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Joint Commission on Civilian Casualties in Afghanistan?

[ 10 ] August 16, 2010 |

This is interesting for a couple of reasons:

Nato and the United Nations are cautiously considering a Taliban proposal to set up a joint commission to investigate allegations of civilians being killed and wounded in the conflict in Afghanistan, diplomats in Kabul have told The Guardian.

The Taliban overture, which came in a statement posted on its website, will revive a divisive debate about whether to conduct any formal talks with insurgents who are responsible for the majority of civilian casualties in Afghanistan, and whose assassination campaign now kills one person every day on average.

The Taliban statement called for the establishment of a body including members from the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, UN human rights investigators, NATO and the Taliban. “The stated committee should [be] given a free hand to survey the affected areas as well as people in order to collect the precise information and the facts and figures and disseminate its findings worldwide,” the Taliban said.

One human rights organisation has already thrown its support behind the joint commission plan, which echoes a similar idea floated four years ago.

The UN and NATO are treading carefully, but western diplomats say the proposal is being carefully considered. One said that some senior officers at the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force were keen on the idea but that no steps could be taken until it was considered “at the highest political level”.

It appears that  last week’s UN report suggesting that 76% of Afghan civilian casualties over the past year were caused by the Taliban, rather than by the government or ISAF, hit home. NATO/ISAF should strongly consider taking the Taliban up on this offer.  First, it offers an opportunity to develop productive contacts with the Taliban, contacts that could provide the foundation for an eventual settlement.  Second, just as public criticism has helped make NATO more conscientious about civilian casualties, sensitivity about public criticism may make the Taliban more likely to moderate its behavior.  Even if the independent commission proposal is mainly a stunt, it still seems to indicate that the Taliban wants to be viewed as respectful of civilian life and property.


Douthat is a thick young man

[ 32 ] August 16, 2010 |

Ross Douthat’s cheerful gloss on the history of ethnic bigotry really is quite appalling. His most ignorant claim, arguably, is that the “persecution” — he never hints at the details — of religious and ethnic minorities was somehow aimed at assimilating them more quickly than they preferred. Thus, he claims, the occasional ugliness of xenophobes was somehow “necessary to the American experiment’s success” while having the happy effect, he notes, of “inspiring” the Catholic church to soften its “illiberal tendencies” and “persuading” Mormons to abandon polygamy. This allows Douthat to say things like this:

During the great waves of 19th-century immigration, the insistence that new arrivals adapt to Anglo-Saxon culture — and the threat of discrimination if they didn’t — was crucial to their swift assimilation. The post-1920s immigration restrictions were draconian in many ways, but they created time for persistent ethnic divisions to melt into a general unhyphenated Americanism.

Similarly, I’d love to hear Douthat’s reflections on how the West Coast riots of 1885-1886 helped “nudge” the Chinese away from heathenism, or how the lynching of Leo Frank was really inspired by the same impulse — to “create the unum” — that led Jane Addams to found Hull House. And while Jim Crow segregation was draconian in many ways, I’m sure Douthat would agree that it created time for persistent racial hostility to melt away.

…and I should add that Douthat’s views here are entirely predictable. The sort of person who believes that marriage is best understood as a coercive institution designed to keep straight people from fucking everything in sight is precisely the sort of person who would believe that fear is an admirable driver of cultural change.

Worst. Analogy. Ever.

[ 5 ] August 16, 2010 |

Shorter Verbatim Althouse: “The Democrats would love to do the same thing to the Republicans. They wouldn’t hesitate to exploit something that captures the public’s attention and provides leverage for the political arguments they like to make. Remember the Mark Foley incident in 2006.”

Yes, on the one hand we have a political party fomenting opposition to an innocuous religious institution “out of a mixture of geographical ignorance, a slanderous attribution of collective responsibility for 9/11 to all Muslims, and political opportunism.” On the other hand, we had a political party taking advantage of the actual scandalous behavior of a member of Congress of the other party. So, really, the Democrats and Republicans are just the same!

