Friday, July 25, 2003

Looking for answers?

I'll be posting my thoughts on the Marshall-Den Beste debate later today on the Volokh Conspiracy -- I'll be guest-blogging there for the next week.

posted by Dan at 09:43 AM | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, July 24, 2003

My gift

Today is my brother's birthday -- sort of. It's the 25th, but as he's living in Sydney, Australia, and it's sixteen hours ahead there, it is essentially today.

When I asked him what he wanted for his B-day, among the (tongue-in-cheek) options he gave me was:

1) Buy him a small island; or -- and let me quote him here:

2) "create a web site dedicated to extolling my virtues to the world at large, declaring, in no uncertain terms, my unrecognized genius.... Given your recent fame on the web, I think this would be a fairly easy task for you to complete."

He's right -- it was pretty easy.

Happy birthday, JBD!!

posted by Dan at 05:14 PM | Trackbacks (0)

Debating the causes of war

Josh Marshall and Steven Den Beste probably don't agree on much in life -- but they do agree on the underlying reasons for the U.S. decision to invade Iraq. Marshall first:

[O]ver time after 9/11 one overriding theory of the war [with Iraq] did take shape: it was to get America irrevocably on the ground in the center of the Middle East (thus fundamentally reordering the strategic balance in the region), bring to a head the country's simmering conflict with its enemies in the region, and kick off a democratic transformation of the region which would over time dissipate the root causes of anti-American terrorism and violence: autocracy, poverty and fanaticism.

That is why we are in Iraq today. That is the theory of this war. I have little doubt that many in the administration and in certain think-tanks in DC who really don't like much of what they've been reading on this website recently will have little to disagree with in that description.

Den Beste agrees. His take is almost identical on this issue:

In fact, the real reason we went into Iraq was precisely to "nation build": to create a secularized, liberated, cosmopolitan society in a core Arab nation. To create a place where Arabs were free and safe and unafraid and happy and successful and not ruled by corrupt monarchs or brutal dictators. This would demonstrate to the other people in the Arab and Muslim worlds that they can succeed, but only if they abandon those political, cultural and religious chains that are holding them back.

Marshall and Den Beste also agree that this motivation was not mentioned all that frequently by Bush or Blair -- instead, the rhetorical emphasis was on the WMD question and whether Hussein's regime was in league with Al Qaeda.

The disagreement is over the ethical and practical implications of these tactics. Marshall takes a dim view:

But an insight or even a broad strategy is not a plan -- a fact which we're now seeing played out before our eyes. The fact that the administration never leveled with the public -- or in some ways even itself -- about this shielded it from the kind of scrutiny which would have revealed just how little the administration had thought through the sheer complexity of what it was trying to accomplish. This created the need to goose up secondary issues like WMD to gain a public rationale for the war. If you're wondering why so little planning seems to have gone into what on earth we were going to do once we took the place over it's because so little of the debate leading up to the war had anything to do with these questions or for that matter what we were actually trying to achieve by invading the country....

If you don't level with the public that you're getting into a very long-term, extremely costly enterprise you may find that your tough talk about having the staying power to finish the job isn't matched by public sentiment, or that you face a backlash over getting the country into far more than you led voters to believe. You may find that the public really isn't on board for what you're trying to accomplish. And that's a big problem if the public doesn't have the staying power and you have to leave the task half-finished, because this is one of those things that is better not to have tried at all than leave half-done....

[Q]uite apart from partisan considerations on either side, we're never going to figure out what we're doing in Iraq, do it well, or accomplish anything good for the future security of the United States unless and until we start talking straight about why we're there, what we need to accomplish, and how we're going to do it.

Den Beste's position is pretty much the polar opposite of Marshall:

Honesty and plain speaking are not virtues for politicians and diplomats. If either Mr. Bush or Mr. Blair had said what I did, it would have hit the fan big-time. Making clear a year ago that this was our true agenda would have virtually guaranteed that it would fail. Among other things, it would have caused all of the brutal dictators and corrupt monarchs in the region to unite with Saddam against us, and would have made the invasion impossible. But now the die is cast, and said brutal dictators and corrupt monarchs no longer have the ability to stop the future....

Americans have gained a reputation elsewhere for being flighty, mercurial; there's some truth to that, but it's also true that we can stick with things for decades if we think it's worthwhile. We stuck with the occupations of Germany and Japan for 50 years. I feel confident we'll stick with this, too....

Once we actually began the invasion, certain political issues became faits accomplis. The question of engagement in the Arab sphere is no longer debatable; we're going to be engaged. That was still in doubt, right up until the first tanks rolled over the border from Kuwait into Iraq. Now it isn't.

No, we're not going to give up on this. The degree of our commitment may change up or down; there will be debate and argument. But one way or another, we're going to stick with this. Ultimately, we have no choice.

Den Beste is even blunter about the virtues of rhetorical misdirection in this post.

Who's right? You'll be hearing my thoughts on this tomorrow [But I want to be enlightened now!!--ed. Patience, my Simpsons-obsessed friend]. For now, however, read both arguments, because they set up a veeeeerrrrryyyyy interesting debate.

posted by Dan at 04:03 PM | Trackbacks (0)


A few months ago I expressed pessimism about the state of affairs in Afghanistan. However, in scanning my recent posts about the country -- here, here, and here, I've noticed an encouraging trend of positive developments. An upbeat report from Glenn Reynolds' Kabul correspondent suggests statebuilding efforts are working. The key graf:

Last summer renegade police at the ubiquitous Kabul traffic circles might stop and board my cab uninvited, gleefully tease an automatic weapon and just as suddenly disembark a without explanation a few miles down the road. It was doubtful that many were legitimate police with any official status, nevertheless the judicious travelers never asked for credentials or complained when their vehicles were searched and belongings confiscated. This summer is completely different. Petty harassment has ended. Civil order has been restored to a remarkable degree on the highways by a professional police force that efficiently—if not always quietly-- patrols the highways in slick new trucks donated by the German government and trained in the latest law enforcement techniques by the American military. Great credit for this transformation must also be shared with the new Interior Minister, Jalali, who’s been able to bring more of an ethnically balanced and representative police presence into the agency. Kabul law enforcement now moves heavily armed but astonishingly restrained crews along the teeming streets, in a manner as unobtrusive as the ISAF patrols of last year. Consequently, one sees far fewer of the once omnipresent international peacekeepers on the highways.

Is this part of a more encouraging trend in that war-torn country?

The answer is still mixed. The good news is that the central government is getting its act together. Hamid Karzai's efforts to increase revenue flows from the provinces to the central government is a partial success. The central government is conducting the first census in 24 years. That sounds mundane, but these kind of statistics are vital for ensuring stable economic and political development. The new Afghan National Army is also conducting its first military operations, deploying 1,000 troops in a joint exercise with U.S. forces against Taliban remnants in the southern mountains.

The improvements in state institutions are matched by an increase in democratic activism and national pride. Consider a few grafs from this report:

Afghans in the capital Kabul have again been exercising their right to protest. Chanting pro-democracy slogans, around a hundred people marched through the city on Tuesday morning. The demonstrators called for the implementation of the Bonn agreement - a road map for Afghanistan's peaceful development - and urged the Afghan government not to bow to extremists.

"We don’t want fundamentalism," one participant told IRIN. Others said they wanted a constitution based on democracy and the rule of law.

The crowd also called for equal rights for men and women. "For survival and restoration of women’s rights the international community and Afghan government defeated the Taliban regime, but unfortunately women are still deprived of their participation in government, and political development is limited," Freba Charkhi, a member of the Freedom and Democracy Movement of Afghanistan, told IRIN....

According to Charkhi, the demonstration was organised by the Freedom and Democracy Movement of Afghanistan, a new moderate political party, made up of the Afghan Civil Society Forum, students from Kabul University and Afghan journalists.

Democracy and the right to peaceful assembly appear to be taking root in parts of Afghanistan following decades of conflict and totalitarian rule.

Quite a different take than Amnesty International's more downbeat assessment.

Meanwhile, in Kandahar -- the Taliban's old stronghold -- a thousand people filled the largest mosque to protest Pakistani incursions into Afghan territory. A top Taliban leader was arrested there earlier in the month.

The reduction of instability -- combined with an adjustment in tactics -- has permitted the United Nations to restart its de-mining operationsin the southern provinces.

Beyond the state, things are looking up as well. This year the country will experience its biggest wheat crop in two decades -- not a difficult achievement, but still important. A consortium of telecommunications firms are setting up the country's second cellular phone network. Movies are being shown in the provinces.

So has a tipping point been reached where stability will be the norm rather than instability? Not yet. In the short-term, attacks on coalition forces increased over the past month. Some of the provinces are still beset with Taliban activity and a paucity of reconstruction aid. Other provinces are still experiencing factional fighting. And the Afghan defense minister still seems to believe that confiscating opposition newspapers is a viable policy option. Relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan are badly strained. According to the Christian Science Monitor, this year also produced a bumper opium crop in addition to a good wheat harvest. More disturbing is the link between opium and the Taliban resistance:

Some of the regions hardest hit by regrouping Taliban forces are well known areas for opium cultivation, including Nangarhar in the east, and Uruzgan, Helmand, and Nimroz in the south. The latter two provinces serve as a smuggling route into Pakistan and Iran.

Drug money may be providing the funds needed to keep the Taliban insurgency alive. Sources in the Afghan government's antinarcotics department suggest that Taliban fighters in southern Afghanistan collect money from the local drug smugglers for their attacks against US forces.

Such attacks have already scared off international aid workers and hampered US-aligned forces that could otherwise interfere with drug trafficking and create viable alternatives to farmers....

The Afghan government also claims that Al Qaeda operatives are helping the drug cartels to traffic heroin to the West.

"It is an unholy alliance," says Mr.Rasoolzai, head of Eastern Afghanistan's antinarcotics department. "Al Qaeda is using drugs as a weapon against America and other Western countries. The weapon of drugs does not make a noise. The victim does not bleed and leaves no trace of the killer."

Is there a pattern? Sort of. It's clear that conditions are improving in areas where the central government holds some sway. However, that remains a very small portion of the country. As state institutions improve, one hopes that it will expand.

Developing.... in an uncertain way.

posted by Dan at 01:59 PM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, July 23, 2003


The elite consensus is that the Bush administration homeland security measures -- and the Ashcroft Justice Department -- have been an unmitigated disaster for civil liberties. The war on terror has caused a slow but steady erosion in our essential freedoms.

