OxBlog

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

# Posted 11:49 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THOSE POOR, INNOCENT SAUDIS: Dan Drezner's recent TCS column points to an important finding by the 9/11 that has been completely: there is no evidence of a collaborative relationship between Saudi Arabia and Al Qaeda.

I have to admit, I took it for granted that such a relationship existed. By extension, I partially bought into the common belief that the Bush administration hasn't done enough to bring the Saudi government into line. But the egg on my face is nothing compared to what this says about Michael Moore, who spends the first half-hour of Fahrenheit 9/11 constructing highly speculative conspiracy theories about the Saudi responsibility for international terror.

Moving on, Dan has also put up some good posts on Iraq which point to informative articles in the WaPo, Time and elsewhere. Most surprising of all are early indications that Iyad Allawi actually commands considerable respect from everday Iraqis, something that the NYT and Spencer Ackerman thought impossible. The question now is how long his popularity will last, especially if Allawi demonstrates more concern about crushing insurgents than he does about institutionalizing political freedoms.

Finally, don't miss Dan's latest TNR column on outsourcing, which shows how deeply the American public believes in scapegoating foreign workers for domestic job losses. So I guess I shouldn't let anyone know that OxBlog has been farming out its work to some grad students on the far side of the Atlantic...
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# Posted 8:42 AM by Patrick Belton  

AND NOW FOR A LOOK INSIDE AFGHANISTAN: OxFriend Michael Bhatia and two other American and British security analysts have just published an exhaustive indictment of the appallingly insufficient extent of Nato and international security assistance to Afghanistan, in a report with the title 'Minimal Investments, Minimal Results: The Failure of Security Policy in Afghanistan'. (The pdf file is lengthy but well worth the download.)

Several excerpts:

• 'Are the principal factional commanders less powerful, less abusive of their fellow citizens, or less brazen in their dealings with the central government now than they were in 2002? Has the opium crop been eliminated, reduced, or even held constant since 2002? Is the physical security of Afghan citizens, government officials, NGO workers, or national and international troops better now than in January 2002? Tellingly, and regrettably, the answer to all three questions is 'no'.'

• 'ISAF (the International Security Assistance Force) however, was never resourced to move outside of Kabul in a more than symbolic way, and when it finally did, has focused more on its own security than that of Afghans. Despite Afghanistan being widely proclaimed as Nato's highest priority, the unwillingness of Nato member states to adequately resource ISAF with troops and equipment has seriously undermined the ability of ISAF commanders to do their job effectively.'

• 'Prime Minister Tony Blair's 2003 declaration that the international community 'will not walk away from' Afghanistan missed the real question: When will the international community really walk into Afghanistan, and make the necessary commitments and investments that will give the Afghan people a reasonable chance at building a peaceful and stable country?'

• 'In addressing one of the key sources of insecurity in Afghanistan - factional commanders - the Government of Afghanistan, the international community, and even the international military forces appear plagued by timidity. The Government often shrinks from confrontation and instead engages in short-term deal-making that often undermines long-term policy objectives. International military commanders assert they can only stay in Afghnistan 'with the consent' of the factional commanders, and thus cannot afford to be confrontational or assertive in their dealings with them. This attitude sells short the moral authority of the government and the military power of the Coalition and ISAF, and it sells out the people of Afghanistan for whom this may be the most pressing of all security issues'.

The whole report is worth reading - its summary of the current situation in Afghanistan is succint and detail-rich, and the writing and analysis are compelling and convey a much needed sense of urgency.
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# Posted 12:17 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

OUR FIRST LOOK INSIDE FALLUJA: Back in junior high, Nir Rosen was a scrawny kid who could draw just about anything if you have him a pen and paper. He bought overpriced designer jeans and paid for them by installment.

Nir never had much respect for authority and once got suspended for a having a haircut that was more cut than hair. Girls liked him. He left our school after 9th grade and I didn't see him more than once or twice in the next seven years.

In the fall of 1999, I was crossing N Street near Dupont Circle when a heavily-muscled man with short hair and a very attractive woman on his arm called out my name. It was Nir. As we caught up over the next few months I found out that he wanted to be an investigative journalist.

Like the kids who made their by driving down to Central America in the 1980s, Nir figured the best way to get things done was to go where the action was and write about it. When I saw first saw him, he was saving up for a trip to Bosnia and Yugoslavia.

In the meantime, he was trying to get through college and making ends meet by working assorted jobs. He had been a bouncer in Georgetown bar for a while, but discovered that it wasn't an enjoyable job unless you really liked hurting people. Most of his colleagues did.

After the invasion of Iraq, Nir shipped out for Baghdad without hesitating. Early on, he got an article published in Time Magazine. Since then, he has freelanced for newspapers including the Pittsburght Post-Gazette and the Asia Times.

But now Nir has hit the big time. He has the lead essay in this week's New Yorker, entitled "Home Rule". Congratulations are in order, since writing about Falluja from the inside takes a lot of courage, in addition to the literary talent expected of all contributors to the New Yorker. A lot of older correspondents won't risk going into the heart of the Sunni Triangle, but I'm guessing that only made it more attractive for Nir.

The story Nir has found is a fascinating one. In the absence of American soldiers, Falluja has reverted to a sort of clerical rule embodied in the person of Sheikh Dhafer al-Obeidi. In spite of having his authority granted by Falluja's most senior Sunni cleric, Dhafer struggles to reign in the foreign jihadis in town while also collaborating with the nominal mayor and the former general appointed by the United States to maintain local security.

The individuals and events that Nir describes demonsrate just how accomplished he has become at integrating himself into foreign cultures. Still, there are important questions that Nir seems to have left unasked. While consulting an impressive cross-section of local authority figures, Nir doesn't give us much sense of what the broader mass of Falluja residents wants for themselves. Does their resistance to the American occupation stem from an ideological commitment to Ba'athism, a religious commitment to Islam or an attachment to the extensive material benefits that Saddam once bestowed on his favorite subjects?

Nir hints at an answer to this quesiton when he writes that
In the first few months after Saddam’s government fell, the city had been fairly stable internally. Religious and tribal leaders had appointed their own civil management council before the Americans arrived. Falluja did not suffer from looting, and government buildings were protected. Tight tribal bonds helped maintain order. Early in the occupation, however, a demonstration protesting the Americans’ takeover of a school building had turned bloody, and a cycle of attacks and retaliation began, with the resistance increasing in sophistication. Local fighters were joined by rogue mujahideen and jihadis from other Arab countries, and, as in the rest of Iraq, the violence and disorder spiralled out of control.
I must admit that I am quite suspicious of the implicit suggestion that it is all the Americans' fault. First of all, American soldiers began to clash with Sunni gunmen in Falluja less than three weeks after the fall of Baghdad. The march that first led to violence was actually a celebration of Saddam's birthday. (I'm not sure if this is the same march that Nir refers to above.)

In other words, the residents of Falluja are not simply anti-American but are (or at least were) actively pro-Saddam. This pro-Saddam sentiment explains why there was no looting: the residents of Falluja didn't hate Saddam and suffer under his rule the way the rest of Iraq. Moreover, how much stability was there in Falluja if protest marches turned violent during the first weeks of the occupation?

All in all, it is somewhat misleading for Nir to describe the intense conflict in Falluja as a product of minor disturbances that "spiralled out of control". A spiral implies a lack of responsibility and a lack of awareness on the parts of its participants. In Falluja, the violence was not part of a spiral, but of the rabid anti-Americanism of the Ba'athist dictatorships most fervent supporters.

After describing Falljua's hybrid political order as "a controversial experiment in Iraqi autonomy", Nir concludes his article by writing that
As the handover to sovereignty began [in late June], the experiment with self-rule in Falluja looked more and more like a desperate measure that had been taken too late.
In other words, the handover itself is simply Falluja writ large: "a desperate measure...taken too late." While there is much to criticize about the handover, Nir's comparison of Falluja with Iraq as a whole is profoundly misguided, if not atypical of American journalists in Iraq.

After all, how can one predict the attitudes and behavior of Shi'ites and Kurds -- let alone most Sunnis -- from the attitudes and behavior of Saddam's most loyal supporters? Journalists' refusal to acknowledge such religious and tribal differences led to their prediction in early April that Moqtada Sadr's Shi'ite insurgents would join with their Sunni counterparts in a national revolt against the American occupation. For most correspondents, Sadr's defeat and Sistani's support for the Americans discredited such predictions. Yet Nir still holds to them quite fast. He writes that
Falluja is one of the most religiously conservative towns in the “Sunni triangle,” but the recent confluence of the Shiite uprising led by Moqtada al-Sadr and the siege of Falluja by the marines had created a curious alliance that transcended religious differences.
In our arguments about the occupation, Nir has insited without reservation that there is an anti-American consensus lurking just below the surface of Iraq's intensely factionalized politics. In his essay in the New Yorker, this article of faith makes itself manifest.

Nonetheless, I think Nir deserves tremendous credit for risking his life -- literally -- to educate the American public about critical events in one of the most important but least well-known parts of Iraq. Regardless of any reservations I have, there is no question that I have learned a lot from Nir's impressive work.
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Monday, June 28, 2004

# Posted 11:15 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

MOORE IS LESS: Over at TNR, Richard Just deliciously deconstructs one of the most disingeuous aspects of Fahrenheit 9/11.

