Sunday, December 31, 2006

# Posted 6:00 PM by Patrick Belton  

L'SHANA TOVAH to all our friends and stalkers! Off to pay respects to the London Eye's annual aerial bombardment, the would-be aesthete in me quietly hoping this is the year it gets taken out by a stray sparkler....
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Friday, December 29, 2006

# Posted 9:49 AM by Taylor Owen  

WIDER IMPLICATIONS OF SADDAM’S DEATH SENTENCE: That Saddam has been tried for past atrocities is in most respects a positive development for Iraq. The use of capital punishment, however, might be symbolic of a systemic flaw in the US approach to the occupation since the fall of Baghdad.

With self-serving mea culpas abound, and more and more people taking a stern realist tack from desired to possible outcomes, core principles that have led to the current humanitarian disaster deserve to be challenged.

Simply blaming the disbanding of the Army, or the incompetence of pre-pubescent CPA advisors is not sufficient, nor particularly productive save for those distancing themselves from a policy they staked their worldview on.

The singular moment in which the peace was lost must be seen to be linked to the gross failure of legitimacy following the fall of Baghdad. Much like a similar moment in Afghanistan, most Iraqis were likely willing to give the occupying regime a chance. However, legitimacy was crucial, and here is where Blair (in a very Beinartian manner) got it right, and Bush went disastrously wrong.

Blair advocated strongly for a shift to UN control immediately following the successful invasion. He realised, like many in the international community, that it would be crucial to internationalize the post-war reconstruction and peacebuilding and that the UN, despite its many flaws, was the best instrument for such a project. This was rebuked by the US, who wanted to retain complete control over the transition, to disastrous effect.

So what does this have to do with the Saddam death sentence? International legitimacy. Most of the world, as well as virtually every international rights organization, is against capital punishment. Whether or not this position is correct is beside the point. What is crucial is this is seen as another reason why the international community is reluctant to get engaged in what is overwhelming considered an ‘American problem’. These small things add up.

If the US had cared about international legitimacy, Saddam would have been tried for war crimes in the Hague or through an ad hoc tribunal established in Baghdad. There is of course the problem that one cannot be tried for crimes committed before the establishment of the ICC, a term ironically included to placate US opposition to the court, so the trial of Saddam would have been more difficult, but the results certainly more legitimate.

Perhaps it is too late to undo this mistake, so one can only hope that they will not be broadcasting his death on television. This would simply be a further affront to the decency one would hope will emerge is the war stricken country.

More generally and following from this, in my opinion, the entire Iraq project desperately needs to be internationalised. I do not believe that the US alone has either the tools, nor the political will to implement and see out the multi-decade peacekeeping, peacebuilding, and reconstruction project that the Iraqi mission has become.

This should have been done three years ago. It is still, however, essential, particularly with the growing call for US withdrawal. Recognizing the international implications of putting Saddam to death, would be a good place to start in beginning to shift the control of the Iraq mission to those best suited for the task.

UPDATE: Plus ca change...

UPDATE 2: Hitch concludes:
It would have been no offense to justice if Hussein had been sentenced to spend the rest of his days in prison without the possibility of parole, but it would represent a break with that sanguinary tradition. And it might be no bad thing if Americans, especially those who supported the breaking of his death grip on Iraqi society, found ways of conveying their distaste for this rushed and vindictive — and partial — version of a process of reckoning that ought to have been sober, meticulous and untainted.
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# Posted 9:46 AM by Taylor Owen  

THE GOOD SHEPARD: I thought it was great. Refreshing to see a well paced and thoughtful thriller for a change. I kept expecting a car chase or a building to blow up and being pleased when things just kept slowly evolving. How about that waterboarding scene...
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# Posted 12:42 AM by Patrick Belton  

SADLY EDGING TOWARDS CIVIL WAR?: Egypt arms Fateh, with Israeli and American acquiesence. See also Ilene Prusher and Joshua Mitnick's article on the backchannel discussions between Abu Mazen and Olmert, which Birzeit University's Ali Jarbawi synopsises as 'Both of them are in trouble and each one is trying to save his neck'.
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# Posted 12:28 AM by Patrick Belton  

DEBT-FREE, GOIN' TO VEGAS!: Her Majesty's Treasury today makes the last of its payments upon Britain's war debts to the United States and Canada from the Second World War. See Bloomberg.
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# Posted 12:05 AM by Patrick Belton  

A PICTURE WORTH A THOUSAND GEEKS: For OxBlog’s image of the day, sod Time Magazine’s news photography images of the year (hint: take a burqa. add water.) in favour of this map of the internet posted to wikipedia, which would make Mandelbrot proud.
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Thursday, December 28, 2006

# Posted 11:43 PM by Patrick Belton  

THE LONDON BLADE: This dark, unpropitious morning, I took down from my cupboard shelf the grey cardboard case I'd been grimly aware of since before Christmas, removed the sleek, eerily looking-glass edged Solingen blade I'd sharpened dutifully the night before (you can find directions for everything on the internet, these days), placed it at a 30-degree angle along the junction joining my face and neck against my jugular, and pushed. Frankly, I expected more blood than actually resulted. Switching to a straight razor actually isn't that hard, it turns out.

I found shaving the left side of my face a bit more of a challenge, because of the cross-over. I've considered switching to a smaller nose for next time; of course, there's the chance the Solingen might take care of that for me.

Blogging on more interesting topics than my daily shave will begin tomorrow. In the meantime, if you're a person who shaves (which excludes several of my cobloggers, who can skip the links), for true shavegeekery do visit ShaveBlog and ShavingStuff if you've not yet. Though shavegeekery seems to this point as lonely-male a phenomenon as, erm, blogging, I'm sure these things would do wonders for leg hair, too. (Dr Porter will report next week on this point, I believe.)
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Saturday, December 23, 2006

# Posted 11:15 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

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Friday, December 22, 2006

# Posted 6:25 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

COMEUPPANCE: Dan Drezner looks at Ahmedinejad's loss in nation-wide local elections.
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# Posted 5:55 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

Bush said he agrees with generals "that there's got to be a specific mission that can be accomplished" before he decides to dispatch an additional 15,000 to 30,000 troops to the war zone. But he declined to repeat his usual formulation that he will heed his commanders on the ground when it comes to troop levels.
The President is the one who should decide how many troops we have on the ground. Yet as the Post suggests, Bush's credibility on this point is compromised by his "usual formulation" that the commanders on the ground will decide.

Why should a President with limited military expertise decide how many troops we need to accomplish the mission? Why shouldn't the President just define our strategy and let his generals, the real experts, figure out how to implement it?

As far as I know, the best answers to those questions are provided by Prof. Eliot Cohen in his book Supreme Command. Conventional wisdom, both academic and popular, suggests that civilian Presidents and Prime Ministers should not interfere in purely military matters.

Yet as Cohen illustrates (through case studies of the Civil War, World War I and World War II), the implementation of strategy is no less of a political matter than the strategy itself. As Clausewitz famously observed, war is an extension of politics by other means. Both strategy and implementation must be informed by the political judgment of the head of government, in our case, the President.

Cohen's argument is persuasive but inconvenient. During the Clinton years, few Republicans argued for the supremacy of the Commander-in-Chief. These days, Democrats would prefer to have anyone but Bush making the big decisions. But in a truly democratic state, supreme authority must derive from victory at the polls, not from selective deference to unelected generals.
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# Posted 5:40 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

CONDI: AMERICA IS READY FOR A BLACK PRESIDENT. She's not running. Maybe it was an endorsement for Obama.
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# Posted 5:30 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

MILITARY DISCIPLINE FOR CIVILIANS: There's some people you just notice. As I got onto the Metro this afternoon, I noticed a military officer, rail thin, six feet tall and a woman. Late thirties, white, short hair, tough look. Either a major or lieutenant colonel. (I couldn't make out the color of the oak leaf.)

About a minute after the Metro pulled out of Pentagon station, the officer walked over to a woman sitting next to me and asked whether she was aware that one is not allowed to eat on the train. The officer's voice was harsh. First she pointed to one sign that said no eating. Then she pointed to another.

The woman with the food was sizable, perhaps 250 lbs., wearing very tight jeans, and African-American. I was caught the between the two. I expected a hostile reaction. Cops can tell you to stop eating on the train. (One of them once threatened to give me a ticket -- I learned my lesson.) But since when do military officers have any authority on public transit?

Somewhat to my surprise, the woman with the food did as she was told and put her food away. I looked at her face briefly. She seemed rather agreeable, almost deferential, despite her size. She decided to make a call on her cell phone instead of escalating the confrontation.

An unusual moment in Washington.
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Tuesday, December 19, 2006

# Posted 10:32 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SOCIAL CONSERVATIVES POUND ROMNEY: Liz Mair weighs in. Liz also notes that Mayor Giuliani just launched his exploratory committee for 2008 and is having a major fundraiser tonight. Liz thinks Rudy would be a great president, but she also waxes long and eloquent about John McCain.

