OxBlog

Monday, January 31, 2005

# Posted 11:47 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

MORE FROM THE MIDDLE EAST: Is it me, or is this Al Jazeera report actually critical of Europe for closing its eyes to human rights abuses in Cuba? Regardless of the answer to that question, I think everyone who reads the report will agree that Al Jazeera is very harsh on the Castro dictatorship.

Also, take a look at this report on Cuban efforts to call the kettle black by putting up massive billboards in Havana with photos from Abu Ghraib. You know, if Al Jazeera doesn't get with program and start romanticizing left-wing dictatorships, it will never match the accomplishments of the BBC.
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# Posted 11:30 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THIS IS A LOT BETTER THAN THE BBC: I just started reading the English-language reports on Al Jazeera. I was definitely surprised to read this:

Mishan al-Jibury, a Sunni candidate from Mosul, said lower turnout in the Sunni areas was due to lack of security and functioning polling stations as well as calls for a boycott from Sunni groups hostile to the US military presence...

"I can honestly say that this has been in general a fair and landmark dress rehearsal for democracy," he said.

Speaking to Aljazeera from the northern city of Mosul, Mustafa Ibrahim, an independent Iraqi journalist, said the turnout in Mosul had been fair despite some problems.

"There was a fair attendance compared to the expectations of many in the city.

"In general, the election held in Mosul was a surprise to all as the number of voters was more than expected when considering the daily messages and posters threatening voters with death if they went to polling stations," Ibrahim added.

Of course, such reports are balanced by more negative ones like this:
[Iraqi journalist Ziyad]Al-Samarrai reported that political beliefs, rather than security factors, were the reasons behind Iraqis' boycott of the elections.

Most citizens interviewed by the journalist said the elections reflected nothing but the will of the United States and was for its own interests.
Not bad. Not bad at all. If this is what well-informed citizens in the Arab world are reading, they must just figure out what's actually going on.
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# Posted 11:23 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

NOR ANY DROP TO DRINK: Riverbend has an interesting post about waiting for the faucets to go on in Iraq. Strange, isn't it, that in today's world someone can live in a home without running water but still be able to communicate with thousands of strangers all over the world.

Btw, I'm looking forward to River's comments on the election, which aren't up yet.
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# Posted 11:18 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

MR. DRUM GOES TO WASHINGTON: Kevin debuts in the WaPo. Congratulations!
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# Posted 11:10 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

FUTILITY: According to Fareed Zakaria,
No matter how the voting turns out, the prospects for genuine democracy in Iraq are increasingly grim. Unless there is a major change in course, Iraq is on track to become another corrupt, oil-rich quasi-democracy, like Russia and Nigeria...

Paul Bremer did an extremely good job building institutional safeguards for the new Iraq, creating a public-integrity commission, an election commission, a human-rights commission, inspectors general in each bureaucratic government department. Some of these have survived, but most have been shelved, corrupted, or marginalized...

Much of the reason for this decline is, of course, the security situation. The United States has essentially stopped trying to build a democratic order in Iraq and is simply trying to fight the insurgency and gain some stability and legitimacy. In doing so, if that exacerbates group tensions, corruption, cronyism, and creates an overly centralized regime, so be it.
Well, that's certainly the first nice thing I've heard about Paul Bremer in a long time. And I think it's unfair to say the US is no longer trying to build democracy in Iraq. That election didn't happen by itself. The question is, how much of a personal commitment will the President make to those aspects of democratic life, e.g. the rule of law, transparency, etc., that rarely result from elections?
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# Posted 10:56 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

"WHAT NEXT FOR ZARQAWI?" asks Dan Darling. Dan also links to a very interesting and in-depth report about the insurgents just published in Newsweek.
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# Posted 10:32 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WITH GREAT POWER COMES...The evidence for the maturaion of India as a great power consists of more than just comic books. Fareed Zakaria and Sumit Ganguly [subscription required; excerpt here] explain. (Hat tip: DD)
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# Posted 10:24 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

UN FILES REPORT ON VIOLENCE IN SUDAN: And if the government in Khartoum doesn't stop killing people, the UN will...file another report.
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# Posted 4:34 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

NYT COMMENTS ON HISTORIC ELECTION:
Revolution has many causes, deeply rooted in time, place, passion and economics...

But every revolution's ultimate source of power is an idea: that the authority of government derives no longer from divine will or historical antecedent or superior wealth or overwhelming force, but only from the consent of the governed. Ancient in origin and perfected in Renaissance Europe and America, that idea is now proclaimed so universally that even the most brutal tyrants feel obliged to profess adherence to it.

For centuries now, when people ask themselves why any person may rule over another, they have been able to give only one rational answer: ''. . . Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. That, to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed; that, whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute a new Government. . . .''
That was the Times' response -- on February 25, 1986 -- to the historic election that brought down the Marcos dictatorship in the Philippines. The Times' response to yesterday's election in Iraq was somewhat more muted. There are considerable grounds for caution with regard to Iraq, yet it would be fitting for the Times to recognize that yesterday's triumph was, in fact, an expression of the exact same universal ideals whose pervasiveness and strength the Times celebrated almost twenty years ago.
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# Posted 1:46 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

A THOUGHT from Michael Ignatieff:
The election in Iraq is without precedent. Never, not even in the dying days of Weimar Germany, when Nazis and Communists brawled in the streets, has there been such a concerted attempt to destroy an election through violence - with candidates unable to appear in public, election workers driven into hiding, foreign monitors forced to 'observe' from a nearby country, actual voting a gamble with death, and the only people voting safely the fortunate expatriates and exiles abroad.
Hat tip: TMV.
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# Posted 1:33 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

DOES THAT COUNT AS AN INFORMED COMMENT?
The 1997 elections in Iran were much more democratic.
Maybe if I said stuff like that I could get a job in the history department at the University of Michigan. Oh, and here's another bit of Ann Arbor scholarship, taken from the same post:
If it had been up to Bush, Iraq would have been a soft dictatorship under Chalabi.
Well, maybe under President Rumsfeld.
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# Posted 1:25 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WILL THE NEW YORKER EVER GIVE SY HERSH THE BOOT? I doubt it. But Max Boot certainly does.
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# Posted 1:15 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

PLEASE HELP ME CONFIRM MY PREJUDICES: I didn't have high expectations for this essay in the WaPo entitled "In Europe, An Unhealthy Fixation on Israel." I figured it would provide some low-grade indications of European anti-Semitism that would further close my mind to the possibility that Europeans have valid opinions about the Arab-Israeli conflict.

But I wasn't ready for this:
A poll of 3,000 people published last month by Germany's University of Bielefeld showed more than 50 percent of respondents equating Israel's policies toward the Palestinians with Nazi treatment of the Jews. Sixty-eight percent of those surveyed specifically believed that Israel is waging a "war of extermination" against the Palestinian people.

Germany is not alone in these shocking sentiments. They have been expressed elsewhere, and often by prominent figures. In 2002, the Portuguese Nobel Prize-winning writer Jose Saramago declared, "What is happening in Palestine is a crime which we can put on the same plane as what happened at Auschwitz." In Israel just last month, Mairead Corrigan Maguire, the Irish winner of the 1976 Nobel Peace Prize, compared the country's suspected nuclear weapons to Auschwitz, calling them "gas chambers perfected."

Moreover, in a Eurobarometer poll by the European Union in November 2003, a majority of Europeans named Israel as the greatest threat to world peace. Overall, 59 percent of Europeans put Israel in the top spot, ahead of such countries as Iran and North Korea. In the Netherlands, that figure rose to 74 percent...

BBC poll of 4,000 people taken late last year, in the run-up to Holocaust Remembrance Day last Thursday, showed that, amazingly, 45 percent of all Britons and 60 percent of those under 35 years of age had never heard of Auschwitz -- the Nazi death camp in southern Poland where about 1.5 million Jews were murdered during World War II...

The Eurobarometer survey quoted above also showed 40 percent of respondents across Europe believing that Jews had a "particular relationship to money," with more than a third expressing concern that Jews were "playing the victim because of the Holocaust."
What the hell is going on here? You hear a lot about how ignorant Americans are, how 50% of us still believe that Saddam was responsible for 9/11. Next thing you know, 50% of Europeans will believe that the Mossad was responsible for 9/11.