And while we're on the subject, let me just say that Paul Wolfowitz desperately needs a makeover from the boys at Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. Even though I have a lot of respect for Wolfowitz, it was almost impossible not to cringe during Fahrenheit 9/11 when Wolfowitz pulls a comb from his pocket, puts it in his mouth and then slurps on it as if it were a greasy popsicle.

After fixing his hair with the spit-waddled comb, Wolfowitz then slurps on his fingers and runs them through his hair. All the while, the Deputy Secretary of Defense has an impish grin on his face, the kind you see on children who know that they can get away with picking their noses in public because their parents are too tired to stop them.

Even though it's sort of mean and unfair for Moore to include this kind of gross-out footage, it's not as if Wolfowitz didn't know he was looking into a television camera. Like it or not, images are political.

On the other hand, it's good to know that the mainstream media didn't make a big deal out of the Wolfowitz gross-out footage, even though they clearly could've done so. After all, making fun of someone's poor grooming habits doesn't isn't all that mature.

Then again, Moore seems to have a sense of humor about his own appearance, so I guess it's okay if he sometimes calls the kettle black.
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# Posted 8:07 AM by Patrick Belton  

IRAQ A SOVEREIGN COUNTRY, AS OF THIS MORNING: In a surprise move aimed at disrupting terrorist attacks timed around the formal handover of sovereignty to the Iraqi government, the United States and United Kingdom transferred sovereignty this morning to the Iraqi government led by Prime Minister Allawi. Joe Gandelman takes an exhaustive look:
The U.S.-led coalition transferred sovereignty to an interim Iraqi government Monday, speeding up the move by two days in an apparent bid to surprise insurgents who may have tried to sabotage the step toward self rule.

Legal documents handing over sovereignty were handed over by U.S. governor L. Paul Bremer to interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi in a ceremony in the heavily guarded Green Zone. (from AP)
And from an announcement this morning by FM Zebari:
Mr Zebari said the deteriorating security situation in the country was one of the reasons why the date had been brought forward.

"We will challenge these elements in Iraq, the anti-democratic elements, by even bringing the handover of sovereignty before June 30 as a sign we are ready for it," he said.

He added: "We have made some very good progress in terms of the new security council (in Iraq) and the return of sovereignty to the Iraqi people to take away the level of occupation we have suffered a great deal from.

"There are many Iraqis who are standing up to the challenge. We are here to seek more help and assistance, training and equipment."


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Sunday, June 27, 2004

# Posted 9:43 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

GOING TO THE CHAPEL: One of my best friends from high school is getting married today. Back tomorrow night.
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# Posted 3:31 AM by Patrick Belton  

NATO AT 55: Over the next two days, the elected leaders of the twenty-six nations which comprise Nato will be assembling in Istanbul to decide together which directions they will take the 55-year old alliance. (More formally, and to use the quaint language peculiar to the venerable transatlantic alliance, Nato’s governing North Atlantic Council will be convening at the level of heads of state and government.)

What will happen in Istanbul? Here’s one set of predictions:

• Afghanistan: Secretary Jaap de Hoop Scheffer has called Nato’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan the central issue for this summit. Unfortunately, Nato’s limited capabilities at the moment make it unlikely the alliance will do much to expand ISAF’s reach from Kabul and Kunduz, which it controls at present. Look though for about five nationally-run Provincial Reconstruction Teams (provincially based nation-building units of 80-200 troops each scattered around the country) to be reflagged as part of ISAF.

• Iraq: The Bush administration would like to see Nato assume responsibility for the southern central sector of Iraq, currently controlled by a 6,200-strong multinational brigade led by Poland. Military planners at SHAPE dispute whether there are enough troops available to undertake both an expanded mission in Afghanistan and a new one in Iraq, and President Chirac famously told a Hungarian newspaper in February he did not see ‘in what conditions a Nato commitment in Iraq would be possible.’ On the other hand, the German government has indicated it could support a Nato mission, if the sovereign Iraqi government requests it. Iraqi Prime Minister Ilyad Allawi duly wrote to Nato’s Secretary General the week before the summit, to request Nato’s assistance in developing the Iraqi security forces after the transfer of sovereignty. Prediction: We've already seen an abstract commitment to agreeing to PM Allawi's request by Nato ambassadors in the run-up to the summit, though with no word about actual troop commitments. At the actual summit, it takes back seat to Afghanistan.

• Bosnia: Look for Nato to announce the successful completion of its decade-long SFOR mission in Bosnia. France will be happy to see the EU pick up Bosnia as an important new mission, and troop-strapped Nato leaders will be happy to see it go.

• Counterterror: Nothing will happen here, unfortunately. Though adopting terrorism as a Nato mission is a principal U.S. aim, France, Germany, and Belgium are too firmly committed toward steering the counterterrorism enterprise into the EU rather than Nato headquarters. A cosmetic package of measures will be rolled out, though, and look for the U.S. to receive increased measures toward intelligence sharing, a Rumsfeld favorite, as a consolation prize.

• Middle East Initiative: Another principal American aim for this summit, it has little European support, apart from a surprisingly sympathetic Germany. Nato staffers are indicating the Mediterranean Initiative—Nato’s outreach program to the Arab world—will be relaunched under a new name as a Istanbul Cooperation Initiative. Look for talk of ‘supporting indigenous reform’ and ‘joint understanding over security issues.’ (Further hint: don’t look too hard for talk of ‘democracy’ or ‘women's rights’.)

• Working with the EU: The European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) is France’s baby, which it sees as the EU’s alternative to Nato (without the pesky Americans). Other countries, after the rather paltry European contribution during Kosovo, see it more as a program to build up European defence capacities, and get more ‘bang for their Euro’. The December 2002 ‘Berlin Plus’ deal provided the EU with access to Nato operational planning and shared assets for operations in which Nato as a whole is not engaged. The British government deftly hijacked in December France’s ambitions to lead the ESDP as a breakaway military province from Nato, by ensuring that the EU planning cell would be located at SHAPE—the alliance’s military headquarters. ESDP undertook a fairly successful several-month long maiden mission in Macedonia last year, but as regards capabilities, European leaders still have to demonstrate, even under the ESDP, that they will be capable of getting more ‘bang for the Euro’.

So Nato will finally get out of Bosnia; the Middle East Initiative—which Germany, at least, supports—will go nowhere; the U.S. wants improved counterterror, but won’t get it. France wants EU-Nato relations worked out, and they will be, partially. Meaningful alliance participation in Afghanistan and Iraq will be hindered by the capabilities gap. And so on.

If this catalog of predictions leaves you feeling somewhat underwhelmed, it’s because of the basic problem of the alliance—which is cash. While the US contributes 3.3% of its GDP to national defence, 12 of the 19 pre-2004 Nato allies contribute less than 2% of theirs. To look at it another way, the US picks up the tab for 64% of Nato military expenditures ($348.5 million, 2002), while all other allies together contribute only 36% ($196.0 million). For their part, European governments are facing budget shortfalls and budget pressure from ballooning pension costs.

What comes out of this is a capabilities gap. Of 1.4 million soldiers under Nato arms in October 2003, allies other than the US contributed all of 55,000. Nearly all allies lack forces which can be projected away from the European theatre. SACEUR General James Jones testified before Congress in March 2004 that only 3-4% of European forces were deployable for expeditions. Then there are the problems of interoperability: there is a recurring problem of coalition-wide secure communications which can be drawn on in operations. Allies other than the U.S. have next to no precision strike capabilities, although these are slowly improving. The US is generally the sole provider of electronic warfare (jamming and electronic intelligence) aircraft, as well as aircraft for surveillance and C3 (command, control, and communications). The US is also capable of much greater sortie rates than its allies.

The other problem is political will, which is most in evidence on the issue of terrorism. There's been progress (beginning with the 2002 Prague Summit) toward the creation of a Nato Response Force capable of sophisticated counterterror missions. There's also been progress toward the drafting (which has been done) and implementation (which hasn't) of a military concept for counterterrorism. But allies still strongly disagree about whether counterterrorism should even be one of Nato's primary missions - so the principal task of the US at the moment lies in the area of creating political will among allies to adopt counterterrorism as a Nato responsibility. That we have not done so is at least in part our fault - Allies felt rebuffed after they gave the US unprecedented political support through invoking Article 5, and then were not consulted in the prosecution of the war in Afghanistan. For their part, the civilian leadership of the Pentagon believed Kosovo had been an unacceptable example of 'war by committee', and political interference from allies would prevent a quick and decisive Afghanistan campaign. Perhaps it might have, but now at Nato the United States is facing the consequences in the form of less enthusiasm for counterterror missions.

The result of this impecunity and general want of resolve is, something like a Horatio Alger novel adapted by a rather perverse naturalist, a litany of unfulfilled promises. Addressing the operational inadequacies of Nato was to be the subject of the Defence Capabilities Initiative launched at the April 1999 Washington Summit—but the DCI was widely regarded as too broad and unfocused. To remedy this shortfall, the Prague Capabilities Commitment (PCC) then grew out of the November 2002 Prague Summit and in an act of military humility instead suggested individual allies tailor their contributions by focusing on specific capabilities they might actually be able to handle (strategic lift for Germany, aerial tankers for Spain, unmanned aerial vehicles for a group of six other allies). As far as how well the PCC has performed—well, don’t expect too many presidents and prime ministers to be slapping each other on their backs in self-congratulation in Istanbul.

