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)