However, Liz notes that Christie Todd Whitman recently opined that McCain doesn't stand a chance of winning the nomination, nor does Rudy. I guess he could always be a running mate for Obama...
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# Posted 10:24 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE WORLDWIDE STANDARD: Dan McKivergan & Co. have put up a whole array of interesting post on subjects such as Mitt Romney's response to the Baker report, British allegations of Saudi corruption, chess champion's Garry Kasparov's opposition to Putin, the establishment of a new US military command for Africa, Sen. Ben Nelson's meeting with Bashar Assad, and Marines re-enlisting in Anbar. Of course, there is also plenty to read about the surge.
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# Posted 10:15 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

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# Posted 9:49 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

DON'T CRY FOR HIM ARGENCHILE: In the pages of the Weekly Standard, Princeton prof John Londregan slams all those who would give Gen. Pinochet for Chile's economic success. But the more important is that no amount of economic success could justify murder.

Of course, President Reagan and his UN Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick were strong supporters of the Pinochet government in the early 1980s. Yet by the middle of the decade, neo-conservatives led by Elliott Abrams were on the warpath against Pinochet, determined to bring down the dictator and restore democracy to Chile.

And fall Pinochet did -- primarily because of the courage of Chilean democrats, but American help was pivotal. In addition to Abrams and other Reagan administration officials, credit must be given to Sen. Tom Harkin and other liberal human rights activists.

Promoting democracy in Chile was a matter of principle for neo-conservatives, but it was also a matter of honor. Neo-conservatives had to demonstrate that they were serious about opposing tyranny even when the tyrant was an anti-Communist. Neo-conservatives also wanted to bring down a regime whose existence served discredit the American -- and especially the GOP -- commitment to democracy promotion.

The present is not a good moment for neo-conservatives, but their long-standing commitment to democratic principles is one of the reasons I have considerable respect for the movement. Its conversion of so many Republicans away from Kissingerian realism is one of the most important reasons that I changed my registration to GOP.

And now the comment section below is open to all of those who want to balance out my observations with trenchant criticism of Wolfowitz et al.
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Monday, December 18, 2006

# Posted 11:04 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WANTED: BLOGGERS. The Foreign Policy Association is looking for volunteer bloggers. If you've thought about jumping into the blogosphere, this is a good chance to get started with well-respected outfit.
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# Posted 10:07 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SUNDAY MORNING ROUND-UP (MINUS NEWT): In response to overwhelming popular demand, I posted an early evaluation of Mr. Gingrich's performance on Meet the Press. So today I'll limit myself to a discussion of Colin Powell's exclusive interview with CBS and ABC's discussion with Harry Reid, followed by Gen. Jack Keane (ret.) and Vice Adm. Joe Sestak (ret.), the new congressman from Pennsylvania.
Powell: B. This interview just made me want to scream. I know Bob Schieffer only throws softballs, but this was a terrible waste of an opportunity. Powell was inside the administration and at the highest levels when the decision was made to go to war and when so many tragic decisions were made in the early going of the occupation of Iraq. How could Schieffer not ask Powell what measures he took to verify the intelligence about WMD in Iraq before his address to the United Nations? How could he not ask about the debate within the White House about how many boots on the ground were necessary for the occupation?

Instead, Powell fielded some questions about the current situation in Iraq. Not surprisingly, Powell assumed the bearing and tone of a thoughtful statesmen who wants the best for his country but isn't afraid to be honest about how bad things are. The man almost seemed to be pretending that he had nothing personally to do with the war in Iraq or the occupation. But ultimately, you can't blame Powell for acting in his own best interest. It's Schieffer's job to dig up the truth.

Reid: B. Quite the smooth talker. Stephanopoulos asked him five different ways if he would support an independent, non-partisan oversight office for congressional ethics. Reid found gentle ways to evade the question every time. On Iraq, the incoming majority delivered his party's usual tag line about "no military solution". Also, he advanced the party's subtle effort to redefine a "change of direction" as the equivalent of withdrawal, this time in accord with the Baker report's call for a major drawdown by early 2008. But then Reid wouldn't say yes or no when it came to proposals for a temporary surge in order to stabilize the situation in Iraq. It seems the Democrats are still hunting for a policy.

Keane: B. He made a good (but not great) case for a temporary surge. I say that as someone who favors the option but doesn't think it has more than a 1-in-3 chance of working. Keane is right that we've never put in enough troops to clear Baghdad and then hold it, in concert with Iraqi forces. In theory, a surge would also provide enough troops to put the insurgents on the defensive in Anbar while we stabilize Baghdad. But how confident can we be that stabilizing Baghdad won't just push the insurgency elsewhere? And even if the surge pacifies Baghdad -- which would be a major achievement -- what reason is there to believe that achievement will last?

Sestak: B. Sestak is the highest-ranking retired officer ever elected to Congress. Will he become a regular spokesman on national security issues for the Democratic Party? I thought Sestak's delivery was superb. Very calm. Not too loud. Not too soft. Firm. He sounded neither rehearsed or artifical. On the other hand, the substance of what he said was almost identical to his party's talking points on Iraq. Like those Democrats without military experience, he refused to grapple with the consequences of withdrawal. Again like those Democrats without military experience, he insisted that a surge would accomplish nothing in Baghdad, even though our problem since the beginning has been a lack of manpower. And Sestak insisted that the Iraqi government won't take responsibility for the situation until we're gone, as if the Iraqi government could choose to resolve a situation that is far beyond its control. You might say this is the Democrats' brand of optimism.
Sorry to give out so many 'B's. The real excitement was actually during the talking-head sessions that followed the interviews on ABC and NBC were extraordinary. The excitement about Obama is like wildfire. Republicans are almost as excited as Democrats. After all, David Brooks really got this ball rolling.

Even if the pundits are going over the top, I think they're right about the intense thirst Democrats have for a candidate they can love instead of a candidate they support because they have no choice. Among my friends and acquaintances, mainstream Democrats are no less enthusiastic than the left.

Strangely, it is only those I know best who support Hillary with real joy. My mother has wanted her to be president since 1992. And then there's my girlfriend, who has a thing for over-achieving lawyer-feminists. My sweetheart also supports Hillary out of pure spite, since she knows exactly how much OxBlog can't stand her.

But honey, you have to admit this much: You would give anything to make sure the Republicans get thrown out of the White House in 2008. You would even trade in your controversial heroine for a charismatic young senator who really can deliver the goods on election day.
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# Posted 12:56 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

NEWT: A- C B-. Newt was on Meet the Press this morning. Taylor thought that the ex-Speaker went way off the reservation a few times. So, Taylor asked, what grade do you give to someone "who sounds reasonable 95% of the time and then says something truly off the wall"? Kevin asked a similar question coming from the left: Would OxBlog give a Republican a decent grade in spite of saying a half-dozen ridiculous things in a single interview?

Now, I'll be the first to admit that my grades are subjective. But they are entertaining (I hope) and they say something about my gut instincts. If I really think a single remark is offensive, I will grade someone very harshly. But most of Newt's trangessions struck me as more wacky or bizarre than offensive. Taylor put up a good list of candidates below, but here are the ones that stuck out as I listened to the interview:
"If we are defeated in Iraq, there are not enough Marine elements in the world to evacuate the embassies that’ll come under siege."

"You have—you have more censorship in the McCain-Feingold bill, which blocks the right of free speech about American campaigns than you have from the FBI closing down jihadists."

"The question is, do you want to go down the road of Nigeria and corruption and have a country in which, as long as he’s popular, he can break the law? And if Clinton gets to commit perjury on this topic, then what does the next president get to commit perjury on, and then what does the next president get to commit perjury on?"
Compare those statements to "[Democrats] will wave the white flag in the war in terror." That's a quote from Mitch McConnell on CBS back in May. I gave McConnell a 'D', because statements like that subvert rational debate. Statements like that provoke anger and resentment. But Gingrich? His statments strike me as relatively benign.

Also, I would go beyond Taylor's description of Newt as mostly reasonable and say that he is actually a charismatic and talented speaker. His rhetorical talent made him Speaker of the House. But he also got that far by being vicious and manipulative (although he seems to have mellowed out considerably).

As far as running for President goes, I think Gingrich would be the worst of the plausible GOP candidates. But maybe Democrats like Kevin should give him a little more love. After all, how many big name Republicans go on Meet the Press and pronounce the war in Iraq to be a "failure"?
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Sunday, December 17, 2006

# Posted 8:33 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THREE CHEERS FOR MARY CHENEY: Can a principled advocate of gay rights be Republican? That is the question I asked myself while reading Andrew Sullivan's cover story [subscription required] in the current issue of The New Republic.

That is the question I asked myself because it is often the first question I get asked by old liberal friends who are puzzled by my departure from the Democratic Party. For a lot of my demographic counterparts (young, upper middle class, Ivy-or-equivalent professionals), gay rights is a defining issue that makes it impossible to be Republican.

To a certain extent, I felt that way myself just six or seven years ago. In the summer of 2000, I found myself driving up I-35 in central Texas, trying to persuade a good friend of mine (and native Texan) to vote for Al Gore and against George Bush in the upcoming election. When he asked why, gay rights was one of the first issues I mentioned, along with the environment.

