OxBlog

Wednesday, March 31, 2004

# Posted 7:31 PM by Patrick Belton  

ATROCIOUS, AND SAD: I don't really have much to say, apart from that I am aghast, about the tragic deaths and mutilation of four American contractors today in the Sunni Triangle. Phil Carter is covering the coverage quite well.
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# Posted 9:33 AM by Patrick Belton  

THE ALWAYS EXCELLENT EURASIANET has more on Uzbekistan. Their reporter makes several points: first, a new group other than Hizb ut-Tahrir or the IMU may have been responsible for the attacks, given their modus operandi and presence in Bukhara; second, Uzbekistan's government and security services are tremendously unpopular - the latter being a daily shake-down presence in the nation's bazaars - making popular discontent high and clearing the way for a new anti-government organization; third, various reports have connected the attacks' timing with Novruz or the brutal beating to death of an elderly Bukharan man at Tashkent's Chorsu bazaar by police March 28.

For additional insightful coverage elsewhere, see The Argus, Economist, and Agonist.
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# Posted 2:25 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

OPEN SOURCE INTELLIGENCE: Kevin Drum has been reading the stuff we all could read but don't bother with. For example, he's actually read all of Richard Clarke's book and provides some insights into Clarke's character that I haven't seen elsewhere. Kevin has also taken a look at what people were saying about Osama bin Laden before 9/11. Interesting stuff.
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# Posted 1:44 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

FUN WITH ZIP CODES: Find out who you and your neighbors are. As a sometime resident of 10012, 20015 and 02139 it seems that I have never even come close to seeing the other side of the tracks. (Well, duh.) Perhaps that's why the five weeks I spent living in 78130 were such an eye opener.
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# Posted 1:25 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

BUSH'S APPROVAL RATING: If you put together three years of polling results, things look pretty bad for the President. However, if neither of these compilations controls for either the post-9/11 rally effect or the state of the economy. Thus, while Crooked Timber and CalPundit [I just can't refer to Kevin as "Political Animal" -- ed.] suggest otherwise, I'm not sure these graphs do much to change the established conventional wisdom that Bush's re-election will depend on America's GDP growth and unemployment rates.
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# Posted 1:13 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

I DIDN'T DO NUTHIN'! A front page article in this morning's WaPo asserts uncritically that
Attacks on John F. Kerry by President Bush and Vice President Cheney, backed by millions of dollars in negative ads, have wiped out the narrow lead Kerry enjoyed at the beginning of the month and damaged his public image.
Unsurprisingly, correspondent Dan Balz fails to explore the possibility that there may actualy be substantive reasons for this change in public opinion. Now, the article does point out that most Americans don't know all that much about Kerry. Perhaps those who have begun to learn more don't like what they've found.

But how about the even more plausible hypothesis that the cause of Kerry's deceleration in the polls is not the Bush campaign but the nation media. The only one in Balz's article who comes close to suggesting that the media might have something to do with it is an administration spokesman:
"For six months, it was a one-way conversation, and then you had the final five or six weeks when Kerry was winning primaries that improved his image," said Bush senior strategist Matthew Dowd. "Right after March 3, a dialogue started about who is or who isn't John Kerry, and the president started advocating for himself. I think we're better positioned from that and Senator Kerry is worse positioned."
Leaving aside Dowd's partisan phrasing, it's hard to ignore the fact that the end of the primary season brought an end to daily coverage in which news stories recounted all of the Democratic candidates' attacks on President Bush. Then, once tapped for the nomination, Kerry became the subject of the sort of intense scrutiny that the media had only directed toward Howard Dean while the campaign was on.

Unsurprisinlgy, there emerged a raft of articles that examined with great seriousness whether or not John Kerry was an inveterate flip-flopper. While such articles didn't make Kerry look all that bad, they made his flaws into credible subjects of public debate. Thus, Dan Balz may want to consider that that it is the idiosyncrasies of his own profession and not the Bush war chest that are responsible for John Kerry's reversal in the polls. (And just imagine how bad things might have gotten for Kerry if the media hadn't done so much to build up Richard Clarke.)
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# Posted 12:54 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

RICE TO TESTIFY BEFORE 9/11 COMMISSION: And she damn well should. While there are strong arguments to be made in favor of executive privilege, it is hypocritical for Ms. Rice to play the role of lead attack dog in the White House's Clarke-bashing but refuse to testify under oath.

In addition to being forced to testify, Rice is getting raked over the coals by the media. The NYT article on Rice's forthcoming testimony (as well as a companion news analysis essay) suggests none too gently that Condi has told so many lies that she will have no choice to fess up when under oath. Interestingly, neither of the NYT articles has anything positive to say about Richard Clarke. The same goes for the WaPo's articles on Rice's testimony and the White House's selective declassification of sensitive documents. This suggests that the WaPo's Friday climb down from its effusive praise of Clarke was not an accident.

The lesson to be taken away from all this is that the Bush administration is now suffering more for its incompetent and dishonest effort to attack Richard Clarke than from the substance of Clarke's allegations. The failure of the administration to recognize that it had a strong case on the merits and its reliance instead on character assassination only adds to its reputation as an organization that won't the facts get in the way of its politics.
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# Posted 12:37 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

STOP BEING SO DAMN TOLERANT! If Iraq's Shi'ite and Sunni Muslims keep this up, all of the experts predicting the outbreak of a civil war will have a lot of egg on their collective face. The WaPo reports that
The attacks [on Muslim clerics], numbering more than a dozen over a two-week period this month, have been answered with resolute declarations of unity from leading Shiite and Sunni clerics, who meet regularly to devise a joint strategy for maintaining calm. Adamant in refusing to blame the rival branch of Islam, the religious leaders are instructing preachers of Friday sermons to assure worshipers that the attacks are being carried out by terrorists and shadowy foreign elements intent on provoking a civil war...

"The situation has deteriorated with the approach of the handover of power to the Iraqis," said Sheik Nazam Khalaf Zaidi, a pillow cushioning a hand wounded in a March 11 assassination attempt that killed two of his relatives riding in the same car. "God willing, there will be no civil war. I said the same words as I was carrying the coffins of my son and my son-in-law."

"There is a plot for sectarian war in Iraq," said Abdulsattar Abduljabbar, a senior official of the Association of Muslim Scholars, the most prominent organization of Sunni clerics. "We receive Shiite delegates in our office and we visit Shiite clerics in their office. There are no conflicts that could lead to fighting -- yet."...

In cosmopolitan Baghdad, at least, [Iraqi' feelings still tend to be as gentle as the hand that a Shiite shopkeeper lays on the shoulder of the Sunni standing beside him. "He is my friend," the shop owner said. Friends josh one another about rites whose public practice incites bloodshed in some other countries, such as Pakistan. Most important, Iraqis say, marriages between Sunni and Shiite are commonplace, even in deeply religious families. Yet in recent months, the blending of politics and religion has exposed latent tensions...

The most powerful political figure in Iraq today, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, exemplifies the delicacy. The senior Shiite cleric, who met with Sunni leaders last Tuesday to address the sectarian issue, has declared that Iraq's Shiites must protect all Sunni mosques. At the same time, he instructed Shiite imams to circulate petitions and make sermons urging changes in Iraq's interim constitution, which he fears will dilute Shiite power...
Now, there still are a lot of very serious problems in Iraq. For a summary thereof, take a look at this scathing WaPo editorial. However, Sunni-Shi'ite cooperation may aid the work of UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, whom Kofi Annan has dispatched to help organize a transitional government. Of course, the political reconstruction of Iraq won't end on June 30, which is why the Bush administration ought to be very careful about deciding on a replacement for Paul Bremer. Personally, I think Bill Clinton might be the one for the job. He could feel the Iraqis' pain but wouldn't have much of a chance to feel the Iraqis' women...
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# Posted 12:16 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

IT'S BECAUSE, UM, WELL, UH...Richard Cohen asks why the UN rushes to condemn Israel for killing terrorists while doing nothing to condemn Palestinian efforts to recruit children as suicide bombers.
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Tuesday, March 30, 2004

# Posted 4:43 PM by Patrick Belton  

AFTER 125 YEARS, a Bolivian-Chilean border dispute heats up again.

UPDATE: Beautiful Horizons has more.
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# Posted 4:39 PM by Patrick Belton  

AEI'S RADEK SIKORSKI argues in the National Interest that trans-Atlantic defence ties are still a good thing.
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# Posted 1:46 PM by Patrick Belton  

IN OTHER TERRORISM NEWS, there are advantages to having all your adversaries be suicide bombers,
Uzbekistan says 20 suspected militants have blown themselves up during a fierce gun battle with special forces in the capital, Tashkent.

After several hours of armed exchanges, there was an explosion inside the building, followed by silence.