I also like the “captures the public’s attention” formulation. Yes, “the public” suddenly and spontaneously became interested in Manhattan zoning decisions; I’m sure that the bigoted exploitation of what would in a rational world be an utter non-issue by such concerned longtime residents of TriBeCa as Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin had nothing to do with it…


…relatedly, see also this excellent post from the new, improved Will Saletan.

The “Wisdom” of Xenophobia

[ 13 ] August 16, 2010 |

Shorter Ross Douthat: “To paraphrase Garry Wills, running people out of town on a rail because they’re different is just as American as declaring inalienable rights. I much prefer the great wisdom of the former.”

If Selected, I Will Serve!

[ 7 ] August 16, 2010 |

In light of the news that Robert Gates will step down in 2011, I would like to announce my candidacy for the position of Secretary of Defense of the United States of America.  A non-exhaustive list of my qualifications:

  1. Attended a CNAS Christmas party.
  2. Can stand for several hours.
  3. Got lost once near the Pentagon parking lot.
  4. Knew a guy who worked in a defense related field, although we kind of lost touch a few years back.  I could probably still find his e-mail, though.
  5. Can list the names of every battleship since USS South Carolina from memory, as long as you don’t count the ones that were never built.
  6. Have watched Red Dawn 19 times,  Top Gun 26 times, and Hunt for Red October 45 times.

Now to make plane and hotel reservations for the Senate confirmation hearings…

What I’m Reading…

[ 4 ] August 16, 2010 |

I am slowly and not so surely pushing my way through this list, working forward chronologically.  William Hazlitt’s On Common-Place Critics is, in fact, quite fantastic.  Now reading the Fitzgerald, although because the list has been updated several times I’ve actually made more progress than that suggests.

Glibertarian Identity Politics

[ 78 ] August 16, 2010 |

Whatever this fetish for brining back DDT reflects, it certainly has nothing to do with science or preventing disease.

Our 70-551 and 70-690 offer you 100% exam pass guarantee. You can get free access to 70-441 & MB6-827 exams with multiple prep resources of 70-529.

Sunday Book Review: The Plundered Planet

[ 3 ] August 15, 2010 |

This is the sixth installment of an eight part series on the Patterson School’s Summer Reading List.

  1. Hide and Seek, Charles Duelfer
  2. The Accidental Guerrilla, David Kilcullen
  3. The Limits of Power, Andrew Bacevich
  4. Huang Yasheng, Capitalism with Chinese Characteristics
  5. Walter Laqueur, The Last Days of Europe
  6. Greg Mortenson, Stones into Schools
  7. Paul Collier, The Plundered Planet

Although Paul Collier’s The Plundered Planet purports to be about environmentalism and economic growth, it really has very little to say about the concerns of environmentalists.  Invoked only as part of some ritualistic denunciations of anti-capitalist traditionalists, environmentalists really exist as a foil for Collier’s extractive resources case.  His first chapters involve a set of philosophical meanderings that are embarrassing, tendentious, and altogether boring.  Collier’s main interest is in the resource curse, and he argues that while the resource curse creates substantial problems, it can be tamed by sensible state policy.

The resource curse is not, I should hasten to note, a theory about how brown people can’t manage their natural resources.  Rather, it’s about how the exploitation of resource wealth can have negative economic and political implications, especially in states without diverse economies and with weak governance.  Resource bonanzas create lots of problems.  First, the export of high value extracted resources causes currency appreciation, making agriculture and other industries less competitive on the international market.  Because of the influx of foreign currency, local industries also face greater competition from imports.  The best paying jobs tend to center around resource extraction, meaning that human capital gets allocated in an inefficient manner; people who could become doctors or educators become miners or oil workers.  The state, suddenly flush, is tempted to borrow against future earnings and spend heavily on a variety of programs that it may not be able to support.  Moreover, resource bonanzas produce high levels of corruption, in addition to drastic income inequities across class and region.  Added up, the “resource curse” often means that resource rich states grow poorer in the long run because of their “good luck”.

