Friday, June 13, 2003

Academic masochism

Eric Muller (link via Orin Kerr) posts his worst student evaluation ever, as well as his retort.

Warning to academic bloggers: although I have no problem with Muller's post, my spider sense tells me that this is crossing a veeerrrryyyy dangerous line. I'm actually surprised more students haven't created blogs to rate their teachers. That's not a phenomenon I anticipate with glee.

[Is this because you fear being exposed as a bad teacher?--ed. No -- an alert reader pointed me to one online ranking of my teaching -- tough but clear -- which I'd describe as reasonably fair. The source of this unease is probably the same thing that causes me never to blog about my students, no matter how brilliant or inane they turn out to be. The student-teacher relationship is not like a doctor-patient one, but there are aspects that I would prefer not to see publicized. I may just be priggish on this point, however.]

posted by Dan at 04:12 PM | Trackbacks (0)

It's a strange day in the blogosphere

On the one hand, we have conservative free market advocate Andrew Sullivan acting like a PBS affiliate during the middle of pledge drive week (suggested sociology thesis topic -- are NPR pledge drives strongly correlated with increased incidents of road rage?).

On the other hand, we have liberal interventionist Josh Marshall making "arrangements to start accepting advertisements on a limited basis." The paragraph that follows that quote is Marshall describing his desirable market demographic.

Actually, I wouldn't read too much into this -- Sullivan already has ads, and Marshall has collected contributions from readers. It's still pretty funny.

[Jealous that you can't attract either pledges or ad space?--ed. Again with the jealousy meme! No, I have no beef with either pledge drives or advertisements. In fact, I'm still weighing whether it would be appropriate to launch a fundraising drive to move off Blogspot and onto an independent web site. Feedback appreciated on this point. As for advertising, to quote Spinal Tap, my audience might not be larger than Marshall, but it is more... selective].

posted by Dan at 03:48 PM | Trackbacks (0)

Intentions and outcomes in Iraq

Matthew Yglesias and David Adesnik have a good debate on the role that good intentions played and is playing in U.S. foreign policy. Yglesias first:

There are some genuine neoconservative idealists in the administration — Wolfowitz, most famously — but I think the main purpose they serve in the administration is to rhetorically co-opt hawkish wilsonian liberals (TNR, Nick Cohen, Tom Friedman, etc. you know the type) into supporting Bush's half-assed warmaking against their better judgment. The administration's actions in postwar Afghanistan and Iraq have, however, made it clear that humanitarianism — like everything else — is a banner to be picked up and then discarded according to the immediate needs of political opportunism.

Adesnik responds with New York Times and Washington Post stories demonstrating that things are improving in Iraq. For an even better example, click on this Chicago Tribune story on the U.S. position on the Marsh Arabs, a group that was the target of what can only be described as a Baathist effort at genocide.

Adesnik concludes:

While Matt is right that no one -- especially not liberal hawks -- can afford to be complacent about the Administration's foreign policy, it is no less imperative for doves to overcome their their resentment of the President and recognize that, for all his flaws, he has done certain things very right.

Mediator that I am, I think both Yglesias and Adesnik are correct. I agree with Matt that Bush principals control the neocons and not vice versa. This was why I thought all the conspiracy theory hysteria of the past few months was so absurd.

However, just because the key Bushies are not closet Wilsonians does not mean they do not recognize that frequently countries do well by doing good. Everyone acknowledges that the Iraqis are better off now than they were under Saddam, but that is but one example of this. The administration decision to increase foreign aid by 50% and create a new AIDS initiative fall under this category as well.

I suspect there is a deeper debate underlying this question -- should individuals be rewarded for good intentions or good outcomes? If a leader acts in an altruistic fashion for self-interested reasons, how does one evaluate such behavior? I strongly suspect that one's answer to this question depends on one's political affiliation.

posted by Dan at 03:35 PM | Trackbacks (0)

Pentagon update

Phil Carter provides a "not entirely responsive" response to my query on what's going on at the Pentagon. Go check it out.

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

Thursday, June 12, 2003

What's going on in Africa?

