OxBlog

Monday, July 12, 2004

# Posted 11:21 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

A LENINIST AT THE NYT? In a subtle allusion to the writings of Lenin, Brad DeLong charges NYT debutante Barbara Ehrenreich with practicing a "brand of left-wing politics [that] is an infantile disorder".

Pray tell, what has Ms. Ehrenreich done to deserve this denunciation from a fellow traveler? According to Brad,
Left-wing politics is, for [Ehrenreich], primarily a means of self-expression. The point is not to actually do anything to make the United States or the world a better place..

The point, by contrast, is to assume an appropriate oppositional stance, and to feel good about oneself. Witness her argument that what upper and upper-middle class American women should do is to fire their nannies in order to avoid their children "growing up with the world's class and racial hierarchies stamped on their emerging little world views"--thus depriving relatively poor women of jobs and opportunities they found it worthwhile to grasp.
Hmmm. A female columnist who complains ad nauseam but never comes up with practical solutions? I can't believe the NYT would ever want one of those on its op-ed page!

But moving on, Brad also points to the irresponsibility of Ehrenreich's anti-Gore activism during the 2000 campaign. As she wrote in The Nation:
We are being summoned to save this inveterate bribe-taker [Gore --ed.] because "a vote for Nader is a vote for Bush." That in itself is a disturbingly Orwellian proposition, easily generalized to "Don't challenge the system, you'll only make it worse."
In spite of all this, Kevin Drum tries to rescue Ehrenreich by explaining that
In politics both policy and persuasion are necessary. Brad has policy in abundance, but Ehrenreich would probably think it bloodless and, in the long run, ineffective, because it does not change people's minds. Likewise, Ehrenreich has polemics and persuasion in abundance, but without good policy this simply produces a mess.
But does Ehrenreich, or Maureen Dowd or Michael Moore really change minds? I don't think so. Just like Rush Limbaugh, they mostly throw red meat to the faithful. There is something to be said for mobilizing the base, but these folks only cater to the extreme half of their partisan base.

As for the NYT, would hiring a Naderite really add much diversity to their op-ed page?

UPDATE: Matt Yglesias offers a non-apology on Ehrenreich's behalf which Brad declines to accept.

On a related note, Henry Farrell takes issue with Brad's allusion to Lenin. While "infantile" is a harsh word, I think that Brad gets the historical analogy just right. Lenin used that word to denounce left-wing Communists whose radicalism threatend to undermine mainstream Communism and ensure the triumph of its class enemies. Brad is using it to attack Naderites who delivered the 2000 election into the hands of George Bush.

(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 7:36 PM by Patrick Belton  

OXBLOG ON CNN: It's the same AP story, but nice to be popping up there nonetheless!
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 6:11 PM by Patrick Belton  

THEY CAN'T MAKE THIS STUFF UP: That is, the bishop's response in the second graf...
Cache of child porn found at seminary
VIENNA, Austria (AP) -- A vast cache of child pornography and photos of young priests having sex has been discovered at a Roman Catholic seminary, officials said Monday, leading politicians and church leaders to demand a criminal probe and the resignation of the bishop in charge.

Bishop Kurt Krenn, who oversees the diocese, refused to step down, however, dismissing the images as a "childish prank."
...
As many as 40,000 photos and an undisclosed number of films, including child pornography, were found.

ed: Pretty massive prank, if you ask me. But it wasn't the child pornography that the bishops were concerned about...

The Austrian Bishops Conference issued a statement pledging a full and swift internal investigation. "Anything that has to do with the practice of homosexuality or pornography has no place at a seminary for priests," it said.

Krenn, a conservative churchman, told Austrian television he had seen photos of seminary leaders in sexual situations with students, but he described the images as part of an elaborate prank that "had nothing to do with homosexuality."
It was straight child porn, people, straight child porn....nothing to worry about here....
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 2:27 PM by Patrick Belton  

ANYONE WHO'S EXTRAORDINARILY BORED can read my encyclopedia of politics articles on Nietzsche and Hume, and let me know if you have any suggestions.... (This, incidentally, is for the same guy who read my thesis chapter.)
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 6:25 AM by Patrick Belton  

THIS CONVERSATION seems to me to be rather silly. The question is whether elections ought to be postponed in the event of a terrorist attack. Constitutionally, this is probably allowable, as long as it is done (or expressly delegated) by Congress, and with a key role being played by state legislatures: it falls under Congress's competency under Article II, Section 1 to set a single national date for the meeting of presidential electors for the electoral college's election of the president, currently codified at 3 U.S.C. 7. The method and timing of the electors' selection rests solidly in the hands of the state legislatures, under Article II, which gives them complete power to determine how the electors are to be selected (including whether even to hold a popular election at all, which is a matter for the state constitution to work out). But it falls under Congress's powers to determine when the electoral college must meet, and so it could theoretically postpone the meeting of the electoral college, giving states the ability, if they so chose, to move their elections back as well. (Compare this with the case of the timing of congressional elections, which under Article I, Section 5, Congress can move entirely under its own discretion - the Constitution grants Congress the power to set the dates of popular elections to the House, which the 17th Amendment extends to the Senate as well). Congress couldn't extend the term of the president past four years (article II), but it could, by moving the date of the convening of the electoral college, give the states the opportunity to postpone the election of their presidential electors - consonant with the 20th amendment fixing the term of the president as lapsing January 20, after which point under current legislation the Speaker succeeds to the empty presidency if a president-elect or vice president-elect has not been selected.

But the more pertinent question, it seems, is political - which in turn ought to be read against the context of American political history. The presidential election of 1864 was held at the ordinary time, in spite of the existence of a civil war threatening the very continued existence of the polity, at least in an unfractured form. By analogy, elections under the shadow of a terrorist attack probably ought to be held at the ordinary time as well.

This issue shouldn't be read together excessively with continuity of government and doomsday planning, but there are also useful analogies, I think, to be drawn from the very conservative principles which have guided government continuity planning. In this, the US is distinct from Britain in that the constitutional forms of the government - the cabinet, both chambers of Congress, the Supreme Court, the executive agencies- are all to be preserved intact, underground if need be, in the event of an utter armageddon. By contrast, the Commons, in its doomdsay scenario, has legislation ready for emergency use to dissolve itself and relegate all executive power to civil defence commissioners in eleven districts throughout Britain, who will be expected to relinquish emergency command to the national government as soon as possible after the catastrophe. Other measures are in place to ensure the survival of the Government - but not their families- and the Royal Family.

The only area where current US constitutional arrangements are silent, and possibly lacking, is how the Congress is to be reconvened should large numbers of its members be killed or incapacitated. Under the House's interpretation of its quorum rules, a majority of living members may meet to constitute the House. This interpretation is fine as long as the surviving members of Congress are ambulatory, but it doesn't permit the House to meet - even to amend its quorum rules - if, say, a majority of members are living but incapacitated - although there may possibly be room for exercise of speaker's discretion. Reconstitution of the Senate may be immediate, with governors being permitted under the seventeenth amendment to fill vacancies by temporary appointment, but the House, as the people's body, may only be constituted by direct election. Where constitutional ambuity might lie is, among other issues, the selection of the Speaker by an indeterminately constituted or unconvenable House, who might well be called upon to immediately succeed to the presidency. CRS has a report on this and related questions, as does Brookings.

But these latter issues involve catastrophic, nationwide devastation of an order principally contemplated during the darkest days of the Cold War, and the discussion of even these doomsday issues has been marked by careful, salutary regard for the continuity of the constitutional forms . It seems to me that the appropriate political response to a grave terrorist attack which did not challenge the territorial or economic viability of the United States should be guided by similar, principally conservative, concerns - to make as little change as possible due to the attacks in the political life of the republic. Josh?
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 12:57 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

IRAQ BODY COUNT: Bob Herbert mentions in passing, without reference to his source, that 10,000 civilians have died in Iraq since the US invasion began. To the best of my knowledge, the US military still refuses to investigate the issues, thus opening up the field of play to much less reputable institutions.

One of those less reputable institutions is Iraq Body Count, which currently reports that between eleven and thirteen thousand civlians have died in Iraq. That name may ring a bell, since Josh took a careful look at IBC's flawed methodology shortly after the fall of Baghdad. At the time, IBC had calculated that 1,800 civilians had been killed during the invasion.