An interior ministry statement read out on television said 20 militants blew themselves up with home-made explosives after being surrounded. (BBC)
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# Posted 1:17 PM by Patrick Belton  

BE FUNNY IF THEY TURNED OUT TO JUST BE REALLY SERIOUS GARDENERS:
Eight British men suspected of being involved in terrorist activity have been arrested in a series of raids across the south of England. More than half a ton of ammonium nitrate fertiliser was also seized (BBC)
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# Posted 8:26 AM by Patrick Belton  

HEY, LOOKEY, WE'RE THE official blog of the New World Order!
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# Posted 7:35 AM by Patrick Belton  

ANDREW SULLIVAN has a thoughtful piece in The New Republic this morning on the relationship of gay rights and the civil rights movment.

Also in TNR, Massoud Ansari examines how Al-Zawahiri got away. Slate looks at the cancellation of the Arab League summit. (UPDATE: So does Robert Tagorda.) And via A&L Daily, an interview with Martin Seligman - a psychologist of whom I'm awfully fond - about the nature of happiness. (It's in three parts, and they're in backwards order.)
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# Posted 6:17 AM by Patrick Belton  

TAIWAN PRESIDENT CHEN SHUI-BAN, emboldened by his narrow election victory and angered by Chinese efforts to intervene in his island's domestic politics, yesterday gave an interview to the Washington Post in which he stated his intention to push for independence:
I think the key issue is not that I personally refuse to accept the "one China" principle. It's the 23 million people of Taiwan who cannot accept the so-called "one China" principle.

If they insist on having dialogue and consultation based on such a precondition, the "one China" principle, I think it will be rather difficult for both sides to sit down and talk.

Therefore, in the year 2006, we will hasten the birth of a new constitution for Taiwan, and in 2008, we intend to enact this new constitution, a tailor-made, efficient constitution that is suitable for Taiwan. And this is just a timetable for our constitutional reform. It is not a timetable for independence or any attempt to change our status quo.
It is difficult not to feel sympathy for Taiwan, as an island of democracy and liberalism which has come far in the past decade toward modernity. Still, the current course which President Chen has set toward steers quite close to a military conflict in the Straits, in which the legal and moral duty of our nation would and ought to be on the side of a free allied republic against nuclear-armed China - a possibility no one can contemplate without trouble.
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# Posted 5:14 AM by Patrick Belton  

ALISTAIR COOKE, KBE (Hon.), who embodied the Anglo-American friendship and gave our age one of its most noted essayists and commentators, has died this morning at 95.

Arriving in the United States in 1932 on a Commonwealth Fund Fellowship to study drama at Yale after coming down from Jesus College, Cambridge, Cooke hurried from his boat not to New Haven but to New Orleans, Basin Street, to sample the jazz age himself at first remove, and that by way of a call on the premier exemplar of the craft he would later make his own, essayist H.L. Mencken in Baltimore.

In 1974 he was invited to address the US Congress on the occasion of the celebrations marking the American bicentennial. He was only the third foreign born person so invited; his predecessors were Lafayette and Sir Winston Churchill. British diplomatist Sir Harold Nicolson (like him, an eighteenth century man living a seventeenth century life in the midst of the twentieth century) sought him out on his valedictory trip to the United States in 1963. Like Samuel Pepys or Isaiah Berlin, he knew nearly everyone in his age; and like them, he recorded his incisive impressions. Of Greta Garbo, he wrote "She gave you the impression that, if your imagination had to sin, it could at least congratulate itself on its impeccable taste." Of Presidents, he said "All Presidents start out to run a crusade but after a couple of years they find they are running something less heroic and much more intractable: namely the presidency. The people are well cured by then of election fever, during which they think they are choosing Moses. In the third year, they look on the man as a sinner and a bumbler and begin to poke around for rumours of another Messiah." Las Vegas he called "Everyman’s cut-rate Babylon. Not far away there is, or was, a roadside lunch counter and over it a sign proclaiming in three words that a Roman emperor’s orgy is now a democratic institution….'Topless Pizza Lunch.'" Of prognostication, he wrote "Man has an incurable habit of not fulfilling the prophecies of his fellow men."

Becoming an American citizen in 1941 to marry his wife, he maintained a substantial enough love for the country of his birth to engage with it in a lifetime of correspondence, his Letters from America which the BBC would broadcast without fail each week for 58 years. The BBC collects a sampling of his letters to it, including his eulogy for Senator Robert Kennedy, his reflections on the American fashion of slimming, Thanksgiving, Groucho Marx and Bing Crosby, and his last letter, on the late war in Iraq.

It is to the BBC's, and our, detriment that Cooke will not be able to continue his correspondence with us from whatever such place as he might be now.
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# Posted 4:52 AM by Patrick Belton  

ANOTHER DAY OF TERRORIST ATTACKS IN UZBEKISTAN: Today's suicide bombing in Tashkent is the second straight; there was also an explosion on Sunday night in Bukhara, which may have been a government attack on IMU assets which led to the current spate of reciprocal attacks.

Due to Uzbekistan's tight control over the media, it is difficult to get hold of information about the current situation, but the choice of targets (such as yesterday's at the Chorsu bazaar, at a time of overlap between two police shifts) seems to reflect a desire to target police and security services. The degree to which news reports are being suppressed by Tashkent is astonishing - yesterday, out of 15 policemen one reporter approached at the bazaar, only one admitted that there had been a bombing, with the remainder explaining that the market was closed for a "sanitary inspection." Reuters is reporting that there were several separate bombing incidents yesterday, with two caused by female suicide bombers, and that four to five separate explosions took place this morning at roughly 8:15 local time. This morning, Tashkent's principal thoroughfares are closed by checkpoints and manned by servicemen with bulletproof vests carrying Kalashikov rifles.

If there was involvement by Hizb-ut-Tahrir in the current round of attacks, it would represent a marked tactical change for the Islamist organization, which to the moment has been peaceful, though it has generated concern for violent potentialities from terrorism and oil industry analysts.
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Monday, March 29, 2004

# Posted 6:04 PM by Patrick Belton  

THAT'S IT FOR ME FOR THE DAY: Rachel's taking me out fishing to catch some gefilte fish.
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# Posted 5:42 PM by Patrick Belton  

WHILE BAUDE IS OFF SHOPPING FOR A PANAMA HAT FOR SPRINGTIME, over at Crescat Amanda reviews a piece on the novel and her other favourite drug, coffee. (Note: OxBlog does not condone abuse of caffeine, cigarettes, or panama hats.)
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# Posted 2:08 PM by Patrick Belton  

OPEN QUESTION: CNN notes today a Texas murder case, in which a woman is pleading insanity in the murder of two of her three children. The story goes on to note that if the jury were to agree with the defence, the defendant would go into a state psychiatric hospital's maximum security ward for evaluation, and could stay there for as long as the maximum sentence she could receive if convicted - in her case, 40 years.

Now here's the interesting part, which I'm quite curious about: as the reporter notes, "the jury will not be permitted to hear and consider that information."

Do any of our legally inclined readers happen to know why this is the case? Is the idea that the jury in this case should be ruling solely on the factual question of whether the defendant met the legal criteria for insanity, and that knowledge of the practical consequences of that determination could have the effect of altering the jury's decision on the question of fact? (As an incentive, the author of the winning legal analysis can receive an insane woman of their choice, drawn from the ranks of my ex-girlfriends....)
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# Posted 1:03 PM by Patrick Belton  

PLEDGE OF ALLEGIANCE, AS IMPROVED BY MANAGEMENT CONSULTANTS: Slate has the Powerpoint version. This is almost as good as Peter Norvig's truly brilliant Powerpoint rendition of the Gettysburg Address.
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# Posted 12:47 PM by Patrick Belton  

CLINTON AND GENOCIDE: The National Security Archive has released a report on the Rwanda genocide of 1994, demonstrating through declassified sources that the intelligence and diplomatic services had reached a consensus that genocide was taking place in the country as early as April 23; the Clinton administration would nonetheless resist calling the genocide for what it was until May 25.
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# Posted 11:30 AM by Patrick Belton  

NATO TURNS 26 TODAY: The Baltic republics of Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia and the south-east European republics of Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia will officially join the alliance today, as their governments deposit their instruments of accession in a ceremony at the White House.

Albania and Macedonia had participated in the Membership Action Plan but were not extended invitations at the Prague Summit in November 2002, because of concern their militaries could not contribute to peacekeeping and collective defence missions (though they are potentially capable of such specialised functions as transport and medical care).

Each of the successful candidates had quite strong sponsors among the allies. Hungary has urged Slovenia's accession since it would allow Hungary to be contiguous with the Nato nations. Slovakia's candidacy was helped by the victory of reformists in September 2002 elections. Poland was a strong supporter of membership for the Baltic states; their governments also excelled particularly in meeting the MAP requirements. Italy, Greece, and Turkey supported Bulgarian and Romanian entry as assisting in Nato's stability missions in the Balkans; critics have argued that both nations continue to have corrupt civilian government and outdated militaries.

Within Russia, the Duma and the military and intelligence services are strongly opposed to enlargement, but Putin seems to view it as part of a trade-off for acquiescence in Russia's operations in Chechnya, as well as a means toward protecting Russian ethnic minorities in Estonia and Latvia. (Nato and EU regulations both have strictures regarding the treatment of ethnic minorities.)

