OxBlog

Thursday, August 31, 2006

# Posted 7:18 PM by Taylor Owen  

CHATHAM HOUSE RULES…IRAN: A report on Iran published last week by the respected think tank discussed the regional consequences of the unstable post invasion governance regimes in Afghanistan and Iraq. The result is not surprising but deserves reflection – Iran has superseded the US as the most influential power in the Middle East.

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Iran's influence in Iraq has superseded that of the US, and it is increasingly rivalling the US as the main actor at the crossroads between the Middle East and Asia.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. ...

On hostility with the US, the report argues that while the US may have the upper hand in ‘hard’ power projection, Iran has proved far more effective through its use of ‘soft' power. According to the report, the Bush administration has shown little ability to use politics and culture to pursue its strategic interests while Iran’s knowledge of the region, its fluency in the languages and culture, strong historical ties and administrative skills have given it a strong advantage over the West.
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.
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# Posted 6:33 PM by Patrick Porter  

WHEN IS A WAR NOT A WAR? Sorry all, am a little busy getting ready to start teaching next week, and too weary to blog when I get home.

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!
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Tuesday, August 29, 2006

# Posted 11:07 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WAL-MART BASHING: I was surprised to see Kevin Drum join the chorus. He reacted fiercely to a recent column by Sebastian Mallaby that lashed out at Democrats for scapegoating Wal-Mart even though its low prices actually make life more affordable for its customers, including the working class and poor.

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.
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# Posted 10:46 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SUNDAY MORNING ROUND-UP: It was the week of Katrina on all three networks, commemorating the storm's anniversary. The headliner on NBC was Ray Nagin, mayor of New Orleans. He was followed by FEMA director David Paulison. CBS also had Paulison, preceded by Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour. ABC led off with Paulison's predecessor, Mike Brown, followed by Don Powell, the President's point man on Katrina, and Sen. Mary Landrieu.

Nagin: C-. A total clown. In an earlier interivew, he defended his reconstruction effort in New Orleans by saying that five years after 9/11, New York still has "a whole in the ground." Then, on NBC, he offered the least sincere pseudo-apology I've heard in a very long time.

Paulison (on NBC & CBS): B. Sounded all right. I couldn't really evaluate what he said because I know so little about the specifics of current disaster planning and reconstruction efforts.

Haley Barbour: B. Sounded OK. Again, I don't know enough to evaluate what he said.

Mike Brown: C-. Another total clown. Blame, blame, blame, then pretend to apologize. At least he gave Nagin a run for the money in that regard.

Powell: B. Same as Barbour and Paulison.

Landrieu: B. Did a good job of playing the victim. She had no responsibility for the government response to Katrina, so she can avoid the blame while dishing it out. But Stephanopoulos got tough with her, demanding a justification for the exorbitant requests for relief funding she made along with other Louisiana polls.

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.)
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# Posted 10:12 AM by Patrick Porter  

COMMEMORATING THE SOMME: On Saturday I poked about Britain's National Army Museum in London.

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.
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Monday, August 28, 2006

# Posted 11:07 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

IRAN: A TEST OF EUROPEAN RESOLVE. Suzanne Nossel explains. Suzanne also observes that:
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.
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# Posted 9:50 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE ORIGINS OF THE MODERN MIDDLE EAST: I recently finished reading Empires of the Sand: The Struggle For Mastery in the Middle East, 1789-1923 by Efraim and Inari Karsh.

"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.
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# Posted 9:35 PM by Patrick Belton  

RESPONSE OF THE DAY: Via IM from a friend in the States, on John Karr being revealed as just some sick fantasist: 'I'm skeptical that he actually did anything, but I wonder if we can give him the death penalty anyway'.
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# Posted 2:21 PM by Patrick Belton  

BABOONS ON MERSEYSIDE SUPPORT ENGLAND:

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.
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# Posted 7:46 AM by Patrick Belton  

HM DEPT OF STUPID BIOGRAPHY TRICKS: The literary legacy of John Betjeman, former poet laureate, has recently grasped as a scholarly footnote some small acrimony amongst his biographers, in particular A N Wilson and Bevis Hillier. Their rivalry and antics would make the most jaded admirer of Alicia Silverstone's character in Clueless blush.

