OxBlog

Monday, July 05, 2004

# Posted 11:35 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

A CLOCKWORK FIASCO: Once again, the NYT has provided its readers with an incompetent (and threfore misleading) interpretation of the latests polls. Let's start with the first sentence from this Adam Nagourney/Janet Elder report:
President Bush's job approval rating has fallen to the lowest level of his presidency, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.
According to the raw data the NYT provides, the President's approval rating is actually up one point compared to last month.

So what gives? As far as I can tell, the NYT is discounting last month's poll since it was conducted by CBS alone, rather than CBS in conjunction with the NYT. If that is the case, then Bush's approval rating has fallen to its lowest point ever. Later on in the article, however, the NYT refers to last month's CBS poll in order to support its contention that the presidential race is getting closer. But if that's the case, then the NYT headlines should've read: "Bush Closes Eight Point Gap, Pulls Even With Kerry."

Now let's move on to Sentence #2:
The poll found Americans stiffening their opposition to the Iraq war, worried that the invasion could invite domestic terrorist attacks and skeptical about whether the White House has been fully truthful about the war or about abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison.
That's just plain wrong. According to the NYT/CBS poll, 48% of Americans still think that invading Iraq was the right thing to do. That's down one point from last month but up one point from two months ago. The percentage opposed to the war has held constant at 46 for three straight months. On a similar note, 54% believe that Americans troops should stay in Iraq "as long as it takes to make sure Iraq is a stable democracy." 40% disagree.

Now, it might be fair to say that opposition to Bush's handling of Iraq has "stiffened". Only 36% of Americans approve of how he's handled the situation there, the same percentage as last month. 58% disapprove, up one point from last month. The WaPo, however, had Bush's Iraq approval rating at 44% just two weeks ago.

So where did the NYT's bad numbers come from? Well, Question 63 asks whether
"As a result of the United States' military action against Iraq, do you think the threat of terrorism against the United States has increased, decreased, or stayed about the same?"
The three-way split on this quesiton is 47-13-38. Last month it was 41-18-39. In other words, a majority still think the risk of terrorism has stayed the same or fallen, even if that majority has gotten slightly smaller since one month ago.

Finally, we come to the Times' observation that the public is "skeptical" about Bush's public statements. Question 60 asks whether
"In his statements about the war in Iraq, do you think George W. Bush is telling the entire truth, is mostly telling the truth but is hiding something, or mostly lying?"
That's a terrible question. Unless someone is extremely pro- or anti-Bush, they're going to say "mostly telling the truth but is hiding something". In fact, that's what 59% said, with the other 40% split evenly on the pro- and anti-Bush sides. Question 65 asks the same question with regard to Abu Ghraib and gets a similar answer, although the "mostly lying" percentage is higher.

So there you have it. A six paragraph explanation of the mistakes that the NYT made in just two sentences. If I corrected all the other mistakes in the Times' article, I'd be up until sunrise. However, there is one more passage I'd like to comment on. According to Nagourney and Elder,
There was compelling evidence [in the poll] that [Bush's] decision to take the nation to war against Iraq has left him in a precarious political position...the poll's findings left little doubt about the extent to which Mr. Bush's decision to go to war is proving to be perhaps the most fateful of his presidency.
Apparently, wish fulfillment is now an acceptable substitute for analysis at the New York Times.
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# Posted 11:24 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

A NYT PARDON FOR BUSH? Tomorrow's NYT has a major story on how the CIA failed to provide President Bush with significant information that suggested the absence of an Iraqi WMD program. While quoting a CIA spokesman's denial of the charges, the article clearly sides with the Senate report that levels the accusations.

If this story pans out, it is definitely good for Bush. I don't think it will make much of a difference in the polls, however, since most Americans seem to be believe that Bush told what he believed to be the truth about Saddam's WMD.
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# Posted 2:07 PM by Patrick Belton  

JACKSON DIEHL ON NATO: It's worth reading. Some samplings:

• Yet, after months and months of haggling, European governments were only barely able to commit at Istanbul to staffing three new provincial centers, each with a couple of hundred troops. The cup-rattling forced on Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer was humiliating: With 26 nations and 5 million men in arms to draw on, Scheffer struggled to obtain just three helicopters for the Afghan operation.

• Yet, even if the Europeans were more enthusiastic, they might have little to contribute. Germany, the largest country in the European Union, has 270,000 soldiers in its army -- yet (ed: that's the third yet yet, for those of you keeping score at home) its commanders maintain that no more than about 10,000 can be deployed at any one time. No matter the politics, the German Parliament is unlikely to authorize an increase in the current ceiling of 2,300 troops for Afghanistan. And Germany is the largest contributor to the NATO operation -- France, which has never liked the idea of NATO operations outside of Europe, has only 800 soldiers there.

• NATO: Keep the Myth Alive (an administration slogan from the Pentagon)
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# Posted 12:13 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SAME OLD, SAME OLD?
"I'm no bomb-thrower," said Mr. Cheney. "But I think it's time to go to war."

--Rep. Richard Cheney (R-WY), quoted in the New York Times, April 24th, 1985, in reference to the worsening relationship between Republicans and Democrats.
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# Posted 12:40 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

QUICK, BEFORE IT'S TAKEN DOWN! Right now, the WaPo homepage is running a headline that says "Cheney Swings for Bush". Unsurprisingly, the actual headline on the front page of the WaPo print edition reads: "Cheney May Be a Mixed Blessing for Bush Team". I'm guessing the scatological online version will come down before lunchtime.
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Sunday, July 04, 2004

# Posted 2:07 PM by Patrick Belton  

HIGH POLITICS, AT A LOWER VOLUME - OR, WHY THE KERRY CAMPAIGN SHOULDN'T RUN AWAY FROM DEMOCRACY PROMOTION: Quietly, on a day when Saddam Hussein appeared in an Iraqi court to answer under law charges against him, Polish troops reported discovering warheads containing the deadly chemical nerve agent cyclosarin in their south-central zone of Iraq. The possible uncovery at last of Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction and his lawful arraignment before the bar of an Iraqi court made for an understated contrast with the loud tones of Michael Moore’s latest disjointed film. At the moment, what we need are more such high politics, at low volume.

November's will be the sixth election to turn on a referendum for a foreign war - like 1812, 1844, 1896, 1954, and 1968 before it. And things in Iraq, surprisingly, are not going badly. Coalition fatalities have been lower each month – 140 in April, 84 in May, 50 in June. Early indications suggest that Iyad Allawi actually commands considerable respect from the Iraqi people. If he succeeds in institutionalizing political liberties while conducting counterinsurgency operations, Iraqi democracy may flourish after all.

This is not a result Democrats should be so quick to run against. The election will be fought not over American voters who are lining up to see Fahrenheit 9/11, but ones who want American troops kept in Iraq as long as necessary to make Iraq a stable democracy, and aren’t convinced by Bush’s record in handling Iraq. To win over these key centrist votes, Democrats should argue the Kerry administration would do the same thing Bush did, but better – with a real commitment to Afghanistan, a larger army which allows reservists to actually be the part-time soldiers they signed up as, and an ability to draw on the easy popularity overseas coming to an Atlanticist, francophone Democrat whom Europeans can feel is, somehow, one of them.

In particular, Democrats should be careful of running away from democracy promotion and toward, of all things, the realpolitik foreign policy of Bush I – an administration which never saw an oppressive government it didn’t like. Kerry staffers admit to doing as much, saying that an Iraq-wearied public won’t stand for Wilsonianism, and wants a return to cold national interests. The problem is, this will sell out most of what at its root the Democratic legacy stands for in foreign policy: from Wilson’s Fourteen Points to FDR’s Four Freedoms to the Clinton administration's intervention to halt genocide in Kosovo (also a war fought without UN sanction). Though you could be murdered in New York or Boston this summer for saying so, the Clinton and Bush records aren’t that far apart, really: both national security strategies gave pride of place to the promotion of democracy, and Albright’s brainchild the Community of Democracies has since 2000 been carefully nursed by Paula Dobriansky. There is a new bipartisan consensus raising its head in America, and at its heart is agreement over a resurgent terrorist threat, the national need to combat patiently the conjunction of illiberalism with instability abroad, and the necessity to build up an army of much more than one to be able to deal with a new worldwide footprint of deployments.

And it is in both candidates’ interest to reach out to swing voters on their ability to prosecute this consensus at the center, instead of running for the votes of core partisans who will not be staying home come November 2. Rather than hurrying to repudiate the Democratic legacy in promoting democracy and human rights, Kerry should instead court the support of the swing 20 percent of Americans who are (according to a New York Times poll from this week) committed to democracy in Iraq, but disapprove of Bush’s handling of Iraqi reconstruction. Instead of running for the vote of Richard Nixon’s ghost or Moore’s viewers, he needs to convince swing voters he can be more hawkish in the war on terror, in building up the nation’s pitifully overstretched army, and in acting to remedy the degenerating security situation in Afghanistan; he has a chance to show that not only is democracy promotion not merely the exclusive preserve of neocons, but multilateralist Democrats can with their broader international support do the same job, better. The same holds for the incumbent: Bush’s legacy is not bad, and he must only sell it to voters, though through a skeptical press.

More importantly, it now stands in the interests of both candidates—and not merely the nation and its citizens —to reach for a centrist politics in foreign affairs to displace the fiery populism whose flames were stoked over the last decade by Gingrich and Gore, and which led to the heated partisanship in witness since the 2000 result. And the rest of us – those not munching on our popcorn this week – can finally have some hope, for that reason.
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# Posted 12:26 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, AMERICA! Time for barbecue and fireworks. See ya tomorrow.
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# Posted 12:22 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

INTERVIEWING MYSELF, PART II: Part one is here.
Noting that most of the conservatives I know tend to read the conservative blogs and most of the liberals go to the liberal blogs, my question is whether you ever feel that blogging is some sense is simply just preaching to the choir?

I definitely get that feeling sometimes. But I also get a constant stream of e-mail from conservative readers defending the President and his advisers from OxBlog’s criticism. And most of these critics write back on a regular basis, which implies pretty strongly that they are reading OxBlog because it provides a perspective so different from their own.

Alongside such anecdotal evidence, there are surveys (conducted by Andrew Sullivan, Josh Marshall and Dan Drezner) which show that while the majority of a site’s readers tend to agree with its perspective, there is a significant minority that sees things very differently. Moreover, almost everyone seems to read Instapundit and The Daily Dish sometimes, if only to find out what the other guys are thinking.

Is the Blog a permanent fixture in our culture?

At first, I thought the answer was definitely ‘no’. After all the irrational exuberance that surrounded the internet bubble, what reason was their to believe that a minor HTML application would have a lasting impact on our culture? But what’s really persuaded me otherwise is seeing the way that top-flight professional journalists have come to embrace blogging as a means of expression. At the New York Times, Nick Kristof and Dan Okrent have their own blogs. At The New Republic, everyone seems to have their own blog.

