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[ 0 ] August 13, 2007 |

Like most teachers, I’m sure, I have the occasional — and one hopes irrational — dream that my students have arrayed themselves against me in ways that may or may not involve blunt-force weapons. Nightmares about verbal abuse are so common that I don’t even register them any more, but now and then I find myself waking up from a good, honest clubbing and wonder if I’d be wise to cancel classes for the rest of the week (or semester).

Reading about the case of St. Cassian, whose feast day is acknowledged on August 13, doesn’t really help the problem. I’ve written more about the poor chap here, but I’ll just highlight one description that is sure to stay with me as I prepare for yet another academic year.

Cassian, like all good martyrs, was executed for refusing to renounce his beliefs. What’s interesting about his case, though, is that he was sentenced to die at the hands of his pupils, whom he taught to read and write (and, apparently, to use shorthand). According to Alban Butler’s Lives of the the Fathers, Martyrs and Other Principal Saints (1866),

He was exposed naked in the midst of two hundred boys; among whom some threw their tablets, pencils, and penknives at his face and head, and often broke them upon his body; others cut his flesh or stabbed him with their pencils, sometimes only tearing the skin and flesh, and sometimes raking in his very bowels. Some made it their barbarous sport to cut part of their [assignment] in his tender skin. Thus, covered with his own blood, and wounded in every part of his body, he cheerfully bade his little executioners not to be afraid; and to strike him with greater force . . .

Good times, good times…

Advantage: Blogosphere!

[ 0 ] August 13, 2007 |

Shorter Treason-In-Defense-of-Slavery Yankee: Those idiots in the MSM can’t even fact-check transparently obvious one-liners to establish their empirical validity! How can anybody take anything they say seriously? LOL!

Next week: Beauchamp writes that Iraq in the summer is “hotter than a blast furnace.” TIDOSY conducts an extensive investigation and finds, in fact, that a blast furnace is hotter than Iraq, further embarassing the illiterate editors at TNR.

. . . addendum from d: Bob Owens’ update is a true classic in the genre:

The first experience most of us had with Beauchamp was with his last article first, and his allegation that he verbally assaulted a burn victim. It doesn’t seem much of a stretch from abuser of the burned to robber of the dead, so I took his comments at face value as a real claim.

I completely understand. My first experience with Bob Owens was when he claimed that Google was deliberately pushing “Baby Jesus Buttplugs” on Christmas. From there, it didn’t seem like much of a stretch to conclude that he’s an idiot.

50%+1 < 60%

[ 0 ] August 13, 2007 |

One of the key grafs from the Atlantic article about Rove is this one, which contains the explanation for why Rove’s ambitions to create a McKinley-like realignment were always doomed (leaving aside Mayhew’s entirely correct point that realignments are longer-term and more complex processes than are usually assumed):

One of the big what-ifs of his presidency is how things might have turned out had he stuck with it (education remains the one element of Rove’s realignment project that was successfully enacted). What did become clear is that Rove’s tendency, like Bush’s, is always to choose the most ambitious option in a list and then pursue it by the most aggressive means possible—an approach that generally works better in campaigns than in governing. Instead of modest bipartisanship, the administration’s preferred style of governing became something much closer to the way Rove runs campaigns: Steamroll the opposition whenever possible, and reach across the aisle only in the rare cases, like No Child Left Behind, when it is absolutely necessary. The large tax cut that Bush pursued and won on an almost party-line vote just afterward is a model of this confrontational style. Its limitations would become apparent.

It should be noted that, for the first term, the “50%+1″strategy was, in fact a very effective governing tool. Bush was very successful at getting his agenda through Congress despite his narrow “victory” precisely because he ignored vacuous invocations of “mandates” and realized that your power in domestic policy is about how many votes you can get in Congress, and simply getting the minimum necessary coalition allowed for the maximum policy gains. But this strategy is entirely incompatible with a long-term realignment, which requires adding allies rather than simply paying off existing ones. Social Security, among some other New Deal policies, worked for FDR precisely because they created the large coalition of supporters (although this meant not getting some things he wanted and making some horrible compromises with Southern Democrats.) And because of this existing constituency, privatizing social Security was never going to be broadly popular or an effective coalition-building device. Seeking the minimum possible winning coalition is never going to be compatible with engineering a major realignment, and Bush’s historically narrow victory as a wartime president with a decent economy makes clear. And even worse for Rove, 50%+1 becomes a lot less effective as the President becomes less popular, and hopeless on domestic policy when you’ve lost Congress.

Lefties Unite!

[ 0 ] August 13, 2007 |

It’s International Lefthanders’ Day.

Around here, Bean got a head start on the event by offering up one of her fingers to the gods. As for the rest of you, I expect to see some cars overturned and on fire by the end of the day. More rubble, less trouble.

The Big "L"

[ 0 ] August 13, 2007 |

Marcy Wheeler lays out some theories for why Rove is leaving. I don’t want to discount the possibility that he’s resigning before scandal brings him down, but I suspect the “he’s a loser” variable in quite important. His reputation as a political genius has always been spectacularly overblown. (And it’s not just 2006; his win in 2004 was exceptionally unimpressive for a wartime president with a decent economy against a candidate nobody regards as particularly strong.) After 2006 and Social Security, however, the jig is up. I think the potential scandals wouldn’t weaken him much if he still had his unmerited reputation as a mastermind, but with that having evaporated everything else is enough to push him out. (More on this when I have a chance to read the Atlantic article.)

Well, That Was Interesting

[ 0 ] August 13, 2007 |

So. I haven’t been posting much on the weekends because N and I have been escaping the city as much as possible, and leaving our wi-fi equipped laptops behind. Usually the weekends are pretty quiet, and are spent with friends or family who live outside the hot urban pavement.

This weekend brought more of the same. But it was punctuated Friday night by a little excitement. After arriving where we were staying (three hours and lots of traffic after we left nyc), we immediately got to work cooking dinner. I took up the guacamole. Half an hour later, the avocado sat speared by a very sharp knife on the counter and I was in the back of an ambulance on the way to the nearest hospital to sew up the wound that had been created in my hand when I went to spear the avocado pit and missed. I had a fight with an avocado and the knife won.

After my first ambulance ride ever (necessary because we did not know the area and the hospital was hard to find), a tetanus shot, a long evening in the hospital, and several stitches between my index and middle fingers (7 total, some out of view in the photo), we returned to the house and collapsed into bed. I was lucky, the doctor said, to have missed my tendons and the bone in my middle finger.

The bottom line of this now drawn-out story is that it is very difficult for me to type right now. Posting from me will be slow for the next few days. Bear with me. I’ll be back full force soon.

Oh, Condi…

[ 0 ] August 13, 2007 |

A bit more on the Rohde and Sanger; this struck me as emblematic of Condi’s tenure as National Security Advisor:

In a February 2002 meeting in the White House Situation Room, Mr. Powell proposed that American troops join the small international peacekeeping force patrolling Kabul and help Mr. Karzai extend his influence beyond the capital.


Richard N. Haass, the former director of policy planning at the State Department, said informal conversations with European officials had led him to believe that the United States could recruit a force of 20,000 to 40,000 peacekeepers, half from Europe, half from the United States.

But Mr. Rumsfeld contended that European countries were unwilling to contribute additional troops, according to Douglas J. Feith, then the Pentagon’s under secretary for policy. He said Mr. Rumsfeld felt that sending American troops would reduce pressure on Europeans to contribute, and could provoke Afghans’ historic resistance to invaders and divert American forces from hunting terrorists. Mr. Rumsfeld declined to comment.

Some officials said they feared confusion if European forces viewed the task as peacekeeping while the American military saw their job as fighting terrorists. Ms. Rice, despite having argued for fully backing the new Karzai government, took a middle position, leaving the issue unresolved. “I felt that we needed more forces, but there was a real problem, which you continue to see to this day, with the dual role,” she said.

Ultimately, Mr. Powell’s proposal died. “The president, the vice president, the secretary of defense, the national security staff, all of them were skeptical of an ambitious project in Afghanistan,” Mr. Haass said. “I didn’t see support.”

There are a couple of points of interest here; Rummy’s skepticism of the allies helped to sink the entire project, but his objection that more troops could provoke Afghan resistance is not, on its face, absurd. As it turns out he seems to have been wrong, as the lack of troops meant that the Taliban had time and space to reconstitute itself and threaten Afghan security.

More to the point, though, is Condi’s reluctance to DO HER GODDAMNED JOB, a position that left Rumsfeld in control of key aspects of the situation, left Washington policy in a muddle, and left Afghanistan to rot. The NSA is supposed to coordinate disagreement and manage conflict within the President’s circle of foreign policy advisors, but Condi again and again refused to play that role, leaving Powell and anyone else with a lick of sense at the mercy of Rumsfeld and Cheney. For this, she gets promoted to Secretary of State…

Thompson Out!

[ 0 ] August 13, 2007 |

Well, OK, it was Tommy.

I have a strange fascination with utter no-hope races for the presidency. This one, actually, seems somewhat explicable to me; Thompson used to be discussed as a potential nominee, and he probably thought of himself as one, so why not make the electorate tell you “no.” “Unintentional comic relief” was probably not how he wanted his career to end, though.

