Saturday, May 1, 2004

May's Books of the Month

As I've suggested recently, over the past six months America has been inundated with a spate of tomes, memoirs, and policy dissections of the current administration's foreign policy/grand strategy. Almost all of them have been critical. Some of them have their merits, and some of them are so God-awful that I'm upset I wasted my time reading them.

I'm not the only one who thinks that a lot of these books are problematic. As the New York Times reported last week:

"These books are just stupendously enlarged newspaper stories," said Leon Wieseltier, literary editor of The New Republic, who argued that all of the books lacked the thoughtfulness, interpretative insight or literary quality that should distinguish books from newspapers or magazines.

"They represent the degradation of political writing to purely journalistic writing," he said. "The author in these works has been reduced to a transcriber or stenographer. There is no strenuous mental labor here. It is all technical skill. Books about urgent subjects used to have greater ambitions for themselves, but not these books. But this genre is something that passes, masquerading as something that lasts. Present history doesn't have to be quite this fleeting."

Readers of are busy people -- if you had to pick one book on the Bush administration's foreign policy, which one would it be?

This leads me to May's recommended international relations book: Ivo Daalder and James Lindsey's America Unbound: The Bush Revolution in Foreign Policy. Of all of these books -- and I've read too many of them -- America Unbound has three merits that almost all of the other books do not. First, their prose is detached and analytical. There is some strenuous mental effort here, and it doesn't suffer from the tunnel vision that infuses Richard Clarke or Paul O'Neill/Ron Susskind's books. It does this without sacrificing much in terms of color or detail. Which leads to the second strength of the book -- it's exceptionally well-researched. Reading it, and perusing the footnotes, I was stunned at how much detail Daalder and Lindsey were able to collect from public sources. Third, the book's thesis is both counterintuitive but well-supported -- that despite what people say about neocon or Straussian conspiracies, the person who's clearly in charge of American foreign policy is George W. Bush. America Unbound is hardly uncritical of the administration; Daalder and Lindsey both did tours of duty as NSC staffers in Clinton administration. I didn't agree with all of it -- but I can't dismiss it.

The general interest book is Tom Perrotta's Little Children, a delicious look at the ecosystem of suburban parents and toddlers. Perrotta -- who also wrote the novel Election, upon which one of my favorite movies was based -- opens the book with this paragraph:

The young mothers were telling each other how tired they were. This was one of their favorite topics, along with the eating, sleeping, and defecating habits of their offspring, the merits of certain local nursery schools, and the difficulty of sticking to an exercise routine. Smiling politely to mask a familiar feeling of desperation, Sarah reminded herself to think like an anthropologist. I'm a researcher studying the behavior of boring subrban women. I am not a boring suburban woman myself.

Hyde Park is not a boring suburb, but the playground politics discussed in the book have the clang of familiarity that made it a fun read for me. Go check it out.

posted by Dan at 10:19 AM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

Torture in Iraq

Pictures of U.S. soldiers abusing Iraqi prisoners have now been broadcast by the Arab media. This follows up the documentation of such abuse at Abu Ghraib, as cataloged by the U.S. Army and reported in The New Yorker. The report found several instances of “sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses” at Abu Ghraib. The acts include:

Breaking chemical lights and pouring the phosphoric liquid on detainees; pouring cold water on naked detainees; beating detainees with a broom handle and a chair; threatening male detainees with rape; allowing a military police guard to stitch the wound of a detainee who was injured after being slammed against the wall in his cell; sodomizing a detainee with a chemical light and perhaps a broom stick, and using military working dogs to frighten and intimidate detainees with threats of attack, and in one instance actually biting a detainee.

British troops are facing similar allegations. Both Tony Blair and George W. Bush have expressed "disgust" at the acts.

The Associated Press reports on the anger in the Arab world:

Egypt's Akhbar el-Yom newspaper splashed photographs of the U.S. soldiers posing by naked, hooded inmates on page one with the banner headline "The Scandal." Al-Wafd, an opposition paper, displayed similar photos beneath the headline, "The Shame!"....

