Tuesday, January 30, 2007
# Posted 11:31 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
# Posted 11:05 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
I don’t care a fig about our next president’s personal religious views. The candidate can worship the Great Pumpkin, for all I care, as long as he or she doesn’t assume that the rest of us do too, and that the Great Pumpkin told him to do things such as, to take a case at random, invade Iraq.If Prof. Doniger was trying as hard as possible to reinforce the stereotype that liberal academics belittle and trivialize the faith of others, she most certainly succeeded. Whether to Great Pumpkins or Spaghetti Monsters, this kind of reference is condescending. And so is the suggestion that serious politicians "do things" because there is a Pumpkin or Spaghetti Monster whispering in their ear.
Do some people take their faith far too dogmatically? Sure. Are some of those people politicians? Sure. But Prof. Dongier talks as if this were a nation full of Christian zombies. (An assessment I often encountered during my sojourn on the far side of the Atlantic.)
Prof. Doniger continues:
I pledge allegiance to the first amendment, which I interpret to mean that government shouldn’t traffic with religion—neither promote it nor persecute it—and this means that, in the public arena, the candidate should not use religious rhetoric, which does nothing but harm, fogging over the clear lines of argument on the issues and eliciting irrelevant and irrational choices in the electorate.I'm sure Dr. King would beg to differ with the passage in boldface. As I mentioned just yesterday, conservatives love it when liberals fall into this trap. And in this instance, a professor at a divinity school, who really should have a somewhat broader view of the potential that relgion has to inspire us. Or was supporting civil rights one of thsoe "irrational choices" about which Prof. Doniger is so concerned?
Anyhow, if you feel like getting riled up, check out some of the comments on Prof. Doniger's post. She is clearly preaching to the choir -- and the views of the choir are far more vitriolic and condescending. (33) opinions -- Add your opinion
Monday, January 29, 2007
# Posted 7:35 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
Instead, I thought I'd post some of the highlights from each week's broadcasts. That way, anyone can engage the topic, rather than just those who saw the show or listened to the podcast. Will anyone be disappointed by this change? As far as I know, NJ from NYC is the only one who has ever expressed much affection for the round-up format. So with apologies to him, let's go to highlight #1. Here's Tim Russert talking to Arkansas governor and 2008 contender Mike Huckabee (photo above):
MR. RUSSERT: I want to ask you a couple things that you said earlier in your political career. “Huckabee ... explained why he left pastoring for politics. ‘I didn’t get into politics because I thought government had a better answer. I got into politics because I knew government didn’t have the real answers, that the real answers lie in accepting Jesus Christ into our lives.’” And then this: “I hope we answer the alarm clock and take this nation back for Christ.” Would you, as president, consider America a Christian nation and try to lead it as—into a situation as being a more Christian nation?I'd say that Russert was doing his best to help Huckabee establish his credibility with Christian conservatives. With Romney hurting on that front, such help is especially valuable.
As a matter of substance, I think the quotation in boldface above perfectly captures the way that many Americans want their elected officials to talk about faith. We protect the separation of church and state by granting no special privileges to any faith, not by checking our values at the door.
This approach clearly raises the question of whether a religious majority might impose its will on a secular minority. However, the Bill of Rights provides all of us with strong protection on that front.
In contrast, advocates of separation faith from policy have to answer the question that conservatives love to ask: Was it wrong for Martin Luther King Jr. to draw on his Christian faith to inspire the civil rights movement?
Sometimes, religious values will have a polarizing effect on politics. Yet values are indispensable to democratic deliberation. If, as Huckabee says, we use our faith not to condemn others but to challenge ourselves, religious values can have a more positive influence on politics. (23) opinions -- Add your opinion
Sunday, January 28, 2007
# Posted 10:24 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
I’ve taken an interest in Morris’ work because of an ongoing discussion about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict I’ve been having with a colleague of mine, whose assessment of the conflict is diametrically opposed to my own. Roughly speaking, I’m pro-Israeli and she’s pro-Palestinian. We’re both for human rights and against violence, especially against civilians, but those shared principles are rarely enough to produce consensus when it comes to the politics of the Middle East.
Recently, my colleague has raised the question of the 700,000 or so Palestinian refugees who fled their homes during the Arab-Israeli war of 1948-1949. Arabs refer to this flight as the nakhba, or catastrophe. For many advocates of the Palestinian cause, the nakhba was a historic injustice that fatally compromised the legitimacy of the Jewish state.
But what, precisely, was the nakhba? My limited knowledge of the subject derives from Benny Morris’ 1999 survey of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, entitled Righteous Victims. However, I read the book in 2001, so my recollections of its content were vague at best until I stopped by the library today to refresh my memory.
In the coming months, I intend to read two full books on the subject of the refugees. One is Morris’ latest contribution to the debate, entitled The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited. The other is The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine by Ilan Pappe, an academic historian from Israel whose choice of title indicates his position on the subject.
But for the moment, I thought I would post a series of quotations from Righteous Victims that summarize Morris’ view of the nakhba. All the quotations are from a section of the book entitled the “The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem”. (pp.252-258) Morris writes:
Why 700,000 people became refugees was hotly disputed between Israel and its supporters and the Arabs and theirs. Israeli spokesmen – including “official” historians and writers of textbooks – maintained that the Arabs had fled “voluntarily”, or because the Palestinian and Arab states’ leaders had urged or ordered them to leave, to clear the ground for the invasion of May 15 and enable their spokesmen to claim that they had been systematically expelled.The last sentence of that quotation may hint at why pro-Palestinian writers tend to resent Morris as well. How can he write about “the depth of Arab animosity toward the Jews” without writing about the depth of Jewish animosity toward the Arabs? I consider his phrasing to reflect a reasonable judgment based on the evidence, but to those who disagree, his phrasing may seem like an argument by assertion.
Regardless, my sense is that pro-Palestinian writers tend to grudgingly acknowledge Morris’ legitimacy as a scholarly contributor to the ongoing debate, in contrast to, say, Alan Dershowitz, whose opinions they confidently dismiss out of hand the way I would those of Noam Chomsky.
But getting back to the subject, I think it’s important to provide some more detail about Morris’ account of the nakhba, even though the paragraphs above provide a reasonably good summary. According to Morris, the refugee crisis developed in four stages during the war, which I will describe below.
But first, Morris points out that Zionist leaders such as David Ben-Gurion considered the forcible transfer of Palestinians to be necessary and just. As the future Prime Minister said in 1938, “I support compulsory transfer. I do not see in it anything immoral.” Other influential Israelis agreed, although both they and Ben Gurion felt that it would be best not to make their opinions known.
This position, however, does not seem to have resulted in any clear plan to force out the Palestinians. Rather, the refugee crisis developed in a series of unplanned stages:
The first was between December 1947 and March 1948, when the Yishuv [Jewish community in Palestine] was on the defensive and upper- and middle-class Arabs – perhaps as many as seventy-five thousand – fled, mainly from the mixed cities, or sent their dependents to the West Bank, Lebanon, Egypt, Syria or Transjordan. In this context their can be no exaggerating the detrimental effect on Arab morale of the IZL and LHI [i.e. Israeli militant/terrorist groups’] bombing campaigns in the big towns…I’m guessing that many of you, like me, would be interested in further details about those massacres, as well as their magnitude relative to Arab massacres. However, I don’t have such information on hand at the moment.
Anyhow, before this post gets too long, let’s move on to stages three and four. The political and military environment for these stages was very different, since they followed the official founding of the Jewish state and the subsequent declarations of war by its neighbors. Morris writes:
The pan-Arab invasion of May 15 clearly hardened Israel’s resolve regarding the Palestinian civilian population, for good military and political reasons.That of course is a judgment, with which pro-Palestinian writers would vigorously disagree. However, I tend to agree. Once invaded by Arab neighbors who rejected its right to exist, Israel had to be much more cautious about a resident Arab population that clearly sympathized with the invaders. But how far does caution go before it becomes provocation and abuse? I don’t have an answer to that question just yet. So back to the narrative:
In the third and fourth stages of the exodus, in July and October-November 1948, about three hundred thousand more Arabs became refugees, including the sixty thousand inhabitants of Lydda and Ramle who were expelled by IDF troops…Finally, there was unusual coda to these events, in terms of discussions about allowing refugees to return. One relatively deficient offer from the Israelis would have resulted in the return of 65,000 refugees. The terms of a second offer were that:
Israel might be willing to incorporate the Gaza Strip into its territory and absorb the Strip’s population of 60,000 native inhabitants and 200,000 refugees. In this way, Israel would have done more than its fair share toward resolving the problem – which, its officials tirelessly argued, was not of their own making. (Or, as Ben-Gurion was fond of telling Western interlocutors, “Israel did not expel a single Arab.”)At least according to Morris, those are those facts. What, then, is their significance, especially their moral significance? The nakhba was certainly a great tragedy, for which its victims deserve considerable sympathy.
A moral evaluation of the first two stages of the flight would seem to rest on one’s evaluation of the Palestinian Arabs’ fears. Was flight the only rational response to Jewish occupation, given that several massacres had taken place? Or did Arabs mainly fear that the Jews would treat them as Arabs treated vulnerable Jewish populations in the past?
An alternative hypothesis is that during the first two stages, those who fled had reasonable expectations of returning to their homes once the war was over. As Morris points out, the upper- and middle-classes had fled violence before, only to return to their homes.
Then, the pan-Arab invasion of May 1948 changed the situation dramatically. The stakes were raised tremendously for both sides. A strong case can be made that the Jewish side was fighting for its very existence. The Arab side faced the prospect that any land lost to the Jews would be lost forever.
For the moment, I’m still not sure how I feel about compulsory expulsion, planned or unplanned. Was it a military necessity? Was any effort made to conduct expulsions in a humane manner? If one sees the war of 1948-1949 as a war for Jewish survival, then these questions may become secondary.
But even if it weren’t a war for survival, the Israeli offer to accept back a significant number of refugees strikes me as morally significant. The Israelis sought a compromise solution that shared out the burden of settling the refugees. Of course, if one sees the nakhba as entirely the Israelis’ fault, then no compromise is just.
Yet from my perspective, it is the pan-Arab invasion of May 1948 that was the most important cause of the nakhba. As I see it, there was no reason for this invasion to happen, other than a total unwillingness by Arabs states to accept the existence of a Jewish neighbor. If not for the invasion, half of the refugees might never have left and the other half might have been resettled, even in their own homes.
I will close this very long post with another question. How do pro-Palestinian writers justify the invasion of May 1948? As an effort to protect and liberate the Arabs of Palestine? As an effort to reverse the emergence of a colonial state whose very existence was an injustice?
For the moment, I can’t imagine any moral argument that would justify untrammeled aggression. Then, as now, compromise is the only hope for peace. Instead, one side refused to accept the existence of the other. (20) opinions -- Add your opinion
Wednesday, January 24, 2007
# Posted 9:08 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
I know that everyone, myself included, has sort of treated Kerry's 2008 aspirations as a bit absurd and under the circumstances it's probably better that he spare himself the humiliation. That said, it seems to me that there's no reason whatsoever to believe that Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, Barack Obama, or Mark Warner would actually do a better job of being president and at least a some reason to think Kerry (who, after all, has dramatically more experience in governing) would be better than any of them.True, although Kerry didn't seem confident in his decades of Senate experience to actually talk about it on the campaign trail.