One of the most inexplicable runs was Orrin Hatch’s late entry in 2000. His platform, if I recall correctly, was pretty much “I agree pretty much entirely with George Bush and think he’s great, but I chiared the judiciary committee.” Oh.

The Logic of Afghanistan

[ 0 ] August 12, 2007 |

IB writes:

I was very pleased to see a handful of commentators politely question Hilzoy’s nostalgia for the Afghan War that could have been (but that “unserious” people understood even at the time would be a clusterfuck).

To my shame, I was more or less neutral on the Afghan War, largely because I thought that it was less stupid and destructive than what I had expected Bush to do (e.g. invade Iraq). And, I thought, at least it would put some very bad people out of business. Of course it did nothing of the sort. And then Bush went ahead and invaded Iraq.

I’m now convinced that the right position in the fall of 2001 was outright opposition to the invasion of Afghanistan. Those who opposed it then deserve a lot of credit for their intelligence and moral bravery.

I think that this position is defensible, but ultimately wrong. I wrote a while ago at the Prospect that the justification for invading Afghanistan remained sound, and I don’t think that the excellent Rohde and Sanger article in the NYT has done anything to change that. To revisit my argument:

  1. There was a reasonable security justification for the invasion. Although some may choose to believe that the Taliban would have handed over Bin Laden and shut down the Al Qaeda camps, I don’t; Al Qaeda was far too important to the Taliban’s war against the Northern Alliance (and Taliban military control more generally) for the Taliban to risk losing its support. Recall that Al Qaeda assassinated a major Northern Alliance leader in the days before September 11; that should be at least some indication that Al Qaeda and the Taliban envisioned a collaborative future. Of course, we’ll never know how things would have turned out otherwise, but I’m uncertain why I should have trusted the Taliban on this point when they really weren’t worthy of my trust on any other. We could have waited, of course, but that doesn’t really answer the question of whether or not it was sensible to invade Afghanistan; it just delays the determination by six months. Moreover, I think there was solid enough reason at the time to believe that shutting down Al Qaeda training camps would reduce the effectiveness of the organization, and I don’t see how that position has been refuted. Again, we don’t know what might have happened otherwise, but it’s difficult to envision something positive emerging from largely undamaged Al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan.
  2. It’s certainly reasonable to argue that the Bush administration was too inept to successfully reconstruct Afghanistan, but that argument goes only so far. First, I was confidant at the time (and have not been disappointed in that expectation) that the US would receive significant international support during and after the invasion. No matter how badly the Bush administration performed, it was reasonable to believe that other countries would pick up much of the slack. This expectation has not been disappointed; Japan and numerous NATO countries operate all over Afghanistan, engaging in reconstruction and development projects and carrying out “nation-building”. Indeed, unlike the situation in Iraq, I am completely unconvinced that life in Afghanistan today is more precarious or dangerous than it was in 2001. It’s a low bar, obviously, but that’s part of the point.
  3. Regarding Bush administration ineptitude, we have to remember that the number one problem with the occupation of Afghanistan has been the invasion of Iraq. Not only did it take American resources away from Afghanistan, but it helped radicalize opposition to the United States (this is not to say that invading Afghanistan was popular in the Islamic world, but Iraq caused an order-of-magnitude shift in attitudes), and reduced the degree to which the international community was willing to support reconstruction efforts. The invasion of Iraq enabled opponents of supporting Afghani reconstruction to argue (with some merit) that such support amounted to collaboration with US behavior in Iraq.
  4. There’s also the argument that an invasion of Iraq by the Bush administration was basically foreseeable in November 2001, and that therefore it was irresponsible to support the invasion of Afghanistan. Perhaps I was just extraordinarily myopic, but I certainly didn’t foresee the invasion of Iraq after September 11, and I pay fairly close attention to international affairs. Indeed, I was uncertain that the invasion would go forward until mid 2002. Even if Iraq were foreseeable, I think that invading Afghanistan was still the right call, but I will allow that the calculus is much tighter.
  5. Finally, I am simply unwilling to agree that the invasion of Afghanistan has “failed”. The Taliban still exists, but it is much weaker now than in 2001, controls far less territory, and is considerably farther away from international recognition. Bin Laden is still alive and Al Qaeda is still active, but it chose Afghanistan in the first place for a reason; it wanted a sanctuary from which it could train, plan, and conduct operations without interference. Whatever of Al Qaeda still exists in Pakistan, it is now smaller and less capable of foreign action. Most importantly, as I note above, I am completely unconvinced that life in Afghanistan is worse now that it was in 2001, that the costs of the invasion were unacceptably high (either to the American or the Afghan people), or that the war is “lost” in the sense that the Taliban will either reclaim territorial mastery of Afghanistan or produce enduring and destructive anarchy. Afghanistan is not Iraq; civilian fatalities and infrastructure damage simply don’t compare.

All that said, I don’t think it’s “unserious” to think that the invasion of Afghanistan was a mistake in retrospect, or to have thought that it was a mistake at the time. I think that those positions are wrong on both the facts and the theory, but I don’t presume to exclude them on the basis of a lack of seriousness.

Color Me Unimpressed

[ 0 ] August 12, 2007 |

I was informed that the Yankees would quickly start losing as soon as they encountered the formidable Tribe, and I certainly wanted this to be true. Admittedly, such arguments would be more convincing had they, say, identified any aspect in which the Indians were better than the Yankees (the 2007 Indians, I mean; I’ll concede that the Yankees have a worse rotation than the 1954 Indians, although I’m not really persuaded that this is a relevant criterion.) I suppose some would say defense, but you would be incorrect. In fairness, however, the Indians have established unquestioned supremacy in the field of “getting picked off first base with the bases loaded.”
On to the wildcard!

Merv Griffin!

[ 0 ] August 12, 2007 |

Gameshow kingpin Merv Griffin is no more. An odd guy by any standard, Griffin was a right wing nut who introduced Nancy Reagan to his psychic. His very name, however, inspired one of the great moments in comic book dada, so I think he broke even in the end.

Heartbreaking Ineptitude

[ 0 ] August 12, 2007 |

The foreign policy stylings of George W. Bush:

But that skepticism had never taken hold in Washington. Since the 2001 war, American intelligence agencies had reported that the Taliban were so decimated they no longer posed a threat, according to two senior intelligence officials who reviewed the reports.

The American sense of victory had been so robust that the top C.I.A. specialists and elite Special Forces units who had helped liberate Afghanistan had long since moved on to the next war, in Iraq.

Those sweeping miscalculations were part of a pattern of assessments and decisions that helped send what many in the American military call “the good war” off course.

Like Osama bin Laden and his deputies, the Taliban had found refuge in Pakistan and regrouped as the American focus wavered. Taliban fighters seeped back over the border, driving up the suicide attacks and roadside bombings by as much as 25 percent this spring, and forcing NATO and American troops into battles to retake previously liberated villages in southern Afghanistan.

In other words, the administration diverted resources from a country that it had the responsibility to build, and let a genuine threat to American security regroup and regain effective power in large parts of the country, in order to invade a country that posed no security threat whatsoever to the United States. Brilliant! Which leads us to another edition of What Hilzoy Said:

I remember hearing those speeches and thinking: oh, thank God. Back in late 2001 and early 2002, I was giving Bush the benefit of the doubt — I hadn’t thought much of him before, but 9/11 did seem to have concentrated his attention, and it truly seemed as though he had changed. (As indeed he had; just not in ways anyone anticipated.) I had supported the invasion of Afghanistan, and I heard those words — Marshall Plan, we will not repeat the mistakes of the past, we will not abandon Afghanistan — and thinking: we are really going to do something wonderful.

I think that some of the most inspiring moments in international relations are when serious, long-festering problems are actually decisively solved. When South Africa’s apartheid government handed over power peacefully to the ANC, for instance: South Africa still has enormous problems, but the ghastly ever-present nightmare of apartheid had actually gone away. When the conflict in Northern Ireland is finally laid to rest, it will be the same sort of glorious moment. Some problems aren’t solved all at once; still, you can see points at which things turn slightly from despair towards hope, and then, if you’re lucky, a point at which the process of transforming some problem that has haunted the world for what seems like forever into history starts to look irreversible.

Afghanistan had been one of those problems for decades. We weren’t in a position to do much about it earlier — naively, I believed that you don’t just go around invading countries out of the blue, ha ha ha — but suddenly we actually had a really good reason to invade, and there we were, the Taliban was in flight, the people seemed overjoyed, and I thought: dear God, we are actually going to do try to right by Afghanistan, whose people have suffered so much for so long. And back in that era of lost hopes, what gave me real confidence that we would do our best to actually help Afghanistan to transform itself from a failed state into a normal, functioning society was that for once, making a serious effort to do this wasn’t just a wild aspiration. It was feasible, it was the right thing to do, but most importantly, as far as its actually happening was concerned, it was clearly, obviously, overwhelmingly in our interest.

It still breaks my heart just thinking about it. Read the whole article and weep.

It’s infuriating because it’s true.

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