Monday, July 30, 2007

# Posted 6:22 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

CAN SHARED VALUES UNITE BUSH, BROWN AND SARKOZY? Trans-Atlantic relations are better than they were in 2003-2004, yet still at one of their lowest points since the Berlin Wall came down. Yet even when trans-Atlantic relations were at their absolute lowest, and critics were talking about the disintegration of the entire "postwar international order", OxBlog remained fairly confident that things would get better.

Why? Because shared democratic values -- and a history of fighting side-by-side on behalf of those values -- bind together the United States and Europe. National values are not the opposite of national interests. Rather, they are what enable us to identify national interests with far greater confidence. American, French and British statesmen know that it is always in our collective interest to rebuild our alliance when it falters, because our shared values ensure that our interests converge over the long-run. The war in Iraq divides us bitterly, yet we know that democratic nations must stand together in the enduring struggle against terrorism.

In today's Washington Post, Gordon Brown writes that:
Outside observers may think of even great alliances only in narrow, 19th-century terms: treaties of convenience driven forward by nothing more than mutual needs and current interests.

Yet I believe our Atlantic partnership is rooted in something far more fundamental and lasting than common interests or even common history: It is anchored in shared ideals that have for two centuries linked the destinies of our two countries.
Presumably, one could dismiss such statements as diplomatic niceties. Yet Brown has every incentive to play to his audience at home by distancing himself from Bush and Blair. As Dan Froomkin observes at WaPo.com,
Anyone who expected the new British prime minister to distance himself from President Bush today -- at least in public -- would have been sorely disappointed.
Yet perhaps it is only natural for the US and UK to remain close friends. In terms of language and culture, Britain is in many ways our mother country, unlike the rest of Europe. Yet in a recent interview with The National Interest and Politique Internationale, President Sarkozy observed that:
My problem with realpolitik is that it limits diplomatic action in an effort to leave unchanged the reality of the world. "Stability" and status quo are their obsessions. But the pursuit of status quo is not a policy; it is akin to giving up. Stability for stability’s sake is not how I conceive the world. The steadfast adherence to stability leads to turning a blind eye to cruelty and injustice...

Because our interests are global, so must be our responsibilities. Our security interests are inseparable to those of Europe and our other partners, those who share our goals and values. Faced with a new threat environment—terrorism, proliferation, etc.—cooperation will be the key to success. Our second objective must be to promote the universal values of liberty and the respect for human rights and dignity. I believe that France is only truly itself when it embodies liberty against oppression and reason against chaos.
Much like the United States and Britain, France has taken many actions over the years that did not serve the interests of human rights and human dignity. Yet it would be a mistake to interpret such hypocrisies as an indication that our values do not exert a powerful influence over our interests.

You won't hear Brown or Sarkozy refer to our struggle against terror as a war, but there's no question that we are on the same side. Plenty of rebuilding may still be necessary, but the foundation of the Trans-Atlantic alliance remains intact.


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# Posted 10:53 AM by Taylor Owen  

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: David Eaves and I have the following op-ed in Todays Toronto Star:

Blogosphere at age 10 is improving journalism

Although hard to believe, this month marks the 10th anniversary of blogging, a method for regularly publishing content online.

And what a milestone it is. A recent census of "the blogosphere" counted more than 70 million blogs covering an unimaginable array of topics.

Moreover, every day an astounding 120,000 new blogs are created and 1.5 million new posts are published (about 17 posts per second). Never before have so many contributed so much to our media landscape.

Despite this exponential growth, blogging continues to be misunderstood by both technophiles and technophobes. For the past decade the former have maintained that blogs will replace traditional journalism, ushering in an era of citizen-run media. Conversely, the latter have argued that a wave of amateurs threatens the quality and integrity of journalism – and possibly even democracy.

Both are wrong.

Blogging is not a substitute for journalism. If anything, this past decade shows that blogging and journalism are symbiotic – to the benefit of everyone.

To its many ardent advocates, blogging is displacing traditional journalism. But journalism – unlike blogging – is a practice with a particular set of norms and structures that guide the creation of content. Blogging, despite its unique properties (virtually anyone can reach a potentially enormous audience at little cost), has few, if any norms.

Consider another, more established medium. Books enable various practices, such as fiction, poetry, science and sometimes journalism, to be disseminated. Do books pose a threat to journalism? Of course not. They do the opposite. Journalistic books, like blogs, increase interest in the subjects they tackle and so promote further media consumption.

The same market forces that apply to books and newspapers apply to blogs.

Readers will judge and elect to read based on the same standard: Does it inform, is it well researched and does it add value?

Because blogs are cheaper to maintain they will always be numerous, but this makes them neither unique nor more likely to be read regularly.

Ultimately blogs, like books, don't replace journalism; they simply provide another medium for its dissemination and consumption.

If technophiles mistakenly claim that blogging competes with – and will ultimately replace – traditional journalism, then technophobes' fear of being swept away by a tsunami of irrelevant and amateurish blogs is equally misplaced.

Traditionalists' concern with blogging is rooted in the fact that the average blog is of questionable quality. Ask anyone who has looked, and cringed, at a friend's blog.

But this conclusion is based on a flawed understanding of how people use the Internet. The Internet's most powerful property is its capacity to connect users quickly to exactly what they are looking for, including high-quality writing on any subject.

This accounts for the tremendous amount of traffic high-quality blogs receive and explains why these bloggers are print journalists' true competition. As technology expert Paul Graham argues: "Those in the print media who dismiss online writing because of its low average quality miss the point. No one reads the average blog."

Once this capability of the Internet is taken into account, the significance of blogging shifts. Imagine that only 5 per cent – or 75,000 – of daily posts are journalistic in content, and that only 1 per cent of these are of high quality. That still leaves 750 high-quality posts published every day.

Even by this conservative assessment, the blogo- sphere still yields a quantity of content that can challenge the world's best newspapers.

In addition, as a wider range of writers and citizens try blogging, the diversity and quantity of high-quality blogs will continue to increase. Currently, the number of blogs doubles every 300 days. Consequently, the situation is going to get much worse, or depending on your perspective, much better.

As bloggers continue to gain tangible influence in public debates, our understanding of this phenomenon will mature.

And this past decade should serve as a good guide. Contrary to the predictions of both champions and skeptics, blogging has neither displaced nor debased the practice of journalism. If anything, it has made journalism more accurate, democratic and widely read.

Let's hope blogging's next decade will be as positive and transformative as the first.

