Yeah, I read the Independent
Here's a lengthy and stimulating rumination from Howard Jacobson on the tendency, the desire (maybe you could even say the need) for anti-war types to link Israel to Iraq, to adduce Israel as the instructive, equivalent counter-example that indicates "what's really going on here." This is a kind of polemical thought experiment that comes up quite often in print and even more often in coffee shop conversations: Iraq is a rogue state with weapons of mass destruction, the line goes, and so is Israel. Why aren't we threatening to invade, disarm and regime change them? Everyone nods sagely, rueful self-satisfied smiles all around. No answer, and no argument, is possible in the face of the ultimate smoking gun: American hypocrisy.
Israel, as every schoolboy knows and is keen to demonstrate... is armed to the teeth. "Why not disarm Israel as well then?" comes the question at more or less the same point of every public debate, as though there is exact or indeed any equivalence between Saddam's deployment of arms and Israel's. "Israel also flouts the wishes of the United Nations and has weapons of mass destruction." Followed by applause. A little knowledge being a dangerous thing.
None of us can be absolutely sure what would have happened, had such and such not happened also, but there is no Jew of my acquaintance, let him be the staunchest opponent of Israel's present policies, who doubts that without the appropriate deterrents Israel would long ago have been driven into the sea. Humanity is short on memory. Thirty-five years ago "brave little Israel" was everybody's favourite underdog, putting to flight the armies of however many Arab countries bent on its destruction. The mistake it made, as far as public relations went, was to learn from its own history and beef itself up militarily. A disappointment, that, to sentimentalists the world over. We preferred Israel svelte and fragile. We enjoyed the frisson of its being ever on the brink. Too bad. Every country has to grow up some time. And no one loves you when you're old and grey. But if Yasmin Alibhai-Brown cannot understand why her otherwise open and amenable Jewish friends go quiet when she tells them that Israel should be treated exactly as Bush and Blair propose we treat Iraq, here is the reason: Israel has the weapons it has because without them it would not exist.
I admit it though: in darker moments, I can't shake the suspicion that, when Saddam does launch gratuitous, strategically insignificant attacks on Israel, killing innocent Jews with fire, poison gas, or worse, part of his motivation will be to score points, to gain a public relations victory, in the eyes of those who think along these lines; and I can't shake the fear that this may work, even in the enlightened, civilized West; and that there will be those (probably not many, but more than zero) in today's "anti-war" ranks who will, for dark reasons known only to themselves, derive an unwholesome enjoyment when it happens. Everyone nods sagely, rueful self-satisfied smiles all around
Another great column from Johann Hari, on Bush's AEI speech and the promise of democracy in the Arab world. I doubt he's right in including Syria in his list of repressive regimes that can be nudged towards incremental democratization through gentle pressure alone; Baathism is a pernicious obstacle to democracy in principle as well as in practice, and anything short of "regime change" isn't going to cut it. It's hard to argue with the overall thrust though, epitomized by this conclusion:
The democratisation of Arab and Middle East countries is one of the most exciting progressive causes in the world. It is sad that so many of us, living in comfortable democracies, seem to have forgotten the great promise that democracy offers to oppressed peoples.
Matt Welch's tales of his days of Euro-busking glory beat all of these testimonials handily. He's got some good tips, as well. Here's one of mine: the cops at Paris Metro stations don't fool around. Sometimes they just yell at you. But if you annoy them too much, watch out. They won't even bother to arrest you: instead, they'll use tear gas to break up the party. "She's gotta *cough* *sniff* ticka *wheeze* *choke* tooo ri-i-i-" I had burns around my eyes and on my face for weeks afterwards. Busking is hard work, but it shouldn't be *that* hard. I think that remains the worst review I've ever received.
Bush's neo-con speech
It's too bad he hasn't been giving speeches like this all along, but it's welcome nonetheless. After weeks of "leaks" and trial balloons about proposed scenarios for post-Saddam Iraq, the administration seems to have, at last, committed itself to the pro-democracy, neo-con program, or at least something along those lines. At the very least, any further waffling, wobbling, or backtracking, any hint that our efforts at Liberation will be less than sincere or thorough, any nod to the stability-at-all-costs mantra of Foggy Bottom and the GHWB alumni, can now be criticized fairly powerfully with a playback of the President's own words.
Yes, I had thought that to be the case after the 2002 State of the Union Address, as well. That was a good speech, too. How could he face the nation in 2003 with Saddam still in power? He did, and he could. And when he did, he gave pretty much the same speech, almost as though the intervening year hadn't even happened. In effect, anyway. That's the thing about speeches. You can say any damned thing you want. There's good bluster, and there's bad bluster, and there's bluster whose virtue waits upon events, but it's all never more than bluster until somebody does something. The hawkish commentariat and the supporters of "regime change" were singularly ineffective at pointing that out in such a way as to hold him to those words. The ditherer-in-chief got a free pass. If they're at all sincere about this Democracy stuff-- as many of them are-- they will have to do much better this time.
If Bush keeps speaking in this idiom, some of the non-partisans, the "loyal opposition," reasonable skeptics, unconvinced idealists and the like may even be swayed by it. As to the disloyal opposition (if it's permitted to use such an inflammatory term) nothing he could say or do would have any effect. For within the ranks of reasonable skeptics, honest Democratic partisans, and informed worry warts, there is a small sub-sector whose strident opposition to Bush's policies, regardless of what they may be, has solidified, atrophied, engraved itself in granite. This rigid antipathy is personal, emotional, sentimental and, it seems, quite intoxicating. If someone had loaded the AEI teleprompter with a McGovernite speech, or a Nader campaign press release, or a chapter of "Stupid White Men," or the lyrics to "Imagine," they'd still be calling him Hitler. (And, to be fair, it must be conceded that many of the partisans in the AEI audience would still have applauded.) It is interesting to speculate whether these hearts and minds would have ended up quite so impervious to persuasion if Bush had been giving this kind of speech all along. I have no idea. But I do know that if this was just a case of putting on the neo-con hat for a special occasion, he will have given this skeptic grounds for further cynicism.
(Of course, in practical terms, the bluster-o-meter matters much less than the fact that the French attempt to wound the US by bringing down the Blair government appears to have failed.)
The abnormal recreation of ignoble minds
I didn't plan it this way, but today's posts lean severely toward the trivial. What are you gonna do?
To continue: Polly Toynbee writes:
There were few "Here, heres!" from the Labour benches yesterday as the prime minister spoke.
If the Guardian would like enlist my services as an editor, or merely as a punctuation cop, I'd be happy to help. I can be reached hear.
Moving right along: an MP in Ottawa has just apologized for saying "Damn Americans... I hate those bastards." I could probably get a lot more worked up over this if I had the foggiest idea where Ottawa is.
"I'm begging, I'm hoping..."
George Michael is worried that today's young pop-stars aren't sophisticated or politically knowledgeable enough to manage to come up with anything nearly as insipid as "Do They Know it's Christmas" or "We are the World." It will be tough, but I think they might have a shot...
What's wrong with sexy?
In other news, the Americanization of Britain continues: the student newspaper of UEA has banned itself because of a potentially-offensive strip club advertisement. The question is, what to do with all those unused "free lap dance" coupons? Faculty lounge? As my wife (a Norfolk girl and UEA grad) points out, the funniest thing about this story is the fact that the words "Norwich" and "lapdance" occur, for perhaps the first time ever, in the same sentence.
"This is not a joke?"
Here are some excerpts from the Dan Rather-Saddam Hussein tete-a-tete, including the debate proposal.
President Bush intends to outline his postwar vision for Iraq and the Middle East in a speech tonight designed in part to showcase the administration's belief that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's overthrow would be a significant step toward broad democratic change in the Arab world.
The planned address, to the American Enterprise Institute, is part of an intensive administration effort to defend a prospective invasion of Iraq. Bush will present an optimistic portrait of how events could unfold if he chooses war. The speech will emphasize a broader U.S. campaign -- part of what Bush calls a "battle for the future of the Muslim world" -- that will last far longer than military hostilities in Iraq and test the United States' already difficult relationships in the region.
I asked God to send me a Lincoln, but all I got was this lousy Bush
Paul Berman gets in touch with his inner Wolfowitz. Well, maybe not entirely, since he leaves Reagan off his list of Presidents who pushed the envelope in support of the revolutionary ideals of liberal democracy. (Painful as it is for many to admit, it's true: he wasn't wrong about everything.) As usual, Berman's essay is powerfully argued, elegant, and provocative. Whatever you think of Bush's Iraq strategy (if such there be) there's no denying: he ain't no Great Communicator. He's also not much of a Metternich; nor are there good grounds for supposing that he has the Heart of a Lion. But it's also true that, should this war ever begin (war? what war?) and terminate successfully, Bush will be remembered for the intermittent bursts of Wolfowitziana and Churchill-evoking "resolve" that have occasionally found their way into his talking points, rather than for the dithering, meandering, mushy, incoherence that has characterized much of the past year of the putative "war." There's nothing wrong with that, perhaps. Great ideals and noble aims do not always require titans as their instruments. (Though it would be nice.) At any rate, even those who believe that deposing Saddam Hussein and liberating Iraq would be a practical and a moral good have ample reasons for regarding Bush with a certain amount of skepticism. They would be well-advised to watch him like a hawk. So to speak.
By the way, I'm a bit puzzled by this Instantman-linked critique. I'm sure John Coumarianos knows what he's talking about in re: Berman's flawed, superficial, or insufficiently nuanced use of Tocqueville, Hobbes, and Kant to make his points. Yet somehow he thinks that Berman's essay is an attempt at an "argument against going to war." Huh? I don't know who's to blame, but what we have here is a failure to communicate. If Berman needs to brush up on his Tocqueville, Coumarianos should probably brush up on his Berman.
(TNR's current issue is devoted to "Liberalism and American Power," and includes this and many other excellent attempts to place American power and national identity in the context of Liberalism as well as "liberalism." On the whole I'm pretty much with the Kaplans (the guarded optimism of Lawrence F., tempered by the realism of Robert D.) on this one. Yet there's also enough gloom and doom to scare the daylights out of anyone who likes or predicts that sort of thing. In other words, it's the best issue of TNR I can remember reading. Well worth the price.)
"A Pinter with blood on his hands," is how Andrew Sullivan describes Regis Debray, the author of the pompous and singularly unpersuasive "French Lesson" that appeared in yesterday's New York Times. ("'Old Europe'... now knows that the planet is too complex, too definitively plural to suffer insertion into a monotheistic binary logic..." There's a cheap Insertion Joke in there somewhere, isn't there?)
Lileks's fisking of the op-ed has been copiously-linked. But I just want to quote the part that made me laugh out loud:
Whence this paradox: the new world of President Bush, postmodern in its technology, seems premodern in its values.
Somewhere in a Republican Guard bunker, the hard men confess: they have heard rumors that the US will use postmodern weapons! Missiles that dissolve context! High-powered electronic beams that underscore the relationship between power and culture! Rockets that can destroy the legitimacy of the authorial voice within a two-mile radius!
A nice little piece on being an American among anti-Americans in well-heeled Britain:
in a way I'd been eager to deny, I sensed that the anti-Americanism around me wasn't the reasoned, rational position that many of its adherents made it out to be, but something a bit more pernicious: a form of bigotry intended to humiliate and wound rather than to win over hearts and minds.
I know what he's talking about though. In my experience, most Brits just assume that, as an educated, middle class person, you automatically endorse without reservation and in its entirety the aggregate of prejudices and notions that everybody knows all right-thinking people share. As the British spend a great deal of time thinking about us, America and Americans figure rather prominently as topics in this aggregate. As to some matters, they may be right in this assumption, of course, while on others they may be wrong (also of course.) As long as you keep your mouth shut, it hardly ever comes up, and you can get on with the more serious business of toppling the wall of reserve through binge drinking and merciless, good-natured razzing about the foibles (sexual, usually) of everyone sitting around the table.
Admit you're a bit less than thoroughly anti-American, though, and they stare at you flabbergasted, open-mouthed, as though you've expressed admiration for Hitler or something. It plays out like a breach of decorum more than anything else. Your date may, with a pained expression, say something like "Oh, really, Herbert..." Usually, as in most things, they're far too embarrassed to make a scene about it and it goes no further. Everybody sort of mumbles the word "right," and looks at the floor or ceiling. Eventually, someone buys the next round of lagers and you move on. (If you enjoy this kind of thing, you can make a sort of game of it: the best card to play is not about this or that war, nor this or that president, nor even this or that McDonalds-- which most Brits dearly love, whether they admit it or not. No, the checkmate move is Guns. Freaks 'em out every time.) The ultimate irony is, of course, that by and large they really do love America and Americans, often to the point of obsession.
I'd add, though, that you can play this kind of Outrage Roulette in Berkeley just as easily. The difference being that in Berkeley, someone usually ends up crying. So it's not even remotely worth it.
One more quote:
To quite a few of my fellow Oxfordians in that charged cold-war moment of MX missiles and speeches about the Soviets' Evil Empire, my self-styled cosmopolitanism was a joke. To them, I was just an American, a Yank, and therefore specifically responsible for the election of the clownish Ronald Reagan, the worldwide spread of Coca-Cola addiction, the displacement of serious drama by dopey action movies and the general degradation of everything. I may have thought of myself as Jean-Paul Sartre, but in the eyes of my anti-American schoolmates I was, and always would be, Merle Haggard.
(via Gary Farber.)
Don't Worry, said the Iraqi official
Fifteen volunteers from the first 200 shields are moving into a bunker at the South Baghdad Electricity Plant in an effort to deter attack by America and its allies. However some of the shields yesterday questioned Iraq's selection of the power plant, after discovering that it is situated next to an army base.
Since the shields' first visit to examine their new quarters, sandbags and unmanned check points had been erected around the plant. Asked about the neighbouring Rasheed military base, an Iraqi official said: "Don't worry, it is a small army camp."
The sad thing is that, as it appears, a steady diet of Chomsky-ite "alternative history" really has conditioned these people to believe it's plausible that the invasion plan should call for the deliberate destruction of as many schools and hospitals as possible. There's no other way to make sense of their attitude: there's no "deterring" accidents. The sad thing... one of many sad things.
One of the "shields" who has been charged with defending the power plant cum army base (which had been bombed extensively in the first Gulf War) is one Godfrey Meynell, a 68-year-old "former high sheriff of Derbyshire and a veteran of the Colonial Office in Aden, south Yemen."
He has appealed to the RAF not to kill him. "I am an old man and they know I am here," he said. "If they bomb this site, they will be deliberately targeting me too."
Yesterday, the volunteers who will move into the plant - who include Algerians, South Africans, Finns, Turks and two Russians from Siberia - painted a large sign bearing the human shield emblem on its roof, to alert fighter pilots to their presence.
They were all out of step but Jacques...
Speaking of Steyn, here's his latest spiel on "Europe" (i.e. France) and the "Atlanticists" (practically everyone else.) Wrong or right, any argument that steps off from an Irving Berlin lyric is pretty much an automatic rhetorical winner in my book. As it happens, this one's not wrong:
Are there no foreigners good enough for Shields, Scheer and the other "multilateralists"? Brits, Aussies, Italians, Poles, Lithuanians: none of 'em count. During the Great War, Irving Berlin wrote a song about a proud mother watching her son march in the parade: They Were All Out Of Step But Jim. In this war, according to the picky multilateralists, they're all out of step but Jacques. Well, President Chirac can do the math: On the Continent of Europe, the majority of nations support the Anglo-American position; Belgium supports the Franco-German position, and the rapid crumbling of support for the Schroeder government at home suggests, if he's not careful, that the axis of weasels is going to be down to Paris and Brussels, Monsieur Evil et Mini-Moi. Chirac is playing a high-stakes game -- Schroeder is merely the dumb moll who's along for the ride and way out of her league -- and it's important to understand that the swaggering Texan gunslinger is a mere proxy for his real target: Tony Blair.
Stephen Schwartz, perhaps best known today as an expert on Wahhabism, was, like many of today's neo-cons, a red diaper baby, and a communist and New Left activist in his youth. He also, it turns out, went to Lowell with the recently-convicted SLA terrorist Michael Bortin. His reflections on his old high school pal, and the kind of "activism" in which he and his ilk indulged, make for interesting reading. The complaint about "johnny-come-latelies" ruining the scene is, of course, as old as any other scene-related phenomenon, but as we're talking about terrorism as well as fashion here it is of more than passing interest.
How did the '60s Left turn "utterly rotten" so quickly and irredeemably? In part, Schwartz implies, it was failure to question the authority of the authority-questioners, a failure that was ironically inherent in the rebellious ideology itself:
By 1968 many of the "young pioneers" had personally and professionally moved on from mindless activism... But the tone in the mass movement was increasingly set by the Johnny-come-latelies, which seems to be an inevitable outcome in leftist history. They were not big readers or thinkers; their intellect was located somewhere between their viscera and their sexual organs. They were having the time of their lives, and nobody was going to get in their way, as the family of Myrna Opsahl learned, the hard way.
I now believe the speed with which the '60s Left turned utterly rotten had more to do with a particular ideology than with inexorable historical laws. Between the Bolshevik revolution and the surrender of the global Left to Stalinism required the passage of 20 years, the imprisonment and massacre of numerous revolutionary "pioneers" of that time by the Soviet secret police, and the rise of Stalinism's homologue, Nazism. Yet with all the moral evil of Bolshevism, its lies were resisted by many radical intellectuals.
Our lies went unresisted.
We told our generation that the Cold War had been created by the U.S. as a scheme to perpetuate an undefined "imperialism"-- a lie echoed today by the marching morons who parade in defense of Saddam.
We told our generation that the only alternatives were peace or war, i.e., acceptance of Russian expansionism or a devastating nuclear conflict.
We told our generation that Martin Luther King, Jr. a true man of God and righteous leader in the greatest political transformation of the 20th century, the American civil rights movement, was a weak leader susceptible to surrender.
We told our generation that petty thugs were selfless heroes. These included Ho Chih Minh, who had murdered hundreds of Vietnamese Trotskyists before attacking his neighbors; like Fidel Castro, a whiter version of Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista, in military dress like Franco or any other Hispanic caudillo; Ernesto "Che" Guevara, a physician who ordered liquidations in violation of his Hippocratic oath; and Yasir Arafat, who enriched himself by keeping the Palestinian Arabs in a state of abjection and dependency.
We told our generation that the Soviet turn toward support of corrupt Arab regimes did not represent a devil's deal with anti-Jewish hatred, stirred up in the Soviet camp under the pretext of criticizing Israel.
We told our generation that terrorism was not a crime against humanity.
All lies; and the indoctrination of millions of American young people in such lies could not but lead straight to Emily Harris and her shotgun, killing Myrna Opsahl.
The intriguing postscript is worth noting, as well:
There remains a major unanswered question in this depressing affair: who arranged for Kathleen Soliah and James Kilgore to travel to southern Africa? I have my own sources on these matters, which I am following up. But will we have to wait for the opening of Cuban archives to learn the full truth about the malign activities of these rotten adventurers?
Salam Pax isn't very impressed with the human shields either.
Writing on the Wall
Many details I hadn't been aware of, particularly regarding his literary activities, and some familiar items that can never be quoted or celebrated enough. One of these last, which I first remember seeing as a carefully inscribed graffito on the wall of a UC Berkeley library men's room, is what has to be the greatest non-pornographic limerick of all time:
There was a great Marxist called Lenin
Who did two or three million men in
That's a lot to have done in
But where he did one in,
that grand Marxist Stalin did ten in.
Samizdata's Dale Amon has sparked an interesting debate on the semantics and appropriateness of the term "voluntary human shields" in the comments to this post. He's right about the semantic point, of course: whatever these nitwits choose to call themselves, "human shields" and hostages, by definition, are involuntary.
But if they're not "human shields," what are they? (My wife, reading about them in the Times, once suggested the term "rather stupid people," which is inarguably accurate-- but I don't think RSPs are covered in the Geneva convention, either.) Amon says that a "volunteer hostage" should be regarded as a kind of unarmed enemy combatant, but that's oxymoronic as well. Is there such a thing, legally, as an "unarmed combatant"?
At any rate, many of these Rather Stupid People are there, with more on the way. They are going to be used, and, no doubt, most of them will end up dead. When they end up dead, it will be their own fault, to be sure. Nevertheless: when Saddam makes use of them as hostages (notwithstanding the fact that it makes a mockery of the concept) is it still a war crime? Is it still a violation of the fourth convention, as Rumsfeld avers?
Further questions: At this moment, the RSPs are engaged in not much more than a dangerous, foolish, and self-deluded publicity stunt. When the war begins, it will be a bit different. Once the RSPs are in the position of deliberately participating in the tactical and strategic operations of the enemy (e.g. aiding, however ineffectually, in the defense of key strategic locations, WMD sites, command and communications centers, etc.) will they then be properly termed traitors? What if they only intended to hold a fun, educational and spiritually uplifting sit-in at an orphanage or hospital, but were "re-assigned" by their commanders or controllers to deter an attack on a bioweapons site? Or what if they're not re-assigned? Treason? (It sounds mean to say of sweet little Geordie mums, but if treason has a meaning, sweetness is neither here nor there. A further further question: does treason, in fact, have any specific practical meaning anymore?) And what should be done with any who survive?
On that last question, Amon suggests a "catch and release" approach: give them a guided tour of the torture chambers, and send them off into the world to impart the tale to their fellow RSPs back home. I've heard worse ideas.
Heroes or dupes?
Those are the only choices offered in the sub-head of this fascinating piece by Michelle Goldberg on "human shields" in Iraq. Reading the article, other, less charitable descriptions spring to mind. They mean well. But they also seem to have no idea what they're getting themselves into:
It's no surprise that the Iraqi government would want the shields there. Shortly before the first Gulf War, Saddam's regime kidnapped hundreds of foreigners and forcibly used them as human shields around factories and military installations, finally releasing them after four months under intense international pressure. Though the voluntary human shields say they're only going to protect civilian neighborhoods and infrastructure, an Iraqi ambassador has said they'll be put at "vital and strategic installations," just like their hostage predecessors.
The words of one Judith Empson, a 52-year-old British woman, are truly astounding:
Empson... says questions remain about Halabja, the town where Saddam's regime used chemical weapons to massacre thousands of Kurds in 1988. "I don't think one can necessarily say it was a thing deliberately carried out by Saddam Hussein," she says...
Because she doesn't believe Saddam is a monster, she doesn't worry about him forcing human shields to guard sites other than the ones they choose. "I don't think the Iraqi government would use us to that degree," she says. "I think they know goodwill gestures when they see them. I don't think they're that indecent."
Another Shield (and mother of three) says that she remembers "reading somewhere" that, if things go wrong, there is an escape plan that will be "part of the training." Sadly, pathetically, there is, of course, no plan, no training. The biggest delusion of all, however, is an astonishing faith in the notion that this cockamamie plan actually stands even a remote chance of "stopping the war."
Some may, perhaps with some justification, claim diminished capacity on their behalf, but those who organized and enticed these sad, sweet, deluded lambs to their pointless impending slaughter really ought to be ashamed of themselves and held responsible. What, if anything, can they be thinking?
Jokes that are funny
Stephen Pollard heard this joke on Radio Four:
How powerful do you have to be to mispronounce your own name and not have anyone tell you? Ask Colin Powell.
Lileks just watched some footage of prime-time Iraqi TV, and he notes that the "kill the Jews" sermons of radical Muslim mullahs are way scarier when you see the video. The wild-eyed sword-swinging gibbering maniac that he describes is straight of central casting (you've seen 'em before in Raiders of the Lost Ark.) But so is Saddam (op. cit.)
Mercifully, perhaps, Harold Pinter left his sword at home when, at the London protest, he said the US was a "nation out of control" run by "a bunch of criminal lunatics" with "Tony Blair as a hired Christian thug," that will "bring barbarism to the entire world." (Cue flashing "unintended irony" sign.) Maybe he should watch more TV. Lileks's comment:
It takes a particularly rarified variety of idiot to look at a Jew-hating fascist with a small mustache - and decide that his opponent is the Nazi.
Words to live by
Let me apologize for cranky words at the Bread and Puppet Theater's expense last year. Maybe they need a big energetic crowd as background canvas for their large gestures and huge papier-mČché creations. Or maybe I just needed to wield a puppet myself.
DURING the many years I spent on the Left, the cause of self-determination for Kurdistan was high on the list of principles and priorities - there are many more Kurds than there are Palestinians and they have been staunch fighters for democracy in the region.
It would have been a wonderful thing if hundreds of thousands of people had flooded into London's Hyde Park and stood in solidarity with this, one of the most important struggles for liberty in the world today.
Instead, the assortment of forces who assembled demanded, in effect, that Saddam be allowed to keep the other five-sixths of Iraq as his own personal torture chamber.
There are not enough words in any idiom to describe the shame and the disgrace of this.
That's not hyperbole! That's genocide!
I'm kind of a connoisseur of hyperbolic denunciations of hyperbole. The third paragraph of this Guardian leader is a pretty good one.
You know the bilious spiteful hate-filled rightwing elite ranters in leather-elbowed armchairs? Well, have you heard the horrible things they have been saying about us? Shocking. They should knock it off. Even though it shows, somehow, that democracy is working. Huzzah!
The previous two paragraphs (which the third follows as a glorious non sequitur-- another polemical phenom of which I am an avid connoisseur) are pretty sensible. Saddam Hussein should take no solace from the peace marches, from Tony Blair's plunging numbers, from Blix's equivocal reports, nor even from Jacques Chirac's soothing and encouraging words-- none of this should "be seen as an excuse for renewed obfuscation or delay."
It sure shouldn't be seen that way.
Oh, and one more thing: that's pretty much how it is being seen.
I keep meaning to mention, for anyone who hasn't happened upon it, that Paul Berman has written a response to the Michael Kelly column which appropriated the facts, though not the analysis, contained in Berman's old piece on Joschka Fischer. Berman, unlike Kelly (and those who have given Kelly's piece an automatic "right on, brother") actually attempts to explain why Fischer, even in the context of his own intellectual and ideological tradition when seen in the kindest possible light, is wrong about the war.
While I admire its originality and the eloquence and energy with which it has been expressed over the years, I don't think I've ever been entirely convinced by the psychological angle of Berman's theory on where the violent New Left went wrong. It's complex and not easily summarized, but essentially it boils down to a kind of "transference," whereby the struggle against remnants of actual Nazism/fascism was extended to include a struggle against Nazism/fascism as a state of mind. The "New Nazis" who had to be destroyed could be practically anyone or anything (real villains to be sure, but also America, Jews, liberals, you name it) leading some of them to make disastrous intellectual and moral choices and errors. As he says, in the Slate piece:
This anti-Nazism of theirs turned out to be foolish in many ways—sometimes criminal, sometimes even Nazi-like at its most grotesque moments, which is why the New Left finally disintegrated. But the anti-Nazi motives were sincere, for all that.
Why doesn't Fischer (despite this background and along with a great many of his countrymen and "co-thinkers") see it this way? For Kelly, it boils down to a "character issue." Fischer was a "knave" in the '70s and remains one to this day, even though he has exchanged a motorcycle jacket for a suit. If the disagreement over Iraq is viewed solely in terms of a generation's blind spot, there are interesting parallels to be sure: as youths, the Fischers of the world tragically misidentified the enemies of freedom and the open society, and some of them are apparently making a similar mistake today. (It must be noted, however, that Kelly never makes this observation.) Yet Berman's suggestion, that part of it may be because the Bush administration hasn't convincingly or consistently framed this war as a battle against totalitarianism (which is true enough), has at least as much explanatory power, and can't be discounted, whatever you think of Fischer personally.
As I've said before (most recently here and here) I believe there are many more plausible and likely reasons for German diplomatic-political behavior and failings than the radical background of a "rogue Foreign Minister." The generation of '68 have a great deal to answer for, but this is one of those situations where reference to these sins can obscure more than it elucidates. I think it's arguable whether Fischer is, in fact, a "knave." But whether he is or not has very little bearing on the issue of Germany's stance towards the US and the proposed war in Iraq. I imagine Kelly knows it, too.
Tolerate Liberal Democracy!
You probably think you've read one too many essays on "what's wrong with today's Left," but if you can manage to fit another one in, I highly recommend "Can We Still Belong to the Left?" by blogger Harry Steele. Is the post-Cold War Left still "progressive?" Can it be? This is a serious, original attempt to address these and other related questions.
It is perhaps worth noting that a similar organisation to the SWP [Socialist Workers Party], Workers World, heads the American anti-war campaign. But even if these ugly heads of the cold-war left were to be cut off, we would still be left with a broader left that is locked into a related, if less extreme, world view.
This broader left, which includes many well-meaning liberals as well as Old Labour figures, shares the SWP's view that the post cold-war era has become a battle between a single superpower and those who oppose them. For these people, at least, the opposition includes mainly "anti-globalisation" forces and they are much less willing to act as apologists for Islamasists or Saddam.
Yet unlike the left in the 1930's, they are unable to even take up the minimum principled position of even a temporary, tactical defence of liberal democracy in the face of its reactionary enemies.
The perfect illustration of how cold-war thinking has continued into the new era was the sight of Tony Benn meeting Saddam in Baghdad, affording him the cautious diplomatic respect that was given to East European communist leaders.
If we are to be generous we could describe this part of the cold-war left as muddled and confused, still unable to get to grips with the rapid changes of the past 15 years. But allied, as they are at the moment, with the harder, nihilistic left they produce a political tendency which is simply no longer viable as any sort of partner in progressive politics.
You've probably seen a few references to Ken Layne's little piece about the number of people who showed up for protests over the weekend vs. other important stats (like how many people went to church, Datyona, extreme sports, McDonalds.) And if you're like me, you probably haven't got around to clicking in on it yet. Or rather, you just clicked in on it a couple of seconds ago. Like me. And now, together, we will spoil the punchline for those who, in that respect, are not remotely like us:
the protests attracted about as many people this weekend as the movie "Kangaroo Jack." I'm sorry, but it's true.
Arendt's editor, Eichmann's colleague
It's well-known that the "de-nazification" program in post-war Germany was neither thorough (with regard to the regime's bureaucrat-perpetrators) nor effective (with regard to the hearts and minds of many "ordinary Germans" in the first years of the Federal Republic.)
Shlomo Avineri, in this week's New Republic ("A Banal Story," unfortunately not available on line) notes a recent book on the subject and focuses on an arresting detail: Hannah Arendt's editor at the German publishing house Piper was one Hans Rossner, who had been an SS member and a functionary in the Reichssicherheitshauptamt (Main Office of Reich Security) along with Adolf Eichmann.
Did Rossner's presumably less-than-thoroughly-reconstructed ideological frame of mind play a role in his editorial directives? Avineri adduces several examples that might indicate as much. At any rate, many of them are suffused with a kind of grim irony (scotching a dedication to Rosa Luxembourg, attempting to expunge or tamper with the word Jew when it occurred in titles, etc.) The German edition of Eichmann in Jerusalem is obviously the most intriguing and grimly ironic case, and it appears that, as editor, Rossner did indeed attempt, and occasionally prevailed, in altering or "softening" some of the book's language, and in one case managed to omit the name of a prominent former Nazi entirely. Or how about this:
Five weeks after Arendt's death... Rossner, who was by then editor-in-chief of Piper, sent a memorandum to the production department of the publishing house instructing them not to prepare a new edition of the Eichmann volume. He was over-ruled by the publisher himself, who insisted that the book remain in print.
All of us who have contacts-- human, scholarly, commercial, political-- with Germany are very familiar with the deep feeling of unease that descends upon us when we meet a German of a certain age, of "that" generation. Sometimes the German individual in question even volunteers the answers to our queries before we ask them-- what did he know? Was he a member of the Nazi Party? Sometimes the answers are true; sometimes they are false. Sometimes they are deeply moving.
The Guardian's Jonathon Freedland correctly identifies the chief weakness of the current Peace Movement of which he is an unusually serious-minded member: a lack of convincing alternatives to the use of force as a means of removing Saddam. Outside of a fringe of Sparticists and other like-minded wackos, very few peace protesters actually intend to send a pro-Saddam, "stop picking on the dictator" message. Nevertheless, that's the message that is being sent. (Like it or not-- it's true.) Or at minimum, the charge that they are, in effect ("objectively" as Orwell-appropriators like to put it) demonstrating in favor of Saddam's regime and against the dream of democracy will retain its sting as long as the opposition to military action is framed in solely negative terms. (Platitudes like "give peace a chance" don't count; you have to explain how you propose to allow peace to stand a chance. Doing nothing has already been tried.)
Freedland's proposals to that end, however, are pretty feeble:
One approach would be to use this moment of pressure - admittedly brought about by the threat of war - to demand Saddam not only give up his armoury but also open up his society. The UN could demand that Hans Blix's team be joined by a squad of "human rights inspectors", keeping tabs on, say, the fate of political prisoners.
Another suggestion: lift the sanctions in exchange for voluntary "democratic reforms." Seriously? It would all be strictly enforced by the UN and "muscular rights inspectors," of course.
The boldest proposal: round up a million Iraqi exiles, tag them with electronic monitoring devices, and send them back to Iraq: "if the regime arrested or harassed them, the UN human rights monitors would be on hand to help." Sounds like a plan. Any takers?
Come on. Freedland says these ideas are "worth a try." Asking the question is a step in the right direction, but you're going to have to do better than that.
(via Glenn Reynolds.)
Word circus fails to conceal coherence deficit
Once again, the great Angelo Codevilla minces no words in this examination of the nature and reverberations of Bush's "unmade choices." The heart of this essay is a close-reading and analysis of the method and manner of the Bush team's decision-avoidance on strategy and aims, as detailed in Bob Woodward's Bush at War. "Excellent raw material for history," indeed:
In the few passages in which he states facts rather than his subjects' views, Woodward sums up what the reader has already grasped: The war cabinet had a loose grip on the basic facts, did not identify strategic goals, did not separate detail from key questions, made no attempt to relate means to ends, and acknowledged obvious, massive realities and choices only after having proceeded for weeks as if they didn't exist.
As with each of his previous essays on the subject, I'm tempted to pull out and quote practically every single passage. I'll resist the temptation this time. If you're at all puzzled by, or concerned about, the incoherence and lack of resolve that the administration's words and conduct often seem to reflect, if you're tired of waiting for these guys to get their act together, you owe it to yourself to take fifteen minutes to read it in full. And if you're not so puzzled or concerned, or tired of waiting, you really ought to read it. (Podhoretz! Call your office.)
(via Bill Quick, who, mirabile dictu, really does seem to manage never to miss anything. Thanks, man.)
I'm sure I don't get anywhere near as much hate mail as Glenn or Megan. (That's not because I'm particularly virtuous, or less hate-able or anything: my blog is just a very, very small fish and hardly worth the effort.) I do get some, though. I'm not talking here about reasoned and measured expressions of disagreement about a particular point: I value these highly, and they're one of the main reasons I've continued blogging after all these months. And I'm not even talking about heated or angry expressions of disagreement that register passionate disapproval of this or that post. I value these also, though they can be shorter on content. Both kinds of criticism sharpen your ideas, spur you to reexamine your motives and prejudices, teach you things you may not have known or considered. I've learned a lot from these readers.
No, the kind of hate mail I'm talking about is the kind described by Megan, in which the major content consists of what she delicately describes as "pornographic suggestions." She also indicates that most of her hate mail comes "via a few high profile lefty blogs." This phenomenon has always puzzled and fascinated me, because those who have sent this sort of thing my way seem generally to see themselves as Left, liberal, left-liberal or something like that. And here's the puzzling part: when I do get such letters, they are almost universally devoted to what are intended as insults about homosexual activity.
But wait a sec. I thought liberals were supposed to be all for "that sort of thing," as Father Ted put it. ("You know, the whole rough and tumble of the homosexual lifestyle.") Free to be you and me.
That's how I feel about it. In fact, despite the fact that I'm tired of identity politics; that I'm a bit of an "imperialist" in that I believe in a strong, purposeful national defense, and that I still believe American power can be used to foster democracy around the world in hopes that oppressed people of the world might end up more like us; that I don't hate America, though I see our flaws and recognize we have been responsible for serious misdeeds; that I don't necessarily despise or disagree with everything that comes out of the mouth of someone who doesn't have a "(D)" next to his or her name; and despite the fact that many public standard bearers of self-proclaimed "liberalism" often don't seem all that bright, nor indeed even very liberal; despite all that, I still pretty much think of myself as a "liberal." Quite often, anyway. And when I think of myself that way, one of the things I mean when I say it is respect and support for the freedom and liberty of all citizens to do whatever they like that is not of a dangerous or sociopathic nature. And when I say "all citizens," it definitely, definitely includes gays. Of course it does.
Now, I assume most people who see themselves as "liberal" espouse, or like to think they espouse, something like this ideal. And it's certainly possible to espouse this ideal sincerely while at the same time having a bit of fun with the shock value of proscribed words or ideas. I'm a great believer in shock value. (That's the weakness of many of my utlra-lefty antagonists: they're too easily shocked.) Gay jokes, blonde jokes, Polish jokes, what have you-- they can be pretty funny and I'm all for 'em. Good-natured ribbing (so to speak) among friends using off-color terms or expressions is fine with me as well. (The rhetoric of the "hate mail" I'm talking about is not good-natured by any means, but rather profoundly hostile.) I don't believe in hate speech laws, in legislating against bad taste, nor indeed in any kind of speech restriction. I'm not even all that certain about that whole "yelling fire in a theatre" caveat. (I've done it; it's great fun.) But, if I'm not mistaken, broadly speaking they (self-identified left-liberals) do tend to believe in such laws and restrictions. And there's little question that all this stuff about gobbling this and swallowing that, how you like to "take it," what or whom you might be sucking or licking, or whose bitch you are, etc., runs rather dangerously close to "hate speech" by any definition. Especially if you are among those who think people should be fired for using the word "niggardly" or mentioning the Seinfeld "Mulva" episode in "mixed company."
But maybe those in the "I hate spunk-gobblers and cock-smokers" brigade aren't the same left-liberals as those in the would-be Insensitivity Police. How could they be? Even leaving that aside, though: what kind of "liberal" believes (as these folks must) that comparing someone to a homosexual and "accusing" him of engaging in homosexual behavior is the worst and most powerful insult that can be hurled at someone with whose views they disagree? I realize it's not a literal accusation, but rather a metaphor for something nasty, disgusting, beyond the pale, the message being that a position such as support for war in Iraq is such a thing. (There also seems to be a hint of accusation of "submissiveness," which is fairly ironic in the case of support for a war, but never mind.) OK, so it's a metaphor. What kind of "liberal" thinks that that's a nifty metaphor? What kind of "liberal" thinks that that is just the vehicle to get the point across? No kind of "liberal" I'd want to hang out with. Ewww. What's the matter with them?
It occurs that there may be a couple of things wrong with my sample. I don't get that much of this kind of mail, and much of what I do get comes from anti-war lefties, for obvious reasons. Maybe using homosexuality as a metaphor in such a way is a general cultural rhetorical habit, not a province of the intellectual dregs (I was gonna say "bottom-feeders, but somehow, that seems inappropriate) of "the Left" alone, but also of the intellectual dregs of those who lean "right." Indeed, the latter case is what I imagine a lot of people would assume, the former counter-intuitive to many, I'd guess: hostility to gays isn't generally seen as a fault of the left-leaning, which is indeed why the whole thing is so puzzling and surprising.
So here's the question: do blogs with a more pronounced leftish slant (Brian, Ted, Atrios, TPM) get this kind of mail too? Does Ted Barlow, for example, get pieces of, erm, mail from anonymous right wing types that say "hey Cum Slurper-- how do you like sucking Paul Krugman's dick?" (That's a common elocution-- when I get 'em, they usually mention Andrew Sullivan.)
If so, God help us. If not, God help us, as well. Anyone out there (preferably someone who can keep a civil tongue) have any insight into this?
The Potential of Low-tech Chem-weapons
Jeez, two girls in what appears to be a Springer-type altercation in a Chicago nightclub. One of them sprays some Mace. Result: 21 dead.
It is unlikely that the war in Iraq will consist only of a land invasion. Rather, teams of special forces will be used to seize and secure strategic positions, such as the oilfields and the dams on the Tigris and Euphrates, so that they can be protected from any attempt to blow them up. If this can be done quickly, there may well be no civilian casualties at all: the regime may simply implode, leaving Saddam to the fate of Ceaucescu - a dictator barking orders that no one obeys. Saddam is known to be highly conscious of that possibility. According to defectors he keeps a tape of the toppling and execution of Ceaucescu and watches it regularly.
"More unsavory background on Joschka Fischer," is how this article has been described by practically everyone who has linked to it, usually without further comment. Actually, it's pretty much the same unsavory background summarized in Michael Kelly's cribbed-from-Berman column. The novelty is that here the story is retold by a former Soviet bloc spymaster, who actually participated in the Soviet funding and abetting of German New Left terrorism.
This funding and abetting certainly occurred. Some of the terrorist youth were witting "agents," some unwitting dupes; some were sincere, ideology-addled naifs who actually believed in the revolutionary rhetoric of "liberation" and were blind to the evil of turning idle theory into murderous practice; some were common criminals who piggy-backed onto The Movement, dressing their sociopathology in fashionable Marxist trappings; some were cast in the mold of Europe's more "traditional" psychopaths who, mutatis mutandis, just liked the idea of killing Jews. Many, many, more were idle, passive supporters of this dark, dark side of hip culture, those who would never dream of murdering any "pigs" themselves, but thought that those who would, or who spoke as if they would, or knew people who went to meetings with people who might, were kind of cool. 60s-radical violence, with or without the Marxist-critical veneer, had a kind of glamor, especially from a safe distance. (Vestiges of this have persisted long past their sell-by date, and remain a part of the current version of hip culture, to be sure: Che T-shirts, "Tania" posters, Manson fan clubs, Arafat shawls, "anarchist cookbooks," etc. And even as late as my own childhood in the late 70s in California, you could still hear people saying "Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh," at nuclear freeze-type events. Nostalgia, I guess.)
With regard to this "outer ring" of the chic-ly radical, we're talking about very large numbers of people indeed, including most of the heavy-hitting intellectuals of the era whose names can still be remembered on the street today; including many who became our parents and teachers, journalists, politicians, even right wing columnists, even high-ranking government officials, even, perhaps, heads of state. Of the ones who were closer to the "inner ring," not all were terrorists. Sometimes, the line between terrorist and terrorist apologist or sympathizer can be hard to pin down.
Fischer's association with the inner ring of violent radicalism was closer than most, no doubt. He certainly moved in these circles, knew many of the radical-terrorists, shared their warped worldview and their anti-Americanism. He participated in the pointless "political" streetfighting, the more odious now, perhaps, that it's clear, even to many of the participants, how morally bankrupt was the "cause." He threw some rocks, beat up some cops, hung out with people who did far worse. Maybe he did far worse himself. The issue has been raised, the evidence is ambiguous, the charges denied, the verdict inconclusive. Was he an "indirect product" of the Soviet bloc's "anti-American intelligence community," as he is described by Ion Mihi Pacepa? Sure, in a way, like countless others, many of whom were not, in fact, "KGB agents."
His "record" is nothing to be proud of. Even if Fischer wasn't actually a terrorist, Michael Kelly's most pointed jab against him is still sharp: by Berman's more sympathetic account, it wasn't till the events at Entebbe that Fischer started to question whether he had been on the right side. This staggering moral blindness or obtuseness was one that he shared with thousands upon thousands of others, but that doesn't make it right. I'm no great fan of Joschka Fishcher, and I have no intention of defending him. The milieu from which he sprang, his past involvement or association with the worst of the worst, are appropriate subjects for scrutiny, and moral outrage. Yet it seems to me that in proffering this lurid background as an explanation for the German government's position on the Iraq question, conservative commentators are doing what they so often accuse "the Left" of doing: substituting sentiment for analysis. The moral outrage is satisfying, but that doesn't make it accurate. And, in fact, I don't think it's accurate. Economic interests, financial deals, electoral opportunism, cultural and personal vanity, all are much more plausible ways to account for the self-defeating German position. Anti-Americanism in Germany is powerful enough that Schroder can derive political benefits from pandering to it. It does owe something of its character to the anti-American traditions associated with the generation of '68, but as one of many factors in a general cultural phenomenon rather than as a result of the sinister machinations of a Bad Foreign Minister. This larger phenomenon is far more interesting and relevant than "more dirt on Fischer," and I'd love to see someone who knows something about the subject address it seriously.
So what's that theory again? In 2003, the German Foreign Minister, who may or may not have been a KGB agent, finally succeeded in building "a new anti-American Berlin-Paris-Moscow Axis" as he had been planning all along since taking office in 1998; and Germany opposes US aims in Iraq because his "ingrained anti-Americanism is now spreading throughout the German government." Yeah, that must be the reason.
When I first saw the pic of the "Peace in Our Time" sign held by a protester at Hyde Park today, I just assumed it had been Photoshopped in by some mischievous prankster. I mean, how could it be real? However, everyone is taking it as genuine, and it comes from Reuters (*quizzical look*) I'm not sure I'm convinced, nonetheless.
Even if it is a real photo of a real sign, I think it could be a "low-tech" version of the same kind of trick (i.e., the mischievous prankster actually went to Hyde Park and held up the sign.) The sign hides this person's face. Maybe it's Perry? Nah, couldn't be...
Stop the War. But not really.
I guess I went a little overboard in my grouchy post below, the one complaining about Eric Alterman. I find his tone and attitude extremely irritating, but I imagine many could say the same thing about my t. and a. (Heh.) I do in fact read his blog fairly often. Interesting things do turn up there from time to time.
For example (and I do not mean this as a slag or a slight-- in all sincerity I find this fascinating): here he says he's planning to participate in the weekend's Stop the War demonstrations. (Bringing "the kid" along for her "first ever peace demo." That's sweet.)
On the other hand, here he cites polls suggesting soft support among the American public for a unilateral war, and adds:
this does not mean that they won't support a war when it finally comes. I will too.
I guess that's the sort of "correct-but-complicated" position he's talking about further down. Complicated, not to mention nuanced. Not to mention... uh, weird. How many other participants view the peace demos in this way? Like I said, I don't mean this as a slag. I find it fascinating. Maybe-- probably-- I just don't get it. At any rate, let's hope "the kid" doesn't get too confused.
I make a point of not busting anyone's chops for what they do on their personal websites. It's a free world out there, and you get what you pay for. But for a journalist to apply a political litmus test for linkage-- that's just shameful, in my perhaps antiquated view of what journalism should be all about. For a progressive journalist to insist on the tribute of a link as the minimum pre-condition to even be considered-- words defy me. That said progressive journalist is busy peddling a book about the myth of liberal media bias-- you can fill in the rest.
It's not that all of his criticisms of "Andy" (the explicit ones and those hinted at by his own topsy-turvy self-parody) are all unfounded: Sullivan has a slant, an agenda, a set of biases, a cluster of blind spots, a tendency toward nastiness when attacking the usual suspects or hyperbole when riding one of his hobby-horses. But he also has a soul, and an obviously genuine interest in the subjects he addresses in and of themselves rather than only as ammunition to fling at his enemies, petty and otherwise. Alterman, on the other hand, is pure nastiness. When he has a point, he tends to make it in the form of an attack on some member of the "competition," "Andy" or some other appropriate stand-in. It doesn't, in fact, make for the most interesting reading, unless you're fascinated by journo-on-journo sniping and feeble attempts at one-up-manship. In this regard, Alterman, it seems to me, has more in common with some of his other, less distinguished targets such as Ann Coulter or Rush Limbaugh: all attack, no debate, end of discussion.
Sullivan's not immune to this tendency of course. None of us are. But ultimately, Alterman's role as anti-Sullivan is unsuccessful because he has failed to understand the appeal of the man he has been attempting to imitate by reverse cloning: he tends to focus on the snarkiness at the expense of content. Sullivan has many left-of-center readers who disagree with him on almost everything, but find his commentary stimulating and engaging, even when maddening; I rather doubt Eric has any readers of this sort. He's explicit about whom he hates: Andy, Michael, Robert, Ann, Rush, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, the New Republic, the Selected President, Ayatollah Ashcroft, etc. You get the idea pretty quickly. He just doesn't seem to spend much effort explaining why. Sometimes the schtick is amusing, but only sometimes. The Byzantine quid pro quo linking policy and ideological litmus test referred to above are yet another indication: Eric doesn't seem completely "for real."
Okay, so this post is itself pretty much an ad Alterman attack. But I have no pretensions as a journalist. I'm just a guy. What's Eric's excuse?
I'm sure I won't be the first or only one to link to this arresting WSJ editorial illustrating the consonance of aims and methods between Saddam and Osama. Examples are furnished from the state-controlled (obviously) Iraqi press, complete with scans of magazine covers, and many are quite striking:
eerily, a July 21, 2001, commentary in the Iraqi publication Al-Nasiriya praised bin Laden: "In this man's heart you'll find an insistence, a strange determination that he will reach one day the tunnels of the White House and will bomb it with everything that is in it."
The article recounts bin Laden's attacks on U.S. targets and U.S. efforts "to pressure the Taliban movement so that it would hand them bin Laden, while he continues to smile and still thinks seriously, with the seriousness of the Bedouin of the desert about the way he will try to bomb the Pentagon after he destroys the White House."
The commentary is ominously prescient, especially since it could never have appeared without official sanction. "Bin Laden is a healthy phenomenon in the Arab spirit," it continues, speaking about his goal to "drive off the Marines" from Arabia. Most eerily of all, the writer adds that those Marines "will be going away because the revolutionary bin Laden is insisting very convincingly that he will strike America on the arm that is already hurting. That the man . . . will curse the memory of Frank Sinatra every time he hears his songs." Is that a reference to Sinatra's "New York, New York"? Did Saddam know what would happen two months later?
Ralf Goergens makes a strong case that German and French gamesmanship on Iraq is motivated by "electoral and financial opportunism." I think he's right.
One of his commenters, however, thinks there's more to it where the French and Belgians are concerned, and provides this interesting observation:
In today's De Standaard, a Flemish newspaper which is not unsympathetic to the government of Michel and Verhofstadt (yes, in that order of importance), the unofficial foreign policy guru of Belgium Rik Coolsaet, a professor at the University of Ghent, brags about the genius of the Franco-Belgian policy. It is primarily aimed at derailing NATO, which he describes as toolbox for American imperialism on the European dime. The second objective (and Coolsaet is very straightforward about it) is to thwart American influence by humiliating it in front of the Arabs (who have a very keen sense of honor and prestige, and who can be trusted to attack America relentlessly once it is humiliated). This ignorant fool who passes for a foreign policy scholar is actually proud of the acts of sabotage that his friends in government committed. But he offers no vision for a post-US world, eccept empty phrases about a multilateral order that will make everybody miraculously happy.
That's the point where France and Belgium have arrived : pure nihilism. And it's no wonder that a man without convictions like Schroeder is fond of the company of such nihilists.
TNR's much-linked "Wither Europe" is appropriately withering. If the days of France punching above its weight on the international stage are numbered, they do indeed appear to be determined to hurry the process along as best they can. As a practical matter, however, I suspect that Robert Lane Greene has the right idea, in the near term anyway:
The ultimate fear is that France will dig in and veto America's efforts to win a resolution to disarm Iraq by force. But given that France is a mid-ranking power lucky to enjoy far more clout than its population, economy, and history merit, which is more likely: That France will ratify its own irrelevance by vetoing U.N. action, thus forcing America to circumvent the United Nations--the most enduring source of French influence--and act alone? Or that France will hold out until the last, bending the wording of an eventual resolution as close as possible to its own position before jumping onto the back of the inevitable American victory? Anyone unsure of the answer would be advised to read up on the deliberations leading up to the first Gulf war--which France, after initial objections, supported.
Several readers have emailed to let me know that Eric Alterman, to their own evident amusement, agrees with my view of Michael Kelly's warped presentation of Paul Berman's Joschka Fischer. "Say it ain't so..." "There must be some mistake..."
No mistake. Alterman writes that Kelly:
takes Paul Berman’s brilliant 25,000-word-essay-that-should-be-a-book about German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer and shamelessly manipulates it into implying exactly the opposite of Berman’s nuanced and complex article.
the Berman piece is one of the single greatest works of journalism to appear anywhere in the past decade. Offhand, I can’t think of a better one. Set aside some time to read it if the topic even remotely interests you.
"Speaking of blinkered editors," writes Alterman, "Michael Kelly, who managed to outdo Andy [Sullivan] as TNR's worst editor ever, is now competing for the hard-to-win title of worst Washington Post columnist ever."
Do people go through life maintaining a carefully-updated little list of All Time Worst Ever Editors of the New Republic or keep a running scorecard on the stiff competition for Absolute Most Definitely Worst WaPo Columnist in the Entire History of the Whole World?
Or rather, Alterman does. By casting his valid criticism of a slanted editorial as yet another of his snarky attacks on fellow pundits, he undercuts his own point. The "Fischer Affair" itself has been lost in the fog of inter-journo sniping, which I'd wager only a tiny fraction of his readers is even remotely interested in. "If you're like me, and you hate Michael Kelly and Andrew Sullivan, you'll probably want to read the Single Greatest Work of Journalism to Appear Anywhere." Compelling stuff. I know he sees himself as a scrappy attack dog, mixin' it up with the best of them. Sic 'em, Eric. But for a professional writer, this seems to me to reflect astonishingly poor communications skills.
Of Morons and Multilateralists
Daniel Drezner writes that the Bush administration's foreign policy has been far more "multi-lateralist" than it's given credit for. Many would object that this is insincere multilateralism, a cynical use of multilateral institutions as cover for pursuit of a self-interested manipulation and ultimately "winning through intimidation." Drezener puts it more kindly: the Americans see multilateralism as a means to an end, while "for much of Europe and the rest of the world, multilateralism remains an end in itself." There's something in both of these rhetorical spins (though the Bush administration's Machiavellian "use" of multilateral institutions, pace Podhoretz, has been anything but deft.)
Drezner posits an additional reason:
this administration's abject failure at "gardening," a term former Secretary of State George Shultz used to describe the careful cultivation of allies through repeated, routinized consultations. Gardening was a key part of Bush's foreign policy mantra as a candidate, but he has been unable to implement it in office. Allies (except for Tony Blair) routinely carp about being kept out of the loop when the administration makes foreign policy decisions. Without gardening, a poorly-worded utterance--a German Justice minister comparing Bush to Hitler, or a U.S. defense secretary comparing Germany to Cuba--pours salt into deepening transatlantic wounds.
Quite right. Yet Drezner leaves out another important factor: those who are inclined to fetishize "multi-lateralism" in the abstract as the be all and end all of a virtuous foreign policy (e.g., most European governments and most of their constituents, the "peace movement," the Berkeley City Council) simply don't like George W. Bush. It's personal, and it's aesthetic. They don't like his manner, his style, his often garbled plain-spokenness. The folksy turns of phrase that have endeared him to at least half of the American electorate (and which all but a fringe of the rest don't find all that off-putting) are utterly alienating to them. They have no trouble believing the worst about a man who conducts himself in such a manner, no trouble imagining that he is the embodiment of all that they fear and loathe. In this psychological world, to raise the suspicion is to confirm it. In Colin Powell they have seen a reflection of their own sensibilities; Rumsfeld is feared, but respected, even accorded a grudging respect as roguish adversary. The Bush personality and sensibility, however, is unfathomable to them, meaningful only through reference to cliches about cowboys, dunces, mentally deficient children, corrupt "oilmen," which can inspire nothing but contempt. The phrase "you're either with us or you're with the terrorists," actually aimed at other rogue states that might be tempted to play both sides in the US vs. al Qaeda struggle, is likewise taken personally in these quarters: first it's the Afghans, then the Iraqis, and then, by God, he's coming for you. When they say "Bush is a moron" they mean it literally, to be sure; but they also mean "Bush is the Boogey Man."
To the extent that this sort of thing is meant sincerely, it reflects a profound lack of seriousness, of course. Mostly, however, the rhetorical excess is, like Bush's dubiously-regarded multilateralism, merely a means to an end. Those who believe that their own interests lie in undermining or obstructing US aims can pursue their goals under the banner of multilateralism without having to bother mentioning their own interests. It's a tale as old as time, or at least as old as politics. The language of multi-lateralism, anti-unilateralism, anti-Bushism, anti-globalization (a bit ironic that last) has more currency, and hence more power, than a former era's references to "running dogs" or "Imperialist butchers" and the like, but they can serve much the same function. The Bush people do this sort of thing as well, in their own way, of course: everybody does it. Yet it would be inaccurate to discount the aesthetic disjunction as merely inconsequential rhetoric. For all its shallowness, it is very real.
Is it the case, then, as some have maintained, that the anti-Americanism so often decried by American pundits is not anti-Americanism as such, but rather nothing more than pure anti-Bushism? That this contingent of Bush detractors would be far more amenable to some of the same policies if they were to be presented by a less aesthetically objectionable spokesmodel? That's probably true to a degree. Yet there is a great deal of bona fide anti-Americanism in the mix as well (some fueled by illogical and self-defeating hatred which cannot admit the possibility that America can do good as well as evil, some by the practical desire to undermine or "check" American power and influence.) And contrary to the claims of many of those making the anti-Bushism argument, the observation reflects rather more poorly upon the "Bush is a moron" camp than it does on Bush himself.
Steven Chapman succinctly describes the "Monbiot Plan" for Iraq:
That's the one where a coalition of righteous nations (Narnia, Middle-earth, Neverland) does the business while America stands aside, hangs its head, wrings its hands, gazes at its navel, beats its breast and tears its clothes, crying 'mea culpa!'
Several blogs have noted this column, in which Michael Kelly calls attention to German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer's unsavory past as a generation '68/New Left radical. This column is largely a reprise of the "Fischer Affair" as detailed in Paul Berman's masterful essay "The Passion of Joschka Fischer," which appeared in the New Republic in August of 2001. Kelly's intention is to "provide some context," as they say, in view of (and perhaps in retaliation for) Fischer's having told Donald Rumsfeld that he is "not convinced" that the time had come for war in Iraq. Accordingly, he leaves out the best part of Berman's article, which is an exploration of the ways that the scandal and its reverberations can be seen as a sort of "trial" of the generation of '68; and how it elucidates how the the former New Leftist, to the surprise of many, could have become an unlikely supporter of NATO and the interventions in Bosnia and Kosovo.
This description doesn't do justice to Berman's complex and nuanced presentation. If you're at all interested in the terrorist aspect of'60s radicalism, you owe it to yourself to read this tremendous article in full. Here's how the "Fischer affair" strikes Berman:
Watching the Fischer affair unfold through the early months of 2001 was like studying a painting where your attention first focuses on the main subject at the center of the canvas, and then you begin to notice the background and how interesting it is, and then you notice, reflected in a piece of metal or seen through a window, a second background, which you can barely see. The main subject in the Fischer affair was a simple political scandal of the present day involving a well-regarded government minister. But the scandal was set against a background consisting of events from twenty-five or thirty years ago, from the time of the New Left. The Fischer affair invited us, even required us, to make a few judgments about that background.
But the New Left background turned out, on closer inspection, to have a background of its own, barely visible, which was the Germany of long before. Not the generation of 1968, but the generation of 1938. Not the New Left, but the Nazis. The whole difficulty in making sense of the affair was to figure out what possible tale or narrative could account for all three of those elements: today's foreign minister in the foreground, the New Left behind him, and, half-hidden, the background of the background, yesterday's yesterday, bathed in darkest shadow.
Kelly's point is that Fischer's "I am not convinced" is such an example, that it can be best understood in the context of the anti-Americanism of the New Left and the dark milieu of the Baader-Meinhoff gang and the like. I think that's wrong. There are, no doubt, former radicals in European governments who do see the current US predicament as an opportunity to resurrect and relive the "glories" of '68, but Fischer isn't one of them. His case is far more interesting than that. He left his passionate anti-militarism and rigid anti-Americanism behind long ago. And in fact, Berman's insight about terrorism and the interplay of generational worlds in pre-9/11 Germany and beyond points to the most intriguing question presented by the issue today. Forget the politicians: how does this legacy play into the fact that 57% of ordinary Germans see America as a "nation of warmongers"? I'm not qualified to address it, but it's worth asking.
Ron Liddle lands some punches in this complaint that the Anglo-American "special relationship" is often a one way street. Most acutely here:
within weeks of September 11 2001, the US failed, astonishingly, to outlaw Noraid, despite having proscribed and seized the assets of every other terrorist fundraising organisation in the known universe. There is terrorism directed against the US and terrorism directed elsewhere, you see.
Nonetheless, he is wrong to suggest that despite all the shoulder-to-shoulder rhetoric America regards Great Britain as merely a less inconvenient France, "irrelevant, useless, antiquated, and decadent." (Well, maybe we do regard Britain as a bit antiquated; that's why it such a charming place to visit.) I believe we would indeed rush to their aid were they to catch fire (though I'd hope our methods would be a bit less primitive than the one he suggests.) And you know what? We'd rush to the aid of France as well. That's what makes old Europe's sophisticated anti-Americanism stick so irritatingly in the collective American craw.
Speaking of American regard for former colonial masters of the universe: flipping through the TV channels last night, I found the level of barely-disguised scorn for all things French to be astonishing. (And by "French" they mean "French-Belgian-German," strangely enough.) Lou Dobbs was particularly "on" in that regard, saying, at one point, "the French, well, bless their little hearts" and uttering the word "Belgium" as though he'd never heard of it before, but didn't much like the sound of it. I think he may even have rolled his eyes. He managed to make his voice put a little question mark after each mention of any of the old European countries, as though he could not quite bring himself to believe any of them might make an appearance in an otherwise serious broadcast. Even some of the local news broadcasts got into the act. Make of it what you will, but to the extent that the media reflects the American street, it's not very Franco-phile at the moment. Turnabout is fair play, I suppose.
Obstruction and other Skullduggery
In today's Wall Street Journal, Khidir Hamza, erstwhile Iraqi nuclear scientist and co-author of the book Saddam's Bombmaker, reiterates two generally accepted (though often only vaguely described or illustrated) conclusions: (a) that weapons inspections alone can never hope to disarm an uncooperative Saddam, and (b) that Franco-German obstructionism (and the ill-concealed desire of those states that Saddam remain in power) might plausibly derive at least in part from the need to conceal their own violations of the arms embargo.
The first has been clear beyond question for some time, though Hamza's account and illustrative details have perhaps, in view of his background, a special resonance. Maybe I just haven't been paying attention, but this is the first time I've heard it mentioned that "separate storage for the [biological and chemical] poisons is a standard practice in Iraq" and that the "Special Security Organization that guards Saddam also controls the storage and inventory of these chemicals." If nothing else, it puts all those "empty warheads" in a rather different, more ominous, perspective than in the dismissive reports I've seen on the news.
"I can assure you," Hamza baldly states, "that Iraq's nuclear-weapons program has not even been touched." That's certainly the case. I've heard tell of ingenuous souls (along no doubt with a few disingenuous ones) who claim that this failure to stumble upon such a program is a convincing indication that it does not in fact exist. They have their reasons, I'm sure. Those of us who are not crackpots or Pollyannas, however, might be forgiven for suspecting that this does not exactly amount to "containment."
What about the other issue, the one about French and German complicity in Iraq's weapons programs? Clearly, France, Germany and Russia (which Hamza says were referred to as "friendly states" in Baghdad when he was there) had weapons-related dealings with Iraq before the sanctions were imposed; and it's equally apparent that this sort of activity continued afterwards. Most of the instances I've seen mentioned have to do with so-called "dual-use" technology, items that can be described as having either a peaceful or a weapons application depending on whether or not the speaker is winking. For example:
In 1998 Iraq ordered from a German company six lithotripsy devices, extremely expensive machines that treat kidney stones without surgery. Why did Iraq require lithotripsy when millions of its citizens lack basic antibiotics? Presumably because the lithotripter employs an incredibly high-speed switch modeled on the high-speed switches in atomic warheads. Justified as a medical purchase, Iraq obtained eight of the switches, one in each machine plus two spares. Initially Iraq ordered 120 spare switches, a figure totally unrelated to the normal operation of lithotripters, and one that should have made Saddam's real purpose unmistakably clear. The German company balked at the purchase order for 120 switches, but happily sold the eight.
It seems to me that this line of thinking only really works as an explanation for French behavior if you assume that France believes it can actually prevent the American plans from being launched. I don't think Chirac is that sort of fool. He knows he can harry, delay, distract, and nip at the heels of the massive, lumbering American machine; but at this point it's clear that, one way or another, the machine is going to roll in, if only under its own inertia. So why take such pains to alienate the great, simplistic beast? The only thing French obstruction achieves, in that regard, is to guarantee that the inevitable victors will have no incentive whatsoever to keep their secrets secret in the aftermath; indeed it provides every reason for the Americans to attempt to discredit their opponent-ally with everything they've got. That's not the way realpolitik is played. I'm sure there's skullduggery to be revealed, but it will probably be, barely, plausibly deniable skullduggery.
I think Chirac still believes there's time to switch back. He may be playing it up to the wire, and he has damaged his country's bona fides tremendously in the process, but he's probably right. When the shooting war begins, the French are going to be shooting along with everybody else. And they'll be promised some concessions, some deals, some face-saving token role in the reconstruction, publicly or secretly, in exchange for their "support." But in the long run, things don't look good for French ambitions and pretensions as the "leader" of Europe, nor as a "great power" to rival the US. This may well be the last war or US policy they'll be in a position to obstruct. If the war goes well, regardless of how the UN and NATO situations shake down, they'll have a hard time obstructing themselves out of a paper bag. And that's gotta hurt.
Every few days, President Saddam Hussein meets with his son Qusay Saddam Hussein, the Inspector of the Republican Guards, and with his top military echelons to brief them on preparations for war with the U.S. The Iraqi press subsequently reports these briefings in great detail. In a meeting with the Republican Guard commanders on February 1, 2003, Saddam instructed them to "train, train, train." Similarly, he told them, "Pay attention to the details of the battle and convey my blessings to all the men preparing to destroy, tear apart, and violently beat the enemy, as well as to teach him the hardest of lessons."
During these meetings, Saddam usually questions the top brass on their preparedness. On one occasion, Saddam asked the Republican Guard commanders: "Are you following the battles between your Palestinian brothers and the Zionist entity? What have you learned from the use the enemy makes of armored vehicles? What technological development do you see they have added to the tanks?"
The Republican Guard commanders answered him, "Sandbags are placed on the tanks to stop the bullets." "Right," responded Saddam, "This is one means used by the enemy. But what else...? The enemy used its armored vehicles against Palestinians the wrong way... but the enemy introduced a technological development and I ask you, what is it? You said 'sandbags' and that is correct, but what are the details of the armor protecting [the infantry forces]? I want to make sure that you, as armored corps officers, noticed it in order to benefit from it - or perhaps it passed before your eyes on television without you thinking it was important? I noticed it, even though I am not an armored corps officer. I noticed that each enemy tank has a machine gun, and I don't think that each of your tanks has a machine gun?!"
"The Iraqis fought the English with poles tipped with balls of tar, and with pronged fishing spears... The Iraqi would jam the fishing spear in the Englishman's chest, recite the words of a popular song... and would then pull the spear out of his chest...
Stephen Pollard files yet another report from Brussels:
Talking to senior Commission officials, MEPs and other such people, it's clearer than ever that the Franco-German drive to frustrate Bush reflects their own frustration at seeing their EU leadership role slipping away rather than anything more elevated (and similarly lies behind Giscard's draft last week from the constitutional convention).
The corporatist EU agenda of France and Germany, and their knee-jerk anti-Americanism, is stranded in the 20th century. The 21st century agenda is for a lithe, market-driven, EU, pushed for by the new entrants - most of which look to the US not as an empire to be taken on but as their liberator.
David Warren has this interesting behind-the-scenes account of the recent NATO-rattling Weasels vs. Turks grudge match:
behind closed doors, according to several diplomats who were present, a remarkable debate took place, in which not the Americans but the other European delegates made the most impassioned remarks. They spelled out the consequences to NATO of the French, German, and Belgian filibuster, which a Polish delegate labelled as "a poorly-timed publicity stunt".
Several did not stop at the question of honour -- explicitly reminding the French, Germans, and Belgians that in their desire to spite the U.S., they are forgetting that they owe their very liberty, both from Nazi occupation and the Cold War threat of Soviet aggression, to America.
Yet even after this was said to them, off the record -- by their fellow Europeans -- the French, Germans, and Belgians persisted, with the specious argument that granting any kind of help to Turkey -- no matter how purely humanitarian or how urgent -- would "give the appearance" of endorsing U.S. preparations for war.
Turkey has now upped the ante by repeating its request to NATO under Article IV, which might be used to override individual members' vetoes. This means the whole debate is happening again within NATO, as you read this; and that the poison continues to spread as I write.
No comment. Good Lord.
(via Daily Pundit.)
I believe Bill Quick, back from his mercifully brief fishing trip, has the right idea here:
I still think Bush waited far too long to attack Iraq, and most of his international problems stem from that fact. The endless delay reassured American enemies in Europe, the Middle East, and elsewhere that Bush was not a serious man on the question of Iraq, and that he could be rolled if threatened with non-cooperation from international bodies and from Saudi, Germany, and France.
That said, I think there is no longer a question of whether there will be an attack, and (I certainly hope) soon. Everybody likes the lunar blackout for the first assault of the bombers, and that comes on March 3. I think the international maneuvering going on around the Iraq issue has more to do with the US facing down the UN, the EU, NATO, and Grance. It has been quite obvious that Colin Powell, whose advice was responsible for Bush treating with the the UN in the first place, felt utterly betrayed by his "friends" in the Middle East and, more particularly, Europe.
But if Powell feels betrayed, what do you think GWB feels? First, he must feel something of a fool for listening to Powell over Rumsfeld/Cheney/Wolfowitz, and second, there is nothing a cowboy despises more than professed friends who turn out to be backstabbers.
I don't think Bush set out to do a rope-a-dope, but I think it is entirely possible that is what he is engaged in now.
But what did you expect from a king in silk stockings and pink satin pants?
Ouch. Christopher Hitchens lets him have it. (Chirac I mean-- "the rat that tried to roar.")
We are all aware of the fact that French companies and the French state are owed immense sums of money by Saddam Hussein. We all very much hope that no private gifts to any French political figures have been made by the Iraqi Baath Party, even though such scruple on either side would be anomalous to say the very least. Is it possible that there is any more to it than that? The future government in Baghdad may very well not consider itself responsible for paying Saddam's debts. Does this alone condition the Chirac response to a fin de regime in Iraq?
Alas, no. Recent days brought tidings of an official invitation to Paris, for Robert Mugabe. The President-for-life of Zimbabwe may have many charms, but spare cash is not among them. His treasury is as empty as the stomachs of his people. No, when the plumed parade brings Mugabe up the Champs Elysees, the only satisfaction for Mr. Chirac will be the sound of a petty slap in the face to Tony Blair, who has recently tried to abridge Mugabe's freedom to travel. Thus we are forced to think that French diplomacy, as well as being for sale or for hire, is chiefly preoccupied with extracting advantage and prestige from the difficulties of its allies.
Pawing Through Foreign Affairs
Fouad Ajami's optimistic assessment of the possibilities for a post-Saddam Iraq rightly got a fair amount of blogospheric attention, but I only just now happened upon this stimulating essay by Michael Scott Doran, from the same issue of Foreign Affairs.
"Palestine, Iraq, and U.S. Strategy" is an extremely clear and well-argued analysis of the function of "Palestine-as-symbol" vs. "Palestine-as-place" in Middle Eastern politics, addressing the contention that a US-brokered "solution" of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict might serve as an effective means of appeasing bin Ladenite Islamists:
for Arab states the Palestinian issue is a game of four-dimensional chess. When an Arab leader announces a policy toward the issue, he makes a move directed simultaneously at critics at home, Arab rivals abroad, the United States, and the Palestinians and Israelis themselves -- with the last being by far the least important audience. The sad fact is that with the possible exception of Jordan, alleviating the suffering of the Palestinian people is not a primary policy objective of any Middle Eastern state. For Washington to mistake symbol for substance and tie itself into knots trying to resolve the Palestinian problem before tackling other matters would thus be a sucker's move, providing its enemies with even greater incentives to incite violence there while avoiding other arenas where it has greater freedom of action and chances for success.
The first order of business for the United States must... be to demonstrate forcefully that challenges to its authority in the region will be defeated. Its near enemies can be met in no other way, since their opposition to the present order is deep-rooted and total. Unless America is prepared to abandon its position and pull back from the region, as the British did three and a half decades ago, it must carry its struggle against al Qaeda and Saddam to the finish, putting an end to all doubt regarding its resolve. Thwarting Saddam's ambitions and continuing to root out bin Laden's henchmen and associates, moreover, will do more than take care of immediate menaces. It will also serve to sober up onlookers with oppositionist ambitions of their own, making them recalculate the odds of defying a power that has demonstrated its intention to remain a permanent and dynamic regional player.
Once the near enemies have been bested, however, the moment will arrive to launch a vigorous and sustained effort to address the far enemies, as the crucial second stage in strengthening the Pax Americana. Unless the suppression of Saddam is seen to lead to a better life for the Iraqi population, and unless American strength and resolve is used on behalf of all the region's people, not simply the governments of American allies, then a new set of near enemies will certainly arise and have to be dealt with in their turn. In the long run, the strength and passion of Palestine-as-symbol will be sapped only by the creation of a new, more persuasive historical narrative that allows the people of the Middle East to see the United States, and the West more generally, as their partner in the quest for a better life.
Moving right along
"Any fallout of war," Ajami writes, "is certain to be dwarfed by the terrible consequences of America's walking right up to the edge of war and then stepping back, letting the Iraqi dictator work the terms of yet another reprieve." It's hard to argue with that: stepping back at this stage would be a terrible mistake, undermining US (and, less importantly, UN) credibility and inviting further defiance. Yet that is precisely what Richard Betts proposes in his consideration of what could happen "if Saddam strikes back." Does Saddam have agents in the United States poised to unleash small pox, anthrax, vx, or ricin when given the order? And should this possibility "deter" the US from pursuing the goal of desposing Saddam? Have our leaders taken this possible threat seriously enough? Good questions.
It seems to me that, even supposing a worst-case scenario (well organized, well-supplied, well-hidden Iraqi terrorists who are capable of launching these operations without screwing up), such a danger will only increase exponentially with delay. Betts dismisses this line of thinking as the unwarranted conflation of two entirely separate questions (what Saddam will do if attacked vs. what he would do if left alone) but isn't that begging the question? Leaving him alone isn't an option. Can there be many who share Betts's confidence that "smart" sanctions and beefed up inspections have much chance of preventing the eventual success of Iraq's nuclear program or improved WMD delivery systems? He says this approach is a "less bad" alternative to war, but it's hard to see how.
Over at Layman's Logic, the Philosophical Cowboy has provided the Iraqis with a case for the defense in response to Counselor Powell's opening remarks. Check it out.
He also posts an email which begins:
Dear Sir / Madam,
I am George Walker Bush, son of the former president of the United
States of America George Herbert Walker Bush, and currently serving as president of the United States of America. This letter might surprise you because we have not met neither in person nor by correspondence. I came to know of you in my search for a reliable and reputable person to handle a very confidential business transaction, which involves the transfer of a huge sum of money to an account requiring maximum confidence...
On the Ground in Old Europe
Stephen Pollard reports on Old Europe's media coverage of Powell's UN presentation:
I'm in Brussels at the moment. Just watched Colin Powell at the UN on CNN. I flicked over my TV as he was speaking - the only stations available here carrying him were Anglospheric: CNN, CNBC and Sky. None of the French, German, Italian etc stations had a word of it.
Interesting? I think so. I think it says something about just how much they still think of this as a US/UK adventure, which really shouldn't concern them.
Alisa in Wonderland has posted an interesting letter from a correspondent in France (Nelson Ascher) who cites Pollard's observation, and adds:
I don't know how seriously we should take the anti-war sentiments of the [French] people: maybe it is just an automatic pavlovian reaction: they're giving the answer they know is expected of them. But unlike the Americans, they don't have a say in their country's foreign policy, and they know it: thus, they do not take their own positions too seriously. If you know your opinion doesn't carry weight anyway, you'll not care for holding to it, and you'll probably just choose the one which means less trouble.
the people [in Soviet Russia] did not have any say in what was happening, so they stayed out of trouble as much as they could. It is amazing to me that France that Nelson describes is, in many respects, a lot like a totalitarian country, only with a much higher standard of living.
In either case, Brussels or Berkeley, I see no reason to question the sincerity of their anti-Americanism, though one might wonder about its "seriousness." And who knows? The French public may well share their government's assessment (short-sighted, as many would have it) that French interests are indeed best served by a policy of nominally plausibly-deniable obstructionism. Maybe it's practical: I imagine that peace demonstrations present ideal circumstances for frottage. Or maybe give peace a chance is in fact all they are saying. I have no idea. Interesting questions and observations, all, nonetheless.
There's lots more about French media, intellectual culture, and racial politics in Alisa's correspondent's wide-ranging letter. Whether or not you buy all of it, it's well worth a look.
If the Kid's are Untied...
In the midst of this otherwise unremarkable catalog of the preparations of anti-war protesters throughout Great Britain comes a moment of pure poetry.
The article describes a student in Scotland screening a t-shirt:
The white T-shirt... bore the dark imprint of a student, capped and gowned, holding aloft a degree certificate as a faceless soldier aimed a rifle at him.
Student's Against War, said the logo.
Free speech for everyone.
Did you hear about that woman who waltzed through an unmanned security checkpoint at SFO and boarded her flight with unscreened carry-on baggage? She was arrested when her flight arrived in Baltimore. By the time airport security sprang into action (a couple of hours later), she was long gone. Nevertheless, they decided to evacuate the entire terminal anyway.
The system, concedes Security Director Ed Gomez, is "not flawless." No?
My favorite part of this story is the classic SF Chron-style headline: Skirt Scares SFO Silly. (Though Skirt Skirts Security would have been good, too.)
My second favorite is this quote:
According to TSA spokesman Nico Melendez, at least part of the blame lies with the woman, who chose not to wait in line and, instead, slipped through a closed checkpoint.
"TSA can't afford to take shortcuts with security," Melendez said. "We don't expect passengers to do that either."
"One of the responsibilities passengers have is to arrive at the airport in a timely manner so they don't have a need to take shortcuts through the security process," he said.
"Poor Colin. He used to be so smart..." This sub-literate "gonzo" column by SF Gate's Mark Morford is proof that the British dailies haven't yet cornered the market on idiocy. Say what you will about Jonathon Steele: at least he can write complete sentences.
They'll print anything
And that's a good thing, on the whole.
Welch and Sullivan both subject this piece of drivel (intended to discredit the eastern European democracies) to the appropriate scorn. "New thinking." Hah! The author, Jonathon Steele, can sometimes be found in the pages of the Guardian desperately trying to be funny or clever or something. I think he's trying to be serious this time. Whatever, chappie.
On the other hand, the parade of Leftists on the road to Damascus continues apace, with this excellent essay in today's Independent. Adducing an extremely unlikely scenario in which the anti-war movement somehow manages to achieve its aims, Johann Hari asks: "Has the left really forgotten the fundamental principle that it is worth fighting to free 23 million people from tyranny and to help them to build democracy? What has become of us?"
The piece concludes by correctly identifying the major failing of the contemporary British Left, which is the determination to indulge their own all-consuming antipathy towards the United States at any and all costs, including that of effectively allying themselves with fascists. The author concedes a tepid sympathy with regard to this impulse, but adds:
Some people argue that the US is too morally compromised by its own often tyrannical foreign policy to have any right to act in Iraq. A Chilean, Palestinian or Vietnamese person will understandably respond with a cynical snort to the idea of the US as a liberator of oppressed peoples. The people of northern Iraq do not feel that way. Nor do the peoples of Eastern Europe Ė it is no coincidence that Vaclav Havel, the former President of the Czech Republic, joined with Blair in supporting America. He remembers what it is like to live under an oppressive dictator and to look to America as the only hope for liberation. So the US can act in both good and bad ways. That many figures on the left deny this is a sign that they are blinded by hatred.
Of course, the US is morally compromised. I wish there were a pristine, perfect state with no oil interests and the military power to help the people of Iraq, but there isn't one. Remember: many people on the British left argued in the 1930s that Britain was too compromised by its disgraceful colonial occupation of India, and that our motives for joining the war were far from pure. They had some important points, but if they had prevailed, we would have squabbled among ourselves about our own immorality while Jews burned. We must not repeat that mistake by turning our gaze from those living in the open prison of Saddam's Iraq.
A More Powerful Vocabulary
Even if you, like Eric Alterman, can ignore the "Chomskyite rhetoric," there's still a great deal of silliness in this essay by Kane Pryor. The idea is that the diabolical geniuses behind the Bush "propaganda machine," through a deliberate, brilliant campaign of targeted meme-dropping, perceptual engineering, and media manipulation, have reprogrammed the brains of the television-doped American public, planting the perception in our "societal omni-consciousness" that Iraqis planned and perpetrated the 9/11 attacks and convincing us that "Saddam and the no-longer-mentioned Osama are the same person." (Does Bush really drive such an all-powerful propaganda machine? Pretty good-- for a moron, that is.)
The springboard to this vaguely academic-sounding sermon (the rhetoric is rough going, if it doesn't quite sink to the level of Chomsky-ite sludge-- the author is clearly a Noam admirer, however) is a single question from a poll conducted by the Princeton Survey Research Associates for Knight-Ridder: "to the best of your knowledge, how many of the September 11 hijackers were Iraqi citizens?" 17% knew the answer to be "none," while 33% had no idea; the remainder selected options indicating that most, some, or one of the hijackers had been Iraqi citizens. To me, the question itself sounds like a case of entrapment. But in any case, it's a pretty slim basis for the three pages worth of elaborate, convoluted Language- and conspiracy-theorizing that follow, documenting the "use of language to sanctify a colossal reactionary surge." Here's an example, alluding to the Axis of Evil speech:
"Evil" had been clearly inducted into the understanding of the terrorist attacks, and the description of Iraq in those terms immediately annexed it to 9/11.
I don't find it too surprising that many Americans may not be all that clear on the citizenship or birthplaces of the 9/11 hijackers. Mass brainwashing and incarceration in some state-run Prison of Language, the "morphing" of Osama into Saddam, isn't the only, nor the most likely, culprit. Part of the fault does indeed lie with the Bush administration, which has, for dark reasons of its own, failed to emphasize the Saudi connection. But more generally, I think a more plausible explanation lies in Americans' well-documented, sad, but altogether benignly-generated, ignorance of the world outside. My British wife is constantly astonished by people over here, even the well-off and seemingly well-educated, who don't seem to have any idea where England is. "England. That's in Paris, isn't it?" is a typical question.
Here's another example. Last weekend, I was at the airport while the news of the space shuttle disaster was breaking. I hadn't heard of it till I saw it on Fox News, which was playing on one of the TV kiosks at the gate. I asked the lady next to me how many had been killed.
"Seven," she said. "And they're saying that one of them was from, oh, one of those countries out where, you know, one of those countries where we're going to war. Ireland? I think it was Ireland. Are we going to war with Ireland?"
I started suggesting more plausible alternatives. Iraq? Iran? She wasn't sure. Finally, Fox News showed some footage of Ariel Sharon. Eureka! "Israel," she said. "He was an Israeli. That's what I meant. We're not going to war with them, but they're out there." True enough.
Maybe the Bush machine (part moron, part Foucault, part Philip K. Dick) has been trying forcibly to imbed "Iraq" in this poor woman's "hippocampal memory." But if so, only the first letter managed to make it in.
The more interesting question: is it really the case, as the author of the article assumes without question, that wide-spread geographical ignorance necessarily renders support for a war or other policy initiative invalid or illegitimate, whether or not this ignorance is deliberately engineered by some sinister plot? I don't think it does, as a matter of fact. I have no data on it, but I'd guess it has been the case with most military conflicts, past and present. Was there anyone in America in 1945 who wondered, like my wife's contemporary acquaintances, whether England was "in Paris?" Even if so, it surely wouldn't have made Hitler any less of a menace. I knew enough about the situation in Kosovo to support its liberation, but I would have been hard-pressed to draw a map of it. I imagine many of those who called for intervention in Rwanda lacked detailed knowledge of the region's ethno-geography. That doesn't mean they were wrong.
Everyone knows who and what (if not necessarily precisely where) Saddam and his regime are. And in a sense, how is failing to take on board the datum about the citizenship of the 9/11 hijackers any worse than the stubborn determination to regard the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iraq with perfect equanimity? Who has been brainwashed here?
Anyway, I'm guessing we won't be invading Ireland any time soon. That would be a terrible mistake.
Goofyness, Strangeness and Charm
the point is not that he was always Right, but that he presented one of the most compelling examples in 20th century writing of how one can go about trying to think clearly and grapple proactively with the important events of the day, even while being poor and goofy-looking.
Then there's this:
Orwell's prose was so effective that it seduced many readers into imagining, mistakenly, that he was saying what they wanted him to say, and what they themselves thought.
And yet, strangely enough, we find ourselves utterly unmoved...
TNR's Lawrence Kaplan weighs in on the cool reception to Powell's UN presentation:
To any rational observer, the communications intercepts and satellite imagery Powell presented today should offer sufficient proof that Iraq is not cooperating with U.N. weapons inspectors. But, of course, we already knew this. And so did the other members of the Security Council. The problem with Powell's presentation, and with the entire logic behind it, is that they just don't care.
What? No Midgets?
Delegates from 85 countries are in the process of voting for the judges who will preside over the International Criminal Court. It's looking a bit messy:
Although delegates could support up to 18 of the 43 candidates, they were required to vote for at least six men and at least six women. That inevitably put the 10 female candidates in a much stronger position than the 33 men. How strong would soon become clear.
Following pressure from the non-governmental organisations that have been heavily involved in setting up the new court, voting rules had also made it impossible for powerful Western nations to elect judges in their own image. Thus, countries had to vote for at least three of the 10 African candidates, two of the six candidates from Asia, two of the seven from Eastern Europe, three of the eight who came from Latin America or the Caribbean and just three of the 12 from a weighty group that included western Europe and Canada.
To make the ballot paper even more complicated, states had to vote for at least nine (but no more than 13) of the 22 candidates whose main expertise was in criminal law and at least five (but no more than nine) of the 21 candidates with a background in international law.
Little wonder, then, that two of the 85 countries got their sums wrong and had their papers declared invalid when the results came out on Tuesday afternoon...
With 11 judges still to be chosen yesterday, there were new minimum voting requirements for the second ballot. "You shall vote for at least five male candidates," announced Prince Zeid. Even if all four remaining women were elected, there would have to be another seven men on the court.
The Singer not the Song
I imagine there are quite a few people out there like Mary McGrory, who have opposed war in Iraq solely because George Bush proposed it, and now find that they support it solely because it now appears to have Colin Powell's unequivocal blessing. But I doubt many of them will be as candid about the basis for the switcheroo.
Here's Stephen H. Hayes's amusing take on the statement read by French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin in response to Colin Powell's UN presentation, including this sort of thing:
Did he honestly recommend that Baghdad could demonstrate its intent to cooperate by "by adopting legislation prohibiting the manufacture weapons of mass destruction?" (Yup, he did--I checked the transcript.)
It hardly matters what the French Foreign Minister says at this juncture. Pass anti-WMD legislation? Triple the number of inspectors? He might as well have proposed that all Iraqis wear their underwear only on Tuesdays and Thursdays and that all underwear be worn on the outside so we can check. They have concluded, correctly I'd say, that they have plenty of time for lollygagging, and they have based this conclusion on our own lollygagging; they have determined that their best chance for retaining a smidgeon of influence and stature is to obstruct and play around for as long as possible till the last moment, holding out for as many concessions and glittering prizes as they can get. It may be that, in formulating their lollygagging policy, they slightly miscalculated the US's lollygagging rate. Maybe this miscalculation will cost them something. But they'll still get some of the prizes. They'll still be allies. They'll still be annoying. Germany might be another story, however...
Meanwhile, John Podhoretz has written the same "get ready for victory" column he always writes whenever the Bush administration manages to do something that that can't be characterized as an out and out fiasco. Now I don't disagree with any of the main points of this column. But when Podhoretz writes that "Powell's masterful and inarguable presentation yesterday means the administration has once again outflanked its adversaries and out-argued its opponents," what adversaries and opponents is he talking about? The French? A.N.S.W.E.R.? Tom Daschle? Al Sharpton? Sheryl Crow? OK, but I seem to recall that there's another adversary still out there. It might be more prudent, or at least more tasteful, to wait for the war to happen before declaring victory. But maybe that's just me.
My North Oakland neighborhood has no shortage of anti-war signs in the windows, on the cars, on the telephone poles, and spray-painted on the stop signs. This has pretty much been the case for as long as I've lived here, even during those times when there has been no discernible war in the offing. The content is by and large pretty unimaginative, and tends to blend in to the background, but occasionally one will manage to rise above the banality.
Such is the case with one of my authority-questioning neighbors, who has displayed in his or her window a hand-painted sign reading "Bush is a Servant of Sauron. We hates him!" Bravo.
The Ultimate Penultimatum
Mark Steyn, in a brief guest spot on NRO, sums up Powell's UN speech:
It's perfectly obvious from Colin Powell's presentation what's going on. Ten minutes before the flatfoots show up, the bootleg liquor is whisked away, replaced by teacups and the gaming table gets dropped through the trapdoor and replaced by an ornamental fountain. If you think Saddam Hussein is a lovable rogue ÔŅĹ as Mr. Chirac does ÔŅĹ this is all part of a grand ongoing comedy, to which the French and Russians made their own exquisite contribution by proposing to strengthen the monitoring regime by doubling the number of inspectors, etc., etc., etc., ad infinitum. If the Powell evidence made anything plain, it's this: The idea of "monitoring" a dictator is ludicrous. Saddam is quite happy to participate for another decade or two in an eternal ongoing U.N. field study of dictatorship.
Unless you believe, as the Iraqis maintain in their response, that the whole thing is a US fabrication from top to bottom (and everyone knows it isn't), the danger is difficult to deny. I can't imagine that anyone could truly believe that any kind of arms inspections program could, in and of itself, provide adequate protection from this danger. (Triple the number of inspectors? That ought to take care of it.) I can't imagine what it would be like to worry enough about Saddam Hussein to desire that he be deprived of his worst weaponry, but not enough to insist upon it in any serious way.
I thought the speech was good. I don't think it will change any minds. But it may provide some face-saving cover for those countries which will, of necessity, belatedly endorse the inevitable Anglo-American attack, when it finally materializes or appears imminent. In the meantime, why shouldn't they propose doubling, tripling, quadrupling the number of inspectors or strike a series of crowd-pleasing pseudo-pacifist poses? It doesn't cost them anything. There's still time for posturing, grandstanding, obstructionism, all the tools of the diplomatic trade, before things get really serious. As Iraqi "Presidential advisor" Amir al-Saadi said today, "what's the hurry?" The US needs to indicate that the last last chance really was the last chance, that the current "final stage" isn't merely a preliminary to a "final phase," which will be followed by a "final stretch," etc. For some reason, Powell's speech notwithstanding, we're not there yet.
David Aaronovitch has the REAL transcript of Tony Benn's interview with Saddam Hussein.
Take a Toxic Tour of Oakland!
That's the enticing grabber for this "reality tour" of some of the less savory parts of Oakland (known to us locals as "hell") offered by Global Exchange. It does not appear to be a joke. The tour promises to "examine the intersections between Race and Globalization" (hence the name "Globalization and Race in California") and to demonstrate how the city of Oakland has been affected by "environmental racism." Whatever that may be.
Sound like fun? It costs $100, which, if memory serves, is just a bit more than what you have to pay to experience the average Oakland mugging first hand. But they throw in a free meal and "ground transportation." Please keep hands and feet inside the bus at all times.
Michael Gove sees a connection between contemporary Germany's sorry state and the failings of the class of '68.
That generation was in revolt at what it saw as the stuffy conformity of the bourgeois Germany which Adenauer created, and the failure of their parents fully to confront the nationís historic crimes. But far from marking a decisive break with the countryís past failures, the actions in power of the í68 generation only underline an historic weakness in the German character.
There has been a tendency among German elites over the past 200 years to invest the ruling ideology of the moment with the quasi-mystical quality of a political religion. Those thinkers who reacted against the French Enlightenment, such as Hegel and Herder, contributed to a romantic, anti-liberal, nationalist temper in 19th-century Germany. The Wilhelmine state which went to war in 1914 was deeply imbued with a mystical sense that its Kultur was superior to the desiccated, rationalist, mercantile outlook of the British and the Americans.
The anti-liberal beliefs which bewitched Germany in the past led to war. The ideology of the í68 generation may seem altogether more admirable, because it finds expression in opposition to conflict. But it is, at root, just as anti-liberal, and similarly baleful for Germanyís future health. The freedom which the í68ers oppose is the economic liberalism of America, and their hostility to the US is the animating force in their opposition to action against Iraq.
Babyish Straw Men and the Women who Devour Them
You know the anti-war "movement" is in trouble when someone like Julie Burchill, socialist, Guardian columnist and proud anti-American (is there any other kind?) comes out against Saddam and effectively in favor of "Bush's war."
It may not be much more than rote straw man demolition, but it is at least a little striking that the "befuddled babyishness of the pro-Saddam apologists" that she subjects to such ridicule tends to make up much of the contents of her own paper. Here's straw man #4:
"Saddam Hussein may have killed hundreds of thousands of his own people - but he hasn't done anything to us! We shouldn't invade any country unless it attacks us!" I love this one, it's so mind-bogglingly selfish - and it's always wheeled out by people who call themselves "internationalists", too. These were the people who thought that a population living in terror under the Taliban was preferable to a bit of liberating foreign fire power, even fighting side by side with an Afghani resistance. On this principle, if we'd known about Hitler gassing the Jews all through the 1930s, we still shouldn't have invaded Germany; the Jews were, after all, German citizens and not our business. If you really think it's better for more people to die over decades under a tyrannical regime than for fewer people to die during a brief attack by an outside power, you're really weird and nationalistic and not any sort of socialist that I recognise. And that's where you link up with all those nasty rightwing columnists who are so opposed to fighting Iraq; they, too, believe that the lives of a thousand coloured chappies aren't worth the death of one British soldier.
This radio-scape was an idiotarian's wonderland, replete with a Robert Fisk interview and several generous helpings of Scott Ritter and Ramsay Clark, and a dash of Michael Moore thrown in for good measure. The constant refrain: "they say it's not about oil. No way! It's totally about oil." Of all the anti-anti-war people I have known and read, from war-mongering neo-con to timid liberal internationalist, I can't think of any who have ever denied that petro-politics plays a significant role in the whole Iraq question. How could it be otherwise in the Middle East? I suppose I lack the imagination to fathom how the empty "no blood for oil" slogan retains such enduring appeal in view of its manifest vacuousness and poor track record at persuading anyone who isn't already in the club. But it has now been taken on board by an enthusiastic new generation of numbskulls nonetheless, if Wednesday's Pacifica broadcast is any indication. The various hosts, hostesses and guests on KPFA that night brandished it as an unanswerable trump card, a self-contained iron-clad case that leaving Saddam alone was the only sane course of action. It didn't work last time, even with the benefit of the vital element of surprise; it has no chance of working this time either, I'd wager. They really need to come up with some new material. The observation has been made before, of course; but now we can quote our newest, and perhaps strangest, bedfellow Julie Burchill in response: "the fact is that this war is about freedom, justice - and oil. It's called multitasking. Get used to it!" Go, Julie.
The diligent, painstaking effort to vilify Bush's speech as "propaganda" is yet another case of strict accuracy undermining rather than enforcing the intended point. Like the "it's about the oil" line, its faults are so obvious that they can leave you stumped as to a response: how can you enter into such a discussion with people who haven't managed to grasp the meaning of the words comprising their own rhetoric? I'm sure a fair few, probably all of them, were merely feigning this inability-- that's show biz. I had the distinct impression, nonetheless, that by and large their hearts were not really in it. You've got to figure that these folks would be used to a bit of futility by now-- but perhaps they have at last reached a kind of futility tipping point. That's the danger zone where leftists can turn into neo-conservatives, so they'd better watch out.
(via Rick Heller.)
Find a parade and pretend to have been in it all along, even though you showed up a bit late...
Down in L.A. for the weekend, reading the L.A. Times in actual dead tree form for the first time in months, I noticed an exquisite, unwitting irony. (You have to assume it's unwitting, anyway.)
This exploration of Hollywood's alleged moral quandary about whether Roman Polanski's past sexual transgressions preclude his being recognized as a great artist was placed right next to this piece containing an anecdote about a Sundance screening of a documentary on the Weather Underground, which included a promotional appearance by Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn. The latter even quotes an audience member's question to one of the guests of honor: "what advice," asked one woman, could Dohrn "give to a young revolutionary?"
Aha! thinks I, what a perfect set-up for the first post of my long-planned, never-quite-executed return to blogging after a month's idleness. Quote the "dig it they killed those pigs" speech, note the three-fingered fork salute, excoriate Ayers and Dohrn and the ninnies who coddle them-- the post practically writes itself.
As it happens, Matt Welch already noted it. Read his post on it. It's precisely the post I had planned. Not that I would have actually got around to writing or posting it. And not that I would have done it as smoothly. (I've had these little "why I oughtta" moments several times a day over the last month.)
Also check out Matt's lengthy excursus on REO Speedwagon's "Keep on Loving You." (No, really.) I'm not going to pretend to have been in that parade, but it's unexpectedly interesting stuff.