And then there’s counterterrorism. The US had encouraged adoption of counterterror as a core alliance task since the Clinton administration, and particularly during the runup to the Washington Summit in April 1999. With some assistance from Germany and Belgium, France led opposition to its adoption even then, preferring to see the EU built up as a pillar of European security and Nato reduced in importance. (This opposition overlaps with France's hostility to out-of-area missions, which counterterror operations would largely be, and which would also expand Nato's role in the world). On the other hand, under the leadership of recently retired Secretary General Lord Robertson, Nato’s staff established an internal terrorism task force to coordinate the work of different staff offices touching on the issue, and made some staff-level progress on civil-military emergency planning and consequence management. The military concept for counter-terrorism received approval at the November 2002 Prague summit - it includes proposals for a standard threat-warning system, establishing standing forces dedicated to post-attack consequence management, creating standing joint and combined forces for counterterror operations, and creating civil assistance capabilities which could be used after a WMD attack. The Nato Response Force (NRF) was adopted by the Prague Summit, which called for initial operating capacity by October 2004 and full operational capacity by October 2006.

These would indeed be useful tools in countering terrorist threats around the world, but there are reports these capabilities will not be fielded until before the end of the decade, if at all. Another unfulfilled promise of the Prague Summit was the launching of a Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical analytical lab and event response team, which remain unimplemented - among other things, Nato's Weapons of Mass Destruction Centre has a current staff of only 12 people. Also, France has successfully hindered efforts to give Nato’s Civil-Military Planning Directorate operational capabilities for post-terrorist attack consequence management, preferring to see the EU take up the policy area.

These are dire situations, indeed, to greet President Bush and his aides when they arrive in Istanbul, but the luxury is not generally permitted to presidents to give up and run home from Nato summits. In general, the task facing the US - and President Bush - at Istanbul is twofold: to try to build political will, while playing mostly against the French, to actually implement these paper counterterror programs; and to show domestic voters his administration can indeed play well with others, while bringing home tangible results for American national security from multilateral fora. Note to Bush staff— points to strike from the administration’s lexicon: Talk of ‘Old Europe’ offends the Poles and other Central European countries, who object to any division of the European continent. The idea of a divided Europe understandably has different historical resonances for them. Likewise for Secretary Rumsfeld’s talk of ‘coalitions of the willing’. Have any dissenting aides read the North Atlantic Treaty (1949), which grounds allied decisionmaking on a principle of consensus. It worked for us during the Cold War, and it can be made to work again. It’s not as though France's presence in Nato is a particularly new invention, after all. Also, talk of removing the legitimating presence of North Atlantic Council unanimity from the implementation of Nato military might scares the bejesus out of European allies, whose history makes them particularly touchy about violations of borders and national sovereignty, even when absolutely morally warranted.

For the Kerry campaign, their task will instead be to stay clear of the easy temptation to claim France would be an enthusiastic Nato ally today if it weren't for the Bush administration. It wouldn't, and claims it would (example: mantra-like invocations of Le Monde’s September 12th 'Nous sommes tous Américains'), are likely to come across as partisan. The Kerry camp will also have a two-fold task. First, without retreating into tired talking points about ‘unilateralism’, it needs to sell voters the message that US presidents can't command Nato allies to do anything, they can only convince - and then make the case that this administration hasn't succeeded terribly well to date in that task. Second, it will have as well to show voters that Kerry and his aides can grapple creatively—and in a prose style more elevated than the sound bite—with complex alliance issues of national security, in an election which promises to be decided on precisely national security.

It's a crucial moment, really, for both the president and the senator from Massachusetts – who in his basic foreign policy outlook resembles no one among recent presidents so much as Bush I, who was at least good at alliances. For the Kerry camp, Istanbul represents an opportunity to make the case to voters that its vaunted multilateral approaches can contribute meaningfully to national security. And for the Bush administration, the Istanbul Summit represents a chance to show its critics that it can indeed work creatively in multilateral fora, and more importantly and even against expectations, produce results there. And at the North Atlantic Council and on the summit’s margins, its task will be to work to create a consensus for orienting Nato to the war on terror, which is where its efforts badly need to be.
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Saturday, June 26, 2004

# Posted 1:48 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE UNEXPECTED MICHAEL MOORE: I descended this night into the belly of the beast. I saw Fahrenheit 9/11 on its opening night in Harvard Square. Just minutes into the film, someone in the audience yelled out "F*** Bush!" Driven by an unknown compulsion, I responded aloud "How much are you paying?" No one else interrupted the film with comments, although applause came at regular intervals.

One of the things that made this film enjoyable was that I didn't have to be on guard. Christopher Hitchens has already provided ample evidence of how misleading and dishonest Fahrenheit 9/11 is, so I didn't have to take notes. Instead, I could just focus on the gut level questions of whether this is good filmmaking or good propaganda.

The best way to describe this film is as an extended free association. The tone is prosecutorial, but even the harshest critics of George W. Bush might not be able to figure out how one part of the film relates to the next.

For example, why does the first half-hour of the film focus on the relationship between the Bush family and Saudi Arabia? The apparent point of the segment is to demonstrate divided loyalties. Unbelievably enough, Moore asks whether Bush wakes up and thinks about Saudi national interests before he thinks about America's.

Then suddenly, the Saudis disappear. I was sure that they were going to reappear at some critical moment in the closing minutes of the film. After all, what Hollywood screenwriter would spend half an hour foreshadowing an event that never arrives?

Instead, Moore moves on to an extended discussion of how the Bush administration has moved the terror alert level from yellow to orange to yellow and back again. There is also a long excerpt from a network interview with Richard Clarke, whose criticism is far more plausible and coherent than anything Moore comes up with on his own. I've never bought in to Clarke's accusations, but Clarke does come across as an intelligent and public-minded, not to mention having the inherent credibility of having been Bush's counterrorism czar.

I thought the film had reached its turning point. The Saudis were out of the way and we could now focus on how the CIA and the Pentagon managed to persuade themselves that Iraq had massive stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction that are still unaccounted for. Instead, Moore wanders on to the next episode in his crusade.

Iraq. It is a happy place where citizens where children fly kites and loving families spend quality time together. It is a "sovereign nation". Perhaps Moore will say that he was being sarcastic or humorous when he decided to make no mention at all of the horrific atrocities that Saddam Hussein committed. The rape, the murder, and the torture chambers. Perhaps Moore will say that he just wanted to present a picture as outrageous as the one George W. Bush presented to the American public.

Frankly, Moore could use that defense to explain just about any inaccuracy in the film. Misleading? No, just mocking the Bush administration's own propaganda. Except, of course, that life under Saddam really was hell, even if Iraqi mothers still loved their children, some of whom were allowed to fly kites.

To my surprise, Fahrenheit 9/11 spends only a minute or two criticizing Bush and Cheney for conflating the threats presented by Saddam and Al Qaeda. Instead, Moore provides us with gruesome footage of mangled Iraqi limbs and splintered Iraqi children. (Don't expect him to let you know that Saddam murdered more Iraqis almost every month than the Americans killed during their invasion.)

Next up are the mangled and splintered bodies of the American soldiers in Iraq. The final half hour of Fahrenheit 9/11 tries to drive home one point again and again: that young Americans are suffering and dying for a worthless cause.

Without question, this is the strongest part of the film. In essence, it is the story of one mother -- Lila Lipscomb --in Moore's hometown of Flint, Michigan who lost her son in Iraq. Her raw emotions are far more powerful than any of the bizarre conspiracy theories or humorous cheapshots the fill out the rest of the film. This one mother has an authenticity that the rest of the film is desperately in search of.

Lipscomb describes herself as a conservative Democrat. Each morning she unfurls her American flag and attaches it to the stand on the outside wall of her home. She hates the anti-war protesters at first, but learns to respect their ideas. In his final letter home from Iraq, her son writes that Bush is a fool who is wasting the lives of American soldiers.

While Moore bashes the American media for ignoring the stories of individual stories, the fact is that they have become a standard feature of American war coverage. After all, it was just two days ago that OxBlog praised the WaPo for its in-depth account of the life and death of Pfc. Jason N. Lynch.

While I am often suspicious of the motives of those who write such stories, their work coincides with my principles. They want to demonstrate that war causes unjustified suffering. I want to honor the sacrifice of those men and women who lay down their lives for their country and for its ideals. We should know as much as possible about each of these men and women.

From a political perspective, however, Moore may not get very far. Contrary to what the journalists have to say, concern over mounting casualties doesn't seem to disturb the American public or diminish its support for nation-building in Iraq.

Walking out of theatre, I didn't have the sense that Fahrenheit 9/11 represented any sort of threat to the Bush candidacy. There were even surprising moments when the film made Bush look far wiser and more patient than I ever would have expected. During the Saudi phase of his film, Moore places great emphasis on the seven minutes Bush spent reading to elementary school children in Florida even after the second plane hit the World Trade Center. According to the NYT,
For the White House, the most devastating segment of "Fahrenheit 9/11" may be the video of a befuddled-looking President Bush staying put for nearly seven minutes at a Florida elementary school on the morning of Sept. 11, continuing to read a copy of "My Pet Goat" to schoolchildren even after an aide has told him that a second plane has struck the twin towers. Mr. Bush's slow, hesitant reaction to the disastrous news has never been a secret. But seeing the actual footage, with the minutes ticking by, may prove more damaging to the White House than all the statistics in the world.
I couldn't disagree more. Whereas Bush often looks foolish and befuddled during interviews with the press, the expressions on his face during those seven minutes in the classroom are those of a proud leader confronting his own fear and anguish while struggling to protect the children around him from the panic of a brutal and horrific attack on their homeland.