On a related note, Josh Marshall adds:
I think he ran a much better campaign than the conventional wisdom now allows. But for all that, I'm very glad to hear he's not going to mount another campaign in 2008...Obviously, I won't be crying any crocodile tears in response to Kerry's departure. But I agree with Josh that Kerry ran a much better campaign than he was given credit for. The fact is, the loser gets blamed even if the party as a whole is responsible. (12) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 8:54 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
sat down to watch the State of the Union with some fellow Northern Virginia [Young Republicans] last night with very, very low expectations.Her verdict?
All in all, the speech was OK. Not a winner, but OK. Now, I await the details on some of the finer points, to see how truly objectionable some of what was proposed may actually be.I'm curious about the details too. Health insurance? New ethanol production? Not my area of expertise.
On foreign policy, Bush reiterated the foundational principles of his approach to Iraq and the War on Terror. With those, I firmly agree. As always, the real issue seems to be effective implementation (or lack thereof). (5) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 8:49 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
# Posted 7:56 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
Surprisignly, no less a personage than Ben Franklin once abstained from the consumption of flesh. While a vegetarian, Franklin also made his first voyage on an ocean-going ship. He later recalled that:
Our People set about catching Cod, & haul’d up a great many. Hitherto I had stuck to my Resolution of not eating animal Food; and on this Occasion, I consider’d . . . the taking every Fish as a kind of unprovok’d Murder, since none of them had or ever could do us any Injury that might justify the Slaughter. All this seem’d very reasonable.And so it goes. (4) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 7:42 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
And to think I never would have known that without the NY Times! (2) opinions -- Add your opinion
Monday, January 22, 2007
# Posted 8:18 AM by Patrick Belton
(*In all this London, not least of which because it lies very close to Heathrow, will I think increasingly be for me home. Longtime readers will know I feel ties of birth, parentage and education linking me to three countries which I do not particularly care to choose between; to do so would be I think to impoverish myself, and unnecessarily. I'm simply content at the moment to consider myself happily part for now of the decent, whirling cosmopolitan place that is modern Britain, and the intermingling of internationality and Englishness which is Europe’s largest city. This coming stocked with its endowment of possible stories, ranging from British Muslims to the vistas on Afghanistan and Iraq from Whitehall and Chatham House, could be the envy of any nascent scribbler. For that, I'm keenly aware that my work here and elsewhere will be read by disparate audiences, of nation as well as ideology; I can only humbly promise readers to describe and comment upon the world as I best see it, to engage and respond to readers in a spirit of polite fair conversation; and to ask and hope they do the same.)
All this prologue to say I saw some movies this weekend.
Liking in my cinematic choices to get far away from the daily grind of writing, revising and blogging, of these two films, one was on Afghanistan, the second on Iraq. I’d like to review both, by way of commentary on war reporting. The first was Sean Langan’s Fighting the Taliban, which I was able to see at London’s eminently worthwhile Frontline Club. The second was Iraq in Fragments, by James Longley, which London readers can go to see at the ICA.
Sean Langan seems an eminently nice chap. One can only be overwhelmed by his productivity as well as unquestionable bravery in putting himself into harm’s way, with only his camera to record his interviews or extended journalistic suicide note. He is noted for his work in Fallujah and elsewhere. Fighting the Taleban was adroitly furnished with interspersed helpings of of humour and drama which made his documentary immensely watchable. I am glad to have seen it, and recommend others do as well. Yet still.
Yet still. His documentary left me with a niggling uncertainty about much foreign war reportage, with several preexisting grounds for unease seeming here for some reason more apparent. And I only comment indeed because Sean’s work is respectable, and because in a much more cadet capacity I’ve worked the same terrain, in a first trip to get my bearings, and will return in several months to do so again. And since my professional journalistic education constitutes 65p I’ve invested in a reporter’s notebook and the reader comments on this blog, I’m curious to take apart, in conflicts in which I have strongest interest, how grown-up journalists in practise go about their work.
Taking apart Sean’s documentary, and with apologies in advance for the criticism, I can really only call to mind one piece of reportage that constitutes news. It was to be fair a good ‘un: in a valley where an American soldier estimated there to be 1,000 Taleban and Hizb-e-Islami operatives, lying at or around the Afghan ground-zero spot where the wars following 9.11.2001 began, lay all of twenty Americans billeted by the Pentagon for holding them off. To give them their due, they seemed to be doing a decent job of it. Developed, this poses crucial questions about the allocation of overstretched American and British forces. But it is not developed. The rest of the film is simply sights and sounds of Afghanistan.
To distil the essence of the interviews, the following being repeated four or five times in the course of the documentary:
Interviewer: So, you control this region?
Taleban: Yes, we control this region.
Interviewer: And you practise Jihad?
Taleban: Yes, we practise Jihad.
Interviewer: And there are Arabs?
Taleban: Yes, there are Arabs.
Interviewer, mugging to the camera: Whew, better get out of here!
Multiply by five and you have the essence of the film. I’m not really entirely sure what we learn from the exercise. If Sean really did put his life in as much danger as he repeatedly in scene-setting told the camera, oughtn’t he have asked better questions? Why the Taleban operatives personally chose to become insurgents, how they were governing their tract, what their view of an Islamic state would be and how closely Taleban-governed Afghanistan realised it in their estimation, their strategy toward the tribal areas and that fascinating cauldron of Balochistan – these would be questions minimally worth risking your life to pose.
