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.
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# Posted 1:01 PM by Patrick Porter  

IN DEFENCE OF JOHNSTON: I should start by saying that I'm a total novice to Chinese history, so I'll confine my comments to the reasoning of Johnston's book. Any Sinologists out there who can lend their expertise, feel free to come charging in.

Let me start by agreeing with David's overarching caution about monocausal theories. I would echo your warnings against an overly deterministic view of one strategic culture as the single motor of a state's policies.

And particularly towards the end of his book, Johnston draws ambitious links between medieval Chinese statecraft and post-1949 behaviour.

What impressed me, however, was the focal point of his study, which is devoted to a specific timeframe, the Ming dynasty of 1368-1644.

I don't think that Johnston's book is the reductionist behemoth you claim. As you may recall, he identifies not one but two competing strategic cultures with two conflicting views of statecraft, the use of war as a tool of state policy, the nature of the enemy and how security is to be ensured, etc.

One he calls 'Confucian-Mencian', which assumes that conflict is aberrant and avoidable, that prefers accommodationist strategies for dealing with threats, and then defensive over offensive strategies, that force should only be used minimally and only as a way of restoring the moral-political order.

The other he calls 'Parabellum', from the Latin 'If you want peace prepare for war' motto, which sees conflict as a permanent feature of human affairs, presumes the predatory nature of most adversaries, and has confidence in the effectiveness of violence as an instrument of policy.

Crucially, he sees the parabellum one as mediated by a doctrine of flexibility, in which coercion and force is measured according to the relative strengths of the state against its enemy, and only to be used when the time is ripe. A posture of watchful aggressiveness.

The point is, both of these strategic world views are to be found in the texts.

But on analysis of actual behaviour, the parabellum school continually wins out: there is a demonstrable pattern of state violence by which emperors resort to the more offensive strategies.

So this itself is an important insight: whereas many analysts bought the Confucian model of Chinese statecraft, Johnston sees instead a frequency in the level of state violence, arguing that the Confucian-Mencian model exerted comparatively less impact on state policy.

But: he sees the Confucian-Mencian strategic culture as operating on a symbolic level, which was used and appealed to by rulers to justify more conciliatory policies when they were on the back foot.

Unless I am flattering Johnston, it seemed to me that he does not argue crudely that strategic culture in China was all-determinative, but that it had a nontrivial impact on state behaviour.

On the 'realism' versus 'culture' point, Johnston makes an intriguing point: that in many ways the parabellum model resembled realpolitik assumptions. But he differs from 'realists' by refusing to attribute its dominance to ahistorical structural conditions - of anarchy in the interstate system, or the nature of the environment, or any other transhistorical, transnational set of conditions.

Instead he attributes it to a process whereby its core assumptions were learned. Chinese decisionmakers were socialised in its nostrums through education, etc. It begs the question, where does a realist policy/mentality come from?

Also: he doesn't rely exclusively on classic texts. He also uses Ming memorials to the emperor, and continually goes back to behaviour as well as discourse.

So the relationship between behaviour and discourse in his book, at least I thought, was an intricate one: there is an influential strategic culture of preferences, values and habits, but it is sometimes put aside by the pragmatic ruler, who appeals to an alternative strategic culture, to justify his policies. The relationship is a two-way street - strategic cultures shape behaviour, but elites can also manipulate strategic cultures.
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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.
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# Posted 11:26 AM by Patrick Porter  

OH, NOT AGAIN! Blues sweep all before them. There's always next year.
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# Posted 10:55 AM by Patrick Porter  

MORE ON BOMBING: One of the presumed benefits of bombing Iranian nuclear sites, allegedly being discussed at high levels, is that it will trigger a domestic revolution, in which disillusioned masses overthrow the government.

Its still not clear that this is actually an operating assumption of the Pentagon. But regardless, the broader political and psychological effects of any airstrikes on Iran ought to be considered carefully.

For some perspective on this particular aspect of the debate, Richard Overy makes some sobering observations in his chapter on Allied strategic bombing of Germany and Japan in World War Two (promise this is my last post referring to Overy!).