"Shame on America. How can they convince us now that it is the bastion of democracy, freedoms and human rights? Why do we blame our dictators then?" asked Mustafa Saad, who was reading morning papers in a downtown Cairo cafe.

Mohammed Hassan Taha, an editor at Nile Sports News Television, said Arabs should not allow the matter to pass quietly. "This is not humiliation of Iraqis, it is humiliation of all Arabs," Taha said while buying Akhbar el-Yom at a newsstand.

No question, these reports are a stain on America's image to the world. I share the disgust and revulsion that Glenn Reynolds and Jonah Goldberg have expressed on this issue.

Here's the thing, though -- I feel a similar involuntary revulsion at reading press reports on the reaction of "the Arab street" to these pictures. Does anyone think that any of the Arabs interviewed for this story displayed even the slightest hint of rage or shame at the Arabs who burned four American civilian contractors in Fallujah in March?

I'm not even remotely suggesting that this redeems anything done by U.S. soldiers in Abu Ghraib. And tactically, this will obviously inflame Arab resentments. But spare me the righteous indignation of the Arab street.

UPDATE: Lots of interesting reactions to this post. I take Andrew Lazarus' point that Muslim clerics in Fallujah did in fact condemn the desecration of the American corpses -- whether that sentiment was widespread across the Arab street remains unclear.

This commenter correctly points out what I had tried to say in the post: "[T]his is not moral tit for tat. This a grave political setback." However, I think MD got what I was trying to say:

how is pointing out hypocrisy the same as excusing a crime? The post says nothing about 'tit for tat.' It speaks to a hypocrisy that would condemn the barbaric treatment of Iraqi prisoners in this instance but stay silent in the face of human rights abuses committed by non-Americans.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Matthew Yglesias, Brad DeLong, and especially PaulB in the comments raise some trenchant and valid objections to the tone/content of my post (though Brad is stretching my position by more than a little bit -- Tacitus explains the distinction I was trying to raise better than I).

This may have been one of those times in which I let my "mild nationalism" (as Matt put it) get the better of me and, as a result, compose a post with too much truculence and too little penitence in it.

So, let's close this with a clear statement -- the actions at Abu Ghraib were inexcusable and despicable acts that are repugnant in and of themselves. They needlessly inflame an already inflamed Arab street, and knock us down a peg in the eyes of other countries and their citizens.

posted by Dan at 09:54 AM | Comments (56) | Trackbacks (8)

Friday, April 30, 2004

Support Political Babes!!

While I've occasionally thought about it, I have yet to put a tip jar on the blog -- mostly because I've already benefited in myriad ways from

However, for those who have contemplated giving, let me redirect your energies to the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer.

[What, you're asking your readers to walk?--ed.] No, I'm asking them to support Political Babes, a two person team that plans to walk 39 miles in two days to support the cause. As their home page puts it: "Bethany and Melissa both are political scientists, both are committed to ending breast cancer, and both are total babes!"

Let me independently confirm that all three of these statements are true.

[Why should I take your word for this?--ed. Well, on them being political scientists, click here to read this Chicago Tribune story on Assistant Professor of Political Science Melissa Harris-Lacewell's fascinating research. Better yet, just buy her book, Barbershops, Bibles, and BET: Everyday Talk and Black Political Thought. Bethany Albertson -- the other political babe -- was a invaluable research assistant during the book's drafting.]

You can give by going to their home page and then clicking "Make a Gif!" by the thermometer on the right side of the page.

posted by Dan at 12:04 PM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

The disgruntled conservatives

I've received some interesting e-mail ragarding my "Up is Down" essay for TNR Online -- now available at the CBS News web site as well!! They suggest that a lot of Republicans are less than thrilled with George W. Bush, but feel that they have no place to go.

Here's one example -- it's from Virginia conservative Lee Dise:

I’m a lifelong, moss-backed conservative -- someone who favors smaller, less intrusive government; a less rapacious IRS and less overbearing regulatory agencies; a strong national defense, but not necessarily a more adventurous one; a return to constitutional government, as defined by the philosophy of ‘original intent’, and vigilant legislatures that make activist judges pay with their positions and careers.

