-in-Chief.

UPDATE: Brian Ulrich writes that this interpretation of what Dean said may be misleading. After all, Dean says on his website that
"That is, after all, now much more than a national security objective," he added. "It is a declaration of national purpose, written in the blood of our troops, and of the innocent on all sides who have perished."

His bullet point on American troops: "A democratic transition will take between 18 to 24 months, although troops should expect to be in Iraq for a longer period."
While Brian is right about Dean's official position, I think one gets a better sense of what Dean is about by listening to what he says in person. The pattern we tend to see with Howard Dean is that he says something embarrassing in person, e.g. his comment about "guessing" that Iraq is better off without Saddam, then has to correct himself by pointing out that his official position isn't what you would expect based on his prior statement. To me, this says a lot about his instincts on foreign policy. If Dean makes the transition from candidate to present, I think it is reasonable to expect that his instincts will be far more more important than his official positions.

Btw, it's probably worth pointing out that Dean's official statement is from April 9, which leads me to think that it isn't exactly the most important thing on his mind these days. So what I'm interested in seeing is whether Dean keeps talking about those-who-wouldn't-have-died while adjusting the 400 figure upwards as warranted. If so, it will become ever harder to believe that he is committed to rebuilding Iraq.

UPDATE: Brian has some comments on my response.
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Monday, November 03, 2003

# Posted 12:01 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

CLARK'S SPEECH -- HIS DEFENDERS RESPOND: OxBlog's vocal Democratic readers are up in arms about my criticism of Wesley Clark's attacks on George Bush. The remark at the center of the conroversy is my assertion that
If a Democratic candidate is going to attack Bush on this front, he will need nothing short of a smoking gun in order to persuade the American public that Osama bin Laden deserves anything less than 100% of the blame for the September 2001 attacks.
According to Mark Kleiman, my assertion constitutes nothing less an "abusive misinterpretation" of Clark's words. Specifically,
The idea of Bush's "letting 9-11 happen" is entirely Adesnik's fantasy, and that Adesnik converts Clark's well-reasoned rebuke of Bush -- for trying to blame the failure to notice that al-Qaeda had plans to use jetliners as missiles on lower-level intelligence personnel -- into the absurd assertion that Bush, rather than bin Laden was responsible for the crime. Having put absurd words into Clark's mouth, Adesnik is then stunned by their absurdity: Did he really say that?
In an e-mail response to Mark, I point out that Michael Tomasky of The American Prospect interpreted Clark's speech to mean exactly the same thing that I thought it meant. So, unless Clark's most avid partisans have fantasies identical to those of critics such as myself, I think it is fair to say that I am guilty of neither abuse nor misinterpretation. Still, Mark responds that
I read Tomasky. He and I agree both about the facts and about what Clark is saying. Bush, as President, is responsible for failures in the national security apparatus. There were failures that facilitated 9-11. So Bush can reasonably be held responsible for misfeasance. That isn't to say that "Bush let it happen" or that Bush is a criminal in any way comparable to bin Laden, only that Bush is responsible for the screw-ups and shouldn't be allowed to blame it on underlings in the intelligence agencies.
First of all, I never even came close to saying that Clark described Bush as being in any way comparable to Bin Laden. Rather, I clearly stated that Clark wants Bush to shoulder a small but significant proportion of the responsibility for the September 11 attacks. And that seems to be exactly what Mark Kleiman and Michael Tomasky want as well.

On a related note, AL writes in that
I think your recent blogpost obscures an important distinction between 'blame' and 'responsibility'-- responsibility in the slightly separate sense of the acts of a responsible person. There is no question that Osama gets 100% of the blame for 9/11...I don't think Gen. Clark is talking about blame. Gen. Clark
is suggesting, and it is not an unreasonable inference given the reluctance to the White House to divulge anything, that Bush had been *imprudent* and *irresponsible* in disregarding various warnings we might have received.

If I forget to lock my bicycle, the thief is 100% to blame. This doesn't mean I should get four more years of running the bicycle store.
In response, I'd have to say that there is a slight difference between bicycles and national security. If you ignore threats to the well-being of your bicycle, it's probably because you were thinking about something more important. If the President ignores threats to our national security, it's a matter of criminal negligence.

Moreover, the use of the bicycle analogy suggests that just a little more forethought on Bush's part might have prevented a major national disaster. If that is one's position, then one cannot say that one isn't trying to blame Bush. Think, perhaps, of a night watchman who is having a few drinks at the corner bar while burglars make off with everything in the company safe.

The problem here is that both Kleiman and AL want to have it both ways. They want voters to think of Bush as partially responsible for 9/11 without admitting that Clark's words constitute an attack or an accusation. In other words, they want to throw mud without getting it on their hands. (In contrast, Tomasky is up front about what he is doing.)

Now, notice what I'm not saying -- that Clark is wrong. If the Senate Intelligence Committee pries enough evidence from the deathgrip of the Administration, it may just find that Bush & Co. were criminally negligent when it came to Osama Bin Laden. Still, Clark's accusation struck as me as quite surprising because there was no indication that he knew of any such evidence.

I'd also like to add that I never intended to give Repubicans a free-ride on the 9/11 mudslinging front. As JG points out, Condi Rice tried to turn the tables on the Democrats two days after Clark's speech by saying that
"The Clinton and other past administrations had ignored evidence of growing terrorist threats and despite repeated attacks on American interests, until Sept. 11, the terrorists faced no sustained, systematic and global response from the United States. They became emboldened, and the result was more terror and more victims."
Given that the Bush Administration hasn't released any evidence to back up such charges, Rice's comments are pretty offensive. I'm guessing, however, that the President won't say this sort of thing, especially not on the campaign trail.

While I don't necessarily think that he's above it, it's an accusation that undermines the credibility of the attacker unless he has evidence to back himself up. That is why I was so surprised by Clark's statement. It just seemed like such a bad move. (For a good elaboration of that point, see this post from the Chicago Report.) Moreover, it was another bad move on the national security front from a candidate whose greatest strength is supposed to be military and foreign affairs.

Incidentally, I now have more information on Clark's speech, information provided by a someone who is in a position to know. While riding with Clark on his way to make the speech, my source watched the general make last-minute revisions to the text. Thus, the differences between the official text and what Clark actually said would seem to reflect a personal decision by the candidate to intensity his attacks on the President. Whether it was a good decision is what we don't yet know.

UPDATE: AL clarifies that he is accusing the Bush Administration of doing something very wrong. However, he is not accusing it of being evil or malign.
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Sunday, November 02, 2003

# Posted 12:41 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

ANOTHER SAD DAY. Our thoughts are with the families of the dead and wounded.
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Friday, October 31, 2003

# Posted 6:05 AM by Patrick Belton  

A HAPPY HALLOWEEN to all our readers! (Except, of course, to our Gaelic readers, to whom I should wish a happy Samhain instead).

And except in France, where, according to the always trustworthy Seattle paper, Halloween is apparently as much a relic of last year's fashion as pointy shoes. Tant pis.
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# Posted 5:43 AM by Patrick Belton  

ANOTHER DAY, ANOTHER LETTER FROM KABUL: Here's the latest from OxBlog's intrepid, and hard-working, bureau chief:
Ramazan is well underway; thankfully, the days are cool and short. P.'s [note: still not me - ed.] and my decision to join the fast has been greeted with general incredulity and the sly question, "Ah yes, but what time do you get up for breakfast?" In P.'s case, the answer is generally, "Not at all." I tend to drowse awake at 4:00 a.m., munch a couple McVitie's biscuits, down a liter of water, and fall asleep again. Z. initially tried to muster us for a proper pre-dawn breakfast, but then started sleeping through the alarm herself. Regardless, by the time dusk rolls around, we're all famished and ready to pack away a grand iftar dinner. One of these days we're going to see if the food at the shuttered, formidable-looking Croatian dive across the street is as good as its reputation.

Tonight (Thursday) I ended up taking iftar at the home of logistics assistant Aziz Ahmad, after a long afternoon of driving around the city discussing American marriage customs and the shelling of West Kabul during the 1990s. Aziz lives with his parents and seven siblings on the western outskirts of Kabul, in a tight-packed
neighborhood of small walled compounds. He hustled me and the reluctant driver, Ainodeen, through the door and into a cozy, carpeted dining room with long floor cushions. After allowing me to give cursory salaams to his flustered sisters, Aziz ducked out and drew a curtain across the doorway; it was the last I saw of his
family, with the exception of his brother and six year-old sister, who periodically brought in more food. We sat cross-legged around a plastic tablecloth, tore off chunks of the diamond-shaped, corrugated flatbread that accompanies (or composes) most meals in Afghanistan, and tucked into heaps of mashed potatoes (deliciously heavy on the garlic, oregano, and pepper), curd, and still-liquid fried eggs. Over a dessert of lightly salted pomegranate seeds, Aziz ruefully discussed how his family's persistent association with foreigners has cut them off from their traditional community in the south. "My father was in the military, so when we went back to the village five years ago, they called us all Communists. Now that I work with French and US groups for a few years, they call me a foreigner."

It was all rather a contrast with last Thursday, which I spent entirely in the company of foreigners. We had dinner and drinks at the Mustafa Hotel (favorite haunt of expat journalists), whose slightly claustrophobic barroom offers glitzy mirror-mosaic decor, Beck and Guinness on tap, and a decent chicken tikka pizza. The bar is up a narrow flight of stairs, past several doors and a couple clusters of guards. A sign on the wall informs all concerned parties that under no circumstances will alcohol be served to Afghan citizens. When we left (the women shrugging their headscarves back on), we drove over to a compound inhabited by a haggard, hospitable Dane and a cheery Glaswegian Scot who invited everyone in sight to tomorrow's rugby game. About ten other young aid workers from all round Europe and Australia were hanging out on the couches, deconstructing music videos over screwdrivers and G&Ts. I added my American twang to the symphony of accents, and we whiled away a cheerful half hour in front of the TV.

Then began the remarkable quest for Thursday night parties in a city without addresses. In a country littered with mines and mujahidin, I think my life was most in danger that night, hurtling through the Kabul streets after dark with a tipsy, expostulating Scot as chauffeur: "Love the Afghans. Couldna find a kinder, more hospitable people. But get them behind the wheel of a car, and forget about it! Game over!" None of us quite knew where we were going, though as we trawled the area where the ICRC party was supposed to be, we encountered two or three other cars following the same rumor. Finally our little caravan arrived at the right street. As with most expat parties in Kabul, this one was marked by (1) a surreptitious X on the door of the compound, and (2) a couple dozen inconspicuous white SUVs with NGO logos and patient Afghan drivers parked along the roadside. We found the marked door and walked past the impassive guards into a different world. A sign by the entryway mandated a tequila shot for all comers (the three bottles were long empty). The house was packed with aid workers from all over the planet, drinking, dancing, talking shop. A long table held an international array of booze, from Australian wine to Latvian vodka to a particularly unpleasant ouzo. There was a bonfire in the backyard, and (as a surreal complement) someone had rigged a projector to shine the "Fire" animation from Windows MediaPlayer onto the ten feet of UNHCR-logo sheeting that topped the rear wall of the compound. We left an hour or so later, with our Aussie friend seeking directions on her mobile: "Yeh, we were just at that party, but it's a bit crap. Is the Bearing Point party on Flower Street? Is there room to park?"

It was loads of fun, and you can't deny all those hardworking expats a little festivity in a city as dry as Kabul. But the disconnect between the normal world of Kabul and the behind-heightened-walls party scene was striking; and naturally there are frictions. The UN has implored its staff to keep a lower party profile on a number of occasions. One of the previous hangouts was a pub established (brilliantly) across the street from a mosque, eventually forced to move due to bomb threats. As we were arriving last Thursday, a group of partygoers who missed the X on the door accidentally roused the unamused Afghan family across the street from their dinner. And the sight of the Afghan drivers waiting up til all hours to drive their drunken masters home was a bit distressing. Of course not everyone's comfortable walking home from parties (as P. and I ended up doing around 3 in the morning), but more efforts could be made to carpool.

Now, one similarity between expat life and Afghan life is that both are generally lived behind high walls -- which I found interesting, having heard plenty of criticisms in other countries of the comfortable "gated communities" in which aid workers isolate themselves. But in a culture as modesty-conscious as Afghanistan's, the gated compound is the norm, and mutual isolation in private life is a powerful social principle (though I hasten to add that hospitality and kinship are even stronger ones). Driving out of the city, I was struck by the walls everywhere -- high, narrow barriers of packed mud along field boundaries, brick walls parceling off empty blocks of mountainside. I commented that barbed wire would surely be a more effective way to keep the sheep out. "Sure," a friend responded, "but you want to be able to send the women to work in the fields. They can't do that effectively in a burqa." The daily trip from home enclosure to work enclosure isn't only an expat routine.

Our trip north of Kabul also brought the effects of the war into full focus. As we drove through the arid, misnamed Dih Sabz wasteland ("Sabz" means "green"), we kept passing the rusted wreckage of Soviet tanks and troop transports. Slowly the desert gave way to trees, walled fields and homes... with large white checkmarks painted on the mud walls, and lines of white stones along the roadside. "White means the deminers have been through here," a friend explained. "If you see red stones, stay the hell on the road. If you don't see any color stones, stay the hell on the road. If you see white stones, ask yourself seriously whether you have a reason to leave the road." As we turned onto the Bagram airbase road, our driver Basyir informed us that this had been the line of control between Ahmad Shah Massoud and the Taliban after the latter conquered Kabul. Both sides of the road were beautifully green, and clearly good farmland; both had been mined into uninhabitability by the rival armies over the years, and were only now recovering. In a bleakly appropriate coda, just as we finished discussing the rehabilitation of mined lands, a one-legged man on a bicycle pedaled gamely past our car.

But more than the mined farmland in the Shomali Plain, West Kabul is by far the saddest thing I've seen in the country. It was literally caught in the crossfire when the mujahidin began killing each other after driving out the Soviets; Aziz and Ainodeen laconically pointed out the specific surrounding mountains from which Gulbuddin, Massoud, and Dostum shelled each other and the city below. Thousands of civilians died. Hundreds of homes were leveled. And today, even after years of reconstruction, West Kabul is still a skeleton of a city. The giant Soviet-built grain silos on the highway have great scorched dents on the side where the shells hit them. The walls left from the bad old days are plasterless, pocked with bullet holes and shrapnel scars. The road in front of Kabul University has been fixed up a bit, but most of the other streets are still deeply pitted from bombs and barricades.

In Kabul it's common to see big metal shipping containers lined up by the side of the road; people keep them after shipments are delivered (perhaps because they choose to, perhaps because there's just not much to ship out of Kabul) and use them as shops or even homes. Along the main roads in West Kabul, you see bullet-riddled containers everywhere, and some are warped, convex, with jagged blast holes. I assumed they had all been used as barricades in the bloody street fighting of the civil war. Today I was told that the warlords had packed the latter containers full of prisoners and fired rockets into them -- execution, not war. Every time I begin to think my imagination is adequate to what happened here, I'm proved wrong again.

In general, please don't imagine that my mostly car's eye view (no pun intended) [ed: get it, Karzai? Joel shares the OxBloggers' taste for kabbalistically obscure puns...] of Kabul is adequate to the reality. There's more going on here than I could possibly pick up in a few weeks. I'll end with one of the things I saw in West Kabul that I found poignantly hopeful: a completely gutted warehouse whose ground level (extending for half a city block) was being used to store new bricks, stacked from floor to ceiling. The city is rebuilding. Kids are going to school in droves, including cute little headscarved girls. The only guns I've seen on the street have been carried by police and soldiers.

But it's clear from all reports that Kabul's relative stability and recovery aren't shared throughout Afghanistan, and Afghans continue to seek refuge in the capital for that reason. The ISAF armed forces here have been key to Kabul's recovery (notwithstanding the disgruntled banner hung from a wall near the heavily barricaded US Embassy: "Honorable International Societies! Have you come to Kabul to block our crossroads and roads?"). The sooner NATO achieves its stated goal of extending ISAF to the major regional cities -- not just Kunduz, though that's a good start -- the better.

And the sooner I get to bed, the better... it's only a few hours till breakfast...
For earlier Letters from Kabul from our worthy Afghanistan correspondent, see if you will here and here.
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Thursday, October 30, 2003

# Posted 6:51 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

CLARK'S SPEECH: A POLITICAL MASTERSTROKE? Matt Yglesias' boss is arguing that Wes Clark's attack on George Bush's pre-9/11 record was not just intentional, but also the first shot in a well-planned campaign strategy. As Tomasky puts it,
[Clark] will apparently seek in the coming weeks and months to convince Americans that a failure of presidential leadership before 9-11 may have been partly responsible for the disaster's occurrence in the first place.
I'm going to have to call that wishful thinking. If Clark actually had such a clear strategy, why was his prepared text so equivocal on the issue of Bush's responsibility? And if this specific attack on Bush was such an important part of Clark's overall message on national security, why did he resort to ad libbing?

Now, Tomasky may be right that Bush is more vulnerable to criticism on the pre-9/11 front than widely thought. The Kean Commission may well expose an embarrassing degree of unpreparedness in the White House. And Tomasky may even be right that Clark's "surely has his own sources in the U.S. intelligence world". Still, if a Democratic candidate is going to attack Bush on this fron, he will need nothing short of a smoking gun in order to persuade the American public that Osama bin Laden deserves anything less than 100% of the blame for the September 2001 attacks.

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# Posted 2:23 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

CLARK'S SPEECH, A FIRST-HAND ACCOUNT: Alex Massie was there, and he reports that Clark really did say that Bush was personally responsible for 9/11.

Alex also notes that the specific wording of the accusation was pretty much an ad lib and that transcripts handed out at the event match the one posted on Clark's website.

On a related note, Alex links to this Josh Marshall post which argues that Clark's campaign is in complete disarray and headed for failure. Rightly, Alex takes Josh to task for focusing on organziational issues and ignoring the most important reason that Clark is running into serious trouble: he keeps changing his opinion on the most important issue of the day -- Iraq -- while insisting that his views haven't changed at all.
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# Posted 10:45 AM by Patrick Belton  

A LAST FINAL BOW FOR FRANCO CORELLI, TENOR: One of the great tenors of the twentieth century, Franco Corelli, has passed away from us, perchance to sing with the angels.

Rachel and I were, somewhat poignantly, listening entirely by chance to Corelli's Songs and Arias disc at the precise moment he died. (This has made me somewhat cautious in use of my CD player...though were I a substantially less benevolent and well-meaning sort to all, I could note I've been listening quite a bit to the Dixie Chicks today, without demonstrable effect.)

Corelli's Metropolitan Opera debut formed one of the legendary nights to occur in that house, when both he and Leontyne Price both made their debut on the same night in Il Trovatore. The ovations at the end of the performance carried on for nearly an hour. In an anecdote which I recall, from the oral tradition of my own music coaches and relatives not too distant from his (and Rossini's) natal port town of Ancona on Italy's east coast, was that Corelli initially worked in the docks of his port town, following in his father's profession as a naval engineer. Friends noticed his singing on the docks, guided only by old 78's of Caruso, Gigli, and Lauri-Volpi, and encouraged him to study voice professionally. He received what seems in retrospect to have been quite bad instruction at the hands of Rita Pavoni in the Conservatory of Pesaro, and gained the distinction of being compared to a glass - "whenever he went up," Italian oral tradition records the contemporary assessment, "he broke." Returning to the ports, his friends convinced him once again to leave to pursue his vocal gifts, and receiving mildly better instruction from Arturo Melocchi (who was known, however, as a "throat-wrecker"), and a quite productive apprenticeship under Giacomo Lauri-Volpi, he deputed in 1951 as Don Jose in Carmen, singing with Maria Callas in 1953, deputing at La Scala with her in 1954, and taking Tosca to London in 1957. He retired in the year of my birth, 1976. If there be Neapolitan gondoliers in the heavens, he has surely taken his place there among them.
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Wednesday, October 29, 2003

# Posted 11:31 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

DID HE REALLY JUST SAY THAT? (PART TWO): Did Wes Clark actually accuse Bush of letting 9/11 happen? Or did the NYT imagine it?

Josh Marshall, who heard Clark deliver the speech, didn't mention anything about Clark's accusation. That surprised me, since Josh isn't one to miss a big story.

As such, I decided to figure things out for myself by getting a transcript of Clark's speech, which is available on the Clark04 website.

After reading the speech, I'm even more confused. There are some passages that are very similar to the ones reported in the NYT, but which have a fundamentally different meaning. According to the Times,
Gen. Wesley K. Clark said on Tuesday that the administration could not "walk away from its responsibilities for 9/11."

"You can't blame something like this on lower-level intelligence officers, however badly they communicated in memos with each other," said the retired general, the latest entrant in the Democratic presidential field. "It goes back to what our great president Harry Truman said with the sign on his desk: `The buck stops here.' And it sure is clear to me that when it comes to our nation's national security, the buck rests with the commander in chief, right on George W. Bush's desk."
According to the Clark website, the General said
And then there is 9/11. There is no way this administration can walk away from its responsibilities. This wasn't something that could be blamed on lower level intelligence officers. Our great Democratic President Harry Truman said, the "buck stops here." And when it comes to our nation's foreign policy, the buck sits on George W. Bush's desk. And we must say it again and again until the American people understand it. National security, next to upholding the Constitution, is the most important duty of any President.
Reading the Clark transcript, it's hard to figure out exactly what the General is saying. What is Clark referring to when he says that "This" wasn't something that can be blamed on lower-level intelligence officers? Is he referring to 9/11 or to the absence of WMD in Iraq?

From the NYT version of Clark's speech, however, it is absolutely clear that Clark is talking about 9/11. Well, that's all I have for the moment. I'll let you know what I find.

UPDATE: The AP has quotations almost identical to those in the NYT. TNR also has Clark saying the same thing, although Frank Foer doesn't think Clark meant to say what he said. Which leaves me wondering: Did Clark just completely mangle his prepared text?

UPDATE: There's nothing on Clark's sppech over at the Weekly Standard, but it does have a scathing review of Clark's ever-changing position on the war. The Corner has a link to the NYT article.

UPDATE: I just sent the following e-mail to the contact address given on the Clark '04 website:
Dear Clark '04 Staff,

Good luck with your work -- I know you've probably been putting in a lot of 16 hour days lately.

At the moment, I have a question about Gen. Clark's speech to the "New American Strategies for Security and Peace" conference. According to the New York Times and the Associated Press, Gen. Clark held President Bush personally responsible for the intelligence failures that led to 9/11. However, the quotations to that effect that appear in the NYT and AP stories do not appear in the transcript of General Clark's speech posted on your website. In that transcript, Gen. Clark makes statements superficially similar to the ones reported by the NYT and AP, but which have a fundamentally different meaning. Could you please explain this discrepancy?

Best,
David
UPDATE: I was hoping to settle the issue of what Clark said by watching the webcast of his speech, but I'm having trouble connecting.

UPDATE: Having slept on it, I think it's probably fair to conclude that the media reported Clark's statements accurately. However, the Clark campaign may simply have posted an earlier draft of the speech rather than the final product. Alternately, Clark may have mangled the text. Ultimately, the best indicator of what happened may be whether or not Clark decides to disavow his comments -- but even then it would be hard to know if he were backtracking from an accident or from a major rhetorical blunder.
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# Posted 8:51 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

DID HE REALLY JUST SAY THAT? Wes Clark seems to be blaming Bush for 9/11. No, not Iraq. 9/11. While the Administration has hardly been forthright about the intelligence failures that contributed to the attack, Clark really seems to be going out on a limb.

My best guess is that Clark thinks he can steal Dean's thunder by ramping us his attacks on the President. Or maybe Clark really has no idea how serious such accusations are. To figure out what was really on Clark's mind we may have to ask Matt Yglesias -- because The American Prospect sponsored the conference at which Clark delivered his speech (via satellite).

NB: Matt seems to have gone back to the pessimist side in the Iraq debate. Serves me right for outing him as a tentative optimist back in mid-October.

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# Posted 8:33 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

OXBLOG AGREES WITH NYT: Putin's a lying thug.
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# Posted 8:19 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

STICKING IT TO THE JEWS: OxBlog has never hidden its respect for the Jewish people. We are always ready to stand up for Israel and against anti-Semitism. But as an insider, let me tell you that sometimes the Jewish people really need to be taken down a notch. Through mantra-like repetition of assorted myths, we sometimes persuade ourselves to believe in our own delusions of grandeur.

Case in point: The supposed invincibility of the Israeli military. Long frustrated by stereotypical images of Jews (and especially Jewish males) as pale, thin and cowardly, Jews the world over now insist that Israeli soldiers are the bravest and most capable in the world. How else to explain the overwhelming victories of 1948, 1956 and 1967, as well as the death-defying come-from-behind triumph of 1973?

But what about 1991? According to Prof. Eliot Cohen -- best known as the author of Supreme Command -- the US military lost much of the respect it had for the Israelis as a result of the first Persian Gulf War. It turns out that this development had nothing to do with Saddam's ability to get in a few shots at Tel Aviv before pulling out of Kuwait. Rather, after their nonchalant devastation of the finest Arab military in existence, the Americans became much less impressed with Israeli victories over adversaries who were even less competent.

Prof. Cohen raised this point in response to a question that was asked after his lecture today on Israeli military strategy and culture in comparative perspective. In the course of his lecture, Prof. Cohen exposed the emptiness of the cherished myths that well-meaning Jewish teachers pass on to countless students in Hebrew schools across the nation.

As a survivor of 13 years of Jewish education, let me tell you that you cannot go to a Jewish school without having myths of Israeli prowess drummed into your head at every turn. And if you went to an Orthodox school like mine, chances are you were taught that Israeli victories were literal miracles, visible signs of God bestowing favors on his chosen people. (What I could never figure out was whether the Almighty just started being nice to the Jews in 1945, or whether the Israeli military's success was some sort of compensation for all of the terrible things that He let happen to us beforehand.)

Suffice it to say that the overwhelmingly Jewish audience at Prof. Cohen's talk was deeply unhappy with what he had to say. With one exception, every question thrown at him demanded to know how he could reconcile this or that Israeli achievement with his insistence that the Israeli military is nothing special. Some of the questions were fairly intelligent. For example, one man wanted to know how Israel established a competent military force in its first heady days as an independent state. As it turns out, David Ben Gurion wisely recognized that the fastest way to build up the armed forces was to take advantage of many Israelis' experience serving in the British and other European militaries.

Among the less thoughtful questions was how Cohen could fail to recognize that Israeli pilots are the best in the world, especially when behind the controls of their F-16s. Somewhat sarcastically, Cohen asked his interlocutor whether the Israelis built the F-16s and taught themselves how to fly, or whether the Americans had something to do with it. However, before Cohen could finish what he was saying, an old Israeli woman asked him how many MiGs the American air force had shot down. (Answer: Enough.)

What really surprised me about the audience was its unwillingness even to accept that lsrael might have the second best military in the world, after that of the American juggernaut. It sort of reminded of the debates I used to have with some of my friends in junior high school. We genearlly assumed that America was stronger than Israel because its military was bigger. But a lot of us argued that, man for man, the Israel military was better. While this view generally prevailed, some dissenters insisted that the American army was better man for man, but only because it could afford to spend so much more on each soldier's training and equipment.

With these adolescent debates as a backdrop, it was especially interesting to hear Prof. Cohen explain that the Israeli military, historically, has valued quality less than quantity. Little known is the fact that in 1948 the Israelis outnumbered their opponents. And thanks to its extensive system of conscription and reserves, Israel maintains one of the last mass armies in the age of the professional soldier.

Prof. Cohen also argued that despite prevalent images of Jews as intellectuals, Israel has one of the least intellectual armies in the world. Unlike the American army and many of its European counterparts, the Israeli armed forces produces few substantive works of military theory and history.

Now, lest one think that Prof. Cohen's entire lecture was an effort at Socratic subversion of Jewish egomania, it is important to recognize that such exercises have tremendous practical value. After all, Israel's most devastating losses on the battlefield -- in the Sinai in October 1973 -- were a direct result of the stubborn hubris that had set in after the Six Day War.

In addition, unloading all of this mythical baggage enables one to appreciate what may be Israel's greatest accomplishment on the military front: the establishment of the only democracy in the Middle East thanks to David Ben Gurion's aggressive efforts to undermine the political influence of senior generals and ensure the subordination of the military to civilian authorities.

At a time when many Israelis considered themselves to be revolutionaries and kept portraits of Stalin above their desks, it was hardly a foregone conclusion that Israel would become both a Jewish state and a democracy. For that, we ought to be thankful.
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