Saturday, July 24, 2004

Bipartisanship on Sudan

What with the convention season starting and the general election campaign already making people testy, we here at feel it's worth occasionally highlighting those areas of policy where both sides of the aisle are in rough agreement.

Which brings us to this Rudolph Bush story in the Chicago Tribune about Congressional pressure on Sudan's humanitarian disaster:

An unusual coalition of Congressional Black Caucus members and conservative Republicans, united by outrage over a surge of ethnic killing in Sudan, is beginning to see some success in its efforts to push the U.S. toward action.

Most notably, the House and Senate unanimously approved resolutions late Thursday declaring about 30,000 killings in Sudan's Darfur region genocide and urging the Bush administration and the United Nations to do the same.

The joining of liberal Democrats from the black caucus with such conservatives as Reps. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) and Henry Hyde (R-Ill.) could increase pressure on President Bush to adopt the genocide label, a move likely to spur action in the UN Security Council.

"I would like to see, and think it's appropriate, that the administration say this is genocide," Wolf said. "That would force the Europeans and our friends in the UN to do the same."

Threatening sanctions, the Bush administration and the UN already have called on the Sudanese government to rein in and disarm the Arab militias known as Janjaweed, who have terrorized tribes in the south, pillaging villages and killing and raping villagers....

Human-rights activists and aid workers praised Congress for pushing the issue with rare bipartisan zeal.

"You have the Christian conservative groups ... along with the Congressional Black Caucus pressing the administration to respond more robustly than it has to date," said John Prendergast, a special adviser on Africa to the Washington-based International Crisis Group. "That's an absolutely critical element in the policymaking process."

Prendergast said he couldn't recall such a broad response from Congress to a human-rights crisis since the fight against apartheid in the mid-1980s.

Wolf and Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) called the cooperation unprecedented, though the Congressional Black Caucus and religious conservatives have joined forces before to secure funding to fight AIDS abroad.

The Sudanese government was less impressed with the cooperation. Ambassador Khidir Haroun Ahmed wrote Thursday in a letter to The Washington Times that "the prevailing perception in Sudan and in the region is that the U.S. Congress is motivated by hatred and bias against Muslims and Arabs."

I did, however, find this paragraph amusing:

The black caucus and its Republican allies don't see entirely eye-to-eye on how to ensure that this aid reaches Darfur. Jackson and other caucus members have called for U.S. troops to be deployed immediately in Darfur, while Wolf and other Republicans said they prefer a multinational force, preferably staffed with soldiers from other African nations, Wolf said.

posted by Dan at 10:26 AM | Comments (28) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, July 23, 2004

Mostar rebuilds its bridge

Statebuilding can be a slow, painful process, with lots of reverses, lots of buried tensions, lots of frustration. On the other hand, a lot of time, patience, and money can occsionally yield partially successes.

In that light, it's good to read this Reuters report from the Bosnian town of Mostar:

The city of Mostar, a symbol like Sarajevo of the bloody end of Yugoslavia, has joyfully unveiled its rebuilt 16th-century bridge which some hope can help reconcile its Muslims and Croats.

Almost 11 years after Bosnian Croat artillerymen shelled it to destruction, the new "Stari Most" (Old Bridge) was officially inaugurated at a spectacular ceremony attended by international guests and delegations on Friday.

Fireworks lit up the sky high above the elegant single-span bridge at the end of a programe which featured Beethoven's "Hymn of Joy" and nine of Mostar's legendary divers jumping into the green rushing waters of Neretva with torches in their hands....

Throughout the day, the 29-metre (95-foot) bridge was the focus of all attention in the eastern, Muslim quarter ahead of the ceremony. The narrow streets in the Old Town were packed despite scorching heat and heavy security.

Rusem Srakic, a Muslim taxi driver who has returned to live in the western, Croat part of the town, said he felt "as if I was being born again, just like Mostar is being born again".

Mostar's Muslim mayor, Hamdija Jahic, told Reuters earlier on Friday: "I think this is a new beginning, that's what citizens have been telling me too. You can feel a special atmosphere all over."

UNESCO and the World Bank were helped in the $15 million project by other institutions and governments including the Council of Europe, Croatia, Turkey and Italy.

The original bridge was commissioned by Suleiman the Magnificent about 100 years after Turkey's Ottoman empire claimed the Balkans.

It stood the tests of time and war until November 1993, when it succumbed to Bosnian Croat high explosives in an attack condemned globally as an act of sheer vandalism.

In a painstaking reconstruction, Turkish engineers and other experts used white marble from the original quarry nearby and a combination of old techniques and new technology to build an exact replica.

posted by Dan at 09:29 PM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

Entering the lion's GOAt's den

Monday night I'll be debating Kennette Benedict, the director of the International Peace and Security Area of the Program on Global Security and Sustainability at the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, about "Democracy Defined: Wield or Yield?" -- in a bar.

Monica Eng explains why in the Chicago Tribune:

If you've ever been to any, you'd know that few Chicago Council on Foreign Relations events wrap up with the emcee shouting: "You guys rocked tonight!"

But the program at Schubas last month was not your grandfather's CCFR event.

Instead of mature types nodding -- and nodding off -- over coffee, tea and long foreign policy speeches, the place was full of hipster kids with bare bellies and Ira Glass-like specs who occasionally yelped at debaters between gulps of beer.

That is exactly what the planners were hoping for when they hatched the concept of moving council events into the neighborhoods and bars. Like many venerable Chicago institutions facing aging memberships, the 82-year-old CCFR is clearly in the market for a new generation of patrons.

The program, which started last month and is scheduled to continue monthly through November, is called GOAt, a rough acronym for Globally Occupying the Attention of Chicago's Untapped Audience.

"The usual council audience is a lot of gray-beards like me and a couple of young people," noted Richard Longworth, the executive director for the Council's Global Chicago Center. "But tonight there were a couple of graybeards in the audience but mostly much younger people. It's great. We wanted a younger, more diverse crowd and one that might have been a little intimidated about going to meetings downtown. Schubas is a great place to do it."

Well, I'm certainly looking forward to "getting down," as they call it, with the young people.

Of course, the crowd might not feel the same way, as Eng elaborates:

In June, Northwestern political science professor Karen J. Alter (sporting frizzy hair, a tank top, peasant skirt and clogs) challenged Lincoln Legal Foundation President Joseph Morris (sporting a standard-issue blue suit, red bow tie and carefully combed hair) to a debate about U.S. foreign policy in Iraq.

From the shouts and applause during the debate it was clear that most attendees were not Bush fans....

Dick Prall (the name as published has been corrected in this text), the GOAt organizer, said he hopes these events will counter the perception that the council is only for oldsters and liberals.

"CCFR is not a liberal organization, not when we bring in people like Richard Perle and Condoleezza Rice," he says. "We want people to bring along conservatives so we can get the sparks flying."

Schubas booker Matt Rucins, who also schedules the emcees, concedes that both [Hideout nightclub co-owner Tim] Tuten and Monday's host, [Raucous singer/artist] Langford, are not exactly conservatives.

But as he explains, when the equation is hipster plus rock plus Chicago -- a liberal sum is hard to avoid. Does Rucins think he'll be able to come up with at least one righty emcee before the series is up?

"That would be very hard," he said. "In all honesty I don't know if I could find anybody. Maybe after this article comes out someone will suggest somebody."

[Sounds like a tough crowd--ed. No sweat -- all I have to do is pull off the frizzy hair-tank-top-peasant-skirt-and-clogs look.]