As a libertarian, I tend to sympathize with this logic without digging too deeply into the facts. Over time, this makes me uncomfortable -- how do I know the consensus is correct?

In that spirit, I decided to read Heather MacDonald's essay in the latest issue of City Journal, defending the homeland security measures installed since 9/11. Her precis:

The backlash against the Bush administration’s War on Terror began on 9/11 and has not let up since. Left- and right-wing advocacy groups have likened the Bush administration to fascists, murderers, apartheid ideologues, and usurpers of basic liberties. Over 120 cities and towns have declared themselves “civil liberties safe zones”; and the press has amplified at top volume a recent report by the Justice Department’s inspector general denouncing the government’s handling of suspects after 9/11. Even the nation’s librarians are shredding documents to safeguard their patrons’ privacy and foil government investigations.

The advocates’ rhetoric is both false and dangerous. Lost in the blizzard of propaganda is any consciousness that 9/11 was an act of war against the U.S. by foreign enemies concealed within the nation’s borders. If the media and political elites keep telling the public that the campaign against those terrorist enemies is just a racist power grab, the most essential weapon against terror cells—intelligence from ordinary civilians—will be jeopardized. A drumbeat of ACLU propaganda could discourage a tip that might be vital in exposing an al-Qaida plot.

It is crucial, therefore, to demolish the extravagant lies about the anti-terror initiatives. Close scrutiny of the charges and the reality that they misrepresent shows that civil liberties are fully intact. The majority of legal changes after September 11 simply brought the law into the twenty-first century. In those cases where the government has expanded its powers—as is inevitable during a war—important judicial and statutory safeguards protect the rights of law-abiding citizens. And in the one hard case where a citizen’s rights appear to have been curtailed—the detention of a suspected American al-Qaida operative [Jose Padilla] without access to an attorney—that detention is fully justified under the laws of war.

I'm not completely persuaded with regard to her reasoning on the Padilla case. But it's worth a look.

posted by Dan at 04:57 PM | Trackbacks (0)

Iraq roundup

In the wake of the Hussein boys' demise, it's worth stepping back and appraising the current situation in Iraq.

Not surprisingly, there is disagreement over whether this is just an ephemeral victory for U.S. forces or part of a more positive trend that will reduce the guerilla attacks against U.S. forces. Juan Cole, David Adesnik, and Matthew Yglesias say no [UPDATE: David was only joking]; Andrew Sullivan, Josh Chafetz, and the Christian Science Monitor say yes. The Economist, the Guardian, -- and most importantly, the U.S. Army -- are hedging their bets.

My answer is yes, not because of the attack itself but rather the shift in intelligence-gathering that preceded it. The Washington Post has an excellent story on how this shift in tactics may be creating a tipping-point phenomenon among the Iraqi populace:

After weeks of difficult searching for the top targets on the U.S. government's list of most-wanted Iraqi fugitives, U.S. military commanders two weeks ago switched the emphasis of their operations, focusing on capturing and gathering intelligence from low-level members of former president Saddam Hussein's Baath Party who had been attacking American forces, according to military officials.

That shift produced a flood of new information about the location of the Iraqi fugitives, which came just before today's attack in which Hussein's two sons were killed by U.S. forces in the northern city of Mosul, the officials said....

"You get a tip, you pull a couple of guys in, they start to talk," a Central Command official said. Then, based on that information, he continued, "you do a raid, you confiscate some documents, you start building the tree" of contacts and "you start doing signals intercepts. And then you're into the network."

"The people are now coming to us with information," Maj. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, commander of the Army's 4th Infantry Division, told Abizaid in a briefing this week at Odierno's headquarters in Tikrit, Hussein's home town. "Every time we do an operation, more people come in."

The 4th Infantry, operating in a region dominated by Iraq's Sunni Muslim minority, which was a major base of Hussein's support, conducted an average of 18 raids a day in recent weeks, he added.

The number and breadth of those follow-up raids also encouraged Iraqis who had been fearful of Baathist retaliation to speak up, officials here said.

Sullivan also links to this Free Republic letter from a U.S. soldier in Iraq suggesting that a similar phenomenon is taking place at the street level:

The only reason the GIs are pissed (not demoralized) is that they cannot touch, must less waste, those taunting bags of gas that scream in their faces and riot on cue when they spot a camera man from ABC, BBC, CBS, CNN or NBC. If they did, then they know the next nightly news will be about how chaotic things are and how much the Iraqi people hate us.

Some do. But the vast majority don't and more and more see that the GIs don't start anything, are by-and-large friendly, and very compassionate, especially to kids and old people. I saw a bunch of 19 year-olds from the 82nd Airborne not return fire coming from a mosque until they got a group of elderly civilians out of harm's way. So did the Iraqis.

A bunch of bad guys used a group of women and children as human shields.The GIs surrounded them and negotiated their surrender fifteen hours later and when they discovered a three year-old girl had been injured by the big tough guys throwing her down a flight of stairs, the GIs called in a MedVac helicopter to take her and her mother to the nearest field hospital. The Iraqis watched it all, and there hasn't been a problem inthat neighborhood since. How many such stories, and there are hundreds of them, never get reported in the fair and balanced press? You know, nada.

The civilians who have figured it out faster than anyone are the local teenagers.

They watch the GIs and try to talk to them and ask questions about America and Now wear wrap-around sunglasses, GAP T- shirts, Dockers (or even better Levis with the red tags) and Nikes (or Egyptian knock-offs, but with the "swoosh") and love to listen to AFN when the GIs play it on their radios.

They participate less and less in the demonstrations and help keep us informed when a wannabe bad-ass shows up in the neighborhood.

It should also be stressed that outside the Sunni zone of instability, conditions are improving. A few days ago the Los Angeles Times reported two stories indicating that things are quite stable in the Kurdish provinces of northern Iraq, as well as Basra (both links via this Kevin Drum post). As for the Shi'a, this RFE/RL report provides some excellent background of the current state of play among the various Shi'a groups. What's becoming increasing clear is that the Shi'a leaders posing the greatest problems for the occupation are those linked to the Iranian government.

Meanwhile, mobile phones are now working in Baghdad, and DHL is expanding its service to Iraq.

The United Nations is still downbeat about the current situation. However, there is reason to hope that the occupation authorities will be able to take the crucial steps towards stability that the Iraq Reconstruction Assessment Mission says is vital for the success of the U.S. mission.

Developing.... in a good way, I hope.

UPDATE: Brian Ulrich has some additional thoughts on the subject, and links to a story suggesting that Kurdish leaders are adopting a wait-and-see posture.

posted by Dan at 12:13 PM | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, July 22, 2003


I've been remiss in posting about recent developments in North Korea. However, as I argued back in January, one part of the U.S. strategy has to be convincing Russia and China that it is in their best interests to have a de-nuclearized Korean peninsula. One way in which this would happen would be for the countries in the region to see that a nuclear North Korea would lead to a nuclear Japan, which would trigger an unwelcome arms race across the region.

This leads to yesterday's New York Times report that Japan's nuclear taboo is slowly eroding. The key grafs:

For the first time in three generations a shift in public opinion has rendered ordinary the discussion of a more assertive Japan and left defenders of the "peace Constitution" on the defensive.

While China's expanding power is a growing concern, the most immediate spur for this change has been a year of starkly increased tensions with North Korea, which already possesses ballistic missiles and is pursuing nuclear weapons.

In March, Mr. Koizumi's defense minister, Shigeru Ishiba, told a parliamentary committee that if North Korea started fueling its missiles, "then it is time to strike."

But even if Japanese are more comfortable with such assertiveness, their neighbors may not be. Many continue to harbor suspicion of a country that they feel has yet fully to acknowledge the damage done by its militarization last century, or to atone for its colonial past. Relations with China have been strained for two years by Mr. Koizumi's repeated visits to a controversial shrine to Japan's war veterans, including 14 people judged as Class A war criminals.

When Mr. Koizumi reasserted last month that he would continue his visits, in what has become a summer ritual, China's Foreign Ministry spokesman, Kong Quan, warned, "Without a correct view on history, there is no guarantee to healthy and stable ties between China and Japan."

During the same time, there have been no visits between leaders of the countries, and China has watched the move toward a more muscular Japan with concern.

This slow change in Japanese public opinion might be part of the backstory for China's renewed pressure to get North Korea back to the bargaining table.

This pressure on North Korea appears to have permitted the U.S. to take the initiative, according to the Washington Post's front-pager from today.

Bush administration officials are considering granting North Korea formal guarantees it will not come under U.S. attack as part of a verifiable dismantlement of its nuclear facilities, in what would be part of a diplomatic gambit by the Bush administration aimed at resolving a standoff over Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions.

Administration officials said that at this broader multilateral meeting, they would formally unveil a U.S. plan for ending the crisis, which has prompted intense discussion within senior levels of the administration about the form of the proposal and how it would be presented.

U.S. officials have indicated to Asian allies they would open with discussion of how the administration could reassure North Korea it does not face a U.S. invasion and then move toward what one official called a "whole gamut" of issues between North Korea and United States, such as providing energy and food aid if the North Korean government meets a series of tough conditions, including progress on human rights....

Since North Korea admitted in October the existence of a secret program to create the fuel for nuclear weapons, the administration has insisted it would not reward the government in Pyongyang for nuclear blackmail. But some officials said they believe they have succeeded in diplomatically isolating North Korea enough -- including enlisting the support of China, North Korea's main patron -- that they can begin to delicately and formally dangle the incentives available to North Korea if it ends its nuclear programs.


[Ahem, an entire post on North Korea and no mention of the Sunday New York Times story about the North Korean's having a second, secret reprocessing plans?--ed. The Post and LA Times stories from today suggest this has been more overblown than Nigerien yellowcake.]

posted by Dan at 10:56 AM | Trackbacks (0)

Internet research addendum

Henry Farrell responds at length to last week's post about Google and academic research. Worth checking out -- if you're in the social science biz.

On a related note, Chris Lawrence is trying to fill the perceived gap in poli sci news by creating the Political Science Bazaar. Here's his mission statement.

posted by Dan at 10:27 AM | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, July 21, 2003


Josh Marshall has gone into great detail about the extent to which the hawks within the Bush administration fought a bureaucratic battle with intelligence professionals over questions of interpretation and presentation. Marshall links to this Jim Hoagland essay from October 2002 that puts the issue in stark terms:

As President Bush's determination to overthrow the Iraqi dictator has become evident to all, a cultural change has come over the world's most expensive intelligence agency: Some analysts out at Langley are now willing to evaluate incriminating evidence against the Iraqis and call it just that.