According to Human Rights Watch, there is no reliable count of how many civilians have lost their lives during the invasion and the occupation. So, has IBC done anything to improve the situation?

Well, one interesting feature on its site is a list, by name, of 700 civlians killed in Iraq. Next to each name is the individual's age, sex, place of and time of death, cause of death, and source of information about their death.

The fourth entry in the IBC lists refers to the "family of Metaq Ali", 29 of whom died as a result of a US air force attack. Thanks to Google, I was able to track down the wire report that provided IBC with the information about their deaths. It lists none of the 29 names of Ms. Ali's family members. Moreover, there is no verification of their deaths other than Ms. Ali's testimony.

While I am inclined to believe that Ms. Ali is telling the truth, I don't see how a responsible civilian casualty monitoring organization can rely on a single account provided by a witness it never interviewed. Moreover, it takes a lot of chutzpah for IBC to pretend that it knows the names of the 29 individuals allegedy killed by the American attack.

Scrolling further down the list, one notices that it often lists the cause of death as simply 'gunfire'. At first, I assumed that 'gunfire' meant Coalition gunfire, since the title at the beginning of the list says "Named and Identified Persons Killed as Result of Military Intervention in Iraq". But scrolling down a little further, I noticed that it includes more than 90 entries for individuals killed by a massive suicide attack on the offices of two Kurdish political parties this past February.

In other words, IBC is counting Iraqis killed by terrorists attacks -- this one possibly committed by Al Qaeda -- as victims of American intervention. In some abtract sense, this is true. If there had been no American invasion, it is highly unlikely that terrorists would have killed those specific individuals. On the other hand, if there had been no American invasion, it is absolutely certain that Saddam would've killed thousands of other innocent men, women and children.

Even so, it still worth asking whether IBC's own guidelines recommend including the victims of terrorist attacks, or whether the inclusion of the February attack in Kurdistan was a mistake. Answer: I'm not sure. According to IBC's published guidelines,
The test for us remains whether the bullet (or equivalent) is attributed to a piece of weaponry where the trigger was pulled by a US or allied finger, or is due to "collateral damage" by either side (with the burden of responsibility falling squarely on the shoulders of those who initiate war without UN Security Council authorization). We agree that deaths from any deliberate source are an equal outrage, but in this project we want to only record those deaths to which we can unambiguously hold our own leaders to account. In short, we record all civilians deaths attributed to our military intervention in Iraq.
The decision to include deaths resulting from "'collateral damage' by either side" (emphasis added) suggests that the victims of terrorist attacks should be included. On the other hand, 'collateral damage' usually refers to civilians accidentally killed during military operations, not civilians intentionally killed in order to provoke widespread fear. Moreover, IBC's desire to record only those deaths for which one can "unambiguously hold our own leaders to account" forces one to ask how the victims of terrorist bombings can possibly be included in this total.

Now let's turn to the main IBC database where the incidents responsible for the 10,000+ civilian casualties are included. At the top of the list, there is note which says
In the current occupation phase the database includes all deaths which the Occupying Authority has a binding responsibility to prevent under the Geneva Conventions and Hague Regulations. This includes civilian deaths resulting from the breakdown in law and order, and deaths due to inadequate health care or sanitation.
Even though I am not familiar with the Geneva and Hague regulations, I'm guessing that suicide bombings are not something that the Occupying Authority can be expected to prevent. Even so, that is the description that IBC itself gives to incidents 'k223' and 'k224'. I'm also pretty sure that incident 'x340', in which two kidnapped Iraqis had their throats slashed, was not the responsibility of occupation forces.

However, the prize for total absurdity goes to entry 'x344' which includes upwards of 1600 deaths described as "violent deaths recorded at the Baghdad city morgue". For details about the morgue reports, see this AP report, cited by IBC. To be fair, IBC notes (see above) the Occupying Authority is responsible for maintaining law and order. Still, what IBC is basically doing is holding the US responsible for street crime.

Before finishing this extra-long post, I think it's worth asking whether anyone takes IBC's numbers seriously. Well, one quick answer to that question comes from IBC's own news clippings site. The sad news is that Newsweek, the Christian Science Monitor, the Financial Times, Reuters, and the BBC. On a personal note, I am particularly concerned about Linda Colley, a very talented professor of mine at Yale, who took the IBC figures at face value in a column in The Guardian. (Although I guess it's possible that there are two British Linda Colleys.)

But, hey, who expected from better from our less-than-unbiased media? As Josh pointed out last year, major media outlets were already swallowing the IBC propaganda hook, line and sinker. Plus ca change...
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 12:50 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

YOU CAN'T HAVE DEMOCRACY IF IT ISN'T SAFE TO VOTE: There's trouble brewing in Afghanistan.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 12:27 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WaPo IMITATES BELTON: You be the judge of whether the Post is getting its editorial ideas from Patrick. On the bright side, Patrick did make a pretty important point, so I'm glad it's getting a wider audience.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 12:19 AM by Daniel  

So much fun, I watched it twice. Turn up the volume and enjoy.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

Sunday, July 11, 2004

# Posted 6:59 PM by Patrick Belton  

FAR BE IT FROM ME to provide a counterexample to my good friend Josh, but Rachel and I have actually been reading the online text of the Odyssey to each other each night lately as bedtime reading.... I treasure as much as anyone the aesthetic experience of a beautifully made book, particularly one obtained in a second-hand book shop and having the smell and craftsmanship of decades woven into its spine - but there's also an extraordinary convenience to being able to call on the contents of Project Gutenberg or the entire Harvard Six Foot Shelf for your bedtime or breakfast reading, without so much as a trip to the library...
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 7:09 AM by Patrick Belton  

CAMPAIGN TRAIL QUOTE OF THE DAY: 'He has an accent and I don't,' Democratic vice-presidential candidate John Edwards, when asked to identify differences between himself and nominee presumptive John Kerry
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 6:07 AM by Patrick Belton  

NATHAN HALER AND OXFRIEND GREG BEHRMAN has an important and timely piece on AIDS in this morning's International Herald Tribune:
AIDS threatens global security: A subversive plague
By Greg Behrman

On Sunday, epidemiologists, scientists, public health experts and leaders of nongovernmental organizations will convene in Bangkok for the 15th International AIDS Conference. They will debate the costs and the prevention strategies; they will report on progress in the science. Yet one of the most important dimensions of this pandemic will be almost entirely overlooked: that it is fast becoming one of the greatest threats to U.S. and global security.

In the past 20 years, approximately 60 million people have been infected with HIV; 20 million have died. Eight thousand people - nearly three times 9/11's death toll - die of AIDS every day. By 2010, experts predict 100 million infections worldwide and 25 million AIDS orphans.

AIDS has taken its greatest toll in sub-Saharan Africa, and it is there that the pandemic presents the most immediate threat to global security. AIDS is killing the most productive and needed people: doctors, government officials, teachers. The disease is not only devastating families and communities; it is eviscerating national economies.

All seven southern African countries have adult infection rates above 17 percent, and in two it is 35 percent. Some employers train two or three workers for every job, such are the chances that a worker will become infected and die. Some African armies are believed to have infection rates as high as 50 percent.

The implications for global security are profound. AIDS can reverse the strides many African countries have made toward democratization. Warlords, corrupt dictators and rogue leaders might seize power in weakened states. Lawlessness and disorder can breed violence and conflict.

By 2010, 25 percent of U.S. oil imports are expected to come from Africa, so the United States will be increasingly drawn in to participate in combat and peacekeeping missions there.

In 2002, the White House National Security Strategy declared that for the first time, weak states pose a greater danger to U.S. national security than strong states. What is making states weak today? In sub-Saharan Africa, it is AIDS.

Somalia, Sudan and Kenya have already provided harbor for terrorists. As the disease tears the sub-continent's states apart, terrorists will find more refuge in the rubble. Though there are more Muslims in Africa than in the entire Middle East, Islamic radicalism is still the exception rather than the rule. But the instability and suffering that AIDS is spreading through the continent might well feed radicalism.

Across Europe and Asia, the pandemic's next wave poses longer-term challenges to security. The peril is greatest in Russia, where AIDS is growing faster than anywhere in the world. There are roughly 1 million infections in Russia, and the number is expected to climb to 5 to 8 million by 2010 - a level at which AIDS could generate instability. To Russia's south, India will soon become the country with the highest absolute number of infections in the world. Its HIV-infection tally now stands at around 5 million, and by 2010 that number may reach 20-25 million.

