Friday, October 31, 2003

Is this a real story?

The top national story in today's Chicago Tribune, "War contractors are big donors," is about the correlation between those firms receiving reconstruction contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan and the political contributions such firms made. Here's the first few paragraphs:

Many of the companies that have received some of the nearly $8 billion in reconstruction contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan also have been strong contributors to the Republican Party or have close connections with government officials, a new study by a government watchdog group concluded Thursday.

The report, issued by The Center for Public Integrity, a non-partisan, non-profit investigative group, was the result of a six-month investigation into contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Charles Lewis, executive director of the center, said in a statement that the report reveals "a stench of political favoritism and cronyism surrounding the contracting process in both Iraq and Afghanistan."

The Tribune is not the only paper to run with this -- it's also in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, USA Today, and Washington Post.

If you want to see the whole report, it's available here.

Sounds pretty damning? Well, yes, until you consider the following facts:

  • The report basically equates campaign contributions with cronyism -- in other words, there's no direct evidence of wrongdoing, just a claim that campaign contributions contributed to the allocation of reconstruction contracts. What's presented is circumstantial evidence.

  • Even the circumstantial case is pretty damn weak. Look at the top ten companies in terms of contract amounts (here's the full list) and then look at the size of their campaign contributions since 1990 (here's the full list). If you look at the top ten firms in terms of the size of awarded contracts, you discover that only four of them made contributions greater than $250,000 over the entire twelve-year span. In other words, the majority of the top-ten contractors were actually quite miserly in their campaign contributions.

    Is that how the Center for Public Integrity or the media sees it? Nope. Here's the Washington Post paragraph:

    The winners of the top 10 contracts for work in Iraq and Afghanistan contributed about $1 million a year to national political parties, candidates and political action committees since 1990, according to the group, which studies the links between money and politics.

    This is mathematically true, but overlooks the fact that the overwhelming majority of these contributions come from only three of the firms on the list -- Bechtel, Dell, and Kellog, Brown & Root (yes, they're a subsidiary of Halliburton).

  • As even Josh Marshall -- who thinks this is a story -- pointed out last month:

    [W]hen this much money is flying around, you inevitably get a lot of it steered into friendly hands, even without systematic crony-ization of the whole process. And one hears more and more examples of contracts getting very inexpensive bids from local Iraqi companies, only to end up in the hands of American companies whose bids are an order of magnitude higher. I don't think you have to figure wholesale corruption or even favoritism is taking place, at least not only that. The people who award the contracts are likely acting under provisions which (understandably and rightly) give preferential treatment to American companies. And many of the people making the calls probably have little knowledge of Iraqi society or business practices and thus little way of evaluating the trustworthiness and reliability of local operators.

  • The Center for Public Integrity wants to claim that there's a fire here. Looking over their numbers, I'm not even convinced there's any smoke.

    More on this soon.... and now it's here.

    UPDATE: While the allegations of systemic corruption appear to be bogus, that doesn't mean that the reconstruction process is being efficiently managed. This Newsweek story (hat tip to mc_masterchef for the link) suggests that incompetence is a much bigger problem than malfeasance when it comes to reconstruction. The first two paragraphs:

    Helmut Doll waits. And waits. Doll, the German site manager for Babcock Power, a subcontractor of Siemens, is hoping for the arrival of Bechtel engineers at the Daura power plant, Baghdad’s largest. U.S. construction giant Bechtel has the prime contract, now worth about $1 billion, for restoring Iraq’s infrastructure. That includes Daura, which should supply one third of the city’s generating capacity but today, six months into the U.S. occupation, is producing only 10 percent. “Nobody is working on the turbine,” explains Doll. “Bechtel only came and took photos. We can’t judge Bechtel’s work progress because they’re not here.” Questioned, Bechtel spokesman Howard Menaker says Iraq’s power has to be viewed as “a holistic system”—generation doesn’t have to come from a particular plant—and in recent weeks Bechtel has sent engineers to the site. He also blames the delay on more stringent—or finicky, depending on your point of view—American standards. Menaker said the Daura turbine is “covered with friable asbestos and is right now a hazardous work site.” The company says it has just completed “a protocol for asbestos abatement.”

    Still, It's not easy determining why the biggest power plant in Iraq’s largest city seems to be such a low priority. Baghdad is still beset by blackouts, and so much of America’s success or failure depends on power: the economy can’t recover with-out it. The next logical place to ask is the U.S. Agency for International Development, which gave Bechtel the contract last April. Questioned by NEWSWEEK about Daura, USAID chief Andrew Natsios referred to a priority list drawn up by a coordinating committee under the Coalition Provisional Authority—the chief occupying power—and said he didn’t know where Daura was on it. His aide said the CPA would know. No, Natsios said, he thought Bechtel would know. But Bechtel’s Menaker responded: “We perform the work tasked to us by USAID. We don’t make decisions on priorities. USAID and CPA make those decisions.” Some CPA officials concede privately that the problem stems from the lack of preparation before the war. “It always comes back to the same thing: no plan,” says one CPA staffer. (emphasis added).

    ANOTHER UPDATE: Tom Maguire has a newsbreak on another Center for Public Integrity study.

    posted by Dan at 12:00 PM | Comments (53) | Trackbacks (11)

    Thursday, October 30, 2003

    A note on civility

    While reading Josh Chafetz's take on the Atrios-Luskin dust-up, I came across this Chafetz post from earlier this month on "the norms of civility." These paragraphs are worth repeating:

    Are people really so sure of themselves that they simply cannot acknowledge that anyone who disagrees could be intelligent? Have they no humility whatsoever? Of course we all think we're right -- if we didn't think we were right, we'd change our opinions until we did. Maybe I'm just naive, but it really does amaze me when people claim that everyone who disagrees with them (on topics where general opinion is relatively divided -- I'm not talking about largely uncontroversial opinions like "slavery is wrong") is either malevolent, stupid, or both.

    Why is it so hard to acknowledge that, on almost every issue, there are people on both sides who are both intelligent and well-meaning? That doesn't mean that neither side is right, or that you should give up arguing for your side. It just means paying the other side some respect, listening to their position, trying honestly to grapple with it. I'm not saying that there aren't malevolent and/or stupid people out there -- but they're on both sides of every issue, and on almost no issue is everyone on one side stupid and/or malevolent. It's fine to point out when someone is saying something stupid (or when someone is being malevolent). If they're malevolent and/or stupid often enough, it's fine to conclude that they, as people, are malevolent and/or stupid. But to conclude that everyone who disagrees with you is ipso facto malevolent and/or stupid ... well, I envy your certainty, but you frighten me. That kind of certainty is precisely what extremist movements of all kinds -- left and right -- are made of.


    UPDATE: Glenn Reynolds has an update on the Atrios/Luskin episode that contains a slightly different take.

    [W]hile comments are nice, they do pose a problem. When you have a lot of comments, it's very difficult to police them. I loved The Fray at Slate, -- but it had Moira Redmond riding herd on it full time. What blogger can do that? And the real enemy of a blogger isn't trolls who disagree, but the commenters on "your side" who go over-the-top. And comments sections tend to breed that sort of extreme commentary, it seems. That's not a reason why people shouldn't have comments, necessarily, but it's a downside.

    So you're dissing your own readers now?--ed. Actually, no, because A) 99% of the comments have been civil; and B) None of the readers agrees is on "my side" consistently enough fall into this category. If I had Glenn's traffic, though, I'd probably abstain from having a comments section as well.

    Andrew Northrup has a good post on this as well.

    posted by Dan at 09:03 PM | Comments (14) | Trackbacks (1)

    Wesley Clark, whipping boy of the blogosphere

    David Adesnik and Josh Marshall go after Clark with a vengeance today.

    Adesnik first:

    Wes Clark seems to be blaming Bush for 9/11. No, not Iraq. 9/11. While the Administration has hardly been forthright about the intelligence failures that contributed to the attack, Clark really seems to be going out on a limb.

    In a follow-up post, David thinks that Clark deviated from the written text of the reported speech.

    Meanwhile, Josh Marshall, who was at the speech where Clark made his accusations, has a different beef with the candidate:

    [L]et's be honest: the air's going out of his campaign. In money, in direction, in the polls, at the grass roots.

    In fact, that doesn't even quite capture it. The air's going out of his candidacy because he doesn't have a campaign. Where's the campaign, the strategy, the organization?

    What's surprised me most is that he's managed to do as well as he has over the last six weeks even with the complete lack of direction and organization from Little Rock.

    The operation is being run by an interlocking directorate of folks who can't be bothered to be more than absentee proprietors of the general's campaign. (emphasis in original)


    UPDATE: Marshall has more on Clark.

    ANOTHER UPDATE: Mark Kleiman thinks Adesnik's off base:

    Adesnik converts Clark's well-reasoned rebuke of Bush -- for trying to blame the failure to notice that al-Qaeda had plans to use jetliners as missiles on lower-level intelligence personnel -- into the absurd assertion that Bush, rather than bin Laden was responsible for the crime.

    posted by Dan at 11:41 AM | Comments (39) | Trackbacks (1)

    Are gray skies clearing up?

    You could say that the economy picked up a little in the last quarter. The Associated Press reports:

    The economy grew at a scorching 7.2 percent annual rate in the third quarter in the strongest pace in nearly two decades. Consumers spent with abandon and businesses ramped up investment, compelling new evidence of an economic resurgence.

    The increase in gross domestic product, the broadest measure of the economy's performance, in the July-September quarter was more than double the 3.3 percent rate registered in the second quarter, the Commerce Department reported Thursday.

    The 7.2 percent pace marked the best showing since the first quarter of 1984. It exceeded analysts' forecasts for a 6 percent growth rate for third-quarter GDP, which measures the value of all goods and services produced within the United States.

    Reason for celebration? Absolutely. Does this mean the economy is going to start generating more jobs? Slate's Daniel Gross is skeptical:

    It would be hard for the economy not to surge when you consider how much money the administration has poured into it in the form of tax cuts and government spending. It remains to be seen whether the economy can produce jobs and growth without continual booster shots, and whether the massive deficits the administration is running will drag down growth for years to come....

    So, we might well be on the cusp of a period of above-trend growth, low interest rates, and booming asset values—the likes of which we haven't seen since, well, the late '90s. Or we may be muddling through an extended period in which we have some good quarters, some bad quarters, and the occasional great one—just as we have for the past few nonbooming years. As the most recent GDP release shows (see Table 1 in the link) the economy has occasionally performed impressively—5 percent growth in the second quarter of 2002 and 4 percent in the fourth quarter of 2002—only to lapse back into subpar numbers. It could be that the third quarter's reputed 6 percent growth, aided substantially by higher government spending, and tax cuts, and rebates, just isn't sustainable.

    Irwin Stelzer also sounds some cautionary notes.

    I understand their wariness, but a closer look at the third-quarter data suggests that much of this concern is misplaced. For example, on the role of government spending, the AP report observes, "Federal government spending, which grew at a 1.4 percent rate, was only a minor contributor to GDP in the third quarter. Spending on national defense was flat."

    Clearly, the tax cuts played a more important role, but the Financial Times suggests that business investment is just as important:

    Growth was led by continued strong consumer activity, aided by low borrowing costs and the Bush administration's tax cuts. Consumer spending rose by 6.6 per cent.

    Business spending rose by 11.1 per cent, the strongest rate of growth since before the dotcom bubble burst. Equipment and software spending led the way, up 15.4 per cent.

    Economists said GDP growth was particularly impressive given the continued fall in inventories, a negative for the headline number.

    "This bodes very well for output in the coming quarter as stocks are replenished," said Adam Cole, strategist at Credit Agricole Indosuez. "Overall, the data are clearly encouraging for growth - not just in the quarter just ended, but also going forward."

    Is 7.2% growth sustainable? of course not. But, if the FT is correct that "growth is expected to cool to about 4 per cent in the final quarter of the year," that is sustainable.

    Hey, if Brad DeLong is optimistic, then so am I.

    UPDATE: James Joyner makes a great point that really applies to all presidents:

    Obviously, if this trend continues, it will help President Bush next November--especially if it manifests in substantial job creation. Does he deserve much credit for the turnaround? No. But, then, he didn't deserve much blame for the preceding slump. Such is politics.


    ANOTHER UPDATE: More good news!! Megan McArdle links to this story, which summarizes this World Economic Forum report, which highlights the comparative strength of the U.S. economy.

    posted by Dan at 11:21 AM | Comments (16) | Trackbacks (5)

    Nation-building in Afghanistan

    The Chicago Tribune reports on the latest success in restoring stability to Afghanistan, courtesy of a British-led Provincial reconstruction team. The vital grafs:

    Sholghara owes its tentative peace to a rare combination of military and humanitarian efforts. In August, British soldiers from the Provincial Reconstruction Team, United Nations officials and top commanders of the two main armed factions in the north, collected about 400 weapons and expelled eight of the most recalcitrant commanders from the valley....

    The innovative approach of the Mazar-e Sharif PRT, one of four such teams of coalition troops in Afghanistan, has won praise from Afghan officials and guarded support from aid groups that initially opposed the teams' creation. It also has made the British PRT a potential model for NATO's expanded peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan.

    Instead of building schools and digging wells, as U.S.-led PRTs have done around the country, the British troops in Mazar have concentrated on improving security, leaving reconstruction to humanitarian and aid groups. Among other projects, the PRT is setting up an academy to train local police.

    While the policy of the U.S.-led military coalition has been to track down remnants of the Taliban and Al Qaeda while steering clear of Afghan factional conflicts--known in military jargon as "green-on-green" fighting--the British soldiers in Mazar spend much of their time helping to resolve disputes between factional leaders and attempting to clear up misunderstandings that could lead to more fighting.

    "If you want to stop factional fighting, you need to get stuck in and help," said Col. Dickie Davis, commander of the British PRT in Mazar. "I regard what we do as fundamental to our mission."

    This follows up on previous Tribune reports indicating that PRTs can succeed in the nitty-gritty of stabilization.

    Given that NATO just decided to expand its stabilization force outside of Kabul, do you think it would be possible to increase the number of PRT's to more than four?

    For those readers skeptical of nation-building -- think of it as town-building.

    posted by Dan at 09:05 AM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (1)

    Catching up on my correspondence

    Two quick notes for today (go read this Mark Kleiman post for some background):

    Dear Atrios,

    What I said last week about anonymous blogging?

    I take it back.


    Daniel W. Drezner

    Next letter:

    Dear Donald Luskin,

    I have certainly expressed misgivings about Paul Krugman's punditry in the past. I can certainly sympathize with some of your critiques. Hey, I've even linked to some of them.

    But dude, you need to chill. Legal action and the blogosphere do not mix well. At this point, your criticisms of Krugman are so over-the-top that they are counterproductive. Take a day off. Get some perspective.


    Daniel W. Drezner

    P.S. I've glanced through your blog. Intellectually, yes, you're stalking Paul Krugman.

    That's stalking!! STALKING, STALKING, STALKING!!!

    Kevin Drum, Armed Liberal, Brad DeLong, Andrew Sullivan, and Glenn Reynolds also weigh in. Actually, a lot of bloggers weigh in. Atrios follows up here, here, and most amusingly, here.

    UPDATE: NRO's Jonathan Adler, Robert George, and Jonah Goldberg weigh in on Luskin's behavior. I agree wholeheartedly with George:

    Wasn't Don paying attention during the Fox News v. Franken debacle? There's nothing worse than when someone who has a certain amount of success by sharing his opinions in a forceful, straightforward, manner, then running to the lawyers when he feels like he's getting tweaked himself.... Luskin['s] action can't help but garner sympathy for Atrios/Eschaton -- particularly in the blogosphere -- regardless of where someone falls on the political spectrum.

    Goldberg tries to explain Luskin's actions as a result of being new to the medium:

    I feel for the guy. Yes, he was wrong to start Litigating the Eschaton -- which, still, isn't as bad as immanentizing it. But it seems to me he made a classic new-to-the-web blunder. This sort of thing happens when you're new to the hurly-burly argy-bargy of the interent and you think you have to take every little thing seriously....

    The ironic thing is that Krugman himself is a great example of this sort of thin-skinnedness. Remember how he freaked out about Andrew Sullivan's criticism, talking about his site like it was some sort of neo-Nazi compound?

    Goldberg is right about Krugman but dead wrong about Luskin. He's not new to the web. In fact, today is the one-year anniversary of Luskin's blog. In terms of the blogosphere, that's a pretty long time to be around. Long enough to know the very simple rules of the game -- no tears, no legal action.

    posted by Dan at 12:47 AM | Comments (14) | Trackbacks (2)

    Camille Paglia's grandstanding narcissism

    Camille Paglia's latest interview in Salon must be consumed in its entirety to appreciate the title of this post.

    At one point, she characterizes Maureen Dowd as "that catty, third-rate, wannabe sorority queen." I can't read that without a chuckle, because Camille Paglia is Maureen Dowd gone to grad school.

    I mean that with all its positive and negative implications. Paglia's rants are riveting when she talks about celebrity. When she talks about politics the first two adjectives that come to mind are "inane" and "dyspeptic."

    Oh, and here's her take on blogs:

    The Web has also dealt a fatal blow to the culture of stardom because isolated types can now instantly express and exhibit their conflicts and find fellow sufferers around the world through the Web. But e-mail is evanescent. And the blog form is, in my view, the decadence of the Web. I don't see blogs as a new frontier but as a falling backwards into word-centric print journalism -- words, words, words!....

    Blog reading for me is like going down to the cellar amid shelves and shelves of musty books that you're condemned to turn the pages of. Bad prose, endless reams of bad prose! There's a lack of discipline, a feeling that anything that crosses one's mind is important or interesting to others. People say that the best part about writing a blog is that there's no editing -- it's free speech without institutional control. Well, sure, but writing isn't masturbation -- you've got to self-edit.

    Now and then one sees the claim that Kausfiles was the first blog. I beg to differ: I happen to feel that my Salon column was the first true blog. My columns had punch and on-rushing velocity. They weren't this dreary meta-commentary, where there's a blizzard of fussy, detached sections nattering on obscurely about other bloggers or media moguls and Washington bureaucrats. I took hits at media excesses, but I directly commented on major issues and personalities in politics and pop culture.

    If bloggers want to break out of their ghetto, they've got to acquire a sense of drama and theater as well as a flair for language. Why else should anyone read them? And the Web in my view is a visual medium -- I don't log on to be trapped on a muddy page crammed with indigestible prose....

    No major figure has emerged yet from the blogs -- Andrew Sullivan was already an established writer before he started his. A blog should sound conversational and be an antidote to the inept writing in most of today's glossy magazines. (emphasis added)

    It is truly breathtaking to see someone take down the genre she claims to have invented. Paglia joins Darrell Hammond as the only people to successfully mimic Al Gore. Or, to use the pungent prose Paglia prefers:

    [W]ho needs to be desirable to others when you've got a big fat love affair with yourself to tend to.... Maybe that wasn't writing as masturbation, but I think it at least qualifies as a dry hump.


    UPDATE: Mickey Kaus and Andrew Sullivan offer their takes on the Paglia interview.

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

    Wednesday, October 29, 2003

    Inside the numbers on U.S. foreign aid

    Tyler Cowen at the Marginal Revolution links to Carol Adelman's new Foreign Affairs essay, "The Privatization of Foreign Aid: Reassessing National Largesse." The key paragraph:

    All in all, the United States is the most generous. In addition to giving more foreign aid, in absolute terms, than any other country, it has long provided the most foreign direct investment to the developing world and generated the bulk of the world's research and development, spurring long-lasting economic development and saving lives through better food and medication. The United States also contributes the most militarily, guaranteeing the security necessary for growth and democracy. The big point--that the totality of U.S. foreign assistance far exceeds U.S. ODA [official development assistance]--corrects the criticism that the United States is stingy in giving abroad.

    Pejman Yousefzadeh and Glenn Reynolds, reading Tyler, conclude that the U.S. is the most generous nation in the world.

    Longtime blog readers are aware that I agree with much in quoted paragraph, which was why I took the Center for Global Development (CGD) to task for calling the U.S. a miser earlier this year. However, my Tech Central Station article on this -- which did get results from the Center for Global Development -- did not mention the factoring in of private aid flows as a measure of generosity. On this, Adelman says:

    [A] conservative estimate, based on surveys and voluntary reporting, puts annual private giving around $35 billion. Even this low-ball figure is more than three and a half times the amount of official development assistance (ODA) given out in a year by the U.S. government. (emphasis added)

    Was I just thick-headed in not raising this point? Well, no. If you read p. 32 of the primary technical paper that supported the CGD rankings -- they do deal with this:

    A recent argument from the U.S. government in defense of its aid policies is that the United States, while a relatively stingy supplier of official aid, is a huge source of private charitable contributions to developing countries (USAID, 2003), which ought to be weighed in any comparison of donors. Much of this flow is tax deductible and/or tax exempt in the United States, and so is a credit to U.S. policy. The U.S. Agency for International Development estimates these flows at $15.6–23.7 billion per year (USAID, 2003, p. 146).

    To judge the importance of this consideration, we experimented with treating these flows as if they were an increment to aid—in the case of the United States only. We treated them as aid that is completely untied and allocated with the same administrative cost and selectivity as official U.S. aid. The effect.... left its rank unchanged at 20 [out of 21 countries]. (emphasis added)

    Now, the key question is whether private aid flows are in the $15-23 billion range -- which don't seem to affect the rankings all that much -- or are nearly double that at $35 billion -- which one would expect to have a more appreciable effect. I went to the referred source, USAID's "Foreign Aid in the National Interest," specifically Chapter 6, p. 146. What I found is that Adelman's figure is accurate if you include foreign remittances, and the CGD's figure is correct if you don't include them.

    Remittance flows are clearly important, but counting them as examples of American generosity strikes me as a bit off-kilter. Americans aren't remitting this money -- foreign nationals are. The U.S. deserves a measure of credit for permitting foreign workers into the country and sending money back -- indeed, I agree with Tyler Cowen that remittances are, "the most effective welfare programs ever devised." However, this policy is of a different kind than either public or private aid.

    I don't think Adelman is incorrect in her core thesis. But lumping remittances in with charity flows exaggerates the generosity of Americans as a people.

    posted by Dan at 06:23 PM | Comments (13) | Trackbacks (7)

    Links on Latin America

    Wondering how I know what I know about Latin America in my latest TNR Online piece?

    For my gloomy mood on the Bush administration's foreign economic policy, see my previous TNR Online column on "hypocritical liberalization." On the current state of the WTO, Philippe Legrain sounds a pessimistic note (subscription required).

    A good source on Brazil's behavior during the WTO and FTAA talks is Peter Hakim's Financial Times op-ed on Brazil's trade policy from a few weeks ago. Hakim is the president of the Inter-American Dialogue, which is a fine source on the politics and economics of Latin America. For example, their report on "The Troubled Americas" is typical of the concern mounting about Latin America's direction. On the rise of more market-suspicious leaders, see this St. Petersburg Times news analysis.

    On Bolivia being an example for the anti-globalization movement, see this New York Times article, from earlier this month, entitled "Bolivia's Poor Proclaim Abiding Distrust of Globalization." Here's an even more effusive account from earlier this year.

    Here's a link to the Washington Post editorial cited in the column. The information on Mexico came straight from Virginia Postrel's first-person account of a speech by former Mexican Finance Minister Francisco Gil Diaz.

    Never heard of the 1879-1884 War in the Pacific involving Chile, Bolivia, and Peru? Shame on you, and click here. On the notion that there has been a new solidarity among indigenous third world peoples, see Moises Naim's latest in Foreign Policy.

    The RAND Corporation has some economic analyses demonstrating the futility of pursuing a supply-side strategy in the war on drugs. Here's one from 1993; here's another from 2001.

    Finally, Winds of Change has a link-rich briefing on the latest in Latin America. Go check it out.

    posted by Dan at 01:10 PM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (1)

    Remember Latin America?

    All those readers who suspected that I'd lost track of the global political economy while refereeing debates on Iraq will feel better by checking out my latest New Republic Online essay. It's on globalization and Latin America. Go check it out.

    posted by Dan at 11:56 AM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

    Tuesday, October 28, 2003

    Defending the idle rich?


    David Brooks has argued repeatedly that Americans do not begrudge the rich. I'd qualify that statement a bit -- during tough economic times, Americans will begrudge those who are born rich.

    My evidence? Consider the imminent onslaught of popular culture devoted to the idle rich. According to Newsweek:

    Could anyone be this stupid? Thank heavens, yes. [Nicole] Richie (Lionel’s daughter) and [Paris] Hilton (the hotel heiress) are the stars of Fox’s “The Simple Life,” which like all TV shows steals its concept—in this case, it’s “Green Acres” with two real “celebutants” filling the stilettos of one Gabor. “The Simple Life” debuts in December, and it already looks like the next reality-TV phenom. By then, we’ll be well primed by a slew of rich people behaving badly. Later this month MTV will launch “Rich Girls,” which follows Tommy Hilfiger’s daughter, Ally, and her spoiled friends as they navigate high school from the back of a limo. And HBO will air a documentary called “Born Rich,” in which Ivanka Trump, Georgina Bloomberg, magazine heir S. I. Newhouse IV and others discuss the burdens of inherited wealth.

    Maureen Ryan writes in the Chicago Tribune that there's an excellent reason for this new-found attention:

    Why do people watch reality TV, if not to judge others? Who's easier to judge than someone who was born with millions? This time, "the twist" is that nobody has to win stacks of money -- they just have to prove that having it doesn't make them jerks. The fun part is, you and I get to be the jury.

    Passing judgment on the foibles of the rich is nothing new; since the Gilded Age, there's been a whole subset of journalism devoted to exposing -- or is it reveling in? -- the lifestyles of the rich and richer. The fact that the economy is stuck in neutral and that good jobs are hard to find makes the overcompensated especially tempting targets for TV voyeurs. We get to both envy their megabucks lifestyles and judge the frivolity of them all at once. Paris Hilton in a pig pen? Bring it on, especially if she's wearing Versace.

    Another example: this faux Hilton sisters blog -- at least, I think it's a faux blog.

    These pop culture sneers do reveal a libertarian dilemma: to put it delicately, defending the right of the idle rich to inherit their wealth in its entirety is one of the knottier positions to advocate in public. This resentment of the inheriting class is particularly acute during a slow economy. It's easy to defend property rights in the abstract. It's harder to defend the property rights of those who are perceived to be dumb-ass dilettantes.

    Take me. Readers of this blog know that I think concerns about economic inequality are misplaced. However, whenever I see a promo for the Hilton sisters on television, I find myself reflexively muttering under my breath, "they'll be the first ones up against the wall when the revolution comes." [Even when they're dressed like this?--ed. Bad, distracting editor!! Besides, they don't hold a candle to my celebrity of choice.]

    Beyond the philosophical arguments in favor of property rights and against double taxation, are there pragmatic reasons to say that the sneering towards those who inherit vast sums of money is misplaced?

    Oddly enough, Timothy Noah provides a partial answer in a series of Chatterbox columns during the debate over the estate tax, posted here, here, here, and here. I say this is odd because Noah starts off saying:

    Chatterbox won't dispute that some people who inherit vast sums of wealth devote their lives to contemplation and philanthropy. But based on Chatterbox's glimpses of the "I inherited so much money that I'll never have to work" set, enlightened magnificos constitute a very small fraction, and are dwarfed by the number of head cases, drug addicts, and rustic dropouts.

    However, as Noah dug deeper into the question, he found mixed evidence for this assertion. There is limited evidence that inherited wealth contributes to social and psychological dysfunction. However, Noah also quotes the following from The Millionaire Next Door:

    On average, [parental] gift receivers donate significantly more to charity than do others in the same income categories. For example, gift receivers who have annual household incomes in the $100,000 category normally donate just under 6 percent of their annual incomes to charitable causes. The general population in this income category donates only about 3 percent. Gift receivers give in proportions that are much like those of households with annual incomes in the $200,000 to $400,000 bracket.

    One final thought: after watching "Born Rich," it was harder to sneer at these people. Of the 12 individuals in the "Born Rich" documentary, I saw one raging asshole, three or four obnoxious but potentially redeemable personalities, and seven or eight nice but slightly withdrawn individuals. Drag a random dozen people in off the street, I'm betting you get the same distribution. It's true that the inheriting class has done nothing to "earn" their millions. But the people off the street haven't either.

    There are valid arguments in favor of keeping an estate tax, and I'm not unsympathetic to all of them. However, part of me wonders if those sympathies are driven in part by our culture's occasional tendency to ridicule the idle rich.

    Just a thought.

    UPDATE: Jay Drezner has some thoughts on this issue.

    posted by Dan at 10:23 AM | Comments (53) | Trackbacks (2)

    Monday, October 27, 2003

    Rumsfeld gets results from Ray Odierno!!

    At one point in the much-discussed Rumsfeld memo, the Secretary of Defense asks:

    Today, we lack metrics to know if we are winning or losing the global war on terror. Are we capturing, killing or deterring and dissuading more terrorists every day than the madrassas and the radical clerics are recruiting, training and deploying against us?

    From the Associated Press:

    The commander of the Army's Fourth Infantry Division in Tikrit, Iraq, is measuring success in dollars.

    Major General Ray Odierno (oh-dee-EHR'-noh) says relentless pressure from coalition forces is making it more expensive for insurgents to fund attacks, and forcing them to change their tactics.

    He says when the Fourth Infantry arrived in Iraq, people were paid 100 dollars to attack coalition forces, and 500 dollars if they were successful. Now, he says attackers are demanding up to two-thousand dollars just to attack.

    Odierno says the price has gone up because fewer people are willing to attack U-S forces head on -- afraid of taking a lot of casualties. He expects to see more roadside bombings and more attacks on civilian targets like the Red Cross, which was targeted today.

    Thanks to Tom Holsinger & Trent Telenko for the link.

    UPDATE: Phil Carter and Kevin Drum are not as sanguine. Calpundit conclusion rings true:

    The lesson he [Bush] needs to learn isn't from 1992, it's from 1968. The public didn't turn against the Vietnam War because we lost the Tet Offensive — in fact, it was a considerable military victory — but because Tet made it obvious that our leaders had been lying about how much progress we were making. Americans may not mind a "long, hard slog," but they do mind a president who seems willfully out of touch with reality.

    Bush and his advisors risk the same fate as LBJ unless they publicly acknowledge that the situation in Iraq is serious and then provide some sense that they have a realistic plan for turning things around. I don't doubt that internally they understand this, but their happy talk PR campaign gives no sign of it, and they're going to pay a price if they keep it up.

