OxBlog

Friday, June 30, 2006

# Posted 12:20 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE DA VINCI CODE AND THE LOVE OF KNOWLEDGE: So I finally read it. And I loved it, which I wasn't expecting at all. The highbrow scholar side of my personality tends to be suspicious of anything that is too popular. Yet here is a book that sold 50 million copies precisely by proclaiming its love of knowledge.

If you've already read the book, I don't need to tell you much about it. But for those of you who may be holding out on the same grounds that I did, let me try and persuade you to drink the Kool Aid.

The Da Vinci Code achieves that which all great teachers strive for. It reveals the significance that esoteric knowledge has for our everyday lives. It demonstrates how thinking can be the best entertainment of all.

And I think that the book's author is fully aware that this is his mission. In one memorable scene, protagonist and Harvard professor Robert Langdon teaches a class to foul-mouthed inmates at a Massachusetts prison. Slowly, Langdon wins them over by exposing the religious significance of their own coarse language. "Horny"? Let's talk about early Christian images of the devil.

Now, unless you happen to be some sort of extraordinary polymath, you will begin to wonder how much of the esoteric knowledge in this book is a complete fabrication. For all I know, being "horny" has nothing to do with the devil. But I know for a fact that much of the most fascinating material in the book is true. (Well, not the crazy stuff about Jesus having kids, but the rest of it.)

If it weren't 1 AM right now, I would describe in greater detail the ingenious way in which DaVinci author Dan Brown integrates such material into the plot. For example, one of the first clues to the identity of the book's shadowy villain is a series of apparently random numbers that turns out to be the Fibonacci sequence.

This sequence generates the irrational number known as Phi, which none other than Leonardo DaVinci used to determine the proportions of his famous sketch of the human body known as the Vitruvian Man. (You know what I'm talking about. The naked, spread-eagled guy who looks like he has four arms and four legs.)

Slowly, what begins to emerge from the book is an amazing web of knowledge spun from the realms of history, religion, physics, mathematics, painting and sculpture. Whereas modern scholars divide knowledge into artificial bodies known as disciplines, DaVinci tears down those walls and gives you a chance to experience all of these disparate fields of knowledge as a unified whole -- as you might have experienced them in the days of Leonardo DaVinci.
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Thursday, June 29, 2006

# Posted 9:41 AM by Patrick Porter  

I AM IRONMAN according to the survey that David referred to. The 'Iron Man' type is described in the report as 'Inventor. Businessman. Genius.'

Hmmm. I can hear the screams of laughter from friends in three continents. Never invented anything, or wanted to. No commercial acumen. But they may be onto something with 'genius'...

Branding my persona as 'Iron Man' is a little like certain university types calling themselves 'socialist workers.'

They mostly aren't workers. And they are socialist only in the sense that they are committed to redistributing other people's wealth.
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Wednesday, June 28, 2006

# Posted 11:41 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

IT WASN'T INTENDED AS A COMPLIMENT, BUT: Kevin Drum wrote a couple of days ago that
Mainstream reporters, despite their generally liberal temperaments, have an odd sort of contempt for actual liberal politicians, who they widely view as being wimpy, pandering, fence-sitting, poll-driven wonks who are hesitant to really speak their minds and insist on giving lots of boring policy-oriented speeches that don't make good copy.
Don't look at me. I didn't write that. Also plenty of substantive posts from Kevin about terrorist finance and European law, the gender gap in education, and Harvard basketball.
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# Posted 11:27 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

REMEMBER AUNG SAN SUU KYI: Randy Paul hasn't been able to think about much besides the World Cup lately, but he was still able to remind us that the leader of the Burmese democracy movement is still under indefinite house arrest after more than three years. And the UN is doing nothing about it.
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# Posted 11:03 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE STANDARD REVISITS HADITHA: Fred Barnes' editorial argues that our knowledge of what happened in Haditha is so minimal that we have no reason to believe -- yet -- that war crimes were committed.

Barnes' makes certain points that I certainly hadn't come across before (although my knowledge of the subject is sparse). For example, the supposedly damning video of the local residents' bodies was provided not by a journalism student, but rather by a Sunni "human rights activist" with questionable credentials.

There are two points, however, that Barnes doesn't address that I would very much like to know more about. First of all, the alleged cover-up. As I understand it, the original report provided by the Marines described all of the casualties as the result of an explosion, not gunfire, which turned out to be false.

If certain Marines consciously lied about what happened in Haditha, then it's not hard to understand why so many observers have such strong suspicions about war crimes.

Second of all, Barnes doesn't talk about the fact that the residents seem to have died as a result of gunfire at close range. My memory of this is a bit foggy, so clarifications (and links) would be appreciated below.

On the one hand, gunshot wounds are consistent with the Marines' revised account of close-quarters combat. But I also have vague recollections of hearing that the wounds were closer to being the result of execution-style gunfire, rather than armed combat.

I guess the real moral of this story is that I should pay closer attention to what I read. But that's what so great about blogging -- you can admit what you don't know and pool the knowledge of others instead.
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# Posted 6:59 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WHICH SUPERHERO ARE YOU? A quiz. I am the Green Lantern. (Hat tip: AS)
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# Posted 6:45 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WHAT'S UP WITH DIANNE FEINSTEIN? Any idea why she's the lone Blue State Democrat to support the flag-burning amendment? You can read her floor speech in defense of the amendment here.

I know very little about constitutional law, but Feinstein's two main arguments are as follows: First, flag-burning is not a form of speech but a form of conduct. Second, the flag is a national monument and can be protected in the same manner as one would the Lincoln Memorial.

Perhaps there is a legal basis for that first argument, but it seems like wordplay to me. After all, can Congress outlaw mimes just because they annoy us with their conduct rather than their speech?

As for the flag being a monument, that seems like nonsense. If you build a miniature version of the Lincoln Monument and smash it up with a sledgehammer, that is perfectly legal. In other words, a monument is a specific piece of public property, such as the actual, physical Lincoln Monument a couple of miles from where I'm sitting right now in Washington.

On a related note, riddle me this: Why did Hillary vote against the flag-burning amendment after sponsoring a bill to outlaw flag-burning?
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# Posted 6:19 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THERE'S NO SUCH THING AS BAD PUBLICITY: A lot of the early MSM stories devoted to blogs were less than positive. But it didn't matter. When the media think you're important enough to criticize, they help make you important enough to criticize.

Which leads me to think that the recent flurry of articles about Kos is, unfortunately, good for the man rather than bad. This week, Newsweek has what CJR Daily describes as a three-page long "provocative takedown" of Kos.

Actually, I'd say the article is pretty tame. It suggests Kos suffers from a bit of "paranoia" -- You don't say! -- but makes no effort to paint him as a far-left ideologue. More importantly, the article leads off with a description of how incredibly important Kos is:
Every major media outlet in the country had attended [Kos' first annual] conference, detailing the spectacle of Democratic bigwigs (including the party's Senate minority leader and four of its leading 2008 presidential aspirants) embracing Moulitsas as the guru of an activist movement they were eager to exploit.
For an outright negative take on Kos, you can read David Brooks' recent column [not free] about him. Brooks' basic point is that if you hire Kos as a political consultant, he'll endorse you on his blog even if he already declared his support for your opponent. In other words, Kos is for sale.

Is Brooks right? In some respects, it doesn't matter. The real import of his column is that Kos is important enough to become the subject of a personal attack by the NYT's in-house conservative.

Actually, I don't know if Brooks is right. If you want to find out, Glenn has some links to those who think Brooks got his facts wrong. Feel free to read up and report your findings below.

But remember, talking about Kos is good for him.
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Tuesday, June 27, 2006

# Posted 2:10 AM by Patrick Porter  

OXBLOG BACK IN OXFORD: Greetings from the UK!

First things first: Italy 1, Australia 0. So it goes. What a heartbreaker. Italy seem to be one those teams who have many ways of beating you, and Totti took his penalty beautifully. Congrats to Italy.

As the 90th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme approaches, a new book I'll have to read when I get the chance:
The Battle of the Somme has an enduring legacy, the image established by Alan Clark of 'lions led by donkeys': brave British soldiers sent to their deaths by incompetent generals. However, from the German point of view the battle was a disaster. Their own casualties were horrendous. The Germans did not hold the (modern) view that the British Army was useless. As Christopher Duffy reveals, they had great respect for the British forces and German reports shed a fascinating light on the volunteer army recruited by General Kitchener. The German view of the British Army has never been made public until now. Their typically diligent reports have lain undisturbed in obscure archives until unearthed by Christopher Duffy. The picture that emerges is a far cry from 'Blackadder': the Germans developed an increasing respect for the professionalism of the British Army.

This would seem to reinforce the arguments of Gary Sheffield, that the Somme offensive inflicted terrible damage on the German army even if it was indecisive, as well as relieving the pressure on the French at Verdun. It degraded the quality of the army, which lost some of its most seasoned professional soldiers (the British regulars had already suffered terrible losses earlier in the war), and one German officer called the Somme the 'muddy grave of the German army.'

It also reminds me of an interesting fragment I picked up in the Protestant church archive in Stuttgart last year. I found the reports of military chaplains of Baden-Württemberg who had visited the country in 1917 to bolster morale and encourage the war-weary population to show solidarity with the war effort.

One pastor reported a debate he had with some civilians, who claimed that the Somme had been a calamity for the army. He insisted that it had also been a defensive victory for German arms. In some ways they were both right. It read almost as a curtain-raiser for a similar debate amongst British historians years later! The significance and value of the battle was contested on both sides of the front, and civilians at the homefront were clearly obtaining enough information to form negative views on the impact of the battle (the main complaint of the chaplains reports was precisely that soldiers were telling civilians too many things about life at the front!).

I'll be putting together some of these archival titbits at a conference to mark the 90th anniversary of the Somme next month. It has been treated in much folk memory as an episode in British military and cultural history, reducing the role of the German defenders to impersonal hands on the machine guns that cut down the flower of British youth etc. At the hands of AJP Taylor and Arthur Marwick, the battle became a hallmark for the death of innocence and even faith in British culture, claiming that a tectonic cultural change took place as a battlefield event.

But no matter how unreliable were some of the British shells, no matter how ineffective the infantry assault, it was also deadly and terrifying for German defenders.

Hopefully at the conference, the new and welcome stress on comparative cross-national history in World War One scholarship will help to give the battle a richer history.
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# Posted 12:21 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WELCOME TO FEINGOLD'S UNIVERSE: A good friend of mine from grad school worked for Feingold and has tremendous respect for him. It isn't hard to see why. The Senator from Wisconsin is an intelligent and independent thinker with far more integrity than you expect in Washington. But I just can't get past his weirdness. To see what I mean, take a look at the transcript from Feingold's headline interview yesterday morning on Meet the Press:
FEINGOLD: Having a public deadline that the American people could see, that the Iraqi people could see, that the world could see, so that people couldn’t use the idea of a so-called “American occupation of Iraq” as an excuse to recruit terrorists, that would be good for us, it would help us in the fight against al-Qaeda, which should be our top goal, Tim, fighting al-Qaeda and its affiliates, not being bogged down in Iraq.
On the one hand Feingold is hawkish, refusing to acknowledge that the occupation of Iraq deserves to be called, well, an occupation. But then he turns right around and says we should only be fighting Al Qaeda and its affiliates, as if he never heard of an organization called "Al Qaeda in Iraq". (You know which one I mean. It's leader is that Zarqawi guy.)
MR. RUSSERT: ...Are you concerned, as is Senator Clinton, that if we pulled out of Iraq completely by the end of next year, and it did tip into total chaos and become a haven for terrorists or for al-Qaeda, it would be a major threat to the United States?

SEN. FEINGOLD: Sure. If all those things happen. But, Tim, that’s what’s going on right now. This parade of horribles about things that might happen? What’s happening right now in Iraq is chaos. I’ve been there twice—two years in a row with Senator McCain and on one occasion with Senator Clinton. What’s happening right now is chaotic. What’s happening right now is that terrorists are using Iraq as a training ground. So this idea that if we leave, things will get worse, is not clear. What we know is that what’s happening now is really awful and is depleting America’s strength.
There is a strange parallelism here. Just as certain hawks assumed that everything in Iraq would improve dramatically after an invasion, certain doves have persuaded themselves that nothing all that bad will happen if America pulls out.
MR. RUSSERT: Back in 2002 and 2003, you voted against the war, as I said, one of a handful of senators who did. But you did say that Saddam possessed weapons that were capable of unimaginable destruction. That you believed in regime change, that he had biological, chemical and potentially nuclear weapons, that he’s a dangerous and brutal person, and you agreed with the president on that. Why were you so wrong about that description of Saddam?

SEN. FEINGOLD: Well, I don’t think any of that was necessarily wrong. If you, if you look at the whole speech, of course, I concluded that the imminence of any threat of that kind was not there.
None of it was wrong? None of it? Imagine what kind of trouble Dick Cheney would get in for saying something like that. But the real issue here is that Feingold just can't admit his arguments have any flaws. Might things in Iraq get much worse if we leave? No, of course not. Was anything you said before the invasion wrong? No, of course not.
MR. RUSSERT: You [said] in GQ magazine that’s coming out this week, “Problem is, George Bush has committed a more clearly impeachable offense than Clinton or even Nixon ever did.” George Bush committed a more impeachable offense than Richard Nixon?

SEN. FEINGOLD: Oh, I think so. I mean, you could debate that if you want...I even heard George Will describe it as monarchical at one point. So I do think it is the greatest threat to our republic.

You know, when the founders wrote the words “high crimes and misdemeanors,” they weren’t particularly interested in, in break-ins at the Watergate Plaza or, or, or presidential personal misconduct.
Thomas Jefferson wouldn't have cared about the use of executive power in an attempt to influence the outcome of an election. I beg to differ. If John Adams had tried that in 1800, I don't think TJ would've taken it lying down.

But if one assumes that George W. Bush is the bogeyman Russ Feingold makes him out to be...
MR. RUSSERT: So, logically, you’re suggesting that George Bush deserves impeachment?

SEN. FEINGOLD: No. You—the, the—I think he’s committed an impeachable offense, in other words, something that could be within that category, but that doesn’t mean we should do it, that doesn’t mean that it’s the right thing for the country to say, “It’s in the best interest of America to actually remove him from office,” I question that. That’s specifically why, Tim, I propose censure. I think it would be disruptive to America to have an impeachment proceeding.
Monarchical. A threat to the republic. But it would be "disruptive" to actually confront this threat and save the republic?
MR. RUSSERT: Should we end this wiretapping program until it is approved by a court?

SEN. FEINGOLD: Well, how are we going to end it? I think the, the only way to, to deal with it is to have it brought within the court, and, and that’s what we should do.
Wait. So Feingold won't even oppose the continuation of the selfsame action whose justification by the president (via reference to Article II) is an impeachable offense?

I guess I'll just have to say that Feingold is a very, very, very independent thinker.
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Monday, June 26, 2006

# Posted 11:59 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SUNDAY MORNING ROUND-UP: You know it's summertime when Russ Feingold is the only one interviewed on Meet the Press. Face the Nation came up with Dick Lugar and Barbara Boxer. Dick Durbin and Mitch McConnell squared off on This Week, followed by Larry Summers.

Before I get to the grades, let me just observe how incredibly annoying it is for all three shows to grauitiously describe their interviews as "exclusive". Meet the Press even had the chutzpah to describe its interview with Feingold as exclusive, when the fact is that Feingold should have to pay for that kind of air time. Apparently, the only real meaning of exclusive is that the guest won't also be on one of the other talk shows that same morning. But anyhow, here we go:
Feingold: C-. His manner and tone of voice are excellent. He sounds confident and well-informed, yet still friendly and approachable. But then he wandered off into cloud-cuckooland. How can anyone possibly insist that Bush is worse criminal than Nixon AND that he shouldn't be impeached?

Lugar: B-. I like Dick Lugar a lot and especially admire his two decades of commitment to democracy promotion. There are few such gentlemen in the Senate. But this time, Lugar was so understated that it was hard to figure out what he was saying.

Boxer: B. Effectively toed the party line.

Dick Durbin: B. Toed the party line and said nothing particularly dumb or offensive. A very good day for Dick Durbin.

Mitch McConnell: B+. It's good to hear a Red State Republican say flat out that we don't need an amendment to ban flag burning, because the First Amendment has served us just fine for over 200 years.

Larry Summers: C. Boooring. Stephanopoulos tried to get Summers to hit back at his critics, but the ex-president of Harvard suddenly decided that now would be a good time to be bland and diplomatic. Way too late for that, Larry.
And the hosts:
Russert: B-. Feingold is like fish in barrel. Russert should filleted him.

Schieffer: B-. May I observe that Schieffer's little editorials at the end of the show are incredibly cloying? It's nice to see a journalist admit to having actual opinions, but how about some less sanctimonious ones?

Stephanopoulos: B-. Can't get a rise out of Larry Summers? Geez.
Hasta el proximo Domingo!
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# Posted 1:29 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

NOW THAT'S WHAT I CALL A SWEET JOB: The World Cocoa Foundation is looking for a program assistant.
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Sunday, June 25, 2006

# Posted 11:37 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE SAVAGE WARS OF PEACE, A PRESCIENT BOOK. Why review a book that came out four years ago? The answer is because all of the newspapers and other publications that rush to review a book right when it comes out can't possibly evaluate the book with even a measure of hindsight.

Although hindsight is often profoundly flawed, it nonetheless tends to result in realizations that are nothing less than startling. The invasion of Iraq went forward about a year after Max Boot published The Savage Wars of Peace. It is a book about America's "small wars", defined not so much by their size as by the absence of organized forces confronting one another on a conventional battlefield.

In small wars, soldiers fight along side guerillas, propagandists, policemen and politicians. Decisive battles are rare. Even the outcome of the war itself may not be known until well after it is over. Clearly, the occupation of Iraq belongs to the United States' 200-year old tradition of engaging in "small" or irregular conflicts.

Even in 2002, Boot's prescience was fairly self-evident. In the preface, Boot asks,
What lessons might these small of the past teach us about small wars in the future? In the late 1990s -- the decade of Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, and Kosovo -- I was intrigued by these recurring conflicts and hoped to read a book to answer that question. Not finding one, I decided to write it myself.
Before the book was published, the United States found itself in another small war in Afghanistan, except the stakes involved were anything but small. And after the book came out, there was Iraq.

In April 1914, Woodrow Wilson ordered the US Navy to occupy the Mexican port of Veracruz. Wilson did not have permission from Congress, but felt it necessary to overthrow Mexican dictator Victoriano Huerta sooner rather than later. Even though international law clearly prohibited such a policy of regime change, Wilson expected liberation to popular south of the border. Boot writes that:
Wilson had counted on a peaceful occupation; he assumed that the Mexcian people -- "the submerged 85 per cent of the people of that Republic who are now struggling toward liberty" -- would welcome American intervention to topple their dictator. This view turned out to be dangerously naive. (p.151)
The parallel to Iraq is obvious, but its significance may not be so apparent. Is the lesson here that naively idealistic presidents stumble into dangerous and bloody wars? And that this president would have known better if he had studied more history?

Or is the lesson that even a population that broadly welcomes a change of regime may have within it enough defenders of the status quo to complicate the task of the liberator? The 85% figure mentioned by Wilson is an interesting one. In Iraq, the Kurds and Shi'ites comprise about 80% of the population. And yet that has clearly not been enough to ensure a smooth occupation.

My purpose here is not to suggest that one of these interpretations is right and one of them wrong. Rather, it is to argue that the careful study of events such as the US intervention in the Mexican civil war might allow to have a much more sophisticated and practical debate about the perils of occupation.

Although Boot only devotes a few pages to the occupation of Veracruz and related events, some of the details are eerily reminiscient of events ninety years later in Iraq. For example, one of the great challenges of the occupation has been to facilitate the establishment of legitimate local governments in insurgent held areas. Ninety years ago,
An [American] messenger discovered the mayor of Veracruz cowering in his bathroom, but the mayor said he had no authority over his armed countrymen.
I think many Iraqis mayors would empathize with his plight.

One of the great challenges that America faces in terms of learning such lessons is that its small wars barely register in the national consciousness. Most adults can tell you a few things about World War II and the Civil War, or even Korea. They know World War I happened and that it happened before World War II. They probably remember the first Gulf War.

But who knows anything about US involvement in Tripoli, Tunisia, Nicaragua the Philippines or imperial China? There is one small war that every American knows about, however: Vietnam. As Boot observers (p.287), the war in Vietnam was anything but small, although its style was much more reminiscent of the conflicts in Nicaragua and the Philippines than of World War II.

Nonetheless, Boot says, the US Army tried to fight the Vietcong the same way it had fought the Wehrmacht. Drawing on the seminal work of Col. (Ret.) Andrew Krepinevich, Boot argues that the US Army brass was conceptually incapable of recognizing that not all wars are about technology and firepower.

In contrast, the Marines understood the difference thanks to their experience -- and frequent success -- in fighting small wars. But the Army lacked that experience and refused to learn either from the Marines or from British military advisers who sought to share their own experiences.

Of course, there is considerable disagreement about how America should've fought in Vietnam or if it should've fought at all. My purpose here is not to take sides in that debate, although I think my position is clear. Rather, my purpose is to point that there is latent potential for a broader understanding of small wars if the American public can overcome its visceral aversion to the tragedy of Vietnam and instead come to see it as a bloody but instructive experience.

It may take a generation before that kind of change sets in. In the short term, the issue of vital importance may be whether or not the US Army can assimilate the lessons of America's small wars in time to apply their lessons to Iraq. And there are some promising signs in that direction. For example, Lt. Col. John Nagl's book on the lessons of Vietnam has been embraced by the Army's top generals. Like Boot, Nagl draws extensively on the work of Krepinevich and shares his interpretation of the war.

The foreword to the second edition of Nagl's book was written by Gen. Peter Schoomaker, the Army Chief of Staff (it's top general). In March, the Wall Street Journal [no link] reported that the first thing US commander Gen. George Casey did after Donald Rumsfeld landed in Iraq was to give him a copy of Nagl's book.

Yet as any college professor knows, distributing material to be read is not the same as having it read. As Boot recounts (p.294), Gen. William Westmoreland, the US commander in Vietnam, had a copy on his nighttable of Mao Zedong's classic text on guerrilla warfare. However, Gen. Westmoreland was too busy fighting his war to read much of the book.

With any luck, books such as The Savage Wars of Peace will help ensure that when the United States finds itself inevitably involved in another small war, its leaders know how to win it.
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Friday, June 23, 2006

# Posted 9:06 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  


DISREGARD THE FOLLOWING POST: It is about a quiz that compares quotes from Ann Coulter to doctored quotes from Adolf Hitler. Except some versions of the quiz (including the one I took) don't let you know the quotes were doctored. Many thanks to Blar for bringing this to my attention. Someone should bring it to Matt's attention as well.

ANN COULTER & ADOLF HITLER: CAN YOU TELL THE DIFFERENCE? This clever quiz lists 14 quotes and asks you to identify whether they belong to Coulter or Hitler. After Matt Yglesias announced that he got 12 out of 14 correct, I had to try it. Sadly, I only got 9. Moreover, it took me a while to decide on my answers.

Interestingly, of the 5 answers I got wrong, 4 were Hitler quotes I attributed Coulter. Only 1 was a Coulter quote I attributed to Hitler. That may be just chance. Or it may indicate that almost nothing Coulter said was so horrible that I was inclined to attribute it to Hitler, rather than my fellow American.

In contrast, it would seem that I have such a low opinion of Coulter (none of whose books I read) that I attributed four of Hitler's sayings to her. Maybe she isn't as crazy as I thought. Either that, or the quotes themselves aren't that bad, so I figured they weren't Hitler's.

FYI, none of the quotes has anything racist or anti-Semitic in it. If you didn't know that half of them were from Hitler and someone just asked you "Who said it?", Hitler probably wouldn't even make your top five.

Anyhow, if you have a minute, why not take the quiz and report your score below, along with your political affiliation and whether or not you've read any of Coulter's books.

UPDATE: Some of Matt's readers are reporting their scores, too. One even has a very simple and effective trick of figuring out the answers. Most of Matt's readers are making nasty remarks at Coulter's expense. Some go far enough to demonstrate that Coulterism is alive and well on the left.
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# Posted 7:32 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

PRE-EMPTIVE STRIKE ON NORTH KOREA? Bill Perry served as Secretary of Defense during the Clinton administration and Ashton Carter was one of his assistants. In yesterday's WaPo, they called for a pre-emptive strike against North Korea in order to prevent it from going ahead with a long-range ballistic missile test.

I think that's an incredibly bad idea. Perry and Carter discount the possibility of North Korea responding with a full-scale attack against South Korea and Japan, but I am not persuaded by their argument:
North Korea could respond to U.S. resolve by taking the drastic step of threatening all-out war on the Korean Peninsula. But it is unlikely to act on that threat. Why attack South Korea, which has been working to improve North-South relations (sometimes at odds with the United States) and which was openly opposing the U.S. action? An invasion of South Korea would bring about the certain end of Kim Jong Il's regime within a few bloody weeks of war, as surely he knows.
Let's remember that "bloody" means tens, possibly hundreds of thousands of dead South Koreans, as well as thousands of American soldiers. And this is assuming that the war goes well (even though most of our ground forces are busy in Iraq or recovering from their deployments).

But more importantly, what about North Korea's other options for retaliation? It could launch a few missiles directed at Tokyo or Seoul, killing thousands. It could even use standard artillery to kill as many people in Seoul as it wanted. Worst of all, it may decide to share some of its uranium or plutonium with other US adversaries.

I guess the one silver lining in this debate is that certain liberals are willing to take such outlandish options quite seriously when proposed by leading Democrats. Although concerned, Matt Yglesias writes that:
One shouldn't dismiss [Perry & Carter] out of hand as know-nothings. Indeed, they know a great deal more about this than I do.
Josh Marshall is also wary, writing that:
Bill Perry isn't some nut. Far from it. He was Bill Clinton's second defense secretary. He's a very shrewd, level-headed guy. And he's been deeply involved in the North Korea issue for years.
So let's read between the lines. Yglesias and Marshall are saying that the ideas proposed by Carter and Perry sound like those of a "know-nothing" or a "nut". In other words, if Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz had proposed an attack on North Korea, it would be safe to dismiss them as know-nothings or nuts. But Carter and Perry are good guys, so no criticism from Matt and Josh.