Sudhir Muralidhar has a link-filled post updating the various areas of instability in Africa.

posted by Dan at 11:13 AM | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, June 11, 2003


WHAT'S GOING ON IN ALL OF IRAQ?: OxBlog's David Adesnik links to a Washington Post story demonstrating the relatively high degree of cooperation between the U.S. military, Shiite clerics, and a reconstituted civilian authority in Karbala. Adesnik's conclusions:

The first is that American soldiers are more dependable than American diplomats when its comes to putting American values into practice. The second is that we should expect far more violent resistance to the occupation from Sunni Ba'athists than from Shi'ite opponents of Saddam....

This story belongs to a genre that is becoming increasingly familar: pragmatic US officer wins over suspicious locals. It's already happened in Mosul and Kirkuk.

These reports, combined with Mark Steyn's lovely travelogue, leads one to wonder if the coverage of Iraq now suffers from capital captivity. Coverage of Baghdad -- where things are clearly problematic -- is generalized to the rest of the country. Such a generalization may apply to Sunni strongholds like Fallujah and Tikrit, but not the vast majority of the country.

posted by Dan at 11:26 PM | Trackbacks (0)


WHAT'S GOING ON IN THE PENTAGON?: One of the hallmarks (or frustrations, depending on your ideology) of the Bush team has been their message discipline, no matter what the clamor from the outside world. Weakness was never to be admitted or demonstrated.

It's something of a surprise, then, to see the recent torrent of statements coming from high-ranking civilians in Donald Rumsfeld's Defense Department. First, Paul Wolowitz gets into trouble in a Vanity Fair interview [Are you talking about the bogus claim in the piece that had Wolfowitz asserting that the Bush administration didn't really believe its own WMD story?--ed. No, I'm talking about something else in the interview. According to Josh Marshall,

[F]or all the buzz surrounding the WMD quotes, the real stunner comes in the very next paragraph. It's there where Tanenhaus says Wolfowitz is "confident" that Saddam was "connected" to the original World Trade Center attack in 1993 and that he has "entertained the theory" that Saddam was involved in the Oklahoma City bombings in 1995

There's some dispute over whether Wolfowitz intended this part to be on the record. However, Brad DeLong is correct in pointing out that for us non-journalists, the important part of this is the substance of Wolfowitz's comments.]

Then there is Douglas Feith's attempt to refute allegations that the DoD tried to spin the WMD story. The New Republic's &c points out that Feith's attempt backfired, leading to accusations of "doublespeak" and labeling Feith and others "browbeaters."

Today, it's a Deputy Assistant Secretary, according to USA Today:

A Pentagon official conceded Tuesday that planners failed to foresee the chaos in postwar Iraq, as another U.S. soldier was killed and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld signaled that guerrilla-type attacks could continue there for months.

Joseph Collins, deputy assistant secretary of Defense for stability operations, said that despite careful planning, the Pentagon was surprised by the extent of looting and lawlessness. Postwar conditions have ''been tougher and more complex'' than planners predicted, he said.

Assignment to Phil Carter: is this just a series of unanticipated screw-ups, or is this an example of Rumsfeld losing the ability to rein in his subordinates?


posted by Dan at 04:59 PM | Trackbacks (0)

"You cannot say anything too bad about the Yanks and not be believed

That's the depressing assessment of this Guardian (yes, the Guardian!) essay on the hoax that was the Baghdad Museum looting story (link via Virginia Postrel).

posted by Dan at 02:47 PM | Trackbacks (0)

Let me preempt your queries with some useful links

The key government documents cited in my TNR Online essay are the September 2002 National Security Strategy and the December 2002 National Strategy to Combat Weapons of Mass Destruction.

[UPDATE: While I was technically correct in the TNR piece when I said that the word "pre-emption" never appeared in the National Strategy to Combat WMD, I was wrong in substance. On p. 3, the document states:

Because deterrence may not succeed, and because of the potentially devastating consequences of WMD use against our forces and civilian population, U.S. military forces and appropriate civilian agencies must have the capability to defend against WMD-armed adversaries, including in appropriate cases through preemptive measures. This requires capabilities to detect and destroy an adversary's WMD assets before these weapons are used.

Apologies for the error, and thanks to reader M.R. for e-mailing me the correction.]

Some newspapers and columnists have gotten into trouble by misquoting Bush officials, so let’s get those links out of the way. Go to this post from last week on Wolfowitz to get the gist of his comments comparing North Korea and Iraq. As for Rumsfeld, here's a link to his quote from November 2001, and here's a post of mine from late April that provides the second quote in the article. That post also discusses the Army's decision to shut down the Peacekeeping Institute.

