Wednesday, February 28, 2007

# Posted 3:57 PM by Taylor Owen  

OXBLOG AT ISA: I am at the International Studies Association conference in Chicago for the week, as I am sure many readers are. Should we collect good panels in the comments section? I am giving three papers: One on humanitarian intervention rapid response force capabilities (TC46) , one on Human Security and the UN (SA09), and one on 3D peacebuilding policy in Afghanistan (SD41). What panels are readers on? What are some good ones?
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# Posted 2:48 AM by Patrick Belton  

MORE OXBLOG MULTIMEDIA EXTRAVAGANZA! It's like a podcast these days, with other people doing the work. Clever Canadian Richard Albert has seduced me on to Oxide Radio this morning at 11 am (UK) to talk about Hamas and broader Middle East regional trends. Do drop in if you like.

Canada attracts a great deal of vitriol, both for its interventions abroad and the purported failings of its popular culture, but I cling still to the belief that Canada is a force for good in the world.

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Tuesday, February 27, 2007

# Posted 6:04 AM by Patrick Porter  

IN SEARCH OF SCYTHIANS: I know that Oxblog is lucky enough to have a number of classical historians as readers.

I need some help: for my research on the concept of 'eastern' or 'oriental' ways of war, I'm looking (or going on a tangent!) into the campaign of Persian Emperor Darius against the Scythians, around 513-12 BC, an expedition mentioned in book 4 of Herodotus' Histories.

Are there good journal articles or even books specifically on this? In particular, on the reliability of Herodotus' account?

any help in the 'comments' box would be appreciated!
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Monday, February 26, 2007

# Posted 10:11 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WHAT HAPPENED TO QAEDA'S "AL"? Maybe I don't read enough newspapers, but I thought it was very strange to see how "Qaeda" has become a stand-alone adjective in the NY Times. For example, a story on Saturday described reports that:
American AC-130 gunships had conducted strikes on Qaeda suspects using an airstrip in eastern Ethiopia.
As most people know, "Al" just means "the" in Arabic. There is no capitalization in Arabic, so one can't really say, I think, if "Al" is part of the name of Osama bin Laden's organization, or just a grammatical happenstance.

Think of it this way. George Bush is president of the United States, but one can refer to him as "United States President George Bush".

What's really strange is something I discovered while reading news reports from the 1980s, also in the Times. Regularly, the reports would refer to the USSR not as "the Soviet Union" but as just "the Soviet" or even just "Soviet", as in "Soviet imprisons well-known dissident."

Now that makes no sense. It's sort of like writing that "the United invaded Afghanistan in 2001. In 2003, United also invaded Iraq."

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# Posted 9:46 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

"THERE'S ABOUT 5,000 Al-QAIDA [FIGHTERS] IN IRAQ." Not exactly what you expect to hear from a Democratic senator, now is it? And I don't mean Joe Lieberman. He doesn't count.

Those are actually the words of Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, who voted against the war in 2003.

The second time that Levin mentioned Al Qaeda in Iraq during his interview on NBC, he made sure to explain that they were there because of Bush:
There are now 5,000 to 6,000 al-Qaida people in Iraq. There weren’t any, or there were just a handful, prior to the war. Now they’re there because of the policies of this administration.
I'd say that's about right, and it isn't often you hear a Democratic senator even say that there were a handful of Al Qaeda operatives in Iraq before the war. But the real question is where do we go from here?

Levin says he wants to leave a small number of US troops in Iraq after March 2008 in order to train the Iraqis and fight Al Qaeda. But if you told the average American that there were five or six thousand Al Qaeda fighters in Iraq, how many troops do you think they would want to send in? I'm guessing not a few.

The significant presence of Al Qaida also raises two other issues: How would the Arab world interpret a US withdrawal (or drawdown to a Levin-sized contingent)? And what would happen to Iraq after that withdrawal/down?

Levin is adamant that things won't -- or couldn't get worse:
MR. RUSSERT: If, in fact, we withdrew most of the troops out by March of 2008, your goal, and all-out civil war broke out, complete, total chaos in Iraq, what do you do then?

SEN. LEVIN: Well, that’s where we’re heading now.
As far as Sunday morning rhetoric goes, Levin's is the expected response. But it still shows that smart, influential Democrats still aren't grappling with the implications of their proposals. In fact, Levin even insisted twice that "Our proposal is an effort to try to succeed in Iraq."

I guess the easy response to this objection is that it wouldn't be hard to turn up a long list of far more disingenuous or misguided statements made especially by the Vice President and also the President. Levin himself pointed to the infamous "last throes" remark.

But I made it through the first two decades of my life and then some believing wholeheartedly that Democrats were too honest and too intelligent for their own good. Much of my identity as a liberal Democrat was based on the premise that if I wanted to be honest and intelligent, then there was only one party for me.

That same logic remains powerful to this today, with Democrats proudly proclaiming themselves to be part of the "reality-based community". It is that kind of pretension that makes my ears prick up when I hear one Democrat after another insist that there won't be any ethnic cleansing if we pull out of Iraq.

Well, maybe there won't be. I hope there won't be. But I wouldn't count on it.

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# Posted 9:09 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

JOURNALISTS LAUGH AT ROMNEY: Mitt Romney should be grateful that NBC includes nothing but words in its transcripts for Meet the Press. On MTP transcripts, there are no parenthetical remarks about relevant sounds such as (Applause) or (Laughter). Consider the following exchange:
MR. RUSSERT: Byron York, the one thing that Governor Romney has done, however, is talked about his positions on abortion, on gay rights, on stem cell research, and his positions have evolved on all of those.

MS. GOODWIN: “Evolved” is a nice word.

MR. RUSSERT: Doesn’t that complicate his problem? You heard Senator Kennedy talking about divorce and birth control.

MR. YORK: Right.
Pretty normal stuff. But if MTP transcripts included more than just words, here's how the exchange would've gone:
MR. RUSSERT: Byron York, the one thing that Governor Romney has done, however, is talked about his positions on abortion, on gay rights, on stem cell research, and his positions have evolved on all of those.

MS. GOODWIN: “Evolved” is a nice word.

[Spontaneous burst of raucous laughter from usually poker-faced journalists.]

MR. RUSSERT: Doesn’t that complicate his problem? You heard Senator Kennedy talking about divorce and birth control.

MR. YORK: Right.
When you say that something couldn't pass the laugh test, you usually aren't expecting to be taken literally. But Romney's changes of heart are so convenient, it seems hard even for journalists to feign objectivity.

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Friday, February 23, 2007

# Posted 8:59 PM by Patrick Belton  

BATTLE OF THE SEXES, CONT'D: Up until Matthew Syed's essay in this morning's Times, I'd always considered the awarding of equal prize money at Wimbledon a no-brainer; it may still be proper on balance, but only because broadly political considerations (ones to do with symbolism and gender parity of esteem) trump the disparities of viewership, advertisement revenue and depth of competition which Matthew points out in his clever rebuttal.
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# Posted 1:48 PM by Patrick Porter  

KILLING INSURGENCIES: Ralph Peters has a combative (and ill-tempered) article in the Armed Forces Journal.

It is his rebuttal of America's new Field Manual on Counterinsurgency (FM 3-24), and of the 'PhD gang' whose theories he mocks.

It castigates the approach of General Petraeus, commander of the Multinational Force in Iraq who co-authored the Field Manual, and the 'Phd gang', which presumably includes today's class of 'warrior intellectuals' with their influence on American doctrine.

His argument, crudely put, is that insurgencies must be put down mainly with brute strength. Not hearts and minds.

Almost as a variation on Stalin's comment about people and problems and the value of removing people to solve problems, Peters seems to be arguing that because insurgencies are caused by insurgents, killing insurgents is most often the solution.

Peters also argues that this applies pretty generally throughout history.

This sits oddly with his other assertion against universal solutions, that 'the medicine for one type of insurgency can be deadly in another.'

However, his main argument is clear enough. My own response right now is more a series of questions and doubts rather than an alternative hypothesis. Mainly, I hope he is wrong.

He's right that the hard core of jihadists are bent on domination, martyrdom and apocalpytic conflict, and cannot be dissuaded peacefully.

This would not seem to be the case necessarily for all of those they recruit, however, or for the surrounding populations whose active support and information we need.

And its hard to argue against the proposition that many regimes have suppressed insurgencies successfully by simply applying overwhelming force, often indiscriminately.

He mentions Imperial Rome amongst others to support this.

But is that the only way realistically to prevail? I hope not. I'm not sure we would want to ape the methods of those who, for example, crucified rebel slaves to deter others, no matter how effective.

Do we actually want to fight the insurgencies in Afghanistan and Iraq in the same spirit as the successful ones Peters mentions: the Indian Wars, the Boxer Rebellion or the Moro insurrection?

In the context of more global struggles, we might well suppress whole populations more effectively if we behaved like the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany or Imperial Japan, but then again, those efforts had mixed results.

Peters notes that insurgencies often rise or fall not on people power but on the role of third parties or external forces, such as the British support for the Spanish guerrillas, and on the back of media coverage. Which is true.

But if the role of outside powers and media scrutiny matter, a policy of uniformly unrestrained force might be counter-productive in that environment.

And the fate of insurgencies can rest on other things that are more political than directly military. The successful counter-insurgencies in Malaya and Greece were aided by certain political conditions: the communists in Malaya were mostly ethnic Chinese and regarded as interlopers, while the fallout between Tito and Stalin meant than the Greek communist insurgents lost their external patron.

In other words, COIN warfare is not necessarily a 'fight to the death', but a political struggle for legitimacy. Where events, friction and public opinion can tilt the balance.

Another difficulty here is that Peters talks about winning, but talks much less about the issue of winning to what purpose?

There is counterinsurgency simply to maintain dominance, and a more liberal concept of counterinsurgency, intended to create an environment where the native population can achieve political freedom, economic security and ultimately self-determination.

Obviously, those goals are not being met in Iraq. But I'm not convinced that Peters' alternative, of storming mosques rather than respecting them, or of fighting every battle like Fallujah, would be any more effective.

The more I read about these issues, the more the material and economic dimensions seem to matter. While culture and violence are often discussed, it seems that people embrace warlords, jihadists or 'ethnic demagogues' when there is a lack of law and order and where there is such material deprivation that they go back to their primary loyalties.

Despite all this, Peters work is always provocative and passionate, and gets the grey cells thinking.

Your views?

UPDATE: Thanks to all those who posted comments. The discussion reinforced my impression that for force to be the lone decisive element, other political preconditions have to be present, and they often aren't.

And 'hearts and minds' is not necessarily an opposite and hostile alternative to force, but a necessary step in locating and defeating the core of the insurgency.

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# Posted 9:22 AM by Taylor Owen  

AFGHANISTAN OP-EP: Apologies for the light posting of late, it has been a hectic work month. I have an op-ed in today's Toronto Star (written with friend and colleague David Eaves), the slightly longer and unedited version of which is below:

Getting Back on Track in Afghanistan

Success in Afghanistan remains as vital today as when the government first sent troops, aid workers and diplomats to Kandahar in August 2005. Many Canadians, however, feel unsure about the mission and want to be assured that our government has a strategy. On February 6th, Prime Minister Harper promised as much, stating his government will table a report summarizing the progress and challenges to date, and will make a significant announcement about our next steps. This is an opportunity to clarify our strategy and to unite both Parliament and the country around the largest deployment of Canadian forces since the Korean war.

First, let us be clear. Canada has an unambiguous purpose in Afghanistan. Failure to secure and rebuild will leave the country as a failed state, a neo-Taliban led fundamentalist regime, or a training ground for terrorists. Any of these would fundamentally threaten Afghan human security, regional stability, and our Canadian national interests.

Prime Minister Harper must reaffirm our commitment and clearly articulate our way forward. We suggest that his report must address three critical areas that if left unchecked, will cause the mission to deteriorate and could cause it to fail.

1. Return to a strategy that complements counterinsurgency with reconstruction and the imposition of the rule of law. Over the past year Prime Minister Harper has increasingly relied on failed US policies and rhetoric, compounding existing problems and creating new ones. In a battle for the hearts and minds of southern Afghans, an aggressive approach will do more harm than good.

Militarily, the killing of even one civilian can do great strategic harm, turning entire villages against us. The Taliban use these casualties to great effect, so that some Afghans now fear international forces more than those who brutally ruled over them.

We need to rethink our counterinsurgency strategy, by relying less on military force, and more on innovative local interactions. As a start, we must curtail the use of air strikes, resume the policy of compensating civilian casualties and determine how our forces can best support reconstruction. The Liberal cabinet deliberately chose not to deploy Leopard tanks and CF-18’s, prioritizing interpersonal contact with Afghans over brute military might. The Prime Minister must explain why we deviated from this strategy.

Most importantly, we need to ensure effective governance. Support for the Taliban derived, in part, from their capacity to impose law and order. Many felt a draconian but predictable governance structure was preferable to chaos and anarchy. Afghan’s desperately want the stability and freedom that comes with the rule of law. If we want to win their hearts and minds we must enable them to establish a just and fair system as quickly as possible.

Diplomatically, the Taliban resurgence in the south remains unchecked. Our problem starts, not from lofty negotiations with Pakistan, but from our own polarised view of the Taliban. Like the failed de-Baathification of Iraq, categorising all who support the Taliban as “against us”, both radicalizes and creates enemies out of moderates whose political support could help stabilize the country.

2. Align Domestic and Foreign Policies. Support for US-backed counter-narcotics tactics endangers the Afghan mission. Poppy eradication destroys the livelihoods of many Afghans and fuels Taliban recruitment. Forcing farmers to shift from poppies, which generate $5,200 per acre, to wheat, which generates $121, is unrealistic. Farmers need a viable alternative. One that curtails the influence of warlords and reduces the global supply of heroin.

Internationally, the Canadian government should ally with the British to develop a regulatory regime that legalizes the purchase of Afghan poppy crops. These crops could be used in the legal production of codeine and morphine, which are scarce in the developing world.

The Canadian Government should also support the Afghan mission by curbing demand for opiates the one place it can – at home. In our globalized world there is a direct link between the poppy fields of Afghanistan and overdose deaths in downtown Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal. Domestic policies that reduce demand for illegal opiates – such as renewing Vancouver’s Insite safe injection site – diminish the market for these illicit crops and make it easier to shift Afghan farmers to alternatives.

3. Provide clarity of mission. Canadians must be provided with the necessary information to judge our strategy and progress in Afghanistan. When Canada agreed to the Kandahar mission it sought to balance development, military and diplomatic components. Prime Minister Paul Martin outlined this strategy on February 22nd, 2005 when he described how Canadian Forces “…will be assisted by aid officers, who will identify key assistance projects to help to reduce tensions, and by diplomats, who will work with the provincial and local authorities in building confidence with the local population.” Are we still implementing a 3D strategy? If not, why not? If so, what are the benchmarks with which we can measure our success and evaluate the balance between our defence, development and diplomatic efforts?

Transparency is particularly important for effective humanitarian assistance. Critical questions remain unanswered. Where is our development money going? How much are we spending, and on what? Are these programs symbiotic with our military and diplomatic operations?

The Government would be well advised to establish a development measurement framework with clear milestones, based on the Afghanistan Compact, enabling projects to be evaluated and held accountable. Canada could also appoint a Director of Reconstruction to serve as a counterpart to our military commander and charged with achieving our development objectives. Combined, these initiatives would enhance security by ensuring those programs that most positively impact the lives of local Afghans are prioritized and monitored.

While we are but one partner of a large coalition, smart, targeted Canadian policies can make a substantial difference. Because the Afghanistan mission is difficult and, at times, dangerous it continues to test our leadership. Harper's report is timely, but will only be valuable if he addresses head on the critical challenges we face. Canada needs a clear strategy for success – one that builds trust, engages in development and reconstruction, and ensures the rule of law, simultaneously. Without such a strategy we risk defaulting to a US-style military approach, neglecting development and diplomacy. This is Canada’s mission – let us ensure we tackle it Canada’s way.

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Thursday, February 22, 2007

# Posted 10:01 AM by Patrick Porter  

OPINION, BLOOD AND TREASURE: The British Times carried a depressing story yesterday about a surge in anti-American feeling in the Islamic world. But there is one interesting detail.

Despite, or maybe because of, the confrontation and tension between the Iranian regime and the US and the international community over nuclear proliferation, Iranian public opinion is allegedly now more favourable to the USA than it was in 2001.

According to the Times, those with an 'unfavourable' view of the USA are now down from 63 to 52%.

Has the inflammatory rhetoric and posturing of the Iranian President backfired domestically?

Also interesting is the report that radicals tend to be wealthier and better educated:
are radicals any poorer than their fellow Muslims? We found the opposite: there is indeed a key difference between radicals and moderates when it comes to income and education, but it is the radicals who earn more and stay in school longer.”
This is not necessarily to imply that there is no correlation between poverty and radicalism/terrorism. One interpretation of the material basis for terrorism might be that wealthy jihadists think they are acting on behalf of the impoverished.

But this then doesn't explain why they so willingly target the poor, and fellow Muslims, in their attacks, either directly or indirectly by inflicting economic damage that also hurts the poor. It might look like a particularly violent anti-globalisation protest to down a skyscraper, but it also disrupts trade, investment, travel, etc.

Being willing to inflict or exacerbate poverty is not an obvious symptom of a deep concern with the welfare of the Third World. Just as willingly assaulting mosques and indiscriminately including co-religionists in terrorist attacks is not obviously a sign of exclusively anti-western feeling.

At the same time, while the core of terrorist movements may not be ideologically inspired by distress at others' poverty, they can recruit on the basis of economic need.

Many of those who are hired to do the kidnapping, sabotage or other dark chores of Iraqi insurgents or the Taleban might well be doing it primarily for economic reasons, having no other livelihood.

David Kilcullen, the counter-terrorist strategist at the State Department, argued in 2004 that between 70-75% of attacks in Iraq were economically motivated. In Baghdad, insurgents reportedly pay $250 for an attack on coalition forces, $1000 for disabling an armoured vehicle, or $25,000 for the capture of a female coalition soldier. Criminal gangs operating for profit might kidnap individuals and then auction them to the highest bidding jihadist group.

So there is a linkage, but its not simply poor people killing the rich as a protest against poverty. It is more often the recruitment of the poor by wealthy operators to inflict attacks that worsen poverty.


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# Posted 7:08 AM by Patrick Porter  

FIGHT IN THE SHADE: Getting very excited about the film 300, based on Frank Miller's comic-book account of the Battle of Thermopylae. Victor Davis Hanson writes an introduction to the film:
The Spartans fight bare-chested without armor, in the “heroic nude” manner that ancient Greek vase-painters portrayed Greek hoplites, their muscles bulging as if they were contemporary comic book action heroes.

Again, following the Miller comic, artistic license is made with the original story — the traitor Ephialtes is as deformed in body as he is in character; King Xerxes is not bearded and perched on a distant throne, but bald, huge, perhaps sexually ambiguous, and often right on the battlefield.

The Persians bring with them exotic beasts like a rhinoceros and elephant, and the leader of the Immortals fights Leonidas in a duel (which the Greeks knew as monomachia). Shields are metal rather than wood with bronze veneers, and swords sometimes look futuristic rather than ancient.
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# Posted 6:46 AM by Patrick Belton  

WELL DONE MATTHEW PARRIS, with this latest salvo in the gender wars.
'Why do women leave lavatory seats in the “down” position? I am getting increasingly fed up with this inconsiderate behaviour. Hygiene and common sense dictate that “up” should be the default option and everyone should leave the seat lifted, to keep it unsplashed next time. Public toilets should have sprung seats, returning automatically to up'

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# Posted 12:00 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WILL OXBLOG BE FAIR TO MITT? I'm a strong supporter of John McCain, so I have plenty of reasons to take shots at every other contender for the GOP nomination. But there's no angry edge to my partisanship (at the moment), so I figure I'll try my best to judge the other candidates on the merits.

After all, a McCain victory in the primaries isn't a sure thing, my preferences aside. So I'm going to look at the other contenders and ask "How would I feel about him if he were the party's nominee?"

This past Sunday, I had my first chance to listen to Mitt Romney talk at length during his interview with George Stephanopoulos. Stephanopoulos asked the questions that I wanted to hear. How does Romney explain his sharp about face on so many social issues in such a short span of time? Isn't more than a little convenient that he has embraced the party line at precisely the moment when there seemed to be an opening for a more traditionally conservative candidate?

I can't say that Romney laid any of these questions to rest. He provided numerous assurances of his sincerity but little evidence. He described himself as a strong supporter of the right to bear arms but then had to admit he only joined the NRA in 2006. He spoke of his concern for protecting the lives of the unborn, but never explained why he was pro-choice until so recently. He advertised his long-standing opposition to formal marriage for gays and lesbians, but was fortunate not to have Stephanopoulos ask him about how he once presented himself as a friend of the gay community.

Now given that my positions on gay rights, abortion and gun control are not popular with the GOP base, perhaps I ought to be glad that Romney's positions on those fronts are so tepid. But that's not how I think about it. I find it very hard to trust those who change their core convictions so rapidly. I am for learning, but very suspicious of convenience.

There is constant pressure on every occupant of the White House to take the position that seems most popular at the moment on a whole range of issues. The result is usually incoherent policymaking. Although steadfast conviction is unpopular at the moment as a result of the President's unflinching stand on Iraq, I think it would be a terrible mistake to start treating opportunism as a virtue.

Open-mindedness and learning should be valued, not inconsistency. What is the difference? Learning tends to involve a rationale, a decision based on evidence of changing conditions. Inconsistency is changing for the sake of convenience.

Aside from the principle of the matter, I think Romney will be punished heavily in a general election for his evolving stance on social issues. To a certain extent, his lack of fire-and-brimstone conviction will reassure certain moderates. And if he were nominated, he would almost certainly begin to play down his tactical shift to the right once the general election campaign began.

But I think he would still be vulnerable. And even those like myself who prefer some of Romney's original positions on social issues may find it hard to respect a politician who evolves so rapidly. Unquestionably, the media will focus on this issue, not haivng forgotten that flip-flops were at the heart of the campaign in 2004.

For the moment, I will suspend judgment to a certain extent because I have only heard Romney once. But my sense about politicians is that they don't take long to reveal their true colors.

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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

# Posted 9:01 PM by Patrick Porter  

THE RADIUS OF THE BLAST: Australian High Court Judge Michael Kirby said recently that America is 'obsessed' with 9/11 (hat-tip, Tim Blair) adding:
That is not an event that occurred in this country, and I think we have to keep our eye on the threats to Australia" he said. Justice Kirby added that more people died every day from the disease AIDS than died in September 11.

It may be true that AIDS kills more people daily, and I sympathise with Kirby's concern for the balance between security and civil liberties. But I'm not sure I can agree with the thrust of his comments.

First, his implicit assumption that only events that take place in Australia amount to threats to Australia.

This seems a little inadequate, particularly in the age of cheap travel, the movement of people and capital, when many people work abroad, and where economic interests mean that we are highly interdependent.

The events of 9/11 weren't just an American experience. Twenty Australians were killed on 9/11. Indeed, people from 62 nations were killed.

And according to the World Bank, the attacks on 9/11 pushed millions of people in the developing world into poverty, and likely killed tens of thousands of under five year olds.

Terrorism also seriously damaged tourism in places like Bali, resulting in a surge in poverty.

And terrorism can be a threat in terms of derailing peace talks, undermining negotiations between nation-states and/or other actors.

And 9/11 is legitimately a security issue not simply because of the crude 'bodycount' of the incident, but because of the potential for destruction it exhibited. One can envisage a 9/11-type attack resulting in hundreds of thousands of deaths if things had gone differently.

To quote one article on Homeland Security from 2005, the terrorism seen on 9/11
has with conspicuous ease devastated a large part of the downtown area of a modern cosmopolitan city, New York, a backpackers’ holiday playground, Kutan Beach in Bali, and London’s creaking transport infrastructure.
Kirby's comments also point to a longer-standing strategic debate about defining Australian security: simplifying it slightly, there is the 'continental' approach that sees security interests as being interior to the country's borders, and the 'forward' defence posture, where our security interests are at stake (and must be pursued) far more externally.

Sitting here as a misty-eyed expatriate on the other side of the world, whose father is about to travel to a country where terrorist attacks have happened over the last few months, Kirby's parochial way of measuring the severity of a threat doesn't seem overly persuasive.


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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

# Posted 9:37 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE STRATEGIC COST OF DISSENT IN WARTIME: The following is an exchange before the Senate Armed Services Committee as described by Jeffrey Goldberg of the New Yorker:
[Sen.] Lieberman asked what effect the resolution [disapproving of the surge] would have “on our enemies in Iraq.”

[Gen.] Petraeus said that, as a soldier, he had put himself “in harm’s way” to protect the right to free speech, but added, “A commander in such an endeavor would obviously like the enemy to feel that there’s no hope.”

Lieberman, fortified by this response, said, “A Senate-passed resolution of disapproval for this new strategy in Iraq would give the enemy some encouragement, some feeling that—well, some clear expression that the American people were divided."

“That’s correct, sir,” Petraeus said.

In that case, Lieberman said, he would “make a plea” to his colleagues on Petraeus’s behalf to defeat it. “If, God forbid, you are unable to succeed, then there will be plenty of time for the resolutions of disapproval.”

As Lieberman spoke, [Sen.] Clinton’s mask of equanimity seemed to slip for a moment, until she could assimilate the idea that Lieberman had, in essence, accused the Democratic Party of encouraging America’s enemies...

Three days after the hearing, I went to see Lieberman in his office. He was cheerful and easygoing and more convinced than usual of the essential rightness of his vision. I asked him if he thought that Democrats who voted for the resolution would truly be giving encouragement to the enemy. “The enemy believes—Ahmadinejad has said this repeatedly—that we don’t have the will anymore for a long battle,” he said, referring to the President of Iran.

When I asked him if he understood why Hillary Clinton might have reacted the way she did, he said, “I can’t explain why she did that.” Then he shook his head, apparently in sorrow.
Clearly, Goldberg has had enough of Lieberman's self-righteousness. And shouldn't a long time supporter of civil rights like Joe Lieberman know that dissent is essential to the preservation of democracy, especially during times of war?

That much is true, but it is only half the story. Both Petraeus and Lieberman are correct that there is a direct relationship between domestic dissent and enemy morale in counterinsurgency warfare. In Iraq, just as in Vietnam, the enemy's fundamental strategy is to undermine American support on the homefront, rather than defeating it on the battlefield.

The problem with Lieberman's approach (as described by Goldberg) is that it seems to allow no space at all for dissent in wartime. The result is a chain-reaction of self-righteousness in which the dissenters pose as heroic defenders of free speech while their critics launched veiled attacks at the dissenters' patriotism.

But there are other ways to think about this problem. First of all, I suspect that the insurgents are moderately capable of looking at opinion polls and discovering that Americans are deeply dissatisifed with the President's war effort. I also suspect the insurgents recognize to what extent journalists and expert observers consider the war to be a bloody stalemate (at best).

Thus dissenting resolutions in the House and Senate represent little more than a bit of extra fuel on the fire. Or one might even say they are just a byproduct of public opinion, which turned both houses of Congress over to the dissenting party.

Another drawback to the anti-dissent approach is that it rules out the possibility of constructive dissent forcing the executive branch to wage the war more effectively. Has Democratic dissent played this kind of constructive role during the war in Iraq? It's hard to say.

But one of the reasons it's so hard to say is because the debate about dissent never seems to get past the old cliches about dissent being patriotic on the one hand and encouraging the enemy on the other.

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Sunday, February 18, 2007

# Posted 6:46 PM by Patrick Porter  

THE RUMP PARLIAMENT: More than a few British and American politicians have a weak grasp of the differences between the denominations of Islam.

There's also a quiz you can do. (hat-tip, Andrew Sullivan).

Note the nostalgia of the director of the British Institute of Persian Studies:
Anthony Eden, for all his woes, did have a first in oriental studies from Oxford. He spoke Persian and Arabic fluently. I have to say I think our politicians from 50 years ago were probably a more worldly aware bunch than now.
What is 'let's occupy Suez' in Arabic? (joke)
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# Posted 1:13 PM by Patrick Belton  

MULTIMEDIA OXBLOG EXTRAVAGANZA: Several days ago I did a segment for the kind people at Worldview on cleavages and fractures within Hamas at the moment, and possible ramifications for the unity government. It's now available on webcast; be nice.

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Saturday, February 17, 2007

# Posted 8:07 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

ARE JEWS PARANOID? (or FINKELSTEIN UNHINGED): I attended an Orthodox Jewish school from kindergarten through twelfth grade. One of the most popular teacher at my school was a rabbi who asked me once, in all seriousness, if I really believed that another Holocaust couldn't happen here, meaning in the United States.

I was probably 15 or 16 at the time and didn't have a very good answer for him. Almost all of us in school had grown up in a Jewish cocoon, barely interacting with the outside world. We attended Jewish summer camps, Jewish after school programs and Jewish youth groups . And of course Saturday (Shabbos) was for synagogue. So if an authority figure informed us that our fellow Americans had the potential to become this generation's Nazi Germany, it was hard to dispute.

This rabbi's question didn't represent mainstream thinking at our school, which was generally quite pro-American, or even patriotic, but it was a candid expression of the paranoia that had a life of its own, no matter good things were for our people.

The purpose of Norman Finkelstein's book, Beyond Chutzpah, is to demonstrate that exaggerated accusation of anti-Semitism are not just pervasive, but systematically employed to shut down criticism of Israel, and especially of its human rights violations.

Finkelstein's book is comprised of two parts. The purpose of the first is to expose precisely how groundless accusations of anti-Semitism are constructed and deployed in Israel's defense. The second part comprises an extended refutation of Alan Dershowitz's book, The Case for Israel. This post concerns the first of the two.

My sense of Finkelstein is that he has a lot in common with the rabbi who once asked me why another Holocaust couldn't happen here. The difference is that the polarity of Finkelstein's paranoia has been reversed. Instead of a wild fear of anti-Semitism, he has a wild fear of the American Jewish community being corrupted by its obsession with anti-Semitism.

Two of Finkelstein's favorite tactics are to accuse his targets of either being traitors or behaving like Communists. For example, he writes that:
Altough Israel's apologists claim to allow for criticism of the occasional Israeli "excess" (what is termed "legitimate criticism"), the upshot of this allowance is to delegitimize the preponderance of criticism as anti-Semitic -- just as Communist parties used to allow for criticism of the occasional Stalinist "excess," while denouncing unprincipled criticism as "anti-Soviet" and therfore beyond the pale. (p.34)
One might say that Finkelstein deserves some small credit for at least acknolwedging that American Jews condemn Israel's excesses. Unfortunately, Finkelstein never really explores those branches of the American Jewish community that have shown particular concern for Israeli human rights violations, especially the Reform and Conservative Jewish establishments. Instead, he just conjures up an analogy to Communism.

Later, Finkelstein condemns "an October 2004 report solicited by the [French] Interior Ministry" which invented the category of "anti-Semitism by proxy." The report defines anti-Semites by proxy as those whose "opinions, words, or sometimes simply silence lend support to [anti-Semitic] violence." This sounds like a somehwat problematic definition, but Finkelstein goes much further. He describes it as:
A direct throwback to the darkest days of Stalinism, when those criticizing the Soviet regime were, by virtue of this fact alone, branded "objective" abettors of fascism and dealt with accordingly. (p.49)
Funny that. The fascists used to argue all the time that Communism was a Jewish conspiracy.

Anyhow, it's important to note that accusations of Stalinist behavior quickly shade into accusation of treason. In a chapter entitled "Crying Wolf", Finkelstein discusses "domestic American Jewish organizations such as ADL [the Anti-Defamation League] and the Simon Wiesenthal Center and their counterparts elsewhere in Europe." In all seriousness, Finklestein writes that:
These organizations stand in the same relationship to their respective host countries as Communist parties once did, except that they view Israel rather than Stalin's Russia as the Motherland. (p.67)
So, you might ask, where is Finkelstein's evidence that these nominally independent organizations are subversive criminal enterprises that take orders directly from Jerusalem? Actually, evidence is not important. Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not after you.

With regard to conspiracies, Finkelstein is a veteran detective. Drawing on his previous book, The Holocaust Industry, he writes that:
Under the guise of seeking "Holocaust reparations," American Jewish organizations and individuals at all levels of government and in all sectors of American society entered into a conspiracy -- this is the correct word -- to blackmail Europe. It was on account of "Jewish money" that the Clinton administration went along with this shakedown operation -- even to the detriment of U.S. national interests. (p.82)
I haven't read The Holocaust Industry, but allegations of vast Jewish blackmail conspiracies are a pretty good indicator that someone has lost touch with reality.

Actually, that reminds me of an old joke. Two Jews were sitting on a bench in Berlin in the 1930s. One was reading a Jewish newspaper, the other was reading Der Stuermer, a Nazi propaganda publication. The Jew reading the Jewish paper turned to his friend and asked how any self-respecting Jew could read such filthy anti-Semitic garbage. His friend calmly responded that he would much prefer to read how Jews control the media, the banks and the American government rather than reading about Jews being beaten, robbed and abused by agents of the German government.

Going back to theme of treason, Finkelstein observes in an extended footnote that:

In recent years it has become nearly impossible to empirically test the hypothesis that U.S. national interest trumps the Jewish lobby or vice versa. This is because the degree of interpenetration, or revolving door, of personnel between the Jewish lobby and U.S. administrations effectively precludes such a test...

How can one really know on what interest or at whose behest a Martin Indyk, Dennis Ross, Paul Wolfowitz, or Richard Perle is acting when he argues policy on the Middle East?

I knew it! Jews control both the Democratic and Republican parties. And in order to cover up their conspiracy, the Jewish Democrats and Jewish Republicans pretend to disagree with each other.

For example, I saw Dennis Ross -- Clinton's special coordinator for the Middle East -- give a lecture just over a week ago. (This is not a set up for a joke. I really did attend Ross' presentation. 'P' was there and she can verify it.) Ross had some very unkind words for the Bush administration and its handling of just about every aspect of Middle East diplomacy. Little did I know that such criticism was just a clever way of deflecting attention from Ross' nefarious collaboration with Wolfowitz and Perle.

So, now that I've run down what I dislike about Finkelstein's book, is there anything good to say on its behalf? Actually, yes. It does document the extent to which Jewish leaders sometimes say things that are pretty much absurd. For example, the title page for Part I of Finkelstein's book includes a quote from ADL director Abraham Foxman, who inisted not long ago that:
We currently face as great a threat to the safety and security of the Jewish people as the one we faced in the 1930s -- if not a greater one. (p.19)
I find that kind of rhetoric to be extraordinarily unhelpful. Above all, it detracts from the credibility of substantive accusations of anti-Semitism by suggesting that they may be the product of paranoia.

On the other hand, Finkelstein never even asks whether there is a real debate within the American Jewish community about the validity of certain accusations of anti-Semitism. Instead, Finkelstein tends to focus on the most extreme accusations while presenting them as the product of the mainstream. For example, one of his favorite targets is Phyllis Chesler, author of a fairly prominent book entitled The New Anti-Semitism.

Curious about Chesler's standing in the Jewish community, I called up my father and asked him if he'd ever heard of her. I asked the question point-blank, careful not to give away why I was asking it. My father's immediate response was "Phyllis Chesler is a nut...she finds anti-Semites under every rock."

So you know, my father is very active in the New York Jewish community. He has been a vice-president of our synagogue for more than a decade and is very strongly pro-Israel and pro-peace. Although talking to my father doesn't constitute a scientific survey of Jewish opinion, it is a small indicator of the vibrant debates that characterize the American Jewish community. As the saying goes, two Jews, three opinions.

Even in the absence of Finkelstein's paranoid polemics, American Jews would be having substantive discussions about the important issues he raises.

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# Posted 1:07 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

ANOTHER POST NOT ABOUT ISRAEL...but still about Meet the Press. Russert finished off the hour with a roundtable featuring David Broder, Gwen Ifill, Howard Kurtz and Roger Simon. (No, not that Roger Simon.)