Well, as far as I'm concerned, this idea is simply nuts. Any Democrats who condemns Bush for invading Iraq without considering the possible consequences should condemn Perry and Carter for being at least that reckless.
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# Posted 7:22 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THANKS FOR CLEARING THAT UP: "The problem is that the Republicans have no plan. But this should not be a partisan debate." -- Madeleine Albright on CNN yesterday morning.
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Thursday, June 22, 2006

# Posted 9:17 AM by Patrick Porter  


SUMMERTIME: I'm flying over to the UK tomorrow to teach a course on 'War and World History' at a summer school. Then, just shy of my thirtieth birthday, I will be reborn as a baby, entry-level academic.

I'll join you again when the jet-lag settles. see ya.

QUICK UPDATE: There may have been some intense World Cup matches today. I'll post my thoughts in Blighty. Commiserations to the Czech Republic, the USA, Japan, Iran, and all who didn't make it.

In the meantime, this picture of Mr Harry Kewell sums up my day pretty well.
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# Posted 9:13 AM by Patrick Porter  

THREE CHEERS FOR SCHOLARS: I love my profession even more after reading this (hat-tip, Erudito). Last century, a scholar refuted the myth that the alleged fragments of the True Cross would have added up to a whole forest:
In a truly obsessive piece of scholarship, Charles Rohault de Fleury's Memoire sur les instruments de la passion de N.-S. J.-C. (Paris, 1870) counted all the alleged fragments and showed they only add up to one ship or so.
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# Posted 12:03 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WHAT IS TORTURE? Spencer Ackerman points to some disturbing evidence that high-ranking military officers have provided apalling answers to this question. Nor has the Pentagon been much help to reporters who want to know what their definition of torture is. (Hat tip: KD)
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Wednesday, June 21, 2006

# Posted 11:54 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

CAN DEMOCRATS WIN WITHOUT THE SOUTH? Kevin Drum hasn't made up his mind yet. My answer: definitely maybe.
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# Posted 10:56 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

PREACHING THE GOSPEL OF MULTILATERALISM: Bloggers have a weakness for attacking enemies who don't exist. In our minds, we slowly invent mythical debate partners who passionately believe everything that we know to be objectively wrong. Often, instead of dismantling the argument of an actual opponent, we score clever points at the expense of our imaginary counterpart.

Thus, it came as great relief to me yesterday morning when I encountered a true-to-life advocate of pathological multilateralism. And it wasn't just some random schmuck. It was the president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, whom I once served as a lowly peon.

Even a glance at Dr. Mathews' biography is enough to know that she has a powerful intellect and tremendous record of accomplishment. I happened to run across Dr. Mathews yesterday morning, when she delivered some opening remarks at a conference for young professionals in the field of foreign affairs.

Just as Bernard Lewis turned to the past to explain what went wrong in the modern Middle East, Mathews turned to the past to explain what wrong with American foreign policy. Her answer is that it fell prey to pathological unilateralism.

As she recounted, the great tragedy of the 1990s entailed America's failure to sign a great host of important international treaties, such as the Kyoto protocol, Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, the anti-landmine accord and the charter of the International Criminal Court. As Mathews candidly observed, it was the Clinton administration that set the United States on a dangerously unilateral course.

I have a different candidate for the great tragedy of the 1990s: Rwanda. Followed by Bosnia, Somalia and Haiti. In my mind, there was a total disconnect between Mathews hopeful commitment to multilateral instruments and the brutal reality of the real challenges to democracy and human rights in the post-Cold War era.

According to Mathews, the wisest end to which the United States can direct its great power is the forging of an international order based on cooperation and law. Not surprisingly, Mathews had very little to say about the profound flaws of institutions such as the United Nations that nominally exist to promote cooperation and law.

According to Robert Kagan, also an employee of Dr. Mathews (as well as my old boss at Carnegie), Europeans tend to be "principled multilateralists" in the sense that they see the United Nations as the legitimate arbiter of international affairs. In contrast, even most Democrats in the United States are "instrumental multilateralists" who prefer to have UN support but ultimately believe that acting in accordance with American values is more important than UN approval. On this subject, Mathews sides with the Europeans.

When listening to advocates of this sort of multilateralism, critics such as myself tend to watch for indications of the advocate's naivete, since we quietly suspect that such intelligent individuals could only maintain their faith in the UN and international law by closing their eyes to its flaws. As it turned out, Mathews delivered.

In her introduction of keynote speaker Robert Gallucci, Mathews described the United States' 1994 nuclear accord with North Korea as "the signature diplomatic achievement of the Clinton administration". Yes, that accord. Yes, that North Korea. The one that did so much to vindicate the hawkish article of faith that you simply can't trust extremist dictatorships to abide by their commitments.

Although currently the dean of Georgetown's School of Foreign Service, Gallucci is also the former State Deparmtent official who negotiated the 1994 accord with the North Koreans. He is not a naive man. In his keynote address, he spoke very frankly about the tremendous threat presented by a nuclear North Korea and a soon-to-be nuclear Iran.

But when it came time for Q&A, I was in a feisty mood. This was supposed to be a non-partisan conference for young professionals, not a chance for Dr. Mathews to preach the gospel of multilateralism. So I decided to throw an elbow in the speakers' ribs.

During my turn at the microphone, I began by observing that Dr. Mathews' praise of the 1994 accord as the previous administration's signature diplomatic achievements may have struck some of us in the audience as "an effort to damn the Clinton administration with very faint praise."

I said I appreciated how hard it is to negotiate with the North Koreans and how much Dean Gallucci accomplished in that regard, but based on his experience, is there any hope now that we can have more than paper agreements with the North Koreans?

Gallucci was not amused. He said that the phrase "paper agreements" is evidence of very shallow thinking on the part of critics. After all, what are treaties supposed to be written on other than paper? Those who insist the use of this derisive phrase tend to be those who just don't understand that diplomacy is necessary.

But that was just the beginning. At one point, Gallucci paraphrased part of my statement and then dismissed it as "crap". Really. He then came up with a very artful excuse for the North Koreans' secret violation of the 1994 accord. He said they anticipated that the next administration might have very little appreciation for diplomacy, so it would be best to hedge their bets.

Wow. I guess that means any treaty signed with a Democratic administration isn't worth much, because the other party might have to pre-emptively violate it if they anticipate a Republican victory in the next election.

Anyhow, I don't hold it against Gallucci that he got rough with me. I was the one who departed from the civil conventions of the foreign policy establishment in order to foster provocative debate.

Now, I ought to mention that before asking my question, I intentionally decided not to state my name for the record. I wanted the speakers to remember my question, not who asked it. But Washington is not a very big place, and I wouldn't be displeased if either Dr. Mathews or Dean Galluci stumbled across this post. If they have any responses to this post, I would be glad to republish them verbatim.

The blogosphere has a charming habit of forcing august personages to engage the arguments of grenade-tossing upstarts. I like that.
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# Posted 9:55 AM by Patrick Porter  

WELL SAID: I recall what Oz Prime Minister John Howard said after the London bombings, when a journalist suggested that the main cause was Blair's policies in Iraq:

Can I remind you that the murder of 88 Australians in Bali took place before the operation in Iraq. And I remind you that the 11th of September occurred before the operation in Iraq. Can I also remind you that the very first occasion that bin Laden specifically referred to Australia was in the context of Australia's involvement in liberating the people of East Timor. Are people by implication suggesting we shouldn't have done that?

When a group claimed responsibility on the website for the attacks on the 7th of July, they talked about British policy not just in Iraq, but in Afghanistan. Are people suggesting we shouldn't be in Afghanistan? When Sergio de Mello was murdered in Iraq—a brave man, a distinguished international diplomat, a person immensely respected for his work in the United Nations—when al Qaeda gloated about that, they referred specifically to the role that de Mello had carried out in East Timor because he was the United Nations administrator in East Timor.

Now I don't know the mind of the terrorists. By definition, you can't put yourself in the mind of a successful suicide bomber. I can only look at objective facts, and the objective facts are as I've cited. The objective evidence is that Australia was a terrorist target long before the operation in Iraq.

And indeed, all the evidence, as distinct from the suppositions, suggests to me that this is about hatred of a way of life, this is about the perverted use of principles of the great world religion that, at its root, preaches peace and cooperation. And I think we lose sight of the challenge we have if we allow ourselves to see these attacks in the context of particular circumstances rather than the abuse through a perverted ideology of people and their murder.
Its refreshing to reread a statement which applies logical analysis to the chronology, nature and ideological basis for the attacks, recognising that this kind of terrorism may have immediate grievances, but it also has ultimate ones.

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Tuesday, June 20, 2006

# Posted 11:18 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

IS THERE A YEARLY-KOS IDEOLOGY? On Meet the Press, Kos himself announced that
This isn’t a leftist movement...We have people on the left, the center, the right and everything in between and up and down the party spectrum.
Surprisingly, Ryan Lizza's superb article about YearlyKos takes Moulitsas at his word. Lizza writes that:
The most passionate conversations in the small knots of activists I interview is over whether to follow the lead of blogfather Moulitsas and define the nascent online activist movement as strictly a machine that helps Democrats win or to create one that is more ideologically pure and presses for a set of specific principles.
Kos may not spend his time composing manifestos, and there may be real tension between "partisans" and "ideologues" as Lizza describes them, but it's pretty hard to miss Kos' general ideological orientation. Matt Continetti drives this point home with a short list of extreme observations by Kos & Co.:

It was difficult to find commonalities among all the bloggers at YearlyKos. Most opposed the Iraq war, and most viewed orthodox religion with suspicion. In the bloggers' view, the GOP is a party of "theocons" who want to impose a version of conservative Christianity on unbelievers.

This sentiment is nothing new. Once, Moulitsas wrote on his website: "Let's not forget that ultimately, Osama's vision for the Arab world is far more akin to the Right's vision of America." Paul Hackett, the failed House candidate [avidly supported by Kos], once said, "The Republican party has been hijacked by the religious fanatics that, in my opinion, aren't a whole lot different than Osama bin Laden."

I wish there footnotes in the Weekly Standard, because I can hardly believe that either Kos or Hackett said something that dumb and offensive. Talk about accusations of being unpatriotic.

For a more detailed explication and takedown of the Kos ideology, Peter Beinart's recent columns in TNR [or subscribers] are the place to go. Beinart explains in a two-part series that Kos & Co. have mounted a full-scale assault on both the substantive and partisan political merits of the Clinton legacy. According to Kos, "Clinton's third way failed miserably. It ... delivered nothing." Well, perhaps Kos should ask whether a second-term for Bush Sr. followed by Quayle presidency is what he would've preferred. C'est la vie.
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# Posted 10:53 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

KOS IN VEGAS: So I've made it through all the articles about YearlyKos that I mentioned yesterday. Ryan Lizza's essay [for subscribers] in TNR is superb. Matt Continetti's in the Standard provides some good insight and Matt Labash's is rather amusing. Here is Lizza's sharpest insight:

Th[e] uncertainty over what will happen at the first major convention for liberal bloggers drives Yearly Kos participants into a strange and ritualistic dance. Throughout the four-day convention, bloggers, politicians, and reporters circle one another like a trio of underwater species not quite sure who eats whom anymore.

The bloggers alternatively ridicule and suck up to the reporters. The politicians prostrate themselves before the bloggers one minute and then roll their eyes at them in off-the-record pow-wows with the "mainstream media" the next. The press smile and yuk it up with the bloggers during the day and escape to decadent, MSM-only meals at night

Politicians, journalists and bloggers all derive a very significant measure of credibility from denigrating their counterparts, while at the same time craving their approval. I'd venture that the same holds true on the conservative side of the blogosphere, albeit with somewhat less intensity.

At times, the contradiction between resentment and adulation express itself as a rather surreal sort of hypocrisy. Lizza writes that:

The flesh-and-blood mingling with the reporters [bloggers] excoriate and the politicians they prod is causing some cognitive dissonance. One night, I sit across the dinner table from Christy Hardin-Smith, a former prosecutor who blogs under the name of ReddHedd at firedoglake, the go-to site for all things Valerie Plame. We dine on a five-course meal at a swank trattoria in Mandalay Bay that was paid for by a liberal Washington organization.

The next day, at a panel devoted to political journalism, Hardin-Smith insists that the problem with Washington reporters is they are addicted to the "cocktail weenie" circuit in Washington. The previous night's dinner was off the record, but I can say without breaking any rules that the appetizer was beef carpaccio, not pigs in a blanket, and Hardin-Smith seemed to enjoy every bite.

Well, Mandalay Bay is pretty damn swank, so I might compromise my principles there, too.

Looking forward to 2008, the most interesting aspect of Lizza's article is its portrayal of the inherent tensions in Mark Warner's efforts to court the blogs while protecting his centrist credentials. Warner employs Kos' associate Jerome Armstrong as a consultant and hosted a $50,000 bash for the participants at YearlyKos. Warner also directed some fulsome praise in the participants' direction:
Warner grabs [the musicians'] microphone. "This is the new public square!" he shouts. "This is the new face of democracy and the new face of the Democratic Party!"
Only can only pray it isn't so. And maybe it isn't:

On the blogs, the debate over the [Warner's $50,000] bash turns into an opportunity to attack Warner for his views on Iraq and Iran and his association with the DLC. "[A]ll I saw at the Stratosphere was an old-fashioned politician spending something like $70,000"--the number somehow keeps rising--"on a garish party to soften up a constituency," Micah Sifry writes on Personal Democracy Forum.

"If I'm gonna settle for a DLC, I'm going to settle for Hillary," a Kos commenter spits. (Clinton, who chose not to attend, is no doubt enjoying this effortless measure of success.) Moulitsas tried to suppress the uprising with a front-page defense of Warner that only angered his troops even more.

It's looks like things will only get hotter from here on in.
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# Posted 1:20 PM by Patrick Porter  

INEQUALITY OF SACRIFICE? Harry's Place, a blogsite which attracts Britons on the pro-war left, worries about a photo of well-groomed American young things at a Polo outing. It sees this image as a display of class privilege:
Is it wrong to look at photos like these (from a Washington Post story on a polo match/party in suburban Virginia) and find it disturbing that other men and women of the same age, and mostly far less privileged, are simultaneously sweating and fighting and risking their lives-- sometimes for the second or third tour-- in Iraq and Afghanistan?
The sentiments and anxieties here are fair enough. But is the premise actually true, that America's military is disproportionately made up by the underprivileged, or that the underprivileged are dying disproportionately? Is it true that America's middling and upper tiers are not pulling their weight?

According to a study in November 2005 by the Heritage Foundation, these are myths:
The household income of recruits generally matches the income distribution of the American population. There are slightly higher proportions of recruits from the middle class and slightly lower proportions from low-income brackets. However, the proportion of high-income recruits rose to a disproportionately high level after the war on ter­rorism began, as did the proportion of highly edu­cated enlistees.'
In March 2005, the American military published its own figures on military recruitment and casualties in Iraq.

Against the allegation that combat deaths are suffered disproportionately by the underprivileged, a higher proportion of those who are killed have high-school diplomas than the rest of the country (95% compared to 85%). Against the charge that ethnic minorities are suffering disproportionate casualties, the Latinos and African-Americans killed were not killed in numbers disproportionate to the rest of the population.

Curt Gilroy, the Director of the Department of Defence's accessions policy in the Pentagon, claims that
the military is strongly middle class... More recruits are drawn from the middle class and fewer are coming from poorer and wealthier families. Recruits from poorer families are actually underrepresented in the military, Gilroy said.
Elsewhere, in a debate with Arianna Huffington last year, Victor Hanson claimed that middle-class white male officers were overrepresented among the dead (70%), the marines suffering 28% of the overall casualties, though I've been unable to confirm this with other sources.

To return to the photo, a display of luxury by glamorous folk in wartime may well seem insensitive. But demographically speaking, recruitment and war is not disproportionately targeting the poor. At least according to the Heritage report, demographically speaking, some of the people there may have served!

If readers have any other figures/insights into recruitment patterns, I'd be interested to hear.

UPDATE: Harry's Place cited this recent book, which argues to the contrary, that America's upper classes are failing to meet the levels of participation of their forbears ('In 1956, 400 of Princeton's 750 graduates served in uniform. By 2004, only nine members of the university's graduating class entered the military. Harvard, Yale, Brown, Columbia and many other schools do not even allow ROTC on their campuses'). Outside the elite universities, though, it seems there may be a more complicated story - of a widening of the participating strata among richer/well-educated folk. Gotta go now.
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# Posted 1:07 PM by Patrick Porter  

BIRDS AND BANDITS: Personally, I quite like pigeons. On the other hand, I dislike Venezuela's ruler Hugo Chavez, mainly because he threatens to jail people who criticise him.

London's mayor, however, thinks differently on both issues. I can hear Nelson weeping from atop his column.
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# Posted 9:34 AM by Patrick Porter  

GREAT DAYS: Hitchens' latest piece on the place of fellatio in American life almost makes me nostalgic for the politics of the late 90's.

Question: where were you and what were you doing when Clinton denied having sex with 'that woman'?
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# Posted 12:12 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

BLOGS INVADE THE POLITICAL WEEKLIES: What's this? Cover packages in both TNR [subscription only] and the Weekly Standard [free] about blogging? You betcha.

I haven't gotten through all of it yet, but most of the focus is on the recent YearlyKos convention in Las Vegas. TNR also published a nasty hatchet job targeted at Glenn Reynolds. The quality was so low it was really beneath them.

On a related note, don't forget to keep up with the latest scandal over at Kos, covered by my fellow Manhattanite, Garance Franke-Ruta.
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# Posted 12:02 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

MEXICO'S MINI-CHAVEZ: Last week's TNR had a very interesting profile [subscription only] of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the front-runner in Mexico's upcoming presidential election.

Author Enrique Krauze suggests that there is a disturbing authoritarian undercurrent to Lopez's brand of populism. But I also agree that with Krauze that Mexican civil society is strong enough to handle a disputatious president.

What Krauze doesn't mention is the almost inevitable diplomatic imbroglios that will result from a Lopez presidency. Presumably, he will say nice things first about Chavez, then about Castro, all the while denouncing George W. Bush to score points at home. But my sense of Lopez is that he won't have much more to offer than bluster, so there's no need to take him as seriously as one would a real semi-dictator like Chavez.
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Monday, June 19, 2006

# Posted 10:54 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

AEI SCHOLAR ATTACKS BUSH FROM THE RIGHT: I haven't seen Michael Rubin in quite a while, but he was a columnist for the Yale Daily News at the same time that I was, so what more do you need to know?

In the previous issue of the Weekly Standard, Michael has some very unkind things to say about the President:
His administration charts the path of least resistance and paper compromise so dominant during the Clinton years...The Central Intelligence Agency now estimates North Korea has a couple of bombs; the Stalinist state claims to have more. The idea that Clinton's deal [in 1994] was a success is revisionist nonsense. It is a model only for the triumph of appearance over substance. Kim Jong Il played Clinton; Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is playing Bush.
So what should the President do, with American forces already overcommitted in Iraq and Iranian facilities only partially vulnerable to US airstrikes? Michael doesn't say. Although one might criticize the administration for expecting too much from multilateral diplomacy, it seems thoroughly premature to denounce Bush the younger for going wobby.

With regard to North Korea, we are also relatively short on options. Which means that Clinton may simply have been doing the best he could in a bad situation, rather than expressing his pathological liberalism by cutting a deal with the Kims.

From where I stand, the real value-added of Michael's article is its treatment of Somalia. Although I certainly hadn't paid much attention until now, Michael marshals some very persuasive evidence to the effect that Somalia is becoming the next pre-9/11 Afghanistand and that the US isn't doing much about it. I hope that isn't the case for long.
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# Posted 10:39 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

G.O.P. CANDIDATE REVEALED AS COMMUNIST! Surely, you must've said to yourself, OxBlog is above red-baiting. Well you know what? Hell no! Better dead than red!

So it turns out that Karl Rove is wrong and it's actually the GOP that is working to betray America. Look at the evidence: The GOP candidate in District 7 for the Maryland House of Delegates is none other than Nikolai Volkoff. That's a picture of him up above. Does he look like a good American to you? Hell no!

If you were a kid like me in the 1980s, you'd know that Nikolai Volkoff was one of the low-down, dirtiest wrestlers in all of professional wrestling. Along with the Iron Sheik, he resorted to countless dirty tricks in order to defeat real American heroes like Hulk Hogan. So does it surprise anyone that now he's running as a Republican?

As it turns out, Josip Nikolai Peruzovic was born in Yugoslavia in 1947. He became a member of the Yugoslav national weightlifting team and defected to Canada in 1968. Two years later he arrived in the United States. As he explains on his campaign website:
I arrived here in the states with fifty dollars in my pocket and one suit (I still have today). I was amazed of just how welcomed I was and how beautiful the USA is. I became a professional wrestler and immediately became a top draw around the world known as the "bad guy" that fans paid to see wrestle top stars such as Bruno Sammartino, Hulk Hogan, and so many more, I sold out every major arena in the world and became a household name almost over night. I portrayed a Russian sympathizer to show the world what the evils of communism meant and just how bad communism is. I was not always in agreement with such a terrible character but after speaking with my manager Freddie Blassie, I agreed to portray the evils to show what was wrong with a very depressing and disheartening government. However, I was actually living the "American Dream" while building what would be a Hall Of Fame WWE career.
Nikolai's campaign slogan is "An American Dream for Everyone". His website doesn't provide much in the way of specifics, but you can buy a really cool autographed T-shirt for $30. If I lived in Maryland, that would be enough to get my vote.
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# Posted 8:56 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SUNDAY MORNING ROUND-UP: Somehow, John Murtha wrangled another lead-off spot on Meet the Press, followed by the CEOs of Chevron, XXX and ConocoPhillips. Tony Snow was the headliner on Face The Nation, followed by Joe Biden and Lindsey Graham. On ABC, World Cup football booted George Stephanopoulos.
Murtha: C-. Abysmal. Clearly withdrawn from the reality-based community. His newest nonsense is to insist that we would've nailed Zarqawi even if we had already withdrawn all of our soldiers from Iraq. Why? Because we hit him with an airstrike. As for the GIs who took custody of Zarqawi after the bombing (with help from the Iraqis who supposedly hate us), Murtha doesn't say.

The CEOs: B-. They were indistinguishable from one another. They evaded all of the controversies that surround energy policy and national security. Above all, they desperately sought to avoid offending the consumers who are lining their pockets. Not one of them had the guts to say, "You know why gas costs $3 a gallon? Because millions of Americans think driving an SUV is their constitutional right. So don't pretend we're forcing you to hand over your hard-earned money."

To be fair, I probably wouldn't say anything like that if I were an oil company CEO. If I were earning billions thanks to the American consumer, I would flatter him as well.

Tony Snow: B+. He's really good at what he does. He tells you when he won't answer your question. He gives answers that sound like answers, not talking points, which is virtually impossible for a White House press secretary.

Joe Biden: B-. Enough Biden already. He just repeats himself loudly.

Lindsey Graham: B+. He's a reasonable guy and he sounds like he's being sincere. I think it's because he really is. I like him and I could see him being on the VP short-list in 2008.
Hmm. An usual week. It isn't often that one party scores so much higher than the other on the OxBlog round-up. But if you assume that the two American CEOs vote Republican, then I guess it balances out. As for the hosts:
Russert: B-. Either stop inviting Murtha on your show or stop him from rambling incoherently.

Schieffer: B.
See ya next week.
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# Posted 10:46 AM by Patrick Porter  

RUMSFELD AND THE GENERALS: Major General John Batiste, who commanded the Army's First Infantry Division in Iraq and Kosovo and has now retired, blames Rumsfeld for mismanagement, intolerance of dissent and even Haditha. (hat-tip, Andrew Sullivan).

He also attacks the naivety of a body of ideas and assumptions sometimes dubbed the 'Revolution in Military Affairs', or at least Rumsfeld's version of it, in which warfare would be transformed by information technology and precision firepower, reducing the need for prolonged deployments with masses of troops:
The secretary of defense does not understand the human dimension of warfare. The mission in Iraq is all about breaking the cycle of violence, building relationships and the hard work to change attitudes and give the Iraqi people alternatives to the insurgency.

This requires boots on the ground in sufficient quantity to establish security, intimidate the insurgent, protect lines of communication and the oil infrastructure, train the Iraqi security forces, and control the borders. You cannot do this with precision bombs from 30,000 feet. This is tough, dangerous, and very personal work. Numbers count.
I'd be interested to hear what our readers think - does this reflect a problem not only with the attitude of the Secretary of Defence, but with a doctrine which overplays the changes that would be wrought by the revolution in military affairs?
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# Posted 10:35 AM by Patrick Porter  

IT HAPPENED: Peter Beaumont reviews Noam Chomsky's latest work, Failed States. On the issue of who was responsible for the ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, Beaumont disagrees that NATO's bombing campaign began it:
Kosovo, in his reading, began in 1999 with Nato bombers, not in 1998 with Serbian police actions that cleared villages, towns and valleys of their populations. (I know this, Mr Chomsky, because I saw them do it.)
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Friday, June 16, 2006

# Posted 10:58 AM by Patrick Porter  

GRAND STRATEGY (AND MY GOD ARGENTINA CAN PLAY FOOTBALL): Though Argentina's quite youthful side have only played two smaller teams so far, they are looking slick, menacing and confident. my early tip is look out for them in the later stages. they dismantled Serbia with some flowing football.

Grand Strategy: Global Gorillas, one of my favourite sites run by John Robb, has a challenging critique of America's overall approach to combating global terrorism. It defines America's stance as follows:
  • Rogue states are behind terrorism. Non-state threats do not exist.
  • Removal of these rogue states will diminish terrorism by eliminating its sponsors/havens.
  • Converting a rogue state into a democracy will completely eliminate them as a threat and change regional politics.
Before getting into his rebuttal, I'm not sure American strategic thinking is that 'Non-state threats do not exist.' America's 2006 Defence Quadrennial Review Report states that 'The enemies we face are not nation-states but rather dispersed non-state networks.'

Robb then makes several criticisms. Firstly, America's 'soft power' has been severely weakened, forcing it into a place of 'isolation,' or on a trajectory towards isolation. Its naturally hard to measure soft power, and no doubt Bush's forceful insistence on action against Saddam did alienate some opinion, as has torture etc.

But has America driven itself into 'isolation'? Germany, with admittedly a divided electorate, has just elected a Chancellor who is more sympathetic with the USA's agenda than her predecessor.

America's relations with India and China, whom this administration has cultivated, are probably better now than before the war on terror began. I remember the prehistoric, pre 9/11 tension between Bush and Beijing over a range of issues - Taiwan, the captured plane incident. And with India in March this year, the USA has just signed a pact of co-operation in the civilian nuclear field.

And 75 countries, despite frustrations with US unilateralism, are still participating in some degree or other in a global counter-terrorist coalition. To be sure, this may reflect the cold calculations of interest rather than affection, and may be accompanied by anxieties about the American superpower. But its not 'isolation', exactly.

Robb has some other criticisms which are worth considering:
Collapsing rogue states doesn't reduce the threat, it does exactly the opposite: it creates ungoverned spaces and failed states where non-state groups thrive.
Its hard to argue against the proposition that collapsing a rogue state and leaving a vortex of anarchy and ungoverned space will probably help non-state groups to thrive. But we aren't definitively there yet!

For example, this is slightly out of date, but in an opinion poll late last year, a considerable number of Afghans, despite poverty and continuing conflict, expressed overwhelming approval for the takedown of the Taleban, 75 % said that they are more secure from crime and violence, and most express support for the new government and parliament.

These opinions do not exactly represent an ocean in which the jihadist fish can easily swim, even though the terrain outside the governed space is still evidently abounding with the Taleban. As another expression of at least minimal acceptance of the country's direction, millions of refugees have returned.

And even though large parts of the Taleban frontier remain unsubdued, life is also considerably more dangerous for those jihadists who used to be harboured safely in that country. A violent ungoverned space of continual combat is also more dangerous for them as it is for American troops. I'm not declaring victory, merely saying that the ball game here isn't over yet.

One more of Robb's points:
It seeds the global development of non-state groups. As we have seen in London, Madrid, Toronto, and increasingly in the US (Reuters), new opponents will spontaneously emerge from nascent primary loyalties in response to these attacks. The more pressure applied, the greater the number of threats we face in our own back yard. Further, these groups are learning the lessons of guerrillas in Iraq -- the ultimate proving ground of advanced fourth generation warfare -- to become global guerrillas.
this comes down to a frequent theme on Oxblog - are these attacks primarily responses to America's invasions, or are they more self-directed, driven by their own internal dynamic? Do US attacks create them, or bring forward a conflict that must be had in any event?

I can't answer all of these perfectly, but US reactions to other terrorist attacks in the 1990's demonstrated that opposite response - to retreat or disengage, can embolden jihadist groups and encourage recruitment, since one of their premises is that the west is essentially soft, decadent and inclined to shrink back from aggression.

But Robb has a serious point about global guerillas - as a recent Atlantic article by Nadya Labi suggests, the loss of training camps in Afghanistan (and Iraq?) has turned jihadist groups increasingly to the internet as the new virtual training ground. Strategies for combating this new development?

UPDATE: In case there has been any confusion, and to reassure readers that I wasn't being naughty, Robb's initial post claimed that 'Non-state threats do not exist.' He subsequently edited this statement to 'Non-state threats are of little consequence without rogue state support.' Robb has clarified this in the comments section, cheers mate!
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# Posted 7:51 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WHAT IF THE MEDIA WERE CONSERVATIVE? How would they report the war in Iraq? If you want to take a glimpse through the looking glass, I strongly recommend reading Michael Fumento's cover story [subscription only] in the Weekly Standard entitled "The New Band of Brothers". I would hardly call it a ringing endorsement of the war, even though it thoroughly illustrates the incredible bravery of our soldiers.

Fumento filed his dispatch from Ramadi, where he was embedded with the 1st battalion of the 506th Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, the very same unit immortalized by Stephen Ambrose and HBO. Although Fumento (himself a vetern of the Army airborne) chose Ramadi because the combat there is the most intense, I would venture that the title of his story represents a conscious effort to cast the soldiers of this war as the descendants of those who fought in the Second World War, rather than in Vietnam.

The situation on the ground, however, is far more reminiscent of 'Nam than it is of Normandy:

All Ramadi is tremendously undermanned by coalition forces. With the current numbers, there's no hope of outright defeating the insurgents, and no Falluja-style operation seems to be in the works.

The Falluja fight inflicted terrible physical damage on that city, as I observed repeatedly on patrols there, and in any case would be difficult to replicate since Falluja had two natural barriers against which to pin the enemy, the Euphrates and Tigris, while Ramadi has only the Euphrates.

It's believed such an attack would also permanently alienate the local Sunni leadership, which must play a role in stabilizing the area. Finally, remember that it was the Falluja fight that made Ramadi what it is today. Do we want to draw in jihadists and gradually kill them or simply scatter them again and let them take up residence elsewhere in the Anbar desert?

Yet as Fumento himself observes, gradually killing the jihadists may take a very, very, very long time. To illustrate his point, he recounts a surreal incident in which an M-1 Abrams tank (named for the general who commanded US forces in Vietnam from 1968 on) was disabled by an IED:
You can't just abandon an Abrams, because it has unique equipment and armor. If the bad guys get hold of a single vital piece they could use it to determine ways of defeating these otherwise almost invincible behemoths. Further, they could sell the information to anybody with a vested interest in blowing up M-1s. You also can't just call in an airstrike on a tank, as is routinely done with downed aircraft. That's fine for destroying secret electronics, but blasting a tank just spreads out the parts.

To make things even more dicey, the Abrams carries a powerful 120mm main gun and three machine guns. The rounds for these weapons were "cooking off" in the fire, flying in all directions. They would continue to do so for the rest of the night, making retrieval too dangerous.

So the troops set up a perimeter and waited. As with the real downing of the Black Hawks in Somalia, the burning tank attracted bad guys from throughout the city. They kept pouring into the area to kill the infidels. But with their night-vision equipment and laser pointers, Americans own the night. The enemy came in droves and they died in droves. "The insurgents were so desperate to gain momentum against us that they were literally running into the streets to plant IEDs right in front of us or throwing them over walls," says Claburn. "It was purely amazing." By the time the rounds had stopped flying and the tank was recovered, 30 jihadists were confirmed dead. Disaster had been averted. But the price in blood was high. Two more soldiers from Headquarters Company had died when another IED ripped their Humvee apart. Later the engineers whose job it was to detect and remove IEDs came into Col. Clark's office, apologizing with tears in their eyes. "I told them you tried; you did your best; but you can't get all of them all the time," Clark said.
The image of an enemy almost immune to the human cost of the war is once again reminiscent of Vietnam. Even if we kill ten of them for every one of ours, our national will may be the first to break.

Of course Fumento hopes it won't. I hope the same. From a strategic and moral perspective, I believe that this is war we must win. Yet from the view on the ground in Ramadi, it is very hard to see how we are making much progress.
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Thursday, June 15, 2006

# Posted 11:43 AM by Patrick Porter  

WAR AND FOOTBALL: Are about all I blog about these days, so I thought I'd link to some fine websites which deal with these great subjects.

(Pardon the exuberance of this post. I've just been issued my visa and entry clearance for the UK! very exciting. Ok you can all stop screaming with joy now).

Football: If you're following the world cup and want some shrewd and regular analysis, Randy of 'beautiful horizons' is your man. He also blogs about other things like Latin American politics (in fact, politics throughout the Americas) and is staunchly democratic in his socialism. He also has a great general knowledge about each team in the world cup.

War: I highly recommend Dan Todman's blog, a fellow World War I historian. For matters more contemporary, dealing with both war and American politics, I recommend the Futurist. It is intensive in using statistics/historical examples, rather than the off-the-cuff style of many blogs.

Then there is Erudito, a libertarian commentator on public affairs and proud medievalist, who I know personally and like very much. He is particularly interested in the way public debate on international relations or social policy can be corrupted, and his 'War Links' gathers great material (plus his own incisive commentary) from all round the web.
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Wednesday, June 14, 2006

# Posted 11:46 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

CINEMATIC JUSTICE, CINEMATIC GUILT: I just finished watching Dances With Wolves, which won seven Academy Awards in 1991, including Best Director (Kevin Costner) and Best Picture. Running more than three and a half hours, it certainly deserves to be known as a film that is artistically impressive and often rather boring.

In addition, the film is also extraordinarily political. In one of the most remarkable scenes I have ever witnessed, the film celebrates the death of American soldiers. The scene is a battle scene, a classic confrontation between the White Man and the Indian. I suspect it isn't the first battle scene in which the Indians have prevailed. Yet instead of an ambiguous or tragic act, the slaughter of the Americans is represented as a moral triumph.

To be more precise, there is one ex-American fighting on the Indian side, Lt. John Dunbar (Kevin Costner). Just in case the inspirational crescendos that accompanied the soldiers' deaths weren't clear enough, Dunbar announces while sitting around a fire with his comrades in arms that:
Killing the soldiers at the river was a good thing. I did not mind killing those men. I was glad to do it.
Well, at least the film recognizes the importance of moral clarity. And if one interprets the characters in the film as symbols of their respective nations, then it is hard to deny that there is a certain justice to it.

Sadly, my knowledge of Western and Native American history is very limited. All I can really contribute is my awareness of my teachers' consensus that English and, later, American settlers brutally drove the Native Americans off their land in order to take it for themselves. This brutality persisted for hundreds of years, thus marking Native Americans as historic victims of White America that belong in the same category as slaves.

Naturally, I suspect that there was much greater moral complexity to those centuries of interaction than this film betrays. But that is not its purpose. This film is an apology, an expression of liberal guilt. It is the story of a White Man who discovers that the Lakota Sioux are far more noble (and environmentally friendly!) than his vicious, crude and often deranged fellow Americans.

