OxBlog

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

# Posted 10:22 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

CAPT. CARTER IS STILL BLOGGING: Wrongly, I assumed that Phil wouldn't have any time to post now that he's back in the service. So you should definitely check out his long post on the Padilla case as well as his reflections on Veterans Day.

Phil's most recent post is an impassioned polemic against just-short-of-torture interrogation tactics. I agree with Phil's conclusion, but am not fully satisfied with his logic. In response to one law professor's ticking-time bomb scenario, Phil says:
Let's stipulate for the sake of argument that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi has valuable intel locked in his head. And, let's also stipulate that the intel he has can save lives. As the leader of an insurgent cell (network?), I think this is a reasonable stipulation. So there's a reasonable argument to be made that we should interrogate him (using a variety of means) to learn what he knows, in order to support the war against terrorism.

However, the math should not stop there. Let me propose a simple equation: Zarqawi's intelligence value is roughly proportional to his PR value. He is a celebrity of sorts on the Arab street; a notorious figure whose name is known to millions. It is safe to assume that anything done to him will eventually become public. Any coercive or abusive treatment of him will simply enhance his stature as a martyr (which he would effectively be once captured), and play into his organization's propaganda. On balance, I think the costs of torturing Zarqawi (creating 1,001 additional Zarqawis) far outweigh the benefits of harvesting the intel he possesses.
I'm not sure that it makes sense to talk about an equation with intelligence value on one side and PR value on the other. If interrogators had good reason to believe that they could save the lives of American civilians by turning up the pressure on Zarqawi, it would be very hard to argue that those civilians' right to life is outweighed by the speculative PR value of leaving Zarqawi alone. That is the essence of the ticking time bomb scenario.

This brings us to the point of whether almost-torturing Zarqawi would amount to "creating 1,001 additional Zarqawis". Wouldn't that cost the lives of more Americans in the long run? I don't know. It is plausible to suggest that there is a relationship between prisoner abuse and terrorist recuritment.

Yet assertions about the behavior of terrorists recruits are always quite speculative. After all, September 11th happened long before the mistreatment of any prisoners in Afghanistan or Iraq.

Where a good argument against torture should begin is with how we treat the vast majority of terrorist prisoners who don't have information about imminent attacks. We shouldn't subject them to abuse because it is simply wrong and because it undermines our credibility as advocates of democracy and human rights.

None of the torture or almost-torture scandals we're concerned with today have to do with ticking time bombs. The real issue is the administration's commitment to writing loopholes into the law instead of leading the charge against prisoner abuse.

As Kevin points out, if there ever really were a ticking time bomb scenario, torture would be inevitable and almost no one would feel very bad about it. But that's not the issue.
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# Posted 10:13 PM by Patrick Porter  

THREE OF MY FAVOURITE THINGS: Of all the bold manoeuvres of national defence, this is by far and away my all time, desert island, cheer-me-up favourite:

In April 1979, Mossad agents broke into a French warehouse near Toulon and blew up the uranium-fuel casings stored there for early shipment to Basra.

My favourite anti-tribute to a dead statesman, Australian larrikin writer John Birmingham’s memorial to Joh Bjelke Petersen, the late Premier of Queensland (an Australian state). True, it possibly lacks class to claim that the corpse of your dead enemy should be preyed upon by hungry dingoes (but my God, how I laughed). On the other hand, Birmingham’s poison-spitting memoir reminds us that when major figures in public life die, doesn’t mean we have to pretend that we admired them or their legacy.

My favourite comeback line: I can't quote it exactly, but its from Graham Greene. It goes something like this.
Critic: For someone who claims to be a Christian, you're a pretty bad person.
Greene: Well, imagine what I'd be like if I wasn't one.

until tomorrow,

Corpulent

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# Posted 6:34 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

GIVE ME YOUR TIRED, YOUR POOR, YOUR HUDDLED MASSES...OH, F*** IT: From the WaPo:
Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy told Parliament on Tuesday that France did not want "those people that nobody else in the world wants." He added, "We want selective immigration."
American immigration laws are far from perfect, but I won't hesitate to say that what continues to make our nation great is precisely the fact that we have welcomed so many millions of the unwanted and given them the right to become full-fledged Americans.
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# Posted 6:18 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

JUST SLIGHTLY IRONIC: The WaPo reports that the four Westerners taken hostage together in Iraq are peace activists affiliated with Christian Peacemaker Teams, based in Chicago. Naturally, the organization blamed the US and the UK for the kidnappings:
"We are angry because what has happened to our teammates is the result of the actions of the U.S. and U.K. government due to the illegal attack on Iraq and the continuing occupation and oppression of its people," [its] statement said.
I very much hope that these four activists return safely home, because they mean well in their misguided way. But I do have to ask, if their captors murder them, as they have a good number of other civilian prisoners, would that also be Bush and Blair's fault? Or at some point do these activists acknowledge that terrorists are actually responsible for their actions?
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# Posted 4:47 PM by Patrick Belton  

LAND OF HOPE AND GLORY WATCH: The British Olympians get their kit off for charity. Only the ladies, mind you. Which is all right - I'm sure he's a lovely bloke, but I've already seen enough of Stephen Parry. Ordinarily, you need to walk down the kebab van at midnight to see this much British flesh!
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# Posted 1:58 PM by Patrick Belton  

WE HAVE A LOVELY CORPULENT AUSTRALIAN blogging with us this week! Red Mist, warm welcomes aboard OxBlog, mate.
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# Posted 1:36 PM by Patrick Porter  

MY FIFTEEN MINUTES:

Hi everybody,

David and Patrick have been very nice and asked me to guest blog here for the next week.

I can't offer David's forensic critiques of editorials, or his eloquent idealism. I can't offer Patrick's panoptic knowledge of everything, his fine internationalism or his eccentric titbits. I can only offer corpulence and regular flashes of anger.

It would be opportunistic to advertise my own blogsite. Very opportunistic. So I better get started. I'll be at Christopher Hitchen's forthcoming debate with Scott Ritter on 20 December in the Big Apple, so tune in to the Red Mist for immediate reactions.

Enjoy,

Corpulent
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# Posted 1:17 PM by Patrick Porter  

I DON'T LIKE TERRORISM BUT... A few weeks ago, there was a coordinated attack on several hotels in Amman, killing 56 people including a wedding party of Palestinians and several children. It was condemned even by the extended clan of Zarqawi, head of the Bin Ladenist franchise in Iraq. Here is the response of a Respect Party candidate, Yvonne Ridley. The good folk over at Harry’s Place have already denounced it. But the Red Mist is rising. Here she begins:

While the killing of innocent people is to be condemned without question,

Always a tell-tale sign. Throat-clearing, ‘I can’t justify terrorism, but…’ But one can try:

there is something rather repugnant about some of those who rush to renounce acts of terrorism.

Would you prefer us to renounce terrorism at a more leisurely pace?
There are things even more repugnant, like efforts to water down terrorist acts.

The extended family of al-Zarqawi, whose real name is Ahmed Fadheel Nazzal al-Khalayleh, not content with condemning his actions then went one step further - they reiterated their strong allegiance to Jordan's King Abdullah II in half-page advertisements in the kingdom's three main newspapers.

They never!

I'm not sure of their sudden urge to swear an oath of allegiance to the monarch was prompted by the fact al-Zarqawi had threatened to kill the king in an audiotape released two days earlier.

There’s just something about death threats that makes other people dissociate themselves with the aggressor.

"A Jordian doesn’t stab himself with his own spear’ said the statement by 57 members of the al-Khalayleh family, including al-Zarqawi's brother and cousin. "We sever links with him until doomsday." I doubt the statement will be regarded as a serious blow to al-Zarqawi. I know he loves his mum - let's face it, we all love our mothers but who could really give a flying fig about some great, great aunt or ancient uncle once removed from a half cousin's wife's mother?

We’ve really reached new heights of discussion here. Zarqawi loves his mum.

I mean he is hardly likely to bump into his cousins in downtown Fallujah or Ramadi to repel the foreign invaders and occupiers (that's the Americans and Brits to you and me).

'Foreign invaders.' Zaqarwi is from Jordan. Where’s that in Iraq?

The newspaper adverts droned on: "As we pledge to maintain homage to your throne and to our precious Jordan ... we denounce in the clearest terms all the terrorist actions claimed by the so-called Ahmed Fadheel Nazzal al-Khalayleh, who calls himself Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. We announce, and all the people are our witnesses, that we - the sons of the al-Khalayleh tribe - are innocent of him and all that emanates from him, whether action, assertion or decision."

Look, every family has its black sheep or that mad little aunt in the attic, but most of us just keep our own counsel.

There we have it. If a member of your family murders civilians, keep quiet.

Comparing the head of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia to an embarassing 'mad little aunt in the attic' trivialises Zarqawi's crimes. But it gets worse.

However, this decision by al-Zarqawi's clan is a cowardly move.

Poor Zarqawi. You thought the kids in the hotel had it tough.

Several days before the adverts appeared, dozens of men from the al-Khalayleh tribe held a rally to denounce al-Zarqawi. "If my son was a terrorist, I wouldn't hesitate to kill him," said distant relative Mousa al-Khalayleh during Friday's rally, claiming he spoke on behalf of the tribe. "This is the slogan raised by the tribe as of this moment." Hmm, I wonder if Mousa would be that vocal if he was sitting in the company of al-Zarqawi.

Probably not if his head had been cut off.

And how are the Jordanian royals reacting to this attack and threat? Well I suspect they are the real family which is quaking with fear and were so intimidated that they felt bound to 'ask' al-Zaqarwi's family to renounce his actions.

No, you might find that the victims’ families feel even more strongly.

After the hotel explosions we had Queen Noor of Jordan, looking more like a Bollywood actress than a queen, delivering a little lecture on Islam to the effect that she and the Jordanian monarchy love Islam while the "terrorists" hate Islam.

Ladies and Gentleman, welcome to the weakest technique in the book, putting talking marks around words. “Not” “actually” “an” “argument.”

What Queen Noor failed to explain on her CNN broadcast was that the three hotels, Hyatt, Days Inn and Radisson, are all US-owned and are seen as dens of iniquity by Jordan's reserved Muslim community.

This line of argument doesn't square that well with her first sentence, ‘The killing of innocent people is to be condemned without question.’

Now Yvonne insinuates that the dead civilians had it coming because they used the wrong building. From condemnation to justification in a handful of paragraphs.

Western TV viewers were also treated to images of "demonstrators" in Amman, waving Jordanian flags, condemning the assailants and telling Zarqawi to "burn in hell." What I can now tell you is that according to my man in the local Amman souk these demonstrators were Jordanian troops out of uniform as well as government lackeys. Their numbers were swollen with Christian and Muslim bedouins, all funded by the government ... no doubt courtesy of the boys from Virginia (CIA).

Sure. All tens of thousands of them pesky CIA lackeys. Not to mention the Jordanians in opinion polls who have expressed their revulsion from Zaqarwi’s methods in overhwelming numbers. Not to mention the 150,000 Moroccans who demonstrated against Al Qaeda in Casablanca. Not to mention the rising number of Moslem clerics denouncing terror.

Few Jordanians would be seen dead carrying those tiny little flags which had been mass produced in a nearby factory only hours earlier.

Hold on a little while, and you might see some of them dead.

How dare people use flags that are made in factories. Make your own flags. After all, death squads make their own bombs.

Of course the Jordanian media - not the sharpest tools in the box - failed to ask any of the relevant questions.

The dumb journalists must envy your razor sharp critical faculties.

I would want to know, for instance who paid for the half page adverts taken out in the country's top three newspapers? I would want to know who PAID for the 'spontaneous' demonstrations? Why did the security services - naturally a wee bit edgy after the bombings - allow such a demonstration to take place? King Abdullah's name would be near each answer, I reckon. Naturally jumpy, I bet he panicked and, realising that he's no longer immortal, tried to put on a show to the world that he's really loved and adored by his people.

Mmm. Or maybe the masses of Jordanians who protested don’t like wedding parties getting blown up.

So for two days we were treated to a motley crew of around 1000 marching and protesting up and down the streets. I'm sorry Abdullah, I wasn't convinced.

Actually, it was a motley crew of at least tens of thousands, or a hundred thousand by some accounts. But whose counting.

That isn't to say I wasn't upset by the images which came blasting out of my TV. I mean we can not simply shrug our shoulders at the deaths of 61 people.

Well you can apparently. And I get the feeling you’re about to provide cretinous excuses.

But let's have a closer look at those who perished:

Yes lets. Lets look more closely at the bodies of the little girls in the hotel. Or the bride. Or the mothers. Lets take a closer look at their dismembered corpses.

* Five of those who died were Iraqis who were working closely with America? in other words, collaborators. One Saudi, Indonesian and three Chinese intelligence officers were also wiped out. Shame, but those who live by the sword .....?

Those who live by the sword deserve to get killed, you mean soldiers like Casey Sheehan whose grieving mothers your Party claims to represent?

And who are these collaborators? Those Iraqis who are helping to rebuild civil society, mend power lines and bring back the water supply. What bastards. What about the 13 million that voted for the new constitution, are they collaborators too?

And then there was the wedding party. OK, so the guests were part of Jordan's upper echelons of society, others had flown in from America and were known for their close ties to the monarchy. But that still doesn't mean they should be punished for their status in life.

Actually, no civilian should be blown up in a hotel. Regardless of their politics.

Interesting though, that the bombers chose the bars serving alcohol for their martyrdom operations in two of the hotels. Now while we know alcohol is strictly haram, it's an Islamic ruling which the King of Jordan chooses to openly ignore, and in a Muslim country.

Not ‘interesting.’ Tragic. Killing people for drinking alcohol.

Yvonne offers us a dangerous moral universe out there. Don’t book in at the wrong hotel, don’t work for foreign intelligence, don’t booze.

King Abdullah is...protected by his CIA bosses and looked after by Mossad. Daddy Hussain, was also a CIA stooge who was even prepared to openly support Israel at a time when the secular Arab regimes were supposedly united against Israel. Abdullah's grandfather too betrayed the Palestinians which also explains why he was killed by a Palestinian.

Blow up people at a Palestinian wedding then.

Like his son, he couldn't care less what his own people think. Despite their overwhelming opposition to the illegal war in Iraq, the wishes of the Jordanian people were ignored - so much for democracy in the Middle East.

For Zarqarwi’s sympathisers, appeals to legality might not be your strongest ground.

Neither are appeals to ‘Overwhelming opposition.’ Like the public demonstrations against terrorist atrocities all over the Middle East, which you fantasise are just CIA muppets.

In fact, to be brutally frank, Jordan provides backing, support and intelligence to the American military which is carrying out genocide in neighbouring Iraq. Thousands of residents have been wiped out in the cities of Tal Afar, Qaim, Karabila, Haditha and Husayba, as they had done earlier with Falluja. Masjids, schools and hospitals have been trashed, but not one peep of criticism comes out of Jordan or its mealy-mouthed media.

You might find that the death squads in Iraq have had a major role in these killings. They tend to make a point of killing people and destroying infrastructure.

As I said earlier in this column, it is very hard to justify the deaths of innocents.

Maybe, but you tried valiantly.

But you know, I wonder if you see that attack on the Jordanian hotels in a different light now?

No. I still think it was abhorrent. Even after your pitiless, hypocritical propaganda.

My other posts will be shorter.

Corpulent

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# Posted 1:02 PM by Patrick Belton  

IRAQ ELECTIONS - WHAT TO EXPECT: Oxford Analytica has a piece setting the stage.
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# Posted 12:04 PM by Patrick Belton  

AND WHO SAYS CANADA'S BORING? WATCH: Michael Stickings ably covers the fall of the Canadian government and start of election season. The problem with democratisation is that there are so derned many interesting elections afoot to keep hold of. A different of Her Majesty's prime ministers faced down Michael Howard for the last time today across the despatch box. And everyone in Israel now belongs to the same party. Fun times.
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# Posted 11:44 AM by Patrick Belton  

THEY WROTE MORE OF THEM: A new issue out of Books Ireland.
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# Posted 11:39 AM by Patrick Belton  

NOW BACK TO CHEAP TABLOID SEX: Or at least the Sun - this courtesy of tabloid aisle correspondent CO, who draws our attention to UK journalism's look at bad quiz show answers. Though actually, I think dubium: 'Name the Capital of France' responsum: 'F' and most of the rest of the 'Family Fortunes' section are really quite clever.
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# Posted 11:30 AM by Patrick Belton  

BANLIEUE POSTMORTEM: There's a great bit, I think, somewhat self-interestedly, to be written about how the French government is dealing with its banlieues in the aftermath of the riots, and how the debates over just how to do this are altering the political landscape and power dynamics within it. A few possible themes, if I could lay out several thoughts in bullet form:

* The responses have kept within the inclinations of each member of France's triumvirate, each acting within their brief. Chirac has said or done little; Villepin has responded bureaucratically, proposing a governmental agency charged with promoting equal opportunity (legislation will be presented to the Council of Ministers in late December) and a programme of voluntary civil service for youth (the age at which school leavers can now begin apprenticeships drops from 16 to 14 in an initiative incorrectly attributed in some newspapers to Chirac but also a Villepin initiative); Sarkozy, in what for him is now a trademark political trope, has coupled a firm law-and-order line ('the best prevention is certainty crime will be punished') with previously heterodox political solutions lifted from the Anglo-American world (notably, aggressive affirmative action for banlieue youth within the civil service, fire and police brigades, and post-school Prepa programmes preparatory to admission to the Grandes Ecoles; affirmative action till now had been considered as contravening republican egalite.) Sarkozy's strength and much of his political appeal has always lain in proposing flagship 'left' policies (affirmative action, abolition of 'double punishment' or 'double peine' for immigrant delinquents, right to vote in local elections for immigrants) with a very 'right' law-and-order discourse; it has so far worked, and he continues to do so now.

* The political implications of the banlieue response are, first, to reinforce Chirac's passing as an effective political actor; Le Monde ran pieces on the 28th and the 29th to criticise his silence, comment upon his recent infirmity, and mock a 10 Nov. gaffe where after a substantial silence on the banlieues he said 'I will have time (e.g.: biological? political? merely personal?) to share with you my reflections.' Second, the Sarkozy revolution, like the French revolution before it, will have won its most profound victory in causing even its opponents to use its language to oppose it. Villepin, the embodiment of a poetry-writing, cultured, hyper-establishment Enarque, has now caught up with the renegade pro-American Sarkozy in polls - but by adopting his rhetoric of radical change (see, for instance, his CNN interview of last night, in which he accepted Christiane Amanpour's contention France 'has a very serious social malaise, a very serious social problem that requires dramatic solutions'). It's comparatively easy to misunderestimate Villepin's political talents and assets (as Figaro's editorialist did on the 25th): he is rather dashing, a poet, and a brilliant speaker (though he has toned down the latter two to respond to Sarkozy's counterestablishment appeal), enjoying full Chirac support and poll ratings which have topped Sarkozy's. But it is by adopting Sarkozy's language of substantial reform that he has drawn even with his rival.

* That both France's prospective dauphins are running from a position of revolutionary change is telling, marking the final dropping off in a tradition of French political deference whose origins were rooted in the titanic figure of De Gaulle, whom the early Mitterand emulated with some success, though now the remaining political capital of the Elysee under the strong-presidentialist Fifth Republic is spent down after the disappointing performance of Chirac. The final decline of France’s confidence in its political estate is a play in three acts. The first is the Chirac-Le Pen electoral contest of 2002, where a candidate from far outside the political pale landed in the final runoff thanks to protest voting. The second is the ‘Non’ vote of 29 May of this year, drawing equally from those holding opposing viewpoints regarding Europe and market liberalisation, being at root similarly a vote against the governing establishment. The third is playing out now.

* The broad themes of the moment are that France now stands at a crossroads, both in the philosophical evolution of its colourblind republicanism made now to confront a discontented and underprivileged minority population (q.v. imported affirmative action solutions versus those based on the traditional but increasingly debilitated integrationist model), and also between rhetoric and programmes associated with establishment and counterestablishment solutions (q.v. programmatically, between the introduction of new state bureaucracies as part of Villepin's Plan Banlieue, vs Sarkozian vast liberal market reforms to reduce unemployment; and rhetorically, between the contrast made by Villepin's traditionalist republican rhetoric against both Sarkozy's synthesis between republican tropes and the influence of market or multicultural approaches from outside France, in his 2004 book La Republique, Les Religions, L'Esperance and subsequently; and the strongly critical language of Nicolas Baverez's La France Qui Tombe (2003)). note to self: write better sentences

* From this point forward, Villepin's main strength is that he runs the government, Sarkozy's that he runs the leading party - the UMP, which he wrested from Chirac last year. Historically, party control has proven more important than government control in winning elections: the main example is Chirac vs Balladur in 1995, when Balladur, then PM and encouraged by high poll ratings, ran for President without the RPR's (the then-Gaullist party's) backing but was overtaken by Chirac, who came from far behind thanks to his control of the RPR. Since an anti-corruption measure passed the early 90s, parties are subsidised by the State, and wealthy, especially the UMP (due to its overwhelming parliamentary majority). Parties are very much in France vehicles to support a man, are dissolved and recreated very easily, and have sparse roots in the general population, membership being more restricted than in English-speaking countries or Germany. All this stands in Sarkozy's favour so far.