    Alex Massie has further thoughts on the subject.

    posted by Dan at 05:39 PM | Comments (85) | Trackbacks (2)

    Drezner to the right: stop whining about media bias

    In my previous post, a devoted reader posted the following comment:

    President Bush will be opposed by the eventual Democrat nominee (most probably Howard Dean)---and the hostile liberal media. The latter subconsciously see it as their duty to assist the Democrats. I am convinced that George W. Bush has an 80% chance of being reelected, but it would be 95% if the “mainstream” media weren’t out to destroy him.

    Now, this is a frequent lament for those on my side of the aisle. And it will not be an easy one to give up when it ceases to be true.

    So I suspect that conservatives will encounter some trepidation reading the latest City Journal article from Brian Anderson, "We’re Not Losing the Culture Wars Anymore." The first paragraph:

    The Left’s near monopoly over the institutions of opinion and information—which long allowed liberal opinion makers to sweep aside ideas and beliefs they disagreed with, as if they were beneath argument—is skidding to a startlingly swift halt. The transformation has gone far beyond the rise of conservative talk radio, that, ever since Rush Limbaugh’s debut 15 years ago, has chipped away at the power of the New York Times, the networks, and the rest of the elite media to set the terms of the nation’s political and cultural debate. Almost overnight, three huge changes in communications have injected conservative ideas right into the heart of that debate. Though commentators have noted each of these changes separately, they haven’t sufficiently grasped how, taken together, they add up to a revolution: no longer can the Left keep conservative views out of the mainstream or dismiss them with bromide instead of argument. Everything has changed.

    You should read the whole article, but to suym up: Anderson's three seismic changes are:

  • The proliferation of cable (the intriguing combination of Fox News and South Park);

  • The right half of the blogosphere;

  • Conservatve publishing houses such as Regnery Books and the Free Press.
  • For good measure, Anderson adds the following:

    There’s another reason that conservative books are selling: the emergence of conservative talk radio, cable TV, and the Internet. This “right-wing media circuit,” as Publishers Weekly describes it, reaches millions of potential readers and thus makes the traditional gatekeepers of ideas—above all, the New York Times Book Review and the New York Review of Books, publications that rarely deign to review conservative titles—increasingly irrelevant in winning an audience for a book.

    So does this mean that conservatives need to quit whining about media bias? Not exactly. Anderson's closing:

    Here’s what’s likely to happen in the years ahead. Think of the mainstream liberal media as one sphere and the conservative media as another. The liberal sphere, which less than a decade ago was still the media, is still much bigger than the non-liberal one. But the non-liberal sphere is expanding, encroaching into the liberal sphere, which is both shrinking and breaking up into much smaller sectarian spheres—one for blacks, one for Hispanics, one for feminists, and so on.

    It’s hard to imagine that this development won’t result in a broader national debate—and a more conservative America.

    I'm too suspicious of a free lunch to be told that I can bitch about media bias even though things are improving in my favor. However, I'm sure we will find such cake-eating in our trusty comments section.

    UPDATE: For stories related to this topic, check out Jeff Jarvis' post about Roger Ailes, and then Glenn Reynolds' summary of a bloggercon panel. The key graf:

    : The Democratic candidates are kicking the ass of the Republicans in terms of Presidential campaign blogging, and use of the Internet generally. Dean especially. The Dean people have figured out that you can get power on the Internet by giving up control. The Bush people -- partly because they're incumbents, partly by philosophy -- are still very big on control. So, in varying degrees, are the other Democratic candidates, and I heard quite a few stories of Edwards turning away offers of help from the likes of Oliver Willis. Foolish.

    posted by Dan at 04:49 PM | Comments (23) | Trackbacks (2)

    Why I'll never be the RNC chairman

    Last night I participated in an online interactive chat at John Hawkins' Right Wing News. The other participants were Steve Martinovich, the editor and chief of Enter Stage Right, Bryan Preston from JunkYardBlog, and Mike Hendrix from Cold Fury.

    Here's the link to "A Blogger Symposium On The 2004 Election." Go check it out.

    You might notice I'm the most pessimistic of the bunch. Bearing in mind my track record on predicting elections, however, I'd listen to the others more carefully.

    posted by Dan at 11:08 AM | Comments (12) | Trackbacks (1)

    Sunday, October 26, 2003

    The division of labor in the blogosphere

    Tyler Cowen comes to the following conclusion after dinner with Glenn Reynolds:

    Glenn is so successful because he understands the idea of blogs as portals. (This is my view, not Glenn's own self-description.) Blogs that offer too much of the author, and the author alone, are vulnerable to other blogs that cream-skim them, and other blogs, thereby offering the superior product. The question is not who can write the best stuff, but who can collect the best stuff, and comment on it most effectively. Really smart people are not always used to these terms of competition, I might add. The future of blogging lies in the hands of those who recognize the intellectual and literary division of labor. (emphasis in original)

    The greater the number of blogs, the greater the importance of "portal blogs," such as Glenn's.

    This has prompted a fair amount of angry reaction in the blogosphere. Will Baude summarizes the objections nicely:

    Pardon, but an RSS feed can do that. The reason I don't read Instapundit is that I don't particularly agree with Glenn Reynolds about what's wheat and what's chaff....

    Sure, there's a place for aggregator blogs like Instapundit (or more critically How Appealling). But if you're trying to make your way in the blogosphere, it's better to offer an occasional portal to the truly obscure and a lot of original, sound, and hard-hitting analysis.

    The problem with this debate is that it's not an "either-or" situation. A while back I wrote that there were two types of blogs:

    First, some blogs can act as focal points for information provision. Now, by definition, there can only be one or two focal points. Glenn Reynolds generally acts as one for bloggers. During concentrated crises -- Josh Marshall in the case of Trent Lott's downfall, or Kelley for Operation Iraqi Freedom -- others can spring up. These blogs serve the useful purpose of collecting and distributing already available information to interested readers. In doing so, these individuals help to frame and propel debates of the day. They also reduce search costs for the rest of us....

    Second, most bloggers provide value added in the form of criticism and commentary. We don't generate new facts so much as put already existing facts into a larger framework. We then look at other people who do this and comment and critique their efforts. This is my comparative advantage, at least.

    A glance at the Blogosphere Ecosystem suggests this division of labor is more stable than Cowen's post suggests. Consider the top ten blogs:

    1. Instapundit
    2. Eschaton (Atrios)
    3. Talking Points Memo
    4. Daily Kos / Political State Report
    5. The Truth Laid Bear
    6. Andrew Sullivan
    7. Little Green Footballs
    8. CalPundit
    9. USS Clueless
    10. The Volokh Conspiracy

    I'd characterize five of these blogs (Instapundit, Atrios, Daily Kos, N.Z. Bear, and LGF) as primarily portals or focal points. The other five (Marshall, Sullivan, Drum, Den Beste, and Volokh) are more commentary than portal. [C'mon, Atrios and Glenn offer commentary!--ed. Yes, but I'm using a simple dichotomy. Drudge would be an example of the perfect portal, but beyond him most blogs have a mix of links and commentary.] Given that by definition one would predict portal blogs to be clustered among the top ten, it looks like commentary blogs aren't going anywhere.

    If you think about, this makes sense, and like most divisions of labor improves the productivity of both sides. Without commentary blogs, there would be less of a demand for the skills required to be a portal blog. Without portals, those specializing in commentary would face higher search costs in developing their topics and arguments.

    Baude is also correct that newcomers to the blogosphere will have to go the commentary route. For example, here's a new blog that's worth checking out, especially for Californians. I particularly like this post critiquing Joan Didion's Slouching Towards Bethlehem.

    posted by Dan at 02:29 PM | Comments (17) | Trackbacks (4)

    Some minor historical revisionism

    Peter Wallison has an op-ed in today's New York Times exhorting George W. Bush to be like President Reagan (Wallison was Reagan’s counsel in 1986 and 1987). The key sections:

    Early in his first term, Mr. Reagan faced very similar pressures: his economic program was not yet producing the promised results, and his foreign policy — in that case, his confrontational approach to the Soviet Union — was criticized by the Democrats and the press and opposed by most Europeans and their governments....

    In February 1982, with public support slipping, Mr. Reagan wrote in his diary: "I'm convinced of the need to address the people on our budget and the economy. The press has done a job on us and the polls show its effect. The people are confused about [our] economic program. They've been told it has failed and it's just started."

    With a midterm election less than a year away, Republicans in Congress were restive. The prevailing economic theory of the time was that deficits would cause high interest rates, prolonging the recession. Howard Baker, the Republican leader in the Senate, called Mr. Reagan's tax policies a "riverboat gamble." After meeting with Republican Congressional leaders on Feb. 23, Mr. Reagan wrote in his diary, "they are really antsy about the deficit and seem determined that we must retreat on our program — taxes and defense spending."

    In retrospect, Ronald Reagan's stand on principle seems an easy choice, since he was re-elected in 1984 in a landslide. But in the dark days of 1982 it took unusual tough-mindedness. And while it is true that he was re-elected in part because Americans had begun to see the success of his economic policies, there is also no question that voters liked his attachment to principle in hard times. It was as rare then as it is now to find a politician who actually believed in something.

    Three thoughts on this:

    1) Wallison doesn't need to worry about Bush acting like Reagan on sticking to his principles. As I pointed out in August, stubborness is simultaneously Bush's greatest strength and greatest weakness as president.

    2) Wallison also engages in a bit of revisionist myth-making. It's certainly true that Reagan stood firm on foreign policy issues. However, in the wake of deficit projections in 1982, Ronald Reagan signed the largest tax increase in history a year after enacting the largest tax cuts in history. In other words, Reagan didn't stick to his principles as much as Wallison alleges.

    3) Wallsion's advice is of cold comfort to Bush. Reagan's low point came at the midway point of his first term. Two years later, in 1984, the economy had recovered to the point where Reagan was able to win 49 of 50 states. The point is, Reagan's trough came early enough in his presidency to ride out.

    For Bush, the window for such a turnaround is shorter. The current election is only a year away. While the economy is growing, net job creation remains anemic at best. My hunch is that the economy will pick up steam, but that may be too late for it to be an asset to the Bush campaign.

    The aftermath of a brilliant military victory in Iraq is proving messier than many thought, and the economy is still sluggish. At this point none of the Democratic contenders looks like a particularly formidable candidate against President Bush. However, winning primaries can often generate gravitas on its own.

    Wallison wants everyone to think it's 1982 all over again. The problem is, it may be 1991 instead.

    UPDATE: Drezner gets results from Bruce Bartlett!!

    posted by Dan at 10:42 AM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

    Friday, October 24, 2003

    On the radio again

    Tonight from 9:00 -- 11:00 CST I'll be on Extension 720 with Milt Rosenberg on WGN radio 720. The other guests are Karen Alter from Northwestern University's political science department and legendary Chicago journalist Dick Ciccone.

    According to their calendar, the topic will be our take on, "the California recall, the Valerie Plame leak scandal, the recent events in Iraq and Israel and much, much more."

    posted by Dan at 05:19 PM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

    The shots across Don Rumsfeld's bow

    Is it my imagination, or is the Beltway souring on Don Rumsfeld faster than a postseason bullpen collapse?

    True, a lot of defence policy wonks were never thrilled with him in the first place. Right before 9/11, the scuttlebutt about Rumsfeld's impotence as SecDef was so loud that Tim Noah started the Rumsfeld Death Watch at Slate. Of course, Rumsfeld's performance after the September 11th attacks silenced those murmurs.

    However, now Rumsfeld's enemies and rivals leaking like crazy. In the past week alone, there was the Sy Hersh story and the the leaked memo.

    Today's first example is this New York Daily News story:

    Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld angered the White House yesterday with a leaked memo questioning whether the U.S. was winning the war on terror.
    "This has put Rummy in a bad spot," one Bush administration source said.

    "Before this he had personality and policy problems," the source said. "Now he has a credibility problem because he's acknowledged that they've all been putting on a happy face about Iraq."

    It was the latest blow for the beleaguered defense secretary. Earlier this month, the White House switched responsibility for rebuilding Iraq from Rumsfeld to national security adviser Condoleezza Rice.

    "The President isn't happy," but he won't fire Rumsfeld, a Bush official said.

    Josh Marshall points out that the administration source is likely, "some Bush One type at or in the orbit of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue" who's close to Daily News reporter Tom DeFrank.

    However, this New York Times report suggests that Rumsfeld's problems go beyond Bush I types. The story mostly quotes people in the legislative branch, but there's more:

    On issues that include General Boykin (who has likened the war against Islamic militants to a battle against Satan) and his own views about the war on terrorism (and the gap between Mr. Rumsfeld's glossy public assessments and the more roughly hewn private views that leaked out this week), senior Republicans have joined Democrats in openly complaining that the Pentagon has left them in the dark and vulnerable on critical and sensitive political issues....

    White House officials have also made clear that they are increasingly frustrated and impatient with Mr. Rumsfeld, particularly after he publicly criticized the president's closest foreign policy adviser, Condoleezza Rice, earlier this month in an internal power struggle that the defense secretary made public.

    A Republican who is close to the White House said the view there had been that Mr. Rumsfeld "went off the deep end" in his reaction earlier this month to Mr. Bush's decision to designate Ms. Rice as the overall coordinator of Iraq policy. "The worst thing that can happen in Washington is if you're a cabinet member, you think you're bigger than the president," the Republican said. (emphasis added)

    Check out Eleanor Clift's Newsweek analysis as well. The Daily News story insists that Rumsfeld's job is safe because, "sacking Rumsfeld would give the appearance of admitting that Iraq is as big a mess as his critics contend." Still, if I was Tim Noah, I might want to crank up that death watch meme again.

    UPDATE: Drezner gets no results from Tim Noah, but gets some from Time and Newsweek.

    posted by Dan at 05:11 PM | Comments (24) | Trackbacks (1)

    Debating the Cuba embargo

    The New York Times reports a growing split within Congress on the merits of the Cuba embargo:

    In a firm rebuke to President Bush over Cuba policy, the Senate on Thursday overwhelmingly voted to ease travel restrictions on Americans seeking to visit the island.

    The 59-to-38 vote came two weeks after Mr. Bush, in a Rose Garden ceremony, announced that he would tighten the travel ban on Cuba in an attempt to halt illegal tourism there and to bring more pressure on the government of Fidel Castro....

    The vote also highlighted a widening split between two important Republican constituencies: farm-state Republicans, who oppose trade sanctions in general or are eager to increase sales to Cuba, and Cuban-American leaders, who want to curb travel and trade to punish Mr. Castro. The White House views Cuban-Americans as essential to Mr. Bush's re-election prospects in Florida.

    The Senate last rejected an easing of travel restrictions in 1999, by a vote of 43 to 55. But in an indication of how much the political and policy pendulum has swung, 13 senators who voted against easing the curbs four years ago switched sides and voted for it on Thursday.

    David Adesnik certainly thinks this the travel ban should be lifted:

    It's time to lift the travel ban, lift trade restrictions, lift everything. Cuba is a small island just off the coast of Florida. The more open it is to American influence, the more its people will recognize that there are alternatives to living in a police state of misery....

    We are going to overwhelm Cuba with ideas. And we may be able to foster something of a private sector that has assets of its own. Moreover, even Castro's loyal bureaucrats may recognize that their cut of the goods is nothing compared to what it would be if liberalization went even further.

    As someone who can plausibly claim some genuine expertise on this issue, I'm mildly in favor of lifting the embargo. First, it's clear that forty years of the embargo has not succeeded in overwthrowing Castro. Given that record, trying the engagement track can't make things any worse.

    Second, anyone who thinks that engagement will have a dramatic effect on the situation is fooling themselves. The difference between Cuba and China is not just one of size -- it's also a difference in regime. What I wrote earlier this year in reference to North Korea holds with equal force in dealing with Cuba.

    This gets to the distinction between a totalitarian and an authoritarian state. China or Singapore fall into the latter camp -- political dissent is stifled, but in other spheres of life there is sufficient breathing froom from state intervention to permit the flowering of pro-market, pro-democratic civil society. North Korea is totalitarian, in the sense that the state control every dimension of social life possible.

    In authoritarian societies, the introduction of market forces and international news media can has the potential to transform society in ways that central governments will not be able to anticipate. In totalitarian societies, reform can only take place when the central government favors it. These societies have to take the first steps towards greater openness before any outside force can accelerate the process. Usually, such societies turn brittle and collapse under their own weight....

    For the past decade, the DPRK [and Cuban] leadership has been completely consistent about one thing -- it prefers mass famine and total isolation over any threat to the survival of its leadership. Uncontrolled exchange with the West will threaten that leadership. I have no doubt that Pyongyang [and Havana] is enthusiastic about the creation of segmented economic zones where foreign capital would be permitted -- so long as the rest of North Korean [and Cuban] society remained under effective quarrantine.

    So, why support a change in policy? On the off chance that I'm wrong and the Castro regime falls. A regime transition with the U.S. already on the ground in Cuba will be much smoother than a regime transition without any such interaction.

    posted by Dan at 12:06 PM | Comments (11) | Trackbacks (3)

    The Onion weighs in on Valerie Plame

    What's scary about this Onion story is that it's not much of a tweak from a real news story. The highlights:

    A White House administration official who can be blamed for leaking the identity of CIA officer Valerie Plame to the press remains at large, White House officials announced Monday.

    "We are doing everything in our power to see that the scapegoat is found and held accountable," President Bush said. "We will not stop until he—or she—is located. Believe me, nobody wants to see the blame placed squarely on the shoulders of a single person, and photos of that individual in every newspaper in the country, more than I do."

    As the White House's search for the scapegoat continues, the Justice Department's investigative team is also working around the clock to find the ostensibly guilty party.

    "We're doing everything we can," Attorney General John Ashcroft said. "I have assured the president that I will let him know the second we find either the leak or a decent scapegoat. It will happen. He's out there somewhere."

    UPDATE: The Wahington Post has a real update on the Plame investigation (link via Josh Marshall)

    posted by Dan at 11:18 AM | Comments (20) | Trackbacks (0)

    The Yglesias-Lowry smackdown

    The American Prospect's Matthew Yglesias and The National Review's Rich Lowry are having a war of words over the prescience of conservatives regarding the Clinton administration's antiterrorism policy.

    Lowry has published Legacy: Paying the Price for the Clinton Years. In it, he writes:

    On September 11, Clinton's most important legacy arrived in horrifying form, and settled in a pile of rubble seven stories high in downtown Manhattan.

    In a Q&A on NRO, Lowry elaborates:

    Well, obviously, Osama bin Laden was responsible for 9/11. But the September 11th attacks were clearly Clinton's most consequential legacy. The way he had hamstrung the CIA, handcuffed the FBI, neglected airport security, and, most importantly, left a nest of terrorist training camps in Afghanistan unmolested — knowing, knowing they were there — created the ticking time bomb that went off on September 11th. Should Bush have done more during the eight months he was in office? Absolutely. But much of his work would have been — and has been — undoing the mistakes of the Clinton administration.

    I talked to a lot of former FBI officials, and they just can't believe the weakness of Clinton in response to the terror threat. After the Khobar Towers bombing in 1996, in which Iran was implicated, Clinton made a semi-apology to Iran while the investigation was still underway. After al Qaeda nearly leveled two U.S. embassies in Africa in 1998, Clinton responded with pinprick cruise-missile strikes, one of which was against a probably mistaken target. After the Cole bombing in 2000, Clinton did nothing.

    On Tapped, Yglesias points out that Lowry's National Review failed to levy these attacks before 9/11. He concludes:

    I would argue that before 9-11 Democrats were more focused on terrorism than Republicans (most of whom seemed overly enamored with missile defense and great-power politics) but it's clear -- in retrospect -- that it would have been nice if both the Clinton and Bush administrations had done more to combat al-Qaeda. By and large, liberals have resisted the temptation to play the 9-11 blame game, but obviously the folks at National Review have no intention of extending us the same courtesy.

    Well, needless to say, this roiled Lowry a fair bit. He responds to Yglesias here. Yglesias then fires back here. Read the entire exchange.

    Two thoughts on this contretemps:

  • If you're Yglesias, you have to be feeling pretty damn good. Forget the merits of the debate. As a recent college graduate and junior member of TAP's writing team has managed to make Rich Lowry mad. If the Center for American Progress has any brains, they'll recruit comers like Yglesias.

  • In his last reply, Yglesias says:

    The question I sought to raise, however, was not whether America's pre-9-11 counterterrorism policy looks flawed in retrospect -- it obviously was -- but whether the editors of the National Review were urging that the Clinton administration do anything substantially different at the time. (emphasis in original)

    Yglesias may or may not be correct on this point -- off the cuff, I suspect he's correct in nailing the National Review as fundamentally realist in orientation, and the realist recommendation during the 1990's on dealing with terrorism was essentially to pull U.S. forces out of the Middle East.

    However, just because the National Review did not criticize the antiterrorism policies of the Clinton era during the Clinton era does not mean no conservative publication failed to do so. It's worth re-reading Tom Donnelly's prescient October 30, 2000 cover story in the Weekly Standard. It was written in the aftermath of the USS Cole bombing. The relevant highlights:

    The immediate reaction to the bombing of the Cole was telling. President Clinton denounced a "cowardly act of terrorism." An American president these days has difficulty recognizing an assault on a U.S. Navy vessel in a foreign port for what it obviously is: an act of war. Almost anything short of a conventional armored invasion across an international border is now regarded as terrorism, ethnic cleansing, or even genocide--something entirely irrational, as opposed to a calculated political act. And the proper response to today's unconventional assaults is seen to be legal and moral: Terrorists should be "brought to justice" and ethnic cleansers made to stand trial in the Hague; our military forces should be employed in a disinterested, evenhanded way on "humanitarian" missions....

    Not only are these anti-American warriors brave, they are increasingly well organized, well armed, and well trained. "Globalism," it turns out, favors not only international businessmen, but also international drug lords and guerrillas. These may be "non-state actors," but they benefit from state sponsorship, and they can form alliances of convenience with governments hostile to the United States or simply take advantage of weak or failing states. New information technologies, along with old-fashioned weapons proliferation, make the resort to violence both tempting and effective.

    Curiously, those most resistant to these lessons include the leaders of the U.S. armed forces, both in uniform and out. To them, constabulary duties are far less glamorous and honorable than the conventional wars they signed up for, and far more ambiguous. These missions do not take place on a well-defined battlefield and drive to a clear end. As a result, despite their frequency, the Pentagon has done almost nothing to adapt its operations, its forces, or its budgets to the new reality.

    As long as the unipolar moment lasts, then, unconventional attacks like that on the Cole or on the Khobar Towers or the ambush of the Rangers in Mogadishu will continue to punctuate the headlines. The American response to these acts of war should be to use the instruments of war--intelligence gathering and military force--not only to avenge them and deter similar acts, but also to frustrate the political aims of our enemies.

    Note, by the way, that the uniformed services come in for as much criticism as Clinton's foreign policy. Criticism that remains relevant today.

  • UPDATE: I was chary in my praise of the Weekly Standard on this score. The same issue that had Donnelly's cover story also included Reuel Marc Gerecht's spot-on criticism of Clinton's antiterrorism policy. Go check it out. Meanwhile, David Adesnik is going after Yglesias on another matter.

    ANOTHER UPDATE: For those interested in reading a defense of the Clinton administration's foreign policy, click here.

    posted by Dan at 12:08 AM | Comments (41) | Trackbacks (2)

    Thursday, October 23, 2003 is huge in India!! HUGE!!

    My favorite part of the movie Singles -- one of Cameron Crowe's lesser works -- is when Matt Dillion tries to console himself at his band's poor reputation in the Seattle music scene by repeating the mantra, "We're huge in Belgium!!"

    Well, now I get to say, "I'm huge in India!!"

    The Indian Express -- which I'm told is the third-largest paper in India -- has reprinted this post on Mahathir Mohammed that became a Tech Central Station column.


    [So, to carry the Singles analogy to its logical conclusion, does this mean you have a poor reputation in the blogosphere?--ed. I don't think so. I just love the "We're huge in Belgium" line.]

    posted by Dan at 04:33 PM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (2)

    Wesley Clark, meet Nora Bensahel

    Wesley Clark is making a lot of hay about the Rumsfeld memo. The Chicago Tribune quotes him as follows:

    [R]etired Army Gen. Wesley Clark, a Democratic presidential candidate, said the memo marked the first glimpse the administration has allowed into problems many critics have been alleging for months.

    "Secretary Rumsfeld is only now acknowledging what we've known for some time--that this administration has no plan for Iraq and no long-term strategy for fighting terrorism," Clark said Wednesday.

    "Attacks on our troops in Iraq are spiking," he said. "If that doesn't impart a sense of urgency, I don't see how a memo is going to do it."

    Clark's running for president, and one can't begrudge the fact that this is both a good and salient line of attack.

    However, it's worth exploring Clark's own policy positions to see how they're holding up. Consider the role of NATO. One of Clark's mantras since 9/11 has been that the Bush administration has slighted NATO and other multilateral fora in fighting the global war on terror. Here's an excerpt from Clark's May 2002 Senate testimony:

    Instead of just looking for additional manpower, ships and aircraft, we need to focus on the problems of eliminating al Qaeda through the exchange of information and sensitive intelligence, through the harmonization of legal and judicial standards and procedures, and the coordination of law enforcement activities. We need to make the international environment as seamless for our counterterrorist efforts as it is seamless to the terrorists themselves.

    However, exchanges of information, harmonization and coordination of activities are extraordinarily difficult. There is no international organization to do this. In fact, even though this is mentioned in the NATO strategic concept, the United States position in the past has always been that we would prefer to do this bilaterally. The problem is that you can't have effective coordination when every different agency of the United States government is working bilaterally with 10, 15, 20 different governments....

    The experience of over 40 years suggests that all of this work is best concerted in institutional rather than ad hoc relationships. As we heard in the previous panel, military liaison is not enough. It has to be embedded at every level of the government. It has to go from the top down. If we didn't have NATO, we'd be in the process of inventing it or reinventing it today. But I think NATO, if it were properly utilized, could provide the institutional framework that we need.

    Here's a more recent essay by Clark on NATO that makes similar points. Again, sounds reasonable. Joe Lieberman has made similar noises on this question.

    However, Patrick Belton links to a new RAND study -- The Counterterror Coalitions: Cooperation with Europe, NATO, and the European Union, by Nora Bensahel [FULL DISCLOSURE: I know Nora from graduate school -- we both attended Stanford]

    The following is from the report summary:

    The long-term success of the counterterror campaign will depend on concerted cooperation from European states, but a key question (addressed in Chapter Three) is the extent to which that cooperation should be pursued through European multilateral institutions. NATO has not yet proven capable of reorienting itself to challenge terrorism....

    As the United States develops a policy of counterterror cooperation with Europe, it must strike the right balance between bilateral and multilateral approaches. The policy choice is not whether to pursue bilateral or multilateral approaches; many important policies are now being made at the European level and multilateral institutions cannot simply be ignored. Instead, the United States must determine which issues are best addressed through a multilateral approach and which ones are best addressed through a bilateral approach.

    This report argues that the United States should pursue military and intelligence cooperation on a bilateral basis, and it should increasingly pursue financial and law enforcement cooperation on a multilateral basis. (See pp. 45–54.) Bilateral cooperation will remain necessary in the military and intelligence realms—states retain significant capacities in these areas, NATO currently lacks the political will to embrace counterterrorism as a new mission, and the EU does not intend to build the centralized structures and offensive capabilities that would be required.

    Bensahel is a policy analyst, while Clark's actually run significant NATO operations. Clark may still be right. Still, this contradicts a key position of his, and -- once he's done with Rumsfeld -- I'd be curious to see how he would respond.

    posted by Dan at 11:56 AM | Comments (18) | Trackbacks (2)

    The verdict is in for the European Union

    Chris Lawrence writes the following:

    Two months ago, Daniel Drezner noted the split over whether the European Union is an international organization or a supranational authority among IR scholars... and that upcoming events in France and Germany would help settle that question—in particular, whether those countries would be punished for violating E.U. treaty commitments.

    At which point, Chris links to the following Glenn Reynolds post, which links to this story from the Scotsman:

    France escaped hefty fines today despite flagrantly breaching EU rules on running the single currency.

    The let-off from the European Commission triggered fresh attacks on the euro’s credibility, with warnings that the UK could not be expected to join the currency while others were allowed to ignore the rules.

    The Commission acknowledges that the French government is failing to keep its economy in line with EU requirements...

    In theory, France could have been fined up to 0.5% of its gross domestic product (GDP) for transgressing the rules, but the Commission this afternoon recommended merely that fellow EU governments “request France to take new measures to reduce the budget deficit“.

    Pieter Dorsman has more on small country reactions to this decision. Chris concludes:

    Not only does this event help confirm Dan’s thesis that the E.U. is, at its core, a regular international organization, it should also give pause to those Americans and others who urge the United States to commit to international agreements involving France and other states.

    Weeeellll....... I wouldn't go that far. The difference between French behavior in the EU and French behavior in a multilateral organization that includes the U.S. is that France is a great power in the context of the former and only a middle-range power in the context of the latter. When the U.S. is a member, France's ability to defect from the rules carries much greater costs.

    Although the media tends to focus on instances in which France makes life difficult for the United States, there are a welter of organizations and clubs -- the G-7, for example -- in which France plays a constructive role.

    A final thought on the European Union. It has been pointed out by many that the macroeconomic rules that France is breaking are pretty stupid. This is undoubtedly true. However, two points in response. First, as I pointed out here:

    [D]issolving the Maastricht criteria is probably the smart move. However, such a decision would be supremely ironic for Germany and France. Those two countries insisted on establishing such stringent macroeconomic criteria in order to exclude Southern European economies like Spain, Italy and Greece from the Euro, because they doubted those countries fiscal prudence.

    Second, instead of actually changing the rules, France is simply flouting them. Neither the European Commission nor the European Council seems prepared to punish France for defecting.

    In other words, at present the European Union, for all of its supranational characteristics, remains an ordinary international organization.

    posted by Dan at 10:49 AM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (3)

    Wednesday, October 22, 2003

    Should I take this as a compliment?

    There's been a rash of denial of service (DoS) attacks on various blogs. Andrew Sullivan and Roger Simon believes these were conscious attacks on warblogs. Joe Katzman has a thorough discussion of this over at Winds of Change.

    Since I was among those who experienced a series of blog outages over the past 72 hours, I guess I should take this as a compliment. The thing is, I might just be an example of collateral damage. I've noticed that whenever InstaPundit faces a DoS attack, so do Calpundit and myself. I wouldn't exactly label Kevin Drum as a warblogger, so this might just be the result of all three of us using the same hosting service.

