ashthomas//blog: October 2004


Sunday, October 31, 2004

Fukuyama/Krauthammer Fallout

Danny Postel writes in openDemocracy about the fallout from the debate between Francis Fukuyama and Charles Krauthammer in the National Interest.

The most interesting part of Postel's piece come about half way where, after discussing the particulars of the disagreement between Fukuyama and Krauthammer, he gets the opinion of others in the foreign policy community to comment. He spoke with John Mearsheimer, who believes, with Krauthamer, that Fukuyama's beliefs place him outside the neoconservative fold, despite Fukuyama's own statement to the contrary:
“Fukuyama understands, quite correctly, that the Bush doctrine has washed up on the rocks,” the University of Chicago political scientist and author of The Tragedy of Great Power Politics tells openDemocracy. Fukuyama’s essay provides a “great service,” he says, in making plain that the neo-conservative strategy for dealing with Iraq has “crashed and burned.” Fukuyama is “to be admired for his honesty here. He is confronting reality.”

The significance of Fukuyama’s intervention, says Mearsheimer, goes beyond its being the first in–house, intra–neocon dispute over Iraq. “It’s not only that he’s a member of the [neoconservative] tribe going after another member of the tribe; [Fukuyama] is one of the tribe’s most important members.” Indeed, he says, Fukuyama and Krauthammer are without a doubt “the two heavyweights” of the neoconservative intelligentsia, and their debate is about “terribly important issues, issues of central importance to American foreign policy.”

Mearsheimer agrees with Krauthammer that Fukuyama’s critique threatens to dismantle the neo-conservative project. First, he says, Fukuyama is challenging “the unilateralist impulse that’s hard wired into the neoconservative worldview.” Second, Fukuyama disputes the argument that the Iraq war would create a democratic domino effect in the Arab–Islamic world. These, says Mearsheimer, are “two of the most important planks” in the Bush doctrine and in the neo-conservative Weltanschauung.

Fukuyama also possesses what Mearsheimer calls a “very healthy respect for the limits of military force.” “I think you cannot bring about democracy through the use of military force,” he told the Cairo–based weekly Al–Ahram. Then there is Fukuyama’s point about the limits of social engineering and his argument regarding the neocon tendency to conflate Israel’s security threats with those of the United States.

Taken together, says Mearsheimer, this band of criticisms makes Fukuyama’s case nothing less than devastating. “This is not just a minor spat within the camp. This is consequential.”

The essence of this debate is the definition of neoconservatism: is it synonymous with the Bush Doctrine, with the unilateralism and over-emphasis on military strength at the cost of state-building? Or can it be multilateral and imperialistic, recognising that democracy has to be taught and not imposed?

Or is there room for both definitions? Fukuyama thinks so, and I agree.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Kerry Cabinet Possibilities

Laura Rozen reprints for the benefit of those of us without a subscription an article by the National Journal's Carl Cannon on the possible make-up of a John Kerry cabinet.

Monday, October 25, 2004

New Republic Endorses Kerry

I wanted to say a few words about The New Republic's long overdue but not unexpected endorsement of John Kerry for President.

The terms in which the endorsement is expressed seem to me to be part of the movement of non-Administration-linked neoconservatives (back) towards the Democratic Party (where they belong). The editorial acknowledges that the Bush Administration's ideological rhetoric after 9/11 aligned neatly with The New Republic's position. The editors' problem with Bush, and the reason why they feel he must go, is that the Bush team has been unsuccessful in realising the goals and aims that they expressed, and they do not seem to be prepared to adapt, change or admit error:
The ideology that guides this president's war on terrorism is more appealing than the corporate cronyism that guides his domestic policy. But it has been pursued with the same sectarian, thuggish, and ultimately self-defeating spirit. You cannot lead the world without listening to it. You cannot make the Middle East more democratic while making it more anti-American. You cannot make the United States more secure while using security as a partisan weapon. And you cannot demand accountable government abroad while undermining it at home.

And so a president who promised to make America safer by making the Muslim world more free has failed on both counts. This magazine has had its differences with John Kerry during his career and during this campaign. But he would be a far better president than George W. Bush.

TNR then explains how Kerry's domestic policy is better than Bush's.

Back on the issue of foreign policy, TNR points out that despite his comments about the importance of multilateralism and the United Nations, Kerry also seems to realise the importance of acting outside the UN, especially when it comes to dealing with intra-state conflict and crisis:

Kerry's apparent willingness to act within states is particularly important because the U.N.'s obsession with sovereignty renders it impotent in such circumstances. His support for the Kosovo war, waged without U.N. approval, is encouraging in this regard, as is his openness to using U.S. troops--presumably without the Security Council's blessing--in Darfur, Sudan. These encouraging signs counterbalance his worrying tendency to describe multilateralism--and U.N. support--as an end in itself rather than instrument of American power. If elected, this tension will likely be a theme of his presidency, as it was of Clinton's.

