Subscribe via RSS Feed

Tag: "human rights"

Axis of Evil: Now with Turkey!!!

[ 0 ] October 22, 2009 |

It’s difficult to plow through the many layers of rank idiocy in the assertion that Turkey is “lost to the Islamists”; I can identify at least a few…

  1. The insinuation that the oppression of the Kurds was launched by AKP, rather than by the secular Turkish Army.
  2. The odd definition of “democracy” that includes occasional military interventions into the democratic process, and the serial abuse of human rights.
  3. The idea that Turkish observance of human rights has gotten worse over the past eight years, contrary to all evidence.
  4. The idea that the AKP government is somehow unique in its reluctance to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide (it is, notably, unique in pursuing good relations with Armenia).
  5. The idea that “treating political prisoners humanely and canceling the death penalty” is contrary to liberal democracy.
  6. The idea that the strength of the AKP is primarily the result of the behavior of US Presidents.
  7. The notion that support of the Iraq invasion constitutes a sufficient test for residence in the civilized West.

It’s fair to say that no one, and I mean no one, who has bothered to study Turkey for longer than a day would entertain any of these arguments; indeed, the last three are prima facie absurd even for someone who had never heard of a country called “Turkey.”

But my biggest question is this: If you believed this garbage, what policy would you recommend? Would you try to kick Turkey out of NATO? Would you suspend US arms sales to Turkey, and US military exercises with Turkey? Would you cut ambassadorial level contact with Turkey (after all, if Turkey really is Iran, then they might invade our embassy any day now)? Would you call for an invasion of Turkey (I’m sure that the secular military leadership would greet American and Israeli troops with rose petals…)? Because the thing is, if Turkey is “lost to Islam,” then we’re not talking about Turkey moving into Iran’s arms, or Turkey becoming part of Iran’s axis; Turkey becomes the hub. Turkish military and economic power dwarf Iranian, and I suspect that if Ankara wished to go nuclear, it could do so in very short order. This is rather the problem with making support of Operation Cast Lead the fundamental metric of support for the survival of the Israeli state; you throw out the bathwater, then the baby, then the cat, and then somebody else’s baby.

Here’s the problem: Beating the bejeezus out of Gaza, whatever merits it may have had for Israeli security, also had costs. People, even in relatively friendly states, didn’t think that the operation was sensible, or that it was conducted in a civilized manner. Endless bullying on the Goldstone Report won’t change that fact. Support for every aspect of Israeli policy does not constitute the central divide between Western and Islamic civilization; Operation Cast Lead was just as unpopular in Europe as it was in Turkey, and Turkey’s recent exclusion of Israel from military maneuvers only highlights the fact that Turkey has maintained a closer military relationship with Israel than just about any European country. Moreover, there’s a reason why the Israeli leadership is unwilling to go as far as Caroline Glick in calling Turkey out; they are, by and large, far more concerned than she with the survival of the Israeli state.


Bernstein: HRW Should Engage In Moral Relativism

[ 0 ] October 20, 2009 |

As with Michael Gerson on torture, Robert Bernstein believes that some countries should be ipso facto exempt from criticism for human rights abuses:

The organization is expressly concerned mainly with how wars are fought, not with motivations. To be sure, even victims of aggression are bound by the laws of war and must do their utmost to minimize civilian casualties. Nevertheless, there is a difference between wrongs committed in self-defense and those perpetrated intentionally.

But how does Human Rights Watch know that these laws have been violated? In Gaza and elsewhere where there is no access to the battlefield or to the military and political leaders who make strategic decisions, it is extremely difficult to make definitive judgments about war crimes. Reporting often relies on witnesses whose stories cannot be verified and who may testify for political advantage or because they fear retaliation from their own rulers…”

Setting up standards that make it essentially impossible to prove that countries Bernstein likes have ever committed war crimes is convenient, but not very useful for organizations that want to identify human rights abuses regardless of who commits them. The rest if the op-ed is long on pointing out we already know (most middle eastern regimes are highly repressive) and very short on evidence backing up his assertions that Israel has “borne the brunt” of HRW’s criticism. Based on the rest of his arguments, one suspects that for Bernstein any criticism of Israel is too much. I certainly don’t see Israel being singled out here.

