Tuesday, January 06, 2004

Well, interesting news about Pakistan these days. On the one hand, there is confirmation of our worst fears about Pakistan's role as a nuclear proliferator. On the other, there are encouraging signs of a thaw in relations with India.

An intelligent Bush administration would seize the opportunity to really push for progress on Kashmir and related bilateral India/Pakistan irritants. An intelligent Bush administration would also bring out the really big carrots and really big sticks to try to reverse Pakistan's slide into complete and utter chaos.

Of course, an intelligent Bush administration would have the resources, the time, the intelligence capabilities, the money, the diplomatic capital and so on (and on and on) to do this because an intelligent Bush administration would not have invaded Iraq.
I'm going to keep asking this question until someone at least tries to answer it: If the U.S. couldn't - or wouldn't - bring democracy to Egypt despite two billion a year in aid over two decades, how will they - or would they - bring it to Iraq?
David Brooks worries that "partisanship has left many people unhinged".

Uh huh.

I was annoyed when I read Brooks' article, but the thing really discredits itself. Anyhow, there are already intelligent responses over at Crooked Timber, Calpundit, TalkingPointsMemo, and IntelDump.

I'd never read Brooks before he started at the Times, but lots of people seemed to respect his work (they are now loudly repenting). So perhaps there wasn't any warning that he would intellectually self-destruct in the way he has. But I suspect the basic error in hiring someone like Brooks is tightly connected to the misguided search for "balance". Balance usually results from a good team of intelligent people working on a problem, but it's also a silly excuse to hire someone you must secretly think is a dimwit. If they'd set out to find the best, most intelligent, thought-provoking and lucid commentators without regard to where they sat on the political spectrum, they probably would have discovered themselves with a more interesting and instructive and perhaps even balanced editorial page than they currently have. As it is, it's mostly a waste of paper.
Surprise, surprise. MEMRI dings Assad . . . again.

What a jackass.
Op-Ed Contributor: Second Thoughts on Free Trade

This drives me bonkers:
"The question today is whether the case for free trade made two centuries ago is undermined by the changes now evident in the modern global economy.

Two recent examples illustrate this concern. Over the next three years, a major New York securities firm plans to replace its team of 800 American software engineers, who each earns about $150,000 per year, with an equally competent team in India earning an average of only $20,000. Second, within five years the number of radiologists in this country is expected to decline significantly because M.R.I. data can be sent over the Internet to Asian radiologists capable of diagnosing the problem at a small fraction of the cost. "
It drives me bonkers because - for a variety of reasons - the poor have been exposed to the rigours of this sort of competition far longer and at much higher risk for much, much longer. It's only when software companies start outsourcing that anyone notices.

This isn't to take a position on free trade. My point here is just that our attention is usually riveted by changes in the position of the well-off, and rarely by inconveniences to anyone else. It would be easier to trust the interlocutors in this debate if they faced that squarely and tried to correct for it a bit.
Ha!

Monday, January 05, 2004

Live jazz fans in NYC take note. There are three very cool gigs coming up. They are:
Friday Jan 9
7pm
one set
Jacob Sacks Group
Jacob Sacks - piano
Jacob Garchik - trombone
Ben Gerstein - trombone
Shane Endsley - trumpet
Tim Flood - bass
Gerald Cleaver - drums
The Friend's Seminary Meeting House
15 Rutherford Place (between East 15th and East 16th Street)
Manhattan
$10

Saturday Jan 10
7pm
one set
Judith Berkson - voice and piano
Jacob Garchik - trombone
Tim Flood - bass
Gerald Cleaver - drums
Barbes
376 9th Street between 5th ave and 6th ave
Park Slope, Brooklyn
F train to 7th Ave and 9th st
playing originals and improvisations on Mahler, Schoenberg, standards, and Greek Rembetica Music. Spacious, quiet, almost loud, dissonant and melodic.

Sunday Jan 11
9pm
one set
Judith Berkson - voice and electric piano
Jacob Garchik - trombone
Tim Flood - bass
Gerald Cleaver - drums
CBGB's lounge
313 bowery at Bleecker
Manhattan
downstairs
$10 admission gets you in all night
also playing are
7:00 HANUMAN ENSEMBLE: Andy Haas, Matt Heyner, Don Fiorino, Mia Theodoratus, David Gould, Dee Pop
8:00 DANIEL LEVIN GROUP
10:00 Paul Corio, Jeremy Stark, Theo Regan
Full disclosure: Yeah, I know some of the musicians at these gigs (and my wife plays with some of them). But so what? They're really good.
Chatterbox doesn't know what to make of Laura Bush's lie. Neither, it must be confessed, does See Why.
Juan Cole has something very sensible to say:
Meanwhile, big thoughts are being thought about reorganizing Iraq for elections. Edward Wong of the NYT reports, "Mowaffak Rubaie, a Shiite member of the Governing Council, said his preference was to split Iraq into five states: the Baghdad area; the Kurdish region; the largely Sunni Arab northwest; the Shiite holy area that includes the cities of Najaf and Karbala; and the far south, where the culture is rooted in the nomadic traditions of the Arabian peninsula. A joint government would rule Kirkuk. "This system has a tacit acceptance of the ethnic confessional divide of Iraqis," Mr. Rubaie said. "If Najaf and Karbala want to ban alcohol, so be it. But the Kurdish people like their bottle, so let them vote for it."

This is the first time I have seen Rubaie's plan laid out so clearly. I personally think it is a bad idea. Democracy flourishes where you set things up so that politicians have to please more than one constituency in order to get elected. Right now, a Diyala politician would have to try to satisfy Kurds, Sunni Arabs and Shiites. She would have to seek common denominators that would draw people together. Rubaie's plan would make it possible for a Shiite politician in Najaf or Basra to ignore the non-Shiites, and to ratchet toward Shiite extremism if that played well with his constituents. Rubaie doesn't realize it, but the effect of his plan will be to weaken Iraq's unity over time.
This is pretty creepy. . . and perhaps partly explains how reporters who spend all day hanging out with politicians on the campaign trail can lose their perspective.

Sunday, January 04, 2004

Wow. I would have bet money that bin Laden was dead. Guess not.
Mark Schmitt helps us read the Bush budget.
Pogge, who shares my dislike for Conrad Black, has a nice update of his business woes here. After summing up recent developments, Pogge writes:
There may not be enough popcorn in the world to see me all the way through this one.
Aye, especially not if we're all munching together.

Saturday, January 03, 2004

She's tough.

Friday, January 02, 2004

I am ashamed.
A Few Plame links

Mark Schmitt and Josh Marshall go after a WaPo story that tries to throw cold water on the whole issue here and here. Mathew Yglesias weighs in here and here.

These commentators have shaken me from my dogmatic slumbers. Perhaps I was wrong yesterday to underrate the seriousness of the scandal pre-Novak.

Andrew Northrup, who (unlike me) didn't need a nudge back to reality, has a fine little rant on the subject over at The Poor Man.
This is disturbing. Why did someone type this into a search engine in the first place? And why was my site number one in results?

Head . . . spinning.
If I hadn't been so damn lazy when I was writing a post on the subject yesterday, I might have pounced a little harder on Powell for his strangely optimistic claims about Afghanistan's constitution. To find out how silly Powell's remarks were, click here and here.

This is more than just spin, or even dishonesty. One almost wonders if he wrote it a week or two ago with different assumptions about where the constitutional process in Afghanistan would be when his piece actually appeared. Or something. I don't know.

Thursday, January 01, 2004

More on Plame here.
A friend bitterly complained to me about my failure to blog promptly about the news of Ashcroft's decision to recuse himself from the Plame case. Sosueme! Anyway, I read Mark Kleiman's post on the subject right after the announcement, and couldn't think of anything to add. I've got my money on the hypothesis that this shows that the whole thing is a big deal, but who knows whether that's just wish fulfilment. . .

My position on the matter is this: I think that what's most damning about the incident is the failure to deal appropriately with the scandal after it broke. I'm agnostic at this point about how much damage was actually done to national security by the whole thing. It might well turn out that the principals had no idea how much damage they were doing, and just assumed that they were engaged in day-to-day evil-doing instead of an indictable offense.

So, I suspect this post from Juan Cole goes a bit beyond the available evidence:
Attorney-General John Ashcroft recused himself Wednesday in the investigation of the Valerie Plame case, saying he will appoint a special prosecutor. High Bush administration officials broke US law in July of 2003 by revealing to reporter Bob Novak that Valerie Plame, wife of Ambassador Joe Wilson, was an undercover CIA operative. These Bush appointees did untold damage to US intelligence efforts, since they unmasked and put in danger all the contacts and agents overseas who had been known associates of Ms. Plame, an expert in preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction. The officials outed Plame in order to punish her husband, Wilson, for blowing the whistle on the Bush administration, revealing that he had reported to the US government as early as 2002 that the allegations of Iraqi uranium purchases from Niger were false.
Course, it might turn out to be true.
Here's Kleiman responding to a post on Instapundit that I complained about yesterday:
Glenn Reynolds is free to believe, if it makes him happy to do so, that the European Union is deliberately financing Palestinian terrorism as part of a "proxy war" against the United States, even though that would imlicate, among others, the British Government. (I thought, and think, that his somewhat ambiguously worded suggestion that Israel or the United States should retaliate by sponsoring terrorism against Europeans was beyond the pale, but that's another question. See his post and my comment; he doesn't seem to have clarified his words.)

But in his latest post, in which he calls for the United States to use its best efforts to influct suffering on the Palestinians, Reynolds claims that the "proxy war" assertion has been "admitted." He doesn't say who has "admitted" it; his only link is to himself, linking to another blogger linking to an Israeli news service quoting a Green Member of the European Parliament (who opposed military intervention to stop genocide in the Balkans) as making the charge.

We're all entitled to our opinions, but we're not entitled to make up our own facts. Unless someone responsible can be shown to have "admitted" Fraulein Schroeder's charge, Glenn ought to retract.
I've removed the Instapundit feed from my RSS aggregator, but I remain ambivalent about the appropriate response to this sort of nonsense.

View #1: Reynolds and co. are idiots. If they wanted a sensible view, they would have put some effort into discovering one. Nothing you say is going to change their minds because a) they don't read you; and b) even if they did, all you have are arguments, and they don't suffer from the sort of intellectual imbalance that can be fixed by arguments or new facts. As a general rule, you're as unlikely to learn something from them as they are to learn something from you. They have nothing to teach you because they're unable and/or uninterested in engaging the kinds of concerns that you have. Spend your time reading people who have something to teach you, who challenge your assumptions effectively.

If Kleiman took this advice, he'd wonder whether it's worth caring about whether Reynolds retracts or not. The guy's a jackass and only other jackasses take him seriously.

View #2: No, no. When you argue with Reynolds you're also appealing to people who are undecided or looking for someone to put their finger on exactly what is wrong with his way of thinking. That can be productive too. And although it might be a bit like shooting fish in a barrel, sometimes a mistake on a site like Instapundit can act as spur to further reflection on a topic. Or it can just be a handy way of picking a fight with an assumption which is widespread but rarely made explicit. There's also a duty to challenge stuff like that - not all of it, but you started your blog partly because it mattered to you that you made your disagreement with certain positions clear and public. So it's not always a waste of time.

My current position is a sort of quantum superposition of View #1 and View #2.
Mini Link Round-up:

The WaPo has an interesting piece about contingency planning during the 1973 oil crisis. Kissinger hinted darkly at the time of possible countermeasures to deal with the oil embargo, but the extent of the planning wasn't clear until recently when the British government declassified documents from the period. According to the documents, the U.S. actually considering seizing oil fields in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. (Since governments often draw up all sorts of contingency plans, by themselves such plans are dubious indicators of actual intentions Still, the story suggests that the British government's reading of the situation assumed that these were not merely theoretical exercises in planning.)

The WaPo also has a longish piece focusing on the admin's preferred plan to deal with global warming. It's fair to say that the authors of the piece are underwhelmed by the Bush plans.

Colin Powell has a "New Years Resolutions" piece in the NYTimes. It's mostly just recycled blah-blah about freedom. It also contains this gem:
We are resolved, as well, for peace. Freedom cannot flourish and prosperity cannot advance without security, and this we are determined to achieve. Americans are safer as 2004 begins than they were a year ago. Afghanistan is no longer a devil's playground for terrorists, nor is Iraq an incubator for weapons of mass murder that could have fallen into terrorists' hands.
From which we can infer that telling the truth is not on Colin's list of resolutions for 2004. He knows perfectly well that Americans aren't safer now than a year ago, and that if they are, it isn't because of an invasion of Iraq. And since the war diverted essential resources away from Afghanistan (and the constructive project of engaging Pakistan that might have been) I think he's a bit optimistic about Afghanistan. And what he says about Iraq is strictly true, but implication here is a big fat lie.
(Mathew Yglesias has characteristically sensible things to say about Powell's piece here.)

Wednesday, December 31, 2003

It's very easy to adopt, say, this attitude towards North Korea if you don't have any relatives in Seoul.

As for myself, most of my wife's extended family lives there, including a cousin of hers who is very dear to both of us. David From probably wouldn't take these odds on his own family's lives. I regret that he's willing to take them with mine.
This is the last of my Instapundit reading, at least for now.

One of the interesting features of the post is that he continually refers to the Palestinians as a monolithic "they", who are apparently unanimous in all their views. Of course, that calls for collective punishment, since "they" all think the same thing.

I think that attitude - shared by a great many Palestinians and Israelis alike - about the justice and efficacy of collective punishment (which is a corollory of a particular conception of collective guilt) is the most important factor in the conflict, and the most obvious barrier to a just and lasting solution.
This is completely idiotic. And paranoid.

Look, I think lots of people who disagree with me are corrupt. A few of them may even disagree with me because they're corrupt. But for the love of Pete, you've got to be pretty far gone to think that everyone who disagrees with you is corrupt.

Josh Marshall and Matthew Yglesias are wrong about stuff, but they're clearly well-intentioned and also very, very bright.

I'm not against name-calling - I'm against stupid, badly directed name-calling. This falls pretty clearly in that category.
The Seattle Times: Business & Technology: Israel stops buying Microsoft software

Cool. I just switched over to OpenOffice, and it's hard to see that I've lost anything in the transition.
Eschaton has a cool idea.
Matthew Yglesias: Ah Red-Baiting

How can one so young be so sane?

Tuesday, December 30, 2003

A Nuclear Headache: What if the Radicals Oust Musharraf?

I have often wondered if historians would see the failure to fully and constructively engage Pakistan after Sept. 11th as the gravest of the Bush administration's mistakes. Indeed, if Sept. 11th were an argument for nation building anywhere, it was in Pakistan. Of course, I don't mean invading the country. But a far larger carrot and a larger stick were both called for, I think, by the fact that an unstable nuclear power turned out to have directly supported fanatics like bin Laden. Bush has been stinting with his carrots - he wouldn't even give Pakistan a decent (and fair) deal on textiles which might have strengthened his domestic hand, and he hasn't been particularly aggressive in promoting civil society or stability in the country either. The dispute over Kashmir is managed to avoid a crisis, but not engaged in any meaningful way.

If you think the war on Iraq diverted energy and attention from this effort - or rather, from what might have been this effort - then we ought to reckon that among the consequences of the war.

It isn't clear yet what the consequences are of allowing Pakistan to continue rotting in this way. But I'm afraid they will be cataclysmic.

Monday, December 29, 2003

Language Log: You can't be too careful

Oh for Pete's sake, the whole line of criticism reminds me of high school.
Here's another gem from Glenn Reynolds.

Unlike many people in the blogosphere, I've always avoided reading instapundit. But that RSS feed just makes it so easy that I thought I'd give a try.

I have to say, so far I'm not impressed. In the gem Reynolds was trying to make a joke. Responding to reports of looting in the aftermath of the earthquake in Iran, Reynolds writes:
ANOTHER LOOTING SCANDAL: I blame Paul Wolfowitz, for not making sure that there were enough American troops on hand to enforce order.
Not sure, but I think this a lame way of saying that looting happens during catastophes, so it's not fair to blame Wolfie for the looting in Iraq. That's what people do. Problem: That's exactly right: It's what people do. That's why you plan for it when you're invading a country - especially after the pinheads at State try to warn you about it.

All right, I'll try not to comment any more on Instapundit. It's not sporting to pick on morons. And it's a waste of time. I'll probably just remove the feed.
Wired News | Syria Asks UN to Help Rid Mideast of Nuclear Arms

Oh jeez. Syria has absolutely reprehensible foreign policies, so it's very hard to take it seriously on any matter of principle. Still, it's sort of funny to see them trying to leverage a weak position by appealing to the U.N. to try to accomplish the very same policy goals articulated by the U.S. government (ridding the mideast of WMD).

Awfully inconvenient when the bad guys pull stuff like that, eh?
Yes, my thoughts exactly.
Yesterday, I took some shots at Norm Geras. Today I found these remarks by Ken MacLeod:
. . . Thirdly, it's by no means given that the overthrow of the dictatorship is the same as the liberation of Iraq: a state which, as Churchill put it, united two widely separated oilfields by uniting three mutually antagonistic peoples. An independent (Kurdish) north is unacceptable to Turkey (and to the region's non-Kurdish residents); an independent (Shia) south would gravitate towards Iran, which is unacceptable to the West and the Saudis; and majority rule means a Shia republic, which is unacceptable to the Sunni heartland. Iraq can only exist as a state if it's ruled from Baghdad; it has only ever existed as a state when dominated by the Sunnis; and it can't cease to exist as a state without further (national or civil) wars, or a revolution across the region. In the meantime, what exists under the occupation is an anarchy that fills graves faster than the immediately preceding (though not, of course, the less recent but still burning) years of tyranny. The proposed, and in part implemented, solution of integrating into the new security forces the militias of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, the Kurdish Democratic Party, the Iraqi National Council, the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq and the Iraqi Communist Party is ... well, you can see the problem.

It's possible, of course, that in the months and years to come Iraq will become as free, independent, and democratic as, say, Turkey; and if it does so as a result of the occupation, rather than as a result of a successful revolt against it, I'll admit that at least my worst suspicions were wrong. But for now, I doubt it. And even then, I'd hear down two millennia the laughter of Carthage.
Well said, I say.
Ha ha.

Check out this wantonly silly little post by Instapundit. I won't bother to explain why it's silly. If you can't see that yourself, you're probably beyond saving anyway.
David Adesnik writes:
HOWARD DEAN IS REALLY, REALLY RICH: Does it matter that a populist insurgent has a house in the Hamptons and a net worth of $4 million? Strictly speaking, no. But if you resent George Bush for pretending to be a corner-store Texan, you can't let Howard Dean off the hook for his own embrace of political theater. While Dean still has a ways to go before he reaches Bushian levels of faux populism, this issue is probably worth watching.
I was wondering the other day why the whole silver spoon thing bothers me in Bush's case and not in Dean's. Here's at least part of the answer.

First, in Bush's case that's all he has going for him. If you think that Bush has zero substance, as I do, then you'll be more inclined to feel annoyance at bogus sources of popularity.

Second, Bush is either wantonly stupid or deeply committed to what can only be described as class warfare (or, most likely, both). It's one thing to be born with a silver spoon in your mouth. It's quite another to be born with a silver spoon in your mouth and refuse to recognize it or to take 15 seconds to imagine what it's like not to be born with a silver spoon in your mouth.

Third, in Bush's case, it's depressingly obvious that, had the circumstances of his birth been different, he is far more likely to have ended up a gym teacher. No offence to gym teachers, of course. I just mean that that's how I've always imagined him in the alternate universe in which he is born into the middle class. For a while I thought he would make for a pleasant gym teacher. But now I think he'd be the sort of gym teacher who would favour the jocks and pick on the nerds. But at least he wouldn't be doing all this frickin damage. With Dean, and lots of other rich people, one has the sense that for all their advantages, that they've at least earned some of what they've managed to accomplish.
Op-Ed Columnist: Aesop’s Fabled Fox

Aside from the idiotic praise for Cheney, I must say, William Safire is right today: Dean's decision to seal his papers was a bad decision, he shouldn't have done it, and everyone should be disappointed.

One of the most harmful and depressing tendencies in the Bush admin is its absolute dedication to secrecy (and it's not just the Energy task force, as Safire seems to think). I would love to see this whole trend reversed by a Democratic president. How much can we hope for from Dean on this count?
Jewish settlers to resist West Bank evacuation - www.theage.com.au

Don't read this article. Focus instead on the outrageous fact that the Geneva accord was negotiated outside of official channels.
NEWS.com.au | New Iraq blow for Blair (December 30, 2003)

Wow. If Blair had a little voodoo Bremer doll, I'm guessing it would be full up with pins by now.
Juan Cole reports that Saddam Hussein might not even have a public trial. I admit, my first reaction to Saddam's capture was to worry about how messy and difficult a trial would be. But the fact is that a closed trial would be even worse in a lot of ways. Yes, of course, no one thinks he innocent of anything. But a closed trial is clearly not the way to set the country on the right course. Now that they're stuck actually trying him, they've got to do it openly.

Sunday, December 28, 2003

I just bought this piece of software (an RSS aggregator), despite the fact that I'm pretty broke. The scoundrel programmer let people use it in the beta version, and thus did he hook me with his magnificent program over the last few months. I've test driven about a dozen RSS aggregators and none of them are as good at organizing tons of channels, supporting various options, etc. So, yeah, if you're into that sort of thing, this is really worth it.

(Full Disclaimer: There is nothing to disclaim or disclose. I just like the software, dammit!)

(What is an RSS aggregator? It's a program that collects a number of different syndication feeds from websites and makes it easy to read them. Because it checks automatically whenever a site has been updated, it's an extremely easy way to keep up with a whole lot of sites. FeedDemon, the program I just bought, lets you organize all your different channels into different groups, set update frequencies, and so on. If you're a news junkie, it's absolutely essential.)
Ben Hammersley's Dangerous Precedent: More on the Assertion Processor

In case you don't follow techie news, the geeks are working on something that might come in handy . . .
normblog: Sad picture

Norm Geras is clearly a well-meaning guy. But I'm getting a bit tired of his incessant self-congratulation and cheap shots. I'll try to keep this a short post. Just let me make a few points:

* Before you go congratulating yourself for going into a country and shooting up the bad guys, you need have thought a bit about your end game. Part of being morally serious is thinking about the likely consequences of a course of action. It wasn't wrong to oppose the war if you opposed it because you thought that Bush and co. lacked the wisdom, the discipline, the savvy, the international support, and the political capital to pull it off. If you know the first thing about Iraq, you know that conditions for a serious civil war in the next few years are very, very real. If you know the first thing about the Bush administration, you know that it will have extraordinary difficulty managing this challenge. Before we can have a sensible discussion about whether the ends justified the means, we need to have a good reason to think that those means furthered those ends.

I'm tired of people like Geras impugning my integrity because I was unwilling to play such crappy odds. And no, this doesn't have anything to do with condescending attitudes to Arabs about democracy, blah, blah, blah. Iraq is a badly brutalized and fractured country. This is a difficult and complicated matter about which it is quite reasonable to be pessimistic. And - yes - if there is a civil war, then things will be worse than they were under Saddam. (To be fair, it might be appropriate to say that there has been a (mostly) slow-burning civil war in Iraq since the Gulf War, particularly in the South. But I'm talking about a white hot civil war.)

I can understand the very strong pull of the desire to topple Hussein, to punish him, to free the people of Iraq. It was the main thing that made me think long and hard before casting my lot in with the anti-war crowd. But I could never figure out - and no one in the thousands and thousands of pages I read on the subject ever bothered to explain - how exactly the U.S. was going to bring democracy to Iraq when it had been unable to bring it to Egypt, despite many billions of dollars of aid over the span of a generation.

* I'm tired of people uncritically throwing their support behind the Bush administration because it's supposedly keen on promoting democracy. What's frustrating about Bush's foreign policy is that it's actually quite timid when democratic push comes to shove. There are a great many constructive measures the Bush admin could have and should have taken to actually promote democracy and civil society in the Middle East and elsewhere, especially since Sept. 11th. Why not make military aid to Egypt or Uzbekistan conditional on substantial improvements in human rights protections? Why support the coup attempt in Venuezala? Why turn a blind eye to Russian savagery in Chechnya? (Because doing any of these things would be risky? Oh, don't you dare lecture me on costs and benefits, buster.) The Bush admin's record on actual democracy promotion has its moments: I understand that the State Dept. sometimes applies real pressure in these countries to achieve decent ends. But overall the effort is peripheral to the main priorities of the administration, unsystematic, undisciplined and inconsistent. What's wrong with insisting that if the U.S. really wants to promote democracy that it first exhaust the substantial peaceful means at its disposal?

* Geras consistently compares two outcomes: The actual outcome in Iraq vs. the outcome in which the U.S. did nothing. I think that this is wrongheaded, but I've already argued that here.

* It's not crazy to lament the collapse of U.S. credibility on the international stage. That's a very dangerous development. It'll be quite a while before a U.S. president dares to send his Secretary of State to the U.N. to make a high profile presentation based on U.S. intelligence. Or at least, it'll be quite a while before anyone would be willing to take that seriously again.

* I'm sick and tired of people bashing the anti-war left for caring more about U.S. misdeeds than anyone else's. As I try to explain here, whether it's right or wrong, it's not a crazy view.

Rezoning, and Redefining, Park Slope

I like this bit:
"We cultivated the edge of the neighborhood at a time when nobody wanted to move there," Mr. Katan said. New projects now in construction or design on or near Fourth Avenue will have a sales value of about $350 million, he said, and will transform parts of Fourth Avenue into "the Park Avenue of Brooklyn".
OK, urban renewal is all very nice, but please don't say that "nobody wanted to move there". All sorts of poor people used to live there and still do, and let me assure you, they're not part of the plan for the Park Avenue of Brooklyn. There's talk in the article of the need to maintain economic integration, but it rarely works out that way. It's especially unlikely to work out that way when a reporter won't even call a developer on an offhand remark which implies that poor people are nobodies.
washingtonpost.com: The Relatively Charmed Life Of Neil Bush

What the hell is the "relatively" doing in this headline? Compared to whose life is Neil Bush's life not charmed? Did they find a Saudi prince somewhere who's had it easier?
BBC NEWS | Business | Junk e-mail 'costs an hour a day'

First it was the (just barely believable) 10 minutes a day spam stories. I suppose this is the next wave of reporting on the subject.

Look, you can only spend an hour a day on junk mail if you're really lingering over it.
The Observer | Politics | Bush's man rejects Blair weapon claim

Department of Oops:
Tony Blair was at the centre of an embarrassing row last night after the most senior US official in Baghdad bluntly rejected the Prime Minister's assertion that secret weapons laboratories had been discovered in Iraq.

In a Christmas message to British troops, Blair claimed there was 'massive evidence of a huge system of clandestine laboratories'. The Iraq Survey Group (ISG) had unearthed compelling evidence that showed Saddam Hussein had attempted to 'conceal weapons', the Prime Minister said. But in an interview yesterday, Paul Bremer, the Bush administration's top official in Baghdad, flatly dismissed the claim as untrue - without realising its source was Blair.

It was, he suggested, a 'red herring', probably put about by someone opposed to military action in Iraq who wanted to undermine the coalition.

'I don't know where those words come from but that is not what [ISG chief] David Kay has said,' he told ITV1's Jonathan Dimbleby programme. 'It sounds like a bit of a red herring to me."

Saturday, December 27, 2003

In Iran, the Search for Earthquake Victims Continues

Via Oxblog:
In Geneva, the international Red Cross issued a preliminary appeal for $12.3 million to help bring relief assistance to the quake zone, reporting that an estimated 50,000 people were left homeless.

``We welcome assistance from all countries except Israel,'' Alavi said.

What an asshole.
If you live in NYC and like jazz, these two shows at the 55 Bar should be amazing:
Ben Gerstein Collective, Tuesday, December 30 - 8:00 PM
The "New Set" at the 55 - Tuesday, December 30 - 8:00 PM - Free - Sponsored by Dave Binney

Ben Gerstein - Trombone, Carl Maguire - Keyboard, Dave Binney - Sampler, John Herbert - Bass, Thomas Morgan - Bass, Dan Weiss - Drums

Dave Binney's Balance, Tuesday, December 30 - 10:00 PM
Dave Binney - Alto Sax and Sampler, Thomas Morgan - Bass, Dan Weiss - Drums.

Dave Binney acts as the cohesive element bringing together a wide range of New York's finest progressive jazz musicians.
Some guy named Harry writes:
The worst human rights abuses in the world - including government engineered famines - are unfolding in North Korea today. Since the US isn't involved, the Chomskyites aren't interested. But the pro-intervention left - if we are serious about human rights - cannot take the same morally blank position.
And Matthew Yglesias responds in part thus:
The present government of Libya is a bad government. It was a bad actor in international affairs whose pursuit of WMDs was contrary to the American national interest. It is also repressive in its attitude toward its own people. Similar things could be said about Iraq. In the case of Iraq, hawks tended to dance to-and-fro between a focus on the national security threat (which turns out to have been, shall we say, overstated) and on the humanitarian issues in play. One way or another we invaded. This invasion is credited by many -- myself included -- with inspiring Gaddafi to offer to behave better in national security terms in order to avoid a similar fate. The Bush administration took this deal. That was a significant achievement, but note that it could only be achieved by deciding that we didn't actually care about Libya's treatment of its own people. If our opposition to Libya were truly motivated by humanitarian concerns, then we would continue to follow a strategy of regime change, Libya would make no deals, and our national security would be impaired in the short term.
Both thrust and parry seem to me poorly aimed.

The proper response to Harry is to say: a) The claim that the Chomskyites don't care is just not true, and demonstrably so, so wipe that smug grin off your face; and b) It might well be true on a number of different issues that many people on the left care more about the evil that their own government supports than third party evil in which their own government plays no role. I'm not sure whether this is the right position, in the end. But the important thing to see is that it is a non-insane position. The evil your government does is evil in which you are implicated, it is evil you support indirectly through your taxes, and it is evil that you are in the best position to change. It is evil done in your name. Even if you think that third party evil is just as bad as the evil your own government is implicated in, or even if you think the third party evil is much worse, it is still non-insane, at the least, to respond differently to these different kinds of evil. And if you also think that moral hubris is dangerous, you have further reason to try to deflate the phony moral pretentions of those who act badly on your behalf. And if you think that the evil done in your name is underreported and badly neglected by your media, you have even more reason to focus on the sins of your own country. Like I say, non-insane, at the very least.

This strikes me as one plausible position to start with as you try to untangle some of the moral difficulties involved in U.S. foreign policy. Whether it's true or not is another question. To sort through it would take a lot of careful thinking about the role that different views of agency play in moral appraisal, and a lot of other things I haven't managed to work out yet. But it's at least a starter.

Mathew Iglesias' response seems uncharacteristically flat-footed. I think the hawkish position can escape contradiction (on this point) if its stated correctly. I've already tried to do that here, so I won't repeat myself.
Everyone is talking about the unreported stories of the year. I don't think this story qualifies, since the main incident occurred in December 2001. If the story does qualify, perhaps it is because the full import of what happened then wasn't clear until early this year. Let me explain.

In December 2001, U.S. troops in Afghanistan had bin Laden surrounded in Tora Bora. Unfortunately, things seem to have gone badly wrong. Worse, things seem to have gone avoidably wrong: According to news reports, the U.S. relied heavily on Afghan proxies who were suspected of letting bin Laden slip away. In any case, things seem to have been thoroughly botched. Afterwards, Rumsfeld lied about the whole mess.

On February 11th of this year, bin Laden released a tape with his version of events. Read it here. Now, factual claims in bin Laden's semi-deranged rants are of questionable value, to say the least. Still, he was there in Tora Bora, and he escaped. That much we know independently of what he says. What is interesting is the lesson he draws from his experience:
We also realized that one of the most effective and available methods of rendering the air force of the crusader enemy ineffective is by setting up roofed and disguised trenches in large numbers.

I had referred to that in a previous statement during the Tora Bora battle last year.

In that great battle, faith triumphed over all the materialistic forces of the people of evil, for principles were adhered to, thanks to God Almighty.

I will narrate to you part of that great battle, to show how cowardly they are on the one hand, and how effective trenches are in exhausting them on the other.

We were about 300 mujahideen [Islamic militants].We dug 100 trenches that were spread in an area that does not exceed one square mile, one trench for every three brothers, so as to avoid the huge human losses resulting from the bombardment.

Since the first hour of the US campaign on 20 Rajab 1422, corresponding to 7 October 2001, our centres were exposed to a concentrated bombardment.

And this bombardment continued until mid-Ramadan.

On 17 Ramadan, a very fierce bombardment began, particularly after the US command was certain that some of al-Qaeda leaders were still in Tora Bora, including the humble servant to God [referring to himself] and the brother mujahid Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri.

The bombardment was round-the-clock and the warplanes continued to fly over us day and night.

War in Afghanistan

The US Pentagon, together with its allies, worked full time on blowing up and destroying this small spot, as well as on removing it entirely.

Planes poured their lava on us, particularly after accomplishing their main missions in Afghanistan.

The US forces attacked us with smart bombs, bombs that weigh thousands of pounds, cluster bombs, and bunker busters.

Bombers, like the B-52, used to fly over head for more than two hours and drop between 20 to 30 bombs at a time.

The modified C-130 aircraft kept carpet-bombing us at night, using modern types of bombs.

The US forces dared not break into our positions, despite the unprecedented massive bombing and terrible propaganda targeting this completely besieged small area.

This is in addition to the forces of hypocrites, whom they prodded to fight us for 15 days non-stop.

Every time the latter attacked us, we forced them out of our area carrying their dead and wounded.

'Alliance of evil'

Is there any clearer evidence of their cowardice, fear, and lies regarding their legends about their alleged power.

To sum it up, the battle resulted in the complete failure of the international alliance of evil, with all its forces, [to overcome] a small number of mujahideen - 300 mujahideen hunkered down in trenches spread over an area of one square mile under a temperature of -10 degrees Celsius.

The battle resulted in the injury of 6% of personnel - we hope God will accept them as martyrs - and the damage of two percent of the trenches, praise be to God.

If all the world forces of evil could not achieve their goals on a one square mile of area against a small number of mujahideen with very limited capabilities, how can these evil forces triumph over the Muslim world?

This is impossible, God willing, if people adhere to their religion and insist on jihad for its sake.
Now, one of the points made repeatedly by hawks is that the U.S. has to reverse the notion that the U.S. is a paper tiger. Invading Iraq was supposed by part of this project. What is striking here is that by this standard the U.S. botched the one main confrontation with bin Laden in Afghanistan, and he walked away with his paper tiger impression firmly intact.

Now, you might say that bin Laden is impervious to evidence and so anything short of death for him will be evidence of weakness. Perhaps so. The problems is that the Bush admin failed its own psychological test here by apparently giving bin Laden a real reason to stick to his pet theory about the U.S.

Now imagine an alternate world in which Gore had been in charge of the hunt for bin Laden. And imagine that during this hunt bin Laden had slipped away in similar circumstances. And then imagine that bin Laden later released a tape crowing about his escape.

What I want to know is: Do you think this would be a serious issue in our alternate world? Do you think that the conservative pundits would be howling for his head, and rehearsing the facts weekly in their columns?

Uh huh. Exactly.

(By the way, I would not be at all surprised to learn that bin Laden is now dead. Still, it's a pity that he lived to tell the tale of Tora Bora.)
I saw Ruth Wedgwood in NYC at a Human Rights Watch sponsored debate sometime in early 2002 (if I'm remembering correctly). She was extremely sharp, but also, I thought, quite intellectually unbalanced. This piece in the Times by Wedgwood confirms that impression (reinforced by reading other work by her in the meantime). That might be partly due to space limitations and bad editing. But I bet it's also due to some of the same flaws I thought I saw displayed in that debate. A serious argument would at least attempt to handle the most serious objections to the government's position. Wedgwood doesn't even try. And her sympathies in the piece - and as I remember them from the debate - rest so firmly and uncritically with the government, that even a sympathetic observer would be led to wonder what limits, if any, she would place on the government. That's not a question that really gets an answer here.

Pity. And a reminder that a first rate intellect by itself won't save you from wanton stupidity.
At the risk of becoming a clearing house for For the Record, here is another piece from this site that I can't help passing along. It's a piece from the Nation by Eric Alterman written before the 2000 election on the differences between Bush and Gore.

Let me just say that if anyone deserves to say "I told you so" it's Alterman. I dimly remember reading the piece at the time and thinking that it was roughly correct. But I had no idea just how deeply prophetic it was.

Friday, December 26, 2003

Yahoo! News - US ties more important than UN for Japan: Armitage

Can Armitage really have said this? Even if it's true, it seems so . . . tacky to actually put it this way in an interview.

And undiplomatic. And counterproductive. And a lot of other things.

Sheesh.
Die hard Afghanistan Constitution enthusiasts may want to read this piece on some recent changes to the draft of the Constitution.
The big rhetorical question of the day is: If the capture of Saddam made everyone safer, then why did the administration raise its terror-meter to Orange soon after the capture?

The question is asked by way of defending Dean for saying that Saddam's capture hadn't made Americans safer.

Well, as it happens I suspect that Saddam's capture might have made American troops a bit safer, given the pickle they're in now that the U.S. has invaded Iraq. So perhaps Dean is technically wrong, but basically right since he surely meant that the the capture of Saddam was simply one part of a larger struggle which has not done much to enhance the safety of any Americans, whether they're soldiers or not.

But the big rhetorical question doesn't seem like a very good one to me. After all, when the Bushies claim that the capture of Saddam made everyone safer, they don't mean that with this one move they've vanquished terrorism from the face of the earth, do they? And so they surely aren't committing themselves to the denial that there are other dangerous actors in the world which might cause the terror-meter to fluctuate.

It's easy to imagine a success with superb long term implications for the "war on terror" (as Saddam Hussein's capture was supposed to be) that don't really affect the short term strategic position of the U.S. in the "war on terror".

So anyway, that's why I think it's a silly rhetorical question.

Thursday, December 25, 2003

Sacrificing Principle To Putin (washingtonpost.com)

"Sacrificing" indeed. *Snort.* What about about "throwing it to the ground and dancing a death jig on it"?
The Making of A Conspiracy Theory (washingtonpost.com)

I think this is about right. Cohen dings Dean for making an idiotic comment, but doesn't lose sight of the bigger picture.
BBC NEWS | World | South Asia | Pakistan leader survives blasts

When I saw the headline, I wondered if some lowly guy stuck on Christmas duty at the Beeb screwed up and reposted a story from two weeks ago. But nooooo, this is another attempt on Musharraf's life.

Wonder when he'll figure out that India is the least of his problems . . .
danieldrezner.com :: Daniel W. Drezner :: Christmas and capitalism in Eastern Europe

On another website, I might have suspected this was slyly sarcastic. It certainly looks as if one of the most serious long term difficulties facing the U.S. economy is an explosion of personal debt. In the short run, the kind of transformation Drezner talks about in Eastern Europe is bound to act as a stimulus to the economy. But surely the long term effects are as worrisome there as they are here. Oy.

AFTERTHOUGHT: But the fraud protection for credit cards mentioned in the story is really cool. I'd sign up!

Wednesday, December 24, 2003

CBC News: Pot laws don't violate charter: Canada's top court

This was the correct decision.

I think that pot should be legalized, but that's not the issue in this case. Remember: Every time something is settled by the constitution, it isn't settled by an ordinary political process involving debate, consultation, compromise and so on. And for all it's faults, distortions and difficulties, that ought to be the preferred way for a society of free and equal people to work out their differences. It's all very tempting to try to frame all your favourite issues in constitutional terms, since that way, when you win, you win big, and in a way that is especially difficult to reverse. But as a matter of principle, except on the most basic issues (I include same-sex marriage in this category, by the way), I'm pretty conservate about the appropriate ambitions for constitutional law.

That said, pot oughta be legalized.
Aye. That she is.

Tuesday, December 23, 2003

MSNBC - 'Hardball with Chris Matthews' for Dec. 18

(Via For the Record) Wow. Check this out:
MATTHEWS: Time now for the “Political Buzz.”

Peggy Noonan and Lawrence O‘Donnell are both MSNBC political analysts. And Alexandra Starr is a “Washington Post” correspondent for “BusinessWeek.”

Here it goes.

According to the latest “USA Today”/Gallup poll, President Bush continues to get a big political boost out of the capture of Saddam Hussein; 65 percent of Americans approve of how the U.S. has handled the postwar operations in Iraq now. That number was 46 percent before the capture, a big boost there. Also, in a head-to-head matchup with Democratic front-runner Howard Dean, the president has jumped to 59 percent, while Dean has dropped a tad to 37 percent.

Let me go to Alexandra. Is this serious?

ALEXANDRA STARR, “BUSINESSWEEK”: You know, I...

MATTHEWS: Is this a serious boost and a serious knock on Dean?

STARR: No, I don‘t think so.

I think you are going to see a temporary boost for the president. But his long-term perspectives are really going to depend on whether the situation in Iraq stabilizes over the long term. So I think this a short-term thing. You can capture Saddam only once. And we will have to see what happens in terms of body bags coming back to the United States, that sort of thing.

MATTHEWS: Lawrence, your thoughts, the durability of this—of this new acclaim for the president?

LAWRENCE O‘DONNELL, NBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Chris, his overall job approval number hasn‘t gone up as high as that approval number for the action in Iraq, which is understandable.

I think it could be fairly short-lived, Chris. It does depend entirely on how strong the resistance remains in Iraq. If we get two weeks into this and there‘s just as much destruction going on in Iraq and just as much revolt going on against the American occupation, then I think the public will realize that not very much was accomplished in terms of subduing Iraq by technically picking up Hussein and putting up Hussein and putting him in a cell.

MATTHEWS: Peggy Noonan.

PEGGY NOONAN, NBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think, Chris, it is true that polls come and go and good news does come and go. But this is still very good news for Mr. Bush, two major things in just the past few weeks.

One is the capture of a historic bad guy, who we couldn‘t find for eight months. And Bush was taunted somewhat on that issue. Well, we got him now. He‘s going to go to trial, hopefully in an Iraqi court. And the people of Iraq will make their judgments about him. That is good news. Another thing that happens to be good for Bush is that the economy is picking up so considerably. We—I looked at a graph of the Dow Jones in the past few weeks just this morning. And all arrows are up.

So, Mr. Bush seems well situated at the moment. You know, just a few months ago, he was going through a hard time. Now he looks like he is having a good time. I think, if Mr. Dean is at 37 percent and Mr. Bush is at, what, 59, did you say?

MATTHEWS: Well, right now, in the matchup, it is 59 to 37.

NOONAN: All right. That is a big split. Mr. Dean hasn‘t broken out yet as the only Democrat who is running. He hasn‘t gotten the nomination. But that is a fairly significant split. And he will have some work to do, Mr. Dean.