The parallel is hardly exact - the bombing in World War Two was on a whole range of civilian sites. But it does throw up some subtleties about the different material and psychological effects of bombing.

Overy concedes that bombing did have a psychological impact. It did demoralise. It exhausted the working population. In one measurable example of this, and its concrete impact on the war effort, it dramatically increased absenteeism, by rates as a high as 20 to even 50%. This damaged production schedules. And those who attended work were distracted, tired and anxious. It made them doubt the possibility of victory.

But one thing it didn't do: it didn't prompt a 'tidal wave' of uprisings and resistance that could topple governments. If anything, the regular bombings reduced the horizons of targeted populations to the most basic priorities: survival and food. It dispersed and weakened potential segments of rebellion.

In other words, bombing can materially weaken a regime while strengthening its domination of a country at the same time.

On Iran, my slowly developing view remains the same: our best chance of a relatively peaceful resolution of the dangerous extremism of the Iranian government is an internal revolution.

But air strikes in anything other than a full-scale invasion will probably strengthen the regime politically by creating a national emergency which stifles and delegitimises internal opposition to it. Even in the unlikely event that bombing the scattered nuclear sites was sufficiently penetrating to 'set back' its programme, it would also 'set back' the chances of an internal political revolution.

But Oxbloggers, strategies for what we do in the meantime?
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Friday, April 28, 2006

# Posted 5:10 PM by Patrick Porter  

A MIGHTY FINE BOOK: I strongly recommend Alastair Iain Johnston's study of strategic cultures and Chinese Grand Strategy, which I am rereading.

It asks whether there are identifiable persistent patterns in the way statecraft in China viewed the role of war, defined its adversaries and threats, and ordered its strategic preferences. It takes as its case study the history of the Ming dynasty's decisions and decision-making process in relation to the Mongols.

Its a very rigorous book, notable in particular for trying to ensure that his argument is closely defined enough to be falsifiable. Its fantastic actually. Strongly recommend it.
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# Posted 12:16 PM by Patrick Porter  

THE NAKED ALLY: Ok, this is still my favourite Winston Churchill story:
During World War II, Winston Churchill was visiting Franklin Roosevelt at the White House. Roosevelt was in a wheelchair and without knocking he whipped into Churchill’s guest room. The Prime Minister had just exited the shower and he was nude. Embarrassed., Roosevelt uttered, "My dear Winston, I’m so sorry!”

Churchill quickly grabbed a towel and wrapped it around his large frame. Then he looked at the President and smiled as he said, 'Franklin, the Prime Minister of England has nothing to hide'
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# Posted 10:58 AM by Patrick Porter  

A POLICING MIRACLE: A great set of numbers about occupied France after 1940:
France, a country with a population of some forty million, was administered by fifteen hundred Nazis, plus six thousand German policemen.
Must have been quite a task for this small skeleton staff to govern and police the population, given the great, ongoing national Resistance.

Just joking, French patriots. Our very own Oz Prime Minister salivated over the Hitler Youth in the late thirties, so few emerge with their record intact.
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# Posted 8:58 AM by Patrick Porter  

SCRATCH A NEOCON, GET A MARXIST?: Marc Mulholland mischievously argues that the Neo-conservative world view is nourished on classic Marxist principles.

It looks back fondly on Reagan's 'Westminster Speech', calling for solidarity with 'revolutionary' forces seeking to subvert communist dictatorships (bourgeois Comintern, but centred in Washington not Moscow);

It sees a revolutionary 'wave', of democratic revolutions, spreading from around 40 democracies on earth in the early 70's, to around 120 at the end of the 20th century;

It looks towards a state or world power (the USA) as the fatherland of the revolution, whose fall like the Soviet Union would gravely hurt the democratic movement;

It envisages a revolutionary 'class' (Mulholland cites Dubya's praise of the middle classes, created by market economies and then demanding political rights);

It sees the process of emancipation as teleological, carved into the logic of history.