The "Bomb Iran" Lobby is Getting Kind of Amateurish…

[ 0 ] October 13, 2009 |

Jeffrey Herf has taken to The New Republic in an effort to convince Americans that negotiations will go nowhere unless we threaten Tehran with an extensive bombing campaign. Herf is a specialist on Germany; Divided Memory is an excellent study of the different ways in which East and West Germans remember Nazism, and War by Other Means is interesting enough, even as it rather misses the point by over-emphasizing the role of Germany (and the missile debate more generally) in ending the Cold War. The vast expansion of literature on the Soviet point of view, in particular, has not been kind to Herf’s argument. In any case, Herf has some theories about relations between democracies and autocracies, and Marty saw fit to give him a platform. Yglesias identifies some problems; here are some more.

The essential problem is an old one in the history of negotiations between dictatorships and democracies. As was the case in the famous negotiations over intermediate-range nuclear forces in Europe in the 1980s, there is a fundamental asymmetry whenever a dictatorship sits down at the table with a democracy…All the domestic political pressures of the debate will be asymmetric: They will have an impact only on the governments of Britain, France, Germany, and the United States.

Herf doesn’t back this statement up, which suggests to me that he’s done almost no research on the issue. If he had, he’d know that there is in fact a literature on negotiation, and that democracies have some key advantages in negotiations with dictatorships. In particular, the constraints that democratic negotiators face can work to their advantage in determining outcomes within the range of mutually acceptable alternatives. Hard domestic constraints, assuming that they allow any agreement at all, are a massive plus at the negotiating table, because they limit what a negotiator can give away. It’s particularly fascinating that Herf invokes negotiations over the French and British nuclear arsenals, because, by his own account, the democracies won those negotiations, and won them because of electoral constraints. Indeed, democratic transparency often works to the advantage of negotiators; an American President can credibly argue that a treaty will not survive the Senate, while a Soviet General Secretary has much more trouble proving that the Red Army will veto a proposed arrangement. Herf would be well-advised to conduct additional research into the reasons why West prevailed on those negotiations, at least before engaging in another intellectual indefensible polemical exercise.

In December 1979, President Carter and our NATO allies agreed both to counter the new Soviet weapons by stationing American intermediate-range missiles in Europe and to propose a new round of arms-control negotiations with the Soviets, offering a scaled-backed NATO deployment in return for a reduction in their SS-20s. The USSR, however, demanded something more: that the nuclear weapons of Britain and France be counted in any negotiations. Under the Soviet scheme, Britain and France would have to pay the price for reductions in Soviet missiles by reducing or eliminating their nuclear arsenals, thus creating a “nuclear-free” Europe.

There’s rather a different way of thinking about this. Desiring the inclusion of British and French nuclear arsenals in the arms control negotiations may have been part of an actual, legitimate goal of Soviet foreign policy, rather than a negotiating “ploy”. The United Kingdom had, of course, developed its nuclear deterrent in collaboration with the United States. The primary delivery system for British nuclear weapons was the Polaris missile, designed in the United States. The United Kingdom was, moreover, tied to the United States through alliance in NATO. France was less constrained, and the French nuclear deterrent more independent, but nevertheless it’s hardly obvious that the Soviet desire to include the British and French arsenals as an element of the negotiations was either absurd or illegitimate. In the case of war between the Warsaw Pact and NATO, British and French missiles could destroy Soviet cities with exactly the same effectiveness as American missiles. Thus, I’d rather refrain from using the term “gambit” to describe what most rational observers would conclude was a rational, legitimate objective of Soviet foreign policy.

This brings us to the one policy option that Tehran truly fears–and thus the only one that gives these negotiations any realistic chance of success: a credible threat of military attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities by the United States, perhaps joined by Britain and France, or Israel. If the Iranian leadership believed that such an attack was a real possibility, it, or some parts of it, might be persuaded to change course.

Right; the mullahs only understand the language of force, etc. Of course, if Dr. Herf had taken the US-Soviet analogy a bit farther, he might have been forced to notice that one of the key developments in the Soviet arms control stance in the mid-1980s was the Soviet realization that the US was not preparing to launch a preventive nuclear attack. Reagan’s rhetoric and arms buildup, whatever effect they may have had on the Soviet economy and on Soviet human rights, most certainly strengthened the hand of hardliners who argued that the US was planning to fight and win and offensive nuclear war. One of keys to Gorbachev’s success was his ability to argue that Reagan didn’t actually plan to attack, contrary to what appeared to be US preparations for war. In this sense, it was Soviet security, rather than Soviet vulnerability, that gave Gorbachev the ability to pursue arms control with Reagan. Had American hardliners such as Richard Perle and Dick Cheney prevailed, Reagan would have pursued a much more aggressive stance, and it’s unlikely that Gorbachev would have been able to budge the Soviet military-industrial complex. The Soviet Union would probably still have collapsed, but it almost certainly would have been a much more chaotic and bloody affair. Herf misses out on this because of either his inability or his refusal to understand that dictatorships also have factions, interest groups, and bureaucratic roadblocks, and his refusal to allow that the core interest of the Iranian leadership is their own security and survival, rather than nuclear weapons.

