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Archive for July, 2006

The Glorious Return of Abortion Regulation to the States

[ 0 ] July 25, 2006 |

Today, the Senate will vote on legislation to federally enforce excreable parental notification laws. (HT: Prof. B.) This would offer a worthy companion to its ludicrously arbitrary partial-birth abortion law.

Why, this is almost enough to make me think that trying to hide substantive opposition to reproductive freedom behind “states’ rights” rhetoric is transparently disingenuous, and this is just the tip of the iceberg of what we could see in the future. However, if Roe is overturned and the federal government is consequently given even more leeway to regulate abortion, they’ll actually do it less, because…look, it’s Halley’s Comet!

…The ACLU has an excellent memo on why this legislation is terrible. Perhaps most relevant is the first point: “This legislation will not create good family communication where it does not already exist.” Productive communication with your family is a fine thing, but the legislation doesn’t really do anything to accomplish this.

…random liberal notes that the thing passed, 65-34. Voting was fairly predictable (mostlt along blue/red state rather than partisan lines, for the most part), with Max Baucus a midly surprising nay. The only blue-state Dems to vote yea were Inouye, Carper, and Kohl, brickbats due to all.


The DOJ and Civil Rights Enforcement

[ 0 ] July 25, 2006 |

It’s obviously good news that the Voting Rights Act will be renewed. But it’s also worth remembering that civil rights legislation is only as good as the willingness of the executive branch to enforce it. Alas, the DOJ continues its ongoing quest to pack the department with unqualified partisan hacks. And as a result, the DOJ is pursuing such crucial civil rights issues as making sure that universities drop minority fellowships. (Make sure to Read the Whole Thing.)

This is one of the most important ways in which elections matter; when it comes to the statutes of the modern regulatory state, a great deal of policy-making power inheres in the executive (and judiciary), and can offer produce very different outcomes even as the language on the books remains the same. As Michael Tomasky said a couple years ago, “In every agency of government, at every level, there are political appointees who are interpreting federal rules and regulations and deciding how much effort will really be put into pursuing federal discrimination cases, for instance, or illegal toxic dumping. These are the people who are, in fact, the federal government. The kinds of people who fill those slots in a Democratic administration are of a very different stripe than the kinds who fill them during a Republican term, and the appointments of these people have a bigger effect on real life than whether Al Gore sighs too heavily or speaks too slowly.”

Ideological Conformity or a Reasonable Foreign Policy?

[ 0 ] July 25, 2006 |

Which wins? You guessed it.

The Bush administration and Congress have slashed millions of dollars of military aid to African nations in recent years, moves that Pentagon officials and senior military commanders say have undermined American efforts to combat terrorist threats in Africa and to counter expanding Chinese influence there.

Since 2003, Washington has shut down Pentagon programs to train and equip militaries in a handful of African nations because they have declined to sign agreements exempting American troops from the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

But the policy, which was designed to protect American troops, has instead angered senior military officials, who say the cuts in military aid are shortsighted and have weakened counterterrorism efforts in places where the threat of international terrorism is said to be most acute.

US cooperation with African military organizations is not an unqualified good. In the past, such cooperation has enabled local military authorities to build bases of support and seize power. A powerful military in a weak state is a double-edged sword; the military can hold the state together and defeat local competitors, but at the same time it threatens the stability of civilian authorities. Saddam Hussein understood this, which is why he was reluctant until the end to deploy significant forces in Baghdad, or to create an independent, well trained officer corps.

Nevertheless, connections like these serve some positive purposes. First, a healthy attitude about the proper role of a military organization in democratic society doesn’t simply appear out of nowhere; cooperation with US (or other Western) military officers can serve to create and spread norms of subservience to civilian authority. Obviously this has to be an active effort; such norms don’t appear automatically, and in the Cold War US sponsored military organizations often launched internal coups. However, especially since the end of the Cold War these kinds of missions have included a focus on military subservience, which can only be a good thing in a weak state.

Second, several of the states the US has severed military ties with have genuine terrorist problems. Believe it or not, the administration has cut support for Kenya and Mali, both of which have experienced radical Islamic terrorist attacks. Kenya, as you may recall, was the site of one of the embassy bombings in 1998. While allowing that the US military probably isn’t the best organization to teach counter-terrorist doctrine, it certainly doesn’t hurt to have US officers and non-coms teaching basic light infantry tactics. Many African military organizations are completely inept, which allows small, dedicated NGOs to carve out territorial space and resist government authority.

Third, these missions can serve to increase US military capacity. While it’s unlikely that US officers are going to try to learn tactics from Kenyans, in missions like this they do acquire experience dealing with foreign cultures. This can only help intelligence gathering and interpretation. Moreover, an appreciation of local cultural difference is critical to successful counter-insurgency.

The article also mentions that China has stepped into the void in several of the countries in question. This really doesn’t bother me all that much; the Chinese will probably prove nearly as good at imparting basic military skills and equipment to these organizations, and I’m not ready to cry over lost arms sales for US companies. I’m also unconvinced that these ties lead to long-term diplomatic cooperation. After all, the United States has seen fit to terminate long and productive relationships at the drop of a hat. This sort of behavior would be defensible if it were in response to, say, a military coup or a series of human rights abuses. But we live in Bizzaro world; abuse who you want, but if you won’t promise to never, ever prosecute our soldiers, you’re out.

Losing a Battlestar at the Office

[ 0 ] July 25, 2006 |

Heh. Chuckle.

Intermediate-ish Media Rob

[ 0 ] July 24, 2006 |

I’ll be web chatting at the Lexington Herald-Leader tomorrow from 1-2pm. Israel-Hizbollah Conflict is the topic.

The Countermobilization Myth and the Fear of Political Conflict

[ 0 ] July 24, 2006 |

“Behind all the glamour and idealism of the Kennedy administration, Nick Bryant would have us see something else in “The Bystander”: the calculating, often quite cynical, political mind of John F. Kennedy. Bryant convincingly argues that Kennedy placed style above substance, symbolism over real achievement in the realm of civil rights. President Kennedy’s stance, as described by Bryant, was simple: Be patient and don’t cause any trouble that might embarrass me in the media. Kennedy wanted to be popular, and so he carefully navigated between the demands of African Americans seeking the end of Jim Crow and white segregationists defending the status quo.

Balanced between civil rights protesters in the streets and the powerful, segregationist Southern Caucus in Congress, Kennedy chose a policy of “gradualism” that cloaked complete inaction. Activists such as Martin Luther King Jr. reacted to Kennedy’s gradualism by organizing protests to provoke the inherent violence of Jim Crow. Time and time again, Kennedy responded by asking these civil right activists to stop protesting, to work behind the scenes. Yet activists like King soon learned that the proverbial squeaky wheel gets the grease, so they kept forcing Kennedy to act.”

Chuck Leddy, on Nick Bryant’s The Bystander

I have a new article up at TAP on the strange contrarian (or is it now conventional?) wisdom that losing in the New York courts is actually a good thing for gay rights.

I’ve been thinking about this issue for a while now and will continue as I work on my manuscript, and one of the puzzling things about this argument is the extent to which it’s embraced by progressives. I can understand why conservatives would want to pretend that they wouldn’t really object if legislatures enacted policies to which they’re vociferously opposed. Unprincipled invocations of ‘judicial activism” have become what unprincipled invocations of “states’ rights” used to be: a way to dodge issues you’d prefer not to engage on the merits, and which can be quickly abandoned where the Fugitive Slave Act or Tennessee Valley Authority or Bush v. Gore or Kelo v. New London are concerned. It’s an effective rhetorical bluff. But why do many liberals take them seriously? I think Roy’s recent comments about Glenn Reynolds provide us with a good guide to people (like Reynolds) who are likely to buy this stuff:

What Rosen takes for libertarianism in the Perfesser’s case is just laziness. He’s an educated Babbitt who thinks everything will work out because it’s worked out for him. That’s why he loves the idea of robots and gadgets and web toys that will save the world while he sits on his ass. That’s why he was so juiced about the “Cedar Revolution,” with its cell phone photos of protest babes — and so bummed when Israel wound up bombing Lebanon anyway. That’s the real source of the “triumphalism” that bothers Rosen — not science, but its opposite: an unshakable faith in one’s own obliviousness.

See, to generalize there are two kinds of groups who oppose progressive social change. First, you have outright reactionaries. Then you have people–JFK liberals, let’s call them–who wish the world was a better place, and nominally support reform…as long as it doesn’t affect them in any way, and they don’t have to do anything, or make any difficult political choices. Where the latter group is concerned, opposition to social change is not on the merits, but based on the fact that opponents of the status quo are going too fast and not doing things in the right way (and it turns out that there never is a right way.)

Passive-aggressive assurances that one is sympathetic to the general aims of progressives but can’t we just maintain our collegiality and wait for noblesse oblige to kick in have been heard whenever some exclusion from basic rights has been challenged by collective activism: labor rights, women’s rights, rights for African-Americans. Essentially, they like to retroactively forget about the conflict and struggle that was necessary to generate change, and pretend that society just sort of came to generously respect people’s rights after painstaking Oxford Debating Society deliberation and perhaps some spontaneous generosity. The struggle for civil rights is all “I have a dream” while the Scottsboro Boys and Little Rock and Dynamite Hill and Selma get written out of the picture–you’ll catch more flies with honey than vinegar, you know! Proponents of the countermobilization myth like to think that political changes just sort of happena, that there’s a natural, unidirectional progress that will inevitably push things in the right direction if the victims of injustice will just be quiet and not press rights claims too loudly until each and every state in the union is no longer offended by what courts in other states might do. But there’s nothing natural or inevitable about social change; it’s the result of conflicts, many of which involve largely incommensurable positions, and these changes will be strongly opposed by the people threatened by them no matter which institution goes first.

And in the meantime, gays and lesbians in New York remain denied one of society’s most fundamental rights for no good reason. Call me crazy, but if it was “middle-aged pundits” or “Southern Law Professors” who were being arbitrarily excluded from the rights and privileges of marriage, suddenly the problem would become more urgent, and developing too-clever-by-half contrarian theories would become less important…

Making it Hard

[ 0 ] July 24, 2006 |

It’s things like this that make it hard for me to be sympathetic to Chavez apologists:

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez hailed the man dubbed “Europe’s last dictator” Monday as he started an international tour by visiting the authoritarian leader of the isolated former Soviet nation of Belarus.

“Here, I’ve got a new friend and together we’ll form a team, a go-ahead team,” Chavez said before one-on-one talks. “I thank you, Alexander, for solidarity and we’ve come here to demonstrate our solidarity.”

To put it bluntly, Aleksader Lukashenko is one hell of a bastard. There is no compelling need for Chavez to cozy up to him; the Russians will sell Venezuela whatever military equipment it desires (including, apparently, 30 Su-30s and 30 helicopters) and economic importance of Belarus is slight. If Chavez really were the great hope that some on the left suggest, he certainly shouldn’t be friendly with Lukashenko. I’m not sympathetic to claims that Chavez is a dictator or a serious security threat to the United States, but any defense of him from a progressive perspective has to account for actions like these.

Oh, and “Bush also talks to nasty dictators” does not constitute a defense.

The Psychology of Tit for Tat

[ 0 ] July 24, 2006 |

Unsurprisingly, there are some psychological obstacles to a “tit-for-tat” strategy:

In a study conducted by William Swann and colleagues at the University of Texas, pairs of volunteers played the roles of world leaders who were trying to decide whether to initiate a nuclear strike. The first volunteer was asked to make an opening statement, the second volunteer was asked to respond, the first volunteer was asked to respond to the second, and so on. At the end of the conversation, the volunteers were shown several of the statements that had been made and were asked to recall what had been said just before and just after each of them.

The results revealed an intriguing asymmetry: When volunteers were shown one of their own statements, they naturally remembered what had led them to say it. But when they were shown one of their conversation partner’s statements, they naturally remembered how they had responded to it. In other words, volunteers remembered the causes of their own statements and the consequences of their partner’s statements.

What seems like a grossly self-serving pattern of remembering is actually the product of two innocent facts. First, because our senses point outward, we can observe other people’s actions but not our own. Second, because mental life is a private affair, we can observe our own thoughts but not the thoughts of others. Together, these facts suggest that our reasons for punching will always be more salient to us than the punches themselves — but that the opposite will be true of other people’s reasons and other people’s punches.

This evokes any number of dorm arguments I had in my freshman year. Whenever we touched on a foreign policy issue, the question of “who struck first” invariably arose as if it were meaningful for resolving the problem. It’s critical to remember that while any foreign policy action of course involves sending a message, the message you send may not be the message that the other party hears. This has obvious implications for any discussion of will, resolve, or reputation.

UPDATE: To spell out briefly what those are (I’m a little embarrassed to find an NYT website link to such a short post), expressing resolve or will requires the sending of a message to another. If, say, the Greek Navy were to seize a Turkish fishing boat, Turkey might seek to demonstrate toughness or resolve by destroying several Greek ships or firing missiles at a Greek port. The Greeks, though, don’t have to interpret this act as one of “toughness” or “resolve”; they can believe, rather, that the Turks are simply expressing hostility and aggression. Since there is always an incentive to deceive when sending a message like this (the Turks will always want the Greeks to believe they’re tough, whether that’s true or not), it is extremely difficult to craft messages that both sides understand in the same way.

The Other Options

[ 0 ] July 24, 2006 |

Matthew asks:

But none of this changes the fact that it is Hezbullah that retains an armed “state within a state” in defiance of UN resolutions and the Taif Accords, that it was Hezbullah that raided across an internationally recognized border and is holding kidnapped Israeli soldiers, that it is Hezbullah that indeed keeps its missiles and rockets in and around people’s homes, and that Hezbullah was quite clearly coordinating its actions with Hamas.

What should Israel’s response have been? I’m waiting for the answer to that, because I haven’t heard a viable alternative yet.

As I’m fond of telling my national security students, there are always options. Israel did not need to embark on its current course; defenses of its policy should be made in reference to the other options available to it, not to the altar of “necessity” (which Matthew, in fairness, hasn’t done).

  1. Go ahead and make a prisoner exchange. Unsatisfying, and invites further kidnappings and attacks. But it’s also the only realistic way to get the soldiers back alive.
  2. Do nothing, other than launch some tit-for-tat strikes against things that Hezbollah values. Indicates that aggression comes with a price, and that kidnapping will not lead to concessions. Kidnapped soldiers die, and problem is not “solved” in any meaningful way.
  3. Launch a series of reprisals more measured than those we have seen; let Lebanese infrastructure targets be. Indicate that further aggression has a large price. Kidnapped soliders die, and problem still probably isn’t solved.
  4. Invade. Only option that has any chance of destroying Hezbollah. Very costly to both Israel and Lebanon, but at least puts Hezbollah outside of reach of Haifa and other major Israeli targets.

None of those options are great, but the course that Israel has embarked upon ain’t great, either. Sadly, the international system does not often present its members with problems that can be easily solved. I would probably have gone with some combination of 2 and 3, although I can appreciate that this would have been difficult to defend to Olmert’s constituents.

Hobbesian Libertarian Update

[ 0 ] July 23, 2006 |

Yglesias, Fontana Labs, and Farrell have already dealt with this reprehensible Alan Dershowitz column, which goes entirely off the moral rails with its claim that “[t]he Israeli army has given well-publicized notice to civilians to leave those areas of southern Lebanon that have been turned into war zones. Those who voluntarily remain behind have become complicit.” I think the problem with the idea that genocide is perfectly justifiable as long you provide 24-hour notice and your victims are physically capable of becoming refugees is obvious, but Matt gets to the heart of the matter:

This amounts, in essence, to granting a license to purge civilian populations from any geographical area. Crucially, it employs a very strange definition of “voluntarily.” “Your money or your life,” says the mugger. I voluntarily (?) refuse to fork over the cash and get shot, but it’s okay to kill me because I could have given up the money. That seems wrong.

Similarly, decent people take the view that it’s wrong for Hezbollah to take a bunch of basically un-aimable rockets and point them in the direction of Israeli cities and hope they kill some people. Instead of doing that, Hezbollah could identify some legitimate targets inside the city in question, then state that they’ll be targeting those facilities but their rockets have extremely poor aim and so civilians have 48 hours to leave the city, and then start firing the rockets. This alternative procedure would, I think, alter the situation not at all.

Essentially, Dershowitz is advocating a Hobbesian standard of what constitutes consent–if you consent at the point of a gun, it’s still consent. The incompatibility of this definition with any kind of liberal democratic practices is manifest.

At this point, it’s worth remembering Tara McKelvey’s superb article about academics who developed all kinds of strained arguments to defend (American) torture. As you may remember, Dershowitz is a prominent player there as well…

UPDATE: And Digby is correct to note that this logic is the same as Ward Churchill’s “Little Eichmanns” argument. See also Billmon.

Tales of the Sea: Goeben, Part VII

[ 0 ] July 23, 2006 |

Part I

Part II

Part III

Part IV

Part V

Part VI

TCG Yavuz resumed her duty as the flagship of the Turkish Navy in 1930. Much had changed since she was last operational, however. The German Empire had vanished, and the High Seas Fleet lay at the bottom in the British naval base of Scapa Flow. Yavuz was the last remaining German-built capital ship. Technology had also moved forward, as the newest battleships operated by Japan, the United States, and the United Kingdom displaced nearly twice the tonnage of Yavuz and carried 16″ guns. The disastrous British experience at Jutland had brought the entire concept of the battlecruiser into question, leaving Yavuz a bit of an anachronism.

In order to forestall a new naval race, the great powers had signed the Washington Naval Treaty in 1922. This treaty limited the fleets of the world, and mandated the destruction of many older battleships. The Royal Navy alone scrapped over twenty older battleships. No new construction battleship construction (with a couple of exceptions) was to be allowed for 10 years, and replacement of old capital ships was allowed after 20 years of service. The great fleets envisioned by Japan, the United States, and the United Kingdom remained on the drawing board, and the taxpayers of the world breathed a sigh of relief. The impact of the Treaty has been much debated, with naval enthusiasts and arms control opponents sneering at its failure to prevent the Second World War. On the other hand, the Treaty surely limited the size of the major navies, saving a lot of money that would have been spent on soon-to-be obsolete battleships. A second Treaty in 1930 further reduced the size of the great navies, leaving the USN and RN with 15 battleships, and the IJN with 9.

None of this particularly affected the status of Yavuz. The Greek Navy operated Kilkis and Lemnos, two old American pre-dreadnoughts, that were no match for the Turkish battlecruiser either alone or in tandem. Yavuz could not claim similar superiority over the Russian Navy in the Black Sea, as the battleship Parizhya Kommuna had arrived in early 1930. Nevertheless, Yavuz gave the Turks rough equality with the Russians. In 1936 Yavuz led a Turkish naval squadron to Malta, an event that helped re-inagurate Anglo-Turkish friendship. This meant that the Turks had little to fear from the far larger Italian Navy.

Yavuz’ obsolencence was confirmed in May 1937 with the commissioning of the French battleship Dunkerque. Dunkerque was the first fast battleship, a new type which closed the space between battleship and battlecruiser. Advances in propulsion and hull technology had allowed naval architects to largely solve the speed vs. armor dilemma. Dunkerque could make 31 knots, faster than any battlecruiser in the world, but had as much armor as a World War I super-dreadnought and a respectable armament. Dunkerque and her kin, under construction in Germany, Italy, Japan, the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union, were fast enough to catch Yavuz and powerful enough to kill her.