Amendment of the North Atlantic Treaty to admit new members requires action by each ally in accordance with its constitutional processes for adoption of a treaty. Each of the 19 prior members approved the amendment after the close of accession negotiations on 26 March, 2003, the U.S. doing so by two-thirds vote in the Senate. (The advice and consent motion passed by a 85-6 vote, on May 17, 2003).
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# Posted 10:46 AM by Patrick Belton  

MORE ON EU COUNTERTERRORISM: WaPo compares US and EU counterterror styles, and CS Monitor has a roundup of press coverage of recent EU counterterror initiatives. The new terrorism czar, Gijs de Vries, receives profiles in Time and Reuters. (Reuters is also reporting today that a senior official in Al Qa'ida's intelligence arm was killed in the standoff in South Waziristan.) The Observer, unusually, presents a crisp argument that the war on terror will be won in the realm of ideas, and by projecting convincing images abroad of liberal democracy. Ari Cohen says the EU answer has been to create more bureaucracy. One bureaucratic proposal that was shot down, however, was the tabled creation of a Europe-wide intelligence agency to deal with terrorism, a function which Britain and France zealously preferred keeping in national hands.
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# Posted 10:39 AM by Patrick Belton  

OXBLOG MUSIC PICK OF THE DAY: Radio Free Klezmer, where every other song is a good one.
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# Posted 10:21 AM by Patrick Belton  

IT'D BE A REALLY SICK JOKE if the Noraid financial sponsors of terror brought back this idea from New York.....
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# Posted 5:30 AM by Patrick Belton  

QUICK ROUND-UP, before beginning my day's work as a performance artist interpreting "Chronic Procrastinator Writes a Dissertation," which the Oxford performing arts council is graciously hosting at the moment at the Bodleian library, lower reading room.

The good news is - there might be life on Mars. The bad news - if so, it seems to have a chronic flatulence problem. Policymakers caution that we may not actually want to be in contact with this life form.

Scientists in Bangalore have released a cheap, accessible computer for India's rural population, called the Simputer.

At the same time that the U.S. considers establishing an MI-5, Britain is creating an FBI. The cinematic possibilities for increased cooperation between mother and daughter countries in this realm are endless (think: Godfather IV: James Bond in the Goomba Who Loved Me).

Jackson Diehl editorializes in the WaPo that the unnoticed story of the year is the emboldening of Arab democrats in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Syria. Also in the WaPo, the DC government apparently covered up knowledge of the city water supply's elevated lead levels for at least 15 months before the story broke in the press.

There has been a terrorist attack in Tashkent. Initial suspicion is resting, predictably, on the IMU. This comes at a time when Washington has been considering downgrading strategic ties with Uzbekistan because of the latter's embarrassing human rights record. Also, reports have placed IMU head Tahir Yuldash as possibly having been with Al-Zawahiri in South Wazirstan during the Pakistani operation against an Al Qa'ida stronghold there.

Arab governments are recoiling in embarrassment from the last-hour cancellation of the Arab League summit yesterday in Tunisia, as speculation surrounds the precise reasons for the cancellation. One explanation has been that the Tunisian government was reluctant to play host to a summit which would produce only a tepid call for reform.

Elsewhere, the U.S. and Mexico are considering a revived plan for deep repatriation of undocumented migrants in the US - which is being read as a Mexican gesture of goodwill in the run-up to a more substantial hoped-for change in US-Mexican immigration relations.

Finally, today is, incidentally, the anniversary of the withdrawal of the last U.S. troops from Vietnam, which makes this an appropriate time to thank all of our veterans; for those who did not come back, we will not forget you.
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# Posted 5:25 AM by Patrick Belton  

SIX NATIONS ROUND-UP, for you ruggers fans out there. Il est stupéfiant combien les Français ont appris de nous! Ils méritent beaucoup de félicitations.
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Sunday, March 28, 2004

# Posted 6:17 PM by Patrick Belton  

I IMAGINE IT WOULD BE UNGENTLEMANLY to say we was robbed, so let me instead just warmly congratulate the 'tabs on their victory at Henley this afternoon.
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# Posted 5:48 AM by Patrick Belton  

NASRALLAH IS ATTEMPTING to draw Hezbollah and Hamas closer together: at a memorial in Beirut's southern suburbs for Sheikh Yassin, Hezbollah's Secretary-General told Hamas's Khaled Meshal,
We in Lebanon are with you. Be sure that your blood is our blood and your sheikh is our sheikh. We share the same destiny and this means that our fight is one
Hamas, on the other hand, is widely being considered by analysts to be working at its maximum capacity already, making claims of accelerated activity against Israeli targets principally rhetorical. (And for Palestinian voices calling for peaceful intifada, see Palestinian intellectuals' ad, Muslim WakeUp, and Palestinian Catholic priest Raed Awad Abushlia.)

UPDATE: Dan Drezner has more on Palestinians calling for nonviolence.
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# Posted 4:39 AM by Patrick Belton  

HAPPY SPRING FORWARD DAY, EVERYONE!

UPDATE: Yanks have to wait a week.....
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Saturday, March 27, 2004

# Posted 12:31 PM by Patrick Belton  

HINDI GRAMMAR QUOTE OF THE DAY: If you want to request food, khana, the failure to produce aspiration will result in kana. That is, you will end up asking for a one-eyed person.

UPDATE: Our beloved Adrienne points out that Tamils have no aspirations.
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# Posted 10:03 AM by Patrick Belton  

DIPLOMACY OF IRISH PM AHERN HAILED in restoring direction to sidetracked talks about the EU Constitution. There's more on the Irish presidency here, and on the constitution here.
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# Posted 7:58 AM by Patrick Belton  

PHILADELPHIA MAGAZINE'S SASHA ISSENBERG ably, but a bit harshly, takes down David Brooks's red state-blue state distinction by poking holes in it.

After challenging individual assertions by Brooks about, say, Nascar, QVC, and Doris Kearns Goodwin audiences, Issenberg draws the conclusion that Brooks is feeding into prejudice under the guise of public intellectualism,
There's even a Brooksian explanation for why he has become so popular with the East Coast media elite. Blue Americans have heard so much about Red America, and they've always wanted to see it. But Blue Americans don't take vacations to places like Galveston and Dubuque. They like to watch TV shows like The Simpsons and Roseanne, where Red America is mocked by either cartoon characters or Red Americans themselves, so Blue Americans don't need to feel guilty of condescension. Blue Americans are above redneck jokes, but they will listen if a sociologist attests to the high density of lawn-abandoned appliances per capita in flyover country. They need someone to show them how the other half lives, because there is nothing like sympathy for backwardness to feed elitism. A wrong turn in Red America can be dangerous: They might accidentally find Jesus or be hit by an 18-wheeler. It seems reasonable to seek out a smart-looking fellow who seems to know the way and has a witty line at every point. Blue Americans always travel with a guide.
Leaving aside the obvious fact that Issenberg can't help invoking the red state-blue state distinction even in the act of criticizing Brooks for coining it, I wonder, more broadly, whether he might perhaps discount just a bit too drastically the reliability of lived experience - the "does it ring true?" test - as a guide for an essayist: even if most Marylanders or New Jerseyans are in fact Nascar watchers, and if there are substantial coastal enclaves like Austin, Texas solidly ensconced in red America, Brooks isn't necessarily purveying stereotypes to his buying audience when he seizes onto status details, Tom Wolfe-like, to summon up the distinction between a secular, educated, suburban (and gentrifying-urban) liberal America on the one hand and a godly, more traditional America on the other. This is distinction most readers and commentators would, based on their lived and reflected-upon experience of American social reality, place more evidentiary faith in than in particular demographic points of information about the moment's sales of No Ordinary Time on Amazon.com. As, I think, they should.

Nor is this to say that considered lived experience of social reality can't contain prejudices and biases which can and should be battered down by cannonades of evidence - only to say that something like Scottish enlightenment philosopher and epistemologist Thomas Reid's notion of common sense should also guide us in steering a path between the assumptions we live by and points of information which are adduced to challenge and demolish them.

One last point before leaving the topic: Issenberg (in what I do want to acknowledge again as a witty, provocative essay) depicts Brooks as an ersatz, faux public philosopher, and quotes approvingly an academic who bemoans the tempora and mores which in the place of a public space which once had "Holly Whyte, who got Jane Jacobs started, Daniel Bell, David Riesman, Galbraith," has now given us "David Brooks as your sociologist, and Al Franken and Michael Moore as your political scientists." That, though, is clearly the fault of academics - the serious sociologists, political scientists, and ethicists whose presence in public debate the author laments - who have not risen to addressing a public audience in a creative way which captures the imagination and frames sensed realities in new ideas, language, and distinction. That pundits and reporters have seized the ground only indicates that scholars in the social sciences have in our generation been more preoccupied with academic politics and narrow disciplinary disputes than in fulfilling the role of public intellectuals (or, like Cornel West, have sought fame in the public eye without carrying with them insightful or creative ideas) - and this is a true trahison des clercs.