It's amazing to watch how these veteran journalists talk about Obama and Hillary. They are all acutely aware of how the coverage favors of Obama, yet they can't stop themselves from praising Obama and criticising Hillary. I listen and I think to myself, I'm just about ready to put money on Obama winning the nomination.

First comes Obama's religion:
MR. RUSSERT: David Broder, my ear heard something that I had not heard from Democratic candidates in some time. Up front, Senator Obama began his speech with references to his faith, and then came back to that same issue in the speech. Let’s watch.

(Videotape, Saturday)

SEN. OBAMA: Giving all praise and honor to God for bringing us together here today.
It was in these neighborhoods that I received the best education that I ever had and where I learned the meaning of my Christian faith.

(End of videotape)

MR. RUSSERT: What’s that about?
Well, Tim, if your memory were a bit sharper, you might remember how just after the 2005 election everyone was talking about Tim Kaine broke the Democratic mold by focusing on his personal religion. Joe Lieberman also talks a lot about being a Buddhist or Hindu or whatever he is.

On a related note, Hillary must be quite mad, since she has also tried to advertise the importance of her faith (for example in her autobiography), but never gets any credit for it. For that matter, Russert ought to remember how Bill Clinton constantly invoked God as president.

What's going on here, in part, is that Obama simply comes off as more sincere. I think it's very important that he used the word "Christian". This is mostly a guess, but I think that voters who care about a pol's religion are suspicious of those who subscribe to some vague, unidentified faith that involves a pleasant God everyone can be friends with. Thus, the fact that Lieberman is specifically Jewish made his faith seem more real.

What I'm curious to know is whether Obama will talk the next step and explicitly refer not just to Christianity, but to Jesus.

The next question about Obama is how he can explain away his explicit commitments both after his election to the Senate and then in early 2006 not to run for President in 2008. Here's how Obama explained the change to Russert late last year:
SEN. OBAMA: Well, the—that is how I was thinking at that time, and, and—you know, I, I don’t want to be coy about this—given the responses that I’ve been getting over the last several months, I have thought about the possibility.

MR. RUSSERT: But it’s fair to say you’re thinking about running for president in 2008?

SEN. OBAMA: It’s fair, yes.
Insisting that he didn't want to be coy was the perfect move. Journalists love self-awareness. Did Obama provide any real explanation of why his solemn commitment to serve the voters of Illinois was no longer valid? No, but he won over Tim Russert anyhow:
MR. RUSSERT: Howard Kurtz, no parsing, no denial, saying in his own words, not being coy, that’s somewhat unusual for many politicians when they clearly change their mind.
And then this:
MR. RUSSERT: Is that how [Obama]’s going to run, as the outsider?

MR. SIMON: Yes. He is not the candidate of Washington. Hillary Clinton is the candidate of Washington. That’s his message.
None of the panelists disagreed. In contrast, here's what they said about Hillary:
MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn to Hillary Clinton. She was in New Hampshire yesterday. Her first appearance there in 10 years. And it was quite striking how many times she was asked about her position on the war. Here she is being asked in Berlin, New Hampshire, by a voter, a very serious question. Let’s watch that exchange.


Unidentified Man: And I want to know if right here, right now, once and for all, without nuance, you can say that that war authorization vote was a mistake. And the reason I want to ask is because a lot of other senators have already done so, including some Republicans and including one of your competitors, Senator Edwards. And the reason I ask personally is because I, and I think a lot of other Democratic primary voters, until we hear you say that, we’re not going to hear all these other great things you’re saying.

SEN: HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY): Well, I have said, and I will repeat it, that, knowing what I know now, I would never have voted for it. But I also—and, I mean, obviously you have to weigh everything as you make your decision. I have taken responsibility for my vote. The mistakes were made by this president, who misled this country and this Congress into a war that should not have been waged.

(End videotape)
If you listen to the MT podcast, you will hear a few tepid applause for Hillary. Being anti-Bush is not enough. The primary voters want an anti-war candidate.

Here's how the roundtable analyzed the situation:
MR. SIMON: It’s dead serious. The questions come because she refuses to make Iraq part of her stump speech. And I think, and many disagree with me, that her current position not to apologize, not to say it was a mistake, is an untenable position for her...

MR. BRODER: A reporter from The Post, Chris Cillizza, who was up there, reported that the man who asked Senator Clinton that question said afterwards, “I’m not satisfied with that answer, and I can’t vote for her until she gives me a better answer.”

MR. RUSSERT: Howie Kurtz:

MR. KURTZ: Tim, it also feeds the image that the many journalists have of Senator Clinton as being a kind of a cold and calculating and triangulating politician.
What has the poor woman done to deserve all this?

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# Posted 12:32 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THIS POST IS NOT ABOUT ISRAEL: The Israeli-Palestinian conflict may be heartbreaking and maddening, but it is also intellectually compelling. A Gordian knot is an irresistible challenge to all those who begin thinking about how to untie it.

Anyhow, other things have been going on in the world this past week. Apparently there is a still a war going on in Iraq, and we're fighting it. No matter how dark the tunnel gets without a light at the end, some refuse to even acknowledge that we have an option other than defeating our adversaries. Minority Leader John Boehner told Tim Russert last Sunday that:
I believe that victory in Iraq is the only option...who doesn’t believe that if we withdraw and leave that chaos in the Middle East that the terrorists won’t follow us here to the United States? Victory, victory is the only option.
Well, victory is certainly the preferable option. And there may be some hope that Gen. Petraeus can produce an outcome worthy of the name. If he doesn't, the only responsible approach will be to ask which of our objectives are dispensable. Instead, I expect politicians on both sides to avoid the question by insisting either that the war was the other guys' fault or that the other guys just want to cut and run.

Yeah, I'm feeling cynical right now.

Anyhow, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told Tim Russert that we need right now is "a diplomatic surge, not a troop surge." Yes, politics are integral to counterinsurgency. But so is force, and Democrats seem determined to reinforce their image as soft by pretending that only diplomacy matters.

However, Rep. Hoyer did strike a slightly more hawkish note when he said that:
The fact of the matter is we didn’t send enough troops initially, and it now is clear that one of the reasons we didn’t is because we didn’t contemplate the challenge that was confronting us.
Now, there is one way to argue that we didn't send enough troops initially but that a surge is a bad idea now. All you have to day is say that victory is no longer possible. But it seems those words are ones that Democrats are afraid to say. As Rep. Hoyer puts it:
We’re going to make recommendations. And those recommendations will be focused on success. We don’t want to fail.
Nobody does, I guess.

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Friday, February 16, 2007

# Posted 11:08 AM by Patrick Belton  

OPEN THREAD: The decision of British NBA player John Amaechi to become public with his sexual orientation (c.f. 'Times, Man is Gay? Who cares?'), and the eloquent retort of Tim Hardaway (which included such subtle gems of political argument as 'You know, I hate gay people, so I let it be known. ... It shouldn't be in the world or in the United States') has actually left me thinking about the locker room puzzle.

It's raised often as canard, but the general point, put fairly and stripped of noxious rhetoric, doesn't to me have a straightforward answer. Namely, in spaces in our society where public nudity is permitted (the locker room), given that these spaces are generally constructed with a heterosexual presumption in mind (to remove the sexual element as much as possible from the act of changing, presumptively on grounds of comfort of those changing while in a state of vulnerability), does the acceptance of gays, qua gays into the public sphere invalidate this approach, and to what extent? We are also very much talking, I think, about an Anglosphere response: Spartans of both sexes exercised unclad, while the coeducational aspect of the Scandinavian and Germanic sauna is generally taken there to be uncontroversial. In these spaces, heterosexual attraction is not taken to be a problem, so one can presume the naked body (regardless of its orientation) there to be desexualised.

The sexualisation of nudity to the exclusion of other aspects, by the by, is as best I can tell an outgrowth of the nineteenth century. For the Athenians, it would be an overstatement to say they went nude in public or in combat, but nudity could confer an element of the heroic or the stately, the curiously formal (dining in symposium, as opposed to lesser occasions), or of defeat. For Shakespeare, its principal connotation is probably insanity (Lear on the heath). Perhaps it is the rise of standards of living in the industrial revolution that make it less obvious a naked person is suffering from mental illness or poverty, and raise its associations with the sexual act. Naked on the High Street, I would be taken more as a pervert, than as a pauper or victor over my latest bit of writing.

Asked but not answered. Thoughts warmly welcome.


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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

# Posted 7:26 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

DERSHOWITZ SLIPS UP: After reading the introduction to The Case for Israel, I developed a first impression of Alan Dershowitz as bombastic but not unserious. Critics warned me that Dershowitz was an extremist and a fool, or as one comment put it:
Mr. Dershowitz has proven himself to be so blinded by his bias towards Israel that to even make mention of him in an academic discussion induces mirth.
I'm not sure if that says more about Dershowitz or more about the academy, but anyhow, my opinion of Dershowitz's book has diminished considerably after reading the first hundred pages, which cover Israeli/Palestinian history from the Jewish migration of the late 19th century to the first Arab-Israeli war of 1947-1949.

The most important source Dershowitz relies on is Benny Morris' Righteous Victims, published in 1999. In fact, Dershowitz relies on Morris so heavily that The Case for Israel almost becomes a summary of Righteous Victims, or perhaps a commentary on Morris' book informed by supplementary material.

Which is not to say that Morris is a bad source. In fact, he tends to be a good one because his he still has the grudging respect of the academic left while his politics are considerably to their right. The problem is when Dershowitz cites Morris selectively in a way that downplays Israeli brutality while emphasizing that of the Palestinian Arabs.

The most important case in point is Dershowitz's chapter on the origins of the Palestinian refugee crisis, the subject of Morris' best-known research. Accordingly, 21 of 49 footnotes cites Morris' work.

The first tip-off that Dershowitz has read Morris selectively is his assertion that:
While the Arab armies tried to kill Jewish civilians and did in fact massacre many who tried to escape, the Israeli army allowed Arab civilians to flee to Arab-controlled areas. (p.79)
Yet as I summarized in a recent post about Morris' work, he believes that (especially) after the Arab invasion of Israel in May 1948, the Israeli army mounted a very aggressive effort to force Palestinians out of their homes, often by destroying their villages or worse. If Dershowitz had brought this up later in the chapter, his initial phrasing might not be a problem. But no discussion of the expulsions is forthcoming.

Among the best known of those expulsions involved the exodus of 60,000 Arabs from Lydda and Ramle. FYI, at the beginning of each chapter of The Case for Israel, Dershowitz includes a series of topical quotations from Israel's harshest critics which he intends to debunk. In his chapter on the refugee problem, he includes a quote from Edward Said who refers to the explusion from Lydda and Ramle. Yet Dershowitz never confirms that this expulsion was real, instead leaving the casual reader to assume that this incident was just one more fabrication invented by Israel's critics.

Another serious omission by Dershowitz concerns the terrorist activities of hardline Jewish organizations such as the Irgun and Lehi (both of whose leaders would later serve as Prime Minister of the Jewish state). According to Morris, Lehi and the Irgun were responsible for scores of attacks on civilian targets, which helped persuade countless Arabs to take flight as Israeli forces marched forward. (Certain Haganah attacks also straddled the line between military operations and terorrism.)

One Jewish atrocity that Dershowitz does mention is the massacre at Deir Yassin, perpetrated by Lehi and Irgun forces. Dershowitz calls it a massacre, but his account is so convoluted and fills with caveats, you would never know, as Morris writes, that:
Whole families were riddled with bullets and grenade fragments and buried and buried when houses were blown up on top of them.
That quotation is taken from page 208 of Righteous Vicitms, the same page Dershowitz relies on for his account of Deir Yassin. Not surprisingly, Dershowitz is much more lucid in his description of the retaliation for Deir Yassin in which Arab militiamen surrounded a Jewish convoy, fought off a handful of defenders, then slaughtered seventy civilian passengers, many of whom the militiamen burned alive in the buses where they were trapped.

Dershowitz is also very lucid in his description of other Arab atrocities as well taking special care to note all of those Arab leaders who called for the extermination of the Jewish race after the invasion of the Jewish state. For good reason, Dershowitz lavishes attention on Haj Amin al-Husseini, the grand mufti of Jerusalem and official head of the Palestinian community (appointed by the British).

Citing Morris, Dershowitz recounts that Husseini received direct material support from Himmler's SS and that Adolf Eichmann actually visited Husseini in Palestine. Hussieni then spent most of the war in Berlin, where he broadcast viciously anti-Semitic propaganda on Berlin Radio. Drawing on Morris again, Dershowitz also recounts that Husseini personally intervened with Eichmann on one occasion after discovering that Hungarian authorities were going to allow thousands of Jewish children to escape from the Nazis. Eichmann then saw to it that those children were sent to the death camps.

Finally, Dershowitz takes care to mention Yasser Arafat's fondness for Husseini, whom he described as his "hero" as recently as 2002. (pp.53-62)

If Dershowitz had been able to step out of his prosecutorial mindset, he might have protected his credibility by quoting Morris fairly and letting the evidence speak for itself. If Morris' history is accurate, then no friend of Israel should be concerned about Palestinians invoking the events of the 1940s to demonstrate their innocence.

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# Posted 9:07 AM by Patrick Belton  

LAST NIGHT I went to bed without you. Cold, naked, thinking of you, missing your warmth, your soft touch against my skin. Where were you last night, oh my lovely pyjamas?

A very happy St Valentine's Day to all our reader's and friends!

I was engaged in lengthy conversations with a Karachiite auntie about whether it is a ghastly (and un-Islamic) pagan ritual to practise St Valentine's Day, or whether, as a Christian holiday, it would enjoy the protections of, from her view, a prior dispensation. The answer, of course, is neither: it's purely biological. And no not in the sense Porter is now thinking. There are at least three St Valentine's included in early martyrologies, of whom Acta are preserved for two, but of comparatively late date and little historical value.

What all St Valentine's do share, however, is a feast date; and the belief was current in the Middle Ages that at mid-February, birds began to couple. Thus Chaucer in Parliament of Foules:
For this was sent on Seynt Valentyne's day
Whan every foul cometh ther to choose his mate.
The Catholic Encyclopedia of 1913, to my mind as much an intellectual monument of its time as the 11th edition Britannica, notes 'The custom of choosing and sending valentines has of late years fallen into comparative desuetude.' It remains controversial in some religious Muslim and Shiv Sena circles, where a Jamaat-e-Islami leader in NWFP recently said it is a day on which 'people in the West are just fulfilling and satisfying their sex thirst.' He gives perhaps his opponents too much credit.

Those of you who prefer, though, may celebrate the Lupercalia for a proper bit of pagan fun.

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Tuesday, February 13, 2007

# Posted 1:58 PM by Taylor Owen  

Bolton: This is in many respects simply a repetition of the agreed framework of 1994. You know, Secretary Powell in 2001 started off the administration by saying he was prepared to pick up where the Clinton administration left off. President Bush changed course and followed a different approach. This is the same thing that the State Department was prepared to do six years ago. If we going to cut this deal now, it's amazing we didn't cut it back then.
I wonder if Rice/the White House agree?
BBC: US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has welcomed a deal reached with North Korea over its nuclear programme during six-nation talks in Beijing...

US President George W Bush said he was "pleased" with the agreement.

White House spokesman Tony Snow called it "a very important first step" towards denuclearising the Korean peninsula.
As Drum adds, "and six years ago this deal would have come without an already built stockpile of nuclear weapons. Perhaps there's a lesson there?"
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Monday, February 12, 2007

# Posted 10:23 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WHY AM I PRO-ISRAEL? (PART 2) What if one were pro-Palestinian and wanted to persuade someone who was pro-Israel to stop being pro-Israel? What would be the most effective approach to that objective?

In my experience, the preferred tactic of those who want to stop their audience from being pro-Israel is to describe in the greatest possible detail the suffering of the Palestinians. And many of these stories are absolutely heartbreaking. Families destroyed by wayward Israeli artillery shells. Dying patients who suffer painfully for hours or days when their ambulances are held up at Israeli checkpoints.

These are human tragedies. But the strategy of relying on such stories to reduce pro-Israeli sentiment is ineffective because it is based on the false premise that pro-Israel individuals are either ignorant of or insensitive to Palestinian suffering and Israeli human rights violations.

If someone wanted to stop me from identifying as pro-Israel, the most effective approach they could take would be to tackle head-on the subject of suicide bombing. In my experience, my debating partners tend to bring this subject up only after their detailed descriptions of Palestinian suffering elicit a request on my part to talk about suicide attacks. Then, they provide one of several responses. Perhaps the most common is that it doesn't matter how an innocent person dies, just that they are dead. Being killed by a wayward shell is no better than being the victim of a suicide bomb. Yet that is the argument least likely to persuade me of anything.

I see a fundamental moral difference between the intentional slaughter of civilians as opposed to the accidental. Not because one kind of death is any less horrible for the victim, but because of what the intentions of the killer say about his cause.

In addition, I see a fundamental difference between those who intentionally slaughter civilians and cover-up the evidence of their crimes and those who intentionally slaughter civlians and celebrate what they have done or identify as the highest expression of their faith. Again, there is no difference from the perspective of the victim. But for those who are still alive and must contend with the killers, the difference is tremendous.

It is a sad fact that the world's greatest democratic states -- Britain, France and the United States of America -- have done terrible and unjustifiable things in the midst of frustrating wars. Yet the resilience of their democratic societies has ensured an eventual reckoning with such crimes as well as their ultimate repudiation.

For the victims, such reckoning and repudiation may come far too late. Nonetheless, it says something very important about the ability of those societies to peacefully co-exist with their neighbors. They know the road to peace, even if they deviate from it.

Now let me make the comparison with Israel explicit. It is a vibrant democratic society broadly committed to the essential democratic values of liberty and life. And precisely because it is a democratic society, there has been strong support for several efforts to negotiate peace with the Arab states and the Palestinians. In democracy, there is an inherent preference for solutions that favor compromise over force.

To what extent can such things be said about Palestinian society? I am well aware that my knowledge of this society is partial at best. It is the result of a collage of facts and images presented by a media establishment that is profoundly suspect in the eys of Israel's harshest critics. I cannot provide citations or footnotes for the images in my head. So let me phrase what I say as a somewhat tentative effort to separate the facts from the stereotypes.

