Saturday, May 29, 2004
So what do we know about Iyad Allawi?
Apparently Ayad Allawi is to be the Prime Minister of Iraq from June 30th of this year to January 31st, 2005. He's consulted with U.N. special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi about the make-up of the provisional government's cabinet.
What else do we know from his selection? Josh Marshall doesn't offer much of a guide:
Juan Cole thinks that Brahimi preferred an exile who could not use the position to entrench himself in power. However, the BBC reports that Brahimi ain't exactly thrilled with the selection of Allawi.
I can offer zilch in the way of information about Allawi himself. But I do think that the nature of Allawi's selection contains two interesting nuggets of information. The first comes from Mike Allen and Robin Wright's Washington Post story about the selection. It suggests the extent to which the Bush administration did not want to be seen as puppetmaster on this one:
The second nugget of information is that whoever Allawi is, Ahmed Chalabi doesn't like him. I know this via another Laurie Mylroie mass e-mail, which contained a link to this scathing Al Arab commentary by one Dr. Haifa Al-Azawi. The last paragraph is all you need to read:
If Mylroie doesn't like him, Chalabi doesn't like him. [So does that mean he's a good choice or a bad one?--ed. My gut says to be mildly pessimistic. The IGC chose him so they wouldn't be locked out of the next government and the spoils that come with it. There had to have been some serious quid pro quos for Allawi to get the support from the council. My one prediction, therefore, is that some corruption scandal will break between now and January.
On the other hand, play the following game -- stack the accusations made against Allawi and Chalabi side by side and see if they're exactly identical or just roughly idential.]
Friday, May 28, 2004
More on CPA recruitment
In my TNR Online piece yesterday, I briefly referenced the fact that ideological litmus tests were used to screen out otherwise first-rate applicants to the Coalition Provisional Authority. I've heard this from multiple sources, including those who were eventually hired, but many were reluctant say anything for the record. The Washington Post story confirmed some of this.
For a first-hand account, the following is reprinted from an e-mail I received from a former CPA employee who wishes to remain anonymous:
Now, let me be the first to say that a shared ideology should play a role in hiring decisions at some level. If an applicant was asked why s/he wanted to go to Iraq, and that person answered, "I want to expose the role of evil multinational oil companies in the exploitation of Iraqi resources," well, that person wouldn't make a terribly good CPA employee. Let me also say, as Kevin Drum pointed out previously, that the people who were hired to be CPA personnel have the best of intentions and appear to have spared no effort to rebuild Iraqi society.
That said, how does a person's opinion towards Roe v. Wade possibly affect their ability to function in Iraq?
This is a story crying out for further investigation.
In the meantime, CPA employees who believe that this is an exaggerated picture of the hiring process should feel free to e-mail. I'll be happy to reprint what's relevant to the topic.
UPDATE: A claifying missive from my anonymous source:
Debating the political effects of bad movies
The Day After Tomorrow is now in theaters. I will not be attending -- not because of the film's ludicrous environmental theories, which make for some cool-looking FX, but because the director dissed Chicago.
Reading the reviews, however, it's clear that the film has put left-of-center movie critics in an awkward position. The Hartford Courant's Deborah Hornblow, for example, thinks the film will help the environmental movement:
Slate's David Edelstein frets a little more about blowback:
[So what's your take on this global warming deal?--ed. Click here to find out.]
UPDATE: Julian Sanchez has a wickedly funny take on the flick:
Thursday, May 27, 2004
The rise of the Indian lobby
Joshua Kurlantzick has an interesting essay in The New Republic on the growth of Indian-Americans as a politically influential interest group, to be wooed by Democrats and Republicans alike. [So why is this filed under the outsourcing category?--ed.] Apparently, the Democratic rhetoric on offshoring have hampered their efforts to woo this bloc of voters. The good parts version of the article:
All that's left is for Pat Choate -- you know, the 1996 Reform Party candidate for vice president -- to write his follow-up to Agents of Influence, which was about how the Japanese were lobbying to take over the U.S.