Also, there’s a Heisenberg’s law I’ve noticed in speaking with Palestinians, Israeli soldiers, and Pathans: namely, they tend to be roundabout as friendly with you as you are with them. By being wooden with his Pathans, Sean as much as guaranteed they would look formidable and menacing back (trust me, I’ve tried this at home.). He depicts himself looking at them warily and saying only ‘salaam alaykum’ and ‘dera manana’ without the locally accompanying gestures; ‘sahi’, which he used repeatedly in an apparent attempt at translating idiomatic Thames Estuary English ‘you all right?’, is not idiomatic Pashto or Urdu (‘thik’ would here be preferable).
It’s also I think useful here to call to mind the helpful observation I’d like, in honour of a friend and comrade, to call Adesnik’s law: just because you’ve given equal column or camera time to each of both or several parties, it doesn’t mean you’ve achieved impartiality. I’m not here saying in journalism one ought reserve moral judgement between western liberal democracy and the Taleban - but we’d learn a bloody lot from letting the Taleban natter on about their views and biographies, whereas giving Taleban and Coalition squaddies equal time while making a mug of question-time with the Taleban, and framing the entire exercise by how brave-scared the correspondent is, achieves sensationalism but not news.
And while we’re at it, another law that approaches some validity: in journalism, there are no penalties for reinforcing people’s prior views, without popping in new information to the mix, only the converse. We began by being reminded that terrorists were bad. Before the credits, we were repeated the same message, and reminded that thanks to the filmmaker’s derring-do, we now know they’re bad people who furthermore wear sunglasses and carry RPGs. Well, yes. Question-time with the filmmaker consisted mostly of other war correspondents patting each other on the back for having escaped danger, amidst comments such as ‘last time I saw you it was in Kabul’ and ‘well done escaping your kidnappers’; but if all you’ve succeeded in doing is documenting your own journey into a heart of darkness, is there really a point?
Second film: Iraq in Fragments (IMDB, Rotting Tomatoes). Much less to say, really, and this only because this one was breathtaking. Its production values were superb; in stunning contrast to the first film, the people depicted were allowed to tell their own story, the filmmaker’s voice never appearing. In long generous shots, the film followed in sequence a child from the Sunni triangle; what can best be described as a Sadrist mob which hovers in close proximity to Moqtada al-Sadr; and several members of a Kurdish family. Every point I’ve made in the preceding, is made here in converse: the people of present-day Iraq are here bloody well permitted to tell their own stories, or at least several of them. This is the journalistic lens not reflected back upon the audience as a mirror for their own prior views; but used to link as much as will ever happen British and American taxpayers with the cigarette-smoking middle-aged Baghdadis and a guileless eleven-year old, the Shi’i merchants hauled off under suspicions of selling liquor and their tormentors’ celebration of Ashura, and Kurds witnessing cheerfully rigged elections amid quieter family and career struggles (‘you want to vote here, the Kurd list’, the elections officer happily tells voters as she hands them their ballot paper). Go see this one; it atones for a host of Michael Moore’s sins against foreign affairs cinematography, and with less mugging for the camera and repetition of his own views, its maker comes off the braver and more forcefully eloquent for it.
That’s Oxblog at the movies for this week, folks. Popcorn waiting in the comments! (11) opinions -- Add your opinion
Sunday, January 21, 2007
# Posted 12:50 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
My photographer, Akhtar Soomro, and I were followed over several days of reporting in Quetta by plainclothes intelligence officials who were posted at our respective hotels. That is not unusual in Pakistan, where accredited journalists are free to travel and report, but their movements, phone calls and interviews are often monitored.The war continues. (6) opinions -- Add your opinion
Thursday, January 18, 2007
# Posted 7:24 AM by Taylor Owen
One of the then Secretary of State Colin Powell's top aides told the BBC the state department was keen on the plan - but was over-ruled.So how has that rejection turned out?
# Posted 3:13 AM by Patrick Belton
And while we're on the subject of the swastika, Hindus across Europe are protesting against the proposed ban [against displays of the swastika, mooted at European level by the German justice minister with the EU justice commissioner's support], on the grounds that for them the swastika is an ancient symbol of peace. Meanwhile, the German legal authorities have got themselves into a ridiculous tangle because a court in Stuttgart has convicted the manager of a mail-order company for selling T-shirts showing crossed-out and crushed swastikas. These might be anti-fascist T-shirts, you see, but they still showed swastikas and were therefore illegal. And so it goes on, and would go on even more if the whole EU adopted such measures.(1) opinions -- Add your opinion
Wednesday, January 17, 2007
# Posted 4:34 PM by Taylor Owen
Meyerson uses the analogy to compare conservative options for
Eisenhower conservatives would likely find allies in liberal internationalists looking for greater UN/Int Org collaboration. Particularly on
In any case, it might be that the first conservative has played their hand on this divide
# Posted 4:10 PM by Taylor Owen
The strength of Ignatieff’s environmental platform was a direct result of the consultative policy development process used by the campaign. It was collaborative, non-partisan and didn’t require public endorsements. The question was not, "if you indorse me then you can write my policy," but rather, "I don't care what your politics are, what is the best possible policy?" This insured the participation of Canada’s best thinkers on the environment (there were similar processes for other topics). The resulting platform was seen as being progressive, realistic and had the wide endorsement of the environmental community. An accolade that is not easy to acquire.
I have no doubt Dion cares passionately about the environment, and very much hope that he develops a strong environmental platform. His electoral fate depends on it. I don’t believe that the one he ran on, however, was it. Instead, on the environment and elsewhere, he would be wise to model his platform development process off the one his ex-rival and now deputy leader developed.