The lesson to take away from Fahrenheit 9/11 is that propaganda doesn't work, regardless of whether it is Dick Cheney's or Michael Moore's.
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Friday, June 25, 2004

# Posted 6:51 AM by Patrick Belton  

TO WRITE CRICKET BATS, SO THAT WHEN WE THROW UP AN IDEA AND GIVE IT A LITTLE KNOCK, IT MIGHT...TRAVEL: Blogger Mark Pilgrim excerpts one of my favourite passages from Tom Stoppard.

(Speaking of writing, I hope whoever was looking for a free eulogy for a motorcycle death found what you were looking for....)
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# Posted 5:42 AM by Patrick Belton  

ENGLAND: OUR CONDOLENCES. (Though I'm not sure why 'BBC Persian' comes up as a related link for the photo gallery of England's 6-5 loss to Portugal yesterday, which knocked England out of the Euro Cup. Conspiracy theorists are warmly welcomed to contribute suggestions.)
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# Posted 1:35 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

POLLING UPDATE: The most recent Annenberg Survey shows some significant gains for Bush compared with one month ago. Bush's overall approval rating rose 52%, up from 48%.

Bush also made significant gains in terms of the numbers who consider him "trustworthy", a fact which goes against the trend picked up by the WaPo's most recent poll. It is hard to compare the results, however, since Annenberg asks voters to rate the President on a 1-to-10 scale rather than giving a Yes-or-No answer. Moreover, the Anneberg survey was taken over the course of almost two whole weeks, which makes it very hard to gauge the impact of the 9/11 Commission's recent report.

On a related note, Ruy Teixeira reports that Kerry has opened up some pretty strong leads in the battleground states of Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania. It looks like we're headed for an exciting summer...
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# Posted 1:23 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

GEPHARDT ATTACK: I agree with Ruy, John and Matt; George Bush is the only one who will benefit from having Gephardt as Kerry's running mate.
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# Posted 1:07 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

FINANCE AND ECONOMY IN IRAQ: The Economist describes the surprising success of American efforts to refrom the Iraqi banking sector. There is also some good news about the Iraqi economy -- as well as a considerable amount of useful infomation -- in this CFR background brief. Both links are courtesty of Dan Drezner, who felt obliged to balance out all of the criticism he's been directing at the CPA for ideologically-motivated intransigence.
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# Posted 12:53 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

CONDOLENCES: To Matt Yglesias, on the loss of his mother, a young and vibrant woman. Grief is not a common emotion on political websites, but I think that Matt's own post and the kind words of his readers are a good reminder that we here in the blogosphere are still very human. In a good way.
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# Posted 12:29 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

AFFIRMATIVE ACTION AS IVY FIG LEAF: This NYT article confirms a disturbing trend that I personally experienced as an undergraduate at Yale. Instead of benefiting the victims of historic prejudice in the United States, Ivy League affirmative action programs result in the admission of disproportionate numbers of Caribbean and African immigrants, and/or their children. Apparently, it isn't only at Yale where black students tend to have French surnames.

While Caribbean and African blacks deserve their places at Harvard and Yale, they shouldn't benefit from preferential admission standards designed to encourage the admission of African-Americans. Of course, Ivy League admissions officers are quite resistant to talking about this trend. They are so desperate to cement their employers' progressive image that they are not concerned about how they come up with enough black students to fill their unofficial quotas.

Now, I'll be the first to admit that this sort of criticism lacks a certain credibility, coming as it does from an author who generally opposes affirmative action. Yet as the chair of the Harvard sociology department points out,
"You need a philosophical discussion about what are the aims of affirmative action...

"If it's about getting black faces at Harvard, then you're doing fine. If it's about making up for 200 to 500 years of slavery in this country and its aftermath, then you're not doing well. And if it's about having diversity that includes African-Americans from the South or from inner-city high schools, then you're not doing well, either."
Even Henry Louis Gates and Lani Guinier think the system is deeply flawed. I'd go further and say that Ivy League political correctness has become a palliative for liberal white consciences rather than a commitment to real social justice.
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Thursday, June 24, 2004

# Posted 11:49 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

ALONE AND AFRAID:
In the later years of Saddam Hussein's rule, getting caught trying to solicit meant life in prison or even death. In a public ceremony in 2000, Hussein had 200 women beheaded after accusing them of prostitution.
So in some respects, the American invasion has represented an advance in terms of women's rights. Still, selling yourself in Baghdad is dangerous proposition.
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# Posted 10:55 AM by Patrick Belton  

DEMOCRATS ABROAD OF THE UK are for some reason showing - multiple - screenings of Michael Moore's latest film. And offering 'a complimentary glass of wine upon arrival' to anyone who comes by.* Someone should have these folks read Christopher Hitchens or Michelle Cottle, and consider picking a new Democratic role model.

_________________
* Of course, the wine might prove an inspired touch. Not only might it make it easier for the audience to sit through one of Moore's films, but it would also open up the possibility of creating some interesting Michael Moore drinking games....
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# Posted 7:42 AM by Patrick Belton  

NATO AT 55: Next week, on 28 and 29 June, the North Atlantic Council governing the NATO alliance will meet in Istanbul at the heads of state and government level. (As a bit of Nato trivia, Nato's supreme body - which represents the equality and consensus that characterised the U.S.'s Cold War relations with its allies, and treats equally the votes of Luxembourg and the United States - can meet at the level of permanent representative, defence or foreign ministers, or heads of government. It's the same committee, the NAC, which meets in all three instances - only the bodies seated behind the names of countries change.)

I'm quite fond of Nato, having served in the American mission at its headquarters several years ago, and I'll be looking forward to taking the opportunity afforded by the Istanbul Summit to examine where Nato is, where it's going, and where it could stand to do things differently or take a different tack. Here's my first take.

There's been progress (beginning with the 2002 Prague Summit) toward the creation of a Nato Response Force capable of sophisticated counterterror missions. There's also been progress toward the drafting (which has been done) and implementation (which hasn't) of a military concept for counterterrorism. But allies still strongly disagree about whether counterterrorism should even be one of Nato's primary missions - so the principal task of the US at the moment lies in the area of creating political will among allies to adopt counterterrorism as a Nato responsibility. That we have not done so is at least in part our fault - Allies felt rebuffed after they gave the US unconditional political support through invoking Article 5, and then were not consulted in the prosecution of the war in Afghanistan. For their part, the civilian leadership of the Pentagon believed Kosovo had been an unacceptable example of 'war by committee', and political interference from allies would prevent a quick and decisive Afghanistan campaign. Perhaps it might have, but now at Nato we're facing the consequences in the form of less enthusiasm for counterterror missions.

At the moment, the alliance is very strongly split between New and Old Europe (with France, Germany, and Belgium being most opposed to adopting counterterror as a Nato mission). The US had encouraged adoption of counterterror as a core alliance task since the Clinton administration, and particularly during the runup to the Washington Summit in April 1999. France led opposition to its adoption even then, preferring to see the EU built up as a pillar of European security and Nato reduced in importance (it also overlaps with France's opposition to out-of-area missions, which counterterror operations would largely be, and which would also expand Nato's role). On the other hand, under the leadership of recently retired (and admirable) SecGen Lord Robertson, Nato at the staff level established an internal terrorism task force to coordinate the work of different Nato staff offices touching on the issue, launched a new capabilities initiative, and made some staff-level progress on civil-military emergency planning and consequence management. The military concept (Military Concept for Combating Terrorism) began with the December 2001 defence ministerial as a tasking to the SACEUR and SACLANT and was approved at the November 2002 Prague summit - it includes proposals for a standard threat-warning system, establishing standing forces dedicated to post-attack consequence management, creating standing joint and combined forces for counterterror operations, and creating civil assistance capabilities which could be used after a WMD attack. On a separate front, the operational inadequacies of Nato (which in turn create an incentive for the US to act outside it, and reinforcing transatlantic drift...) were the subject of the Defence Capabilities Initiative (DCI) launched at the April 1999 Washington Summit, but the DCI is widely regarded as having been too broad and unfocused. The Prague Capabilities Commitment (PCC) grew out of the November 2002 Prague Summit and suggests individual allies tailor their contributions by focusing on specific capabilities (i.e., Germany and strategic lift, Canada/France/Italy/Spain/Turkey/Holland and unmanned aerial vehicles, Spain and aerial tankers, Polish special forces, etc.) The Nato Response Force (NRF) was adopted by the Prague Summit, which called for initial operating capacity by October 2004 and full operational capacity by October 2006.

This would indeed be a useful tool in countering terrorist threats around the world, but political support is currently inadequate among allies, and these capabilities will not be fielded until before the end of the decade, if at all. Another unfulfilled promise of the Prague Summit was the launching of a Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical analytical lab and event response team, which remain unimplemented - among other things, Nato's Weapons of Mass Destruction Centre has a current staff of only 12 people. Also, France has successfully hindered efforts to give the Civil-Military Planning Directorate operational capabilities for post-terrorist attack consequence management, preferring to see the EU take up the policy area.

In general, the task facing the US - and the Bush administration - at Istanbul is twofold: to try to build political will (playing mostly against the French) to actually implement these paper programs, which would do a great deal to improve both US and allied security; and to show domestic voters that it can play well with others, and bring home tangible results for American national security from multilateral fora. For the Kerry campaign, its task will be to stay clear of the easy temptation to claim France would be an enthusiastic Nato ally today if it weren't for the Bush administration. It wouldn't (repeated invocations of 'nous sommes tous Américains' to the contrary), and claims it would are likely to come across as partisan. The Kerry camp, like the Bush administration, will also have a two-fold task: first, to recognise US presidents can't command Nato allies to do anything, they can only convince - and then try to sell to voters the more nuanced, correct claim the present administration hasn't succeeded terribly well to date in that task; second, it will have as well to show voters that Kerry and his aides can grapple creatively with complex political and strategic issues of national security, in an election which promises to be decided on precisely national security. It's a crucial moment for both the president and the senator from Massachusetts. To the extent the Kerry camp deals in a creative and nuanced way with complex questions facing the alliance, rather than falling back on the temptation to use Istanbul as just one more occasion to lob easy criticisms at the administration for its unilateralism, then it can contribute to a constructive national security debate where partisan competition helps overcome bureaucratic inertia and produce better ideas about how to promote national interests. And for the Bush administration, the Istanbul Summit represents a chance to show its critics that it can indeed work creatively in multilateral fora, and more importantly, produce results there. And at the NAC and on the margins, its task will be to work against Francophone and German opponents of Nato to win the vote of sensible Old European countries (Netherlands, Portugal, Italy) and create a consensus for orienting Nato to the war on terror, which its efforts are badly needed.

Oddly, the website of the US Committee on Nato, www.expandNATO.org, in which there was substantial bipartisan participation (PPI president Will Marshall, for instance), now points to 'discount vitamins'.
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# Posted 2:07 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SEVEN-OF-NINE EIGHTY-SIXES ILLINOIS GOP: Democratic prodigy Barack Obama now has a lock on Illinois' vacant Senate post thanks to the court-ordered opening of his opponent's divorce records. Compared to Jack Ryan's escapades, President Clinton's indiscretions are PG-13 at best.

Of course, what really matters here is that Ryan's ex-wife is none other than Jeri Ryan, the super-sexy extra-terrestrial known as "Seven of Nine" on Star Trek: Voyager. While there may be a handful of super-wonks now speculating about whether Obama's election will let the Democrats will take back the Senate -- or even whether Obama will be Hillary's running-mate in 2008 -- I can personally guarantee that there are millions of Star Trek fans (men, for the most part) salivating over every detail of the court records while knowing in their hearts that they would have given Seven of Nine the respect she deserved.

UPDATE: TNR has an interesting column about Chicago area pundits' hypocritical reaction to the Ryan affair. The column makes the valuable point that however unusual Ryan's tastes are, there was nothing inherently immoral about what he did -- a description that doesn't apply at all to Bill Clinton's indiscretions.

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# Posted 1:47 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

OUR BIPOLAR MEDIA: Brad DeLong has put up a persuasive post documenting certain journalists' contempt for policy expertise. However, I think Brad goes too far when he condemns the entire media establishment for its arrogant anti-intellectualism. After all, how can the same journalists who savage George W. Bush -- and once savaged Ronald Reagan -- for failing to master the intricate details of national policy be considered anti-intellectual?

I think it might be better to say that the media is opportunistic and narrative-driven. Instead of simply criticizing individuals, it tries to brand them as stock characters: Bush and Reagan the cowboys, Clinton the womanizer, etc. Even when they play against type, they get forced back into their pre-assigned roles. What Reagan taught us is that there is only one way to transcend this imposition: by dying at an opportune moment.
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# Posted 1:37 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

JOSH'S HERO SPEAKS: Vaclav Havel reminds us that we need democracy everywhere, even Zimbabwe -- and especially Zimbabwe.
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# Posted 1:20 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

EACH SOLDIER LOST IS AN INDIVIDUAL TRAGEDY: It is a point that cannot be emphasized enough. Pfc. Jason N. Lynch laid down his life for his country. His fellow soldiers in the 6th Field Artillery are still there in Iraq, fighting hours-long gun battles in the blistering desert heat. For all of us at home, it is a humbling thought.
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Wednesday, June 23, 2004

# Posted 1:33 PM by Patrick Belton  

A SAD DAY FOR ALL FRIENDS OF MEXICO: Crusading journalist Francisco Ortiz Franco, was slain yesterday by the very drug cartels he spent his life combating, as he left a Tijuana clinic with his children.

Ortiz Franco's Tijuana-based weekly newspaper, Zeta, was founded in 1980 by a group of journalists - Jesús Blancornelas, Héctor Félix Miranda, and several like-minded friends - who made it their work to write explicitly about who was selling drugs, who was accepting bribes, and which government officials were turning their heads. Héctor 'El Gato' Félix Miranda was murdered in a Tijuana alley on 20 April, 1988. The narcobusinessman whose bodyguard was convicted in Félix Miranda's shooting, Jorge Hank Rhon, is now running for mayor of Tijuana. Blancornelas survived an assasination attempt and a hail of 400 bullets on 27 November, 1997, with his driver and friend Luis Valero Elizaldi not being so lucky. In a country where it is common practice for reporters to sell their coverage, or simply print government press releases verbatim, these people are showing that journalists can be heroes.

Francisco, que descanses en paz, y tus compadres, que Dios les bendiga.
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# Posted 1:05 PM by Patrick Belton  

IF YOU GET ON THE L TRAIN, THE L TRAIN WILL GET YOU WHERE YOU'RE GOIN'. Without a human conductor, that is.
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# Posted 12:36 PM by Patrick Belton  

THIS HAS ALREADY led to rumours of French villagers attempting to surrender to it:
MARSEILLE, France (Reuters) -- The southern French city of Marseille called off a three-week hunt for a black panther on Tuesday after the animal sighted by several residents turned out to be a large house cat.
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# Posted 8:27 AM by Patrick Belton  

WILL BAUDE MAKES what I believe is his TNR online debut, with a piece on the Court's slippery slope on police prerogatives - congratulations, Will!
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# Posted 6:28 AM by Patrick Belton  

OUR FRIEND Molly Richardson pointed out, in response to our Ron Paul privateers post, that there was currently sadly no effort in Congress to give official public recognition to International Talk Like a Pirate Day - a proud holiday which has the support of, among others, Dave Barry and the Rev. Moon. This made us realise that we had failed in our duty to you, our readers, by neglecting to cover* the '25th Annual Mooning of Amtrak Day' which took place just this last 10 July, just as it has every year for a quarter century in the city of Laguna Niguel, California. (As one official website notes, 'To the people of countries outside the U.S.A. visiting our web site: Less than one-hundreth (1/100) of a per-cent of our population does this.')

______________________________
* possibly not the right word
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# Posted 2:07 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

DARFUR: Both liberals and conservatives are outraged. After all, that is the only acceptable response to genocide.
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# Posted 1:45 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

A LITTLE CLINTON-BASHING FOR OLD TIMES' SAKE: The WaPo says Clinton's memoirs are dishonest. Anne Applebaum writes that "the book itself can only be described as disappointing, even bizarre." The merciless Fred Barnes goes for Clinton's jugular by declaring the President's record in office to be both mediocre and conservative.

Of course, America still loves Clinton. Polls show that 62% of Americans think Clinton did a good job as President, up from 55% a year ago but down from 65% when Clinton left office. Perhaps more importantly, 50% have a favorable impression of Clinton as a person, up from 44% when he left office and 32% percent at the depths of Monica-gate.
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# Posted 1:26 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

OXBLOG IN THE WEEKLY STANDARD: I've just published an article in the Weekly Standard on Reagan's legacy of promoting democracy worldwide. It begins as follows:
A ROMANTIC. A DREAMER. An optimist. A man of conviction. In the few short days since President Reagan left this world, both his admirers and his critics have settled on a short-list of character traits that are supposed to capture his essence. Yet neither Reagan's admirers nor his critics have begun to grapple with the most romantic and optimistic of the convictions that animated his foreign policy--one that still exerts an unparalleled influence on the conduct of American foreign relations. Whenever President Bush describes democracy as a universal aspiration, capable of flourishing even in the desert wastelands of the Middle East, it is Ronald Reagan's voice that he echoes.

In his historic address to the British Parliament at Westminster in the summer of 1982, Reagan foresaw the downfall of the Soviet empire. Much less noticed was his declaration that democracy promotion must serve as the moral and strategic foundation of American foreign policy. Reporters at the time portrayed Reagan's address as an anti-Communist broadside, all but ignoring its positive agenda of promoting human freedom and self-government.

The discussion of Reagan's legacy as an American statesman has focused almost exclusively on the degree to which his diplomacy was responsible for the end of the Cold War. Without intending to do so, participants on both sides of the debate have reinforced the notion that Reagan's legacy is one of tearing down, not one of building up. If so, then Reagan has nothing to teach us about the post-Cold War era.