That development has triggered a fierce internal agency struggle pitting officials whose careers and reputations were built on the old analysis of the Iraqis as a feckless, inert and inward-looking bunch of thugs against those willing to take a fresh, untilted look at all the evidence.

To which Marshall points out:

[Y]ou can't separate our failure to find a lot of what we thought we'd find in Iraq from the "war" the administration has been fighting with the intelligence community for the last two years. If the administration spent the previous two years "at war" with the CIA, pushing them harder and harder into a set of assumptions (and in many cases conclusions) that turned out to be wildly off-the-mark, shouldn't there be some political accountability for what turned out to be at best a very poor call?

Marshall makes a serious point here -- the management of the intelligence process matters.

However, there are two points worth considering in response. The first is that this is hardly the first administration to take an active interest in the shaping of intelligence. As Chris Sullentrop obseved last week in his assessment of CIA director George Tenet:

Before critics such as New York Times columnists Paul Krugman and Nicholas D. Kristof lambasted the Bush administration for politicizing the CIA's intelligence analyses, spooks blasted Tenet's agency for doing the same thing during the Clinton administration. An anonymous CIA official told the National Review in October 2002 that he was badgered "for writing analyses that did not jibe with Clinton foreign policy," and another former CIA analyst wrote in 1999 on the Washington Post op-ed page, "Politicization of intelligence estimates continues to flourish under Tenet's leadership."

Now the natural counterargument to this is that "everyone else does it" is a poor defense. However, as Marshall himself acknowledges, "sometimes bureaucracies really do need to be taken on, to be shaken up." Eliot Cohen points out in Supreme Commandthat civilian leaders should intervene in the planning and management of military operations. A parallel case can be made for intelligence -- over time, intel experts become locked into their preconceptions of the raw data, and need to be exposed to rival interpretations. Skillful intervention in the intelligence process can introduce intellectual debate, which in turn can generate sharper analysis.

Of course, there's a difference between skillful intervention, mismanaged intervention, and willful ignorance of brute facts. The outcome of the debate that's currently taking place will rests on which interpretation of events will become the consensus.

posted by Dan at 04:43 PM | Trackbacks (0)

Responding to my critics

Catching up from a weekend spent off the net, I found Kieran Healy taking issue with my not taking issue with the WMD/intelligence imbroglio:

Before the invasion, many anti-war protestors used the slogan “Not In My Name” or something similar. That line was derided by pro-war commentators as epitomising the supposedly self-indulgent or solipsistic attitiude of the anti-war movement....

Dan can be relied on to have made as well-argued and well-supported case for war as possible, but at this point I really don’t care what it was, for the same reasons the hawks had no time for the “Not In My Name” line. The substance of the President’s case for war is what matters, and it had everything to do with “the WMD issue.” If that case was built on a series of lies — immediate threat, 45-minutes to deployment, uranium from Niger and all the rest of it — then that is something to get exercised about.

Other bloggers have chimed in with a chorus of "hear, hear."

So I'm getting all worked up to deliver a multipronged response along the lines of:

1) Restating my point that I did not think the questions being raised about the process of intelligence -gathering and dissemination were either trivial or partisan;

2) Explaining that although it is an issue, the extent to which the run-up to the Iraq war has been reframed to make it appear that the Bush administration's only stated rationale for going to war was that Iraq had acquired uranium from Niger is just wrong;

3) Suggesting that I did not critique the anti-war movement for being self-indulgent or solipsistic -- although I certainly critiqued the myriad elements of that movement.

I was looking at a bit of work here.

I realize, however, that James Joyner , John Cole and Will Baude have actually made these points for me.

So, I'm taking the afternoon off.

I will, however, make one additional suggestion. The power of the critique against Bush would be strengthened if it could be shown that a significant fraction of the American public -- as well as the legislative branch -- supported action against Iraq only because of the claim that Hussein's regime had an active nuclear weapons program.

UPDATE: Tom Maguire links to polls suggesting that the WMD question was salient in the run-up to the war. However, WMD includes chemical and biological weapons as well as nuclear weapons. Kevin Drum responds here -- and be sure to read the comments page. My personal favorite ends with: "Who is Dan Drezner, and why anyone should give his opinion a second thought? I mean, really. Anyone can set up a web log."

posted by Dan at 02:14 PM | Trackbacks (0)


David Adesnik's recent posts challenge the NYT's attempt -- intended or not -- to paint Iraq as a domestic and foreign policy fisco.

OxBlog. This post critiques the Times piece on the WMD debate at home; this post attacks the quagmire thesis (UPDATE: the last link is acting dodgy -- just go to their front page and scroll down to Sunday's posts). Go check them out.

posted by Dan at 11:40 AM | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, July 18, 2003

Prose envy

Tyler Cowen is correct to praise Michael Lewis' Moneyball as "one of the best books about management I have read." Actually, this is his third excellent business book that Lewis has penned. The first two were Liar's Poker -- which perfectly encapsulates millieu of the Wall Street boom of the late 1980's-- and The New New Thing -- which perfectly encapsulates the dot-com explosion in Silicon Valley in the late 1990's.

It is worth noting, however, that this week marks the one-year anniversary of what will probably be the bravest essay Lewis ever writes. Give it a read and be amazed at the the guts it must have taken to publish it.

posted by Dan at 01:59 PM | Trackbacks (0)

The official attack on Palestinian intellectuals

The mob assault on Palestinian political scientist Khalil Shikaki's center (see also here) has prompted some follow-up coverage on ways in which Palestinian intellectuals are threatened when they deviate from the Palestinian Authority's party line. The San Francisco Chronicle points out that Shikali is not the only Palestinian academic to feel the effects of the state-organized mob:

Years ago, [Al- Quds University president Sari] Nusseibeh was beaten up at Bir Zeit University for promoting dialogue with Israelis. Last year, he was dismissed as the PLO's representative in Jerusalem after he publicly questioned whether demanding the right of return was either logical or feasible.

The leaflet distributed in Ramallah on Sunday recalled how Nusseibeh was denied entry to the campus of Al-Najah University in Nablus two months ago and prevented from discussing a new Israeli-Palestinian peace initiative.

"We warn anyone who considers harming the national rights that their fate will be similar to that of Shikaki and Nusseibeh," said a statement by the group that organized the egg-throwing, the Committee for the Defense of Palestinian Refugees' Rights.

"They will be ostracized and put on popular trial," the statement continued.

"The committee salutes the masses who care about their rights and who do not allow mercenary academics to spread their poison among our people.

"The committee calls on the Palestinian prime minister not to be lenient on such people and to take a clear position opposing their activities and to put them on trial for high treason."

Read the whole piece to see the links between the Palestinian Authority and mob attacks. The article also points out that beyond the intellectual class, independent journalists are feeling the heat:

"People are often very cautious about expressing their political views, especially with regard to the government and sensitive issues," said Khaled Abu Toameh, an ex-PLO employee who is now an independent reporter and analyst. "Some writers and journalists have been punished by the Palestinian Authority for simply expressing their views. In one case, a group of intellectuals was imprisoned or beaten up by Palestinian Authority thugs for signing a petition calling for reforms."

Abu Toameh added: "There has been a slight improvement in recent years with more people speaking out openly in favor of reforms and against corruption, but you always have the feeling that you're being watched.

"It's not as bad as Syria or Saddam's Iraq, but it can be frightening. Palestinian journalists know that you don't mess around with sacred cows."

It is this kind of thuggery that makes Shikali's work so dangerous -- a fact that he and Arafat understand clearly. Shikali's follow-up interview in today's Chicago Tribune spells this out:

At his center this week, Shikaki shrugged off the incident.

"I'm just going to continue, and it's not going to disturb me at all," he said. "No one succeeded in silencing me in the past and they're not going to silence me now."

The source of the uproar, he said, was that his poll, conducted among 4,500 refugee families in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Jordan and Lebanon, for the first time "tapped into private opinion, not public opinion--what people are saying to themselves and not saying to their neighbors. A lot of people want it to remain private, not public."

It should also be pointed out that Nusseibeh is not backing down either. He is currently spearheading an extraordinary petition drive with prominent Israelis to promote an alternative path to peace. In the span of six weeks, this effort has already garnered 30,000 signatures in Israel and the occupied territories.

Israelis have criticized Palestinian intellectuals for not speaking truth to power. However, a small slice of Palestinian civil society has spoken truth to power, espousing nonviolence and negotiation as the proper tools of resistance, despite the overwhelming pressure these individuals must face to toe the party line.

Shikali and Nusseibeh demonstrate that there are Palestinian intellectuals who are willing to challenge official doctrine. One can only hope that in the future, such challenges do not require the ample amounts of bravery these men clearly possess.

UPDATE: Judith Weiss posts on the emerging opposition to the Arafat's disastrous economic policies. Go check it out.

posted by Dan at 12:08 PM | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, July 17, 2003

Stephen Johnson is not an academic

In a Slate essay pointing out systemic flaws in Google's search technology, Johnson -- who also blogs-- makes the following argument:

Google is beginning to have a subtle, but noticeable effect on research. More and more scholarly publications are putting up their issues in PDF format, which Google indexes as though they were traditional Web pages. But almost no one is publishing entire books online in PDF form. So, when you're doing research online, Google is implicitly pushing you toward information stored in articles and away from information stored in books. Assuming this practice continues, and assuming that Google continues to grow in influence, we may find ourselves in a world where, if you want to get an idea into circulation, you're better off publishing a PDF file on the Web than landing a book deal.

The problem with this argument is that it fails to recognize that this process predates Google -- or the Internet, for that matter.

Johnson sets this up as an either/or question -- online papers or books. In point of fact, for most academics this is a progression. First you circulate your ideas in draft form, then as a conference paper, then as an article, and then -- maybe -- publish a book. The book stage depends on the discipline -- for example, they matter far less in economics than in political science. However, this was true long before Google. The only thing the Internet and its search engines has changed is widening the access to papers at the preliminary stages of development. [But what about writers not affiliated with universities?--ed. I'd argue that the process is similar. Good writers/researchers often publish the germ of an idea in a magazine before deciding that it has enough legs to merit writing a book. Often, the author will publish excerpts from the book in magazines or journals. For example, Michael Lewis published an excerpt of Moneyball in the New York Times Magazine this March. This applies to fiction-writers as well.]

