Wednesday, November 30, 2005

# Posted 10:22 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

CAPT. CARTER IS STILL BLOGGING: Wrongly, I assumed that Phil wouldn't have any time to post now that he's back in the service. So you should definitely check out his long post on the Padilla case as well as his reflections on Veterans Day.

Phil's most recent post is an impassioned polemic against just-short-of-torture interrogation tactics. I agree with Phil's conclusion, but am not fully satisfied with his logic. In response to one law professor's ticking-time bomb scenario, Phil says:
Let's stipulate for the sake of argument that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi has valuable intel locked in his head. And, let's also stipulate that the intel he has can save lives. As the leader of an insurgent cell (network?), I think this is a reasonable stipulation. So there's a reasonable argument to be made that we should interrogate him (using a variety of means) to learn what he knows, in order to support the war against terrorism.

However, the math should not stop there. Let me propose a simple equation: Zarqawi's intelligence value is roughly proportional to his PR value. He is a celebrity of sorts on the Arab street; a notorious figure whose name is known to millions. It is safe to assume that anything done to him will eventually become public. Any coercive or abusive treatment of him will simply enhance his stature as a martyr (which he would effectively be once captured), and play into his organization's propaganda. On balance, I think the costs of torturing Zarqawi (creating 1,001 additional Zarqawis) far outweigh the benefits of harvesting the intel he possesses.
I'm not sure that it makes sense to talk about an equation with intelligence value on one side and PR value on the other. If interrogators had good reason to believe that they could save the lives of American civilians by turning up the pressure on Zarqawi, it would be very hard to argue that those civilians' right to life is outweighed by the speculative PR value of leaving Zarqawi alone. That is the essence of the ticking time bomb scenario.

This brings us to the point of whether almost-torturing Zarqawi would amount to "creating 1,001 additional Zarqawis". Wouldn't that cost the lives of more Americans in the long run? I don't know. It is plausible to suggest that there is a relationship between prisoner abuse and terrorist recuritment.

Yet assertions about the behavior of terrorists recruits are always quite speculative. After all, September 11th happened long before the mistreatment of any prisoners in Afghanistan or Iraq.

Where a good argument against torture should begin is with how we treat the vast majority of terrorist prisoners who don't have information about imminent attacks. We shouldn't subject them to abuse because it is simply wrong and because it undermines our credibility as advocates of democracy and human rights.

None of the torture or almost-torture scandals we're concerned with today have to do with ticking time bombs. The real issue is the administration's commitment to writing loopholes into the law instead of leading the charge against prisoner abuse.

As Kevin points out, if there ever really were a ticking time bomb scenario, torture would be inevitable and almost no one would feel very bad about it. But that's not the issue.
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# Posted 6:34 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy told Parliament on Tuesday that France did not want "those people that nobody else in the world wants." He added, "We want selective immigration."
American immigration laws are far from perfect, but I won't hesitate to say that what continues to make our nation great is precisely the fact that we have welcomed so many millions of the unwanted and given them the right to become full-fledged Americans.
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# Posted 6:18 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

JUST SLIGHTLY IRONIC: The WaPo reports that the four Westerners taken hostage together in Iraq are peace activists affiliated with Christian Peacemaker Teams, based in Chicago. Naturally, the organization blamed the US and the UK for the kidnappings:
"We are angry because what has happened to our teammates is the result of the actions of the U.S. and U.K. government due to the illegal attack on Iraq and the continuing occupation and oppression of its people," [its] statement said.
I very much hope that these four activists return safely home, because they mean well in their misguided way. But I do have to ask, if their captors murder them, as they have a good number of other civilian prisoners, would that also be Bush and Blair's fault? Or at some point do these activists acknowledge that terrorists are actually responsible for their actions?
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# Posted 4:47 PM by Patrick Belton  

LAND OF HOPE AND GLORY WATCH: The British Olympians get their kit off for charity. Only the ladies, mind you. Which is all right - I'm sure he's a lovely bloke, but I've already seen enough of Stephen Parry. Ordinarily, you need to walk down the kebab van at midnight to see this much British flesh!
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# Posted 1:58 PM by Patrick Belton  

WE HAVE A LOVELY CORPULENT AUSTRALIAN blogging with us this week! Red Mist, warm welcomes aboard OxBlog, mate.
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# Posted 1:02 PM by Patrick Belton  

IRAQ ELECTIONS - WHAT TO EXPECT: Oxford Analytica has a piece setting the stage.
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# Posted 12:04 PM by Patrick Belton  

AND WHO SAYS CANADA'S BORING? WATCH: Michael Stickings ably covers the fall of the Canadian government and start of election season. The problem with democratisation is that there are so derned many interesting elections afoot to keep hold of. A different of Her Majesty's prime ministers faced down Michael Howard for the last time today across the despatch box. And everyone in Israel now belongs to the same party. Fun times.
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# Posted 11:44 AM by Patrick Belton  

THEY WROTE MORE OF THEM: A new issue out of Books Ireland.
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# Posted 11:39 AM by Patrick Belton  

NOW BACK TO CHEAP TABLOID SEX: Or at least the Sun - this courtesy of tabloid aisle correspondent CO, who draws our attention to UK journalism's look at bad quiz show answers. Though actually, I think dubium: 'Name the Capital of France' responsum: 'F' and most of the rest of the 'Family Fortunes' section are really quite clever.
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# Posted 11:30 AM by Patrick Belton  

BANLIEUE POSTMORTEM: There's a great bit, I think, somewhat self-interestedly, to be written about how the French government is dealing with its banlieues in the aftermath of the riots, and how the debates over just how to do this are altering the political landscape and power dynamics within it. A few possible themes, if I could lay out several thoughts in bullet form:

* The responses have kept within the inclinations of each member of France's triumvirate, each acting within their brief. Chirac has said or done little; Villepin has responded bureaucratically, proposing a governmental agency charged with promoting equal opportunity (legislation will be presented to the Council of Ministers in late December) and a programme of voluntary civil service for youth (the age at which school leavers can now begin apprenticeships drops from 16 to 14 in an initiative incorrectly attributed in some newspapers to Chirac but also a Villepin initiative); Sarkozy, in what for him is now a trademark political trope, has coupled a firm law-and-order line ('the best prevention is certainty crime will be punished') with previously heterodox political solutions lifted from the Anglo-American world (notably, aggressive affirmative action for banlieue youth within the civil service, fire and police brigades, and post-school Prepa programmes preparatory to admission to the Grandes Ecoles; affirmative action till now had been considered as contravening republican egalite.) Sarkozy's strength and much of his political appeal has always lain in proposing flagship 'left' policies (affirmative action, abolition of 'double punishment' or 'double peine' for immigrant delinquents, right to vote in local elections for immigrants) with a very 'right' law-and-order discourse; it has so far worked, and he continues to do so now.

* The political implications of the banlieue response are, first, to reinforce Chirac's passing as an effective political actor; Le Monde ran pieces on the 28th and the 29th to criticise his silence, comment upon his recent infirmity, and mock a 10 Nov. gaffe where after a substantial silence on the banlieues he said 'I will have time (e.g.: biological? political? merely personal?) to share with you my reflections.' Second, the Sarkozy revolution, like the French revolution before it, will have won its most profound victory in causing even its opponents to use its language to oppose it. Villepin, the embodiment of a poetry-writing, cultured, hyper-establishment Enarque, has now caught up with the renegade pro-American Sarkozy in polls - but by adopting his rhetoric of radical change (see, for instance, his CNN interview of last night, in which he accepted Christiane Amanpour's contention France 'has a very serious social malaise, a very serious social problem that requires dramatic solutions'). It's comparatively easy to misunderestimate Villepin's political talents and assets (as Figaro's editorialist did on the 25th): he is rather dashing, a poet, and a brilliant speaker (though he has toned down the latter two to respond to Sarkozy's counterestablishment appeal), enjoying full Chirac support and poll ratings which have topped Sarkozy's. But it is by adopting Sarkozy's language of substantial reform that he has drawn even with his rival.

* That both France's prospective dauphins are running from a position of revolutionary change is telling, marking the final dropping off in a tradition of French political deference whose origins were rooted in the titanic figure of De Gaulle, whom the early Mitterand emulated with some success, though now the remaining political capital of the Elysee under the strong-presidentialist Fifth Republic is spent down after the disappointing performance of Chirac. The final decline of France’s confidence in its political estate is a play in three acts. The first is the Chirac-Le Pen electoral contest of 2002, where a candidate from far outside the political pale landed in the final runoff thanks to protest voting. The second is the ‘Non’ vote of 29 May of this year, drawing equally from those holding opposing viewpoints regarding Europe and market liberalisation, being at root similarly a vote against the governing establishment. The third is playing out now.

* The broad themes of the moment are that France now stands at a crossroads, both in the philosophical evolution of its colourblind republicanism made now to confront a discontented and underprivileged minority population (q.v. imported affirmative action solutions versus those based on the traditional but increasingly debilitated integrationist model), and also between rhetoric and programmes associated with establishment and counterestablishment solutions (q.v. programmatically, between the introduction of new state bureaucracies as part of Villepin's Plan Banlieue, vs Sarkozian vast liberal market reforms to reduce unemployment; and rhetorically, between the contrast made by Villepin's traditionalist republican rhetoric against both Sarkozy's synthesis between republican tropes and the influence of market or multicultural approaches from outside France, in his 2004 book La Republique, Les Religions, L'Esperance and subsequently; and the strongly critical language of Nicolas Baverez's La France Qui Tombe (2003)). note to self: write better sentences

* From this point forward, Villepin's main strength is that he runs the government, Sarkozy's that he runs the leading party - the UMP, which he wrested from Chirac last year. Historically, party control has proven more important than government control in winning elections: the main example is Chirac vs Balladur in 1995, when Balladur, then PM and encouraged by high poll ratings, ran for President without the RPR's (the then-Gaullist party's) backing but was overtaken by Chirac, who came from far behind thanks to his control of the RPR. Since an anti-corruption measure passed the early 90s, parties are subsidised by the State, and wealthy, especially the UMP (due to its overwhelming parliamentary majority). Parties are very much in France vehicles to support a man, are dissolved and recreated very easily, and have sparse roots in the general population, membership being more restricted than in English-speaking countries or Germany. All this stands in Sarkozy's favour so far.

