OxBlog

Saturday, December 24, 2005

# Posted 6:27 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

MERRY CHRISMUKKAH! And a happy new year to all. See you in 2006.
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# Posted 4:47 AM by Patrick Belton  

LOCAL BEAT FOR LONDINIUM READERS: Happy Christmas to all of our readers and friends! For those of you who are in London and looking for holiday cheer, the schedules are online for lessons and carols and Christmas evensong at Westminster and St Paul's cathedrals, and there are outdoor carols in Trafalgar Square on Christmas eve from 5 until 9. There's also ice skating at the Tower of London, Hampton Court Palace and the Natural History Museum, if you're feeling particularly athletic.
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Thursday, December 22, 2005

# Posted 11:51 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

OXBLOG REUNITES! I just got back from the legendary Brickskeller, where I had the distinct privilege of seeing none other than Patrick Belton, in person, for the first time since he saved all of my worldly possessions from an auto wreck and then picked me up from the hospital back in September.

FYI, Brickskeller is a legend because of its mind-boggling selection of beers. Two years ago, in fact, the Guinness Book of World Records cited Brickskeller for serving more varities of beer than any other commercial establishment on Planet Earth. How many you ask? 1073.

Patrick and I were joined by Jeff Hauser, of the now defunct Hauser Report, who now does things like take Howard Dean on trips to Israel. (Literally. That's not the set up for some bizarre joke.)

Of course, the main activity of the evening entailed listening to Mr. Belton recount his bawdy personal adventures, absolutely none of which I would even think of recounting here on OxBlog, since this is a family values website. But if you encounter Mr. Belton in person, I'm sure he would be willing to share.

Unfortunately, Patrick is headed back to Europe in just a couple of days, so we may all have to wait a while for the chance to see him again. Here in the US, that is. But if any of you are up for a visit to Switzerland, Patrick would be glad to host you at his chalet. Ciao!
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# Posted 6:43 AM by Patrick Belton  

THUS EMANUELE OTTOLENGHI: Let's embarrass Iran's evil regime. During this festive season, let's light some Hanukkah candles in front of their embassies.
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# Posted 12:56 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

AN ARTICLE IN THE WORKS: I would tell you where it's going to be published, but I don't want to jinx it, since the manuscript hasn't been finalized yet. The topic, however, is one of thorniest issues facing America today: how to deal with friendly dictators, who we are afraid might be replaced by a radical, anti-American opposition.

Don't expect a decisive answer to this question. Rather, what I try to do, along with my co-author, is demonstrate how the United States faced the exact same dilemma during the final decade of the Cold War, when presidents hesitated to push authoritarian allies to reform, lest they be replaced by those such as the Sandinistas in Managua and the Khomeini regime in Teheran.

Although hesitant at first to confront the dictatorships in places such as the Philippines, South Korea and Chile, Reagan ultimately came around to the recognition that deft diplomacy could hasten reform without antagonizing the current regime or bringing to power a radical opposition.

What our article doesn't provide is a detailed assessment of the prospects for democratization in the friendly dictatorships of today, such as Egypt, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Rather, our purpose is to provide a conceptual framework for the discussion that shows how American can achieve what pessimists then and now (who often describe themselves as realists) consider to be simply impossible.

Anyhow, I haven't been blogging much since I've had to focus on the article the past couple of days. Thanks for your patience.
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Tuesday, December 20, 2005

# Posted 12:57 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SO WHY DIDN'T REID AND PELOSI OBJECT? This Week still won't provide transcripts, but George S.'s interview with John McCain is really worth listening to. (Podcast here.)

Again and again, Stephanopoulos kept pressing McCain to justify how the administration could circumvent the foreign intelligence courts when authorizing wiretaps. No matter how times Stephanopoulos repeated the question, McCain kept giving the same answer: the White House consulted with both the Democratic and Republican leadership in Congress before making its decision.

Pelosi has spoken of voicing "strong concerns" when initially consulted about the policy, but that doesn't sound very persuasive. If she didn't object or disagree or contradict, then she should just say that she accepted the decision.

Nonetheless, McCain -- like Condoleezza Rice and Lindsey Graham -- admitted that he couldn't provide a clear legal justification for what the administration did.
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# Posted 12:52 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

PRO WRESTLING BODYSLAMS THE MEDIA: Courtesy of Blackfive, with a hat tip to MD.
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# Posted 12:03 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

OUR GOVERNMENT SHOULD SPY ON THOSE DOPE-SMOKING HIPPIES, G**DAMN IT! No, on second thought, maybe not. This story has exploded in the administration's face, knocking the good news from Iraq off of the front pages at the most convenient possible moment for the Democrats.

The big question is, why did the Bush administration decide to circumvent the foreign intelligence court even though the court imposes very few limitations on the administration's surveillance privileges?

Even after listening to This Week, Face the Nation and Meet the Press, I still haven't gotten a good answer. On Face the Nation, Joe Biden said that the administration's behavior was simply unfathomable. Bob Scheiffer suggested that this was another Karl Rove stratagem to force the Democrats to defend a soft position on national security. Tom Friedman suggested that the administration wanted to go after people it didn't have enough evidence to get a warrant for.

I think what's wrong about Schieffer and Friedman's explanations is that they don't take into account the context in which the decision was made to go around the courts. It was right after 9/11, at a time when no one in their right mind would have said that there wouldn't be even a single other attack on the American homeland during the next four years.

My best guess -- and it is very much a guess -- is that the administration moved swiftly and aggressively to expand its powers in this way because it expected there to be a real war on the homefront, not just an argument about whether the Democrats or the Republicans have a greater penchant for revisionist history.

Which is not to say that the decision was justified. On that question, I'm going to have to reserve judgment. In fact, after reading Orin Kerr's long and thoughtful post about the legal and constitutional merits of the administration's position, I think I may simply lack the necessary expertise to have any sort of intelligent position on this issue.

Nonetheless, I am troubled by the inability of the administration to provide a simple and straightforward rationale for its behavior. On Meet the Press, Condoleezza Rice kept dodging the issue of the decision's legality by insisting that she isn't an expert. In general, that's a fair enough point. But a Secretary of State should be able to elaborate the basic legal justification for an important White House policy, even if she can't be expected to cite the case law.

(NB: In other respects, Condi did an excellent job. As a candidate, I think she could handle the press with a good bit of panache.)

In a manner similar to the Secretary of State, Lindsey Graham (R-SC) couldn't come up with any sort of straightforward legal justification for the administration's behavior during his time on Face the Nation. As Tom Friedman observed (on that same show),
I think what Senator Graham said was so important and so powerful, which is--who is a Republican and a legal expert, a lawyer, who was basically saying this administration has acted outside the bounds of any law that he knows of...

At the end of the day, what he said was--what Senator Graham said, I think, was very powerful. We have to have answers. You were acting outside the law as we know it.
To a degree, one might describe Graham's comments as an admission against his own partisan interest. At the same time, Graham has begun to present himself as a mini-McCain and seems to enjoy all the positive coverage he gets as a budding maverick. I think Graham is sincere, but so is Joe Lieberman when he disagrees with the Democrats about almost everything.

So where does that leave us? I'm not sure. As Matt Yglesias observed,
I tend to doubt that anything genuinely awful has resulted from the president's little illegal wiretap scheme.
"But," Matt adds,
...the principles being invoked to justify it are extremely troubling.
I certainly agree with the first part (sans "illegal"), although I'm not so sure about the second. Even so, I do believe that if the administration had a greater up-front concern about civil liberties -- rather than demonstrating concern only after the issue has become controversial -- it could have found a way to get all of the necessary powers to fight the war on terror without riding on the borders of the law.
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Sunday, December 18, 2005

# Posted 1:34 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

'THE NATION'S FIRST LIBERTARIAN STUDENT NEWSPAPER' is how the Pennsylvania Independent describes itself. Take a look.
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# Posted 1:31 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

ANDRE THE GIANT: Even if you've never watched a pro-wrestling match, you probably recognize that name. Thanks to JW, I just found a website dedicated to Andre's memory and achievements. It's worth a read.
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# Posted 1:52 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

TWO MILLION: The counter at the bottom of the page says we've now had two million hits since October 27, 2003. All I can say is 'thank you'. There are hundreds of great blogs out there, not to mention hundreds of major media outlets, so we really appreciate your taking the time to stop by.
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# Posted 1:34 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SHOULD YOU INTRODUCE YOURSELF OR YOUR BLOG? Earlier this evening, I attended a little shindig at the home of Matt Yglesias, held in the honor of Kevin Drum, who is in town this weekend from California for a bit of holiday cheer. Matt's home was filled with bloggers, some of whom I'd met before (Jim Henley, Ezra Klein), many of whom I hadn't (Belle Waring, Hilzoy, and others).

As I learned way back at Bloggercon II, there is no proper etiquette for introducting oneself to those one knows online but not in person. Forgetting the lesson of Bloggercon, I once again just introduced myself as a normal human being would, with my first name.

One could thrown in the last name as well, but that sounds weird. To go all out and announce the name of your blog wouldn't just be weird, it would be like saying "my blog is so important and I'm so insecure that I can't introduce myself without telling you about my URL."

Then you get into the conversation, and someone mentions their blog, and you mention your blog (because bloggers can't help talking about their blogs), and then you sound like a bit of an idiot identifying your blog ten minutes into the conversation because the only reason your in this room in the first place is that you have a blog.