UPDATE: Wonkette and Easily Distracted both have takes on the piece, too.
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# Posted 7:54 AM by Patrick Belton  

GEE, THANKS, DAD: Father of a deploying medic, about his son: "In war, as we've learned through all our history, who gets killed and who doesn't is just happenstance. But if I can raise the odds, then I'll feel better."
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# Posted 7:43 AM by Patrick Belton  

RIGHT TO COUNSEL WATCH: In south Texas, a judge had to reprimand the prosecuting and defending attorneys in a sexual assault trial after both of them took to referring casually to the defendant in open court as "this monster".
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# Posted 6:00 AM by Patrick Belton  

THESE ARE PROVING ADDICTIVE: Today's selection of Jewish humour is brought to you by the blogosphere's resident ventriloquist, Joe Gandelman.

I flew El Al Airlines. They have two stewardesses. One serves the food, the other says, eat...eat...

I tried selling a Jewish game show to NBC but they didn't like it. I thought it was a great title: The Price Is Too Much.

Brooklyn radio station: This is KTV radio broadcasting at 1600 on your dial..but for YOU 1550.
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# Posted 5:21 AM by Patrick Belton  

LOTS OF STUFF GOING ON OVER AT OUR FOREIGN POLICY SOCIETY: Our vice president, and my good friend, John Ciorciari will be moving back from Asia in order to join our foreign policy society's Washington chapter; and, since he needs a day job to support him while in Washington, he will also be entering government as the senior advisor to the assistant secretary for international affairs at Treasury. Our warm congratulations, John - you've done us awfully proud!

This morning, our Africa program director, Zach Kaufman, has a letter to the editor in today's New York Times about the anniversary of the Rwanda massacre.

Also, we're running a national high school and college foreign policy essay contest, in our chapters in New York, Washington, Boston, Chicago, LA, San Francisco, Miami, and Houston. Our essay contest asks students to "Place yourself in the position of the President's National Security Advisor, with the opportunity to propose a new initiative or a substantial change in an area of American foreign policy. What proposal would you submit to the President, and how would you argue for it? Your memo should consist of two single spaced pages, and will be judged on the merits of the quality of argument you display in arguing for your chosen proposal." Our timeline is:
April 30 -- deadline for submission of entries to local chapters
May 15 -- local chapters to determine local winners and pass along the grand prize entry to the national pool
May 28 -- announcement of national grand prize winner amidst a massive press frenzy by the President in the Rose Garden, and having the consequence of rendering all of our contest winners instantly irresistible to the opposite sex.
For more information, you could look at the essay contest page of our website, or e-mail our essay contest chair, Connie Chung.

And finally, our Los Angeles chapter is meeting this Sunday to discuss grand strategy, and our Chicago chapter will be meeting up next Sunday for a discussion of the media in foreign affairs. Do drop by if you can - the discussions should be awfully interesting! And please drop us a note if you'd like to be added to our newsletter.
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# Posted 2:28 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SPIRIT OF '76: I'm heading down to Philadelphia for the weekend. Back on Monday.
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# Posted 2:24 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

YES, GENOCIDE: Nick Kristof reports on Sudan.
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# Posted 2:13 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

A HARD MONTH IN IRAQ: After a significant drop in fatalities and casualties in February, the numbers for March have returned to higher levels. During intense fighting yesterday in Fallujah, American forces suffered their 400th combat death. Our thoughts go out to the soldiers and their families.
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# Posted 2:06 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WaPo CLIMB DOWN: Without admitting they ever got the story wrong, the WaPo correspondents on the Clarke beat are backing down from their initial assessment of Clarke's criticism. In a News Analysis column entitled "Bush, Clinton Varied Little on Terrorism", Dana Milbank and Dan Eggen (with an assist from Walter Pincus) write that the
[9/11] commission's determination that the two policies were roughly the same calls into question claims made by Bush officials that they were developing a superior terrorism policy. The findings also put into perspective the criticism of President Bush's approach to terrorism by Richard A. Clarke, the former White House counterterrorism chief: For all his harsh complaints about Bush administration's lack of urgency in regard to terrorism, he had no serious quarrel with the actual policy Bush was pursuing before the 2001 attacks.

Clarke did not respond to efforts to reach him for comment yesterday.
Ouch. Anyhow, compare that passage from the WaPo to the Eggen/Pincus front pager from Thursday which reports that "The two [9/11 commission] staff reports issued yesterday appeared to confirm many of Clarke's key allegations and criticisms." Also on Thursday's front page, Dana Milbank wrote that even "Though more prominent personalities testified in the commission's two-day public hearings, the longtime foreign policy bureaucrat [i.e. Clarke] stole the show." And you thought John Kerry was prone to flip-flops...
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# Posted 1:39 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

BEFORE THE SHOE DROPS: In this morning's installment of the Clarke saga, the WaPo highlights Bill Frist's charges that Richard Clarke's recent statements contradict his July 2002 testimony before Congress' joint intelligence committee. Since Clarke was under oath both times, any contradictions that emerge would prove extremely damaging. Whether such contradictions will emerge is an open question. Democrats who have read the July 2002 transcript say that none exist. But the public should be able to judge for itself soon enough, given both sides interest in having the transcript released.

In the meantime, I'd like to address something that has been said by a number of Clarke's defenders. Regarding contradictions between Clarke's recent statements an August 2002 briefing he gave for the press, Dan Drezner says that
I'm not terribly persuaded that this should weaken Clarke's credibility. As anyone who's worked in government should know, what's said in an official capacity will read differently than what's said when one is allowed to be candid. Clarke was acting as a dutiful bureaucrat in 2002, and not as an independent agent.
Since Dan isn't exactly a friend of either Clarke or his Democratic partisans, the fact that Dan is sticking up for Clarke on this particular point has added significance. Conceptually, I think that Dan is right to point out the obligations of an appointed official to defend his administration. Yet as Rich Lowry has pointed out, there is a difference between interpreting facts in a positive light and simply making them up from whole cloth. In the August 2002 briefing, Clarke mentions the following facts:
1) The Clinton administration did not have a specific plan for confronting Al Qaeda that it handed over to the Bush administraiton.

2) The Bush Administraiton decided in January 2001 to continue the implementation of the Clinton Administration's anti-terror policies.

3) In the spring of 2001, the Bush Administraiton decided in principle to support a five-fold increase in CIA funding for anti-Al Qaeda actions.
According to Lowry, none of these points made it into Clarke's book. Why not? It is hard to argue that these points were just a matter of spin, since they consist of facts, not interpretations. It is not as if Clarke simply said "The Bush administration worked extremely hard in its first months in office to stop Al Qaeda." That sort of statement is essentially meaningless and it would be hard to fault Clarke from backing away from it after leaving office. But what Clarke gave the press were facts.

Or were they? There is some room for interpretation regarding such terms as "specific plan", "continue the implementation of" and "decided in principle". (These are my paraphrasings, not Clarke's original words.) But if we have to pick apart Clarke's words in this counterintuitive manner, then is is rather hard to treat him as a credible witness, let alone a heroic whistleblower.

Even so, the question remains: Why didn't Clarke make any mention of the fact that he once defend Bush's anti-terror policies? If Clarke meant his statements on the administration's behalf as a form of hollow praise, why doesn't he say that? In the final analysis, I don't think Clarke intended to deceive anyone. IMHO, he comes across as quite sincere. If anything, he seems to have deceived himself.
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Friday, March 26, 2004

# Posted 4:30 PM by Patrick Belton  

THE MILITARY'S LESSONS LEARNED from the war in Iraq....

With that said, I'm off to go settle down to the Odyssey and some ice cream with my wife. (Friday nights at the Belton household get pretty wild.) Incidentally, I just had the opportunity to hear Seamus Heaney speak - I'll write up some reflections comparing him and Paul Muldoon after I sleep off the ice cream.

UPDATE: Okay, I couldn't resist. Odyssey, or Monty Python?
I hope you ... will explain to any one of your chief men who may be dining with yourself and your family when you get home, that we have an hereditary aptitude for accomplishments of all kinds. We are not particularly remarkable for our boxing, nor yet as wrestlers, but we are ... extremely fond of good dinners, music, and dancing; we also like frequent changes of linen, warm baths, and good beds, so now, please, some of you who are the best dancers set about dancing.
(The answer's here)
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# Posted 11:38 AM by Patrick Belton  

YOU'D HAVE TO BE CRAZY TO BUY IN WASHINGTON, INSTALLMENT 583: Hamas has been investing millions of dollars in real estate in the U.S., including in the southern Maryland market, according to the Washington Times.

On a related note, the EU has selected its first antiterrorism official, a former Dutch official born in New York.
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# Posted 10:30 AM by Patrick Belton  

THE VENEZUELAN GOVERNMENT'S OMBUDSMAN has released a report citing seven cases of torture and 17 more of "cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment" by security services against opposition protesters at the end of February, during demonstrations that followed the invalidation of 1.57 million signatures from a recall petition by Venezuela's elections commission. It is reported that detained pro-democratic protesters were subjected to severe beatings, burnings, electric shocks, and mock executions. Opposition leaders have responded by attacking German Mundarain's report, saying it did not go far enough - it denies, for instance, that detained protesters were political prisoners. (See Officina del Defensor del Pueblo, BBC, VenezuelAnalysis, VHeadline.com, Country Report on Human Rights Practices)

UPDATE: Our friend RP writes in to add that the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has also got a report on the Venezuelan situation.
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# Posted 6:42 AM by Patrick Belton  

IN LOS ANGELES? LIKE TO HANG OUT WITH US THIS WEEKEND? Rob Tagorda and our other friends in our foreign policy society's Southern California chapter will be having their first meeting this Sunday, at 5:30, at
Acapulco Restaurant
385 N. La Cienega
Los Angeles, CA 90048-4117
Phone: (310) 659-6831
1 block north of Beverly Center
Map
Among other things, they'll be discussing the concept of grand strategy, and its different forms and useful applications. Rob has a list of suggested readings and other background materials over on his website. Our San Francisco chapter had their first meeting last weekend, so now there are all kinds of places you can go to in California for friendly and bipartisan discussion of foreign affairs!
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# Posted 6:35 AM by Patrick Belton  

DISSERTATION ART: This goes out with warm wishes and sympathy to all the academics, doctoral students, and writers out there.
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# Posted 4:29 AM by Patrick Belton  

CFR WATCH: Those global conspiratorial muffins over at the Pratt House also know how to put out some pretty good scholarship when they're not busy running the world on behalf of small green aliens.

Henry Kissinger and Larry Summers co-chaired a task force on trans-atlantic relations (they identify the democratization of the Middle East as one of the principal three common interests tying together the trans-Atlantic partnership, the remaining two being nebulous-sounding and rather banal, like "maintaining our common traditions" - presumably Nato will now open a Centre for Morris Dancing at its next ministerial).

Thomas Pickering and James Schlesinger co-chair a report on Iraq one year later. Recommendations: members of both parties should nurture a consensus around staying the course in providing aid for reconstruction, military, and democracy building after the return of sovereignty to the Iraqi people; FSOs and other government officials should receive enhanced incentives to learn Arabic and serve in Iraq; IFI assistance to the oil sector should be conditional on enhanced transparency and auditing; appointing an on-the-ground assistance coordinator to serve after June 30. Surprising fact included: the CPA never received more than at most 70 percent of the personnel it was initially authorized to hire, and most have served in such short-term billets that their productive time of service was quite low.

And several more moderate unionist politicians from Northern Ireland (because heaven knows republicans never travel to New York....) spoke recently on trends there and prospects for devolution. Salient points there: the Mitchell agreement no longer has support in the unionist community, and the prospect of participation in Stormont has not been enough to induce paramilitaries to lay down their guns.

There's more, but I'm off and running to an Illuminati meeting. (I really wish those aliens would stop probing me; David and Josh never get probed.)
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# Posted 2:26 AM by Patrick Belton  

SECRETARY POWELL gave the Kennan Lecture lecture last night which, unusually, rose above the Foggy Bottom drafting bureaucratese argot to lay out thoughtful suggestions for principles undergirding a hawkish diplomacy, and the relationship between power and authority:
Power has a reputation as well that walks before it into the future, affecting what others think about us and what their reactions will be to future events. America never looks for opportunities to exercise power except in defense of our vital interests and the vital interests of our allies. We don't use force just to burnish our reputation or to enhance our credibility. As every president knows, it's better, whenever possible, to let the reputation of power achieve policy goals rather than the use of power, especially military power itself. And it's diplomacy that deploys power's reputation to do this in the form of political influence. One of my predecessors and Madeleine's predecessors at the State Department, a great American by the name of Dean Acheson, captured this idea when he wrote that "influence is the shadow of power."

But there is no disagreement in principle about the relationship between power and persuasion in American diplomacy. Everyone who understands that power is necessary, but not always sufficient for foreign policy success knows, too, that force and authority aren't the same. Not all use of force is created equal in diplomatic terms. Others will grant authority to the use of force if it falls within bounds of justice and reason. Some have recently argued that Libya s recent decision to turn away from weapons of mass destruction is an interesting thing, but they see it in terms that remind me of an old beer commercial: "tastes great/less filling, tastes great/less filling." Did they do it because of force? Did they do it because of diplomacy?

And of course, in almost every situation I deal with, it's not either/or. Diplomacy isn't the opposite of force. Diplomacy without power is just naked pleading. Power without diplomacy is incomplete. Libya's change of heart, in my judgment, wouldn't have happened in the absence of American power as a backdrop. But policy success also required American and British skills at persuasion.

A second basic principle of diplomacy follows from the first: Policy success comes easier when more actors work with you to achieve it than work against you to prevent it.

One of diplomacy's main jobs is to arrange coalitions so that one's power and one's reputation are multiplied. The fact of power alone cannot do this because power repels as well as attracts. A wise diplomacy magnifies power's attractive quality by using power to benefit others as well as oneself.

Success in diplomacy is often most advantageous when it's incomplete.... Another way to put this principle is that an adversary needs an honorable path of escape if we're to achieve our main policy goals without using force.
I'd like to come back to comment more on this speech (the complete text is here) after my coffee, but for now what seems interesting is the middle ground this speech strikes, both defending, against the left, the legitimacy of using the shadow of power in negotiations, and against the right, the legitimacy of negotiations themselves.
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# Posted 2:16 AM by Patrick Belton  

THE ECONOMIST has good pieces this morning on changes in counterterrorism policy on both sides of the Atlantic following Madrid and the Clarke testimony, gloomy Germans, lessons learned from Rwanda, HK watching China watch Taiwan, and Israelis and Palestinians. (Bagehot's newspaper also touched on blogging economics last month, for those of you who missed it....)
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# Posted 2:04 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

NO MORE MR. NICE GUY: Is there any hope of getting past partisan antagonism and coming up with a fair evaluation of what Richard Clarke has to say about the Bush administration? No, not really. At least for now. I think a big part of the problem is that the newspapers have been portraying Clarke as an immaculate hero and the President as a black-hatted villain.

Exhibit A consists of the WaPo's two front-page stories on Clarke from Thursday morning. The first is by Dan Eggen & Walter Pincus, the second by Dana Milbank. Milbank's news analysis essay casts Clark as an selfless public servant whose eloquence enables him to silence those Republicans desperate to demonstrate that he is a hypocrite or a liar. The Eggen & Pincus article presents Clarke as a prophetic whistleblower and does nothing to question his credibility.

Now, if Clarke were so persuasive, why did Charles Krauthammer, Rich Lowry, and Romesh Ratnesar (of Time) have such an easy time coming up with compromising material?

One reason is that the Bush administration has been remarkably forthcoming with once-classified material that helps discredit Clarke. Above all, the contents of Clarke's August 2002 background briefing for the press suggest that he only became so critical of the President after leaving office. As Rich Lowry sums up,
Clarke said, "I think the overall point is, there was no plan on al Qaeda that was passed from the Clinton administration to the Bush administration." His book seems to confirm that, but nowhere puts it so starkly.

In his 2002 briefing, Clarke said that the Bush administration decided in "mid-January" 2001 to continue with existing Clinton policy while deciding whether or not to pursue more aggressive ideas that had been rejected throughout the Clinton administration. Nowhere does this appear in his book.

He said in 2002 that the Bush administration had decided in principle in the spring of 2001 "to increase CIA resources . . . for covert action, five-fold, to go after al Qaeda." Nowhere is this mentioned in his book.

In 2002, Clarke emphasized that the Bush team "changed the strategy from one of rollback with al Qaeda over the course [of] five years, which it had been, to a new strategy that called for the rapid elimination of al Qaeda." This is mentioned in his book, but - amazingly - as an afterthought.

Clarke in 2002 knocked down the idea that there was irrational animus toward the Clinton team on the part of the Bushies that blinded them to the necessity of strong counterterrorism. He offered himself, kept on as a holdover from the Clinton administration, as a refutation: "That doesn't sound like animus against the previous team to me." In his book, he suggests there was such an irrational animus.

Finally, in his 2002 briefing, Clarke made it clear that there was no "appreciable" change in U.S. terror policy from October 1998 until the Bush team began to reevaluate policy in the spring of 2001 and get more aggressive. His book implausibly argues the opposite, that Clinton was on the ball and Bush dropped it.
Kevin Drum has already admitted the contents of the briefing are pretty damning, although he is reserving judgment until he finishes reading Clarke's book. However, even if the Bush administration had held back the August 2002 transcript, there are plenty of other public statements Clarke made that come across as pretty damning. As Charles Krauthammer recounts, PBS asked Clarke in March 2002 whether
...failing to blow up the [Al Qaeda] camps and take out the Afghan sanctuary was a "pretty basic mistake."

Clarke's answer is unbelievable: "Well, I'm not prepared to call it a mistake. It was a judgment made by people who had to take into account a lot of other issues. . . . There was the Middle East peace process going on. There was the war in Yugoslavia going on. People above my rank had to judge what could be done in the counterterrorism world at a time when they were also pursuing other national goals."

This is significant for two reasons. First, if the Clarke of 2002 was telling the truth, then the Clarke of this week -- the one who told the Sept. 11 commission under oath that "fighting terrorism, in general, and fighting al Qaeda, in particular, were an extraordinarily high priority in the Clinton administration -- certainly [there was] no higher priority" -- is a liar.
Now if all this material was out there, why did the WaPo ignore it completely? (As Greg Djerejian points out, the editors of the NYT haven't exactly been critical of Clarke either.)

Now, at the same time that it has been lionizing Clarke, it has been tearing apart the administration. In a front page story today, Mike Allen describes how the White House has launched an unprecedented effort at character assassination. Allen devotes two short paragraphs to the August 2002 briefing and gives only the slightest hint of how much it does to undermine Clarke's reputation. If your only source of news were the WaPo, you'd come away from Allen's article thinking that the only motive behind the administration's attack on Clarke was a partisan desire to cover up evidence of its own incompetence.

Now, this isn't to say that the White House has done a terribly good job of character assassination. In fact, the rampant contradictions embedded in its effort to discredit Clarke deserve a major share of the blame for the bad press it has gotten on this issue. Consider the following (from the WaPo, of course):
Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage contradicted Rice's claim that the White House had a strategy before 9/11 for military operations against al Qaeda and the Taliban; the CIA contradicted Rice's earlier assertion that Bush had requested a CIA briefing in the summer of 2001 because of elevated terrorist threats; and Rice's assertion this week that Bush told her on Sept. 16, 2001, that "Iraq is to the side" appeared to be contradicted by an order signed by Bush on Sept. 17 directing the Pentagon to begin planning military options for an invasion of Iraq.

Rice, in turn, has contradicted Vice President Cheney's assertion that Clarke was "out of the loop" and his intimation that Clarke had been demoted. Rice has also given various conflicting accounts. She criticized Clarke for being the architect of failed Clinton administration policies, but also said she retained Clarke so the Bush administration could continue to pursue Clinton's terrorism policies.

National Security Council spokesman Sean McCormack defended many of Rice's assertions, saying that she has been more consistent than Clarke.
If that's not enough to convince you that Condi Rice is evil, just take a look at the photo published alongside the WaPo article. Moreover, adding insult to injury, Matt Yglesias says that Condi isn't even qualified to be National Security Adviser. Maybe that's why the WaPo has begun to report that Condi will be gone by the end of the year. (Condi may not be qualified, but I don't agree with Matt's argument about why.)

Now, getting back to the point, does all this mean that we shouldn't listen to anything Clarke has to say? I don't know. On Tuesday, I wrote that
I didn't mean to suggest that what Clarke said was false or that it doesn't cast doubt on the competence of the Bush administration...

[And] I don't put much stock in the administration's efforts to discredit Clarke or cover its exposed posterior
I'm going to stick by the latter half of that statement since the administration's response was utterly incompetent. They're lucky that the conservative punditocracy saved their (ahem) posterior. But as for the first half, even if Clarke didn't tell any outright lies, his accusations seem to have been profoundly misleading.

Looking back at my original post on the subject, I seem to have been far more focused on what Clarke said about Bush's response to September 11th rather than his lack of preparation for it. In that respect, I think his comments do reflect poorly on the administration. But that's beside the point because I missed the real story: that Clarke was rewriting the history of what happened before September 11th.
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# Posted 12:43 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

ABANDONING OUR SOLDIERS: An Army survey conducted last summer reports that the suicide rate among soldiers in Iraq was far high than that of the Army as a whole. This unfortunate trend seems to reflect a lack of preparation to care for the mental health of soldiers taking part of the invasion. The same survey found that a majority of soldiers in Iraq described their morale as low and a disturbing three-fourths felt that they had been poorly-led by their officers.

It is possible that this situation has improved since last summer, when the survey was conducted. At that time, soldiers had to endure intense heat without the benefit of some of the amenities that began to arrive as the occupation progressed. Regardless, I think it is important to recognize that each and every soldier in Iraq has made substantial sacrifices on behalf of the nation.

According to the officer responsible for the survey, "This is the first time we've ever gone into an active combat theater and asked soldiers how they are doing, so we have no comparative data." One hopes that the compilation of such data will help the army address soldiers' concerns, which are no doubt extremely serious.
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Thursday, March 25, 2004

# Posted 8:21 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THERE HE GOES AGAIN: Evan Coyne Maloney continues to stalk the man (and woman) in the street. Pay close attention so you don't miss the sign that says "Jesus Hates Bush". I think Mel Gibson was holding that one.
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# Posted 5:18 PM by Patrick Belton  

AMPUTATIONS AND FLOGGINGS ARE NOT VIOLATIONS OF HUMAN RIGHTS: and other revelations from Saudi Arabia.
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# Posted 4:53 PM by Patrick Belton  

TIME WARP: I enjoy reading the YDN from time to time. This is partially because the news specials box hasn't been updated since I was a student there, so whenever I like I can step into a time warp and indulge my nostalgia for those bright college years.....
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# Posted 4:38 PM by Patrick Belton  

COURTING A GROUPIE: Our lovely and Kazakh-bound friend Amanda Butler - who happens to also be co-president of our foreign policy society's Chicago chapter - camped out outside the Supreme Court to listen to oral arguments in Newdow - her notes are here!
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# Posted 1:18 PM by Patrick Belton  

BUSH IS A LIBERAL: That's what a column in the Christian Science Monitor claims today, pointing out that under this administration's budget request foreign aid will rise to $23 billion from $13 billion in fiscal 2003. Unenlightened views on gay rights and the objection that the increase includes a fair chunk of reallocated funds aside, the Millennium Challenge Account and emphasis on greater Aids funding to Africa is a very striking side effect of the greater role of foreign policy in the United States budget. Our foreign policy society's Washington chapter had an extensive discussion of the Millennium Challenge Account several weeks ago, which included a number of discussants who worked in or studied the MCA; at the moment, at least, I can't think of anything to add to their admirably nuanced discussion of the reform in foreign aid spending.
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# Posted 1:13 PM by Patrick Belton  

I'M ONLY PRINTING IT BECAUSE IT'S FUNNY: From a reader: In light of recent events, France has raised its terror alert level from "RUN" to "HIDE." The only 2 higher alert levels available in French domestic security are "SURRENDER" and "COLLABORATE."
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# Posted 12:03 PM by Patrick Belton  

CUBA SPRING: It has been a year since Castro arrested and sent to prison seventy-five of his nation's independent journalists, intellectuals, teachers, and human rights workers. The Washington Post commemorates the anniversary, and notes the political prisoners' continued imprisonment.

And this regime still manages to have its defenders.
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# Posted 11:32 AM by Patrick Belton  

IN YET ANOTHER INDICATION that the Palestinian people are infinitely more sensible than any of their leaders, there's been an extraordinary backlash lately in the West Bank and Gaza against militant groups following the apprehension of a 14-year old suicide bomber at a roadblock in Nablus. Hussam Abdu, say reporters, had been bullied at school, and told army interrogators that he decided to commit suicide "because nobody liked me." Similar widespread Palestinian condemnations had also occurred in November and January, when Hamas dispatched mother-of-two Reem Al-Riashi at the Erez Crossing as a suicide bomber from the Gaza Strip into Israel, and when Al-Aqsa sent a youth of 17, Sabih Abu Saud, to an Israeli guardpost near the West Bank city of Kalkilya. As sad as it is that extremist organizations would place so little value on the lives either of vulnerable Palestinian adolescents or Israeli civilians, it inspires some hope that their fanaticism is seen for what it is among the Palestinian people. Incidentally, seventy prominent Palestinian intellectuals have signed a newspaper advertisement rejecting Hamas's recent call for violence against Israeli officials, and calling instead for a "peaceful intifada."

If the Palestinian people were actually permitted to run the place, rather than either the Islamists of Hamas or the corrupt coterie surrounding Arafat, it might not actually turn out half bad.

UPDATE: Brian Ulrich has more on Palestinian public opinion, and reports on a lecture by Palestinian political scientist (and track two negotiator) Khalil Shikaki. Noteworthy points: 1. over half of Palestinians support a two-state solution (including 40% of Hamas supporters, who probably give the organization their support mostly because of its success in providing public services and its lower level of corruption compared to the PA); 2. a large plurality (40%) of Palestinians don't like any of their political choices (with 35%, concentrated in Gaza, supporting Hamas, and only 20% backing Fatah); 3. even in Gaza, Hamas would probably not poll much above 35%, suggesting it would be useful to hold elections in Gaza before the Israeli withdrawal: this would prevent a complete consolidation of power by Hamas in Gaza after the Israeli pull-out, publicly reflect the proportion of Gaza's population who do not support terror, and place a great deal of pressure on Fatah to reform or risk losing support.
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# Posted 11:22 AM by Patrick Belton  

ANOTHER JEWISH-THEMED JOKE OF THE DAY, this time in honor of my blogiversary. So Yeshiva University decides to field a crew team, but unfortunately, they find themselves losing race after race. Though they even decide to begin practicing for hours each morning and evening, they never manage to finish better than dead last in any competition. Finally, wanting to safeguard his university's reputation, the Rosh Yeshiva at length decides to send Yankel to spy on Harvard's team at practice. So Yankel schleps off to Cambridge, and hides in the bullrushes off of the Charles River, from where he carefully watches the Crimson team as they practice. Yankel afterward returns to Yeshiva, and announces "I have figured out their secret." "They have eight guys rowing, and only one guy shouting...." (This courtesy Sonnny Schwartz; thanks, incidentally, for all of the kind blogiversary notes - especially to Pej and Scott!)
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# Posted 4:19 AM by Patrick Belton  

IT'S MY BLOGIVERSARY! And while you all really don't have to get me anything (no, really, you don't), I thought I would take this chance, though, to thank Josh and David for so generously letting me hang out with them here in our little cyber pied à terre, which has given me not only the chance of having some very searching and rewarding conversations with two of my closest friends and with our friends and readers, but where the three of us have also managed to have a great deal of fun together, and I hope that shows.