Furthermore, there are good reasons for the process to work this way. Getting an idea/argument out in draft form has two advantages to just writing a book without posting or publishing bits of it online. First, for the author, making the ideas available in draft form permits greater feedback, which in turn helps to improve the ideas. Second, for the community of people interested in the topic, finding such ideas as early as possible lets them stay on the cutting edge of the latest work on the subject (it certainly helps with bibliography-hunting).

Is Johnson correct that with Google, fewer people prefer to read a researcher's book-length treatment of the topic over the Internet-accessible, condensed version of the argument? I doubt it. Busy people look for shortcuts, and a big shortcut for scholars is to read an author's article instead of his/her book (unless the topic or argument really hits home). This was true long before the Internet or Google ever existed.

UPDATE: For another critique, click here and here. Johnson responds ably on his blog. He's all-too-correct in observing:

It's a sign of the times I suppose that a piece about search engine algorithms comes across as an incendiary, hot-button assault...

ANOTHER UPDATE: Larry Solum over at Legal Theory Blog has an extended discussion of the Internet's effect on legal research.

posted by Dan at 11:08 AM | Trackbacks (0)

Worth reading

David Adesnik's critique of the Washington Post's reporting on its own polls, and Colby Cosh's detailed dissection of Russia's role in making or breaking the Kyoto Protocol. Both links via InstaPundit.

posted by Dan at 10:35 AM | Trackbacks (0)

Let them eat subsidies

That's the title of my latest Tech Central Station piece. It's a report on how the EU's inability to seriously reform its Common Agricultural Policy is derailing world trade talks and impoverishing lots of poor farmers. Go check it out.

posted by Dan at 10:18 AM | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, July 16, 2003

Let them eat yellowcake

I understand why Josh Marshall, Kevin Drum, and others are so exercised about the "sixteen little words" meme. The uranium question -- and the blame game that has erupted along with it -- manages to undercut two pillars of strength for the Bush team. The first was the 2000 pledge to be straight-shooters, avoiding the waffling and legalese of the Clinton administration. The second was the notion that the wealth of gravitas in the foreign policy team would produce a well-oiled, professional foreign policy. Many people have hit the first pillar hard, which surprises me, because there are valid defenses to it. I'm waiting for the second one to come under attack.

My take on this, however, is akin to Tom Friedman's in today's NYT:

[I]t is a disturbing thought that the Bush team could get itself so tied up defending its phony reasons for going to war — the notion that Saddam possessed weapons of mass destruction that were undeterrable and could threaten us, or that he had links with Al Qaeda — that it could get distracted from fulfilling the real and valid reason for the war: to install a decent, tolerant, pluralistic, multireligious government in Iraq that would be the best answer and antidote to both Saddam and Osama....

Eyes on the prize, please. If we find W.M.D. in Iraq, but lose Iraq, Mr. Bush will not only go down as a failed president, but one who made the world even more dangerous for Americans. If we find no W.M.D., but build a better Iraq — one that proves that a multiethnic, multireligious Arab state can rule itself in a decent way — Mr. Bush will survive his hyping of the W.M.D. issue, and the world will be a more hospitable and safer place for all Americans.

Look, Frank Gaffney overreaches when he says this is pure partisanship. It's perfectly valid to question the policy process that led to the SOTU screw-up, and part of me is grateful that it's happening.

I can't get exercised about it, however. My reasons for supporting an attack on Iraq had little to do with the WMD issue. The uranium question was part of one rationale among many the administration gave for pushing forward in Iraq. I'm not saying this should be swept under the rug, but the level of righteous indignation that's building up on the left is reaching blowback proportions.

posted by Dan at 03:44 PM | Trackbacks (0)


ESPN's ESPY awards show -- which airs this evening -- is an exercise to fill airtime during one of the slowest sports days of the year, the day after Major League Baseball's All-Star Game. On the whole, it's a pretty silly event -- the only memory I have of it was Bill Murray doing a hysterical bit in the late 1990's about how Michael Jordan's career was complete now that he'd won an ESPY.

However, the event does has one authentic creation -- the Arthur Ashe Courage Award (click here to see the past winners). Last year's winners were the rugby players who battled the terrorists on United flight 93.

This year's winners will be Pat and Kevin Tillman. Here's why:

Since joining the Army following the 2001 World Trade Center disaster, the Tillmans have refused all media interviews -- a policy they still enforce. They will, however, be recognized in absentia on ESPN's 2003 ESPY Awards on July 19, when they will receive the Arthur Ashe Courage Award. Their younger brother, Richard, will accept on their behalf, according to their father.

"To tell you the truth, the boys are not too pleased about the ESPY thing," said the elder Tillman. "But I am. I'm very happy about it. I'm proud."...

Pat Tillman turned down a three-year, $3.6 million contract with the Arizona Cardinals to enlist in the Army in the wake of the terrorist attacks. Kevin gave up a minor league baseball career to join Pat.

Click here for more information on the Tillmans.

Not everyone, by the way, is pleased about this. Kevin Blackistone writes in the Dallas Morning News:

Arthur Ashe stood up for a lot of people and ideas in his lifetime. The oppressed. The afflicted. Human rights. Human dignity. But he never stood up for war. Bet he wouldn't be too thrilled about having the ESPY's Arthur Ashe Courage Award given to Pat Tillman for sacrificing his NFL career to join the U.S.'s offensive war in Iraq. That's not a part of Ashe's legacy.

I would never presume to speak for Ashe, but I suspect he would acknowledge that the oppressed and afflicted in Iraq have a better chance of seeing their human rights conditions improve with the toppling of the Baasthist regime.

posted by Dan at 11:26 AM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Drezner gets results from the Chicago Tribune!!

Two days ago I blogged about the attack on Palestinian political scientist Khalil Shikaki. Today, the Chicago Tribune has an editorial about it. The key section:

[T]he mob Sunday was not interested in polling techniques but in stifling an opinion--possibly a fact--that they didn't want to hear.

Shikaki's conclusions are not implausible. Israel was founded more than 50 years ago, and as practical a matter most Palestinians could well regard their return--to live in a Jewish state--it is no longer a realistic or appealing alternative. At this point, they may prefer financial compensation or relocation in a newly created Palestinian state or elsewhere.

If Shikaki's findings are confirmed by other researchers, they also may allay well-founded Israeli fears of the demographic cataclysm that would accompany millions of Palestinians returning to Israel.

In other words, there may be room for compromise as part of a comprehensive peace agreement. For Palestinians, the poll suggests, the "right of return" by now may be more of a symbol than a reality.

Certainly one poll doesn't defuse the issue, which has stymied negotiations in the past. If the current negotiations are to succeed, the "right of return" will be on the table at some point. How the Palestinian people feel about that issue could be crucial. Researchers like Shikaki should be encouraged, not intimidated by a gang of thugs.


posted by Dan at 10:18 AM | Trackbacks (0)

Quote of the day

Courtesy of Tyler Cowen, a semi-recent addition to the Volokh Conspiracy. In this post, he writes:

The bottom line is that I am probably as happy as Bill Gates, we are both married, I have my voodoo flags, my Mexican cooking, and now my blog. He has a world empire, so what?

posted by Dan at 10:10 AM | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, July 15, 2003

The Jose Bove follies

Back in November, I blogged about idiotarian José Bové being arrested for trying to destroy some genetically modified crop fields in France. Here's an update:

After being tried and convicted, Bové resisted government efforts to negotiate an appropriate sentencing -- such as community service. So, in late June, French police officers forcible entered Bové's home in what the BBC calls "a dawn commando-style operation" to serve a ten-month jail sentence.

Naturally this prompted protests in France -- calling for French President Jacques Chirac to commute his sentence on Bastille Day. Chirac did shorten Bové's sentence by four months -- but this failed to mollify Bové's supporters in the Confederation Paysanne, the militant union Bové heads.

So, they decided to sabotage the Tour de France, according to Reuters :

Demonstrators supporting jailed farmers' union leader Jose Bove stopped Tour de France leader Lance Armstrong in his tracks during the 136.4-mile 10th stage to Marseille on Tuesday.

The small group of protestors sat down in the middle of the road as the peloton approached, some 43 miles from the finish in Marseille.

Police moved in quickly to drag them out of the way and the bunch continued after a delay of two minutes.

An escape group of nine lowly placed riders had already built up a lead of around 20 minutes.

The BBC observes that this could trigger a backlash:

[C]orrespondents say the Tour de France protest may lose him public support because of the cost of precious time and points to riders in France's premier sporting event.

There's nothing left to say, except that:

a) This confirms my hunch that French farmers may be the world's exemplar iditotarians; and
b) Peloton is just a really cool word.

UPDATE: Glenn Reynolds links to a delicious irony unearthed by Merde in France -- MacDonald's nonprofit arm contributed to the renovations of the prison where Bové is currently incarcerated.

posted by Dan at 03:28 PM | Trackbacks (0)

Debating the regulation of annoyance

I'm quite certain that the sentence "Spammers and telemarketers comprise the lowest form of existence on the planet." would generate huzzahs across the developed world. Christopher Caldwell certainly feels that way about spam e-mail, and he's not alone. It's not too hard to find similar comments about telemarketing. These complaints are usually accompanied by the tagline "something must be done!"

In the case of telemarketing, something is being done. Congress passed and President Bush signed the Do-Not-Call Implementation Act -- which empowers the FCC to create a national "do not call registry" that would make it illegal for telemarketers to call your phone number -- with some exceptions. It would not be surprising to see a similar legislative effort to deal with spam.

In the interest of being completely contrarian, let me kindly suggest that legislative/regulatory efforts might not be the best way to deal with the problem. It's not that I like these activities -- it's that there are compelling arguments for relying on private measures to deal with these kinds of private interference. Mass annoyances generates demand for products to deal with them for minimal cost. This is one reason I'm enjoying my newly-installed Google toolbar so much -- 187 pop-up ads blocked and counting!! Arnold Kling points to multiple methods to filter out spam.

[But surely telemarketing merits regulation?--ed. Farhad Manjoo argues that the looming regulation carries significant costs, although her reliance on industry data suggests those cost estimates are exaggerated. Plus, even with telemarketers, services such as caller ID can bemore precise than the do-not-call registry. So this means you won't be using the do-not-call registry?--ed. Ummm... I didn't say that. Hypocrite--ed. No, just a mortal human demonstrating why the urge to regulate is strong, even if it's not the first-best solution to the problem]

posted by Dan at 02:11 PM | Trackbacks (0)

Meet the IMF's new economist-in-chief

Earlier this month, the International Monetary Fund announced that Raghuram Rajan -- the Joseph L. Gidwitz Professor of Finance at the U of C's business school -- will be replacing Kenneth Rogoff as the IMF's chief economist.

The BBC -- in typical fashion -- is painting this as a blow to the United States:

Raghuram Rajan is best known for a book he helped to write entitled: "Saving Capitalism from the Capitalists".

In this he argued that the world's business elite want to rig so-called free markets in their favour to make the rich richer and the poor poorer.

Such views will be warmly supported by developing countries who are the main recipients of IMF money and advice.

But they are unlikely to go down well with the United States government which is the most powerful voice on the executive board at the IMF.

Leave it to the BBC to eliminate any trace of nuance or background in their coverage. A closer look shows that Rajan probably agrees a lot more with American policymakers than BBC paleolibs when it comes to IMF policy. [What about other policies?--ed. Rajan opposes both the hike in steel tariffs and the removal of the estate tax. This makes him a friend to the BBC because that means opposing the Bush administration on high-profile issues.]

Click here, here, and here for some excellent recent interviews with Rajan. Some highlights that suggest the BBC is off its rocker:

Q: The recent protests the world over against the IMF, World Bank and the WTO have often accused these organisations, amongst many things, of a lack of transparency, and therefore being undemocratic. Do you think that is true?

A: See, here is the issue. The protestors against globalization are sometimes misguided because they are not quite clear on what they are protesting against. Some people, for example, are protesting against the fact that workers in India or China work for 10 to 13 hours a day. They are saying 'What terrible working conditions!' But you know what? Workers in India and China can compete with workers in the West who have far more capital and far more education only by working longer hours at lower pay.

If these workers were to ask for the same working conditions as workers here they would be out of a job very quickly. So until they can produce more or become more productive through a better education and better health care system, which will happen over time, they will have to compete by accepting lower wages.

So the issue of 'Oh, this globalization is forcing those workers to work in terrible conditions.' No, this is not globalization. If you force them to have the same pay, it's a form of protectionism. You are essentially shutting them out of the world market. These workers in India and China, who are able to compete in the world market, are able to thereby achieve a much better standard of living.

This argument is not just made of workers. It is made of software workers, right? 'Oh, these Indian software workers coming and working 60, 70 hours at half the wage that we earn. It is unfair, they should be kept out', etc. This is plain and pure protectionism.

Similarly, there are arguments made about multinationals destroying countries and so on. There's always a grain of truth in these arguments. But if you play them all out -- what they are suggesting is often complete nonsense.

Q: There has also been criticism of the structural adjustment policy that the IMF has traditionally pursued. Where do you stand on that?

A: I don't want to get into that argument because I don't know what exactly was behind it. I do know that the IMF in some documents has admitted that it was probably overly aggressive in asking for expenditure cuts. Soon when they saw this was having a very adverse effect they retreated and had more reasonable targets.

I am not saying -- and I don't want to say -- that these organizations are beyond criticism. There are valid criticisms of their actions in the past. What is important going around is: Are the organizations prepared to adapt and change? Are they trying to do things in the best interests of the people of the member countries or they basically trying to infuse a quasi-imperial diktat from the past? The evidence and my impression is certainly of the former than the latter. (emphasis added).

Go to the links above to read more on Rajan's views, as well as this precis of his latest book (co-authored Luigi Zingales).

Brink Lindsey, by the way, provides this review of : "Wide-ranging, idea-crammed case for free financial markets and analysis of why they seldom exist."

Fierce opposition to protectionism of any kind, combined with the conviction that globally integrated financial markets are the best way to help both poor countries and poor individuals, make Rajan an excellent selection to replace Ken Rogoff. The BBC's coverage of this replacement suggests just how one-dimensional their reporting has become.

posted by Dan at 11:37 AM | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, July 14, 2003

Two takes on blogs

Kathleen Parker takes to the Blogosphere:

I'm not an expert on blogging, but I am a fan. As a regular visitor to a dozen or so news and opinion blogs, I'm riveted by the implications for my profession. Bloggers are making life interesting for reluctant mainstreamers like myself and for the public, whose access to information until now has been relatively controlled by traditional media.

I say "reluctant mainstreamer" because what I once loved about journalism went missing some time ago and seems to have resurfaced as the driving force of the blogosphere: a high-spirited, irreverent, swashbuckling, lances-to-the-ready assault on the status quo. While mainstream journalists are tucked inside their newsroom cubicles deciphering management's latest "tidy desk" memo, bloggers are building bonfires and handing out virtual leaflets along America's Information Highway....

The best bloggers, who are generous in linking to one another -- alien behavior to journalists accustomed to careerist, shark-tank newsrooms -- are like smart, hip gunslingers come to make trouble for the local good ol' boys. The heat they pack includes an arsenal of intellectual artillery, crisp prose, sharp insights and a gimlet eye for mainstream media's flaws.

Fareed Zakaria's perspective is similar, if the language is less laudatory. From p. 254 of The Future of Freedom:

In the world of journalism, the personal Web site ("blog") was hailed as the killer of the traditional media. In fact it has become something quite different. Far from replacing newspapers and magazines, the best blogs -- and the best are very clever -- have become guides to them, pointing to unusual sources and commenting on familiar ones. They have become the new mediators for the informed public. Although the creators of blogs think of themselves as radical democrats, they are in fact a new Tocquevillean elite.

This strikes me as essentially correct. Most blogs, most of the time, do not generate news -- and it's not always a good thing when they claim to have new info. What most blogs excel at is the sifting, sorting, and framing of information that's already in the public domain.

The best blogs do this with rigor, wit, and alacrity. The rest of us just use long quotes as a substitute.

posted by Dan at 04:55 PM | Trackbacks (0)

New York Times update

Bill Keller has been named the new executive editor of the New York Times. I saw Keller for the first time last month at a Council on Foreign Relations event, and I'll say this -- if the executive editor gig doesn't work out, Keller has a bright future replacing Bill Maher on HBOs schedule. Keller is both funnier and smarter than Maher [Not that impressive a compliment--ed. I meant well].

Meanwhile, Howell Raines has apparently decided on a Shermanesque approach in departing from the Times -- burning every bridge possible. For more on this, go to the Times story linked above, as well as Andrew Sullivan, Mickey Kaus, and Mnoosweek.

posted by Dan at 04:30 PM | Trackbacks (0)

The good news and bad news about Palestinian political science

The good news is that -- in contrast to many of its neighbors -- there exist Palestinian political scientists independent of the state and contributing to the stock of useful knowledge about the region. For an example, click here.

The bad news is, good political science is vulnerable to the rule of the mob, as this New York Times story makes clear:

A mob attacked an eminent Palestinian political scientist today as he prepared to announce a striking finding from a regionwide survey of Palestinian refugees: Only a small minority of them exercise a "right of return" to Israel as part of a peace agreement.

The political scientist, Dr. Khalil Shikaki, the director of the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research here, had intended today to discuss for the Arabic-language press the tensions and complexities of Palestinian society. Instead, struck, shoved and pelted with eggs but not seriously injured, he wound up starkly illustrating them....

The rioters marched from Dr. Shikaki's office to Mr. Arafat's compound a few blocks away, where he received them, Palestinians here said. It was not clear if Mr. Arafat knew what they had done. (emphasis added)

Click here for the Voice of America report, which makes it clear that the idiotarians who ransacked the center don't seem to realize that the poll results suggest that the right of return issue is tractable rather than intractable.

Well, so long as this kind of behavior is not condoned by the public authorities, then -- oh, wait.

posted by Dan at 02:28 PM | Trackbacks (0)

Uganda, Botswana, and AIDS, redux

This Financial Times article reinforces what I said last week about Uganda and Botswana being exemplars for the rest of Africa. The key grafs:

Only two African countries have over the past three years taken up an offer by a German pharmaceuticals company to make free donations of an important Aids prevention drug to poor countries.

Boehringer Ingelheim said that only Uganda and Botswana had taken delivery of supplies of nevirapine, the drug it offers free for use in preventing mothers from infecting their babies with HIV/Aids....

The company said that 44 countries were now taking part in the initiative and that it was working with a number of non-governmental organisations in Africa, but only two national governments in the region were involved. Four South African provinces had also applied for donations.

"We are not at all satisfied with how it is running," said Rolf Krebs, chairman of the private German company. "It is very frustrating."

Heavy customs charges, poor logistics and lack of the necessary healthcare infrastructure were some of the reasons why many African countries had not taken part in the programme, he said....

Nevirapine was the subject of a bitter political battle in South Africa where the constitutional court last year ordered the government to make it available to HIV-positive pregnant women following legal action taken by Aids activists.

That last graf is just devastating.

The FT article jibes with what Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist emphasized as necessary for fighting AIDS in Africa in a speech he gave last month at the Council on Foreign Relations:

The U.S. Leadership Against HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria Act of 2003 will provide $15 billion over five years to combat these global diseases. Equally important, it links for the first time the concepts of prevention, care, and treatment into a single comprehensive policy.

Remember ... this little virus was unknown in this country just 22 years ago when I was a surgical resident at Massachusetts General Hospital. Since then it has killed 23 million people.

Through this simple effort, 7 million new infections will be prevented. 2 million people will be treated. And 10 million HIV-infected individuals and AIDS orphans will be cared for.

But just as essential as the money, this law will build a new, robust infrastructure -- to better communicate with health workers, to educate, and to establish delivery systems.

And this infrastructure will serve as the foundation upon which a whole host of other medical and public health issues will be addressed for decades to come.

It's all about the infrastructure.

posted by Dan at 02:03 PM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

And the crowd goes wild!!!

The blog just topped the 300,000-hit mark. Thanks to one and all for reading!

posted by Dan at 11:30 AM | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, July 11, 2003

Pat Robertson acting like a foreign policy jackass -- again.

Michael Totten and David Adesnik have already commented on this, but it's worth going into more detail.

Televangelist Pat Robertson's most notable contribution to the foreign policy debate since 9/11 was to say that Muslims were worse than Nazis, so we shouldn't expect much of use to come from his lips.

However, he's hit a new low -- defending Liberia's Charles Taylor. Here's a sample of what he's said on the subject (click here for more):

July 7: We have given money to a Muslim country, Guinea, and the rebels who are coming against Taylor are Muslims, and the fighting in Africa that's taking place right now is an example of the Muslims trying to overrun the Christian countries, and they're being funded out of Saudi Arabia. A huge amount of money is now going into what's now called the Democratic Republic of Congo to overturn and undermine. Same thing is happening in Ivory Coast.