UPDATE: 'Zap' has put a lot of effort into answering my question about European anti-Semitism, i.e. What the hell is going on here?
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# Posted 1:07 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

IS ZARQAWI ON THE US PAYROLL? I've been asking myself this for a while. It's as if the guy says everything he possibly can to make George Bush look smart. It turns out I'm not the only one asking such questions. In today's WaPo, Fawaz Gerges has an excellent article that looks at the political significance of Zarqawi's surprising rhetoric.
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# Posted 1:02 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

DOES IRAN WANT A SHI'ITE IRAQ? Ross turns to Stratfor for some answers. Meanwhile, Reihan wonders why his fellow co-ethnics are having a collective bad-hair day.
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Sunday, January 30, 2005

# Posted 6:45 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

LISTEN TO ME, IGNORANT WORLD: This is not a post about today's election in Iraq. Today's election is a cause for tremendous celebration. The Iraqi people have spoken, so my comments are irrelevant.

This is a post about civlian casualties in Iraq. In a passionate cri de coeur, Daniel Davies of Crooked Timber demands to know why the world has responded in silence to the fact, reported by a study in The Lancet, that 100,000 Iraqis have lost their lives because of the occupation. He writes:
The debate over whether this war worked is vitally important, because we are talking about setting a precedent for an entirely new world of international relations, and the debate is not being carried on honestly. This is quite literally madness, and also quite literally suicidal.
Although I share few of Dan's opinions, I fully share his surprise at the absence of a more forceful response to the Lancet study in the mainstream media. After its initial publication on October 29th, the study became the subject of brief articles in almost all major newspapers. But that was it. The 100,000 figure didn't become conventional wisdom. (Although by establishing the upper bounds of responsible estimate, it provided tremendous credibility to the lower, but still profoundly unreliable casualty statistics distributed by Iraq Body Count.)

Furthermore, Dan observes,
The response in the world of weblogs has been exactly the same as the rest of the media; in the immediate aftermath of the report, half-assed attempts to rubbish the survey, or links to same. Then, when this didn’t work, just pretend that it’s all been dealt with and move on. Maybe say “I’ll get back to you on that”and never do.
"I'll get back to you on that" is precisely what OxBlog said. But I never did. Why? Why has a site that has devoted so much attention in the past to the subject of civilian casualties -- in Iraq, in Afghanistan and in Kosovo -- suddenly gone silent?

It isn't hard to provide an ulterior motive for this oversight. As Dan says, those who supported the war are deserate to "protect themselves from hostile information." Of course, if that were my motive, I wouldn't know it, so I cannot confess. The question is, now that I am confronted with the issue, can I provide rational arguments in defense of my position?

But what is my position? Frankly, I don't know exactly what I think of the Lancet study. Precisely because it has not received extensive coverage from the mainstream media, I cannot rely on the expertise of others to address this highly technical issue. But I have a feeling that something is very, very wrong.

Now, some of you may remember that Fred Kaplan published a forceful refutation of the Lancet Study shortly after it emerged. Above all, Kaplan memorably observed of the 100,000 figure that, "This isn't an estimate. It's a dart board." Yet as this post demonstrates, Kaplan's remark represents a fundamental misunderstanding of what a "confidence interval" is.

Briefly, the study asserts with 95% confidence that the actual number of deaths lies somewhere in the interval between 8,000 and 194,000. Kaplan wrongly assumes that all values within this range are have an equally probability of being the actual figure. In point of fact, estimates clustered around the center of the interval are far more plausible. (NB: I refer to "deaths" rather than "casualties" because the 100,000 figure refers to both violent and non-violent deaths of both civilians and non-civilians caused by the war and occupation.)

Another objection raised with regard to the study is its dependence on a "cluster sampling" methodology. In the same post mentioned above, I think Dan explains quite well why, given the constraints inherent in conducting population surveys in a war zone, "cluster sampling" is an acceptable method. Moreover, according to multiple experts interviewed for a recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, the study in The Lancet relied on statistical methods that reflect the state of the art.

However, as a stranger to the art and science of statistical inferences, I am still struck by the fact that the figure of 100,000 deaths was derived from the observation of only 43 "extra" deaths. In the population clusters sampled by the survey, there were 46 deaths in the 14.6 months prior to the war and 142 in the 17.8 months thereafter. However, 63 of those deaths were observed in a single cluster in Falluja. After removing this outlier, one is left with a total of 89. 89-46=43. (All the relevant data is in Table 2 on the fourth page of the study, numbered 1860)

Now, I understand quite well that the purpose of statistics is to extrapolate significant findings from limited amounts of data. What I just can't get my head around is the degree to which limited data sets taken from chaotic war zones such as Iraq should be trusted. As the article in CHE points out, the lead author of the Lancet essay has conducted similar surveys in other warzones, such as the Congo. In those instances, his results were no less dramatic but still embraced by numerous governments including our own.

Still, I can't shake the notion that this time, something went wrong. Perhaps my suspicions have something to do with the efforts of the lead author -- Les Roberts, by name -- to demand the publication of his study before last November's presidential election. To some degree, that isn't fair, since critics should evaluate Roberts' data rather than his motives. Yet when we are dealing with such small numbers, trust begins to matter.

For example, what about the number 21? Of the 89 post-war deaths outside Falluja, 21 were the result of violence, primarily American bombing. Of the 46 deaths before the war, only 1 was the result of violence. In other words, even though human rights organizations estimate that Saddam killed something on the order of 10,000 of his own subjects per year, only one violent death was recorded in the 14.6 months before the invasion. Why?

Did the households interviewed want to protect themselves by attributing Saddam's murders to some natural cause? Or did they simply not mention the death of family members executed by the state? Or perhaps the observation of a single violent death is just a statistical anomaly. As the authors of the Lancet survey point out,
The sampling strategy somehow might not have captured the overall mortality experience in Iraq...[because] there can be a dramatic clustering of deaths in wars where many die from bombings.
For some reason, the authors seem fixated on the potential for death that results from bombing. Yet what about deaths that resulted from state-sanctioned mass murder? Perhaps these are even harder to detect in a random survey.

By the same token, one has to wonder why the only bombings that the authors seem to discuss are those initiated by American helicopters and airplanes. But what about the suicide bombings that have killed hundreds or perhaps thousands of Iraqis? According to the study in The Lancet, of all the deaths it observed, only "two were attributed to anti-coalition forces."

Again, this may just be a statistical anomaly. As noted above, cluster sampling tends to underestimate the impact of focused violence. Yet the authors don't even ask whether the focused violence they underestimate was perpetrated by the Ba'athist government and its insurgent heirs.

At the moment, because of my manifest lack of expertise and respect for the academic positions that the authors occupy, I want to dissociate myself from any explicit accusation of bias, even if analysis above intimates that it may have existed. Before reaching any sort of firm conclusion, I hope to consider the responses to this post by other bloggers with a strong interest in this subject, such as the aforementioned Mr. Davies as well as the very scholarly Tim Lambert.

What I consider most likely is that a statistical anomaly, intended by no one, is responsible for all of this confusion. In war after war, the United States has inflicted numerous casualties from the air. As a result, we have abandoned the indiscriminate carpet-bombing of the Vietnam era in favor of the precision attacks launched against Belgrade, Kandahar, and Baghdad. I find it almost impossible to believe that the methods of the post-Cold War era continue to result in casualty figures that belong to the days of Vietnam.
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# Posted 2:36 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

UNCONTROLLABLE LAUGHTER: After kindly linking to my thoughts on Spider-Man, Glenn provides a link to this perverse, bizarre and incredibly funny essay on sex and the single superhero. Enjoy!
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# Posted 2:20 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

LOOKING FORWARD TO THE VOTE: An excellent (as usual) post from Greg Djerejian. Also, congrats to Greg on his second blogiversary.
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# Posted 1:58 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

FIRE THE PERSON WHO CAME UP WITH THAT SLOGAN: There is an American Airlines ad running on the WaPo homepage that advertises "3,800 flights a day, including one home to a good face-licking."

(There is no direct link to the ad, but you can find it on this page by clicking on "movies" and scrolling down to "Woman's Best Friend".
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# Posted 1:18 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

I LAUGHED, I CRIED, IT WAS BETTER THAN CATS: Third-generation author Matthew Yglesias, in his role as film critic, has come up with one of the best backhanded compliments I have ever come across in a movie review. With regard to Assault on Precinct 13, Matt says "it's without a doubt the second best movie in which Ethan Hawke battles corrupt cops."

It also turns out that Mr. Yglesias is the number one Matthew on the entire web. If you do a Google search just for Matthew, Mr. Yglesias shows up at both #1 and #3, with Matthew Shephard coming in at #7 and the best-selling author of the Gospel of Matthew coming in at a lowly 25.

Oh, and in case you weren't sure, I am the #1 Adesnik on the web. Coming at #7 is a post from Chez Nadezhda entitled "Further Proof That David Adesnik is the Worst OxBlogger." Suffice it to say, that is far from the worst thing I've been called.

UPDATE: This Google thing is a lot of fun. It turns out that my esteemed colleague is the #1 Chafetz on the web, beating out Randall C. Chafetz, Senior Vice President of Mitsubishi Securities, prominent artist Sid Chafetz, and legendary Jewish sage Israel Meir Ha-Cohen Kagan, aka the Chafetz Chaim.