MATTHEWS: Well, let me ask you all about the reasons for the change, not just the capture of Saddam Hussein, starting with Lawrence.

You know, if you ask people, are we are on the—were we right to go to war with Iraq, which still bothers some people, 61 percent say, we were right to have gone to war. If you ask them if we are safer today, a somewhat smaller number say, 56 percent. If you ask them if Saddam Hussein was personally involved in 9/11, which would explain these two other numbers, 52 percent say he was personally involved.

So, of course, it seems to me—you respond to this—if you think Saddam Hussein blew us up 9/11, then of course his capture makes us safer. Is that in fact the explanation for these high numbers, that the American people still basically believe that, when—when we are going off them or ‘em, as people say, getting ‘em, we‘re getting the guy who went after us 9/11?

O‘DONNELL: Chris, it is the saddest possible polling result, that you have a majority of Americans believing something that has absolutely no evidentiary basis to it at all, which is that Saddam Hussein was involved in 9/11.

And, yes, as long as you can keep that glued in the public mind, then you are always going to get a bump, significantly, when things go well in Iraq. And the capture of Saddam Hussein obviously plays very positively the more people believe he was involved in 9/11. It is one of the great—as far as the Democrats are concerned, one of the great unfairnesses of that particular bump.

If the bump was based purely on, we think things are going well in Iraq and we should have gone there for the reasons enunciated by the president prior to going there, which really had virtually nothing do with 9/11, then that is a rational bump. But this other thing, it is just sad to think how the American public could be shaping such an important opinion based on absolutely nothing.

MATTHEWS: Peggy, do you want to respond to that?

NOONAN: Yes.

I‘m sorry, but I think Americans aren‘t dim. They read the newspapers and magazines. They listen to radio and television. And they try to puzzle things together, as we all do. They know that Saddam Hussein was a big-time bad guy. You know all of the ways in which he was a bad guy. So do they. He was trouble. And he was trouble in that part of the world.

Very few Americans, I think, think that getting rid of this guy made the world less safe.

MATTHEWS: But back to the question, Peggy.

NOONAN: They tend to think it made the world more safe.

MATTHEWS: Back to the question. Why do the people still—why do the majority of the people...

NOONAN: That is the question. I mean, what is...

MATTHEWS: No, no. The particular question here is, why do the majority of the people still believe that Saddam Hussein attacked us 9/11 and, therefore, believe the world is safer because he is gone?

NOONAN: Chris, take a look at what that poll says. It doesn‘t say they are certain Saddam Hussein did 9/11. They think Osama...

MATTHEWS: No, they say he personally was involved.

NOONAN: They think Osama bin Laden did 9/11. They also think the world is a complicated place. And they think that Saddam...

MATTHEWS: No, no, Peggy, you are not listening. You are not listening.

NOONAN: I am listening.

MATTHEWS: No.

NOONAN: They think that Saddam Hussein was helpful to international bad guys and the world‘s bad guys.

MATTHEWS: No. They say he was personally involved in blowing up the World Trade Center, personally involved. Do you believe he was personally involved?

NOONAN: Do I think he did it?

MATTHEWS: Yes. No, was personally involved in it.

NOONAN: Do I think he was on the plane? Do I think he pulled the levers that Osama bin Laden did?

MATTHEWS: No, do you believe he was personally...

NOONAN: No.

Do I suspect that he was helpful to our enemies and helpful to terrorism, looking to hurt us? Yes.

MATTHEWS: But do you think he was personally involved in blowing up the World Trade Center, Saddam Hussein? That is the critical question here, because it involves whether we‘re safe or not.

(CROSSTALK)

NOONAN: Chris...

MATTHEWS: Do you believe he was personally involved?

NOONAN: Chris, I don‘t think it can be asked as a crystal question.

First of all, I think a lot will come out and be revealed in time and a lot will be studied that we already know. It seems to me that Saddam Hussein was a guy who was extremely helpful to our enemies, our foes, our opponents, terrorism, etcetera. He was friends with those guys. We will see. There was a report just last week.

MATTHEWS: Why are you having a hard time with a question of fact here? Lawrence made a very clear statement. He said there is no evidence that Saddam Hussein was involved in 9/11. Is Lawrence correct?

NOONAN: Lawrence made a clear statement that he doesn‘t believe that Saddam Hussein had any part, correct?

MATTHEWS: What do you believe?

NOONAN: In 9/11?

O‘DONNELL: No, no, Peggy. I didn‘t say that.

(CROSSTALK)

NOONAN: All right. What did you say, Lawrence?

O‘DONNELL: I said—and this is quite simple.

NOONAN: Oh.

O‘DONNELL: There is absolutely no evidence of it. I do not have a religious belief one way or the other. I know, scientifically, evidentiary, there is no evidence for it.

MATTHEWS: Do you challenge that, Peggy? Do you have any evidence?

NOONAN: I‘m sure there is evidence that he has been helpful to bad guys who have tried to hurt us and who in fact have hurt us in the past.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Peggy, you can‘t handle this question, because it gets to the heart of why we went to war. You can‘t handle the truth.

NOONAN: We will look and see what wires connected him with the other people.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: We will be right back to talk about the gender gap.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: We will be right back to talk to Peggy Noonan about other things. I‘m out of time for this moment.

More from Peggy and Lawrence when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We are back with more “Political Buzz” with Peggy Noonan, Lawrence O‘Donnell and Alexandra Starr.

Peggy, I have to go back to you one more time.

If the American people believed that Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with 9/11, would they be as much for the war and as much to believe right now that we are safer because of we‘ve captured him, have captured him, if they thought he had nothing to do with 9/11?

NOONAN: Yes, that is too complicated.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: No, no. It is not complicated at all.

NOONAN: I‘m sorry. It is.

MATTHEWS: And no else on this panel think it‘s complicated.

NOONAN: I‘ll bet. I‘ll bet.

MATTHEWS: Why it is too complicated to know the truth? I don‘t know why it‘s complicated to face the facts here.

NOONAN: Chris, give it to me. Give it to me.

(CROSSTALK)

NOONAN: I don‘t think that‘s fair. That is ad hominem.

MATTHEWS: No, it‘s simple. No.

NOONAN: Yes, it is.

MATTHEWS: If the American people knew the truth that there is no evidence that Saddam Hussein was involved in 9/11, would they be as supportive of this war and as assured that we‘re safer for having captured Saddam Hussein?

NOONAN: You and I have talked about this many times in the past.

MATTHEWS: I‘m just asking a question.

NOONAN: I‘m trying to answer it.

I think, after September 11, the American people came to some hard conclusions about those who are real trouble in the world. And I think Saddam Hussein was on the list of those who are moving against American interests and the interests of peace. He had been an international troublemaker for a very long time. I think they were correct to see him as that. I saw him as that.

MATTHEWS: What act of war...

NOONAN: I‘m glad...

MATTHEWS: What act of war did Saddam Hussein ever take against the United States, what act of war against us?

NOONAN: Oh, Christopher.

MATTHEWS: Just name one. Help me. One.

NOONAN: All right, Kuwait. Do you think Kuwait was...

MATTHEWS: That was an act of war against the United States?

NOONAN: ... maybe looking for trouble, the invasion of a peaceful neighbor, in a way that was problematic, to say the least, for the United States?

MATTHEWS: OK. Well

(CROSSTALK)

NOONAN: I mean, Chris, what are you arguing? This was a great fellow who we unfairly picked on?

MATTHEWS: I‘m asking a—I‘m asking you a—I‘m asking a question.

NOONAN: Well, I‘m asking one back.

MATTHEWS: What act of war did he commit against the United States? I don‘t get the answer. I can‘t hear it, Peggy. What act of war did he commit against the United States to justify our going into his country, taking him over and capturing him? What act of war against us?

NOONAN: Christopher, I am glad we invaded Iraq...

MATTHEWS: That is your opinion.

NOONAN: ... and got rid of a monster.

MATTHEWS: And that is a very legitimate opinion.

NOONAN: He was a monster of history.

MATTHEWS: OK.

NOONAN: Thank you very much. I think it is a better—look...

MATTHEWS: OK, we are losing time here.

NOONAN: It has helped the world...

MATTHEWS: OK.

NOONAN: ... that that guy has been removed from power and wound up in a hole and now will be put on trial in Iraq. It hasn‘t made the world a worse place, but a better one.

MATTHEWS: Lawrence, do you think the issue of whether Saddam Hussein was involved in the attacks on us is ever going to be delved in—delved down into in a significantly intellectual way? Do people really not care, the way Peggy doesn‘t care, whether he did it or not?

NOONAN: Oh, Christopher, that is not...

MATTHEWS: No, seriously.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: I want to ask Lawrence why we are having a hard time intellectually here.

O‘DONNELL: Well, Chris, because it is joined. The issue is joined in some statements made by President Bush, you know, not in a legalistic way. But he does put Saddam Hussein in the same speeches when he is talking about 9/11. And so that blur has been created.

Dick Cheney was part of creating this blur about was he or wasn‘t he involved. Saddam‘s trial certainly will not include any accusation that he was involved in 9/11, based on what we now know, because there would be nothing provable about that and you would end up acquitting formally him of that, if you accused him of that.

MATTHEWS: Alexandra Starr, your thought.

STARR: Well, I wanted to say, you know, I think Bush got a boost out of this, not just because of the capture, but because of the way other Democrats responded to this, the fact that Kerry and Gephardt used this as an opportunity to attack Dean.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

STARR: You know, I don‘t think it is going to change the point of view of primary voters, but it will make a difference in the general election, the fact that they have fired shots, basically, at the front-runner.

MATTHEWS: Right.

(CROSSTALK)

STARR: Republicans must be thrilled.

MATTHEWS: So shrewd. I agree with that.

Thank you everybody, Alexandra Starr, new kid on the block, Peggy Noonan.

NOONAN: Thank you, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Lawrence O‘Donnell.

NOONAN: Thank you.
Mickey Kaus writes:
Economic inequality's clearly growing, because the rich are rapidly getting richer. What I resist is the idea that the average worker is getting poorer in absolute terms--a notion now pushed by Paul Krugman in The Nation as well as by Uchitelle. Arguing in this fashion that capitalism doesn't "deliver the goods" is a mug's game. It's the one thing capitalism does! The New Left knew that. The Newer, Hack Left seems to have forgotten. Have Krugman and Uchitelle been to Best Buy and seen all the average families buying big-screen TVs? Casual empiricism suggests that the vast majority of citizens are also getting richer, just more slowly--i.e. not enough to stop the rich-poor "gap" from widening. That gap creates lots of profound problems, but the progressive immiseration of the citizenry is not one of them. I suspect honest analysis of the statistics will erase all doubt on this point. ...] ...
The basic point about absolute gains is surely right (I mean, if you compare present buying power in any social class with past buying power in any social class), however much Kaus usually seems to muck up the details. What are the other problems raised by social inequality? Here are a few:

a) How much of the absolute gains in the worst off are tied to social inequality anyway? Obviously some measure of income inequality creates incentives whose eventual effect is to raise the position of the worst off, or at least most people. That's not Regeanomics - even Rawls agreed with that much. The problem is that the argument doesn't tell you how much income inequality is needed to raise the position of the worse off, and at what point it fails to have the right sort of effect. What drives me nuts is people moving uncritically from the (perfectly obvious) point that some degree of income inequality is necessary, to the (often patently stupid) conclusion that their preferred degree of income inequality is justified.

b) Suppose we're convinced that absolute gains for everyone are connected with a high degree of income inequality. Is that enough to clinch anything? No. We still don't know if there aren't other ways altogether of boosting absolute wealth among the worst off, ways which don't involve some of the more odious aspects of (gross) income inequality.

c) Are we really taking into account the long term effects of a decline in social mobility? What does it say about the long term health of a political culture when it (arguably unnecessarily) trades absolute gains for everyone for a social structure in which a poor child has a far weaker chance of becoming a Senator or a President than a wealthy child? I think that in the long run this is very likely to have extremely corrosive effects, not all of which are easily measurable. But they're real nonetheless. In other words, just how much is a TV worth, anyway?

Now, none of this is to belittle absolute gains in wealth, when there are absolute gains in wealth. But I think these are some of the concerns that loom largest - or at least ought to - in discussions of wealth distribution. I don't think it's fair of Kaus to ding Krugman for failing to say what everyone knows about absolute gains in wealth. (Actually, he seems to say that Krugman claims that people are worse off in absolute terms. I might be wrong, but I don't remember Krugman ever saying that.) Krugman, at least, knows where the serious questions are, and I'm glad he's asking them.
There are two frustrating things about all the fuss over Rumsfeld's trip to Baghdad long ago.

One is that a number of commentators refuse to admit that the whole policy was a mistake. This approach comes in two flavours: Some commentators claim that Iran really was such a threat that even in retrospect the U.S. policy of supporting Hussein was prudent. These commentators say they would do it (or support it) all over again if they had to, even knowing what they know today. I think this is an interesting position. It comes very close to implying that the ends always justify the means, or that morality has no place in the formulation of foreign policy. This is an awfully strong line to take. I'm not sure if these commentators understand that the position requires them to refrain from certain kinds of very popular moral criticism. For example, although they can still complain about the goals terrorists set themselves, they can't consistently criticize the means terrorists use to achieve them.

The second flavour is to claim that in retrospect the policy was a mistake, but it was nevertheless justifiable at the time, given what they knew then. Again, I think this is wrong, but perhaps the full story about why I think that has to wait for another post.

So the first really frustrating thing is that people continue to make excuses for a failed policy.

The second really frustrating thing is that many commentators have steadfastly refused to draw connections between present and past behaviour. The U.S. continues to prop up dictators around the world, and the long term effects are likely to be pretty lousy. Central Asia is particularly troubling in this respect. I understand that the U.S.- in particular, the State Dept - does put healthy pressure on Central Asian regimes from time to time. But the net effect of U.S. behaviour in the region is not positive at all, and it is extremely disappointing when compared against what it might have been. If U.S. policymakers and commentators had learned from past failures, I'm convinced that policy in Central Asia would be almost unrecognizably different from the policy currently in place.

Let no one say that we haven't been warned.
Op-Ed Columnist: Citizen Conrad’s Friends

Silly linking to Krugman's latest, I suppose, since every sane person reading this site presumably reads Krugman before they read me. But in case you missed it, it's essential reading.

Monday, December 22, 2003

First Refusal: Archive Entry From Brad DeLong's Webjournal

Ha ha. I confess, I didn't know what "first refusal" meant exactly, either.

Then again, I'm not making big bucks off my blog.
Russia Offers to Forgive 65% of Iraq’s Debt

Wow. Not that they were going to get much out of Iraq, but still . . .
Abu Aardvark writes that the Bush administration's diplomatic breakthrough with Libya does not provide any support for Bush's doctrine of preemptive war. Exactly right. But he also writes:
On Saturday I suggested that Libya would pose a test of intellectual integrity to the supporters of the application of the "Bush Doctrine" in Iraq. The Bush doctrine declared that war with Iraq was necessary because international inspections could not guarantee American security against the threat of WMD in the hands of rogue regimes, and that only regime change to a democratic system could provide such security. In the case of Libya, the rather clearly non-democratic regime of Moammar Qadaffi remains in place, with a promise to allow international inspections to verify the country's surrender of its WMD. In other words, Libya is fairly clearly a repudiation of the Bush doctrine, not its vindication. The test of intellectual integrity, therefore, was this: would advocates of the Bush doctrine in Iraq attack Bush for violating his doctrine in Libya by dealing with a dictator and relying on inspections, or would they praise Bush out of partisan loyalty?
I'm not sure this follows.

For starters, no one thinks that Libya was as dangerous as Iraq. And there was more evidence for Libya's willingness to cooperate with the U.S. than there was of Saddam Hussein's willingness to cooperate with anyone. So I'm not sure intellectual consistency requires you to take the same position on the two countries. It's perfectly coherent to say, "Yes, we can let international inspectors poke around in Lybia since the stakes are lower. With Iraq we couldn't afford to wait." A difference in the level of (stated) urgency can imply a principled difference in the response.

Nor does intellectual consistency about democracy really seem to require anything as strong as the same basic position on the two countries. After all, proponents of the Bush doctrine were always able to recognize, at least in the abstract, that there would be real practical constraints on what the U.S. could hope to do in the region. Again, it's perfectly coherent to say, "If it's feasible, then a democracy is always to be preferred to a dictatorship" and then to go with a dictatorship. That's because now that the U.S. has invaded Iraq and things haven't gone particularly smoothly, U.S. capabilities have been reduced to the point at which the project is not feasible.

Consistency restored.

Of course, that's just one small point. I don't think that the Bush doctrine is a particularly wise position, and I would certainly not rate it very highly for intellectual consistency. It's just that Abu Aardvark's particular line on this doesn't strike me as very convincing.
Friendship and Business Blur in the World of a Media Baron

Ha ha. And quite a flattering photo.
MSNBC - Inside Red Dawn: Saddam Up Close

Is it really a surprise that the S.H. capture didn't go quite as we were originally told?
Ugh.

Don't we want the macho out of politics?

Sunday, December 21, 2003

danieldrezner.com :: Daniel W. Drezner :: Why a gay marriage amendment is not going to happen

Yes.

(It's still frustrating that it's an issue at all but, yes, Drezner's quite right.)
White House Web Scrubbing (washingtonpost.com)

Someone send Dana Milbank a Christmas present or something . . .

Saturday, December 20, 2003

Let Saddam Live (washingtonpost.com)

Wow. Richard Cohen argues that Saddam Hussein should not be executed. He concludes his piece:
President Bush, Joe Lieberman and much of America will probably have it their way. Saddam Hussein will be tried -- probably in Iraq -- found guilty and executed. In his reptilian brain, he will understand. He would have done the same thing himself.
A few comments. First, I can understand his basic argument: The death penalty sucks and this is one hell of a place to draw the line. But the bit I quoted above is sort of unfair. Saddam Hussein wouldn't have come close to a trial and execution. He would have skipped the whole bit about the trial and the evidence, and that makes for one hell of a difference between the way he treated his citizens and the way people are now proposing to treat him. Second, (as I argued a few days ago) part of the function of such a trial is to draw a brutalized political culture towards something based more on principles of justice and law. It's all very easy to say that avoiding the death penalty is a step in this direction. The problem is that when you take that step you want people to take it with you. I'm afraid that a trial that imposed anything less than the death penalty would be seen as a complete joke in Iraq, and it's hard to imagine the trial working its healing mojo in that case.

This is a really tough question. I'm still mulling it over.
Juan Cole has a nice post about the Iran-Contra affair and Iraq.

Matthew Yglesias: Unexpected Victory

Matthew Yglesias writes:
I didn't even realize Libya was still really an issue, but this is certainly a positive development. It is, moreover, a partial vindication of one of the nuttier aspects of grand strategy à la Bush as one imagines that our demonstrated willingness to invade countries on a rather thin pretext played a role in pushing Gaddafi into line.

The trouble, of course, is that Libya really isn't that big of a deal as far as rogue states go. If this technique had worked with Iran or North Korea, that would have been a major good thing. As things stand, however, Operation Invade at The Drop of a Hat seems to be backfiring with the DPRK and Iran is still up in the air.

Still, credit where due, and good work for pulling this off.
Whether or not you think this move was inevitable, Yglesias is right that this is a feather in Bush's hat.

If you want to figure out the influence of Invade at The Drop of a Hat, though, I think you need to take into consideration two main ways that the policy has changed the strategic landscape.

The first seems to be that everyone is now convinced that Bush is just nutty enough to do something if he really wants to. And that might well make hostile regimes more inclined to take him seriously. I'm sure most of the credit for Libya's recent decision will go to this attribute of Bush's. The unfortunate downside of this strategy is that sometimes taking someone more seriously means arming against them even more energetically than you might otherwise have. For this and many other reasons, I think the strategy is an incredibly costly one. Still, there may be benefits to this strategy as well as costs, and in this case the benefits are reinforced by two impressive and recent demonstrations of military force.

The second change in the strategic landscape is rather less remarked on the right. It is this: By tying down U.S. troops in Iraq for an indefinite period, the U.S. is now obviously in a much weaker position to strike its enemies. Muammar is an odd fellow, but like almost all world leaders he presumably reads the newspapers now and again. And it must have struck him that Bush is in no position at all to give him the Iraq treatment anytime soon.

If you think intimidation had anything to do with Libya's decision, then I think this second change to the strategic landscape ought to make you rue Bush's policies, since their practical effect has been to diminish and constrain America's military options for the next few years.

This was a breakthrough. It was a breakthrough for Bush. (Disagree? What is Clinton had managed it? Or Dean? Would you really be carping about how much Lybia wanted this? No, because it would have been a breakthrough for Clinton even if Lybia had wanted it.) In this sense, you might attribute a breakthrough to Bush. But don't attribute the breakthrough to Bush's policy of preemptive war.

Friday, December 19, 2003

danieldrezner.com :: Daniel W. Drezner :: Libya decides to bandwagon

Dan Drezner writes:
Since Lockerbie, Ghadhafi has been pretty quiet on the whole terrorism/rogue state front. And he's probably such an idiosyncratic character that it would be tough to call him part of any trend. Still, one has to wonder -- does this happen if the U.S. doesn't invade Iraq?
The short answer is: quite probably it would have, given enough of the right kind of political pressure.

That won't stop this from giving Bush a real lift, though.

I yearn for a grownup national discussion of policy in which I don't have to worry that a few gains for Bush will be distorted all out of shape by mediocre and irresponsible pundits.

I yearn for a grownup discussion of policy in which citizens and media don't lose sight of how much further ahead we might have been now if things hadn't gotten so mucked up along the way.
Huh. Chalk up another point for technology. You can now listen to samples from my wife's album and purchase it here. They only have a few of her CDs in stock. And they're not likely to sell very many here at all. Still, having a site like this makes it easier for them to reach people than it would otherwise be.

Anyway . . . back to politics.
Richard Perle is such a creep.
Bush in 30 Seconds

Check out MoveOn's contest. I must say that some of these clips are not likely to play well in middle America.
Telegraph | News | Head of America's Iraq WMD hunters wants to quit team

Can you blame him? I mean, that's gotta be a depressing job these days.
Completely absurd news from the U.N. News Agency:
UN PANEL ON IRAQI INVASION OF KUWAIT AWARDS ANOTHER $1.4 BILLION IN DAMAGE CLAIMS
New York, Dec 18 2003 4:00PM
An additional $1.4 billion has been approved as compensation for those suffering losses and damage resulting from Iraq's invasion and occupation of Kuwait in 1990-1991, the United Nations panel processing those claims announced today.

The Governing Council of the UN Compensation Commission, under the Presidency of Ambassador Michael Steiner of Germany, concluded its session in Geneva by <"http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2003/ik414.doc.htm">approving awards totalling $1,408,966,401.

The brings to approximately $48 billion the total approved so far, with some $18 billion of that figure going to governments and international organizations for distribution to successful claimants.

The Governing Council, which has the same membership as the UN Security Council, decided to hold its next regular session from 9 to 11 March 2004.
Perhaps this is all just a prelude to massive debt forgiveness. Perhaps the U.N. committee has no mechanism to formally dissolve itself and has to go through the motions of continuing to award reparations.

But this is just silly. The most important things taken from Kuwait can't be replaced. What can be replaced has been already. Kuwait gets nothing of long term value from insisting on this process. And the people of Iraq hardly bear collective responsibility for what happened in during the 1990/1 invasion.

This has to end.
The Saddam Hussein Sourcebook

From the always illuminating National Security Archives. Invaluable.

Thursday, December 18, 2003

How can uggabugga be so funny and sharp sometimes, and so silly at others?

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

The Imperial Vice Presidency - Dick Cheney says the "e"-word. By Timothy Noah

This article is completely idiotic. First, it's false to say:
Within the mainstream of American political discourse, it's perfectly acceptable to criticize pre-emption and unilateralism, but by silent agreement, the word "empire" is understood to be beyond the pale. It's one of those words, like "servant," that Americans refuse to utter because it's too difficult to reconcile with American ideals. The only people rude enough to use the word "empire" to describe the United States are foreigners, hard leftists, and Buchananite conservatives. Oh, and one more: Vice President Dick Cheney.
You hear people chattering about empire (rather less now, I think, than before the invasion - but still) all the time, all over the political spectrum.

But second, and more important, it's a bleedin Christmas card!
All blogged out. I'm feeling thoroughly disgusted by all the idiotic name-calling and question-begging in the political commentary I've been reading. The whole mess is can be so juvenile and tiring.

Ugh.

That is all.
I suppose I don't see the big deal about this (more complaining about the stagehandling of the President's visit to Iraq).

I guess it doesn't pass the Clinton test: If Clinton had gone for a dinner with troops and the White House had screened troops to avoid an unpleasant fuss and some troops hadn't been able to get in . . . so what?

True, the White House does an extraordinary amount of stagehandling, and it's tempting to want to deflate every single instance. But what is our meta-position on stagehandling in general? Do we take it to the point that we eschew any attempt to think about style as well as substance? Is it always dishonest and low to try to manage a photo-op smoothly, or avoid an embarassing confrontation?

No, of course not. Look at Democratic discussions of Dean and Clark, for example. There's a lot of justifiable concern about presentation, tone, etc. on the left.

This is not to say, of course, that contemporary politics is healthy, that the balance between substance and style is right, or that Bush's stunts should go unremarked. The carrier landing, for example, was justly criticized.

But these criticisms lose their effectiveness if they're triggered by the slightest occasions. And they're hypocritical if they imply that stagehandling is always out of the question for anyone on the high-minded left.
uggabugga fixes up David Brooks' latest column.

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Finally, a serious analysis of the situation in North Korea.