Face it. Life isn't fair.
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# Posted 1:30 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SO APPARENTLY I'M CHAFETZ: On Friday night, I went to dinner with one of my colleagues and whole lot of his friends from grad school, none of whom I'd ever met. At one point, I mentioned I had a blog and that it was OxBlog. Suddenly, one of the guys at the table got very excited. He said, "So you're David Chafetz!" I considered it an honor.
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# Posted 1:19 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SO APPARENTLY I'M CRAZY: Well, you already knew that. But I had kept it a secret from most of Washington. Until Thursday, when I started listening to The Ricky Gervais Show on my iPod on the Metro.

FYI, Ricky Gervais (pronounced jur-VASE) is the comic genius responsible for The Office. He's now working on a series of half-hour podcasts distributed by The Guardian. While listening to the first podcast on Thursday, I had to devote all of physical strength to not laughing uproariously out loud when Ricky and and his friends debated whether or not it would be possible to teach a monkey to fly a spaceship by having the ship dispense bananas when the monkey hit the proper button.

I may not have laughed out loud, but I was smiling uncontrollably and people were beginning to think I was some sort of weirdo. Again, not wrong, but not to be inferred from my public laughter, because that was Ricky Gervais' fault.

So here's the bottom line: Listening to Ricky Gervais will make you very, very happy. And who the %&*$# cares if other people think you're crazy?
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# Posted 1:04 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SO APPARENTLY I'M A REPUBLICAN: I wore a bowtie to the office on Friday. Why? Because I had just learned to tie a bowtie while I was in England last week. FYI, when Oxford students take their exams, they have to wear what is known as sub fusc, which includes a white bowtie for men.

Since our office was having its big Christmas holiday party on Friday, I thought that a red paisley bowtie might add to the festivity of the occasion. However, the party was at noon, and when I sat down to have lunch with my colleagues, one of them suddenly asked me, "So are you a Republican?"

Slightly flustered by this question in an environment where most of us try to be moderately non-partisan, I spluttered "No, actually I'm an independent." Then he said to me that he was only asking because only Republicans wear ties. Like Tucker Carlson. Like George Will. And then asked, could I think of any Democrats who wear bowties?

I hesitated for a second and then said, "Yes. Farrakhan." There was a loud guffaw. Game, set, match, OxBlog.

And now that I think about it, there was one prominent Democrat who had a thing for bowties: Sen. Paul Simon of Illinois, pictured above.
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Thursday, December 15, 2005

# Posted 10:39 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SO DO THE IRAQI PEOPLE REALLY WANT DEMOCRACY? That may sound like a dumb question to ask on a day when millions of Iraqi voters (even Sunnis) demonstrated once again just how much they care about voting. But, A) OxBlog has never been afraid to ask stupid question and, B) recent polling data helps provide a detailed portrait of precisely what Iraqis think about their political system.

So lets start with a statement of the problem. Both the 2004 and 2005 polls began to probe their respondents' political preferences by asking (in questions #15 and #20A, respectively) what Iraq needs. This year, the number one answer was "a (single) strong Iraqi leader", with 74.8% saying that they strongly agree and 16.1% saying that they somewhat agree.

The second most popular answer was "a democracy", with 73.8% in strong agreement and 16.4% in moderate agreement. So here you get a sense of the problem. The design of these questions lets Iraqis say that their country needs many things, some of which Americans might consider to be mutually exclusive.

For example, the same question asked Iraqis if their country needs a government made up of religious leaders. 48.1 percent agree, either strongly or in moderation. A similar percentage said Iraq needs a government made up primarily of military leaders. In 2004, this series of questions elicited very similar answers.

So what the heck does all of this mean? Fortunately, the poll takers included a number of questions that would force respondents to express their perceptions of democracy in greater detail. For example, question #20B in this year's poll asked:
What do you think Iraq needs after the election planned for December 2005? Please mention only one choice.
Question #20C then asked:
What do you think Iraq needs in five years’ time? Please mention only one choice.
50.9 percent said that Iraq needs a single, strong leader after the elections. But only 30.5 percent said that this is what Iraq will need in five years time. 28.2 percent said Iraq needs a democracy after the December election, with 45.2 saying that Iraq will need one in five years time. The third most popular answer was a religious government, with approximately five percent in favor. In 2004, the numbers were bascially the same.

Thus, Iraqis clearly sense that their is a trade off between democracy and one-man leadership. But if they support a strong man in the here and now, will they ever have a chance to enjoy the democracy they prefer? One problem with questions #20B and #20C is that they do not clearly indicate whether a "(single) strong Iraqi leader" means a dictator. According to the Dr. Christoph Sohm, the director of the organization that conducted the poll (who was quoted by the BBC):
"Their desire for a strong leader within a democracy shows that they want a Konrad Adenauer, not a Saddam Hussein." Adenauer was the first chancellor of post-war Germany.
Presumably, Sohm's confidence comes from the answers provides to questions #21A and #21B:
A. There can be differences between the way government is set up in a country, called political system. From the three options I am going to read to you,which one do you think would be best for Iraq now?

B. And which one of these systems will be best for Iraq in five years’ time?
The three choices respondents had were:
Strong leader: a government headed by one man for life

Islamic state: where politicians rule according to religious
principles

Democracy: a government with a chance for the leader(s) to be
replaced from time to time through elections
Democracy won by a landslide, with 57.2% support in the here and now and 62.0% support in five years time. 25.8 percent preferred a strong leader now, with 17.8 preferring one in five years time. 13.8 wanted an Islamic government now, with 11.8 preferring one in five years time.

Interestingly, the analagous question in the 2004 poll, #17, only gave respondents' a choice between a "Strong leader", "Islamic state" and "Democracy". Democracy also won that round by a landslide, but the Islamic state option broke the 20 percent barrier, bring democracy down to the mid-forties.

Although there is some more data on the subject, this post has covered all of the major points. And the message is clear: The people of Iraq clearly want democracy and clearly understand that dictatorship and clerical rule are not acceptable substitutes. Thankfully, it looks like the Iraqi people will get what they want.

What is much harder to say is whether Iraqis have a sufficient understanding of and commitment to civil rights and liberties in order to ensure that their democracy becomes a truly liberal one. In light of recently discovered torture chambers run by the Shi'ite-controlled Ministry of the Interior, there are obviously great challenges to overcome in this regard.

Nonetheless, such actions may well reflect the tyrannical disposition of only a small- to medium-sized minority. After suffering so much under Saddam, the majority of Iraqis may have an instinctive sense of what it is that democracies consider unacceptable.
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# Posted 10:32 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

"DON'T FORGET ABOUT THE POLLS YOU DON'T LIKE!" warns OxBlog reader Ckrisz. The most important of those is the one conducted by the UK Ministry of Defence, a summary of which appeared in the Daily Telegraph.

Its most important findings were that 82% of Iraqis strongly opposed the occupation while 45% believed that attacks against coalition forces are acceptable. You may recognize those numbers as the ones that John Murtha cites in every one of his interviews in order to justify his statement that "We are the enemy."

It's hard to know what to make of the MoD poll since all we know about it are the details published in the Telegraph and because it is radically inconsistent with the findings of repeated polls conducted by both the BBC/Time consortium and the International Republican Institute. (For a listing of polls, click here.)

However, regardless of what you think of the occupation, you should know the details of the MoD poll if you want to talk about Iraqi public opinion, since it represents a critical (albeit lonely) data point for some of those who see the war as a quagmire.
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Wednesday, December 14, 2005

# Posted 11:46 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

ONE OFFICER'S PERSPECTIVE: This morning, Maj. Ben Connable, a Marine Corps veteran about to head back to Iraq for his third tour of duty, published an op-ed in the Washington Post. Connable argues well and passionately for a the importance of victory and of looking past headlines that show nothing but carnage. He made one point that struck me especially:
Open optimism, whether or not it is warranted, is a necessary trait in senior officers and officials. Skeptics can be excused for discounting glowing reports on Iraq from the upper echelons of power. But it is not a simple thing to ignore genuine optimism from mid-grade, junior and noncommissioned officers who have spent much of the past three years in Iraq.
In Vietnam, it was mid-level officers such as Lt. Col. John Paul Vann who taught American journalists to see through Johnson and the generals' party line. Perhaps now there is a latter-day Vann who is quietly advising to journalists to disregard the White House line. After all, Vann himself only spoke through his journalist disciples. Yet journalists today, regardless of their opinion of the war, seem to accept that the officer corps is sincerely optimistic.

It should be apparent, however, that the officers' optimism is not enough to shift the tide of public opinion at home. But consider this counterfactual: What if a majority of officers agreed that the war was unwinnable and made their views quietly known. I think it would destroy the administration's resolve. In a war being fought by volunteers, the volunteers must believe in the cause.

For as long as our soldiers re-enlist for second and third tours of duty in Iraq, it will be hard for opponents of the war to insist that we should bring them home now against their own will.
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# Posted 11:29 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

YET ANOTHER PRO-WRESTLING POST: Ninety percent of you will scroll right on down the next post. The other ten percent -- the truly open-minded part of the audience -- will treasure these reviews of some of the pro-wrestling DVD's I've been watching lately.

First up is WWE -- From the Vault: Shawn Michaels. This is a compilation of the Heartbreak Kid's greatest matches, along with some commentary from the Kid himself. And the matches are truly great. Michaels' ladder match against Razor Ramon defined the genre and still seems fresh and creative even though ladder matches are now a staple of the pay-per-view circuit.

The 60 minute Iron Man match against Bret "The Hitman" Hart also deserves its status as a legend. I'd heard that any match that lasts an hour simply gets boring at a point, but this one only gets better. As for those ignorantly deride wrestling as "fake", they should consider exactly what kind of physical conditioning it takes to put on an acrobatic show that goes for sixty minutes straight.

Next up is the re-release of an Andre the Giant retrospective originally from the mid-1980s. Like so many kids, I watched endless hours of television, hoping to see Andre wrestle, but never did. Back then, the stars performed much less often. Thus, I felt quite privileged to actually see 11 matches in a row with Andre. But...

They were terrible. The quality of most pro-wrestling 25 or 30 years ago was nothing compared to what it is today. The pace is far slower, the moves much more repetitive, the wrestlers often out of shape. And Andre dominates every match. Moreover, this disc says almost nothing about Andre as a person. Still, the disc is worth watching for its historical value alone.

Finally, we come to Rob Van Dam: One of a Kind. RVD's first title defense against Jerry Lynn will go down as one of the greatest matches in the history of ECW, if not all of pro-wrestling. There are some other first rate matches here, especially the ladder match against Christian, but Van Dam's suffers to a certain degree from having opponents who just can't match his standard of athleticism. So watch this disc, but don't feel about skipping some matches.

That is all. We now return to our usual discussion of subjects that are dreadfully intellectual.
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# Posted 8:59 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

FIRST THE (RELATIVELY) BAD NEWS: WHAT IRAQIS THINK ABOUT US. The place to start our analysis of the recent polls coming out of Iraq is with this this question, #26 in last year's survey, now #32:
Do you strongly support, somewhat support, somewhat oppose or strongly oppose the presence of Coalition Forces in Iraq?
Strong support has fallen slightly, from 13.2 to 12.8 percent. Moderate support has fallen noticeably from 26.3 to 19.4. Moderate opposition has risen slightly from 19.6 to 20.8. And mostly importantly, strong opposition has risen firmly from 31.3 to 41.7 percent. So no one should say that American forces are flat-out popular.

But this low approval rating for the occupation doesn't translate directly into a firm desire for it to end immediately. When asked how long Coalition forces should remain, 25% said they should leave now, up from 15% in 2004. (Question #29 in 2004 and #33 in 2005). Although hardly positive, I think it's interesting that only about half of those who strongly oppose the presence of Coalition forces want them to leave immediately.

What clearly is positive is that 30.9% want Coalition forces to stay until security is restored and 15.6% want them to stay until the new Iraqi army can operate independently. An additional 19.4% want the troops to stay until the government elected this month is in place. In other words, Iraqis understand quite well the necessity of having direct American military support until such time as they are capable of withstanding the insurgency on their own.

In 2004, 18.3% wanted Coalition forces to stay until security is restored with 35.8% wanting them to stay until an Iraqi government is in place. Thus the numbers have changed significantly, although it is hard to interpret that shift. Apparently, more Iraqi now phrase their acceptance of a continuing occupation as an issue of security, whereas it was formerly more of an issue of politics.

Another very interesting question from the 2004 survey was #27:
If you have had personally any encounters with Coalition Force soldiers, was your last encounter very positive, somewhat positive, somewhat negative or very negative?
77.5 percent said they had never had a personal encounter with Coalition forces. The remaining respondents were evenly divided, with 9.3% citing positive experiences and 8.4% negative ones. Although one shouldn't read too much into such small numbers, they cut strongly against the grain of media coverage that portrays the Iraqi people as profoundly antagonized by aggressive American efforts to hunt down the insurgents, even if means breaking into private homes in the middle of the night.

But let's not lose sight of the fact that Iraqis clearly want the occupation to end, almost as much as Americans do. But how intense is that desire? Since politics is driven not just by what people want but how badly they want it, this is a very important question to ask. One survey question that touched on this issue was #8:
Thinking ahead to the next 12 months, what would be the best thing which could happen to Iraq?
33.3 percent said 'security', 19.3 percent said 'peace and stability', 7.6 said 'a better life', while 5.7 said an end to the occupation. When asked what the worst thing is that could happen in the next 12 months, more than 40 percent gave answers related to continuing violence while 8.9 percent said continued occupation.

Finally, there is one more question that was asked in 2004 but not again in 2005, namely whether respondents considered it acceptable to attack Coalition forces (#25). In 2004, 17.3 percent said yes, while 78.0 said no. I'd be curious to see what the numbers are now.

So all in all, what do these numbers tell us about attitudes towards the American occupation of Iraq? Clearly, Iraqis consider the presence of foreign soldiers to be far from ideal. At the same time, a strong plurality recognize that the presence of American forces is absolutely critical to the achievement of peace and security, the objective that Iraqis overwhelmingly consider to be their most important.

From the very beginning, I have said that I would judge the success of this occupation based on the ability of American forces to win Iraqi hearts and minds. Would achieving that objective entail Iraqis' open embrace of our soldiers as their heroes? Ideally, yes. But that hasn't happened.

Nonetheless, if a strong plurality of Iraqis believe that our presence is helping them accomplish their most important objective -- security -- then we have certainly won over their minds, even if their hearts are ambivalent. How many critics of the occupation ever expected that to be the case, or will even acknowledge that it is the case now?
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Tuesday, December 13, 2005

# Posted 11:15 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

INCREDIBLE. JUST INCREDIBLE. On Monday, Oxford Research International (ORI) published the results of a major survey of Iraqi public opinion commissioned by the BBC, ABC News, Time, Der Spiegel and others. The results were so striking that an analyst for the BBC made the unthinkable observation that
The findings are in line with the kind of arguments currently being deployed by President George W Bush.
For the moment, all I will say is that you have to look at the results for yourself. Even better, compare the results of each question to the results of last year's survey, also conducted by ORI. Tomorrow, I will try to provide some more in-depth analysis of the results. But for the moment consider the respondents' answer to the question of
How much confidence do you have in the New Iraqi Army: is it a great deal of confidence, quite a lot of confidence, not very much confidence or none at all? [Question 14 in the old survey, Question 19 in the new --ed.]
The answers were: A great deal -- Quite a lot -- Not very much -- None at all:
2004.......................17.8...................38.2.............. 24.9..................... 9.7
2005.......................36.0...................31.2...............17.9.....................11.7

Wow.
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# Posted 9:09 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

GOD OF GAMBLERS, made back in 1989, is an unusual film from Hong Kong starring Chow Yun Fat. Only accustomed to Chow's persona as an action hero, I enjoyed watching him play against type. If I said anything more, I will have said too much.
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# Posted 6:50 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE ARGUMENT FOR WITHDRAWAL, PART II: Yesterday, I responded to the first half of Barry Posen's argument about why the American presence in Iraq is a liability rather than an advantage. This post will respond to the second half of that argument, which entails a defense of the often heard notion that our soldiers' very presence in Iraq strengthens the enemy. Posen writes that:
Every killing or arrest produces more insurgents...Were the United States not in Iraq, not only would fewer rebels with to come, but the incentives of neighboring governments to capture such people would rise...

The American presence in Iraq seems to have strengthened Al Qaeda politically -- hardly a victory in the global war on terror.
The first sentence in the passage above is one of the very few in which Posen waxes rhetorical in an unfortunate way. If even arresting an insurgent produces more insurgents, then no meaningful response to the insurgency is possible at all.

Perhaps more importantly, does Posen expect that arrests and killings will become less provocative once they are carried out by the Shi'ite soldiers he wants to replace the Americans? Since Posen acknowledges that ethnic fissures are a very serious issue in Iraq, such a proposition would simply not be plausible.

Now what about the idea that if the United States were not in Iraq, fewer foreign fighters will come? This argument rests on the assumption that if we declare victory and go home so will they. But as Posen himself clearly states, the war will not be over if we go home. It will simply be carried on by our Shi'ite allies. Since we know that the foreign fighters are rabidly anti-Shi'ite and hope for the establishment of a new Caliphate, there is little reason to think that they will go home if we leaves the Shi'ites to fight on their own.

On a related note, Posen never confronts the hypothesis that victory will embolden the insurgents, both the foreign fighters and the Ba'athists. As the insurgents themselves explain, American withdrawals from Vietnam, Lebanon and Somalia over the past thirty years provide the best available indication that America lacks the resolve necessary to win the war. As a student of history and politics, I think Posen would acknowledge that victors often go on take greater risks. This is not just the case for conquerors such as Napoleon and Alexander, but for democracies such as the United States and Britain. Should we expect any better of the Ba'athists and Al Qaeda?

In other regards, Posen is very good about directly confronting the strongest arguments for staying in Iraq. Thus Posen acknowledges that:
The major strategic problem for the United States with a stalemated civil war is that Sunni Arab areas of Iraq—in particular the vast and lawless expanses of the Anbar province—may become safe havens for al Qaeda. But...Even General George Casey and General John Abizaid, the two most senior officers responsible for the counterinsurgency effort in Iraq, agree that the large American presence stokes the insurgency. Once U.S. ground forces have left Iraq, the nationalist political energy will probably leak from the insurgency. Many Sunni Arabs who have tolerated the presence of foreign fighters may no longer do so.
First of all, I think Posen slightly misunderstands the statements of Generals Casey and Abizaid. They acknowledge that our presence has a provocative effect, but they don't pretend that it is the only effect.

