Wednesday, May 30, 2007
# Posted 12:09 PM by Patrick Porter
But this might involve some uncomfortable ironies, and not just for the military. Sometimes the media can take cultural sensitivity so far that they risk being delusional and patronising.
Part of overcoming derogatory stereotypes about these foreign cultures is recognising that the people are probably smart enough to tell lies occasionally. The Taliban, for example, are as aware as anyone else that this is an information war about political will, as Jonathan Foreman argues:
There is sometimes a strange, sentimental, inverted racism at work in this: Surely such simple, ardent, technologically unsophisticated people — like the mullah who speaks for the village, or the weeping mother who swears her slain son was a good boy and would never have shot at the soldiers — wouldn’t tell lies?
There is a good broader point here: that as well as denigrating foreign peoples, orientalism can be as much about idealising and mythologising them. In fact, the Edwardians themselves sometimes did this.
An argument I hope to put into print and make available in all fine bookstores (watch this space). (11) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 8:24 AM by Ariel David Adesnik
I saw that Warhol quote in Sunday's Times. I like it a lot. It marked the beginning of a very long article about the Coca-Cola corporation and its struggle to keep up with Pepsi. Several years ago, Coca-Cola stock was worth $20 more per share than Pepsi. Now Pepsi is well-ahead.
This information certainly took me by surprise, since I pretty much refuse to drink Pepsi. And most people I know have strong preference for Coke as well. But these days, cola is passe. The future lies not in plastics, but in uncarbonated beverages. And in that arena, Pepsi rules. It owns Gatorade, Aquafina and Tropicana.
But don't feel too bad for Coke. It still earned $5 billion last year on sales of $24 billion.
Labels: Coca-Cola(9) opinions -- Add your opinion
Sunday, May 27, 2007
# Posted 2:03 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
On the front page of yesterday's WaPo, there was a story entitled Largess To Clintons Lands CEO In Lawsuit. To be perfectly clear, neither Bill nor Hillary nor their patron, Vinod Gupta, did anything wrong from a legal perspective. Yet there is growing resentment among the shareholders in Gupta's firm, InfoUSA, who believe he is wasting millions of dollars of corporate funds on the Clinton's friendships. So these shareholders are taking Gupta to court.
So, how did Gupta legally expend those millions on Bill and Hillary? The Post reports:
For the past four years, the Clintons have jetted around on Vinod Gupta's corporate plane, to Switzerland, Hawaii, Jamaica, Mexico -- $900,000 worth of travel. The former president secured a $3.3 million consulting deal with Gupta's technology firm. His presidential library got a six-figure gift, too...No wrongdoing here. But in exchange for Gupta's quid, there were some very nice pro quos:
Gupta has enjoyed his own benefits from his relationship with the Clintons. Bill Clinton offered him two diplomatic posts -- as U.S. counsel general to Bermuda and as U.S. ambassador to Fiji -- that he did not take. The president appointed him to the prestigious John F. Kennedy Center Board of Trustees during his last week in office.It's well known, of course, that political appointments have been for sale for a very, very long time. Presidents of both parties have considered it necessary to reward loyal friends.
We'll never take money out of politics, but I'd certainly prefer a system where these kinds of perks are not for sale. (21) opinions -- Add your opinion
Monday, May 21, 2007
# Posted 11:43 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
More startling than the transformation of the Republican Party has been the cowardice of its presidential candidates. Four of the men running for the Republican nomination—John McCain, Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney and Sam Brownback—had sensible views on immigration. All supported the original Kennedy-McCain bill, which was a much more intelligent and also more liberal piece of legislation than the current proposal. Apart from McCain, all have now backtracked in various ways.Except for the President, of course, who hasn't backed off his support for the issue even though he fought his party and lost the last time around. And John McCain -- the party's most prominent Senator -- whose stand on principle Zakaria recognizes.
I won't go easy on any Republicans who flip-flop on immigration, but a little more perspective from Zakaria might help. (5) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 11:12 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
During a meeting Thursday on immigration legislation, McCain and Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) got into a shouting match when Cornyn started voicing concerns about the number of judicial appeals that illegal immigrants could receive, according to multiple sources -- both Democrats and Republicans -- who heard firsthand accounts of the exchange from lawmakers who were in the room.A curse word associated with chickens, eh? Obviously, this isn't big news. The real issue here is whether a string of little outbursts like this can be used to paint McCain as angry or temperemental, the way Bush is painted as dumb and Gore as wooden and artificial. (Although I should point that wood is natural and organic, not artificial.)
Broadly speaking, what does it take to attach a caricature to candidate? I don't know. A string of small incidents? A single, unforgettable, embarrassing moment? It's a question that ought to be studied systematically. But for the moment, all we know is that the cost of being pigeonholed is great enough for candidates to fight against it as hard as they can.
So, will the Cornyn incident help paint McCain as angry? Here's how Jonathan Singer at MyDD presented the incident:
Word around Washington has long been that John McCain is unable to restrain his temper...for a lot of Americans the notion of supporting a White House candidate who is unable to restrain his aggression -- particularly following the presidency of a man who needlessly invaded a country (Iraq) and is saber rattling against another (Iran) -- is almost unthinkable.That kind of logic is simply awful. Having a bad temper has no relationship to being hawkish or dovish. Think of all the liberal, anti-war bloggers known for their bad tempers. Think of Nixon and Kissinger, two of the most vindictive men ever to occupy the White House -- and the architects of detente and the end of the war in Vietnam.
But logic isn't really what drives campaign coverage. Americans afraid of another Iraq may decide that having a bad tempter is an indicator of recklessness. The press may decide to run with the story. Or not. It's very hard to predict how this kind of thing will turn out. Although clearly, McCain is known for his temper, so this is a subject that deserves to be watched.
Personally, the Cornyn incident doesn't seem too significant to me. I wouldn't advise McCain to continue cursing out other Senators, but this story (as presented by the Post) has McCain in the role of problem solver, fighting against a cynical legislative tactician. My gut instinct says that for a negative stereotype to stick, it needs to be driven by an incident that is a clear embarrassment, not one that is defensible on substantive grounds.
By the way, McCain himself actually had a very nice response to all the questions about the spat. He said he wished someone had caught it all on tape and put it up on YouTube. He made a point of saying that twice.
Otherwise, it was a rather pedestrian call. The main issue of substance was immigration. The questions were mostly friendly. McCain's answers were candid, but that's the minimum I expect from my man.
Labels: John McCain(9) opinions -- Add your opinion
Saturday, May 19, 2007
# Posted 11:57 AM by Ariel David Adesnik
Friday, May 18, 2007
# Posted 12:22 AM by Ariel David Adesnik
I told my girlfriend what I saw then casually turned to look at the busted window. Staring right back at me were two big white eyes. That sent a chill down my back and I quickly walked ten steps away. The man was sitting in the back seat of the car, holding a handful of CDs that presumably weren't his. He looked to be around 35 or 40 years old, with facial hair. He was black.
I kept talking to my girlfriend. I don't remember exactly what I said first. But then I said I was going to hang up and call 911. I did. Within five minutes, two squad cars were on the black. But neither of them stopped next to the car with the busted window, even though I specifically told the dispatcher that it was the first car parked on the southwest corner of the street.
When I called 911, I was still only ten steps away from the car. Why didn't I go further away? The thought crossed my mind that the thief might come after me. He might have a gun. He might even have heard me say that I was going to call 911. After placing the call, I crossed the street to watch things unfold from a slightly safer distance.
After growing up in New York in the 1980s, you'd think that I would have a more finely honed instinct for self-preservation. I knew that what I was supposed to do is protect myself and not worry about whether the police needed any information.
But I was sort of angry. This is my neighborhood and I don't want criminals to think that they have any sort of immunity. I also made a sort of snap judgment that the man in the car was an addict, desperate to steal whatever he could, even a few CDs. Although frankly, if he's an addict, he could also be unstable and violent.
The thought also crossed my mind that I had forgotten to put the steering wheel lock on my car. Not that it really mattered. This guy didn't have the wherewithal to cut a lock and hotwire the car. More importantly, I left nothing lying out in plain view. Beacuse some crazy people will steal anything.
Finally, there were several people walking around just steps away from the car with the busted window. If I'd been on a deserted street, I might've walked away. But there were pedestrians there, as well as a considerable amount of traffic, because I live on a semi-major thoroughfare.
When both squad cars passed the car with the busted window, I decided to walk over to the officers and tell them which car it was. I said the man might still be hiding in the backseat. The officer took note and then I asked which way the man had gone if he'd run away. I said I didn't know, but I didn't see him come in my direction, so presumably he went in the other.
The thought crossed my mind that I should have kept an eye on the thief after I saw him in the back of the car. I should've quickly moved away, but to a position from which I could clearly see where he went. Well, maybe next time. Lesson learned.
I called my girlfriend back and told her I was fine. She was worried. I haven't decided yet whether I'll tell my parents what happened or maybe just send them a link to this post. I don't think they've forgotten that I was assaulted just two blocks from my apartment in September 2005.
There was also another crazy incident that month in which more than a dozen police cars showed up outside my window at 8:00 AM to deal with a man who seemed to be very high and was screaming some of the filthiest profanities I'd ever heard at the top of his lungs. It took several officers to hold him down to the sidewalk. Even then, he kept verbally assaulting the officers, especially the women.
So yeah, I live in an interesting neighborhood. (11) opinions -- Add your opinion
Tuesday, May 15, 2007
# Posted 11:23 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
Lazenby made only one film as Bond, On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969). It was match better than I expected. Mostly, I was familiar with the caricature of Lazenby as the Bond so bad he only got to make one film. To be fair, Lazenby is no Sean Connery. At the time, he was younger, thinner and softer in his appearance. But I think Lazenby had potential.
The real star of the film was not Lazenby, however, but Diana Rigg as Bond girl Tracy di Vincenza. Although best known as Emma Peel of the Avengers, Rigg stands out in my mind as the Bond girl par excellence. She has the spirit and force of character that so many of her timid peers never establish (with the possible exception of Michelle Yeoh, who has the spirit and force but had a terrible script to work with in Tomorrow Never Dies.)
Another thing I liked quite a lot about On Her Majesty's Secret Service (OHMSS) is that it completely abandoned the obsession with implausible gadgets that did so much to ruin its predecessor, You Only Live Twice (YOLT). Instead, OHMSS included much more espionage, which I think is the essence of the great Bond films. Also, the action sequences in OHMSS foucsed on more "real world" challanges, such as car chases and skiing. Of course, Bond's skills as a driver and skier are far beyond realistic. Yet they strain the imagination much less than Bond defeating hordes of enemy pilots while flying a miniature helicopter, as in YOLT.
Interestingly, Timothy Dalton's appearance as James Bond also signaled a desire on the part of the filmmakers to get back to the basics. In The Living Daylights (1987), gadgetry takes a back seat to old-fashioned espionage. The film begins with a classic Cold War trope, the defection. Without the distraction of implausible technology, one can develop a much richer sense of the tension and violence that were part of such rituals.
As Bond, Timothy Dalton has more age and heft than George Lazenby. Physically, I don't think he is much broader, but his thicker eyebrows and more angular face give him a much more forceful presence. Yet often, I felt as if Dalton didn't really believe that he could be James Bond. He seems hesitant, rather than forceful and determined. On occasion, this sense of vulnerability is extremely valuable because it humanizes James Bond. Yet Dalton seemed unsure of himself at precisely those moments that called for force and determination. In contrast, I think Daniel Craig matched his demeanor to the script almost perfectly.
In spite of such flaws, I think Dalton had the potential to be an excellent Bond with some practice. Sadly, he was saddled with an absolutely awful script for his second film, License to Kill (1989). The entire film amounts to a bad episode of Miami Vice. In fact, it takes place in South Florida with all of the ridiculous pastels that must've seemed very cool at the time. Naturally, the plot involves a stereotypical Latin drug dealer who is one of the most boring villains Bond has ever faced. Then, somehow, Wayne Newton shows up as as a cynical cult leader who uses his religious activities to provide cover for the drug dealer's operations. Mostly, it's a pointless mishmash whose one bright spot is Dalton, who has grown much more into the role of Bond.
If you're not a Bond fan, wathcing Lazenby or Dalton probably won't make you one. But their films provide several delights that should not be missed by Bond conoisseurs.
The terrible thing about James Bond is that his legendary status lowers the bar for the filmmakers charged with perpetuating the legend. If the Lazenby or Dalton films were simply spy thrillers with an unknown protagonist, I wouldn't have watched them. Which brings me back to where this post started: Thank goodness for Daniel Craig.
Labels: James Bond(11) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 1:23 PM by Taylor Owen
WANNA BUY A PRESIDENCY? This is pretty incredible:(3) opinions -- Add your opinion
New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg is prepared to spend an unprecedented $1 billion of his own $5.5 billion personal fortune for a third-party presidential campaign, personal friends of the mayor tell The Washington Times.Indeed.
# Posted 11:06 AM by Patrick Porter
Of course, we couldn't possibly have a pluralist arrangement where pubs, clubs and bars could decide whether to have a smoking or non-smoking licence.
We wouldn't want a country where adults and bar staff are given the discretion to decide which of those places to relax or work in.
No, that would be trusting too much in individuals and their responsibility. The only thing that matters for the public good is physical health and a long life. (12) opinions -- Add your opinion
Monday, May 14, 2007
# Posted 9:24 AM by Taylor Owen
CAMBODIA BOMBING REDUX: The article I wrote with Ben Kiernan on the US bombing of Cambodia has been reprinted in Japan Focus. The newer version was slightly updated and a few more maps were added. A critique of the piece sent to the Walrus is here and our reply is here. A series of zooms that I kind of like, but were not included in either version are below. Finally, the piece is a finalist for a Canadian National Magazine Award - fingers crossed.
“The town of Chantrea was destroyed by US bombs... The people were angry with the US, and that is why so many of them joined the Khmer communists” - Chantrea bombing survivor
The bombing in this map represent 2245 tons, 221 sorties and 89 targets hit with A-37, B-52, F100, F5, A1 aircraft. The large rings are areas hit by B-52s and the small rings are cluster bomb areas.
Labels: Bombing of Cambodia(11) opinions -- Add your opinion
Sunday, May 13, 2007
# Posted 10:25 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
(Attention international readers: American fifth graders are usually ten or eleven years old.)
Speaking as a political scientist, I have a fair amount of confidence in the American people to make good decisions at the polls. (For some evidence, see here.) At the same time, I am well aware that the average American tends to display considerable ignorance of what educators consider common knowledge. I am also bristle at casual accusations of European acquaintances that Americans are apallingly ignorant.
Thus, I felt compelled to watch "5th Grader" and see how Americans would perform when the bar was set so low. Strangely enough, the first contestant on the show turned out to be a Yale graduate. He breezed through the initial ten questions, working his way up to half a million dollars in prize money. Then he had to decide whether he would risk it all on one final question worth $1,000,000. If he got it wrong, he would walk away with only $25,000.
Two previous contestants walked away with their half a million rather than losing 95% of it. But the Yale man took the plunge. In theory, the question he had to answer was something that a fifth grader might now. Personally, I thought the question was considerably harder than that. But that may just be a defensive reaction to the fact that I got the question wrong.
So, do you know what was the name of the first American satellite to orbit the earth? I guessed Gemini. That was wrong. The Yale man guessed Mercury. That was also wrong. Still don't know what it is? Then you'll find the answer here. (This morning I asked my Dad if he knew the answer. He got it in around four seconds. But he has a Ph.D. in molecular biology.)
The initial ten questions were considerably easier than the final one. For example, the Yale man made it to half a million by identifying the author of Common Sense as Thomas Paine. That's an easy question, but I still think it may be above the level of a fifth grader. As if to make that point, four of the five fifth graders on the show got the question wrong. Another question that I thought more appropriate for a junior high schooler or above was which of the following particles is not found in an atomic nucleus: a proton, a neutron, or an electron.
Disappointingly, the adult contestant who got that question had absolutely no idea what the answer was. This contestant was a veterinarian's assistant, age 26, and she was just plain awful. When asked what city is home to the United Nations' headquarters, she had no idea. Luckily, all five fifth graders knew the answer, so she was able to "cheat" off of them.
Curiously, this woman was not just exceptionally unaware but also very, very hot. Which made me wonder whether the show's producers chose contestants on the basis of their entertainment value, rather than some approximation of either merit or average-ness. It's the same with a lot of reality shows. They don't choose contestants who are the most real. Rather, they choose the ones who have just the right combination of good looks and social dysfunction.
So all in all, I'm not sure if "5th Grader" says anything about the American people, except that we encompass both Yale graduates and pretty bubbleheads. But it does raise the eternal question of how democracy can function if those who vote don't possess a certain amount of basic knowledge about what they are voting for. Although I don't have citations at hand, I have read some rigorous surveys that document the failure of a representative sample of Americans to identify basic political facts, such as which party has a majority in Congress.
Some of those surveys also demonstrate that Europeans tend to have a better knowledge of things such as the name of the UN Secretary General or the president of Russia. If you wanted, I guess you could argue that that is evidence of Europe's greater political wisdom, although it would be a stretch.
After all, even the most educated people often have diametrically opposed views of what makes good policy. Pick one blogger from the left and another from the far right, and they'll both know who's the president of Russia and who's the secretary general of the UN. Clearly, something other than a knowledge of facts determines one political preferences. Yet no one seems to know what that something is.
In the meantime, we'll just have to stick by the least profoundly flawed of all political systems, good 'ol democracy. (9) opinions -- Add your opinion
Friday, May 11, 2007
# Posted 9:40 AM by Patrick Belton
Thursday, May 10, 2007
# Posted 3:06 PM by Patrick Porter
TOUGH AIN'T ENOUGH: British Prime Minister Tony Blair today announced that he would step down. There will be much to argue about over his legacy, which he articulated in a speech to his own local party.
But he made one statement about the war on terror that's worth pondering:
For me, I think we must see it through. They, the terrorists, who threaten us here and round the world, will never give up if we give up. It is a test of will and of belief, and we can't fail it.
Oxblog readers will have their own views on this. For what its worth, I think Blair was right to recognise after 9/11 that militant Islam had to be confronted in solidarity with the US, even if it meant that Britain would be drawn into the firing line.
Blair is right in his instinct that it is naive to pretend that the conflict can be indefinitely avoided by distancing Britain from the UK. A little like believing that a fire in a bedroom can be wished away by closing the door and retreating to another part of the house.
It may not be an existential conflict yet, but the ability of terrorists to incinerate skyscrapers, blow up embassies, ruin economies and inflict poverty remains a non-trivial threat. And he is right to see it as a wider struggle against moderation and liberal values all over the world - its not all about us.
But here's where his rhetoric and vision, and Bush's, often fall short. This may be a test of nerve and will, but its much more than that.
Its a test of ingenuity, competence and skill as well. On that test, we have not done well. A war in Afghanistan that enjoyed genuine local support and removed a dangerous regime has been unnecessarily jeopardised because of some bad policies. Whatever you think about Iraq, whether it was a foreordained disaster or mismanagement, some bad decisions helped to ensure a disaster.
A friend of mine expressed it much better:
"Without denying that determination matters, this is not a good way to look at things. It is the Anglosphere's enemies who operate like that. Both Hitler and the Japanese Militarists were all about how they were going to be victorious because their Wills were greater. (The Americans in particular were discounted because they were all weak and materialist and decayed by the good life and lack of racial/cultural fibre.) There is a fair bit of that among the jihadis as well.
It leaves out, or seriously undervalues, capacity and competence. You end up with Stalingrad--feeding more and more troops and effort into the wrong fight at the wrong place in the wrong way until your opponent pulls a Zhukov and crunches your weak points. The Allies did not win WWII because their will was greater."
Come to think of it, when talking about foreign policy since 9/11, this summarises Blair and Blairism: high ideals and poor execution.
Having said all that, Blair recognised that at a critical moment, this was no time for misguided isolationism. For that and for much else, he will be missed. (7) opinions -- Add your opinion
Wednesday, May 09, 2007
# Posted 5:08 PM by Patrick Porter
'Gosh, I love America. I'm afraid I'm going to be at a loss for words...America for me is not just our rolling mountains and hills and streams and great cities, it’s the American people.
And the American people are the greatest people in the world. What makes America the greatest nation in the world is the heart of the American people -- hard-working, innovative, risk-taking, God-loving, family-oriented, the American people.'
Even on the most charitable reading, Romney didn't really answer the question.
So what should be most disliked about America? Not being from the US, I'd still like to take a shot at answering.
If I could think of one thing that has tainted the United States recently, it is a policy that has been carried out from below but tacitly approved from above - torture.
It has violated the values America rightly claims to embody, and endangered the individual liberty, freedom and the downright healthy suspicion of state power that is at the heart of its constitution and the best of its democratic, liberal and idealist traditions.
It has strategically wounded America's image in the world, as it fights what is as much an information war as a military war.
Just before some readers race to the comments section, no, this doesn't make the US the moral or political equivalent of Al Qaeda, or Saddam Hussein. But it does damage America's claims to stand for something that is worth defending.
And no, this didn't begin under Bush. Rendition, imprisonment abroad without trial, and torture were policies carried out under the Clinton Administration and condemned by human rights organisations. This is beyond party politics.
But more importantly, I'd be interested to hear what Oxblog readers might have answered to this question. (12) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 11:10 AM by Taylor Owen
A MAN OF THE PEOPLE: Obama may be clinically charismatic, but Edwards is delusional in his sincerity:
Asked if he had to join a hedge fund to learn about financial markets, Edwards replied, "How else would I have done it?"h/t: SF
Labels: Edwards(5) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 8:02 AM by Taylor Owen
WANNA BUY A WAR?: Together, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have just become the second costliest in US history (as absolute dollars, not percentage of GDP). So what have other US wars cost? Below is a list from the Congressional Research Service, figs are in Billions of 2006 bucks.(13) opinions -- Add your opinion
Tuesday, May 08, 2007
# Posted 8:19 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
In last week's New Yorker, staff writer Larissa MacFarquhar took a shot at explaining the Obama magic. I think she did a pretty good job, although if you're a Hillary fan, you've probably had it up to here with fawning profiles of the junior Senator from Illinois. Anyhow, MacFarquhar writes that:
Obama’s calm is...a matter of temperament. The first thing almost everybody who knows Obama says about him is how extremely comfortable he is with himself.Contrast that comfort with Al Gore and Hillary Clinton's self-conscious efforts to reshape their public personas. Obama's comfort in his own skin is also very different from Bill Clinton's thirst for approval. Clinton certainly had charisma, but of a very different kind.
Quite aptly, MacFarquhar compares Obama to a physician:
Obama’s detachment, his calm...is less professorial than medical—like that of a doctor who, by listening to a patient’s story without emotional reaction, reassures the patient that the symptoms are familiar to him.Who in our lives do we trust as much as doctors? We trust our parents, but we know them intimately. Doctors are essentially strangers who comfort us in a time of need. We tend to think of doctors as being above us, yet we don't resent them for it. Instead, we are grateful. As MacFarquhar observes:
[Obama] doesn’t strive for an Everyman quality: he is relaxed but never chummy, gracious rather than familiar.Doctors earn their patients' trust by listening to their words. What's impressive, according to one of Obama's friends, is:
“The number of conservatives who’ve called me—roommates of mine, relatives who are Republicans—who’ve said, ‘He’s the one Democrat I could support, not because he agrees with me, because he doesn’t, but because I at least think he’ll take my point of view into account.’"Of course, Obama's friends are not exactly an objective source of information. Yet my own experience talking to Republicans is similar. At minimum, I can say that I'm a Republican and I really believe that Obama listens in a way that other politicians don't.
Bill Clinton, of course, was famous for listening. Yet he seemed to listen because he needed you to like him. In contrast, doctors listen to their patients because they have made a professional commitment to the art of healing. We trust them because they are detached, not because they are emotionally engaged.
For politicians, one of the problems of listening to everyone and understanding everyone is that you are tempted to agree with everyone. If all a politician stands for is listening and conciliation, do he stand for anything at all? According to MacFarquhar, "Even Obama’s allies worry that it sounds a little flaccid."
Yet for the moment, at least, Obama is known for his passion and conviction. Somehow, he manages to listen without making people feel that he is pandering. How is that possible? In a word, Iraq. He is the only serious Democratic contender who can tell a simple and straightforward story about his position on the war. He opposed it. Now he wants to end it, but carefully.
While his competitors constantly struggle to explain their changing positions on the most important issue of the day, Obama projects resolve. But when it comes to Iraq, did Obama just get lucky? If he had been in the Senate in 2002, with one eye already on the White House, would he have made the same tactical compromise as Kerry, Edwards and Clinton? It's impossible to know. But it certainly was a lot easier for a local pol for Chicago to come out against the war than it was for those liberal senators with their eyes on the White House.
Then again, does it really matter if Obama got lucky? His competitors have been pretty lucky, too. Clinton married a future president. Edwards is rich and handsome. In the end, it's what they make of their luck that really counts.
Labels: Obama(3) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 5:33 PM by Taylor Owen
FALLOWS ON NEW US ATTORNEY TWISTS: He tells two stories. The first, I will let you read in his post, as I don't want to paraphrase his highly personal account. As Sullivan comments, if true, it's pretty disturbing. The second, is summed up in his concluding para:
As Adam Cohen pointed out in the New York Times:
She was hired to be co-leader of the Crisis Management Practice Group with Theodore Olson, who was President Bush’s solicitor general and his Supreme Court lawyer in Bush v. Gore. Gibson, Dunn was defending Mr. Lewis in Ms. Yang’s investigation… [A] possibility is that the timing of her departure was coincidental. That would make her lucky indeed: after more than 15 years of working for government, she decided to take a private sector job precisely when the White House counsel was apparently trying to fire her.
Labels: US Attorneys Scandal(1) opinions -- Add your opinion
Monday, May 07, 2007
# Posted 2:27 PM by Taylor Owen
HITCH ON CHARLIE ROSE: The latter was smitten and the former said a myriad of wild and wonderful things, as per usual. A couple of big quotes:
"The consequence of the Iraq war for the Middle East will be that it will be more dangerous to be a friend of the US than an enemy."
"The Taliban is another name for the Pakistani colonization of Afghanistan." I think I'll just leave that one out there...
OK, one more, paraphrasing: "I think, by the way, that I have figured out the difference between writers of non-fiction and fiction. Novelists and poets understand music."
Labels: Hitchens(2) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 10:42 AM by Taylor Owen
WHAT MIGHT CONDI DO?: Following the comments to my post about potential regional negotiations between the US, Iran and Syria on Iraq, I asked a friend, David Eaves (who moonlights as a negotiations consultant), how he might approach such talks.(14) opinions -- Add your opinion
Specifically, I asked: 'how would you run ME regional talks on Iraq using negotiation theory? Say US, Syria and Iran were willing to talk. What would the process be? What would be the base positions, what degree of flexibility would participants have to enter with etc.' Below is his great reply, also posted on his blog, here:
Back in the 1970’s Roger Fisher used a method called the one-text that helped create the document that became the basis for the 1978 Sinai Agreement between Israel and Egypt. The one-text process is a variation of mediation that is simple, but powerful. Clinton also proposed using the process in 2000 with the Israeli’s and Palestinians.
Sunday, May 06, 2007
# Posted 12:34 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
Only four countries export more oil to the United States than Nigeria. Each day, Nigeria produces the same amount of oil, give or take a few barrels, as Kuwait or the United Arab Emirates. If oil prices hold steady at their current level, Nigeria will continue to earn more than $50 billion a year from oil exports.Keep an eye on this one. (3) opinions -- Add your opinion
Friday, May 04, 2007
# Posted 9:31 AM by Taylor Owen
THE VICIOUS CIRCLE OF CIVILIAN CASUALTIES IN AFGHANISTAN: OK, so this is well trodden ground and I realize I am a broken record on this, but I really think that the strategic costs of civilian casualties are the central challenge of the peacebuilding effort in Afghanistan. This story, for example, perfectly captures the challenge facing NATO. The circle between fighting neo-Taliban, accidentally killing civilians, and the resulting increased Afghan support for the neo-Taliban and anger against the coalition/Karsai, is intractably vicious.
So what do we do about it? I wish I knew. It is not without a lack of thought though. I have been working recently on the concept of 3D peacebuilding. I will share papers/articles once published asap, but one of the things that the principle necessitates is fundamental collaboration and mission planning between the three D. While this is incredibly difficult, and advocates of the concept are themselves unsure about what exactly this would look like, I think that this is where we have to be going.
3D collaboration goes far beyond simply better communication. Instead it means shared decision making. For example, if an air strike is desired for military objectives, and the development workers believe the risk of civilian casualties outweighs this strategic imperative, then a tactical compromise must be reached. Idealistic, perhaps unrealistic, and undoubtedly messy, trust me, I know. But I think that dealing with this is the only way out of the vicious circle we remain trapped in. I don't think we can win unless we recalibrate the constituents (defense, development and diplomacy) in this decision making process.
Using this calculus, for example, there is probably not a good case for heavy artillery, tanks, and air strikes (in all but the most remote regions) in Afghanistan. The costs to the long term objective, Afghan Peacebuilding, are simply too devastating. As this weeks 60 deaths and widespread protests illuminate.
Labels: Afghanistan(3) opinions -- Add your opinion
Thursday, May 03, 2007
# Posted 11:04 AM by Taylor Owen
WHY NOW?: I certainly think that US-Syria-Iran talks are a positive development, but I wonder what changed the administration's calculus on this? Either something has moved empirically, or this should have happened long ago. I'd be curious to know which it is. If the former, what changed? If the latter, why now and not far sooner?(30) opinions -- Add your opinion
Wednesday, May 02, 2007
# Posted 11:00 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
The total number of Palestinian suicide bombers -- both attempted and successful -- seems to be no more than a few hundred. Yet my sense is that there is much broader social infrastructure necessary to support such attacks. There are those who make the bombs. Those who train the bombers. Those who provide the funding. Those who capture the final testament of the bombers on video. How many individuals play such a supporting role? Perhaps a few thousand.P responded as follows:
For a culture that prides itself on assuming innocence until guilt is proven, we sure are quick to judge and condemn vast groupings of Arabs and Muslims whenever we feel like it. (Never mind that when we make disparaging comments about Palestinians, we are also impugning many Palestinian Christians, Samaritans, Socialists, Communists, secular progressives, etc.)P's response raises some very significant questions about the ethics of war, but it never grapples with the fundamental question I raise in my post. I am not interested in whether Israelis or Palestinians have taken more innocent lives. My question is why so many Palestinians seem to celebrate the taking of innocent Israeli lives.
Like 'P', I hope to see the day when Jewish and Palestinian states will live side by side, in peace. Yet I fear that no such day will ever come if enough Palestinians believe in sacrificing their own children in order to kill the greatest possible number of Israelis. Or as Golda Meir put it long ago, “We will have peace with the Arabs when they love their children more than they hate us”.