While there may have been a lot of hype at the beginning about how bloggers are the vanguard of a grassroots revolution, I think that blogging is here to stay not because of its accessibility, but because it is a medium that works just as well for a professional as it does for a college student or a homemaker.

Do your experiences being Jewish influence your postings on your Blog? For instance, Daniel Drezner told me that he tends to avoid ever writing about the Israeli-Palestinian issue because it is both depressing and ultra-polarizing and he finds it easier to avoid it?

As I mentioned above, my religion plays an important role when I write about religion. But I don’t think it plays much of a role in my discussion of politics. A few years ago, I felt exactly the way Dan does about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. You can’t get away from Israel when you go to yeshiva. But you can avoid it in college and graduate school.

That all changed after 9/11. I realized that my intentional ignorance left me totally unprepared for the day when the Middle East became a matter of life and death for Americans, and not just for Arabs and Israelis. With Iraq dominating the headlines, I don’t write about Israel as much as I want. But I am committed to learning more.

Do you ever find instances where you feel the need that you should note that you are Jewish in your blog? At least one blogger told me he feels the need when discussing issues like anti-semitism or policy on Israel.

There aren’t too many goyim with names like ‘David Adesnik’. I also mention my Judaism pretty often in contexts that don’t have to do with Israel or anti-Semitism. Since most of OxBlog’s readers are regulars rather than one-timers, they know to take my religion into account when writing about related subjects.

Overall, how has Blogging changed your life and how do you balance it with all the other demands on you?

I have a relatively hard and fast rule that I don’t start blogging until I’m done with my work for the day. That’s why so many of my posts go up after midnight. Being unmarried and under 30, my schedule is generally pretty flexible. I haven’t thought about this before, but I’m guessing that most serious bloggers tend to be younger and have fewer children. Then again, Glenn Reynolds doesn’t fit any of those profiles.


I was wondering if you could comment on how your blog has propelled you into the mainstream and more traditional press. Without Oxblog, would you have had the opportunity to write for a publication such as the Weekly Standard? A large part of my article will concentrate on how bloggers are shaking up traditional media and providing competition for the press "elites," if you will.

That’s a tough question. I think the fact that I work with Josh Chafetz is at least as important as the fact that I write for OxBlog. Josh was an intern at The New Republic before he founded OxBlog. He has always had his finger on the mainstream pulse.

As a result, there are a lot of editors out there who read OxBlog. But even if they read OxBlog because of Josh, they also wind up reading a lot of what Patrick and I have to say. When I pitched my article on Reagan to the Weekly Standard a couple of weeks ago, I got one of the editors’ e-mail address from Josh. I still needed to have a marketable idea, but connections gave me the chance to market it.

Of course, there are other ways to get into the Weekly Standard. Five years ago I published a book review in the Standard. I got the editors’ attention that time around because I was working for Bob Kagan. So merit alone wasn’t responsible.

But even if connections have helped me break into the the mainstream, the fact that I am blogger makes me want to shake up the media and challenge its elites. In that sense, blogging is more of an attitude than it is a profession.
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# Posted 7:02 AM by Patrick Belton  

OH, BBC: Showing your customary high regard for diplomatic detail and factual correctness, you keep referring to Japanese former Foreign Minister Makiko Tanaka as Wakiko Tanaka. It kind of reminds you of an M&M joke (i.e., You know why the BBC reporter got fired from his first job at an M&M factory? Because he kept on throwing away the W's and the E's...)

UPDATE: We get results - hiya to our readership at the Beeb!
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Saturday, July 03, 2004

# Posted 9:28 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

NOT JUST BETTER: Richard Cohen does an excellent job of making a classic point: Israeli democracy is not just morally superior to the brutal dictatorships that surround it. It also sets a standard for tolerance and introspection that is a model for other democratic societies, especially those at war with terror.
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# Posted 9:07 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE GODFATHER PASSES ON: Marlon Brandon, age 80. In the WaPo, Stephen Hunter provides a tribute to Brando's tumultuous life and career. With regard to The Godfather, Hunter writes that
Opinions vary, but I think this has to be the single greatest American movie and his the single greatest film performance. But why quibble? It's enough to say that the rogue genius, coming off 10 years of failure, managed to tame his demons long enough to give himself up to the dark part of Don Corleone: father, husband, leader, visionary, diplomat, killer. Somehow he resolved these complexities into a single coherent being, and yet was secure enough to have no need to dominate; his willingness to fit into an ensemble of another new generation of actors was estimable.
I couldn't agree more that The Godfather is the greatest American film ever made. More than fitting into an ensemble, Brando transformed it. I don't think it is possible to say whether it was Brando, Pacino, or James Caan whose performance deserves to be known as the greatest ever. Because it is simply impossible to disentangle their greatness from one another.

Nor would such greatness have been possible without the vision of Francis Ford Coppola. If you share my obsession with The Godfather, I strongly recommend getting a hold of the DVD box set, which contains Coppola's voice-over commentary on all three films as well as extensive documentary and archival footage. (And if you're a real purist, you can bring the disc with Godfather III back to the store and insist that it is artistically deficient.)

Finally, a bit of Brando trivia. Hunter opens his profile of Brando by recounting a legendary scene from The Wild One:
In 1954, a babe had a question for Johnny Strabler, who leans next to his gleaming hog, in a pathetic small town in the middle of nowhere.

"Johnny, what are you rebelling against?"