* From the notebook, a possible lead graph set aside for future use - For 22 days between 27 October to 17 November, Paris burned. It has before: its riots in 1848 urged the values of Republic and modernity against Bourbon restorationism; 1968's were then the streetfights of postmodernity, pitting power against a liberal discourse which had obscured it, and in the process splintering the Sorbonne. The epochs of the world are birthed on the barricades of the Left Bank: in 2005, what giant slouches there to be born? (This remains to be seen - then move into France at a philosophical and political crossroads)
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# Posted 9:51 AM by Patrick Belton  

AN ADVANTAGE to the Chinese taking over the world is that we'll all have more sex. China leads the world in the number of reported lifetime sexual partners to date (19.3) ; the Irish (10.6) edge out the Brits and Americans (10.3), which is surely unrelated to superior alcohol intake (300 pints per person per year, vs. 228 in Blighty); the Vietnamese are at bottom with 2.5, and I know someone who's personally responsible for most of that. Care to pull more? Become a poet. Creatives have had on average between 4-10 sexual partners, compared with management bankers and other uncreatives at 3; their artistic output also correlates with their number of sexual partners.

OxBlog. Supporting creative and sexual licence, China, beergoggles and poetry since 2002!
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# Posted 6:48 AM by Patrick Belton  

WHAT IS IT WITH THE ARMY AND NUDITY? asks Magnus Linklater, comparing the images of the Royal Marines's 'video nasty' with the other images we all were forced to confront from Iraq. ('It’s not very dignified stuff, is it?', drily quips the Shadow Defence Minister, Patrick Mercer OBE.)
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Tuesday, November 29, 2005

# Posted 8:44 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

ALWAYS TRUST THE "WAR FIGHTING EXPERTS": No, I'm not done with Paul Hackett. The cocaine thing was just a diversion. The real issue is, as Hackett said on Hardball, the war in Iraq and the President who, according to Hackett, "didn't have the stones to serve in his generation's war":
MATTHEWS: Do you think President Bush as commander-in-chief would have been a better commander-in-chief had he served in combat in Vietnam?

HACKETT: I think probably most importantly what that would have allowed him to do is understand firsthand how the military process works and make him more aware of that.

I mean, it‘s not as though one simply sets a course without consulting with the war fighting experts. The war fighting experts are those in the Pentagon with the stars on their collars who consult with the battle experts in the field, who are usually colonels and lieutenant colonels. And they go through a very in-depth process of planning. And that took place leading up to Iraq.
This makes absolutely no sense. The "war fighting experts" in the Pentagon and in Iraq agree with the President there is no substitute for victory, but Hackett wants to bring the troops home as soon as possible. Or did Hackett mean to say that one should only consult with the war fighting experts when they say what you want hear?

The point I really want to make here has to do with the total incoherence of the chickenhawk argument (in which I obviously have a personal interest). If the chickenhawk argument has any meaning, it has to explain why those without military experience make worse leaders.

A generation ago, we were in the midst of another war in which the military had tremendous confidence but liberals (and numerous conservatives) didn't. At that time, liberals refused to defer to the military even though many of them lacked military experience of their own.

Now, liberals such as Hackett seem to be saying that civilians have the right to advocate peace but not war. Like all identity politics, this kind of argument ultimately rests on the rejection of rational decision-making based on evidence and ethics.

Both civilian and soldier alike should be free to support or oppose the war. Anything less would undermine the prospect of democratic deliberation.
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# Posted 8:27 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

CHICKENHAWK BUSH SNORTED COKE, SAYS PATRIOTIC DEM: Paul Hackett is the Marine vet of Operation Iraqi Freedom who came within a hair's breadth of winning an open congressional seat in Ohio earlier this year. He lost the race to Jean Schmidt, but his success has propelled him into a run for the Senate in 2006.

Last Wednesday, Hackett was on Hardball, where he denounced Schmidt and others for "play[ing] politics with the lives of young Americans" and avoiding the real issue of what to do about Iraq. In order to restore the proper level of dignity to American political discourse, Hackett promptly started talking about the President's alleged coke habit:
MATTHEWS: You said he has—in “G.Q.” this month you said, “He didn‘t have the stones to serve in his generation‘s war. Instead he wanted to drink alcohol and snort cocaine and party.”

Do you stand by that?

HACKETT: Those are the facts. I stand by it.

MATTHEWS: How do you know it‘s the fact that the president snorted cocaine, as you say?

HACKETT: Well, I think it‘s been widely reported.

It was widely reported leading up to his first election. And there are many who have come forward and documented that and said they saw it happen. I take that at face value. I think it‘s probably quite factual. And given the fact that he worked so hard to avoid service in his generation‘s conflict, it seems consistent to me.

MATTHEWS: You know, it‘s been widely reported—I guess it‘s been charged and some people have suspected it because of the way he‘s denied it, but you know for a fact that President Bush, the commander-in-chief—because you‘re running for the U.S. Senate...


MATTHEWS: ... was a cocaine user, you know that for a fact?

HACKETT: Well, I‘ve read the reports as you have read the reports.


MATTHEWS: Well, they‘re not reports; they‘re charges.


MATTHEWS: I wouldn‘t say I read it in the Associated Press or the “Wall Street Journal” or the “New York Times.”

HACKETT: Right. Fair enough.

MATTHEWS: I may have heard the arguments made by people who I may not think have got a firm grounding in journalism, but I‘ve never heard a major or a quality newspaper make such a charge like that.

HACKETT: I think that‘s a fair criticism.

I‘m relaying what I‘ve heard and what you‘ve heard and what I‘ve read and you‘ve read. So...

MATTHEWS: But that doesn‘t make it a fact, having heard it, does it?

HACKETT: Point well taken.

I think, though, where there‘s smoke there‘s fire.




MATTHEWS: Always? Well, why do we bother to check for fire if we know there‘s smoke—that‘s enough.

Anyway, let me get into your—the war issue, because you‘re right, the issue here is the war...
Bizarre. What was that again about Democrats being committed to reality-based politics? Anyhow, good for Matthews for not letting Hackett get away with it. You could almost hear the disbelief in Matthews' voice. And he was very hesitant with his questions, as if he weren't sure whether he should waste time cross-examining Hackett on such on obviously silly point. But if Hackett is going to argue for substantive politics and then talk about cocaine, that's what he deserves.

On a related note, Newsweek has an article up about Democratic efforts to recurit veterans to run for office in 2006. My memory is hazy on this point, but I think the Democrats tried to run a veteran for president last year, but it didn't work out too well.

UPDATE: Over at Kos, knowthings congratulates Hackett on his stellar peformance. Yes, really. The smarter liberals at RBC admit that Hackett came off looking pretty bad.
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# Posted 7:03 PM by Patrick Belton  

IT'S NOT YOUR FATHER'S METRO: George V metro station in Paris rechristened George W.

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# Posted 1:04 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SUPPORTERS THRONG SHEEHAN-LED PROTEST AT CRAWFORD: Well, not exactly. Yet no matter how richly deserved such schadenfreude is, John H. & Co. over at PowerLine might want to ask whether Sheehan already did her damage to public support for the war, so her current irrelevance is, well, irrelevant.
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# Posted 12:57 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

LOSING HEARTS AND MINDS: Dan Drezner has put up a pair of very interesting posts about how Al Qaeda is rapidly losing whatever support it once had in the Middle East while the US government is losing the confidence it once had on the homefront.
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Monday, November 28, 2005

# Posted 11:57 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

FROM THE HORSE'S MOUTH: TRAINING THE IRAQI ARMY. In spite of his fairly harsh criticism of American efforts to stand up an Iraqi army, Jim Fallows writes that LTG David Petraeus brought an unprecedented level of concern and competence to his role as trainer-in-chief of the Iraqi armed forces.

Given my sense that Fallows preoccupation with what went wrong has prevented him from seeing what is now going right, I thought it might be a good idea to hear directly from Gen. Petraeus himself how the training regimen is going.

Now, perhaps because the general has a Ph.D. from Princetion, his discussion of the Iraqi armed forces this month went on and on and on and on. But that's a good thing, since I wanted to learn as much as I could about the subject. The problem, I found, was that Petraeus' report was so relentlessly upbeat that I found it almost impossible to believe.

Although there is no question that Petraeus is under a lot of pressure to demonstrate that the president's program is working, I think (although what do I know about military politics?) that Petraeus could have been a lot more even-handed without hurting his chances of becoming a four-star general.

In fact, I think that the military has a lot to learn about enhancing its credibility and therefore advancing its effort to prevent the disintegration of support for its mission on the domestic front. When it comes to public relations, the military has to accept the fact that it is permanently outgunned.

No matter what the generals do or say, journalists will decide what images and opinions predominate. But if the generals develop a better understanding of those journalists, they can get their message across much more effectively. First and foremost, the generals have to learn that the media reflexively punishes those who present only one side of a case, no matter how much merit that side has.

My suspicion is that because the generals are so resentful of media misrepresentation, they make the mistake of thinking that the only way they can get even some of their message across is to exaggerate. Yet ironically, exaggeration only makes the problem worse since it provides the media with a pretext to question the generals' credibility even more intently.

Given that there have been enough obvious failures in Iraq, it really wouldn't hurt the generals to admit a lot of things that everyone knows anyhow. If they did that first, the media might actually listen to the very strong case they can make for things going well.

Now back to Petraeus. The foremost strength of his presentation was its abilityt to convey the staggering complexity of training an army almost from scratch. Often, people seem to wonder why it takes only a few months of basic training to train an American soldier, but Iraqis can't do the same. Consider the following question from Sunday morning on Meet the Press:
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Biden, what's the problem when kids here in the United States sign up and go to boot camp and get ready, and we've done it in World War II, we did it in Korea, We did it in Vietnam, we did it Kosovo, we do it in Iraq--they can be ready for combat within a matter of months. Why is it taking the Iraqis some two and a half years and they still have not put together an army that can replace the United States?
Even though I'm one of Russert's biggest fans, that is a ridiculous question. The US armed forces have tens of thousands of officers, commissioned and non-commissioned, whose job it is to train the raw recruits and then lead them in battle. In Iraq, there are a few remnants of Saddam's officer corps, but how much is that worth?

In Iraq, we have to train the trainers, and Petraeus does a very good job of describing just how tough and complex that job is. We have to train the Iraqis to do everything from engineering to logistics to battlefield medicine. We have to create the entire support structure on which the Iraqi private with an AK-47 depends when he goes up against the insurgents.