I will leave the political philosophers of Oxblog to grapple with this one!
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# Posted 8:55 AM by Patrick Porter  

SCIENCE'S DEBT TO AN INSENSITIVE LOVER: Millions would prefer a cigar, but
Not for Antoni van Leeuwenhoek the post-coital cigarette that day in 1677. No sooner had he finished making love to his wife Cornelia than he was up at his home-made microscope, discovering in his semen a “vast number of living animalcules”, little wriggling creatures with rounded bodies and long, vigorous tails. The Dutch draper and microscopist had confirmed, for the first time, the existence of spermatozoa.
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Thursday, April 27, 2006

# Posted 5:48 PM by Patrick Porter  

VETOING ACTION IN DARFUR: Why the UN Security Council won't authorise a properly equipped, capable force for intervention in Darfur:
Sudan is lobbying the Security Council to block a U.N. force. China, which buys Sudanese oil, is opposed, as are Russia and Qatar, the current Arab representative on the council. Arab solidarity apparently trumps the protection of African Muslims.

Very sad.
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# Posted 9:58 AM by Patrick Porter  

TRIUMPH ALONE? Its disgracefully late, but I'm reading Richard Overy's powerful get-back-to-basics account of World War Two, Why the Allies Won. Its central thesis is compelling. He argues that the victory of the Allies can't be ascribed simply to material advantage and industrial power.

His account of the battles of Stalingrad and Kursk, as his focus for a wider discussion of Operation Barbarossa, is an important corrective to the assumption that the Soviet war machine eventually repelled the Nazis simply through a favourable resource imbalance. As he reminds us, Soviet forces outnumbered the German attackers in 1941, but were pulverised; enjoying only a slight margin of advantage in 1942-3, the gap was too small to explain it 'on the numbers' alone.

Overy revisits all of the variables that complicate the story: the nature and quality of weapons and training, the choices and decisions made with how to use them, the morale of the combatants, the nature of civil-military relations, and central direction which provided the food, labour and armaments to sustain 'deep war.'

My only slight criticism of the book so far is that in opposing one simplisitc interpretation, it succumbs to another seductive myth: that the Soviet victory was only that, a Soviet victory.

To be sure, the Soviets absorbed staggering losses in manpower that no other power could sustain. Georgi Zhukov's acumen was also important, not only as a gifted strategist whose foresight enabled the encirclement of Paulus' Sixth Army, but also as a General who had the ear of Stalin. In Stalin's world, those generals didn't grow on trees.

Also vital was the capacity of the Soviet population not only to fight with fanatical courage against the invader and transplant industries and populations into the interior to maintain the war effort, all spurred on by Stalin's appeals to a shared patriotism, even the imperial glories of the Tsarist memory. As Overy claims, 'The Soviet people were the instrument of their own redemption from the depths of war.'

But even though it is a factor with less grandeur, we shouldn't neglect the powerful assistance given the Soviet effort by American military and financial aid. According to military historian John Keegan,
Although the Soviet forces preferred their own weapon, the other donations provided the Soviet Union with a high proportion not only of its war-industrial requirements but also of its means to fight.

'Just imagine', Nikita Khrushchev later remarked, 'how we would have advanced from Stalingrad to Berlin without [American transport] them.' ; at the end of the war, the Soviet forces held 665,000 motor vehicles, of which 427,000 were Western, most of them American and a high proportion the magnificent 2 1/2 ton Dodge trucks, which effectively carried everything the Red Army needed in the field. American infustry also supplied 13 million Soviet Soldiers with their winter boots, American agriculture 5 million tons of food, sufficient to provide each Soviet soldier with half a pound of concentrated rations every day of the war.

The American railroad industry supplied 2000 locomotives, 11,000 freight carriages and 540,000 tons of rails, with which the Russains laid a greater length of line than they had built between 1928 and 1939. American supplies of high-grade petroleum were essentially to Russian production of aviation fuel, while three-quarters of Soviet consumption of copper in 1941-4 came from American sources.
Such contributions may or may not have been decisive. But without it, the eventual victory of the Soviet Union may have been even more expensive in blood and treasure.

