Thursday, August 31, 2006
# Posted 7:18 PM by Taylor Owen
The report argues:
The United States, with coalition support, has eliminated two of Iran's regional rival governments - the Taliban in Afghanistan in November 2001 and Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq in April 2003 - but has failed to replace either with coherent and stable political structures.The consequences of which are that:
Iran's influence in Iraq has superseded that of the US, and it is increasingly rivalling the US as the main actor at the crossroads between the Middle East and Asia. Its role within other war- torn areas such as Afghanistan and southern Lebanon has now increased hugely. This is compounded by the failure of the US and its allies to appreciate the extent of Iran’s regional relationships and standing - a dynamic which is the key to understanding Iran’s newly found confidence and belligerence towards the West. As a result, the US-driven agenda for confronting Iran is severely compromised by the confident ease with which Iran sits in its region. ...One of the authors of the report, Ali Ansari, whom I saw debate very elegantly last year at St Anthony’s, argues that:
We've seen really since 9/11 that the chief beneficiary of America's global war on terror in the Middle East has been the very country that it considers to be a major part or a founding member of the axis of evil.It seems to me that regardless of one's past positions on the use of US force in the Middle East, that everyone has to come to grips with the instability currently playing out in the region. Over the past several years we have heard the more audacious commentators imply that sub and inter national instability is a messy but necessary consequence of shaking up a region who’s status quo was getting increasingly problematic. Maybe so. However, instability is just that. And the more powerful regional actors, who also happen to be the most threatened, will of course not fade quietly into our desired restructured governance systems, nationally or internationally.
Sub national groups will either participate democratically if they see this in their interest, and possibly fight back if not. Internationally, nations such as Iran and Syria will use their positions of influence to stave off foreign pressure, mainly from the US. Perhaps fool heartedly, given domestic pressures against both regimes, I would expect them to push the limits of this external show of power.
Those far more knowledgeable on the region will correct and/or add to this. Regardless though, I find it very hard to reason that the current course can have a positive outcome.
As George Will argued two weeks ago:
Foreign policy "realists" considered Middle East stability the goal. The realists' critics, who regard realism as reprehensibly unambitious, considered stability the problem. That problem has been solved.Ok, but now what?
At the debate where I saw Ansari speak, both him and TGA were asked whether a nuclear Iran was preferable to the consequences of militarily trying to stop it from occurring - both strongly implied the former. Perhaps, though, it doesn’t matter. As the Chatham House report concludes, Iran, due to current regional restructuring, is in a pretty influential position without one. They are filling the vacuum caused by the instability with a use of soft power not countered by the west. Again, whether one was for or against the invasions, this is a reality that needs to be addressed. While I think a pretty whole sale rethinking of the US and European Middle Eastern strategy is needed, the options likely range from bad to worse. (14) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 6:33 PM by Patrick Porter
And my co-bloggers also seem a bit quiet: Taylor is busy redefining security, Adesnik promoting democracy, and Belton is busy doing god knows what.
But I'll be back on the weekend with some thoughts about a stimulating article on the war against Al Qaeda by James Fallows in the Atlantic, plus his follow up piece after the failed attack on British airlines. Until then, have a nice few days! (3) opinions -- Add your opinion
Tuesday, August 29, 2006
# Posted 11:07 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
I was also surprised that Kevin, with his passion for facts and figures, didn't try to dismantle Mallaby's evidence, but instead proclaimed that since Bush has screwed the unions and the working class, it's OK to make Wal-Mart a target.
Mallaby cited two studies to support his position. One, by Jason Furman (a John Kerry economic adviser), says that Wal-Mart offers health benefits comparable to other employers. The other, by a pair of researchers at the National Bureau of Economic Research, says that big box-stores reduce the average family's food bill by 25% and save American consumers around $200 billion per year.
Unfortunately, I haven't had time to read the papers yet, but if you have, please weigh in below and tell me what you think of their arguments.
UPDATE: Last December, Kevin linked to the same paper by Jason Furman that Mallaby cites. In the same post, Kevin also linked to three other liberal arguments in favor of Wal-Mart. Kevin offered no criticism then, but also no praise. (20) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 10:46 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
I have to admit, I haven't been following the Katrina story at all. Part of it is that I focus on foreign affairs. But I stay interested in domestic issues like judicial appointments and abortion.
I think the difference here may be that post-Katrina rebuilding has very little to do with ideology. You can't argue from first principles, because this job is about specific indications of competence. (Which by the way doesn't excuse my ignorance. It only explains it.) (13) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 10:12 AM by Patrick Porter
It has some great stuff, including an exhibition to mark the 90th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme.
Good points: lots of fine detail, balanced by a good overview for those who are new to its history, good models and diagrams, and immersive sound effects of soldiers singing, shells exploding etc.
Bad points: very anglo-centric presentation of the battle. We hear mostly about British strategies, casualties and subjective impressions. Not a huge surprise, and British historians are only really beginning to integrate the German experience of the battle into the historiography, so its not a terrible flaw.
The battle is periodised to begin on 1st July, when the infantry attacked, rather than the week before, when the Germans were on the receiving end of a long preliminary artillery bombardment. Though thats a pretty snarky, picky academic point to complain about.
One more bad point: an unbalanced presentation of the debate around the battle. The flyer for the exhibition advertises it as a place to make up your own mind about whether the Somme was worthwhile or futile.
(This is shorthand for the debate about whether it was an unmitigated catastrophe or a costly bloodletting which still inflicted damage on the German defenders, had valuable strategic effects and was part of the 'learning curve' of the BEF. This is an argument that has been going on intensively for many decades at least, especially after the publication of John Terrain's revisionist work on Douglas Haig).
However, the exhibition itself is overwhelmingly tilted towards the catastrophist view, and only briefly mentions the other side. I reckon that the punters would actually be interested to read more about these kinds of arguments - the fact we still argue about it shows that history isn't just dead.
Oh, and another good point: great little bookshop there, and some cool exhibits on 18th century things amongst much else.
A good afternoon for any fellow nerds on this side of the pond. (3) opinions -- Add your opinion
Monday, August 28, 2006
# Posted 11:07 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
In order to enjoy [sufficient] leverage [at the UN] it's essential that the US never renounce unilateral action, or suggest that - when fundamental US or global security matters are at stake - we will act only when external support can be mustered. We've learned in Iraq that, as a practical matter, acting alone is brutally difficult. But having the ability to do so is often essential to enlisting others to support us.That's some pretty unexpected analysis from a staunch Democrat. Then again, Suzanne probably wouldn't stand a chance of winning any primaries in Connecticut. (4) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 9:50 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
"Empires" is an extraordinarily ambitious book devoted to a surprising proposition: that from the era of the French Revolution through the end of the First World War, the diplomacy of the Middle East was defined not by a clash of civilizations but rather by battles in which both sides were comprised of various Europeans, Arabs and Turks.
In this struggle for mastery, ethnicity and religion were readily compromised in the name of wealth and power.
From a political perspective, the Karshes' hypothesis cuts both ways. It reminds Western hardliners that cooperation between the West and the Middle East has an established record of success. On the other hand, it reminds Arab hardliners that they cannot blame imperial Europe for the poverty and violence of today's Middle East, because Muslims were not the victims of European imperialism, but rather its partners.
Although intellectually compelling, the Karshes' book is often hard to digest because it attempts to accomplish so much in just 350 pages. Strangely, the authors devote just one-third of the book to the 125 years that separate the French Revolution from the outbreak of the First World War. In contrast, they devote two-thirds of the book to the decade of the Great War and its aftermath.
As a result, some of the early chapters of the book read more like a Cliffs Notes of Middle Eastern diplomatic history than they do like a story. Yet even within the first third of the book, this focus on uneven. For example, the Karshes lavish attention on the charismatic Egyptian conqueror Muhammad Ali, who sought to bring down the Ottoman Empire from within with the aid of European allies.
Muhammad Ali's conquests demonstrate quite well how religion and ethnicity were often subordinated to a thirst for power. And the story of his conquests provides the kind of excitment that will keep readers interested. The price, however, is that the Karshes must cover the latter half of the 19th century so rapidly that it may strike the non-expert readers as little more than a jumble of names and places.
I read "Empires" as part of small book club, and a good number of the participants were positively angry at the Karshes for forcing them into this morass of detail. Mind you, my fellow participants were not Philistines, but rather Ph.D.s in disciplines other than history.
Fortunately, the book recovers much of its momentum with the onset of the First World War. For those of accustomed to the travails of the Western front or occasionally the Eastern front, it is very refreshing to see the story told from the perspective of Ottoman strategy and politics.
At times, it seems as if the authors have an axe to grind against the Ottoman Empire. They insist again and again in the most strident of tones that the Ottomans alone bore responsibility for the hostility of the Allied powers and the outbreak of war on the southern front.
This assignation of responsibility is integral to the Karshes' broad hypothesis that Arabs and Turks bore no less responsibility than Europeans for the violent state system that was carved out of the Ottoman Empire's unburied carcass. If the Ottomans started the war, then one cannot argue that it was a war of imperialist aggression designed to impose Western European hegemony on the Middle East.
As a non-expert in Ottoman affairs, I found it hard to muster the same sort of animus as the Karshes. Yet the Karshes remind us in one of their most riveting and emotionally unsettling chapters of how the Ottoman dictatorship committed genocide against their Armenian subjects. For the Ottomans, starting a war was only a minor crime compared to the slaughter of 1 or 2 million Armenians.
In the final analysis, I strongly recommend reading this book, but only after developing a basic knowledge of Middle Eastern diplomatic history. This book is often more of an argument than a story. In order to engage it, one must come well-prepared. (7) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 9:35 PM by Patrick Belton
# Posted 2:21 PM by Patrick Belton
As one indeed might reconstruct from the photograph, residents of the monkey enclosure at Knowsley safari park rather took to the World Cup flags, and built up a rather nice collection, mostly from the most proximate car park.
This post was principally an excuse to show a cute picture of a baboon. Here's another. (5) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 7:46 AM by Patrick Belton
Hillier may not necessarily have been antecedent of the mystery letter which surfaced on Wilson's doorstep, and afterward wended its way into his Betjeman in evidence of a heretofore unknown affair with Anglo-Irish writer Honor Tracy. Whoever was, however, was possessed of a sense of humour and cunning I must applaud. Read the first letter of each sentence in the letter in question:
Darling Honor,Scholastic snarking, as among film buffs, has its spectatory pleasures. (5) opinions -- Add your opinion
Sunday, August 27, 2006
# Posted 7:58 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
To make his point, streiff produces a number of quotes in which Bush and Rumsfeld clearly warned that there would be a long, hard road ahead. For example, in his famous Mission Accomplished address, Bush warned that:
We have difficult work to do in Iraq.A few months later, Rumsfeld said that:
It is pretty clear that the coalition can win in Afghanistan and Iraq in one way or another, but it will be a long, hard slog.Those quotes are accurate but they don't tell the whole story. In the process of writing a doctoral dissertation about presidential rhetoric, I had to confront the fact that presidents often try to have it both ways by making very general statements that go against the grain of their overall message without contradicting it directly.
Thus, Bush could deliver an address under the heading of Mission Accomplished while also paying lip service to the importance of appreciating just how hard it may be to rebuild Iraq. If one is charitable, one might say that Bush was recognizing the objections of his critics. If one is not, one might say that he was just protecting himself in case the occupation spun out of control.
How then, does one penetrate such rhetoric and assess what sort of expectations a president is actually setting? One good way is to look at the numbers. When Paul Wolfowitz lashed out at Gen. Shinseki for suggesting that we would need several hundred thousand soldiers to pacify Iraq, he was setting expectations we'd need fewer.
When the military drew up plans after the fall of Baghdad to reduce our presence to 30,000 soldiers within 6 months, they were setting expectations. Admittedly, neither of these examples comes directly from the President, so I encourage you to look up his old speeches and post relevant quotations in the comment section below.