Still, Petraeus has a long way to go. At one point, while talking about the importance of being able to call for backup, he wandered off on a revealing tangent:
I'll talk about the importance of the concept of backup for police in a station that comes under attack. If they don't know that there's someone going to back them up, who's coming to the rescue, obviously they're not going to hang tough. We saw that -- back in the November time frame was the most recent case, I think, of one where they -- once they realized that nobody was coming to the rescue, they went out the back door. That has not happened -- we know of, in any case, since, at the least, 30 January, the elections, from which the Iraqi security forces took an enormous lift. (p.11)
Petraeus and others need to recognize that Iraqi police running out the back door is the dominant image Americans have of Iraqi security forces. This is where his presentation has to start. He has to lay out the stereotypes and then organize his evidence as a refutation of such caricatures.

In a way, this involves admitting nothing. If Petraeus is right that Iraqi units haven't cut and run for almost a year now, he has nothing to hide. Later on in his talk (p.17), Petraeus described how there has been a visible progression in the role Iraqi forces have played in major battles in Najaf in August 2004, Fallujah in November 2004, and Tall Afar in September 2005. The trajectory is toward increasing independence. But this critical point gets lost in the 30-page transcript of Petraeus' talk.

Both military and civilian spokesmen for this administration need to build up this kind of simple narrative about Iraqi progress. Statistics won't work. No one believes them. But the difference between Iraqi forces running out the back door in Mosul, following US soldiers in Najaf, fighting at their side in Fallujah and leading in Tall Afar is much more comprehensible. The average newspaper reader won't remember the names of those four cities, but the narrative of progression will remain if it is advertised forcefully and defended with evidence.

Looking back, I see how critical this post has been of Gen. Petraeus and his colleagues. But I am not criticizing their ability to perform the critical, perhaps even heroic, tasks to which they have been assigned. By all accounts, their performance has been superb.

But our democracy demands that soldiers also perform in the field of public relations, and I offer this criticism, harsh as it may sound, because I want Gen. Petraeus and his colleagues to get not just the credit they deserve, but the active support of the American public.
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# Posted 7:18 PM by Patrick Belton  

CONGRATULATIONS TO OUR FRIEND AND CLASSMATE LAURA JAMES, whose book Nasser at War has just been turned in to its publishers. In celebration, to wit:
There was a young lady from Magdalen
Who a book did write whilst dawdling
Twas all about Nasser
She could've wrote faster
But the sand got in the way of her toddling.
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# Posted 11:34 AM by Patrick Belton  

On 28 Nov 2005, at 3:48AM, assaulted@serial-ballbusters.com wrote:
Hi ! I kicked a guy in the groin ! I've been caught on tape ! Click here to see my video.
Dear Assaulted,
This is the absolute worst spam we've ever received. Can't you sell penis enlargement pills or major New York City landmarks instead? yours faithfully, Patrick
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# Posted 5:24 AM by Patrick Belton  

DEPARTMENT OF POLICY PROPOSALS: It has been pointed out that the 24-hour pub licence and the pet passport were both originally the ideas not of the Labour party, but rather of the Official Monster Raving Loony Party?. In an attempt then to chart out for our readers the next programmatic directions of British politics, here are selected other policy proposals taken from the OMRLP 2005 General Election manicfesto - so you'll recognise them when you see them:
• Refusing to sign up to the euro, but inviting the rest of Europe to join the pound.
• Drivers to be permitted to go straight over a roundabout when there's no traffic coming 'to make driving through Milton Keynes more fun'.
• All people seeking a right to roam will require permission from the Pope.
• Introduction of a 99p coin to save on change.
Remember, you heard it here first.
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Sunday, November 27, 2005

# Posted 11:35 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

YOU VOTE FOR REPUBLICANS AND MAKE FUN OF ME FOR BEING CONSERVATIVE? I was reminded this weekend that New York City politics is a very funny thing. While enjoying a few pints in the warm basement of the Slaughtered Lamb on West 4th Street, both my girlfriend and one of my best friends from high school suggested that my contrary nature may be leading me to celebrate my conservative-sounding heresies (for a New Yorker, that is) just a little too much.

Naturally, I responded that those who voted for a Republican mayor earlier this month aren't in the best position to tell me that I am wandering too far in the conservative direction. Just as naturally, they responded that voting for Bloomberg doesn't count. And they are mostly right. I was, to a certain extent, just being contrary.

Nonetheless, the rush of upper-middle class New Yorkers to support GOP mayors suggests that certain issues provoke heresy among Democrats born-and-raised. For most New Yorkers, it is crime (or now the absence thereof). For me, it is national security. But in politics, heresy is often a good thing. It is what keeps the debate fresh and keeps the two-party system healthy in even the Reddest and the Bluest of the fifty states.
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# Posted 11:02 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

PBS TAKES A LOOK AT CHINA'S ECONOMIC MIRACLE: In a seven-part series that aired last month, PBS correspondent Paul Solman took an in-depth look at the Chinese economy. Yes, I know that last month may as well be last year in the media, but I just finished listening to the podcast version of Solman's reports, so I thought I'd put in my two cents on the subject. (Podcast URL, transcripts here.)

The first thing I'd say is that "in-depth" means something very different on television than it does in print. Although the 60+ minutes PBS dedicated to Solman's reports is remarkable for TV news, it still provides much less information than however much one could read in 60 minutes.

Of course, this isn't Solman's fault. It is the inherent nature of the medium. But I think it is also especially hard to cover such an immense subject as the Chinese economy in such a short-time frame and in a medium that is not friendly to non-visual subjects such as economic growth.

Often, one might argue that moving pictures are worth far more than a thousand words, or that television has an impact that one simply cannot compare to print journalism. To be fair, I can't take an informed position on this subject in regard to Solman's reports, since the podcast only provided an audio-track, not a visual one.

Even so, most of what I listened to were interviews. It's not as if China's economy is something you can see. I guess you can get some good footage of high-end shoppers in Shanghai or at the newest Walmart in the PRC, but that doesn't seem so important. The image of Chinese men and women as hard-working, affluent and successful is not terribly foreign to us.

Now, if there were some city of millions in Africa where you could see black-skinned Africans surrounded by skyscrapers and malls just like the Chinese, Japanese and Koreans, that would be shocking, because we have no images in our head of prosperous black societies. Instead, emaciated children with missing limbs are what we associate with Africa.

But getting back to our subject, the value of Solman's reports is inconsistent, often because some of them take an innovative look at a much-discussed issue, while others simply recycle the conventional wisdom. My favorite piece of the seven was Solman's look at financial markets in China and his examination of whether the widespread misallocation of capital may represent an Achilles' heel of the Chinese economy. For example, how often do we hear that
[The Shangahi Stock Exchange] opened with great fanfare in 1989 and Chinese citizens poured in their savings, in large part because the government wouldn't let them invest anywhere else.

Sixteen years later, the Shanghai Exchange has lost half its value and looks to be in a coma. Basically deserted, it's been the worst-performing major exchange in the world for the past decade, while China was the best performing economy.
Although I won't pretend that I pay close attention to media reports about China, my sense is that very important data points such as this one don't get much attention if they conflict with the standard narrative of "China's Rise: Miracle or Meance?"

I also liked Solman's report on the challenges of innovation in a repressive society. But instead of focusing like a laser on that one issue, Solman also began to explore whether economic growth will result in political reform. Both subjects are well-deserving, but together they are just too much for one 10-minute segment.

My sense is that television journalism accomplishes the most when it focuses intensively on a subject that hasn't been covered as much it deserves. This kind of accomplishment is very intellectually demanding. Given how little information one can provide in a few minutes on the air, it isn't hard to fill the schedule with summaries of the day's headlines.

But if TV correspondents develop a broad knowledge not just of their subject of how it is portrayed in the American media, they have the potential to focus their spotlight on something truly unusual and informative. Often, Solman's reports accomplish just that.
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# Posted 10:32 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE: First of all, there are no spoilers in this movie review. Second, the bottom line is simple: Goblet of Fire blows away its predecessors. I enjoyed the other Potter films, especially the first, but this one towers head and shoulders above the rest. The film has already taken in more than $200 million, and every dollar is well-deserved.

Why is that? Because the film achieves an almost perfect balance between showing off and simplicity. Throughout the film, you will be surprised and delighted by the gorgeous visuals, many of them obviously the work of computers.

Yet at critical moments in the film -- especially during the magnificent climax -- the film doesn't distract you with special effects. Instead, it uses narrative drama and a spare visual style to create tremendous suspense.

There is also an excellent balance between showing off and simplicity when it comes to the relationship between action and narrative in the film. The action is heart-stopping, perfectly-timed and often just plain scary. But no less importantly, the alternation between action and character development works well. Whereas a lot of blockbusters make you feel that the more dialogue-heavy scences were thrown in as a matter of obligation, Potter's are quite well crafted. For example, the WaPo points to the spectacle of
Ron's embarrassment when he's called out in front of his peers to demonstrate the waltz with the severe Professor McGonagall (Maggie Smith).

"Put your hand on my waist," she demands frostily. The expression on Ron's face at this point is clear: He'd just as soon perform the fox trot with Medusa. It's a wonderful mark of this movie that a teenager's humiliation can pack just as much firepower as a life-and-death battle with scary monsters.
In spite of its familiarity to anyone over the age of twelve, adolescent awkwardness rarely comes across as charming on screen. Think Star Wars: Episode II. But somehow, Potter pulls it off brilliantly.

Really, there's nothing bad to say about this film. It is long, but I was holding onto my seat for the entire ride.
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Friday, November 25, 2005

# Posted 12:34 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

OPEN THREAD: WHAT ARE YOU THANKFUL FOR? I am thankful for the love and support of my family. I am thankful for being born and raised in the United States of America. And I am thankful for post-Thanksgiving discounts at all the big department stores!
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Thursday, November 24, 2005

# Posted 9:10 PM by Patrick Belton  

WARM THANKSGIVING WISHES to all our readers and friends!

Sophocles (Ajax, l. 522): Gratitude to gratitude always gives birth.

Elie Wiesel (Nobel Peace Prize acceptance remarks, 10 December 1986): No one is as capable of gratitude as one who has emerged from the kingdom of night.

Samuel Johnson (Tour to the Hebrides. 20 September 1773): Gratitude is a fruit of great cultivation; you do not find it among gross people.

Nietzsche (Beyond Good and Evil, Fourth Part: Maxims and Interludes) A man who possesses genius is insufferable unless he also possesses at least two other things: gratitude and cleanliness.

Yeats ('Vacillation'): No man has ever lived that had enough / Of children’s gratitude or woman’s love.

Blessed Teresa of Calcutta: She gives most who gives with joy. The best way to show our gratitude to God and the people is to accept everything with joy. A joyful heart is the inevitable result of a heart burning with love.

Albert Schweitzer: To educate yourself for the feeling of gratitude means to take nothing for granted, but to always seek out and value the kind that will stand behind the action. Nothing that is done for you is a matter of course. Everything originates in a will for the good, which is directed at you. Train yourself never to put off the word or action for the expression of gratitude.

William Faulkner: Gratitude is a quality similar to electricity: it must be produced and discharged and used up in order to exist at all.
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# Posted 9:03 PM by Patrick Belton  

GOOD THINGS FROM ANGELA shopping her foreign policy on the road: Europe must have enough steely resolve to confront serious economic reforms; Nato must be the place Europeans go to decide on matters of international politics and security; German relations with Britain are as friendly and important as those it enjoys with France. She sounds like an OxBlogger; in any event, we welcome her. See BBC, Indy, Deutsche Welle, Times.
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# Posted 4:35 AM by Patrick Belton  

I WANT ONE OF THESE for OxBlog's poshly appointed waiting room: 'Now that it's in bloom, the plant has also started emitting a smell that's drawn comparisons to garbage, spoiled meat, and rotting fish. ... "These beetles usually lay their eggs in rotting animals, so this plant pretends to be a dead animal," [the Smithsonian's John Kress] said.' q.v. Huntington Library, Virginia Polytechnic, Wikipedia.
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Wednesday, November 23, 2005

# Posted 12:06 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WASHINGTON BUZZ -- "WHY IRAQ HAS NO ARMY": The talk of the town is James Fallows' cover story [subscription required] in the December issue of the Atlantic monthly about (you guessed it) why Iraq has no army. In fact, George Stephanopoulous attempted to use the article to cross-examine Donald Rumsfeld on Sunday morning. Rumsfeld insisted he hadn't read the piece and refused to comment. But I don't think that looked good and I think Rumsfeld could safely have confronted the issue head on.

The buzz around Fallows article suggests that is a pathbreaking and scathing account of what went wrong with our efforts to train the Iraqi army. The subheader on the article itself reads:
An orderly exit from Iraq depends on the development of a viable Iraqi security force, but the Iraqis aren't even close. The Bush administration doesn't take the problem seriously—and it never has.
Perhaps because of all they hype, the article seemed much less scathing to me than it should have. I thought that its three main points have been hit upon time and again in the pages of the WaPo and NYT, often in detail. Basically, it was a huge mistake to disband the Iraqi army, it was a huge mistake not to train ourselves in the local language and culture, and we took way, way too long to get serious about putting together an Iraqi counterinsurgency force. I don't think DoD spokesman would want to admit any those of points, but they aren't exactly surprising.

But what I did find surprising was how positively Fallows described Gen. Petraeus' and Amb. Negroponte's efforts to resurrect the American strategy of standing up a local force. Fallows writes that in June 2004,
A new American Army general arrived to supervise the training of Iraqis: Dave Petraeus, who had just received his third star.

The appointment was noticed throughout the military. Petraeus, who holds a Ph.D. from Princeton, had led the 101st Airborne during its drive on Mosul in 2003 and is one of the military's golden boys. What I heard about him from other soldiers reminded me of what reporters used to hear about Richard Holbrooke from other diplomats: many people marveled at his ambition; few doubted his skills. Petraeus's new assignment suggested that training Iraqis had become a sexier and more important job. By all accounts Petraeus and Negroponte did a lot to make up for lost time in the training program.

Under Petraeus the training command abandoned an often ridiculed way of measuring progress. At first Americans had counted all Iraqis who were simply "on duty"—a total that swelled to more than 200,000 by March of 2004. Petraeus introduced an assessment of "unit readiness," as noted above. Training had been underfunded in mid-2004, but more money and equipment started to arrive.

The training strategy also changed. More emphasis was put on embedding U.S. advisers with Iraqi units. Teams of Iraqi foot soldiers were matched with U.S. units that could provide the air cover and other advanced services they needed. To save money and reduce the chance of a coup, Saddam Hussein's soldiers had only rarely, or never, fired live ammunition during training. According to an unpublished study from the U.S. Army War College, even the elite units of the Baghdad Republican Guard were allowed to fire only about ten rounds of ammunition per soldier in the year before the war, versus about 2,500 rounds for the typical U.S. infantry soldier. To the amazement of Iraqi army veterans, Petraeus introduced live-fire exercises for new Iraqi recruits.

At the end of last year, as the Iraqi national elections drew near, Negroponte used his discretion to shift $2 billion from other reconstruction projects to the training effort. "That will be seen as quite a courageous move, and one that paid big dividends," Petraeus told me. "It enabled the purchase of a lot of additional equipment, extra training, and more rebuilding of infrastructure, which helped us get more Iraqi forces out in the field by the January 30 elections."

The successful staging of the elections marked a turning point—at least for the training effort. Political optimism faded with the subsequent deadlocks over the constitution, but "we never lost momentum on the security front," Petraeus told me. During the elections more than 130,000 Iraqi troops guarded more than 5,700 polling stations; there were some attacks, but the elections went forward. "We have transitioned six or seven bases to Iraqi control," he continued, listing a variety of other duties Iraqi forces had assumed. "The enemy recognizes that if Iraqi security forces ever really get traction, they are in trouble. So all of this is done in the most challenging environment imaginable."

Had the training units avoided the "B Team" taint? By e-mail I asked an officer on the training staff about the "loser" image traditionally attached to such jobs within the military. He wrote back that although training slots had long been seen as "career killers," the importance of the effort in Iraq was changing all that. From others not involved in training I heard a more guarded view: If an Iraqi army emerges, the image of training will improve; if it doesn't, the careers of Petraeus and his successor Dempsey will suffer.
Surprisingly, Fallows doesn't go into much detail about what Petraeus accomplished. At the beginning of the article, Fallows describes Petraeus' four-level classification scheme and tells us how many Iraqi troops fall into each category. But one doesn't get a sense from the article of what that really means. How do Level 2 troops behave in combat as opposed to Level 3? Have soldiers of either level had any notable successes? The Iraqis are clearly taking heavy casualties on the battlefield. Is this a sign of success or failure?

The list of questions could go on, but the basic point is that you don't get the in-depth feel for the subject that you should from an article this long. Instead, the overwhelming focus is on mistakes that were made before Petraeus took over.

The final pages of Fallows' article are like an op-ed. He's told us what the situation is, now he's telling us what to do:
Let me suggest a standard for judging endgame strategies in Iraq, given the commitment the United States has already made. It begins with the recognition that even if it were possible to rebuild and fully democratize Iraq, as a matter of political reality the United States will not stay to see it through.
That is a strange argument coming from a journalist who is doing quite a good job of stoking public pessimism. Anyhow:
What is needed for an honorable departure is, at a minimum, a country that will not go to war with itself, and citizens who will not turn to large-scale murder...If the United States leaves Iraq knowing that non-American forces are sufficient to keep order, it can leave with a clear conscience—no matter what might happen a year or two later.
That seems like a very strange moral standard, reminiscent somewhat of Pontius Pilate. Moreover, what about national security?

Call me a maximalist, but we don't just want to stop the casualty count and walk away with clean consciences. We want to make sure that Iraq (or even the Sunni part of Iraq) doesn't become what Afghanistan was before 9/11. You can argue that none of this would've happened if we hadn't gone in the first place, but that doesn't affect our national interests now. Finally, Fallows writes that:
If we were serious about reconstituting an Iraqi military as quickly as possible, what would we do? Based on these interviews, I have come to this sobering conclusion: the United States can best train Iraqis, and therefore best help itself leave Iraq, only by making certain very long-term commitments to stay.
How does that square with the (alleged) need to recognize that we lack the will to see it through? I'm not sure. In a lot of ways, I think Fallows gives voice to great dilemma of mainstream Democrats, who know we need to win this war but lack confidence in Bush and perhaps even morseo even Rumsfeld (in the same manner as a lot of neo-conservatives). If the Democrats turn against the war, they will hasten our defeat and be branded as soft. If they support the war, they sense that it will allow the administration to be even less responsible.

So is there a third way that will allow Democrats to both criticize the war and be seen as hawkish? Yes there is. They can click their heels three times and say "I agree with John McCain."
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Tuesday, November 22, 2005

# Posted 8:53 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

TALKING POINTS FOR RUMSFELD: On Sunday morning, the SecDef did back to back interviews with Face the Nation on CBS and This Week on ABC. Before getting to what Rumsfeld said, let me give ABC and CBS some advice on how to catch up to Tim Russert and NBC in the Sunday morning race for the gold: Make transcripts available in HTML format. CBS provides a PDF version of the text, which means that all of the quotes below were retyped by yours truly, rather than cut and pasted. In contrast, ABC has the chutzpah to assert that viewers should have to pay for transcripts.

Anyhow, the real issue here is the SecDef and how he ought to strengthen his arguments for the administration's strategy in Iraq. Unsurprisingly, the first question Rumsfeld got from both George Stephanopoulos on ABC and Bob Schieffer on CBS was "What do you say to Congressman Murtha?" Rumsfeld clearly had his talking points ready since he gave the exact same response to both questions.

The core of Rumsfeld's response was the idea of empathy. He told Schieffer,
"Try to put yourself in the shoes of other people...Put yourself in the shoes of the Iraqis, the Iraqi people, who've risked their lives to run for public office and to go out and vote."
That's a solid point, although altruism isn't exactly the philosophy one associates with Rumsfeld. The SecDef did a little better with Stephanopoulos, however. On ABC, he told the audience to empathize with American soldiers on the ground "who believe that [their mission] is a noble cause, which it is". And of course, on both ABC and CBS, Rumsfeld cleverly turned the empathy prism around and asked the audience how the insurgents might feel if they knew that all they had to do to defeat the United States was run out the clock.

Yet perhaps because Rumsfeld is such a blunt person who has never been comfortable with the artificial etiquette of network television, the SecDef seems to delight in making outrageous statements that have the unfortunate effect of calling his perception of political reality into question. For example, before directly answering Stephanopoulos's question about Murtha, Rumsfeld insisted that Murtha's protest isn't that significant because there have always been those who wanted to bring the troops home -- in WWII, in Korea and in Vietnam.

In WWII? I'll assume that Rumsfeld is right and that someone must've called for an early exit from the Second World War. But do you know how comparing Iraq to WWII sounds? Ridiculous. Period. As for Korea and Vietnam, the analogy to Iraq shouldn't comfort the administration at all.

Moving on, the next big question Rumsfeld had to address was the issue of whether the Iraqi army will ever be ready to take over from us. To my surprise, Schieffer didn't even try to challenge the SecDef's assertion that there are now 212,000 members of the Iraqi security forces. But Stephanopoulos immediately shot back that only 700 are ready to fight on their own. To which Rumsfeld replied:
"Oh, George, that is a red herring that people have been flopping around here for weeks."
You should really listen to the podcast to hear the tone of voice Rumsfeld used to say that. He sounded like a Jewish mother who'd just been told her only son was becoming a Catholic.

Anyhow, Rumsfeld's first substantive point in response to the question was pretty good: The Iraqis are already fighting hard all across the country and taking very heavy casualties. But then the SecDef once again decided he wasn't going to play by the rules. When Stephanopoulos stated that even the best 20,000 Iraqis "can take the lead in a battle but need to be heavily supported by US forces", Rumsfeld responded:
Most of our forces need support. Most of NATO forces need support.
Say what you will about the Belgians and the Dutch, I'm pretty damn sure the Iraqis are nowhere close. And comparing American soldiers to the Iraqis? Huh???

Although quite proficient at pre-emptive warfare, I think the SecDef might do well to practice the art of pre-emptive question-swatting. Everywhere you look, it gets reported that only one Iraqi battalion, or around 700 troops, is ready to fight on its own without the Americans. That number is down from three battalions a couple of months ago.

Now, Rusmfeld may be right that the number who can fight independently isn't the best indicator of progress. But I think it looks very bad for him or the President to say that there are 212,000 Iraqis ready to go, then get confronted with the 700 figure and admit that it's accurate. Just say up front that more and more Iraqis are approaching self-sufficiency.

With regard to question-swatting, Rumsfeld should also know what's going to happen everytime he insists that the American mission in Iraq is making significant progress. The interviewers will immediately fire back with questions about the persistence of American casualties and about the number of suicide bombs. On CBS, Rumsfeld made a decent come back by arguing that Zarqawi's slaughter of the innocent actually costs him more supporters than it gains.

But the key point is that it looks bad to start out optimistic and then be reminded of everything going wrong. Instead, administration officials should begin by showing that they understand public and media concern with the mission's steep cost in American lives and the persistence of terrorism in Iraq. But. But guerrillas wars are won politically, not on the battlefield. Thus, the indicator that really matters is that Iraq is going from
A successful election in January to a drafting of a constitution, to a referendum on the constitution with the biggest turnout anyone could've imagined, and the Sunnis participating...In less than a month there'll be an election. And then there will be a new government that will be in place for a period of time. That's progress. That's significant progress.
Yes, yes it is. But that message won't get through until administration officials are more candid about the persistence of casualties and terrorism, so that journalists can't chalk up easy debating points by reminding them that things aren't perfect.
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# Posted 8:39 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

BLOGGERS' NIGHT OUT: Last evening I had the pleasure of having dinner with Kevin Drum, Henry Farrell, Laura Rozen and Jim Henley. If I didn't have to run out the door to work, I might share with you a little more about what these blogospheric titans are like in person. (On deep background only, of course, lest I be subpoenaed).

For the moment, what I will do is highly recommend the Bistro D'Oc, where the five of us had dinner. As you might gather from the name, it's a great little French place just across the street from Ford's Theater on 10th St. between E & F. Bon appetit!
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Sunday, November 20, 2005

# Posted 9:15 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

OCCASIONALLY, OXBLOG FULFILLS ITS CAMPAIGN PROMISES: I think I figured the code for comments. Let me know if you have any problems. Now I'm gonna start working on trackbacks.

Btw, we will be using word verification to limit spam. If that doesn't work, then we'll have to come up with a Plan B.

UPDATE: For the moment, if you just want to read the comments instead of adding one of your own, click the "#" next to the time stamp on the top of any post. If you click the "comments" link, it will take you to the comment-making page. If I fix this problem, I will let you know.

UPDATE: Fixed!

UPDATE: Detailed comments are welcome. Reproducing publications from elsewhere in their entirely is a nuisance. Comments are not Xerox machines!
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# Posted 8:45 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

Simply defined, a man date is two heterosexual men socializing without the crutch of business or sports. It is two guys meeting for the kind of outing a straight man might reasonably arrange with a woman.
Yikes! I just prefer to go out with my gay friends. There's no sexual tension there, because they could all do so much better than me. (Hat tip: The lovely SC)
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# Posted 8:37 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WOODWARD: Michael Stickings of The Reaction has a very thorough round-up of commentary about Bob Woodward's sudden decision to go semi-public with his private store of information about Plamegate.
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# Posted 7:44 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

FROM THE ARSENAL: Democracy Arsenal is one of the best foreign policy blogs on the web. If you're liberal, this is where you'll find your best arguments. If you're conservative, this is where you go to find your best opposition, most often unencumbered by partisan blather.

Of course, any liberal site so willing to buck the conventional wisdom is occasionally going to say things that antagonize its friends and vindicate its critics. For example, Suzanne Nossel recently pointed out one of the most implausible but least noticed things that Jack Murtha has been saying: Leave Iraq now, but "go back in, in case there's more terrorist activity." Hmmm...

Of course, the price conservatives have to pay for such pleasant heresies is the obligation to take Suzanne and her colleagues more seriously when they say things conservatives don't want to hear. For example, Suzanne has been watching carefully for any signs that the Bush administration wants to follow the Nixon/Kissinger precedent in South Vietnam by building up our proteges in Iraq just enough to ensure that they don't crumble too soon after we withdraw.

Am I persuaded? No, I am not. But it is an important argument to have with a talented counterpart. Nixon and Kissinger were self-avowed realists who rejected the importance of moral considerations to the making of foreign policy. Bush is a relentless idealist, regardless of what you think of his ideals. Naturally, liberals suspect that all of his idealistic rhetoric is nothing more than a front for a self-interested agenda. And before accepting that Bush is sincere, one must hear that argument out.

Of course, DA is still a blog and not a chemistry textbook, so sometimes it can be quite snarky and that snark is quite partisan. (Who knows, maybe chemistry textbooks are snarky too. I haven't read one since high school.)

The bottom line here is that I don't think you'll find a liberal foreign policy blog with a lower ratio of rhetoric to substance. If you do, tell me about it.
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# Posted 4:15 PM by Patrick Belton  

WHAT'RE A FEW DETAILS BETWEEN FRIENDS WATCH: The Times (U.K.) conflates two positions held by the former President Bush, as director of central intelligence and as U.S. envoy to Beijing, by referring to 'his CIA job in Beijing'. But I'm sure they're more accurate with the other details, the ones we can't check so easily.
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# Posted 3:40 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SULLIVAN ON MURTHA: Given that Andrew's stance on the both the war and its politics tends tends to defy easy categorization in terms of left and right, I thought it would be interesting to see if he has come down in the same place as I have on the Murtha story.

Well, not exactly the same place, but close. First of all, we agree on two major points. The first is that Murtha has the wrong plan. As Andrew writes:
It's not intellectually easy to continue supporting a war when you've lost faith in the honesty and competence of the president who's leading it, but what choice do we have? There are other good people struggling to make this work: Casey, Rice, Khalilzad, McCain; and the thousands of troops who are risking their lives in this project. They key is to grasp how little we know, how badly we've screwed up, but also not to throw in the towel when, in fact, there is still a chance for leveraging the current situation to our and to Iraqis' advantage.
The second is that certain Republicans (think Jean Schmidt) have launched apalling attacks on Murtha's integrity. Andrew differs slightly on that second point, since is he is more inclined than I am to believe that Schmidt's attack is typical GOP behavior.

I'd say the one major point of disagreement between myself and Andrew is that he seems to reject the idea that all of the hype about Murtha is a manufactured story. For example, Andrew criticizes Glenn for trying to spin the Murtha story as old news. Well, that's my spin as well, so I guess Andrew and I will have to disagree on this one.

But what matters more is our agreement on the substantive issue of what to do about Iraq.
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# Posted 2:02 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

ALL MURTHA ALL THE TIME: Forgive me for beating a dead horse, but I am extraordinarily frustrated by the way that almost every major media outlet is spinning Murtha's "conversion" as a major blow to the war effort.

Anyhow, all I want to in this post is take a somewhat closer look at what Murtha said in an interview with CNN (Hat tip: GP) in May 2004, shortly after he first described the war as "unwinnable". Here goes:

MURTHA: But if you listen to what Shinseki said, we needed several hundred thousand. And then Wolfowitz said, Secretary Wolfowitz said, we only need 30,000 and the oil is going to pay for it. Now, these young people over there fighting deserve better than that. They deserve a plan not based on what we have available, but based on the need in the war. And that's not what we're planning to.

[LOU] DOBBS: Some may not be entirely aware that you are one of the strongest, stalwart supporters of our troops, of our military in Congress, in either house of Congress.

But can we realistically -- and this is a huge issue I know that you've also struggled with -- in the war against terror, against the impact it would have not only in Iraq, but throughout the Middle East, is withdrawal of U.S. force from Iraq a truly viable choice?

MURTHA: Well, let me put it this way. We can struggle along with the number of people we have...We've spent $200 billion in this fight in Iraq and it wasn't supposed to cost us anything. So when you say, it is realistic to pull out? It would be an international disaster I think if we pulled out. But the alternative is, we're going to struggle along, get more and more young people killed...

DOBBS: Congressman, as you talked about this and you used the expression, we're fighting this war on the cheap. $200 billion, estimated $60 billion just for current military operations in Iraq alone per year. It's hardly on the cheap. You're also talking, as General Shinseki advised, really tripling the number of U.S. troops as the first choice that you would make, tripling it which one would assume would triple the cost. At some point doesn't someone in Congress or this White House or this Pentagon, somewhere in Washington have to understand that we are embarked upon an absolutely mindless ratio of expenses to a result, and that we have to come up with new strategies? Is there anyone in the Pentagon, is there anyone in the White House, to your knowledge, and Congress trying to bring costs and effective results into line?

MURTHA: Well, I keep telling them, you have to be more realistic about our goals...

DOBBS: Congressman, let me ask you this. Directly as you possibly can. Is it time, in your judgment, for the United States to leave Iraq?

MURTHA: Well, it would be disastrous if we were to leave under those circumstances without making every effort... Lou, you have to go back to the original planning. You have to look at there should have been a couple hundred thousand people. They said you only need 30,000 people. You have to look at not having enough people. That's the first plan...

