Sunday, July 31, 2005

# Posted 10:29 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

LIBERAL MEDIA OR INFORMAL APARTHEID STATE? Page five of this morning's WaPo describes the results of a new study by the National Urban League entitled "Sunday Morning Apartheid: A Diversity Study of the Sunday Morning Talk Shows."

I'm really not sure what's funnier: that the Urban League is comparing Tim Russert and George Stephanopoulos to South African racists, or that the WaPo considers such a ridiculous report to be newsworthy. What's next? The WaPo covering a study by the Anti-Defamation League entitled "Monday Night Auschwitz: A Diversity Study of Players in the National Football League?"

And for those of you who insist that I respond to this ridiculous article with reasoned argument rather than pure mockery, I say this: What percentage of the legislators, government officials, and journalists inter alia who are qualified to be on a Sunday morning talk show are black? I'm guessing it's pretty darn close to the percentage of black guests on those shows. You know, it's not as if someone's trying to keep black pundits off the air.
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# Posted 9:38 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

RACIAL PROFILING: IS THERE ANY OTHER CHOICE? An outraged Colbert King argues that "You Can't Fight Terrorism With Racism". King explicitly takes down the arguments made by Charles Krauthammer, Paul Sperry and Haim Watzman in recent columns on the WaPo and NYT op-ed pages.

Although I don't have statistics to back this up, my sense is that this sort of direct response to other pundits has become far more common in the age of the blogosphere precisely because the blogosphere places a premium on engaging others rather than acting as if one's own opinions are the only ones that exist.

In fact, I was hoping that the online version of King's column would include hyperlinks to the three columns he mentions by name, even though two of them were published in a competing newspaper. Alas it isn't so. It would seem that the blogosphere still stands alone in its ability to provide you with instant access to multiple, clashing perspectives on a single issue.

But lets get back to the issue at hand: racial profiling of terrorists. I agree with King that Paul Sperry entirely avoids the moral issues raised by racial profiling, which he ardently supports as an alternative to the "politically correct suicide" of nonsensical random searches on the New York subway system. Conversely, King totally avoids the utilitarian issues addressed by Sperry. After all, when innocent lives are on the line, how dare anyone suggest that the police should waste their time patting down random grandmothers?

To his credit, Charles Krauthammer approaches the issue from an ethical perspective but provides an unsatisfactory answer. Krauthammer writes that:
We recoil from concentrating bag checks on men who might fit this description. Well, if that is impossible for us to do, then let's work backward. Eliminate classes of people who are obviously not suspects.
Krauthammer then ticks off the list of unthreatening ethnic groups -- Scandinavians, East Asians, etc. -- who don't need to be singled. What are we left with? Young Arab men and a few others.

The problem with Krauthammer's logic is that it still substitutes collective, ethnically-oriented judgment for the evidence-based judgment of individuals. That is exactly the kind of judgment that most conservatives reject when it comes to issues such as affirmative action. Now one might argue that the imperatives of the War on Terror necessitate a compromise of such ideals. But that isn't what Krauthammer argues.

For a sophisticated argument to that effect, the place to turn is this post from Reihan Salam. Although I am hesitant to engage in racial profiling myself, I think it is quite probable that Reihan has written about this subject so insightfully because he is one of the young Muslim males who will inevitably be singled out for additional scrutiny if racial profiling becames an accepted weapon in the struggle for homeland security.

Reihan begins by quoting the words of Tunku Varadarajan, an editor at the WSJ who will also be singled out if racial profiling takes hold in New York. Varadarajan -- a Hindu, not a Muslim -- writes:
Do I like being profiled? Of course not. But my displeasure is yet another manifestation of the extraordinary power of terrorism. I am not being profiled because of racism but rather because Islamist fanatics have declared war on my society. They are the dark power that leads me to an experience in which my individuality is corroded. This is tragic; but it strengthens my resolve to support the war that seeks to destroy terrorism.
I endorse this argument fully, even though Varadarajan's phrasing leaves the impression that the West has no agency and simply must engage in profiling because of our moral obligation to fight terror.

Reihan also agrees with Varadarajan's logic and then recounts a pair of anecdotes that hint at the emotional and psychological price that must be paid by those who will be subject to profiling. The R-dog concludes that
"Reassuring Reihan" shouldn't be a priority. I do care about using our collecti[ve] resources wisely, and preserving an open society. In the end, I welcome increased scrutiny. It means that law enforcement is doing its job. That said, I worry about what will happen when attacks are perpetrated by "unusual suspects," and I hope we're prepared.
Which brings us back to Colbert King. He is also concerned unusual suspects of the Timothy McVeigh or John Walker Lindh vintage. But it's not as if the cops are going to ignore suspicious white people just because they know that South Asian and Arab males are the most likely perps.

Yes, there is a danger that a focus on South Asian and Arab males will endow security officers with a false sense of confidence that will allow other terrorists to go unnoticed. But the danger of such false confidence pales in comparison to the ridiculousness of subjecting all ethnicities, ages and genders to equal scrutiny.

The stakes in this debate are life and death. Thus I believe it is incumbent on those who oppose racial profiling to identify an workable alternative to racial profiling before they demand that it be stopped. Until such an alternative is identified, I think that it is incumbent upon King and others to recognize, as Tunku Varadarajan does, that it is not American racism but Al Qaeda that has forced us to confront that unpleasant choice.

And perhaps King will even learn to emulate Reihan's wise example of welcoming such additional scrutiny because it makes us all safer at minimal cost.
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# Posted 8:39 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

BALTIMORE'S BEST: Many thanks to all of those who wrote in with their recommendations for where I should eat in Baltimore. Here are some of the top choices:
1. Hampton's at Harbor Court (Hat tip: Jennetic) is one place to go if you want an otherworldly four-star experience (with otherwordly prices). The Charleston, recommended by Gene Vilensky, is another.

2. Helmand is an Afghan restaurant run by Hamid Karzai's brother. I've heard great things about it across the board.

3. Brett Marston recommends the quail in grape sauce at Tio Pepe, a Spanish restaurant.

4. Reader DA recommends Da Mimo's for Italian, especially for its seafood ravioli as well as its chops.

5. For seafood, we return once again to some recommendations from Jennetic, who lists Bo Brooks, Obrycki's, and Bertha's. Jenn also says that her favorite hidden gem on the Baltimore restaurant scene is Peter's Inn in Fells point.
It looks like I will be eating very well in Baltimore next weekend, even if I won't have time to sample all of the delights you've recommended.

PS Does anyone know if Marconi's is still open for business?
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# Posted 1:26 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

REIHAN SALAM: Some of his posts, you just don't explain. You just enjoy.
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# Posted 12:59 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE STEM CELL TWO-STEP: Bill Kristol is outraged by Bill Frist's decision to "cell out" by supporting the expansion of stem cell research. Kristol, writing along with Eric Cohen, says that "the incoherence of Frist's position is stagging."
But if incoherence is a problem, then I'm going to ask for a clarification from Mr. Kristol himself. According to the editors of the WaPo,
The emotional debate involves whether to allow scientists to use embryos left over from in vitro fertilization to generate new stem cell lines. The current policy permits federally funded scientists to use only existing stem cell lines, not to destroy additional embryos to develop new ones. Even though the embryos at issue would be discarded in any event, this might have been a reasonable compromise had those lines proved adequate to the promising research that has been taking place in this field.
Kristol acknowledges that the stem cell debate, at the present juncture, is about whether it is permissible to destroy "spare" embryos set to be discarded in order to harvest their stem cells. Kristol opposes the destruction of such spares on the grounds that "none of us possesses the authority to consent to their destruction." But if Kristol accepts that we have the authority to discard such spares -- resulting in their certain destruction -- why don't we have the authority to destroy such spares in a way that may save lives in the future?

The only way for Kristol to square this circle is to come out against in vitro fertilization (IVF), the process that results in the creation of such "spares". But even if Kristol were anti-IVF, the public embrace of such an extreme position might destroy his credibility on the stem cell issue. Thus, at least for the moment, I'd have to say that Dr. Frist is the one making the coherent argument.

For a comprehensive round up of stem cell blogging, check out TMV.
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# Posted 12:49 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

PREMATURE WITHDRAWAL UPDATE: At TNR, Spencer Ackerman lines with Slate and WaPo in arguing that the administration really is thinking about pulling out of Iraq. Like Bob Herbert, OxBlog disagrees.
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Saturday, July 30, 2005

# Posted 11:49 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

"HE SAID/SHE SAID" WATCH: When conservatives accuse the media of being liberal, smart liberals come to the media's defense by invoking the "he said/she said" hypothesis. According to this hypothesis, journalists mechanically report on the arguments made by both sides in any given debate without giving any sense of which side is telling the truth.

But in spite of being very smart, the liberals who invoke this hypothesis are also very wrong. As OxBlog has shown, leading correspondents express their opinions rather forcefully in straight news articles on subjects as diverse as Iranian WMD, corporate lobbyists, fundamentalist Christians and, yes, even the Swift Vets. In fact, Mike Allen of the WaPo even admitted that he puts subtle hints in his articles in order to help the "discerning reader" figure what Allen really thinks about an issue.

I'm bringing all of this up at the moment just because two articles in Friday's WaPo struck me as excellent examples of how journalists prefer to express their opinions rather than just quoting both sides in a given debate. In a front page article entitled "Security Costs Slow Iraq Reconstruction", the first two sentences inform us that
Efforts to rebuild water, electricity and health networks in Iraq are being shortchanged by higher-than-expected costs to provide security and by generous financial awards to contractors, according to a series of reports by government investigators released yesterday.

Taken together, the reports seem to run contrary to the Bush administration's upbeat assessment that reconstruction efforts are moving vigorously ahead and that the insurgency is dying down.
Also on Friday, the lead story in the World News section inside the paper carried a semi-explicit condemnation of alleged government hypocrisy:
On the city's streets [i.e. Baghdad], the daily reality involves death, random violence and routine deprivations for people who are beyond anger. But a different view has been presented in the Green Zone, the concrete-barricaded headquarters for U.S. troops, diplomats and contractors, and the interim Iraqi government. There, the situation is described as progressing toward a gradual handover from U.S. forces to Iraqi control.
Presumably, the first liberal response to my emphasis on these articles would be that the Bush administration's effort to whitewash the situation in Iraq is so obvious that journalists can't ignore it. But that argument just makes my own point for me.

Even if one were to assume for the sake of argument that the administration's account of the situation in Iraq were a total whitewash, that still devastates the he said/she said hypothesis, because according to the hypothesis journalists refuse to express their opinions even when the truth is obvious.

Now, in spite of my opinion that the coverage of Iraq has become excessively negative, I still prefer interpretive, analytical journalism to the (largely non-existent) he said/she said variety. Smart liberals such as Kevin Drum seem to agree.

However, there is a corollary to such arguments that liberals might find unpleasant. Interpretive, analytical journalism is inherently subjective. If an overwhelmingly majority of journalists are liberal, their interpretation and analysis will reflect their liberal perspective. If liberals want the media to be both interpretive, analytical and balanced, they will have no choice but to admit that balance can simply not be achieved until there are more moderates and conservatives at the major papers and networks.

That said, I think you all can see why I am so obsessed with the "he said/she said" argument. Only by prentending that American journalists aren't already analytical and interpretive can liberals defend the media from the charge of bias. If they admit that "he said/she said" is a myth, they will begin to understand why the center and the right are so frustrated with the media.
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# Posted 11:18 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

IF COFFEE IS BLACK, HOW CAN STARBUCKS BE RACIST? In Thursday's Post, Metro columnist Marc Fisher pointed out this delightful interactive map, which lets you map out all of the Starbucks around where you live or work. For example, there are 39 Starbucks within walking distance of my old office near Dupont Circle. (To see their precise locations, click the "Starbucks" button in the upper left-hand corner of the map.)

But as Fisher points out, there are very few Starbucks in Prince George's County in Maryland, just to the north and west of Washington DC. According to local residents, there is a very simple reason for this tragic deficit: racism.
"There's no reason Prince George's shouldn't have more," says Kwasi Holman, president of the county Economic Development Corp., which recruits retailers.

As Prince George's became the nation's most affluent majority-black county, residents still had to travel beyond the county to shop. Although Prince George's has more households with incomes over $100,000 than Anne Arundel or Howard, those suburbs each have two fashion department stores (Nordstrom and Lord & Taylor), while Prince George's has none.

On paper, Prince George's and Anne Arundel counties are similar. About a third of adults in each has a college degree, far less than Montgomery's 59 percent, but that hasn't kept retailers out of Anne Arundel. Many Prince George's residents say the only remaining explanation is race: The county is 65 percent black, while Anne Arundel is 14 percent black.

Starbucks says its slow pace in Prince George's has nothing to do with race and everything to do with the lack of the big-box shopping centers that the chain prefers for its suburban locations. And the big boxes have stayed away because of fear of crime, developers say.
So, is crime just an excuse for corporations that want to avoid black neighborhoods, or is it a serious problem in Prince George's? Well, according to the top story in today's Metro section, "Increasing Crime Provokes Police Rift":
Prince George's Police Chief Melvin C. High and his rank-and-file officers publicly clashed yesterday over the county's escalating violence, with the police union saying the chief's crime-fighting plan has failed and High responding that his department's biggest problem is unproductive officers...

The public feuding between the officers and the county's top law enforcement officials comes as Prince George's grapples with a growing problem with violent crime. Homicides have increased 26 percent, rapes by 22 percent and carjackings by 45 percent, and robberies have surged 123 percent compared with this time last year.
The rest of the article doesn't make for pleasant reading, either. But maybe the problem really is Starbucks. Why are the cops in Prince George's so lazy? Because they don't drink enough coffee. And why don't they drink enough coffee? Because there aren't enough god***n Starbucks in the neighboorhood!
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# Posted 9:45 AM by Patrick Belton  

SEEN IN THE NEWS: Thus the Guardian's Simon Hoggart quoting NI author Dermot Harrigan,
Meanwhile, police in north Belfast have seized thousands of fake Viagra tablets being sold by the paramilitaries as one of their many rackets. Confronted with a tumenescent terrorist, however, the question will spring to mind: `is that a gun in his pocket, or is he just pleased to see me?' The odds are now somewhat in favour of the latter.
Incidentally, posting somewhat low from this moiety of OxBlog while my computer's in hospital, for which apologies to all, particularly David who has to pick up the slack. But those of you who like to get your Patrick on the side can read next week's TLS or the Daily Standard of this one, with all of the bad jokes you've grown to expect from me.
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# Posted 2:15 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

FAREED KICKS A**: Check out his latest column in Newsweek. Money quotes:
Like all ideologies, radical Islam is a phenomenon of the educated class...

Radical ideologies of hate and violence have often seduced disaffected young men searching for some great cause. Forty years ago they would have embraced Leninist revolutionary dogma, with Che Guevara as the bin Laden of his day. Today, for Muslims, it is a violent interpretation of Islamic fundamentalism.
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# Posted 1:30 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SOUTER-PHOBIA: In contrast to the NYT's Elisabeth Bumiller, who persuaded herself that George Bush cared more about his nominees' exercise habits than their politics, Fred Barnes provides some fairly strong evidence that the White House made a concerted effort to ensure that its replacement for Sandra Day O'Connor would be not just unborkable, but also a staunch conservative.

Barnes reports that Bush's advisers carefully studied how David Souter's nomination came about and then resolved not to make any of the same mistakes. According to one [unfortunately anonymous] White House aide,
"I'm glad we had Souter-phobia. If we hadn't asked these questions about judicial philosophy and the view of the court's role, the nominee wouldn't have been John Roberts."
That reminds me of something a prominent historian said at a conference I attended a couple of months ago. He said he had never encountered a White House so disinterested or perhaps so ignorant of history as this one. I don't buy that in general, but I think that the Roberts nomination should make it clear even to this administration's critics that the White House knows how to take history very seriously when it puts its mind to it.
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# Posted 1:24 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

TORTURE: The WaPo argues forcefully that neither the armed forces nor the White House have come anywhere close to dealing in a honest and candid manner with what we now know about Abu Ghraib.
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# Posted 12:56 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

'V' IS FOR VALUES: I figure we have around two years left until the debate begins in earnest about Hillary's electability. In Slate, Jacob Weisberg makes the case that that the "Hillary can't be elected" folks just can't think straight. I don't have a firm position on that issue just yet, but I can say with conviction that I find Weisberg's arguments to be totally unpersuasive.

Weisberg's emphasis is on three bad arguments that the anti-Clinton camp makes. First, that she is a leftist. Second, that America has had more than enough Clintons in the White House. Third that Hillary is a woman.

With regard to Point A, Weisberg says that
Sen. Clinton's political positioning couldn't be better for 2008. Despite being a shrewdly triangulating centrist on the model of her husband, she remains wildly popular with the party's liberal core: It seems to share the right's erroneous view of her as a closet lefty.
Although I think "shrewdly triangulating" is supposed to be a compliment, that translates onto the campaign trail as "flip-flopper", the accusation that did so much to sink John Kerry. From where I stand, the lesson of 2004 is that perceptions of sincerity or lack thereof are often more important than the subjects that a candidate is sincere about. (Although if you are far enough left on national security, a la Howard Dean, even sincerity isn't worth much.)

The issue of Hillary's sincerity relates to Weisberg's second point, about America supposedly not wanting another Clinton in the White House. I agree with Weisberg that Hillary is more-or-less Lewinsky-proof. If the GOP raises that point, I think it will back fire.

But the real problem for Hillary is that Bill defined the model of shrewd triangulation of which Weisberg seems somewhat enamored. Bill Clinton was the president and the man who would say anything to make you like him. Remember, long before John Kerry flip-flopped, Bill Clinton waffled.

Speaking more broadly, part of what makes it so hard for Democrats to seem like men and women of conviction is that the party doesn't have a set of core beliefs or values that can unite its disparate factions. While reluctant to say that Democrats don't have core values, even staunch and smart liberals such as Matt Yglesias openly acknowledge that the party has no message simple enough to convey clearly and quickly to the average voter.

After explaining why he disagrees with the three most popular arguments for Hillary's unelectability, Weisberg closes out his article by saying that there is one thing about Hillary which may make her truly unelectable, i.e. her cold-fish personality. Well, it's hard to disagree with that one.

But again, I think Weisberg is putting far too much emphasis on the superficial. If we thought of Hillary as a woman of conviction, her overly serious demeanor might make her more electable, not less. But combined with her penchant for shrewd triangulation, it makes her seem opaque and untrustworthy.
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Friday, July 29, 2005

# Posted 4:59 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

BE GRATEFUL FOR THE SMALL THINGS: The NYT endorses CAFTA. Its editors write that
Cafta will benefit the most underrepresented constituency in America: consumers, particularly the lower-income consumers who find that a 50-cent difference in the price of a T-shirt actually means something.
Speaking of which, any plans for the NYT to start charging 35 cents an issue like the WaPo, not one dollar?
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# Posted 4:32 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

OXBLOG AGREES WITH BOB HERBERT! This is a rare and special occasion. Perhaps it calls for a bottle of expensive champagne. While folks at the WaPo and Slate seem almost desperate to believe that what Bush really, secretly, in his heart-of-hearts, really wants is to pull out of Iraq, Bob Herbert agrees with OxBlog that Bush is committed to Iraq for the long haul. (Hat tip: JK)

Herbert writes that:

[Bush] could declare victory, as a senator once suggested to Lyndon Johnson in the early years of Vietnam, and bring the troops home as quickly as possible...

But don't count on it. The Bush administration has no plans to bring the troops home.
Now, before you get too excited about this sudden florescence of common sense, you should know that Herbert thinks Bush will stay for the long haul because

The whole point of this war, it seems, was to establish a long-term military presence in Iraq to ensure American domination of the Middle East and its precious oil reserves...

It's the oil, stupid.
This is a classic bit of conspiracy theory; it forces you to believe that the evil forces in charge of our governtment are both diabolically brilliant and hilariously incompetent. While smart enough to keep their nefarious plan secret for almost three years now in spite of a global fascination with America and Iraq, these evil forces are so stupid that they didn't even bother planning for the occupation that they supposedly initiated in order to control Iraqi oil.

As I said below, it's amazing how far certain critics will go in order to protect themselves from the admission that George Bush is the idealist and that they are the cynics.
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# Posted 3:50 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE GOP'S SECRET PLAN TO CUT-AND-RUN FROM IRAQ: As OxBlog observed yesterday, certain journalists have begun to oversell the Pentagon's caveat-laden talk of a partial withdrawal from Iraq in 2006. Today Fred Kaplan gets in on the act.

Kaplan makes the very good point that Rumsfeld's talk of a possible withdrawal is a tactical maneuver designed to increase the Iraqi government's sense that it better start learning how to defend itself. Yet Kaplan can't resist speculating that what's really going on is that the GOP is afraid of running in 2006 and 2008 with American troops still in Iraq:
Domestic opposition to the war is rising; the latest polls show 55 percent of the American public thinks it's a bad idea and, further, has doubts we can win. It's a fair guess that top Republicans have approached the president or his henchmen to say they'd prefer that the war not be an issue in the 2006 congressional elections—and that it be off the table entirely by 2008.
Not that I'm a relativist, but one man's fair guess is another man's wild speculation. Undoubtedly, some Republicans would prefer to get out of Iraq. Yet there was speculation across the board, starting in mid-2003, that Bush would cut and run rather than face a tough re-election fight with our soldiers still in Iraq. But Bush refused to compromise and won the election decisively. So what makes anyone think that "top Republicans" have much hope of persuading Bush to pull out now?

What it comes down to, I think, is that lots of very smart people are still having a very hard time getting their heads around the idea that a Republican president has become the embodiment of idealism with regard to America's mission in the world. These folks want to believe that the real difference about Democrats and Republicans when it comes to Iraq is that the Democrats are willing to admit that we should pull out because promoting democracy there is a lost cause. But the real difference may be that the President is willing to pay the price of being an idealist while most of his critics simply aren't.
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# Posted 3:30 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

AN EDUCATED PALESTINIAN MASTERS THE ART OF DENIAL: Yesterday morning's Post carried an op-ed expressing great frustration with the long wait that Palestinians must endure when they enter and exit the Gaza strip.

The column's author, Laila El-Haddad, is a Harvard graduate and a correspondent for Al Jazeera's English web service. She is also the mother of a 16-month old who is not given to patience when forced to wait on line. As the author points out, the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza strip will not eliminate such lines, since Israel will still control its borders. Or as the author puts it, the Israeli plan will
Effectively mak[e] Gaza the world's largest open-air prison, with 1.5 million Palestinian inmates.
So, you might ask, what does the author envisage as the best way to resolve this unfortunate situation? You guessed it: Unilateral concessions from the US and Israel. Or as the author puts it:
This disengagement cannot yield a lasting peace unless it brings justice for the Palestinian people. So long as the Bush administration continues to turn a blind eye to illegal settlements in the West Bank and Israel maintains its control of Gaza's borders -- including its sea and air space and land crossings -- the disengagement will suffer a fate similar to that of [the] Oslo [process].
As someone who often tries to persuade newspaper editors to publish my op-eds, I understand that authors must be as concise as possible or risk having their work rejected. But would it really have hurt Ms. Haddad to pay some sort of minimal lip service to justice for the Israelis as well? Would she have compromised her argument against Sharon's policy by acknowledging that the persistence of suicide attacks may possibly, just theoretically, just hypothetically, have something to do with the long lines on the way in and out of Gaza?

I guess some of you may wonder why I'm even wasting my keystrokes on such a cliche bit of agit-prop. But when a mother and a journalist and a Harvard graduate can't even bring herself to recognize the necessity of compromise, I wonder how any sort of peace process will be possible.
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Thursday, July 28, 2005

# Posted 12:58 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

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# Posted 12:51 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

MURDERED FOR BEING GAY: Citing an Iranian student website, Andrew Sullivan reports that Teheran has put two young men to death for the crime of being gay. (Hat tip: Inappropriate Content)
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# Posted 12:17 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

PREMATURE WITHDRAWAL? The WaPo headline reads: US Signals Spring Start for Pullout. That headline conveys a rather formidable sense of certainty about the pullout, implying that the question is not whether but when. However, the statement made by Gen. George Casey seems to be so heavily loaded down with caveats as to be almost meaningless. For example, Casey said that:
If the political process continues to go positively, and if the development of the security forces continues to go as it is going, I do believe we'll still be able to take some fairly substantial reductions after these elections in the spring and summer,
There are some huge 'if's. I am fairly confident that the political process will head in the right direction, but the Iraqi security forces have a very long way to go. The question then is why the WaPo bothered to make such a fuss over Casey's statement. This sentence from the Post provides the answer:
Rumsfeld and other officials have rejected making a deadline [for withdrawal] public, but a secret British defense memo leaked this month in London said U.S. officials favored "a relatively bold reduction in force numbers."
In other words, this is supposed to be a story about hypocrisy in the White House, courtesy of yet another British memo. I have to admit, I was a little nervous when I saw that the supposed pullout had briefly become the top story on the WaPo homepage. But now it seems pretty clear that the headline writers were jumping the gun.

UPDATE: Times correspondent Eric Schmitt, for whom I have a good deal of respect, covered the pullout story much more judiciously.
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# Posted 12:10 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

I ALMOST SPIT UP MY BREAKFAST CEREAL this morning when I saw that the WaPo had run an entire article devoted to Kos' pedantic criticism of a Hillary Clinton speech. I think Kaus puts it very, very well: "A milestone for the blogosphere! Kos writes 10 paragraphs and makes Dan Balz write eleven."
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Wednesday, July 27, 2005

# Posted 10:55 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

BALTIMORE BLEG: What is the best restaurant you know of in Baltimore? I'm willing to pay top dollar for a four-star dining experience.
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# Posted 10:48 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

IS CHELSEA CLINTON WORTH 40 GOATS? According to SkyNews, a Kenyan official by the name of Godwin Kipkemoi Chepkurgor offered Bill Clinton the aforementioned goats plus 20 cows in exchange for his daughter's hand in marriage. (Hat tip: SH)

Although I can't vouch for the truth of the story, I would like to observe that Chelsea has a degree in international relations from Oxford, which I consider to be worth far more than 40 goats and 20 cows. In fact, I'd say a masters from Oxford is worth a good 60 goats and 30 cows, whereas for a doctorate you'd have to throw in a herd of water buffalo.
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Tuesday, July 26, 2005

# Posted 4:04 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

FREE TRADE IS FAIR TRADE: Sebastian Mallaby thoroughly fisks Democratic arguments against CAFTA. The editors of the WaPo add that only benefits "anti-American demagogues, starting with [Hugo] Chavez".
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# Posted 2:39 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

A RESPECTED SCHOLAR DEFENDS REAGAN AND BUSH??? No, this isn't some sort of joke. If you don't believe me, then you should read Blind Spot: The Secret History of American Counterterrorism by UVA scholar Tim Naftali.

Of course, Tim would be appalled to discover that I have boiled down his superb and groudbreaking work into the sort of partisan soundbite that he avoids so judiciously throughout his finely balanced narrative. The real message of Tim's book is how all of us, liberal or conservative (or even Canadian, like Tim), can fight terrorism more effectively by paying attention to the lessons of history.

The first lesson of history is somewhat prosaic: Homeland security measures work best when put into place long before the threat to our homeland becomes imminent. Although this lesson has become tragically self-evident since 9/11, Blind Spot demonstrates both surprisingly and disturbingly that partisan politics and special interests have been standing in the way of homeland security not just for four years, but for forty.

The second lesson of history is that we can take the fight to the terrorists and that we can win. Exhibit A in Naftali's argument about how to go on the offensive against terrorists is the Reagan administration's largely successful to disrupt and destroy the Abu Nidal Organization. The administration's success in its war against Abu Nidal is the reason that Blind Spot says of the Reagan era that " After an initial stumble, the Reagan administration reacted with an energetic and largely successful counterterrorism program." (p. 314)

Naftali's account of the Reagan era is both extremely detailed and extraordinarily well-researched. In fact, the eighty-five pages that Blind Spot devotes to the Reagan administration are more than the book gives over to any other administration by far. (Clinton gets sixty. No one else comes close.)

With Reagan's reputation already on the rise among historians, Naftali's work will prove especially valuable to those who want to demonstrate that the merits of the Reagan administration were thoroughly misunderestimated by critics of the time.

Beyond its merits as a work of scholarship, one of the reasons that Blind Spot will prove so valuable to Reagan's advocates is that no one would even dare suggest that Tim has an agenda. As the author of widely-distributed columns comparing Iraq to Vietnam and demanding that Guantanamo be distmantled, no one would ever mistake Tim for a Reaganaut or neo-con. Tim is not necessarily a liberal, but he is the sort of "realist" who generally considers democracy promotion to be a flight of fancy and the invasion of Iraq to be a distraction from the War on Terror.

Nonetheless, even though I often find myself defending Reagan from those who would underestimate him, I think Tim is being far too kind to the Gipper. Although his administration's success against Abu Nidal is undisputable, there is plenty of evidence in Blind Spot to suggest that Abu Nidal himself destroyed his organization, just as Gorbachev destroyed the Soviet Union.

At the same time, Reagan's failures amounted to far more than an "initial stumble". His retreat from Lebanon was an embarrassment that encouraged Islamic terrorists throughout the Middle East. His punitive strike against Qaddafi made America feel tough but also provoked Libya to kill hundreds of Western civilians in an airliner over Lockerbie. Finally, the stunning hypocrisy of Reagan's effort to trade arms for hostages to Iran demonstrated that sometimes Republicans are the ones with the bleeding hearts that endanger American security.

To Tim's credit, he covers all of these fiascos quite thoroughly in his book. He even suggests that they represented major failures. Thus, some readers may wonder why exactly Blind Spot identifies the American victory over Abu Nidal as the true legacy of the Reagan era.

In contrast, Blind Spot's defense of the George W. Bush administration is more persuasive. On the one hand, the book calls into service the standard explanation that
The Bush team seemed to discount the threat from a terrorist group that didn't have a state sponsor...

Whatever chance there was to put the American system on alert in time to stop [9/11]...was lost in the Bush adminstration's stubborn refusal to understand that the world of 2001 was different from that of 1993. (pp. 316-317)
On the other hand, Blind Spot takes great care to point out that even Richard Clarke was not the prophet in the wilderness that he is often made out to be. As Naftali demonstrates, Clarke had only the faintest inkling that bin Laden was planning a mass casualty strike on American territority. More damningly, Clarke continued to tell Bush during his first months in office that the United States needed a strategy for dealing with bin Laden over the next three to five years.

And what about the infamous Presidential Daily Brief of August 6, 2001 in which Clarke supposedly warned of an imminent attack on the homeland? Naftali describes it as "a curiously weak report" that mostly recycled old information. Naftali writes that "The message misfired badly. President Bush found the item uninformative." (pp. 301-302)

In light of this information, one might even begin to challenge the notion that the Bush administration's emphasis on enemy states rather than transnational organizations such as Al Qaeda does almost nothing to explain its being taken by suprise on 9/11. Just like the Clinton administration, which both Naftali and others credit with being more attuned to transnational threats, the Bush administration discounted the possibility of an attack on American soil and therefore invested minimal effort in coordinating the efforts of the CIA, FBI and other agencies to respond to the threat.
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Monday, July 25, 2005

# Posted 3:45 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

CAPT. CARTER CHECKS IN: Phil posts a brief report about his pre-deployment training in Indiana. And in FP, Phil defends his modest proposal that we should embed reporters at Guantanamo.
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# Posted 3:22 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

BUT WHAT ABOUT JEB? Matt Yglesias writes that
This seem[s] like a good time to mention an all-too-obvious fact that oftentimes seems to elude liberals -- George W. Bush can't ever be elected President again no matter what.
That quote sounds pretty funny out of context, but what Matt's actually trying to say is that if the Democrats spend the next three years running against Bush instead of coming up with a clear definition of the party's agenda and values, it will do just as badly in '08 as it did in '04.
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# Posted 1:40 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

OXBLOG TOO HARSH ON THE NYT? A plausible accusation, and Erik Jaffe makes a good case. In a recent post about John Roberts (and generously publicized by Andrew Sullivan), I denounced the following bit of commentary from the Times as a condescending misunderestimation of our president:

"Well, I told him I ran three and a half miles a day," Judge Wilkinson recalled in a telephone interview on Wednesday. "And I said my doctor recommends a lot of cross-training, but I said I didn't want to do the elliptical and the bike and the treadmill." The president, Judge Wilkinson said, "took umbrage at that," and told his potential nominee that he should do the cross-training his doctor suggested.

"He thought I was well on my way to busting my knees," said Judge Wilkinson, 60. "He warned me of impending doom."

Judge Wilkinson's conversation with the president about exercise and other personal matters in an interview for a job on the highest court in the land was typical of how Mr. Bush went about picking his eventual nominee, Judge John G. Roberts, White House officials and Republicans said. Mr. Bush, they said, looked extensively into the backgrounds of the five finalists he interviewed, but in the end relied as much on chemistry and intuition as on policy and legal intellect.

Eric responds that:
[NYT White House correspondent Elisabeth] Bumiller is an easy target, because so much of her reporting is obsequious and, frankly, unsophisticated. But what Adesnik characterizes as "condescending," is in fact simply a paraphrase of quotes from senior administration officials. Why, exactly, do we have "every reason to believe" that Bush "carefully chose" Roberts as a candidate because of substantive reasons, as Adesnik writes? That would seem to directly contradict what Bush's own officials say.
Eric is 100% correct that everything Bumiller wrote was a paraphrase of statments made by White House officials or other pro-Bush individuals. But take another look at Bumiller's prose and I think you'll see how its curious presentation of those paraphrased remarks makes it sound like Bush's own allies are testifying to the superificiality of the president's intellect.

Bumiller begins by having Judge Wilkinson recount Bush's idiosyncratic criticism of the Judge's exercise regimen. Then, without sayng so explicitly, Bumiller suggests that Bush's criticism of Wilkinson's exercise habits actually influenced the president's decision to nominate John Roberts instead. Specifically, Bumiller writes that Bush's conversation with Wilkinson about jogging "was typical of how Mr. Bush went about picking his eventual nominee, Judge John G. Roberts, White House officials and Republicans said."

Now, did those "White House officials and Republicans" mean to say that Bush actually considered personal habits such as exercise and diet to be relevant criteria for the selection of a Supreme Court justice? Or did they mean to say that the president tried to establish a certain rapport with his potential nominees by asking them about what they do outside of work? Although the latter is far more plausible, Bumiller's phrasing clearly suggests the former.

Now consider how Bumiller's final sentence reinforces that interpretation:
Mr. Bush, they said, looked extensively into the backgrounds of the five finalists he interviewed, but in the end relied as much on chemistry and intuition as on policy and legal intellect.
By juxtaposing this sentence with Judge Wilkinson's anecdote about jogging, Bumiller suggests that the president's reliance on "chemistry and intution" belongs in the same category as Nancy Reagan's infamous reliance on astrologers.

But say what they will about his intelligence, even the president's harshest critics admit that he has remarkable charisma in one-on-one settings. What I would suggest is that Bush wisely relied on small talk in order to make Wilkinson and the other candidates more comfortable -- and therefore more candid -- during their interviews in the Oval Office.

Now, for the benefit of those liberals who have read this far without throwing their hands up into the air and wondering whether OxBlog thinks that there is even a liberal bias to the NYT's weather reports, I say this:

Sometimes, you can read too much into the newspaper. Impending deadlines do sometimes force journalists to prioritize speed over precision. And I don't think for a minute that Elisabeth Bumiller intentionally sought to twist the words of Judge Wilkinson and others into an attack on the president's intelligence.

My best guess is simply that Bumiller heard what she wanted to hear. Her article most probably presents the evidence exactly as it seemed to her. In other words, Bumiller didn't have to spend much time figuring out how to make Bush look foolish, because her instincts already presented the available evidence in that light.

But the far more important question is whether anyone should care about the subtle tilt of Bumiller's coverage. If it takes nine paragraphs to debate two sentences in the NY Times, perhaps the whole question of bias is irrelevant.

I disagree. Although it may take nine paragraphs to explain precisely how Bumiller's language manages to cast aspersion on the president's intellect, I think that even fairly casual readers will come away from Bumiller's article thinking to themselves "Oh my God, this country is being run by a simpleton."

In fact, I would argue that the subtlety of Bumiller's language is precisely what makes it so effective, since intelligent audiences would react very negatively to bias that was more overt. Thus, while ensuring a certain degree of fairness and balance, the informal code of conduct that governs American journalism also has the unintended effect of cloaking bias in the guise of objectivity.
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# Posted 1:02 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

UNBORKABILITY UPDATE: E-mailer JK reports that:
"unBorkable" was used in 1990 by the Wall Street Journal in reference to David Souter. The article's name is "Rule of David Souter, Bush's UnBorkable Nominee". It's by L. Gordon Crovitz and was published on 25 July 1990 on page A13.

The word is also used in the article: "President Bush may well have found an unBorkable nominee. Judge Souter has apparently never written a law-review article or given a memorable speech."
I once heard Souter give a speech. The occasione was quite memorable mainly because of the nap I took. Anyhow, if Roberts turns out to be another Souter, I think that would be the ultimate vindication of the Democrats' decision to play hardball with Bork back in '87.
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Saturday, July 23, 2005

# Posted 11:09 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S BLOG: If you love Shakespeare and happen to find yourself anywhere near central Virginia, I passionately recommend paying a visit to the Barboursville Vineyards in order to enjoy an outdoor performance of A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Before the show starts, you are encouraged to have a picnic dinner on the Barboursville grounds. There are also wines for sale from the vineyard. The show itself takes place amidst the ruins of the Barbour mansion, designed by Thomas Jefferson for Virginia Gov. and Sen. James Barbour.

But enough about the setting. As Shakespeare might have said, the play's the thing. And it is a wonderful production. The acting was superb. The ruins provide an intimate performance space and the actors fully engaged the audience. The laughter continued throughout the play.

Some of that laughter is to the credit of the playwright. But I think that the players themselves (and the director) deserve it even more, since they truly brought Shakespeare alive. One might say that it was a production of Shakespeare in the spirit of Groucho Marx. Although it is often hard for modern audiences to the humor in 16th century vintage iambic pentameter, this production brings out the best.

How? Much of the answer is physical. Shakespeare may have left us brilliant plays, but this production uses constantly innovative body language to bring out the meaning of the text. And the comic timing of the actors is superb. Yet in spite of this innovation, I found the players to be wholly true to the spirit of the play.

As I said, if you find yourself anywhere near central Virginia on Friday, Saturday or Sunday evening, go see this play!
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Friday, July 22, 2005

# Posted 2:22 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

STICK YOUR THUMB IN THE EYE OF DIVERSITY: In response to the nomination of John Roberts as her successor, Justice O'Connor remarked that "He's good in every way, except he's not a woman."

I would have been much happier if O'Connor said that she can't stand John Roberts, but that what's between his ears matters far more than what's between his legs. If there is one institution in this country that should be protected from affirmative action, then the Supreme Court is it.

Moreover, I think that liberals should embrace this argument just as wholeheartedly as libertarians or conservatives. Consider the case of Clarence Thomas. Thomas is living proof that skin color is only, well, skin deep. What has defined Thomas as a justice are his ideas -- which is exactly as it should be.

For affirmative action to have any meaning with regard to the Supreme Court, then minority justices must somehow "represent" the racial, ethnic or gendered constituency to which they belong. I think we can all agree that Thomas hardly represents the political interests of black America. For liberals, that is a point of frustration. For color-blind conservatives, it should be a point of pride.

The issue here is not whether you or I are opposed to affirmative action in principle, but whether it is any way productive to apply the concept of affirmative action to an institution composed of nine individuals appointed for life. What Thomas' appointment demonstrates is that both liberals and conservatives will always, if necessary, be able to find someone who fits both the demographic and ideological criteria necessary to satisfy the letter of affirmative action but not its spirit.

Why? Because nine is such a small number. Even in relatively small bodies such as the Senate and House of Representatives, Republicans have a very hard time diversifying their delegations. When they try to come up with the right color candidate, the result may be a fiasco such as Alan Keyes.

Now let's shift gears a bit. What I've been arguing up to this point is that it is extraordinarily hard, perhaps even impossible to apply the concept of affirmative action to the composition of the Supreme Court. What I want to argue now is that subjecting the court to the politics of affirmative action is both ethically suspect and bad for democracy.

One of the most important purposes of an elected, legislative body such as Congress is to fight over who gets how much from our government. Tax cuts or federal funding for healthcare? Fire houses in Baghdad or fire houses in Ohio? Subsidies for farms or subsidies for inner-city enterprise zones?

In order for such a distributive process to function, the demands of every constituency must be brought to the table. Thus if there are black congressmen who see themsleves as representing black interests, that is a good thing. But we can't have a Supreme Court that functions that way.

The purpose of the high court is not to respond to the demands of different constitutencies. If demands begin to dictate who gets on the Supreme Court, then we may eventually find ourself saddled with judges who have a very narrow and particularistic view of constitutional jurisprudence.

Admittedly, there are problems with this argument. First of all, if I've already argued that pressure for diversity on the court results in the appointment of judges such as Clarence Thomas, why am I concerned that further responsiveness to pressure for diversity will result in the appointment of judges whose skin color matters more than their ideas? Fair enough, but we may not be so fortunate next time.

A more substantive objection is that the court is already a fundamentally political body, so why not let pressure for diversity play a role? I may insist that constituents' demands should have no place on the court, but doesn't the appointment of justices on the basis of their political alignment accomplish exactly the same thing?

I have to admit, I don't have a solid answer to that question. As I've said before, law is hardly my area of expertise, so I'm still trying to figure out what I believe. Ultimately, I may be forced to fall back on my general intuition that the principle of affirmative action is problematic, rather than the more persuasive argument that the specific functions of the Supreme Court are especially threatened by calls for "diversity".

At bottom, I simply find it unacceptable for a democratic nation to judge its public officials, even in part, by the color of their skin or their possession of a Y chromosome.
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Thursday, July 21, 2005

# Posted 1:29 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

DUMBLEDORE APPOINTED TO SUPREME COURT OF WIZARDRY: More than one reader (two, in fact) e-mailed to express their disappointment/anger at my inconsiderate revelation that Hermione is pregnant and that Voldemort may be the father.

Of course, I completely made up the whole thing. I assumed that my little joke was so ridiculous that no one would assume that this is what actually happens in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Then again, JK Rowling keeps telling us that her series will become progressively darker as it approaches its climax, so perhaps it isn't so unreasonable to believe that Voldemort would impregnate Hermione.

Actually, come to think of it, given some of the bizarre Freudian imagery in the earliest works from the Rowling opus, perhaps teenage pregnancy isn't all that far-fetched.

But come on folks, we're talking about Hermione here -- one of the most talented wizards of her generation. Surely as part of her studies of Defense Against the Dark Arts she has perfected the incantation of spells such as Putonsome Latexia, Ingesta Pillium, or (if worst comes to worst) Withdrawum Prematurum.
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# Posted 1:17 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

"UNBORKABLE": We're going to be hearing that word a lot, methinks. In fact, the word was already being used at least one month ago by AmbivaBlog.

Nonetheless, a Google search for "unborkable" only turns up 12 results, three of which refer back to AmbivaBlog. Another three refer to a musical concept that I don't understand. Five links refer to pages that use "unborkable" in the context of computer programming.

Which leaves one reference to a dead-link from a newspaper in St. Paul, MN. Which means that I'll have to go into the office tomorrow and use LexisNexis to figure out who really was the first to coin the phrase "unborkable".

Although I know I'm not the first, it would still be sort of cool to be second or third, huh?

UPDATE: Reader JD went to the music sites mentioned above and determined that "unborkable" was most probably just a typo.
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# Posted 12:55 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

JOHN ROBERTS, THE ANTI-BUSH? I don't know heads or tails about constiutional law, so I'll have to focus on the politics of John Roberts' nomination. And what I know so far is that 'liberal' journalists are falling all over themselves to see who can praise Roberts more.

Why? Because Roberts is the opposite of everything they hate about Bush. Consider this mash note from the NYT:
[Roberts] was always conservative, but not doctrinaire. He was raised and remains a practicing Roman Catholic who declines, friends say, to wear his faith on his sleeve...

John G. Roberts is an erudite, Harvard-trained, Republican corporate-lawyer-turned-judge, with a punctilious, pragmatic view of the law.
Mind you, that's a straight news article I'm quoting, not an editorial or even a "news analysis" column. Liberal activists must be fuming -- positive coverage from the NYT, WaPo, etc. is turning Roberts' confirmation into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Technically, the editorial boards at the Times and the Post are insisting that we must all reserve judgment until the Senate has conducted a thorough and substantive examination of Roberts' merit as a judge. But who're they kidding?

When the WaPo is running headlines such as "Democrats Say Nominee Will Be Hard to Defeat" , there is simply no way to portray Roberts as the sort of "extreme ideologue with an agenda of stripping away important rights" that the NYT says is unacceptable on the nation's highest court.

Now why has the media decided to give John Roberts the kid glove treatment? It's not because he went to Harvard College and Harvard Law. After all, Bush has degrees from Harvard and Yale. What matters a lot more is that Roberts graduated summa cum laude and was the managing editor of law review. He's not just an Ivy Leaguer -- he's the kind of Ivy Leaguer that journalists and pundits wish their children could be.

In other words, Roberts is supposedly the kind of Ivy Leaguer who thinks in a way that fellow Ivy Leaguers readily understand and heartily praise -- whereas Bush doesn't. Consider how the NYT's Elisabeth Bumiller describes Bush's decision to nominate Roberts rather than Harvie Wilkinson:
"Well, I told him I ran three and a half miles a day," Judge Wilkinson recalled in a telephone interview on Wednesday. "And I said my doctor recommends a lot of cross-training, but I said I didn't want to do the elliptical and the bike and the treadmill." The president, Judge Wilkinson said, "took umbrage at that," and told his potential nominee that he should do the cross-training his doctor suggested.

"He thought I was well on my way to busting my knees," said Judge Wilkinson, 60. "He warned me of impending doom."

Judge Wilkinson's conversation with the president about exercise and other personal matters in an interview for a job on the highest court in the land was typical of how Mr. Bush went about picking his eventual nominee, Judge John G. Roberts, White House officials and Republicans said. Mr. Bush, they said, looked extensively into the backgrounds of the five finalists he interviewed, but in the end relied as much on chemistry and intuition as on policy and legal intellect.
I would say that the often-condescending Ms. Bumiller has thoroughly misunderestimated the president. While I'm sure that Bush asked Wilkinson about his exercise habits, we have every reason to believe that Bush carefully chose himself a candidate with both strong conservative beliefs and an incomparable ability to persuade Democratic senators to support his nomination.

In fact, it is precisely because Bumiller and others perpetuate such hackneyed stereotypes about Bush's intellect that John "summa cum laude and law review" Roberts has established himself so rapidly as an unborkable candidate.
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Wednesday, July 20, 2005

# Posted 3:14 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

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# Posted 2:27 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

DOES THE MEDIA STILL BELIEVE JOE WILSON IS A SAINT? What matters now is whether or not someone in the White House committed a crime by exposing Valerie Plame as a covert CIA operative. Nonetheless, it is important to remember that this whole affair began when Plame's husband, Joseph Wilson accused President Bush of telling brazen lies to the American public.

More than twelve months after Wilson made his initial allegations, a report from the Senate Intelligence Committee exposed Wilson, not Bush, as the real brazen liar. For a devastating summary of the report, head over to Matthew Continetti's article about it in the Weekly Standard.

After the release of the report, even staunch liberals such as Kevin Drum felt compelled to admit that Wilson's
Credibility as a source is definitely tattered, but perhaps not quite as thoroughly demolished as his enemies are claiming.
If you are a liberal yourself, I strongly recommend reading the entirety of Kevin's post, which explains exactly why Wilson's accusations were so indefensible.

But all of that is ancient history, right? Who cares now whether Wilson was right or wrong? Well, I do, because it seems that certain journalists' lingering sympathy for Wilson has led them to treat Karl Rove as guilty until proven innocent when it comes to the Plame affair. My two cases in point are the cover stories in this week's editions of Time and Newsweek.

Here's the opening graf from the Newsweek cover story:
Karl Rove is a hunter. His favorite quarry in Texas is quail; in Washington, it's foes of George W. Bush or Vice President Dick Cheney. Rove was focused intently, with a touch of anger, on his prey. It was Monday, July 7, 2003, the day after Joe Wilson, a veteran diplomat, had launched a damaging public assault on a central administration rationale for the war in Iraq: that Saddam Hussein had been trying to buy yellowcake uranium in Niger. In a New York Times op-ed piece and a companion appearance on "Meet the Press," Wilson said he had been dispatched to the African country in 2002 by the CIA, at the behest of Cheney, to check out the yellowcake claim—and had found it flimsy at best.
That summary of the situation is "flimsy at best". Nowhere in the rest of its very long article does Newsweek even mention that Wilson's allegations were later proven to be patent falsehoods. Yet even though such facts are curiously missing, Newsweek's Howard Fineman did find plenty of time to write nasty things about Rove such as:
In the World According to Karl Rove, you take the offensive, and stay there. You create a narrative that glosses over complex, mitigating facts to divide the world into friends and enemies, light and darkness, good and bad, Bush versus Saddam. You are loyal to a fault to your friends, merciless to your enemies...

The Manichaean politics that Rove had perfected over three decades now threaten to engulf him, or at least render him as something less than what he has been to Bush: the mastermind of Republican hegemony...

It's unlikely that any White House officials considered that they were doing anything illegal in going after Joe Wilson. Indeed, the line between national security and politics had long since been all but erased by the Bush administration.
What next? Will Fineman tell us that Rove shot JFK?

Moving on, this week's covery story in Time is slightly better with regard to Wilson. On the one hand, it tells us that
When Joe Wilson emerged in July 2003 as a well-credentialed critic of the Administration's case for going to war, he placed himself squarely in Rove's sights.

Here was a former ambassador, an Africa expert, who could flaunt his pictures with past Presidents, Democrats and Republicans alike--including one with President George H.W. Bush, who had called Wilson a hero for his service as charge d'affaires in Baghdad before the first Gulf War. When Wilson wrote in the New York Times on July 6, 2003, nearly four months after the war began, that "intelligence related to Iraq's nuclear weapons program was twisted to exaggerate the Iraqi threat," it represented the most damaging charge yet against the Administration's handling of prewar intelligence.
Wilson was certainly well-credentialed and his allegations were damaging, but it might be useful for Time to let us know that the allegations were also false.

To its credit, Time does cast some doubt on Wilson's credibility by observing that
Wilson was also shading the story: "Valerie had nothing to do with the matter," he wrote in his 2004 book The Politics of Truth. "She definitely had not proposed that I make the trip." When asked last week by TIME if he still denies that she was the origin of his involvement in the trip, he avoided answering. But he has maintained all along that Administration officials conducted a "smear job" on him and outed his wife in revenge.
Albeit important, this bit of evidence hardly makes the point that Wilson's allegations were false. Even so, it's better than nothing.

One question worth asking about all of this misleading coverage is why the media can't get it's story straight about Wilson. Although some will simply say that the answer is "liberal bias", the issue is more complex.

First of all, the media loves whistleblowers. They see themselves as brave whistleblowers struggling to expose the truth. Thus, when they get their hands on a potential whistleblower, they tend to be as uncritical his allegations as they often are of their own. It think this is true regardless of whether there is a Democrat or Republican in the White House.

By the same token, this fawning love of whistleblowers explains why the media devoted such extensive coverage to Wilson's initial allegations but only minimal coverage to the subsequent exposure of Wilson as a brazen liar.

Perhaps when there is a Democrat in the White House, we can figure out whether the media goes softer on his or her statements about national security (as opposed to say, nubile interns).

Of course, all of this talk about Joe Wilson shouldn't divert our attention from the fact that George Bush did go public in his 2003 State of the Union address with some very dodgy allegations about Saddam Hussein's nuclear weapons program.

Ultimately, that kind of statement coming from a president is far more disconcerting that than the lies of a second-tier operative and partisan hack such as Joe Wilson. But the media seems to cover the inaccuracies of George Bush's statements quite well, leaving it to us bloggers to expose the small fry like Joe Wilson.
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# Posted 1:48 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

COVER STORY OR NO STORY? Karl Rove doesn't look like a powerful man. He looks like a middle-aged middle-manager from Middle America. If you look at the photo of Rove on the cover of Time magazine, you can't even tell what he's feeling. Is he about to smile? About to cry? Sedated? Waiting to attack? It's hard to believe that a man whose head melts so unthreateningly into his neck could be at the center of such a firestorm.

But appearances are often deceiving. Had anyone other than Karl Rove been identified as the key figure in DoJ's investigation of the Valerie Plame affair, I have to wonder whether they would have made it onto the cover of both Time (and Newsweek). But Rove is the supposed mastermind withing the Bush White House, the supposed engineer of two stunning victories for a candidate considered by the experts to be thoroughly subpar. Personally, I'd say that those kind of judgments tell you more about the experts than they do about Karl Rove or George W. Bush. Nonetheless, they do explain why a scandal about which we still have extraordinarily little information has become such a sensation.

What we do know is summarized quite well by Time correspondent Matt Cooper, who testified before a grand jury after Rove released him from his initial commitment to protecting Rove's identity. Here's what Cooper writes in the current issue of Time:
So did Rove leak Plame's name to me, or tell me she was covert? No. Was it through my conversation with Rove that I learned for the first time that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA and may have been responsible for sending him? Yes. Did Rove say that she worked at the "agency" on "WMD"? Yes. When he said things would be declassified soon, was that itself impermissible? I don't know. Is any of this a crime? Beats me. At this point, I'm as curious as anyone else to see what Patrick Fitzgerald has.
I suspect that Rove allowed Cooper to break his commitment to confidentiality because Rove knew very well that he hadn't said anything inappropriate to Cooper. Which still doesn't really tell us whether Rove did anything inappropriate. Perhaps he wanted Cooper to testify in order to clear his name. Or perhaps he wanted Cooper's inconclusive evidence to make him seem innocent, whereas some other journalist may have more damaging information about Rove. Paging Robert Novak...
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Tuesday, July 19, 2005

# Posted 1:17 PM by Patrick Belton  

ARTHUR CROOK, former editor of the TLS.
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Sunday, July 17, 2005

# Posted 10:24 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WHY DOESN'T THE NORTH HAVE A FLAG? My brief post on this subject provoked lots of responses. As a number of readers pointed out, often with indignation, the North does have a flag, which is the Stars & Stripes.

Yes, I know that. Nor am I really serious about my proposal that the North or Northeast or Northwest should have a flag. I just find it amusing and anomalous that only one region of our country has such a flag. Surely in the name of equality we all should have a flag!

(Or is that too much of a welfare-state sentiment? Perhaps we should all just have an equal opportunity to design regional flags.)

On a related note, how come straight people don't have a flag? The LGBT community has that lovely rainbow banner, which conveniently confirms all of those stereortypes about gay men having better taste than the rest of us. So how about a straight flag? Or a metrosexual flag?

Now switching gears a bit from the hypothetical to the real, both BC and NH point out that there is already a notional republic of Cascadia (comprising Oregon, Washington and British Columbia) which has its own flag, seen below. Apparently, the citizens of Cascadia have secessionist ambitions, which confirms the unfortunate precdent set by the Confederate States of America, i.e. that you only get your own flag when you turn your back on the Union.

Frankly, I would hope that regional pride could be expressed in a manner more compatible with the Constitution.

On a moderately related note, I should observe that multiple Cascadians expressed their dissatisfaction with my proposal that the Northwestern flag should consist of a Starbucks logo on a field of green, when in fact true Northwesterners prefer independent coffee shops to corporate conglomerate.

I must admit, I am not persuaded by this point. I would argue that the Starbucks-on-green logo perfectly captures the non-conformist pretensions of Cascadian culture. Cascadian rhetoric may glorify the independent provider of caffeination, but when given the opportunity to transform that small business into a global coffee empire, certain Cascadian businessmen set about doing so with few reservations.

Perhaps they were just emulating the methods of that most famous of Cascadian entrepreneurs, Bill Gates...
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Friday, July 15, 2005

# Posted 7:43 AM by Patrick Belton  

AT THE MOVIES WITH OXBLOG: Yesterday, I went to see War of the Worlds with OxBlog's friend, Taylor Owen. This was originally meant to involve a double date, but oddly enough, feminine company trickled off and we ended up watching alone this science-fiction film involving the destruction of earth by really big machines. Afterward, stunned and moved, I leaned over and asked my moviegoing partner:

PB: Tell me, did that film have any redeeming feature whatsoever?
TO: Um. No, it didn't.
PB: So in other words, we've just managed to accomplish two hours of completely remorseless indolence?
TO (laughing): Yes, I guess we did.
PB: So mission accomplished.

We then marveled on three phenomena, which as a social scientist I thought I would note here: (1) the relative imperviousness of fetching, clever blonde ladies to science fiction, even if in other contexts their tastes extend equally to such other pinnacles of human achievement as the classical Hellenic corpus and biochemistry; (2) the marvels of a single-product economy, which by providing on the supply side only one film the entire summer, has registered our faint desire to eat popcorn, sit in air-conditioned comfortable chairs, and make silly jokes at the expense of Tom Cruise as a vote for this lovely film; (3) the possibility that the first draft was full of Stoppardian wit, Sartrean moral ambiguity and dilemma, and Hamlettian soliloquoys, before a Hollywood market designer went through with a red pen and scribbled 'no, scratch this, insert really big machine. yeah, and scratch this. insert another really big machine.'
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# Posted 7:39 AM by Patrick Belton  

AIR CONDITIONER: What they call Pantene Pro-X in east London.
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Thursday, July 14, 2005

# Posted 11:01 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

ON THE ROAD: Back Monday.
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Wednesday, July 13, 2005

# Posted 9:53 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

REAGAN'S INTELLECT: Once again, well-read citizens have been confronted with a deluge of new books about the 40th president. Just this spring, we have seen the publiction of John Ehrman's The Eighties, Gil Troy's Morning in America and Paul Lettow's Ronald Reagan and His Quest to Abolish Nuclear Weapons. In additon, John Gaddis has published a revised edition of his classic treatise Strategies of Containment, distinguished from its predecessor mainly by a brand new chapter on Ronald Reagan.

In due time, scholars will respond to the specific arguments that each of these four authors make about the specific aspects of Reagan's legacy on which they focus their research. But to focus on such specifics is to mistake the forest for the trees, since their is a powerful interpretive thread that unites all of these new works. That thread is the appraisal of Reagan's intellect.

The question of Reagan's intellect is so important because it is the skeleton key that unlocks the riddle of whether America's great triumphs in the 1980s are better described as a fortunate accident or as the direct result of Reagan's controversial policies, both foreign and domestic.

Unsurprisingly, liberals prefer the former interpretation while conservatives prefer the latter. However, this partisan divide tends to obscure the fact that not all that long ago, the relevant question was not whether Reagan deserved credit for the triumphs of his decade, but whether Reagan's profligate spending had eviscerated the American way of life, or whether things were destined to get better.

As late as 1992, WaPo correspondent and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Haynes Johnson argued in his bestselling account of the Reagan era that while Reagan may have contributed something to the end of the Cold War, what he left behind was a dangerously debilitated America that might never regain its strength after the traumatic decades of the Cold War.

As one might expect, Johnson's book does cast aspersion on Reagan's intellect, often in a harsh and condescending manner. Yet the question of Reagan's intellect is not integral to Johnson's argument because the evidence of Reagan's alleged failure is the visible, tangible, concrete and material decline of American society.

A decade and a half later, all of the vital signs of American life indicate that the Reagan era was a time of triumph, not failure. Thus, the question has become to what degree the president once held responsible for the nation's decline was actually the author of its almost totally unexpected success.

Although John Gaddis doesn't argue (a la Dinesh D'Souza) that Reagan compelled the Soviet Union to surrender, he does argue that Reagan understood, long before Gorbachev came to power, that the United States could spend the Soviets into submission. Although almost all Americans recognized that the Soviet Union's planned economy was a major liability, most of them (including Jimmy Carter) insisted that an arms race was inherently unwinnable.

In contrast, there is evidence that Reagan favored a military build-up precisely because he recognized its potential to bankrupt the Soviet Union. The question is, how much evidence? Although Gaddis presents the evidence as fairly robust, I was not persuaded. Undoubtedly, Reagan argued on occasion that the United States could and should win an arms race. But this idea never became a part of Reagan's cannon. Instead, the 40th president (and most certainly all of his advisers) expended a much greater effort on explaining to the American public why liberals such as Carter were so committed to underestimating the Soviet threat.

To a certain degree, these arguments are not mutually exclusive. One might say that what Reagan and his advisers were insisting upon was the underestimated malevolence of a declining Soviet Union.

If one has as much faith in Reagan's intellect as Gaddis implies, then it makes sense to interpret his limited statements about Soviet vulnerability as foundational tenets of his grand strategy for winning the Cold War. But before accepting such a speculative interpretation, I think we will need to see much more evidence emerge from the Reagan archives.

Although I have considerable respect for Reagan's intellect, I would resist any effort to describe Reagan's many pronouncments as expressions of an underlying and coherent policy agenda. Although there was a strong ideological and philosophical core to Reagan's politics, there floated around this core numerous ideas that were not fully developed and often contradicted one another.

To be continued...
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Monday, July 11, 2005

# Posted 2:28 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WOW. THIS NYT EDITORIAL ACTUALLY IMPRESSED ME: Even an inveterate critic such as myself considers the NYT, as a newspaper and a cultural institution, to be impressive. But almost never would I say that about its endlessly recycled anti-Bush editorials. Yet today, I am impressed.

Yesterday morning, the NYT called for the expansion of the US army by 100,000 men. Of course, the editorial began with the usual litany of accusations about Bush's incompetence, etc. But when it comes down to nuts and bolts, supporting this kind of ambitious, expensive and (in my opinion) necessary objective suggests that the Times doesn't want to resolve the struggle in Iraq or in the broader Middle East via disengagement or via an unquestioned reliance on international institutions.

Instead, the Times seems to understand that no matter how much value there is to be had from international cooperation and from the forthright consideration of America's numerous flaws, the successful waging of the war on terror must rest on a foundation of incomparable military power.
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# Posted 2:26 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

AND SPEAKING OF THE CONFEDERATE FLAG, WHY DOESN'T THE NORTH HAVE A FLAG? If I want to express my pride as a Northener born and raised, what symbol can I invoke? If I were from the Northwest, perhaps just a Starbucks logo on a field of green. But what about the Northeast? Any ideas?

(Hat tip to my brother MA for suggesting this question.)
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Sunday, July 10, 2005

# Posted 7:53 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WHY DOES THE CONFEDERATE FLAG LOOK ORANGE? Officially, the flag is red. My brother and I visited the Jefferson Davis mansion in Richmond today (often referred to as The Confederate White House), where I asked our tour guide whether the flag is red or orange. He confidently stated that it is red, a fact verified by a scholarly tome in the museum's gift shop as well as on website's like this one.

Yet in that same gift shop, depictions of the Confederate flag (more precisely, the Confederate battle flag) side by side with the American flag clearly show that either the American flag is more red or the Confederate flag is more orange. By the same token, my brother and I went to a Lynyrd Skynyrd concert in Norfolk last night, where one of the backdrops for the stage was half of an American flag with half of a Confederate flag next to it. The colors were clearly different.

So, if any of you happen to know what the precise hue of the Confederate flag is, please let me know. Is it a specific kind of red that has some orange in it? Was it always that way? I'm curious.
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Friday, July 08, 2005

# Posted 5:42 AM by Patrick Belton  

THUS ALLAN MASSIE in today’s Indy (p. 30):
Sometimes, you think, we are becoming soft, far more ready to give way to sloppy self-indulgent emotionalism than our parents and grandparents were; that the upper lip is more often wobbly than stiff. And then you get something like this.

I was in my study, looking out over the green tranquil country of the Scottish Borders, sheep grazing in the field below the woods, when my daughter telephoned to tell me bombs were going off all over London. I turned on the television, and one of the first things I saw was a man with the left side of his face all cut and bloody being interviewed.

I can’t remember just what he said, but his tone was familiar, immediately recognizable. He was, I suppose, in his forties, maybe a little younger, certainly of a comfortably post-war generation. He was calm, relaxed, self-deprecating; it might have been John Mills or Jack Warner telling Hitler: ‘London can take it, Britain can take it.’ It was moving, comforting, and, yes, inspiring.

I had another call later in the day, this time from a girl in my publisher’s publicity department. She was ringing to ask if I could go on a book festival on a date in January. That, too, is an example of the spirit of the Blitz. It might, she admitted, be difficult for her to get home that evening; but work goes on.

London has been through it before. The Blitz destroyed great parts of the city. … And even when victory was at last in sight, came the rockets – the V1 and the V2 – bringing death without warning. Londoners shrugged their shoulders and called them ‘doodlebugs.’ … But then, in years of peace, came the IRA bombing campaign, and Londoners bore that too without flinching. Most remarkable, the terrorists then were regarded with contempt rather than hatred.

We are the same people we were 60 years ago, capable of the same stoicism. London can take it, and it can do so because its stoicism is laced as it always has been with humour.

Orwell again: ‘A lot of bombs in Greenwich, one of them while I was talking to E over the phone. A sudden pause in the conversation and a tinkling sound:
I: ‘What’s that?’
E: ‘Only the window falling in.’

Business as usual.
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# Posted 4:36 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SO WHAT DOES LONDON MEAN? No, I don't have an answer to that question. Yes, I have opinions about the answers offered by others. First of all, Kevin Drum has simply responded with the sober image of a British flag at half mast. It is a message of condolence and solidarity. Kevin adds:
If I could have one small wish for today, it would be for the blogosphere on both left and right to refrain from political point scoring over the London attacks. Just for a day. Isn't tomorrow soon enough to return to our usual arguments?
I wish there more bloggers people like Kevin, although I guess even Kevin would admit he's being a bit naive. Not surprisingly, Josh Marshall has taken the occasion of the London attacks to remind us that
President Bush has created a great running wound on the whole country in the form of the mess he's created in Iraq -- a wound bleeding blood, treasure and a scourge of national division which is now impossible to ignore but which we can ill-afford.
From the other end of the spectrum, Belmont Club writes that
The tragedy is that Al Qaeda's perception [of Western cowardice] is perfectly correct when applied to the Left, for whom no position is too supine, no degradation too shameful to endure; but incorrect for the vast majority of humans, in whom the instinct for self-preservation has not yet been extinguished.
Yeah, that's pretty apalling. I expect better from a highly intelligent analyst such as Wretchard.

In the same post, Wretchard also argues that yesterday morning's attack is a sign of Al Qaeda's weakness. He then specifies that this weakness stems from the fact that
Thousands of Al Qaeda fighters, the cream of their rancid crop, is fighting to expel the American infidel from the Land Between the Rivers [i.e. Iraq]. A moment's reflection will show that if they are there they cannot be elsewhere -- in London, Paris, Rome or Boston -- sowing bombs on buses and trains.
I disagree with both of Wretchard's points. His stronger point is the first, i.e. that the relatively low human cost of yesterday's attack is a sign of Al Qaeda's weakness. The same point has been made by Andrew Sullivan (citing The Economist) and, in a somewhat different way, by Anne-Marie Slaughter.

But ask yourself the following question: What if those attacks had taken place in Chicago, New York or Los Angeles? After almost four years of apparent immunity from terror, it would have seemed that Al Qaeda had finally recovered from its initial setbacks enough to breach the citadel once again. If those attacks had taken place on American soil, this administration's record on homeland security would immediately have become the foremost subject of debate.

But yet we treat the attack differently because it was in London. That is not wholly wrong, given that British membership in Europe entails vulnerability to a very different set of threats than those we face in the United States. For example, it will be interesting to see how many of those who carried out the bombings were either residents or citizens of the EU.

Nonetheless, I am profoundly discomforted by the fact that terrorists have been able to carry out such a well-coordinated attack on a Western nation. Moreover, given that the target was Britain, it seems implausible to suggest that its government was in any way less concerned about the prospect of terrorism than our own. And if Al Qaeda can breach Britain's defense's (or Spain's) then can we really consider an attack on the United States out of the question?

Again, it comes down to the question of to what degree Europe is vulnerable to a different set of threats than the United States. Thus, given that we know so little at the moment about the origins of the attack, I think it is very premature to suggest that this was a sign of Al Qaeda's weakness.

Now, with regard to Wretchard's argument that the war in Iraq has diverted Al Qaeda from the West, I raise the following questions: How do we know that Al Qaeda hasn't reserved its best operatives for attacks against Europe and the United States while sending its foot soldiers into the trenches in Iraq? And how do we know that Iraq doesn't serve as an effective training ground for Al Qaeda, where those who survive gain the ability to operate in much less supportive enivornments, such as London or New York?

In a limited sense, the "flypaper theory" is most certainly right; the war in Iraq is chewing up a lot of jihadist manpower. But is it chewing up enough to ensure that there aren't 19 more terrorists ready and able to carry out another 9/11?

UPDATE: If I'd known that Matt Yglesias were mocking the advocates of the flypaper theory, maybe I would've found some more good things to say about it.
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# Posted 4:02 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

CAPT. CARTER CAPTURES THE DEAD TREE MEDIA: Publishing an op-ed in the NY Times is still the gold standard of punditry, so congratulations to Phil Carter for his persuasive argument that President Bush must take a more actively role in helping the armed forces recruit the next generation of American soldiers.

Unfortunately, an unidentified editor at the Times took some rather extraordinary liberties with Phil's argument, which the paper has now explained as follows:
The Op-Ed page in some copies yesterday carried an incorrect version of an article about military recruitment. The writer, an Army reserve officer, did not say, "Imagine my surprise the other day when I received orders to report to Fort Campbell, Ky., next Sunday," nor did he characterize his recent call-up to active duty as the precursor to a "surprise tour of Iraq." That language was added by an editor and was to have been removed before the article was published. Because of a production error, it was not. The Times regrets the error.
Those additions are so inflammatory and so at odds with the tone of Phil's column that they almost defy explanations. The unidentified editor's political motives may be rather transparent, but I have no idea how a professional editor could behave in such an unprofessional manner.

Michael Barone, also an editor by trade, says that the editor responsible for the additions should be fired. I am not ruthless enough to make such a suggestion, but I do think the editor involved should have the courage to admit what he did rather than hiding behind an anonymous "Editor's Note".
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