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Sunday, July 29, 2007

# Posted 12:24 PM by Patrick Porter  

OFF TO BARCELONA for a few days with my wife. Not sure how much time there will be for blogging over there, but we'll see.

I'm taking over Beevor's history of the Spanish Civil War. Thoughts on this one?
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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

# Posted 9:43 AM by Patrick Porter  

TO BOYCOTT ISRAEL? The British Medical Journal is doing an online poll, asking everyone in general whether it should boycott Israeli academic institutions. The question is presented along with one article for and against.

Here's why I don't think they, or any academic institution, should:

It punishes innocent colleagues;

It is unfairly and suspiciously selective - where is the solidarity with the oppressed in Cuba, Zimbabwe, China, or Iran?

It will be counter-productive: many Israeli academics are likely to be critical of its state's policies;

In my own area, defence studies, some of the world's brightest minds work in Israeli academic institutions. To boycott them would be to harm our craft;

Both the state of Israel and the Palestinian leadership have been responsible for terrible atrocities, but the state of Israel in my judgement has made more consistent efforts to offer a diplomatic two-state settlement;

Academic trade unions should be making more efforts to direct their solidarity towards other fellow unionists in countries where it is needed, and where human rights violations are in many ways far worse: Iraq, Iran, China, etc.

And finally, some effort at balance would be nice. The state of Israel is one of the few states on earth that receives continual demands for its extinction, having survived several wars of aggression itself. That this is barely mentioned in these debates suggests that this is not being approached in a fair-minded spirit. (Although the existence of two rival narratives is acknowledged by Michael Baum who opposes the motion).

The motion is being strongly opposed so far on the numbers.

Interested, as ever, to hear what our readers have to say.

PS: There is of course the argument that selective measures such as this are legitimate because they a) have a chance of working and that b) self-proclaimed liberal democracies like Israel should be held to a higher standard.

I find the first view implausible in the case of universities (see above). The second argument is a little convenient, as it enables people to shut their eyes and ears to the victims of human rights violations elsewhere. Would those in favour of the motion take the same stance towards sanctions against Cuba, whose government proclaims that it is a state of equity, compassion and human rights?
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# Posted 8:11 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

[David] BROOKS: Well, if we leave, we could see 250,000 Iraqis die...So are we willing to prevent 10,000 Iraqi deaths a month at the cost of 125 Americans [per month]? That’s a tough moral issue, but it’s also a tough national interest issue because we don’t know what the consequences of getting out are. And the frustration of watching the debate in Washington, very few people are willing to, to grapple with those two facts, that there’s—that the surge will not work in the short-term, but getting out will be cataclysmic. And you see politicians on both sides evading one of those two facts. But you’ve got to grapple with them both...

[TIM] RUSSERT: But, David Brooks, you, you will hear a lot of people will say, you know, “The administration has made misjudgments before about WMD, about the level of troops needed, about being greeted as liberators. They could be wrong about what would flow from a redeployment of American troops.”

MR. BROOKS: Absolutely they could be wrong.
That's not a bad question for Russert to ask a devil's advocate. I imagine that a lot of Democrats deeply believe that talk of a post-withdrawal genocide is just another Bush administration scare tactic. But Russert's phrasing of the question elides some important differences. The belief that Saddam had WMD was the considered opinion of both the US intelligence community and numerous foreign intelligence services, not to mention Saddam's own generals. In contrast, there was a bitter and partisan debate about how exactly American soldiers would be greeted in Iraq.

So, then, what degree of consensus is there on the potential for post-withdrawal violence? Clearly, since this is a question about potential, any answer must be speculative. Yet serious observers seem persuaded that massive violence is almost inevitable. Russert himself is well-aware of that fact. Earlier in the show, he asked Russ Feingold the following question:
MR. RUSSERT: John Burns, the bureau chief in Baghdad for The New York Times, who’s lived there for some time, offered these words this week: “It seems to me incontrovertible that the most likely outcome of an American withdrawal any time soon would be cataclysmic violence. And I find that to be widely agreed” among “Iraqis, including Iraqis who strongly opposed the invasion.” Is—are you concerned that we leave behind violence, catastrophe, genocide?
Sadly, Feingold's answer was no. He only expected things to get better, since "it is our occupation, as it’s perceived, that leads to so much of this free- floating violence throughout the country."

Somehow, in spite of all their criticism of the Bush administration for its naive assumptions about and failure to plan for post-Saddam Iraq, leading Democrats are being aggressively naive about and refuse to plan for post-America Iraq. Perhaps they, too, have departed from the reality-based community.

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# Posted 4:19 AM by Patrick Porter  

IS OUR RHETORIC THE PROBLEM? After 9/11, Bush should not have called America's campaign against terrorism a war. This is the view of a range of some powerful minds, from historians John Mueller and Michael Howard to ethicist Michael Walzer, from pundit James Fallows to several of my colleagues.

So its probably a hard task to disagree. However. I would respectfully argue that for all the problems that come with the term, it is a war.

This is also part of a bigger debate, about the role and importance of Bush's rhetoric. Some criticisms of the entire war effort focus like a laser on the words Bush uses to characterise the conflict. If only Bush had not spoken with simplistic rhetoric about war, good, evil, evildoers, God, etc, things wouldn't have gone so badly wrong.

The argument in brief: war gives Al Qaeda a dangerous status. It overinflates their image and exaggerates, wittingly or not, the threat they pose. It makes us irrational in our decision-making and our willingness to terrify each other and be terrified. It makes us bigoted in our self-exaltation and licenses our own brutal behaviour, from Fallujah to Guantanamo, etc. It leads to the 'demonisation' of our own dissenting voices, and enables our own governments to dismantle our civil liberties. Rhetorical commitment to open-ended war loses sight of 'exit strategies' and a proper plan to defuse or end the conflict. We should have treated the whole thing as a criminal, police and intelligence operation, maybe with brief cameos from the military.

This is roughly how the argument often goes. And declaring war does bring certain dangers. It does make effective compromise and open debate more difficult, it does create elevated expectations of decisive victories, and it can lead to irrational choices.

But this argument is so nuanced that it loses sight of some unpleasant core realities. The fact remains that 9/11 was an assault by a network that had the shelter, sanctuary and patronage of a sovereign state. The US had appealed for the assistance of that state against Al Qaeda, but it refused. If the US was serious about disrupting the guests of the Taliban, any responsible reaction must have included a military one. A writ or a police action would have been insufficient. And military operations in Afghanistan meant a state of war.