Johnny doesn't even have to think. Every line in his body expresses the answer, as does the contemptuous power of the machine, the beautiful sullenness of his face, the slouch of his heavily muscled body as it contorts the leathers that drape him like knight's armor, the rakish tilt of his cyclist's cap pulled across his broad forehead.

He replies, "Whatta ya got?"
Having just watched the film on video last week, I'm pretty sure that Brando is indoors and without his motorcycle when asks his infamous question. Moreover, he is in a corner and the camera delivers a medium-long shot, so its pretty hard to see the "beautiful sullenness of his face" or "the slouch of heavily muscled body".

Even though Brando's "Whatta ya got?" is the one legendary moment that survives from an otherwise fourth-rate film, it seems the director had no idea that the line was particularly dramatic, and certainly not that it was destined for immortality. All of that came from Brando.
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# Posted 8:28 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

CLINTON RECONSIDERED: This is the best review of Clinton's memoir I've read so far. The review's author is erstwhile Clinton biographer David Maraniss, who approaches the memoir as a historical document rather than a publicity circus, which one can discard after it has been ridiculed.
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# Posted 5:08 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

A NEW HEARTHROB FOR THE GIRLS OUT THERE: Us guys are pretty happy with Maria Sharapova. But what you ladies have been waiting for is Colin Powell. No, really.
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# Posted 4:57 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

INTERVIEWING MYSELF: A journalist researching a story on Jewish bloggers recently asked me to do an interview. Since I decided to the interview by e-mail, I actually have a record of what I wanted to say. And since only one or two quotes will make it into the final article, I figured I'd post the rest of the interview here on OxBlog:
When did you start doing the blogger thing and why?

I was at Patrick’s wedding in August 2002 when I had my first real conversation with Josh. I had met him once or twice at Oxford, but didn’t really know him all that well. He told me about this website he’d started called OxBlog.

Later that week, I read OxBlog for the first time. I was so taken with Josh’s writing that I read all of his archived posts, going back to April of that year. Then I sent him a message asking if could join the site.

I think I became a part of OxBlog because I felt that I had something to say and wanted an audience to hear it. Not just a passive audience, but one that would react and criticize and challenge.

What's your main purpose with your blog? Is it to generate a discussion? Promote a viewpoint? If you had to describe the overriding purpose or point of the blog-- what would it be?

The overriding purpose of my blogging is to educate myself. You have to do a lot of reading before you have something coherent to say, and you have think a lot harder about what you’re going to say when you know that thousands of intelligent readers are watching every word you say.

Before I started graduate school, I worked for one year as a researcher at a Washington think tank. I had just graduated from college and had lots of academic knowledge that I was proud of. But I quickly realized that if I didn’t pay close attention to the issues of the day, my academic knowledge wouldn’t have much application.

When I started blogging in September 2002, I had just finished my second year of graduate school. I knew at the time that I wanted to do policy work rather than going in to academia. But this time around, I wanted to graduate with a strong handle on current events, so that my academic knowledge would do me some good.

Within a month or so of putting up my first post, I knew that blogging was the best way possible to prepare myself for leaving the ivory tower.

Are there are topics you specifically avoid talking about on the Blog or that you find uncomfortable?

The toughest judgment calls all have to do with how much personal information I decide to give out on the blog. One of the most attractive things about blogging is that when you read a blog, you feel like you are talking to a real human being. In contrast, professional journalists tend cultivate an air of authoritative objectivity, which I find to be both artificial and cold.

Blog readers tend to have warm feelings about their favorite authors, so you can count on them to be a sympathetic audience. Who wouldn’t be tempted to explain to a sympathetic audience of thousands why their ex-girlfriend is a heartless bitch? But from where I stand, telling strangers about your personal life is a way of running away from your problems while violating the privacy of those around you.

Still, that doesn’t mean you should impose a blackout on your personal life. For example, last year I did a running series on my impressive run of first-round losses in some amateur karate tournaments. I’ve never been a good athlete, so the stories were pretty amusing.

I also decided to post on OxBlog about my mother’s ordination as a rabbi in May 2003. I was extremely proud of her – as I’ve always been – and decided that I had the right to shep some nachas in the blogosphere.

Of everything you've written or debated on your Blog thus far, what do you perceive as having gotten the most attention or reaction from people? Is there any one thing that stands out?

What always surprise me are the passionate responses I get every time I write about religion. When I write about religion, I tend to get mail from readers who’ve never written in before, but who’ve suddenly decided to compose long and thoughtful essays on subjects that are very clearly close to their hearts.

The discussions that result from these letters – many of which I’ve posted on OxBlog – are extremely educational. Despite attending a yeshiva day school for 13 years – or perhaps because of it – I find that my knowledge of Christianity is almost negligible.

When Mel Gibson’s Passion came out a few months ago, I suggested in one post that the Gospels were inherently anti-Semitic, or at least anti-Judaic. In response, I received detailed theological arguments to the contrary from a half-dozen Christian perspectives. While I’m still not sure what I think about this issue, I know for a fact that Christians across the United States are putting a lot of thought and care into answering this kind of very hard question.

In contrast, 13 years of yeshiva education left me with the impression that Christians were instinctive anti-Semites who aren’t even open-minded enough to face up to their prejudices.

In your opinion, how have bloggers affected the nation's political dialogue and/or the political process?

In rare instances, for example the Trent Lott affair, bloggers have had a visible impact on events of national importance. But the real significance of our work as bloggers is that way that it has become a resource for professional journalists.

As armchair columnists, bloggers depend on the mainstream media for almost all of their news. As a result, bloggers are at least as critical of the journalists who provide us our information as we are of the elected officials who run our country. In contrast, the journalists themselves focus almost entirely on the politicians and rarely, in the midst of deadlines, to reflect on the quality of their work.

Of course, there is a big political divide on the issue of media bias. Almost every blogger to the right of center spends an extensive amount of time deconstructing the New York Times and other papers in order to show how journalists’ personal beliefs influence their coverage, in spite of their professed objectivity.

Almost every blogger to the left of center argues that conservatives’ complaints about media bias are nothing more than a diversion from the actual failures of elected officials, failures that show up in the paper because they are simply a matter of fact. The exception to this rule are those bloggers to the far left of center who insist that the media defends Republican interests from behind a veil of objectivity.
To be continued.
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# Posted 2:12 PM by Patrick Belton  

LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, I think we have a new Russian heartthrob:




Maria Sharapova, 17, had this to say to Serena Williams, whom she played against in the finals on Centre Court:

'Serena actually I have to take this way from you for one year, I'm sorry,' she said, as she accepted the Venus Rosewater Dish on Centre Court at Wimbleton. 'I know there are going to be so many more moments when we're going to play. I'm sure we're going to be here another time and hopefully many more times in other grand slams, fighting for the trophy, so thank you for giving me a tough match but I'm sorry I had to win today.' She then called her mother.

And we had thought - prematurely, it turns out - that all class was gone from sports. What a dear.
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Friday, July 02, 2004

# Posted 7:47 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

PANTS ON FIRE: Spinsanity isn't letting Moore get away with a single, solitary lie.
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# Posted 6:35 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

OXBLOG "HUMOURLESS": That's the verdict from Ed Cone, who says my extended critique of The Onion is "thuddlingly self-serious" and that "The Onion could have a field day with this guy". Ed also gets in a good shot by noting Rhodes Scholars are short on credibility when it comes to accusing others of being elitist.

Actually, no. Rhodes Scholars may be part of an elite, but 'elitism' refers to those who look down on the mass public. When push comes to shove, I've got a lot of faith in the aggregate rationality of the American public.

Anyhow, here's something funny just in case my posts have been getting you down lately:
My dad was...not a very bright man. When I was 6, I asked him where babies came from, and he said, "The stork!" I replied incredulously, "You f***ed a stork?"
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# Posted 1:57 PM by Patrick Belton  

FRANCE: 'WHEN WE DO IT, IT'S MERELY EXPRESSING AN OPINION....'

'We are opposed to the application of the death penalty under any circumstances.' Deputy FM Pozzo di Borgo, commenting on whether the sovereign government of Iraq would choose to apply the death penalty to Saddam Hussein after a fair trial convicted him of genocide.

'But when they do it, it's meddling....'

'Not only did he go too far, but he went into territory that isn't his. It's a bit like if I told the United States how they should manage their relations with Mexico.' President Chirac, responding to President Bush's comment that Turkey was and should be part of Europe.
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# Posted 11:46 AM by Patrick Belton  

GO AHEAD, CALL THEM COWBOYS: My in-laws, also frequently known as Judge Andrew and Professor Judy Kleinfeld, have a piece in this month's AEI Magazine. Congrats, mom and dad! (And the rest of you will have to read their article in print, although the table of contents are online.)
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# Posted 6:18 AM by Patrick Belton  

IRAN WATCH, II: Christian Science Monitor has a round up of the coverage.
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# Posted 2:15 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

A GUIDE TO POLITICAL NEUROSES: The following is an excerpt from an essay by Arthur Koestler, best known as the author of Darkness at Noon. It appeared in the inaugural issue of Encounter in 1958:
Eternal Adolescents

The young radical intellectual of Bloomsbury, St. Germain de Pres, or Greenwich village is a relatively harmless type. Often his radicalism is derived from adolescent revolt against the parents or some other stereotyped conflict which makes him temporarily despair of the world. But some of the young radicals never grow up; they remain the eternal adolescents of the Left.

One variety of this type is frequently found both in the United States and in France, though rarely in England. Young X. stars as an enthusiastic Communist, is soon disillusioned, found a Trotskyite opposition group o ten people, discovers that six of the ten form a secret "opposition bloc" within the group, is disillusioned, founds a little "mag" with a hundred per cent true anti-capitalist, anti-Stalinist, anti-pacifist programme, goes bankrupt, starts a new little mag, and so on. All his struggles, polemics, victories, and defeats are storms in a tea cup, confined to the same small circle of radical intellectuals -- a kind of family which thrives on quarrels and mutual denunciations, and yet coheres by virtue of some unique dialectical glue. A classic example is the group of Marxist-Existentialists around Sartre's Les Temps Modernes, with their perennial quarrels and schisms. The sectarian may be said to suffer from the incestuous type of political libido.

A different type is Y., the busybody, whose name is on every "progressive" committee, whose voice is raised in protest against every injustice, who has embraced every good cause under the sun, and has never achieved anything on earth. Y. is the political equivalent of the nymphomaniac; he suffers from an excess of political libido. This kind of neurosis, too, flourishes chiefly in the climate of the Left, -- for, generally speaking the Left is politically over-sexed.

Finally, there is Z., the political masochist. With him, the parable of the mote and the beam has been reversed. The slightest injustice in his own country wrings from him cries of anguish and despair, but he finds excuses for the most heinous crimes committed in the opposite camp. When a coloured tennis player is refused a room in a London luxury hotel, Z. quivers with spontaneous indignation; when millions spit out their lungs in Soviet Arctic mines and lumber-camps, Z.'s sensitive conscience is silent. Z. is an inverted patriot, whose self-hatred and craving for self-punishment has turned into hatred for his country or social class and yearning for the whip that will scourge.
Coming across Koestler's thoughts in the midst of the great Michael Moore publicity fest, it is hard to escape the thought that the radical left, down to the midst specific details of its personalities, has changed not at all over the past fifty years.

On the other hand, Koestler's polemic provides an important reminder that responding to such critics often brings out the worse in us. Read in context, it is far from apparent that Koestler intended his guide to political neuroses as a satire of the left, even though that is how it will strike the modern reader. Surely, it would not be hard to identify the political neuroses of conservatives as well.

The final lesson to be taken from Koestler's writing is that we have nothing to fear. Even at the height of the Cold War, when Communism presented an existential threat to Western civilization, the radical left was a source of amusement rather than a meance. Now, as we confront the dangerous but hardly overwhelming threat of Islamist terror, we would do well to remember that Michael Moore & Co. are nothing more than comedians, regardless of their intentions.
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Thursday, July 01, 2004

# Posted 6:41 AM by Patrick Belton  

WHO KNEW? ELECTIONS ACTUALLY CAN BE FUN! And that's mostly thanks to blogger Tom McMahon, who's created a 'guess the presidential election year by the electoral college map' quiz. Fun for hours!
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# Posted 5:40 AM by Patrick Belton  

IRAN WATCH: Defence Minister Geoff Hoon told the House of Commons yesterday that the six Royal Marines and two Royal Navy sailors detained by Iran for four days had not strayed into Iranian waters, and were operating inside the Iraqi border when they were forcibly escorted into Iranian territorial waters and then detained. (AP, FT, BBC) Some analysts believe Tehran was retaliating for British support of a recent International Atomic Energy Agency resolution deploring its lack of cooperation with nuclear inspectors.

In other Iranian news, two security guards attached to Iran's UN mission have been expelled from the United States for espionage, after surveilling New York landmarks and infrastructure.
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# Posted 2:42 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

ONLY AT OXFORD: A friend of a friend got the following message when she requested a book from the stacks at the Bodleian:
Author : Crepaz, Markus M. L., 1959-
Title : Democracy and institutions : the life work of Arend Lijphart
Barcode : N13413942
Shelfmark : M00.E13957 [...]

Item located on unsafe bookcase - may not be fetched.
PC

We apologise for any inconvenience this may cause.
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# Posted 12:49 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

GIVE HIM ENOUGH ROPE: David Brooks says absolutely nothing in one of his recent columns. But he really doesn't have to, since Michael Moore says it all himself.

Of course, just because Moore has his foot in his mouth doesn't that Fahrenheit 9/11 isn't full of lies: this Newsweek column (link via Sullivan) is particularly devastating.

Now, you might ask, why is the liberal media turning on Michael Moore? Because the media always goes after major public figures who accuse of it being biased. As Newsweek tells us,
Moore also this week contended that the media was pounding away at him “pretty hard” because “they’re embarrassed. They’ve been outed as people who did not do their job.” Among the media critiques prominently criticized was an article in Newsweek.
In my own discussions with journalists, I've found them to be at least as annoyed by leftists' accusations that they are conservative mouthpieces than by conservatives' accusations that they are inveterate liberals. So don't expected Moore's bumpy ride to end anytime soon.
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Wednesday, June 30, 2004

# Posted 11:23 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

PEELING THE ONION: How can you criticize a polemic for being one-sided? How can you criticize a satire for being unrealistic? This pair of rhetorical questions has come to serve as the first line of defense for Michael Moore and Fahrenheit 9/11.

However, the answers to the these questions are, in fact, pretty straightforward. Even though argumentation is an inherent aspsect of polemics, taking a position does not entitle one to ignore the evidence and logic presentd by one's opponents.

Satire is subject to a similar, albeit more subtle standard. While it is hard to criticze an isolated bit of satire for being unfair or one-sided, a satirical work that employs the same caricatures and stereotypes over and over again may reinforce one's prejudices rather than opening one's mind.

Which brings us to The Onion. I love The Onion. I read it every week. But I laugh a lot less at The Onion's political humor than I do at its brilliant send-ups of America's social habits and popular culture.

The reason I laugh a lot less is that The Onion's political humor employs the same caricatures and stereotypes over and over again. Moreover, these satirical devices collectively form a coherent ideology that is both extremely elitist and extremely liberal.

To be frank, I have a lot more trouble with The Onion's elitism than I do with its liberalism. Liberalism is a good thing. Liberal ideals, both classical and modern, have contributed immeasurably to American political discourse. Yet The Onion's brand of elitism, when cloaked in humor, has the potential to breed a disturbing sort of cynicism.

This elitist cynicism is especially harmful when it interacts with The Onion's liberalism, because it results in a sort of embittered partisan politics that renders liberalism all but irrelevant to mainstream political debates.

On some occasions, it might be necessary to perform a comprehensive search of The Onion's archives in order to substantiate the accusations made above. Yet this week, the content of a single issue of The Onion provides more than enough evidence for the points I am trying to make.

The Onion presents Americans as ignorant, self-centered and conformist. Under "Latest Headlines", the first story The Onion presents is one entitled American People Ruled Unfit to Govern:
In a historic decision with major implications for the future of U.S. participatory democracy, the Supreme Court ruled 8-1 Monday that the American people are unfit to govern...

As a result of the ruling, the American people will no longer retain the power to choose their own federal, state, and local officials or vote on matters of concern to the public.
The article proceeds to detail how Americans' apathetic ignorance of basic facts renders them incapable of making informed decisions. As it often does, The Onion puts its own editorial position in the mouth of a scholar/pundit:
In spite of the enormous impact the ruling would seem to have, many political experts are downplaying its significance.

"It doesn't really change anything, to be honest," Duke University political-science professor Benjamin St. James said. "The public hasn't made any real contributions to the governance of the country in decades, so I don't see how this ruling affects all that much."
The theme of public ignorance returns in the very next headline, which reads "Hero Citizen Can Name All 50 States". The content of the article is fairly predictable, so The Onion doesn't get too many points for creativity here.

The obedient and conformist nature of the American public finds expression in an opinion column entitled "I Should Not Be Allowed To Say The Following Things About America". The basic message here is that only the mindless faith that the American public has in its leaders can explain public support for George Bush's idiotic foreign policy:
As Americans, we have a right to question our government and its actions. However, while there is a time to criticize, there is also a time to follow in complacent silence. And that time is now.

It's one thing to question our leaders in the days leading up to a war. But it is another thing entirely to do it during the occupation of a country...

Why do we purport to be fighting in the name of liberating the Iraqi people when we have no interest in violations of human rights—as evidenced by our habit of looking the other way when they occur in China, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Syria, Burma, Libya, and countless other countries? Why, of all the brutal regimes that regularly violate human rights, do we only intervene militarily in Iraq? Because the violation of human rights is not our true interest here. We just say it is as a convenient means of manipulating world opinion and making our cause seem more just.

That is exactly the sort of thing I should not say right now.
Well, so much for subtlety. The second opinion column in this week's Onion bears the optimistic title, "Hang In There! You Live In The Richest Nation In The World!" The author of the column asks
You know that old saying, "Life begins at 40"? Well, not in Sierra Leone! The life expectancy there is 38! I don't think we're in Kansas anymore, Toto!

Did you know that the U.S. makes up only 4 percent of the world's population, yet we have a third of its automobiles and consume a quarter of its energy supply? Keep that in mind the next time you get passed over for that big promotion at work!
That first line about Sierra Leone is actually pretty funny, even if it is a knock-off the old Onion headline "Teenager in Burundi Has Mid-Life Crisis". Anyhow, the bottom line is that Americans just don't care about the tremendous suffering of the 5 billion men, women and children who live in the developing world. As long as they've got their Big Macs and their SUVs, they will believe Bush's lies and remain blissfully ignorant of the world around them.

If I were to defend The Onion at this point, I would argue on its behalf that its clever exaggerations identify and amplify serious defects in American civic life. But since I'm not defending The Onion, I am going to argue that reality in America is almost exactly the opposite of what The Onion describes.

As I've explained before, the American public actually has a very strong record of rational decision-making:
Before the 1980s, it was taken for granted that the American public had volatile and incoherent opinions about politics, both foreign and domestic. By extension, this volatility and incoherence rendered Americans vulnerable to manipulation by both the media and the government.

In the 1980s, scholars began to discover that the premise of volatility and incoherence had led public opinion researchers to rely on methods that created an impression of volatility and incoherence even when there was none. In contrast, the United States had a rational public that derived its opinions on current events from a fixed set of values and updated its opinions when new information became available to it.
This conclusion reflects the research of America's leading experts on public opinion, most importantly Benjamin Page and Robert Shapiro.

On a related note, there is good evidence out there that instead of being passive conformists, Americans are extremely skeptical of anything their government says. Ever since Watergate and Vietnam, opinion polls have registered a sharp and continuing decline in the level of trust that Americans have in public institutions.

Interestingly, Americans have less faith in journalists than before, but still expect them to tell the truth far more often than politicians do. Perhaps that is why fewer and fewer Americans describe President Bush as honest and trustworthy.

In the final analysis, the skewered vision of American politics presented by The Onion may be clever, but instead of educating its audience, it reinforces misleading stereotypes that embittered elitist use to justify their pessimism about America's thriving democracy.
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# Posted 3:14 PM by Patrick Belton  

POSSIBLE RESPONSES TO DISCOVERING, VIA FRIENDSTER*, THAT ONE'S EX-GIRLFRIEND HAS CHANGED HER SEXUAL ORIENTATION IN THE PERIOD SINCE YOU BROKE UP WITH HER:

The pessimistic response: (this courtesy me), that one must have put her off from one's half of the species entirely

The optimistic response: (this courtesy of OxFriend Josh Cherniss), that one must have made the remaining portion of one's half of the species seem unattractive by comparison. I rather like this one.

*And no, I'm not linking to her profile, as I still like her a great deal and am very fond of her. And for the record, I support this sort of thing, although I'm not entirely sure in this case precisely what sort of thing it is that I'm supporting.
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# Posted 2:42 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

HOW THE EVIL CONSERVATIVES TRICKED ME: Last week, The New Republic devoted itself to asking the fundamental question facing every liberal who supported the invasion of Iraq: "Was I wrong?" It's a damn good question.

At the moment, TNR has made about half of its "Was I Wrong?" essays available on its website. There is one excellent essay in the bunch. In their column, the editors of TNR write that "We feel regret--but no shame." Knowing now that Saddam had no weapons of mass destruction, one cannot be glad that America went to war. Yet given what we knew in April of last year, there is nothing to be ashamed of.

In contrast to the editors, Ken Pollack, Fareed Zakaria and Anne Applebaum all refuse to accept responsibility for their decisions. Instead, the accuse the Bush administration of putting on a moderate face and tricking them into believing that the President and his advisers would deal responsibly with the aftermath of an invasion.