Yet at Westminster, Reagan was careful...
The rest of the article is for subscribers only. But life will go on. Really, it will. In the meantine, why not take a look at Reagan's historic address at Westminster? Or perhaps at the 1986 State of the Union Address, in which Reagan memorably and controversially declared that
To those imprisoned in regimes held captive, to those beaten for daring to fight for freedom and democracy -- for their right to worship, to speak, to live, and to prosper in the family of free nations -- we say to you tonight: You are not alone, freedom fighters. America will support with moral and material assistance your right not just to fight and die for freedom but to fight and win freedom -- to win freedom in Afghanistan, in Angola, in Cambodia, and in Nicaragua. This is a great moral challenge for the entire free world.
If you still want more, you can find a list of Reagan's most important speeches right here. And if it's a speech from Reagan's first six years as President, you can find the full text here.
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# Posted 1:25 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE QUAGMIRE DEEPENS: In Chechnya.
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Tuesday, June 22, 2004

# Posted 11:29 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

AMERICA SAYS BUSH IS A LIAR: The WaPo continues to amaze with its abominable coverage of US public opinion. On yesterday's front page, it reported that
Public anxiety over mounting casualties in Iraq and doubts about long-term consequences of the war continue to rise and have helped to erase President Bush's once-formidable advantage over Sen. John F. Kerry.
At least the Post got one fact right: Kerry is surging in the polls, especially on issue of whom voters prefer to conduct the war on terror. But Kerry's surge has absolutely nothing to do with public anxiety about casualties in Iraq or the long term consequences of the war.

Unsurprisingly, the Post compiles all the available evidence of public disenchantment with the occupation, but ignores all of the evidence that point's to Bush's success. One month ago, 38% of Americans thought that we are making "significant progress" toward the establish of a democratic government in Iraq. 57% disagreed. But the now the split is 50-48 in Bush's favor.

An increasing number of Americans think that Bush has a "clear plan" for handling the situation in Iraq, although the split is still 50-48 against the President. Surprisingly, 51% think that the United States is making "significant progress toward restoring civil order" in Iraq, with 48% disagreeing. Thus, it isn't suprising that 44% now approve of Bush's handling of Iraq, up 4% from last month. (55% disapprove, down from 58.)

Now, one can make a pretty strong argument that all of these good feelings about Iraq reflect the American public's overvaluation of the approaching transfer of sovereignty on June 30. After all what kind of sovereignty can Iraq have with 150,000 American soldiers on its soil?

As it turns out, the American public seems to understand this dynamic pretty well. 53% say that the United States, and not Iraq, will hold real power after the handover. Moreover, an overwhelming 77% disapprove, saying that the Iraqis themselves should be in charge.

So what is going on here? If things are looking up for the President in Iraq, why do more Americans now trust John Kerry to wage the war on terror? It turns out that there is a very simple answer to this question and the WaPo completely missed it: The American public has come to believe that Bush is a liar.

According to the WaPo/Poll, 39% of Americans believe that Bush is "honest and trustworthy" while 52% say the same about Kerry. Strangely, the Post provides no trend data on this question, so it's hard to know what the numbers mean...unless you invest the effort necessary to dig up poll results from two months ago and compare.

On April 18th, 55% said Bush was honest and trustworthy. Previously, that number had never dropped below 52% and went as high as 71% in mid-2002. Now, can one make a strong case that this dramatic change in Bush's honesty ratings is responsible for the nosedive in public opinion about the War on Terror?

Absolutely. Judging by the size of the headlines alone, the 9/11 Commission's finding that there was no "collaborative relationship" between Saddam and Al Qaeda has been the biggest story so far this year -- and it played out in the days immediately preceding the WaPo's most recent poll.

Technically speaking, I think it's fair to say that Bush never lied about the relationship between Saddam and Al Qaeda. (I'm not sure I would be so kind to Cheney.) Regardless, Bush's statements have been confusing, disingenuous and utterly unbecoming of a president.

The big question now is whether the damage done to Bush's reputation for honesty is permanent. If the good news of Saddam's capture provided a temporary spike in public assessments of the situation in Iraq, perhaps the impact of the intensive coverage of the Commission's finding will slowly fade during a long, hot summer.

Or perhaps not. My gut feeling says that American voters pay far more attention to a President' personal characteristics than they do to what's happening on the ground half a world away. Bush may recover some of his lost ground, but I suspect that a significant amount of the damage will be permanent.

UDPATE: I just noticed an EJ Dionne column that explains why the Commission's report is so damning:
The battle over the al Qaeda-Hussein connection is ground zero in the fight over the administration's credibility.

On the failure to find weapons of mass destruction, the administration has alibis. It may have ignored contrary evidence on the existence of those weapons and it may have pressured intelligence agencies to reach conclusions that would justify war. But the administration can point to many Democrats, and even Europeans, who thought those weapons existed.
But when it comes to Saddam and Al Qaeda, Bush and Cheney are all alone. I don't agree with much else Dionne says, but he got that much right.
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# Posted 6:41 PM by Patrick Belton  

PRIVATEERS!!!!! One of the odder constitutional moments to arise out of the aftermath of September 11th transpired when Representative Ron Paul (R-Tx), rereading Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution, realised that Congress had the power to grant letters of marque and reprisal. Letters of marque and reprisal, for those of you with lives who aren't congressional foreign policy or constitutional scholars, were a means of sanctioning privateers to travel abroad - hence past the nation's frontier, or 'marque' - and search, seize, or destroy assets or personnel of a hostile country - yes, the 'reprisal bit' - in private response to a public wrong. It was considered a retaliatory measure short of a declaration of war, and as such was meant to be governed by a rough proportionality between the original delict and the state-sanctioned privateer's reprisal. Pirates with letters of marque and reprisal were operating within the colour of law, and were hence privateers. For instance, the famous pirate Captain Kidd's letter of marque from the Admiralty is here. These went out of fashion with the Declaration of Paris in 1856, of which the US was not a signatory, though at several points - during the US civil war and the Spanish-American war, in particular - the US government indicated it would at least for present purposes abide by the principles of the declaration.

Where, indeed, all of this rested - until October 10, 2001, when Representative Paul reread the Constitution and realised that Congress still retained the power to grant letters of marque, and, heroically deciding that the President could not possibly be expected to win a war on terror without such an important tool (i.e., as pirates), he decided thenceforth to devote himself to a holy personal mission of granting President Bush the power to grant letters of marque and reprisal in the war on terror. To this end, he introduced HR 3076, the September 11 Marque and Reprisal Act of 2001. Helpfully, the bill's section 2(a) notes that the September 11 terrorists were, indeed, pirates (air pirates), and of course, who could be expected to fight pirates except with pirates? (Actually, wasn't it the Royal Navy that put down most piracy in the Caribbean and Atlantic sea lanes? hey, we're having fun here, don't spoil it.) And indeed, in short order letters of marque became Rep. Paul's best answer to everything: on the House floor, with parliamentary eloquence not heard since Cicero, Rep. Paul praised them as the obvious result of proceeding with caution and deliberation, taking into account unintended consequences, and avoiding hasty responses - 'We should be careful not to do something just to do something- even something harmful. Mr. Speaker, I fear that some big mistakes could be made in the pursuit of our enemies if we do not proceed with great caution, wisdom, and deliberation. Action is necessary; inaction is unacceptable. No doubt others recognize the difficulty in targeting such an elusive enemy. This is why the principle behind "marque and reprisal" must be given serious consideration.' (yes, he really did praise bringing back pirates as a 'cautious, deliberate' solution to September 11. And that's just a glimpse, ladies and gentlemen, of the keen intelellect and leadership skill it takes to be a member of Congress.) Sadly, the bill has not moved anywhere visible to the naked eye in committee - but something tells me we haven't heard the last of the September 11 Marque and Reprisal Act. Crusades are made of flinty stuff.

Frankly, I'm comforted by the notion that members of the House of Representatives are, like Ron Paul, even as we speak reading the Constitution to scan for powers that can be reinvigorated and placed in the president's hands to prosecute the war on terror. This is principally because I'm comforted by the fact that at least some members of the House can read. Although if we were to commission pirates to act in our interests, I'd like to nominate patriot Hans Sprungfeld. And this isn't even to speak of the constitutional fun and games that can be had, say, in establishing standards of weights and measures, or even in establishing post roads (woo-hoo!).
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# Posted 6:54 AM by Patrick Belton  

BUT WHERE DOES SPACE BEGIN? As Josh and many other blogosphere commentators have noted, SpaceDev technology's SpaceShipOne vessel yesterday became the first private craft to cross into space. More interesting, though, is the question of when precisely it did so.

Common usage in the United States accords the title of 'astronaut' to any person travelling above an altitude of 50 miles, or 80 km. By comparison, a Boeing 747-400 most typically cruises at an altitude 10 kilometers, or 32,900 feet (6.23 miles). More officially, the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale, based in Lausanne, describes the boundary of space as being at 62 miles, or 100 km. SpaceShipOne's trajectory yesterday peaked at 100.12 kilometers (62.214 miles, or 328,491 feet) - meaning Michael Melvill had only 124 meters each way in which to enjoy officially stamping his passport in space.