    Anyway, as Will Baude noticed, when this site was down, I had no backup site -- unlike Glenn Reynolds or Pejman Yousefzadeh.

    So, from now on, if a DoS attack incapacitates this blog for longer than 24 hours, you can find me at my old Blogger site. The address is: For those who really need a daily dose of Drezner [You poor sods--ed.], bookmark the backup.

    posted by Dan at 04:26 PM | Comments (13) | Trackbacks (0)

    The Defense Department moves down the learning curve

    Virginia Postrel links to this USA Today story about a leaked memo from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld that paints a more sober picture of current progress in the War on Terror and Operation Iraqi Freedom. The memo states:

    Does DoD need to think through new ways to organize, train, equip and focus to deal with the global war on terror?

    Are the changes we have and are making too modest and incremental? My impression is that we have not yet made truly bold moves, although we have have made many sensible, logical moves in the right direction, but are they enough?

    Today, we lack metrics to know if we are winning or losing the global war on terror. Are we capturing, killing or deterring and dissuading more terrorists every day than the madrassas and the radical clerics are recruiting, training and deploying against us?

    Postrel observes:

    Probing questions are exactly what DoD needs, no matter how unpolitic they may be. The Pentagon is set up to fight not just traditional armed forces but traditional armed forces in countries with centrally planned economies and innovation-suppressing totalitalitarian governments--adversaries who make the Pentagon look nimble by comparison. But the future security of Americans depends on responding to nimble enemies with flexible tactics. Rumsfeld is asking the right questions. And, while there will certainly be a p.r. flap over the leak, it's better to have them out in public.

    Postrel is completely correct [UPDATE: so does Josh Marshall], and bravo to Rumsfeld for putting it down on paper. It's the job of our leading policymakers to ask uncomfortable questions, plan for worst-case scenarios, and adapt to new facts and new situations.

    That's why this week's Sy Hersh story in The New Yorker is so disturbing -- if true, it suggests that the DoD did none of these things in it's planning for postwar Iraq. Here's the part that raises alarm bells:

    There was also a change in procedure at the Pentagon under Paul Wolfowitz, the Deputy Secretary of Defense, and Douglas Feith, the Under-Secretary for Policy. In the early summer of 2001, a career official assigned to a Pentagon planning office undertook a routine evaluation of the assumption, adopted by Wolfowitz and Feith, that the Iraqi National Congress, an exile group headed by Ahmad Chalabi, could play a major role in a coup d’état to oust Saddam Hussein. They also assumed that Chalabi, after the coup, would be welcomed by Iraqis as a hero.

    An official familiar with the evaluation described how it subjected that scenario to the principle of what planners call “branches and sequels”—that is, “plan for what you expect not to happen.” The official said, “It was a ‘what could go wrong’ study. What if it turns out that Ahmad Chalabi is not so popular? What’s Plan B if you discover that Chalabi and his boys don’t have it in them to accomplish the overthrow?”

    The people in the policy offices didn’t seem to care. When the official asked about the analysis, he was told by a colleague that the new Pentagon leadership wanted to focus not on what could go wrong but on what would go right. He was told that the study’s exploration of options amounted to planning for failure. “Their methodology was analogous to tossing a coin five times and assuming that it would always come up heads,” the official told me. “You need to think about what would happen if it comes up tails.”

    As I said before, bravo to Rumsfeld for raising the big, thorny questions.

    You're finally moving down the learning curve on policy planning.

    UPDATE: Glenn Reynolds has a ton of links on the Rumsfeld memo.

    posted by Dan at 03:14 PM | Comments (18) | Trackbacks (0)

    Falsifying Paul Krugman

    Here's how Paul Krugman explains -- not excuses, but explains -- Mahathir Mohammad's OIC speech:

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

    Here's why Krugman's hypothesis is wrong:

    1) There is no domestic flank to protect. Mahathir's speech was to the Organization of the Islamic Conference -- an international body -- on the current state of the Muslim world. There was no domestic component to his intended audience. [But surely Mahathir knew that media coverage would lead to his domestic flank becoming aware of the speech!--ed. Yes, except that since Mahathir is stepping down as Prime Minister at the end of the month, he doesn't really need to be concerned about the domestic flank. Indeed, in his comments to the brouhaha, it's clear he thinks he was speaking truth to power. If that's the case, why the anti-Semitic rhetoric? Maybe, as Chris Lawrence suggests, Mahathir plans to pull strings from behind the scenes, a la Deng Xiaoping or Lee Kuan Yew--ed. Even if that's true, there's no need to protect a domestic flank, since this kind of power exercise does not need a popular domestic base.]

    2) The dependent variable has taken this value before without the presence of the independent variable. Mahathir's exhibited this behavior prior to the current administration taking power. As Krugman and I have pointed out, Mahathir used similar rhetoric during the Asian financial crisis, which was in a pre-9/11 world. Krugman takes this to mean that whenever Mahathir faces domestic pressure, he'll resort to anti-Semitism, and that in 2003, the domestic pressure emanates from the Bush administration.

    The problem with this logic is that the pressure that Mahathir faced in 1997 was far stronger than anything he's facing now from the United States. Indeed, as David Sanger pointed out yesterday, until recently, Mahathir warmly embraced the U.S.-led war on terror, and the Bush administration embraced Mahathir right back:

    For four days after Mr. Mahathir spun out his theory of how Jews survived efforts to destroy them — and then went on to succeed at the expense of Muslims — Mr. Bush was silent on the speech, even as Italy, Australia and other countries condemned it as offensive and anti-Semitic....

    In fact, Malaysia has often been cited by administration officials as an exemplary moderate Islamic nation, even if it was run by a man who once blamed the Asian financial crisis in 1997 on the Jews and often said Western-style democracy would be a disaster in the developing world....

    In the past, Mr. Bush has bitten his tongue when asked about Mr. Mahathir. When the two men took questions from reporters in the Oval Office in May 2002, the president was asked whether the United States had changed its view that Mr. Mahathir's former deputy prime minister, Anwar Ibrahim, was a political prisoner.

    Mr. Ibrahim, the former finance minister and a potential rival to Mr. Mahathir, was convicted of sodomy and jailed in 1998. But the president, intent that day on emphasizing Malaysia's cooperation in fighting terrorism, made no public reference to Mr. Ibrahim's fate, and said, quietly, "Our position has not changed."

    Where, exactly, is the emprical evidence that supports Krugman? Where are the street protests in Kuala Lumpur over U.S. support of Israel?

    I'm sure Krugman believes that the Bush administration's foreign policy can explain any negative outcome in world politics. From someone with Krugman's ideology, it's a compelling argument. In this case, he's flat-out wrong.

    UPDATE: Andrew Sullivan, Tom Maguire, Robert Musil and the ADL weigh in.

    ANOTHER UPDATE: Thanks to rilkefan, here's a Slate article from 1999 in which Paul Krugman unwittingly falsifies his 2003 hypothesis for Mahathir's behavior!!

    The context: in 1999, Krugman receives and accepts an invitation from Mahathir to visit Malaysia, because Krugman had also disagreed with the IMF's policy recommendations. By the time of the visit, Mahathir has little reason to throw "red meat" to the Muslim majority:

    I arrived at a moment of celebration. When the controls were put on, many Western analysts predicted disaster: a collapse of the economy, hyperinflation, rampant black markets. It didn't happen. Two days before I arrived, the latest statistics had confirmed that Malaysia was in fact experiencing a fairly strong economic recovery.

    So Mahathir has no need to worry about domestic discontent with his regime, and the external pressure from the crisis had faded considerably. So, Mahathir would have little need to resort to anti-Semitism to speak truth to power. Here, however, is Krugman's description of Mahathir's speech at a forum held in Krugman's honor:

    In our staged "dialogue"--which was played out in semi-public, in front of a disturbingly obsequious audience of a hundred or so businessmen--Mahathir continued to sound a minor-key version of the conspiracy theme, insisting that capital controls were necessary to protect small countries against the evil designs of big speculators.

    Krugman describes this as, "an unfortunate emphasis." He doesn't say in the article that Mahathir said that the big speculators were Jewish, but I'd bet a fair amount of money that such a sentence was uttered.

    So, in 1999, with no Bush administration in sight, with little domestic or international pressure on Mahathir's political position, does he change his tune? Nope.

    Advantage: Drezner!!

    FINAL UPDATE: Brad DeLong weighs in.

    posted by Dan at 03:03 PM | Comments (77) | Trackbacks (5)

    The best twenty movies from the last twenty years

    Roger Simon has posted his favorite twenty films of all time. It's a good list -- but at the end, he observes, "What interest me is there isn't a single movie on this list made in the last twenty years."

    Anyone who's been to my personal page knows that I'm a movie buff, and that I like older movies a great deal. However, in defense of my generation's moviegoing habits, I feel it necessary to counter Roger's list with what I think are the twenty best movies from the past twenty years.

    In chronological order:

    1) The Purple Rose of Cairo -- Woody Allen (The ending is so heartbreaking that I've never watched it through to the end a second time).

    2) Bull Durham -- Ron Shelton (Everyone mentions the big speech Kevin Costner's character gives about what he believes. That's actually the worst part of the movie. Everything else in the film gets the rhythm of baseball, sex, and the mysteries of success perfectly).

    3) Say Anything -- Cameron Crowe (The amazing thing about Crowe's movies -- anyone with more than three lines of dialogue is a fully-formed, three-dimensional character).

    4) Do the Right Thing -- Spike Lee (Gorgeous photography by Earnest Dickerson, a screenplay that spends 80% of the movie walking the fine line between comedy and tragedy, and an ambiguous ending).

    5) The Fabulous Baker Boys -- Steve Kloves (Dave Grusin's soundtrack is divine, and Michelle Pfeiffer's performance defines sultry. The Bridges brothers were good, too)

    6) The Silence of the Lambs -- Jonathan Demme (What's amazing, in light of Demme's later trend towards the pedantic, is the subtlety of the direction here. Oh, and the scenes between Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster are pretty good).

    7) Reservoir Dogs -- Quentin Tarantino (The dialogue is great, but it's often forgotten that Tarantino cut the camera away at the moments of horrific violence in this movie. Plus, the ending puts the lie to the notion that "nothing matters" in Tarantino films).

    8) Groundhog Day -- Harold Ramis (Something I never thought possible -- a heart-warming Bill Murray movie).

    9) Schindler's List -- Steven Spielberg (A meditation on the mysteries of good and evil).

    10) Four Weddings and a Funeral -- Mike Newell (The last ten years have been lean for romantic comedies, but this one can hold its own. Not a word out of place).

    11) Courage Under Fire -- Ed Zwick (In terms of acting performances, the most underrated movie of the past ten years. Denzel Washington, Meg Ryan, Matt Damon, and Lou Diamond Phillips are all outstanding).

    12) Saving Private Ryan -- Steven Spielberg (The first movie I cried at since ET: The Extra Terrestrial).

    13) Election -- Alexander Payne (The best movie about politics ever made. That's right, I said ever).

    14) Run Lola Run -- Tom Tykwer (A perfect exercise in plot minimalism. Plus, a kick-ass soundtrack).

    15) The Matrix -- The Wachowski Brothers (The only other movie that left me this awestruck at the power of movies was Raiders of the Lost Ark).

    16) Toy Story 2 -- John Lasseter (The first one was great -- the second one was a perfect mix of poignancy and hilarity).

    17) The Insider -- Michael Mann (This movie shouldn't work, in that there are only two moments of decision in the entire film. It's to Mann's credit that the entire film is gripping).

    18) Mulholland Drive -- David Lynch (This man's films scare me like no others. Plus, it has the most erotic scene put on film in the past twenty years).

    19) Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon -- Ang Lee (The martial arts!! The music!! The joy of discovering Zhang Zhiyi!!)

    20) Monsoon Wedding -- Mira Nair (Gorgeous photography, great music, and an interesting exploration of tradition and modernity in India).

    Looking over the list, I'm intrigued to see how much action and music played a role in my decisions.

    Let the debate commence!!

    UPDATE: Damn, lots of good movies that commenters and other bloggers have raised that I didn't think about when I composed the list -- This is Spinal Tap, The Princess Bride, Searching for Bobby Fischer, Lone Star, L.A. Confidential, Zero Effect, and High Fidelity. Maybe I would take one of these over Courage Under Fire, but otherwise I'm still comfortable with the list.

    posted by Dan at 08:30 AM | Comments (56) | Trackbacks (13)

    Tuesday, October 21, 2003

    An apology to Gregg Easterbrook

    In my last post on Gregg Easterbrook, I quoted what I thought was an e-mail sent by him to other bloggers that was posted in The Power Line.

    I've been informed by both Brad DeLong and Gregg Easterbrook that the e-mail was a fake, so I'm crossed it out from my post.

    My apologies for getting suckered. It was a disservice to you, the readers, as well as to Easterbrook. Gregg's cool with it -- as he put it in an e-mail, it's "the nature of a new medium." For those readers who prowl other blogs, if you see it there, let the blogger know it's a fake.

    We'll return to our regularly scheduled blogging tomorrow.

    UPDATE: See the comment below by John Hinderaker of the Power Line. All I can say is that I'm going on what DeLong and Easterbrook have told me via e-mail.

    posted by Dan at 10:02 PM | Comments (12) | Trackbacks (1)

    Monday, October 20, 2003

    The post-war debate about the pre-war rhetoric -- my decision

    It's time for my decision. I'd like to congratulate Holsclaw and Schwarz for the effort they put into their arguments. I'd also like to congratulate Jerry, who easily made the silliest argument -- pro or con -- of all the commenters.

    The question, to review, is:

    "It is a complete fabrication that the Bush administration argued in the runup to the war that there was an imminent threat from Iraq."

    You can see their posts, in order, here, here, here, here, and here. Note what Holsclaw and Schwarz were not debating:

  • "Bush lied." -- What was in dispute was rhetoric and not intent -- so I ignored all the various hypotheses both authors proffered about why the administration did what it did.
  • "We only went to war because Bush said there was an imminent threat." That's patently false, but whether the Bush administration made other arguments justifying the use of force is irrelevant to the question of whether an imminent threat argument was used.
  • "The administration implied there was an imminent threat." To argue is to use the active voice to make a positive argument. To hint at something, or fail to correct misperceptions made by others, is not quite the same thing.
  • So, with my criteria clear, the winner is....

    Jonathan Schwarz

    Here's my reasoning:

    1) Schwarz is correct to point out that the administration redefined imminent threat in its 2001 National Security Strategy. As Schwarz quoted:

    We must adapt the concept of imminent threat to the capabilities and objectives of today’s adversaries. Rogue states and terrorists do not seek to attack us using conventional means. They know such attacks would fail. Instead, they rely on acts of terror and, potentially, the use of weapons of mass destruction -- weapons that can be easily concealed, delivered covertly, and used without warning.

    So, the Bush administration's concept of imminent threat encompassed more situations than prior definitions. For this administration, the combination of hostile intentions and WMD-delivery capabilities is sufficient to be labeled as "imminent." Note, by the way, that this also clears away all the underbrush generated by the Thesaurus Wars.

    2) On the capabilities question, Schwarz wins. His quotations from Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld all characterize Hussein's capabilities as both pre-existing (with regard to chemical or biological weapons) and growing over time. The quotes also indicate that the administration argued at various points that Hussein would use terrorist groups as his delivery mechanism. Holsclaw, in characterizing the Cheney quote, acknowledges:

    "This quote points out Saddam's capability, and our knowledge about Saddam's willingness to use such capabilities makes it disturbing that he should continue in power indefinitely."

    3) The above quote also indicates that Holsclaw accepted that Cheney, at least, thought Hussein's intentions were hostile. Interestingly, neither debater really delved into the question of Saddam Hussein's intentions. This was actually the key argument behind the realist opposition to the war -- that Saddam's intentions were not fundamentally aggressive. However, given Bush's description in the SOTU of Saddam as "evil", and his statement in same that, "trusting in the sanity and restraint of Saddam Hussein is not a strategy, and it is not an option," I'm assuming both of them will stipulate that the administration argued that Saddam had malevolent and hostile intentions.

    4) Holsclaw's best argument is this much-cited paragraph from the State of the Union:

    Some have said we must not act until the threat is imminent. Since when have terrorists and tyrants announced their intentions, politely putting us on notice before they strike? If this threat is permitted to fully and suddenly emerge, all actions, all words, and all recriminations would come too late.

    Here, it seems that Bush makes a distinction between the conventional definition of "imminent threat" and what weas articulated in the National Security Strategy. Holsclaw concludes from this statement:

    The Bush administration did not in fact argue that there was an imminent threat. In fact they strenuously resisted labeling it as such.

    This is where the "complete fabrication" part of the statement works against Holsclaw. It doesn't matter if Bush makes the clear distinction between in the SOTU, if he or other principals in the administration blurred the distinction at other points in the debate over Iraq. And here, the preponderance of the evidence favors Schwarz. From the National Security Strategy forward, the administration argued that:

  • The definition of "imminent" needs to be expanded;
  • The threat from Saddam Hussein -- in the form of "grave and gathering" capabilities and hostile intentions -- was getting worse.
  • Was it a complete fabrication that the administration argued in the runup to the war that there was an imminent threat from Iraq? No, it was not.

    Congratulations to Jonathan for winning the $100. As a consolation to Sebastian -- who I think faced an uphill battle due to the framing of the question -- let me take the opportunity to encourage those who agreed and disagreed but respected his line of argumentation to go check out his new blog.

    [So, you're saying that Schwarz wins, but that in winning he doesn't vindicate the bulk of the anti-war criticisms. Were you trying to alienate all sides?--ed. I believe that is the technical description of "referee."]

    posted by Dan at 11:05 PM | Comments (47) | Trackbacks (6)

    Last thoughts on Easterbrook

    The New Republic's editors have just posted their response to the Easterbrook donnybrook. Worth a read. A key paragraph:

    But, while we understand the outrage that Easterbrook's comment has caused, we are concerned also about the brutality of some of the criticism. There is another, important side to this story. We have known Easterbrook for many years, and we wish to say without doubt or hesitation that he is not an anti-Semite. Indeed, he is a person of high integrity. He has written prolifically and thoughtfully and with great erudition on many subjects, including science, the environment, politics, and religion; and the moral sensibility that appears in his writings is that of tolerance and open-mindedness. The many editors and writers who have worked with him over the decades of his career--at Time, Newsweek, The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, and The Washington Monthly, to name but a few--can all attest not only to his talent, but to his character. A good individual said a bad thing. Sometimes this happens. (Sometimes a bad individual says a good thing.) When it happens, he must credibly express his regret, and his understanding of how he erred. This Easterbrook has done. We have seen too many reputations unjustly ruined by media inquisitions and the vituperative politics of ethnic insult in America. We hope that the firmness with which Easterbrook's awful remark has been judged will be attended by fairness in the consideration of his character and his career. What he wrote last week is the terrible exception, not the terrible rule.

    Mickey Kaus' post on the subject strikes a similar tone:

    I've known Gregg Easterbrook since 1979, when he was hired as a fellow editor at The Washington Monthly. He's not remotely an anti-Semite, as his colleagues from the The New Republic have attested, nor have I ever heard him express a bigoted thought in the 24 years I've known him. He's one of the smartest people I've ever met, and he's produced some of the best journalism I've ever read, and he's extremely funny (as his ESPN readers know)--yet he also has a slightly clumsy, emotional, well-meaning earnestness about him. That may be part of what got him into trouble. But the easiest thing to to say about the Easterblogg controversy is that this wasn't a case of the mask slipping to reveal a writer's previously concealed, ugly thoughts (despite Roger Simon's reasonable suspicions). Forget that idea.

    Finally, The Power Line reprints an e-mail from Easterbrook that is making the rounds of the blogosphere. [UPDATE: Easterbrook says this e-mail is not genuine. See this post for more.] Some of the disconcerting sections:

    Yesterday I was told to expect to be fired by ESPN. It hasn't happened yet, but seems likely [he has since been fired by ESPN]. Friday the top officers of ESPN refused several orders from Michael Eisner, the head of Disney, that I be fired. By the end of the day it seemed likely they would give in....

    Yesterday I was told by an ally within Disney corporate that Eisner has assigned people to try to destroy the book [The Progress Paradox: How Life Gets Better While People Feel Worse] -- to get Time to drop the serial, to keep me off interview shows, even to get Random House to kill the book. In a published body of work that now extends to millions of words, I have written three foolish and wrong sentences. Now I've not only lost reputation and half my income (ESPN): what matters to me most in all the world, my book writing, is in jeopardy at the worst possible time. And I'm up against one of the richest, most vindictive men in the world. (emphasis added)

    As I've said before, Easterbrook must bear the costs of exercising his right to free speech. However, if this is true, then Eisner is enggaging in mass overkill.

    UPDATE: Eugene Volokh gets a response to his letter from ESPN. Go read it for a concrete example of the term "Orwellian."

    posted by Dan at 06:17 PM | Comments (41) | Trackbacks (1)

    Odds & ends on anti-semitism

    In no particular order:

  • Tech Central Station is running a slightly revised version of my take on Mahathir's speech from last Friday. See if you can spot the minor revisions!!

  • Speaking of that speech, here are the highlights of the the Daily Times of Pakistan editorial about it:

    Dr Mohammad’s speech has 4223 words and 59 paragraphs. Out of these, his direct or indirect references to the Jewish people, the Palestinian problem, Israel, Zionism and Western policies only make up 373 words. And these 373 words include the line: “Even among the Jews there are many who do not approve of what the Israelis are doing”. This sentence alone should make clear to anyone accusing Dr Mohammad of anti-Semitism of the absurdity of the charge since he makes a clear distinction between the Jewish people and the state of Israel....

    We fail to see why anyone in the West should quibble with what Dr Mohammad has said. Clearly, what has caused the uproar are his remarks about the Jewish ‘control of the world’. And pray, how is he wrong on that count? Is it any secret that there is a very powerful Jewish lobby in the United States that all but controls that country’s political system? Is it a secret that without the unstinting support of the United States, Israel could not have survived and gone from strength to strength? Is it any secret that the Nixon administration resorted to the biggest airlift in Oct 1973 since the crisis over Berlin after the then Israeli premier Golda Meir rushed to Washington in the face of advancing Egyptian armour? Is it any secret that the United States has killed (or compelled members to water down) every single resolution the United Nations Security Council has tried to bring against Israel? Is it any secret that the United States has multiple joint weapons development programmes with Israel? Is it any secret that scores of American politicians have seen their political careers come to an end at the hands of the Jewish lobby and Jewish money? Is it any secret that a sizeable number of Washington’s neo-cons are Jews? Is it also any secret that they pushed the United States into a war with Iraq and the reshaping of the Middle East, an enterprise for which they had prepared a blueprint back in 1995, much before the events of September 11, 2001?

    Thanks to's trusted South Asian correspondent A.A. for the link.

  • Roger Simon links to this Agence France-Presse story in which Mahathir thanked French President Jacques Chirac for blocking an official European Union declaration condemning the anti-Semitic portion of his comments. The key quote:

    "I never thought the Europeans would be against me," the New Sunday Times quoted him as saying. "I can't understand them. I'm glad that Chirac at least understands. I would like to thank him publicly."

    Solomonia points out that this thank-you has unnerved Chirac to the point of being more explicit in his condemnation. He links to this Haaretz story reporting that Cirac has sent a personal letter to Mahathir that contains the following paragraph:

    "Your remarks on the rule of Jews gave rise to very strong disapproval in France and in the world... these remarks can only be condemned by all who preserve the memory of the Holocaust."

  • I'm a bit surprised there's not more big media coverage of ESPN's decision to turn Gregg Easterbrook into a non-person. For the latest, go see Glenn Reynolds, Meryl Yourish, Aaron Schatz, and Howard Kurtz. UPDATE: Mickey Kaus weighs in as well.

    Yourish reports that Easterbrook's firing has had significant costs, since his ESPN payments were, "a huge chunk of his income." Howard Kurtz quotes Easterbrook saying, "This nuclear-bomb response is dramatically disproportionate to the offense,"

    Now, I think ESPN erred in what they did, but I have to wonder whether Easterbrook's comments now contradict his comments from two years ago (thanks to Don Williams for the link) on the costs of free speech:

    William Blackstone, the English legal theorist closely read by the Framers, argued that the essence of free speech was forbidding prior restraint: Anyone should be able to say anything, but then must live with the aftermath. A citizen should possess "an undoubted right to lay what sentiments he pleases before the public," Blackstone wrote in his "Commentaries"--which James Madison consulted often while working on drafts of the First Amendment wording--but "must take the consequences" for any reaction.

    The reaction to free speech, Madison thought, would be part of the mechanism by which society sifted out beliefs. Protected by Madison's amendment, the Ku Klux Klan can spew whatever repugnant drivel its wishes. Society, in turn, shuns KKK members for the repugnant people their free speech exposes them to be. No one expects the KKK to speak without a price; its price is ostracism...

    [W]hen the novelist Barbara Kingsolver says "the American flag stands for intimidation, censorship, violence, bigotry, sexism, homophobia and shoving the Constitution through a paper shredder," or the novelist Arundhati Roy says George W. Bush and Osama bin Laden are "interchangeable," these statements are safeguarded. But readers may fairly respond by declining to buy Ms. Kingsolver's and Ms. Roy's books, and bookstores may fairly respond by declining to stock them. That these authors have a right to their views does not mean publishers and bookstores must promote them. It is censorship if books are seized and burned; it is not censorship if books are tossed into the trash because their authors mock the liberty that made the books possible. Indeed, expressing revulsion at the sight of a Kingsolver book is itself a form of protected speech....

    Speech must be free, but cannot be without cost.

    Maybe the cost of Easterbrook's speech in this incident was excessive. But to extend his analogy, if a bookstore has the right to not promote a book, then ESPN has the right to not promote Easterbrook.

  • A final thought on Atrios' criticism of Easterbrook. I think that he makes a good point in this post -- namely, that Easterbrook assumed way too much about Eisner and Weinstein's faith. There's also an interesting discussion between him and Josh Marshall on the mores and clubbiness of DC insiders. Start here, then go here, then here, then here and here.

    However, Atrios concludes his last post by saying, "I find the rallying around him rather creepy." You know what I find creepy? Anonymous bloggers hypocritically lambasting Easterbrook and other bloggers with the guts to write under their own name.

    A hypothetical: what happens if Atrios had posted something equally offensive? Does he lose his day job? No, because of his anonymity. He clearly prefers it this way, and I'm not saying that bloggers must out themselves. However, the cloak of anonymity does give Atrios a degree of insulation that other bloggers don't have. Say what you will about Easterbrook -- at least he put his real name on his posts. It's not clear to me that Atrios is willing to bear the real costs of free speech that have now entangled Easterbrook.

    UPDATE: Will Baude writes:

    I'm questioning Professor Drezner's implied assertion that anonymous bloggers have some special duty to, say, the Gregg Easterbrooks of the world to defend them from being punished by their employers.

    I wasn't trying to imply that at all. I was trying to imply that the kind of schadenfreude Atrios takes from Easterbrook's current plight strikes me as hypocritical.

  • posted by Dan at 11:35 AM | Comments (25) | Trackbacks (6)

    Saturday, October 18, 2003

    Gregg Easterbrook, anti-semitism, and ESPN

    Despite yesterday's post about the Malaysian Prime Minister's graceless remarks, I don't blog all that much about anti-Semitism. Alas, this will have to be the second post in the last 48 hours on the subject.

    I just learned about the accusations of anti-Semitism against Gregg Easterbrook for his tirade against Miramax, Quentin Tarantino, and "Kill Bill" on his TNR blog.

    Having read the controversial post, I concluded:

  • Easterbrook has clearly never seen Reservoir Dogs;
  • Easterbrook did not "get" Scream;
  • Easterbrook's final two grafs -- the source of all of the controversey -- was a bizarre and offensive rant extraneous to the rest of his misguided post;

    After reading his apology, my conclusions are slightly more charitable than Virginia Postrel's.

    What genuinely puzzles me is that Easterbrook is hardly a novice in his writings on religion. He is, however, a novice blogger, which might be the best explanation. Andrew Sullivan phrases it nicely in his Inside Dish:

    Blogging is, indeed, a high-wire act. Looking back, I write about a quarter of a million words a year. The notion that I will not write something dumb, offensive or simply foolish from time to time is absurd. Of course I will. Writing is about being human. And blogging is perhaps one of the least protected, most human forms of writing we have yet discovered. It's like speaking on air, live. Yes, bloggers should take criticism. But they should be judged on the totality of their work, not their occasional screw-ups.

    Welcome to the blogosphere, Gregg. You jumped in at the deep end.

    Eric Alterman makes a similar argument:

    Action frequently gets the better of thought. Gregg could have used an editor before he wrote those silly words, but apparently he didn’t have one. He is, as he said, willing to defend the thoughts behind his anti-Semitic-sounding post, but not the words themselves.

    Many bloggers could and should say the same, but don’t do so often enough.

    [Easterbrook should have taken your advice!--ed. Well, that post also recommended blogging about religion, so maybe he did.]

    As a big fan of Easterbrook's writings in general, and his Tuesday Morning Quarterback column for ESPN in particular, I've never come across anything else in his voluminous set of writings that even hinted at anti-Semitism. When someone without a track record of these utterances apologizes, I tend to think that's the end of it.

    However, according to Roger Simon, Easterbrook has been fired from ESPN for what he wrote on his blog. Glenn Reynolds has a collection of responses across the blogosphere, as well as's Orwellian response. Meryl Yourish -- who has been unrelenting in flogging Easterbrook for his screw-up -- thinks ESPN has screwed up.

    I tend to agree. This situation is not analagous to Rush Limbaugh's. Easterbrook's gaffe does not appear to have been on ESPN, and he's apologized. Limbaugh made his statements on ESPN, did not really apologize, and then refused to appear on Sportscenter to defend himself.

    [A side note: the above graf is based on Glenn Reynolds assertion that this decision was, "especially bizarre given that the whole flap was about something that wasn't even published at ESPN." I'm not completely sure that's true -- a lot of Easterbrook's initial posts at Easterblogg appeared in his Tuesday Morning Quarterback posts. However, since ESPN has erased all of his posts, I can't check on my own and will assume that what Reynolds says is true. UPDATE: I just found the cached version of the last two TMQ columns at Google -- and "Kill Bill" is not mentioned in either of them.]

    Think ESPN screwed up? Let them know about it.

  • posted by Dan at 10:06 PM | Comments (31) | Trackbacks (5)

    The post-war debate about the pre-war rhetoric -- the final chapter!!

