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  • Archive for February, 2003

    How is Thomas Atkins Really Doing?

    Posted by Lexington Green on 27th February 2003 (All posts by )

    This post on Libertarian Samizdata, critiques the current condition of the British military. The first comment to the post, in partial rebuttal, says: “The British Armed Forces are the best trained and most professional in the world. They are often terribly equipped, but that aside, I think the last two are true.”

    The post and the comment demonstrate the polar positions one frequently sees about Britain’s military. On one hand, you hear that it is very good, but has some problems, particularly with its equipmen. On the other hand, you hear that the British military used to be very good, but is in really dire shape. I have tended to believe the former to be true, e.g. here.

    As a Yank of the Jacksonian Anglospherist variety, I have a strong desire for Britain to continue to maintain and employ very capable military forces, both for use in its own specific interests as needed, and as the key ally to the United States that it has been for many years and which I trust it will remain. It seems clear that the British military, all services, have retained a very strong sense of corporate identity and spirit, a very strong sense of pride and professionalism. As to boots that melt, and bad rifles, and poor field hospitals, the British seem to retain a “can do” and “make do” spirit of getting on with what’s at hand, even if this or that piece of equipment is junk, as the British soldiers and sailors have done for centuries in all manner of difficult situations. (Such as this one, and here, and here and here.) So, there is indisputably a very strong foundation there, even if there are also serious deficiencies. However, it is also plausible that the current levels of funding and the politically correct crap which Blair’s government is apparently imposing are doing serious damage to this strong military foundation.

    I’d like to hear from someone knowledgeable about day-to-day conditions in the RN, RAF and/or Army, about how serious things really are. Any suggestions about good sites to look at with objective facts or reliable opinions on this topic would be greatly appreciated.

    By participating in what is likely to be a pretty major victory in Iraq the British military services should be in a position to make some demands from the Labor government. I hope that some thought has gone into what they will ask for. This would be a good issue for the Tories to take up — be to the right of Blair et al. on maintaining British military power and prestige. It would also be a good time for the Bush administration to reward our ally with access to the best weapons we have, to the extent that is not already happening.

    Posted in Anglosphere | Comments Off

    Northern and Southern Approaches to War

    Posted by Lexington Green on 27th February 2003 (All posts by )

    Rev. Sensing has posted this insightful essay in which he discusses what he calls the “Northern” and “Southern” approaches to war. He draws on the typology used by Walter Russell Mead, referring to Wilsonians and Jacksonians. He also seems to have in the back of his head the distinction between southern attitudes toward war and that of the “Greater New England” of the Yankee diaspora which is discussed brilliantly in David Hackett Fischer’s Albion’s Seed.

    But at one point Rev. Sensing says “Wilsonianism is not inbred is us and neither is Jacksonianism. Both are like coats that we shed or put on as best serves our interests.” This does not sit well with his better-founded Northern/Southern distinction. But I think I see where he has gone awry.

    Which groups in America support a war varies from war to war. Building a coalition often means that the leadership must appeal to different groups using different arguments, whether cynically or not. In this case, I think Bush has put both types of argument out all along, i.e. national security and prestige as against righting the world’s wrongs and, ahem, “nation building.” Nonetheless, while Bush has always said Saddam was evil, “regime change” always seemed more a means to “disarmament” than an end in itself.

    Nonetheless, Rev. Sensing is on to something when he notes that there seems to be a public shift toward the war, and that the basis for that support is shifting as well. What has happened is that the leadership in the Wilsonian/Yankee/Northern group has joined the war camp, less because they want to, than because they think it is now inevitable and they want to have some influence on what happens. The recent issue of the New Republic features many essays along these lines. As to the public rather than the elite, the Jacksonians (including the suburban “crabgrass Jacksonians” whom Walter Russell Mead delineated) have been in favor of war with Iraq as a matter of U.S. security, but not enthusiastically so, since the threat is somewhat remote and Jacksonians really want to make sure Osama is dead, then come home. Bush knows this, and he always hedges when he talks about how long we are staying in Iraq or how deep a commitment we are going to make to rebuilding the place.

    The thing that is interesting is that Bush is acquiring this grudging support from Liberal hawks without really asking them for it. Bush’s single-minded determination to destroy Saddam’s regime (or so it seems to be) is like a gravitational field which is dragging all kinds of unexpected objects into his orbit. (Bush can thank Tony Blair in large part for turning this into a crusade which has appeal to liberals. He has always taken that approach, whose antecedents lie in Gladstonian liberal imperialism.)