In many ways, India is Africa five to 10 years ago. With large numbers of migrant laborers, widespread prostitution, a flimsy health infrastructure and a mind-boggling state of denial among government elites, AIDS is poised to leap to Africa-like proportions. This in the world's largest democracy, a nuclear power and a key U.S. strategic ally in a volatile region.

Secretary of State Colin Powell recently declared that HIV/AIDS is "the greatest weapon of mass destruction on the Earth." Yet the global community has not met AIDS with the resources, priority and urgency that the gravity of the threat requires. AIDS is the greatest moral crisis of our time, and it is a vital threat to U.S. and global security.
Greg's recent book, which really is a must-read, is The Invisible People: How the U.S. Has Slept Through the Global AIDS Pandemic, The Greatest Humanitarian Crisis of Our Time.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 5:29 AM by Patrick Belton  

A FEW FIRST THOUGHTS ON THE CONVENTION OF THE BLOG: I'm excited that we'll have a role in covering the convention as a representative of the new media, and blogs in particular. The 2004 conventions will be remembered as the conventions of the blog; just like the 1952 Republican convention was the convention of the television, and the 1924 conventions were the conventions of the radio. Each symbolised the rise of a new technology to mediate between the political space of the public square and the personal, domestic space in people's living rooms, bedrooms, and kitchen counters. (We started OxBlog in April 2002; Glenn Reynolds began InstaPundit in August 2001, and the rush of widely read politics blogs followed then in his wake.)

Each of those forms of communication represented, and recreated, political events differently. What's different about blogs is the restoration of the human voice behind them, more in line with the Victorian newspaper, or Bagehot in today's Economist, but quite different from both the 'we' of today's editorial page and the unindividuated speech on page one. Today's newspapers reflect a positivist philosophy of knowledge of the 1950s and Karl Popper, when they attained their present form - each draws one authoritative representation of each political event. The blogosphere reflects the epistemology of the moment, Jürgen Habermas's intersubjectivity, where many individuals speak with each other and compare their different representations of the political event. I think the blogosphere fits in the same social moment as the new economy - it's decentralised, younger, quickly adaptable, and better describable by chaos theories of spontaneous order, than Weber's models of bureaucracy, which correspond to the career foreign correspondent services of the print newspapers.

Blogs are personal - there's a human voice behind them; you write as an humble 'i,' not as the powerful editorial 'we'. You engage in running, for the most part respectful conversations with other bloggers to your right and left, which might well be our day's running conversation of the republic. As a technology for representing politics and mediating between public and domestic space, blogs don't share the passivity of television, or the unspoken biases of print journalism, and because of these running conversations with other blogs - which as a blogger keep you honest, and continually questioning and reframing your assumptions. Something about blogging also forces you to be humble, because you write as an 'i' instead of as 'we', and you relate to people you cover as individuals, which induces respect and humility.

More importantly, though, all this pretentious babbling about German philosophers aside, I'm looking forward awfully much to meeting the other bloggers who will be there. Wonkette writes in that 'if we're lucky' she'll even join us for bloggers drinks. And I think it'll be fascinating to use blogging the convention as a way of getting around the televised spectacle which conventions have become, and looking for the relics of real politics that still exist there - through talking with and interviewing representatives of different factions and groups within the party, to see what's new in their orbits, what trends they think are important, and how the world looks from where they sit, as well as getting to talk to delegates from different parts of the country where I don't get to travel all that often.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 3:11 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

JUST IN CASE AL & TIPPER WEREN'T ENOUGH: The Dems are still the party of love in 2004. The Washington Times isn't happy about it, but OxBlog loves love! (Link via Pandagon)

UPDATE: And there's more love where that came from. (Hat tip: Bo Cowgill.)
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 2:41 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

I DIDN'T EVEN KNOW THEY HAD COWS: The North Korean state-run media recently reported that Dear Leader Kim Jong Il gave his personal seal of approval to the hamburger. The Dear Leader was also quoted as saying that
"I've made up my mind to feed quality bread and french fries to university students, professors and researchers even if we are in (economic) hardship."
You know, I wouldn't be surprised if Kim has his own personal McDonalds hidden away somewhere along with his DVD collection and Courvoisier. (Hat tip: TMV)
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 1:00 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

AMERICA HUMBLED, PART II: RECONSTRUCTION WITH A CAPITAL 'R'. Yesterday, I suggested that Hollywood's perceptions of Japan in the 1980s can teach us an important lesson about US-Iraqi relations. Today, I explore how that great fable of the Reconstruction, Gone With the Wind, can broaden our perspective on the reconstruction of Iraq.

But first, a confession: I am completely ignorant of the extensive literature, both popular and academic, generated by Gone With the Wind. I come to the film with fresh eyes, except for the fact that I am still in possession of a Gone With the Wind refrigerator magnet that once belonged to a very sweet and very pretty girl whom I dated for just a short time in college. Much like Scarlett O'Hara, she was a very smart girl who was much tougher than she looked.

Of course, one shouldn't romanticize the past. Accustomed to Hollywood's obsession with political correctness, I was shocked by Gone With the Wind's shameless apologia for the ante bellum South. It is a fairy-tale kingdom without class warfare, racial violence, or religious hypocrisy. It's only apparent flaw is the tragic enthusiasm of its chivalrous young men for confronting the Yankee aggressor on the battlefied.

Perhaps most shocking to modern audiences is the servility of Scarlett's (former slaves) after the surrender at Appomattox. The film doesn't provide even the slightest hint that they were dissatisfied with their old lives or that they now want something more from life than to wait hand and foot on their former masters.

Of course, this servility is an integral part of the fantasy that animates Gone With the Wind. At first, one might dismiss this fantasy as unremarkable given that Jim Crow was alive and well in 1939, when Gone With the Wind debuted. Yet given the prominence of Iraq in today's headlines, I found it impossible not to think of Gone With the Wind as a window into an alternative universe in which Americans are not only the occupiers but also the occupied.

In both the American South and in Iraq, the victory of Washington's armed forces secured the immediate objectives for which the war was fought. Yet in both cases, the victors also hoped to promote their democratic values by transforming the thought processes of the society against which they had just fought. Sadly, the political fantasy at the heart of Gone With the Wind demonstrates just how poorly the Union Army did as advocate of racial justice.

At first, one might hesitate to attribute this failure the cultural divide between North and South, since the culture of both was fundamentally American. Even the racism of the South was not much greater in intensity than that of the North, in spite of the latter's abolitionist impluse. While it had economic roots as well, Jim Crow was an expression of the idea that black Americans should not share the same fundamental rights as their white counterparts.

Given the similarity of Northern and Southern culture, why did the North fail to cultivate in the South even the minimal respect for racial equality that existed in the North? Given that the cultural divide between the United States and Iraq is far greater than that between North and South, is there any hope for a successful transmission of the democratic impulse?

That, of course, is a trick question. If the Iraqi people do not want democracy, there is nothing we can do to make them want it. In that sense, democracy cannot be exported. Yet if the people of Iraq want to embrace democracy as their own, then the United States can prevent opportunistic elites, violent insurgents, and social chaos from disrupting the transition. In that sense, democracy can be promoted.

One hundred years after the end of the Civil War, federal officials returned to the South to enforce Washington's expectations of racial justice. After a century of social and cultural change, their efforts had the chance to be more successful. Thus, I fear that in Iraq it may be another hundred years before women enjoy the basic rights that no American could live a dignified existence without.

However, within democratic nations, democratic values have a habit of burrowing into and taking over every social insitution with which they come into contact. They just need some time.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

Saturday, July 10, 2004

# Posted 9:14 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

ONE STEP FORWARD? Saudi Arabia has announced that municipal elections will be held in early September. The municipal ballot will be the first elections in Saudi Arabia since the 1960s.

The big question is, will the elections be real? Will the campaigns be fair? Will organized parties be allowed to emerge on a regional and/or national basis? And if the United States doesn't watch the process closely, will the Saudi princes rig the vote?
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 9:05 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

RUSSIAN ROULETTE, PUTIN STYLE: Paul Klebnikov, a US citizen and senior editor of Forbes' Russian-language edition, was gunned down near his Moscow office yesterday. Klebnikov's aggressive reporting earned him numerous enemies in Russia's corporate underworld.