And this gets rather to the core of the problems with Herf’s approach. He assumes away Iranian domestic constraints, in spite of overwhelming evidence that a) dictatorships face internal constraints based on public pressure on bureaucratic infighting, b) that domestic constraints have unpredictable, and indeed often positive, effects on negotiating stances, and c) that dire military threats often empower the domestic actors in target countries that we’re least interested in seeing gain power. He seems to believe that since the regime successfully stole an election and hasn’t collapsed in the past three months, that it is free of domestic constraints. Such a position does not, as they say, demonstrate a sophisticated grasp of the way that authoritarian regimes operate; indeed, it would likely get Herf laughed out of an Introduction to Comparative Politics course.

In addition, Herf displays a cavalier ignorance of the Iranian regime; I suspect that the one thing the leadership TRULY fears is being overthrown by its domestic enemies, but not being an Iran specialist I try to refrain from writing statements like “the one thing Tehran truly fears.” Other than all that, however, Herf’s essay is just spiffy.

Sotomayor on Economic Issues

[ 1 ] September 22, 2009 |

An interesting article by Jess Bravin about Sotomayor’s recent oral argument queries about whether treating corporations as the equivalent of persons for constitutional purposes:

But Justice Sotomayor suggested the majority might have it all wrong — and that instead the court should reconsider the 19th century rulings that first afforded corporations the same rights flesh-and-blood people have.

Judges “created corporations as persons, gave birth to corporations as persons,” she said. “There could be an argument made that that was the court’s error to start with…[imbuing] a creature of state law with human characteristics.”

After a confirmation process that revealed little of her legal philosophy, the remark offered an early hint of the direction Justice Sotomayor might want to take the court.

“Progressives who think that corporations already have an unduly large influence on policy in the United States have to feel reassured that this was one of [her] first questions,” said Douglas Kendall, president of the liberal Constitutional Accountability Center.

It does seem possible that while Sotomayor might be a Breyeresque wet on civil liberties issues, she may also bring an economic liberalism that really has no representation on the current Court.

The rest of the article is very much worth reading, with good background information about Santa Clara County. What’s striking is how cursory the arguments in favor of the very important concept of corporate personhood were, although the constitutional text is silent either way and it’s certainly not obvious that it follows from the classical liberal principles that animated the rights in question.

What "They Called?"

[ 0 ] July 26, 2009 |

I can understand the journalistic conventions that avoid characterizing particular views during disputes, but I must admit being amused by the opening paragraph about this story about now-resigned NYU law lecturer Thio Li-ann:

A Singapore law professor who was to teach a human rights course at New York University Law School this fall has withdrawn after students protested what they called her anti-gay views.

Hmm, I have to admit I’m not really seeing the ambiguity here:

Homosexuality is a gender identity disorder; there are numerous examples of former homosexuals successfully dealing with this. Just this year, two high profile US activists left the homosexual lifestyle, the publisher of Venus, a lesbian magazine, and an editor of Young Gay America. Their stories are available on the net. An article by an ex-gay in the New Statesmen this July identified the roots of his emotional hurts, like a distant father, overbearing mother and sexual abuse by a family friend; after working through his pain, his unwanted same-sex attractions left. While difficult, change is possible and a compassionate society would help those wanting to fulfill their heterosexual potential. There is hope.

“Heterosexual potential”?

I suppose it should go without saying that this rabid bigotry is embedded within an argument that is exceptionally weak, replete with reactionary talk-radio debating points whose fallaciousness should be especially evident to an alleged advocate of human rights (“people who oppose legal discrimination are intolerant…of intolerance! Nyah-nyah!”) And it’s also dismaying to see a law professor see no problem with laws that she concedes will only be sporadically and arbitrarily enforced.

Goldberg on HRW

[ 0 ] July 17, 2009 |

Matt Duss has a nice post on Jeffrey Goldberg’s recent silliness regarding Human Rights Watch. Yesterday Goldberg, following up on a WSJ editorial, gave the impression that by talking about their work regarding Israeli human rights abuses while in the anti-Semitic world of Saudi Arabia, they were guilty of some grave but unspecified wrong. This prompts a reader to ask “Are you suggesting in your criticism of Human Rights Watch that its officials shouldn’t talk to Arab audiences about Israel?”, which as Matt notes would seem to be a plausible inference. Goldberg’s response is that he didn’t mean HRW shouldn’t talk about Israel in Arab countries, but rather than they shouldn’t fund-raise in them (at least not while mentioning Israel). Perhaps to fend off further objections, he gestures towards universalizing his new ad-hoc principle of ethical fundraising by suggesting that “Human Rights Watch shouldn’t raise funds in Israel, either” because if they were talking about human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia while in Tel Aviv, that might upset people in the Arab world.

Duss says most of what needs to be said, but I’ll simply add that one position he seems to be arguing is that HRW should not engage in any fund-raising activity in countries which meet the following two conditions A)human rights are not universally well-respected, and B) they have less than cordial relations with other countries with human rights abuses. If the Goldberg principle of ethical fundraising were applied, HRW would rather obviously be somewhat severely restricted, presumably to the detriment of the cause of human rights. Two further comments:

1) Organizations like HRW should be at least a little concerned about the appearance of bias, as their reputation to some extent depends on being perceived as being against and opposed to human rights abuses wherever they may occur. However, at the end of the day this is simply a lost cause in the world we live in–the reputation they seek is going to be unattainable in the eyes of a great many people, whose own views on who violates human rights, and which violations of human rights are worthy of condemnation are driven by a variety of political allegiences and commitments. If everyone thinks HRW is wonderfully even-handed and unbiased, they’re doing it wrong.

2) An additional problem here is what might be called the methodological nationalism of Goldberg’s principle. Governments that commit human rights violations are tainted in a way that their citizens are not. Cultivating connections and commitments to the human rights movement in countries with poor human rights records should be welcomed.

Update: edited to make non-sensical sentences less so.

Carriers and Trident, or Body Armor?

[ 0 ] July 11, 2009 |

This is well out of my normal terrain, but a couple weeks ago a high profile commission reported on the future priorities of UK defense spending.  The commission, operating out of the Institute for Public Policy Research and led by a couple Lords (in this case Ashdown, the former LibDem leader and all purpose go-to guy, and Robertson, a former Defense Secretary) argued against big ticket items, such as the Trident nuclear deterrent and the two planned aircraft carriers.

There is a lot about this that is logical.  This island I live on is running a bit short on cash, the MoD is perennially underfunded, and stories are common that the soldier on the ground is under-equipped, (though see here for a counterpoint), to the point where it now may even be considered criminal under EU Human Rights law.  If more money can be shifted to offering these guys and gals better kit, then all the better.
However, it’s an open question, and well beyond my expertise (even when I fake it), as to whether or not the UK requires a nuclear deterrent, and I’m interested in hearing opinions on this matter.  On the carriers, I have a more emotional reaction: I grew up in a navy town (from which I understandably fled as soon as I could), Plymouth is a navy town, and FFS this is the Royal Navy we’re discussing.  Replacing their current three fake carriers with two that are almost real carriers makes sense in terms of both my emotional well being, and the admittedly far less important criterion of force projection.
That said, there’s not a lot of money floating around the UK these days (even though the Bank of England is trying to make up for that through the beautifully termed quantitative easing), and these are my tax dollars not at work.  It’s probably best to outfit the front line soldiers with proper kit than invest in big ticket items.
But what do I know?

European political leader who believed in Iraqi WMD has sophisticated foreign policy opinions about Iran, too

