OxBlog

Monday, July 31, 2006

# Posted 12:16 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

PATRIOTISM HAS ABSOLUTELY NOTHING TO DO WITH IT. NOTHING! This is from the cover story in this week's Outlook section, by a correspondent returned from Iraq:

I was on a nine-month assignment as an embedded reporter in Iraq, spending much of my time with grunts like [Private Green] -- mostly young (and immature) small-town kids who sign up for a job as killers, lured by some gut-level desire for excitement and adventure.
Well, I guess it's good we've got all of our killers in the armed forces, so we can export them to other countries.

Anyhow, the whole story is very much worth reading, because Private Green is Steven Green, now accused of raping a 14-year old Iraqi girl, then murdering both her and her family. (Not to be confused with the other Stephen Green.)

Andrew Tilghman, the author of the Outlook cover story, recounts a series of conversations he had with Private Green a number of weeks before the killing took place. Tilghman describes one conversation as follows:

"I shot a guy who wouldn't stop when we were out at a traffic checkpoint and it was like nothing," [Green] went on. "Over here, killing people is like squashing an ant. I mean, you kill somebody and it's like 'All right, let's go get some pizza.' "

At the time, the soldier's matter-of-fact manner struck me chiefly as a rare example of honesty. I was on a nine-month assignment as an embedded reporter in Iraq, spending much of my time with grunts like him -- mostly young (and immature) small-town kids who sign up for a job as killers, lured by some gut-level desire for excitement and adventure.

This was not the first group I had run into that was full of young men who shared a dark sense of humor and were clearly desensitized to death. I thought this soldier was just one of the exceptions who wasn't afraid to say what he really thought, a frank and reflective kid, a sort of Holden Caulfield in a war zone.

That last observation seems to say a lot about what Tilghman expects from our soldiers. From his perspective, the vicious words of an [alleged] murderer seemed to reflect the hidden truth about America's military.

What strikes me as a bit unusual, however, is that Tilghman was a correspondent for Stars & Stripes, the US military paper. You think he'd have a more nuanced perspective regarding the men and women who serve in our military.

Now, a fair question to ask is why I am writing this post about Tilghman, and not about Green. What should get my attention is a horrific crime that seems to have been committed by an American soldier. Instead, I have written about the supposed bias of yet another journalist.

If you've read this blog for a while, you know that I favor the harshest justice for those who commit such crimes, as well as full accountability for any commanding officers who made them possible.

I want to know more about such crimes and have no reservations about their being front-page news. But I want substantive analysis, not more of the same coverage clouded by pointless cliches.
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Saturday, July 29, 2006

# Posted 11:45 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

ANOTHER EXCUSE FOR THE DEMOCRATIC LEFT TO HATE PETER BEINART: Yesterday, I gave Nancy Pelosi two cheers for taking the side of Israel. Yet as one of the comments on my post noted, Peter Beinart won't even give her one:
In those rare cases when George W. Bush shows genuine sensitivity to America's allies and propounds a broader, more enlightened view of the national interest, Democrats will make him pay. It's jingoism with a liberal face.

The latest example came this week when Democratic senators and House members demanded that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki either retract his criticisms of Israel or forfeit his chance to address Congress...

Privately, some Democrats, while admitting that they haven't exactly been taking the high road, say they have no choice, that in a competition with Karl Rove, nice guys finish last. But even politically, that's probably wrong. The Democratic Party's single biggest foreign policy liability is not that Americans think Democrats are soft. It is that Americans think Democrats stand for nothing, that they have no principles beyond political expedience. And given the party's behavior over the past several months, it is not hard to understand why
It won't surprise you to know that I think Beinart has hit the nail on the head. Yet I suspect the liberal blogosphere won't be nearly as kind.
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# Posted 11:40 AM by Taylor Owen  

STRATEGIC COSTS OF CIVILIAN CASUALTIES: I am currently working on a series of articles, popular and academic, on the US bombing of Cambodia. We have been using some remarkable new data that quite dramatically alters the history of this period - particularly regarding the versions outlined by Kissinger, Nixon and Shawcross, and the link between the bombing and the rise of the Khmer Rouge insurgency movement. Part of the project has involved going through many of the Nixon tapes. Here is a clip from one of our articles, describing a revealing conversations between Kissinger and Nixon and then Kissinger and Alexander Haig:
Telling Kissinger on December 9 of his frustration that the US Air Force was being “unimaginative,” Nixon demanded more bombing, deeper into the country: “They have got to go in there and I mean really go in . . . I want everything that can fly to go in there and crack the hell out of them. There is no limitation on mileage and there is no limitation on budget. Is that clear?

Kissinger, aware of the military assessments concluding that the air strikes were like “poking a beehive with a stick,” responded hesitantly: “The problem is Mr President, the Air Force is designed to fight an air battle against the Soviet Union. They are not designed for this war . . . in fact, they are not designed for any war we are likely to have to fight.

Five minutes after his phone conversation with Nixon, Kissinger called General Alexander Haig to relay the new orders. “He [Nixon] wants a massive bombing campaign in Cambodia. He doesn’t want to hear anything. It’s an order, it’s to be done. Anything that flies on anything that moves. You got that?” The response from Haig is barely audible, but it sounds like laughing.

Today a continued use of airpower in combating insurgencies raises this same dilemma: perhaps even more than civilian casualties of ground operations, “collateral damage” from U.S. aerial bombing still appears to enrage and radicalise enough of the survivors for insurgencies to find the recruits and supporters they require. If 'shock and awe' worked against the regular Iraqi army, does it also nourish the anti-US insurgency? Whatever the moral meaning of inflicting predictable civilian casualties, do the political repercussions of air strikes against an insurgency outweigh their military benefits?
While the munitions are radically different, Kissinger may still be right about the use of airpower against a heterogeneous insurgency. Further, I think the question of the strategic costs of civilian casualties in this context is under studied. Much of the debate is, I believe, wrongly centred on the morality of the deaths and whether they are ‘justified’ in international law. This is an important question, undoubtedly, but one that is devoid of the potential strategic costs of the casualties. I would argue that a very small number of civilian casualties, regardless of the ‘justice’ of the attack or the efforts to limit collateral damgage, can have a grossly disproportionate strategic cost when fighting an insurgency. Those whose family’s are killed will rarely be convinced by our rationalizations, nuances, claims of moral difference etc. More likely they will become, at the least, tacit supporters of the insurgency being fought. When fighting a group that requires this very civilian support, this becomes a serious strategic concern.

I would be interested in readers’ opinions, or recommendations for reading, on the strategic costs of civilian deaths. Again, putting aside the morality or justice of the strikes themselves, are we underestimating the damage done by civilian casualties in asymmetric warfare?

FYI - this is a map (of hundreds we have made) of the bombing of Cambodia. Each point represents one target and usually many sorties (of which there were over 200,000). When the first article is published, (soon), I will discuss the findings of the spatio-historical analysis.

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# Posted 11:13 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

HAMMERING KRAUTHAMMER: Periodically, Charles seems compelled to provide the critics of neo-conservatism with an overwhelming supply of ammunition for their cause. And so he did yesterday morning. After making some sensible points about Israel's right to defend itself, he observed that:
When the United States was attacked at Pearl Harbor, it did not respond with a parallel "proportionate" attack on a Japanese naval base. It launched a four-year campaign that killed millions of Japanese, reduced Tokyo, Hiroshima and Nagasaki to cinders, and turned the Japanese home islands into rubble and ruin.

Disproportionate? No. When one is wantonly attacked by an aggressor, one has every right -- legal and moral -- to carry the fight until the aggressor is disarmed and so disabled that it cannot threaten one's security again. That's what it took with Japan.
Yet in the final months of the war, with the enemy prostrate and paralyzed on his home islands, was there any real justification for the hellish firebombing that took hundreds of thousands of civilian lives without achieving anything of military significance? Or was that bombing just a sad indication of how Japanese brutality sometimes made America no less barbaric?

Shifting to Europe, Krauthammer argues that:
Britain was never invaded by Germany in World War II. Did it respond to the Blitz and V-1 and V-2 rockets with "proportionate" aerial bombardment of Germany? Of course not. Churchill orchestrated the greatest air campaign and land invasion in history, which flattened and utterly destroyed Germany, killing untold innocent German women and children in the process.
In this instance, Krauthammer seems to have imposed his own moral blindness on Churchill. This I know because of a very interesting book review by Chris Hitchens in the previous issue of the Weekly Standard. The book in question asks whether the destruction of German cities was justified. It cites a memo dated March 28, 1945 in which Churchill told the Chiefs of Staff that:
It seems to me that the moment has come when the question of bombing German cities for the sake of increasing the terror, though under other pretexts, should be reviewed. Otherwise, we shall come into control of an utterly ruined land. The destruction of Dresden remains a serious query against the conduct of Allied bombing.
Churchill didn't stop the bombing, but I think his concerns demonstrate that a rain of hell from the skies was an excess, rather than the bold strategy that Krauthammer praises in hindsight. Thus, Krauthammer's extension of Churchill's (supposed) logic to the Israeli predicament is doubly absurd.

