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Archive for September, 2004


[ 0 ] September 30, 2004 |

I watched it on the first floor of the college, where NBC set up cameras to interview students, before and after. I felt as nervous as before a game 7 I was invested in. For those who missed the debate, here’s the summary:

Kerry: Detailed critiques and plans, while Bush smirks and rolls his eyes.

Bush: Meaningless, non-responsive bromides incoherently expressed. Something about “mexed messages” repeated dozens of times.

It’s somewhat scary that any outcome but the obvious truth–the Kerry thoroughly demolished Bush–could become cw. But even on the non-substantive matters that will actually matter, I thought Kerry did extremely well. I wish Kerry had knocked the 87 million crap out of the park, but otherwise, he seemed forceful without condescension.


Mercer-Podhoretz Cage Match

[ 0 ] September 30, 2004 |

Reputation is important, or so we are told.

Norm Podhoretz thinks that reputation is really important. In fact, he has argued that the September 11 attacks are a direct result of American irresolution in the War on Terror. In his recent Commentary article, Podhoretz traced a series of failures, starting in the early 1970s, on the part of American administrations to face up to the threat of Islamic terrorism. These failure, he argues, had the effect of emboldening terrorists to greater attacks, and of convincing sponsors of terrorism that no US response would be forthcoming. Here is a representative passage:

The sheer audacity of what bin Laden went on to do on September 11 was unquestionably a product of his contempt for American power. Our persistent refusal for so long to use that power against him and his terrorist brethren—or to do so effectively whenever we tried—reinforced his conviction that we were a nation on the way down, destined to be defeated by the resurgence of the same Islamic militancy that had once conquered and converted large parts of the world by the sword.

It’s not terribly important that there are a whole set of empirical problems with Podhoretz’ work. He believes, oddly enough, that the Iranians freed American hostages during Reagan’s inauguration in 1981 because they feared Reagan would launch a military strike, not because they wanted to embarrass Jimmy Carter. The greater sin is the common conflation of all Islamic states and terrorist groups under the same banner; if they’re Islamic and they like blowing things up, they must hold identical views and positions (Islamofascism).

Anyway, more interesting to me is Podhoretz argument about reputation. By not retaliating forcefully against terrorism, the United States has invited attacks on its territory and interests. If the US responded forcefully in 1979, or 1983, or 1984, or 1991, or 1993, or 1998, or 2000, the September 11th would not have occured because the Islamofascists would realize that the United States meant business, and was not to be trifled with. Saddam Hussein would not have invaded Kuwait in 1990 if he had believed in US resolve, nor would Bin Laden have been able to pull of the 9/11 attacks if other muslims believed the US would respond forcefully.

This is a convenient narrative for hawks, for a couple of reasons. First, there are no value trade-offs associated with military action. The use of military force is valuable in and of itself, as it indicates our seriousness to our enemies. We need not be overly careful about who we go to war against, as long as we demonstrate our power and willingness to use force. Intervention justifies itself, so we don’t need to worry too much about finding WMDs or creating democracy in Iraq (or South Vietnam). Indeed, in response to a 9/11, our first action should be to invade SOMEBODY, regardless of whether or not they had anything to do with the attacks. Invading someone gives us a reputation for forcefulness, while inactivity indicates a lack of resolve.

Second, emphasizing the importance of reputation gives full rein to every masculinist impulse we might have. Using force is a manly thing to do. If we react in a passive, or “womanly” manner, we invite more attacks. Backing down from a fight, even a pointless one, leaves us without honor or the respect of our friends and enemies. Real men kick ass when something like 9/11 happens, and aren’t too particular about the ass.

Sensible people have combatted these ideas in a couple of ways. We’ve pointed out that the costs of an intervention may outweigh even its reputational effects. We’ve suggested that, instead of a reputation for resolution, we might be acquiring a reputation for stupidity, or for hostility toward the islamic world.

What we haven’t done enough of is point out that fighting a war for the sake of reputation is ridiculous. We do not “own” our reputation, and cannot control how it is perceived by others. What we believe is resolute may be perceived as irresolute or even hostile by others. Podhoretz hits on this inadvertantly when he writes

The fact that Saddam miscalculated, and that in the end we made good on our threat, did not overly impress Osama bin Laden. After all—dreading the casualties we would suffer if we went into Baghdad after liberating Kuwait and defeating the Iraqi army on the battlefield—we had allowed Saddam to remain in power. To bin Laden, this could only have looked like further evidence of the weakness we had shown in the ineffectual policy toward terrorism adopted by a long string of American Presidents. No wonder he was persuaded that he could strike us massively on our own soil and get away with it.

