Friday, July 25, 2003
Looking for answers?
Thursday, July 24, 2003
Today is my brother's birthday -- sort of. It's the 25th, but as he's living in Sydney, Australia, and it's sixteen hours ahead there, it is essentially today.
When I asked him what he wanted for his B-day, among the (tongue-in-cheek) options he gave me was:
1) Buy him a small island; or -- and let me quote him here:
He's right -- it was pretty easy.
Happy birthday, JBD!!
Debating the causes of war
Den Beste agrees. His take is almost identical on this issue:
Marshall and Den Beste also agree that this motivation was not mentioned all that frequently by Bush or Blair -- instead, the rhetorical emphasis was on the WMD question and whether Hussein's regime was in league with Al Qaeda.
The disagreement is over the ethical and practical implications of these tactics. Marshall takes a dim view:
Den Beste's position is pretty much the polar opposite of Marshall:
Den Beste is even blunter about the virtues of rhetorical misdirection in this post.
Who's right? You'll be hearing my thoughts on this tomorrow [But I want to be enlightened now!!--ed. Patience, my Simpsons-obsessed friend]. For now, however, read both arguments, because they set up a veeeeerrrrryyyyy interesting debate.
A few months ago I expressed pessimism about the state of affairs in Afghanistan. However, in scanning my recent posts about the country -- here, here, and here, I've noticed an encouraging trend of positive developments. An upbeat report from Glenn Reynolds' Kabul correspondent suggests statebuilding efforts are working. The key graf:
Is this part of a more encouraging trend in that war-torn country?
The answer is still mixed. The good news is that the central government is getting its act together. Hamid Karzai's efforts to increase revenue flows from the provinces to the central government is a partial success. The central government is conducting the first census in 24 years. That sounds mundane, but these kind of statistics are vital for ensuring stable economic and political development. The new Afghan National Army is also conducting its first military operations, deploying 1,000 troops in a joint exercise with U.S. forces against Taliban remnants in the southern mountains.
The improvements in state institutions are matched by an increase in democratic activism and national pride. Consider a few grafs from this report:
Quite a different take than Amnesty International's more downbeat assessment.
Meanwhile, in Kandahar -- the Taliban's old stronghold -- a thousand people filled the largest mosque to protest Pakistani incursions into Afghan territory. A top Taliban leader was arrested there earlier in the month.
The reduction of instability -- combined with an adjustment in tactics -- has permitted the United Nations to restart its de-mining operationsin the southern provinces.
Beyond the state, things are looking up as well. This year the country will experience its biggest wheat crop in two decades -- not a difficult achievement, but still important. A consortium of telecommunications firms are setting up the country's second cellular phone network. Movies are being shown in the provinces.
So has a tipping point been reached where stability will be the norm rather than instability? Not yet. In the short-term, attacks on coalition forces increased over the past month. Some of the provinces are still beset with Taliban activity and a paucity of reconstruction aid. Other provinces are still experiencing factional fighting. And the Afghan defense minister still seems to believe that confiscating opposition newspapers is a viable policy option. Relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan are badly strained. According to the Christian Science Monitor, this year also produced a bumper opium crop in addition to a good wheat harvest. More disturbing is the link between opium and the Taliban resistance:
Is there a pattern? Sort of. It's clear that conditions are improving in areas where the central government holds some sway. However, that remains a very small portion of the country. As state institutions improve, one hopes that it will expand.
Developing.... in an uncertain way.
Wednesday, July 23, 2003
A DEFENSE OF ASHCROFT
The elite consensus is that the Bush administration homeland security measures -- and the Ashcroft Justice Department -- have been an unmitigated disaster for civil liberties. The war on terror has caused a slow but steady erosion in our essential freedoms.
As a libertarian, I tend to sympathize with this logic without digging too deeply into the facts. Over time, this makes me uncomfortable -- how do I know the consensus is correct?
I'm not completely persuaded with regard to her reasoning on the Padilla case. But it's worth a look.
In the wake of the Hussein boys' demise, it's worth stepping back and appraising the current situation in Iraq.
Not surprisingly, there is disagreement over whether this is just an ephemeral victory for U.S. forces or part of a more positive trend that will reduce the guerilla attacks against U.S. forces. Juan Cole, David Adesnik, and Matthew Yglesias say no [UPDATE: David was only joking]; Andrew Sullivan, Josh Chafetz, and the Christian Science Monitor say yes. The Economist, the Guardian, -- and most importantly, the U.S. Army -- are hedging their bets.
My answer is yes, not because of the attack itself but rather the shift in intelligence-gathering that preceded it. The Washington Post has an excellent story on how this shift in tactics may be creating a tipping-point phenomenon among the Iraqi populace:
It should also be stressed that outside the Sunni zone of instability, conditions are improving. A few days ago the Los Angeles Times reported two stories indicating that things are quite stable in the Kurdish provinces of northern Iraq, as well as Basra (both links via this Kevin Drum post). As for the Shi'a, this RFE/RL report provides some excellent background of the current state of play among the various Shi'a groups. What's becoming increasing clear is that the Shi'a leaders posing the greatest problems for the occupation are those linked to the Iranian government.
The United Nations is still downbeat about the current situation. However, there is reason to hope that the occupation authorities will be able to take the crucial steps towards stability that the Iraq Reconstruction Assessment Mission says is vital for the success of the U.S. mission.
Developing.... in a good way, I hope.
UPDATE: Brian Ulrich has some additional thoughts on the subject, and links to a story suggesting that Kurdish leaders are adopting a wait-and-see posture.
Tuesday, July 22, 2003
THE LATEST FALLOUT FROM NORTH KOREA
I've been remiss in posting about recent developments in North Korea. However, as I argued back in January, one part of the U.S. strategy has to be convincing Russia and China that it is in their best interests to have a de-nuclearized Korean peninsula. One way in which this would happen would be for the countries in the region to see that a nuclear North Korea would lead to a nuclear Japan, which would trigger an unwelcome arms race across the region.
This leads to yesterday's New York Times report that Japan's nuclear taboo is slowly eroding. The key grafs:
This slow change in Japanese public opinion might be part of the backstory for China's renewed pressure to get North Korea back to the bargaining table.
This pressure on North Korea appears to have permitted the U.S. to take the initiative, according to the Washington Post's front-pager from today.
[Ahem, an entire post on North Korea and no mention of the Sunday New York Times story about the North Korean's having a second, secret reprocessing plans?--ed. The Post and LA Times stories from today suggest this has been more overblown than Nigerien yellowcake.]
Internet research addendum
Henry Farrell responds at length to last week's post about Google and academic research. Worth checking out -- if you're in the social science biz.
Monday, July 21, 2003
THE POLITICIZATION OF INTELLIGENCE
Josh Marshall has gone into great detail about the extent to which the hawks within the Bush administration fought a bureaucratic battle with intelligence professionals over questions of interpretation and presentation. Marshall links to this Jim Hoagland essay from October 2002 that puts the issue in stark terms:
To which Marshall points out:
Marshall makes a serious point here -- the management of the intelligence process matters.
However, there are two points worth considering in response. The first is that this is hardly the first administration to take an active interest in the shaping of intelligence. As Chris Sullentrop obseved last week in his assessment of CIA director George Tenet:
Now the natural counterargument to this is that "everyone else does it" is a poor defense. However, as Marshall himself acknowledges, "sometimes bureaucracies really do need to be taken on, to be shaken up." Eliot Cohen points out in Supreme Commandthat civilian leaders should intervene in the planning and management of military operations. A parallel case can be made for intelligence -- over time, intel experts become locked into their preconceptions of the raw data, and need to be exposed to rival interpretations. Skillful intervention in the intelligence process can introduce intellectual debate, which in turn can generate sharper analysis.
Of course, there's a difference between skillful intervention, mismanaged intervention, and willful ignorance of brute facts. The outcome of the debate that's currently taking place will rests on which interpretation of events will become the consensus.
Responding to my critics
Catching up from a weekend spent off the net, I found Kieran Healy taking issue with my not taking issue with the WMD/intelligence imbroglio:
So I'm getting all worked up to deliver a multipronged response along the lines of:
1) Restating my point that I did not think the questions being raised about the process of intelligence -gathering and dissemination were either trivial or partisan;
2) Explaining that although it is an issue, the extent to which the run-up to the Iraq war has been reframed to make it appear that the Bush administration's only stated rationale for going to war was that Iraq had acquired uranium from Niger is just wrong;
3) Suggesting that I did not critique the anti-war movement for being self-indulgent or solipsistic -- although I certainly critiqued the myriad elements of that movement.
I was looking at a bit of work here.
So, I'm taking the afternoon off.
I will, however, make one additional suggestion. The power of the critique against Bush would be strengthened if it could be shown that a significant fraction of the American public -- as well as the legislative branch -- supported action against Iraq only because of the claim that Hussein's regime had an active nuclear weapons program.
UPDATE: Tom Maguire links to polls suggesting that the WMD question was salient in the run-up to the war. However, WMD includes chemical and biological weapons as well as nuclear weapons. Kevin Drum responds here -- and be sure to read the comments page. My personal favorite ends with: "Who is Dan Drezner, and why anyone should give his opinion a second thought? I mean, really. Anyone can set up a web log."
OXBLOG VS. THE NEW YORK TIMES
David Adesnik's recent posts challenge the NYT's attempt -- intended or not -- to paint Iraq as a domestic and foreign policy fisco.
OxBlog. This post critiques the Times piece on the WMD debate at home; this post attacks the quagmire thesis (UPDATE: the last link is acting dodgy -- just go to their front page and scroll down to Sunday's posts). Go check them out.