OxBlog

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

# Posted 11:31 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

BLOGGING THE BIBLE: I much obliged to my friend SL for pointing this out.

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# Posted 11:05 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

EXACTLY THE WRONG WAY TO TALK ABOUT RELIGION AND POLITICS: WashingtonPost.com has a section entitled On Faith, to promote intelligent conversation about religion in America. This post, by Prof. Wendy Doniger at the University of Chicago's Divinity School, caught my attention. Here's how it begins:
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.

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Monday, January 29, 2007

# Posted 7:35 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SUNDAY MORNING ROUND-UP HIGHLIGHTS: There's been no round-up for a couple of weeks because of the technical problems I was having. But taking that time off gave me a chance to rethink the whole idea. Grades were fun at the beginning, but now they don't seem to provide much value-added. And one-sentence summaries often take up space without providing content

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?

GOV. HUCKABEE: I think it’s dangerous to say that we are a nation that ought to be pushed into a Christian faith by its leaders. However, I make no apology for my faith. My faith explains me. It means that I believe that we’re all frail, it means that we’re all fragile, that all of us have faults, none of us are perfect, that all of us need redemption. We are a nation of faith. It doesn’t necessarily have to be mine. But we are a nation that believes that faith is an important part of describing who we are, and our generosity, and our sense of optimism and hope. That does describe me.

MR. RUSSERT: But when you say...

GOV. HUCKABEE: I’m appalled, Tim, when someone says, “Tell me about your faith,” and they say, “Oh, my faith doesn’t influence my public policy.” Because when someone says that, it’s as if they’re saying, “My faith isn’t significant, it’s not authentic, it’s not so consequential that it affects me.” Well, truthfully my faith does affect me. But it doesn’t make me think I’m better than someone, it makes me know that I’m not as good as I really need to be.

MR. RUSSERT: But when you say “take this nation back for Christ,” what does that say to Jews, Muslims, agnostics, atheists? What...

GOV. HUCKABEE: Well, I think I—I’d probably phrase it a little differently today. But I don’t want to make people think that I’m going to replace the Capitol dome with a steeple or change the legislative sessions for prayer meetings. What it does mean is that people of faith do need to exercise their sense of responsibility toward education, toward health, toward the environment. All of those issues, for me, are driven by my sense that this is a wonderful world that God’s made, we’re responsible for taking care of it. We’re responsible for being responsible managers and stewards of it. I think that’s what faith ought to do in our lives if we’re in public service.
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.

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Sunday, January 28, 2007

# Posted 10:24 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE BIRTH OF THE PALESTINIAN REFUGEE PROBLEM is the title of the first book written by Israeli historian Benny Morris. When first published in the late 1980s, it provoked a harsh reaction from numerous Israelis who felt that Morris had slandered the founding fathers of the Jewish state. Morris has continued to publish on the subject of Palestinian refugees, although his politics have shifted to the right (in an Israeli context).

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.

Arab spokesmen countered that Israel had systematically and with premeditation expelled the refugees. Documentation that surfaced in massive quantities during the 1980s in Israeli and Western archives has demonstrated that neither “official” version is accurate or sufficient.

The creation of the problem was almost inevitable, given the geographical intermixing of the population, the history of Arab-Jewish hostility since 1917, the rejection by both sides of a binational solution, and the depth of Arab animosity toward the Jews and fears of coming under Jewish rule.
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…

This was the background to the second stage, the mass flight from urban neighborhoods and rural areas overrun by the Jewish forces during spring 1948. The earlier flight of the elite sapped popular morale and gave the masses an example to emulate.

The principal cause of the mass flight of April-June was Jewish military attack, or fears of such attack. Almost every instance…was the direct and immediate result of an attack on and conquest of Arab neighborhoods and towns. In no case did a population abandon its homes before an attack; in almost all cases it did so on the very day of the attack and in the days immediately following. And flight proved to be contagious. The fall of, and flight from, the big cities – principally Haifa and Jaffa – radiated pessimism and despair to surrounding villages…

The slaughter on April 9 of the villagers of Deir Yassin, augmented by Arab atrocity propaganda regarding what happened there, both reinforced and symbolized [the tendency toward flight]. Fear that the same fate might befall them propelled villagers to flight, and this “atrocity factor” was reinforced periodically during the months of fighting by other Jewish massacres, especially in October…Altogether about two to three undred thousand Arabs fled their homes during this second stage of the exodus.
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…

During the second half of the war, there was far less “spontaneous” flight. Most of the exodus at this time was due to clear, direct causes, including brutal expulsions and deliberate harassment.