Overlooking this aspect of the campaign means that Overy misses the full significance of one ceremonial event. In Tehran, where Churchill awarded Stalin the Sword of Honour as a gift from the British King George VI, Overy reports that American President Roosevelt 'was visibly moved as the sword was solemnly escorted from the room by a Soviet guard of honour.'

He was probably moved because his own government had made a great contribution to the Soviet war effort. Victory on the eastern front was the result of an unlikely combination: of Atlantic capitalism in partnership with Soviet man.
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Wednesday, April 26, 2006

# Posted 10:13 AM by Patrick Porter  

HUMANITARIAN MERCENARIES? Rebecca Weiner considers whether private security firms should be deployed in crisis regions like Darfur.

Consider the options currently on the table: the African Union, which functions more to monitor and report, without a clear mandate to use force and intervene, and logistically dependent for its resources on the Sudanese government, which is complicit in genocide.

NATO, a body that is very relucant. It recently stated that deploying a force of its own is 'out of the question.'

UN peacekeepers: too slow to arrive, sometimes too minimalist in its peace enforcement, and deployed by an organisation which is reluctant to call the crisis by its proper name. Alternatively, even if an effective body of UN peacekeepers were deployed, it could sure use the expertise, experience and resources of a private military company.

As Weiner explains, there are serious objections to resorting to private security firms:
More fundamentally, many believe that the international community has a special responsibility to take on problems such as Darfur-and that outsourcing humanitarian interventions to the private sector is just another way of sidestepping the hard political debates that should take place in public.
As do I. However, we seem to face a stubborn pattern of behaviour in the international community, which pledges 'never again' and persistently refuses to intervene in situations naively deemed to be marginal to their interests.

We can try and change that mentality in the 'hard political debates', but it might take another decade, probably much longer. Or we can explore alternatives - partnerships between the international community and private organisations. To be sure, these alternatives need regulation and rethinking, but that might be a more effective and economically attractive solution. It might even save lives.

As with many other situations, it may be that there is no viable solution to be found within the current UN framework.

And its easy to overdo the distinction between accountable and well-behaved publicly-appointed peacekeepers (cheers) versus wicked mercenaries out for loot and sex (boos).

Corruption, sexual exploitation and even complicity in human rights violations have all been carried out by forces acting in the name of the UN and NATO. So, these are problems with peacekeeping we already face, not ones that would be created by mercenary alternatives.

And when it comes to finance, the fact that private security firms are most cost-effective is not narrowly a monetary question. If it makes intervention less economically unattractive, it probably enhances the chances of intervention.

However, there are ambiguities surrounding the regulation and accountability of firms. Right now, there is no international regulatory regime in place.

This post leaves about a zillion questions unanswered, like: how do we manage the relationship between private firms and public bodies like states and trans-national institutions? There are probably Oxbloggers out there with an interest in the private security market. Any thoughts?

President Bush is only beginning to grasp the intricacies of the problem:
A couple of weeks ago, answering a question from a student after giving a speech at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, Bush provided a hint of the emotional texture of his extraordinary dependence on his Secretary of Defense.

“My question,” the young woman said, is in regards to private military contractors. The Uniform Code of Military Justice does not apply to these contractors in Iraq. I asked your Secretary of Defense a couple months ago what law governs their actions.

The President: I was going to ask him. Go ahead. (Laughter) Help. (Laughter)

Q: I was hoping your answer might be a little more specific. (Laughter) Mr. Rumsfeld answered that Iraq has its own domestic laws, which he assumed applied to those private military contractors. However, Iraq is clearly not currently capable of enforcing its laws. . . . Mr. President, how do you propose to bring private military contractors under a system of law?

The President : I appreciate that very much. I wasn’t kidding. (Laughter ) I was going to—I pick up the phone and say, Mr. Secretary, I’ve got an interesting question. (Laughter ) This is what delegation—I don’t mean to be dodging the question, although it’s kind of convenient in this case, but never— (laughter ). I really will—I’m going to call the Secretary and say you brought up a very valid question, and what are we doing about it? That’s how I work. I’m—thanks. (Laughter )
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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.
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# 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.
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# 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.)
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# 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.
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# 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.
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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.
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# 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.
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# 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!
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# Posted 6:26 PM by Patrick Porter  

ANZAC DAY: 25 April is Anzac Day in Australia and New Zealand. It commemorates the landing of the Australia New Zealand Army Corps at the Gallipoli peninsula in 1915. The Anzacs fought alongside French and British troops against Turkish forces in conditions of Homeric brutality.

One of my favourite memorials is the Kemal Attaturk Memorial in Canberra, Australia, inscribed with the words of the father of modern Turkey. Turkish war veterans living in Australia place it on their banner on Anzac Day marches:
Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives;
You're now lying in the soil of a friendly country,
Therefore rest in peace, there is no diffrence between
The Johnnies and Mehmets to us where they lie
Side by side here in this country of ours.
You, the mothers, who sent their sons from far away Countries,
wipe away your tears;
your sons are now Lying in our bosom and are at peace.
After having lost their lives on this land,
they have become Our sons as well.
Rest lightly upon them, earth.
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# Posted 3:05 PM by Patrick Porter  

GIVE ME A BREAK: I know this is slightly out of date. But anyway.

In a survey back in November 2004, a majority of Britons were reported to believe that "there is much or some truth in the claim that the Bush administration knew in advance about the 11 September plot, but decided to let it go ahead so as to provide a justification for invading Afghanistan and Iraq."

We are asked to believe that the Bush Administration foresaw and tolerated an attack that targeted buildings containing his Secretary of Defence, his National Security Advisor, his Vice-President, and relatives of officials in the Administration.

Sometimes cynicism and suspicion can be as naive as gullability.

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# 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.
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Sunday, April 23, 2006

# Posted 9:05 AM by Patrick Porter  

RHETORIC AND WAR, A TITBIT FROM MY THESIS: In a really stimulating article several years ago, Adam Gopnik of the New Yorker argued that:
The obvious absurdity of the original moral calculations—that a quick result would teach the German militarists a lesson or, on the other side, put the French empire out of business—led people to make new, desperate ones. In Britain, it was only after the first battles of the trenches that this became “the war to end all wars,” a war for liberal freedoms against authoritarianism and militarism. In Germany, it became a war not for French territory but for organic Kultur against cosmopolitan civilisation.
That the intensity of the conflict helped to radicalise and intensify the rhetoric is undeniable. But the rhetoric was not merely a desperate response to the first months of trench warfare, invented to give the first battles a grandiose purpose commensurate with their scale.

The first public statements that defined the war as an historic spiritual struggle were made before the first major clashes. This timing suggests the opposite causality: pre-existing rhetoric helped to define the coming war, conditioning participants to accept the future bloodletting. Court chaplain Ernst Dryander preached in the Berlin Cathedral on 4 August, 1914 to mark the opening of the Reichstag session. Well before the western front locked into brutal siege and stalemate, Dryander declared

we know that we are going into battle for our culture against the uncultured, for German civilisation against barbarism, for the free German personality bound to God against the instincts of the undisciplined masses. And God will be with our just weapons! For German faith and German piety are ultimately bound up with German faith and civilization.

As this demonstrates, the stakes were already very high. Dryander conceived the struggle as a cultural war as well as an existential war, defined as a struggle for a Christian civilisation ordered by a social elite, against both the barbaric and the revolutionary. The previous day, the rectors and senates of Bavarian universities publicly appealed to academic youth to rally to the ‘holy war.’

In Britain, the crusade against militarism and against the doctrine that ‘might is right’ was present in the first days. Like Germany, its imagery and themes cut across secular and sacred boundaries. On the very day Britain declared war, the editor of the Observer claimed:

We have to do our part in killing a creed of war. Then at last, after a rain of blood, there may be set the greater rainbow in the Heavens before the vision of the souls of men. And after Armageddon war, indeed, may be no more.

The normally antireligious utopian H.G. Wells advocated an eschatological ‘war to end war’, declaring on 7 August that the ‘defeat of Germany may open the way to disarmament and peace throughout the earth.’ Wells wrote this on the day Lord Kitchener called for the first volunteers to join the British Army, approximately two weeks before the British Expeditionary Force even arrived in France (on 22 August).

The following day, the campaign to ‘expel the dogma that might is right’ was reiterated by one preacher in Westminster Abbey.

These statements, uttered in and beyond the pulpit, employed an archetypal millenarian language of the ‘last war.’ The rhetoric of a final historic struggle to defend and save civilisation was sanctioned at the highest level by the clergy and echoed in the public sphere before the shooting war began. Trench warfare may have intensified the search for ambitious ideological justification, but it did not cause it.

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# Posted 8:31 AM by Patrick Porter  

LORDS OF WAR?: Something I should have known, but didn't. From figures compiled by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, of the weapons Saddam bought on the international market, America sold him only 1% of them. Russia sold him 57%, France 13% and China 12%.
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Saturday, April 22, 2006

# Posted 12:03 PM by Patrick Porter  

GRACE UNDER PRESSURE: I had breakfast this morning with a new mate of mine, who used to work in a Subway restaurant.

One day the store got held up. At gunpoint, and having handed over the cash, my mate asked 'So would you like a sandwich as well?'

So, open thread: true stories from Oxblog readers about 'grace under pressure'
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Friday, April 21, 2006

# Posted 11:11 AM by Patrick Porter  

FALL OF ROME: I have to declare an interest in this post. In case no-one's noticed, I am a total nerd. In between getting ready for my next job, writing a review article and blogging, I have been enjoying the unequalled glory of Rome Total War, a strategy PC game.

Its great for several reasons: its graphics are painfully beautiful, as silver helmeted legionaries crash into long-haired barbaric spearman as the sun shines through fields of corn, or fireballs from catapults scatter heavily equipped hoplites, etc. It incorporates real historical developments into an open-ended campaign. Such as Gaius Marius military revolution, which formally admitted propertyless men into the Roman army and thus expanded the pool of manpower and enabling the creation of 'private' armies, loyal first to their commander before the Republic. And, its a great game because it enables the player to fantasise about personal greatness.

And, its quite intricate in the way it links diplomacy, war and economics. Desperate to invade Egypt, my faction of the Brutii kept getting its navy sunk. I couldn't transport my battle-hungry legions from Crete to North Africa. So I had to build a bigger navy. Which I couldn't do as quickly as the seaborne predators of Pontus, Thrace and indeed Egypt. So I had to get the Pontic and Thracian folk to make peace. But they refused, underestimating the demonic will to power of my faction. So I had to batter the Pontic and Thracian powers into accepting a ceasefire, so I could build a navy, so I could invade Egypt. Then a freak storm sunk half my navy including a senior faction heavy. Peace in the Mediterranean lake was never guaranteed then, of course.

Meanwhile, a whole province went into chaos when my client king was assassinated by a Thracian agent. All of this is designed to culminate in a civil war at the end of the game, between the different Roman factions. As in life, several interlocking random and/or systemic developments can ruin your whole day.

I think I need to start full-time work.

For those who are more interested in the reality, there is a great discussion thread over at Erudito about an issue that is an oldy but also a real goody: why did the western Roman empire collapse?
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# 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.
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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.
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# Posted 12:05 PM by Patrick Porter  

THE STRENGTH OF DIVISION: Gonzo journalist John Birmingham suggests that internal dispute over the strategic, moral and political aspects of the war against terrorism is ultimately a strength, not a weakness:
The strength of an open political system...as opposed to dictatorships such as the theocratic fascist state which is the wet dream of bin Laden and his crew, is that there are, or should be, no sacred cows for us. If our political or military decisions are found wanting, they will be questioned and eventually they'll be discredited and discarded. We sometimes look weak and conflicted as we rake at each other over whether or not, for instance, Iraq was a good idea. But that process of questioning and contesting everything, which is anathema to totalitarian regimes, is one of our greatest strengths.
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# Posted 9:03 AM by Patrick Porter  

SUPPORT DISABLED VETERANS: While press attention is often devoted to combatants killed in active duty, there are many more maimed or dismembered.