In short, I’m one of the guys who the Republicans always feel they can count on, but who nevertheless have always basically been told to go straight to Hades by the “establishment” Republican-types.

From my perspective, Bush got the tax cuts right. And perhaps even Afghanistan and Iraq -- I can’t say for sure that he didn’t. Pretty much everything else, he’s gotten wrong – some things, horribly wrong. Which is to say: he’s gotten them pretty much the same way Ted Kennedy would’ve.

Now, if conservatives don’t make Republicans pay for their betrayals of conservatism, who will? I probably can’t bring myself to actually vote for a Dimmycrat, but I could merrily write in Alan Keyes and then on Election Night be tickled, beer in hand, to watch another Bush go down in flames. For this to happen, all the Democrats needed to do was field a candidate who is not so flamboyantly repulsive -- someone who doesn’t so obviously despise everything his country stands for -- that he makes our gall bladders sweat. Lieberman, maybe even Edwards, would have probably earned the Democrats a non-vote from me. A few million non-votes from people like me, and the Dimmies are in like Flynn, just like in 1992 when we socked it to ol’ “Read My Lips” himself.

But, nooooo. They had to select a swivel-headed Nimrod who’s so god awful that I can’t in good conscience stand idly by while he lurches towards the nation’s control center like a B-movie monster.

Fielding a candidate that has no hope of winning has historically been a province belonging solely to the Republican, i.e., the stupid, party. Somehow, I doubt that the Democrats can possibly be that dumb forever (even though the continuing saga of McAuliffe makes a strong case to the contrary). Five weeks ago, I figured that if I already knew Kerry was unelectable, eventually even the Democrats will figure it out. And now I know this is true, since you and the Village Voice are chiming in as proof.

A few e-mails is pretty paltry evidence of a trend. Still, one wonders whether this this feeling of alienation on the right is prevalent.

UPDATE: Another e-mail from a very well-connected and disgruntled conservative:

Last night, I was having drinks with a wide variety of young right-of-center types. All were dissatisfied, and roughly 65 percent wanted to see Bush's head on a pike. Of the 65 percent, something approaching a majority were even willing to vote for Kerry (i.e., for Richard Holbrooke), and the rest were teetering on the fence....

Among the would-be reluctant Kerry voters was a friend of mine from the Standard, of all places. Suffice to say, we all hate Kerry.


posted by Dan at 11:43 AM | Comments (73) | Trackbacks (3)

Thursday, April 29, 2004

Good luck with future apprenticeships!

I never watched an episode of The Apprentice -- in fact, Erika and I were steamed about the show because it meant that Scrubs had been moved. However, I'll admit to having some ex post curiosity about the show, particularly the debate about the sexual office politics that the initial weeks stirred up.

So I'm just going to reproduce this tidbit of Omarosa Manigault-Stallworth gossip from MSNBC's Jeanette Walls and leave it at that:

Omarosa continues to lose friends and alienate people.

The much-loathed reject from “The Apprentice” was scheduled to appear on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” last week, but refused to go on air when she saw a lie detector test backstage.

“The lie-detector test wasn’t even for her,” a spokeswoman for the show told the Scoop. “It was intended for Jimmy’s Uncle Frank [a regular character on the show], but when Omarosa saw it, she just freaked.” Some fellow contestants have accused Omarosa Manigault-Stallworth of lying when she said one of them used the N-word. “We tried and tried to calm her down, but she just kept saying ‘I’m not going on stage with that lie detector test’ then she just walked out."

Feel free to apply to be an Apprentice on the next season by clicking here.

posted by Dan at 04:27 PM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

What the hell is going on in Thailand?

The Economist -- and the Thai government, apparently -- seems stumped about the latest violence in the south of Thailand:

On Thursday, hundreds of extra troops poured into southern Thailand to try to pacify the region. The trouble is, the authorities still do not seem to have any clear idea whom they are fighting or why the violence has escalated so quickly. At various times, different officials have described the attackers as Muslim separatists, mafiosi, and arms smugglers. Some have accused parliamentarians from Mr [Prime Minister Shinawatra] Thaksin’s own party of abetting the insurgents, while others have criticised Malaysia for allowing suspects to escape over the border. Many consider the militants terrorists, and have hinted at connections with outfits like al-Qaeda or Jemaah Islamiah.

