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Sam Huntington

[ 0 ] December 27, 2008 |

It appears that Sam Huntington has passed. Soldier and the State is a fine book. Many of his other works I can’t stand, to the point of repugnance. It’s fair to say, though, that virtually every graduate student who has passed through a political science department had to deal with Huntington in some fashion.

Bandido Yanqui

[ 0 ] December 27, 2008 |

Speaking of Drezner, he says what needs to be said regarding the “Yankees are killing America” meme.

Cooking the Books

[ 0 ] December 27, 2008 |

As to the absurd notion that George W. Bush has read several hundred books since 2005, I can’t offer much beyond what Steven Benen and Matt Stoler have already provided. In the very least, this is an elaborate put-on by Rove; to be slightly less charitable, his insistence that Bush devoted time this year to reading Jacobo Timerman’s Prisoner Without a Name — a book about torture, among other familiar ills — is sickening.

Or perhaps it’s just as well. Bush “reads” books in the same sense that his government “adheres” to the Geneva Conventions.

Charlton Heston? Really?

[ 0 ] December 27, 2008 |

I have never pictured Jack Aubrey as looking even vaguely like Charlton Heston, but apparently Patrick O’Brian did. I suppose that I might be more open minded about that possibility if I hadn’t seen Master and Commander before reading the first Aubrey-Maturin novel; the film obviously has its failings, but in general they concern the Maturin character (which is a completely and utterly different animal in the film than in the books), and the related issue of Aubrey being just a trifle too clever. Physically and in mannerism, though, I thought Crowe captured Aubrey almost perfectly. Even Crowe’s performance in Gladiator isn’t particularly Heston-esque, and his turn as Jack Aubrey just didn’t remind me at all of Heston.

Torture and Mitigation

[ 0 ] December 27, 2008 |

A while ago, Ross Douthat wrote a meandering, self-indulgent post about his feelings on torture, suggesting that while he felt torture was bad, he could also understand why the Bush administration had ordered it, mainly because Douthat himself was kind of scared after 9/11. Glenn Greenwald wrote a fabulous post pointing out that every regime that tortures thinks that it has good reasons for torturing; the point is the crime, not the motivation. Dan Drezner and Josh Cohen talked a bit about torture on Bloggingheads, which led Glenn to write a distinctly less interesting post questioning whether the two were torture “mitigators”. Glenn said yes, Dan said no, Josh said “what?“, Glenn suggested that Dan (and I paraphrase) was a douche, and Dan suggested that Glenn (and I do not paraphrase) tortures puppies. I don’t see it (the mitigation), but mileage may vary.

In the course of this, Glenn wrote:

More simplistic still is the very idea that the motives of Bush officials — including Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld — can be reduced to one clear and pure desire: To Protect Us. Even one’s own motives, let alone those of others, are notoriously difficult to ascertain. The certainty claimed by those who are defending Bush officials about what their motives were in torturing is absurd. There are all sorts of reasons to believe that they were motivated, at least in part, by the power that comes from torture, or a desire for vengeance, or the belief that the detainees in our custody were sub-human, or just general indifference to law and morality. How have those ignoble motives been ruled out by their defenders and noble motives so emphatically embraced? Ultimately, though, the reason leaders torture is irrelevant. It’s one of those few absolute taboos, and it’s almost as immoral to seek to dilute that taboo by offering motive-based mitigations as it is to engage in it in the first place….
A “root cause” theory that is deemed unspeakably evil in American discourse when applied to non-Americans is immediately embraced by our elites when we need a way to explain the fact that our own leaders committed unambiguous war crimes.

I have mixed feelings on this. On the question of war crime guilt, I would agree with Glenn, although of course the issue of motivation touches on several aspects of any criminal proceeding. But it also seems that Glenn is suggesting that there’s no utility in investigating the motivations behind torture; this may not have been his intent, but it’s how I read the argument. I suspect that there’s a disjuncture brought about by the difference between the academic and polemical worldview. From the polemicist point of view, it’s quite sensible to invoke the unfair manner in which the “root causes” concept is deployed, and consequently to deny its utility altogether. As an academic, I’m thinking that if an inquiry into the root causes of terrorism or torture is useful for non-Americans, then it’s probably useful for Americans, too. But allowing that, of course, reduces the polemical value of the assertion of criminality; this is true whether the assertion is being made about Americans or Cubans or Saudis or Zimbabweans. I should also note that it’s not my intention to assess any value to either the polemical or academic project, although obviously I have sympathy with the latter.

Regarding those root causes, I can think of a number of ways in which investigating the source of American torture could bear fruit. For one, I have to wonder why “torture porn” seems to provide such a box office draw, and what the relationship is between such porn (and I think that the CSI franchise would be an example of soft core torture porn) and the acceptance of torture in the Bush administration. I’m interested in how the torture narrative developed within the Bush administration, because I’m extremely skeptical that enhanced interrogation methods (so to speak) are actually the result of a serious concern with the safety of Americans. This is to say that I don’t really believe that the people who authorized such methods were primarily motivated by a “pure and clean desire to protect us” (not that it would matter in a criminal sense, anyway). Rather, I very much suspect that an understanding of “toughness” peculiar to the American Right, and in particular a desire to appear tougher than domestic liberals and foreign enemies, drove much of the consideration of the utility of torture. Joel Surnow, after all, put Jack Bauer on the torture train before the Bush administration opened Gitmo.

In some sense, it’s easier to account for torture in Saudi Arabia, Cuba, or Zimbabwe, because the regime in each case understands that torture is useful for destroying opposition political movements, but not so much for gathering intelligence. There’s at least, that is to say, a plausible connection between ends and means. In the American case not so much, and that’s a puzzle. [in comments, Martin rightly calls me out on this; the use of torture in Afghanistan and Iraq is fairly straightforward torture for repression, and has a history in US foreign policy. What’s puzzling is the narrative that connects torture with intelligence; this is where the means-end relationship breaks down.] It’s a puzzle worth investigating, however; understanding the motivations of torturers is critical to understanding why torture happened here, and I daresay important to making sure it doesn’t happen again. As such, the stories that torturers tell themselves are valuable, even (and perhaps especially) if those accounts are self-serving.

This Really Must be Stopped…

[ 0 ] December 26, 2008 |

Think of the children:

With powerful and dynamic lyrics, each stanza of “Locked and Loaded” is meant to exhibit the complete synergy of each imperative component of the fight. For instance, lyrics for the combat control Airmen who are calling in the drop says:

“Walk in the shade of the clouds at night,”

“Crawling in the dirt, calling an A-10 strike,”

“Dancing in the shadows, lives are on the line,”

“Bombs are gonna fall, just in time.”

…In an interview with the music Composer TSgt Matthew Geist, also the band guitarist said, “..[O]n the tour… they were most impressed that it was an original song by our band.”

The lead singer for “Locked and Loaded” MSgt Ryan Carson, whose favorite phrase at the beginning of each concert is, “We’re going to rock your face off!” started out as an Opera Major at the University of Wyoming when the Air Force picked him up. Carson wanted to help the Airmen focus on why you do what you do for the Air Force.

I’ll be presenting an expanded and gussied up version of my Abolish the Air Force argument at this year’s ISA; Locked and Loaded, I think, will form the core of my case.

Little Blue Pills…

[ 0 ] December 26, 2008 |

Creative COIN:

U.S intelligence officials use “novel incentives,” but this is not limited to Viagra. Sometimes, “notoriously fickle warlords and chieftains” can be won over with tools, school equipment, and surgical assistance. But it appears the “pharmaceutical enhancements for aging patriarchs with slumping libidos” can be effective with older tribal officials.

Why not just hand out cash? It doesn’t work as well — Afghan leaders with U.S. dollars are recognized for having cooperated with the unpopular Americans. And with Taliban commanders, drug dealers, and even Iranian agents offering enticements, too, U.S. officials have had to get creative.

The key, one American said, is to “find a way to meet the informant’s personal needs in a way that keeps him firmly on your side but leaves little or no visible trace.” Viagra obviously fits the bill.

It’s all about the patriarchy, I guess. Via NB.

…I was also wondering about this.

Someone has to pay attention to this crap

[ 0 ] December 26, 2008 |

Voting in The Soggy Biscuit sweepstakes — dedicated to anointing the “biggest circle-jerk of the year” — is now open.

I’ll admit to having something of a soft spot for the African Press International scam. The fact that these folks are still at it — and are now requiring that anyone who wants to read their Michelle Obama coverage ask for a password from the editor — is worthy of admiration and underscores the resiliency of their devoted American readers. That said, the API thing was really just an opportunistic subset of the “Whitey Tape” fiasco, which strangely enough didn’t make the list. If it had, this year’s contest would be a no-brainer.

I’d also be tempted to vote for the “Fake Obama Birth Certificate” story, which EvenTheDerangedWingnut Bob Owens dismissed. It’s a sensible choice, and I suspect it will eventually carry the title Let’s be honest, though. Any circle jerk that doesn’t include Confederate Yankee isn’t really worthy of the name. For that reason alone, my vote will go to “Bill Ayers Ghost Wrote Obama’s Book,” a rumor that Owens entertained and for which a couple of idiot Republicans were willing to waste $10,000.

Harold Pinter

[ 0 ] December 25, 2008 |


Since I need to go open presents and such, allow me to delegate to Roy’s old appraisal. Make sure to stick around for the decimation of the inevitable Aesthetic Stalinism that followed his Nobel Prize (“Why don’t Kimball and Steyn go make a Thatcher Prize medal out of paperclips and a yogurt lid and give it to Tom Clancy?”).

Cats and Dogs, Living Together…

[ 0 ] December 25, 2008 |

Frankly, I blame the Democrats.

Also, given that I’m thus far 2-5, I’m not sure I’m going to be able to blame my Bowl Mania failure on the fact that I misunderstood the instructions.


[ 0 ] December 25, 2008 |

A happy one to all of our loyal (or intermittent) readership.

Gosh Darn It, People Like Him

[ 1 ] December 25, 2008 |

Bye-Bye Norm. That is, unless the Supremes discover another mysterious “no, the Republican has to win” clause in the 14th Amendment…