Given how violence and extremism attract attention, I would not be surprised if those Palestinians who do advocate suicide operations get considerably more press coverage than those who don't. Thus, what kind of evidence might be necessary to determine how influential the culture of death and martyrdom is within the Palestnian population?
I certainly can't provide a definitive answer to that question, although I can report on the evidence provided in a new documentary by Pierre Rehov entitled "Suicide Killers". Be warned, this is not a comprehensive portrayal of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is a very focused examination of Palestinian suicide attacks. Israeli human rights violations are mentioned only in passing. Israelis in this film are primarily victims of terror.
Yet this shortage of context doesn't automatically invalidate the film's evidence that a passion for hatred and death are instilled in far too many Palestinian children.
The film's greatest strength is the extensive footage in which aspiring young martyrs are allowed to explain their motivations at length. In most cases, these would-be martyrs are available for interviews because their attacks failed and now they are in prison. There is one interivew, however, with a young man in a mask now training to become a martyr.
What is most striking about these attempted martyrs is not what they say, but how they say it. They are candid, calm, sincere and articulate. They are not wild, angry, loud or desperate or insane. These men and women have considered very carefully what they would do and whey they would do it.
As one might expect, the bombers' motivation is what they believe to be the message of the Koran. Sacrificing oneself to kill the enemy is pleasing to God, who rewards his servants in heaven.
Considered in isolation, the bombers themselves tells us very little about Palestinian society or culture. Did they become what they are because they are unusual individuals, or because their society values what they have become?
One answer to that question is provide through interviews with the parents and siblings of successful martyrs. Some are saddened by their loved ones' decision. Yet there are also parents who described how they raised their children from the very beginning to become martyrs.
The film also provides footage of young boys in a paramilitary summer camp. A staff member at the camp then explains that it is preparing the boys for struggle and martyrdom. The film also includes footage of various parades in which children are dressed up as martyrs, with white hoods over their faces and fake dynamite around their waists.
What it's impossible to know on the basis of this film is how extensive such behavior is and how the majority of Palestinians feels about it. I certainly would not conclude on the basis of this film that there is a Palestinian culture of death. It's evidence is impressionistic, not systematic.
Yet how can there be even a few score or a few hundred children raised to wear masks and dynamite? As it turns out, one of the proud mothers of three martyrs is known as Umm Nidal and was elected to parliament on the Hamas ticket in 2006. During the campaign, Umm Nidal was very candid about the pride she has in her martyred sons.
What does this mean? Clearly, the most effective and popular political organization in the West Bank and Gaza not only tolerates but takes pride in the perverse ideology of suicide murder. And what does that say about Palestinian culture as a whole? I'm not sure.
In the aftermath of Hamas' victory at the polls, many explained Palestinian voting behavior as a rejection of Fatah's corruption and incompetence rather than an endorsement of Hamas' vicious ideology. Yet Palestinians seemed to be fully aware of what Hamas stood and did not let it deter them.
Personally, I would like to learn more about the messages broadcast by the Palestinian media, clergy, and educational system. Once in passing, the film refers to Palestinian schools that glorify martyrdom. But we see no direct evidence. The film also includes several clips from Palestinian and Lebanese television that are violently anti-Semitic. Although I wouldn't be surprised if the film chose some of the most provocative clips, the simple fact that influential media chose repeatedly to broadcast such terrible hate speech implies that there is a significant audience for it.
This post will not end with any firm conclusions. Yet one cannot dismiss as absurd or racist the hypothesis that Palestinian suicide bombers are the product of their culture and not an exception to it. At the same time, far more evidence is required before reaching the conclusion that a collection of highly disturbing images represents an accurate portrayal of mainstream Palestinian opinion. (16) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 1:34 PM by Taylor Owen
LONG TERM PEACEKEEPING OR VIOLENCE REDUCTION+INT'L EFFORT?: This morning, Bush defined success in Iraq as an 'acceptable level of violence'. This argument ties withdrawal of American forces to the level of violence. In many ways, this logic is as problematic as a benchmarked timetable. If some insurgents want the US to leave, wouldn't they just stop fighting until they do, and if others want them to stay then there is no incentive to stop fighting. The US is of course fighting multiple wars. They are the antagonist against anti-occupation elements, some of which are Al-Qaeda linked. They are also a mitigating buffer against wider sectarian violence. These are very different wars. It seems to me that both macro policy options currently on the table (Bush's and the Dem's) insufficiantly capture the multiple sources, motives, and objectives of the violence.
One possible way of looking at it is as a choice between: 1. very long term commitment to large scale reconstruction and peacekeeping the sectarian violence, while accepting the level of anti-occupation attacks that will come with this; and, 2. withdrawal to halt at least the anti-occupation/al-qaeda violence, while seeking other means of halting the sectarian violence.
The former appears politically unfeasible, and the latter presents significant humanitarian risks.
In option 2, the question then becomes, if the US leaving will halt the anti-occupation attacks, then what, aside from the presence of US troops can be done to stop the sectarian violence? Here, I am afraid we have to get into a challenging discussion of regional/international efforts.
I just don't think that the US can win both of these wars. A choice is going to required.