More importantly, I think Posen and others must provide much more evidence in order to substantiate the notion that the insurgency is driven by true nationalism rather than by a narrow Sunni agenda that sees Shi'ite rule as intolerable. Earlier on, Posen himself acknowledges that
Sunni Arabs almost surely see the United States as the agent of their fall from the top of the social order and the American presence as an obstacle to restoring their power and resources.
Exactly. In fact, I might even suggest that if the United States withdraws, the Sunnis will become more tolerant of the foreign fighters because they will recognize their contribution to the insurgents' victory over the United States. Regardless of whether the Sunnis actually want the foreign fighers in Iraq, they will also need as many allies they can get in order to fight the war against the Shi'ites and Kurds, which they will have a chance of winning if we withdraw.

The second major argument against withdrawal that Posen acknowledges is the idea that if we leave, the conflict in Iraq may well escalate from insurgency into a full scale civil war, with hundreds of thousands of Iraqis paying for it with their lives. Posen writes that escalation is probable but observes that
The most likely military outcome of this civil war is a stalemate, and this is what the United States should aim for. Though there may be considerable bloodletting, it is unlikely that any group can conquer the others...

The United States can and should act militarily and diplomatically to produce a stalemate. This strategy would essentially mirror the one used to end the Bosnia war: first building up the weaker parties, the Croatians and the Bosnians, and assisting their military efforts against the Serbs; then restraining the first two parties when they became too greedy and recommending to all three a de facto partition of the country reflecting the military stalemate that the United States (and NATO) had engineered. A military stalemate in Iraq would similarly be the stepping stone to a political settlement based on a loose federal structure.
This analogy to Bosnia strikes me as ironic, since the settlement of its civil war depended on the continuing presence of a NATO-led occupation force that put approximately four times as many troops, per capita, on the ground as the United States has so far in Iraq.

In other words, the lesson of Bosnia is not that stalemates work, but that only Western arms can prevent a horror of almost genocidal proportions.

In summary, I respect Prof. Posen's commitment to a sober and non-partisan discussion of the most critical issue facing America today, but strongly disagree with his arguments. A timetable for withdrawal will neither ensure the rapid improvement of the new Iraqi army nor pacify the insurgents. And a premature withdrawal runs the very serious risk of both facilitating the establishment of Al Qaeda safe havens and initiating a mass-casualty civil war.

There is no question that America is paying a terrible price to fight this war. But the cause is necessary. And I would even say that it is noble. Just two days from now, the people of Iraq will go to the polls once again. Let us hope and pray for the best.
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Monday, December 12, 2005

# Posted 10:29 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE BEST POSSIBLE ARGUMENT FOR WITHDRAWAL FROM IRAQ: Barry Posen is both a professor at MIT and unquestionably one of the foremost experts on international security in the United States if not the world. In the current issue of the Boston Review, Posen has a long and sober essay on why it is in our national interest to withdraw almost all of our soldiers from Iraq in the next 18 months.

For adamant supporters of our mission Iraq (such as myself), Posen's essay is eminently readable because it traffics in none of the partisan cliches and holier-than-thou rhetoric of so many of the war's critics. More importantly, it confronts head-on the most powerful argument against a premature withdrawal from Iraq, namely the prospect of both a bloody civil war and the establishment of Al Qaeda sanctuaries under Sunni protection.

Although I won't pretend to be truly open-minded about the situation in Iraq, I think that being able to process the arguments made by Posen and respond with meaningful analysis is an important challenge for all those who continue to support the war. That said, I would like to comment on Posen's essay in the traditional manner of the blogosphere, by taking on its main arguments paragraph by paragraph.

I think the best summary of Posen's essay is its second sentence:
The war is at best a stalemate; the large American presence now causes more trouble than it prevents.
The first subpoint under this heading is Posen's assertion that the American presence in Iraq provides an incentives for the Iraqi government to let America solve its problems. Hence:
Iraqi politicians will not apply sustained pressure to their security forces to improve themselves so long as they know that the Americans will remain to protect the state from the insurgents...

[And] how do the insurgents do so well with no large training bases, no safe place to organize, no secure electronic command-and-control network, and only the weaponry they can obtain covertly? The answer is almost certainly motivation. The insurgents care more about ejecting the United States than Iraqi politicians and soldiers care about stopping the insurgents—in part because the Iraqis can rely on the United States to do it for them.
The argument that American patronage creates an incentive for irresponsibility on the part of its clients is grounded in a fair amount of historical evidence. Yet I am concerned that Posen assumes that this pattern has held true in Iraq even though he does not provide much evidence.

No less important is the absence in Posen's essay of one of the most important indications of just how serious the Iraqis on our side our about fighting the insurgency: the number who continue to die, day in and day out, fighting at our side. Even though suicide bombers repeatedly target police and military recruiting stations, young men continue to congregate there in impressive numbers to volunteer for service.

To a certain extent, Posen might welcome such indications that the Iraqis on our side are already willing to fight. Such evidence would justify Posen's remarkably optimistic conclusion that:
An interval of 18 months provides ample time for the United States to help the Iraqis complete the project of training and organizing an army capable of maintaining internal security...if Iraqis—especially the Shiites—are motivated by the knowledge that they will soon be on their own, they can achieve such a capability with a year’s hard work...

In wartime, Western armies have forged new units in a year or less for much more demanding tasks. Even the Iraqi army under Saddam grew at a furious pace under the pressure of the war with Iran...Necessity and threat are powerful motivators.
Yes they are. Yet I am very much concerned that Posen's implicit comparison between the new Iraqi army and the old -- let alone any comparison to Western forces -- fails to take into account the fact that the new Iraqi army simply does not have the human infrastructrue necessary to train a viable force. Established armies can forge new units because they have experienced an officer corps that can both train new recruits and then lead them in battle.

Imagine the change in tenor if Iraqi recruits knew that their American instructors would abandon them once 18 months had passed. Would such recruits want to stay and fight knowing that they would suddenly be left to battle the insurgents on their own, without American support in the field? No less importantly, would the Iraqi recruits trust their American instructors?

All in all, the motivation provided by sheer necessity would be a poor substitute for the confidence that comes from being well-trained and well-led.

To be continued...
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# Posted 7:00 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THAT WAS THEN, THIS IS NOW: George W. Bush, State of the Union address, February 2, 2005:
To promote peace and stability in the broader Middle East, the United States will work with our friends in the region to fight the common threat of terror, while we encourage a higher standard of freedom...the great and proud nation of Egypt, which showed the way toward peace in the Middle East, can now show the way toward democracy in the Middle East.
Washington Post editorial, December 10, 2005:
THE LAST DAYS of Egypt's month-long parliamentary election were shameful. Government security forces and gangs of thugs from the ruling National Democratic Party blockaded access to dozens of polling sites where opposition candidates were strong. In several cases they opened fire on citizens who tried to vote; 10 people were reported killed. Inside the election stations, government appointees blatantly stuffed ballot boxes in full view of judicial monitors. In some districts, they ignored court orders seeking to prevent them from buying votes or busing in nonresidents to defeat opposition candidates.
I believe that President Bush meant every word that he said in his State of the Union address. But leadership demands more than sincerity. It demands action, even while preoccupied with more politically sensitive tasks. And now is the time.
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# Posted 6:57 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

I PROMISE, THIS REALLY IS A GOOD LAWYER JOKE: Courtesy of the lovely SC...
A man in a hot air balloon realized he was lost. He reduced altitude and spotted a woman below. Descending a bit more he shouted, "Excuse me, can you help? I promised a friend I would meet him an hour ago BUT I do not know where I am." The woman replied, "You're in a hot air balloon, approximately 30 feet above the ground. You are between 40/41 degrees latitude, north, and 59/60 degrees west, longitude."

"You must be an Associate", said the balloonist. "I am", replied the woman, "How did you know?" "Well", answered the balloonist, "everything you told me is technically correct but I have no idea what to make of your information and the fact is, I am still lost. Frankly, you've not been much help at all, if anything, you have delayed my trip."

The woman below responded, "You must be a Partner." "I am," replied the balloonist, "But how did you know?" "Well," replied the woman, "You don't know where you are or where you are going. You have risen to where you are due to a large quantity of hot air. You made a promise which you have no idea how to keep, and you expect people beneath you to solve your problem. The fact is you are in exactly the same position you were in before we met, but now, somehow, it is my fault."
Hehehe!
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# Posted 6:33 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

NOT A MAN OF THE YEAR, BUT A PEOPLE OF THE YEAR: Yesterday morning on This Week with George Stephanopoulos, George Will nominated the Iraqi voter to be man of the year. It's a brilliant idea. And a surprising one, coming from a self-avowed realist and critic of nation-building.

However, my suspicion is that no student of the Founding Fathers and admirer of the Constitution as passionate as Will could fail to be inspired by the desire of millions of Iraqis to risk life and limb rather than miss the chance to vote. Of course, the millions who voted in both January and October will have to pull it off one more time in order to earn their award. But I am confident that they can do it.

In response to Will's observation, both Stephanopoulos himself and panelist Martha Raditz of ABC News seconded the nomination of Mother Nature in last week's issue of Time. In light of the tsunami, Katrina and the recent quake in Pakistan, it's a solid choice. And a depressing one.