    Holsclaw and Schwartz offer their final rebuttals to the other person's positions (click here, here, here, and here for the backstory). I'll render my decision on Monday.

    I'm putting Holsclaw's reply first because it's shorter -- to go straight to Schwarz, click here.

    Now to Holsclaw:

    As the debate comes to a close, I realize that I have said most everything I wanted to say. Schwarz came up with his best quotes, and I showed that in context they were not arguments for an imminent threat. Barring quotes that I haven't been able to respond to, the case that Bush was arguing for an imminent threat is amazingly sparse considering that the Bush administration was making its case for more than a year. So, for a change, I'll try to make a brief summary. The question is did the Bush administration argue that Iraq was an imminent threat. They clearly participated in arguments where people like Kennedy and Byrd thought that the question of imminent threat was important. They did not however present imminent threat as their own argument for the war. From the very beginning, questions of imminent threat were used by opponents of the war, because everyone understood that an imminent threat threshold was too high to justify a war against Iraq.

    Again and again the Bush administration argued that Saddam was a serious threat because of his past behaviour. Constantly the Bush administration argued that Saddam was a growing threat because of the impossibility of indefinitely sustaining an inspection regime. Bush always argued that Saddam was an important threat, a threat that would get worse with time, and a threat which ought not be left to fester. 'Imminent threat' however was a term with a very specific meaning in the debate. Bush understood that his administration couldn't meet the burden of 'imminent threat'. That is the reason why he resisted Byrd's attempt to add 'imminent threat' to the Senate's authorizing language. Link

    A complete fabrication does not have to be wrong in every single particular. If I said about Howard Dean: "He is a man with no real experience in government, who wants to surrender to our enemies and destroy the engine of our economy," this would be a complete fabrication even though certain parts are totally true. He is a man. His formal position is not exactly the same as stated, though Roget's thesaurus says that 'surrender' is synonymous with abandon. He has no experience in federal government. Parts of the statement have some association with the truth, but the statement as a whole is a complete fabrication.

    Bush did not argue that Iraq was an imminent threat. Even with the cherry picked quotes which Schwarz uses it is apparent that the administration was arguing for a serious threat but not an imminent one. This is even more true if you analyze the debate as a whole.

    Bush in fact, during the most public possible speech on the subject, specifically argued that the imminent threat standard was an inappropriate standard for choosing whether or not to wage war against Iraq.

    It is a fabrication to characterize this as Bush's administration arguing that Iraq was an imminent threat.

    And now to Schwarz:

    (Thanks to Slyblog and Anonymous Blogger.)

    1. I'll begin my final post with an excerpt from the official National Security Strategy of the United States, signed by George Bush on September 17, 2002:

    For centuries, international law recognized that nations need not suffer an attack before they can lawfully take action to defend themselves against forces that present an imminent danger of attack. Legal scholars and international jurists often conditioned the legitimacy of preemption on the existence of an imminent threat -- most often a visible mobilization of armies, navies, and air forces preparing to attack.

    We must adapt the concept of imminent threat to the capabilities and objectives of today’s adversaries. Rogue states and terrorists do not seek to attack us using conventional means. They know such attacks would fail. Instead, they rely on acts of terror and, potentially, the use of weapons of mass destruction -- weapons that can be easily concealed, delivered covertly, and used without warning.

    Given this, there are only two possible interpretations of the Bush administration's case for invading Iraq:

    (A) The Bush administration was arguing that, by its own definition, Iraq fell under the concept of an imminent threat;
    (B) The Bush administration was arguing that an invasion of Iraq would fall outside America's official National Security Strategy

    By this point I wouldn't be surprised if some people would endorse the second possibility, as preposterous as it is. But in any case, this clearly invalidates Sebastian's claims about how imminent should be defined for this bet.

    For much, much, much more, see below.

    2. To be honest, I wish I hadn't felt I had to cite a thesaurus. The reason I did is because debate about this issue seems to have an Alice in Wonderland quality, in which words have no agreed-upon meaning. "Moptop" really embraces this beautiful Humpty Dumpty spirit in his comment, "Gathering does not mean Imminent no matter what the thesaurus says."

    Weirdly, in Sebastian's remarks about thesauruses he takes us further down the rabbit hole -- since he contends that synonyms are merely a "range of somewhat similar meaning words."

    I'm sorry, this is just not so. I hate to have to do this, but here are four definitions of "synonym":

    The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition
    "A word having the same or nearly the same meaning as another word or other words in a language."

    Cambridge International Dictionary of English
    "A word or phrase which has the same or nearly the same meaning as another word or phrase in the same language."
    "A word having the same or nearly the same meaning as another in the language, as joyful, elated, glad."

    "A word having the same or nearly the same meaning as another word of the same language."

    If we are going by the dictionary meaning of synonymous, it cannot be argued that the Bush administration did not use words having the same or nearly the same meaning as "imminent threat." Therefore, if we are going by thesauruses and dictionaries, it is not a complete fabrication that the Bush administration argued Iraq was an imminent threat.

    3. To be fair, of course, this is not the main sense of Sebastian's argument. Rather, he is explicitly arguing that in the context of the debate regarding Iraq, everyone agreed that "imminent" was being used with a non-standard, particularly narrow definition.

    He writes, "phrases have different meanings in different contexts." In a direct email to me, he fleshed out this point:

    "Imminent Threat" as used in the Iraq debate is a specific term used especially by Sen. Kennedy and Sen. Byrd to describe a threat which is right on the verge of coming to fruition. In his formulation it is akin to the Catholic Church's "Just War" doctrine... The threat would never be "imminent" enough for Kennedy and Byrd, or more precisely the window between imminent threat and too late was ridiculously narrow... Bush didn't argue that this "imminent" threat level was the appropriate threat level to trigger the war. He argued that a completely different level of threat was needed. Hence my statement: "it is a complete fabrication that Bush argued there was an imminent threat." He argued for a different standard... He said in a quote which we have already discussed and which was part of the State of the Union address, that "imminent" was too late. He is using the term "imminent" just as his opponents were in the whole debate.

    This could, in theory, be a good argument -- if everyone discussing Iraq had in fact agreed that we were all using a "specific," "ridiculously narrow" definition of imminent.

    Obviously, this is not the case at all. First of all, Sebastian provides no evidence of any kind that opponents of the war were using a special, ridiculously narrow definition. Here are the relevant quotes from the sources he cites:


    There is clearly a threat from Iraq, and there is clearly a danger, but the Administration has not made a convincing case that we face such an imminent threat to our national security that a unilateral, pre-emptive American strike and an immediate war are necessary... We have known for many years that Saddam Hussein is seeking and developing weapons of mass destruction. Our intelligence community is also deeply concerned about the acquisition of such weapons by Iran, North Korea, Libya, Syria and other nations. But information from the intelligence community over the past six months does not point to Iraq as an imminent threat to the United States or a major proliferator of weapons of mass destruction.


    "Does Saddam Hussein pose an imminent threat to the United States?" Byrd asked. "Should Congress grant the President authority to launch a preemptive attack on Iraq?"


    Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., said he regretted that “some in the Congress rushed so quickly to support” the Lieberman-McCain-Warner resolution. But he then said he plans to vote for that resolution... "But approving this resolution does not mean military action is imminent or unavoidable. The vote I will give to the president is for one reason and one reason only. I will not support a unilateral war against Iraq unless the threat is imminent."

    Even more significantly, of course, none of the available evidence about what the Bush administration meant by imminent indicates they were using an unusually narrow definition. In fact, exactly the opposite: it indicates they were using an unusually broad definition of imminent.

    As I initially cited, Bush's official National Security Strategy states: "We must adapt the concept of imminent threat to the capabilities and objectives of today’s adversaries."

    Next, here is Condoleezza Rice, speaking about Iraq and the new National Security Strategy on October 1, 2002: "new technology requires new thinking about when a threat actually becomes 'imminent.'"

    Here is Donald Rumsfeld being interviewed on November 14, 2002. Note that Rumsfeld himself here uses "immediate threat" as a synonym for "imminent threat":

    Kroft: Mr. Secretary, we've also, in addition to phone calls, we've gotten emails, and I want to read one to you. I'm the parent of an Army Reserve soldier who has already gone through his training and is on the next call up list to be deployed to the Persian Gulf area within the next few weeks, for a period of six months to two years. I'm not yet convinced that Iraq is such an imminent threat to the United States that it justifies having my son placed in harms way. If I were there in person, speaking to you, what would you say to convince me?

    Rumsfeld: Well, first, we're grateful that your son is serving, and wants to serve. And I can't help but recognize the feelings that a parent has. What would I say to you? Well, I would look you in the eye and I would say, go back before September 11th and ask yourself this question, was the attack that took place on September 11th an imminent threat the month before, or two months before, or three months before, or six months before? When did the attack on September 11th become an imminent threat? When was it sufficiently dangerous to our country that had we known about it that we could have stepped up and stopped it and saved 3,000 lives? Now, transport yourself forward a year, two years, or a week, or a month, and if Saddam Hussein were to take his weapons of mass destruction and transfer them, either use them himself, or transfer them to the al Qaeda, and somehow the al Qaeda were to engage in an attack on the United States, or an attack on U.S. forces overseas, with a weapon of mass destruction you're not talking about 300, or 3,000 people potentially being killed, but 30,000, or 100,000 of human beings. So the question is, when is it such an immediate threat that you must do something, is a tough question. But if you think about it, it's the nexus, the connection, the relationship between terrorist states and weapons of mass destruction with terrorist networks that has changed our lives, and changed the security environment in the world.

    Here is Paul Wolfowitz speaking on November 15th of last year:

    Another question that I’m often asked, is “why act now, why not wait until the threat is imminent?”... The notion that we can wait until the threat is imminent assumes that we will know when it is imminent... Just stop and think for a moment. Just when were the attacks of September 11th imminent? Presumably they were imminent on September 10th. Were they imminent in August of 2001? As a matter of fact, if we had taken military action against Afghanistan in August of 2001 it would have had no affect on the September 11th plotters—they were all here in the United States, they were all ready to go.

    One might even argue it was already imminent in the spring of 2001 when all of the hijackers had arrived here. Was it imminent in early 2000 when all of the pilots had arrived in the United States? Perhaps it was imminent a few months before when Muhammad Atta and his friends in Hamburg had laid their plans.

    Here is Donald Rumsfeld answering a reporter's question on this issue -- the day after the State of the Union address:

    Q: Do you believe Iraq represents an imminent threat to the United States?

    Rumsfeld: You know, that is a question that is coming up quite a bit, and it's an important question... Now, at what moment was the threat to -- for September 11th imminent? Was it imminent a week before, a month before, a year before, an hour before? Was it imminent befor you could -- while you could still stop it, or was it imminent only after it started and you couldn't stop it, or you could stop one of the three planes instead of two or all three? These are very tough questions... How do we, how do you, how do all of us, how do the people in the world decide the imminence of something? And I would submit that the hurdle, the bar that one must go over, changes depending on the potential lethality of the act.

    Since we're talking about context, let's closely examine the context of this. George Bush had said in the one of the most high profile speeches on earth that Iraq might "bring us a day of horror like none we have ever known." The very next day, Rumsfeld explained that the meaning of imminence "changes depending on the potential lethality of the act."

    Finally, since Sebastian brought up Just War theory, it's worth noting that the Bush administration invited Michael Novak to come to the Vatican and present an address arguing that an invasion of Iraq was in accordance with Just War doctrine.

    So, to repeat: Sebastian argues that when discussing Iraq everyone had agreed upon a non-standard, very narrow definition of "imminent threat." Yet not only does he provide no evidence that this was the case, the Bush administration explicitly argued for a broad definition of imminent.

    This leaves us with the State of the Union address. I think it would be justified to ignore Sebastian's remarks about it, since the context in which Bush was using the term "imminent" was nothing at all like the one Sebastian claims.

    Nonetheless, I think it's worth examining, because Sebastian's parsing of its meaning is such pure gobbledygook. First, he agrees it's "correct that Bush states that we cannot know whether the threat is imminent." Then he writes that Bush was equating a threat that has fully emerged with a threat that is imminent: "[Bush says] that if we permit the threat to fully emerge, if we allow the threat to become imminent, we have waited too long."

    In other words, by Sebastian's logic, Bush meant that even at the point when a threat has "fully and suddenly emerged" and "all actions, all words, and all recriminations" are too late -- which can only mean the point when the terrorists and tyrants have struck and an attack has actually occurred -- we may be unable to perceive it. Somehow we may not notice "a day of horror like none we have ever known."

    I suggest it is this rhetoric of Sebastian's which is tortured, not mine. Let me therefore repeat and elaborate on my straightforward, commonsense interpretation of Bush's statement:

    Bush was not using an extremely narrow definition of imminent. He wasn't equating an "imminent threat" to a threat that had fully and suddenly emerged and about which it is too late to do anything. Rather, he was saying that Iraq could be an imminent threat for a period of time without our perceiving it as imminent -- as we were unaware in August, 2001 that Al-Qaida would soon destroy the World Trade Center. Then the threat from Iraq might fully and suddenly emerge, just like the Al-Qaida attacks fully and suddenly emerged on September 11th. So Bush wasn't saying that imminence was not the correct standard to use -- ie, that we should still invade Iraq even if we knew it wasn't an imminent threat.

    To sum up: Sebastian has provided no basis in reality for his claim that we should be employing a "specific," "ridiculously narrow" definition for imminent threat. Indeed, reality points in precisely the opposite direction.

    So, we can use the meanings found in thesauruses and dictionaries. Or we can use the more expansive definition of imminent suggested by the Bush administration. Either way, the idea that the Bush administration argued that Iraq was an imminent threat is absolutely not a complete fabrication.

    4. I hate to go into any more detail, but I feel like I have to.

    Sebastian's treatment of the Fleischer quotes exacerbates my feeling we're in a situation in which words can mean anything at all.

    For instance, Sebastian states that in both quotes, the "imminent threat" portion of the reporters' questions was a "mere preface to the substance of the question."

    This is just not true. In the first Fleischer quote, the "imminent threat" portion is not a mere preface, but an absolutely critical part of the question the reporter is asking. Without it the reporter's question makes no sense whatsoever. And Fleischer answers in the affirmative:

    Q Ari, the President has been saying that the threat from Iraq is imminent, that we have to act now to disarm the country of its weapons of mass destruction, and that it has to allow the U.N. inspectors in, unfettered, no conditions, so forth.


    Q The chief U.N. inspector, however, is saying that, even under those conditions, it would be as much as a year before he could actually make a definitive report to the U.N. that Iraq is complying with the resolutions and allowing the inspections to take place. Isn't there a kind of a dichotomy? Can we wait a year, if it's so imminent we have to act now?

    MR. FLEISCHER: Well, that's why the President has gone to the United Nations to make certain that the conditions by which the inspectors would go back would be very different from the current terms that inspectors have been traveling around Iraq in as they've been thwarted in their attempt to find out what weapons Saddam Hussein has. But it's also important to hold Saddam Hussein accountable to make certain he no longer violates the will of the United Nations.

    The meaning of Fleischer's statement is not a mystery. The only plausible interpretation is that he means: Yes, the president has been saying the threat is so imminent that we have to act now. The president is acting now to make sure there are inspections that aren't thwarted. If there are inspections that aren't thwarted then the threat may diminish. Without inspections, or with inspections that are thwarted, the threat will remain imminent.

    In the second Fleischer quote, the "imminent threat" portion again is not a "preface to the substance of the question." Indeed, again, it is the substance of the question:

    Q: Well, we went to war, didn't we, to find these -- because we said that these weapons were a direct and imminent threat to the United States? Isn't that true?

    MR. FLEISCHER: Absolutely. One of the reasons that we went to war was because of their possession of weapons of mass destruction. And nothing has changed on that front at all. We said what we said because we meant it.

    It's beyond me how Sebastian can claim that Fleischer is not here agreeing that the U.S. said "these weapons were a direct and imminent threat to the United States." To understand how ridiculous this is, let's imagine a parallel question and response:

    Q: Well, we went to war, didn't we, to find these -- because we said that these beanie babies were really cute and we wanted them? Isn't that true?

    MR. FLEISCHER: Absolutely. One of the reasons that we went to war was because of their possession of beanie babies. And nothing has changed on that front at all. We said what we said because we meant it.

    Sebastian would then argue that it was a complete fabrication that Fleischer confirmed that "we said that these beanie babies were really cute and we wanted them."

    Lastly, I note again the contradiction between Fleischer's behavior and Sebastian's claim that the Bush administration "strenuously avoided labeling" Iraq as an imminent threat. Here's another example in which exactly the opposite happened:

    Q: There is no imminent threat.

    MR. FLEISCHER: This is where -- Helen, if you were President you might view things differently. But you have your judgment and the President has others.

    Yup. Fleischer told a reporter: "You have your judgment [that there is no imminent threat from Iraq] and the president has others."

    Contrast this to what happens when White House press secretaries truly are strenuously avoiding labeling a country an imminent threat. On those occasions there's no question what they mean:

    Q Scott, two questions. First, on Iran. Can you clarify, does the President believe that Iran represents an imminent threat to the United States?

    MR. McCLELLAN: We've never said that. We've said that we have serious concerns about their nuclear activities, that there is no reason other than that they would be pursuing nuclear weapons, for them to have those -- to have nuclear energy.

    Q But the threat is not imminent to the United States.

    MR. McCLELLAN: We've never said that.

    5. Regarding Radio Free Europe, Sebastian is incorrect when he says we are not talking about third party characterizations. It's true they don't have a bearing on what the Bush administration argued, but they do on the issue of "complete fabrication." A quick Nexis search shows there were dozens if not hundreds of articles before the war saying the Bush administration was claiming Iraq was an imminent threat. Yet, Sebastian claims (1) everyone had agreed upon and was using a specific, narrow definition of imminent, and (2) this was a definition of imminent that Bush had not invoked. So to win this bet, Sebastian must argue that all of these news outlets, including one funded by the U.S. government itself, quite consciously engaged in a complete fabrication.

    6. Regarding Rumsfeld's "immediate threat" statement, I'd first like to note that Sebastian writes that "we suspected Saddam had biological and chemical weapons at the very time of Rumsfield's report." I think a better way of putting this would be that "we stated over and over and over there was no doubt whatsoever that Saddam had biological and chemical weapons."

    In any case, as I noted above, Rumsfeld himself when talking on another occasion about the danger posed by Iraq used "immediate threat" as a synonym for "imminent threat." So Sebastian is arguing that it is not only a complete fabrication to go by the standards of dictionaries and thesauruses, it is a complete fabrication to go by Rumsfeld's own usage.

    7. Regarding Bush's Cincinnati speech, Sebastian does not address the fact that Bush said Iraq was "a threat whose outlines are far more clearly defined" than Al-Qaida's were on September 10, 2001. I think he's wise to avoid this -- because unless Al-Qaida wasn't an imminent threat on September 10, the only meaning of Bush's words is that Iraq was an imminent threat.

    Sebastian of course acknowledges Bush said Iraq could choose "any given day" to help terrorists attack the U.S. But, says Sebastian, Bush would only have meant this was an imminent threat if he'd stated "we have intelligence reports showing that Saddam is about to give some of his longstanding stocks of chemical weapons to terrorists."

    This is an interesting standard to require. Because in that very same speech, Bush said, "We've learned that Iraq has trained al Qaeda members in bomb-making and poisons and deadly gases."

    8. Finally, regarding the Bush website... well, I'm glad Sebastian acknowledges that Bush's people believe that making wild claims about imminent threats "is just good politics."

    At last, something on which he and I can agree.

    posted by Dan at 09:22 PM | Comments (55) | Trackbacks (6)

    Friday, October 17, 2003

    The state of Islam -- 2003

    Post -- 9/11, there's been a lot of gnashing of teeth about the role that Islam plays in the promotion of terrorism and general hostility to the West. It is often stressed that Islam encompasses more than the Arab Middle East, and should not be conflated with the ideology of Osama bin Laden or his cronies. Surely, true Islam is not fundamentally anti-Semitic, for example?

    The Organization of the Islamic Conference is having its 10th Islamic Summit, which seems as good a venue as any to mull the state of the religion in 2003.

    So, let's go to what outgoing Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad said yesterday in his welcoming speech:

    1.3 billion Muslims cannot be defeated by a few million Jews. There must be a way. And we can only find a way if we stop to think, to assess our weaknesses and our strength, to plan, to strategise and then to counter attack....

    We are actually very strong. 1.3 billion people cannot be simply wiped out. The Europeans killed 6 million Jews out of 12 million. But today the Jews rule this world by proxy. They get others to fight and die for them....

    We are up against a people who think. They survived 2000 years of pogroms not by hitting back, but by thinking. They invented and successfully promoted Socialism, Communism, human rights and democracy so that persecuting them would appear to be wrong, so they may enjoy equal rights with others. With these they have now gained control of the most powerful countries and they, this tiny community, have become a world power. We cannot fight them through brawn alone. We must use our brains also.

    Of late because of their power and their apparent success they have become arrogant. And arrogant people, like angry people will make mistakes, will forget to think.

    They are already beginning to make mistakes. And they will make more mistakes. There may be windows of opportunity for us now and in the future. We must seize these opportunities.

    When the European Union -- which knows from anti-Semitism -- declares that the speech is anti-Semitic, you know a line has been crossed. [UPDATE: Andrew Sullivan points that the French weren't that upset]

    A few thoughts:

  • What's scarier, that Mahathir said this or the reaction from the crowd?:

    The Indonesian President, Megawati Soekarnoputri, joined a standing ovation for her Malaysian counterpart, Mahathir Mohamad, after he called on Muslims to consider Jews as their enemy, it has been revealed.

    All 57 leaders at a Conference of Islamic Nations summit applauded the comments, which have renewed regional tensions ahead of next week's APEC leaders' conference. Among them were several key figures in the post-September 11 world, including Ms Megawati; the Afghan President, Hamid Karzai; President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan and Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.

    According to this story, Hamid Karzai didn't find the speech anti-Semitic. For more reactions, go check out Al Jazeera's coverage of the reaction to the speech:

    "I don't think they (the remarks) are anti-Semitic at all. I think he was stating the facts," Yemeni Foreign Minister Abu Bakr al-Qirbi said.

    Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher added: "There are people wanting to create trouble, invent problems that do not exist... I would advise them to read the whole speech, which was a speech addressed to Muslims asking them to work hard and affirm their personality."

    And Fahmi Huwaidi, an Egyptian political analyst, told Aljazeera: “Nowadays, any criticism against the Jews and the Jewish policy is considered anti-Semitic.

    “This proves how far Israel and its allies have succeeded in sanctifying Israel, preventing any side from criticising it."

    He added: “Such a common view proves Muhammad’s comment on the extent to which the Jewish global influence has reached.”

  • This is how Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar tried to explain the comments away to Voice of America:

    The prime minister's statement is a statement calling for moderation, calling not to utilize violence to achieve our objective, start to think, look at the example of what the Jewish community achieved.

    The scary and pathetic thing is, Hamid Albar is correct -- relative to a lot of Muslims, Mahathir's position is moderate. He's not advocating the use of violence to exterminate the state of Israel. He's advocating the use of brainpower -- to exterminate the state of Israel.

    Mahathir embodies the moderate face of Islam. To his credit, he was at the helm as his country indistrialized. He was smart enough to appreciate the importance of the rule of law and the role of markets in fostering economic growth. He bucked the IMF's advice and imposed capital controls during the Asian financial crisis and lived to tell the tale. He pursued a number of policies designed to ameliorate ethnic tensions between the poorer but more numerous Malays and the wealthier ethnic Chinese. These feats are not easy for a developing country leader to pull off.

    And yet, this man, the best that moderate political Islam has to offer, is rotten with flaws. Mahathir subverted his country's democratic traditions to suit his political purposes. He jailed his anointed successor for having the temerity to question whether the IMF might actually be correct. And the anti-Semitism is hardly new -- he blamed the Jews, specifically George Soros, for causing the Asian financial crisis.

  • The other parts of the speech spell out very clearly what Mahathir believes should be appropriated from the West:

    The early Muslims produced great mathematicians and scientists, scholars, physicians and astronomers etc. and they excelled in all the fields of knowledge of their times, besides studying and practising their own religion of Islam. As a result the Muslims were able to develop and extract wealth from their lands and through their world trade, able to strengthen their defences, protect their people and give them the Islamic way of life, Addin, as prescribed by Islam. At the time the Europeans of the Middle Ages were still superstitious and backward, the enlightened Muslims had already built a great Muslim civilisation, respected and powerful, more than able to compete with the rest of the world and able to protect the ummah from foreign aggression. The Europeans had to kneel at the feet of Muslim scholars in order to access their own scholastic heritage....

    But halfway through the building of the great Islamic civilisation came new interpreters of Islam who taught that acquisition of knowledge by Muslims meant only the study of Islamic theology. The study of science, medicine etc. was discouraged.

    Intellectually the Muslims began to regress. With intellectual regression the great Muslim civilisation began to falter and wither....

    We are enjoined by our religion to prepare for the defence of the ummah. Unfortunately we stress not defence but the weapons of the time of the Prophet. Those weapons and horses cannot help to defend us any more. We need guns and rockets, bombs and warplanes, tanks and warships for our defence. But because we discouraged the learning of science and mathematics etc. as giving no merit for the akhirat, today we have no capacity to produce our own weapons for our defence. We have to buy our weapons from our detractors and enemies. This is what comes from the superficial interpretation of the Quran, stressing not the substance of the Prophet's sunnah and the Quran's injunctions but rather the form, the manner and the means used in the 1st Century of the Hijrah. And it is the same with the other teachings of Islam. We are more concerned with the forms rather than the substance of the words of Allah and adhering only to the literal interpretation of the traditions of the Prophet.

    There is actually a powerful critique of Islamic fundamentalism in this passage -- but over means and not ends.

    What Mahathir wants is for Islamic countries to embrace modernization without Westernization and its tacky "Jewish" traits of human rights and democracy. However, it's no coincidence that the peak of Islam's power and influence came at a time when the religion was tolerant to scientific and religious views outside of the Quran. Although Samuel Huntington and Benjamin Barber disagree, I side with Jonathan Rauch in believing that it's impossible to embrace modern science without embracing the tolerance for free thought that is at the core of Western liberal thought.

  • I could very well be wrong, however. This is the trillion-dollar bet for the West for the next century. The state of Islam in 2003 does not make me sanguine.

    UPDATE: The Financial Times and Agence France-Presse report on Mahathir's response to the backlash. The latter story contains this priceless nugget:

    Mahathir said the sentiments he expressed were shared by most Muslim countries but they were unable to speak their minds because they feared being victimised.

    He was backed by other officials at the OIC conference, who said the comments were taken out of context in a speech which had called for the Muslim world to overcome its weaknesses.

    Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher said he did not think much attention should be paid to the "clamour and accusations".

    "Those who are commenting on the speech have not read it in its entirety," Maher said.

    I partially agree with the Egyptian Foreign Minister -- the speech should be read it in its entirety.

    ANOTHER UPDATE: Words I never thought I would write -- Drezner gets results from the New York Times editorial page.

    posted by Dan at 11:33 AM | Comments (115) | Trackbacks (17)

    My last baseball post for a while

    Well, it looks like I'm going to have to follow my own advice. So....

    Congratulations, New York Yankees. You showed a lot of grit in Game 7, coming back against the toughest pitcher in the American League. By the smallest, but most crucial of fractions, you were the better team last night.

    [That's it?!! No venting about how the Sox choked?--ed. But they didn't choke, no matter what the Boston Globe says. They won Game 6 when everyone thought they would lose it. Pedro Martinez outpitched Roger Clemens in Game 7. The Sox committed no baserunning or fielding errors -- indeed, the much-maligned defense of Todd Walker kept the team in it for two innings. Even the New York Post said, "The Sox provided the heroics where they were needed." Yes, one can certainly question Grady Little for leaving Martinez in for so long. But remember that Little also had the guts to go against conventional wisdom and have Derek Lowe pitch to Adam Melhuse rather than walk him in the deciding game of the division series against Oakland. Had Little not done that, it's entirely possible that the Sox don't make it to the ALCS. No, the Sox played the 2003 regular season and playoffs with grit and poise. I'm proud to call myself a Red Sox fan.]

    Even as the game ended, the impartial spectator in me was also pleased that baseball has had such a great playoff season, in terms of the increased TV ratings and, more important, the caliber of the games themselves.

    Of course, the partial spectator in me found this to be cold comfort. But after the game was over, I turned off the television and lookied in on the parts of my life that matter in a more profound way than games played by boys in stadiums. And all was well.

    Besides, there's always the football Giants. Oh, wait....

    Well, there's always next year.

    posted by Dan at 10:25 AM | Comments (27) | Trackbacks (0)

    Thursday, October 16, 2003

    Drezner gets results from the Philadelphia Inquirer

    The bureaucratic politics meme scores another news story. Somehow, I have to think that Joseph L. Galloway and James Kuhnhenn were giggling hysterically when they wrote the first few grafs of this story:

    Concerned about the appearance of disarray and feuding within his administration as well as growing resistance to his policies in Iraq, President Bush - living up to his recent declaration that he is in charge - told his top officials to "stop the leaks" to the media, or else.

    News of Bush's order leaked almost immediately.

    Bush told his senior aides Tuesday that he "didn't want to see any stories" quoting unnamed administration officials in the media anymore, and that if he did, there would be consequences, said a senior administration official who asked that his name not be used.

    OK, I don't care what your partisan affiliation is, that last graf is just damn funny.

    These paragraphs, on the other hand, should prompt more concern:

    The infighting, backstabbing and maneuvering on such major foreign-policy issues as North Korea, Syria, Iran and postwar Iraq have escalated to a level that veterans of government say they have not seen in years. At one point, the senior official said, Bush himself asked how bad it was.

    "This isn't as bad as [George] Shultz vs. [Caspar] Weinberger, is it?" he asked, referring to a legendary Reagan administration rivalry between secretaries of state and defense. One top official reportedly nodded and said it was "way worse."


    posted by Dan at 05:41 PM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (0)

    The post-war debate on the pre-war rhetoric, part IV

    Schwarz responds to Sebastian Holsclaw's first post. [Both Holsclaw and Schwarz will respond to each other's rebuttals, and then I'll render my judgment]:

    Sebastian's claim that the Bush administration "strenuously resisted labeling" Iraq an imminent threat is misleading.

    The Bush administration rarely addressed the question using this specific language.

