Saturday, September 30, 2006

# Posted 9:13 PM by Taylor Owen  

THE CANADIAN PRIMARIES, SORT OF...: For Canadian political followers, (count me in!), it's a big weekend. After months of grassroots intra-party campaigning, the Liberal Party is choosing the delegates who will choose their next leader...in two months at the convention. If nothing but thorough, not to mention incomprehensibly complicated, the race is turning into a three way competition between Ignatieff (my horse), Stephen Dion (owlish Quebequoi), and Bob Rae ('reformed' Ontario premierial socialist). While Ignatieff as expected has 30ish% support with about a quarter of the votes in, he may well be faced with a Dion/Rae alliance at the convention, who ironically, need each other's delegates to win their home provinces (ed - what's Ignatieff's "home province" again? Point taken). In any case, the results can be watched in real time here, these three sites are pretty good for regular updates, and it's hard to beat these two guys for snarky leadership commentary...
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# Posted 8:42 AM by Patrick Belton  

SCRATCH A CANADIAN AND YOU GET A (FUNNY) XENOPHOBE WATCH: When invited to describe residents of these islands in four words or less, a friend and recent invitee to the Famous Superexclusive Belton Sunday Roast Club for Important Hideously Attractive or Nice Journalists Politicians and Supermodels (tm) contributed 'nasty, brutish and short'.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

# Posted 9:25 AM by Patrick Belton  

MUSHARRAF IN LONDON: He'll be addressing the Union tomorrow at 1:30 after a day at Chequers, and his schedule also includes calling on David Cameron, the CEOs of Barclay and Standard Chartered and members of the electronic media, before addressing members of the British Pakistani community at Grosvenor Hotel on Friday. There's also meant to be a joint press briefing with Blair at the Dorchester at 5:30 (but I'll be going to hear the lovely Miss James talk about Darfur). I've recently kindly been sent a review copy of his memoir, and will be blogging on it as I read it. The PML(N) have announced Nawaz Sharif is busy preparing a rejoinder.

I may be somewhat stuck in London, but if any of our Oxford-based readers would like to go cover his Union appearance for us, we'd be very happy to hear from you!
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Wednesday, September 27, 2006

# Posted 10:20 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

HOW PARTISAN IS TOO PARTISAN? (REDUX): We all need to rise above partisanship and act in what is truly the national interest. Or at least that's what I was taught. And it's bollocks.

Partisanship is the lifeblood of democratic politics. There is no accountability without partisanship. Although anything bi-partisan tends to get good press in today's political culture, The Federalist Papers were right to say that setting ambition against ambition is what makes democracy work.

Of course partisanship can go too far. But at last night's panel on partisanship sponsored by Pajamas Media, there was a strong consensus that partisanship is neither a flaw to be overcome nor a necessary evil, but rather a positive good.

Going further, it's important to recognize that sometimes bipartisanship can be a very bad thing. Bipartisanship often rests on lowest-common-denominator, low-content politics.

But bipartisanship can also be a very good thing. As the Instamoderator pointed out, the signing of the Accountability and Transparency Act yesterday morning at the White House was the result of a bipartisan effort. Somehow, Tom Coburn and Barack Obama and Instapundit and TalkingPointsMemo all got themselves together in the name of a good cause. Not by looking for the lowest common denominator, but by discovering principles that cut across partisan and ideological lines.

So what has partisanship done for us lately? In fact, how do you even separate the good partisanship from the bad? That was a question the panel struggled with mightily. According to panelist Tom Bevan of RCP,
There is a difference between "smart partisanship" and a much less attractive alternative that relies on invective rather than argument and employs the widespread use of insults and obscenities.
Insults and obscenities aren't too hard to filter out, but what counts as invective? I'm guessing Tom's next sentence would strike a lot of liberal readers as an example of it:
This is a problem the left continues to struggle with given that the new media revolution (to use a pretentious phrase) has taken place almost entirely in the last five years under the tenure of George W. Bush and given voice to a core of the most active liberal partisans.
So bad, un-smart partisanship is a problem mainly of the left? There was a fairly strong consensus on that point among the panelists. Of course, the panel was weighted fairly heavy toward conservatives (or to be more precise, anti-liberals.)

If you weighted the panel toward the left end of the blogosphere, I think you would hear the same thing. Partisanship is good and there is a difference between good partisanship and bad. And it's conservatives who tend to be bad.

One way to resolve this dilemma is to return to the old chestnut that if everyone thinks their own partisanship is good and everyone else's is bad, then the real problem is partisanship itself. But I'm still not buying it. When you ask anti-partisans what their ideal policies are, the answer often sounds fairly partisan.

After the discussion was over, I went over to Tom and made the following suggestion. Smart partisanship is partisanship that keeps the interest of the other side. Smart partisanship is something you disagree with, but feel that you have to read because you want to know what the best argument is for the other side.

That's the ideal I keep in my head when I blog. When I write, I keep an imaginary not-me on my shoulder that has the opposite opinion about everything. My goal isn't to get him to agree with me, but to prevent him for saying "This is a waste of time."

Of course, this method hasn't prevented lots of dumb partisanship from showing up on this blog. But I do believe that this ideal has helped make OxBlog a site that attempts to engage its critics rather than one that vents its authors' spleen.

Now, smart partisanship isn't the same as effective partisanship. You rarely mobilize the faithful and win elections with smart partisanship. But after the dust has settled and it's time to govern, I think smart partisanship helps make good policy. I hope.
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# Posted 5:01 AM by Patrick Belton  

DID VANUNU GET OFF LIGHT? I mean, look what he could have been stuck with:
'a slightly plump but attractive blond, with full lips and heavy makeup.'
'Hanin accompanied him [after his abduction in Rome] - crew members later complained she was rude, bossy and took freshwater showers although the water supply was limited.'

Worth 12 years in solitary confinement - to get away from?
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# Posted 4:46 AM by Patrick Belton  

One former fusilier claimed that 75 men from his company, some 60% of its strength, regularly took cocaine, ecstasy or marijuana. “There’s guys who have to have two or three lines of coke before they can operate,” he said.

According to a parliamentary answer, 1,020 army personnel tested positive for drugs last year, including 520 cases using class A drugs — a 50% rise in the past five years. (Times)
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Tuesday, September 26, 2006

# Posted 10:24 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

HOW PARTISAN IS TOO PARTISAN? That was the subject of a panel discussion this evening, hosted by Pajamas Media at the National Press Club. For the first time, I got to meet the Instapundit himself in person. I didn't realize how tall he was. I also figured he would be sort of spindly, since that's what Internet pioneers are supposed to be. But I was wrong.

Also, I got to see Tom Bevan of RCP and Kevin Aylward of Wizbang! for the first time since the GOP convention in NYC. That was cool. But you probably want to know about the substance of the discussion. However that's going to have to wait until I'm less tired. But there may be a video feed up soon on the Pajamas site, since the event was filmed.

For the moment, enjoy the following observation from Glenn [rough transcript from memory]:
Just because you're not liberal and you're not conservative doesn't mean you're moderate. I'm an extremist at both ends of the spectrum. My idea of an ideal world is one in which happily married gay couples have closets full of automatic weapons.
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# Posted 9:58 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SUNDAY MORNING ROUND-UP: Yes, a day later than usual. But only because I got so worked up about interrogation methods yesterday. Anyhow, Bill Clinton was the headliner on NBC, followed by Hamid Karzai and John Danforth. John McCain had Face the Nation all to himself. Bill Frist was the headliner on ABC, followed by NJ senate candidates Tom Kean Jr. and Bob Menendez.
Clinton: B-. Something was very wrong here. Russert seemed to be intentionally throwing the ex-Prez only softballs. For his part, Clinton tossed out a few liberal cliches but stayed away from any tough campaign-season rhetoric. This was a fix.

Karzai: B+. Some of his optimism rang a bit hollow, but there was a passion in Karzai's voice that made him so much more compelling than almost all other guests.

Danforth: B-. Danforth is an ordained Episcopal minister and was a GOP senator from Missouri. He's not the kind of person who usually writes a book about how intolerant evangelicals have taken over the Republican party. Yet his arguments were just as simplistic as those of left-wing critics of the Christian right.

McCain: B+. A solid performance. But his effort to soften criticism of Bush's handling of the war doesn't sound like straight talk.

Frist: C. Someone should tell him that when you dodge every question you're not supposed to sound like you're dodging every question.

Kean: C. Very, very defensive. And about as shifty as a used-car salesman. I've never heard him before, so I'm suprised he's doing so well in the polls.

Menendez: B+. I've never heard Menendez before either. I don't agree with him about much, but he gave reasonably straight, intelligent answers.
See you next week.
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# Posted 4:18 PM by Patrick Belton  

STARTING TO SUSPECT MAYBE THESE AREN'T NICE GUYS AFTER ALL WATCH: The Taleban attacks a convoy of pilgrims queueing for permits to make Hajj, killing 18 through a suicide bomb, on the fourth day of Ramazan.
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# Posted 2:37 PM by Patrick Belton  

THE QUEEN REIGNS, BUT CHATHAM HOUSE RULES: Chatham House is kind enough to let me cover the odd event they sponsor, both here and in other pages and pixels. Tomorrow I'll go along to see Shimon Peres talk on the Middle East after the Lebanon War, and I shall bring all of you along. A bit later in the autumn, President Khatami will be here in London and doing a press availability at Chatham House, and I'll go along to scribble. In general, both to make blogging a relationship in which you don't feel neglected (it's cheaper than buying the lot of you roses), and because thinking up my own bloody questions might make my brain hurt, I'll post a note here before I go to interviews, lectures or press availabilities, and let readers suggest questions.

Yesterday, I went along to see Gordon Corera, a BBC security correspondent whose book Shopping for Bombs (OUP in the States and Hurst in Britain), which I'll be reviewing in other pages, treats with the A.Q. Khan network. The interesting bits of his talk were the interesting bits of his book, leading me to want to say to him, show me just what Corera brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman. But then I thought better of it.

So instead, I thought I'd focus on bits and bobs which didn't quite make their way into the book. One is just how rarely western businessmen serving as intermediaries of the proliferation process were successfully prosecuted; and how light the sentences were for the ones who were. If nuclear calculations are about deterrent, its factor here is low. They say generally they thought they were funding oil research; proving them liars is dicey.

Few nuclear states did it without some form of external aid. Israel, South Africa, even Britain relied on external help at some juncture or another. South Korea and Brazil could build a bomb tomorrow, Argentina and Japan could have developed a nuclear capacity had they so chosen. Saudi Arabia (with Libya) were suspected of funding the Pakistani nuclear programme, with Riyadh pushing for the test, offering even oil subsidies to set off cuts in American aid which would result. When western analysts became aware that Pakistan was helping Libya with its bomb, it shaved eight years off their estimates, centrifuges being the tricky, incredibly precise things that they are. (Which is also why Corera thinks the terrorist bomb would be more a matter of organisations getting fissile material from a state, whether from largesse or nicking poorly guarded material out of the former Soviet Union, than DIY.)

What about after Khan? Corera thinks North Korea may fit into Pakistan's role. It's already sold its missile technology quite broadly, and some hexafluoride material passed to Libya seems to have come from Pyongyang. From the perspective of Khan's nuclear club for men, North Korea seems to have been in the role of a partner, not just a customer. It's easy, anyway, for another actor to move into the niche Khan created; supply wasn't just increased by his network, so was demand, to include cascading proliferation effects (ie, once one country gets it, all its neighbours will want it too, just like Dualit espresso makers).

Interestingly, there's a rumour (which I don't think makes it into Corera book, but is juicy and perhaps untrue and so I'll put it on my blog...) that Khan's daughters, who hold British nationality and live in London, have gobs of incriminating documents demonstrating the extent of presidential involvement in Pakistani proliferation activities; they're meant further to have instructions to send them to the press if Khan disappears into the night, which has something tidy and strategic about that, for someone whose life both revolved around nuclear issues but who sought, as he saw it, to democratise the bomb. £5 to anyone who can get one of those girls to take them home.
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# Posted 8:55 AM by Patrick Belton  

STIR FRIED PORK: The Chronicle of Higher Ed's David Glenn interviews University of Leeds professor Duncan McCargo. Dr McCargo has closely followed Thai politics since 1988, and retraces his doubts about the People's Constitution of 1997, his prescient observations that the wealthy and charismatic Thaksin was amassing enormous political power despite the 1997 constitution's painstaking checks and balances, and in response the resurgence to counter Thaksin of the 1973-97 'network monarchy' in which the popular King Bhumibol Adulyadej has wielded power at crucial moments through proxies in Parliament and the military.

See in particular Dr McCargo's description of the coup:
The analogy for me is, you have this absolutely excruciating toothache, and you're nowhere near a dentist, and you just find some guy by the side of the road who offers to pull the tooth out with a pair of pliers. So the pain is gone. But a few days later, it occurs to you that there's a huge hole in your mouth. And you realize that if you'd actually been able to get to a dentist, you could have done some surgery on that. You wouldn't be left with this irreparable damage.
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# Posted 7:13 AM by Patrick Belton  

GET YOUR DARFUR: If you live in London. If you don't, you'll have to get your Darfur somewhere else.

Is Darfur best conceptualised as genocide or civil war? And would UN troops stop the killing?

This blog's dear friend and director of the Foreign Policy Society's Middle East programme Laura James will be speaking on a panel on Thursday to address these questions. We'll of course synopsise the event here but as I'm less a synoptic and more a johanine, you'd best go in person.

The event will take place on Thursday at 7.30-9 pm, at the Frontline Club Forum room (13 Norfolk Place W2, 2nd floor; map from Paddington tube stop). Other panelists include Julie Flint (a journalist and filmmaker who recently coauthored Darfur: a Short History of a Long War with Alex de Waal, and has written elsewhere on Darfur for the Daily Star and Human Rights Watch), Sudan-born British journalist Nima Elbagir and the International Crisis Group's Andrew Strohlein. SOAS's Christopher Cramer will moderate.

There is more on the Frontline Club's website. I believe there's a £5 cover, but if you're an OxBlog reader and come you can have a pint on the blog after.
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Monday, September 25, 2006

# Posted 11:16 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

A GLARING OXBLOG FAILURE? A few weeks ago, an OxBlog reader e-mailed the text of a post I put up in early April 2003. It began:
"I TOLD YOU SO" WATCH: The time has come for those who had faith in American war plans to mock those who didn't. All I add is a note of caution, lest those who now mock become overconfident and leave themselves open to having the tables turned.
So have the tables turned? Well, if the issue is the initial invasion plan for Iraq, then no. Being right about that may not be worth much anymore, but it still is worth remembering Andrew Sullivan's list of prominent liberals who predicted the invasion itself would be a disaster.

[NB: I just discovered that link to Sullivan's list is no longer functional as a result of his website's new URL. But his April 2003 archives are here and make fascinating reading.]

The more embarrassing part of my old post is this one:
Moderation aside, I have almost no sympathy for those who predicted an indifferent or even hostile response to Coalition forces by the people of Iraq. Believing that an entire population would prefer Saddam's brutality to a foreign occupation is unjustifiable.
Yes, it would seem we have an encountered a wee bit of hostility since then. But I guess I still am curious about the fact that even the Sunni regions of Iraq were so passive during the first few months of the occupation. Did we truly have a window of opportunity during which it would have been possible to head off an insurgency? Alas, it a question that will never be answered any more than whether a sound strategy could have won the war in Vietnam.

Interestingly, I discovered via Google that this is the second time a reader has written in to remind me of that specific post from April 2003. That first time, in May 2004, my self-defense was much more confident. I said that the Kurds and Shi'ites, or 80% of Iraq still saw us as liberators.

Even now, thugs like Moqtada al-Sadr order the death of countless Sunnis but sullenly accept the presence of American soldiers. Even so, Sadr's brutality may undermine what prospects remain for a stable, democratic Iraq.

So where do we go from here? I don't really know. Regardless, thanks to all those who spend their time going through the archives to keep me honest.
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# Posted 11:07 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

McCAIN, GIULIANI FAR AHEAD OF HILLARY IN IOWA POLL: I don't think current polls say all that much about what will happen in 2008, but they do provide entertainment for the blogosphere. (Hat tip: PH) Anyhow, the real question is how McCain and Giuliani match up against each other, or how Hillary matches up against her primary opponents, since Iowa has a big say in the nominations but is just a second-tier swing state in November.
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# Posted 10:09 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

"THE TERRORIST RIGHTS WING OF THE REPUBLICAN PARTY": I was very, very angry when I read Paul Mirengoff of Power Line describe John McCain, Lindsey Graham, John Warner and their supporters (of which I am one) as "the terrorist rights wing of the Republican Party.

After a number of readers objected to this description, Mirengoff posted a defense of the phrase, which was seconded by John Hinderaker. I believe Paul and John are arguing in good faith, so I will take their position seriously. Here is what I take to be Paul's central argument:
As short-hand descriptions go, "terrorist rights" gets it just about right. For that is precisely McCain and company have been pushing for -- the right of terrorists to more judicial process than they initially were granted; the right of terrorists to avoid aggressive interrogation techniques that the administration successfully has used to obtain important information from them; the right of terrorists to find out more about the evidence that will be used against them than the administration was willing to have disclosed in certain cases, and so forth. The term "terrorist rights" is no more unfair as applied to these advocates than the term "gay rights" is for advocates of gay marriage, legalizaion of gay sexual practices, etc.
I want to begin with Paul's analogy to the question of gay rights. I think it is fair to say that advocates of gay rights believe that homosexuals, at minimum, should be entitled to the exact same rights as other citizens. Not just more rights than they have now, but equal rights.

I also think it is fair to say that advocates of gay rights believe that homosexuality is the moral equivalent of heterosexuality. My point being that it is appropriate to refer to someone as an advocate of "terrorist rights" if they argue that terrorism is morally acceptable and that terrorists deserve the same rights as others.

Now let me broaden my argument a bit, since I want it to rest on more than one analogy. In general, when we speak of someone as an advocate of a certain group's rights, what do we mean?

Consider the following terms: women's rights, minority rights, workers' rights, and prisoners' rights. I think that the phrases "women's rights" and "minority rights" entail assumptions very similar to the term "gay rights". Both of them assert that the group in question are moral equivalents of a preferred group and therefore deserve equal rights.

Workers' rights is a different kind of concept. It usually refers to the belief that workers deserve a specified set of benefits and protections, not that they deserve the same rights as employers. In that sense, there is a rough analogy to what McCain et. al. want for terrorists, which is a limited set of protections. However, no advocate of workers' rights sees being a worker as something inherently evil.

What about prisoners' rights? Leaving aside the issue of rights for those who may have been wrongly convicted, prisoners' rights refers to a set of benefits and protections for those who have been incarcerated as a result of a committing a crime. In addition, there is a negative moral status attached to being a prisoner, but really that status is attached to being a criminal, not to being in prison.

Criminals are bad from the moment they commit their crime (or perhaps earlier). Their badness has nothing to do with whether or not they have already been caught and sent to prison.

Nonetheless, it is worth reflecting for a moment on the phrase "criminals' rights", because that is how the advocates of rougher justice describe the cause of those who speak out on behalf of prisoners. Just as McCain, regardless of his intentions, defends the rights of terrorists, the ACLU and others defend the rights of criminals.

But the critical point to recognize is that the ACLU etc. aren't petitioning for such rights because they believe that committing a crime entitles one to certian protections, but rather that there are limits to how a democratic government can punish those in its custody.

By extension, there is nothing wrong with describing John McCain or Lindsey Graham or John Warner or OxBlog as an advocate of detainee rights. Those detained by our government still have certain rights, even if they are terrorists. But if that same terrorist were not in US custody but in the crosshairs of a US army sniper, we damn sure would want his head blown off. That is why it is flat out wrong to call us advocates of terorrist rights.
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# Posted 7:23 PM by Patrick Belton  

NAKED WOMEN. And cows. It sure doesn't get much more exciting than Wales.

In other news, they sure do grow up quick these days.
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# Posted 9:05 AM by Patrick Belton  

OXBLOG GOES SHOPPING (FOR CAFFEINE): This seems a likely topic for a Monday morning. We here in the admin staff at OxBlog World Domination Headquarters find it necessary to stock up in large amounts of caffeine, both of the tea and the coffee flavours, for our lengthy days blogging and delicately crafting bad jokes for you our audience.

Two recommendations, who can now add to their warrants 'Purveyor of caffeine products to OxBloggers'. Both are lovely, lovely stores, run by lovely people whose knowledge in their craft is a remant of a delightful prelapsarian age, before Starbucks, when all was bright-crema'd espresso. Each are in London, but serve a broader catchment through post.

For teas, Postcard Teas is run by a delightful man named Timothy d'Offay, who as some measure of his dedication to his craft spent last month's summer holidays picking tea in Sri Lanka and northeast India. His list of wares is, touchingly, interspersed with photographs he took from his travels, of people working in the tea industry and their methods and environs. I had a brilliant Golden Assam off him at his store off New Bond Street with this blog's cherished friend, submitted-d.phil.-turned-food-critic Shira Schnitzer; he told me he was planning a tea tasting for London customers at some point this month, where he will describe different varietals and relevant aspects of their production to help chaiophiles find more to enjoy in their leaves. Do email him on his website if you might like to join in.

For coffee, it's difficult to do better than H.R. Higgins, who hold the royal warrant as coffee merchants, and perhaps an indication more wont to impress, supply the bean to the Italian embassy (sorry Ma'am, but we all know Windsor-Montbattens are meant to drink tea). Like Postcard Teas, if you go to their store on Duke Street, their proprietors and counter staff will set aside their work for massive amounts of time of telling you intricate details of coffee beans and their roasting. I've been very much enjoying their After-Dinner Blend; I believe HE Ambasciatore is partial to Vienna Blend.

I'm reminded in closing this post and nodding back to the Dualit of OxBlog's second-favourite Hungarian (optionally named Paul) Paul Erdös, who referred to a mathematician as a machine for converting coffee into theorems. And who also, touchingly, journeyed - with the Hungarian passport and socks which were his possessions - from mathematicians' houses to others, announcing at each 'my brain is open', collaborating with them on whatever projects came to mind, then asking to whom he should move on. After mastering Hungarian, maths apparently came a cinch. A demitasse to you, Erdös úr.
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# Posted 6:38 AM by Patrick Belton  

PETER BERGEN not only has a thoughtful survey of answers to why 9/11 took place, but also is kind enough to cite a piece Peter Nolan and I wrote for Prospect over the summer in one of his answers, for which we're quite grateful.
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# Posted 12:17 AM by Patrick Belton  

IT SEEEMS LIKE THE PRESS are coming to the conclusion that they're going to miss Cherie. The BBC stalks her through the Labour conference fringes, watching her fail a 'democracy test', misoverestimate the number of Labour MPs, and ('Inevitably') drop a pancake she was flipping. (Admittedly, blindfolded.) One wonders, will Cherie miss them, or does a girl move on?
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# Posted 12:07 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

MASSIVE INTERROGATIONS ROUND-UP: Joe Gandelman brings it all together.
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# Posted 12:01 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

DAILY KOS KONSERVATIVES? Patrick Hynes suggests that some of John McCain's critics have been behaving like Kossacks. Appended to his post are responses from two of the accused.
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Sunday, September 24, 2006

# Posted 1:14 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SPEAKER PELOSI? I am in no way qualified to predict the outcome of House elections, but the rankings over at RCP and Hotline [subscription required] tell an interesting story. Both sets of rankings identify the House races most likely to result in a change of party control. In both sets of rankings, all of the top 20 races involve GOP incumbents or open seats vulnerable to Democratic take over.
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# Posted 12:39 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  


Power Line:
There is no consensus on whether the compromise does or does not permit waterboarding of detainees to continue.
The same post includes messages from three former US military pilots who describe how they experienced waterboarding as part of their training.

Byron York (NRO):
The White House Won — and So Did McCain
Andrew Sullivan:
Two days after the Senate compromise, it appears pretty clear that few know exactly what it prohibits, allows or changes.
More from Andrew here.

Liz Mair:
The President certainly appears to have given up more than he got.
Jed Babbin:
A near-total win for the White House. But the fight is a long way from ending
Clearly, not much consensus on the conservative side of the aisle.
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Saturday, September 23, 2006

# Posted 10:15 PM by Patrick Belton  

A VERY HAPPY NEW YEAR/RAMADAN MUBARAK TO ALL OF OUR FRIENDS AND READERS CELEBRATING ONE OR THE OTHER OR BOTH: The holidays neatly coincide. So to all this blog's Jewish readers, may Allah accept your siyaam, qiyaam and du'as during this beautiful month ameen; and to all of its Islamic friends, L'Shana Tova!

And for an organisation made up of ordinary British Muslims and British Jews seeking humbly to forge ties and understanding between their two communities, please see Alif Aleph.
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# Posted 8:06 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

McCain, Warner, and Graham sold out.
The NYT:
The deal does next to nothing to stop the president from reinterpreting the Geneva Conventions.
Kevin Drum:
At this point it looks like the three Republican "moderates" gave in completely
Juliette Kayyem of TPM:
I'm eating my words; Marty is right -- McCain is a tragic figure now.
Marty is Marty Lederman of law-blog Balkinization, whose analysis is quoted approvingly by Kevin and Matt in addition to Juliette:
It only takes 30 seconds or so to see that the Senators have capitulated entirely, that the U.S. will hereafter violate the Geneva Conventions
Your opinions welcome.
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# Posted 7:34 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

HOW COULD I NOT LINK TO THAT? Substantive analysis is what makes Kevin Drum's blog great. But my black little heart is also warmed by his unflinching ability to expose the stupidity to his immediate left, even though he is a liberal.

Adding insult to injury, Kevin doesn't just slash up the latest pronouncement from Howard Dean [subscribers only]. No, instead Kevin approvingly quoted the commentary of conservative blogger Tom Bevan (whom I also like very much):

[Dean] begins with this: "We need a Democratic Congress to fight the war on terror — and to end the war on America's families." But if you were looking for an explanation in the 1,056 words that followed as to why we need a Democratic Congress to fight the war on terror, you came away disappointed — because Dean never really offered one.

Instead, he launched into a litany of detailed complaints against the Bush economy (falling incomes, stagnant wages, rising heathcare costs, and falling retirement coverage) led off by a muted but obvious piece of populist class warfare right out of Bob Shrum's faded playbook: "An economy that favors the top 1% at the expense of everyone else might be good for President Bush's politics, but a shrinking middle class is bad for capitalism, democracy and America."
Kevin adds to that:
Snark aside, this is sadly accurate. Dean's piece is here, and it contains only one short, fuzzy paragraph about national security at the very end. Essentially, he just ignored the whole issue. That's very, very dumb.
I agree, but what's dumb and what isn't will probably be judged by what happens on election day. And even this kind of dumbness may not prevent a major Democratic in '06. But '08 is a very different story.
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# Posted 7:15 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

A GOOD COMPROMISE? (PART II): I asked whether the Bush-McCain deal on interrogations was a good one. In the comment section, Randy pointed to a WaPo editorial which said "no":
In short, it's hard to credit the statement by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) yesterday that "there's no doubt that the integrity and letter and spirit of the Geneva Conventions have been preserved." In effect, the agreement means that U.S. violations of international human rights law can continue as long as Mr. Bush is president, with Congress's tacit assent.
I still have plenty of reading to do on the subject, but so far the deal sounds more like a truce than a cave-in. The law won't authorize abusive interrogation tactics, but Bush can do so on his own authority. Right now, no one is being subjected to such tactics. If Bush tries to subect any prisoners to such tactics, Congress has the right to reconsider.

Sounds to me like the issue has just been postponed. Although, on the bright side, Rep. Pelosi apparently thinks the Senate bested the White House:
JIM LEHRER: Just based on just the rough knowledge that we all have of this, it looks to you, at least, as if the president and the White House blinked on this?

REP. NANCY PELOSI: Yes, indeed.
Situation developing...
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# Posted 6:51 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WILL PELOSI ADMIT SHE'S A LIBERAL? The president's approval rating hasn't seen the brighter side of 50% in years. Confident liberals installed Howard Dean as chairman of the Democratic party and threw their weight behind a successful anti-Lieberman insurgency. So, has the day finally arrived when the Democratic leadership is no longer afraid of the "L-word"?

Apparently not.

Rep. Pelosi sat down for an interview with Jim Lehrer on PBS Thursday night. Here is an exchange from their discussion of the upcoming election:
JIM LEHRER: [Republicans] say, "Do you really want to turn the House of Representatives over to a liberal Democrat from San Francisco?" How do you respond to that sort of thing?

REP. NANCY PELOSI: An Italian Catholic mother of five, grandmother of five, going on six. The focus is the president of the United States. It's him and his policies and that of the rubber-stamp Republican Congress that are the issue.
If I were from San Francisco, I might've been angry at Pelosi for not saying something like "San Francisco is a proud American city that is home to 750,000 patriotic citizens." Hey, that might even help persaude people that liberals are patriotric.

Also, certain feminists might be appalled that Pelosi tried to establish her professional legitimacy by advertising her ability to reproduce. Aren't a woman's ideas supposed to be what determines her credibility as a politician?

But most importantly of all, Pelosi wouldn't say she was a liberal. And this was no accident, since Lehrer followed up by asking the same question again in a different format:
JIM LEHRER: But just in shorthand terms, it is correct to say, is it not, that if the Democrats do take control of House, whether you're speaker or not, it's going to be a more liberal House of Representatives than there is now, correct?

REP. NANCY PELOSI: It's going to be a more bipartisan Congress. It's going to be a more productive Congress. It's going to be a Congress that is about the future. And, yes, that will be a new direction.
Now, one could argue that this is good strategy. Polls consistently show that there aren't enough self-identified liberals to put the Democrats over the top.

But if the Kos-Dean-Lamont message is that Democrats must get tough, can they do so while rejecting a label in public that almost all of them would in private? Can you be assertive if you don't have a clear identity? Or is putting on a different face for the cameras just part of being tough?

In a midterm election, I think that not being the incumbent may well be enough. As Newt Gingrich suggested a while back, the Democrats' slogan should just be "Had enough?"

But when the White House is on the line and there is only one candidate instead of hundreds, it is hard to persuade the electorate of your integrity if you don't know who you are.
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# Posted 12:34 PM by Patrick Belton  

NEATO FACT OF THE AFTERNOON: In honour of a new year. And for greater insight into Gordo for what it's worth. This from the Oxford Popular History of Britain (Kenneth Morgan, ed. p. 166):
The more the sheriffs' renders were made in cash [in 1129-30 with the monetarisation of annual renders made by sheriffs to the treasury, heretofore, pre-Conquest, paid in kind], the greater the need for an easily followed but quick method of making calculations in pounds, shillings and pence. Thus the chequered table cloth (from which the word exchequer is derived) served as a simplified abacus on which the king's calculator did sums by moving counters from square to square like a croupier. The earliest reference to the exchequer dates from 1100.
The implication for Mr Brown and New Labour is clear. (Actually, it isn't, but it's a neat fact nonetheless.)
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# Posted 10:31 AM by Taylor Owen  

SUNDAY MORNING SCRAP (A PREVIEW): Clinton vs. Wallace on Fox News. Wallace asks about Clinton's failure to kill Bin Laden, and well, Clinton starts swinging:
CLINTON: OK, let’s talk about it. I will answer all of those things on the merits but I want to talk about the context of which this…arises. I’m being asked this on the FOX network…ABC just had a right wing conservative on the Path to 9/11 falsely claim that it was based on the 911 commission report with three things asserted against me that are directly contradicted by the 9/11 commission report. I think it’s very interesting that all the conservative Republicans who now say that I didn’t do enough, claimed that I was obsessed with Bin Laden. All of President Bush’s neocons claimed that I was too obsessed with finding Bin Laden when they didn’t have a single meeting about Bin Laden for the nine months after I left office. All the right wingers who now say that I didn’t do enough said that I did too much. Same people.
This is interesting though:
CLINTON: I authorized the CIA to get groups together to try to kill him. The CIA was run by George Tenet who President Bush gave the medal of freedom to and said he did a good job.. The country never had a comprehensive anti terror operation until I came to office. If you can criticize me for one thing, you can criticize me for this, after the Cole I had battle plans drawn to go into Afghanistan, overthrow the Taliban, and launch a full scale attack search for Bin Laden. But we needed baseing rights in Uzbekistan which we got after 9/11. The CIA and the FBI refused to certify that Bin Laden was responsible while I was there. They refused to certify. So that meant I would have had to send a few hundred special forces in helicopters and refuel at night. Even the 9/11 Commission didn’t do that. Now the 9/11 Commission was a political document too. All I’m asking is if anybody wants to say I didn’t do enough, you read Richard Clarke’s book.
Then it's back on the attack:

WALLACE: Do you think you did enough sir?

CLINTON: No, because I didn’t get him


CLINTON: But at least I tried. That’s the difference in me and some, including all the right wingers who are attacking me now. They ridiculed me for trying. They had eight months to try and they didn’t….. I tired. So I tried and failed. When I failed I left a comprehensive anti-terror strategy and the best guy in the country, Dick Clarke… So you did FOX’s bidding on this show. You did you nice little conservative hit job on me.
Ok, one more:
CLINTON: What did I do? I worked hard to try and kill him. I authorized a finding for the CIA to kill him. We contracted with people to kill him. I got closer to killing him than anybody has gotten since. And if I were still president we’d have more than 20,000 troops there trying to kill him. Now I never criticized President Bush and I don’t think this is useful. But you know we do have a government that think Afghanistan is 1/7 as important as Iraq. And you ask me about terror and Al Qaeda with that sort of dismissive theme when all you have to do is read Richard Clarke’s book to look at what we did in a comprehensive systematic way to try to protect the country against terror. And you’ve got that little smirk on your face. It looks like you’re so clever…
Check out the whole thing, if you're into Clinton porn, it's really quite something.
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Friday, September 22, 2006

# Posted 10:52 AM by Patrick Belton  

NAME MY MENTAL ILLNESS WATCH (OR, 'DEATH TO HOMOPHONES!') It's a disease, I know. And as such should entitle me to extra compensatory time in examinations. But having never been one to mispell misspell letter things incorrectly (though admittedly not reaching Glenn's high levels of schoolboy deletreal success), I've suddenly begun substituting homonyms while typing quickly. Like a new Christian Brother in a 1950s Irish orphanage, I just can't stop. (Which is probably why I try now not to type quickly, for fear of breaking something, or perhaps homophonophobia.)

Of all the brain problems this could possibly indicate, I hope it's the hypergraphia someone attributed to Kierkegaard in relation to the girth of his corpus (compare Stalin's micrographia, or my own undoubted hypographia). That would be useful roundabout now. c.f., Donal Henehan in the NYT:
A physician in Boston, for instance, has proposed that Van Gogh's prolific output of paintings as well as his aggressiveness and other strange habits resulted from a disturbance of the brain. That in itself is hardly news. Undisturbed people do not usually cut off their own ears, for one thing. In the past, doctors have speculated that Van Gogh's problem was schizophrenia, digitalis poisoning or terminal color blindness. However, Dr. Shahram Khoshbin of Harvard Medical School contends that the painter suffered from personality disorder as a result of (I hope I have this right) temporal lobe epilepsy. The ailment apparently triggered something known in psychiatric circles as hypographia, which is defined as a tendency to produce voluminous and compulsive writing, music composition and painting. So said the article in my favorite supermarket tabloid.

I am inclined to go along with Dr. Khoshbin on Van Gogh because he obviously has given the question a lot of thought. His theory does raise larger problems, however. It seems logical to assume that hypographia was rampant among composers in centuries past but has been all but conquered recently, like polio and smallpox. Bach, Telemann, Mozart, Donizetti, Beethoven and Schubert suffered from the condition dreadfully, judging from their staggering outputs. Verdi and Wagner came down with a touch of it, too. But sometime around the turn of the century temporal lobes throughout Western culture healed mysteriously and musical production began to fall off precipitously. Except for a stray Shostakovich or two, composers no longer felt driven to turn out piles of manuscripts. The former plague of masterpieces abated. Today it is the rare composer who is afflicted. Where a Rossini or a Donizetti might feel the need to fling off an opera a month to appease audience hunger, their modern counterparts are in no such grip. Artistic compulsion has been conquered and good health is now endemic in the musical community.
Just think of all the beastly stuff we'd need to listen to if it weren't for Freud; and all the literary criticism we now wouldn't have. Isn't that a feeling of relief tingling its way down your spign?
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# Posted 9:05 AM by Patrick Belton  

BRIT POLITICS WATCH: Our friends in the Henry Jackson Society have interesting takes on David Cameron's first foreign policy speech, on comparing the labels lib con with neo-con, and Thailand's passage from parliamentary democracy to Lord Protectorship. (Which of course calls to mind the instructive and edifying tale of Cromwell's head, an deargamadán.)

Second, I'd like to see where this goes. 18 Doughty Street, billing itself as Britain's first political internet TV channel, is giving 100 camcorders away to citizen journalist reporters to promptly sell them on eBay have strong views and firsthand knowledge of policy issues - doctors on NHS reform (smile, Mrs O'Leary, this is for my podcast), ex-servicemen to talk on forces overstretch (can you hold that position just a bit longer, Mr Hussein), and other people like trade unionists and hoodies (insert your own joke in the comments section).

And OxBlog's drinking buddy BritPundit is picking on BoJo again. Meanie. :) He also weighs in on our Clinton-Remnick debate here on OxBlog, saying 'A vast chunk of the article deals with Clinton's post-Presidential role fighting the spead of AIDS (it's actually more critical than you'd think), and this gets no mention at all.' Clearly preparing the ground for a postdoctoral guest bloggership on OxBlog, I'd say.
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Thursday, September 21, 2006

# Posted 11:43 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

A GOOD COMPROMISE? The WaPo reports that McCain & Co. are very close to a deal with the White House. For more background, see Liz Mair. From what little I've read, it seems like a fair deal.
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# Posted 11:41 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

McCAIN ON INTERROGATIONS: Definitely one of the better op-eds you'll see from a politician. I agree fully.
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# Posted 10:48 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WHAT THE HECK DID THE POPE SAY? I heard four opinions about what the Pope said before I read his actual words. First I read Anne Appelbaum's call for an end to apologies. She writes that:
Western politicians, writers, thinkers and speakers should stop apologizing -- and start uniting...

These principles sound pretty elementary -- "we're pro-free speech and anti-gratuitous violence" -- but in the days since the pope's sermon, I don't feel that I've heard them defended in anything like a unanimous chorus.
Not exactly joining that chorus is Kevin Drum, who writes that:
I finally got around to reading Pope Benedict's recent remarks on reason and faith, and I was appalled. The reference to Islam near the beginning of the speech was entirely gratuitous and disingenuous, as were Benedict's subsequent crocodile tears over the idea that anyone could have taken offense at his remarks. For the record, here's the nickel version of what he said:
Mohammed was a violent man. Violence is unreasonable. God loves reason. Draw your own conclusions.
Hmmm. I have a lot confidence in and respect for Kevin. The same applies to Anne Applebaum. Yet she argues that the only reason for the current outrage in the Muslim world is because:
Benedict XVI, speaking at the University of Regensburg, quoted a Byzantine emperor who, more than 600 years ago, called Islam a faith "spread by the sword."
And so the mystery deepens. Surely, I thought, public television would help me figure out what's going on. So I listened to a segment from PBS Newshour entitled "Pope's Comments on Islam Incite Outrage and Protest."

Well, you can sort of tell from the title what their spin on the matter is, but there was a very good discussion with Benedict biographer George Weigel and Islamic scholar Nihad Awad. Here is how Weigel summarized the Pope's message:
In a religious dialogue, genuine dialogue between people of different religious convictions must be based on reason. It can't be based on passion.

Secondly, attempts to justify violence in the name of God are themselves irrational and, therefore, impede that kind of dialogue. And, therefore, the challenge I think he was trying to pose to Islamic leaders throughout the world -- some of whom have accepted that challenge -- is to discipline and correct those within their own community who would make the case that God commands the murder of innocents.
Finally, according to Awad, the Pope
said that Muhammad commanded his followers to spread the faith by the sword. This [has] never happened.
As Awad explained, Muslims were offended by this historical inaccuracy.

So, then, what did the Pope say? First, of all, I should warn you that 90% of what the Pope said concerns esoteric debates within the Christian tradition about the relationship between reason and faith. I found them very, very interesting, but won't pretend that I really understand them.

From a narrower political perspective, the "key graf" of the Pope's lecture is this one:
In the seventh conversation [between the Byzantine emperor and his Persian interlocutor] the emperor touches on the theme of the holy war. The emperor must have known that surah 2, 256 reads: "There is no compulsion in religion". According to the experts, this is one of the suras of the early period, when Mohammed was still powerless and under threat. But naturally the emperor also knew the instructions, developed later and recorded in the Qur'an, concerning holy war.

Without descending to details, such as the difference in treatment accorded to those who have the "Book" and the "infidels", he addresses his interlocutor with a startling brusqueness on the central question about the relationship between religion and violence in general, saying: "Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached".

The emperor, after having expressed himself so forcefully, goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable. Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul. "God", he says, "is not pleased by blood - and not acting reasonably is contrary to God's nature. Faith is born of the soul, not the body. Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats... To convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person with death...".
I think it's fair to say that the Pope's words were not politically correct. Then again, I'm no fan of political correctness.

As I read the Pope's lecture, I expected him to include an explicit refutation of the Byzantine emperor's characterization of Mohammed's teachings as "evil and inhuman", lest anyone misunderstand the meaning of his lecture. Yet Benedict did observe that the emperor expressed him "forcefully" and with "startling brusqueness". Clearly, the Pope wanted his audience to know that he appreciated the controversial nature of the emperor's words. Yet he did not explicitly refute them.

What are we to make of this? I like George Weigel's suggestion that the Pope's words were a challenge. Let Muslim scholars and clergymen demonstrate that they are willing to conduct an interfaith dialogue based on reason. With rare exceptions, it is not the clergymen of Europe or the United States who call for violence in the name of religion. Thus the burden lies on the students of Islam to demonstrate that they will take responsibility for eradicating the extremists in their midst.

This is not necessarily a friendly message. This is not how one conducts a touchy-feely interfaith dialogue. But it is also far from being the crude anti-Islamic propaganda I expected after reading Kevin's post. I also disagree with Kevin's characterization of the pope's apology as "crocodile tears".

In fact, I wouldn't even describe it as an apology. Rather, the Pope states for the record, once again, that he has tremendous respect for Islam and does not share the view of the emperor he quoted. But he does not retract his challenge.

Some might say this challenge isn't wise. Enraged Muslims are not ready for a spirited debate in which Christians fail to show exquisite deference to their sensitivities. But if bombing churches and burning the Pope in effigy is the most visible response of the Muslim world, I'm not sure that sensitivity and political correctness will do much good. Perhaps, as Anne Appelbaum suggests, a united front in defense of free speech is what the situation deserves.
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# Posted 1:07 PM by Patrick Belton  

OXBLOG BOYS CORNER OF THE DAY: Shaveblog, for men who shave, and I suppose also for women who shave, who would be interested in touching up their legs with a straight razor. There's one of you out there. It's the beauty of the internet.
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# Posted 11:45 AM by Patrick Belton  

PADDYWHACKERY OF THE DAY: Sent us by a fetching academic in Armagh. Greannmhar. Agus fíor.

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Tuesday, September 19, 2006

# Posted 11:00 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

BEING AN EX-PRESIDENT DOES WONDERS FOR YOUR POPULARITY, TAYLOR: Like Reagan, Clinton left office with extraordinary approval ratings. Much more interesting is how Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush recovered their popularity after leaving office.

This is an especially relevant point with regard to Bush. In 1992, liberals saw him as the embodiment of everything they'd fought against for the past twelve years. Nor had they forgotten his vicious campaign in 1988 against Michael Dukaksis.

At the same time, conservatives profoundly resented Bush for being a weak president defeated by an upstart Arkansan. Yet after eight years of Arkansan government, conservatives had begun to remember the Bush years as a golden age. Many said they wished he was running against Gore instead of his son.

And now, after six years of his son, liberals constantly praise the judiciousness and moderation of Bush pere. Memory, you see, is a very tricky thing.

Or perhaps in Canada they do it better?
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# Posted 10:41 PM by Taylor Owen  

CLINTON: Apparently still popular on oxblog...
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# Posted 10:37 PM by Taylor Owen  

BOMBS OVER CAMBODIA: I have an article out in this month’s Walrus Magazine on the US bombing of Cambodia, written with Ben Kiernan. We use a yet unpublished database of all US sorties over the country to challenge some of the historical record and consequences of the strikes. The lead is below, I will post the whole thing when allowed in a few weeks. Will also pass on the other more academic articles as they are published:

In the fall of 2000, twenty-five years after the end of the war in Indochina, Bill Clinton became the first US president since Richard Nixon to visit Vietnam. While media coverage of the trip was dominated by talk of some two thousand US soldiers still classified as missing in action, a small act of great historical importance went almost unnoticed. As a humanitarian gesture, Clinton released extensive Air Force data on all American bombings of Indochina between 1964 and 1975. Recorded using a groundbreaking ibm-designed system, the database provided extensive information on sorties conducted over Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia.

Clinton’s gift was intended to assist in the search for unexploded ordnance left behind during the carpet bombing of the region. Littering the countryside, often submerged under farmland, this ordnance remains a significant humanitarian concern. It has maimed and killed farmers, and rendered valuable land all but unusable. Development and demining organizations have put the Air Force data to good use over the past six years, but have done so without noting its full implications, which turn out to be staggering.

The still-incomplete database (it has several “dark” periods) reveals that from October 4, 1965, to August 15, 1973, the United States dropped far more ordnance on Cambodia than was previously believed: 2,756,941 tons’ worth, dropped in 230,516 sorties on 113,716 sites. Just over 10 percent of this bombing was indiscriminate, with 3,580 of the sites listed as having “unknown” targets and another 8,238 sites having no target listed at all. The database also shows that the bombing began four years earlier than is widely believed — not under Nixon, but under Lyndon Johnson.

The impact of this bombing, the subject of much debate for the past three decades, is now clearer than ever. Civilian casualties in Cambodia drove an enraged populace into the arms of an insurgency that had enjoyed relatively little support until the bombing began, setting in motion the expansion of the Vietnam War deeper into Cambodia, a coup d’état in 1970, the rapid rise of the Khmer Rouge, and ultimately the Cambodian genocide.

The data demonstrates that the way a country chooses to exit a conflict can have disastrous consequences. It therefore speaks to contemporary warfare as well, including US operations in Iraq. Despite many differences, a critical similarity links the war in Iraq with the Cambodian conflict: an increasing reliance on air power to battle a heterogeneous, volatile insurgency.

To put 2,756,941 tons into perspective, the Allies dropped just over 2 million tons of bombs during all of World War II. Cambodia may be the most heavily bombed country in history.

UPDATE: The article is available here, if you give an email address. I'll link a pdf in a couple of weeks.
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# Posted 10:36 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

MALKIN ON CLINTON: Not surprisingly (but again not unjustly), Michelle Malkin responds to David Remnick's profile of the ex-president by making light of Clinton's apology for doing nothing to stop the genocide in Rwanda. Clinton told Remnick that:
Rwanda was the worst foreign-policy mistake of his administration.

"Whatever happened, I have to take responsibility for it," he said. "We never even had a staff meeting it. But I don't blame anybody that works for me. I should have alert and alive to it."
Malkin responds: "How big of him."

The art of the apology is certainly something that Clinton has mastered. He could give lessons to the likes of Trent Lott, George Allen and the current president. But why is it that Clinton seems so good at apologizing but so bad at avoiding things he must apologize for?

Were I a liberal partisan, I would defend Clinton from Malkin by suggesting (correctly, I think) that conservatives demonstrated even less concern about Rwanda than liberals. How ironic for them to criticize him now. As numerous Rwandans apparently told Clinton, it mattered to them that he apologized because he was the only one who did.

But what interests me more than the point scoring is what Clinton thinks he should have done. An air campaign like Kosovo? If that didn't work, send in the Marines? Or would a UN resolution be necessary?

Unfortunately, either Clinton didn't pursue that line of reasoning or Remnick didn't report it. By the same token, there is nothing in the article about Darfur, which is quite surprising given that Remnick accompanied Clinton on a tour of a half-dozen nations in Africa.

The purpose of the tour was to promote Clinton's campaign against AIDS. It's hard to imagine that Clinton said nothing about Africans being slaughtered in Darfur while trying to save Africans elsewhere.

I'm especially interested because I want to know if Clinton now has a clear set of ideas about how to conduct American foreign relations. His party is desperate for a coherent doctrine and would benefit from any lessons the president has to share.
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# Posted 10:28 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE WEEKLY STANDARD ON CLINTON: Not surprisingly (but not unjustly), the Standard responded to David Remnick's extra-long profile of the ex-president by compiling all of the most ridiculous quotations from the article. Here is the undisputed winner:

"[Bonobo apes] have the most incredibly developed social sense," [Clinton] said. "When one of them makes a kill, they share the food, unlike all the other apes."

And then, Clinton said, with a laugh, "they fall down to the ground and have group sex! It's a way of relieving aggression! Such behavior, he said, "would drive the Christian right crazy!"
Almost as crazy as a b****** from an intern.
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# Posted 10:03 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

CLINTON, CLINTON AND MORE CLINTON: In days of yore, it was not uncommon for the New Yorker to publish articles that would go on and on and on for more than twenty pages. Last week, the magazine briefly returned to form with a twenty-four page profile of Bill Clinton by top editor David Remnick. [No link, but Remnick did a Q&A about the piece.]

I described the article to my girlfriend as "Clinton porn", self-consciously enjoying the irony of the phrase. Why, I asked, does the world need yet another long profile of the president it has known more intimately than any other? The issue, however, isn't need, but want.

As the war in Iraq grinds on and our current president remains as folksily ineloquent as ever, those who subscribe to the New Yorker yearn for the good old days when there was a worldly intellectual orator in the White House. (Personally, I don't mind Bush's style so much precisely because it infuriates brainy liberals. If it didn't, I'd prefer a change.)

Reading twenty-four pages about Clinton, filled with the president's perorations about every subject from soccer to monkeys, delivers a powerful fantasy regarding what one desperately wants but can never have.

But if I don't have that fantasy, why was I reading the article? Well, I'm curious about Clinton. I was a conscious young adult while he was president, but I feel I know nothing about him. I have clear memories of all the major events of the Clinton presidency, but I never paid close enough attention to any them to have much confidence in what I know.

Sure, I read the papers. But now I know how easy it is to come away with the wrong ideas as a casual consumer of political information.

That said, consider the next few posts, all about Remnick's profile, to be a set of open questions I have about what Clinton meant for the Democrats and for America.
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# Posted 10:48 AM by Taylor Owen  

SCORE ONE FOR INCOMPETENCE: Dresner has a good overview up of the ongoing incompetence dodge debate. While the two arguments, incompetence and doomed to failure, are of course not mutually exclusive, Dresner rightly points out that the former is greatly substantiated by the new book by Chandrasekaran on the failures of the CPA, excerpted in this, much discussed (for example, here, here, here, and here), WaPo piece this weekend.
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Monday, September 18, 2006

# Posted 10:13 PM by Patrick Belton  

WHAT PRICE AN MP?: In addition to following the evolution of the Tory A-list, ConservativeHome tots up the cost of standing for a Commons seat.
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# Posted 9:20 PM by Patrick Belton  


666i - BMW of the Beast
i66686 - CPU of the Beast
$656.66 - Wal-Mart price of the Beast
0.666666 - Number of the Millibeast
667 - Guy Across the Street From the Beast
660 - Approximate number of the Beast
666 * (-1)^(1/2) - Imaginary number of the Beast
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# Posted 8:11 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SUNDAY MORNING ROUND-UP: George Allen and Jim Webb went head-to-head on NBC. CBS had a trio of senators -- Graham, Specter and Levin -- followed by Steve Hadley. ABC had John McCain followed by Steve Hadley.
Allen: B-. Knows his talking points. Still insists "macaca" was something he made up on the spot.

Webb: B-. Like Allen, no deeper than talking points. Worst of all was the Kerry-esque talking point about how Syria and Iran will help us fix thing in Iraq if we just approach them constructively.

Graham: A-. A solid defense of why it's wrong to abuse detainees.

Specter: B. Reasonable. Unexciting.

Levin: B. If CBS has on three senators, one has to be a Democrat.

Hadley on CBS: B-. Confusing. If Schieffer had been tough, Hadley would've looked very bad.

McCain: B. Candid. Quietly impassioned. But very confusing. For obvious reasons, McCain's position on this issue comes straight from the gut. He gets an 'A' for being on the side of the angels and for taking on a president from his own party, but his Sunday morning performance rested on a fair amount of oversimplification.

Hadley: C-. He gets a 'C-' and not a 'D' because the head of the NSC is obligated to attempt desperate spin jobs when the president stakes out an untenable position. All you really have to know is that when Stephanopoulos asked Hadley what techniques allowed by the White House bill would be outlawed by the McCain alternative, Hadley dodged, dodged and dodged again. In short, the White House is afraid to tell the American people what it actually wants to do to prisoners.
Finally, much praise goes to George Stephanopoulos, who was at least as tough on John McCain as he was on Steve Hadley. When a Republican goes against his party and takes a position approved by the media, he can usually expect softballs.

As a McCain supporter, I don't want my man getting complacement. The media will get a lot rougher during campaign season.
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Sunday, September 17, 2006

# Posted 10:40 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

FRUM ON McCAIN (A RESPONSE TO TAYLOR): Ask and ye shalt receive. Frum has two main arguments. First, senators almost never become president. Second, GOP primary voters don't trust McCain anymore than Connecticut primary voters trust Lieberman.

I'm not sure the analogy to Lieberman holds. Lamont supporters didn't have to worry about their man facing a credible GOP challenger in the general election. There was simply no way the GOP was going to take Lieberman's seat in the Senate.

But when GOP primary voters pick up their ballots, they will know that the price of rejecting McCain may be a Democratic victory in November. And if Hillary is still the frontrunner when primary season begins, a Democratic victory will be a very scary prospect.

So what about the senate curse? Can a candidate without executive experience prevail? Unless being First Lady counts as executive experience, being a senator won't hurt McCain in a showdown with Hillary.

But what if McCain faces Mark Warner or some equally inoffensive Democrat? Although I think executive experience is worth something at the polls, I doubt it's decisive. John Kerry lost because had no clear position on big security issues. Bob Dole lost, among other reasons, because national security didn't matter in 1996. But McCain has impeccable credentials when it comes to national security.

It's also worth noting that Democrats with executive experience -- think Mondale, Dukakis and Gore -- don't exactly have a great record at the polls.

Finally, might a lack of executive experience cost McCain the primary? I doubt it. Frum mentions that Giuliani and Mitt Romney have strong executive resumes, but I just can't imagine how voters who think McCain is too conservative will choose one of them instead.
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# Posted 10:27 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE NEW REPUBLIC TRIES TO SHOW IT ACTUALLY IS LIBERAL: The editors at TNR seem to be worried about becoming the journalistic equivalent of Joe Lieberman. And who can blame them?

In order to avoid that unpleasant fate, they've come up with a tough editorial blasting Republicans:
We don't want moderate Republicans to disappear, right? Surely we don't want Congress to descend irrevocably into bitter partisanship, do we? Actually, yes, we do. This November, it's time for voters to wipe out the remnants of the GOP's moderate wing--and without regrets.
Now why would TNR want that? The editors explain that:
When GOP moderates appeal to the spirit of bipartisanship or claim they can influence their leadership, they are recalling a bygone era...

[Their] displays of independence are a sham. Republicans have invented, or perfected, numerous methods of projecting the fake image of intraparty dissent.
That's a tough argument to make, unless the editors are prepared to argue that Sens. McCain, Graham, Warner and Collins are only pretending to oppose the White House position on torture.
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# Posted 9:40 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

ALTERNATIVE MEANS OF INTERROGATION: My position on this issue won't surprise anyone. I stand 100% behind John McCain. In a war of ideas, we cannot compromise our values for questionable gains in intelligence.

What I don't understand is why the White House didn't see this confrontation coming. As David Brooks perceptively observed:
John McCain does not want to be bucking his president when he wants to run for president himself and face Republican primary voters. George Bush doesn't want this, because they all want to be unified against the Democrats. So why is this happening?
Brooks argues that both McCain and Bush have dug in hard because both of them believe strongly in their own position. That is correct, but it doesn't explain the White House's failure on the public relations front.

When Bush first came out with his demand for a bill approving of military trials and rough interrogation methods, a lot of liberals got scared. In the New Yorker, George Packer blasted Bush for his "distortions" and "lies", but grudgingly gave him credit for :
flummoxing a newly confident opposition...[Bush] forced the Democrats into an agonizingly familiar position: the preëlection defensive crouch...

It was the kind of performance—part inspirational, part fear-purveying, part bullying—that used to be this President’s signature. Its deftness and its timing were reminiscent of his successful effort in the weeks before the last midterm elections, in 2002.
Packer didn't express much confidence in McCain and his allies, writing that they:
Will either stand up to their party leaders or find a way to declare technical victory while caving in.
Yet McCain & Co. continue to hold strong. Why didn't the White House recognize that Republican senators would undermine what liberals feared was a political masterstroke?

I don't have a real answer, but my best guess is that the White House was thinking in election mode, where the only salient difference is between Democrats and Republicans.

Now what about the Democrats? Where are they on this issue now that the headlines have focused on GOP infighting? In conversation with David Brooks, Mark Shields praised the strategy of his comrades-in-arms:
With uncharacteristic discipline, the Democrats have gone mute. They've let this argument and this debate occur between the White House, and the president, and several of his supporters on Capitol Hill.
Consensual silence may be an achievement for the Democrats, but why haven't they figured out how to launch a concerted attack on Bush at the same time that he has to deal with McCain & Co.?

The Democrats are in a tough position. Like John Kerry in '04, they seem mortally afraid of coming out strongly against POW abuse. Given how strongly Democrats claim to feel about torture this seems like a somewhat cowardly position, but perhaps it is simply a recognition of political reality.

Even, so this pragmatism has a cost. Every time John McCain claims the mantle of leadership on an issue of national importance, he comes that much closer to winning the White House. Moreover, since McCain's greatest liability as a general election candidate may be his association with Bush, the chance to challenge the President so publicly while the Democrats remain silent helps demonstrate McCain's independence.

That's bad for the Democrats, but I'm not going to shed any tears.
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# Posted 3:28 PM by Patrick Belton  

BELOW-DECKS WATCH: For those of you who don't regularly read our comments, I thought this bit was worthy of rescuing from beneath the fold. This from discussion on my post on the Pope on a Rope:
Whatever, Muslims seems to grasp at anything to get frothy at the mouth about.
posted by Anonymous : 11:26 AM
Whatever, Christians seem to grasp at anything to get frothy at the mouth about.
posted by Anonymous : 12:16 PM
Whatever, Jews seem to grasp at anything to get frothy at the mouth about.
posted by Anonymous : 12:16 PM
Whatever, anonymouses seem to grasp at anything to get frothy at the mouth about.
posted by Anonymous : 12:07 AM
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# Posted 12:37 PM by Patrick Belton  

MEAN ADVERTS SUCK WATCH: I was just paused to think, after reading some Aussie (not Porter) mouthing off in the Sunday Times about being rather glad turbaned terrorists had not knocked over the Chrysler Building or Rockefeller Center.

But what stopped me in the midst of my hot cocoa (courtesy my £1.20 Dualit espresso maker's milk frother, the gift that keeps on giving) wasn't so much Robert Hughes's decrying of monumental architecture. (Though he does, and it did; while I agree with him on the Bibliothèque Nationale, which turned out terribly suited in its window design for its basic purpose of archival preservation of books, I think it's a bit much to disavow the whole project. For no other reason than 95 per cent of things done in any avenue of culture are a bit rubbish anyway, but it's the 5 per cent that matter). It had more to do with a falling twin towers colliding against several Land Rovers transiting eastwardly across my screen. What I'm more curious about today is the reorientation of the commercial economy of newspapers toward online advertisement.

As everyone knows, the New York Times is meant to lose money on straightforward sales from each print impression. Where they recoup is on adverts, and there the marginal added sale provides them with a basis for charging more from advert purchases. So far, so likely to keep the world in grey. With internet readership now displacing print, newspapers have turned to dubious ideas such as Times Select, watching an advert voluntarily as with Salon (or unobtrusively as with, say, the Washington Post), or - the proximate cause of my hot milk growing colder as we speak* - the Sunday Times's rather obtrusive use of automobiles chasing you around the screen, requiring you to click on their moving target several times in a way likely to provoke nostalgic memories of Space Invaders, but perhaps not pleasant sentiments toward Land Rover. This is the point I'm hung up on - is obtrusive advertising really likely to stir readers to enhanced chances of buying a product, or favourability toward its brand; or is it not as wont to provoke revenge selection of a product which has not been touted as loudly or with as poor manners. Somewhat in the way we're all more likely to buy our curry from the store without the tout outside, ceteris being paribus.

Just a thought. Readers, please correct me where I'm wrong. There have got to be people who know this market much, much, much better than I do.

* For the lacteal formal cause instead, see the Allen Ginsburg restatement of the laws of thermodynamics:
First law of thermodynamics - 'You can't win.'
Second law of thermodynamics - 'You can't break even.'
Third law of thermodynamics -'You can't quit.' (Because you can never get to absolute zero.)
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Saturday, September 16, 2006

# Posted 9:55 PM by Patrick Belton  

THOUGHTS ON THE CLOSE OF A WEEK THAT INCLUDED 9/11: Sixty-one years after Hiroshima, five after 9/11 and a mere one after 7/7, a nuclear terrorist attack on London could bring a half-million dead and damage exceeding £1 trillion. The point's not wholly academic: Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller, the director-general of the Security Service, calls it 'only a matter of time' before the west sees a terrorist attack with nuclear, chemical or biological weapons. Her service additionally estimates the presence of one thousand terrorist operatives and their immediate supporters in Britain. The question is, how much has preparedness for this new threat progressed beyond the 1963 civil defence instructions to 'wear stout shoes'?

There are indications the answer may be, very little. Analysts who study nuclear smuggling report complex networks of diverse, cooperating groups to be transporting highly-enriched uranium and other nuclear materials regularly out of Russia into western Europe, where their end recipients maintain connections with terrorist organisations. The 7 July review committee of the London assembly found shockingly little progress has been achieved since last year's Tube bombings, in emergency communications and medical preparation for large-scale disaster. And recent disclosures in a book by BBC security correspondent Gordon Corera indicate that at the very time key proliferation damage was being caused by Dr AQ Khan's Pakistan-based nuclear proliferation network (a 'Wal-Mart of private-sector proliferation', in words of IAEA chief Mohammed elBaradei), MI6 personnel producing evidence of Pakistani proliferation were roundly ignored in Washington, while CIA and Pentagon staff attempting the same were generally fired. (In some sort of record, Richard Barlow, whose job first at the CIA and then at the Pentagon was to relay information to his superiors on proliferation, was dismissed twice for doing it.)

To give an example of the scale of the threat, by my best research a fairly rudimentary 1-kiloton nuclear device exploded in the centre of Trafalgar Square would kill in the first minute through thermal radiation all persons between Nelson's Column and Horse Guards, located outside or by windows. Within the second minute, the energy of the blast would kill all between Trafalgar Square and the Houses of Parliament, while radiation would kill everyone between Waterloo and Buckingham Palace. People in the City would receive heat injuries; while depending on winds and meteorological conditions, radiological fallout could extend to Penzance. The loss of life would include eventual deaths from carcinogenesis; building damage alone would reach hundreds of billions of pounds.

There are three stories here, which intersect and do not provide cause for comfort. One, following a war so splendidly executed the Bush White House must somehow have been in on it, an Iran closer each day to the bomb is increasingly assertive, and some ambiguity attaches itself to the next tactical steps by a Hizbullah which may or may not be the final recipient of Iranian nuclear largesse (thoughts on this point welcome). Two, there is the bad story of supine nonproliferation and chapter 7 enforcement systems, which failed world security in the case of A.Q. Khan, and may do so again with Iran. Third, there is the bad story on the home front of lessons not learnt from 7/7, with best indications being that New Labour has managed neither to heal the gap between Britain's Muslims and its mainstream populace, nor to implement the emergency and communications lessons from the Tube bombings.

Best wear stout shoes.
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# Posted 8:08 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

DARWINISM IN THE BLOGOSPHERE: Matthew Mehan has some entertaining thoughts about the TTLB Ecosystem.
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# Posted 1:52 PM by Taylor Owen  

SEC GEN STRAW POLL: The results of the General Assembly straw poll are in.

1. South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon
2. UN official Shashi Tharoor of
3. Thai Deputy Prime Minister Surakiart Sathirathai
Jordan's ambassador to the United Nations, Prince Zeid al-Hussein
5. Jayantha Dhanapala of
Sri Lanka, a former head of the UN disarmament department.

Of course, the poll doesn’t mean that much as the chosen one must be security council veto proof. Me, I’m still hoping for the dark horse Canadian
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# Posted 1:07 PM by Taylor Owen  

FRUM ON McCAIN: I would be curious what oxblog readers, and David in particular, think of Frum's assessment of McCain's presidential chances? Maybe he is pushing an agenda here, but the reasoning seems weak to me. He cites both the senatorial curse and what he calls the Lieberman Catch:

McCain's friend and Senate colleague Joe Lieberman likewise made a career out of vibrating between the parties. Like McCain, Lieberman never really strayed that far from the Democratic line: He accumulated a strongly liberal voting record, adhering with special fidelity to every last demand of the environmentalist and civil rights lobbies.

But even though he voted liberal, he forfeited liberal trust. And last month, he forfeited the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senator from Connecticut.

Conservative Republicans likewise do not trust John McCain. And candidates who cannot win the trust of their parties do not win their parties' primaries.

A tad deterministic? A bit overstated?
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# Posted 9:00 AM by Patrick Belton  

GOOD IDEA OF THE DAY: This courtesy Auntie.
Some commentators in Rome have suggested it may be useful for his lecture to be translated into Arabic, so that people can make their own judgement and see for themselves in what context the quote was made.
In other developments, Outside the Whale retort interestingly to my post below and argue the Pope is doing his best to depict the west as crusading against Islam; also, the imperial dialogue may have been largely fictional. There's also a post by the BBC religion correspondent (link eluding my drink-addled brain) pointing out the Sura in question is generally held to be from the Prophet's middle rather than early period, showing at the very least Professor Ratzinger needs a new research assistant. Hey, I'm up for it.

Also, OxBlog London HQ has been taken over by Pakistani draq queens, who are at the moment making fun of other drag queens. I'm not making this up; I've merely woken up into the contemporary London version of the Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (fewer drugs; more chai and makeup).
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Friday, September 15, 2006

# Posted 10:44 PM by Patrick Belton  

BROOKINGS run an event on French Muslims, with an online transcript.
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# Posted 7:45 AM by Patrick Belton  

POPE STICKS A WHITE SLIPPER IN IT: One of the world's leaders has just stirred immense debate by a controversial public address, leading to riots in such distant parts of the world as the Middle East, South Asia and Zone 4. I refer, of course, to OxBlog's good friend Rod Dacombe, who appeared on Radio Open Source to talk about the Blair succession crisis.

Also controversial was a speech given by the Pope in Bavaria on Tuesday (or, if you want to see it misquoted, read it in the NYT instead). A pope who bears an uncanny resemblance to Palpatine, conservative religious attacks upon a major religion which don't even have the advantage of involving a cartoon, leiderhosen - this had it all, at least all the ingredients for either tragedy or farce. The response has been predictably subdued and scholarly. The head of Turkey's IRP party has already compared Benedict XVI to Hitler and Mussolini (not fair! he was only in the anti-aircraft corps...*), the pope has been denounced by Pakistan's parliament and foreign office, and undoubtedly later this afternoon the head of the BNP will become a Catholic. It's a far cry from his predecessor's rock concerts and pope on a rope. We do live in fallen times. And this blog did after all endorse Cardinal Martini.

But to back up a second. I'd hope, on grounds of decency, to be among the first to stand up against attacks upon my Muslim neighbours, friends and messy flatmate, and upon their faith. I sat down, in fact, expecting to write a post rather critical of the Pope. But in reading the actual transcribed text when I'd dug it up online, my initial response was that it was politically inelegant in its ability to be quoted extracontextually for effect, but not substantively repugnant to Islam.

To look more closely at the text, the Pope is simply setting up the Euthyphro dilemma, and contrasting a view of natural concordance between the divine will and rationality which he finds in John, against the divine command view of the theologian Said ibn al-Musayyib ibn Hazn, or indeed, the Binding of Isaac.
It is a moving experience for me to stand and give a lecture at this university podium once again. I think back to those years when, after a pleasant period at the Freisinger Hochschule, I began teaching at the University of Bonn. This was in 1959, in the days of the old university made up of ordinary professors. The various chairs had neither assistants nor secretaries, but in recompense there was much direct contact with students and in particular among the professors themselves. We would meet before and after lessons in the rooms of the teaching staff. There was a lively exchange with historians, philosophers, philologists and, naturally, between the two theological faculties. Once a semester there was a dies academicus, when professors from every faculty appeared before the students of the entire university, making possible a genuine experience of universitas: the reality that despite our specializations which at times make it difficult to communicate with each other, we made up a whole, working in everything on the basis of a single rationality with its various aspects and sharing responsibility for the right use of reason - this reality became a lived experience. The university was also very proud of its two theological faculties. It was clear that, by inquiring about the reasonableness of faith, they too carried out a work which is necessarily part of the "whole" of the universitas scientiarum, even if not everyone could share the faith which theologians seek to correlate with reason as a whole. This profound sense of coherence within the universe of reason was not troubled, even when it was once reported that a colleague had said there was something odd about our university: it had two faculties devoted to something that did not exist: God. That even in the face of such radical scepticism it is still necessary and reasonable to raise the question of God through the use of reason, and to do so in the context of the tradition of the Christian faith: this, within the university as a whole, was accepted without question.

I was reminded of all this recently, when I read the edition by Professor Theodore Khoury (Münster) of part of the dialogue carried on - perhaps in 1391 in the winter barracks near Ankara - by the erudite Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus and an educated Persian on the subject of Christianity and Islam, and the truth of both. It was probably the emperor himself who set down this dialogue, during the siege of Constantinople between 1394 and 1402; and this would explain why his arguments are given in greater detail than the responses of the learned Persian. The dialogue ranges widely over the structures of faith contained in the Bible and in the Qur’an, and deals especially with the image of God and of man, while necessarily returning repeatedly to the relationship of the "three Laws": the Old Testament, the New Testament and the Qur’an. In this lecture I would like to discuss only one point - itself rather marginal to the dialogue itself - which, in the context of the issue of "faith and reason", I found interesting and which can serve as the starting-point for my reflections on this issue.

In the seventh conversation, edited by Professor Khoury, the emperor touches on the theme of the jihad (holy war). The emperor must have known that surah 2, 256 reads: "There is no compulsion in religion". It is one of the suras of the early period, when Mohammed was still powerless and under threat. But naturally the emperor also knew the instructions, developed later and recorded in the Qur’an, concerning holy war. Without decending to details, such as the difference in treatment accorded to those who have the "Book" and the "infidels", he turns to his interlocutor somewhat brusquely with the central question on the relationship between religion and violence in general, in these words: "Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached". The emperor goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable. Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul. "God is not pleased by blood, and not acting reasonably ... is contrary to God’s nature. Faith is born of the soul, not the body. Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats... To convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person with death...".

The decisive statement in this argument against violent conversion is this: not to act in accordance with reason is contrary to God’s nature. The editor, Theodore Khoury, observes: For the emperor, as a Byzantine shaped by Greek philosophy, this statement is self-evident. But for Muslim teaching, God is absolutely transcendent. His will is not bound up with any of our categories, even that of rationality. Here Khoury quotes a work of the noted French Islamist R. Arnaldez, who points out that Ibn Hazn went so far as to state that God is not bound even by his own word, and that nothing would oblige him to reveal the truth to us. Were it God’s will, we would even have to practise idolatry.

As far as understanding of God and thus the concrete practice of religion is concerned, we find ourselves faced with a dilemma which nowadays challenges us directly. Is the conviction that acting unreasonably contradicts God’s nature merely a Greek idea, or is it always and intrinsically true? I believe that here we can see the profound harmony between what is Greek in the best sense of the word and the biblical understanding of faith in God. Modifying the first verse of the Book of Genesis, John began the prologue of his Gospel with the words: "In the beginning was the logos' This is the very word used by the emperor: God acts with logos.
There are two things going on here, it seems to me. There is on the one hand a colouring of Islam with irrationality and compulsion, not directly but by mere proximity of quotation, and unfortunate citing of the emperor's 'evil and inhuman' remark from what is otherwise constructed as a respectful dialogue between accomplished intellectuals. On this, public response has seized. But there is something else also; the emperor's 'evil and inhuman' derision is qualified by the Pope as 'brusque'. And setting aside the note of religious violence which is introduced but not pursued, the Pope returns to relating faith to rationality, a point where theological traditions, including here ones within religions, differ (c.f. Kierkegaard v Aquinas). A bit ham-handed perhaps, but one might even have argued that in the second aspect here we have a respectful pope attempting in a somewhat bumbling manner, and without the political grace of his predecessor, to engage theologically with the Islamic tradition and its contemplation of God - just the sort of engagement between West and East people of good will ought applaud. It seems to me in this second regard the pope is attempting a dies academicus between religious traditions, which is something much more clever and respectful than the saccharine anodyne of most interreligious activity as it tends to be conducted. It's at any rate in a different register of intellect and intention to 'islamic fascism', altogether.

So mixed reviews, but I'll step in for partial defence of the pope, to note what he was doing was a bit more complex than slathering the Qur'an in pork fat.

*More chillingly, a Ratzinger cousin was killed for eugenic reasons because of his Down's syndrome, in 1941.
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