Ben-Gurion clearly wanted as few Arabs as possible to remain in the Jewish state. But there was still no systematic expulsion policy; it was never, as far as we know, discussed or decided upon at Cabinet or IDF general staff meetings.
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.”)

The offer was seen by the Arabs as far too little, and most of the Arab states insisted that Israel take back all of the refugees.
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.

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Wednesday, January 24, 2007

# Posted 9:08 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

KERRY BIDS ADIEU: The junior senator from Massachusetts won't be running for President in 2008. Matt Yglesias writes:
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...

Like a lot of you I suspect, I feel torn in these sorts of situations. I don't want to give in to web of slurs and smears and character assassination that now still clings to Kerry.

But the issue seems best handled at the most practical level.

He wouldn't have been the best candidate so best that he didn't run at all.
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.

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# Posted 8:54 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE SOFT BIGOTRY OF LOW EXPECTATIONS: Liz Mair reports that she:
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).
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# Posted 8:49 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

McCAIN AND THE NEW MEDIA: Patrick Hynes is John McCain's point man on the web. He wants to correct the misperception that McCain has ignored the new media in favor of the old. He makes a good case.
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# Posted 7:56 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

FUR IS MURDER (BUT WOOL IS ONLY THEFT): It's interesting how ethics change with the times. Suddenly, fur is OK again. As for being a vegetarian, it turns out we've been having the same debates for hundreds of years (at least according to a new history of vegetarianism).

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.

But I had formerly been a great Lover of Fish, & when this came hot out of the Frying Pan, it smeled admirably well. I balanc’d some time between Principle & Inclination: till I recollected, that when the Fish were opened, I saw smaller Fish taken out of their Stomachs: Then thought I, if you eat one another, I don’t see why we mayn’t eat you.

So I din’d upon Cod very heartily and continu’d to eat with other People, returning only now & then occasionally to a vegetable Diet. So convenient a thing it is to be a reasonable Creature, since it enables one to find or make a Reason for everything one has a mind to do
And so it goes.
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# Posted 7:42 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE GREY LADY WORKS BLUE: As it turns out, "All the news that's fit to print" includes an detailed feature on porn stars and how new digital technology exposes blemishes on their skin that once were invisible. For example, the Paper of Record reports that:

During a scene in which [Ms. Samson] played a desperate housewife, she ran into a problem: the high-definition camera revealed she had a tiny ill-placed pimple.

“We kept stopping and trying to hide it. We put on makeup and powder, but there was no way,” Ms. Samson said. Finally, they tried another approach: “We just changed positions,” she said.

And to think I never would have known that without the NY Times!
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Monday, January 22, 2007

# Posted 8:18 AM by Patrick Belton  

COMMENTATORS have noticed a bit less of the cut and parry of partisan contest in my own writing of late. And it is true - since an unexpected and sad divorce about which I have just said as much as I care to say in public, followed closely by a number of family deaths, latterly my mother, I have felt inexplicably less taste for the venom and ad hominem of political debate. And at the same time, more for the path of the writer and diplomatic correspondent; and in this direction I have tried to take first steps, through first writing in the Middle East and South Asia, now with a sojourn in London to bang on with Arabic and Urdu, meanwhile completing my dissertation and bashing out a first book which now looks likely (and happily) to be coming out with Routledge. And, insha’Allah, come summer, head back to Afghanistan to test out a few mobile numbers I’ve been given, and try out my luck interviewing Karzai, Hekmatyar and a few of the Heart sewing circle alumnae.

(*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!
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Sunday, January 21, 2007

# Posted 12:50 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THIS IS PAKISTAN: Carlotta Gall of the New York Times has been aggressively covering support for the Taliban provided by the Pakistani intelligence services. Although the government of Pakistan insists that it supports the US and NATO against the Taliban, it seems that influential figures in Pakistan consider Ms. Gall to be the greater threat. In a rare first-person narrative in this morning's Times, she describes her experiences in Quetta:
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.

On our fifth and last day in Quetta, Dec. 19, four plainclothesmen detained Mr. Soomro at his hotel downtown and seized his computer and photo equipment.