Numbers that aren't said also influence expectations. The President may have ritually invoked the hardship ahead, but did he tell us after the fall of Baghdad that thousands of soldiers would have to lay down their lives to defend our victory? I don't believe so.
In contrast, I have some recollection of senior officials warning before the invasion of Iraq that several hundred or even thousands of American soldiers would have to give their lives to defeat the Iraqi army, especially in the urban jungle of Baghdad.
So what about McCain? Is he doing the same thing as the Presidnet, trying to have it both ways? Liz Mair asks:
Is McCain trying to have his cake and eat it, too, by saying, in effect, "the war was and is just, but those leading it were and are wrong"? Or is he stating a fact that both vocal defenders of the President, and vocal opponents of the war, simply find difficult to digest?Let's go back to McCain's exact wording: "some kind of day at the beach". Offhand, I can't recall Bush or Cheney ever making light of the challenges of occupation, so perhaps McCain's words are a bit harsh. Then again, given the massive failure to plan for the occupation or to recognize that an insurgency was underway in the summer of 2003, perhaps such harsh words are merited. (12) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 2:20 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
# Posted 1:37 PM by Taylor Owen
First, the point that initial supporters of the war are more likely to place blame for the current predicament on the war’s conduct rather than on a revision of the first principle, is more true now than ever. This of course, applies to the war’s supporters in both parties. On the Democratic side, this has always been the means for recalcitrant hawks, such as Hillary, to appease an element of the base while not having to take back their vote. With primaries approaching, however, we are beginning to see the same from more and more moderate Republicans, with McCain notably tacking this way this week.
In this instance, I think the case against the "incompetence" theory is even clearer. Lots of people around the world suggested that
# Posted 1:32 PM by Taylor Owen
Those inside and outside Israel who believed disarming Hezbollah by force was possible in a short time frame were supremely delusional. It’s not 1967 anymore, whenHe also quotes from a recent Jerusalem Post piece, stating again what many uttered to much outcry at the beginning of the invasion:
Given this, the strategic question then becomes, even if they knew perfectly well that they wouldn’t be able to disarm Hezbollah, was the damage done to Hezbollah’s operational capabilities worth the effort and consequences? Given the huge upswing in support for Hezbollah, the marginalization of the Lebanese state and the increased regional bellicosity of Iran and Syria, I think the answer is a pretty clear no. Either way, Israelis will decide, and the fate of Olmert is the most likely litmus test. (12) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 1:23 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
Then comes the hard part. Vietnam was a war started and fought exclusively by liberal hawks. They were the "best and brightest" of their day. So how can Beinart salvage his liberal hawk narrative of the Cold War?
The answer, peculiarly enough, is the exact same as that given by those of us who still defend the decision to go to war in Iraq, which Beinart now disavows. The answer is simple: Good principles, bad implementation. But it's a tough argument to defend now and an even tougher one to defend for Vietnam.
Beinart attempts to walk the tightrope by describing Vietnam as war against Communist-led nationalism mistaken by American statesmen for a war against Soviet Communism. George Kennan had understood this distinction, but:
With Kennan's distinction gone, containment suddenly meant preventing Communism's spread in every corner of the globe.This argument, nationalism-not-Communism, is a time-honored staple of the historical literature, but still quite problematic, especially for a liberal hawk.
Should the United States have abandoned South Vietnam because the North and the Vietcong could reasonably represent themselves as nationalists? That is a reasonably good argument for a realist to make, since a hard war for marginal real estate is better to avoid.
But Beinart is an idealist and thus has to grapple with a tougher question: Should the United States have abandoned the people of an allied state to a brutal conquest and ruthless dictatorship simply because the conqueror had nationalist credentials?
Beinart's suggestion that the US tried to build an "artificial nationalism" actually undercuts his assertion that Kennedy and Johnson didn't appreciate the nationalist credentials of their opponents. They did.
Surprisingly, Beinart doesn't explore an alternate hypothesis that might allow him to salvage much more of the lib-hawk heritage. Prominent scholars such as Andrew Krepinevich have argued that America lost in Vietnam not because our opponents were nationalists, but because the US Army tried to fight a conventional war instead of a counterinsurgency.
Although Krepinevich deals primarily with tactical and operational concerns, I would take his argument one step further, to the political domain. As Krepinevich argues, counterinsurgency is about giving the indigenous population what it wants. I would assert that this includes a legitimate government.
Instead of the revolving-door juntas and fixed elections that LBJ imposed on South Vietnam, he should've given them a real democracy (and minimized civilian casualties). After all, how much of a reason did the Vietnamese have to favor our reactionary dictatorship over Hanoi's Communist one?
This argument fits very well with Beinart's principles. The problem isn't that hawkish liberalism got us into Vietnam, it's that the war wasn't fought according to the principles that made it necessary.
Instead, Beinart prefers to concede that:
In one sense, antitotalitarian liberalism did lead to Vietnam: it provided the intellectual building blocks that arrogant, blinkered men -- who had forgotten their creed's emphasis on restraint -- assembled in disastrous fashion. But other antitotalitarian liberals -- including Niebuhr and, after 1965, [Arthur] Schlesigner as well -- drew on the same tradition to critique America's Vietnam disaster. (p.41)But if restraint is the great message of Beinart's liberalism, then how is it any different from the liberalism of those now to his left? (4) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 7:15 AM by Patrick Belton
Since the Royal Navy signed up [to a diversity champions scheme], it has set up a staff network for gay and lesbian personnel and even paid for a 'networking weekend' at a country house hotel, which was attended by 50 male and female staff up to the rank of lieutentant-commander. (Observer)(5) opinions -- Add your opinion
Saturday, August 26, 2006
# Posted 9:11 PM by Patrick Belton
# Posted 8:32 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
In the spring of 1970, the Panthers called for protesters across the United States to descend on New Haven on May 1. In March, Panther chief of staff David Hilliard:
Set the tone for the coming weeks in a speech to 2,000 students at the University of Connecticut. "Not only will we burn buildings," Hilliard vowed, "we will take lives." He implored the white students to joint the effort. "If you want to break windows, if you want to kill a pig, if you want to burn the courthouse, you would be moving against the symbols of oppression."That passage is from an article by Paul Bass and Doug Rae in the Yale Alumni Magazine (YAM). Bass and Rae are also the authors of a book that hits stores this week entitled Murder in the Model City: The Black Panthers, Yale, and the Redemption of a Killer.