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,

I loved yesterday. All day, I've thought of nothing else. No other love I've had means so much. Was it just an aberration on your part, or will you meet me at Mrs Holmes's again - say on Saturday? I won't be able to sleep until I have your answer.

Love has given me a miss for so long, and now this miracle has happened. Sex is a part of it, of course, but I have a Romaunt of the Rose feeling about it too. On Saturday we could have lunch at Fortt's, then go back to Mrs H's. Never mind if you can't make it then. I am free on Sunday too or Sunday week. Signal me tomorrow as to whether and when you can come.

Anthony Powell has written to me, and mentions you admiringly. Some of his comments about the Army are v funny. He's somebody I'd like to know better when the war is over. I find his letters funnier than his books. Tinkerty-tonk, my darling. I pray I'll hear from you tomorrow. If I don't I'll visit your office in a fake beard.
All love, JB
Scholastic snarking, as among film buffs, has its spectatory pleasures.
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Sunday, August 27, 2006

# Posted 7:58 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

McCAIN TRYING TO HAVE IT BOTH WAYS? Over at Red Strate, streiff is blasting John McCain for his statement that the administration led the public to believe that the war in Iraq would be "some kind of day at the beach."

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.
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# Posted 2:20 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

LAMONT ISN'T McGOVERN! (HE'S DUKAKIS.) That was the main idea advanced by Peter Beinart in his Aug. 28 column [subscription required]. It's an important distinction, since McGovern was further to the left than 95% of today's Democrats.
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# Posted 1:37 PM by Taylor Owen  

THE 'INCOMPETENCE DODGE' REVISITED: Two quick points on what I have always thought was a good observation, first made by Yglesias and Rosenfeld nearly a year ago now.

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.

Second, Yglesias applies the same argument to recent critiques of Ehud Olmert:

In this instance, I think the case against the "incompetence" theory is even clearer. Lots of people around the world suggested that Israel's campaign was ill-advised. And, to the best of my knowledge, absolutely none of us who said that made any reference to Olmert's competence or lack thereof in framing our critiques. Then the war turned out more-or-less exactly as the skeptics predicted . . . skeptics who had nothing to draw on but a general analysis of the situation.

Going back to the case of Iraq, I have no problem with first principle supporters/congressional-vote-casters either criticizing the conduct of the war and/or revoking their initial support for it. However, these two should not be conflated as they are decisively not one and the same. While one places the blame on either a political opponent or a politically inconvenient administration (depending on party of origin), the other concedes that the mission, as defined, may not have been feasible in the first place. These are quite different arguments. The latter argument then has two subsets. Those that thought it could not be done by anyone using any tools, and those that simply believed that it could likely not be done by this administration given it's particular world view and desired toolbox. While the former are made up mostly of Realists, the latter are liberal internationalists and/or interventionists. While the majority of both were against Iraq, on future interventions they will likely part ways.

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# Posted 1:32 PM by Taylor Owen  

PESKY MOVING GOALPOSTS: Michael J. Totten, guest blogging for Sullivan, points to what has always been relatively intuitive but was once considered heretical.

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, when Israel could defeat three Arab armies in six days. Hezbollah is a guerrilla army, as well as a terrorist army, and asymmetrical warfare is hard. Look at how much longer it is taking the US to put down a Baathist insurgency in Iraq compared with the Baathist army in Iraq when Saddam Hussein was in power.
He also quotes from a recent Jerusalem Post piece, stating again what many uttered to much outcry at the beginning of the invasion:

Israel has essentially given up hope of Hizbullah being disarmed, and instead is now concentrating on ensuring that an arms embargo called for in UN Security Council resolution 1701 be implemented, The Jerusalem Post has learned.

Furthermore, senior Israeli officials have made it clear in recent days during talks with foreign governments that Israel realizes a Hizbullah presence south of the Litani River is unavoidable, if for no other reason than because the organization is so well rooted there that the only way to get rid of Hizbullah would be to evacuate the entire region.

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.

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# Posted 1:23 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

A LIBERAL HAWK GRAPPLES WITH VIETNAM: In The Good Fight, Peter Beinart sets out to reconstruct a historical narrative that can serve as the foundation of a modern liberal foreign policy that is both idealistic and strong. Thanks to Harry Truman, Beinart has a protagonist around which he can build the first chapter in his story, about the first decades of the Cold War.

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.

For Kennedy and Johnson, that assumption became a blindfold, preventing them from seeing the enemy in Vietnam for what it was: Not an agent of Moscow or Beijing, but a nationalist movement led by a Communist Party.

Instead, the United States earnestly, valiantly and brutally tried to build an artificial nationalism, based on the "nation" of South Vietnam. (p.40)
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?
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# Posted 7:15 AM by Patrick Belton  

DECENT TREATMENT TOWARDS GAYS CORNER OF THE DAY: If only the military services of the United States were doing this: (as opposed to, say, firing their gay Persian speakers)
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)
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Saturday, August 26, 2006

# Posted 9:11 PM by Patrick Belton  

BALOCH SEPARATIST LEADER NAWAB BUGTI IS DEAD, or at least so Pakistan is claiming.
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# Posted 8:32 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

AH, THE GOOD OLD DAYS: In 1970, Bobby Seale went on trial for murder in New Haven. One year earlier, three Black Panthers had murdered an alleged informant, also in New Haven. The FBI saw the murder as an opportunity to move against the Panthers' leadership, including Seale, who was national chairman.

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.

It released a devastating critique of those who claimed to pursue justice but truly sought the thrill of violent confrontation: "The truth in New Haven, as in most of the country, is that the white radical, by frantically and selfishly seeking his personal psychological release, is sharing in the total white conspiracy of denial against the black people."
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.
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# Posted 9:04 AM by Patrick Belton  

BUT DID THEY WORK, WATCH:
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
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# Posted 7:45 AM by Patrick Belton  

SEEM A MITE LOUD TO YOU? WISH YOUR NEW NIGERIAN FRIENDS WOULD GO A BIT EASIER ON THE MAJUSCULE? THINK THE CAPS LOCK KEY MIGHT BE SINGLE-HANDEDLY MAKING US A LESS POLITE, DEMURE SOCIETY? THEN THE CAPS OFF MOVEMENT MAY BE FOR YOU!

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!)
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# Posted 7:31 AM by Patrick Belton  

ENGLISH COOKERY TIP OF THE DAY: As I blink and blow my nose toward both wakefulness and sobreity, I thought I'd share a useful hint for the culinary palate currently hovering as a fading memory from last night. This over Higgins after dinner blend, it being uncomfortably soon after dinner.
From Jottings for the Young Sailor, by L.F. Callingham, London: Wilkinson Bros at the Ship Press, 2nd ed., 1942.

Appendix II. Cooking Hints
(No revision has been made to meet war restrictions.)

1. Frying.

Most things can be fried, e.g. chops, steaks, bacon, sausage, ham, fish, eggs, potatoes, bread, tomatoes, mushrooms, etc.
The Italians are the best at coffee (or so they tell us). Where me beans.
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Friday, August 25, 2006

# Posted 9:02 AM by Patrick Belton  

HAPPY FOURTH BLOGIVERSARY, KEVIN! A day late, I'm afraid. From all of us lads at OxBlog.
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# Posted 7:51 AM by Patrick Belton  

JUST WHEN YOU THOUGHT IT COULDN'T GET ANY WORSE FOR THEM: George Galloway heads to Beirut.
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# Posted 1:00 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SENATE WATCH 2006 (CONTINUED): Although the media coverage suggests otherwise, Connecticut is not the only state in the Union with an important Senate race going on.

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.
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# Posted 12:39 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SENATE WATCH 2006: This post begins with a shout out to jediflyer, whose corrected my statement that Lieberman is well ahead of Lamont in the Connecticut polls.

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.
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Thursday, August 24, 2006

# Posted 7:29 AM by Patrick Belton  

IT'S OFFICIAL: Tea healthier than water. OxBlog overjoyed.

Still waiting for the one on whisky. But we're sure it's on its way.
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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 (such as the rule of law, free press, protection of human rights, universal suffrage, etc) as a desired goal for potential middle eastern reform, I am highly suspicious of it being used as an unqualified meta-narrative in and of itself. The following statement by Bush exemplifies this concern:

What's very interesting about the violence in Lebanon and the violence in Iraq and the violence in Gaza is this: These are all groups of terrorists who are trying to stop the advance of democracy.

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.

There is another problem with this characterization. While one could certainly argue that despite being elected Hamas and Hezbollah remain against some of the principles often found in democratic societies (such as those listed above), a far more simplistic, voting based, litmus test, however, is frequently applied to Iraq.

I understand the need for simplistic overarching foreign policy frameworks, the Democrats are certainly in need of one, but if this means the increasingly absurd insistence that all nefarious actors are simply against the “advance of democracy”, I will side with a slightly more nuanced, if less politically expedient, worldview.

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# Posted 3:21 PM by Taylor Owen  

PHILISTINE OR CONCERNED CITIZEN?: This curiously fascinating piece of personal Presidential information was in the U.S. News & World Report:
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...
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# Posted 8:48 AM by Patrick Belton  

DEMOCRACY IN PAKISTAN, AND WHAT WOULD ORWELL DO: Kevin and Daniel have both raised the question of Pakistan in recent posts. I’m hesitant to wade in too precipitously, as I’m still coming to my own thoughts, wading through my notebooks and drafting my first writing based on my experiences there, a time maddening and interspersed with moments of touching humanity, and full of unexpected poignance.

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.
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# Posted 8:39 AM by Patrick Porter  

AIRPOWER AND STRATEGY: In the audit over Israel's recent campaign in Lebanon, the Economist reports that (unnamed) decision-makers made tenuous assumptions about the psychological impact of bombing on the Lebanese population:

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.
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Tuesday, August 22, 2006

# Posted 11:38 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

DID BUSH REALLY SAY THAT? The WaPo quotes the President as saying:
"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.)
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# Posted 11:23 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SUNDAY MORNING ROUND-UP: It was a Senate-fest on Sunday, with John McCain all alone on NBC, Joe Lieberman all alone on CBS, and John Kerry as the headliner on ABC, followed by British Home Secretary John Reid.
McCain: B+. As always, more candor than most pols. But nothing exciting.

Joe Lieberman: B-. He insisted furiously that he has been critical of Bush. He insisted furiously that Lamont had deceptively portrayed him as a lapdog of the administration. Yet when asked where he disagrees with Bush about Iraq, he began by citing an instance in which they agreed. The only concrete point of conflict Lieberman came up with was his desire to oust Rumsfeld. Since Lieberman is so far ahead in the polls, perhaps there is actually a method to this madness. Yet I suspect that one of my favorite senators simply isn't sure of how to win.

Kerry: B-. My expectations were so low, it almost had to be a triumph for Kerry. He said Lieberman was just as bad as Dick Cheney. And what should we do about the mess in Iraq? Call together an "international summit" of Arab and European leaders. Remind me again which party is the reality-based one?

John Reid: B. Said absolutely nothing. Then again, there were no tough questions. The Home Secretary was probably just enjoying a break from the confrontational approach of the anchors on the BBC.
See ya in seven.
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# Posted 10:38 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

"THIS NICKEL COULD SAVE A CHILD'S LIFE!" That's what it said on the outside of an envelope I got from UNICEF earlier this evening. Lo and behold, an actual nickel was visible through the window on the front of the envelope. Yes, a child's life was in my hands. Buwahahaha!

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,

Imagine that your daughter was deathly ill and your doctor said it would take little more than 5 cents to save her life...

or for just 50 cents, your son could be immunized against a deadly disease that kills hundreds of thousands of children each year...

or you could protect a niece or a grandchild from a variety of childhood ilnesses for just 3 cents.
However, many parents in the developing world don't have that option:
All they can do is hold their sick child in their arms...

...watch the despair the dying toddler's innocent eyes...

...feel the tiny body go slack as the final heartbeats become weaker...

...and realize that a young life has forever slipped away.
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.
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# Posted 7:35 PM by Patrick Belton  

REST OF THE BLOGOSPHERE (WORLD) WATCH: This blog's friend and fiendishly clever Central Asia Middle East hand Brian Ulrich reviews Ali Ansari's Confronting Iran in the context of, well, the impending Iran confrontation. Brian has, in my absence, begun blogging with lots of other people whose blogging I like. The sodded racketeers. (ed: but, Patrick, you yourself blog with other people whose blogging you like. Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself. I am large, I contain multitudes. ed: Get off it, you're 11 stone and 5'10".)

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.
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# Posted 6:46 PM by Patrick Porter  

FLIGHT 93: This is getting a little obsessional, its my third post on this theme.

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?"

Yes, Mr Harris, because we cannot have it can we? We simply cannot have a film purely for and about the people who were murdered on that day in September. We cannot show the individuals on that plane as frightened souls, trapped in the cruellest of situations, yet somehow finding the strength and courage to fight their tormentors. It is just not fair. We must of course think too of the terrorists. We must have understanding. We must say "it was terrible what happened, but..."

No, actually, Mr Harris. There is no frame of reference that explains what happened that day. There is no understanding it. There is no but.

I agree with all but the last sentence paragraph. While its hard to get inside the heads of those who carry out these kinds of atrocities, and while much that is evil in the world is never easy to fathom in its entirety, those events don't stand outside time and beyond comprehension in a kind of postmodern suspension.

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.
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# Posted 2:53 PM by Taylor Owen  

SETTLING IN, OXBLOG STYLE: Perhaps it’s appropriate for my first ‘official’ Oxblog post to flog an article out today. It’s in Parameters, US Army War College Quarterly and titled ‘Sense and Symbolism: Europe Takes On Human Security.’

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...
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# Posted 1:17 PM by Patrick Belton  

WELL, I SUPPOSE IT IS A BRAND... 'We wanted to be different. This is one name that will stay in people's minds.... we want to tell people we are different in the way he was different.'

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.
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# Posted 12:27 PM by Patrick Belton  

ARAB POLITICS BLOG OF THE DAY: Arabist.net, the brainchild of Cairene journalist Issandr El Amrani. Want entertainingly written news on, say, SMS culture in Iraq, new Saudi opposition movements or street politics in Egypt, and have a grudging suspicion that the region is worth following? Don't count too heavily upon the Times (of your choice) or CNN; now, happily, you can go here.
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# Posted 1:06 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

DOES McCAIN "GET" THE NEW MEDIA? Patrick Hynes, a strong McCain supporter, says yes.
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# Posted 12:44 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

CHUCK HAGEL'S NON-WITHDRAWAL WITHDRAWAL: Liz Mair is mulling over the Nebraska senator's suggestion on Fox News Sunday that America begin the withdrawal process now but without a fixing a date for its end, lest the insurgents know exactly how long they have to wait.

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.
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Monday, August 21, 2006

# Posted 10:05 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WIKIPEDIA VS. BRITANNICA: Wikipedia has recently been honored with feature length profiles in both the New Yorker and the Atlantic. I don't suppose that's happened to Britannica lately.

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...

[Vandalism] has proved much less of an issue than originally feared. A study by IBM suggests that although vandalism does occur (particularly on high-profile entries like “George W. Bush”), watchful members of the huge Wikipedia community usually swoop down to stop the malfeasance shortly after it begins...

Even though [a certain controversial] entry is often attacked by vandals, and is occasionally locked to block them, the page is more reliable precisely because it is now under “enough eyeballs.” The same could be said about many controversial entries on Wikipedia: the quality of articles generally increases with the number of eyeballs. Given enough eyeballs, all errors are shallow.
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.)

In 2004, Wales formalized the 3R rule—initially it had been merely a guideline—according to which any user who reverts the same text more than three times in a twenty-four-hour period is blocked from editing for a day...Wales also appointed an arbitration committee to rule on disputes. Before a case reaches the arbitration committee, it often passes through a mediation committee...

Five robots troll the site for obvious vandalism, searching for obscenities and evidence of mass deletions, reverting text as they go. More egregious violations require human intervention...Some users who have been caught tampering threaten revenge against the admins who apprehend them.
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!"
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# Posted 7:57 PM by Patrick Belton  

THE NEW JAMES BOND, NO SNAKES IN THAT! OCEAN 13, WHERE MY SNAKES AT? SHREK THE THIRD, GREEN, BUT NOT A SNAKE: SoaP, which written in abbreviation looks anyway like an internet protocol, is the New Media film: overrated, given far too much attention from the press, and featuring Samuel Jackson and a crateload of snakes. Well, similarities only take you so far.

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
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# Posted 5:38 PM by Patrick Porter  

DODGY ADVICE: Someone once advised me to be wary of advice. A couple of nuggets from history to illustrate the point:

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.
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# Posted 5:26 PM by Patrick Belton  

LEBANON, AND EUROPEAN PEACEKEEPING: Radio Open Source are taking a look tonight at European peacekeeping - the prospects for Lebanon, and lessons learnt from past peacekeeping iterations, such as Bosnia. I'll look forward to listening - though it is to be run under UN rather than Nato or European auspices, the foregrounded roles of French coordination and Italian muscle within UNOFIL's new incarnation mean the peacekeeping presence in Lebanon may well form Europe's principal foreign policy challenge yet, and it is being bashed together with a rapidity that the European Rapid Reaction Force was meant to deliver, but never has had to. I'll look forward to hearing what lessons European peacekeeping has learned as, somewhat out of the limelight, it has been exercising peacekeeping duties in Bosnia since Nato handed over its responsibilities in December 2004.

Plus, our friend Guglielmo is on. The reasons to listen keep getting better and better.
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# Posted 6:54 AM by Patrick Belton  

PAKISTAN HAVE A BAD HAIR DAY: At the Oval, controversial Aussie umpire Darrell Hair rules the Pakistan side roughed up the ball during their England tour's fourth and final test; and when the tourists in protest delay taking the field after tea, he declares them to have forfeited. Australia and Pakistan circle closer to the brink of war; Hair is now the subject of a jihad. A shame really, halting play: Mohammad Yousuf had just reached his second century of the test, and England were perhaps starting to wake up slightly.

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.'
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# Posted 6:23 AM by Patrick Porter  

TAYLOR STAYS! The Dominions are here in force. Oxblog I'm proud to say has persuaded Taylor Owen to stay with us. Taylor is a fine scholar, although a touch politically reactionary.

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.
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Sunday, August 20, 2006

# Posted 7:14 PM by Patrick Belton  

THIS JUST IN FROM OXBLOG'S MISUSES OF IRISH HISTORY CORRESPONDENTS, PETER NOLAN AND RICHARD WAGHORNE:

Call it the plastic leprechaun view of Irish history, fairy tales that could only be swallowed by the most gullible foreigners. Robert Fisk, long-time Middle East correspondent for the London Independent wrote recently, "When the IRA used to cross the Irish border to kill British soldiers - which it did - did Blair and his cronies blame the Irish Republic's government in Dublin? Did Blair order the RAF to bomb Dublin power stations and factories? Did he send British troops crashing over the border in tanks to fire at will into the hill villages of Louth, Monaghan, Cavan and Donegal? Did Blair then demand an international, NATO-led force to take over a buffer zone - on the Irish, not the Northern Ireland side, of the border?"

Fisk, whose views on America and Israel are so agreeable to Osama bin Laden that the Al Qaida leader personally offered to guide his conversion to Islam, seldom passes up a chance to bash the Jewish state. However, this spurious analogy fails to take into account the profound differences between Lebanon and Northern Ireland, which is probably why voices from Northern Ireland, such as Mark Durkan, leader of the Irish nationalist SDLP in the province, have rejected it.

In the first place, the critics of Israel’s military operations in Lebanon blithely ignore the fact that Britain always has had, namely full control of the ground. At the height of the troubles, nearly twenty thousand British soldiers garrisoned province of 1.6 million people, supplementing and motivated equivalent to a force some 325,000 in present-day Iraq. The majority of the local population favoured maintaining the link and manned a large and well-trained local police force. With an overwhelming weight of numbers, the security forces blanketed Northern Ireland with troops and police, eventually smothering terrorist activity in urban areas. Day-to-day interaction with the population by the security forces led to agents being recruited even within the highest levels of the IRA. The IRA’s deputy head of counter-intelligence was revealed to be a British agent; now, even the IRA’s “military” chief, Martin MacGuinness has come under suspicion of spying for the British.

In contrast, Israel, voluntarily and without a peace agreement, relinquished its security zone in Lebanon six years ago, a decision that appears folly in hindsight. Without this presence in the ground, anti-terrorist and human intelligence operations are virtually impossible: Nobody suspects Hassan Nasrullah of working for the Mossad.

Unlike Lebanon, the Republic of Ireland has consistently had both the strength and the will to crush terrorists within its borders, meeting the most basic obligation that a sovereign nation owes its people and its neighbours. Many terrorist leaders, like MacGuinness, Michael McKevitt, leader of the Real IRA, or Seán Mac Stíofáin, founding chief of the Provisionals, were only imprisoned under the laws of the Republic, not by the UK. Ireland also pioneered aggressive action against the racketeering funding terrorism, with the British following suit last year with their own agency to seize criminal assets.

Hizbollah’s barrage, up to two hundred missiles fired at Israel each day cannot be compared with the IRA campaign on the British mainland; by the time of the ceasefire in 1997, the IRA this was aimed at inconvenience as much as at terror, by cancelling the Grand National, Britain’s most popular horse race, or bringing traffic chaos in London through hoax bomb warnings. The operational core of the IRA’s “English Department” was swept up soon afterwards.

Hundreds of thousands of Israelis have been forced into spending weeks in air raid shelters or evacuating to safer areas. The bombardment has made normal working and family life impossible in its second city, Haifa. The apt comparison is with another part of Britain’s history, the bombardment of by Nazi Germany’s V1 and V2 rocket “Vengeance Weapons” in the last phases of World War II.

In spite of being hardened by years of war and the capital’s massive network of shelters, nearly a million people fled London. The British response was to bomb the rockets’ launch sites concealed within residential areas of occupied Holland, killing some 500 Dutch civilians in one raid alone. Was this “disproportionate”? A war crime?

The driving impulse for British intervention in Ireland has been fear that her regional enemies would gain a foothold there, exactly as revolutionary France and the Kaiser succeeded in doing. The IRA chief during WWII, Sean Russell, even died of natural causes while returning to Ireland on board a Nazi U-boat. In Lebanon, Israel has a neighbour playing host to its deadliest enemies, the Iranians. They bring millions of dollars, sophisticated missiles and the troops to man them to bear on their openly-declared joint goal of the annihilation Jewish State and its people.

We should draw the proper lesson from the Irish experience. The IRA’s turning to more democratic means came about through a decisive military victory, not because of any sudden attack of conscience - after all Gerry Adams and Martin MacGuinness have led the IRA since the early seventies. Instead, with Israel embroiled in a war of national survival, it should be afforded the latitude same means that Britain and Ireland have used in similar situations in the past.
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# Posted 7:04 PM by Patrick Belton  

AND THEY WANT US TO GIVE THEM THE ELGIN MARBLES? Greeks lose major cultural, erm, icon. (It's iconoclasm, really.)
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Saturday, August 19, 2006

# Posted 1:16 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

PRIMARY HIJINKS: Eye on '08 reports that Nevada Democrats may hold their caucus before the New Hampshire primary. Is this a bid by Sen. Reid to play kingmaker? Also, the Dems may move their South Carolina primary up to just a week after New Hampshire.
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Friday, August 18, 2006

# Posted 5:14 PM by Patrick Belton  

I'M SO GLAD I'VE PAID MY LICENCE FEE: ‘They’ve found martyrdom videos, which we can only assume were meant to be used after the death of the people in them.’ Terrorism expert, BBC One, tonight's Ten O’Clock News.
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# Posted 3:05 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

MACACA! (THANK YOU, GEORGE ALLEN): If I hadn't been away from my laptop so much these past few days, I would've put up at least a half dozen posts about George Allen's latest descent into the theater of the absurd.

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.
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# Posted 3:02 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

DON'T YOU DARE LET BILL CLINTON KNOW THAT! From Paul Krugman's latest column:
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.
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# Posted 2:43 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

BIG MEDIA BASH HILLARY: Say what you want about the liberal media, some of their habits are the stuff of conservative fantasy. Take a look for example, at a front-page story in yesterday's NYT about the Democratic offensive against Wal-Mart. Joe Biden gets the most coverage, but Hillary gets the bad coverage:
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.
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# Posted 1:41 PM by Patrick Belton  

WE SHALL FLY THEM TO THE BEACHES, REDUX: With a dour Swedish PM suing Ryanair over its adverts, let's stand up for the Irish no-frills airline with the pluck and humour to list London Prestwick airport (Prestwick is located 30 miles from Glasgow, 400 from London).

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!

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# Posted 1:29 PM by Patrick Belton  

THE ONLY GOOD BIT OF THE 6 PM BBC NEWS CAME AT 6:25: '"Snakes on a plane": Let me guess what it's about.' (This on the heels of the new Palestinian territories correspondent, who looks twelve. Has everyone of legal drinking age been abducted?)

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.
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