They raided my hotel room that evening, using a key card to open the door and then breaking through the chain that I had locked from the inside. They seized a computer, notebooks and a cellphone.

One agent punched me twice in the face and head and knocked me to the floor. I was left with bruises on my arms, temple and cheekbone, swelling on my eye and a sprained knee.

One of the men told me that I was not permitted to visit Pashtunabad, a neighborhood in Quetta, and that it was forbidden to interview members of the Taliban.

The men did not reveal their identity but said we could apply to the Special Branch of the Interior Ministry for our belongings the next day.

After the intervention of the minister of state for information and broadcasting, Tariq Azim Khan, my belongings were returned several hours later. Mr. Soomro was released after more than five hours in detention.

Since then it has become clear that intelligence agents copied data from our computers, notebooks and cellphones and have tracked down contacts and acquaintances in Quetta.
All the people I interviewed were subsequently visited by intelligence agents, and local journalists who helped me were later questioned by Pakistan’s intelligence service, the Inter-Services Intelligence.

Mr. Soomro has been warned not to work for The New York Times or any other foreign news organization.
The war continues.
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Thursday, January 18, 2007

# Posted 7:24 AM by Taylor Owen  

COULD THIS BE ONE OF THE MISTAKES BUSH IS TALKING ABOUT?: So it turns out that in 2003, Iran offered the following to the US - ending support for Lebanese and Palestinian militant groups, helping to stabilize Iraq following the US-led invasion and making its nuclear programme more transparent. This in return for Washington to end its hostility, to end sanctions, and to disband the Iranian rebel group the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (operating in Iraq) and repatriate its members. Not ideal, but seeing as though they had been helping considerably in Afghanistan, this seems like a pretty good offer. Perhaps at the least a dialogue starter?
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.

"We thought it was a very propitious moment to do that," Lawrence Wilkerson told Newsnight.

"But as soon as it got to the White House, and as soon as it got to the Vice-President's office, the old mantra of 'We don't talk to evil'... reasserted itself."

Observers say the Iranian offer as outlined nearly four years ago corresponds pretty closely to what Washington is demanding from Tehran now. (emph mine)
So how has that rejection turned out?

Since that time, Lebanese guerrilla group Hezbollah inflicted significant military losses on the major US ally in the region, Israel, in the 2006 conflict and is now claiming increased political power in Lebanon.

Palestinian militant group Hamas won power in parliamentary elections a year ago, opening a new chapter of conflict in Gaza and the West Bank.

And Iraq?...


PS: Will the axis of evil line be seen as one of the single most damaging things ever said by (or written for) a president?

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# Posted 3:13 AM by Patrick Belton  

TGA ON THE HELL OF GOOD INTENTIONS:
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.
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Wednesday, January 17, 2007

# Posted 4:34 PM by Taylor Owen  

IKE VS. NIXON; IS BUCKLEY THE FIRST TO CHOOSE?: Kevin Drum, relaying a WaPo op-ed by Harold Meyerson, asks whether post-Iraq conservatives will turn towards Eisenhower or Nixon. A good question I think, and one that may provide a glimpse of a forthcoming foreign policy alliance.

Meyerson uses the analogy to compare conservative options for Iraq. He puts Eisenhower’s non-politicised ending of the Korean war against Nixon’s fierce and highly political stance on Vietnam long after he knew the war was lost. Fine, makes sense. Can we take this a bit further though?

Eisenhower conservatives would likely find allies in liberal internationalists looking for greater UN/Int Org collaboration. Particularly on Iraq, the two could possibly work towards a real shift to UN control of peacekeeping and reconstruction. This would start with the admission that Iraq cannot be 'won' by the US military, but that the stakes are too high for the international community to sit on the sidelines and smirk. The language could then be shifted away from GWAT, surges and counterinsurgency, to that of civil war, peacebuilding, and post conflict reconstruction - the language and expertise of the UN. In lieu of military expenditures, the US could start a Marshall plan-esk reconstruction fund. While Nixonian conservatives would see transfers of power as heretical, it is possible that such a mixed internationalist alliance could form a foreign policy majority. It also provides a nice alternative to the neocon/isolationist split that some have argued may emerge on the right.

In any case, it might be that the first conservative has played their hand on this divide (ht-Paul Wells). Maybe I’m misreading something, but Buckley Jr., writing at the NRO none the less, is nodding to the new Secretary General to take a lead in the future of Iraq.