Two Texan servicemen are raising money for disabled veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan. Rush Vann, an Infantry Officer in the Army National Guard, and David Broyles, a Pararescueman in the Air Force, will be attempting to swim the 13 miles of the Gibraltar Strait from Spain to Morrocco.

Their website is here. Their Charity is the Coalition to Salute America's Heroes, which is a non-partisan, non-profit organization that offers several programs to assist disabled veterans who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, including services like urgent financial assistance, housing, job placement, family support, and educational and service events.

These kinds of charities are important, in preventing us ever seeing the return of the nightmare world of homeless and begging veterans, depicted by German painter Otto Dix on Prague Street after World War I.

Best of luck, Rush and David! And safely come ashore.
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# Posted 8:44 AM by Patrick Porter  

ON NOT KILLING EVERYONE IN IRAN: Oz pundit Tim Blair, whose posts are usually incisive, funny and persuasive, slipped a little today:

'The Guardian’s Timothy Garton Ash foresees Tehran-led suicide attacks throughout the west in retaliation for a strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities.
Better take out the whole country, then.'
Iran contains millions of people who want to be liberated from the butcher mullahs in Tehran. As a reflection of its widespread desire for greater political participation and freedom, it is one of the most vibrant blogging communities on earth. Its trade unionists, dissidents and human rights activists are persecuted for the same values that liberal democracies espouse. The dudes who live in my building fled the medieval theocracy. Quite simply, a war of annihilation (to 'take out the whole country') would murder these people and turn us into the kind of Hitlerian predators we claim to oppose.

Either Tim was joking, in which case a flippant call for genocide is in poor taste. Or he wasn't, and has bought into the primitive Coulter-Buchananite view of all Persians and Arabs as our enemies. It can't be said often enough: this is not a race war, it is a war to defend liberal society, and our allies are to be found in all countries.

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Wednesday, April 19, 2006

# Posted 11:00 AM by Patrick Porter  

HAPPY BIRTHDAY ULYSSES: Before 'Grant's Tomb' in New York next week at 11am on Thursday, there will be a wreath laying ceremony to commemorate the birthday of Ulysses S. Grant, Northern General-in-Chief during the Civil War from March 1864, and 18th President of the United States.

There will be artillery and musket demonstrations and other cool stuff. Ulysses will be 184. And, perhaps, slightly under the weather.
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# Posted 6:35 AM by Patrick Porter  

MANAGING WAR EXPECTATIONS: There has been much criticism recently of the Bush administration's failure to anticipate the protracted violence of the period after the defeat of Saddam's conventional forces. In particular, Bush's 'Mission Accomplished' declarations of victory on 1 May 2003 and Rumsfeld's refusal to tolerate the word 'insurgency' have been mocked repeatedly.

I don't want to buy into the debate about what exactly Bush and Rumsfeld did or didn't promise. But an example from history suggests that instead of promising short bloodless victories, there are alternative and more durable strategies to bolstering the nations' commitment.

In the first year of World War Two, Winston Churchill apparently believed that he could attune Britons psychologically to accept the burdens of war by preparing them with his forecasts that the conflict would be long and demanding. Hitler's government, however, profoundly distrusted the home-front:
The regime, which so fervently believed in the myth that civilians had stabbed the army in the back in 1918, felt it had to dissemble to the population whose moral resilience it did not trust. While Churchill was promising the British people 'blood, toil, sweat and tears,' the German people were being encouraged to think of easy victories over coffee and cake.
(Nick Stargardt, 'Witnesses of War: Childrens Lives under the Nazis', 2005, p.52)
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# 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?
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# 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.
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# 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.
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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."
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# 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.
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# 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.)
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# 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.
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# Posted 2:25 PM by Patrick Porter  

VIGIL FOR DARFUR IN THE BIG APPLE: Every Tuesday lunchtime, there is a vigil outside the building of the US mission to the UN, calling for international intervention in Darfur to avert the humanitarian catastrophe taking place there.

