October 31, 2003

Little Democracy

A few years ago I was cycling on the Maryland shore, near a place called Deale, and stopped at a rustic local dive called The Happy Harbor. It's a nice little "biker" bar (of the Harley sort), with a restaurant, portch, and some picnic tables, on a little bay. While sitting on the portch with some of my fellow cyclists I noticed a white-haired gentleman at the next table, who looked very familiar. I was sure I knew him from somewhere, but couldn't dial it in. After awhile I leaned over and asked where I might have known him. At that point he introduced himself as "John Anderson," and said he had once run for President. He then pointed to my rearview mirror (called a "Take-A-Look") which was still fixed to my glasses, and asked if I was handicapped. "Only in the sense that I have no eyes in the back of my head," I quipped.

Anyway, after the smart-ass remark we had a nice chat and he told me he had started an organization called The Center for Voting & Democracy, which interested me because I was writing my dissertation on the 1996 Elections. I later developed a modest relationship with the organization, and had a number of fruitful exchanges with its director, Rob Richey. I've even attended their gatherings and symposia, though the last time I was there was right after the Florida 2000 debacle. At that time I was amazed by the lethargy of Democratic operatives concerning the task of reforming the voting system. They were effectively sitting back and allowing the momentum to be carried by the Republicans. This irked me, at the time, because I viewed the window of opportunity as closing. But I recall walking away from that conference thinking that they'd probably try to launch an initiative around the time of the next Presidential election, and be surprised to find the chance had passed them by.

Today I just received an invitation for a two day conference from the Center for Voting and Democracy, billed as the:

Securing, Enhancing and Exercising the Right to Vote

This "call to action" is endorsed by a list of organizations that includes, among others, ACORN, Common Cause, Friends of the Earth, Democracy Matters, and a host of similar groups with mostly left-oriented agendas. Some are more radical than others. The League of Women Voters, for instance, isn't usually thought of as an ideological organization. But what strikes me is that the list doesn't seem to contain a single organization that has a kind word about America's little pro-Democracy project in the Arab Middle East. And glancing through the agenda, which appears to be all about "enhancing the vote," "claiming democracy," and other reform-minded slogans, there isn't one single plenary, panel, speaker, or exhibit devoted to "expanding democracy" into autocratic nations that don't have it. "Reform" looks different from that end of the stick, apparently. Indeed, there's one session, chaired by Common Cause President Chellie Pingree, with the intriguing title "Is There a War on Democracy." But something tells me they won't be talking much about Al Qaeda, Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri and the Baathist Insurgency, or Ansar al-Islam. (Hat tip: Winds of Change)

Whenever I see a situation like this I think of a scene in Thieves where Marlo Thomas is climbing a ladder into her date's bedroom and complains: "Gee, you really make it hard to claim later this was an accident."

Jonah Goldberg has an excellent piece in NRO about this rather extraordinary discontinuity. Says Goldberg:

Rarely has the intellectual rot of liberalism been more evident. Both at home and abroad, the honorable tradition of liberalism — and there is one — has been hollowed out by its own appetite for power and vengeance. Indeed, it is exceedingly difficult to see how liberalism, at the national level, stands for anything but appetite — undirected, inarticulate, unprincipled, ravenous appetite. Truly it has become Bill Clinton's party. (Hat tip: Jane Galt)

Well I don't know if I'd go that far, but if there were a time when the Democratic Party and the "Progressives" owned the issue of Democracy, it has passed. It's too late to play that card. We now have a situation where a Republican Administration is attempting to establish a foothold for liberal democratic government, for the first time since the failure of the half-hearted British attempt, in the Arab Middle East, and it's being opposed by most of the people in this hollowed-out, compromised, and non-representative conference "claiming" Democracy as their exclusive project.

I'm currently working to establish a pro-Democracy Forum at my university, along the lines of Oxdem, that has an anti-terrorist/rescue-of-failed-states kind of agenda. It's a side of "pro-Democracy" that I don't see represented in this "Claim Democracy Conference." Indeed, it would be my guess that most of the participants are, quite unambiguously, opposed to Democracy where it counts, within the nations and societies that are governed by autocrats, tyrants and totalitarian regimes--or any place where the effort might involve a fight. Both for the sake of many of the concerns that the people attending these conferences surely have, and for the sake of the concerns that many in the "other pro-Democracy movement" have, there ought to be a consensus that makes partisan political posturing look downright amateurish.

I'm not sure how long these "little Democrats" can demure from the larger struggle and maintain credibility.

Posted by Demosophist at 07:30 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 30, 2003

Exploitation of Strength

If the biggest guy in the tribe is repeatedly asked to retrieve fruit from the higher branches by those of lesser stature, and to command the barricades when the tribe is attacked, until he's too busy feeding and protecting his fellow tribesmen to have a life... and at the same time is frequently chided for being big, dumb, and domineering, will there come a time when he tires of being the object of jealousy and envy, and simply decides to become king?

So, $13.5 Billion is it? Thanks guys. Let's hope empire isn't a self-fulfilling prophesy.

Posted by Demosophist at 11:29 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Seymour Hersh: Up the Stovepipe

A friend of mine from the Great White North, who thinks of Michael Moore as no less despicable than this guy, recently wrote me a note concerning Seymour Hersh's New Yorker article "The Stovepipe:"

If they really did dismantle the conventional intelligence screening mechanisms and left themselves open to such misinformation as the Nigerian yellow cake lead now appears, and then, to make matters worse, they embellished the implications of THAT with their escalating warnings about Iraq's nuclear weapons threat, they've lost me entirely. Sure, they did it all sincerely (at least up to the lies part but even that might have been quasi-sincere, if there is such a thing). They weren't trying to line their pockets in gold like some of their stupid critics argue. But still, their hubris allowed them to mislead themselves and the nation.

Anyone who reads Hersh's article would probably reach a similar conclusion, if he were inclined to be indulgent toward the stories spun by the most prominent muckraker in journalism. At the very least it looks like the Bush Administration may have been swallowing radioactive information as if it were orange juice. At worst, they were deliberately lying. However, there are certain elements of the Hersh narrative that demand closer inspection, and if examined carefully would lead one to concerns that eclipse those Hersh raises. In order to make the context of Hersh's narrative more discernable we need to look first at how he chooses to end his article, referring to testimony provided by one Jafar Dhia Jafar, who is described as "a British-educated physicist who coordinated Iraq’s efforts to make the bomb in the nineteen-eighties, and who had direct access to Saddam Hussein." He quotes from the CIA's notes of the interview with Jafar, interspersed with commentary:

The [CIA's] notes said:
Jafar insisted that there was not only no bomb, but no W.M.D., period. “The answer was none.” . . . Jafar explained that the Iraqi leadership had set up a new committee after the 91 Gulf war, and after the unscom [United Nations] inspection process was set up. . . and the following instructions [were sent] from the Top Man [Saddam]—“give them everything.”
The notes said that Jafar was then asked, “But this doesn’t mean all W.M.D.? How can you be certain?” His answer was clear: “I know all the scientists involved, and they chat. There is no W.M.D.” Jafar explained why Saddam had decided to give up his valued weapons:
Up until the 91 Gulf war, our adversaries were regional. . . . But after the war, when it was clear that we were up against the United States, Saddam understood that these weapons were redundant. “No way we could escape the United States.” Therefore, the W.M.D. warheads did Iraq little strategic good.

According to Hersh, Jafar then explained the six-thousand-warhead discrepancy between the weapons manufactured before 1991 and those that were accounted for by the U.N. which, says Hersh "led Western intelligence officials and military planners to make the worst-case assumptions." (Assuming that worst-case assumptions weren't already justified.)

Jafar told his interrogators that the Iraqi government had simply lied to the United Nations about the number of chemical weapons used against Iran during the brutal Iran-Iraq war in the nineteen-eighties. Iraq, he said, dropped thousands more warheads on the Iranians than it acknowledged. For that reason, Saddam preferred not to account for the weapons at all.

Apparently not even under threat of imminent attack by the US. Even if true this is still hardly a position that anyone in their right mind would have endorsed without a great deal more information. The fact that the Bush Administration may have demanded more after hearing stuff like this hardly seems implausible, does it? The first indication that Dr. Jafar might be less than credible would probably have been his glowingly confident assessment of the omniscience-enhancing value of chat within a totalitarian system. Is Hersh really suggesting that we swallow this story without further verification? Moreover, doesn't it seem likely that if the dictator would go to such lengths to lie about the number of weapons used in a past engagement, he might adopt a similar strategy about his future intentions?

However, I want to make clear that it is the sort of thing one might be very interested in, if the attempt were to falsify an assumption of guilt. Under those circumstances it hardly seems surprising that they'd ask for verification. The point is that the information isn't being used to verify an assumption of innocence, but to reject an assumption of guilt... and by itself it's vastly inadequate for that. Far from casting doubt on what the Administration was doing, this testimony together with that of Ken Pollack, below, suggests that they (the Administration) may have simply gone in a direction that the CIA didn't expect or understand.

Apart from that important digression the point here as that Hersh's ultimate frame of reference is a method. It is what I've called elsewhere the "standard method" or the "alpha method" that presumes innocence. But in Hersh's case he then wouldn't even bother to look for evidence to the contrary, because all he requires is a bit of verification of his pet theory. While he does counsel caution about believing Jafar, he doesn't appear to take that advice very seriously, and spends most of his time looking for reasons to believe Saddam. And let me be very clear here. If you assume innocence your objective is to falsify that assumption, not support it. Similarly, if you assume guilt your objective is to challenge that assumption.

Now, with this insight into Hersh's assumptions, lets return to the stovepipe narrative. The first evidence he cites is pretty convincing:

Kenneth Pollack, a former National Security Council expert on Iraq, whose book “The Threatening Storm” generally supported the use of force to remove Saddam Hussein, told me that what the Bush people did was “dismantle the existing filtering process that for fifty years had been preventing the policymakers from getting bad information. They created stovepipes to get the information they wanted directly to the top leadership. Their position is that the professional bureaucracy is deliberately and maliciously keeping information from them.

“They always had information to back up their public claims, but it was often very bad information,” Pollack continued. “They were forcing the intelligence community to defend its good information and good analysis so aggressively that the intelligence analysts didn’t have the time or the energy to go after the bad information.”

Pollack is an exceptionally credible critic primarily because he has consistently favored regime change in Iraq, even if it meant an invasion. So if Hersh is reporting this conversation correctly, it has to be taken seriously. But there are three possible interpretations of Pollack's statement about forcing the intelligence community to defend its "good" information and analysis. The first is that the Administration wanted to discredit information and analysis that it disliked or that didn't fit its own theory. This is obviously the interpretation that Hersh favors. But given Pollack's well-known sentiments it seems unlikely that he would blithely use the term "good information" to refer to anything he knows supports the notion that Saddam was harmless or containable, or that suggested an invasion was unnecessary. Another, more plausible possibility is that they simply mistrusted everything that the CIA had given its Good Housekeeping Seal. This is reasonable given that the CIA had failed to predict an attack on downtown Manhattan that killed around 3,000 people. But a third possibility, that hasn't been raised by anyone, is that people in the Administration might have been probing the vetting process itself. Pressing for verification of what the CIA accepts as good is one way to test their objectivity, for one thing. But more importantly, it may be the best means available to the Administration of testing or challenging information that has the potential to falsify their hypothesis about Saddam, that he was a growing threat.

But Hersh implicitly accepts the first interpretation without question and builds on this case by referring to a conversation with Greg Thielmann, "an expert on disarmament with the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research, or INR, [who] was assigned to be the daily intelligence liaison to John Bolton, the Under-Secretary of State for Arms Control," and who is described by Hersh as "a prominent conservative:"

The whole point of the intelligence system in place, according to Thielmann, was “to prevent raw intelligence from getting to people who would be misled.” Bolton, however, wanted his aides to receive and assign intelligence analyses and assessments using the raw data.

And thus the prominent conservative neophyte risks being misled, by pressing a conflict with the expert intelligence officer, and lamely offers as his excuse:

I found that there was lots of stuff that I wasn’t getting and that the INR analysts weren’t including,” he told me. “I didn’t want it filtered. I wanted to see everything—to be fully informed. If that puts someone’s nose out of joint, sorry about that.”

Rumsfeld, another prominent conservative babe-in-the-woods, adopts a similar approach, setting up a separate intelligence unit in the Pentagon under William Luti. So, neither trusted the CIA to avoid inappropriately dismissing some potentially valid intelligence. But just as importantly, they may have had valid concerns about the CIA's methods of vetting what they considered to be good or reliable intelligence too.

Look at it this way: If your use of the information provided by Jafar is simply to strengthen an assumption that Saddam doesn't pose a threat, the sort of assumption you'd adopt in a conventional court case, then the entire case simply doesn't rest on that single piece of intelligence. It plays only a subordinate role. On the other hand, if your use of Jafar's testimony is to smash an assumption that Saddam does pose a threat, and you can verify that it holds up, you can declare your assumption falsified and can accept your alternate hypothesis, that the accused is innocent after all. In this case the information is no longer playing a subordinate, but a primary role. It therefore requires a far more rigorous test. The fact that Jafar may have said something really provacative, and worthy of being used to wrap up his article, may be interesting to Hersh and his readers, but that misses the point.

And here, I think is the core of the problem: If the CIA was an organization in which an alpha decision method had become the norm, or was somehow misapplying the method it had adopted, it isn't unreasonable for an organization that had adopted the alternative method (which was, by the way, appropriate) to insist on unfiltered information. The issue is one that Hersh never addresses, because he never sees it. He never defends, but assumes, that the CIA's methods and procedures were appropriate. Given that those methods and procedures had failed to warn of 9-11, the effort to obtain unfiltered information doesn't seem entirely unreasonable. My point here is that Hersh's bias in favor of an alpha method results in an incomplete and somewhat distorted analysis of the situation. He simply assumes, in other words, that the mistrust of the intel channels was dysfunctional. That may not have been the case at all.

