Sunday, April 30, 2006

# Posted 10:37 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

A PROTEST TO BE PROUD OF: Today, I marched for an end to the genocide in Darfur. This afternoon's rally was sponsored Save Darfur Coalition, which is composed of more than 100 faith-based, humanitarian and human rights organizations.

I think Barack Obama put it very, very well in his brief address to the thousands of protesters assembled on the Mall. He said that often in world affairs, it is very hard to know which side stands for the good and which side against it. But on the subject of Darfur, there is complete moral clarity. Genocide is evil and we must put an end to it.

Perhaps more surprisingly, Al Sharpton delivered an address with whose substance I fully agreed. His message we simple. We must stop the slaughter of innocents. Truly, Darfur is a cause that brings out the best in everybody.

In the corner of the rally where I stood, near the front of the crowd but well to the left of the main stage, I found myself in a sea of yamulkes and other Jewish paraphrenalia. An array of t-shirts, signs and balloons announced the presence of USY (United Synagogue Youth), Hillel (the Jewish student organization), and various individual synagogues from across the northeast.

As a Jew, I was very proud to see that my people truly understand the meaning of "Never Again". The victims in Darfur are black and Muslim, but the principle is the same. (Certain professors might also take note that American Jews have a much broader and principled agenda than they are sometimes given credit for.)

In hindsight, I sort of wish that I had circulated a bit more so that I might've had a chance to interact with some of the Christian and Muslim groups at the protest. According to the WaPo, the crowd was extraordinarily diverse:
They wore skullcaps, turbans, headscarves, yarmulkes, baseball hats and bandanas. There were pastors, rabbis, imams, youths from churches and youths from synagogues. They cried out phrases in Arabic and held signs in Hebrew. But on this day, they said, they didn't come out as Jews or Muslims, Christians or Sikhs, Republicans or Democrats.

They came out as one, they said, to demand that the Bush administration place additional sanctions on Sudan and push harder for a multinational peacekeeping force to be sent to Darfur.
Actually, this supposed demand wasn't terribly explicit. Most speakers called on the Bush administration to do more, but there was really no conensus on what 'more' consists of. Some mentioned sanctions. Some mentioned peacekeepers. Most speakers exercised the safer option of being very angry but recommending nothing specific.

In fact, it would be fairly easy to criticize just about everyone at the rally for not having the slightest idea how to solve a problem we all agree is very dangerous. No one really seemed to have much confidence that sanctions would work or that effective peacekeepers would ever be sent. As Sen. Obama pointed out, we should demand more of the President, but he has done far more than the Europeans.

Naturally, no one said a word about an invasion (although I attempted to provide a subtle hint.) The sign I held above my head had two messages, one on either side: "ACT NOW" and "WE DEMAND ACTION". If you look up "action" in my thesaurus, the first entry you will find is "the US Marines".

Of course, we can't go it alone with our military so preoccupied and public opinion the way it is. But how about 1,000 soldiers from every member of NATO and from other US allies such as Japan, Australia and India? I guess that would never happen without a Security Council resolution, which is pretty much a lost cause.

Frankly, I'm not sure whether to condemn the President for not doing more or to accept that he can't do the impossible. Yes, it would nice for the Europeans -- the French even! -- to take the lead. But we learned from Bosnia and Kosovo that humanitarian intervention demands American leadership.

In its Call to Action, the Save Darfur Coalition recommends five things: Encouragement of others to join the movement, government-sponsored aid to Darfur, support for non-govenrmental relief agencies, support for rebuilding Darfur, and a UN investigation of war crimes.

That last demand is the most tragic of all. Implicitly, it acknowledges the abject failure of us all to do anything but watch the slaughter and hope that someday, when it ends, we can find someone to hold responsible.
(27) opinions -- Add your opinion

Saturday, April 29, 2006

# Posted 7:51 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

CIVIL WAR ON OXBLOG! It's been a good long time the contributors to this website have engaged amongst themselves in the sort of knock-down, drag-out intellectual warfare that was once relatively common. However, now that I have been provoked by Dr. Porter's high praise for a certain book about Chinese military strategy, I must respond with forceful criticism. (NB: I have also appended the following remarks as a comment to Dr. Porter's original post.)
Personally, I am very surprised that a historian such as Dr. Porter would take Iain Johnston's book about Chinese grand strategy even remotely seriously.

For those who haven't read the book, the core of Johnston's argument is that Chinese strategic culture rests on a foundation of seven classic tests which recommend what Westerners might recognize as a "realist" approach to grand strategy.

As I see it, the critical weakness of Johnston's argument is that he simply assumes that these seven classic texts had a fixed meaning and influence on Chinese culture over the course of centuries and even millenia.

As a historian of religion, Dr. Porter certainly knows that foundational texts in the West have been subject to radically different interpretations, not just over the course of centuries, but at the very same moment in time. For example, is there any consensus at all about the meaning of the Bible?

As a historian of war, Dr. Porter probably knows that the foundational text of Western military strategy, Clausewitz's "On War", had its meaning twisted by the author's fellow Germans not long after his death. Tragically, a clear understanding of Clausewitz might have halted German aggression and spared Europe the horrors of the Great War.

In the final analysis, I believe that Johnston, in spite of his prodigous research and impressive command of ancient Chinese, falls prey to the wholesale reductionism that has plagued modern political sceince.

Historians tend to resist reductive assertions that a certain culture is, in toto, either "realist" or "idealist" or anything else. Cultures are conflicted things, with different currents constantly rising and falling in influence.

Historians also tend to resist reductive assertions that a single aspect of culture, e.g. "classic" texts, can explain the whole. As pointed out above, texts are open to numerous interpretations (a point not to be confused with the post-modern dogma that texts have no meaning at all.)

And if you will permit me to generalize about historians one more time, I will suggest that most of them would resist any effort to reduce a great power's strategic behavior to the influence of its culture. Although culture is powerful, economic interests, perceptions of threat and numerous other factors shape strategic thinking.
And now for a response from Dr. Porter?

UPDATE: I should point out that the entire text of Johnston's book can be searched via Google. However, you will need to establish a login and password before being able to search.
(5) opinions -- Add your opinion

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

# Posted 10:26 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

JOURNALISTS BEHAVING BADLY: Howard Kurtz had an interesting article yesterday about LA Times columnist Michael Hiltzik, whose behavior has come a bit unhinged as a result of his blogging.

Although we bloggers tend to delight in the MSM's travails, Hiltzik's story actually vindicates certain MSM criticisms of the blogosphere. They say you need editors to ensure quality control. Well, once Hiltzik started a blog and escaped the control of his editors, things went down hill very fast.

I was also struck by the following passage in Kurtz's article:
Washingtonpost.com, which carries blogs by more than two dozen of the newspaper's staffers (including this columnist), caused an online uproar last month by hiring 24-year-old Ben Domenech as a conservative blogger. Domenech resigned under pressure after three days when liberal bloggers unearthed ample evidence that in the past he had lifted material from other writers without attribution.
Two dozen blogs at the WaPo? I had no idea. The line between the blogosphere and the MSM is blurring very quickly. As for Ben, I met him a while back and thought he was a nice guy, so I'm sorry to hear that he did something so unethical. Thankfully, other bloggers forced Ben's plagiarism into the spotlight and made him accountable.
(3) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 10:19 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

OSAMA THE WALLFLOWER: Looking at the latest tape from Bin Laden, Dan Drezner suggests that Al Qaeda is having a hard time remaining relevant in the Islamic world. Instead, Zarqawi and Hamas are enjoying the limelight. So much so, that Hamas even rejected Bin Laden's latest call to arms.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 9:08 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

"THAT ONE'S FOR HITLER" is what Max Baer snarled in his 1933 bout with German boxer Max Schmeling. During that match, and in every match thereafter, Baer wore a Star of David on his trunks. Although raised Catholic, Baer had a Jewish father and, not surprisingly, became a hero to Jews around the world.

Baer held the world title for 364 days, from June 13, 1934 until June 12, 1935, when he lost the belt to James J. Braddock, recently made famous by the Hollywood version of his life, Cinderella Man. In the film, Baer is a bloodthirsty hedonist, who attempts to intimidate Braddock by reminding him of how two of Baer's opponents died in the ring.

According to film critic David Fellenrath, this portrayal is patently unfair. Although the real life Baer did kill one of his opponents in the ring, he was wracked by guilt thereafter. After the death, Baer went on to lose four of his next six fights and have recurrent nightmares. He also donated some of his winning's to the family of his fallen opponent and later on put his children through college.

Mercifully, Cindrella Man never mentions that Baer was a Jewish icon. According to Fellenrath, the careful viewer can spot the Star of David on Baer's trunks, although I didn't notice it while watching the film this evening. In contrast, the Star on Baer's actual trunks was quite noticeable (see above).

Although far from bloodthirsty, Baer's was actually a hedonist who didn't take Braddock seriously and barely trained for the fight. According to Baer's son, he even had one of his mistresses pleasure him before the fight -- an apt prelude to Baer's very successful career in show business both during and after his time as a professional fighter.

Although it's very hard not to enjoy Cinderella Man, there is a good case to be made that Max Baer should have his own movie. (And so should Max Schmeling, who never wanted to be a Nazi icon and even hid two Jewish boys in his hotel room during Kristallnacht, after which they emigrated to America.)
(2) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 12:19 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE NETHERLANDS: STRUGGLING WITH JIHAD AND HOMOSEXUALITY. MercatorNet has a very interesting column up about the travails of a libertarian society struggling to integrate fundamentalist immigrants:
Interestingly -- given their much vaunted toleration -- the Dutch are ramming secularism down the less-than-enthusiastic throats of immigrants. This has its funny side. There is a campaign to “educate” people in Dutch libertarian values -- including gay marriage. Prospective immigrants are shown films featuring guys kissing in a park to gauge their ability to fit into Dutch society.
What? No films of girls kissing in the park? OxBlog is outraged.
(4) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 12:01 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

BUSH WHISPERS TO HU: Joe Malchow has some very sharp comments about Bush's handling of a Falun Gong supporter's effort to shout down Hu Jintao at the White House. (Hat tip: SS)

Strangely, the official White House transcript of the event reduces the entire speech by the protester to just two words: "--audience interruption--".

On a related note, I thought Hu gave a rather surprising response to a reporter's question in the Oval Office to the effect of: "When will China become a democracy with free elections?" Here's what Hu said:
PRESIDENT HU: I don't know -- what do you mean by a democracy? What I can tell you is that we've always believed in China that if there is no democracy, there will be no modernization, which means that ever since China's reform and opening up in the late 1970s, China, on the one hand, has vigorously promoted economic reform, and on the other, China has also been actively, properly, and appropriately moved forward the political restructuring process, and we have always been expanding the democracy and freedoms for the Chinese citizens.

In the future, we will, in the light of China's own national conditions and the will of the Chinese people, continue to move ahead the political restructuring and to develop a socialist democracy, and we will further expand the orderly participation of the Chinese citizens in political affairs so that the Chinese citizens will be in a better position to exercise their democratic rights in terms of democratic supervision, democratic management, and the democratic decision-making.
If China were a totalitarian state, one could dismiss this kind of rhetoric as the same old doubletalk that came out of East Germany and the Soviet Union. But I have found that in semi-authoritarian states, the leadership may eventually pay a price for admitting that the people have "democratic rights" and that "if there is no democracy, there will be no modernization".

One can be fairly confident that Hu didn't make any of these statements by accident. But one can only speculate about whether he understands that his Chinese audience may be listening far more closely than he wants to believe.

UPDATE: According to Rich Lowry, who was filling in for David Brooks on PBS, President Bush was livid about the interruption by the Falun Gong supporter, and especially about the failure of the Secret Service to get to her more quickly. If so, I think that Joe M.'s interpretation of Bush's response is no longer tenable.
(4) opinions -- Add your opinion

Monday, April 24, 2006

# Posted 11:57 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WHY IS A DICTATOR VISITING THE WHITE HOUSE? Another must read from Jackson Diehl.
(3) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 11:40 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SO ARE GENERALS SUPPOSED TO LIE? Courtesy of Face the Nation:
SCHIEFFER: Why did you say in 2004 that Secretary Rumsfeld was a man of courage and conviction, who was determined to win the war against terrorism? Were you as disillusioned then as you are now? Do you regret saying that?

Maj. Gen. BATISTE: Bob, I was a loyal subordinate introducing the secretary of defense to my soldiers. I said what I had to say. Was I disillusioned at that point? You bet. Because for months I had been dealing with the effects of the decisions to go to war with the wrong plan, to set the conditions for Abu Ghraib, and to stand down the Iraqi military when I needed them desperately, to set the conditions for Iraqi self-reliance, to build the peace in Iraq.
I think Batiste is telling the truth. I believe he lied to his own soldiers by regaling them false praise for the Secretary of Defense, because that is what Batiste thought loyalty is all about. But does this mean that dissent is punished at Rumsfeld's Pentagon? Or does it mean that the Pentagon brass has developed a very disturbing habit of always praising the next man up the totem pole?

Although I wouldn't suggest that Rumsfeld is kind to dissenters, I think that only decades of being steeped in military culture could have taught Gen. Batiste to deceive his troops the way he did. Although some might say that a soldier's effectiveness on the battlefield depends on his or her total confidence in the leadership, that position can be taken to extremes.

Perhaps there is no substitute for having confidence in the lieutenant or captain leading you into battle. I wouldn't know. I haven't been there. But there is no reason that generals and admirals should feel compelled to say only the nicest things about each other in public, all the while resenting each other profoundly.
(11) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 11:09 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SUNDAY MORNING ROUND-UP: This week, the talk shows were up to their ears in Massachusetts liberals. Ted Kennedy was the headliner on Meet the Press. John Kerry was the headliner on This Week, followed by Govunuh Ahnuld. On Face the Nation, Bob Schieffer spoke with Gen. (Ret.) John Batiste, who is celebrated by liberals for denouncing Rumsfeld but doesn't seem like much of a liberal himself. Afterwards, Schieffer spoke with former White House poobahs John Podesta and Pat Buchanan about the recent shake-up at 1600 Penn.

Before I get to the grades, let me just put in another good word for Mark Kilmer of RedState, who does an even more comprehensive round-up of the talking heads. Now the grades:
Ted Kennedy: C. A parody of liberalism. The GOP should be thankful for his existence. Still, TK deserves credit for his good work on immigration, even though it didn't add much to his interview.

John Kerry: C-. Almost as bad as he was two weeks ago on NBC. But mercifully, ABC only gave him about half as much airtime.

Schwarzenegger: B. Scored some easy points by talking about the impending crisis of global warming and the importance of immigration reform.

Gen. Batiste: B. He had a certain charm that comes with being a newcomer to the talking heads game. But Schieffer just threw him softballs.

John Podesta: B. The human talking point! But he does it reasonably well.

Pat Buchanan: C. He said a lot of intelligent and reasonable things about subjects other than immigration, then threw it all away by ranting about how "the invasion of the United States [must] be halted."
And now for the hosts:
Russert: A-. Did a gentle but very solid job of exposing Kennedy for the buffoon he is. I almost gave him an 'A', but you have to remember that Teddy K. is the proverbial fish in the barrel.

Schieffer: B-. Although clearly sincere, his fawning over Gen. Batiste was hardly merited.

Stephanopoulos: B-. John Kerry is also a proverbial fish-in-the-barrel, especially after the formation of an Iraqi government made a mockery of his ridiculous call for an ultimatum. But Stephanopoulos barely scratched him.
See ya next week!
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 12:20 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

McCAIN SLAMS GENERALS FOR POLITICIZING NAT'L SECURITY: From the transcript of a hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee:
"I must say that this is an almost Orwellian experience for me to have you here today as opposed to your appearance last February wehn you came before this committee and gave a dramatically different view of the readiness and requirements that the military needs to maintain our capabilities...

"In February you said, 'While we are undeinably busier and more fully committed than in the past, the U.S. military remains fully capable of executing national military strategy with an acceptable level of risk. I can assure the Congress that we are not returning to the 1970s. We are fundamentally healthy and will continue to report our readiness status to the Congress and the American people with candor and accuracy.'...

"The fact is that you and [Chiefs of Staff], with the exception of the Marine Corps [commandant], were not candid with this member."
McCain delivered those harsh words to Gen. Henry H. Shelton, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on September 29, 1998. Once again, I have lifted my quote of the day from George C. Wilson's insightful book, This War Really Matters. I've now had the chance to read the book all the way through and believe that it fully merits a more detailed discussion.

Amidst rising indignation over civil-military relations, Wilson's book provides a sober reminder of just how political America's admirals and generals are on a day-to-day basis.

Unquestionably, it is extraordinary for our generals, retired or otherwise, to call for the Secretary of Defense to resign. More commonly, the military brass takes part in pitched battles over subjects such as the defense budget. With hundreds of billions of dollars on the line, the brass serves as both pawn and puppet-master in the complicated struggles between the White House and Capitol Hill, as well as within each of those institutions.

For example, the Joint Chiefs provoked the accusations of hypocrisy that John McCain levelled in September 1998 by revising their assessments of the budget in order to take advantage of the favorable weather for defense spending that prevailed inside the Beltway in the summer of 1998.

At the beginning of the year, the imperative to justify the President's budget had led the Chiefs to pronounce the US military ready for action in spite of reductions in defense spending. By mid-year, influential Republicans had begun to question their own majority's commitment to balancing the budget at the cost of military unpreparedness. At the same time, Clinton's advisors persuaded him both that the military needed more money and that Congress would take the fall for spending more than it had planned. Here's how Wilson describes the political dance that resulted in the September hearings:
[Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Strom Thurmond] invited each of the military leaders at the witness table to make a statement. It might appear that the four generals and the admiral were revolting against civilian authority by criticizing the defense budget their commander in chief, President Clinton, had sent to Congress earlier in the year. But the real politics differed from the perception. Clinton had urged the Chiefs in their private meeting at Fort McNair to make their best case for more money. His message was tht if Congress decided to lift or end the caps on defense spending in 1998, so be it. It would be Clinton who broke through the caps but the Republican majority in Congress.
This kind of subtle maneuvering over esoteric budget provisions can rarely hold the media's attention for long. However, it is no less political than a demand that the SecDef resign and perhaps far more important from the perspective of national security.

On the other hand, it doesn't always make great reading. Although Wilson also wrote a bestseller about the USS John Kennedy entitled Supercarrier (which even resulted in a short-lived and heavily-fictionalized television series of the same name), this book is pretty much for wonks only. It has considerable substance, but the narrative is less than compelling.

On matters of substance, the book's principal shortcoming is its disinterest in the military strategies that inform the defense budget. Consumed with the fight for defense dollars on Capitol Hill, Wilson never gives the reader much of an idea about why certain very expensive weapons systems have come into existence and how they might influence the outcome of potential conflicts.

Had Wilson ventured into this terrain, I think he would've found ample evidence to support his less than fully-grounded argument that both the military and civilian officials responsible for our defense are wasting tens of billions of dollars that could be used to provide our fighting men and women with the equipment they actually need.

Although Wilson's book is now almost six years old, the problems he identified are very much with us today. Thus, his book is a very good place to start if you want to understand why that is the case.
(1) opinions -- Add your opinion

Friday, April 21, 2006

# Posted 12:48 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

FOUR-STAR GENERAL ACCUSES DEFENSE SECRETARY OF INTIMIDATION: Retired Air Force Gen. Ronald R. Fogleman told journalist George C. Wilson that things had changed dramatically after the new Secretary of Defense arrived. Wilson writes that
[Fogleman] did not feel he could dissent vigorously without being penalized in the minds of his civilian bosses. "Your position was not looked upon as a legitimate disagreement from a professional but as an act of disloyalty."
Fogleman resigned as Air Force Chief of Staff and entered retirment in order to protest the Secretary's refusal to accept Fogleman's professional opinion about who was responsible for unnecessary US casulaties in the Gulf.

Fogleman's quote is from p.43 of Wilson's book This War Really Matters...which was published back in 2000 when Bill Cohen was the Secretary of Defense. In other words, this bit of information disrupts a lot of narratives being spun out of the recent attacks on the current secretary.

First of all, it should be clear that what certain retired generals are saying about Rumsfeld in no way represents a unprecedented break with a supposed tradition of silence. When Clinton was president, the retired generals spoke out as well. And before that, too. (And by generals, I mean to include admirals, but you get my point.)

Conversely, accusations of unprecedented heavy-handedness directed at Rumsfeld should placed in the context of similar complaints directed at Cohen. Nor was Cohen the first to be the target of such accusations.

On the onehand, it is an easy accusation for generals to throw at the secretary. On the other , generals must often pay a political price in order to disagree with the secretary. But no one should pretend that our generals are paragons of objectivity, politicized only by overbearing civilians.

Although politics within the military are not about conflicts between Democrats and Republicans, each of the services has its own agenda. In addition, ambitious generals often speak with the prospect of promotion in mind. And that is only the tip of the iceberg.

Retired generals are civilians and should feel to speak out just as any civilian would. The American public deserves to benefit from the expertise. What retired generals shouldn't do is present themselves as the tribunes of uniformed officers who are afraid to speak out. That tends to politicize the military-civilian relationship in a reckless manner.

By the way, Fogleman publicly supported the Bush campaign in 2000, along with many, many other retired generals.
(7) opinions -- Add your opinion

Thursday, April 20, 2006

# Posted 10:14 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE SEVEN HABITS OF HIGHLY EFFECTIVE BLOGGERS: I recently had the opportunity to read Stephen Covey's million-selling self-help classic, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Turns out I liked it a heckuva lot more than I thought I would.

Although one doesn't expect these guru types to approach their subject from a scholarly perspective, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Covey wrote his doctoral dissertation on the history of self-help literature in the United States, from Ben Franklin to the present.

The hypothesis of Covey's dissertation is intriguing. He argues that self-help literature underwent a transformation in the first decades of the twentieth century. Whereas pre-transformation self-help literature focused on teaching its audience to achieve success by becoming better human beings, post-transformation literature emphasized the pursuit of tactical advantage in social relationships, almost to the point of being manipulative.

The classic text in that tradition is, of course, Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People (which I read in high school and found very insightful at the time, although I no longer remember much about it).

Covey's objective is to reverse this transformation and return the self-help genre to its emphasis on building character. Thus, he distilled the Seven Habits from decades of experience as a consultant.

One might consider the habits themselves to be either common sensical or banal. They include such maxims as: Be Proactive, Begin With the End in Mind, Think Win/Win, and Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood.

I'd have to say, it's pretty much impossible to disagree with such advice. The problem, of course, is that we've all heard such advice repeated ad nauseam since childhood. Sometimes we follow, sometimes we don't.

The question, then, is whether Covey's method of teaching these good habits can succeed where our parents' and our teachers' imploring has so often failed. Perhaps. I found the real strength of Covey's book to be not his abstract principles, but the stories he told about how he had helped numerous both firms and individuals change their fortunes dramatically by following his advice.

The example that stayed most in my mind is that of a tyrannical CEO who was so critical of his executives that they never bothered to take the initiative, since the reward for good work was only more criticism. Covey's advice to the subordinates was Be Proactive. Forget, at least for a while, about how much you hate your boss. No, he shouldn't be that way, but you can't change him, especially not by being sullen and resentful.

Not surprisingly, most of the executives rejected this invitation to self-abasement. But one of them decided to study the CEO more closely, anticipate his needs, and deliver on them before even being asked. Although the initial response was not encouraging, over a matter of months, the boss's attitude toward this one executive changed dramatically. Instead of lecturing him, he solicited his advice. Although painful at first, Covey's advice did not just result in this executive being promoted, but in being treated with true respect.

The downsides of Covey's book are that it is very heavy on the jargon and very repetitive. Instead of seven habits, four or five would've been enough. Alternately, feel free to skim the second half of the book very lightly. As for the jargon, I won't bother you with it here, but I recommend taking a quick look at some Covey's diagrams, which remind of me of some of the illustrations (see above) that accompany the cabbalistic, or Jewish mystical texts of the middle ages.

Finally, as a political scientist, I couldn't help but notice a few of Covey's strange remarks about the body politic. Early on, he asserts unequivocally that there are universal laws of human behavior and that the Seven Habits seeks to embody. Covey never really elaborates on how one can discover or demonstrate the existence of such laws, but such information certainly would be useful.

At another point, Covey suggests that political conflicts such as racial tension in South Africa or Israeli-Palestinian violence could be resolved if both sides embraced the Seven Habits. Although that approach probably wouldn't hurt, my sense is that the Seven Habits cannot resolve conflicts grounded in existential questions of race, religion and security.

Such kooky asides are infrequent, however, and hardly take away from the numerous merits of Covey's book. In the final analysis, I think that if millions of people have read Covey's work and taken it seriously, the world is much better for it.
(3) opinions -- Add your opinion

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

# Posted 12:34 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

MORE GORE: It's not just Matt Yglesias. The WaPo's Richard Cohen is also praying for Gore in '08. But Ross Douthat thinks the whole Gore revival is just a bad joke. But there is an upside to all of this: How delicious would it be to watch Gore and Hillary slug it out in the primaries?
(1) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 12:24 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

ON HYPOCRISY: A well-phrased point by Michelle Cottle:
Ever noticed how nothing drives media types crazier than the thought of hypocrisy?...

Since more often than not the targets in question are conservatives, some will be quick to blame the liberal bias of the media--meaning that left-leaning journalists are always on the lookout for ways to bring down values-hawking conservatives...

But if you can bust someone for acting in a way that contradicts their own stated (or implied) beliefs, then you can savage them for being a hypocrite without having to comment one way of the other on the original misbehavior.
In other words, condemnations of hypocrisy allow journalists to preserve the fiction of their own neutrality.
(2) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 12:13 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

HYPOCRISY WHILE NOBODY'S LOOKING: I don't know the first thing about Equatorial Guinea. But Dr. Rice should've known better:
With a land mass similar to Maryland's, Equatorial Guinea has the fortune to be Africa's third-largest oil producer. The money from black gold helps to explain how the president, Teodoro Obiang Nguema, has bought large homes in France and Morocco, as well as two in Potomac...But oil has done little to help Equatorial Guinea's 540,000 people, some 400,000 of whom suffer from malnutrition. Those who are hungry know better than to complain. According to State Department reports, the president's goons have urinated on prisoners, sliced their ears and smeared them with oil to attract stinging ants.

So it is uncontroversial to observe that Mr. Obiang is no friend to his people. But he is a "good friend" of the United States, at least according to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who met with him last week in Washington...

In the global rankings of political and civil liberties compiled by Freedom House, only seven countries rate worse than Equatorial Guinea. If President Bush and Ms. Rice want anyone to take their pro-democracy rhetoric seriously, they must stop throwing bouquets to odious dictators. The meeting with Mr. Obiang was presumably a reward for his hospitable treatment of U.S. oil firms, though we cannot be sure since the State Department declined our invitation to comment. But Ms. Rice herself argues that U.S. foreign policy spent too long coddling corruption and autocracy in Arab oil states. Surely she doesn't have a different standard for Africa?
I just want to know what was going through the Secretary's mind when she made nice to the visiting thug from Equatorial Guinea.
(2) opinions -- Add your opinion

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

# Posted 9:38 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

KURDISTAN, THE UTAH OF THE MIDDLE EAST: Michael Totten provides another fascinating report. My favorite line: "Arab Iraq is now to Kurdish Iraq what Mexico is to the United States."
(1) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 9:06 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

10,000 MAOIST GUERRILLAS IN INDIA? Yes, really. New Delhi journalist Swaraaj Chuahan has a fascinating post on India's growing insurgency over at TMV. Chuahan also looks at related developments in Pakistan that deserve much more attention.
(1) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 8:21 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

IS MATT YGLESIAS AN ILLEGAL IMMIGRANT? You have to admit, his behavior is suspicious. Over the past few years he has grown a beard, gotten big black glasses and started wearing sportcoats. He is obviously hiding something.
Yet even if Matt had entered this country illegally, he would seem to be a safe bet for an 0-1 Immigrant of Extraordinary Ability visa, or an EB-1 Immigration Visa for those with:
"extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics which has been demonstrated by sustained national or international acclaim and whose achievements have been recognized in the field through extensive documentation."
Byy way of documentation, let me refer you so some of the very interesting posts Matt has put up lately on the subjects of the abortion pill, the effectiveness of foreign aid, nuclear power plans, and the stinginess of Iran toward the Palestinians.

On the other hand, I could see Matt being denied a visa as a result of his endorsing some very shoddy journalism in the WaPo and his sincere hope that Al Gore will run for president in 2008.

(But do check out the two articles about Gore, from the American Prospect and the New Yorker, to which Matt refers. Like the ex-VP, both are a little nutty but quite interesting.)
(1) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 8:10 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

YALE WELCOMES ANOTHER HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATOR TO CAMPUS: Actually, I think there is a fair case to be made for inviting Chinese President Hu Jintao to speak at Yale. Yale has educated thousands of Chinese students, whose experiences at Yale may contribute more to the future of Chinese freedom than any US government program.

On the other hand, Hu Jintao is the final authority responsible for the brutal oppression still practiced by the Chinese state. Yes, there is more personal freedom in China than ever before. No, its brutality is not even a drop in the bucket compared to that of Mao. But how much time would you want to spend in a Chinese prison?

What I hope is that Yale's president and faculty make it very clear to their guest that liberty is the essence of education, in both the arts and the sciences.
(2) opinions -- Add your opinion

Monday, April 17, 2006

# Posted 10:39 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

DEMS TO BUSH: MORE UNILATERALISM NOW! The Dems are trying to look tough by telling Bush not to "outsource" our policy on Iran to our NATO allies or the UN. Apparently, this is an official Democratic talking point, since Bill Richardson brought it up on CBS right before Donna Brazile [no transcript] did on ABC.

At first glance, this little ruse seems terribly clever. Attack Bush from the right! But I think it comes off as craven. First of all, it's fairly hypocritical to rail for years against Bush's unilateralism, only to turn around and suddenly condemn his very reasonable multilateralism vis-a-vis Iran (which numerous Democrats support).

But even worse than hypocritical, it's amateurish. Will voters concerned about national security trust a party that throws its most fundamental policy preferences overboard in order to score a few quick debating points? I doubt it.

Anyhow, here's a closer look at what Richardson said:
Gov. RICHARDSON: I would redeploy those forces that we have in Iraq to the surrounding area to deal with real threats to America--the war on terrorism, our increasing lack of influence in Afghanistan with al-Qaeda...
So the situation in Iraq isn't a real threat to America?

SCHIEFFER: ...But are you saying that we just need to turn and get out of [Iraq]? Because won't that be taken as a sign of weakness, won't the terrorists think they have won, and won't that encourage them to strike someplace else?

Gov. RICHARDSON: No, what I would do, Bob, is early next year I believe we fix a date certain for the start of an American withdrawal because right now our policy is just not working. and the civil war is getting worse. What I would do is call a Mideast conference, a summit, of Muslim countries to help with training the Iraqi security forces along with us...
Call a conference! That's always the answer! Bring in all of those wonderful Muslim militaries, with their long record of respect for democracy and human rights, to help train Iraqi forces! Kerry & Richardson in 2008!
Gov. RICHARDSON: ...I would stop outsourcing our foreign policy to the Europeans, to the International Atomic Energy Agency, to the UN Security Council. I believe if we talk directly to [Iran], but build an international consensus, international support--this is why the fraying of our relationship with the Europeans, with the allies, has been so costly is because we can't build a true international coalition that engages the third world also and surrounding countries to get Iran to stop developing nuclear weapons. Now, we have some time. We have five to 10 years before they develop a nuclear weapon. What we need to do, in that process, Bob, is use diplomacy, coercive diplomacy, potentially sanctions, special envoys, instead of talking about
using military options.
It's hard to disagree with a man if you can barely understand what's he's saying. But I will attempt a summary nonetheless: Don't outsource our foreign policy. But build an international consensus. Engage the third word. But consider sanctions.

This is really not the way to persuade anyone that the Democratic party is serious about foreign policy.
(8) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 9:53 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SUNDAY MORNING ROUND-UP: In honor of Passover and Easter Sunday, Meet the Press hosted a special round-table on faith in America. Face the Nation brought us George Allen and Gov. Bill Richardson (D-NM), while This Week started off with Gen. (Ret.) Richard Myers, predecessor to Gen. Pace as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Afterwards, both senators from Indiana, Lugar and Bayh, had their say.
Dick Myers: C. Generals in uniform always support the President and the Secretary of Defense. Retired generals don't have much credibility when they dutifully insist that frank criticism is welcome within the Pentagon, so retired generals don't need to speak out.

Evan Bayh: B-. Presents himself well, but if you're for the Kerry ultimatum, I can't give you much of a grade.

Dick Lugar: B+. Reasonable as always. Didn't want to touch the Rumsfeld issue with a 10-foot pole.

George Allen: B-. So many words. So little meaning.

Bill Richardson: C-. Almost as bad as Kerry was last week, but at least Richardson didn't come up with these dumb ideas himself. See the post above for details.

The NBC roundtable: A. I won't hand out individual grades, since I don't know enough about the participants to make that a meaningful exercise. But I think it was a wonderful decision to bring on the show five individuals with a tremendous knowledge of religion, theology, and philosophy. At first, I got impatient because there was no rapid-fire back-and-forth and no sharp follow-ups. But I think Russert made the right decision to simply let his guests talk, because they were there to educate and not to recite talking points.

There were three points I found especially interesting from a political perspective on religion. First, neither of the liberal participants -- Sister Joan Chittester and Rabbi Michael Lerner -- ever indicated that religious ethics and morality should be separated from politics. Instead, they advocated the firm grounding of progressive politics in traditional faiths.

The second point concerns how Chittister and Lerner sought to accomplish this grounding. Both of them were very specific about the government using its financial leverage to confront American poverty. This was a shared point of emphasis. Chittister even said that "national budget is theology walking". Although Lerner spoke at length about the importance of transcending materialism, I think it will be hard for Democrats and progressives to re-establish their credibility on the values front if they take this sort of wonkish approach.

Third, I found it interesting that Chittister and Lerner were quite vehement in their attacks on the religious right, while their conservative counterparts made almost no effort to portray liberalism as the enemy of religion. For example, Lerner decided to call his book The Left Hand of God: Taking Back Our Country From the Religious Right. The effect of this vehemence, I think, was to substantiate the conservatives' presentation of themselves as tolerant and welcoming.

By the way there was also a Muslim guest on the panel. I liked him, but his contributions would've added much more to a discussion of the West and Islam.
And now for the hosts:
Russert: A. I assume he strongly supported the idea of a roundtable on faith, or perhaps even came up with it.

Schieffer: B.

Stephanopoulos: B-. Myers was an easy target and should've been carpet-bombed.
See ya next week!
(4) opinions -- Add your opinion

Sunday, April 16, 2006

# Posted 9:30 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

HERSH PART 2: THE SUBSTANCE. In the post below, I explain why I'm still writing about Seymour Hersh two whole weeks after his latest unnamed-source broadside at the administration. Now, I want to take a closer look at the substance of his recent article in the New Yorker.

But first, one more note on why I'm interested. I have generally taken it for granted that liberals recognize that Bush & Co. recognize that a military conflict with Iran in the next few years must be avoided at all costs. I have taken it for granted that liberals recognize that Bush & Co. reconize that our military is stretched to its limit and must rest and rebuild before any conflict with Iran.

But then I read these two comments from Kevin Drum (with whom I disagree so often precisely because I enjoy reading his blog so much and respect him considerably):
1. What's important isn't the existence of the contingency plans [for bombing Iran]. Rather, it's the fairly obvious fact that the Bush administration is publicizing them as part of a very public PR campaign in favor of a strike against Iran.

2. Connect the dots. "Promoting regime change from within" = the Iranian exile community. The Iranian exile community = source of dubious intelligence about Iran's nuclear program. Iran's nuclear program = excuse to go to war. Why change a winning game plan?

3. Hersh's piece is based almost entirely on anonymous sources, so take it for what it's worth. But it warrants reading regardless. It may or may not be a bluff, but the PR campaign for an air strike against Iran is clearly moving into high gear.
What I expected from Kevin was an argument that the Bush administration, despite its bull-headed inability to admit past mistakes, has embraced precisely the kind of multilateral strategy that Democrats wanted to deploy against both Iran and Iraq from the get go.

Against this background, I think it's interesting to consider the substance of Hersh's article. As Patrick pointed out before, any discussion of Hersh's work gets weighed down quickly under an avalance of "if"s.

In spite of such uncertaintly, I think there is an important distinction to be made between the facts that Hersh alleges and the states of mind about which his sources speculate. As it turns out, there are very few of the former and very many of the latter in his article about Iran.

The key facts that Hersh alleges are as follows:
One of the military’s initial option plans, as presented to the White House by the Pentagon this winter, calls for the use of a bunker-buster tactical nuclear weapon, such as the B61-11, against underground nuclear sites...

The attention given to the nuclear option has created serious misgivings inside the offices of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, [the former senior intelligence official] added, and some officers have talked about resigning. Late this winter, the Joint Chiefs of Staff sought to remove the nuclear option from the evolving war plans for Iran—without success, the former intelligence official said. “The White House said, ‘Why are you challenging this? The option came from you.’ ”...

The matter may soon reach a decisive point, [the Pentagon adviser] said, because the Joint Chiefs had agreed to give President Bush a formal recommendation stating that they are strongly opposed to considering the nuclear option for Iran.
This is Hersh's basic narrative about the nuclear option. A plan exists. The Joint Chiefs sought to take the plan off the table. The White House refused. The rest of the details only serve to support the uncertain validity of this account.

While it may seem amazing to some that the White House wants to keep the nuclear option on the table, it's hard to know what the real significance of this alleged fact is. Is it just a matter of prudent planning? Or an indication of a reckless, even deranged mindset?

Hersh makes the case for the latter by providing us with speculations about the President's state of mind that are rather outlandish:
A government consultant with close ties to the civilian leadership in the Pentagon...said that the President believes that he must do “what no Democrat or Republican, if elected in the future, would have the courage to do,” and “that saving Iran is going to be his legacy.”...

One military planner told me that...“People think Bush has been focussed on Saddam Hussein since 9/11,” but, “in my view, if you had to name one nation that was his focus all the way along, it was Iran.”...

Speaking of President Bush, [a senior member of the House Appropriations committee] said, “The most worrisome thing is that this guy has a messianic vision.”
And here is the paragraph with which Hersh's article closes:
The [high-ranking] diplomat [in Vienna] went on, “There are people in Washington who would be unhappy if we found a solution. They are still banking on isolation and regime change. This is wishful thinking.” He added, “The window of opportunity is now.”
Let's summarize: Bush supposedly believes none of his successors can be trusted to handle Iran. Bush has been secretly obsessed with Iran even though everyone thinks he was obsessed with Iraq. Bush is an unstable Christian fundamentalist. Bush prefers war and regime change to negotiation and disarmament.

If some of these supposed insights into Bush's state of mind came from people who worked closely with the President or had regular interaction with him, I might rate them as being a marginally credible sort of speculation. Instead, they come from a "consultant", a "planner", a congressman and a "diplomat".

Nonethless, it is these speculations about Bush's state of mind that have transformed Hersh's thin factual [?] narrative into an international sensation. Thus, the question we should be asking is not how truth there is to Hersh's reporting, but whether he has reported much of anything at all.
(3) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 8:32 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SEYMOUR HERSH, INTERNATIONAL MAN OF MYSTERY: Yes, I am still catching up on my scandals. But the Iranian nuclear crisis will be with us for a while yet, so I think that Hersh's latest missive is worth commenting on.

Last week, Sy Hersh was the featured guest on BBC Radio's "Today" progam(me), which describes itself as:
Radio 4's flagship news and current affairs programme. It is widely considered the most significant news broadcast in the UK, and numbers among its listeners most of the country's politicians, opinion-formers and journalists. Number 10 Downing Street - the Prime Minister's residence - records the entire three-hour programme each day.
FYI, Radio 4 is the BBC's serious channel, with teeny boppers and whatnot on some of the others. (Worst of all is Radio FiveLive, which is so desperate for substance that it repeatedly interviews OxBloggers.)

Being the featured guest is quite an distinction, and in my six months listening to the program on an almost-daily basis, I can't recall another American journalist being so honored. Officials, yes. Both Condi, Treasury Secretary John Snow and a number of lesser lights have appeared on the show. When it comes to Britons, the list includes Tony Blair, Labor #2 Gordon Brown, Tory #1 David Cameron and others of similar rank.

Hersh's interview also stood out in my mind because it is so rare to see the notoriously tough BBC interviewers throw out so many softballs (or their cricket equivalents). Although Tory leaders -- and especially David Cameron -- seem to get the worst of it, even Labor ministers have it fairly rough. But Hersh was treated as if his membership in the journalistic fraternity had exempted his work from scrutiny.

Unfortunately, Radio 4 doesn't provide transcripts, so you'll have to listen to the interview yourself to see what I mean. For the moment, you can still download the interview as a podcast from Today's website. Hersh's interview was on April 10th, so you'll have to make sure to download last week's episodes, not just the current ones.

Getting back to the point, I think that BBC's treatment of Hersh as a figure of international importance accurately sums up European expectations about the Bush administration's behavior vis-a-vis Iran. Although apparently deferential to the multilateral negotiating process led by Germany, France and Britain, the Bush administration must secretly want to bomb Iran. Right?

In this country, we've gotten used to Hersh and know not to pay too much attention to what he says. On occasion, evidence turns up to show he was right, but until then, even Hersh's fans treat his work as gossip. In other words, you won't see him on NBC Nightly News nor even, most likely on Meet the Press. But on the BBC, he's a star.

To a certain extent, this also speaks to the cultural divide across the Atlantic, with Europeans no better at recognizing our charlatans as we are theirs. But ultimately, I think it comes down to expectations. Hersh describes an America that Europeans instinctively recognize.
(2) opinions -- Add your opinion

Friday, April 14, 2006

# Posted 9:21 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

LET MY PEOPLE GO! Gary Farber comments on the trial of two pro-Israel activists charged with receiving classified information. As Gary and others point out, almost every journalist in town could be thrown into jail if being on the receiving end of a leak were a crime. This could be a dangerous precedent.

In happier news, it is Passover, the celebration of my people's liberation from Egypt many thousands of years ago. It was actually quite a messy affair. Had Amnesty International been around at the time, it most certainly would have condemned God's "shock and awe" campaign against the Egyptians. Personally, I suspect that Plague No. 6 -- boils -- represented a form of biological warfare.

But things only got worse from there. Soon after their liberation, the Jews began to complain that God's intervention had actually made their lives worse. Then they began to long for the good old days of the Egyptian dictatorship. And who can really blame them? In spite of his moral clarity and good intentions, God's apparent lack of planning resulted in a 40-year long quagmire in the desert.

(Anti-semitic joke: Why did the Jews wander in the desert for forty years? Answer: one of them dropped a quarter.)

Anyhow, if you're interested in something much funnier than this post, I highly recommend the flash-animated version of 50 Cent rapping the ten plagues. It's an instant classic. Chag sameach motherf*****s!!!
(6) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 1:19 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

GREAT NEWS FOR THE ADESNIKS OF THE WORLD? Having a surname that begins with an early letter in the alphabet is a robust predictor of professional success, at least among economists. (Hat tip: KD)

But does this logic apply to the blogosphere? Well, here are the surnames of those individuals whose blogs rank highest in TLB Ecosystem: Hewitt, Hinderaker/Johnson/Mirengoff, Johnson, Malkin, Marshall, Morrissey, Moulitsas, Reynolds, and Volokh. So much for alphabetic justice. At least Yglesias has something to celebrate.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 12:49 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

CATCHING UP ON MY SCANDALS: Having spent the week focused on John Kerry, I've missed the talk of the blogosphere. On Wednesday morning, the WaPo breathlessly reported that countless administration officials had lied for months on end about the alleged discovery of mobile bioweapons laboratories in Iraq:
On May 29, 2003, 50 days after the fall of Baghdad, President Bush proclaimed a fresh victory for his administration in Iraq: Two small trailers captured by U.S. and Kurdish troops had turned out to be long-sought mobile "biological laboratories." He declared, "We have found the weapons of mass destruction."

The claim, repeated by top administration officials for months afterward, was hailed at the time as a vindication of the decision to go to war. But even as Bush spoke, U.S. intelligence officials possessed powerful evidence that it was not true.

A secret fact-finding mission to Iraq -- not made public until now -- had already concluded that the trailers had nothing to do with biological weapons. Leaders of the Pentagon-sponsored mission transmitted their unanimous findings to Washington in a field report on May 27, 2003, two days before the president's statement.
Pretty unequivocal, huh? Well, as Capatin Ed points out, it took a lot of mischief on the part correspondent Joby Warrick to make things sound so cut on dry. Yet buried in the 12th paragraph of Warrick's report was this critical bit of background information:
Two teams of military experts who viewed the trailers soon after their discovery concluded that the facilities were weapons labs, a finding that strongly influenced views of intelligence officials in Washington, the analysts said. "It was hotly debated, and there were experts making arguments on both sides," said one former senior official who spoke on the condition that he not be identified.
So rather than lying, the President was actually voicing the opinion of a majority within the intelligence community. Nor does Warrick tell us whether Bush personally knew about the dissenting report before his May 29th statement. But for the sake of a good headline, what's the difference?

Now, as Kevin Drum points out, the administration still seems to have offered up to the American public
A flat statement of fact about intelligence matters that's made with great fanfare even though they know there's significant dissent within the intelligence community.
That is seriously problematic, although it's still not clear to me when the administration finally concluded that the majority opinion about the biolabs was wrong and whether it still trumpeted their discovery after that point.

Both Kevin and Ed, I think, had the potential to strengthen their arguments by pursuing this point. Without such information, it seems quite premature for Kevin to conclude that the administration had an: "Intent to deceive? Check. Unreasonable decision? Check. Deliberate lie? Check."

On the other hand, Ed doesn't explore whether the administration was misrepresenting its intelligence to the American public, a sin, Kevin says, it has often committed before. Instead, Ed focuses entirely on the WaPo's misrepresentation of its intelligence to the American public -- a subject about which Kevin has nothing to say. (In an earlier post, Kevin even takes the WaPo story at face value.)

So, is it a much greater sin for senior government officials to take liberties with the truth, since they ultimately decide whether there will be war or peace? Or is it more disturbing that journalists abuse their considerable reputation for honesty to print misleading stories, whereas most Americans consider every word that comes out of the mouth of politician to be suspect?

You might say it's a classic case of chicken and egg. The government exaggerates in order to force its message through the media filter and to the American public. The media constantly attacks the government's credibility in hopes of immunizing the public from government propaganda.

The real question is, how do we change the game and bring both the government and media back to the point of fairness?
(8) opinions -- Add your opinion

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

# Posted 10:19 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

I VOTED FOR KERRY BEFORE I VOTED AGAINST HIM: As Sanjay anticipated, it may be about time for a mea culpa. On Tuesday, October 19th, 2004, I endorsed John Kerry, albeit it with a very long list of reservations.

If any of you Bush-supporters are looking to say "I told you so", you will find plenty of good material in my post. It's almost as if everything Kerry said this past Sunday on NBC was designed to show just how little I understood the candidate I was voting for. For example, I wrote:
In contrast to Dan [Drezner] & Greg [Djerejian], my most profound concern about Kerry is his naivete with regard to multilateral diplomacy. Rather, it is his total resistance to making about any positive statement about the importance of ensuring a democratic outcome in Iraq. [Emphasis in the original]
Well, at least I didn't persuade myself that Kerry really cared about democracy in Iraq. In fact, I asked whether:
If I expect the Kerry administration to be more competent [than the Bush administration], shouldn't I expect it to be more competent at achieving precisely the objective I opppose, i.e. the withdrawal of American forces from Iraq before there is a democratic order in place?

My answer to that question is 'no'. Ironically, I believe that it is Bush's uncompromising commitment to promoting democracy in Iraq and throughout the Middle East that will tie Kerry's hands.

In a more abstract sense, I also believe that the values embedded in American political culture will limit Kerry's options. When America occupies a foreign nation, it cannot withdraw before establishing some semblance of a democratic order.
And here is where we enter the realm of speculation and counterfactuals. Would Kerry as president be different from the Kerry who said all those absurd things this past Sunday?

Perhaps. But the same critics who blasted Kerry for all of his flip-flopping should recognize that such a malleable individual might behave very differently with the weight of the presidency on his shoulders than he does now as a senator from the bluest of the blue states. On the other hand, winning the presidency might have liberated Kerry from the moderation he imposed on himself throughout the campaign, allowing his true liberal self to emerge.

Bottom line, there is no question that I have egg on my face. How could I endorse a candidate whose values are so diametrically opposed to my own?

On top of that, one has to recall that Iraq hadn't yet held a single election in November 2004. Only the most naive optimists would've expected at the time that Iraq would've held three successful elections, with the Sunnis participating in ever greater numbers and terrorist attacks going down.

That would seem to be proof of how wrong it was to endorse Kerry because of his presumed competence and in spite of my principles. And yet, the American public has become more and more disenchanted with the war in Iraq since the 2004 election.

I don't blame them. Our political culture values decisive military victories. Counterinsurgency wars provide none. The constant chaos and terrorism create an impression of political failure in spite of the success of the elections. And the one-by-one deaths of American soldiers hurt more than anything else precisely because there is no hope for a decisive victory on the battlefield.

As a student of democracy promotion and counterinsurency, I see things very differently. I see great failures of planning in Iraq, but also the outline of a successful strategy.

I also know that my judgment of the situation is profoundly influenced by my desire to see freedom take root in the Middle East. And there comes a time when you have trust your values, because the facts on the ground do not speak for themselves.
(18) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 8:58 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

KERRY CONTINUED: (Part 1 here.) And now back to the transcript:
SEN. KERRY: ...and if they can’t put a government together under the threat that the United States is going to withdraw, they’re not going to do it. Then they want the civil war, then they have to fight their civil war.
The United States has asked -- demanded -- that Iraqi politicians form a government of national unity, in spite of the bitter oppression Shi'ites and Kurds once suffered at the hands of the Sunni minority. In no way does a five-month delay in forming an unprecedented government of unity -- in the midst of terrorist attacks -- indicate a desire for civil war.

Moreover, Kerry's cavalier acceptance of the idea that civil war may be necessary suggests that he just doesn't understand what a civil war entails. Mass slaughter. We already know how the Sunnis would wage their war, and their provocations have been increasingly effective at forcing the Shi'ites to descend to their level. Think another Bosnia or, worst comes to worst, another Rwanda.

In a different day and age, a Massachusetts liberal would have paled at thought of issuing an ultimatum that had the serious potential to provoke that kind of civil war.
SEN. KERRY: ...the fact is that I have recommended, as Jack Murtha has, and others, that you have an over-the-horizon capacity. You don’t withdraw completely from the region, you don’t leave it exposed to the Iranians and others.
The over-the-horizon idea was nonsense when Murtha proposed it and that hasn't changed. What would it take for a president who pulled out of Iraq after a forty-day ultimatum to send the troops back in? After what happened to this president's approval ratings, would another president ever think about sacrificing his own reputation to send our soldiers back into Iraq?

It's not impossible. If Iraqi-based terrorists launched a 9-11 style attack on Israel, Europe or the United States, even a Democratic president would have to go back in. But the chances of that happening are much greater if we let Iraqis have the civil war Kerry thinks they want.
MR. RUSSERT: [In 2004], this is what you said. “Kerry says, he is committed to finishing the mission. ‘My exit strategy is success,’ he says, ‘a viable, stable Iraq that can contribute to the stability and peace in the Middle East.’” And then a month later, you offered this.

(Videotape, April 14, 2004): SEN. KERRY: I think the vast majority of the American people understand that it is important not just to cut and run. And I don’t believe in, in a cut-and-run philosophy. I think that would be very damaging to the war on terror, it would be very damaging to the Middle East, it would be very damaging to the longer term interests of the United States. (End videotape)
A man is entitled to change his mind, no matter how often he does it. But what possible evidence has emerged in the past two years to indicate that a "cut-and-run philosophy" would be less damaging to the United States now then it was then?

In theory, Kerry could admit that he was simply wrong in '04, that pulling out then wouldn't have damaged the war on terror. Instead, he came up with this theory:
SEN. KERRY: ...what I said back then was based on the fact that the presumption of everybody, Tim, was that we were fighting al-Qaeda principally and that we were looking at the, at the, at the war on terror. The fact is that 98 percent of the insurgency has now been transformed into Iraqis, into indigenous population of Iraq. There are probably less than 1,000 foreign jihadists there. And in my most recent trip to Iraq, it became very, very clear to me, as it has to others, that the Iraqis themselves will not tolerate the jihadists staying on their land.

So the key here is you now have a civil war. This is the third war in Iraq. The first war was the war against Saddam Hussein and weapons of mass destruction. The second war was the war against the jihadists with the president’s statement, “It’s better to fight them over there than here.” We accepted that.
I don't remember Kerry accepting that, or any other Democrats for that matter. I remember a concerted effort to distinguish the war against Al Qaeda from the war in Iraq.

Anyhow, is it even minimally plausible to suggest that the insurgency had an initial Al Qaeda-dominated phase but then made the transition to an Iraqi-dominated one? I don't think so. If anything, former Ba'athists were more influential in the beginning, when they had money and weapons left over from Saddam and the jihadists had not yet arrived.

There have been tensions between the Ba'athists and the Iraqi insurgents, but have those impaired the insurgency much? Moreover, one point that neither Murtha nor Kerry seems to comprehend is that an American withdrawal would probably help bring the Sunni and jihadist insurgents together.

As they say, victory has a thousand fathers but defeat is an orphan. If the insurgents accomplished the almost unthinkable objective of defeating a superpower, it would enhance the prestige of both the Sunnis and the jihadists tremendously. And they would still have a civil war on their hands, with the threat of the Shi'ite majority to bring them together.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn to Iran. Headlines in The Washington Post today:
“U.S. is studying military strike options on Iran.” And in this article it says the United States is contemplating the use of tactical nuclear devices against Iran. Would you support that?

SEN. KERRY: No...Once again, the administration is not engaged in the real kind of diplomacy—now, when President Clinton had to deal with Bosnia, sat down with Yeltsin, persuaded him that it was in the interest of Russia even to be involved there, I think that—you know, you—we, we’ve got to have leadership that stops proceeding so unilaterally, and in, in such a, a, you know, sort of overtly militaristic way, and start putting people together to resolve this.
Unilaterally? By patiently supporting the joint British-French-German negotiations with Iran? By patiently allowing the machinery of the UN Security Council to inch forward even though Iran has a proven record of deception? As the President's critics are so fond of saying, every one is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.

The Kerry interview goes on for a while longer, but I think I've made my point. Kerry's proposal for a forty-day ultimatum rests on a foundation of surreal delusions about the situation in Iraq as well as a troubling disregard for what might happen to the people of Iraq if we left.

I don't think Kerry is being insincere, but I am amazed at how he can persuade himself to believe such outlandish things while ignoring their moral consequences.
(4) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 12:41 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

KERRY ON 'MEET THE PRESS': On Sunday, the junior senator from Massachusetts earned the first 'D' given out by OxBlog for a talk-show performance. In keeping with the habits of the blogosphere, I will explain my decision by inserting my comments into the transcript of Kerry's interview:
SEN. KERRY: Tim, it’s unconscionable that any young American is dying because Iraqis, five months after an election, are dithering and squabbling and cannot find the ability to compromise and come together in a democracy. Our kids didn’t die for that. Our kids didn’t go over there to do that. Our soldiers have done their job. They’ve given them several elections, three elections. They’ve given them a government, the opportunity to have a government.
Unconscionable? Kerry seems to believe that it was fully conscionable for young Americans to die throughout the first thirty months of the occupation, during which three elections were held. Yet somehow, it has become unconscionable for our servicemen and -women to die now that the formation of a government based on those elections is taking longer than expected.

"The opportunity to have a government." For a long time now, it has been plausible to argue that Iraqis had their opportunity and wasted it. But if Kerry believes the three elections were valuable enough to fight for, how can he advocate walking away if Iraqis won't meet his forty-day deadline?

The only way we made the elections work -- with more voters and fewer attacks on each polling day -- was by waging an unrelenting war against the insurgents for almost three years. None of the political progress in Iraq has come quickly or easily. How can Kerry insist that now it should?
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Joe Biden, your fellow Democrat in the Senate, said this about your proposal: “The problem with John’s plan is it sets a date, but it doesn’t tell you what happens when the rest of the world falls apart - when you have the Turks and the Iranians in Iraq and there’s a regional war. He doesn’t tell you that part.”
No, of course not. Which is way Kerry had to answer that challenge so evasively:
SEN. KERRY: Well, actually I disagree with Joe. I do set forth what you need to do in that part because there’s a complete absence of diplomacy here, Tim. I mean, you remember the times of Henry Kissinger, shuttle diplomacy, an incredibly engaged effort to try to get resolution in the Middle East? Do you remember Jim Baker moving around, talking, unbelievable engaged effort to help build a coalition for Desert Storm? You don’t see any of that taking place here. There’s a complete absence of real diplomacy.
Kerry insists just a few minutes later that 120,000 American troops "can't do anything about a civil war" in Iraq, but thinks that "shuttle diplomacy" would make a difference?

As for Henry Kissinger, one ought to recall that his strategy for Iraq in the 1970s was to cut a deal with the Ba'athist dictatorship that led to the slaughter of thousands of Kurds who had once believed America was on their side. How appropriate that Kerry is now invoking Kissinger's name to justify another betrayal.

And Jim Baker? He deserves great credit for persuading our allies to form a coalition against Saddam. But I suspect that even the greatest of diplomats could never persuade Iran, Syria and Iraq's other neighbors to behave in a manner consonant with American interests, especially in the event of a civil war.
MR. RUSSERT: The secretary of state went to Iraq and suggested that Prime Minister Jaafari step aside and allow someone else to emerge.

SEN. KERRY: Right.

MR. RUSSERT: An Iraqi said, “We resent that American interference."

SEN. KERRY: That’s not the way to do it, Tim. What you need and what I’ve suggested is that you have a date in the accordslike summit where you bring all the parties together—and I mean all the parties. You need to bring Iraq’s neighbors together. Khalilzad has now been authorized to talk to the Iranians. Bring the Iranians, bring the Syrians, bring the Jordanians, the Saudis, the Egyptians and others. You have a conference at which you have the United Nations, the Arab League and all of the factions. And you sit there, and you pound out the differences.
Yes, a conference always solves everything. So much for Kerry being a realist. And who has a better track record for resolving thorny international conflicts than the United Nations and the Arab League? (And resolving them in a manner that shows a decent respect for American interests.)

Heck, why doesn't Kerry just suggest that we resurrect the League of Nations and hope that it does a better job now than it did in the 1930s?
SEN. KERRY: ...and if they can’t put a government together under the threat that the United States is going to withdraw, they’re not going to do it. Then they want the civil war, then they have to fight their civil war.
Kerry is right that Iraqi politicians' confidence that America will not withdraw makes it safer for them to resist compromise. Of course, Kerry doesn't consider the other side of the equation, which is that without America there, the factions might decide that their safest bet is a no-holds-barred war against their opponents. This is the same dilemma we faced again and again during the Cold War and are no closer to resolving now.

But what I can say with a fair amount of confidence is that a threat to withdraw in forty days will never be able to break the habits that Iraqi politicians have developed over the past three years. Moreover, it will be seen as a betrayal by those numerous politicians who have trusted us to see the democratic process through to its conclusion. And it will embolden those who believe intransigence is the best way to get rid of the Americans.

If you were the insurgents, how would you respond to a forty-day ultimatum? I think you would slaughter as many Shi'ite and Kurdish civilians as humanly possible in forty days in order to render impossible the sort of compromises necessary to form a government. Then, after forty days, you would be rewarded with a historic victory over the United States that would ensure your immediate entrance into the pantheon of great Arab heroes.

Now, if you've looked at the Kerry-Russert transcript, you know that I have not yet begun to fight. But it is 1:38 AM and I have an important meeting at 9:00. Tomorrow night I continue.
(21) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 12:27 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE ENIGMA OF JOHN F. KERRY: His politics are liberal, but his behavior is conservative. He carefully weighs the evidence before making decisions. He balances his positions in order to offend as few audiences as possible. Or at least that is how I thought of John Kerry before his interview this past Sunday on Meet the Press.

This new John Kerry advanced a bold proposition sure to bring an avalanche of criticism down on his head. Tell the Iraqis they must form a government by May 15, or our troops go home. Period.

In a sense, Kerry is following the precedent set by Al Gore. Liberated by his defeat at the polls, he no longer must bear the burden of his party's hopes. No longer will his every word be dissected on the front page of America's newspapers.

Like Gore, Kerry has taken advantage of his liberation to stake out a position far to the left of the one he established as a candidate. So is this now the "real" John Kerry? Or is this simply a John Kerry who inferred from his defeat, as numerous Democrats have, that the American voter prefers men of conviction and self-confidence, rather than deep thinkers? In other words, is this just the old Kerry conservatism in a new guise, reflecting the Senator's most current analysis of how to be popular?

I don't have answers to these questions. I think any answer would be speculative at best. What I do know is that Kerry's new position on Iraq amounts to utter nonsense. In the next post, I explain why this is the way I feel.
(2) opinions -- Add your opinion

Monday, April 10, 2006

# Posted 11:03 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

BEING THE BEST MEANS BEING A TARGET: It's not just OxBlog. Even moderate liberals love to bash the NY Times. This week, TNR devotes an entire cover story to mocking the Times' new "Thursday Styles" section. Apparently, "Styles" is devoted to investigative reports about where to buy the most luxurious mink coats and the most sophisticated European watches.

Sounds cool to me, but then again I'm an arch-capitalist. According to author Michelle Cottle:
Social consciousness for The Wall Street Journal may mean crushing the welfare state, but, for the Times, it means earnest editorials packed with noblesse oblige. (Classic snippet from last Thanksgiving: "There is no shame in the poverty Americans suffer today. The shame adheres to those who do nothing to change it.") Wretched consumer excess may be the American way, but is it really the paper of record's business to lend it respectability?
It's a delicious hatchet job, and I recommend it highly. Still, Cottle seems not to recognize that this sort of behavioral hypocrisy is nothing new. In fact, it's an old sort of politics called "limousine liberalism" or in Britain, "champagne socialism".

But to be fair, if you give enough to charity and work for good causes, you deserve to enjoy your wealth, even if you love Howard Dean.

And a bonus for all you Times-bashers: Slate trashes NYT book reviewer and BF0D (that's "best friend of Dowd") Michiko Kakutani.
(3) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 10:44 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

McCain proclaims his extravagant admiration for Teddy Roosevelt, a man of many virtues, not one of which was moral modesty...St. John of Arizona can seem insufferably certain that he has cornered the market on incorruptibility. So, as he begins trying to assemble a presidential majority, he seems, as anyone trying to do that will, like a run-of-the-mill sinner.
Thus George Will. Yet Will's purpose is not to criticize McCain, but rather to berate the journalists who have made St. John a media darling, only to turn on him because of the slightest imperfections.

Much as I support McCain and am not concerned about the tactical compromises he has begun to make in order to secure the GOP nomination, I think that Will has jumped the gun with his criticism of the media. The bottom line is that there is simply no way to both court Jerry Falwell and get good media coverage (especially because McCain won over so many journalists by attacking the Christian right).

Fact is, critics are going to jump on every little compromise McCain makes, insisting that it is definitive proof that he is not an independent, principled, straight-talking maverick, but instead, just another hack. Yet as long as McCain sticks to his principles and is upfront about his positions, this kind of criticism will just roll off his back.

Fact is that McCain will also pay a price with the media for every one of his compromises. When you run for president, the media can no longer approach you as a foil for George Bush or the Republican Right. More and more, John McCain himself will be the issue.

Even so, I still think he has a very good shot at getting as good, if not better coverage than whomever he runs against. No question, the primary coverage will favor McCain. But even in the general election, he may be favored.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves. The issue right now is 2006. And as George Will notes quite perceptively,
This November could produce what McCain could use -- grim election returns for Republicans. If on Nov. 8 Republicans are reeling and a reelected Hillary Clinton is rampant, hitherto unenthralled Republicans might suddenly consider McCain as virtuous as he considers himself. For the politically nervous, "virtuous" is a synonym for "electable."
You betcha.
(3) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 10:38 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

PUTIN IS A THREAT BECAUSE HE IS A DICTATOR: Along with Jim Goldgeier of GWU, my colleague Mike McFaul explains why Russian freedom matters for American security:
There will always be so-called realists who argue that democracy is a secondary priority for American foreign policy in dealing with major powers such as Russia. Forget about the internal politics, they say, and just engage these countries on major strategic interests, such as nonproliferation or energy security. But how a country defines "strategic interest" depends on its regime; democracies have one set of definitions, autocracies another...

But during the same week that the Kremlin backed [Belarussian dictator Aleksandr] Lukashenko, denied [US investor William] Browder his visa and was accused of sharing intelligence with Iraq, the Putin government also froze the bank accounts of Open Russia, the first major Russian foundation to support the development of genuine civil society. At the same time, Kremlin loyalists in the parliament introduced legislation to give appointed governors broad powers over popularly elected mayors. And Marina Litvinovich -- a spokeswoman for democratic activist Garry Kasparov -- was brutally beaten, in what Russian human rights groups consider a grim warning to those who would challenge the Russian government.

Let's stop pretending that Russia's deteriorating domestic politics are unrelated to Russia's increasingly antagonistic and anti-American foreign policies. The same autocratic regime is responsible for both.
Hear, hear.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 10:09 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SUNDAY MORNING ROUND-UP: It was an unusual week, with the House of Representatives flexing its muscle on the airwaves. Tom Tancredo (R-CO) and Xavier Beccera (D-CA) faced off on CBS, followed General Motors CEO Rick Wagoner. John Boehner (R-OH) headlined on ABC, followed by Joe "No Uranium in Niger" Wilson. On NBC, John Kerry led off the hour, followed by a panel of three House Members: Henry Bonilla (R-TX), Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) and JD Hayworth (R-AZ).
Tancredo: B-. Still a sharp debater, but still no answer about what do with the 11-12 million illegal immigrants already here. If every transition-to-citizenship proram gets branded as an amnesty, there are no options left.

Beccera: B+. Reasonable.

Wagoner: B. I have no frame of reference here, since I can't recall any other business executive being interviewed on the talk shows. Perhaps that should change. Anyhow, Wagoner was pretty frank about GM's dire straits, but I don't see how any spin doctor could fix that one.

Boehner: C+. Humdrum. The substance of what he said was about a 'B'. But Boehner is the newly elected leader of a Republican delegation in deep, deep trouble. He can either rise to the occasion and provide true, inspired leadership, or he can carry on as usual and hope that out-of-control gerrymandering protects the GOP majority.

Wilson: B-. The usual shtick. Got lucky that Stephanopoulos barely challenged his credibility.

Kerry: D. I'll need a full post to justify giving out my lowest grade ever. But not until tomorrow. I'm too tired now.

Bonilla: B-. Kept blaming the Mexican government for our immigration problem. That won't solve it.

Gutierrez: B. Reasonable, but his talk about "compassion" and about "celebrating diversity" made his moderate position sound a bit like that of a moonchild.

Hayworth: B-. The third out of three anti-reform congressmen who won't say a word about what we do with the 11-12 million already here.
And now for the hosts:
Russert: B. Whatev.

Schieffer: B. As always.

Stephanopoulos: B-. At least he asked Joe Wilson one question about his damaged credibility. Then he let the issue drop.
See ya next week.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

Sunday, April 09, 2006

# Posted 5:43 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE US MILITARY -- MADE IN CHINA: Last week I stopped by Fort America, the gift shop at the Pentagon. On display right atop a table at the front of the store were little blue boxes for holding commemorative coins. On the front they were stamped with a big gold eagle. The boxes were then wrapped in cellophane and adorned with a noticeable sticker saying "Made in China".

Another bit of irony, one perhaps more tragic than humorous, was that both "Vietnam Veteran" hats I saw were, of course, made in Vietnam. Imagine that somewhere in Hanoi an old guerrilla commander is now making a good living for himself by marketing those hats.

Or imagine that an orphan who lost her parents to an American napalm attack is now working twelve-hour days in one of those factories, stitching memorabilia for sale to veterans. Reconciliating is a very strange thing, indeed.
(4) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 5:09 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

HATCHET JOB TARGETS O'REILLY: At the recommendation of the lovely SC, I read Nicholas Lemann's recent profile of Bill O'Reilly in the New Yorker. She insists it is not a hatchet job. I insist that it is. The funny thing, of course, is that neither of has ever watched the O'Reilly Factor, nor presumably do most of those who read the New Yorker.

Strangely, enough Lemann seems to recognize this fact. At one point, he writes that
If what you know about “The O’Reilly Factor” comes mainly from its opponents on the left—from movies like “Outfoxed” and Web sites like Media Matters—and you watch it regularly for a while, you’ll be surprised by how little of the content these days is political.
What this sentence accidentally helps illustrate is how similar Lemann is to O'Reilly. Just as O'Reilly (as Lemann would have it) peddles outrage by attacking liberals with which his audiences isn't familiar, Lemann peddles outrage to liberals by attacking conservatives with which his audience isn't familiar.

Although Lemann isn't a cable news icon, his brand of bien pensant rabble-rousing has brought him rewards of a similar magnitude of the kind bestowed by liberals. He is the dean of the Columbia School of Journalism, the most prestigious school of journalism in the nation. He is a regular contributor to the New Yorker, the most prestigious general interest magazine in the nation.

Anyhow, here are some samples from Lemann's writing:
O’Reilly has been playing O’Reilly so successfully for so long, and has developed such a substantial library of hooks, tics, and subplots, that he sometimes seems to be parodying himself, or parodying [Stephen] Colbert’s parody of him...

O’Reilly, like every political talk-show host with a big following, is a populist, who, in his beyond-irony way, is a rich, middle-aged white guy aligned with the ruling party...To say that that doesn’t make any sense is to deny oneself the pleasure that a close study of O’Reilly affords...

Once, when Howard Stern was asked to explain his success, he said that he owed it to lesbians. O’Reilly owes his to child molesters...the emotional chord [O'Reilly] strikes, even if he doesn’t state his position, is that scum don’t deserve liberties and shouldn’t have lawyers...

O’Reilly imagines himself to be the underdog in a confrontation with any liberal, but, when he goes after one, it can come across as the television equivalent of police brutality—bullying undertaken for the sheer joy of bullying.
For all I know, O'Reilly deserves this sort of vitriolic condescension. But even if he does, the really interesting question is why O'Reilly has become a cable news icon. Why does an average of two million people watch his show every night (twice the number, Lemann points out, as tune in to Larry King)?

If a New Yorker writer wants to introduce O'Reilly to a New Yorker audience, answering these kinds of questions might be far more educational than a hatchet job. For example, why not interview some of O'Reilly's fans or perhaps some of his fellow conservative pundits? As far as I can tell, Lemann didn't even interview O'Reilly himself for the profile (although Lemann quotes copiously from the show's transcripts.)

Personally, I think the New Yorker should take some steps to prune the deadwood among its political correspondents. First things first: recruit another half-dozen sharp, (relatively) young writers like George Packer. Then get rid of Sy Hersh, Nick Lemann and the rest of those who have overstayed their welcome.

Now, I'm not saying that the New Yorker should be a conservative magazine or even a balanced one. George Packer is a staunch liberal, and any magazine with six George Packers would be staunchly liberal...but also staunchly innovative and staunchly insightful. In other words, no one would dare compare Packer with Bill O'Reilly.
(4) opinions -- Add your opinion