Magically endowed with the moral sentiments of the late 20th century, Lt. Dunbar displays a remarkable sort of multicultural tolerance and curiosity. He gradually becomes a member of the tribe, thus fulfilling the historical fantasy that the White Man and the Indian could have co-existed in peace rather than waging relentless war. Ultimately, Dunbar renounces his American heritage and takes for himself the Sioux name, Dances With Wolves.

In light of how often Hollywood has reduced Native Americans to crude caricatures, I don't feel all that bad about this one chance to exact a bit of belated revenge. The issue has long been settled, so I don't consider the film to be inflammatory.

But imagine if the film had debuted this year instead of in 1990. A decade and a half ago, Americans were still living through the euphoria of impending victory in the Cold War. We were feeling generous and pacific.

But today our soldiers are dying on foreign soil. If this film had come out now, it would denounced (with considerable justification) as crude left-wing propaganda, because no film is just about history. Watching it now, I found it hard not to imagine the Sioux as a thinly veiled metaphor for every insurgent American soldiers have faced, from Vietnam to Iraq.

At the very same moment that the fictional John Dunbar was becoming a Sioux, Abraham Lincoln was fighting to save the Union and liberate its slaves. Just as we dare not forget what happened to the Native Americans, we also dare not forget that the values we fight to uphold today were the same values that great Americans have fought to uphold since 1776.
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# Posted 3:25 PM by Patrick Porter  

CALLING ALL ANCIENT HISTORIANS: Does anyone out there know which Roman committed suicide after Emperor Augustus said that they were "no longer my friend." I suspect it was a governor in Egypt whose ambitious personality cult displeased Augustus, but thats a dim memory from undergrad days. Any ideas?
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# Posted 12:21 PM by Patrick Porter  

YET MORE EVIDENCE THAT JIHAD IS GLOBAL: Only weeks after police thwarted a plot to attack Canada, a French court has imprisoned 25 alleged Islamist militants for planning attacks in France. Apparently, in support of Chechen rebels:

The ringleaders of the group, most of whom came from Algeria, allegedly received training in Afghanistan or in the war-torn southern Russian republic of Chechnya.
Prosecutors said the group plotted in 2001-2002 to attack targets in the French capital.
I don't want to jump too enthusiastically onto the 'get Robert Fisk' train, which gets obsessive and ugly at times. But I would like to disagree with him on one point. Recall his words

Just before the U.S. Presidential elections, bin Laden asked: ‘Why do we not attack Sweden?’ Lucky Sweden. No Osama bin Laden there. And no Tony Blair.
The revelation that jihadists training in Al Qaeda's former heartland are willing to strike France, whose government was central to opposing the war in Iraq, raises problems with Fisk's assumption that only nations directly at war with Al Qaeda will be targets.

While Iraq can be a precipitating factor, the ultimate grievance of the Islamists is that the infidel must be fought everywhere. And given that the jihadists are warriors in search of an enemy, its hard to see why liberal, secular states like Sweden, too, won't be targeted eventually.

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# Posted 8:12 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO THE US ARMY.
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# Posted 8:10 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

OPTIMISM ABOUT IRAQ. IN INDIA AND NIGERIA? Strange but true.
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# Posted 8:03 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

"THE BLOGOSPHERE IS THE NEW IOWA": Kevin reflects on Mark Warner's lavish efforts to court the guests at Kos' convention in Las Vegas.
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# Posted 7:48 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SO WHAT WAS ZARQAWI UP TO BEFORE THE INVASION OF IRAQ? In his editorial on Zarqawi's death, Bill Kristol writes that:
It is also...time to revisit the case for the war. Zarqawi is a perfect reminder of why we had to fight in Iraq. Would we be safer if he were living there, under Saddam's protection, securely planning attacks around the world and working on his chemical and biological weapons projects?
To some, that would sound dangerously like a suggestion that there were WMD in Iraq. For a precise understanding of Kristol's point, one must turn to the latest article in the Standard from Stephen Hayes, who has argued at length that Americans continue to ignore evidence of important connections between Saddam and Al Qaeda.

In his latest, Hayes writes that:
Many journalists either don't know or choose not to report the fact that Zarqawi was in Baghdad with two dozen al Qaeda associates nearly a year before the war.

It is a fact not seriously in dispute: Colin Powell cited it in his presentation at the United Nations before the war; the Senate Intelligence Committee confirmed it in its bipartisan review of Iraq war intelligence; General Tommy Franks noted in his book about the Iraq war that Zarqawi "had received medical treatment in Baghdad"; and the Jordanian government provided detailed information on Zarqawi's whereabouts whereabouts to the Iraqi regime in June 2002, as Amman has since acknowledged.
Powell's presentation doesn't have much credibility left, but I was under the impression that his points about Zarqawi had not been refuted. I am also under the impression that the Senate Intel Committee's report is a trustworthy document.

But one of the great things about blogging is that I don't just have to trust my own limited memory and instincts. If any of you have information that contradicts Hayes' assertions about Zarqawi, feel free to include your links and commentary below.
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# Posted 7:27 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE RABBIS TEACH THAT WE SHOULD NOT CELEBRATE DEATH. Not even the death of an evil man. According to the Midrash, the angels began to sing songs of praise and celebration as the Egyptians were drowning in the Red Sea. However, God reprimanded them, asking how they could sing when His creatures were dying.

If I were a better man, I would not have truly celebrated the death of Abu Musab al Zarqawi. One might ask: Is it possible to celebrate the positive results of Zarqawi's death without rejoicing at the death itself? In an editorial for the Weekly Standard, Bill Kristol writes that:
Before considering the possible implications for the war in Iraq and the global struggle against terror, we should pause to celebrate so striking an instance of injustice avenged, and justice vindicated. The unjust--even the barbarically unjust--prevail all too often in this world. It is good for civilized people to see, as Marshall Wittmann put it, that "evil has suffered a setback."
Kristol writes that we should celebrate justice, not death. That is a good message. But in this instance, it is very hard to separate the two.
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Tuesday, June 13, 2006

# Posted 9:31 AM by Patrick Porter  

BEWARE THE CONQUERORS' FALL: There is a thread that runs through the work of British historian Niall Ferguson: tragedies that accompany the fall of empires.

For example, his revisionist attack on orthodoxies about World War I, The Pity of War, saw the war as a catastrophe for the British empire, which (according ot him) it mortally wounded.

One thought-provoking article of his warned against allowing unease with unipolarity to become a misguided desire for a world without power-projection. An apolar world without hegemons or great powers would be effectively a regression into a new dark age of stagnation, piracy, a retreat into fortified cities. The hegemons, he argues, are needed to hold back chaos.

His latest book , The War of the World, argues that the fall of empires and the frictions at the point where empires collide is the key to understanding violence in the twentieth century:

But 20th-century violence, he maintains, is unintelligible if it not seen in its imperial context: the decline and fall of large multi-ethnic empires dominated the world in 1900. Nearly all the principal combatants in both world wars were empires or would-be empires. One of the reasons for this was again economic: economies of scale were available to an empire, as opposed to the nation state, in raising large armies and paying for them.

He points out that two of the greatest battles of the century — Stalingrad and El Alamein — were fought by “multi-ethnic forces under imperial banners”. Another reason was geographical: the points of contact between empires, the borderlands and buffer zones, or “the zones of strategic rivalry they compete to control”, see more violence than the imperial heartlands.

What Ferguson calls “the fatal triangle”, the territory between the Baltic, the Balkans and the Black Sea, was a vast killing space not just because it was ethnically mixed but because it was the junction of the imperia of the Hohenzollerns, Habsburgs, Romanovs and Ottomans. Manchuria and Korea occupied a similar position in the Far East, and with the rise in the critical importance of oil, so increasingly have the Gulf and the Near East.

Violence climaxes with the birth and death of empires:
The “ebbs and flows of international commercial integration” are closely associated with the rise and fall of empires, with war more prevalent at the beginning, and especially the end, of an empire’s existence.
This should probably be tempered by another factor which also helped make the twentieth century the most violent: the rise of utopian ideologies and the one-party state, armed with both technology and organisational sophistication (eg. the Cultural Revolution).

And the radicalising changes to empire itself, in the shift from dynastic empires to the empire ruled by the 'Party' (contrast the Austro-Hungarian 'dual monarchy' empire with the Soviet empire, for example).

Occasionally in his other work, Ferguson betrays a faint whiff of nostalgia about the days of the British Raj or the colonial world.

I remain more convinced by the Adesnikian vision of a world of independent democratic states, with the American empire confining its imperialism to the release of indigenous democracy and opposing the anti-democratic forms of militant Islam rather than annexing territories. A foreign policy which combines this idealism with the realist appreciation of strategic necessity, or in the words of Charles Krauthammer,
We will support democracy everywhere, but we will commit blood and treasure only in place where there is strategic necessity - meaning, places central to the larger war against the existential enemy, the enemy that poses a global threat to freedom.
But Ferguson's book sounds like a reminder of what the end of empire means, and what it costs.
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