The following item from the Hersh article suggests precisely this assessment of the CIA had been made, throughout the Bush Administration:

The C.I.A. assessment reflected both deep divisions within the agency and the position of its director, George Tenet, which was far from secure. (The agency had been sharply criticized, after all, for failing to provide any effective warning of the September 11th attacks.) In the view of many C.I.A. analysts and operatives, the director was too eager to endear himself to the Administration hawks and improve his standing with the President and the Vice-President. Senior C.I.A. analysts dealing with Iraq were constantly being urged by the Vice-President’s office to provide worst-case assessments on Iraqi weapons issues.

But if we assume that the Bush Administration had already accepted the "worst case" as their working hypothesis, then it stands to reason that they would want to know the possible implications, and would insist on unfiltered info... for the simple reason that they weren't using the same kind of filters employed by the CIA, and had effectively abandoned that method. It is extremely unlikely that any such evidence would ever make it up through the CIA's filtering channels, because they simply weren't looking for it. That also suggests a reason why they might have forced the CIA to defend the information it thought was "good" as a way of vetting the vetting process. Another option might have been to completely reorganize the CIA, and impose a different set of methods from the top down, but since it appears that senior CIA analysts had already taken a position against such an approach (not in so many words, but operationally by looking for reasons to doubt Saddam), people in the Administration may simply have decided that such a re-organization would have taken too much time, and created too much disruption.

Hersh then spends the next few paragraphs discussing Joseph Wilson's "excellent credentials" and the circumstances of his mission to Niger, concluding that:

He learned that any memorandum of understanding to sell yellowcake would have required the signatures of Niger’s Prime Minister, Foreign Minister, and Minister of Mines. “I saw everybody out there,” Wilson said, and no one had signed such a document. “If a document purporting to be about the sale contained those signatures, it would not be authentic.” Wilson also learned that there was no uranium available to sell: it had all been pre-sold to Niger’s Japanese and European consortium partners.

So Hersh's version of "vetting" information is to assume that officials in Niger have all spoken honestly to an American diplomat about a sale that would surely have put them on the wrong side of an Administration from which they wished to obtain financial aid? Is it any wonder that "top officials" in the Bush Administration might not want their information run through such filters?

And again, what sort of unencumbered facts are we given in the Hersh article?

By early March, 2002, a former White House official told me, it was understood by many in the White House that the President had decided, in his own mind, to go to war.

Here we have a subjective opinion expressed by an anonymous source... and we're supposed to take this as an empirical fact? Moreover, not only is this piece of information accepted as fact, but it's used to explain the re-allocation of resources to the Persian Gulf. It's a neat trick, because it certainly wouldn't be possible to do the reverse, and substantiate the opinion expressed above by reference to the tired old claim of the anti-Bush post-moderns that Bush was pulling too many resources from the War on Terrorism and reassigning them to Iraq. What we have here is two assumptions appearing to reinforce one another, simply because they happen to fit a by-now-familiar narrative. Neither is a fact. Philosophers call this "the hermeneutic circle."

So, we're still waiting for some facts. And instead, we're provided with yet another familiar narrative of the left, about the defector reports provided by Chalabi's INC. And, again, there's a presumption that such "garbage" should not be seen by the Administration because they'd be, somehow, unduly influenced.

There isn't much doubt that this situation is dysfunctional, but how, and who's fault is it? And more importantly how would one go about fixing it? The following sentiment, expressed by another "X" sums it up:

“It became a personality issue,” a Pentagon consultant said of the Bush Administration’s handling of intelligence. “My fact is better than your fact. The whole thing is a failure of process. Nobody goes to primary sources.” The intelligence community was in full retreat.

After establishing that something was wrong, but by no means having clarified what it was, Hersh discusses the sequence of events surrounding the documents that supported the Administration's earlier contentions about the sale of nuclear material from Africa. In doing so he introduces an extraordinary conspiracy theory that ought to have eclipsed the concerns about "stovepipes," yellow cake, and everything else.

In late summer [August 7th through September 14th,, 2002], the White House sharply escalated the nuclear rhetoric. There were at least two immediate targets: the midterm congressional elections and the pending vote on a congressional resolution authorizing the President to take any action he deemed necessary in Iraq, to protect America’s national security.

On August 7th, Vice-President Cheney, speaking in California, said of Saddam Hussein, “What we know now, from various sources, is that he . . . continues to pursue a nuclear weapon.” On August 26th, Cheney suggested that Saddam had a nuclear capability that could directly threaten “anyone he chooses, in his own region or beyond.” He added that the Iraqis were continuing “to pursue the nuclear program they began so many years ago.”

This sort of thing goes on for awhile, until early October.
At that moment, in early October, 2002, a set of documents suddenly appeared that promised to provide solid evidence that Iraq was attempting to reconstitute its nuclear program. The first notice of the documents’ existence came when Elisabetta Burba, a reporter for Panorama,

He goes on to describe how Burba scoped out the story in mid October, and debunked the Niger documents, which may or may not have been the same as the SISMI documents that Cheney had been referring to earlier. This was 8 months after Wilson's mission to Nigeria. The documents were, however, given to the American Embassy in Italy and then made their way to DC. At this point he is using sources that he says are "two former C.I.A. officials [who] provided slightly different accounts." One account was this:
Once the documents were in Washington, they were forwarded by the C.I.A. to the Pentagon, he said. “Everybody knew at every step of the way that they were false—until they got to the Pentagon, where they were believed.”

And the other was this:
The second former official, Vincent Cannistraro, who served as chief of counter-terrorism operations and analysis, told me that copies of the Burba documents were given to the American Embassy, which passed them on to the C.I.A.’s chief of station in Rome, who forwarded them to Washington. Months later, he said, he telephoned a contact at C.I.A. headquarters and was told that “the jury was still out on this”—that is, on the authenticity of the documents.

Yeah I guess those were slightly different accounts, alright! One had "metaphysical certitude" that the documents were frauds, and the other had "methodological uncertainty" about their validity. The moon is slightly different from the sun. Which would you believe? Hersh clearly believes the first, just as he really believes in Jafar's informative chats with his totalitarian buddies.

Now this is where it gets really interesting. Although it sure seems like the Administration jumped to a conclusion that Iraq was buying uranium, the question that keeps coming up is where did these documents come from? Apparently they came from a group of disgruntled former CIA officers out to "put the bite" on Cheney, and other officials in the White House who, in their opinion "were not practicing good tradecraft and vetting intelligence." So it comes full circle. We now know that there were two branches of government, one elected and the other appointed and supposedly serving at their pleasure, that had a deep methodological split amounting to something like conflicting worldviews. And the CIA people were so certain of their assumption that any other approach simply amounted to malfeasance. Furthermore, this malfeasance was so egregious that it justified the deliberate deception of an elected Chief Executive and Commander in Chief. And to think, the White House had doubts about trusting these guys to filter their information! What got into them!

But how does Hersh spin this extraordinary story?

“What’s telling,” he [an unnamed "retired clandestine officer"] added, “is that the story, whether it’s true or not, is believed”—an extraordinary commentary on the level of mistrust, bitterness, and demoralization within the C.I.A. under the Bush Administration.

Isn't the traitorous glee with which this story is circulated within the CIA some sort of commentary on precisely how the distrust by the Administration of the CIA might have come about? And according to the same individual, his colleagues reacted to the President's use of the Niger information by exclaiming: ‘Holy shit, all of a sudden the President is talking about it in the State of the Union address!’ At that point, falling back on their spook training, they decided to build a backfire, by leaking the documents to the I.A.E.A. to be debunked without implicating themselves.

So, if we look at the evidence alone, without the distorted context provided by Hersh's interpretations and his implicit assumption that the CIA's methods were nearly infallible, as well as his "Monday morning quarterbacking," what emerges is the image of a CIA and Intelligence Community that no one in their right mind would trust, and an Administration that attempted to get around this glaring problem by setting up an ad hoc intelligence process with a completely different objective: to test a competing hypothesis. They weren't focused on "proving guilt" because they had assumed it. They were focused appropriately on the very core of the case, and placed information relevant to undermining their assumption at the pinnacle of their method. And it would seem that for anyone not primarily interested in muckraking, the lead story here would have been that the CIA may have deliberately misled the President in a way that actually made war more likely. Have I missed something?

Posted by Demosophist at 03:02 PM | Comments (12) | TrackBack

October 29, 2003

Shortest Route to a Successful Reconstruction?

As practically everyone knows, Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit has recently posted a reference to an article by Johann Hari in The Independent (also available on his blog). The point of the article:

All decent people - including those who opposed the war - must now work to establish a consensus in Britain and the US behind the path that Iraqis, in every single poll of their opinion, are begging us to take: stay for a few years to ensure a transition to democracy, resist the fascistic bombers attacking those who have come to help, and gradually accord more and more power to the Governing Council in advance of elections.

I wonder if it's time yet to start talking about a referendum in Iraq on what they'd like the US to do? If successful it would be the strongest possible endorsement of the US role. It would certainly put a muzzle on the defeatists here at home, and in the "international community," were the majority of Iraqis to actually vote for a 24 month "subscription," to work hand in hand with the US reconstruction effort. And having such a vote immediately after we've committed $20 Billion to the reconstruction wouldn't be the worst timing in the world, either. It would also give the Iraqis a direct role in resisting the Ba'athist insurgency. Of course, the risk is that they'd vote us out. But it'd sure be something to see, huh?

Posted by Demosophist at 11:40 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

October 28, 2003

My new URL

My new domain name is finally working properly. Although the old URL will still work, the new and improved one is:



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October 27, 2003

Seymour Hersh and the Stovepipe Narrative

Haven't posted today because I needed to harvest a crop of ripe data, and I've also been mulling over this article by Seymour Hersh, in The New Yorker. It's rather painful to read given might be my somewhat optimistic interpretation of Bush's decision method on the Iraq War. I'll have a great deal more to say, but the bare bones of the case are these:

1. Bush had every right to choose to follow a different decision method than that traditionally employed by the CIA. And he also had a right to expect the CIA to give him their full support in implementing that method.

2. There was simply no way the CIA was in any condition to provide the intelligence to the Bush Administration that they required, in order to implement their method. And it's fairly clear that there were some pretty good reasons besides that as to why the Bush people might not trust the CIA to predigest information for them.

3. Having said that, the Bush people did a really awful job of vetting intelligence, at the very least. It's a bit like someone who decides they need to amputate their own arm in an extreme situation, but then fails to apply a tourniquet. At most they deliberately misled, or lied.

4. If the Niger story was, indeed, cooked up by disgruntled CIA employees it is a far greater offense than anything the Administration did. Think about it. These people deliberately misled a sitting elected national Executive about a matter of vital national security. They righteously hang people for that sort of thing. And the fact that people in the CIA (according to some reports) were mirthful about the situation is the sign of an organizational dysfunction that surely must require the sort of overhaul that was wrought on the DOD in the three decades following Vietnam.

I intend to get down on all fours with this article, once the current project is done. More later.

Posted by Demosophist at 11:38 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 26, 2003

Copperheads, Peace Generals, and Saddlery

American Digest has a nice educational post about Victor Davis Hanson's use of the term "copperheads" in his rousing article in the National Review Online: The Event of the Age. An excerpt from American Digest:

In 1861, Republicans started calling antiwar Democrats "copperheads", likening them to the poisonous snake. By 1863, the Peace Democrats had accepted the label, but for them the copper "head" was the likeness of Liberty on the copper penny, and they proudly wore pennies as badges.

The Copperheads mounted a forceful and sustained protest against the Lincoln administration's policies and conduct. The most popular of the Copperheads was Democratic Congressman Clement L. Vallandigham, who in 1862 introduced a bill in Congress to imprison the President. Instead, Vallandigham and a host of other Democrats, including judges, newspaper editors, politicians, and antiwar activists, were arrested and imprisoned without trial on the orders of Lincoln and Secretary of War Stanton, who had decided to take off their gloves in dealing with persons "guilty of any disloyal practice".

Fascinating Fact: At the 1864 Democratic convention, Vallandigham persuaded the party to adopt a platform that declared the war a failure and called for negotiations with the Confederacy. (Copperheads)

Of course, the person the Peace Democrats nominated to run against Lincoln was an anti-war general whose main contribution had been as a glorified drill instructor who advocated a fairly decent saddle that still bears his name: the McClellan. With the nomination of Clark the parallels would be complete, except that Wes is advocating an updated steed and saddle.

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Postmodern Marxisant Student Warrior

meets the real world. This is just so eloquent! Better than anything I could write on my own.

That's All Folks

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October 25, 2003

Right to Life

OK, here's my next vote in the New Weblog Showcase. It's for Sebastian Holsclaw's post on the Right to Life controversy. I've followed his debate with Schwartz about the issue of "imminent threat," and he is a provocative thinker and debater. Here's an excerpt from his post:

"The central issue is whether or not the fetus is a person with rights protected by the state. If you want an obscuring political slogan, pro-choice is great. If you want to actually talk about abortion policy, choice is a component far less important that the personhood of the fetus. It is fair to argue that the fetus is not a person. It is not good faith to pretend that the personhood of the fetus is irrelevant."

I'm intrigued by this perspective because it ultimately raises issues about uncertainty that I've dealt with in a couple of other posts here, and here. Of course, if "choice" (seen as either freedom or license depending on your orientation) were not a critical issue, whether or not we regarded the fetus as a person would hardly matter. But the central issue is the "personhood" of the fetus, or some similar conception that tells us that he/she/it is sufficiently like us in the most critical dimension that we must regard the entity as inherently entitled to individual rights. And that'll be notoriously difficult to define. Perhaps R. Buckminster Fuller's method might shed some light. He regarded the status of an "individual" as having been established as soon as there is "consciousness of otherness." Or, in other words, if you can demonstrate that a fetus is conscious of persons other than itself, or indeed any item animate or inanimate, that he or she knows is not himself (the gender thing is tough), he or she is "a person." For such a person has the minimal requirements of "sovereignty." This is fairly unambiguous, and I suspect it's a good deal more robust than it appears at first blush. The primary sovereign right is the right to life, and "choice" is also seen as a critical property of sovereignty, which is more than tangential to the debate. Personhood therefore implies a capacity for choice.

I have to say that I'm not sure where I come down on this question. I've never seen any evidence that suggests a fetus is sovereign in this sense, but I don't discount the possibility that such evidence might be forthcoming one day.

And that raises what I think is the central dilemma regarding this issue. For we are confronted with uncertainty, and whether we assume the fetus is sovereign or not, in the mean time, will be determined by how gravely we regard the consequences, as well as the odds, of being wrong.

Posted by Demosophist at 03:51 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

The Alpha and the Beta of Threat

A friend of mine recently made some humorous remarks about the lack of WMD found in Iraq that reflect the usual view that the war was unjustified, or at least that it was unjustified on the basis of the threat of WMD. And this started me thinking about how I might try to clarify the understanding of a genuinely critical issue: How do we deal rigorously and appropriately with uncertainty about a significant threat? So I'm going to try to delve into the alpha and beta of the problem again, without surrendering the reality that there were a host of other reasons for embarking on the war, from gamma to omega.

The expectation seems to be that the Bush Administration made the wrong choice because WMD haven't been found. But this fails to recognize that there are no decision methods that rule out the possibility of error completely. It's all a matter of what kind of error you're willing to live with. And we can apply two different kinds of decision methods, neither of which has an absolute guarantee of being error-free. I'll call these methods, for the sake of brevity and consistency, alpha and beta. I'm going to forego the technical language and simply assert the following: An alpha decision method is equivalent to an assumption of innocence, while a beta method is equivalent to an assumption of guilt. Let's say we have a "glass" or container that holds signals and reasons for believing a plea of innocence. If you're willing to call the glass "partly full" until the level drops below a certain threshold you're an alpha sort of person, whereas if you insist on calling it "partly empty" until it rises above a certain threshold you're a beta sort of person. Obviously you're "playing it safe" if you're a beta guy.

I attempted in an earlier post to deal with the concept of uncertainty by reference to the Florida Recount. The thing about the Florida situation is that both sides had an asymmetric view of the threat, and tended to discount the threat the other side saw. The Bush people, for instance, tended to discount the loss of social legitimacy that would result from the appearance of having "won" the election on a legal technicality. And the Gore people tended to discount the threat associated with dragging the process out to a national distraction. Granted this is a simplification, but the point is that both sides were seen as mean and combative by the other side's partisans, because both were utilizing a beta decision method.

For most decisions the consequences of convicting an innocent person (or regime) tend to outweigh the consequences of failing to convict a guilty party, Willy Horton notwithstanding. But when the consequences of an erroneous acquittal can lead to huge numbers of casualties, the only responsible method is to view the glass as "partly empty" and to demand a fairly high threshold before you treat it as "full." And if you're concerned about a regime that Freedom House regards as the most repressive on earth, and that has a history of cultivating flowers of evil and practicing deception and bad faith for twelve years, you'd have a right--nay, an obligation--to insist that this regime be assumed guilty until proved otherwise, bad press or not.

Most people, after all, are familiar with criminal trials where the defendant is presumed innocent and must be proved guilty "beyond a reasonable doubt." This situation is the norm in many other kinds of circumstances that call for judgment and decision as well. When most employers conduct hiring interviews they don't usually presume that the interviewee is a criminal. To do so would have the cost of potentially excluding otherwise good workers. That's why most companies don't administer drug tests to employees. But the risk is that sometimes you'll mistakenly hire a sociopath or a drug abuser. And indeed over the period of many hirings you almost certainly *will* hire someone like this, if your company is large, even though the frequency of such people in the society is low. The primary objective of personnel departments is to hire as many good and qualified people as possible, and to keep them happy, in order to be competitive. Certain companies and agencies, however, have missions that demand security, so they do things that demonstrate a more cautious set of assumptions. They may conduct routine background checks or random drug tests. The fact is that if you toss out all the bathwater without being sufficiently careful you're bound to end up with a few missing babies. And as a general rule, we eschew such strategies.

This means that an alpha strategy is the "typical" decision method in our enlightened society, and beta strategies are considered rather anti-social and mean. We presume innocence because we seek to optimize performance, justice, or happiness. Those women looking for a mate who presume that all men are pigs are likely to end up single and alone, etc. And that is precisely why, even after Hans Blix expressly stated on Charlie Rose and elsewhere that the decision method he intended to follow in Iraq would be dictated by a "presumption of guilt," he and his bosses in the UNSC, and most of the non-US public, imperceptibly drifted toward the presumption of innocence regarding the Hussein regime. It's human nature.

So we began to look for reasons not to trust Saddam, as though they were hard to find. As hard as, say, WMD. And everyone focused on "the big hunt."

Well, lets examine what ought to have been done instead. The obligation of someone who applies a beta decision methodology is to diligently search for reasons to reject their assumption. And the more gravely you regard the consequences of falsely rejecting the assumption of guilt, the higher threshold you place on rejecting your assumption of guilt. And that's not human nature. After all, you're a mean person who stubbornly insists on seeing the glass as half empty, which in most cases (and especially in diplomacy) is considered an act of bad faith. Well, it is true that it's an act of low faith. But in this case low is good.

At this point in the essay I had intended so say that Bush's mistake was that he, apparently, expended little effort in fulfilling his obligation as a beta guy. He ought to have actively sought to falsify his assumption of guilt, because that's the proper way to implement the strategy. From a political perspective, however, it's risky to gather evidence for the opposition's case, which is essentially what you have to do to be methodologically rigorous. A couple of instructive examples leap to mind: The Pentagon Papers, and Rumsfeld's recent internal memo on the War on Terrorism. However, it occurs to me that you don't falsify the assumption that Saddam is guilty by looking for WMD. That may seem surprising, but it's true. The difficulty of the search, even after the country itself has been secured and Saddam ousted, suggests that simply failing to find WMD wouldn't be enough. And Saddam knew that if we tried that strategy we'd eventually get tired of it. But the fact is that we've assumed the weapons are there, so there's really no direct reason to look for them. What you look for, instead, are cooperative behaviors on the part of the Hussein regime that are inconsistent with the guilty intentions that you assume are there. And you do this by looking for WMD, attempting to provoke behaviors that reveal underlying intent. So the search for WMD is simply a means for gathering evidence about behavior, and your interest in finding WMD is secondary.

And it's simply the case that every time we pushed, Saddam pushed back or held out for as long as was possible, up to and including threats of violence and retaliation. For instance, Blix had negotiated an aerial reconnaissance regime where we gave prior warning of spy flights and agreed to send up only one plane at a time. And we had an incident where a second U-2 plane was launched "by mistake" from Saudi Arabia. And Saddam didn't simply say "Well, you said you weren't going to do that... but it's no big deal. No problem if you want two planes up." He said, instead: "Get that second plane out of the sky, or I'll shoot it down." At which point Blix ought to have said: "Go ahead and down it. We have every right according to your agreement to abide by 1441 to put up as many planes as we deem necessary." And if he had done that there'd have been little ambiguity left about Saddam's intentions. One way or the other we'd have opened a path. So Bush was doing everything he could to implement the beta guy strategy as rigorously as possible. It's just that everyone else slowly edged over to a more comfortable alpha guy behavior. Bush kept his eye on the ball, while the attention of the UNSC and everyone else wandered.

But some might argue that by pushing Saddam in such a manner we would have been taking enormous risks, or would have been insufficiently cognizant of the realities of Saddam's position. We'd either be subjecting him to a loss of esteem within his hierarchy, or flirting with the danger that he'd strike first, with some strategic WMD. As regards the first concern, I admit that confronting him in this way would have placed Saddam in something of a bind. But better him than us. And it also had the potential of creating conditions for a coup, or at least dissension in the command/control of the regime. And how is that bad, exactly? As regards the second concern, I think we could safely assume that the risk was minimal. Ironically we had pretty reliable behavioral evidence that there was no "imminent threat" of the surprise use of WMD, because Saddam was, himself, clearly facing an imminent threat on his borders, and if he'd had a strategic weapon in his arsenal he'd have at least shown it as a deterrent. He had a conspicuous example, in N. Korea, as a model for such deterrence. So he allowed his headache to increase, because he had no medication. That's not a difficult inference to make.

And there's a good deal of evidence to suggest that Bush came to precisely this conclusion. As the recent debates between Holsclaw and Schwartz covered by Daniel Drezner as well as this excellent timeline make clear, Bush was either saying we oughtn't wait until the threat became imminent (which is understandable prudence) or he was making a case for lowering the standards of what constitutes an imminent threat, to include a "grave and growing" danger. Bush was consistently and appropriately employing a "beta guy" decision method. If he made a mistake it was in conforming to the appearance of an alpha method. But, on the other hand, if he had tipped his hand the behaviors observed would have been more self conscious and difficult to interpret, because they'd have included an element of dramaturgical strategy to confuse and obfuscate even more pronounced than Saddam's usual over-the-top behavior. He had to play the game, to keep the observations as pristine and clear as possible under the circumstances.

Posted by Demosophist at 01:56 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Hell for Halliburton Zone Flood

In The Truth Laid Bear New Web Log Showcase, the blog "Hell for Halliburton" is winning by a wide margin. [Update: This is apparently no longer the case. A number of links were apparently duplicates, so Wally's site has now moved decisively into the lead.] This is clearly something of a put up job, and I'd link to the article except it would be considered a vote for it. Either the strategy is to undermine the intent of the contest by drawing in the antiwar blogging crowd from all over the internet to co-opt it; or it's a matter of flooding the zone with dubious and false charges to win some quick notoriety, or both. (The Michael Moore approach to political discourse.) You can reach the site by finding it on the Showcase Page, if you've a mind to see this sort of drivel, but most of the writing and concepts are pretty sophomoric, and the charges seem dubious at best. Take the following entry:

"Halliburton said in response to the Congressional letter last week that it charges $1.59 to a gallon for its gasoline imports, which includes the 2 percent profit margin. In a fax, the Iraqi marketing organization's general manager, Mohammed al-Jibouri, said that gasoline from Turkey costs $347 a metric ton delivered to Baghdad, which he said translates to about 98 cents a gallon."

From the information and links provided the contention is that Halliburton is "gouging" $0.61 per gallon because you can buy at a bulk rate in Turkey that's lower by that entire amount. That's right, not one red cent in overhead to deliver gasoline to an area of the world with severe infrastructure problems that has just been through a war, and has an ongoing low level guerilla insurgency. Pretty clever, huh? Nor is there apparently the slightest recognition that there's a relationship between supply and demand that determines price, or that if Halliburton could sell more at a lower price they'd make more profit, as long is it was above their cost. So how is selling at a market clearing price "gouging?" It would certainly be helpful if we knew how much Iraqis were paying at the pump, as opposed to what the Turks are paying for bulk.

[Note: The entire preceeding paragraph was based on the paucity of relevant information provided on the HFH site. There is a somewhat more informative and useful article about this in the New York Times. According to that article:]

Iraqis pay the equivalent of 4 cents to 15 cents a gallon for gasoline, which means that American taxpayers are footing the bill for bringing oil into Iraq.

4 to 15 cents per gallon? That's almost as cheap as a bicycle ride. This seems pretty relevant information, so I don't understand why the Hell for Halliburton site neglected to jab Halliburton with that pitchfork. However this ridiculously low price is not the market clearing price, and has led to shortages and lines that "clotted the streets of Iraq's biggest cities, especially Baghdad, and stoked widespread resentment among Iraqis already grappling with the breakdown of basic services." So the importation of gasoline was, apparently, necessary due to shortages caused by a non-market pricing system.

The Times article goes on to say:

One answer for the disparity may be the cost of renting the trucks, or of paying drivers who are worried about entering a turbulent Iraq, said George Beranek, manager of market analysis at PFC Energy, a Washington consulting firm. Still, Mr. Beranek and other industry analysts said that the difference between the wholesale price and the price the letter says Halliburton charged was puzzling.

So this is a developing story with a rather clear partisan slant. The Hell for Halliburton site didn't say any of this, and didn't link to the Times article for some reason. My initial impression was that 98 cents was the bulk price in Turkey, but apparently the bulk price is 71 cents and according to Henry Waxman (who may not be an impartial source of information) it costs 25 cents to truck the fuel in. That brings the total cost close to the 98 cents per gallon estimate that HFH uses. And had the Hell for Halliburton site been halfway interested in providing even its own partisans with accurate information and analysis they ought to have made this point clearly. But the play here seems to be that if you can flood the zone with enough crap to make a goose slip and fall it'll just be more trouble than it's worth to debunk everything. I can just see a roomful of pre-adults sitting around in a dorm somewhere yukking over how they've co-opted the system.

But fortunately good arguments and valid data do matter (though perhaps only in the long run). Information and judgment are more than commodities.