Now, the news on the Patrick front isn't so interesting, but my other esteemed colleague has hit #38 on the Belton chart, behind the #1 ranked city of Belton (MO), the #2 ranked city of Belton (TX), manufacturing giant Belton Industries (#8) and that financial powerhouse the Bank of Belton (#10).

I guess the lesson here is that if you want to be famous on the internet, you should have an obscure Semitic name. Anyhow, PB is the #1 Patrick Belton on the web, although the other Patrick Belton has his own entry in the Internet Movie Data Base. In case you were curious, he has starred in thought-provoking films such as It Happened in a Bungalow and Under the Bus. Mr. Belton also had a small role as "College Kid #1" in episode 4.5 of Buffy The Vampire Slayer.

UPDATE: On a more serious note, check out Mr. Yglesias' post about setting expectations for tomorrow's (today's) vote in Iraq. I think Matt is right that the NYT and others are setting themselves up for a fall by speculating that low turnout and low voter enthusiasm are real possibilities (Sunni Arabs excepted).

If you want to be a more serious sort of cynic, you have to adopt the Yglesias approach of stating that
The real question to be asking is: Even if the election goes well as a procedural matter tomorrow, what good will it do?
Funny, I recall Sen. Kerry hinting at something similar.
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# Posted 1:10 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE FRENCH ARE OBJECTIVELY GENEROUS, THOUGHFUL AND KIND: Check out this article about the French Navy from the Associated Press. I wonder how often the AP runs puff-pieces about other militaries. Also notice the reference to anonymous "critics" of the American armed forces whose accusations are never rebutted.

UPDATE: The only reason I came across the AP article about the French Navy was that someone forwarded it to an Oxford maillist that I'm on. Naturally, the person who forwarded it did so entirely in order to emphasize the criticism of the United States contained in the article.

Although I have long since tired of responding to every anti-American posts on certain Oxford maillists, super-stud Steev Sachs decided to defend our nation's honor. Perceptively, Steev noticed that the AP article provides some very brief quotes from Condi Rice in order to support its allegations that the US took advantage of the tsunami to strengthen it's ties to the Indonesian military.

As it turns out, the AP quoted Rice wildly out of context. According to this transcript, Dr. Rice responded to a question about public diplomacy by saying:
I do agree that the tsunami was a wonderful opportunity to show not just the U.S. government, but the heart of the American people. And I think it has paid great dividends for us.
Here's how the AP reported what she said:
Critics of the U.S. military's work in Indonesia say Washington has seized on the disaster as a pretext for advancing its strategic interests in the archipelago and improving ties with the Indonesian military.

Those ties effectively were cut in 1999 after Indonesian troops and their proxy militias killed 1,500 East Timorese after the half-island territory voted for independence in a U.N.-sponsored independence referendum.

During her recent Senate confirmation hearings, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (news - web sites) said the tsunami provided a "wonderful opportunity" for the United States to reap "great dividends" in the region.
Classic, no? Rice talks about showing generosity and the AP twists her words to suggest she wants to jump in bed with murderers.

UPDATE: Steev has now provided his own fisking of the AP.
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Saturday, January 29, 2005

# Posted 1:57 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

GRASSROOTS BLOGGING: Friends of Democracy is doing its best to provide on-the-ground reports about the election process in Iraq. FoD's recent posts include reports from Mosul and Baghdad.
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Friday, January 28, 2005

# Posted 6:57 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND PAUL WOLFOWITZ: What follows is just one liberal Democrat's opinion:
I want you to know how much I have appreciated the way in which you have conducted your relationship with this subcommittee.

I think in many ways it has been a model of executive-legislative relations. I think you have contributed in a very significant way to a bipartisan consensus on many of the important issues...

I think America's interests have been effectively served by that approach, and we have found your insights, your wisdom, your views, your experience to be enormously helpful to our subcommitee as we have gone about discharging our own responsibilities.

If we have not always agreed on every issue, I think that is only to be expected. What is truly amazing is how many issues we have agreed on. I think what it demonstrates is that when you have people in the administration and in Congress who are willing to work together in pursuit of the national interest, that it is in fact possible to forge the kind of consensus which is in the best interests of the Nation.
To which Wolfowitz responded:
I, too, would like to say that the experience of working with this subcommitee and with the Congress as a whole over the last several years has been a very rewarding one and it has been a productive one. I think it has certainly served the national interest...

It is a tough commitee to appear before because the questions are always well informed and very often pointed. It is a challenge. It think it keeps us on our toes in ways you do not appreciate in our day-to-day management of affairs back in the State Deparment.
That reference there to Foggy Bottom may have tipped you off. The previous exchange between Rep. Stephen Solarz (D-NY) and Monsieur Wolfowitz took place on February 20, 1986, back when Wolfowitz was Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia. The commitment of both men to fighting communism by promoting democracy led to a remarkable degree of productive cooperation, of the kind we would most certainly benefit from today.

If you want to read more, the full transcript of the hearing before Solarz's subcommittee should be available at any major research library. The title of the hearing (which you can enter into a library search engine) was "The Philippine Election and the Implications for U.S. Policy." The quotations above are from pages 54 and 56, respectively.

UPDATE: Reader GR points to this letter-to-the-editor, co-authored by Wolfowitz and Solarz (c. 1999) as evidence that the exchange described above
Was more like a meeting of neocon minds, with one of them still a Democrat. Sort of like a Lieberman bouquet to the administration on Iraq today.
I disagree. As I told GR, Solarz was a liberal in the mold of Truman and JFK who had a sincere interest in democracy and human rights but was not afraid of using force to achieve American objectives.

In contrast to say, Jeane Kirkpatrick, Solarz's "neo-con" leanings never led him to abandon his critical faculties when confronted by friendly Republicans. Thus, Solarz was a persistent critic of the Reagan administration who challenged its foreign interventions and became known as the author of a Democratic reponse to the Reagan doctrine, sometimes referred as (you guessed it) the Solarz Doctrine. Nonetheless, I urge to read the Solarz-Wolfowitz letter-to-the-editor and judge for yourself.
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# Posted 5:12 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SPIDER-MAIL: Lots of interesting responses here. I wrote in the Standard that:
Had that tiny spaceship from the planet Krypton landed in Munich or Moscow during the perilous summer of 1938, comic-book history might have turned out very different.
Yet as Michael Pollard points out, DC Comics actually did publish a "What if?" series in which Superman's ship landed in the Soviet Union. According to NRO, the "What if?" series, published last year, was a pathetic apologia for Stalinism as well as a veiled attack on George W. Bush.

[UPDATE: Reader PE suggests I should've actually read DC's Soviet Superman mini-series rather than just linking to NRO's hatchet job. PE says the series is far more thoughtful and balanced than NRO is willing to admit. So now I have an excuse to spend another $20 on comic books...]

On a related note, MF points out that Saturday Night Live did its own "What if?" take on what might have happened if Superman had landed in Germany. But the real question is, if Superman had landed in Paris, would the French still have found a way to surrender to the Germans in 1940?

[NB: The stereotype of the cowardly Frenchman is both unfair and malicious. The French were actually quite well-prepared for the German invasion in terms of the number of men and amount of funding devoted to defense in the years before the war. Moreover, the French army fought quite valiantly and its defeat was far from inevitable.]

Now, with regard to Superman's immigration status had he landed in the US, PD writes that
[Superman] would not have been admitted as a refugee from Krypton, not even under Temporary Protected Status, because neither of those existed at the time.

While I'm not a lawyer, having a fairly extensive background in immigration politics and history I'm still reasonably sure that Superman would have qualified for admission as teachers, the same provision that let in Teller and Fermi and so many others in the 1930s: clause 4d f section 4 of the National Origins Act.
A good point. But it turns out that there was a flaw in my own logic that makes this point moot. If Superman's first adventures took place in 1938, the Baby of Steel presumably arrived a good twenty to twenty-five years earlier, at a time when immigration laws were much less strict.

Finally, TM observes that

The notion that "with great power there also comes great responsibility" in India precedes the Indian incarnation of the webbed one and is evident in things ranging from the characterization of Indian mythical gods to Bollywood heroes to the rhetoric, if not the practice of, Nehruvian internationalism.

More recently, in the aftermath of the tsunami, India's moves to help its neighbours were mainly for humanitarian and strategic reasons, but also heard was a refrain of "it is our responsibility as the largest nation in the neighbourhood."

