November 30, 2003

Pick Me Up

Nothing fancy here. I've been working on one of those projects that puts food on the table, so posting has been sparse. But the media's quandary over how to interpret the recent battle in Samarra got me wound up. The talking heads on CNN have been pondering and chin stroking all day over what brilliant strategy lies behind this "bold show of force." And in the midst of watching the terrible movie Mom and Dad Save the World I hit upon an insight into the brilliant strategy behind the apparent 46-0 encounter in Samarra. In the Mom and Dad movie the Emperor of the planet "Spengo" sends his troops out to apprehend the good guys. But the hapless troops encounter a "light grenade" planted on the ground by "Dad" with the phrase "pick me up" engraved on its surface. And of course as soon as the Emperor's toops pick up the grenade it explodes with a burst of light that pulverizes the reality-challenged soldier. Nonetheless the invitation to "pick me up" is impossible to resist for some people, so one by one 44 soldiers in a row pick up the grenade and get zapped to smithereens. And just as the 45th fedayeen is picking up the grenade the 46th soldier calls on his communicator for reinforcements...

Look, these guys knew they were outgunned by an enormous margin before they attacked. They aren't on a "learning curve," They're on a "desperation curve." The fact that there is a meda market for complex analyses seems to drive the supply, even when the analyses start to resemble the various over-interpretations about the Peter Sellers "Chancey Gardener" character in Being There. (Absent, of course, the gardener's beguiling innocence.) Extremist ideology and religion, like crime and too much TV, make yah stupid. Their "strategy," such as it is, is to somehow get history (the Ba'athists) or Allah (al Qaeda) to fight on their side, so naturally they do rather nutty stuff. Their misfortune as that THEY BELIEVE IN A FANTASY. It isn't that they aren't dangerous, but please... let's be realistic about what we're dealing with here. These folks don't think like us. They don't have a strategy as we think of it... at least, not a rational one.

Update: The Belmont Club has an excellent discussion of this "poverty of strategy." Key graf:

You can almost imagine the stupid working of his [Saddam's] mind: 'after I kill the Spaniards and the Japanese and the Koreans, I will crown it all by destroying two 4th ID columns like Groupment Mobile 100'. But no military thread ran through them; simply a media thread.

And while we're at it, the same sort of over-interpretation has dominated stories about the Saddam/Qaeda link. A panelist this morning on Meet the Press repeated the same old meme about how the CIA doubts the existence of such a link, even though that's no longer the case, according to this and this, among others. Common sense told most Americans that a link had to exist, so they assumed it. That may not have been so stupid after all.

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November 28, 2003

Iraqis on President's Visit

I noticed that coverage of the President's Thanksgiving visit to Iraq by CNN's Nic Robertson included interviews with Iraqis who were either angered by, or denigrating of Bush in some way. The network didn't see fit to inverview a single Iraqi whose view was positive. In contrast, here's a perspective by an Iraqi blogger, Zeyad on Healing Iraq, in which he notes that they too have some less-than-ideal news sources.


After leaving the cafe I asked some people in the neighbourhood what they thought of it. Everyone I talked to stared blankly at me as if I was crazy or something. It seems that nobody thought it was possible for Bush to visit Iraq at this time. I went to buy dinner from a nearby restaurant and IMN was displaying Bush's speech to his troops. Everyone stopped eating and stared at the tv. It was quite a scene, I just wished I had a camera at that time. It was so comical.

I watched it all on Al-Jazeera later, and as usual, they described it as a cheap attempt by Bush & Co. to boost American public opinion in his favour for the upcoming election campaign. You could easily detect the anguish in their anaylsis to the fact that Bush didn't go down to the streets or meet everyday Iraqis, or that Air Force 1 wasn't hit by an anti-aircraft missile fired by Iraqi militants. They were really frustrated.

CNN was certainly not this biased. It may be that they were just too busy covering the Michael Jackson case to invest resources in the democratization of the Middle East.

Anyway, check ouf Zeyad's observations. It's an order of magnitude better than CNN's coverage. And while you're at it check out Alaa's thoughts on The Mesopotamian.


Yes GWB, though the visit was brief, it was very meaningful. We know that you have come, not as the President of an invading nation, but as the friend who wishes to renew commitment to our people, and as long as your intentions are what you have repeatedly said (and we don't doubt your sincerity), the land and the hearts welcome you.

Also see CPT Maynulet's email on The Corner and Omar on Iraq the Model.

This the first time I march in a demo. No one forced me, and I remembered the old days when we were obliged- by the tyrant's orders- to march in huge crowds in faked demos. crying out with his name and our love for our beloved leader. His security men used to be surrounding us, watching the expression on our faces and how damn unlucky a man is if they notice that he was not doing the desired effort (shouting loudly). We used to consider the police men as our enemies and there was even a proverb that says:" a police man will never see heaven" Today, we consider them our defenders and our brothers. they're sacrificing their lives tacking the front position to face the terrorists...

(Hat tip: Josh Chafetz)

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November 27, 2003

BEEB Misses the Story?

BBC World covered Senator Clinton's visit to Afghanistan, but completely missed the President's visit to Iraq. Is this really as odd as it seems? I mean, it's nice that Hillary is visiting the troops, but you'd think that news isn't in the same class as George W. Bush's suprise flight to Baghdad. Then again, maybe they figured it for a "stunt" like his suprise visit to an aircraft carrier after the fall of Baghdad and felt it was their duty to limit such "media grandstanding." Or it could be that the BBC is just a joke.

Update: Apparently the BBC wasn't the only wet blanket. Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post and CNN's "Reliable Sources" suggests that "some reporters" might be angry that the President "lied to the press." That just was not the first thing that leapt to my mind, but I imagine the peace movement too will see a pattern. I suppose they'd also have insisted on giving Hitler fair warning about the invasion of Normandy.

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November 25, 2003

And Speaking of the Sleep of Reason

Gerard's post on American Digest about the emergence of monsters from the "sleep of reason" provides a segue for me to vent a bit about the recent CNN "dialogue" between talk show hosts Armstrong Williams and Bernie Ward. Ward was nearly hopping out of his seat in his eagerness to point out to Williams that Iraq was "no threat" to the US, that there is no link between Saddam and al Qaeda, and that Iraq played no role in 9-11. Armstrong failed to take him to account in any meaningful way for repeating this meme, in spite of the fact that most of the CIA, including its director, now believes there was almost certainly a connection between Saddam and al Qaeda, which includes a rather strong possibility of some Hussein involvement in 9/11. This even after Bill Safire's NYT article discussing the revelations in the Weekly Standard and Slate.

WASHINGTON — Two blockbuster magazine articles last week revealed evidence that Saddam's spy agency and top Qaeda operatives certainly were in frequent contact for a decade, and that there is renewed reason to suspect an Iraqi spymaster in Prague may have helped finance the 9/11 attacks.

In addition, I heard Wes Clark get away with using the "imminent threat" meme three times on one of the "Sunday Talk" shows this weekend, without being called on it. Conservatives like Armstrong have been a little too reluctant to point out the pig-headedness of the left in raising the specter of these non-arguments. The burden of proof now rests with the left to demonstrate that there was no Saddam/Qaeda link, and the consensus on the "imminent threat" idea is that Bush never made that argument at all, though they did talk about lowering the threshold for declaring an imminent threat (which isn't a bad idea, really).

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November 24, 2003

The Ram Dass Perspective on Ted Rall's Endorsement of Dean

In a post about Rall's endorsement Glenn Reynolds quotes the following email from a Dean supporter, extolling what the emailist thinks is just a reasonable and pragmatic political strategy.

I like Dean, but the posting of the Rall endorsement on Dean's blog is a definite negative to me. Still, I'm hesitant to say it means much about Dean's policies or even his basic sentiments (so I think your post takes a correct low-temperature approach to this). Purely tactically, in fact, I don't know that I'd call it negative. Deaniacs, bloggers, blog readers, and other political addicts are following the presidential race, but hardly anyone else is. So although Dean is old news to us in the addict camp and we're ready for him to start getting statesmanlike and reaching out to the moderate middle, in terms of his national campaign Dean is probably still in keep-the-base-fired-up mode. I doubt touting the Rall endorsement will hurt him with the mass of his current supporters. If I were Dean, even with my own moderate instincts and generally pro-war stance, I don't know that I'd take rejecting Ted Rall and all his works as a Sister Souljah moment. Doing a Sister Souljah moment now would just echo into the void.

Yes, probably so. But if so this suggests that the two-party system may finally be succumbing to the multi-dimensional political world rather than moderating its excesses. If we are really willing to give Dean a pass in order to accommodate his near-term political exigencies then what prevents a Napoleon from shape-shifting his way into office? If our short term memories have become so "Memento-like," that a candidate can openly rejoice at the endorsement of a half-literate unabashedly treasonous fellow like Rall, and not pay a political penalty a few months later, then why don't we all just drop acid and join Ram Dass in "being here now?" And why not just forget what happened in September, 2001, while we're at it? It's so 9/12.

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November 23, 2003

No Weapons of Mass Destruction?

Alaa on The Mesopotamian posts a stirring description of what was going on under Saddam Hussein and why our current involvement is both difficult and morally inescapable. It is profoundly thoughtful on a human dimension as well as analytically rigorous in a way that most of the debate over US "involvement" is not. For instance, he discusses the social conditions that "created a traumatized and dehumanized generation." And he also discusses a variety of terror that transcends statistics about the dead:

But more, much more than that; I don't want to depress you with details of the terror and pray to God that no one, no people should ever endure this. Suffice it to say that personal death was not the worse thing, not even in the top league of "Worst Things". I mean, you can see this even now from the kind of terror campaign that "He" is conducting even from his dying bed. The main concern of prison cell "designers" was not to have anything in the cell, which could be used for suicide purposes. This was quite a serious problem for them. A suicide was considered a very serious negligence and could incur cruel punishment. It was not even torture that was the worst thing.

You may think this is some kind of dramatization and exaggeration, but believe me death is nothing compared to having your wife or sister raped in front of your eyes, in seeing your children brought in and tortured in your presence. And so many things like that, I don't like to go on. Even to this very day, many of the incredible crimes, some of which innovations that were never heard of before, are either directly perpetrated or instigated or financed by the organized cells of former security and private army officers, belonging mostly to these very clans confronting your soldiers.

What really gives us pain is the habit of referring to these people as "the Iraqis". Well if they are Iraqi on paper, then the majority of ordinary Iraqis do not feel any kinship with them. It is for this reason as you can see, that the real target of their terror and crime is not really the Coalition, but rather the Iraqi people. In the last couple of days only, two or three school children died amongst many others, one deliberate attack at a primary school in Kabala. This deliberate attacking of children, who else has done, even amongst the worst hardened terrorists and criminals. In fact, their wrath and fury against the foreign troops does not stem from any patriotism or xenophobia. Oh no; you have interfered with their stranglehold on the population, they can no longer loot, torture, extort, rape and generally do as they [please].

And it is also worthwhile to read the comments section. An example:

Alsalam Alaykum,

Today, the terrorists in Istanbul answered the “peace” demonstrators in London. Those who have eyes can see, and those who have ears can hear, but there are those whom “God has sealed their hearts for them with a mask, so that they are deaf, dumb and blind and thus can hardly comprehend anything”

Posted by Demosophist at 12:37 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The Rise of Anti-Semitism

Andrew Sullivan comments on the recent suppression of an EU report on anti-Semitism in Europe. Eugene Volokh elaborates, and also wants to find a copy of the report to publish on his blog.

Serendipitously, the New Republic Online just published an interview with Kenneth Timmerman about his new book on rising anti-Semitism: Preachers of Hate: Islam and the War on America

Here's a key graf from the interview:

Timmerman: Antisemitism is a non-Jewish disease that kills Jews. It is the sewer from which the likes of Osama bin Laden have emerged. It has swept across the Arab and Muslim world, and it is reemerging with deadly force in Europe, 60 years after the Holocaust. For the first time since the Holocaust, Jews in Europe are afraid.

I expect that most American Jews understand the dangers of antisemitism, but many non-Jewish Americans are probably unaware of just how extensive the hate teaching has gone. I offer this book as a wake-up call. When whole generations of Muslim children are being brought up to believe that Jews are the "sons of monkeys and pigs," and that they have a religious duty to murder Jews "and the Americans that are like them," then no amount of wishful thinking is going to make them go away. This is not a social problem. It is not even a political problem. It has become an existential problem: How do we come to terms with large groups of people who want to see us dead?

The Nazis sewed the seeds of anti-Semitism back in the 1940s as part of their war against the allied powers and the virus took. It took because it fell on fertile ground, but was relatively invisible to us. We really have no choice about whether to be in Iraq right now, unless we want the entire Middle East to go the direction of Germany in the 1930s and 40s. This virus doesn't go away on its own, and it has also invaded much of the Marxisant Left, just as it was adopted by the French socialists who followed Paul Faure. The seeds in the Arab world were nurtured by pan-Arab nationalism, by a "status gap" just as raw and open as Germany after WWI, and by 1400 years of a tradition that cultivated contempt as a sort of literary condiment. The seeds in the Left are nurtured by wishful thinking.

Islam is aching for a Reformation, and what it lacks so far is a Martin Luther. At least when such a one appears he may have some place of sanctuary in Iraq, or in a reformed Iran. We are at the tipping point. And as Armed Liberal makes clear, if we are unable to cure the patient, the virus will not kill us. It will harm us, perhaps in ways we won't recover from for an age, but the Arab world will never recover.

Posted by Demosophist at 01:44 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

November 20, 2003

The Biggest Story in the World

according to Larry King is the arrest of Michael Jackson for child molestation. Man, what a sense of history that guy has, huh?

Also, Lileks had a few choice words. Here's an excerpt:

The staff was split. Nightline, supposedly the Thinking Person’s Late Night Show, was split about whether a repudiation of 50 years of foreign policy was slightly more important than the arrest of a washed-up, crotch-grabbing yee-hee! squeaking nutball who was probably the horrid pedophile everyone already thought he was.

I still think a "pedophile" is someone who loves feet, isn't it? But I haven't seen anyone spell it "paedophile" so maybe I'm wrong.

Posted by Demosophist at 09:14 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

A Convergence Theory About the Blackout on Hayes' Story

I'm perplexed and a little angry at the near total big-media blackout about the Hayes story here with a follow-up here. What few items have surfaced have usually been seriously flawed. To be fair, the Sy Hersh story about "stovepipes" for "raw intelligence" (which sounds suspiciously like "raw sewage" doesn't it) was also ignored by major media after its original publication in the NYT. Not that I side with Hersh, but it's the other side of the same story. Jack Shafer has an article in Slate speculating that the reason for spiking the story might be a combination of laziness and complacency about the status quo. Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball were, apparently, tasked with bludgeoning the Hayes story to death in a Newsweek article.

About the only thing in the Newsweek piece that isn't just dripping with panic that the "secular/religious" totalitarian split might not be a valid way to look at the problem, is their contention that the Feith memo:

...mostly recycles shards of old, raw data that were first assembled last year by a tiny team of floating Pentagon analysts (led by a Pennsylvania State University professor and U.S. Navy analyst Christopher Carney) whom Feith asked to find evidence of an Iraqi-Al Qaeda “connection” in order to better justify a U.S. invasion.

But nothing else they say goes very far beyond that assertion, and they tellingly stop short of repeating the canard that proof exists placing Atta in the US at the time of his supposed meeting with an IIS official in Prague in April, 2001. Instead they simply say that the FBI "cannot confirm" the meeting, as though that means something. They manage to avoid mention of the the "erroneous" placement of Atta in the US at the time, because it doesn't fit their primary thesis that the intelligence services ought to be falling all over themselves to verify a connection between Al Qaeda and Saddam. Epstein's story, on the other hand, maintains enough objectivity about the facts to suggest precisely the opposite: that the intelligence services have been engaged in something like a cover up.

But what irks me the most about the Newsweek/Isikoff story is the way they trot out the following bin Laden statement as some sort of "proof" that religious totalitarians don't speak to secular totalitarians:

“The socialists and their rulers [had] lost their legitimacy a long time ago and the socialists are infidels regardless of where they are, whether in Baghdad or in Aden,”

Well, for one thing bin Laden would hardly have felt compelled to back up the legitimacy of Saddam, especially when this secular totalitarian was on the verge of being routed by the Americans. To do so would have tied his legitimacy to theirs, which would have been a rather uncanny thing to do. But more importantly than that rather sophomoric reading of the text is the complete failure to notice statements like the following, an uncomplicated religious justification of wisdom right out of Lawrence of Arabia that "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" (emphasis added):

To repel the greatest of the two dangers on the expense of the lesser one is an Islamic principle which should be observed. It was the tradition of the Sunnah (Ahlul Sunnah) to join and invade fight (sic) with the righteous and non righteous men. Allah may support this religion by righteous and non righteous people as told by the prophet (ALLAH'S BLESSING AND SALUTATIONS ON HIM). -- Osama bin Laden in his 1996 Declaration of War Against the Americans

In summary, I really don't think there is one single explanation for why this story is being squashed. Instead, there are probably several reasons that tend to converge, producing the peculiar pattern of events we've seen. They are:

1. Complacency about a comfortable media consensus around an argument that secularism and religiosity don't mix.
2. Old fashioned "liberal bias" that rejects anything that interferes with a wistful longing for the simpler times of the Vietnam era.
3. An unwillingness to get mixed up in battles between the Executive and the intelligence services.
4. The "not invented here" syndrome that rejects a story originating in the Weekly Standard, and talked about extensively in the blogosphere.
5. An organizational dysfunction in the intelligence services by which they cling to outmoded methodologies and hidebound procedures, that I discussed previously here.

Any one theory doesn't quite cut it, but put them all together and we have something. It's a multivariate world, you know.

Posted by Demosophist at 12:22 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

November 19, 2003

Saddam/Al Qaeda Connection Starting to Roll

By now this Slate story by Edward Epstein is probably being discussed everywhere. Basically what Epstein seems to have found is that the evidence used to debunk the April, 2001 meeting in Prague between Atta and IIS, by placing Atta in the US at the time, was erroneous. And he also seems to have uncovered a cover-up by US intelligence, or at least a concerted attempt to keep the Czech Intelligence from putting 2 and 2 together.

Posted by Demosophist at 11:21 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

More Thoughts on the Stephen Hayes Weekly Standard Article

In his Weekly Standard article about the secret document detailing evidence of cooperation between the regime of Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden Stephen Hayes brings up an issue that detractors have used to suggest the impossibility of such a link. They claim that the two groups, one a secular totalitarian movement, and the other a religiously devout totalitarian movement, had fundamentally irreconcilable interests. Well, they may have had conflicting interests, but surely not irreconcilable. It would not have been the first time totalitarian movements with different sires formed what amounted to a "nonaggression pact." Hayes says:

A decisive moment in the budding relationship came in 1993, when bin Laden faced internal resistance to his cooperation with Saddam.
5. A CIA report from a contact with good access, some of whose reporting has been corroborated, said that certain elements in the "Islamic Army" of bin Laden were against the secular regime of Saddam. Overriding the internal factional strife that was developing, bin Laden came to an "understanding" with Saddam that the Islamic Army would no longer support anti-Saddam activities. According to sensitive reporting released in U.S. court documents during the African Embassy trial, in 1993 bin Laden reached an "understanding" with Saddam under which he (bin Laden) forbade al Qaeda operations to be mounted against the Iraqi leader.

Although Hayes says that this agreement came at a decisive moment, the intelligence reference doesn't really deal with internal resistance within Al Qaeda except to say that bin Laden overrode that resistance. What the passage deals with is the reconciliation of conflicting interest between Saddam and the Islamists, in which the Islamists were mollified. For his part Saddam had made similar arrangements of opportunity with other even more bitter enemies, for instance when he came to an agreement in 1996 with the very Kurds that he had gassed at Halabja (the Barzani or KDP) so that his Republican Guard could move with impunity against another Kurdish faction (the Talabani or PUK) to drive them out of Erbil (Mackey, p. 311). But this arrangement with bin Laden is deeper, because the common interest involved a far more formidable enemy. Bin Laden actually discusses his thinking on this matter in a directive given his followers as part of his Declaration of War Against the Americans on August 8, 1996:

Ibn Taymiyyah, after mentioning the Moguls (Tatar) and their behavior in changing the law of Allah, stated that: the ultimate aim of pleasing Allah, raising His word, instituting His religion and obeying His messenger (ALLAH'S BLESSING AND SALUTATIONS ON HIM) is to fight the enemy, in every aspects (sic) and in a complete manner; if the danger to the religion from not fighting is greater than that of fighting, then it is a duty to fight them even if the intention of some of the fighter (sic) is not pure i.e., fighting for the sake of leadership (personal gain) or if they do not observe some of the rules and commandments of Islam. To repel the greatest of the two dangers on the expense of the lesser one is an Islamic principle which should be observed. It was the tradition of the Sunnah (Ahlul Sunnah) to join and invade fight (sic) with the righteous and non righteous men. Allah may support this religion by righteous and non righteous people as told by the prophet (ALLAH'S BLESSING AND SALUTATIONS ON HIM).

So here we have something even more substantial than what the Feith memo annex provides, since the memo simply implies an authoritarian stance on the part of bin Laden, without the need for Koranic justification. In what has to be the most famous of all bin Laden pronouncements, his Declaration of War Against the Americans, he specifically provides a religious justification for alliances of the sort that he had already, apparently, established with Saddam. And text of his declaration may also point to other similar alliances of "convenience" with other secular rulers or groups. The declaration directive amounts to an Islamic fundamentalist version of "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" principle. And one need not have acquired a transcendent level of social understanding to grasp the implications.

Update: Here are some additional links to blogs that mention this ongoing, almost universally ignored, story:
[The Rantburg link is particularly exhausting exhaustive.]

Stephen F. Hayes (on the DoD response, etc.)
Jack Shafer in Slate
The Whole Thing
Power Line
Opinions Galore
Young Curmudgeon
Josh Marshall
rumcrook's tavern
Free Republic
Berkeley Square Blog
The American Mind
Josh Chafetz on Oxblog
Captain's Quarters

Pejman Yousefzadeh on TCS

Posted by Demosophist at 02:02 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

November 18, 2003

The Legacy of American Charisma

Gregory, on Belgravia Dispatch fisks the London protestors, and analyzes what makes them tick. And he also briefly touches on something that says more about where we are, and where we're going, than any of us have so far perceived:

This is really more all about the difficulties of being this epoch's Roman Empire. What do I mean? Simply that our unrivaled power is the cause of so much of this hyperventilation and hand-wringing.

Put differently, a mixture of fascination, envy and fear bred of feverish hyperbole about the gunslinging cowboy George leading the biggest outlaw state of them all. And, the story goes, taking the world on a road to perma-war.

And he also accurately observes (with insufficient irony, however) that the most popular America-bashers, are Americans. The whole thing is a nuisance, but it's also fascinatingly curious. There's an element of, dare I say the word, charisma in this.

According to a wonderful Yoda-like professor of mine who expanded a bit on Max Weber's thesis on social legitimacy (Thelma Z. Lavine), charisma appears as a source of legitimation when a society or culture needs to break out of the "iron cage" of tradition and legal/rational authority. And the two great oppositional archetypes of political charisma that we have from western history are Napoleon Bonaparte and George Washington. No wonder there is such terror and fascination, because when you've suspended your traditional restraint and your rationality to the "magic" of charisma your ability to judge between good and evil can also lapse. These are, indeed, terrible times.

But, lest we forget, Washington and Bonaparte were very different sorts of leaders. Washington was not only willing to allow dissent, but also stepped out of the position of power at precisely the moment when his own personal charisma was greatest and could be transferred to the new institutions of the fledgling democracy that, itself, lacked legitimacy. This legacy was the key to nation-building, and a lesson that by their own admission also inspired Nelson Mandela and Lech Walesa. This is a quality that Bonapartes always lack, as they strut their hour on the stage. So "good charisma," while it inspires, doesn't leave us without clues to its nature. Now we have a modern example of that very phenomenon that once resided only within exceptional men, and now exists in a larger form... fascinating, and terrible, that fits the times. And the question that hangs in our hearts..., what will be made of it?