In all seriousness, this kind of format and venue is a great idea, and I'm happy to have the opportunity to drink and debate at the same time.

To repeat, this GOAt session will be held at Schuba's (located at 3159 N. Southport), starting at 7:00 PM. Chicago residents interested in attending can buy their tickets by clicking here.

posted by Dan at 11:41 AM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (3)

Thursday, July 22, 2004

Hey, Karl Rove!! Over here!!!

Glenn Reynolds offers some advice for Karl Rove:

One suspects that most big media outlets, already none-too-eager to cover the Sandy Berger Trousergate fiasco, will use the release of the 9/11 Commission report as an excuse to ignore it.

If I were Karl Rove, I'd encourage Republicans to counter this by prefacing all comments on the report with something like this: "In light of the ongoing criminal investigation involving charges that former Kerry foreign policy adviser Sandy Berger stole top secret documents from Commission files, we can't be sure that the Commission had all the facts at its disposal, but. . . "

With all due respect to Glenn, that's really, really bad advice.

The business with Berger is an inside-the-Beltway story that certainly diminishes Berger's standing but in the end doesn't amount to much (see Fred Kaplan's Slate assessment for more -- I'm not quite as sanguine as Kaplan, for reasons Tom Maguire lays out here).

The 9-11 Commission report, on the other hand, amounts to a great deal. What's at stake isn't the post-mortem spin on responsibility for 9/11 as much as "where do we go from here?" The policy recommendations for intelligence, counterterrorism, homeland security and congressional oversight are all elaborate and important (I'll reserve judgment on the foreign policy recommendations). I care a hell of a lot more about that than what was in Sandy Berger's trousers, and I suspect most Americans do as well.

Peter Robinson's advice to Karl Rove over at The Corner makes a great deal more sense:

Shouldn't the President address the nation tonight? He could thank the Commission and say his top priority is making sure this doesn't happen again...he should be a hard*** on this issue, but instead he meekly takes the report and says it is "solid"...that's it? Doesn't he understand this is THE issue? Why isn't he talking about the Patriot Act, Airline Safety, Intelligence, and Border security EVERY DAY until election day...

Indeed. This report contains some useful, nonpartisan suggestions for policy reforms -- some of which transfer coordinating powers to the White House, something every President likes.

So Karl, tell Bush to own this report. Make it clear to the American people that he gets it, and takes the issue seriously. Leave Berger's post-mortem to the blogs.

UPDATE: Alan Wirzbicki praises 9-11 Commission executive director Philip Zelikow over at TNR Online, echoing what I said a few weeks ago.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Fred Kaplan agrees on the virtues of the Commission's proposed reforms -- and, in a roundabout way, what the President needs to do about it:

Everything that the panel wants to do has been tried, in one way or another, in the past. The government doesn't change in so dramatic a fashion unless the president pushes hard for the change. New priorities mean nothing unless budgets reflect them. New superagencies mean nothing unless their managers have the power to control the purse strings of their constituent parts. Better intelligence means nothing unless the president wants to hear it—and at least seriously considers acting on it.

posted by Dan at 04:44 PM | Comments (90) | Trackbacks (3)

The trouble with racial profiling

It looks like the Annie Jacobsen story has been put to bed, but the debate on the relative merits of racial profiling in the comment threads here, here, here, and here has been pretty intense.

So, as a public service, here is Sara Sefeed's response to Annie Jacobsen in the Persian Mirror. Sefeed has her own disturbing experience with airport security when she's issued a boarding pass with the wrong name and no one notices.

Safeed's proposed reforms sound just as overwrought as Jacobsen's original account -- her complaint that "everything in the US is privatized and there is no unison among the different states, companies, and airlines, no one person seems to have jurisdiction or responsibility over anything" is as unfocused as the supposed target of her lament. That said, she does have a good closing paragraph:

I, an Iranian, born in Tehran have green eyes, light skin and light brown hair. You would never “profile” me under anything except maybe a wasp from the Upper West Side. I know plenty of Italians, Spaniards, Irish, Serbs, Croatians, Greeks, Portuguese, French, and Russians who have black hair, dark eyes, and olive skin. And even within the Arab community, should there not be a difference between a Saudi, an Egyptian, a Jordanian, a Kuwaiti, or an Iraqi? How do we “profile” them? Instead of trying to make the world a Mickey Mouse Park where things fit neatly into boxes and security agents can pick and choose “terrorists” with color-coded instructions from the government, shouldn’t we put some real brains behind the plethora of terrorist networks that continue to terrorize our daily activities all over the world? The question then is not would I mind “racial profiling” as a “Middle-Easterner” but rather would do you mind, if they ask you a few relevant questions at the airport the next time you board a plane.

UPDATE: This story by Eric Leonard casts further doubt on Jacobsen's account:

Undercover federal air marshals on board a June 29 Northwest airlines flight from Detroit to LAX identified themselves after a passenger, “overreacted,” to a group of middle-eastern men on board, federal officials and sources have told KFI NEWS.

The passenger, later identified as Annie Jacobsen, was in danger of panicking other passengers and creating a larger problem on the plane, according to a source close to the secretive federal protective service....

“The lady was overreacting,” said the source. “A flight attendant was told to tell the passenger to calm down; that there were air marshals on the plane.”

The middle eastern men were identified by federal agents as a group of touring musicians travelling to a concert date at a casino, said Air Marshals spokesman Dave Adams.

Jacobsen wrote she became alarmed when the men made frequent trips to the lavatory, repeatedly opened and closed the overhead luggage compartments, and appeared to be signaling each other.

“Initially it was brought to [the air marshals] attention by a passenger,” Adams said, adding the agents had been watching the men and chose to stay undercover.

Jacobsen and her husband had a number of conversations with the flight attendants and gestured towards the men several times, the source said.

“In concert with the flight crew, the decision was made to keep [the men] under surveillance since no terrorist or criminal acts were being perpetrated aboard the aircraft; they didn’t interfere with the flight crew,” Adams said.

The air marshals did, however, check the bathrooms after the middle-eastern men had spent time inside, Adams said.

FBI agents met the plane when it landed in Los Angeles and the men were questioned, and Los Angeles field office spokeswoman Cathy Viray said it’s significant the alarm on the flight came from a passenger.

“We have to take all calls seriously, but the passenger was worried, not the flight crew or the federal air marshals,” she said. “The complaint did not stem from the flight crew.”

“You made me nervous,” Kevin said the air marshal told him.

“I was freaking out,” Kevin replied.

“We don’t freak out in situations like this,” the air marshal responded.

Federal agents later verified the musicians’ story.

“We followed up with the casino,” Adams said. A supervisor verified they were playing a concert. A second federal law enforcement source said the concert itself was monitored by an agent.

“We also went to the hotel, determined they had checked into the hotel,” Adams said. Each of the men were checked through a series of databases and watch-lists with negative results, he said.

The source said the air marshals on the flight were partially concerned Jacobsen’s actions could have been an effort by terrorists or attackers to create a disturbance on the plane to force the agents to identify themselves.

Air marshals’ only tactical advantage on a flight is their anonymity, the source said, and Jacobsen could have put the entire flight in danger.

LAST UPDATE: Michelle Malkin, blogging with a vengeance, reports and follows up on the visa status of the Syrians.

posted by Dan at 03:49 PM | Comments (23) | Trackbacks (5)

How do Americans and Europeans feel about trade?