[ 0 ] June 28, 2009 |

Um, no one cares what Jose Maria Aznar thinks, but this is an especially useless effort. The comparisons between Iran and the Soviet Union are delivered with the stupidity that’s customary for the genre; it’s hard, for example, to know where to begin his claim that Western support for Soviet dissidents (a) made Soviet leaders fearful of treating them badly, and (b) eventually brought town the government itself. Whatever force “the Free World” was able to exert upon Soviet human rights was a direct result of the fact that the US and the Soviet Union had, from 1963 through the mid-1970s, established a reasonably successful record of negotiating on a variety of issues of mutual interest (e.g, nuclear testing and arms limitations, grain shipments, etc.) So far as dissidents were concerned, their treatment during this period was mild by the obviously unpleasant by historical standards — not because the government feared Johnson, Nixon or Ford (who were, it’s worth pointing out, not hollering conspicuously about Soviet dissidents) but because Soviet leadership saw little to be gained domestically from “ruthlessly [doing] away with them,” as Aznar insists they would have. After Khrushchev’s disclosures, a full revival of Stalinist brutality was probably an impossibility; whatever ill needs to be spoken of the post-Stalin era, it’s insane to claim their behavior was held in check simply out of fear of external punishment. The state viewed dissidents as enemies of the regime and suppressed them as best they could, but by the late 1970s and 1980s — when Aznar presumably believes US support for dissidents was most consequential — the Soviet leadership hardly required the aid of dissenters (or critiques by American leaders) to bring discredit to its own project.

That said, it’s hard to imagine what sort of guidance Aznar thinks his flawed history might provide for the Obama administration. This is of course a problem for anyone who’s been insisting that Obama Must Do SomethingTM, but Aznar captures the vagueness of the argument with impressive brevity:

This is no time for hesitation on the part of the West. If, as part of an attempt to reach an agreement on the Iranian nuclear program, the leaders of democratic nations turn their backs on the dissidents they will be making a terrible mistake.

President Obama has said he refuses to “meddle” in Iran’s internal affairs, but this is a poor excuse for passivity. If the international community is not able to stop, or at least set limits on, the repressive violence of the Islamic regime, the protesters will end up as so many have in the past — in exile, in prison, or in the cemetery. And with them, all hope for change will be gone.

See, I’d been under the mistaken impression that the US would be hard-pressed to find a constructive role to play with respect to the Iranian crisis. But I forgot that by simply not hesitating* and by facing the protesters squarely in solidarity**, we could actually set limits*** on the behavior of the Iranian state!

* Whatever the hell that means.
** Ibid.
*** Ibid.

Section 5 of Voting Rights Act Narrowed But Not Struck Down

[ 0 ] June 22, 2009 |

The Supreme Court today, by an 8-1 vote, narowed but did not strike down the “preclearance” provisions of the Voting Rights Act that require certain jurisdictions to get federal approval for any changes in their election laws. The opinion of the Court, written by Chief Justice Roberts, declined to address the question of whether the Voting Rights Act is constitutional but rather ruled on the narrow grounds that the utility district in question was eligible to apply for a “bailout” from the preclearance provisions if they meet certain conditions. Justice Thomas, in partial dissent, argued that Section 5 should have been ruled unconstitutional.

Despite how it looked after oral argument, I’m not actually surprised by the outcome. The Court’s conservatives have generally been much more likely to narrow civil rights legislation and major Warren Court precedents than overturn them outright, and it seemed especially unlikely that they would start a new trend with a provision of the Voting Rights Act however much they disliked it. And while I tend to be skeptical of “minimalism” in general and how the Roberts Court has used it in particular, in this case I actually think it’s meaningful and appropriate. The outcome in this case is both reasonable on its face and doesn’t completely gut the statute.

While I’m engaging in rare praise for John Roberts, I should also say that I think that conservatives do have one objection to Section 5 that I consider reasonable. As regular readers know, I have less than no use for arguments that the “sovereign dignity” of states should trump human rights, and also think that the localized American electoral system is a disaster that should be mitigated as much as possible. However, I do think Roberts has a good point when he questions the ongoing selective applicability of the preclearance provisions: “The evil that §5 is meant to address may no longer be concentrated in the jurisdictions singled out for preclearance. The statute’s coverage formula is based on data that is now more than 35 years old, and there is considerable evidence that it fails to account for current political conditions.” It’s not obvious to me that, say, Indiana is less likely to enact legislation restricting minority access to the ballot than Virginia or Kings County New York. To the extent that the Supreme Court is signaling that the legislation would be more easily defensible if it applied to everyone, I think they have a point (although I suspect that the Court’s conservatives may be planting a Catch-22 in which the legislation will turn out to be under- or over-inclusive depending on how Congress deals with this question.)

Sunday Book Review: Hide and Seek: Searching for Truth in Iraq

[ 2 ] 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.

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.]

Nice Reproductive Freedom You’ve Got There, Shame If Something Would Happen To It

[ 1 ] June 10, 2009 |

Given that many people have already critiqued the latest Douthat nonsense on abortion (see also here), for some variety I thought I’d address similar arguments made recently by Megan McArdle. From her response to Hilzoy:

My argument is that abortion, like slavery, is becoming in this country an issue upon which people have no reasonable political recourse. I’ll go further, and say that the process by which 7 judges enforced their consciences on the American public was itself borderline illegitimate; it was first, not in their proper job description, and second, a bad way to run a government.


Questions of fundamental human rights that have been closed off from the normal political process are very likely to produce violence. I can simultaneously, as I do, want Tiller’s murderer given a long jail substance, and worry that we’ve left his fellow lone gunmen no other outlets for their legitimate moral beliefs.

Is it naive to think that the political process would tame this rage? I don’t think so. The political process would always offer some always offer some marginal victory worth fighting for, whereas now, any marginal victory is more likely than not to be struck down by a court.

So much illogic here:

  • The most obvious problems are the ones that afflict all arguments about countermobilization against the Courts: the utter lack of evidence that people respond to judicial policymaking differently than policymaking by other institutions. For example, if judicial intervention into the abortion issue greatly increased political violence, the effect should travel — but it doesn’t. Judicial intervention in Canada hasn’t produced the level of terrorism that we’ve seen in the United States, and indeed hasn’t even produced a major political party that wants to recrciminalize abortion.
  • Even more bizarre is her analogy to slavery. Let’s leave aside the normative offensiveness of the comparison and just discuss how McArdle couldn’t be more wrong about its implications. The issue of slavery, of course, was essentially left to ordinary political processes, with not only the court but the text of the Constitution itself being silent on most of the most important issues. Is she repeating the canard that Dred Scott led to the Civil War? If so, the obvious problem with the argument is that it’s completely false (certainly, Buchanan’s bungling over Lecompton was much more important.) Indeed, the Supreme Court’s decision, while grossly immoral, had pretty much zero policy impact. There was no chance that further restrictions on slavery in the territories would have passed before 1861 (Congressional elites for the mst part strongly supported Dred Scott), Lincoln just ignored it, and then it was overturned by constitutional amendment within a decade. Even more puzzling, Dred Scott created exactly the same kind of arrangement that McArdle claims will stop political violence — leaving fundamental human rights issues “to the states.” State legislatures remained perfectly free to abolish slavery, but somehow this didn’t stop John Brown. Roger Taney was wrong to think that leaving things to the states would decrase political conflict about slavery, and McArdle is wrong to think that allowing some states to force women to carry pregnancy to term would decrease political conflict about abortion.
  • The slavery analogy is also useful in demonstrating that in addition to having no empirical support McArdle’s assumptions make no sense even in theory. Just as abolitionists didn’t think that being established by normal political processes (at least by 19th century standards) made human bondage more acceptable, it seems vanishingly unlikely that terrorists who think that abortion is murder will be content with abortion being legal because of legislative decisions. I don’t know about you, but I would not find the legalization of murder any more acceptable if it was the result of a legislative decision.
  • In addition, I note again the trademark Douthatian claim that there is no possibility of “marginal victories ” for forced pregnancy advocates, when of course for nearly two decades the Supreme Court has made clear that all marginal restrictions on abortion, pre- or post- viability, would be upheld (with the exception of the extremely rare ones that might equally affect women similarly situated to Sandra Day O’Connor.) Most abortion policy, in other words, is left to ordinary political processes. The one major exception — bans on pre-viability abortion — would not be politically viable in many states and almost certainly would allow for a substantial gray market even in states where bans were viable.
  • Finally, McArdle rests on traditional but erroneous assumptions about the independence and “countermajoritarian” nature of the judiciary. In fact, Roe has stood up for as long as it has because it has very substantial political support. It is not correct, for example, to say that the only political option for anti-choicers to oppose Roe is a constitutional amendment; in fact, what they need is five votes on the Court. Abortion remains legal in the United States not because courts were omnipotent but because Robert Bork was defeated by a bipartisan majority in the Senate. Proponents of a virtually unlimited state power to criminalize abortion had access to the political process. They lost.

So I’m afraid I’m not going to sign on to the idea that women’s reproductive rights should be sacrificed for alleged speculative benefits that have pretty much no empirical or theoretical basis. It makes rather more sense to combat terrorism with state power.

Page 5 of 9« First...34567...Last »