Why is gay rights such a defining issue for so many liberals? The short answer is moral clarity. I would argue that the struggle to overcome official discrimination against minorities is the ethical autobiography of American liberalism. It is the narrative that explains, more than any other, the purpose of liberalism, past, present and future. The issue of gay rights fits perfectly into that narrative.

Is the question of gay rights different from the question of civil rights in the 1950s and 1960s? Yes, and in a substantial manner. Around a week ago, I was watching Mind of Mencia on Comedy Central. In one segment, the show's host, Carlos Mencia, took a camera to West Hollywood in order to ask local gay residents whether the struggle for gay rights is the civil rights of movement. Generally, they said yes. In response, Mencia would ask things like "So have the police attacked you with guard dogs and fire hoses?" or "Do you they give you trouble when you try to vote?"

(NB: If any of you still have that episode on your DVRs, I would appreciate a fact-check on my recollections.)

Regardless of whether the struggle for gay rights has the moral and political significance of the struggle against Jim Crow, I still think it is important for any Republican who supports those rights to ask about the ethical implications of belonging to a party that tends to oppose them rather strenuously. No one ever agrees with their own party 100%, but since this is an issue that concerns discrimination, the moral stakes are higher.

Which brings us back to Andrew Sullivan's cover story. As Sullivan tells it, Mary Cheney's pregnancy is the pivotal event that will bring GOP homophobia crashing down upon itself. Why? Becuase conservative intellectuals:
Kn[o]w that, if gayness were accepted as involuntary, then the debate would eventually collapse on them and become an indisputable matter of civil rights.
For Sullivan, Cheney is the nail in the coffin of the argument that being gay is voluntary:
Her very existence is an inconvenient truth. Usually, the architects of ideology can distance themselves from reality deftly enough to avoid embarrassment. But not this time. Cheney is the very visible daughter of arguably the most powerful Republican vice president in U.S. history.
I'm not sure the logic follows between Cheney being gay and homosexuality being involuntary, but from the vantage point of political discourse, Cheney's sexual orientation may have the impact Sullivan is hoping for. Undoubtedly, it has forced Cheney's father to break with the party line on gay marriage and avoid any substantive criticism of homosexuality. The President supports a constitutional ban on gay marriage, but he doesn't criticize homosexuality per se.

If leading conservatives can't argue that there is something instrinsically wrong with homosexuality, it will become harder and harder to deny homosexuals any right given to other Americans. Yet in spite of his firm belief that victory is on the horizon, Sullivan has some very harsh words for conservative pundits who refuse to get as emotional about gay rights as he does.

For example, Sullivan calls Jonah Goldberg a "nimble enabler of anti-gay discrimination" even though Goldberg has nothing against gays and supports civil unions. What Sullivans condemns is the decision of Goldberg and numerous other Republicans to maintain a "strategic silence" with regard to gay rights rather than rushing to the barricades. What's wrong with silence? Sullivan writes that:
On Mary Cheney, [conservatives] are forced to take a stand. But any stand either attacks the base of the party or attacks someone they know and love. So they have no alternative but to stand very still, say nothing, and hope that someone changes the subject. It is as close to intellectual and moral bankruptcy as one can imagine.
In other words, pro-gay rights Republicans have an obligation to take on the party majority. As Dr. King said, "We will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends."

So on any issue of principle, is it beyond the pale to maintain a strategic silence? Coincidentally, the editors of The New Republic provide an accidental answer to this question in the same issue as Sullivan's cover story. In their editorial praising Nancy Pelosi's decision to rein in her party's ideologues, the editors observe that:
Much as we would like to see the odious "don't ask, don't tell" policy [for gays in the military] retired, it probably makes sense to fight other battles first.
So are the editors of TNR no less guilty than conservative pundits of abandoning a friend in need? Or is it permissible to make a subjective judgment that other issues are more imporant?

I incline toward the latter position. But a subjective judgment still has to be a defensible one. I'm not a relativist one this point, willing to respect all judgments. Rather, I believe that the cause of gay rights has a momentum of its own. As Sullivan himself observes, the facts on the ground point toward equality before the law as inevitable.
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# Posted 1:14 PM by Taylor Owen  

CW – MICHAELLE JEAN ALLOWED TO LEAVE THE COUNTRY, AND SHINES: For my money, one of Paul Martin’s best moves as PM was to appoint Michaelle Jean as Governor General. For those not familiar with the Canadian parliament, the Governor General is our head of state, acting as representative of the Queen. (How quaintly Provincial you may be saying, but constitutionally it’s actually not an easy role to get rid of, just ask the Aussies. Plus, while largely ceremonial, in a minority government, confidence in the governing party is not a science, so the GG can conceivably play a significant role.)

What makes Michaelle Jean particularly interesting, (other than not being 65, white and male), is that she is a Haitian immigrant, married to a Quebecoise filmmaker, and until being named GG, was a journalist and documentary maker for the CBC.

Well, you can imagine the uproar from the conservative punditry. David Frum and minions just about had aneurisms, shamelessly pushing a litany of ‘better suited’ candidates (all -surprise!- old, white, and male.) Harper, it seems, felt the same way. He has all but marginalised the GG, denying her repeated requests to travel to Afghanistan. (In a wonderful counter move, when Kasai was visiting Ottawa, instead of the usual several hundred person state dinner, the GG hosted an intimate dinner of 20 intellectuals to which the Conservative Minister of Foreign Affairs had to attend.)

Recently Michaelle has been on tour in Africa and speaking with an eloquence, sensibility and wisdom that is rare in public figures of any stripe. Indeed, she seems a far better diplomat than the PM, who is markedly less sure footed on the the international stage than in question period. Here’s hoping Harper and co. can get over whatever it is that erks them about our GG, and allow her the voice she deserves.
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# Posted 1:09 PM by Taylor Owen  

CANADA WATCH (CW): Warning. I have unilaterally decided to start posting a bit more about Canadian politics and foreign policy on this site. I used to keep these posts hidden away on my personal site, but since it has been down for the past two weeks (mental note, don’t host site on friends basement server), I figured I would start posting them here. I will try to keep to issues of tangential relevance to international readers, but hey, it’s Canadian politics, so who am kidding. I do know that there are at least 3 Canadian readers, so together we can bask in our insolence. Take that beltway. As a measure of respect to the 99.99 percent non-Canadian readers, I will preface all Canadian posts with a CW ‘warning’. OK, bring on the snarky comments!

ps. If these posts suddenly disappear, it is because Porter is way bigger than me and threatened to start writing about Australian politics…
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# Posted 11:59 AM by Taylor Owen  

PERSON OF THE YEAR: Congrats bloggers, you beat Ahmadinejad!

Stengel said if the magazine had decided to go with an individual, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was the likely choice. "It just felt to me a little off selecting him," Stengel said.

Question, why can’t Time pick an unpleasant character as person of the year? Is it because it is released over the holidays? Is it bad for sales? If it is acually the feel good person of the year, or the positive change person of the year, then perhaps Time should change the selection mandate.

ps. Should the policy implications of the choice, whether positive or negative, be considered?

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# Posted 11:52 AM by Taylor Owen  

IS NEWT REASONABLE?: Newt (the new, mild mannered iteration) is one of those guys who sounds reasonable 95% of the time and then says something truly off the wall. In interviews it happens about every 5 minutes or so, and is often just a passing reference. Meet the Press this morning was a case in point. He even had some good ideas on Iraq, but then, without changing tone and without warning, he would drop a bizzare bomb of a comment. He wasn't called on any of them though. Interested in David's grading of him. Does he get penalised for four or five really stupid statements amongst a relatively benign 30 minute interview? Regardless, it's pretty clear he's running for pres...

It was discussed over at the Political Animal that I probably should have listed the wacky things newt said. First, let me just say that much what he said was very reasonable. His idea for a civil conversation corp to deal with 60% unemployment rate in Iraq is a good one, as is his focus on non-military 'levers of power' including a revamped State Department. His call for a real non-partisan discussion on Iraq is also welcomed, and bringing Obama and McCain together to generate ideas would be fantastic (David and I would certainly like it!). It should also be said that he is very slick and his manner is very impressive. Which only makes the nutty stuff stand out. Here is the transcript, and here are a few nuggets:

1. "if we are defeated in Iraq, there are not enough Marine elements in the world to evacuate the embassies that’ll come under siege."

2. "This is either an American commitment to victory or it is a defeat. And if the Democrats decide it’s a defeat, fine, then let’s—then let’s withdraw"

3. On choosing whether a website is jihadist and should be censored: "Look, I—you can appoint three federal judges if you want to and say, “Review this stuff and tell us which ones to close down.” I would just like to have them be federal judges who’ve served in combat."

4. FMR. REP. GINGRICH: "The local Muslims who are Americans and patriots and don’t want to be blown up in the mall thought it was terrific to arrest this guy for trying to buy hand grenades, and the ACLU thought there’s probably a real infringement of his legal right to be stupid.

MR. RUSSERT: But they’re Americans and patriots as well.

FMR. REP. GINGRICH: Yeah, Americans and patriots as well, but they’re suicidal in my judgment."

5. "You have—you have more censorship in the McCain-Feingold bill, which blocks the right of free speech about American campaigns than you have from the FBI closing down jihadists."

6. "So we’ve had a 30-year period of saying it’s OK to infringe free speech as long as it’s about politics. But now if you want to be a jihadist, and you want to go kill people, well who are we to say that’s morally wrong? I think that’s suicidal."

7. On his history of aggressive partisan rhetoric: "Look, first of all, it was a different time. I mean, you had a 40-year monopoly of power in the House by the Democrats. You, you were in very different kind of environment. You didn’t have a war that, that should focus every American on our own survival, which we—we have a big war, of which Iraq and Iran and Afghanistan are sub-sets. But we have a much bigger threat to our very survival. We didn’t have the rise of China and India."

8. and finally, on the Clinton impeachment: "The question is, do you want to go down the road of Nigeria and corruption and have a country in which, as long as he’s popular, he can break the law?"
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# Posted 11:49 AM by Taylor Owen  

THIS JUST IN: Friedman just called the Middle East a “Freakshow”. Move over Sunday pundits, the ‘6-month man' is back on the air...

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Friday, December 15, 2006

# Posted 11:14 PM by Patrick Belton  

BRITISH POLITICS YOUTUBE CLIP OF THE DAY: 'Everyone could see it, it was like single glazing: the way he used to hold his hands in front of his tits like that. You should dig up the archive on Desert Island Discs; Cameron copied all of Tony’s choices, except for the Foo Fighters track.' Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition cover David Bowie.

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# Posted 7:59 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

NEXT MEL GIBSON FILM TO HAVE DIALOGUE ENTIRELY IN YIDDISH? The man clearly doesn't believe in making films in English anymore. So why not make amends to the Jewish community with a film in Yiddish?

Perhaps Gibson could film the story of a heroic Jewish policeman in late 19th century Poland who constantly annoys criminals and anti-Semites. Gibson could call it "Lethal Kvetchin".

OK, I'm sorry. That was a terrible, terrible joke. But seriously, I was very surprised to see Gibson's new film Apocalypto get a remarkably positive review in the New Yorker, which tends to look down its nose at almost every big-budget Hollywood production.

The film also came in for praise from the Weekly Standard, which calls it "innovative" and a "a virtual masterpiece. The Standard also celebrates the film's ability to offend PC liberals, a virtue to which OxBlog is not insensitive.

But the real quesiton is, how many people will spend ten bucks to see it?
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# Posted 7:49 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

ROMNEYCARE REVISITED: Liz Mair's column in Human Events (Ronald Reagan's favorite magazine) argues that Romney's universal health care plan for Massachusetts falls prey to the same vices as most big government programs, namely over-regulation and resistance to market forces.

Two contributors to the Weekly Standard suggest, however, that conservatives should give RomneyCare a chance, because if it works, it may provide a model of how the states can solve problems more effectively than the Federal government.
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# Posted 7:40 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

COMMISSION IMPOSSIBLE is the clever title of an essay by my friend Jordan Tama at theatlantic.com. Jordan is writing his dissertation at Princeton on the subject of bipartisan, blue-ribbon panels and their ability to influence public debate and public policy. Well worth a read.
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# Posted 7:33 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

TOM DELAY HAS A BLOG? Yes, he actually does. Some of the posts are his, some are from other contributors. As Jess Mahone points out, the comments are often rather, uh, interesting.
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# Posted 7:20 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

Across ideological lines, American politicians and pundits are finally coming to a consensus on Iraq: It's the Iraqis' fault. "We gave the Iraqis their freedom," pronounced liberal California Senator Barbara Boxer on November 16. "What are they doing with this freedom? They're killing each other." The next day, conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer heartily concurred, writing: "We have given the Iraqis a republic, and they do not appear able to keep it."

It's easy to see why this line of argument appeals to both left and right. For liberals, blaming the Iraqis justifies a U.S. withdrawal: If the Iraqis are incorrigible, then there's nothing U.S. troops can do. For conservatives, it excuses the Bush administration: If the Iraqis are incorrigible, this catastrophe is their fault, not ours.

It's a soothing, self-justifying argument, but it's dead wrong. The United States has not given Iraqis their freedom because freedom requires order, which the United States--from the very beginning--did not provide.
Those are the words of Peter Beinart, from an excellent column in last week's TNR. Beinart goes on to make a second, related point which quite surprised me:
Shia and Sunni Iraqis are not turning on one another because of ancient, primordial hatreds. They're turning on one another because when the state fails in its most basic task--keeping you alive--you turn to any entity that can. Imagine you're in prison. The state (embodied by the prison guards) doesn't protect you, and the hallways are controlled by racial gangs. If your survival depends on it, you'll develop a neo-Nazi or Nation of Islam identity awfully fast.

That's what is happening in Baghdad today. For most of the twentieth century, while Kurds mourned the state they were denied after World War I, relations between Iraqi Sunnis and Shia were good and national identity was strong...

If Iraqi nationalism was weaker on the day we invaded than it had been two decades before, it was still quite strong. As Kenneth Pollack has noted, when the National Democratic Institute asked Iraqi focus groups in the summer of 2003 which identity suited them best, a large majority eschewed Shia, Sunni, or Kurd in favor of Iraqi. "Iraq is not the Balkans," insisted Phebe Marr, author of The Modern History of Iraq, in April 2003. "There really isn't traditional enmity or hostility between Sunni and Shiite communities."
Beinart also cites two other academic historians to make his point. Given how dramatically I underestimated the potential for Sunni-Shi'a violence, I found this all quite interesting. Contrary to the suggestion that anyone well-informed should've known what was going to happen, it seems the evidence may actually have pointed in a different direction. Sadly, the viciousness of Sunni insurgents and terrorists who wanted to provoke a civil war was enough to turn the tables.
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Tuesday, December 12, 2006

# Posted 9:13 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

HAVING A NAME IS YOUR HUMAN RIGHT: I just found out that according to Article 7 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, children "shall have the right from birth to a name."

Was that right included in the Charter in response to an epidemic of nameless births? I didn't have a name until I was eight days old, but I don't hold it against my parents.

In the future, if society decided that it is more efficient for humans to have a number instead of a name, would that violate the Charter? Or does a string of digits count as a name? Calling prisoner 24601...

The Charter also says in Article 16 that "No child shall be subjected to...unlawful attacks on his or her honour and reputation." What does that mean? Were all those mean kids who called me fat when I was little violating my human rights?

There are plenty of good and useful rights in the Charter, but some pruning might have been beneficial.
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# Posted 8:15 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

BELATED SUNDAY ROUND-UP: Let me say right off the bat that I haven't yet read the Baker group's report. That wasn't exactly how I wanted to spend my weekend. Plus, I've started taking Arabic again and had my quarterly exam on Monday, so I had to study over the weekend.

Regardless, my commentary will obviously be somewhat impaired since the dynamic duo of Baker and Hamilton were the featured guests on both Face the Nation and Meet the Press. They were followed by a pair of senators (Levin and Lott) on the former and a roundtable on the latter. Tony Blair was guest #1 on ABC's This Week, also followed by a pair of senators:
Baker & Hamilton on NBC: B. They were dull. I won't judge the report by their performance, but they certainly didn't say anything that struck me as interesting or new. But they also said nothing especially wrong, which you can't say about most guests on the show.

Perhaps the dynamic duo would have come up with something more interesting to say if Russert hadn't asked such tepid, unchallenging questions. Even worse, Russert threw in a couple of pseudo-gotchas. What's a pseudo-gotcha? Well, a real gotcha is when Russert forces you to respond to a persuasive comment from a credible source that directly contradicts or criticizes you. A pseudo-gotcha is when Russert lets you respond to a dumb remark made by someone that nobody likes.

For example, Russert asked Baker & Hamilton to respond to Rush Limbaugh's remark that the report was "stupid" and the New York Post's description of its authors as "surrender monkeys." It was sort of like Russert saying, "Here's what myopic partisans said about your report. Would you like to burnish your credentials as a statesman by gently brushing such criticism aside?"

Roundtable: B+. Perhaps unintentionally, Russert compensated for his soft questioning of Baker& Hamilton by having a panel that was stacked with conservatives. Among them, Eliot Cohen provided the most intelligent criticism of the report. (See Taylor's post for more details, although he didn't think much of Cohen.)

Baker & Hamilton: B. Having Bob Schieffer interact with dull guests is not a recipe for interesting dicussion.

Levin: B. Give him points for consistency. He's still telling us that since there is no military solution to the problem in Iraq, we don't need more boots on the ground. Maybe what Levin means is that there is no American military solution to the problem in Iraq, since I'm pretty sure even Levin recognizes that we have to train a large and effective Iraqi Army.

Levin also got big points in my book for going against the Democratic grain by making a very substantive criticism of the Baker-Hamilton report. What, Levin asks, is the exact connection between the situation in Iraq and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, on which the report puts so much emphasis? Would the Shi'ites and the Sunnis stop slaughtering one another if a Palestinian state suddenly came into existence?

Blair: B-. Intelligent, reasonable and evasive. Blair is very constrained by the diplomatic imperative not to criticize his most important ally in public.

Biden: B. Even more non-partisan than usual. Still a bit less than interesting.