On a side note, let me defend the practice of referring to one's alumni magazine as a credible source. Although I never would've guessed it before graduating, YAM is far more than a fund raising vehicle. It is a journal of ideas for the Yale community and has fairly rigorous intellectual standards. (Full disclosure: YAM once published a column of mine and paid me $100. To an extent, this compromised its standards.)
Getting back to the point, Bass and Rae provide a fascinating account of how Yale President Kingman Brewster sought to protect the university from the potential for mass violence that the Panther protest brought to New Haven.
Although any sort of compromise with violent racists may seem apalling, Brewster felt that this was the best way to protect the university. Fifteen days before the march in New Haven, a march at Harvard resulted in extensive property damage and more than 200 hospitalizations.
Given the strength of radicalism in 1970, perhaps a tactical surrender was a wise move. Remarkably, Brewster succeeded almost completely in preventing any damage to bodies or property. And now we can look back on the past and know that Yale has triumphed and the Panthers have become an object of scorn and derision for liberals as well as conservatives.
With regard to the racial dimension of the conflict, Bass and Rae are careful to point out that black New Haven had no interest in violence:
Hardest to swallow for white radicals was the resentment of New Haven's black community. The [New Haven] Black Coalition, which had kept its distance from the Panthers but also raised money for their legal defense, was immersed in planning to keep the peace on May Day.This line of reasoning wasn't entirely persuasive. When a measure of violence broke out late in the evening on May 1, it involved 1,000 protesters, almost wholly white, almost wholly from out of town. They threw bricks and bottles at police in front of the courthouse, who responded with tear gas.
President Brewster anticipated such clashes, however, and made preparations to facilitate a retreat by protesters that would end the violence. It mostly worked. Remarkably, even the Panthers had come out against violence in New Haven by the end of the day, in contrast to their white supporters.
Ah, the good old days. Back then they reall knew what irony meant. (2) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 9:04 AM by Patrick Belton
Britain's attempts to counter heroin traffickers may have provided Iran with the opportunity to supply Hezbollah with British military equipment. Around 250 sets of military night vision equipment sent to Tehran from Britain appear to have been passed on to the Lebanon-based militia group which it funds and supports. - Times(5) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 7:45 AM by Patrick Belton
HERE AT OXBLOG, WE ALWAYS ENCOURAGE OUR READERS TO BECOME INVOLVED IN POLITICS. (AND FROM OUR EMAILS, REMARKABLE NUMBERS OF YOU DO LIKE ALL CAPS!) (5) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 7:31 AM by Patrick Belton
From Jottings for the Young Sailor, by L.F. Callingham, London: Wilkinson Bros at the Ship Press, 2nd ed., 1942.The Italians are the best at coffee (or so they tell us). Where me beans. (3) opinions -- Add your opinion
Friday, August 25, 2006
# Posted 9:02 AM by Patrick Belton
# Posted 7:51 AM by Patrick Belton
# Posted 1:00 AM by Ariel David Adesnik
Right now, it looks there are 12 competitive races and you can find all the polling data on RCP's excellent compilation page. To take back the Senate, the Democrats have to pick up 6 seats. RCP's numbers suggest that Democratic candidates have the edge in 2 GOP bailiwicks: Ohio and Pennsylvania.
GOP incumbents in Rhode Island and Montana are just a hair's breadth behind in the polls. If the Democrats can win all of those 4 races and a toss-up in Missouri without losing any of their turf, they will have 50 seats. To reach 51, they need to pick up Bill Frist's soon-to-be-vacant seat in Tennessee or knock off Virginia Sen. George "Macaca" Allen.
But the GOP still has a very strong position. As Rasmussen points out, 40 GOP Senators are not up for re-election and 8 more are all but unbeatable. (3) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 12:39 AM by Ariel David Adesnik
Now, given how many mistakes I make, correcting me isn't a big deal. However, jediflyer's comment reminds me just how long it's been since I visited RealClearPolitics, which I read at least twice a day in the fall of 2004. Then as now, RCP is a damn impressive combination of exhaustive polling data and sharp analysis of it.
Getting back to Lieberman and Lamont, my initial statement was based on what I heard from the Sunday talk shows. And as of Sunday, the shows were right. A Quinnipiac poll had Lieberman up by 12 and a Rasmussen poll had him up by 5.
What I forgot to check was the results of two new polls that came out on Monday, in between the Sunday shows and my post about them. As jediflyer pointed out, an ARG poll put Lieberman up by only 2, a statistical tie.
But that was ARG's first poll in Connecticut, as I learned from RCP. However, Rasmussen also came out with a poll on Monday that showed Lieberman up by only 2. So now it's Quinnipiac that looks like the outlier. Even so, RCP thinks Lieberman has the edge:
Our reason for focusing on Lieberman’s distance from 40% in the primary results was his need to retain roughly a third of Democratic voters to prevail in the general. That analysis counted on Schlesinger doing considerably better than the 5% he is currently polling. If Schlesinger can be kept in the single digits, Lieberman can win with less than a third of Democratic support, which is why he has the edge.But how much less than a third? ARG says Lieberman gets 30% of Dems and is ahead 48-38 among independents. (Rasmussen data is only available to subscribers.)
But how stable are those numbers? Without a sudden discovery of charisma, I don't expect Lieberman to stop Lamont from pulling ahead further among Democrats. Yet ARG shows that 71% of independents have a favorable view of Lieberman, compared to 43% for Lamong. Strangely, ARG also indicates that 18% of Republicans still intend to vote for Lamont.