We have not argued, as we should, that it is IMPOSSIBLE to convince Bin Laden and his ilk that we are resolute and forceful. He will always find evidence for irresolution in our actions. We could invade every Islamic state and still fail. We could stay in Iraq for twenty years and still fail. Simply because we are convinced of our resolution does not mean that anyone else will be. As Jonathan Mercer discusses in Reputation and International Politics, states have minimal control over their international reputations. Thus, fighting a war on behalf of reputation is a lost cause.

I’ll detail this case in an upcoming post.

Bigger Army

[ 0 ] September 30, 2004 |

I give up. I’ll concede that I really don’t understand why the adminstration can’t expand the size of the Army to meet its needs in Iraq and elsewhere. This report suggests some problems, but they seem to me essentially soluble.

It’s not terribly difficult to increase the size of US Army. We’ve done it before. Training suffers somewhat, but that’s less important than the need to put boots on the ground in Iraq. Moreover, while I’m less opposed to the idea of a draft than my blogmates, we don’t really need one to expand current force size. It seems to me that an increase in pay and benefits would go a long way to increasing military manpower. These are traditional incentive packages, and can’t be all that difficult to construct and apply. Moreover, it’s not as if they’ll break the bank, especially considering how much we already spend on defense. Increasing pay and benefits would probably help both recruiting and retention rates.

Why not? Right now it would be politically embarrasing for the administration, especially as they keep claiming that the generals have all the boots that they need or want. Admitting that more troops were needed would place the blame for the failure of the occupation squarely on the shoulders of the administration. Moreover, creating a larger Army to deal with the occupation would work counter to some of the goals of invading Iraq in the first place. The Iraq invasion has a large reputational component; we need to invade Iraq to prove that we’re willing and able to invade countries like Iraq. Sending more troops this late in the game would give away the show, as if other countries don’t already understand that we’re tied down. Increases in troop strength and pay have never been particularly popular among lobbyists or on Capitol Hill, as spending on troops doesn’t really bring much pork home.

Finally, it might just not work. I don’t know; maybe we’ve hit the bottom or very close to the bottom of the pool of individuals who will voluntarily join the military. Maybe there are other problems. It’s a solution that seems so obvious that there must be something wrong with it.

Incidentally, see Josh Marshall’s post today on the state of the war. It is impossible to overstate the degree to which the media has failed in the reporting of the Iraq War.


[ 0 ] September 30, 2004 |

Matt Yglesias writes:

The South in the late nineteenth century was a region that heartily deserved to be subjected to some hostile sentiments. Nothing pissed me off more than my high school history textbook’s many disparaging references to these insidious “radical Republicans” in the late-1860s and 1870s who had all these nutty ideas like “black people should vote” and “treason should be punished.” I’ll even go whole hog and say that if Andrew Johnson had been removed from office we’d be living in a better world.

I believe that this is STILL taught in junior high and high school history classes. Given the control that local boards have over content, and the efforts that conservatives have taken to seize those boards, it’s unlikely this will ever change. Also, the Civil War was fought over “economic differences” between the North and South.

Au Revoir Mes Amours

[ 1 ] September 29, 2004 |

Well, the inevitable is now official. Since I’ll be going to Shea to see their last game ever on Sunday, I’ll post more about it then. I do wish to note that you’ll be hearing a lot about how baseball could never have worked in Montreal because it wasn’t a “baseball town,” and that in fact this just unvarnished bullshit. Like all historical events, the failure of the Expos was highly contingent. (Hint: check the attendance figures from 1979-83, or in the 6 weeks before the strike in 1994.)

UPDATE: In the meantime, a great piece (which, I swear, I read after this entry) from Jonah Keri at the Baseball Prospectus.

Conversation Stopper

[ 0 ] September 29, 2004 |

Majikthise tries to work on her social skills. . .

ME: How’s the wedding planning going?

COWORKER: Pretty good. But everyone has an opinion. Like, we’re trying to go with a French Bistro theme, but my in-laws keep saying “Everyone likes cocktail weenies.”

ME: Yeah, everyone’s got to throw in their two cents. Like when Ted Williams died.