The Pew Research Center's "Views of a Changing World 2003" is available here. The quote in the article is from page 3 of the overview.

The Niall Ferguson quote comes from his Wall Street Journal op-ed from last week. Dr. Shireen M. Mazari is the Director General of Pakistan's Institute of Strategic Studies ; her comments came from this essay.

Click here for a March 2003 Washington Monthly essay by Nicholas Confessore that discusses how U.S. military personnel are being stretched to their limit. Ironically, Confessore lowballs his estimate of how many U.S. tropps would be needed in Iraq. And, to be fair, Rumsfeld seems to be following some of Confessore's recommendations. Phillip Carter points out that even now, there are too few troops on the ground in Iraq.

For those of you curious to know what was in NSC-68, click here. For the import of this document for U.S. Grand Strategy, go read chapter four of Strategies of Containment by John Lewis Gaddis.

posted by Dan at 01:17 PM | Trackbacks (0)


THE LIMITS OF PREEMPTION: My new TNR Online piece is now up. It's a discussion of why the doctrine of preemption is not going to be exercised again. Go check it out.

posted by Dan at 01:15 PM | Trackbacks (0)

End of an era

George Soros is a third-rate philosopher but a first-rate philanthropist [How does he rate as an international financier?--ed Well, he used to be first-rate, but Daniel Gross now believes his influence is on the wane]. Soros has been a fixture on the Slate 60 ranking of philanthropy.David Plotz notes, "George Soros has poured much of his fortune into civil-society projects. His Open Society Institute is a Bell Labs of civil innovation, seeding schools, NGOs, and organs of a free press all over the world." He correctly identifies Soros' philanthropy as a guide for building civil society in Iraq.

So it's somewhat sad to link to this Washington Post story :

Now more than 15 years and $1 billion later, George Soros has concluded that his mission is over. With the government in Moscow stabilized and a new generation of homegrown philanthropists emerging, the international financier has decided to leave Russia to the Russians and effectively withdraw from a country that has absorbed much of his time and energy.

"I'm basically closing it down in its present form," Soros said of his foundation in an interview this weekend. "I've spent a very large amount of money here and a lot of it was really money where I was substituting for the state. I don't think that's appropriate anymore. Russia as a state is reestablished and doesn't need my subsidy."

He will remain involved in small projects. But Soros's exit as a major benefactor is a milestone in Russia's development since the collapse of Soviet Union in 1991. No other private initiative from the West has had such influence in shaping the new Russia as his Open Society Institute. "The Soros foundation was instrumental in the development of nonprofit organizations in Russia," said Olga Alexeeva, director of the Moscow office of the Charities Aid Foundation, a British organization. "I can't compare anyone else with Soros and that will leave a significant gap."....

The Open Society Institute in Russia will become 15 organizations that will continue their work but will have to find other funding. After spending $1 billion in Russia over the last 15 years, Soros said he will scale back to just $10 million a year.

As someone who used to work for an organization that Soros helped midwife, it's worth noting that the genius of Soros' civil society work was his firm message to the organizations he funded that his largesse would be temporary. This knowledge provided the necessary incentives for these groups to keep their bureaucracy to a minimum and actually dispatch people beyond national capitals into areas that needed civil society the most. His decision to largely pull out of Russia is fully consistent with that philosophy.

To reiterate -- I think Soros' philosophy is hackwork and his politics border on the histrionic. In his philanthropy, however, Soros epitomizes the rare combination of geneosity and hard-headedness that is needed to build civil societies from the ground up.

posted by Dan at 10:05 AM | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, June 10, 2003


A GENERATIONAL BREAK?: This Josh Chafetz post suggests that by 2008, there will be a clear dividing line among conservatives between those who still care about the Clinton Wars and those who have moved past it:

Conservatives are at their absolute worst when the name "Clinton" comes up. There's a visceral hatred there, every bit as deep as the far left's hatred for President Bush, but the conservative hatred for the Clintons seems broader....

But the thing is, who cares? Maybe she [Hillary] lied; maybe she didn't. Honestly, I don't think most of us will ever know. But why are conservatives so obsessed with speculating about it? Sure, if she knew about President Clinton's infidelities earlier than she claims, then she lied in some public interviews. But lots of politicians have lied in lots of interviews about lots of things much, much worse than whether or not their spouse was sleeping around. Conservatives really, really should move on. Because right now, it just looks like a lot of them are pursuing a vendetta -- they have the tone of the outraged self-righteous moralist who can't believe that the public still hasn't figured out how superior they are to the scum which, inexplicably, keeps rising to the top. Get over it. Bill Clinton was a popular president, and, by most accounts, Hillary Rodham Clinton is a popular senator. If the GOP really feels the need to attack Senator Clinton, it should spend less time drawing horns on pictures of her and more time arguing against her policy proposals (which, as far as I can tell, have generally been moderate since she took office). Enough is enough: personal animosity is not a political platform. At least not one that I am willing to support.

I'm with Josh on this... and I've never even met Chelsea (go read Josh's post to understand that line).

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

Monday, June 9, 2003

What's wrong with Hillary Clinton and the press

Brad Delong has yet to recover from his policy run-in with Hillary Clinton in the early 1990's:

My two cents' worth--and I think it is the two cents' worth of everybody who worked for the Clinton Administration health care reform effort of 1993-1994--is that Hillary Rodham Clinton needs to be kept very far away from the White House for the rest of her life. Heading up health-care reform was the only major administrative job she has ever tried to do. And she was a complete flop at it. She had neither the grasp of policy substance, the managerial skills, nor the political smarts to do the job she was then given. And she wasn't smart enough to realize that she was in over her head and had to get out of the Health Care Czar role quickly.

Keep reading his post for precise details of Clinton acting like a martinet.

Now, upon first reading this, I strangely found myself to the left of DeLong. The health care debacle happened a decade ago, when Clinton was new to the ways of Washington. A lot has happened since then. I don't have any great love for Hillary Clinton, but I do believe that people can learn from their mistakes.

Then we go to Andrew Sullivan's reaction to Clinton's interview with Barbara Walters:

What struck me most was her absolute belief the she and her husband did nothing - nothing - of any substance to deserve the kind of scrutiny they got in eight years in office. Their only fault was naivete. I guess I'm not surprised by therigidity of her denial and composure. But something in me hoped for a little more - maybe a real reflection on her choices, her decisions, her unelected power, her stonewalling of the press, her enabling of her husband's adulterous relationship with the truth, and so on. But nope.

So I wind up agreeing with DeLong (and Sullivan) after all.

What got DeLong exercised in the first place was this week's Economist "Lexington" essay on Hillary's prospects for the presidency in 2008. The essay really sets DeLong off:

[T]here is nothing in the column to give the reader any information about whether Hillary Rodham Clinton would make a good president, or about whether "Lexington" thinks Hillary Rodham Clinton would make a good president. Is there anything else that readers--most of whom are Americans, most of whom vote--more need to learn than whether Hillary Rodham Clinton would make a good president? No, there isn't. So why does "Lexington" spend so much time on insider political baseball and trying to settel (sic) scores? Why doesn't he do something useful with his space--like tell us whether he thinks Hillary Rodham Clinton would make a better president than George W. Bush (almost surely) or would make a good president (almost surely not)?

We really do need a better press corps. We need one very badly. (emphasis in original).

What's interesting about this rant is DeLong's implicit belief that good opinion writing should care only about normative outcomes and not tactical political analysis. This is utter nonsense -- the best opinion writing contains elements of both.

Which leads me to the smartest thing I've read on this point in a good long while -- from Virginia Postrel on what ails the New York Times:

[T]here is a huge, gaping hole in the Times opinion lineup--and, for that matter, on the news pages. The Times lacks a genuinely sophisticated, Washington-based political writer, someone who understands both the mechanics of practical politics and the nuances of the many components of both the liberal/Democratic and conservative/Republican coalitions. The Times alternates between casting politics as an utterly cynical contest between phony image consultants and as a battle between the monolithic Forces of Light and the Forces of Darkness. Neither view is accurate, and both portraits make the nation's leading newspaper look like its political reporters just rolled off the cabbage truck. The Washington Post is, not surprisingly, far more sophisticated. But so, though not at the Post's level, are the WSJ, the LAT, and the politics-loving Boston Globe. So is USA Today.


posted by Dan at 11:33 AM | Trackbacks (0)