Mr Thaksin, however, insists that the problem is purely domestic. Though pictures of the dead militants in the Thai media showed that many had Islamic slogans on their clothes, the prime minister insisted that they were nothing more than drug-crazed “bandits” on a crime spree, blaming local politicians for supporting them. But he has provided so many pat explanations of the violence, and promised so many times to bring it to a swift conclusion, that his assurance is beginning to look like bluster.

Reuters reports that despite some anger among the Thai Muslim minority, the religious establishment in the country has backed the government's show of force:

Critics were quick to question the insistence of Thaksin and his cousin and army chief, General Chaiyasidh Shinawatra, that drugs and crime rather than religious or separatist ideology lay at the root of the violence.

"What the two leaders do not see, or pretend not to see, is that this is not about addiction or banditry; this is about a fanatical ideology that none of us knew existed on such a grand scale," the Nation newspaper said in a front page editorial.

In the worst violence, troops fired teargas and stormed a centuries-old mosque, killing 34 gunmen holed up inside. An angry crowd gathered to watch as soldiers dragged bodies from the bullet-riddled building.

With Muslim sentiment divided between anger and support for military action at the mosque, Thailand's top Muslim cleric, speaking on national television, backed the operation.

"The authorities exercised reasonable restraint in dealing with the situation. They were patient and waited for a long time outside the mosque," spiritual leader Sawat Sumalayasak said.

"It was reasonable for the government to take such action."

Others disagreed.

"If the officers had waited for another couple of days they could have caught them alive, but they didn't. They killed them all," Uma Meah, secretary of the Central Islamic Committee of Pattani, said after a meeting of residents.

It's far from clear just what is driving the violence in the south. I'll leave it to the commenters to suggest whether the problem is local or transnational.

UPDATE: Hmmm... Indonesia is having problems with Muslim extremists as well.

Expect to read "Muslim extremism in Southeast Asia" stories for the next week.

posted by Dan at 02:53 PM | Comments (14) | Trackbacks (1)

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

"The revolution will not be blogged"

That's the title of George Packer's story about blogs in the May/June issue of Mother Jones, which I've read but haven't fully digested yet. The parts I found particularly appetizing:

The constellation of opinion called the blogosphere consists, like the stars themselves, partly of gases. This is what makes blogs addictive — that is, both pleasurable and destructive: They're so easy to consume, and so endlessly available. Their second-by-second proliferation means that far more is written than needs to be said about any one thing. To change metaphors for a moment (and to deepen the shame), I gorge myself on these hundreds of pieces of commentary like so much candy into a bloated — yet nervous, sugar-jangled — stupor. Those hours of out-of-body drift leave me with few, if any, tangible thoughts. Blog prose is written in headline form to imitate informal speech, with short emphatic sentences and frequent use of boldface and italics. The entries, sometimes updated hourly, are little spasms of assertion, usually too brief for an argument ever to stand a chance of developing layers of meaning or ramifying into qualification and complication. There's a constant sense that someone (almost always the blogger) is winning and someone else is losing. Everything that happens in the blogosphere — every point, rebuttal, gloat, jeer, or "fisk" (dismemberment of a piece of text with close analytical reading) — is a knockout punch. A curious thing about this rarefied world is that bloggers are almost unfailingly contemptuous toward everyone except one another....

So far this year, bloggers have been remarkably unadept at predicting events (as have reporters, who occupy a different part of the same habitat). Most of them failed to foresee Dean's rise, Dean's fall, Kerry's resurgence, Bush's slippage. Above all, they didn't grasp the intensity of feeling among Democratic primary voters — the resentments still glowing hot from Florida 2000, the overwhelming interest in economic and domestic issues, the personal antipathy toward Bush, the resurgence of activism, the longing for a win. The blogosphere was often caught surprised by these passions and the electoral turns they caused. Rather than imitating or reproducing external reality, it exists alongside, detached, self-encased, in a stance of ironic or combative appraisal....

