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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

[ 1 ] 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.  

This Is Your Court On Conservatives

[ 0 ] June 19, 2009 |

In light of two controversial 5-4 Supreme Court decisions this week, Matt is reminded of Jeffrey Toobin’s point that “In every major case since he became the nation’s seventeenth Chief Justice, Roberts has sided with the prosecution over the defendant, the state over the condemned, the executive branch over the legislative, and the corporate defendant over the individual plaintiff.”

On Osborne, Matt does a good job of pointing out the obvious injustice of a state preventing a prisoner from presenting potentially exculpatory evidence at his own expense. I would add that we should add to Toobin’s litany that Roberts and his right-wing colleagues share another longstanding trait of American conservatives: prioritizing “state’s rights” over human rights. And as in most cases, the benefits of this as applied to this case are hard to discern. While federalism may promote liberty in some respects, there is no tangible benefit to permitting states to imprison potentially innocent people when assessing exculpatory evidence would entail little expense. And interpreting the due process clause to give the defendant a right to present exculpatory evidence in this case can only be a threat to the “sovereignty” and “dignity” of the states if one believes that there should be virtually no federal supervision of the state criminal procedure, which the 14th Amendment precludes even if it wasn’t a stupid idea on the merits. If preventing illegal detention isn’t at the heart of due process, I’m not sure what is. (And why the abstract “dignity” of states should trump the very real dignity of human beings I can’t tell you.)

Gross v. FBL
‘s denial of an age discrimination claim was equally predictable. The key dispute in the case is whether statutory language that makes it illegal to fire an employee “because of” age means that (as Thomas asserts) a plaintiff must prove that she would not have been fired “but-for” her age, while the dissent argues that any firing motivated in whole or in part by age discrimination is illegal. As Stevens points out, the context of the legislation and Supreme Court precedent makes Thomas’s read of the statute highly dubious:

The “but-for” causation standard endorsed by the Court today was advanced in Justice Kennedy’s dissenting opinion in Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, a case construing identical language in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Not only did the Court reject the but-for standard in that case, but so too did Congress when it amended Title VII in 1991. Given this unambiguous history, it is particularly inappropriate for the Court, on its own initiative, to adopt an interpretation of the causation requirement in the ADEA that differs from the established reading of Title VII. I disagree not only with the Court’s interpretation of the statute, but also with its decision to engage in unnecessary lawmaking.

It should be noted as well that these cases demonstrate another point made by Toobin: the argument made by Roberts that Supreme Court Justices are simply “umpires” making judgments about clear rules are absurd. In these cases, as in most interesting appellate court cases, the relevant constitutional and statutory provisions admit multiple plausible interpretations, and choosing among these interpretations inevitably involves value judgments. If you don’t place a high value on protecting the ability of states to arbitrarily detain individuals and protecting the ability of employers to discriminate against their employees, you don’t want justices like Alito and Roberts on the Court, and this has nothing to do with whether or not they’re competent lawyers.

[X-Posted to TAPPED.]

A DIY Guide for Incest Just in Time for Father’s Day

[ 0 ] June 19, 2009 |

I don’t normally read the Daily Mail as one might imagine (but the Mail does carry Garfield, and I so need . . . uh, whatever), but I found this to be hilarious.

I’m thinking it doesn’t catch on, but perhaps that’s just me.

Who Brings the Sexy Back?

[ 0 ] June 19, 2009 |

Jacques Chirac, apparently:

The former first lady turns to deliver her husband a withering look, before continuing with her speech.

In a book in 2001, Mrs Chirac spoke about the difficulties of living with a “handsome” man who has “enormous success” with women.

I’m not at all surprised by Chirac’s reputation; it’s the “handsome” bit that has me struggling.

Backdown or Bloodbath?

[ 0 ] June 19, 2009 |

Karim Sadjadpour has some thoughts:

The weight of the world now rests on the shoulders of Mir Hossein Mousavi. I expect that Khamenei’s people have privately sent signals to him that they’re ready for a bloodbath, they’re prepared to use overwhelming force to crush this, and is he willing to lead the people in the streets to slaughter?

Mousavi is not Khomeini, and Khamenei is not the Shah. Meaning, Khomeini would not hesitate to lead his followers to “martyrdom”, and the Shah did not have the stomach for mass bloodshed. This time the religious zealots are the ones holding power.

The anger and the rage and sense of injustice people feel will not subside anytime soon, but if Mousavi concedes defeat he will demoralize millions of people. At the moment the demonstrations really have no other leadership. It’s become a symbiotic relationship, Mousavi feeds off people’s support, and the popular support allows Mousavi the political capital to remain defiant. So Mousavi truly has some agonizing decisions to make.

The McGovern Bit Should Have been the Tip Off

[ 0 ] June 19, 2009 |

In the past, I’ve advised my students that being busted for growing weed can hinder a State Department career. In the future, I’ll suggest simply that they make a good faith effort to avoid being too stoned during the interview portion of the Foreign Service Exam.

…in response to comments, I apparently need to make clear that I think left-wing Americans are fully capable of serving the United States government loyally, and that many proud left-leaning Americans serve in our armed forces, our diplomatic corps, and our government bureaucracy without ever selling secrets to Cuba. Some of them may even smoke weed. I’ll further add that many spies against the United States have actually been on the political right, and have been motivated by money rather than politics.

And finally, I’d like to suggest that reading posts through the frame “if a stupid wingnut read this, might he draw comfort and satisfaction?” is probably not the most productive way to absorb this blog, or any other blog for that matter.


[ 0 ] June 19, 2009 |

As if to affirm its utter worthlessness, the Post follows up the canning of Dan Froomkin by publishing a stream of effluent from Paul Wolfowitz, who seems to believe that Obama’s ability to shape events in Iran is roughly on par with the Reagan administration’s ability to shape events in the Philippines 23 years ago. Never mind, of course, the fact that one’s ability to usher someone like Ferdinand Marcos from power is correlated in a non-trivial way with the fact that Marcos presided over a client state that the US once literally owned, and over which it continued to assert significant military, political and economic power. Which is so totally like what’s happening in Iran, I’m not sure why the comparison failed to strike me before now.

Wolfowitz also believes there’s an analogy to be drawn between Obama’s “neutral” response and the first Bush administration’s initial caution during the August 1991 Soviet coup. He claims, for example, that Bush

expressed only lukewarm support for Gorbachev and even less for Yeltsin, and neither was among the world leaders that he tried to contact about the crisis. He seemed focused on working with the new Soviet team, hoping that their leader, Gennady Yanayev, was committed to “reform.”

Which is, to summon a term of art, a bubbling load of shit, given what everyone has known for the past 15 year: namely, that the Bush administration (defying a law that Bush pere had signed four days earlier) provided Yeltsin with decryptions from the NSA that let him know which military commanders were wavering in their support for the coup. Wolfowitz either knows this and is lying; or he is unaware and should be quickly measured for a dunce cap.

Either way, the Post just provided editorial space to a famously discredited proponent of a badly-conceived war in Iraq — space that was subsequently used to draw a pair of bad-faith analogies to the current administration’s policy toward Iran. I’m sure Andy Alexander will leap to Wolfowitz’s defense, however, with a reminder of the multi-layer editing and fact-checking procedures his paper applies to the stable of right wing columnists in their employ.