Like the Bottom Billion, Plundered Planet attempts to set forth a template for how states can manage their natural resource wealth without either completely plundering resource stocks in a short period of time, or yielding to destructive political effects.  He gives advice for how to deal with extractive corporations that provide the capital, equipment, and expertise necessary for most such extraction.  The nature of interactions with these corporations is complex, because the corporations have the best sense of the value of the resource bonanza.  This creates obvious problems for states negotiation extraction contracts.  On the other hand, the corporations do take on considerable risk, both in terms of the uncertainty of commodity price and local resource size (the bonanza may be quickly exhausted), and because states can renege on their obligations more easily than companies.  On the financial question, long story short states need to be very careful about how they spend and save the money generated by a resource bonanza.  Now, this should be read in the context of Collier’s skepticism of health and education programs, and his general disdain for human capital.  Poverty alleviation can pay off in growth terms (in addition to moral terms) if it generates healthier, smarter, more economically capable individuals.  However, Collier is correct to caution that such programs must be designed with an eye towards sustainability and metrics of effectiveness, and that the influx of cash following a resource bonanza makes this difficult.

I’ll confess that I find Collier tremendously annoying for a variety of reasons.  He’s an arrogant writer and researcher, less interested in making contributions to the development literature than in inventing his own literature.  Nevertheless, just as Bottom Billion set forth a few sensible thoughts on how states, NGOs, and IOs ought to approach development in poverty-stricken states, Plundered Planet includes some reasonable suggestions about how poor states facing a resource bonanza should approach managing their fiscal futures.  Those who focus on development and resource extraction will find this book useful, if hardly the last word on the issue.

There Goes My Dreame

[ 37 ] August 15, 2010 |

I like Donalde Douglas. He teaches at a fine community college, and published an important article eight years ago in the prestigious journal PS: Political Science and Politics entitled “Tenure-Track Employment Opportunities at the Community College Level: A View from the Job Candidate’s Perspective”.

He also blogs, and comments avidly on other people’s blogs, even those with which he doesn’t agree – something few bloggers do. I think I first saw his comments on some of my posts at Duck of Minerva, and our earliest email exchange consisted of his requests that I read his posts and engage him in “blog wars” – a flattering and humbling invitation given that his skill, renown and interest in that activity far exceeds mine.

He’s also a genuinely nice guy. For example, he once called me a “nice women” on his blog, and he publicly refers to me as his “good friend,” even though we’ve never met.

But Donalde’s finest quality by far is his unflagging patience with young, wet-behind-the-ears academic bloggers like myself, his concern for our professional welfare, and his generosity with advice and mentorship. He rarely agrees with me politically, and he doesn’t much care for my drinking buddies friends. Yet despite all I’ve done to earn his dislike, he has refused to give up on me, unfailingly encouraging me to become a better political scientist, blogger and neoconservative.

For example, some time back when I joined the roster at LGM he expressed fatherly concern for my “reputation” and has continued to patiently remind me that I’m running with a crowd dangerously threatening to my respectability as the neoconservative femme fatale I could surely be if only I would accept his guidance. In fact, when “speaking to me” recently (I think he must be referring to a brief email exchange prompted by my accidental erasure of one of his comments on my Wikileaks posts) he even extended a gracious offer to assist in my conversion to neo-conservatism. Such acts surely indicate his honest concern for my well-being (if not his comprehension of my actual foreign policy perspective). I can only assume he has seen some potential in me that I had not dared to recognize in myself, and could only dream of living up to.

As you can imagine, my heart jumps a little whenever someone of Donalde’s stature offers me a scrap of intellectual kudos along with his usual helping of taunts constructive criticism. So I was truly crushed to learn when reading this that he thinks I lack the potential to become the “feminist ‘Charli’ Krauthammer” I’ve always aspired to be. Indeed, I expect few readers realize that this has actually been my most cherished goal since leaving graduate school, second only to securing American Power’s approval of my professional choices.

I’ve clearly failed in both, and I only hope, for America’s sake, that sometime Donalde can find a prominent (high-traffic) blogger that’s a better fit for his vision, and whose name is not so tricky to spell.

Legitimate Questions for Sarah Palin

[ 69 ] August 15, 2010 |

Sarah Palin’s latest inane statement, “Legitimate Questions for the President,” may be inane, but it demonstrates quite nicely how those on the left lost the rhetorical battle concerning what she calls “this Ground Zero mosque.” As Eric Rauchway pointed out, Manhattan Island is a small place—only about 13 miles long and 2.3 wide—that looms larger in our collective imagination because of its social and cultural importance. If you asked Palin or any of the others who have temporarily abandoned their disdain for all things East Coast and elitist whether it would be acceptable if someone built a mosque within a 1.5 mile radius of where the Twin Towers once stood, they would likely continue protesting because they are utterly ignorant of the fact that that roughly eliminates everything south of NYU.*

To their minds, New York City is less of a teeming than an endless metropolis, one that begins on the southern tip of the island and extends beyond the horizons to the north and east and west. They fail to recognize that there was a reason New Yorkers stopped building out and started building up—there is only so much room on an island 22 square miles in area—and so they assume that renovating a Men’s Wearhouse into a community center must, perforce, be an insult to the memories of the victims of 9/11. Their reaction to learning that the mosque being built on Ground Zero is actually a community center being built two blocks away is a stubborn spectacle couched in deliberately deceptive language.

Palin’s rhetorical transformation of “the mosque being built on Ground Zero” into “this Ground Zero mosque” would be brilliant if intentional. It draws a scar across an infinite island and declares everything to its south to be sacred American soil. The area she calls “Ground Zero” is a fictional place in whose name she and her ideological brethren can express their xenophobia without fear of being called xenophobic. She and they can claim to support the good Muslims—the ones who know that their place, literally, is not in lower Manhattan—safe in the knowledge that, with a wink, their fear of people with strange names from foreign lands can arguably be something other than it is.  In her mind and theirs, “this Ground Zero mosque” is less of a building than a psychological representation of the controversy caused by their ignorance of the island’s geography, i.e. they have retooled their own stupidity into a potent rhetorical feint whose truth is undeniable because it refers to the debate about an imaginary building on an infinitely large island. For Palin and those like her, the “Ground Zero” in “this Ground Zero mosque” functions not as a reference to the former site of the Twin Towers, but as a simple adjective that identifies the particular “mosque” in question.

That it happens not to be located on Ground Zero is, at this point in the conversation, irrelevant.

Palin proves this by obfuscation. Her concern about “this Ground Zero mosque” is not that it will be located on Ground Zero, but “steps away from” it. Twice in her short post she uses the phrase “steps away from” to describe the distance of “this Ground Zero mosque” from Ground Zero. Part of me wants to chide her with a simple reminder that, despite being in Southern California, I am “steps away from” her front door in Wasilla, Alaska. Granted, I’m many millions of steps away from it, but steps away nonetheless. Another part, however, wants to ask her to define her terms. How many “steps away from” something she considers “hallowed ground” must American citizens of Islamic faith be required to take before they can enjoy their constitutionally guaranteed right to religious freedom? How many “steps away from” must they be before they can exercise their constitutionally guaranteed right to assemble freely?

I have a feeling that waiting for specific answers will be a fruitless waste.

*I write “roughly” because superimposing a circle on a grid and describing the results hurts my head.

ConDemed Coalition and Thatcherism

[ 3 ] August 15, 2010 |

William Keegan draws some chilling parallels in The Observer today.  Broadly in agreement, Left Foot Forward offers evidence suggesting that the emergency budget is hurting the economy.

Troubling to me is the sustained fall in housing prices, while my house sits on the market . . .

The World Is Falling Down

[ 0 ] August 15, 2010 |

Abbey Lincoln, R.I.P.