Yet Mother Nature comes and goes. Her depredations are as old as the day is long. Whereas the courage of the Iraqi people may represent both a turning point in the history of freedom and a monument to the eternal human thirst for liberty.

If you have confidence that something good will come of the Iraqi people's three trips to the polls (and I do), then they deserve your support as collective person of the year. If you believe that this year's elections in Iraq are nothing more than an illusion destined to be washed away by civil war and suicide bombs, then perhaps the people of Iraq deserve to win the award as a consolation prize for their noble disappointment.
(3) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 2:10 AM by Patrick Belton  

TWO MILLION OXBLOG READERS SERVED, AND COUNTING: You all are kind enough, through desert hailstorms, alpine avalanches, and Beltway legislative gridlocks, through thick (me) and thin (David, a certified half blue in karate who's never suffered his camera stolen), to read David's and my natterings on politics every day, together with those of our ever revolving casts of guest characters - the OxBlog equivalent of the South Park towlie, or the Simpsons' Kang and Kodos. So, we'd like to reward you, who day in and day out, through hard days of blog reading when you'd rather be out studying for exams, drafting cables, or running uphill, for assiduously reading this blog and helping us procrastinate with the extraordinary level of success we've had so far. Therefore, have a look at the number of OxBlog readers served at the bottom of this page. if you're the lucky reader when it turns '2,000,000', give or take a few million, take a screen shot or save it or have your mother or station chief write a note, and we'll send you...Swiss chocolate and some bit of tourist kit from Heathrow, defaced with the easily dry-cleanable graffiti 'hugs and kisses from OxBlog.' So happy reloading, and thanks so much for coming back here every day!

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# Posted 1:57 AM by Patrick Belton  

FOR SHAME! Unforgivably, MPs and members of the Lords are better educated than the public at large, we learn from reporting over the weekend (Times, BBC). Over 27 per cent of MPs and 42 per cent of Lords were educated at Oxbridge, and even worse, nearly a third of MPs and two-thirds of Lords at public schools. Sutton Trust chairman Sir Peter Lampl compares the findings to 'apartheid'.

(UPDATE: Our drinking buddy BritPundit deftly presents the other side.)
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# Posted 1:40 AM by Patrick Belton  

A BRITISH AMBASSADOR SPEAKS OUT. By which, of course, I mean to say 'a British ambassador emails two of his colleagues after a dinner party, and it ends up on the front page of the Times'. But it's worth reading anyhow, even if a dubious pleasure. Money bits:
I am being asked to give more UK taxpayers money to an EU which for years can not produce properly audited accounts. Mon ami Jacques with the support of most of you is nagging me to give the EU more money while the refusing to surrender an inch or even a centimetre on the CAP - a programme which uses inefficient transfers of taxpayers money to bloat rich French landowners and so pump up food prices in Europe, thereby creating poverty in Africa, which we then fail to solve through inefficient but expensive aid programmes. The most stupid, immoral state-subsidised policy in human history, give or take Communism.

We - unlike most other old EU MS sitting here - have opened our labour markets. HMG have created more jobs for Poles in the past year than the Polish Government. Yet not one of you nor a single newspaper in any of your capitals has expressed a single word of gratitude or appreciation for the UK position in all this. So much for solidarity.

I have here with me a draft press release which says the following:

Following the failure of the EU Budget talks today because most EU member states refused to accept a generous, innovative new budget proposed by HMG, the UK Gov announces that it is going to set aside a good chunk of the money it was prepared effectively to deduct from its rebate under the current proposals, 5 billion pounds, to set up a new Strategic European Development Fund - the Mother of All Know How Funds, but on steroids.

The Fund will go for any sensible strategic development idea that comes along, with emphasis on R&D and Innovation, plus reform of the region's abysmal legal systems, the main Communist - era legacy problem in Europe. But if you want to build some new roads, that's OK too.

The Fund will be managed according to state of the art transparency and efficiency: hard targets set for spending with regular public updates; 90% money spent to require matching private sector funds, so as to encourage new private investment on a vast scale; and so on.

[Aside: PM Marcinkiewicz: you asked me recently to help with ELT in Polish schools - spend 100 million of the Fund on this, so that every kid learns English, plus save money by shutting down French and German language classes!]

[Other interesting bits here equally worth reading while you're procrastinating]

Charles Crawford
HMA Warsaw
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# Posted 1:25 AM by Patrick Belton  

I ENJOYED READING this colour piece on the banlieue of La Corneuve in the NYT today, yet another bit of excellent worksmanship by Elaine Sciolino, whose presence on the Times's payroll I've always felt is somehow redemptive of the entire institution.
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Sunday, December 11, 2005

# Posted 7:57 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

BRUNCH WITH MAO: On Sunday mornings in Washington, the place to be is at the gospel brunch put on by the Corcoran Gallery of Art. Local choirs perform live in the Gallery's great hall while guests try to persuade themselves that two visits to the buffet are really enough.

Although most buffets sacrifice quality for the sake of quantity, the Corcoran's doesn't. The food this morning was just about on par with the a la carte items I've had at other top shelf destinations for brunch, such as the Old Ebbitt Grill and the Tabard Inn. But you pay for the privilege; brunch costs $24.95 per person, including hot drinks and one champagne cocktail.

Also included is free admission to the Corcoran Gallery itself. The current exhibitions include Warhol Legacy, an extensive show that draws on the collection of the Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh. The works that provoked the most intense reaction from myself and my girlfriend were the numerous portraits of Mao Zedong, all presented together in a room whose walls were covered with Warhol's own Chairman Mao wallpaper.

In the spirit of the great Josh Chafetz, who considers the rebirth of Cuban and Soviet insignia as teen-scene fashion to be thoroughly offensive, I decided to ask my lovely companion why it is that a prominent museum would put on display multiple portraits of a mass murderer without the slightest hint of embarrassment. After all, no museum anywhere in the world would fill an entire room with portraits of Hitler, no matter how artistically impressive they were.

At first, our discussion covered the usual ground. In contrast to Hitler, Mao remains a nationalist hero. In the 1960s and 1970s, the West remained basically ignorant of Mao's most horrific crimes. Yadda, yadda, yadda.

Then we hit upon a road less traveled. The fact remains that Mao had the good sense to commit most of his crimes within his own borders. Hitler, of course, didn't. Stalin tyrannized Eastern Europe. Mao played a role in Korea and Vietnam, but we don't think of him as the primary villain in either situation.

Only after sitting down to write this post did I realized that there is one major flaw with the argument presented above: Pol Pot. There is a firm consensus that he was at least as brutal and depraved as Hitler.

So what gives? My new (but partially old) hypothesis is that Mao is somehow more acceptable because he was never the focus of our hatred. In part, this argument draws on the fact that the West remained conveniently ignorant of Mao's crimes while he was committing them. But Stalin was also the darling of American propaganda during WWII, well after committing his mass murders. Yet during the last years of his life, Stalin was the focus of our hatred.

In contrast, Mao never fully emerged from the Soviet shadow. And then, like Stalin, he became our ally. But once again, what about Pol Pot? The Khmer Rouge were never public enemy #1. But there was an almost unquestioned agreement, while the Khmer Rouge were committing their crimes, that they represented a sort of evil found nowhere else in the world.

I know this explanation is far from perfect. In fact, I think part of the problem is that one shouldn't even look for logically consistent answers to questions of public perception and memory. Although it would be nice if we had a consistent approach to mass murderers, the strange course of history leaves us with memories that are far from consistent.

Perhaps this inconsistency explains why despite our self-righteous declarations of 'Never Again', we did nothing about the genocide in Rwanda and are now almost as complacent about mass murder in Darfur.
(5) opinions -- Add your opinion

Friday, December 09, 2005

# Posted 11:23 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

PODCASTING PRIME MINISTER'S QUESTIONS: Courtesy of the Guardian, here is the URL: <http://www.guardian.co.uk/podcast/0,,5341906,00.xml>. You can also find full transcripts of PMQ, along with video and sound files, on the website for 10 Downing St.

One can only wish that America had something like PMQ. The President's news conferences are a rough equivalent, in the sense that the White House press corps can ask the President anything it wants, but a news conference is essentially one-sided. The President is permanently on the defensive. The press corps takes no positions of its own, so it is invulnerable to questions.

In contrast, PMQ represents all that is best about political combat. It is fast and furious and quite unpredictable. And it is humorous. It often seems that American politicians never assume the risk of being funny, except when telling jokes prepared by their speech writers.

So, go listen PMQ. This week's session marked the debut of new Tory leader David Cameron. I think he did a good job. And, of course, Tony Blair was his usual self. Enjoy!
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# Posted 6:59 AM by Patrick Belton  

“I LOOKED AROUND the carriage and I made a very firm decision that ‘this is not where I die. This is not the end for me’.” Thus Ms Gill Hicks, who lost 75 per cent of her blood on 7th July and was the last to be carried out alive that day from Russell Square tube station - and who as the very image of the stiff upper lip tore her scarf in two amid the wreckage of the carriage, matter of factly applied tourniquets to both of her legs, and then in hospital learned to walk with prosthetic ones. Ms Hicks weds her fiancee tomorrow before the rescue staff who saved her, in one of the more touching wedding announcements to be carried yet in the Times. OxBlog's heartfelt congratulations, and deepest respect, to her and to Mr Joe Kerr.
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# Posted 6:03 AM by Patrick Belton  

CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS follows the newspaperman through the English comic novel in the reading of which he is indisputed master.
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# Posted 5:08 AM by Patrick Belton  

WHAT DAVID SAID. Curiously, we have rather similar tastes in blogs. (Personally, I'm also appending a vote for Alexandra in the Best Slavic Legs category.)
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Thursday, December 08, 2005

# Posted 8:53 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WEBLOG AWARDS 2005: Brought to you once again by Wizbang! To read more about the awards, click here. Now here's who I'm voting for:
Best Blog: Kevin Drum. (There's no one I enjoy disagreeing with more.)

Best Group Blog: The Moderate Voice. (Not meant as an endorsement of Joe's sense of humor.)

Best Liberal Blog: Matthew Yglesias. (Which one of his four blogs am I voting for? Who knows.)

Best Conservative Blog: Tom Maguire. (Greg Djerejian a very, very close second.)

Best of the Top 250: Dan Drezner.
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# Posted 11:10 AM by Patrick Belton  

WE HEAR WHAT OUR READERS WANT. HOWEVER, SINCE THAT'S SICK AND ILLEGAL, HERE'S MORE ISRAEL BLOGGING INSTEAD:
Israel’s party system is undergoing more upheaval. It was not enough to see Histadrut Union leader Amir Peretz defeat Labour’s elderly statesman, Shimon Peres, for party leadership, soon followed by Ariel Sharon’s resignation from Likud and the establishment of his new party, Kadima. In the last month, everything and its contrary happened. Consider this: Peres left Labour to join Sharon, with two other front bench Labourites, Dalia Itzik and Haim Ramon. Sharon brought over a considerable chunk of his loyalists from Likud – Zeev Boim, Roni Bar On, Ehud Olmert among others – plus Likud’s former rising star, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni. In the last three days, more shocking news for the Likud: Tzachi Hanegbi, acting Likud chairman and party stalwart, defected to Sharon’s party. This is huge: leave aside the image stunt; leave aside the impact for party morale; leave aside the leadership vacuum on the eve of Likud’s primaries. Tzachi Hanegbi is the son of Geula Cohen, the founder of Tehiyah, the party that broke off from Likud in protest for the Camp David accords with Egypt. He himself was among the protesters who chained themselves up to buildings during the evacuation of Israel’s settlement of Yamit in Sinai, in the spring of 1982 (Sharon, then Defence Minister, is the person who ordered the evacuation and bulldozing of the settlement – he is not new to the business). That he joins a party whose platform advocates the drawing of boundaries way west of the Jordan River – thus throwing the Likud’s ideology to the dustbin of history – is truly significant. And if all this was not enough, 200 activists from the Likud yesterday showed up at a rally for Peretz – yes, Labour – announcing they were switching sides. This is not even an upheaval anymore. It’s a meltdown.

Not many have emphasised the importance of these political events. This is tantamount to nothing less than a major political realignment, the likes of which are rare. Polls show this trend. Initially, both Peretz and Sharon were faring well in the polls due to the excitement surrounding their surprise exploit. But now it is different. A month after their breakthroughs, a trend is emerging, which suggests an important change in the distribution of the vote. For over three decades, the main dividing line in Israeli politics was defined by the clash between the Peace Now vision and the Greater Israel vision. No more now. Sharon’s great political intuition was to see that the electorate moved to the centre, rejecting the ideological assumptions of both positions and opting instead for a centrist, middle of the road approach, that accepts territorial compromise, but mistrusts the Palestinian side’s intention and ability to do its share. In 2003, Sharon triumphed in the polls as head of Likud. He assumed that he could lead the Likud back to glory and power by turning it into a centrist party, the embodiment of this new pragmatic, unsentimental but realistic view of the Arab Israeli conflict. The Likud did not read the writing on the wall: its victory, clearly the result of the pragmatic image Sharon offered to the Israeli public, demanded an ideological adjustment by the party as well. Instead, the Likud put endless obstacles on the Prime minister’s path. Having failed to persuade the Likud to position itself in the centre, Sharon has now decided to leave the Likud to shipwreck. Pundits warned of the difficulty of putting together a new party. They also hailed Peretz’ arrival on the scene as a new start. But look at the polls: an Israel Radio poll, summarized today in the Jerusalem Post, shows that Kadima has broken the 40 seats threshold (what Sharon commanded as head of the Likud): if Netanyahu leads Likud, Sharon gets 41 mandates, if Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom or Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz leads Likud, Sharon jumps to 44. In the former scenario, Labour would drop to a meagre 21 seats. In the rosier pictures, Labour fails to rise above 28 seats. It is hardly the dawn of a new era for Israel’s left. Sharon’s party started with 32-34 seats in the polls taken immediately after his announcement. Today is flying high. And with all the hype that part of the Israeli media are making about the importance of socio-economic issues and how that helps Labour, the reliable Peace Index, due to be released later this week at the Tami Steinmetz Centre for Peace at Tel Aviv University, shows how 1) security will still be the dominant factor in influencing voters’ choice and 2) Sharon is still the preferred leader for most Israelis, faring better than all his adversaries put together.

Ultimately, the only results that count are the ones of election day. But the momentous events of the last few weeks show that a major earthquake has hit Israel’s party system. It is not just a play of personalities or even policies. A major electoral and political realignment is taking place.

EMANUELE OTTOLENGHI
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# Posted 9:59 AM by Patrick Belton  

THERE'S A DOCTOR IN THE HOUSE! Congratulations, David! You've done us all proud; and for my part, I'll hurry up and submit so I can give those doctores doctissimi illegitimatique* a few quick jabs for you from the OxBlog Boys. Well done, you!

*dumb bastards. as spoken in Congregation.
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Wednesday, December 07, 2005

# Posted 6:07 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE SCHOLAR'S SUPERSTITION: Last Friday, I flew to England. I flew to England because I had to defend my dissertation in person, in Oxford, on Monday. I didn't put up a post about my trip because I didn't want to jinx it.

When your professors are about to hand down their judgment about the work to which you've devoted the past three years of your life, it's hard not to become superstitious. Especially when your actual performance at the defense (or "viva" as we call it in Oxford) can make all the difference.

Whereas most American graduate students receive regular comments and criticism from the committee of professors who will decide whether or not they graduate, those of us in Oxford have to submit our dissertation to a pair of professors with whom we have had no substantive interaction while writing our dissertations. Although doctoral candidates have the most important say in deciding which professors will evaluate their work, the whole process is still very unpredictable.

Thus, I had to contend with the real possibility that I would be sent back to the drawing board and told to resubmit my dissertation in a year's time. And the viva itself was very, very rough. After all, how often does a pair of senior scholars spend more than an hour and half dissecting every argument you've made?

More than once, I was told that I had "no evidence" to back up some of my arguments. Thus, when I left the room at the end of the session, I really thought that I might not pass. But I did.

Afterward, I didn't feel very much like celebrating. I felt like a survivor, not a winner. But when it comes to getting your doctorate, surviving is more than enough.

So now I feel relieved.
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# Posted 6:16 AM by Patrick Belton  

THANKS, MISTY!: David and I are awfully grateful to our corpulent antipodean drinking buddy for coming over and playing this week. Come back soon, and warm congratulations on your wedding!
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# Posted 6:04 AM by Patrick Belton  

SHOWDOWN SMACKDOWN: Watch Blair facing off for the first time in an hour against his younger more-Blairite-than-Blair Doppelgänger, blinking in the mirror here; on the other side, we'll get to see whether DC's up to his first TB shot. This is good stuff, sports fans.

In either case, the two are sure to draw a fuller house than Baroness Ashton of Upholland, on BBC Parliament talking to herself right now in an empty Lords on the immigration bill. Meanwhile, is Ferdy laying down the cinder blocks for a Tory-Lib coalition?
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Tuesday, December 06, 2005

# Posted 8:12 PM by Patrick Porter  

LAST CALL FOR DRINKS: Well Oxblog readers, my week as guest blogger is just about up. I can hear the distant thud of the guards boots, as David and Patrick come to remove my security clearance card. Its been great swinging by this fantastic site. If you're ever in the mood for name-dropping, unbalanced commentary and ex tempore rants, drop in to the Red Mist. Must go, I've got a wedding to attend to. Have a great holiday season,

Corpulent
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# Posted 3:02 PM by Patrick Belton  

YOUR BIGGEST FAN, THIS IS STAN: For all you Uighur wonks and 'stan fans out there, there's a new issue out of the Central Eurasian Studies Review. Enjoy!
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# Posted 11:19 AM by Patrick Porter  

FROM THE LION'S MOUTH: During the heated exchanges in the Baghdad trial yesterday, the overthrown tryant of Iraq claimed: 'Like the path of Mussolini, to resist occupation to the end, that is Saddam Hussein.' A little rich coming from a serial aggressor. I suspect the Iranian student I taught two years ago would be interested to hear that Saddam imagines himself as a martyred defender, rather than the annexationist predator of the Gulf. But Saddam's identification of himself with Mussolini is accurate in other ways. Both began as socialists before becoming aggressive nationalists adroit at manipulating international opinion, both turned their nations into one-party states, both tried to create empires by invading and mustard-gassing tribesmen, and both were arrested as fugitives in the hinterlands they had terrorised.