What does all of this mean? Heck if I know. (3) opinions -- Add your opinion
Thursday, August 24, 2006
# Posted 7:29 AM by Patrick Belton
Still waiting for the one on whisky. But we're sure it's on its way. (6) opinions -- Add your opinion
Wednesday, August 23, 2006
# Posted 5:14 PM by Taylor Owen
“AGAINST DEMOCRACY” DOES NOT A CHARACTERIZATION MAKE: While I am in theory sympathetic to the use of the core principles present in most stable democracies
What's very interesting about the violence in
This is both empirically wrong and strategically dangerous. Surely the first step in resolving these three conflicts is to at the very least be honest about the motives and history of their actors. While certain insurgents in Iraq are undoubtedly ‘against democracy’, in so far as Al Qaeda elements are in part fighting against the creation of a democratic state, both Hamas and Hezbollah have widespread public support, represented in free and fair Democratic elections. Admitting this does not mean supporting them in any way, advocating their tactics, or endorsing their rhetoric, worldview or strategic aims. It simply means being honest about the nature of the actors in what is an increasingly perilous regional escalation. Not recognizing the fact that the these groups have democratic legitimacy, not to mention popular support, ignores a major complicating element of the regional dynamic. I do not see the strategic utility in this false simplification.
# Posted 3:21 PM by Taylor Owen
Maybe it was the influence of his wife, Laura, a former librarian, or his mother, Barbara, a longtime promoter of literacy. Or perhaps he was just eager to dispel his image as an intellectual lightweight. But President Bush now wants it known that he is a man of letters. In fact, Bush has entered a book-reading competition with Karl Rove, his political adviser. White House aides say the president has read 60 books so far this year (while the brainy Rove, to Bush's competitive delight, has racked up only 50)...portraying Bush as a voracious reader is part of an ongoing White House campaign to restore what a senior adviser calls "gravitas" to the Bush persona.Long ago, back when the President was a still a ‘regular Joe,’ critics longed (with a healthy dose of condescension) for a leader who at least feigned to read the newspaper. Well, perhaps they wished too hard. 60 books so far this year? Now I am more concerned about who is governing the free world during all this down time...
(54) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 8:48 AM by Patrick Belton
I tend, though, and at some admitted risk of sacrificing nuance in service of moral clarity, to favour a comparatively full withdrawal of support from the present military regime in Islamabad. My reasons are personal and vivid. The travels I undertook through that country were peppered by meetings with both opposition politicians and more humble ordinary folk who, for their pains in speaking against army rule, were rewarded by time in an insipid network of (the term is cruel) safe houses and torture chambers scattered through the country with a density far exceeding anything the CIA in its darkest moments has ever been alleged to mount or imagine. Some withdrew, fearing consequences upon their families; others went on to secure election to the Senate, adolescent fecklessness and political arrogance being changed in them for a humility, depth and soft-spokenness that one sees in Mandela and others who have been broken for their beliefs. It is deeply humbling, to one whose most perilous exertion in favour of the norms of democracy and decency has been to sit before a computer and push buttons on a keyboard. No decent western journalist could speak with them without deep unease about a policy of support for their government.
This is not to say the civil and diplomatic services, and yes, the officer corps as well, are not fitted with many people of decency and intellect. It is neither to deny that, by the league tables of military dictators who have controlled Pakistan in the majority of the six decades since its political separation from the country in which I live, Musharraf is not by far and a bit the best. Yahya Khan inaugurated the incursions of the barracks into politics without much to show for it, apart from the dismemberment of his country and the mind-boggling atrocities of 1971, to include the genocide of Bangladeshi intellectuals; Zia from his political weakness as much as any personal faith dabbed the country and its laws with religion, making it at least in form an Islamic Republic to win the support of Jamaatis to his generals. Musharraf does have the interests of his country at heart; he has furthermore chosen the cause of the West. Neither of these facts do I deny. But both liberals and those whose political tradition is not liberal but religious view America as manipulator of their affairs; and to America they impute responsibility for the actions of Musharraf its client. I do not wish to oversimplify matters; only to point out that is dangerous, very dangerous, for America to pursue the course that it is taking. Rather than view it as an inspiration of liberty enlightening the world, Pakistanis see it as complicit in their oppression. When Musharraf leaves, the next government to be led from the PPP or the PML-N – and it will be flawed, corrupt and imperfectly democratic – will have less sympathy for the United States than if it had behaved during their time in the wilderness as a friend to them and such democrats who exist in Pakistan – and moving beyond Nawaz and Benazir, they are many. There is democracy there to nurture. On my first day, I went to attend a world social forum in Karachi, on which I was able to report for the BBC; it was full of civil society actors who previously had not met, badly organised, but full of idealism, and a mirror of the present state of a Pakistani civil society which must someday be made the base of a democratic politics. The country’s press is free – freer under Musharraf, it must be said, than under Benazir. (Though a friend from the new cable news network Geo, who unlike me has suffered for his trade, points out that freedom of press isn’t quite the same as freedom after press - whether from pressure upon editors to fire dissenting journalists, or introduction into the network of Cavaradossian torture which has always been the refuge of those who will not submit their power to the approval of those they control.) Their civil service is the child of our own, and professional even if in these days it is coming, like the economy, academy and social sectors, perilously under the control of retired brigadiers at its highest levels. If there are as many people as indeed there are like the tortured democracy activists with whom I spoke, then we of the west must be sufficiently true to our principles to support the seed of democracy even where dust and the impression of it are everywhere.
That America has some justification to pursue an alliance with a comparatively enlightened military dictator, helping to maintain him in power and through him wage its war on terror in the shorter-term of its operational horizons, is undeniable. That such a strategy does not, if subject to indefinite extension, pose grave dangers is absurd to believe. America has been the principal supporter of an army which now controls a quarter of its country’s discretionary budget, whose sway over other spaces of national life is great and increasing. Only in Pakistan, of all South Asia, is the amount of national spending invested in education of its youth and its future measured in real terms in decrease. Pakistanis, it must be noted, hold America complicit in all this. It is not, in Pakistan, viewed as a friend of democracy. I do not impugn its intentions, only the forwardness of its thought, and the length of its strategic horizons. If there are no easy answers, at least let us sound an Orwellian note of disquiet. (18) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 8:39 AM by Patrick Porter
One clear failure was the inability to understand how the Lebanese would feel about being attacked. Current and former army officers say that there was a hope that the first few days of air strikes would focus domestic anger on Hizbullah and force it to back down. Instead, the anger was focused on Israel, which responded by ratcheting up its campaign step by step.'