The atmosphere thins gradually through its upper reaches, making it difficult to identify a clear delineation between it and space, but re-entering orbital craft begin to encounter noticeable atmospheric effects at 75 miles, or 120 km. (For terminology buffs, the portion of the earth's atmosphere from 50 to 85 km above the equator generally is referred to as the mesosphere, whereas the segment above 80-85 km is referred to as the thermosphere. The less exhilerating - though nonetheless stratospheric - heights lying immediately below the mesosphere are the familiar stratosphere, which ranges from 17-50 km above the equator.) Or, if you don't want to go that far, you can just go to the Stratosphere casino in Las Vegas.
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# Posted 1:51 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

BUSH HAS MORE IN COMMON WITH EUROPEAN LEADERS THAN YOU THINK: Guido Calabresi is a federal judge and a former dean of Yale Law School. He is not known for the subtlety of his political opinions. But yesterday he outdid even himself by comparing Bush to Mussolini and Hitler:
In a way that occurred before but is rare in the United States...somebody came to power as a result of the illegitimate acts of a legitimate institution that had the right to put somebody in power. That is what the Supreme Court did in Bush versus Gore. It put somebody in power...

The reason I emphasize that is because that is exactly what happened when Mussolini was put in by the king of Italy...The king of Italy had the right to put Mussolini in, though he had not won an election, and make him prime minister. That is what happened when Hindenburg put Hitler in. I am not suggesting for a moment that Bush is Hitler. I want to be clear on that, but it is a situation which is extremely unusual..

When somebody has come in that way, they sometimes have tried not to exercise much power. In this case, like Mussolini, he has exercised extraordinary power. He has exercised power, claimed power for himself; that has not occurred since Franklin Roosevelt who, after all, was elected big and who did some of the same things with respect to assertions of power in times of crisis that this president is doing...
Of course Bush isn't Hitler, says Calabresi. So why mention old Adolf? The analogy is actually a terrible one. Yes, Hindenburg had a right to appoint Hitler. Shortly thereafter, Hitler held rigged elections and then 'persuaded' his pet Reichstag to let him rule by decree. (I guess Calabresi would say that even as a dictator, Bush is a total failure.)

I don't know enough about Italian history to debunk the analogy to Mussolini, but I'm guessing it's pretty worthless as well. And hey, what the f*** is up with comparing FDR to Mussolini?

(Special thanks to SH for the link. For more on Calabresi see Eugene's posts here and here.)
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Monday, June 21, 2004

# Posted 12:37 PM by Patrick Belton  

INCIDENTALLY, a rather unattractive male English teenager is currently attempting to auction off his virginity on Ebay. (The link is to the auction.) He's starting bidding at £1,500.00. Oddly, no one has yet bid.

UPDATE: The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle at work - unfortunately, Ebay has withdrawn the ad. And David Vardy, 19, is sadly stuck with his virginity.
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# Posted 8:47 AM by Patrick Belton  

MAJOR DIPLOMATIC INCIDENT UNFOLDING: Iran has seized three vessels of the Royal Navy which were patrolling the Shatt al-Arab, and have seized eight British sailors. The Ministry of Defence has stated that the ships were involved in helping the Iraqi police patrol the area.

UPDATE: The NYT has more - the MOD has described the three boats as 'inflatable' and indicated their crew were in the process of delivering them to Iraq. Separately, the British Embassy in Tehran released a statement that three training patrol boats had lost radio contact with their base.

UPDATE: The BBC is quoting Iranian Al Alam TV that the Iranian government is intending to prosecute the eight sailors, for illegally entering its (disputed) territorial waters. Foreign Secretary Jack Straw held a telephone conversation this morning with Iranian FM Kamal Kharazzi to discuss the matter, but there is no report on how the conversation proceeded. The matter is also receiving suprisingly little press attention.
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# Posted 4:49 AM by Patrick Belton  

THIS MORNING IS THE SUMMER SOLSTICE: And here is how it looked as summer broke over Stonehenge:


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Sunday, June 20, 2004

# Posted 11:51 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

IS POLLACK OFF THE RESERVTION? Greg D. points out that Ken Pollack's criticism of George Bush has gotten to the point where the centrist and moderate scholar has begun to sound like Fisk or Chomsky.

Even so, Pollack's column in TNR is well worth reading. Fortunately, there is only one point at which he waxes idiotarian. While reading the column, I think it's important to remember just how much Pollack's professional reputation has suffered because of Bush's handling of the occupation.

Of course, there are flaws in Pollack's argument beyond his intemperate criticism. Greg points out some to them. I would just add that Pollack seems completely oblivious to the fact that the intense controversy surrounding Bush's decision to invade Iraq consumed the White House's attention in the months before the war. Already averse to nation-building, there was little reason to think the Bush administration would prepare seriously for the occupation even if the President committed himself in principle to building democracy.
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# Posted 11:16 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE WAR LETTER: Along with Kos and Dan Froomkin, Tim Noah over at Slate is trumpeting this letter as definitive evidence that Bush stated unambiguously that there was a working realtionship between Saddam and Al Qaeda.

I was pretty suspicious of this spin on Bush's letter, but didn't have the legal expertise to show why Noah et al. were wrong. However, Eric Soskin does quite a job of it here and here. Tom Maguire and Gene Volokh have more.
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# Posted 4:14 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

CIRCLING THE WAGONS: The Weekly Standard has joined NRO in its all-out assault on the 9/11 Commission's finding that there was no active relationship between Saddam and Al Qaeda. Following NRO's Andrew McCarthy, the Standard's Stephen Hayes has thrown a spotlight on the equivocations and oversights of the Commission's recent report, not to mention press coverage thereof.

While I agree with a good number of the individual points that Hayes and McCarthy make, I disagree with their apparent premise that the 9/11 Commission could (and should) have resolved certain questions left unanswered by their report. In contrast to the independent counsels responsible for both the collection and interpretation of evidence during Iran-Contra and Monica-gate, the 9/11 Commission seems to be wholly dependent on the intelligence community for providing it with material to evaluate.

Perhaps more importantly, this administration has a powerful incentive to provide the Commission with all relevant material that might have established an active relationship between Al Qaeda and Saddam. In contrast, the Reagan and Clinton administrations had every incentive to cooperate with investigators as little as possible.

Thus, the real question here is not why there are certain oversights in the Commission's report, but rather why the administration, after investing so much time and effort in the search for compelling evidence of an active Saddam-Al Qaeda relationship, hasn't been able to come up with anything more definitive.

That said, Hayes and McCarthy do a good job of identifying three potential points of contact between Al Qaeda and Saddam that I expect to become the staple references for all those who take issue with the Commission's report. Those points of contact are:
  1. The undefined relationship between Iraqi agent Ahmed Hikmat Shakir and 9/11 hijacker Khalid al Mihdhar.
  2. The unverified but undisproven claim that Mohammed Atta met with an Iraqi agent in Prague in June 2000.
  3. The connection of both Bin Ladin and the Iraqi government to the Sudanese chemical plant levelled by an American attack in June 1998.
With regard to each, Hayes and McCarthy make a good case that there is more to know than the Commission lets on. But if the Bush administration couldn't demonstrate that these points of contact were part of a collaborative relationship, why should one expect the 9/11 Commission to support that allegation?
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# Posted 4:05 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

A PERFECT SUMMER DAY: The solstice isn't until tomorrow, but yesterday belonged to summer. I swam and lay on the beach at Thoreau's Walden Pond. I picked fresh strawberries and ate them right then and there at a small farm in Lincoln, Massachusetts. At night, we barbecued outdoors and had dinner on my friend's porch as the sun set and the fireflies lit up the garden.

If this brief description of paradise has made you jealous, just remember that I will spend tomorrow two stories underground, sitting at a small table surrounded by dusty old books, with nothing but a harsh fluorescent light to read by. But that's not for another 18 hours!
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# Posted 3:43 PM by Patrick Belton  

AND FOR NEWS OF THE WEIRD: Thousands of bunnies, nibbling in concert, prevent historic Warwickshire radio towers (the origin of the BBC time 'pip' before the hour) from being demolished. Well, who's to say they shouldn't have liked them?
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# Posted 2:00 PM by Patrick Belton  

ROYAL ASCOT WATCH: Hey, it's a Britain-themed day...

More than two-and-a-half tons of smoked salmon, nearly five tons of strawberries and one hundred twenty thousand bottles of champagne were devoured at Royal Ascot, which ended on Saturday. Also consumed at the races were an estimated 12,000 bottles of Pimms.
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# Posted 1:51 PM by Patrick Belton  

AFTER A HALF-DECADE as a proud resident of Great Britain, I can note that I've finally learned how to tell, within a second of looking at someone, whether they're a foreigner.

They're the ones who smile back.
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# Posted 1:49 PM by Patrick Belton  

RISING POWER: Per Sunday Telegraph (today's print edition, p.3), the government of China hopes to reach the top tier of the world's cricket nations within 20 years.
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Saturday, June 19, 2004

# Posted 4:04 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

BLOGS VS. DEAD-TREES: Right now, Time Magazine has a big and breathless story about blogs right on the top of its website. My response? To ignore it. I mean, what can you say to a million-selling news-weekly that lists Glenn Reynolds as one of its "Five Bloggers to Watch"? Maybe next week Time will announce that Barry Bonds has a pretty good shot at making the Hall of Fame.

Now here's something interesting: This week, Spencer Ackerman of TNR has been guest-blogging for Josh Marshall. Huh? An established journalist at a top-flight publication filling in for a blogger on vacation? What next? Will Kos write editorials for the NYT? Will Jayson Blair fill in for Drudge?