    On some occasions, they skirted around the issue, neither saying Iraq was an imminent threat, nor that it wasn't, nor that it might be but we couldn't know for sure:

    QUESTION: Richard, just to pursue this line a bit further. Is the threat from North Korea more or less imminent than the threat from Iraq?

    MR. BOUCHER: There is not one policy that fits all. Each situation has to be dealt with on its own. We want to deal with this situation peacefully with regard to North Korea and we will make the appropriate decisions.

    On some of these occasions when they were directly asked using this specific language, as I noted, Ari Fleischer happily assented that the administration claimed Iraq was an imminent threat.

    On another occasion, the State of the Union address, the administration (as I also noted) did not, as Sebastian claims, "specifically reject a need for an imminent threat before attacking Saddam's regime." Bush did not say "Iraq doesn't need to be an imminent threat for us to attack it." Rather, he rejected the idea that we could accurately perceive whether the threat was imminent.

    Therefore, a more accurate description of what happened is this:

    During the runup to the war, many people questioned whether Iraq was an imminent threat to the United States. However, except on a few occasions, the Bush administration avoided engaging the issue using this exact language. Instead, they made many extremely alarming claims that used synonymous language and terms. When the exact "imminent threat" language was used, the administration sometimes agreed that Iraq was an imminent threat; sometimes didn't address the question; and sometimes said we couldn't know whether or not it was an imminent threat.

    It is speculation, but (I believe) quite plausible, that the Bush administration was trying to have it both ways. It was difficult for them to claim that Iraq in fact was an imminent threat to the U.S., and they certainly did not want to have to assert explicitly that it was an imminent threat in order to wage war. But they also couldn't say straightforwardly that Iraq was not an imminent threat, because it would undercut support for a war. Hence a frequent avoidance of the exact language, combined with repeated references to the "clear peril" and "gathering danger" that was "more clearly defined" than Al-Qaida and could strike on "any given day."

    posted by Dan at 05:30 PM | Comments (63) | Trackbacks (2)

    Is it about the schools?

    Josh Marshall vents his spleen on whether the reconstruction of Iraq is going well of not. At the end of the post, he says:

    Every time I hear some conservative wag trumpeting "the schools, the schools!" I have to admit it gives me flashbacks to Herve Villechaize and the intro to Fantasy Island ("de plane, de plane!").

    The schools are great. But we're not there to reopen schools.

    As fate would have it, John Sviokla and Marvin Zonis have a Chicago Tribune op-ed today that says we should be in Iraq to reopen schools. The highlights:

    While security is crucial to meet these challenges, the most effective means for making Iraq a future democratic and market-oriented country that will serve as the exemplar for other Arab states is its education system.

    True nation-builders know that the key to changing a society is to get hold of its education system. No one understands that more than Islamic clerics. Their schools in Pakistan are the breeding grounds for Al Qaeda recruits. Young boys who spend their days in memorizing the Koran are not likely to have a nuanced view of the world or the intellectual equipment to understand and tolerate other ways of thinking....

    Teaching people is a much more powerful and much more successful long-term mechanism for generating a stable, democratic and market-oriented Iraq than any amount of infrastructure projects. Nation-building requires major funding dedicated to rebuilding the infrastructure of secular knowledge in Iraq, which would come at a fraction of the cost of establishing security and building roads and telephones, water and sewerage systems, pipelines and power plants.


    To be fair to Marshall, he ends his post with, "to come soon on this issue of the schools." I'll be sure to update this post when Marshall explains himself more fully.

    posted by Dan at 01:27 PM | Comments (35) | Trackbacks (0)

    The substance of academic style

    Via Glenn Reynolds, I discover one more thing to worry about as an untenured professor. From the Chronicle of Higher Education:

    Professors aren't known for fussing about their looks, but the results of a new study suggest they may have to if they want better teaching evaluations.

    Daniel Hamermesh, a professor of economics at the University of Texas at Austin, and Amy Parker, one of his students, found that attractive professors consistently outscore their less comely colleagues by a significant margin on student evaluations of teaching. The findings, they say, raise serious questions about the use of student evaluations as a valid measure of teaching quality.

    In their study, Mr. Hamermesh and Ms. Parker asked students to look at photographs of 94 professors and rate their beauty. Then they compared those ratings to the average student evaluation scores for the courses taught by those professors. The two found that the professors who had been rated among the most beautiful scored a point higher than those rated least beautiful (that's a substantial difference, since student evaluations don't generally vary by much)....

    Some male professors also may be dismayed about another finding of the study: "Good looks generated more of a premium, and bad looks more of a penalty, for male instructors," say Mr. Hamermesh and Ms. Parker in a paper about their findings, "Beauty in the Classroom: Professors' Pulchritude and Putative Pedagogical Productivity." According to their data, the effect of beauty (or lack thereof) on teaching evaluations for men was three times as great as it was for women. (emphasis added)

    Here's a link to the actual Hamermesh and Parker paper.

    A few serious and not-so-serious thoughts on this:

  • This is why, despite her intellectual attributes, I'm glad Megan McArdle is not in academia. For students who compare and contrast, Megan's presence as a teacher on my campus would drag my ratings way down. [Oh, c'mon, could she be as bad as if say... Salma Hayek decided to teach at the U of C?--ed. Hmmm..... I'm not sure Salma looks as good in glasses, which is a must on this campus.]

  • Perusing the actual paper, I came across Hamermesh and Parker's method of gathering data on professors' looks:

    Each of the professors’ pictures was rated by each of six undergraduate students: Three women and three men, with one of each gender being a lower-division, two upper-division students (to accord with the distribution of classes across the two levels). The raters were told to use a 10 (highest) to 1 rating scale, to concentrate on the physiognomy of the professor in the picture, to make their ratings independent of age, and to keep 5 in mind as an average. In the analyses we unit normalized each rating. To reduce measurement error the six normalized ratings were summed to create a composite standardized beauty rating for each instructor.

    Wait a minute -- an N of 6 on judging looks?!! On matters as subjective as attracyiveness, I'm going to want to see a larger number of raters -- get these style mavens on the task, stat!!

  • The paper focused on physiognomy, which suggests that the "beauty" under discussion is a natural endowment. However, there are man-made elements to attractiveness -- i.e., clothing, hair, makeup, posture, etc. A sense of, well, style. I have a strong suspicion that these matters -- which can be altered through personal effort -- matter just as much as sheer physiognomy. The Invisible Adjunct makes this point as well.

    Should professors care about this? Damn straight. Teaching is all about capturing the attention of the student. Every little bit helps. [So, you're advocating that professors should dress like this to keep the students focused?--ed. Obviously, that would be distracting. However, a proper sense of style can attract attention without it morphing into something inappropriate.]

  • Finally, the dependent variable in this study was student ratings. This story in Academe suggests that perhaps this tool of analysis has been overrated. [What are you worried about? You're doing fine!--ed. Because at best, there are cross-cutting incentives with regard to student evaluations. Besides, this topic just makes me uncomfortable.]
  • posted by Dan at 12:21 PM | Comments (11) | Trackbacks (1)

    Adam Smith's advice to Cubs fans

    Some in the blogosphere will be in a bad mood for the next few days, and for good reason. By the end of the evening, either myself or Tom Maguire will be joining them.

    What can one say? Surprisingly, for someone who knew nothing about baseball, Adam Smith gives some pretty good advice on this subject in his other classic, The Theory of Moral Sentiments:

    Are you in adversity? Do not mourn in the darkness of solitude, do not regulate your sorrow according to the indulgent sympathy of your intimate friends; return, as soon as possible, to the day-light of the world and of society. Live with strangers, with those who know nothing, or care nothing about your misfortune; do not even shun the company of enemies; but give yourself the pleasure of mortifying their malignant joy, by making them feel how little you are affected by your calamity, and how much you are above it.

    Tough words to live by, I must confess.

    He's still right, though.

    UPDATE: For those who find Smith of little comfort, Julia Keller has a nice article in the Chicago Tribune. The highlights:

    "If we lived every day with our emotions as raw as they get in sports, we'd be dead in a week," said John Jeremiah Sullivan, a sportswriter who works for GQ magazine.

    People can only take so much of the psychological tsunami known as the Cubs (or White Sox, Bulls, Bears and Blackhawks) season. But why do they take it at all? Everybody knows there are more important things than baseball; more important than those killer walks given up by Kerry Wood on Wednesday; more important than the zeal exhibited by the accidental scapegoat the night before.

    There are wars, floods and famines. There are tyrants and despots. To be upset about the outcome of a game--a mere game, amid the creeping dangers of an unstable world--is folly.

    Bill Savage, a Chicago native who teaches English at Northwestern University, said he has no trouble understanding why the Cubs evoke such zealotry from fans. "Last night [Tuesday], when [Alex] Gonzalez made that error, my heart sank because I'd invested so much. It's the degree to which you, the audience, choose to get invested emotionally. No, the bandwagon-jumpers don't suffer as much--but they don't enjoy it as much, either. The reward is commensurate with your investment."

    Indeed. Andrew Sullivan's boyfriend can relate.

    posted by Dan at 08:50 AM | Comments (23) | Trackbacks (3)

    Wednesday, October 15, 2003

    The post-war debate about the pre-war rhetoric -- part III

    Holsclaw responds to Schwarz:

    First, I would like to dispose of the thesaurus arguments. Do we really have to stoop to this? A thesaurus gives you a contextless range of somewhat similar meaning words. In the context of the debate about the war against Saddam the words 'imminent threat' were used by opponents of the war to set an extremely high threshold of intelligence about Iraq. This is not a context that allows 'imminent' to be freely exchanged with words like 'gathering threat'. This is especially not a context where 'immediate' is interchangeable with 'imminent'. The French have an immediate capability to attack us with nuclear weapons, but no one in their right mind would argue that the French nuclear capability is an 'imminent threat'.

    This disagreement is about the actual content of the administration argument about the war. One of the most public and most forceful administration arguments about the war is the 2003 State of the Union Address . I hate to belabor it, but I really don't think I can overstate the importance of such a publicized speech to a disagreement about the administration’s case.

    Bush said:

    Some have said we must not act until the threat is imminent. Since when have terrorists and tyrants announced their intentions, politely putting us on notice before they strike? If this threat is permitted to fully and suddenly emerge, all actions, all words, and all recriminations would come too late. Trusting in the sanity and restraint of Saddam Hussein is not a strategy, and it is not an option.

    The dictator who is assembling the world's most dangerous weapons has already used them on whole villages -- leaving thousands of his own citizens dead, blind, or disfigured. Iraqi refugees tell us how forced confessions are obtained -- by torturing children while their parents are made to watch. International human rights groups have catalogued other methods used in the torture chambers of Iraq: electric shock, burning with hot irons, dripping acid on the skin, mutilation with electric drills, cutting out tongues, and rape. If this is not evil, then evil has no meaning.

    Your rhetoric regarding these paragraphs is tortured. You are correct that Bush states that we cannot know whether the threat is imminent. But the conclusion you draw from that is not supported by the actual text, nor is supported by the context of the debate about war against Saddam. He is arguing that the concept of imminent threat is inapplicable to the problem of Iraq. He is saying that we cannot know if the threat is imminent, but that given what we do know about Iraq, it doesn't matter. He then immediately goes to show why it doesn't matter by saying that if we permit the threat to fully emerge, if we allow the threat to become imminent, we have waited too long. He then mentions that Saddam has already used such weapons on his own people--a fact which has no bearing on an imminence question, but which is deeply important if your case for war is not concerned with an imminent threat. You attempt to divert the discussion into a question of knowledge. You seem to indicate that Bush might be saying that the threat is imminent. Bush brings up the problem of knowledge to show that an imminent threat analysis leaves you too exposed to the imperfections of the intelligence networks. He is arguing against the whole 'imminent threat' way of looking at things because it foolishly assumes perfect intelligence about Iraq. You focus on the fact that Bush neither confirms nor denies an imminent threat. You seem to think that Bush might secretly suspect that there is an imminent threat. Perhaps he did have such a secret suspicion. But he argued that we should act even without an imminent threat. The administration argument is what is in question.

    If the imminence of the threat was in fact part of the administration case, I would have expected you to find far better quotes than the ones you have:

    Point One, regarding the State of the Union Address, I dealt with above.

    Point two is a context-free thesaurus reading exercise.

    Points four and six, the Fleischer quotes, are responses to reporter questions in which the 'imminent threat' portion of the question is a mere preface to the substance of the question which Mr. Fleischer answers. In your point four, Fleischer is clarifying the US demands about UN Inspector access. In your point six, Fleischer is responding that one of the reasons for going to war was worry about weapons of mass destruction. Construing his yes to a substantive question about one issue as an affirmative administration argument in favor of an incidental reporter declaration of 'imminent danger' is exactly how one engages in a good fabrication. You take things that are near the truth, and change them into something else entirely. The other problem with point six is that much of it relies on third party characterizations. We are not talking about third party characterizations. The question is: what did the administration argue? Radio Free Europe's funding does not transform its characterizations into administration arguments.

    Point Seven is an argument well after the fact. The Bush administration knows that the idea of 'imminent threat' is important to some people. If they believe that they can win these people over by showing evidence of an imminent threat after the fact, that is just good politics. That says nothing however about the administration’s arguments before the war.

    That leaves us with only two points that are even remotely relevant to the discussion.

    Point three is the Rumsfield quote. Rumsfield says two things. First, he says that intelligence is uncertain. Once again he is pointing out a problem with waiting for intelligence of an imminent threat. He offers some evidence for those to whom an imminent threat argument is important, but he does not argue that such a threat is necessary. He then goes on to talk about the biological threat. In this context 'immediate threat' means that we suspected Saddam had biological and chemical weapons at the very time of Rumsfield's report. The threat isn't imminent, because Saddam has had those weapons for years and you wouldn't talk about a 15-year imminent threat. It was an important threat because he was a self-declared enemy who had actually used such weapons against his enemies before. He was a scary threat because he was Saddam and not Chirac. But none of that constitutes an argument that Saddam is an imminent threat.

    Point 5 suffers exactly the same problems. Cheney points out the capacity of Iraq to cause trouble because it has a long history of causing trouble. 'On any given day', refers to its present capacity. It means that if Saddam chose to do so, he had the capability to cause a great amount of mischief. This isn't an imminent danger of the 'we have intelligence reports showing that Saddam is about to give some of his longstanding stocks of chemical weapons to terrorists'. This quote points out Saddam's capability, and our knowledge about Saddam's willingness to use such capabilities makes it disturbing that he should continue in power indefinitely. This speech was made in the context of the prospect of an indefinitely long UN inspection period so it makes perfect sense in that context.

    The problem at this point is that you equate all arguments that Saddam was a threat as if they were arguments that Saddam was an imminent threat. Of course Bush argued that Saddam was a threat. But he never fell into the trap which Kennedy and Byrd tried to set when they wanted an authorization predicated on an 'imminent threat'. Bush and his administration argued that Saddam was threat that would get worse over time. They argued that he was a threat that could not be deterred forever. But they did not argue that he had something in mind to attack us right now, they did not argue he was an imminent threat.

    The essence of fabrication about someone's political position is to take a kernel of truth and apply so much distortion as to turn it into a lie. That is exactly what is going on here. Those who are engaging in this fabrication take Bush's position that Saddam was a threat and twist it through the anti-war rhetoric of Senators Kennedy and Byrd. Then they contrast this mischaracterization against the lack of evidence that Saddam was an imminent threat and use this contrast to suggest that Bush lied about Saddam's imminent threat. A fabrication is asserted as true, when it in fact is not true. It is not true that Bush's administration argued for the invasion of Iraq by saying that Iraq was an imminent threat. The very few quotes you can find which come even close to that all stress that Saddam is a dangerous threat, but none of them approach the level of 'imminent threat', especially as used in the very real debate about the war against Saddam. Phrases have different meanings in different contexts. 'Pro-choice' and 'Pro-Life' have much narrower meanings in the context of the abortion debate than they do in other situations. That is why it always sounds so silly when people say 'how can you be pro-life and eat meat?', or 'how can you be pro-choice and support a ban on cocaine?' In the context of the debate about the war against Saddam, 'imminent threat' became the anti-war phrase which set an extremely high burden of proof for an attack. Instead of trying to meet that burden, Bush argued that it was an inappropriate burden, and that we should attack Iraq on other grounds. To characterize this anti-'imminent threat' position as arguing that Saddam posed an imminent threat, is to twist the argument so far as to make it the opposite of what it actually was. That is why I feel free to characterize such a position as a fabrication.

    posted by Dan at 04:49 PM | Comments (155) | Trackbacks (4)

    The post-war debate about the pre-war rhetoric -- part II

    Jonathan Schwarz's opening statement on the question:

    "It is a complete fabrication that the Bush administration argued in the runup to the war that there was an imminent threat from Iraq."

    Jonathan will be arguing in the negative:

    I concede that no Bush administration official ever said -- as far as I'm aware -- the precise words "Iraq is an imminent threat." However, the evidence clearly shows that the idea that the Bush administration argued there was an imminent threat from Iraq is not completely fabricated. (Indeed, I believe any fair reading of Bush administration statements shows that indeed they did clearly claim Iraq was an imminent threat. However, for the purposes of this bet, I need merely show that the idea that they argued Iraq was an imminent threat is not made up out of whole cloth.)

    For easy reference, I've numbered the parts of my argument below.

    1. First I'd like to address the most frequently-cited evidence that the statement at issue is true. That is this section from the most recent State of the Union address:

    "Some have said we must not act until the threat is imminent. Since when have terrorists and tyrants announced their intentions, politely putting us on notice before they strike? If this threat is permitted to fully and suddenly emerge, all actions, all words, and all recriminations would come too late."

    Some, such as Charles Krauthammer, claim this means that "in his 2003 State of the Union address, Bush plainly denied that the threat was imminent".

    This is incorrect. Bush here did not deny that Iraq was an imminent threat. Rather, he was making the argument that we could not know whether or not Iraq was an imminent threat. In other words, the implication of what Bush was saying was that indeed Iraq might be an imminent threat.

    (While this is somewhat off-topic, my speculation is that Bush's speechwriters wrote this section of the State of the Union as they did because they were in a difficult position. They knew people were claiming that we should only attack if Iraq were an imminent threat to the US, and that that idea had a great appeal to many people. And they knew that the idea that Iraq was an imminent threat to the US might appear far-fetched. But at the same time, it wasn't politically feasible to say explicitly that Iraq wasn't an imminent threat. So they finessed it, while elsewhere trying to make the threat sound as alarming as possible.)

    2. Next, let's turn to Bush administration claims on other occasions before the war -- claims that clearly show that the idea that they argued Iraq was an imminent threat are not completely fabricated.

    On June 6, 2002, Dick Cheney referred in a speech to the "gathering danger" of Iraq. At the United Nations last year on September 12, Bush himself stated that "Saddam Hussein's regime is a grave and gathering danger".

    According to Roget's Interactive Thesaurus, "gathering" is a synonym of "imminent."

    3. In testimony before Congress on September 18 last year, Donald Rumsfeld stated that:

    "Some have argued that the nuclear threat from Iraq is not imminent, that Saddam Hussein is at least five to seven years away from having nuclear weapons. I would not be so certain... We do know that he has been actively and persistently pursuing nuclear weapons for more than 20 years. But we should be just as concerned about the immediate threat from biological weapons. Iraq has these weapons. They're simpler to deliver and even more readily transferred to terrorist networks, who could allow Iraq to deliver them without Iraq's fingerprints."

    Here Rumsfeld says that he cannot rule out the possibility that Iraq may be an imminent nuclear threat. More significantly for our purposes, he states that Iraq has biological weapons and that they are an "immediate threat."

    According to Roget's Interactive Thesaurus, "immediate" is also a synonym of "imminent."

    4. On October 16 last year, the following exchange with Ari Fleischer took place at a White House press briefing:

    Q Ari, the President has been saying that the threat from Iraq is imminent, that we have to act now to disarm the country of its weapons of mass destruction, and that it has to allow the U.N. inspectors in, unfettered, no conditions, so forth.

    "MR. FLEISCHER: Yes."

    I believe this speaks for itself.

    5. During an October 7 speech last year in Cincinnati, Bush stated that:

    "Iraq could decide on any given day to provide a biological or chemical weapon to a terrorist group or individual terrorists." Iraq, he said, was "a threat whose outlines are far more clearly defined [than Al-Qaida], and whose consequences could be far more deadly."

    Later, in the State of the Union, Bush said that terrorists armed by Iraq could "bring a day of horror like none we have ever known."

    In other words, Bush was arguing that Iraq could on any given day help terrorists bring the U.S. a day of horror like none we have ever known -- and that Iraq was a danger comparable or greater than Al-Qaida, which everyone would agree is an imminent threat to America.

    6. Next let's examine three significant interpretations of the Bush administration's Iraq claims.

    Radio Free Europe's headline after Bush's speech was "Iraq: Bush Tells Americans Saddam Is An Imminent Threat". Many other news outlets made such claims, but Radio Free Europe's is particularly noteworthy because it is funded by the U.S. government itself.

    After the war on this past June 8th, William Kristol -- obviously one of the prime journalistic supporters of the war -- stated on Fox News Sunday that "Bush and Blair certainly articulated" "the case for urgency".

    Also after the war, Ari Fleischer was again asked whether the United States claimed Iraq was an imminent threat. Again he agreed:

    "Q Well, we went to war, didn't we, to find these -- because we said that these weapons were a direct and imminent threat to the United States? Isn't that true?

    "MR. FLEISCHER: Absolutely. One of the reasons that we went to war was because of their possession of weapons of mass destruction. And nothing has changed on that front at all. We said what we said because we meant it."

    7. Finally, the blog on the official Bush/Cheney reelection campaign website approvingly cites columnist Kathleen Parker's "judgment that Kay’s report does indeed prove that conditions in Iraq posed an imminent threat to the United States and the world."

    It's worth examining the implications of this closely. George Bush's official website is promoting the idea that David Kay's findings prove that Iraq was an imminent threat. Yet what Kay found was far, far less than the unequivocal claims by the Bush administration before the war -- that Iraq possessed biological and chemical weapons and was actively pursuing nuclear weapons.

    Therefore, by the Bush campaign's own standards of what constitutes an imminent threat, it logically follows that the Bush administration was arguing that Iraq posed an imminent threat. After all, Iraq could hardly have been more of a threat with what Kay has discovered than it would have been with what the Bush administration said they definitely had.


    In conclusion, let me summarize what Sebastian must argue:

    Yes, Bush and Cheney did state that Iraq posed a "gathering danger," which is a synonym for "imminent threat." Yes, Rumsfeld did state that Iraq's biological weapons were an "immediate threat," which is a synonym for "imminent threat." Yes, the President's press secretary agreed when asked, both before and after the war, that the Bush administration claimed Iraq was an imminent threat. Yes, Bush said Iraq was as much of a threat as Al-Qaida and could on any given day give terrorists the means to bring us a day of horror like none we've ever known. Yes, a news organization funded by the U.S. government believed Bush was saying Iraq was an imminent threat, and William Kristol understood Bush to mean that the case for war was urgent. Yes, according to the standards of Bush's own official website, the Bush administration argued that Iraq was an imminent threat.

    Nevertheless, it is a complete fabrication that the Bush administration argued in the runup to the war that there was an imminent threat from Iraq.

    I believe this cannot be judged to be a tenable argument -- and that therefore I have won this bet.

    UPDATE: Holsclaw responds.

    posted by Dan at 10:15 AM | Comments (133) | Trackbacks (8)

    Tuesday, October 14, 2003

    The post-war debate about the pre-war rhetoric -- part I

    I've been asked to referee a debate among two frequent commentors at Calpundit -- Jonathan Schwarz and Sebastian Holsclaw -- on the following question:

    "It is a complete fabrication that the Bush administration argued in the runup to the war that there was an imminent threat from Iraq."

    The winner gets $100 from the loser. [Why are you the referee?--ed. According to Schwarz, they both respect my "intellectual integrity and judgment." Suckers!! So you already have an opinion formed?--ed. Let's just say I'm open to having my mind changed. If you want to know what my take on this question has been in the past, click here, here, here, here, and here]

    Holsclaw -- who will argue in the affirmative -- gets the first shot:

    In light of our failure to find large scale evidence of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs), there has been much talk about Bush's administration lying about Iraq's imminent threat. It is certainly disturbing that we have not found WMD in Iraq. But those who want to accuse Bush of lying about the Iraq's 'imminent threat' are confusing their own rhetoric with the case actually put forth by the Bush administration.

    Here is the charge:

    "There was no imminent threat. This was made up in Texas, announced in January to the Republican leadership that war was going to take place and was going to be good politically. This whole thing was a fraud," Ted Kennedy

    There is a major problem with this charge. The Bush administration did not in fact argue that there was an imminent threat. In fact they strenuously resisted labeling it as such.

    In 2002 there was a Senate debate on the authorization of war against Iraq. Senators Kennedy, Byrd and Kerry all argued that war could not proceed against Iraq without an imminent threat. Kennedy, Byrd, and Kerry (saying that he wouldn't vote for an authorization without an imminent threat right before he does in fact vote for such an authorization.) In fact Byrd offered an amendment which would have replaced the actual language of the authorization, "the continuing threat posed by Iraq", with an authorization only allowing attack if there was an imminent threat. These deliberations and wranglings were widely reported with the 'imminent threat' argument repeated in news stories and op-eds across the country. The actual resolution requested and obtained by the Bush administration does not refer to an imminent threat despite numerous attempts by opponents of the administration to include it.

    Kennedy and Byrd wanted us to wait until our intelligence services could verify that Saddam was just about to gain nuclear weapons before we acted. Considering what we now know about our intelligence activity in Iraq, that proposition looks even more ridiculous now than it did then. Considering the failure of our intelligence services in discovering the North Korean nuclear capability before it was active, it was silly even then.

    The 'requirement' for an imminent threat lost out in the 2002 debate. But Bush himself continued to address the argument. In his 2003 State of the Union Address, an address which is one of the most widely reported speeches in the free world, he said:

    "Some have said we must not act until the threat is imminent. Since when have terrorists and tyrants announced their intentions, politely putting us on notice before they strike? If this threat is permitted to fully and suddenly emerge, all actions, all words, and all recriminations would come too late. Trusting in the sanity and restraint of Saddam Hussein is not a strategy, and it is not an option. (Applause.)

    The dictator who is assembling the world's most dangerous weapons has already used them on whole villages -- leaving thousands of his own citizens dead, blind, or disfigured. Iraqi refugees tell us how forced confessions are obtained -- by torturing children while their parents are made to watch. International human rights groups have catalogued other methods used in the torture chambers of Iraq: electric shock, burning with hot irons, dripping acid on the skin, mutilation with electric drills, cutting out tongues, and rape. If this is not evil, then evil has no meaning."

    Here, in one of the most widely reported speeches in the world, Bush specifically rejects a need for an imminent threat before attacking Saddam's regime.

    He also argues the humanitarian case for destroying Saddam's regime.

    Kennedy, Byrd, and many of the opinion writers in the nation argued that an imminent threat was required to attack Iraq. It certainly did not escape their notice that the US did in fact attack Iraq. They seem to believe that they won the debate about 'imminent threat' and that since Bush attacked Iraq, he must have argued that there was an imminent threat. This quite simply a fabrication, or at best a self-imposed illusion. They lost the debate in 2002. They had their theory specifically repudiated by Bush in the most public speech available. Bush did not lie about an imminent threat because he absolutely did not argue there was one.

    UPDATE: Part II is now available.

    posted by Dan at 09:50 PM | Comments (151) | Trackbacks (13)

    The difference between Red Sox conservatives and Cubs conservatives?

    In my previous post, one commentor posed the following question:

    Drezner, I would think that as a gung-ho supporter of the free-market system, you would naturally be a Yankees fan. The best rise to the top, right?

    Well, to tell the truth, I became a Red Sox fan because, even as an eight-year old, I believed in balancing behavior. Everyone else in my family pulled for the Yankees, so I started instictively pulling for the Red Sox. The rest is history. Painful and gut-wrenching history.

    I generally don't think there's any correlation between political persuasion and favored sports teams. However, George Will thinks otherwise.

    The Chicago Tribune has an amusing story about the Emil Verban Society, a DC-based organization of Cubs fans whose namesake epitomizes the dilemma of the Cub fan: In 2,911 career at-bats, Emil Verbanhad only one home run.

    Buried in the story is this little nugget from George Will:

    Will, a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist raised in Champaign, Ill., said he, too, will be in the stands, supporting the team that shaped his political philosophy.

    "All my friends grew up happy and liberal as Cardinals fans," he said. "I became bitter and conservative because life was not fun as a Cubs fan. But now it is." (emphasis added)

    Will all due respect to George Will, I'm a conservative but I derived a different philosophy rooting for the Red Sox. While life can indeed be nasty, brutish, and short, the worst sin is to respond to the cruelties of existence by giving up hope. The spectre of defeat is ever present and must be acknowledged. However, the optimism that comes with the prospect of next season is never extinguished for the true Red Sox fan. And only by nurturing such optimism can one truly appreciate the joy that comes from the occasional triumph.

    On the other hand, maybe baseball has nothing to do with politics -- the most optimistic conservative of them all was also a Cubs fan and proud member of the Emil Verban society.

    UPDATE: Well, David Brooks disagrees with me as well:

    For example, while most people in the Southwest seek pleasure and avoid stress, we in the Northeast do not have that orientation. The place in their culture that is occupied by the concept "happiness" is occupied in our culture by the concept "cursing at each other."

    So when you go to a game at Yankee Stadium or Fenway Park you will see lawyers, waiters and skinheads sending off enough testosterone vapors to menace the ozone layer. If a Martian came down and landed in the stands of a Yankees-Red Sox game, he would get the impression that human beings are 90 percent men and 10 percent women in tight T-shirts, and that we reproduce by loathing in groups.

    It's interesting, for example, to turn and watch Yankee and Red Sox fans as they watch a game. As the game goes on, they almost never display pleasure, contentment or joy. Instead, during the game they experience long periods of contempt interrupted by short bursts of vindication.

    To which I say, what the f#$% does Brooks know? If he ain't going to declare which team he's rooting for, I have no use for him on this subject except to admire his prose style from a bemused distance.

    UPDATE: Reader A.M. e-mails an interesting point -- that even if there is little correlation between political and sports affiliations in the United States, there is a strong correlation in other parts of the globe:

    In Rome for instance, conservatives (often from outside Rome) have and still do tend to support Lazio, while their left-wing (often Communist) counterparts support AS Roma. The same divide certainly used to be the case in Milan where AC Milan drew support from the left (ironically they are now owned by Signor Berlusconi) and Internazionale from the right. Today this divide is, I think, less apparent in Milan than it is in Rome....

    In Barcelona being an Espanyol (the second team in the city) supporter was, particularly in the past, to repudiate Catalan culture and identity - much of which was, particularly under Franco but still is, rooted in the extraordinary institution that is Barcelona football club....

    In Scotland the two great Glasgow teams, whose rivalry is still riven by sectarianism, used to be seperated by politics as well as religion. In the days when the Conservatives could count on working class support, Rangers fans voted for the Tories (largely for God, King and Ulster) whereas Celtic's catholic support, much of it of Irish descent, has always tended to support the Labour party. The collapse of Toryism in Scotland has rendered many of these differences irrelevent but it's still the case that my middle-class Tory friends tend to be Rangers supporters.

    In Argentina the great football rivalry in Buenos Aires is between the working-class Boca Juniors and the middle-class, even patrician River Plate (if memory serves River are one of the few football clubs in the world to also run a University).

    posted by Dan at 10:56 AM | Comments (32) | Trackbacks (7)

    Monday, October 13, 2003

    Why the Red Sox should win it all this year

    In my last Red Sox post I confidently predicted a World Series victory this year for Boston's team -- and got an earful from myriad Sox fans convinced I was jinxing them. So, I had silently vowed to stay mum on the subject until the Red Sox actually won.

    Well, I'm sticking to that vow -- but I must link and quote others who comment on this topic. First, there's Seth Stevenson's hysterically funny Slate essay explaining why the Red Sox deserve to win the World Series more than the Cubs. It starts as follows:

    Dear Casual Baseball Fan,

    I don't like you. Casual is for slacks.

    It is time for you to pick a postseason team, throw your love behind that team, and live and die with its every pitch … to the point that you get sharp, clenching chest pains when Scott Williamson walks the first two batters in the ninth inning of a one-run game, and you yell, "Damn it!" at a decibel level much higher than you'd intended, and your girlfriend starts getting scared, and now she's looking at you like she's an 8-year-old whose parents are fighting.

    Yeah, that's about right (though, to be fair, Williamson was pitching his third straight day on the game in question).

    What's really funny, though, is Stevenson's last few grafs:

    If the Cubs lost to the Red Sox in the World Series, no doubt Cubs fans would feel awful. At last, got to the gates of heaven and they crashed shut. That's rough. But how would I feel if the Red Sox lost to the Cubs?

    I have previously suggested that I feel toward the Yankees as I would toward someone who'd shot and killed my dog. Given this, what would it feel like if the Cubs beat us in the big one? It would feel as though some pleasant, absent-minded guy had accidentally run over my dog in the street and not really noticed, and then clumsily reversed back over the dog as it yelped in its death throes. Then he started whooping and guzzling beer with friends, while still standing over the dog corpse. And all the while he still seems like a really nice guy who was hard to blame or dislike.

    Please don't be that guy. Please.

    Living in Chicago, there's no way I can entirely endorse Stevenson's amusingly blinkered logic, but to quote Chris Rock, "I understand."

    In contrast to either the Cubs or the Red Sox, consider what Jay Drezner has to say about being a Yankees fan:

    As I've repeatedly told my brother (a poor Boston Red Sox fan), I don't even pay attention to the regular season anymore with the Yankees. I just wait for the playoffs. When you think about it, that's kind of sad. It used to mean so much to a team to win a pennant....

    [T]he repeated victories by the Yankees have become progressively less special. There is nothing like long-term adversity to make victory that much more special, and now I barely pay attention to the Yankees until the ALCS!

    Yeah, life really sucks for my brother the Yankee fan.... grumble, grumble.

    [C'mon, you're not going to comment on the Game 3 incidents?--ed. No, but I will link to David Pinto and say that even as a Red Sox fan, I agree with most of this statement:

    I would suggest what is really bothering people... is that there was a shift of virtue from the Red Sox to the Yankees Saturday. When it was Nettles and Jackson and Rivers against Lynn and Fisk and Lee, it was easy to see the Yankees as the evil team that deserved to be vanquished by the Red Sox. But on Saturday, it was Pedro and Manny who caused the trouble. Here they were in game the Red Sox had to win, and their antics came close to having them thrown out. Up until Zimmer charged Pedro, the Yankees did nothing wrong. Someone watching a baseball game for the first time would come away from Saturday thinking the Red Sox are a bunch of evil jerks and the Yankees were just defending themselves.

    Rob Neyer offers a counter to Pinto, but this issue is almost besides the point. The key to this year's Red Sox team has been their ability to overcome the distractions created by Pedro and Manny while exploiting their prodigious talents. As this Providence Journal story indicates, the team realizes this:

    "This team is so focused, so positive, you don't see any change from day to day," said [second baseman Todd] Walker, who, in a perfect metaphor for this team's unlikely success, now holds the record for most homers in a single postseason. "That's why we've been able to win so many games the way we have. This team has got a lot of heart."

    Then Walker stopped for a second, and in that instant, it was as if he experienced a moment of epiphany.

    "I don't know why some people still don't understand that," he said. "But I'll tell you -- we're not going to give up."

    My prediction stands.

    posted by Dan at 05:32 PM | Comments (11) | Trackbacks (1)

    Drezner gets results from the Washington Post

    The management of bureaucratic politics that I touched on in my last TNR essay is the subject of a page one story in yesterday's Washington Post (link via Patrick Belton). Greg Djerejian and Atrios have additional commentary.

    Everyone interested in U.S. foreign policy should read the whole thing, but I'll highlight two sections from it. First, on the process:

    Rice has focused more on her role as a presidential adviser and less on using the NSC to set policy. Bush prefers to assign specific tasks to different agencies to carry out his decisions, turning, for example, to Rumsfeld and saying, "Don, you take the lead on this."

    When new staff members join the NSC, Rice outlines four key roles for her staff: preparing the president for meetings and phone calls; ensuring that presidential foreign policy initiatives are carried out; coordinating policy on matters that do not fall logically to a particular agency; and trying to interest different agencies in ideas developed at the NSC.

    Rice's position on most issues is a mystery to many people within the administration, and she prefers to keep it that way. In meetings with Bush's principal foreign policy advisers, she usually does not tip her hand, saving her advice for the president when he asks her in private....

    "Condi has a somewhat idealized and noble view of how the interagency process should work: You should get the best out of everybody involved and in the end forge it into an effective policy," [former NSC executive secretary Stephen] Biegun said, adding that it is important to remember that "the president makes the decisions. It's not Condi who makes the decisions. It's not Powell who makes the decisions. It's not Rumsfeld who makes the decisions."....

    In one sign that Rice is trying to address the problem, she recently appointed Robert Blackwill, a mentor and former ambassador to India, to run a new committee that will seek to plan the administration's response to possible crises and help the NSC reach consensus on a huge backlog of unresolved policy questions.

    As the administration enters an election year, the situation has become worse, several officials said, because everyone understands that no one will be fired no matter how far they stray from policy. (emphasis added)

    Three thoughts on this:

  • For those tempted to criticize Rice's management skills, it's worth remembering that her attitude of what the NSC advisor should do is a direct copy of Brent Scowcroft's management style. H.W.'s administration is considered to be an exemplar of foreign policy management. The problem isn't with the management style -- it's with the President and the foreign policy principals that have been selected.

  • That said, I tend to believe that the NSC staff could do a better job in implementing Rice's second role.

  • Hiring Bob Blackwill for this job is a smart move. I've seen Blackwill in action -- he meets the two prerequisites necessary for the job he's been given -- he's extremely shrewd and he has no fear whatsoever about pissing people off. This is a guy I'd want to work for me.
  • The second part of this story sends a shiver down my spine:

    These managerial questions have been especially acute on the administration's policy toward the three countries identified by Bush as the "axis of evil": Iraq, Iran and North Korea. In each case, officials said, the NSC has been unable to bridge gaps in ideology and establish a clear and consistent policy.

    From the start, top administration officials have waged a bitter battle over policy toward North Korea. Powell has led a group seeking to engage with the secretive and isolated communist government; Rumsfeld and Cheney believe talk is useless and have sought to destabilize and ultimately topple the government. Neither side has gained the upper hand, resulting in a policy stalemate that has left allies and North Korea perplexed.

    The two factions, convinced they had the backing of the president, have pursued contradictory policies, often scheming to undermine each other. Insiders said that Rice rarely kept on top of the intramural bickering, though she seemed to lean more toward the Rumsfeld/Cheney group, and at times recommended policies to the president that he later rejected....

    "All too often what you've had in the last two years is diametrically opposed views between OSD [Office of the Secretary of Defense] and others, and then no decisions being made. A lot of stuff gets papered over," said a State Department veteran.

    If I was oh, let's say, a Democrat running for president, this would be my angle of attack on the President's foreign policy. Forget the WMD question -- ask the president to articulate U.S. policy towards the other members of the Axis of Evil. Oh, wait.....

    Bob Blackwill is the man for the job, but he's got his work cut out.

    UPDATE: Josh Marshall links to a Washington Post story from today that suggests the issue of foreign policy management is worrying Republicans as well:

    "The president has to be president," Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said on NBC's "Meet the Press." "That means the president over the vice president, and over these secretaries" of state and defense. National security adviser Condoleezza Rice "cannot carry that burden alone."

    In the first week of the administration's public relations campaign to explain its Iraq policy and highlight its achievements, Lugar noted that Vice President Cheney, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Rice had given speeches whose tone "was distinctly different" and that senators were rightly concerned about "the strength, the coherence of our policies."

    Marshall observes:

    Nor is Lugar the only one making this point.

    Last week Bill Kristol noted the foreign policy "disarray within his administration" and said the "administration [was] at war with itself."

    Clearly, Kristol doesn't agree with Lugar about a lot, and even less with me -- less and less every day, it seems. And he'd like to see the conflict won by different folks than I would. But the objective reality of disarray at the highest levels is impossible to miss or ignore.

    For a cogent rebuttal, check out Jonathan Rauch's latest in Reason. I think Rauch is making a virtue out of a clear vice, but I hope I'm wrong and he's right.

    posted by Dan at 10:55 AM | Comments (13) | Trackbacks (0)

    One-stop shopping for the Plame Game

    Alex Parker has managed to assemble the major news stories over the past five months about the Plame Game. It's not comprehensive -- Paul Krugman's July essay is not included -- but it hits all of the high notes.

    Go check it out. If you think something's missing, e-mail Alex with the link.

    posted by Dan at 10:17 AM | Comments (26) | Trackbacks (0)

    Sunday, October 12, 2003

    What do Iraq and the Democratic Party have in common?

    When a policy is perceived as not working out, there are two explanations usually given:

  • The perception is wrong and needs to be corrected;
  • The policy is wrong and needs to be fixed.
  • This debate is certainly raging over the U.S. administration of Iraq, and looks like it will not end anytime soon (though click here for an upbeat story about the revival of the Marsh Arabs).

    However, as Matt Bai points out in today's New York Times Magazine, the Democratic Party is undergoing a similar debate about it's own future. The story discusses former White House chief of staff John Podesta's efforts to create a liberal think tank to rival the right-wing triumvirate of the Heritage Foundation, Cato Institute, and American Enterprise Institute. The key grafs:

    ''The question I'm asked most often is, When are we getting our eight words?'' Podesta said. Conservatives, he went on, ''have their eight words in a bumper sticker: 'Less government. Lower taxes. Less welfare. And so on.' Where's our eight-word bumper sticker? Well, it's harder for us, because we believe in a lot more things.'' The Center for American Progress, Podesta said, was concerned with articulating these principles carefully, over time, rather than rushing out an agenda to help win an election in 2004. ''We're trying to build an idea base for the longer term,'' he said, to bring about ''an enduring progressive majority.''

    There was genuine excitement in the room. ''This is the first thing I've heard that gives me hope in a very long time,'' one woman said. The audience, however, had varying notions of what a think tank should do. Most of the questioners seemed to assume as a matter of faith that the liberal message would naturally triumph in America if not for Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and a president who, they insist, has lied. One guest urged Podesta to concentrate on briefing liberal TV guests before they appeared on talk shows; another thought Democrats were losing because they used the wrong language.

    Podesta gently reminded his audience that a think tank was for developing new policy solutions, not simply repackaging old ones. ''We've got to fill the intellectual pail a little,'' he cautioned, before worrying too much about how those ideas should be conveyed.

    This is precisely the challenge facing Podesta. Just about every leading Democrat in Washington agrees that the party could use a new Big Idea, something to compete with the current conservative agenda of slashing programs and toppling rogue regimes. But what kind of idea? Is it as simple as an image makeover? Is it a left-leaning TV network to fight back against a right-tilted media? Or does the party need a new and bolder policy agenda, even if it means years wandering in the wilderness to find it?

    So, is the Democratic Party's problem that it needs to fix media misperceptions or that it needs to generate new policies?

    Bai seems to answers his own question at the end of the piece:

    It may be that Podesta is willing to confront the party establishment, but there is nothing in his past -- or in the resumes of any of his main hires at the center, all of whom are veterans of the Hill or the White House -- that suggests he and his team want to divorce themselves from the party's political aims. They are the Democratic establishment, and that means there will always be the temptation to forgo the longer, harder conversation that the party probably needs to have in favor of a short-term strategy.

    It is worth remembering, too, that activists like Weyrich and Feulner didn't start with either the message or the specific policies. They started, instead, with a core philosophy that deftly articulated the way a lot of frustrated Americans felt. They knew what they believed and how to put it into words, and they were passionate about living in a country that closely resembled their vision. What Podesta dismisses as a bumper sticker -- ''less government, lower taxes and so on'' -- is, in fact, the starting point from which a generation of powerful ideas took flight.

    Podesta has undertaken this process in reverse; he is building up a machine for finding new ideas and marketing them in hopes that all this effort will somehow coalesce into a new and compelling governing philosophy for Democrats. Even before its official debut this month, American Progress began assembling focus groups in nine cities and among a number of ''elite'' Democrats to get a sense of what the progressive vision ought to be. This is what consultants do when they want to win elections, but it is a less promising way to locate a bold new concept of American government.

    As a member of the opposition who nevertheless truly wants to see this project succeed in part (click here for why), I'd suggest that Podesta may be aiming too high. Part of the reason the right-wing think tanks have thrived is not just their willingness to take on the Republican establishment, but to take on each other. Cato and Heritage hardly see eye-to-eye on all matters, and I'm sure that there are different strands of the Democratic party that feel the same.

    The key is not just to fund the construction of new ideas -- it's to encourage competition among new sets of ideas.

    My advice to Podesta -- one think tank can't house every strand of the Democratic party -- aim for ideological coherence first, and then try to wipe the floor with other think tanks that lean Democratic.

    posted by Dan at 04:30 PM | Comments (41) | Trackbacks (3)

    What Nicholas Kristoff said

    Of all the New York Times op-ed columnists, I've found Nicholas Kristoff to be the most unpredictable. I disagree with Bob Herbert 99% of the time, Krugman and Dowd 75% of the time, Brooks and Friedman only 33% of the time. Kristoff is at the 50% level -- I either think he's hit the nail on the head or I find him to be dead wrong.

    Yesterday he hit the nail on the head:

    [M]y sense is that Democrats exaggerate the damage to Mrs. Wilson's career and to her personal security, while Republicans vastly play down the enormity of the security breach and the danger to the assets she worked with....

    All in all, I think the Democrats are engaging in hyperbole when they describe the White House as having put Mrs. Wilson's life in danger and destroyed her career; her days skulking along the back alleys of cities like Beirut and Algiers were already mostly over.

    Moreover, the Democrats cheapen the debate with calls, at the very beginning of the process, for a special counsel to investigate the White House. Hillary Rodham Clinton knows better than anyone how destructive and distracting a special counsel investigation can be, interfering with the basic task of governing, and it's sad to see her display the same pusillanimous partisanship that Republicans showed just a few years ago.

    If Democrats have politicized the scandal and exaggerated it, Republicans have inexcusably tried to whitewash it. The leak risked the security of all operatives who had used Brewster-Jennings as cover, as well as of all assets ever seen with Mrs. Wilson. Unwitting sources will now realize that they were supplying the C.I.A. with information, and even real agents may fear exposure and vanish.

    C.I.A. veterans are seething, and rightly so, at the betrayal by their own government. Larry Johnson, who entered the agency at the same time as Mrs. Wilson, is a Republican who voted for President Bush — and he's so enraged that he compares the administration leaker to the spies Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanssen.

    "Here's a woman who put her life on the line," Mr. Johnson said. "But unlike a Navy seal or a marine, she didn't have a gun to fight back. All she had to protect her was her cover."...

    This scandal leaves everybody stinking.

    Indeed (link via Tom Maguire).

    UPDATE: Today's Washington Post story has more info. Most important, the key source behind September's revelations makes a new appearance:

    On July 7, the White House admitted it had been a mistake to include the 16 words about uranium in Bush's State of the Union speech. Four days later, with the controversy dominating the airwaves and drowning out the messages Bush intended to send during his trip in Africa, CIA Director George J. Tenet took public blame for failing to have the sentence removed.

    That same week, two top White House officials disclosed Plame's identity to least six Washington journalists, an administration official told The Post for an article published Sept. 28. The source elaborated on the conversations last week, saying that officials brought up Plame as part of their broader case against Wilson.

    "It was unsolicited," the source said. "They were pushing back. They used everything they had."

    Novak has said he began interviewing Bush officials about Wilson shortly after July 6, asking why such an outspoken Bush policy critic was picked for the Niger mission. Novak reported that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA on weapons of mass destruction and that she was the person who suggested Wilson for the job.

    Officials have said Wilson, a former ambassador to Gabon and National Security Council senior director for African affairs, was not chosen because of his wife.

    On July 12, two days before Novak's column, a Post reporter was told by an administration official that the White House had not paid attention to the former ambassador's CIA-sponsored trip to Niger because it was set up as a boondoggle by his wife, an analyst with the agency working on weapons of mass destruction. Plame's name was never mentioned and the purpose of the disclosure did not appear to be to generate an article, but rather to undermine Wilson's report.

    After Novak's column appeared, several high-profile reporters told Wilson that they had received calls from White House officials drawing attention to his wife's role. Andrea Mitchell of NBC News said she received one of those calls.

    Josh Marshall and Tom Maguire have already weighed in. My two cents:

  • Does this story puncture the Newsweek thesis that the original leak was inadvertent? Yes and no. It does seem that there was an orchestrated campaign to discredit Wilson's version of events, and one element of that campaign was to suggest that nepotism was behind the decision to dispatch Wilson to Niger. So the idea that the Novak leak was inadvertent and the White House jumped on the vandwagon afterwards falls apart.

  • At the same time, it does not seem like whoever leaked the story intentionally wanted to out Plame's status. The obvious taget was Wilson -- the link to his wife was the nepotism angle. As Marshall puts it:

    The White House was at war with Joe Wilson. And they were using everything in their arsenal to take him down. The authors of the piece seem to have spoken to “administration sources” who told them that the motive for naming Plame wasn’t retaliation but an effort to destroy Wilson’s credibility and thus get reporters to ignore him. That theory of the crime, shall we say, seems to conflict with the account of the administration official who told the Post on he September 28th that the calls were “meant purely and simply for revenge.”

    So, this doesn't change my "nasty and partisan, but not intentional or malevolent" theory of events.

  • I've said nary a word about the Democratic demand for a special prosecutor because I thought it besides the point. But here's what Marshall has to say about the investigation so far:

    I’m all for the appointment of a special counsel to investigate this case. It seems like a textbook example of an inquiry that calls for one.

    But I haven’t made too big a point of it because I think that once a full-scale criminal probe gets underway its really not that easy to control. Once lawyers and FBI agents and depositions and the rest of it get involved, these things have a way of taking on a life of their own. As I’ve said before, I’m convinced that the White House will eventually rue the day the president didn’t just do the right thing on day one: find the culprits, fire them and move on.

    Indeed again.

  • posted by Dan at 03:55 PM | Comments (11) | Trackbacks (0)

    Friday, October 10, 2003

    The best get-rich-quick cyberscam yet

    I'm sure everyone who reads this blog has received an e-mail message from a Nigerian lawyer claiming -- in the strictest confidence, of course -- that s/he represents an ousted Nigerian despot and needs some bank account information so s/he can transfer lots of money to your account. I've also received Filipino versions of this cyberscam.

    The latest permutation just landed in my inbox:

    Dear Sir,

    I am Barrister Al Mohammed El Said, Former Legal Adviser to the ousted Iraqi President General Saddam Hussein. I was Tortured and Incarncerated for speaking out against the Devilish and Inhumane actions of his son Uday Hussein.

    While I was working with the former President, I was entrusted with many assets and Fund which I was kept safe for the family. Upon my release from Prison, all the assets and fund in my possession were all retrieved except a certain Fund amounting to the tune of $25,000,000.00 (Twenty Five Million United States Dollars) which is proceeds from Crude Oil sales of one of his
    numerous Oil Companies and I am the only person who knows about this Fund and also have all the necessary informations and documents about the account which I am ready to disclose to you if you are willing to cooperate with me.

    The money is presently in a private security Vault in London and I have been asked to present an account into which the money will be sent. Note that I cannot operating (sic) an account here in the United Kingdom to prevent traces of my stay in the UK.

    It is in view of the above facts that I am contacting you as a foreigner to help in transferring this Money abroad into your account pending when the ban on travelling and other restrictions is lifted on me by my host.

    It was only possible for me to escape from Iraq to United Kingdom from where I am currently contacting you. Should you be willing to assist me, we are going to sign a Binding agreement of Trust to make sure that none of the parties involved will be cheated in this transaction. Also, I will be ready to travel along with my family to any country of your choice for sharing and Investments as soon as everything is set for me to do so.

    After the successful transfer of the fund into your account, I accept to share the money with you as follows:

    You will be given 35% of the Total Fund for your services, 60% will be for me while the remaining 5% will be for any expenses incurred in the course of the transaction.

    I look forward to your positive and co-operative response.

    Yours truely (sic),

    Barrister Al Mohammed El Said

    I am so going to write this guy back.

    posted by Dan at 09:16 PM | Comments (15) | Trackbacks (1)

    My oh-so-lazy Fridays

    Little work is being done today, because my son's day care center closed at noon, so I have him for the rest of the day. Such are the occasional inconveniences of modern parenting.

    I mention this only as an excuse to quote the last few grafs from this very funny post from Laura McK**** at Apartment 11D:

    There are certain parts of raising kids that I love. Walking around the park. Treating them to ice-cream. Reading stories. But there's also aspects of the job that I didn't sign on for. Like watching other people's kids at the playground. And figuring out a four square dinner day after day.

    Also putting valves in sippy cups, keeping track of milk consumption, watching the Wiggles, wiping bums, rinsing out shampoo, shopping at Target, transporting to pre-school, buckling car seats, curbing tantrums. Sometime I feel like saying, That's not my job. If I could delegate those jobs to a lacky or a graduate student, I would. But then I would miss out on ice cream in the park, too. (emphasis in original)

    Actually, I think Laura might be overstating things a bit. Of course I signed on for the unpleasant or annoying parts of parenting -- it's just that before one has children, the mundane tasks are never the aspects of parenthood that one visualizes.

    I also enjoy shopping at Target.

    posted by Dan at 03:00 PM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

    A step up for the Nobel Peace Prize

    I defended last year's decision by the Nobel committee to award its Peace Proze to Jimmy Carter. That said, this year's recipient -- Iranian human rights lawyer Shirin Ebadi -- is a decided improvement. Here's her official Nobel bio, and the official announcement. The key grafs:

    Her principal arena is the struggle for basic human rights, and no society deserves to be labelled civilized unless the rights of women and children are respected. In an era of violence, she has consistently supported non-violence. It is fundamental to her view that the supreme political power in a community must be built on democratic elections. She favours enlightenment and dialogue as the best path to changing attitudes and resolving conflict.

    Ebadi is a conscious Moslem. She sees no conflict between Islam and fundamental human rights. It is important to her that the dialogue between the different cultures and religions of the world should take as its point of departure their shared values. It is a pleasure for the Norwegian Nobel Committee to award the Peace Prize to a woman who is part of the Moslem world, and of whom that world can be proud - along with all who fight for human rights wherever they live.

    Patrick Belton has a host of links up about her over at OxBlog.

    Here's the terse announcement over at the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA). Meanwhile another IRNA story suggests that Iran is warming up its relations with that other exemplar of human rights, Cuba.

    UPDATE: Slate has a nice explanation of the decision-making process behind the Nobel Peace Prize.

    ANOTHER UPDATE: Hey, what do you know, George W. Bush and Kofi Annan agree on the merits of the winner!

    posted by Dan at 12:24 PM | Comments (24) | Trackbacks (6)

    Thursday, October 9, 2003

    Yet another plea to media professionals

    The traffic on the blog has been pretty high as of late, so here's another plea to those who work in the media -- please take five minutes out of your busy schedule to answer five simple survey questions that are a curcial part of a joint project on the power and politics of blogs.

    Pretty please.

    To date, I've received 80 proper responses, including reporters, producers, and editors who work for The New Republic, Economist, Time, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Chicago Tribune, Reuters, Associated Press, ABC News, CNN, and Foreign Affairs. I'm gunning for an N > 100. You, Mr. or Ms. Media Professional, could be the one that pushes the response number to three digits!!

    Let me also note that there are an awful lot of important media institutions not on this aforementioned list -- Slate, The American Prospect, Weekly Standard, National Review, Washington Post (Howard Kurtz, I'm looking in your direction), USA Today, NBC, CBS, and Fox News.

    Shame, shame -- no links to you!! [Oh, yeah, they're quaking in their boots.--ed. Shhh... you're blowing the illusion!] Particularly for CBS News -- if you guys are going to reprint my TNR Online columns, at least answer the survey questions!!

    UPDATE: OK, The Weekly Standard is back in my good graces.

    posted by Dan at 10:50 PM | Trackbacks (0)

    Criticizing and defending Krugman

    In Tech Central Station, Arnold Kling has an interesting critique of Paul Krugman's critiques of the Bush administration (link via Lynne Kiesling). The key grafs:

    : Type C arguments are about the consequences of policies. Type M arguments are about the alleged motives of individuals who advocate policies.

    In this example [on the minimum wage], the type C argument says that the consequences of eliminating the minimum wage would not be those that I expect and desire. We can have a constructive discussion of the Type C argument -- I can cite theory and evidence that contradicts Krueger and Card -- and eventually one of us could change his mind, based on the facts.

    Type M arguments deny the legitimacy of one's opponents to even state their case. Type M arguments do not give rise to constructive discussion. They are almost impossible to test empirically....

    Paul, your columns consist primarily of type M arguments. Either you do not see the difference between type C arguments and type M arguments, or you do not care....

    Another consequence is to lower the prestige and impact of economists. We are trained to make type C arguments. Instead, you are teaching by example that making speculative assessments of one's opponent's motives is more important than thinking through the consequences of policy options. If everyone were to use such speculative assessments as the basis for forming their opinions, then there would be no room for economics in public policy discussions.

    You could express your point of view using type C arguments and still take strong stands for what you believe is right. In fact, you might find that doing so would make you more effective. Even if that is not the case, even if there is a sort of media version of Gresham's Law in which specious reasoning drives out careful analysis, then that is a challenge for all of us who are trained as economists. I believe that we have a professional duty to try to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.

    Now, although this blog is not in the habit of defending Paul Krugman, I'd say that Kling is overstating the case a bit. Krugman uses both types of arguments. If you take a look at his NYT Magazine article on taxes, for example, Krugman does marshall consequential arguments to support his argument -- but he uses motivational ones as well.

    Krugman, although not yet a Nobel winner, ain't a dumb bunny when it comes to economics or methodology. I'd posit that he slides from Type C to type M arguments under two sets of circumstances -- which happen to mirror the two flaws I identified last December in his op-ed columns. First, he'll switch to type M when he's run out of ways to reiterate the type C argument about an issue. Second, and more disturbingly, he'll use type M arguments more in areas where his economics expertise is of less use -- namely, politics and foreign policy.

    This, by the way, is Peter Beinert's conclusion at the end of his NYT book review of Krugman's The Great Unraveling:

    Krugman tries to harness his columns into one overarching argument about the Bush presidency. In the introduction, he calls the administration a ''revolutionary power'' -- a term he takes from Henry Kissinger's analysis of France under Robespierre and Napoleon -- that wants to replace the post-New Deal order with an undiluted plutocracy. But to make his case, Krugman has to do more than merely dissect the administration's policies; he has to explain its motives and culture. And here Krugman's unconventional background becomes a liability. He criticizes Washington reporters for being prisoners of their sources, and the dinner-party-going ''commentariat'' for succumbing to groupthink. But guest lists that cross ideological lines can help liberals understand the conservatives they write about. And many Washington conservatives genuinely don't see the Bush administration as radical: they see it as having ratified a big-spending, culturally liberal status quo. Krugman assumes a revolutionary consciousness that may not actually exist on the ground.

    Krugman's assumptions about the administration's motives are most problematic on foreign policy. He understands the Iraq war by analogy to the Bush tax cuts, as if rewarding corporate friends with military contracts via the Carlyle Group was a driving force behind the decision to depose Saddam Hussein. He wonders whether the Bush administration will ''start threatening already democratic countries with military force.'' And he dismisses suggestions that President Bush's aggressive foreign policy was a genuine reaction to Sept. 11, writing that ''we knew there were people out there who wanted to hurt us; it wasn't that much of a surprise when they finally scored a hit.''

    Note that this is a type T argument -- theoretical supposition -- with only a small dose of type C support.

    UPDATE: Chris Lawrence makes such a good comment that I'm linking to it here. Chris is completely correct that type M arguments are a valid form of social science. Perhaps the refinement would be to suggest that Krugman's type C arguments are at their weakest when used in support of type M hypotheses.

    ANOTHER UPDATE: Brad DeLong weighs in with some cogent points.

    posted by Dan at 12:54 PM | Comments (32) | Trackbacks (2)

    To repeat: no coherent narrative

    Given the latest suicide bombing in Iraq, it's going to be easy to claim that the place -- and U.S. policy -- is an abject disaster. And there are certainly some problems besides violent attacks in the U.S. administration of Iraq.

    However, consistent with my no coherent narrative meme, there is also some good news. The New York Times reports that it should be very easy to fulfill Iraq's aid needs for the next year -- about $6 billion -- in part because it will take some time for the country to have the necessary institutional infrastructure to absorb even more aid. Some cheering grafs:

    A month ago, administration officials said they would have a difficult time raising more than $1 billion for Iraq for 2004 at Madrid. Now officials say Japan itself is considering roughly $1 billion for next year and several billion in later years.

    "The Japanese are talking in the billions," said a senior administration official. "The Europeans are revisiting their earlier numbers. They're all beginning to look at this as a security issue, not a development issue, and they're scrounging for money from other places in their budgets."

    Administration and international aid officials say that after intense American pressure, the initial European pledge of $230 million could expand to several hundred million dollars. If that happens, one official said, the administration will press the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar and Saudi Arabia "to make sure they are not left behind," one official said.

    Even more heartwarming is this Chicago Tribune story on the effects that U.S. aid are having on the Iraqi people. The highlights:

    BALAD, Iraq -- In the dusty towns of central Iraq, she is known as Grandma Jones, a rifle-toting, ever-smiling American soldier.

    Capt. Arthurine Jones of Matteson, Ill., coaxes Iraqi children to cheer and chant in English, melts the hearts of schoolteachers with a photo of her granddaughter and cajoles contractors to build schools and bridges on time and within budget.

    "Every time we go out and meet people we make an impact," said Jones, a member of the 308th Civil Affairs Brigade, a suburban Chicago unit of Army Reservists.

    When crowds of Iraqis gather around these soldiers, it is not to attack them but to embrace them for the humanitarian work they are doing....

    Those at Balad have endured frequent mortar attacks, though most of the shells landed harmlessly. One of the unit's Humvees was destroyed in a roadside bombing.

    Despite the danger, the soldiers are leaving tangible evidence of their accomplishments.

    They already have supervised the reconstruction of about 40 schools, 250 wells, eight water-treatment facilities, a police station, a town hall and stretches of road and bridges across the Tigris River. Soon, most of the unit is expected to move on to Baghdad.

    Traveling recently with several members of the 308th Brigade along rolling desert scenery in the hot griddle of central Iraq, the atmosphere was anything but tense. Riding into towns, the soldiers were swarmed by children. One on an ox-cart handed a soldier a flower as they rode side by side.

    Some villagers stopped and stared at the troops. Others smiled and waved.

    At a school opening in the village of Abu-Hassam, soldiers were greeted warmly and stayed after the dedication ceremony to eat lunch with local tribal chiefs. Little girls wearing head coverings gathered near Sgt. Kirstin Frederickson, 28, of Hoffman Estates, Ill., captivated by the sight of the blue-eyed, blond soldier dressed in military fatigues and carrying an M-16 rifle.

    "We see the immediate gratification of what is going on here," said Frederickson, a supervisor for a prescription drug management company.

    Really, you need to read the entire article.

    One new and potentially intriguing part of the Iraqi coverage is that the Bush administration recognizes it needs to get more of the positive stories coming from Iraq into the media. [Why does this matter beyond the 2004 election?--ed. Because if the American people become convinced that Iraq is a miserable failure, then they're going to start demanding a withdrawal, which would be catastrophic for regional stability] This Chicago Tribune story on Condi Rice's latest speech suggests a new White House plan on this front:

    White House officials said Rice's speech was the beginning of a public-relations campaign to counter growing doubts about Bush's rationale for the war and his handling of postwar Iraq. Public opinion polls indicate declining confidence in Bush's foreign policy and overall job performance, and the administration's $87 billion spending request for Iraq and Afghanistan faces heavy Democratic opposition.

    Bush himself plans speeches in New Hampshire, Vice President Dick Cheney will speak on the issue in Washington, Cabinet secretaries will go to Iraq to point up areas of progress, and the president will give interviews to regional journalists, all in an attempt to bypass the Washington press corps, officials said.

    Rice's speech set the tone for the campaign, arguing that Bush was right to attack Iraq and that the reconstruction there is going well but that Americans should be prepared for a long-term commitment.

    Still developing...

    posted by Dan at 11:25 AM | Comments (48) | Trackbacks (2)

    Wednesday, October 8, 2003

    Tom Maguire gets results from Newsweek!!

    Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball provide some interesting support for Tom Maguire's "oops!" theory of the Plame game. The highlights:

    No matter how voluminous the evidence to the contrary, the Bush White House likes to convey the impression of unflagging infallibility. But the prospect that a “senior administration official” goofed big time is gaining fast currency among those familiar with the events in the current Washington leak controversy, sources close to the case tell NEWSWEEK.

    The error, moreover, was no small thing: by confusing the timing of phone calls by made by White House officials attempting to discredit former U.S. ambassador Joseph Wilson, the anonymous official stoked the scandal, mistakenly portraying what was a crass case of political hardball into one of potential criminality....

    New evidence for this view emerged today from a surprising source: Wilson himself. The former ambassador, who originally called for Bush’s top political director Karl Rove to be “frog-marched” out of the White House, acknowledged to NEWSWEEK that he got no calls from any reporters asking about his wife until he heard from Novak. If he had, he said, he would have vividly remembered it. One reporter, he said, did call him and say “watch out, they’re coming after you”—but that journalist is uncertain whether any reference was made to Wilson’s wife’s employment at the CIA.

    But after the Novak column ran, Wilson says, he got plenty of calls.... Rep. John Conyers, senior Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, yesterday wrote Rove a letter asking for his resignation, saying that Rove’s comments as reported by NEWSWEEK were “morally indefensible” and an indication that he was part of “an orchestrated campaign to smear and intimidate truth-telling critics.” (White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan has repeatedly refused to answer direct questions about Rove’s conversation with Matthews.) But even Conyers acknowledges that pointing to reporters to an already published newspaper column is hardly a federal crime. And if all the White House attempts to promote stories about Wilson’s wife took place after July 14, most of the records being turned over to Justice Department investigators may lead to nothing but a prosecutorial dry hole.

    That still leaves open the question of Novak’s original source—and at this point, White House statements are more carefully hedged than most of the public probably realizes.... White House spokesman McClellan has denied only that three senior officials—Libby, Rove or National Security Council official Elliot Abrams—leaked any “classified” information to Novak. One possible translation: whatever they may or may not have said to Novak, nobody passed along anything they knew to be classified at the time. (emphasis added)

    Josh Marshall also picks up on the careful parsing of the White House denials.

    There's one other reason this version of events makes sense -- the "senior administration official" who leaked the original Post story has not come forward with any more blockbuster leaks to advance the story. Maybe this is because the original leak served its purpose -- I don't know.

    Does this excuse Bush's lackluster statements about pursuing the leak? Yes and no. If the Maguire theory holds and Bush knows this as true, then it may explain why he's not exercised about the issue -- he knows that there was no criminal intent. However, as Maguire and I have pointed out repeatedly, Plame's NOC status means that even if there was no criminal action, this was a serious breach of ethical boundaries, not to mention a threat to intelligence operations. For someone who's supposed to bring honor and integrity back into the White House, Bush's approach remains cavalier.

    [So do you think the left half of the blogosphere, like, just overhyped this?--ed. Not necessarily. First, the Newsweek theory of events rests crucially on the notion that the official who leaked the story to the Post made an important mistake. If you still accept the Post story as 100% correct, outrage is still justified. Second, Bush's lackadaisical response to the damage that has emanated from the leak has opened him up to justifiable criticisms -- proving once again that the response to the scandal is always more damaging than the scandal itself. So does this mean you're going to switch parties?--ed. No, in the sense that the original Washington Post story erred in asserting that the original Plame leak was widely shopped around, intentional, and therefore malicious. If this version of events turns out to be accurate, the post-leak White House behavior qualifies as nasty, partisan, and inept, but not malevolent. On policy grounds, well, let's just say that Noah Shachtman might need to give me a call.]


    UPDATE: Mark Kleiman finds this theory "hard to swallow," but does not dismiss it out of hand. Tom Maguire also weighs in. Glenn Reynolds, as usual, has tons of links. Atrios alertly points to one piece of contradictory information.

    posted by Dan at 10:35 PM | Comments (97) | Trackbacks (4)

    The Democratic primary gets ugly

    I thought the "puke politics" of the California gubernatorial election were bad -- that's nothing compared to the accusations flying between the Dean and Kerry camps:

    Massachusetts Senator John Kerry is again challenging presidential rival Howard Dean's allegiance to Red Sox Nation.

    With Boston preparing to face archrival New York in the American League Championship Series, Kerry said Tuesday that if New York beats Boston in the best-of-seven series that begins Wednesday, he'll send New England clam chowder to Dean's campaign. He wants Manhattan chowder from Dean if Boston wins.

    Kerry last month accused Dean, the former Vermont governor and current front-runner for the Democratic nomination, of being a Yankees fan.

    Dean, a New York native, called the accusation insulting, and insisted he backs Boston.

    "Howard Dean has a relationship with the Yankees that goes way back so we hope he is willing to put some chowder behind his childhood team," Kerry spokeswoman Kelley Benander said.

    OK, mostly I think this is amusing, but a semi-serious question -- what does it say about the state of Kerry's campaign that he's perfectly willing to piss off millions of Democrats who root for the Yankees, just to get a leg up in New Hampshire?

    posted by Dan at 06:19 PM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (0)

    Capital market liberalization and publishing

    My latest Tech Central Station column is up. It's on how economic liberalization beyond trade politics can and should be proceeding. Go check it out.

    Oh, and for those interested in whether blogging can lead to writing as a career, Maureen Ryan has a story in the Chicago Tribune on the possibilities and pitfalls of such a trajectory. Various bloggers are quoted.

    posted by Dan at 03:14 PM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

    Level of outrage rising rapidly

    On Monday, President Bush sounded tough on the Plame Game:

    President Bush said Monday that the unauthorized disclosure of an undercover CIA officer's identity was a "very serious matter" and "a criminal action" as the White House announced that 500 of its 2,000 employees had responded to a Justice Department demand for documents as part of an investigation into the source of the leak.

    The announcements reflected a tougher public approach by the White House to the leak, which has prompted criticism from Democrats for not treating the disclosure of the classified information more forcefully.

    "This is a very serious matter, and our administration takes it seriously," Bush said at a news conference with President Mwai Kibaki of Kenya.

    Bush urged the person who disclosed the information to come forward.

    "I'd like to know who leaked [the name], and if anybody has got any information inside our government or outside our government who leaked, you ought to take it to the Justice Department so we can find the leaker," he said.

    On Tuesday, Bush took both feet and shoved them straight into his mouth:

    I mean this town is a -- is a town full of people who like to leak information. And I don't know if we're going to find out the senior administration official. Now, this is a large administration, and there's a lot of senior officials. I don't have any idea. I'd like to. I want to know the truth. That's why I've instructed this staff of mine to cooperate fully with the investigators -- full disclosure, everything we know the investigators will find out. I have no idea whether we'll find out who the leaker is -- partially because, in all due respect to your profession, you do a very good job of protecting the leakers. But we'll find out.

    Link via Josh Marshall. The most generous thing I can say about this statement is that it's factually correct. All Bush is saying is what Jack Shafer said last week about the likelihood of finding leakers.

    The thing is, Shafer's just a reporter -- Bush is the boss of whoever leaked the story. Exactly what kind of message does Bush send to that person in saying this to the press? Basically, that you'll never get caught. What does this message say to the FBI investigators? Chill out, we don't expect you to find anything.

    Developing... and not in a way that I like.

    UPDATE: In a lot of the comments on my Plame Game posts, there's a suggestion that Bush could find out who the leaker was with a thorough grilling of his senior staff. Mark Kleiman (who's moved off blogspot, I see) makes a similar suggestion).

    Eugene Volokh provides a straightforward reason why this is not likely to be the case. Note that Eugene's post assumes that the leaker did violate the law. If Tom Maguire's "colossal but unintentional blunder" theory were true, Volokh's logic is slightly weakened (the leaker may be convinced that even if he did not violate the law, he'd get railroaded given the press attention this has received).

    Note that this does not excuse Bush's statements from yesterday, however. The leaker's incentive structure doesn't matter -- Bush should be making clear what his preferences are on this issue. And yesterday's statement indicates that he's not all that worked up about it. Shame on him.

    posted by Dan at 10:25 AM | Comments (94) | Trackbacks (7)

    Tightening the reins?

    Here's one indication that the White House has decided that it may be tolerating too much "creative tension" among the key bureaucracies when it comes to Iraq. From Knight-Ridder: President Bush has tapped national security adviser Condoleezza Rice to chair a new Iraq Stabilization Group amid increasing Democratic criticism of administration fumbling in postwar Iraq, congressional questioning of the president's proposed $87 billion Iraq spending package and the chaotic postwar situation in Iraq's effect on his approval ratings.

    "Some might see this as rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic," said one senior administration official, who agreed to speak only on the condition of anonymity, "But it is a serious attempt to make the National Security Council more functional and remove some of the elements that have made it dysfunctional."

    Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, with the backing of Vice President Dick Cheney, has long run roughshod over the NSC, the State Department, the CIA and other government agencies, and at times even the wishes of the president himself.

    "With this new system you can control and dampen some of that and make it much more apparent when someone is meddling with policy," the official said, adding, "That way the White House can run policy instead of this unholy alliance."

    Here's a link to the Chicago Tribune story as well.

    One sign that bureaucratic politics have spun out of control -- when cabinet-level officials talk about "unholy alliances."

    UPDATE: Another sign is the following from the Washington Post:

    Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said yesterday that he was not told in advance about a reorganization of the Iraq reconstruction, which he heads. He said he still does not know the reason for the shake-up.

    Rumsfeld said in an interview with the Financial Times and three European news organizations that he did not learn of the new Iraq Stabilization Group until he received a classified memo about it from national security adviser Condoleezza Rice on Thursday.

    Rumsfeld was asked several times why the changes were necessary. "I think you have to ask Condi that question," he said, according to a transcript posted on the Web site of the Financial Times.

    posted by Dan at 10:11 AM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (2)

    Tuesday, October 7, 2003

    The merits of faculty retreats

    Michael Froomkin and Eric Muller are having an amusing debate on the relative merits of faculty retreats. Michael votes thumbs down [UPDATE -- Froomkin contests this description], while Eric believes them to be the epitome of Habermasian discourse.

    I gotta go with Michael on this one. The idea of a faculty retreat sounded good the first time I heard it -- probably because I thought it would be held at some secluded lake somewhere with generous coffee breaks. In actuality, the retreats I've attended (all before I was at the U of C) were day-long marathons of bad pizza, bad flourescent lighting, and bad pontificating.

    This gets to the nub of why I'm pessimistic about retreats. It's not that I don't respect my colleagues -- I respect and admire the erudition they all bring to the table. However, at the risk of destroying the glass structure that houses this blog, academics as a group are prone to liking the sound of their own voices way too much.

    [Cue sound of glass tinkling!! Most of your colleagues aren't so egotistical as to have pontificating blogs!--ed. Yes, but reading my blog is optional for Internet users. Listening to colleagues at an all-day retreat is usually mandatory.]

    UPDATE: Of course, as Kristin from Mad Pony points out, there are other forms of turture in academia.... like being compared to Mr. Feeny from Boy Meets World.

    posted by Dan at 02:13 PM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (2)

    The post-war debate about the pre-war justifications

    Andrew Sullivan has an excellent post on this topic and on the efforts by all sides to frame the pre-war debate in the manner most favorable to them. The money quote

    The casus belli was not proof of Saddam's existing weapons, but proof of his refusal to cooperate fully with U.N. inspectors or account fully for his WMD research. Nothing we have discovered after the war has debunked or undermined any of these reasons. And the moral reason for getting rid of an unconscionably evil regime has actually gotten stronger now we see the full extent of his terror-state. But the anti-war left sees a real advantage in stripping down the claims in people's receding memories to ones that were not made but which can now be debunked. It's propaganda, to which the media in particular seems alarmingly prone to parroting. We have tor esist it at every stop - because this war has not yet been won, and the really crucial battle, now as before, is at home.

    Go check it out.

    posted by Dan at 12:41 PM | Comments (79) | Trackbacks (1)

    Oh, right, there's an election today

    I believe that Californians are voting on some governor thing.

    Clearly, I'm not up on all the details. However, Robert Tagorda appears to be channeling all of his frustrations with the Dodgers into a non-stop blogathon about the election today, so go check him out.

    posted by Dan at 12:39 PM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

    Hey, we can do statebuilding

    The Chicago Tribune has a good story on successful U.S. efforts to rebuild the state in Afghanistan, one town at a time. The key grafs:

    GARDEZ, Afghanistan -- A remarkable transformation has taken place in recent weeks in this once-troubled provincial capital, now bustling with new businesses, new relief projects and a new optimism about the future.

    The warlords have been driven away one by one.

    In the past three months, the central government, with the help of U.S. forces based in the town, has succeeded in replacing all of them with police and army professionals, answerable solely to the government in Kabul....

    But Gardez is only one town, a model rather than a trend, and extending its successes to the rest of the country won't be easy.

    The U.S. military chose Gardez, a three-hour drive southeast of Kabul, as the pilot for its first Provincial Reconstruction Team, a concept the U.S. military hopes will restore stability and bolster reconstruction efforts across the country.

    The team is made up of about 60 military and civil affairs officers doing mostly humanitarian work. But their presence was an undoubted deterrence to any thoughts of resistance the warlords may have had, said Asadullah Wafa, the governor of Paktia province. "Without the Americans, this would be very difficult," he said. "They are helping us a lot."

    There are now only three other reconstruction teams, and although there are plans for four more, most towns and provinces won't benefit from the presence of U.S. forces.

    Go read the entire article for an excellent account of warlord politics in Afghanistan, and the need to eradicate as many of them as possible before elections planned for 2004. The Guardian reports that the U.S. plans on sending troops to support another PRT to Kunduz.

    Here's an idle thought -- why doesn't NATO create even more Provincial Reconstruction Teams? This is definitely an area where other countries can contribute -- indeed, this is an area where our allies may have a comparative advantage. New Zealand is already taking over one PRT. According to the Miami Herald, however, there is a problem with the European members of the coalition:

    Some European members of NATO have been reluctant to put their soldiers in harm's way. "They're scared," said [country director for the aid agency] Mercy Corps' [Diane] Johnson. "I think they know they're going to get a lot of potshots. It all boils down to political will." (emphasis added)

    Indeed. [But why should the Europeans help us? Aren't we too belligerent for their tastes?--ed. This ain't Iraq, it's Afghanistan. This is the country for which NATO invoked Article V and for which the Security Council unanimously approved force. So our interests coincide in Afghanistan. From a purely self-interested perspective, however, our European allies have a strong incentive to demonstrate the utility of their armed forces to the U.S. government and the U.S. public. The more useful their military units, the greater demand for their services. The greater the demand for their services, the more leverage they have in affecting American foreign policy.]

    posted by Dan at 10:50 AM | Comments (18) | Trackbacks (1)

    Monday, October 6, 2003

    I'm sorry

    No blogging until after sundown Monday night. Right now, it is Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement. The ten days between the Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah) and Yom Kippur are the Days of Awe, during which we are supposed to repent our myriad sins from the past year.

    It is particularly important that we apologize and forgive our fellow man. On the Day of Atonement God always forgives one’s sins against the Almighty. However, God cannot forgive the transgressions committed against other human beings -- only those people can.

    Because of the immediacy of blogging, and the frequently anonymous exchanges that take place on the World Wide Web, my various flaws are on full display every day on this site for all to read. So, to all readers, as well as those I’ve written about – let me apologize for the displays of pride, pettiness, slander, belligerency, cruelty, and offensiveness – be they intentional or not.

    Wow, that feels good.

    posted by Dan at 12:37 AM | Comments (19) | Trackbacks (1)

    Sunday, October 5, 2003

    A point worth making again

    I asked on Friday what evidence there was that Bush and his senior White House staff knew about the Plame Game in July. This is an important point, because many liberals -- Mark Kleiman, Brad DeLong, Paul Krugman -- have argued that they must have known. If true, this would mean that the Bushies sat on this for 11 weeks without taking any action, which I agree would be pretty damning.

    Brad DeLong was kind enough to comment on this post:

    I would be very surprised if the late-July communications from CIA to Justice about the leak were not noted by the White House, and were not explicitly brought to Condi Rice's attention by George Tenet.

    Let's break this down into the two possible mechanisms -- that the (non-leaking) White House senior staff finds out via Justice or via Tenet.

    I doubt Justice contacted the White House in July. The first thing they did when they received the CIA request was to go back to the CIA for more information, as was the proper procedure. Furthermore, it's telling that according to the New York Times, the first place the FBI decided to ask questions was -- again -- the CIA. Perhaps someone at Justice gave a heads-up to the White House about the investigation. However, Justice's standard operating procedure suggests that until they were convinced of the need to open a proper investigation, there was no contact.

    Now we go to Tenet. I actually thought this to be a decent assumption on Brtad's part -- until I read today's New York Times story on Tenet. Two salient sections. The first one comes at the end:

    Mr. Tenet was aware of the Novak column, and was not pleased, the C.I.A. official said. As required by law, the agency notified the Justice Department in late July that there had been a release of classified information; it is a felony for any official with access to such information to disclose the identity of a covert American officer. It is unclear when Mr. Tenet became aware of the referral, but when he did, he supported it, the C.I.A. official said, even though it was clearly going to cause problems for the White House. "I don't think he lost any sleep over it," the official said.

    Nothing in there about Tenet formally notifying the White House. The Washington Post story on Tenet today takes this a step further:

    Sources close to Tenet say the director himself was not responsible for initiating the leak investigation. They say lawyers in the agency's general counsel's office referred the matter to the Justice Department in July -- without consulting the CIA director -- as part of the routine way of responding to the disclosure of classified information.

    Now, take a look at this section of the NYT story:

    At a few minutes before eight on Thursday morning, George J. Tenet, the director of central intelligence, was parked in his usual chair just outside the Oval Office waiting to brief his chief patron, the president of the United States.

    The morning newspapers were full of developments in what amounted to a war between the Central Intelligence Agency and the White House, and a Justice Department investigation that was barely 48 hours old into whether administration officials had illegally disclosed the name of an undercover C.I.A. officer....

    But after President Bush told his chief of staff, Andrew H. Card Jr., that he was ready to see Mr. Tenet — "O.K., George, let's go," Mr. Card called out to the intelligence chief — Mr. Tenet, a rare holdover from the Clinton administration and a politically savvy survivor, did not even bring up the issue that was roiling his agency, Mr. Card said in an interview.

    Instead, Mr. Tenet briefed the president on the latest intelligence reports, as he always does, and left it to the White House to make the first move about Mr. Wilson and Ms. Plame.

    "I think I was the one who initiated it," Mr. Card recalled. The subsequent conversation between the president and Mr. Tenet about the investigation, he added, did not consume "any significant amount of time or discussion or angst. It was basically, `We're cooperating, you're cooperating, I'm glad to see the process is moving forward the way it should.'"

    If Tenet didn't raise the Plame Game with Bush this Thursday, what makes anyone think that Tenet raised it with anyone else in the White House in July?

    There are a lot of disturbing implications about the Plame Game and its ensuing fallout, and this is only one dimension to this issue, but it's an important one -- the extent to which Bush and his chief subordinates sat on the issue back in July. Many on the liberal side of the spectrum believe there was an eleven week pattern of malevolence that only became public in late September.

    They could be proven correct, but at this point I don't see any facts to support this assertion.

    UPDATE: Time's cover story this week provides an excellent summary of events to date. Oh, and Newsday has a good piece today as well.

    ANOTHER UPDATE: Mark Kleiman has a post today that does an excellent job of constructing the proper timeline. I have one quibble with it, and two areas of agreement. The quibble is minor -- Kleiman neglects to say that Time's follow-up to the Novak story was only in its online version. It never appeared in print.

    However, Kleiman's version of events otherwise seems pretty accurate, and the comments below suggest that McClellan was briefed when facing the press on July 22nd. So I'll concede there's a high probability that Bush's senior aides knew about this in July. As for Bush himself, Kleiman acknowledges that he's got no evidence either way. Given Tenet's behavior cited above, I'm inclined to think he didn't know.

    posted by Dan at 12:38 PM | Comments (118) | Trackbacks (0)

    Saturday, October 4, 2003

    Adam Smith on outsourcing

    One of the perks of teaching at the University of Chicago is that the school requires much of its faculty to teach beyond their area of expertise. I'm teaching in one of the "core sequences" at the University of Chicago this quarter, entitled Power, Identity, and Resistance. You can access a copy of the syllabus here or on my teaching page.

    We're currently immersed in Adam Smith's An Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. There are many great qualities about the work, but what strikes me today is its topicality -- like all great works in social science, Smith's observations are constantly relevant.

    For example, consider this passage from Book I, Chapter X, Part II -- "Inequalities occasioned by the Policy of Europe":

    The property which every man has in his own labour, as it is the original foundation of all other property, so it is the most sacred and inviolable. The patrimony of a poor man lies in the strength and dexterity of his hands; and to hinder him from employing this strength and dexterity of his hands; and to hinder him from employing this strength and dexterity in what manner he thinks proper without injury to his neighbour is a plain violation of this most sacred property. It is a manifest encroachment upon the just liberty both of the workman and of those who might be disposed to employ him. As it hinders the one from working at what he thinks proper, so it hinders the others from employing whom they think proper. To judge whether he is fit to be employed may surely be trusted to the discretion of the employers whose interest it so much concerns. The affected anxiety of the law-giver lest they should employ an improper person is evidently as impertinent as it is oppressive.


    posted by Dan at 04:56 PM | Comments (12) | Trackbacks (1)


    William Kristol weighs in on the Plame Game in the Weekly Standard -- and he hits the nail right on the head in two ways.

    First, they put the import of the scandal itself in the correct perspective:

    Revealing the identity of covert CIA agents is a crime under certain circumstances. But given the strict stipulations of the relevant statute, it seems unlikely that the Justice Department investigation will ever lead to a successful prosecution of the leaker or leakers. That doesn't make the political reality or the moral responsibility any less urgent. Surely the president has, as the Washington Times suggested last week, taken "too passive a stance" toward this misdeed by one or more of his employees. Surely he should do his utmost to restore the White House's reputation for honor and integrity by calling together the dozens of more-or-less "senior" administration officials and asking whoever spoke with Novak to come forward and explain themselves. Presumably the relevant officials--absent some remarkable explanation that's hard to conceive--should be fired, and their names given to the Justice Department. The president might also want to call Mrs. Wilson, who is after all a government official serving her country, and apologize for the damage done to her by his subordinate's action. (emphasis added)

    Their second good point echoes the one I made in The New Republic Online -- that this incident is endemic of a larger problem:

    The leak controversy has revealed an administration at war with itself, a war intensified by the difficult aftermath of the war in Iraq. The situation there seems to be better than you would think if you read only the New York Times and the Washington Post, but worrying nonetheless. On Thursday, the commander of U.S. ground forces in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, acknowledged that the enemy had succeeded in organizing itself in recent weeks to become "a little bit more lethal, a little bit more complex, a little bit more sophisticated, and, in some cases, a little bit more tenacious." With its submission of the $87 billion package to Congress, the administration has begun to come to grips with the problem, and seems committed to doing what needs to be done. But reports suggest that the civilian efforts on the ground in Iraq remain spotty and that the military is stretched very thin. And even more striking, as debate has raged on its $87 billion request, the administration has been virtually invisible in making its case to Congress or to the American people.

    One reason for this is that the civil war in the Bush administration has become crippling. The CIA is in open revolt against the White House. The State Department and the Defense Department aren't working together at all. We are way beyond "fruitful tension" and all the other normal excuses for bureaucratic conflict. This is a situation that only the president can fix. Perhaps a serious talk with Messrs. Tenet, Powell, and Rumsfeld can do the trick, followed by strengthening the National Security Council's role in resolving intra-administration disputes. Perhaps a head or two has to roll. But the present condition is debilitating, and, given the challenges facing us in postwar Iraq, in Iran, and in North Korea, it is irresponsible to let it fester.

    To govern is to choose. Only one man can make the choices necessary to get the administration back on course. President Bush has problems with his White House, his administration's execution of his policy, and its internal decision-making ability. He should fix them sooner rather than later. Time is not on his side.

    Indeed (link via Kevin Drum).

    posted by Dan at 01:40 PM | Comments (29) | Trackbacks (2)

    Friday, October 3, 2003

    Your weekend reading

    Arvind Panagariya has an excellent essay in Foreign Policy that points out the true costs and benefits from free trade. You should read the whole thing, but here's what Panagariya says about who benefits from the removal of agricultural subsidies:

    Ironically, the major beneficiaries of widespread agricultural liberalization would be rich countries themselves, which bear the bulk of the cost of the subsidies and protection, and their domestic consumers.

    He also makes a cogent point about which group of countries are protectionist:

    On average, poor countries have higher tariff barriers than high-income countries. For instance, rich nations’ tariffs on industrial products average about 3 percent, compared to 13 percent for poor countries. Even in the textiles and clothing sectors, tariffs in developing nations (21 percent) are more than double those in rich countries (8 percent, on average). And while textiles and clothing are subject to import quotas in rich economies, such restrictions are due to be dismantled entirely by January 1, 2005, under existing World Trade Organization (WTO) agreements....

    Traditionally, rich economies such as the United States and the EU have been quick to engage in antidumping initiatives—erecting trade barriers against countries that allegedly export goods (or “dump” them) at a price below their own cost of production, however difficult it may be to quantify such a charge. But developing countries have been learning the same tricks and initiating antidumping measures of their own, and now the number of such actions has converged between advanced and poor economies. For example, according to the “WTO Annual Report 2003,” India now ranks first in the world in initiating new antidumping actions, and third (behind the United States and the EU) in the number of such actions currently in force.

    Give it a look.

    posted by Dan at 11:36 PM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)



    "Bush the Bumbler" -- December 17, 2003

    "Fables of the Reconstruction" -- November 3, 2003


    "More Harm Than Good." (review of William Easterly's The White Man's Burden) -- Wall Street Journal, March 16, 2006

    "Bestriding the World, Sort of" (review of Niall Ferguson's Colossus) -- Wall Street Journal, June 17, 2004

    "Globalization Without Riots" (review of Jagdish Bhagwati's In Defense of Globalization) -- New York Times, April 18, 2004 (and see the follow-up exchange in the Letters section here)


    "Trade Off" -- June 25, 2004

    "Fail Proof" -- May 27, 2004

    "Up is Down" -- April 28, 2004

    "Cornered" -- March 31, 2004

    "Hash of Civilizations" -- March 3, 2004

    "History Channeling" -- February 4, 2004

    "Transparent Move" -- January 7, 2004

    "Seventies Chic" -- December 10, 2003

    "Domestic Disturbance" -- October 29, 2003

    "Barely Managing" -- October 3, 2003

    "Protection Racket" -- September 3, 2003

    "Illiberal Imagination" -- August 6, 2003

    "A Credible Alternative" -- July 9, 2003

    "An Ounce of Prevention" -- June 11, 2003

    "Et Tu, Kristol?" -- May 14, 2003

    "Friendly Fire" -- April 9, 2003

    "Democracy by America" -- March 12, 2003

    "One for All" -- February 12, 2003


    "About That Commission Report..." -- June 28, 2004

    "The State of Islam -- 2003" -- October 20, 2003

    "Against Sedentary Lifestyles" -- October 8, 2003

    "What Might Trip Up the WTO" -- September 19, 2003

    "What's New About Global Trade" -- September 9, 2003

    "Let Them Eat Subsidies" -- July 17, 2003

    "Great Responsibility" -- May 6, 2003

    posted by Dan at 10:06 PM | Trackbacks (0)

    Drezner's Hollywood minute for geeks

    The University of Chicago campus is abuzz over the location filming of Proof, U of C alum David Auburn's Pulitzer Prize-winning play!! Why, earlier this week, your intrepid blogger had to dodge multiple cast trailers parked right outside your correspondent's office!!

    This production has attracted only the Hollywood A list!! It stars Academy Award winners Anthony Hopkins and Gwyneth Paltrow!! Academy award nominee John Madden will direct!!

    OK, enough channeling of the Access Hollywood prose style.

    While the Entertainment Weekly reader in me is delighted that Gwyneth is in town, the geek in me is unsated.

    Far be it for me to critique Paltrow's amazing acting chops. Clearly, she can excel at the New York socialite/period Briton roles in her own vavoom kind of way. However, the lead in Proof is supposed to be a tortured, brilliant daughter of another mathematical genius. Now I've seen Paltrow on the occasional talk show, and, well, let's just say it's debatable whether she ever absorbed some of the basic mathematical concepts, like, for example, prime numbers.

    But who, you ask, could replace Paltrow at the last minute? Why, look no further than Danica McKellar, most widely known as Winnie Cooper on The Wonder Years. She's all grown up now, and has a recurring role on The West Wing. Judging by this picture, I don't think she'd drive away many moviegoers:


    More importantly, she knows a thing or two about mathematics, as this Chicago Tribune story points out. The highlights:

    She actually is a genuine math whiz and she actually did once author such a mathematical "proof," graduating summa cum laude from UCLA in 1998 with a degree in analytical math.

    The "proof" she had to complete was all about "Percolation and Gibb's-states multiplicity for ferromagnetic Ashkin-Teller models in two dimensions." (I know actresses who can't even say that.)

    A professor picked her and another student and said, `I really want to train you guys to be research mathematicians. There's a theorem I think is true and I want you two to prove it."

    She spent nearly a year just gathering the background material for the task.

    "We worked tirelessly," she said. "This was in the area of statistical mechanics. A great thing about this kind of research is that all it takes is a pencil and a piece of paper. You experiment with things. You try different techniques. You try to get at the problem from different angles. The scary part about working on an original proof is that you don't know if the thing is provable."

    "The theorem eventually did turn out to be true, thank goodness," she said. "The experience of proving it was amazing. It was so intense. There was no room for any other thought, any other subject during that time."

    Playbill has more!!:

    "As an undergrad," according to biographical notes, "she co-authored a research paper that helped solve a new problem in the area of Statistical Mechanics, now known as the "As an undergrad," according to biographical notes, "she co-authored a research paper that helped solve a new problem in the area of Statistical Mechanics, now known as the Chayes-McKellar-Winn theorem... and was invited to speak to a subcommittee of Congress on the importance of women in math and science."

    Best of all, the reason McKellar is featured in theTribune and Playbill stories is that she is currently appearing in the West Coast production of Proof!!

    Geeks of the world, unite!! Say it loud and say it proud!!

    We want Danica!!

    Danica!! Danica!! DANICA!!

    posted by Dan at 02:41 PM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (1)

    Assumptions and facts

    Yesterday, Mark Kleiman wrote:

    Surely Plame's actual status was known to the top people in the White House within days, if not hours, of the appearance of the Novak column, and the David Corn piece about it, in July. And yet they continued to let their friends spin that as an open question. Did the White House, perhaps, prefer to have people, including its own supporters, confused?

    Paul Krugman writes today that:

    Before we get bogged down in the details — which is what the administration hopes will happen — let's be clear: we already know what the president knew, and when he knew it. Mr. Bush knew, 11 weeks ago, that some of his senior aides had done something utterly inexcusable. But as long as the media were willing to let the story lie — which, with a few honorable exceptions, like David Corn at The Nation and Knut Royce and Timothy Phelps at Newsday, they were — he didn't think this outrage required any action.

    This is the premise behind Brad DeLong's assertions that the Bush team has covered this up since July as well.

    Here's my question: how are DeLong, Kleiman, and Krugman so sure that senior people at the White House -- besides the leakers -- knew about this? How do they know Bush knew about this? The stories by Novak, David Corn, and might not have been enough to register on the White House radar. A Lexis-Nexis search reveals that none of the major dailies (NYT, WaPo, WSJ, USA Today) mentioned Valerie Plame during the month of July in a news story. Krugman, to his credit, did raise the issue in his July 22nd op-ed, but I'm willing to bet that that Krugman is not considered required reading at this White House. [But Scott McClellan was asked about it at a White House briefing in late July--ed. Big deal -- do you think the senior staff becomes aware of every issue that Helen Thomas raises?]

    Kleiman, Krugman and DeLong might be correct -- but I don't see any evidence confirming it. They're making an assumption.

    UPDATE: Nick Confessore -- hardly an administration sympathizer -- blogs in Tapped the following possibility:

    I have a hard time believing the Plame leak was cooked up at a meeting -- it seems more likely that a couple of top officials cooked it up in the men's room and acted rashly out of the belief that they would never be caught or held accountable. That the White House would nevertheless circle the wagons is not surprising -- any administration would do the same, at least at first, no matter how in the wrong it was. But the fact that President Bush's inner circle would risk further damage to him over actions he probably had nothing to do with -- instead of hanging the culprit out to dry and moving on, which would be the smart thing to do -- suggests that whichever official is being protected is either too important to lose or is powerful enough in his own right to demand that he not be hung out to dry. That certainly reinforces scuttlebutt around Washington that a certain special advisor to the president is allegedly involved. (underline added)

    Link via Kevin Drum, who offers his own, more pessimistic, speculations.

    posted by Dan at 10:38 AM | Comments (48) | Trackbacks (0)

    The disgusting Los Angeles Times

    In the past 48 hours, the Los Angeles Times has managed to commit two despicable acts on its pages. The first was the Arnold Schwarzenegger story, which Mickey Kaus predicted would happen if the Times thought Schwarzenegger had a chance of winning. [You saying the story is not relevant?--ed. I'm saying the story has been around since Premiere published parts of it two years ago. Schawzenegger has been a candidate for two months, and now they decide to run it?] The fact that Gray Davis has apparently done worse things goes without mention. Kaus points out the following irony:

    Jill Stewart was just on MSNBC's Abrams Report referring to her published New Times L.A. articles that, she says, charge Gov. Gray Davis with "physically attacking his own staffers, female staffers." Stewart says she was told the L.A. Times didn't follow up on her pieces because it didn't want to rely on anonymous sources!

    I agree with Andrew Sullivan, by the way, that Arnold handled it appropriately by addressing the issue head-on and openly apologizing -- a lesson that would serve the Bushies well right about now.

    The Schwarzenegger story, however, is piddling compared to the fact that the Times permitted Philip Agee to write an op-ed on the Plame Game (link via William Sjostrom). Agee published the names of several CIA covert employees during the 70's and now has Cuban citizenship.

    I saw Agee in action fifteen years ago when he spoke at Williams College. I can honestly say that it may have been the only talk I have attended that made me physically sick to my stomach. At that talk, Agee, in respomding to a question from the audience, outright accused the CIA of having developed the AIDS virus as a way to destroy both African countries and African-Americans. This guy makes Noam Chomsky look like a hard-nosed conservative.

    If the Los Angeles Times thinks Agee is the person to write an op-ed about the Plame Game, perhaps they'll contact Marc Rich the next time a questionable pardon is made. Shame on the op-ed page. [But they let Susan Estritch blast the Schawzenegger story on the op-ed page!--ed. Goody for them. That doesn't excuse publishing Agee]

    UPDATE: COINTELPRO has more on Agee.

    posted by Dan at 09:15 AM | Comments (28) | Trackbacks (1)

    Thursday, October 2, 2003

    Taking a break

    Over the past week, I've discovered something very important: scandal-blogging is exhausting. My brain needs a brief diversion.

    For all of you who need a break as well, let me warmly recommend a surreal site called Positive Movie Reviews, run by a friend of mine who shall remain nameless. Let me also warn you that the humor in the reviews is of a decidedly bizarre nature, and may not be appropriate for those of you with an emotional maturity greater than thirty years of age.

    For a sample, here is an excerpt from a review of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace:

    As a film critic, I think it's my job to tell it like it is, not to "get involved" in the process. After all, my readers expect balanced, tough-minded reviews that aren't tainted by some kind of behind-the-screen shenanigans. So in the interest of full disclosure, I am admitting here that I wrote a letter to George Lucas two years ago, when it first came through the grapevine that he was making a new Star Wars film, to give him my two cents' worth. What I wrote was basically that although it would be impossible to improve on Return of the Jedi, I had a few minor suggestions. First, play up the Ewok aspect, but change the Ewoks to some comically slow-witted species that speaks heavily accented English. Second, drop the Force mumbo-jumbo and the action and spend more time discussing the political economy of a galaxy far, far away, a long time ago. Third, for God's sake, don't skimp on the fart jokes this time! I can't say for sure whether my letter had an effect, and it's possible that Lucas would have come to these fine conclusions entirely on his own, but I want to point out at least for me, this movie satisfied all my wants and hopes.

    Go check it out -- if you dare.

    UPDATE: If movie reviews don't float your boat, go check out David Adesnik's literary deconstruction of the Harry Potter series. It turns out they're all about sex [So that's why fundamentalists don't like the series--ed.]

    posted by Dan at 11:28 PM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (2)

    Drezner gets results from Howard Fineman!

    Fineman's Newsweek piece is the new "must read" on the Plame Game [Hey, he stole your line!!--ed. Get me Fox's lawyers, stat!!]. Lots of good stuff, but what I'm pleased about are these grafs:

    The moment that piece hit the op-ed page of the New York Times, it was all-out war between the pro- and anti-war factions, and between the CIA and its critics. I am told by what I regard as a very reliable source inside the White House that aides there did, in fact, try to peddle the identity of Joe Wilson’s wife to several reporters. But the motive wasn’t revenge or intimidation so much as a desire to explain why, in their view, Wilson wasn’t a neutral investigator, but, a member of the CIA’s leave-Saddam-in-place team.

    And on Tenet’s part, it was time for payback—whatever his past relationship with the Bush’s had been. First, he and his agency had been humiliated, caught by the White House trying to distance themselves from the president’s speech. Then the CIA was forced to admit that it had signed off on the speech. Now one of its own investigations was coming under attack, as was one of its own undercover staffers.

    This is basically what I said in my TNR piece from yesterday:

    When different parts of the executive branch are locked in constant conflict, the result is a permissive environment. Officials become used to the notion that they will have to act as aggressively as possible to win an argument. Lines of communication between different parts of the executive branch become frayed or severed. Add weak oversight to the mix, and you have a situation in which bureaucratic entrepreneurs will be tempted to push their agendas to the point where ethical rules are violated--or laws are broken.

    In the Reagan administration, this management style contributed to the Iran-Contra fiasco. In the Bush administration, the battles over Iraq's WMD program have led to open hostility between the Defense Department and the CIA. The leaks and counter-leaks over Nigerien yellowcake have escalated to the point where the Justice Department is investigating whether anyone in the White House violated federal law and jeopardized national security by outing the identity of an undercover CIA operative.

    Advantage: Drezner!!

    UPDATE: Chris Sullentrop makes a similar point in this Slate essay.

    posted by Dan at 11:15 PM | Comments (15) | Trackbacks (1)

    An interesting point on outsourcing

    Irwin Stelzer has an interesting essay in the Daily Standard on how economic interdependence can constrain U.S. foreign policy. Buried within it is this nugget of analysis:

    the trade deficit issue is more complicated than the simple trade figures suggest. Take Wal-Mart. The giant retailer imports about $12 billion in goods from China every year, enabling it to sell trainers, T-shirts, and a host of other goods to American consumers at prices they just love.

    So is the trade deficit costing Americans jobs? Perhaps not. Stephanie Pomboy of consultants MacroMavens reports that "Since China first pegged the Yuan to the dollar in 1994, Wal-Mart has nearly tripled its workforce from 528,000 to 1.4 million today. And that's before counting the jobs associated with its plans to add 210 supercenters and 40 Sam's clubs [Wal-Mart's bulk discounter] stores this year."

    The hundreds of thousands hired by Wal-Mart probably don't realize that their jobs depend on their employer's continued access to Chinese goods. But the 300,000-500,000 U.S. workers who lost their jobs over the past three years as a result of the "relocation of U.S. production to overseas affiliates" are certain that low-cost Chinese labor and the undervalued currency are the source of their woes. And they don't care that job losses due to such relocations come to only 0.1 percent of employment per year.


    UPDATE: In September the U.S. economy shed another 17,000 jobs in manufacturing, according to CNN at the horrible cost of creating 74,000 new jobs in services, most of them in the "professional and business services" category. Oh, wait...

    posted by Dan at 04:47 PM | Comments (31) | Trackbacks (1)

    Today's Plame Game meter

    Level of outrage rising slightly. Why?

  • Eric Boehlert's Salon piece undercut Robert Novak's credibility just as badly as Joseph Wilson's exaggerations undercut his credibility. The key grafs:

    On CNN Monday, Novak recounted how the story came about: "In July I was interviewing a senior administration official on Ambassador Wilson's report when he told me the trip was inspired by his wife, a CIA employee working on weapons of mass destruction."

    In Wednesday's column Novak again stressed how the information about Plame practically fell into his lap, almost as an afterthought from a Bush insider. He wrote it came up "during a long conversation with a senior administration official." And, "It was an offhand revelation from this official."

    Yet back in July, he gave a much different account to Newsday: "I didn't dig [the Plame tip] out, it was given to me," he said. "They thought it was significant, they gave me the name and I used it."

    Novak's statements this week directly contradict what he said three months ago. [UPDATE: Novak told Wolf Blitzer yesterday that the Newday reporters misunderstood what he said in July. However, in the same transcript, he acknowledges the accuracy of the above quote.]

  • Surprisingly Boehlert buries the lead with this graf from the story:

    [A] former senior CIA intelligence officer confirms to Salon that Plame is both an analyst and an officer who works undercover, and was undercover when Novak outed her. Now that her identity has been exposed she cannot again work overseas, and the network of agents she once oversaw may be at risk.

    I think this falls under the "unbelievably disturbing' category.

  • From today's New York Times:

    "It's slime and defend," said one Republican aide on Capitol Hill, describing the White House's effort to raise questions about Mr. Wilson's motivations and its simultaneous effort to shore up support in the Republican ranks.

    I'd be more comfortable if the White House directed a little more outrage at the leak itself and less about the peripheral issues. [But isn't this just an example of spin control, which all administrations do?--ed. Let's go to this Chicago Tribune story and compare and contrast, shall we?:

    [T]he leaking of classified information is not a common occurrence and the Bush administration has reacted aggressively when it has occurred.

    Shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, Bush ordered that classified briefings to the Senate and House intelligence committees be cut off because, the White House charged, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) had revealed classified information when he told reporters that the U.S. had intercepted a call from a suspected terrorist. The briefings were later reinstated.

    In June 2002, the White House threatened to have the FBI investigate lawmakers to determine who leaked information about two Sept. 10, 2001, messages intercepted by U.S. intelligence officials that some said provided a warning about the attacks the next day.

    In both of those instances, the White House felt it necessary to take an active role. Now it's "slime and defend?"]

    My suspicion is the White House strategy won't work. First, it doesn't jibe with the poll numbers. Second, it will alienate key Republicans. The Times sttory concludes with:

    [O]ne Republican with close ties to the administration said the White House was monitoring five Republicans in Congress, all of whom have an independent streak on foreign policy and intelligence matters: Senators John McCain of Arizona, Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and John W. Warner of Virginia, and Representative Porter J. Goss of Florida.

    Cue Hagel in today's Washington Post:

    As the White House hunkered down, it got the first taste of criticism from within Bush's own party. Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) said that Bush "needs to get this behind him" by taking a more active role. "He has that main responsibility to see this through and see it through quickly, and that would include, if I was president, sitting down with my vice president and asking what he knows about it," the outspoken Hagel said last night on CNBC's "Capital Report."

  • According to Josh Marshall and the Los Angeles Times, speculation is shifting now from Karl Rove to Lewis Libby, Cheney's chief of staff. I'm not going to comment, other than to quote Marshall: "A mountain of rumor doesn't amount to a single fact."
  • [Hey, you haven't addressed Brad Delong's questions yet!!--ed. If I get a chance I will try to do so this evening. But your readers want a response now!--ed. Then they should read Eugene Volokh's post about the distinction between work and fun in blogging.]

    posted by Dan at 11:11 AM | Comments (59) | Trackbacks (4)

    Well, that didn't take long

    Rush Limbaugh has resigned from ESPN's NFL Sunday Countdown. A furor erupted over the following remarks he made last Sunday about Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb:

    I think what we've had here is a little social concern in the NFL. The media has been very desirous that a black quarterback do well. There is a little hope invested in McNabb, and he got a lot of credit for the performance of this team that he didn't deserve. The defense carried this team.

    Limbaugh's statement today:

    My comments this past Sunday were directed at the media and were not racially motivated. I offered an opinion. This opinion has caused discomfort to the crew, which I regret.

    I love NFL Sunday Countdown and do not want to be a distraction to the great work done by all who work on it.

    Therefore, I have decided to resign. I appreciate the opportunity to be a part of the show and wish all the best to those who make it happen.

    The statement of George Bodenheimer, President, ESPN and ABC Sports:

    We accept his resignation and regret the circumstances surrounding this. We believe that he took the appropriate action to resolve this matter expeditiously.

    Five quick thoughts:

    1) Limbaugh has a legitimate point about the Eagles defense being underappreciated last year.

    2) His point about the media is absurd. There are now a lot of successful black quarterbacks in the NFL -- see Steve McNair, Michael Vick, Aaron Brooks, etc. The media focused on McNabb because he was good (I say this as a New York Giants fan) and looked great playing on TV. They want him to do well in the exact same way that they want Brett Favre to do well -- they like star QBs on winning teams.

    3) According to this story:

    After the reaction surrounding his remarks started to heat up, Limbaugh was asked to appear on ESPN's SportsCenter on Wednesday night but declined.

    Ducking that appearance strikes me as pretty lame.

    4) Limbaugh lost me when he confidently predicted New England would beat Buffalo in week 1. [Yeah, but sports guys make dumb-ass predictions every day!--ed. In their first week?]

    5) Limbaugh can console himself that he lasted longer than Clayton Cramer did on the Volokh Conspiracy. [Snark--ed. Yeah, but it was good snark.]

    UPDATE: This is an excellent opportunity to plus Football Outsiders, a football blog dedicated to taking sabremetrics and applying them to the NFL. If you go to this 2002 page on QB value, you'll see that by their metric of rating quarterbacks, McNabb had a solid if unspectacular season last year -- and a really bad season this year. Sticking to 2002, these stats suggest that McNabb might have been overrated compared to say, New York Giants QB Kerry Collins -- but then again, so were Brett Favre, Drew Bledsoe, Tommy Maddox, and Kelly Holcomb.

    Oh, and buried in this otherwise hystrionic King Kaufman piece is an amusing nugget about Howard Dean:

    It took a few days, but by Wednesday there was a wave of outrage at Limbaugh's race-baiting. Democratic presidential candidates faxed out their tsk-tsks and demands for Limbaugh's head, including Howard Dean, who hilariously proclaimed, "Rush Limbaugh's comment this week about Philadelphia Jets quarterback Donovan McNabb is unacceptable." The governor really kicked a touchdown with that one.


    ANOTHER UPDATE: Allen Barra says that Rush Limbaugh was correct, at least in regard to Allen Barra.

    Is it my imagination, or does Slate specialize in publishing mea culpas from liberals who say that conservatives are correct about something -- but only after a liberal result has been achieved?

    posted by Dan at 12:30 AM | Comments (14) | Trackbacks (0)

    Wednesday, October 1, 2003

    Drezner gets results from Republicans!!

    There's been a small hue and cry on the left half of the blogosphere that Republicans aren't taking the Plame game seriously. However, this ABC News poll suggests that they do take it seriously. Among Republicans only:

  • 72% think the link is a serious matter, and;

  • 52% believe that a special counsel should lead the investigation.
  • The primary partisan difference is over whether the White House is fully cooperating -- Republicans think yes, Democrats no. Still, Republicans can't be accused of ignoring the issue.

    For the full results of the poll, click here.


    posted by Dan at 08:50 PM | Comments (23) | Trackbacks (1)

    October's book(s) of the month

    There are so many books worth reading, I've decided to highlight two books each month: one "general interest" book, and one dealing specifically with international relations.

    The general interest book for October is Virginia Postrel's The Substance of Style, which I was inhaling right up until the quarter started, and I'm aching to get back to it. [Good thing you're hawking the book -- looks like she's having real trouble selling copies!--ed.]

    Geek confession: I mark up every book I read, fiction and nonfiction. The Substance of Style is so stimulating that I find myself underline 50% of every page. Go go buy it and mark up your own copy.

    The international relations book is considerably older, and, I'm sad to say, depressingly relevant for our times: Stephen D. Krasner's Structural Conflict. This 1985 book chronicled how, in the wake of the developing world's efforts to create a New International Economic Order, the major economic powers protected their own interests by shifting resources and authority to decision-making fora they controlled.

    In the wake of the Cancun meetings, I strongly suspect this trend will repeat itself in the near future. In contrast to their agenda from 30 years ago, I have some sympathy with some of the developing world's current aims, particularly the elimination of all agricultural subsidies.

    Go check them out!!

    posted by Dan at 08:39 PM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

    It's standard operating procedure to have sources

    Want to know more about my latest TNR Online essay? You can see its crude origins in this blog post from August.

    The David Brooks quote comes from this August 2000 article for Salon.

    The postmortems on planning for Iraq are the du jour topic for the newsweeklies. John Barry and Evan Thomas have more dirt in the Newsweek story (this is where the Powell quote comes from), but Brian Bennett et al have some good stuff in their Time cover story, including the lack of communication on the state of Iraq's electricity grid.

    On the Valerie Plame business, I've written a bit about it in recent days. You can access my posts in chronological order, here, here, here, here, here, and here. [Been obsessing a bit, have we?--ed. Look, some people care about the California recall, others about national security.]

    For more general reading on Bush's decision-making style, check out this Richard Brookshier essay from the March 2003 Atlantic Monthly. Ryan Lizza's TNR piece from January 2001 is also worth reading, particularly the opening paragraph:

    Throughout last year's campaign, George W. Bush described the role of president as akin to that of a corporate CEO--part visionary, part manager, part talent scout. "My job is to set the agenda and tone and framework," Bush wrote in A Charge to Keep, "to lay out the principles by which we operate and make decisions, and then delegate much of the process to [staff members]." Sure enough, as Bush has picked his Cabinet nominees, what began as a campaign strategy to neutralize criticism of his inexperience has become his administration's governing theory. "I'm going to work with every Cabinet member to set a series of goals ... for each area of our government," Bush told reporters at a recent press conference. "I hope the American people realize that a good executive is one that understands how to recruit people and how to delegate." A Bush adviser told The New York Times that the administration would be returning to the model of the 1950s: "Bush is going back to the Eisenhower-type cabinet, where it's more like a board of directors."

    For more general reading on bureaucratic politics -- particularly in matters of foreign policy -- the classic source is Graham Allison's Essence of Decision. However, much more pertinent for today's world is Amy Zegart's Flawed By Design: The Evolution of the CIA, JCS, and NSC. [Full disclosure: Zegart and I went to graduate school together]. To see bureaucratic politics as it played out in the Reagan administration, you could do far worse than perusing George Shultz's memoirs, Turmoil and Triumph.

    posted by Dan at 06:53 PM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

    The management of foreign policy

    [So, Dan, you've been a bit preoccupied with this Valerie Plame business. So what's your TNR Online essay going to be about?--ed.]

    Go check it out for yourself. It's mentions the Plame Game -- but it's about foreign policy management in general.

    posted by Dan at 06:46 PM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

    Martin Kramer weighs in

    Martin Kramer critiques Ropert Pape's article on suicide terrorism. It's pretty harsh:

    Pape has given us a paper of limited originality, based on data that need double-checking, and topped off with conclusions that don't flow from the findings. It's more evidence that this kind of work has to be done on an interdisciplinary basis, and in consultation with people who remember.

    I've already had my say on this, but do check out Kramer's full post.

    posted by Dan at 04:16 PM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

    The Chicago Manual of Style and Microsoft Word

    For those who were interested in my previous post on the new edition of The Chicago Manual of Style, the must-read for today is Louis Menand's review of it in The New Yorker. Menand's review is particularly useful because he discusses whether the style recommendations are compatible with the travails of using Microsoft Word, for which he has little love. Here's the most amusing part of his over-the-top rant:

    [I]t is time to speak some truth to power in this country: Microsoft Word is a terrible program. Its terribleness is of a piece with the terribleness of Windows generally, a system so overloaded with icons, menus, buttons, and incomprehensible Help windows that performing almost any function means entering a treacherous wilderness of pop-ups posing alternatives of terrifying starkness: Accept/Decline/Cancel; Logoff/Shut Down/Restart; and the mysterious Do Not Show This Warning Again. You often feel that you’re not ready to make a decision so unalterable; but when you try to make the window go away your machine emits an angry beep. You double-click. You triple-click. Beep beep beep beep beep. You are being held for a fool by a chip....

    Few features of Word can be responsible for more user meltdowns than Footnote and Endnote (which is saying a lot in the case of a program whose Thesaurus treats “information” as “in formation,” offering “in order” and “in sequence” as possible synonyms, and whose spellcheck suggests that when you typed the unrecognized “decorums” you might have meant “deco rums”). To begin with, the designers of Word apparently believe that the conventional method of endnote numbering is with lowercase Roman numerals—i, ii, iii, etc. When was the last time you read anything that adhered to this style?

    Read the whole thing. Then, if you still have free time, do take the opportunity to read Menand's The Metaphysical Club: A Story of Ideas in America.

    posted by Dan at 03:49 PM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (0)

    My Plame mood today

    There are two -- no, make that three -- inputs to my level of outrage at the Plame game. The first is the despicable nature intrinsic to the leak itself. On that score, I'm delighted to see some people on my side of the ideological fence catching on to what's happened. To quote Andrew Sullivan:

    Valerie Plame was undercover and her outing was apparently deliberate and coordinated. If this pans out, it really is an outrageous piece of political malice. I may have misjudged this one at first, because I couldn't quite see the motive behind it. I'm still not totally clear, and it seems an extremely dumb and self-defeating tactic to me. But whatever the motive, if this is the nub of the story, the leakers need to be found, fired and prosecuted. I've written that before. But, listening to the Newshour testimony, my outrage level just went up a notch.

    Better yet, to quote the source of Sullivan's outrage, former counter-terrorism official Larry Johnson speaking on Newshour (link via Atrios):

    I say this as a registered Republican. I am on record giving contributions to the George Bush campaign. This is not about partisan politics. This is about a betrayal, a political smear, of an individual who had no relevance to the story. Publishing her name in that story added nothing to it because the entire intent was, correctly as Ambassador Wilson noted, to intimidate, to suggest that there was some impropriety that somehow his wife was in a decision-making position to influence his ability to go over and savage a stupid policy, an erroneous policy, and frankly what was a false policy of suggesting that there was nuclear material in Iraq that required this war. This was about a political attack. To pretend it was something else, to get into this parsing of words.

    I tell you, it sickens me to be a Republican to see this.

    [You do know -- as Matt Drudge points out -- that Johnson also said that Plame was a CIA operative for thirty years even though she's only forty?-- ed. Yeah, but my suspicion is that was a misstatement during a live television broadcast. It would be nice if it was cleared up, however.] Heck, even the RNC chairman acknowledges that this is serious.

    The second source of my outrage is a direct function of who leaked and that person's relationship to the President. On Sunday, I suspected that it was Karl Rove, which would put the leak very close to George W. Bush himself, which got me very mad. On Monday, Ambassador Wilson admitted that he had no evidence to back up that charge, and so my outrage level diminished somewhat. If this story pans out -- do consider the source -- then my dander will be rising again. UPDATE: Robert Novak goes out of his way in today's column to imply that Rove was not the source of the leak -- "no partisan gunslinger." Again, consider the source -- Novak continues to insist that Plame was not an undercover operative.

    The third factor is how the Bush administration handles this emerging scandal -- do they go into denial/cover-up mode or do they address it forthrightly and clean it up? While Bush did say something constructive yesterday, I also think Josh Marshall is correct in pointing out how Bush is trying to reframe the issue. I still think Brad DeLong is overreaching, but we'll see what happens as more facts emerge.


    UPDATE: Laura Bush weighs in. And Spencer Ackerman and Clifford May are having a civil debate over at The New Republic.

    ANOTHER UPDATE: ABC's The Note again manages to look past the morass of charges and counter-charges to get to the nub of the issue:

    Now: given Bob Novak's curious self-placement as absolving judge and jury; given Joe Wilson's Beersian ties to the Kerry campaign; given that Capitol Hill Republicans have great faith in John Ashcroft (there's that double entendre again); given the Gang of 500 CW that leak investigations never go anywhere; and given the president's commitment to get to the bottom of this, your view of where the Wilson story is going (and should go … ) is (or, at least, should be) based on your view of this passage from Sunday's Washington Post:

    " … (A) senior administration official said that before Novak's column ran, two top White House officials called at least six Washington journalists and disclosed the identity and occupation of Wilson's wife."

    Do you think the Post 's official was credible and knew what he/she was talking about?

    If so, this story has legs, and the Justice Department investigation is going to make the search for some measly billing records look like patty cake.

    If not — if you have a Brooklyn or National Review skepticism of anything that appears in the Washington Post — well, then it appears to be perhaps much ado about nothing.

    I respect the Post, by the way, which is why I take this story so seriously.

    posted by Dan at 10:30 AM | Comments (70) | Trackbacks (3)