OxBlog

Thursday, September 30, 2004

# Posted 10:46 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

IS LIVE BLOGGING A WASTE OF TIME? Live blogging embodies everything that professional journalists say is wrong with the blogosphere. Live blogging involves the publication of every thought that crosses your mind with almost no censorship. But perhaps there is something good about getting the raw reactions of hundreds of well-informed viewers without hindsight getting in the way.

So, what I'm going to do now is go read some of the just-finished live-blogging and see what it adds to the debate. (But don't expect me to live blog about live-blogging. I'll report back tomorrow.)
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# Posted 10:43 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

MORE OF THE SAME: Kevin Drum writes that "Bush is just relentlessly on message. The same phrases over and over and over...." That's why he's doing so well, Kevin. He's consistent.
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# Posted 9:03 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

LIVE BLOGGING, BROUGHT TO YOU BY PABST BLUE RIBBON: The candidates just walked in. I don't expect all that much in the way of entertainment, so I'll have plenty of PBR by my side.

9:01 PM: Kerry says he can make us safer by leading stronger alliances. Not what I would've said. How about the war in Iraq is diverting resources from the war on terror? After all, alliances don't really make us safer, per se. Their role -- as Kerry himself just said -- should be to absorb casualties and costs in Iraq. [9:30 -- To clarify, I don't think that that's what their role should be.]

9:05 PM: President Bush, will America be more vulnerable to a terrorist attack if John Kerry wins on November 2? Bush is completely dodging the question and rambling about all sorts of things. But you know what? The question was a trap, trying to get Bush to say something offensive.

9:07 PM: Kerry says Iraq represents a "colossal error of judgment". I think he needs to hit harder. I think he needs to brand Bush as a liar and a hypocrite, the way Bush branded him as a flip-flopper. But nice shot about outsourcing the hunt for Bin Laden to Afghan warlords. Misleading, but sharp.

9:10 PM: Nice job by Bush of citing Kerry words to support the decision to invade Iraq. Notice Kerry nodding in assent when Bush cites him -- in order to show that he is confident hasn't been caught flip-flopping.

9:13 PM: Bush is trying to explain why the occupation of Iraq is part of the war on terror. He keeps saying "freedom" and "democracy". But he already has the neo-con vote.

9:16 PM: Kerry says that what makes him different from Bush is that he can bring in the allies. That is not enough. The polls show voters trust Bush more on national security. Kerry won't change that by reminding people that Europe likes him.

9:20 PM: Bush is rambling again, trying to explain what he did for homeland security. Kerry sounds much more confident. Bush: "Of course we're doing everything we can to make America safe." He sounds desperate.

9:22 PM: How will you know when it's time for America to bring its troops home? Bush's answer is mostly about Iraqification.

9:25 PM: Ouch! Kerry says Bush Sr. knew that an occupation would meet with Iraqi hostility. Bush insists on a response and says that a commander-in-chief shouldn't discourage the troops. That sounds naive.

9:26 PM: Kerry says, unequivocally, that invading Iraq was a mistake. The Republicans will try their best to make him pay for that.

9:30 PM: Bush hit the nail on the head. Allies won't send troops to fight what the US President calls the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time. To bad Bush didn't sound confident when he said it.

9:31 PM: Cheapshot. Kerry did not denigrate the contribution of our soldiers. Plus, Bush sounds desperate.

9:36 PM: Talk about a softball. Lehrer asks Kerry to give examples of Bush being a liar. And Kerry then insists that Bush hasn't lied, only been less than candid. Josh Marshall must be kicking himself.

9:38 PM: Bush goes back to Kerry's own words. Solid.

9:42 PM: Bush tells the story of praying with the widow of a fallen soldier. A first-rate performance.

9:47 PM: What a strange argument. Kerry thinks that the biggest problem with the occupation is that he hasn't made it clear that we want to leave Iraq and that we don't have designs on Iraqi oil. It sounds to conspiratorial.

9:50 PM: Have we really trained 100,000 troops in Iraq? That seems like a fact Kerry should be able to dispute.

10:05 PM: Every time Bush is in trouble he talks about "freedom" and "democracy" as the way to win the war in terror. How many times has Kerry used either of those words? What is his vision for winning the war on terror?

10:21 PM: I was hoping that Bush would connect the dots and say that democracy in Russia is critical to acheiving a global victory in the war on terror. If democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan is critical why not in Russia?

By the same token, why didn't Kerry challenge Bush to be consistent? Why not ask him why he demands democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan but not Russia? I think it is because Kerry doesn't believe there is an integral relationship between promoting democracy and winning the war on terror.

10:24 PM: "The future belongs to freedom and not to fear." If so, why doesn't Kerry talk about promoting democracy in the Middle East.

10:26 PM: Good closing statement from Bush. I bet he memorized it.

So, where are we now? I don't think anything changed tonight. But when nothing changes, the leader in the polls is the one who benefits.

10:30 PM: It's John Edwards! ( On NBC.) He really is too handsome for his own good. And I had no idea he had such a strong southern accent. Serves me right for not watching television enough.

Brokaw reminds Edwards that the French and Germans want nothing to do with Iraq. Edwards says John Kerry could do it.

Now it's Giuliani time. He's says John Kerry is destorying the troops' morale. That's low. But he is right that Kerry has provided absolutely no rationale for why we should stay in Iraq.

Brokaw asks Giuliani to comment on Musharraf's insistence that the war on Iraq is hurting the war on terror. Why didn't Lehrer ask something about that in the debate? Anyhow, Giuliani is providing the ridiculous answer (often given by George Bush) that we need to go on offense against the terrorists. But how does the war in Iraq relate to that? Much as I support it, building democracy is not the safe as hunting down terrorists planning attacks on American territory.
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# Posted 8:51 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SOMETIMES SPIN IS GOOD: Citing Krugman and Kurtz, Kevin Drum laments that
The thing to watch is less the debate itself than the post-debate spin war. In 2000, for example, most viewers thought Al Gore did fine, but over the following week, as more and more journalists jumped on board the spin bandwagon, opinion finally morphed and Gore's performance was officially declared dismal. Expect more of the same this year as reporters start talking to each other after the show and adopting each others' views out of fear that they've missed the crucial storyline that everyone else picked up on.
It's not hard to detect Kevin's slight resentment of the fact that intelligence proved to be a considerable disadvantage in the 2000 debates. But I don't think that Kevin should differentiate between the true content of a debate as watched by viewers and the post-debate spin influenced by journalists and campaign operatives. Consider, for example, what happened in 1976 (summary courtesy of Howard Kurtz -- from the same column Kevin cites):
The classic example of a debate that morphed into a debacle was Gerald Ford's Oct. 6, 1976, faceoff with Jimmy Carter. A Washington Post story the next morning relegated to the 32nd paragraph Ford's statement that there was no Soviet domination of countries such as Poland. But the next day Carter called the remarks a "disgrace" and "very serious blunder," and on Oct. 8 a Post front-page story began: "President Ford's observation that 'there is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe' poses an immediate problem for him." The media furor lasted for days until Ford acknowledged the obvious, by which time the damage had been done.
Ford should have been punished for his incomprehensible statement, but he wouldn't've been if the media didn't step in. Audiences often need to be told what the significance of what they're watching is.
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# Posted 11:33 AM by Patrick Belton  

AFGHNISTAN BLOGGING: OxBlog's Afghanistan correspondent follows up on his recent insightful contribution about the elections in Afghanistan:
Let me add a few qualifications to my cautious optimism about the Afghan situation. Afghanistan is still a country two or three disasters away from collapse. If the assassination attempt on Karzai last week had succeeded, the election would have been thrown into total disarray. If two or three of the major local warlords decide to take up arms against the president, the Afghan National Army might fall apart, and with it any pretense of a national government. If many Afghans continue to feel that their personal economic situation is in decline -- the most troubling bit of the Charney poll of Afghan opinion is that 37% feel less prosperous now than under the Taliban, and only 10% more prosperous -- they may begin looking around for new regime options.

Moreover, there are a whole lot of ways we could still screw things up. The estimates from this year’s poppy harvest are in, and it’s clear that despite the best efforts of the Brits (who were saddled with the thankless task of stemming the drugs trade), Afghanistan will supply roughly three-quarters of the world’s illicit opium this year. This is a new record; and it was largely unavoidable. Afghan farmers have got to eat, and it’ll be a couple more years before all the money the West is throwing into Afghan agriculture allows the farmers to make a better living from (say) fruit and nut exports than from poppy. In the meantime, fairly or unfairly, the poppy explosion is a clear political vulnerability for Bush. There’s a well-established narcotics eradication lobby in Washington, which has grown rich off the war on drugs (spraying and burning crops on a large scale requires lots of money) and can offer the President a dramatic, tough response to the problem. This would turn thousands, if not millions, of Afghan farmers against us and against the Kabul government – just in time for the parliamentary elections next year.

Despite the obvious potential for things to go wrong, Peter Bergen, and Craig Charney, and one or two others are contributing to a more optimistic meme on the upcoming elections. I think they’re right. Matt Yglesias draws attention to exaggerations in Bergen’s piece, but I think calling them “factual problems” is a bit strong. No, Dostum has not entirely stopped his sparring with Atta Mohammad up north; but the intensity of their conflict did noticeably diminish over the last few months, as Dostum geared up for his presidential bid. Similarly, it is too early to state that Fahim and Ismael Khan have been “neutralized.” But their power has been directly challenged by Karzai, and they have backed down, losing a great deal of face. Assuming Karzai wins the election, we’re likely to see a new Defense Minister in a month or two, and Fahim knows it. So does Bergen, and I think we can forgive him a little blurring of the achieved and the anticipated.

The gravest questions about the elections have been raised by the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit (AREU), a very fine local think-tank, in a report released a week ago. Their report is sobering, and I whole-heartedly agree with them that we ought to defer the April 2005 parliamentary elections til the end of the year at least, to allow for more voter education, political party formation, and a proper census. The AREU authors are also right that the imminent presidential election demands many more trained monitors than we currently have, and will doubtless be marred by intimidation and irregularities in many parts of the country. “It is impossible to know how many flaws in the process it would take to cross the invisible line between an election that is accepted as legitimate and one that is not,” they warn.

I’m optimistic on this one because I think Karzai will win, and that a clear majority of Afghans want him to win. Because of his popularity, he’ll get legitimacy; that “invisible line” of acceptable flaws will be farther out for him than for others. His record of the last few months leads me to believe that he’ll then use this legitimacy to aggressively push the national disarmament program, even when that requires him to challenge multiple warlords simultaneously. For all the fragility of the current situation, I think we can see the outlines of a positive way forward.

Who takes the credit if the election is successful? David writes:

At first blush, the impending success of the Afghan presidential elections seems like a major victory for George W. Bush. But what does it say about this administration or about the United States that things are far better off in the country where we only have a handful of troops and have kept a much lower profile throughout the occupation?

I think it says most about Afghanistan, a country exhausted by twenty years of war and desperately hungering for some sort of normality. In Afghanistan as in Iraq, we went in with enough soldiers to win the war but too few to bring real security to the country. In Iraq, the results have been disastrous to date (and provide sufficient reason to turf out George Bush in November). In Afghanistan, by bringing security to Kabul, keeping the Taliban on the run, and leveraging our limited remaining firepower to keep the warlords in line, we’ve somehow muddled through so far. But it wouldn’t have been enough without millions of Afghans already on board, eager to try a new system that promises an end to violence. They registered to vote despite the fact that we didn’t put enough soldiers on the ground to protect them. We should also recognize the valiant efforts of the UN (which was in charge of the registration effort, and lost several employees). All in all, a successful Afghan election will be nothing for President Bush to be ashamed of, but no reason for triumphalism either.

Next year’s parliamentary elections will be the greatest challenge to date. It’s easy for war-weary Afghans to vote for national unity in picking a president, but it’s in voting for regional representatives that the ethnic conflicts will really come out. How many representatives will each region get? Will political parties mirror ethnic divisions, or regional ones, or ideological ones? Elections will likely be more closely contested, and thus more likely to be derailed by procedural flaws and irregularities. There will also have to be a lot more voter education for people to understand how the legislative system works. A number of worthy organizations have begun preparing for these challenges. If this October election goes well, we’ll have that much more reason to hope.
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# Posted 8:11 AM by Patrick Belton  

BUT WILL THEY SHOW SENATORS GAMES? For those of our readers who don't live in the States but might be interested in watching the debate tonight, BBC News 24 (which my television licence-paying friends tell me channel one turns into at some point in the night) will be showing the debate beginning at 1:50 UK time. In Ireland, you're stuck watching the equally scintillating Oireachtas Report on RTE. And if you've got an internet connection, as many of our readers are reported to, you could always watch on C-Span.

MORE: Our friend Pierre writes in that for those of our readers in Oxford, you can pop over to the St Antony’s College buttery, which will be open for the duration. 
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Wednesday, September 29, 2004

# Posted 9:52 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

KERRY PRAISES WOLFOWITZ: You thought it couldn't happen, but here's a direct quote:
Secretary Armacost and Secretary Wolfowitz, with whom I spoke earlier today, have really been exceptional. In their testimony before this committee both of them were instrumental in in aiding us [sic] our effort to try to frame an intelligent and sensitive response to the situation there and to try to help in whatever way we could to set up a structure of accountability for the election process. It was their candor that I think helped to build a bipartisan foreign policy policy and the success that we saw.
The election process Kerry was referring to is the one in the Philippines in 1986. His statement, made before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations is from February 27th of that year. (The hearing number is 99-645, its CIS reference number is 86-S381-20, and Kerry's statement is on page seven.)

By most accounts, Wolfowitz did a very good job of aiding the 1986 transition to democracy in the Philippines. I can't say much more than that right now because I've only just started my research on the subject. But if it does turn out that Wolfowitz played in an interesting role in tearing Reagan away from his support for Manila strongman Ferdinand Marcos, then I think it would say a lot about Wolfowitz's motivations and integrity with regard to Iraq.
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# Posted 9:30 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

NATIONAL PASTTIME RETURNS TO NATION'S CAPITAL: I'm totally psyched. But the big question is, what are going to call the new team?

I'd be happy with the 'Senators'. Baseball is the sport of tradition; when you say 'Washington', you naturally think 'Senators'. Or has that name become jinxed? Washington has already lost its Senators twice, and I don't think it could survive losing them again.

So what other names would work? First, a word of caution. Whoever decided to call the DC basketball team the Wizards should be prevented from suggesting any names. Same goes for the Mystics.

A good name embodies local identity and local traditions. That's why Senators worked so well. But perhaps the new name should reflect the city's local identity rather than its role as the federal capital.

The 'Crack-Smoking Mayors' might be a fun name, but it just isn't tasteful. Same goes for the Washington Carjackers. How about the Washington Eagles? Philadelphia might have a problem with that. And again, it sort of refers to the government.

What about a name that refers to Greater Washington's new role as the a capital of the high-tech industry? [JK rightly points out that DC is nothing compared to northern California.] The Washington Lightning doesn't sound bad, although Tampa Bay might object. How about the Washington Thunder? Not exactly a reference to high-tech, but it sounds cool.

Hmmm. I guess I'll have to keep my thinking cap on for a while to come up with some better ideas.
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# Posted 8:49 AM by Patrick Belton  

DOZENS SEEK ASYLUM IN CANADIAN EMBASSY IN BEIJING: Details are unfortunately not entirely clear at the moment, but a group of 44 North Koreans have sought asylum from the Embassy of Canada in Beijing. To get past Chinese security, they disguised themselves as construction workers, complete with yellow hard hats. According to the CBC, hundreds of North Koreans have sought asylum in South Korea by way of foreign embassies and consulates in China since 2002.
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# Posted 4:24 AM by Patrick Belton  

PLOUGHMAN'S SANDWICH: Personally, it gives me sincere pleasure somehow to partake in a nation which has a National Ploughing Championships opened in person by the Taoiseach and expected to draw over 150,000 people. As the RTE note this morning, 'More than five kilometres of steel trackway has been laid to ease conditions for the crowds as they make their way around the ploughing competitions and the 700 trade stands.' Sin sin, níl aon scéal eile agam.
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# Posted 1:25 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE SOFT PARADE: Howard Kurtz writes that:

If you were watching the network evening news in June, July and August, you would have seen somewhat favorable coverage of John Kerry -- six out of 10 evaluations were positive -- and somewhat unfavorable coverage of President Bush.

If you were watching Fox News Channel's 6 p.m. newscast, you would have seen about the same coverage of the president. But Kerry's evaluations were negative by a 5 to 1 margin.

That finding, by the Center for Media and Public Affairs, might suggest that some Fox folks have it in for Kerry. Or it might suggest that the broadcast networks are too easy on Kerry, who the group says has gotten the best network coverage of any presidential nominee since it began tracking in 1988.

Really? 1988? I wonder which candidate got all the positive coverage back then. [CORRECTION: GH points out that I have misinterpreted Kurtz's sentence. What he's saying is not that Kerry has gotten the most positive coverage since 1988, but that CMPA has only been tracking the subject since then.]

Btw, in contrast to certain NYT authors and other assorted journalists, Kurtz is one of the few mainstreamers who really seems to understand what blogging is all about.
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Tuesday, September 28, 2004

# Posted 11:56 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

NAVEL-GAZING: In its cover story about Democratic bloggers, the NYT Magazine managed to recycle all of the negative stereotypes about the blogosphere that professional journalists have done so much to perpetuate.

First and foremost, the story perpetuates the notion that blogging is an alternative to journalism, rather than a forum for opinion and analysis, just like the op-ed page. The cover photo (at least I think it is), shows Wonkette sitting at her laptop with Johnny Apple and Jack Germond looking over her shoulders.

Instead of Apple and Germond, it should be Krugman and Krauthammer. Unsurprisingly, the false comparison of bloggers to straight news reporters results in the false perception that bloggers are excessively partisan. Without much effort, the suggestion that bloggers are excessively partisan transforms itself into the suggestion that bloggers lack substance.

This suggestion isn't a result of political prejudice, since this is an article about liberal bloggers (and there are no indications that the author is a closet conservative). While I might agree that Josh Marshall's blog has become has become "an irate spitter of well-crafted vitriol aimed at the president", it is also much more than that. TPM provides a tremendous amount of information, much of it hard to find, as well as lots of original ideas.

I don't like most of those ideas and the information provided reflects an obvious partisan agenda, but doesn't that description fit almost every columnist at the NYT?

The NYTM story amplifies its message that bloggers lack substance by focusing on its subjects' personalities and personal quirk far more than their ideas. For Wonkette, that's fine, although following her around won't really help you figure out what most bloggers do.

As for Marshall and Kos, their personal lives are amusing because they are pseudo-celebrities in my world, but hearing about Marshall's coke habit (diet, that is) doesn't do much to educate the off-line masses.

To top it all off, the NYTM perpetuates the notion that real journalists have better ideas because they spend more time crafting their sentences. Take for example, what the NYTM says about Kaus:
In 1999, Mickey Kaus, a veteran magazine journalist and author of a weighty book on welfare reform, began a political blog on Slate. On kausfiles, as he called it, he wrote differently. There were a thousand small ways his voice changed; in print, he had been a full-paragraph guy who carefully backed up his claims, but on his blog he evolved into an exasperated Larry David basket case of self-doubt and indignation, harassed by a fake ''editor'' of his own creation who broke in, midsentence, with parenthetical questions and accusations.

All that outrage, hand wringing, writing posts all day long -- the care and maintenance of an online writing persona -- after five years, it takes its toll. I had talked to Kaus earlier in the summer at a restaurant in Venice, Calif., and he had said he didn't know how much longer he could stand it. After the election, he said, he might just give up.
There is no doubt that the unlimited right to publish ensures the publication of some low-quality material. But as a whole, the caliber of debate on the upper-tier blogs tends to be very high.

In the final analysis, I don't think that professional journalists' unfair assessment of blogs does all that much harm. Our reputation will rise and fall with because of what we do, not because of what others say. If we keep exposing the incompetence of veteran anchormen, they won't be able to write us off as amateurs. For the moment, even bad PR is good PR. The more people who know that we exist, the more people will learn about what we really do.
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# Posted 10:07 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

GORE CALLS DEMOCRATS "NEO-ISOLATIONISTS": The WaPo quotes Al Gore as saying that:
"There is a neo-isolationist impulse that has come out of the Vietnam experience that has not been put in perspective in the [Democratic] party,"

"The nominating process has served to push the candidates to the left and make each of them scared they will be outflanked on the left by someone who plays to this neo-isolationist impulse. Therefore the mainstream Democratic voter listening to the dialogue feels disillusioned and confused about where the traditional Democratic consensus has gone."
Did I mention that this was what the Post reported on October 22, 1987? My, how the times change. And how they don't: mainstream Democratic voters are still trying to figure out whether the dovish demands of the primary campaign have damaged their party's credibility on issues of national security. After all, if not for Howard Dean, John Kerry might never have flip-flopped on Iraq.
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# Posted 3:48 PM by Patrick Belton  

TAKE MY WIFE! PLEASE! Any of our Washington readers who would like a witty, attractive, Oxford academic and foreign policy hand - no, this is Belton femme, not Belton homme we're talking about - can have her for only $200 between the 11th and the 22nd! (Actually, it's an even better deal than that - she gives you the 200 bucks, plus lots of witty conversation about Democratic foreign policy and rule of law building!) She'll be hiding most of the time writing like mad. She's also a very nice roommate - I can vouch for her.
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# Posted 3:47 PM by Patrick Belton  

BUT NO WORD YET ON WHETHER OSAMA WILL HAVE INK DONE: The Washington Times is claiming that Al Qa'eda is seeking ties with gangs with presences bridging Central America and the United States.

In other things happening in the world today off the headlines, China and Russia have signed an agreement increasing oil and gas cooperation between the two nations; China also reiterated its strong support for Russia's WTO bid (see China Daily). Japan's Foreign Minister has endorsed revising the Japanese constitution to allow the country to take on a larger role in world security (Reuters). North Korea's Vice Foreign Minister has claimed that the nation now possesses a nuclear deterrent (AP). Opposition is hardening to President Nazarbayev in Kazakhstan (Eurasianet), analysts see Russia as going Soviet (ditto) as it seeks a new policy toward its CIS neighbours (and ditto).
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# Posted 2:12 PM by Patrick Belton  

DEPARTMENT OF TRULY IMPORTANT THINGS: Anne-Sophie Mutter appeared on Radio 3 this afternoon, and I had before this never heard her rendition of the Brahms Violin Concerto in D. Mutter, performing as a prodigy of Karajan, was often justly critiqued for a rather thin tonality, but now in her maturity and after drawing on years of concertising in the Modern repertory, her phrasing in the Brahms was marked in its originality, and her intensity throughout was breathless. As with many people, this concerto ranks among my favourite pieces, and Mutter made me feel as though I was hearing it for the first time. Brava.

UPDATE: One of our friends remedies a point I'd neglected: 'Sure, but really ya gotta love those dresses that she had sprayed on, too. Really enhances the live Mutter experience.'
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# Posted 2:05 PM by Patrick Belton  

DEMOCRACY IN RUSSIA: I'm with Bill Kristol on this one.
As citizens of the Euro-Atlantic community of democracies, we wish to express our sympathy and solidarity with the people of the Russian Federation in their struggle against terrorism.  The mass murderers who seized School No. 1 in Beslan committed a heinous act of terrorism for which there can be no rationale or excuse.  While other mass murderers have killed children and unarmed civilians, the calculated targeting of so many innocent children at school is an unprecedented act of barbarism that violates the values and norms of our community and which all civilized nations must condemn.

 At the same time, we are deeply concerned that these tragic events are being used to further undermine democracy in Russia.  Russia’s democratic institutions have always been weak and fragile.  Since becoming President in January 2000, Vladimir Putin has made them even weaker.  He has systematically undercut the freedom and independence of the press, destroyed the checks and balances in the Russian federal system, arbitrarily imprisoned both real and imagined political rivals, removed legitimate candidates from electoral ballots, harassed and arrested NGO leaders, and weakened Russia’s political parties.  In the wake of the horrific crime in Beslan, President Putin has announced plans to further centralize power and to push through measures that will take Russia a step closer to authoritarian regime.

(more)

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# Posted 1:29 PM by Patrick Belton  

FUN WITH OUR REFERRAL LOGS:
  28 Sep, Tue, 16:11:10    Google:  oxblog  
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  28 Sep, Tue, 16:24:43    Yahoo:  instructions on making a french beret  
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# Posted 11:07 AM by Patrick Belton  

BLOGOSPHERE QUOTE OF THE DAY: Is from Joe Gandelman. "What happened [to Kerry's lead]? In two words: Bob Shrum. Kerry's chief strategist, complete with his 0-7 record in national campaigns, decided to sit on his candidate's lead. The Democratic convention then became The Vietnam Experience -- but in retrospect, in political terms, it was Apocolypse Now."
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# Posted 10:57 AM by Patrick Belton  

REPORTERS WITHOUT BORDERS does wonderful work in highlighting the causes of independent journalists being suppressed by their governments for seeking to practice their trade. They have online petitions on behalf of twenty-five journalists at the moment, in countries from Burma to Uzbekistan, and including two imprisoned Iranian online journalists.* Why don't you take a break and go sign them all!

*(Quote from the site: "The community of Iranian bloggers has been organising for several days to show its opposition to the censorship of Emrooz, Rouydad and Baamdad, websites that support Iran's main reform party. Dozens of Farsi-language blog pages have been renamed Emrooz and are displaying articles taken from the Emrooz site.")
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# Posted 5:21 AM by Patrick Belton  

YOU UGLY: One supposed, previously, that high fashion consisted largely, or at least in part, of the application of taste in the pursuit of distinctiveness - a salvaged set of Edwardian cuff links or art décoratif Swiss watch from the 1940s, inexpensive in its time and on eBay but in its way beautiful, and reflecting an aesthetic you're unlikely to get for more money over the counter at Debenham's. No more. The New York Times, in its foray into male fashion, reveals that at its root is actually utter mindless conformism. To wit, two photographs accompanying the story:

example one, 'Andy Gilchrist founded AskAndyAboutClothes.com after he retired. He owns 300 ties'.



example two, 'Steve Brinkman, in his closet in San Antonio, moderates at Styleforum.net, a Web site for discussing men's fashions.'



Note the subtle similarity between the two fashion-conscious gentlemen? This is the wave of the future. All men of middle age in America are condemned to look precisely, and Matrix-like, like these two fashion mavens. Resistance is, as they used to say on the Left Bank in the stylish cafes of St Germain des Pres during their Satrean heyday, inutile.
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# Posted 2:09 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

FEELING OPTIMISTIC? If you're a Democrat, check out Electoral-Vote.com, which has Kerry only trailing Bush by 46, rather than the 70 electoral votes projected by RCP. But there's even good news at RCP, which just decided to list Pennsylvania -- a must-win state for the Democrats -- as leaning Kerry.

Of course, there's plenty of bad news at RCP, too. For example, this John Kerry quote from a Senate debate on November 9, 1997:
We must recognize that there is no indication that Saddam Hussein has any intention of relenting. So we have an obligation of enormous consequence, asn obligation to guarantee that Saddam Hussein cannot ignore the United Nations. He cannot be permitted to go unobserved and unimpeded toward his horrific objective of amassing a stockpile of weapons of mass destruction. This is not a matter about which there should be any debate whatsoever in the Security Council, or, certainly in this Nation. If he remains obdurate, I believe that the United Nations must take, and should authorize immediately, whatever steps are necessary to force him to relent -- and that the United States should support and participate in those steps.
Just to be on the safe side (as Reagan said, "Trust but verify"), I decided to look up Kerry's speech myself on Lexis-Nexis. First impression: the speech is very long. The Senate really does cultivate a fondness for listening to one's own voice. Anyhow, there are lots of other good quotes in the speech, too. For example:
Saddam Hussein, who unquestionably has demonstrated a kind of perverse personal resiliency, may be looking at the international landscape and concluding that, just perhaps, support may be waning for the United States's determination to keep him on a short leash via multilateral sanctions and weapons inspections.
Or if that sort of Bush-ian logic isn't enough for you, try:
It is unthinkable that we and our allies would stand by and permit a renegade such as Saddam Hussein, who has demonstrated a willingness to engage in warfare and ignore the sovereignty of neighboring nations, to engage in activities that we insist be halted by China, Russia, and other nations.
And finally, there is this passage, which sounds like it was spoken by some sort of Texas cowboy:

In my judgment, the Security Council should authorize a strong U.N. military response that will materially damage, if not totally destroy, as much as possible of the suspected infrastructure for developing and manufacturing weapons of mass destruction, as well as key military command and control nodes. Saddam Hussein should pay a grave price, in a currency that he understands and values, for his unacceptable behavior.

This should not be a strike consisting only of a handful of cruise missiles hitting isolated targets primarily of presumed symbolic value. [What a stupid idea that would be. --ed.] But how long this military action might continue and how it may escalate should Saddam remain intransigent and how extensive would be its reach are for the Security Council and our allies to know and for Saddam Hussein ultimately to find out.

Of course Kerry being Kerry, there was a bit of nuance:
I believe it is important for [the Security Council] to keep prominently in mind the main objective we all should have, which is maintaining an effective, thorough, competent inspection process that will locate and unveil any covert prohibited weapons activity underway in Iraq. If an inspection process acceptable to the United States and the rest of the Security Council can be rapidly reinstituted, it might be possible to vitiate military action.
If we had just given Hans Blix a few more months... But a few more months may have been too long. As Kerry explained:
I submit that the old adage "pay now or pay later'' applies perfectly in this situation. If Saddam Hussein is permitted to go about his effort to build weapons of mass destruction and to avoid the accountability of the United Nations, we will surely reap a confrontation of greater consequence in the future. The Security Council and the United States obviously have to think seriously and soberly about the plausible scenarios that could play out if he were permitted to continue his weapons development work after shutting out U.N. inspectors.

It is not possible to overstate the ominous implications for the Middle East if Saddam were to develop and successfully militarize and deploy potent biological weapons. We can all imagine the consequences. Extremely small quantities of several known biological weapons have the capability to exterminate the entire population of cities the size of Tel Aviv or Jerusalem. These could be delivered by ballistic missile, but they also could be delivered by much more pedestrian means; aerosol applicators on commercial trucks easily could suffice.
But who would put biological weapons on a truck? Could it be...could it be...could it be....a terrorist? And since when does Saddam have collaborative relationships with that kind of terrorist?

The real irony here is that Kerry actually makes the case for attacking Saddam far more eloquently than Bush. What is the world coming to?

UPDATE: Blargh thinks the situation facing Kerry in 1997 was very different from the one facing Bush in 2004.
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# Posted 1:59 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

TALKING THE TALK, PART II: Last Thursday night, Jim Lehrer interviewed Iyad Allawi. Not an impressive performance, but not bad for someone who isn't accustomed to being confronted by tough questions. Unsurprisingly, this exchange made Josh Marshall go ballistic:
JIM LEHRER: What would you say to somebody in the United States who questions whether or not getting rid of Saddam Hussein was worth the cost of more than a thousand lives now and billions and billions of U.S. dollars?

PRIME MINISTER IYAD ALLAWI: Well, I assure you if Saddam was still there, terrorists will be hitting there again at Washington and New York, as they did in the murderous attack in September; they'll be hitting also on other places in Europe and the Middle East.
Allawi should learn that he doesn't do himself any favors by imitating Dick Cheney at his worst. On the other hand, Marshall doesn't seem to recognize how much of an incentive there is for Allawi to please Bush whatever the cost. If one is going to insists, a la Joe Lockhart, that Allawi is puppet, one should base that judgment on what Allawi does in Iraq, not on his public statements before an American audience.

That said, Allawi's behavior in Iraq isn't all that popular either. As both MoDo and the NYT editorial board point out, the PM has restored the death penalty, kicked al-Jazeera out of the country, and given himself the power to declare martial law.

The death penalty argument against Allawi is quite amusing, given that the insurgents have made a practice of beheading innocent prisoners. (And, of course, our own country has the death penalty as well.) The argument about Al Jazeera is more valid, although I'd be far more interested in knowing how Allawi treats the Iraqi media, which I think is doing quite well.

Finally, martial law. Declaring it is a classic way of subverting constitutional limits on executive power. But has Allawi declared it? I don't know. And how much difference would martial law make in those provinces already engulfed in a civil war?

Yet even if the critics' dismissals are extremely premature, it's probably a good idea to be suspicious of a Prime Minister who began his political career as a loyal Ba'athist. As Roger Simon points out, "Totalitarian societies don't normally breed saints. Survival is Hell." While a comparison to Chalabi may set the bar too low, Allawi doesn't seem like a bad choice.

The critical test for Allawi will be his administration of the national elections and constitutional convention next year. If he shows any signs of trying to thwart the democratic process and maintain his grip on power, OxBlog will come down on him -- and Bush. Hard.
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# Posted 1:50 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE OLD MASTERS' DUEL: Parcells and Gibbs coached a game for the ages, with Dallas prevailing over Washington 21-18. Behind by eleven, Gibbs' Redskins mounted a fourth-quarter charge that put them within field goal range of a tie as the final seconds ticked off the clock. If Gibbs had just one more time out, I'd still be downstairs watching the game.
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# Posted 1:45 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

COMBAT JOURNALISM: The front page of the Washington Post tells the heart-rending story of four Iraqi National Guardsmen who were killed (and a fifth severely wounded) in a single explosion because they didn't have the same equipment as the Americans soldiers around them. Perhaps it simply isn't possible to provide the Iraqi Guardsman with the same expensive equipment that we give to our own soldiers. But even if that were the case, the Guardsmen's deaths would be no less tragic.
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# Posted 1:29 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

YOU STOLE MY ANALOGY! I'd been thinking about writing an article comparing the January 2005 election in Iraq to the March 1982 election in El Salvador. But David Brooks has beat me to it:

Conditions were horrible when Salvadorans went to the polls on March 28, 1982. The country was in the midst of a civil war that would take 75,000 lives. An insurgent army controlled about a third of the nation's territory. Just before election day, the insurgents stepped up their terror campaign. They attacked the National Palace, staged highway assaults that cut the nation in two and blew up schools that were to be polling places.

Yet voters came out in the hundreds of thousands. In some towns, they had to duck beneath sniper fire to get to the polls. In San Salvador, a bomb went off near a line of people waiting outside a polling station. The people scattered, then the line reformed. "This nation may be falling apart," one voter told The Christian Science Monitor, "but by voting we may help to hold it together."

If Brooks were allowed to write more than 800 words, he might have described congressional Democrats fierce opposition to the Salvadoran election. The Democrats, along with almost all journalists and scholars, dismissed the election as a farce that subverted democratic principles while aggravating El Salvador's civil war. Moreover, they predicted that the Salvadoran electorate would stay home rather rather than participate in a US-manufactured vote.

Truth be told, the Democrats didn't have a bad case on the merits. The unmitigated brutality of the Salvadoran armed forces made it impossible for either the civilian or the guerilla opposition to participate in the elections even if they had wanted to do so (a fact which Reagan administration officials simply refused to acknowledge.)

In contrast to the Iraqi insurgents' limited, sectarian base of support, the Salvadoran guerrillas had a national, ideologically-motivated following, which may have comprised more than a fifth of the electorate. In terms of the war of ideas and battle for hearts and minds, the situation in El Salvador resembled Vietnam far more than Iraq does today.

Yet because the United States was truly committed to a democratic outcome, it ultimately persuaded the Salvadoran electorate to side with its elected government. On a related note, another fact that Brooks might have pointed out if he had more space was that the democratization of El Salvador facilitated the end of its horrific civil war.

As the Cold War drew to and end , the guerrillas recognized that they had no hope of securing victory on the battlefied. By that point, El Salvador's democratic institutions were well-enough established to offer the guerrillas a fair shot of winning power at the ballot box. Today, the (ex-)guerrillas control more seats in the National Assembly than any other party.

Exploring the long-term impact of El Salvador's partial elections in 1982 and 1984 is extremely important because they may change the minds of some very intelligent individuals, like Phil Carter, who are taken aback by the notion of a partial vote.

In one of the rare posts on his site with which I disagree, Phil asks his readers to
Imagine the following hypothetical: California and Florida were swept up by sectarian and gang violence. At the same time, their voting apparati were determined by various agencies to be notoriously unreliable. It became clear that any vote in these two states would be greatly influenced by violence, and that the results would be unreliable at best. Setting aside the Constitution for a moment, the powers that be decided to hold the 2004 election anyway — but to the exclusion of votes from California and Florida. The rest of the country constituted enough of a quorum for these powerful people — who needs those pesky Californian and Floridian votes anyway?

So you're a Californian or a Floridian — how do you feel? I'd feel pissed, personally. I'd also feel incredibly disenfranchised, and I sure as heck wouldn't support the new government or believe in its legitimacy.
But what if there were no hope of holding fair elections in California and Florida for another five years? The lesson of El Salvador is that the central government's best strategy for winning the allegiance of "lost" provinces is to demonstrate its commitment to democratic norms in the terrority that it does control.

Right now we say we are fighting a war for democracy, but I would forgive most Iraqis for being skeptical of that claim. Yet we won't persuade them otherwise until we show that we will respect the wishes of all those are Iraqis who are willing to participate peacefully in national elections.

The prospect of finally having a say in one's own government after decades of repression is extremely powerful. At the moment, I believe we have no choice but to satisfy the demands of those Shi'ites and Kurds who want to elect their own leaders now.

If this Shi'ite-Kurdish state demonstrates respect for its citizens' rights, both personal and political, the residents of Sunni Iraq will begin to ask themselves whether they truly prefer to be ruled by violent Islamic fundamentalists. For the moment, the alternative to fundamentalist dictatorship is American occupation. But if the alternative were an elected Iraqi government, the results might be very different.

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Monday, September 27, 2004

# Posted 1:32 PM by Patrick Belton  

WE'VE BEEN KEEPING THE AUTHOR OF Finnegan's Wake* from short-term liasons with Quinnipiac University students. ( OxBlog: making the world a better place, one small step at a time.)

*The blog, not the novel.
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# Posted 10:22 AM by Patrick Belton  

NICE AS IT'S BEEN TO RUN A THOUSAND-MEMBER ORGANIZATION BY CUTTING AND PASTING EMAIL ADDRESSES FROM WORD (Note: it's also been suggested that we only had two members, who were each receiving five hundred copies of our newsletter), our foreign policy society is setting up yahoo groups for each of our local chapters, beginning for starters with Washington, New York, Boston, Chicago, San Fran, Los Angeles, and Puerto Rico. More coming!
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# Posted 9:54 AM by Patrick Belton  

AND WE THOUGHT WE HAD THE MARKET COVERED ON BAD PUNS WATCH: By way of an email from a publicist, we find out that Runners World is leading with an article on "Bush v. Kerry: Who's More Fit To Be President?".

Also, just for kitsch value,
Also in the new issue, RW looks at the importance of running to the 75 or so members of Congress who run regularly, and why many of them are convinced that they better serve the public by doing so (“Every one of us who exercises regularly would say we do our jobs better because we take this time out,” says one.)

Among the notable runners in Congress are, of course, Rep. Jim Ryun (R-KS), the former world record holder in the mile; Senator Max Baucus (D-MT), who’s run seven marathons as well as the John F. Kennedy 50-Mile race in Maryland; Sen. Bill Frist (R-TN), the senate majority leader who once ran two marathons in 13 days; and 72-year-old Sen. Dick Lugar (R-IN), referred to as the dean of the unofficial Congressional Runners Caucus.
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# Posted 7:49 AM by Patrick Belton  

SENT TO LIE ABROAD FOR THEIR COUNTRY: A handful of pseudonymous Foreign Serivce officers have begun a blog to discuss foreign policy, diplomacy, and why obese middle-aged men on the beach in Tel Aviv wear such skimpy speedos. (Okay, they haven't yet picked up the last topic, but should.)
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# Posted 4:50 AM by Patrick Belton  

FREELY OFFERED SLOGAN FOR BREAD MANUFACTURERS ASSOC: Why don't this morning, have bread instead? (Arrived at over the breakfast table; hey, you get what you pay for around here!)
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# Posted 1:59 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

GO READ EVERYTHING ON PHIL CARTER'S WEBSITE: I've said the exact same thing before, but it's still true.
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# Posted 1:36 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

BASS ACKWARDS: An American diplomat with experience in Somalia, Bosnia, Haiti, Kosovo and Afghanistan says that successful occupations rebuild local governments and local communities before focusing on large-scale, long-term projects like roads, bridges and power plants. However, the Pentagon's experience with military construction led it to focus on large-scale, long-term projects first. But the bottom line is security, and no one is sure how to acheive that in Iraq. (Hat tip: PC)
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Sunday, September 26, 2004

# Posted 10:52 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

ACCOUNTABILITY WATCH: I've fallen behind on my commitment to re-evaluate my posts from one year ago with the benefit of hindsight. In fact, it has been more than a month since my last "Accountability Watch" post.

In short, hindsight has not been kind to those of us who were optimistic about Iraq. On August 20th, 2003, I wrote that

The sensless destruction of UN headquarters in Baghdad demonstrates just how desperate the Ba'athist underground has become. For as long as the Ba'athist remnants held fast to their strategy of assassinating American soldiers, they could plausibly represent themselves as rebels against a foreign occupation.
Josh Marshall responded that

There is a notion being peddled by certain conservative columnists that the bombing of the UN mission in Baghdad is actually a sign that the bad guys are on the ropes. Now, that strikes me as a rather creative of interpretation of the event.
The intensification of the insurgency of the past twelve months demonstrates that the bad guys were most definitely not on the ropes. Nonetheless, I think my point about the insurgents' failure to acheive any sort of broad-based legitimacy still stands.

In the midst of pervasive and ever-more confident comparisons between Iraq and Vietnam, it is important not to forget that the Sunni insurgents have no vision for Iraq and no ideology to galvanize their supporters. In Vietnam, our opponents had both Communism and nationalism on their side.

To be sure, the divide between Ba'athists and Islamists among the insurgents is not as dramatic as I once portrayed it. Even so, the brand of fundamentalist Islam advocated by some of the insurgents is anathema to both the Shi'ite majority and the Kurdish minority in Iraq. In spite of its growing strength, the insurgency has no apparent hope of overcoming its ethnic and sectarian origins.

In addition to challenging my interpretation of the UN attack, Marshall also argued that my optimism (as well as Ralph Peters') was a product of dangerously ideological and unscientific thinking. In response to Josh's call to "put down some benchmarks" against which the optimists and pessimists can measure their success, I tried to define what I meant by the struggle for hearts and minds.

In a follow-up to the hearts and minds post, I reconsidered my prediction from June 2003 "that only that small minority who benefited from Saddam's rule seems interested in resisting the occupation." I concluded that
If resistance had spread outside the Baghdad triangle, I would gladly accept that this prediction was wrong. But it hasn't so I won't.
And now it has, so I will. The Sadrist rebellion demonstrated that there anti-occupation sentiment thrives among Shi'ites as well. Yet precisely because the Shi'ite leadership continues to support the American program of democratization, Sadr's rebellion failed. While it is hard to gauge what percentage of Shi'ites supported Sadr, my sense is that the overwhelming majority supported Sistani.

Shortly after the UN bombing, another attack took the life of moderate, pro-democratic Ayatollah Muhammad Bakr al-Hakim. At the time, I wrote that
The death of Ayatollah Hakim is a major setback for American efforts to cultivate and cooperate with a moderate Shi'ite leadership.
Given our surprising ability to get along with the enigmatic Ayatollah Sistani, it seems I was wrong to doubt the future of US-Shi'ite cooperation. Recognizing the benefits of democratization for the Shi'ite majority, Sistani has been even more insistent about holding elections than our own government has. You might say we won Sistani's mind without winning his heart. And that's good enough for me.

Turning to the home front, I declared in early September of last year that I was actually proud of George W. Bush for his commitment to promoting democracy in Iraq. Swimming against a cynical tide, I argued that Bush
Has now made it clear that the United States will ensure that the people of Iraq fulfill their democratic potential. This is a major commitment of presidential credibility. It is no different than a campaign promise. The President and advisers know that if he does not live up to his word, he will pay a heavy price.
So was I right or wrong? I think John Kerry & Co. would certainly say that Bush hasn't fulfilled his promise to rebuild and promote democracy in Iraq. I'm more inclined to say that Bush has been sincere but ineffective, at least in the short-term. What I was clearly right about was that Bush never intended to cut and run. Iraq gets bloodier and bloodier, but it's John Kerry who talks abour bringing the troops home.
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# Posted 9:12 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE VOTES THAT COUNT are the ones in the swing states. And no one puts more effort into tracking those votes than the guys at Real Clear Politics. RCP's state-poll survey from last Tuesday shows how much ground Kerry has lost even in those states that Gore won back in 2000.

If you want to translate state-by-state polls into an overall picture of the election, check out RCP's Electoral Vote Count, which is updated daily. Right now, Bush has 291 and Kerry 221 with 26 votes in the toss-up column.

Of course, RCP knows just as much about the emotional side of politics as it does about numbers. As Tom pointed out last Tuesday,
Even though mistakes have been made and a good number of Americans are uneasy about the War in Iraq and the direction of the country in general, when given a choice between a leader who is committed to fighting and optimistic about winning or a leader who exudes the attitude that because the going is tough we ought to get going, Americans almost always prefer the former.
Even though Kerry's position on Iraq is more nuanced than just "let's pull out", the image he projects is certainly not of someone who wants to fight and win.

If you think Iraq is a hopeless mess, then you are probably cursing the average American voter for being so damned optimistic. But that's a whole 'nother debate.
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# Posted 7:55 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

GROWING UP GAY IN AMERICA: OxBlog is second to none in its commitment to promoting and protecting gay rights. But I'd still rather have journalists report on the issue fairly rather than taking my side.

Dominating the front page of today's Washington Post is the first installment of a four-part series on growing up gay in America. The continuation of the story fills up two entire pages inside the front section.

The protagonist of today's installment is a young gay man in Oklahoma named Michael Shackleford. Like so many young gay men, Michael has had to endure ridicule, intimidation and vandalism. But those facts alone should speak for themselves, instead of being embedded in a narrative designed to portray Michael as a hero and those around him as mindless thugs.

Here's how the Post describes its four-part series:
In the courts and in popular culture, gays in America experienced an unprecedented push toward the mainstream over the past two years. But far beneath the surface, away from the spotlight of the historic advances and conservative backlash they detonated, are the ordinary lives of young people coming to terms with their homosexuality. [No permalink -- this quote is from a sidebar on Page A17]
Now, if the opposite of a "historic advance" is a "conservative backlash", then there is no question about which side the Post is taking in this debate.

In one of the early paragraphs of Michael's story, correspondent Anne Hull writes that
While the rest of the country is debating same-sex marriage, Michael's America is still dealing with the basics.
In other words, rural Oklahoma is full of ignorant hicks. Ignorant hicks who probably don't read the Washington Post. But even so, the cause of gay rights would benefit from even-handed coverage of such areas that takes the views of its residents seriously rather than dismissing them as backwards and irrelevant.

To the Post's credit, it invested considerable resources in telling Michael's story:

With the Shackelford family's permission, The Washington Post spent hundreds of hours following Michael over the past year as he came to terms with being gay, a journey that paralleled Oklahoma's fight against same-sex marriage.

The events and direct quotes in this story were witnessed by this reporter.

Reading the article, however, one gets the sense that the author spent hundreds in search of evidence that Michael is the victim of his neighbor's ignorance. And it seems that none of those hours were spent trying to understand why Michael's neighbors consider homosexuality to be anathema.

After observing that Michael's America is still "dealing with the basics", Hull observes that
There are no rainbow flags here. No openly gay teacher at the high school. There is just the wind knifing down the plains, and people praying over their lunches in the yellow booths at Subway. Michael loves this place, but can it still be home? What if the preachers and the country music songs are right?
In other words, the problem is Christianity (and possibly country music). Without question, there is a strong relationship between conservative Christian beliefs and antipathy toward homosexuals. Yet instead of helping us to understand this relationship, Hull seems determined to expose Christian ignorance:
The damnation mixed with the bluest skies, so beautiful and round. The greater Tulsa phone book has 13 pages of church listings; there are 133 churches alone that begin with the word "First." One Tulsa church that bills itself as a "hardcore, in-your-face ministry" constructs an elaborate haunted house each Halloween where live actors depict various sins. Last year's spook house featured a gay male pedophile...

One day in PE class, a good-looking preppy guy on the bleachers strips off his T-shirt in the hot gymnasium. Before Michael can catch himself, his eyes drift. Stop looking at me, the other boy tells Michael in a voice loud enough to humiliate. This is the turning point at school. His secret is out.

"He was wanting to kick my ass," Michael later recalls. "I told my dad about it. He said, 'I'd kick your ass, too, if you were looking at me.' " Officially, ass-kicking is not allowed on school grounds since Oklahoma adopted anti-bullying laws... [Whereas schoolyard violence was previously encouraged. --ed.]

It was a Sunday morning that Janice Shackelford will never forget. Michael had a friend staying over. Church was starting in an hour, so Janice knocked on her son's bedroom door. "Time to wake up, guys," Janice remembers calling. She tried the door, but it was locked. Next to the door were some blinds hanging over a glass panel. Janice peeked through and saw Michael and his friend on the floor, kissing.

She ran across the house to her bathroom. She thought she was going to vomit. She wanted to scream but could only sob, so uncontrollably that when she called Michael's father, he thought Michael had been killed in a car wreck. Somehow Janice still went to church that morning, where she broke down and told a friend that she'd discovered her son lying with another male.

For the next month, Janice barely slept. At work, she'd be shuffling papers at her desk and become choked with emotion. The vision of Michael on the floor haunted her. As the shock eased, she launched into action. She walked around Michael's room reading passages from the Bible, forcing Michael to listen. She researched Exodus International, the Christian organization that says it can "cure" homosexuals.
To Hull's credit, she does portray certain rare instances of Christian tolerance. After discovering that her son was gay, Janice Shackleford
Called her insurance company and requested the name of a Christian counselor. To her amazement, the Christian counselor didn't tell Michael that homosexuality was wrong. Janice found a second counselor. This one said that he couldn't be "pro or con" when it came to homosexuality. She felt as though the mental health industry was against her until someone gave her the book "Homosexuality and the Politics of Truth," which asserts that gay activists successfully pressured the American Psychiatric Association in 1973 to remove homosexuality as a mental illness from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual.

Suddenly, Janice realized why she'd hit so many roadblocks. "The gay movement had gone into the politics and changed everything," she says. "Now it's not even a disease or sickness."

No one seemed to understand that Michael's eternal life was at stake. Janice feared that Michael would go to hell and be apart from her in the afterlife. "I'm afraid I won't see him again," she says, her voice breaking.
This passage elegantly shows how intense homophobia can co-exist with unconditional love. Only by understanding this relationship better can we hope to overcome the tragedy and heartbreak that such homophobia generates.

I hope that the next three installments in the WaPo series demonstrate more of this sort of sensitivity towards the complex motives behind homophobia.
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# Posted 7:41 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

BRODER'S HEAD BURIED IN THE SAND: I thought I really liked where this column was heading:
We don't yet know who will win the 2004 election, but we know who has lost it. The American news media have been clobbered...

It is hard to overcome the sense that the professional practices and code of responsibility in journalism have suffered a body blow. After almost a half-century in this business, I certainly feel a sense of shame and embarrassment at our performance...

The common feature -- and the disturbing fact -- is that none of these
damaging failures would have occurred had senior journalists not been blind to the fact that the standards in their organizations were being fatally compromised.
And then somehow, Broder manages to blame the failure of his fellow journalists on the bloggers and the politicians:
As the path from the White House and political campaigns to the slots as TV anchor or interviewer or op-ed columnist or editor was trod by more and more people, the message to aspiring young journalists was clear. The way to the top of journalism was no longer to test yourself on police beats and city hall assignments, under the skeptical gaze of editors who demanded precision in writing and careful weighing of evidence. It was to make a reputation as a clever wordsmith, a feisty advocate, a belligerent or beguiling political personality, and then market yourself to the media...

When the Internet opened the door to scores of "journalists" who had no allegiance at all to the skeptical and self-disciplined ethic of professional news gathering, the bars were already down in many old-line media organizations. That is how it happened that old pros such as Dan Rather and former New York Times editor Howell Raines got caught up in this fevered atmosphere and let their standards slip.
Wow. Let me repeat that: Wow. Is Broder really saying that bloggers helped create the atmosphere in which "old pros" like Rather and Raines decided to compromise their standards? I could swear that it was the "skeptical" and perhaps even "self-disciplined" bloggers who helped expose Rather's incompetence/prejudice.

Memo to all (self-)important journalists: You can insult us all you want and tell us that we don't belong to your profession (perhaps because most of us don't get paid.) But your accusations will become more and more pathetic if we keep exposing your failures, instead of vice versa.
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# Posted 7:32 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

OSAMA WOULD VOTE FOR BUSH: Michael Kinsley must be running out of original ideas. Do we really need another anti-Bush pundit speculating without evidence that the war in Iraq was the best thing for Al Qaeda since sliced bread?

Kinsley is right about how ridiculous it is for (certain) Republicans to insist that Osama would vote for Kerry. And he comes close to being really right when quotes Dennis Hastert's comment about Osama's preferences that "I don't have data or intelligence to tell me one thing or another."

If you want to know who Osama would vote for, then ask yourself this: Who would Hitler vote for in the next Israeli election? Labor or Likud? A religious candidate or a secular one?

Answer: The question itself is ridiculous. The United States and Al Qaeda are going to continue their fight to the death regardless of who wins in November.
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# Posted 3:23 PM by Patrick Belton  

ACADEMIC, CHORISTER, SPY: Robin Burk remembers Beate Ruhm von Oppen, her former teacher.
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# Posted 6:17 AM by Patrick Belton  

BUT IF I GIVE YOU A BAR OF... CHOCOLATE WILL YOU BELIEVE IN GOD? The Church of England to offer a bar of chocolate to each person attending services.
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# Posted 2:32 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

UNCONDITIONAL LOVE: Pejman is such a hopeless romantic.
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# Posted 2:06 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SECOND TIME AS FARCE: Last month, Laura Rozen & Co. published a fascinating article about the efforts of Iran-Contra impresario Manucher Ghorbanifar to hijack U.S.-Iranian relations once again. What I find most amazing is that anyone at the Pentagon would trust a pathological liar (see here for details) who already came close to bringing down one Republican administration.
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# Posted 1:51 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE AFGHAN MEME: Suddenly, there is a spreading wave of optimism about a nation most of us had given up for lost. Leading the charge is Peter Bergen, whose liberal credentials force you to take his optimism seriously (although MY raises some concerns about the accuracy of his report). One also has to give credit to OxBlog's most excellent correspondent in Kabul, whose first-hand observations have garnered the attention of Andrew Sullivan, Glenn Reynolds, and the National Review.

My gut instinct is that this is all too good to be true. But that's all I have to go on. Just like everyone else, I've paid a lot more attention to Iraq than I have to Afghanistan. At first blush, the impending success of the Afghan presidential elections seems like a major victory for George W. Bush. But what does it say about this administration or about the United States that things are far better off in the country where we only have a handful of troops and have kept a much lower profile throughout the occupation?

With the benefit of hindsight, we'll probably realize that Afghanistan was simply much closer to being "ready" for democracy than Iraq. For some reason, the warlords and the heroin trafficking and the ethnic divisions didn't wreck the occupation. Even so, the prospect of success in Afghanistan only underlines how violent Iraq has become.

UPDATE: Brian Ulrich isn't so optimistic about the upcoming Afghan election.
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# Posted 1:46 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

BUT CAN HE WALK THE WALK? Iyad Allawi can definitely talk the talk. I just wish I could believe what he's saying. Then again, if I were Prime Minister of Iraq and I saw George Bush way ahead in the polls, I would also say exactly what he wants to hear.
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# Posted 1:40 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

DIVORCING THE SECURITY MOMS: Noam Scheiber explains how the mainstream media ignored the evidence and created a meme. You know, Scheiber really ought to show a little more respect for his professional colleagues. Otherwise, they may start suspecting that he is a blogger.
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# Posted 1:28 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

MEA CULPA (SORT OF): Jay Rosen takes a closer look at CBS's plans to investigate itself.
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# Posted 1:20 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THINK GLOBALLY, ACT LOCALLY: Apparently, that's Al Qaeda's new strategy. The LA Times also insists very forcefully that Muslim outrage at the invasion of Iraq has created a new generation of terrorists. That's a respectable hypothesis, but every time I hear it I want to know why the invasion of Iraq was so different from the invasion of Afghanistan.

If Muslims -- especially Arabs -- tend to believe that the Mossad and the CIA were responsible for September 11th, why was the invasion of Afghanistan any less provocative than the invasion of Iraq? Are Muslims and Arabs so committed to upholding international law that they will murder Turkish, Iraqi and Indonesian civilians in order to vent their outrage?

What I'm getting at, of course, is that American journalists project their own moral judgments onto the behavior Arab and Muslim terrorists. It is possible, of course, that Arabs and Muslims did perceive the invasion of Iraq as a uniquely offensive act. But if so, why? And what is the evidence?
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Saturday, September 25, 2004

# Posted 11:11 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

REAPING THE REWARDS OF MULTILATERALISM: David Brooks savages the United Nations (and especially the Security Council) for its apathetic, lackluster and selfish response to the massacres/genocide in Darfur.

According to Brooks, the irony here is that George Bush has played by all the rules of the multilateral game with regard to Sudan, but still can't get the UN do anything about the problem.

But there is another irony here as well. If lackluster intelligence hadn't led the United States to invade Iraq, it could now assemble a coalition of the willing to stop the genocide in Sudan (as it did in Kosovo), thus vindicating all of those unilateralists who insisted that the United Nations lacked the moral authority to stop the United States from invading Iraq.
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# Posted 7:09 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WHAT WENT WRONG IN IRAQ: Of all those following the occupation closely, I may have been the last to read Larry Diamond's thoughtful essay on Iraq in the current issue of Foreign Affairs.

FYI, Diamond is a full professor at Stanford and probably the world's foremost authority on democratization in the developing world. Diamond was also an adviser to the CPA who spent an extensive amount of time in Iraq. (Apparently, not all of the CPA's advisers were neo-conservative ideologues from AEI.)

I'm not familiar with Diamond's most recent work, but I read numerous publications of his (and even met the good professor in person) while working at the Carnegie Endowment almost five years ago. Diamond's most important work is probably Developing Democracy: Toward Consolidation. It is a comprehenisve survey of the literature on democratization, which (IMHO) puts slightly too much emphasis on the importance of economic factors.

The main argument of Diamond's essay in Foreign Affairs is twofold. First of all, we didn't put enough boots on the ground. Second of all, we didn't do enough to build up the interim government's legitimacy. Diamond writes that:

In truth, around 300,000 troops might have been enough to make Iraq largely secure after the war. But doing so would also have required different kinds of troops, with different rules of engagement. The coalition should have deployed vastly more military police and other troops trained for urban patrols, crowd control, civil reconstruction, and peace maintenance and enforcement. Tens of thousands of soldiers with sophisticated monitoring equipment should have been
posted along the borders with Syria and Iran to intercept the flows of foreign terrorists, Iranian intelligence agents, money, and weapons.

But Washington failed to take such steps, for the same reasons it
decided to occupy Iraq with a relatively light force: hubris and ideology. Contemptuous of the State Department's regional experts who were seen as too "soft" to remake Iraq, a small group of Pentagon officials ignored the elaborate postwar planning the State Department had overseen through its "Future of Iraq" project, which had anticipated many of the problems that emerged after the invasion. Instead of preparing for the worst, Pentagon planners assumed that
Iraqis would joyously welcome U.S. and international troops as liberators.
There is no question in my mind that we needed to go in with a lot more troops. I'm just not sure that "hubris and ideology" are the reasons we didn't. With the army struggling to maintain the current force level of approximately 150,000, one has to wonder whether we even have another 150,000 troops.

It is also important to remember that in March of 2003, there was a major conflict within the Pentagon about the size of the invasion force necessary to overwhelm Iraq. If Rumsfeld admitted that Shinseki was right about the need for an occupation force of 300,000, then Rumsfeld would've had to abandon his ambitious plan to demonstrate that a lighter, faster invasion force could win the race to Baghdad.

With regard to the CPA's strategy for restoring security, Diamond writes that:

The occupation compounded its original errors of analysis with two
strategic miscalculations. First, it launched a de-Baathification campaign that was much too broad, excluding from any meaningful role in the future state anyone who had held any kind of high-level position in the party, regardless of whether they were directly involved in serious crimes. And the most aggressive and politically ambitious advocate of radical de-Baathification, the controversial Ahmed Chalabi, was put in charge of the program.

The second mistake was made in May 2003, when, as one of his first official acts, Bremer ordered the dissolution of the Iraqi army. The army had already collapsed and scattered at the end of the invasion, and intensive vetting of its officer corps would have been necessary before it could have served any positive function in the new Iraqi state. Still, by formally dissolving it, the CPA lost the opportunity to reconstitute some portions of it to help restore order, and it left tens of thousands of armed soldiers and officers cut out of the new order and prime candidates for recruitment by the insurgency.
Emphasizing Bremer's premature decision to dissolve the Iraqi army is one of the most common criticisms of the CPA. But how much difference is there between "reconstitut[ing] some portions" of the old Iraqi army and inviting old soldiers to join the new, de-Ba'athified Iraqi armed forces?

On the related issue of de-Ba'athfication, does the available intelligence indicate that a significant number of "good" ex-Ba'athtists chose to join the insurgency because of Bremer's decision to take a hardline? Or are the Ba'athist elements within the insurgency just Saddam loyalists who never would have been acceptable to the CPA?

As for Chalabi, there are no excuses to make on the Pentagon's behalf. Yet when comes to explaining the current surge of violence in Iraq, focusing on Chalabi isn't all that useful. His advocates at the Pentagon gave up on him months and months ago.

On the issue of legitimacy, Diamond observes that
Washington should have done two things to fill [the legitimacy] gap: increased international participation in the political administration of the country (although this would have been difficult given international opposition to the war), and put legitimate Iraqi leaders in visible, meaningful governance roles as soon as possible.

The most straightforward way to do this would have been to hold
elections.
Yet:
The experience of other postwar transitions, however, counseled strongly against a rapid move to national elections. With no electoral register, no administrative framework to organize balloting, no electoral rules, and no time or space for new political parties to emerge and mobilize, early national elections (any time within the first year of occupation) could well have precipitated a disastrous slide toward violence and polarization-even civil war. And they would likely have been swept in the south by Islamist parties, which
enjoyed the huge initial advantage of having pre-existing organizations built up either underground or in exile in Iran.
In other words, Bremer and Bush correctly chose the lesser of two evils. Besides, is there any reason to believe that either the Sadrite or Sunni insurgency has gained momentum because the United States waited too long to hold elections? If anything, the insurgents' strength reflects numerous Iraqis' fear of a democratic order. Whereas the Sunnis fear the emergence of a Shi'ite majority, the Sadrists fear that democracy is incompatible with fundamentalist Islam.

The rest of Diamond's essay focuses on the conflicts of interest that prevented both the Interim Governing Council (IGC) and (after June 28, 2003) Iyad Allawi's "sovereign" government from achieving greater legitimacy in the eyes of the Iraqi public. However, the relationship between this lack of legitimacy and the growing strength of the insurgents seems tangential at best.

Mostly, Diamond's account focuses on the objections that the Shi'ite majority and the Kurdish minority have had to the IGC and its successor. Diamond also describes the lackluster public relations campaign that enabled the critics of Allawi's government to damage its popularity. But the Kurds and the Shi'ites are not the problem in Iraq. And I suspect that even the most effective public relations campaign could not have won over the Sunni insurgents.

The questions I want answered are economic and military. First of all, to what degree has the economic chaos in Iraq reinforced popular support for the Sunni insurgents? Alternatively, is the insurgents' success a purely military phenomenon? With a secure base of operations in Fallujah and other cities west of Baghdad, the insurgents may now be able to plan far more elaborate and ambitious operations.

It is with these questions in mind that I will turn to Anthony Cordesman's 108 page report on reconstruction.
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# Posted 4:16 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

CLIMBING BACK IN THE SADDLE: I haven't written much about Iraq in a while, which is unfortunate given that it is far and away the most urgent challenge facing the United States as well as the most important issue in this election other than 'character'.

To be sure, my unending such for a reliable used car has gotten in the way. But I also think that I have been avoiding the issue because the news coming out Iraq is so bad and because I have invested so much of credibility in a more positive outcome. On a related note, I've fallen an entire month behind on my "Accountability Watch" posts, probably because they will compel me to go back over all of my optimistic posts about Iraq from last fall.

For the moment, I guess what I'll do is just post a couple of the pessimist/realist arguments that have been getting me down, so I'll have a starting point for my own further research. Kevin Drum asks:
Is George Bush in "fantasyland" regarding Iraq, as John Kerry says? I
realize that's the fashionable position among lefty partisans, but it's honestly hard to come to any other conclusion these days...

So now we're on Plan D, a feebly disguised version of Plan C: the elections will proceed as scheduled and that will fix everything. It's unlikely that anyone below the level of cabinet secretary actually believes this, but it's impossible to say so because there's an election coming up. An American election, that is.

That election, and the political considerations that go along with it, have been driving our military strategy for the past two years. Before the war, we passed up a chance to take out terrorist mastermind Abu Musab Zarqawi — for political reasons. We invaded with too few troops — for political reasons. We lowballed the cost of the war — for political reasons. We ignored the UN and then turned around and pleaded for their help — for political reasons. Then we installed Iyad Allawi as president behind the UN's back — for political reasons.

And just recently we've learned that the Marines were yo-yoed
in and out of Fallujah
— for political reasons. The president has bizarrely dismissed his own intelligence agencies' analysis of Iraq as "guessing" — for political reasons. He's ignored the advice of his own generals about troop requirements for the upcoming elections — for political reasons. And assaults on Baathist enclaves have been postponed until December — for fairly obvious political reasons.
Responding to one of my recent posts, Matt Yglesias writes that:
What David's missing is that a democratic outcome for Iraq in the medium term is off the table. The question is how long will US forces continue to be engaged on Iyad Allawi's side in the Iraqi Civil War not whether or not we'll stay the course until we generate a democracy.

Soon after the January 20 Inauguration Day we're going to have some
fraudulent elections in Iraq which will return a National Assembly composed of roughly the same elements as the present Interim Government -- i.e., Baathists who became dissilusioned with Saddam before the war, a couple of varieties of Shiite fundamentalist, the Kurdish parties, and a smattering of Communists. These folks will face, throughout 2005, the following dilemma. The longer US
forces remain in Iraq the more dissilusioned the Iraqi populace will grow with their regime and the more support the armed opposition (i.e., the Sadr Movement and whatever we care to call the Sunni insurgency) will gain as the authentic voice of (Arab) Iraqi nationalism. On the other hand, the sooner US forces leave, the sooner the government (along with the militias of pro-government parties) will need to stand on their own against the armed opposition.
For the moment, I'm so behind on the issue that I really don't have much to say in response. The best I can do is cite a recent Fareed Zakaria column on the subject, a column that is more optimistic than one might expect from someone who writes books about democracy promotion is bound to fail. Here's Zakaria:
But for all its resilience, the insurgency has not spread across the
country, nor is it likely to. Its appeal has clear limits. While it has
drawn some support from all Iraqis because of its anti-American character, the insurgency is essentially a Sunni movement, fueled by the anger of Iraq's once-dominant community, which now fears the future. It is not supported by the Shiites or the Kurds. (The Shiite radical Sadr has been careful not to align himself too closely with the insurgency, for fear of losing support among the Shiites.) This is what still makes me believe that Iraq is not Vietnam. There, the Viet Cong and their northern sponsors both appealed to a broad nationalism
that much of the country shared.

Hence the temptations of a "Shiite strategy." Such an approach
would view the Sunni areas in Iraq as hopeless until an Iraqi army could go in and establish control. It would ensure that the Shiite community, as well as the Kurds, remained supportive of Allawi's government and of the upcoming elections. It would attempt to hold elections everywhere -- but if they could not be held in the Sunni areas, elections would go forward anyway. That would isolate the
Sunni problem and leave it to be dealt with when forces become
available...

In Iraq the one truly pleasant surprise so far is that there has been
little religious and ethnic bloodshed. Many of the experts who counseled against an invasion predicted that after Hussein's fall, the Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds would tear each other apart. Nothing like this has happened. The problems -- of resistance, nationalism and anti-Americanism -- have been quite different. But the balance is fragile. If the United States and the Iraqi government played a
sectarian strategy, things could unravel.

Zakaria's column sums up the basic logic on which my optimism has always rested: that the American plan for holding elections advanced the most fundamental interest of Iraq's Shi'ite majoirty. That is why Ayatollah Sistani favors elections and why he and other influential Shi'ites have helped the United States confront Moktada Sadr. If Iraq turns out to have even a semblance of democracy 18 months from now, it will be because the interests of the United States and the Shi'ite majority have overlapped throughout the occupation.

The most important unanswered questions now are whether credible elections can be held with minimal or no Sunni participation and whether the Allawi government can expected to run the process fairly. I guess all we can do for the moment is hope.
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# Posted 9:17 AM by Patrick Belton  

KOL NIDRE WATCH: The haunting melody has echoes in the Catholic plainsong; both are thought to derive from the eleventh century and the singing school at St Gall, with the affecting sighing introductory falling and rising affixed by some unknown southern German hazzan in the mediaeval period. Read more here.
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# Posted 5:31 AM by Patrick Belton  

ON A SOMEWHAT LESS elevated plane, Sebastian Horsley manages to begin an essay in the Observer with the sentence, 'I remember the first time I had sex - I still have the receipt.' (It's downhill rather quickly from there.)
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# Posted 5:29 AM by Patrick Belton  

OAKESHOTT VERSUS BERLIN: Noel Malcolm compares them side by side.
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# Posted 5:15 AM by Patrick Belton  

POLITICAL SCIENCE MERCIFULLY NOT THE ONLY BUNK SCIENCE WATCH: Howard Garb, one of the coauthors of "What's Wrong with the Rorschach?" and the head of psychological testing for the United States Air Force, argues that in over 30 Rorschach studies, the famed inkblot tests have a marked tendency to label healthy people as seriously mentally ill. In one 2000 study, for example, 100 mentally sound schoolchildren were given the Rorschach and the majority received scores indicating they were borderline psychotic.
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Friday, September 24, 2004

# Posted 1:44 PM by Patrick Belton  

IT'S ALMOST SUNDOWN HERE, so to all of our Jewish friends, we wish a very gentle fast.
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# Posted 1:28 PM by Patrick Belton  

FOOTNOTE IN HISTORY: This week, incidentally, is the anniversary of the death of Göran Kropp of Sweden, who bicycled to Mount Everest from his home in Sweden, summitted the mountain without the aid of oxygen tanks or assistance, and then cycled back to Sweden with his gear. He was, the history books record, the first person to do so.
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# Posted 6:52 AM by Patrick Belton  

THIS GUY flew around the world in a single-engine Cessna turboprop. It sounds like fun.
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# Posted 3:54 AM by Patrick Belton  

THE ALL-IMPORTANT ELECTIONS: In Afghanistan, not the United States. Our swashbuckling Afghan correspondent delves into admirable detail:
A quick update on the imminent elections – the October ones, not the November ones. The last few months have been a thrilling and astonishing time for Afghanistan. A Karzai victory remains the most likely outcome on October 9, but the implications of that victory look rather different now than they did at the beginning of the year.

First: the clear losers of this election are the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and rebels against the Kabul government. With just over two weeks remaining before the Afghan presidential elections, the malcontents have already lost. For months, they have threatened to create a generalized atmosphere of fear in which no one would dare go to the polls. It is safe to say that they have failed. They failed to prevent mass voter registration; the murders of many brave election workers did not deter millions of Afghans from registering for the vote (some more than once, but that’s another story). The handful of explosions and attacks that the Afghan insurgents have managed in the last few weeks are pitiful in comparison to (say) the daily uproar in Iraq. And they have run out of time. Whatever atrocities they manage to commit in the coming days, it is hard to imagine anything dramatic enough to deter more than a handful of likely voters. Another bomb or two before October 9 is not going to do the trick. The insurgents simply cannot affect enough of the country to manage widespread voter intimidation.

By contrast, President Hamid Karzai has been breathtakingly aggressive and effective over the last two months. On July 7, I wrote that the most powerful man in the Kabul government was widely perceived to be Defense Minister Fahim, the chief Panjshiri Tajik warlord. I argued that the central government was stronger than it was given credit for – that it had in fact been expanding its power in the face of various regional warlords – but that its achievements strengthened Marshal Fahim and the Panjshiris, not Karzai and his technocrats.

How much can change in a few weeks. On July 26, at the last minute before declaring his candidacy, Karzai dramatically broke with Fahim and dropped him from his Vice Presidential slot. He replaced Fahim with Ahmad Zia Massoud, ambassador to Russia and brother of the late Panjshiri hero Ahmad Shah Massoud – probably the only Tajik who for sheer symbolic value comes close to matching Fahim as an electoral asset. (It also helps that Massoud is reportedly backed by former President Rabbani, who retains a considerable political base among northeastern Tajiks). Kabul braced for a confrontation, as troops supportive of Fahim gathered in the streets of the capital. But NATO, forewarned by Karzai, also had tanks in the streets to deter the Defense Minister’s loyalists from any rash action. Fahim merely stated that he was disappointed and would support his Northern Alliance comrade, Education Minister Yunus Qanuni, in his hastily-declared candidacy for President.

The message of the demotion was clear: Karzai intends to run a government that is not beholden to any of the major warlords. (Or rather, a government beholden to Zalmay Khalilzad, American ambassador and arguably the country’s foremost warlord). Karzai then proceeded to directly challenge the most recalcitrant and independent regional governor, Ismael Khan of the western province of Herat. Here again, he replaced a hero of the jihad with a civilian former ambassador (Khairkawa, former envoy to Iran and Ukraine). And so far, this move also appears to be successful.

If you’d asked me back in July which warlord Karzai should take by the horns, I certainly wouldn’t have recommended Ismael Khan. Khan has kept the Kabul government at arm’s length since the fall of the Taliban, building an autonomous western fief with Iranian support. He only reluctantly yielded to Karzai a share of the customs income from Afghanistan’s border posts with Iran and Turkmenistan. He’s prickly, has a loyal following in Herat, and was one of the warlords least receptive to the disarmament process. Of all the regional commanders, I would have judged Ismael Khan one of the most likely to resist his demotion by all means, up to and including armed force.

However, he was genuinely weakened by a bout of fighting in Herat province in August. He was attacked by a rival warlord, Amanullah, who rallied the ethnic Pashtuns of southern Herat and marched on the provincial capital. In the past, Amanullah has demanded that a Pashtun-majority province be carved out of Herat; his assault on Ismael Khan reportedly had the support of at least one or two Pashtun ministers in Kabul, along with the governor of neighboring Ghor province. Karzai and the Americans condemned the attack, negotiated a truce, and flew in a couple of Afghan National Army battalions to keep the peace.

At this point, Karzai determined to remove both battling warlords from the picture. Amanullah was whisked off to Kabul and quietly placed under house arrest. And on September 11, Karzai “promoted” Ismael Khan to lead the national Ministry of Mines and Industry – a mild insult to a man who had previously been offered a Vice Presidency and the Interior Ministry. Ismael Khan accepted his replacement as governor of Herat, but declined the ministerial position, stating that he was not qualified and preferred to stay in his home city to serve the people.

As news of his dismissal spread, riots ensued and several NGO offices in Herat were burned down. I heard a harrowing story from an expat who worked at the UN office in Herat; he spent September 12 in hiding, moving from cellar to cellar one step ahead of the mob, and finally escaped with only his passport, digital camera, and the clothes on his back. Yet though the riots were terrifying at first hand, they did not amount to any sort of armed rebellion against the new governor. Peace was quickly restored, and has been holding up for the last couple weeks. Governor Khairkawa has stated that genuine disarmament of all militias in the province will be his top priority (for his own good, it had better be). Ismael Khan has suggested that after the election, he might accept a Kabul ministerial post if offered one for which he is qualified. It seems entirely possible that Karzai will succeed in moving one of the toughest warlords into retirement.

And so we come to the election. Some chaos and ballot-rigging can be expected from local commanders (both loyal to and opposed to Karzai), and there are probably more voter registration cards than voters floating around out there, but hopefully not enough to invalidate the overall result. First votes are always sloppy, especially in post-conflict areas, but the practice of democracy has to begin somewhere. As for the likely outcome, Charney Research carried out a remarkable Afghan national poll this spring which should be required reading for amateur Afghanistan psephologists. Methodologically, it’s as solid as one could hope for (their sample was actually gender-representative, 50-50). It suggests that Hamid Karzai is popular throughout the country, not just in Pashtun-majority areas. Outside the south and Herat, he’s extraordinarily well-liked. The jihadi leaders (warlords) are far less popular – only in Panjshir, where they benefit from the aura of the martyred Massoud, are they at all well-regarded. Afghans plan to vote in great numbers, and expect the vote to make a difference. The majority of women expect to vote, and are even more favorably inclined toward Karzai than are the men. Nothing is certain, but a Karzai victory (always likely) is by far the most probable outcome next month.

What then? Though I can’t help cheering the extraordinary daring, speed, and skill with which Karzai has taken on the warlords over the last few months, I’m still concerned by the Kabul government’s drive to centralize power. Back in July I wrote that removing Fahim as Defense Minister and expanding the disarmament program “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.” Much will depend on what alternatives the victorious Karzai ends up offering warlords like Fahim and Ismael Khan. These men could still render their regions of the country ungovernable if they do not consider cooperation with Kabul worthwhile. And if more of the regional warlords began to resist the government, we would quickly feel the inadequacy of the troop numbers which America and its allies have thus far committed to Afghanistan.

But the political skill demonstrated by Karzai since July, and the popularity he clearly possesses, are reason for optimism. Afghans themselves are optimistic. The country has passed its major political challenges reasonably well since the fall of the Taliban in 2001 – forming a transitional cabinet, drafting and approving a constitution, maintaining a steady civilian government in Kabul. The next milestone, Afghanistan’s first free presidential election in over a decade, also looks to be a qualified success. For now, that’s quite an achievement.


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