Even if Iran, once armed with nuclear weapons, poses an existential threat to Israel, it is hard to see what purpose might be achieved by discarding any notion of proportionality with regard to Lebanese civilians. Fortunately, the Israelis are still taking significant measures to reduce civilian casualties. Krauthammer takes note of this fact, but doesn't seem to recognize that it undercuts his untenable analogy between Israel's war and World War II.
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Thursday, July 27, 2006

# Posted 10:55 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

TWO CHEERS FOR NANCY PELOSI: Reuters reports that:
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California said unless [Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al] Maliki "disavows his critical comments of Israel and condemns terrorism, it is inappropriate to honor him with a joint meeting of Congress."
Well it's certainly nice to see that even San Francisco liberals are standing strong with Israel. Of course Pelosi understood that her support for Israel was on the cheap, since George Bush certainly wasn't going to rescind Maliki's invitation.
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# Posted 9:21 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

BEINART'S DARK PORTRAIT OF CONSERVATIVES: The challenge for a centrist liberal such as Peter Beinart is to distinguish himself clearly both from those on his right as well as those on his left. In an earlier post, I challenged the clarity of his division between the Democratic center and the Democratic left. Here, I challenge his division of the Democratic center from the Republican right.

For Beinart, the essence of conservative foreign policy is its ignorant, anti-empirical faith in America's moral perfection. He writes that:

For conservatives -- from John Foster Dulles to Dick Cheney -- American exceptionalism means that we do not need such constraints [on our power]. Our heart is pure. In the liberal vision, it is precisely our recognition that we are not angels that make us exceptional. (page x)
Beinart's sanctification of self-doubt as the defining attribute of liberal foreign policy strikes me as somewhat peculiar. First of all, it plays directly into the hands of those conservatives who argued for decades that liberals just don't have enough faith in America. Then again, that sort of candid masochism seems to be ingrained in New Republic-liberals such as Beinart. Perhaps it is to their credit.

What is harder to understand is why Beinart has claimed self-doubt as the exclusive property of the left at a time when Republicans have demonstrated a certain interest in it. And by Republicans, I am not just referring to realists such as George Will (whose lavish praise of Beinart appears on the back cover of the book). Just two months ago, a journalist asked:
Mr. President, you spoke about missteps and mistakes in Iraq. Could I ask both of you which missteps and mistakes of your own you most regret?
Bush responded:
I think the biggest mistake that's happened so far, at least from our country's involvement in Iraq is Abu Ghraib. We've been paying for that for a long period of time.
There is much to criticize about the President's record on prisoner abuse, and OxBlog has done it often. But willful blindness to America's imperfections does not seem to be Bush's way.

In Chapter 1, however, Beinart's concern is with the Republicans of the Truman era, not those of today. According to Beinart, the lies and paranoia of Joe McCarthy represented true face of the GOP in the Truman era. He writes that:
If conservatives saw the red scare as a sign of domestic health, anti-totalitarian liberals struggled to make the opposite case...

While conservatives applauded America's new faith in its moral superiority, liberals worried that McCarthyism undermined that superiority in the eyes of the world.(pp.20-21)
I would say that this is a grossly unfair caricature of conservatism in the 1940s and 1950s. Republicans dare not forget that McCarthy was one of their own, but theirs was also the party of Eisenhower, Dulles, Taft and Vandenburg.

Beinart also damages his own case by reminding his readers that Harry Truman imposed a "grossly unfair" loyalty program on federal employees for the purpose of forcing out Communists. Then, in 1954, liberal champion Hubert H. Humphrey introduced legislation that criminalized membership in the Communist Party. Although unhappy with this legislation, the heroic liberals of the ADA refused to come out clearly against it.

By Beinart's criteria, it would seem that liberals also had an exaggerated faith in America's moral superiority.

However, I think there is a clear dividing line that Beinart can employ to differentiate muscular liberals such as himself from neo-conservatives. For Beinart, the moral validation of American foreign policy depends on good faith efforts to let others, especially allies, exert a measure of control over our behavior. For neo-conservatives, the moral validation of American foreign policy depends on whether it serves the interests of democracy and freedom, regardless of whether other nations oppose it.

An interesting question is which side Truman would take if the choice were presented in this way. According to Beinart, there were "three interlocking planks" (p.15) that defined Truman's foreign policy. The first was the containment of Communism. The second was the economic reconstruction of Europe. And third:
Liberal foreign policy involved restraint. Rather than wield its enormous power alone, the United States would share it with other countries. NATO was the expression of this idea. So was Truman's support for the UN. (p. 16)
In an earlier post, I explained why I believe this to be a mischaracterization of Truman's foreign policy. NATO was a military alliance to which the Europeans were expected to deliver hundreds of thousands of soldiers. It was not about power sharing. With regard to the UN, Truman told Dean Acheson that he would've gone to war in Korea without its approval (which it only gave because of the Soviet ambassador's absence from the vote.)

From my perspective, the key difference between Beinart and the conservatives is the question of process versus outcome. For Beinart, moral validation rests on the process that determines when American power can be used. For neoconservatives, moral validation rests on the outcome that such a use of power achieves. In this instance, I side with the latter.
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Wednesday, July 26, 2006

# Posted 11:22 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

HIGH OCTANE POLITICS: Warren Brown writes about cars for the Washington Post and I think his column is great. But it turns out he doesn't think his fellow journalists are getting the story right:
The reigning American mythology is that it's automobile manufacturers that are primarily responsible for getting more miles per gallon...

The mythology forms the core of the Environmental Protection Agency's annual report of "stagnation" in the automobile industry's efforts to improve the fuel economy of its cars and trucks.

And of course the media, vested with the operative mantra that it is their mandate to "afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted," buy into all of this, dutifully reporting, with very little context, how well or poorly certain companies are doing in improving the fuel economy of their vehicles.

The reality is something else altogether.

The reality is that any consumer in America who wants to buy a car that gets at least 30 miles per gallon most certainly can do so. The reality is that, until recently, such cars have languished on dealership lots because there was absolutely no incentive to buy them...

Consider the matter of sport-utility vehicles, the favorite targets of the myth of all-powerful corporate advertising. Rare is the company, automotive or otherwise, that would make a product or provide a service that no one wanted. But the automobile industry gets blamed for selling gas-thirsty SUVs, accused of pushing them on a reluctant, unwitting public, as if the people who have the intelligence to earn the income to buy SUVs aren't smart enough to just say no to a truck they don't want.
Heh.
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# Posted 2:32 PM by Taylor Owen  

IRSHAD MANJI: A mentor of the Trudeau Foundation, with which I am associated, describes a recent meeting, overlapping ominously with the bombings in India and the start of the Lebanese escalation.

Two weeks ago, I joined 99 other "Muslim leaders of tomorrow" who gathered in Copenhagen to debate how Islam and the West could enrich each other. We came from the United States, Canada, Australia and across Europe. Brace yourself, the statements made may shock you:

Man from the Netherlands: "We, as Muslims, need to look in the mirror instead of blaming everybody else!"

Woman from
Germany: "I don't have an identity crisis. I'm Western and Muslim and grateful to be both."

Organizer from the United States: "None of my fellow Americans signed up to speak about integration. They don't see it as their priority. I think this means Muslim immigrants have it better in the U.S. than in Europe."

Imam from Britain: "The minute a woman becomes an imam, I will be the first to pray at her feet."

I am curious what oxbloggers think of her. She is certainly a controversial figure. Perhaps more well known internationally than she is in her home county, Canada. I agree wholeheartedly with her principle stance, that Islam must modernise, particularly with regard to women’s rights, and that this modernization must begin with a recognition that many of the most unjust aspects of religion are rooted in human misinterpretations. However, I find that while the message is correct, rare, and valuable, she often doesn’t adequately discuss the policy implications to her message. Much like I feel about many neoconservative positions, I agree with the ends, but not by any and all means.

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# Posted 2:22 PM by Taylor Owen  

LIKE HIM OR HATE HIM: Fisk’s ‘Farewell to Beirut’ is a beautifully written portrait of the city from someone who has spent much of the past 30 years in its streets. One sided, certainly, but at least in this piece, his voice is free of polemic:
Yet they are a fine, educated, moral people whose generosity amazes every foreigner, whose gentleness puts any Westerner to shame, and whose suffering we almost always ignore.

They look like us, the people of Beirut. They have light-coloured skin and speak beautiful English and French. They travel the world. Their women are gorgeous and their food exquisite.

But what are we saying of their fate today as the Israelis — in some of their cruellest attacks on this city and the surrounding countryside — tear them from their homes, bomb them on river bridges, cut them off from food and water and electricity?
We say that they started this latest war, and we compare their appalling casualties — more than 300 in all of Lebanon by last night — with Israel's 34 dead, as if the figures are the same.

And then, most disgraceful of all, we leave the Lebanese to their fate like a diseased people and spend our time evacuating our precious foreigners while tut-tutting about Israel's "disproportionate" response to the capture of its soldiers by Hezbollah.
I must say, that this last comment is one that has bothered me as well. The domestic talk of Canadian and US evacuation (and claims to citizenship) seems at times immorally void of what is being left behind. No easy answer I know, but the rush to get our own out seems strangely removed from the events they are escaping.

And on the destruction of civilian infrastructure, he is measured, but distressed:
And now it is being unbuilt. The Martyr Rafiq Hariri International Airport has been attacked three times by the Israelis, its shopping malls vibrating to the missiles that thunder into the runways and fuel depots. Hariri's transnational highway viaduct has been broken by Israeli bombers. Most of his motorway bridges have been destroyed. The Roman-style lighthouse has been smashed by a missile from an Apache helicopter. Only this small jewel of a restaurant in the centre of Beirut has been spared. So far.

It is the slums of Haret Hreik and Ghobeiri and Shiyah that have been pounded to dust, sending a quarter of a million Shiite Muslims to schools and abandoned parks across the city. Here, indeed, was the headquarters of Hezbollah, another of those "centres of world terror" the West keeps discovering in Muslim lands.Here lived Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, the Party of God's leader, a ruthless, caustic, calculating man, and Sheikh Mohammed Fadlallah, among the wisest and most eloquent of clerics, and many of Hezbollah's top military planners — including, no doubt, the men who planned over many months the capture of the two Israeli soldiers last Wednesday.

But did the tens of thousands of poor who live here deserve this act of mass punishment? For a country that boasts of its pinpoint accuracy — a doubtful notion in any case, but that's not the issue — what does this act of destruction tell us about Israel? Or about ourselves?
The whole thing is worth a read. More on the potential strategic costs of such civilian infastructure damage and casualties tomorrow.
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# Posted 2:20 PM by Taylor Owen  

MAKING AID WORK: A good discussion in the latest Boston Review on the state of development thinking. One of the things that bugs me about the MSM aid debate is the lack of intellectual and practical context. It often feels as if commentators, particularly those against raising development assistance levels, are stuck in 1970’s aid mentalities (as if what we are still discussing is simply the distribution of excess grains to ‘starving Africans’). These voices discuss aid as if it is their rational voices pitted against the soft hearts incessantly pushing for more money. The truth of course, is that development, not unlike peacebuilding/making, is an incredibly difficult project. Those that do and study development are the first to recognize this, and have been working for the past 30 years on mechanisms for delivering assistance more effectively. Yes there have been systemic failures, corruption and malpractice. But to say that this negates the efforts that have saved millions of lives is absurd. We increasingly know what kind of aid works. We know that cuts costs lives and that relatively minimal increases in funding of certain initiatives can get us to the MDGs. While the Boston review issue does not reflect the full spectrum of development voices, it is a nice survey of some significant positions.

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# Posted 2:17 PM by Taylor Owen  

THIS IS NOT WWIII: Niall Ferguson, fellow Jesuite, argues in the LA Times that:
Such language can — for now, at least — safely be dismissed as hyperbole.This crisis is not going to trigger another world war. Indeed, I do not expect it to produce even another Middle East war worthy of comparison with those of June 1967 or October 1973. In 1967, Israel fought four of its Arab neighbors — Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Iraq. In 1973, Egypt and Syria attacked Israel. Such combinations are very hard to imagine today.
The most important factor that he discusses seems to me to be:
Crucially, Washington's consistent support for Israel is not matched by any great power support for Israel's neighbors. During the Cold War, by contrast, the risk was that a Middle East war could spill over into a superpower conflict. Henry Kissinger, secretary of State in the twilight of the Nixon presidency, first heard the news of an Arab-Israeli war at 6:15 a.m. on Oct. 6, 1973. Half an hour later, he was on the phone to the Soviet ambassador in Washington, Anatoly Dobrynin. Two weeks later, Kissinger flew to Moscow to meet the Soviet leader, Leonid Brezhnev.
He concludes that the stakes are quite different for Israel and for the US. That the prospect of a regional sectarian conflict has no ‘silver lining’ for US regional interests. And thus, that:
It may not be World War III. But the current crisis nevertheless calls for a much more urgent diplomatic effort than the Bush administration seems to have in mind.
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Tuesday, July 25, 2006

# Posted 11:15 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

A SHOUT OUT TO ARAVOSIS: I can't say I'd ever read his blog until now, but yesterday at dinner I discovered that a new friend of mine writes for Aravosis under the nom de plume "AJ".

For his part, AJ discovered that I am that David, the one who writes for OxBlog. As it turns out, AJ's most recent post actually criticizes one of my own. AJ writes that:
The meme that liberals are unserious about foreign policy is extraordinarily irritating to me, which is why I want to briefly address charges that the "liberal blogosphere" is reticent on recent international issues. Usually this charge comes from conservatives, though it's especially frustrating when made by self-appointed "responsible" Democrats, particularly when the blogs of those doing the accusing have criticisms of Israel that closely match postings on many liberal blogs.
First of all, I had to let AJ know that I no longer identify as a Democrat and haven't for some time now. Also, he does post a good set of links to liberal blogs that have written about recent events in Israel and Lebanon.

But from my perspective, if Kos, Drum, and Marshall have explicitly said they were avoiding the topic, it is an issue for liberals. Together, they run three of the four most influential sites in the liberal blogosphere. (Rankings courtesy of the Ecosystem.)

Anyhow, AJ is a very smart guy and I will continue to read his posts.
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# Posted 10:44 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE WAR IS A FIASCO. KEEP ON FIGHTING. WaPo journalist Tom Ricks recently published a book by the name of Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq. Just in case you don't believe in judging a book by its title, have a listen to Ricks' discussion with Tim Russert on the most recent episode of Meet the Press. Here is how the discussion ends:
MR. RICKS: I think it’s an extremely worrisome situation. We kind of have a low-level civil war there. If it becomes a more intensible [sic] war, it easily could spill over its own borders and across the Middle East and we’d have a regional war on our hands.

MR. RUSSERT: But you do not think American troops should withdraw immediately.

MR. RICKS: I think it would be irresponsible to go in there and do what we’ve done and then walk away from it. There’s a lot of Iraqis out there who have committed their lives to helping the Americans do something there. And to abandon those people, I think, would be absolutely shameful as well.

MR. RUSSERT: How long do you think we’ll be there?

MR. RICKS: Ten to 15 years, at least.

MR. RUSSERT: At what size force?

MR. RICKS: I think they’ll probably get it down to maybe 110,000 by the end of this year, and probably 50,000 by the end of next year. And then you could have a steady stay for five or 10 years, even 15 years, but I think it’s going to be a long, hard struggle.
If I were a Kossack and I heard the interview end like that, I would've been jumping up and down in my seat. How could any rational human being argue vociferously that the war has been waged with rank incompetence since Day One, then turn around and insist that our military should spend another decade in Iraq?

How could Russert not challenge that kind of nonsensical position? If I were a Kossack, I might suggest that this is definitive proof of the conservatism and cowardice of the mainstream media. But the fact is that Russert didn't challenge any of Ricks' criticism of the administration either. As I suggested earlier, Russert apparently exempted Ricks from cross-examination on the spurious grounds that Ricks is a journalist.

But getting back to the more important, is it rational to have little or no faith in this president and still believe we must keep on fighting? Or perhaps that isn't the right question, since Ricks' response wasn't based on a calculation of interests but rather a calculation of ethics. He said it would be simply wrong, "absolutely shameful", to abandon the Iraqis after what we have done so far.

I agree.

I don't often have nice things to say about journalists. In fact, I have criticized Mr. Ricks pretty harshly in the past for his biased coverage. (Although sometimes less harshly.)

But at this moment, I think there are two words that best describe Mr. Ricks' conclusions: Moral clarity.
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# Posted 7:15 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SELF-PARODY: This is from Bob Schieffer's weekly editorial on Face The Nation:
With iPods and blogs and the Internet, there is a lot of serious talk about whether newspapers will survive. But the awful news of last week reminded me just how much we need them and not always for the obvious reasons.

Jill Abramson, who is the managing editor of The New York Times, says we use the Internet to search for specific information. But the joy of reading a newspaper comes from finding information we weren't looking for. Last week reminded me of that.

The main news was so grim I found myself turning to the newspapers for relief. Deep in the Times one day last week, surrounded by all the war news, I found an obituary of Robert Brooks, who founded the Hooter's restaurant chain. The writer said Hooters was known for spicy chicken wings and even spicier waitresses. Who could read that and not at least smile?...

And then there was the story I found on the business page that began: "Robie Livingstone has all but given up on having a positive underwear buying experience." How can you NOT read on when a story starts that way? Maybe it's just me, but I was in a better humor after reading those stories.
There are a lot of bad things you can say about the internet. A deficit of hooters and underwear is not one of them.
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# Posted 7:03 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SUNDAY MORNING ROUND-UP: Yes, a day later than usual. And this edition will be abbreviated, since Tiger Woods pre-empted George Stephanopoulos on ABC.

Over on NBC, Tim Russert spoke with White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten and WaPo reporter Thomas Ricks. On CBS, Bob Schieffer interviewed the Syrian and Israeli ambassadors to Washington.
Bolten: B. On the defensive throughout, but made no clear mistakes. It must be rough for a number cruncher to suddenly find himself responsible for defending the administration's policy on Iraq and stem cells.

Thomas Ricks: No grade. Russert served up softball after softball. Perhaps bloggers would be less critical of journalists if they demonstrated an interest in challenging their comrades-in-arms.

Hon. Imad Moustapha: B+. It really is hard to shill for a reactionary dictatorship. Most of those who do it sound like fools. Wisely, Moustapha focused on presenting the standard leftist case against Israel.

Hon. Daniel Ayalon: B+. It may be easier to defend a democracy than a dictatorship, but Ayalon did a very competent job.
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# Posted 6:48 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

BLAIR DEFENDS ISRAEL: First from the leader of the Liberal Democrats, then from a Labour backbencher:
Menzies Campbell (Fife North East, Liberal Democrat): Yesterday, the House joined the Prime Minister in condemning Hezbollah's bombardment of Israel, but how can we be even-handed if we are not willing to condemn Israel's disproportionate response, which the Prime Minister of Lebanon has described as cutting his country to pieces?

Tony Blair (Prime Minister): Let me repeat what I said yesterday. It is important that Israel's response is proportionate and does its best to minimise civilian casualties, but it would stop now if the soldiers who were kidnapped—wrongly, when Hezbollah crossed the United Nations blue line—were released. It would stop if the rockets stopped coming into Haifa, deliberately to kill innocent civilians. If those two things happened, I promise the right hon. and learned Gentleman that I will be the first to say that Israel should halt its operations.

Menzies Campbell (Fife North East, Liberal Democrat): I am not sure that that squares with the Prime Minister's conversations with President Bush. In the course of those conversations, did he understand that it was America's policy to allow Israel a further period for military action? Is that why the UK is not calling for an immediate and unconditional ceasefire?

If the right hon. and learned Gentleman is seriously saying that I should call for an unconditional ceasefire by Israel now—[Hon. Members: "Both sides."] I should call for both sides to do it? May I just point out to the right hon. and learned Gentleman that our influence with Hezbollah has been somewhat limited? It would not be possible. Does he not understand that Hezbollah fired somewhere in the region of 1,600 rockets into northern Israel?

I agree that what is happening in Lebanon is tragic and terrible, not least for the Lebanese people and the Lebanese Government—a Government who have brought their country out of the dark days into democracy— [ Interruption. ] Yes, but if this is to stop, it has to stop by undoing how it started, and it started with the kidnap of Israeli soldiers and the bombardment of northern Israel. If we want this to stop, that has to stop.
And then later:
Michael Meacher (Oldham West & Royton, Labour): Whatever the proximate causes of the current middle east crisis, is it not clear that there will be no solution while Muslims believe that the political route to a viable and sustainable Palestinian state is blocked and at the same time Israel believes that it can get more by the use of military force and annexation of large tracts of Palestinian land than by seriously negotiating the Quartet road map?

In those circumstances, should we not only be calling on the EU to demand a very clear and unambiguous statement of a ceasefire but, more important, more vigorously confronting the United States that, if it does not put considerably more pressure on Israel for a—

Michael Martin (Speaker): Order. That is far too long.

Tony Blair (Prime Minister): You see, there is a problem with the negotiated solution to this. After all, it is now clear that everyone wants a two-state solution, and the road map is there and agreed by the whole of the Quartet, including the European Union, the UN, Russia and America, obviously.

This problem is not being held back by America or by anyone's intransigence and refusal to negotiate; it is being held back by the fact that we cannot even begin the essential preconditions for the road map to exist properly. Those essential preconditions are about security and about ensuring that, for example, the thing that sparked everything on Gaza, which was to do with the kidnap of an Israeli soldier, and other such things stop.

I share my right hon. Friend's concern. I pushed for the adoption of the road map. I pushed for a two-state solution. But in the end the only negotiated way through this is by everyone committing themselves to exclusively peaceful, democratic means, and that has to hold on both sides of the border—not just on the Israeli side but also on the Palestinian side.
But how much longer will Blair remain prime minister? Two more years? Three at most? Enter Gordon Brown.
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Monday, July 24, 2006

# Posted 2:40 PM by Taylor Owen  

OBAMA-GORE?: In that order, a la Bush-Cheney? I agree with Grunwald and AS that this is a possibility. The problem, of course, is that this is not the combination that will appear on the primary ballot. Such a ticket would require Obama first getting the nomination on his own. Which, for the very reason an elder would be desireable on the presidential ticket, may make his bid difficult. I am a big fan of his though, and having Samantha Powers on his side certainly doesn’t hurt in the foreign policy realm.
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# Posted 1:55 PM by Taylor Owen  

THE JUSTICE OF JUS IN BELLO: Human Rights Watch has a useful and balanced Q&A on the application of international humanitarian law to the current middle east violence. They answer questions such as whether Article 3 applies to both parties, and discuss the legality of many of the acts we have seen used by both sides – Hezbollah’s bombing of northern Israel, Islaeli bombing the Beirut airport etc. Perhaps most interesting is the question of civilian shields and subsequent casualties:
Can Israel attack neighbourhoods that house Hezbollah leaders or offices? And what are Hezbollah’s obligations regarding the use of civilian areas for military activities?

Where the targeting of a combatant takes place in an urban area, all parties must be aware of their obligations to protect the civilian population, as the bombing of urban areas significantly increases the risks to the civilian population. International humanitarian law obliges all belligerents to avoid harm to civilians or civilian objects.

The defending party – in the case of Beirut, Hezbollah – must take all necessary precautions to protect civilians against the dangers resulting from armed hostilities, and must never use the presence of civilians to shield themselves from attack. That requires positioning its military assets, troops, and commanders as much as possible outside of populated areas. The use of human shields is a war crime.

In calculating the legality of an attack on premises where a Hezbollah combatant is present, Israel must take the risk to civilians into account. It is not relieved from this obligation on the grounds that it considers Hezbollah responsible for having located legitimate military targets within or near populated areas or that Hezbollah may be using the civilian population as a shield. Even in situations of Hezbollah’s illegal location of military targets, or shielding, Israel must refrain from launching any attack that may be expected to cause excessive civilian loss in comparison to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated. That is, a violation by Hezbollah in this regard does not justify Israeli forces ignoring the civilian consequences of a planned attack. The intentional launch of an attack in an area without regard to the civilian consequences or in the knowledge that the harm to civilians would be disproportionately high compared to any definite military benefit to be achieved would be a serious violation of international humanitarian law and a war crime.
Several months ago I saw Yoram Dinstein speak at St. Anthony’s. As intelligent and seemingly reasonable as he was, I got the same feeling from him as I do from reading such applications of international law to asymmetric conflicts. I know that many feel that international law unduly constrains western soldiers against the conflict tactics of non-state actors. Dinstein’s argument, for example was that Israel does not legally have to give captured combatants POW status. Indeed, perhaps this and other shifts are proportionate and just, but that is another discussion.

Can this same argument be turned around though? These laws were designed for warring states with large traditional armies. Contemporary asymmetric warfare and terrorism grew out of a response to such state forces. Their tactics and strategies are designed to circumvent the traditional technocratic large scale warfare that only states can wage. Setting aside the moral arguments for each side, is the application of international law, developed by states and for states, to these groups just?

For example, state armies argue that is it illegal to hide and fight amongst civilians. Further, they say that the resulting civilian casualties are an acceptable consequence of having to fight such illegal, and amoral, tactics. This, however, is exactly and predictably how weaker sides fight asymmetric urban war. We know this now, as we knew it before the Iraq war and before the strikes against Lebanon. I am not convinced that we can keep claiming that these civilian casualties, which are grossly disproportionate against the weaker side, are legally and morally justifiable under an international legal system that so greatly privileges our style of killing.

Does the application of international humanitarian law to asymmetric warfare give relative carte blanche to traditional armies? Does it matter?
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# Posted 12:31 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

BOMB IRAN NOW? In the first of two editorials in the current issue of the Standard (the other one being about stem cells) , Bill Kristol writes that:
We might consider countering this act of Iranian aggression [via Hezbollah] with a military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities. Why wait? Does anyone think a nuclear Iran can be contained? That the current regime will negotiate in good faith? It would be easier to act sooner rather than later. Yes, there would be repercussions--and they would be healthy ones, showing a strong America that has rejected further appeasement.
And yet Robert Kagan argues that it would be far wiser to act later rather than sooner. In last week's Post, Kagan wrote that:
The likely failure of diplomacy [with Iran] would not deter Bush from pursuing it, however. If and when it failed, he would be able to choose the military course, and no fair person could accuse him of not having tried to bring the world along to do what had to be done.
If I stand with Kagan, then I'd say that my credentials as a hawk are still impeccable. Let's take care of Iraq, Afghanistan and Hezbollah before targeting Iran.
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# Posted 12:19 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

STEM CELLS: In an editorial supporting the President's first veto, Bill Kristol and Eric Cohen argue that:
The most important arguments for maintaining the Bush policy are moral: The federal government should not be a party to the destruction of nascent human lives. Yes, such embryos might be left over in fertility clinics, but the fact that they are unwanted does not change what they are or give us a license to destroy them.
But who gave fertility clinics the license to produce untold thousands of embryos whose inevitable fate is to be discarded?

That wasn't a rhetorical question. I really don't know the answer. Unless the opponents of stem cell research are willing to criticize fertility treatments that produce such embryos, it seems irrelevant to criticize the use of such embryos for a positive purpose.

Also, if any of you happen to know how fertilitly clincis are funded, please weigh in below. Do they benefit from government funding, directly or indirectly? If so, then the government may already be party to the creation of embryos marked for destruction.
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# Posted 12:15 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

BEGGING FOR WHOLE FOODS: The WaPo describes the efforts of some of my neighbors in Columbia Heights to bring a Whole Foods supermarket into the neighborhood. I wish them the best of luck.
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Sunday, July 23, 2006

# Posted 10:43 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

BEINART, CHAPTER 1: Welcome to the first episode of OxBlog's commentary on The Good Fight by Peter Beinart. Because it is such an important book, I have decided to explore in considerable depth, chapter by chapter. So without further ado, let us turn to the book's introduction and Chapter 1.

Peter Beinart supported George Bush's decision to invade Iraq. As such, it is entirely fair for Beinart's critics on the left to demand a clear explanation of what makes liberal hawks like Beinart different from neo-conservatives. Beinart's answer to this question is both consistent and unequivocal:


The cold war liberal tradition parts company with the right in insisting that American power cannot be good unless we recognize that it can also be evil [and] it parts company with the purist left in insisting that if we demand that American power be perfect, it cannot be good. (xiii)
Beinart's phrasing is elegant because it captures so precisely the challenge of elaborating a new liberal vision for national security. At the same time, this phrasing forces Beinart to shoulder the tremendous burden of demonstrating both that conservatives are intrinsically blind to America's shortcomings and that other liberals are truly paralyzed by their fears of moral imperfection.

If Beinart cannot demonstrate both of these points, then his argument will fade into the vague middle ground occupied by those other liberals who thirst for a stable synthesis of American power and American idealism.

Beinart's first chapter turns to the history of the early Cold War in order to establish that conservatives are as blind and left-liberals as perfectionist as he makes them out to be. At the end of the chapter, I more concerned than at the beginning that Beinart may be building strawmen on both of his flanks in order to clarify his own position.

However, I also began to sense that there is a very clear dividing line between Beinart's liberalism and the neo-conservatism to which his critics on the left compare it.

As Beinart tells it, liberalism in the late 1940s was on the brink of surrender to a thirst for international cooperation so great that prominent liberals had no qualms about turning a blind eye to the inherent brutality of the Soviet system. The embodiment of this liberal naivete was former Vice President and Secretary of Agriculture Henry Wallace, whose "appeal on the left still dwarfed Truman's" in the middle of 1947.
"Truman, by contrast, looked like a political dead man...[because] even the antitotalitarian liberals considered Truman an embarrassment." (p.9)
What saved the party from the manifest embarrassment of nominating Wallace for president in 1948 was the influence of Americans for Democratic Action (ADA), an assemblage of strongly anti-Communist liberals who did not hesitate to divide the party because they believed that Wallace & co. represented a greater threat than the Republicans.

Beinart's account persuaded me fully that Wallace & co. were, in fact, precisely the sort of perfectionsists who sought to impose unreasonable constraints on American power. But I was not persuaded that Wallace & co. represented a dominant or almost-dominant strain of liberalism in the late 1940s. And if they didn't, I would argue by extension that the ADA did not represent a new and distinctive brand of of muscular liberalism.

A towering figure surprisingly absent from Beinart's narrative is Franklin Delano Roosevelt. As the architect of American victory in World War II, FDR clearly understood that American power must not be constrained by a desire for moral perfection.

I would argue that thousands of top officials who served in the Roosevelt administration and comprised the leadership of the Democratic Party understood this as well. Among them was Eleanor Roosevelt, who lent her credibility to ADA. Admittely, this argument is far from impregnable. Yet Beinart doesn't challenge it at all.

By not grappling with FDR's legacy, Beinart also has a hard time explaining why the Truman administration was so fiercely anti-Communist if Wallace represented the mainstream of Democratic thinking. Without saying so explicitly, Beinart seems to suggest that Truman's personal influence was decisive.

I disagree. Without underestimating Truman's tenacity, one should not ignore the role of anti-Communist advisers such as George Marshall, Dean Acheson (a member of ADA) and numerous others. These were FDR men as much as they were Trumanites. They were the party's foreign policy establishment.

Beinart makes a very important contribution by reminding us of the strength of the Wallace movement and of how a liberal thirst for international cooperation can rapidly degenrate into the toleration of brutal dictatorships. Yet in spite of my persistent criticism of liberals for sacrificing democratic principles on the altar of multilateralism, I do not believe that such trade-offs represent the essence of left liberalism.
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# Posted 10:25 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

BEINART IN-DEPTH: I have finally begun to read The Good Fight by Peter Beinart. Ever since I read A Fighting Faith, the December 2004 essay that prefigured the contents of Beinart's book, I have expected his book to serve as the definitive statement of a muscular liberal foreign policy.

Even though I am only thirty pages into the book right now, I sense that it will live up to that expectation. Although there are good reasons not to write about a book until one has finished reading it, I prefer to capture my reactions while they are fresh, then revise them later on.

Knowing my own habits, I am also quite confident that I would never post a chapter-by-chapter analysis of Beinart's book if I did not begin that task right away. And since this book clearly merits such close analysis, that is what I will do.

Click here to begin reading.
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# Posted 1:30 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE DEMOCRATS STAND WITH ISRAEL. WHERE DO THE LIBERALS STAND? Is there a silver lining to the clouds over the Middle East? I'm not so sure, but it certainly is nice to see that politicians across the spectrum are standing up for Israel. Here's what Joe Biden had to say:
I find it fascinating [to hear] people talk about has Israel gone too far. No one talks about whether Israel’s justified in the first place.

Let’s assume Israel’s overreacting. I want to see the world stand up and say, “By the way, this in fact, is an unprovoked effort on the part of a terrorist organization supported by two countries to undermine [a] democratic state.” Until they say that, I think it’s awful—I think it’s a secondary question whether Israel’s gone too far.
Leaving aside Biden's words, I think the tone of his voice said at least as much about his determination to support Israel. He was speaking from the heart.

Yet according to the Forward, the prominent Jewish paper that publishes out of New York, top liberal bloggers are hesitant to discuss the crisis at all. (Hat tip: MD) Why? Because of the viciousness it provokes within the liberal camp.

The "venom... is just, from my personal experience, just a whole order of magnitude greater than with garden variety political topics," Marshall told the Forward. His Web site, Marshall said, typically receives 100,000 visitors a day, and as many as 300 to 500 emails from readers.

In the past week, most of the vitriolic responses have come from critics of Israel.

I "touched off the fireworks" in saying that "Israel has a right to respond strongly when they have a border incursion over the Lebanese border," Marshall said.

Josh Marshall -- the Joe Lieberman of the blogosphere? Heh.

The Forward also cited a long post on the subject of Israel and silence by Kevin Drum:
On his blog for the Washington Monthly, Drum offered a number of reasons to explain his own tight-lipped response to the fighting, a list that included: the "unusually vicious comment threads" it inspires...and the fact that the [issue] is "fantastically complex."

"Most conservatives simply take the uncomplicated stance that Palestinians are terrorists and that Israel should always respond to provocation in the maximal possible way," Drum wrote. "Liberals don't really have a similarly undemanding position for the quick-hit nature of blogging."
More than any other blogger I know, Kevin explores numerous issues precisely because they are complex. So it doesn't sound very plausbile for him to say that this issue is just too complex. At least Kevin does admit in his post that his arguments on this subject amount to "feeble excuses".

Speaking more broadly, I think Kevin is really missing the point if he believes that excessive complexity is what's holding back other liberal bloggers. After all, there is no issue more complicated or more written-about than Iraq.

Clearly, something else besides complexity is preventing liberal bloggers from writing about Israel. I would suggest that there is a part of the online left which is so viciously anti-Israel that moderates have been intimidated into silence. Let's hope that this kind of viciousness never migrates off line, where it might threaten bipartisan support for Israel.
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# Posted 1:07 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

PRE-EMPTIVE SUNDAY MORNING ROUND-UP: America must confront a grave and gathering threat of unrestrained punditry. Thus, this website cannot wait until that punditry commences at 10AM in order to respond with its own rhetorical forces. It must begin now.

Actually, this is a just a round-up of last week's shows, since I had minimal access to the internet while travelling this past week. Biden, Gingrich and Novak were on NBC. Condi and Jane Harman were on CBS. Condi and Albright were on ABC.
Biden: B-. Strong on Israel, then gets a little kooky.

Gingrich: B. He was clearly on his best behavior. It won't last if he runs for President.

Novak: B. I never followed Novak-gate all that closely, but I thought he came off well. He also candidly admitted that there is no good explanation for some of his inconsistent statements.

Condi on CBS: B. A very brief interview.

Harman: B-. Called Hezbollah "more dangerous than Al Qaeda". Instead of sounding tough, Harman sounded like a liberal who was desperate to sound tough. After all, does anyone expect Harman or other Democrats to support a US war against Hezbollah similar to our war against Al Qaeda?

Condi on ABC: B. Avoided saying much at all, which diplomats have a habit of doing in the midst of a crisis. Got feisty when asked if the war in Iraq made the Middle East more volatile.

Albright: B-. Kept insisting that Condi is doing nothing to keep this crisis under control. Demanded deep engagement and shuttle diplomacy. To what end? And with whom? On that front, Albright didn't have answers.
Russert, Schieffer and Steffie all get 'B's. But what I want to know is who does the booking for Meet the Press. Biden and Gingrich have almost nothing to add to the debate. They're the kind of guests you bring on when you can't get someone better.

And having them on the show looks even worse when CBS and ABC get Condi. Or was Dr. Rice avoiding Mr. Russert? Even if she was, NBC should've come up with a stronger altnerative.
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Saturday, July 22, 2006

# Posted 8:56 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WANNA WORK FOR JIMMY CARTER? I'm serious. The Carter Center is looking for an associate director for its democracy promotion program. Just remember to bring a cardigan with you to the office. I hear they keep the thermostat very low.
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# Posted 10:29 AM by Patrick Porter  

WET BRITANNIA: Spent this afternoon busy battling a flood.

Well, 'flood' is too big a word. My bathroom, which is protected only by a flimsy roof, is flooded and a very kind lady from the college has brought over a giant serpentine machine to suck up the gallons of water.

For what its worth, my own impressions on Israel and Lebanon and things: I'm no ethicist (laughter and jeers from the back) but it seems that Israel has lashed out at the wrong target and targets. I am more sympathetic with Israel's long-term security than many Oxfordians. But this time it has made a moral and strategic error.

If Israel treats Hezbollah and the state and people of Lebanon as one and the same, Israel's punitive raids might strengthen Hezbollah as a political force for the next decade or longer. Israel's long-term interest seems to me to be isolating militant Islam, or at least doing what it can through its own actions to help isolate militant Islam.

Jihadists who are willing to attack civilians and kill themselves will be with us for a long time, but Israel would need to cultivate a population that is willing to not cooperate with them, or even to help moderates and elect moderate democratic governments.

Israel's present actions threaten to do the reverse. A more targeted strategy, with targeted assassinations and infiltration, while dividing Arab militants from the mainstream through territorial concessions, would be a more prudent response.

What's more, Lebanon has a fledgling democracy and fragile coalition government that has little leverage over the actions of militants. Arguing as a sort of neocon, its ultimately in our and Israel's interests to help foster a democratic civil society in the Moslem world. Only then will states lose their monopoly over political discussion and debate and information, making it harder for them to implant and encourage a culture of hatred and misinformation and manipulate their citizens into blaming all of their dissatisfactions and national difficulties on the Crusader-Zionists.

One small episode: this crisis has also unleashed at least one incident of maggotty anti-semitism right here in Oxford.

One of my summer school students, a really nice and bright girl, who is little and wouldn't hurt anyone, bravely decided to argue in a civil way about the current crisis with some 'Stop the War' protesters in Cornmarket street.

A large burly man shouted in her face, 'Fuck the jews.' None of the other protesters rebuked him.

Nice. And such courage.
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Friday, July 21, 2006

# Posted 11:52 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

LET'S NOT CONFUSE PATRIOTIC WITH UGLY: The AP reports that:
Earlier this month, President Bush toured the [Allen-Edmonds] factory in Port Washington [Wisconsin] and received a pair of custom-made leather wingtips in red, white and blue. The company said this week it would not make any other pairs of the patriotic shoes.
Bush, along with both his father and Bill Clinton, reportedly wore Allen-Edmonds shoes at his inauguration. I believe the shoes were made of black leather and no less patriotic.
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Thursday, July 20, 2006

# Posted 6:49 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

REAGAN THE TERRORIST: Fred Barnes has posted an interesting column about liberal efforts to romaticize the Reagan era in order to establish an imaginary standard against which to measure the current president.
Liberals pretend the Reagan years--in contrast to the Bush years--were a golden idyll of collaboration between congressional Democrats and a not-so-conservative president. When Reagan died in 2004, John Kerry recalled having admired his political skills and liked him personally. "I had quite a few meetings with him," Mr. Kerry told reporters. "I met with Reagan a lot more than I've met with this president."

Of course, that wasn't Kerry's take on Reagan during his presidency: In 1988, he condemned the "moral darkness of the Reagan-Bush administration."
That's about right. The partisanship and bitterness of the Reagan era were overwhelming, at least within the Beltway. One thing we often forget now is how often Democrats in Congress branded Reagan as a "terrorist".

"Terrorist" meant something different, back then, however. Reagan accused Central American Communist guerrillas of being nothing more than terrorists. Left-wing Democrats turned the charge back around at the Gipper, arguing that he actively supported the real terrorists in the region, i.e. the Salvadoran army and the Nicaraguan contras.

According to a precise academic definition, it is a bit misleading to describe either side in the Central American conflict as terrorists, but Reagan's allies in the region often behaved in an unspeakably brutal manner. The Communists were often just as bad, but their death toll was lower.

Getting back to the point, I think there is one point about which Barnes is very, very wrong. His article begins as follows:
I was recently asked about President Bush's chances of a political resurgence. Might Mr. Bush be able to recover as strongly as President Reagan did from a slump in his second term in the 1980s? My response was, Reagan recovery? What Reagan recovery?

Though he continued his ultimately successful fight to win the Cold War, Reagan achieved nothing new--practically nothing--after the Iran-contra scandal broke in 1986.
Actually, there was a Reagan recovery, and it was dramatic. Reagan's approval rating suffered the greatest plunge in the history of the modern presidency during the early months of Iran-Contra, only to recover fully by the time he left office.

This wasn't a result of good public relations or good rhetoric, but of the fact that Reagan aggressively pursued a remarkable friendship with Mikhail Gorbachev. Numerous conservatives blasted Reagan for his naivete about the Communist leader, but the Gipper was not deterred.

I don't think there is much prospect for a similar recovery by the current president, although no one would have expected much in the way of a Reagan recovery, either. As the saying goes, predictions are very hard to make, especially about the future.
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# Posted 6:35 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

NEWT! The man is everywhere. Hawking his book. Hawking his presidential aspirations. In yesterday's edition of USA Today, Newt argued that the Israelis are behaving exactly as any red-blooded American would. If someone were shooting missiles at us, we'd blast the hell out of them.

Although I have my reservations about the extent of Israeli reprisals, I think Newt hit the nail on the head. Americans would do exactly the same thing in the Israelis' position, good idea or no.

For some more insightful analysis of the situation in Lebanon, check out Dennis Ross' column, which ran just above Newt's on the USA Today op-ed page.

But the real issue with regard to Newt isn't any single idea he has, but the fact that he is so aggressively packaging himself as a man of ideas. A man of ideas who can save the GOP.

Although there are probably better subjects to write about, TNR devoted its cover to an analysis of Newt's latest PR blitz. Not surprisingly, the cover story is fairly patronizing. Its message can be summed up by the observation (made by a Republican I think), that Newt has a whole closet in his office stuffed with new ideas and a very small desk drawer filled with good, new ideas.

What is surprising about the TNR cover story is how little truly negative material about Newt there is in it. One mention of the fine he paid for misuse of funds, some material about his interest in consolidating the GOP control on K Street. But really, there wasn't much of an effort to remind liberals why they hated Newt's guts back in the mid-1990s.

If Newt's self-promotion actually results in a serious bid for the GOP nomination, I'm guessing that TNR and others will rediscover the old Newt rather quickly.
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# Posted 11:59 AM by Taylor Owen  

SPEAKING OF LIBERAL CRITICS OF THE ADMINISTRATION: Kupchan and Takeyh have a scathing op-ed in yesterdays IHT. They hold no punches:
Instead, Washington's ideological hubris and practical incompetence have succeeded only in setting the region ablaze, awakening extremist and militant voices.

The toppling of Saddam Hussein was intended to send shock waves across the Arab world, intimidating the region's brittle tyrannies while encouraging the spontaneous civic movements that have brought democracy to much of post-Communist Europe. In Iraq itself, democrats were to replace a brutal autocrat, providing a model for the region.

Precisely the opposite has happened. The war has not only engulfed Iraq in violence and made the country a magnet for jihadists, but it has also awakened sectarian tensions that are spreading beyond Iraq's borders. From Saudi Arabia to Lebanon, Shiites and Sunnis are cautiously eyeing each other, heading for a mounting rivalry that has already helped plunge Lebanon into chaos.
...
The Bush administration may well be seeking the right end in the Middle East - the pacification of the region through economic and political liberalization.

But we already have ample proof that it has chosen the wrong means. Its errant attempt to impose democracy through force has backfired, only stirring up a hornet's nest and risking a region-wide crisis.

Iraq lies in ruins, Islamist forces are strengthening, and the Palestine-Israel conflict threatens to become a full-scale war. Even more ominously, the Middle East is being polarized along sectarian lines, empowering an Iran with nuclear ambitions. The mistakes of the Bush administration are coming home to roost.
TGA echos the argument, with what he calls new 'messy multipolarity'. Gone are the days of hyperpower and unipolarity, he argues, and the new multipolar world may not be what many wished for.
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Wednesday, July 19, 2006

# Posted 5:44 PM by Taylor Owen  

IN THE WHEN IS A "PHOTO-OP" ACTUALLY A "SYMBOLIC GESTURE" DEPARTMENT: Harper, the new Canadian PM, will be diverting his plane to pick up 130 evacuees (of the estimated 50,000 Canadian citizens currently in Lebanon) on his return from the G-8.

In response to questions, Harper denied the trip was a photo opportunity.

"It's more than a symbolic trip," he said. "There's a need for air support in Cyprus. Freeing up seats, we will have a significant number of seats to help the situation."

Journalists and most of the plane's crew will have to find their own way home, however, as the aircraft will be "stripped down to a skeleton staff." Luckily though, for posterity's sake, his personal photographer made the cut...
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# Posted 4:29 PM by Taylor Owen  

PROGRESSIVE REALISM?: In a similar vein to the Truman Democrats, Beirnartian liberalism and Ikenberrian liberal realism, Robert Wright has weighted in with what he labels ‘Progressive Realism’. While the terminology is sure to make some oxblog readers (those who are neither liberals, nor realists) squirm, he argues that what is needed is the idealism traditionally attributed to liberal foreign policy combined with a degree of realism that reflects the changing nature of American strategic interests.

The proposal is a response to what he feels is a false dichotomy between the “chillingly clinical self-interest” of traditional realism, and the “dangerously naïve altruism” of neo-conservatism. A choice, he argues, which has serious limitations.

The realism in his argument stems from a broadened interpretation of American interests beyond the preservation of state integrity, the core of traditional realism. This of course, is a consequence of the globalizing of vulnerability. In Morgenthauian terms:

America’s fortunes are growing more closely correlated with the fortunes of people far away; fewer games have simple win-lose outcomes, and more have either win-win or lose-lose outcomes.

The liberalism in his proposal is similar to that proposed by Beinart and the Truman Democrats – multilateralism as a necessary tool for both pragmatically addressing the global nature of threats, as well as a means of legitimising American international engagement.

He concludes that what is needed is a reinvigoration of post-war multilateral institutions, legitimised by the active involvement of the US. As he summarizes:

President Bush’s belated diplomatic involvement in Darfur suggests growing enlightenment, but sluggish ad hoc multilateralism isn’t enough. We need multilateral structures capable of decisively forceful intervention and nation building — ideally under the auspices of the United Nations, which has more global legitimacy than other candidates. America should lead in building these structures and thereafter contribute its share, but only its share. To some extent, the nurturing of international institutions and solid international law is simple thrift.

The question of course is the same one that many have asked of Beinhart, Ikenberry and Kupchan over the past year - how is this different than simple liberal internationalism?

I suppose that one way is that the Realist aspect of Wrights proposal would limit American involvement in broader/global security issues to those with the greatest overarching and broadly defined strategic consequence for the US. As he puts it, this would obviously prioritise the Middle East over the Sri Lankan civil war. While I can see the attractiveness of this for a US domestic audience, unless these overlapped identically with perceive global interests, then this would undermine the very multilateralism for which he advocates. He wants to have his cake (the benefits of multilateral institutions), with out the sacrifice (collaborative threat prioritization). This is ok when the interest converge, as is the case with the current dynamic in the Middle East or arguably with a new nuclear arms control regime (for which Wright is an advocate). But what happens when they do not?

Who knows if progressive realism will catch on - in a sense though, it doesn’t matter. There is enough overlap in the numerous emerging liberal responses to the Bush foreign policy that we could be beginning to see the common ground that will form the next (‘08) democratic foreign policy platform.

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# Posted 12:14 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

CATS THAT LOOK LIKE HITLER: File under "Yes, there is a website for everything."As the website explains, "Most cats possess that typically feline facial expression that implies a secret longing for world domination." You can see photos of almost 200 such cats on this site. Enjoy.
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# Posted 11:38 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

BEINART ON GAYS AND ABORTION: In this week's TNR, Peter Beinart [by subscription] makes a solid liberal point that borrows just enough of its logic from conservatives to make other liberals slightly uncomfortable.

In his column, Beinart codifies the emerging centrist position on gay rights in general and gay marriage more specifically: Let the people decide. Wait for democratically-elected state legislatures to authorize gay marriage rather than pushing the courts, whether state or federal, to force it through.

If you push it through, you will generate a backlash that will prevent the issue from ever being settled. But since public opinion is trending strongly in the direction of gay rights, a liberal victory is assured if liberals themselves demonstrate a measure of patience.

I support gay rights and that sounds good to me. But what about abortion? While reading Beinart's column, I constantly expected him to shift the discussion to abortion. After all, the challenge liberals face in that arena is remarkably similar: Should they rely on the courts or trust the voters?

There are two big differences, of course. Number one, the law is already on the liberal side. Number two, public opinion runs against the liberal position in large swathes of the country. When it comes to abortion, would Beinart stick to his guns and insist that liberals should trust the American voter in order to prevent a backlash against the courts? Or would he sacrifice intellectual consistency in order to align himself with the dominant liberal position with regard to abortion?

In certain respects, this is a classic democratic (with a small 'd' dilemma). In a liberal democracy there is a constant tension between majority rule and minority rights. With regard to gays and abortion, liberals come down mainly on the side of rights.

Conservatives seem divided. They tend to follow the same logic that Beinart does, i.e. support majority rule, since the majority favors the conservative position. But if the majority favored abortion rights and gay marriage, how many conservatives would suddenly find themselves favoring the liberal strategy of using the courts to trump public opinion?

If you believe abortion is murder, how can you let the majority decide the issue? If you believe there should be a constitutional amendment preventing gay marriage, might you not push for the courts to strike down legislation allowing it?

So then, would it best serve the national interest to let the voters have the final say on the issues instead of the courts? In an ideal world, liberals and conservatives could reach some sort of consensus on gays and abortion. In light of how divisive these issues are and how little we can afford to be divided in the midst of the global war on terror, I am willing to compromise in the name of consensus. I hope that others are as well.
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Tuesday, July 18, 2006

# Posted 8:01 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

BUSINESS TRAVEL: I've been on the road since Sunday evening. The decision to send myself and a colleague up here to Carlisle, PA wasn't made until last week, so the good hotel was booked and I'm staying at a Holiday Inn without WiFi.

So what am I doing in Carlisle? Well, if I told you I'd have to kill you. But I can tell you that there are lots of free Dunkin Donuts all around, which explains why research analysts have a hard time keeping their collective weight down.

Carlisle itself is very pretty, with a historic, colonial-style downtown and little plaques all over telling you what happened here in the days of the Revolutionary War. It is also the home of the very beautiful Dickinson College as well as the slightly less charming Army War College.

Well, work starts early around here, so I've got to go on the clock and offline. See you this evening.
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Sunday, July 16, 2006

# Posted 8:41 PM by Taylor Owen  

MIDDLE EAST ESCALATIONS: For what it's worth, here are some random bits and pieces from some of the blogs I frequent:

Jentleson argues that the conflict, as it has regularly since ‘48, requires external crisis management, and wonders whether the Bush Administration will/can play this role?

Marshall argues that the administration’s silence is born of over-extension and policy exhaustion.

Martin Peretz points out the, hmm, inconsistancy, in Siniora demanding that the United Nations and the United States impose a cease-fire on the combat between Israel and Hezbollah now, since Hezbollah have been lobbing rockets across Lebanon's southern border into Israel for the entire time he has been PM.

Drezner clear-headedly remarks that the facts remain markedly fluid, with the NYT and WaPo reporting significantly different interpretations of how the Israeli attacks have affected Hezbollah's political position in Lebanon?

Djerejian both worries of a major Israeli ground incursion and condemns the Secretary of State. Earlier in the week, he questioned, rightly in my mind, the foreseeable strategic effectiveness of a large scale Israeli military response to the kidnapping. (to which Frum scoffed, and Greg scoffed back)

Rosen has an interesting interview with Mark Perry, an American who has been hosting a dialogue with representatives of Hezbollah and former senior US and British policymakers for the past three years. He thinks this is a game of escalation that both sides will soon climb down from. (note: the interview was 3 days ago). Rosen also points out that Solana has just flown to Beirut for talks. As a fan of his EU foreign policy work, I think this is a positive development but obviously question his potential influence, particularly with Rice so conspicuously silent.

Jo-Anne Mort, in Israel, points out that the extent of the Hezbolla strikes have largely silenced the Arab League, because “Hezbollah has knowingly put the Lebanese gov't --and people--at risk.” She then questions the US ability to serve as the needed diplomatic broker in each of ongoing the middle eastern crises – Lebanon, Palestine, Iran, Syria and Iraq.

Shadi Hamid, on Democracy Arsenal, in Egypt, points out the difference between ‘constructive instability’ and plain old instability.

Ygelsias maintains that the ‘real’ problem, when everything else is removed, is Palestinian anger.

Gandleman relays a note of thanks from a Lebanese Christian diaspora group to Israel.

Finally, I will quote from Clemmons’ argument because I both find it particularly interesting and would be curious what Oxbloggers think about it?:

Some in Israel viewed all three of these potential policy courses for the U.S. -- a broad deal with the Arab Middle East, a new push on final status negotiations with the Palestinians, and a deal to actually negotiate directly with Iran -- as negative for Israel.

The flamboyant, over the top reactions to attacks on Israel's miltiary check points and the abduction of soldiers -- which I agree Israel must respond to -- seem to be part establishing "bona fides" by Olmert -- but far more important, REMOVING from the table important policy options that the U.S. might have pursued.

Israel is constraining American foreign policy in amazing and troubling ways by its actions. And a former senior CIA official and another senior Marine who are well-versed in both Israeli and broad Middle East affairs, agreed that serious strategists in Israel are more concerned about America tilting towards new bargains in the region than they are either about the challenge from Hamas or Hezbollah or showing that Olmert knows how to pull the trigger.

Another well respected and very serious national security public intellectual in the nation wrote this when I shared this thesis that Israeli actions were ultimately aimed at clipping American wings in the region. His response: “the thesis of your paper is right-on. whether intentional or coincidental, that is what is being done right now.”

Thoughts?
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Saturday, July 15, 2006

# Posted 6:08 PM by Taylor Owen  

IRRESPONSIBILITY OR ANONYMITY?: Andrew Brown asks why people are such jerks online? Although he suggests it's because they are trying too hard to be journalists, his wittiest answer is unquestionably that: "we can type much faster than we can think." TGA weighs in as well, with frustration:
To find these buried nuggets you have to take an exhausting five-mile trek through a seemingly endless swamp of views - some intelligent, others stupid, some well-informed, others ignorant, some polite, others abusive. How could the trek be made easier and more rewarding?
For what its worth, he concludes that user ranking systems are good and that real names should be strongly encouraged. I think that comment ranking can be useful on the bigger sites, although it is still limited by linearity, and am willing to accept anonymity as part of the medium.

Of course, the questioning of anonymous comments and the journalistic role of bloggers are both age old battles. As wiser ones than I have said:
Arguing with anonymous people on the internet is like wrestling a pig in the mud. You both get dirty, but only the pig enjoys it.
and,
We’ve said it a hundred times, and we’ll say it again: Until we brush our teeth, change out of our pajamas, and leave the goddamned apartment for the sake of a story, blogs aren’t going to replace journalists. We’re just going to tease them.
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# Posted 7:41 AM by Patrick Porter  

NOT ONE TO BRAG: Well, just a little. With evil things happening around the world, this is only a small footnote of news.

But I thought I should brag that today Oxford University has the poor taste to award me a doctorate in history. I won't be able to don the scarlet today because it will be in absentia.

But there'll be champagne in the sun, and lies all night.

Hope everyone has a great weekend!
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Friday, July 14, 2006

# Posted 4:13 PM by Taylor Owen  

THE HUMAN COST EQUATION:
In Tuesday's most deadly attack, two pedestrians wearing vests made of explosives blew themselves up near a restaurant outside the walls of the Green Zone, within a few hundred yards of three busy entrances, Iraqi and American officials said. Soon after the initial blasts, a hidden bomb was detonated nearby, adding to the carnage, the American military said. Some Iraqi authorities said the third explosion was caused by a car bomb.

At least 15 Iraqi civilians and an Iraqi police officer were killed in the explosions, and 4 people were wounded....

In a predominantly Sunni area of Dawra, a district in southern Baghdad, gunmen ambushed a bus carrying Shiite mourners from the holy city of Najaf, where they had buried a relative, government officials and family members said. The gunmen pulled 10 people from the bus and executed them, the Interior Ministry official said.

An hour earlier, in Taji, north of Baghdad, gunmen ambushed another bus, killing one person and wounding five, the official said.

Two mortar grenades hit a Shiite mosque in Dawra, killing 9 and wounding 11 civilians, the Interior Ministry official said.

In other violence, a family of five--a father, mother, grown daughter and two teenage sons--were found beheaded in a predominantly Sunni sector of Dawra, according to an official at Yarmouk Hospital, the main medical facility in western Baghdad.

The police and hospital officials also reported that four car bombs around Baghdad killed at least 7 people and wounded at least 18.

Gunmen raided a company's offices in the upper-middle-class Mansour neighborhood, killing three employees and wounding three, officials said.

According to the official at Yarmouk Hospital, five bodies were discovered early Tuesday in Jihad, the neighborhood where dozens of people were reportedly executed by marauding gunmen on Sunday. It was unclear when the victims had been killed.

In Tikrit, Saddam Hussein's hometown, a time bomb exploded in the clinic of Ameera al-Rubaie, the wife of the governor of Salahuddin Province, according to Agence France-Presse, which quoted the local police. Dr. Rubaie, a gynecologist, was killed and four of her patients were wounded, the police said, according to the wire service.

In Baquba, north of Baghdad, the mayor of the Um Al Nawa district was assassinated by gunmen, the ministry official said. In the Shiite holy city of Karbala, a drive-by shooting killed two workers in the central market, according to the Interior Ministry official.

An engineer and his bodyguard were assassinated on their way to work in Kirkuk on Tuesday morning, according to Col. Adel Zain Alabdin of the Iraqi police. A car bomb in Mosul l killed two people and wounded four, the police said. [emphasis added]

The above is a NYT report on one day of violence in Iraq – Tuesday of this week – as noted by Michael Crowley at the Plank. Some days have been better, some much worse. This Times of London report, as AS right states, is equally as grueling. My comment is not so much about these incidents per se, but rather the sum human cost of the war. In many respects, I can sympathise with the humanitarian rationales for the war. Particularly those expressed on this site. I am a strong supporter of humanitarian interventions, under strict conditions and with the types of coalitions, and skill sets, that I believe are essential to the post-conflict nation building process.

On balance, at the time, however, I was against the war based largely on an equation of the human costs. Or more accurately, the combination of the risk of an incredibly difficult post-invasion period, combined with a lack of planning, capability, desire, and coalition to effectively deal with this nation building project. UN support, for me, was not a matter of ‘what the world thinks’, but rather a combination of getting access to the necessary skill sets (imperfect but evolved over numerous post-cold war missions), and local/regional legitimacy, that is essential in post-conflict environments. The humanitarian equation, for me, did not add up.

Of course others had different equations. There has been much talk lately about the 1% doctrine, for example – this is not really a humanitarian argument though. One of Blair’s many calculations was that he could convince the US to accept the greater UN involvement that he knew was needed, immediately after the fall of Baghdad. This of course, for numerous reasons, proved incorrect.

If one’s goals are humanitarian, then this human cost equation is of primary relevance.

My question then is this. For the war’s supporters, is the human cost of the war academic? Do the causalities, or the many days like this past Tuesday, alter the overarching rationale for the war? Or, do the intentions of the war, and the eventual end state (if positive), trump any number of deaths, or any amount of brutality, in the interim? This question is at the center of much of the debate on humanitarian intervention more generally, and I think can, and should, be asked of Iraq.

On a similar note, O’Hanlon, an advocate of humanitarian intervention for which I have great sympathy, last week had a good op-ed on the humanitarian side of the reconstruction effort – how it has faltered and where it might go. Incomplete, yes, but some decent ideas.
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