At 9:05am on November 10, 1938, Ataturk died of cirrhosis of the liver. General stress and a lifetime of heavy drinking had taken their toll. TCG Yavuz bore Ataturk’s body to its final resting place. One of Ataturk’s legacies was a preference for a modest foreign policy, and suspicion of the fascist movements in Italy and Germany. Nevertheless, Turkey remained neutral during World War II until February 1945. Even then, the declaration of war against Germany and Japan had no effect other than to secure Turkey’s position in the United Nations. Bulgaria and Rumania had already left the war, securing the Black Sea, and the rump fascist Italian state no longer possessed a navy in the Mediterranean. TCG Yavuz thus engaged in no combat missions during World War II.

At the end of World War II, most of the navies of the world decommissioned their old battleships. The oldest Royal Navy ships were sent to the scrapyard by 1949. The United States either sank or scrapped its most elderly ships. Yavuz became part of an odd sorority of ancient battleships possessed by second rate navies. Yavuz’ new “sisters” included the Soviet Novorossiysk, the Argentine Rivadavia, the Brazilian Sao Paulo, and the Chilean Almirante Latorre. Even among these Yavuz was an anachronism, as she was the only one to have coal propulsion rather than oil. Nevertheless, Yavuz would remain the flagship of the Turkish Navy as Turkey joined the NATO alliance in 1952.

To be continued…

Kristol Destroys the Resolve Argument

[ 0 ] July 22, 2006 |


WALLACE: But isn’t that the result of what’s happened in Iraq?

KRISTOL: No, it’s a result of our deducing from the situation in Iraq that we can’t stand up to Iran. I mean, when we stand up over and over and say Iran is shipping Improvised Explosive Devices into Iraq and killing U.S. soldiers, and Syria’s providing a line for terrorists to come into Iraq and kill U.S. soldiers, and that’s unacceptable. That’s not helpful. And then we do nothing about it. When Ahmadinejad says provocative things, continues to ship arms to Hezbollah, and we say, okay, maybe now we’ll give you direct talks. That, unfortunately, that weakness has been provocative. Ahmadinejad feels emboldened. Now we need to show him, and I think the administration has done a good job the last couple of days of showing him, that he miscalculated. And indeed, this is a great opportunity. I think our weakness, unfortunately, invited this aggression, but this aggression is a great opportunity to begin resuming the offensive against the terrorist groups.

What? We invade Iraq, and it invites more aggression? Who could have predicted? Kristol’s point (his lassez faire attitude about the facts notwithstanding) should serve to destroy any notion that aggressive activity can create a reputation for “resolve”. In this case, we have attacked and destroyed the regime in between Syria and Iran. This action, according to Kristol, has resulted in a reputation for weakness on the part of the United States. Why? Because follow-through has been insufficiently aggressive. What Kristol fails to grapple with is we CANNOT control how countries like Iran and Syria view us; they assume that we are weak, and interpret the available evidence accordingly. Wars like Iraq don’t lend themselves to a singular interpretation, as different actors take away different interpretations. It should hardly surprise us that Iran and Syria interpret the attack differently than we do. But it’s nice to see that the premier neocon is admitting that the invasion of Iraq has failed utterly to give the US a reputation for resolve or strength.

The lesson should not be lost on Israel, either. Many have argued that the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000 allowed Hezbollah and the Palestinians to conclude that Israel was weak. This is a strange lesson to learn, when you think about it; an eighteen year occupation ends, with relatively low casualties for the occupying power in spite of extremely high casualties for the occupied, and this is supposed to indicate that Israel is weak? More about this later. The question of the day is “what will Hezbollah learn from the current Israeli attacks?” There is zero chance that the bombing will destroy Hezbollah, and an invasion doesn’t stand a much better hope. At some point the Israeli strikes will end, and there will undoubtedly be elements within Hezbollah that say “Look; the Israelis are weak. They bombed us, but then gave up. They invaded, but then went home. This indicates that they have weak resolve”. This is simply not a game that Israel (or the US) can win; you cannot convince an opponent that you have resolve. You can convince someone that you have capability (there’s lots of evidence that Iran toned itself down after 1991, noting how easily the US destroyed the Iraqi Army), but you can’t convince them that you’re tough.

The insistence of a commentator that “resolve” is key is a good indicator of a shallow and amateurish approach to foreign policy.

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