That's the question asked by the German Marshall Fund of the United States, which helped commission a four-country public opinion survey on the subject entitled Reconciling Trade and Poverty Reduction.

The fund concludes that "support for free trade remains robust." After reading the report, I'm more pessimistic. This is from the accompanying press release:

[W]hile free trade is popular, the instruments through which it is delivered – the EU internal market and NAFTA – are not. Forty-three percent of American respondents support the “free flow of people, goods, and services” between the US, Canada, and Mexico, but only 4% support NAFTA....

More than half (56%) of respondents feel that multinational corporations benefit most from trade. The numbers are particularly high in France (65%), Germany (62%) and the US (53%). Slightly less than half of the British respondents (43%) see multinationals as the prime beneficiaries. (emphasis added)

The report goes onto suggest ways to pitch free trade policies in politically friendly ways. Consider this proposed phrasing:

International trade contributes to prosperity and should therefore be welcomed, but not at all cost. The United States and European Union must stand up for labor and human rights standards and protect our jobs, the environment, and our children. Otherwise we'll get a race to the bottom, with jobs being moved to sweatshops in China, workers in developing countries living under abominable conditions, and the loss of our ability to protect against tainted foods. That would be a race without winners, perhaps with the exception of a small group of big business.

That's just a God-awful way to sell free trade, because it admits a falsity. Smart people like Stephen Roach are dredging up the race-to-the-bottom argument to explain the current job market, but it's just wrong. The statement that "workers in developing countries living under abominable conditions" with more globalization is particularly egregious.

On the other hand, this message works for me:

International trade has both positive and negative effects. International trade brings a lot of benefits -- lower consumer prices, more choice -- but also causes a lot of disruption in millions of workers' households with people losing their jobs. With the world becoming a smaller and smaller place, we need to make trade work for everyone. For us here in the United States and Europe, that means we need to invest more in skills and technology so that our economy becomes more flexible and innovative -- that is where our best opportunities lie for the future.

This phrasing has the twin virtues of greater acccuracy and greater optimism.

One final interesting finding:

Americans are less favorable toward further international trade deals than Europeans. A high proportion of Europeans – 82% of French and 83% of British – want more international trade agreements, compared to just 54% in the US.

Go check it out.

posted by Dan at 03:42 PM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)

Open 9-11 Commission thread

Feel free to discuss the 9-11 Commission's final report here (here's a link to the executive summary, but be warned that the Commission's website seems overwhelmed at the moment. Kudos to the paper of record for having a copy on their own website). Dan Eggen and Dafna Linzer have a good advance summary in today's Washington Post. CNN has some initial reactions here -- and refreshingly, they're pretty much free of partisan sniping despite interviews with the House minority leader and House majority whip -- but that could be because Congress as an institution takes it on the chin in the report, according to the NYT.

UPDATE: From the Times report linked above, some details about the proposed intelligence reform:

Officials had previously disclosed the central recommendation, the creation of a post of so-called national intelligence director to coordinate the intelligence community, with budget authority over the Central Intelligence Agency and other intelligence agencies. But they offered new details about the proposal on Wednesday, saying the report called for the intelligence director to operate in the executive office of the president and to have cabinet-level authority, but not to be in the cabinet itself.

This sounds like creating a position akin to the NSC or NEC advisor, while essentially stripping the CIA director of the Director of Central Intelligence title, in which s/he is ostensibly in charge of overall coordination of the disparate intelligence agencies.

At first glance, this makes a great deal of sense to me -- having intelligence coordination run by an honest broker with a small secretariat through the White House would give the new coordinator the clout that the CIA directors have tended to lack in their DCI role. But I reserve the right to change my mind after consulting with those better informed than I. [UPDATE: Hmmm... both The New Republic and The National Review agree with my first glance. James Joyner has some links to people who don't agree.]

Of course, this also explains why the acting CIA head is fighting the proposal tooth and nail.

posted by Dan at 11:44 AM | Comments (22) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

The power and politics of blogs

Longtime readers of are aware that I've been trying to exploit my hobby (blogging) for professional gain (peer-reviewed publications). Towards that end, Henry Farrell and I have been slowly co-authoring a paper on blogs and politics.

We've completed our first draft of "The Power and Politics of Blogs." Henry ably summarizes our key arguments:

(1) Blogging is politically important in large part because it affects mainstream media, and helps set the terms of political debate (in political science jargon, it creates ‘focal points’ and ‘frames’). Note that we don’t provide an exhaustive account of blogs and politics - some aspects of blogging (fundraising for parties, effects on political values in the general public), we don’t have more than anecdotal data on. There’s plenty of room for other people to do interesting research on all of this.

(2) Incoming links in the political blogosphere are systematically skewed, but not according to a “power law” distribution, as Clay Shirky and others have argued of the blogosphere as a whole. Instead, they follow a lognormal distribution. We reckon that the most likely explanation for this is that offered by Pennock et al. - they argue that not only do the ‘rich get richer’ (i.e. sites that already have a lot of links tend to get more), but that link-poor sites stand a chance of becoming rich too. Late entrants into the political blogosphere can do well in the political blogosphere as long as they’re interesting and attract some attention - bad timing isn’t destiny.

(3) Because of the systematic skewedness of the political blogosphere, a few “focal point” sites can provide a rough index of what is going on in the blogosphere - interesting points of view on other sites will often percolate up to them as smaller blogs try to get big blogs to link to them, by informing them of interesting stories. Thus, we may expect that journalists and other media types who read blogs will tend to all gravitate towards a few ‘big name’ bloggers as their way of keeping up with what is going on in the blogosphere as a whole.

Both bloggers and blog readers are encouraged to download it and tell us what you think.

Be warned, however: this paper is primarily intended for a scholarly auduence, which means there's some jargon that might appear confusing but is -- like most jargon -- a form of shorthand for fellow professionals.

Most of it should be pretty digestible, however. Read it and post your comments below or over at Crooked Timber.

Finally, a quick thank-you to Henry -- I've tried co-authoring papers in the past, and it's been a disaster. This paper was a breeze.

UPDATE: More scholar-blogger research from Glenn Reynolds. With experimental evidence no less!

More seriously, this report by Jeff Jarvis from his Aspen Institute experience with Big Media machers supports one of our paper's hypotheses. In particular:

I gave a spiel on technology and the newsroom -- about more than just weblogs, but it turned into a discussion of just weblogs -- and at our closing session, half the [media macher] participants said they were awakened about blogs and even frightened of being left behind in this blog thing. In previous sessions like this, I've heard half the big media guys dis and dismiss blogs, but there was none of that here, none of it. The curiousity about blogs ranged from cautious to cordial to rabid. These big media guys (not unlike the mullahs of Iran) realize that blogs are here to stay; we are a force to be reckoned with; and now they're reckoning what to do about it.

UPDATE: Tyler Cowen offers constructive criticism and calls the paper a "mini-classic."

Dean Esmay offers a long critique that boils down to:

[T]hey seem to have missed the most obvious point of all: that our poltical discourse in America has always been influenced by a comparatively tiny number of voices.

Dean points to small-circulation political magazines as evidence for this recurring pattern in American political history.

I think I can speak for Henry as well as myself when I say that we are aware of this fact. Indeed, what we find interesting is that this phenomenon has been replicated for the blogosphere. However, compared to blogs, these kind of publications generally posses two advantages. First, a lot of elite media journals have been founded and operated by those who were already politically influential and well-connected. Second, these journals needed to have sufficient resources to pay for minor things like salaries, distribution, and printing runs.