Writing here on OxBlog has also given me the chance while writing my dissertation to do a great deal more thinking about, say, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Muslims in Dearborn, chilly Christmasses in Alaska, really big squid, and Odysseus and the dirty hands problem, among other things, and all in the company of friends in a blogosphere which I think, for civility, fair-mindedness, and quality of argument, is one of the best areas of public space in the United States at the moment.

So a warm thank you to all of you! And personally, I'm looking forward very eagerly to many, many happy returns of the day.
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# Posted 3:37 AM by Patrick Belton  

GET LOVED, THANK YGLESIAS: In his blogads, Matt's linking to a dating website for activists which boasts the memorable motto "Take Action, Get Action."

This hypothesised causal relationship, incidentally, is precisely why one unnamed middle-aged New Yorker of my acquaintance took part in the Freedom Rides. Then he ran into someone with a face only a mother could love. He also discovered along the way that Virginia wasn't much for lovers, either. So in the end he went to law school, instead, to meet girls.
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Wednesday, March 24, 2004

# Posted 4:37 PM by Patrick Belton  

POLLS SHOW U.S. POPULACE WANTS TO STAY THE COURSE IN IRAQ: Karlyn Bowman and Todd Weiner review the evidence in Roll Call:
The early March NBC/Wall Street Journal poll found that 24 percent want U.S. troops out as soon as possible and 26 percent within 18 months. But 48 percent said they "should stay as long as necessary to complete the process even if it takes five years." None of the polls provides evidence of a desire to cut and run. All recent polls show that majorities of Americans believe the United States did the right thing in going to war. Fifty-seven percent gave that response in the March 18-19 PSRA/Newsweek poll.
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# Posted 3:37 PM by Patrick Belton  

OXBLOG JEWISH-THEMED CARTOON OF THE DAY INVOLVING A ROBOT: In the words of its author, Ben Baruch: "ShaBot 6000 is the continuing cartoon saga of a pious Jew who purchases a robot to work as Shabbos Goy for his household. The inquisitive robot, ShaBot, decides that he is Jewish, and is therefore unable to fulfill his duties as a servant." I ran across it just now while googling for the estimable Forward, and decided I would fulfill my Bot Mitzvah by sharing it with our friends and readers. In particular, I'd encourage you to procrastinate with me by seeing what Baruch and the ShaBot get up to here, here, and here.
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# Posted 1:25 PM by Patrick Belton  

ALL OF OUR READERS IN OXFORD, or within driving distance, should make some time to get out to the Oxford Literary Festival which the Sunday Times and Blackwell's are cosponsoring, and which is being organized by a good friend of mine. Seamus Heaney is speaking on Friday at 5:30 at the Sheldonian; also on Friday, Orlando Figes is socialising with students and talking about Tolstoy at the Union. On Saturday, Fiona Shaw reads Andromache's speeches from the Iliad and Euripides, at the Holywell Music Room at 5. On Sunday, Karen Armstrong talks about religion at noon, at Town Hall, and a film of Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard will be screened at the Phoenix at 4:30, with its producer present to discuss Chekhov and the play after. These are only a few of the events going on; it really is a marvellous festival, and Brenda Garvey, of whom I'm quite fond, is to be congratulated enormously for having brought it to Oxford.
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# Posted 12:10 PM by Patrick Belton  

I KNOW ALL OF THE DISPUTANTS, so I'll merely take note of an interesting debate which has just been joined, and one in which I think there happen to be quite good points to be made on both sides. Jim Fishkin and Bruce Ackerman are about to release their book Deliberation Day, in which they argue for establishing a public holiday to set aside time each year for civic discussion of issues affecting the American republic. (There's an article version of their proposal in February's Legal Affairs, if you're interested.) The Public Interest's Brendan Conway responds this morning in the Wall Street Journal, ably arguing the classic libertarian response that among the liberties held by the American citizen, among the more significant should be counted "the liberty--most of the time--to pay more attention to, say, a child's soccer game or the NCAA tourney than to John Kerry's latest nuanced position on Sarbanes-Oxley."

I've been following idea behind "deliberation day" for some time - at Yale, I worked as a research assistant for Professor Ackerman on an early version of the book, and I've had the opportunity to attend a few of Jim Fishkin's town hall discussion events, which I found quite interesting. (Incidentally, at one recent "deliberative poll" on foreign affairs held in Philadelphia, my road trip companion and friend Adam Gordon wrote about his observations on the weekend over at the American Prospect.) My impression is that in the deliberative polls that have been held to date, there's generally substantial motion of participants' opinion toward the center ground; it's also always seemed to me that Dr Fishkin and the other organizers take great pains to prepare materials and invite guest experts covering the breadth of at least mainstream opinion on the issues at hand (Richard Haas and Madeline Albright, for instance, were both guests in Philadelphia, as were Anne-Marie Slaughter and a fellow from Heritage). And finally, unlike, say, jury duty or the draft, there's nothing coercive about this service, just a day off from work and a payment (of course, on the other hand we are in debt as a nation) for people wishing to participate.

Still, the Deliberation Day proposal is interesting enough to rise or fall on its merits, and I think Brendan has done a quite able job in presenting us with the counterargument.
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# Posted 11:42 AM by Patrick Belton  

AND THEY SAID ENGLISH PEOPLE WERE NO FUN: In the BBC's comments session this morning, commenters are writing a short story, line by line, using only English cliches. I can't believe this worked, but - believe it or not, when it's all said and done, it's the best thing I've read today. Here's the first bit - it begins "Giles flew in on the red eye from the Big Apple, knowing he was caught between a rock and a hard place." (BBC, starting off)...
He'd been drinking like a fish the night before; still, in for a penny... (Drew Jagger, UK) ..in for a pound, so he thought he'd better wet his whistle. (Dave Brannon, England) He left the airport to find it was raining cats and dogs. Unimpressed he spotted a well-known pub chain - not his favourite, but "better the devil you know" he thought. (Lucy Feather, England) The Aussie barmaid didn't beat about the bush. "You look dog-tired, mate. Been burning the candle at both ends?" (Madmarce, UK) "Is the Pope Catholic? Basically I've been working 24/7", Giles said. "Well there is no rest for the wicked," replied the barmaid. A high-flying salesman entered the bar. (Mike Taylor, UK) He paused by the entrance, speaking into his mobile phone: "Have your people call my people and they'll get it together. Gotta run now, cheers." Flipping his phone shut he looked at Giles and smiled. (Andy Tickner, UK) Well, look what the cat's dragged in, thought Giles. (Claudia, UK) "Long time, no see," smirked Roger. "How's life in the slow lane?" (Peter Snow, UK )"Well, at this moment in time, to be perfectly honest..." Giles is cut short as his mobile phone rings. He flipped it open. "Yes, that should be okay, just make sure we are all singing from the same hymn sheet!" "Who was that?" asked Roger. (Linda, UK) "The old ball and chain," Giles replied, rushing out of the bar. "Needless to say, I've got to get home PDQ, or there's trouble in store." (Alan Barford, UK) When Giles got home his wife was fuming. "I wish you'd touch base more often," she complained. "What I gain with you on the swings I lose on the roundabouts and I don't want anymore of it," she shouted angrily. (Adam Hewitt, UK) She stood before him, eyes blazing. "Listen up, buddy, you're way out of line, quite frankly, if you really want to know, you're dead meat. I've met someone who really rings my chimes. Know what I mean? And he's no stranger to love." The doorbell rang. (Kerry Dignan, UK) "And here he is now. C'est la Vie, basically we're on a learning curve you know what I mean, so this is the end of the line." (Marion Samson, UK) "I hear what you're saying," Giles shot back as he marched into the hallway, "but the bottom line is you've never been one to think outside the box." He opened the door. It was Roger. Well, Giles thought knitting his brows, it wasn't rocket science. (Margaret Storey, UK) Giles let Roger into the house. "I see you know about us," Roger said. "Cheer up, it's not the end of the world. It's better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all." (Simon Corkhill, UK) "Oh and I suppose you will tell me next that there are plenty more fish in the sea" yelled Giles. (Victoria Chambers, UK) "Now don't blow your top!" said Roger, "Just keep your chin up and I'm sure we can make this all work out fine in the end." (Roddy Fraser, UK )"Besides, you've still got your health and you're too young to be tied down. Lets say, me and you go and paint the town red?" laughed jolly Roger. (Graham West, UK)
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# Posted 7:27 AM by Patrick Belton  

CRICKET COVERAGE: For those of our readers who'd like to follow today's match, BBC has got a good site with frequent updates. (We've had questions, incidentally, from readers looking for a good place in New York to watch fixtures, particularly ones on at odd hours in the east coast. If anyone has any suggestions, I'll be happy to pass them on here!)