But the real point here is that journalists don't get murdered when governments care about human rights and the rule of law. While the Putin regime may not have been involved in Klebnikov's murder, it's pervasive corruption and assault on free speech are what makes this sort of violence possible.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 7:26 AM by Patrick Belton  

HEY LOOKEY, WE'RE IN USA TODAY, FORBES AND THE BOSTON HERALD TODAY!
(Note to self: stop making fun of USA Today, at least for a respectable period of time...) Here's what they're saying about us.
Belton, 28, a doctoral candidate in international relations at Oxford University, said he was "tickled pink" when he learned by phone Thursday he had been accepted. [ed: Belton, 28, swears he doesn't ordinarily use phrases like 'tickled pink'] (Notifications were sent by postal mail, but Belton said he hasn't checked his mailbox in days.) [ed: That's because work frequently appears there]

"It will be great fun to participate in the symbolic first convention of the blog," said Belton, who said he's now "trying to scrape the pennies together" for a flight from England.
...
[Convention spokeswoman Peggy Wilhide] pointed to the approval of at least one "right-leaning" blog, Oxblog, though the co-founder who applied, Patrick Belton, is a registered Democrat who considers himself centrist.
Hey, thanks, guys!
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 12:20 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

AMERICA HUMBLED: In the midst of an aggressive American effort to export its democratic ideals, I think it may prove beneficial to empathize with the people of Iraq and Afghanistan by trying to remember those moments in American history when the success of others led to a loss of confidence in our own way of life.

While the the people of Iraq (if not their leaders) have demonsrated an admirable thirst for democracy and human rights, it is never easy for a proud people to admit that foreigners know best, especially in the midst of a foreign occupation. This is not a trait peculiar to Iraqi culture but rather one that Americans share as well. Thus, it may be cultural similarities that are a greater barrier to cooperation in Iraq than cultural differences.

I have begun to appreciate this point more fully over the past ten days thanks to a pair of films that portray Americans in the midst of radical self-doubt. The first is an obscure comedy from the 1980s named Gung Ho. The second is Gone With the Wind, which I had never seen for myself despite its iconic status in the lore of American film.

Gung Ho takes place in a small Pennsylvania town where the close of a local auto factory has led to massive unemployment, the shuttering of countless stores, and a general loss of faith in American industry. In the opening scense of the film, Hunt Stevenson (played by Michael Keaton) travels to Japan in order to persuade the fictional Assan Motor Corporation to invest in the closed factory and bring the town back to life.

When the Assan executive jet arrives at the local airport, the town has assembled on the runaway to meet with hand-lettered signs saying "We Love Japan" and "We Love Assan". The crowd waves miniature Japanese and American flags, while a delegation of local women wear kimonos and the town's children demonstrate their minimal knowledge of karate.

Watching this scene, it was hard not to think of the first moments after the liberation of Iraq, when the celebration of freedom had not yet been marred by the burdens of occupation and reconstruction. The amazing thing, of course, is that the Americans in Gung Ho are not the liberators but the liberated. They welcome the Japanese with a certain reverence reserved for saviors and not for guests. The Japanese are inscrutable, but that only increases their allure because they possess the secret of prosperity.

Even though my memories of the 1980s are hazy at best, I do remember that powerful sense of foreboding that Americans had about the impending superiority of the Japanese. Their wealth seemed unlimited as they began to buy up America. Today we would welcome such investment as an antidote to outsourcing and an excessive dependence on imports. But that is only because we have regained our confidence in the American way of life.

Unsurprisingly, cultural differences lead the Americans in Gung Ho begin to lose patience with the Japanese executives in charge of their factory. In spite of Hollywood's usual passion for political correctness, Gung Ho perpetuates crude stereotypes about the Japanese as authoritarian, cold-hearted and even cruel. In contrast, the greivances of the American factory workers come across as mostly justified, even if their reactions to the Japanese are somewhat intolerant.

When the conflict becomes more than the Japanese can take, they threaten to pull out their investment and go home. Hoping to save the day, labor rep Stevenson (Keaton) persuades the Japanese factory boss to strike a deal: If the Americans can break the one-month production record set by Assan's Japanese workers, then Assan will stay in Pennsylvania. The outcome, of course, is predictable. But what never gets explained is how American workers who weren't productive enough to keep their factory open when it was managed by fellows Americans have suddenly become able to outperform their legendary Japanese counterparts.

In the meantime, the soft-hearted Japanese factory boss begins to embrace his workers' relaxed and individualistic style. Eventually, he stands up to his own boss and demands that the Japanese executive be able to take time off to spend with their pregnant wives and graduating children. Thus, what began as a film about American inferiority ends as a fairly tale about superior American values. Instead of being grappled with, reality disappears.

Now, if Americans in the relatively prosperous 1980s couldn't accept that they actually had what to learn from the Japanese, imagine how hard it must be for Iraqis to accept American tutorials in the midst of an occupation. Now, it would be wrong to suggest that the Ba'athist and Sadrite insurgencies in Iraq are a reflection of cultural differences. In truth, they are a reflection of violent totalitarian ideologies that most Iraqis reject.

Yet I wouldn't be surprised if the everyday business of fixing generators, laying sewage pipes and training security forces suffers from a clash of American and Iraqi egos. In Gung Ho, the cartoon-like rigidity of the Japanese executives prevents them from recognizing that they should compromise with their American workers rather than just demanding that they accept Japanese habits.

Of course, I'm hardly the first one to suggest that cultural differences will complicate our efforts to promote democracy in Iraq. All I hope to add to this debate is the suggestion that cultural similarities may, in fact, cause more trouble than differences. While Iraqis may share our thirst for democracy, they also share our incomparable pride, a trait which make them just as reluctant to learn from us as we were to learn from the Japanese.

To be continued.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

Friday, July 09, 2004

# Posted 7:43 AM by Patrick Belton  

'DROUGHT-CRAZED KANGAROOS TURN DEADLY': Look, I know I shouldn't for some reason find this as funny as I do, but this just came up from the antipodes:
Drought-crazed kangaroos turn deadly
By Elizabeth Colman
July 09, 2004

IT'S an unusual sight - a kangaroo holding a struggling dog under water until it drowns.

But as Australia lies gripped by the big dry, the nation's proud mascot is turning deadly in the capital.

Killer kangaroos have claimed the lives of two dogs and injured at least one person in Canberra in the past week...

[Wildlife ecologist] Dr [Murray] Evans this week issued guidelines to locals living in the bush capital on how to steer clear of an attack by the cuddly looking marsupials. The danger signs are clear - don't approach a kangaroo "when it is standing up and looking straight at you, sometimes it also will growl and snort", Dr Evans said.

"Some people think the kangaroo is being friendly and it's not."
Would they perhaps be willing to part with a few of those, to send several to Iraq?

UPDATE: From our reader MH: 'If the 'Roos are drought crazed, where is this water coming from that they're drowning the dogs under? and why aren't they merely drinking the water instead of murdering dogs?'
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 12:14 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE HEROES OF AL-JAZEERA: The subtitle of this film should have been "If Michael Moore Had a Brain". Control Room, a documentary by Jehane Noujaim, takes us inside Al Jazeera's Qatar headquarters during the American invasion of Iraq in 2003. With a subtlety not often found in the midst of a presidential election, Noujaim portrays the producers and correspondents of Al Jazeera as the last true heirs of Woodward & Bernstein -- unarmed men and women unafraid to speak truth to power.

The critics' praise for Control Room has been overwhelming. In the NYT, A.O. Scott writes that it is
An indispensable example of the inquisitive, self-questioning democratic spirit that is its deep and vexed subject.
Ann Hornaday of the WaPo writes that it is
The first movie of the year to qualify as urgently important...

This engrossing portrait of competing notions of truth is at once a thrilling real-time chronicle of the birth of a free press and a sophisticated philosophical treatise on the nature of objective reality.
In other words, liberal film critics love Control Room because it advances a firm leftist critique of American ignorance and ethnocentrism while presenting itself as an unbiased and self-aware observer of America at war.

One of the twin protagonists of the film is producer Sameer Khader, who describes Al Jazeera as an institution committed to advancing the ideals of freedom and democracy by providing an alternative to the state-run Arab media. I agree that Al Jazeera plays a critical role in challenging the information monopoly of the Arab dictatorships, but Noujaim drops this point right after Khader makes it.

Instead, Control Room focuses on how Al Jazeera challenges American military propaganda in a manner (supposedly) far more effective than than the (supposedly) co-opted and covertly patriotic journalists of the American media establishment. This is exactly the point that Michael Moore tried to make in Fahrenheit 9/11, but Noujaim does it with far greater panache.

Noujaim systematically builds up her subject's credibility by demonstrating that it has made all the right enemies. First, Donald Rumsfeld accuses Al Jazeera of broadcasting nothing more than Iraqi propaganda. Then an Iraqi spokesman accuses Al Jazeera of broadcasting nothing more than American propaganda.

Then comes Noujaim's coup de grace: After interviewing an American activist who denounces the war as part of an oil-driven imperial project, Khader (the producer mentioned above) berates his subordinate for booking an interview subject with such a one-sided perspective. The subordinate meekly protests that he assumed an American activist wouldn't voice such unfair criticism of his own country.

What better way to establish Al Jazeera's cross-cultural empathy and commitment to journalistic detachment than showing how its employees can recognize when American citizens are criticizing their own government too harshly? Well, I for one am not impressed. Any journalist not on an Arab government's payroll should be able to recognize that Chomsky's court jesters do not have much to contribute to a serious news program.

When not demonstrating Al Jazeera's supposed impartiality, Noujaim tries to demonstrate her own fairness by giving a young US Army spokeman the chance to defend his government's actions. According to the Boston Globe,
Noujaim's film is at its best in its sympathetic and complex portrayal of Lieutenant Josh Rushing, an earnest young US army press officer at CentCom whose naivete about war and news-gathering slowly crumbles before our eyes.
Whereas Michael Moore's bombast often results in the audience siding with his victims, Noujaim's kindness toward Rushing lets us forget that she has cast this one lieutenant as the living embodiment of American ignorance.

Rushing, however, is far from ignorant. What he is is overmatched. Facing off against the second protaganist of the film, veteran Al Jazeera correspondent Hassan Ibrahim (formerly of the BBC), Rushing doesn't stand a chance. To make matters worse, Noujaim devotes the rest of her narrative to undercutting almost all of the points that Rushing makes.

For example, Rushing asks at one point why Al Jazeera insists on portraying the invasion of Iraq as a threat to the Arab world when, in fact, Saddam Hussein has slaughtered far more Arabs than any other ruler alive today. Rushing also asks why Al Jazeera's standard cut-to-commerical montage interlaces footage of American soldiers and war planes with footage of wounded Iraqi civilians. Why not show what Saddam's soldiers have done to the Iraqi people?

In spite of this warning, Noujaim includes extensive and explicitly gory footage of wounded Iraqi civilians without ever pausing to ask whether the Iraqi people suffered more, day in and day out, under Saddam Hussein. Like Fahrenheit 9/11, Control Room doesn't even try to put a number on how many Iraqi civilians lost their lives during the invasion. Instead, Noujaim just replays and replays Al Jazeera footage in which Iraqis stand in front of their bombed out homes asking if this is what George Bush meant by freedom and demoracy.

According to Human Rights Watch, there are no reliable counts of how many civilians died during the invasion, although the number seems to be in the thousands. Saddam's own government announced during the final week of the war that there had been 1,254 civilian deaths. Whatever the true number, it pales in comparison to the hundreds of thousands murdered by Saddam. It also pales in comparison to the one million deaths projected by leading humanitarian NGOs.

The saddest thing about Control Room is what it could have been. The rise of independent networks such as Al Jazeera is a revolutionary development in the Arab World. Instead of recycling standard leftist criticisms of the war, Noujaim might have asked whether the democratic aspirations of Al Jazeera's producers and correspondents have awoken similar aspirations in the network's 40 million Arab viewers. Whereas Saddam Hussein fell to American arms, the best hope for the liberation of Egypt, Iran and Saudi Arabia may be Al Jazeera.

CORRECTION: BH wisely points out that Iran does not speak Arabic, so Al Jazeera is somewhat irrelevant. Besides, Iran is a pretty dumb example given that it has such a strong indigenous democratic movement.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

Thursday, July 08, 2004

# Posted 3:31 PM by Patrick Belton  

STUPID, DUMB, AND SHORT SIGHTED: No, not one of the three OxBloggers. It's the House of Representatives voting today 281-137 to cut $10.5 million from the budget allocation of the National Endowment for Democracy in order to give it to a small-business-loan pork program. The National Endowment for Democracy's projects in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Egypt, and elsewhere represent the nation's principal diplomatic and aid-based ways for strengthening democratic institutions and countering terrorism, and should be the very last budget line to take money away from to go spend on buying pork. Democrats voted 193-2 for the short-sighted, and silly, amendment, while Republicans split. Both should be ashamed of themselves. Rep. Frank Wolf said 'The reality of this amendment is that this is a subsidy to put money in the bankers' pockets. If you were helping the poor or the hungry...I would support the amendment.'

Instead of spending $11 million to support democratic reformers in countries where U.S. interests are vitally engaged, what are our tax dollars going to? Funny you asked:

• $500,000 for Disneyland buses in the district of Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-California)

• $2.2 million in pork for North Pole, Alaska, population 1,570. (Which corresponds to $1,401 for every man, woman, and reindeer in town, courtesy of Senate Appropriations Chair Ted Stevens, R-Alaska).

• $50 million for an indoor rainforest in Coralville, Iowa, thanks to the efforts of Senator Charles Grassley (R-Iowa)

• $200,000 for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. A further $100,000 for the Kids Rock Free Educational Program. What would Rock and Roll do without government support?

• And the Congressional Pig Book 2004 has a more complete list, identifying $22.9 billion of pork in the appropriations bills - so much, they've been heard squealing on their way across the Capitol from the House to the Senate.

Now, I'm sure all of these are worthy projects. But I'm not yet nearly convinced that building, say, a "Blue-Gray Civil War Theme Pack" in Kentucky ($225,000) is more deserving of the tax dollars of the nation than helping democratic reformers in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the Middle East. In fact, I think it's fairly silly and short-sighted.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 1:45 PM by Patrick Belton  

BOSTON BOUND: We've just received a very nice call from the DNC, saying very kind words about our blog and inviting us to cover the Boston convention as an accredited blogger. I have some thoughts on blogging and the convention, but England is currently beginning a neodiluvian period and so my more immediate thoughts are on the subject of drying off. In the more immediate term, though, I'd be very interested to hear which other bloggers will be at the convention - it would be nice to throw a blogger party and see everyone who will be there. Please drop us a line!
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 5:02 AM by Patrick Belton  

COOL NEW SITE: If you're like me - or even if you're not really that much like me - you probably often run across monetary amounts from other decades and centuries, and are never quite sure how to convert, say, £500 from 1975 into 2002 money, to say nothing of the £63,176 it cost to construct the HMS Victory in 1765, or the two shillings which you may be fined at Yale for going 'to a Gunning, Fishing or Sailing ... any Court, Election, Town-Meeting, Wedding, or Meeting...which may Occasion Mispence of precious Time without Liberty first obtain'd from the President or his Tutor' (1745 rulebook). Well, a really delightful new site run by Economic History.Net now lets you convert the purchasing power of sterling for any years in between 1264 and 2002 - your 1975 five-hundred quid, for instance, equate to a whopping £2,577.60 in 2002; or £41, 6s, 2d in 1900; or £65, 3s, 9d in 1800 (yes, the pound actually rose in value over the nineteenth century); £7, 0s, 11d at the accession to the throne of Queen Elizabeth; or even £3, 8s, 10d in 1264, the year of the Battle of Lewes and eight years after Simon de Montfort called the first Parliament at Oxford.

Other sites on EH.Net let you do similar calculations for the U.S. dollar, compare the value of unskilled labour across centuries, and compare the UK consumer price index, and average nominal and real earnings, from 1264 to 2002.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 2:57 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

DOES BUSH CARE ABOUT DEMOCRACY AT ALL? Josh Marshall says no, not at all. Rob Tagorda and Dan Drezner provide a pair of counter-examples. Kevin Drum says the marginal importance of those counter-examples just proves Josh's point.