Labels: Iraq(7) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 8:25 AM by Taylor Owen
WELL IT'S ABOUT TIME: These ICC arrest warrants in Darfur have been a long time coming. Several months ago I saw William Shabas speak, one of the principle lawyer/academics behind the ICC, and he was furious that Ocampo hadn't moved on Sudan yet. It will also be interesting to see where they go with the N. Uganda indictments. Can/should they drop those while pursuing new ones in a neighboring country?(2) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 8:10 AM by Patrick Porter
Not only were the Soviets instrumental in defeating Hitler. Also, he argues, collective memory in the Anglo-American world should turn its gaze from D Day and the Blitz and towards what was truly decisive, the German-Soviet struggle.
Not only will this challenge our heroic narrative of liberal democracies overthrowing fascism, but it introduces an irony which Schwarz accuses Americans of lacking. Quoting Geoffrey Roberts,
to win the greatest military victory in history was a triumph beyond compare...Stalin saved the world for democracy.
Schwarz has a point about the sheer scale of human sacrifice suffered by the Soviets, as well as the scale of casualties it inflicted on Nazi Germany. Schwarz points to a figure, a whopping 88% of the Nazi dead were killed in the lethal eastern front.
But much more needs to be said.
In the backlash against the narrative of America's moral triumph in the war, its a little glib to talk about the marginality of America's involvement.
The war wasn't just determined in combat, despite the extremes it reached.
Practically speaking, the Soviet war effort simply could not have functioned as it did without massive financial and material aid from the US. American industrial power, funding and resources underpinned the extraordinary efforts of Soviet population.
If its irony that Schwarz wants more of in the writing of history, then the irony of the powerful alliance between totalitarian Stalinism and American capitalism might deserve more attention.
It was an industrial war and a war in which the theatres of operation were strongly linked.
Consider the strategic bombing of Germany which America took part in. The benefits and value continues to be debated, but it certainly worked to fix the Luftwaffe over Germany, drawing German anti-aircraft guns, artillery pieces and aircraft from other fronts, which helped to give Soviets air supremacy in their theatre.
Also, it can be a 'straw man' argument. Many American commentators don't claim simply that the US defeated Nazi Germany. Instead, it is argued that America was instrumental in defeating the Axis powers as a whole.
It was also a war against Japan and Italy. Which also reached terrifying climaxes of violence. (I gather that some Germans fighting in Italy even applied to be deployed back to the eastern front, although I need to confirm this). The expansionism of Imperial Japan led to such atrocities and crimes against humanity that it has been termed the 'Asian holocaust.'
I'm also not sure how accurate it is that Americans routinely claim to have won the war single-handedly. At least at a high official level, speeches of American Presidents at D-Day ceremonies consisently credit the Soviet Union's sacrifices. To be sure, popular culture and cinema in Holywood probably privilege American agency in the victory. But historians and Presidents have not always followed this temptation.
And the struggle against Japan also aided Stalin's struggle against Hitler. Without the US in the war, Japanese divisions could have have returned to the Soviet East and threatened Stalin with a two-front war. Without a submarine conflict between German U-boats and American merchant ships, the Soviet Union might have been cut off from the world.
When it comes to the political meaning of the war, isn't it 'too neat' to commemorate Stalin, without qualification, as a liberator and saviour of modern democracy?
Stalin collaborated with Nazi Germany and was a virtual ally for the first two years of the war. He invaded Poland and attempted to conquer Finland, while Hitler rampaged over western Europe. Also, I would be reluctant to tell eastern Europeans that Stalin made their world safe for democracy.
The onslaught of Stalinist domination which followed his successes after 1941 is one reason the Allied offensive at Normandy became so important. Not only did its value lie in liberating countries from Nazism, but it prevented the possible creation of more brutal Soviet satellites in France, Low Countries, Italy, western Germany.
So if its a little too 'neat' to credit the USA for being the central hero in defeating Hitler, its equally misleading to represent the whole affair mainly as Uncle Joe's triumph.
The whole debate is indeed soured and distorted by the attempt to isolate one actor above all the others as the hero. It was more of a complex interaction of different fronts, different political systems and different military, political, economic and industrial efforts.
Stalin himself recognised this, when he summarised what the Allies contributed:
Britain the time, America the money, and Russia the blood. (16) opinions -- Add your opinion
Tuesday, May 01, 2007
# Posted 9:21 PM by Taylor Owen
# Posted 6:02 PM by Taylor Owen
IS THE ATLANTIC THE NEWS CORP OF THE BLOGOSPHERE?: While Rupert has his eyes on large market dailies, The Atlantic is scooping up the big shots of the blogosphere. Sullivan, Yglesias, Douthat and Fallows all now blogging under their banner. How long until we see a group blog a la Corner?(0) opinions -- Add your opinion
ps. What happened to America Abroad? I really liked it, but alas, one post in 2 months does not a daily read make...
# Posted 5:52 PM by Taylor Owen
LINGERING THOUGHTS: from Sunday shows...
- Biden was impressive. He schooled Russert by remembering what he said on MTP better than the host, and used his past quotes to his advantage. Why can he never win again?
- Condi said that at time of invasion the Iraq threat was getting worse, not imminent. Further, she argued that this is was what imminent means. A rhetorical flexibility that I am not sure I follow.
- Fareed argued that Iraq is the foreign policy equivalent of the depression/Hoover for the Republicans; and, that the Tenet book puts more facts into the mix of an extraordinary story of incompetence and arrogance.
Labels: Sunday shows(0) opinions -- Add your opinion