Gordom Smith: B-. I've never seen this guy doing the talk show circuit before. FYI, he's the Republican from Oregon. Stephanopoulos seems to have invited him on because a speech on the Senate floor describing the administration's Iraq policy as possibly "criminal". But what Smith seems to be saying is that he just thinks that the policy has been very, very bad (not illegal). He sort of wants the troops to come home but sort of favors the McCain proposal to send in tens of thousands more. In short, I'm not really sure what his position is.
Sorry for giving out so many 'B's. It was a pretty dull Sundya morning. See ya in seven.
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# Posted 1:14 PM by Patrick Porter  

HANSON'S HISTORIES: After enjoying David's interesting book reviews, over the next little while I'll be posting reviews of the books of Victor Davis Hanson, classical historian and pundit.

I've found Hanson fascinating for years. He has come in for some criticism lately, as an unrepentant supporter of the Iraq war and GWOT.

But he has also written much else on classical history, the politics of immigration, and his family. Several themes intertwine in his writing: western traditions and the western 'way of war'; the connection between citizenship, property-ownership, agriculture, and military service; the decisive importance of certain battles to the development of civilisation; middle-eastern politics, and the historic role of the American military, particularly at moments when it was a political 'force for good.'

One of his most influential works, The Western Way of War: Infantry Battle in Classical Greece, traced the tradition of decisive combat to the combat between the hoplite armies of Greek city-states. He also used his own agricultural background to argue that invading armies did not ravage the countryside primarily to destroy it, but as a challenge to the civic pride of the polis.

Hanson got me a lot more interested generally in the relationship between war and culture, and sparked a research interest in the issue of 'strategic cultures' and national ways of war, and the concept that cultures embrace particular ways of fighting across generations. (As an aside, my own research has led to an agnoticism, or even skepticism, about the existence of culture-bound or culturally-determined ways of war, but that's for another post.)

The archetypal farmer-citizen-soldier, embodied in the legendary Cincinnatus, seems to haunt Hanson's historical and political writing, as an agrarian figure with a profound stake in a Republic, who was content to defend it, turning down the opportunity for absolute rule.

Much as I agree with Hanson's basic political assumptions about the relationship between security and the spread of political liberty, there are also problems to be found throughout his work.

Firstly, he writes about America's current wars in the shadow of World War Two, equating the conflict against Islamicist extremism with the actual war against Nazism and Imperial Japan, and arguing that the long-term struggle against both justifies almost any sacrifice and any error.

While I agree that both sets of opponents stand for abhorrent things, Nazism and Japanese Imperialism stood for a much more powerful barbarism, and a standard of barbarism beyond limit. It is misleading and dangerous to invoke that struggle to dismiss criticisms of some of the errors made in the conflict against contemporary foes. Just because intelligence failures and strategic errors marred the campaign in World War Two, doesn't alleviate the Administration's failures of post-invasion reconstruction in Iraq, for example.

More broadly, Hanson at times has an inconsistent or torn view of the value of dissent and criticism in societies at war. In one chapter of his long-ranging study of western military traditions, Carnage and Culture, Hanson argues that political dissent, audit and questioning everything is ultimately a strength of liberal democracies at war, even if it leaves us conflicted and increases our vulnerability to attacks on our political will in the short term.

However, in his more contemporary political writing, at times he betrays a jaundiced disdain for dissidents. Not only their arguments, but their lack of historical perspective, their weak political will, or their under-valuing of what must be defended.

This isn't necessarily a contradiction, more of a tension, but the VDH who sees the long-term value of dissent seems different from the VDH in his irritation at those very dissidents. On the other hand, to value dissent in principle while disapproving of the content of dissent is not that incoherent.

Ultimately, Hanson's simultaneous engagement with both history and contemporary politics helps to make his writing so resonant and interesting. So over the next few weeks or so, I'll post up some thoughts, starting with Ripples of Battle: How Wars of the Past Still Determine How We Fight, How We Live, and How We Think to illustrate this point.
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Monday, December 11, 2006

# Posted 2:06 PM by Taylor Owen  

THE INCOMPETENCE DODGE 2.0: One would be hard pressed to find a more venerable beltway foreign policy panel: Hass, the CFR realist. Cohen, the SAIS pragmatist. Adelman, the unapologetic neocon. Ricks, the war-battered (and Pulitzer forthcoming) journalist. No bleeding heart? Nope, this was to be a ‘serious’ hard-nosed assessment. Needless to say, I watched Meet the Press with considerable interest Sunday morning. Surely these grand-hommes would shed light on what is increasingly becoming a markedly solution-deficient foreign policy discussion?

First on Haas. Every once and a while, the interests of differing foreign policy philosophies overlap. Such was the case in the lead up to the Iraq war. I remember being at a workshop nodding approvingly to Stephen Walt’s quintessentially realist assessment of why invading Iraq was a really bad idea. Surely we were on the same ‘team’ I thought? Deep down of course I knew I was dancing with the devil (in an ideological sense), but why question bedfellows when they sound so reasonable, not to mention sure footed and influential?

I don’t know what Walt is currently prescribing for Iraq, but if Hass is representative of the realist view, then count me sceptical. To paraphrase Haas: The Iraq war is all but lost. There is a very limited chance of success. This has to be admitted. The purpose of American foreign policy over the next year must therefore be to shift the perception that the problem lies not with US staying power or bad foreign policy decisions, but rather with the Iraqi’s. This shifting of blame is essential, says Haas, in order to ensure the perception of American military superiority; the worst case scenario being chaos in the Middle East, and America being blamed and deemed incompetent.

Well, there you have it. This is the realist version of the neocon's incompetence dodge - foreign policy free from moral constraints. This is the Incompetence Dodge 2.0.

On first principles, as I once agreed with Walt, I also agree with Haas. The primary reason against unilateral invasion for both liberal internationalists and for realists alike, was that the concequences may be irreparable. Not just bad, but irreparable. Where I fundamentally divert from realist thinking, however, where to my mind the realist show their stripes, is in the amoral ‘solution’ they now prescribe.

There was not a moral argument against the war for the realists. There is likewise not a moral solution. A moral solution would require taking responsibility for the initial policy decision. Powel’s pottery barn trope, amongst others, for example. This is something Haas appears categorically unwilling to do. Instead choosing to shift blame to the Iraqi’s to ensure the credibility of future US foreign policy.

For their respective parts, Cohen, Adelman and Ricks said pretty much what you would expect.

Cohen pushed the ‘cross our fingers and hope it works out’ line. He argued for a drive to control Baghdad and suggested an ultimatum to the Iraqi ‘Government’: If you are not willing to do what we want, “we will leave you with chaos.” As if they believe that one, it isn’t chaos already, and two, that they have the power to significantly alter the current violence levels. Cohen did suggest that a better model for the ISG might have been to lay out the cost benefits of various plans for Iraq. Apparently Baker rejected this. Maybe it would have been a good model, although fissures within he group would have been brought to the surface.

Adelman was both remarkably recalcitrant and brutally honest in advocating the classic Incompetence Dodge 1.0. Ygelsias should really use him as a case study. Unabashed support for the war and complete blame on the Bush Administration’s incompetence, calling it shameful and mind-blowing. While this is well worn ground, he did point out one nugget from the ICG report: In the 1000 person US embassy in Iraq, 6 people speak Arabic. “How can anyone hear this and not be ashamed” he said. In a year from now, he wants a feeling that the government, rather than the sectarian groups are on the rise. Ok, but how? Package his arguments however you want. He is blaming the execution, not the first principle.

Finally Ricks is all but categorical on the degree of the failure, but certainly didn’t offer any solutions. On what the military will take from Iraq: “the worst decision in the history of American foreign policy.” On what’s driving the insurgency: A Hobbsian state – the war of all for all; Neighbourhoods are armed fortresses, a series of armed camps throughout Baghdad; Complete meltdown. On the future?: All of our allies have left, the middle class, the “glue of democracy” has fled. A dire assessment indeed.

So, to summarise. Haas wants to blame Iraqis, Adelman wants to blame the administration, Cohen wants to cross his fingers and hope things work out, and Ricks thinks we (Iraq, region and US foreign policy) are in an ever tightening downward spiral.

The Aldelman incompetence dodge we have heard before. The Haas dodge, however, is a new beast that I fear has legs. The isolationist left and right will soon grasp on, finding bedfellows in the realists, as anti-invasion advocates once did. As will politicians on both sides of the aisle who all want Iraq to ‘go away’ before 2008. To me this Incompetence Dodge 2.0 is the most perilous possible outcome of the Iraq problematic.

A voice conspicuously missing from this panel was the liberal internationalist. Where do they stand in this mess of blaming, dodging and praying? Tomorrow I’ll sketch out what I think they are, or should, be saying. Warning - It won’t be pretty, or particularly eloquent, but no options now are.
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# Posted 2:05 PM by Taylor Owen  

SNL HOMERUN: Paraphrasing from the weekend update: “Today Al Gore called the invasion of Iraq the worst policy in American History. Disagreeing with him: Slaves.” Nothing like a little perspective!
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# Posted 1:55 PM by Taylor Owen  

R2P, A POLICY WONK AND A STRANDED LIBERAL: A belated call out to three friends in the blogosphere:

First, a good friend and co-author David Eaves has finally started an eponymous blog. For as smart a guy with as many ideas as him, this is a natural and a long time coming.

Second, Adrian Bradbury, of Gulu Walk fame, has started a group blog on the Responsibility to Protect called Unwilling or Unable?
Unwilling or Unable? tosses the idea of the 'responsibility to protect' on the table and asks: Will we ever find the political will to live up to our commitment to 'prevent, react and rebuild' in the face genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity?
And third, due to a stealthy pseudonym, and several years incommunicado, DC Grit has gone under the radar in my Canadian blog roll. While I won’t tell you who she really is…I will send you to her site en-mass.

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Sunday, December 10, 2006

# Posted 11:04 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

AND GOOD RIDDANCE: A murderer died today. Gen. Augusto Pinochet of Chile was 91. In the aftermath of a violent coup d'etat in 1973, Pinochet emerged as the regime's strongman. Thousands were murdered in the early years of the regime, and the brutality continued until its end in 1990.

In today's Post, Latin politics expert Michael Shifter compares the legacies of Pinochet and Castro. Castro murdered on behalf of the left whereas Pinochet did so on behalf of the right.

One important point that Shifter overlooks is Pinochet's decision to hold a referendum on the continuation of his personal rule. Although no one knows for sure, Pinochet apparently did so because he truly believed he was popular enough to win.

Had Shifter been given more space by the Post, he might also have mentioned that the United States played a critical role in facilitating Pinochet's defeat at the ballot box and ending his regime. Without that help, Pinochet might very well have won.

Would that Castro made a similar gesture of repentance and let the people of Cuba show him how they really feel.
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# Posted 8:54 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

BEINART: THE END. I recently finished reading The Good Fight by Peter Beinart, which I began almost six months ago. It took me so long to read because I made a commitment to post detailed comments about every chapter.

I made that commitment back in July because I "expected [Beinart's] book to serve as the definitive statement of a muscular liberal foreign policy." Let me elaborate on that. As many readers know, I started blogging more than four years ago, when I was still planted firmly on Democratic soil. Now I am registered as a Republican.

I would argue that in most respects my principles have not changed, but rather that as I learned more about the respective parties, I determined that I was in the wrong one. Reading Beinart's book was an important part of that determination.

Centrist Democrats recongize him as one of their most innovative thinkers. Left-wing Democrats are wary. Some see Beinart as a threat, others as a traitor. And so I sensed that if there were a place for my thinking in the Democratic Party, it might be with Beinart. Yet although The Good Fight is an excellent book, I believe that the distance between Beinart and myself is greater than the distance between myself and like-minded Republicans.

Beinart identifies a constant awareness of America's moral shortcomings as the essence of a strong liberal foreign policy. Like Robert Kagan, I also believe that it is extremely important, from both an analytical and an ethical perspective, to recognize those shortcomings. Yet placing self-criticism on a pedestal can have serious implications.

First and foremost, Beinart insists that American foreign policy cannot be legitimate unless it is validated by multilateral institutions. Several months ago, I argued that this amounted to an elevation of process over substance. Legitimacy derives from a commitment to morally sound principles, not a consensus of governments.

In addition, Beinart never explores whether there are multilateral institutions that deserve the kind of trust with which he wants to endow them. For example, Beinart never talks about the UN legacy of corruption, anti-Semitism and human rights committees composed of totalitarian dictatorships.

Although the example of Kosovo forces Beinart to recognize that the UN should not decide which wars are just, Beinart never elaborates much of an alternative. He suggests that perhaps NATO can provide legitimacy instead, but never develops that suggestion. In addition, Beinart approaches NATO as if it were truly international institution, rather than a military alliance formed by sovereign governments.

The second most important point of contention between myself and Beinart is his characterization of conservatives, which I struck me as mostly as an unfair caricature. In addition, Beinart's account of how the Bush administration sold the war in Iraq struck me as an example of what the White House might call revisionist history. If the choice I had to make was really between a troubled Democratic Party and the monstrous GOP described by Beinart, it would be an easy decision. But there is a different GOP that I know, best represented by John McCain (whose name doesn't appear in Beinart's index.)

In spite of such differences, I still consider Beinart to be a formidable thinker who has a tremendous amount to contribute to public debates about US foreign policy. Also, I very much hope that Beinart's influence within the Democratic Party only continues to grow. In spite of our differences, I believe that there is a far greater distance between Beinart and the Democratic left than there is between Beinart and Republicans such as myself.

When it comes to voting, there are few choices beyond Democratic and Republican. But when it comes to making policy, there is considerable room for cooperation. I believe that Peter Beinart is precisely the kind of Democrat with whom Republicans can cooperate in order to advance our national interests. But cooperation is a two-way street, so it won't be viable unless Republicans are committed to it as well.
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# Posted 8:35 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE GOOD FIGHT: Here are the links to my commentary on all eight chapters of Peter Beinart's book:
Chapter 1: Part I, Part II. (And a related point.)
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chpater 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
It doesn't matter if you're liberal, conservative or something else entirely. You should read the book. And if you're having trouble falling asleep, read my commentary.
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# Posted 12:46 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WHO IS SAM BROWNBACK? At first blush, the junior senator from Kansas is precisely the kind of right-wing Christian conservative that liberals and moderate Republicans love to hate. In October, Brownback threatend to block the appointment of a Michigan judge to the Federal bench just because she attended a lesbian commitment ceremony. Brownback is also responsible for legislation that has multiplied by a factor of ten the fines that can be imposed on broadcasters for even a single incident of indecency, such as Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction" during the Super Bowl in 2004.

Thus, Sam Brownback is that person you'd expect to be the subject of a surprisingly positive cover story [subscription required] in The New Republic by senior editor Noam Scheiber. That's actually no surprise, you might say, since TNR is known for its habit of subverting almost any liberal consensus. But not on core social issues such as gay rights and freedom of speech. So why does TNR have anything nice to say about Sam Brownback?

The simple answer is that Sam Brownback's Christian principles compel him to support a lot of causes in which conservatives have often shown very little interest. One of the most important is human rights, especially with regard to violence and epidemics in Africa. As the Weekly Standard pointed out in its cover story [subscription required] about Brownback this past summer (written by Terry Eastland), the Kansas senator is more than ready to reach across the partisan divide in order to promote such causes:
He has made a habit in this arena of cosponsoring laws with Democrats, teaming up, for example, with Evan Bayh on the Iran Democracy Act, Ted Kennedy on the North Korea Human Rights Act, and the late Paul Wellstone on the Trafficking in Victims Protection Act.
Another interesting observation made by the Standard (but not by TNR) is that two of Brownback's five children were adopted from abroad, one from Guatemala and one from China. Thus, the GOP primaries could come down to a choice between two fathers of adopted children from abroad, Brownback and McCain. By the same token, both adoptive fathers could wind up on the GOP ticket in the general election.

One of the strongest aspects of TNR's cover story about Brownback is its description of the winding road that led him to become a man of principle. According to Scheiber, Brownback began his congressional career in 1994 as an ambitious but moderate Republican who had to hold off an aggressively pro-life opponent in the primaries. Caught off balance, Brownback chose to borrow as much of his opponent's rhetoric as possible, even though his sincerity was open to quesiton.

Even so, Brownback was successful and became a charter member of Newt Gingrich's Republican Revolution in the House of Representatives. The revolutionaries hoped to eliminate several entire executive Departments as part of their efforts to impose severe limits on both taxation and spending. But that agenda stalled, and the revolutionaries paid a heavy political price for shutting down the government in late 1995.

At about the same time, Brownback discovered that he had skin cancer. An operation removed the growth to his torso, but this brush with mortality led Brownback to embark on a spiritual quest. The result was both his conversion to Catholicism as well as aggressive commtiment to high-profile conservative causes.

A significant drawback of the Standard's cover story about Brownback is that it has little to say about this period from mid-1994 to mid-1995 that Scheiber describes as pivotal. Although Eastland takes note of the inspiration provided by Brownback's cancer, he suggests that Brownback's politics have been essentially the same since 1976, when Brownback first gave his support to Ronald Reagan.

There seems to be no question, however, that since 1996 Brownback has held fast to the same set of principles. What's interesting, however, is that TNR describes Brownback as profoundly intellectual, in contrast to the usual stereotype of right-wing Christians as kneejerk ideologues. The Kansas senator is a voracious reader with an avid interest in talking about Christian theology and doctrine. Scheiber goes so far as to describe Brownback as "a God geek".

In the GOP primaries, it may not matter so much how intellectual Brownback is. According to Eastland, the real question is whether primary voters are willing to nominate another compassionate conservative after what they had to put up with from George W. Bush, especially out-of-control spending and an absence of progress on any of the GOP's core social issues.

Scheiber wonders whether Brownback's stance on immigration is what will hold back his nomination:
In 2005, Brownback signed on as a co-sponsor to the relatively moderate Kennedy-McCain bill. The reaction from rank-and-file Republicans has not been kind. Steve Scheffler, the head of a conservative evangelical group in Iowa, told me, "The biggest thing [Brownback would] have to address is why did he vote for that horrendous bill?" [Campaign manager David] Kensinger says Brownback's answer is simple: "The Bible says you will be judged by how you treat the widow, the orphan, the foreign among you. That's the end of it."
What a dilemma for liberals. Many of them get furious whenever conservatives justify their politics by quoting scripture. Yet just as many of them have long insisted that scripture actually supports a liberal social agenda. But it is conservatives who will pass judgment on Brownback first. With George Allen, Bill Frist and Rick Santorum all out of the picture, Brownback has few challengers on the right, where resentment of John McCain and Mitt Romney is quite intense. Right now, Brownback barely registers in the polls. But that may change.

In the meantime, I strongly recommend reading both Scheiber and Eastland's profiles of Brownback. This post has only begun to describe their excellent work.
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Saturday, December 09, 2006

# Posted 8:54 PM by Patrick Porter  

HANNIBAL RISING: Has anyone read Thomas Harris' latest novel about Hannibal Lecter?

I'd be interested to hear, and hope to be reading it with some fava beans and a nice chianti...
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Thursday, December 07, 2006

# Posted 11:47 AM by Taylor Owen  

MOVING FORWARD ON IRAQ DEBATE: While I have admittedly been absent for a while, I have been reading the site regularly, and on the issue of support for the Iraq war, let me just say the following. I was decisively against the war. I wrote extensively on this position, spoke about it to anyone who would listen, and did both passionately and with real concern for the potential consequences of the course taken. That being said, I have worked for a politician who was initially for the war, and write for a blog that was generally in favour of it. Both, however, did so with a degree of analytic and intellectual honesty that is rare in both political and online discourse. I respect them both for it.

As David is the first to admit, the very purpose of public engagement on blogs is to challenge ones ideas and preconceptions as events unfold and debates evolve. He takes very public stands and is more self reflective than just about any blogger out there. He would be the first to welcome the critiques that have been present in the comment sections and indeed, has responded eloquently to them.

For those of us who were against the war, however, let us not get mired in righteous indignation. Almost no one predicted exactly what would happen, and indeed, there were real arguments in favour of intervention. Hindsight, hindsight, hindsight. Ignatieff, for example, took the position that the first principle of intervention was not paramount if the end goal was sufficiently similar - the removal of a dangerous dictator. There is a very real debate on motives in the humanitarian intervention discourse. His position can of course be challenged, and in this case proved to be wrong. But let's not stray from the intellectual honesty that we demand of others as we move forward in what will surely remain the primary debate of our generation. The stakes are too high.

Which brings me to my final point. If the ICG report says anything, it is that there are serious and lasting consequences to continued failure and deterioration in Iraq. While it bothers me that those who were against the invasion due to the irreversibility of the potential concequences are now being asked for solutions, it is all of our responsibilities to provide innovative ideas for this truly massive problematic. In both Iraq and Afghanistan course change is needed. It's time for critics to put their money where their mouths are.

Taking stock of new ideas for Iraq and specifically for Afghanistan will be a theme of my writing here for the next while. I hope that commenters will productively join in this discussion, and for the moment, let old battles rest.

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# Posted 11:09 AM by Patrick Belton  

TRACK OF THE DAY: Azeri-Iranian-born British Muslim Sami Yusuf, who draws inspiration from U2 (see Irish Times interview) releases what are hailed as the first Islamic music videos to accompany the first and final tracks of his album Al Mu'allim; this afternoon I have found them quite lovely and captivating, and evocative both of Gregorian chant as well as Qur'anic recitation. Do click on the links and listen. Yusuf has also recently released an album entitled My Ummah, with tracks in Arabic, Turkish and Farsi, dedicated to his mother.

During his concerts, Yusuf asks his audience to cheer if they are proud to be British; and when they respond loudly, he answers he cannot hear them and asks that they cheer again. See also his gentle, scholarly rebuttal to Yvonne Ridley's somewhat strident criticism that one cannot be both Muslim and a popular musician. (Thus the ever-thoughtful Ridley: 'How can anyone be proud to be British? Britain is the third most hated country in the world. The Union Jack is drenched in the blood of our brothers and sisters across Iraq, Afghanistan, and Palestine.')
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Wednesday, December 06, 2006

# Posted 11:30 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

LET THE MEA CULPAS BEGIN (AGAIN): Three weeks ago, I posted a moderately substantive analysis of why I failed to anticipate the bloody aftermath of the US invasion of Iraq. Two days ago, a merry band of mostly-anonymous critics decided that I had not paid enough attention to such failures and began to fill the comments section of every post on this site with quotations from earlier posts designed to illustrate my fecklessness.

Although I wouldn't describe my critics' attitude as friendly or constructive, I am glad to address their substantive points. After all, I think I can say with a good measure of jusitifcation that OxBlog has not shied away from self-criticism.

I won't exhaust my critics' points in this one post, but I figure I may as well begin. Issue number one seems to be what I got wrong about the war in Iraq, so let's start there. Perhaps the place to begin is with this post, from February 23, 2003:

LESSONS OF KOSOVO: Paul Wolfowitz seems to agree with OxBlog that ethnic violence will not present a serious threat to postwar Iraq, despite its devastating effects in Kosovo.

As Wolfowitz told the NYT, Iraq's "ethnic groups have not had decades of slaughtering one another as happened in the Balkans. The problem in Iraq is a regime that slaughters everybody, it's equal opportunity repression,' he said." Sounds sorta like an evil version of the 14th amendment...
My critics (henceforth "The Band", with apologies to The Band) cited that post yesterday afternoon. It was also the centerpiece of my analysis form three weeks ago. Not surprisingly, my thoughts about it haven't changed much since then. My prediction was dead wrong. Why?

I never thought that Arab Muslims would behave in such a brutal manner toward other Arab Muslims. Slaughtering Jews in Israel or black Muslims in Darfur is one thing. But I never expected this kind of genocidal hatred across the Sunni-Shi'a divide.
So what else did I get wrong? Here is a post from May 5, 2003, whose final paragraph was described by the Band on Monday afternoon, which described it as a "gem":

Speaking more generally, the highly visible resurgence of Shi'ite devotion suggests that the people of Iraq are thirsting for spiritual liberation as well. But are spiritual liberation and political fundamentalism cut from the same cloth? I don't know and I suspect not. Thus, it may be correct to describe the Iraqi mainstream as "profoundly religious" without suggested that it is also anti-democratic.
Actually, I'm not embarrassed by that one. Although it is hard in the case of the Shi'ite majority to separate self-interest from democratic principles, I think that Iraqi Shi'ites made far more of a commitment to democracy than most observers expected. In the face of vicious provocations by Iraqi and foreign terrorists, they showed a remarkable degree of restraint for almost three years. They participated enthusiastically in elections and seemed to accept Ayatollah Sistani's explanations of why Islam and democracy are fully compatible. Yet now Iraq confronts the spectre of Shi'ite death squads alongside Sunni terorrists and insurgents. But no one should forget that the former gained credibility and influence as a result of the calculated cynicism of the latter.

On a related note, there is this post from April 2, 2003, cited by the Band on Monday evening. It concerns a debate between Andrew Sullivan and Josh Marshall about whether Iraqis would perceive themselves as liberated or colonized by the US invasion. I wrote

While Josh is right that the administration expected a more enthusiastic response, today's parade in Najaf does make Josh look foolish for passing such premature judgment on the merits of the administration's strategy. As Andrew points out, even the NYT presented Najaf as a straightforward example of liberation. While the absence of any sort of uprising in Basra has been disappointing, there is still good reason to believe the Coalition will be hailed there as liberators once the army and paramilitaries are ousted.
Again, the Band seems to have picked the wrong post to make fun of. Iraqi Shi'ites celebrated the fall of Saddam Hussein and have continued to insist in opinion polls that they are better off now than they were under Saddam, regardless of how bad things have gotten in Iraq.

Now, there are plenty of tensions between the Shi'ites and ourselves, reflected most of all by Moqtada Sadr and his allies. But no one should forget that Sadr initially tried to lead an insurgency against the US, only to meet with negligible popular support. Defeated, Sadr recognized that the US plan for elections was not a foreign impositions, but something his fellow Shi'ites wanted.

On another related note, here is a post from April 1, 2003, also cited by the band on Monday evening. Here is the text in full:

MUBARAK WARNS OF BACKLASH: The Egyptian dictator "warned today that a protracted U.S.-led war in Iraq will lead to a dangerous rise in Islamic militancy across the Arab world."

In the same article, ministers from Jordan and Saudi Arabia also warn that the US invasion will provoke a backlash. Do you see a trend here? Those whose well-being is intimately tied to the survival of repressive dictatorships constantly warn of a coming backlash.

I wouldn't be all that suprised if Mubarak & Co. actually believe what they are saying. After all, it's hard for dictators to survive unless they are somewhat paranoid. Better to crush threats that don't exist than fail to notice one that does.

Warning of an anti-American backlash also has the pleasant side-effect of distracting both Americans and Arabs from recognizing the true cause of instability in the Middle East -- the total prevalence of brutal dictatorships.

The first step toward dispelling such illusions is the democratization of Iraq. Let the people of the Middle East see that freedom is a real option. Then they will slowly begin to recognize who is on their side and who isn't.
Sadly, Iraq has not become an example that others in the Middle East want to emulate. In part, this has to do with serious mistakes and outright incompetence on the part of the Bush administration. But no one should forget that the United States, the Shi'ites and the Kurds worked together to lay the foundations for a constitutional democracy in Iraq. Yet Sunni extremists rejected the invitation of the United States and their fellow Iraqis to take part in the democratic process.

American policy and strategy may have failed, but I would still argue that United States chose a morally sound course action. Critics can point to moral failures such as Abu Ghraib, but only the most blind would confuse such exceptions with the rule of calculated brutality practiced by our adversaries.

On a related note, I was right and Mubarak and his fellow dictators were wrong about the rise of Islamic militancy across the Arab world. On OxBlog, I debated with those who expected rioting mobs to overthrow pro-Western regimes in the Middle East in response to the US invasion. Islamic militants engaged in direct conflict with Israel (i.e. Hamas and Hezbollah) have made advances, but that has very little to do with the invasion of Iraq. In Lebanon, moderate, pro-Western democrats ousted a Syrian military occupation with support from the US and France. I hope their success can be consolidated.

Now I don't want to belabor my point and bore you all to death, but in the same vein I'd like to cite a couple more posts mentioned by the Band. Here are the opening sentences from February 13, 2003 post, cited by the Band, also on the subject of the potential for a backlash across the Middle East:
HORNET'S NEST: "Why must the United States attack Saddam Hussein if that will only anger much of the Islamic world?"

The WaPo has one answer to this question: that the United States unwillingness to back a decisive intervention in the Middle East is precisely the reason why lesser attacks such as the first WTC bombing, the Khobar towers explosion, the twin embassy explosions and the attack on the USS Cole led to the climactic terrorist assault on 9/11.

Rather than offer a second answer, I'd like to challenge the question's premise, i.e. that an American invasion of Iraq will provoke a harsh fundamentalist response.
If you read the full post, you can clearly see that I am talking about "a harsh fundamentalist response" outside of Iraq, not within it. As noted above, I was wrong about the potential for fundamentalist violence in Iraq. But that is not the subject of this post. And as noted above, I was right about the US invasion failing to provoke significant turmoil or violence in the Arab world outside of Iraq.

Moving to the economic front, here is an example where the Band actually did identify something I got wrong. On March 7, 2003, I began a post as follows:
DOLLARS AND SENSE: Some of my anti-war friends have been hyping Yale economist William Nordhaus' estimate that a war would cost $1.6 trillion, if one takes into account its costs on stock and oil markets.

If one ignores, for the moment, indirect costs such as the impact of war on global markets, it is clear that the actual cost of fighting Saddam, including a military occupation, will come in at under $200 billion. That number reflects indepedent estimates made by the Congressional Budget Office, the Democratic staff on the House Budget Committee and the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a non-partisan think tank.
The Band's comment on this post was "How did this guy get his PHD?" I presume that their comment was in reference to myself, not Prof. Nordhaus. By the way, that last sentence is in italics since the Band chose not to include it in their comment about whether or not I deserved my PhD. That is important, since there are plenty of high-caliber (and liberal) PhDs who work for the CBO, the House Budget Committee and CSBA. I was certainly wrong about the war costing less than $200 billion, but I am perfectly willing to defend my trust in the analysts at the CBO, the Budget Committee and CSBA.

In closing, let's turn to an example where I clearly got something wrong. After all, the Band deserves a break. A post from February 26, 2003, included the following quotation from a post by Josh Marshall:
By 1945, we had pretty much destroyed the Germans' and Japanese' will to fight. And they were pleasantly surprised when they discovered how relatively benign our rule was. The same set of circumstances won't apply to Iraq. And that should be a cause of real concern.
To which I responded:
I'm surprised Marshall thinks the "same set of circumstances won't apply to Iraq." But everyone there has suffered for years because of Saddam's corruption and brutality. While some Iraqis might blame the West for sanctions, the Japanese and Germans would have been able to make an even stronger case for blaming the Allies for their carpet bombing.

Moreover, I think there is every reason to believe that Iraqis will be "pleasantly surprised when they discover how relatively benign our rule" is.
Clearly, we didn't destroy the Sunni insurgents' will to fight. I was wrong. Perhaps I should've recognized that our careful efforts to avoid collateral damage would, ironically enough, ensure that the Sunni insurgents had more will to fight on after the invasion than say, the residents of Dresden.

So were any Iraqis pleasantly surprised at the nature of the occupation? Certainly not the Kurds. They got what they expected. As for the Shi'a, I don't know. Did they actually expect us to follow through on our rhetoric about promoting democracy rather than exploiting Iraqi oil wealth? Did they know the Pentagon naively dreamed of a quick withdrawal from Iraq rather than a colonial occupation? Hard to say.

And then there are the Sunni. Yes, I truly hoped and expected they would recognize the sincerity of our interest in democracy and join us in an unprecedented effort to build democracy in the Middle East. I am profoundly disappointed.

I don't pretend that many Sunni now would describe the US occupation as relatively benign. Yet say what you will about the administration, that sad result is the outcome of the Sunni insurgents' and terrorists' brutal, cynical and profoundly evil choice of action.
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# Posted 8:48 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

MY OWN PRIVATE CINDY SHEEHAN: One might say that OxBlog is my cattle ranch. It is my place in the blogosphere, where I go when the work day is done to talk about whatever I want to talk about. But it seems that there is a protester standing outside the gates of my ranch.

Now, it wasn't hard to figure out why Cindy Sheehan spent her time protesting outside of the President's ranch. He makes the big decisions about Iraq. But why would someone protest outside of my ranch? I'm just a small-time blogger.

For those who haven't visited the comments section lately, what I'm talking about is how, over the past few days, a small number of commenters have posted dozens of derisive remarks about my ability to think or lack thereof. What made the comments stand out was not just their volume and their tone, but also the authors' obvious commitment to spending enough hours in the OxBlog archives to find direct quotes of mine, mostly regarding the invasion of Iraq, that they could put on display.

Why is this issue of such great importance to these individuals? And why have they chosen this moment to bring it up? I don't know, primarily because I don't know who the authors of these comments are. At first they were anonymous. Then they adopted a number of pseudonyms. Now one of them has posted his name and e-mail address, although I don't believe I've met him before.

Do I know anything at all about these individuals? Well, a little. First, they seem to be quite intelligent. Second, they have sufficient courtesy not to use profanity in their comments. Third, they still have a lot to learn about tact and sensitivity, since they took advantage of a eulogy to launch their protests against me. Fourth, they seem to have some connection to Oxford.

Do I have any guesses as to who these protesters are? Well, my girlfriend suggested that it might be my ex-girlfriend, who made a habit of holding grudges. But this is not her style. Certainly, she would never disrespect a eulogy (which made me quite angry).

Now, there is one individual connected to Oxford whom I've criticized by name on more than one occasion. But he actually responded to such criticism in a very civil manner, appropriate to a substantive argument.

As a result of my critics penchant for anonymity, some have suggested that they are a little bit short on courage. In general, I have no problem with anonymous commenters on this blog or any other. There shouldn't be a price of admission for engaging in public debate. But if someone launches a concerted attack on me personally, I do think it is appropriate for him or her to identify himself and explain his or her reasons for putting OxBlog in the crosshairs.

On a related note, it has been suggested that the anonymous critics are playing an unfair game because their is no way for anyone to expose their past opinions to critical scrutiny. In some ways, this is a debate as old as Socrates, who often maddened his discussion partners by subjecting their opinions to intense scrutiny without advancing any opinions of his own.

Personally, I'm fine with the Socratic approach and welcome the criticism of anyone who disagrees with my posts. But my critics' apparent purpose is not to take issue with any of my arguments, but rather to destroy my reputation as an analyst. Now, if that really is their purpose, then it would be fair for them to make their own writings available for comment. Prediction is a tough business, so if someone wants to mock my abilities, they ought to establish their credentials.

In fact, one of the critics (Ryan) did finally post an opinion of his own with regard to the invasion of Iraq. Of course, it isn't hard to have a reasonable opinion about the past in hindsight. The real question is whether Ryan & co. went on the record back in 2003 with regard to their expectations about the war.

Now unfortunately, this entire post has been talking up by me talking about myself and me talking about people who've been talking about me. There hasn't been any political substance to it. That will come next.

Although President Bush had reason enough not to invite Cindy Sheehan into his ranch, my time is a lot less valuable and I will be glad to address the substantive points my critics raise alongside their derision. Yet hidden in my Cindy Sheehan metaphor is a prediction about how my critics will fare once they are out in the open. Sheehan became an overnight celebrity, but now the Democrats have distanced themself from her because what she actually stood for turned out to be a little bit embarrassing. (See photo above.)

If my critics have put their writings on the record over the past few years, I'm guessing that they won't come out of this looking any better than I will. But if my critics are willing to put aside their derision and engage in a substantive discussion, perhaps we will have what to learn from one another.
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