But the new sovereign Iraqi state has at least accorded this Mussolini the courtesy of a trial, as the foundational event of the new Iraq. The dancing on his toppled statue by jubilant crowds is the nearest it has come to seeing his corpse hung upside down. But it has also given him the opportunity to prolong his own personality cult by giving him a platform for grandiose speeches. It would therefore be wise to remember his own identification with Mussolini, to prevent the desire for a fair trial sliding into misplaced sympathy. Saddam's American attorney Ramsay Clark, not content to represent his client in court, fell victim to this when on radio he tried to justify Saddam's torture and killing of hundreds of inhabitants of a Shiite town. To be sure, everyone should be given due process and a fair trial. But lets not start weaving for this Mussolini the kinds of excuses offered for terrorists.
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# Posted 10:35 AM by Patrick Belton  

WHEW THAT WAS CLOSE: David Cameron takes 134,446 votes to (giving friends credit where credit due, &c.) Dee Dee's 64,398. See coverage: FT, Scotsman, BBC, Guardian, Indy, Times on DC.
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# Posted 9:20 AM by Patrick Belton  

THE BEEB ANSWERS THE AGE-OLD QUESTION, who will watch the watchers? Answer: other watchers. In this case, watchers watching watchers watching washers.
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# Posted 8:25 AM by Patrick Belton  

AS CHARGED: OxBlog's good drinking buddy BritPundit would like to remind readers that he owns original copyright on referring to our favourite member of the Tory party as a sex act. OxBlog: raising the level of political conversation in three countries since 2002!
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# Posted 7:39 AM by Patrick Belton  

HAVING BEEN SCRIBBLING on lessons to be learned from Northern Ireland for not bunging up the same mistakes in counterterrorism twice, I was intrigued by Simon Kingston's piece in Magill on Gerry Adams's unique relationship with the Easterist tradition. My favourite quotes: (re Gerry) 'He is the first Republican leader to lie consistently in public about his relationship with the IRA.' (re republicanism after the death of Padraic Pearse) 'it fell to his apostolic successors to wrestle with the tough business of not being dead enough to avoid the awkward questions. ' The rest is all worth reading as well, leading up to his conclusion that Adams's platonic lie about his nights moonlighting as chief of the Army Council was tenable when it was convenient for all governments, but is no longer.
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# Posted 5:45 AM by Patrick Belton  

OXBUDDIES IN THE NEWS: Our great pal David Pozen was on NPR recently to talk about the mosaic theory of intelligence gathering, which he's also written about in the Yale law journal. He's also done some interesting work lately on whether privatisation of juvenile correction facilities affects recidivism of young offenders once they are released. (Privatisation lowers per-inmate costs but raises recidivism rates.) Free Sally's on OxBlog for the most farfetched idea about how to combine mosaic theory with juvenile recidivism for David's first book project!
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# Posted 5:06 AM by Patrick Belton  

OXBLOG AT THE FUNNIES: Earlier this year, my co-blogger David wrote a fine spankin' piece on the international politics of Marvel comics. So it's no surprise that we here at OxBlog world headquarters enjoyed reading Matthew Mehan's piece on the odd world of Japanese comics. Which, though Japanese people are very nice, make me rather happy that we run the world and not them.
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Monday, December 05, 2005

# Posted 6:42 PM by Patrick Belton  

MORE ISRAELI POLITICS WATCH: As always, from our intrepid Israeli politics correspondent -
Likud's dark horse, MK Uzi Landau has withdrawn his candidacy for Likud leadership and announced he will back Benyamin Netanyahu. With the withdrawal of MK Israel Katz from the race, there are now four candidates left: front runner Netanyahu, Minister of Defence Shaul Mofaz, Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom and Moshe Feiglin. Take your pick, but my bet is on Netanyahu's victory. If that were the case, it would give Ariel Sharon something to look for, as Netanyahu and Labour leader Amir Peretz will re-enact their past sparring when Netanyahu was a neo-liberal finance minister and Peretz was an old Labour trade unionist chief. The two have already offered a taste of their future catfights at Israel's Business Conference in Tel Aviv, where the Prime minister took to the podium to invoke fiscal and political responsibility on his rivals - asking them to ensure that Israel has a budget ahead of the March elections.

Meanwhile, Palestinian terror organization Islamic Jihad sent one of his death messengers to a Netanya shopping mall, killing 5 and wounding dozens of others - a grisly reminder that Israel's electoral agenda will still be dominated by security concerns. Defence Minister Mofaz has ordered a series of responses (boom, boom and boom would suit me fine.).

Will politicians seize the events to score political points? If so, expect the right to point out that the Gaza disengagement encouraged terrorism, while the Left, always in need to show it has teeth (to say nothing of muscles) will probably criticise Sharon for having allowed political calculations to delay the completion of the West Bank security barrier. Speaking of the left and their security credentials, watch closely what they have been up to. Prior to resigning along with all other Labour ministers, Housing Minister Itzhak Herzog issued tenders for 350 new housing units in Ma'aleh Adumim, one of three major settlement blocs east of the Green Line that most Israelis would like to retain under a peace agreement with the Palestinians. Needless to say, Labour's new leader, Amir Peretz, approved the move. Not content to prove the electorate that Labour under Peretz will not be as dovish as depicted (Peretz is a member of Peace Now), newly acquired Labour star, Ben Gurion University President, Professor Avishai Braverman announced earlier this week that Jerusalem shall remain united under Israel's sovereignty. Settlements, united Jerusalem. Is Labour trying to regain the centre?


Emanuele Ottolenghi
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Saturday, December 03, 2005

# Posted 1:34 PM by Patrick Porter  

THE BIG MOUSTACHE: This may be old news to historians of Stalin. But it pleased this ignoramus. First, background. The partial opening of the Soviet archives after the cold war uncovered further documentary proof of the scale of Stalin's atrocities, including direct orders from Stalin for mass executions, the execution of party members as well as arrest and execution quotas, and proof of the Katyn forest massacre in occupied Poland. Based on the new archival evidence, rough estimates of the death toll, partly from direct executions but also including those killed by the deprivation of the Gulags and famines wrought by farm collectivisation, begin at 5 million at the lowest. These figures based on the fresh archival material are lower than the estimates of some historians like Robert Conquest, who overestimated the bodycount before the archives were opened, but also discredit attempts to minimise the catastrophe.

As historians John Earl Hayes and Harvey Klehr comment,
'One can understand why Conquest, responding to a request from his publisher for a new title for his revised edition of The Great Terror after the opening of the archvies, tartly replied, "How about I Told You So, You F#$*ing Fools."
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# Posted 4:54 AM by Patrick Belton  

WE GET THE ODDEST EMAILS, DEPT.:
On the subject of General Richard Head (q.v.): Yes, he must have had a difficult childhood and adulthood. His mother called him Dick until the day she died. No one should be treated that way. But, as his former, but very much alive, wife, I know he started going by Richard shortly after we married and since our divorce uses R. G. as a given name. I will not comment on what I called him, suffice to say during the divorce and for sometime afterwards, it wasn't anything close to Richard, but now, I just feel sad that this label will follow him his entire life. Beware what you name your children. Richard was a family name. I don't think originally his parent even thought how the nickname Dick would go with Head. Why they were never able to use Richard says something about them. He is a gifted political scientist.

--- Elaine Head
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Friday, December 02, 2005

# Posted 5:05 PM by Patrick Belton  

FLOGGING DEAD WOOD PIXELS (OR, 'WHAT'S UP, .DOC?'): Hey all, just bashed out a book chapter on terrorists and the tube. Please feel free to read over my shoulder, and let me know if you have any thoughts while it's still in draft form!

# Posted 12:09 PM by Patrick Porter  

PEACE BE WITH YOU: Despite what you read and hear, overall things are getting more peaceful. This according to the Human Security Report, published by the Liu Institute for Global Issues and sponsored by five governments. Since the end of the Cold War, there has been a marked decrease in political violence. The number of armed conflicts has decreased by more than 40%, and the number of major conflicts (defined as resulting in 1,000 or more "battle-deaths") has declined by 80%. Our news media, preoccupied with bad news, threats and prophecies of doom, doesn't always report things that don't happen, or that are happening less. On the other hand, history is not a story of unleavened progress, so its hard to say whether this marks a long-term trend or a brief interlude. (cue for ominous music). Encouraging news, though.
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# Posted 10:10 AM by Patrick Belton  

WELL, YOU KNOW, I'd like to think if there were a blog that would have Nato tajik songs, we'd be it.
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# Posted 8:32 AM by Patrick Belton  

FROM OUR ISRAELI POLITICS CORRESPONDENT:
Will Ariel Sharon's new party, Kadima, become Israel's new centre party and win the upcoming Israeli elections? Or will it vanish into thin air, as many other 'solo' parties have indeed done in the recent and not-so-recent Israeli past?

Since his resignation from Likud, Ariel Sharon has enjoyed an easy ride in the polls. Two days ago, Sharon's latest acquisition (Israel's elderly statesman Shimon Peres) bode well for the Prime minister. The most recent poll, published by Ha'aretz on Friday 2 December, confirms that impression. Sharon's party skyrockets and gets 37 seats, while Likud nosedives to just 9. Labour stays steady at 26, and the rest is history. And in personal contests, Sharon comes out ahead of everyone else put together as the leader Israelis most trust for the position of Prime minister.

But elections were not on December 2, they are on March 28, 2006, and that is a long way away. So will Sharon win or will he become the latest casualty of Israel's political system?

Writing in the New Republic (subscription only) Yossi Klein Halevi, a Shalem Centre fellow in Jerusalem does not think so:

‘With Sharon's new party, Israel's centrist majority has finally found a political home. That majority, which emerged after the collapse of the Oslo process in 2000, rejected as utopian both the right's dream of "greater Israel" and the left's dream of "peace now." While centrists found a leader in Sharon, they still lacked a party. Instead, the political system was caught in a time warp. The Likud remained tied to the settlements project of the 1970s and 1980s, and Labor to its 1990s peace process with the Palestine Liberation Organization. National unity governments bringing together Likud and Labor have always been popular. Yet centrist parties have fared poorly, rarely lasting a single term in the Knesset. Absurdly, with 15 parties in the current Knesset, not one represents centrist Israelis--who, in principle, are prepared to make almost any concession that would end the conflict but who, in practice, doubt that any concession will win Israel peace.

With Kadima, centrists now have a party ready to unilaterally impose consensus borders that most Israelis would willingly defend, ending the demographic and moral dangers of occupation while extricating Israel from a negotiating process that lacks a trustworthy Palestinian partner. This election, then, is above all a referendum on the new Israeli center. Is that center a passing phase--a discontent rather than a worldview--as its critics from left and right insist? Or can it replace the politics of wishful thinking with a new sobriety that accepts the limits of Israel's reach in conquest and in peacemaking?’

YKH acknowledges the uncertainty. There are organizational obstacles: Sharon’s party does not have the infrastructure that established mass parties have to reach the public and sustain its appeal. The real challenge lays beyond the media hype and the novelty excitement of the past two weeks around Sharon’s new party. Then there is the challenge on domestic politics, with Labor’s new leader Amir Peretz calling for a new social compact and with Israelis very concerned about the economy, the income gap, and the rising cost of living and social services. Still, the Prime minister has seen an opening in Israeli politics: a fundamental realignment in the Israeli electorate, where the electorate is finally converging to the centre on the crucial issues of war, peace and security.

When Sharon won the 2003 elections it was clear that he embodied that centrist feeling, which Professor Tamar Hermann describes as tactical hawkish-ness but strategic dovish-ness. Likud re-conquered all its lost strongholds and then some more. It fared well in traditionally red, pink and green constituencies, defeating the left, or making inroads, even in traditional Labor towns and cities. And it managed to expand its base to a middle class, urban, educated and fairly secular electorate that had previously shunned Likud. Now, all those voters are rushing to Sharon’s new party because the Likud – by putting obstacle after obstacle on Sharon’s path in the last two years – proved to them that though Sharon may be a centrist leader, the Likud failed to become a centrist party.

That’s Sharon’s insight. So far, he has recruited an impressive team that reflects that mood. And his policies since coming to power in early 2001 speak for themselves.

But will he conquer?



Emanuele Ottolenghi
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Thursday, December 01, 2005

# Posted 9:17 PM by Patrick Porter  

THE FOG OF WAR: In an earlier post, I claimed that a paralysing sensitivity about one's lack of personal military experience could be a defect in a wartime President. And that a President who had never fought in a war should still be prepared to risk American casualties if he/she thought it was the responsible thing to do. To illustrate this, I pointed to Abraham Lincoln as an example of a successful wartime leader without personal military experience making tough calls about accepting high losses of life. Others have also pointed to the paradox that Lincoln and FDR had scarce experience in uniform but were two presidents regarded as the country's greatest wartime leaders, while other successful wartime presidents, such as Woodrow Wilson and James Polk (Mexican War), also had little or no combat experience.

An astute reader, however, commented that Lincoln did see service in the Black Hawk War of 1832. He joined the Illinois state militia for three months. But did he see any military action personally? From what I could find, apparently almost none. As a congressman, he himself joked in 1848 that if one general 'saw any live fighting Indians, it was more than I did; but I had a good many bloody struggles with the mosquitoes; and although I never fainted from loss of blood, I can truly say I was often very hungry.’ So Lincoln apparently took the reins of the North during the Civil War without a first-hand, intimate knowledge of the horrors of combat. But I'd love to hear from any Lincolnologists out there who know more.
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# Posted 8:48 PM by Patrick Porter  

FIFTY YEARS AGO TODAY: On 1 December, 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white man on a bus. In memory of this small act of defiance, that helped to inspire the Civil Rights movement.
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# Posted 8:44 PM by Patrick Belton  

WHAT IF YOU THREW A PARTY, AND EVERYONE CAME? If elections were held today, Kadima would post 37 MKs, Labour 26, Shas 10, and Likud and the religious parties 9 each.
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# Posted 5:37 PM by Patrick Belton  

BJ'S IN THE NORTH OF ENGLAND: In a mission of penitence and reconciliation after his 'mawkish sentimentality' editorial of October 2004, OxBlog favourite Tory MP Boris Johnson has been despatched to Liverpool as part of a parliamentary group to give support to Liverpudlians during their 2008 tenure as European Capital of Culture, assuming they don't abolish the post permanently after Cork. George Howarth, the Labour MP for Knowsley North and Sefton East, explained the invitation to Mr Johnson by saying 'On Merseyside, they are nothing if not generous,' providing our man the opportunity to interrupt and one-up with 'The quality of Mersey is not strained.' q.v. Times.
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# Posted 4:44 PM by Patrick Belton  

DECEMBER DAY: A very happy December, this being of course the tenth month (Sept, Octo, Novo, Decem), if that is you count from March and spring, as really you ought. Most significantly, today is the feast of St Edmund Campion, English Jesuit martyr and author of Campion's Brag, a stirring provocation addressed to the Privy Council which Jesuits, and those who have considered joining their number, have read since with unblushing pride. The Jesuit house at Oxford is named for him.
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# Posted 2:49 PM by Patrick Belton  

QUOTE OF THE DAY: From a lovely freelancer who emailed me to get a quote based on my last Paddy's Day piece (q.v.), whom I got into a conversation with, and to whom I signed off saying 'Come bother me again sometime. I get lonely, don't much like writing, and like to procrastinate': 'I think it was Paul Theroux who said that writing is a rat race where you never get to meet the other rats.'
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# Posted 2:43 PM by Patrick Porter  

ON CHICKENHAWKS: I can't add much to the excellent discussion prompted by David's post below. Except one thing. Much is made of the morality of a President sending others to risk their lives in war. Less is made of the morality of not doing so. A President without military experience, who is highly self-conscious of this, and who becomes reluctant to commit forces to war for this highly personalised reason, may not be a responsible wartime leader. Solemnly shouldering these burdens is part of the job. Reluctance to make decisons that might involve casualties can have terrible consequences. The genocides that took place in the 1990's, partly because western governments did not want bodybags, remind us that there are other things involved in making these difficult judgments. Recall America's very bloody Civil War. It was that notable chickenhawk Abraham Lincoln, a non-combatant all of his life, who said that he wanted generals who could 'face the arithmetic.' I have yet to meet a Union supporter who would claim that the Union's cause was any less virtuous for that.

And what of outsiders who support the resistance? Their civilian status has not been subjected to the same, cheap, scrutiny. Implicit in much of this debate is an assumption that those who oppose the US are necessarily anti war. While many principled opponents of the war are undoubtedly genuine pacifists or genuinely opposed to this particular war, some others such as George Galloway and Michael Moore are prowar, because they vocally support the heroic operations of the other side and regimes like Syria's who sponsor the influx of holy warriors into Iraq. But I won't call for those who applaud these glorious resistance fighters to join the cadres of foreign jihadist combatants. As David suggests, it is ultimately more democratic to tackle the substance of the argument rather than the biography of the person making it. And it would be illiberal to require either silence or pacifism from people not in uniform.
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# Posted 12:56 PM by Patrick Porter  

IF YOU'RE DOWN: or feeling dejected, or sad, or even if you aren't, rent out the 2004 film "Sideways." Its just beautiful. Without giving the game away, one of its themes is that its ok not to succeed, that life can remain meaningful and worthwhile, and that good things can still happen. Not a bad message in a time of high youth suicide.
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# Posted 7:22 AM by Patrick Belton  

THUS EMANUELE OTTOLENGHI:
Unlike the case in pre-Enlightenment Europe, present-day anti-Semitism does not expect Jews to abandon their religion. Today’s Europe is a self-consciously multicultural society. Although it cherishes secularism above all, it respects, if somewhat warily, religious pluralism. What the enlightened sector of today’s Europe would like Jews to do, in exchange for fully approved membership in the circle of approved opinion, is to renounce a core component of their identity: that is, their sense of Jewish peoplehood as expressed through their attachment and commitment to the democratic state of Israel and to the Zionist enterprise.

What remains constant is that, as in both pre- and post-Enlightenment Europe, today’s European elite has its good Jews and its bad Jews. There are the Jews whom it embraces, encourages, and celebrates; and then there are the Jews whom it chastises and condemns. For the former, there will always be a place of honor in the European sun. On the latter, today’s officially pluralist and tolerant Europe has turned its back. Is it any wonder, then, that some “good Jews” have chosen to live in the light, stopping only to burnish their qualifications by noisily joining the chorus that has consigned their fellow Jews to the dark?
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