Are the media liberal? Of course they are! Then why do they keep giving George Bush a pass when he lies? Because they're liberal!
If you don't already know who Amira Hass, winner of this year's UN Press Freedom Prize is, you should. She writes for Ha'aretz, Israel's premier liberal paper, and she's the only Jewish Israeli reporter who lives in the occupied territories. Here are some of her latest stories and here's part of a tough interview Israeli TV conducted with her.
I'm trying very hard to believe that this report is inaccurate (and the reporter, Sonni Efron, is careful to say that it might be).
And some believe that U.S. diplomacy has hit a dead end now that Bush reportedly has vetoed any sort of bilateral negotiations with North Korea. Therefore, unless the United States threatens military action against Pyongyang — thus risking simultaneous war with Iraq and North Korea — it must accept that North Korea may have a substantial nuclear arsenal within a year, said Robert Madsen, a senior fellow at Stanford University's Asia/Pacific Research Center.
If this is true, I can't remember a more horribly bungled bit of foreign policy in my lifetime. (link via Ted Barlow)
Earlier, I posted vociferously to say that the leaked NSA email about increased spying at the UN was definitely bogus. Hmmm. Since then, of the domestic news sources, only Salon has done a lengthy follow-up and it definitely wasn't a debunking. The administration, as quoted in the Salon story, simply refused to comment. Until further notice, color me wrong.
From Nick Denton.
Here's a great interview the BBC did with Donald Rumsfeld on Tuesday.
Let's at least account the moral argument about hanging people out to dry. While nations generally act out of self-interest and in accord with their power, they are forced to make (often tenuous) claims for the nobility or necessity of their actions. It's possible that moralizing in bad faith cheapens moral language, but isn't that a price worth paying in order to have that language as a check on behavior? In fact, isn't it precisely moral language that animates protests which, sometimes anyway, do make a difference to policy?
Countries that have oil pump oil. When they can. The heart of the oil argument is reliability. Even in the Middle-East, extracting oil requires an infrastructure. As we saw when Saddam torched the Kuwaiti oil fields and as we hear now, when it's said that it will take years for Iraq to start producing oil at its previous rate, that infrastructure is liable to damage and requires maintenance. It's fairly obvious how a disruption in production can affect the global economy. This piece makes a very strong case that disruptions in oil production can have unpleasant geo-political ramifications as well.
As for the Islamists, I'm not sure that withdrawing from the Middle-East would give us a better reputation there. If the US were to withdraw, here's what I think we would hear 1 or 5 years later: "You came here, took advantage of our resources, helped tyrants oppress and impoverish us, and when you didn't need us anymore, you just left us among the ruins and the crazy fundamentalists your policies fostered." And it would all be true. And that brings us to the last point: anger is mobile. We can't assume that the only people attacked by angry Middle-Easterners will be their neighbors. Or, to put it another way, we're all neighbors now. While I agree that letting Islamist regimes come to power (and inevitably, fall) may be the price we have to pay for letting democracy flower in the Middle-East, it remains preeminently important not to let hostile regimes acquire the means to do us great harm. I don't see how we can guarantee our own security if we abandon the region.
My immediately prior post suggested that the United States has a third option in dealing with the Middle East generally and Iraq in particular. And that is, in short, pick up and leave. I think the benefits of this policy are obvious and I won't go over them again. Here are some of the possible drawbacks/objections, in no particular order:
We hang the Iraqi people out to dry: True, but I'm not sure this argument has much force. Many who support the war suggest those who don't don't support the liberation of the Iraqi people. But this presupposes that this war is being fought to liberate the Iraqi people, when that's manifestly not the case. That might be a beneficial side effect of the war, but its not why we're going to fight it. After all, we don't have any plans to invade Zimbabwe. Were Iraq in compliance with the various UN resolutions on disarmament, but otherwise a horrible place, we would not be threatening them as we are.
We hang Israel out to dry: Not really true. Israel is certainly capable of defending itself (I am reminded of the comment made by an Israeli official that Israel would not be the first country to deploy nuclear weapons in the Middle East, nor would it be the second). We would not be supporting the building of settlements in the occupied territories. Indeed, we would be generally agnostic as to the scope of any settlement between Israel and the Palestinians. But what in our national interest suggests we should have a different policy? As a genuinely democratic country, Israel would still enjoy our trade and our (limited) support.