PS: Haven’t written too much about the results of the Liberal convention. Needless to say, I was disappointed that Ignatieff lost, but, I like much about Dion, am glad I got into the fray, and in retrospect, it’s pretty impressive that within two years of returning to Canada and entering politics, he is now the deputy leader of the Liberal Party, dominated the national discourse for the better part of a year, and is probably in the top handful of most influential Canadian politicians. It's hard to think of anyone else who could have done this. (3) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 6:49 AM by Patrick Belton
Mr Hashemi is a clever man, capable of resonant rhetoric and poignant appeal on behalf of his country (one example from my notebook: ‘I repeat, there is a chance. Let us work for professionalisation of the security sector, a comprehensive settlement, comprehensive reform, and there is a chance for my country to be salvaged’). His Iraqi Islamic Party was the lone Sunni group to participate in the 2005 elections; he thus represents the argument for political engagement among Sunnis, while in turn gaining for his community as propitious a deal as possible as possible in a final national settlement (see his advocacy of reversal of de-Ba’athification, and removal of Shi’i militiamen from the armed forces). He most recently has garnered headlines for accusing Blair of first being convinced by his proposal for a deadline for withdrawal, then backtracking when convinced otherwise by Bush; at any rate, he regards Whitehall as a more favourable channel of influence than Washington.
Three points. He is sanguine on Syria; has retreated from earlier calls for a timetable for British and American withdrawal; and supports the surge, being particularly fearful of British withdrawal from Basra. He wants no part of an invasion of Iran, though regarding it as a meddler and an evildoer. To turn to the notebooks,
On Syria: I think we could work in agreement with Syria, Syria is an Arab country, in the Arab league, we recognise why they have done what they have done; the relation can be normalised in one year. I foresee no problem about Syria. I am in full agreement with the bipartisan recommendation given by the committee chaired by Baker. Each sign from Syria is that they are doing what they are promising. It is not the same for Iran. I hope it will follow.
On Sunni insurgents: The Sunni communities backing the drawing down of foreign troops in Iraq – the nationalists, what you call insurgents – they are tired of fighting, many of them are looking for an inducement to lay down their arms. They need to see meaningful result for their participation. I want to market democracy, the political process; I need inducements to offer.
On the timetable for withdrawal: As a patriot, I don’t want to see even one soldier on my territory in the future, I want these brave soldiers back to their families in the future. However, if you want to create another grave instability, by withdrawing these troops before the Iraqi forces are trained and professional, and creating a security vacuum, my country may slide into a chaos, a civil war, to draw in our neighbouring countries. As far as when, we should shelve the question for the time being until my country completes more reform of its security forces. It could be done in a year, perhaps.
On an invasion of Iran: To use Iraqi territory to invade a neighbour, that is against the Constitution. We do not want to see neighbours exposed to war, invasion. We would like to see our neighbours joining forces, we do have more or less common interest with our neighbours.
On the surge, and whether 21,000 American troops would be more fuel to the fire: I think it is based on sound analysis of what is going on in Baghdad, and an acute shortage of manpower.
Analysis: Judging by his appearances on NPR and the Washington Post, Hashemi plays the media well. His hand is furthermore potentially strong as a principal point of political engagement to his Sunni community. He knows to count his cards, and will expect to leverage his strength into patronage for his community. His views toward neighbours - suspicion toward Iran, warmth toward Syria - cohere with where he sits, but might reflect views elsewhere in the councils of government. This is perhaps why his acceptance of more troops, and plea against withdrawal, strike doubly - uniquely in what I have written, it runs against the grain of what, writing his speech for him, you or I might predict. It says something profound about the degree of fear in the political establishment, and consensus there as regards need for more boots. His skills as a media courtier, and his political canniness combined with his eye on the ball of political patronage (something spectacularly lacking in weak would-be nation-builders such as Abu Mazen and Karzai), mean if he can continue to duck when best suits, he could be someone to watch. (3) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 2:26 AM by Patrick Belton
Tuesday, January 16, 2007
# Posted 8:03 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
I would argue that, all together, there is balance of opinion among the contributors here that adds up to moderation. But speaking in terms of substance, are we centrist? And what exactly is centrism?
(To answer those questions, it may help to take a look at TMV's weekly round-up of centrist opinion, entitled Center of Attention.) (20) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 7:36 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
The basic thrust of what Durbin said is that America has done enough for Iraq and shouldn't have to do any more. That may sell, since Americans have had more than enough of the war, but I'd say it's a short-sighted and narrow-minded approach.
According to Durbin,
We have given the Iraqis so much. We have deposed their dictator. We dug him out of a hole in the ground and forced him to face the courts of his own people. We've given the Iraqi people a chance to draft their own constitution, hold their own free elections and establish their own government.I wonder if that's the first time a Democrat so prominently gave credit to Bush for protecting Iraq. At least until recently, the official party line is that Bush created the mess.
It's also quite generous of Sen. Durbin to say that our policy of democracy promotion represents a tremendous gift to the Iraqi people. I don't remember too many Democrats saying that before, either.
Regardless, Durbin says it's time for Iraqis to stand up for themselves. Of course, one might point out that Iraqis continue to show up at recruiting stations even though they are such popular targets for suicide bombs. Or one might point out that Iraqi forces continue to take far greater casualties than US forces.
What's missing from Durbin's speech is any sense that the problem in Iraq is something other than a lack of effort on the locals' part. In contrast, Bush provided a fuller account:
Al Qaeda terrorists and Sunni insurgents recognized the mortal danger that Iraq's elections posed for their cause, and they responded with outrageous acts of murder aimed at innocent Iraqis. They blew up one of the holiest shrines in Shia Islam -- the Golden Mosque of Samarra -- in a calculated effort to provoke Iraq's Shia population to retaliate. Their strategy worked.Another subject Bush addressed that Durbin didn't is what might happen in Iraq if we withdraw. (Excuse me. I meant "redeploy".)
Apparently, Durbin can only see the positive:
[The Iraqis] will understand the day has come to face their own responsibility to protect and defend their nation.Strangely, after criticizing the President for being so naive and optimistic about the consequences of going into Iraq, the Democrats insist on being naive and optimistic about the consequences of pulling out.
Finally, Durbin, like his fellow Democrats had little to offer in the way of a broader vision for the Middle East. Would Durbin, or any other Democrats, agree with Bush's statment (in his speech) that the war in Iraq is part of:
...the decisive ideological struggle of our time...In the long run, the most realistic way to protect the American people is to provide a hopeful alternative to the hateful ideology of the enemy, by advancing liberty across a troubled region.If not, what do the Democrats propose instead? (3) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 7:13 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
The biggest argument against the surge is the strain it will put on the US military, which is already carrying a tremendous burden. But I'm still in favor because I think the White House should give Gen. Petraeus as much support as it can in order to help him turn around the situation in Iraq, at least enough to make an eventual exit safer for the US and for Iraq.
I basically agree with Robert Gates that the surge is a plan to stabilize the situation enough for us to leave on reasonable terms, not to achieve our original victory conditions. So where does that leave Bush's speech?
Bush began by promising that:
The new strategy I outline tonight will change America's course in Iraq, and help us succeed in the fight against terror.I'd be hard pressed to call it a new strategy, as opposed to a second attempt at this summer's unsuccessful strategy of focusing on Baghdad first. But this whole issue of what's "new" and what's "stay the course" has become so politicized that neither side is really being candid.
Next up, Bush offered a little bit more of a mea culpa for where the war is now:
Our troops in Iraq have fought bravely. They have done everything we have asked them to do. Where mistakes have been made, the responsibility rests with me.As far as presidential addresses go, that's not bad, even if more would be better.
After the mea culpa came the main point. US commanders have expressed support for a plan to have18 Iraqi brigades, supported by local police, shut down the insurgency in Baghdad. The US will surge 5 brigades to support that effort.
To my mind, the real issue is the quality of those 18 brigades and of the local police they will depend on. Bush treated it as a given that they were competent and politically reliable. They might be. As Reagan said, "Trust but verify."
For the moment, I'll just keep my fingers crossed. (2) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 7:08 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
What I don't understand is how South Africa dared to vote against the resolution, supposedly:
On the grounds that the Security Council has no mandate to scold or sanction Burma, also known as Myanmar, for abuses on its own soil.Democracy only exists in South Africa because the entire world dared to challenge the apartheid regime for "abuses on its own soil."
On a related note, China, for reasons that one cannot fully understand, is suddenly being less obsructive when it comes to human rights in Darfur. (3) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 6:59 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
All of which leads me to ask the obvious question: How did Ban ever get appointed as Secretary General? On a related note, are his moves toward transparency and accountability a reflection of the fact that he made his career in the truly democratic republic of South Korea? (2) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 6:54 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
# Posted 11:51 AM by Taylor Owen
Just around 3 weeks between the two articles, and Kagan goes from 80,000 (or 50,000*, see below) to 30,000 as to what's needed to secure Baghdad (as Frank Rich quips in today's NYT, "whatever")! What changed?...
80,000. 50,000. 30,000. Whatevs! Roll the die on the craps table, ok, cuz it's gonna be 17,500 (barely half of Kagan's supposed drop-dead minimum requirement for Baghdad, and that's charitably construing his number-juggling, of course)! I repeat, does Fred Kagan support the President's "surge-lite"? If so, based on what rationale? A hail mary, or reality? Or is this just a Potemkin, souped-up version of Rumsfeld's "just enough troops to lose" doctrine? Have we learned nothing these past four years?Counterpoint:
Lowry? (7) opinions -- Add your opinion
Monday, January 15, 2007
# Posted 7:14 PM by Taylor Owen
On September 10 1956, Guy Mollet, the then French prime minister, came to London to discuss the possibility of a merger between the two countries with his British counterpart, Sir Anthony Eden, according to declassified papers from the National Archives, uncovered by the BBC.Not surprisingly (insert bad trade analogy here), it didn't go very far, but the tenacious Mollet was willing to dig deeper, putting French Nationalism itself on the table (insert surrender monkey joke here):
When Mr Mollet's request for a union failed, he quickly responded with another plan - that France be allowed to join the British commonwealth - which was said to have been met more warmly by Sir Anthony.Apparently, the offer was actually taken seriously by the Brits:
A document dated September 28 1956 records a conversation between the prime minister and his cabinet secretary, Sir Norman Brook, saying:So what do les Francais vivants think of this revelation?:
"I tell you the truth - when I read that I am quite astonished," the French Nationalist MP, Jacques Myard, told the BBC today.I bet not.
Curious what Oxblog's resident historian thinks of all this? Plausible? (7) opinions -- Add your opinion
Sunday, January 14, 2007
# Posted 2:41 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
# Posted 2:23 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
The debut of a new of majority in both houses of Congress is quite a fortuitous moment for the debut of a serious publication about congressional ethics and congressional privilege. In a pair of recent essays, Josh has explored the significance of his work for contemporary debates. Read them both (if you have subscriptions to the NYT and TNR).
But forget about what I think of Josh's book. Here's what Akhil Reed Amar, one of the foremost legal scholars in America, has to say about it:
"This book heralds the arrival of an important new scholar in the fields of comparative constitutional law and legal history. Fitting a broad range of institutional details into a comprehensive and subtle theoretical framework, Chafetz shows how Congressional privileges in America and Parliamentary privileges in England sprang from common origins but then evolved along separate paths as a result of basic differences in the political ecosystems. An excellent chronicle of the evolution of legislative privileges from the parliamentary supremacy of England to the popular sovereignty in kingless America."A lot of scholars would give an arm and a leg to have Prof. Amar say that about their books. Congratulations, Dr. Chafetz. (6) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 2:19 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
Friday, January 12, 2007
# Posted 4:09 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
Thursday, January 11, 2007
# Posted 3:29 PM by Patrick Porter
I was lucky enough recently to see the French film Joyeux Noel about the famous ‘Christmas Truce’ on the western front in 1914.
Amidst the carnage of the opening months of World War I, the film depicts the fraternising and mutual affection of enemy troops on Christmas Eve. It depicts a triangle of cultures: the Germans appear with their opera singer, fir trees and Pickelhaube on one side, the nostalgic and laconic French, and cheeky bagpiping Scots on the other.
On Christmas Eve and Day, the antagonists and allies sing, play football, smoke cigars, pose for shared photographs and generally affirm their common humanity.
In the ‘No Man’s Land’ between trenches, the film revisits some classic folk memories about the war: a naïve rush to the colours by uninformed youth who are deluded that it will be a bloodless jaunt over by Christmas; the young versus the old; nationalism versus internationalism; warlike ideology and certainty against irony and iconoclasm.
In all three sides, they show a nostalgia for a prewar life that is being dismantled by the apocalyptic nightmare. Against the world view of their military superiors, who insist on rigid discipline, and of their national populations, who were driven by hate and ignorance, the combatants are presented as figures of pathos, who mostly refuse to indulge in hysterical jingoism against the enemy, and want to resist the war’s brutalising nature.
(Incidentally, the field service actually did happen, but not exactly as the film suggests. Regiments that probably statistically were all bi-confessional are Catholicised by the film into unanimously repeating the Latin Liturgy!)
In reality, there was in fact a Scottish padre who conducted a join field service, a funeral, for opposing soldiers. He was a Presbyterian, Esselmount Adams, Chaplain to the Gordon Highlanders.
He made a point of finding an alternative cause than simple racial hatred. For him, the war was about dismantling Prussian militarism, whose predations were on display in the ruin, violence and humiliation that he saw inflicted on Belgium and north-eastern France. Not a Germanophobe, he believed the essentially advanced German civilisation had been led astray by a cabal of militarists who had overtaken the Kaiserreich.
He also believed the war was about transforming British society into a ‘New Jerusalem’ – through the return to sacrifice for the common good, he hoped it would develop social solidarity and piety that would be translated into alleviating poverty and strengthening piety in the post-war period.
A few years later, Adams wrote an account of the atrocities committed by German armies in
In other words,
Consider the other character, the belligerent priest who turns up at the end calling for holy war. His sermon towards the end of the film proclaims that the duty of the British is to kill the Germans indiscriminately, young and old, soldier and civilian, so that it would never need to be done again.
This was derived from an actual sermon by the Bishop of London. But again, his own evolving attitude to the war was a more crooked path. The same Bishop regretted his sermon, and went on to vote against bombing German cities in the House of Lords. And his bloodthirsty sermon calling for indiscriminate killing was atypical of many of the sermons that we have on record.
That the war was often conceived in more morally complex terms than outright racial hatred is supported by the fact that the combatants who were most publicly proclaimed in the popular press, books, public monuments and pamphlets were usually praised not only for their courage but also their civilised qualities - their mercy, Christian valour and compassion. Enthusiastic killers were not usually as intensely revered.
Noel Chavasse, who won the Victoria Cross twice, served as a medical officer, while the most celebrated martyr of the British war effort was Edith Cavell, a nurse who supposedly renounced narrow patriotism before she was executed by a German firing squad.
Instead, the more predominant pattern amongst the combatants who appeared in the first months of the war was of people who had mixed, even contradictory responses to the war.
Many accepted in varying degrees the basic legitimacy of the cause, defining it as a war for higher principles than crude tribal patriotism.
For the French, their compatriots were under German occupation, or more distressingly in one view, under the jackboot of Prussian militarism. For Germans, the triple Entente was trying to encircle and destroy the Fatherland, and
And combatants in all three nations were widely persuaded that it was a war of self-defence, and that they were expected by their parent societies to do their duty in resisting an invading army. Even German soldiers in North-eastern France believed they were preventing an invasion and guarding Germany's outer defences. It was above all a war of consent.
And there was another myth to be found in the film, the notion that the ‘generation of 1914’ and the societies that went to war were driven by a naïve enthusiasm for a short glorious conflict. This too has been shown to be a vast overstatement.
And there was another myth to be found in the film, the notion that the ‘generation of 1914’ and the societies that went to war were driven by a naïve enthusiasm for a short glorious conflict. This too has been shown to be a vast overstatement.
It is also more helpful to decouple the two concepts, of a ‘short’ war and a ‘nice’ war. Those who expected a short war often did so not on the assumption of a jaunt to overwhelm the enemy effortlessly, but on the assumption that it would be so intense that its human and material costs could not be sustained for long. This thinking is understandable. Even if the war had ended by Christmas 1914, a million men would already be dead. Even the German Kaiser, who promised that German forces would be home by autumn, also openly predicted that the war would be a dark and destructive time for the nation.
So while it was moving at times, the film with its overly sharp dichotomies was a missed opportunity. It failed to capture the more ambiguous and fraught nature of many attitudes to the war, glimpsed in the paradox that men like Adams were drawn to the sacred peace of Christmas even while believing in the duty to keep waging a bloody and terrible war.
It was possible to hold both thoughts simultaneously, and to be aware of the paradox, in a mental universe which was often messier, and in a war whose history is richer.
PS: review of Victor Davis Hanson's book Ripples of Battle coming up. Sorry about the delay, work has been crazy.
# Posted 1:46 AM by Patrick Belton
The new US ground commander picked by President Bush to direct the military “surge” into Iraq believes that the war can be won with a radical change of tactics: those used by the British in (Malaya and) Ulster. (Times)Fantastic (10) opinions -- Add your opinion
Wednesday, January 10, 2007
# Posted 12:15 AM by Ariel David Adesnik
Tuesday, January 09, 2007
# Posted 11:32 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
But be forewarned: I haven't done much thinking yet about how much of a surge would be necessary to make a difference. Would I only support an impossible increment of 50,000 US combat troops? Or is there some value to sending only an additional 20,000?
So let's begin with Fred Kaplan's argument, since both Taylor and Josh Marshall seem to consider it decisive. Kaplan's math begins with the proposition advanced by the US Army's new counterinsurgency manual: You need 50 combat troops for every 1000 individuals in the target population. That's a good rule of thumb, and I'm pretty willing to accept it for the sake of argument, although no rule of thumb should be applied mechanically.
If Baghdad has a population of 6 million, then the counterinsurgency force should number 120,000 combat troops. So what the heck are we going to accomplish with an extra 20,000? For Kaplan and Marshall, that seems to be the only question anyone needs to ask.
But I'm curious. I haven't read the Army's new manual yet, although it's near the top of my reading list. Does it say that an effective force needs to be 100% American (or British or Canadian, etc.)? Or can Iraqi troops be included in the total at an appropriate discount?
As George Will would be quick to point out, a lot of Iraqi troops are almost as much a part of the problem as they are part of the solution, because of their affiliation with Shi'ite militia and death squads. But some number are presumably effective, even one American GI is worth two or three Iraqis. Before passing judgment, it seems Fred and Josh should figure out what the Iraqis can contribute to the surge.
Kaplan also argues that no plan can work unless Maliki's Shi'ite government allows the surge to target Shi'ite militias as well as Sunni insurgents. I don't see why that's the case. Broadly speaking, a functioning government can't tolerate the existence of militias and death squads, even if they're roughly on the government's side. Yet given that the militias and death squads are out there now and we don't have much ability to stop them, I don't see why we can't focus the surge on forcing the Sunni insurgents out of Baghdad. In the unlikely event that a surge actually shuts down insurgent activity in Baghdad, then the counterinsurgency force may have enough leverage to start dealing with the Shi'ite irregulars.
Now let's continue with the premise that a surge might actually force the Sunni insurgents out of Baghdad. Won't they just go somewhere else? According to Fred Kagan and Jack Keane, the authors of the leading surge proposal, one of the reasons we need a surge in the neighborhood of 50,000 GIs is to reinforce the US presence in Anbar, so the insurgents can't just pull back to the Sunni triangle. So does that mean if we only surge 30,000, the whole operation will be pointless?
Frankly, I don't know. It's very hard for a non-expert to gauge the significance of an increment like 20,000 troops. So I'll have to do some more reading (including the President's speech, once it's available.)
In the mean time, here's my question for Taylor: Democrats opposed to the surge, like Joe Biden and Barack Obama, keep insisting that "there is no military solution" so what we really need is a political solution in Iraq. By a political solution, they mean a deal that addresses issues like sharing oil revenue and balancing the powers of the regions versus the authority of the center.
But who would negotiate on behalf of the Sunnis? The US has an ambassador and the Shi'ites have a government. There are a handful of Sunnis in the government, but they seem powerless. As for the insurgents, they have neither an identifiable leadership nor any apparent interest in negotiation. How do you engineer a political solution when only one side can show up at the negotiating table? (10) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 4:44 PM by Taylor Owen
(7) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 4:23 PM by Taylor Owen
Then there are the more political considerations. Nothing will work, even under otherwise ideal circumstances, unless the Iraqi government supports the effort, orders Iraqi battalions to take part, and agrees to let the counterinsurgents go after all militias, including the Mahdi Army controlled by Muqtada Sadr, a key faction of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's power base. The Iraqi government would also have to devise some power-sharing arrangement—for instance, a formula to share oil revenues with Sunni regions—to deal with the causes of insurgency (or at least the causes of the insurgents' popular support or tolerance). While an area is being secured, the U.S. and other governments would also have to pour in massive funding for reconstruction projects, well beyond the $1 billion that President Bush is expected to request for urban job creation. In other words, a surge—even if it proves successful on its own terms—will mean nothing, in the medium to long term, unless it is part of a broader political and economic strategy. Does Bush have such a strategy in mind? We'll see on Wednesday. If he does, will the Iraqi government be willing or able to go along? We'll see in the next few months.
But security is the prerequisite, and to achieve enduring security, the hard arithmetic indicates that Bush needs to send in a lot more troops than 20,000. The problem is, he doesn't have them, and he won't be able to get them for many years, under the best of circumstances.ht- JM, who concludes:
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# Posted 4:09 PM by Taylor Owen
I guess we will see whether he was right, again, in a few months... (1) opinions -- Add your opinion
Monday, January 08, 2007
# Posted 8:26 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
Pelosi: B+. For some reason, I had trouble with the CBS podcast, so I had to read the transcript of Pelosi's interview instead. She knew exactly which point to hammer on Iraq. Bush said he would listen to the generals, but now he ignores the opposition of Casey and Abizaid to a surge. Although I think a surge is the right policy, Bush clearly flip-flopped on the issue of listening to the generals. Now he has to pay the price.See you in seven. (7) opinions -- Add your opinion