A geographical division of Iraq is inevitable. The major players are obvious. It isn't plain how America, as an outside party, could play an effective role, let alone one that was decisive, in that national redefinition. And America would do well to encourage non-American agents to act as brokers — people with names like Ban Ki-moon.
Now, it may be that he believes that Ban Ki-moon’s positions will be notably different than Annan’s. (I doubt it though, as for all his flaws, Annan’s arguments on Iraq were quite moderate and largely representative of the institution, its mandate and its responsibilities. His successor would very likely have taken similar stances.) On the other hand, Buckley could believe that the US, for better or worse, is not an honest broker in Iraq. Too many civilians have died, and too many mistakes been made. Intention is irrelevant. The dye has been cast. I agree with Buckley, it's time for the UN.
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# Posted 4:10 PM by Taylor Owen  

CW- IGNATIEFF MAKES MY MORNING: This piece in the G&M this morning came about three months too late, but it still made my day. As Simpson notes, while Dion was largely seen as being the environmental candidate, Ignatieff actually had a far better policy platform. This is no coincidence though, and the underlying reason why his environmental platform was so strong sums up why I got involved in the campaign.

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.
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# Posted 6:49 AM by Patrick Belton  

HASHING IT OUT: Chatham House kindly invited me round yesterday to attend the visit of Iraqi Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi (Wikipedia, CFR, NPR), as part of his short trip to London.

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.
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# Posted 2:26 AM by Patrick Belton  

CREDIT WHERE CREDIT DUE: Michael Gove finds the sweet spot of parody this morning. This against competition, on a day when it unfolds the Act of Union was signed in, as they call it in Ullans, a s*****r.
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Tuesday, January 16, 2007

# Posted 8:03 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

IS OXBLOG STILL CENTRIST? There's plenty of space for your opinions below. But if you weigh in, you should probably place yourself along the political spectrum. Clearly, conservatives are inclined to consider us liberal, and liberals to consider us conservative.

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.)
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# Posted 7:36 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

BUSH'S SPEECH AND DURBIN'S RESPONSE: My thoughts about the speech itself are below. What about the response? In political terms, I think it was both civil and effective. In terms of substance, I disagree with it very strongly.

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.

We Americans, and a few allies, have protected Iraq when no one else would.

Now, in the fourth year of this war, it is time for the Iraqis to stand and defend their own nation.
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?
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# Posted 7:13 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

BUSH'S SPEECH: I know I'm very late to the game, but my internet connection is still down and I'm working off my laptop in a local cafe. I just thought I should go on the record, given the nature of my previous post about the surge.

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.
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# Posted 7:08 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SOUTH AFRICA'S HYPOCRISY ON HUMAN RIGHTS: No one will be to surprised to find out that China and Russia blocked a Security Council resolution criticizing Burma for its horrendous record on human rights.

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.
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# Posted 6:59 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

BYE-BYE ANNAN, HELLO BAN-BAN: It turns out that John Bolton is a big fan of Ban Ki-Moon, the new UN Secretary General. The first thing Bolton praises Ban for is defending (or at least refusing to condemn) the Iraqi decision to put Saddam to death. In addition, as part of a commitment to greater transparency, Ban made his personal finances public (something Annan would never do). Finally, Ban asked for the resignations of all of the UN's top executives so he could put his own team in place instead of preserving bureaucratic privilege.

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?
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# Posted 6:54 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

HILLARY'S NIGHTMARE IS REAL: The WaPo reports:Illinois Sen. Barack Obama (D), one of the Democratic Party's brightest young stars, jumped into the 2008 race for the White House today, establishing a presidential exploratory committee that is expected to lead immediately into a full-blown campaign for president.Imagine how angry Hillary must be to have a straight up news report describe her opponent as one of the party's "brightest young stars". It's not an unfair assessment, but I'd hardly call it impartial.
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# Posted 11:51 AM by Taylor Owen  

WHEN IS A SURGE A SURGE?:
Point:
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:

The 80,000 and 50,000 figures come from this TWS piece. 80,000 is clearly what he thinks it would take to secure Baghdad all at once: "Conducting Tal Afar-type operations across the entire capital region all at once would require concentrating all available forces in the area and a 'surge' of about 80,000 U.S. soldiers." 50,000 is his ballpark figure for what it would take to do it in phases...