Sounds good to me.
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# Posted 2:15 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

HELP ME! I'M TRYING VERY HARD TO CRITICIZE THE PRESIDENT! In a column entitled "Reality Check for the Neo-Wilsonians", David Ignatius reports the following:
Bush's idealism astonishes even [Georgian President Mikheil] Saakashvili. The Georgian leader recalls a meeting at the White House last year in which he tried to engage Bush by telling him of Georgia's strategic importance because of its proximity to Caspian Sea oil. The president didn't seem interested. It was only when Saakashvili began talking about freedom and liberty, he says, that Bush got excited.

Saakashvili also praises Bush for resisting the normal pragmatic trade-offs. He remembers urging Bush to back another peaceful revolution in the former Soviet Union by supporting demands for a rerun of the fraudulent Ukrainian election. But he expected that Bush would cave when Ukraine's then-president, Leonid Kuchma, threatened to withdraw his country's troops from Iraq. After all, America badly needed the few allies it had in the Iraq coalition. But Bush didn't let his pragmatic need for Ukrainian troops temper his support for Ukrainian democracy.
Say it ain't so! A Texas prospector not interested in oil? A refusal to compromise with dictators for the sake of military expediency? Who the hell does Bush think he is, Jimmy Carter? (Actually, Carter was pretty good at compromising with dictators for the sake of military expediency. Think Chun Do Hwan and Ferdinand Marcos)

For some more effective criticism of the President, try Anne Applebaum, who wants to know what Bush is doing about reports of Iraqi security personnel abusing Iraqi prisoners, a la Abu Ghraib.
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# Posted 2:09 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE AMAZING SPIDER-BLOG: Haven't read enough about Spider-Man in the past few weeks? Then check out my article on the webcrawler in today's Daily Standard. Here's a teaser:
Only superheroes have superpowers. But are superpowers the only ones who have superheroes? Let me explain: In the six and a half decades since the birth of the superhero comic-book genre, a disproportionate number of super-powered men and women have -- surprise, surprise -- turned out to be American citizens.

Most were born in the United States. Others, such as Superman, were aliens (illegal, presumably, given the immigration restrictions in place when he arrived in 1938) who decided to make America their home. And thank God for that. Had that tiny spaceship from the planet Krypton landed in Munich or Moscow during the perilous summer of 1938, comic-book history might have turned out very different...

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# Posted 2:06 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

GO REIHAN! IT'S YA BIRFDAY! Actually, I have no idea when Reihan's birthday is. But he has a nice column in TNR on the politics of Social Security reform.
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# Posted 1:51 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

DON'T VISIT ISRAEL (UNLESS YOU WANT TO DIE): The government of Bangladesh has imprisoned journalist Salah Choudhury and charged him with sedition, a crime punishable by death.

Choudhury was initially arrested for a passport violation because of his attempt to travel to Israel to participate in a writer's conference. Previously, he had been an outspoken advocate of interfaith and cross-cultural reconciliation.

To sign a petition on Choudhury's behalf, click here. The writer's group PEN USA has also published excerpts a letter from Choudhury smuggled out of prison. (Hat tip: JG)
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# Posted 1:38 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

INVESTMENT ADVICE: Learned Hand has reposted a WSJ column [in PDF format] that provides a solid overview of the stock market's historical ability to outperform government bonds.
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Wednesday, January 26, 2005

# Posted 2:08 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

FROM THE CUTTING FLOOR: I pitched this op-ed to a well-known paper but they said that the inaugural address is already old news. But OxBlog is a big fan of old news, so here's what I wrote:

The Future of the Second Inaugural

The accusations of hypocrisy were inevitable. Journalists found themselves compelled to point out that the United States has drawn ever closer to Egypt, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia as a result of the War on Terror. The President’s critics dismissed his inaugural address as a pleasant fiction designed to mask the hard core of an American foreign policy exemplified by the abuse of prisoners at Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib. Sadly, their analysis ended there.

In order to understand the true significance of the second inaugural, one must look forward to the impact it will have on Bush’s second term instead of only looking back at the compromises and failures that may impair the credibility of the President’s words.

For the past four years, I have studied the relationship between idealistic rhetoric and the less-than-idealistic nature of American foreign policy. The most important lesson buried in the historical record is that idealistic rhetoric tends to generate a momentum of its own that gradually brings American behavior into line with American ideals.

The best illustration of this trend is the rapid evolution of America’s relationship with anti-Communist dictatorships during Ronald Reagan’s second term in office. In the State of the Union address that followed shortly after his second inaugural, Reagan declared that “We must stand by all our democratic allies. And we must not break faith with those who are risking their lives – on every continent, from Afghanistan to Nicaragua – to defy Soviet-supported aggression and secure rights which have been ours from birth.”

With amazing precision, responses to the “Reagan Doctrine” prefigured the exact criticism that has confroned George W. Bush’s second inaugural. In 1985, journalists found themselves compelled to point out that the United States had drawn closer to the Filipino, South Korean and Chilean dictatorships as a result of the Cold War. The President’s critics dismissed his inaugural address as a pleasant fiction designed to mask the hard core of an American foreign policy exemplified by the massacres in El Salvador and Nicaragua. Sadly, their analysis ended there.

In 1986, the United States helped bring down the Marcos dictatorship in the Philippines. In 1987, it played an important role in the South Korean transition to democracy. Shortly after Reagan left office, Pinochet fell from power in Chile and the Sandinista dictatorship came to an end in Nicaragua.

Reagan himself often served as a hindrance to such positive developments. Yet his rhetoric empowered idealistic Republicans, both within the administration and on Capitol Hill, to place American power in the service of American ideals. Although events in the Philippines made few headlines until the final months of the Marcos dictatorship, officials such as then-Assistant Secretary of State Paul Wolfowitz helped the Filipino opposition prepare the ground for a revolution.

In spite of overwhelming evidence that Marcos had rigged the February 1986 elections in order to preserve his dictatorship, Reagan embarrassingly defended the balloting as fair. Yet Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN) – then, as now, the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee – returned from his mission to the Philippines as an election monitor and declared the election to have been a total fraud. Within days, Reagan revised his earlier statements and ushered Marcos into exile in Hawaii.

The experience of the second Reagan administration demonstrates just how much rhetoric can accomplish even when the President’s commitment to his own ideals is less than firm. However, the most striking difference between the president of 1985 and the president of 2005 is that George W. Bush has a far greater awareness of and commitment to the implications of his rhetoric.

Shortly after his re-election in November, President Bush made a personal decision to devote his inaugural address to an expansive vision of freedom spreading across the globe. The precise content of that address developed slowly through twenty-one separate drafts. During its development, the White House consulted leading conservative thinkers on the subject of American foreign policy and democracy promotion.

Although every inaugural address since Carter’s has made a passing reference to the spread of freedom across the globe, such references described the United States as playing a passive role in the process. Thus, in his first inaugural, President Bush spoke of freedom as “a seed upon the wind, taking root in many nations.” In contrast, the President now speaks of an American mission and argues that “it is human choices that move events.”

Journalists’ observations about our close relationships with Egypt, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia often imply that the President remains blissfully unaware of the contradictions between his rhetoric and his government’s behavior. Yet the inaugural address warned the United States’ authoritarian allies that “success in our relations will require the decent treatment of their own people.”

Which is not to say that criticism of the President is superfluous. In fact, it will have a critical role to play in ensuring that he lives up to his ideals. Inevitably, the temptations of short-term expedience will distract the President from his ultimate goals. It is at precisely such moments that the soaring rhetoric of his second inaugural will empower critics both within the administration and without to insist that the President live up to his word.

In fact, the President may be counting on just that sort of criticism to ensure that he earns his place in the history books.

David Adesnik is a fellow at UVA’s Miller Center of Public Affairs and an editor of OxBlog.com.
UPDATE: As Steve Sturm points out, my op-ed doesn't really address the issue of whether promoting democracy in Iraq is a good idea (although my opinion is quite visible if you read between the lines). Steve's advice for the President is "Do the right thing. For America, not for Iraq."
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# Posted 1:10 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

A SAD DAY: 30 Marines have died in a helicopter crash in western Iraq. The cause of the crash is unknown.
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Tuesday, January 25, 2005

# Posted 5:52 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

QUESTIONS TO ASK ABOUT SOCIAL SECURITY: Yesterday's post on Social Security generated more of a respone than any single post I've written in a good six months, so I thought I'd summarize three of the critical points that all y'all raised:

1) Shouldn't we deal with the problem now, before Social Security reform becomes more divisive and more expensive?

Ideally, yes. In practice, the question is one of priorities. In other words, should reforming Social Security, which may or may not be in crisis, take precedence over efforts to deal with skyrocketing Medicare costs and federal budget deficits?

2) What is the precise nature of the Social Security trust fund? When held by a government agency such as SSA, do government bonds represent a true asset or simply an accounting fiction?

These are the issues that begin to get over my head. Many of you have been kind enough to provide concise answers to such questions. Please feel free to recommend any articles or posts designed to explain these issues to a non-expert. For the moment, I'll cite one passage from an article by Donald Luskin:
The trust funds will redeem the last of their bonds in 2041 — demanding from the government $1.003 trillion that year. From 2018 through 2041, the trust funds will redeem bonds worth, cumulatively, $11.9 trillion. Once again, just to be perfectly clear, let me emphasize that the federal government will have to come up with this $11.9 trillion somehow — either by tapping the capital markets, raising taxes, or trimming spending.

This should illuminate the debate on whether the trust funds are “real” or not. They are perfectly “real” in the sense that the Treasury bonds they hold are valid legal claims on the government. But they are not “real” in the sense that they, as a June, 2004, Congressional Budget Office report put it, “contain no financial resources” in and of themselves. For their value to be realized, the Treasury bills they hold must be redeemed for cash by the government — and that cash has to come from somewhere. [Hat tip: SP]
Naturally, many people disagree with Donald Luskin, so I welcome other points of view. Albeit unintentionally, I think his comments point to the fact that as long as the government avoids defaulting on its bonds, then Social Security will remain solvent until 2042.

3) No, the government won't default. But where will all of the money necessary to pay off those bonds come from? Higher taxes? Additional borrowing? Cutbacks on other programs?

The question touches on an accounting issue which seems to be way over my head. How does an insitution like the federal government plan for complex transfers of funds that will take place decades from now? How will the amount of money "owed" to SSA compare the amount of money owed to other bondholders? In other words, will the additional liability represented by the trust fund stretch our ability to cover outstanding debts, or is it something the government can take care of in the normal course of business?

Well, that's it for now. It looks like this debate is far from over.
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Monday, January 24, 2005

# Posted 6:15 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WHAT SOCIAL SECURITY TELLS US ABOUT IRAQ: With great caution, I have begun to read about Social Security. Lacking the expertise necessary to have an independent opinion about the subject, I restrict myself to tentative conclusions about the subject.

In search of a primer on the current debate, I turned to the Outlook section of yesterday's WaPo, which compiled seven different experts' brief essays on the subject. For the moment, I find the arguments of the President's opponents to be more persuasive.

The Social Security Administration's own projections indicate that SSA's revenue will continue to exceed its outlays until 2018. The trust fund generated by this surplus will enable the SSA to fully fund all of its commitments until 2042.

This seems to be the point from which all debate must begin. If the status quo will enable the SSA to remain solvent for another four decades, one cannot say that Social Security is in the midst of a crisis.

Which is not the same as saying as private accounts are a bad idea. According to both U-Illinois economist Jeffrey Brown and Clinton adviser Laura D'Andrea Tyson, can spread the benefits of the market economy to the working class.

Whereas Brown suggests that private accounts might replace a percentage of current benefits, Tyson wants private accounts to supplement current benefits.

Replacement seems to have considerable costs. First of all, the transition will be expensive, an expense that will be hard to justify in the presence of a major budget deficit. Unless you believe that there is a crisis, it's hard to see why this kind of expenditure makes sense right now.

What I don't understand about Tyson's proposal is how it would create any new incentives to save and invest. Tax-free 401(k) investment accounts already exist. As Alicia Munnell points out, 401(k)'s are both under-utilized and recklessly misused.

Tyson does mention that she wants to limit the options available to investors. But I don't want the government to limit my options. Just because other people invest without caution doesn't mean I should be punished.

Munnell says that a private accounts system can only work if it is extremely simple. She cites the failures of government-sponsored investment account in Britain, Chile, and Sweden as evidence for this point.

In spite of living in the UK for almost three years, I must confess total ignorance of its investment program. Moreover, I am totally bowled over by the fact that the welfare-worshipping UK would inaugurate a market-based government pension program a full twenty years before the serious consideration of a similar program in the United States. I guess Thatcher was just that tought.

Now, presuming for the moment, that the analysis above is basically sound, one might ask why the President seems so passionately committed to an agenda of reform that is both unnecessary and may seriously jeopardize the political health of his administration.

Jonathan Rauch argues that the President's commitment to reform is fundamentally an ideological issue. He writes that
Republicans frame Social Security reform as a dollars-and-cents issue, but what they really hope to change is not the American economy but the American psyche.
From a certain perspective, dependence on the government for one's security in old age is a moral hazard. Thus, Social Security is both a symptom and a cause of an insufficient commitment to traditional American values.

I have to admit that I am uncomfortable with this degree of dependence on the government. I was stunned to learn, also courtesy of the WaPo, that more than 46 million Americans receive Social Security benefits.

Yet given that Social Security is both popular and cost-effective (how often can you say that about big government?), I am willing to accept the moral cost of dependence on the government. After all, Americans are still pretty much the most individualistic people in the world.

On the political front, I think that George Bush's commitment to reform has to be understood in the context of his commitment to building democracy in Iraq. For quite a long time, liberals insisted that Bush only got behind the invasion because it was a guaranteed winner on the homefront.

Yet within six months of taking Baghdad, it became clear that the occupation was a liability. Voters may have had even less faith in Kerry's ability to administer the occupation than they did George Bush's, but the situation in Iraq was still a major drag on Bush's approval rating.

By now, it is apparent to all that Bush will stay committed to Iraq regardless of the political cost. He took an uncompromising stand on principle and still got re-elected. Now there are no more elections to face. Now the President's eyes are on the history books. That's what second terms are all about.

George Bush has faced down unpopularity before and won't let it stop him from tackling Social Security.
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# Posted 6:02 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

STOCK ANSWERS FROM KRUGMAN: Reader AG, who knows a lot about this subject, has provided an insightful response to my earlier comments on Paul Krugman and the stock market:
It's impossible to cram serious analysis into an op-ed column, and this sometimes gets Krugman in trouble. In fact, you're both right.

Stocks are riskier than bonds. There have been periods, as you point out on your BLOG when stocks have done poorly. (Your example of the 1970s isn't a good one, though, because bonds were also performing horribly at the time as inflation and interest rates skyrocketed.) So no rational investor would buy stocks unless he or she expected a higher return on equities than on fixed-income securities.

Careful analysis of the relative returns and risks of bonds and stocks over long periods of time (e.g., the 20th century, the post-WWII period) indicate that the excess return of stocks over bonds has been greater than one would expect just given the relative riskiness of the two asset classes. This extra risk-adjusted return on stocks is referred to as the "equity risk premium." Such a premium is something like a free lunch for equity investors. The point Krugman is making is that this premium is unlikely to be as large in the future as it was in the past. That's probably true, too.

Why is this relevant? The question being debated is: "The level of average economic growth over the next 50 to 100 years held constant, how likely is it that distant future retirees and taxpayers would be better off under the Bush plan (whatever it actually is) than they would have been under the current system?" If the forward looking equity risk premium is still high, then partial privatization will look good in retrospect. If not, not. No one knows. And, from the point of view of the next generation of Adesniks, it almost doesn't matter.

When you look at this issue this way it's easy to see that this whole debate, while in the center ring politically, is an economic side show. How well off retirees and workers are in the future absolutely depends much much more on how fast the economy grows between now and the distant future. One of the most important ways in which the Federal government can create a growth-friendly policy environment is to keep its overall fiscal house in order. But getting that right involves dealing with the bigger, nearer-term issues like the government's structural operating deficit and medicare.

More broadly, American's want European social public services, Japanese taxes, and the savings rate of an undergraduate. They can't have them all, and the Bushies have decided to go after social security first because dealing with it requires no short-term pain and because Asian central banks seem willing to buy as much of our debt as we can produce.

So the real problem with Bush's proposal is not that it is or isn't a good idea in the very narrow sense of what the equity risk premium might be. No one can know that now or even make a good guess. The real problem is that the whole thing is a distraction.

The reason for despising this policy initiative is not that the Administration is overstating the equity risk premium but that the right way to deal with our fiscal problems is to raise taxes, preferably on gasoline, and right now.
Now that OxBlog has a car, it doesn't like gas taxes. So let's tax the wealthy instead! (NB: OxBlog reserves the right to reverse this proposal should it become wealthy at some point in the indefinite future.)
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Sunday, January 23, 2005

# Posted 7:21 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

ELECTIONS 101: David Holiday teases Prof. Cole for letting his politics get the better of his political science.
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Saturday, January 22, 2005

# Posted 8:56 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE QUANTIFICATION OF CARMEN ELECTRA: What else would you expect from a political scientist?
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# Posted 8:40 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

YOU GIVE A SNARK, YOU GET A SNARK: With regard to the inaugural address, Matthew Yglesias writes that
As a substantive intervention into American and world politics, however, it's utterly trivial. I expect it will have set the hearts of Oxbloggers all 'round the world a-twitter, but minds are made up.
You'd think Matt would've have waited for myself or Josh or Patrick to say something about the inaugural address before dismissing our views as naive, but as Matt correctly observes, "minds are made up."
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# Posted 8:02 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WHAT THE OTHER GUYS SAID ABOUT DEMOCRACY PROMOTION: There are two attributes that distinguish Bush's second inaugural from those that preceded it. Its talk of democracy spreading across the globe is not one of them. That is a cliche.

But the intensity of Bush's emphasis on democracy promotion is unprecedented. His emphasis has forced all those who comment on the inaugural address to grapple with that issue.

But more importantly, Bush repeatedly emphasized that the United States must take an active role in spreading freedom and liberty across the globe. In contrast, his predecessors have relied on passive formulations that, as John Quincy Adams might have said, present the United States as a "well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all" but "the champion and vindicator of only her own."

For example, Clinton's first inaugural declared that
Our greatest strength is the power of our ideas, which are still new in many lands. Across the world we see them embraced and we rejoice. Our hopes, our hearts, our hands are with those on every continent who are building democracy and freedom. Their cause is America's cause.
In his second inaugural, Clinton stated that
For the very first time in all of history, more people on this planet live under democracy than dictatorship...

[Someday], the world's greatest democracy will lead a whole world of democracies...

May those generations whose faces we cannot yet see, whose names we may never know, say of us here that we led our beloved land into a new century with the American dream alive for all her children, with the American promise of a more perfect Union a reality for all her people, with America's bright flame of freedom spreading throughout all the world.
In other speeches, Clinton suggested that democracy promotion would be the foundation of his grand strategy. Although Clinton's achievement in that domain were significant, his aspirations were often frustrated.

Suprisingly, George H.W. Bush was more emphatic about democracy in his inaugural address, although his careful constructions also implied a passive role for the United States:
I come before you and assume the Presidency at a moment rich with promise. We live in a peaceful, prosperous time but we can make it better. For a new breeze is blowing and a world refreshed by freedom seems reborn; for in man's heart, if not in fact, the day of the dictator is over. The totalitarian era is passing, its old ideas blown away like leaves from an ancient, lifeless tree... [This was 10 months before the Berlin Wall came down. --ed.]

Great nations of the world are moving toward democracy -- through the door to freedom. Men and women of the world move toward free markets -- through the door to prosperity. The people of the world agitate for free expression and free thought -- through the door to the moral and intellectual satisfactions that only liberty allows.

We know what works: Freedom works. We know what's right: Freedom is right. We know how to secure a more just and prosperous life for man on earth: through free markets, free speech, free elections and the exercise of free will unhampered by the state.
To the suprise of many, myself included, it turns out that George W. Bush also spoke quite clearly about the spread of democracy in his first inaugural:
Through much of the last century, America's faith in freedom and democracy was a rock in a raging sea. Now it is a seed upon the wind, taking root in many nations. Our democratic faith is more than the creed of our country, it is the inborn hope of our humanity, an ideal we carry but do not own, a trust we bear and pass along. And even after nearly 225 years, we have a long way yet to travel.
This time around, Bush has no intentions of letting the wind decide where the seeds will fall. Even Reagan, who became more committed to democracy promotion as time wore on, did not escape the language of passivity in his second inaugural, let alone his first, when he stated that:
As we renew ourselves here in our own land, we will be seen as having greater strength throughout the world. We will again be the exemplar of freedom and a beacon of hope for those who do not now have freedom.

To those neighbors and allies who share our freedom, we will strengthen our historic ties and assure them of our support and firm commitment. We will match loyalty with loyalty. We will strive for mutually beneficial relations. We will not use our friendship to impose on their sovereignty, for our own sovereignty is not for sale.
Finally, there was Jimmy Carter, who stated that
The best way to enhance freedom in other lands is to demonstrate here that our democratic system is worthy of emulation...

The world itself is now dominated by a new spirit. Peoples more numerous and more politically aware are craving and now demanding their place in the sun --not just for the benefit of their own physical condition, but for basic human rights...

Because we are free we can never be indifferent to the fate of freedom elsewhere. Our moral sense dictates a clearcut preference for these societies which share with us an abiding respect for individual human rights.
Presumably, I have taxed your patience with a post of this length. But it is only in the context of his predecessors' words that the uniqueness of George W. Bush's inaugural address can be understood.
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# Posted 6:31 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

NOW THAT'S USEFUL: Scroll down a bit on the NYT's Inauguration Website and you'll find links to the full text of the inaugural addresses given in '89, '93, '97 and '01. You can find Reagan's inaugural addresses here and here.
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# Posted 6:25 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

TASTY: The Times mocks ABC, NBC and CBS for their no-substance coverage of the inauguration. By the way, what substance consists of is being nasty to the President. Hence:
The self-consciousness of network news anchors worried about accusations of liberal bias coincided with unselfconscious display of Republican triumphalism - the extraordinary confidence that veined the president's speech ("We are ready for the greatest achievements in the history of freedom").
Personally, I think it's all the bloggers' fault.
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# Posted 5:27 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

OUT-EXPERTING THE EXPERTS: I don't know much about economics, so I am a little bit surprised at my ability to spot an apparent flaw in Paul Krugman's economic logic. Krugman's political logic may have less value than a junk bond, but you figure he'd get his economics right. In Friday's column, Krugman tells us to
Remember the disclaimer that mutual funds are obliged to include in their ads: "past performance is no guarantee of future results."

Fifty years ago most people, remembering 1929, were afraid of the stock market. As a result, those who did buy stocks got to buy them cheap: on average, the value of a company's stock was only about 13 times that company's profits. Because stocks were cheap, they yielded high returns in dividends and capital gains.

But high returns always get competed away, once people know about them: stocks are no longer cheap. Today, the value of a typical company's stock is more than 20 times its profits. The more you pay for an asset, the lower the rate of return you can expect to earn. That's why even Jeremy Siegel, whose "Stocks for the Long Run" is often cited by those who favor stocks over bonds, has conceded that "returns on stocks over bonds won't be as large as in the past."
Krugman may be right that stocks are now overpriced and thus can no longer provide the historic returns of the 1990s. That is plausible.

But fear of another Great Depression didn't always make stocks a good investment. If memory serves, there was a lot of hype about stocks, especially blue chips, in the early 1970s. But the price of those stocks promptly fell and the market stagnated for the rest of the decade. Clearly, something more complex was going on here. By the same token, something more complex than low prices was probably responsible for stock market growth in the 80's and 90's.

Since all of this is way out of my area of expertise, I wouldn't surprised if there is some fundamental flaw in my analysis that I have failed to recognize. With any luck, some of you (presumably including AG) will be able to point out the error of my ways. But until then, I will enjoy some tentative schadenfreude.
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# Posted 5:22 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

NOT A METAPHOR: Nicholas Kristof reminds us that when President Bush says that "no one deserves to be a slave", we should take him literally.
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# Posted 4:59 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

MASOCHISTS OR ALTRUISTS? David Brooks notes in passing that
Bush's inaugural ideals will also be real in the way they motivate our troops in Iraq. Military Times magazine asked its readers if they think the war in Iraq is worth it. Over 60 percent - and two-thirds of Iraq combat vets - said it was. While many back home have lost faith, our troops fight because their efforts are aligned with the core ideals of this country, articulated by Jefferson, Walt Whitman, Lincoln, F.D.R., Truman, J.F.K., Reagan and now Bush.
Our soldiers in Iraq (and Afghanistan) have suffered and will continue to suffer more than any other Americans committed to bringing democracy to the Middle East. Why?

One might say that impressionable young men recklessly believe what their officers tell them. One might say that those who grow up in Red States recklessly believe what their President tells them. One might even suggest that some of them are still under the impression that Saddam was responsible for 9-11. But I don't buy it.

If there is any subsconcious motivation for our soldiers' surprising faith in their mission, it is this: that when you have invested so much in a cause, when you have watched your friends die for that cause, abandoning it becomes unthinkable.

But even that is unfair to our men and women in uniform. Americans are not afraid of sacrifice, but we also tend to protest quite loudly when our government wants us to sacrifice more than we should. Remember the soldier who demanded that the Secretary of Defense explain why the Pentagon hasn't provided armor for every vehicle in Iraq? I'm curious to know whether he still thinks this mission is worth it.

Perhaps not. But I think that even 18 year-olds in uniform are sophisticated enough to separate the failures of their generals, their secretary and their president from the failure of their ideals.
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# Posted 4:48 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

REMARKABLE IF TRUE: "Despite Insurgent Threats and Lack of Democratic Tradition, 80 Percent Say They Are Likely to Vote." I can only imagine the avalanche of "I told you so"'s that would follow this kind of result in the Iraqi elections. (Naturally, OxBlog reserves the right to participate in the avalanche.)

The poll that discovered the 80% figure was conducted by the International Republican Institute (IRI), the GOP affiliate that is part of the National Endowment for Democracy. I would feel better if someone else conducted the poll, but there is no reason to doubt IRI's integrity. And in eight more days, we'll know if the poll was right.

UPDATE: Here's a classic bit from the NYT:
Every single Shiite interviewed for this article said he or she planned to vote. Though there are a few Sunni leaders running for office, all the Sunnis interviewed, except one, said they were going to boycott. That could mean a humiliation for American forces and the new Iraqi government, who have relentlessly pounded the Sunni areas in a so far unsuccessful campaign to wipe out the resistance.
Hmmm. I never thought "humiliation" consisted of overwhelming support from Shi'ites and Kurds, who together make up 80% of the Iraqi population. Pray tell, twelve or fifteen months ago, how many journalists expected even majority support from the Shi'ites? If memory serves, all we were hearing back then was how Moqtada Sadr represented the true face of Iraqi Shi'ism.

UPDATE: Spencer Ackerman comments on the strengths and weaknesses of the IRI poll. Also check out his post about Iraqi politicians' vague stance on how long American troops should stay in Iraq.
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# Posted 4:31 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THAT SPEECH WAS NO ACCIDENT: Bush's second inaugural address was the result extensive consultation with this administration's conservative brain trust:
The planning of Bush's second inaugural address began a few days after the Nov. 2 election with the president telling advisers he wanted a speech about "freedom" and "liberty." That led to the broadly ambitious speech that has ignited a vigorous debate. The process included consultation with a number of outside experts, [William] Kristol among them.

One meeting, arranged by Peter Wehner, director of the White House Office of Strategic Initiatives, included military historian Victor Davis Hanson, columnist Charles Krauthammer and Yale professor John Lewis Gaddis, according to one Republican close to the White House. White House senior adviser Karl Rove attended, according to one source, but mostly listened to what became a lively exchange over U.S. policy and the fight for liberty.

Gaddis caught the attention of White House officials with an article in the latest edition of Foreign Affairs magazine that seems to belie the popular perception that this White House does not consult its critics.

Gaddis's article is, at times, strongly critical of Bush's first-term foreign policy calculations, especially what he calls the twin failures to anticipate international resistance to Bush's ideas and Iraqi resistance to peace after the fall of Baghdad. But the article also raises the possibility that Bush's grand vision of spreading democracy could prove successful, and perhaps historic, if the right choices are made in the years ahead.
Unsuprisingly, accusations of hypocrisy (at home and abroad) began to emerge not long after the inaugural. But the President's critics would be wise not to forget that there is considerable substance to his message
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Friday, January 21, 2005

# Posted 1:49 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WOODROW WILSON LIVES.
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# Posted 1:45 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

COMPARE BUSH'S ADDRESS TO REAGAN'S SECOND INAUGURAL: Reagan's emphasis is on freedom from government at home, an idea that Bush touched upon indirectly at best. Yet Reagan devoted one critical paragraph to the ideal of freedom abroad. He declared that:

We strive for peace and security, heartened by the changes all around us. Since the turn of the century, the number of democracies in the world has grown fourfold. Human freedom is on the march, and nowhere more so than in our own hemisphere. Freedom is one of the deepest and noblest aspirations of the human spirit. People, worldwide, hunger for the right of self-determination, for those inalienable rights that make for human dignity and progress.

America must remain freedom's staunchest friend, for freedom is our best ally and it is the world's only hope to conquer poverty and preserve peace. Every blow we inflict against poverty will be a blow against its dark allies of oppression and war. Every victory for human freedom will be a victory for world peace.

This is the seed from which Bush's rhetoric of freedom has grown. Yet as Reagan learned, freedom is easier said than done.
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# Posted 1:41 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

NOT WHAT YOU WANT TO HEAR WHEN IT'S SNOWING:
"Does this SUV have anti-lock brakes?"

"Well, it used to."
Charlottesville got its first real snowfall tonight, and that is an actual conversation I had with my friend JB. Great guy. Really.
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# Posted 1:19 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

TOWARDS AN ANTHROPOLOGY OF THE RED STATE PRIMITIVE: David Von Drehle means well. In his cover story for the WaPo magazine, he recounts his 700 mile road trip from Nebraska to Texas, in search of what makes Red State voters tick.

Von Drehle is driven by the liberal impulse to understand that which is foreign rather than condemning it. But think about the whole premise of his article; the basic idea behind it is that you can't understand Republican voters by assessing the merit of rational arguments advanced on behalf of their presidential candidate.

Instead, you have to treat them like the indigenous tribes of the Brazilian rainforest or southeast Asian highlands; you have to abandon your notions of rationality in order to understand why their irrational behave makes sense according to some foreign cultural standard.

Now ask yourself: Could you imagine this scenario in reverse? Could you imagine a reporter for the WaPo or even Wall Street Journal embarking on a road trip from Boston to Pittsburgh in order to "understand" why Blue State voters supported Kerry? Of course not. (Then again, an anthropological approach may help explain why entire institutions nominally devoted to rational thought, e.g. the American university, have become prisoners of the far left.)

That said, Von Drehle deserves credit for putting together a major article that almost totally avoids outright condescension towards people who believe in God, oppose abortion, oppose gay marriage and vote for Bush. In the end, I don't think he does much to help explain why Bush peformed so much better in this election than he did in his first. After all, the shift that won it for Bush happened in the swing states, not in the Redlands. Almost every demographic group registered a small but significant shift to the right, not just evangelicals.

Van Drehle explains his ability to transcend liberal stereotypes by providing a short autobiography. He writes:
Here, on the eve of the president's second inauguration, is an honest effort to set down what I saw, what I heard, what I thought and what I learned.

But who is doing this seeing and hearing and filtering?

For the purposes of this story, I'd say I'm a man who has lived among blues and lived among reds and never felt like a proper fit anywhere. My current home is one of the bluest places in America -- the District of Columbia, which voted 10 to 1 in favor of Kerry. I have friends and neighbors who were literally in tears the day after the election. Politics for many Washingtonians is more than just a civic duty or an every-few-years diversion. It is a passion and a livelihood. They find the Red Sea hostile, baffling and, frankly, menacing.

On the other hand, my roots are out there. I grew up at the western end of the nation's unbroken red high prairie. Aurora, Colo., has become a populous place, miles of suburb shading into more miles of exurb, but I remember it when tumbleweeds three feet high blew through our yard, and jackrabbits burrowed under the back fence, and asphalt gave way to dirt farm road a scant quarter-mile from our front door.
That stuff about the prairie and the jackrabbits is nice and all, but Van Drehle presentation of himself as a red-blue hybrid won't have any credibility in my mind until he answers the question that really matters: How many times has he gone into the voting booth and pulled the lever for Bush or any other Republican presidential candidate?

From talking to some of them, I know that Big Media correspondents are often paranoid about letting anyone know their real opinions about politics. They say that if they admit that they voted Democratic, Republicans would attack everything they publish as biased. And you know what? They probably would.

But Republicans already attack the media -- constantly -- for being biased. Perhaps if the press corps abandoned its faux non-partisanship, they would get some more respect from the GOP. But more importantly, if the press could admit to itself what it believed, it might not have to embark on anthropological expeditions across the midwest in order to understand Republicans.
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Thursday, January 20, 2005

# Posted 2:45 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WHY IS THE NYT BEING SO NICE TO DICK CHENEY? Beats me. But Noam makes a pretty strong case that the Times recently wnet soft on the man from Wyoming.
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# Posted 1:23 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

DIRTY WARS, DIRTY BOMBS: It isn't everyday that the Big Media muckamucks decide to extend their hand in friendship to the blogosphere. So when HBO, PBS and the Council on Foreign Relations invited me to a film premiere at the French Embassy, I decided that free food and alcohol are justification enough for consorting with the enemy.

The film in question is Dirty War, a BBC production (to be aired in the United States by HBO and PBS) that dramatizes the explosion of a massive, radiation-enhanced "dirty bomb" in central London. On a gut level, the film just works. Once the bomb went off, my heart jumped up into my throat and stayed there for the rest of the movie. What I felt was a combination of adrenaline and nausea.

In other words, this isn't a film you are exactly supposed to enjoy. Although it borrows heavily from Hollywood's crime-thriller and natural disaster genres, it is, above all, a political film. And this film amounts to nothing less than a vicious broadside against the Blair government for leaving Britain tragically vulnerable in the face of an impending terrorist attack.

When I say vicious, I mean vicious. The first half hour of the film devotes itself to the systematic humiliation of the fictional cabinet minister responsible for London's security. In rapid succession, the minister exposes her ignorance, selfishness, incompetence, and unhesitating willingness to deceive the British public.

But what difference does it make if the minister is fictional? Tony Blair has been in charge of the British government for almost eight years. The film's message is unequivocal: Tony Blair has utterly failed to fulfill his obligation to protect Britain from terrorists.

If ABC, NBC or CBS produced a similar film about an attack on New York or Washington, even those critics less than favorably disposed towards the President would have to write it off as hatchet job bought and paid for by the liberal media. But perhaps the BBC can get away with this sort of thing.

Although I lived in the UK for almost three years, I never learned much about its domestic politics. Turned off by the intense biases of The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph and BBC News, I went online to get my news. From what I understand, the BBC is an independent institution funded by the government. What that actually means in practice, I'm not sure.

On the one hand, I have to marvel at the democratic ideals that inspire government support for an institution devoted to embarrassing the government. On the other hand, one has to wonder whether the BBC suffers from a constant compulsion to demonstrate its independence by attacking its patrons in the most sensational manner possible.

What it comes down to, I suppose, is the degree to which a film such as Dirty War represents a constructive response to the dangers that Britain (and America) faces. The film certainly has such pretensions; before the film starts, white letters on a black screen inform the audience that the film is based on extensive factual research.

Another good indication of the film's seriousness its American premiere was sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations. Thus, along with dinner, the guests at the premiere were treated to a discussion of terrorism and homeland security led by Stephen Flynn of CFR and Michael Wermuth of the Rand Corporation, both experts in the field.

So, does the film blend drama and realism in a manner worthy of its creators highest hopes? Frankly, I have no idea. If the film taught me one thing, it is how little I know about homeland security. Perhaps because I have spent the last four and a half years studying foreign policy, I never devoted enough attention to the homeland side of the equation.

In order to remedy this situation, I hope to read Dr. Flynn's new book, entitled America the Vulnerable. Although you shouldn't judge a book by its (back )cover, it's hard to ignore Fareed Zakaria when he writes that
If officials in Washington would read just one book, this is it. Stephen Flynn describes how utterly unprepared we are for the next terrorist attack, More important, he explains that our vulnerabilities are not inevitable consequences of being an open society. It is a scary book, and it should scare us into action.
I actually read the first two chapters of the book after I got home last night. As soon as I finish it, you can expect a full review on OxBlog.

In the final analysis, regardless of whether the film gets sidetracked for half an hour by its anti-Blair agenda, I have no choice but to respect a creative enterprise that forced me to confront my apalling lack of knowledge about a subject so integral to our national security.
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# Posted 1:19 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

LIVING WITH THE MAINSTREAM MEDIA. LITERALLY. My housemate MB is a journalist and one of her articles was just published on the web. If you are interested in water sports, then you should definitely check out MB's short profile of the unlikely rowing scene in Dubai. Yup, Dubai.
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Monday, January 17, 2005

# Posted 6:24 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

OXBLOG VISITS THE AMERICAN SCENE: While in DC to interview Dr. Kirkpatrick, I will be crashing with the illustrious Reihan Salam. If you haven't already, head over right frikkin' now to The American Scene, which Reihan edits along with Steve M. and Ross D.

Recently, Reihan has compared himself to Cyrano de Bergerac. It seems that vertically-challenged folks such as Reihan may face social handicaps almost as dramatic as he of the long nose. (Full disclosure: I myself am a good inch shy of the national average of 5'9".)

Meanwhile, in a heartening display of intra-blog solidarity, Steve M. admits to his own insensitivity about the ridicule that vertically-challenged individuals suffer at the hands of corportate titans such as Burger King.

In contrast, Ross D. has decided to ignore the plight of the vertically-challenged on focus on some good old-fashioned prejudice against women -- at Harvard of all places.

That, my friends, is America.
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# Posted 6:16 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

OXBLOG TO INTERVIEW NEO-CONSERVATIVE ICON: Tomorrow, I will have the chance to sit down for thirty minutes with none other than Jeane Kirkpatrick. FYI, Dr. Kirkpatrick was Reagan's first ambassador to the United Nations, serving from 1981 through 1984.

I won't be able to provide excerpts from the interview since it is for academic purposes only, although I do hope to write a little more about Dr. Kirkpatrick's ideas.
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Sunday, January 16, 2005

# Posted 9:27 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

POSTPONE THE ELECTIONS? Larry Diamond is one of America's most respected scholars of democratization in the developing world. One week ago, he argued in the NY Times that going ahead with elections on Jan. 30 may derail democracy in Iraq.

Diamond makes a number of valid points, especially regarding the ways in which a voting system based on proportional representation will unfairly damage Sunni interests. Yet Diamond simply seems to ignore the major arguments against a postponement. For example, Diamond writes that
Sunni political and social leaders are not calling for an open-ended cancellation of the election. They are requesting a one-time postponement of several months, in order to establish the "necessary conditions" for a fair and inclusive vote.
In contrast, one might argue that in the absence of an election in January, conditions will be just as bad several months from now. Yet Diamond believes that negotiating with the Sunni leadership can ensure substantial Sunni participation in the next election:
Fortunately, it is no longer true, as has often been argued, that there is no one to negotiate with. Over the last few months, Sunni religious, tribal, civic and political leaders have begun meeting and forming alliances. At a conference in Tikrit on Dec. 23, Sunni representatives from seven provinces met, released a statement articulating their concerns and requests, and elected an "executive body" to negotiate on their behalf...

The outlines of a compromise are visible. The Sunnis could get a one-time postponement of the vote, an electoral system based substantially on provincial districts, and certain other political and administrative reforms. The leading Shiites, who have drawn together into the United Iraqi Alliance and seem set to win an election no matter when it is held or under what system, could get a commitment on the part of the Sunni opposition groups to end the electoral boycott and to work to reduce the violence, and thus to create a political situation in which their victory will be worth having.
But can the Sunni leadership really do anything to reduce the violence? Is there any reason to believe that insurgents will respect the requests of (relatively) moderate Sunni leaders? If the insurgents are given several more months to prepare for disrupting elections, should we really expect that much in the way of Sunni turnout, even if there are successful negotiations between the Sunni leadership and the Allawi government?

Diamond is correct to argue that holding elections now is hardly a cost-free proposition:
These elections will only increase political polarization and violence by entrenching the perceptions of Sunni Arab marginalization that are helping to drive the violence in the first place. This would not be the first instance when badly timed and ill-prepared elections set back the prospects for democracy, stability and ethnic accommodation. Think of Angola in 1992, Bosnia in 1996, Liberia in 1997.
Unfortunately, I don't know enough to comment on thesee examples of counterproductive elections that Diamond mentions. Of course, there are also positive examples, such as El Salvador in 1982.

Moving on, I think Diamond is right to suggest that voting with the current system will further marginalize the Sunnis. Yet given how marginalized the Sunnis already are and how much influence the insurgents have, should the United States or the Shi'ites and Kurds really want to take the dramatic risk of postponing the election in order to placate the Sunnis?

More importantly, Diamond ignores the benefits that will come with holding an election. First and foremost, Iraq will finally have a government chosen by almost 80% of its citizens, rather than one appointed primarily by the United States. With the government in their hands, the Shi'ite parties will have a very strong incentive to take ownership of the challenges facing the nation.

An elected government will also have the right to set the conditions under which Coaltion forces can stay in Iraq (or possibly be expelled). Of course, no one should think that the new government will be able to make an entirely independent decision about the fate of Coalition forces. Above all, Baghdad will still need someone to fight the insurgency for it.

Yet if an elected government permits Coaltion forces to remain, the Shi'ites will no longer feel that they are living under an full-fledged occupation regime. The presence of troops will still be problematic, but I think an election would put a permanent end to the kind of resentment that allowed Moqtada Sadr to launch his failed yet dangerous rebellions.

At this point, I think that the best course for the United States is to go through with the January elections and work behind the scenes to ensure that the constitutional assembly produces a document that addresses Sunni concerns. While it may be hard to persuade the newly-empowered Shi'ites to compromise, the same incentives that Diamond mentions will still be there.

In fact, the assembly might prove to be far more effective in negotiating with the Sunni leadership since it will have a democratic mandate, unlike the Allawi government. Instead of enticing the Sunnis with a postponed election, the Shi'ites can hold out the prospect of a constitution that favors district-based elections rather than proportional representation. If the assembly completes it work on time, then the Sunnis will be able to reap the benefits of a district-based system by the end of the 2005.

Admittedly, I have limited confidence in the ability of the United States to steer the assembly in the direction it prefers. Thus, the real question is whether the Shi'ite majority, once it has power, will live up to the ideals of democracy and tolerance it has advocated so consistently during the occupation. I believe it can.
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