This is the primal scene of the argument: 9/11 created not just an effort against an outlaw gang, but against a state that supported it. If defending itself by taking the fight militarily to the Taliban was a necessary step, this entailed military action against a sovereign state. Which got the US onto a war footing.

Even if Bush hadn't used the label or rhetoric at all, large-scale military operations in Afghanistan in the wake of 9/11, broadcast over the world, would still have been depicted as a war in the Arab-Islamic world, and the accusation of 'crusader' would still have been made.

It is not just rhetoric that creates impressions, it is actual behaviour. In other words, it was our policy that placed us at war, not just our words. If that makes sense. To put it more bluntly: either the US should have conducted military operations against the Taliban, or it shouldn't. If it should, then war existed, and in a global media, would have been seen to exist. This wasn't the Malayan emergency that could be fought in the shadows away from global attention. This was the whole world watching to see what the US would do.

Also, its easy to overstate how decisive declaring war was to inflating AQ's status. To be sure, having America name you as enemy number one does confer a certain dark charisma, though not one that historically guarantees success. But declaring war was not the first gesture to give AQ prestige. They achieved a status by inflicting mayhem in the heartland of its enemy that Nazi Germany or Imperial Japan had not done. They did something that decades of preachers and propagandists in the Arab-Islamic world had called for, but not seen: they delivered spectacular, theatrical violence on American soil.

Had a nation-state conducted an attack directly on this scale, we wouldn't be having the same debate. There would be plenty of other issues to argue about, but not whether it constituted an act of war.

As for human rights abuses, being in a 'war mentality' does tempt states into abusive behaviour. Then again, the Bush administration may have been contemptuous of the constitution and Civil Liberties anyway.

The Clinton Administration, not exactly renowned for declaring an apocalyptic war on evil, was guilty of oppressive human rights violations on a range of fronts. This used to be the complaint, in fact, of some of its critics from the left. Warrantless searches, rendition, and imprisonment abroad without trial. I suspect that Bush using strong language is not the prime cause of the increasing bipartisan encroachment by the state on civil liberties.

Should we have declared the end of war around December 2001, and redefined the struggle as a criminal investigation? Unfortunately, America's enemies get a vote on this too. The Taliban were scattered by the first months of Operation Enduring Freedom, but found new bases, regrouped, and returned to the fight. Without Bush's war rhetoric, without the invasion of Iraq, major military activity would still have been forced on the US and its allies in Afghanistan.

Some critics have suggested that the Bush administration should have de-escalated the conflict by declaring victory after this. This is ironic, when that one of the faults of the Bush administration most complained about is its habit of declaring victory prematurely.

Who or what should the Bush admininistration have declared war on? This argument could go on forever. Terrorism is a method and rhetoric, not a finite group, and to declare war on it sets a very difficult standard to meet. Al Qaeda is a candidate, but it isn't just one group but a range of shifting coalitions of affiliates and groupings. To declare war on it now is to declare war on an idea. 'Islamic extremism' is too big and would attract even stronger condemnation. Whatever Bush declared war on, in fact, he would probably have been strongly criticised for it. But whatever the group or concept targeted, the unpleasant facts above remain.

Has war led to other errors, abuses, hysteria or poor judgement? Yes, and not just because of the nature of this administration. War is a chaotic and wild state, leading to miscalculations and unintended consequences, and even the most forbearing and rational state would probably be tempted into some of the moral and strategic errors of Bush.

Abuses of civil liberties during World War Two and the American Civil War also occurred and deserved their criticisms, but this did not obviate the need to recognise a state of war when it existed.

Whatever we should call the enemy, and whatever the risks of declaring war, and despite the disasters that have flowed from Iraq, I see little choice on this issue. A deadly and real enemy with state support had shown it had the will and ability to do things that if repeated serially would make life almost impossible for the world's superpower and, because of global interdependence, most of the world.

Tricky problem though.
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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

# Posted 2:45 PM by Patrick Porter  

MY KINGDOM FOR A 'PLANE: Mark Grimsley speculates that one accident was the difference between the survival and the fall of France, and maybe the scale of the Holocaust. Its a provocative piece, but I'm skeptical.
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# Posted 2:40 PM by Patrick Porter  

THE TOOLS OF INTERVENTION: A few days ago, Taylor raised the issue of alternative mechanisms to military methods for rescuing threatened peoples.

The duty of succour may be one.
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# Posted 1:03 AM by Taylor Owen  

10 LESSONS FROM IRAQ: Hilzoy, commenting on TGA's LA Times column this week (which is also worth a read).

I think about this, and about the absolutely puerile debate that preceded our decision whether to go to war, and I ask myself: how did it happen that everyone who actually predicted these sorts of consequences was successfully portrayed as a defeatist, a person who just didn't care about the children who died at Halabja or their parents who vanished into Abu Ghraib and were never heard from again, a wimp who preferred staying on the good side of the French (quel horreur!) to facing down bin Laden, or a traitor who must have secretly welcomed 9/11, if indeed s/he had noticed it at all?

The consequences Timothy Garton Ash describes -- or at least, consequences broadly like them -- were predictable at the time. Of course a war against Iran's deadliest enemy in the region would strengthen Iran, especially if it kept American troops pinned down within handy reach of Iranian operatives. Of course a democracy would be hard to build in Iraq, not because "Arabs are not suited for democracy", but because the habits of mind that constitute respect for the rule of law and a willingness to work within an established political system do not spring into being overnight after being crushed for decades. Of course this would play into bin Laden's hands, both by diverting resources and attention away from Afghanistan and by making the story he had been telling about America and its designs on the Muslim world come true.

So why were the people who warned us about this -- James Webb, Brent Scowcroft, and others -- at best ignored, and at worst mocked by people without a fraction either of their experience or of their judgment? Why did so many people choose to listen instead to the likes of Michael Ledeen and Jonah Goldberg? I don't really know, but here are a few lessons I hope we learn.

He then lists 10 lessons from Iraq, they are very much worth a look.


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Saturday, July 21, 2007

# Posted 9:32 AM by Taylor Owen  

OBAMA'S IRAQ-DARFUR ANALOGY: Yesterday, Obama caused bit of a blogospheric stir by drawing a link between US genocide prevention in Iraq and unilateral invasions of the DRC and Sudan. His attempt to explain this position in a 10 second sound bite, and the reaction to, and interpretation of, his statement marks a telling example of a position missing from much of the Iraq foreign policy debate - that of liberal internationalists, and supporters of international humanitarian interventions.