And 50,000 is not that different from what Kagan and Keane came up with when they sat down and did a more detailed military plan for securing Baghdad in phases (a huge part of the city, Sadr City, was left off the table in their plan). They called for five brigades and two regiments to Baghdad and Anbar, more than 30,000 combat troops (but even more troops than that if you count logistics, etc. to support the combat troops). Bush has proposed sending five brigades and a regiment to Baghdad and Anbar, almost precisely what Kagan/Keane proposed. The difference comes in the way the brigades are being counted. The Bush administration is low-balling them as 3,500 troops each, so it comes up with a lower total number.

Point:

Bush is reportedly sending only 17,500 troops to Baghdad, and 4,000 separately to Anbar. 'Late December' Kagan says that we need for the "surge" at least 25,000 in Baghdad, and 7,000 in Anbar. So that's 7,500 short in Baghdad, and 3,000 short in Anbar--and that's playing with kid gloves--by not boring into the detail of Fred K's early December piece that spoke of the need for 50,000-80,000 fresh troops, before he dramatically (and so conveniently) reduced the bid/ask.

Contra Rich, this isn't about whether you count a brigade as 3,000 or 5,000. It's about this surge-lite being half-assed, even with a very talented guy like Petraeus at the helm, because we simply don't have the troops (in large because a lot on the dumbed-down NRO Right these past years were carrying water for Rumsfeld's incredibly misguided, troop-lite transformationalist nostrums). The surge is also likely to fail as it will be relying on confusing chains of command, because Kurdish peshmerga are going to be thrown in the mix, and because the Shi'a force being brought in from the south won't fight radical Shi'a militias, but only Sunnis--thus exacerbating the civil war (sorry, sectarian tensions, in NRO-speak). And, in the middle of course, will be G.I.s from places like Idaho and Indiana--getting killed to fight al-Qaeda and those evil Iranian mullahs, we're being led to believe, presumably--rather than, more likely, ultimately proving powerless to prevent Shi'a hegemony in Baghdad (you know, some of those friendly folks doling out the Nick Berg treatment these days).

P.S. Memo to Rich: before casually accusing me of a "smear", take a good hard look at what's shovelled around NRO day in, day out. The aspersions, juvenile belittling and denigrations bandied about the sand-box you call home come pretty fast and often, truth be told, so careful tossing around the "S" word, -k?

Lowry?
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Monday, January 15, 2007

# Posted 7:14 PM by Taylor Owen  

WOULD WE STILL HAVE FREEDOM FRIES?: This, caught by Kevin Drum, is really quite remarkable:
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:

"The PM told him [Brook] on the telephone that he thought, in the light of his talks with the French:

· That we should give immediate consideration to France joining the
Commonwealth
· That Monsieur Mollet had not thought there need be difficulty over France
accepting the headship of her Majesty
· That the French would welcome a common citizenship arrangement on the
Irish basis."
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 had a good opinion of Mr Mollet before. I think I am going to revise that opinion. I am just amazed at reading this, because since the days I was learning history as a student I have never heard of this. It is not in the textbooks."
I bet not.

Curious what Oxblog's resident historian thinks of all this? Plausible?
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Sunday, January 14, 2007

# Posted 2:41 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

IT'S NOT EXACTLY GREAT SCHOLARSHIP, but I just published a review in the Daily Standard of a fascinating new production by the Metropolitan Opera of New York. I also did a book review for the Standard last month, but forgot to put up a link to it. Frankly, I'm disappointed by my failure to commit such a fundamental act of self-promotion.
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# Posted 2:23 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

FROM BLOG-PIONEER TO EMINENT SCHOLAR: The day has finally arrived. Yale University Press has just published Democracy's Privileged Few by the founder of this very blog, Dr. Joshua Chafetz.

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.
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# Posted 2:19 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

ALL HAIL GENTRIFICATION! My internet connection is still down, but I am sitting in a vegan bakery cafe with wi-fi that opened up just three blocks from my apartment. If you're in the neighboorhood, stop by the Sticky Fingers Bakery. And just a couple of blocks further from the Metro is the very small but very comfy Columbia Heights Coffee (with wi-fi), now open until 8pm on weeknights!
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Friday, January 12, 2007

# Posted 4:09 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

PLEASE EXCUSE OUR TECHNICAL DIFFICULTIES: My web connection has been down for 48 hours. Obviously, I'm online now, but I just have a minute to post this note. Update to follow.
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Thursday, January 11, 2007

# Posted 3:29 PM by Patrick Porter  

BETWEEN PATRIOTISM AND PACIFISM: 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.

It’s a sad film with the lineaments of tragedy. The men who want to lay aside hostilities will ultimately be powerless to maintain their humanitarian posture, let alone stop the war itself. The war and the hatred that powers it are both incomprehensible and irresistible.

The main problem with the film is that for artistic effect, it presents rather too sharply two contrasting visions of the war: the hate-filled, culturally blind and dehumanised aggression of nationalism on one side is pitted against the pacific gentleness and culturally enlightened alternative, embodied in the ‘poor bloody infantry’ of western Europe.

One way that it presents these two conflicting stances is through two characters. A senior clergyman who arrives as a chaplain, whose murderous war theology is contrasted with the fraternal spirit of a Scottish priest and First Aid Worker, who takes a combined field service and preaches peace and brotherhood.

(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.

But Adams was not the one-dimensional non-belligerent that the film suggests. In fact, he would write a pamphlet about the purpose of the war, in which he gave the war a very high meaning.

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 Belgium and north-eastern France, atrocities which suggested that there was a serious threat to civilisation that had to be resisted.

In other words, Adams demonstrated something that I found often in my own research about the war, that participants could fraternise and empathise with the enemy while believing in the cause.

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.

This also accords with some of my own research. There were many cases in the archives, in letters, diaries, censor’s reports, trench newspapers and other literature, of combatants who were neither mindless chauvinists nor disillusioned humanitarians.

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 East Prussia had already been invaded and to some extent pillaged by Czarist armies.

For the British, conservatives and liberals united around the sovereign neutrality of Belgium, the survival of the empire and the popular view that the enemy embodied the belligerent spirit, so that to fight it was to serve the cause of peace.

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.

At the same time, while the war evoked their hostility and hatred, they were often capable of being dismayed at the horrors shared by the other side. Moreover, they wanted often to believe that they represented a compassionate and humane cause, as reflected in their own rhetoric and propaganda. It was, after all, widely seen as a war that represented one of the ultimate liberal causes – not as a war of annihilation, but as the last war that would end war forever.

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. The predominant reactions, at least in Germany and Britain, were a sense of stoic duty, uncertainty, and fear, sometimes mingled with excitement. Highly literate populations had read about the Russo-Japanese, Balkan and even American Civil Wars, and were aware of the potential destructiveness of industrial power. Volunteers enlisted more intensely after the first month or so, when it was becoming widely known that it was a desperate and lethal struggle.

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.

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# Posted 1:46 AM by Patrick Belton  

EXCEPT THIS:
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
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Wednesday, January 10, 2007

# Posted 12:15 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

"THE WORST OF ALL WORLDS WOULD BE A SMALL, SHORT SURGE OF U.S. FORCES." Those are the words of John McCain, guest-blogging today at PowerLine.
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Tuesday, January 09, 2007

# Posted 11:32 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

DOES A SURGE HAVE A SNOWBALL'S CHANCE IN HELL? Taylor has argued the negative, so let me see how much of an affirmative argument I feel like making. Yesterday, I mentioned in passing that I'm for a surge. Dignam wants to know why. So let me give it a shot.

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?
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# Posted 4:44 PM by Taylor Owen  

MEANWHILE, IN THE DEP'T OF THOSE WHO WISH THEY HAD BOUGHT APPLE STOCK YESTERDAY:

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# Posted 4:23 PM by Taylor Owen  

ESSENTIAL PRE-SPEECH READING: Kaplan does the surge math and isn't convinced. Whole thing is worth a read. Money quote:

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:

One of the ironies of the current situation is that in the early months of the occupation, Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, who's slated to take over in Iraq, was the general on the ground who all the sharpest people on military affairs thought was the one guy in charge over there who really understood what kind of a battle he was engaged in. In short, counter-insurgency, or rather, heading off an insurgency by prioritizing real reconstruction and hearts-and-minds work rather than kicking people's doors down.

He spent last year co-authoring the Army's new counterinsurgency field manual. But look at what the manual says. Counter-insurgency operations require at least 20 combat troops per 1000 people in a given area. And look closely. That's not just military personnel, but combat troops.

Kaplan runs through the numbers. But the key points are that you'd need 120,000 combat troops to mount real counter-insurgency operations just in Baghdad. We currently have 70,000 combat troops in the whole country. So concentrate all US combat personnel in Iraq into Baghdad. Then add 20,000 more 'surge' combat troops. That leaves you 30,000 short of the number the Army thinks you'd need just in Baghdad.

Needless to say, Iraq isn't just Baghdad. And if you know anything about how insurgencies work you know that if we actually had enough troops in Baghdad (remember, to even get in shooting distance of that you need to evacuate the rest of the country) the insurgents would just fan out and start literal or figurative fires where we're not.

What this all amounts to is that 20,000 or even 50,000 new combat troops don't even get you close to what the Army says you need to do what President Bush says he's now going to try to do. To get that many troops into the country you'd need to put this country on a serious war-footing and begin drawing troops down from deployments around the globe. All of which, just isn't going to happen, setting aside for the moment of what should happen. And that tells you this whole thing is just a joke at the expense of the American public and our troops on the ground in Iraq.

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# Posted 4:09 PM by Taylor Owen  

WHO TO TRUST? Fallows in someone who, as Andrew points out, got it right on Iraq, and early. In fact, he has been consistently prescient, and in my view wise, over the past 5 years (see here here here here here and here for a start). Does this mean we should listen to him now over the voices of those who were spectacularly wrong? I dunno, but here's what he thinks of the surge.
I guess we will see whether he was right, again, in a few months...
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Monday, January 08, 2007

# Posted 8:26 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SUNDAY MORNING ROUND-UP: It was the Democrats' time to shine on Sunday morning, as they celebrated their new majority in Congress. CBS won the PR battle among the major networks by scoring an interview with Nancy Pelosi. ABC also turned to the House Democrats, inviting on a panel of three incoming committee chairmen, followed by Brent Scowcroft. NBC had Joe Biden, who appears on so many Sunday talk shows that you wonder whether NBC had any other options. Alongside Biden was Lindsey Graham, who is fast becoming a fixture himself.
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.

Also of note, Pelosi brought into focus her total opposition to a surge by insisting repeatedly that she is against any sort of "escalation". It's a word with strong echoes of Vietnam, a word that summons up all the futility of our misguided approach to that war. Pelosi's mantra now is that "It is time to bring the war to a close." If only the Sunni and the Shi'a would be so kind as to take her advice.

The Three Chairmen: B. Charlie Rangel of New York will become chairman of the Ways and Means Committee. David Obey of Wisconsin will take the helm at Appropriations. Finally, Henry Waxman of California will head up Oversight and Government Reform. Frankly, it was a pretty dull interview. The three chairmen provided a mix of feel-good boilerplate and mild criticism of the President.

Scowcroft: B. The old general and played against type by supporting the plan for a surge and insisting that those who want to withdraw just don't understand what will happen to Iraq and to the Middle East if we allow that to happen. Apparently surprised by hearing Scowcroft actually defend Bush the Younger, Stephanopoulos didn't seem to have a response ready.

Biden: B. I like Joe Biden. I'd take him as President instead of Hillary any day. I disagree with him strongly on his analysis of Iraq (the subject of my next post), but I think he's basically a good guy, even though his middle name is not 'excitment'.

Graham: B. I know, I know. It's very boring when everyone gets a 'B'. But Washington is still in the midst of a post-vacation lull. We're still having parties, not partisanship. Anyhow, this was the first time I'd seen Lindsey Graham instead of just listening to him via audio podcast. Although the Republican from South Carolina always has something thoughtful to say, I never realized what funny movements he made with his hands. It's quite a contrast to his speaking voice, which is that of a consummate Southern gentlemen.

On Iraq, Graham did a pretty good job of making the case for a surge. The one question he just couldn't answer is what we do if the surge fails. Admit that the war is over and go home? Go back to the status quo ante? McCain also has trouble with this question. Both Graham and McCain want to win in Iraq, which seems to suggest that if the surge doesn't work they will support going home. But McCain and Graham also talk about the incalculable cost of abandoning Iraq, which means we can't pull out even if the surge fails. In short, McCain and Graham are backing themselves into a rhetorical corner, where whatever position they take will seem like a contradiction or a flip-flop. And since their most important asset is their credibility, that is very dangerous.
See you in seven.
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