I'll agree that those counter-examples, while important, are far less than heroic. But I am going to dispute Josh's point that Iraq doesn't count in Bush's favor because
at any time in recent history any American government would have attempted to put in place a government that is at least nominally democratic in any state it overthrew.
Liberals have been predicting for almost a year now that Bush would cut and run rather than face a tough re-election fight with 150,000 troops still on the ground in Iraq. Well, that hasn't come to pass.

And I think it's fair to ask whether John Kerry would have shown the same kind of resolve if he were President when the occupation appeared to be headed southward. In fact, just a few months ago, Kerry began to flirt with the self-destructive idea that there can be stability without democracy in Iraq. With Kerry in the White House, Iraq might suffer the same neglect that Bush has inflicted on Afghanistan.

Kerry's flaws aside, it is hard not to resent the hypocritical way in which this administraiton needlessly embraces dictators in Russia and Central Asia while the President recites paeans to the universal truth of democracy. Then again, Iraq is the big one. If we win there, if the Iraqi people win there, the future will be very different for the Middle East.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 2:28 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE WaPo F***S UP: Ombudsman Michael Getler explains when the use of said expletive is permissible. While respecting the Post's decision to print said expletive, OxBlog's conservative inclinations ensure that it will continue to use asterisks liberally.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 1:58 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

HOW CORRUPT IS THE PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY? So corrupt that its own terrorist brigades have begun to protest. Then again, the good folks in Al-Aqsa might never have raised the issue if Israel hadn't prevented them and their kind from carrying out a single suicide bombing over the past four months.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 1:46 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

A BUCKET OF WARM SPIT? Josh Spivak argues that the rising influence of the vice-presidency is good for the United States. I agree 100%, but I'm not sure that Kerry has an influential role in mind for Edwards. Nor am I so sure that Edwards wants to take an active policymaking role, a role that might distract him from the onrushing presidential campaign in 2012.

For an opposing perspective on the vice-presidency, take a look at this comprehensive overview of all those vice-presidential candidates who later made a run for the Oval Office. (Hat tip: DS) Its author suggests that
The historical message is unambiguous: vice-presidential candidates tend to lose as presidential candiates. Or they become undistinguished presidents -- at best!
A somewhat strange conclusion, given that John Adams, both Roosevelts and Harry Truman were all vice-presidents. [Correction: RR points out that FDR was a VP candidate (1920), not an actual VP. My imprecise writing is to blame for the confusion, since the list I linked to above includes both nominees and sitting vice-presidents.]

If you still want to hear more about Edwards, check out the latest from TNR.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

# Posted 1:59 PM by Patrick Belton  

AND SOME SO-CALLED 'REALISTS' STILL SAY WE OUGHT TO BE COUSINING UP TO THESE GUYS:
American and Iraqi joint patrols, along with U.S. Special Operations teams, captured two men with explosives in Baghdad on Monday who identified themselves as Iranian intelligence officers....

The arrest of  the two Iranians suspected of attempting to carry out a vehicle bombing has focused new attention on how Tehran is trying to protect its interests in the country it fought for eight years in a devastating war. (Fox)
These, please note, are the intelligence officers who aren't otherwise engaged photographing vulnerable spots in New York City to pass to their friends in Hizbullah...and also aren't the Iranian Revolutionary Guard uniformed officers who seized eight British servicemen inside Iraqi maritime boundaries, either....
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 2:42 AM by Patrick Belton  

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: 'Whenever they do this, we lose.' Martin Suarez, a bystander in Peru observing shamans' rituals ostensibly intended to help the national side in an upcoming Latin American football tournament.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 2:29 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

MY MOM HAS A CRUSH ON JOHN EDWARDS: If middle-aged women with Ph.D.s are falling for the guy, who won't? It just goes to show that Joe Trippi was right when he said that
Throughout the primary campaign I was stunned at how fast Edwards's support grew among women once he got rolling and received some press attention...Seriously, I think Edwards opens up a bridge to women and young people that goes beyond Kerry's own reach and well beyond Cheney's.
Then again, it is usually male voters that the Democrats need to work for.

Moving on to more substantive issues, I'm surprised that no one seems to be talking about what a tremendous personal success this is for Edwards. Last fall he was a dead-in-the-water primary candidate who might not have been able to hold on to his own Senate post. It seemed that Edwards was all ambition and no substance, reaching for higher office long before he deserved it.

In hindsight, Edwards comes across as a savvy politician who understood how to achieve national prominence by leveraging his impressive charisma. In spite of Edwards' unflinching insistence that he was running for president and not VP, it is hard to believe that he didn't think of himself as ideal candidate for the second half of the Democratic ticket, regardless of who was on top.

Moreover, sitting vice-presidents have a remarkable record of becoming their party's next presidential candidate. So six months from now, a man who just recently was trial lawyer with no political experience may become heir apparent to the White House.

So that's my two cents about Edwards, but there's lots more to say. Check out Instapundit and Pejman for comprehensive round-ups, as well as the TNR debate Josh mentioned earlier.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 2:10 AM by Patrick Belton  

FROM OUR AFGHANISTAN CORRESPONDENT: This week, a look at warlords, in and out of Kabul....

Most Western news coverage of post-Taliban Afghanistan presumes something like the following narrative: The early failure of the American-led coalition to shore up the Kabul government of Hamid Karzai led to a renaissance of warlords throughout Afghanistan. The power of these regional military commanders and the weakness of the central government has led to all sorts of disasters: an increase in poppy cultivation, a rash of human rights abuses (especially against women), and a severe blow to the rule of law throughout the country. However, the U.S. is reluctant to antagonize the regional commanders, needing their cooperation in hunting down the remnants of the Taliban and Osama bin Laden. So the U.S. continues to wink at the warlords, leaving Karzai impotent to rule the country of which he is nominally President.

Most of this story is of course true. But the main element of the proposed solution -- strengthening Hamid Karzai and the central government against the regional commanders -- I would argue is misguided. Instead, the U.S. and Afghan governments should demand disarmament and elections from all warlords, but (assuming the warlords win at least the first round of provincial elections) should also allow their regional governments to retain considerable powers. The U.N. and editorialists everywhere are right to propose expansion of ISAF, the international security force (now run by NATO) that has brought relative stability to Kabul. Its role, however, should not be to extend the authority of the central government, but rather to enforce the general disarmament program, to firmly moderate disputes between local commanders, and to defend journalists, political parties, and activists who lawfully challenge the interests of the dominant warlord. Western donors should encourage regional governors to respect human rights, follow the rule of law, and wean their farmers off poppy by rewarding those governors who do so with increased development assistance.

In an earlier dispatch, I briefly laid out my reasons for being wary of fostering a strong central government in Afghanistan. Here in more detail is my sense of current trends shaping Afghan politics, and the conclusions I draw from them. I'd welcome any comments from more knowledgeable souls who happen to be reading this.

First: the Taliban movement is a spent force in Afghan politics. This is not to discount the dangers from the continuing violence in southeast Afghanistan; there, the U.S. faces an insurgency that will likely fester for years to come. But the distinctive features of the Taliban regime -- the stifling theocracy supported by foreign funds and arms -- are unlikely to be successfully revived. What the Western coalition and the Karzai government face in the south is less a Taliban resurgence than a Pushtun insurgency, whose leaders include former Taliban but also fellow Pushtun Gulbuddin Hekmetyar (who was fighting the Taliban five years ago). Bereft of Saudi and Pakistani support, this movement stands little chance of sweeping Afghanistan like the mullahs in the late 1990s. Rather, the south-eastern resistance threatens a return to the ethnic civil war and chaos of the early 1990s. The Kabul government no longer face a movement capable of taking over the country; rather, it faces regional insurgencies, capable of making the country ungovernable.

The Taliban were initially welcomed in Kabul and the rest of Afghanistan for bringing stability after a long and devastating civil war. This welcome will never be repeated. Across the north, resentment of ordinary Afghans toward the Taliban remains intense. The mullahs are remembered chiefly for their hostility to music, sport, and many other small joys of life. My friend Mumtaz recalls being beaten with a leather-covered piece of steel rebar for refusing to give up his wedding ring (an "unIslamic" adornment, according to the Taliban border guards who wanted to take it from him). The Taliban demand that all men grow long beards is well known; but some mullahs also enforced a cleanliness code which included the shaving of men's armpits. These Taliban would check men for shaven armpits, and if they found an unshaven offender, they would wind his body hair around a pencil and yank it out. Add to these sorts of unpleasant abuses the fact that most of the Taliban were from Afghanistan's majority Pashtun ethnic group, and it's understandable that the Tajiks, Uzbeks, Hazaras, and people of other ethnicities living in central and north Afghanistan would sooner see the country dismembered than see it ruled again by the Taliban.

Islamist bullying continues to afflict Afghans living under conservative warlords like Ismael Khan in Herat or Sayyaf in Paghman. But notwithstanding the efforts of its conservative Supreme Court Chief Justice (an ally of Sayyaf), Kabul is moving into a new era. Modestly clad women appear as newsreaders on TV, while sexually suggestive Hindi film posters adorn shopfronts about town. Even in areas where Sayyaf's militia have harassed shopkeepers for playing music in public, the shopkeepers' first response was, "Look, the Taliban are gone now -- we can play music if we want to." The stadium used as an execution ground by the Taliban was packed on May 14 by thousands of fans of the popular Afghan singer Farhad Darya (including several excited friends of mine -- who unfortunately only mentioned the concert to me after it had already taken place). On other days, the stadium is used to train the dozen or so athletes who will compete in the Athens Olympic games this summer, including two women.

General bitterness against the foreign sponsors of the Taliban is intense, especially among Afghans who have traveled enough to know that Pakistanis and Arabs do not live by similarly restrictive creeds. One of my Afghan friends lived in the Emirates for a while, and recalled attending a festival where a group of young Arab men changed into Western clothes and began enthusiastically to dance to a Michael Jackson pop tune. His response was incredulity: "They send us mullahs to teach us Qur'an, and they teach themselves break-dancing?" These days, both the Pakistani and Saudi governments have realized the folly of fostering Islamists in their backyard. Without their extensive support, no neo-Taliban movement is likely to win out on a national scale.

With the Taliban gone, what has replaced them? Unfortunately, control of the Kabul government is widely perceived as having passed from one ethnic group to another: from Pashtuns to Tajiks, and in particular, to the Tajik clans from the valley of Panjshir. Resentment over this fact runs deep. I'm reminded of a lamentable conversation I had with an Afghan colleague who, until that point, I had quite liked. We were on a long trip in a project vehicle, and I was being instructed about the general canniness of the Afghan people. "The Afghans are very clever people. They tricked Brezhnev. They tricked your president, too. There is a saying here: They killed the serpent but they hatched the dragon." My colleague fell silent, glancing around darkly. I assumed he was talking about how in driving out the Russians, America financed the Islamist elements that eventually gave birth to the Taliban. But later, when we were out of the vehicle, he clarified for me in a hushed voice, smiling nervously and without humor. "You must understand, the Panjshiris are in charge here. The drivers are almost all Panjshiri, and the guards. There are things I can not say when I am in the car. They watch us, and they plot, and they report back to their Centre. It is all underground." He named a number of my good friends at the office. "They have all connections, this is why they get jobs -- this is why they are the ones chosen for the overnight trips. The Americans are very foolish. They threw out the Taliban, but they put the Panjshiris in power, and they are very much worse."

The long valley of Panjshir begins two or three hours northeast of Kabul, and is legendarily defensible. Ahmad Shah Massoud held it against the Soviets for a decade; he emerged to fight over Kabul with his fellow mujahidin commanders in the early 1990s, then was driven back to Panjshir again by the Taliban. Massoud was the primary military commander of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance until his assassination by suicide bombers on September 9, 2001 -- two days before Osama bin Laden ensured that the Northern Alliance would receive enough American assistance to retake Kabul and expel the Taliban.

Massoud's successor was Mohammad Fahim, a fellow Panjshiri Tajik. While helping the Uzbek warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum drive the Taliban out of northern Afghanistan, Fahim also pushed south, occupying Kabul despite American requests for restraint. He successfully angled for the three most powerful positions in the new interim government, claiming the post of Defense Minister for himself and the Foreign and Interior Ministries for his allies Dr. Abdullah and Yunus Qanuni. (Qanuni lost the Interior Ministry in negotiations at the loya jirga of 2002, and became Education Minister instead). All three men were Panjshiri, Tajik, and leaders of the Jamiat-e-Islami faction of the mujahidin. They ensured that other influential governorships and posts (police chief of Kabul, district heads around the Kabul area) went to Jamiat members and allies. Far more than Hamid Karzai and his fellow West-friendly technocrats, these men compose the central government of Afghanistan.

Fahim's control of the Defense Ministry gives him de facto control over the Afghan National Army (ANA). Given the circumstances in which America ousted the Taliban, it was probably inevitable that the new army would be dominated by the top military commander of the Northern Alliance. But as I discussed in an earlier post, the perception that the army is a tool of the Jamiat warlords greatly diminishes the effectiveness of the internationally-led disarmament program -- what warlord will agree to give the army a monopoly on force when that army is set to be controlled for the foreseeable future by an arch-rival? Meanwhile, the U.S. continues to work closely with Fahim in operations against Taliban remnants -- and against warlords who might otherwise get too uppity.

Here is where the narrative of a central government barely able to maintain control outside Kabul seems to me to be only partly true. Fahim is a highly canny man, and is playing an intricate power game against the other warlords. The last few months have seen violence or the threat of violence in provincial capitals throughout Afghanistan. This has largely been portrayed in Western media as a sign of the continuing failure and weakness of the central government. I believe that it is instead a sign of the Kabul government's ongoing attempts to extend its power to the major cities, in areas where it cannot hope to control the countryside -- and in some cases it is succeeding.

In April, just before I arrived in Afghanistan for this trip, the papers reported that warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum had driven out the Kabul-appointed governor of Faryab province and seized the capital, Maimuna. The headlines were dramatic, painting a picture of a violent coup d'etat, a gauntlet tossed in Karzai's face. CBS News described it as a "major burst of militia violence," like the outburst in Herat earlier in March. The local military commander, Hashimi Habibi, claimed that "fierce fighting" was underway. Maimuna is a long ways from Kabul, and it was nearly impossible for any news agency to actually get reporters on the ground to observe the ostensible coup. So they reported what the Interior Ministry told them.

I got a rather different story from a British friend who lives and works in Maimuna. He said there was no major militia fighting going on -- that for most of the people of Maimuna, the first they knew of the "coup" was when a whole lot of Afghan National Army soldiers appeared in the streets. There had been a demonstration the day before that ended in a charge on the governors' mansion, but it had not led to major militia fighting. I asked him who was in charge now in Maimuna. He shrugged. "The Army, I suppose," he said. The more I discussed the situation with him, the more it seemed that Dostum had been the dupe rather than the perpetrator of the seizure of Maimuna.

Abdul Rashid Dostum is one of the more infamous warlords in Afghanistan and the top ethnic Uzbek commander, dominating several northern provinces. During the Soviet occupation, he sided with the Russians until just before they were driven out, then switched sides and won lasting control of Mazar-e-Sharif, the main city of northern Afghanistan. His human rights records is appalling. While he ran Mazar, he held public executions at which criminals were crushed beneath tanks, and he was almost certainly responsible for ethnic cleansing in the wake of the Taliban defeat in the north. He is now a Deputy Defense Minister and special advisor to Hamid Karzai, with effective control over security affairs in the north (which allows him to maintain his militia and its political arm, the Junbesh party). As discussed earlier, this control is sharply contested in the area around Mazar by Atta Mohammad, the local commander of Fahim's Jamiat-e-Islami.

Faryab province is on the margins of Dostum's sphere of influence. Its former governor, Anayatullah, and its local military commander, General Hashimi Habibi, had been Dostum's clients. But in April Habibi went over to the Tajiks, declaring that his loyalty was to Marshal Fahim and the national government. Dostum seems to have decided that his initial response would be through street politics, not military confrontation. His Junbesh party organized a protest against Governor Anayatullah, accusing him (probably accurately) of using state funds to buy votes in the upcoming elections. At the height of the protest, four to six people were killed when Anayatullah's guards clumsily opened fire -- the only casualties, I believe, that were actually documented from the "fierce militia fighting" in Maimuna. This enraged the crowd and terrified the governor, who was smuggled out the back window of his mansion by British Army Gurkhas, managing to break his leg in the process.

I've found no evidence that Dostum was in any position to take advantage of this sudden power vacuum in Maimuna -- he seems to have been as surprised as anyone. But the central government moved immediately. Hence the sudden appearance of the Afghan National Army in the streets, and stern statements from the Defense and Interior Ministers (Fahim and Jalali) condemning Dostum's "aggression," and U.S. warplanes hovering ominously over the Uzbek warlord's home in Shiberghan. Dostum shrilly threatened to bring the government down if the Defense and Interior Ministers were not both sacked for this "outrage," and protested that this was aggression by the government, not his militia. The Ministers weren't sacked, of course, and the news coverage of Dostum's protests was dismissive -- everyone knows that Dostum's an expansionist (and a right bastard to boot). But in this case his outrage seems to have been genuine. The Maimuna kerfuffle was a sharp demonstration of the Kabul government's ability to project power – a pre-emptive slap on Dostum's wrist, and an expansion of control over one provincial capital.

According to the standard narrative, this would be cause for cheer: a point for Karzai against the warlords. But it's not. It's a point for one set of warlords against another set of warlords, for Fahim and his clients against Dostum and his clients. And the Panjshiri warlords are scarcely more pleasant than Dostum. A couple of government ministers are, like Karzai, technocrats returned from the West (Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani and Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali); they are generally willing to accept criticism and dissent. The former mujahidin commanders are generally not. Anyone in doubt on that point should browse through the Human Rights Watch report of one year ago entitled "Killing You Is A Very Easy Thing For Us," which extensively chronicles the human rights abuses perpetrated by warlords in the Kabul government and those allied to them.

Sayyaf is probably the worst; his militia has been allowed to bully, rape, and murder with impunity right next door to Kabul. But even the less brutal mujahidin are scarcely West-friendly. As Education Minister, Qanuni has promoted thuggish conservatives who intimidate female teachers, accusing them of Westernization and Communism. The Jamiat has retained control of the intelligence services, Amniat-e-Melli ("National Security") and used them to intimidate and harass independent journalists and political opponents. A journalist described his interrogation by the Amniat and their transparent hostility to the democratic project in Afghanistan. "Their main argument was that democracy was doomed to defeat and will end in catastrophe. They were calm and polite at first and listened to my arguments. But then later, they said that what we do, our party, is in favor of al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and the United States." The Jamiat know who their potential enemies are.

The main threat to Afghanistan right now is disintegration in a tide of ethnic insurgency. Many extremely intelligent people see this, and argue that we need to counter it by strengthening the powers of a multi-ethnic central government in Kabul. But it is extremely hard to guarantee that a government stays multi-ethnic, especially if one sincerely tries to add democracy into the mix... witness the contorted and at times catastrophic attempts to balance between Sunnis, Shias, and Maronites in Lebanon. The current dominance of Panjshiri Tajiks is unbearable to many Afghans; a Pushtun dominance following free and fair elections would only reverse the problem. I suggest that the best solution is to devolve a great deal of economic and political power to the provincial level -- don't give the warlords a prize to fight over in Kabul! The Kabul government (with firm supervision from the US and other Western nations) should concentrate on developing and deploying a neutral army and police force to disarm the militias and provide security in the regions. That means biting two political bullets: shoehorning Fahim out of the Defence Ministry, and expanding NATO troops throughout the country (to put teeth in the disarmament program and help an initially weak Afghan security force keep the peace). These are important steps no matter what; but I fear that if they are carried out without also giving more power to the regions, they will only convince every warlord that they have to control Kabul in order to survive.

The new Afghan constitution is not, it must be admitted, particularly friendly to my devolution plan. It envisions elected provincial councils which "take part in securing the development targets of the state... and give advice on important issues falling within the domain of the province." These councils are to work "in cooperation with the provincial administration," the appointed governor and his administrators. In other words, the elected office serves a mainly advisory role, while the most powerful provincial office is appointed from Kabul. This leads to unfortunate attention-getting devices like the recent fighting in remote Ghor province, where commander Abdul Salaam demanded that Karzai appoint him to the local administration, and invaded the provincial capital when no appointment was forthcoming. (At least, that's the story... the Afghan National Army was promptly deployed to the provincial capital to eject Salaam back into the countryside, and I suppose it's possible that as with the Maimuna fighting, the government exaggerated Salaam's offences. But there have been credible casualty reports coming out of Ghor).

On the other hand, the constitution also states that "The government, while preserving the principle of centralism, shall in accordance with the law delegate certain authorities to local administration units for the purpose of expediting and promoting economic, social, and cultural affairs, and increasing the participation of people in the development of nations." It doesn't explicitly spell out the division of labor between the councils and the appointed administrators. Since all these institutions are a bit fluid, I propose that the governor should be elected -- preferably, even, that the Chairman of the elected council should be the governor -- and that the central government should delegate extensively to the elected governor. If the Kabul government then focuses on security issues and creating a safe space for local elections, hopefully the attention of the warlords will turn to vote-winning, and not to replaying last decade's fight for Kabul.

Incidentally, if you happened to find this an analysis that you haven't read in the print media, i.e., where print journalists -- especially those focusing on politics -- are far more mediocre, their authors mixing fact with opinion and under no obligation to be either fair or accurate, or even to leave their comfortable hotel bar and do their own reporting when they can just rely on the reportorial herd, then why don't you email the Washington Post's Brian Faler and let him know? Tell him we sent you!
(1) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 1:50 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

YOUTH GONE WILD: Republican Voices describes itself as a website "committed to getting more talented Republican minds onto the internet, especially among the youth". Site editor "Emil Levitin" writes that he
prefers to stay anonymous as he, being 11 years old, is still a hostage to the American public school system. You might think: how silly it is to hide one's political views, as if we lived in a dictatorship.

Well, in a small liberal town in Massachusetts, this is exactly the case. Living in an era of political patronage in the job market and education this is the only wise way to hide all I have to say about politics from the oppressive majority.
No, that isn't a typo. "Emil" sent me an e-mail saying that he is an actual 11-year old. I guess I have no reason to doubt it, except for the fact that it is very hard to believe that an 11-year old can write so well.

Anyhow, Emil, cheer up! If things really get bad, you can apply for political asylum in Idaho or Montana.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

# Posted 3:56 AM by Patrick Belton  

WAPO ON BLOGS: In a piece on bloggers and the Democratic and Republican conventions, the Washington Post's's Brian Faler sneers the following:
Independent blogs -- especially those focusing on politics -- are far more freewheeling, their authors mixing fact with opinion and under no obligation to be either fair or accurate.
Funny, the first time I read that sentence, I thought they were talking about print journalists.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 1:34 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

PRE-EMPTION VS. PREVENTION: Matt Yglesias explains why one is very different from the other and why the Democrats need to understand the difference.

Two small points: First, "pre-emption" has become a Democratic code word for everything that is wrong with Bush's foreign policy, so it may make sense for the Democrats to use it even if their definition is ahistorical.

Second, Matt describes World War I as the best-known example of a preventive war. I strongly disagree. Germany attacked Russia because the German leadership wanted to divert the working class' attention away from domestic politics. The prevention hypothesis was once quite popular but now has much less support.
(1) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 12:48 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

HOW TO DEFEND MICHAEL MOORE WITHOUT COMPROMISING YOUR OWN INTEGRITY: Kevin Drum and Matt Yglesias have their basic strategy worked out: Accuse conservatives of hypocrisy for criticizing the same flaws in Moore that they refuse to recognize in Bush.

Now, I'm going to have to agree with Matt that George Bush is President and Michael Moore is just a filmmaker. But the outright ridiculousness of Moore's accusations trumps anything the White House ever came up with. Bush's public statements may have been irresponsible, but Moore is right up there with Pat Buchanan and the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Even the most committed liberals should be ashamed of him.

UPDATE: DA points out that Krugman is making the same argument about Bush being President and Moore just a filmmaker. Yet in contrast to Matt and Kevin, Krugman makes the untenable statement that Fahrenheit "has yet to be caught in any major factual errors".
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

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.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# 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.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# 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)
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# 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.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# 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.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

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.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

Home