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Nation-building, 2007

[ 0 ] May 16, 2007 |

Some international relations analysts worry that the Bush regime has destroyed the prospects for nation-building. It’s a variant of the “Iraq syndrome.

Never fear, however, Bush allies have solved the problem: PR is the new nation-building.

It’s cheaper and yields better results.

For me to prove my point, you’ve got to see the photo of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice smiling broadly and shaking hands with notorious dictator Teodoro Obiang, president of oil-rich Equatorial Guinea. I’d simply post the picture, but Rob didn’t say anything about stealing photo credits when he handed over the keys.

According to Mother Jones, Rice said this when shaking Obiang’s hand: “Thank you very much for your presence here,” she cooed. “You are a good friend, and we welcome you.”

The article describes how Cassidy and Associates, a D.C. lobbying and communications firm, helped “re-image” Equatorial Guinea. Apparently, the firm is worth the $120K it gets per month:

Obiang rules the country with an iron fist: According to State Department reports, suspects have been tortured to death and prisoners raped by police. Still, Cassidy has delivered results for Obiang in D.C. “A few years ago, at least U.S. officials wouldn’t talk about the relationship with Equatorial Guinea, or they would admit all the problems and horrible human rights abuses,” says Frank Ruddy, the former U.S. ambassador to Equatorial Guinea. Now, he adds, “you would have thought this is Mother Teresa’s brother running Equatorial Guinea.”

I wonder how much Musharraf’s people had to pay to get the President of the United States to declare this in 2004? “You’ve got a democracy in Pakistan.

Going out with Dignity

[ 0 ] May 16, 2007 |

So Wolfie is now holed up in his office with a shotgun and a year’s supply of Twinkies, and he’s not coming out without a deal, ya stinkin’ pigs.

Meantime, Rick Perlstein nails it:

Let’s review the nut of the charge against him: he ordered the World Bank’s head of human resources to give his girlfriend a promotion and raise worth $193,000.

Let’s review what Wolfowitz made his central crusade at the Bank: refusing debt relief to countries he says are corrupt.

One of those countries is the Republic of Congo. That $193,000 is about a thousand times what the typical citizen of the Republic of Congo makes in a year. Save face? Anything short of seppuku, and the guy deserves more shame than Bill Buckner.

Perlstein also notes that Wolfowitz will be able to purch $375,000 worth of Dapper Dan when he actually does leave the World Bank, a sum that amounts to about two thousand times the daily wage of oodles more than the average worker in Congo makes. [No, I'm not the money guy here....]

Oh, and if Wolfie doesn’t get his way, he’s going to drown and eat this puppy tomorrow morning:

Shorter Althouse: "Screw Reading"

[ 0 ] May 16, 2007 |

I know it’s redundant to use a phrase like “Althouse reveals her ignorance,” but in this post the dumb just clings to her words like fresh morning dew:

And why does reading even need to be a separate subject from history in school? Give them history texts and teach reading from them. Science books too. Leave the storybooks for pleasure reading outside of school. They will be easier reading, and with well-developed reading skills, kids should feel pleasure curling up with a novel at home. But even if they don’t, why should any kind of a premium be placed on an interest in reading novels? It’s not tied to economic success in life and needn’t be inculcated any more than an interest in watching movies or listening to popular music. Leave kids alone to find out out what recreational activities enrich and satisfy them. Some may want to dance or play music or paint. Just because teachers tend to be the kind of people who love novels does not mean that this choice ought to be imposed on young people via compulsory education. Teach them about history, science, law, logic — something academic and substantive — and leave the fictional material for after hours.

Althouse clearly hasn’t ever spoken with anyone who teaches middle school language arts or high school literature courses. Aside from the obvious point that social studies and science teachers are usually incapable of teaching basic grammar and other academically and substantively vital reading and writing skills, it’s of course both arbitrary and condescending to suggest that certain subjects — music, art, literature — are somehow stripped of their emotional or creative authenticity if they’re included in primary and secondary school curricula (which, thanks to NCLB, is less and less the case anyhow). Given that we can’t predict which academic subjects are “tied to economic success in life” for any particular student, it makes more than a little sense to offer them a comprehensive range of intellectual experiences. But I suppose in Althouse Land, every home offers a safe, nurturing and supportive environment for kids to read books if they feel so inclined. And if not, who cares? There’s lots of good television to watch!

. . . UPDATE! EXCLUSIVE! MUST CREDIT LGM! In comments, Scott goes on deep recon and discovers that Althouse ain’t much of a novel-reader. She claims she’d rather be “learning about things that are true and hearing great ideas.” Um, ok. I suppose explains why she thinks Bush v. Gore was correctly decided.

One Step in the Right Direction

[ 0 ] May 16, 2007 |

XM suspends Opie & Anthony 30 days for the hye-larious rape fantasies on their program. (I’m not going to say “jokes,” because they weren’t. They weren’t even in the form of humor.) Although at least their program isn’t simulcast on a major national news network, it’s also much worse than what Imus was fired for.