Its not clear from this report who precisely made this political miscalculation.
Like many of us, Lebanese civilians tend to blame the attacks they are subjected to on those who are attacking them. Instead of first blaming others who might have more indirect culpability.
This is not to deny that bombing can have powerful effects, but to suggest that it doesn't necessarily divide the enemy regime or movement from the wider concentric circles of the general population.
Its an example worth remembering in other debates that are being had right now. (6) opinions -- Add your opinion
Tuesday, August 22, 2006
# Posted 11:38 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
"There must be consequences if people thumb their nose at the United Nations Security Council, and we will work with people in the Security Council to achieve that objective."Now that's chutzpah. I stand with the President on Iran and Iraq, but it really would be heard to come up with a statement more capable of inciting widespread laughter at Turtle Bay.
(And yes, Bush actually said it. Transcript here.) (16) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 11:23 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
McCain: B+. As always, more candor than most pols. But nothing exciting.See ya in seven. (6) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 10:38 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
As you might guess, OxBlog is not fond of such melodramatic stunts. If a nickel can do that much good, don't send it to me. Send it to some kid in Africa. But UNICEF anticipated this sort of skeptical response. When you take the card out of the envelope, you see a small message that says:
As a sign of your support, please return this nickel with your contribution -- it might be enough to save a child's life!Well that's just another stunt. The minimum suggested donation is $25, or 500 nickels. Sending back the one they gave your is irrelevant.
But I didn't put up this post just because I feel like taking cheapshots at a UN agency. (That's what all my other posts are for!) Actually, I'm sort of curious whether you really can save a life for a nickel. Here's how the UNICEF letter to potential donors begins:
Dear Friend of the U.S. Fund for UNICEF,However, many parents in the developing world don't have that option:
All they can do is hold their sick child in their arms...I'm sorry. All I can think of is Sally Struthers crying. This letter is a parody of itself.
But what about the real issue here? If kids are dying, shouldn't we forgive a little melodrama on the part of the fundraisers?
Personally, I'm a little skeptical. Even in the poorest countries in the world, where citizens live on the equivalent of just one dollar a day, parents should be able to afford 5 cents to save their children's live or perhaps even 50 cents to immunize them.
Something here just doesn't add up. Here's how the UNICEF letter explains one of its numbers:
Your gift of $25 could provide over 400 packets of Oral Rehydration Salts to families in areas with unsafe water supplies. And each one of these ORS packets -- costing only 6 cents could save a child's life.As a disciple of the free market, I have to wonder why, if these packets only cost 6 cents, some indigenous entrepreneur hasn't already marketed them to desperate parents for 7 or 8 cents.
Yes, my language is cold-hearted. But only to make a point: that UNICEF isn't telling us the whole story. Something is preventing parents from taking care of their children. A civil war? A dictatorship? Widespread corruption? All of these are fairly common in the developing world and, I suspect, probably raise the actual cost of delivering hydration salts to far in excess of 6 cents per packet.
Speaking more broadly, UNICEF's rhetoric encapsulates what is wrong with old-school thinking about development. The experts used to think that if had enough money you could solve any problem. Yet social pathologies often defy economic medicine. Now the challenge is to understand how the system as a whole operates.
But I'd like to hear what you think about UNICEF. Do you give them money? Do you know of any reports or articles about the accuracy of their advertisements? Have they accomplished as much they say? I'm curious. (6) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 7:35 PM by Patrick Belton
Among other pieces Brian's blog alerted me of, which I'd not yet seen: Anthony Cordesman on Lebanon and Kevin on Pakistan. See also elsewhere Daniel on the Mexican elections and CT's Belle Waring on how we're all going to marry stunners. Much to read, and to comment upon: this being back business is going to be incredible fun. (8) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 6:46 PM by Patrick Porter
Anyway, I saw the film Flight 93 the other night. It was almost unbearable.
Unlike the civilians whose planes were used as missiles in New York, those on this flight had some advance warning from phone calls, so they had to imagine their imminent deaths with grim evidence, before actually dying. It became mental torture as well as murder.
On the actual day it happened, the very day, I remember two particular reactions from folk I talked to: sheer anguish, and qualified efforts to relativise it ('well, its terrible, but people hate America' /'I kept thinking of the victims of American violence', etc).
Popinjays criticises this mentality:
John Harris has a problem. Talking of the film on Newsnight Review (26th May) Mr Harris proclaimed that the film had a "fault-line". It lacked "context", he said with a passion. It ignored that this terrorist act was "part of a long standing political process with a back-story." He bewailed the fact that the film had nothing to say about the terrorists and was not interested in asking "Why did they do it?"
I agree with all but the last
There are explanations that help to explain the murderous world view of the perpetrators, the pathology of militancy and the cult of death and martyrdom that propelled them, the way they exploited the openness of the society they attacked, and the way hatred of America and its allies is a powerful political tool deliberately wielded by dictatorships who use state media and education to programme their people into a culture of victimhood and hatred, to deflect their people into scapegoating the Crusader-Zionist enemies, aided by fundamentalist preachers.
Lots of other people hate America, who have serious historical reasons to be resentful, but who wouldn't dream of carrying out the kind of slaughter that happened that day. Impoverished Bolivians and Chileans with long memories are not queuing up to immolate themselves in suicide attacks. The hatred has political and spiritual roots which can be named and analysed.