* From the notebook, a possible lead graph set aside for future use - For 22 days between 27 October to 17 November, Paris burned. It has before: its riots in 1848 urged the values of Republic and modernity against Bourbon restorationism; 1968's were then the streetfights of postmodernity, pitting power against a liberal discourse which had obscured it, and in the process splintering the Sorbonne. The epochs of the world are birthed on the barricades of the Left Bank: in 2005, what giant slouches there to be born? (This remains to be seen - then move into France at a philosophical and political crossroads)
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# Posted 9:51 AM by Patrick Belton  

AN ADVANTAGE to the Chinese taking over the world is that we'll all have more sex. China leads the world in the number of reported lifetime sexual partners to date (19.3) ; the Irish (10.6) edge out the Brits and Americans (10.3), which is surely unrelated to superior alcohol intake (300 pints per person per year, vs. 228 in Blighty); the Vietnamese are at bottom with 2.5, and I know someone who's personally responsible for most of that. Care to pull more? Become a poet. Creatives have had on average between 4-10 sexual partners, compared with management bankers and other uncreatives at 3; their artistic output also correlates with their number of sexual partners.

OxBlog. Supporting creative and sexual licence, China, beergoggles and poetry since 2002!
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# Posted 6:48 AM by Patrick Belton  

WHAT IS IT WITH THE ARMY AND NUDITY? asks Magnus Linklater, comparing the images of the Royal Marines's 'video nasty' with the other images we all were forced to confront from Iraq. ('It’s not very dignified stuff, is it?', drily quips the Shadow Defence Minister, Patrick Mercer OBE.)
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Tuesday, November 29, 2005

# Posted 8:44 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

ALWAYS TRUST THE "WAR FIGHTING EXPERTS": No, I'm not done with Paul Hackett. The cocaine thing was just a diversion. The real issue is, as Hackett said on Hardball, the war in Iraq and the President who, according to Hackett, "didn't have the stones to serve in his generation's war":
MATTHEWS: Do you think President Bush as commander-in-chief would have been a better commander-in-chief had he served in combat in Vietnam?

HACKETT: I think probably most importantly what that would have allowed him to do is understand firsthand how the military process works and make him more aware of that.

I mean, it‘s not as though one simply sets a course without consulting with the war fighting experts. The war fighting experts are those in the Pentagon with the stars on their collars who consult with the battle experts in the field, who are usually colonels and lieutenant colonels. And they go through a very in-depth process of planning. And that took place leading up to Iraq.
This makes absolutely no sense. The "war fighting experts" in the Pentagon and in Iraq agree with the President there is no substitute for victory, but Hackett wants to bring the troops home as soon as possible. Or did Hackett mean to say that one should only consult with the war fighting experts when they say what you want hear?

The point I really want to make here has to do with the total incoherence of the chickenhawk argument (in which I obviously have a personal interest). If the chickenhawk argument has any meaning, it has to explain why those without military experience make worse leaders.

A generation ago, we were in the midst of another war in which the military had tremendous confidence but liberals (and numerous conservatives) didn't. At that time, liberals refused to defer to the military even though many of them lacked military experience of their own.

Now, liberals such as Hackett seem to be saying that civilians have the right to advocate peace but not war. Like all identity politics, this kind of argument ultimately rests on the rejection of rational decision-making based on evidence and ethics.

Both civilian and soldier alike should be free to support or oppose the war. Anything less would undermine the prospect of democratic deliberation.
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# Posted 8:27 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

CHICKENHAWK BUSH SNORTED COKE, SAYS PATRIOTIC DEM: Paul Hackett is the Marine vet of Operation Iraqi Freedom who came within a hair's breadth of winning an open congressional seat in Ohio earlier this year. He lost the race to Jean Schmidt, but his success has propelled him into a run for the Senate in 2006.

Last Wednesday, Hackett was on Hardball, where he denounced Schmidt and others for "play[ing] politics with the lives of young Americans" and avoiding the real issue of what to do about Iraq. In order to restore the proper level of dignity to American political discourse, Hackett promptly started talking about the President's alleged coke habit:
MATTHEWS: You said he has—in “G.Q.” this month you said, “He didn‘t have the stones to serve in his generation‘s war. Instead he wanted to drink alcohol and snort cocaine and party.”

Do you stand by that?

HACKETT: Those are the facts. I stand by it.

MATTHEWS: How do you know it‘s the fact that the president snorted cocaine, as you say?

HACKETT: Well, I think it‘s been widely reported.

It was widely reported leading up to his first election. And there are many who have come forward and documented that and said they saw it happen. I take that at face value. I think it‘s probably quite factual. And given the fact that he worked so hard to avoid service in his generation‘s conflict, it seems consistent to me.

MATTHEWS: You know, it‘s been widely reported—I guess it‘s been charged and some people have suspected it because of the way he‘s denied it, but you know for a fact that President Bush, the commander-in-chief—because you‘re running for the U.S. Senate...

HACKETT: Yes.

MATTHEWS: ... was a cocaine user, you know that for a fact?

HACKETT: Well, I‘ve read the reports as you have read the reports.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Well, they‘re not reports; they‘re charges.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: I wouldn‘t say I read it in the Associated Press or the “Wall Street Journal” or the “New York Times.”

HACKETT: Right. Fair enough.

MATTHEWS: I may have heard the arguments made by people who I may not think have got a firm grounding in journalism, but I‘ve never heard a major or a quality newspaper make such a charge like that.

HACKETT: I think that‘s a fair criticism.

I‘m relaying what I‘ve heard and what you‘ve heard and what I‘ve read and you‘ve read. So...

MATTHEWS: But that doesn‘t make it a fact, having heard it, does it?

HACKETT: Point well taken.

I think, though, where there‘s smoke there‘s fire.

MATTHEWS: Really?

HACKETT: Yes.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Always? Well, why do we bother to check for fire if we know there‘s smoke—that‘s enough.

Anyway, let me get into your—the war issue, because you‘re right, the issue here is the war...
Bizarre. What was that again about Democrats being committed to reality-based politics? Anyhow, good for Matthews for not letting Hackett get away with it. You could almost hear the disbelief in Matthews' voice. And he was very hesitant with his questions, as if he weren't sure whether he should waste time cross-examining Hackett on such on obviously silly point. But if Hackett is going to argue for substantive politics and then talk about cocaine, that's what he deserves.

On a related note, Newsweek has an article up about Democratic efforts to recurit veterans to run for office in 2006. My memory is hazy on this point, but I think the Democrats tried to run a veteran for president last year, but it didn't work out too well.

UPDATE: Over at Kos, knowthings congratulates Hackett on his stellar peformance. Yes, really. The smarter liberals at RBC admit that Hackett came off looking pretty bad.
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# Posted 7:03 PM by Patrick Belton  

IT'S NOT YOUR FATHER'S METRO: George V metro station in Paris rechristened George W.

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# Posted 1:04 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SUPPORTERS THRONG SHEEHAN-LED PROTEST AT CRAWFORD: Well, not exactly. Yet no matter how richly deserved such schadenfreude is, John H. & Co. over at PowerLine might want to ask whether Sheehan already did her damage to public support for the war, so her current irrelevance is, well, irrelevant.
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# Posted 12:57 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

LOSING HEARTS AND MINDS: Dan Drezner has put up a pair of very interesting posts about how Al Qaeda is rapidly losing whatever support it once had in the Middle East while the US government is losing the confidence it once had on the homefront.
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Monday, November 28, 2005

# Posted 11:57 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

FROM THE HORSE'S MOUTH: TRAINING THE IRAQI ARMY. In spite of his fairly harsh criticism of American efforts to stand up an Iraqi army, Jim Fallows writes that LTG David Petraeus brought an unprecedented level of concern and competence to his role as trainer-in-chief of the Iraqi armed forces.

Given my sense that Fallows preoccupation with what went wrong has prevented him from seeing what is now going right, I thought it might be a good idea to hear directly from Gen. Petraeus himself how the training regimen is going.

Now, perhaps because the general has a Ph.D. from Princetion, his discussion of the Iraqi armed forces this month went on and on and on and on. But that's a good thing, since I wanted to learn as much as I could about the subject. The problem, I found, was that Petraeus' report was so relentlessly upbeat that I found it almost impossible to believe.

Although there is no question that Petraeus is under a lot of pressure to demonstrate that the president's program is working, I think (although what do I know about military politics?) that Petraeus could have been a lot more even-handed without hurting his chances of becoming a four-star general.

In fact, I think that the military has a lot to learn about enhancing its credibility and therefore advancing its effort to prevent the disintegration of support for its mission on the domestic front. When it comes to public relations, the military has to accept the fact that it is permanently outgunned.

No matter what the generals do or say, journalists will decide what images and opinions predominate. But if the generals develop a better understanding of those journalists, they can get their message across much more effectively. First and foremost, the generals have to learn that the media reflexively punishes those who present only one side of a case, no matter how much merit that side has.

My suspicion is that because the generals are so resentful of media misrepresentation, they make the mistake of thinking that the only way they can get even some of their message across is to exaggerate. Yet ironically, exaggeration only makes the problem worse since it provides the media with a pretext to question the generals' credibility even more intently.

Given that there have been enough obvious failures in Iraq, it really wouldn't hurt the generals to admit a lot of things that everyone knows anyhow. If they did that first, the media might actually listen to the very strong case they can make for things going well.

Now back to Petraeus. The foremost strength of his presentation was its abilityt to convey the staggering complexity of training an army almost from scratch. Often, people seem to wonder why it takes only a few months of basic training to train an American soldier, but Iraqis can't do the same. Consider the following question from Sunday morning on Meet the Press:
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Biden, what's the problem when kids here in the United States sign up and go to boot camp and get ready, and we've done it in World War II, we did it in Korea, We did it in Vietnam, we did it Kosovo, we do it in Iraq--they can be ready for combat within a matter of months. Why is it taking the Iraqis some two and a half years and they still have not put together an army that can replace the United States?
Even though I'm one of Russert's biggest fans, that is a ridiculous question. The US armed forces have tens of thousands of officers, commissioned and non-commissioned, whose job it is to train the raw recruits and then lead them in battle. In Iraq, there are a few remnants of Saddam's officer corps, but how much is that worth?

In Iraq, we have to train the trainers, and Petraeus does a very good job of describing just how tough and complex that job is. We have to train the Iraqis to do everything from engineering to logistics to battlefield medicine. We have to create the entire support structure on which the Iraqi private with an AK-47 depends when he goes up against the insurgents.

Still, Petraeus has a long way to go. At one point, while talking about the importance of being able to call for backup, he wandered off on a revealing tangent:
I'll talk about the importance of the concept of backup for police in a station that comes under attack. If they don't know that there's someone going to back them up, who's coming to the rescue, obviously they're not going to hang tough. We saw that -- back in the November time frame was the most recent case, I think, of one where they -- once they realized that nobody was coming to the rescue, they went out the back door. That has not happened -- we know of, in any case, since, at the least, 30 January, the elections, from which the Iraqi security forces took an enormous lift. (p.11)
Petraeus and others need to recognize that Iraqi police running out the back door is the dominant image Americans have of Iraqi security forces. This is where his presentation has to start. He has to lay out the stereotypes and then organize his evidence as a refutation of such caricatures.

In a way, this involves admitting nothing. If Petraeus is right that Iraqi units haven't cut and run for almost a year now, he has nothing to hide. Later on in his talk (p.17), Petraeus described how there has been a visible progression in the role Iraqi forces have played in major battles in Najaf in August 2004, Fallujah in November 2004, and Tall Afar in September 2005. The trajectory is toward increasing independence. But this critical point gets lost in the 30-page transcript of Petraeus' talk.

Both military and civilian spokesmen for this administration need to build up this kind of simple narrative about Iraqi progress. Statistics won't work. No one believes them. But the difference between Iraqi forces running out the back door in Mosul, following US soldiers in Najaf, fighting at their side in Fallujah and leading in Tall Afar is much more comprehensible. The average newspaper reader won't remember the names of those four cities, but the narrative of progression will remain if it is advertised forcefully and defended with evidence.

Looking back, I see how critical this post has been of Gen. Petraeus and his colleagues. But I am not criticizing their ability to perform the critical, perhaps even heroic, tasks to which they have been assigned. By all accounts, their performance has been superb.

But our democracy demands that soldiers also perform in the field of public relations, and I offer this criticism, harsh as it may sound, because I want Gen. Petraeus and his colleagues to get not just the credit they deserve, but the active support of the American public.
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# Posted 7:18 PM by Patrick Belton  

CONGRATULATIONS TO OUR FRIEND AND CLASSMATE LAURA JAMES, whose book Nasser at War has just been turned in to its publishers. In celebration, to wit:
There was a young lady from Magdalen
Who a book did write whilst dawdling
Twas all about Nasser
She could've wrote faster
But the sand got in the way of her toddling.
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# Posted 11:34 AM by Patrick Belton  

E-MAIL EXCHANGE OF THE DAY - THEM:
On 28 Nov 2005, at 3:48AM, assaulted@serial-ballbusters.com wrote:
Hi ! I kicked a guy in the groin ! I've been caught on tape ! Click here to see my video.
Us:
Dear Assaulted,
This is the absolute worst spam we've ever received. Can't you sell penis enlargement pills or major New York City landmarks instead? yours faithfully, Patrick
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# Posted 5:24 AM by Patrick Belton  