DOBBS: Excuse me, Congressman. I hate to interrupt. We're really out of time. Let me ask you for a short, straightforward statement. You've offered two choices, in your judgment. Either increase troops or get out. Which is your preferred policy choice?

MURTHA: My preferred case is to increase the number of troops and provide the military security, which will give us a chance that Iraq could become an independent country and move on from the war that we've been involved in.

At first glance, one might say this excerpt vindicates the media's decision to cover Murtha's conversion as a major change of heart. After all, what Murtha is calling for here -- an extraordinary increase in US manpower -- is the polar opposite of withdrawal.

But on the other hand, Murtha seems to recognize that this kind of increase in manpower is simply impossible. Thus, the real choice to be had is between withdrawal -- an "international disaster" -- and "struggl[ing] along, get[ting] more and more young people killed.

But what is the point of struggling along in an unwinnable war with mounting casualties? Murtha's logic clearly points to withdrawal as the least-worst option. But he wasn't ready to say it in May 2004, so he kept his options open by going on record in favor of the impossible option, a Shinseki-style occupation.

So, yes, one can argue that Murtha's decision to call for a withdrawal is news. But it is hardly a revelation.
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Saturday, November 19, 2005

# Posted 10:55 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

A USEFUL WEBSITE: National Atlas.gov has maps of each congressional district, plus maps of the fifty states divided by district.
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# Posted 10:45 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

COMPARING THE RESOLUTIONS: Gary Farber compares Murtha's proposal to the GOP version that got voted on yesterday. According to Gary, no one should dare say that the two are the same. As far as I can tell, the main difference is as follows -- The GOP version says that "that the deployment of United States forces in Iraq be terminated immediately." Murtha's version says that
The deployment of United States forces in Iraq, by direction of Congress, is hereby terminated and the forces involved are to be redeployed at the earliest practicable date.
Btw, the roll call on the GOP version is here. Three cheers for Cynthia McKinney and her two brave colleagues for voting "aye"!

Also, Joe Gandelman argues that the GOP shot itself in the foot by drawing even more attention to Murtha, giving anti-war Dems a highly visible platform, and exposing some of their own members as malicious and small minded.

Just to underscore the importance of that last point, who was the only GOP representative to get a soundbite on NBC Nightly News after the debate? You guessed it: Jean Schmidt.

And of course, Murtha himself got more great coverage from NBC. At the end of her segment on the House debate, Andrea Mitchell asked:
Why is one congressmen's call for withdrawal so powerful? Because people on both sides of the debate think that if the president has lost John Murtha, he could lose the nation.
You can't pay for coverage like that.
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# Posted 10:17 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

HARDBALL AS SOFTBALL, PART TWO: In addition to John Murtha, John Kerry also got the kid glove treatment from Chris Matthews. Reprinted below is a complete list of the questions Matthews asked Kerry on Thursday. Maybe someone can help me figure out which one the hardballs are:
MATTHEWS: Thank you, Senator Kerry, for having us to your Capitol office. You made a very strong statement in a press release last night. You said, “It‘s hard to name a government official with less credibility on Iraq than Vice President Cheney.” Why‘d you say that?

MATTHEWS: Are you surprised that the president himself went after you personally last Friday?

MATTHEWS: What‘s the difference between what you believe Dick Cheney had in hand when he pushed for the war, and what you had in hand when you voted to authorize the president‘s use of force if necessary?

MATTHEWS: Why did they have their [inaudible] on the war, that they would [inaudible] this sort of thing?

MATTHEWS: So it was ideology rather than fear of an attack by Saddam Hussein in this country?

MATTHEWS: Last night Vice President Cheney said there were a few opportunists, he called them, back home who are suggesting that our GIs were sent into battle for a lie. Is that a fair characterization of what you are saying?

MATTHEWS: Right. What do you think of General Casey—George Casey
saying that it could take—it takes on average nine years to defeat an insurgency? That‘s a hell of a benchmark. Are we willing to stay for nine years?

MATTHEWS: Should we be there in any form nine years from now, still having military troops in Iraq, nine years from now?

MATTHEWS: We‘ll be right back with more with Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts.


MATTHEWS: We‘re back with Senator John Kerry.
Do you have a sense now that so much information is getting out now about the, really, questions—and they‘re hard questions—about the WMD case, the connection with 9/11, all the interesting finessing that went on before the war. Do you think if it had, the public would have been better off with an election where they knew more?

MATTHEWS: Would they have voted differently?

MATTHEWS: Well, it‘s so long ago. I mean, you voted in 2002 to authorize the use of force if necessary. And then in the 2004 election, for two years, everything seemed to be under wraps.

And it‘s only now, post-election, that this stuff is getting—was there an attempt to keep everything really secure, these cases for war that turned out to be questionable—solid and secure for all these months? Why are we getting the information now?

MATTHEWS: In the fall of 2001, right after 9/11, we all knew by reading the newspapers, and even more, that al Qaeda had locations in Somalia, Sudan, the Philippines, and of course, in Afghanistan.

Why didn‘t the United States Senate say, why don‘t we track down al Qaeda, get that job done while we pacify some of the Arab world, instead of going out and starting a war in Arabia—in Iraq, that‘s probably caused us more terrorism?

MATTHEWS: Are you still right?

MATTHEWS: How did you react when you read that that woman in Fallujah and her husband—he had come back with some bodies of people who were killed as we were retaking Fallujah that time.

They go into Jordan and they try to blow up a hotel, because she‘s angry about the way we treated her hometown in Fallujah. Are we creating more terrorists?

MATTHEWS: Does the president believe, watching him all these years, that there‘s only—it‘s like an ethnic group. There‘s a certain number of people who are terrorists, and we simply have to wipe them out and we win the war. Does he look at it that way?

MATTHEWS: No, do you look at it that way?

MATTHEWS: The president‘s been very tough on the Democratic opposition and that‘s fair enough. That‘s the way it works. It‘s a debate. But you had the Republican majority operate this week to go along with a resolution which is a bit watered down from your sides, but what did you take from that Republican majority resolution this week on the war in Iraq? What‘s the message to the president?

MATTHEWS: Are you surprised that Jack Murtha, the Congressman from Pennsylvania, he‘s such a pro-military guy, another combat veteran from Vietnam, coming out so emotionally today, saying we basically have to get the troops out. This is not where we should be.

MATTHEWS: But why would a guy who‘s so fond of military say let‘s get out guys out?

MATTHEW: Senator, thank you for joining us on HARDBALL.
I don't know what Chris Matthews earns, but NBC could pay me half as much to help John Kerry recite his talking points. By the way, here are some gems from Kerry that Matthews didn't challenge:
KERRY: I think that the decision was fundamentally made that [the administration] wanted to remake the Middle East, remove Saddam Hussein, have a foothold in that part of the world, and they naively and inaccurately believed the intelligence people like Chalabi and others...

KERRY: The weapons of mass destruction were a legitimate concern. I am not saying—and I said it on the floor of the Senate. I stand by what I said on the floor of the Senate. Saddam Hussein who was allowed to develop these weapons, or if he grew his arsenal, was a threat to the United States...

KERRY: Now, you know, the fact is, that during the election, I pointed out the failure of Tora Bora. And I think I was the first United States senator to stand up and say this administration allowed Osama bin Laden to escape through their clutches...
Well, at least he's more reasonable than the senior senator from Massachusetts.
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# Posted 9:47 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

HARDBALL: MAYBE THEY SHOULD CALL IT "SOFTBALL": The transcripts for Friday don't go up until Monday, but you can listen to Chris Matthews' interview with John Murtha via podcast. (URL: http://podcast.msnbc.com/audio/podcast/MSNBC-Hardball.xml)

Actually, it isn't right to call it an interview, since Matthews let Murtha ramble on with his usual talking points for five or six minutes in response to Matthews' opening question. Then Matthews tucked in a few quick questions at the end, which were softer than softballs:
MATTHEWS: Mr. Murtha, I've known you for years, I really like you, but you've always been a hawk, you've always been a defense defender, big defense spending, big support for the Pentagon, known as the soldier's friend, why are you against this war in Iraq now?

MURTHA: Well, I've come to the conclusion, Chris, after visiting Iraq two months ago, and listening to the commanders, who obviously say what the White Hosue wants them to say, but they don't say it with the enthusiasm... [Five minutes of rambling without interruption.]

MATTHEWS: I've only got a minute, Congressman, I've got to ask you one last question. When you say redeployed beyond the horizon rather than pull out, does that mean pull our troops back from the cities into camps? Into barracks? What does it mean actually?

MURTHA: No, Chris, what I'm saying is redeploy them outside Iraq...I'm convinced that we need to redeploy outside the country as quickly as practical and safe for the troops.

MATTHEWS: How's that different from what the Republicans are pushing, this kind of bogus resolution they're pushing today?

MURTHA: It's ridiculous. It's an immediate withdrawal without any kind of plan at all. All they're trying to do is prove to the American people a political message.

MATTHEWS: Is this some Mickey Mouse trick of theirs? How would you describe it?

MURTHA: This is exactly what it is, and it's infuriating to me...For them to bring up a resolution today just to discredit what I've done is really reprehensible.

MATTHEWS: Congressman Jack Murtha of Pennsylvania, have a nice weekend sir. Thank you for coming on.
Two things to notice. First, Matthews' introduction of Murtha perpetuates the myth that a renowned hawk has suddenly turned against the war. A renowned hawk is what Murtha is, but as many, many bloggers pointed out immediately after Murtha made headlines, he's been saying exactly the same thing about Iraq for more than a year now. This is a manufactured story.

Second of all, it is remarkably disingenuous for Murtha to talk about how his recent visit to Iraq changed his mind about the war. If you listen to the full interview, he also lists a number of other recent data points as contributing factors. In other words, Murtha himself is now peddling the myth of his sudden conversion from hawk to dove. Karl Rove would be proud.

CLARIFICATION: The next-to-last sentence in the previous paragraph clearly suggests that Murtha is being disingenuous, perhaps even dishonest. However, I would like to add some nuance to that point.

Even though Murtha was on the brink of coming out in favor of withdrawal almost a year and a half ago, his did not do so, instead calling for the impossible option of a Shinseki-sized occupation.

Thus, some new consideration must have convinced Murtha that now was the time to go all out and demand an ASAP withdrawal. But the considerations Murtha cited in response to Matthews' question were hardly new: too many insurgent attacks, not enough troops, and the unpopularity of the occupation forces.

So it's not really clear at all what led Murtha to change his official position. One might infter that it was fatigue -- eighteen more months of the same problems as before, with another thousand American soldiers killed in action. That's not unfair.

And if one were in Murtha's position, and one perceived oneself as having had a major change of heart, and one were asked by an interviewer to explain that change of heart, one probably wouldn't start out by saying "Well, Chris, nothing really changed. I just got sick of seeing more of the same."

So let me take back the comparison between Murtha and Rove. That was mostly meant as a provocation to Murtha's fans, anyhow.

The real issue here is that the media have fallen so completely for the "hawk becomes dove" storyline that Murtha's comments, in that misleading context, seem to be much more disingenuous than they really are.
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# Posted 7:33 AM by Patrick Belton  

ALAN CLARK DIARIES QUOTE OF THE DAY: From my present bedtime reading, courtesy of one of this blog's favourite drinking partners.
John Pilger, querying AC about British involvement in the arms trade: 'I read that you were a vegetarian and you are seriously concerned about the way animals are killed. Doesn’t that concern extend to the way humans, albeit foreigners, are killed?'

AC: Curiously not, no.
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Friday, November 18, 2005

# Posted 10:09 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WE USED TO CALL THAT RED-BAITING: Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-OH) conveyed the following sentiment from a Marine colonel:
"He asked me to send Congress a message — stay the course. He also asked me to send Congressman Murtha a message — that cowards cut and run, Marines never do," Schmidt said.
That is disgusting. Moreover, it is exactly what Democrats want to hear. They want to believe that Murtha's critics are venal and small-minded, rather than opposed to the Pennsylvania's Democrat's bad facts and flawed logic. Rep. Schmidt should be ashamed of herself.

I should also point out that I first saw the quote from Rep. Schmidt on Michelle Malkin's blog, where it was reposted without any criticism. I hope that Michelle will correct that mistake.

UPDATE: Political Teen (via MM) has a video of Rep. Schmidt's statement. Sadly, PT seems to think this sort of ad hominem attack is a good thing.
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# Posted 9:29 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

"We have nothing but respect for Congressman Murtha's service to his country," White House communications director Nicolle Wallace told NBC's "Today" show Friday. "And I think he spoke from the heart yesterday. We happen to have a real serious policy disagreement with him."
Absolutely correct. But it is also important to point out, as Joe Malchow does (with perhaps a little more vitriol than necessary), that Murtha has been speaking out against the war for some time now.

He called for a strict timetable for withdrawal this past June and called the war "unwinnable" in May of 2004. Thus, the flurry of media coverage surrounding yesterday's speech -- including the lead story on NBC Nightly News -- is somewhat inappropriate. Murtha's record as a hawk is real, but it is in the past.
And it is past I am quite familiar with as a result of my doctoral dissertation. In the 1980s, Murtha was one of very few Democrats who consistently supported Ronald Reagan's controversial policies toward El Salvador and Nicaragua. At the time, there was no better test of a congressman's hawkishness. But now it is seems like ancient history.

UPDATE: Jason Broander has live-blogged tonight's debate about withdrawal, provoked by Murtha's comments.

UPDATE: Instapundit has multiple posts making the same point as Joe, i.e. that Murtha has been against the war for some time now. Glenn also links to this post from GatewayPundit, which drives home the fact that if journalists made a little more use of LexisNexis that wouldn't get so many things wrong.
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# Posted 9:07 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

JOHN MURTHA: "WE HAVE BECOME THE ENEMY": From an interview with Margaret Warner of PBS on Thursday evening:
I believe we've done everything we can do. I believe we have become the enemy. And I'll tell you this: The Iraqis are not going to do the fighting unless we turn it over to them...

You have got to remember, Margaret, there was no terrorist activity in Iraq at all before we went in there...

We're the enemy. We're reason they're -- we're the ones they're attacking for heaven's sake. We're the only thing that could unify the Iraqis.
From the WaPo article "Three Bombings in Iraq Kill More than 90":
BAGHDAD, Nov. 18 -- Suicide bombers killed at least 90 worshipers Friday inside two Shiite Muslim mosques northeast of the capital near the Iranian border, and a pair of car bombs outside a Baghdad hotel that houses foreign journalists destroyed a nearby apartment building and left several more people dead.
No, we are not the enemy. Those were not American mosques that the terrorists bombed today. They were Iraqi mosques. Shi'ite mosques. Muslim mosques.

Rep. Murtha is also incorrect to say that the Iraqis are not fighting themselves. They need us there, but even more of their soldiers and policemen are dying, in addition to the thousands of Shi'ites murdered by terrorists.

Yet Rep. Murtha is right that there were no suicide bombings in Iraq before our soldiers arrived. That is because when the Sunnis held power, their secret police could bring their victims to their torture chambers. Now they have to slaughter women and children in public.

I believe that Rep. Murtha's opposition to the war rests on a fundamental misunderstanding of what is happening in Iraq. Murtha is a tremendous public servant, but on the issue of the war, his facts and logic are profoundly flawed.
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# Posted 7:56 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WHO IS JOHN MURTHA? The top headline in this morning's WaPo reads "Hawkish Democrat Joins Call for Pullout." It doesn't say "Rep. John Murtha Joins Call for Pullout" because even those who read the paper every day probably have no idea who he is. So who is this unknown man whose change of heart is the biggest news of the day? I think Rod Dreher at NRO provides a pretty good answer:
Don't know how many of you caught Rep. John Murtha's very angry, very moving speech just now in which he called on the White House to institute an immediate withdrawal of US troops from Iraq. CNN didn't air the entire thing, but as I listened to it, I could feel the ground shift. Murtha, as you know, is not a Pelosi-style Chardonnay Democrat; he's a crusty retired career Marine who reminds me of the kinds of beer-slugging Democrats we used to have before the cultural left took over the party. Murtha, a conservative Dem who voted for the war, talked in detail about the sacrifices being borne by our soldiers and their families, and about his visits out to Walter Reed to look after the maimed, and how we've had enough, it's time to come home...

I'm sure there's going to be an anti-Murtha pile-on in the conservative blogosphere, but from where I sit, conservatives would be fools not to take this man seriously. (Hat tip: KD)
It would seem that conservatives aren't exactly following Dreher's advice, since
Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) declared: "Murtha and Democratic leaders have adopted a policy of cut and run. They would prefer that the United States surrender to the terrorists who would harm innocent Americans. To add insult to injury, this is done while the president is on foreign soil."
That's low. There is a case to be made on the merits and that certainly isn't it. First and foremost, Murtha and others who want to withdraw have no good ideas for how to prevent a post-withdrawal Iraq from becoming another pre-9/11 Afghanistan. Murtha said that
All of Iraq must know that Iraq is free. Free from United States occupation. I believe this will send a signal to the Sunnis to join the political process for the good of a “free” Iraq.
Absolutely not. The signal that our withdrawal will send is that terrorists can defeat a superpower. That is the signal we sent when we withdrew from Lebanon in 1983. That is the signal we sent when we withdrew from Somalia in 1993. This time, nothing will change.

And if terrorists -- Al Qaeda or Ba'athist -- can defeat a superpower, what possible incentive will they have to come to terms with the unprepared Iraqi army we have left behind?

Which brings is to an ethical question: What about our obligation to the people of Iraq? It would be nothing short of cruel to liberate them from Saddam only to abandon them now. Remember, they are also sacrificing their sons and daughters every day for the cause.

The Shi'ites and Kurds -- the overwhelming majority of the people of Iraq -- share our vision of Iraq's democratic future. That is the foundation of victory.
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Thursday, November 17, 2005

# Posted 8:56 AM by Patrick Belton  

BIRD FLU UPDATE: Not for reading in public places. Unless it's all right to laugh out loud in yours, of course.
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# Posted 8:38 AM by Patrick Belton  

OXBLOG REVIEW OF BOOKS: The first in, we hope, a recurring feature here on OxBlog....

My FBI : Bringing Down the Mafia, Investigating Bill Clinton,
and Fighting the War on Terror
by Louis J. Freeh
St Martin’s Press. 352 pp. $25.95.

Memoir is the literature of memory. When private and public memory touch, we have history’s first draft. The story of the Clinton administration has now been recounted by the president, the first lady, its two Secretaries of State, its first Secretary of Labor, its second Secretary of Treasury and its final Secretary of Energy. It is told here by its FBI director.

Suffice it to say at the Clinton administration’s going-down party there were no choruses sung of ‘for Freeh’s a jolly good fellow.’ The feelings were cordially requited. Mr Freeh is not a reticent man, and some hint of his sentiments toward his former employer comes across in this catalogue: ‘farcical,’ ‘unedited,’ ‘a bad movie,’ and, the unkindest blow, ‘master politician.’ It was not always this way. Freeh, impressed by Clinton’s charm and knowledge of the Bureau on their meeting, tells an anecdote of a jovial Clinton cross-examining one of the Freeh children, and writing a birthday note to another. Clinton, for his part, described Freeh as a law enforcement legend. But as in all love affairs, the end result was heartbreak and recrimination on both sides. The now-infamous White House pass which Freeh returned in late 1993 presaged the fall; by the time a special prosecutor was appointed for Whitewater, he would join that other judge Kenneth Starr as Clinton’s great adversary in Washington.

There was also the matter of a Bureau to run. He had been preparing to run it his entire life. Coming from a working-class Catholic background, he tellingly viewed the FBI as ‘a calling.’ Joining the Bureau after law school, he left it in 1981 for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Southern District of New York. He worked closely with assassinated Sicilian judge Giovanni Falcone on the prosecution of Salvatore Catalano and Gaetano Badalamenti, in these mafia cases finding a natural idiom of tough-talking street-smart wisecrackers on both offence and defence. (‘Some of the goons we dealt with were genuinely funny, some of them genuinely warm’: he never speaks so warmly about politicians.) He rounded out this gestation with a brief tour as a federal judge in the Southern District. His tenure would include not only the investigation of a president, but his search for the Iranian and Hezbollah operatives behind the 1996 Khobar Towers bombings on Saudi soil, which killed 19 U.S. servicemen. It is remarkable then that he did it so badly.

The classic criticisms are those of Richard Clarke and Ronald Kessler, supplemented by the report of the 9/11 Commission.* These ranged from the comparatively sanguine (though dedicated, his skills did not match the job; a former field agent, he micromanaged individual cases rather than leading a Bureau; not using a computer personally and in technology preferring a Smith & Wesson, he failed to grasp the importance of databases and computers for the FBI); to the damning (his managerial style was arrogant and cronyish; incompetent, he survived only because of a hobbled administration and the patronage of a Congress for whom he served as a penetration agent). He became well known in forays up Capitol Hill for ritual penitence for Bureau failures, subsequent deflection of guilt onto insufficient budget and staff, and at end walking away graced with a larger budget from Congress (which increased by 65 per cent during his tenure). The Commission found that while he increased the number of legal attaché offices abroad, there was no significant resource shift under him to counterterrorism, nor did field offices much view terrorism as a priority. Information systems were poor, intelligence collection ineffective, and the Counterterrorism Division he created faltered with paltry resources and mediocre analysts; his deputy, misinterpreting a 1995 Department of Justice guideline, informed agents that too much information sharing within the Bureau could be a career stopper. For Kessler, each of the FBI's embarrassments during his tenure is directly attributable to him; and his successor could not find a church willing to accept the Bureau’s 286 and 386 computers. For Clarke, he ignored terrorism and the bureaucratic reform and technological provision of his bureau, preferring instead to micromanage high-profile cases, and in the process inflicting serious damage to each. In Khobar, he depicts Freeh as an ingénue credulously duped by the fawning attentions of a Prince Bandar, and oblivious to broader containment policy against Iran conducted by the administration’s foreign policy levels. Freeh maintained a low profile after September 11, having left the directorship in late June to return to private life.

To those who had looked to this memoir to provide melodic counterpoint to these criticisms, this book will come as some disappointment. He describes his term blandly, reciting Bureau accomplishments in the argot of a press release. Nor should one look to this book for competing evidence to a reading of Freeh’s directorship as the spurning of lesser temptations as Osama Bin Laden to pursue what in different circumstances or lesser pages one might refer to as his Moby Dick, a president’s sex life. For rebuttal, Freeh offers us no more than to accuse Clarke of ‘bad facts, no access’ and of being a ‘second-tier player,’ and he makes no mention of the 9/11 Commission report whatever. The ‘second-tier player’ parry is less than effective given that in the text of the report Freeh receives five mentions, to Clarke’s forty nine (Freeh’s including one for being present at a briefing and two incidental mentions for remaining in the Bush administration, and then retiring). It is not Clarke who here appears as a bit player. Instead of answering his critics, Freeh then presents the Agincourt finger to the very public he took an oath to protect.
‘I never during my public service or afterward felt the slightest inclination to respond to the group of witless and mostly idle FBI critics who all believe they should lead this important government agency but would not have the fortitude or skill to do so. This assortment of knuckleheads—who inhabit government roles in some cases but mostly just stand on the sidelines—are wont to tell the real athletes, coaches, and referees what should be done in the arena without ever having put on a jersey themselves.’
One presumes he means us. But that’s just the point: ‘My FBI,’ it wasn’t, and no quantity of loyalty or distinguished service changes that fact. One gets the sense Freeh prefers to take his American people as a mass to be protected by heroes of integrity, rather than citizens who might ask questions. This is the arrogance of office. His critics anyway were not convinced. During the writing of this review, Kessler commented to me that Freeh was ‘diverting attention from his colossal mismanagement of the FBI, and the fact it almost disintegrated under his leadership, by taking pot shots at Clinton.’ Clarke was somewhat more succinct: ‘I am not going to comment on Freeh's statements except to say that anyone interested in the truth can read the 9/11 Commission Report, with which I agree.’

Much more fun to slough blame. Like a dull boxer punching blind in all directions, we learn Clinton’s vertebra and not the chief domestic counterterrorist agency is at fault for 9/11: ‘what we lacked was the spine’ to take on Osama more directly. (Ironically, it was precisely Freeh’s sparring partner Clarke who after the Cole attack laid out the administration’s most formal proposal for an ultimatum to the Taliban to be backed up by argument of arms.) We learn the Wen Ho Lee debacle was not his fault but the New York Times’s and the ‘gods of political correctness.’ With Richard Jewell, this time it’s the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that’s culpable. Without self-consciousness he then complains ‘Washington is never short of politicians willing to off-load their own share of the blame.’

More interesting, though, is the glimpse here provided into the psychology of the last FBI director, what Freeh was in Freeh’s eyes. At times to his own mind he appears the Capetian St Louis, the stud-saint: ‘Maybe I was, in Clinton’s eyes, too much the altar boy I once had been.’ He notes to us his record of ‘winning convictions in some of the office’s highest-profile cases, in the nation’s highest-profile venue.’ And then the dual brag: ‘Just about the only times I ever took off the gun were when I slept – and then it was on the nightstand, just a hand’s reach away – and the early morning, when I went jogging.’ As a card-carrying ghostwriter, it was Howard Means’s task to edit away much of this, including such passages as ‘the brothers made a serious effort to involve us in good works … in my case, with spectacular results.’ Perhaps Freeh is not so full of himself; but it is how he permitted himself to be represented in these pages. The heroism of the passengers of September 11’s United 93, ordinary citizens who saved Washington, was of quieter stuff.

This tough guy self image is directed against somebody. He defines himself against Clinton like the inverse cut-out in a wax mould. His moral, which he does not risk repeating so infrequently we forget it, is ‘how politics can sometimes destroy judgment and corrupt moral sense.’ It’s the moral of most of his anecdotes, from a drug case tried before him compromised by a lying witness to a small kindness he once did for a mobster he was arresting. ‘Politics’, we are given to understand, is generally a prefiguring code word for Clinton; and ‘integrity’, for himself. It is thus a chillingly low blow when he cites the Holocaust as an example of politics overwhelming the police power. Future historians may find intriguing the disjunct between his self-definition as a ‘straitlaced Catholic kid, raised to respect authority’, and disdain for his boss. Amateur psychologists could sense a connection between the self-pitying turn of soul that produced the chapter title ‘You’re not really college material’ and the resentment and hatred toward privilege embodied in Clinton. The irony of course is that Clinton’s origins were as humble, and lay much farther from Manhattan; there may be here the makings of a play rather better than this memoir.

His relationship to the FBI – ‘my FBI’ – fits in somewhere here. In his more reflective moments, he tells us of a Bureau that has grown reactively more than logically, its powers granted more as corrective than preventative. He feels strongly about creation of an American MI-5 (‘loony notion’); which not wholly tangentially, would largely be carved out of the FBI. But in other paragraphs the book carries the misflavour of such saccharine declarations as ‘FBI agents – even just two of them – can make a difference.’ One gathers we’re meant to congratulate, or perhaps hug them. The FBI is a player in a tale that is culture wars all the way down: ‘I never learned to do good ol’ boy. My part of New Jersey is a long way from Hope, Arkansas.’ While at Rutgers more privileged students protested the Vietnam war, the prospective director was ‘paying for all those course hours myself.’ He says of his assistant U.S. attorneys, but could have been speaking of Clinton, ‘even Yale Law graduates need lots of watching.’ Rutgers, he remembers revealingly, ‘topped Princeton 6-4’ in the first American football fixture. Freeh’s gentlemanly respect for an adversary, so evident with mobsters, disappears when the adversary does not speak the demotic of the New York City streets.

When Clinton is off stage, he often writes with real feeling. He writes appealingly about his family’s history. His most engaging moments deal with anecdotes about New Jersey childhood and mob-busting. Among his other redeeming features, he is a resolute New Yorker. One gets the feeling he might be a nice enough man, if you could keep him away from Clintons. Students of the administration will learn in office his confidantes were the first President Bush, William Webster, and Robert Fiske from the SDNY attorney’s office. Similarly for his relationships with other members of his administration: he cordially dislikes Jim Woolsey, and unsuspensefully, Clarke. He liked George Tenet, John Deutch, Condoleezza Rice, Rudolph Giuliani, Bernie Nussbaum (to whom he owed his job), along with Gore, Ken Starr, and Attorney General Reno (with whom his relations were purportedly icy, but who comes in for kind words here). He also likes wise guys, and dead people (inevitably ‘heroes,’ more so if they might prefer him to Clinton.)

Mr Freeh may well be a delightful man, but he has written here an ugly book of political score settling. What is still worse, he has not even settled them very well. One wonders whether leading with the Khobar Towers is an attempt to outhawk his critics for September 11. Doing so at any rate produces a distorted narrative timeline in which Louis Freeh: 1. investigated the Khobar Towers against the frustrations of a president who preferred Saudi book money, 2. was born in New Jersey, and so forth. He criticises Clinton for seeking to get closer to the Iranians; Freeh by contrast had wanted to get closer to the Saudis. The Iranians had killed Americans; the Saudis were arguably about to. From the subtitle, one might still be left with the grudging impression the ordering of words reflects their hierarchy in the mind of the author as officeholder. There is no note of apology carried in the sentence, ‘Before the September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, the largest single area of responsibility for the Bureau was white-collar crime.’ This from a director who in a moment of truly bureaucratic dullness of imagination claimed on 60 Minutes that even with adequate intelligence that did not specify date and time, nothing could have been done to prevent the September 11 hijackings. (The increased checks at airports, passengers will be gratified to know, are apparently for show.) When he writes ‘That’s what we learned on 9/11: al Qaeda is not the Cosa Nostra, and Osama bin Laden is not a John Gotti or a Ted Kaczynski,’ he means I.

As a personal recounting of a journey through a career in the FBI and federal bench, Mr Freeh’s memoir invigorates. As a rebuttal of serious criticisms levied at Director Freeh in the wake of September 11th in the report of the 9/11 Commission and writings of those who served in government with him, it disappoints badly. The book is also riddled with grapeshot of minor inaccuracies; Zug, for instance, is not in the Alps. Memory is truth’s cousin, with a complicated relationship; it is famously unfaithful as politicians. To return in the end to the author’s ensign allegation, in the director’s words,
The story that came back to me, from ‘usually reliable sources,’ as they say in Washington, was that Bill Clinton briefly raised the subject [of the Khobar Towers] only to tell the crown prince that he certainly understood the Saudis’ reluctance to cooperate. Then, according to my sources, he hit Abdullah up for a contribution to the still-to-be-built Clinton presidential library.
What is clear from this passage is the following: 1. Louis Freeh was not in the room. 2. We do not know who was in the room (except it was not Freeh). 3. For all we know from the account he has given us, Mr Freeh heard this off a gentleman at a bar. No one has stepped forward to confirm the story’s authenticity. Coming from someone who has just told us he did not hold a White House pass, this sounds suspiciously like bad facts and no access. One wants to retort to the frequently engaging street-wise New York investigator: C’mon, Judge. You gotta give us better than that.

* Against All Enemies, by Richard Clarke, Free Press, 2004; Inside the FBI, by Ronald Kessler, St Martin's, 2002
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