These explanations do not exonerate the act one little bit. In fact, they show it to be even more contemptible. Understanding does not have to entail excusing. (6) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 2:53 PM by Taylor Owen
Porter, I hope you are suitably tickled that it leads with a Churchill quote, "The human tragedy reaches its climax in the fact that after all the exertions and sacrifices of hundreds of millions of people and of the victories of the Righteous Cause, we have still not found Peace or Security.”
While military policy is far from my expertise, the article looks at recent EU flirtations with the concept of Human Security, which is the focus of much of my academic work. Haven’t discussed the concept yet here, but as the Patricks both know, I can’t go too long without hard selling my definition of the concept and the overall utility of broader conceptualizations of security, so it shouldn’t be long until it rears it's ugly (read, soft Canadian/Euro) head in this forum.
Anyways, my co-author on this piece, Peter Liotta, is an expert on US counterinsurgency strategy so is forcing me to think more and more in this direction. We have another piece out imminently in the The Whitehead Journal of Diplomacy and IR, which I’ll pass on when out.
And now back to your regular programing... (4) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 1:17 PM by Patrick Belton
Thus Bombay's Punit Shablok, explaining to a news agency why he named his new restaurant after Hitler. (Interior decor includes swastikas and posters, but sadly no 'springtime for...' paraphernalia.) Hat tip: our friend John Gould, whose latest film The Chinese Room has a trailer here. (2) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 12:27 PM by Patrick Belton
# Posted 1:06 AM by Ariel David Adesnik
# Posted 12:44 AM by Ariel David Adesnik
I agree with Liz that the theoretically optimal solution to the situation in Iraq is more US personnel. A lot more. And I also agree with her that it simply isn't going to happen.
So why start withdrawing now as opposed to waiting for the Iraqi army and police to become more proficient? According to Hagel,
I've said start withdrawing troops. We have to show the Iraqi people — and this obviously cuts right to the great anti-Americanism by any poll, by any measurements there — that we are not there to predetermine their outcome. We're not there to control or to govern.But are the insurgents really fighting us and slaughtering Shi'ite civilians because they're afraid of a permanent US occupation?
I don't think so. I might even suggest that Hagel has borrowed a very unfortunate page from the Jack Murtha playbook. As Murtha often says, the problem in Iraq is that we have become the enemy.
Well, there may be plenty of anti-Americanism in Iraq (except for Kurdistan), but the Shi'ites want an ally against the Sunni and the Sunni have begun to discover that the Shi'ites death squads are far more brutal than the Americans.
The challenge in Iraq is to stop rampant sectarian violence, not to persuade its citizens that we want to go home ASAP.
UPDATE: BDP fisks Hagel. (8) opinions -- Add your opinion
Monday, August 21, 2006
# Posted 10:05 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
But Britannica isn't out of the picture just yet. Instead, it has become the standard by which the New Yorker and the Atlantic want to measure Wikipedia. The former reports that:
Last year, Nature published a survey comparing forty-two entries on scientific topics on Wikipedia with their counterparts in Encyclopædia Britannica. According to the survey, Wikipedia had four errors for every three of Britannica’s, a result that, oddly, was hailed as a triumph for the upstart. Such exercises in nitpicking are relatively meaningless, as no reference work is infallible. Britannica issued a public statement refuting the survey’s findings, and took out a half-page advertisement in the Times.New Yorker correspondent Stacy Schiff also conducted a sort of informal poll, asking two prominent intellectuals what they thought of their entries in Wikipedia:
When I showed the Harvard philosopher Hilary Putnam his entry, he was surprised to find it as good as the one in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. He was flabbergasted when he learned how Wikipedia worked. “Obviously, this was the work of experts,” he said. In the nineteen-sixties, William F. Buckley, Jr., said that he would sooner “live in a society governed by the first two thousand names in the Boston telephone directory than in a society governed by the two thousand faculty members of Harvard University.” On Wikipedia, he might finally have his wish. How was his page? Essentially on target, he said. All the same, Buckley added, he would prefer that those anonymous two thousand souls govern, and leave the encyclopedia writing to the experts.Yet government is at the very heart of Wikipedia, as both the New Yorker and the Atlantic make clear. The great question facing Wikipedia is how to govern the contents of a encyclopedia that anyone can edit.
Wikipedia has been able to generate so much content -- 1,000,000 in English, compared to 120,000 for Britannica -- precisely because it has so few rules. As Americans know, it is very dangerous to put limits on free speech when that is the essence of what makes you great. Yet some limits are necessary.
Precisely how well Wikipedia has confronted this challenge depends on whether you prefer the New Yorker or the Atlantic. The latter recounts how Internet theorist Eric Raymond:
Coined a now-famous hacker aphorism to capture [the] superiority [of collaboration]: “Given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow.” His point was simply that the speed with which a complex project is perfected is directly proportional to the number of informed people working on it...From the New Yorker's perspective, Wikipedia has thrived -- or perhaps only survived -- because of the ever-growing thicket of rules that govern its users behavior.
In October, 2001, [Wikipedia founder Jimmy] Wales appointed a small cadre of administrators, called admins, to police the site for abuse. Admins can delete articles or protect them from further changes, block users from editing, and revert text more efficiently than can ordinary users. (There are now nearly a thousand admins on the site.)Not exactly an online utopia, eh? But still, a grand social experiment. I found both articles fascinating and was glad to learn more about a resource that I use more and more often.
In closing, let me just suggest that the purpose of Wikipedia isn't necessarily to replicate or transcend Britannica. Vast swathes of Wikipedia content would be considered far too trivial for a "serious" publication like Britannica.
For example, I like reading about my favorite professional wrestlers on Wikipedia. As it turns out, even some of the most obscure have extensive profiles.
Some might call this a waste of a labor, but I think it's a very good thing. Most people burn out when they don't waste some time on trivial pursuits. But even trivial pursuits often depend on information, from the Yankees' won-loss record in 1967 to Hulk Hogan's favorite song. I say, "Viva Wikipedia!" (5) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 7:57 PM by Patrick Belton
See, anyway, not the film but rather Snakes on a Blog ('I spent the last eight months of my life blogging about a film called Snakes on a Plane'), which includes among other links ones to Snakes on another Blog and Snakes on Wikipedia. Of all of the parodies, including of unhappy memory Snakes who missed the plane and (the inevitable) All your snakes are belong to us, only Steaks on a Train in France (starring Michael Jackson, and pansy European vegetarians*) rises to the low bar of being better than the film itself.