Neither of these conditions holds particularly well for blogs. No doubt, some pioneer bloggers -- Andrew Sullivan most notably -- have been well-connected. But this is not true of most of the influential bloggers. As for material resources, some bloggers are now able to earn some scratch, but this is an effect rather than a cause of their success.

What's interesting is that despite these differences, and despite the low barriers to entry, the blogosphere looks like a similar link on the oipinion chain.

posted by Dan at 06:27 PM | Comments (24) | Trackbacks (11)

Your environmental quote of the day

In my mailbox today I found David Victor's Climate Change: Debating America's Policy Options, which was sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations. David is a disgustingly prolific and competent writer with a cv longer than my arm, so it's worth paying attention to what he writes.

The book maps out three possible policy options for the coping with climate change. Flipping through, I came across this assessment of the myriad predictions about the extent of global warming by the year 2100 (p. 11):

The most recent full assessment of the science was completed in 2001 by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) an international assessment process involving thousands of scientists from around the world, including most of the best climate scientists from the United States. The IPCC examined uncertainties in the full chain from emissions of greenhouse gases to changes in climate and concluded that by 2100 the global climate will probably warm from between 1.4oC to 5.8oC. That range is actually wider than that predicted by the previous IPCC study just five years earlier, mainly because the most recent scenarios for emissions of greenhouse gases account for a much greater variety of possible futures and also because new climate models assume a wider range of possible climate sensitivities. In 2001 President Bush asked the NAS to convene a panel of distinguished scientists to review several key questions related to climate change, including the main findings of the IPCC report; the NAS panel reached essentially the same conclusions as the IPCC....

We find it striking that more than two decades of intense research, reflecting a total investment of perhaps as much as $30 billion worldwide, has actually expanded the estimated change in temperature. That investment has not narrowed any key estimates of other changes in climate, such as the frequency and intensity of storms or the risks of drought. As scientists have learned more about the climate system, they have uncovered a vast field of unturned stones. (emphasis added)

For a very long pdf version of the report, click here.

posted by Dan at 05:03 PM | Comments (32) | Trackbacks (2)

The Annie Jacobsen Rorshach test

I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest that maybe -- just maybe -- ideology is affecting people's responses to the Annie Jacobsen story.

From the right: Atlanta Journal-Constitution columnist Shaunti Feldhahn. For her, this is a story about civil liberties run amok:

When I checked out this story, I was troubled to find both that this was not an isolated incident, and that a fear of racial profiling, fines and lawsuits is weakening our air security system.

According to Senate testimony, airlines are fined by the government or sued by individuals or the American Civil Liberties Union if they veer from "random screening" policies to question more than two people from any ethnic/geographic group before allowing them to board. That would mean 12 of those Syrians couldn't be questioned.

In other testimony, the Transportation Security Administration announced it was reconsidering its long-awaited customer-screening system, due to civil liberties complaints. All this must be good news to the terrorists, who will willingly exploit our commendable desire not to discriminate.

I asked a senior pilot for a major airline whether the airlines felt unable to properly screen passengers. His answer: "That is probably true. They are having so many financial issues already, and if one screener is rushed and doesn't use just the right words, or pulls aside too many people from one group, the company is out $10 million from a racial profiling lawsuit."....

At the moment, we seem unbalanced. Unlike some, I believe fragile grandmothers should be questioned too: Evildoers can hide weapons in Grandma's walker. But screening should not be "random." Most countries rigorously screen anyone from higher-risk categories, which, unfortunately, includes a higher percentage of young, Middle Eastern men.

I've already said why I think this is a bad idea.

Although the fear of litigation is a worthy topic, most conservative commentators are eliding the fact that the system appeared to work in this case. Contrary to Jacobsen's assertions, the Syrian passengers were searched prior to boarding the initial leg of their flight. The air marshalls (FAM) and FBI investigated and found nothing untoward. Jacobsen was clearly rattled -- but the first priority of homeland security should be about, you know, protecting the homeland. Releiving the anxiety of passengers would be a nice dividend, but it's not the primary goal.

From the left: Salon's "Ask the Pilot" columnist Patrick Smith. He thinks Jacobsen's account is bigoted and hysterical:

[Jacobsen's story is] six pages of the worst grade-school prose, spring-loaded with mindless hysterics and bigoted provocation....

Fourteen dark-skinned men from Syria board Northwest's flight 327, seated in two separate groups. Some are carrying oddly shaped bags and wearing track suits with Arabic script across the back. During the flight the men socialize, gesture to one another, move about the cabin with pieces of their luggage, and, most ominous of all, repeatedly make trips to the bathroom....

Intriguing, no? I, for one, fully admit that certain acts of airborne crime and treachery may indeed open the channels to a debate on civil liberties. Pray tell, what happened? Gunfight at 37,000 feet? Valiant passengers wrestle a grenade from a suicidal operative? Hero pilots beat back a cockpit takeover?

Well, no. As a matter of fact, nothing happened. Turns out the Syrians are part of a musical ensemble hired to play at a hotel. The men talk to one another. They glance around. They pee.

That's it?

That's it.

Actually, no, that was not it, and Smith is being disingenuous in the extreme to suggest otherwise. A Federal Air Marshal Service spokesman confirmed that marshalls met the plane in Los Angeles and questioned the Syrians -- a fact that Smith abjectly fails to mention in his essay. Maybe the behavior was innocent, maybe not -- I'll never know. But the FAM's interest in the flight suggests at a minimum that something suspicious was going on, and for Smith to blithely dismiss Jacobsen's account as racist stuff and nonsense is absurd.

I'm perfectly happy to have airline professionals say that this was much ado about nothing -- like Michelle Catalano, I want to hear that this was much ado about nothing -- but Smith's half-assed efforts at snark don't cut it.

UPDATE: Clinton W. Taylor has a fact-filled report over at NRO that clears up a lot of confusion. The highlights:

1) The Syrians were in a band -- the lead singer is Nour Mehana.

2) Taylor provides another source of concern about the Feds' reaction:

June 29 was no ordinary day in the skies. That day, Department of Homeland Security officials issued an "unusually specific internal warning," urging customs officials to watch out for Pakistanis with physical signs of rough training in the al Qaeda training camps. The warning specifically mentioned Detroit and Los Angeles's LAX airports, the origin and terminus of NWA flight 327.

That means that our air-traffic system was expecting trouble. But rather than land the plane in Las Vegas or Omaha, it was allowed to continue on to Los Angeles without interruption, as if everything were hunky-dory on board. It certainly wasn't. If this had been the real thing, and the musicians had instead been terrorists, nothing was stopping them from taking control of the plane or assembling a bomb in the restroom. Given the information they were working with at the time, almost everyone should have reacted differently than they did.

Thanks to Taylor for doing the digging. I knew those Stanford poli sci Ph.D. candidates were worth something!!

posted by Dan at 01:34 PM | Comments (48) | Trackbacks (0)

My rare agreement with the preservationists

In the fall of 2003, Chicago unveiled the newly-renovated Soldier Field. The new stadium grafted a futuristic-looking bowl onto a classic structure of Doric colonnades.

The result? From the outside, it's a butt-ugly effect. Soldier Field now looks like an alien spaceship humping the Parthenon. Blair Kamin, The Tribune's excellent architecture critic, described it as "an architectural close encounter of the worst kind."

Think I'm exaggerating? Go take the official virtual tour and notice that the only exterior picture of the stadium is partially obstructed by trees. By all accounts, I hear that the interior of the stadium is actually quite nice. Driving by it on Lake Shore Drive, however, most people just shudder in revulsion.

So I can't say I'm shocked to read the following story by Hal Dardick and David Mendell in today's Chicago Tribune:

Setting a flying saucer stadium inside the classical columns of Soldier Field destroyed its historic character, so the structure should be stripped of its National Historic Landmark status, federal architecture analysts said this week.

The National Park Service on Tuesday sent its recommendation to withdraw landmark status, the highest honor the government bestows on buildings and places, from the Chicago Park District, which owns the structure. Federal officials also recommended removing the venerable stadium from the National Register of Historic Places.

That was the first step in a monthslong process to decide whether the stadium will lose its historic designations, something historic preservationists warned would be triggered by the controversial $660 million renovation of the Bears' home.

Soldier Field "no longer retains its historic integrity," states a three-page report written by staff for the National Park System Advisory Board. "The futuristic new stadium bowl is visually incompatible with the classical colonnades and the perimeter wall of the historic stadium."

"During the process of new construction, many historic features and spaces were obliterated," it continues. "With the exception of the colonnades, exterior walls and a small seating area on the south end of the bowl, very little of the historic fabric remains."

The report now goes to the Advisory Board Landmarks Committee, which in September will make a recommendation to the full board, which will forward its recommendation to the U.S. secretary of the interior for a decision.

All I can add is, good for the National Park Service.

posted by Dan at 10:47 AM | Comments (12) | Trackbacks (1)

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Does this say anything about No Child Left Behind?

Chicago Tribune reporter Stephanie Banchero spent a school year chronicling one family's efforts to exploit the No Child Left Behind act. The result has been three front-page stories in a row amounting to over 11,000 words --in order, click here, here, and then here.

The story is an affecting one -- third-grader Rayola Victoria Carwell starts the year transferring to a good school way out of her neighborhood, but in the end is transferred back to a neighborhood school of lesser quality. At one juncture, Banchero doubts the worthiness of the law:

No Child Left Behind rests on the basic premise that giving poor children access to better schools will translate into a better education.

The law expects schools such as Stockton to make sure Victoria and every other child can read, write and do math at the required grade level. Schools that do not score well are branded as failures and face a series of sanctions that eventually could shut them down. But the law is mute on the complex issues that shape Victoria's home life, issues that also affect her classroom performance....

By law, children transferring schools under No Child Left Behind are the neediest in the system. Most live in poverty and post some of the lowest scores on state achievement exams. But in what many educators call a monumental shortcoming, the law does not require schools do anything extra to help these children or their families once they arrive at new higher-performing campuses.

Sounds bad, except that the three-part story undercuts that hypothesis. The Stockton school finds funding through other grant sources to address the kind of concerns Banchero raises -- all for naught, as the mother persistently fails to follow through on the offers for help. Furthermore, even after Victoria transfers back to a local neighborhood school, she experiences the same problem she did at Stockton -- truancy.

Then there's this tidbit from the last of the three articles:

Of the 14 children who transferred to Stockton Elementary at the beginning of the school year, five moved into special-education classes, and five did well and passed to the next grade, school officials say. Only Rayola, her two brothers and her cousin left the school.

I'd still recommend reading the articles, if only to realize the concrete constraints of any public policy when confronting a difficult home life. But it would be wrong to generalize anything from the Carwells' story.

posted by Dan at 03:54 PM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (2)

What the f@$# was Sandy Berger thinking?

So Sandy Berger is in a spot of trouble, according to John Solomon's AP report:

Sandy Berger, former President Clinton's national security adviser, is under criminal investigation by the Justice Department after highly classified terrorism documents disappeared while he was reviewing what should be turned over to the Sept. 11 commission....

Berger and his lawyer said Monday night he knowingly removed the handwritten notes by placing them in his jacket and pants, and also inadvertently took copies of actual classified documents in a leather portfolio.

"I deeply regret the sloppiness involved, but I had no intention of withholding documents from the commission, and to the contrary, to my knowledge, every document requested by the commission from the Clinton administration was produced," Berger said in a statement to the AP.

The Washington Post has more details.

Andrew Sullivan is "gob-smacked." Josh Marshall finds it "inexplicable," while Glenn Reynolds says it's "bizarre." That's pretty much my reaction -- no, wait, what truly shocks me is Berger's stupidity. Berger was NSC advisor when John Deutsch got into serious trouble for a similar (though not identical) screw-up while CIA director. It's not like Berger was unaware of the ramifications of the act.

I have no idea why he did it, and like Virginia Postrel am willing to believe that Berger did not have nefarious motives. However, it's very amusing to read Josh Marshall assert that this story was "the product of a malicious leak." That's a definite possibility -- just as it's a possibility that Berger did what he did to assemble ammunition for the Democrats to engage in partisan attacks on the Bush administration's Al Qaeda policies. One certainly does not excuse the other, but Josh's "shocked, shocked!" routine about Republican shenanigans -- in contrast to his überparsing defenses of similar Democrat shenanigans -- is wearing a bit thin.

UPDATE: One counterpoint -- some are using this story as an example of media bias, implying that if Condi Rice had done this it would have gotten more play. That's true, but not because of ideology. Berger is now a private citizen (albeit one advising the Kerry campaign); Rice is a government official. This type of behavior will (and should) command more attention from those in power than from those who are now out of power.

ANOTHER UPDATE: This blogger posts the following:

I have a reader who is involved with the government's efforts to fight terror, and he has connections who tell him the big suspicion is that Berger took things he thought would help Kerry in the Presidential campaign.

Even though -- as I speculated -- this is a possibility, bear in mind that Berger did this back in October 2003 -- when John Kerry was not the frontrunner, and Berger was listed as a foreign policy advisor for at least four candidates.

Also, David Gergen said the following in the Fox News story:

David Gergen, who was an adviser to Clinton and worked with Berger for a time in the White House, said Tuesday, "I think it's more innocent than it looks."

"I have known Sandy Berger for a long time," Gergen said in a television interview. "He would never do anything to compromise the security of the United States."

LAST UPDATE: Berger has announced he won't be advising the Kerry campaign. Sounds about right.

One final question -- does this episode provide empirical support for Jacob Levy's contention that shadow cabinets are a mistake or my contention that they would be a good idea?

LAST UPDATE: Glenn Reynolds has a lot more . And this Josh Marshall follow-on acknowledges that Berger brought this on himself. Marshall believes that this was a Republican leak, but both Kevin Drum and Matthew Yglesias postulate that, for various reasons, the leak came from a Democrat (links via InstaPundit).

posted by Dan at 03:10 PM | Comments (87) | Trackbacks (13)

Before everyone gets too excited....

Longtime readers of may wonder whether it's possible for me to reconcile my pro-immigration, libertarian perspective with my concerns about homeland security. Annie Jacobsen favors racial profiling over political correctness if it means preventing terrorist attacks; many of the commenters believe a crackdown on immigration is necessary.

My position is as follows:

1) Yes, homeland security is a serious issue that justifies greater expenditures and attention by the government -- but my concerns, like Stephen Flynn, have much less to do with airports and more to do with the critical infrastructures that have received less attention -- railroads, utilities, power stations, etc.

2) I'm far from convinced that techniques like profiling would actually do anything to prevent terrorist attacks (though it might soothe the jitters of travellers like Annie Jacobsen). The problems with profiling come through in this interesting paper by Samidh Chakrabarti and Aaron Strauss (thanks to Doug Merrill from A Fistful of Euros for the link). One key paragraph:

This transparency is the Achilles’ Heel of CAPS; the fact that individuals know their CAPS status enables the system to be reverse engineered. You... know if you’re carryons have been manually inspected. You know if you’ve been questioned. You know if you’re asked to stand in a special line. You know if you’ve been frisked. All of this open scrutiny makes it possible to learn an anti-profile to defeat CAPS, even if the profile itself is always kept secret. We call this the “Carnival Booth Effect” since, like a carnie, it entices terrorists to “Step Right Up! See if you’re a winner!” In this case, the terrorist can step right up and see if he’s been flagged.

The one counterargument to this is that terrorist networks would have difficulty making the necessary adjustment -- i.e., finding someone who didn't fit the pre-set profile. However, if Al Qaeda can recruit a John Walker Lindh, this doesn't strike me as a terribly convincing counterargument.

3) The costs of blocking immigration cannot be lightly dismissed. The National Foundation for American Policy came out this week with an interesting study on how immigration contributes to America's science and technology base. This is from their press release:

60 percent of the nation’s top science students and 65 percent of the top math students are the children of immigrants.

A new study released Monday by NFAP also shows that foreign-born high school students make up 50 percent of the 2004 U.S. Math Olympiad’s top scorers, 38 percent of the U.S. Physics Team, and 25 percent of the Intel Science Talent Search finalists—the United States’ most prestigious awards for young scientists and mathematicians....

If opponents of immigration had succeeded over the past 20 years, two-thirds of the most outstanding future American scientists and mathematicians would not be here today because U.S. policy would have barred their parents from entering the United States,” said Anderson. Anderson made his comments at a news conference at the National Press Club to release the study’s key findings....

Today, more than 50 percent of the engineers with Ph.D.s working in the United States – and 45 percent of math and computer scientists with Ph.D.s – are foreign-born, according to the National Science Foundation.

Here's a link to the .pdf report. This echoes a point made by Richard Monastersky earlier this month in the Chronicle of Higher Education (subscription required). One highlight:

Last fall the president of the University of Maryland found himself doing something that none of his predecessors would have dreamed of trying. While on a trip to Taiwan, C. Dan Mote Jr. spent part of his time recruiting Taiwanese students to go to the United States for graduate school.

"Can you imagine an American university president doing that?" he asks.

In 1988 Taiwan sent more students to the United States than did any other foreign country, primarily to study science and engineering. But in the past decade, the flow of talented Taiwanese has started to dry up, and graduate enrollment has declined by 25 percent. "This is a new day we're experiencing," says Mr. Mote....

Even critics of the gloomy forecasts, however, say that America's science-and-engineering machine faces significant challenges in a world much altered by global competition and increasing diversity at home. The landscape has changed markedly from the days when a group of technically trained white men put another group of white men on the moon. As the number of those men entering science has declined, national leaders have sought to bring more women and minorities into the enterprise. At the same time, the United States has come to rely on an increasing proportion of foreign talent -- a strategy that could prove shortsighted if current restrictions on obtaining visas force international students and researchers to go elsewhere.

So there.

posted by Dan at 11:48 AM | Comments (43) | Trackbacks (3)

Hitting the big time

Hmmm... maybe there is a financial future in blogging.

When big budget movies start advertising on your blog (see the ad for The Manchurian Candidate remake on your right), you know the media market has changed.

Ah, but will ever hit the "big four" from Jerry Maguire --"shoe, car, clothing-line, soft-drink. The four jewels of the celebrity endorsement dollar."?

[Are those four really the appropriate "big" products for the blogosphere?--ed. No, the four jewels of the blogosphere would probably be search engines, newspapers, films, and glossy magazines. Readers are invited to suggest their "big four."]

UPDATE: Ask and you shall receive!! See the brand-new New Yorker ad on the right!!

posted by Dan at 10:03 AM | Comments (11) | Trackbacks (1)

Monday, July 19, 2004

Things get even weirder in Palestine

Last week I blogged about the UN envoy who reported that things were going to hell in a handbasket in the occupied territories -- in no small part because of the dearth of progress on reforming the Palestinian Authority's corrupt institutions.

So what's going on in Gaza this week? Lamia Lahoud reports some strange doings in the Jerusalem Post:

Palestinian official sources in Gaza and the West Bank claimed Monday that Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat was behind the kidnapping of police chief Ghazi Jebali over the weekend.
One source said those who were behind the kidnapping were on Arafat's payroll. Another source said it was Arafat's way of removing the unpopular police chief from his post.

Arafat backtracked Monday from his appointment of Musa Arafat as Gaza security chief, saying the Central Committee of Fatah and Interior Minister Hakam Balawi appointed him.

Fatah protested the appointment accusing Musa Arafat of corruption.

A PA official said Arafat appointed his nephew to counter former Gaza security chief Muhammad Dahlan's growing influence in Gaza. The official said Dahlan was behind all the protests against Arafat's appointment. Dahlan did not deny the accusations.

As the Christian Science Monitor put it in an editorial:

Israel has already given up on him as a potential peacemaker. So has President Bush.

Now, 10 years after becoming the first president of the Palestinian Authority, Yasser Arafat last weekend saw how his own people are willing to turn against him.

Cynthia Johnston has more in her Reuters report:

Scrambling to defuse a Palestinian leadership crisis, President Yasser Arafat has named a new security chief over the head of a cousin whose appointment led to a weekend of violence by gunmen protesting at corruption.

But Prime Minister Ahmed Qurie kept the heat on Arafat by saying he stood for now by his resignation, tendered in frustration over what he called an explosion of "chaos and lawlessness" that he has been powerless to stop.

Arafat, 75, is facing the stiffest challenge to his leadership since Palestinians received a measure of self-rule from Israel a decade ago. Some fear it could eventually boil over into civil war.

The confrontation is also widely seen as a power struggle between Arafat's old guard and younger rivals staking out turf before Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon carries out a plan to remove Jewish settlements from Gaza by the end of 2005.

A story by Laila al-Haddad in Lebanon's Daily Star suggests that, "most Palestinians agree that the latest developments are not conducive to their cause, and that this is not the time for power struggles." This is true only if Arafat's successors proved every bit as corrupt and anti-democratic as Arafat -- a depressing possibility.


posted by Dan at 06:15 PM | Comments (11) | Trackbacks (2)

Following up on Annie Jacobsen

Since I'm already blogging on homeland security today, I should point out that Annie Jacobsen has a follow-up on her experiences flying with 14 Syrians from Detroit to Los Angeles. Yours truly is mentioned.

Go check it out. I agree with Donald Sensing that here's not much that's new information about what actually happened, though there are a few disturbing quotes from airline industry professionals who feign no surprise at this kind of incident and believe it to be an example of terrorist test-runs.

However, Jacobsen makes it clear that clear that the blogosphere had the desired effect:

On Wednesday morning, the WWS page views were unusually high, something like 10 times the normal amount. Apparently our readers had been emailing the article to their friends, family and colleagues and everyone was reading it.

By Thursday morning, that number had again multiplied ten-fold. It felt like the shampoo commercial from my youth: they told two friends, then they told two friends, then they told two friends. We sat in the WWS offices reading through your emails, taking stock of what you had to say. As the afternoon went on, the number of people reading the article continued to increase and the telephone was ringing off the hook.

And then a powerful thing happened. The mainstream media started calling.

Good -- this is exactly the kind of story that merits further inquiry by "real" journalists -- you know, as opposed to people who "don't add reporting to the personal views they post online."

Also, it's worth reprinting Jacobsen's response on the question of political correctness and the merits of linking to Ann Coulter:

This brings us to the heart of the matter -- political correctness. Political correctness has become a major road block for airline safety. From what I've now learned from the many emails and phone calls that I have had with airline industry personnel, it is political correctness that will eventually cause us to stand there wondering, "How did we let 9/11 happen again?"

During a follow-up phone conversation, one flight attendant told me that it is her airline's policy not to refer to people as "Middle Eastern men." In addition, many emails have come in calling me a racist for referring to 14 men with Syrian passports as Middle Eastern men. For the record, the Middle East is a geographical region called just that: The Middle East. If you refer to people who come from countries in this region (including Syria, Jordan, Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Yemen, Oman, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, Iran, Iraq) as "Middle Easterners," you are being geographically correct. We call people Americans and Canadians and English and French. I call my relatives who live in Norway Norwegians. So really, what is the hang up?

The fact that I quoted Ann Coulter seems to have many people up in arms. I want to be clear -- there is no political agenda here. I quoted Ann Coulter for the information she had, not for who she is. Read the quote again and pretend Joe or Jane Doe wrote it. She states the facts. The facts she states are that 10 days after 9/11, Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta sternly reminded airlines that it was illegal to discriminate against passengers based on their race, color, national or ethnic origin or religion.

I cut and paste; you decide.

UPDATE: Glenn Reynolds reports that Annie Jacobsen and spouse appeared on the MSNBC's Scarborough Country this evening:

The Jacobsens seemed credible -- by which I mean they seemed honest. The experts afterward were skeptical that they actually witnessed anything untoward, but they all agreed that security is still weak.... at the end Joe Scarborough said they had been flooded with emails from passengers and crew who said that things have seemed odd lately on a number of flights.

LAST UPDATE: Joe Sharkey discusses Jacobsen's story in his "On the Road" column in the New York Times. A lot of it is recap, but there is this information:

[Federal Air Marshal Service spokesman Dave] Adams said he spoke by phone to Ms. Jacobsen for 90 minutes on Friday night. "This is an individual's perceptions," he said of her account of the flight. "Obviously, since 9/11, everybody's antennas have risen, and people are very concerned when they see something like this." He said that onboard air marshals did not intervene because the men weren't "interfering with the flight crew."

Even so, he said, he had no doubt that "most of the stuff did happen" as Ms. Jacobsen described it.

Aware of recent reports that the F.B.I. is worried that teams of terrorists may be practicing ways to sneak explosive device parts onto planes and assemble them in flight, Mr. Adams said, air marshals aboard Flight 327 "checked out the lavatories, and nothing looked like it was in disarray after these people went inside; everything was thoroughly inspected."

posted by Dan at 05:41 PM | Comments (25) | Trackbacks (1)

Stephen Flynn scares me -- again

Two months after the September 11th attacks, I heard Stephen Flynn give a talk about homeland security and American vulnerabilities -- and he scared the crap out of me.

Listening to Flynn -- a former Coast Guard commander -- describe the various soft spots of America's infrastructure was to realize just how much 9/11 required a rethink of how America defends itself. Flynn wasn't defeatist during his talk, he just laid out what needed to be done. And it was a long list.

Two and a half years later, Flynn has written a book, America the Vulnerable: How Our Government Is Failing to Protect Us from Terrorism -- and what he's saying still scares the crap out of me. There's an excerpt in this week's Time:

The U.S. has no rival when it comes to projecting its military, economic and cultural power around the world. But we are practically defenseless at home. In 2002 alone, more than 400 million people, 122 million cars, 11 million trucks, 2.4 million rail freight cars, approximately 8 million maritime containers and 56,596 vessels entered the U.S. at more than 3,700 terminals and 301 ports of entry. In general, frontline agents have only a matter of seconds to make a go/no-go decision on whether to allow entry: 30 seconds for people and one minute for vehicles. And then there are the 7,000 miles of land borders and 95,000 miles of shoreline, which provide ample opportunities to walk, swim or sail into the nation. Official estimates place the number of illegal migrants living in America at 7 million. Given these immense numbers, it is a sense of futility, fueled by the lack of vision about what sensible measures are worth pursuing, that lies at the heart of our national inertia on the homeland-security issue.

And then there's this excerpt of the book quoted in yesterday's Meet the Press:

From water and food supplies; refineries, energy grids, and pipelines; bridges, tunnels, trains, trucks, and cargo containers; to the cyber backbone that underpins the information age in which we live, the measures we have been cobbling together are hardly fit to deter amateur thieves, vandals, and hackers, never mind determined terrorists. Worse still, small improvements are often oversold as giant steps forward, lowering the guard of average citizens as they carry on their daily routine with an unwarranted sense of confidence.

Later on Russert asks, "But on a scale of 0 to 100 percent, how well protected are we right now?" Flynn's sobering reply: Well, if I would put it maybe on a 1-to-10 scale here, where 1 were a bull's-eye and 10 were secure, we were 1 on 9/11. Today we're a 3. That's why I'm sort of saying that we're still failing. I just can't give a passing grade.

I have nothing to add to Flynn's observations -- except to say you should buy the book.

Again, if I was John Kerry, I would bash Bush again and again and again on this front. Reviewing the Senator's own proposals, however, I'm thoroughly underwhelmed. There's a recognition of the importance of port security, but nothing else about protecting critical infrastructure (and, it should be noted, port security is actually one of the unheralded initiatives of the current administration). Most of Kerry's proposals focus on emergency response rather than prevention.

UPDATE: Many of the commenters seem to feel we should embrace the Israeli paradigm when it comes to security -- which is ironic, because Flynn disdains the Israeli approach in favor of the British approach.

posted by Dan at 02:54 PM | Comments (52) | Trackbacks (1)

What is John Kerry's theory of foreign policy?

Philip Gourevitch has a lengthy New Yorker essay on John Kerry's foreign policy principles. A few parts that struck me:

Kerry can’t be specific about what he would do in Iraq if he is sworn in next January 20th, because nobody knows what will be happening there then. He said that “America must lead in new ways” to meet “new threats,” “new enemies,” and “new opportunities” with “new approaches” and “new strategies,” to forge “a new era of alliances” and “a new direction in Iraq,” but there was nothing novel in the foreign policy he described. What he was calling for was a renewal of the approach to world order that Churchill envisioned in 1946—the preservation of international security through the web of alliances of the newly established United Nations. For all its inadequacies and failings, the Churchillian ideal of international coöperation had been upheld as the best way to safeguard America’s security and interests by every president until the Bush Administration kicked it over. This is the nut of Kerry’s argument on foreign relations—that Bush, despite his campaign slogan of “Steady leadership in times of change,” is a radical, whose “with us or against us” doctrine of preëmptive unilateralism amounts to a Texas-twanged cry of aux barricades! By contrast, the Senator from Massachusetts came across at Westminster as the conservative in the race.

But did this “plan” for multilateralism as an expression of naked self-interest amount to a countervailing Kerry doctrine? “I think it’s such a mistake to try to find one or two words, fancy slogans, to reduce a complicated process,” Kerry said to me, during a lengthy conversation in a muggy old athletes’ training room at Westminster, where he draped his elongated limbs over a too small chair. The notion of a Kerry doctrine seemed to take him by surprise, and not pleasantly. “You have to be careful of ideology clouding your decision-making process, which I think this Administration has been exceedingly guilty of,” he said, and added, “I don’t want to use the word ‘doctrine,’ but I do think it is time for a new—I said it today—a very new calculation of how we protect our interests and balance them in the world.” At the same time, he allowed, “There are times and places where you may lay down a law of behavior that amounts to a doctrine—you know, how you take a nation to war. Pretty firm in my belief system is the notion that, with the exception of an immediate emergency you have to respond to, it’s a last resort.” As a naval officer in Vietnam, Kerry had learned that he could kill when it came to that, and he told me, “I would never hesitate to use force to protect our country in any moment in time if I thought it was critical.” But he didn’t say how he might make that judgment.

Kerry has a habit of phoning around among a far-flung network of counsellors to gather conflicting opinions before reaching a decision. One result of this spongelike method is that it can be very hard for the person on the other end of a conversation with him to know just where he is heading as he circumnavigates an issue. It is not always obvious that Kerry knows, either, and his disinclination to codify his thinking on international relations, beyond a broad internationalist critique of the Bush doctrine, is generally seen as a political handicap.

What's odd about this is that within the Gourevitch article itself there's a formulation that would perfectly encapsulate what Kerry's going after. Earlier in the story, Gourevitch writes: "the signature chord of his campaign’s foreign policy unmistakably: that 'America is safer and stronger when it is respected around the world, not feared.'" (emphasis added)

This is simultaneously a promising but incomplete formulation. The political class is familiar with Machiavelli's dictum that it is better to be feared than loved -- and the Bush team would probably embrace this line of thinking.

Kerry's introduction of "respect," however, gets at a middle ground between the two poles of "fear" and "love" that probably resonates with most Americans. It's the perfect way to communicate toughness while still attacking the Bush team's foreign policy.

The problem with the way Kerry phrased it, however, is that to pretend that respect and fear are mutually exclusive components is absurd. For there to be respect in international relations, there must be an recognition of capabilities that can also inspire fear. It's the same mistake that's frequently committed with Joe Nye's "soft power" concept -- to pretend that the soft power of governments does not rest on a foundation of hard power is just wrong.* Fear comes from hard power alone; respect comes from the combination of hard and soft power -- it does not come from soft power alone.

Maybe Kerry is just exercising a rhetorical flourish and understands this -- maybe not. The fact that neither Gourevitch nor I can tell is what's so disturbing to me when I contemplate pulling the donkey lever -- which is why I'm still on the fence.

The second passage that caught my eye:

Kerry remains confident that if he were President he could succeed where Bush has failed. Indeed, he seems to attribute all that is strained in the transatlantic alliance to the Administration’s hubris and its diplomatic incompetence. “It will be easier for a Kerry Administration to call on our allies to fulfill their responsibilities,” James P. Rubin, one of Kerry’s senior foreign-policy advisers, said to me. “When a President can go to countries and say ‘I’m going to take steps that you’ve been calling for,’ he can also say, ‘Now take steps to do what we need.’ It won’t be easy, but at this point there’s a political cost for countries to coöperate with the U.S. With a Kerry Administration, that cost will change.” But European resistance to the Iraq mission was stubborn from the outset, and an influential European diplomat in Washington told me, “If what John Kerry says today is that he thinks that Europeans could drag that car out of the mud now, I believe this is not a realistic expectation.” European leaders would certainly welcome a change of American Presidents, but they have their own elections to think about, and it is not clear that they would make much of a sacrifice for the new man. “Because of how it’s been handled so far, Iraq is really not a good case to demonstrate the great advantages of transatlantic coöperation,” another diplomat said to me. “It is actually the worst possible case. Iraq is simply too much of a mess.”

*As I noted previously, this dictum holds for states, not non-state actors.

posted by Dan at 11:11 AM | Comments (47) | Trackbacks (1)

Sunday, July 18, 2004

It would have worked if it wasn't for those meddling French literary critics!!

Curse that Ilias Yocaris!!

Last month, the professor of literary theory and French literature at the University Institute of Teacher Training in Nice published an essay about the Harry Potter series in Le Monde. Now the New York Times translates it for today's op-ed page. The highlights:

On the face of it, the world of Harry Potter has nothing in common with our own. Nothing at all, except one detail: like ours, the fantastic universe of Harry Potter is a capitalist universe....

Harry Potter, probably unintentionally, thus appears as a summary of the social and educational aims of neoliberal capitalism. Like Orwellian totalitarianism, this capitalism tries to fashion not only the real world, but also the imagination of consumer-citizens. The underlying message to young fans is this: You can imagine as many fictional worlds, parallel universes or educational systems as you want, they will still all be regulated by the laws of the market. Given the success of the Harry Potter series, several generations of young people will be indelibly marked by this lesson.

Dammit, the capitalist shock troops were supposed to get to Yocaris before he spilled the beans!!

Read the whole thing, if only for the amusement value. I found myself with four semi-serious responses (in increasing order of seriousness):

1) I knew French literary theory and Islamic fundamentalism had something in common!!

2) I must applaud Yocaris for the display of willful blindness that requires him to ignore the larger cleavages played out in the Harry Potter series -- you know, petty themese like children rebelling against adult authority, ignorance from outsiders, and grappling with their growing capabilities. Nope, clearly Harry Potter is all about the plutocratic power of Gringotts.

3) The primary political cleavage that is discussed in the Harry Potter series is between the Slytherins who believe that Mudblood magicians are beneath contempt, followed closely by poor magicians (hence the contempt for the Weasleys). For Harry Potter's enemies, what matters are bloodlines and inherited wealth -- in other words, they're feudal lords. Any Marxist worth their salt should recognize that the Harry Potter series is really about the capitalist bourgeoisie having to battle against the last remnants of the feudal epoch of production that was so recently overthrown. Since society must go through the capitlist mode of production, with its phenomenal increases in productivity, before reaching the socialist utopia, one would think that Yocaris would applaud those retrograde forces looking to reverse the inexorable dialectic of historical materialism.

4) Finally, thank God it's a capitalist world system in Harry Potter. The worst aspect of science fiction/science fantasy books is their malign neglect of the laws of economics. Why don't Starfleet officers and crew carry cash? There's no such thing as port call on these series? It's not just a niggling issue -- it detracts from the overall aesthetic enjoyment. Assuming away money, credit, or other economic concepts assaults the reader/viewer's willing suspension of disbelief, making a fantasy just a little less believable, and therefore a little less enjoyable. One of the reasons the Harry Potter series resonates so well is precisely how Rowling is able to take the alternative universe of wizards and embed it in a world that resembles our own.

Finally, it should be stressed that assuming a capitalist system does not mean one has to be uncritical of that system. In Harry Potter, tabloid journalism gets it on the chin. In sci-fi, the Alien series does not have the kindest view of corporate benevolence either.

OK, I'm clearly taking this way too seriously.

The Times, incidentally, opens the essay by observing that "This article... got particular attention, including an essay published in response arguing that Harry is an antiglobalist crusader."

UPDATE: On my last point, I will Henry Farrell's argument that, "Dan just hasn’t been reading the right science fiction/science fantasy books." Certainly the sci-fi I've read that has stuck with me -- William Gibson, Philip K. Dick -- did not ignore the laws of economics. Mostly I was reacting to the endless hours of Star Trek I've consumed over the years. And I will be sure to read some of Henry's suggestions -- right after I get that tenure thing behind me.

posted by Dan at 11:36 AM | Comments (37) | Trackbacks (3)