Its at 140, East 45th St, between 12 and 2, and the people there are really great and welcoming, so come along sometime and stay for a little while. Passers-by are showing increasing interest, it seems. Hopefully it will appeal to those who don't want to watch the film 'Hotel Darfur' in ten years time.
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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.
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# 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!
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# Posted 9:30 PM by Patrick Porter  

WARS WITHIN THE WAR: The debate over the war in Iraq, and the war on terror generally, has taken place within both conservative and progressive ranks as well as between them.

As a spectator at the debate between British Parliamentarian George Galloway and pro-war pundit Christopher Hitchens in New York last September, I was watching an internal feud. Both sides called the other traitors. Not only was the other side wrong, it was guilty of political deviance, of betraying its leftist values.

Thus Hitchens was dismayed that the likes of Galloway had betrayed socialism by his support for the insurgency, his grovelling to 'fascism' and his perverse desire to support any enemy of America no matter how odious. Galloway accused Hitchens of being a turncoat, a Judas who had sold out to the neo-cons for money and fame. The watchword of Hitchens and his supporters was opposing 'fascism'; the watchword for Galloway's folk was opposing 'imperialism.'

That fracture continues. In a pub in Euston, a new manifesto has been created by British leftists who want to recommit progressive politics to democratic ideals. This is an effort to revive the anti-totalitarian traditions of democratic socialism and also to forge a broader front with liberal and conservative democrats.

Its principles are: democracy; no apology for tyranny; universal human rights before cultural relativism; equality (defined with the rights of labour as central); development for freedom (debt cancellation etc); opposing anti-Americanism; a two-state solution in the Middle East; anti-racism (including a resurgent anti-Semitism); internationalism and historical truth. Their explanations beneath each of these headings mean that the document is far from banal.

Its composed and signed mainly by the pro-war left, it seems, but many anti-war leftists could conceivably agree with its propositions. As well as being a document about policies, its also condemns a certain 'style' of apologetics for terrorism, and sniggering, crass anti-Americanism. Neither of which are necessary to adopt in order to oppose the war.

Money quote:

We decline to make excuses for, to indulgently "understand", reactionary regimes and movements for which democracy is a hated enemy — regimes that oppress their own peoples and movements that aspire to do so. We draw a firm line between ourselves and those left-liberal voices today quick to offer an apologetic explanation for such political forces.
Amen. Needless to say, this has drawn just a tiny amount of debate on the left-leaning blogs in Britain.

As a reflection of the debate within conservative/right of centre ranks, I recommend highly the new collection of essays, The Right War?. It includes hard-nosed realists, isolationists, repentant neo-cons, and unrepentant ones. Except the piece by Pat Buchanan, (with its appeals to selfish isolationism and strange view of terrorist organisations as free-floating cells that exist independently of hostile states), its a high calibre cast.
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# Posted 3:00 PM by Patrick Porter  

FIVE STAR COMPASSION: As Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt demonstrate, living a life fighting for the wretched of the earth was never so comfortable:

Pitt, 42, and Jolie, who co-starred in the 2005 film "Mr. & Mrs. Smith," have rented all 14 rooms and suites at the Burning Shores resort, a luxury boutique hotel on Long Beach north of Walvis Bay and near the famous dunes of the Namibian desert.

How nice.

But there is another way of looking at it, on a purely utilitarian calculus. If such luxuries make mega-rich stars want to justify their wealth by donating more money to good causes, its probably not such a bad thing.

But then again, its a bit much to denounce inequality while propagating it so ostentatiously.
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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.
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# 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.
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