*note:the author lives in Britain, and eats Scottish cows which will in later life obviate the need for night lights for his children (2) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 5:38 PM by Patrick Porter
Hitler advised the British to kill Gandhi. (Wikipedia claims that Viscount Halifax in 1937 'was also to listen politely to Hitler's advice on how he should have handled difficulties in India ("Shoot Gandhi!") and the meetings were generally uncomfortable.')
Gandhi, apparently, advised the Brits not to fight Hitler, except with non-violent resistance (apparently urging Britons to 'Let them take possession of your beautiful island with your many beautiful buildings. You will give all these, but neither your souls, nor your minds.')
Sensibly, Britain ignored both. (4) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 5:26 PM by Patrick Belton
Plus, our friend Guglielmo is on. The reasons to listen keep getting better and better. (3) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 6:54 AM by Patrick Belton
Simon Barnes comments:
[C]ricket has carried its heavyweight moral baggage since it was regarded as essential to forming the moral characters of potential Empire-builders. That is why, when the line is crossed from cleaning and polishing the ball to picking of the seam, raising the quarter-seam and roughing up the ball, the offence is regarded as destructive not just of cricket balls but of cricket — and by extension, of morality itself. From there, it is but a short step to say that: well, the Pakistanis have never had any regard for morality. This is a particularly bad time in the context of the great world outside sport to be implying such a thing. No wonder, then, that deep offence has been taken.UPDATE: Alternative title: 'The Umpire Strikes Back.' (11) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 6:23 AM by Patrick Porter
Taylor brings even more breadth to the site, with interests ranging from Canadian politics to the strategic costs of bombing, from liberal internationalism to African affairs. He's also a hell of a nice guy. A doctoral candidate at Oxford, luminous pundit and a possible future Canadian ruler.
He's been blogging might fine for us as a guest, and now is upgraded to fully paid-up partner in the Oxblog firm.
Taylor, your forensic and provocative posts are eagerly awaited. Just go easy on the Creationism and the pro-polygamy outbursts. (8) opinions -- Add your opinion
Sunday, August 20, 2006
# Posted 7:14 PM by Patrick Belton
(14) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 7:04 PM by Patrick Belton
Saturday, August 19, 2006
# Posted 1:16 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
Friday, August 18, 2006
# Posted 5:14 PM by Patrick Belton
# Posted 3:05 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
What I mainly feel toward Allen is appreciation. This world of ours has more than enough violence and hatred. What it needs more of is silliness.
On a related note, did centrist Republican operatives pay off Allen to embarrass himself? It seems like a sensible enough hypothesis. Allen has slowly been building up momentum as the standard-bearer of the GOP right. He has won various straw polls and beauty contests, emerging as something of an unofficial alternative to John McCain. Then Allen goes and mucks it all up by making a total jack of himself.
So what gives? Of course I'm kidding about the pay-off. I'm just so tickled by all of this that my mind has wandered off into conspiratorial speculations. The real issue, I think, is that Allen's supporters were so hungry for a credible standard-bearer that that they forgot to vet their own man.
My advice to Allen fans is this: Consider Sam Brownback. There's a much stronger case to be made for him. (4) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 3:02 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
Yes, Bill Clinton was president for eight years. But for six of those years Congress was controlled by hard-line right-wingers. Moreover, in practice Mr. Clinton governed well to the right of both Eisenhower and Nixon.Come to think of it, Eisenhower and Nixon may not be to happy to hear it either. (5) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 2:43 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, who was a member of Wal-Mart’s board when she lived in Arkansas, the corporation’s home state, returned a $5,000 campaign contribution from the company last year. Mrs. Clinton said she did so to protest Wal-Mart’s health care benefits, and she has continued to distance herself from the policies of a company she was close to when she was the first lady of Arkansas.You could defend this passage as fairly objective, but it screams "Hypocrite!"
Although 2008 is a long way off, the Hillary Clinton narrative/caricature is already in place. She is an opportunist with no firm principles. What more could conservatives ask for?
Not that I'm complaining. I think the media have basically gotten this one right. But given how often I object to the liberal slant of NYT coverage, how can I account for the fact that they got this one "right"?
First of all, political preferences aside, journalists tend to measure their collective worth by their willingness to criticize those in power. That's why the Clintons caught hell when they ran the White House. For those who have been fortunate enough to read Hillary's autobiography, it's hard not to notice how often she bashes the media.
For those of you with longer memories (or who have written doctoral dissertations on the subject), you may remember how badly journalists abused the Carter administration. Above all, the media are oppositional, even though their personal politics shape how that opposition gets expressed.
The most fertile territory for such opposition is criticism of hypocrisy. Although I don't think they do it very well, the media strive for objectivity. This makes hypocrisy a perfect target, since the standard of judgement used to identify a hypocrite is his or her own words. There is no need to rely on any external standard of judgement derived from the journalist's own principles.
In short, Hillary is in trouble. (7) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 1:41 PM by Patrick Belton
If nothing else, it's brilliant marketing, this business of threatening to sue the Department for Transport for compensation under the Transport Act 2000 if they don't sort out what Michael O'Leary calls the 'shambles' in UK airports this past week. And it's not only because butterfly-floating Mr O'Leary is heavier hit by the new regulations than the older, slower behemoth carriers. Who are the people most likely to be put out by cancellations, backlogged queues and lost luggage at UK airports this season? Holiday travellers. Who are Ryanair's principal clientele? Pure genius.
"We shall fly them to the beaches, we shall fly them to the hills, we shall fly them to London' indeed!
(1) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 1:29 PM by Patrick Belton
Okay, at 6:27 'If they continue in this vein, they may as well take the Ashes to Australia in wrapping paper' was all right, too. (2) opinions -- Add your opinion