And for the ruggers fans in the audience, I'll take this moment to note that the Ireland side is doing rather well at Six Nations..... (And in what other sport, incidentally, would the France coach, preparing to square up against the England side at Stade de France, be quoted in the papers as saying about his opponent "England are the best team in the world, they are like a machine....it is always a great pleasure to face the English"?)
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# Posted 3:13 AM by Patrick Belton  

THE DAY'S NEWS, OFF PAGE ONE: A City College professor is pushing a brand of "philosophical counseling", telling the NYT "you don't have to be clinically depressed or burdened by childhood guilt to want help with the timeless questions of the human condition -- the persistence of suffering and the inevitability of death, the need for a reliable ethics." (Other philosophical counselors, offering the Socratic examined life to their patients, say that Lou Marinoff is not the best trained or most representative member of their field; he is, though, author of ''Plato, Not Prozac! Applying Eternal Wisdom to Everyday Problems.")

In deshi news, India is rebuffing an American offer to extend Major Non-Nato Ally status to it as well as to Pakistan. Also, in the lead-up to Lok Sabha elections, BJP is running a series of adverts cataloguing the country's nationalist leaders, and then, cutting to a shot of Italian-born Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, warning ominously "and now there is a conspiracy to hand the country over to a foreigner." (BJP is also running on an India "feel-good" campaign of national pride.)

Next door, Uzbek militants, possibly from the IMU, have been found among Al Qa'ida fighters in their hive of villainy in tribal Wana; Uzbekistan's Karimov has requested their extradition to deal with them himself. (He has, after all, had lots of practice before now with his own people.) Also, MMA's general secretary is decrying the incursion of federal troops into tribal areas, as an act threatening to the country's territorial integrity and something which the Brits never even succeeded in doing.

The Boston Globe reports further on the Harvard med-trained star surgeon who left a patient on the table to cash his paycheck (and then the pederasty fell out of the closet). A Claremont McKenna professor vandalized her own car with racist and sexist slogans, organized protests against the perpetrator (erm, herself - but self-hatred has never been that unusual a thing in an academic...), then was caught in the deed. WaPo looks into the world of Olympic ping-pong ("A mild game for geeks? Rather, think big-time steroid scandals, Byzantine romances, groupies, and a lot of glue sniffing"). And The Nation (see, who complained we never linked to them?) details the Camus-Sartre break-up, portraying Camus as the more sympathetic and nuanced character, and Sartre as the more flawed, simplistic, and dogmatic. (Sartre was, however, capable of seeing before his generation the need for French withdrawal from Algeria, and coming up with put-downs such as, to Camus, "I have at least this in common with Hegel: you have not read either of us.")
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# Posted 12:15 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

I AM DETERRED: This morning, two Finnish businessmen were slain in Baghdad. Their death raises to ten the number of humanitarian and reconstruction workers slain over the past two weeks.

Until now, I have been giving very serious consideration to spending next year working in Iraq. From the beginning, my parents didn't want me to go. But now the warnings are coming from all sides. In a long discussion with a member of the NSC staff, I was explicity told that there is no point in going to Iraq to become a target.

To a certain extent, I am embarrassed by my lack of resolve. If our soldiers are risking their lives to secure Iraq, why shouldn't I assume some of that same risk in the process of rebuilding it? But the difference is that they are trained professionals and I am a rank amateur. Moreover, our soldiers are not just protecting Iraq but leading the reconstruction effort.

At this moment, humility seems to demand that I recognize my the relative of unimportance of any decision I make for or against working in Iraq. Yes, the Coalition needs more civilians willing to engage in public service. But even if the civilians are driven off, the Army will still be there. And the people of Iraq are as committed to reconstruction as ever. I may be deterred, but that is hardly a victory for Ba'athist terror.
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Tuesday, March 23, 2004

# Posted 11:58 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

NOTHING LEFT TO LOSE? There isn't much sympathy for Ariel Sharon's decision to kill off Hamas founder Sheikh Ahmad Yassin. The WaPo and NYT both have editorials up condemning the Israeli action. Both editorials ask the same essential question: What will Yassin's death accomplish in terms of making Israel safer?

On the other hand, why would Yassin's death make Israel any less safe? The NYT writes that
Hamas will now redouble its efforts to send human torpedos into Israel. The Palestinian Authority will be even less inclined to confront terrorists in its midst and less able to coax Hamas into observing a cease-fire.
But when did the PA ever accomplish much in terms of controlling Hamas? And isn't Hamas already trying its hardest to kill Israeli civilians? The WaPo argues Yassin was moving in the direction of accepting a long-term truce with Israel in exchange for withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza.

To his credit, David Ignatius explains why Sharon thought that killing Yassin would make Israel safer. In short, Sharon wanted to demonstrate that Israel's coming withdrawal from Gaza does not represent a victory for Hamas. Given how Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon emboldened Hezbollah, Sharon's logic isn't exactly off base. Still, Ignatius raises the important question of whether killing Yassin will make it that much harder to restore order in Gaza after Israel pulls out.

In the short term, there is no question that Israel will be less secure. The killing of Yassin was a direct challenge to Hamas (and Fatah) to show that they are not impotent in the face of Israeli violence. Unsurprisingly, Israelis have chosen to stay home rather than risk becoming the victims of the next terrorist strike. Yet while 81% of Israelis believe the death of Yassin will lead to more attacks against Israel, 60% of them support it nonetheless. After all, what is the difference if the bombers detonate themselves this week in honor of Yassin rather than next week in honor of someone else?

And there will be a someone else. Hardline statements by Israeli officials suggest that more targeted killings are in the works. For its part, Hamas has chosen two of its hardliners to replace Yassin. (But how moderate are its sofliners anyway?)

Frankly, I wish there were an upbeat note on which to conclude. But there isn't. Instead of peace, the most we can look forward to is a wall.
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# Posted 11:11 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

HEARINGS AND LISTENINGS: In the course of my dissertation research, I've learned how important it is to read the transcripts of congressional hearings rather than relying on newspaper summaries. If I were in the habit of taking my own advice, I would then read the transcript of today's hearing before the 9/11 commission rather than letting the NYT and WaPo do my intellectual work for me. However, after spending three and a half hours today looking at microform transcripts of Reagan-era hearings on human rights in El Salvador, I no longer have the will to read any further.

So here are my impressions of the summaries: Not much happened because both the Clinton and Bush administration officials called to testify refused to either admit their own failures or accuse others of taking their eye off the ball. Depending on one's perspective, the preliminary findings released by the 9/11 commission were either restrained in their criticism or forceful in their accusation of incompetence.

Surprisingly, it's the WaPo which presents the report as more damaging than the NYT. But regardless of one's take on the issue, nothing all that damaging came out. Personally, I thought that revelations in early 2002 about the failure of the FBI to follow up evidence of Al Qaeda activity in the United States said a lot more about the administration's nonchalance.

Anyhow, things may get more interesting on Wednesday when Richard Clarke testifies. What I'd really like to see are copies of the memos he sent to his superiors warning about the threat from Al Qaeda. Without a close look at the language he used -- and the response that it generated -- it will be hard to know whether his warnings were stunningly prophetic or just business as usual. Surprisingly, even the NYT's editors write that
Mr. Clarke's central complaint -- that the president failed to respond to his urgent request for a cabinet-level meeting on terrorism until days before 9/11 -- is far from conclusive evidence that the administration failed to take the threat seriously until disaster struck.
On a harsher note, the NYT adds that
The most persuasive part of the critique by the former anti-terrorism czar concerns the administration's obsession with Iraq. Mr. Clarke says he and intelligence experts repeatedly assured top officials -- and Mr. Bush himself -- that Iraq was not involved in 9/11 or in supporting Al Qaeda. This fall, when the public has to judge Mr. Bush's decision to invade, voters will know that the president's own counterterrorism adviser had warned him that he was on the wrong track.
That last sentence is a remarkable non-sequitur. In spite of speculation that Saddam might provide chemical or biological weapons to anti-American terrorists, the bread and butter of the Administration's case against Iraq was always that it had failed to disarm. What does that have to do with Clarke's comments about 9/11?

For a more persuasive indictment of the Bush administraiton, take a look at Matt Yglesias' new column in TAP. Matt makes a solid case that terrorism was far from being a Bush administration priority before 9/11. On the other hand, he goes overboard by insisting that the administration tried "to deny that terrorism is a serious threat" and that it favored "abandoning [Clinton's anti-terror strategy] in favor of doing, well, nothing." (Emphasis in original).

So where does this all leave us? Pretty much where we started. There isn't much to praise about Bush's handling of the anti-terror issue before 9/11, but there is still nothing out there solid enough to inflict serious damage on the President's re-election campaign.
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