Wal-Mart comes to Chicago
As part of my ongoing Wal-Mart coverage, the City Council voted yesterday on proposals for two Wal-Mart stores to be opened within the city limits. The Chicago Tribune's Dan Mihalopoulos -- who seems to have the Wal-Mart beat -- reports on a split decision:
Actually, it reads to me as if the union was just lucky it was up against an inexperienced alderman, and got a temporary victory at best.
No failure of proof here
A lot of information in today's TNR Online column comes from previous blog posts. There's a lot of posts about the current situation in Iraq. Even former CPA advisors are dissatisfied -- click here for Larry Diamond's take and here for Yass Alkafaji's take. On Iraqi polls showing greater disenchantment with the American occupation, click here and here -- the latter one contains the 80% figure with regard to the CPA (thanks to Mark Kleiman for the links). Here's a blog post that discussed the rising support in Iraq for Muqtada Al-Sadr. There are a raft of polls demonstrating waning U.S. support for the current administration's Iraq policies -- this Washington Post poll is just the latest. The general pessimism in Washington on Iraq comes from Doyle McManus' Los Angeles Times think piece this past Sunday. On the conservative reaction in particular, here's another link to Reihan Salam's TNR essay, and my blog riff that emanated from it.
The White House has a link to the full text of President Bush's speech on Monday.
Here's a link to James Dobbins et al's America's Role in Nation-Building: From Germany to Iraq -- the quote in the TNR article comes from this press release. The calculation of the number of troops needed in Iraq comes from Michael Gordon's November 2003 Dispatches essay for nytimes.com.
I've previously written about the errors in postwar planning in this Slate piece, which prompted some interesting feedback. The two TNR Online articles I wrote last year on democracy promotion in the Middle East can be found here and here. The point about ideological litmus tests being applied to CPA personel is based in part on this Ariana Eunjung Cha story in the Washington Post (link via Kevin Drum) and in part on first-person accounts I've received from CPA personnel. My assertion about the lack of viable policy options to the neoconservative grand strategy in the Middle East is based in no small part on the information gleamed from a roundtable conference held last week at the University of Toronto on "International Security and the Transatlantic Divide." Thanks to Professor Jeffrey Kopstein for inviting me to participate.
The current debate about Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith crystallizes the current questioning of administration competency. General Franks' quote about Feith -- "The fucking stupidest guy on the planet" -- can be found on page 281 of Bob Woodward's Plan of Attack. Other juicy Franks quotes can be found at this Slate synopsis by Bryan Curtis. Slate's Chris Sullentrop has a pretty harsh assessment of Feith.
One of the things that got cut from the essay was my point that the situation in Iraq is not necessarily as bad as it has been portrayed in recent weeks. On the current situation in Fallujah, see this National Review Online essay by W. Thomas Smith Jr., which includes a verbatim transcript of a May 20th press conference held by held by Muhammed Ibrahim al-Juraissey, the city's mayor; Gen. Mohammed Latif, commander of the Fallujah Brigade; and Maj. Gen. James N. Mattis, commanding general of the 1st Marine Division. On the successes against Sadr's Mahdi militia, see this Washington Post account by Daniel Williams and Scott Wilson as well as this New York Times account by Edward Wong (credit must go to Andrew Sullivan for linking to all of these stories). I blogged about the progress in legal reforms in Iraq last month, and the revival of Iraqi security forces this month. Here's a link to the DoD claims about local governance.
One final caveat that got cut -- we can't rewind history and replay Iraq with better implementation. It is impossible to say with absolute certainty that the flaw lay with the idea or the implementation. I clearly think it's the implementation, but I will gladly concede that there are decent arguments out there that the idea itself was wrong as well. Fareed Zakaria's The Future of Freedom is as good a summation of these points as any, and here's a link to my take on Zakaria's thesis, with my follow-up here.
A flaw in design or implementation?
My latest TNR Online essay is now available. It's on the implications that the current difficulties in Iraq could have on the overall grand strategy of the United States. The answer depends heavily on whether one believes that the idea of exporting open societies to the Middle East was a bad idea, or whether it was a good idea married with bad implementation.
Go check it out. Footnote link will be up later in the day.
Wednesday, May 26, 2004
I am not a blogaholic, I am not a blogaholic....
Occasionally, I wonder if I devote too much time to the blog. Comparing how I spent my anniversary (not a lot of blogging) the opening of this Katie Hafner story in the New York Times does make me think that if I do have a problem, at least it's somewhat underc control by comparison:
Ah, for the good old days, when a man would steal away to his computer to download pornography.
Read the whole article, by the way -- my favorite passage was, "A few blogs have thousands of readers, but never have so many people written so much to be read by so few." And Jeff Jarvis has a nice defense of duty and blogging.
Tuesday, May 25, 2004
Not since Conan O'Brien...
The alchemy of selecting a commencement speaker is a fragile one, as these two Chicago Tribune stories by Nara Schoenberg can attest. The alchemy of delivering a graduation speech that commands the attention of matriculating students suffering from hangovers is even more fragile.
This is particularly true if you try to be funny. My standard for funny commencement speeches has been Conan O'Brien's address to Harvard's class of 2000.
Jon Stewart's address to William & Mary's class of 2004 hits the mark (link via Andrew Sullivan). The funny part -- for someone who got a Ph.D.:
The funny and poignant part:
A landmark too far
The National Trust for Historic Preservation describes itself as "the leader of the vigorous preservation movement that is saving the best of the country's past for the future." Yesterday they declared the eleven most endangered historic places in the United States. The places range from the natural (Nine Mile Canyon) to the man-made (the Bethlehem steel plant) -- and then there's the entire state of Vermont. Here's why:
This is an extreme but telling example of the reactionary phenomenon that Virginia Postrel has documented in both The Future and Its Enemies and The The Substance of Style. As Postrel put it on p. 8 of The Future and Its Enemies:
I'm not averse to historical preservation in principle, but doesn't it seem as though landmarking an entire state is an example of a landmark too far?
This debate is really about the externalities created by the demand for large retail stores versus the evident economic benefits from such stores. The National Trust is basically claiming that the externalities are so costly that they threaten the very fabric of an entire state. Politically, magnifying the externalities of big box stores makes sense, but their web page on Vermont does not provide a scintilla of evidence that these costs actually exist.
The grand irony, of course, is that a century from now -- when Wal-Marts and other big box stores are threatened from whatever the new new thing in retail turns out to be -- I have no doubt that the National Trust will start landmarking the big box stores and decrying our lost retail heritage.
Who suffers from this kind of idiotic extremism? The Chicago Tribune story by Jon Margolis about this little absurdity suggests that the residents of Vermont might disagree with the National Trust's weighing of costs and benefits:
Meanwhile, click here to read how large chains are trying to expand their urban markets while responding to local concerns in Chicago.
Monday, May 24, 2004
Open thread on Bush's latest Iraq speech
I will nt be watching Bush's speech tonight on Iraq live, as my wife and I have an anniversary to celebrate.
Feel free to comment on it here, however. The Washinghton Post's Dan Froomkin does a nice job of describing the lay of the land.
One prediction -- it will be impossible for media write-ups not to link the situation in Iraq with the physical aftereffects of Bush's bicycle accident.
Ranking the Rich, mark two
Longtime readers of the blog may remember that I was critical of the Center for Global Development for last year's Ranking the Rich. That report, if you remember, had the U.S. ranked 20th out of 21 countries in terms of helping the developing world. It was a good effort, but it stacked the deck against the U.S. in a number of ways.
In response to their feedback from last year's index, the authors of the index revised the measures used for some of the components, and added a new one -- technology.
And for all of those just waiting to ask whether the revision factored in private aid flows as well as official development assistance -- a topic I've addressed before -- here's the key passage:
Go check out the whole report -- I'll be attending a board meeting soon, so any and all constructive feedback is appreciated.
Sunday, May 23, 2004
So who are you?
Henry Copeland has posted some preliminary results from his survey of blog readers that I linked to last week. He got a decent sample size -- 17,159 respondents.
Among the more interesting findings:
The political breakdown is also interesting: