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Archive for July, 2006

What? Bombing Helps Hardliners?

[ 0 ] July 31, 2006 |

Who knew?

Day by day, even as Iran’s officials assess the military setbacks of Hezbollah, they have grown more and more emboldened by the gathering support in the Islamic world for the Iranian-backed Lebanese militia on the front line with Israel. They have grown more and more emboldened by what they see as a validation of their confrontational approach to foreign policy — and in their efforts to silence political opposition at home.

That is the view of at least some opposition figures, analysts and former government officials who say they find themselves in the awkward position of opposing Israel and sympathizing with the Lebanese people, yet fear what might happen should Hezbollah prevail.

But I’m sure that bombing Iran itself WOULD energize the reform movement.

Fidel Sick

[ 0 ] July 31, 2006 |

Wow. Wouldn’t that be a kicker, if Fidel picked this moment to shuffle off the mortal coil?

Everybody knows that US Cuba policy wins no prizes for rationality. That the US has maintained the same policy vis-a-vis Cuba for 44 years is impressive; most countries, seeing no results, would have given up before 20, or 35 at the limit. Does anyone know the last time that a major presidential candidate has advocated a serious change in Cuba policy? The sheer inertia of the policy suggests to me that it won’t be altered until Cuba itself changes. Even then, there are no assurances. As Yglesias noted a while ago, statutory US policy takes seriously the fantasy that Cuban exiles will get all of their property back after Castro is gone. The President at the time of the transition seems to have considerable latitude regarding how and whether the embargo will be lifted. Operating under the assumption that any administration, Democratic or Republican, has to be more diplomatically capable than this one, I can’t help but wonder whether it would be better if Fidel lingered on a couple more years before kicking off. I also have no doubt that a Democrat would be better on Cuba than a Republican, given that the truly psychotic elements of the anti-Castro movement (I recall one guy asserting, on Fox News, that Castro had a hand in 9/11) seem more strongly tied to the GOP.

Lose Control of Your Words?

[ 0 ] July 31, 2006 |

Huh. I’ll allow that I’ve probably had a .12 blood alchohol content my share of times, and I’ve certainly done things worthy of apology, but I don’t recall ever blaming all wars on the Jews. Of course, I don’t have to cover up for my dad denying the Holocaust, either…

Condi

[ 0 ] July 31, 2006 |

Praktike is quite right; one of the things that has disappeared in a cloud of Lebanese dust over the past two weeks has been Condi Rice’s reputation as a diplomat. I wasn’t quite willing to give her much credit as Sec State, but from what I know the people at State like her, and she hadn’t seemed egregiously more inept in this job than anyone else in the Bush administration. Certainly, it looked as if her SecState performance was an improvement on her NSA work.

But not now. If she’s not a hawk it’s even worse; if she has influence inside the administration it’s not apparent, and she’s proven completely incapable of putting together any international support for, well, any policy at all. As if it weren’t an absurd proposition in the first place, the “Condi for President” line seems not long for this world.

Progress Isn’t Ineluctable

[ 0 ] July 31, 2006 |

Erik in comments and Roy via email object to my snideness about JFK, and I’m willing to do at least a partial walkback. I certainly hold to my core assumptions: JFK is an enormously overrated President and he was weak on civil rights beyond the call of political necessity before 1963. But I do duly note his finally getting behind civil rights in 1963. And although nothing like the 1964 CRA would have passed with Kennedy in the White House, this is as much praise of LBJ as it is criticism of JFK; I doubt that, say, Humphrey could have gotten strong civil rights legislation through Congress either. And, certainly, my comparison of JFK to Glenn Reynolds is unfair; as Roy says, “I’m not sure that, as you imply, Reynolds is some kind of “JFK liberal.” I don’t think Kennedy’s was a sit-on-your-ass-and-wait for-inevitable-change approach — he was slow about the Civil Rights Act, but he got the party sufficiently invested in it that Johnson had to follow through once he had the votes in Congress. Can you imagine Reynolds, thrown back in time, supporting even Kennedy’s televised speech on the subject? He’d prefer that the Chamber of Commerce led the way. Not bloody likely.” Fair enough.

Anyway, there’s a better example of JFK liberalism at hand. I’ll be discussing various aspects of Jack Balkin’s new book What Roe Should Have Said over the next week or two. As you would expect, in his hypothetical dissenting opinion Jeffrey Rosen (in addition to some microwaved Ely) serves up his beloved countermobilization myth, with Tocqueville being invoked twice:

And because I have no doubt that Tocqueville was correct when he predicted that American society would move inexorably in the direction of greater and greater equality, I expect that most state legislatures, in time, would come to recognize these laws as a barrier to the full equality of women and would eventually have joined the handful of states that have already decided to repeal them.

[...]

Tradition, of course, is not a static thing: it evolves dramatically every decade, reflecting the social changes that are constantly transforming American society in the direction predicted by Tocqueville. (170, 174)

In addition to the obvious problems of Whig history, and the logical problems (because New York and California have liberalized their abortion laws–in the latter case, after being prodded to by the courts–we can assume that Alabama and Mississippi will follow? Why?) it’s precisely this assumption that change just sort of happens naturally that underlines Rosen’s quite obviously erroneous assumption that reproductive freedom would be better off if Roe was overturned. What’s missing from the picture is not only the reaction and false starts, but the struggle. And as with civil rights, litigation has always been a part of struggles for reproductive freedom, for the obvious reason that in a country with judicial review you don’t unilaterally leave any weapons on the table. Complacency can be as important an enemy as outright opposition.

Democracy on the March

[ 0 ] July 31, 2006 |

Remember when a whole bunch of reactionaries suddenly discovered women’s rights as a club to bash people who opposed the high-cost replacement of a secular dictatorship with a low-capacity quasi-theocracy that would be at the mercy of sectarian militias? Oddly, I don’t think we’re going to be hearing much about the country we forgot about so George Bush could play with his shiny new Iraq toy from these quarters:

ONE MORNING late last year, Setareh’s students found a landmine in their classroom. It was hidden under a bag in the mud-brick building of the first girls school in her rural Afghan village.

The landmine was not, of course, unexpected. The Taliban had posted a note in the village mosque a few weeks earlier, ordering all girls schools to close. And another “night letter” left at a nearby school had warned: “Respected Afghans: Leave the culture and traditions of the Christians and Jews. Do not send your girls to school.” Otherwise, it said, the mujahedin of the Islamic Emirates, the name of the former Taliban government, “will conduct their robust military operations in the daylight.”

[...]

Over just four days in December, armed men shot and killed a teacher, a school gatekeeper and a male student in Helmand province. An instructor had been warned to stop teaching girls and boys in the same classroom. In January, armed men in Zabul province beheaded a high school headmaster in front of his children. By March, half of the schools in the province had closed. Afghan education officials say that attacks now average one school a day.

The Taliban is responsible for many of these attacks, but local warlords seeking to further their power and criminal groups (often involved in Afghanistan’s booming narcotics trade) also are targeting schools. Setareh’s village is far from Taliban areas in Wardak province, which is controlled by warlords ostensibly loyal to the government. But a district official told me that it was the local warlord’s thugs who planted the landmine. The official was afraid even to say the warlord’s name out loud. The landmine was safely removed, but Setareh has moved her lessons to a private courtyard, and she asked me not to print her real name.

The Afghan government, which depends on international support, needs a strategy to monitor, prevent and respond to attacks on education. It must sack local commanders hostile to the education of girls, strengthen Afghanistan’s feeble police force and order it to investigate, arrest and prosecute those responsible for threats or attacks.

Sounds like it’s time for some 24-year-old Heritage Foundation hacks to hand out copies of Anarchy, State, and Utopia.

Meanwhile, as the Talking Dog notes, we’re also seeing the folly of the Friedman/Leeden “overturn the chess board” theory of randomly invading countries that pose no threat to the United States. Dynamics can, in fact, change for the worse:

The fog of war makes it impossible for me or anyone else to determine whether or not Israel’s war against Hezbollah is succeeding of failing militarily. But it’s painfully obvious that Israel’s attempt to influence Lebanese politics in its favor is an absolute catastrophe right now.

The (second in a decade) attack on Qana that killed scores of civilians has all but cemented the Lebanese public and Hezbollah together.

Cable news reports that 82 percent of Lebanese now support Hezbollah. Prime Minister Fouad Seniora – whatever his real opinion in private – is now closer to openly supporting Hezbollah in public than he has ever been.

The March 14 Movement (the Cedar Revolution) is, at best, in a coma if not outright dead.

Hezbollah was popular while Israel occupied South Lebanon. When Israel left Lebanon it finally became possible for Hezbollah’s power to be strictly relegated to it own little corner because support for the organization evaporated.

Now that Israel is back, Hezbollah’s support is back.

But the next Strat-O-Matic board we flip over will be the charm!

What’s True Isn’t Relevant, and What’s Relevant Isn’t True

[ 0 ] July 31, 2006 |

Like Neil, I think Matt is being far too charitable to Dan Gerstein’s silly attempt to defend Lieberman’s pro-Alito vote. Or, to be more precise, I think Matt’s half-defense is an “other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play” argument–given that all of Gerstein’s non-trivial arguments boil down to a defense of the Sacred Gang of 14, I don’t know what there could be left to agree with:

  • It is indeed literally wrong to say that “Joe Lieberman put Sam Alito on the Supreme Court,” but since nobody actually argues this it’s also irrelevant. By the same standard, none of Lieberman pro-reproductive freedom votes should be counted in his favor unless they passed by one vote. Votes do not have to be decisive to be part of the record one uses to evaluate a legislator, and the fact remains that on the most important vote on reproductive freedom since 1987, Lieberman voted the wrong way.
  • So, the defense comes down to the value of the Gang of 14 agreement to Democrats, and this value is “zero.” Preserving the filibuster means nothing if the judges who are acceptable under the standard include people like Alito and Priscilla Owen. Who exactly is Lieberman waiting for? Roy Moore? A tanned and rested Robert Bork (defeated by the Senate although his voting record would be essentially indistinguishable from Alito’s)? The mummified corpse of James McReynolds? Preserving an entirely meaningless procedural agreement ahead of substantive outcomes is precisely the kind of inside-Beltway wankery that has Lieberman in trouble, and was also in evidence in his appallingly two-faced vote on the bankruptcy bill.
  • On a historical note, with respect to the idea that ideology had nothing to do with conservative Senators filibustering quintessential Warren Court liberal Abe Fortas–if you believe that, I have a valuable collection of Harold Carswell’s Supreme Court opinions to sell you. And even if it were true, why on earth should the most important factor in evaluating a Supreme Court justice be off the table? Particularly when the politicians selling Alito were notably lacking in candor about his constitutional philosophy?
  • And, of course, had an Alito filibuster caused the Republicans to detonate the nuclear option, this would be a feature, not a bug. As one of Neil’s commenters notes, “How would the nuclear option have been worse than what actually happened? What’s the point of having the theoretical option of a filibuster if you can’t use it? Furthermore, if the Republicans actually did use the nuclear option, not only would the immediate situation have been no worse than what actually happened, but a long-term precedent might have worked in our favor. When we get a majority back and the Republicans try to filibuster, say, universal health care, we then have the ability to steamroll them on that.” Exactly right.

So, in other words, his pro-Alito vote should absolutely count against his record on reproductive rights and civil liberties, just like his disgraceful behavior during the Schiavo affair. The critique is 100% fair. [Schiavo link via Jane.]

And Now To Salt The Earth So It Can Never Grow Again

[ 0 ] July 30, 2006 |

Well, I think the Braves dynasty can now be declared dead.

It’s been quiet since he played so poorly last year, but Carlos Beltran has been having a hell of a year. 282/385/628? For a good center fielder? At Shea? (Check out those road splits.) I believe the other word for that is “MVP.”

On the other hand, if there was still a pennant race in the NL East I would be marginally less angry that the Phillies did this

Welcome

[ 0 ] July 30, 2006 |

Give a hearty LGM welcome to my newly minted niece, Rowyn Alaina Farley.

It’s good to know that there’s another kidney out there for me.

The Key Point

[ 0 ] July 30, 2006 |

Marshall:

But it’s hard to find the signs promising at this moment. And for Israel, one number tells the irreducible story. 140 rockets fell on northern Israel today. That’s the highest count since July 12th when the whole thing started. And in terms of how Israel understands its own security, that’s the most damning thing: even using main force, they can’t stop the rocket attacks on their civilian areas

.

Again, before we even start thinking about abstract questions of justice and morality it needs to be acknowledged that the policy isn’t working.

more from Edelstein.

Sunday Battleship Blogging: HMS Duke of York

[ 0 ] July 30, 2006 |

HMS Duke of York was the third of the King George V class, the first “Treaty” battleships designed and built for the Royal Navy. Like other Treaty battleships, Duke of York was limited to a 35000 ton displacement. The United Kingdom had hoped that gun size would be restricted to 14″, and designed Duke of York around 14″ guns instead of around a previously decided 15″ arrangement.

The design had a number of problems. Because the Royal Navy expected to be able to rely upon many refueling bases, Duke of York’s range was very short. This meant that, during the Bismarck pursuit, Prince of Wales had to break off due to lack of fuel, and King George V was nearly forced to do the same. The decision to mount 14″ guns was a disaster. They could not be mounted in the planned three quadruple turret arrangement, so Duke of York only carried 10 guns. The 14″ guns had notably less “oomph” than the naval weapons carried by other navies; although Prince of Wales scored one penetrating hit on Bismarck at Denmark Straits, King George V’s shells bounced off Bismarck’s belt armor a week later. The quadruple turrets also had serious malfunction problems. On the upside, Duke of York and her sisters were heavily armored (although the armor wasn’t as well-arranged as it could have been), and could make a higher speed than their American or Japanese counterparts (with the exception of the US Iowa class).

Duke of York was, nonetheless, a powerful ship. She displaced 37000 tons, carried 10 14″ guns, and could make 29 knots. The differences between fast battleships are a bit over-stated, as situational factors and luck would probably have determined the outcome of combat between any but the most seriously mismatched of opponents. The day after Christmas 1943, just such battle took place. The German battlecruiser Scharnhorst received word of an Allied convoy, and put to sea on Christmas Day. Scharnhorst knew that British cruisers were about, but had no idea that the Duke of York was also escorting the convoy. Scharnhorst skirmished with several British cruisers before breaking off and turning for Norway. Blinded by damage to her radar, she didn’t detect Duke of York until the latter opened fire at a range of about 12000 yards. Scharnhorst turned to flee (she could outrun Duke of York), but a lucky shot hit a boiler, reducing Scharnhort’s speed to 20 knots. This made the result of the engagement a foregone conclusion; Duke of York continued to hit Scharnhorst, and British destroyers eventually moved in for the killing blow with torpedos.

Following the destruction of Tirpitz, last major German raiding threat, Duke of York was transferred to the Pacific, where she took part in the invasion of Okinawa. After the war Duke of York served as flagship of the Home Fleet for several years before being decommissioned in 1949. The Royal Navy fell victim to a general post-war belt-tightening in the UK, and Duke of York was sold for scrap in 1957.

UPDATE: As Alex has noted, “Barehands” Bates, who repaired Duke of York’s radar at a critical moment during the Battle of North Cape, passed in early May of this year.

(Images courtesy of Maritimequest.)

Trivia: The Washington Naval Treaty mandated the destruction of most pre-dreadnought battleships. Name the fourfive US pre-dreadnoughts that survived the naval treaties.

"An Ill-Advised Temper Tantrum"

[ 0 ] July 30, 2006 |

Somebody needs to coin a catchy name for an addendum to Goodwin’s Godwin’s Law, which holds that whenever anybody argues against a particular military action, some idiot will mention Neville Chamberlain, irrespective of how howlingly inapt the analology is. (In the meantime, I propose the “Fox News Democrat” law: All columns that begin with the phrase “As a liberal Democrat” are ipso facto bad.)

To state the obvious, invoking Chamberlain isn’t an argument; it remains true that in most circumstances offensive military action is a bad idea. Countries have the right to defend themselves, but what matters is whether the action is prudent. And in this case, it’s pretty clear that the answer is “no”:

Yep. This ‘accidental’ war (as The Economist recently put it) will end up having proved something of a disaster for all parties involved save, perhaps, Hezbollah. Israel will not have eradicated Hezbollah (a totally unrealistic war aim, regardless, Krauthammer and Co’s reckless imbecility aside), the United States has complicated its regional position immensely, and, as Cohen points out, the Cedar Revolution lies in ashes. Was the IDF action worth hundreds dead, thousands wounded, massive flows of internally displaced and refugees numbering in the hundreds of thousands, an environmental disaster unprecedented in Lebanon’s modern history, and the scuttling of Lebanon’s tenuous movements towards emergence from an oppressive Syrian yoke? All for, at the end of the day, a deal on Shaba Farms, the return of the two soldiers (probably in the context of a prisoner exchange anyway), French and other troops on the Lebanese-Israeli and Lebanese-Syrian borders (gee, wonder how porous that latter one will be?), and some (likely mostly chimerical) ‘disarming’ of Hezbollah?

Well no, of course not, this was more by way of an ill-advised temper tantrum than a serious military operation, as Arik Sharon would himself admit, if only he were aware of the disaster underway. Sharon would have recalled previous Lebanese quagmires and would have well understood (aided by the wisdom of years and the lack of any need to prove himself) that resort to airpower, in the main, cannot succeed in this context, with the specter of hundreds and hundreds of civilian deaths earning Israel international opprobrium in every world capital (save Washington), and that there is no real, sustained post-’82 appetite in Israel for a massive land incursion regardless, not least given the ultimate futility of same. No, Sharon would likely have chastised Ehud Olmert for his impestuous over-reaction, one so helpfully fanned on by myopic strategic blunderers and amateurs in Washington, both in policy and journalistic circles.

The idea that a few weeks of air strikes were going to crush Hezbollah when more than a decade of occupation didn’t do the job is self-evidently stupid, and given this Olmert’s actions are not just bad morally but bad strategically. It won’t make Israel more secure, and the great strengthening of illberal forces in Lebanon is bad for both countries. Nothing good comes from this.

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