It's probably worth noting that Spencer has his own blog, Iraq'd, over at TNR. At least in terms of influnce, Iraq'd certainly isn't TPM. So Spencer is sort of moving up by filling in for Josh. Still, it's hard to get away from the notion that Spencer's decision reflects the rising prestige and credibility and that blogs have developed in the recent past.

Or perhaps I'm getting this all wrong. Maybe Josh and Spencer are friends, and Spencer is just doing this for Josh as a favor. But even if that were the case, it says a lot about the approaching parity of first-tier blogs with first-tier opinion journals. Two years ago, would any blogger have dared to ask a professional journalist -- even a friend or especially a friend -- to fill in for them? Of course not. It would've been an insult, sort of like asking Luciano Pavarotti to sing karaoke.

But somewhere along the lines, things changed. Now I'm not trying to say that blogs are taking over Big Media. But there is a growing interface between the two that results in talent in one sphere being equated with talent in the other.

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# Posted 3:50 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE BRUTALITY OF AL QAEDA: I have nothing to say. The beheading of Paul M. Johnson speaks for itself. But just imagine: imagine if instead of celebrating the brutal murder of an innocent, instead of posting photograhps of his severed head on their website, the Saudi militants responsible for Johnson's death announced that they were letting Mr. Johnson go in order to demonstrate their moral superiority to the infidels who abused and humiliated Muslim prisoners at Abu Ghraib.

No, I don't think that could happen. These terrorists seem incapable of recognizing that kindness is often a far more dangerous weapon than violence. If they understood that, then I would truly be afraid.
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# Posted 2:56 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

ARE BUSH'S CRITICS IRRESPONSIBLE? According to NRO, they're just plain wrong. Andrew McCarthy says that if you take a close look at what the 9/11 Commission says about the Saddam-Al Qaeda connection it's far from definitive.

I don't buy it. While I'll be the first to admit that there's a helluva lot we don't know about both Saddam and Al Qaeda, I'm not sure that there's much more evidence out there to find right now. If the Bush administration has invested so much time and effort in investigating the relationship between Saddam and Osama, why hasn't it found evidence of a connection? And if it found such evidence, why doesn't the 9/11 Commission believe that Public Enemies #1 and #2 had a "collaborative relationship"?

But what about the actual criticism directed toward the administration? With regard to the "Bush lied" chorus, the WaPo says that
The accusation is nearly as irresponsible as the Bush administration's rhetoric has been.
That's pushing it. The NYT may be ineffably pretentious when it writes that "Now President Bush should apologize to the American people" -- as if the absence of a Saddam-Al Qaeda connection was news -- but irresponsible and disingenuous rhetoric from the White House is far more dangerous than pretentiousness in the paper of record.

It is worth pointing out, however, that the NYT editorial board can be just as careless with its language as Messrs. Bush and Cheney. For example, it writes that
The Bush administration convinced a substantial majority of Americans before the war that Saddam Hussein was somehow linked to 9/11.
That is misleading at best or simply not true. While the Bush administration hardly sought to resolve public confusion about this point, the President never asserted that Saddam played a role in 9/11. Over at CBS, John Roberts isn't much better. He reported that
It is one of President Bush's last surviving justifications for war in Iraq, and today, it took a devastating hit when the 9-11 Commission declared there was no collaborative relationship between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden. ... Those repeated associations left the majority of Americans believing Saddam was involved in 9/11.
While Roberts' accusation is less explicit than the NYT's, his comments are supposed to be straight news, not an editorial. Meanwhile, Dick Cheney is launching a pretty fierce counter-attack against the NYT. While I agree with Andrew that Cheney is right about the NYT headline being pretty unfair, Cheney's case seems to revolve primarily around the existence of a Saddam-Zarqawi relationship. If that's all the Vice President has to go on, he's not in good shape.
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# Posted 2:43 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

HEADLINE POLITICS: In response to my post on the NYT-WaPo headline duel, LS -- a professional journalists at a major daily paper -- puts it far better than I did:
I don't have any inside scoop on the NYTimes, but from where I sit, as an editorial writer for a page that is a lot more conservative than the newsroom, I can say with some assurance that what looks like "spillage" only happens when the newsroom and the editorial page are staffed by people who already agree. That is, the news pages would be exactly the way they
are if the editorial page weren't there at all.

The same has been true at the three papers I worked for before I came here, and other edit writers I know who are in the same situation say it has been their experience as well, so I think what you see is not the result of any influence by edit pages on the news coverage but simply the fact that the edit pages of big newspapers are more likely to be liberal than to be conservative, and so are the newsroom staff.
Interesting. One has to respect all those papers that put up a firewall between politics and opinion, but that wall may not be effective until the journalistic professional begins to represent a broader array of political opinions.
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Friday, June 18, 2004

# Posted 7:06 AM by Patrick Belton  

18 JUNE: Today in 1873, Susan B Anthony was issued a fine of $100 for having cast a vote in the presidential election held on 5 November of the previous year. She was, incidentally, earning an annual salary of $100 from her work as a schoolteacher. My student Jon Silver points out that, like Frederick Douglass, Ms Anthony was a resident of Rochester. The fine would go unpaid.
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# Posted 6:44 AM by Patrick Belton  

INTERNATIONAL RESPONSE TO AIDS BOOK TOUR: OxBlog's good friend (and, lest we point out, Nathan Haler) Greg Behrman will be on the west coast this coming week for his book tour. His book is The Invisible People: How the U.S. Has Slept Through the Global AIDS Pandemic - think Woodward does the government's response to AIDS, just better. Here's where he'll be speaking, if you'd like to drop by!

SAN FRANCISCO and Bay Area

TUESDAY, JUNE 22

Stacey's Booksellers
12:30PM
581 Market Street

Cody's Books
7:30PM
2454 Telegraph Avenue
Berkeley, CA

WEDNESDAY, JUNE 23

Commonwealth Club of Silicon Valley
7:00PM
First Unitarian Church of San Jose
160 North Third Street
San Jose, CA

LOS ANGELES

THURSDAY, JUNE 24

Borders Books & Music
7:30PM
330 S. La Cienega Blvd.
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Thursday, June 17, 2004

# Posted 11:24 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

DID BUSH REALLY SAY THERE WAS A RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN IRAQ AND AL QAEDA? I think the best description of his comments is "maddeningly vague". In March 2002, Bush said that
Al Qaeda hides, Saddam doesn't, but the danger is, is that they work in concert. The danger is, is that al Qaeda becomes an extension of Saddam's madness and his hatred and his capacity to extend weapons of mass destruction around the world.

Both of them need to be dealt with. The war on terror, you can't distinguish between al Qaeda and Saddam when you talk about the war on terror. And so it's a comparison that is -- I can't make because I can't distinguish between the two, because they're both equally as bad, and equally as evil, and equally as destructive.
The reliably partisan Center for American Progress pares down Bush's quote to the absurd statement that "You can't distinguish between al Qaeda and Saddam." Obviously, that isn't what Bush was saying. But what matters most is that the President was being much less than honest about the critical issue of the day.

The actual question Bush got asked was "Mr. President, do you believe that Saddam Hussein is a bigger threat to the United States than al Qaeda?" All Bush had to say was that they are both extremely serious threats and that he would deal with both of them. Or he could've said that Osama and Saddam may work together in the future because they both hate America so much. Instead, he implied that they were already collaborating.

According to Kos, the definitive evidence that Bush lied is the letter he sent to Congress just before the invasion of Iraq. In it, Bush said that invading Iraq
is consistent with the United States and other countries continuing to take the necessary actions against international terrorists and terrorist organizations, including those nations, organizations, or persons who planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001.
That sound pretty cagey, but I'm wondering if "consistent" has a precise legal meaning in the context Bush used it. Earlier on in the letter, Bush refers separately to "the continuing threat posed by Iraq". All he really seems to be saying about 9/11 is that going after Saddam doesn't preclude going after Osama as well. Besides, Bush has been very careful about denying any sort of relationship between Saddam and 9/11, even to the point where he publicly criticized Cheney for saying that one existed.

For another set of maddeningly vague quotes, you can head over to this compilation by the AP. In his 2003 State of the Union Address, Bush said that
Evidence from intelligence sources, secret communications, and statements by people now in custody reveal that Saddam Hussein aids and protects terrorists, including members of al-Qaida.
That seems like a reference to Abu Musab Zarqawi, whose relationship with Saddam still isn't clear.

Now, for the sake of being comprehensive, it's also worth pointing that in his infamous aircraft carrier speech, Bush said that
The liberation of Iraq is a crucial advance in the campaign against terror. We've removed an ally of al Qaeda, and cut off a source of terrorist funding. And this much is certain: No terrorist network will gain weapons of mass destruction from the Iraqi regime, because the regime is no more.
"Ally", huh? That sounds like a collaborative relationship. Or is it just a figurative description of the relationship between two of America's greatest enemies?

All in all, I'm inclined to support Matt Yglesias' observation that Bush's remakrs are all part of this administration's
longstanding practice of making technically accurate, but misleading and tendentious, statements in order to try and trick people into believing things that aren't true.
If you want to be a little nicer to Bush, you can say that he didn't have a malicious desire to trick people. But it doesn't really matter. The bottom line is that Bush contributed to public confusion about one of the most critical aspects of American national security instead of just telling the simple truth. If you want to bring honor back to the White House, that is certainly not the way to do it.
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