Blogs, by contrast, are atomized, fragmentary, and of the instant. They lack the continuity, reach, and depth to turn an election into a story. When one of the best of the bloggers, Joshua Micah Marshall of, brought his laptop to New Hampshire and tried to cover the race in the more traditional manner, the results were less than satisfying; his posts failed to convey the atmosphere of those remarkable days between Iowa and the first primary. Marshall couldn't turn his gift for parsing the news of the moment to the more patient task of turning reportage into scenes and characters so that the candidates and the voters take life online. He didn't function as a reporter; there was, as there often is with blogs, too much description of where he was sitting, what he was thinking, who'd just walked into the room, as if the enclosed space in which bloggers carry out their work had followed Marshall to New Hampshire and kept him encased in its bubble. He might as well have been writing from his apartment in Washington. But the failure wasn't personal; this particular branch of the Fourth Estate just doesn't lend itself to sustained narrative and analysis. Blogs remain private, written in the language and tone of knowingness, insider shorthand, instant mastery. Read them enough and any subject will go dead.

Reactions -- as you would expect -- from David Adesnik, Kevin Drum, Wonkette, and Matthew Yglesias.

My half-digested thoughts:

1) Almost against his will, Packer reveals an essential truth for why blogs do matter -- the press reads them. Why does the press read them? Because, apparently, the political press will read anything about politics.

2) In the sections where Packer criticizes blogs, conduct a mental experiment -- replace the word "blogosphere" with "New York Times op-ed columnists" or "David Broder." See if the criticism about lack of predictive capabilities or incestuousness still hold up. Indeed, short of a "Letter from New Hampshire"-length essay in The New Yorker, Packer's expectations of blogs seem well-nigh impossible to meet.

3) One wonders what Packer thinks of commenters on blogs.

UPDATE: One additional thought -- I think Packer wants to keep the blogosphere and the mediasphere separate, when in fact a lot of bloggers can cross the great divide. For me, the utility of the blog is that it functions as a kind of ongoing link-filled notebook about interesting political and economic trends -- well, that and an excuse to link to Salma Hayek, of course. The stuff I write for the mediasphere starts off as half-formed thoughts in blog posts. Once they're fully thought out, they can have the coherence, texture and craft that Packer seems to crave after reading blogs (I would never have written "The Outsourcing Bogeyman" if I hadn't been tracking the issue closely in blog posts, for example).

Which might explain why one of Packer's colleagues at Mother Jones is quite willing to link to my writings.

posted by Dan at 11:21 PM | Comments (26) | Trackbacks (2)

Outsourcing destroys good IT jobs. Oh, wait...

Eduardo Porter's report in today's New York Times reinforces what I said in Foreign Affairs about outsourcing and the tech sector -- that while more low-skill jobs will undoubtedly be created overseas, the complex tasks are going to stay in the United States. The good parts:

As more companies in the United States rush to take advantage of India's ample supply of cheap yet highly trained workers, even some of the most motivated American companies — ones set up or run by executives born and trained in India — are concluding that the cost advantage does not always justify the effort.

For many of the most crucial technology tasks, they find that a work force operating within the American business environment better suits their needs.

"Only certain kinds of tasks can be outsourced — what can be set down as a set of rules," said Nariman Behravesh, chief economist of Global Insight, a forecasting and consulting firm based in Waltham, Mass. "That which requires more creativity is more difficult to manage at a distance."

Another Indian executive in the United States who has soured on outsourcing is Dev Ittycheria, the chief executive of Bladelogic, a designer of network management software with 70 workers, also in Waltham. Bladelogic, whose client list includes General Electric and Sprint, outsourced work to India within months of going into business in 2001. But it concluded that projects it farmed out — one to install an operating system across a network, another to keep tabs on changes done to the system — could be done faster and at a lower cost in the United States.