CW: [puzzled silence]

ME: You know how, when he died his family started arguing about whether they were going to cryogenically freeze all of him or…[at this point I realize the conversation has gone way off-track, but it’s too late]…just his head, or cremate his entire body. And the Boston Metro ran this man-on-the-street feature, where they asked people “Should they cryogenically preserve or cremate Ted Williams?” And one guy said “I think they should bury him at Fenway Park.”

CW: Oh.

ME: It’s like, everybody’s got an opinion, whether it’s appropriate or not….

Why does this remind me of every conversation I’ve ever had? Do people go into academia because they’re incapable of communicating with normal humans? Is entry to graduate school driven more by a need to escape from the universe of the socially capable than a desire to learn new things? Maybe. . .

A Nightmare of Evil

[ 0 ] September 29, 2004 |

This is the last goddamn thing we need:

George Lucas wants to bring a live-action “Star Wars” series to television by autumn 2006.
The good guys at the Inland Empire Strikes Back Web site have been chatting up some insiders up at Lucasfilm, and they’re all talking about who should be its showrunner, and some of those guys think it should be “Jersey Girl” mastermind (and avowed “Star Wars” geek) Kevin Smith.

The union of Kevin Smith and George Lucas might well produce an hour of “entertainment” so bad that nothing, not even sanity, could escape. I suspect that the effect would be akin to the videotape of “Infinite Jest”, and that America would be left with an entire subsection of the populace no longer capable of feeding, bathing, or clothing themselves. The profound terribleness of such a collaboration would also certainly remove any lasting vestiges of a “veil of protection” from the United States. All of America might come to look like Florida, beset by multiple hurricanes and slack-jawed Republicans.

This must be stopped. Here and now. This project must be terminated with extreme prejudice. Somebody find Martin Sheen.

Incidentally, after “Jersey Girl”, why is anyone thinking of ever giving Kevin Smith another project? I guess only Lucas could come up with something so senseless.

Torture Roundup

[ 0 ] September 29, 2004 |

Bad things are happening in Congress. For more read Belle WaringTed Barlow, and Katharine at Obsidian Wings, Kevin at Lean left, Jeanne at Body and Soul.

If you don’t know what “extraordinary rendition” means, then you’re just like me about a half hour ago. Katharine explains:

“Extraordinary rendition” is the euphemism we use for sending terrorism suspects to countries that practice torture for interrogation. As one intelligence official described it in the Washington Post, “We don’t kick the sh*t out of them. We send them to other countries so they can kick the sh*t out of them.”

If you can’t see how problematic this is from a moral standpoint, then there’s probably not much point in try to talk to you about this (and, no doubt, many other issues). From a legal standpoint, this clearly and directly violates the U.N. Convention Against Torture and Other Forms of Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which the US has signed and ratified (in fact, Hastert’s amendment explicitly notes this and declares the treaty unapplicable on this point).

The story so far: Dennis “I actually wrote a whole book about how clever it would be to have a 38% federal sales tax” Hastert has managed to add provisions to the “9/11 Recommendations Implementation Act of 2004” that would legitimate and routinize this practice. Edward Markey has proposed an amendment that would end the ambiguity that may exist in domestic law regarding this practice and explicitly make it illegal.

This atrocious nonsense probably won’t end up passing, but I’m slowly learning to not underestimate the depths to which the radical Republican tribe currently in power will sink to. I fear that if that if they stay in power for the next four years, I’ll still be playing catch-up.

Unipolarity and American Exceptionalism

[ 0 ] September 28, 2004 |

Christopher Layne’s work is to be viewed with great skepticism, but about this he is surely correct:

The strategy of preponderance aims at attaining a condition that approximates absolute security for the United States. In this respoect, it is another form of American exceptionalism. It is a transcendant strategy that seeks nothing less thatn the end of international politics. However, unwanted and unanticipated events happen all the time in international politics; in this respect, “instability is normal. War, the security dilemma, the rise and fall of great powers, the formation and dissolution of alliances, and great power rivalries are enduring features of international politics. The goal of a unipolar world in which the United States is unthreatened and able to shape the internationl environment is alluring but it is a chimera. No state can achieve absolute security because no state, not even the United States, can rise above the international political system’s structural constraints

Layne is an isolationist, one of the smarter of that ilk around today. His solution to the problem of preponderance is retreat, what he calls “offshore balancing”. This position is largely shared by John Mearsheimer, one of the premier realists working in political science today.

However much I like to think of myself as a realist, I’m really not. I can’t embrace the isolationism adopted by the most hard core realists, and I certainly can’t support the aggressive hegemony adopted by many who like to think of themselves as realists but don’t really understand what that means. I suppose that I’m really just a very cynical liberal internationalist.


[ 1 ] September 28, 2004 |

Kevin Drum drops a rock on Christopher Hitchens’ head.

After all, Hitchens has chosen to ally himself with the most unserious group of war leaders this country has ever seen. They treated the runup to war like a marketing blitz for a new soft drink; they have trivialized critical issues of national security because doing so made them into better partisan cudgels for congressional campaigns; they have ignored the advice of military professionals because it was electorally inconvenient; they have repeatedly misled the American public even though they surely know that this is disastrous for long term support of the war; and they have refused to seriously address the exploding guerrilla war in Iraq for months because they’re afraid it might hurt their reelection chances.

Needless to say, Hitchens acknowledges none of this. In fact, later in the piece, he opines that “Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is a far more ruthless and dangerous jihadist” than Osama bin Laden — without so much as a nod to the fact that we might have captured or killed Zarqawi two years ago but for Bush’s fear that doing so might interfere with his Iraq war marketing campaign.

Hitchens latest piece really is indefensible. He complains that Democrats are wishing that bad things will happen to Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan, and uses as evidence the fact that Teresa Heinz-Kerry speculated about an October Surprise. He then pleads that the left give up its contrarian objections to the Bush administration, and get with the plan.

Really, does this guy have any defenders left (I’m thinking of you, Matt)? As Drum points out, he has expressed unreserved support for the inept blunderers in the administration, all in the service of promoting “seriousness” about the War on Terror. Indeed, he kept defending administration policy in Iraq long after many of his fellow hawks had at least admitted that things weren’t going terribly well. He has been willing to cut George Bush more slack than most Republicans. And now, instead of writing essays about how the administration has fucked up and how it might do better, he spends his time mocking Teresa Heinz-Kerry and suggesting that everything would be fine if the damn left wingers just shut up.

UPDATE: Matt responds.

A Rational Kim Jong Il?

[ 0 ] September 28, 2004 |

Jesse Taylor asks a very important question:

All dark humor aside…does it strike anyone else that North Korea’s “nuclear deterrent” (read: weapons) are a very, very, very bad thing for that nation to have?

The question could have two answers. If Jesse means “Is this bad for us”, then the answer is most certainly yes. It restrains US freedom of action, and adds, however minutely, to the chance that terrorists will acquire nukes. That said, the North Koreans have actually been remarkably conservative in foreign policy since the 1950s (that is, they’ve never come south, even when the US was tied up in Vietnam, in Gulf War I, and in Gulf War II), and no state goes through the process of developing nukes just to give them to terrorists. So, bad, but it could be a lot worse. Nothing to go and build a missile defense about.

The more interesting question is this: Is going nuclear bad for North Korea? This one I’m not sure about. Nukes buy a country like NK one thing; immunity from US attack. If it’s reasonable to think that the United States might attack North Korea (and it probably does seem reasonable to Kim Jong-Il and his inner circle), then nukes are great. The downside is that building nukes SHOULD bring you unwanted attention from the United States. Now, the Bush administration has done its best to studiously ignore North Korea for the last three years, so this problem hasn’t developed yet. In the future, however, it might. The United States has typically been content to allow small communist regimes like Cuba and North Korea to slowly crumble on their own. Acquiring a nuclear arsenal means that the US will pay attention to you, assuming a competent administration, and not in a good way.

That said, if I were advising KJ, I’d probably tell him to go ahead and build the nukes. But it’s a close thing.

A hack goes cherry-picking

[ 0 ] September 28, 2004 |

According to Glenn Reynolds, citing an article in the NY Post, the 60 Minutes scandal has had the salutary effect of destroying Dan Rather’s ratings. “No wonder Big Media folks aren’t overjoyed with the blogosphere this week.” Heh! Advantage blogosphere!

Odd thing, though–the story discusses only the New York market. I wonder why? Well, once you consider the sources that produced and linked to the story, the most likely reason is that Rather’s overall ratings are up significantly since the 60 Minutes story. (Go here and click on the Multimedia chart, conveniently titled “Rather is Reeling, but not Ratings.”) Not only are his ratings up in absolute terms, but the gap between CBS’s news ratings and the other networks has actually narrowed, despite a long-term decline in CBS’s ratings prior to the scandal.

Hmm, I think I can see why Reynolds spent so long as a JohnMary LottRosh apologist…

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