So here is what he said:
Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama said Thursday the United States cannot use its military to solve humanitarian problems and that preventing a potential genocide in Iraq isn’t a good enough reason to keep U.S. forces there.

“Well, look, if that’s the criteria by which we are making decisions on the deployment of U.S. forces, then by that argument you would have 300,000 troops in the Congo right now — where millions have been slaughtered as a consequence of ethnic strife — which we haven’t done,” Obama said in an interview with The Associated Press.

“We would be deploying unilaterally and occupying the Sudan, which we haven’t done. Those of us who care about Darfur don’t think it would be a good idea,” he said.

As I agree with the position he is espousing, let me try to both translate and elaborate.

First, the intro paragraph to the report is incorrect. I do not think that Obama believes that US force should never be used to stop a genocide (and since Samantha Power is one of his principle FP advisers, we can pretty much rule this position out), but rather, that it is often an ineffective tool for doing so. What's more, using the military for humanitarian operations often does more harm than good. This is an equation, learned though decades of such operations, that has to be part of an assessment of the use of force - particularly unilateral force in a highly sensitive region.

Second, he was not arguing an amoral position on either Darfur or the DRC. Rather, he was saying that just because we want to stop a slaughter, does in mean that the only, or best, policy options available is invasion. In fact, humanitarian considerations are often a reason to look to other mechanisms. There are a wide range of considerations as to who should conduct humanitarian interventions and how. Ignoring these can OFTEN make matters worse. The most ardent advocates of strong international action on Darfur and the DRC, for example, are not pushing for a US invasion. They are, however, urging for a whole host of initiatives that are presently not being done.

Third, if we translate this line of reasoning to the situation in Iraq, just because we care about the humanitarian emergency in the country is not a de facto rationale for keeping forces in. The very real possibility that these forces are aggravating a significant percentage of the insurgency needs to be considered. As does the fact that a majority of Iraqi's do not support the US troop presence, and that many endorse strikes against them, and are providing the insurgency with the tacit support it requires. On balance, this may still mean the draw down would have to be cautious, and probably dependant on the formation of a UN peacebuilding mission, as Obama advocates.

Indeed, with this in mind, here is his recommendation:

“Nobody is proposing we leave precipitously. There are still going to be U.S. forces in the region that could intercede, with an international force, on an emergency basis,” Obama said between stops on the first of two days scheduled on the New Hampshire campaign trail. “There’s no doubt there are risks of increased bloodshed in Iraq without a continuing U.S. presence there.

”The greater risk is staying in Iraq, Obama said.

“It is my assessment that those risks are even greater if we continue to occupy Iraq and serve as a magnet for not only terrorist activity but also irresponsible behavior by Iraqi factions,” he said.

Seen through the lens of the international experience with humanitarian interventions and peacebuilding, a tradition in which Obama's foreign policy advisers have considerable experience, this makes sense. If we are in a peacebuilding scenario, what is going to be needed is a massive humanitarian relief operation (which has not been done), supported by a UN peacebuilding force. Of course actually doing this will not be easy, but my bet is a humble next president, after dovetailing significantly from many of the more controversial Bush administration positions, and clearly expressing a humanitarian plea to the international community, will be able to secure these forces. I believe that Obama is the best positioned candidate to advocate this position, which is why I am supporting him.

One more thing. As we move into debates about post-Bush foreign policy, there is going to, obviously, be a lot of debate about various schools of US foreign policy. One thing that I think really needs to part of this discussion is how to not throw the baby of an activists (and some would say morality-based) US foreign policy, out with the bathwater of the neoconservative experience of Iraq. There are many who believe that the US should be an active player in humanitarian crises, but have a very different view of the mechanisms that must be used to achieve these ends.

Desired humanitarian outcomes are great, but if the mechanisms used have little or no chance of achieving them, then we need to dramatically rethink the tool box of foreign policy.

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# Posted 2:06 AM by Taylor Owen  

THE WEB HAS NO MERCY: It's no secret that while we may disagree about a bunch of things around these parts (oxblog), we all have a certain affinity for Hitch. Which only makes this all the funnier...
SPARTA, TN–Noted author, social critic, and political gadfly
Christopher Hitchens was once again the focus of controversy Monday,
when he was forcibly removed from Happy Trails trailer park following a
drunken confrontation with Noreen Bodell, 39, his common-law wife of 14

"We're down at the old Hitchens place probably twice a month at least,"
said Sgt. Wilson Vernon, the first of three officers to arrive at the
scene. "Once his blood's up, old Hitch can get meaner than a
three-legged coon hound. From what the neighbors told us about this
latest incident, Noreen was all worked up, accusing him of drinking and
womanizing. He was angry with her refusal to acknowledge that there is
ample evidence to make a case for prosecuting Henry Kissinger as a war
criminal. She just kept shouting, 'No, there ain't!'"...

Added Perkins: "So long as Hitch can learn to keep his mouth shut about
Christianity being symptomatic of the 'savage and ignorant prehistory
of our species' and whatnot, I'm sure he'll cause no trouble that a few
cups of black coffee and a night in the drunk tank can't solve."
When the Onion is good, damn it is good.
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Thursday, July 19, 2007

# Posted 8:43 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WHO HAS A MAN-CRUSH ON FRED THOMPSON? The ex-Senator from Tennessee is on the cover of the latest New Republic. The story inside is of moderate length but rather short on substance, which is unusual for TNR. Instead, there is plenty of amateur psychoanalysis:
Among more serious journalists, The Weekly Standard's Stephen Hayes has developed a particularly intense man-crush on Thompson, penning a series of breathless valentines about the fledgling campaign, starting with a 6,000-word profile in April...

Nor is it only the conservative media getting high on the smell of testosterone. The creepiest musings about Thompson's "sex appeal" thus far have come from NBC's Chris Matthews, the machismo-obsessed id of the Washington media, who recently cooed: "Can you smell the English leather on this guy, the Aqua Velva, the sort of mature man's shaving cream, or whatever, you know, after he shaved? Do you smell that sort of--a little bit of cigar smoke?"
I read Hayes' profile of Thompson. It talked about policies, about ideas, and about Thompson's strategy of running as a straight-talker.

If you get past the pscyhoanalysis, the TNR cover-story provides a nice biography-in-brief of the non-candidate and his rise through Tennessee politics. And I have to admit, I didn't know Thompson had a nine-month old son or a wife twenty-four years his junior. Or for that matter, another son who is six years older than his wife and forty-six years older than his little half-brother.

I wonder how all of this will affect Thompson's (non-)campaign. It seems a lot more Hollywood then it does Tennessee.


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# Posted 8:29 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE DEATH OF THE BENOIT FAMILY: I only heard yesterday about the murder-suicide in which pro-wrestler Chris Benoit killed his wife and 7-year old son before hanging himself in the basement of their home.

As a longtime fan, I was shocked to hear what happened. The usual story is that a wrestler has died as a result of steroid abuse. Or some other substance. What Benoit did just made no sense. But even if there is no logical connection between what Benoit did and the premature death of so many other wrestlers, this murder should serve as a wake up call. There is something profoundly wrong with pro-wrestling and the way it takes the life of so many performers.

If enough fans keep telling the wrestlers and the executives that we won't accept entertainment at this price, then maybe they'll get the message.

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Saturday, July 14, 2007

# Posted 6:48 AM by Patrick Porter  

HISTORY BOYS (AND GIRLS): Yesterday while buying lunch at a motorway diner, I noticed a rather hotly-worded article in the UK's Daily Express. It was about a debate over the new Prime Minister's initiative to change the history curriculum in British schools.

While the specifics weren't clear, it warned that the PM wanted to rearrange school history to play down stress on traditional British heroes, like Churchill, and promote the teaching of the historical background to 'British diversity.' So, for example, slavery and climate change would be introduced into history/social studies.

This article reflected a polemical debate that has raged in Australia, and I believe in parts of the USA. Should school history educate pupils in uncluttered patriotic pride, or should it be an education in multiculturalism and pluralism?

Both sides of this row seem to lose sight of what history at school should really be about. Instead of using the study of the past to programme people with the right 'values', and mass-produce people in a certain political ideology, history should be taught in a way that liberates the intellect and the imagination. People should be equipped to argue about what happened in the past and why, and what it all means.

In other words, individual students should be asked, and encouraged, to draw their own conclusions. If history is, as EH Carr said, the unending dialogue of the present and the past, the study of history should prepare students to take part in that dialogue, rather than giving them banal lessons from the right (teaching them to feel triumphant) or from the left (teaching them to be nice to each other).

Otherwise, students could emerge from school in three different states: 1) thoroughly bored by history, 2) indulging in romantic ancestor-worship, or 3) sneering at the past in Olympian ancestor-loathing.
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Thursday, July 12, 2007

# Posted 6:47 AM by Patrick Porter  

OXBLOG INTERVIEWS NICK COHEN (PART 2): Nick also argues more broadly about the need not to see Muslims as simply reacting to what happens around them. There are liberal and moderate Muslims actively struggling against extremism who deserve our support. At the same time, the militant forms of jihad are not just bi-products of our foreign policy. If the twentieth century has taught us anything, it is that totalitarian movements (such as militant Islam today) and their ideologies have a life of their own. He refers to the recent comments of ex-jihadist Hassan Butt, who said:

‘When I was still a member of what is probably best termed the British Jihadi Network, a series of semi-autonomous British Muslim terrorist groups linked by a single ideology, I remember how we used to laugh in celebration whenever people on TV proclaimed that the sole cause for Islamic acts of terror like 9/11, the Madrid bombings and 7/7 was Western foreign policy.

By blaming the government for our actions, those who pushed the 'Blair's bombs' line did our propaganda work for us. More important, they also helped to draw away any critical examination from the real engine of our violence: Islamic theology…
Mohammad Sidique Khan, the leader of the 7 July bombings, and I were both part of the BJN - I met him on two occasions - and though many British extremists are angered by the deaths of fellow Muslim across the world, what drove me and many of my peers to plot acts of extreme terror within Britain, our own homeland and abroad, was a sense that we were fighting for the creation of a revolutionary state that would eventually bring Islamic justice to the world.’

Cohen agrees that even as some are keen to blame every act of terror only on Western foreign policy, this actually reflects a narcissistic mentality, that ‘we’ are the prime agents in the world, when in fact there are forces in the world beyond our control.

We talk a bit about the nature of anti-Americanism. Cohen is careful to distinguish legitimate criticism of specific American policies and Presidents, from a more indiscriminate political hostility. I suggest that the main dividing line in foreign policy today is the difference between those who see America as primarily the problem, and those who see the US as primarily the solution.

Nick agrees generally, but says that attitudes towards America are not just reflections of foreign policy debates. There is a general leftist/postmodernist European revulsion at the perceived crudity of the USA, its mass market, its consumerism, its aggressive capitalist economics – tendencies they also fear in their own populations. At the same time, he agrees that anti-Americanism in Britain also has a strong conservative strain, arising from the Revolutionary war of Independence and running through the decline of British global power, linked to the rise of American power.

We also talk about the impact of the blogosphere. Nick agrees that the debate within the left about the war in Iraq took place much more within the blog world than the world outside it. It was on sites like ‘Harry’s Place’ and ‘normblog’ where one was able to hear a pro-war left that saw itself as the true voice of a democratic anti-totalitarian movement, and in turn, where one saw the most strident criticism of it.

Nick reflects that there is an important difference between the conventional and blog media: a conformism descends upon the liberal press and centralised media, whereas the web enables scattered people who might have thought they were isolated or unusual in their beliefs to find each other. Nick researched his book partly by going through all of the posts and fierce battles in the ‘comments’ section.

Finally, I ask Nick about the state of play now. He thinks that we are in a strange position, where enough people have been killed to fuel a movement towards misguided appeasement, but not enough to convince people that there is a deadly threat. Paradoxically, I suggest that even as we hope it won’t happen, al Qaeda might be far more damaged by a successful large-scale strike on Britain, as like the Omagh bombings undermined sympathy for the IRA. It would serve to alienate opinion and mobilise far more resistance at the grass roots level. But Cohen thinks that the usual suspects would still make similar noises, blaming everyone but the killers.

By this point I had taken up far too much of Nick’s time and thanked him. Nick headed out of the pub and back into the fray.
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# Posted 6:37 AM by Patrick Porter  

OXBLOG INTERVIEWS NICK COHEN (PART 1): ‘We’re all Hizbollah now.’ For journalist and author Nick Cohen, this slogan symbolises everything that has gone wrong with big parts of today’s British Left. Last July, some leftist protesters in London held up this placard, identifying themselves with a movement whose leader is openly anti-semitic, and whose former leader once announced ‘We are not fighting so that you may offer us something. We are fighting to eliminate you.’

Instead of merely opposing British or American policies and wars abroad, Cohen complains in his book What’s Left that influential and mainstream leftist have gone along with movements representing everything they are meant to be against: the ultra-right. In his own words, they have made excuses for, or sometimes sided with, a religious fanaticism that wants to ‘subjugate women, kill homosexuals, kill Jews, kill freethinkers and establish a theocratic empire.’

Refreshed by beers supplied by Oxblog, Nick smiles across the table in a little north London pub. He’s a friendly and incisive bloke who kindly takes time away from his deadlines to talk about what happened to the politics he once thought he knew, and what can be done about it. I asked him how he defined the new political landscape, and hurled some ‘devil’s advocate’ questions at him.

As well as being a regular columnist at the Observer, Nick helped to launch the Euston Manifesto, a statement of principles by democratic leftists concerned that some fellow progressives in their zeal to oppose American foreign policy were getting way too comfortable with reactionaries along the spectrum from misogynists to anti-semites, Baathists to Islamist militants.

Cohen argues that the demise of socialism as a credible programme of emancipation opened the way for a strange realignment of leftist opinion. The political left became far more defined by negation – what it opposed- than what it supported.

The result? British leftists in the antiwar movement making common cause with the far right Muslim Brotherhood; Iraqi socialists and trade unionists abandoned or ignored after the fall of Saddam; leftist intellectuals such as Noam Chomsky either denying or playing down ethnic cleansing of nationalists in the Balkans; the socialist Mayor of London hosting and defending preacher Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who had called for the killing of apostates and homosexuals; in parts of the academy, the onset of an extreme relativism which taught that it was racist to oppose sexism in different cultures; the growth of anti-semitism of varying intensity, some of which makes its way into his email account from hostile readers.

Cohen tries to balance two arguments that rarely sit together in emotional equilibrium: anger with the flawed policies and incompetence of the Bush and Blair governments, but solidarity with Iraqis as they tried to build something better after decades of tyranny.

A leading figure in Cohen’s argument is Kanan Makiya, the Iraqi dissident who documented the brutalities of Saddam Hussein, the genocide, serial aggression and divide-and-rule terror of the regime. A powerful summary of Cohen’s case is the story of how Makiya was eventually abandoned by those he thought his allies on the left. When it came time to choose whether to support the US-led, UN-mandated effort to turn back Saddam’s forces from invading and annexing Kuwait in 1990-1, the likes of Alexander Cockburn, Tariq Ali and Edward Said dismissed his talk of the crimes of Baathism. Baathism might be bad, but American imperialism was worse, and Makiya suddenly found himself unpopular amongst old comrades.

Cohen targets not just the far left, such as the Socialist Workers Party, but the fringe ideas that he believes have saturated the mainstream. Cohen’s book identifies supposed leftists who have in different ways made excuses for, or allied with, the most reactionary strains of Islam: the head and organisers of the Stop The War Coalition; the Mayor of London; a celebrated playwright; pundits in progressive newspapers such as the Guardian and Independent; BBC journalists; even the English National Opera!

More broadly, Cohen laments the loss of a sense of comradeship, and the decline of what was once the core principle of the left, international solidarity with the oppressed. As a man of the left himself, with a strong socialist pedigree in his family, he regrets that once upon a time amidst the wreckage of the failure of Marxism-Leninism and even mild socialism, the great consoling claim of the left was that it had once squarely opposed fascism. Now, he isn’t so sure.

So what is it to be left-wing? This, Cohen argues, is part of the problem. It has lost a coherent definition and set of baseline values, and has replaced the positive programme of reform with broad opposition to what it sees as American imperialism.
I suggested that there was arguably a resurgence of democratic socialism in parts of South America, but Nick said that this was often demagogy, financed by oil profits that lacked a true socialist programme of nationalisation of industry, and is highly dependent on anti-American oppositionalism than positive emancipation.

I asked Nick why it is that in this mixed up landscape, a neoconservative or right-of-centre folk are more likely to criticise without qualification the jailing of trade unionists in Iran than a leftist. To Cohen, it is partly that this kind of criticism is suspected of being a stalking-horse for cultural imperialism or an assertion of western hegemony.

He cautions against those who might be driven to denounce the reactionaries in the Iranian government in order to create a drive to war. But he also argues that the reluctance to ‘impose’ ‘our’ views, the reluctance to show solidarity with feminists, trade unionists and ethnic minorities in Iran is part of an insidious double-standard, a view that non-western cultures are incapable or unworthy of liberal values and that pluralistic civil society is specific to ‘us’, and not for poor brown people.

Cohen argues that the Iranian revolution actually highlights the disappointment for the modern left, that some of the forces which oppose American hegemony are deeply reactionary. Initially, when the Khomeiniate revolution erupted, leftists around the world voiced their support, but then it turned on them and persecuted Iranian progressives.

Nick regrets that many leftists have been reluctant to embrace wholeheartedly the cause of democratic reformers in dictatorships. What should be their ideals have been taken up and incompetently pursued by the Bush administration.

This leads me to ask him the corollary question from his book title, what’s ‘Right’? Cohen grins and says that this was also a book he could have written. I note that there are divisions on foreign policy within rightist circles every bit as profound as on the left: in the USA, Pat Buchanan versus George Bush, or in Britain, Peter Hitchens versus Michael Gove. Cohen agrees, but suggests that internationalism is traditionally a more natural stance of the left, whereas nativist isolationism is more of a right-wing animal.

I ask Nick about the practical implications of his stance. If he is concerned that people take the right side in political conflicts, does that position have practical policies as well? Might not it lend itself to the promiscuous resort to war as a policy instrument?

Nick replies that it is about being vocal in solidarity: western socialists should support fellow socialists battling oppressive regimes abroad, feminists should support feminists, liberal humanitarians likewise. There should be more open dialogue with democratic reformers, to create external pressure on regimes by highlighting the plight of those struggling to emancipate the country.

But wouldn’t western solidarity create the impression that democratic reformers in Iran, say, or Zimbabwe, were fifth columnists for foreign imperialism, and make their job harder? Nick responds that this should be a matter for the dissidents themselves. But they are not saying ‘back off’ – they are asking where the solidarity is. The problem, he argues, is that there is currently little dialogue. If the left devoted as much attention as it did in Palestine to human rights violations in Iran, Zimbabwe, China, Congo or North Korea, this would make peaceful revolution much easier. Instead, with honourable exceptions in Amnesty or Human Rights Watch, the plight of those whose suffering cannot be attributed to America or its proxies has been greeted with near-silence.

I then suggested another potential problem with his position. He believes that the left should speak out with greater clarity against Islamic extremism. But is it possible to identify this as a threat without unwittingly encouraging bigotry towards ordinary Muslims? Isn’t it a slippery rhetorical exercise that could lead to greater intolerance?

Nick agrees that this is a danger. Just as insidious anti-semitism is becoming the bigotry of some on the left, Islamophobia does exist and is becoming the prejudice of some on the right. But he suggests that the solution includes going back to encouraging progressive Muslims, as this is an argument that must be had within the Islamic community. It’s also partly about who the government recognises as the figures or organisations as the spokespeople of Islam. Treating Islam as though it were just one giant bloc helps to give undue attention to its most vitriolic spokesmen, such as the Muslim Brotherhood or Jamaat-e-Islami, reinforcing the misperception that Islam is inherently threatening and extreme. Cultures are not hermetically sealed boxes, or monolithic sets of ‘values.’
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Wednesday, July 11, 2007

# Posted 11:54 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

ROUGH DAY FOR McCAIN: I was hoping that OxBlog's unflinching support would turn things around, but apparently not yet.

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# Posted 11:32 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

PLAN B IS A DELUSION: Stephen Biddle is one of the top military analysts in the country. He wrote in this morning's Post that:
Growing opposition to the surge has not yet translated into support for outright withdrawal -- few lawmakers are comfortable with abandoning Iraq or admitting defeat. The result has been a search for some kind of politically moderate "Plan B" that would split the difference between surge and withdrawal.

The problem is that these politics do not fit the military reality of Iraq. Many would like to reduce the U.S. commitment to something like half of today's troop presence there. But it is much harder to find a mission for the remaining 60,000 to 80,000 soldiers that makes any sense militarily.
I don't have the expertise necessary to agree or disagree, but the political implications of Biddle's argument are quite unusual. He's telling us that the respected centrists have a much less coherent, sensible position than either of the poles. Of course, neither the advocates of extending the surge nor those of immediate withdrawal want to acknowledge that the other has a reasonable argument. Yet Biddle says they both do.

Tom Friedman [behind the NYT firewall] agrees with Biddle's main point:
The minute we start to withdraw, all hell will break loose in the areas we leave, and there will be a no-holds-barred contest for power among Iraqi factions. Our staying there with, say, half as many troops, will not be sustainable.
And yet Friedman supports withdrawal, because it means no more dead Americans and gives us a longshot at making peace by scaring the Iraqis into a compromise. In contrast to just about everyone else who wants a withdrawal, Friedman is honest about the probable consequences:
Getting out...means more ethnic, religious and tribal killings all across Iraq. It will be one of the most morally ugly scenes you can imagine — no less than Darfur. You will see U.S. troops withdrawing and Iraqi civilians and soldiers who have supported us clinging to our tanks for protection as we rumble out the door.
Another Darfur and another Saigon. A moral failure and an epic humiliation. That is the cost of surrender. If America decides that is our best option, we should do so in full knowledge of its drawbacks. But I am not yet persuaded.

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Saturday, July 07, 2007

# Posted 8:15 AM by Taylor Owen  

THE SAME BUT DIFFERENT: FT, on the new Harvard boss, and gender. Of course.
Ms Faust said that leadership experts contend that the female management style, thought to be more collegial and involve more consensus-building, is particularly suited to running an educational institution. Her predecessor, Lawrence Summers, the former US Treasury secretary, resigned as Harvard president amid tensions with faculty over his sometimes blunt style and accusations that he had made comments questioning whether there are innate differences in intelligence between men and women.
I was directed to this wondrous quote, by the uncannily apt-at-identifying-mind-alteringly-absurd-statements, Andrew Potter. Who concludes, as only one could:
In other words: Larry Summers wasn't particularly suited to be president because he suggested that there were innate differences between men and women; Ms Faust is more suited to be president because... there are innate differences between men and women.


I should just add that I also believed Summers' comment was, ahem, ill advised. Not because he questioned innate differences between the sexes. I would not be tremendously surprised if science reveals that there are. Rather, it was his insinuation that this may have something to do with there being fewer tenured female scientists that was ridiculous. A position that would require completely ignoring the far greater influence, in this case, of nurture over nature.

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Thursday, July 05, 2007

# Posted 8:23 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE UNKINDEST CUT -- EDWARDS' $400 STYLIST SPEAKS OUT: Joseph Torrenueva thought that he was friends with John Edwards. But once the cost of Torrenueva's haircuts became public knowledge, the candidate acted as if Torrenueva was a stranger:
In the days after the $400 haircut first caused a stir, Torrenueva did not give many details about his client to reporters who called or came by his Beverly Hills salon. But Torrenueva says he was hurt by Edwards's response to all the flap.

"I'm disappointed and I do feel bad. If I know someone, I'm not going to say I don't know them," he said. "When he called me 'that guy,' that hit my ears. It hurt." He paused and then added, "I still like him. . . . I don't want to hurt him."

Torrenueva said he normally charges men $175 when they come to his salon for a haircut. But the cost for Edwards went up because the stylist had to leave his shop and go on the road to do his haircuts.
That's right. Edwards paid Torrenueva to travel cross-country and give the candidate a haircut. The cost?
Torrenueva has cut Edwards's hair at least 16 times.

At first, the haircuts were free. But because Torrenueva often had to fly somewhere on the campaign trail to meet his client, he began charging $300 to $500 for each cut, plus the cost of airfare and hotels when he had to travel outside California.

Torrenueva said one haircut during the 2004 presidential race cost $1,250 because he traveled to Atlanta and lost two days of work.
On the bright side, Edwards isn't the only candidate who has found it necessary to import a stylist:
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) had her own minor version of the Edwards treatment after her Senate campaign spent nearly $3,000 in fees and travel for two sessions with stylist Isabelle Goetz.
Word on the street is that Obama is now looking for a stylist who will charge at least $5,000. But the real problem here is that money plays too much of a role in presidential campaigns. The time has come for the federal government to appoint a personal stylist for each candidate.

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Wednesday, July 04, 2007

# Posted 3:53 AM by Taylor Owen  

JOHNSTON RELEASED: This is wonderful news. At the time of his kidnapping, Johnston was the only western journalist permanently based in Gaza. His kidnapping has had a serious effect on our knowledge of the region, and the wider conflict. Something that benefits no one. This line is also interesting:
Mr Johnston said Hamas's seizure of power in Gaza and its subsequent pledge to improve security in the territory had facilitated his release.

"The kidnappers seemed very comfortable and very secure in their operation until... a few weeks ago, when Hamas took charge of the security operation here," he said.

It seems as if the Hamas pressure may have had a real hand in securing the release. Thoughts?

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Tuesday, July 03, 2007

# Posted 4:00 PM by Taylor Owen  

BEST LIBBY RELATED LINE YET?: And there have been some serious whoppers. For my money, so far, Snow has to be in the running:
Shortly thereafter, a reporter asked Tony Snow during a press briefing, "If there are more than 3,000 current petitions for commutation -- not pardons, but commutation -- in the federal system, under President Bush, will all 3,000 of those be held to the same standard that the president applied to Scooter Libby?"

Snow replied, "I don't know."
With a bit more seriousness, it seems to me as if Josh pretty much nails it:

There is a conceivable argument --- a very poor one but a conceivable one --- for pardoning Scooter Libby, presumably on the argument that the entire prosecution was political and thus illegitimate. But what conceivable argument does the president have for micromanaging the sentence? To decide that the conviction is appropriate, that probation is appropriate, that a substantial fine is appropriate --- just no prison sentence.

This is being treated in the press as splitting the difference, an elegant compromise. But it is the least justifiable approach.

ps. A propos, from the Byron York none the less:
What's remarkable about it, since the Libby clemency was basically a political act, is Bush's reluctance to embrace any political argument to explain his action.
pps. Hmmm:
"I don't believe my role is to replace the verdict of a jury with my own," - George W. Bush on why he signed death warrants for 152 inmates as governor of Texas"- GWB, in a "A Charge To Keep."

UPDATE: It seems to me that what is getting lost here is that Libby was OBSTRUCTING an investigation. Not into WHO was the end point leaker, as Justice knew it was Armitage two months before it called on Fitgerald to start the investigation. But rather on who ordered it, and whether they in so doing broke the National Identities Protection Act. They couldn't prove this, in part anyways, because Libby OBSTRUCTED the investigation. This means that Cheney, along with Rove, was almost certainly in Fitzgerald's sights. That is why Fitzgerald went after him, and it seems to me to not only be perfectly reasonable, but exactly what one would want federal prosecutors to do.
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Sunday, July 01, 2007

# Posted 11:35 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

CAN YOU WIN THE BATTLE FOR HEARTS AND MINDS BUT STILL LOSE THE WAR? In 2006, the conventional wisdom about Afghanistan became increasingly pessimistic. Once considered a moderate success story, it was becoming a demonstration of the United States ability to defeat any sort of determined insurgents. In a recent dispatch from Afghanistan [TNR -- subscription only], Peter Bergen describes 2006 in numbers:
The day I arrived in Kabul, a suicide bomber detonated his bomb near the Afghan parliament, killing himself and two bystanders. It was the third suicide attack in Kabul in as many weeks. In 2006, suicide attacks in Afghanistan quintupled to 139; IED attacks doubled; attacks on international forces tripled; 700 Afghan civilians died at the hands of the insurgents; U.S. and NATO military deaths were at their highest levels since the Taliban was ousted; and Western forces continued to mistakenly kill local civilians.
The optimist might say that those numbers demonstrate what a paradise Afghanistan is compared to Iraq. It takes a few weeks, not a year, for 700 Iraqi civilians to be killed by Sunni bombers and Shi'ite death squads. If the US could keep Iraq at a low boil with 15,000 troops instead of ten times that number, we would be overjoyed. But the trend remains disturbing nonetheless.

Even so, I haven't touched on the real fodder for optimists: the public opinion figures for Afghanistan. Bergen reports that:
Strangely, despite all the problems facing their country, Afghans remain decisively upbeat about both their government and the presence of international forces. According to a countrywide poll conducted by ABC News and the BBC late last year, President Karzai enjoys an approval rating of 68 percent, while 88 percent say they are happy the United States invaded, 74 percent hold a favorable opinion of America, and 80 percent say they want foreign troops to remain.
Other than a failure of polling methodology, what could explain such an outcome? Shouldn't the residents of an occupied, war-torn country hate their invaders?

Several hypotheses can be easily dismissed, I think. First, one might say that the US has simply done a better job of fighting the war in Afghanistan. But I'm not aware of any significant differences in how we've approached the Taliban insurgents as opposed to their counterparts in Iraq. Another hypothesis is that the United States overthrew a much more hated regime in Afghanistan than it did in Iraq. But if anything, one could argue that the Taliban had broader public support. Alternately, one could hypothesize that ethnic and sectarian conflicts are less intense in Afghanistan than they are in Iraq. Yet ethnicity and religion brought more than a decade of brutal war to Afghanistan. Next, one might speculate that Afghans are simply more welcoming of outside intervention in its politics. Yet Afghanistan had long been known as the graveyard of empire, not least because of the defeat its warriors inflicted on the Soviets.

So then, what factors could be responsible for these different outcomes? One clear distinction between the two wars is that there was a multilateral consensus behind the invasion of Afghanistan, but not behind the invasion of Iraq. By extension, there is a multilateral presence now in Afghanistan, but only American and a handful of other military personnel in Iraq. But what evidence do we have that this has affected the course of the insurgency? In Iraq, the Shi'ites remain convinced that getting rid of Saddam was for the best. And it doesn't seem that the Sunnis would have been any more welcoming of a more multilateral occupation. After all, UN headquarters in Iraq was one of the insurgents' first major targets.

If one is looking for differences, one factor I would suggest is geography. Iraq is in the heart of the Arab world. Afghanistan is on its periphery. Even though Al Qaeda was based in Afghanistan until 9/11, it is a movement born of the Arab world. I'd appreciate your thoughts on that hypothesis, since it is hardly air-tight. For example, in one important respect, geography favors the Afghan insurgents. As Prof. Porter has often observed, cross-border sanctuaries tend to be critical to the success of any insurgency. In that regard, the Pakistani frontier is far better than what the insurgents have in Iraq.

But before we get carried away with asking why, relatively speaking, the situation is better in Afghanistan, it is worth revisiting the issue of how much worse the situation in Afghanistan will get. As the title of this post asks, can you win the battle for hearts and minds but still lose the war? Can the Taliban continue to surge in spite of widespread support for the Karzai government and its American support? We often hear in this country that there is no such thing as a military solution to a guerrilla/civil war. In the end, it comes down to politics. Perhaps the Taliban have failed to learn this lesson, and thus their success will only be ephemeral? Or will the Taliban demonstrate that the iron law of counterinsurgency -- that the support of the population is everything -- may not apply in certain situations?

Heck if I know. What do you think?


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