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Archive for June, 2009

Foreign Policy Isn’t About Your Feelings

[ 0 ] June 22, 2009 |

Reading the comments here, what’s most striking is that Treacher et al. have yet to even attempt an argument explaining, in concrete terms, what more forceful rhetoric or more private dessert eating would accomplish. If I can try to piece together the causal logic:

  • Obama supports Iran opposition, ignores daughters, eats good American salad consisting of Kraft Mayonnaise over iceberg lettuce rather than those fancy greens and olive oils that people who never leave major urban centers assume that people outside of major urban centers have never heard of
  • Iranian government uses comments to paint the opposition as the cat’s paw of a hated regime; opposition distances itself from Obama’s comments.
  • ?????????
  • Profit! Revolution!

I’m not really seeing it. In fairness, calling Iran the “Axis of Evil” did singlehandedly usher in an era of Democracy, Whiskey, and Sexy in Iran, so I’m sure similar comments from Obama would be equally effectual.

Meanwhile, the ill-named Socrates asks:

Let’s try a thought experiment..

What would you all really be saying today if it had been Booooooosh! doing this while Iran burned, instead of Obama..?

Take a few minites to think; and be intellectually honest about it…

See, this may be shocking news to people who think that Obama can make democracy appear in Iran through his silver tongue (and they call us “Obamabots”!), but Iran is not the only tyranny in the world. This blog has been in operation for quite a long time, stretching all the way back to the Bush administration. So, for example, we can consider the case of Zimbabwe. You may recall that — while Bush was in the White House! — an even worse regime than the current Iranian one engaged in even more egregious and violent election theft. If you search our archives, however, you will note that at no point did I attack Bush for clearing brush instead of spending all of his time denouncing Robert Mugabe, for the obvious reason that you’d have to be a Grade A Moron to think that anything Bush said would somehow cause fair elections to be held in Zimbabwe. The same, of course, goes for the assertion that more forceful rhetoric will somehow produce a fair election in Iran. But thanks for the question!

UPDATE BY ROB: Shorter Andy McCarthy: Barack Obama is objectively pro-mullah!


Biggest upset in major sports history?

[ 0 ] June 22, 2009 |

It’s too bad not many Americans care about soccer, because what happened at the Confederations Cup yesterday might well have been the longest shot to ever come through in the sport’s history.

First, the US had to beat Egypt by three goals. The US never beats anyone by three goals in a major international competition. That’s a blowout at this level. But beyond that Egypt had just beaten Italy and was unlucky to lose to Brazil — two teams that had just routed the US. On top of that, Egypt knew that in all likelihood all they had to do to advance was not get routed by the US. So the US had the extra disadvantage of having to blow out a team that could go through simply by playing a hyper-conservative style.

Add that all up and the pre-game odds of the US winning by three must have been 50-1, at least.

But that’s only half of it, since winning by three wouldn’t help unless Brazil beat Italy by either exactly 3-0 or by at least four goals (4-1, 5-2, etc. would have put Italy through since it would have pushed things to the fourth tiebreaker, which was head to head results).

Now Italy is old and not playing well, but they lose 3-0 or by at least four when scoring in a big tournament about once every 20 years, plus this is a far from overwhelming Brazilian team. So the odds of that were hardly better than the odds of the US beating Egypt by three.

Add it up and I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that from a ex ante perspective it was literally looking like a 1000-1 shot for the US to go through.

Section 5 of Voting Rights Act Narrowed But Not Struck Down

[ 0 ] June 22, 2009 |

The Supreme Court today, by an 8-1 vote, narowed but did not strike down the “preclearance” provisions of the Voting Rights Act that require certain jurisdictions to get federal approval for any changes in their election laws. The opinion of the Court, written by Chief Justice Roberts, declined to address the question of whether the Voting Rights Act is constitutional but rather ruled on the narrow grounds that the utility district in question was eligible to apply for a “bailout” from the preclearance provisions if they meet certain conditions. Justice Thomas, in partial dissent, argued that Section 5 should have been ruled unconstitutional.

Despite how it looked after oral argument, I’m not actually surprised by the outcome. The Court’s conservatives have generally been much more likely to narrow civil rights legislation and major Warren Court precedents than overturn them outright, and it seemed especially unlikely that they would start a new trend with a provision of the Voting Rights Act however much they disliked it. And while I tend to be skeptical of “minimalism” in general and how the Roberts Court has used it in particular, in this case I actually think it’s meaningful and appropriate. The outcome in this case is both reasonable on its face and doesn’t completely gut the statute.

While I’m engaging in rare praise for John Roberts, I should also say that I think that conservatives do have one objection to Section 5 that I consider reasonable. As regular readers know, I have less than no use for arguments that the “sovereign dignity” of states should trump human rights, and also think that the localized American electoral system is a disaster that should be mitigated as much as possible. However, I do think Roberts has a good point when he questions the ongoing selective applicability of the preclearance provisions: “The evil that §5 is meant to address may no longer be concentrated in the jurisdictions singled out for preclearance. The statute’s coverage formula is based on data that is now more than 35 years old, and there is considerable evidence that it fails to account for current political conditions.” It’s not obvious to me that, say, Indiana is less likely to enact legislation restricting minority access to the ballot than Virginia or Kings County New York. To the extent that the Supreme Court is signaling that the legislation would be more easily defensible if it applied to everyone, I think they have a point (although I suspect that the Court’s conservatives may be planting a Catch-22 in which the legislation will turn out to be under- or over-inclusive depending on how Congress deals with this question.)

More Mustard Green Tea Ice Cream Gate!

[ 0 ] June 22, 2009 |

It was a very busy weekend, so when I saw Patterico’s compare and contrast post linked I decided to pretend that it was really a critique of media types giving detailed twitterings of the president’s ice cream buying. But then he showed up in comments to Noon’s post, and…yes, he seems to think that this is a serious critique of Obama. Sad. And this meme is apparently becoming widespread!

Around the same time, Obama found time to get some ice cream with his daughters, which became further proof of his contempt for the Iranian people.

Patterico put tweets about Iran and Obama’s ice cream side by side to show… we’re not sure what, but something very bad, no doubt — maybe that every time Obama licks a cone, it’s a signal for Iranian troops to get out the rubber hoses. Michelle Malkin put a picture of a dead protester next to a picture of Obama eating ice cream, to similar effect.

“To show his disengagement he took his daughters to a custard shop for (a bit like NERO) eating ice cream,” said Political Mavens. The Founding Bloggers announced “The Obama Ice Cream Scandal.” Moonbattery, looking for a fresh spin, tried “Iran Erupts, Obama Feeds His Dog Ice Cream.”

“Bloodshed in Iran vs. Obama’s Ice Cream Parlor Trip,” cried Frugal Cafe Blog Zone, “Maybe tomorrow, I can write a commentary. Now, right now… I simply can’t. I’m too dismayed and sickened.” Lactose intolerant, perhaps?

“Obama Snacked, Iranians Got Whacked,” said Jim Treacher, adding in boldface, “It isn’t about the ice cream,” though he declined to say what it was about. “Barack Obama… Let The Iranians Eat Ice Cream,” said Scared Monkeys, adding, “CAN YOU IMAGINE HOW THE PRESS WOULD HAVE REACTED IN GWB DID SOMETHING LIKE THIS?” — as if they, or anyone else, could have reacted any more stupidly.

Apparently, there would be democracy in Iran if Obama didn’t have dessert; perhaps we can call this the “New Green Lantern Flavor at Ben & Jerry’s” principle. Or is there a general principle that public officials can’t do anything with their children as long as there’s anything bad happening in the world? Are these people dumb enough to think that Obama has the same impact on Iranian domestic politics that the president has on American domestic politics? Who knows, but it’s funny in its pathetic way.


[ 0 ] June 22, 2009 |

Who would have thought that one of the most annoying “liberal” Iraq war apologists and torture apologists would turn out to be, when inexplicably given the leadership of a major political party, a strategic mastermind incapable of making lemons out of lemonade?

At least he didn’t ask for French Vanilla

[ 0 ] June 21, 2009 |

The only decent course of action, of course, would have been for Obama to embark on a Gandhian fast until Twitter made the mullahs cry.

One of Gateway Pundit’s commenters asks, “What if Bush had done this?”

Yeah, the mind boggles.

Theory for Fathers Day

[ 0 ] June 21, 2009 |

Stephen Walt explains how international relations theory helps to explain the complexities of parenthood. It’s all good, but this seemed especially relevant to my present condition:

But if you have a second child the dynamics shift. If one parent is alone at home and both kids are awake, the balance of power isn’t in the parent’s favor anymore. Instead of double-teaming them, they get to double-team you. And once the kids are mobile, you learn about another key IR concept: the window of opportunity. You’re feeding or changing Kid #1, and Kid #2 makes a bolt out the front door, just like North Korea tested a nuclear weapon while we were busy with Iraq. Or you’re in the middle of a crowded department store and they each decide to head down different aisles. The potential complications of a multipolar order were never clearer the first time this happened to me.

I’ve been surprised by the variety of state-level functions — intelligence-gathering (e.g., reading, research, blogging), public health maintenance (e.g., bathing, epidemic prevention), infrastructural improvement (e.g., exercising, fixing shit around the house), wildlife management (e.g., feeding the dogs, cleaning up cat urine, saving the fish from suffocating in their own filth) — that have been severely compromised since the birth of Heir #2, who is currently gobbling my left hand as I type this post with my right. History is replete with superpowers who have gracelessly presided their own decline, and while I doubt my own fate will be as swift as, say, the Incan conquest, I’m thinking the Ottoman Empire provides the best possible analogy.

Pictured below: France and Great Britain, drawing up the Sykes-Picot Agreement.

Battleships Light Up Seattle

[ 0 ] June 21, 2009 |

Check out this incredible picture at Vintage Seattle:

Any guesses as to what year this was? Here’s a hint; it’s definitely not 1908, which is what the caption indicates.

Egypt v USA

[ 0 ] June 21, 2009 |

Kick off is at 19:30 (BST), 12:30 (EDT), 09:30 (PDT), 14:30 (EDT), 11:30 (PDT) [see comments for explanation], and a bunch of other times depending on your time zone.  The math isn’t that difficult.  Usually — but then the love of my life lives eight time zones away, so I’m fairly adept at this sort of math.  

I am going to try to watch this one, so might have something erudite to say about it tomorrow.  It looks like striker Mohamed Zidan may not be fit, which is the extent of the good news.  He’s probably Egypt’s best player (and yes, I’m inviting arguments about the absent Mido), plus a) looked damned good against Brazil in the opening match, and b) is one of only two players on the current Egypt squad who plays in one of the big five leagues (Zidan plays for Borussia Dortmund in Bundesliga 1; the other is Middlesbrough midfielder Mohamad Shawky, who technically will be playing for a second tier side next season as Middlesbrough were relegated hence on their way to Plymouth for a match, suckers).
The US counters with a well-rested Ricardo Clark, so anticipate mayhem.  In light of Egypt’s defeat of Italy in the previous match, the US are not, technically, eliminated.  So here’s what has to happen for the US to proceed on to a losing date in the knock-out round: we have to win, and Italy lose to Brazil.  But wait, there’s more!  We’d require a six goal change in goal differential.  In other words, if the full time result is Egypt 0 – 3 USA, and Italy 0 – 3 Brazil, the US are through.  Or any set of results that add up to at least a six goal swing.
Northern Ireland’s chances of qualifying for the 2010 World Cup are better.  So rather than waste your time watching this match, read Rob’s latest Sunday Book Review below.  Or better, read Rob while “watching” the match.  Me, I’m heading down to the bookies to put some precious cash on “first American player sent off” in this match . . . 

Sunday Book Review: Hide and Seek: Searching for Truth in Iraq

[ 2 ] June 21, 2009 |

This is the third installment of a seven part series on the Patterson School’s Summer Reading List.

  1. World of Nations, William Keylor
  2. The Bottom Billion, Paul Collier
  3. Hide and Seek, Charles Duelfer

Charles Duelfer worked for UNSCOM, the agency that investigated Iraqi compliance with UN resolutions mandating the elimination of chemical and biological stockpiles during the 1990s. He later came to fame as the head of the Iraq Survey Group, which turned in the final administrative report on the state of Iraq’s unconventional weapons programs at the time of the invasion. The former job meant that he was uniquely suited for the latter, as he had more experience with Iraq than most living Americans. He has now penned Hide and Seek: The Search for Truth in Iraq, an analytical memoir about his experiences in Iraq. Duelfer isn’t a natural writer, and the seams are visibile; in some places Hide and Seek seems a touch incoherent. Nevertheless, it’s a valuable contribution to the growing literature on the Iraq War.

Duelfer continues to believe that the decision to invade Iraq was sound, but that the execution of the war was fatally disrupted by US ineptitude. This isn’t quite the incompetence dodge; he doesn’t attempt to excuse his support of the war by suggesting that he thought it would end up better than it did. Rather, he favored war because he believed that the other options were even worse. He argues that continued disengagment with Iraq would, in fairly short order, have resulted in the reconstitution of its unconventional weapons programs and itsbthreat to US interests in the Gulf. Direct engagement with Iraq could have borne fruit, but was impossible given the domestic situation within the United States. War, thus, was the only remaining option. Interestingly enough, Duelfer was largely indifferent to the central justification for war. He thought it possible that Iraq had retained stockpiles of biological and chemical weapons, but was by no means certain. He didn’t, however think that the presence of such weapons was a key element of the case for war.

I found Duelfer’s argument that Saddam was a threat that required action uncompelling. It’s entirely correct to say that Iraq wanted out of the sanctions regime, and that elements of the regime wished to preserve the capability to produce unconventional weapons. It’s also true that some parts of the sanctions regime were untenable. This doesn’t, however, add up to very much. In four years of absence of inspections, the Iraqis had not reconstituted their unconventional weapons programs, in spite of the belief that the United States wasn’t playing fair. Moreover, Iraqi conventional capabilities had deteriorated substantially relative to the United States, and to every other state in the region. Without conventional capability, even a robust chemical program would have had only a limited effect on regional politics. Finally, I simply don’t believe that the sanctions regime was dead; an energetic, enthusiastic, and intelligent US administration could have used the political capital generated by 9/11 to reinvigorate and restructure the sanctions regime, such that it allowed Iraq to develop its economy while seriously restricting Hussein’s ability to reconstruct his conventional army. This, as they say, was the road not taken. To his credit, Duelfer gives absolutely no creedence to the notion that Hussein could transfer WMD to terrorist organizations.

Duelfer discusses Iraqi entreaties toward the United States on several occasions. Saddam and the rest of the regime believed that the United States and Iraq could cooperate on several fronts, and that the US and Iraq were natural allies. It seems that the Iraqis believed this during almost the entire period between 1991 and 2003, although the feelers became more serious after 1996. Hussein suggested collaboration on the Palestinian issue (including an offer to resettle Palestinians in Iraq), the growth of Islamic extremism, and Iran. It’s not quite true that none of this was taken seriously by the US government; rather, it’s more accurate to say that no one was listening. Duelfer, who worked in Iraq for much of this period, was sometimes the conduit through which such feelers were made. The Clinton administration, however, had not the faintest interest in reconciling with the Iraqi regime. Duelfer argues that the Iraqis could have offered the world and the moon, but that the balance of power in the US government precluded the possibility of diplomacy. Clinton wouldn’t pursue rapproachment with Iraq because of fear of Congressional criticism. This effectively foreclosed the “reconcile with Iraq” option.

I think that Duelfer is broadly correct; it’s difficult to imagine a scenario in which the United States government, at least in the short term, could have pursued reconciliation with Iraq. The problem was primarily (although not wholly) with Congressional Republicans; I suspect that even the Bush administration would have taken heat for openings with Hussein. Human rights advocacy groups would also, correctly, have denounced any rapproachment with Hussein’s regime. I think it’s also true that the blame for this situation fell on both sides. Had the Hussein government made a series of strong statements of denunciation of the attacks of 9/11, followed up by concrete and public offers of assistance, a dialogue might have been easier. The rehabilitation of Qaddafi demonstrates that anything can happen. Hussein, however, lacked vision.

As an unreformed war advocate, Duelfer is understandably agitated at the amazing ineptitude with which the war was conducted. He compellingly argues that the two biggest mistakes the US undertook following the invasion were the disbanding of the Iraqi Army and the process of de-Baathification. These moves alienated two groups that the United States should not have alienated; large formations of heavily armed young men, and Iraq’s technical and bureaucratic elite. Duelfer was familiar and friendly with much of the latter from his time in Iraq in the 1990s, and is confidant that it could have been co-opted. In effect, the United States gutted the Iraqi state while simultaeneously creating a motivated resistance. Obviously, I don’t think that these moves were entirely responsible for the creation of the insurgency, but it’s hard to argue that they didn’t make the situation much worse. Duelfer blames both decisions on the influence of the INC and on ideologues within the Defense Department. Neither group understood anything about modern Iraq, and the latter had only the faintest notion of what a state was.

Duelfer makes a tepid defense of the administration and the intelligence community against charges of lying and intentionally deceiving the American public, but doesn’t do a very good job. He makes the point, correctly, that pushing for a particular interpretation within a bureaucracy and intentional deception aren’t quite the same thing. He fails, however, to acknowledge the aura of absolute certainty that surrounded the administration’s insistence on the presence of chemical and biological weapons. In other words, it’s possible to imagine an administration that was forthrightly erroneous rather than intentionally deceptive, but the Bush administration ain’t it. Moreover, Duelfer fails entirely to discuss the most egregious deception undertaken by the administration, the implication that the Hussein regime was in league with Al Qaeda and could potentially supply the latter with effective WMD. A man with Duelfer’s expertise and experience in Iraq must have known that this was utter nonsense, both in terms of the likelihood of such a relationship and in terms of its fruits for either side. It is particularly disappointing that Duelfer ignores this deception, as it provided the logical foundation for linking the September 11 attacks to the invasion of Iraq.

Perhaps the most interesting contribution that Duelfer makes is insight into the bureaucratic machinations of the UN, Iraq, and the United States government. He details his slow realization that bureaucratic organizations depend on the production of their own internal realities, and that the realities that one organization requires to operate do not necessarily coincide with the realities of others. He discusses how the US, UNSCOM, and Iraq could have completely (and often wildly) different interpretations of the same event, and how these interpretations precluded meaningful cooperation. Duelfer is pretty hard on all of these bureaucracies; he faults the US bureaucracy for having an incoherent approach to Iraq, the Iraqi bureaucracy for perpetuating an unrealistic set of expectations, and the UN bureaucracy for limiting the scope of his investigations. On the latter, Duelfer falls into a common trap that afflicts UN critiques; he sees only how UN politics hindered the operations of UNSCOM, without thinking too much about how the Security Council enabled the investigations in the first place. This is classic trees-forest thinking. Without the Security Council, and without the will to conquer and occupy Iraq in 1991, there would have been no inspections whatsoever, and no investigation of Iraqi weapons program. Duelfer is fond of comparing the containment of Iraq post-1991 to the post-Versailles containment of Germany, but misses out on how the existence of the Security Council provided the former with far bigger teeth than the latter. Duelfer’s account will hold some interest for science and tech geeks, although not as much as I expected; Duelfer shies away from detailed discussions of the technical aspects of his work, although he does make clear that the details are, well, detailed.

This is a useful volume. There is much to disagree with, but that’s not really the point; read, disagree, and at the end you’ll still have a better understanding of how what Iraqis and Americans did after 1991 led to 2005. There is not and will never be a single narrative of US involvement in Iraq. The best we can do is try to piece together bits from different sources, in order to produce a narrative that makes sense. I suspect, moreover, that no single narrative will make sense to everyone. Duelfer’s contribution is an important one, largely because he was working in and thinking about Iraq while few other Americans were.


[ 0 ] June 21, 2009 |

Why is Al Sharpton on my teevee talking to Geraldo Rivera about Iran? This is to say, what has gone wrong with the world such that I have the capacity to watch Al Sharpton talk to Geraldo Rivera about Iran?

Keep Johnny Foreigner Out!

[ 0 ] June 20, 2009 |

I wanted to say something about this article in The Times, especially the argument (which the author, Sathnam Sanghera, does an excellent and nuanced job of demolishing) suggesting the English countryside must be racist because while an entire, mind boggling, simply staggering 9% of the British population is a minority (I don’t know if I count among the 9% or not, but I’ve got to be walking a fine line given my American-Irish background) only 1% of visitors to “the countryside” are minorities.

Even I can see that there is a pattern here.  So while I’m reading along, and considering several possible alternative hypotheses (like, erm, perhaps the minority population of the UK tend to be a hell of a lot poorer than the “indigenous population” as Nick Griffin, MEP, likes to refer to the white people) I come across this paragraph, which in my experience (a mere six years) captures the average construction of “the other” on this island succinctly:

As Richard Younger-Ross, the Lib Dem MP for Teignbridge, has put it: “One lady in Widecombe said she was fed up with all the foreigners moving in . . . But she didn’t mean people from different ethnic backgrounds, she meant people from Newton Abbot.”

Some context.  Newton Abbot is about 35 minutes up the A38 from Plymouth, in Devon.  Widecombe is a small village, about 10 miles WNW, from Newton Abbot, on Dartmoor, still in Devon.  Both reside within the aforementioned MP’s constituency.
There’s not much more I can do with this.
ADDENDUM: I don’t mean to imply above that either Nick Griffin, MEP, or the BNP are racist.  It’s an easy, cheap shot.  To their credit, they state several times on their own web page that they are most certainly not racist.  (But Labour are racist thugs, according to the BNP).  So now that I’ve afforded the BNP equal time, I’ll dispense with implying, and move on to an explicit statement.  They’re racist.  No, really.  
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