    So, as the left intelligentsia has started to buy in, and speak out for a war of liberation, the more liberal areas in the USA are becoming convinced, as they did in the case of Serbia, that there is a wrong to be righted. And they are supporting a war against Iraq despite their loathing for Bush. This group has a positive aversion to using military force if there is any American interest at stake, and it must feel that it is on the moral high ground before it will approve of the use of force. The very attenuated nature of the Iraqi threat, as against the overt nature of the evil of the regime, actually plays well to these liberal hawks. This phenomenon points out yet again the accuracy of Walter Russell Mead’s typology — liberals are divided into Wilsonians, who are willing under the right circumstances to use force, even massive force, and Jeffersonians, who in effect are never willing to use force abroad. The Left had its own “Vietnam Syndrome” — which really ended with Serbia. My peacenik father in law, a Vietnam-era war protester and leftist academic, was appalled that many of his friends supported the attack on Serbia. He, interestingly, is a product of a Midwestern, populist, isolationist upbringing – classic Jeffersonian origins. The alliance between the Wilsonian and Jeffersonian groups has come unglued. It can no longer be taken for granted. There is now a respectable left/liberal hawkish position, though it is so far a minority position. So, Wilsonianism and Jacksonianism are, if not “bred in us”, nonetheless enduring inclinations of certain regional, ethnic, and cultural communities – though few of us are pure exemplars of only one school (or Jeffersonians or Hamiltonians, either, for that matter). It is not so much that Americans “put them on or shed or put on as best serves our interests”. Rather, which arguments are advanced and which rationales are found to be compelling vary from war to war and from group to group. What we are seeing in this case is a President who has melded onto a primarily Jacksonian base of support an additional group of Wilsonian supporters, and thereby increased the overall support for the war. But in so doing he has also shifted the rationale for the war. In other words, Bush has gotten a certain influential portion of the the “liberal” community on board for the long post-war commitment. Bush will then be able to play this group off against the Jacksonian inclination to bring the boys home, with Saddam’s scalp on their belt, and not meddle too much in Iraq. All in all this has been an extraordinary demonstration of the deep continuities in American political life, and a demonstration of George W. Bush’s almost uncanny ability to navigate among them.

    Posted in War and Peace | Comments Off

    Alternatives

    Posted by Jonathan on 27th February 2003 (All posts by )

    If you are running Windows 2000 and the operating system becomes corrupted, the easiest and least risky way to fix it is to 1) buy a new hard drive, 2) install Windows on it and then 3) set it up as the master drive (assuming it’s IDE) with your old hard drive as a slave. Then copy the data and use the old drive as a backup. The standard help-desk recommendation, always some variant of the old “you must reinstall Windows” boilerplate, puts both your valuable data and valuable time at risk. (Of course the standard recommendation should work, but then if things always worked your Windows installation wouldn’t become corrupted, would it?) The price of a hard drive nowadays seems a small price to pay to avoid hours spent in help-desk hell.

    Posted in Tech | Comments Off

    Information Security

    Posted by Jonathan on 25th February 2003 (All posts by )

    “Authentication is more important than encryption.” Bruce Schneier makes the case.

    Posted in Tech | Comments Off

    The Joke’s on Them

    Posted by Jonathan on 25th February 2003 (All posts by )

    Xerox is running a TV ad for its publishing software. In the ad, an out-of-it middle-aged professor tells his class how expensive publishing is. A confident young student puts the prof in his place by pointing out, to applause, that Xerox publishing software makes it possible for anyone to be a publisher. Ha. I guess that’s why we’re all using Xerox’s software to publish our blogs. It’s ironic that Xerox doesn’t see that its sales pitch undercuts its own product as much as it does the old publishing ways which it thinks are its main competition. Oh, well. Nobody ever accused Xerox of understanding technology.

    Posted in Tech | Comments Off

    Mark Your Calendars!

    Posted by Jonathan on 25th February 2003 (All posts by )

    Fuze reminds us that February 27 is the feast day of Saint Gabriel Possenti, the Patron Saint of Handgunners.

    Posted in RKBA | Comments Off

    Economic News

    Posted by Jonathan on 24th February 2003 (All posts by )

    Chicago Boy WV forwards an AP article that confirms what we all know: equity markets are thin and whippy because volume is down, and volume is down because everyone is waiting for the war.

    - This NYT article discusses a report (pdf link) by a pair of economic researchers who think that war in Iraq is likely to have a significant negative effect on world stock markets. This goes against conventional wisdom that markets will rally in response to the war, but (therefore?) I think these guys may be right. It’s noteworthy that the researchers base their inferences on data from Tradesports.com, an Irish online betting exchange that I discussed in previous posts (here and here). The researchers argue that the Tradesports.com contracts may be more reliably predictive than are those on the respected Iowa Electronic Markets:

    The Saddam Security is in fact more widely and frequently traded than the typical contract on the Iowa market. Wall Street is over-represented among market participants, and evidence from a variety of sources suggests that these data do in fact reflect underlying war probabilities.
    Here’s an article about similar research one of the co-authors did on elections. One of the more interesting sentences:
    Wolfers, an assistant professor of economics who as a youth worked for a bookmaker in his native Australia, followed a hunch about the predictive power of betting markets in forecasting the outcome of political elections.
    So much for abstract theorizing.

    Posted in Economics & Finance | Comments Off

    Venezuelan Reckoning Approaches

    Posted by Jonathan on 23rd February 2003 (All posts by )

    Val e-diction eloquently summarizes and frames in geopolitical context recent events in Venezuela.

    A second Cuba is impossible in modern times, we have been told. The Chile of Salvador Allende was a weird consequence of the Cold War and, in Nicaragua, the Sandinistas made a mistake holding elections before they controlled everything. Hugo Chvez wanted to prove everybody wrong, he planned to go forward at his own pace.

    [. . .]

    With a Constitution made to measure and sure of governing under a democratic mantle for years to come, he began penetrating and dominating the country’s public institutions. All of them fell to his soft mallet, one by one, slowly, democratically. . .

    [. . .]

    But then something happened that changed Chvez’s plan. An unprecedented two-month general strike and huge daily marches and demonstrations, led by the same spoiled middle class he knew was incapable of resistance . . . The writing was on the wall, Chvez would have to repeat the Sandinista mistake. He is in a hurry now, the plan accelerated, the phasing shortened, the mallet now a bludgeon, paradise must be conquered by force. Let’s discard the cloak, for it impedes the advance.

    Val has it right (“As in Mein Kampf, the truth had long been there for everybody to see”). Chvez is the problem and Venezuela will not be stable or free as long as he remains in power.

    There are parallels between Venezuela and Chile. Conventional wisdom holds that Allende was a social democrat in a hurry, that his overthrow by the Chilean army was a criminal act if not indeed engineered by the evil CIA. Allende was elected, after all.

    The problem with this view is that it ignores Allende’s behavior: his avowed socialism; his close collaboration with Fidel Castro; and his relentless power grabbing via creation of a private army, property expropriations, and other measures that weakened the rule of law and made Chileans more dependent on the State. As Robert Moss pointed out, Chile at the time of the coup was well on its way to becoming a communist dictatorship. Not only General Pinochet, but also a large plurality if not majority of the Chilean populace supported the coup, because it appeared to be the only way to stop Allende. So yes, Allende was elected, but the fact that a leader is elected does not confer indefinite legitimacy on his actions. Sometimes elected leaders become dictators, and sometimes it’s necessary to overthrow them. It might not have been possible to vote Allende out of office once he consolidated power. The Chilean army’s coup was ugly but the alternative was probably worse. (And the Army, to its great credit, eventually relinquished power.)

    While the current Venezuelan situation appears to parallel Chile’s under Allende, Venezuela may actually be worse off in some respects. Chile in 1973 was not so many years removed from having been a reasonably well functioning democracy, whereas Venezuela in 2003 is on the south end of three decades of oil-fueled political decay and seems not to have institutions that can fulfill the same role as Chile’s army. The anti-Chvez opposition enjoys substantial popular support but so far has lacked a core group with the power and determination to overthrow the government. (Either that or Chvez has learned well the lessons of the failed leftist dictatorships and won’t give his opponents any breaks. Thus he made sure to disarm the Caracas police — an opposition stronghold — before they could cause problems.)

    The situation is unstable. Chvez won’t compromise and the productive parts of the country can’t spend all of their time fighting him without seriously harming themselves, which is what happened during the recent strike. The anti-Chvez forces tend to rely on democratic tactics like mass demonstrations, and especially referenda, which require much advance planning and are relatively inflexible with respect to schedule. The opposition is also relatively law-abiding. Chvez is completely unscrupulous and can be more flexible tactically. He can wait for the opposition to make plans and then respond on his own terms.

    Given that Chvez must consolidate power or eventually be tossed out, the main constraint he faces may be the possibility that the U.S. will intervene if he goes too far. On the other hand, he knows that he’ll lose if he does nothing. So when will he act? He has been increasingly willing to use violence against his opponents. If he continues to get away with it, there will be no reason for him not to escalate. It’s therefore a good thing that the international press, as Val points out, is beginning to pay serious attention to Chvez’s dangerous behavior. What happens next may be a function of how much the press is distracted by the beginning of the war in Iraq. Val reminds us that Chvez reads the same papers that the North Koreans do.

    There’s no telling what will happen, but I think Chvez is capable of anything if he believes that he can get away with it. I wish Venezuelans luck. I hope that the international press, and bloggers too, keep enough focus on that country to prevent the worst from coming to pass.

    Postscript

    Caracas Chronicles has an excellent three-part series on the decline of Venezuela’s political culture:
    Part 1
    Part 2
    Part 3

    There’s also this article and this one on the newly skeptical tone in international press coverage of Chvez. Note that the first post predicts that Chvez will move against private television stations as soon as the U.S. attacks Iraq.

    Posted in International Affairs | Comments Off

    War Crimes Trials?

    Posted by Jonathan on 23rd February 2003 (All posts by )

    Here’s a reason to be skeptical that they will happen. Justice and deterrence may be served better by having our military kill Iraqi leaders (or allow them to be killed) rather than subject them to a legal process that is potentially hostage to State Department whims.

    (Via Jim Miller)

    Posted in War and Peace | Comments Off

    Garçon!

    Posted by Jonathan on 23rd February 2003 (All posts by )

    As a student, Jacques Chirac spent time in the U.S. where he worked in a restaurant. Here’s a previously unpublished photo.

    Jacques

    Posted in France | Comments Off

    Sequential Art

    Posted by Ralf Goergens on 23rd February 2003 (All posts by )

    Some comics-related blogs: scottmccloud.com, Egon and Journalista!, the Comics Journal’s blog. All worth a look if you are into that kind of thing.

    Posted in Diversions | Comments Off

    Pollack Weighs In, Again

    Posted by Lexington Green on 22nd February 2003 (All posts by )

    More antidote to Mearsheimer and Walt – Kenneth Pollack’s recent editorial “A Last Chance to Stop Iraq”. Pollack demonstrates once again that Saddam has consistently surprised the world with how far along his weapons programs are, and that he is not deterrable. As Pollack puts it, Saddam may not be suicidal, but has on several occasions been “inadvertently suicidal”. Time to take him up on it once and for all.

    Posted in War and Peace | Comments Off

    Ho Hum

    Posted by Ralf Goergens on 21st February 2003 (All posts by )

    Croatia has just officially applied for membership in the EU. When it finally joins up it will be he second former Yugoslavian republic to do so after Slovenia. It won’t be soon, though, the country doesn’t yet meet all criteria for membership.

    Posted in Europe | Comments Off

    A Dog As Priest?

    Posted by Ralf Goergens on 21st February 2003 (All posts by )

    This is from the “No comment” sections of the EuroNews website. Their description of the section: “Images speak for themselves: the most striking pictures from around the world, unedited, with original sound: draw your own conclusion”. Even so I’d like to know what is really going on in this Real Video Stream (doesn’t work directly, please see the update below). It looks as if a dog is dressed as a Shinto priest and then participates in a religious ceremony; his handler is turning the pages of the prayer-book for him. I googled around but could find no reference of dogs joining the Shinto clergy, so my interpretation is probably wrong. Here is the No comment section and this is the English language main page of EuroNews, in case somebody’s interested. They have a pro-EU bias, but some of the footage at their website is quite interesting. Update: The direct link to the stream doesn’t work, so I took it down. Just go to the No comment section and click on the video stream from Tsuru, Japan.

    Posted in Diversions | Comments Off

    Jacques Chirac, Stand-Up Comic

    Posted by Ralf Goergens on 21st February 2003 (All posts by )

    I finally saw the footage of Chirac’s alleged outburst at Brussels where he told the East Europeans that they lost a great opportunity to keep quiet. It was anything but an outburst, though, more like a comedic performance. His tone, facial expressions and gesticulation made me laugh, as it did the Presidents and Prime Ministers of the countries he criticized. Their replies were also delivered in good humor without being in the least conciliatory. There is nothing humorous about the situation, though. Chirac’s remarks were coldly calculated, however hilariously delivered. That’s worse than having him blurt out some threats in a fit of pique, he actually thought he could bring New Europe to heel. This speaks of a dangerous level of delusion and makes me wonder if he is even capable of realizing when he is beaten (like right now, for example). He can and probably will do a lot of damage until his own people make him stop. It was a double loss to humanity when he decided to become a politician instead of a comedian. I have tried in vain to find a video stream or file of the event. Should I find one I’ll post the link.

    Posted in Europe | Comments Off

    Sorry

    Posted by Ralf Goergens on 20th February 2003 (All posts by )

    My apologies for the light posting of the last days. I’ve written quite a lot lately, but delayed posting a number of entries because they grew to unexpected size; once they become longer than a page I really don’t feel like putting them on the blog offhandedly and want to polish them first. I even had to shelve projects entirely because I had bit off more than I can chew and they started to mushroom to at least term-paper length. I still have the manuscripts lying around, but am unlikely to ever finish them. At least they were good practice, you really learn how to write just by writing.

    Posted in Announcements | Comments Off

    The Chairwoman Speaks Up

    Posted by Ralf Goergens on 20th February 2003 (All posts by )

    Angela Merkel, the chairwoman of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), the largest opposition party, has written an article for the Washington Post: Schroeder Doesn’t Speak for All Germans. As a citizen of former East-Germany she has as much claim to being a “New European” as any Pole or Czech and never had much time for (West-) Germany’s political establishment. The Schroeder government reacted to the article by accusing her of embarrassing Germany by publicly sucking up to America, or at the very least of taking domestic disputes overseas, basically washing dirty linen in public. In my opinion it is obvious who really embarrassed Germany by his behavior and I myself do not hesitate to let my views on domestic German affairs be known at blogs which are mostly read by Americans. I’m as patriotic as the next fellow, but I won’t defend the indefensible and from a certain point on I have to make my disgust known. As I see it the disagreement over the war on Iraq isn’t really one between nations like Germany and America anyway, rather a left-right policy dispute, one more reason to let my voice as a German conservative be heard here.

    Posted in Europe | Comments Off

    Worrisome Trend or Meaningless Blip?

    Posted by Jonathan on 20th February 2003 (All posts by )

    The real-money odds of Saddam Hussein’s defeat, as determined in an online market established by an Irish betting shop, have drifted lower recently. The odds of his defeat by March 31 were last priced at only 27 percent, down 6 percent today; odds he will be out by June 30 were last at 73 percent, down about five points in the past few days.

    Look at this as an options market. If the market’s expectations for the date of a U.S. attack on Iraq were converging on April or May, one would expect March odds of overthrowing Hussein to decrease but June odds to increase. By the same reasoning, market expectations of an attack in March or earlier would raise the odds for all expiration dates. And if there were increased uncertainty about the timing of our attack but no change in the expectation that we would overthrow Hussein (i.e., a situation analogous to higher implied volatility), one would expect the March odds to increase, and the June odds to increase or remain unchanged. Yet in the actual market both March and June odds are lower in the short term, which suggests either that there is less likelihood that we will attack than is popularly believed or that there is less likelihood that we will depose Hussein if we do attack. Neither possibility is attractive to those of us who want to purge Hussein ASAP.

    The odds outlook can always change, however. In particular, a resumption of the long-term upward trend (click on “IRAQ.SADDAM.JUNE03″ in this window to see a chart) in the June odds would suggest that the odds were converging on a post-March attack date, which would be encouraging. It would probably not be as good as attacking earlier, but it’s not so bad given diplomatic delays (Turkey) and what we can speculate about the pace of U.S. preparations.

    Still, the real concern is whether U.S. involvement with the UN will substantially delay or ultimately prevent our attack. I doubt it, but it’s possible, and that’s why these short-term retracements in the odds make me nervous. I think the case for invasion is crystal clear, but it’s easy to forget that lots of people see things differently. I hope that the people who don’t want us to attack Iraq will change their minds, and that my blog-centric view hasn’t distorted my judgment about what’s likely to happen.

    UPDATE: On the other hand, this article suggests that Iraqis are optimistic, which is a very good sign indeed. (Via Iain Murray)

    Posted in War and Peace | Comments Off

    Berserkers With Red Stars?

    Posted by Ralf Goergens on 19th February 2003 (All posts by )

    exile’s “war nerd” thinks that North Korea might offer the last decent chance for a classic full-on war.

    Posted in War and Peace | Comments Off

    Bend Over, Here It Comes Again

    Posted by Jonathan on 17th February 2003 (All posts by )

    Zbigniew Brzezinski and Brent Scowcroft coauthored an op-ed (requires subscription) in last Thursday’s WSJ in which they called for another moral-equivalence imposed solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The principal features of the proposal should be familiar to us by now:

    Two independent states with boundaries approximating the pre-June 1967 borders with territorial adjustments that are the result of negotiation and not unilateral annexation. In effect, the Palestinian “right of return” to Israel would be exchanged for Israel’s relinquishing of the settlements, except on those territories exchanged by mutual agreement. Arrangements for Jerusalem that accommodate two separate sovereignties while — insofar as possible — keeping the city physically undivided. Relief and justice for Palestinian refugees in ways that do not threaten Israel’s demographic balance (e.g., a “right of return” applied to the new Palestinian state and generous international funding for repatriation, resettlement and compensation[)]. A protection regime for sites deemed holy by Jews, Christians and Moslems. Agreement on arrangements for internal and external security.

    In other words, the Palestinians, having been offered recently a very similar deal by the Israelis, and having rejected that deal and started a war, which they lost, are now to be offered the same deal again. They are to pay no penalty for their bad judgment and bad faith.

    Much of the rest of the column is delusional boilerplate that denies the obvious:

    All previous efforts to end the violence and turn to a political process have failed because each side has maintained that the first step must be taken by the other. If the road map is not to encounter the same fate, the U.S. and its partners must insist on a 100% Palestinian Authority effort to end violence that is unconditional and independent of actions demanded of Israel. They must similarly insist on an unconditional cessation of Israeli settlement expansion (including so-called natural growth) that is independent of actions required of Palestinians. This parallelism is not to suggest moral equivalence. It is to recognize that no peace talks are possible if Palestinians fail to exert 100% effort to halt terrorism or if Israel continues to encroach on Palestinian lives and property.

    To state that “this parallelism is not to suggest moral equivalence” is rich, since the obvious point of this statement was indeed to suggest a moral equivalence between those whose commit or sponsor murderous terror attacks and those who build settlements. Indeed, far from being a function of process or misunderstanding (“each side has maintained that the first step must be taken by the other”), the violence has been driven by the Palestinian leadership which has embraced terror as a political tool when it couldn’t get what it wanted by negotiation. Why should the Palestinians now be awarded a clean slate? And why should Israelis assent to a plan which from the beginning is so tilted against them? (They wouldn’t, which is why this deal would have to be imposed by the U.S. via threats and costly bribes.)

    David Frum addressed these issues in his blog and wondered about the authors’ motives:

    So: Brzezinski and Scowcroft are advocating that the U.S. embark on another probably doomed attempt to midwife a Palestinian state in order to win European, Arab, and Muslim support for an Iraq policy that Brzezinski and Scowcroft oppose. That’s illogical enough. But what elevates the illogic to almost postmodern levels is that the U.S. is in fact already winning the Arab and European support that Brzezinski and Scowcroft say it cannot win. Meanwhile, the countries that continue to oppose U.S. policy in Iraq – like France and Russia – do not even bother to cite the Palestinian issue as an excuse. I’m beginning to wonder whether for a certain type of foreign-policy expert, the “Middle East peace process” isn’t becoming a Pavlovian response: Ring the bell and they start demanding an Arafatistan. They themselves no longer remember why they do it. And they certainly cannot explain why anybody else should follow them.
    Frum is right as far as he goes, but I don’t think that what drives Brzezinski and Scowcroft is so mysterious as he suggests (or maybe he is just being coy). What gives Brzezinski and Scowcroft away is their insistence on putting the Israeli-Palestinian fix in before we invade Iraq:
    There is no national security reason for the U.S. to delay such a proposal. Indeed, there are important security reasons to spell out, without further delay, the broad shape of the peace agreement for which the U.S. intends to work. Arab countries and much of the Muslim world, as well as most European countries, see a direct link between their ability to be more forthcoming in supporting U.S. goals in Iraq and our commitment to working for a fair settlement of the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

    This is odd, because Iraq supports the Arafat gang’s strategy of pressuring Israel via terror attacks, and because of course our adversaries want to reach agreements now, when they have more leverage than they will after any post-war realignment. Why should we accommodate them rather than wait until we have greater advantage? Any threat to the Iraqi regime undermines its support for Palestinian violence and encourages accommodation with Israel, which would be good for the U.S.

    So why the rush to lock in an agreement? I think this is an example of what Lex had in mind in a recent magnum opus, when he wrote of the seemingly perverse reasoning by which our State Department comes to prefer apparently-stable tyrannies to “risky” democracy in the Middle East:

    Why are we doing this? Why does the State Department want to preserve “stability” at the expense of any hope for freedom or progress for this “remote nation of twenty million people” we are about to liberate at the price of American and British blood? First, I suppose, bureaucratic inertia. The State Department is terrified of any change in the region because its institutional interest lies in preserving the personnel and regimes it has invested in and cultivated. The State Department’s franchise is access, knowing whom to call. If a brand new regime comes along, all that goes in the waste basket. The last thing these guys want is the House of Saud swept into the trash can [. . .]
    Brzezinski and Scowcroft are sophisticated and public-spirited men. However, they are realists in the sense that Lex uses the term: they are capable of imagining how much worse things could always become, and so tend to favor incremental solutions that seem unlikely to lead to disaster if things go awry. But as Lex points out, the “realist” model can fail at historical inflection points where radical change may be less risky than tinkering on the margins. It looks like we are at such a point now.

    Brzezinski and Scowcroft also probably have a great deal of time and effort invested in relationships, “access,” and intellectual models for understanding the Middle East as it is today. Like State Department bureaucrats, and consultants generally, they stand to lose if the old order is replaced by something radically different. It is not inconceivable that their op-ed is a trial balloon in the foreign-affairs bureaucracy’s effort to make its case against proponents of radical change. Did Colin Powell have a hand in its writing? Who knows, and it doesn’t matter. It’s more important that advocates of democracy and regime change realize that they are not going to be given a free ride on this topic and must continue to make their case forcefully and repeatedly.

    Are you listening, W?

    Posted in War and Peace | Comments Off

    That Had To Hurt

    Posted by Ralf Goergens on 17th February 2003 (All posts by )

    The blockade that prevented NATO from helping Turkey to defend itself has finally been broken. The first reports were somewhat confusing, speaking of France having been shown the door. What actually happened is that the negotiations were moved to the defence planning committee where France has no seat and an unanimous vote is binding. That’s a lot smoother than France just being locked out of the decision-making process, if that can even be done to a member (I’m not that familiar with the procedural niceties of supranational organizations). This way an official insult to the French is avoided, but it still is a stinging diplomatic defeat. Even worse, de Gaulle once had taken France out of NATO as a gesture of national grandeur, and this has now come back to bite his successor Chirac. Talk about getting beaten with your own weapons (my apologies to Sylvain, but I can’t help gloating). Speaking of gloating: Reports claim that a compromise was worked out in the defence planning commitee, but that’s probably just supposed to help Schroeder and what’s-his-name from Belgium to save face. It’s much more likely that they simply didn’t have the guts to stand up to the others without Chirac at their side. Now, if only the Turkish government would find the guts to allow the deployment of American troops on Turkish territory…

    Posted in War and Peace | Comments Off

    The Consistency of General Powell

    Posted by Lexington Green on 16th February 2003 (All posts by )

    Most of America seems to be walking around only vaguely aware that their country is about to embark on a medium-sized but quite consequential war. The remainder, especially those who troll blogspace, scramble for each new crumb of news. And there is nothing wrong with that. But sometimes some eye-opening material resides in less current sources.

    I just finished revisiting my copy of My American Journey, by Colin Powell. I found the following passages to be very timely. Please pardon a lengthy quote.

    [W]hy didn’t we push on to Baghdad once we had Saddam on the run? Why didn’t we finish him off? Or, to put it another way, why didn’t we move the goalposts? What tends to be forgotten is that while the United States led the way, we were heading an international coalition carrying out a clearly defined U.N. mission. That mission was accomplished. The President … had promised the American people that Desert Storm would not become a Persian Gulf Vietnam, and he kept his promise.

    Id. at 525.

    From the geopolitical standpoint, the coalition, particularly the Arab states, never wanted Iraq invaded and dismembered. Before the fighting, I received a copy of a cable sent by Charles Freeman, the U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia. “For a range of reasons,” Freeman said, “we cannot pursue Iraq’s unconditional surrender and occupation by us. It is not in our interest to destroy Iraq or weaken it to the point that Iran and/or Syria are not constrained by it.” Wise words, Mr. Ambassador. It would not contribute to the stability we want in the Middle East to have Iraq fragmented into separate Sunni, Shia, and Kurd political entities. The only way to have avoided this outcome was to have undertaken a largely U.S. conquest and occupation of a remote nation of twenty million people. I don’t think that is what the American people signed up for.
    Of course, we would have loved to see Saddam overthrown by his own people for the death and destruction he had brought down on them. But that did not happen. And the President’s demonizing of Saddam as the devil incarnate did not help the public understand why he was allowed to stay in power. It is nave, however, to think that if Saddam had fallen, he would necessarily have been replaced by a Jeffersonian in some sort of desert democracy where people read the The Federalist Papers along with the Koran. Quite possibly we would have wound up with a Saddam by another name.

    Id. at 526.

    Much of what Powell has done in the last several months can be seen as an attempt to replicate the situation he faced in 1991. First, the desire to have a limited, defined, U.N.-mandated mission. Second, the desire to have a broad coalition, for the very purpose of limiting the possible scope of American aims and ambitions with regard to Iraq in the event of a war. Powell wants limited “goalposts” set so the United States does not get into something too big or too risky. Third, the focus on the “stability” concerns of the region’s Arab governments, particularly Saudi Arabia. Fourth, the dread of having to occupy and impose a government on Iraq. Note the rhetorical gimmick Powell employs here, the false dichotomy between Saddam and a Jeffersonian democracy. There were and are certainly better alternatives to Saddam’s regime short of some fantasy scenario. Note also the remarkable statement that Saddam “was allowed to stay in power”.

    Worrisome recent articles indicate that the current State Department plan is to minimize the effect of any United States occupation of Iraq, to placate the Saudis. Kanan Makiya’s article is entitled “Our hopes betrayed”. Makiya asserts that the leaked State Department documents indicate that “The plan, as dictated to the Iraqi opposition in Ankara last week by a United States-led delegation, further envisages the appointment by the US of an unknown number of Iraqi quislings palatable to the Arab countries of the Gulf and Saudi Arabia as a council of advisers to this military government. ” In other words, we are planning to leave much of the Baath party apparatus, the guys who run the torture chambers, in place in a post-conquest Iraq for the purpose of appeasing the Sunni leadership of the Gulf Arab states, especially Saudi Arabia. To quote General Powell, “I don’t think that is what the American people signed up for.” How deeply General Powell has been involved in this planning, or even how true these rumors are, cannot at yet be known. But, let’s assume arguendo that these rumors are basically true.

    Why are we doing this? Why does the State Department want to preserve “stability” at the expense of any hope for freedom or progress for this “remote nation of twenty million people” we are about to liberate at the price of American and British blood? First, I suppose, bureaucratic inertia. The State Department is terrified of any change in the region because its institutional interest lies in preserving the personnel and regimes it has invested in and cultivated. The State Department’s franchise is access, knowing whom to call. If a brand new regime comes along, all that goes in the waste basket. The last thing these guys want is the House of Saud swept into the trash can. Furthermore, more controversially, the State Department has been corrupted by Saudi bribe money. Daniel Pipes has been writing about this, very plausibly. ( This will be full text when the Spring Issue is published.)

    On the same point, this article is also disturbing. It notes that:

    The Pentagon and the vice-president Dick Cheney are broadly in favour of introducing Western-style democracy to Iraq but the State Department under Colin Powell and the CIA believe it could have a destabilising influence on the region.
    Iraq’s neighbours, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, are also vehemently opposed to any federal arrangement that gives power to Iraq’s Kurds or Shiites.

    As General Powell noted in his memoir, after the U.S. and Iraq had ceased fighting:

    For a moment, it looked as if the war might flare up again. In March, the Iraqi Shiites in the south rose up in arms to demand more recognition from Baghdad. Saddam responded by sending in his troops to suppress the uprising. In the north, the Kurds tried to shake off the Iraqi yoke. Neither revolt had a chance. Nor, frankly, was their success a goal of our policy. President Bush’s rhetoric urging the Iraqis to overthrow Saddam, however may have given encouragement to the rebels. But our practical intention was to leave Baghdad enough power to survive as a threat to an Iran that remained bitterly hostile toward the United States.

    American Journey at 530-31 (emphasis added).

    Same thing, different decade. The freedom of any of the people of Iraq “frankly, was not a goal of our policy” in 1991. Nor, apparently, for some in the Bush administration, is it a goal now. For those who value stability above all else, it is necessary to prevent the majority Shiites or the Kurds from having any autonomy, even within a unitary Iraq, since we must placate the Turks and Saudis. To keep these communities in a unitary Iraq and subject to a Sunni minority, our State Department apparently believes that it must maintain or create an authoritarian state in Iraq to enforce discipline. In other words, the United States, to satisfy the State Department and certain of our so-called allies in the region, must be complicit in the creation of a new despotism. In General Powell’s words, “a Saddam by another name”.

    Fortunately, we have another ally, not in the region, who is a real ally — Britain or, at least, its Prime Minister, Mr. Blair. Mr. Blair’s recent, brilliant speech convinced, grudgingly, various center-left acquaintances of mine (including, incredibly, my wife!) that the war is just and necessary. The main focus of Blair’s case, made to a Labor Party audience, was the necessity of ending Saddam’s tyranny and bringing a better life to the Iraqi people. I am sure that Blair is sincere. But that aside, what he has done is reached out to a very significant center-left/liberal constituency which can be swayed by Wilsonian/Gladstonian appeals. This is the same liberal-hawk community which supported the wars against Serbia. They did so because they believe in fighting against tyranny and spreading liberal values, even at gunpoint. (Of course, President Bush made similar arguments, with evident sincerity, in his State of the Union Address. However, Mr. Blair, as a man of the Left has credibility with this constituency which Bush does not and cannot have.) If Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair are serious about the moral dimension of this cause, the liberal internationalist, nation-building dimension, and I think they are, they had better act soon to thwart the short-sighted purported “realism” of the United States State Department.

    I have left a question hanging which is implicit in much of the foregoing: Is Powell a villain?

    I have to say he is not. The most important thing to understand about Powell is that his whole career has been shaped by Vietnam. The Gulf War was, in this analysis, consciously shaped by him to be the exact opposite of Vietnam. It was a coalition effort, with limited aims, which was executed swiftly, with few lives lost, with no nation building involved, with no long occupation or long-term foreign placement of United States troops, and wound up and ended quickly and successfully, allowing us to “declare victory and come home.” Powell is also a “realist” with a pessimistic and tragic cast of mind. The world is full of dangers, and things could always be much, much worse. Tinkering with something stable and reliable, like the Saudi regime, even if it is not what we’d like it to be, is foolhardy . Hard decisions have to be made, and utopian fantasies have no place. Preserving Iraq is a way of protecting the Gulf oil from the Iranians, for example. It is a choice made from a small set of alternatives, all bad. Most of all, he is a soldier, for whom sending people out to war, to risk life and limb in the service of do-goodery is a prescription for lots of dead soldiers, limitless commitments, and frustrated hopes — Vietnam all over again. Powell is a conservative in this strict and narrow sense.

    I find Powell’s viewpoint appealing. I am close to it myself. We live in a fallen world scarred by original sin. Most good intentions lead to Hell, or its suburbs. Big, open ended political projects, especially those requiring the use of force, are almost always doomed.

    Nonetheless, there are moments when the existing template won’t do. When major steps need to be taken because the world we know, or parts of it, are disintegrating. We can try to prevent the disintegration, or channel it and begin building a more stable, successor structure. The Middle Eastern order arose from the collapse of Ottoman power at the end of World War I. It has always been a ramshackle affair. (See David Fromkin’s brilliant book A Peace to End All Peace.) The apparent stability of the existing regimes in the region rests on their ongoing repression and little more. We can try to hold that lid on the pot forever, or begin pushing the region toward a more long-term stable form of governance, more liberal and democratic, more free. Is this risky? Yes. Is remaining the ally and supporter of the tyrannies of the region, in perpetuity, risky? Yes, very much so, more so. In fact, the ongoing tyranny in the Arab world, supported by the United States in the name of “stability”, more than anything else was the source of the September 11 attacks. (See the brilliant article by Michael Doran, “Somebody Else’s Civil War”. Also, as an antidote to the notion that the Palestinian problem is the root cause of the animus against the United States in the region, see this essay, “Palestine, Iraq, and American Strategy” also by Michael Scott Doran). The truest realism for the current situation is a substantial commitment to changing the region in a positive way, while we can still influence events. In other words, we need to stop fearing instability as if it were the ultimate evil. (See the excellent article by Ralph Peters, “Stability, America’s Enemy”.) In any case, instability is not something we can stop. The region is unstable, and is going to change radically, because the existing structure is rotten and doomed.

    These moments of major change occur infrequently, but they occur. The American founding was one such moment. The American Civil War and Reconstruction was another. The European occupation of the Mideast after World War I was another. The rise of Hitler and the rearmament of Germany, and the foreign response to it, was another. The British withdrawal from India and the partition was another. The early Cold War and the Marshall Plan and the creation of NATO was another such pivotal moment. Some of the moments were handled well, others badly, some worked out favorably, others disastrously. Sometimes it wasn’t clear at the time, at least at first, that anything major was going on. It took wise and far-seeing leaders to discern that major events were in the offing, requiring novel thinking. At such times “business as usual” is anything but the prudent course.

    September 11 signaled clearly and unmistakably that the existing order in the Muslim world is not only not working but is a major and growing threat to the United States. A major change in how business is done is going to happen in the Muslim world. We can help to channel and direct it, or we can cling to the past and be dragged along. Reimposing tyranny on Iraq in the interests of a phantom “stability” and to placate regimes which are part of the problem would be a step in the wrong direction. We will need to take the risk that our values and institutions have application elsewhere, that they do indeed reflect universal aspirations, as the Declaration of Independence claimed. In fact, spreading these values is now an explicit policy goal, according to the National Security Strategy of the United States, which says “In pursuit of our goals, our first imperative is to clarify what we stand for: the United States must defend liberty and justice because these principles are right and true for all people everywhere. No nation owns these aspirations, and no nation is exempt from them.” It goes on to say that “America must stand firmly for the nonnegotiable demands of human dignity: the rule of law; limits on the absolute power of the state; free speech; freedom of worship; equal justice; respect for women; religious and ethnic tolerance; and respect for private property.” Which is all pretty universalist.

    So, to conclude, General Powell is not a villain. He is a smart and serious man, a well-intentioned public servant, a man who hates to use force but is willing to do so if necessary, a cautious man who has had to look parents of dead soldiers in the eye. But, if he supports these plans to maintain an authoritarian regime in Iraq, he is failing to see the meaning of the moment in which he has been called to great office, and he is deeply mistaken about what is good for America, for the people of Iraq, and the world.

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    The Internet Routes Around Bad Customer-Service.

    Posted by Jonathan on 16th February 2003 (All posts by )

    I wanted some technical information from my ISP, couldn’t find the info on the ISP’s poorly organized web site, telephoned, waited. . . The recorded voice kept telling me that I could find whatever I wanted on the web site, the help-desk guy didn’t know the answer, the customer-service email address didn’t work, and so on.

    Meanwhile I decided to google my question and in 10 seconds had a link to a page, on the ISP’s website, that contained exactly the information I wanted.

    Nowadays I usually google first. A programmer I know told me that since about 1999 he has used Google, instead of Microsoft’s bundled help software or online Knowledge Base, to get explanations of Microsoft error messages. Google is often the fastest way to get such information. And the Google method can return higher-quality results than you would get from official documentation. It turns out–surprise!–that users sometimes know more about products than do manufacturers. (For example, my recent search for a way to get PGP to run on my computer turned up an individual’s PGP info page that is much more informative about installation issues than is the manufacturer’s documentation and quickly solved my problem.)

    It’s easy to carp about software companies that provide inadequate support for their products, but the Internet is making this a nonproblem. Google is, among other things, a distributed online help system that lowers costs for software producers and users alike. Many software and other product manufacturers now provide online forums to help customers resolve support issues. The manufacturers should go one step further and encourage use of Google. More service providers, including my ISP, should realize that customers value quick answers, that the conventional ways of delivering those answers (proprietary web sites and search engines, help desks) often fail, and that encouraging customers to go outside the proprietary system can be good for business.

    Posted in Tech | Comments Off

    “Salam Pax”

    Posted by Jonathan on 16th February 2003 (All posts by )

    Salam’s recent post on the history and logistics of staged mass-demonstrations is worth reading.

    There’s also this family snapshot. Maybe whatsisname will shoot his own nuts off.

    Posted in War and Peace | Comments Off

    Have a nice weekend. . .

    Posted by Ralf Goergens on 14th February 2003 (All posts by )

    Have a nice weekend, everybody! I’m off to play in the snow.

    Posted in Diversions | Comments Off