It should be remembered that during the mid-nineties, a faction of the neoconservatives were strongly supportive of, and therefore highly critical of the Republican Party's stand against, the Clinton Administration's decision to intervene in Kosovo, even without UN approval.

It should also be noted that the neoconservative "movement" (or whatever is the appropriate term for so loose a collection of individuals) is factionalising more noticeably in the last few months, as evidenced by the debate on the ideology of neoconservatism in the last two issues of the National Interest between Francis Fukuyama and Charles Krauthammer.

Given these recent events, and given a Kerry victory, we will see a group of neoconservatives begin to define themselves more closely with the hawkish wing of the Democratic Party (e.g. Senator Joseph Biden and Senator Joseph Lieberman) and identify themselves more as liberal hawks.

Saturday, October 23, 2004

NRO disses Hersh

Andrew C. McCarthy, in the National Review Online, writes a very scathing review of Seymour Hersh's Chain of Command (previously discussed here). McCarthy not only does not like the book, but also shows an extreme dislike for Hersh himself:
By any truly objective standard, Hersh is a terrible reporter. Real reporting plays it straight and gets it right, and the reader simply can't trust him to do either. Hersh is a hard-left ideologue who disdains facts that collide with his dark theories. His methodology, moreover, is a joke. As has been ably recounted by National Review's John J. Miller and others, Hersh's most important sources are anonymous and impossible to verify, while the few sources he does identify tend to be conmen or the transparently agenda-driven. His journalistic practices have been decried by his former New York Times editor, A. M. Rosenthal, and embarrassingly laid bare by his own admissions, in court testimony, about concocting elaborate deceptions to pry out dubious information.

It is, of course, the nature of his research that makes Hersh's sources require to not be identified. The information that Hersh obtains comes with the condition that he cannot reveal where he got it. Hersh is not dealing with people with regular jobs--these are the people at the centre of the United States' intelligence and defence establishments, with access to the most well-kept secrets in Washington. Nevertheless, McCarthy finds something sinister in Hersh's respect for the privacy of his sources:

[A]s long as they were the only game in town, the mainstream media could present Hersh as a respectable raconteur instead of a hyper- partisan. In fact, at The New Yorker, they still think they can: Chain of Command begins with a cloying introduction by Hersh's current editor, David Remnick, who burnishes the legend, elides any hint of the innumerable gaffes, and conveniently explains that, of course, Hersh can't be expected to name his sources, but you can bet the ranch on their credibility because, after all, this is The New Yorker we're talking about.

The National Review is, of course, the most unwavering of the Bush-supporting magazines, and it could not be expected to like a book like Chain of Command, but this review seems to me a little more harsh than needed.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Paul Nitze, dead at 97

Paul Nitze, an influential defence and foreign policy intellectual and architect of one of the most important documents of the Cold War, NSC-68, died this week. Obit from the Washington Post:
HALF A CENTURY ago, as the United States grappled with how to fight and win a global war of a kind it had never before experienced, the chief of policy planning at the State Department produced a paper laying out a blueprint that would guide American policy for decades. Paul H. Nitze argued that only a multifaceted and global effort would succeed in containing the expansionist Soviet Union: He called for "a rapid and sustained buildup of the political, economic and military strength of the free world."

Mr. Nitze, who died Tuesday at his home in Georgetown at the age of 97, defined and was defined by the Cold War he did so much to fight and win. He was a farsighted architect of U.S. strategy but also a policymaker who helped to launch the Marshall Plan in Europe and steer presidents through the Berlin and Cuban missile crises and the Vietnam War. In the 1970s and '80s, he was a central protagonist of arms control negotiations with the Soviet Union that led to four major treaties. Former secretary of state George P. Shultz called him "a walking history of the Cold War."

Mr. Nitze may be best known by some for a particularly daring act of diplomacy: the 1982 "walk in the woods" near Geneva with his Soviet counterpart that yielded a concept for defusing a confrontation over intermediate-range missiles in Europe. Although the initiative ultimately didn't succeed, it was typical of Mr. Nitze's innovative and independent thinking, which over the years led him from the Democratic Party to the beginnings of the neo- conservative movement and back again. He argued forcefully both for and against arms control agreements and advised both Republican and Democratic presidents, from Truman to Reagan.

Mr. Nitze never stopped thinking. After he left government for an office at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, which he helped found and which is now named for him, he continued to write about strategies for the United States in the post-Cold War world. In 1990, 40 years after he fashioned America's Cold War doctrine, Mr. Nitze published an article on the facing page arguing that "the central theme of U.S. policy should be the accommodation and protection of diversity" in a world no longer divided between blocs. International institutions such as the United Nations and NATO were needed, he said, but were not enough: "The United States, with first-class military potential, inherent political, economic and cultural strengths and no territorial ambitions," was required to "play a unique role." Once again, this brilliant and dedicated public servant was ahead of his time.

Editor of Spectator semi-apologises

Last week, The Spectator published an editiorial about the response of England, and especially the city of Liverpool, to the murder in Iraq of Ken Bigley, who had been held hostage by insurgents. The editorial criticised the "the mawkish sentimentality of a society that has become hooked on grief and likes to wallow in a sense of vicarious victimhood", and noted that more grief was being expressed for Bigley than had been for any of the soldiers who have been killed in the War. The editorial turned its focus on Liverpool:
The extreme reaction to Mr Bigley’s murder is fed by the fact that he was a Liverpudlian. Liverpool is a handsome city with a tribal sense of community. A combination of economic misfortune ... and an excessive predilection for welfarism have created a peculiar, and deeply unattractive, psyche among many Liverpudlians. They see themselves whenever possible as victims, and resent their victim status; yet at the same time they wallow in it. Part of this flawed psychological state is that they cannot accept that they might have made any contribution to their misfortunes, but seek rather to blame someone else for it, thereby deepening their sense of shared tribal grievance against the rest of society. The deaths of more than 50 Liverpool football supporters at Hillsborough in 1989 was undeniably a greater tragedy than the single death, however horrible, of Mr Bigley; but that is no excuse for Liverpool’s failure to acknowledge, even to this day, the part played in the disaster by drunken fans at the back of the crowd who mindlessly tried to fight their way into the ground that Saturday afternoon.

The editorial staff of the Spectator is of course entirely within its rights to make such comments. A complication arose, however, since the editor of the Spectator, Boris Johnson, is also MP for Henley and the shadow arts minister. The leader of Johnson's party, Michael Howard of the Conservative Party, ordered Johnson to apologise to Liverpool, and today he did. Johnson, who The Guardian describes as having a "reputation for buffoonery", made what he called a "pilgrimage of penitence" and writes about it for today's Daily Telegraph. After describing the experience of being in Liverpool and meeting the people he offended, Johnson writes about how he regrets causing upset, but stands by the message of the editorial:

I was able to say sorry for causing offence, and sorry for any hurt done to the Bigley family, and sorry for having reopened old wounds over Hillsborough, and that, in so far as we inaccurately represented the characteristics of the Liverpudlians, by resorting to some tired old stereotypes, I was sorry for that, too.

But, as I said on the radio, as I said on the street to a bunch of trainee nurses, as I said to everyone I met, this was only a partial and qualified apology. Michael Howard had called The Spectator's leading article, "Nonsense from beginning to end."

Well, I know of no doctrine that means members of the shadow front bench have to see eye to eye about every article that appears in the press, and in my view Michael is wrong on that. My view of our piece is that it spoke a lot of good sense, vitiated by tastelessness and inaccuracy.

There are some who say that it was outrageous that Johnson the editor should have been ordered to eat humble pie by Michael Howard. But they miss the point, that I was already consuming large quantities of humble pie before Michael made his suggestion, that any editor would have felt obliged to make some amends for that article - in view of the outrage that was provoked - and that, in any event, Johnson the politician apologises for and refuses to apologise for exactly the same things as Johnson the editor.

The leader was about the cult of sentimentality in modern Britain, which is allied to the cult of victimhood, and I wanted a leader on it not because I wanted to insult the people of Liverpool, but because I believe that we have a serious problem, in that we tend these days at every opportunity to blame the state, and to seek redress from the state, when things go wrong in our lives.

Yes, it was tasteless to make this point in the context of Ken Bigley's death, and I am sorry for the hurt this has caused his family. But when the late hostage's family said that Tony Blair had Ken Bigley's "blood on his hands", that was nonsense. Only those who killed Ken Bigley had his blood on their hands, and it should not be taboo to say so.

It is important to make this point about our tendency to blame the state, because we live in an increasingly atomised society, where the state does more and more, and emotions and affections that might once have been directed at family or neighbours are diverted into outbursts of sentimentality.

We are so ready to see ourselves as victims that we live in an increasingly hysterical health-and-safety compensation culture in which lawyers try to find someone else - usually the state - to blame for the misfortunes of their clients. That was the gist of the leader, and for that I make no apology.

Johnson's poise and humility in apologising but also his principled stand of not retracting his (or at least his magazine's, since the editorial was unsigned and Johnson hasn't confirmed or denied that he is its author) comments are admirable.

New Wizards of Armageddon

Steve Clemons has written an interesting article comparing the decision-making process leading up to the Iraq War with the method of risk-analysis and threat-assessment done by the RAND Corporation during the Cold War. In particular, he mentions the mind-games that the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. played against each other, and how it is reflected in Saddam's behaviour in the nineties:
Saddam behaved quite rationally, given his circumstances. He didn't want to prompt an Iranian attack and didn't have the ability to counter-attack, so the only rational course for him was to make it look like he had some ability to inflict nasty consequences on Iran and any invaders.

Any junior-level strategist with the vaguest knowledge of the ferocity of the Iran-Iraq War and the competition between these two rivals for regional hegemony would have known that Saddam perceived Iran as a clear and present danger. After the United States, the United Kingdom and other powers pushed Saddam back to his borders and disarmed him -- coupled with sanctions, no-fly zones, and U.N. weapons inspections (ad hoc though they were) -- Saddam's objective was to be a troublemaker just enough to keep Iran deterred but not enough to prompt another punitive engagement by the world's great powers.

Despite a small error of fact (Richard Perle is misidentified as Albert Wohlstetter's son-in-law), this is a very thought-provoking piece.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Kilgore Trout vs Kurt Vonnegut

Some genius from Kurt Vonnegut:
TROUT: I’ve never voted in my whole damn life. I didn’t want to be complicit. But is it time I did?

KV: The planet’s immune system is obviously trying to get rid of us, and high time! But sure, go vote for somebody. What the hell.

TROUT: Everybody’s so ignorant.

KV: The overwhelming popularity of President Bush, in spite of everything, finally shows us what the American people, whom we have so sentimentalized for so long, a la Norman Rockwell, really are, thanks to TV and purposely lousy public schools: ignorant. Count on it!


KV: After the Second World War I enrolled in the graduate division of the Anthropology Department of the University of Chicago, the most conceited university in the country. And in a seminar for about eight of us, half of us vets on the GI Bill of Rights, my favorite professor, in fact my thesis advisor, put this Socratic question to us: “What is it an artist does?”

TROUT: Hold on: What makes Chicago so conceited?

KV: That it isn’t Harvard.

TROUT: Got it: That it isn’t high society.

KV: Bingo. Anyway, I’m sure we all came up with smart-ass answers, since a graduate seminar in any subject is a form of improv theater. But the only answer I remember is the one he gave: “An artist says, ‘I can’t do anything about the chaos in the universe or my country, or even in my own miserable life, but I can at least make this piece of paper or canvas, or blob of clay or chunk of marble, exactly what it should be.’”

It is funny that I ran across this piece tonight, as I was just discussing Vonnegut with Keith at work this afternoon. Or maybe, if time runs backward, we were discussing him because I found the article.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Arrested For Poetry

A Mexican writer is awaiting trial for publishing a poem that criticised the Mexican government. From the Washington Post:
Sergio Witz Rodriguez was one ticked-off poet.

He thought nobody was solving Mexico's social and economic problems, least of all its politicians. So he worked himself into a righteous, lyrical lather and wrote a 21-line poem, saying, among other things, that he would like to use the Mexican flag as toilet paper.

Sergio Witz Rodriguez was arrested after writing a poem suggesting the Mexican flag be used as toilet paper.

The poem was published in a literary journal in 2001. That's when Witz, a father of three young girls, was arrested, fingerprinted, hauled before a judge and introduced to Chapter 5, Article 191 of the federal penal code, which calls for up to four years in prison for "insulting national symbols."

"This is absurd," said Witz, 42, a college literature professor in this Caribbean city on the Yucatan Peninsula. "I am not a threat to the state."

Now, after more than three years of legal proceedings that Witz described as Kafkaesque, his case may soon be heard by the Mexican Supreme Court in what legal analysts called one of the most important freedom of expression cases in recent memory.

The Mexican constitution guarantees free speech, as long as that speech doesn't injure someone else, provoke a crime or incite public disturbances. But federal law dating to the 1930s makes it illegal for anyone to insult national symbols, particularly the flag and the national anthem. The laws are vestiges of an era when presidents with vast power controlled the press and placed little importance on individual freedoms. Legal observers said the court may use Witz's case to determine the constitutionality of the law.

This is one of the most surreal and ridiculous cases I have heard about for a while. Hopefully the Mexican courts will throw out what is obviously a bizarre misuse of the law.

Hersh Calls It Like It Is

Steve Clemons writes about Seymour Hersh, who I think is the best journalist in the U.S. at the moment. Clemons, too, values the role that Hersh is playing in American society at the moment:
I am convinced that America does not have enough hard-working investigative journalists like Seymour Hersh, James Fallows and Ron Suskind. Josh Marshall and some bloggers are picking up some of the slack left in a mostly complacent media today -- but it occurred to me that Hersh is the kind of guy who develops vast human networks, digs into issues that no one else will touch, and takes the kinds of risks serious journalism rarely takes any more.

It should be a national priority -- in order to promote and protect the checks and balances in our civil society -- to cultivate a hundred more Seymour Hersh type journalists. Clearly, if Congress will not play its oversight function over the Executive Branch, the media have to weigh in, highlight, and embarrass what Members of Congress have been unable or unwilling to do.

Recently, Hersh has been doing the rounds, partly in promotion of his recent release, Chain of Command: The Road From 9/11 to Abu Ghraiband a couple of weeks ago gave an interview at Berkeley, where he said some pretty amazing things.

On the Bush administration and their (how can I put it?) rather lax standards of veracity:

"I think it's real simple to say [Bush] is a liar. But that would also suggest there was a reality that he understood," explained Hersh. "I'm serious. It is funny in sort of a sick, black humor sort of way, but the real serious problem is, he believes what he's doing." In effect, Bush, Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, and the other neocons are "idealists, you can call them utopians." As Hersh understands them, they really believe that the solution to global terrorism began with invading Baghdad and will end only with the transformation of the last unfriendly government in the Middle East into a democracy.

"No amount of body bags is going to dissuade [Bush]," said Hersh, despite the fact that Hersh's sources say the war in Iraq is "not winnable. It's over." As for Kerry's war plans, Hersh said he wished he could tell him to stop talking as if the senator's plan for Iraq could somehow still eke out a victory there. "This is a disaster that's been going on. It's a civil war, the insurgency. There is no 'win' anymore in this war," he argued. "As somebody said, 'We're playing chess, they're playing Go.'"

And on some extremely disturbing reports of war crimes being commited by U.S. forces in Iraq:

There was more — rumors of atrocities around Iraq that to Hersh brought back memories of My Lai. In the evening's most emotional moment, Hersh talked about a call he had gotten from a first lieutenant in charge of a unit stationed halfway between Baghdad and the Syrian border. His group was bivouacking outside of town in an agricultural area, and had hired 30 or so Iraqis to guard a local granary. A few weeks passed. They got to know the men they hired, and to like them. Then orders came down from Baghdad that the village would be "cleared." Another platoon from the soldier's company came and executed the Iraqi granary guards. All of them.

"He said they just shot them one by one. And his people, and he, and the villagers of course, went nuts," Hersh said quietly. "He was hysterical, totally hysterical. He went to the company captain, who said, 'No, you don't understand, that's a kill. We got 36 insurgents. Don't you read those stories when the Americans say we had a combat maneuver and 15 insurgents were killed?'

"It's shades of Vietnam again, folks: body counts," Hersh continued. "You know what I told him? I said, 'Fella, you blamed the captain, he knows that you think he committed murder, your troops know that their fellow soldiers committed murder. Shut up. Complete your tour. Just shut up! You're going to get a bullet in the back.' And that's where we are in this war."

This anecdote begs the question: How often are Coalition soldiers fragged in Iraq?

Read Hersh's new book, or go through the New Yorker archives and read the articles in their original form. Hersh is simply the most clued in and sane reporter writing about war and politics.

Google Saves Journalist's Life

An Australian journalist who was kidnapped in Iraq and held for over twenty hours had his life spared and was released when his captors used Google to confirm his identity. From the AAP:
Iraqi militants who kidnapped and threatened to kill an Australian journalist "Googled" his name on the internet to check his work before releasing him unharmed.

John Martinkus, a veteran freelancer who has covered conflicts from East Timor to Iraq, was released a day after he was taken hostage by four Sunni militants and ex-Iraqi army officers.

Mr Martinkus was filming a report for SBS's Dateline program and was preparing to leave Iraq when he was grabbed about 5pm (AEST) on Saturday outside a hotel popular with foreign correspondents.

SBS executive producer Mike Carey said the journalist's captors had investigated his background online and saw he was harmless.

"They Googled him, they checked him out on a popular search engine and got onto his own website or his publisher's website and saw he was a writer and journalist," Mr Carey told AAP.

"They had thought he was working for the Americans as an informer."

In this case, modern technology probably saved his life, he said.

"It certainly did help," Mr Carey said.

Mr Martinkus said he was caught outside a Baghdad hotel occupied by journalists, directly across the road from the Australian embassy.

He said his life was threatened but was treated well once he told his kidnappers he was independent and not linked to the US-led coalition in Iraq.

"I can't say very much but ... of course they said they were going to kill me," Mr Martinkus told ABC's Lateline program.

"I was able to basically establish that I was an independent journalist reporting what was going on and that I had no links to the coalition."

My question is why Martinkus says that he can't say very much about the incident. Who is stopping him from speaking? Or is he incorporating the experience into his story and doesn't want to give anything away?

Friday, October 15, 2004

Imperial Hubris review

I just finished reading one of the most important books of the year, Imperial Hubris: Why the West Is Losing the War on Terror, by Anonymous. The author, who has been identiefied by Jason Vest in the Boston Phoenix as being Michael Scheuer, argues that the main problem in our war on terrorism is a failing to understand the enemy. He argues that by looking at the enemy on their own terms, but learning about the source of their discontent, we can better fight them. Osama bin Laden must be reassessed and not seen as a lunatic or violent criminal, but rather as a political warrior:
There is no reason, based on the information at hand, to believe bin Laden is anything other than what he appears: a pious, charismatic, gentle, generous,
talented, and personally courageous Muslim who is blessed with sound strategic and tactical judgment, able lieutenants, a reluctant but indispensable bloody-mindedness, and extraordinary patience.

The implications for the war on terror are serious: Scheuer argues that we are in a long-term conflict that will not end with the capture or death of al-Qaeda's leadership. And it will be a long, bitter, bloody fight:

America is in a war for survival. Not survival in terms of protecting territory, but in terms of keeping the ability to live as we want, not as we must....There are two choices. We can continue using and believing the cant cited above, or we can act to preserve our way of life — what Mr. Lincoln said is man’s last best hope for self-government — by engaging in whatever martial behavior is needed. We owe this to ourselves, our heritage and our posterity. We protect none of these by cloaking cowardice with canting words about international comity, civilized norms, and high moral standards. Such words are proper only in a suicide note for the nation.

Imperial Hubris is a fascinating piece of work--it completely changed my understanding of the position of the Islamic extremists. It is an important book that anyone interested in how to fight and win this war should read.

For more information about Scheuer's ideas, read his interview with Spencer Ackerman that was published on TalkingPointsMemo: part one, part two, part three. Also take a look at the discussion of that interview on Political Animal.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Neocons are Liberals

The American Conservative Union has an article, "Neocons March Left", attacking neoconservatism from the "paleoconservative" position. The thrust of the article is that neoconservatism has more in common with the left than the traditional right. This is a position that I happen to agree with--neoconservatism's roots are in a dissident wing of the Democratic Party, and their relationship with the Republican Party has been one of convenience, not always ideological affinity.
Our war against Iraq created political alliances domestically that may have been unnatural, and which now may be falling apart. Specifically, some moderate-to-liberal hawks temporarily rose to the forefront of the American right and started calling the shots--in some cases declaring who was and who wasn't fit to be part of the conservative movement.

But it is only in these post-war days (although many object to the claim that the war is over) that the real clarifying happens.

Many of these hawks, called neocons, spent the aftermath of 9/11 and the run-up to the Iraq war denouncing the conservatives who voiced opposition to Bush's planned wars. But now, after the war, with some of the dust settled, their differences with the right are becoming clearer, and their continued alliance with conservatives comes into question.

In support, the article cites David Frum's pro-choice position, William Kristol's recent statement that he supported John Kerry's argument that what we need to win the war in Iraq is more troops, Max Boot's op-ed piece that argued that the right should give up fighting against gay marriage, and Charles Krauthammer's justification for going to war as being based on humanitarian, rather than self-defence, grounds.

The heroes of the neocon ideology, the article reminds us, are the great Democrat presidents of the twentieth century: Wilson, FDR and Truman. As the conservatives themselves recognise, "the neocons--and they admit this--are hawks first, and Republicans or conservatives second."

I agree--I am a liberal hawk, and as soon as the rest of the rest of the neocons start realising that they have more in common with the Democrats (especially on social issues), the better.

Ledeen in the Globe

The Boston Globe has a profile of Michael Ledeen. Ledeen is both a serious scholar of European fascism, as well as a high profile commentator on current affairs.

In addition to penning more than a dozen books, contributing countless articles to various journals, and holding court on foreign policy issues as a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, Ledeen has often come out from behind the writer's desk to participate in the rough-and-tumble of politics.

While not particularly in depth, the profile is a good introduction to an important thinker.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Iraq and al Qaeda

It is really baffling sometimes--the level of ignorance of current affairs in the United States always amazes me. It is not just ignorance, which can be understood if not forgiven. It is misbelief, the acceptance of patent untruths, and it is frustrating to think that real public discourse is overshadowed by a lack of consensus on the basic facts. This from USA
[A] new USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup Poll found that 42% of those surveyed thought the former Iraqi leader was involved in the attacks on New York City and Washington. In response to another question, 32% said they thought Saddam had personally planned them.

Readers will know my stand on the Iraq War. I believe it was justified and overdue, but poorly-planned. I also do not think that it had anything to do with 9/11 except tangentially. 9/11 was not the reason for the Iraq War, although it created a climate in the world that made the Iraq War more palatable.

The article linked to above reports on a speech that Donald Rumsfeld made at the Council on Foreign Relations on October 4th. This question was put to Rumsfeld:

Mr. Secretary, what exactly was the connection between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda?

Rumsfeld's full response:

I tell you, I'm not going to answer the question. I have seen the answer to that question migrate in the intelligence community over the period of a year in the most amazing way. Second, there are differences in the intelligence community as to what the relationship was. To my knowledge, I have not seen any strong, hard evidence that links the two. There are--I just read an intelligence report recently about one person who's connected to al Qaeda, who was in and out of Iraq, and there's the most tortured description of why he might have had a relationship, and why he might not have had a relationship. There are reports about people in Saddam Hussein's intelligence service meeting in one country or another with al Qaeda people from one person to another, which may have been indicative of something, or may not have been. It may have been something that was not representative of a hard linkage.

What we do know is that Saddam Hussein was on the terrorist list. We do know they were giving $25,000 to suicide bombers. So, this is not the Little Sisters of
the Poor. [Laughter.] But, what I would--to answer it, when I'm in Washington, I pull out a piece of paper and say, I don't know, because I'm not in that business, but I'll tell you what the CIA thinks, and I read it--the public version of it. If you want a--not terribly current now, but [former Director of Central Intelligence] George Tenet did testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee, and a version of it was unclassified--declassified--later which you can get and read if you want to see the answer that he gave.

But it is--it is--the relationships between these folks are complicated. They evolve and change over time. In many cases, these different networks have common funders. In many cases, they cooperate not in a chain of command, but in a loose affiliation--a franchising arrangement almost, where they go do different things and cooperate, but they're not, in the case of al Qaeda, most--my impression is, most of the senior people have actually sworn an oath to Osama bin Laden, and even, to my knowledge, even as of this late date, I don't believe [Abu Musab al-] Zarqawi, the principal leader of the network in Iraq, has sworn an oath, even though what they're doing--I mean, they're just two peas in a pod in terms of what they're doing.

So, it is too complicated for me to try to pretend I'm the expert analyst on the subject, and for that I apologize.

It is significant that one of the major players in the Bush Administration has finally come out and stated that the link between Hussein and al Qaeda is weak, and I hope it is a stand that other Republicans can bring themselves to make as well. But it seems unlikely. Dick Cheney in the Vice Presidential debate tried to dodge the issue (transcript from the Boston Globe):

EDWARDS: Mr. Vice President, there is no connection between the attacks of September 11th and Saddam Hussein. The 9/11 Commission has said it. Your own secretary of state has said it. And you've gone around the country suggesting that there is some connection. There is not.

And in fact the CIA is now about to report that the connection between Al Qaida and Saddam Hussein is tenuous at best. And, in fact, the secretary of defense said yesterday that he knows of no hard evidence of the connection.

We need to be straight with the American people.


[T]here is no connection between Saddam Hussein and the attacks of September 11th -- period.

The 9/11 Commission has said that's true. Colin Powell has said it's true. But the vice president keeps suggesting that there is. There is not. And, in fact, any connection with Al Qaida is tenuous at best.


CHENEY: The senator has got his facts wrong. I have not suggested there's a connection between Iraq and 9/11, but there's clearly an established Iraqi track record with terror.

And the point is that that's the place where you're most likely to see the terrorists come together with weapons of mass destruction, the deadly technologies that Saddam Hussein had developed and used over the years.

Josh Marshall does a much better analysis than I could do ever do, but I will quote his conclusion: "Purely on the basis of this evening's debate, Cheney has a mammoth credibility problem. Again and again he said things that were simply false."

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Sherlock Holmes

I have always been a huge fan of Sherlock Holmes, a fact that I attribute to seeing in Holmes certain of my own characteristics (introverted, slightly misanthrophic, superior). Judge Richard Posner reviews a new annotated edition of the Holmes stories in The New Republic, "CSI: Baker Street".

Posner is a bit dismissive of the notes that accompany this edition--they are either of the general background knowledge type (various bits of Victorianiana), or of the obsessive Sherlockian nature (how old is Holmes, what kind of revolver Watson carried). Posner's attitude may come from what seems to be a disdain for the character of Holmes himself:
Sherlock Holmes is not the first fictional character to give rise to a cult. But the others, such as Falstaff and Leopold Bloom, have tended to be likable, or at least lifelike, figures. Not icy, didactic, condescending, inhumanly self-sufficient, and therefore (the speculations concerning Irene Adler notwithstanding) sexless Sherlock--a social isolate, monologuist, and know-it-all, whose principal pleasure in life besides solving crimes is making a fool of his stooge, Dr. Watson. He treats Watson with no consideration, summoning him from his medical practice or his wife with a snap of the fingers to do drudge work, such as carrying a pistol. (Watson is Holmes's "muscle.") What is worse, Holmes assiduously endeavors to keep the poor man utterly clueless, so that, unable to close the intellectual chasm that yawns between them by even a hair's breadth, he shall remain ever abjectly worshipful of Holmes's genius. Rather than share insights with Watson as an investigation proceeds, so that Watson can play more than a flunky's role, Holmes keeps him in the dark until the very end of each story, when he reveals the solution to his awed companion. Holmes is God, Watson his congregation.

Posner is surprised at the popularity of Holmes the man, and has further problems with the plots themselves--Posner goes in the article to identify problems with Holmes' methods and his reasoning. Posner's criticism identifies the major misunderstanding most people have with the Sherlock Holmes stories is that they are not mysteries at all--they are adventure stories. Rarely in the Holmes ouevre does Conan Doyle provide the reader with enough information to solve the crime themselves. This is the significant difference between Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie. Christie is involved in a game with the reader, a race between the fictional detective and the reader to solve a puzzle. With Conan Doyle, we are, like Watson, just along for the ride. But what a ride it is.

Monday, October 04, 2004

Cohen on the First Debate

Eliot A. Cohen, of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, has a very sensible op-ed in the WSJ Opinion Journal today, "Isolate or Liberate?".

I didn't get a chance to see the debate, but the ashWife and I listened to a simulcast from the BBC World Service in bed (it was mid-morning Friday here). She thought Kerry romped it in, I thought it was close, but Kerry had a slight advantage. One of the things that bothered us was that the debate was limited in many ways, and did not address as many foreign policy issues as it could have in the alloted 90 minutes. This was a problem that Cohen also identified:
[A]s a window into the foreign policy implications of America's presidential choice, the debate left much to be desired. The candidates did not discuss American relations with the most important power in the world, China, and yet a U.S.-China clash over Taiwan could happen. If it did, the results would deservedly blow bombings in Fallujah or gunplay in Waziristan to the back pages. In a similar vein, the problem of international trade policy, i.e., protection, will revert to the domestic policy debate--a piece of self-absorption that is itself part of the problem of how Americans think about trade, and a source of much hostility abroad. The Arab-Israeli conflict was notable for its absence. There was nothing about the broader course of U.S.-European relations, international environmental issues, or the emerging strategic alliance with India.

The debate was primarily about the events of the past (Iraq and Afghanistan) and how the candidate would deal with the situations that have developed in since 9/11. The only time other issues seemed to be brought up was when Kerry inserted them into his answers. As Cohen notes,

This was a debate overwhelmingly about Iraq, to a lesser extent about the misnamed Global War on Terror, and in a cursory fashion, about North Korea, Iran and Russia.

Of course, this can't be entirely the fault of Bush and Kerry--a good deal of the blame must fall on the shoulders of the moderator and the questions that he chose. Cohen also wished there was more variety to the questions, and he proposes one that should have been put to the candidates:

The best question Jim Lehrer could have asked is the one that the candidates could not answer: "Who will be your national security adviser and his or her deputy, your secretaries, deputy secretaries, and under secretaries of state and defense?" The audience would have learned much if Sen. Kerry had said in response "Richard Holbrooke goes to Foggy Bottom," or if President Bush had said either "no changes at all" or "a complete reshuffle." They would have learned still more if they had some inkling of how the top dozen officials in the next administration would likely relate to one another, how they would deal with pressure, who would thwart or cooperate with whom, how stable or volatile their temperaments were, and which would find favor in presidential eyes.

I, for one, wish Kerry would come out and state who would constitute his cabinet, or at least the big three as far as foreign policy goes--Secretary of Defence, Secretary of State and National Security Advisor. As Cohen says, some idea of who will make up the decision making apparatus would make it easier to gauge the ideological temperature of a Kerry administration.

Aussie Politics Gets Ugly

Australian election campaigning gets ugly, with the conservative Family First party, whose ads warn of putting the balance of power in the hands of the "radical" Greens. The AAP reports:
Family First volunteer disciplined

Religious party Family First has disciplined a campaign volunteer for saying lesbians should be burned to death.

The man's comments came shortly before a group of youths hurled eggs at Greens supporters on Sunday from a passing car at Dayborough, in the marginal Brisbane seat of Dickson.

Family First spokesman Mark Badham said the party had nothing to do with the egg-throwing.

He did say, however, that the volunteer had been disciplined after answering yes to a question from a Greens supporter about whether Family First supported lesbians being burned to death.

"(Family First Dickson candidate) Dale Shuttleworth contacted the volunteer, chastised him and disciplined him and we've moved on," Mr Badham said.

The man has been banned from any more volunteer duties with Family First.

Mr Badham said the Greens volunteer had put words in the Family First Party volunteer's mouth.

But the Greens are blaming the Family First campaigner for inciting the egg-throwing attack.

Greens candidate Howard Nielsen said moments before the attack, the youths had been listening to anti-gay rantings from the Family First campaigner that "lesbians are witches and should be burned to death".

"There were about three or four of them who had chatted animatedly (with the campaigner) for about 20 minutes, jumped in the car, bought a stack of eggs by the sound of it and drove past three or four minutes later throwing eggs at our people," he said.

Mr Nielsen said one egg nearly hit the head of a female Greens worker.

He said the eggs had the potential to be a "lethal weapon".

The egg-throwing had been reported to police, Mr Nielsen said.

Original Star Wars Trilogy on DVD

There are two interesting articles in the Weekly Standard, "Pray He Doesn't Alter Them Any Further..." by Jonathan V. Last and "So Be It, Jedi" by Matthew Continetti, about the new release of the original Star Wars trilogy on DVD. The authors discuss the changes that George Lucas has made to the films, and how they change the impact and the continuity of the series. Worth looking at if you are a fan of the Star Wars movies.

Philip Roth's New Novel

The most widely anticipated novel of the season is Philip Roth's The Plot Against America, expertly reviewed by Paul Berman in the NYTimes Book Review. The story is set in an alternative past where Wendall Wilkie is defeated for the Republican nomination for the presidency by Charles Lindbergh. Lindbergh, unlike Wilkie in the real history, defeats FDR and pursues a policy of non-intervention in the conflict being fought between Hitler and the other European powers. Roth quickly shows how easy it is for a nation to become entranced by anti-semitism and fascism. As a story about how a country can be cajoled and coerced, it is certainly going to be the novel that all politically conscious America will be talking about in the next few months.