Posted by Demosophist at 02:09 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Iraq Now Afghanistan, Not Vietnam?

According to CNN reporter Walt Rodgers, aware that the Vietnam quagmire analogies where wearing a bit thin, the real descriptive anology for this stage of the US war in Iraq was the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, where the soldiers hid within fortified areas and then went on sojourns into the countryside to attack the enemy. But he doesn't seem to have touched on the Washington Post's coverage of creative strategies to fight the insurgents. (Captain Ed has a nice summary of the article.)

I sometimes think no one other than Victor Davis Hanson will figure out that this war operates by its own rules until they're comparing the next war to the US Liberation of Iraq. Aren't reporters supposed to have a job description that includes noticing what's going on while it's going on?

Posted by Demosophist at 12:40 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

November 17, 2003

Italian Antiimperialistas

I don't understand. Isn't this pretty much the definition of "providing aid and comfort to the enemy?" Why should they be treated any differently than the Ba'athist insurgents themselves? At the very least, secure that bank account holding the contributions and use the money for something worthwhile.

Posted by Demosophist at 06:29 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Global Democratic Revolution?

John F. Cullman has an article in NRO suggesting that we were outmaneuvered in Iraq recently. Here's the money quote:

Why exactly did the U.S. surrender all formal leverage over Iraq's new constitution? Was it a matter of a weak bargaining position or weak bargaining skills? It's hard to determine from this distance so soon after the event. But it's impossible to square this hands-off approach with President's Bush's bold announcement that "a free Iraq in the heart of the Middle East will be a watershed event in the global democratic revolution."

I'm having a few problems with that myself. I have serious reservations about whether this President really understands what such a global revolution will require. At the very least one ought to begin to see the unmistakable signs of institutions forming up, whose sole purpose is the acquisition of nation-building expertise and know-how and the implementation and organizational clout required to make it real. So far we're not only playing a lousy game of poker, there's just no evidence we're playing anything but "catch up." Well, on second thought that's going a bit too far. We are making headway, and learning vital lessons in Iraq, but they'll be forgotten quickly unless there's some sort of institutional memory created, and a way to apply the lessons to the next case without all the trial and error.

Posted by Demosophist at 03:29 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Is the Hayes Article on the Saddam/Al Qaeda Connection Just Spin?

[The Hayes article in question is here, if you haven't yet seen it.]
I don't think it's spin. Just the tip of the iceberg, really. Here's Josh Chafetz's interpretation of the DOD press release. He basically says that the press release is deliberately crafted so that it doesn't contradict Hayes' article. While the Feith memo does make numerous assessments about the reliability of various pieces of intelligence, it doesn't draw conclusions about the substantive issue of the links between Al Qaeda and Saddam, and Hayes doesn't say that it does. The Feith memo is an annotated list of intelligence reports concerning the link, and was cleared by the CIA and a number of other intelligence agencies, according to the DOD press release. The specific reports on the list would have been requested separately.

The press seems to be drawing the wrong conclusions from the DOD press release for the moment, because it's so poorly worded, but this IS probably a big deal. It provides references to reliable triangulated evidence that the Al Qaeda / Saddam link has existed for a long time, and that much of the evidence is far more reliable than the infamous Atta meeting with Iraqi officials in Prague, which probably did not occur (although other Atta meetings in Prague at other times probably did).

But this Feith memo, or "annex," is really just very suggestive by itself. The final smoking gun will come when the reports to which it refers come out, and when other information gleaned since the invasion of Iraq are released that either refute or verify it. (And I'm betting on the latter.) But make no mistake, the long delusion that there was no link between Saddam and Al Qaeda is almost certainly going down in flames.

Sullivan has more to say about it here and here:

Posted by Demosophist at 11:39 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

November 16, 2003

The Romanticism of Rall and Bin Laden

Anticipatory Retaliation and Captain Ed have made a couple of comments about Ted Rall that got me engaged, and rather than just post a comment myself I decided to put it in a new post. I think it's important to understand Rall as well as Al Qaeda and the Ba'ath, not because we can't defeat them without understanding them, but because by understanding them we'll be able to defeat them more quickly and finallly.

The things Ed and A.R., (and Michele and Totten) point out about Rall's prior "contributions" suggest that he's really a rather demented individual, at least from our point of view. And it's relevant to ask whether or not his behavior makes more sense from another perspective. I read a great essay the other day on USS Clueless to the effect that Bin Laden's strategy was, and is, to enlist Allah in the fight against the infidel. Essentially you could look at this as the sort of behavior a lover might engage in if he wanted to impress or gain the attention of the beloved. And everything Bin Laden knows about the beloved comes from a mixture of Islamic doctrine and counter-enlightenment philosophy that emerged in the early 20th Century. So he first perceives what he believes Allah hates, and then acts in a way that's consistent with his beloved's priorities or preferences.

One could almost look at Rall in the same way, and there might even be someone in his experience that's connected with the same counter-enlightenment component, or what Armed Liberal calls "liberation theory" in a series of posts that begin with The War Against Bad Philosophy. The only thing that's different between my perspective, and what A.L. is talking about, is the role that romanticism plays, or may play, in all of this.

So I think you could look at Rall's behavior as making sense not merely in the context of a philosophy with which we disagree, but in the light of emotional attachments that are difficult for us to fathom. From Rall's point of view he's not only acting ethically but heroically. In a sense he and Bin Laden love sibling Gods. Although related they aren't identical. They have the same mother, but different fathers. So it's not at all surprising that their disciples have such a high degree of empathy.

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November 15, 2003

Ted Rall, Trent Lott and Other Unoriginal Sinners

Well, I don't see a correction coming from Andrew Sullivan about his post on Ted Rall's Veteran's Day "Why We Fight" article. Nor do I see anyone else changing their minds or issuing retractions, though it certainly looked to me like they took the Rall article the wrong way. I have a disadvantage in that I wouldn't know Ted Rall from... well I probably do know almost any mortal from Ted Rall, but you know what I mean. The piece just looked like tasteless satire to me, and one simply has to pity those who can't tell the difference between what goes in and comes out. I understand there's a fine line between being abnormally tasteless for a normal human, and being tasteless "in the biblical sense." And I gather that most people feel that Rall shades over into the second category.

But it's fair to say that this satire could appeal to two kinds of people, effectively multiplying his audience. It probably appeals to people who are horrified by any violence, observing that any attempt by the US to use a public show of force against a small terrorist sub-population within a terrorized population might further terrorize them, and potentially alienate Iraqis in the section of Baghdad in question. And that is an up or down thing, because it could be rather heavy-handed. Sure. All most people saw here in the states was the bang bang. And I wouldn't have been too surprised to see some such satire coming from the "more-war-later" crowd, so I was willing to just shrug it off. There's a huge distinction between encouraging terrorism and discouraging actions that supposedly encourage terrorism. In fact, they're sort of the opposite.

And that's the satirical edge, isn't it? The drama created by implying the opposite of what you're actually saying is, under normal circumstances, the power of a satirical piece. But what the devil is Rall really saying? If we assume that he isn't in sympathy with the terrorists the piece certainly works as ironic satire. But can we assume Rall's intentions? The literary ambiguity certainly isn't resolved by any history of pro-American sentiment in Rall's past. And beyond that there's also the clearly intentional "meta-irony" involved in titling an article published on Veteran's Day: "Why We Fight" (emphasis added). Who is "we?" Here it's obvious that something more than irony is at play, something more like double meaning. Because the "we" is not just "our civilization" vs. the anti-civilization terrorists, but the "we" of the anti-war movement that's fighting the anti-terrorism of the US: a fact that is not only ironic itself, but shockingly foolish and misguided. And upon this point turns a larger interpretation of the article as unintentional self-satire.

These folks have never seen a terrorist they didn't like, except possibly Tim Mcveigh. So, at that meta-level the irony that's essential to satire begins to lose traction, and we can see that Rall may actually be in sympathy with the recruiters of terrorists. Instead of a nice crisp satire we begin to perceive a hall of mirrors.

And the question of whether or not there are a significant number of readers who would read Rall's piece and agree with the sentiments expressed in the recruiting pamphlet is probably, yes. The "We" in the title is, essentially, standing on the side of the terrorists insisting to see the world as they see it, no matter how distorted the image. That isn't irony, it's empathy.

Does the article work on that level, and simply maintain plausible deniability by hiding behind a claim to satire? Is there a kind of not-so-secret desire to see the US lose the war, by emphasizing one side of the inevitable tradeoff that's inherent in the fact that opposing the terrorists with force is bound to alienate some people? Are these potential recruits really all that rational to begin with, or are they just as likely to be set off by George Bush's Texas twang?

I think I've changed my mind. There's a lot here that ought to offend. Yes, on one level it's a bit like watching a mentally handicapped person masturbate in public. But on another level it's far uglier.

If it's fair to look into past actions and statements in the case of Trent Lott to determine precisely what he meant by his belated endorsement of Strom Thurmond's 1948 presidential campaign, it's fair to do the same with Rall's past journalistic diatribes, which he has never repudiated, as Michele Catalono does here and here:

Don't bother to tell me that I read Rall's column wrong, that this was satire or tongue in cheek or parody or whatever word you want to use to defend him; based on Rall's past columns and comics, one can safely assume that Ted wrote this from his bitter heart.

Look at that paragraph I quoted. Does Rall really believe this? Does he honestly think that most Iraqis would rather live under Saddam than make progress towards democracy with help from the U.S.? He is taking the issues of a small percentage of Iraqis - those corrupt individuals who flourished under Saddam's totalitarian regime - and projecting their ideals onto the rest of the Iraqi citizens.

After all, Trent was just going for the laugh too... and it was surely tasteless "in the biblical sense," because it betrayed the desires and longings of his heart. And while I'm not personally competent to judge whether Rall is similarly afflicted, because I don't really know him from... well, Adam--the meta-irony of the title is something I can't overlook. It looks like Rall not only took a big ol' bite of a corrupted fruit, but actually went further than Lott having chewed it up, and "swallered it." And that wide-eyed look of innocence really hides a vengeful snarl. It's certainly fair to say that he and many of his readers apparently liked the taste of the forbidden produce, and that it might not only be a sin in the biblical sense, but on a biblical scale. (Hat tip: Glenn)

UPDATE: Eric Scheie has an extensive post with lots of links that speaks to Rall's character, or lack thereof.

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November 14, 2003

May Be Bush's T.R. Impression

This 'talk' of a change of direction on Bush's part may just be Bush's version of T.R.'s maxim 'Speak softly and carry a big stick.' The consensus among most warbloggers is that the real 'shift' in US policy is to regard what's going on in Iraq as a continuation of the war, rather than a counter-insurgency. The Sunni triangle, in other words, was never really subdued (as John Moore points out in a comment). The pro-Iraqi-Freedom bloggers seem to think that what's going to be happening for awhile is a ramp up of force in the area that includes not just 'iron hammer' kinds of exercises which are as much theater as effect, but Special Forces hunter-killer teams that roam around and take out groups of insurgents as they form up. Apparently a lot of these Jihadists who entered Iraq through Syria having left their friends behind in a celebratory mood have vanished without a trace. Meaning not that they're in hiding, but that they're dead. Executed. The impression left among the would be Jihadists is that their friends have just dropped into a black hole, and they've decided to forego plans of entering the fray themselves for awhile. And we'll keep fighting this war until things are sufficiently safe to provide security for elections and referenda that are required to legitimate a turnover to an Iraqi government. The Bush administration, in other words, is using rhetoric to misdirect its enemies, both here and in the Middle East. It's damned sophisticated, if true. Like I said, this should shake out better in the next few days. So far I can't find a single pro-war blogger who thinks Bush really intends to pull out quickly. But a large number of UK citizens I've talked to recently think that's a fait accompli. Check out Belgravia Dispatch. It's pretty well reasoned, and representative of the consensus. And thanks again to John Moore at Useful Fools.

