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:
Readers of danieldrezner.com 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:
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.
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:
The Associated Press reports on the anger in the Arab world:
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.
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.
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 danieldrezner.com.
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.
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:
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:
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:
Feel free to apply to be an Apprentice on the next season by clicking here.
What the hell is going on in Thailand?
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:
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.
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:
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).
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:
Read the whole thing.
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:
David Adesnik also has some good links on Iraq.
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.
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!
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:
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.
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:
Read the whole thing.
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:
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
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.