That was true even though programmers in India cost Bladelogic $3,500 a month versus a monthly cost of $10,000 for programmers in the United States. "The cost savings in India were three to one," Mr. Ittycheria said . "But the difference in productivity was six to one."

Bladelogic's chief technology officer, Vijay Manwani, born and educated in India, predicts that once the "hype cycle" about Indian outsourcing runs its course, projects will come back to the United States "when people find that their productivity goals have not been met."

The upshot is that high-technology corporations are likely to ship more and more business functions to India to take advantage of its well-trained work force. However, even as they do so they will keep many essential tasks here....

In the end, many say the advantages of keeping some of the most sophisticated work in the United States are related to the factors that draw technology entrepreneurs from India and elsewhere to this country in the first place: Indian engineers and software designers in this country know that the businesses whose needs are driving technological innovation are mostly in the United States. It comes down to being where the customers are. (emphasis added)

Read the whole thing.

posted by Dan at 11:28 AM | Comments (24) | Trackbacks (1)

More tales from the CPA

The Chicago Tribune interviews Northeastern Illinois University accounting professor Yass Alkafaji, and Iraqi émigré who went to Baghdad in January to "serve in the Coalition Provisional Authority as the director of finance for the Ministry of Higher Education." Read the whole interview -- but here are some of his thoughts:

Q. What is your take on the mood of the Iraqi people?

A. They are thankful to the U.S. for getting rid of Saddam Hussein, and they are content that the military needs to be there. But after that, they are divided between how long should the U.S. military stay and whether they are doing a good job or not. The U.S. military presence is very visible, and they [the soldiers] are really scared, so their posture is very offensive. They see Iraqis, and they put guns in your face. They move in convoys, and they tell people to get away from them. When the convoys are in a traffic jam in the middle of Baghdad, that is the most dangerous thing. So they shout at people to get out of the way, and they drive up on the sidewalk of some stores. That creates a lot of hard feelings for the Iraqis.

Q. What about the economic and employment situation with ordinary Iraqis?

A. Most of the people are not informed of what the U.S. is doing because they don't see the visible improvement of their livelihood, especially those who don't have a government job . . . I think there is still a lot of confusion about who is the good Iraqi and who is the bad Iraqi. I think [the U.S.] has shown to the rest of the world that we are really ignorant when it comes to dealing with other cultures. We have a great military power, but when it comes to building nations we have no idea. You can see the tension in the clashes between the British and Americans in the palace. The Americans will say `do this or do that' and the British will just be shaking their head. But the British have a much longer history in the Middle East, and they know how to deal with the Arab mentality. They feel very marginalized....

Q. Depending on how people want to spin it, they characterize the recent violence as a few bad apples or a popular uprising. How do you see it?

A. Surveys show about 70 percent of the Iraqi people accept that there is a need for the American military to be in Iraq, otherwise it will be chaotic and there will be no security on the ground. Of course, if you talk to someone in Sadr City with a first-grade education, they will say otherwise. One day I was waiting seven hours to try to leave the compound to try to see my sister. We had some thugs from the Sadr group demonstrating 15 feet away saying, "We want the U.S. out." So I said, "OK, the U.S. is out and then what next? Who is going to control the country?" They don't think about the implications of what they say.

David Adesnik also has some good links on Iraq.

posted by Dan at 11:21 AM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (1)

Where to find evidence that up is down

Curious about information and evidence showing that for Bush and Kerry's political fortunes, up is down on Iraq? You can find a very embryonic version of this argument in this blog post of ten days ago.

The article was based on the polling data that has flummoxed DC insiders for the last ten days. Here's a link to the April 19th Washington Post-ABC News Poll, and here's a link to the USA Today/CNN/Gallup Poll taken during the same week (hat tip to Andrew Sullivan, who linked to both articles).

Kerry's answers about the U.N. to Tim Russert on the April 18th Meet the Press can be found in this transcript. Krauthammer's spot-on essay on Kerry's Iraq position appeared last Friday in the Washington Post. Andrew Sullivan makes the case for Kerry to scold the anti-war movement in this Daily Dish post (you need to scroll down a bit). I discussed the constraints Kerry faces in taking a more assertive position in the Middle East in my last TNR Online essay, "Cornered."

I mentioned Howard Dean's desire to send more troops to Iraq last summer in last summer's TNR Online essay about Dean. Richard Clarke discusses the Somalia debacle -- and the mistake of pulling out following the Black Hawk Down incident -- in chapter four of Against All Enemies.

A final caveat -- the observation that Bush does better and Kerry does worse if there is trouble in Iraq falls apart if the trouble gets really serious. For all of the bad news coming out of that country, the fact remains that U.S. casualties remain quite low for such an occupation -- especially one with such a low ratio of occupying troops to population. If casualty numbers per week move from the tens into the hundreds or thousands, then calls for withdrawal will become more tempting for Kerry to make -- and the political logic discussed in the article won't hold.

posted by Dan at 08:18 AM | Comments (31) | Trackbacks (1)

Bizarro politics

My latest TNR Online essay is now up and running. It makes an effort to explain the seeming oddity of why Bush's poll numbers versus Kerry have improved in the last six weeks despite the difficulties in Iraq.

Go check it out!

posted by Dan at 07:36 AM | Comments (12) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Law without order in Iraq

For me, the biggest frustration about Iraq is not that everything is going wrong, but that the things that are going wrong are important enough to undercut everything that has gone right in the U.S. occupation.

Take, for example, Colin McMahon's account in today's Chicago Tribune about the rebuilding of Iraq's court system. The good part:

Under Hussein, the accused had few rights and were subjected to tremendous abuse while awaiting trial. Sentences were harsh for even minor offenses. More than 150 crimes from prostitution to murder were subject to the death penalty, for example. And by making his every utterance the final word on all matters, Hussein destroyed the concept of legal fairness and turned what was left of the rule of law into the rule of whim....

Radhi Hamza al-Radhi is among those judges who suffered Hussein's wrath but survived his regime.

Al-Radhi was the chief of a three-judge panel presiding over a counterfeiting trial that found two men guilty late last month. One man, who had no criminal record, got three years in prison. The other, who previously had served 20 years for murder, got five years. Under Hussein, the judge said, the sentence for counterfeiting probably would have been life.

Tweaked by occupation lawyers, the Iraqi criminal code now is a point of pride, al-Radhi said.

Defendants have the right not to testify, and their silence cannot be used against them at trial. They have the right to an attorney from the beginning of the investigation, and in the case last month the court appointed and paid a lawyer to represent one of the men. Those found guilty can appeal.

There are important cosmetic changes as well. Al-Radhi's courtroom and chambers are gracefully appointed but not lush, and the mood is serious but not somber. Best of all, they are located in the towering steel hall that Baghdadis call "the clock tower." It used to be the museum for all the gifts Hussein had received from world dignitaries.

Al-Radhi said the overhaul to the legal system had won the Iraqis' confidence.

But Sindi said the court system still is only about halfway to where it needs to be. A state prosecutor said his office has too many cases to properly investigate and pursue at trial. And there remains a backlog of cases in which Iraqis arrested by occupation forces on any number of charges have yet to face trial.

But the biggest problem, Sindi and others said, remains the police. Bribery, incompetence and inexperience are allowing too many criminals to walk.

"My uncle was robbed and shot," said Ayser Malik, 21, who works at a grocery in central Baghdad. "The major crimes unit captured the gang responsible, but they were released. It's bribery. They are paying money to get released, and they are back out committing crimes."

The rebuilding of Iraq's legal system would be a fantastic, shout-from-the-rooftops-kind of accomplishment -- but without a general improvement in the order half of the equation, the achievement will have little effect.

posted by Dan at 10:30 AM | Comments (30) | Trackbacks (1)

Monday, April 26, 2004

A sobering account of Iraq -- from a CPA advisor

Larry Diamond -- one of the biggest supporters of the notion that democracy can travel across cultures -- was an advisor to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq starting in January. No longer. The San Francisco Chronicle has a long story about Diamond's experiences in the field. He's still optimistic about democracy promotion -- but not about Iraq:

The story of Iraq, this onetime optimist believes, is a tale of missed opportunities.

"We just bungled this so badly," said Diamond, a 52-year-old senior fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution. "We just weren't honest with ourselves or with the American people about what was going to be needed to secure the country."

Diamond was a senior adviser to the Coalition Provisional Authority and spent several initially hopeful months in Iraq -- lecturing on democracy, even in mosques, encouraging people to participate and helping shape laws that embodied his vision. He returned to Palo Alto in early April for a short break, then ran into an emotional brick wall, he said, when he contemplated the mess he had left behind.

Last Thursday, when it came time for Diamond to return, he did not get on the plane.

Instead, he was in his office at the Hoover Tower, disillusioned over the desperate turn of events he had witnessed and what he feels was a country allowed to spin out of control, in large part, he says, because of the Bush administration's unwillingness to commit a big enough force to protect Iraqis from militias and insurgents.

"You can't develop democracy without security," he said. "In Iraq, it's really a security nightmare that did not have to be. If you don't get that right, nothing else is possible. Everything else is connected to that."....

His recommendations for rescuing the situation run counter to some of the policies that the Bush administration insists it will not alter. Diamond said that, in his view, the United States must more than double its current military force of about 135,000 and confront the violent Iraqi militias consistently, while offering political benefits to those who lay down their arms and accept democratic institutions.

The best he can say about the prospects in Iraq now is that, as he puts it, "civil war is not inevitable."

Read the whole thing.

posted by Dan at 11:15 PM | Comments (85) | Trackbacks (5)

Will education be outsourced?

One of the more amusing responses I get from the outsourcing essay is the reader's fervent desire that my profession be the next one vulnerable to outsourcing.

Yesterday's New York Times Education section raises a valuable point -- college education via the Internet is already place, in the form of continuing ed. This cover story points out:

Today, 1 in 12 college students attends a for-profit institution, and the business has grown to $23 billion in annual revenue for 2002, the latest year analyzed by Eduventures, an education market research company in Boston. The University of Phoenix alone has about 201,000 full-time adult students at 142 campuses and learning centers. Enrollment in for-profit institutions is growing at three times the rate of nonprofit colleges and universities, says Sean Gallagher, an analyst with Eduventures.

A big part of that growth is in online education. ''Each time we update our forecasts, we find that the online education market is growing a little bit larger than we anticipated,'' Mr. Gallagher says.

According to a study last year by the Sloan Consortium, a nonprofit association whose mission is to improve online education, more than 1.6 million students took online courses in 2002; nearly 600,000 of them took all their classes in cyberspace. More than a third of higher education institutions offer online courses, and 97 percent of public universities do....

Fitting perfectly is what continuing education strives for. A big part of the business plan is to strip away the elements of a traditional college that cost so much: fancy campuses, dormitories, athletic complexes, tenured faculty and the pond that shows up in every brochure. At the same time, the institutions strip away things that can be frustrating to students -- the commute, parking woes, long lines at registration, inconvenient class times. They focus on what in the business world is called customer service, often nonexistent at traditional colleges. ''They tend to be better at student services than traditional institutions are,'' Dr. Twigg says. ''Adult students are more demanding. You can still push kids around.''

Even Ph.D. defenses are going digital. It's just a matter of time before the educators on the other end of the network are based in countries other than the United States.

I for one, welcome our new online overlords competitors. While these schools provide a similar service, as this point they're expanding the market rather than cutting into a stagnant one. If offshore outsourcing means anything, it means that a lot more people are going to have to get a lot more education. As far as I'm concerned, the more schools, the better.

posted by Dan at 10:51 PM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (0)

I'm back -- I'm jet-lagged

Back from a lovely conference in Hamburg, Germany, and trying to stay awake so that I can get back on Chicago time. Jacob -- I'm home!!

I've been out of the loop watching German music videos when not conferencing -- but I did see that Pat Tillman was killed in Afghanistan. You can read what I said about Tillman last year in this post.

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