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More on Bush Vulnerabilities: A Topic I Really Don't Like

John, at Useful Fools suggests in a comment on my previous post on this topic that the recent "iron hammer" operation isn't as futile as it has been made out to be. Of course, the BBC will claim it's just a gesture... but I have zero faith in the objective reporting of the BBC after the Gilligan episode and others, and eventually some testimony from troops in Baghdad will show up on blogs to clear things up. Some of the Iraqi blogs have been complaining that the main problem with the allied effort there is that most of the information is provided by Al Jazeera, etc... and even most Sunni know those are extremely biased. What we, and the liberal Iraqis, lack are distribution channels to get our message out. We at least need some sort of effective "Radio Free Iraq" or even "Radio Free Arabia."

I think we need to also lose the Powell-coined "exit strategy" rhetoric. Why did anyone ever think that was clever? According to McCain there's only one exit strategy that counts: victory. And that isn't measured in superficial public relations media bites. If we demonstrate a willingness to leave before getting the job done there'll ultimately be even more lives lost, and the struggle will just drag on and on, as Armed Liberal on Winds of Change observes. I can see Bush becoming vulnerable from his right if he doesn't start demonstrating that he takes those words he uttered a few days ago, about a "democratic revolution," seriously. His support will erode so quickly he won't know what hit him.

On the other hand, perhaps these recent "skedaddle gestures" are just designed to temporarily mollify some of his detractors in Europe, during his visit there. They may simply be a way to give Blair some political cover. But this business about talking tough one day, and then changing direction the next, is the classic pre-9/11 Bush electoral behavior. Two or three shifts like that in a row and he may become very vulnerable, politically. I've always thought this was Bush's blind spot, and if I were running a campaign against him I'd deliberately try to get him to make a few quick changes in direction like this, over a period of a month or so... and then exploit the credibility hole that opens up. That's what I would have done were I running the McCain campaign a few years ago (as though anyone would have asked).

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November 13, 2003

What's Bush Up To?

I really don't like the sound of this:

Administration officials say it's conceivable that a transfer of power in Iraq could take place even before next year's U.S. presidential election, though officials insist the election is not a factor in the timing.

The administration had strong ideas about the process that should be taken toward Iraqi self-governance, and argued at the United Nations in September that before power could be turned over to the Iraqis, a new constitution had to be written and ratified in a referendum and a new government had to be elected.

But after two days of talks with Bremer, the president no longer seems to mind short-circuiting the democratic process that officials say would take too long.

This just doesn't sound like the same Bush who delivered the speach TNR talks about here:

the president provided a thoughtful and stirring and momentous defense of the centrality of democratization to American foreign policy. It was a radical speech, and for once the radicalism of this administration did not seem small or sectarian. It contained arguments, not slogans; a sense of history, not a sense of politics. It was the credo of an idealist, but there was realism in it, too.

I can't figure it out. One day he's talking about making a sacrifice to establish a turning point in history, and the next he's talking about "getting out of town fast." I hate to say it, but this sounds like a Karl Rove thing. If this president plays the Iraq reconstruction "short" he won't get my vote next November, even if I have to vote for Dean or Nader. I just have no tolerance for playing politics with this. Zero. In fact, if Bush is ready to pull out of Iraq prematurely I'm definitely willing to draft someone else to run against him in the Republican primary. His stock will drop so fast it'll make Enron look like a good buy.

I'll wait to see how things shake out, but I didn't like the sound of "Iron Hammer" ether. Firepower isn't the way to win a counter-insergency campaign. What's going on here?

Posted by Demosophist at 11:28 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Gore Vidal's Self Parody, and an Oops Recommendation to Andrew Sullivan

In a recent interview in the LA Weekly Gore Vidal manages his usual political/ideological contortionist act, managing to be both the personification of nativism and cosmopolitan elitism. This has to be the zenith of self-parody. According to this fellow who clearly thinks it's impossible to be too European, too German, or too French, and who has lived most of his recent life as an expatriate in Italy within a cocoon of anti-Americanism, "we Americans" ought to be "bugged" about journalists "coming over here from Ireland and such places... like Andrew Sullivan... telling us how to be." Nevertheless, believing his own countrymen too corrupt and foolish to preserve the liberties guaranteed in their Bill of Rights he preposterously advises, in his most recent book as well as in this interview, that the founding document ought to be routinely revised, Jefferson-fashion. By whom? He claims on the one hand to be outraged by the elitism of Bush, but who would he volunteer for such a condescendingly revisionist project? Surely not "the people" who are too stupid and corruptible? Who but a competing anti-American and Europeanized elite, myopically preoccupied with "little democracy."

And what must be an additional unintentional parody is Vidal's notion that the Patriot Act is a program of creeping despotic repression, while it nevertheless allows people like Ted Rall (whom Vidal must regard as one of the elite entitled to rewrite our Constitution for us) to seemingly not only cheer for the Baath and Al Qaeda as they kill American soldiers, but even to apparently urge them to murder UN and NGO aid workers:

In recent months we have opened a second front, against such non-governmental organizations as the United Nations (news - web sites) and Red Crescent. A typical response of the Bush junta to these actions was issued by National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice: "It is unfortunate in the extreme that the terrorists decided to go after innocent aid workers and people who were just trying to help the Iraqi people." Do not listen to her. True, many aid workers are well intentioned. [Many? As in a significant number have evil intentions?] However, their presence [The well intentioned ones or the evil intentioned ones?] under American military occupation tacitly endorses the invasion and subsequent colonization of Iraq. Their efforts to restore "normalcy" deceives weak-willed Iraqi civilians and international observers into the mistaken belief that the Americans are popular here. There can be no normalcy, or peace, until the invader is driven from our land. From the psychological warfare standpoint, the NGOs represent an even more insidious threat to fight for sovereignty than the U.S. army.

In this vein we must also take action against our own Iraqi citizens who choose to collaborate with the enemy. Bush wants to put an "Iraqi face" on the occupation. If we allow the Americans to corrupt our friends and neighbors by turning them into puppet policemen and sellouts, our independence will be lost forever. If someone you know is considering taking a job with the Americans, tell him that he is engaging in treason and encourage him to seek honest work instead. If he refuses, you must kill him as a warning to other weak-minded individuals.

But in Rall's defense (though not Vidal's), his article "Why We Fight" might not be as offensive as Andrew Sullivan asserts, because I'm pretty sure it's a satirical criticism aimed not at encouraging terrorists, but at discouraging an American counter-insurgency campaign that he feels encourages Iraqi terrorists. While it's more than a little insensitive and insufferably self-righteous to publish such a satire on Veteran's Day, it's not quite as depraved as it appears. Andrew must not have had his morning coffee before he penned that post. Well, it happens to all of us. If it were me, I'd do some quick editing.

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November 11, 2003

The Centrifugal Politics of "Little Democracy"

Armed Liberal, over on Winds of Change, posted recently about an essay on the Daily Kos, by Chris Bowers. The thesis outlined by Bowers has really been around for quite awhile, and I first encountered it at The Center for Voting and Democracy. It represents what I think is one of the central mythologies of a political orientation that I've been calling "little democracy" because of its tendancy to train a microscope on our own system of governance while consistently missing the larger picture. Chris' version of this political folklore is the most elaborate I've seen in awhile, so I figured I'd take the opportunity to deal with some of his arguments in detail, and then broaden the discussion by looking at some relevant data I happen to have at hand. I'm also interested in addressing a question that Chris does not raise: whether such a political program is good for the country, regardless of whether it happens to be good for the Democratic Party.

Chris' essay, with the unabashed title From Dean to Jackson: How to Revitalize the Democratic Party (and save the country in the process!) is divided into four parts: 1. The apparent problem, 2. The real problem; 3. The solution, from Dean; and 4. To Jackson. Since the crux of the matter really rests on Part 2, and since I think you could label the entire essay "The Apparent Problem and Solution," I'm going to focus almost exclusively on "The Real Problem."

Is the "real problem" the real problem?

First, I'll just comment briefly on some statements from the essay that I think are wildly off the mark. In general Chris seems to be proposing a counter to what he feels has been a successful strategy for Republicans. At the point we enter the essay he is beginning to take potshots at the DLC's electoral strategy, which he feels was based on the "apparent" problem:

While supporting increasingly freer trade policies may have resulted in some significant campaign contributions from Wall Street, once such policies were enacted they have helped to significantly reduce to size of organized labor.

The problem here is that freer trade policies aren't just a ploy of the wealthy to obtain more wealth, or for conservative politicians to get more campaign contributions. They're a way for everyone to obtain more wealth, at least in the minds and hearts of people who believe in Comparative Trade Advantage. There are certainly distributional issues raised by changing the mix of competitive industries to meet trade demands, but these ought to be addressed without undermining the overall advantage of trade to consumers, as much as possible. I could probably just chalk this error up to general ignorance were it not for the almost delusional assumption that the decline of unions is a result of our trade policies. The principle reason organized labor has declined in influence is that when the AFL and CIO merged in the 1950s individual unions became less competitive with one another, and this made the overall union movement less willing and able to meet the needs and demands of their clients: the workers. The start of decline in union density in the US, as S.M. Lipset has observed, can be dated precisely to the formation of the AFL/CIO which was supposed to fix labor's problems by making it more competitive with management and owners. It did the opposite.

Increasing enforcement of the War on Drugs may have made a Democratic nominee look tough on crime to swing voters, but it has also resulted in increasing voter disenfranchisement for drug-related felony convictions among African Americans to over 10% (from less than 2% in 1978).

This is an excellent example of the primary problem of "progressives," and why they really have no hope of fixing things until the myths finally subside. For some reason they simply fail to recognize that a reduction in crime rates benefits the minority community, and they also fail to credit members of minority communities with enough sense to know that. Were this fact slightly more obvious to black and minority voters they might actually begin to change their voting patterns sharply, but at the moment it simply makes some of them less likely to vote at all. While Chris may be correct that the War on Drugs reduced the size of the voting block slightly, that effect is small in comparison to the impact of having treated this constituency as though they hadn't enough sense to get out of the rain. Until progressives correct this kind of condescension (also exemplified in Dean's notorious "confederate flagged pickup" statement) they simply aren't going to be nationally competitive.

During this same period of time, pro-Republican organizations and demographic groups greatly increased in size and in level or organization. The Christian Coalition, an organization that did not exist during the 1970's, arose to become the most powerful activist organization in the country....

The principle reason for the high appeal of religious organizations is the precise opposite of the reason for the decline of unions. The sectarian nature of religion in the US compels the sects to compete with one another for members and contributors, which sharpens their ability to meet the self-identified needs of their members. The countries with a unified church tradition (the analog of the unification of the labor unions in the AFL/CIO) have church membership and attendance levels only a fraction of those in the US. The point is that the resource was there long before it was tapped by the Christian Coalition. They didn't create it, they simply organized it.

The flaw in all of this reasoning is that it assumes Republicans did something deliberate to increase their vote and support base, when what actually happened is that the electorate was simply returning to the ideological consensus of the founding. It is precisely those founding principles that have worked successfully to produce the electoral resource available to the Republican Party. The reason for the shift of the public to the right, and the decline in the fortunes of Democrats is, I'm afraid, far more serious than any Republican strategy to increase the clout of their constituent groups. It is the failure of many Democrats to understand their own country. They have simply been led to regard the founding values as subversive, and so fewer and fewer voters are willing to entrust the care and maintenance of the nation to them. There may still be a wing of the Democratic Party that remains sensitive to these values, but it may be on the verge of becoming completely coopted by the Republicans. And Bowers' strategy would simply accelerate that process.

Since the diagnosis of the problem is so mistaken, there's really little chance that the cure (Dean) will be effective. The "cure" that is recommended in Part 3 of his essay really has nothing to do with the "actual problem," which is simply a deep seated ignorance about the country itself. Furthermore the analysis ought to have something to do with the social problems that have been the traditional focus of the Democrats, but what Bowers offers instead is, well, strange:

Although his [Dean's] activist organization probably makes him unbeatable in he primaries (sic), win or lose what Dean has revealed is just the tip of the iceberg. Already, almost $10M has been raised online by Democratic candidates other than Dean (Bush hasn't even raised $1.5M online yet), and either activist groups such as MoveOn and even the Democratic Party itself have raised another several million online. If Dean becomes the nominees (sic), I have no reason to doubt that dean (sic) will come close to $100M in online donations--maybe even more. Further, if he becomes the nominee, his new organization could potentially garner him over one billion hours in volunteer help.

