OxBlog

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

# Posted 9:59 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

UNPROCESSED INTELLIGENCE: Glenn links to a whole bunch of sites that are trying to put together as much raw infomation as possible about the occupation.
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# Posted 9:57 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

CROSSING INTO MODO-LAND: Lately, David Brooks has been spending his time reading fashion magazines. Halfway through Brooks' column, I thought to myself, "Oh my God, he's becoming another Dowd." Yet by the end, Brooks had made a reasonably intelligent and coherent point about the magazines' socio-political significance. Think he'll give Maureen some lessons on how to do it?
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# Posted 9:45 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

ROOT CAUSES: France has decided to combat anti-Semitism by spending $8 billion on urban renewal in rough neighboorhoods with heavily Muslim populations. The package also includes tougher policing and prosecution measures. My gut says that the latter initiatives are far more important. But let's give the French a chance to prove that carrots have a more lasting effect than sticks.

Alternately, the French could let the Turks into the EU and ask them to share some of their remarkable tolerance for Judaism with their French counterparts.
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# Posted 9:22 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

ONLY IN ISRAEL: Where the army is filled with guilt-laden doves.
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# Posted 9:06 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

MUCH ADU ABOUT SOMETHING: 14-year old Ghanaian-American soccer phenom Freddy Adu has signed a six-year deal with DC United after turning down offers from Man United and Chelsea. The future of American soccer may already be here.
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# Posted 9:02 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

A SHORT, EASY SLOG: Phil Carter says Rumsfeld's new warfighting plans blatantly disregard the lessons of recent history.
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Monday, November 17, 2003

# Posted 11:26 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

HOWARD'S TOP 10: It's turns out that Howard and I both have the same favorite recording artist: Wyclef Jean. Andrew Sullivan likes Dean's taste in music since Wyclef is known for appreciating the rewards that the free market brings.

I would not be so sanguine, however. If you listen to The Score or The Carnival, you might figure out why Howard Dean thinks all Southerners have the Stars & Bars in their pickups.

One of Wyclef's big messages is that the black man must wear a mask of respectability until he is powerful enough to overthrow the white order. Needless to say, I appreciate Wyclef for his talents as a musician and storyteller, not his advice on social policy.

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# Posted 11:12 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

BELIEVE IT OR NOT: In the space of 27 hours, Matt Yglesias has both admitted that he is too poor to get laid and praised an OxBlog post without resorting to a single backhanded compliment or snide remark.
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# Posted 11:05 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE TIMES' SALVATION: John Burns alone makes the NYT worth reading. (Via Instapundit)
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# Posted 10:58 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

BIZARRE: BBC reports that Italian anti-war activists are raising money for Ba'ath aligned insurgents in Iraq.
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# Posted 10:29 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE BIGGER THE MOUTH, THE BIGGER THE SHOE: Wes Clark is doing an uncannily good job of undermining his credentials as the serious foreign policy candidate. The place to turn for the best accounts of his foot-in-mouth performances in TNR. In the TNR primary, we get to hear about how Wes Clark thinks that "engaging" Eastern Europe (via Citibank) won the Cold War, how working more closely with the Saudis dictatorship is the way to stop Al Qaeda, and how it was OK to go fight Milosevic without a UN resolution -- but not Saddam -- because Milosevic had abused Kosovar human rights.

When Clark finally decided to show some foresight by saying that it's time to lift the embargo on Cuba, he quickly backed off the statement and hypocritically added that candidates shouldn't make "foreign policy announcements" in the middle of a campaign (except on such important subjects as the giving the UN control of Iraq.)

On the bright side, it turns out that Clark may not be as arrogant as we all once thought. Then again, walking around with one's foot in one's mouth is conducive to humility.

Clark also seems to get in shape rhetorically when facing off against the right. Yet even Clark supporter Kevin Drum, who proudly asserts that Clark knows more about foreign policy than both Glenn Reynolds and Kevin's cat, admits that the General has a habit of saying some very stupid things about foreign and domestic affairs.
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# Posted 1:12 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

MIRACLE ON 44TH STREET: Kevin Drum reports that the NYT has decided that bloggers can now post real permalinks to its content, not just semi-permalinks that disappear once the content goes behind the NYT firewall.

As a result of this new policy, Kevin has decided to declare the NYT more blog-friendly than either the WaPo or LAT, since both of them move their content behind a firewall after a fixed period of time. However, I think the WaPo deserves a lot more credit than Kevin is giving it. If you go to the WaPo webpage for any given topic or country, you can usually access 100 recent stories about it, sometimes going back more than a year. That's a tremendous amount of information that you can't get out of the NYT.
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# Posted 12:51 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE SHI'ITE VOTE: Take a look at this somewhat better than usual article on Shi'ite attitudes toward democracy. It has some interesting information about Ayatollah Sistani and the way he expresses his official opinions.

What I don't about like the article is the way it argues by implication that Iraqi Shi'ites just want power and don't understand and/or care about democracy as a system of government. For example, WaPo correspondent Anthony Shadid describes some pro-Iranian graffiti outside the office of Sistani's spokesman before letting us hear the spokesman's endorsement of constitutional government.

Is this supposed to be a tip off that Iraqi Shi'ites want an Islamic state? If so, why not just ask Sistani's spokesman about Iran? Why not ask him whether he sees democracy as a permanent system or just a transitional process? And ask those same questions to all the other man-in-the-street types whose opinions fill out the second half of all these articles.

We've known since day one that the Shi'ites have a lot of incentives to support democracy just long enough for them to take control of postwar Iraq. Now it is time for the media to stop repeating that fact endlessly and figure out whether the Shi'ite leadership means what it says about democracy or whether it just talks about democracy to advance its own interests.

By the same token, the American occupation authorities should be hammering away at a similar point when talking to the Shi'ite leadership: The more of a commitment that you show to democracy as an institution, the faster we can transfer power to an elected government in which your representatives will have a majority.
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Sunday, November 16, 2003

# Posted 5:56 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

DETOUR RECOMMENDED: Here's a list of the 10 most dangerous intersections in the United States. It's hard to believe that none of them are in Boston or New York.
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# Posted 12:35 PM by Patrick Belton  

RICHLY-DESERVED PLUG: One of the best choral ensembles currently around working with the polyphonic Renaissance repertory, the Tallis Scholars, will be touring around the United States and Britain in December. Here are their tour dates - if they're in your city, you should go!
Tuesday 2 December - Oberlin, OH
Wednesday 3 December - Kansas City, MO
Friday 5 December - Seattle, WA
Saturday 6 December - Vancouver, BC
Sunday 7 December - Los Angeles, CA
Tuesday 9 December - Portland, OR
Wednesday 10 December - Berkeley, CA
Friday 12 December - Boston, MA
Saturday 13 December - New York, NY
Sunday 14 December - Daytona Beach, FL
Saturday 20 December 2003 at 7.30pm (Hazard Chase Christmas Festival, St John's, Smith Square, London, call for tickets)
Apart from London, I'm not sure where they're performing in each city, but their publicists'll know.
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# Posted 2:53 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

PARSING THE BUREAUCRA-SPEAK: While the meaning of this DoD press release isn't exactly clear, it seems like a repudiation of the Saddam-Al Qaeda memo published in the Weekly Standard. Is the DoD denial more credible than the original report? I don't know. But it does seem fairly clear that there is a bureaucratic scuffle going on inside the executive branch, perhaps inside the Pentagon.
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Saturday, November 15, 2003

# Posted 5:42 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

JESSICA LYNCH AND WOMEN IN COMBAT: The National Review says that the capture of Jessica Lynch demonstrates the heavy price paid by female soldiers as a result of feminists' efforts to force them into front-line roles. Phil Carter responds to this charge point-by-point and shows that it is based on an apalling amount of distortion and ignorance.
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# Posted 5:30 PM by Patrick Belton  

ROUND-UP OF THE NEWS ON THE ISTANBUL TRAGEDY: At the moment, Turkish officials are placing the number of causalties at 23 dead and 302 wounded. While the Iran-backed Great Eastern Islamic Raiders' Front, also known as IBDA-C (info, more), immediately claimed responsibility in a telephone call to the Anatolia News Agency (Guardian), Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul blamed international terrorist organizations for being principally responsible (Zaman, Turkey). Similarly, Israeli officials are saying that they had never heard of the group before Saturday, and are blaming Al Qaeda rather than Hezbullah (Haaretz), while Prof. Gabriel Ben-Dor of Haifa's National Security Studies Centre argues that indigenous Turkish Islamists could not have carried out the attacks unaided by external networks: "These were fairly sophisticated terrorist attacks, carried out almost simultaneously, that would have required quite a good deal of planning, intelligence, logistic support, and so forth," he said in an interview. (Jerusalem Post). Israel has sent Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom to Istanbul, as well as a police forensic unit. CNN reports on three arrests in connection with the bombings.

Turkey's Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Haleva said he had warned Turkish police before that car traffic posed a threat to the two synagogues (News 24, South Africa). Mossad had also passed warnings about threats to the two synagogues onto Turkish intelligence on two occasions in the preceding months. (AP) One blast, in Neve Shalom synagogue, took place during a Bar Mitzvah (Guardian). Reuters includes a history of the Sephardic community in Istanbul.

Eli malei rachamim sho-khein bam'romim, hammtzei m'nukhah n'khonah al kanfei hash'khinah.
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# Posted 5:27 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

COLLIN MAY IS BACK at Innocents Abroad. His first post is on the crisis of confidence that has emerged in France despite Marianne's apparent vindication in Iraq.
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# Posted 2:04 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

TRAGEDY IN ISTANBUL: Wherever our people lives, it is the target of vicious hatred. Our thoughts go out to the families of the dead and injured.

Of course, our thougths also go out to the families of the non-Jews killed and injured in the attack. Initial reports suggest that there were 14 passesrby and 6 synagogue-goers killed. In Istanbul, those passersbys were most probably Muslism. And so the irony of September 11th recurs: in an effort to slaughter the Zionists and their American allies, innocent Muslims lives are taken.
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# Posted 1:53 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WAITING FOR THE OTHER SHOE TO DROP: I just read the Weekly Standard article on the Saddam-Osama connection which Patrick mentioned earlier. I'd like to believe that such a connection existed, but for the moment I'm not buying it.

Something just seems wrong. Why has the information turned up now? Why would the White House sit on information that would vindicate its decision to invade Iraq? The Standard article says the information was compiled in response to a request by the Senate Intelligence Committee. Why the heck would the administration wait until the Senate showed an interest before doing some serious research on the Saddam-Osama connection? I thought that was the kind of research that they'd been doing all along.

Another set of concerns are raised by Matt Yglesias. The information in question is contained in a memo from Doug Feith's office at the Pentagon. Given Feith's connection to the controversial Office of Special Plans (OSP), one has to wonder. Even if you don't accept Matt's premise that the OSP is an operations center for partisan hacks intent on distorting the intelligence process, it is fair to ask why this memo didn't come from a source with greater public credibility.

In short, I think we are waiting for the other shoe to drop. My guess is that someone in the government feels very strongly about this report, and is trying to get the White House to stand behind it by indirectly going public. But if the case can't be made on its own merits within the government, then something may be very wrong. We'll find out exactly what that is when the Washington press corps gets a hold of the story and starts telling us far more than the Weekly Standard's source wants us to know.

PS: How convenient is it that this information is coming out now, at a moment when Howard Dean is threatening to wrap up the Democratic nomination? A proven Saddam-Al Qaeda link would blow his campaign out of the water.
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# Posted 1:04 PM by Patrick Belton  

MORE ON IRAQ-AL QAEDA COOPERATION: The Weekly Standard's website is down at the moment, so Little Green Footballs is mirroring a piece by Steve Hayes which details in great depth newly uncovered instances of alleged operational cooperation between Iraqi intelligence and Al Qaeda, beginning in 1990 and continuing through mid-March of this year. Definitely worth a read.
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# Posted 12:18 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

MOM FINDS OUT ABOUT BLOG! Oh no.
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# Posted 12:10 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

PNAC VS. BUSH: The issue is China.
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# Posted 12:03 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

FAIR AND BALANCED: Since the previous post was pretty harsh on JMM, I thought I'd link to one of the many good and informative posts on TPM. This one is about some CPA documents that fell (how exactly?) into Josh's hands. The documents make the case that the US would be better off curtailing its search for non-existent WMD in Iraq and focus instead on locating the scientists who worked for Saddam's WMD program but may now migrate to Syria or worse, Al Qaeda. While it's hard to know just how much effort should be put into the WMD search, it is certainly is worth tracking down the brains behind the WMD operation.
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Friday, November 14, 2003

# Posted 11:48 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

JOSH MARSHALL IN FOREIGN AFFAIRS: It looks like Generation X is taking over the foreign policy establishment. Too bad FA doesn't print author photos, otherwise Josh's oh-too-stylish headshot from the TPM website could have livened up the pages of that august publication. Anyhow, what's going on in is that FA has published Josh's review of Ivo Daalder and James Lindsay's "America Unbound", a mildly critical account of the Bush administration's foreign policy by a pair of scholars at the Brookings Institution.

While endorsing the standard multilateralist critique that Daalder and Lindsay advocate, Marshall takes them to task for underestimating the neo-con influence on Bush's foreign policy. As Marshall writes,
The "neocons," they say -- referring to them as "democratic imperialists" -- may be powerful at magazines such as The Weekly Standard and think tanks such as the American Enterprise Institute, but key movement figures such as Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz and Pentagon adviser Richard Perle actually missed out on the top appointments. Those plums went to people such as Cheney, Rice, and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who the authors claim are more properly classified as "assertive nationalists."
I think "assertive nationalists" is a pretty good way to describe them, with the exception of Rice, who is a dyed-in-the-wool realist. While Marshall shares that assessment of Cheney, Rumsfeld, et al., he counters that
The defining characteristic of the Bush administration's foreign policy, in fact, has been the way the neocons in and out of office have been able to win so many of the key battles -- if not on the first go-round, then on the second or the third...

At the Pentagon, for example, Rumsfeld may have played the key part in internal debates over defense transformation, but on foreign policy issues, his neocon lieutenants, Wolfowitz and Feith, were decisive, and managed to secure nearly total control of all aspects of policy surrounding the war and the subsequent occupation.
And what is it that differentiates a neo-conservative policy from an assertive nationalist one? Marshall's answer is that,
Although it is the sworn enemy of realism, neoconservatism has never been and is not now limited to one particular foreign policy school. It is a protean construct centering on a belief in the righteousness of American power, the wonder-working qualities of bold gestures, and an unwillingness to muddle through.
Righteous power? Bold gestures? That sounds like....assertive nationalism. According to the conventional wisdom on both sides of the aisle, what separates neo-conservatism from assertive nationalism is its hopeful vision of a global democratic revolution. Yet Marshall dismisses this distinction on the grounds that too many neo-conservatives showed too much sympathy for too many right-wing Third World dictators back in the 1980s.

That point is a fair one. Yet it completely ignores the transformation -- better, purification -- of neo-conservatism that began during Reagan's second term and accelerated during the aftermath of the Cold War. Moreover, it prevents Marshall from emphasizing the best evidence for his theory of neo-con dominance, i.e. the ideologically-charged occupation of Iraq.

Strangely, Marshall insists on
the essential continuity of the administration's policy before and after September 11, 2001. The attacks on that day allowed President Bush to refashion American foreign policy in a far bolder and more audacious fashion than otherwise would have been possible, the authors argue, but in fact the administration's essential goals, premises, and assumptions changed very little.
But what about the pronounced aversion to nation-building that defined Bush's foreign policy on the campaign trail? Surely the simplest explanation for his about face on this issue is the influence of the neo-conservatives.

Ultimately, Marshall's hands are tied by his unwillingness to acknowledge that intellectually dishonest neo-conservatives could be the driving force behind a morally progressive international agenda such as global democracy promotion. While there is no direct evidence of this in Marshall's review of America Unbound, it is a point that will be familiar to those who have read "Practive to Deceive" Marshall's anti-neo-con polemic in the Washington Monthly or to those who visit his website on a regular basis.

When it comes down it, Marshall is right that the neo-cons credibility is on the line in Iraq and that its success or failure will have a tremendous impact on their reputation. Yet that suggestion only makes sense if one gives the neo-cons credit for giving the occupation of Iraq its moral foundation, regardless of whether the implementation of their vision was competent enough to ensure its fruition.
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# Posted 10:55 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WHO IS SUSAN SACHS? All I know is that she won't be working at the NYT much longer if she keeps writing such ridiculously optimistic stories about Baghdad like this one. It's about the new major crimes unit of the Baghdad police and reads like a 1950s profile of J. Edgar Hoover's righteous crusade against Communists. And it's supposed to be a news story.

Apparently, the headline writers think Sachs has to be reined in, since they took her 99% positive story and titled it "Joy, and Jeers, as New Police Patrol Baghdad." The jeer referred to in the title comes from one citizen who asks the new Baghdad cops, "What took you so long?" Of course, that is just about the last question anyone would ask when Saddam's uniformed thugs came knocking at the door. But why should OxBlog point that out when Sachs does it herself?! As she writes,
Such a happy scene would have been unimaginable a year ago. The Iraqi police force was as tainted as the rest of Saddam Hussein's security forces, feared for its casual brutality and powers to spy, residents said.
It can't be long before she's working for Fox.
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# Posted 10:43 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

ENTERTAINMENT MEDIA BIAS: I don't usually read movie reviews, but since I'm a really big Russell Crowe fan, I thought I'd see what the WaPo has to say about Master & Commander. According to Desson Howe, the film
isn't just a fabulous seagoing spectacle. It's one for the ages. Not only does Peter Weir's film give you an atmospheric feel for the agony and ecstasy of early 19th-century sea warfare, it's a rollicking good story.
On the other hand, Stephen Hunter says the film
feels weirdly overstuffed, as stories keep stumbling into and over one another or are buried beneath the arrival of other stories. The worst example is the film's narrative framework...
While film reviews are obviously a matter of taste, it's a little strange to hear two-highly paid professionals disagree about virtually every aspect of a film (except the opening battle sequence, which they both think is great.)

Sadly, I must admit that my impulse is to distrust the positive review. In other words, I'm an optimist when it comes to Iraq, but not when it comes to Hollywood. There is something of the beret-clad art-house critic in me, so I tend to believe that there really is such a thing as taste in film and that most of what comes out of Hollywood is recycled trash.

On the other hand, I love Jet Li and Jackie Chan and all sorts of far-out action flicks that don't pretend to offer you anything but a good time. So while I tend to trust bad movie reviews, I was also taught at a young age how the permanent presence of a stick in most film critics' hindquarters (especially at the NYT, my adolescent paper of choice) means that they will poo-poo any film which offer its viewers a good time rather than a sobering intellectual odyssey.

Speaking of which, what does the NYT have to say about Master & Commander? According to A.O. Scott,
This stupendously entertaining movie, directed by Peter Weir and adapted from two of the novels in Patrick O'Brian's 20-volume series on Aubrey's naval exploits, celebrates an idea of England that might have seemed a bit corny even in 1805, when the action takes place.
Hmmm, so you start out thinking it's a compliment but then it turns out to be somewhat backhanded. Later on, Scott tells us that
The Napoleonic wars that followed the French Revolution gave birth, among other things, to British conservatism, and "Master and Commander," making no concessions to modern, egalitarian sensibilities, is among the most thoroughly and proudly conservative movies ever made. It imagines the Surprise as a coherent society in which stability is underwritten by custom and every man knows his duty and his place. I would not have been surprised to see Edmund Burke's name in the credits.
So is this a good thing or a bad thing? Burke: Intellectual and European. But also conservative. Cleverly, Scott also points out that the date of the action in the film has been moved back a few years from 1812 to avoid the unpleasant fact that at the time, the Anglo-American special relationship was not all that special. At least they don't let Krugman do movie reviews...
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# Posted 5:28 AM by Patrick Belton  

SOME INTERESTING READING TO GO WITH YOUR COFFEE: And you can even read these if you don't drink coffee. In the Middle East, Sharon indicated he would meet with Palestinian PM Qurei, though he may backtrack now that Arafat has triumphed in a struggle with Qurei over control of the Palestinian security apparatus. Hezbollah leader Sheikh Nasrallah is negotiating with a German intermediary over a prisoner exchange with Israel. Some commentators argue that the prisoner swap will elevate Hezbollah's stature in Lebanon at a time it has been declining. And Bremer has been dispatched back to Iraq with instructions to accelerate the political transition to self-governance, as Operation Iron Hammer continues.

Central Asia Analyst has an interesting analysis of Uzbekistan's repression of its outlawed opposition parties (which the analyst argues has grown milder since the U.S. presence began; the opposition parties enjoy widespread domestic support). The site also analyzes Kyrgyzstan's antiterrorist units and their commander's strategy of seeking security assistance from any neighbor who would offer it. Georgian parliamentary elections drew stunning participation, and represented a strong rebuke for the governing party. In the Moscow Times, India is setting up bases in Tajikistan.

In the Americas, Columbia's AUC is beginning to disarm, unrest brews in the Dominican Republic, and Mexico is complaining of a relationship of "convenience and subordination" with its northern neighbor on the eve of the cabinet-level Binational Commission's meeting. (And incidentally, joining us later in the afternoon in the OxBlog studios will be our ex-girlfriends, to speak further on this theme of relationships of convenience and brutal subordination.)

In East Asia, reporting has centered on China's sexual revolution (the most shocking finding: "half of the urban males in their thirties say they have had more than one sexual partner." ed: oooooooh. half of urban males in graduate school haven't had more than one sexual partner), and the party is making limited gains in attempting to coopt Chinese entrepreneurs. China is also indicating it will shortly take up a more hawkish policy toward Taiwan. (And in OxBlog's consular affairs department, check your credit card receipts next time you're in Hong Kong.)
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# Posted 2:26 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

MISERY LOVES COMPANY: If things in Iraq really do go all pear-shaped, then I'll probably give Mike O'Hanlon a call so we can commiserate about the sad plight of being failed optimists.
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# Posted 2:13 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE MILITARY FRONT: Phil Carter surveys the situation on the ground in Iraq. Phil also has insightful comments on the nature of American heroism and profound concerns about the future of the Army reserve.
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# Posted 1:52 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

BITTER ANTI-FRENCH INVECTIVE: Plus some good thoughts from Greg Djerejian about the prospect for elections with the Ba'athist insurgency still raging.
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Thursday, November 13, 2003

# Posted 7:58 PM by Patrick Belton  

WE'RE ALL MALE: At least according to the internet Gender Genie. Following Glenn and Andrew, I visited said Genie today to judge by my use of definite articles and conjunctions whether I wrote in a way more in keeping with male or female writers. I write like a guy; okay, no huge surprise there. Then I tried running through an op-ed piece by Rachel in the WaPo; somewhat surprisingly, the Genie thought she was a guy as well. So then, I tried running through the algorithm the most recent online writing of several female friends, prominent bloggers, and columnists - Virginia Postrel (whose picture is on her blog; she clearly isn't a guy), YaleDiva, Maureen Dowd, and Anne-Marie Slaughter (as well as a post by Rachel on Thucidydes). This sample included some variance in ideology and prose style. And, I don't mean to use a phrase from back in high school here, but - it was a total sausage fest. Every single one of these women writers came up as male. So either the algorithm's not spectacularly powerful (i.e., "guess male"), or perhaps the concept that the gender of an author can be inferred from a text needs revisiting. But given that we're all guys here, I figure I might as well stick with Rachel over Maureen. (Though I guess I'll probably be needing one of Eugene's pills....)
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# Posted 6:44 PM by Patrick Belton  

WORTH READING TODAY: TNR's editors are effusive in praise of Bush's democratization speech: "It was a radical speech, and for once the radicalism of this administration did not seem small or sectarian. It contained arguments, not slogans; a sense of history, not a sense of politics. It was the credo of an idealist, but there was realism in it, too. The interesting question is whether the president grasps that the moral and strategic course that he set at NED may be at odds with the requirements of his own reelection. For Bush's international campaign is not exactly what Bush's domestic campaign has ordered." Elsewhere in the blogosphere, it's Josh Marshall's blogiversary.
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# Posted 5:22 PM by Patrick Belton  

ALCOHOL, ISRAELI ESCORTS, AND PLAGUES OF LOCUSTS: Heck, I can't wait to see who gets sent here from google today....
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# Posted 5:18 PM by Patrick Belton  

STORM OVER THE ATLANTIC (BUT INSIDE THERE'S PORT AND GOOD CONVERSATION): The Oxford chapter of our foreign policy discussion group took up Euro-American relations last night. This is what people had to say.
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# Posted 3:02 PM by Patrick Belton  

SO INSTEAD, DO THIS: It's official - Guinness is good for you! This courtesy of our good friend Josh Cherniss:
The old advertising slogan "Guinness is Good for You" may be true after all, according to researchers.

A pint of the black stuff a day may work as well as an aspirin to prevent heart clots that raise the risk of heart attacks.

Drinking lager does not yield the same benefits, experts from Wisconsin University told a conference in the US.(BBC)
Well...sláinte - to your health - which seems appropriate!
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# Posted 8:13 AM by Patrick Belton  

HERE'S ONE MORE good reason not to go see hookers. Particularly if you live in a fairly small country.
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Wednesday, November 12, 2003

# Posted 11:52 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

FREE TRADE is not on the Bush agenda.
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# Posted 11:45 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WALKING A FINE LINE: NYU law prof Noah Feldman takes a careful look at the conflict between Islamic and democratic provisions in the new Afghan constitution.
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# Posted 11:41 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

JUST ANOTHER BRICK IN THE WALL: According to a new UN report, the wall that Israel is constructing between itself and the Palestinians will put 15% of the West Bank on the Israeli side of the barrier. While Israeli spokesmen are probably right that the 15% figure is an exaggeration -- not to mention the UN's estimate that the barrier will disrupt the lives of 600,000 Palestinians -- I think it is safe to say that a good bit of the West Bank will wind up on the Israeli side of the fence.

(NB: I have no evidence that the UN is exaggerating. But it has chosen sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict no less firmly than the United States has.)

Now, Israelis officials have insisted repeatedly that the wall is not a political barrier and would not affect the status of land on either side. Even so, it seems clear that neither individual Palestinians nor the Palestinian authority will exercise any effective control over land on the Israeli side. And that may be a good thing.

For the moment, Israel has very little new to offer the Palestinians at the negotiating table. While I am firmly of the opinion that the Israelis offered more than enough at Taba and that Arafat's rejection of that offer was criminal, I recognize that something will have to change for negotiations to work.

As it happens, President Arafat is calling for negotiations again, now that he has installed another Prime Minister who controls neither the Cabinet nor the security forces. Perhaps if Arafat recognized that the wall had cut off some of his precious West Bank, he will try to get it back by actually doing something about suicide bombings.

Of course, the chances of that sort of thing working aren't high. On the other hand, waiting for a plan with a good chance of success would mean waiting indefinitely. (Or until the Palestinian Authority get serious about internal democratic reforms. In other words, indefinitely.)
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# Posted 11:20 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE FAINTEST OF SILVER LININGS: For the first time in six months, the news coming out of Iraq has given me that bad feeling in my gut. Above all, I am dismayed by the apparent conclusions of a top secret CIA report which asserts that the people of Iraq are losing faith in America's commitment to stay the course, thus creating a more secure base of support for the Ba'athist insurgency.

Departing from convention, Paul Bremer explicitly endorsed the CIA report, which was the apparent cause of his sudden decision to return to Washington for consultation. It was during those consultations that Bremer and the Bush administration principals decided to schedule Iraq's first national elections for early to mid-2004, rather than the end of the year. Rather than waiting for the emergence of a constitution that would govern the electoral proces, the government elected early next year will have a mandate to define the constitutional drafting process.

According to the WaPo,
Th[is] decision represents a major shift in U.S. political strategy. Mirroring the U.S. military strategy of "Iraqification," Washington now wants to hand over as much responsibility for the political process as is feasible, as fast as it is feasible.
When you read something like that, your gut says that the Administration is getting ready to cut and run. I don't believe that just yet, but the prospect is going to gnaw at me.

As Kevin Drum and Matt Yglesias have been quick to point out, Bill Kristol & Robert Kagan have already decided that the Bush Administration won't match its soaring democratic rhetoric with a real commitment on the ground. The development that most concerns them is the Pentagon's mad rush to train Iraqi security forces without any apparent concern for their preparedness, either militarily or politically. As I said a few days ago, that is a concern with which I wholeheartedly agree.

(NB: I fully expect an I-told-you-so post from Matt Yglesias in response to this post, since he's already put one up in response to Josh's post on the Italian bombing earlier today.)

Also relevant right now are speculations that electoral motives are behind George Bush's decision to rush the political transition in Iraq. The timeline is certainly plausible. Elections at mid-year make him look good and keep the Democrats quiet during the campaign. Then if Bush wins, he has a free hand to either declare victory and withdraw or use his new mandate to fulfill his democratic pledge.

In the meantime, I would hope that the Kristol/Kagan editorial puts Bush on notice that he may begin losing support on his own side of the aisle if he doesn't demonstrate a concrete commitment to building democracy in Iraq. While I don't think that editorials (even in the Weekly Standard) have all that much effect on this White House's foreign policy, Kristol/Kagan may get a lot of nods on Capitol Hill, enough to force the administration to pay attention.

Finally, the silver lining. The NYT reports that
Elections have been demanded by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq's most influential Shiite religious leader. Experts assume that Shiites, who predominate in Iraq, would win a commanding majority of seats in any election.

Ayatollah Sistani's demand stirred fears among some American officials that an elected constitution-writing body might write a theocratic charter that enshrined Islam as a state religion and marginalized the Sunni minority, potentially aggravating the violent rebellion of remnants loyal to Saddam Hussein.
Now that doesn't sound like good news. Even if fears of an elected Shi'ite theocracy are often exaggerated, they should be on the table. Still, I find Sistani's demands encouraging. Would he be that forceful if he didn't see elections as a legitimate political institution, rather than a one-shot grab for power?

Admittedly, Sistani has a motive to be cynical. The real question is, what will happen if Paul Bremer draws him out on his approach to democracy? Is Sistani willing to say not just that he demands elections now, but that elections -- real elections for real power -- must be a permanent feature of Iraqi political life? If yes, that would have a very powerful impact on Iraq's Shi'ite community, as well as credibly signaling to the United States that the Shi'ite clergy have an appreciation of democratic politics far richer than a short-sighted insistence on "one man, one vote, one time."


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# Posted 7:59 PM by Patrick Belton  

LETTER FROM KABUL: OxBlog's Afghanistan bureau chief is likely the only Evangelical in the world to be keeping Ramadan fasts at the moment. With the extra time he's saved by not eating (and also by not brushing his teeth), he's written us this:
One of the many ways for bored expats driving around Kabul to pass their time is to speculate about which of the foreign restaurants are actually brothels. All new restaurants immediately fall under suspicion, especially those attached to new guesthouses. Chinese restaurants draw a wildly disproportionate share of hearsay. I've heard rumors from several sources about the curtained Croatian place across the street -- including from my housemates, who have managed not to eat there in the entire year they've lived on Taimani Street. My disappointment at discovering these particular rumors to be false was more than outweighed by discovering what is almost certainly the best calamari in Kabul. The welcoming yet slightly dictatorial proprietress (probably the inspiration for many of the rumors) starts off every table with a tray of dough balls fried according to an old Dalmatian recipe; and her chocolate walnut crepes are the best dessert I've had in this town.

I've had a number of good chats about ISAF, the King, and the future of Afghanistan over beers and Zadar Authentic Croatian Cuisine during the last week, but I think I'll wait and try to put my impressions of Afghan politics and economics into one big package next week. (Knowing that not everyone I send these updates to will be interested in those impressions, I'll send that one out only to known foreign affairs junkies, Oxbloggers, and readers of The Economist. Plus anyone who asks for it). Instead, this dispatch will be about adventure, appalling recklessness, and really good views. I'll thank you all not to forward it to my mother.

The city of Kabul is divided by a pair of mountains, Asmayi and Sherdarwaza. The Kabul River trickles through the ravine between the two, and the city runs a surprising way up their arid, craggy slopes. A drivable road leads up to the summit of Asmayi, which bristles with TV and radio antennae. The higher mountain, Sherdarwaza, is the anchor of Old Kabul -- a tight-packed, mostly treeless maze of small brick and stone houses spreading out from the mountain's skirts. On the eastern slopes is Shohadayi Salehin, the largest cemetery in a city full of graves. There are no roads or antennae atop Sherdarwaza; instead, the thousand year-old wall of the old city runs along the serrated summit ridge, from an imposingly dilapidated British fort on one end to the abrupt plunge to the Kabul River on the other.

When I told the gang at Zadar that I was planning to hike the length of the boundary wall, their first response was, "Aren't there landmines up there?" In all-too-recent memory, the twin mountains of Kabul were the poles of the mujahidin's civil war, with Ahmad Shah Massoud's faction dug in on Asmayi and Gulbuddin Hekmetyar fortifying Sherdarwaza. They shelled each other and the streets of Kabul below until Hekmetyar was finally forced to retreat. Like much of Afghanistan, the Kabul mountains are plagued with mines and rumors of mines. "I dunno if I've ever seen anyone grazing sheep up there," said one refugee worker doubtfully. But I'd heard other rumors that people had hiked the wall end to end, and I figured we'd stick to well-maintained trails, keep our eyes open, and ask the locals to steer us clear of any particularly dangerous slopes.

So on Friday morning, I arrived at the Kabul River side of the mountain with my grizzled Alaskan co-worker Ray and our gruff, long-suffering Afghan driver Basyir. Basyir had proposed that we drive up one of the foothills of Sherdarwaza and hike the relatively gradual slope up to where it intercepts the wall; but Ray was
dead-set on following every inch of the wall, which meant starting at the foot of the ravine and heading straight up. "It's like sheep hunting in Alaska," Ray said cheerfully. "The cliffs always look impossible from a distance, but when you get there, you realize you can haul yourself up." I thought he had the right idea. "Course, getting back down with the sheep again can be a little tricky," he added a few minutes later, but I didn't find that too upsetting.

The village headman told us that a couple Westerners had climbed up to the base of the old wall, but we were the first he knew of to try hiking all the way up. He also assured us, to our relief, that there were no mines along the wall. That first ascent was a good scramble, with a little light rock climbing and much vertigo. Basyir began to cough heavily -- I can't imagine that spending your work day on the Kabul roads does anything good for your lungs -- and eventually drifted away to take a gentler path up. Ray went straight for the wall, climbing up thousand-year old, eroding adobe. I stuck with the steep rocks just to the left of the wall. The lower slope of Sherdarwaza was densely inhabited, with sturdy mud houses built on tall stone terraces; as the hill grew steeper, the houses fell away, save for a scattering of small stone buildings balanced on rocky outcrops. We quickly left the houses behind, climbing a sheer, jagged gorge that the locals clearly deemed most useful as a toilet. Spent 22mm shells clattered underfoot, and Ray once beckoned me over to inspect the bones he'd found half-buried in the wall, but I declined.

Basyir rejoined us at the crest of the first ridge, where the wall leveled out and began a more gradual ascent to the peak. Now above the smogline, we could see the snow-capped Paghman Range to the west, which Basyir identified as his ancestral home. To the north was central Kabul, barely visible through the thick, brown morning haze (though as we continued to hike, much of the smog burned off, and by noon our view over the city was reasonably clear). Thistles bloomed all along the rocky hillside. For a couple hundred yards the wall was merely a mound of toppled earth and stone. "Massoud did this," Basyir explained, pointing across the ravine to Asmayi. "To chase out Gulbuddin. The artillery was set up there, and there."

As we approached the summit ridge, the wall sprang up again, with occasional holes and craters. Soon we could clearly see the fortifications at the top. At this point, however, we also noticed that there were three young men running up the hill after us. Ray asked Basyir to find out what they wanted, and strode boldly onward toward the summit. I hung back a bit, and thus was close enough to hear Basyir rather matter-of-factly say, "Mines?" I looked up and saw Ray about to climb into the fortifications at the summit. Running up to where he was standing, I said, "Ray, I think I heard them say..."

"Mine!" one of the young men yelled as he crested the wall below us, and illustrated his point with an explosive noise and gesture. Basyir craned his neck to face us and clarified helpfully: "He says there are mines up there." I froze. Ray looked around rather doubtfully, then continued at a slow, deliberate pace in the direction he'd been going. This elicited a frantic burst of Dari from the three young men; I began walking back down, and Ray was finally convinced to follow. Our benefactors informed us that there were mines everywhere up here, and that a man had been killed by on just a few months before. Ray tried to convince them that there were only a few mines, and that we would be perfectly safe if we just stayed to the main trails. The young men understandably felt that they knew better than Ray on this point.

At length, one of them tentatively led us up to the summit fortifications, with glorious views on all sides. Old machine-gun nests were littered with fallen stones, shells, and (a little incongruously) kite string. The old wall ran off along the summit ridge to the southeast; a smaller, parallel wall and ditch had been constructed by Gulbuddin's men during the war. We realized that the highest peak was a short ways farther along the ridge, and was even more heavily fortified than the one on which we stood. As we watched, a small silhouette walked up to that peak from the far side of the mountain.

This was more than enough to convince Ray that we could go there too. He interrogated the young men (by way of Basyir) as to whether we could safely take the large, clear trail that ran some ways downhill of the fortifications to the east. They seemed to sort of agree that we could maybe do so, and Ray forged ahead, me and Basyir in reluctant train. About three minutes later, Ray's eyes began to wander back to the wall; it was clear that the magnetism that had drawn him back on the cliff was still in full effect. "I think we should try to stay closer to the wall," Ray said decisively. "Try not to step on any loose piles of rock." And he stepped off the path -- behind us, the three young men threw up their hands and stalked away -- and began moving in the direction of the old wall. I started to protest, then realized that if I let him get more than a few steps ahead, I would lose track of exactly where he'd put his feet. "You figure if they mine anyplace, it'll be the area right in front of the wall," Ray commented as we walked gingerly onward. "So we should try to get in between the two walls. We'll be safe if we walk on the wall." This was wildly unnerving as we walked ever closer to the fortifications, from the outside. I tried to recall if I'd ever heard of Afghans using the mines with timers set to explode when the _second_ guy in line stepped on them.

We made it safely to the low wall built by the mujahidin -- Basyir and I exhaled windily -- and hiked on to the peak, hopping across the ditch once or twice to the ancient boundary wall to look down into West Kabul. To our surprise, the fortifications on the peak were inhabited. A bunch of Afghan soldiers emerged from a dugout to look at us with some curiosity. They had a well-oiled Russian 22mm gun on a tripod, a fence of old shells and mortar casings, and a very unfriendly off-white dog. We chatted with them for a while, and they reassured us that the trails were in fact safe, and that all the mines were on the West Kabul side of the mountain. We surveyed the hills off to the south, and were told where the minefields were there as well. The views were amazing, and I had a sudden vision of taking a few soldiers out to mark out "Mine-Free" hiking trails for tourists -- once the tourists start coming, anyway.

The downhill hike was terrific, too -- the battlements of the old wall are essentially intact, and as you walk down them you can peer out through the old arrow slits into the valley below. The great cemetery is down there, as is Kabul's largest lake (completely dry now, after the five year drought). On the other side, you can see and hear the whole old city of Kabul, with the laughter of children, the clangor of metalsmiths, and the chanting from the Shi'ite mosque reverberating up through the clear, dry air. About halfway down Sherdarwaza, the old boundary wall finally collapses into a mound again, with a single pillar of brick and stone rising like a crooked finger from the last rampart. When you think of the effort it must have taken to build so long a wall to the peak of the highest mountain in Kabul -- much of the stone and all the water carried up from the valley below -- it's nothing short of astonishing. Far below, people today are quarrying the foundations of the wall for granite for their homes.

In the shelter of some large rocks, we came across a group of gamblers, surreptitiously crouching in a ring around a stack of crumpled afghani notes and tattered playing cards. They cheerfully hailed us in Dari, then Urdu, then broken English. "They hide out here because the police will stop their games otherwise," Basyir explained. "Yes, this gambling is illegal. It is a bad use of money." I asked whether this was really the best place for the gamblers to hide out, with soldiers hiking up the ridge every day. "Oh, the soldiers will not stop them," Basyir laughed. "They do not care. Only the police."

We descended at last to the old British fort, Bala Hasar, where the Uzbek warlord Rashid Dostum holed up during the civil war. By this point, Basyir's enthusiasm for pointing out the various sights of Kabul was at its peak; so after dropping off Ray at the office, he drove me across town to Bagh-i-Bala, the hilltop palace built by Amir Abdurrahman a century or so ago. It's a small and now slightly shabby building, closed and shuttered when we were there, and its grounds have suffered greatly from the drought and war. There used to be countless grapevines here, Basyir informed me, and fruit trees. There are still several scattered pines -- "very old trees" -- but most of the rest have dried up. We stood looking over the empty swimming pool (built in the 70s to replace the wading pool of Abdurrahman), and the rehabilitated but still dry irrigation channels dug in the newly raked gardens. "When I was a young man," Basyir said gruffly, "there were flowers everywhere here. And many trees. It was very beautiful."

It still is.
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# Posted 6:49 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SOUTHERN EXPOSURE is the name of a new group blog focusing on Latin America. It came to my attention thanks to Randy Paul, creator of the very good one-man Latin American blog, Beautiful Horizons. At the moment, SE has good posts up on Brazil reaction to the WTO ruling against US steel tariffs, the Guatemalan elections, and the turmoil in the Bolivia (as well as its relationship to events in Venezuela.)

While it is hard to get bloggers -- let alone most Americans -- interested in Latin America these days, I think Randy does a great job of making the region interesting. While my own posting will probably stay focused the occupation of Iraq and the war on terror, I know that Randy -- and now SE -- is there when I need informed commentary on a region whose politics are continually distorted by the mainstream media.
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# Posted 6:33 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SCOTS CONSPIRACY THEORISTS: JR points to this mind-bogglingly bizarre investigative report in Scotland's Sunday Herald. In a new twist on the Mossad-was-responsible-for-9/11 shtick, the report suggests that Israel was aware that Al Qaeda had something big in the works but decided to keep quiet in the expectation that an attack on American citizens would generate sympathy for Israel.

According to the Sunday Herald's homepage, it's investigation has "provoked an international storm". If you follow the link on those words, you get to another page listing the eminent news organizations that have picked up on the story, including The Palestine Chronicle, Indymedia, Antiwar.com, and Sullywatch.

There are two reputable organizations on the list, however: ABC News and New York's Jewish weekly, the Forward. While neither one substantiates any of the ridiculous suggestions made by the Herald, there was an interesting story behind the hype.

It turns out that the FBI picked up five Israelis on the afternoon of September 11th, thanks to a tip from a New Jersey housewife who saw the men acting strangely and filming the burning towers. When arrested, one of the men had thousands of dollars of cash in his sock, while one of the others had mutliple passports. Most ominously, one of the men had a boxcutter.

Upon further investigation, it turned out that the moving company the five men worked for was a front, probably for the Mossad. In custody, the men were subjected to repeated lie detector tests.

According to the Forward, the real story seems to be that the five men were Israeli intelligence agents spying on radical Muslims in the United States. Since Israel (and other US allies) are supposed to coordinate such activities with the US government, a thorough investigation had to be conducted.

Given that it will be another fifty years before we know all the details of the case, it simply won't be possible to disabuse conspiracy theorists of their more bizarre notions. Then again, it is that sort of undisprovability that it is the bread-and-butter of true conspiracy theorists.

UPDATE: According to a Scots journalist,
The Sunday Herald is a genuinely curious newspaper - it's increasingly red-green and anti-American for one thing - but even by its standards this was an extraordinary piece. One thing woth noting is that within Scottish journalism circles the author of this article, Neil McKay, is notoriously flaky (the editor Andrew Jaspan also gets a little too carried away on occasion). There are, I know for a fact, a number of editors in Scotland who would never ever even briefly consider employing him. He has a record of extravagant "scoops" that subsequently are revealed to be much, much less than they seem.
Full disclosure: The author of this comment works for one of the Herald's rivals.
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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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