We risk "losing" Gulf oil resources: Possible, but I'm not sure how much it matters. The price of oil is determined by supply and demand, and Gulf oil is only part of only half of that equation. Other sources are relatively abundant (Russia, West Africa, Venezuela, North Sea, etc.) and we have considerable control over demand should we ever decide to get serious about conservation. Furthermore, this assumes that someone (e.g., Saddam) with control over all the oil in the Gulf would be unwilling to sell it at all. But even Iran kept the pumps going at the height of its Islamic revolution. And if it were one seller trying to exercise monpoly power, I don't think that's really possible in the market for oil.
We risk Islamists gaining control over one or more countries in the Middle East: I have a couple of thoughts on this point. First, to the extent that we generally get a better rep in the Muslim world, I'm not sure this matters much. Second, to the extent these sorts of governments result from democratic choices, I think we have to respect these decisions.
I'm sure that some would label this policy isolationist, and it is in a sense. It calls for a certain disengagement by the United States from a certain part of the world. But shouldn't the level of our engagement with any one country or part of the world be dictated by our national interests? Those national interests include, I think, extending the benefits of freedom and democracy as far and wide as possible. But the best we can ever do in that respect is support democracy where it exists (and in the Middle East right now, that's just Israel) and not give aid and comfort where it doesn't (which we seem to be doing an awful lot of right now). We can't, realistically, spread democracy by force throughout the world.
The more I think about this idea, the more I like it.
Ogged aludes to my post suggesting that we have a third choice in dealing with Iraq. Since I haven't seen this argument really articulated by anyone within the mainstream (where I like to think I sit), I thought I'd give it a shot. Especially since, much to my suprise, I'm much less of a hawk than Ogged.
I suggested that the third option (the first two being invasion or deterrence - I have yet to hear a persuasive argument that permanent inspections are a reasonable or responsible possibility) we have in the Middle East is to just up and leave. Here's what I think that means. We would withdraw our military forces from all the countries in the Middle East and explicitly renounce any commitments to defend any of regimes in the Middle East (other than Turkey, given our commitment to NATO - though the natural result of this argument does tend to call into question our commitment to NATO) from attack by a foreign power or from domestic insurgency. We would also cease meaningful foreign aid to all governments in the Middle East, We would (I'm not sure about this point and need to give it more thought) only sell weapons to genuinely democratic regimes and then only on cash and carry terms. We would trade with any country in the Middle East, though with a preference for genuinely democratic regimes and consistent with our ostensible commitments to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Practically, this means we would withdraw all military forces from the Persian Gulf and renounce any commitment to defend Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states from attack by Iraq. We would cease aid to Egypt, Jordan and Israel. We would deal with Iran and Syria on the same terms we deal with comparable regimes in other parts of the world. We would favor (through trade terms) regimes that are genuinely democratic and we would support any transition to democracy in any country in the region. We would lend any support consistent with this framework to mediate disputes within the region (e.g., the Israel-Palestine conflict).
The benefits of this policy should be fairly clear. No more military presence in the Middle East = removal of prime Al Qaeda grievance. No more foreign aid/military assistance to countries in the Middle East = no more propping up of undemocratic and despotic regimes, and thus removal of a prime grievance of just about everyone in the Arab world. Lessened support of Israel = removal of another prime greivance of just about everyone in the Arab world. Most importantly, this policy = no war.
To keep this post at a manageable length, I'll adress objections to this policy in my next post.
Jim Henley has done us all a service by engaging Ken Pollack's (abridged) arguments for going to war with Iraq. Charles Murtaugh wonders if any "liberal hawks" will post a response to Henley. Here it is.
Henley begins by criticizing Pollack for his credulity regarding Iraqi defector testimony. The criticism can be divided into three charges: that Pollack does not acknowledge that defector testimony is inherently problematic; that Pollack does not discuss the fact that Kamel and Hamza's statements contradict one another; and finally, that Kamel himself says that Saddam was in fact deterred during the Gulf War.
But Pollack cites the defectors as a group only to support his contention that in a country that is willfully deceptive, it is very difficult for inspectors to know the extent of the weapons programs they monitor. On whether Iraq did in fact aim to deceive and maintained prohibited weapons that inspectors could not find on their own, defectors Hamza and al-Sammarrai (whom Henley does not mention) are in complete agreement. Kamel is the one who demurs. But his demurral is not straightforward. He says, according to the transcript, "I ordered destruction of all chemical weapons. All weapons - biological, chemical, missile, nuclear were destroyed." (pg. 13) But earlier in the same transcript (pg. 8), Kamel admits that "destruction" of any given element of the weapons program did not mean the termination of the program or any change in the intentions of the Iraqi regime. Why, Kamel is asked, were launchers kept when the missiles themselves had been destroyed? "It is the first step to return to production." And as for those destroyed missiles, Kamel says "All blueprints for missiles are in a safe place...." And what place is that? "They are hidden in the same location where computer disks with information on nuclear programmes are." (pg. 8)
It may be that some or all the defectors are unreliable and to be dismissed. But it doesn't matter that they accuse each other of lying if they are in agreement on crucial points. In any event, the case for war doesn't turn on defector testimony, so let's move on to the fact that Saddam was deterred from using chemical and biological weapons during the Gulf War.
Henley spends most of his response to Pollack proving that Saddam is deterrable. But Pollack grants the point. He writes, "It is probably true that fear of retaliation kept Iraq from using chemical weapons against coalition forces during the gulf war." Pollack's contention is not that Saddam cannot be deterred. Rather, he argues that some of Saddam's actions were not suicidal only because of exigencies that could not have been foreseen by Saddam (e.g., Iran's decision not to assault Baghdad in 1974 and GHWB's decisions to pull up short of Baghdad at the end of the Gulf War). Another way to put this point is to say that if you operate, as Saddam does, not rationally or suicidally, but within the gray area between the two, it is impossible for us to know whether you are suicidal or not. And if we can't know, then it would be, in Pollack's word, "reckless" to act as if you aren't.
Henley's strongest argument is that Saddam has no incentive to disarm because the US has made it clear that nothing short of regime change will suffice to avert war. This may be true, and the Bush administration's rhetoric has made it difficult to imagine that Iraq has any room to maneuver. But recall this astounding passage in a column by Robert Novak of the Chicago Sun-Times
"[Secretary of State] Powell is reported as even more frustrated by the mindless intransigence of the Iraqi regime. Officials in Baghdad who have had indirect, unofficial contact with Powell have begged for some counsel from Washington on how to avert a war they would be doomed to lose. The secretary of state--also indirectly and unofficially--asked for confessions of weapons violations from the regime. All he got was the ''discovery'' of four empty chemical weapons warheads." (via Josh Marshall).
I think humility compels both sides to admit that, on this point, we simply don't know whether the Iraqis ever had a genuine opportunity to be deterred.
On the other side, Pollack's strongest argument is that none of Saddam's past actions, however we interpret them, can give us sufficient guidance regarding how Saddam will act if he acquires nuclear weapons. I would guess that even Henley would admit that if a course of action results in a situation in which we are counting on deterring a nuclear-armed Saddam, then that course is unacceptable.
The argument comes back then, to familiar territory: how can we keep Saddam from acquiring nuclear weapons? Inspections or war? (There is another well-argued, pro-inspection response at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace to Pollack's op-ed.) Incidentally, I find incredible the suggestion made by Henley (and broached by Unf, below) that US involvement in the Gulf should not be taken for granted. Even if America weans itself completely from Middle-Eastern oil, the world economy will depend for decades to come on the reliable supply of oil from the Middle-East. Withdrawing from the global economy is not an option. And, given the animosity in the Middle-East toward the US, an animosity for which no single administration or party is responsible, it would be, again, "reckless" for an American administration to leave watchdog duties to others.
As for inspections, I have heard no arguments that they could be effective absent a credible threat of force. But should US forces be stationed indefinitely in the Middle-East in numbers large enough to be a "credible threat?" That really would be an "empire." And the resentment it would engender would not be confined to religious zealots. The choice then, as I see it (and as I think Pollack sees it) is between a protracted American deployment that would be odious for all involved and would still risk the emergence of a nuclear-armed Saddam, versus a war and occupation the outcome of which none of us can foresee. That's a crappy choice to have to make. But if you were the President, would you really take a chance on Saddam?
Ogged writes the following:
I would add another set of questions, which I think come before the how many is too many question? How is a liberated Iraq, perhaps a more democratic and free Arab world, and a lessened (or increased) terrorist/WMD threat comparable to mass loss of life? Can these things be weighed in the balance? Most debates about the war seem to skip over these questions. I'm sure these things can be compared somehow, though exactly how I'm not suire.
...that this event comes to pass. Then, maybe all three will accidentally bump into each other and be destroyed in a burst of pure energy. Which would mean I wouldn't have to read any more dumb posts/articles about media bias.
There is very little patience now with moral commentators concerned about the damage a war will do to the Iraqi people. But recall that as a result of the Gulf War, which seemed to most of the world a huge video game, some 150,000 Iraqi civilians were killed.
Many people justify the inevitable loss of life in Iraq by thinking of the innocents already being killed in Iraq by Saddam Hussein. But even Saddam doesn't kill his own people by the hundreds of thousands. There are other considerations: the liberation of Iraqis, the cost of not acting, turning the tide of Islamism, etc., but those of us in favor of an invasion must answer a question we don't even have the right to ask: how many dead Iraqi civilians is too many? That's not a trope meant to shame anyone. What's the number in your head? What are the units of your counting? Thousands? Tens of thousands? And are you giving weight to each one? Sister, uncle, mother, father? Prankster, scholar, rogue?
I'm not an economist, but this critique of Bush's economic policies by Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz seems absolutely devastating. I'd like to hear from economics-savvy bloggers: is there any way to justify this latest "stimulus" package? Brink Lindsey? Max Sawicky? Brad DeLong?
I always enjoy reading the Op-Ed page of the Wall Street Journal. Its always funny, if not intentionally. However, this article struck me mostly as just dumb. The article is ostensibly an attempt to provide a "conservative" scheme for rating the greatness of our presidents. To do so, Michael Barone has to come up with a "liberal" scheme for ranking presidents that he can be opposed to. Here's his take:
Liberals have their pantheon of presidents, established by the New Deal historians. "Great presidents," in their view, are those who expand the size and scope of the federal government in the interest of the masses against the interests of the classes. By this criterion Franklin Roosevelt is one of the greatest presidents, in a line that includes Washington, Jefferson, Jackson, Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt and Wilson.
"Liberals" definitely like, for example, Lincoln because he expanded the size of government. And not because of preserving the Union or ending slavery or anything like that.
Missed this when I read what was otherwise an excellent article.
If your TV provider carries BBC America, you should really be watching Coupling. Except for the Simpsons, almost nothing on the screen makes me laugh out loud (please post a comment, if, like me and a few other reasonable people, you hated "Greek Wedding.") But I laugh all the way through just about every episode of Coupling.
Apparently, NBC has bought the US rights and they're going to remake the show for the US. I can't imagine that it will work, but one never knows. But it doesn't really matter because you can get the originals on DVD.
This story about US intelligence agencies taking Islamist websites offline doesn't seem very reliable and I hope it's not true. No doubt a case can be made that the sites were disabled (however that might have been done) as part of the ongoing "war" against Al Qaeda, but without a finding that the sites were integral to the commission of terrorist acts, it seems this is simple suppression of speech. It's hard to muster much outrage at the silencing of Islamist websites, but America cannot legitimize the suppression of speech, particularly when it's fighting fatwa-happy Al Qaeda.
If you haven't read the latest stories about intra-administration debates regarding what to do in Iraq after the war, then read them now. It's become clear that one can't draw sound conclusions about the administration's intentions unless one understands that neither the Pentagon, State Department, nor the neo-con camp has managed to impose its vision on every part of the planning.
The hardest part about this blogging thing so far is writing the headlines. Do you suppose The Economist offers free seminars from its clever crew of headline and caption writers?
One of the reasons this blog is anonymous is that I have lots of relatives in what I'll call a not-always-reasonable Middle-Eastern country and I want to visit them without any unpleasant surprises resulting from anything I write here. I was speaking this week to one of my relatives about a possible visit and he said, "the next time you come, come with American paratroopers."
My earlier post (with no rejoinder as of yet from Ogged) was probably pretty confusing and irritating to read. It was mostly an attempt to set out what I think are facts about the current mess we're in and then use those facts to come up with a set of alternative choices about what we ought to do about Iraq and the Middle East. I have no idea what the right choice is, but it seems to me that its better to figure how the world is and then go from there, as opposed to the other way round.
I guess there is one other choice, not often considered as a responsible policy choice but there all the same. And that is, wash our hands of the whole thing. This means, I think, a general American military and strategic pullback from the Middle East. This is an option most often associated with the loony left and/or the loony right. Is there a responsible way (i.e., a way that is not driven by Chomskyite aand/or anti-semitic lunacy) to defend this choice? I think there might be one, and I aim to post it sometime soon.
Is Anna Nicole Smith too famous, not famous enough, or just right for this show?
In January, the New Yorker ran an article about an invitation to poet Tom Paulin to speak at Harvard and its having been rescinded when Paulin was discovered to have made controversial statements regarding Israel. This week, the NYer published this letter from Barbara Stark, professor of law at the University of Tennessee.
"Hate speech" is a difficult issue, but it need not be as intractable as Toobin's account of the debacles at Harvard suggests. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights provides, "Any advocacy of national, racial, or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited by law." The United States ratified this treaty but took a reservation to this specific provision, leaving us with the dubious distinction of being one of the leading exporters of hate speech. Other democracies have accepted this language as a reasonable--and workable--limitation in a dangerous world. It's a shame that our elites, at Harvard and in Washington, continue to insist on American exceptionalism.
On legal matters I defer to Unf, but I do wonder, given the First Amendment, could the US have ratified this provision? And I ask Glenn Reynolds, who is also a professor of law at UT: is Prof. Stark on the loony fringe (ok, I know you can't really answer that) or is this a fairly common view among your colleagues? Maybe I've been indoctrinated into believing that free speech is more important and absolute than it needs to be (seriously, I'm willing to hear the arguments) but this provision seems patently bad to me.
I doubt this is true, and I know Kim Jong Il is a despot and North Koreans are starving and miserable, but isn't it nice to think that just maybe Kim has a really good sense of humor?
"...there is no big vision. There is no evidence that the Administration has planned for anything other than a large-scale invasion which they expect to be over in the space of a few months at most."
These are really two claims. There most certainly is a "big vision" and it's been articulated at length. But Kieran is correct that there is no evidence (unless I've missed it) of planning for post-war Iraq. And the lack of information about the administration's post-war plans is the main weakness in the pro-invasion position. Of course, it may be that because the post-war plan involves squeezing current allies such as Saudi Arabia or making some secret move against Iran, the administration doesn't want to reveal it. But that shades close enough to "god works in mysterious ways" to call into question its legitimacy as an argument in a democracy. There is no question that many things the government would like to do (and even that the people would like it to do) could be done more expediently if they were done covertly; the question for us as citizens is whether we are committed wholeheartedly to democracy or whether we think certain outcomes can retrospectively justify anti-democratic behavior by our government. I don't think the answer is obvious.
Its an interesting comment on the state of English as we speak it today that when Ogged said that the NSA email was totally bogus, I thought he meant to say something like, "the actions described in that email should not be taken." But he evidently meant - and this is much more in keeping with the standard definition of the word bogus - that the email was not genuine.
I guess I need to stop hanging around with skate punks all the time.
Earlier I wrote that the leaked NSA email about spying on UN members was bogus. Since then, the Observer has made something of a response to some questions about the authenticity of the memo, including the British spellings found in it. There is also a very lively discussion in Atrios' comments list. I think the British spellings are easily explained (likely someone typed it up and put it through a British spell-check). I'm basing my opinion on the style of writing in the memo and the breezy, informal way in which it's written makes me certain this is not from the NSA. Compare this memo to all these stilted, overwritten, overcautious communications. "As you've likely heard by now...we'd appreciate your support...I suspect that you'll be hearing more...." No way.
NSA plans to spy on Security Council members. Totally bogus. More on this later.
On a lighter note, this company makes just about the best root beer around. If root beer is your thing.
Ever since I saw Ogged's taxonomy of views about the pending war, I've been trying to figure out what you can call me. Other than confused, of course.
Here are a few things I think are indisputable about our current situation:
- Saddam Hussein will pursue weapons of mass destruction, whether or not he has them now.
- Saddam Hussein does not treat the citizens of Iraq well.
- This does not make him unique among the world's despotic regimes.
- Saddam Hussein will behave aggressively towards his neighbors.
- A stringent regime of inspections and sanctions would be sufficiently effective to eliminate the threat that Iraq could obtain weapons of mass destruction or be aggressive towards its neighbors.
- This stringent regime of inspections and sanctions is only acceptable to Iraq because of the threat of American invasion.
- Making threats of invasion generally isn't very effective unless you intend to make good on them.
- Events of the past two months have proved beyond a doubt that the remainder of the world will not provide the threat of force (either through its own means or by backing American means) necessary to sustain the inspections and sanctions regime.
- America and Israel possess the means to deter Iraq from using weapons of mass destruction against either themselves or their allies in the Middle East.
- A relatively secular, democratic and peaceful Iraq is defintely something to hope for.
- The results of any invasion of Iraq are so unpredictable that it doesn't seem wise to launch a war without the comfort that deposing Hussein is sufficient justification, in and of itself, for war.
- The United States will win any war with Iraq.
- Its not at all clear at what cost the United States will win the war.
- Its not at all clear what the Bush administration really plans for a post-war Iraq.
So what does this all add up to? I think the US has two options. Invade Iraq and hope for the best - or - continue to maintain sufficient military power in the Persian Gulf to deter Iraq from ever behaving aggressively towards its neighbors. The first option has the benefit of deposing Hussein and possibly providing an impetus to democracy and liberalism in the Middle East, but at potentially great cost to the people of Iraq and of the world. The second option avoids war, but provides less certainty of eliminating the threat of weapons of mass destruction in Iraqi hands. It also requires a continuing American military presence in the Middle East, which has been the chief source of Al Qaeda's grievances. For the reasons set out above, I do not view inspections and sanctions as a viable option.
So this makes me what? Again, other than confused.