He offers a method of organizing a political movement, as though the effectiveness of the policy solutions that the movement recommends have no relation to its political success. I can understand that you don't even have an opportunity to propose policies unless you can win office, but that's hardly a good reason for such naivete'. Whatever Dean is doing that works could be copied or cloned by the other side since they have a dedicated grassroots as well, and there's little reason to believe it wouldn't work for them just as well as it works for Dean, or better.

Bowers' view is that progressives need to radicalize and polarize their politics in order to energize their base and appeal to voters and supporters. A term that is frequently used in relation to this dynamic is "centrifugal," in the sense that the payoffs in the electoral system encourage opponents and factions toward the ideological fringe. The opposite dynamic is a centripetal system. While any experienced political fundraiser could tell you that a "fight rap" is a lot more likely to get a check than an appeal to cooperation, that's not the real issue for grownups. The real issues are twofold:

1. Does centrifugal politics win elections?
2. Is centrifugal politics good for the country?

Does centrifugal politics win?

"Little democracy" has been arguing for some time that item 1 is true, and they've pointed to examples where non-centrist candidates have won and centrist candidates have lost. But, as a general rule this sort of analysis simply ignores what the opposition is doing. In other words, it doesn't look at electoral contests or races as the unit of analysis, so doesn't accurately represent elections. Without considering the ideology of a winner's opponent you have no way of knowing whether his ideological stance was a help or a hindrance. If, instead of looking at winning or losing canditates, we look at races where the candidates are paired appropriately, what we find is that there is an interesting relationship between the ideology of the district and the ideological distance between candidates. To illustrate this complexity lets look briefly at the 1996 congressional election, the one originally cited, by Rob Richey at the Center for Voting and Democracy, as an example of the contention that polarizing politics works:

In the table below the colums represent the partisan bias of the congressional district
(low, medium and high) without regard to whether the district is conservative or "liberal." The rows represent the ideological distance between candidates, (closer or farther apart). (Races have been omitted if an ideological ranking was unavailable for one of the two major candidates, and if the election was uncontested.) The top number in the cells represents the average amount spent in that grouping of districts by the combined candidates, while the bottom number is the number of districts in that cell category. For instance, in general the closer the candidates are to one another the more the combined expenditures. (The numbers under "Total" in the far right column.) The average combined expenditures for the candidates who were closest to one another ideologically is $1,030,000. In contrast the average combined expenditures for the candidates who were farthest from each other ideologically was only $873,000. Likewise, the most money was spent, on average, in districts that have low partisanship bias ($1,375,000). However, the category of races that had the highest combined expenditures were those where the candidates where the fartherst apart ideologically, but who were competing in the least biased districts. It is these races that best exemplify Chris Bowers' thesis.

Distance Between CandidatesI. Low BiasII. Medium BiasIII. High BiasTotal
I. Closer$1,364K (43)$713K (23)$723K (23)$1,030K (89)
II. Middling$1,338K (40)$1,006K (31)$562K (25)$1,029K (96)
III. Farther$1,473K (20)$912K (28)$588K (46)$873K (94)
Total$1,375K (103)$892K (82)$614K (94)$977K (279)

First let's dispense with the 94 districts that have the highest partisan bias. One would normally expect to see the opposite of a centrifugal pattern in such districts, and that's exactly what we do find. A Democratic candidate running in a highly Republican district (or visa versa) simply has to get as close as he can, ideologically, to his Republican rival in order to have a chance of winning. The highest combined expenditures occur in those 23 races where the candidates are closest in terms of their ideology, an indication that only these races are even remotely competitive.

Next, what this table tells us about districts with the lowest partisan bias (the largest category with 103 districts) is that more money is spent there than in any of the three categories of districts where partisan bias is the highest. On average, over twice as much is spent in Column I races ($1,375,000) as in Column III races ($614,000). This, in itself, suggests an overall centripetal pattern where evenly matched districts are more competitive, and therefore attract more contributions. But that alone doesn't tell us whether candidates are encouraged toward the center, because there's also the matter of how partisan the candidates are.

Within the 103 districts with the lowest partisan bias one might expect to see, ironically, the most highly charged ideological races, simply because the contest is more competitive to begin with. But this really depends largely on the ideological variation within the district, and unfortunately I don't have information on that metric. There is no way to tell directly, from my data, whether a district is composed entirely of uniformly moderate voters, or of two evenly matched groups of highly partisan voters. But Bowen's conjecture is that the latter represents the true state of politics in the US, and that there is a pool of highly ideological contributors (and ultimately voters) who haven't been tapped for support by Democrats. We can gain at least a little purchase on the truth of this conjecture by observing (as previously noted) that within these low-bias or evenly matched districts the most money is spent where the distance between canditates is the greatest. In fact more money was spent in these races, on average, than anywhere else in the country ($1,473,000). It is these races that correspond to the national scenario envisioned by the proponents of "little democracy." At this point it looks like Bowers' contention has some merit.

If Chris Bowers is correct, the candidates who distinguish themselves ideologically in these districts are rewarded with more campaign funds. But because of the nature of fundraising it's nearly impossible to untangle whether or not contributors are inspired by an attraction to the ideology of their candidate, or by a loathing for the ideology of the opponent. Either way, I suppose it's a good thing from Bowers' point of view. But notice that this situation of partisan balance and highly ideological candidates is typical of the smallest number of races (only 20) in the entire country. At best Bowers' strategy would work for some sections of the country, but this represents much less than 10% of the national electorate (only 20 out of nearly 300 races). Even within the category of the least biased (and therefore most competitive) districts, these highly charged races are only 20% of the total. And since this is the target at which the Dean campaign is currently aiming it's not entirely surprising that they believe this group is more typical of voters than may actually be the case.

Chris, of course, might argue that this pattern is to be expected, since it was virtually dictated by the DLC strategy. But remember, we are looking here not at the Presidential race, but at congressional races. If the general thesis has any merit whatsoever, we ought to see some reflection of it in this table, especially since "little democracy" itself usually cites congressional races as their primary evidence for the strategy's potential effectiveness.

A somewhat more direct argument can be mounted by running a multiple regression using the 279 competitive districts in this study, with the vote margin as the dependent variable. I've done this for the 1996 election utilizing a number of standard explanatory variables in addition to candidate ideology. These variables include incumbency, spending, district liberalism, candidate experience and the percent of money obtained from PACs (which is a surrogate for the percent obtained from individuals, but with a coefficient of opposite sign). What I found was that candidate liberalism had the least impact of all variables, except for the % of contributions from PACs for Democrats. These are precisely the two variables that Chris proposes are critical to "saving the country!" The fact is that voters simply don't pay much attention to how extreme the candidates are. For their purposes the rough approximation provided by party affiliation is enough. They're far more likely to cast their vote for the more experienced candidate or the candidate closest to their party affiliation, or the candidate who is already in office (if there is one). I should add that the money spent on campaigns is also important, but no more so than district ideology or incumbency.

So, we've looked carefully at the impact of ideology on campaign spending (and therefore indirectly on contributions); and we've also looked at the impact of candidate ideology on votes. There is some evidence to suggest that more radical candidate ideology influences contributions, but only in a small number of districts, and there is no evidence that even this advantage is carried over to the voters. So ultimately there is little evidence that a "centrifugal" strategy would work nationally, either to obtain a congressional majority or to elect a President. It's just bad politics. And I think we're about to get an object lesson in just how bad it is, provided by the Dean campaign.

Is centrifugal politics good for the nation?

The political scientist Mattei Dogan has written a great deal on this topic of partisanship and how it impacts political regimes. He observes:

Among open party systems, the most fundamental distinction involves the degree to which power is centrifugalized (polarizing) or centripetalized (centring). In the context of this distinction, we can better understand the two-party/multiparty contrast. I believe that the survival of presidentialism is promoted by an open centripetal party system and undermined by one that is centrifugal or closed (emphasis added).

Centripetal forces arise when different parties compete mainly for centre votes; that is, the support of regular, mainstream voters who think of themselves as 'independents', willing to support candidates of any party or even willing to split their tickets, as current interests, policy issues or political personalities suggest. By contrast, centrifugal forces prevail when more extreme positions are taken by parties seeking to attract the support of non-voters. This typically involves proposing dramatic, populist, costly and controversial policies likely to win the support of apathetic or alienated citizens who normally cannot or will not vote. Unfortunately, most presidentialist regimes [though not the United States] have developed centrifugal party systems, thereby creating self-destructive spirals based on circular causation. -- (Dogan, Comparing Nations, p. 89)

In general what Dogan and most political scientists who study this phenomenon have to say follows Madisonian logic pretty closely. As one ought to expect, factionalism is bad and cooperation good. The success of the American political system, which is one of the very few successful presidentialist systems in the world, is largely due to the capacity for "crosscutting alliances" that undermine the factional and divisive distinctions between voting blocks. So, in answer to the two issues raised by Chris Bowers' "little democracy" conjecture:

1. Centrifugal politics does not win national elections in the US, nor does it win a large number of local elections; and

2. Centrifugal politics is probably not good for the country.

If the Democrats have come to believe the opposite for some reason, I submit that this puts them even farther from the main stream of American politics than they were before the Dean candidacy.

Posted by Demosophist at 04:44 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

November 10, 2003

Possible Explanation for What Saddam Was Hiding?

No, not WMD, his falafel recipe, or a cache of extraterrestrials, but the graves of 300,000 Iraqis. Or any and all.

What would the UNSC holdouts have done had the inspectors found this? Make more grandstanding speeches about the suffering of the Iraqi people and the need for diplomacy? More inspections? Another resolution?

Posted by Demosophist at 02:40 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Interesting Theory About the Troop Withdrawals

I initially figured that the President may have been drawing down troops to coincide with the 2004 election. But go to this post on Winds of Change and read the two comments by Trent Telenko. His basic theory is that the pattern of troop withdrawals from Iraq suggest the reconstitution of an invasion force rather than a strategic defense force, and that the likely target will be Iran, around the time of the 2004 election. (Before or after is anyone's guess.) That corresponds to a strategy for relieving some of the pressure on Iraq by staunching the flow of outside agitators coming into Iraq through Iran. Trent argues that the pattern of troop rotations, training, and redeployment correspond to a classic pattern used by the American military during WWII in the Pacific, with the island-hopping invasions in the Azores. The period of the pattern is longer, though, because Middle Eastern countries are larger than Pacific islands, requiring a longer time to build up the force. Interesting theory.

Some key points of Telenko's theory:

Then I read somewhere Thursday or Friday on the Early Bird that 37% of that 105,000 strong force is going to be Guard/Reserve. Add in the Marines rotating in with two Stryker brigades and it looks like the majority of the Army heavy forces and 18th Airborne Corps going to be out of Iraq. Now add into the mix Bush's Democracy speech on the need to remake the Arab world democratically (that included a hint to the Egyptians that they are going to suffer an involuntary regime change). A horse of a different color emerged for me.

First, take six months of down time, catching up higher schooling, rebuilding equipment and spares stockpiles for these returning units. Then take another six months of training to bring those Regular Army combat units back up to peak fighting pitch. You then see a window of opportunity for a new American ground campaign opening up. In so many words, the Navy isn't the only service planning on major surges of forces to forward deployments. Rumsfeld isn't rebuilding a strategic reserve, he is building a Strategic Invasion Force. I think we are going to have to plan for a "pizza watch" on the Pentagon to start just in time for the final days of the 2004 election campaign and running through the early winter months of 2005.

We are looking at an operational pattern similar to what was used for ground forces in the Pacific theater of WW2. America wins a victory with combat forces, replaces them with other troops to mop up, rebuilds the combat forces for the next operation, and then strikes again. Except Arab Tyrannies are bigger, and thus the operational pauses between invasions are longer, than Pacific atolls.

and in a separate post:

The nature of the units being recalled is a major reason for my thinking this is an invasion force.

We have the whole of the 18th Airborne Corps coming home. As Cato noted above, We also have the 3rd Mech. Infantry Division home now with the 1st Mech. Infantry Division, 1st Armored Division, 3rd Armored Cavaly (sic) regiment (brigade sized) set to follow.

These are not the units we would have in reserve if we were plainning (sic) for a war with Korea as mountain fighting requires the kind of infantry forces we have deployed for stability operations in Iraq.

Read the whole thing on Winds of Change, including other comments.

Update: As Mitch points out below, in a comment, this theory may not be falsifiable. I don't know enough about the topic to tell whether (as Trent contends) the troop withdrawals would actually be different for a strategic or an invasion force, but it stands to reason that a strict FIFO logic would be pulling out the forces necessary for an invasion, because they've been there the longest (since they were used in the invasion).

Posted by Demosophist at 01:31 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

For Us 9/11. For the Ummah 11/9?

While reading Michael Gersh's post on the recent bombing in Riyadh the mention of the news coverage struck me as a kind of magnified and translated image for the unique understanding of the Arab and Muslim world. What was difficult for them to see from a physical and cultural distance has now been rendered for them with the same sort of perfect "art" and clarity that was imposed on us through our televisions for weeks in September, 2001.

I have an Iranian friend, the one who built the computer I use, who feels that when the people of the Middle East understand how they too can be "seduced" by the sort of evil they've attributed solely to the Western "House of War" the stage may be set for a reinvention of Democracy, and a new Renaissance. For him, the awakening is related to the disillusionment over the Theocratic Totalitarianism that rules his country, but for much of the rest of Islam it's the sudden realization that their "Robin Hood" is really a mad cutthroat without a semblance of civilization in his empty hollowed-out soul. So 11/9 could be a very "big deal."

"This was their main battle. In the past they would pretend to be against Americans, Christians -- whoever they perceive to be the enemy. Now their enemy is the same people whose approval they seek."


Graphic pictures, including a maimed and bloody corpse and the blood-spattered head of a wounded man, were peppered across the front pages of Saudi newspapers, fueling popular anger.

"I think they are either brain-washed or crazy. I don't understand why they are doing this," said an executive called Abdullah, who did not want to give his full name. "Are they Muslims or non-Muslims? Islam does not support this."

"And it's worse, because Ramadan is the holy month."

Some Saudis expressed support for their government, which has waged a crackdown on militants and religious extremism since May. It had faced pressure to act since the September 11, 2001, attacks carried out by mainly Saudi hijackers.

But some blamed the failure of Saudi Arabia, birthplace of Islam, to rein in conservative clerics over the decades for helping foster militancy in the kingdom.

"Society will bear responsibility for this," said Hussein Nasser, a 28-year-old bank employee. "We put the men of religion above fault, and made them unaccountable. We gave them special privilege -- and this is the result." -- Reuters

Not that the BBC will quite get it, because there are always two sides to every story, even if one has the stench of Baudelaire's sickly diseased landscapes. Yes, we know we're corruptible and corrupted, but the Ummah hasn't quite seen that it is yet. Yesterday in Riyadh the message may have broken through.

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November 09, 2003

Two WaPo Op Eds on Iraq

John McCain is again calling for more troops in Iraq, a full division in fact. I have to think his heart is in the right place, and his courage and commitment are certainly beyond question. And I've absolutely no position or expertise of my own to offer on whether he's right or wrong. But John McCain was at the bottom of his class at West Point, and John Abizaid was at the top of his. Furthermore, if, as some have claimed, the general staff think something other than what they're saying publicly and are being squelched by the administration there'd surely be some way for them to leak their true views. For now I'm willing to endorse what Abizaid and the rest of the general staff advise.

But regarding the other issue raised in another WaPo article on the state of the Iraqi state, I'm a good deal less sanguine.

The United States is deeply frustrated with its hand-picked council members because they have spent more time on their own political or economic interests than in planning for Iraq's political future, especially selecting a committee to write a new constitution, the officials added. "We're unhappy with all of them. They're not acting as a legislative or governing body, and we need to get moving," said a well-placed U.S. official who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "They just don't make decisions when they need to."

Ambassador Robert Blackwill, the new National Security Council official overseeing Iraq's political transition, begins an unannounced trip this weekend to Iraq to meet with Iraqi politicians to drive home that point. He is also discussing U.S. options with L. Paul Bremer, civilian administrator of the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority, U.S. officials said.

The United States is even considering a French proposal, earlier rejected, to create an interim Iraqi leadership that would emulate the Afghanistan model, according to U.S. and French officials. During the debate before the new United Nations resolution on postwar Iraq was passed Oct. 17, France and other Security Council members had proposed holding a national conference -- like the Afghan loya jirga -- to select a provisional government that would have the rights of sovereignty.

If we're seriously considering a French proposal things must be looking pretty dire. But, I need to hear more arguments, and see more information. The difference between folks like John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, and these Iraqi intellectuals and theorists on the Governing Council, is that the former group started with a decisive action that put their own and their famililies' lives and futures on the line. And even with that irrevocable commitment the state itself took over twenty years to emerge in a final, workable, form. So should we be more patient?

If you look at the concerns that underly both of these articles what they amount to is a fear that there's now a "hurry up" attitude about things that might be compelling us take ill-advised actions. I think, in that sense at least, the insurgents have been rather successful. And since their whole strategy is driven by the US election schedule, I'd expect things to simply get worse rather than better. To the extent that our strategy is being driven by that cycle, we're playing directly into their hands.

I still kind of like the idea of an Iraqi referendum. It would not only put things on an Iraqi schedule, but would compel the Governing Council to put down their gavels and earn their legitimacy. As my brother-in-law likes to say: "No guts, no glory."

Posted by Demosophist at 01:26 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

John Edwards: Meet the Press

Man, I can't believe anyone voted for this guy, for anything. He's the very worst kind of copperhead/sophist; willing to get us into a war and then quibble and equivocate about what it takes to win. This is precisely the sort of weasel that has convinced Al Qaeda that we're a bully with a glass jaw. He's the kind of guy who would try to make a horse out of parts from a zebra, a hippo, and a giraffe, and then blame the resulting bloody mess on the poor quality of the animals. (transcript)

Posted by Demosophist at 10:58 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Fifty-One Weeks and Counting

"We have supported public financing, but the unabashed actions of this president to undercut our Democratic process with floods of special interest money have forced us to abandon a broken system,"

The Devil made him do it, natch. The evil Bushfellah's undercutting Democracy again, forcing the helpless Deanfellah to abandon his principles. But this really is no offense, in spite of the bravado with which it's being sold. Dean is playing pure defense, and he really hasn't many options. I just wonder if the "fraction of a fraction" niche who contribute an average of $77 to his campaign don't amount to a small part of what George could put together, with a little organization and help from his friends. It's not as though there's a secret formula, and up until this election (I guess it is an election now, isn't it?) the Republicans were better at individual grassroots fundraising than the Democrats. So why wouldn't they pass Dean in sheer numbers somewhere along the road finally putting an end to that myth that the Democrats are the only "People's Party." Though the "little democracy" folks who support the Vermont Governor appear to be pretty passionate, the BIG DEMOCRACY supporters aren't exactly napping under the cottonwoods. And they can probably afford more than $77, too. So far no major candidate has ever waived public funding for the general election, but there might be some machismo posturing over whose campaign organization can whip whose before the conventions are over, and who knows where that sorta stuff can lead? Anyway, if the blogosphere is any measure of passion and savvy the Deansters will be outclassed by an order of magnitude. And my hunch is they just won't see it coming. They'll remain true to form: an exercise in wishful thinking.

This may be the biggest electoral rout in US history. Well, it's a long way to Nov. 2 isn't it? But still....

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November 08, 2003

Whole Foods vs Trader Joe's

less/more = quality and quantity:

Whole Foods/Fresh Fields/Bread & Circus: Paid more, got less.
Trader Joes: Paid less, got more.

Some decent $5 wines at TJs, including a $4 Malbec that wasn't half bad.

No wines other than the house brand < $7 at WF, and the only Malbec had a wrenchingly bitter aftertaste. The bottles were prettier though.

Doesn't have a damn thing to do with Iraq, but I like TJs more and more all the time. Sort of a quirky store. Stay away from the ginger sauces. Bad chemistry = bad flavor.

Posted by Demosophist at 07:34 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

The BEEB, Jessica and Tige

I have so little faith in the BBC's objectivity that I just haven't much to say about their reporting of the Jessica Lynch interview. I suspect that couching it as Jessica Lynch Condemns Pentagon is probably a little far from what the young woman really wanted to convey, and she might even be a bit distressed by the headline.

She said she was grateful to the American special forces team which rescued her but, asked whether the Pentagon's subsequent portrayal of her rescue bothered her, she said: "Yes, it does. They used me as a way to symbolize all this stuff. It's wrong."

And I wonder if she mightn't be feeling slightly "used" by the BBC right now, to symbolize "all that stuff" that they seem to feel is wrong, like the use of the US military to end Saddam's thrilling career. I don't know, does anyone else think Jessica was intent on "condemning the Pentagon" in her Sawyer interview? I really didn't watch it, which I gather is what she wants, right? I'm glad she got out alive, but I don't really plan to read her book either, for fear I might be contributing to her delinquency, and because... well, I just don't give a damn. But I am thinking about picking up an out-of-print copy of Ernie Pyle's Brave Men, because there's almost an entire chapter about my uncle Reg, who just died a few days ago. He flew a fighter during that nasty business in Italy before I was born. Well, the chapter is mostly about his dog, Tige. He (the dog) was a black lab, who was probably a manifestation of the Supreme Being, or possibly just an angel. He flew almost as many missions as my uncle, and complained a lot less about the food.

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November 07, 2003

VDH's Plain Talk

Victor Davis Hanson has lots to say, but this really strikes the nail:

Yet when war did come, at least their frenzy ceased and the nation closed ranks to defeat the enemy. So when Gen. Clark implies that President Bush knew in advance about 9/11 or when candidates Kerry and Dean insist that the effort in Iraq is characterized by deceit, illegality, and corruption, they and all those who repeat their slurs have crossed the line, and will only earn the wages of a George McClellan who likewise slandered Lincoln as a warmonger, lost the election, and then rightly ended up in bitter retirement.

It is time for Clark, Dean, Kerry and the rest either right now to advocate legislation to stop the war and bring the troops home — or to simply be quiet and support the effort of our soldiers. Any further hysteria about purpose rather than quibbling over tactics, and the American people will rightly conclude that such Democratic invective hurts America and helps its enemies, whose entire strategy of assassination and terror is aimed at appealing to the anti-war movement in the United States.

I can't help it. Anyone who recollects George McClellan in relation to this ill-considered anti-Democracy movement has their head on straight. It's just a foretaste of what's coming if the Democrats nominate Dean, which they almost certainly will. I think it's within the realm of possibility that there won't be a single blue state in November, 2004.

Posted by Demosophist at 10:09 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

November 06, 2003

Big Democracy

This speech was right on the money. Unlike many Bush speeches which draw, at least in part, on a partisan vision, this one drew on a profound and common sense of history and vision that hasn't really been plumbed since Wilson. And the delivery, which often seems as tense as a hostage tape, was self-assured and confident. But unlike the Wilsonian vision, which had a naivete' that ultimately disillusioned a generation (Hemingway's "lost" generation), this is within the grasp of Americans, and calls upon skills and experience that we have acquired through the 200 years of the republic. It was as though George Bush found a voice that echoes the nation's own sense of purpose and mission. The speech opens with a reference to another President in an earlier struggle:

The roots of our democracy can be traced to England and to its Parliament and so can the roots of this organization. In June of 1982, President Ronald Reagan spoke at Westminster Palace and declared the turning point had arrived in history. He argued that Soviet communism had failed precisely because it did not respect its own people, their creativity, their genius and their rights.

President Reagan said that the day of Soviet tyranny was passing, that freedom had a momentum that would not be halted.

He gave this organization its mandate: to add to the momentum of freedom across the world. Your mandate was important 20 years ago. It is equally important today.

One might regard this as partisan, were it not for the fact that Reagan's vision was simple and quintessentially American. Moreover, by linking this current project to the recent anti-totalitarian project that overturned Marxism he establishes a continuity that is all but irresistible for Americans. Whatever our views were of Ronald Reagan at the time the simple truth is that he was right and his opponents wrong (including me). Soviet tyranny passed away so suddenly and dramatically that it even took our intelligence services by surprise. The "mandate to add to the momentum of freedom" is probably more important today than twenty years ago, because we had at least some security in Mutually Assured Destruction then, and there are no such constraints on mass terrorism now.

The great democratic movement President Reagan described was already well under way.

In the early 1970s there were about 40 democracies in the world. By the middle of that decade, Portugal and Spain and Greece held free elections. Soon, there were new democracies in Latin America and free institutions were spreading in Korea and Taiwan and in East Asia.

This very week, in 1989, there were protests in East Berlin in Leipzig. By the end of that year, every communist dictatorship in Central America had collapsed.

Within another year, the South African government released Nelson Mandela. Four years later, he was elected president of his country, ascending like Walesa and Havel from prisoner of state to head of state.

As the 20th century ended, there were around 120 democracies in the world, and I can assure you more are on the way.

This isn't idle talk. Samuel Huntington calls this the "Third Wave" of Democratization. It wasn't an unalloyed success, but the momentum was clear, and with a little help most of the Central and Eastern European states became open and Democratic. (Even those that tarry, like Bulgaria, have clear aspirations and are making progress.) But there was a line drawn at the Carpathians that has been unyielding for over a thousand years. And behind that line still lie the most difficult challenges to global democratization. Some are in Central Asia, but the rest are to the south, in the Middle East.

We've witnessed in little over a generation the swiftest advance of freedom in the 2,500-year story of democracy.

This is simply breathtaking, and little understood by the advocates of "little democracy." What Bush is talking about, in no uncertain terms, is Big Democracy. And arguments couched purely for the sake of being contrary simply don't measure up. We can surely tweak our own democracy, squeezing more freedom and accountability from it, but the task now is to set the stage for a world of democratic states. And that involves barring the doors to that old multi-tentacled beast: totalitarianism. It grows weaker, and at the same time more desperate.

This isn't the result of an irresistible "march of history" in the grandiose lexicon of Marxist rhetoric, but the consequence of effort and determination of individuals that we account for in our family albums and in our memories. It isn't an abstract philosophical debate, but a concrete project. And this project began around the time that my grandfather was repairing WWI fighter planes in France, a momento of which I still possess in the form of a button hook made for my grandmother out of salvaged parts from a WWI Spad. I can see him in my mind's eye, still a young man, working on his small personalization of a history he helped launch, and that George W. Bush captures in the sweeping arch "of rescue and liberation on nearly every continent." My grandmother carried that small momento of the "Great War" in her purse long after the shoes for which it was designed had gone out of style. And now, I have it. It hooks me into another era and fastens my concentration on a continuous fixture in history: the dominant fixture in fact, for a century.

And what started in that Great War is still the dominant threat to freedom, peace and security. We have certainly heard of the atrocities visited on the N. Koreans, merely the most recent crop of gulags. But Bush equates that regime with other less well-known tyrannies that are also on the agenda, in Burma and Zimbabwe and Cuba. They are all threats to peace, and all intolerable, with or without oil. Burma is, in fact, every bit as evil as Iraq and N. Korea. It may not be an acute danger, but it's the same disease.

Our focus, however, is on the Middle East now, that part of the world that represents the most acute threat, and has resisted liberalizaton and democratization in favor of a false charismatic vision, whether secular or religious. More than half of the Ummah live in free societies, yet the peoples of Islam are considered ill-prepared for Democracy. It is a patently false assumption. We are not deceived: "A religion that demands individual moral accountability and encourages the encounter of the individual with God is fully compatible with the rights and responsibilities of self-government." There is your challenge, Sayyid Qutb. Not children of a lesser God, no matter how grandiose the claim. On par, but transcending your vision by a boundless margin. Our sister.

Here's how His Majesty [the king of Morocco] explained his reforms to parliament: ``How can society achieve progress while women, who represent half the nation, see their rights violated and suffer as a result of injustice, violence and marginalization, not withstanding the dignity and justice granted to them by our glorious religion?''

The king of Morocco is correct: The future of Muslim nations would be better for all with the full participation of women.

The king, as most people in the Middle East know, merely echoes the rhetoric of Kemal Attaturk, the founder of what became the most successful nation in the Muslim sphere. While my grandfather and Attaturk fought on different sides of the same war, they were caught up in the same spirit. And where Attaturk's movement stalled long ago, and the Ummah languished, my grandfather's vision fell victim to a pervasive disillusionment that wasted and waned the Wilsonian generation. Perhaps the energy of Attaturk's movement and my grandfather's disillusionment were victims of the same malfunciton of history.

But finally there are new reforms in the Arab world, in Egypt and elsewhere. And in the non-Arab Muslim world a spirit of unprecedented liberty not only threatens the theocracy, but contributes creatively to our evolving democratic vision in partnerships with the best of the West. There are tens of thousands of new voices, carrying the old message with new and unmistakable inflections, that "instead of directing hatred and resentment against others... appeal to the hopes of their own people."

The establishment of a free Iraq at the heart of the Middle East will be a watershed event in the global democratic revolution.

But it's a revolution that didn't start in Iraq, nor will it end there. The status quo, that refuge of the fearful, the wishful, and the satiated, is not merely unwise but reckless. The conservative and progressive ideals would meet, but for the fact that they're peering through opposite ends of the telescope. Their visions in the West are at odds, and in one of the most dramatic reversals in history the conservatives have become progressive, and the progressives are casting anchor. They have trained a microscope on the flaws in our western society, but see with less clarity than rank outsiders.

The advance of freedom is the calling of our time. It is the calling of our country. From the 14 Points to the Four Freedoms to the speech at Westminster, America has put our power at the service of principle.

We believe that liberty is the design of nature. We believe that liberty is the direction of history. We believe that human fulfillment and excellence come in the responsible exercise of liberty. And we believe that freedom, the freedom we prize, is not for us alone. It is the right and the capacity of all mankind.

Ossama, you have indeed unleashed a formidable force in the world, but not the one you sought to unleash. "A calling" is not a command to die for a cause, like the punctuation at the end of an otherwise useless and futile life, but an invitation to organize and dedicate the entire arch of ones life in growing potency and constructiveness. It is that "other meaning" of Jihad, that you foolishly dismiss as mundane, but which will be caught on the fly in your homeland. Your movement will grow weaker, imperceptibly at first, but ultimately by the day, and the hour... while the design of nature grows stronger, echoing and amplifying in ways you can't even imagine. Your days, even your hours, are numbered.

Posted by Demosophist at 08:39 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 05, 2003

Some Observations About Asymmetries and Terrorism

I decided to post this here because I couldn't seem to open the comments section on Anticipatory Retaliation's post on Asymmetries and Terrorism. And also because it's really the only thing I seem to understand on his site. I agree in general with A.R.'s observations, and think he's on the right track. I really just wanted to make a couple of points, but couldn't keep myself from expanding the topic to include some particular characteristics and implications of mass terrorism that A.R. may have missed. There is a deeper and more problematic asymmetry than those he covers: individuals warring against nations.

By the dawn of the twentieth century, two things had come to light - soldiers fought soldiers on the battlefield and soldiers attacked means of production behind the front lines (sort of like the distinction between tactical and strategic bombing). It is important to note, however, that even then creation of civilian casualties (collateral damage) was never considered an objective, in and of itself. People were attacked directly with the intent to kill individuals when they were soldiers, while behind the lines, attacks were centered on production.

As conventional warfare has become much more lethal in the last several decades, sensitivity to collateral damage has become much higher (in the conventional warfare arena). First, with the increasing lethality of modern warfighting, the entry cost for those wishing to fight a conventional symmetric war has gone through the roof.


Clausewitz is generally considered to be the premier philosopher of war, and his doctrine of "total war" simply says that the only way to bring such a war to conclusion is to target the civilian population that supports it. That may or may not mean directly targetting civilians with weaponry, but his contention was that only when you bring the "ultimate cost" of the war home to them, will the nation surrender. Prior to that point a nation at war has a dominant incentive to keep fighting "by all means necessary." And this was recognized before Clausewitz; by Lincoln for example, in the strategy employed by Sherman. So, targeting civilians isn't new, or all that unusual. In fact the ethic of sparing civilians is what's new. And I suspect it exists because "total war" is now out of the question. Our behaviors are, even now, governed to some extent by what game theorists call the "dominant solution," that all parties identify as their worst outcome. This is the ultimate outcome of an arms race, for instance. At the moment we are doing what we can to avoid or escape the dominant solution, but there's a lot of uncertainty and more than a little confusion.

Jonathan Schell made the point in The Abolition, that Mutually Assured Destruction imposed a kind of governance on the potential combatants in a conflict. It's an imperfect and rough sort of governance, that's fraught with danger, but it still constrains us nonetheless. And what the terrorists have recognized is that they aren't bound by that constraint, because they can't be identified as an entity that can be targeted in the classic retaliatory escalation. They can escape with impunity. The problem that both Schell and Mortimer Adler (in How to Think about War and Peace) identified is that the cause of war is anarchy. And if the type of rough governance that Schell sees as constraining the nations, is no longer effective, because of the asymmetry of having individuals or small groups at war with nations, then you ultimately have to impose a type of surpranational order that deals with the problem at the level where it lives. In other words, you need a system of law that is able to identify, place on trial, and punish people and organizations whose sole intent is to destroy civil peace through mass terrorism. Something like that is developing informally, but it will eventually need to be formalized.

And there also can be no ultimate supranational law until all or most nations are liberal democracies governed by Lockean principles of individual sovereignty. The reason is that some nations will attempt to gain a strategic advantage by indicting the leaders of another nation as "war criminals," and the court has to be above the extreme factional disputes that distort justice. Ultimately that can only happen in a society where individuals are sovereign, and where their liberty is protected by something like a Bill of Rights. That is, we need to institutionalize the concept of "negative rights" globally. Otherwise, a supranational government would either disintegrate in factional disputes or it would become a global tyranny, governed by one dominant faction willing to rule by terror.

So, if one really desires Peace on Earth the route to it involves the sort of initiative that the US is currently engaged in, as a temporary project to set the stage. And there's just no way around it.

I think what we have to do is stop quibbling with the French, et al, in the UNSC, and enlist them in this project. And that, I'm afraid, calls for some political acumen as well as a willingness to lead by example. I have no problem with what the US is doing so far, but sooner or later we're going to have to allow our critics in Continental Europe a role in this project, at least as "junior partners." That's partly because we really can't do it alone, and partly because the end state will involve a mass surrender of national sovereignty, which can only happen if the nations and their peoples are "on board" willingly. So the overall task is perhaps a 50-year project, or more. The kickoff, which will be dominated by the US, is probably about a 10-year project. And the clock is ticking, because once the terrorists have access to true WMD they'll use them, and then hide in the general population. It'll be so bad, it's probably better to not even try to imagine it.

So, you see we really are in the midst of World War IV, and the hope is to keep it as "cool" as possible. We really don't have much of a choice here. And we also don't have much time.

Update. VDH, in an NRO article today, wastes no words:

THE "AL QAEDA IS CRAZY" FANTASY Perhaps this myth grew out of suicide bombing. Maybe it was the lunatic videos, the head nodding in the madrassas, Iraqis in the Sunni Triangle receiving billions of dollars in aid and then celebrating near the bodies of American dead, or the too-smart notion that we Westerners were blinkered and unimaginative Clauswitzeans. Whatever.

But the fact is that a few million in the Islamic world have a definite and discernable ideological agenda, and it is explicable in traditional military and political terms — and it always has been.

Posted by Demosophist at 07:33 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

November 04, 2003

Halliburton again, blah, blah, blah.

Daniel Drezner does some useful research and analysis on the general contention that there was systematic corruption relating to contract awards in Iraq and campaign contributions to G.W. Bush. He also takes on the specific contention of corruption by Halliburton and Bechtel here.

This topic is close to my heart, because I did my dissertation on the effect of campaign contributions on the 1996 Congressional elections. There are really two questions that are important. The first is whether campaign contributions make any impact on legislation, and the second is whether they impact elections. My research was concerned with the second, and the findings were that money has about the same effect as ideology and incumbency

But regarding the other issue, Kevin Grier and Mike Munger's research shows pretty convincingly that there is not. Overall, the case for "corruption" of legislators through the agency of campaign contributions is, to say the least, very weak. Stephen Ansolabehere did a very clever paper a few years ago demonstrating that whether or not there was ever significant corruption, one can show that at least the level of corruption (seen as the influence of campaign contributions on legislation) hasn't changed very much in the last 150 years. So it at least hasn't been getting worse.

It doesn't surprise me, therefore, that the evidence regarding Halliburton contracts specifically, and Iraq reconstruction contracts in general, doesn't show much evidence of corruption. Corruption, if it occurs at all, is usually not on a big scale, simply because the costs of being caught are so high. And perhaps more importantly, legislators have virtually all the leverage, so the money they obtain tends to resemble extortion income more than bribery. And no one seems very worried about the extortion of large corporations by a few legislators, as long as they don't provide very much for the money they've been given.

I think this is a case where the reformers have to assume corruption, because there's such a paucity of evidence for it. And this is, almost inevitably, what Dan found.

Posted by Demosophist at 06:33 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

What Many "Liberals" Don't Realize about Michael Moore

is that entertainment income is generated by appealing to a highly motivated "niche" market. So he and his publishers and producers really have little incentive to worry much about the impact of his fraudulent campaigns on the outcome of elections, or on the credibility of arguments for most "progressive reforms" that become linked to the frauds by a combined advocacy. Meanwhile a number of prominent Democrats have endorsed Bush for re-election, the first in what could become an avalanche. As Zell Miller pointed out on Meet The Press Sunday, George McGovern carried but one state. One. And that was in opposition candidacy to a war that was regarded by much of mainstream America as a genuinely unwinnable quagmire, with casualty rates a few hundred times those of Iraq, and long before we even dreamt of 9-11; before we had even begun to think of terrorism as much of a nuisance in fact.

It would behoove the Democrats to not only repudiate Michael Moore and his ilk unambiguously, but to seriously consider nominating someone like Gephardt instead of Dean for President. Not only does Gephardt have credibility on foreign affairs, but he occupies almost the exact center of the American ideological spectrum. An ideological ranking based on a combination of the National Journal Rollcall Index and Project Vote Smart's National Political Awareness Test placed Gephardt exactly at the 50th percentile of all mainstream candidates back in 1998, when I wrote my dissertation. He can't have drifted very far off the midpoint. And it wouldn't be a bad thing to have some constructive criticism of Bush policies that accepts the primary premise. The issue is whether or not "Powder" can generate enough enthusiasm to win the nomination.

The bottom line is that "progressives" who support Dean have displayed such terrible judgment on foreign policy, and a seedy willingness to be seduced by the likes of Moore, that they don't really deserve a candidate. Their Little Democracy niche, that's the product of multiplying two fractions representing Dean's "Democratic Wing of the Democratic Party" might be so close to Michael Moore's niche market that it could easily result in no electoral votes in 2004. And that reality must become obvious as we near primary season, shouldn't it?

Posted by Demosophist at 12:14 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Deep Into the Somalia Strategy

While I agree that the likely strategy employed by the "insurgency" in Iraq is probably motivated by the events that led to the US pullout of Somalia, as Andrew Sullivan observes, there is something about Cori Dauber's bright line distinction between terrorism and terroristic activity, on The Volokh Conspiracy that just bothers me

I still believe there is critical value in keeping a bright line around the concept of terrorism -- it is the intentional targeting of non-combatants, it is the killing of the UN's deminers, the Red Cross's water treatment specialists, hotel guests, September 11th. Politically inspired violence, it seems to me, is at play in the targeting of American troops, and there is value in asking what the motivations behind the violence are, but the killing of combatants is not terrorism per se, and it is just worth reminding ourselves of that when there are multiple kinds of violent activities taking place simultaneously.

I can see an excellent case for maintaining awareness of this distinction, in an abstract sense. But in this particular case it's also important to point out that there may be a deliberate strategy to blur this "bright line," because there isn't much doubt that the people who are targetting US military personnel are also targetting civilians and the Red Cross. That is, while the distinction may be important to us, I suspect it isn't important to them. The fact that they happen to target combatants once in awhile doesn't convince me that these folks are any less vile.

There almost certainly isn't one group of relatively ethical insurgents who target combatants, and another that targets noncombatants. It may not be a very practical distinction either, because the point of targetting civilian Iraqis and international relief agences as well as the UN is, as much as possible, to turn the Sunni Triangle into Somalia. Or, in other words, to turn it into a place Americans won't consider worth saving. Which makes it immanently clear that one side, which includes civilian Iraqis, international and relief agencies, and the US military, are doing their level best to build and maintain civilization, while the other side is doing its level best to keep barbarity and chaos an ever-present reality.


From Cori Dauber:

Update: A reader reminds me that it is probably worth adding this layer of precision. I think the jihadists coming in from outside the country are terrorists. But individual acts are defined as terrorism, and I have made this point before, based on whether they target non-combatants. I would call these people "terrorists" as a general term, while distinguishing between particular actions, by the way, because I think the groups to which they belong have pretty clearly established that they are willing to participate in terrorism as a tactic even if it is not the tactic they choose every time out of the gate.

Oh, OK. It's important to be precise, and "terrorism" is really about terrorizing a civil population. It's just exactly what the "terror state" does, except without the authority of the state. It is, essentially, a strategy for misrule.

Posted by Demosophist at 01:47 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

November 02, 2003

It's No Vietnam

Tom Friedman gets it, in a column entry written a few days ago. Money quote:

What to do? The first thing is to understand who these people are. There is this notion being peddled by Europeans, the Arab press and the antiwar left that "Iraq" is just Arabic for Vietnam, and we should expect these kinds of attacks from Iraqis wanting to "liberate" their country from "U.S. occupation." These attackers are the Iraqi Vietcong.

Hogwash. The people who mounted the attacks on the Red Cross are not the Iraqi Vietcong. They are the Iraqi Khmer Rouge — a murderous band of Saddam loyalists and Al Qaeda nihilists, who are not killing us so Iraqis can rule themselves. They are killing us so they can rule Iraqis.

And ultimately they're killing us so they can rule us.

Posted by Demosophist at 09:39 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

What's Really Behind Crazy Immigration Laws

While I think I agree with Jack's conclusions on Legalizing Illegals over on Peripheral Mind, I'm not sure I agree with all of his reasoning. For instance:

Conversely, the socialist system has a tendency to "lower the bar" in a downward spiral. This is due to the fact that socialism limits competition; when there is no need to compete for limited resources, there is no need to improve. Moreover, one may learn that working harder under the socialist system doesn't provide any better results than giving the minimal effort to get by. Mediocrity is rewarded over industry, discipline, and diligence.

By granting social rights to illegal immigrants, we are sending the message that they are welcome members of our country and society. We are rewarding them for underachievement. I do not imply that all illegal immigrants are underachievers. However, our system of competitive granting of visas is undermined by illegal immigration.

I don't follow. What does being an illegal immigrant have to do with merit? I'm not sure I buy the merit theory anyway, and Hayek wasn't even sure about it. In fact he said specifically that there was no way to guarantee that those who excel in a market system are necessarily deserving. And success has been shown to be a "trifurcated sigmoidal function." That is, it's an initially steepening climb that gradually flattens to an easy plane, but with the danger of a big fall at either the top or the bottom. Success is highly dependent on positive feedback in the early stages of growth. This could simply mean having good parents, or living in an open society with decent resources. This positive feedback can be withheld for lots of reasons having little to do with merit, and if a critical mass isn't reached the function takes a route to catastrophic failure. There's a good argument for mitigating or ameliorating some of the consequences of these failures, which aren't really anyone's "fault," and even Hayek argued that as long as those who mediate actually know the circumstance of those in need there's little problem.

The problem is that too much power in the hands of the state guarantees loss of liberty, in the "Great Society" where people generally don't know the circumstances of others. But again, Hayek had no problem with demogrants to fill that need. And I don't think he'd have had a serious problem with the general concept behind Milton Freidman's "negative income tax" or Nixon's "guaranteed annual income." Note that the "Left" in America resisted these innovations, since they'd have actually worked to largely eliminate the problem that gives their movement a "reason for being."

But none of that has much to do with immigration, anyway. Strictly speaking there are lots of people in other nations more deserving than many native born Americans. The issue is that by deliberately forcing the law into a conundrum or logical inconsistency you undermine the system of justice. You (in Hayek's terms) degrade respect for "rules of just conduct" that are critical to a functioning market society. It's like removing oxygen from the air. You want an example of what happens, look at Nigeria. There's a country strangling itself to death.

I think this principle--the "continuity of the rules of just conduct"--is really what Jack's driving at, but he gets somewhat side-tracked in the merit issue (as I did there, for a minute). For instance, the paragraph below makes a critical argument.

What these proponents fail to explain, is exactly how they plan on enforcing this law. I don't understand how giving driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants will improve safety; as they are already driving anyway illegally, what is to stop them from continuing to do so? When an illegal immigrant is arrested for a traffic violation, they should be deported then and there, for being in the country illegally. The only explanation for why Californians would want to give illegal immigrants licenses is that they don't want to evict them.

I'm not sure I care what their intentions were, though I'm a sociologist so conducting a poll is always interesting. On second thought I guess I do care, because the logical inconsistency of the law may be an indication of a moral/ethical inconsistency. But what bothers me about the law itself is what Jack says in the first sentence. How, indeed, is any criminal justice system supposed to enforce this sort of nonsense, and maintain respect for law?

And I think the other critical issue raised unavoidably, and one reason we tend to see these ridiculous attempts to square the circle by bending it into the shape of a pretzel, is touched upon by one of Jack's commentors, Burt:

The issue is simple but it requires a shedding of hypocrisy for a real solution to be reached. The hypocrisy lies in the dependence and active recruiting of illegals by several industries including the wine industry. If illegals are to be granted no rights then we can no longer turn a blind eye to industries using them to remain profitable. We must also be willing to accept that some of these industries will then not be able to survive the lessened demand for a much higher priced product as a domestic or export item.

What lies at the center of this wild and crazy legal agenda, is a really filthy little secret... that isn't really little, or very secret. Human trafficking, to meet demands and appetites in the US, and other developed countries, is currently conducted on a scale that dwarfs the chattel slavery of the 18th Century, and represents a festering cancerous wound in Western Culture. One day we will pay for it, unless we end it. Italy has recently passed a number of laws that target this illicit "trade" in human misery, but until there's a global network of statutes and precedent that targets the practice it will probably continue. Part of Italy's solution is to grant the victims of human trafficking temporary legal status in order to obtain their testimony at the trial of the traffickers. It's a pretty modest change, but it's having enormous consequences. And make no mistake, this will ultimately impact producers in the US and Western Europe who have looked the other way for years, while reaping the rewards of the trade in humans. These laws in California are like bandaids applied to a tumor. No wonder they look ridiculous.

Posted by Demosophist at 12:39 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

November 01, 2003

I've Changed My Mind about Iraq

It wasn't the most repressive regime on earth. That distinction belongs to North Korea. I really don't have much to say about this, because the offender has WMD, and one of the largest and most formidable armies on earth. If we can barely tolerate a fatality rate of two to three US soldiers a week in Iraq, we'd have a tough time coping with the results of a fight with N. Korea, even if we took out the WMD. So, it's probably true that the road to Pyongyang goes through Beijing.

As Andrew Nathan's and Rober Ross' book The Great Wall and the Empty Fortress make awfully clear, China is obsessed with its security, and considers N. Korea a critical buffer. But a concerted effort to publicize what's going on in the gulags might concern the Chinese enough about the liability of a friend like N. Korea calling attention to their own transgressions that they'd press their vassal to behave better. Though, as Glenn Reyolds observes, S. Korea doesn't seem very concerned. And if that's the case it's difficult to imagine a semi-random finger point now and then from the "international community" doing much. This is one of those "complex" problems that just won't surrender to slogans. A real determination on the part of a broadening "coalition of the willing" to turn Iraq into a modern liberal state might change the context of world affairs enough that the ball will start rolling somewhere else, and once a few balls start rolling down that slope to liberal democracy it'll be hard to keep that fig leaf situated on N. Korea's "privates." But the point is that what we are doing in Iraq is really the best, and possibly the only, strategy for changing what's going on in places like N. Korea and Burma. (I'd use the more contemporary name, Myanmar, but Michael Moore can't pronounce it.)

Posted by Demosophist at 08:33 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack