OxBlog

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

# Posted 11:12 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

LIVE BLOGGING JOHN & JON: Kerry is on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart!

11:10 PM -- Kerry says Americans want a more intelligent conversation about national affairs. Huge applause.

11:11 PM -- Stewart sarcastically asks whether Kerry was in Cambodia on Christmas Eve. Stewart leans over desk, looking ridiculous. Kerry goofily imitates Stewart. Big laughs. Kerry doesn't answer the question. Stewart doesn't care.

11:13 PM -- Stewart asks: "Are you the No. 1 most liberal Senator, even more liberal than Karl Marx?" Stewart asks: "Have you flip-flopped?" Kerry says he's flop-flipped. No laughs.

11:14 PM -- Stewart asks how Kerry can stand up to all the groundless abuse he gets in the media. Wow. Tough one.

11:15 PM -- Stewart: "So you're saying it's more important to make the right decision than to just be decisive, like George Bush?" Kerry agrees that George Bush is stubborn.

11:16 PM -- Stewart: "Do you think you can ever have an honest debate with George Bush?"

11:19 PM -- We're back! Stewart: Will we have to take over the whole Middle East because we don't have enough oil?

11:21 PM -- Stewart: What if cars ran on Twinkies instead of oil?

11:21 PM -- Stewart: What kind of loyalty oath do you have to sign to attend on John Kerry rally? Kerry: None. But the other guys make you sign one. (Is that what Stewart was hinting at?)

11:22 PM -- Kerry: It's amazing how many people want to introduce themselves to you in the mens room. Huh?

Not a bad job, all in all. Kerry came across as pretty comfortable and pretty fluid. Then again, Stewart perfectly set up Kerry for each of his soundbites.

When Kerry had a chance to improvise, he totally flubbed it, except for once. Of course, George Bush probably would've flubbed them all even worse.

Tomorrow night's guest: Ed Gillespie of the RNC.

By the way, at the beginning of the show, during the eight minutes when Blogger refused to accept my posts, Stewart turned to the camera and said that sometimes, people ask if what he does is a news show.

Stewart's answer to that question is that if people can't tell the difference between The Daily Show and a real news show, it's a sad comment on the state of news in America today. Either that, or a sad commentary on the state of Stewart's ability to make the audience laugh.

Presumably, this is one of Stewart's periodic efforts to exempt himself from criticism that The Daily Show is one-sided. It must work pretty well, since any time I criticize The Daily Show or The Onion or some other liberal satire, someone writes in to tell me that it's time to stop being so uptight and humorless.

My response to that criticism is the same as before: If Stewart just admitted that he's a partisan Democrat or that he is actively trying to counter the influence of Fox News and talk radio, then I wouldn't mind. But for as long as Stewart gets all indignant about media bias, I think he should make some sort of effort to be balanced himself.

Like it or not, his show is not just entertainment; it influences hundreds of thousands of of people's opinions. More importantly, that's exactly what Stewart wants.

So I guess tomorrow night is Stewart's chance to show that there is no double-standard. I'm sure Ed Gillespie will appreciate the softballs.
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# Posted 2:06 PM by Patrick Belton  

PATRICK'S OBLIGATORY MUSINGS ON DOMESTIC POLITICS: Booo-oooring. Oh, sorry, I was distracted by watching the Simpsons there. I'm all for asking a great deal of our politicians, but I stop at expecting them to do the impossible. On Iraq, I don't see how Kerry can at present do anything other than make a distinction without a difference. If he comes down against the Iraq War, he allows himself to be painted as a McGovern-like dovish candidate; for it, and he loses the support of the Democratic prospectives whose support for the war may have been tepid to cold.

Glancing forward to the coming campaign, I also don't see much hope in predicting foreign policy differences - a.k.a., with regard to Iraq - from campaign statements, which will consist of months of trying to score valence points: being the closer candidate, not to policies, but to themes everyone is for, ones which generally poll well. Better, probably, to look at who's advising them, and then at their prior careers. Exception to the Belton Rule (no, make that Lemma; I've always wanted to own a Lemma): performance at debate at least reveals familiarity with the stuff of policy. In this, Kerry shone far above all of his primary opponents (I except Lieberman, selfishly). You may not have agreed with everything he was saying, but you did at least have to concede, when he spoke at the Council on Foreign Relations, that he knew what he was talking about.

As a final note, in a peculiar personal exercise in escapism, I'm at the moment writing a book chapter on the oratorical culture of the Senate in the nineteenth century, when statesmen of the like of Webster and Douglas held policy conversations stretching over days, not 4-second CNN soundbites. Mmmm....nineteenth century.....
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# Posted 1:12 PM by Patrick Belton  

AS A CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTOR IN THE KERRY-VIETNAM WARS, I've lately been adopting the Wonk's Approach to Surviving a Presidential Election: stop up both ear canals with particularly choice pages from the Economist; then gently begin reciting Clausewitz, the Brookings Review, and, in extremity, even the Road Map; and repeat until mid-November, at which point you might try emerging. Nonetheless, it seems to me that what Larry Sabato and Joe Gandelman have to say on the subject is worthwhile. (Namely, from a purely strategic standpoint, Democrats most likely hadn't foreseen the flip side of Kerry's career as a war hero, that is, the effect of his post-service career as a anti-war protester on how he is perceived by other Vietnam veterans. Also, the general point that like the American Civil War, or the Irish civil war of 1922-23, it now seems particularly likely that Vietnam will rear its head in a 'where-were-you' capacity in every presidential contest in the nation, as long as any of its participants are alive.)
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# Posted 12:38 PM by Patrick Belton  

RUSSIAN ATTITUDES TOWARD DEMOCRACY: The Washington Post runs a piece by three Russia scholars disputing Richard Pipes to argue that Russian attitudes with regard to democracy are deeply divided, with a democratic camp which is 'too large to be dismissed and too small for complacency', and as many as one in three Russians backing authoritarianism. Against Pipes who argues that Russians have made up their minds, and it was in favour of authoritarianism, Gerber, Mendelson, and Shvedov find a division into three camps of roughly equal size, one favouring authoritarian government, one democracy and one that cannot decide. (q.v., Atrios's view of American politics) The role of Western and Asian democracies, they argue, is not to be on the sidelines in this dispute:
Our collaboration with dozens of human rights activists in the regions of Russia during the past two years convinced us that foreign assistance can make a difference. One form of support has particular potential to strengthen civil society: funding for social marketing -- the "selling" of certain ideas about how a society should function -- and public awareness campaigns. Social activists around the world use these tools to change and shape attitudes, knowledge, policies and behavior through tactics including education, persuasion and shaming. Surveys on how the public thinks about issues such as police abuse, crises in the military, the war in Chechnya and the collapse of health care provide activists with the information they need to craft messages and communicate with the people they are trying to reach. Public awareness campaigns guide nongovernmental organizations toward local constituencies.
Incidentally, Rob Tagorda takes a look at similar public opinion work that has been conducted in Latin America and the eastern Länder of Germany.
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# Posted 11:20 AM by Patrick Belton  

TURKEY TIME: Former National Intelligence Council vice-chair Graham E. Fuller analyses trends in Turkey, with particular focus on state secularism, relations with Europe and the US, and moves toward an independent, interest-centred foreign policy.

In other pieces worth reading in the current Washington Quarterly: Vali Nasr looks at the regional ramifications of Shi‘a-Sunni contestation in Iraq from Lebanon straight across to Pakistan. Rohan Gunaratna argues that after Madrid, Al Qa'eda is both focusing more on the West than the global South (as it had for the two years after 9/11), and has completed a transition from an organisation to an ideology. Career diplomat Timothy Savage attempts an objective look at the 'Muslim factor' in the contours of Europe’s domestic and foreign policy landscape. And RAND's China hand Murray Scot Tanner looks at evidence to hand to forecast much more civil protest to come in China, with the new government of Hu Jintao likely to be forced to rethink post-Deng solutions toward managing unrest and finding a balance between reform and social control.
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# Posted 11:04 AM by Patrick Belton  

IN HOUSTON? Come hang out with us tonight.

(If you're not in Houston, don't worry - you can hang out with us some other night.)
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# Posted 10:39 AM by Patrick Belton  

DIAMOND ON IRAQ: Larry Diamond is, along with Carnegie's Tom Carothers, one of the most fair-minded and reputable scholars writing on democracy promotion and assistance today. He has also played a first-hand role in Iraq, as an advisor to the Coalition Provisional Authority. For those reasons if for no others, his incisive analysis of what we've done wrong in promoting democracy in Iraq, and what we need to start doing, is truly required reading for any of us with interest in the issue.
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# Posted 10:16 AM by Patrick Belton  

CENTRAL ASIA WATCH: Azerbaijan is attempting to parlay strong US interest in establishing a base there into restarting the Nagorno-Karabkh peace process, by using the US interest in a base to induce Russia to change its position toward the disputed Armenian enclave. Elizabeth Owen looks at the Georgian film industry, while Daniel Drezner examines successful police reforms under the reformist government of Saakashvili. And Tajikistan - which has most things going for it commonly associated with nationhood, except for an economy - may open its borders more to China to serve as a conduit for export.
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# Posted 8:46 AM by Patrick Belton  

WHAT'S GOING ON IN THE WORLD?: Well, to begin with, Somalia has sworn in members of a new parliament, a key step in the establishment of the first national government since 1991. The Senate Republicans' unutterably silly proposal to dismantle the CIA has, mercifully, begun to attract widespread criticism. Musharraf has promised Karzai that Pakistan will work to ensure that Taliban elements operating from the nation's territory will not disrupt Afghanistan's upcoming 9 October elections. US oil prices have backed off from a 21-year high of $49.40 per barrel, as additional Iraqi exports come online. Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has gone to Darfur to tour refugee sites and place pressure on President Omar al-Bashir to take measures against genocidal attacks by pro-government militias. Finally, responding to criticism, Bush issued a call for independent groups to stop running political advertisements, though the White House 'quickly moved to insist that Mr Bush had not meant in any way to single out the advertisement run by veterans opposed to Mr Kerry'. It's rather good to know that they have a sense of humour in the White House.
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# Posted 8:40 AM by Patrick Belton  

ANYONE ENDOWED WITH EVEN THE SMALLEST DOSE OF ANGLOPHILIA will perhaps appreciate the delightfully dry tone of this James McConnachie essay on the BBC weather site. E.g.:'Unceasing grey and drizzle? Yet monotonous is exactly what British weather isn’t. We have the pure, blind luck to live in a maritime climate which never stops surprising.' 'When it’s pelting it down in Skye’s Cuillin mountains, as it so often is, it can be dry and sunny over the Cairngorms, in the east. Get in your car and drive.' And finally, 'maybe the best tip of all is to try and grow a thick, or at least impermeable, skin.'
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Monday, August 23, 2004

# Posted 10:39 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

KERRY IN IRAQ, PART II: Not long ago, Matt Yglesias asked me what I thought John Kerry was going to do in Iraq if he became President. I started to answer Matt's question, but wandered off point and onto the related subject of what John Kerry would have done about Iraq if he were President back in 2002.

To answer that hypothetical question, I borrowed from Tim Russert. And in order to answer Matt's question, I'm also going to borrow from Tim Russert. Yesterday, Russert reminded his audience of Kerry's intention to "significantly reduce American forces in Iraq" within a year. Russert then asked Tad Devine, one of Kerry's top advisers, "Can [Kerry] do it?" Their exchange follows:

MR. DEVINE: Well, I think if we build the right international coalition we can...

MR. RUSSERT: You say a goal. Kerry said, "Absolutely we can
reduce the numbers." Is it a goal or a promise?

MR. DEVINE: Right. It is something he can do if we have the exercise of presidential leadership. One of the great failures today in Iraq is the lack of the exercise of presidential leadership. This president has done nothing.

MR. RUSSERT: Is it a goal or a promise?

MR. DEVINE: He has stood on the sidelines. If he can--it's something he feels he can do...

MR. RUSSERT: Is there a difference between the Bush and Kerry
position on Iraq?

MR. [Ken] MEHLMAN [Campaign Manager, Bush-Cheney '04]: There is, Tim. They agree on some things. They both agreed about the threat. They both agreed about authorization for war. And as Jamie Rubin pointed out, they both agreed about sending our troops to war.

Here's the difference...after a long period of saying, "Our troops need
to stay in to finish the job," in a political speech, he said, "Try to get them back there in six months." That's the worst thing you can say to try to get them back after six months. You know why? That's a signal to the enemy. It's a signal to the terrorists to wait six months and one day and to our allies who are making a big sacrifice, more than 30 nations today in Iraq. It's a signal to them that we're not willing to stay the course if there's a political interest at stake.

There is a difference between George W. Bush and John Kerry. Bottom line for George Bush is victory in Iraq. Bottom line for John Kerry is victory in politics.

MR. DEVINE: Ken, there's only one commander in chief in the United States to send our troops to Iraq without the body armor they need to survive and his name is George W. Bush. And if he had spent one day on the front line of a war, he never would have done it.

When talking to Matt, OxBlog often comes under fire for putting too much faith in George Bush's sincerity, especially when it comes to promoting democracy in Iraq. More broadly, OxBlog comes under fire for being too quick to assume that rhetoric matters, even though everyone knows that promises are made to be broken.

So, Matt, does John Kerry's rhetoric matter? Or is he just like George Bush? If Kerry does deserve OxBlog's trust, then we should be extremely concerned about his intention to start pulling out of Iraq in the middle of its efforts to draft a constitution and hold its first democratic elections.

"But David", Matt might say, "you constantly insist that Kerry has flip-flopped on Iraq. If pulling out is such a bad idea, don't you think he'll just flip-flop again after taking office?"

One might add that OxBlog likes to make fun of Kerry taking positions that are so nuanced. Look at how Devine tries to avoid Russert's question about whether bringing soldiers home from Iraq is a goal or a promise. And what about Devine's qualification that we'll only bring home the troops after building an international coaltion to handle the occupation?

In May, the French foreign minister vowed that "There will be no French soldiers in Iraq, not now and not later." Even if Kerry got the French to go back on their promise, how many troops do you think they would send? Thus, it should be pretty easy for President Kerry to say that his conditions haven't been met, so he won't be pulling any soldiers out of Iraq.

But enough of this jousting. Putting aside our partisanship for the moment, is there any way to tell whether a given candidate (or incumbent) really means what he says? In my dissertation, I try to show that Congress, the media, and public opinion can force a President to fulfill empty promises. This happens because Presidents really are at a disadvantage in policy debates when they seem to be going back on their word.

If Kerry becomes President, anti-war Democrats will push him hard to live up to his promise. And even if six months aren't enough, Kerry will want to bring home as many troops as he can before 2008. The framework for America's relationship with Iraq will become one of troop withdrawals rather than democracy promotion.

On the other hand, many promises are broken -- especially those that are laden with exit clauses, like Kerry's goal/promise to bring the troops home from Iraq. When push comes to shove, I feel like I have to make a choice between competence and principle if I want to vote on the basis of Iraq.

Even though our soldiers are adjusting far better than expected to the challenges of occupation, the White House gives them moral support instead of guidance. From John Kerry, I expect the reverse. The question is, which do our soldiers need more?
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# Posted 10:13 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

HEY GRANDMA, DID YOU READ MY BLOG? Yesterday, I drove up to Haverstraw, NY to visit my grandmother. She is headed for her 90th birthday next spring and is, by her own admission, "getting younger every day." However, her memory isn't the best and she has a very hard time understanding anything new.

At one point, my grandmother (or 'Savta' in Hebrew), asked what kind of job I would get after graduation. I told her that I would work for the government. To my surprise, she was deeply impressed.

"Oooooh. The guuuuverment," she said. Most people I talk to consider my choice of profession somewhat dubious. These days, even liberals don't like the government. But I think my grandmother comes from that old European tradition that thinks of being in the civil service as being part of a secular priesthood. And far be it from me to disabuse her of that notion.

While on this line of conversation, my father (who had ridden shotgun) tried to explain that I would be covering the Republican convention. He then got really ambitious and tried to explain that I edited a website that had been given a press credential.

Unfortunately, my father had to give up after a brief effort to explain what the internet was. 'Computer' is a concept my Savta can deal with, but I'm pretty sure she has no idea what computers do. Instead, my father said I was sort of a journalist.

Now why does any of this matter? Because just after this failed discussion of blogging, my Savta eagerly grabbed my cellphone when I told her that my younger brother was on the line. Standing all of 4'8" and sitting in a chair at least three sizes too large, she began to chatter away like a New York cab driver.

You might say that cellphones aren't that hard to understand because they're so much like regular phones. In contrast, there's nothing like the internet. And it'strue. But compulsive cellphone talkers are an icon of the information age.

So for one brief moment, a little old woman from Vilna who still has a thick Yiddish accent despite being in this country for almost 60 years gave off the impression of being part and parcel of our brave new world. I couldn't help but smile.
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# Posted 9:19 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WOULD KERRY REALLY DO ANYTHING ALL THAT BAD IN IRAQ? That's the question Matt Yglesias wants answered. He asked it a while back via e-mail, and added that it wasn't a rhetorical question. He really wanted to know what kind of situation might come up in which, from an OxBlog perspective, Bush would make the right decision and Kerry the wrong one.

Matt's question has been on my mind for a while, but today is a good day to answer it thanks to Tim Russert, who interrogated Tad Devine, a senior adviser to the Democratic candidate, on yesterday's edition of Meet the Press. Opposing Devine was Bush's campaign manager, Ken Mehlman.

The first half of the discussion focused on the Swift Vets, about which more later. Then Russert asked, "[Why] are the campaigns debating Vietnam instead of Iraq?" After confronting Mehlman about the diseent of Rep. Doug Bereuter (R-Neb.), Russert turned to Devine and challenged him to show that there was a substantive difference between Kerry and Bush on the decision to invade Iraq.

The basis of Russert's challenge was Jamie Rubin's recent statement (paraphrased by Russert) that
"Knowing then what he knows today about the lack of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq," -- John -- "Kerry still would have voted to authorize the war and `in all probability' would have launched a military attack to oust Hussein by now if he were president, Kerry national security adviser Jamie Rubin said in an interview."
I couldn't believe what I was hearing. Why had Rubin -- a veteran spokesman for the Clinton State Department and leading candidate to be Kerry's NSC director -- said something so obviously stupid? Kerry has been fighting since the convention to show that he has had a consistent position on Iraq. The core of that position, as stated by Devine, is that
John Kerry does not regret his vote to authorize the use of force in Iraq. What he deeply regrets is what the president did with that authority. The president rushed to war without a plan to win the peace.
But Russert saw the contradiction and hit Devine hard. The result is worth quoting at length:

MR. RUSSERT: But Jamie Rubin said in all probability John Kerry would have launched a military attack.

MR. DEVINE: Tim, again, the authorization was the right vote, it was the right choice. In fact, in 1998, John Kerry supported regime change in Iraq. And the fact of the matter is that this president said he would go to the United Nations, exhaust every remedy, build a
broad international coalition. He failed to do so and the result of that
president's failures is what's going on today in Iraq. It is a huge
problem being paid for by American taxpayers and American troops.

MR. RUSSERT: But why launch an attack if there were no weapons of mass destruction?

MR. DEVINE: Well, Tim, listen, it's a--you know, hypothetical is always impossible to deal with. I mean, the fact--this is the reality. We can deal with the reality. Saddam Hussein needed to be held accountable. There was a right way to do it and a wrong way to do
it. Every step along the way—once the president got that authority, he chose the wrong course. And today, as a result of that choice, of the president and the vice president, the decisions they made, American taxpayers are footing a bill of $200 billion in Iraq. John Kerry has said there is a way to win the war on terror, to be tough and smart to do it, and that we shouldn't be opening firehouses in Baghdad and closing them down here in America.

MR. RUSSERT: But if he voted to authorize the war and his foreign policy advisers said he would have launched an attack on Saddam, what's the difference between John Kerry's position and George Bush's?

MR. DEVINE: Well, listen, the president--the difference is the president made mistake after mistake in this country and our troops are paying for it today. John Kerry would never have pursued the course of action that the president of the United States has pursued. John Kerry would have built a true international coalition to shoulder the burden with America. He would have put it together the right
way. Unfortunately, the president has cost this nation with his costly mistakes and we're paying the price every day.

MR. RUSSERT: Who would have been in the coalition that was not?

MR. DEVINE: Tim, I think a number of countries, potentially, could have been in that coalition. But that's unknowable.

MR. RUSSERT: France and Germany?

MR. DEVINE: What we know, Tim--all we can know is this, that John Kerry would have kept his word and not broken it. The president promised to build a true, broad international coalition and he failed to do so. And the result of that failure is the cost being paid by America today.

Think about it: A Kerry spokesman defending the invasion by saying that "Saddam Hussein needed to be held accountable." That a Bush-Cheney talking point. Even OxBlog wouldn't go that far. After all, if we had known that Saddam had no WMD stockpiles, what would have held him accountable for?

Russert's point about France and Germany is also critical. How can John Kerry attack George Bush for undermining our alliances if Kerry would have done exactly the same thing that antagonized the French and Germans so much in the first place?

Devine is lucky that Russert didn't follow up on his questions by asking whether Rubin's statement counts as a flip-flop on the war. In Slate, Will Saletan rested his entire case for the consistency of Kerry's position on the Senator's October 2003 statement that
[The Bush administration] did not give legitimacy to the inspections. We could have still been doing inspections even today.
In other words, if John Kerry had been President, there would've been no war.

Now, your'e probably asking yourself, what does all this have to do with Matt's question about whether Kerry would do anything different in Iraq? My frustrating answer to that question is: To be continued...
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# Posted 3:16 PM by Patrick Belton  

COMMENT BY KETHAKDEVI , INDIAN WOMAN who is being carried by her son on a 17-year trek across India, which has already covered 3,750 miles: 'He is a nice son but I am getting tired. I sometimes feel like ending the journey and getting back home.'
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# Posted 9:05 AM by Patrick Belton  

OUR HEARTS ARE BROKEN by the destruction by arson of a Jewish-run soup kitchen in the 11ème arrondissement of Paris. Le Monde reports that slogans left include 'without the Jews, we will all be happy', along with swastikas; BBC also reports.
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# Posted 8:24 AM by Patrick Belton  

INTELLIGENCE REFORM, A KGB PERSPECTIVE: A Russian veteran of the KGB of major-general rank offers his perspective about the Senate Republicans' proposal to dismantle the CIA: (Kobyakov served as deputy director of the KGB's American Division in the late 1980s.)
Back in the heyday of Cold War some of my KGB colleagues
toyed with an idea of breaking-up the C.I.A. by setting it
off against the F.B.I., and both of them against the Pentagon.
Most were harebrained schemes but none had been as sweeping
as the one proposed by Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas.
(This is not to imply that present set-up is perfect.)

But as a KGB/SVR veteran, who lived through quite a few sweeping
reorganizations of the Soviet/Russian era I can share my general
experience.

It usually looks swell on charts with all the bells and whistles
but when you try to implement it the place stops working, then it
falls apart with some of the best people running sway. And then the
ones, who for this or that reason stayed behind are faced with an
enormous Sisyphean labor of trying to jump start the new bastard,
or parts of what was once a functioning system. This may take years.

Good luck,

Julius Kobyakov
Major General SVR (Ret.)
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Sunday, August 22, 2004

# Posted 10:54 AM by Patrick Belton  

THAT'S WHAT WE SAID:

The Scream, stolen at gunpoint this afternoon from the museum in which it resided.
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# Posted 8:18 AM by Patrick Belton  

HERE ON OXBLOG, as social scientists we've often considered the various species of wildlife to be found on the streets of urban southern England. Of course, this makes us vulnerable to the charge of anglocentrism, which, naturally, we'd like to take the time to remedy. So let us introduce the Glasgow Survival Kit, which takes the time to replicate our findings on the yob population of Oxford with detailed research on the ned wildlife of Glasgow.

And if any of such neds would like to contact us about any concerns or comments motivated by said research, David's contact information is on the left.
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# Posted 8:04 AM by Patrick Belton  

SI NON È VERO, È BEN TROVATO: As a schoolboy growing up in an Irish-Italian emigrant enclave in the South consisting roughly of the limits of my family's home, I acquired a number of amusing stories which almost collectively make up for my lacking the good sense to select a more mainstream family background. One of these is that, in my provincial city in Virginia, we would typically get the rejected textbooks from the northeast, often with mispellings which were caught in their second print run. It wasn't until I turned 25 that I realised why people kept snickering whenever I'd refer to Aeneas and Dildo.
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Saturday, August 21, 2004

# Posted 9:54 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

ALL KERRY, ALL THE TIME: By now, I've just about persuaded myself that I was with John Kerry on that Swift Boat in the Mekong Delta. Maybe you've had enough of the whole debate, too. But if you haven't, check out the very thoughtful Beldar, who's covering this issue very closely. (Hat tip: JB)
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# Posted 8:49 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

DOES THE WEEKLY STANDARD TRUST THE SWIFT VETS? Friday's Daily Standard features no fewer than four articles about Kerry and Vietnam. Even though all of them are critical of Kerry and assert that he has disorted his service record, I was very surprised to see no real endorsement of any the accusations made by the Swift Vets.

In The Kerry Wars, Matthew Continetti engages in a detailed examination of the Swift Vets' charges. With regard to Kerry's Bronze Star and 3rd Purple Heart, Continetti writes that "The documentary evidence available so far backs Kerry's story" but generously concludes that "In the final analysis, however, such claims boil down to Kerry's word versus his opponents'."

Next, Continetti rips apart John Kerry's version of what happened in Cambodia on Christmas Eve 1968. In three earlier posts (click here, here and here) I take positions on the issue very similar to Continetti's. There is no medal at stake in the Cambodia issue, however. Kerry's credibility is on the line to a certain extent, but not his record of heroism.

The weakest of the four pieces in the Standard is Bill Kristol's editorial proclaiming that
More than any presidential candidate since George McGovern, John Kerry is a creature of the anti-Vietnam war movement. His entire public career makes clear that he was and is--and I use this term descriptively, not pejoratively--a McGovernite. The difference is that George McGovern acknowledged this. John Kerry doesn't.
And he shouldn't. No true McGovernite -- including McGovern himself -- wanted to give Bush the authority to invade Iraq. Nor would a McGovernite have praised the invasion just after its success. Now it's true that Kerry's position on the war has been far from consistent, but that's exactly what distinguishes him from McGovern and the true Vietnam liberals.

Kristol's editorial also contains a strange allusion to Henry V. By asking how Henry might have felt if Exeter, Bedford and Westmoreland [Wasn't he also in Vietnam with Kerry? --ed.] had challenged his account of the battle at Agincourt, Kristol implies that there is something to the Swift Vets' accusation. Yet Kristol shies away from giving any sort of particulars.

Fred Barnes' essay focuses almost entirely on how tactless it is for Kerry to brag at every possible moment about his war record. At one point, Barnes asks:
Has a candidate's having heard "the thump" of mortars or seen the "flash of tracers" ever before been used as grounds for election?
His answer to the question is 'no'. But weren't all the attacks on Clinton for "dodging" the draft quite similar? Part of the issue with Clinton was that he wanted to avoid service while others were dying. But as I recall, critics also questioned whether Clinton was fit to serve as Commander-in-Chief.

Toward the end of his article, Barnes writes that
A group called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth has charged Kerry with lying about his record in Vietnam or exaggerating it. The Kerry campaign can't dismiss the group as men who ducked Vietnam duty. The anti-Kerry veterans stayed in Vietnam for full 12-month tours, longer than Kerry did. Many were in the same unit as Kerry. Their criticism of Kerry is over specific incidents that require a specific response.
Given how much information is already available on this subject, I'm surprised that Barnes doesn't get into the details. Kerry may not have given a specific response, but many journalists already have.

The fourth and final article in the Standard is Andrew Ferguson's commentary on just how ironic it is for the Democratic party to portray wartime heroism as the ultimate qualification for office after fighting for decades to establish that civilians are no less qualified than military men to take charge of our national security.

But then, Ferguson turns around and blasts Republicans for attacking Kerry. He writes that

The dissonance and frustration this year's election rouses in the mind of the dedicated Republican cannot be underestimated. Conservatives actually do revere the military, without reservation. It is not their inclination to debunk combat heroes...

Yet in 2004, Republicans find themselves supporting a candidate,
George W. Bush, with a slender and ambiguous military record against a man whose combat heroism has never (until now) been disputed...

If sufficient doubt about Kerry's record can be raised, we can vote for Bush without remorse. But the calculations are transparently desperate. Reading some of the anti-Kerry attacks over the last several weeks, you might conclude that this is the new conservative position: A veteran who volunteered for combat duty, spent four months under fire in Vietnam, and then exaggerated a bit so he could go home early is the inferior, morally and otherwise, of a man who had his father pull strings so he wouldn't have to go to Vietnam in the first place.

Needless to say, the proposition will be a hard sell in those dim and
tiny reaches of the electorate where voters have yet to make up their minds. Indeed, it's far more likely that moderates and fence-sitters will be disgusted by the lengths to which partisans will go to discredit a rival. But this anti-Kerry campaign is not designed to win undecided votes. It's designed to reassure uneasy minds.

Coming from the mouth of a senior editor at the Weekly Standard, this is quite damning.
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# Posted 8:47 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

OPEN SECRETS? NZ Bear thinks John Kerry should be doing a lot more to publicize his sources of financial support.
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# Posted 8:41 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

NYT CHEAPSHOT AT THE BLOGOSPHERE: I saw it this morning, but Glenn beat me to the post.
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# Posted 8:24 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

LETTER TO THE EDITOR: The NYT ran a photo essay on European aristocracy on today's op-ed page along with a commentary that tries to explain transatlantic tensions in terms of a clash between European sophistication and American anti-elitism.

The heart of the commentary focuses on a photograph of English schoolboys in formal dress. The author writes that

Of the six photographs shown here, the most alien is that of the eight English schoolboys in their Eton College uniform. It neatly encapsulates the ambiguous nature of America's feelings toward Britain, its staunchest ally. "I HATE England," wrote Nathaniel Hawthorne during one of the petty quarrels that marred Anglo-American relations in the 1850's. "Though I love some Englishmen, and like them generally, in fact."

The unblinking gaze of the Etonians embodies the fear that despite everything, the British still consider themselves superior to the Americans. After all, the English have harbored equally ambivalent feelings ever since the 13 colonies became a nation. In a notorious essay that soured relations for at least a generation, Sydney Smith, the renowned wit, gave the fear its voice when he condemned American culture as worthless and its democracy a sham. "Who reads an American book," he wrote in 1820. "Or goes to an American play? Or looks at an American picture or statue. Under which of the old tyrannical governments of Europe is every sixth man a slave?"

Having worn the same formal dress quite often at Oxford, I decided to write a letter to the editor explaining why its cultural significance was the exact opposite of that which is described above:

Amanda Foreman ("An Ocean Apart", Photo Op, Aug. 21, 2004) reads far too much into the distant gaze of Tina Barney's eight English schoolboys. As an American graduate student at Oxford, I often find myself wearing the same "alien" uniform as the schoolboys of Eton. What I have learned while wearing this foreign garb is that most Britons share our uniquely American suspicion and resentment of those who present themselves as our social betters.

Moreover, those who wear such uniforms in Briton tend to feel both embarrassed and besieged -- embarrassed by antiquated notions of social hierarchy and besieged by widespread antipathy toward their customs. As a result, the Oxbridge elite have torn a page out of the American playbook and sought to recast their aristocratic habits as indicators of merit. These days, there is an increasing number of students at Oxford and Cambridge, both male and female, whose darker skin indicates that admission to Britain’s top universities has increasingly become a reflection of an applicant’s hard work and God-given talent.

Sincerely,
David Adesnik
Rhodes Scholar, Class of 2000
New York and Magdalen


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# Posted 6:23 PM by Patrick Belton  

BEST LINE OF THE CONVENTION (BY WAY OF CLEARING OUT MY NOTEBOOKS): Getting on to an elevator at the Fleet Center, a barrel-chested, perspiring man in his thirties looked, realised all the buttons had been pushed, and said, exasperated, to everyone in the elevator: 'Damn, got on the local.'
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# Posted 4:00 PM by Patrick Belton  

GIVEN OUR RECURRING INTEREST in covering the way the press covers politics, I was interested to come across this page on the famous Bush v. supermarket scanner story from 1988. What's interesting is that the fairly universal consensus, a decade and a half later, is that the entire incident was invented by the New York Times. Newsweek, screening pool footage of Bush at the famous checkout counter after the New York Times's piece appeared, reported 'Bush acts curious and polite, but hardly amazed.' Michael Duffy of Time concurred: 'completely insignificant as a news event. It was prosaic, polite talk, and Bush is expert at that. If anything, he was bored.' Even more amazingly, it later surfaced that the New York Times's Andrew Rosenthal wasn't even there at the supermarket - he based his story on a distortion of several lines filed by the pool reporter who was present, Gregg McDonald of the Houston Chronicle - who had reported Bush was expressing polite fascination not with then-standard checkout technology, but with a new type of scanner that could detect forged signatures and read mangled or torn bar codes. McDonald himself didn't find the incident noteworthy enough to file back to his own newspaper.

It's hard to think of a much more striking incidence of the press manufacturing an incident to fit its own prior conceptions or narratives - a practice which, more often than not, it generally gets away with. And as a foreign policy hand, I'm less concerned when the victim is a pracitioner of a high-risk, intrinsically unfair profession such as politics, than when it's public understanding of, say, trends in Afghanistan, or development assistance, or politics in Europe and Latin America. Though I've frequently been critical of the first Bush administration, among other things for its failure to give voice to the widespread sense of repugnance in the United States following Tian'anmen Square, to me the fact that the person who here lost his job was Bush and not the New York Times's Rosenthal still seems, frankly, intriguing.
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# Posted 6:14 AM by Patrick Belton  

SETH STEVENSON IS QUICKLY becoming my favourite writer on Slate. Last night at five am, for instance, he kept my side of the bed in stitches with lawn gnomes and rasta elephants. The other side of the bed was not available for comment.
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# Posted 12:23 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SWIFT VETS, PART II: I've already put up one long post on the Swift Vets and the NYT, but I still haven't gotten to the heart of the matter, which is who is telling the truth, the Vets or the Times.

Writing about the NYT attack on the Swift Vets, Patterico says
The piece makes one telling point. It provides quotes praising Kerry from three of the Vets who currently condemn him: Roy F. Hoffmann, Adrian L. Lonsdale, and George Elliott. I think this is fair commentary -- the only fair commentary in the piece. If three Vets praised Kerry in previous years, that's a fair point. They should explain why they are saying something different now.
That same point struck me as quite important as well. While it is hard to trust anyone's memories of events that happened thirty-five years ago, it is extremely hard to trust such memories when they're coming form individuals who had different memories of the same events quite recently.

In 1996, George Elliott and Adrian Lonsdale publicly spoke out on Kerry's behalf during his Senate race. At a Kerry news conference, Lonsdale went out of his way to insist that contemporary reports about Kerry's actions were thoroughly corroborated and highly accurate. Those reports led to Kerry's Silver Star. Hoffmann confirmed the official version of those events as recently as May of last year.

Another important Swift Vet charge is that Kerry lied about the injury that resulted in his first Purple Heart. Yet contemporary records confirm Kerry's account and Louis Letson, the army doctor who says Kerry lied, admits that "I guess you'll have to take my word for it" because there are no documents that support his claim.

A third important charge is that Kerry won his Bronze Star by claiming that he braved enemy fire to rescue an injured shipmate who had fallen into the water. Again, contemporary accounts support Kerry's version of events.

According to Larry Thurlow, one of the Swift Vets who witnessed the events in question, there was no enemy fire. However, the WaPo recently got a hold of the citation for Thurlow's Bronze Star (which he won during the same battle). In it, there are multiple reference to enemy fire.

As I said before, I haven't come to any firm conclusions about the Swift Vets accusation. My mind is still open and I'll be happy to look at further evidence. But so far, things are looking pretty good for John F. Kerry.
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Friday, August 20, 2004

# Posted 10:44 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

LOST IN AN OCEAN OF DETAILS: This morning, the NYT delivered its much awaited hit piece on the Swift Vets. The LA Times printed a lot of the same material in a similar article two days ago, but I'm a provincial New Yorker, so I didn't notice.

Now let's get to the bottom line: Who's right, the NYT or the Swift Vets? My gut instinct says its the Times, but I'm reserving judgment until I can digest all of the criticism that the Times has provoked. What is clear, however, is that the Times itself sees this as a black and white issue. Its correspondents write that

On close examination, the accounts of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth' prove to be riddled with inconsistencies. In many cases, material offered as proof by these veterans is undercut by official Navy records and the men's own statements.
A NYT editorial seconds the motion. The first place I turned for a rebuttal was Instapundit, who links to comments by Ed Morrissey and Patterico, among others. The biggest point that Glenn, Ed & Chris score againt the Times regards the bizarrely conspiratorial tone of the piece, much of which focuses on the Swift Vets' connections to influential Texas Republicans. Or as the NYT would have it,
Mr. Kerry called [the Swift Vets] "a front for the Bush campaign" -
a charge the campaign denied

A series of interviews and a review of documents show a web of connections to the Bush family, high-profile Texas political figures, and President Bush's chief political aide, Karl Rove.
Clearly, the authors of the NYT article want to cast themselves in the heroic mold of Woodward & Bernstein. Only their tenacious research has uncovered the "web of connections" behind the Swift Vets. Of course, the identities of the Swift Vets' donors are public knowledge. And other newspapers have already sketched out their connection to the White House.

But more importantly, who do you expect to fund anti-Kerry attack ads? The College Republicans? No, of course not. It's going to be rich and well-connected GOP backers who take it on themselves to be the President's hatchet men.

That kind of relationship hardly justifies Kerry's remark about the Swift Vets being a "front" or the NYT's endorsement of that remark by juxtaposing it with the Times' own allegations of impropriety.

However, Josh Marshall disagrees. He writes that
In any real world sense, this is a front for the president.
If by "any real world sense" Josh means that the Swift Vets' backers are more interested in beating John Kerry than in the issue itself, sure. But when you throw around words like "front", you're saying that the White House is breaking the law by coordinating its re-election campaign with a nominally independent group.

According to Atrios, that's exactly what's going on. According to a Kerry press release, the Bush campaign has been coordinating with the Swift Vets in at least one county in Florida. If that's true, I expect to see more coverage of it.

Now, I agree with Josh that the honorable thing for Bush to do is to condemn the Swift Vets if he doesn't believe they're telling the truth. But since Josh constantly insists that the only way to win an election is to play hardball, his high-minded challenge to the President rings just a little bit hollow.

To be contiued...
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# Posted 7:17 PM by Patrick Belton  

TNR COMES DOWN HARD on the new Oxford professor of poetry.
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# Posted 7:04 PM by Patrick Belton  

ATTENTION TEXANS:
The Houston chapter of the Nathan Hale foreign policy society will meet this coming Tuesday, August 24th at 7:00 PM until 9:00 at

The Black Labrador (pub)
Churchill Room
4100 Montrose, 713-529-1199

RSVP: August 23rd

This month’s topic is China: Friend or Foe 

Suggested readings include Foreign Affairs, July/Aug 04 article "A Global Power Shift in the Making" by Hoge. Article also availabe at aldaily.com (under articles of note, Shifting Power Highlighted).
Same magazine also has a second article that covers China plus the main article by Ferguson (October discussion focus).
Hoover Digest, Summer Issue, 2004 "China, Collision Course" by Metzger.  Article also availabe at aldaily.com (under articles of note, Collision Course (Highlighted).
Policy, Winter 2004, Decline of Australian Power.  Article also availabe at aldaily.com (under articles of note, Australian Power (Highlighted).
Reason, July 2004, "10 Truths about Trade" by Lindsey.  Article also availabe at aldaily.com (under essay column, American Jobs Lost(Highlighted).
Yale Online Feb. 19, 2003 by Michael Yahada, "China's Win Win".
The Gobalist, 8/22/02 "China, Arab, Globalization" by Jean Pierre Lehmann.
Economic Policy Institute, 8-16-04.

For more information on the Nathan Hale foreign policy society, and to be kept informed about our activities, please email Tom.Petrick@foreignpolicysociety.org or visit our website at www.foreignpolicysociety.org. Bring a friend.

Hope to see you Tuesday.

Tom Petrick
Also, we're looking around for people to help with running our chapters in LA and Chicago, and we can always use more members in San Francisco, New York, Washington, Boston, New Haven, Oxford, Miami, and (now) San Juan, PR!
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# Posted 8:42 AM by Patrick Belton  

CONFESSIONS OF A BOOKER PRIZE JUDGE: Novelist Tibor Fischer provides an insight into Booker judging:
[J]udging isn't that hard. Only a few key questions ought to be weighed up. Is this novel written by a friend of mine? A good friend of mine? What could they do for me in the future? Would they deliver? Isn't this novel by that reviewer who panned my last book?

And as for sleaze or corruption, what I'd like to know is: where are they? My offshore bank account is in a consumptive state. I haven't even had a free lunch, let alone the suggestion of a holiday. The most damning charge I can make against British publishers is that no one has tried to nobble me.
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# Posted 8:20 AM by Patrick Belton  

NICE TO KNOW THAT PEOPLE CAN STILL BE CHEERFUL IN A STALINIST COUNTRY: Downer makes little headway in NK (CNN, referring, admittedly, to Australian FM Alexander Downer)
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# Posted 1:43 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SUBSTANDARD BLOGGING: Instapundit reports that three Weekly Standard staff writers now have their own blog. But why is it on Blogspot instead of being part of the Weekly Standard website? Perhaps because it deals with hard-hitting, controversial subjects like sexy Russian gymnasts and a malevolent toenail fungus.
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Thursday, August 19, 2004

# Posted 11:08 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

KERRY'S EXTREMELY SIMPLE AND STRAIGHTFORWARD POSITION ON THE WAR: Kevin Drum has had enough of everyone who pretends that Kerry hasn't taken a clear and consistent position on the war in Iraq. Kevin cites Will Saletan's lengthy explication of Kerry's position on the war and concludes that
You can decide for yourself whether you like this position, but it's
not hard to grasp.
Actually, Saletan says something else: that John Kerry has had a consistent position on the war, but that it is extremely hard to grasp because Kerry constantly spins his position to fit the demands of the moment:
This is classic Kerry: emphasizing the right half of his position when it's convenient, then the left half when that's more convenient. But it isn't a change of position.
I'm not sure I'm even willing to be that generous. What Saletan describes as Kerry's actual position on the war is actually quite vague. Its four principal elements are "compliance, inspections, skepticism, [and] process."

Yet at the same time, Kerry ackonwledges that Saddam may not comply, inspections may not work, and the UN process may hit a dead end. In February 2002, when Chris Matthews asked John Kerry if diplomacy was enough to disarm Iraq, Kerry said:
"Outside chance, Chris. Could it be done? The answer is yes. [Saddam] would view himself only as buying time and playing a game, in my judgment. [But] do we have to go through that process? The answer is yes."
Thus, the real question is when to conclude that the "four elements" aren't working and that force is required. On May 3, 2003, when George Stephanopoulos asked if George Bush made the right decision to invade on March 19, Kerry reponded that
I said at the time I would have preferred if we had given diplomacy a greater opportunity. But I think it was the right decision to disarm Saddam Hussein. And when the president made the decision, I supported him, and I support the fact that we did disarm [Saddam].
Saletan notes that
This appears to be the first time Kerry endorses the war as Bush conducted it.
I agree. Despite his vague aveat about preferring more diplomacy, Kerry is endorsing the war. In contrast, Howard Dean told Stephanopolous that I think "This was the wrong war at the wrong time." Anyhow, five months later, Kerry told ABC that
[The Bush administration] did not give legitimacy to the inspections. We could have still been doing inspections even today.
Saletan argues that this is Kerry's real position and that if he had been President, there would have been no invasion. Perhaps, but you can't infer that from what Kerry said on ABC. If anything, his response to Stephanopoulous in May carries greater weight because it was closer to the actual date of the war.

But leaving aside the question of which is the 'real' John Kerry, I think it's important to point out that Kerry's contradictory statements from May and October call into question Saletan's argument that Kerry had a consistent position on the war.

But if even you ignore everything that Kerry said before last month's convention, it's still hard to figure out what his position on the war is. In the same interview where Kerry defended his vote to give the President war powers in October 2002, Kerry accused the President of rushing to war without enough allies. Incensed by the press coverage of this statement, Bob Somersby asks:
What is Kerry’s stand on Iraq? Readers, get ready for some real brain-work! Here goes: Kerry says Bush should have had the authority to go to war, but then went to war prematurely. Wow! Have you finished scratching your heads about all the nuance involved in that statement? It’s hard to believe that any grown person could pretend that this is complex or confusing.
Well, then let me pretend. Until Kerry defines "prematurely", we will have no idea what his position on the war actually is. If Bush let the inspections go on for another six months, would an invasion still have been premature? If he had spent another six months recruiting European allies, would the war still have been premature?

But what if another six months of inspections failed to turn up additional evidence? And what if the Europeans still held out after another six months of courtship? These are just some of the questions that Kerry avoids answering by hiding behind the word 'premature'.
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# Posted 10:50 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

COUNTING THE VOTES: I haven't followed the Venezuelan situation closely enough to say whether or not there was any fraud at the ballot-box, but this op-ed (Hat tip: DH & EJB) makes a persuasive case that a more thorough investigation would be well worth it.

Still, I have a good amount of faith in the Carter Center's work. Say what you want about Jimmy Carter, but his record as an election monitor is impeccable. I think that's why both the WaPo and NYT have played down the opposition's insistence that the vote was rigged.

The US government's position on the vote isn't exactly clear. On the one hand, State Department spokesman Adam Ereli described the results as "preliminary". On the other, Ereli said that "The people of Venezuela have spoken."

My gut says that even if an investigation goes forward, there has already been enough time for Chavez to cover-up any evidence of the alleged fraud. If the opposition has a chance, it won't be until 2006.
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# Posted 10:09 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

KERRY LASHES OUT AT SWIFT VETS: No surprises here. Kerry accused the Swift Vets of distorting the truth and being a Republican front. According to Kerry,
The fact that the president won't denounce what they're up to tells you everything you need to know -- he wants them to do his dirty work.

I think Kerry is half right. The President can't have it both ways. If he really thinks that Kerry's service was "noble", he should condemn the Swift Vet ads. If he wants to attack Kerry's service record he should come out and say it.

On a related note, I was somewhat surprised that neither the NYT nor the WaPo mentioned anything about Cambodia despite focusing on the Swift Vet controversy. Given the WaPo's aggressive investigation of the Swift Vets -- which has now turned up documents that seem to contradict their claims -- the paper should at least give a fair hearing to evidence that Kerry has written some revisionist history of his own.
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# Posted 8:06 PM by Patrick Belton  

BROOKINGS'S IVO DAALDER AND JIM STEINBERG, the latter an awfully nice man I've recently been writing back and forth with for a book chapter I'm writing on Bosnian counterterrorism, have a piece in the FT on the need for new rules for the use of force. They find the notion of pinning international legality on the support of China and Russia to be unworkable, and suggest beginning again with tried and true notions of ius ad bellum and the just war tradition.
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# Posted 7:59 PM by Patrick Belton  

THE WORLD MOVEMENT FOR DEMOCRACY has released its monthly newsletter, DemocracyNews.
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# Posted 7:55 PM by Patrick Belton  

RAND has begun an interesting initiative combining research and outreach focused on Middle Eastern youths.
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# Posted 7:29 PM by Patrick Belton  

IN THE PAPERS: Al Quds al Arabi interviews Osama's bodyguard for his observations on Al-Qa'eda's strategies. The Christian Science Monitor collects pieces on the war of ideas within Islam. Iran is reportedly transferring surface-to-surface-missiles to Hezbollah, consisting of 220 missiles with a 250- to 350-kilometer range. Iraq has selected an interim legislative assembly, although the process was somewhat tarnished when a slate of independent candidates withdrew from the balloting. The US government is prosecuting a Somali refugee named Omar Abdi Mohamed for serving as a conduit of money to terrorists while serving on the payroll of the Saudi government. Senator John Warner of Virginia has suggested changing the course of intelligence reform to give the increased powers of the proposed National Intelligence Director to the existing Director of Central Intelligence. The government of Colombia is engaging in a massive push against Marxist rebels (Uribe is contemplating a prisoner swamp - thanks to our friend Randy Paul for pointing this out by e-mail). Asa Hutchinson has told senators that more agents were being added to the Federal Air Marshal Service program. An Israeli general gives an interesting overview of the dynamics of smuggling between Egypt and the Gaza Strip. Kazakhstan's Nazarbaev has released leading opposition figure Galymzhan Zhakiyanov, but prohibited him from taking part in politics. Meanwhile, the head of the Joint Chiefs has toured Central Asia, dispensing $21 million of military aid to Uzbekistan after Karimov has begun to tilt toward Russia (this in the wake of a decision by the State Department to refuse to certify Uzbekistan as conforming to internationally accepted human rights norms, costing it $18 million in aid).
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# Posted 6:24 PM by Patrick Belton  

PEW AND THE COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS have released a poll showing that coming into the elections, a rather strong plurality of respondents (41 percent) believe foreign policy issues are the most important facing the nation, compared with economic issues (26 percent) and other domestic issues (also 26 percent). Interestingly, it also shows the American public is solidly Wilsonian, with 72 percent believing the top priority for American foreign policy is to follow moral principles. Roughly two-thirds then say the top priority should be 'cautious' (66) or 'decisive' (62), with Republicans tending to say 'decisive' and Democrats 'cautious'. (ed: wait, these are adding to way more than 100 hey, who says you can't have more than one top priority? well, sure as heck not our nation's foreign policy establishment!).

UPDATE: Dan Drezner looks further down the rank-ordering of other interests and comes to a different conclusion, finding them to be more realist. Personally, I'd be intrigued to see the response set broken down further, by party affiliation, region, and demographic variables. I'm quite curious whether there's a blue-red divide at work here, or whether realism and Wilsonian cut across - or map on to - other cleavages.
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# Posted 5:19 PM by Patrick Belton  

AL SADR WATCH: Joe Gandelman is keeping a close eye on things.
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# Posted 11:30 AM by Patrick Belton  

I'M VERY GLAD, ACTUALLY, THAT I SAW KING ARTHUR TUESDAY NIGHT: 1. Ordinarily, you have to wait for the Mystery Science Theatre version to see movies this bad. 2. It's kind of fun to see a recapitulation of all the most memorable scenes from the Ring cycle, except this time wittily adapted to (a) suck and (b) involve druid chicks wearing s&m leather gear. 3. On the former point, it's also kind of reassuring to see people with dialogue that bad still get to mate. 4. It's further reassuring to note that people in the millenium before the Renaissance didn't have to live without such modern conveniences as nationalism, the Reformation, the Enlightenment, and the aforementioned (I think) leather.
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# Posted 8:22 AM by Patrick Belton  

A HOPEFUL DEVELOPMENT OUT OF IRAQ: A friend writes that the two Iraqi democrats, both brothers, who write the blog www.iraqthemodel.com are planning to run for the Iraqi National Assembly as part of a new Iraq Pro-Democracy Party. So far they seem to gathered 12 candidates - most of whom are westernised professionals - and hopefully that number will grow.

They have got a website, and yesterday issued this press release:
Two popular Iraqi webloggers, Ali Fadhil and Mohammed Fadhil, today announced their candidacies for the Iraqi National Assembly.

The bloggers, who are brothers, have been writing their popular weblog www.IraqTheModel.com since November of 2003. Their weblog has been quoted in major world media, including the BBC, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, National Review, Sydney Morning Herald, Australian Bulletin, Dallas Morning, and New York Post.

We believe that we represent an important segment of the Iraqi people that was never organized before under any category as a result of the oppression of the past regime. Now this segment has come to see the necessity to contribute to the building of a new Iraq in a way that is entirely different from the old ways that are still dominant in the Middle East and that are governed by religious fanaticism and pan-Arab nationalism.

We see that remaining silent is not an option in our battle towards democracy and freedom and that everyone who seeks a better future should take part in this battle.

-Ali Fadhil

Through our writings in our weblog and communication with different opinions and view points we find ourselves committed to reconsider the way in which we can serve our nation.

We also saw that our somewhat daring opinions were accepted by many people whether westerners or Iraqis and we see that we have the capability to clarify our vision about Iraq's future through talking to Iraqis directly.

Our work on the weblog opened our minds more, made us bolder and encouraged us to communicate with our fellow citizens as they're the ones who can make the change and they're the ones we started to write for their sake.

-Mohammed Fadhil

The bloggers are running under the banner of the Iraqi Pro-Democracy Party. Elections will be held after December 2004. For the complete list of party candidates and more information on the party's history and its platform, please visit our website www.iraqdemparty.org .

To request candidate interviews, email:
ali.fadhil@iraqdemparty.org
mohammed.fadhil@iraqdemparty.org

For background information on the candidates and how their weblog has allowed them to reach such a wide audience, please contact Jeff Jarvis at jeff@buzzmachine.com for correspondence in English and Fayrouz Hancock at fayrouz.hancock@iraqdemparty.org for correspondence in Arabic.
We'll be writing to interview them within the next few days. As our friend who pointed this out to us notes, small but hopeful signs like this are useful reminders that Moqtada al-Sadr is not the only game in town.
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# Posted 1:29 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

NEO-CON CABAL CAN'T DELIVER JEWISH VOTES: Semitic support for John Kerry is overwhelming. So I guess Republicans must feel about Jews what Thomas Frank feels about Kansans: that cultural politics have gotten in the way of sensible pocketbook voting. But so what? I'm an idealist and I don't like pocketbook voting anyhow.
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# Posted 12:59 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

IT'S RAINING YOUSEFZADEHS: Or so Pejman hopes. In the meantime, he'll be studying Vedic math.
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Wednesday, August 18, 2004

# Posted 11:56 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

BODY COUNTS: Thanks to the spectacular and often spectacularly deceptive body counts produced by the US military during the Vietnam war, Americans have had an instinctive aversion to judging the success of their wars by the number of enemy soldiers killed.

While this sort of skepticism provided a healthy corrective to the statistical bent of Vietnam-era briefings, it is hard to shake the notion the number of opposing soldiers killed is an important indicator of our success on the battlefield. Phil Carter feels the same way and expresses something close to shock at the number of Sadrist militiamen the Marines have shot down in Najaf.

As Phil points out, these body counts reflect the fact that the militiamen fight in almost suicidal manner, apparently because of their total lack of training. Of course, one might say that this approach to combat reflects the militia fighters' passionate desire to become martyrs of Islam. By extension, it suggests that the morale of Sadr & Co. wouldn't break even if the US inflicted thousands of casualties.

Still, my gut says that Americans often overestimate the Muslim appetitle for death. While young men may prefer death, I suspect that their families do not want to lose any more sons.

Anyhow, the effect of a high-body count may not kick-in for some time, a fact that explains the current stalemate in Najaf, as reported on by the redoubtable John Burns of the NYT. On the other hand, Burns is now reporting that Sadr may have proposed negotiations because his military position is untenable.

NB: Phil also has excellent posts on occupation planning (or the lack thereof) and the inability of the VA to provide this war's veterans with the medical care they deserve.


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# Posted 11:52 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

DID THE NYT GET SCHOOLED? Rob Tagorda argues that the American Federation of Teachers put one over on the NYT, persuading it that test data demonstrates the inferiority of charter schools.

Over at TNR, Josh Benson has some mild criticism of the NYT's report on the impact of the No Child Left Behind act, then goes on to explain why Kerry's incentive-based program for hiring better teachers will accomplish more than Bush's plan ever will.
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# Posted 11:52 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

CAMBODIA UPDATE: The Boston Globe finally decided to run a story on the Kerry-in-Cambodia debate but left out the most important detail: that Kerry biographer Douglas Brinkley has stated definitively that Kerry was not in Cambodia in December 1968. Brinkley made his statement in the Telegraph five days ago, so the Globe has no real excuse for missing it.

The Globe also does a lackluster job of explaining the Kerry campaign's official explanation of the Cambodia story. According to spokesman Michael Meehan,
"On December 24, 1968, Lieutenant John Kerry and his crew were on patrol in the watery borders between Vietnam and Cambodia deep in enemy territory. In the early afternoon, Kerry's boat, PCF-44, was at Sa Dec and then headed north to the Cambodian border. There, Kerry and his crew along with two other boats were ambushed, taking fire from both sides of the river, and after the firefight were fired upon again. Later that evening during their night patrol they came under friendly fire."Given that John Kerry was more than fifty miles from Cambodia on Christmas 1968, references to a "watery border" are quite misleading. The same goes for Meehan's suggestion that Kerry "then head north to the Cambodian border". That may have been the direction Kerry was headed in, but it wasn't his destination.

On the bright side, the Globe did interview two of Kerry's crewmen -- both non-Swift Vets -- who have no recollection of being in Cambodia.b

What I can't figure out is why the Kerry campaign is putting out this kind of transparent spin rather than just saying that Kerry made a mistake about when he was in Cambodia. Given that Kerry is running on his war record, they should be doing their best to dispel any confusion about it whatsoever.

Clearly, the Kerry campaign is afraid to say point-blank that Kerry was in Cambodia on Christmas 1968. But perhaps they're hoping that if they refuse to give answers, the press will stop asking questions. And they might just be right.
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# Posted 10:43 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

ONLY NICE PEOPLE DRIVE SUVs: Kaus thinks that a recent NYT article on SUV fatality rates is deceptive because it ignores the difference between what kind of people drive SUVs as opposed to pickup trucks or other cars. Citing this study (which I didn't read), Kaus says SUVs often save their owner's lives.

(Hat tip to MD, who insists you can't link to Gregg Easterbrook without looking at the other side.)
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# Posted 10:07 PM by Patrick Belton  

YEAH, BUT THEY'RE NOT CONSERVATIVE PUNK MAGAZINE EDITORS: This archive photograph from the New Deal carries the caption, 'Lumberjacks study parliamentary law in a Northern Minnesota Timber camp. In some of these classes the teacher must speak both Finnish and English.'
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# Posted 5:49 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

CURIOSITY KILLED THE...Every morning I open the NY Times and see it blanketed with adds for a website called Retro vs. Metro. It turns out that the site is an advertising vehicle for a new book called The Great Divide by John Sperling.

Now, I know you're not supposed to judge a book by its cover, let alone its advertising campaign. But it seems like Sperling's main point is the same as the one made by Thomas Frank in What's The Matter With Kansas?

Basically, the difference between Red states and Blue states is cultural. Republicans win votes by exploiting cultural differences and downplaying their divisive economic agenda. I wasn't persuaded last time around (nor was Matt Yglesias), but who knows? Maybe Sperling can express himself better than Thomas Frank.
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# Posted 9:10 AM by Patrick Belton  

NEWS OF THE WEIRD: There is a magazine called Conservative Punk Magazine which is, well, basically what the title indicates.
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# Posted 6:35 AM by Patrick Belton  

CHRIS MCGREAL STEPS outside the automatic writing machine school predominating in current journalism to profile a Palestinian informant working for Israeli intelligence. The profile includes the uncomfortable, generally unspoken observation 'You won't find a Palestinian family without collaborators so we are just like everybody else'. Slightly less penetrating but also taking a step outside of ideologically determined journalism is the BBC's profile of an Arab Israeli woman, which presents her as straddling two political communities with sympathy for each, but feeling pulled in both directions. Such telling of complex, human stories without reliance on easy ideological narratives deserves applause, particularly flying when it does in the face of soundly established journalistic convention.
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# Posted 2:13 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

YES, KERRY WAS IN CAMBODIA: Except he was there in January or February of 1969, just not on Christmas of 1968. That's the official word from biographer Douglas Brinkley, who has also written quite an interesting book on Jimmy Carter's post-presidential life.

According to Brinkley, the purpose of Kerry's mission was, in fact, to transport US Special Forces into Cambodia. That explains how Kerry got his secret lucky hat from the CIA. The hat matters because it is the only detail about the whole Cambodia episode that Kerry has referred to recently.

Otherwise, as Kevin Drum points out, Kerry hasn't said a word about spending Christmas in Cambodia in quite some time. (Kevin says 18 years, but the wire report quoted here shows that it's only 12.) According to Kevin, the Cambodia story is now dead since
Kerry's only crime is to have tarted [his story] up with a bit of holiday pathos, I think I'll pass on following it any further down the Swift Vets rabbit hole. But thanks to everyone who displayed their deep unseriousness about this election by participating in this smear. It will be remembered.
While Kerry's greatest sin may have been to change some dates, the convinction with which he did so is still quite striking. As Kerry told the Senate after recounting his Christmas in Cambodia, "I have that memory which is seared --seared -- in me."

I'm also curious about the details of the story which Kerry sometimes added, especially about the drunken South Vietnamese soldiers who almost killed Lt. Kerry in the process of celebrating Christmas. But hey, maybe they were celebrating Tet instead of Christmas.

Anyhow, if this is where the story ends, I guess I'll have to compliment the media on not paying excessive attention to scurrilous but vocal charges against the Democratic candidate.
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# Posted 1:55 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

A SENSITIVE WAR ON TERROR: Dick Cheney blasted John Kerry for wanting American foreign policy to be more "sensitive". To say the least, Cheney's attack was hypocritical, not to mention dumb.

Yet as I said before, Kerry should've thought twice before slipping into Dukakis mode. Cheney's attack made headlines because Republicans attacking Democrats for being soft on Communism/terrorism/crime/etc. is part of America's unofficial partisan narrative.

If the journalists were smarter, they would've run some Google searches on "Bush+Cheney+Rumsfeld+sensitive" before going to press with their articles about Cheney's attacks. Of course, Kerry's speechwriters could've done the same thing.
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# Posted 1:36 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

KEVIN DRUM ASKS: "Have liberals finally figured out an effective way to fight back against talk radio?" That's Kevin's response to the fact that no fewer than eleven anti-Bush or anti-conservative films have debuted in recent months.

I don't know if the films were all that effective, but I am somewhat tickled by Kevin's suggestion that liberals' pre-eminence in Hollywood is something new.
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# Posted 1:09 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

DREZNER RETURNS: Once again, Dr. Chicago is addressing the critical issues facing our nation: ultimate frisbee and cash-for-sex. He also explores less important matters, such as Al Qaeda's transformation from a military to an ideological front and the bureaucratic shackles on India's surging economy.
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Tuesday, August 17, 2004

# Posted 6:31 AM by Patrick Belton  

THE NYT'S MICHAEL SLACKMAN ON poor Jon Corzine, a victim of his own success. From having to confront on his arrival in Washington four years ago a suspicion that he was a political lightweight who had purchased his Senate seat, he now has to confront the problem of New Jersey Democrats wanting him to run for governor while Senate Democrats need him as their economic spokesman and politically canny fundraising chair.
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# Posted 2:50 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WHO SAYS KERRY FLIP-FLOPPED ON THE WAR? Gary Farber asks [via e-mail] whether I've ever actually listened to Kerry's explanation of his vote for war, as given to the Senate in October 2002. The answer is no. My basis for saying that Kerry flip-flopped on the war consists of what he has said in recent months, not his October speech to the Senate.

At the Democratic convention, John Kerry said:
I will be a commander in chief who will never mislead us into war.
At the time, I thought I knew exactly what John Kerry was saying: George Bush is a commander in chief who did mislead us into war. That interpretation rested on the content of the three sentences that followed Kerry's accusation:
I will have a Vice President who will not conduct secret meetings with polluters to rewrite our environmental laws. I will have a Secretary of Defense who will listen to the best advice of our military leaders. And I will appoint an Attorney General who actually upholds the Constitution of the United States.
If one insists on a hyper-literal interpretation of Kerry's speech, one can assert that Kerry never accused Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld or Ashcroft of doing anything wrong. The Democratic candidate simply promised that certain members of his cabinet would not do certain things associated in the public mind with certain officials in the current administration.

Whatever. Kerry accused Bush of misleading the nation into war, then turned around and said that he would still have voted to authorize the war even if he knew then what he knows now about Saddam's weapons of mass destruction. The visible and embarrassing clash between those two statements is what led Democratic partisan Jon Stewart to ask whether Kerry wanted to destroy any prospect of Democratic victory in November.

In a defense of Kerry's conflicting statements, NYT correspondent David Sanger reported that
Rand Beers, a former National Security Council official in the Clinton and Bush administrations before he left to help Mr. Kerry formulate his foreign policy positions, said in an interview on Wednesday: "We have said we think there are four elements" in Mr. Bush's approach to the war that are clearly different from how Mr. Kerry would have handled the confrontation with Mr. Hussein.

"Rushing to war is one, doing it without enough allies is two,
doing it without equipping our troops adequately is three, and doing it without an adequate plan to win the peace is a fourth," Mr. Beers
said...

In fact, in interviews since the start of the year, Mr. Kerry has been
relatively consistent in explaining his position.
If you take a closer look at Beers' four elements, you'll notice that none of them has anything to do with misleading the nation into war. On the issue of rushing to war, you can judge for yourself whether six months of pre-invasion diplomacy was enough, or whether a few more months might have resolved the crisis.

Regarding our lack of allies, Beers refuses to say exactly what he means. Would Kerry have refused to go to war without explicit authorization from the UN? Would a greenlight from France and Germany alone have been enough? These same questions also go unanswered in Kerry's October 2002 speech to the Senate (the one that Gary pointed out.)

In that speech, Kerry emphasized again and again that Bush had an obligation to try and work with the United Nations. But each time Kerry made that point, he fell back before insisting that only a UN resolution was necessary for war.

Beers' third element is providing adequate equipment to our troops. From what I can tell, this is a reference to certain soldiers' lack of body armor during the occupation. While that is regrettable, it is a minor point at best that has nothing to do with the decision to invade.

Finally, we come to the issue of Bush's not having a plan to win the peace. I certaintly wouldn't say that Bush did have a plan. But yet again, this "element" is a distraction from the real question of whether Kerry would've gone to war.

Perhaps John Kerry has never literally contradicted himself on the subject of war. Yet in the same manner that Geroge Bush did with regard to the relationship between Saddam and Al Qaeda, Kerry approached the brink of untruth in order to create an impression that was the opposite of what he himself knew to be true.
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# Posted 1:52 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

HAS THE WaPo GONE SOFT ON DICTATORS? No, of course not. The WaPo just happens to have a correspondent in Venezuela who seems to have forgotten in the midst of Hugo Chavez's ballot-box triumph that Mr. Chavez is hardly a model democrat.

In her opening sentence, correspondent Mary Beth Sheridan attributes to Mr. Chavez a
Highly centralized, populist style of government that has stirred fierce opposition at home and irritated the Bush administration.
"Highly centralized" is a strange way to describe a government that packs the courts, slaps around the media, and throws leading critics in jail on trumped up charges. Then again, one shouldn't expect a man who once led a failed coup attempt and remains close friends with Castro to have the greatest respect for democratic norms.

[On that note, Jimmy Carter deserves tremendous credit for monitoring the integrity of yesterday's referendum. Earlier this year, Carter fought hard to ensure that the referendum would take place, in spite of Chavez's dishonest effort to stop it.

Even though few Americans think much about Venezuela these days, Carter lent his experience and prestige to protecting its people's freedom.]

Moving on, correspondent Sheridan also ascribes unwarranted credibility to Chavez's claims that he is leading a "revolution of the poor". According to Sheridan,
Chavez has endeared himself to the country's downtrodden with his rough-hewn style and delivery of numerous social programs.
While that statement is essentially correct, it leaves the wrong impression in the absence of more detailed information about Chavez's record. Toward the end of her article, Sherdian briefly mentions Venezuela's "woeful economic performance" under Chavez. In fact, Venezuela's GDP has plunged almost 9% in each of the past two years. The reason is Chavez's incompetence.

In the absence of any sort of coherent economic policy, Chavez's much publicized spending on the poor serves as little more than a band-aid. According to Michael Shifter, a leading expert on Latin American politics,
The number of Venezuelans living in extreme poverty doubled between 1999 and 2003, Chavez's first five years as president...

Chavez's vigorous and targeted social spending right before an election smacks of the manipulative practices he accused [Venezuela's] traditional parties of [practicing] for decades.
Rather than a revolution of the poor, Chavez is demonstrating the poverty of his so-called revolution.
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# Posted 1:17 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

ACCOUNTABILITY WATCH: Some of you may have noticed that it has been more than two weeks since the last edition of Accountability Watch. As it turns out, it didn't matter that I forgot about last week's edition since one year ago in mid-August I was on vacation in Northern California.

One year ago this week, there was a blackout across the Northeast that didn't result in any more pregnancies than usual. One year ago this week also marked the publication's of Josh's excellent cover story in the Weekly Standard about the travails of the BBC.

My main publication for the week was a three-part memo on the state of the world, written on behalf of an unnamed friend of mine at a political consulting firm. While one might challenge any number of points I made in the memo, there is one that stands out above all the others as possibly faring worst in the glare of hindsight.

One year ago in Iraq, American fatality rates were below one per day and the bombing of UN headquarters in Baghdad was still to come. Thus, with considerable confidence I wrote that Iraq had much better prospects than Afghanistan for making progress toward establishing a democratic order.

At the time, "Conventional wisdom suggest[ed] that neither is probable." Yet if my reading of the situation is now correct, journalists are beginning to sense that Afghanistan may become something of a success story, whereas Iraq has borne out their expectations of state failure.

On Saturday, I had the chance to sit down with a foreign correspondent recently returned from Iraq. Without the slightest reservation he said that American soldiers are dying for nothing because as soon as they leave there will be a civil war. I disagreed hesitantly, because it is very hard to contradict someone who has had his boots on the ground while mine have been firmly planted in the library.

This week, my friend departs for Afghanistan. While Seymour Hersh has denounced the American occupation there as a fiasco, others are beginning to sense that there may be a real democratic opening in spite of the warlords and the heroin trade.

The question is 'Why?' Multilateralists can argue that the presence of a multinational force made all the difference. Yet given the less than impressive size of that force, such an argument isn't exactly tenable.

Administration supporters might argue that if things turn out better than expected in Afghanistan, it's because the media underestimated the White House's and Pentagon's efforts. I find that argument unpersuasive as well, since it's hard to point to anything particularly impressive that the United States has done.

Of course, it may be far too early for anyone to start taking credit for Afghanistan. It's a nation that has been under the radar for quite some time now. However, it will soon return to center stage, at least briefly, during September's presidential elections. Perhaps then we will know if there has been an unheralded miracle in Kabul, or whether this optimist's unusual pessimism was actually justified.

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