Torturin’ Rudy

[ 0 ] May 16, 2007 |

I’m not sure what’s more depressing about yesterday’s debate–the current frontrunner enthusiastically and unequivocally supporting torture, or how well in went over in the audience. Obviously, Giuliani’s authoritarianism is going to become more and more manifest because it’s his only possible route to victory. I still think that when Rudy goes to the GOP primary markets to realize his soul he’ll find what he needs he just doesn’t have–his competitors will be able to offer pointless wars and arbitrary executive power without being dragged down by a rational position on the abortion issue–but certainly the dynamic he’s going to bring to the race is going to be bad for the country and (I hope) for the Republican Party.

On the other hand, I think the Sexiest Torturer Alive’s proposal (already K-Lo approved!) to “double Gitmo” has considerably more merit to it. Oh, he doesn’t mean that it should be doubled to accommodate all the Bush administration officials and apologists who should be sent there? Never mind.

The Fecklessness of Christina Hoff Sommers

[ 0 ] May 16, 2007 |

Garance, Matt and zuzu have already amply demonstrated the bad faith, distortions, and selective evidence of the latest manifestation of Christina Hoff Sommers’s feeble “American feminists don’t care about the suppression of Islamic women” routine. And, of course, American feminists are in a no-win situation. One might have thought that Katha Pollitt–who writes a great deal about the suppression of Islamic women and and is a columnist for the largest-circulation liberal political magazine–might have merited Sommers’s attention, although of course she didn’t. But you may recall Ana Marie Cox’s regrettable review of Pollitt’s latest book, in which Cox sighed that Poliitt was “fixated” on women’s rights in the Middle East. You can’t win.

In addition, I thought J. Goodrich also made a good point in comments:

Sommers is a a very fascinating example of someone who has not herself written a long book about the situation of women in Islamic countries. She found it more important to write books intended at destroying feminism so that there would then be nobody at all to help those women.

If Sommers thinks that more needs to be written about the subjugation of women in the Middle East, well, what’s stopping her? She could take some of the time she spends recycling the anecdote about how Judith Butler once won a bad writing contest for the eleventy-billionth time and put a book proposal together. Or perhaps she could write an article about how, despite the disgracefully cynical use of women’s rights as an ex post facto war justification by the Bush administration, installing an Islamic quasi-state in Iraq has shockingly turned out to not be a very good deal for Iraqi women. I’m sure Bill Kristol would love to publish it!

Stand in the Fire

[ 0 ] May 15, 2007 |

Nancy Nall has a very good and insightful post about the new biography of Warren Zevon compiled by his long -suffering (and suffering, and suffering) ex-wife Crystal, which was also reviewed recently by Janet Maslin and Tom Carson. His most glaring flaws, especially his vanity and narcissism (“When he died, his son had the job of getting rid of his porn stash; the videos turned out to be homemade and to star Zevon”), aren’t exactly unusual among gifted artists, but the specific details can be alternately appalling and amusing. I haven’t read it yet, but she seems like a reliable guide (“It’s hard to write about being an alcoholic’s wife without lapsing into one or two predictable slots — victim or fool. She doesn’t do that, perhaps because at some point she realized she had her own drinking problem, which she acknowledges, and what it took to quit. The tone is not one of pity-me but of clear-eyed, dispassionate truth-telling,”) so I certainly will.

What was most poignant to me in Maslin’s review was this:

But this lack of show-business artifice is precisely what makes the Zevon story so telling. What was even more unusual than his dark thoughts — like resenting the fact that Jackson Browne and Neil Young had lost people close to them and written beautiful, much-admired songs about those deaths — was his willingness to admit to those thoughts. On his deathbed, discussing the merits of having a funeral, he said, “I just don’t want to have to spend my last days wondering whether Henley” — Don Henley of the Eagles, who did not attend — “will show up.”

It’s amazing how status can make people envy and/or seek the approval of those who are (in terms of real accomplishments) their gross inferiors.

"That’s called a Fire and Brimstone"

[ 0 ] May 15, 2007 |

A toast of Campari, ginger ale and soda to Jerry.

He told Christine Amanpour on CNN last week that he’d been praying to God for 20 more years of life so he could complete his work. He seemed pretty optimistic that his prayers would be answered, because it apparently happened just like that to someone in the Bible.

Humble to the end.

The costs of militarism

[ 0 ] May 15, 2007 |

In the second half of my American Foreign Policy class every year, I try to get the students to talk about the risks of militarism. By then, they’ve read Walter Russell Mead’s Special Providence and understand what Jefferson thought about consolidation of power and standing armies.

We also talk about US military doctrine (Powell/Weinberger versus Bush/Rumsfeld) and the regularity of US military intervention as well as iron triangles and Ike’s warning about the “military-industrial complex.” This year, my graduate assistant led a discussion about “securitization” of various issue areas, including the war on drugs and war on terror.

Among scholars, historian Andrew Bacevich of Boston University probably worries about militarism as much as anyone does. I saw him talk about his recent book, The New American Militarism back in 2005 when I was living in Somerville while on sabbatical (note: it was similar to this). His earlier book, American Empire was also a good read on a related topic.

Bacevich’s thesis is provocative. He argues that American militarism, combined with its crusading liberalism, is very dangerous for the US and the world:

This mindset invites endless war and the ever-deepening militarization of US policy. It promises not to perfect but to pervert American ideals and to accelerate the hollowing out of American democracy. As it alienates others, it will leave the United States increasingly isolated. It will end in bankruptcy, moral as well as economic, and in abject failure.

Day-by-day, unfortunately, the Iraq project is helping to make Bacevich’s case.

In March, Bacevich published a scathing critique of the Bush Doctrine in The Boston Globe. After rehearsing many of the well-known problems with the application of the policy to Iraq, he called on the new Congress to renounce the President’s folly:

Our reckless flirtation with preventive war qualifies as not only wrong, but also stupid. Indeed, the Bush Doctrine poses a greater danger to the United States than do the perils it supposedly guards against.

We urgently need to abrogate that doctrine in favor of principles that reflect our true interests and our professed moral values….

Democratic leaders should offer a binding resolution that makes the following three points: First, the United States categorically renounces preventive war. Second, the United States will henceforth consider armed force to be an instrument of last resort. Third, except in response to a direct attack on the United States, any future use of force will require prior Congressional authorization, as required by the Constitution.

The legislation should state plainly our determination to defend ourselves and our allies. But it should indicate no less plainly that the United States no longer claims the prerogative of using “preemptive, unilateral military force when and where it chooses.”

My own views are similar, though colleagues and I have argued for a multilateral version of preemption that would require advance consensual decision-making about significant threats. Thanks to Iraq, the current version of the Bush Doctrine is probably dead already.

Finally, I am quite saddened to report that Bacevich’s son has been killed in Iraq. I express my deepest sympathy and condolences to Professor Bacevich.

Layers of Hypocrisy

[ 0 ] May 15, 2007 |

To add to Matt’s point that the perception that Wolfowitz is corrupt and hypocritical has actual consequences, it should also be noted that Wolfowitz is particularly vulnerable on this point because his anti-corruption program has been highly selective, and even worse has been selective in ways that dovetail with the Bush administration’s foreign policy. There’s a case to be made for making the integrity of a country’s government a more important criterion in the disbursement of aid, but obviously it won’t fly if there’s a self-exemption from the rules in both one’s policy choices and their personal dealings.

Society of the Spectacle

[ 0 ] May 15, 2007 |

E.B. White Travis Bickle James Lileks on Disneyland:

It’s clean. It’s so clean and perfect you wonder why everything doesn’t look like this. But why is it clean? You see no one picking things up. Maybe the very fact that it’s spotless and pristine makes people hesitate to ruin the perfection. Then again, you placed a small piece of paper on the ground and walked away a few yards, just to see what happened. It vanished in a puff of smoke. So you’re thinking some sort of micro-targeted laser, probably from an orbital platform.

Again: why isn’t everything else so clean? Why can’t we have cities that look like this, and theme parks full of urban grot for the people who want that authentic experience that graffiti-slathered-metal-shutters represent?

Because that would be, like, fascist?

This has been another edition of Simple Answers to Simple Questions.

I just can’t imagine why anyone would fire someone who writes like this.

First the footbaths, then the dhimmitude!

[ 0 ] May 14, 2007 |

Shorter Verbatim Rubble Boy:

“[University administrators are installing Wudu facilities for Muslim students] because people are afraid they’ll blow things up.”

Now, Reynolds tries to disguise his jokey racism by suggesting that maybe this will somehow eventually lead to Christian students blowing things up because . . . um . . . Muslim students . . . um . . . wait . . .

Seriously, what the fuck is Reynolds talking about? I would be one of the last people to defend university administrators, but even I can recognize that these poor, overpaid chair-moisteners capitulate to all kinds of petty requests from students, faculty, alumni, community members and assorted strangers — and none of these meaningless cave-ins have anything to do with fears that the dean’s office will be incinerated by a disgruntled worshippers, Muslim or otherwise.

But here we see the right wing WAR ON TERRA absurdity generator in action. Follow the bouncing ball: community college students in Minneapolis or Fairfax get to wash their feet in some shitty, underused room in the student union, and the next thing you know Reynolds is cracking wise about suicide bombers and Bryan Preston is wagging his finger about Saladin and the second half of the Q’uran Qur’an.

[Update: I just changed the accent mark on Qur'an, mostly because I'm afraid of people blowing my house up . . .]

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