It's country after country, but the State Department doesn't wake up, they don't understand what the game is, and consequently they make bad decisions. So we're undermining a Christian, Baptist president to bring in Muslim rebels to take over the country.

July 9: Ladies and gentlemen, I would remind the senators that we sent our troops to Kosovo to back up a Muslim group over there, to help them against the Christian Serbs. In this case, we're looking at Muslim rebels trying to overthrow a Christian nation.

Charles Taylor may be a Baptist, but he's also an indicted war criminal whose primary hobbies over the past decade were exporting war to the rest of West Africa and cooperating with Al Qaeda (link via Radley Balko). As Ryan Lizza observes in The New Republic:

Name the following despot: In 1991, he invaded a neighboring country, where his men committed wholesale looting and massive atrocities. In 1998, he personally met with a senior Al Qaeda operative now listed as one of the FBI's 25 "Most Wanted" terrorists. He is the single greatest threat to the stability of one of the most important oil-producing regions in the world. Saddam Hussein? No, Charles Taylor of Liberia.

What makes Robertson's advocacy for Taylor even more galling is his financial dealings with Taylor. According to Christianity Today:

In 1998, Robertson formed a $15 million company, Freedom Gold Limited, to look for gold in Liberia. In 1999, the company signed an agreement with the government of Liberia to begin gold-mining operations....

In a letter to the editor [in the Washington Post], Robertson denied that the Liberian government owned part of the company....

[Freedom Gold's manager James] Mathews acknowledged that the Liberian government will receive 10 percent of Freedom Gold's stock when the company goes public.

Mother Jones has the story as well.

The one potential upside to all of this is that Robertson has become so toxic that the evangelical community has started to distance themselves from him [UPDATE: some social conservatives have already distanced themselves from Robertson]. According to today's Post:

Other Baptist and evangelical Christian leaders said they do not share either Robertson's support for Taylor or his criticism of President Bush's call for the Liberian leader to go into exile. "I would say that Pat Robertson is way out on his own, in a leaking life raft, on this one," said Richard Land, head of the Southern Baptist Convention's public policy arm.

Allen Hertzke, a professor of political science at the University of Oklahoma and the author of a forthcoming book on evangelicals and human rights, said many religious conservatives "will be horrified" by Robertson's stance. "His comments really feed into the media critique of Christian conservatives, that they are not sophisticated, they don't care about others, all they care about are Christians around the world -- when in fact that is a caricature of the faith-based human rights movement," Hertzke said.

In his broadcasts, Robertson has portrayed the Liberian civil war as primarily a fight between Christians and Muslims. Serge Duss, director of public policy for the international Christian relief group World Vision, called that a gross oversimplification.

World Vision and other Christian organizations lobbied successfully this year for legislation banning the importation into the United States of diamonds from war-torn African countries. Taylor has been indicted by a United Nations-established tribunal for allegedly backing militias -- funded largely by the sale of diamonds -- that raped and maimed civilians during the civil war in neighboring Sierra Leone.

Is the country finally at the point when Pat Robertson can just be ignored?

posted by Dan at 05:15 PM | Trackbacks (1)

John B. Judis, Meet Leon Trotsky

In Salon today, John Judis argues that Howard Dean would get mauled if he became the Democratic nominee:

To put it in regional terms: Dean, a culturally libertarian New Englander who opposed the war, could virtually forget about winning any Southern or border states. Southerners are willing to support a Southern Democrat like Clinton with whom they can identify, but they will not vote for a Dukakis or Dean. Dean would not simply get trounced in the South: His candidacy would allow Bush to take the entire South for granted and move all his resources into states like Michigan and Pennsylvania that the Democrats have to win. In the end, Dean would be lucky to hold on to Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York, D.C., Maryland, Illinois, Minnesota, California, Oregon, and Washington.

Wouldn't the other candidates do just as poorly? If Bush's popularity remains high, they might also be trounced. If, however, the economy continues to falter, and if Americans become skeptical about the benefits of the invasion and occupation of Iraq, a Democrat could defeat Bush -- though only if the election pivots on Bush's successes and failures and not on the qualifications of his Democratic opponent. The Democrats would be much better off in that case with a blander, more faceless, less exciting Kerry, Gephardt or even Lieberman (perhaps with Edwards, Florida Sen. Bob Graham, or retired Gen. Wesley Clark as running mate) than they would be with a fiery, controversial Dean.

Is Judis correct? Possibly, but that's not what interests me. What's puzzling about the essay is that Judis argued last year, in The Emerging Democratic Majority with Ruy Teixeira, that over the next decade the same demographic groups that are pushing Dean forward will make the Democrats the majority party (click here for their web site)

How does Judis reconciles this argument with what he says about Dean in Salon? Frankly, it's not clear to me that he does. Here's the key graf on this:

As the proportion of professionals in the workforce grows -- driven by the transition from an industrial to a postindustrial capitalism -- a candidate like Dean may eventually command a majority of the national electorate. Positions that now seem maverick -- like Dean's support for civil unions -- will eventually become mainstream, as women's rights and support for environmental protection have become. If Dean himself can gather a modicum of support from blue-collar and minority Democrats, he might even be able to win the Democratic nomination for president and face George W. Bush in the general election. The Democratic field this year is pretty mediocre. But if that does happen, it could lead to a long and unhappy fall for Democrats. Some of the factors that make Dean attractive to Democrats will not endear him to independent and Republican voters.

The implicit argument seems to be that the emerging Democratic majority is still emerging, and until that happens, someone of Dean's ilk will fare poorly in a national election. Wait until 2008, or 2012, and things will be different.

Maybe that's a correct assessment (although David Brooks makes a different demographic prediction). However, I kept flashing back to what one of Trotsky's biographers once said: "Proof of Trotsky's farsightedness is that none of his predictions have come true yet."

posted by Dan at 11:54 AM | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, July 10, 2003

How Africa can help itself, cont'd

Yankee Blog, responding to my Botswana post of yesterday, points out the following:

[M]ore than any kind of developement, their [Botswana's] wealth is due largely to the presence of some large diamond mines. While the country has not fallen into such unrest that even diamond mining is not productive, it is still difficult to see Botswana as a model for the rest of Africa. Botswana has one of the highest HIV rates, a life expectancy at birth of around 35 years, and unemployment somewhere between 20 and 40%. I doubt this is a great model for showing what happens when Africa is able to help itself.

Two responses.

First, Botswana's ample natural endowments make it an excellent model for much of sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East. The problem with these countries is not a lack of resource endowments, but the ability to exploit them in a way that leads to sustainable economic growth.

Second, the point about AIDS (which Virginia Postrel also made in an e-mail) is dead-on, as this CNN report suggests. The model African nation on this front is Uganda. The national AIDS commission has their own web site; according to this page, the percentage of the population infected with HIV has declined from 18% in the early 1990s to 6.5% in the end of 2001.

However, economic freedom plays an interesting role here as well. Click here for a very revealing CNN interview with Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni. One highlight:

Q: Why should people in Uganda pay for the R&D costs?

A: But ...why should they not? You see if they don't, you are really being naive, idealistic. These people are business people. They are in business because they make profits. First, they recover what they put into the development, and then they make a profit. How can you reasonably argue with them to produce these drugs at a loss to themselves? This is not common sense.

Then there's this quote from a speech Museveni gave last month to the U.S. pharamceutical lobby:

[The] real solution to the defeat of the pandemic lies in economic development and trade. In Africa, we have a terrain in which HIV, malaria, TB and other infections thrive to a degree nowadays unthinkable in Europe and the U.S. The common thread is poverty. For poverty creates an environment, physical as well as social, highly favorable to disease.

So, even as we mobilize our people to change their behavior to protect themselves against HIV, we have to promote broad-based economic growth that will lead to improvement in living conditions and levels of education. The surest path to that kind of growth is trade and investment


posted by Dan at 09:55 AM | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, July 9, 2003

Iran round-up

Alas, I was too busy with other things to post on Iran. Fortunately, the rest of the blogosphere is on the job.

For more info on the cancellation of Iranian student protests in Tehran today -- but not elsewhere -- go to Jeff Jarvis, Winds of Change, Oxblog, Andrew Sullivan, Glenn Reynolds, James Lileks, Kevin Drum, and all of Pejman Yousefzadeh's posts for today.

posted by Dan at 04:50 PM | Trackbacks (0)

I'm only posting this for educational purposes

Kevin Drum posts about the net-savviness of the Democratic contenders for president. He first links to this story, which observes:

How popular on the Internet is [Howard] Dean these days? More popular than Madonna, Dr. Phil, or Alyssa Milano.

To which Kevin responds:

Hmmm, is that the best they could do? I mean, at least I've heard of Madonna and Dr. Phil, but who's Alyssa Milano? (emphasis added)

In the interest of general edification, I fear I have no choice but to link to various informative sites about Alyssa Milano here, here, here, here, and here.

My hands were tied here, people.

UPDATE: One reader e-mails, "Wow, great stuff on Alyssa Milano, but who's Howard Dean?" Heh.

posted by Dan at 04:40 PM | Trackbacks (0)

How Africa can help itself

Given the spate of recent coverage about Africa's political, economic, and humanitarian woes, it's worth pointing out Botswana as a clear success story. Canada's Fraser Institute just released its 2003 annual report on economic freedom of the world. In their press release, they point out the following:

The least economically free nations tend to be clustered in the Middle East, Latin America and Africa. "But, even here exceptions show the power of economic freedom," says McMahon.

"Botswana has long had significantly higher levels of economic freedom than other sub-Saharan African nations and this is demonstrated by how much better off the people of Botswana have become compared to the citizens of other African nations," he explains.

In 1970, Botswana's per capital GDP was US$590, less than the sub-Saharan average of US$609. After three decades of relatively high economic freedom, Botswana's per capita GDP rose to US$3,950 while in the rest of Africa, where economic freedom levels were dismal, per capita GDP shrunk to US$564.

In the 2003 report, Botswana has the 26th highest level of economic freedom, tied with eight other nations including Japan and Norway.

Foreign aid and preferential trade agreements can help African countries, but only if they also help themselves.

posted by Dan at 03:21 PM | Trackbacks (0)

Good news in Afghanistan

I've been pessimistic about the state of affairs in Afghanistan, so I'm happy to highlight more positive news. Glenn Reynolds links to this USA Today story indicating optimism among Afghans regarding the current state of affairs in the country.

And this VOA story strongly suggests that Afghans do not want to see a return to Taliban rule. Ransacking an embassy is over the top, but it does indicate the salience of this issue to ordinary residents of Kabul.

posted by Dan at 12:50 PM | Trackbacks (0)

Peacekeeping Institute to stay open

In April I blogged about the Army's dubious cost-cutting decision to shut down the Peacekeeping Institute at the U.S. Army War College.

Looks like the Bush administration has changed its mind:

With guerrilla-style attacks escalating against U.S. occupying forces in Iraq, the Pentagon said yesterday it has put off plans to close the military's only institution devoted to the study of peacekeeping.

The Pentagon had decided to shut the Peacekeeping Institute at the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, Pa., on Oct. 1 as part of a money-saving initiative.

The move was viewed as a sign of the Bush administration's lack of interest in peacekeeping duties and drew widespread criticism because of the war in Iraq and the intensifying resistance to the U.S. occupation.

"We've put on hold the earlier decision to close the Peacekeeping Institute, and we're in the process of reviewing its charter based on the operational environment right now," Pentagon spokeswoman Alison Bettencourt said.

"Obviously, there's Iraq. We also have forces in Afghanistan and the Balkans," she added. "Stability and support operations are increasingly important."

Congrats to the administration for moving down the learning curve on this one.

posted by Dan at 12:32 PM | Trackbacks (0)

Democrats and foreign policy

Looking for links on my Dean essay in TNR Online? Here goes.

My previous blog post about Dean and Kerry is here . Dean's June 25th foreign policy speech (which Will Saletan savaged in this Slate article) is available on his official web site; his June 23rd speech officially kicking off his presidential campaign. comes from the official blog. The quote about free trade hollowing out America's manufacturing sector comes from this site. Here is Dean's Meet the Press transcript.

My appraisal of the other Democratic foreign policy platforms can be found here. The relevant Foreign Policy issue is here, as is a link for further reading on the positions of Kerry, Gephardt, Edwards, and Lieberman. And, for good measure, here's a link to the Democrats for National Security web site, about which I blogged here and here.

The point that Dean makes about how the U.S. should act if it's a declining world hegemon has been made in the academy by Joseph Nye in The Paradox of American Power and John Ikenberry in After Victory.

Finally, my explanation for why Dean is wrong about the race to the bottom in the global economy is available here.

One final Dean link; this J.P. Gownder essay from Sunday's Washington Post suggests that Dean's Internet strategy isn't as revolutionary as people believe:

[H]ad helped Dean reach new constituencies, such as African Americans, other ethnic communities, working class people, non-liberals? Not based on what I saw. Without the Internet, it was likely that Dean would find support among affluent, white, liberal professionals. With the Internet, he attracted affluent, white, liberal professionals who spent a lot of time online. was just a continuation of politics by other means.

On Wednesday night, I attended another of Dean's meetings, this one at Boston Beer Works near Fenway Park. The crowd of 55 people was about the same, although a bit younger: No blacks, mostly men, another laid off dot-com employee, another laptop-generated video.

posted by Dan at 12:14 PM | Trackbacks (0)

Taking Howard Dean seriously

My latest TNR essay is up -- it's a sober appraisal of Howard Dean's foreign policy views. Go check it out.

posted by Dan at 11:47 AM | Trackbacks (0)

Volokh and Baker

Eugene Volokh responds to the Dusty Baker question here, here, here, and here. The gist of Volokh's point is that, a) Baker may well be correct in his generalization, in which case he shouldn't need to apologize, and b) Even if he is wrong, there was no malicious intent in Baker's words: "they don't sound mean-spirited or insulting, and Baker gave no indication that he was going to act illegally based on those stereotypes." Read all of his posts for more on this.

Like Eugene, I have no clue whether Baker's generalization is factually correct, but my suspicion is that it is not (it certainly depends on the definition of "white."), which was my problem with the comment.

Another concern of mine -- and I'm walking right into Volokh's area of expertise on this -- is the slippery slope question. Eugene distinguishes between generalizations of physical conditions ("blacks perform better in baseball in hot weather") and those of moral character ("blacks are less coachable athletes"). The latter are examples of bad manners; the former are not.

Part of me wants to agree with him on this, because to disagree means applying a moral censure over a wider swath of conversations about race. Conversations about race in this country are circumscribed enough as it is, so I'm very uneasy with suggesting further constraints.

Volokh admits, however, that the physical/character dichotomy is "a subtle difference and one of degree," and "speculations about morals and ethics involve many more vague lines, subtle differences of degree , and unprovable propositions about human nature than even speculations about law do." Under Volokh's criteria, for example, is it permissible for a coach to make comments distinguishing between the races on a combination of physical and character issues, i.e., "Blacks do worse in pressure situations because their bodies generate excessive amounts of adrenaline under stress relative to whites?" I want the dividing line to be as clear as Eugene, but I'm pessimistic that it really is this distinct.

I don't think Baker should be penalized or punished for what he said. I agree with Eugene that this is a case of bad manners rather than anything more serious. But I still think he should apologize.

UPDATE: Eugene Volokh responds to my response. Robert Tagorda also weighs in.

posted by Dan at 11:45 AM | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, July 8, 2003

Can Dusty Baker take the heat?

Dusty Baker -- the current manager of the Chicago Cubs -- was quoted making the following observation this past Saturday:

Personally, I like to play in the heat," he said. "It's easier for me. It's easier for most Latin guys and easier for most minority people.

"You don't find too many brothers in New Hampshire and Maine and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, right? We were brought over here for the heat, right? Isn't that history? Weren't we brought over because we could take the heat?

"Your skin color is more conducive to the heat than it is to the light-skinned people, right? You don't see brothers running around burnt and stuff ... running around with white stuff on their ears and nose and stuff."

Now there's a minor furor over the issue, as this USA Today story recounts. Some key grafs:

Chicago Cubs manager Dusty Baker, dismissing suggestions he made a racist assertion when speaking with reporters about day baseball, stands by his comments that black and Hispanic players are better suited to playing in the sun and heat than white players....

Harry Edwards, a sports sociologist who served on the faculty at the University of California-Berkeley for 30 years, called the comments "unfortunate and not totally informed" but said they weren't malicious....

"If a white manager made those statements, there's no question he would find himself in a group that includes Al Campanis and Jimmy 'The Greek' Snyder," Edwards said.

Baker, one of four African-Americans among seven minority managers in the major leagues, agrees. "But as a black manager, I can say things about blacks that a white manager can't say, and whites can say things about whites that blacks can't say."

Now, the problem I have with this is that Baker is not saying things only about blacks. He's making a comparative statement about different races -- blacks and Latinos are better at tolerating the heat than whites. There is no difference between the content of what Baker said and the content of what CBS Sports analyst Jimmy "The Greek" Snyder said fifteen years ago when he argued that blacks were better athletes because of the way they were bred as slaves. Snyder recanted; Baker is standing firm.

Should Baker apologize for making such uninformed and stereotypical remarks? Yes, he should.

UPDATE: Two e-mails worthy of note. The first from reader J.G.:

There's a great difference
between saying "eugenical breeding during slavery made blacks more athletic" and saying "people of African origin, because of the greater amount of melanin in their skin, can better cope with heat and the sun. In fact, Africans evolved with dark skin as a defense against the climate of their long-ago ancestors."

The second from reader J.B.:

Dusty Baker should first apologize for selecting for the All-Star Game a pitcher with an ERA exceeding 6. If he really thinks that saves constitute a meaningful statistic, given prevailing pitcher usage patterns and the rules governing saves, then someone should buy him a copy of Michael Lewis's Moneyball, along with all those old copies of Bill James's ground-breaking abstracts.

posted by Dan at 05:38 PM | Trackbacks (0)

The 2003 Human Development Report

The Human Development Report 2003 will be released this week by the UN Development Program. The Financial Times provides a summary. The key grafs:

At the current pace of change sub-Saharan Africa will not attain international poverty reduction goals until the year 2147, more than a century later than hoped, the United Nations Development Programme's annual Human Development Report warned on Tuesday....

While substantial progress in China and India during the 1990s meant worldwide poverty reduction targets could be achieved, "a very significant hardcore of countries ended further behind (after the 90s)," says Mark Malloch Brown, the UNDP's head. Fifty-four countries (many from Africa and the former Soviet bloc) grew poorer, and 21 saw a decline in their human development indicators, such as life expectancy and education.

The report calls for renewed attention to this group of often small and landlocked nations, which are "perilously off track", and says rich countries must make a much more serious commitment to achieving the eight 'Millennium Development Goals', agreed in September 2000. They include halving extreme poverty by 2015, and creating of a "non-discriminatory trading and financial system".

At present, says UNDP, the EU's cash subsidy to each dairy cow exceeds its total per capita aid to the region, while US subsidies to cotton growers more than triple US government aid to sub-Saharan Africa. "Unless rich countries keep their pledges to deliver financing for development, the goals will not be met," it says.

Powerful stuff, somewhat vitiated by the UNDP's atrocious track record in statistical methodology. [How does that matter?--ed. I'm glad you asked.]

As recently as last year, the Human Development Report used currency market exchange rates, rather than purchasing power parity (PPP) exchange rates, to measure income disparities across nations. There is a consensus among economists that PPP exchange rates are far more accurate at converting income across countries (long story short, PPP rates cover nontradeable services better). Market exchange rates drastically understate the size of developing country economies.

By using market exchange rates, the Human Development Report concluded that global income inequality was vastly increasing. In committing this methodological sin, the UNDP provided prestigious but factually incorrect ammunition for anti-globalization activists. One could go even further to argue that in muddying up the clear positive correlation between globalization and reductions in global income inequality, the UNDP set back the development debate by half a decade.

This screw-up eventually led to the creation of a UN commission to study such gross statistical whoppers, but as of last year, no change in their calculation of income inequality.

According to their web site, Jeffrey Sachs is guest editor of this year's HDR. The general consensus is that Sachs is not an idiot, and this note suggests that the 2003 report should be an improvement over its predecessors.

posted by Dan at 05:07 PM | Trackbacks (0)

Showdown in the occupied territories

Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas is threatening to resign unless given more latitude in his negotiations with Israel, according to the AP:

Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas threatened to quit as premier and resigned from a key body of Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement Tuesday, reflecting turmoil within the Palestinian leadership over negotiations with Israel....

Abbas has been facing strong pressure within his Fatah movement to adopt a tough line on the prisoner releases. In a letter to Arafat, he said he would step down as premier unless he gets clear instructions from Fatah over how to handle contacts with Israel....

Palestinian leaders proposed Monday that Abbas and security chief Mohammed Dahlan meet with Israeli Knesset members to help press Palestinian demands for a prisoner release. The meeting has yet to be scheduled.

Israel holds an estimated 7,000 Palestinian prisoners -- an issue that threatens to become a major crisis between the sides -- and this week Sharon's Cabinet decided to free perhaps 5 percent of them. Israel thought the planned prisoner release would strengthen Abbas' position. But top Palestinian officials say its limited scope could weaken Abbas by making him look ineffectual.

This will be an interesting test for the Palestinian leadership. Abbas' primary lever of power is that the Americans and Israelis will actually negotiate with him. The question is whether losing that link is costly enough to force the rest of Fatah to back down.

posted by Dan at 03:12 PM | Trackbacks (0)

New blog of note

NEW BLOG OF NOTE: A month ago I posted some recommendations for left-of-center bloggers as possible prospects for the left-of-center New York Times op-ed page.

Looks like some of them have decided not to wait, and are forming their own group blog instead, Crooked Timber. I heartily recommend it -- although Chris Bertram's description of the group effort is a bit over the top:

Crooked Timber is a cabal of philosophers, politicians manque, would-be journalists, sociologues, financial gurus, dilletantes and flaneurs who have assembled to bring you the benefit of their practical and theoretical wisdom on matters historical, literary, political, philosophical, economic, sociological, cultural, sporting, artistic, cinematic, musical, operatic, comedic, tragic, poetic, televisual &c &c, all from perspectives somewhere between Guy Debord, Henry George and Dr Stephen Maturin.

posted by Dan at 10:30 AM | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, July 7, 2003

Virginia Postrel wants to steal the blogosphere's bread and butter

In this post on the disturbing tendency of commentators to escalate the rhetorical arms race as a way of capturing attention, Postrel concludes:

There is only one (partial) solution to this "impoverish[ment] of our political discourse." Just say no to reviews of and columns on stupid books. Discuss something more interesting. Easy advice to give. Hard to follow.

No kidding. What percentage of blogposts are denunciations of some blowhard on the political extremes?

Postrel's motivation for the post comes from this Andrew Sullivan comment on Ann Coulter:

In the ever-competitive marketplace of political ideas - in a world of blogs and talk radio and cable news - it's increasingly hard to stand out. Coulter's answer to that dilemma is two-fold: look amazing and ratchet up the rhetoric against the left until it has the subtlety and nuance of a car alarm. The left, in turn, has learned the lesson, which is why the fraud and dissembler, Michael Moore, has done so well.

It's worth pointing out that John Stuart Mill anticipated this problem in On Liberty, but believed it to be the lesser evil:

I do not pretend that the most unlimited use of the freedom of enunciating all possible opinions would put an end to the evils of religious or philosophical sectarianism. Every truth which men of narrow capacity are in earnest about, is sure to be asserted, inculcated, and in many ways even acted on, as if no other truth existed in the world, or at all events none that could limit or qualify the first. I acknowledge that the tendency of all opinions to become sectarian is not cured by the freest discussion, but is often heightened and exacerbated thereby; the truth which ought to have been, but was not, seen, being rejected all the more violently because proclaimed by persons regarded as opponents. But it is not on the impassioned partisan, it is on the calmer and more disinterested bystander, that this collision of opinions works its salutary effect. Not the violent conflict between parts of the truth, but the quiet suppression of half of it, is the formidable evil; there is always hope when people are forced to listen to both sides; it is when they attend only to one that errors harden into prejudices, and truth itself ceases to have the effect of truth, by being exaggerated into falsehood.


posted by Dan at 10:45 AM | Trackbacks (0)

Explaining Bush's dare

\David Warren ventures an explanation for Bush's dare to Iraqi guerillas. The key grafs:

They [Bush critics] notice that the U.S. forces in Iraq have become a new magnet for regional terrorist activity. They assume this demonstrates the foolishness of President Bush's decision to invade.

It more likely demonstrates the opposite. While engaged in the very difficult business of building a democracy in Iraq -- the first democracy, should it succeed, in the entire history of the Arabs -- President Bush has also, quite consciously to my information, created a new playground for the enemy, away from Israel, and even farther away from the United States itself. By the very act of proving this lower ground, he drains terrorist resources from other swamps.

This is the meaning of Mr. Bush's "bring 'em on" taunt from the Roosevelt Room on Wednesday, when he was quizzed about the "growing threat to U.S. forces" on the ground in Iraq. It should have been obvious that no U.S. President actually relishes having his soldiers take casualties. What the media, and U.S. Democrats affect not to grasp, is that the soldiers are now replacing targets that otherwise would be provided by defenceless civilians, both in Iraq and at large.

It's an interesting rationale, slightly tarnished by the fact that Warren is factually incorrect in stating that Iraq would be the first Arab democracy. The scholarly consensus is that Lebanon was a functioning democracy prior to the outbreak of civil war.

posted by Dan at 10:26 AM | Trackbacks (0)

The manpower crunch

That's the conclusion of Frederick Kagan, a military historian writing in the pages of the Weekly Standard (link via OxBlog). The key section:

We have already seen how chaos and civil war in Afghanistan in the 1990s provided the breeding ground for terrorists and a haven for the bases where they trained. If U.S. forces are reduced or withdrawn too soon, similar conditions in Iraq will nurture the al Qaeda operatives of the future. The U.S.-led attack could end up bringing about the very threat that prompted it in the first place--the proliferation of Iraqi weapons to terrorist organizations--if we do not finish what we have begun by establishing a stable and peaceful regime in Iraq.

This will not be accomplished, however, without the prolonged deployment of significant numbers of American ground forces. Smart weapons cannot keep peace. They cannot get schools and hospitals running, or keep electricity and water flowing, or keep hostile neighbors from attacking one another, or provide a police presence to deter looters and criminals, or hunt down and capture individual terrorists, interrogate them, and learn from them the nature of the organizations to which they belong, or find traces of a WMD program hidden carefully in a country the size of California. Only soldiers and marines can accomplish these tasks, and, given the size and complexity of the country, only in fairly large numbers. Given the unrest and political chaos that currently engulf Iraq, it is hard to imagine that the United States will be able to withdraw any significant portion of its 146,000 troops from that country in less than a year without compromising our vital objectives....

It is time to stop pretending that the United States can prosecute a war on terror, conduct peacekeeping operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kosovo, and Bosnia, and maintain the security of the homeland without a substantial increase in the size of the armed forces. General Shinseki, the recently retired Army chief of staff, warns us to "beware the 12-division strategy for a 10-division army"--and even he understates the problem. In truth, the armed forces need an increase in size of at least 25 percent.

This problem is not going away anytime soon. The war on terrorism requires statebuilding, which requires large numbers of personnel on the ground. Demands for intervention will not be going away anytime soon, as the case of Liberia demonstrates.

My five-cent analysis is that the problem here is that Rumsfeld has paid far more attention to altering the warfighting doctrine than to the resources and training needed for postwar statebuilding. As I noted ten weeks agohere, the administration seems to have boxed itself into a corner on this issue.


UPDATE: I'm pretty sure the U.S. doesn't need to allocate so much manpower for this assignment.

posted by Dan at 10:15 AM | Trackbacks (0)

Saturday, July 5, 2003

Emerging from the vacation cocoon

As I have previously noted, vacation for me means that I tend not to pay attention to international news all that much. So, when I return to the world, I inevitably find myself astonished that certain events actually occurred. For example:

1) Did Sylvio Berlusconi really lose his composure altogether on the day he assumed the EU presidency? [UPDATE: Henry Farrell provides an astute analysis of the political fallout from this]

2) Did Antonin Scalia really use the phrase "so-called homosexual agenda" in a Supreme Court dissent?

3) Did an Oxford professor really tell a possible grad student that he would not work with him because of his Israeli citizenship? I'm glad OxBlog has been monitoring this one.

4) Did George W. Bush really dare Iraqi guerillas to attack U.S. forces? It's a bad sign when CNN reports that, "more than one White House official acknowledged that, at a minimum, the Bush line was open to misinterpretation."

5) Did Al-Jazeera really air a tape allegedly recorded by Saddam Hussein just because they couldn't prove that it wasn't Hussein (link via Kieran Healy)?

posted by Dan at 02:48 PM | Trackbacks (0)

A wrap-up of my working vacation

For those who care:

Q: So how much work did you do?

A: Not a whole lot. The most interesting work experience was having to be a discussant for three erudite papers the afternoon that I landed in Budapest. Since I don't sleep on planes -- and since Lufthansa misplaced our bags for a few hours -- this meant showing up to this particular panel having slept only one hour in the past twenty-four and wearing the same clothes I'd flown in. Scarily enough, it was one of my better performances as a discussant.

I spent the next day doing more conference stuff, and then it was vacation time?

Q: So did you actually read all of the books you blogged about?

A: No, I didn't make it to the Harry Potter book. Got through the rest of them, however.

Q: And what did you think of them?

A: Well, I liked the Zakaria book more than Robert Kagan did (subscription required) -- but that's not saying much. I'll be commenting more on this book in the future -- but I will say that I thought Kagan's TNR review was a bit over the top. I found Kavalier & Clayabsorbing. Devil in the White City has a good story to tell, but the author seemed to care more about dinner menus than the larger significance of the 1893 Colombian Expedition, which I found disappointing. Prague was an odd book, in that the author devoted more and more time to less interesting characters. It was a hoot to read a book about Budapest in Budapest, but without that novelty I'm not sure I would have finished it. My favorite book set in Budapest remains Tibor Fischer's Under the Frog. Actually, that's not fair -- Under the Frog is one of my favorite novels, period.

Q: And how was Budapest?

What a delightful city!! The cafés! (Click here for a panoramic look at one of the best cafés in the city, the Gerbaud.) The architecture! The desserts! The other desserts! The goulash! The blood sausage! The parks! The amazing tranformation of the place since the fall of communism!

Q: OK, I believe that's a wrap.

posted by Dan at 02:12 PM | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, July 3, 2003

Back in Chicago

But waaaaayyyyyy too jet-lagged to write anything coherent [And this is different from your normal blogging style in what way?--ed. I'm too tired to rebut even that point.]

More later.

posted by Dan at 08:50 PM | Trackbacks (0)