DEPARTMENT OF POLICY PROPOSALS: It has been pointed out that the 24-hour pub licence and the pet passport were both originally the ideas not of the Labour party, but rather of the Official Monster Raving Loony Party?. In an attempt then to chart out for our readers the next programmatic directions of British politics, here are selected other policy proposals taken from the OMRLP 2005 General Election manicfesto - so you'll recognise them when you see them:
• Refusing to sign up to the euro, but inviting the rest of Europe to join the pound.
• Drivers to be permitted to go straight over a roundabout when there's no traffic coming 'to make driving through Milton Keynes more fun'.
• All people seeking a right to roam will require permission from the Pope.
• Introduction of a 99p coin to save on change.
Remember, you heard it here first.
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Sunday, November 27, 2005

# Posted 11:35 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

YOU VOTE FOR REPUBLICANS AND MAKE FUN OF ME FOR BEING CONSERVATIVE? I was reminded this weekend that New York City politics is a very funny thing. While enjoying a few pints in the warm basement of the Slaughtered Lamb on West 4th Street, both my girlfriend and one of my best friends from high school suggested that my contrary nature may be leading me to celebrate my conservative-sounding heresies (for a New Yorker, that is) just a little too much.

Naturally, I responded that those who voted for a Republican mayor earlier this month aren't in the best position to tell me that I am wandering too far in the conservative direction. Just as naturally, they responded that voting for Bloomberg doesn't count. And they are mostly right. I was, to a certain extent, just being contrary.

Nonetheless, the rush of upper-middle class New Yorkers to support GOP mayors suggests that certain issues provoke heresy among Democrats born-and-raised. For most New Yorkers, it is crime (or now the absence thereof). For me, it is national security. But in politics, heresy is often a good thing. It is what keeps the debate fresh and keeps the two-party system healthy in even the Reddest and the Bluest of the fifty states.
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# Posted 11:02 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

PBS TAKES A LOOK AT CHINA'S ECONOMIC MIRACLE: In a seven-part series that aired last month, PBS correspondent Paul Solman took an in-depth look at the Chinese economy. Yes, I know that last month may as well be last year in the media, but I just finished listening to the podcast version of Solman's reports, so I thought I'd put in my two cents on the subject. (Podcast URL, transcripts here.)

The first thing I'd say is that "in-depth" means something very different on television than it does in print. Although the 60+ minutes PBS dedicated to Solman's reports is remarkable for TV news, it still provides much less information than however much one could read in 60 minutes.

Of course, this isn't Solman's fault. It is the inherent nature of the medium. But I think it is also especially hard to cover such an immense subject as the Chinese economy in such a short-time frame and in a medium that is not friendly to non-visual subjects such as economic growth.

Often, one might argue that moving pictures are worth far more than a thousand words, or that television has an impact that one simply cannot compare to print journalism. To be fair, I can't take an informed position on this subject in regard to Solman's reports, since the podcast only provided an audio-track, not a visual one.

Even so, most of what I listened to were interviews. It's not as if China's economy is something you can see. I guess you can get some good footage of high-end shoppers in Shanghai or at the newest Walmart in the PRC, but that doesn't seem so important. The image of Chinese men and women as hard-working, affluent and successful is not terribly foreign to us.

Now, if there were some city of millions in Africa where you could see black-skinned Africans surrounded by skyscrapers and malls just like the Chinese, Japanese and Koreans, that would be shocking, because we have no images in our head of prosperous black societies. Instead, emaciated children with missing limbs are what we associate with Africa.

But getting back to our subject, the value of Solman's reports is inconsistent, often because some of them take an innovative look at a much-discussed issue, while others simply recycle the conventional wisdom. My favorite piece of the seven was Solman's look at financial markets in China and his examination of whether the widespread misallocation of capital may represent an Achilles' heel of the Chinese economy. For example, how often do we hear that
[The Shangahi Stock Exchange] opened with great fanfare in 1989 and Chinese citizens poured in their savings, in large part because the government wouldn't let them invest anywhere else.

Sixteen years later, the Shanghai Exchange has lost half its value and looks to be in a coma. Basically deserted, it's been the worst-performing major exchange in the world for the past decade, while China was the best performing economy.
Although I won't pretend that I pay close attention to media reports about China, my sense is that very important data points such as this one don't get much attention if they conflict with the standard narrative of "China's Rise: Miracle or Meance?"

I also liked Solman's report on the challenges of innovation in a repressive society. But instead of focusing like a laser on that one issue, Solman also began to explore whether economic growth will result in political reform. Both subjects are well-deserving, but together they are just too much for one 10-minute segment.

My sense is that television journalism accomplishes the most when it focuses intensively on a subject that hasn't been covered as much it deserves. This kind of accomplishment is very intellectually demanding. Given how little information one can provide in a few minutes on the air, it isn't hard to fill the schedule with summaries of the day's headlines.

But if TV correspondents develop a broad knowledge not just of their subject of how it is portrayed in the American media, they have the potential to focus their spotlight on something truly unusual and informative. Often, Solman's reports accomplish just that.
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# Posted 10:32 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE: First of all, there are no spoilers in this movie review. Second, the bottom line is simple: Goblet of Fire blows away its predecessors. I enjoyed the other Potter films, especially the first, but this one towers head and shoulders above the rest. The film has already taken in more than $200 million, and every dollar is well-deserved.

Why is that? Because the film achieves an almost perfect balance between showing off and simplicity. Throughout the film, you will be surprised and delighted by the gorgeous visuals, many of them obviously the work of computers.

Yet at critical moments in the film -- especially during the magnificent climax -- the film doesn't distract you with special effects. Instead, it uses narrative drama and a spare visual style to create tremendous suspense.

There is also an excellent balance between showing off and simplicity when it comes to the relationship between action and narrative in the film. The action is heart-stopping, perfectly-timed and often just plain scary. But no less importantly, the alternation between action and character development works well. Whereas a lot of blockbusters make you feel that the more dialogue-heavy scences were thrown in as a matter of obligation, Potter's are quite well crafted. For example, the WaPo points to the spectacle of
Ron's embarrassment when he's called out in front of his peers to demonstrate the waltz with the severe Professor McGonagall (Maggie Smith).

"Put your hand on my waist," she demands frostily. The expression on Ron's face at this point is clear: He'd just as soon perform the fox trot with Medusa. It's a wonderful mark of this movie that a teenager's humiliation can pack just as much firepower as a life-and-death battle with scary monsters.
In spite of its familiarity to anyone over the age of twelve, adolescent awkwardness rarely comes across as charming on screen. Think Star Wars: Episode II. But somehow, Potter pulls it off brilliantly.

Really, there's nothing bad to say about this film. It is long, but I was holding onto my seat for the entire ride.
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Friday, November 25, 2005

# Posted 12:34 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

OPEN THREAD: WHAT ARE YOU THANKFUL FOR? I am thankful for the love and support of my family. I am thankful for being born and raised in the United States of America. And I am thankful for post-Thanksgiving discounts at all the big department stores!
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Thursday, November 24, 2005

# Posted 9:10 PM by Patrick Belton  

WARM THANKSGIVING WISHES to all our readers and friends!

Sophocles (Ajax, l. 522): Gratitude to gratitude always gives birth.

Elie Wiesel (Nobel Peace Prize acceptance remarks, 10 December 1986): No one is as capable of gratitude as one who has emerged from the kingdom of night.

Samuel Johnson (Tour to the Hebrides. 20 September 1773): Gratitude is a fruit of great cultivation; you do not find it among gross people.

Nietzsche (Beyond Good and Evil, Fourth Part: Maxims and Interludes) A man who possesses genius is insufferable unless he also possesses at least two other things: gratitude and cleanliness.

Yeats ('Vacillation'): No man has ever lived that had enough / Of children’s gratitude or woman’s love.

Blessed Teresa of Calcutta: She gives most who gives with joy. The best way to show our gratitude to God and the people is to accept everything with joy. A joyful heart is the inevitable result of a heart burning with love.

Albert Schweitzer: To educate yourself for the feeling of gratitude means to take nothing for granted, but to always seek out and value the kind that will stand behind the action. Nothing that is done for you is a matter of course. Everything originates in a will for the good, which is directed at you. Train yourself never to put off the word or action for the expression of gratitude.

William Faulkner: Gratitude is a quality similar to electricity: it must be produced and discharged and used up in order to exist at all.
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# Posted 9:03 PM by Patrick Belton  

GOOD THINGS FROM ANGELA shopping her foreign policy on the road: Europe must have enough steely resolve to confront serious economic reforms; Nato must be the place Europeans go to decide on matters of international politics and security; German relations with Britain are as friendly and important as those it enjoys with France. She sounds like an OxBlogger; in any event, we welcome her. See BBC, Indy, Deutsche Welle, Times.
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# Posted 4:35 AM by Patrick Belton  

I WANT ONE OF THESE for OxBlog's poshly appointed waiting room: 'Now that it's in bloom, the plant has also started emitting a smell that's drawn comparisons to garbage, spoiled meat, and rotting fish. ... "These beetles usually lay their eggs in rotting animals, so this plant pretends to be a dead animal," [the Smithsonian's John Kress] said.' q.v. Huntington Library, Virginia Polytechnic, Wikipedia.
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Wednesday, November 23, 2005

# Posted 12:06 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WASHINGTON BUZZ -- "WHY IRAQ HAS NO ARMY": The talk of the town is James Fallows' cover story [subscription required] in the December issue of the Atlantic monthly about (you guessed it) why Iraq has no army. In fact, George Stephanopoulous attempted to use the article to cross-examine Donald Rumsfeld on Sunday morning. Rumsfeld insisted he hadn't read the piece and refused to comment. But I don't think that looked good and I think Rumsfeld could safely have confronted the issue head on.

The buzz around Fallows article suggests that is a pathbreaking and scathing account of what went wrong with our efforts to train the Iraqi army. The subheader on the article itself reads:
An orderly exit from Iraq depends on the development of a viable Iraqi security force, but the Iraqis aren't even close. The Bush administration doesn't take the problem seriously—and it never has.
Perhaps because of all they hype, the article seemed much less scathing to me than it should have. I thought that its three main points have been hit upon time and again in the pages of the WaPo and NYT, often in detail. Basically, it was a huge mistake to disband the Iraqi army, it was a huge mistake not to train ourselves in the local language and culture, and we took way, way too long to get serious about putting together an Iraqi counterinsurgency force. I don't think DoD spokesman would want to admit any those of points, but they aren't exactly surprising.

But what I did find surprising was how positively Fallows described Gen. Petraeus' and Amb. Negroponte's efforts to resurrect the American strategy of standing up a local force. Fallows writes that in June 2004,
A new American Army general arrived to supervise the training of Iraqis: Dave Petraeus, who had just received his third star.

The appointment was noticed throughout the military. Petraeus, who holds a Ph.D. from Princeton, had led the 101st Airborne during its drive on Mosul in 2003 and is one of the military's golden boys. What I heard about him from other soldiers reminded me of what reporters used to hear about Richard Holbrooke from other diplomats: many people marveled at his ambition; few doubted his skills. Petraeus's new assignment suggested that training Iraqis had become a sexier and more important job. By all accounts Petraeus and Negroponte did a lot to make up for lost time in the training program.

Under Petraeus the training command abandoned an often ridiculed way of measuring progress. At first Americans had counted all Iraqis who were simply "on duty"—a total that swelled to more than 200,000 by March of 2004. Petraeus introduced an assessment of "unit readiness," as noted above. Training had been underfunded in mid-2004, but more money and equipment started to arrive.

The training strategy also changed. More emphasis was put on embedding U.S. advisers with Iraqi units. Teams of Iraqi foot soldiers were matched with U.S. units that could provide the air cover and other advanced services they needed. To save money and reduce the chance of a coup, Saddam Hussein's soldiers had only rarely, or never, fired live ammunition during training. According to an unpublished study from the U.S. Army War College, even the elite units of the Baghdad Republican Guard were allowed to fire only about ten rounds of ammunition per soldier in the year before the war, versus about 2,500 rounds for the typical U.S. infantry soldier. To the amazement of Iraqi army veterans, Petraeus introduced live-fire exercises for new Iraqi recruits.

At the end of last year, as the Iraqi national elections drew near, Negroponte used his discretion to shift $2 billion from other reconstruction projects to the training effort. "That will be seen as quite a courageous move, and one that paid big dividends," Petraeus told me. "It enabled the purchase of a lot of additional equipment, extra training, and more rebuilding of infrastructure, which helped us get more Iraqi forces out in the field by the January 30 elections."

The successful staging of the elections marked a turning point—at least for the training effort. Political optimism faded with the subsequent deadlocks over the constitution, but "we never lost momentum on the security front," Petraeus told me. During the elections more than 130,000 Iraqi troops guarded more than 5,700 polling stations; there were some attacks, but the elections went forward. "We have transitioned six or seven bases to Iraqi control," he continued, listing a variety of other duties Iraqi forces had assumed. "The enemy recognizes that if Iraqi security forces ever really get traction, they are in trouble. So all of this is done in the most challenging environment imaginable."

Had the training units avoided the "B Team" taint? By e-mail I asked an officer on the training staff about the "loser" image traditionally attached to such jobs within the military. He wrote back that although training slots had long been seen as "career killers," the importance of the effort in Iraq was changing all that. From others not involved in training I heard a more guarded view: If an Iraqi army emerges, the image of training will improve; if it doesn't, the careers of Petraeus and his successor Dempsey will suffer.
Surprisingly, Fallows doesn't go into much detail about what Petraeus accomplished. At the beginning of the article, Fallows describes Petraeus' four-level classification scheme and tells us how many Iraqi troops fall into each category. But one doesn't get a sense from the article of what that really means. How do Level 2 troops behave in combat as opposed to Level 3? Have soldiers of either level had any notable successes? The Iraqis are clearly taking heavy casualties on the battlefield. Is this a sign of success or failure?

The list of questions could go on, but the basic point is that you don't get the in-depth feel for the subject that you should from an article this long. Instead, the overwhelming focus is on mistakes that were made before Petraeus took over.

The final pages of Fallows' article are like an op-ed. He's told us what the situation is, now he's telling us what to do:
Let me suggest a standard for judging endgame strategies in Iraq, given the commitment the United States has already made. It begins with the recognition that even if it were possible to rebuild and fully democratize Iraq, as a matter of political reality the United States will not stay to see it through.
That is a strange argument coming from a journalist who is doing quite a good job of stoking public pessimism. Anyhow:
What is needed for an honorable departure is, at a minimum, a country that will not go to war with itself, and citizens who will not turn to large-scale murder...If the United States leaves Iraq knowing that non-American forces are sufficient to keep order, it can leave with a clear conscience—no matter what might happen a year or two later.
That seems like a very strange moral standard, reminiscent somewhat of Pontius Pilate. Moreover, what about national security?

Call me a maximalist, but we don't just want to stop the casualty count and walk away with clean consciences. We want to make sure that Iraq (or even the Sunni part of Iraq) doesn't become what Afghanistan was before 9/11. You can argue that none of this would've happened if we hadn't gone in the first place, but that doesn't affect our national interests now. Finally, Fallows writes that:
If we were serious about reconstituting an Iraqi military as quickly as possible, what would we do? Based on these interviews, I have come to this sobering conclusion: the United States can best train Iraqis, and therefore best help itself leave Iraq, only by making certain very long-term commitments to stay.
How does that square with the (alleged) need to recognize that we lack the will to see it through? I'm not sure. In a lot of ways, I think Fallows gives voice to great dilemma of mainstream Democrats, who know we need to win this war but lack confidence in Bush and perhaps even morseo even Rumsfeld (in the same manner as a lot of neo-conservatives). If the Democrats turn against the war, they will hasten our defeat and be branded as soft. If they support the war, they sense that it will allow the administration to be even less responsible.

So is there a third way that will allow Democrats to both criticize the war and be seen as hawkish? Yes there is. They can click their heels three times and say "I agree with John McCain."
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Tuesday, November 22, 2005

# Posted 8:53 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

TALKING POINTS FOR RUMSFELD: On Sunday morning, the SecDef did back to back interviews with Face the Nation on CBS and This Week on ABC. Before getting to what Rumsfeld said, let me give ABC and CBS some advice on how to catch up to Tim Russert and NBC in the Sunday morning race for the gold: Make transcripts available in HTML format. CBS provides a PDF version of the text, which means that all of the quotes below were retyped by yours truly, rather than cut and pasted. In contrast, ABC has the chutzpah to assert that viewers should have to pay for transcripts.

Anyhow, the real issue here is the SecDef and how he ought to strengthen his arguments for the administration's strategy in Iraq. Unsurprisingly, the first question Rumsfeld got from both George Stephanopoulos on ABC and Bob Schieffer on CBS was "What do you say to Congressman Murtha?" Rumsfeld clearly had his talking points ready since he gave the exact same response to both questions.

The core of Rumsfeld's response was the idea of empathy. He told Schieffer,
"Try to put yourself in the shoes of other people...Put yourself in the shoes of the Iraqis, the Iraqi people, who've risked their lives to run for public office and to go out and vote."
That's a solid point, although altruism isn't exactly the philosophy one associates with Rumsfeld. The SecDef did a little better with Stephanopoulos, however. On ABC, he told the audience to empathize with American soldiers on the ground "who believe that [their mission] is a noble cause, which it is". And of course, on both ABC and CBS, Rumsfeld cleverly turned the empathy prism around and asked the audience how the insurgents might feel if they knew that all they had to do to defeat the United States was run out the clock.

Yet perhaps because Rumsfeld is such a blunt person who has never been comfortable with the artificial etiquette of network television, the SecDef seems to delight in making outrageous statements that have the unfortunate effect of calling his perception of political reality into question. For example, before directly answering Stephanopoulos's question about Murtha, Rumsfeld insisted that Murtha's protest isn't that significant because there have always been those who wanted to bring the troops home -- in WWII, in Korea and in Vietnam.

In WWII? I'll assume that Rumsfeld is right and that someone must've called for an early exit from the Second World War. But do you know how comparing Iraq to WWII sounds? Ridiculous. Period. As for Korea and Vietnam, the analogy to Iraq shouldn't comfort the administration at all.

Moving on, the next big question Rumsfeld had to address was the issue of whether the Iraqi army will ever be ready to take over from us. To my surprise, Schieffer didn't even try to challenge the SecDef's assertion that there are now 212,000 members of the Iraqi security forces. But Stephanopoulos immediately shot back that only 700 are ready to fight on their own. To which Rumsfeld replied:
"Oh, George, that is a red herring that people have been flopping around here for weeks."
You should really listen to the podcast to hear the tone of voice Rumsfeld used to say that. He sounded like a Jewish mother who'd just been told her only son was becoming a Catholic.

Anyhow, Rumsfeld's first substantive point in response to the question was pretty good: The Iraqis are already fighting hard all across the country and taking very heavy casualties. But then the SecDef once again decided he wasn't going to play by the rules. When Stephanopoulos stated that even the best 20,000 Iraqis "can take the lead in a battle but need to be heavily supported by US forces", Rumsfeld responded:
Most of our forces need support. Most of NATO forces need support.
Say what you will about the Belgians and the Dutch, I'm pretty damn sure the Iraqis are nowhere close. And comparing American soldiers to the Iraqis? Huh???

Although quite proficient at pre-emptive warfare, I think the SecDef might do well to practice the art of pre-emptive question-swatting. Everywhere you look, it gets reported that only one Iraqi battalion, or around 700 troops, is ready to fight on its own without the Americans. That number is down from three battalions a couple of months ago.

Now, Rusmfeld may be right that the number who can fight independently isn't the best indicator of progress. But I think it looks very bad for him or the President to say that there are 212,000 Iraqis ready to go, then get confronted with the 700 figure and admit that it's accurate. Just say up front that more and more Iraqis are approaching self-sufficiency.

With regard to question-swatting, Rumsfeld should also know what's going to happen everytime he insists that the American mission in Iraq is making significant progress. The interviewers will immediately fire back with questions about the persistence of American casualties and about the number of suicide bombs. On CBS, Rumsfeld made a decent come back by arguing that Zarqawi's slaughter of the innocent actually costs him more supporters than it gains.

But the key point is that it looks bad to start out optimistic and then be reminded of everything going wrong. Instead, administration officials should begin by showing that they understand public and media concern with the mission's steep cost in American lives and the persistence of terrorism in Iraq. But. But guerrillas wars are won politically, not on the battlefield. Thus, the indicator that really matters is that Iraq is going from
A successful election in January to a drafting of a constitution, to a referendum on the constitution with the biggest turnout anyone could've imagined, and the Sunnis participating...In less than a month there'll be an election. And then there will be a new government that will be in place for a period of time. That's progress. That's significant progress.
Yes, yes it is. But that message won't get through until administration officials are more candid about the persistence of casualties and terrorism, so that journalists can't chalk up easy debating points by reminding them that things aren't perfect.
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