Which reminds me, I'm casting votes for the blogs below, for starters:

Irreconcilable Musings for Defending the Blogosphere Front in the War on Terrorism. Some excellent articles on a variety of topics, with an appropriate slant. Besides he's second in the above contest, so the closest to overtaking HFH. (I'm third, but way back.)

and I'm also casting a vote for the Captain's Quartes post Fareed Zakaria Loses It. Ed frequently makes some excellent and nuanced observations, and his assessment of Fareed's proposed censure of General Boykin is excellent.
Anyway, check out the New Web Log Showcase if this troll gang tactic bothers you, and vote for someone else. Wally's link is here and Ed's is here, while mine is here, and pasting those links into your blog counts as a vote for them. Or vote for someone else. [Addendum: Apparently you have to link to the specific article, rather than just the overall site, for the vote to count. It pays to read the instructions, I guess.]

My "contest" link, to keep the troll alliance from becoming the featured blog at The Truth Laid Bear New Blog Showcase is:

Totalitarianism 3.0

And even if you don't vote, read the article and post a comment.

Posted by Demosophist at 12:53 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

October 23, 2003

Jonathan Schell Game

There was a time when I had enormous respect for Jonathan Schell, and thought his books The Fate of the Earth and The Abolition inserted a note of realism into the nuclear arms debate. He even grudgingly admitted that Mutually Assured Destruction had a kind of logic, and was a substitute, in some sense, for government. I therefore don't know what to say about his miserable performance on Charlie Rose. I suppose the sort of rhetoric Mr. Schell indulged in is just wearing me out. But I noticed that after declaring several times that he was "no expert on the Middle East or Iraq" he managed to express an opinion so profoundly pessimistic that he not only saw virtually no possibility of a "happy" outcome, but was certain (in spite of having no credentials applicable to saving failed states or building successful ones) that the more the US is involved, the worse the eventual outcome would be. And I wonder if this is an empirical or verifiable certainty, or if it's something more like an emotional illness.

Somewhat later in the interview Mr. Schell mentions another certainty: his conviction that there is (I'm paraphrasing from memory) "some principle by which social change and governance can come about without ultimately resting on force." And the case he made for such a principle involved the transformation of the Soviet Empire (though I'm not sure he called it that), and especially the role of Solidarity in Poland as though Ronald Reagan had nothing to do with these events. Well, I'm no expert on non-violence, so I sure don't know what that mysterious principle might be. And he is purportedly an expert on non-violence, so if he doesn't know, then I'm not quite sure why I should feel especially confident about it.

But I can see why he'd have to be pessimistic about the prospect of the US successfully nurturing a liberal regime in Iraq, and especially about the possibility that we'd actually be a net positive influence on that transformation. That would be something of a blow to the notion that force can't play a role in beneficial epochal social change. Although strictly speaking his hypothesis has nothing to do with that. He's merely saying that there's "another way" that he doesn't seem to know very much about, but in which he nonetheless maintains a rather inspired faith. Apparently a "Jonathan Schell Game" doesn't have a pea. Just a strong conviction about one. And that's as good a reason as any to pull out of Iraq and leave a power vacuum for the totalitarians, innit?

Posted by Demosophist at 12:23 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

October 22, 2003

Inside Mecca

PBS is showing a National Geographic special entitled Inside Mecca: The rites and rituals of Muslims' pilgrimage to the Saudi Arabian city of Mecca. Extremely interesting, especially the thread that tracks the pilgrimmage of a U. of Texas academic named O'Leary. Raised a Catholic she is asked about how she feels concerning the requirement that she obtain "permission" from her son to embark on the pilgrimmage, and about all the other dress requirements, etc. Incredibly, her response is that she accepts it as a manifestation of the exortation: "When in Rome, do as the Romans do." Of course, this doesn't exactly come from the Shari'a does it?

The irony, oh the irony. God bless her rebellious Irish heart.

Posted by Demosophist at 08:39 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

The Blogospherical Enhancement of Political Wisdom

Glenn Reynolds' TCS article on blogging reminded me of the role played by political parties, and the primary reason they evolved in the 18th Century: to act as "reputation pools." The problem confronted by voters is the reciprocal of the problem confronted by candidates. Absent some systematic way to hold candidates accountable for the campaign promises they make, voters have no reason to believe them. And because candidates can't make credible promises it's difficult for them to differentiate themselves from their opponents and to gain a vote advantage. Strategizing by thinking forward and reasoning back, confronts candidates with a dilemma. Clearly it is necessary to have some sort of institution that can maintain discipline over candidates at a level of rigor required or demanded by the voters (but no more). The logic is similar to the logic that led to the Rule of Law, by which elites voluntarily chose to establish institutions that constrained them, in order to quell feuds. And political parties representing groups of governing elites fit the bill, not only because they could hold candidates to some sort of account, but because they also have a clear incentive to do so: to manage their own credibility with voters and collectively become a sanctioned ruling elite. (Called a Schumpeterian Democracy, for David Schumpeter who initially described it.)

Professor Reynolds observes that it is the "emergent quality of networked referral and critique that makes the blogosphere more than the sum of its parts." And I would also submit that this conforms to a pattern. Like the other emergent phenomena of the past, such as political parties and the rule of law, the maintenance of reputation and status is acceded to by the participants themselves for their own benefit, with the verdict rendered ultimately by others (in this case the readers).

Note, however, that this doesn't replace those other institutions so much as it modifies them. Glenn observes that blogging won't replace conventional news media so much as it will "evolutionize them" by changing the way people use other media. They have begun to operate as a critical factor in the competition between media sources for readers and subscribers. But there is no reason to stop there.

The media pundit Kathleen Hall Jamieson has been making the case for some time that the media can play a more useful role in the electoral process, and has suggested various institutional changes that would facilitate such a role. But the problem is that the "watchers" (the media) have no incentive to watch with any greater care than their watchers demand of them. And on another level the basic problem is that political parties only have an incentive to clamp down on their members to the extent that the voting public demands it. In other words, they also have a countervailing incentive to avoid scrutiny and maintain some latitude for themselves. One might call it maintaining "freedom and license" within the bounds that allow them to compete effectively for votes. And while that may not be their only interest, it's the only interest that can be assumed by voters without the usually uncheckable assumption of virtue.

What we need is a way to provide voters/readers with the equivalent of corrective lenses for their political vision, insight and wisdom. And we happen to have a tool at our disposal that may do just that.

So, to extend Professor Reynolds' analysis, the blogosphere changes the level of resolution with which we are capable of seeing the media, which changes the level of resolution with which the media wants to see the political process (already demonstrated in a number of cases, including the cleanup of the Howell Raines distortion of the "paper of record"), which in turn may change the level of resolution at which political parties feel compelled to maintain their reputation pool free of memes and other detritus of speech and deed. And one might reasonably hope that the utility of such a compound corrective lens for human capacity might come to have both a microscopic and a telescopic function for our fundamental resource: the wisdom of the people.

It's a lot to ask, I know. But the early signs are promising.

Posted by Demosophist at 05:23 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

October 21, 2003

Real vs. Ersatz Anti-Semitism

Paul Krugman has written a new piece in the NYT about the delicate balancing act played by Mahathir Mohamad, the prime minister of Malaysia. Well, I know that Maylaysia is a tough place to govern, but Muslim leaders have been playing this bait and switch game, deflecting attention from their own flaws, for about long enough. In the same paper that publishes Krugman's diatribes Tom Friedman has been calling for a renovation of institutions in places like Malaysia ever since the Asian Economic Collapse, so isn't it about time that Krugman starts to support some genuine healing in the region, rather than this perpetual bandaid act that does nothing but "build wrath against the Day of Wrath?" And to excuse such antics he has to go pretty far afield:

And that's what he was doing last week. Not long ago Washington was talking about Malaysia as an important partner in the war on terror. Now Mr. Mahathir thinks that to cover his domestic flank, he must insert hateful words into a speech mainly about Muslim reform. That tells you, more accurately than any poll, just how strong the rising tide of anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism among Muslims in Southeast Asia has become. Thanks to its war in Iraq and its unconditional support for Ariel Sharon, Washington has squandered post-9/11 sympathy and brought relations with the Muslim world to a new low.

And bear in mind that Mr. Mahathir's remarks were written before the world learned about the views of Lt. Gen. William "My God Is Bigger Than Yours" Boykin. By making it clear that he sees nothing wrong with giving an important post in the war on terror to someone who believes, and says openly, that Allah is a false idol — General Boykin denies that's what he meant, but his denial was implausible even by current standards — Donald Rumsfeld has gone a long way toward confirming the Muslim world's worst fears.

Somewhere in Pakistan Osama bin Laden must be enjoying this. The war on terror didn't have to be perceived as a war on Islam, but we seem to be doing our best to make it look that way.

He's enjoying Paul Krugman's essays. I don't imagine anything George W. Bush is doing gives him much enjoyment. Certainly not this, from an article by Karl Zinsmeister, in the CS Monitor:

US soldiers and administrators are turning a tide of history and culture in the Middle East. If Americans show some patience, they'll gaze upon many heartening transformations in Iraq a few months and years from now.

Krugman's comments demonstrate the folly of encouraging an economist to editorialize on political conditions that are the result of culture and values. The set of conditions that allow this balancing act on the part of Muslim leaders is not based on attitudes but values. Attitudes may be influenced by short term political or social events, such as sympathy for a nation under attack by mass terrorists or the remarks of an obscure military official, but the values that Mahathir is mining aren't altered by passing fads or fancies. They've had a few generations of "soak time," in the precepts and lexicon of anti-Semitism and cultural prejudice, to build up an explosive potential, and the time when we could "realistically" countenance the striking of matches around such an incendiary source has passed us by. To excuse what Mahathir says is no longer political realism, but political fantasy. If the ersatz "anti-Semitism" of a statement like that of Gregg Easterbrook deserves condemnation and sanction then it hardly seems balanced to blame the appeal to real anti-Semitism on causes external to the Mahathir regime itself. If he has to play such a balancing act it's entirely due to the fact he hasn't instituted the political reforms that the economic and social conditions of his nation require. And the fact that he even has such an attention-deflecting option is not only not healthy, it's downright morbid.

Posted by Demosophist at 05:17 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

October 20, 2003

Easterbrook Orthodoxy: Addendum

Mickey Kaus has a slight modification of the previous interpretation. He feels that Gregg wafted through my version of a meddling preference, and went on to a different version. He attempted to "guilt" Eisner and Weinstein not by an appeal to anti-materialist Orthodoxy, but by an appeal to an anti-violence ethic as members of a special class of victims of violence. Well, since Kaus knows him personally, and the whole thing makes a lot of sense, I defer to that interpretation.

But I still can't figure out what TNR's "apology" is all about. They imply they understand, but I don't think they do. The "offense" is a grievous meddling preference. It's an attempt to place yourself within another's skin in order to convey to them how enormously immoral you think they are: a strategy that is always fraught with danger. But that's what meddling preferences are, by definition. You'd rather prevent someone else from some action, than allow yourself an exemption. Such preferences are, by nature, almost masochistic.

I have to say that I haven't the slightest inclination to see Kill Bill, and I'm sorry I saw Pulp Fiction. I understand the notion of meddling in the preference to produce such crap, but I have no confidence in the strategy itself. There ought to be a more direct route to shame.

Well, here's a thought. In Beauty: The Value of Values Frederick Turner proposes that the experience of shame is tied closely to the capacity to experience beauty. So the shameless, according to this philosophy, live lives that substitute aesthetics for beauty. They have no genuine beauty in their lives. It doesn't get more direct than that.

Posted by Demosophist at 10:47 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Easterbrook Orthodoxy

American Digest has mercifully filled in most of the gaps in my knowledge of the Easterbrook flap here, which finally allows me to make a relevant comment. The offending statement:

"Disney's CEO, Michael Eisner, is Jewish; the chief of Miramax, Harvey Weinstein, is Jewish. Yes, there are plenty of Christian and other Hollywood executives who worship money above all else, promoting for profit the adulation of violence. Does that make it right for Jewish executives to worship money above all else by promoting for profit the adulation of violence?”

Help me mommy, I'm scared. I haven't the slightest idea why this would be seen as anti-Semitic. He's clearly disdaining a particularistic "worship of money," not the generic worship of it. And there are plenty of exhortations in the Torah against the worship of mammon, right? (Perhaps not in so many words, but as "false idols," "idols built with hands," etc.) So, apparently, there is little difference between the new and the old dispensation on the nature of the sin itself, the difference being that under the new there's an "escape clause" in Matthew 19:26. Isn't Easterbrook, if anything, guilty of being ultra-Orthodox rather than anti-Semitic? I mean, he has rhetorically placed himself in the position of an Orthodox Jew, reminding his brethren that just because Christians get a break doesn't mean they do. Which is clearly pretty silly and hilariously self-righteous, but how is it anti-Semitic? He may be inadvertently ironic, but surely he's not deliberately so?

What the deuce am I missing?


Posted by Demosophist at 06:14 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

American Destiny

Gerard has posted a rousing essay on American Liberty and Destiny. I want to point out the obvious, that my use of the concept of "uncertainty" was far more modest than his. I've been struggling with how to explain the notion of an hypothesis test, and what it means in a public policy setting. I've never been very successful. And the problem is that it gets very complicated, very quickly, when you're confronted with the difference between an "innocent until proved guilty" situation (normally called an alpha test) and a "guilty until proved innocent" situation (or a beta test). Most of us intuitively know that only the latter was appropriate to the Iraq situation, but about 30% of the US population, and 90% of the world's population, doesn't see it that way. Well, you can see why I hate to bring it up. So I hit on the idea of discussing uncertainty in an entirely different context than the Iraq War.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that uncertainty about cultural values is a whole lot tougher than uncertainty about an event, even a justification for war. In the latter case we know something happened, or will happen, but we don't quite know what. Or we don't know for sure who won an election in which the uncertainty about the vote count is greater than the margin of victory. We could simply call it a tie, but for some reason people are reluctant to do that. New Mexico has a nice process by which it resolves tied elections. The candidates play a hand of stud poker. That's really a pretty profound way of resolving such disputes. Very "democratic," in the best sense. It resolves uncertainty by playing a game of chance.

But I don't know what to say about uncertainty regarding founding values. To some extent, the debate is still unresolved. For instance, there is a heated argument among political philosophers over issues about "fairness" in establishing a constitution. And there is a general consensus among Public Choice theorists that the real issue isn't "freedom" or "liberty," but individual sovereignty. And the difference is important. But it's a long discussion, and the hour is late. So I just want to say that those quibbles aside, I found Gerard's comments accurate, and his passion quite stirring.

Until now, we have not seen "Americanism" as a calling... and if and when we do, we'll learn a lot about why we avoided it for so long. There was, in fact, some comfort in being "exceptional," but it's also a curse. And if we accept this project, and are successful, it will mean that we'll no longer be exceptional. And we can also only hope that we aren't so exceptional that the task is impossible. Tocqueville thought Americans were so exceptional, as a people, that we'd probably always be a unique case. If he had been right, that would have been catastrophic. Think about it.

No, our best days aren't behind us. With all the very valid uncertainty that we face, I'm pretty sure of that, at least. And you realize, of course, that we're going to have to convince an awful lot of people to share this destiny with us.

So it's a good thing that Lance Armstrong speaks French.

Posted by Demosophist at 01:56 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

October 19, 2003

Imminent Threat in Florida and Iraq

Apparently there's a big hermeneutic brouhaha (covered by Daniel Drezner) being waged by Holsclaw and Schwartz over whether or not Bush argued, or attempted to make the case, that Iraq was an "imminent" threat to US Security. I suppose it's possible to sufficiently deconstruct the language so as to somehow cobble together a case that the Bushies were either attempting to say that the imminent threat standard was inappropriate (Holsclaw), or alternatively that we ought to soften the meaning of "imminent threat" to cover what is meant by "substantial and growing" (Schwartz). But the real bottom line for me is that Japan was never an "imminent threat" to the US in anyone's estimation. After Pearl Harbor the threat was hardly "imminent" any longer, and prior to Pearl Harbor no one seemed to know what sort of a threat Japan represented... at least no one outside the Japanese High Command. I'm pretty sure I'm on firm hermeneutic footing here, although Derrida would probably be glad to jerk the rug from under me.

But it would seem to me that the real issue isn't "imminence" but the same issue that was at stake in the Florida Recount: uncertainty. And to some people uncertainty means freedom and license, while to others it means constraint and caution. To Saddam, as to the Japanese High Command, the uncertainty of the US and its allies was freedom and license. It represented operating parameters, and opportunities. To Byrd and Kennedy uncertainly meant the possibility that a threat didn't exist. I might even say it meant the probability that the threat would not materialize unexpectedly. So, to them it also meant freedom and license. To the Bush people, on the other hand, uncertainty meant the possibility of a really nasty surprise somewhere down the line. And for an executive, to be on the receiving end of a "day of infamy," is something to be avoided.

But apart from the different meanings imposed on the fertile ground of uncertainty in the case of Saddam, the issue in Florida was that the uncertainty was greater than the margin of victory. And the amount of effort it would take to reduce that margin of uncertainty was simply enormous in proportion to the small number of votes that were at stake. So here uncertainty meant freedom and license to the Bush team, and it was unacceptably ominous to the Gore team. They couldn't tolerate the uncertainty, no matter how high the cost of wringing it out. (And I have to say that I was on their side.) The problem is always to avoid the consequences of error. Were there no consequences there'd be no controversy. If the margin of victory had been greater than the potential error in the vote count no one would have bothered. So what if a thousand votes aren't counted correctly, when the margin of victory is 10,000 votes?

The Bush Administration had a reliable estimate for the error potential of an attack on Saddam, but they did not have a reliable estimate for the margin of error of laying off, and Byrd and Kennedy were not about to supply it. We may eventually know what that potential of error was, as a result of the Kay Commission's final findings. But the mere fact that even that is uncertain now suggests a really profound level of uncertainty about laying off that simply could not be narrowed or squeezed, without an effort that was almost certainly beyond the resources the UN was willing to invest. And you can bet your bippy Saddam had made that calculation. The number and extent of his pet WMD programs, mothballed or not, will be found to be in direct proportion to his lack of respect for the UN's long term resolve. And the single biggest piece of evidence that we had, Saddam's profoundly opaque behavior, lay squarely in the way of any inclination the Bushies might have had to see the glass as half full.

So if a precedent was set, it was this warning to totalitarian dictators: "Your sense of freedom and license can get you into enormous trouble." And I just can't convince myself that this is a bad precedent to establish, no matter how much I parse and torture the language.

Posted by Demosophist at 03:24 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Intro to Totalitarianism 3.0

Last week, I responded to an item on American Digest titled "There's Something Strange in the Neighborhood

Last week, I responded to an item on American Digest titled "There's Something Strange in the Neighborhood." Gerard posted my comment on his site, which was very kind, but I noticed that there were a few typos (not Gerard's fault) and some of the ideas weren't expressed as clearly as they might be. Since I've intended to develop this line of reasoning, I thought I'd try to present a slightly more formal version of the thesis.

First, I should say that I'm not going to address the issues Gerard raises about a new political movement, because I think that's a separate subject, and deserves special treatment. Suffice to say that third parties in the US can usually only hope to adjust the position of whichever major party happens to be closest to their ideological perspective, and they can do that only by playing a spoiler role over several election cycles. There have been a couple of occasions where a third party became a major, and managed to supplant one of the established parties, so that is a possibility, although not a probability. But again, that's a distinct topic. It may tie into the fight against terrorism/totalitarianism if people become sufficiently invested in that struggle, and the major parties fail to come to terms with it.

However this is not a religious war, unless by religion we also mean secular ideological movements. Islamism is not merely "radical Islam," because it includes elements of the European Counter-Enlightenment that had no prior history in Muslim tradition until the 20th Century. As I think Paul Berman argues in Terror and Liberalism, Sayyid Qutb, the author of Al Qaeda's Mein Kampf, modified and adapted a thesis derived from European philosophy that the schism between the "lifeworld" and the "system world," defined "the schizophrenia of modern life." Qutb's formulation diagnosed the source of human strife as the schism between mankind's material and spiritual identity, and he proposed that only submission to Allah through strict adherence to Islamic Law could be offered as a remedy. The details of this complex "problematique" do not derive from the Muslim world view, but from elements of interpretive Western philosophy. And similarly, Counter-Enlightenment philosophy can be found in much of the totalitarian ideological turmoil of the 20th Century.

So, if liberalism is maturing in order to come to terms with the threat, I can see a seismic shift to a new political alignment in the US... one that isn't merely dedicated to Democracy (power of the people), but to Demosophia (wisdom of the people). And I will hope that there is a mature liberal impulse that is expressed in the "blogosphere," and by people like Andrew Sullivan, Chris Hitchens and many others. It does not conform to the old political divisions, and may well match up favorably against Totalitarianism 3.0.

Posted by Demosophist at 12:48 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Totalitarianism 3.0

Last week, I responded to an item on American Digest titled "There's Something Strange in the Neighborhood

Is there a possibility that the government of nations may fall in the hands of men who teach the most disconsolate of all creeds, that men are but fire flies, and this all is without a father? Is this the way to make man as man an object of respect? Or is it to make murder itself as indifferent as shooting plover, and the extermination of the Rohilla nation as innocent as the swallowing of mites on a morsel of cheese? -- John Adams

Death is the beginning of immortality." -- Maximilien Robespierre

Totalitarianism is almost, but not quite, an exclusively 20th Century phenomenon. There are a few instances, even in the ancient world, of what one would have to admit are totalitarian regimes. The culture of Sparta, for instance, is unmistakably totalitarian. It was certainly a good deal more than mere tyranny, and incorporated a system that profoundly impacted the human experience, from cradle to grave. It managed to control a subject Helot population ten times its size through systematic institutionalized terror. Plato referred to Sparta as a "timocracy," and identified it as one of the fundamental forms of government that also included oligarchy, democracy, and tyranny. But one could say that however one chooses to categorize it, the system we now identify as totalitarianism was extremely rare prior to the last Century.

And another nearly universal characteristic of totalitarianism is the phenomenon of the suicide murderer, or the suicide warrior. The Spartans idealized the suicide stand against the Persians at Thermopyle as the very epitome of their culture, the highest expression of their ideals. And it is not by accident that we find similar elements in the 20th Century, usually when a movement is either attempting to gain power or is on the verge of losing it. The Japanese Fascists resorted to the Kamikaze, or the "divine wind," even though Japanese culture is probably one of the least "religious" on the planet. According to Everett Carll Ladd "we think it is valid to say of the United States that it is exceptionally religious, and of Japan that it is exceptionally irreligious." And Germany also had its suicide warriors, most notably in what came to be called Project Werewolf, toward the latter end of WWII. So this phenomenon of terrorism/totalitarianism is not religion in the conventional sense.

But it seems that, ironically, the most virulent and world-threatening forms of the malady have coincided with the rise and spread of liberal democracy. I would almost suspect that the mere presence of a system seeking to institutionalize the optimization of liberty gives rise to an opposing ideal that seeks to control every thought and act through terror. And the first manifestation of this ancient rivalry may have been in the epic Peloponnesian Wars between Athens and Sparta. For the sake of convenience we'll call the ancient foreshadowings Totalitarianism 1.0. Examples of it were rare, discontinuous, and difficult to categorize, but there was something more than mere tyranny involved. Each of these examples has a quality that resembles the process by which innocent grasshoppers become a locust swarm.

The end of the 18th Century saw two great revolutions symbolized by a red, white and blue emblem: one that began in 1776 and the other in 1789. One is identified with the great ideals expressed in the Declaration of Independence. The other with "The Justification of the Use of Terror." Throughout the 19th Century the liberal experiment came to terms with its own inconsistencies, and at Gettysburg the experimental stage ended. With the turn of the 19th there were many neophyte versions of the liberal society struggling against the ancien regimes of various kinds, and in the turmoil it was often difficult to distinguish between those that valued independence versus those that valued purity. But the course of most of these revolutions followed the roadmap laid down by 1789, not 1776.

And the 20th Century began with the Dreyfus Affair and soon matured into WWI and the Russian Revolution. The First World War was the "coming of age" for my grandfather's generation, and it left them disillusioned and cynical. The "war to end all wars" not only gave us the mass casualties of Verdun, Chateau Thierry, the Marne, the Argonne, and Gallipoli, but it also saw the use of the first weapons of mass destruction. Of the 1161 WWI veterans listed for the Pennsylvania community of Washington, 80 are listed as "gassed." That is probably an undercount. And as if that weren't enough the battles of WWI were barely winding down when the world experienced the first global pandemic, a catastrophe that ultimately killed 10 times as many people as the war itself. Although not man made, the Influenza Pandemic clearly influenced the Wilsonian optimism with which the US had entered the war. And it is not surprising that many of the men who finally returned were disheartened and cynical. The seeds of Totalitarianism 2.0 that were eventually to bear fruit in the Stalinist and Nazi regimes, fell on ground that had been well prepared, and were fed and nurtured by economic calamities no less destructive than those of the second decade.

Even in the US, where the failed economy was treated with workfare provisions like the CCC, the situation led to a "Politics of Unreason" with distinctly totalitarian characteristics. But in Europe, which undermined a work and social ethic with "the dole," the indigent and unemployed became increasingly isolated, creating what Marie Jahoda and Paul Lazarsfeld called ominously a "shrinking consciousness" in which social awareness and connectedness stopped at the front and back doors, and even the yard seen through the window began to appear alien and threatening to the unemployed worker. Thus, it was no surprise that people famished not only for food and shelter, but society itself, embraced the social context provided by the Nazis and Fascists with a certain delirious abandon. And in the Soviet Union the optimism of the early years of the Revolution had given way by the third decade to the Leviathan of Stalinism, and waves of purges and human enslavement that ultimately dwarfed even the concentration camps of the Nazis. Totalitarianism 2.0 had "matured" from its beginnings in the Counter-Enlightenment into the same two extreme factions that had emerged in the French Revolution: the indulgents and the enragés.

We dealt with the threat of Totalitarianism 2.0 in two very different world wars, one hot and one cold. But a strain of the disease had slipped into the Middle East early in the century, spawning first the Ba'ath movement (a second-rate offspring of the two factions of T 2.0) and a full-fledged Totalitarianism 3.0, in the form of Radical Islamism. Though each of the children had different fathers, anchored in either a sectarian or religious tradition, they all had the same mother: the European Counter-Enlightenment. The same philosophical movement that had inspired Marx, Hitler, Michael Aflaq, and Sayyid Qutb.

Nearly a century and a half ago America fought the bloodiest war in its history to end the practice of chattel slavery. When the guns of Gettysburg, The Wilderness, Antietam and Spotsylvania Courthouse had grown quiet after Appomattox, and chattel slavery was thrown to the top of the ash heap of history, the place it had vacated on the throne of evil was quickly assumed by another, somewhat subtler and greater evil, that had been waiting in the wings since antiquity. We are not fighting a "War on Terrorism," as some now call it. That's a misnomer, because suicide terrorism is not a movement, but simply a method that has always been one of the favorites of totalitarianism either seeking power, or on the verge of losing it. What we are involved in now is but the most recent stage in a war against Liberalism's ancient enemy. And it is far from won.

Posted by Demosophist at 12:38 AM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

October 16, 2003

The Howdy Doody Theory of Presidential Politics

When considering what image to use for my "tip jar" it occurred to me that my enormous respect for Mr. Doody is probably shared by others in my cohort, and that might lead to an intriguing political theory, or at least a theory of Presidential politics. The theory is that whichever major candidate bears the strongest resemblance to the illustrious Mr. Doody will probably be elected, all else being equal. It's a reasonable speculation when you consider the enormous impact of the Boomers, all of whom aspired to the Peanut Gallery and were raised on images of Howdy, Cecil, Clarabell, Buffalo Bob, and Princess Summerfallwinterspring. And when you think about it, quite a few recent Presidents are rather Howdyesque: Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and most recently George W. Bush. I have to admit, however, that Richard Nixon doesn't fit, and although he was defeated by a Doody look-alike the first time around, that was before any of us could vote. No theory is perfect.

But for those enterprising political consultants out there, shouldn't you start looking for a Fred Rogers look-alike pretty soon? On second thought, that was Gray Davis wasn't it? (Apologies to Mr. Rogers fans. He was really much better looking.) Oh well, perhaps it isn't that we want Presidents to look like Howdy, but that Howdy was constructed to happily coincide with an archetypal image of the "trustworthy primary."

Posted by Demosophist at 04:50 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Daily Dish on Selective Memory

Andrew Sullivan has an excellent rundown on the selective memory of the "more war, but later" movement regarding the justifications for Iraqi Freedom (or you can just call it the invasion of Iraq, if you like). I was pretty sure that I had spent a lot of time countering a whole host of objections to the Administration's policies, inspired by some vocal NYT pundits and their ilk, to the effect that the Bush folks just had an unseemly number reasons for attacking Saddam's regime, and that they ought to focus on just one. This appears to be yet another situation where the wish was for reliance on a single argument that could be attacked, rather than a multi-variable Operations Research sort of optimization formula that left no doubt about the appropriate course of action. The thing to remember here is that virtually all of the reasons employed by the Bush Administration to justify the war were mutually reinforcing, and left a pretty impregnable argument even if some were omitted That's the sign of a pretty strong policy position.

What do I mean by "mutually reinforcing?" Just this: In addition to the logic behind the argument that Saddam was a mass murderer of his own people, the interaction between that and any intentions he might have for murdering people outside his current sphere of influence is strengthened. The same goes for the fact that the regime itself was considered by Freedom House to be in a dead heat with N. Korea and Burma for the most repressive on earth. (The rational assumption being that open societies are less likely to be a danger to other societies, all else being equal.) This doesn't mean that there weren't "constraints" on such propensities, but the interaction (which effectively creates a third variable) still can't be dismissed from the function, without a good reason. So if you have 3 primary terms you potentially have 4 additional variables, for a total of 7. If you begin with 4, there's a total of 11 additional combinations (interactions) for a total of 15 variables, or terms in the optimization. (Check here, for an explanation of how to compute the number of combinations.)

No wonder the "peace" movement wanted Bush to stick to one argument.

Posted by Demosophist at 02:29 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 15, 2003

Mr. Moore's Neighborhood

Andrew Sullivan points to a recent Michael Moore interview in which he promotes his latest "bumper sticker," and speculates in his best imitation of a Kindergarten teacher:

MOORE: I'd like to ask the question whether September 11 was a terrorist attack, or was it a military attack? We call it a terrorist attack. We keep calling it a terrorist attack.

But it sure has the markings of a military attack. And I'd like to know whose military was involved in this precision, perfectly planned operation. I'm sorry, but my common sense has never allowed me to believe since that day that you can learn how to fly a plane at 500 miles per hour. And you know, when you go up 500 miles an hour, if you're off by this much, you're in the Potomac. You don't hit a five-store building like that.

You don't learn how to do that at some rinky-dink flight training school in Florida on a little video game with PacMan buttons. I'm sorry. I just don't buy that.

Back when the only decent home computer you could acquire other than an Apple II was a Commodore 64 someone came out with a nifty program called Flight Simulator, and one of the great things you could do with it was to fly a simulated plane between the two towers of the World Trade Center. You had to roll the plane briefly so that the wings were perpendicular to the ground in order to make it through. Well, it was pretty difficult, but after about a half-dozen tries I got the hang of it. Now, it's true that this simulated plane was only going about 200 mph, which is way slower than 500, but I found it all too easy to crash into the towers. That was no problem at all. The trick was to miss them.

Now, I don't know how difficult it would've been to transfer that experience to a real plane... but when I was about 10 years old my Dad and I flew to a lake in northern British Columbia in a Navion that belonged to a friend of my Dad's. And during the long flight both myself and another kid took turns flying the plane for brief periods, which wasn't much more difficult than flying that Flight Simulator on the C-64. So I'm pretty sure that even as a kid I could have, fairly easily, hit the broad side of a barn if I'd had half a mind to do so. And a barn is a lot smaller than the Twin Towers.

Now, granted, I couldn't have taken off or landed. But with a bit of practice I think I could have even done that, and it was fairly easy to learn *how* to do it in the Commodore. And as for navigation, I often take my GPS on the plane with me nowadays. So homing in on a waypoint programmed with the coordinates of the Twin Towers, would have been easy as pie. The GPS had some trouble with altitude, but only because it was determining altitude from barometric pressure inside a pressurized plane. Reading an altimeter on a plane isn't hard though, and the GPS without the barometric altimeter can still determine altitude to within 300 feet. So even if I'd been unable to read instruments I'd really have had no problem navigating to the Towers, if I knew the rudiments of flying the plane itself.

You can mock this if you like, but my gut tells me we're talking here about a task that may seem extraordinarily difficult, but in reality just requires some basic competence. I mean, it's certainly easy enough that someone with the engineering savvy of Atta could have managed it without much trouble. And it's also reasonable to assume that flying a large passenger jet is actually somewhat easier than flying a Cessna or a Navion at half the speed, because the controls on a large plane are much more forgiving, and the plane itself is inherently more stable. There is no mystery that requires the sort of hypothesis Moore tosses out.

[And, of course, as Zachary points out below, Moore's comment wasn't really about the WTC attack directly, but about the Pentagon attack. It's hard to imagine that the plane flown into the Pentagon would have been a DOD or IDF (CIA or Mossad?) project, while the WTC attack wasn't. So the case would presume that the more difficult scenario better sorts out the potential culprits of all four attacks. Fair enough. And, in that light, CJC is right to observe that the Pentagon attack did, in fact, miss. (And the Whitehouse attack missed by a lot more, which is difficult to explain if you assume it was conducted by a competent military unit.) Moreover, the Pentagon *is* a lot bigger than a barn. It is, in fact, one of the largest buildings in the world. And it'd only be a difficult target in the vertical dimension, which is the dimension in which the shot did miss. Even more significantly the pilot didn't manage to target the inner side of the ring, which is far more vulnerable than the outside. Surely a well-seasoned military pilot would have been able to do that if he'd wanted maximal dramatic effect? And visually sighting the Pentagon from the air would, of course, be child's play. There aren't too many other five-sided buildings the size of six football fields. And by the way, never mind that recruiting a team of armed forces personnel for a suicide attack on their own command/control center is a bit of a stretch. We ask our military to do some difficult tasks, but there isn't much of a history of outright suicide missions, Pickett's Charge notwithstanding. As a general rule such "suicide missions" are military blunders.]

So what really concerns me isn't any sort of silly notion that Muslims couldn't manage the complex circumstances of setting up and coordinating a terrorist action on a grand scale, or that university educated professional engineers couldn't fly a plane into the towers. They could and did. What concerns me is the apparently desperate need to sew any disparaging belief, even the utterly preposterous notion that only a capitalist-serving, or Zionist-serving military could have performed such an act. And you'll note that Michael doesn't actually say he believes it. He just speculates in a suggestive way. The way a Tom Metzger might speculate about the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, while maintaining plausible deniability that he was inciting anyone to violence. You have the desperate need to believe anything other than that the WTC attack marked a fundamental shift in our perception of what people other than the "usual suspects" are capable of. Because Marxism really does have, as a basic tenet, that mankind is benign except as motivated by greed. Hatred is only a problem if it's exploited by the powerful, and people are just peachy, otherwise. And make no mistake, such desperation will not stop at street marches and Usenet diatribes. This is pretty raw mental and emotional sewage, thrown into the mix with a little knowing elbow jab. But there are people who'll treat it like manna from heaven.

"I'd like to ask the question..." wink, wink, nod, nod, saynamore, saynamore.

Posted by Demosophist at 04:28 AM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

October 13, 2003

Coming of Age in the Coming Age

Just to be clear, when Gerard Van der Leun at American Digest speculates that I might have greater tolerance for nonsense because I'm younger, and therefore haven't seen the news repeat itself as much, he's just so wrong. I'm not only pretty impatient, I'm not a gen-Xer. Although I'd love to accept the compliment, alas I was on the streets of Berkeley in 1969, hitch-hiked the PCH, and had a pair of homemade bell bottom jeans that some fetching young hippy woman sewed with triangles of colorful material. (I wonder what she's doing now?) And that's all I'm going to share about myself from that era, on the grounds that...

At any rate, when I criticize folks like Joe Klein for having an emotional attachment to their generation's "coming of age" experience, I'm talking about my own generation. I was part of the cohort that went off the rails. I even spent some five years as a very good political fund raiser (canvasser) for Citizen Action, the group that swiped the term "progressive" from Teddy Roosevelt's legacy.

But I had the good fortune to know Seymour Martin Lipset who, even though a lifelong Democrat, wasn't fooled by the rhetoric of the Left. In fact, he was huddling in that alcove at the City University of New York (called "City College" then) with Irving Kristol, having an epiphany about the fact that Joe Stalin wasn't an accident, but the unavoidable consequence, of Marxism. And it was Martin and Irving's good fortune to have been pried loose from the socialist idealism of their youth by Leon Trotsky. But that's another story.

Up until the time I knew Marty I really felt like a "stranger in a strange land" in my homeland. I always sided with America's enemies, because the culture of my own country was just a mystery to me. And I would have agreed with Orville Schell that smarter people tended to be more liberal. (Although, what he actually said was that better educated people tend to be more liberal, and less rowdy, which is sort of ironic coming from a Berkeley Don.) (hat-tip: Daily Dish)

After working as Marty's RA for awhile my own country became less of a mystery. In fact I could see rather clearly that I was, myself, a rather typical American. Even in my days on the Left I had been more anti-authority than pro-statist, and the "new left" that emerged during the sixties was more anarchistic than its European counterpart. I simply found ways to discount my distrust of the state, because I saw no other way to employ the interventions that I felt necessary. But though I had begun to see myself and the US more clearly, I wasn't quite prepared to abandon some vague longing for an equality of condition, and in ameliorative social conviction. I stuck up for a "middle way" in seminars with James Buchanan, who was an extraordinarily patient man. And although I was beginning to be skeptical of Noam Chomsky's rants about the return of socialism, I was inclined to give him a pass, because I frankly sympathized with some of the ends.

During the Florida recount debacle I was even more pro-Gore than many of my friends in San Francisco's Marxisant subculture. So my first instinct after 9/11 was to wish that someone other than George Bush was at the helm. I groaned every time he gave one of "those" speeches, looking like a victim on a hostage tape. But Marty, who was flat on his back from a massive stroke, uttering mostly one word responses, managed the eloquence to observe rather matter-of-factly that if the US somehow succumbed to terrorism the rest of the liberal democracies would probably follow. The terrorists knew this, which was the main reason we were the prime target. And so when the Chomskyites found a way to blame the victim, they just lost me for good. I decided that you really had to be rather dense to believe that sort of thing. And with all due respect to Professor Schell's observations about the correlation between education and ideology, the real situation is slightly more complex. As education level increases people tend to become more conservative until they reach graduate school.. For reasons that probably have less to do with intelligence than with the quasi-feudal society that persists in graduate schools, people who earn advanced degrees tend to develop highly left-oriented values.[1]

And even the link to advanced education is changing. Fifty years ago City College became the birthplace of the neoconservative movement because a group of students had some doubts about the "conventional wisdom" touted by their profs. As Irving Krystol has observed, it was not the faculty at City College that made it such an interesting and exceptional place. Furthermore, we have known for a long time that though the professorate is overwhelmingly leftist, their values just don't stick with their undergrad charges. Whatever ideological biases undergrads are inculcated with they seem to be unlearnt pretty quickly after they enter the "real world," outside the Academy. And since 9/11 the new pro-Democracy movements that have emerged not only in Iran, but at Oxford, Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Brandeis, Columbia and a number of other top-ranked colleges, to promote the transition of failed and autocratic regimes to liberal democracy are largely student movements. Since many of these activists are (for the first time perhaps) in graduate schools, they may eventually influence the ideological bias of the professorate. The hegemony that existed in higher education for as long as I can remember may be on the verge of big change.

[1] In addition, Professor Schell isn't even empirically correct in his comparisons involving the Berkeley environs. Even though the San Francisco/Berkeley area is probably the most left-biased population in the nation, the most highly educated counties aren't there, but in northern Virginia, close to where the third 9/11 plane struck. According to the 2000 Census the proportion of the population over 25 years of age with at least a bachelor's degree was 45% for San Francisco County and 51% for Marin County. In Virginia the proportions were 60% for Arlington County and 55% for Fairfax County. I believe either Fairfax or Arlington also had the highest concentration of graduate degrees in the nation.

Posted by Demosophist at 01:47 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

October 12, 2003

Chris Matthews: When Good News Is Bad

I'm just mystified by the way much of the press persistently distorts the situation in Iraq. Today, on the Chris Matthews Show, Joe Klein just couldn't help comparing Iraq to Vietnam, suggesting that dispatching Condee Rice to make a more realistic case about the positive news from Iraq was analogous to Lyndon Johnson appointing a Speakers Bureau. What nonsensical hyperbole. And Norah O'Donnell's counterfactual assertion that things are getting worse in Iraq, as an explanation for the rift within the White House between the Rumsfeld/Cheney clique and the Powell/Rice clique is just more of the same lazy formulaic disinformation. The fact is that things aren't getting worse in Iraq, as this roundup of news by Citizen Smash, as well as numerous articles in WaPo and other sources suggest. And at the current casualty rate from the so-called "guerrilla war" it would take 500 years to reach the death toll we endured in Vietnam. This is not Vietnam, and the nostalgia that much of the press has for that "simpler time" doesn't make it so

But what really perplexes me is how the sort of disinformation campaign that Klein and O'Donnell are promoting can continue without eventually losing readership for their employers, especially if the responsible press keeps reporting things as they are, spurred by direct dispatches from the men at the front. Which reminds me: Isn't a situation where the frontline toops correct the press about being too pessimistic about as different from Vietnam as it's possible to conceive? Why isn't this a lead story somewhere? Or at least the subject of a well written editorial? It's a delicious and instructive sort of irony.

What's going on with the press has become a matter for social psychologists. I think what's happening is that the Vietnam generation is traumatized by the fact that we are rapidly leaving that era behind, and moving into an entirely different historical landscape. I think this is really about a sort of group or cohort psychological dependence on their "coming-of-age" experience. And it will finally come to a head in the election of 2004.

Posted by Demosophist at 12:03 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

October 11, 2003

More on the Frontline Nonsense

Andrew Sullivan directly confronts Frontline's use of the "imminent threat" meme here, here, and here.

My theory on this misuse of language and facts is that it represents yet another example of wishful thinking. They wish Bush had said and claimed what they were prepared to refute. And since they have no other case that's sufficiently damning they're stuck with claiming he did something everyone, including most prominent Democrats, know he didn't do. And they seem to believe that by simply acting as though it's common knowledge no one will challenge the lie. But how in the world could the public trust a "purveyor of truth" who simply refuses to see what's in front of him because he's expecting something else?

Time to end the public funding of PBS. This BBC-West experiment has gone far enough.

Posted by Demosophist at 01:44 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

October 10, 2003

Frontline: Truth, War & Consequences

I had thought this PBS documentary would at least begin to settle some important factual issues about the war in Iraq and its aftermath, but it appears to be just a sort of rehash of the standard anti-war left talking points, right down to the uncorrected claim that the Bush case rested entirely on the notion of an "imminent threat." And just as this claim has become a counterfactual "truth" unrelated to the actual facts, this documentary doesn't pay more than brief passing attention to what's actually happening in Iraq, according to the experience of most Iraqis. It's more the "history of the media's war against the war" than any honest or balanced attempt to set the record straight.

Although I spent some of the time switching channels to watch the Yankees outplay the Red Sox, as far as I could tell Frontline's:Truth, War and Consequences managed to neglect any reference to any positive developments or successful reconstruction strategies. Nor did it mention that the casualty rate for Americans is declining, and that at the current rate it would take something like 500 years to reach the number of combat deaths we had in Vietnam. The use of the word "truth" in the title was therefore basically a vanity for a description that managed to reduce an enormous amount of successful effort into a few pools of blood and some riot scenes. If this is journalism, indeed what passes for the "best" journalism, I think we need less of it. And I'm going to oppose continued public funding of PBS. It appears that the notion of an American BBC has about run its course. If I wanted to fund what Andrew Sullivan has called "a wilful and petty disinformation campaign," I could always contribute to Pacifica Radio, which is what PBS really aspires to become anyway.

Posted by Demosophist at 12:17 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

October 07, 2003

What America Does Paul Krugman Know?

Alas, I'm not a person who could have written this article by Bret Stephens. Excerpt:

Of course, the hard fact upon which all these accusations are based is that so far weapons of mass destruction have not been found in Iraq. From that the conclusion is drawn that "Bush lied." It might bear pointing out that it took the US Army five months to discover an ordnance cache in the open desert weighing about 650,000 tons, so maybe it'll take a bit longer to find the elusive WMD. It might also bear pointing out (I'm hardly the first to do so) that Bush's "lies" were pretty much identical to Clinton's statements on the matter.

But never mind. The issue is not WMD, or what the president or prime minister knew, and when, or whether the peace process is advancing or retreating, or whether Iraq is better or worse off than before. The issue is, how is the president to be defeated at the next election? By miring the White House in scandal.

By creating the perception that things aren't going well in Iraq. By creating momentum to bring the boys home. This is guerrilla warfare, and it is the task to which the media jihadis have dedicated themselves.

THE BEST that can be said about these people is that they believe, honestly, that George Bush is the world's greatest menace, against which the Saddam's of the world pale. Hence the Guardian can editorialize (as it did September 16) that "Iran's Fears Are Real," that the ayatollahs' intentions are peaceful and that the only nations engaged in a "dastardly plot" are "located in the West." Hence development guru Jeff Sachs can allege that the $20 billion Bush wants to earmark for Iraqi reconstruction is a racist plot because Africans are worthier recipients of US largesse. Hence Paul Krugman can opine, in our post-September 11 world, that "The real threat isn't some terrorists who can kill a few people now... but the internal challenge from very powerful domestic political forces who want to do away with America as I know it."

I couldn't have written that because I'm too fascinated by why the Paul Krugmans and Maureen Dowds and Jonathan Schells are so rabidly anti-American. Because there was a time when I thought Schell was the pinnacle of courageous and intelligent insight, and I was foolishly convinced that he was genuinely motivated by liberal values. So it's difficult for me to speculate about what has gotten into them. But I think the crux of the matter may have to do with the America that Krugman knows, because if it's the same America that Louis Hartz knew it will break Krugman's heart, as it broke Hartz's. And I suspect it is the same America.

Louis Hartz proposed a theory about why the US has never had a viable socialist movement, which was part of a broader theory about "settler societies" in general. It was called the "theory of the cultural fragment," and the basic idea was that during the era of colonialism an established non-democratic culture creates a group of discontents who seek the freedom to live life according to their own values by breaking away to establish their own society in a colony of the mother country. In other words the "chip off the old block" tended to me more like the chip than the block, in important respects. And for the US this "fragment" of England was composed of a remnant of Oliver Protector's middle class revolutionaries, imbued with Scottish/Calvinist values. And absent the baggage they had had to put up with in England, they developed a society whose foundational values were revolutionary and liberal. And so Hartz's surprising conclusion was that the US had no socialist movement, because it had no conservatist dead weight that it had to fight against. Anyone with an itch for economic success had no established elite holding a lid on their advancement. And to put it in the simplest terms, the US had no socialist movement because it already embodied the crux of socialism: equal opportunity for individual success. Friederich Engels came to much the same conclusion.

So, in light of that, it isn't surprising that Krugman might be pining for an America that was a bit more "troubled" by class angst, and that had a proper Beast against which to mount a struggle. And, well, there was a time when America had such a Beast. Because there was always a group that had conspicuously been omitted from the promise, and who knew the Beast that Europeans knew with great familiarity. This was the same group that had been the intelligent property of the founders themselves.

So the America that animates Krugman and Dowd and Schell is the America of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement. It is the America where one could be "liberal" and collectivist at the same time, without ambivalence. It was the America inspired by the realization of a discontinuity between its ideals and its practice; the America seen by the Swede, Gunnar Myrdal, in his classic work: An American Dilemma. So Krugman is simply nostalgic for that convergence between his youthful collectivist impulses and the moral certitude of being on the "right side" of history. And if George Bush is successful, it means that any lingering doubts about whether that era is over must be dispelled. It means that only half of the aspirations of that era can be realized. The collectivist dream was not really convergent with the dream of racial equality after all. Essentially it means that the black population of America will inevitably join the white population in being more equal than the socialist promise could ever hope to make them. And more importantly, perhaps, it means that all those other nations that were the refuge of the Beast, and that could therefore potentially serve as the new launchpad for the Revolution, will see the Beast harried and slain by the same creature that blocked the advance of socialism in America. It is therefore somewhat natural for Krugman to side with the Beast. It isn't that he loves it. In truth, he doesn't even know it. Not even in his dreams. It's that he simply can't tolerate the notion of the world becoming like America.

Posted by Demosophist at 01:29 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

October 05, 2003

Why Not A Synergetic Energy Policy?

Tom Friedman is right on the money in this recent editorial on "The Real Patriot Act." Excerpt:

In short, a tax that finances the democratization of Iraq, takes money away from those who would use it to spread ideas harmful to us, weakens OPEC, makes us more energy independent, reduces the deficit and overnight improves the world's view of us — from selfish, Hummer-driving louts to good global citizens — would be the real patriot act. (It would also encourage Iraq not to become another oil-dependent state, but to build a middle class by learning to tap its people's entrepreneurship and creativity, not just its oil wells.)

Well, it made sense a year ago, before Iraq, and it makes even more sense now. So the notion that because the American public didn't demand this war, and therefore can't be asked to sacrifice for it, is not an accurate assessment of the political situation. If Iraq is tied to the overall War on Terror, which I think it is, then an energy policy that denies resources to our enemies is certainly at least as relevant. Why isn't anyone on the presidential campaign trail talking about it? (Yeah, I know they all mention it, but not very realistically or with much passion. There's a general recognition that you don't win an election by telling Americans that it might be a good idea for them to drive less.) Have we really lost the capacity to produce leadership appropriate to the challenges that confront us? Does it really make any sense for us to undermine our own security interests by handing over part of our GDP to the people who are likely to fund the madrasas that breed terrorists? Should we really cultivate a half-assed attitude about this war? I mean, isn't this an easy call?

Posted by Demosophist at 10:40 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 04, 2003

An Open Letter to "Progressives"

O'Reilly's book is #1. Excellent! The problem is that both Franken and O'Reilly are talking to their choirs, and no one is even remotely engaged in real dialogue. I was a "progressive" for years, and it seems to me that all Americans are under a common threat, so my falling away has more to do with the extent to which I think my former progressive mates have undermined a (I think very real) sense of common threat. And the threat isn't so much Al Qaeda, as the general discontent in the Muslim world about having had a great civilization that turned a cropper with the birth of the European Renaissance and Reformation. As long as their self-referenced world remained relatively isolated the acute distress caused by the status gap between their failed God 3.0-inspired civilization and the remarkable success of the God 2.0 world was tolerable. But now they are in a stage that Europe passed through 70 years ago, dominated and seduced by the ideology and rhetoric of hate that fits their discontents like a key in a lock..

In short, WMD were something of a distraction. The threat is, and has always been, a "status gap" (to use a term coined by Tom Friedman) that has become the seedbed of hate. And the literary traditions of Islam, that refer to the peoples and lands of Christendom as "dogs" in the "house of war" are no longer quaint. They have become fertile ground for "Totalitarianism 4.0." No, there is no common ground between "progressives" and that world. Believe me. Indeed a genuinely progressive element in the Islamic world would seek to end those offensive traditions, seeing in them an obstruction to progress. And that, in a nutshell, is the whole of the "Iraqi Freedom" strategy.

I think there's a sort of dysfunction that afflicts the socialist-inclined ideologists in the liberal democracies. There are certainly people who have failed in the socio-economic game through no fault of their own, and they need help. And it also isn't really that far-fetched to suggest that even those who failed as a result of their own folly deserve a second, and perhaps a third, fourth, fifth and sixth chance. (What's the wisdom on that? 70 times 7?) But the institutional level of the national government is not appropriate to doling out first or second chances, let alone third, etc. Because there is no love or individual understanding in government at that level. Only aggregated and institutional power, and some illusion. So, what we lack is the middle level of intervention... the level where people know one another face to face, and where I know "Pete's" story, and he mine. And I can make a reasonable assessment about what he needs, and why... even if it's not an "expert" assessment. It doesn't require a Ph.D. It requires knowing Pete.

So, progressives, you have failed to recognize or cognize the common danger, and have settled for some strange reason on belittling it. Not a convincing act, which is why it has only been taken up by clowns (humorists, may be a kinder term) like Moore and Franken. And this error casts doubt on all your judgments. Your compassion isn't at fault. it's your common sense, and your critical faculties that have failed. No, no one with any sense ever said that Saddam was harmless. Whether or not he happened to have weapons of mass destruction at the time is largely irrelevant. So it *is* foolish to contend that only the "imminent threat" argument was important, even if it was the only thing important to you. (Because if you thought that, you were just mistaken.)

And likewise it's foolish to see a federal remedy for the harsh world we live in, confusing the power of the state with human compassion. It's just silly. You know yourself it's just plain bad judgment, right? I can see now how wrong it was, thanks to your grievous foreign policy error. Prior to that, it took it for granted that having the right intentions would eventually lead to the right policies. But you've convinced me that good judgment isn't something that can be taken for granted. We all know Michael Moore and Paul Krugman lie without a second thought, as though they're entitled to do so by some license they picked up in the "People's Bazaar." And would they be so cavalier, if you stopped permitting it? You've issued the license. Revoke it. Even those of us who once admired them now know they have a kind of aversion to objectivity and honesty. We've noticed, and we're not covering for them. And neither should you.

However I have little confidence that a compassionless devil-take-the-hindmost ethic will deliver us either. So, it's important that you "get well." It's important that you climb down from that wrong tree that you've barked up, and get both feet on the ground. You may need to sit this one out, until you calm down. You're off to a pretty bad start. I think your cheese has slid off the cracker, and you're too distracted to notice. We've noticed. Lots of us.

Posted by Demosophist at 11:46 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

French Complicity?

Glen Reynolds points out a Reuters story about Polish troops having found four French anti-aircraft missiles in Iraq, that had been produced in 2003! The French Foreign Ministry insists that no Roland-3 missiles have been exported to Iraq, and calls the find by Polish troops "not credible." The destruction of the missiles as they lay in a trench, was broadcast on Polish TV.

I suppose the missiles could have been exported without the knowledge of the French government, but at the very least it suggests a rather cavalier attitude about such exports, and makes conjectures about Iraq's intentions to restart their weapons program with help from French suppliers much more plausible. It's hard to contain snakes with chicken wire.

Update: There have been several articles pointing out that what were taken to be Roland-3s may, in fact, be Roland-1s. But there appears to be no way to get at the truth. since the missiles themselves have been destroyed. I'll suspend judgment.

Posted by Demosophist at 12:06 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Arizona's Public Trust

I'm sitting here in economic difficulty because the State of Arizona has neglected to pay me for the past four months of contract work. I have no idea, not even the slightest, if they'll ever pay me. In the mean time I'm getting depressed, because there just doesn't seem to be anything I can do to influence the Arizona Department of Education to pay its bills with anything like a reasonable degree of ethics or responsibility. Meanwhile someone in the Attorney General's office has promised to "track it down," something she's been saying for the past three months in various bureaucratic Arizonese dialects. And I'm sort of left wondering if these so-called human beings are really just broken robots... and I'm really really really glad that government doesn't have more power than it has. Because, if this were a private company that owed me money I'd have some sort of recourse. I could complain to the Public Relations department and there'd be some sort of process that would actually lead somewhere... rather than just a numbing sense of powerlessness, and the feeling that I've basically wasted the last four months.

Well, I at least have all the deliverables from those four months, and those folks in Arizona won't be seeing any of it until I'm paid... an eventuality that would cost them something like 1,000 times what they owe me. But then, losing that sort of taxpayer cash isn't something that would worry your average Arizona Department of Education bureaucrat. Which makes me wonder why we don't just give them more money, and a bigger hunk of public trust.

I wonder if anyone in a position of responsibility cares whether someone is ultimately accountable for this sort of screw up? Maybe this guy with the big paradigm-promoting grin?

Posted by Demosophist at 03:09 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 03, 2003

Victor Davis Hanson on the War on Terror

Excellent article on the strategies employed by both sides, from the National Review.


Yet in the present struggle, our enemies made three critical mistakes that have for the time being upset their otherwise brilliant plans. First, September 11 woke Americans up to the danger of parasitic terrorism from the Middle East and the larger realization that there might be even easier ways of leveling a Manhattan block than crashing planes into skyscrapers. So 9/11 taught us that the will to kill all of us was certainly there - our only reprieve for the moment being the inability of the enemy to trump what they had begun. In response to such cataclysmic damage on that terrible September day, Americans were willing to question the old political calculus of appeasement, at least for a while, and realized that recklessness was not bombing the Taliban or marching on Baghdad, but the old mantra of "sending a stern message" and "keeping Hussein in his box."

Second, President Bush, whatever one thinks of him, is, well, let's face it, a strange sort of president. For all the hysteria about Karl Rove's supposed political calculations and machinations, I sense that the president doesn't care much what others think of him; indeed, for the price of winning this war he might even be willing to be a one-term president. In other words, this is a man who probably would not have withdrawn from Beirut, turned ships around off the harbor at Haiti at the sound of gunfire, or yanked Americans from Somalia as two-bit thugs dragged their corpses in the street.

For some reason or another he does not seem to crave future rave reviews from the New York Times, a late-night private dinner in Georgetown, or an obsequious phone call from a European apparatchik. Indeed, he seems to have expected the invective from the Europeans, the slander from our own media, and even the irrational, if not visceral, hatred of American elites as the inevitable wages that come with at last saying "enough is enough" and thereby dissolving in a moment the comfortable fraud that so many of us had invested so heavily in the last 20 years. How long his resistance will last in the face of slander and slurs of historic proportions is unclear; but for now he has again responded in a manner that his enemies would never have anticipated.

Third, the bin Ladens, Taliban remnants, and Saddamites figured that Americans knew only the Western way of war, or more precisely that we fielded only some sort of big clumsy Vietnam-era, tank-driven army. Few figured that GPS bombing, counterinsurgency, special operatives, and our own sniping and raiding could allow us too to wage a low-intensity war, as now is going on in the Sunni Triangle. And unlike the Russians in Chechnya, Americans have the capital to fund largess, the message of freedom, and the strategy of resolute mercy that give the U.S. a much better chance at winning the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people, the key, after all, of any unconventional fighting. Once more, the critical question is not strength, but determination: If the American people decide that they truly wish to rid Baghdad of the Baathists and pacify Iraq and Afghanistan under the auspices of consensual governments, then they most surely can.

And it would certainly help if we understood the psychology of denial and appeasement a little better than we do. I suspect it isn't quite the black box it has been thought to be.

Posted by Demosophist at 01:16 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

An Uphill Battle

Andrew Sullivan is fighting an uphill battle. He is finding it difficult to understand the reluctance of the left (or, at least, the majority left "establishment") to cope with the calamitous implications of Saddam's on-again-off-again weapons of mass destruction program, and the fact that Kay has found nothing but evidence of such a threat. I'm not sure how much utility is really left in ramping up the incredulity about this attitude, though I certainly understand it. What's wrong with these folks? I submit that "what's wrong" isn't all that difficult to comprehend, and boils down to the following set of observations:

1. There isn't much fight left in the economic or social arguments of the left, so their default strategy is to tie "conservative" politics to moral degeneracy: war-mongering, corruption of power, fascistic conspiracies, etc.

2. For reasons not unrelated to 1. (stemming from a naieve and wishful assessment of human nature) they have no philosophical or programmatic response to calamity, so their only recourse is to deny its possibility.

3. As a result there simply is no way for them to even perceive a pragmatic non-ideological assessment of the threat posed by totalist regimes and failed states.

And one should not expect this situation to change, especially with the election season looming.

I don't think Kay's report leaves any doubt whatsoever about the fact that Saddam was systematically thwarting the terms of 1441, and would have continued to do so. One has to conclude that there was a reason he was so single-mindedly "reckless." It may have been the protection of actual WMD, or it may have been the protection of a swift ramp-up capability, set to take advantage of the ongoing missile program that sought a range capability of up to 1000 km. Either way, the notion that we could have contained him, or that the effort to contain him would not have had severe consequences for the Iraqi population (whether successful or not) is simply and unequivacally wishful thinking. And what we really ought to be calling for is some sort of psychotherapy for those who can't seem to find the pragmatic thread.

Posted by Demosophist at 11:25 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

A Rush to Judgment Day

I'm not an admirer of Rush Limbaugh. I think he's the right-wing equivalent of Michael Moore. But what's all the hubbub about? I don't know much about Donovan McNabb, but from what I hear his performance has been stellar on TV and lackluster overall. So I suppose it's reasonable to suggest that he might have been over-rated. Maybe it's his Scottish name? (Or would that be the MacNabb side of the family?)

But seriously, Rush just expressed the opinion that the fellow's performance had been over-rated because people were inclined to a little social self-righteouusness. Is it really that far-fetched? Personally I think if there was ever a time for that sentiment regarding quarterbacks it has probably passed. When I was an undergrad at SMU in 1964 the quarterback of the Mustangs was a young black man named Jerry Livingston. It wasn't a HUGE deal then, so I'm inclined to think it's even less of an issue now. Sport is sport. But there's nothing in Rush's remarks that suggest his comment was racially motivated, for heaven sake. It's just an attitude that is probably a little out of touch. What's interesting is why the whole thing has become such a cause, and frankly I don't think it has much to do with either football or race.

I should think thit such a social theory might have been better applied to Halle Berry's Oscar for Monster's Ball, but it was also a damn good performance. So, maybe sentiment gave Halle a slight edge, but that's just human nature. We like to feel good about ourselves when honoring others. It's not witchcraft. Now Michael Moore's Oscar is another matter. He produced and directed an unfunny comedy that was crammed full of deliberate distortions and outright lies motivated by pure ideological hatred, that didn't even come close to qualifying as a documentary. Not even in the ballpark! Now that was political correctness at its very worst. So, if the Motion Picture Academy could do something that warped it surely isn't beyond the pale to suggest that the sports broadcasters might be biased toward an award that happens to make them feel a little self righteous. It's just human nature.

The thing is, there really isn't anything particularly ideological about being black any more. Have you noticed? There may have been, one day. But I think what might be behind all the furor about Rush's speculation is the lurking suspicion that race really isn't an ideological issue. Some folks are a little touchy about the fact that they no longer own that whole set of social issues. And to a certain extent Rush's statement is a kind of mirror image of the attitude among much of the left that race was their thang. Sort of like Rush thinks pure objectivity is his thang. And what everyone is too embarassed to look at is the suspicion that neither conservatives nor liberals have any special claim to non-prejudice. And the same sort of shift might gradually be happening with homesexuality. Does the left really own tolerance?

Pare all those false claims to moral superiority away, and what's left is a deeply ugly ideological division, that's more like a wound or disfigurement. And we're just covering it with the fig leaf of race. Not because it helps, but because it's familiar. We know what attitude we're supposed to have about race. But I think people aren't so sure any more what attitude they're supposed to have about rich people, jobs, unemployment, and taxes. And even though the divisions over war aren't as evenly matched, they do seem to track the old economic factions pretty well. Michael Moore, after all, can't really do a movie about the fact that he thinks rich people are selfish and greedy.. Not directly anyway. The bad guys have to be either racial bigots or war mongering cutthroats. And if the shoe doesn't quite fit, you make it fit. It's either that, or put your naked unprotected beliefs out there to be weighed and tested.

Posted by Demosophist at 12:18 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 02, 2003

WMD in Kuwait. Is this for real?

Is this story for real? The story, pointed out by Andrew Sullivan , suggests that the Kuwaitis have foiled a plot to smuuggle WMD out of Iraq? Hiho! It seems odd that western media haven't picked it up.

Update: According to this article on the MSN website, Kuwaiti security forces say, "the report on the seizure of such weapons was baseless." The investigation apparently involved the siezure of smuggled artifacts looted from the Iraqi National Museum, not WMD..

Posted by Demosophist at 02:31 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 01, 2003

Suicide Terrorism: The Logic of Totalitarianism

Martin Kramer takes on Robert Pape's argument that suicide terrorism is a rationally motivated strategy to pressure liberal democracies into territorial concessions. Kramer observes that Pape's reference to him as a foil, in his APSR article, is inappropriate. He doesn't claim that terrorism is "irrational." However he does take issue with Pape's rationale. An excerpt:

In sum, Pape has not told us much we didn't know anyway, and his data inspire less confidence than earlier data-based studies. We already knew that suicide bombings were strategic choices. Even in Lebanon, and without the example of the Tamil Tigers, we knew that secular groups could embrace the method with fervor. (In Lebanon in the mid-1980s, pro-Syrian secular groups did three attacks for every one launched by Hizbullah. In Pape's data, all of these attacks are inexplicably attributed to Hizbullah.) What happened in Lebanon has been repeated in the Palestinian territories, where secular groups have jumped on the bandwagon of Hamas and Islamic Jihad. What begins as a strategic campaign is often driven forward by organizational and Islamist-secular rivalry.

I agree with Kramer's conclusion that Pape's recommendations don't follow from his conclusions, but I'm not sure I agree with the premise that it's all about territorial concession. I think it's all about power.

I should think that the strategy employed by suicide terrorists, or at least those who launch the bombers on their mission, is roughly equivalent to the strategy employed by any cult: increasing the influence and power of the group and its leaders. And that is only "irrational" in the sense that, for instance, Hizbollah's strategy may not coincide with the interests of Palestinians in general. They serve their constituents, but aren't about to work themselves out of a job. They seek to optimize their own influence, which would coincide with the interests of Palestinians imperfectly, at best. And I think that if one corrected Pape's dataset, as Kramer suggests, the pattern would demonstrate as much. At the start of any Israeli peace initiative Hizbollah or IJ launches a suicide campaign, the objective of which is only partly to obtain concessions. The other "rational" element is that if there is ever a settlement Hizbollah's influence would plummet, and people would begin commerce and trade and would quickly develop an interest in quelling disturbances. Hizbollah would became a group of outlaws..

So if the issue has to do with the influence of *ideology* vs. *rationality* it's a false comparison. Clearly the Tamil Tigers have an ideological objective relating to the influence of their group and its leaders that is as rational as any group. What they lack is an ethic that transcends the ideological blinders that make it a coherent group in the first place. Their so-called "rationality" has limits, that don't extend beyond the group's sphere of influence. So they are obviously both ideological *and* rational.

And the most straightforward thing one can say about any of these groups is that terrorism, including suicide terrorism, is simply a strategy employed by totalitarian groups who either happen to be out of power, or are on the verge of losing power. Once they have secured regime power they employ terror, but not necessarily terrorism. Their model is no longer the Kamikaze or the Palestinian suicide bomber, but the KGB or the Mukhabarat. And clearly the Ba'ath in Iraq have gone full circle. Not rational? Of course it's rational. It's just not enlightened. And I think that's really the false attribution that Pape manages to make in his article, without, of course, realizing it.

Thanks to Oxblog for pointing out the Kramer article. Good stuff.

Posted by Demosophist at 01:06 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack