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Archive for March, 2006

Apologist

[ 0 ] March 21, 2006 |

I’m neither surprised nor disappointed that Hitchens refuses to budge from his initial position on the Iraq War. It should probably be noted that he has now become a self-contrarian; he has apparently forgotten that he demanded the firings of Rumsfeld et al over the feeding on information to certain reporters in Iraq, a sin I still find to be the least consequential yet committed by the Bush administration in Iraq.

I am surprised, though, by how relentless his apology is. He is desperately reluctant even to criticize the Bush administration on the merest of tactical questions. In his latest, he says that he wouldn’t have opposed the deployment of an extra hundred thousand troops, then blames the entire failure of the operation on the international community. That’s it. Not a bit of blame attaches to George W. Bush or his administration.

Compare Fred Kaplan’s assessment of the war with Hitch’s. Kaplan is a knowledgeable, sensible analyst of military affairs, and carefully lays out a series of critiques of the Bush administration’s performance. This isn’t the only place you’ll find such an analysis, because the failings of the administration are painfully obvious. Given that many who supported and continue to support the war have admitted these mistakes, you’d think that Hitch might at least allow that things could have been better executed. You’d be wrong.

Instead, we have a recounting of how Saddam probably did have WMDs, or would have in the future, and even if he didn’t, there’s no way we could have known about it at the time. This has been so thoroughly destroyed by so many people that I don’t think we need to spend much more time on it, and admits of a refusal on Hitch’s part to grapple with ANY aspect of the post-war situation, including the failure to find any substantial amount of WMD or the capacity to construct a future program. Then Hitch points to a series of Steven Hayes articles that have “laid out a tranche of suggestive and incriminating connections, based on a mere fraction of the declassified documents, showing Iraqi Baathist involvement with jihadist and Bin Ladenist groups from Sudan to Afghanistan to Western Asia.” Laid out a tranche of suggestive connections? That’s the best he can come up with? No effort to compare this set of connections to say, the same kind that you might find in Saudi Arabia, Iran, Syria or Egypt. No effort to grapple with the fact that the central contention of Cheney, that Iraq and Al Qaeda had an operational connection, remains utterly unsupported by any meaningful evidence.

I can see two possibilities with Hitch. First, he’s so bitter at the Left, and so unwilling to admit that he made a critical and stupid mistake on the single most important political judgement of his life, that he’s taken a position to the right of Jeff Goldstein. Goldstein, at least, allows for friendly tactical criticism of the Bush administration. It would seem that Hitchens won’t stand even for this. The notion that Hitch sees solidarity with the troops as a postive value is wholly implausible given his previous work. Second, perhaps Hitch has simply decided to accept his lot in the life as that of an uncritical apologist for an inept and corrupt President. The benefits are good, there’s plenty of scotch, the pay is solid, and you get to meet lots of nice people at AEI and the National Review.

Oh

[ 0 ] March 21, 2006 |

Congratulations to Japan, Ichiro, and Sadaharu Oh on winning the WBC. Kudos to Cuba for a fine run.

Protesting

[ 0 ] March 20, 2006 |

Kingdaddy attended a protest commemorating the third anniversary of the start of the Iraq War, and wasn’t pleased:

The speakers displayed their tin ear for American politics in other ways. A Middle East expert blew several minutes dissecting the Bush Administration’s public statements on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A folk singer belted out a tune about how Americans like to blame “welfare immigrant mothers on drugs” for all their problems. After the mother of an army lieutenant killed in Iraq gave the rally touched the nerve that a majority of Americans are feeling about Iraq, a local public radio personality stopped the political and emotional momentum with a rambling discussion about the Bush Administration.

The organizers had an opportunity, and lost it. You don’t need a manifesto to explain why you should be against the current US strategy in Iraq. Instead, you need only listen to someone like the mother of Lt. Ken Ballard, who said what a growing number of Americans are feeling: we did not need to fight this war; we were lied to about the reasons for the invasion, which then kept changing; we were ill equipped for the insurgency; too many Americans and Iraqis are now dying, without the substantive progress that might justify their sacrifices; and in the end, we are not safer than we were the day before the 9/11 attacks.

I can’t say whether Kingdaddy’s experience at the protest was representative of other protests, although I can say that it resonates with MY experience at such events. Nevertheless, even though I agree with a lot of Kingdaddy’s account, my agreement leaves me feeling vaguely uncomfortable.

I suppose that my first problem is that these events usually attract committed, anti-war leftists, and I am far from a committed anti-war leftist. This is neither my fault nor theirs, but it still produces a disconnect. I’m not anti-war in a politically meaningful sense; I’ve supported every other major military intervention that the US has conducted in my lifetime, although I really haven’t taken the time to rethink Lebanon or Grenada since I was eight. Of course I’m going to be uncomfortable with a genuine condemnation of US “militarism”, US foreign policy, and (although rarely seen these days) the US military. I could never condone a withdrawal from Afghanistan, for example, and I still haven’t fully politically forgiven a friend of mine for superimposing a swastika over a NATO star at an anti-Kosovo War rally. To the extent that protests about the Iraq War almost always seem to extend beyond the Iraq War to a more general critique of US foreign policy, I’m left cold.

My second problem is that I’ve never understood the web of connections between a particular war and the other issues that animate the Left. I hate the word “moderate” when it’s applied to political beliefs, and I especially detest self-declared “moderates” and “centrists”, but I am, after all, kind of moderate. There are some issues, like trade, on which I’m much more likely to agree with those on the right than with those on the left. I think that recognizing Israel’s right to exist is a good thing, and I’m deeply suspicious of the motives of any number of foreign countries. Like Kingdaddy, I think that universal health care, the Iraq War, and vegetarianism really are separate and distinct issues, although this seems a minority of opinion at these kinds of rallies.

But I’m also uncomfortable, because I know that any political movement must bring together a whole set of different interest groups, and that those who feel most strongly are likely to make up the vanguard in any struggle. There are some incredibly bad arguments for NOT staying in Iraq, and for NOT invading Iraq in the first place, but it’s important not to pay so much attention to those that I forget that there are good arguments, as well. No demonstration for any cause, really, is going to look like middle America, even if it has the tacit support of the majority, and the energy that people spend on these things has to be honored in some way.

Then again, I can’t help feeling that some people are just idiots, and are wholly detrimental to the causes they support. I feel that way a lot about Gore Vidal, for example. I’ve been sitting on this Vidal interview in the Nation for a while because I just haven’t been sure how to approach it. This exchange here particularly grabbed me:

Q: If, indeed, this Administration is collapsing for lack of weight, what comes after it?

A: Martial law, that’s next. Bush is like a plane of glass. You can see all the worms turning around in his head at any moment. The first giveaway of what’s on his mind–or the junta’s mind.

Q: The junta being…?

A: Cheney, who runs everything, I suspect. And a few other serious operators. Anyway, I first noticed this was on their mind when Bush finally woke up to the fact that the hurricanes were not going to be good PR for him. And he starts to think friends of his are going to be running in ’08. So what’s the first thing he does? The first thing on the mind of a dictator? He gets the National Guard away from the governors. The Guard is under the governors, but Bush is always saying, Let’s turn it over to the military. This is what’s on their mind. Under military control.

Q: Are you predicting a coming military dictatorship? And that the American people would stand for that?

A: They’ll stand for anything. And they will stand for nothing.

Just what in the hell has to be wrong with you to think that George Bush is about to order a military junta? Anyone who has been awake over the past four years might have noticed that the uniformed military and the Republican Party are not the same entity, and indeed stand at odds on a number of important questions, not least the conduct of the Iraq War. For Vidal, though, there is no difference; Cheney is evil, the military is evil, and therefore their ends and means must be identical. As far as I’m concerned, this kind of analysis is worse than useless; it makes us look like idiots.

So my not terribly insightful conclusion to this overly long post is that moderate dissenters of the war need to express tolerance for the truly committed, but that this tolerance can’t be unlimited. There can be enemies on the left, but that the Reynolds/Hitchens trap of emphasizing only the worst arguments against the war or in favor of withdrawal is very dangerous.

OC Rape Case Update

[ 0 ] March 20, 2006 |

I’ve discussed before the horrifying case of a young Orange County woman who was repeatedly gang-raped while she was unconscious. What made the case particularly appalling was the conduct of the defense. Lacking any credible case that they consented, they used the well-worn strategy of attacking the victim with irrelevant sexist details, egregious violations of privacy and outright intimidation:

Since the moment the tape was recovered by police, there’s been an effort to destroy Doe. An army of Haidl lawyers and private detectives have continually hounded her and her family; posted inflammatory fliers in her neighborhood; called her a “slut” who tricked “an innocent boy” into making a “sex film” because she wanted to be a “porn star”; spread defamatory rumors about each member of her family; persuaded her high school friends to betray her in court; tailed her to her new high school and informed her new, unsuspecting friends about the rape case; and released her private medical and psychological records to the media.

While no ending to such a case can be “happy,” the primary assailants have been convicted. In addition, Jane Doe is suing for civil damages.

Ikoi Hiroe emails me to say that she’s collecting letters of support for Jane Doe–you can send letters addressed to the latter at ihiroe@yahoo.com and Ikoi will pass them along. (This has been vetted by Sheelzebub, who in addition to her other terrific work on this case contacted Doe’s attorney and confirmed that the letters of support will be passed on.) Please consider doing so.

Lexblogging: Fun with Governor Fletcher

[ 0 ] March 20, 2006 |

In 1986, Judge Lewis Paisley declared Kentucky’s anti-sodomy law unconstitutional.

In 1991, a group called Pro-Family Kentucky distributed a flier claiming that “Lexington is becoming a Hot-Bed for growing Sodomy, Pornography and Violence against women and families,” in part because of Judge Paisley.

The treasurer of Pro-Family Kentucky at the time was a man named Ernie Fletcher, who is now the governor of our fair state.

As one of the commenters at Bluegrass Report puts it, “I didn’t know you could grow Sodomy in a Hot-Bed. And to think for all these years I’ve been using potting soil and Miracle Gro.”

Given that it’s had fifteen years to grow, you’d think I’d notice all the sodomy here in Lexington. Eh, not so much, as far as I can tell. I’m also uncertain how sodomy laws prevent violence against women and families, but I’m sure that Governor Fletcher has a good explanation.

V

[ 0 ] March 20, 2006 |

V for Vendetta was fair enough for a big studio production. Natalie Portman rarely impresses me as an actress, and this was no exception. Hugo Weaving was a perfect choice for the title role, however, and pulled it off both verbally and physically. The plot was rather predictable, and its foray into the political was unsurprisingly hamfisted and clumsy.

As a final note, please don’t rely on this film for its historical interpretation of the original Guy Fawkes. Just because you want to blow up Parliament and decapitate the English elite does not, in fact, mean that you’re an anarchist.

The Wingnutosphere: A Test Case

[ 0 ] March 20, 2006 |

David Duke has endorsed the Mearsheimer/Walt paper about the alleged “unmatched power” of the “Israel lobby,” something that I’m guessing will be picked up around the right-wing blogosphere. Most of the lessons will be obvious: it’s a bad paper, but I don’t think there’s any reason to believe that anti-Semitism played a role in writing it even if anti-Semites trumpet it, but I’m sure some clueless hacks will run with the New York Sun‘s angle and play the guilt-by-association game–turning this work of two scholars into something about “Harvard” (and even more amusingly into something about “liberal academics.”)

What will be particularly instructive is to compare the reaction of the purveyors of reactionary academic identity politics to this with their defenses of their allegedly martyred idol Larry Summers. We have two cases in which somebody used poorly supported, largely circular arguments to reach “anti-p.c.” conclusions. Except that it’s worse in Summers’ case, because he was speaking as a representative of the university, and his comments were consistent with a terrible record of hiring and retaining women in science faculties. Somehow, though, I don’t think we’re going to see Mearsheimer and Walt similarly portrayed as victims of a political witch hunt when the media and other faculty start attacking them. Because, of course, “acadmic freedom” as they define it (which, if we can derive its conservative usage in the Summers case, seems to mean “the right to say stupid things without being criticized by people who know far more about the subject than you do and without any consequences”) somehow becomes less important when the “anti p.c.” comments are less congenial with the conservative line of the day…

Pithlord has more.

Reproductive Freedom: It’s Positively Unxenophobic!

[ 0 ] March 20, 2006 |

According to Georgia state senator, “Big employers may get the benefit of cheap labor, but the U.S. taxpayer will pay for their healthcare, food stamps, schooling for children, and income tax credits. I am convinced it is a consequence to the almost 50 million children we have put to death in their mother’s womb through abortion. The large unfilled job market in Georgia would not be a problem if the almost 50 million Americans were here filling many of those jobs.” But why stop there? Why, if we were to outlaw birth control, maybe we could prevent anyone from immigrating at all!

Hmm, that argument ads a nice racist element to perhaps the worst genre of anti-abortion arguments, the “would you have wanted to be aborted in the womb” argument. The problem with this argument, of course, is that to any non-crackpot it proves rather too much. In retrospect, I am indeed happy not to have been aborted; I’m also happy my parents were not using birth control the night I was conceived, that my mother didn’t get a tubal ligation, etc. etc.–I guess we really have no choice but to ban those things too! Always nice to get the Christian consevrative agenda out in the open…

A Brief Note About Dream Sequences

[ 2 ] March 20, 2006 |

I saw Transamerica last month. Not a bad picture, actually–not only the expert lead performance, but a genuinely interesting lead character. The biggest problem with the film–what makes is a halfway decent movie with a great acting performance rather than a really good movie–is that the road movie just isn’t as robust a genre as indie directors seem to think it is. The picture slowly runs out of gas as the arbitrary incidents and local color pile up; it’s almost impossible to do anything with it at this point, and it saves screenwriters from thinking up more dramatically interesting ways of advancing the narrative. I’m not sure what’s more exhausted, though: the road movie, or the dream sequence.

By dream sequence, I hasten to add, I don’t mean a Lynch-like aesthetic where everything teeters on the edge of dreaminess, but dreams within an otherwise straightforward narrative, especially on TV. I suppose it’s not literally true that if they’re more than 30 seconds, they suck, but I’m tempted to say it anyway. This was made particularly evident in the regrettable 3rd season of Six Feet Under–the dream sequences undermined what the show did really well (first-rate soap opera in the non-pejorative sense with some terrific characters) and emphasize what it did badly (Alan Ball’s conviction that his well-worn cliches about suburban life are Profound Insights), but with 1000% more wankery.

And then we have The Sopranos. It’s used short dream sequences well sometimes, especially in the Season 2 finale. I suppose “The Test Dream” was better than I feared, but while it was pretty good for an interminable dream sequence it was also exceptionally subpar for a Sopranos episode. And tonight…I guess I could be perverse enough to point out that it did replicate a real dream more than these things usually do: some but not total resemblance to real life, with anxious failures and things you just can’t grasp. But, really, to be candid it was dull and pretentious, no takeoff and no payoff. (I’m embarrassed that I didn’t see this as an inevitable downside to Tony getting shot last week.) I don’t mean to sound like Television Without Pity reviewing the last season of Buffy, but the prospect of this stillborn concept continuing for more episodes is dampening my enthusiasm for Season 6 considerably…

More On Tough Choices in Foreign Policy

[ 0 ] March 19, 2006 |

As one might expect Dan Drezner has some interesting comments about the earlier-discussed Mearsheimer/Walt article. Drezner makes 3 important points. First, he explains in more detail that the explanation seems a strained, ad hoc, excessively simplistic explanation to explain away a problematic anomaly for the realist framework. Second, he points out that “[i]f “The Lobby” is as powerful as Walt and Mearsheimer claim, why hasn’t there been a bigger push in the United States for more fuel-efficient cars, alternative energy sources, and the like?” I would go further: if the swing-state Jewish vote is so critical in presidential elections, why have the Republicans adopted approximately none of the other policy preferences of the median swing state Jewish voter? (In a way, I wish M/W were right: I can’t wait for the next Republican platform to enthusiastically endorse Roe v. Wade and the strict separation of church and state!)

The third point, which provides the frame of Drezner’s analysis, is a comparison of M/W to Sam Huntington. That strikes me as a quite apt description, especially insofar as Mearsheimer is concerned. Both have written very important scholarly works whose gift for parsimonious explanations can sometimes cross the line into crude overgeneralization, and the latter tends to overwhelm the good parts of their work when they’re writing for a popular audience. (Huntington’s Political Order in Changing Societies, which emphasized that the most crucial difference between states is those that have effective governments and those that don’t, is certainly highly relevant today.) I’m not sure about the “full Huntington” either way. On one hand, while it’s not my field I doubt that any of Mearsheimer’s work will prove as important or influential as Huntington’s powerful early work, but on the other hand while I strongly disagree with it I don’t think the new M/W piece is anywhere near as normatively objectionable as most Huntington’s Clash Of Civilizations-era work (the worst of which Drezner has a good piece about here.)

Speaking of overly simplistic thinking about foreign policy, Andrew Sullivan uses a familiar routine, ending a discussion of Juan Cole’s analysis of Sistani’s horrific anti-gay statements by claiming that “Cole tries a third option: he blames all this on what he regards as the misguided attempt to get rid of Saddam. Ah: Saddam. The pomo-left’s last great hope for Arabia. I assume he’s referring to (and distorting) this part of Cole’s argument:

I personally condemn Sistani’s stance here, of course. He is a conservative Shiite cleric, however, so I don’t know what people were expecting to happen if the secular Baath was overthrown and replaced by primordial ethnic identities.

In other words, Sullivan is using the classic warblogger technique of avoiding difficult questions by accusing anyone who raises arguments about the war of being Saddam-lovers. Cole’s point, is of course, unassailably correct: the increased power of radicals like Sistani was the nearly inevitable consequence of disposing Hussein. This doesn’t make any statement about the comparative merits of Hussein’s regime. To subject anyone who points this out to the smear that Hussein is their “hope” is disgraceful. And, of course, evaluating what the actual alternative regime is, rather than assuming that deposing a dictatorship means liberal democracy is crucial to assessing the war. With the security justifications evaporated, the only possible defense of this war is on humanitarian grounds. It may be at least possible to defend the war if deposing Hussein would lead to liberal democracy. But if one compares it to the quasi-theocracy that was always vastly more likely, the argument is impossible to make. A somewhat democratic illiberal Islamic state may be a better outcome than the preceding government (although if I were a woman or gay person in Iraq, I’m not so sure that I would agree), but hardly enough to justify the invasion. And, in addition, it exposes the self-evident folly of folding the deposing of Hussein’s brutal but secular dictatorship with a war on “radical Islam.” If anything, the invasion benefits it, and pointing this out this blindingly obvious fact doesn’t make you an apologist for Hussein.

Half A Million Served

[ 0 ] March 19, 2006 |

Thanks to our loyal and new readers!

For Glenn Reynolds, is there a difference?

[ 0 ] March 19, 2006 |

Verbatim Glenn:

They’re not so much “antiwar” as just on the other side.

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