The total number of Palestinian suicide bombers -- both attempted and successful -- seems to be no more than a few hundred. Yet my sense is that there is much broader social infrastructure necessary to support such attacks. There are those who make the bombs. Those who train the bombers. Those who provide the funding. Those who capture the final testament of the bombers on video. How many individuals play such a supporting role? Perhaps a few thousand.

But the two kinds of supporters that frighten me most are the political leaders and the mothers of the suicide operatives. I have heard interviews with parents who swell with pride at the fact that their child gave his or her life in order to kill Israeli civilians. This indicates me to me that tens or hundreds of thousands of Palestinians are part of a soceity that values death and endless conflict much more than compromise and life.

Also in my head are images of parades in the West Bank and Gaza where children dress up as suicide bombers, with masks and papier mache dynamite vests. Perhaps it's the camera angle, but there seem to be thousands of impassioned Palestinians participating in this spectacle. And if thousands can openly celebrate murder, there is a profound problem that goes far beyond the participants.

If one wanted to change my mind about this subject, the best strategy available would be to demonstrate the marginal nature of such death-obsessed individuals in Palestinian society. Point me towards evidence that their numbers are few and their influence limited. No less important, point me toward the influential (not marginal) figures -- politicians, journalists, clergymen and scholars -- who denounce such horrific behavior as unequivocally as I do.

Yet it seems unquestionable that the most influential politicans will do no such thing. The governing party, Hamas, refuses to repudiate, let alone apologize for violence against civilians. The former governing party, Fatah, often made a show of denouncing attacks before Western audiences while actively supporting its own terrorist cells. Both parties seem to believe that their sponsorship of suicide attacks will heighten their stature among Palestinians much more than it will reduce it. Their consensus on this point suggests to me that it is disturbingly valid.

If you want to persuade me to be less pro-Israel or not pro-Israel at all, show me that Palestinian society embodies the humane, democratic values that I cherish and that it rejects the violent, hateful values that so often seem to be on display.
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# Posted 6:52 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WHY AM I PRO-ISRAEL? That question has been put to me with great seriousness by a colleague of mine, to whom I shall refer as 'P'. As I've mentioned before, she and I are in the midst of an ongoing discussion about the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians. In fact, she has been considerate enough to carry the discussion here to OxBlog, where she has explained her position in great detail in the comments section.

If I understand the thrust of her question correctly, P wants to know how I can identify so unambiguously with one side in a conflict that is so complicated and so brutal. In addition, P wants to know how I can identify so unambiguously with one side in a conflict about which I am not an expert. I will answer that question first.

When it comes to political judgment, it is always very hard to know how much knowledge is enough. For example, even though I am no expert on immigration, I feel very strongly that we need to provide the millions of illegal immigrants now in the United States with a path to citizenship (or a path to amnesty, if you that is the phrasing you prefer).

I feel this way because my judgment rests not just on knowledge of the current state of immigration, but on a set of values and principles that reflect what I believe to be the purpose of American democracy. When it comes to Israel, my judgment also reflects a combination of knowledge and principles. Which is not to say that my judgment is fixed and permanent. I try to be open to new information and I am willing to debate my principles. But for the moment, I am pro-Israel.

And now back to the question of why. Perhaps the place to begin that question is with history. Although the history of this conflict is constantly disputed, the following judgments seem credible to me.

I am not sure that the Jewish people had an unequivocal right to establish a Jewish state in the historic land of Palestine. But I believe that by 1947, the only way to avoid a prolonged and bloody conflict was to embrace partition -- or what we now call a two-state solution. Israel accepted that partition. The Arab population rejected it and neighboring Arab states launched an invasion.

Many atrocities were committed during this war, by Israelis as well as Palestinians. By the war's end, approximately 700,000 Palestinians fled their homes. Israel does bear responsibility for this tragedy, but so do the Arab states and the Palestinians themselves.

At the end of the first Arab-Israeli war, a two-state solution remained the best hope for peace, yet the Arab world rejected it. Refusing to accept Israel's existence, its neighbors launched additional wars of aggression in 1967 and 1973.

In the late 1970s, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat indicated that he preferred peace to war and would accept Israel's right to exist. Israel made peace with Sadat, in spite of being led by the hawkish and stubborn Menachem Begin. The Arab world ostracized Sadat for recognizing Israel's existence.

Before moving on to the 1990s and the present decade, I just want to state for the record that I recognize the potential for an intelligent counterargument to be made to absolutely every sentence in the four paragraphs above. So let me be clear: the purpose of those paragraphs is not to persuade anyone that my interpretation is the most correct. Rather, it is to elaborate the conclusions that have led, in part, to my self-identification as pro-Israel.

Throughout the 1990s I supported the Oslo peace process. Although some suggest that being pro-Israel entails, ipso facto, supporting illegal settlements and ignoring Israeli violations of Palestinian human rights, I was no less pro-Israel back then than I am now. I was ashamed of Sabra & Shatilla and I believed that the occupation of the West Bank in Gaza brought Israel down, far too often, to the level of its most vicious enemies. Being pro-Israel meant supporting a two-state solution that I hoped would be no less pro-Palestinian and pro-human rights than it was pro-Israel.

There is considerable debate about why the peace process failed after Camp David and Taba. I accept the argument, often made by Bill Clinton and Ehud Barak, that Yasser Arafat walked away from a very good (although not perfect) two-state solution without offering any meaningful alternative. And then Arafat launched the violence of the Al Aqsa intifada. I interpret these events in the light of (my version of) history. A preference for war instead of compromise was too deeply ingrained in the Palestinian leadership.

Before making a transition from the discussion of history to the discussion of values, I want to address the problem of circular logic, better known as the question of the chicken and the egg. In other words, might one say that I subscribe to this verion of history because I am pro-Israel, rather than insisting that I am pro-Israel because I subscribe to this version of history? According to one comment on a recent post:

[You write that] "I am firmly pro-Israel."

This may invariably hinder you in your quest [for the truth]...Afterall, if one wants "truth", either factual or moral, you ought not to start with certainties; or, if you do, make sure you leave room for doubts.
In theory, I agree. Yet in practice, none of us is ever able to start with a blank slate, especially with regard to those issues about which we are passionate. And leaving room for doubts doesn't do all that much to mitigate the problem.

Almost everyone is committed in principle to self-awareness and open-mindedness. However, there is no formula for turning this principle into a practice. I like to think I am open-minded, but I can never prove that I am.

In any heated political debate, both sides can always level the accusation that the other is being closed-minded. But that tends to accomplish nothing. Instead, I prefer to admit my allegiances and debate the issues on their merits.

To be continued...

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# Posted 9:22 AM by Patrick Belton  

GET YOUR OXBLOG IN PERSON, REDUX: Master Owen and I ought be holding forth tomorrow for any of our London and Home Counties readers who might care to pop round Islington for an Alternative Valentine's Eve Dinner Party; all our readers and friends are most warmly invited. (Halaal, kosher and veggie options all provided; this is OxBlog after all!)

Second, Jewish Book Week is upcoming for 9 days (get two free!) from 24th February until 4th March: I met this institution's charming founder at one point, and with the likes of Leon Wieseltier, Hitchens, Amis fils/בן, Sir Jonathan Sacks and Samir El-Youssef headlining this year's worthy successor, it's richly deserving of a plug. If any of our readers are planning to come, do let us know! We might get a posse minyan together and blog it.

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Sunday, February 11, 2007

# Posted 9:37 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

GAY BILLIONAIRE LAUNCHES CONSPIRACY TO BUY POLITICAL INFLUENCE: Last fall, Danny Carroll was still the speaker pro tem of the Iowa House and a rising star in GOP politics. But Carroll's efforts to put a gay marriage ban on the state ballot caught the attention of Tim Gill, a gay philanthropist determined to cut short the political careers of rising pols who oppose full equality for homosexuals.

Joshua Green's profile of Gill in The Atlantic begins with a brilliant vignette in which Green himself has to educate Rep. Carroll about why he narrowly lost his race for re-election:
Over the summer, Carroll’s opponent started receiving checks from across the country—significant sums for a statehouse race, though none so large as to arouse suspicion (the gifts topped out at $1,000). Because they came from individuals and not from organizations, nothing identified the money as being “gay,” or even coordinated.

Only a very astute political operative would have spotted the unusual number of out-of-state donors and pondered their interest in an obscure midwestern race. And only someone truly versed in the world of gay causes would have noticed a $1,000 contribution from Denver, Colorado, and been aware that its source, Tim Gill, is the country’s biggest gay donor, and the nexus of an aggressive new force in national politics.

Carroll certainly didn’t catch on until I called him after the election, in which Democrats took control of both legislative chambers, as well as Carroll’s seat and four of the five others targeted by Gill and his allies. Carroll was just sitting down to dinner but agreed to talk about his loss, which he attributed to the activism of Grinnell College students.

A suggestion that he’d been targeted by a nationwide network of wealthy gay activists was met with polite midwestern skepticism. But Carroll was sufficiently intrigued to propose that we each log on to the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board’s Web site and examine his opponent’s disclosure report together, over the telephone.

Scrolling through the thirty-two-page roster of campaign contributors revealed plenty of $25 and $50 donations from nearby towns like Oskaloosa and New Shar­on. But a $1,000 donation from California stood out on page 2, and, several pages later, so did another $1,000 from New York City.

“I’ll be darned,” said Carroll. “That doesn’t make any sense.” As we kept scrolling, Carroll began reading aloud with mounting disbelief as the evidence passed before his eyes. “Denver … Dallas … Los Angeles … Malibu … there’s New York again … San Francisco! I can’t—I just cannot believe this,” he said, finally. “Who is this guy again?”
Now don't get the wrong idea. Green's profile of Mr. Gill is unflinchingly positive. The purpose of this anecdote is to demonstrate his talent as a political operative.

The profile of Gill is well-worth reading in its entirely, but still raises some uncomfortable questions about campaign finance, to which the author himself seems somewhat oblivious as a result of his admiration for Gill. However, before getting into such questions, it is worth stating once again for the record that I believe in full equality before the law for gay Americans. I gave this post a sensationalistic headline because there is another side to this story.

Is it a good thing that one fabulously wealthy individual can recruit other fabulously wealthy individuals for an organized effort to influence the results of dozens of statewide elections across the 50 states?

Usually, this is exactly the sort of thing that progressive magazines such as The Atlantic prefer to denounce rather than celebrate. Just imagine if Tim Gill were targeting politicians who wanted to raise taxes on super-wealthy individuals such as himself.

On the other hand, I accept that campaign donations are a form of free speech which should only be limited when there is a compelling reason to do so. In some respects, it is actually a very good thing that a small number of wealthy individuals can band together to support a cause that may otherwise be ignored by the two major parties, by the media, and by well-established special interests. In fact, individuals such as Gill may actually be able to check the power of certain entrenched forces with no more of a democratic mandate than Gill's own.

Of course, there is also such a thing as money having to much influence on politics. For the moment, I don't see any way to avoid an ongoing search for the golden mean that perfectly balances the individual rights of the donor with the collective right to a system that isn't corrupt.

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# Posted 5:36 PM by Patrick Porter  

RIPPLES OF BATTLE: As promised, here is the first in a series of reviews of Victor Davis Hanson's histories.

Hanson's argument is clear. Some battles which are largely overlooked in collective memory can still have a powerful impact on later generations.

Hanson takes three cases to illustrate this point: the battle of Okinawa in World War Two, Shiloh in the American Civil War, and Delium in the Pelopponesian War.

The first thing that marks Hanson out is his sinewy prose. One of his themes is that we must face the grim realities of combat and war's costs squarely. Hanson goes further and almost revels in the detailed texture of the carnage on the plane of Delium, the attrition of the effort to ferret out Japanese defenders dug in at Okinawa, and the confusion and exhaustion of the movement of clashing forces at Shiloh.

Its a necessarily impressionistic book, in that its by definition hard to measure with any precision the long-term, subliminal effects of particular battles on later society's psychology, values, or political culture.

For my money, the really evocative chapter is the one on Delium, a conflict between Athenians and Boetians, where as a classical military historian Hanson is probably most at home. Interestingly, Hanson also seems to identify strongly with both the USA and ancient Athens, and his other works have argued that America is a continuation of the experiment in radical democracy and military excellence, with the latter drawing strength from the former.

The ripples of Delium, he argues, were threefold:

it is one of the set-piece hoplite battles between the heavy infantry of Greek city-states which helps sets the scene for the tradition of decisive showdowns of free citizen-soldiers;

the poor men of Thespia are sacrificed in great numbers because their senior coalition partners force them to fight on the vulnerable flank of the line, which opens the way later to the destruction of the poorly-defended town of Thespia;

and the emergence of Socrates, a survivor of the battle and one of the most important philosophers in the western intellectual tradition.

Although its hard to measure the link exactly, Hanson argues that the broader vitality of 5th century Athenian culture was generated by the interaction of wealth, emergency (the great Plague had struck only a few years before, and the war with Sparta was ongoing) and an open society. Or as he puts it:

In modern terms of material wealth, we wold find the city abysmally poor. Yet the combination of radical democracy and imperial grandeur had energised the citizenry, creating a unique but fragile - and transitory - symbiosis between politics, commerce and the life of the mind.
One of Hanson's ways of measuring the ripples at Shiloh and Delium is through the careers of prominent men who survived each clash: Grant, Sherman, and Nathan Bedford Forrest at Shiloh, Socrates and Alcibiades at Delium.

By contrast, one of his more ambitiously drawn ripples is the linkage he sees between the shocked reaction to the Japanese surprise assault on Pearl Harbour and the suicidal attacks on 9/11.

Okinawa was made possible by the massive mobilisation, industrial power, and violence aroused by Pearl Harbour, which combined with the desperate tactics of Japanese combatants in the Pacific war persuaded the Allies ultimately that such extremism must be destroyed by the atomic bomb.

Similarly, he argues, the indiscriminate fanaticism of 9/11 offended western morals and thereby called forth the lethal economic, military and civic power of modern America.

This is where I don't fully agree. He's surely right that both aggressions, Pearl Harbour and 9/11, summoned the will of Americans because they offended western scruples. However, the comparison is hardly exact in terms of scale, as 9/11 with all its huge damage and the subsequent war have not yet generated the kind of will to incinerate major cities with nuclear weapons. As it is, the US has not been able to sustain the kind of broad consent that it did in ww2.

American force and will was unleashed against a specific empire-state in 1941, whereas the force of transnational Islamist terror is a more fluid thing, and after the supportive Taleban regime was overthrown, is devolving more into something much more complicated, part brand, part floating management consultant-style centre of personnel, training and finance, and part loose alliance of cells.

There is a sense in which Hanson is seeking the reassurance from world war two that the new fascism can be combated by the same dynamic. But while there are arguably ideological affinities with Japanese militarism of the time with Islamist extremism, it doesn't quite fit in other ways.

Just saw the time. Gotta hit the road.


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# Posted 3:26 AM by Taylor Owen  

"THREE WORDS, THE VICE PRESIDENT": Other highlights: On the OSP report on Iraq-al Qaeda links, "It looked like an unsorted pile of junk". "It wasn't that they did not do the work, it was that the policy makers didn't like the answer. The very well documented answer than there wasn't a link..."

h/t: AS

No matter what one's past positions on Iraq, surely we must be able to agree on the lessons of the intelligence failures, notably, on the now clear cherry-picking of intelligence to push a particular policy position. As carriers move into the Gulf and the rhetoric against Iran intensifies, it is worth remembering how wrong this selected intelligence was, and how dangerous this mistake turned out to be. It is also worth keeping in mind the following exchange:

At a farewell reception at Blair House for the retiring chief of protocol, Don Ensenat, who was President Bush's Yale roommate, the president shook hands with Washington Life Magazine's Soroush Shehabi. A grandson of one of the late Shah's ministers, Soroush said, "Mr. President, I simply want to say one U.S. bomb on Iran and the regime will remain in power for another 20 or 30 years and 70 million Iranians will become radicalized."

"I know," President Bush answered.

"But does Vice President Cheney know?" asked Soroush.

The president chuckled and walked away.

h/t: KD

UPDATE: Here is a link to the video if the embed isn't working
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Saturday, February 10, 2007

# Posted 7:50 AM by Patrick Porter  

HEARTS AND MINDS AT HOME: I meant to post on this a while back.

Apologies for raising this yet again after so much discussion - the comparison of the war in Iraq with Vietnam.

For the USA, Vietnam was longer and bloodier, and there is a good argument that the nature, structure and dynamics of the two insurgencies / guerrilla conflicts / wars are fundamentally different.

But: in one aspect, it seems that today's Iraq war, especially the Bush Administrations handling of it, has become worse in terms of domestic public opinion.

Both wars generated vast opposition in the 'hearts and minds' of America.

Kevin Drum noted a few weeks ago that the actual level opposition to the war in domestic opinion is not so different.

But here's the thing: recorded opposition to the Vietnam war reached its ceiling in 1971, at 61%. Whereas 62% of Americans, according to one poll, say the war is not worth fighting.

In other words, it took Americans in that era roughly ten years to reach such peaks of opposition, and after a much higher rate of casualties.

(This depends a bit on when you measure the exact beginnings of American intervention in Vietnam in any substantive scale. Formally, intervention is said to have begun under President Kennedy in 1961, though 'escalation' and 'Americanisation' didn't start until 1964. Nevertheless, its still a shorter time frame than the Iraq war).

Whereas the Iraq war has now gone for just less than four years, and the casualty rate has been significantly lower, yet opposition is comparable to 1971.

Wherever public opinion in the US ends up, the heamorraging of support is happening much faster with less loss of life than during the Vietnam war.

Pushing the comparison a bit more: does this fraying of the support for a major part of a broader struggle mean that the long-term 'GWOT' will now have to be reconfigured around police action, constabulary efforts, intelligence gathering, and special forces?

Will it have the same generalised effect of undermining the support base needed for a global struggle and indeed for any military intervention anywhere, as Vietnam did in the mid to late 70's?

The danger seems to be that even the polymorphous, 'networked', decentralised terrorism of today still depends often on state patronage, and that treating terrorism as a non-state phenomenon that can be managed only as a 'criminal' offence overlooks this.

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