Given the Bush administration's early opposition to nation-building and irresponsible neglect of Afghanistan after the occupation of Kabul, I don't see how anyone could have expected the Bush administration to do much better in Iraq. After all, the reason Josh and I founded OxDem was because we believed that conservatives and liberals would have to work together in order to ensure that the Bush administration didn't abandon Iraq the way it had Afghanistan.

Nonetheless, TNR's contributors invent some impressive rationales for explaining away their faith in the Administration. By the far the most elaborate and the most delusional belongs to Anne Applebaum, an author for whom I have great respect. Applebaum writes that
I had taken it for granted that the administration's big hitters--Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, and, to some extent, even Powell--were united, if nothing else, by one common experience: All had been staunch opponents of the Soviet Union. That meant not only that they'd been right about the cold war, but that they knew that we had won it only partly thanks to U.S. military strength...

After September 11, I was certain that the Bush administration, packed with old cold warriors as it was, would also treat the war on terrorism as a moral and ideological battle, a struggle for hearts and minds, and not just an opportunity for the United States to show off its advanced weapons systems.
If Applebaum had been paying attention in the aftermath of Reagan's death, she would have noticed that conservatives eulogized the President by praising his unmitigated commitment to confronting Soviet aggression. That is how the Cold War was won. It had nothing to do with compromise. Only strength.

That is the same point that conservatives have been making for years. It is the same argument they made while Reagan was President. That goes for neo-conservatives like Wolfowitz as well as hawkish realists such as Cheney and Rumsfeld. Powell (and Rice?) may have been more moderate, but no one suspected them of being the dominant force within the Bush administration.

Zakaria's self-justification is similar to Applebaum's, except without the historical baggage. He writes that
The biggest mistake I made on Iraq was to believe that the Bush administration would want to get Iraq right more than it wanted to prove its own prejudices right. I knew the administration went into Iraq with some crackpot ideas, but I also believed that, above all else, it would want success on the ground. I reasoned that it would drop its pet theories once it was clear they were not working. I still don't understand why the Bush team proved so self-defeatingly stubborn. Perhaps its initial success in Afghanistan emboldened it to move forward unconstrained. Perhaps its prejudices about Iraq had developed over decades and were deeply held. Perhaps the administration was far more divided and dysfunctional than I had recognized, making rational policy impossible.
What on earth persuade Zakaria that the Bush administration was in the habit of changing course under fire? From tax cuts to the war on terror, the Bush administration has distinguished itself by sticking to its guns come hell or high water. If you like what the administration has done, you praise its Reagan-esque resolve. If you dislike what the administration has done, you criticize its stubborn intransigence. But you can't pretend that the administration is known for accepting compromise.

On a related note, I'm not sure how Zakaria can reasonably depict the occupation of Afghanistan as an example of responsible policy making. As Patrick's recent post illustrates, there was never much of a commitment to Afghanistan by either the Bush administration or any other NATO powers. This much has been self-evident since the first months after the fall of the Taliban.


In addition to Applebaum and Zakaria, Leon Wieseltier and Ken Pollack also try to present themselves as innocent victims of Bush's faux moderation. I won't go into examples, however, especially since I already commented on Pollack's essay in an earlier post.

What I will comment on is Kevin Drum's take on Applebaum. As Kevin reminds us, he was one of the very few liberals who supported the war almost until it began, but backed out specifically because he didn't believe Bush was serious about post-war reconstruction. Savoring Applebaum's conversion from hawk to dove, Kevin forgets to ask why she had faith in the Bush administration even when it was so obvious to him exactly what to expect.

Back when Kevin changed sides on the war, I thought he was behaving somewhat strangely since Bush, in his address at AEI, had just made his most explicit commitment to promoting democracy in Iraq. Since that time, Kevin has periodically insisted that the Bush administration was about to cut and run, abandoning Iraq to civil war rather than risking a backlash at the polls when Bush came up for re-election. Instead, the President -- true to form -- has only become more emphatic and intransigent in his insistence that Iraqi will be rebuilt and democratized, come hell or high water.

While there is ample room to criticize Bush's follow through on this sort of ambitious rhetoric, it's hard to escape the conclusion that Bush has shown far more dedication to the daunting task of nation-building than anyone (especially OxBlog) expected. Thus, it is doubly ironic that embarrassed liberal hawks now insist that they only supported the war because they were tricked.

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# Posted 2:13 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

A RISING TIDE: Kevin Drum points to an interesting column by Ron Brownstein, whose statistics show that economic growth in the 1990s benefited both ethnic minorities and the American poor even more than it did the white upper-class.

Both Kevin and Ron argue that these numbers were the direct result of Clinton administration policies such as welfare reform, minimum wage hikes, increased tax credits for the working poor and health care programs for working-class kids. While supporting all of those policies, I don't know enough to say one way or the other whether such limited programs can dramatically alter the distribution of our national income. My gut instinct says no.

Anyhow, I'm still pretty surprised to learn that things turned out so well for middle- and working-class Americans in the 1990s. After being inundated for three years by British denunciations of our merciless capitalist system, I began to take it for granted that there was an inherent trade off between equality and opportunity. So, for once, I'm glad to know that my opinions were ignorant and wrong.
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# Posted 12:17 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

DON'T SMILE: Here's the latest NYT compilation of bad news about reconstruction in Iraq. The less newsworthy good news can be found here. It's also worth noting that Coalition fatalities were down yet again: 50 in June vs. 84 in May vs. 140 during April, the bloodiest month of the occupation. As always, the numbers are courtesty of Lunaville.
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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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